25 May 2012

Nordhoff Tower and Chief Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

I'm looking at going down the Sespe for a hike, but there's just more and more trail that looks interesting to hit to the point it can't be done in a day. Not too far off, and a good one for a cool day rather than a warm one, is Chief Peak. I decided to head to it. Although the news was saying things about possible rain (only 20% chance), the cloud cover was only predicted to be about 68% and temperatures were also heading for a high of 68F. I got to Rose Valley Campground to start just after 8 and headed up the road past the gate. Nearly all of this route may be driven by special permit which is obtained simply by having a 4 wheel drive vehicle and an adventure pass, in season. The road is currently open and there were plenty of tire prints, but no one came while I was hiking it.

upper Rose Valley Falls and the surrounding hills
The upper falls of Rose Valley is a damp, dark spot on the cliff. So far it looks like a brilliant day for peak climbing.

the white rocks in the distance
The bleak white rocks of Piedra Blanca almost look blue to me in the light. Comparing to the closer yellow rocks, it's clear why these are named such.

an inholding below the road
Coming over one lip of land for a bit more view and the pond of a nearby ranch comes into view. A trail leads along the far hills apparently from the ranch, but does skip this, up to the ridge road on the left.

The clouds started rolling in very soon after I started, obscuring the edges of the ridge. At 2.2 miles on the GPS, I hit the junction with Chief Peak Road, although I think all if it is generally referred to as Nordhoff. Even with the climb, it was a bit chilly when the sun wasn't on me. Once to the ridge top, it was plenty windy and not a bit sunny.

junction of Chief and Nordhoff
Junction with the road on the ridge. Chief Peak Road is to the left, Gridley Trail in 2.5 miles, Nordhoff Tower in 3.5 miles, Pratt Trail in 4.5 miles, and road ends in 6.25 miles to the right. A second sign points to the campground and exit 2 miles back the way I came.

I started toward the peak, but the clouds raced themselves across the road in the wind. It wasn't looking like I would be able to look at anything besides the nearest portions of the peak when I got up there. The sign for Nordhoff Tower became a siren call too great and I turned around to see something that could at least be enjoyed a bit without the view and was more likely to have a view since it was lower. There wasn't much to look at along the way in terms of the view, but there were some great wildflowers.

purple puff ball with alien antennas pretending to be plants
These are wonderful. The plants seem to generally just have these purple puffs that look like they could be a parasite along the stem, but every now and then there's a huge alien antenna sticking out from a couple open petals.

the puffy white of a dandelion in seed
A few great big cotton puffs of one of the more pleasant to look at dandelions were out on the ridge still holding their seeds a bit in the wind.

tiny red tubes with yellow edges
These tiny clumps of flowers may have been getting a little bit old.

a sprig of white flowers
The leaves this sprig of flowers were popping out from looked a bit like the ones we called soap root in science camp.

Nordhoff fire lookout
The fire lookout comes into view. The wooden cabin has burned, but the steel platform remains.

many flowering bushes
Bush poppies and ceanothus and more flowering bushes.

tiger whiptail
A tiger whiptail with its tail longer than its body.

After a long downhill, passing a little picnic area, the trail down past the ranch, and finally getting to Gridley trail coming up from the city below. I saw a mountain biker toward the top coming down. He was pretty noisy and rather odd sounding, a bit like that big snake I bumped into last week, but a little safer. A couple were coming up Gridley as I hit the low point before Nordhoff Peak and the fire lookout. They seemed to be heading to the tower, but also be on a schedule, so never quite got there even though they were so very close. I found a picnic table at the top, which was nice since I was feeling ready for a bit of picnicking.

Gridley Trail
Lowest point since the first up where Gridley Trail meets the road. It's 3 miles down to the camp and 5.75 miles down to the road.

purple flowers on spiny bush
One of the flowering bushes. They tended to only have a few branches flowering.

a bunch of big poppies
The matilija poppies seemed to have settled in happily in a few places and along the climb to the tower were blooming.

spur to the lookout
The spur up to the fire lookout.

Climbing up the steep steps, I could stand on top of the tower's platform. This one has no trap door to get stuck, just plenty of railing to keep people from falling down the hole to the steps. The weather had cleared up very nicely and I could see all the way to the peak that was my original destination.

hanging out on top of the lookout
Up on top of the lookout, looking out.

Chief Peak in the distance
Chief Peak off in the distance and Gridley Trail switchbacking down the hillside.

I had a little draw on the picnic table testing out a new brush pen (Kuretake No. 8 Fountain Hair Brush Pen) that performed quite nicely in the wind, at least when it's only been used once before, but is a shorter brush so not quite as much fun to use. Then I packed up everything and took off down the hill and up the far hill again. It was getting clear enough to see the white line of breakers along the shoreline and the shadow of islands out in the ocean. Thick clouds still hung over the mountains, though. As I returned to the intersection between the road back down and the road (mostly) up to the peak, I hadn't even started in on my second bag of water. The clouds seemed to be promising to stay away long enough to have the view once I got there and I'd already done most of the work to get there, so I decided to head up to the peak after all. The trip over to the lookout was just a 7 mile detour, or what I usually term a whole hike.

snake that was stretched acreoss half the road
With the sun being out, a few creatures thought it would be nice to sun themselves, like this character acting as a speed bump for half the road. It didn't feel like moving as I passed by.

pond and rain gauge
A small pond and rain gauge along the north side of Chief Peak Road.

small rock outcrop
A bit of the rocks that make for some steep cliff faces below. This may be the gully that is suggested for traveling down for rappelling down the 250 foot falls below.

Lovely detail in these with all their tiny petals. Some had a solid inside and some were a narrow brim around a dark hole.

With the peak near, I came to a spot along the road where the fuel break left the road to stick steadfastly to the top of the ridge. I left the road here to start climbing the peak. The firebreak first climbs a little peak, then a dip and it climbs a larger one. This peak is the nearer and shorter one seen in the pictures of Chief Peak from a distance. Another, much larger dip, and I really started climbing the rocky peak. Trail goes all over the place, of course. I tried to stick to the more beaten path, which climbed with some small wiggles, then turned for a flat route around the side of the largest rocks to climb again on the other side. Very little of the route was scrambling over boulders, but there was some. A smaller route seemed to go off to the north side of the peak and it looked like a number of people just scramble up the crevasses to the top. A number of cairns helped to mark the trail. Then I was sitting up on top of the peak and able to see out to the ocean.

spring below the peak
The south side of Chief Peak where the road continues along the ridge past a spring fed pond. A bit of blue ocean is visible in the far distance.

rocky Chief Peak
The easterly view over the peak and down the ridge.

fuzzy white bells sprouting froma  clump of round leaves
Some fuzzy flowers that were sprouting out in the shelter on the north side of the peak rocks.

The peak once had a register that should have been tough but seems to have lost its lid. Someone has provided a protein powder jug, or something similar, to keep some little notebooks dry to replace it. After a few flips through the register, I decided to go down past the spring on the far side, which I had thought I might do. By this time, I wasn't doing very good at calculating how far it would all be by the end. I decided to follow the fuel break down the south side of the peak and then cross the road and head overland to the pond. The whole hillside by it seems to have been mowed, so that would be an easy route. There were no cairns marking the way although others had clearly gone that way. I saw one set of footsteps and a lot of animal tracks as I kept to the top with the fuel break. I slightly overshot where I needed to turn to get to the road, so had to climb though a shallow ravine, but the route worked out quite well.

wide, flat lizard
A western side blotched lizard. I've been noticing a lot of lizards that seem fatter in the middle than is usual, unless it were a horny toad in which case it would be thin.

tiny all purple bunches of flower poking out of the dirt
I found these tiny, delicate bursts of purple in the dirt along the fuel break.

spring fed pond up on the ridge
The spring fed pond up close.

I followed the road spur back from the pond to the main road. Looking around, I noticed the weather was turning again. I was feeling ready to finish hiking, but still had to hike back to the car. I finished off the pineapple rings in my pocket and started at a pace a little faster than usual back up the road. I would have to climb a bit before I could roll along and then drop down to the car. A couple of rain drops actually came down while I was hiking back up to the road's high point. I had seen some hint of a trail down from the saddle between the two peaks that would miss the smaller one, but didn't notice the trail along the road.

late afternoon sun filtering through the clouds
The hills are so very green still, and the late afternoon light through the clouds is a delight.

On the higher sections of the ridge, the wind was blowing fiercely but now the direction had turned. I stopped to find something warm and add some apricots to my pocket. Powered by nature's energy chews, I noticed my own footsteps in multiplicity and knew the intersection wasn't far. I turned down the road marked "exit" and started in on the major elevation drop. The clouds turned lovely colors and the hidden sun set behind the mountains. The sky had cleared again and the sliver of moon high in the sky shone brightly. The camp was full when I started and more full when I finished. One group had even parked at the edge of the gate and made camp up along the road a hundred feet. Most of them had campfires going, including the guerrilla campers.

the last of the light of the day
The sun setting over the mountains.

Finishing up, I probably did have enough left in me to trot up to the waterfall and see it in dribble, but since it was dark already I let my feet rest. The GPS said I'd gone 20.0 miles for the day, a new record. I think I'll let it stand longer than the last one.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 27 May 2012

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