19 June 2012

Dick Smith: ridgeline scramble

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3


Waking up the next morning, I had decided not to go up to the waterfalls. The water really wasn't that good and there is no particular trail up to them. Also, for unknow reasons, I was feeling a bit of dread about the canyon. Instead, I would have an easy day and eventually go down to Lower Buckhorn Camp for a little more easy day. That would make a much more managable final day than hiking out all the way, especially since I wanted to stop by Little Caliente. Before even getting up, I heard a crashing through the bush. While looking out toward the sound, a bear popped into view. It was probably going for the water, it did not come to check out the camp. After relaxing around camp and painting rocks with leaf shadows and water ripples, I decided to get packed up and going.

lizard bridging a couple rocks
A lizard that seems to want to be out in the air instead of on a rock.

a leg and an vertebrum
Part of a scattered and very incomplete skeleton by the side of the camp.


On the way down the meadow, I spotted a trail I'd seen on the way up and wondered about because I suspected that there's a way to go back via the ridge and the fuel break. I went to investigate it and found it to be a deer trail very quickly. I didn't like its direction and spotted another. It was more deer trail, then I pondered the prospect of heading up the canyon side anyway. There were more and more deer trails above me. It would be nearly 1000 feet to the top, but I was feeling that dread about the canyon. It occured to me that I should be feeling dread about the route above as well. I don't actually know the fuel break still goes this far or is passible for the entire length. On the other hand, there were actually two old routes shown on the map giving two options to Lower Buckhorn and I could always come back and make my way down the canyon. It was a stale mate until I thought about the views I would have in climbing to the ridge. Dread, the stick, isn't a very good motivator, but the carrot of views sure is nice. I started to climb.

big, green berries haning on a bush
Not a bunch of little apples.

view over Indian Creek Camp and Indian Canyon
An overlook of the canyon and camp from about halfway along in climbing to the fuel break at the top.

the view looking down the canyon
A look down the part of the canyon I hiked up.

With a lot of care and preserverence, I made it up the side of the canyon. I expected to be hitting the fuel break at a spot where it was shown to have a wiggle, so I would get to it before the ridge. While the fuel break was below the ridge at that point, trying to follow it expecting a wiggle quickly got me off of it again. I tried again, and soon I was making my way through the thinner brush along it. Sometimes it seemed like someone else also came this way, but I couldn't tell what and then that trail would vanish again leaving just the cut and abandoned fuel break. As I went, I would often have to push through between tight bushes, but the way was generally quite easy to find.

a bit of softer chaparral
A look along the fuel break, which offers easier travel along the ridge than would ordinarily be had.

looking a bit more westward than Indian Canyon
The other side of the ridge is part of the watershed that feeds into Buckhorn Creek.

the far side of the canyon where a road goes
The ridge on the other side of Indian Canyon shows a stark road cut to correspond with the road on the map.

Coming to a large, flat peak, I started to find it difficult to find my way again. My map indicated that there were actually two routes down from this point, one heading to Indian Canyon Trail and the other going to Buckhorn Trail. Both would get me back to Lower Buckhorn Camp so although I preferred the first, I would happily take the second. Blundering my way over the flat, I passed another of those metal triangle signs and found some more fuel break. It went over a little peak and started up a second before I hit a stand of oak. I tried to push my way through them to the fuel break I could see on the other side, but then finding that I was in a spot of shade and hungry, I had some lunch. Afterward, I extracted myself from the bushes again and tried for another route. That time I bounced a little harder and took a look from up on the last slope to try to determine where it was softest. The trouble was, the oaks were just tall enough that what might look like a route at the top was entirely different at the bottom, but they weren't tall enough to only have high branches. I tried a couple more times before looking again and seeing what looked like another fuel break on a hill far below me. I made one more attempt fairly far around an edge, then extracted myself again and went all the way back to the large, flat area. Coming again to the metal triangle, I made my way determinedly further east and found more fuel break. This I could follow down.

a scrap of plastic with HE written on it
A bit of plastic with the letters "HE". The legacy of someone's disaster long ago or someone's not funny joke? Either way, a reminder to take care and remain aware.

yellow triangular metal sign by piles of dead wood
The sign marking the intersection of the fuel breaks. The discarded fuel has been piled up in front of it and the intersection has moved slightly north.

overlooking Indian Canyon
Looking out over the cut of Indian Canyon in the folds of uplift.

the eastern fuel break as it rolls along the ridge down to the Buckhorn-Indian connector
Looking south along the fuel break gives a view of Meadow Camp again.

This new route dropped fairly steadily with a couple of small peaks on the way. While worried there would be another stand of oak, I did not come upon one. There were places where I got off the break and into the area the fuel had been thrown, but it was generally simplistic to find my way back to the break. It eventually started to drop much more steeply and it looked like it occasionally hosted water torrents in that section. I lost it again very near to the intersection with the trail and looking down one side of the ridge found an old road cut. This makes me expect that these really were old jeep trails, as labeled on the older maps, before they were straitened into fuel breaks. I dropped down to the road expecting it to connect back to the break rather quickly, and it did. Then I was back to the familiar trail.

fuel break and old road cut heading up the ridge line
Looking back up, the fuel break follows the ridge no matter how steep. A road cut leaves the break off to the left when it gets steep.

Coming down the trail, I spotted the back of the huge sign marking Buckhorn Trail leaving to continue up the creek. The trail looked well traveled and I should have noticed it heading off on the way up even without seeing the sign which, while huge, really was totally obscured by brush when keeping to the connector to Indian Creek. Continuing down, I quickly got back to Lower Buckhorn Camp and, after pumping some more water, set up camp, and had a relaxing evening sketching the cozy little site.  I also took a little time to take stock of the injured.  At some point I realized I'd bruised my left knee.  Upon looking, I found 4 bruises on the knee, another dozen on my shin, and a few above it.  I didn't look, but the other leg was little better.  Scratches of varying depths were all over my arms.  Earlier, I'd found wood lodged in my camera "lens cap" and a rip in the pants the roses hadn't been able to touch both from attempting to get through the oaks without a saw.  I thought about how much tougher the old camera seemed, but then remembered that it, being too big to fit in the mesh hip pocket, got to ride around in a padded case and decided to stop blaming the camera.

the fork in Buckhorn
Trails forking in front of a large, but invisible sign saying it is 0.25 mile to rejoin Indian Canyon Trail, among other things.

stuff scattered on a semi-collapsed table
On my way to getting set up around a camp whose center piece is a semi-collapsed table.

As I was finishing cooking supper, a number of startled birds made me look up to see a pair of backpackers coming my way. One was carrying a fishing rod and they said they were up to install temperature sensors for the National Marine Fisheries Service, I believe. The water up here seemed a little bit fresh for them, as well as a bit low for their fishing pole. They had also taken quite a time getting up the canyon to this point. They continued on to Meadow to make camp. I ate my supper and, after a bit more relaxing, turned in for the night.

On to the next day.




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 24 Jun 2012

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