06 April 2015

Topatopa Bluff

Los Padres National Forest




The cold air coming ahead of some Alaska sourced rain seems like the perfect opportunity to do a hike that I think, rightly or wrongly, will be a bit hot. One such neglected hike, for me, is up Sisar Canyon. Near the top of this is a destination that seems a poor one to miss, Topatopa Bluff. Sisar Road turns out to be a single lane private road with sharp speed bumps every 200 feet or so lined with signs imploring the traveler to go 5, 10, or 15 MPH at most. The pavement turns off to the left and a dirt road continues straight. The correct route is the dirt road. Any car can make it a little way up this road to a couple water tanks. Past that, it takes some fancy wheel work to coax a car up and the reward is only to save 0.4 miles. I elect to park and hike it. The air is a perfect temperature for hiking, a little chill for standing around in. Except for four men and a dog and one resident balancing a ceramic mug of caffeine while navigating a particularly rough downhill patch, the road is empty.

tree lined road in canyon
Sisar Road is tree lined along the bottom of the canyon. The bluff is hard to see in the cloud.

water flowing over a large rock into a large shallow pool
Up a side trail to a dribbling rock in the creek.

Initially, the road travels along the bottom of the canyon. The creek below has water and it is nice to hear it flow. There are spots where it goes underground, but then I notice the bird noises increase and step to the side near the water to find it flowing again. There are two crossings that are easy to navigate before the road takes a big turn and starts to climb up, out of the canyon and into the sun.

road from shade into sun
Take a turn and suddenly there are no more trees to protect from the sun.


It is still early and the sunlight not too warm. There are flowers out, it is Spring after all. The road climbs in two big, easy switchbacks to another gate and a track off the corner marked "trail". Another road can be seen climbing the next big ridge and a path along a minor ridge between looks like it could be well used trail although it is hard to figure how to get there.

a smooth road and the bluff riseing
The morning sun on the west facing bluffs.

sunlight on a cloud covered valley
The view from the next turn is down over the Ojai Valley.

small, red breasted bird
A small bird, puffy in the chill.

dirt track into trees marked by trail sign
Past the gate, there are trees again with the transition from road to trail.

There are trees again along the trail. It climbs a little more quickly than the road to get up above the trees a little. There are more views of Topatopa Bluff, but the clouds are blowing through, covering the top with grey. Things look lush below in the canyon.

blue delphinium
Blue delphinium lines one section of trail.

bursting forth with little ones
A lovely specimen. Notice it is as big as the yucca behind it.

There is a brief sighting of water again and the trail suddenly drops into a small camp with two stoves. This one is also called White Ledge, but appears to be a little newer. It has certainly had some more recent maintenance. The creek flows past, but goes dry shortly above the camp.

White Ledge Camp
This White Ledge Camp has two fire rings with grills and currently some tools.

After the camp, there is more climbing around a couple small, steep canyons and up into the ceanothus. It is getting colder as I near the ridge and Nordhoff Road. The bluffs seem to gather more and more clouds.

yellow monkies
A few more flowers along the way.

ceanothus flat
A flat of blooming ceanothus.

It looks a little more clear on the other side of the ridge, but it is cloudy along it. The sign at the top says I have been 7 miles. I would say 6.5 miles. One can get up here the easy way with an Adventure Pass and a 4x4 and the forward planning to get a permit. Someone has been by recently. Around the corner is a campsite with a table, a great spot to gobble down some food, put more in a pocket, and fish out some sleeves. The elevation has brought down the temperature and the sun has not brought it up. It is cold!

mostly sunny over Lion Canyon
Over on the far side where Lion Canyon drops down to the Sespe.

trail leaving the road
Rocks and a track in the dirt signal time to leave the road. Other options are available.

There is a dirt track that leaves the road. A little way up it, a freshly sawed sign post tells me nothing. Behind it, a slapstick proclaims "trail" for all to follow. A bulldozer has cleared a break along the edge of the ridge and the trail flirts with this scar a couple times as it climbs in ever smaller switchbacks. Some just follow the scar calling it the escalator. Plants are encroaching on the trail, but there are plenty of footprints from recent passers by.

Chief Peak
Looking back, there are Chief Peak in the distance and the Sisar Repeater Site marked by its antennas closer at hand.

trail with built steps
A row of steps marks the trail for a short piece.

clouded Topatopa Bluff
Topatopa Bluff is still a bit in the cloud.

At the top of Topatopa Bluff is a fire ring and stone seating set for prime sunset viewing. I was worried it would still be cloudy, but the very early afternoon sun seems to be doing its thing and there is a little bit of view up here. The islands are too much to ask, but the closer peaks are there. One very close peak to the east looks to be a little higher than this point.

stone seating
The top of Topatopa Bluff. The construction of stone seating seems to be a popular activity in certain places.

higher peak to the east
Tall cairns lead the way toward a slightly taller peak a short way to the east.

Slapsticks mark trail southward along the bluff top while tall cairns mark the way east. I poke around here near the top as must be done to get all the views on this large, flat top. There is a pile of rocks and wire that look like a surveyor's work although I do not find a marker under it. The map indicates this is about the right spot for one. Back over by the big fire ring, there is a monument someone attempted to remove with a screwdriver, but it did not want to leave. The elevation can still be read.

Lion Canyon
Panorama out over Lion Canyon.

back side of Topatopa Bluff
Panorama of the back side of Topatopa Bluff and Hines Peak.

6351 feet above sea level
Horribly mutilated benchmark at 6351 feet.

Ojai Valley
Panorama of Ojai Valley and Nordhoff Peak.

I eventually decide to go over to the higher peak and see if there is a way down to Red Reef Trail from there as indicated on the map. The trail is easy to follow across the top and on the far side, drops down to an old road that carves around the back side of the bluff and down into Santa Paula Canyon. I leave the road to scramble over one peak, then skip the next and scramble up the high point.

old road along the back side of the bluffs
On one minor peak looking toward the high point. The old road is clearly visible along the back side.

Hines Peak
Panorama of Santa Paula Canyon and Hines Peak.

The first peak had more of a path up it. This higher one shows no path at first. I find I have to back off from the edge because it is a little steep on the north side. I want to be very sure of my footing. Closer to the top where there are boulders, footing is more assured. Further higher peaks continue to the east, each with a large gap between. Coming down again, I find an old bulldozer track that climbs up a bit to the east of the peak.

rocky edge
The slightly higher point east of Topatopa Bluff is a knife edge of rock with a bit of a cliff on the other side. Red Reef Trail can be seen below.

The road makes a very clear and easy to follow route down to Red Reef, where the trail is the smaller route away. Bicycle tracks, or maybe even motorcycles, mark the turn up the mountain well although I am currently in the Sespe Wilderness. Following the trail back to the barrier at the end of the road, the wilderness sign has been folded in half as though that makes it no longer apply. I sit down for a moment to draw, but the clouds are moving back in quickly and after shuffling through my pack, I look up to find nothing left of my view.

barrier closing the road
The end of the line for those with permits.

Walking back along the road, I am soon back to where I left it to climb. From here, it is just a matter of retracing my steps. It has gotten colder and the wind across the ridge stronger. Once back on the trail and dropping elevation, things get a little warmer and the wind is calmed.

butterfly on a blue dick
It is cold enough the butterflies are willing to just hold on to their flower as someone walks by.

Gradually the sky clears as the evening arrives. I meet two backpackers on their way up just below the camp and that same resident, now without the mug but with another resident shortly after, on the way back down.

Topatopa Bluff
Topatopa Bluff under nearly clear, evening skies.




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 April 2015

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Going up any of the canyons on the face is a magnificent experience.