08 November 2011

Forbush Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

8th of November, 2011

Map the trailhead.

Following hiking the front country half of Cold Spring, I decided to hike (some of) the back country portion of the trail. There were no threats of rain coming the next day, so it was nice and clear when I got to the spot the trail crosses Camino Cielo. I got out the camera to take a photo of the great expanse of land to the north and sea to the south that I hadn't been able to see when I climbed up to this spot and the camera said "change the batteries". Whoops. Once I had the same batteries in a flashlight, now I don't. They had been charged just a few days earlier, so should have been fine. It might really be time to change the batteries, but for now I tossed it back into the car and headed off a half pound lighter than I would have. And took a few more moments to take in the sea of sea and sea of mountains.

Taking Cold Spring into the backcountry offers a few options. The sign at the top simply says "Forbush 2, Mono 5" in holes cut out of a flat bit of iron in the style still sometimes done for signs that last. The distances are to campgrounds and just like the sign on the other side of the road that shortens the distance down by a half mile, these are probably somewhat less than the actual distance. Mono marks the end of the trail where it again meets road. Shortly after Forbush Flat, a trail branches off to the right that follows Forbush Canyon down to where it joins Blue Canyon. At the meeting, trails lead up and down Blue Canyon. My plan was to go to Blue Canyon, which I estimated to be some 4 miles and 2000 feet lost. I continued on to Blue Canyon Camp, up Blue Canyon about a mile more before turning back. Soon after this point, there should be a trail that would is about 1.24 mile up to the road and then 4.5 miles along the road to get back to the car. Although not much longer, I decided not to do this loop since I didn't want to travel that far along the mostly paved road. If a shuttle is available, it might be nice to hike up Blue Canyon to where it meets the road, about 2.5 miles more up from Blue Canyon Camp.

As the trail starts, it is dropping down from the ridge line into a large bowl of a canyon. It crosses a few creek beds as it goes, one even with a bench and a trough to collect water. After circling around the bowl, it follows down along the west facing slope, passing a very narrow and rocky opening that all the water the bowl collects must pass through. It then follows along down that side of the canyon wall, sometimes along a bit of wall that is quite steep. At one point, I found some plants with frost on them from the night before even though it wasn't all that early. The sun had still not managed to get over the lip of the canyon and warm those plants. With a few switchbacks, but mostly traveling sections, the trail came near a large flat area. Along the way, a few views into Forbush and Blue could be had. Very little could be seen of the canyon on the other side of the saddle.

A triangle of paths with no sign marked the camp at Forbush Flat. Following the left route came right into the camp. It had a large fire ring, stove, table, and a few firefighting tools around it. Following a path further, I found a little stream with water ready to provide water to any travelers. Trail apparently went off further to the east, so this looked like it could be the intersection. The trail on the map seemed to loop a little that way before heading south again. I took the right to head toward some high rocks of a hue that, if they continued along that far, probably gave Blue Canyon its name and down the canyon. The trail proceeded steeply for a short bit, then came to the actual intersection. The sign simply said "Mono" with an arrow and "Blue Cyn" with another arrow. I turned right again, this time following trail in the expected direction, west.

The trail is drawn on the map following right in the bottom of the creek going down Forbush, but does not do so. It stays up on the south facing slope and occasionally drops a bit by some very very tight switch backs. The side of the slope the trails are on probably makes climbing this at the end of a summer day a miserable expedition. The trail continues on just high enough to stay out of the thickest vegetation for most of the way. It did drop into the dry bed for a few feet when the vegetation wasn't thick, then climbed up again. It's had some weather wear, but is really very good.

In the viewpoints above, power lines can be seen stretching through the canyons. Coming to a meadow under the power lines, I found many pieces of corrugated metal getting somewhat rusted, but could not find anything else to indicate what they were from. The canyon was starting to look more lush and I could hear water and soon could see it, then came upon an unofficial campsite in an open space. Soon the trail crossed the creek, now with water flowing. Soon it came to a very large meadow. Some areas were covered in little leafy plants looking like the willows out on the tundra, except these had dried out. Mostly, it was covered with tall grasses sporting very spiny seed pods. The trail crossed to the northern end where a sign said this is Cottam Camp, north is Camuesa, east is Blue Canyon, and back west 1.5 miles is Forbush Flat. Likely a bit of an underestimate.

The camp itself had a circle of large oaks with a large fire ring in the middle. Someone had set the smoke stack from one of the very old stoves into the rocks. The rest of the stove was nearly intact down a trail west along the stream. Again, the camp was supplied with a picnic table and a couple of tools. Just down a small slope, the stream was flowing quite well. It looked like a nice spot to hang around and it was nearing lunch, so I took advantage of the picnic table.

sketch of a large oak tree with large low branch extended far to the side
One of the circle of oaks around the central area of the camp site. Many of them seemed to have good sitting branches and this one even had some stones to help one up to it.

After eating a little and examining the map, I decided to make my way up to the next campsite. I followed the trail in the direction the sign pointed, expecting it to join with a bit of trail on the east side of the meadow that went up over a little hill on that side, where the map also indicated the trail went. This went along the creek, though. It looked like some people do try to make their way along it, but was probably mostly used by people using tent sites there. I backed up and found where the trail I expected to be on actually went. It stayed up high from the creek even though the map indicated that it would drop back into the stream bed soon enough. It passed through a number of washes and two tributaries that had water in them. At one spot, a large sand bar by the stream could be seen below and it looked like there were footprints in it. Then there was a steep cliff that someone had traveled up or down to get between trail and stream.

Soon after that, I found a sign saying "Blue Canyon Camp" bolted to a tree, the bark beginning to grow through the letter holes. Behind the tree, a picnic table and one of the old stoves could be found. There were tools, but these were probably better used for opening sardine tins than fighting fires. Someone left them in a lunch bag with a note and the people who had eaten them had left the cans around the camp. Otherwise, the area was pretty clean. The creek was flowing nicely to the side. Someone had built up a little dam to get a pool, although it wasn't very deep. It was a pretty little spot and I seemed to be sharing it with a pretty little thrush.
watercolor sketch of pool and rocks
The pool with tufts of grasses growing. Blue rocks behind were probably colored partly by copper and look a little different from the other blue rocks further up the canyon wall.

Deciding not to make a loop, I headed back down to Cottam Camp. While at the eastern edge of the meadow, I had spotted something that looked man made and I decided to investigate on the way back. I crossed a wide valley entering the meadow with a trail up it to the far side. The trail is likely the other route up Blue Canyon, but did not look to be well used. At the center of the valley, there was a trunk sticking up that turned out to actually be an old fence post. It had a bit of chain loop on it with a clasp, making it look like there might have been a gate there once. On the far side of the valley, what I was looking at turned out to be nothing. I followed along the south side of the meadow, passing another fence post, metal stuck into a part that had broken off and was on the ground near it. I then proceeded back up the trail that is not only 1.5 miles.

At the camp at the flat, I decided to investigate the bit of trail headed out to the east. It first came to a second picnic table, so that camp is well appointed with tables, but then continued. I suspected it went to a nice lookout over the west heading canyon. Trails meandered here and there, but the best used one did indeed come to a lookout. Unhappily, someone had decided to use that area for a bathroom spot while camping and had left toilet paper in the bushes, never a pleasant discovery. Pack it in, pack it out applies to TP too.

I headed back up to the top and the road afterwards. When almost to the top, I heard voices behind me. Eventually, a couple caught up with me, one playing music from something with bad speakers in her backpack. I let them pass, the only people I saw on the trail that day, then finished not too long after them.

©2011 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 November 2011

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