15 March 2016

Grass Mountain

Midland School

Los Padres National Forest

Spring is (nearly) here and one place that really does spring is the area around Figueroa Mountain. In particular, I have been hearing that Grass Mountain is spectacular. The slopes full of poppies really can be impressive and there is no slopes more impressive than the face of Grass Mountain, so I decided to brave the incredibly steep trail and see it for myself. Besides, I probably do not really need to get to the top to enjoy the flowers and I still want to find out what that witness post is witnessing. I grabbed the hiking permit from Midland School, since most of the hike is on their property and I need permission before going there even if it is automatically given.

Grass Mountain in orange splotches
A first look at Grass Mountain. The orange splotches look alright and some areas could be impressive. Poppies can be slow to open up in the morning.

The cold is biting down in the canyon as I start, but that will not last long. I grab a photo of the map sign for future reference as I will probably wander a bit after hitting the mountain and it will come in very handy then. The creek is running well. The first sighting of the mountain shows some orange splotches way up high, but the orange is not quite as bright as one might hope. Poppies close up at night and can be slow to open in the morning, so it may get brighter. There does not seem to be as much purple mixed in as I would expect.

Birabent Creek
Lots of water coming down Birabent Creek.

Winding my way up the trail beside the creek has a single quite steep spot, but is generally not hard. The one creek crossing is also easy. Past a second crossing of much smaller Maple as it comes in is the sign for Grass Mountain. I start to climb, and it is not long before I am passing through meadows of flowers. Blue dicks are the first seen in multitude, but it quickly gets a little more exotic.

delightful little purple thing
These little purple ones have a petal arrangement that makes me feel like they are hanging upside down.

small onion look
The gilia look like a small onion to me, but there is none of the scent.

oak and meadow
A field of blue dicks and fiddlenecks beside an oak.

The mountain is still far off. I can hear voices across the canyon from a pair of hikers and then three more below me as a dog comes up to greet me. He runs back and forth a few times before they decide to leash him. The climbs are steep enough already as we roll ever closer to the dreaded "off-trail route" at the forest boundary.

blue dicks, one white
The blue dicks actually come in three colors. Usually they are blue, but a few are a rather red purple and there is one white one.

yellow splotch across the canyon
A bit of invasive mustard forms a yellow splotch above the cabin.

orange dots in the grass
Hitting the first of the poppies and there are a few small lupines, both herbaceous and woody, hanging out with them.

The first of the poppies show up on the last little hill before the forest line. They are short, but numerous. Lupine is mixed in and is also short. Will I go up that crazy route? Of course I will. Although I do keep thinking that maybe it is a good time to check on the witness post on the way up instead of the way back.

orange and purple field beside the track
The "off-trail route" is a track clearly emblazoned by many feet before, as seen beside the field with the most lupine.

woody lupine
Most of the woody lupine looks happy enough.

orange hill
Across some pink rocks, one of the hills along the Zaca Ridge is a bit orange too.

brushy top in sight
Almost there!

I tag the top surrounded by brush, then find a nice spot on the face among the poppies. It is rocky here and there are fewer plants, but they are almost all poppy and lupine.

panorama of the south
The view from the top looks to the south.

Figueroa Mountain Road
A few cars pass by on Figueroa Mountain Road below, but they are just a few shiny ants from here.

wall of orange to a spread of green
At the top of the largest splotch of orange seen from below.

When good and ready, it is time to head back down the steep slope. At a particular curve, I break off from the trail and start working my way down toward the taunting white post below. There seems to be a foot print or two as I go. Nearer to it, I can see a second post southeast of the large post. Three lines of barbed wire mark where a fence once stretched across the hillside and then I get to the post. Apparently, there is nothing except the second post.

forest boundary
Well, this is what the witness post is witnessing.

next mountain toe over
Hanging on the foothills of Grass Mountain.

layers of poppies
Far down on the hill is quite the place to be taking in the poppies.

trail through stone and poppies
The trail winds through that first batch of poppies below.

There is a light track proceeding back to the trail from the posts. It passes on the edge of some particularly steep hillside, but gets me back to the trail to get back down into the canyon.

yellow, rolly flowers
In a patch of fiddlenecks on the way back to the trail.

Back on the trail, navigation seems much easier. I am not paying much attention and find myself on a bit of trail that is a bit too flat. This is unfamiliar and backtracking shows a much more used path down below some trees. I had taken it for track from people seeking shade. Further down, things get unfamiliar again, but I had seen a few parallel trails that took the ridge more closely, or so I suspected, on the way up. Figuring this is one, I continue along it until meeting trail again. Turning downhill, it somehow still does not seem familiar. There are a lot of fresh footsteps on it, but ahead they seem to start searching instead of hiking. Turning, the uphill direction does get me back to the trail again. It certainly is easy to find extra trail on the way down this one.

Mariposa lily
A delicate mariposa lily among the yucca leaves.

red maids
Perhaps they are red maids? They really are purple.

yellow composite flower
Some sort of daisy.

Back in the canyon, I turn to try to find Birabent Canyon Trail to the end again. This time, I catch the first trail crossing to avoid the washout. A pine cone is the only marker for the crossing to stay on the trail instead of taking Lover's Loop up and around. The little campsite area there is the last spot I am sure of, so I check the map. What is the secret to finding this trail? It certainly stays very close to the creek as it goes, so wherever it is, it should be there. Down very close to the creek, there is a bit of trail that promptly crosses back over. It should stay on this side a bit, but these things change and this is where I can see faint track.

fiesta flowers
Fiesta flowers celebrating beside some miner's lettuce. With all the showy flowers, it is easy to ignore the little things.

leaf covered trail
Back on the north side of the creek and climbing along the faint flat spot under the leaves.

Some gooseberry with its thorns reaching right across the trail.

There is nearly a continuous track all the way until about three quarters of a mile along, where it ends below a dry waterfall. Checking the map again, that is about how long it is supposed to be. Along the way, there are some impressive north facing walls lush with growth. There are little knee high pools that probably house interesting creatures for the patient to find. There are brief cascades to enjoy. There is also an increasing amount of poison oak to contend with. A handful of particularly lush mugwort might help.

more lushness
A wall of ferns above a little cascade. Hard and soft layer in the rocks make the wall like a vertical planter.

grassy stream and sycamore
A grass lined pool may hold interesting life.

dry waterfall end
A dry waterfall off of Grass Mountain at the apparent end of the trail.

Having come to the end, there is nothing more than to wade back past all the poison oak trying to keep my feet dry on the stream crossings. There are ten of them. I dipped a toe in on one crossing on the way out and get the same one in again on the way back. Then, forgetting which bit of wood I came over on, manage to take a quick knee high dip with the other foot when a branch breaks. Not so dry feet. There are a few spots to go wrong on the way back on this trail too, so attention must be paid both ways. I spot a few things I missed on the way out. There is a stand of Humboldt lily still leafing out but not looking healthy. There is also a couple huge mushrooms pushing up through the dirt next to the trail. How did I miss them on the way out? Maybe I kicked some duff to make them visible.

somewhere there is trail
There is trail in there somewhere.

large mushroom
The large mushroom after a little more clearing.

bright yellow scribble
Another interesting fungus on the only cut log along the trail.

Next continue around Lovers Loop or back and up to Upper Maple? On the one hand, there is more to explore. On the other, if I go the short way, I can have plenty of time to check on flowers down the south side of Ranger Peak. It still seems early, so I head back and up for Upper Maple. This one looks better traveled and maybe even worked in the last couple of years. It is also not quite so lush with the creek flowing south and stays up and away from that creek anyway.

poppy covered mountain
There is that mountain again as I stand in the fiddlenecks.

Maple Creek
Maple Creek in one of the few spots it can be seen.

dirt path under oaks
Lots of easy to follow trail here.

Upper Maple ends at its junction with the High Country Trail. My map shows it going all the way to the forest boundary and ending, but I guess that was only a plan. The brush at the corner looks thick and a sign to mark that end as "forest boundary" lies on the dirt next to the one pointing out the High Country Trail. Meanwhile, this High Country Trail has been redone since the map was made. The old track, directly down the slope and a bit too steep has been replaced with big loops at stock grade. A little too much one way or a little too much the other. I would rather the too shallow over too steep and it looks like others who come this way do too. It could use more feet. Peony and poison oak are growing up right in the middle of the footbed.

colorful rocks and another patch of poppies
The colorful rocks I was noticing earlier are part of Maple Canyon.

Maple Canyon
Looking back down Maple Canyon.

Once following High Country, I can get back down the same way I did when I came down from Zaca Peak before, or I can continue over the saddle and see something new. Of course, the answer is over the saddle. There is a little spring along the way and after it, I have to contend with cattle footprints sunk deep into the hardening mud as I go. That is not very pleasant, but there are new viewpoints.

pointed peaks by the saddle
Over the saddle with plenty of mustard flowers to munch on.

green grass and shrub and oaks
The view while taking an excursion from the saddle.

purple and green flattened and circular
Flowers or seeds? This one came in a couple of colors.

The route down the west side of the hills is the Green Gate Jeepway and it quickly looks like a jeep road. Almost all the signs are set to direct someone coming the other direction as I go down. Usually, this is not too bad, but it is a little ridiculous when I have to walk up to the back of a sign to crane my head over and read it to make sure I am going the right way. Along the way, the cow prints fade out again and walking gets easier.

wide spaces
Cow pastures of the working ranch that is Midland School.

Coming down the jeep road under some oaks.

first quarter moon
It is a first quarter moon tonight.

The road turns out onto a big meadow. Below, there are benches and things for a campfire and the area could accommodate quite a few campers. I notice a line in the grass leading to it and another going the other way. It looks like there might be more stuff over there. Then I find myself at a gate by the road. That was not what I was expecting. I am looking for a path to turn onto. The line back there must have been my path. I go back to follow it, thin but distinct through the meadow. At the edge, it becomes a well worn trail.

flat grass and oaks
A different sort of meadow: entirely flat.

yellow flower with dark spots
Johnny jump-up, a sort of violet.

It is my trail, and I come to a gate just before the creek. The crossing here is deep, but with a little energy left over, I can follow the path up the creek a little way to a crossing I noticed earlier. This crossing does not require feet to get wet. Perhaps it is a long way to go to keep dry feet, especially when I can pull off these shoes and socks soon after, but I go for it. There is still just a little light left.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 Mar 2016

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