18 April 2013

Pinos: Grouse and Abel Mountains

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

Ah, day two. I woke up on Sawmill Mountain, still warm under my quilt. One water bag was fairly exposed, having been tossed onto the ground cloth at my feet. I gave it a kick and it resisted, but eventually yielded. Much of the water in it had frozen overnight. The one by my head, sheltered by my tarp wind break, seemed fine and there were water drops on the inside of the tarp. I wasn't feeling hungry or hurried or anything to get me up and out into the cold. The sun came up and I got some direct sunlight for a while. Eventually, I reached out and touched one of those water droplets. It was frozen in place, even after sitting on dark brown in direct sunlight. I touched the water bag near my head, it had significant ice in it. I was thankful I'd cleared the tube of water before going to bed, it would have been frozen solid now. When I did get up and get started with breakfast, I found that the water in the pot now had over an inch thick ice on the top. A little extra fuel and it was bubbling warm anyway. I packed up camp and headed down the mountain. The camera didn't care that it was warmer now and was still refusing to unlock the shutter. I followed the trail down the west side of Sawmill.

At the junction with 22W02, I decided to see the springs and, since it was on the way, Sheep Camp. None of it is very far down the trail. The first spring is a trickle flowing across the trail. Water flowed under a half inch layer of ice to meander down the mountain. Higher up, small pools were open, but they weren't really big enough to pump from. Next, I came upon Sheep Camp. It is a large open space around a huge fire pit and grill that looks like it gets a lot of use. Past it is a second grill. A few steps further, and I found one more grill by the spring. The spring is hard to miss as the trail steps directly over the pool it has been piped to. The flow from the pipe was just big drops, not as much as the higher spring. The only ice was on some leaves between the pipe and the pool. What a difference a few feet make. Above, an old sign seemed to have been repurposed to covering over the actual spring. I poked around the camps an little and found someone has attached plastic sheets to the secondary grills with electrical ties. I have no idea why that would be. I returned to the top and continued on to Grouse.


The trail climbs a little and drops to a lower saddle. Just after that saddle, I found a cairn with a stick pointing along the proper trail next to a small use trail. I followed it up Grouse Mountain, joining a larger use trail and then finding my way to the peak. Well, the mountain is quite covered in trees and I think the real peak is a little north, but the register is situated where there are better views.

The air was quiet and it was lovely sitting in the sun on Grouse. I opened up the register expecting a similar handful of notebooks, but only found two and one of them only had three groups in it. I added myself and looked through the older one and soaked in the lovely sun. Snacks and drawing and a little more stabbing at camera buttons in frustration as it continues to claim to be low battery and just enjoying how nice it was were all to be had. Eventually I headed off again. This time, I followed the larger use trail, but it turned out not to be. Oh well. I just wandered northward, picking up bits of trail to lose it again, then was back on the footprint covered main path, although there did seem to be fewer of them.

There is a bit of flat, but then the trail drops for a while. Eventually, it just stopped dropping and started climbing again. At the few feet of flat between, a trail seemed to head southwest, marked only by a sign post on the ground. I realized I hadn't actually decided if I was going up Cerro Noroeste or not. I decided it's about a half mile to the road, and once on that quite gentle, so why not? I had the time. The trail climbs out onto an open ridge with great views, which made the camera that refused to accept it had the power for one more picture all the more frustrating. I exited the Wilderness and hit the tar road and started up it. I wandered about the top a bit, probably hitting the true peak which had some huge trees on it. One had fallen recently. It was pleasant, but views were limited. I wandered a little more seeing only a parked ranger vehicle and no actual people, then headed back down.

Back at the junction with 22W21, I turned down it. It turned out there actually was a sign for the trail, a little way down it and leaning on a tree. It said Mesa Spring was in 3.5 miles although I had estimated 4. I was going down the first part of the trail so fast I wasn't even quite noticing as I crossed over the dry channel. I no longer saw any footprints at all, although it looks like it gets plenty of travel. It could use a little love in a few spots. I stepped over a few trees and crawled under a very large low bridge. Below that low bridge is a meadow section. There's enough travel on the trail to keep the path through the meadow open. At the bottom, I thought I saw water. When I got close, I found that there was a little bit of flow although it didn't last very long. I took note in case the spring didn't work out. I was still only nearly a mile down the trail so it would be a bit of a hike, but it's good to know.

The trail continues down the canyon and the vegetation changes as it goes. It takes some curious turns as it goes due to more downed trees. It was much warmer as I exited the canyon and started off along the edge of San Emigdio Mesa where the trail gets even more loopy. There were animal tracks all over the trail, but little evidence of humans. A houre came by some time ago and left some deep prints in a few spots that were muddy at the time and a couple very dry road apples. Eventually, I saw tracks from illegal motorcycle riding in a couple of different treads. I got the camera out again for yet another try, but it still wouldn't work even in the warm. I decided that it wasn't that it keeps checking and refusing, as the Canon does, it had gotten itself into a fail state and wasn't going to do anything until... I popped the battery and turned it back on to be greeted by lights claiming a full battery. Good. It's like some kind of fir tree savannah down here and I need to share.

San Emigdio Mesa
The trail is generally easy to follow and there are cairns where it isn't. It meanders through scrub oak and sages and stubby firs that stretch along a gentle slope.

more stubby trees
More of these flats, or, rather, gentle slopes.

The trail is easy to follow, except when it's not. I did almost turn a wrong direction once, but then spotted a cairn up an eroded hillside and went that way instead. Some curves have been rock lined to help the first time traveler and many more cairns help point the way. The animal tracks get heavier and lighter in various places, probably because they have more direct routes than the big loops this trail takes. I passed 3.5 miles and was looking around for hints of extra greening. A few places seemed to have a thin layer of green grasses, but nothing like what is seen by springs. Eventually I spotted a layer of red that I decided to check out, but it was only a red plant that looked fairly solid if viewed from a low enough angle. Back on the trail, it seemed to be getting drier. A stand of trees ahead looked promising.

Cuyama River in the distance
A line of greener trees that stand out after a section that is particularly dry. In the distance, the Cuyama River can be seen meeting Lockwood.

Sure enough, past the trees and just below the trail there was a grill. As a campsite, it looks abandoned. The fire ring has been pushed together and grasses are next to the grill. The only flat spaces are on either side of the grill and a little under a nearby scrub oak. A small trail goes down to the grill and up the hill on the other side. I pushed along it and found the spring, fenced in to keep people from contaminating it, but the barbed wire no longer stands all the way around. I followed another trail down again and found the huge tub of water. The water inside is clear with a little algae and a lot of pine debris on the bottom.

grill among very little flat space
The grill at Mesa Spring Camp. Flat space? Enough for one person on either side of the grill, but a heavy animal trail passes through the lower one.

not so green grasses by the spring
The spring bubbles up surrounded by barbed wire above the camp.

5 feet across round and 4 feet high, at least, and over half full of water
A giant tub of water which is still half full, unless someone leaves the drain open. The water inside is clear. The sign says "please register" but doesn't mention how.

I set up camp under the scrub oak which has its drawbacks, but was a bit sheltered from possible users of the path. There was no wind to need shelter from. The grill is still fairly flat, so made a good cooking surface. Then I only needed to choose where to get water from. The tub had a blob of oil on the water, which I didn't like, so I had a look at the water above. It has some pools that wouldn't be too hard to draw from, but I'd found where the oil came from. It covered half the surface. I decided on the easier to reach tub after all. After supper, it was getting dark and I was exhausted from my incomplete sleep the night before (and the night before that), so snuggled in. The moon is still a bit bright, but once it was hidden, I slept very well. There was a moment some time in the night when I thought I heard small hooves passing.

Continue reading: day 3




©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 Apr 2013

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