14 May 2014

Sespe: Sespe Hot Springs

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4

(Day 2 of 4.) Grabbing a little water to warm up my unfinished supper (it was so late my appetite had vanished), I cannot help but notice that while it is not warm, it is warmer than I expect. The leftovers go quickly now and we pack up to have breakfast at Sespe Camp where there is a table and even a toilet with walls. It is close enough to the trail that we may have found it in the moonlight, but it is hard to be sure and the Harrison map incorrectly places it is after the stream crossing. The water seems just a little warmer here as I get enough for cooking and the morning hiking. Just after camp, the trail does cross the stream and become elusive. There is lots of clear space to walk heading upstream, but little indication of anyone doing so. There is a small path through some vegetation, but it is a bit low for such a well used trail. From the perspective of the other side of the stream, there is another break in the vegetation a little downstream where the trail does go. With the map saying the camp is further on and the trail briefly hard to find, this could have been intensely stressful in the moonlight. In the sun, it is a brief head scratcher before clambering up the bank on the other side past an old metal sign with no apparent purpose. In no time, we are at a junction and a rather well used camp.

a well used camp and a pool built in the hot water
The rather well used camp which includes a grill, but mostly this pool built just below the trail.

The junction is sooner than I expect, but consulting the map shows that is just a memory problem. The trail up to Sespe Hot Springs is wide and flat. The canyon walls rise steeply on either side. There are a number of camps along the way and a few clumps of palm trees. Some of the trees are doing very poorly. Water is pouring out of the canyon wall to the east. I had been told once that Sespe Hot Springs is a mud hole, which I think was an attempt to illustrate that it has no amenities (specifically, a tub) like Willett. I have also been told by someone that he experimentally determined they are hot enough to cook dinner. What I see around me is most decidedly not a mud hole. As the trail crosses the creek, I stick a finger in it but retreat quickly. It is red, but not burned. I can believe you do not need to bring a stove to cook dinner here. The direction of the path on the far side is no longer apparent, so we start to wander.

Hot Springs Canyon
Following the trail, really still old road, into Hot Springs Canyon. It is populated with palm trees and cactus and algae in various colors and evidence of big horn sheep.

prickley pear
The prickly pear are starting to bloom.


One bit of flow in the canyon above where the trail crossed actually feels somewhat cool. Out on the flat, someone has done a bit of rock art. One spot by the canyon wall appears to have a pool built, but it turns out to be full of rocks and is steaming intensely. I have to know and give the water a quick tap. I would have burned the finger if I had stuck it in and waited for nerves to react.

large flat area near the hot springs
A large expanse of rocks and gravel suitable for large rock arranging based artwork.

arranged rocks
The existing piece.

water flowing from the cliff
Not a tub... perhaps this is a kitchen.

We cannot find a suitable place to soak in the upper waters, but the algae patterns are fascinating. There are pools, and in them the algae sends up long spires that widen at the top into a funny copy of a lily pad. In the current, long tough strings of algae wave making contrasting lines. Different temperature water sports bright green or dull yellow brown types. Sometimes, there is a spot where the water comes out too hot and it is barren and white until it can cool enough.

green and yellow algae
An eddy of clear water shows in the long strings of green algae.

flat pads of algae at the top of the water
Anchored to the algae below, these flat pads are forming in the slow and deep pools.

larger forms of collected algae
Biomats of algae forming intricate surfaces.

yellow marked water joining green marked water
Water with different temperatures, and thus different algae, meet.

We start down the road again, but quickly drift back to the stream to see more pools as the water cools. The big pools are marked by cairns. Small springs add their own hot seeps to the stream all along the route.

water coming from the side of a cliff
A couple of the many spots where the cliff leaks hot water.

honey bee in a flower
For some, happiness is being covered in pollen.

clear spot of water
Water seeps up in the bottom of a side stream making it too hot, in a small area, for the algae to grow.

looking upstream
Looking upstream.

large pool
One of the better looking pools along the way.

palm camp
Camp under the clump of palm trees. Reading material is provided, at least until the next rains come.

We head out the rest of the way and then collect water for the upcoming six mile climb. There is possible cold water at the far end of the camp where another canyon joins. I almost do not check it, but it does have a beautiful trickle of clear, cold water coming down it suitable for filtering. As we start to climb toward Mutau Flat, it is hard not to notice that the only tracks on the trail are now those of a motorcycle with occasional interruptions by wildlife. From above, it is easy to pick out the rest of the road after it crosses over the creek. It makes a few angled climbs up the side of San Rafael Peak, then stops. Perhaps a mine? The older maps do not seem to offer any clues. There is very little shade along the way, none of it usable.

Johnston Ridge
Climbing up Johnston Ridge. The canyon on the left is the one that provided me with some cold water.

yellow flowers in potreros
Potreros full of flower above Hot Springs Canyon.

trail along the ridge
Looking back over the trail that follows along the ridge, often a bit lower and to the west (right).

sages and things
Wildflowers are copious along the dry ridge.

Not quite four miles into the climb, the trail is starting to level off for a moment and a usable bit of shade offers itself. We drop down into it for a nice long lunch before moving on. After, the trail seems to start drifting downward rather than climbing. It keeps drifting downward for the next two miles and then we are in Mutau Flat. Most of the motorcycle tracks head out onto the private property, presumably along the old trail. The temperature in the bowl of the flat seems about 5 degrees hotter than out on the sun baked, but windy, ridge. We turn to climb again and end up battling dozens of small fallen trees. The trail comes to a fire break which has wooden railings to help keep us on the trail, except that some of them are missing now. The trail makes a long loop around a short and fat drainage, then pops over the side and down to Little Mutau. We take a left to get to Mutau, where there is some water even if it does not look all that nice.

downed small trees
The burned trees from the Day Fire are coming down and making the trail a mess.

Mutau Flat
Looking down on Mutau Flat. There are a number of structures on the far side of the flat.

We exit the wilderness by a sign that someone has been doing donuts around. This just causes eye rolling. We climb up past a couple driveways and wind a little higher on an old road. Most the way along it, there is a mysterious path to the north. We continue on the road because, well, it is bigger. A series of dirt piles make the last part of it difficult, but there is a high route along them and down to the maintained road below. It is currently closed due to storm damage, but there are plenty of tire marks on it showing someone is quite capable of getting through. Around the corner, a spur road goes up to the current Johnston Ridge Trailhead, which probably connected with the mysterious trail. Even the map at the trailhead only shows the old road and places an erroneous "you are here" arrow pointing at it.

horny lizard
Saw quite a few horny toads in all sizes.

Grade Valley Road
Walking along Grade Valley Road.

From the trailhead, it is a generally flat and easy walk over to Halfmoon Camp. As we come to overlook Piru, we see a wide flow of water below and can stop worrying. The water at the ford to the camp is, however, quite gross and shows that they flow is actually quite small. Being a car camp behind a closed road, we have our pick of a half dozen tables and a couple biffies. Annoyingly, it is about a quarter mile over four old beds to get to the water from camp, so we gather up all our bottles so we can keep it to one trip to get all the water for camping and tomorrow's hike. The GPS is at an even 30 miles when I shut it off.

Piru Creek from Grade Valley Road
Our first look at Piru and it is a beautiful sight. Always good to know we have water as we drink the last sips of what we have brought.

PLSS monument
There are many PLSS markers in Grade Valley, including this 1927 monument along the road into Halfmoon Camp.

Continue reading: day 3




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 19 May 2014


1 comment:

west coast red said...

Great! And yes, that road scar on the base of San Raf is from exploratory mining looking for rare earth ... in the 1950s, I believe.