Monday, March 28, 2011

03-26-2011 Santa Paula Canyon

Looking down Santa Paula Canyon

It's been a while since we've been able to get out for a hike. Two weeks ago I saw the forecast for last weekends weather, and ruled out any type of hiking. The canyons are no place to be when it rains. It was quite a storm that rolled through here too. According to the USGS it was the largest rain event since the epic 2005 storms.

I figured after a storm like this one that Jackson Falls would probably be going off. So we prepared for a wet, muddy hike. Once we got past Thomas Aquinas College, the Ferndale Ranch, and the oil pumps, we could see Santa Paula Creek was angry.

That was okay, she was angry last year when we made it out to Jackson Falls. As I remembered we could make it all the way to Big Cone Camp without actually having to cross the creek. This day things were slightly different. We got about halfway to part of the trail where it starts to switchback up to Big Cone Camp, and the creek had flooded wall to wall of the canyon. We sure as hell weren't going to try to wade across this unforgiving beast. So we backtracked a bit and found a spot along the canyon wall where we could get up and above the creek. Then we bushwhacked for what seemed like a really long time. Did I mention there was more poison oak then I have ever seen? We tried a couple of times to descend back down to the creek but we just found high, sheer cliffs. Finally we found a spot that was steep, but not to steep that we couldn't control slide down. Of course we had to slide through poison oak, but what are you going to do? We flicked off some ticks that were trying catch a ride, applied some Tecnu, then started making our way up the creek again. We missed the turn to the switchbacks, so we opted to go up a steep, rocky, gully that intersected with the trail.

The price for not paying enough attention to the trail

We walked through the graffiti gallery that is Big Cone Camp then down to the first waterfall. It was really a site to behold.

Graffiti Falls

Between the waterfall and Cross camp there a few rocky outcrops that overlook the creek as it flows through a narrows section. It's here that the power of the creek is most impressively displayed. It about a hundred yards of frothy, white, fury.

Looking up the channel

We stopped at Cross Camp for a bit to get a bite to eat. Last year when we made to Jackson Falls we had to make a leap of faith. Just upcreek of Cross Camp there was a spot where we could jump from one boulder to another to cross the swollen creek. Not this day. The water level was about a foot higher then the last time we were there. There wasn't even any debate about it, there was no way we were going to try to get across this rapid creek.

The idea was to jump from the rock I'm stading on to the one on the left

Okay, so what do we do now? If you look at the USGS topo Santa Paula Peak quad there's a creek that comes down from the Bear Heaven Bluffs to the east of SP Creek, and links up with SP Creek right above peak 2507 (there's a link in the sidebar). We decided to bushwhack over to that tall waterfall.

Not surprisingly this waterfall looks a lot like Lower Jackson Falls

First we climbed up a rocky hill that overlooked the Punchbowl, then we found a game trail that took us eastwardly towards the falls. It wasn't as bad as the bushwhacking we had done earlier. As we got closer we saw a large oak tree that had a few faded beer cans strewn about its base. Then the chapperel opened up and there was a nice rocky area next to the waterfalls.

There are two waterfalls, the smaller one is hidden from view when looking up from the bottom. The stream snakes down through a smooth water carved channel to the larger falls then drops 60 to 70 feet to creek below. We hung out there for awhile. The rocks were leaching our body heat so we had get up every few minutes to keep from getting too cold. Finding the route back was little more difficult, but we figured it out.

The Santa Paula East Fork

When we got back to the spot where we had bushwhacked we were disappointed to find out that we had to go back the same way, funny how that works. Unfortunately we had to start further back because that steep part we slid down was to steep to climb back up. Remember all that poison oak we tramped through? It was still there, and I think it called in reinforcements while we were upcreek. This bushwhack seemed to take even longer then the first time. We were down on our hands and knees, and sometimes even our stomachs crawling though the bush.

Here's picture of my butt to illustrate that we had to crawl a lot

"Ridiculous" is the word that comes to my mind. Surely we had gone far enough to make it back down to the creek, nope, sheer cliff, shit, keep crawling. I did have some climbers webbing, and a single carabiner in my bag in case of an emergency, but that wouldn't be needed here. Finally we found a way down. Another scrub down with Tecnu was in order. From here it was fairly easy to walk back out. We hadn't seen another person all day. On a sad note I tore a big hole in the bottom of my favorite backpack. Despite what sounds like a horrible experience, we were in pretty good spirits. It was an adventure, and that's what we like.


  1. Love it. I do think I heard the PO calling for reinforcements on the shortwave; you weren't imagining things. Your captures -- especially at Punch Bowls proper -- show just how insane the water is right now.

    Another great adventure, EP, well done.

  2. Has anyone ever kayaked through the Punch Bowls?

  3. Thanks. we scrubed down with Tecnu a couple of time on the trail and few more times at home. It's been three days now, and I show no signs of PO. Do you mean the Graffiti Falls picture is the Punch bowl? I always thought it was the spot a little further upcreek where the waterslide and swimhole are.

  4. Actually, I was referring to the channel between the two (the one that makes for the best jumping). But you're right, the lower is *not* the Punch Bowl. Glad the evil weed didn't get its claws in.

  5. Thanks for bringing me back home for a little bit man! I miss the LP and hiking through it with my friends!!