02 May 2012

Thorn Point

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

I thought it might be nice to head up to a spot where not only was there an old fire lookout tower, but it's still there and in good enough shape to poke around in. There does happen to be such a lookout with a nice hike up to it at Thorn Point. I checked to see if the road was open, but didn't see it listed among the closures because I was looking for Mutau Flat instead of Grade Valley. I did see the campgrounds up it were listed as closed. As I came into view of the road, a big white truck bounded across Lockwood Valley and stopped a short distance along the road. "Oh, no, there's a gate right there and it's closed," I thought. Then I made out the tree on the door and thought, "But he'll probably be just opening it up for himself." The ranger locked the gate open and backed out of the road again, so it seems my timing was perfect.

Overall the road was very good. That and the knowledge there would be no one coming the other way along it may have lead to some overconfidence going down it that may have caused the little car to go through a bit of a stressful spot when a gravel covered hill proved difficult to stop on, but everything worked out. There are four fords, the third being the most challenging and the last one being nice since it has a cement bottom. I looked at each carefully and decided they were safe to cross, but on that third one I did pick out a very specific path first. The trail is clearly marked at the end of the road.

a signpost ahead
The trailhead in Thorn Meadows at the end of 7N03B. The grey plastic plaque for the wilderness is just visible to the left of the tree.

The trail was obvious next to the new sign. It wiggles down into a small creek and back out the other side. There is a broken down fence with a break next to a plastic Sespe Wilderness sign. After this the trail is off limits to vehicles, including bicycles. The trail showed little recent use but is used enough in season that it is easy to follow all the way to the lookout. Here, it is soft with pine needles and shorter grasses. Drifts of stomped on grey pine cones mixed with new brown ones and covered the trail. Bunches of as yet uncrushed leaves crunched under my feet. I heard an animal take off running, then the unmistakable grunt of a bear. I caught sight of a baby bear disappearing into the woods, mama brown grunting behind the baby with her skin flapping around her. Some movement up on a ledge drew my eye to one more baby who felt trapped. The baby found its way off into some trees along the rocks.

grass covered trail in the meadow
A little bit of the overgrown trail. It looks like it is kept up by walking in season, but not as much now.

brown bear cub
A brown bear cub up on the side of the canyon.

The trail makes a turn up a side canyon at just about a mile in. In a couple switchbacks, it climbs this canyon's wall and starts up the edge of a ridge of dirt with more switchbacks. In this way, it climbs out of shallow, easy valleys and up into a land of gorges and cliffs.

land getting a little steeper in the distance
A bit of the trail as it climbs to the lip of a small canyon and starts up the side of the ridge. A few cliffs in the distance.

easy slopes on the reverse look
Back the way I came, low and easy rolling hills.

a bit of the ridge
Some lovely erosion patterns on the rocks around the dirt of the ridge that the trail zig-zags up.

strait-uppy-downy land
A couple deep ravines in the side of the mountain that must be impressive in the rain but would empty out very quickly.

Then the trail climbed around an edge and started to come upon an island of easy going land. Here I got my first glimpse of the fire lookout up on the top of the ridge, standing above a thorn like point of land. Walking through the low hills, there was even a trickle of water to help out any who might want to camp here. Then there were more switchbacks to climb.

the lookout is still standing
The fire lookout, spotted up on the ridge above a thorn like point of land.

a flatter bit of land
A island of gentle land among the cliffs.

Continuing up, the view opened up to the south and I could see the marine layer I'd escaped trying to make its way up the mountains and through the valleys to get to where I was. In short order, I caught another glimpse of the tower and was up on the point.

sign and small cabin at Thorn Point Lookout
Thorn Point Lookout at 6935 feet. The site also has a small cabin and a shed for tools.

The cabin was full of trash, some of it historic (well, maybe) and some of it not. People had been tossing stuff into a now upturned trash can outside as though it might get service. A shed to the side once housed tools but has lost its roof. Detritus the wind had managed to rip from the decaying buildings runs down the south slope.

shed built with a boulder as one side
A shed built into the side of a boulder.

wood torn from the various buildings
Some of the lumber torn from the sides and roofs and shutters by the wind.

A register is chained to the base of the fire lookout. Inside is a book with a little bit of the history of fire lookouts. People were recording their presence on some blank aircraft spotting log pages that looked far too white to be historic, but pages up in the tower for lightning strikes and product manuals were similarly bright but a little moldy. The last person to record themselves was a day short of a month before, and before them were fairly regular visits until the start of November. The notes indicated the bears at the bottom are a common sight. A note at the front (6-14-02) mentioned the firefinder was removed by LPNF archaeologists to ensure preservation and might be returned if the lookout is ever restored. That seems like a huge if as this is in the designated wilderness.

The tower itself is still pretty solid, so I decided to climb up it and see what I could see. The steps are very steep. I had quite the time getting the trap door to open. Some boards around the edge of the tower by the floor are becoming very warped and splintered and are starting to block the trapdoor. It looks like these might have been added to support a fence attached to the railings. The shutters are falling apart or just falling down and one was somewhat blocking the doorway. Inside was more trash of various ages. The wall map would indicate it was manned at least as late as 1973.

fallen shutters along the side of the lookout
Looking around the side of the fire lookout to the north.

a flat spot near the lookout and some more view
There's a nice flat spot suitable for camping off to the northeast.

some of the stuff to be found inside includes a wood burning stove, gas stove, and water coolers
Cooking arrangements inside the lookout.

looking out westward
Looking out of the fire lookout at the fog rolling in over the mountains. The shutter leaning on the railing is partly blocking the doorway.

After a bit of drawing, I turned back the way I came. The fog had come in even further inland, but still miles away. I didn't see the bears again as I came down the trail, but I did see a little bobcat in the same area. Bob was down in a sandy gully and scampered away as fast as he could go when he heard me.

dark blue flowers
Little deep blue flowers that could be found along the whole of the trail.

paw prints in the mud with no visible claw marks
Some paw prints that I only saw at the very top.

a couple parasites pushing through the pine needles
I saw four snow flowers just getting started with blooming.

the cliffs of that deep ravine from before
Another look at the wall of that deep ravine the trail passes very near the top of. This one also has green rocks similar to the ones found on Haddock Peak.

Thorn Meadow
One of the meadows down in the canyon near the end of the road.

Getting back down, I found that I was no longer the only person down this road. A couple guys were packing up their pickup truck. The passenger informed me, in a voice that sounded like some teasing had been going on, that the driver had wanted to turn his truck around at one of the stream crossings. Nothing like a little front wheel drive car with dinky tires to make someone in a big truck with lugged tires feel silly. I came upon another person just after the stream crossing, so the road was already getting plenty of use again. That one had apparently just turned around... maybe I'm overenthusiastic about crossing streams.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 May 2012


dm said...

How narrow are the ridgeside trails? Are there big drop-offs alongside the trail? Any real soft spots on sides of ridges?

Valerie Norton said...

You have to walk off trail a little bit for a drop-off, but the slopes are quite steep. The trail itself is a solid single track that is generally a bit over a foot wide.

Ryan Vigil said...

I'm interested in backpacking out to this lookout with about 4 people. My main concern is water availability. You mentioned a creek with water. Can you give me information on water sources along the trail like roughly how many miles away from the trail head and lookout. Thank you.

Valerie Norton said...

The road to this trail is subject to seasonal closure Nov-May, although this year they decided to wait for weather to close it. You'll be walking in from Lockwood Valley Road until the first of May, at least. The last reliable water is at Cedar or Piru Creeks, before getting to the trailhead, about 4.5 miles from the lookout. The little creek is the source of Mutau Creek, about a mile and 400 vertical feet down from the lookout. It was not running last Nov. The map marks a number of springs on the mountain, but none to feed this creek. My feeling is that you'll see something between a stagnant mud puddle and a trickle. I would not rely on it.