15 October 2016

breakfast for the trail

Instant oatmeal: The standard breakfast backpacking is instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. So is the standard breakfast car camping. We would go car camping for a month at a time as children and I developed a strong aversion to both instant oatmeal (always fruit and cream flavors) and hot chocolate. For a while, I thought I could eat none of it, but then I found that I could eat apples and cinnamon instant oatmeal (briefly) and the extra chocolate hot chocolate version sold as "dark chocolate". I have also had good luck adding in a packet of "instant oatmeal" that was full of hardy things like flax seeds.  It is the texture that gets to me, and this is sufficient to change it for the most part.  I still have a cup of cider nearby to help wash it down if my body decides to revolt and my stomach try to convulse. Yes, my revulsion is that extreme. It is no way to start a day. I need something else.

Soup packets: As a teen heading out for 10 days, I dropped in a couple packets of split pea soup for each morning. It was delicious confined to that time, powered a kid who tended to have a suppressed appetite when hiking, and probably even good for me. It is also hard to find these days, especially if you'd rather not have one with bacon.

Couscous: I have often had couscous for breakfast with lots of fruit and cinnamon and/or allspice and nutmeg and maybe ginger. There should be lots of spice to fill in lots of flavor. Except for cloves. They should be used sparingly. I have been told that this is entirely the wrong way to do couscous and can only respond with, "Oh? Is it?" I put enough for breakfast into a little sandwich baggie and squeeze out the air and tie it off. Cooking, I'll heat water and pour some out into a cup for my hot drink and then just poke a hole and spill the mixture into the hot water. It does not need to boil for two minutes, it just needs hot water for a few minutes. This is often my staple for breakfast these days, but I get hungry again quickly. Adding protein is suggested to help slowing down getting hungry. I have tried it with ground flax and ground almond, both of which made it gritty and suppressed the flavors of the spices. Milk powder is not an improvement either.

Bag of couscous and a couple of bread mixings.

Chia seeds: Following a somewhat random set of PCT through hikers, I bumped into a chia seed pudding recipe. This particular recipe is nice for not suggesting that you must put in this kind of nut or that kind of fruit and thus clearly establishing some level of variety. I had some on my hike in the Flat Tops and a few other places. First observation was that I cannot stand to eat out of a bag. The bags I had handy were kind of tall and my fingers got dirty on the sides, so I got some shorter ones that still fit everything. My fingers got less dirty and it was still a miserable thing to eat out of a floppy bag. The first time I made it in a Talenti container instead was the first time I actually came up with a pudding product instead of a runny mess with chia seeds at the bottom, too. In fact, it was a little too set up, but it was well mixed.

Some mixed up pudding, some "blanks", and the fixings.

Real oatmeal: Oatmeal is still a viable option, but not instant.  The various 5 minute oats, steel cut or whole, can be cooked up almost as easily as couscous.  I want it with fruit and loads of spices, just the same as the couscous.  The bigger bottles of cinnamon are higher quality stuff anyway, so you might as well indulge.

Oats and couscous, but do not carry them like this.

Same theme as oatmeal: There is such a thing as instant grits, too. Maybe someday I should try this. Cream of Wheat is fast and can be adulterated to edible, which is, if I am honest, how I treat oatmeal and couscous.

Bread: Bread is good for breakfast and can be cooked on the right backpacking stove, but it does take a bit more time. One could make it in the evening, but then it will be cold when eaten. It is an excellent option for a lazy day.  To do the baking, the heat from the stove must be sufficiently low.  There seem to be two methods used. By far the most common is to divert the heat, usually using a double pot setup. I have experimented with just a layered aluminum piece to tuck under my pot and had pretty good luck with it. This does mean extra tools (weight) and extra fuel (weight and waste).  Some are able to cook by simply having a low enough flame in the first place.  Another option for a slow burn is cooking with a tea light. The recipes in the link use cake mixes and such, which I find distasteful. The bags pictured above by the couscous are 1/2 cup flour, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. Simple. Seriously, biscuit mix is a waste of money. I have tried it also with a bit of whole wheat, corn, garbanzo, soy, rye, teff, and probably something more I have forgotten. Add in flax and ground nuts and fruits and dried milk for all kinds of flavor too. When it comes to bread, the grainier, the better. For cleanup, the slower the heating, the less likely it is to burn on. I also pour in plenty of oil, far more than needed against sticking, because oil is just good stuff for backpackers.  There are lots of details with this and it will likely have a whole post after much experimenting.  So far, very yummy, especially with raisins. Soy and garbanzo flours absolutely must get cooked well to taste good.

More things like sweet potato mush: This guy seems to have a good handle on edible and hardy foods.

05 October 2016

Flores Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Robert wanted to be shown the way up to "Medicine Circle" and I have been meaning to do it in the daylight so I can more easily go a little further to the peak nearby. This is a common hike for the Wednesday "conditioning hike" that the local Sierra Club chapter hosts. (All are welcome to come to that. Hike participants meet at the Santa Barbara Mission at 6:30 PM on Wednesday.) For that hike, we start at the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead and walk up to Gibraltar Road, then a little way along the road before starting up a rough use trail. You know a hike has to have something good to be popular in spite of it involving a road walk. For Robert, I am cutting off those initial three miles and starting at Gibraltar Road. We find parking easily enough near Gibraltar Rock as no one seems to be climbing today. The trail is easy to spot heading east from beside the rock.

start of the trail
The trail starts off near the road beside a pull in parking spot and wastes no time in starting to climb.

Long miles are not to Robert's taste, but he likes the trail, such as it is, going up Cathedral Peak, so I felt safe in not warning him about this one. It starts off steep and quickly gets steeper. It was a little easier a year ago, but now some of the long dead fire victims are starting to tumble over onto the trail. There is also no denying that the trail through soft sandstone seems looser as the drought goes on. The first hundred feet of trail requires ducking under fallen brush, scrambling on sliding hillside, and more scrambling over boulders. And from there we are going up at least as much as across. One of the reasons the road section during the longer version of this hike is not so bad is that it provides a nice rest before hitting the hardest climb.

White Mountain
Looking along Gibraltar Road as it climbs up the side of White Mountain.

It feels like we have been climbing for a while whine I look down at the GPS to see that it has just now ticked all the way to 0.20 miles. Ahead, the trail is still climbing steeply, but it is dropping off ever so slightly. There are still a few boulders to scramble up.

rocky ridge
Our destination is another rocky ridge above.

It is an odd experience to finally see the area in the daylight after at least a dozen climbs in the dark and near dark. The distant sights have never been clear enough to try to recognize. Now I look out and they look very similar to other sights but the details are wrong. My brain has not quite located me properly and keeps claiming various spots below are really somewhere else. Taken together, the information does not quite make sense. Slowly I start to kick out incorrect information for something more like the truth.

Rattlesnake Canyon
Looking down on Rattlesnake Canyon. The trail is visible along the canyon side and the connector trail can be seen climbing from Tin Can Meadow. A bit of road that can be seen above is the eastern most section of the Edison Catway in Mission Canyon and not Inspiration Point as my brain first offered.

Meanwhile, it is fun to take in the peaks along the front side of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

White Mountain and Cathedral Peak
White Mountain again, which drops down to the destination known as Rocky Pine Ridge, then down again to the connector trail and pops up to Mission Ridge. Cathedral Peak rises behind it.

Montecito Peak
More peaks rise to the east with Montecito Peak central to it all from this vantage point.

A well used trail branches off down and to the right as we climb. I do not know where this goes, but it looks like something that needs exploring some time. Maybe it accesses the rocky knob below. We go left and the trail has gotten a lot easier by now.

West Cold Spring
West Cold Spring reaches the road just behind a bit of ridge below and well past the nearby rocky knob. The rest of the cuts are mysterious roads and trails on private property including the Tea Gardens.

trail on upward
Our trail as we get closer to the destination.

We cross a ridge and there is one last steep push upward to "Medicine Circle". I point out what some claim are the rocks set down by past peoples for ceremonial purposes. They must be quite magical because they were not moved when a bulldozer scraped the vegetation away from this ridge to make a fire break decades ago. It went right through to middle of the circle of stones. I can still see the flattened path it left.

Montecito Peak
The East Fork Cold Spring Trail is clearly visible around the side of Montecito Peak now and the scar from the Gibraltar Fire is clearly visible on the peak north (left) of it. My brain initially identified the cut as Romero Road, but there are just too many incorrect details. Romero is behind it.

sketchy path
Our sketchy path along the ridge is visible from the "Medicine Circle".

Medicine Circle
Standing in the middle of the "Medicine Circle". Photo by Robert Bernstein.

And it is only fair that there be one of Robert. This is at our normal stopping point in the evenings. From Robert Bernstein's collection.

We turn to climb Flores Peak. It is only a little further, but the trail is much less used. The cut stumps of large bushes can be seen along it. This was a big fuel break once. Now, a route winds back and forth through this old cut. Little cairns show the way some of the time. It drops a short way, then climbs a slightly longer way to the high point. It was a higher point once, but someone cleared and leveled out enough space to land a helicopter at some point. An even thinner trail seems to wind its way up to Camino Cielo above.

above Flores Flat
The roads above Flores Flat and the first part of the sketchy trail up to Camino Cielo as the trail goes over the next hill and before it goes down a big drop.

to Camino Cielo
The rest of the sketchy trail after its big drop as it climbs to Camino Cielo. There are a few trail looking spots that are certainly not trail, so maybe it is not quite so much trail as it looks.

The peak does not hold quite as exciting views as the initial ridge, so we head back and stop for some snacks while watching the world. The nearest person to us is one of three paragliders sitting around in the sky. A chill breeze off the ocean makes sitting in the sun exceptionally nice.

paraglider over the hills
Someone out there is enjoying even more stunning views. We can hear the paraglider chatting with someone as he sits on the wind.

Flores Peak
Looking back at Flores Peak. It is not much higher than our usual evening stopping point.

Santa Barbara, City of
Looking down upon the City of Santa Barbara along with three paragliders.

There is a spur trail along the ridge to it and explore the trail along it. I think it looks big enough to be an alternate route up and we go along it to see where it might end up. It does not get far, just to the far rock outcrop, then finishes.

ridge below
Out at the end of the ridge top looking down over the trail.

Satisfied with our explorations for now, we head back down. It takes some care over the steep sections. I manage not to be quite careful enough on the last steep section with the end in sight. It is a very short fall backwards on trail like that, so we still get down without incident.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 6 October 2016

30 September 2016


I really do not seem to be going after the pages of my new sketchbook enough.  There was just one from early in this month.

Stopping by one of the pools in Matilija Middle Fork.

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