25 September 2016

Fish Creek

Los Padres National Forest

The local Sierra Club chapter has hikes every weekend and this weekend I joined both. Saturday was a cleanup of the Lizards Mouth area. It was a bit hot and we only had three people total for it. Robert Bernstein's photos from that are here. Today is expected to be a bit hotter without a chance of an ocean breeze, but we have more at the meet point at the bank and a few more meeting at the trail for nine total. There is a promised pool at the turn-around, if there is any water. We expect no water on the way up and indeed, we start off across a very dry Manzana Creek to get to a lot of south facing hiking.

getting started
Trees in the canyon as we get started.

That first crossing starts off a long section of hiking on the north side of the canyon. Initially, there are a few trees to offer shade, but eventually, we are out on the slopes in the chaparral and the sun. We can spot trails below from those who did not manage to find the higher trail. The trail is getting so clear now that those must be maintained more by people who just like walking through the creek area than by lost people. There are sycamores down there hinting at a bit of water hieing below.

oaks and grass
A few trees on the way through the dry grasses.

tributary crossing
The Lost Valley Trail crosses above as we cross the dry tributary.

in the chaparral
Walking the sunny slopes as we near Fish Camp at the mouth of Fish Creek.

The trail drops for a second crossing of the Manzana. We stop under the huge valley oak at Fish Camp to attempt to soak in the shade. Soaking in shade when it is hot does not work quite so well as soaking in the sun when it is cool, but it is still a welcome rest from the sun. When ready, we launch into the cross country part of the hike following the drainage of Fish Creek. It, too, is dry, but there are small hints of water below.

Fish Creek
We leave the easy navigation and footing of the trail for a combination of creek and use trails.

creek bottom
No need to stay out of the creek bottom today, but the sycamore beside it is a hint of underground water.

The sycamores are distantly spaced along the canyon, but they are there. Occasionally, there is a tiny clump of cattails where the underground trickle comes closer to the surface. I am surprised when there suddenly seem to be a lot of juniper trees. I had not noticed any earlier in the hike. There is a bit of bear sign that seems to suddenly be very prevalent, but when I look back I was simply missing it before.

another fork
The other fork of Fish Creek. The road to McKinley can be seen far up it.

We come to a fork and some take a trail up the middle while others stay to the creek. I stick to the creek. It is a little brushy in a couple spots, but still easy to pass. Apparently it has been harder historically. There is a sudden burst of green, then the canyon suddenly narrows to a tiny crack. The others come down a steep bit of rock beside it carefully and one at a time. This crack is our destination.

green grass
A burst of green grass just before we arrive.

crack in the rock
A narrow slot in the hard rock where a pool is just visible.

There is a trickle of water running out of the crack in the rocks, but the ground beyond the hard layer quickly drinks this up. There really is water underground. The pool does not look all that clean, but it is not quite stagnant either. It is full of little fishes and a few that are a bit larger. Two frogs float at the top attempting to stay still so as not to attract any attention.

closer look
Just a little closer to the pool.

tiny fish
Loads of tiny fish and a few bigger ones swim everywhere. Notice the bear scratches in the algae on the rocks.

one of two frogs
Frog being invisible on top of the water. It is working for the other one, which is further under the lip of rock behind this one.

A dry waterfall serves as entry for water on the far side. But the trickle leaving comes from somewhere, so there must be another entry.

crack above
The opening above lets in light only when the sun is high, helping to keep the water cool.

We lunch and poke around and generally enjoy the cool before turning back and following one of the paths out. This time, I try the high path. At the top, clear use trail continues up the canyon. Apparently this continues up to the road before the saddle with a couple of mildly difficult climbs on the way. Once we get to the other fork, it too has a clear use trail up it.

creek bed
The rocks of the creek bed above the pool catch my interest.

edge of canyon
Out on the little ridge that divides the forks just before they combine.

The heat feels oppressive as I come back down into the canyon bottom. It really was a lot cooler and nicer beside the pool. There look to be two pinches that we walked around on the way up. The first coming down does not look inviting to hike over, but the second had attracted my attention on the way up because it had seemed to have quite a few trails around it with a few going over. A few of us shortcut over it giving shouts to those ahead. Apparently not quite loudly enough, because as we meander along letting the other catch up, the leader is surprised to find people ahead of him.

boulder of pebbles
A mass of conglomerate along the creek bed.

We drop to the ground in the shade of the valley oak at Fish Camp once again as we exit. The exposed south face of hills the trail follows is not something we look forward to and no matter how wet we were leaving the pool, we are all dry now.

valley oak
The big leaves of the valley oak will be falling soon, but there is shade for now.

There is a suggestion of waiting for sunset and a chorus of agreement around, but soon enough we are moving again. It is generally downhill, after all. Except for all the parts that are uphill, like the first bit after the crossing. It is hot and the water in my tube seems to start off a little too hot each time I take a sip.

trail along the edge
Returning under the hot sun.

We took the recommended route in, along the old low route, but decide to take the even lower route out. Along one spot, I can see a little bit of a leaf decorated pool, or at least some glistening mud. There is water low down in the creek although it is not appetizing. Happily, we are all carrying excessive amounts and do not need any more. There is a spot where this lower route will wash out eventually and is sketchy now. That is probably why there is discouragement for using it. We stride back the rest of the way, enjoying the relative cool of the last section with its trees.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 September 2016

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