15 May 2012

Little Pine Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

A few years back, I hiked out of Upper Oso for a short evening hike up to 19 Oaks, a campground that is just about 2 miles from the parking lot and is downright delightful. Since then, I have not returned to the area even though the trail continues from there and makes a wonderful entry point into the deeper wilderness areas. I decided to hike a bit further along this route and Little Pine Mountain and Happy Hollow Campground seemed to be perfectly reasonable destinations for such a hike. I also decided I better do it before the end of May because my Adventure Pass is expiring and I really, really don't want to hand any money over to a concessionaire such as the one operating the entrance booth just before the river crossing. Asked for $5 for day use, I showed my pass and was told to be sure to hang it. Yes, yes, I know. Then I pulled up to the river crossing. Ah yes, the river crossing. The road has just recently been opened. That means that the water in the crossing was measured to be under 1 foot deep. That doesn't mean you can actually see the cement bottom of the ford as it takes a great big curve under the murky surface. Handily, weeds are growing tall on the downstream side and there is one traffic cone on the other side. I hugged the left as I let the little car swim through the river. From there, it's just a short way to the lot at Upper Oso. The hike starts along a road that is maintained for OHV travel and is also currently open for that. The information board is almost entirely devoted to information specific to these machines and my fellow parking lot users were all clearly here for motorbiking. Another one pulled up to use the trail as I turned down the road. It must take a while to get these things set up, he didn't pass me until I was signing the trail register 3/4 of a mile up the road. From there, it is just narrow trail and no danger of motorbikes.

narrow section of canyon
At the start, the canyon is narrow, especially at the bottom. The road is higher on the right.

trail leaving the road
The start of Santa Cruz Trail, about 3/4 of a mile from the lot for Camuesa Road. Destinations are 19 Oaks in 1 mile, Little Pine Mountain in 7 miles, and Santa Cruz Station in 10 miles.


The canyon continues to be narrow for a bit and the trail stays up above it a little, at least as long as it has not washed out. A sign laying against a rock warns that the next water after 19 Oaks is in 5 miles and someone has scratched it out to replace it with a 9. The trail dropped into the creek to cross and cross back. I looked up the canyon to see the old foot path as I crossed back. There must be a trail lifecycle of getting built well clear of the stream, but slowly becoming a route twisting back and forth through it as the sections wash out.

fairy lantern
A couple fairy lanterns along the side of the trail.

wider at the top
The canyon quickly opens up from its narrow bottom.

blue flowers with a lot of shape
Some more of the many wildflowers along the route.

red layers laced with green
A rock with some lovely bright red layers that contrast nicely against the very health poison oak.

tiger whiptail
An extremely long tiger whiptail hoping I don't see it in the dirt.

a bit of a pool in the creek
A nice pool down below the trail.

the route up to the campground
19 Oaks Campground is up the spur 1/4 of a mile and Little Pine is 4 miles further, Santa Cruz 9 miles. It doesn't agree perfectly with the other, but they're just being rounded boldly.

After the camp, the trail crosses the creek back and forth again, then a tributary as it starts to climb. A small trail headed up the tributary, possibly to another meadow up above 19 Oaks. Dry waterfalls, and a few moist ones, are along the far canyon wall. The trail climbs, apparently for no purpose. I came upon a bit of trail where the soft hillside was pouring down over the walls beside it and the trail and where someone had left a shovel, presumably so that any may dig out the trail if they so wish. Further on, there was a much longer flow of shale, and in the middle of it, another shovel.

they look ready to open
I saw a bunch of these up the trail, but none of them looked any more open than this bunch.

a view of the camp
A view of 19 Oaks from above... which seems to allow someone to look right into the 3 sided biffy.

yucca flowers close up
Some of the delightful yucca flowers from close up.

very large black bumble bee
Lots of flowers means lots of bees, including ones like this huge, black bumble bee.

high grasses
Climbing along the rolling hills around the canyon.

spring with a long cascasde
One of the moist falls, which seems to be fed by a spring.

soft and steep slopes
A mountain side with many ledges that could be falls in wetter weather.

small, loose rocks falling down over the trail and a shovel to dig it out
The second shovel along the trail offered to help dig it out, I guess. It sure needs it. And yes, that stuff does move as you try to walk through it.

After making my way gingerly through the slide area, I found myself up above the layer of rocks that was making all the waterfalls. Suddenly, I was close to the bottom of the near canyon again, but the trail was climbing to get over more. I passed through fields of mustard that was around shoulder height and making it difficult to stay to the path. The honey bees were particularly thick through there and I was often walking into mustard flowers in the process of being pollinated. I passed a couple small spots that could have been streams, each with more water loving plants within and one marked as having a spring above it somewhere, but saw no actual water in these areas. Then suddenly I was at a saddle, some posts to tie off horses to the west, the trail up the mountain to the east, and a much less traveled route down the other side to Santa Cruz Station. Oh, and I tried an energy chew that I got as a free sample that made me want to stretch out on the trail and have a nap... think dried apricots work a bit better.

honey bee climbing out of a Mariposa lily
Lots of clay Mariposa lilies in the canyon and up in the meadows. This one was acting a little like a trap, but the bee found its way out eventually, before coming right back.

horny toad hiding in the bushes
There's always a horny toad (lizard) around somewhere to give one an evil looking stare.

back the way I came
The low hills and canyon that the trail has passed over with the cut of Camuesa through the far mountains.

trail intersection
Trail intersection on the saddle of Little Pine Mountain. Happy Hollow is 2 miles along the mountain, Santa Cruz is 5 miles further along the trail down the other side, and Upper Oso is 5 miles back the other way. (The GPS actually said 5.5 miles by this point.)

a bit of the trail down the other side and the furter rolling hills
More rolling, grassy hills await the hiker who continues on, but the trail (the lower right) is much less traveled than the one up to this point.

I took off up the mountain side. A smaller trail continued directly up the edge of the mountain because there's always someone who thinks that first bump is the mountain. It's almost never the first bump. A sign pointed out that the real trail went to the south side of the bump. Further up, past another bump, a trail branched to the right past some old metal fence posts and a camp with half a gallon of water in a plastic jug. It proceeded through long grass up to what may be the peak, and then pretty much stopped. The USGS map has an elevation marked, but it is not marked as a bench mark and it would be hard to find in the dirt and grass and circle of trees. I had some lunch and followed the trail of slightly thinner grass down the other side toward the campground. Eventually, downed trees made it very hard to continue on, but finding some route through was not hard.

ladybugs on the wild pea
A couple ladybug beetles hanging out on some sweet pea pods. I think they're ladybug beetles, but it's harder to tell when they're not swarming. Ladybugs don't swarm. These were much bigger than usual for either.

Happy Hollow
Happy Hollow Campground, which must have had a lot of wonderful huge trees before the Zaca fire, but now not so much.

The campground was probably a bit of a paradise before the fire, or perhaps the trees are victims of bark beetles due to the gradual warming. There were lots of big trees, but most of them are standing dead. The trees closer to the campground have been cut down for safety. Now it is undoubtedly too sunny in the summer. One large tree still has green at the top. There are still lots of picnic tables and another 3 sided biffy although this one doesn't have much chance of distant people glancing into it (so the view isn't as good).

I decided to go back by way of Little Pine Spring, which is presumably the "next water" referred to on the sign back a way. I would take the spring trail down to it, then Santa Cruz back up to the saddle and back the way I came. Just after passing the connector trail coming into the road, I heard a great racket off to the side that very nearly made me jump out of my skin. Looking, I found a huge snake with at least 4 inches of rattle giving it everything he had. The rattle was sticking strait up as the snake slid its way under a pine tree. I continued down the road and could still hear the rattle shaking when more than 50 feet further down. At some point, I missed the trail to the spring, probably while thinking about the rattle that didn't want to stop. I also didn't notice any routes up the mountain on the north side of the road to where the real peak ought to be. I decided to continue down the road instead, although that is a much longer route. It would give me a much different view.

the connector where it joins the road
The connector trail back to Santa Cruz. Since motorcycles are allowed up the road, the trail is guarded against such travel.

out east over the mountains
The mountains and wilderness in the northeast direction, roughly.

It was a quite nice view coming down, but it also was a huge amount of down. The road drops slowly and constantly for the first third or so. It drops down and climbs, all at extremely easy grade, for the middle third. It drops some more after that, getting fairly steep for the last part of dropping back into the canyon to return to the parking log. Along the way, there are many other routes. First, another road heads off to Big Pine Mountain. A sign with no apparent junction marked Buckhorn trail, which was well established below the road, but wasn't entirely clear at the road. The road joins Camuesa and soon after, a small trail on the right dropped into Hidden Potrero Campsite.

hills and cliffs in the afternoon light
The layers of the rocks show up in the bare cliffs, but also in the way the vegetation grows.

top of Little Pine Mountain
Little Pine Mountain, at least the grassy hill parts, from below.

Camuesa connector
The Camuesa connector trail starting off across the meadow, which looks pretty good considering there's nothing to block the bikes.

another view of 19 Oaks Camp
Another look at 19 Oaks in the dying light. Santa Cruz Trail climbs up the hillside behind it.

It was dark before I finished. I glanced into the register on my way out and found one other person had come by headed to 19 Oaks for the afternoon. Checking the GPS at the end, I'd gone 18.0 miles, a new record for a single day hiking for me.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 28 May 2012

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