08 October 2013

Camino Cielo

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

Heading back to the Ventura River Preserve, but this time to the Oso Trail Head, gets me into the prime location for hiking Camino Cielo, at least as far as it has been cleared. This one is a little harder to find, with a small sign by a small opening in a gate. Other signs warn the gates will be locked at 7:30 PM until October 31, after which it will be even earlier, and I'll just have to wait until morning if I'm too late back. We don't make our mini lions fast every Thursday like the zoo, so it seems like a good idea to get back before their tummies get to too much rumbling. Anyway, it's not Thursday. Packed up, I pop through the fence and onto a bit of trail. Following the signs for Rice Canyon, I jog over to the right where a road crosses the dry river stones and climbs out the other side. On the far side, this ends in another road that is blocked to the north. Heading south, it quickly splits to cross a blocked and mildly dangerous looking bridge with a fill bypass. Thinking about how building during the draught tended to ignore the creeks, I have to check. There is no pipe under the fill for the creek to go through during the next rain. Chuckling, I head the other way and finally realize that the stand of well ordered dead trees on my right is the old orange grove that will be removed eventually. A few more twists past more constructed items and over a walled creek diversion, I finally get to a sign for Kennedy Ridge.

many dead trees all in a row with natives starting up around them
Wilted leaves on a half dead tree are distinctly orange like. The other trees stand as cracking skeletons in their rows. The natives are taking over in between I had already passed a healthier tree with two sad, small oranges on it before this, so wasn't being all that observant.

preserve signage
Finally a new route to follow: the Kennedy Ridge Trail.

Kennedy Ridge is a smaller line of peaks in front of the main ridge. An old trail runs along it and along the canyon behind it, giving access if the roads to it are accessible. (See the Matilija 1995 7.5' USGS quad.) A line like a fuel break extends down the south side and the current access roughly follows this up. After a short walk along the light red dirt of the well maintained Rice Wills fire road, I start up this trail past a kiosk. The trail is off limits to horses for the safety of the horses. It seems passable to the second picnic table and dried road apples and a few horse hairs show people have taken their horses up it, but it will not hold up to horse travel. Actually, some of the switchbacks need a bit of work to hold up to people travel. Climbing the trail that initially seems unsure that it wants to climb rather than wander soon gains good views out over the Ventura River and Wills Canyon.

Wills Canyon
The easy hills around Wills and Rice Canyons. A little of the light red road is visible.

Ventura River
A peek out over the Ventura River. The walled creek on the far right should go eventually. The rows of generally dead orange trees can be seen above it.

Trail goes both ways when this connector reaches Kennedy Ridge. I head off to the right, which is purported to not go very far. There is a clearing with a picnic table and a bit of trail does continue past this. It shrinks quickly as it goes and since this isn't my goal, I don't get very far down it. Behind the ridge, the clear road cut of Camino Cielo climbs into the mountains looking like it couldn't be that hard to pass along. Continuing west, the Kennedy Ridge trail climbs gently, dropping down again here and there. It keeps to the ridge edge and just north. The brush is wide open as if a fuel break was maintained along it over the years. Eventually there is another picnic table set with an excellent view of Lake Casitas. An uncertain line of trail can be seen rising up the back side of the ridge as it comes to the end of Kennedy Canyon, past the table. Down a short way, the new connector trail to Camino Cielo joins. Just before that, a bit of trail comes up from the canyon although it is unclear how much of this can be traveled.

the rocks, as labeled on the kiosk map
Behind Kennedy Ridge, the clear cut of Camino Cielo rises toward the sky. Most of what is seen here is still quite overgrown.

trail along Kennedy Ridge
A strand of dirt through the brush along the top of the ridge.

Lake Casitas
Lake Casitas in the distance and a few interesting rock outcrops in between. Below, the Rice Wills fire road is still visible. In the distance, the Superior Ridge Road (or Santa Ana fire road) can be seen.

The new connector drops down Kennedy Canyon a little way, then starts to rise again. The character of the trail changes dramatically on the connector. It crosses a few small and generally dry creeks in the most straightforward way possible: dropping in and climbing back out. As it climbs, it crosses some larger beds and then climbs directly out of them, sometimes requiring hands. It feels as though the trail builders followed exactly the flagging that was only meant as an approximate route. Eventually that road cut gets close at hand and the trail makes one last sudden climb to reach it.

look down Kennedy Canyon, with 'The Rocks' to the right
Looking down Kennedy Canyon and to the mountains rising again on the other side of Matilija and the river. Down the ridge, the outcrop of rocks marks where the other connector comes up to the ridge trail.

a bit of dirt climbing to the old road
The trail makes one last mad scramble up to the abandoned road bed above.

Looking east, the road bed is overgrown. It may be passable for a while, but there is no line in the dirt to indicate that anyone has been trying. Heading west, the brush is cut, but it is quickly clear that washouts, land slides, and rock fall also pose obstacles. Many times, there's a climb up along a scree slope instead of a cut through the shrubbery that would make a much more comfortable walk. Most of the time, it's a fairly easy road walk.

White Ledge Peak
An image of White Ledge Peak in the distance. Santa Ana fire road climbs up below it, but is not publicly accessible.

An obvious trail leads off to the south and the road takes a big turn around a USGS benchmark before climbing some more. I take a look at the trail heading off as the old connector used to come up very close to the benchmark. It climbs a small hill and then starts dropping. I can try it later, since right now I'm still climbing. The new stretch of road gets a little shade in the early afternoon and the cool is welcome. A couple of the bigger rocks seem to have drill holes in them as though thoughts of blasting were entertained quite seriously, but never quite happened. As the vegetation gets thicker, the removal of cut brush isn't as good and there are many branches over the trail. At the top, the road turns back to the west and another old trail meets it. (This looks to be a real trail, the hiker's route from near the eastern terminus of Camino Cielo.) A likely bear trail marks where this path should lay.

Kennedy Canyon
Looking down Kennedy Canyon, the ridge looks very small from here.

Heading west again, now along the top of the ridge, there aren't a lot of rockfalls to worry about. It looks like it was a lot of work to open up the sections that dip to the north side. And the flatter ridge top sections. And actually, basically everything. There are some views off into Matilija to the north in between canyons of chaparral. At one viewpoint, it looks like there may be a steep trail down. There are a couple more clearings with tables, one next to another USGS benchmark, this one on a high pedestal of concrete so it can be its own witness object.

highway 33 climbing through Matilija's north fork
Highway 33 climbing up the North Fork Matilija Creek.

mountains north of Matilija
The view of the northerly mountains.

After the second benchmark, the old road passes to the south of the rock ridge line labeled Lizard Back on the map at the kiosk. Starting to worry I'd have to turn back before finishing the current extent of the trail, I put on a little speed to try to get at least to the next benchmark. I can get going well, but then suddenly have to jog off to the side as the cut decided to wander in a half circle. Then climbs up scree and rock slides get more frequent and suddenly I have to admit that I'm pushing through the top of a bear tunnel and there is no trail left. Without gloves, my hands quickly get cut by the stiff, dry oak leaves, so I turn back a short way to take in the view instead. Putting down the pack, there's an gash in the silnylon over an inch long. Oops.

road cut below a rocky 'Lizard Back'
The trail continues at the end of a clearing cut in the chaparral and then follows the road cut along the side of the Lizard Back.

a bear sized hole through the undergrowth
I've got to admit, it's bear tunnel from here. Those plastic palmed gardening gloves in the car might have been nice to bring.

farms and lake below
The view from high on Camino Cielo down toward Lake Casitas.

The current turn around, if not willing to crawl, is not quite seven miles up. It is just short of a pipeline that comes up from the south and about halfway between the benchmarks. Downhill is fast, but the branches left on the trail turn out to be more treatcherous as I manage to step on one and put it in good position for a mighty poke in the knee.

mountain views over a flat bit of the ridge
A bit of Nordhoff Ridge over a flat bit of this one.

Coming to the first benchmark again, I take the possible old trail down. It may well start off as the old trail, but it keeps right to the ridge line whereas the trail is shown to skip the peaks as is usual. At a saddle, it looks like one could go left down a steep gully or right to contour around a larger peak but away from the known trail below. The old trail goes right, so I do to. This is better trail unil getting to the bottom and meeting a line of tread headed east-west. I take it, mostly, back east. A barbed wire fence tries to threaten after a few feet, but previous travelers have left a gaping hole. It splits from time to time and as I keep high on the right, I seem to have tread beneath my feet but it is small consolation for having to push through the dry sage to continue forward. Getting back to the beaten path, I keep to the lower trails and after a couple little climbs, I'm back to the route up.

black spider with three red circles on back and white splotches on side
The protector of one geocache I found along the trail.

view over the Ojai Valley
The view from the higher ridge over the valley.

Once back to the better traveled trail, it is an easy and quick trek back to the parking lot while enjoying the thick bank of clouds rolling in for a little weather. There's horseback riders and dog walkers running about the place as I get back to the low elevations.

clouds coming over the ridge to Lake Casitas
A bank of clouds has made it over the ridge behind Lake Casitas by the time the sun is nearing setting.

Along the way, I found three geocaches without really looking. They all proclaim, "Join the game!" but it feels like orienteering with training wheels. Checking the ones I found online, two seem to be "premium", and there are way too many on those trails already in spite of missing all the less traveled trails.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 10 October 2013

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