Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12-27-2010 Tar Creek

Bear Heaven and Topatopa Peak

When it rains like it has been for the past few weeks, I really get an itching to get outside, and put some miles under my feet. The creeks are flowing again, snow caps the peaks of some of our taller mountains, and waterfalls are restored to their rightful glory. I love Tar Creek right after a rain. The canyon thunders with the sound of raging, muddy water. In the spring when the water calms down you can hop scotch along the rocks, and try to keep your socks dry. However, when the creek is rocking like it was this day, creek crossings take a more serious tone. If you slip and get caught in the hydraulics you are going to be in a world of hurt. Tar Creek is renowned for its huge purple sandstone boulders. The nice thing about sandstone is it doesn't get too slippery when wet. So jumping on to wet sandstone is not nearly as dangerous as the slick granite you'll encounter further north.

The hike to the cascades was easy enough. I think we only crossed the creek twice. The overhang waterfall was flowing with decent force.

We had to take the sorta sketchy side route on the river-right side due to the high water. There's a bit of exposure, and some careful foot placement is needed, but it wasn't too bad.

It looks like I'm fucking this rock.

After a little down-climbing, and crawling we made it to the 70ft (68ft) falls. Someone had left some black webbing tied to a boulder above the falls. I had to leap across the creek to cut and remove it. Here's a video of Frank pushing some logs over the falls.

Carefully we made our way down to the final section. The big falls were going off magnificently. The waterfall coming off of Bear Heaven was flowing. It only flows after it rains, but that is the tallest waterfall in the Ventura Los Padres that I know of.

Bear Heaven Falls

Just as I expected, there was some webbing threaded into the bolts at the big falls. I cut it out. I'll say it again, webbing and rope can kill condors. Please, if you're going to rappel Tar Creek, remove your webbing when you're done. Both rappels have walk arounds that someone in your party can use to bring the webbing down.

The Condors Perch

Then we took some pictures, and ate lunch. The water temperature was 47F. We didn't see any condors. I think this was our fifth trip down Tar Creek this year, and I haven't seen a condor once. In 2009 I saw condors every time we went down there. Sometimes we would see five at a time. I wonder what happened? I've seen them over the Stone Corral the two times we went by this year.

The hike back up was uneventful. It was little muddy, but not bad at all. We bumped into Jack from Jack Elliott's Santa Barbara Adventure on the way up the hill. Maybe he'll have a post about Tar Creek soon too. And that was it. Another trip to Tar Creek in the books. I'm sure there will be many more trips just like this one.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

11-27-2010 Piedra Blanca Creek

The Piedra Blanca rock formation

I went up to Piedra Blanca a few months ago to do some rappelling, and scouting around. While I was up there I started down the creek, but didn't go very far. Since then I have been wanting to go back, and finish this little loop.

This weekend I felt like needed to burn off some of the pumpkin pie I ate, so I headed back up to the majestic rock formations of Piedra Blanca. The Sespe was flowing nicely at the first crossing. I walked on the trail through the rock formation, and down the hill behind it. There's a big boulder at the bottom of the hill where a seasonal creek flows through. It's there that I left the main trail, and started down towards Piedra Blanca Creek. Once I linked up with the creek I started making my way down south. My goal was to follow the creek back to the Sespe. It didn't take me to long to get the part I call the Piedra Blanca Narrows. This is where the creek cuts through the big rock formation. I was nice and cool down there. There were iced over puddles in the shade near the rocks. The narrows is a nice little section. The rocks are very craggy. There are a few nice chest deep pools for swimming or fishing. At it's narrowest point it got pretty choked with little saplings (Alder?) to the point where I had to rock hop through the middle of the creek.

Just south of the Narrows. The Sespe is a little further south.

After I had made it through the Narrows the landscape opened up into a small valley. I followed a light trail southward for a bit. I was making such good time that I decided to climb up one of the hills on the west side of the creek to get a better perspective. From up there I could see the Sespe wasn't to far away. I made my way back down, and continued south. The trail petered out, and I had to bulldoze through some of the thickest brush I've ever encountered. I was a pain in the butt. But, eventually it cleared up, and I found myself on a little trail that ran by the Thacher Cabin. I was respectful of their property, and left it alone (they have a nice set up).

Thacher Cabin

And that was it. I was back on the Sespe trail. A few minutes later, and I was back in the parking lot. I talked to a nice fellow who had spent a few nights up near Willett Hot Spring. I saw few people headed out towards Willett as well. I hope they made it there okay, because it started raining about four hours later.

That's it. I just got a new camera, so my future posts should have better quality pictures. Take care.

Monday, November 15, 2010

11-12-2010 Agua Blanca Creek

Cobblestone Mountain Foothils

One of the more impressive geological features of the Southern Los Padres rivers are the narrows. It happens when a river that normally meanders through rolling hills cuts through a rock formation, creating a narrow slot. Some examples I know would be the Sespe Narrows below Devils Heart Peak, and again further south at Devil's Gate. There's also The Alder Creek Narrows, and Piedra Blanca Creek has a narrows section. Agua Blanca Creek has two narrows sections, The Devil's Gateway, and The Big Narrows.

Dave Stillman contacted me recently to see if I was interested in checking out The Big Narrows. I knew it would a tough, probably nasty hike. So I signed up, and recruited Frank to come too.

We decided to make it a three day trip. Friday morning we hiked from Dough Flat to Ant Camp. Ant Camp sits at the base of Cobblestone Mountain where Agua Blanca Creek turns east towards Piru. It only took about three hours to make the trek. The trail is great condition. Someone, maybe the CCC, has recently trimmed, and flagged the trail going down the big hill that leads to Ant Camp. I tip my hat to whomever did that hard work, thanks. Once down at Ant Camp we set up our stuff, collected water, and gathered wood in anticipation of some cold nights.

Ant Camp

We also set up the horseshoe stakes to standard distance. Now you can enjoy a nice game of horseshoes next time you go down there. It was a pretty brisk evening, but the fire was large, and kept us warm until we ready for bed.

Trying to stay warm

The next morning we woke up a prepared for the difficult challenge we were expecting. We started heading east along side the creek at about 8:20. The trail isn't too bad for the first mile or so. We saw a few spots that would make fairly descent campsites in a pinch. There used to be a campsite called Tin Can Cabin down here. We made a good effort to find some sort of trace of it, but I'm afraid that all signs of it are completely gone now.

Looking for Tin Can Cabin

The trail got steadily worse the further we went. The poison oak was ubiquitous as expected. There were also those nasty, thorny vines everywhere too. Tons of fallen trees blocked the way. Sometimes the only way through was to slog through the creek.

After about three hours from the start the canyon started to zig-zag, and really narrow, aggressively. Finally we got to a point where you could no longer skirt the edge of the creek, we were entering The Big Narrows.

An ominous looking rock formation

Entering The Big Narrows

The walls squeezed to about ten to twenty feet wide, and rose 500 to 600 feet high. Frank and I removed our boots, and put on the water shoes we had brought with us. The water was 49.5 Fahrenheit. I wore heavy wool socks with my shoes, but my feet were still freezing. Frank had better luck with neoprene. The creek turned north then sharply came around a corner and headed south. We stopped in that section and had lunch.

If we had decided to continue I think we would have made it to Cove Camp in maybe another hour, who knows? But, we decided that we had gone far enough. We had been hiking for about four hours. I figured that since we had been going down stream it would probably take us longer to get back to camp. But I was wrong. We bulldozed back to camp in only three hours. We gathered a little bit more wood for the evening. Then we focused on dinner. We traded some stories around the fire, and then headed to bed.

The next morning we gathered up our stuff, cleaned up the camp a bit. The last people there had left behind some trash like tin foil, bottle wrappers, and batteries. The hike up the hill wasn't to bad. I found some more batteries on the way up. What's up with that? It's like someone was going up the hill, found it to difficult, and decided to ditch four AAA batteries to shed weight, pathetic. Anyway, it was an easy hike out. There were some locals shooting up the parking lot when we got back. Not much you can do except leave. You can check out some shaky videos from the trip here, here, and here.

So if you like being cold, dirty, hungry, tired, stinky, sore, getting bug bites, itchy rashes, lacerated arms and legs, wet feet, filthy hands, and chapped lips then this is a hike you may enjoy.

If you have ever done this hike, or made it all the way to Piru, I would love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment, or send me an email. Take care.

10-24-2010 Cozy Dell Trail

Megan wanted to go on a short hike, and get some fresh air. I thought the popular Cozy Dell Trail might be just hike to do. It's a short pleasant hike with a few nice views of Ojai. It was bit overcast his day, but still worth the effort. We cleaned up some trash. There were a few other people out on the trail too. You know you're on an easy trail when you see a five year old girl in a princess outfit walking out. It was a nice way to get out of the house, and knock some rust loose.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

10-10-2010 Matilija

The weather looked like it was going to be great for hiking this weekend. My regular hiking buddy Frank was up north, so I was on my own. I thought about an off trail adventure near Rock Creek. But, I got a little spooked by a couple of things. First, it's harvest time, and I've been hearing about busts in the Los Padres for the last month. One of my biggest fears of off-trail hiking is stumbling across some illegal farm, and getting murdered while no one knows where I am. The second factor was a co-worker of mines younger brother got bitten (twice) by a rattlesnake near the Gridly Trail. He spent a week in the hospital, and is looking at another month in a wheelchair. It was a close call, but it looks like he'll pull through okay. So I instead decided to hit a trail that I knew would have some people on it, in case something happened. I went up to Matilija, there's always people up there. I was saddened to find the new Forest Service signs up.

It makes it pretty clear, you're trespassing if you use the trail up the main fork past Blue Heron Ranch. You can't play dumb anymore. There's a sign at the trailhead for the Upper North Fork, and another at the entrance to the Blue Heron Ranch. Bummer. It's funny, in my last post I found a old sign that was used to mark a private holding, and I was really excited. Now this week I find a new sign that shows a private holding, and I couldn't be more disappointed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

09-18-2010 Piedra Blanca

I really wanted to get out this weekend and get some sort of hiking done. I just finished Ed Vistuers book, K2 Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain. I thought it was a really good book. It recounts some amazing stories of people trying to summit the second highest peak in the world. It also got me fired up to get outside and put some miles under my feet. I had a few places in mind, and in the end settled on going to Piedra Blanca. I wanted to scout some rappelling routes, then go explore some of the rock formations nearby. I found an excellent 80-90ft rappel anchored by a super solid tree.

From the top of the rap I had a great view of Piedra Blanca Creek and Pine Mountain. I headed north up PB Creek for a bit, then I ditched the trail, and bushwhacked up a dry creek-bed that brought me above the canyon. I decided to head towards some trees to the northwest where my topo map said there was a spring. It was pretty choked with sagebrush up there. After about an hour of slow progress I came upon a trail. I was little bit surprised to find a trail up there. "What could it lead to?" I wondered. I wasn't sure it was a man made trail either. I couldn't find any bootprints in the dirt. But the trail definitely ran parallel to the dry creek-bed. I followed the trail for another hour or so. Then it just kinda petered out in to the brush. It was time for me to turn around anyway. So headed back the way I came. At the spot where I first picked up the trail I saw that there was a fork in the trail that lead back towards PB creek.

I decided to follow that instead of bushwhacking again. After a few hundred yards the trail brought me to a clearing where I found a an old rusty sign post. In welded letters it said "Spectrum #1 25-6N - 22W".

That was pretty cool. I always like finding old stuff. I thought it might be a old marker for an oil-well from way back when, but I really don't know what it is. (Update: After some research, and a helpful email, I've learned that those numbers correspond to The Public Land Survey System. I suspect that Spectrum #1 was the name of an oilwell.) The trail didn't seem to go back down to PB creek from there, so I had do a bit more bulldozing to get back to the creek-bed I came up. Then a short scramble and I was back on the main trail. I ran into a few people on the way back to the parking lot.

I had a really enjoyable day just wandering around doing my own thing. I want to go back up there again soon, and do some more exploring. Maybe even find a cool place to camp back there somewhere.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

08-07-2010 Cienega Camp, Santa Paula Peak

I got an email last week from Dave Stillman asking if I wanted to hike to Cienega Camp. You bet I did. Last year Frank and I bushwhacked, crawled, and climbed through the Santa Paula Canyon East Fork in a vain attempt to find Cienega. We did find a ladybug orgy, a flowing spring, and dry waterfall on that trip. But no trail up Cienega was to be found.

Back to the present. I knew the hike up Santa Paula Peak would be a grueling one. The fog was still covering us when we got the trailhead at 8:00. After fifteen minutes of walking we were above the marine layer, and it was a bright, cloudless day from then on out. The trail up is pretty well maintained, and straightforward, and all uphill.

Looking down Timber Canyon

About two-thirds of the way up I saw on the side of the trail what I thought were bees. I had enough time to think to myself, "I've never had any problem with bees before" when I felt a red hot needle jab into my face, then another, and another. "Run!" I yelled to Frank who was a couple of feet ahead of me. They were all over me now. I felt a sting on my arm, my neck, the back of my leg. "Run!" I yelled again, "Bees!" Franks got the message and started running up hill. We got up a ways and stopped. Mistake, I'm still being attacked. Another sting to my face. We ran uphill some more. Finally they gave up. I found one last one hiding under my trekking pole strap digging his stinger into the back of my hand. I flicked him away, and saw that they were Yellowjackets, not bees. Whatever, my fucking face hurt! We sat for a moment and caught our breath. Hurt face or not we still had a mountain to get over. So we slogged on up. Frank ran out of water at the junction with the peak trail. We really hoped there would be water down at Cienega.

Looking down East Fork Canyon

The hiking was much easier now. The north side of Santa Paula Peak is a shady, tree (and poison oak) lined downhill hike. After a series of switch-backs I ran out of water too. But right then I heard the unmistakable sound of running water. There was a small creek flowing under a bridge someone had made from a fallen tree. We drank straight from the creek. Refreshed, we got up, and not to much further found Dave waiting for us at Cienega Camp. The campsite itself is huge. There's a gigantic picnic table, two large benches, and a bar.

We gathered wood, and Frank and I got our tents set up for the night. Then Dave took us up the trail a little ways to a enourmous boulder that had split in two. On top of the rock you could look down the entire East Fork and beyond.

Bear Heaven Bluffs

The Topatopa bluffs were off to the north-west. Back at camp we got a fire going and b-b-qued some amazing steaks.

Epic Grilling

Frank brought some homebrews and I brought a Prickly Pear Braggot. My face was starting to feel okay. We sat around the fire and talked until bedtime.

Enjoying a great fire

In the morning Frank made some bacon for breakfast. We filled up with water and headed back up 1200ft to the peak junction. We ditched our packs and scambled up to the peak.

It gets steeper as you get closer to the peak

It's an amazing view. We could see White Ledge Peak over Carpinteria, Hines Peak to our north, Cobblestone Peak, and Hopper Mountain to the west, and all of Santa Paula in front of us.

At the peak

Back on the main trail it took only an hour and a half to get back the trailhead. We said our goodbyes and headed back home. I'd like to thank Dave Stillman again for inviting us along this memorable hike.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Most Remote Campsite in the Southern Los Padres

I haven't been getting out hiking much lately, so I thought I would see If anyone out there would be willing to share some information with us. I've been thinking about what is the most remote campsite in the Southern Los Padres National Forest. Almost every campsite here is within a days hike from its nearest trail-head. So I'm trying to think of camps that are more than a days hike away.

So, what I have come up with? How about Bluff Camp? I've never been there, but it looks like one would first hike up Santa Paula Peak, then stay at Cienega Camp, then the next day take a couple of hours to get up to Bluff Camp. It looks like if one were a real bad ass mofo they could probably get to Bluff in a long day. Has anyone out there ever been to Bluff Camp? I would appreciate any info you would like to share. Like when you were there, was there water, etc...

Then I found two other camps that I think are definitely two-dayers to get to. Cove Camp on Agua Blanca Creek looks extremely remote. From either Dough Flat or Lake Piru it looks like one would have to spend the night Ant Camp, or Log Cabin Camp respectively before moving on to Cove Camp.

The most remote campsite I could find would be Halfway Spring Camp. It's located way up some no-name tributary to Piru Creek. I think it would probably take a very long day hike to get Ellis Apiary Camp, then it looks like another very long trail-less hike up the no-name creek to Halfway Spring. I have no idea what you're halfway to once you get there. If you know any thing about Halfway Spring please let me know.

Do you know anything about these sites? Or if you know of a really remote campsite please share.

Monday, July 19, 2010

07-17-2010 Matilija Creek

I've been going a little stir crazy the last few weeks. I haven't done any hiking since early June. So, Frank and I decided we needed to get out this weekend and do something fun. We thought about heading out to Dough Flat, and going to Agua Blanca or Alder Creek, but with the forecast predicting 90+ degree weather we settled on the old familiar Matilija Creek.

There has been a lot of buzz in the local media about this area recently. One particular property owner doesn't want the public to use the trail that goes through his family's private property. Since there is no other way to get into the canyon, the public is denied access to this incredible place. To me it seems like this guy is basically trying to claim ownership of the 30,000 acre Matilija Wilderness because he owns the last plot on the road. This really irritates me. I've run into this same issue in Lake Piru as well. I think it's just fundamentally wrong for one property owner to block access to Federal, public land for no other reasons then they're cranky, and bitter. Thankfully, the good folks at the Blue Heron Ranch are still cool, and let people pass through their section of private property (I'm in no way speaking for them. I only say this because they have kept their gate open).

There are a ton of websites that will tell you all about the Matilija trail. The first post on this blog is about our hike up Matilija in January. So I won't bother with stuff that's been well covered before. We figured with it being summer time and all that there would probably be quite a few people heading up to the falls to swim. So we decided that to bring our rappelling gear, and drop down past Lower Matilija Falls.

Lower Matilija Falls a.k.a. the main falls

We climbed up the river-right side of the main falls. There is usually a rope set there to help you get up. I set our anchor in a crack in the rock near the point that looks over the upper pool. If you look at the picture above there's a little bush sticking out into the blue sky. That's where we set our anchor. There's a smaller pool right above the main falls I call "The Trap", we dropped in right above it. My anchor got stuck when we tried to pull it, so we left it there, and Frank said he would go get it when we were done.

A view from above The Trap

Rappelling past the main falls

After getting past the main falls there is no trail. Sometimes we had to find our way through the growth by crawling, climbing, or bulldozing our way through. It takes only a couple of minutes to get to the next swim hole from the drop in point. We have called this swim hole "The Wedge" because of the dramatic geology around it.

The Wedge

It was really hot when we got there. 94 degrees to be precise. The creek however, was a cool 63. It's been about two years since I've been to this spot. This used to be a great place to jump into. We were able to jump from perches about 15ft up from both sides and not touch the bottom. I'd guess it was probably 12 feet deep. But now the water is only about waist deep. I guess it got filled up with rocks over the last two years. I was kinda bummed.

View of Matilija Canyon from above The Wedge

We climbed up the the steep rocks on the side to a similar, but more shaded pool right above The Wedge. It too is only about waist deep water. We hung out up there for about an hour then went back down and got ready to head back.

The Wedge's sister

A swift footed fellow named Matt had climbed down using my pull-cord, and had gone exploring further up creek. He returned to The Wedge at about the same time as we were getting ready to head out as well. Matt was able to climb hand-over-hand back up. I don't like climbing hand-over-hand, so Frank and I decided to hoof it out via a rocky slope on the river-left side. Matt was kind enough to throw us our anchor so we wouldn't have to come back for it. I really appreciated that, thanks Matt. The slope is a pain in the butt. It's really choked with sage brush and manzanita on the way up. And the way down is a steep scree run with lots of loose rocks.

The hike back was pleasant enough for how hot it was. I'd like to go back up there sometime, but I think I'll wait for it to cool down a bit before I try again. I like comments, feel free to leave one.

Monday, June 14, 2010

06-10-2010 Tar Creek

The Big Pool, Bear Heaven in the background

Frank and I decided that a day hike to Tar Creek was in order. We figure the water levels will be getting pretty low soon. And as the water heats up with the summer the algae will really bloom.

We got to the lower falls quickly, and easily. I finally worked up enough courage to jump from the 40ft perch. It was the highest jump I've ever done for sure.

Trying to work up some courage

Frank brought my boat, and floated in the big pool for awhile.

Relaxing in style

Snakes in love

A family of nude hikers made their way down from their camp at the cascades. The mom and the kid put some clothes on when they saw us, but dad was not about to cover up. What got me wasn't the lack of clothing, but that they weren't wearing any shoes. You have to be pretty dedicated to your nakedness to walk through the rough, and jagged boulders of Tar Creek without any foot protection. They hung out for a bit, and then they headed back to their camp, barefoot, and bare-ass. We took off shortly after the family did. I think we were both feeling pretty good because we made it up the Tar Creek hill in 38 minutes, a personal record. If you're thinking about hitting up Tar Creek this year, the countdown is on, hurry up. Contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions or anything.