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.


  1. It's good to see the table is still there at Cienega, built by Louie Henghold and friends more than 25 years ago, in honor of his father, Lou Henghold, owner of the "The Mill" in Santa Paula, at the time of his death. The table was built out of Big Cone Douglas Fir, so it has been able to weather the years. Thanks for the photo. It's my favorite backback place in Ventura County.

  2. Kevin, me too. Went to school with Louie. I am hoping to do the hike with my sons one day. They live in California and I live in Puerto Rico.

  3. I hiked there many times with my friends Kathy and Rick Bousman, Fred Williams, mark Carlson, and others. Cienega, Bear haven bluff camp down east fork... great memories.

  4. You didn’t exit down the east fork ?

  5. Cool memories of Cienega. Went over the peak with my dad once and camped with him there. We both still talk about a UFO experience we had that night. On another trip with friends we experienced a very wet snow fall after tucking into our trusty plastic tube tents. Unfortunately, Tuthill didn't have one. Instead he had a cheap, very thin plastic sheet he somehow hung with parachute cord. All night the snow would drop out of the trees and punch through the plastic like it wasn't even there. Every hour or so he'd wake me with the same question: "Fred, are you dead yet?"