20 December 2016

Gorilla Rock

Los Padres National Forest

This time it is for real. Gorilla Rock is the premier off trail destination from Cold Spring Trail unless the fabled hot spring is real. Since my first attempt to get there got turned around, I asked a few people for help. They turned out to be unhelpful. However, a geocacher saw my note about attempting the trip to a cache out there and he sent along the track from his return trip. That could be very helpful. It still took a very long time to get to trying it again. Getting a late start on a very short day probably will not help. It is already 9:30. I yank on my bike sleeves anyway because going downhill on the north side of the mountain could be a little chilly.

top of Cold Spring
Top of Cold Spring Trail on the city side. It looks like a nice day out there.

Cold Spring continuation
Cold Spring Trail as it continues into the backcountry. It looks like an even nicer day out over the mountains.

The sleeves felt nice in the shade at the start, but they are actually a bit much until the trail dips deep into the canyon. Here, there is frost and some parts of the trail are frozen. It is quite cool as the trail crosses over and stays in the morning shade for a while.

frost on fall leaves
It is the last day of fall.

Gidney Ridge
The target for today is Gidney Ridge where the power lines run.

Forbush and Blue Canyons
On the other side, Forbush and Blue Canyons have not quite popped out in green from all the recent rain.

As the trail leaves the shadows, it is warm again. I chuck the sleeves into the pack just in time to walk past Forbush, which is also still frosted over and quite cold. The trail past it turns steep for a short bit, but today the footing is easy because it is frozen.

Forbush Flat
Glancing over to Forbush Flat and it is frosty.

The trail climbs quickly up the ridge on the other side. At the top, it is time to leave the trail, providing I can find the opening. This is not easy. The outside layer of brush has grown over to hide it. I look a little past that through the thin covering and there it is. An opening. The hint of a trail in the dirt and a continuous line of space between the brush. Push past that first layer and cuts on the bushes confirm this is the route.

knife edge ridge
There is a trail of soft spots and openings stretching along this ridge.

The route quickly hits the knife edge ridge. Navigation here is easy. I just stay at the top. The movement required to stay at the top is not always easy. Sometimes there is a rock outcrop that must be climbed over in order to continue on. The rocks are large and sharp and full of clam shells. It is a particularly distinctive layer that makes this ridge.

Mono jungle
Looking down to the Mono jungle. On a ridge behind it, a line of burn of the Rey Fire can be seen.

giant clam shells
The clam shells are fine, but the cement rock they are embedded into is full of sharp edges.

Forbush Flat
Another part of Forbush Flat is still frosted over and it is only an hour to noon.

small broken bones
Small bones among the pebbles, but not from a bird.

There is the first scaffold for the transmission lines just ahead. This is where I could find nothing more that I could confidently call a trail when I tried before. Flipping the GPS to show tracks does not show the saved track. In various settings, there is only one to show tracks and it is already set on. The saved track does have a "navigate" option and that displays the track as a very wide line and shows the bearing and turns on another page. It is mildly annoying, but it will work.

high tension power lines
High tension just ahead.

peony sprouts
The peonies are already sprouting although the ridge is freezing at night. I just passed a spot that is still icy. Surprisingly, mushrooms were growing next to the ice.

When I compared my track with the one I was given at home, I had tried to turn right and left in separate probes into the brush returning down the middle. The track I was given goes directly down that middle. That was the trail. Just nothing behind it had looked like it. I follow the track basically on faith. It drops into the ditch ahead while ridge rises up to the north. It is not what I was expecting, which is probably why I failed the first time. The way includes a bear tunnel and there is nothing to confirm I am on the right route for a while. Then there is a large cairn. It is the first I have seen. It is a while still past the cairn before I am again in trail strictly defined by brush that is otherwise impenetrable.

good trail
Good trail for a bit, even if it is a bit short. It is a bear tunnel, but there are a couple cuts to the side to encourage and reassure the hiker on.

back to that scaffold
The main ridge rises beside the scaffold while the route transfers onto a smaller ridge.

The ridge on the far side is not a knife edge and there is only one spot of climbing. It does make it easier to find extra trails. Bears have been traveling here, one quite recently that scraped up the route here and there. They have their own ideas about where to go and take off down the side sometimes. I turn down one because it looks like the best trail ahead. There is a flat cut on the brush beside me to confirm this is a human route, but the track I am trying to follow has just vanished from my GPS screen. Everything else about this is telling me it is a bear tunnel and the tunnel is getting smaller as I go. The smaller thing is important. I look back up the hill. This is going to be tough. It is not just the climb, but also the effort to push against this brush when it is tight. I decide to cut my losses and abandon the route of the bears that carry loppers simply due to the difficulty of the return. There will be some other option at the top and it will ultimately be better.

raised valley
The raised valley coming into view ahead is the destination.

The route passes near two more scaffolds, but does not quite visit them. The old cleared brush around them mixes with the trail sign to make these spots a little harder to navigate. It looks similar to brush clearings along ridges done by fire fighters, except this is very limited in extent so does not offer any help to travel the ridge years later. As I get closer, the route gets indistinct again. There are many opportunities to make a run for the valley on my right rather than continue along the ridge.

Gidney Creek
Just past Gidney Creek in the canyon ahead is the road up from Gibraltar Dam.

rock outcrop
The destination is more specifically the rock outcrop ahead with a couple of caves. Does a cave with rock eyes and nose holes below make a gorilla?

I work my way over the last bit of ridge and down to some rocks below. Two of them are sporting low and deep caves. They are quite unique for this area. It does not support caves at all and what there are are usually shallow sandstone holes. One of them is the gorilla. I am not certain I see it, but the caves are cool.

low cave
The larger cave. It could sleep four people, which is quite deep for this area.

up the valley
Some large sycamores up the valley look like an interesting spot to try to explore.

cave from another angle
The cave as a brow ridge over eyes, it takes a little more imagination to make the larger cave with no nose holes into a gorilla.

Once at the rock, the suggestion is to continue along the stream to a pool with a little waterfall above it. I also want to see if I can explore by the sycamores up the valley. First, the pool. There is ice in the stream along the way and a couple of the pools above the destination have a thick layer of ice on top. There is very little flow above the iced pools and some are not full below. There is not much hope for a waterfall.

beads of water
A rocky bit of stream in the valley.

grassy stream
The stream changes character.

ice on display
A pool covered in thin ice and an ice plug below it.

deer jaw in halves
Teeth in the grass.

pool below
Indeed the waterfall is dry above the pool.

After getting to the pool, I make my way up another stream. This one does not have a clear path up it. It is much more difficult to travel. I can get up to an oak and a couple scrawny sycamore trees, but they are not the ones I was trying to aim at. I do not see a path to go any further.

red puddle of water
A red puddle among some more interesting rocks.

gorilla and ridge
Looking back to the gorilla and the ridge of travel.

branches of the sycamore
A few leaves are left on the sycamore.

This exploration is taking a lot of energy, far more than it seems like it should. Most of the way back battling brush is going to be uphill. I need to save some energy for that. I make my way back to the rocks to start my return. It is tempting to try to shortcut through at a soft spot, but none of them actually go through, so they are just more energy spent.

across to the mountains
Looking down the valley. A little of the road cut for Gibraltar can be seen on the mountains behind.

Heading back should be easier. The advantage of being able to remember a little of how the trail goes should help. More importantly, there are now footsteps on the trail and I can track myself out again. There is only one minor spot where I can see a small improvement in the route over the GPS track I was given. It really was a very good track.

line of power scaffolds
Looking back over the valley and the power lines.

line of power scaffolds - many more
Those same lines as the scaffolds march to and through Blue Canyon.

I can hear a pair of voices talking below in Forbush Camp as I make my way along the knife edge ridge again. The knife edge is hard to take with my tired legs. As I got to that first scaffold again, it was tempting to try to make my way down a slot in the ridge to Gidney Creek where there are some trails. It is very nearly at Forbush Flat and I know there are trails along the canyon that far. Even the slots are steep. Discipline won out today. Better the trail I know is there. The sun drops below the mountain top putting me in shadow and I pull on the bike sleeves again. It is still a little warm for them, but the fabric is a welcome layer of protection against the brush. After all, the trail is not entirely there.

Mono jungle
The Mono jungle looks very different in the changing light.

I stop by Forbush to sit for a bit and eat and hope some more energy can be found for my legs. There is still a bit of a climb to get out of here, but at least it is on trail without brush pulling back at me. Well, not much, anyway. The trail into the camp is still frozen. It never thawed out today. There are two guys sitting down to some supper in their puffy coats, ready to stick it out until winter tomorrow. The fruit trees look dead, but I ate fruit from them the last time I was past here, so I know they are not.

Forbush Flat
The meadow from the second camp spot. A casualty of the drought has been reduced to safe rounds on the ground.

It takes a while for the cold to start to creep in, but when it does I get moving again. There actually is some amazing light this evening. Far Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido are bathed in alpine glow as I start up the hill.

Old Man Mountain in alpine glow
Sunset is on and Old Man Mountain is bathing in the deep red light joined by Monte Arido and even a little on Divide Peak.

fire in the sky
Sunset behind the mountains looks like fire in the sky. There is a little other color left like the top of the sycamore tree.

It is a pleasant climb up. Somehow the lack of brush to push through makes the uphill seem effortless. My legs are tired, but the energy output to climb is not enough to worry them. I take it easy and am somehow at the top long before I expect it. The GPS claims I have just done 8 miles. Half of those were without any real trail.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 21 December 2016


Unknown said...

The rocks in front of gorilla rock used to be attached to the roof of the cave giving it more of look of a gorilla's brow and deep set eyes. the rocks are crumbling relatively fast.

Valerie Norton said...

Is "Unknown" Tony, AKA Trailhacker? It looks like the little cave has been taken to be the gorilla by the geocachers who came before me. It has those lopsided nostrils and someone has placed the two big rocks just inside it like some eyes. The big cave has a few rocks just outside it. Which do you say is the gorilla? I really wonder about what it was that made these two caves.

Derek (100 Peaks) said...

Great Job, this was high on my list before I got laid off and moved back to San Diego. I tried a few times from the west, thinking it would be shorter, but got turned back by walls of PO. Never had a chance to try it from Forbush.

Valerie Norton said...

Derek: From the geocache logs, you are not the first to try that. I know my first instinct was to go over from the road to the west until I found out what the "usual" route in. It looks like everyone who got into Gidney Creek has encountered a lot of poison oak.

Unknown said...

Yes, this is TrailHacker. I tried to post a picture here of the Gorilla but I think I can only use text. Somewhere I have a gif that shows how the boulder looks like a gorilla but it was from maybe 12 -14 years ago. The eyes have a couple of rocks placed in them, at least they have had that for a few years now. I see in your photo that they are moved to the center of the overhang now. There is a line in the boulder that looks like a mouth below. I have also come from the other side and yes, it is really overgrown with poison oak. At one point I cut all that out and there was a trail to the rock but again that was almost 15 years ago. Coming from the other side there is a curious little camp next to a cool pool that was very pleasant on hot days. One of these days I'll have to get out there again.

Valerie Norton said...

TrailHacker: Sounds like you mean the big cave for the gorilla eyes. That is the one with a pile of small stones in the middle. Maybe someone actually did sleep in there? Others seem to figure it is the smaller cave that makes the gorilla eyes and there are a couple big rocks up in it for eyeballs right now. Here is seantrek mugging in front of it and calling the ape a monkey.

I have found that Blogger does not even trust the blog owner to post images in the comments, but as long as you know your HTML, you can get in a link. If you want to stop being "unknown", know that Google hasn't totally integrated Blogger just 13 years after buying it. If you click on the link for your name by the comment, you'll get your profile and there should be an "edit profile" button at the upper right. From there, you can set a name and photo and fill in whatever else you like.