Los Padres National ForestLocate 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.
|A fuel break turned into illegal shooting gallery.|
|Checking out Wheeler Springs from above. The Nordhoff Fire Road behind it looks like a long up.|
|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.
|One of many on a bush.|
|Two of many bush monkey flowers.|
|Another look at the Nordhoff Fire Road and the ridge it climbs.|
|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.
|A woolly blue curl to brighten up the day as the sunlight wains.|
|There are some nice rocks on the far side of Cannon Creek.|
|White sage flowers. These seem to me to have a much shorter season than the other sages.|
|Looking out over Cannon Creek again, but now with one of the peaks along the ridge that becomes Dry Lakes Ridge in view.|
|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.
|The light vanishing behind the hills to the west.|
|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