19 April 2012

Haddock: Chorro Grande

Los Padres National Forest

day 1 | day 2 | day 3

Locate the trailhead.

I decided to give up hoping to find someone to go backpacking with and strike out on my own. Again. I got a new backpack a while ago and still had not been able to try it out. This one is larger than the ultralight (that I got for and use as a wonderful day pack) that seemed to fill halfway with the sleeping bag and wasn't comfortable over 20 lbs. It is smaller than the cavernous bag I have that is comfortable even when far too heavy and I can't pack because there is too much room and the sleeping bag at the bottom seems to keep the compression system from working properly. Also, that old pack has no place for my Platypus. I filled up my new pack's 65 liter interior and things didn't seem to quite fit with the tent inside, so I repacked and let the tent get tucked under the top. I still go with a close cell foam pad, a cheapie in basic blue, so that gets tied onto the outside, too. They're warmer and lighter and, I find, plenty comfortable for backcountry spots.

The plan was to go up to Pine Mountain Ridge by Chorro Grande, over to Reyes Peak and then back to follow Reyes Peak Trail down to Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail, then go down to Pine Mountain Lodge before turning around and returning by the ridge. I have previously hiked down from the road to the spring and then up to the peak by the use trail. Longer ago, I have hiked up Piedra Blanca with the goal of getting to somewhere past Pine Mountain Lodge for the second day, but turning back because the heat was too much and the water vanishing too quickly while we didn't know if there was any above. Instead we played in the pools of the lovely Twin Forks Campsite and hiked out. Other than that, I don't really know the area. Snow had fallen about four days before I started, so I got some Yaktrax and packed my as yet unused gaiters and made really sure to have in my hands plenty of map.

I drove up highway 33 looking for the trailhead by looking for a sign. I thought there would be one for the simple reason that I had seen it before, well placed along the road to mark the trail for those driving by. I got all the way up to Pine Mountain Ridge Road without seeing it. I looked down the road to make sure it was indeed closed, and it was, then turned around for a more careful examination of the side of the road. I spotted two posts and a little brown vinyl stick sign with "trail" on it that I think should be called a slapstick if it isn't already. Someone had torn down my sign. Carefully. I checked my maps to be sure I was in the right place, got the water set up and did the repacking to make everything fit better, then started up the trail. The destination for the first night was Chorro Spring.

a couple of posts and a slapstick mark the start of Chorro Grande's climb up the mountainside
Someone has removed the sign and left a dinky little slapstick that marks the presence of a trail and who is allowed on it while a clear trail starts up the hill.

rock formation along the way
The trail is up the south slope, so the vegetation isn't up to hiding the rock structures poking out.


rocks that form a bit of a waterfall
Rocks to the east are quite elaborate and form a waterfall where Chorro Grande comes down over them.

a little water coming over the edge of the rocks
Falls along Chorro Grande.

a burst of yellow
It isn't a good year for wildflowers, but there are a few out.

The hike starts off fairly easy, which is nice to get one started with a full pack. There were only a few flowers out. Then I noticed a little spider... very funny spider... with misshapen front legs... huge tick crawling up my pants. I flicked it and walked a little more and found more on my pants. I was soon flicking them in twos and threes. Sometimes they didn't like the fabric and dropped off on their own. They were convertible pants and a few had crawled up under the zipper, so I flicked off those too. Much of the first 2.5 miles were a tick paradise with a few islands of the things further up. It was nice to have the trail all to myself, but it meant that I didn't have any tick sweepers going up it before me.

tick on the zipper of my pants, as large as the zipper is wide
One of a few dozen ticks to be flicked over the day.

ticks questing
A couple ticks on a bit of grass, questing for a big animal like me to come by. They just want to suck your blood.

After about 1.8 miles, I got to Oak Campsite, marked simply by another slapstick with a picture of a tent and an arrow. The stream was running well beside it. It looks like a nice place with the shade of a bunch of oaks on the flat. There are a large number of sites and a few spots distant from the main camp that look like they become more private spaces when usage is high. A pleasant spot as long as there is water.

trees and fire ring and bench like logs in the main part of the camp
The main part of Oak Campsite, which has plenty of room for a medium boy scout troop with a number of campfire rings and grills.

Continuing up from the camp, there was a fallen old road gate, hinting that once this was more than a trail. Then there was a flat spot going up a valley to the east that looked like old road too. The trail turned away from the creek and began to climb. Then, looking to the west, I saw a road cut that looked more maintained and wondered what it was. I went to pull out the maps to check, but I couldn't find them. I'd managed to put them down in the car after checking the trail. I weighed going along partly snow covered, unfamiliar trail without a map against dropping the pack for the almost 3 hours it would take me to go back for maps, made sure I had plenty of water and my key with me, and headed back. The trip through the mass of ticks was much better, since someone had along the trail, but I still managed to pick up a couple more. I found the maps and returned. The errand for the maps felt less silly as it got closer to being done. Back at my pack, I found it to be quite unmolested and had some lunch. The road wanders through the various canyons to the west finally reaching the highway. It stops at the trail, according to the map, and a trail continues over two more canyons to another spring. The trail looks well used although I didn't see where it took off from my trail or where the road came in. I expect the flat, grassy roadbed to the east marked the intersection.

fallen down gate
A road gate fallen over, the post it locked to on the other side.

three ticks on a blade of grass looking for prey to walk by, of two types
Even more ticks wanting to suck my blood.

a cluster of bi-colored poppies
All of the few poppies around seemed to be the bi-colored ones.

a cut of road in a hillside
The bit of road cut seen from the trail. It probably provides another, longer route into this area.

big rocks below
Those same rocks that lead into the waterfall (to the right of them from this angle) far below.

dead centipede
A centipede along the trail, very dead with some ants trying to figure out how to carry it off.

velvet ant
A velvet ant, which isn't really an ant at all, that was running around very alive.

doves in a wind blown tree
The trees that grow too tall get tortured by the wind. A couple doves sit in a stiff breeze on this one.

grass field in the distance
Grass topped hillsides in the distance.

The trail kept switchbacking up the mountain. The southeast facing slopes brought more ticks to flick, the wind seemed to pick up as I went, and the temperature dropped a little, but that could have been the time of day too. At the end of a particularly long westward switchback, the trail turned up a shallow valley. The ground at the bottom got wetter and there were patches of snow around. A patch of snow in the bottom marked the end of a small flow of water that got stronger on the way up. I started to wonder where the misshapen oak was if this was the spring, and then spotted it. A few steps more and the spring was visible too, coming out from under the rocks. I settled on a campsite and settled in.

a patch of snow up the slope from the old ice can stove
The ice can stove marking the old camp. Up the hill, a little bit of snow.

water emerging from a cavelike structure
The spring water seems to emerge from under these rocks that sort of form a cave, but if you go around the back, there's a little more flow back there.

water wandering down the hillside
Water from the spring goes down a swampy flat and sinks back into the dirt fairly quickly.

After setting up camp and having dinner, I painted some, then went to bed. The wind howled through the trees above constantly although at the ground there were only very light breezes. As the sky grew darker, it started to quiet. As full dark fell, it stopped altogether. It was finally quiet. Very very quiet. There wasn't even scampering in the twigs. For a few minutes, a distant cricket sang its song, but then it was quiet again. Eventually, I fell asleep.

On to day 2 ->




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 24 April 2012

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