Tuesday, April 27, 2010

04-24-2010 Sespe via Tar Creek

We decided to do the Tar Creek loop this weekend. It's a long, grinding trek with a lot of bouldering. We had done it once before, but in the opposite direction as this hike. We will be hiking the Sespe in a few weeks, and we thought it would be a good idea to check out the last campsite we'll be staying at. So we went down Tar Creek to the big falls at the bottom.

The big falls

Now there are few things I have to say about rappelling off the falls. First off there is no real need to rappel off the falls. There is a trail on the north side of the falls that will take you down to the bottom. Well, most of the way down, then you have to a little bit of scrambling. It may not be as exciting, but it's a million times safer then a rappel. There are some bolt anchors set into the edge of the big falls. Someone had left their nylon webbing behind. I guess they've worked so far, but I don't know why anybody would trust those rusty ass anchors. It looks like the glue-in bolt is okay, though its sister bolt seems to have disappeared somehow. If you just have to rappel down falls there are some fine natural anchors near the edge. But here's the deal, you have to pull your anchors before you leave. That means either bring a pull rope, and retrieve your webbing from the bottom, or leave a person up top that will remove the webbing for you. This is a Condor sanctuary and these falls have Condors bathing and drinking from them all the time. Condors are curious animals and can get wrapped up in old webbing or rope and die. It really saddened me to find out we had lost a Condor last year do to someone carelessly leaving some rope behind at the falls. Don't leave anything behind at Tar Creek, be it trash, food, or rope. These guys did it the right way. Follow their example.

So after I removed the offending webbing we made use of the before mentioned trail to make our way to the bottom. At the bottom the trail disappears and you have to make your way to the Sespe by climbing down a maze of gigantic boulders.

Making our way down to the Sespe

Somewhere between the big falls and the Sespe

Once down to the Sespe it's a short upcreek walk to the campsite. Unfortunately at this time of year the creek is still high enough that we had to cross twice to get to the campsite. And there's not much to it. It's just a flat sandy area framed by some rocks. There is a grill to cook on, but that's about it. Just a few steps upcreek of the campsite there is a cave formed by a colossal boulder that has fallen on two smaller boulders. There's room inside the cave for a few people to sit around a firepit.

The entrance to the cave. Bear Heaven in the background

This is also where the long trail from Tar Creek ends/starts. We managed to walk right past the trailhead, and then spent the next hour trying to find it a few hundred yards upstream. It was a relief to finally find the son of a bitch. Have you ever been to one of those carwashes where the brushes come in from the side and scrub the side of your car? Well this trail is like that, only replace the brushes with poison oak. Along the trail we ran into a couple coming the other way. They said they were trying to get to the Sespe Hotsprings. They said that they couldn't find a map, and were, "just winging it". We told them that it would be impossible to get the hotsprings. I didn't give them any shit about how stupid they were being by going out somewhere without a map or even a clue about where they were. I think they thought they were at Dough Flat. It took us about three hours to make it back to the Tar Creek trailhead from the Sespe.

Monday, April 19, 2010

04-17-2010 Sierra Madre Ridge

Cherry Orchard Spring

I think the first thing I should say about this trip is that it would not have been possible without Tom and Kim from Habitatwork.com . They do great work organizing volunteers for highly worthy restoration projects in the southern California national forests. Our mission this weekend was to remove a infestation of knapweed that was growing along a section of Sierra Madre Ridge Road. We were able to accomplish this goal with a little hard work from bunch of cool people.

To get there it's a long drive up the 33 toward Cuyama, then a winding, dusty, 26 mile drive into the Los Padres backcountry. We camped at what the Forrest Service calls Painted Cave Campground. According to historians the Chumash called the spot S'ap'aksi. The Forest Service isn't keeping this site a secret, so I'll tell you about it. The topo map even marks the site with, "Petroglyphs" which to me seems kind of counter to the normal Forest Service policy of secrecy regarding culturally significant sites. Also "petroglyphs" seems like the wrong term. A petroglyph is a carving in stone. I guess they might be referring to the mortar holes that dot the rocks. But that's sort of like saying the Louvre has a lot of nice picture frames. Pictograph, the more appropriate word to me, is a painting on rock, but I digress.

This site has horse corral and outhouse and lot of space for camping. The terrain is hilly and slopes downward towards Leap Canyon and eventually the Sisquac River several miles to the south. How would you get here without a car and key to the gate 13 miles from the campsite? You could take the Sweetwater Trail up from the San Raphael Wilderness. The Jackson Trail from Sycamore Camp is another option coming out of the San Raf, more on that trail later. There is another trail that I think is called The Rocky Ridge Trail (the topos don't seem to name it, and I can't remember what the sign said) that goes out of the camp toward Newsome Canyon and Cuyama.

There is a rock formation with Chumash paintings before you get to the FS gate. I'm not going to tell you where it is though. It's very close to road and I'm surprised it's survived this long.

Once past the gate it's a long drive to Montgomery Potrero. I would guess that any large rock formation near a spring has a lot of potential for rock art. You just have to be willing to sweat a lot and take a few risks. A few miles up the road from S'ap'aksi is the Pine Corral. This is a big grassy area used for cattle grazing with rock formations popping out all over the place. If you decide to look for rock art here watch out for the big black bull that lives there with his harem of cows, he can be down right ornery. And while I'm at it when I was down in one of the side creeks looking rock art I came face to face with a rattlesnake. No big deal, it happens all the time. But this one was really not happy to see me. I found out later that it was because Frank had passed by it earlier and picked it up with a stick, thoroughly pissing it off.

An angry rattlesnake

Just past the Pine Corral is Lion Canyon. This canyon is an absolute jaw dropper. It used to be a California Condor release site. There are so many nooks and caves in Lion Canyon I could spend a week there wandering around taking it all in.

Lion Canyon

Then you arrive at S'ap'aksi. At the ground level right next to a trickling waterfall is a painting that I interpret as a dolphin. This is one the largest Chumash paintings I have personally seen. It's been badly damaged, but the head, dorsal, and front fins are still visible. If you go up and behind the rock you can find the little spring that feeds the waterfall. Follow that spring down at will lead you right to "The House of the Sun". Inside the cave you will see a large sunburst painting and few human/ animal like figures. There's a paper online by Georgia Lee and Stephen Horne that gives a lot info about S'ap'aksi, most of it (like all Chumash information) was gathered by Harrington. Like all academic work on the Chumash, I would take it with a grain of salt. I don't think that true full blooded Chumash shared there secrets with non-Chumash. Of course, I'm basing my opinion on information gathered by Harrington, so take that with a grain of salt as well. You can check out a video I took at the site here

If you keep heading up the road another half mile you find a sign that says, "Jackson Trail." Follow that trail another half mile and you come upon a dilapidated cabin. It doesn't look like an old time "historical" cabin but more like a shitty cowboy shack. I took a short video of the place. There is a creek with water right behind the cabin. But that's it, the trail does not continue on to the San Raf from here. Looking at the topo map (Hurricane Deck) the Jackson Trail is the road (Sierra Madre Ridge Road) and the cabin is just a little side trek. I can see how the sign there would be confusing to a hiker. Here's a video.

This cabin looks like it still gets some use

Thanks to a academic newsletter published by a Rock Art Group that is advocating closing off cattle grazing access to about half dozen sites on the Sierra Madre Ridge, I was able to figure out where some of those rock art sites were.

A chipped figure

So thanks again to everyone involved with Habitatwork.org . I had a great time, and really appreciate the opportunity go out and search for these paintings.

This gopher snake owes its life to Tom

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

04-03-2010 Middle Sespe Rocks

I wasn't really planning on doing any hiking this weekend, until Friday evening when Megan asked if I wanted to go anywhere for my birthday. For a long time now I've been curious about the large rock formation that you can see in the distance behind the Middle Sespe trailhead. These formations look a lot like the Piedra Blanca formations that lie a few miles downstream. I've wanted to get back there and look for caves and archeological artifacts. Megan, Mike and I started from the mentioned Middle Sespe trailhead right off the 33. Instead of staying on the trail when it first crosses the Sespe we made our way upstream for little bit before we found a small creek that was flowing from the Northeast. We followed the winding little creek up about half a mile where came to some cool look rocks that were framing the creek. These rocks had some cool caves and depressions in them. A little further on and the terrain open up into a flat plain, that rock formation was further away then it looked from the road. We continued on up the creek until we came to a rocky squeeze. This was supposed to be a easy hike and I didn't want to elevate to a full on exploration mission. At this point the fog was rolling over Ortega hill and falling towards us. We decided that we had a nice time outside but that it was time to head back. We stopped at the Red Barn for some tacos before we went home. Thanks Megan, that was a nice birthday gift.