07 November 2012

Piru Creek from Gold Hill

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

There are threats that the various back country roads will generally be closed up on November 1 from now on, but for now they are open to allow access for deer hunters. I decided to take advantage of the open gates and cooler temperatures due to a coming storm to head up Gold Hill Road and stop just before the ford at Piru Creek where a trail follows the path of the creek upward. My map shows this route going out the back of a few dirt roads around Gold Hill Campground. I found it to be resplendent in autumn colors. I took a peek at the ford to be sure there was water in the creek since other reliable ribbons of wet seem to be drying out this year, then turned in and drove up the creek stopping near a bit of fence to discourage further motor vehicle traffic. I grabbed water and food and art supplies and headed out along the trail that snakes around the side of the fence to see what I could see.

fall colors of poplars in the creek bed
The poplar trees lining Piru Creek are turning gold with the changing seasons.

A small trail overgrown with reeds goes to another area that can be reached by car, which was demonstrated by a car parked there. I found a larger path and continued down it for a bit, but the smaller paths that go out near the cliff edge to look down on the creek looked more interesting, so I kept going that way. The whole area is a choose your own adventure. My large path crosses through a fence to a road and I decided I liked the footpath better and turned back to the cliff side again. This brought me past what is presumably something left of the mine marked on the map. After the mine workings, it becomes quite faint and dumped me down into the creek itself at a dry tributary. I tried a route that climbs back up the other side of the tributary, but this just delayed being in the bottom for a few more feet.

wide trail and the mountains beyond
The initial portion of trail that heads away from the creek across the dry flat.

narrow trail along the cliff side
A bit of trail that moves along the top of the canyon past some mine workings.

mine workings
A big piece of metal I am assuming is part of the mine marked just on the other side of the tributary on the Alamo Mountain 1995 7.5' quad.

silt filled creek
Piru Creek flowing through hard rock down below looks somewhat silty today. While the canyon is still very open, the nearby plants are still very desert like.

Once down in the canyon, I found travel to be quite easy at first. There is the start of a use trail forming down in the canyon and the plants aren't thick where it is open enough for the sun to beat down on them during the summer. I was able to stay on the same side of the creek for a while, then one last push through some particularly thick willows brought me to a rock face ending in a knee deep pool. I looked back and saw a good crossing, then pushed back through the thick willows to go to it, stepping over a fairly recent boot print.

down by the creek
Reaching the side of Piru Creek, it seems to have a nice amount of water and plenty of rocks to cross on.

looking up the creek
A look up the creek bed as a cliff on the left forces change to the right side.

The cliffs get higher and closer so I found myself nice and shaded as the day warmed. It wasn't going to be especially warm, so I'd gone for long sleeves, but the shade was welcome and made me quite comfortable. Another cliff forced a crossing over to the other side, which took a little more effort to find, but was accomplished keeping my feet dry. The shadier canyon supports protects the plants from the sun as well and this section has areas choked with willows and cattails. I crossed the creek a few more times, but also went over rocks at the edges that were a little higher than myself, but had easy ramps up and down the other side. At one spot, I found a good place to cross from rock to rock, but a poorly placed bush leans well over the landing stone. There were no better places, so I eventually had to step one foot into the water. On tip toe, and selecting the boot that hasn't developed a hole, I managed with minimal water coming in the top. Otherwise, my feet stayed dry.

creek choked with willow
A look up a section that is choked with willows.

creek choked with cattails
A section that is chocked with cattails. The left rock is one with a route over it.

a closeup look at some of the tails
Some of the cattails by the creek. The further from the water, the yellower they get.

I spotted a fisherman as he was moving up the stream a little before I found myself having to step into the water because of the few rocks and thick vegetation. He was moving up the stream with waders while I was trying to make it trough thick shrubbery, at one point squeezing between the cliff wall and some small trees since that was the largest space around. It took me a while to catch up with him, leaving the poor fellow to think he was getting stalked by one of the local residents instead of simply followed by a hiker. We chatted shortly as he laid a few flies on the water and caught a trout. He seemed to think I wouldn't get through the canyon without getting my feet wet, unless I was brave enough to go up a few rock climbs by the side. He wasn't sure how far up the canyon he was by then, just focusing on the fish. I thought I was just about to a very narrow part just before it opens up, which turned out to be right. The narrow part was easy to pass and I didn't even need to cross again before joining the real trail.

canyon opening up again
The last of the tight canyon.

I passed a refrigerator on the rocks before meeting up with the trail. The trail is a designated route for motor bikes, so is hard to miss. The area at the first creek crossing, where I met it, seems to be used quite a bit for camping and has gained a few extra routes, but it is still quite easy to pick out the correct one. The trail is a deep rut and feels loose when walking on it. I continued heading upstream, now on the trail as it climbs up to a cut along the rocks. As it gets rocky, it turns into a nice, somewhat wide trail.

a few more trees along the creek
The canyon opens up, the trail can be spotted climbing down from the top of the canyon cliffs on the other side.

camp under yellow poplars
A guerrilla fire ring at the first creek crossing.

something that once was something else
A bit more debris from another time.

The trail comes down again and crosses the creek. The ford doesn't offer good crossing stones, so I had to go upstream a few tens of feet to find a good set of rocks. On the far side, it is sand, but it climbs into some nice rocks again where I passed a slapstick mile marker. It crosses a few flats where the trail tends to become rolling. This was quite annoying to be walking over and I developed a theory about how they form from the bikes going through a single puddle and slowly propagate outward into these long stretches of increasing little hills, then decreasing little hills. Of course in the flats, a few extra trails pop up again. The few places where brush work in needed regularly, it seemed that it was all done by bikes trashing the vegetation, right down to stripping a few rose bush branches of their thorns. Ouch.

approaching the line of poplars again
Dropping down again to the second creek crossing.

a few big blue berries
A couple of the juniper were covered in berries.

I passed another slapstick mile marker and it was getting close to a good turnaround time for getting back around sunset, so I thought about just doing one last look up a tributary just over a point of land from where I was that is marked "falls". I expected it would be dry at the moment, but it would make an okay destination. The trail climbs, giving a good view of the curve of the creek with poplars tracing out two curves, then over the point to see the next bit of creek. Across the creek, the waterfall is clearly visible from the trail. It was indeed dry and likely isn't much to look at when flowing from this distance. I took in this last bit of creek I would visit for a few more minutes.

poplars in a crescent shape
Below, the poplars trace out two distinct curves where the creek flows forming a crescent shape.

dry waterfall and environs
Piru Creek from up the side of the canyon a bit. To the right, a dry waterfall can be seen along a tributary coming off Alamo Mountain.

upstream view
Piru creek is sourced far up from here.

I returned by the trail, now taking in things with a bit of a different light.

the trail passes below a low poplar branch
Passing close under one poplar on the way back.

pine among some rocks
Pines, some struggling, decorate the higher, drier areas.

some of the higher level rocks
The higher level rocks don't seem quite as much like granite as the stuff the creek flows through.

Coming to that first creek crossing, I found I had run dry on water, so had to pump a bit and enjoy a bit of water without chlorine. I kept to the trail this time, climbing up out of the canyon somewhat to some lesser slopes above. This trail affords a good view of the canyon below. Among the many footprints were some fairly fresh ones from waders, distinct for having a pattern more like a bath mat than a boot and were not the prints I saw a few of while I made my path cross-crossing the creek.

granite rocks at the bottom
Looking upstream at the last constriction in the canyon before it opens up and the trail crosses.

Gold Hill
Looking down on the flat where Gold Hill Camp is. The blue dumpsters and toilet mark the camp.

One last look down the canyon below.

Coming over one last little hill, the single track suddenly puffs out into a full road. A large gate stands open on a spur that may have served the mine but now doesn't do anything. I followed the wide highway down, over a few more rolling spots, to the hole in the fence where I had first turned away from it at first sight, then rejoined my route up, finishing up just after sunset according to the GPS.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 Nov 2012

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