28 February 2014


Some rocks above the meadow in Cottam Camp.

The low lake seen from Tequepis Trail.

The low lake again, but this time looking from near Cachuma Mountain.

The road ahead from the same location as the lake sketch.

The first view while coming down Fall Canyon from Mission Pine Basin.

A little waterfall off a little spur trail.

Getting ahead of myself as this is actually Sulphur Spring Canyon at the junction of Hurricane Deck and Lost Valley Trails.

23 February 2014

Ranger Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

After finishing the backpacking, I had one more thing I wanted to do, if there was light. I wanted to go up Ranger Peak. There is no trail up the peak, but it is close to the road and there is a very serviceable fuel break heading up it. Parking in the wide turnout at the junction with Pinery Rd. is easy to find. It turns out I am not even the only one doing it and I end up with a happenstance hiking companion. From here, it is a sometimes steep climb up about a quarter mile to the top. At the top, it is a great view, perfect for discovering poachers.

the extension of the fuel break to the south
The fuel break extends down the ridge to the south where the Ranger Peak Trail joins it.

dried grass hills to the west
The hills to the west. Still more dried grass where there should be flowers.

the top of Ranger Peak and Hurricane Deck
Looking north toward Hurricane Deck over the top of Ranger Peak.

I take it very slowly on the way down, searching just a bit to the left of the fuel break for a section corner. It does not seem to be there anymore, or at least it is not sticking up above the duff. In the short time I have been gone, I got a video under left under my windshield wiper. Okay, my happenstance hiking companion may have mentioned leaving it after he went back to for something he forgot. We all have our odd things to do, it seems.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 28 February 2014

NIRA area: Lost Valley

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 5 of 5.) The night in Lost Valley is almost too warm. There are many small trails around camp and I poke my way up a few before packing up and heading down the old road. While it is down in the bottom of the valley, it is less obvious this was a road. There are still culverts sticking out in various places, but there are also spots where the road bed has washed away and the trail takes a new route. There are a quite a few trees down on the trail. Along the way, there is one mucky puddle of desperation water and a tiny seep stinking of sulfur. Lost Valley is certainly dry.

dirt path down the old road bed
Following the trail down Lost Valley as it follows a good section of old road bed.

details of Lost Valley
Some of the rock structures in Lost Valley.

22 February 2014

NIRA area: Hurricane Deck

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 4 of 5.) The nights are warmer down in the canyon and I left my hat off to keep a little cooler sleeping. The stove still needs a little hand warming to get going in the morning. A couple of times, I think I hear voices, maybe, further down the camp. From Lonnie Davis Camp, the trail leaves the south fork of the Sisquoc to climb along, then out of and above, dry White Ledge Canyon. Yesterday, the trail had a few dog prints, but today it is full of cats. Most of them are small, but there is one set of large mountain lion prints going my way. His claws come out a little when he walks down the few spots of short downhill. There seem to be many fresh people prints, but none partly obscure the cat prints.

Sisquoc South Fork
The shallow and wide flow of the South Fork Sisquoc as it flows by Lonnie Davis Camp in the still shadowed morning.

down in the bottom of White Ledge Canyon
Traveling along the bottom of White Ledge Canyon.

rolling hills above the edge of White Ledge Canyon
Once climbed out of White Ledge Canyon, the landscape rolling hills of sage.

21 February 2014

NIRA area: Fall Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 3 of 5.) The morning sees a little difficulty getting the stove to light again, but the problem is temperature instead of wind and placing an hand under it quickly fixes it. The key to lighting an alcohol stove with sparks (in still air) seems to be it has to be warm enough to smell the fuel. That makes sense, it is the fumes that burn. It does not take much with the 50% each methanol and ethanol mix sold as denatured alcohol. With a warm breakfast in my tummy and everything packed up, it is time to see what today holds. The junction with Santa Cruz Trail is just a few feet past the spur to the camp. Not much further, there is a sign that says simply "trail" and points back the way I came. Many cairns extend ahead marking the continuation of Mission Pine Trail in defiance of the sign. Another set extend north, showing the way for Fall Canyon. Looking more closely at the sign, additions have been made to it in pencil, but it still does not indicate Fall Canyon. Following it on faith that there is not much else for it to be, I climb a short way out of Mission Pine Basin and start down the north side of the ridge.

a particularly uninformative sign of a type usually not found at junctions
I see this sort of sign at switchbacks people tend to miss, not at junctions of maintained trails.

Mission Pine Basin
Looking back over Mission Pine Basin.

grassy tree topped hill
Dried grass under the trees at the top of the hill.

20 February 2014

NIRA area: San Rafael Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 2 of 5.)  It is a little less windy in McKinley Spring Camp in the morning, but building again. Get the stove going for breakfast with a little difficulty and then pack it all up again and get moving up the hill with enough water to get to Mission Pine Springs. Just as the hillsides are not as purple as they should be, some places aren't as wet as they should be this time of year. The walk up the hill to McKinley Saddle is quite short. The saddle is a junction with Mission Pine Trail and the fire road. A sign on the right points up the fuel break for "McKinley Peak". It is also initially torn up by motorcycles that do not want to stop where they are supposed to, but not for very far even though it is fairly open. After a bit longer hike than the one up to the saddle, I make it up to the rock outcrop at the peak.

Santa Cruz Fire Trail
At the saddle, the fire road continues as the much smaller Santa Cruz Fire Trail.

Murky suggestions of ocean are visible to the south and the west of the peak. Old concrete feet from a 1935 lookout remain at the top, although they have mostly been dug from the ground. They are small and do not seem like something suitable for holding down a building.

Cachuma Lake from McKinley Mountain
Looking down at Lake Cachuma again, this time from McKinley Mountain. Now the ocean behind the Santa Ynez Mountains is visible, and there is a suggestion of Santa Cruz Island beyond it in the ocean.

19 February 2014

NIRA area: Cachuma Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 1 of 5.) The morning is cool and windy and the National Weather Service is saying it'll be highs of 73°F and lows of 45°F over the next few days. This seems like a very small range to me. I make the last choices on what to bring and what to leave, then cinch up the straps and haul onto my back all that will support me for the next five days. The plan sees three mountain peaks in the next two days, then dropping down the the Sisquoc along Fall Canyon, climbing over the east section of Hurricane Deck, then down Lost Valley and out NIRA. Since I'll be coming out on Sunday, there may be opportunity for a ride, but I'll be pretty rank smelling by then and will probably prefer to get back by my own power rather than subject someone to that. For now, I cross the paved road and start up the fire road toward McKinley Springs. The road seems to allow motorcycles, but I am unlikely to have to deal with such traffic on a Wednesday. It starts climbing immediately, but at that slow and easy road grade, and keeps climbing for a while. Bush poppies are about the only things blooming when the hillsides should be awash with lupine.

a few trees on sage green mountain sides
Starting up McKinley Mountain Fire Road and taking in the grey-green mountain sides that should have plenty of purple in them this time of year.

southeast facing slope
This southeast facing slope is usually a particularly good spot for flowers, but is now full of dried grasses.

Hurricane Deck
Beyond the Sierra Madre Mountains, there do seem to be clouds building up.

17 February 2014

MYOG: trail spats (gaiters)

I have a pair of low hiking boots, which would have been considered a contradiction in terms when I was little.  They're light and fun and almost stiff enough, but they sure let in a lot of dirt.  Days with a bit of off trail miles especially leave my socks full of burrs and shoes full of rocks.  While I'm sure the stretchy gaiters are great against a bit of scree, they really don't keep the grass seeds out.  The waterproof gaiters are wonderful when trying to keep out the snow, but just hold in sweat when the temperature rises.  These seem to be my choices for gaiters, so I made my own.

The first pair were out of a canvas fabric the weight of denim.  I cut at least three different shapes before deciding I liked one and sewing it up.  They attach to my boots in a quick and dirty way: bits of string.  I pulled one length through the top hem to close off the top against dirt, I attached a short piece to the toe end to tie around my laces, and I attached a loop on the outside edge and a string to go through it on the inside edge to strap under the boot.  The strings were all long enough to tie in a bow with a double knot.

The resulting light canvas gaiters.

These went off trail and bashed through a lot of ever thickening sages, but not a lot of the grasses I encountered near Townsend peak.  At least I didn't notice any.  I got lots of burrs in the string, but none in the gaiters themselves.  They performed beautifully at the function of keeping crud out of my shoes.  However, the string is too slick and the bows would come untied, even when triple knotted, and I would get to stepping on those toe strings.  A few burrs to rough up the cord helped, but not enough.  I took these out a second time, around minimalist trail runners that are slightly smaller than my boots.  The front got untied on those and the left one managed to drop under my heal, so I managed to destroy that one quite quickly.  Not that it didn't keep out the crud on that Wednesday evening hike to the top on Romero even as it was being ripped up in the back.  Anyway, light canvas can get warm.

I made a second pair out of a scrap of fabric shower curtain that was shortened.  It is extremely light and tough, treated to shed water, but does not form a waterproof barrier and is very breathable.  I used the same tie points, but the strings are only long enough to tie a square knot.  When these get untied, they aren't long enough to step on.  The knots come undone less than the bows did, but they sometimes slip a bit.  I don't seem to really need to tie up the top and often leave it loose.  The problem reduces as the cords roughen from exposure to elements, so pre-roughening could be useful.  They do let fine dirt in, but so do my trail runners at the toes.

Super light weight gaiters after about 100 miles, modeled on my trail runners.

These won't stretch to fit a wide variety of shoes and feet, so start by measuring.  First, they have to get over the thickest bit of the ankle, so measure around your heal and divide by 2 to get measurement "a".  Decide how tall you want them to be to get "b".  Measure the shoe they will go on from the center of the back to the front attachment point to get "c".  This is the size before seem allowances, so add that and cut out two like this and two mirror images.  For mine, a=6.5", b=6" and c=10".

Gaiter pattern.

Take one of each and sew the front and back side.  This would be best done with some flatlock seams, but as mine are quick and dirty, they're normal seams with running stitch.  Don't sew all the way to the edge so it will have the flexibility required to hem the top and bottom.  Add button holes at the top of the front for the cord to cinch up the top if desired.  (Although mine just have a snipped hole done at the end.)  Hem the bottom and top.  Pull the cord a little longer than twice "a" through the top hem and tack it down at either side so it will only cinch up at the front.  Attach the center of a 2" cord on the inside of the front to tie onto the front of the shoe.  Attach a small loop on the left side of one and the right side of the other.  While a hole in the side may work, it will also weaken the fabric and could tear out.  Placement should be decided based on the boot, but is generally a little forward of center.  Attach the center of one last cord long enough to pass underneath the boot twice at the other side.  Cord ends need to be melted if they are nylon.

Attachment of cords on the gaiters.

Securing the gaiters with cord is lighter, but also can be less convenient for actual use.  They do sometimes get loose while hiking and they're a little harder to secure.  Typically, straps with buckles are used under the shoes and a hook near the toe.  Using velcro at the heal instead of straps underneath is also popular.  I'm rather surprised by how well these do work as they were only put together to test the pattern before trying to figure out where to get hooks and straps.

10 February 2014

Tequepis Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

The day starts with lovely clouds spilling over the mountains. It seems peaceful and idyllic until hitting the bottom of the pass where winds start buffeting the car around. I can only feel sympathy for the pickup dropping back behind me who is probably feeling each torque from the wind about four times worse. It would be fine if it was a constant gale, but this is intermittent blasts and requires constant recalculation. Hitting those cresting clouds at the top is initially a minor mist, but then becomes random blasts of heavy drops and so thick that most of the Cold Springs bridge is invisible even as I start down it. I'm worried I won't be able to see the sign when I emerge into gentle sunlight and everything is idyllic again. There is a turn for Outdoor School, location of the week long field trip we had in sixth grade, and then a sign with a V enclosed in a circle. I follow this symbol up to a large turnout with a small "parking" sign in front of the Circle V Ranch gate and park. The air is very cool as I walk through the gate and follow the trail signs through the camp.

trail sign in the middle of the camp at the Circle V Ranch
Walk through the camp gate and follow the signs inside to get to the trail proper.

a witness corner along the T5N and T6N boundary
I checked the 1995 map for what monuments might be along the trail, but didn't find any, such as this witness corner, to go looking for.

A locked gate on the far side of camp blocks vehicle traffic from continuing and a pedestrian gate allows me through. The road is wet from the weather and holds many footprints and a few bike treads. A road comes in on the left, presumably from the Boy Scout camp and Outdoor School, where there is a collection of orderly metal litter followed by a driveway on the right. After the driveway, it doesn't look like the road gets much use as a road and many sections are eroded, but a solid line of trail continues through it all. Soon there is a junction signed for Camino Cielo and the camps, but leaves the spur that makes this a junction unmarked. The creek crossings have somehow been drier than the trail, but I head down the spur to see the waterfall anyway.

deeply eroded section of road
A significant section of erosion along the road.

02 February 2014

Deal Trail

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

Who could ignore an offer to keep one from having to watch some big football game with some trail work? Well, I couldn't, especially if on a trail I've never hiked. The plan: go in at the Deal Connector to trim a couple bad spots full of willows and one spot of a particularly stabby ceanothus in the Dick Smith Wilderness, then out Rancho Nuevo. This is a generally downhill route. Along the way, we can do a little walk and lop, but the main goal is these three spots cleared. The area is the far eastern reach of the Zaca Fire in 2007 and that seems to have kept quite a bit of the area cleared so far. It is just a bit crisp on arrival, and my legs feel it instantly, so I yank on the long johns. We start down the trail toward Deal Trail proper and the short uphill climb to the Dick Smith, and we start to see snow flakes before we are out ten minutes. The flakes are rare, but when they hit the ground they are staying in their extreme isolation.

burned stubs and trees among the grasses
Heading out toward the Dick Smith Wilderness on the Deal Connector in very scattered snow.

some trees in the far crevaces
Looking back, there's a few unburned spots in some folds of land.

at the edge of the wilderness
Having a snack at the wilderness boundary, the high point in the hike, and checking it out while waiting for the group to recollect.

01 February 2014

Cottam Camp

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

The night before, I packed up the backpack and started up Cold Spring Trail in the dark to meet people at Cottam Camp. I thought I was going to Forbush Flat, but that got sorted out eventually. There are a few spots along the trail that are a little sketchy for night hiking. Arrival meant pasta, berries, chatter, and wine with a lot of stars overhead, then setting up and shuffling into bed out on the meadow. Waking up in the predawn light, I can see a group of stones on the hillside between the trees that looks a bit like adults holding the hands of children. Frost sitting on everything near me shows the accuracy of the National Weather Service's prediction of a low of 49°F, made using a point in Montecito where the relatively warm ocean helps keep things warm. The predicted wind is also missing, which is nice. As we start to move about, we notice that our water is busy freezing as well. I manage to light my single hand operable flint on fire trying to cook breakfast. Better than trying to explode a lighter but I've got to find the usual flint so I can light the cat-can safely. The others filter back up the mountain to their Saturday plans. It takes the sun an hour or so, but it eventually manages to start thawing things. I sketch a little with watercolor then get myself headed up the mountain too.

random sandstone on the hill
The random outcrop of sandstone up the hill looks a bit more like elephants in the brighter light.

Cottam Camp table
A table, a ruined BBQ grill, a few ruined ice cans, and a fire ring we must not use beside a meadow make up Cottam Camp. There is no water in the creek today.