Thursday, October 18, 2012

10-13-2012 Suicide Canyon

Big Tujunga River

For this adventure I again had to leave my familiar Los Padres NF and head over to our neighbor, the Angeles NF. I was going to go on another technical canyoneering  trip.  The canyon for the day was Suicide Canyon. It’s one of many canyons cut into Mount Lunkins and drains out in to the Big Tujunga River. If you are interested in any of these canyons, the guru of southern California canyoneering, Christopher Brennen, has excellent descriptions on his website.

Through early morning fog I see visions of the things to be

I met up with my canyon-mates at the Stonyvale parking lot at 7:00am. We didn’t waste much time before started out on the use trail to the canyon. What kinda sucks is right off the bat, I mean within 50 yards of the trailhead you have to cross the Big Tujunga River. The river was calm and nice, but there was nowhere to cross without getting your feet soaked. Everybody else just charged across, so I did the same. You have to cross the river again another hundred or so yards down the trail. From there you don’t get wet again until you’re in Suicide’s watercourse. I would suggest wearing a pair of sandals or something until you get past the river crossings, then put on your boots; your feet will thank you.
Crossing the Big Tujunga River

The Maxon Route

We took the Maxon route as described in Prof Brennan's guide. It’s steep and the tread was loose. There are patches of poison oak so you have something to focus on other than your footing. After climbing a few hundred feet we passed some power lines. A little past that, there was a slightly narrow ridge that was easily passed. Then the ‘trail’ got a lot more overgrown. We basically just bushwhacked our way over to the canyon.

Once we had dropped into the canyon we geared up. We followed a small trickle of water down a few yards to the first challenge, a 200 ft. waterfall named, ‘Lovers Leap’.  In his guide, Prof. Brennan uses natural anchors for all his rappels. In the time that has passed since he published his guide, someone (I'm guessing Matt Maxon) has installed bolt anchors at all but one of the rappels.

Overlooking 'Lovers Leap'

Coming down 'Lovers Leap'. Photo courtesy and © Andre

The first rappel of any canyon is always an introspective moment for me. Have I forgotten to secure something? Am I on the right line? Do I really want to do this? A lot of questions race through my head. A big one is, am I about to die? But I go through my mental checklist, ask somebody else to check me out, and when I get the thumbs up, it's time to go. After you really lean back and let the rope take the load and you don't tumble to your death on the jagged rocks below it becomes a fun experience.

Photo courtesy and © Andre

Photo courtesy and © Andre

Down at the bottom I soon realized another danger; falling rocks. The whole way down the canyon we were sprinkled with loose rocks from above. Belaying was particularly risky. At one point I had to duck out of the way of a face shattering, golf ball sized rock that had been dislodged by the person I was belaying. 

 Photo courtesy and © Andre

The rappels kept coming precipitously; we never had to hike far before rigging up again. Once a few of us would get down, we would take a rope and try to find the next anchor while the rest of the group came down. Most of the rappels were fairly tall. There were a least a couple that were in the 80-100 ft. range. 

 Posing for a picture

... I can take or leave it if I please
After a few hours we made it down the last rappel. I would suggest that if you decide to pack up your gear here that you keep your helmet on until you completely leave the canyon. Those rocks I mentioned before were still raining down on us as we made our way back to the Big Tujunga confluence.   

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10-06-2012 San Antonio Creek

Looking down San Antonio Creek

It’s been just too hot the last few weeks for fun hiking in the Los Padres. But I still want to get out on the weekends and do stuff. What would be really nice is if I could find somewhere within a few hours’ drive that has some nice clear flowing water.

Navigating the use-trail 

I got an invitation through for a canyoneering trip through San Antonio Creek. According to Brennan's description not only would there be water but I should expect to get wet in the lower waterfalls. Whoot! That’s just what I want, so I signed up. 

The drive up Mount San Antonio (commonly known as Mt. Baldy) was pleasant enough. Mt. Baldy is the highest peak in San Gabriels, topping out at just over ten thousand feet. I got there around 8:30 and parking was already an issue. I got lucky though, and found a spot near the trailhead. I had arrived about an hour early so I got my equipment organized and ate some snacks.

 Fireman's belay 

At 9:30, I met up with the other eight canyoneers. We went over the basic game plan for the day and then headed out. In Brennen’s guide he hikes up 2000ft to an old ski hut before entering the canyon. Instead of that route we opted to take a use-trail up to the top of the second waterfall. This shaved about three hours and only one 60ft rappel off the trip. I measured the water temperature at a refreshing 52F. The first rappel was just a few yards down from where we got geared up. There are bolts and webbing at all the waterfalls. From what I gathered, a local guide company visits this canyon frequently and keeps the anchors maintained.

 Getting close to the end

The last waterfall 

Everything was pretty straight forward. Find the anchors, rig up the rope, rap down, pull the rope. The flow wasn’t heavy, but getting wet was unavoidable, not that I tried. The third rap was the best. It is an 80 footer that pelts you with water for the lower 60ft. When we got to the last waterfall we had an audience. A lot of people just hike up to the bottom of these falls and hang out. We all made down without any complications. We were a bit wet, but I think everyone enjoyed the soaking. After that it was just a short walk down hill to the parking area. I had a good time meeting all these new people and having a little adventure with them. Hopefully we can do it again sometime soon.

Monday, October 8, 2012

09-29-2012 Matilija Dam

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

After the last few overheated hikes I’ve decide it’s best not to do any more backcountry Los Padres hikes until the temperatures cool down and we get some significant rain. But that doesn’t mean some easy local walks are out of consideration. Megan and I decided that a drive up to Ojai and the short walk to Matilija Dam would be a nice way to spend the afternoon. Megan hadn’t been there since the scissors got painted up there about a year ago.

Investigating a spooky building

Abandoned equipment

It’s a super short and easy walk to the dam. There was a group of people at the edge of the ‘lake’ and a couple of people  fishing while floating out in the water on inflatable rafts. Megan and I climbed over to the exit side of the dam. We spent a little time investigating the old buildings and structures that have been abandon back there.  After checking things out for a bit we climbed back over and headed back to Ventura.

Cut it out

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

09-15-2012 Agua Blanca Creek

Cobblestone Mountain

There is already a couple of blogs that document my latest hike. Check out Craig's and Eldon's accounts.  Both are better writers than I am. If you want the nutshell version of the story, I’ll try to be succinct. If you don't feel like reading this do yourself a favor and skip down to the bottom and at least read the poem by Jim Clark.

Craig got contacted by the Forest Service about scouting Agua Blanca Creek. The FS had some sort of deadline they had to meet, so the trip had to be done in the summer heat. We would get the benefit of FS access i.e. we could drive past the locked gate at Tar Creek and drive almost all the way to Dough Flat ( two miles saved) and we would have access to the FS road that goes to Kester Cabin where AB and Piru Creek meet (a seven mile walk otherwise).

 Hiking in the heat

 I really wanted to do this hike, so against by better judgment I signed up. My reasons for going? Well I’ve tried to find Saddle Skirt Camp twice before with no luck. Also, I would especially like to get to Cove Camp. Cove is one the most remote campsites in the entire Los Padres. I would like to be one the few people who have been there. And if we made it to Log Cabin Camp it would mean I have hiked from the 33 all the way to Piru (over various hikes). My reasons for not going, the heat. Hiking in the Los Padres in the summer is miserable. If you can’t find water, you’re going to have a bad time. I was assured that there would be water in the Agua Blanca once we reached Ant Camp. I kept my eye on the weather forecast as our trip approached. The high temps were predicted to be 97F. I told Craig we were all going to die, but I didn’t back out.

Squaw Flat

The Bucksnort Juction

When we got started hiking from Dough Flat it was already hot. How hot was it? It was so hot the trees were looking for shade. I’ll be here all week, folks. When we made it to Squaw Camp (45 minutes from start) we had to take a break. When we got to Bucksnort Spring, Craig was overheating, and I was beginning to question the sanity of going further. But it’s all downhill after you reach Bucksnort, and there was that promise of water at Ant Camp. After a good rest we hoofed it down to Ant Camp. I got there first and immediately grabbed my water filter and headed to the creek. All I was thinking was, "Please let there be water, please let there be water." I got to the creek and... it was bone dry. This was not good. The creek bed was sun-bleached, there hadn't been any water here in a while. I was so angry at the Forest Service for sending us on this fucking trip. I went back to the camp and told the others the shituation. Between the six of us we had 3 litres of water, also not good. Ned said he would look upstream for some water and Nico volunteered to go down stream. Ned came back shortly and said he found a patch of damp ground that we might be able to dig out for some water. About two hours after he left Nico returned... with water! He told us he had found a nasty puddle some ways down creek. As a group we decided that this mission was over. Our only goal now was to get the fuck outta here. We would take this water, wait for night fall, and then head back to Dough Flat in the cooler temperatures of the early morning. Ned, Johnny and I went downstream to gather as much more water as we could. Just a bit past the old Tin Can Cabin site we found the water. It wasn't much, maybe inch or two deep, lots of bugs, but man I was glad it was there. The sun had gone down before we started back to camp so we had to find our way back using headlamps. When we got back to camp Craig made some food, but I just wanted to drink. We were all pretty tired, so we settled down for some sleep before the climb out. 

We got up around 1:30 in the morning. We packed up and headed out of camp and up the hill at 3:00. Around 4:00 we stopped and took a rest. As we sat there we watched meteors streak across the sky. This was the only enjoyable part of the entire trip for me. After that we slogged out the rest of the hill. The sun started peeking up over Hopper mountain as we making our way toward Squaw Flat. By the time we made it to Dough Flat it was sunny and hot as hell again. Craig and Ned took off to grab the vehicles and the rest of us rested in whatever shade we could find (or make). Soon enough Craig rolled up and we headed back to civilization. We stopped and got Mexican food and drinks with ice, lots of ice. After that we headed home. So to sum things up, this trip sucked. However, I will probably try it again some time in the future. It'll be at a time of my choice though, that's for sure.

And we're back at Dough Flat

Ned's dad, Jim Clark, wrote this fantastic poem about our adventure. Much thanks to him for this gem.


I’ve a tale to tell of a hike from hell,
Of hikers who truly know better;
Including son Ned, who ‘fore leaving said,
“It’s hiking, not riding mule weather.”
This hike’s a request, from Los Padres’ best,
To check out some trails and old camps;
Leader Craig Carey, responded fairly,
Let’s wait ‘til it turns cool and damp.
Replied headquarters, “those are your orders,
We need it ‘fore September ends;
In this fiscal year, your tale shall appear,
Though we shall pay you NO stipend!”
So gathered the crew, (the ‘fore mentioned two),
Plus Jonny, Eldon, Eric and Nick;
Craig writes books and blogs, Eldon, expat photog,
Jonny’s a teacher and takes pics.
Nick’s the best hiker, Ned, horseman, biker,
Eric blogs, “County Canyoneering”;
And this group, you’d say, on this year’s worst day,
Would choose not hiking, but “beering”.
Ninety-four the stat, when they left Dough Flat,
A thousand foot climb without shade;
Though Squaw Flat was dry, as Bucksnort drew nigh,
A cool spring sip they’d have it made.
The spring’s dried to scum, and all the six chums,
Scoffed choosing the creek down at Ant;
The Agua Blanca, fills the barranca,
And a pool awaits us extant.
By yuccas frizzied and heat stroke dizzied,
The last drops of water sustained,
‘Til camp where they saw, no pool in the draw,
Not a drop to drink ‘til it rained.
Ned checked upstream, just found a bad dream,
Of horse nettle and poison oak;
And so Nick carried, hopes of heat harried,
His five mates approaching sun stroke.
With two hours gone, the boys settled on,
Another fifteen minute wait;
‘fore leaving their perch, and starting in search,
Of the lost comrade and his fate.
Then Nico appeared, with better than feared
Reported a small sad bug pool;
They filtered his brew and then three set to
With filters and bottles and tools.

The tired scout confessed, the trail was a mess,
And Craig said “take flashlights to see”;
Off the three muddled seeking the puddle,
In the creek choked with willow trees.
A line was set up, Ned, using a cup,
Poured it into Jonny’s kerchief;
Screened out the jigglers, crawlers and wigglers,
And Eric had the filter brief.
With all bottles filled, an hour uphill,
Through brush, willows and poison oak
Upstream they’re tramping, worn out and cramping,
And no place at Ant for a soak.
Then they saw headlamps lighting the home camp,
Craig heated freeze dried in a pail
Then the benighted, six zip decided;
To turn back o’er three Fat Tire Ales.
They left Ant at three, used headlamps to see,
Told Eldon, he’d better not fall;
They’re too tired to rescue, he’d be food for fescue
A condor feed fest free for all.
Back at the trail head, Craig Carey and Ned,
Drove Ned’s car back to Lake Piru;
Called Dispatch to say, that they were OK,
And asked them to tell Heidi too.
For she planned to seek, a meet in the creek,
With them near the end of their trek;
Dispatch dropped the ball, said nothing at all,
To Heidi about their train wreck;
To sum up I fear, the moral is clear,
A twice bitten hiker’s a fool;
Should he venture out, though wise horsemen shout,
“It’s too frigging hot for a mule!”

                                                                                     -Jim Clark