14 July 2015

Grass Mountain and Zaca Peak

Midland School

Los Padres National Forest

The weather prediction for Figueroa Mountain has it topping off around 82°F and, feeling a bit like I have neglected the area, I decided that was cool enough. I have hiked in that before, I can do it! With just one bag of water even! Good sense overcame me at least a little, so I arrive at the trailhead with two bags of water, about 5 L total, for the planned 12 mile route. I also have a printed out permit because the first part of the trail is on private land with fairly freely granted permission. The marine layer is still out and keeping things so cooler than expected, but it will burn off soon. I grab some parking just past the bridge and watch a truck with a telephone pole maneuver the tight turn while I get my shoes on and make sure everything is set in my pack. There is a good map, with topography as well as the trails and routes, at the start. Three trails leave from here, one to the left through a green gate, one to the right somewhat along the road, and one up the canyon. I follow the one up the canyon.

Grass Mountain
Grass Mountain is quickly found looming ahead.

The trail starts off in trees, but quickly leaves. I am quickly out from under the thinning marine layer as well. Well used trails head off in odd directions, but sticking to the canyon keeps me on track. Trail junctions are marked at first, even when it is just secondary route for horses to use, but then I pass by a few that are not marked. Keeping to the canyon is still the right choice until a post with the sign removed. After this, the canyon takes a turn and there is a campsite. I start to climb up out of it on the side away from the mountain and decide that cannot be right, then try to find my way further up the canyon on something that is certainly not the canyon trail before heading back to try the marked, but unsigned, trail.

canyon trail
Trail along the side of the canyon.

Following the trail up from the post works much better. The trail winds upward and seems to have been rerouted in a few places. This goes on until a saddle just past a nice shade tree.

Maple Canyon
Overlooking Maple Canyon.

cabin in the canyon
Looking down on the Senior Cabin that sits high in Maple Canyon.

oak tree
An oak tree offers shade to hikers along the trail just before the trail turns steep.

Past the saddle, the trail deteriorates into a gully without even a wiggle, much less a switchback. I am thinking dark thoughts about what Otis is willing to call a trail because I have not paid sufficient attention to the map to note that this is actually marked as an "off trail route". The route is very difficult, but little steps make it a little easier. I am wondering if perhaps it would not be smarter to wander to the side a bit and take the deer trails up when I spot what looks like a witness post on a lower flank of the mountain. Interesting, but I am not going to let go of my hard won elevation. It is probably just a yucca stalk anyway.

getting higher
Climbing straight up. The trail I will come down is now visible.

layers of rock
Lines in the hillside.

Eventually, the well established use trail starts to level off as it reaches the top. The grass ends just before the top which is actually covered in small trees. Three decorated posts are arranged at the edge of the grass next to trees. There are views very close to the top, but not from the log bench at the very top.

view from Grass Mountain
The view of the valley from Grass Mountain.

Zaca Peak
Zaca Peak from Grass Mountain.

After a moment spent on Grass Mountain, I turn my attention to Zaca Peak. The ridge line route is less traveled, but still well established. Although it is an off trail route, the brush has been trimmed to allow easier passage right along the edge of the ridge. Sometimes it looks like the track may drop down away from the top, but it never really does.

another ridge
The valley over another ridge.

houses below
Toward the road to the south, there are a few houses.

The track meets the ridge trail at a green post. From here, travel is easy. I expect I will climb from the saddle with the longer peak ridge, but start along the trail below it anyway. The hillside above the trail is steep and the footing would be sketchy, so I head back again quickly.

old car husk
The only indication that this was once a road is the car wreck below it. A small track allows a good view of it from below.

Starting up the long ridge edge of the peak, I quickly come to a faint track that is easy to follow for a while. It fades when there are choices in direction and the center is blocked by a tree or brush. I wind my way up trying not to get too far out onto the steep sides.

rock layers
More lines in the hillside.

Zaca Peak
Clearing at the top. Trees here, too, so no views in all directions.

The top of the peak is forested, but has views in some directions. Poking around, there are a few pieces of an old fire lookout. I take a bit of time in the shade at the top for some lunch and to swap water bags. The first bag of water ran out on the last bit of climb up the peak. It really is quite hot.

old fittings
A bit of metal from the fire lookout.

Looking back the way I came.

I roughly follow the same route back down with a few improvements. There are glimpses of Zaca Lake, one of the county's very few natural lakes. Some may consider it the only permanent natural lake left in the county. There are better views of the lake further down the Zaca Ridge Trail as I follow it down.

green post
Back to the green post marking the route in from Grass Mountain (left) and the Zaca Ridge Trail (into the manzanita on the right).

Zaca Lake
Zaca Lake and the resort, far below the Zaca Ridge Trail.

The trail is very easy to follow and well cared for where it is marked on the trailhead map, up to the resort trail. There is a sign on a similar green post at the top of the trail coming up from the resort by the lake pointing out trail to its left. After this, the trail still seems quite well used and generally cared for, but has spots where a bit of flagging is helpful. The USGS map shows trail following the ridge a little further and there is some heading that way. Flagging directs the hiker to turn and follow the ridge down instead. This is the way back to the trailhead, so I follow it. The trail quickly deteriorates and I am once again wondering how Otis can call this a trail. Like the route up Grass Mountain, the observant map reader would find that this is actually labeled an "off trail route".

peeking through the trees
Peeking through the trees to check out the route down the ridge.

ridge and peaks
A look back toward the peak.

oaks and sign
Returning to the Midland School lands.

Once back to Midland School, the steep and sometimes slippery route has mellowed out and returns to grasses and oaks. It is still quite direct until hitting another trail and getting into the school trail system properly. From here, the trail descends in an excruciatingly slow, wide wiggle along a hill with a gentle slope. The contrast between this and what I was just on is extreme.

hills in the glare of the sun
Looking west over the hills in the afternoon sun.

Maple Creek
Another place one might hike.

The trails are well established and well signed at the frequent junctions on the way back down to Birabent Canyon. Along the way, I wander up one last small peak. It would be a good spot for watching the sunset, which will be soon, but I do not want to wait for it. I check out the Senior Cabin on another side trail. It was built by the class of 1996 and is not looking very good for something that is not quite 20 years old.

Grass Mountain
Grass Mountain from another angle.

Senior Cabin
Checking out the cabin up close, but not too close.

The trails get a little chaotic as they get near the canyon trail, but all roads lead to the bottom. I pick one and go, then roll back out of the canyon.

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 Aug 2015

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