20 February 2016

Santa Barbara Canyon

Los Padres National Forest




I decided it was high time I got a little more trail work done. I could not go to the Superbowl Sunday work on Deal Trail, but then found an offer of a three day weekend of work in Santa Barbara Canyon. That could be nice.

Friday (t-1 day)

Arrival time is 9AM. After having to stop by the airport for an early morning drop off and filling the tank with gas, I am barely on time. The road in does offer one confusing moment as there is a corner where I was expecting none, but there are clues which way the public is expected to go. We collect a little bit into the higher clearance cars before filing through the gate and locking it behind us. It is only a few miles down the road to the trailhead where our stock support is already set up. We have safety talks for being around stock, brush work, and sawyers since there is a little bit of everything for this trip. It takes a while to get started, but then we gather up tools and hard hats and start off down the trail.

packed and moving
Packed up and moving out to make sure the trail goes through.

turtle shell
An early casualty along the trail.

We do some work on the way up to camp, but mostly we are traveling. It will be easier to move around without all our backpacking gear tucked away in packs on our backs.

Santa Barbara Canyon
Headed into Santa Barbara Canyon.


There is a little bit of water in the creek in some places. Water is even tumbling down over a rock and making happy noises at the crossing before we make our camp. Near camp, there is nothing but wet sand in the low points. After set up and lunch, we head back over the trail we just traveled to make it pleasant. This is generally yanking yerba santa and cutting white thorn ceanothus as low as possible. As the afternoon gets late, we return to camp to find food has materialized from the backs of the mules. Quite a few of the guys set about reducing the amount of downed wood in the area. Panic sets in as some realize no beer has likewise appeared and satellite phones are deployed. Somehow it all works out, even without beer and eventually, under a huge moon, we each find a way to bed. Things are already frosting over as we do even though the expected low was in the 40s.

Saturday (t)

A few were worried about the chill of the night, but all slept pretty well. The early morning measurement is 25°F. Breakfast is whatever we have brought. Most the brownies from last night got left and they somehow hit the spot much better in the morning. We gather up tools and water and head out, this time toward Madulce Camp. The target today is to get the trail stock passable nearly to Heartbreak Hill. This will allow them to support another work crew further along the trail at a later date. We do not have to go far to find a choke point of white thorn ceanothus to start hacking on. A few yards further, the sawyers have a tangle of oak that was not even on the recent survey to handle.

white thorn ceanothus closing in
Our greatest enemy as we arrive with loppers and Silky bigboys is the white thorn ceanothus.

thorns gone
Packing up again once the enemy has been pushed back sufficiently. Behind, the tangle of oak still blocks the path.

oak gone too
Much later in the day, what it looks like without the oak. Now it really is clear.

We continue on, delighting in the sheets of ice that have formed in some areas where water was flowing yesterday. Mountain lion tracks are frozen into the mud. They look very fresh, but freezing preserves these, too.

sheet of ice
Light plays along the thin ice of the creek.

mountain lion prints
The cat came down the canyon, but when?

Gradually, we come to know the roses that are the calling card of the Dick Smith Wilderness. Now seems to be the perfect time to be attacking them. They do not seem quite as capable as usual at fighting back. There is also a bit of green bark ceanothus, but it is a much softer plant compared to its cousin and requires much less comment. Our obstacles are not all living. The water through this canyon recently was amazing and we are faced with a few significant log jams to pull down from across the trail.

continuing upward
Continuing up the canyon.

rock layers
We get some nice rock layers sticking out of the brush.

We stop for lunch on a clear spot across the creek from the trail that is actually an old piece of trail itself. It was originally opened up by bulldozer and used for a jeep trail, if my fellow works are to be believed, and it can be quite wide under trees. It is a common enough story for these trails.

Richard's mules
Richard's new mules feel we are far enough away when across the creek while he reports on the others ahead cutting through a big tree with little saws. The sawyers are behind, but sometimes the presented challenge must be accepted.

We continue on, finding more roses, more log jams, and more ceanothus.

paw of unfortunate bear
Not everything in the log jams is wood and dirt. The land and weather goes after everyone, even the bears.

mules in the trail
Otis has found something he cannot pass although there is a bypass that works. Madulce rises behind him.

green under dead
A touch of greens spouts below dead brush.

As things seem to be getting late, we head up to the slide area below Heartbreak Hill to clean up the bypass into the creek and out again. It is at a tight bend in the creek along the outside, and there is really no place for the trail to go that will survive for very long. Eventually, there will need to be a crossing. For now the bypass will have to do. After cleaning it up, we head down again to face off with some more white thorn ceanothus.

white thorn ceanothus
Once more unto the breach. Taking down some more white thorn ceanothus.

three hard hats lost in the vegetation
Still more work to be done, but the people under the three hard hats among the green are trying to do it.

down canyon
The view back down the canyon as we return.

It seems a lot further as we head back down, but it sure is a lot more open. All the ice is gone now. The water is still flowing intermittently along the many crossings. Back at camp, the beer situation has been rectified and more downed wood reduction efforts are underway. It is perfect for fishing out the can cozy I got from a previous work trip and make sure I have no lightweight backpacker cred. Eventually, we all tuck in again for another freezing night, although warmer than the previous one.

Sunday (t+1 day)

We have been promised breakfast burritos, but we have to hike out to the stock camp to get them. Most the brownies are still left from the night before and so is some cut cantaloupe. Like before, the brownies are just better in the morning chill. The cantaloupe is surprisingly flavorful as popsicles. There are still a few who are sufficiently determined to clean up the trail to cut back some more white thorn ceanothus for a few hours on the way out. Our breakfast really is a brunch and even pushes to lunch, then we pack it up and head out.

Santa Barbara Canyon
One last look down Santa Barbara Canyon.

cars leaving the canyon
Heading back out the gate and for home.




©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 23 Feb 2016

1 comment:

Mark Subbotin said...

Glad you could join us for this one. Good work was done by all