09 December 2012

Potrero John

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

When headed along the 33 headed north, there's a big sign next to a little parking spot that is usually occupied. This sign points at a little break in the rocks and, although it looks nothing like a potrero, claims that Potrero John is that way. I've been told that behind this unassuming hole in the wall is a nice little waterfall. Actually, multiple waterfalls for the enthusiastic, but most only go to the first. An information sign at the start had a lot of out of date details about nearby areas and the important detail that this trail is only maintained to the camp almost two miles up.

Potrero John
The start of the trail, as indicated by road signs.

hole in the wall
One steep walled entry into the backcountry.

Starting up the trail, it quickly deposited me into the creek. On the other side, the wilderness starts with its special rules. The trail crosses over the creek a few more times as it makes its way. The canyon at first seems like a box with a flat bottom and vertical sides reaching up about as high as it is wide. It wasn't early in the morning, but the sun still hadn't found its way into the various turns and the air was noticeably chill. There are a few signs the mountain is starting to freeze. There are a number of illegal campsites along the narrow canyon and I passed a few items in one, then a utility shower in use.

canyon wall encrusted with pines
Even on steep canyon walls, pine trees can find a foothold. They stick strongly to the northern slopes here.

The canyon opens up into what is presumably the potrero, although I'm not sure it meets the definition. It was pleasantly warm once the rock wasn't hanging close by. A sunny campsite right as the canyon opens looked like the first one that looked attractive. The trail crosses the creek again and finally gets above the high water mark of numerous log jams.

canyon opening up
The walls fall away and the mountains become visible.

creek flowing past eroded banks
A little bit of the creek, in big garden hose flow, and a bit of the eroded creek bed.

The trail winds along leaving tributaries off here and there, some with use trails. I got to the official camp, a site under a couple giant oaks with a huge fire ring and a bit of piled up logs down near the end of it to warn of floods that is off a short spur. A huge group could easily settle into it.

campfire ring under a large oak
Potrero John camp, just short of two miles up from the trail head.

The trail doesn't decay immediately after the campground, but it quickly starts to branch. The canyon narrows down again, bringing trails together, but there is still a certain amount of trail on either side. There is a little route finding because of all the choices, but if there are trees on one side, there is generally a good trail under them. I found a few Asian ladybug beetles along the way, looking about ready to swarm and wondered when was the last time I saw one of the native ones.

canyon walls came back
They don't look very tall here, but the canyon walls are closing in again.

another big fire ring
One last campsite with a very tall fire ring.

After the trees, the canyon narrows some more and gets steeper. I bumped into a big group coming down and the last of their number claimed it was just another five minutes to the waterfall. From there, what was an easy hike had a few scrambles, although nothing challenging. There are a series of small drops for the water which had me worried would turn out to be the waterfall, and then a rather nice little flow coming down over high rocks.

a shadow over a few rounded boulders with flow
Me, thinking that this better not be the waterfall.

the ever powerful layer
A bit of canyon wall with very distinct layers.

bottom of the waterfall
The very bottom tier of the waterfall isn't very tall and drains into a pocket from a softer layer of rock.

two tier waterfall above the previous tier
The upper tier from the previous picture and a larger tier above it.

The cascade is interesting. It looks like it will have a much different character to it once the flow really gets going in the winter. For now, it is lazy as it rides along lips in the rock instead of spraying outward and dropping. I stayed for a while, noticing a bit of thin rope going up the upper tier. A steep chute to the right looks like the route up to the top. I decided to be conventional and leave that to another day's exploration. The map shows three more waterfalls above on two different branches. The reports of madmen who can look at Haddock and see going down from it as something other than certain death mention more. I'll admit it seems less mad after seeing Potrero John, which aside from the log jams, feels safe and pleasant. Looking from above the next day renews the feeling that it's just mad.

a bit of flow between rock layers
All it takes for a waterfall display going down a natural aqueduct of soft and hard rock layers.

I started down again. As is usual with use trails, I found a different trail for a significant part of the way missing that last campsite and getting more creek.

monkey flowers in the sand
I found some monkey flowers blooming brightly.

grasshoppers on granite
A grasshopper hanging out on a rock. Behind it, a lighter green one is sitting.

trees at a tributary
A few trees at the mouth of a very short tributary. A couple hawks were riding the thermals above them on the way up.

I missed a trail that would get me more easily to the maintained one, then found my way up what I had thought were bail-out points where people had gotten tired of passing oaks and worse spines. Once I had bailed-in, it was an easy stroll back.

other canyon walls
I do believe I might be able to see into the next canyon the walls are so short.

Reyes to Haddock peaks
Reyes Peak and the ridge of Pine Mountain.

back into the narrow canyon with vertical walls
Trail reentering the narrow slot back to the road.

Coming to the square canyon again, the air cooled down. Near the end, pockets of warm air seemed to be finding their way up. At the end, there's nothing more to do than hop in the car and find something else.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 12 Dec 2012

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