10 November 2017

Rose Valley and Howard Creek

Los Padres National Forest

Click for map.

I have never hiked with the Ventura Sierra Club and thought I might when I noticed they were planning a hike including Howard Creek, a trail that has so far escaped my stomping. They arrived punctually in another part of the parking lot for the carpool, but eventually the two of us who were misplaced got found and everyone was piled comfortably into three cars. Upon arrival at Howard Creek Trailhead, we dropped off one car and continued a little less comfortably to Rose Valley Campground. Hiker parking is just outside the campground gate. Even down in the valley bottom, views already look good in all directions. But it is cold. All these campgrounds tucked into the north side of Nordhoff Ridge seem to be good cold sinks.

Rose Valley Campground entry with the falls above
The day looks good as we start up the road through the campground and out of Rose Valley. The waterfall looks like it might be a little wet or maybe just a little shadowy.

We keep right as we walk through the camp and quickly come to the locked gate and the start of the climb. It is hard to tell if we warm more from getting out of the cold pocket that is the bottom of the valley or from the work of the climb, but everyone who was dancing and shivering when we started is now stripping off any extra layers to get more comfortable. We have to dodge one car coming down as we climb. The road may be locked, but there is a set procedure for gaining permission to pass through and a few fun campsites at the top that people like to stop at.

Rose Valley Campground
Looking down on Rose Valley Campground where there is most of the fall color to be seen today.

road cut in the chaparral
A hint at the climb awaiting us.

light playing through oak leaves to the sough
Trying and failing to pick up the way that light comes through the oaks on the hillside.

It is a long and steady climb. The word relentless is heard here and there. Just road grade, I say, but 1600 feet in 2.5 miles is a bit more than the 400 feet per mile that a road typically gains. Besides some short and shallow dips, it really is relentless. Ever upward and ever more views. It is hard to get unhappy about getting those views.

hills of green-blue and brown
Our long walk up with the slow reveal of the Sespe Wilderness behind us.

strips of grey rocks below Reyes Peak
The bands of rock more familiar from my two explorations below Reyes Peak over the past month.

ranch with a pond below, more mountains behind
Rancho Grande sits below. The steep trail up to Dry Lakes Ridge still looks well used on the climb.

nearby pine with cresting coastal clouds and Howard Creek Trail behind
Hints of things to come as we find some pines. Coastal clouds are cresting the coastal mountains and our trail back down.

Nearly everyone is gathered at the road junction at the top when I arrive. They are snacking and chatting, so I grab something to nibble and wander over to the other side to take in that new view. I am dreadfully unfaithful when it comes to views.

Howard Creek with distant mountains and clouds
A better look at what is to come with Howard Creek carving a clear line in the side of the far side hills. Behind it rises the east end of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

dirt road junction
The high point for our day already achieved and just a dirt road junction. With a view.

Nordhoff Ridge with the road along the spine
Nordhoff Ridge with the road snaking down its spine.

Ojai Valley with clouds bearing down on it
Sulphur Mountain trying to hold back the coastal clouds coming into the Ojai Valley.

We do not spend all that long with snacks once everyone is up at the top. They get a little rest, but it is all downhill from here. Of course, the road quickly has very similar views as near the junction soon after we start down. I did not have to pick my way up extra road and around a little gully and out into the brush a bit to get it after all.

Sulphur Mountain again
Stand strong, Sulphur Mountain!

ranch with ponds
Looking down on Rancho Grande sitting astride Howard Creek with its artificial ponds and landing strip.

Nordhoff Peak is easily recognizable by the fire lookout scaffold
The old scaffold from the fire lookout on Nordhoff Peak is just visible against the clouds and sky.

We stop by one of those fun little campsites just short of the Howard Creek Trail junction for an early lunch. The picnic table is not quite big enough for everyone, but no one standing seems to care. The site even has a hitch for our horses. Too bad we forgot to stop by the ranch and hire a few. When done, we follow a flagged shortcut trail to Howard Creek and start down it. The old trail dropped a little faster and got to actually see the creek as it joined up with the ranch driveway. The new trail crosses a rocky, dry tributary, but does not seem to get anywhere near the creek. As a nice change, there is no squeezing through spiny oak leaves or other unpleasantness.

Howard Creek Trail
Piedra Blanca is already vanishing behind the hills as we start down Howard Creek Trail.

Howard Creek down there?
Howard Creek should be somewhere down in the canyon.

Someone said the trail down would be largely shady, but we must have been faster than expected. We have not quite gotten to the afternoon sun which would give a lot more shadows on the east facing slopes. There are some north facing slops, steep and full of thin, young oaks, that are nice and cool. A few small creases are sheltered enough to still have a little moisture from the light weather the night before. We pass the band of conglomerate stone that forms such lovely waterfalls in Lion Canyon, but it does not seem to have anything like that in this canyon.

ranch pond
Another look at one of those ponds. It looks a little low and mucky with algae. Perhaps there is not much, if any, flow in the creek.

band of rocks
A band of rocks holds some interest.

As we near the end, there is a section of trail that makes me think we are walking across an earthen dam. This feeling is strengthened as the trail distinctly becomes a road with a deep cut through the ridge and some half crumbled paving. It is really just a perfectly ordinary saddle, though. The purpose of the old road is wholly mysterious with the old maps giving no clues. It seems like it should have been slightly important to get paved. Further down, we meet another road that is clearly still in use. The maps also give no clue to this one, but other clues mark it as a storage area for road barriers and the like and perhaps a helipad. There is a marker along its side to help people find the trail, which does not have the best transition onto the road. It is a short distance out to the public road from there.

Howard Creek Trailhead
The start of it all had we gone the other way. Howard Creek Trailhead.

We relax by the road, mostly in the shade, while the drivers head out to retrieve the other two cars. It is not all that long before we can all climb in again and head back to the carpool point, a few snoozing on the way.

©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 November 2017

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