11 June 2013

Pratt and Gridley Trail loop

Ojai front country

Locate the trail head.

The bit of Pratt Trail from Cozy Dell Road to Valley View Camp seemed nice enough, so I've been meaning to see what the rest of it is like. The islands cleared up, which I find to be encouraging for a climb up a bit of front country because it means good things about the expansiveness of the views. I had watercolor plans and waited another day, allowing a bit of the fog back in to fuzz things up. Never mind, I headed for the hills. The plan: hike the whole of Pratt, probably stopping by Valley View on the way up. Once up Pratt, no reason not to go all the way up Nordhoff and visit the fire lookout skeleton. Once to Nordhoff, why not head down Gridley, which can be connected to Pratt at the bottom via the Shelf Road or Foothill Trail or Firebreak Road? With a predicted high of 87°F for Ojai, it is getting to the point when I consider the 5 liters of water in my pack to be 10 miles worth and this plan, using Shelf Road and with the spurs to Valley View and the lookout, comes in at about 15.7 miles. I parked near the Pratt Trail Head and set off with the expectation that plans would change if the first half of the water ran out much before the tower.

sign at Pratt Trail Head just off Signal
Signal tries to shake you off, but if you can follow it to near the top, signs will guide you to the trail head for Pratt Trail.

Pratt starts off along private property. Many small trails head off the obvious main trail as it makes its way. A few of the trails probably go to someone's door, one followed some old pipes a short way, but all are obviously not the proper trail and easy to avoid. Signs point the way by large trails and driveways and sometimes when there just hasn't been one for a few feet. I saw a couple morning dog walkers and heard a couple guys conversing out on their porch as I went along. With a little climbing, the trail dumps out on the narrow pavement of Foothill Road. Following it up a little way, I finally got to the proper trail head for this route except that it looks like the general public isn't welcome to bring their cars up here. A sign by the side of the road shows much of the local trail system while advising to always hike the Ojai Valley with ample water.

sign asking dog owners to please leash their pet near the garden of one home
A little bit of poetry near one house asks dog owners to please be very sure to keep their dogs out of the garden to protect the plants.

Finally climbing into the hills after one last little bit of private property, the trail is a very well maintained dirt road. A sign marks Foothill Trail, a small track going west, very soon after the gate. I noticed what looked like a bit of well used trail heading off to the east by a drainage, probably Foothill Trail heading west, but unsigned. Very soon after, I came to the intersection with Fuelbreak Road, where everything looked familiar from hiking Cozy Dell, just from a different angle, right down to the crazy use trail cutting from Cozy Dell down one saddle before the roads meet on their own.

Pratt and Fuelbreak junction
Coming up with the junction with Fuelbreak Road. There should be a second track to the portion of Foothill Trail heading west near this junction, but I didn't notice it.

black butterfly with tinges of white
A few flowers remain, and so do a few pollinators.

looking down over the road section of Pratt Trail
Looking back down from the intersection of Pratt and Cozy Dell, the Fuelbreak Road is the most obvious route. There does seem to be a hint of a trail climbing the hill behind it as well.

Climb a few switchbacks and I was ready to leave road behind and start on a bit of trail I've hiked before, at least for a few miles. From here, the trail climbs back and forth around the edge of the ridge line, offering better and better views alternatively over the city of Ojai and Lake Casitas. I found a bit more shade along the way than I was expecting and it was very welcome. Still, I was getting quite warm when the opportunity to drop into moist coolness came along. The spur to Valley View drops steeply from the trail a little after it turns up a narrow canyon and the views shrink.

Looking down over Cozy Dell and environs
Cozy Dell Canyon making its way to highway 33.

a bit of the flowers that look so often dried already
The humble buckwheat that is so easy to pass over but will reward those who look closely.

campfire grill and stone seats at Valley View Campground
The offerings at Valley View are a campfire grill with a couple stone seats and a little water fed by a dribble of a spring.

Valley View Camp was the pleasant spot I remembered. The trail down is still well established but suddenly looks like a small use trail at the bottom. Poison oak encroaches everywhere. Someone's taken, or at least moved, the ammo can register (one of far too many geocaches along the trail) from the hollow oak. I wandered upstream to a large pool, but didn't find much water in it. I searched downstream and found a few Humboldt lily stems, one with buds, and more pools that looked marginally better, but still not inviting.

one of a few pools along the creek at Valley View
The water at Valley View is looking a bit stagnant. A tiny flow could be found in places.

the view of the valley from Valley View
Valley View does have a view of the valley, but it makes you work for it.

The trouble with cooling off at Valley View is that the exposed and steep climb back up to the trail has a tendency to undo all the good. Back on the trail, I started another section that was new to me, climbing through a little high valley. Bright greens in the bottom tell the story of a little bit of water. Trimming has been done on the upper section recently and, likely, often producing a bit of a hedge effect with the oaks. I could see a number of apparent peaks as I climbed, but couldn't spot the one with the tower until just about on the road at the top.

very green trees suddenly start way up the high valley and continue down
A canyon well stocked with trees hints at a little water seepage.

an island of water and some islands of land
Lake Casitas as a lonely bit of water separated from the rest of the blue and the Channel Islands as lonely bits of land separated from the rest of the brown and green. Visible, but fuzzy today.

at Nordhoff Ridge Road, looking toward the tower
Up at the top of Pratt Trail, the metal frame of the destroyed fire lookout is finally visible.

I walked along the road toward the tower. It curves around the south side of a hill with another stand of trees of an unexpected sort (looking a bit like Douglas fir) on the north side, but it goes to the south and away from the inviting shade. I skipped the shortcut trail directly to the tower and took the spur road up.

perfect yucca flowers
A selection of perfect yucca flowers high on a stalk above the road.

dead butterfly, killed by a star thistle
A strange death at the thorns of a star thistle.

The tower offers a very poor shade, but climbing up it gives a little better breeze. Of course I had to climb the steep steps to the top. I also had lunch at the table and listened to it creak whenever the wind picked up a little.

eastward looking along the ridge
Looking down the ridge at Chief Peak and the Topatopa bluffs. Gridley Trail can be seen snaking down the hills nearby.

Piedra Blanca
Piedra Blanca and the peaks of Pine Mountain.

fire lookout skeleton
The remains of the fire lookout on Nordhoff Peak.

Assessing the water situation, I was right where I expected to be: halfway through it while not quite halfway through the miles. Still, the rest of the miles are downhill or flat. I continued on the loop over another short familiar section where Matilija poppies grow. These are the very tall and spine free sort found in many yards and not the sort that was down in the bottom of Mono Creek. They are still looking very happy.

Matilija poppy
The giant flower of the Matilija poppy may be found, in season, on the east side of Nordhoff Peak along the side of the road.

I left the familiar road and started down Gridley. It was definitely starting to cool as I did. This one seems to be the more popular trail. Parts of the upper section are lined with what seem to be well maintained hedges. While not nearly as bad as Cold Spring Trail or Tunnel Trail in Santa Barbara, the trail is getting to have a rut down the middle from much use, particularly from mountain bikes just before each hairpin turn. A spring seeps water onto the trail very near the top. At one tight turn, I followed a wide path out to the edge and am quite sure I could hear water, not just wind, below. The trail never got down to that water. Below that point, the character is of a decaying road. The old maps do show a road for the trail, but it stops a little further down.

a bit of view and a bit of trail
Not much view from inside this canyon. Here the trail has no hint of road about it.

Along the way, I spotted a moth that made an excellent show of actually being a block of wood. It was all black and orange as it flew and when it landed. Then, after a short moment, it would vanish leaving this block of wood in its place. It was folding its wings quickly down flat and so that the bottom, molted side showed to any observer above. Further down, I spotted a lizard which, like so many others on this warm day, scampered quickly away. Unlike the others, it may have been scampering away from the little garter snake jumping out of the bushes that nearly touched it before noticing me and jumping back in.

looking down the canyon
The trail stays up on the canyon wall, but the view from the canyon is mostly of the canyon.

Gridley Spring was unexpected since I'd somehow got the idea it was a camp although it isn't marked as such. Perched at a couple windings in the trail, there is a tall rock fire ring at one spot and a huge trough filled from a hose coming from the spring somewhere above the trail. It may be used as a camp, but it probably isn't meant to be.

improvements at Gridley Spring
A stone campfire ring and a trough full of water can be found at Gridley Spring.

trail carved out on the side of the steep canyon wall
In some spots, the canyon wall is quite steep.

Once within two miles of the city, I started running into people again. First it was a pair of mountain bikers, then walkers with and without dogs. An avocado orchard comes right up to the edge and the road becomes quite passable as I hit the private property inholdings that line the south edge of the forest again. Here is it back to following the arrows on little "trail" signs. It is extra confusing at the junction for Fuelbreak Road where an old sign marks it as "private land" and the trail downward while others seem to discourage going downward. A little way down it, a new Ojai Valley Land Conservancy sign marks Firebreak as public access through private land. Heading downward anyway finds more little "trail" signs that direct off the road and onto the last bit of trail that leads to the road.

Gridley Trail Head
The Gridley Trail Head, which seems to indicate that it is shorter to go up than to go down.

Finishing Gridley Trail threw me out on pavement to get to Shelf Road. One advantage of Fuelbreak Road would be less pavement walking. I kept down the road until I got to a bit of pavement that ended in a locked gate with a dirt road behind. It was a crowd along Shelf Road and mostly people just going a little way along and then back. More avocados and some oranges line this road on the south side. A new trail (Fox Canyon) toward the west side is set to open on the weekend. This goes up to Foothill Trail and Fuelbreak Road, allowing for shorter loops for hikers.

trail about to open
Fox Canyon Trail, set to open Saturday, June 15th. The cut new cut can be seen quickly climbing up onto the canyon wall.

Eventually I came to the other gate, then it was more pavement down to the turn off that I had parked along. I still had water at the end, but had nursed it a little more than I should have and needed an ibuprofen.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 Jun 2013

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