Friday, September 14, 2012

09-09-2012 Piedra Blanca

Or you could call this a day filled with questionable judgement. A lot of the hikes on this blog would have never been done if I used “good” judgment.  Sometimes you think yourself, “this is going to be miserable with a chance of downright awful.”  But you go out there anyway and you give it go.

The Wild and Scenic Sespe River
I knew it was going to be hot this weekend. I knew it would be really hot up in Ojai. But my buddy from Australia was back in the US for a visit. He had asked if I was up for a hike. I couldn’t let an opportunity to rub New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup victory in the face of an Aussie.  If you know an Aussie go ahead and remind them right now, I’ll wait.

Okay, so I had to think of a hike that wouldn’t be total madness. That means there needed to be water. Hmm, not too many places left with water right now. There’s Matilija, but it takes two hours to get to the waterfalls, and that first hour before you get to the creek is pretty miserable. And there's that silly access issue. I thought Piedra Blanca might be nice. Australia would get to see the Piedra Blanca rock formation. It’s no Uluru, but we try.  Then we could head up to PB Camp and check out the rock art on the boulder there. I had a pretty good feeling that PB Creek would be flowing and that we could cool off there and refill our water bottles. 

Looking towards the Piedra Blanca rock formation with Pine Mountain in the background

That sounded like a good idea to me. The forecast predicted 92F degree’s for the day’s high temperature. That didn’t sound good, but like I said before, I don’t always make the best decisions. 

It was already warm when we arrived at the trailhead. There were a few clouds in the distance. I was hoping those would move in and give us some relief from the sun. When we got down to the Sespe Creek crossings it was bone dry. I was really hoping that PB Creek would have water. When we got through the rock formation I still couldn’t hear the creek. Luckily those clouds had blown over and were blocking the sun as we made our way through the exposed section of the trail. Somewhere about half way to PB Camp I heard the sweet sound of cascading water coming from the creek. This was a big relief to me. 

Piedra Blanca Camp

When we pulled into camp it was empty. We went down to creek and filled up. I know of a nice swimming hole that’s near the camp so I proposed we go find it and take a dip. Australia was doing just fine and agreed. So we set off for the pool. This part required some rock hopping and bushwhacking. We ran into two guys who were coming back from the pool. It’s kinda weird when you run into someone off trail. Are they there just to hike like us, or are they checking on their pot farm? If the latter are they gonna  try to kill me? You never know out there. So I see these guys coming down and they don’t look like they are in the Mexican Mafia so I take the friendly approach and say, “Howdy."  They seemed a little surprised to see me, but I was surprised to see them too. What struck me as odd was that the only thing these guys were carrying was a giant knife. They didn’t have any water bottles or backpacks or shirts for that matter, just that big knife. They greeted me and asked if I was from Ojai. I said no, but was reluctant to tell them where I was from. I got a weird vibe from these guys, but that was it. They went their way and I continued up towards the pool.

This guy was about 8 inches long

We got to the pool just in time. I was starting to feel overheated from the effort. I couldn’t get into that water fast enough. The creek was cold and rejuvenating. Little trout swam around us as we cooled off.  Drying off was a quick process. The sun was back out and baring down on us. I wanted to get out there before peak heat set in.  Back down the creek we went. I’d dip my hat in the water to keep my head from cooking, but it would dry out after a few minutes.  When we got back to PB Camp I was overheating. I went down to the creek to fill my bottle again.  I didn’t feel that good, in fact I felt like puking. And that is what I did. I’ve never vomited while hiking before. I sprayed the ground with Fruit Punch Gatorade a few times. Then I felt better. I noticed a big front of dark clouds rolling in over Pine Mountain. Sweet, those should block out the sun right around the time we get to the exposed section. We headed out. I felt good for the rest of the hike.

When we got to the trailhead I saw four people and a dog looking at the map the FS has posted there. I walked over and asked them where they were headed. Bear Camp they told me. Then they asked me where the trail started. I could tell these folks didn’t have a clue what they were doing. They were wearing designer blue jeans and tennis shoes. Three of them had backpacks and one was just carrying a large camera. None of their bags seemed big enough to carry overnight gear. The Sespe is dry right now I told them. That didn’t seem to make them pause at all. Then I noticed camera girl had a handgun strapped to her belt. I'd rather have a bottle of water, but to each their own. I felt bad for this poor dog that these people were about to make walk five miles to Bear, but I didn’t stop them. Like I said, my decision making wasn’t exactly great today either.

It was cool to hike with Australia again. He didn't talk much shit about New Zealand this time, so I didn't give him to much guff over NZ's Championship. Hopefully someday I can visit him and post a trip report from Australia.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

08-31-2012 Fishbowls Loop

I’ve been relatively inactive the last month as a result of this year’s warm summer. Cooking my brain in 100 degree Ojai heat just doesn’t appeal to me. But now that summer is starting to wind down it’s time to get out again. Frank and I wanted to go camping this weekend. We needed to pick a campsite we knew would have water this late in the year.  So we decided that Fishbowls would probably be a good choice for an overnighter.

It took us a couple of hours to drive north up the 33, past the Ozena Fire Station, then Lockwood Valley Road east, then back south on Mutau Flat Road towards the Grade Valley. Finally we got to the Fishbowls trailhead. The trail is a big loop that starts at Fishbowls TH and finishes at the Cedar Creek TH 2.5 miles further south down the road (See the map at the bottom of this post).  Craig Carry’s book Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura suggested leaving the Jeep at the Cedar Creek TH 2.5 miles further down the road then walk back to Fishbowls TH. The logic being that covering that stretch of road will be easier on fresh legs. But I’m lazy, my logic was to park at the Fishbowls trailhead, then hope that the next day someone would see us walking up the road and take pity and give us a ride back to the Jeep.

 The only other vehicle at the trailhead was a firefighting truck (the modified pickup kind, not a huge fire engine ). The trail started out easy. It’s well maintained. It looks like a crew went through recently and cut most of the trees that had fallen and blocked the trail. As we made our way the trail stayed pretty easy. I guess we were gaining elevation but it was barely noticeable.

A couple of bi-planes, I had to be quick with my camera

We ran into the firefighter after about an half an hour. He said he was just out to stretch his legs and was on his way back to his truck. After an hour of hiking we came upon a gate. I learned in Craig's book that this marked the end of an old 4x4 road we had been walking on. There’s also a Sespe Wilderness sign here. It’s one these new plastic composite signs. I don't know why they don't use wood anymore.

Same classic design
There are lots of creek crossings on the trail. These were easy for us because Piru Creek is bone dry and dusty. The huge pine and cedar trees that populate the area seemed indifferent to the torrid conditions. About an hour and half after the gate we came upon another sign

Fishbowls Camp

 Just past the sign is the main Fishbowls camp. Nestled in among some large boulders is a iron grill and a stone fire ring. There are a few flat spots for tents. Behind the boulders is another iron grill and a big flat exposed area for more tents. There’s a creek that goes by just below the campsite. It was dry like the others we had passed. We were really hoping that the fishbowls would have some water.  We threw down our stuff and grabbed our water gathering containers. We followed the trail out of the camp and onto the other side of the dry creek bed. A few yards further and another sign points the way towards Cedar Camp.

  We took a use trail that went off to the right (west). Another little creek is here and it had some smelly slow trickling water. We continued on the use trail past a few more large but exposed campsites. After maybe a quarter mile me got to a sandstone narrows that we knew had to be the fishbowls. But yuck, the water was still and had a layer scum on the surface. We  climbed and jumped our way back further upstream in hopes of finding a decent pool to draw some water from.  We did find one that had clear water and a trickle to it.
Back at the camp I set up a hammock.  I read for awhile until I dozed off for a few hours. When I woke up it was time to make diner. Frank was generous enough to bring and share a couple of cans of Boones Ale. The day had been warm, but not uncomfortable. After the sun went down, it got a little chilly.

Hot days don’t always equal hot nights as Frank was about to be reminded.  While I was sleeping comfortably in my down sleeping bag Frank was freezing because he only brought a sheet to keep himself warm. At some point in the night it became too much and he took my hammock down and used it as a blanket.

The morning brought back the sun and warmth. We packed up and headed out towards Cedar Camp. The trail climbs a few hundred feet over a few miles then peaks out. Just past the peak we came upon a sign lying on the ground. This marked where the trails split for Pine Mountain Lodge to the west and Cedar Camp to the east. 

This sign confuses me. Why Does Cedar Creek have two arrows?

Just past this junction I saw a guy coming up the trail from Cedar. “Howdy.” I said and he greeted us back. We told him where we coming from. He looked familiar to me. “Is your name Howard?” I asked. “How the hell did you know that?” he replied, perplexed. Ha, it was Howard. I've read this guy’s blog and heard some stories about his runs in the woods. The guy is an ultra-marathon runner. Not marathons, ultra-marathons. The Sespe hike we did a few years ago took us five days. Howard and his buddy did it in twelve hours. So I tell him how I recognize him and who I am so he isn’t creeped out.  He told us that he had spent the night at Thorn Meadows (or Snedden Camp depending on what map your looking at). He had jogged out to Thorn Point earlier in the morning and he was now tackling the Fishbowls loop. We told him the water situation and bid him a good run. A few minutes later we hit the switchbacks that are right above Cedar Camp.

We stopped at Cedar Camp for a quick lunch break. This is a nice, large camp. There are several sites that can handle few different camping groups. The campsite is home to many enormous Cedars and Pines. There’s a creek that cuts by in dramatic fashion. We spent about twenty minutes eating  and then it was back to the trail.

 One of the fire rings at Cedar Camp

 After Cedar the trail is all downhill. It was pretty nice. We startled some deer that were probably out looking for something to drink. We were making good time; I was hoping to get back to the Jeep before the afternoon heat kicked into full force. It wasn’t too long before we saw another Forest Service sign  marking the end of the trail. This was the Cedar Creek trailhead. I took a few pictures of the signs. We were about to start walking the road back to Fishbowls TH when I saw a figure trotting down the road towards us. “You gotta be kidding me.” I said. It was Howard. He had completed the loop in the same time it had taken Frank and I to walk from Cedar to the road. I was flabbergasted. He didn’t even seem winded. He just smiled and expressed some regret about not beating us. We bid him farewell again and started up the road. There were a lot of motorcycle and quadrunners out enjoying the OHV trails. After about a mile Howard pulled up in his pickup and gave us ride back to the Jeep. I love it when a plan comes together.