Los Padres National Forest
The drive up Gibraltar Road may not be many miles, but it sure does take a while. I want to take Cold Spring Trail just a little further than I have before and then use a cross country route out along the ridge and into a little valley. After, I want to finally finish off the trail. All indications are that this bite is entirely too much to chew. I will not know for sure unless I try. Got to be careful with the "upside down" hike, though. It can be easy to get too far downhill to have the energy to go back up. This particular up does not worry me much after all the other hikes in the last few years. First, the easy part down to the old homestead site that is now Forbush Camp.
|Just five miles to the end of the trail. That is not so far.|
|Little Pine Mountain past the power towers on the low ridge.|
|A still brown Mono jungle just over the low ridge that separates the Santa Ynez from Gidney.|
|Looking down on Cottam Camp in Blue Canyon with Monte Arido and Old Man Mountain as skyline.|
The old fruit trees of the homestead are looking dead in the winter air. The two sites look good, but someone has donated a few pots and a sleeping bag to the western one. Surprisingly, the creek seems to still be dry. Circling through the camp is quick. Trails head down the canyon and up toward the ridge just north and I am suspicious some of them connect up with my destination. For now, I am trying the advertised route, so finish the circle and come out at the sign pointing down toward Blue Canyon and briefly up toward Mono Camp. Everything is new to me from here. It is a very short climb to get to the ridge top.
|Trails leave the southwest corner of the meadow at Forbush Flat to climb the ridge or continue down the valley.|
The ridge really is a short climb. The use trail along it is not apparent, but the ridge is so narrow that there is basically only one place for it to be. Push through a bush, and there it is. Well, sort of. It is a hiker tunnel at first and requires a bit of crouching to pass through. Up it goes to pop out on more knife edge ridge. Rocky spots break up the obvious trail, but it keeps very close to the top and is easy to pick up again.
|Following a narrow softness through the brush up on the knife edge of the ridge.|
|Looking down on Forbush Flat.|
|A better look into the Santa Ynez River valley and the "jungle" that occupies the upper reaches of Gibraltar Reservoir.|
|A view over Gidney Creek.|
My energy drains a bit faster than expected as I battle brush and hop over sudden rocky barriers to keep going along the ridge. It opens up as I get near the scaffolds for the transmission lines. There is a little valley with the start of a creek making its way to the northeast side. It is odd that I can find water up here and not in the camp where it is considered reliable. The area is graveled and open but I can still see the path. There is a cut branch here and more flattened area there and then it ends. I try a few options, but they all end. I try to figure out where it should go and press through the brush to see if I can break in on further trail. Outside of the open spot, the chaparral is very difficult to pass through. I can make it to the tower, but this does not offer clues. I can make it into the southwest valley, and this seems promising at first, until it ends too. I come back to the area of trail I am most confident about, but the only thing it shows me is a collection of little California peony sprouts. Finding those does make me unreasonably happy, but they were not the goal. Feeling my options have been exhausted, I head back.
|Getting close to the power towers.|
|Monte Arido rising up behind the Santa Ynez River valley.|
I manage to get a little off trail a lot more on the way back, but it works out well enough. Travel is easy again once back on the trail and heading downhill. There is a creek running, and then a second one joins it for more happy water sounds. The canyon narrows to a bit more than a crack and the pools become more interesting as I go. At first, they are a few rocky wide spots. Then as things narrow, they deepen and there are shallow caves on the far side of the creek. Perhaps there are some under my feet as well. Eventually, they take on a built character from some process. Limestone is certainly involved, similar to the growing waterfalls that occur locally. As if it underscore this, the pools finish off in the beefiest growing waterfall I have yet encountered.
|Continuing down after the brief interruption upward posed by the ridge.|
|Finding water on the way to the river.|
|The pools get bigger as they go.|
|One of the pools with a built up rock edge.|
|Bigger pools until suddenly there seems to be a drop off. The trail crosses over on the pool edge above this and is a place to be very careful of foot placement.|
|The waterfall at the end of it with the trail edging past. Some call this area the grotto.|
The waterfall is impressive. I had seen a photo of it recently and was not the least bit awed by it, so actually seeing the real thing was a bit of a surprise. It needs something for scale, but that would be very hard to provide. There are a few more of the edged pools below, but this is nearly the end of them. I continue through a multitude of stream crossings that reminds me of the very bottom of the trail in Devils Canyon on the west side of Gibraltar Reservoir. It is probably the same rock layers as there. Here, things open up to the junction with Gibraltar Trail.
|A trail sign up the hill marks the Gibraltar Trail while a couple slapsticks mark Cold Spring with the nearby destinations.|
The post for the direction to Mono Camp is marked with a piece of blue flagging. This flagging continues as I take the last short bit of trail down to the river below, what there is of it. There are some more crossings, but it is rocky enough that the last one is dry.
|Just a little more canyon until it empties out into the Santa Ynez River.|
|Reaching the Santa Ynez River, such as it is.|
|Ice prints in the mud show it has been freezing down here.|
|Another look at the Santa Ynez River.|
The river is a muddy bit of shallow water wide enough to require a few steps to cross. There is no rock hopping option. The trail was frozen in many places as I started, and while it has warmed up a bit, it is not all that warm. I had tossed in my neoprene socks when I headed to the snow and my devotion to the lightweight ethos is such that they are still there, so I do not need to be miserable if I choose to cross this getting my feet wet. The thought that I actually am prepared for this provides some temptation to go on, but not quite enough. Another blue ribbon marks the way forward and a little to my right. Somehow, it is not quite attractive enough, either. I am wondering if there is not more river along here somewhere, but even that is not quite enough. A glance at the GPS shows that if I turn back now, I might actually finish before dark for once. I think it is that the legendary Mono jungle that is thick and green and causes people to become lost looks brown and open today. It just does not seem to be quite the right season and I turn back with still dry shoes.
|Another pool with the look of a hot spring. There is supposed to be one here somewhere.|
|The trail as it crosses over the river along one of the pool edges.|
|The water has made a few shallow caves along its course.|
|Another look back at the Mono Jungle as a bit of weather moves past.|
|The ridge behind Forbush Flat again.|
|Santa Ynez Valley.|
|Still catching some sunset.|
After a dally at the waterfall for playing with ink, the climb is not that bad. I dally again at the camp to look more completely for water, but there is still none. Some more climbing, and it is back to the top two minutes after sunset. The climb did not seem like much at all.
©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 14 Feb 2016