07 June 2014

Ortega Trail

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

My last little goal in the Wheeler Gorge area is to locate HORSESHOE, a benchmark on a random hill near the Ortega Trailhead, which is at the end of the big loop just up the road from Holiday Campground. It is marked only with a slapstick labeled "trail". I have seen motorcycles staging here before, but there seem to be none today. Motorcycles may make up the majority of traffic along this trail, but I can see a set of shoe prints on top of all the motorcycle tracks in the dirt as I start. The trail is wide and rocky as it climbs in an easy manner to a bit of fuel break. Here the trail goes right and there seems to be a shooting gallery to the left. Somewhere above this mess is the benchmark. I climb past a ruined railing, Santa, a half dozen surfing trophies, and the surprisingly singular computer to the top. There's no benchmark until I start down the other side, and then there is a large piece of cement, looking like erosion will take it quickly, with the station in the top.

an illegal shooting gallery full of trash
A fuel break turned into illegal shooting gallery.

view of the gorge
Checking out Wheeler Springs from above. The Nordhoff Fire Road behind it looks like a long up.

concrete bowl with HORSESHOE benchmark in the top
Benchmark in a piece of concrete. I thought these were supposed to be bigger on the bottom so that they do not shift as much.

Goal achieved and a few hours left in the day and a whole trail just sitting there to be climbed. The words I see applied to Ortega Trail are "steep", "hot", and "relentless", which does not bode well, but it looked like a nice trail from the other side of the valley and the sun is now low enough that most of it is in shade. The southeast face that it climbs may be first to heat up, but can also be welcome on a near-summer evening. I will finish off my day just meandering up it.

delicate and white flower
One of many on a bush.

bush monkey flower
Two of many bush monkey flowers.

Nordhoff Ridge
Another look at the Nordhoff Fire Road and the ridge it climbs.

fuel break toward helipad
The fuel break that passes HORSESHOE continues along the little hills at least to the helipad.

The climb does not seem all that steep to me as I pass what few switchbacks are on the trail. One of them is getting pretty torn up by the motorized traffic, but the others are still in fine shape. There is a steady increase in views and then there is a section of overhead trees and ferns while off to the side in Cannon Creek a few sycamores suggest actual water might be near, even if inaccessible.

woolly blue curl
A woolly blue curl to brighten up the day as the sunlight wains.

upstream looking
There are some nice rocks on the far side of Cannon Creek.

white sage flowers
White sage flowers. These seem to me to have a much shorter season than the other sages.

green shaded hills
Looking out over Cannon Creek again, but now with one of the peaks along the ridge that becomes Dry Lakes Ridge in view.

upper sections of the north fork Matilija valley
View out over the north fork of Matilija Creek as the shadows get long.

After the ferns, things start a more determined climb again. The trail comes out to another fuel break and turns off to the right again. I decide that since it is getting dark, this seems like a good place for a turn around, but first head out onto the fuel break to see the view. A long broken wooden and rock wall tries to prevent motorcycles from coming this way and fails. There is evidence of a few camp sites out on the fuel break, which is nice and flat. I am quickly rewarded with a view I could not see from the trail of the city, Ojai and a little bit of Ventura, lighting up below. Closer at hand, someone is having a very noisy party with loud oldies down in Wheeler Springs and I can hear a fellow with a loudspeaker from it clearly. I keep on going to a little hill, but the chaparral is too tall here and the better views are from earlier on where the clearing has been kept wide by camping.

a bright sky behind a dark hill
The light vanishing behind the hills to the west.

lights in the misty distance
The lights of Ojai and Ventura from a little way up Ortega Trail on a misty day.

Before returning, I take in the glowing view with a snack and eventually notice the ocean reflecting the moonlight. It is a good reward after just a little over two miles of climbing. The climb itself is about 1600 feet. I would call it "steady", which is, if I am honest, another way of saying "relentless". After settling the tummy growls, I turn back. The trail seems loose at first as I walk down it, but gets better near the ferns and stays that way. Where there were sycamores to be seen in the daylight, there are frogs to be heard in the dark as another hint of water being present below.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 June 2014


bardley said...

imho, ortega should be done once - top to bottom. pretty on top, exposed below. and too steep to enjoy going the other way.

Valerie Norton said...

I still mean to make it to the real "Ortega" benchmark up at the very top. It's somewhat off trail, but the hill it is on was once on the HPS list.

There seems to be a market, as it were, for hills of a mile or two or three with a nice lookout at the top for exercise. It's a different way of looking at a trail.

Unknown said...

Is it me or does it appear the Nordhoff fire rd has been recently graded?

bardley said...

imagine looking at a flat road as seen from the side. now tilt the outside edge of the road downhill 30 - 45 degrees due to earth-slide-type movement. that's what you are seeing. i was there in '07. at the time, the trail / old road bed could be found and followed - with a little bushwhacking - from the end of nordhoff ridge road down to the 33. the bottom portion goes through private property. great views. the tilted portion was a real challenge to walk on.

Unknown said...

I've hiked that road a few times but the picture in this blog looked way WAY better than I remember it while on the ground. I've seen that road many times from many angles. Has it been recently cleared or not?

Valerie Norton said...

I kept feeling something was a bit off about the way that road looked. That it is tilted to a high angle seems to fit. Currently, the whole road is "closed until further notice." Nothing beats a boots on the ground investigation, but I would be very surprised if any work has happened on that abandoned segment of it.

bardley said...

"I've hiked that road a few times but the picture in this blog looked way WAY better than I remember it while on the ground."

that part of the road? recently?

"I've seen that road many times from many angles. Has it been recently cleared or not?"

no, it has not. you are seeing an optical illusion which i attempted to explain above.

Unknown said...

Right on. My hunch was that perhaps the private property owners were maintaining the bottom portion of the road (trail) for their own private use, which might help explain the onslaught of PRIVATE PROPERTY signs that were placed over the past year. The bottom portion appears in much better shape than any portion along the top. But you are both probably right that its just the angle of the shot. Thanks.