25 September 2016

Fish Creek

Los Padres National Forest

The local Sierra Club chapter has hikes every weekend and this weekend I joined both. Saturday was a cleanup of the Lizards Mouth area. It was a bit hot and we only had three people total for it. Robert Bernstein's photos from that are here. Today is expected to be a bit hotter without a chance of an ocean breeze, but we have more at the meet point at the bank and a few more meeting at the trail for nine total. There is a promised pool at the turn-around, if there is any water. We expect no water on the way up and indeed, we start off across a very dry Manzana Creek to get to a lot of south facing hiking.

getting started
Trees in the canyon as we get started.

That first crossing starts off a long section of hiking on the north side of the canyon. Initially, there are a few trees to offer shade, but eventually, we are out on the slopes in the chaparral and the sun. We can spot trails below from those who did not manage to find the higher trail. The trail is getting so clear now that those must be maintained more by people who just like walking through the creek area than by lost people. There are sycamores down there hinting at a bit of water hieing below.

oaks and grass
A few trees on the way through the dry grasses.

tributary crossing
The Lost Valley Trail crosses above as we cross the dry tributary.

in the chaparral
Walking the sunny slopes as we near Fish Camp at the mouth of Fish Creek.

The trail drops for a second crossing of the Manzana. We stop under the huge valley oak at Fish Camp to attempt to soak in the shade. Soaking in shade when it is hot does not work quite so well as soaking in the sun when it is cool, but it is still a welcome rest from the sun. When ready, we launch into the cross country part of the hike following the drainage of Fish Creek. It, too, is dry, but there are small hints of water below.

Fish Creek
We leave the easy navigation and footing of the trail for a combination of creek and use trails.

creek bottom
No need to stay out of the creek bottom today, but the sycamore beside it is a hint of underground water.

The sycamores are distantly spaced along the canyon, but they are there. Occasionally, there is a tiny clump of cattails where the underground trickle comes closer to the surface. I am surprised when there suddenly seem to be a lot of juniper trees. I had not noticed any earlier in the hike. There is a bit of bear sign that seems to suddenly be very prevalent, but when I look back I was simply missing it before.

another fork
The other fork of Fish Creek. The road to McKinley can be seen far up it.

We come to a fork and some take a trail up the middle while others stay to the creek. I stick to the creek. It is a little brushy in a couple spots, but still easy to pass. Apparently it has been harder historically. There is a sudden burst of green, then the canyon suddenly narrows to a tiny crack. The others come down a steep bit of rock beside it carefully and one at a time. This crack is our destination.

green grass
A burst of green grass just before we arrive.

crack in the rock
A narrow slot in the hard rock where a pool is just visible.

There is a trickle of water running out of the crack in the rocks, but the ground beyond the hard layer quickly drinks this up. There really is water underground. The pool does not look all that clean, but it is not quite stagnant either. It is full of little fishes and a few that are a bit larger. Two frogs float at the top attempting to stay still so as not to attract any attention.

closer look
Just a little closer to the pool.

tiny fish
Loads of tiny fish and a few bigger ones swim everywhere. Notice the bear scratches in the algae on the rocks.

one of two frogs
Frog being invisible on top of the water. It is working for the other one, which is further under the lip of rock behind this one.

A dry waterfall serves as entry for water on the far side. But the trickle leaving comes from somewhere, so there must be another entry.

crack above
The opening above lets in light only when the sun is high, helping to keep the water cool.

We lunch and poke around and generally enjoy the cool before turning back and following one of the paths out. This time, I try the high path. At the top, clear use trail continues up the canyon. Apparently this continues up to the road before the saddle with a couple of mildly difficult climbs on the way. Once we get to the other fork, it too has a clear use trail up it.

creek bed
The rocks of the creek bed above the pool catch my interest.

edge of canyon
Out on the little ridge that divides the forks just before they combine.

The heat feels oppressive as I come back down into the canyon bottom. It really was a lot cooler and nicer beside the pool. There look to be two pinches that we walked around on the way up. The first coming down does not look inviting to hike over, but the second had attracted my attention on the way up because it had seemed to have quite a few trails around it with a few going over. A few of us shortcut over it giving shouts to those ahead. Apparently not quite loudly enough, because as we meander along letting the other catch up, the leader is surprised to find people ahead of him.

boulder of pebbles
A mass of conglomerate along the creek bed.

We drop to the ground in the shade of the valley oak at Fish Camp once again as we exit. The exposed south face of hills the trail follows is not something we look forward to and no matter how wet we were leaving the pool, we are all dry now.

valley oak
The big leaves of the valley oak will be falling soon, but there is shade for now.

There is a suggestion of waiting for sunset and a chorus of agreement around, but soon enough we are moving again. It is generally downhill, after all. Except for all the parts that are uphill, like the first bit after the crossing. It is hot and the water in my tube seems to start off a little too hot each time I take a sip.

trail along the edge
Returning under the hot sun.

We took the recommended route in, along the old low route, but decide to take the even lower route out. Along one spot, I can see a little bit of a leaf decorated pool, or at least some glistening mud. There is water low down in the creek although it is not appetizing. Happily, we are all carrying excessive amounts and do not need any more. There is a spot where this lower route will wash out eventually and is sketchy now. That is probably why there is discouragement for using it. We stride back the rest of the way, enjoying the relative cool of the last section with its trees.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 September 2016

13 September 2016

Mount Whitney

August 1991

Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Park

I was the ripe old age of 14 in 1991, so my first trip up to Mount Whitney was not my own plan or execution. Instead, it was part of the intermediate backpacking unit at Camp Mountain Meadows. Or at least slightly higher than beginner. It may well have been my third backpacking trip ever and the previous one did not go entirely to plan. The first one was when I was 9. This one also did not go as planned, but in two ways inconsequential to getting to the goal. First, permits had not been reserved for our group, so the original plan to go in at Onion Valley and proceed south had to be scrapped when walk-in permits could not be obtained for a group the size of a Girl Scout Camp unit. Instead, we camped out at the Cottonwood Lakes backpacker camp at the trailhead (which I remember being quite crowded) and Klikitat got up at 4AM to sit next to the ranger station to be first in line when they opened. I think she said the second person in line came at 6AM. We got our permits.

In case the suspense is causing stress, the other way in which the trip did not go as planned is that we packed fresh vegetables for the first two nights. Unfortunately, broccoli will not last to the second night and will take the rest of the vegetables with it. We had to carry spoiled vegetables with us for the rest of the trip because Leave No Trace does not allow one to bury that. I include this because one more person learned this the hard way on my trip up Mount Williamson. He did eat it, but it was not a pleasant experience. It does not even have to be very hot. My cheese did not even sweat tucked in under my basic blue mat while the broccoli next to it fermented.

trip map for August 1991 trip
The map for Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney Portal via New Army Pass and Mount Whitney. Click it and zoom it and it will make a lot more sense.

On the map, our rough route is marked in purple and camps are dark blue dots. I do not remember where we camped in the middle, just the first, penultimate, and last nights. I tried to extrapolate the middle, but came up with two spots. That makes five nights for a five day trip. But the route is correct.

Day 1: We climbed. The climb was not memorable, at least not yet. We got to one of the lakes along the way. I am fairly sure we did not get up to one of the higher lakes and I have memories of more complications on the map than can be seen now. Memories are so convoluted. Seems to me we managed some route finding difficulties around one lake. Considering trails go everywhere up there, that is both silly and possible. We were expecting some soggy bits up ahead when we stopped.

might be Cottonwood Lake #3
One of the Cottonwood Lakes, quite possibly #3, scanned from my small set of photographs from the trip.

This is when we got out our fresh vegetables and found them inedible. Our setup for cooking had us all paired off sharing a canister stove and #10 can to cook in. This was before cans started being lined with things. We cooked one pot between the two of us and shared out of it. The dinner that night was supposed to be like the night before: Top Raman and lots of vegetables. I do not recall what we ended up eating instead nor being hungry at any point. Truth is, I had to learn to be hungry while backpacking and I had not done so yet.

I am pretty sure we were bear bagging it most of the trip. Of course, rocks do not tie well onto the ends of ropes, so we would use something that could. A boot. We are probably lucky we did not get any stuck in trees in our efforts to hang food bags up high. (Rocks do tuck nicely into bags which in turn tie nicely to the ends of ropes for those who do not want to risk losing a boot.) Of course, no trees in the area were suitable, so we would have found a compromise tree that worked for us for that night.

Sleeping arrangements are another thing I cannot quite remember. At camp, we slept out on mats on the ground. When rain threatened, I believe we collected in the dinning room. For the trip, we must have had tents which we probably shared between ourselves.

Day 2: We climbed again. We passed Long Lake and High Lake and were aiming for a little lake on the other side of New Army Pass for lunch. We did not make it even to the top of the pass before we stopped and ate. It was long and hot, so hot it colored my memory and I remember the rocks being dark although they clearly are not. It was quite a big pass for our little legs and we were carrying about 1/4-1/3 of our body weight as was considered normal in those days. We weighed our packs before heading out, full of food and water. Mine was 45 pounds. I never wanted my pack to be that heavy ever again.

look at those external frames
Klikitat had a new fangled internal frame pack with stays custom bent to fit her back. It looked too hot the way it rested on her back. The rest of us are hauling external frames.

Cottonwood Lakes and the higher lakes from New Army Pass
Far up on New Army Pass and looking back at the Cottonwood Lakes and the higher ones.

We did get up it, though. It says 12310 on the map, but I would have told you it said 12800 feet on the sign at the top. I have a terrible memory for numbers, though. Oh, and I sunburned my eyeballs. Apparently this is a thing you can do. It had not occurred to me that it was. I probably did not even have sunglasses. It was more like pink eye than when I actually had pink eye. This itched like crazy. From this comes my general resolve to wear sunglasses over 12k even though I still hate the things.

lake along Rock Creek
One of the lakes along Rock Creek.

We continued down the other side. It looked so much easier than the side we went up. We got to wherever it was we were planning to get to that night in spite of the long time to get up the pass. Probably somewhere somewhere short of Guyot Pass. We ate whatever it was we ate. Probably some Mountain House item.

Day 3 and maybe 4: I remember not all that much from Rock Creek to Crabtree Meadow. There was a dinky little 10k pass, which Guyot Pass is a rather good candidate for. I remember eating trail mix on it, which we were calling gorp. That was the in thing. This gorp had lots of good stuff in it including M&Ms, which were prime and got picked out first and do seem to protect the chocolate from getting on the other things. It had raisins and salty peanuts, so of course when we ate it it was salty raisins and bland peanuts. I do not like salt in my raisins and forever look for their lack if there are raisins. It had carob chips, which were saved for emergency rations. Carob chips are disgusting.

could be coming into Crabtree Meadow
Could be the trail dropping down into lower Crabtree Meadow. Maybe.

It was a crowded madhouse when we hit Crabtree Meadow. There were boy scouts everywhere and they had their washing out on lines right next to the trail. I am pretty sure we had to duck under one string. Okay, that is probably an exaggeration of old memory. One hopes.

not at all green
This dry and not at all green is certainly in the character of what I remember of the land above Crabtree.

From there, we were climbing again. It seemed long, but generally gentle. It was hot, at least to a kid used to the coastal cool. A mountain off to our left took over the view and some of the girls were saying it must be our mountain because it was the tallest. I was of the theory that it only looked that way because we were right next to it. They did not believe me, but eventually we got around it and it really was just a little thing.

looking back as we climbed
Probably getting almost to Guitar Lake. Definitely in that segment of the trail.

We camped out at Guitar Lake somewhere north of the Goleta Valley Boys Club. I could smell watermelon coming from them, but deeply suspected that no one had actually carried one up here. One of the councilors decided to go for a swim in the lake and dove off a high rock. The lake was clear and deep and there was definitely nothing hiding down there for her to hit. Oh, except for the cold. It was so very very cold and a shore where she could get out was a bit of a swim away. She was immediately heading for it as fast as possible worried that the cold would make her unable to reach it. Seems to me there was someone else who jumped in after anyway.

Penultimate day: The peak! We got up earlier than other days for the last, big climb. We wanted to do it in the shadow of the ridge. It was definitely the time to do it. We were very entertained by the Hitchcock Lakes as they came into view, but we did not know that was what they were called. We called them Beaver and Bear Paw.

Guitar Lake in much shadow
Looking back over Guitar Lake as we climb.

We dropped off our packs at Trail Crest with at least a dozen that were already there. People were picking up their packs and telling of what the marmots had eaten on their pack this time or in other times. Marmots are an ever present danger for hip belts and other things that might be salty. We dropped our packs anyway and continued up the trail. From Trail Crest, it is almost two miles to the peak, but most of the climb has been done.

southerly lakes
A picture with a distinctly southerly direction.

Iceberg Lake
Iceberg Lake with its namesake floating around in it. Owens Valley beyond with actual green line for the river.

The Windows
Another look south, now with the trail traveled. This section is referred to as the windows since there are breaks to look through from time to time. It is the part that I think look like wicked sharp teeth from afar.

There was a patch of snow on the peak in the middle. It had pink on it. Ew. We signed the register and checked out the cabin and took in the view and ate lunch and chatted with people. There was a guy with a cell phone who brought it up just to see if he could make a call. This cell phone was to a flip phone as the luggable computers Macintosh made are to the Mac Air of today. You could carry them around, but it was not all that attractive a prospect. He claimed he did have signal and using local signal to San Diego. Roaming was expensive, so that is important. A few other people were planning on spending the night at the top.

northerly view
Off to the north. Williamson should be in there somewhere.

where we came from
Back the way we came.

Eventually it had to end. We headed down again.

one window
The view through one of the windows, probably to Boy Scout Lake.

east side windows
The windows from the east side.

It is a long way down, but we do not have to go all the way. We are just going to Trail Camp. It is kind of a disgusting place and full of people. We got directed to a spot that was empty and told to hang our food on the hooks provided. They were low enough for us to just reach up and put the bags on them. They were clearly just to keep rodents out of the food. The camp was being frequented by a mom bear with two cubs. What good would it be against them? We were also told about the solar toilet. We had to poop in the solar toilet and no where else. We could pee anywhere else except in the solar toilet. At some point we had to get water. There is a pond above camp and it was sudsy with floating things and generally not something to get water from. We probably got water from the creek above.

White Mountains
A rather limited view of the White Mountains from Trail Camp.

I do remember what the sleeping arrangements were here. It was too rocky to pitch a tent so we just slept out under the stars. I remember them being brighter than any night before and sometimes watching the satellites crossing it. The polar orbit ones seem particularly easy to spot.

Final day: This day started a little early for me. Sometime in the middle of the night, the moon came up. As it was overhead, the brightness woke me up. I found it difficult to sleep the rest of the night. With dawn came the winds right down off the mountain and across camp. They were very strong. We packed up and got moving. The only thing left was to hike downhill for eight miles and catch our ride back to camp. It felt like a long hike and not really something I would want to come up, particularly not in a day plus the mountain and back down again.

Down at the trailhead, we heard that the winds were even worse on the mountain top. One of the guys we talked to the day before that was camping at the top after finishing his John Muir Trail through hike had had his tent set up with big rocks on the inside and the wind had picked it up and carried it over the side, rocks and all. His trusting Eureka Flashlight. I felt the loss too. We owned one of those and it really was a trusted tent.

August 1994

Inyo National Forest

Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park

Three years later, I was back to get the peak again. I had had at least two more backpacking trips, one up San Jacento as part of a different camp unit and one on the Rae Lakes loop with my little sister and father. This trip would be just me and my little sister. Our parents were headed up the 395 ten days apart, so there would be no difficulty with going in and out different trailheads. Neither of us could drive anyway. Oh, yes, and they were willing to trust us on our own to get in and out of the wilderness alive and reasonably uninjured.

We headed up with mom getting to Lone Pine about half an hour before the office closed. We were expecting to have to come down the mountain the next morning to get a permit even with the office open, but decided to ask anyway. Apparently Tuesday is a good day to get a walk-in permit because the ranger still had two to hand out. We filled it in and mom signed it and we were ready. This was before there were also permits to enter the Whitney Zone, so we did not have to worry about that. We noticed they had a new edition of the map we were using, but ours was only 10 years old so we did not indulge in a second. This map is two sheets of 3 foot by 4 foot paper with map on three sides and Leave No Trace on the fourth and covers the whole of the John Muir Wilderness for just $10. It is a little more expensive now.

map for the 1994 trip
Onion Valley to Whitney Portal trip. The dots and nights came out even this time noting that one dot counts twice.

Day 1: Start in Onion Valley. Our first campsite was just two miles up the trail at a lake. We were obligated to enter the wilderness that day, so we waved to mom and our big sister and got started up the hill. They went down to the campground and camped out. My pack was lighter and I was probably stronger, so the climb was not bad. We got to the camp area and found a site and set about getting some food prepared.

This is when we ran into the first problem. Our parents backpacked once upon a time and of course we had their stove. It was an Optimus Svea. It is a classic that can still be purchased today with very little different from this early 1970s (at a guess) model. This is a solid piece of copper with a reservoir for white gas at the bottom and topped with a dinky little pot that no one ever uses but still carries. It is something that everyone should experience, preferably with someone to laugh at them while they struggle with it and eventually tell them how it works. We had not done that bit. My sister had not even watched our dad use it while we did our Rae Lakes loop. It was up to me to figure it out from memory of casual watching. I got it set up, which is just pulling out the key and attaching it to the valve and twisting out the pot supports.

Next it has to be primed. White gas works under pressure. With the Coleman stove we camp with, there is a big pump on the side to pressurize the can. With this one, it has to be heated. It is supposed to be possible to do this just with hand warmth on this one, a feature that had never actually worked. The reliable way is to pour a little fuel over the top and light it. There is a little dent around the top of the reservoir to help out with this. I got out the fuel bottle, put on the funnel cap, and poured fuel onto the top so it would go down the stem and into the dip. With the tip full, I lit it. Then we both stepped back very far because there was a four foot flame erupting from the top.

We watched it for a while and wondered if it would, maybe, explode. Perhaps. It has a pressure relief valve on the lid, but you never know if those still work. We stepped back a few more feet. The flame gradually became only three feet tall, then shrank some more. As it was just about to go out, I stepped up and turned the key as slightly as I could. The stove roared and we could cook.

We brought Lipton sides in various flavors to eat. It says two servings, and we shared one packet between the two of us. Like I said before, hiking used to suppress my appetite. My sister is the same. We were quite full at the finish with just one more task. The stove works best when full, so I pulled off the lid and topped off the reservoir. We were set.

We were relying on bear boxes for the trip to store our food safely from bears. This is another thing they will not let you do, but they encouraged it then. Well, encouraged camping by the boxes. We had rope as a backup, which was probably required too. To keep us sheltered, we had the Eureka Flashlight. It was a two (really comfortable together) man tent that weighted in at about 5 pounds and was solid against the elements. There were not a lot of tents like that in those days.

There are no photos for this trip. I would get wary of the continuing expense of film and developing and was taking fewer and fewer photos. The trip above started with a partly used roll of 36 that I did not even finish. This trip, I had no camera with me at all.

Day 2: We had gone from 150 feet to over 10000 feet the previous day and both woke up with headaches. I always attribute headaches to dehydration, so I downed my water bottle with a pain killer and went to refill it. My sister did the same. We made breakfast. After too much camping, neither one of us can stand instant oatmeal, so we had split pea soup. Lipton again. It was yummy. Cooking did not require the torch this time. I just poured over enough fuel to fill a top piece of metal that directs the flame, then pushed the fuel over the sides and down into the lower dip to get it primed. It was much better like that.

We headed up the pass. It was quite pretty and a little warm. I forgot to put sunscreen on, but decided it did not matter since I was playing soccer every day and quite tan from not putting sunscreen on for that. Unfortunately, I was wearing about the smallest shirt I owned and there was a little over an inch of arm exposed that normally was not. The pass over Kearsarge leaves one mostly walking in one direction and my arm on the south side was fried to a crisp. It was quite painful. I put on the sunscreen I had forgotten, but the already burned area still hurt when the sun hit it. A wet bandanna helped the pain and so I tied it around.

We headed down the back side, which is not a lot of down. We wandered past Bullfrog Lake, but did not stop there. Camping was not allowed within a quarter mile of the lake. We did camp somewhere nearby.

Day 3: We started south on the main highway through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of my parents' confidence in letting us go off on our own had to do with the sheer number or people who travel through here and people in the backcountry do tend to be reliable. The first bit of the trail was familiar since it was part of the Rae Lakes loop. That was for the long drop down from near Bullfrog Lake to the lowest point on the trek for quite a while.

At a junction in a meadow, we turned south again and started the long climb up Forester Pass leaving the familiar behind. We had three campsites ahead to choose from and decided to go for the last one before the pass. This would be easy to tell because there was a maintained trail that came down to it, so there would be a sign.

We treked through three campsites not noticing a sign. Was there an extra one not on the map? We kept on going, but could not find our camp and it was starting to look like we would accidentally do Forester Pass. One thing about the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail is that you are not supposed to get there accidentally. We carefully looked over the map and found that we were long past the camp. There was a creek up ahead, we would go there. Had we indulged in the newer map, we would not have made this mistake. The trail we were looking for was no longer maintained and someone thought it would be dandy to take out the sign. The newer map marked it in black (unmaintained) instead of red (maintained). I cannot help but notice that this is the other end of the same trail that two guys we met around The Pothole on the Williamson trip were looking for.

We found a well used camp and even found a bear box. Of sorts. Someone had constructed a box out of rocks. We thought it was comical if they thought that would keep anything out. We looked around for the perfect tree and there was none. There was not even an imperfect tree. We decided to use the box hoping that anyone trying to get into it would make enough noise to wake us. For the first time, we also gathered up a pile of bear rocks to throw at a bear if it should come. But never at the eyes. That just makes them mad and attack.

Day 4: We got up to find our food undisturbed. We looked out over the local area and less than a quarter mile away there was a bag hanging high in a tree far in excess of the required isolation. Someone had come down in the night and managed to find that mythical perfect tree. It was astonishing. We were basically above treeline.

We started up the rest of Forester Pass. It felt gentle and easy. There are a few switchbacks as it climbs, but it is nothing compared to the wall on the far side. We settled in for a nice long bask in the height when we got to the top. My sunburn was feeling fine as I was still keeping the wet bandanna on it. We enjoyed crackers and cheese and dried fruits and nuts. We had a half a bag of crackers each day for lunches. Others enjoyed a nice long lunch at the top, basking in the height, too. The cheese reminded them of the times they had come up passes with a bit of it and complementary wine and how enjoyable it was.

We were getting to be a big, chatty group (of 6 or 8) when three people came up from the north with almost empty bags and sat off by themselves to eat sandwiches with mayonnaise, then continued on their way. They seemed odd. Then we spotted the mule train. There were 13 animals in it. Three horses were along, but riderless. Two of the mules were carrying ice chests. As they got closer, we dispersed. Somehow we did not really want to be on the pass as they passed.

The far side of the pass gave me the impression of a cliff. The trail was carved in the side. It looked like it could be deadly with a bit of ice. I get dreadfully worried when I read a through hiker journal as they hit this, always with a bit of snow on it still. They never seem to see it the same way I did. Maybe it is another exaggeration of memory. Or maybe it is that they are looking up at it and I was looking down. They seem to think of the north side as a bit more scary than I did. We picked our way down. It got better and easier fairly quickly.

We were following a creek on the far side. As we came to a camp, we stopped for the night. We decided to do some laundry and with the food tucked into a real bear box, we had the bear rope handy to hang it. Unlike the boy scouts of that other trip, we were not prepared with clothes pins. Further unlike them, we never would be. Those things are heavy. We also did not need them. We looped the rope around one tree at the middle, then twisted it on the way to another. We just had to tuck our socks and shirts and underwear into the twists to hold them up.

Come supper, I had a problem with the stove again. I had not topped it off before putting it away and it turned out that that was when the cap was loose enough to get off. Now I could not budge it. I asked about for some pliers and quickly found a pair. The Leatherman was still somewhat new, but they had gotten popular in the last few years. They did the trick, although not without some evidence. Never, ever tell my dad I applied pliers to his stove. He will be very angry even this far removed. If we could not find pliers, I figured a little extra fuel priming should do the trick.

Day 5: Just a bit of long gentle downhill. It was easy, we enjoyed it. The map shows some uphill too, so I guess there was some of that. Not much to say about this day.

Day 6: More easy day. This does have some uphill, but it is quite easy. I am allergic to something up there just a little and the snot runs down the back of my throat and triggers coughing. It is annoying, but it seems it was causing some to worry about these two teenagers that seemed to be out on their own. We made our way up to upper Crabtree to camp and the ranger stopped by to chat and make sure we were okay. Our only problem was that we were going to run out of trail to hike a day early. We were going as slow as we could, but it was not slow enough.

He seemed less than thrilled at my claim of allergies, but decided to let it go. Better, he had a suggestion for what to do with the extra day. There was a guy down in the lower meadow who would probably be happy to take us up to the Hitchcock Lakes tomorrow. He set it up and so we had a plan for an adventure for the morrow!

When we tucked in our food in the bear box, we found it quite full and it was difficult to find enough room to add ours. We made it work.

Day 7: We packed up for a day outing and wandered down to the lower meadow to find this guy the ranger knew. He was an older fellow who had spent many years putting up the fences for cattle grazing allotments. (That was a government job for anyone wondering who pays for that.) He had gotten to know a lot of rangers in his time and now he was taking advantage of that to stay out in the backcountry for as long as he could. He had only been able to get a permit for Shepherd Pass, which was mysterious to us, so he told us about it. It starts low and drops significantly while it climbs and the top part is not even maintained. On our map, it was marked "not recommended for stock". He started with 80 pounds and came up it very slowly. That was to get as much food as he could, but also all the things you need to survive Sierra weather when you might be out in anything. That included a sleeping bag good below -20°F. He did it all in jeans because he knew of nothing else that would last long enough. He was now out for around day 40 and had been hanging out in the meadow for about a week. That is where knowing the ranger came in handy. Usually, they do not want people staying in one place for too long.

The day trip today was fishing in the Hitchcock Lakes. An old trail went up there and while it did not quite reach the old junction anymore, he knew how to find it not far from our campsite. So we headed back up and caught the trail and followed it up to the lakes. Along the way we found the ranger's brother-in-law and nephew who were up for a birthday, possibly the ranger's. They were camping by a little pond along the creek below the main lakes and we chatted with them as they fished the pond. They already had one and showed us.

We got up to the big lake where the fish are said to be the best in these mountains (or so we were told) and he got started. There was a stiff debate as to which lake exactly was best with Arctic Lake also getting a lot of followers. Cold water and slow growing make the best fish apparently. Arctic Lake is higher, but this one is deeper. The first fish was too big for his line and took his lure.

He continued fishing and we continued on along the boulders beside the lake. We worked our way up to a moraine at the top of the lake and played along there. (This was probably between the lakes rather than as I have drawn up and around the upper one.) Eventually he had enough fish for all three of us and we headed down again, waving at the ranger's family as we passed. He told us where we could find little red onions, supposedly planted by John Muir as some sort of Johnny Onionseed, near our campsite. We got a pasta alfredo and margarine (which was what we trusted not to spoil over ten days) and picked some of those onions and headed down to the lower meadow again.

We boiled up the pasta with a little plain stuff he had to increase the amount and he pan fried the fish over the fire. We had never had rainbow trout or much other fish growing up vegetarian. So we tried this mysterious fish with our pasta as it got dark. At some point, I realized I had left my sunglasses beside a tree across the meadow, but could not find them again in the dark. They were lost. When supper was finished, we headed back up to camp to pass out.

Day 8: The little thermometer on my zipper pull was pegged right at freezing as we got up. It had been doing that most the trip. I wondered if the air temperature tended to plateau a little as the lakes and streams and dew thought about freezing. We headed up to Guitar Lake, which is not a very long hike. All along it, my boot was bothering me. I adjusted the lacing and tried to get the sock as flat as I could, but it was not the sock. The boot was doing it.

When we got to the lake, it was a bit crowded. We decided to go up the creek a little way to find a spot. We were also feeling a little smelly. The nose deadens quickly to organic smells like sweat, but every once in a while, when the wind has been carrying the stench away so that most the smell is not getting to the nose, but then stops to allow it to return, one gets a whiff. We decided to do something about it and found a little pool to try to take a bath. We had no soap. Even "biodegradable" soap is just slightly less long lasting pollutants for the water. We just scrubbed as best we could. The water was way too cold for it and we did not get much stink off.

After that I pulled out my pocket knife and the boot that had gone at least 300 miles and I cut out the piece of it that had suddenly decided to rub. There would be no rubbing tomorrow. The ankle support was probably compromised, too.

Day 9: We gathered up our stuff and we hiked up the mountain in the shade of the ridge. At Trail Crest, we added our packs to the array that the marmots consider an all-you-can-eat buffet of salty straps. We headed up the mountain and signed our names to the register and explored the cabin and took in the views and ate lunch and generally enjoyed ourselves. There was no snow at the top this time, but the days had felt a little cooler. Oh, and I sunburned my eyeballs again.

We headed down to Trail Camp in the afternoon. The marmots had left our packs alone, just as before. Trail Camp was still a bit of a disgusting place with the same rules. We definitely got water from the creek above the pond this time. The creeks along there are actually quite fun. The trail is over big boulders and you can hear the water splashing its way under many layers of them as you pass over them, but rarely ever see any of that water.

Day 10: We hiked out. It gets pretty and green as we drop and the creek we generally follow is nice. But there is an awful lot of downhill and it does not seem like something I would much like to climb. We timed it pretty well for our pickup around 2 PM and were off. He was not quite finished with his camping, so we had one more night out before we got to go home and get a shower.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 September 2016

06 September 2016

Matilija Canyon Falls

Los Padres National Forest

After the distant waterfalls, I started thinking of my local falls. How are they doing? Well, Mission Falls only runs in a storm, so that does not count. Tangerine has water above and below but never seems to have water moving between. The hard rock layer that forms the top of a waterfall is supposed to bring out the underground water, but it must have let a tunnel form somewhere. San Ysidro is wet, but you practically have to reach out and touch it to be sure of that. Maybe it is time to visit something with a lot more acreage behind it like Matilija. Expecting the holiday would be a madhouse, I waited to the next day to start. And with a long, looping drive, I got to a place that really is not all that far from home. My start time is leisurely, but there are only two cars in the lot and one seems to belong to a guy picking up garbage nearby.

Matilija Canyon Ranch
Just stroll right past the ranch to start the journey. There is a sign about how your right to pass is revocable helpfully implying there is a right to pass by default.

Packed up, including plenty of water for a hot day, I set off. This means walking right down the middle of the ranch. I keep to the left to avoid wearing down my shoes on the pavement. The peacocks, the most noticeable wildlife in this refuge, are starting to get little tails after the last shed. Past the first ranch, the road dips to a creek crossing and it is dusty. The second, larger crossing is dusty as well. Never a good sign for what lies upstream when looking for waterfalls, but not the worst sign. So I pass by the start of the Upper Middle Fork and Murietta Trails. The signs are intact, but the maps that were provided with them are largely missing.

dry creek crossing
Approaching a very dry creek crossing below the cliffs of the Upper North Fork.

The sign at the road split proclaiming (falsely) that there are no trails to the right is still there, too. Maybe the no with a circle and a line through it really means it is not allowed that there are no trails this way? The landowner further up would like to close off the trail. The landowner that actually lives here seems to worry most about the dog following hikers up it for miles. The dog is not out today. The only activity is running sprinklers. I ignore the sign and pass through the opening beside the gate to cross more private property on road.

yet another sign
The road past the Blue Heron Ranch and access for both the Bald Hills Trail (vanishing) and Matilija Canyon Trail (use).

gate along the road
Another gate along the road with Cara Blanca rising above it. No need to pass through this gate.

Finally the road ends at the wash of Old Man Canyon and there is trail. From here, it resembles a use trail even though presumably it was built for a short bit. Sometime before 1944, that is. Since then, it may have needed some work it did not get. The trail quickly leaves that long gone tread and dribbles its way toward the creek and a couple campsites that do, if USGS is to be believed, sit on private property, so should not be used without the owner's permission. I can hear water as I get close to the creek and indeed, the first site group has a nice flow past it. It dries up by the next campsite and the large pool beside it is a small stagnant puddle now. As I approach to look, there are three turtles on the bank, then the gentle plop, plop, plop of turtles quickly scrambling into the water. There is much green stuff growing in the bottom for them to hide in.

easy trail past cactus
The trail levels out once it leaves the old Bald Hills route, but it will get bad again as it goes.

small camp
Even the small secondary camps far too close to the water are becoming elaborate.

green water
Stagnant pool beside the next camp with ripples from quickly departing turtles. Note the high water line on the rock behind.

The creek is somewhat dry as I work my way along the trail. Most of the way, there is a trickle, and it eventually grows again. I cross it where I remember crossing long ago only to find that trail continues on the same side of the creek now. Sometimes it winds away into the rocks and the heat of the sun really beats down on me. Here, there is one last flower remaining to give the place color. Back by the creek, it are often enough trees to make it cool and even a little dark and damp. These are welcoming after each foray into the sun.

purple flower along a long, sticky stem
The last flower, although many other instances of this same flower can be found today.

leaves on water
Leaves decorate one pool where the water is moving very slowly.

big red dragonfly
The dragonflies are playing around the pools.

Around every fourth corner, there seems to be the gentle plop of another turtle scrambling into the water. Turtles are no slow creatures, especially not on warm days, and they tend to position themselves for a quick getaway. The pools have plenty of interest even without the turtles sticking around.

trickle into a pool
A slight trickle attempts to fill another pool near a campsite.

green things growing in the bottom of the pool
Another pool where a gentle plop is the only sign of a turtle. It has plenty of hiding places in the green stuff growing at the bottom.

layers of rock from top to bottom
The land here is quite the layer cake of shale and sandstone. How many million years are on display here?

The pond I have seen called a turtle pond does not have a plop sound as I come to it. They do not seem to be hanging around it today or they were already having a swim. I spend some moments by it anyway, then plunge my hat into the flow above to pour water over my head. It really is getting hot. Above, the canyon starts to narrow and there are many little seeps of water in the sides. As I get to where I plunged into the creek my first time up here, it is tempting to do it again, but I cross and climb up the wall a little bit instead. It should be a mildly easier walk.

seep of water along trail
The trail goes right through one seep.

blackbird by a pool
There were two black shapes that, in that first instant, I took for blackbirds, but then there was a plop and only one was left.

As the canyon starts to get shifty and there are many slides, I recognize a spot that was a slide of a different sort. It was such a good water slide that people would clear the pool or rocks for a nice landing. The pool is nearly filled in now and the water slide seems to have lost some of its length to a big rock slide. The camp site is still above it, but probably not quite as popular as it once was.

water slide pool filled with rock slide
Getting into the shifty bit of the canyon. Rocks, some quite large, fill in the pool below what was a nice water slide. It looks to have happened a while ago.

Above the camp, what seemed like a reasonable flow of water suddenly dries up. Even the plants seem to tell of very little water in the area. It is entirely unexpected. The corner for the West Fork Falls is not far past the camp. Turning that corner, there is nothing but dry rock smoothed by the flow of water. It is quite decidedly dry.

dry creek bed in the West Fork
Turning up the West Fork, the rocks that should be pushing all the water to the surface are very dry.

stone waterfall
The top tier of West Fork Falls does leave a stone waterfall even when it is not flowing, which it certainly is not now.

I return to the main canyon and continue up it pondering the vegetation. Slowly it does start to look like it is watered. As I get into areas where I expect to hear more water than I can see due to the rock slides, there is a little bit of water bubbling through a shallow pool. Hope for the falls returns!

water seep
Water seeps are around too. There was a spot where water poured from halfway up the canyon wall, but I cannot find it today.

little waterfall
A little waterfall as visible water returns to the canyon.

Past a couple more campsites, there is a whiff of sulfur from a pool up ahead. It is the pool for the waterfall and the waterfall is flowing. Getting to a good spot for photography without getting my feet wet looks rather hard, so I go ahead and step right into it. What is the worst that could happen to these nearly new shoes?

Matilija Falls
Matilija Falls is quite a unique one.

The nose is dribbling profusely. I was unable to get up under it before when looking for the area geocaches, one of which was once placed in the cave behind the waterfall, but today I am determined to at least try. It is one of the reasons I went ahead and got my shoes wet. Thick clumps of moss in the water try to turn me back. I drop off my things before stepping through the pool and climbing the far side, then have to return for my camera as the higher pool below the nose is quite beautiful.

up close nose
Getting up close to Matilija Falls.

I like the right side of the nose for getting up under it. I climb it and it works, so I return again for the camera. It is a different world inside the cave of travertine deposit. A hanging garden of ferns populates the ceiling. Where the ferns and mosses leave, the rocks are interesting instead. And all the while, the permanent rain falls all around.

ferns hanging from the ceiling
The hanging garden of ferns seems to think that this orientation is as natural as can be.

looking up
A crack goes far up in the rocks. It is worth noting that these things fall down from time to time.

green pool
Looking out at that beautiful green pool from under the nose. The harder white sandstone and softer shale topping are both visible from here.

brightly colored mosses
There are some impressively colored mosses along the bottom as well.

After generally squatting on one leg while the other just balanced me for long enough to play with the camera, it turns out to be a little harder to get down than when I had just climbed up. Moss covered rocks are not classic for their traction and so there is some slipping on the way down again. The moss is surprisingly tough and none of it breaks from this. I manage to catch myself anyway and it does look like I should have been able to land in the pool without too much dunking of expensive equipment, but it is still a little scare. Once in the pool, it is a good time to photograph other interesting features of the travertine deposit, like how it stops at the water level or above.

edge of the travertine
Travertine as it comes into contact with the water. Dissolved rock is deposited as water evaporates, so the water in the pool stops lower formation.

After the nose, I set my eyes on getting to the next waterfall. The rope looks strong enough, but does not come down to where I can reach it. My wet shoes do not have anything like the traction on this stone that I expect. The previous pairs just like them did not seem to have problems sticking to stone even when wet, so this seems mysterious. Maybe it is particularly smooth from high water flowing over it. Whatever, I have to get creative to get up to the rope and continue climbing while relying far too much on it. This gets me quite a bit above the top of the falls and there is nothing I really feel safe down-climbing to return to the creek. There is a spot that with a little more confidence, I might make a small jump and be on the ground below again, but then getting up would be quite difficult. I settle for trying to find a good spot to photograph the next waterfall, then get back down safely. The campsite tucked away in the small space between waterfalls is mildly teasing.

rope up the side
Rope helps get one up to the next level, if it can be trusted.

waterfall among rocks and trees
The next waterfall is obscured by trees. It looks a little more like a traditional waterfall but still has a little bit of travertine.

little pools in the sandstone
There are some pretty little pools just above the nose.

And so I head back down again. It is a lot faster going down. The gentle plops of turtles hitting the water as I get near lead me along. One pool with two plops looks like it might be something I can peer into and maybe find them, so I wander over. The turtles came off a log over the water and as I get closer, there is one more. It drops in too, as I touch the camera. I get a little closer and one more scrambles past a couple small stones and into the water. They are only the second turtles of at least a dozen that I have definitely seen. None of the little scamper-beasts will let me get a picture, though.

hard and soft above
The layers are certainly easy to pick out where the canyon walls are especially soft.

old water slide
Another look at what was once a popular water slide in the wilderness.

reflections on the water
A nice place for a turtle to live, but they sure are skittish.

After one rather good elbow thump when scrambling down a rock in the creek, knowing fully where I came up and that it was not there, I get back out to the more level bits of trail and then to the road. Along the way, there is a big, brown bird that comes up to sit on a rock slightly obscured by a branch. It is too bigger than a raven. The head seems to be about as big as the body and there are feathers like horns. Ah, an owl. It turns its head in that way only owls do, then takes off silently. The heat has dropped a little now that it is getting toward evening. Back at the ranch, only one sprinkler is going, but it is still the only movement. At the wildlife refuge, the peacocks have got up to a high stick and are perching with their wings somewhat spread so they are shapped like vultures. Bright blue headed vultures. It is quite funny to see.

looking down the canyon
Just about to the road and on the way out again.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 8 September 2016