21 April 2012

Haddock: Piedra Blanca

Los Padres National Forest

day 1 | day 2 | day 3

Locate the trailhead.

I was slow to get up in the morning at Haddock Campsite. I was happy in my dry socks, but didn't want to soak them by sticking them into my wet boots. The top of the tent seemed to have caught condensation like crazy, which is a neat trick without the rain fly on. Eventually I pulled on my warm things as needed and took down the wet socks hanging out to dry on the side of the tent. They were even wetter than when I put them up. I wrung them out and pulled them and my wet boots on. I looked around the camp with the clarity of light. I still liked my spot. There are a number of grills installed around the meadow, but most don't even have fire rings. One to the north got some use, but mostly it was the one by the tents. Everything outside was wet, there had been a very heavy dew in the night.

an unused grill with no fire ring
A little bit of the edge of the huge campsite through a filter of moisture that was on the lens. There is a ring by the tree that gets used.

the trail to the north
The trail continues northward here somewhere, maybe just there at the far side of the turn.

streams on both sides of the trail
The bottom of the trail down from the peak to the camp as two tributaries come in along either side of it. Both are a little less turbulent for now.

the main fire ring in camp
The main fire ring in camp with my neighbors, of sorts.

As I went to cook breakfast, I discovered that the water I'd pumped the night before was decidedly yellow. That was disturbing, but looking at the stream water, it seemed rather golden in the sunlight. I tried pumping some more, mostly from away from the grass in the water, and it seemed to be less yellow hinting that it might just be breaking down chlorophyll from the grass. Cooking breakfast, I noticed that there was frost on the tarp bottom tent. It was in a more exposed spot. The bright sun was drying everything off quickly, or at least what it could reach, so I put my tent within that reach.

Getting back on the trail, I found myself having to cross the creek again and again, often without rocks or trees to help. Sometimes there were shelves of higher dirt, covered in waterlogged grasses, to give a shallower place to step. I wore my gaiters, but water seemed to be coming through the still wet boots where it ordinarily wouldn't. Of course, as I went downstream, the crossings got deeper and deeper. In between crossings, the trail climbs up the side of the east slope and drops down again, which is that much harder with the extra weight of water.

water tumbling over rocks
A tributary along the way, coming down over a rock wall. Unfortunately hard to see through the trees.

Three Mile Campsite has everything, even a picnic table. Pine Mountain Lodge is another 2 miles and Lions is 7 miles, while Haddock Campground is 2 miles back and Reyes Peak, not an actual destination, is 8 miles, according to the sign.

Piedra Blanca
Climbing up above Piedra Blanca Creek, the water is still very golden.

After Three Mile, I had one last crossing where I could not find anything to cross on. I looked for the shallowest place to cross and it took a while to go ahead and go for that crossing. I was up over my knees for the two steps it required. Eventually, the trail leaves Piedra Blanca to cross over about four small canyons to get to the old Pine Mountain Lodge. I stopped at the bottom of the first climb in a grass field and tried to dry out my boots and socks a little and let my feet have some air. The recent snow hadn't been more than a few inches when there was any, so I put away my gaiters before starting up again.

tiny little floral display on a bush
Some cute little flowers on a bush.

little waterfall coming down over the trail
A little waterfall cascades over the trail.

wall of rock that looks tiled
Rocks along the wall of one of the canyons.

Coming into Pine Mountain Lodge, I pulled off my wet shoes and socks again to let them dry a little away from my feet. I pulled out lunch for a nibble. Unfortunately, Three Mile was an anomaly and not the start of a trend and there was no picnic table for me. I heard voices coming up the trail and finally saw the first person on this trip. I'd been following a couple different footprints and maybe three different sizes of dog prints on the trail, so it was clear there was more human presence here, but now there was actually a person. Who had dry shoes. I got more determined not to turn around although this was supposed to be my turnaround point.

grills at Pine Mountain Lodge Campground
A little bit of the campground at the old Pine Mountain Lodge location.

The Pine Mountain Lodge Trail (labeled Cedar Creek Trail on my map) goes out the back side of the camp to fishbowls in 4 miles. I had decided to go in the Lion and Sespe direction, though, so crossed back over the creek to the trail and followed it further down. There was quickly a trail off to the left and a person waiting by it for his group said there were caves and such down it. I decided to go ahead an look around because even though I knew I didn't have the time, I really wanted to explore a little. The trail goes down to another camp, where another group looked ready to set up for the night. Lots of people on a Saturday.

a small overhang makes a cave
A cave up among the rocks behind the camp near Pine Mountain Lodge.

a playground for bouldering enthusists
A selection of rocks rolling away behind the camp near Pine Mountain Lodge.

I climbed up to one cave on a rock and found nothing but cave in it. I looked around, enjoying the shady height then came back down. I didn't hit the same route down as I came up, and there was a moment where I could feel the boots slipping on the rock as I stopped for a moment. "I am a cat up a tree," I thought to myself. Then I decided to place my feet a little more carefully to take advantage of the larger texture of the sandstone and came down quite easily. It was actually quite hot on the rocks when out of the shade, so I returned to the trail and the route down.

more minute flowers
Some little white flowers making their way in the world on the seemingly barren earth around these rocks.

Indian paintbrush next to a bit of burned log
A little bit of Indian paintbrush was out being bright. There was also an uncommonly orange variety about.

a rippling bit of rock with water coming down it
Water coming down the hillside over the rocks.

I saw even more people while coming down the mountain. It was hot and dry coming down and I noticed that my water had gotten low again. Eventually the trail crosses over a dry creek bed, but the thick rush of water can be heard. Just a few feet further down, the creek gushes from underground. I stopped and pumped some more water, taking note of how beautiful and clear it was from this source. As I continued down, I noticed the first poison oak along the trail so far. As evening came, I noticed the first mosquitoes. I even had another tick to brush off even with all the others who had passed before me and the trail tended to have few plants hanging over it.

back to floweing water
Water gushes forth from underground into a beautiful stream made more beautiful by the desire for a bit more water.

bush poppies and ceanothis
Some bush poppies and ceanothus along the trail.

two different butterflies on a puff of yellow
A swallowtail and another that doesn't like to show its wings unless flying and is otherwise showing the bit green bottoms of the wings.

Shortly before Twin Forks Camp, I decided my boots were dry and changed into my nice, dry socks. When I got to the site, I crossed over for a look around and to have a little food. The camp was so pleasant, I nearly decided to stop for the day. Still, I was sure I needed to be a couple miles down Sespe before I finished, so I dragged my pack up to my back and continued on.

a little bit of Twin Forks Camp
The fire ring just as one enters Twin Forks.

I didn't see a crossing point I liked over Piedra Blanca. Meeting it again, it had swollen to a small river and was traveling fast and deep through the narrow channel. Crossing seemed to include a bit on an unruly log over deep white water. I pulled off my boots and dry socks and waded in nearly up to my hips and back out again. Wiping a little dirt off my feet and wringing out my pant legs, I pulled on the socks and boots again and went on. The two waters joined soon after making an even larger mass, but the trail did not even approach the creek again.

Piedra Blanca
Meeting Piedra Blanca again, a bit of water that I didn't find it pleasant to have to cross, but I did keep my boots dry.

Shortly after is Piedra Blanca Camp. I thought someone had said they were camping here, but there was no one. When it was muddy, someone had brought a bunch of horses up to here and they had churned up the ground in the camp and the trail on the way back pretty well. It hardened into this uneven mass that was difficult and uncomfortable to walk on. Shortly after the camp, there was another camp that was occupied and full of the shouts of children at play.

Piedra Blanca Camp
This one was not signed that I saw, but it is Piedra Blanca Campground.

Piedra Blanca itself
Piedra Blanca itself. The white rocks that everything else is named for.

The trail started to climb and went up and over the rocks of Piedra Blanca. I had forgotten that the trail did that. There were spots here and there to look out although it wasn't closed in. There was a big campfire ring on one wide rocky spot. It dropped down easily back to the ground below.

trail going through Piedra Blanca
The trail along the top of Piedra Blanca.

As I came to the junction with the Middle Sespe Trail, one last pair of day hikers came down in the dark. They noticed the flash as I photographed the sign, so I shouted a hello. I'd been being quite chatty throughout the day, and decided to wait for them to come down the trail. They weren't that far back, anyway. It turned to my advantage, because they said they'd be willing to give me a ride to my car up at Chorro Grande. It turned out that was actually a little out of their way. Sometimes folks are really very nice. So it all worked out, but I did lose a day of backpacking. I'll have to go back for the Sespe some time.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 25 April 2012

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