Monday, May 24, 2010

05-16-2010 Sespe Gauntlet

Tar Creek, Sespe, Bear Heaven, The West Fork, Topatopa Mountain

I've been thinking about this hike for a long time. I think it started a few years ago when I was looking around on the internets for info on Tar Creek when I came across Christopher Brennen's web-book. In it he describes a hike that starts at Dough Flat links up with the Sespe at Alder Creek and ends at Tar Creek (or Devil's Gate). The most intriguing part of the hike to me had to be what he called "The Squeezes", three deep pools on the Sespe that had to swam across to be passed. The idea of floating alongside my pack in the Ventura backcountry has fascinated me since I read about it. I know that Frank and Zach had made a sort of ill prepared attempt at this hike ten years ago. Only to be turned back by a raging Sespe and to be driven out of Lions Camp by the late Tony Alvis.

Sleeping Indian Rock

Instead of starting at Dough Flat, I wanted to start at the Piedra Blanca trailhead (Lions Camp)and then camp at Willett Hot Spring, then Sespe Hot Springs, then in the Sespe Narrows, and finally camp at the Tar Creek / Sespe confluence. So, armed with Brennen's directions we headed out for six days of adventure on the Sespe. The hike out to Willett is nothing special. I described it in my last post. What I didn't mention in that post was that we had stashed supply's and eight beers up there. That allowed us enough room in our packs to bring fresh food for dinner the first night. What a meal we had. Frank brought Fillet Mignon (wow!), I brought some Tri-tip and Zach brought Bulgogi. Jeremiah rolled into camp with some fresh veggies.

Zach and Jeremiah grill it up

We had so much food we were able to feed the two other people staying up there as well. One them told us he was a runner in The Coyote Two Moon, a crazy looking race. After diner we headed up to the tub and relaxed with our beers for a bit. The four of us were able to sleep in the bunk beds at the condo that night. In the morning we had a big breakfast and then got ready to head on to Sespe Hot Springs. At one of the creek crossings along the six mile trail to the Hot Springs we ran into a group of upbeat kids from Thacher School. They had spent the night at Shady Camp and were headed towards Willett. What awesome school to go to. We walked past Cottriell Flat. I didn't stop to see if the camp was still there.

Cottriell Flat

Right as we got into Hot Spring Canyon it started to rain lightly. We made our way up to the Hot Springs and pitched camp at spot with a couple of palm trees. Frank measured the temperature, and the hot water bubbles out of the side the canyon walls at 189 degrees Fahrenheit! Right next to the Palm Tree Camp are a couple of one person pools that were a nice 106 degrees, perfect for a nice morning soak. It continued to drizzle rain throughout the night. I was a little scared that we might have to postpone going into the Sespe. The threat of flash floods is real. But the rain was light, and didn't really raise the water level at all. In the morning I got up and took a nice bath in one of the hot pools. Jeremiah earned canyoneer of the week honors for packing out a bunch of Keystone Light cans that some jerk had left behind.

Relaxing in scalding hot water

Right where the Upper Sespe Trail starts to head up over a saddle towards Shady Camp there's a sign that says, "Devil's Gate: 15" this is where you should take off your hiking boots and put on your water shoes (I'd also recommend some heavy wool or neoprene socks).

A good sign

We spent the next five hours walking down the middle of the Sespe. I think trying to find a way through here without getting your feet wet is next to impossible. Slogging through the creek was actually a lot of fun. The water was only about shin high most of the time. After a couple of hours we could feel the cold water of Alder Creek mixing in with the Sespe. We saw our only Condor of the trip circling above the Stone Corral.

Contemplating my next move

Finally we reached the campsite described in Brennen' guide. It's actually not a campsite per say, but more of a beach with a stone fire ring.

Overhang Falls Camp

There was plenty of room for the four of us. The site was so nice, that we decided to spend the next day there too. So we spent our forth day just exploring and swimming in the canyon. Late in the afternoon two other hikers passed through (Jen and Wes? Sorry, I forgot your names). They were real cool, and we would see them a few more times before our trip was over.

Sunset on The Sespe

That night it was really windy. None of us got a good nights sleep. Part of it was the wind, and at least for me, it was partly the excitement of the next days hike keeping me up. We packed up early. I lined my bag with a garbage bag in case I took a dunking in the creek. Soon after we started out, we passed by the two other hikers at their camp. They had had a close call with a falling boulder in the middle of the night, and seemed pretty shaken up by it. We wished each other luck, and our group continued on. The area near the First Squeeze is known as the Sespe Gorge. The power of the Sespe is on full display here.

The creek picks up speed and thunders over the boulders into a narrow chute, the First Squeeze, then spills out into a wide pool. We were able to get through this section without swimming. As a matter of fact we were able to get through all the "squeezes" without swimming. I don't think the water was low, but rather the dep pools had been filled with sediment. I don't know if these will get washed out when a really heavy storm hits, or maybe that's what filled them up. We were all a bit disappointed that we didn't have to float our bags and swim the narrow sections.

The First Squeeze

The Second Squeeze

We had been taking turns carrying my 3lb inflatable boat for nothing. I guess it's better safe than sorry, though. As we trudged on through the Sespe we refilled our bottles with water springing right from the base of Topatopa mountain.

Pure clean water

Approaching the Third Squeeze

The river water got cloudy-er as we neared Grassy Flat. And there's nothing flat about Grassy Flat. It's just a lot of rocks and brush. The West Fork is so overgrown I didn't even notice it as we passed by. When we found several nasty open pits of bubbling oil seeping into the creek we knew we were getting close to Tar Creek.

An open oil pit

As we made our way closer to our camp I turned back to see how everyone was doing. Right at that moment, maybe a few hundred feet away from us and a black jet roared through the canyon at a ridiculous speed, pulled a high-G bank straight up near Tar Creek Falls, did a couple of barrel rolls, leveled out, and then shot off east like a bat out of hell. The sound of it rushing by was incredibly loud, and scared the piss out of me.

Soon after that we got to the two gigantic boulders that I call Patty and Selma. They block the way to Tar Creek. Where they meet in the creek they form a formidably powerful waterfall. The only way past them is to balance your way down a log placed on the east side of the creek. A few minutes later we were at the Tar Creek camp. Like Willett we had hiked in a few weeks before and stashed some beers and food. So that night as we ate up the rest of our freeze dried meals and drank our hard earned beer. We talked about what we wanted to eat when we got back civilization.

The next morning we packed up our stuff for the last time. We made sure our camp was completely clean. My policy is to pack out any trash (within reason) I find in the Condor Sanctuary. Zach dubbed the trail up from the Sespe to Tar Creek the Donkeyballs Trail because it's such a bastard. Jeremiah was able to cut over from the trail to the bottom falls of Tar Creek. We all met up at the Cascades.

Grace in motion

At first we were the only ones there. Jeremiah and I cleaned up the make-shift campsites at the Cascades. We found a bunch of beer cans, a disturbing number of Blow-Pop wrappers, and even an old rope. As we made our way up the Tar Creek hill I kept finding more wrappers and cigarette butts. And then at the top of the hill our ride was waiting for us. A few minutes later Wes and Jen rolled up. We had made it. Thirty some-odd miles (twelve or so in the water)over six days. I thought I would feel totally beat after such a long haul. But to the contrary, I felt supercharged.

So to sum it all up, I had a great time. Despite not having to swim through the squeezes this was a really rewarding trip. We all worked as a team, helping each other out when we needed to. In the past I was proud of making it through the Stone Corral, and "finding" the Upper Matilija Falls was pretty cool, and I've completed some other hard hikes, but this was the most satisfying hike I've ever done. I'd love to try it starting from Dough Flat some time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

05-07-2010 Willett Hot Spring

Willett Hot Spring is a very popular and well known hike. It's a pretty straight forward nine mile hike from the Piedra Blanca trailhead. We decided that in preparation for our upcoming Sespe hike we would hike out to Willett and back in one afternoon. We set a pretty good pace. It took us two hours to get Kerr Spring, the half-way point to Willett. Here's a tip, when you get to Bear Camp there's a creek crossing if you stick to the main trail, but if you keep walking down creek on the use-trail about a hundred yards you can rock hop across the creek without having to take your shoes off and wade.

Watch your step

Another two hours and two more creek crossings and we were at Willett Camp. There's a few old buildings. In one of them I found a couple of super-stoned Ojai locals playing Scrabble and chillin on the bunk-bed frames in there. There's a concrete structure with a big, metal, bear-proof door for storage.

Stash your goodies here

We were sitting at one the picnic tables when a well traveled fellow named Scott strolled up.

A nice place for lunch

We chatted about past hikes for about an hour, and then it was time for us to head back the way we came. We didn't even check out the hot spring. I wore my water shoes for the half mile back to the creek crossing only to realize when I got there that I had left my socks drying back at Willett. So I had to run back get my socks and then run back to where Frank was waiting for me. We were able to keep the same pace back, two hours to Kerr Spring. We ran into a guy from the California Conservation Corps who said they had been working on the Red Reef Trail and the trail between Sespe Hot Springs and Shady Camp. So if you had been rebuffed on those trails in the past they are probably improved now. We saw a woman on horseback leading four or five mules loaded with supply's out to the CCC camp at Sespe Hot Springs on our way back. I assume she was from the Los Padres Outfitters.

Checking out that ass

And that was it, eighteen or nineteen miles in eight hours. I counted about nine people staying at Willett that night. Next week we will take six days to hike the Sespe from Piedra Blanca to Tar Creek.

Monday, May 10, 2010

05-01-2010 Lake Casitas Beer Festival

Well, this had to be the least strenuous VCCC trip in the books. But we slept in tents, so, while it might not be canyoneering, or even hiking, I still consider it a VCCC event. First I have to give thanks to everyone involved with Ventura Independent Beer Enthusiasts (V.I.B.E.). VIBE is Ventura's homebrewers club. It's a great group of friendly beer lovers.

We all felt like he looked

I wish I could remember more about the Southern California Beer Brewers Festival. What I do remember is a lot of super nice people from all over with the common thread of loving finely crafted beer. The tasting (drinking) began at 10:30am and I would guess that it stopped somewhere near dawn the next day.

Everybody was having a good time

A lot of the clubs set up really nice booths. There was a group from San Diego that had dozens of taps flowing. The Santa Barbara club was all dressed as Barbeereens. They were wearing black kilts and viking helmets, real nice guys though. I had fun hanging out at their booth shooting the breeze. The Brewing Enthusiasts of the Antelope Valley Region (B.E.A.V.R.) had a great booth. I think they had the best named beer at the event with their "It Burns When IPA" India Pale Ale. They also had a stout called "Chocolate Covered BEAVR Nuts". My favorite beer at the fest was Temecula Valley's Scotch 80. That was a damn fine brew, and I tip my hat to whomever made it.

And I hope you like jammin too

There was much singing and guitar playing around the campfire. I pretty sure everyone had a great time. I met some really cool people that I hope I can hang out with again in the future. Next time I'll drink more water.

If you went to the festival and have any opinions on the beers or the event please leave a comment.