16 February 2015

Little Pine Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Little Pine Mountain is on the Sierra Club's "Great Lower Peaks", a list of peaks that do not reach the height of 5000 feet, but are nonetheless notable. The mountain has multiple peaks that ring Happy Hollow and the peak height listed indicates that they consider a shorter grassy one to be the peak. I have been there, but today I want to go to the highest peak, a chaparral covered mound east of Happy Hollow. This one is actually labeled as the mountain on the map. It is a fee free three day weekend, so there is no troll guarding the ford. Upper Oso is full of people making breakfast but there are only three cars in the lot by the gated road. The little gate is open, so there will be motorcycles. The air is cold enough to make my elbows hurt, but that will not last long.

road in shadow
Past time to get moving. An hour of daylight has already been burned.

start of Santa Cruz Trail
Getting to the trail.

The creek is flowing below, but crossing it will but just a quick step. The creek bed seems to have filled in with a large, black silt. The road section passes quickly. The trail is marked with a sign and a register. The register is full and someone has left the lid up. Flowers are all along the side. An old washout that has become a crossing proves that the creek is a quick and easy crossing as I head up to Nineteen Oaks.

a little water in the creek
A little bit of water flows down the dark creek bed.

Santa Cruz Trail at the Nineteen Oaks turnoff
Santa Cruz Trail is lined with ferns as the trail up to Nineteen Oaks meets it.

I turn up to the pleasant little camp with half a thought to see the spring, but that thought never gets completed. The camp is empty as I poke around. I run across the trail out the other side of the camp and because I seem to be prone to doing things the hard way and I have not taken this trail before, start climbing it to the road above.

Nineteen Oaks has a couple tables in one of the few spots
Two tables, each from a different era, help make Nineteen Oaks Camp comfortable.

The trail is very clear. It is rocky at first, then passes through some of the area's potreros. Bike tracks and footprints are both well represented in the tread. Enjoying a snack at one lookout, I hear voices in the camp below and see a group wandering around the oaks. It starts to look like old road as I climb and one spot has a bridge made of an old culvert. It looks worrisome, but it works. The trail ends in a fence beside the road and a "no motor vehicles" sign.

a series of potreros
Climbing up through potreros above the camp.

a little bit of climbing left to go
More potreros as I climb.

Little Pine Mountain
The string of potreros, a gap where for Oso Canyon, and Little Pine Mountain rising behind it all.

end of the trail
A bit of fencing to keep the motorcycles out.

And that brings me to the road. The long and flat, even when it is supposed to be climbing, road. There are still wildflowers beside it. California poppies make bright orange spots, bush poppies have more than the usual number of yellow flowers, and prickly phlox make mounds of purple. The show is just getting started, but those plants that have decided to pop have gone all out. I make my slow, meandering climb up past Hidden Potrero Camp to Buckhorn Road. As I climb, I cannot help but notice that the air is a bit brown over the Los Olivos area to the west.

California poppies
A cluster of orange California poppies leaning into the sun.

a track in the grass
A slow, meandering climb. Below is Hidden Potrero Camp, which has a table and a fire ring.

Camuesa wanders downward and a long spur climbs low Camuesa Peak. The road drops some of its elevation, then climbs some cliffs in long switchbacks. Around a corner, and the higher mountains to the northeast are laid out. Motorcycles and bicycles make their way past, all but one politely slowing down sufficiently not to give me a face full of stones.

Camuesa Peak
Camuesa Peak with the spur climbing up it.

higher mountains
Some of the less accessible areas of the forest.

Buckhorn trail comes up, looking like a scar along the ridge, but I am told that further down it is impassible. Since the information is from a mountain biker, I wonder if that goes for hikers too. It seems plans are afoot to open it up. As I near the spur up Little Pine, I start to be able to see island poking out of a very light marine layer.

a suggestion of islands
A long slow climb, but eventually it gets there.

The motorcycles are going over the fuel breaks in some spots, including the first chance while going up to Little Pine. As it returns to the road, I start up the fuel break. This one has a fence across it. The fence has worked and has almost vanished in the chaparral. The route along the fuel break behind it is mostly kept open by deer, but the chaparral is not too thick. The greatest difficulty to moving forward is fallen trees from the Zaca Fire. I just keep working my way along, wiggling this way and that and finding a path. Eventually, I come to the top, but this is not yet the peak. A little way down, then more climbing brings me to a wide, flattened area. There were benchmarks in 1941, but a bulldozer kicked them out and piled them up at the side by November 1954.

flattened mountain
The top of Little Pine Mountain. It was 4506 feet once, but it has been flattened out.

mountains behind
Another look over the higher peaks to the northeast, and east and north, from the top of Little Pine Mountain.

looking out to the grassy knoll
Across Happy Hollow is the more usually visited peak.

I continue on along the ridge, then try to find a way down to the road. It looks like one is pretty much committed to walking along the ridge once up on it. There are no easy routes down. The brush does not look any more dense, but somehow it closes in. I keep going, but the route along the ridge seems to vanish as well. Turning again to get down, the hill is much less steep and the brush does not quite close in this time. To the road, it is a short way to Happy Hollow. A pair of motorcyclists seem to be settled into camp, but it is otherwise empty. They look like the first ones that passed me after I got back to the road. From the camp, I climb up the grassy peak the back way.

up on a grassy knoll looking out to the ocean
South to west from the grassy top of Little Pine Mountain.

Alexander Peak
West along the ridge line to Alexander Peak and Old Man Mountain.

A pair of mountain bikers are packing up as I arrive. I think they passed below me while I was going for the real peak. Once they are gone, I have the peak to myself. Eventually, I turn to go down, but at the saddle decide to tag one last peak. Directly west is Alexander Peak and the abandoned trail is rather clear. There should be a boundary marker of some sort at the top, but I do not find it in a quick search. I am suspicious that anything would be too close to the top and bulldozed or too close to the side and crumbled down the cliff. There is certainly no witness post to help me find it.

Old Man Mountain
Old Man Mountain from Alexander Peak.

Little Pine Mountain
The grassy peak of Little Pine Mountain from Alexander Peak. A little of the cliffs south of the peak are visible.

It is late and long past time to return as I start down. The sunset is nice, but quicker than expected. Darkness falls all too quickly after, too. The trail is getting torn up by the mountain bikers in the turns and a few spots that stay muddy longer.

light of the late day
Late day light passing through the very thin mist.

Santa Cruz National Recreation Trail
Following Santa Cruz through the high meadows.

sun setting behind things about this high
Sun dropping down below the Santa Ynez Range.

As I go down, I can hear rockfall and crickets. There is one section that is constantly in fall and there are still tools here for those who want to try to do something about it. I can understand the shovel, but I am uncertain if the 40 foot handle on the McLeod is all that useful. Ropes have been added on the uphill side to help people walk across more safely. The mountain bikers going down in front of me walked through these spots. I can see a campfire glowing down in Nineteen Oaks as it comes into view. Once I am closer to the creek, the sounds are replaced by the play of water and croaks of frogs. Frogs and millipedes are on the trail. I hit the creek and my light playing makes it look like a huge snake rushing downward. The debris in the bottom of the creek bed is regularly sized and makes ripples like huge scales.

deep purple flowers
Back down at the trail up to Nineteen Oaks. I cannot believe I missed them on the way in.

There are still plenty of people at the camp and in the lot as I get back. Taking a moment to look up before taking off, I find there are more stars out than can usually be found in the county. The night sky is amazing tonight. It requires a little extra looking.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 19 February 2015

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