12 September 2018

Sisar Canyon and Horn Canyon

Los Padres National Forest

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I actually took the time to ask if someone else wanted to hike and when the dust settled, we were three strong and had a shuttle hike going up Sisar Canyon (which Matt wanted to do) and down Horn Canyon (which I was more keen about) doing maintenance on all the geocaches along the way. The hike up is via road which makes for a very gentle climb, at least by our standards, nearly up to the top of the hills (AKA mountains) behind Ojai. Parking has changed at Sisar since I was last there. Previously, there was a nice lot after a not particularly nice bit of dirt road, but now the road has a gate because people wouldn't quit treating the adjacent private property like it was public property, and in rather abusive ways at that. Now they have ruined it for us all and there is much less parking further back. We left a car at the bottom of Horn, which has not changed much, then got around to Sisar in time to claim one of the few spots. Actually it is not that bad. We were only the second to take a spot as we started up the road.

new gate on the road
The new gate on the road. Here we go.

The first thing I notice is that the road is now in quite good repair. It probably helps that it does not have all that public going over it in all weather anymore. Likely it got some maintenance when the fire was edging along toward this area. We are down under mature trees and there is evidence of fire, but only at low levels, at least for the most part. Then we pass into a flat that really burned and a thick layer of ash still covers the ground.

road down under oak trees
Down under the trees on this bit that is a road hike.

thick ash where there was a tree
A particularly thick pile of ash sits where there was a large tree.

We get a break from the trees to see a couple of good looking swimming holes. The creeks seem to all be running now. Then it is on to a few more trees as we get more and more frequent evidence of burn.

a bit of flowing creek
A little water flowing down in the creek below.

Finally the road swings back and climbs into the hills where it is all burn everywhere. Bits of the hills with their southern aspect were protected by sparse but mature specimens of a few types of plants, but now it is wiped clean down to the roots.

cleared hills and sheer bluffs
Okay, perhaps the hills aren't quite denuded, but they are a lot clearer. The bluffs were always clear.

down the valley, plenty of trees at the bottom
Still a little fog hanging on in part of the Ojai Valley. The hills to the left did not burn and the trees at the bottom withstood it.

upper reaches of the valley as the trees thin but there is a light green covering
The trees along the creek run out somewhere above, but something is giving the land a green tint.

We saw some random specimens of poodledog bush lower down, but it gets more common as we climb. One plant growing up with some buddies in the side of the road is even putting out a purple flower to show a little of what is to come. Bright and happy and full of promise of misery. We who are trained to look out for and avoid poison oak have no defenses against this one, but it is another to try to never touch. Unfortunately, it also seems to be what is giving the upper hills the tint of green.

Topatopa Bluffs
Gaining a better view of Topatopa Bluffs. It has some clumps of pines below its cliffs that have survived.

poodledog (back) and yerba santa (front)
Poodledog growing up in the roadway alongside some yerba santa (in front).

a pair of grasshoppers on the road
Grasshoppers making me wonder.

We gradually come around to a vantage point above The Pines and can see the state of it. They look thin, but green and living. Maybe all the others dying off and then all the work put into getting the area safe for camping again saved the rest of them. If the alternative is a bunch of tall matchsticks, they look really good.

west to hills and mountains and even Whiteledge
Out there are the little hills along Shelf Road and the slab of now easier to climb Whiteledge. I totally should make a plan for that.

Nearing the junction with Horn Canyon Trail, there is a car with some familiar faces sitting inside. Enjoying the air conditioning, which they dutifully give up so as not to tease us too much. Not that the weather is all that hot or that we feel much need for air conditioning. They have been playing on the west end of the ridge and say they have only come this far east to go after a single poor, lonely cache that has been left unsigned for 5 years now when we come strolling along with the owner in tow. Our little band is double in number as we wander down the tenth of a mile to recover the burned remnants of the lonely cache. We cannot read the log to be sure it really was as lonely as it claimed online, but we are in no doubt that it is what we were searching for as we sign the log for a replacement.

thin yucca plant gone to seed with only a couple pods
A yucca near the path that only managed a few seed pods on a thin sprout, but it still put in the effort after getting burned.

With the successful find, our new hiking companions take off back up the hill for the car leaving the next one, just as lonely, to us three on our own. The trail down is easy to follow, but I am worried what it will be like in a few months. Short poodledog plants are everywhere, even right in the middle of the trail. For now, they are small enough to avoid easily and most the ones in the trail are small enough for a good stomp. I am not above giving them a good stomp, either. Plenty are already too big for that and they will eventually grow waist high to shoulder high, at least. They will sprout extra stalks to fill in a wider area. The whole area will be hard to get through for any who are allergic, all topped with the stink of the thick, sweet scent of the leaves and especially flowers. I have to admit, it will be pretty when it blooms purple across these hills, at least that first year. At least when one doesn't know what it is.

trees in an unburned crevas
A little area that was missed by the fire.

The poodledog plants get thinner as we proceed down the hill. They definitely tend to the higher elevations. The trail itself follows down a series of hills and flats. Above The Pines Camp, the mystery sign post I spotted before now has a buddy. The lost trail they marked is now open to use but even harder to find definitively. The poodledog seems gone by the time we get down to the camp.

the pines standing tall at The Pines
A few of the remaining pines at The Pines. Definitely not matchsticks.

Bits of metal remain from old stoves that were once brought up here. Numerous fire rinds sit here now. Troughs that used to gather water from the spring are dry, but they probably were this time the last few years, too. I want to see the spring, so I start down the old path that used to lead to it. I have not been very far down this path, but a charred and burned irrigation line still leads the way back from the spring to a trough in camp. Sometimes there is a piece of hose that still looks like hose. The path climbs a bit and then drops suddenly leaving me in the bottom of a gully. I can still see evidence of hose and keep on going up for a while. The trouble is, I don't really know how far up I should go and it is often dry at this time of year. All I can find are bay laurel coming back from their roots. This small canyon had not been wet enough to save the vegetation.

bay laurel roots resprouting
The sort of thing that shows a place gets a bit of moisture, but not quite enough to think of the area as a spring.

overturned metal thing
The trough where water used to be piped is now overturned beside some regrowing bay laurel trees.

The other two are getting a bit antsy by the time I give up after not finding even a little bit of water. I tell them I am on my way back and they are well down the trail by the time I get back into camp. I photograph a few more things and then hurry after them to find one returning from looking for an old ammo can that was hidden well off trail. Even this is gone from the fire, except it isn't. Someone must have "helpfully" moved it closer to the trail because it sits open about 10 feet from where the unsuccessful searcher is standing. Missing ammo cans always take the most surprising ways to turn up again. They seem to often buckle and deform in fire, so this one is actually looking pretty good if very rusted. It needs a new rubber gasket, but we hide it again in a new place.

burned sticks and the afternoon light
The afternoon view over the edge of one flat.

Even with so much burn, there is still a noticeable change in the vegetation as we descend. The sudden buzz of bees makes it easy to look for some of the few flowers. The loud sound of water below reminds us that there really is water in many places out here. Most the trail is clear except for sumac coming up from the roots in a very bushy style. For most, this is no problem. For Matt who has recently found himself to be allergic to sumac, this is a worrying development. There are a few different kinds, hopefully this is not the one, but so far he has incomplete information about his allergy. He only knows it results in a misery that would be nicer if it was just a bad poison oak rash.

yellow stout flower
They may not look like much, but the bees sure like these flowers.

pipes among the rocks
Pipes for water collection in the burned valley. Water seems to be collected lower down now.

The creek is running nice and strong when we finally get down to it. I am not sure I have seen it so full, but I have not given it much chance either. I have only been in the area twice. While we are down near the creek, there are plenty of trees, but as we climb out again to follow the trail, we get into more burn. The school itself was not harmed, but it must have been quite an effort.

burned up wide creek bottom
The wide creek bottom below where water is gathered seems a bit burned up.

Horn Canyon Trailhead markings
Finishing up the Horn Canyon Trail.

We are all quite done with geocaches by the time we come out the Horn Canyon Trailhead. It feels a little edifying that even those who determinedly make sure the local trails have a geocache every tenth of a mile are capable of being tired of it after 12 miles. Anyway, no one is making us go for all of them. That is all our doing. And it was really good to see some more of our fire scared hills.

©2018 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 October 2018

04 September 2018

Montecito Peak

Los Padres National Forest

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I feel like I have been avoiding the front country since the Thomas Fire except some brief looks early on. I see it on regular evening hikes with folks during the Wednesday conditioning hike and the Friday social hike, but I tend not to write up those hikes. Before leaving easy access to it, I decided to hike up Montecito Peak one last time. The usual approach via Cold Spring Trail is still closed, so the easiest entry to climb the peak is now Hot Springs Trail instead. The exclusion zone signs at the bottom have now vanished, so things are getting better. The very start of the trail looks the same, but things change just a step past that. New fencing is everywhere replacing what was washed out to sea. The creek flows down a canyon deeper and rockier and more open to the sun than before. The creek actually flows, which has not been seen this late in the summer in recent years. For one familiar, it all feels different. For someone who has not been here before, it probably would not seem so strange. Repairs have been made, at least on the edges.

Hot Springs Creek in the open
The open space of Hot Springs Creek. The mountains would be fairly visible from here now if not for the low clouds of the day.

ghost kiosk and sign
The sign at the split between old road and trail seems to have survived, although there is no evidence new kiosk nearby. The other kiosk is merely a bit muddy.

From previous Friday hikes, I know the trail goes through, although there has been a little bit of work to make it do that and there is a spot in the middle that gets a little confusing. It just makes the best route hard to discern, it does not make it possible to get lost. Seeing it in the light is a bit different. There are views all over that previously were just a wall of vegetation.

thin trail along the creek cut
The thin trail that will take a little more work along the side of the newly dug out creek bed.

carved rocks with the water
The creek bed exposed has been the creek before, or at least water has already carved channels through the exposed rocks.

dusty, giant phacilia
A few dusty giant phacelia remain beside the trail.

little four tier waterfall
The four tier waterfall remains although the pools are a little filled in.

side canyon view to the power towers
Views up the side canyons were impossible before, now I can see all the way up to the power towers at the top of the canyon.

From a Wednesday hike, I found that the trail above the old Hot Springs Club has at least one tough spot, at least when traveling in the dying light of the evening. Instead, I head up the Edison catway to get up to the upper portion of Cold Spring Trail, which is in fairly good shape. It may be a little further, but not by much. It quickly rises above the few trees left in the canyon and out onto the cleared hills.

cleared hills and somewhat green crevaces
Overlooking the road and canyon. There is some green in the bottom of the upper portion of Hot Springs Canyon.

lower Cold Spring Trail
At the top of the road, the top of the lower section of Cold Spring Trail as it wraps around the hill and down into the canyon.

The trail as it climbs from the road is looking soft and initially quite steep right by the road. Quickly, the trail bed itself looks familiar, if a little bit sandy, but there is virtually nothing remaining of the vegetation surrounding. Plants are regrowing from their roots quickly, but the result is sparse.

roads and trails
The lines of the roads and trails below stand out in the burn.

a green canyon nearby
The west fork of Cold Spring was the start of the end for the fire as it ate up the Santa Barbara front country.

rocky trail winding downhill
The rocky highway of a trail remains much like it was before high up.

upper reaches of Cold Spring Canyon with some leftover trees
The trail ahead above the east fork of Cold Spring Canyon. The very top of the ridge was also saved, so there are trees there.

Rutted and rocky and rocky and rutted, the old trail is holding as well as it ever has. The traffic on it seems to have reduced, but the masses before have left a very long lasting mark on the land. I expect they will return in similar numbers soon. That pair of eucalyptus trees 2.5 miles up, though non-native, are one of the things I wondered and even worried about. Both burned. The larger one seems to be springing forth with leaves from every surface the same way burned oak trees do. The smaller one fared worse and only has growth from one small section while the rest seems dead.

eucalyptus trees struggling on
The struggle for these eucalyptus trees has been constant and is not yet over.

The use trail that climbs up to the peak is looking far more used than the official one continuing on to the saddle above. Even this trail does not seem all that much worse for having been savaged by fire and flood. There are spots I feel a little less comfortable on, but it has always required a few uncomfortable steps on steep hillside. The poison oak along the way is coming back with surprising vigor. And after a short, hard trudge directly up the steep side, there is the top.

over Cold Spring Canyon
Looking out over Cold Spring Canyon to the west again. The burn was stopped after the next major ridge.

the main line of the Santa Ynez Mountains above
The upper sections of both San Ysidro and East Fork Cold Spring Trails can be seen winding to the top to the north.

San Ysidro Canyon
Looking out over San Ysidro Canyon to the east. Romero Road wrapping around the far side is still usable.

south into Hot Springs Canyon
Looking down and south over Hot Springs Canyon, the way I came up.

The pine, planted and cared for by hikers at the top, now is a blackened stick with blackened branches and a few black cones at the top. It will not be coming back from the roots. It looks like the register was moved to a spot that is meant to have a geocache. This is unfortunate, because it likely would have survived in its usual spot. Now there is an iron bar and springs; from pens, a flashlight, and the spiral binding of note pads; left of it. I head down, past a burned up folding shovel and back to the official trail. It looks a little like people have been walking the southeast ridge, but I elect not to try that.

tall new growth with berries
Some of the new growth is quite astonishing in its size.

I do elect to try the trail down to the old Hot Springs Club, though. There are a few footsteps on it and even a bike track. The top portion of the trail seems quite good although I am rather worried that this is just to lull me into a false sense of security. Then again, the bike does not seem to have come back up. If a bike can do it, I can do it.

oaks coming back from the dead
This stand of oaks must have looked dead just after the fire went through, but now they burst forth with green.

The trail looks like it will let me down as it starts across a south facing slope, but when I get closer, it does not look so bad. There is tread all the way to a spot near the hot springs. It used to curve around the canyon above the how water welling from below. Now I have to drop down awkwardly to get next to a pool, find a way across, then climb up a little less awkwardly to get back to the old trail. I squeeze past some bay trees regrowing from their roots and follow a bit of erosion to make the first drop a little shorter. It seems like a sensible thing to do. The first drop presented is quite high.

cheap tarps holding in hot water
Awkwardly looking down over the creek already full of cheap tarps to hold the hot water into pools. The fire did nothing to eradicate the invasive caster forest.

The rest of the trail is better traveled just because there are a lot of people who come up to the pools. No one has done any work on it, though, and it really needs some. As it hits the creek again, it is another very awkward transition to get down off the trail on the hill side. The old hotel is changed very little since it was already burned down so long ago. Some of the old timbers surrounded by rock seem to have popped free.

steps from 1922
The back steps, dated 1922. The club hotel did not last all that long.

The remains of the foundation remain.

canyon wall
More hot water comes down the other canyon behind the old club hotel. There were bananas here before, but they seem to have been eradicated.

From the old Hot Springs Club's hotel site, there are a few ways back, so I do not have to retrace much of my path up. The direct way is along the road, but I decide to go for Saddle Rock and walk across the top of the hotel and past the palms where there used to be trail that meets the road without much loss of elevation. The loss is on the old entry steps that tend to be covered over with dirt and a little looser and steeper than desirable. The palms seem to have all fared differently with one dead, one questionable, and one doing fine. Past them is a big oak and past that the old trail seems to get tough to find. I am not certain why no one is coming this way now, but it seems they are not. Getting to the road just takes a little bit of extra winding through shrubs and around mounds of dirt.

Saddle Rock Trail goes over the top of a nearby trail, then drops to its namesake. An extra guerrilla trail wraps around the side of the hill.

The roads have all been maintained, so the road walk is super easy. The turn no longer has a sign, but it is just the first spur. The trail starts off from the edge of the spur to drop a little and climb to the hill, which is flattened and has a tradition of changing rock art.

heart of rocks with darker rocks spelling love
While the rock art changes often, something like this is its most common configuration.

so much cleared hill side
The fire took away so very much.

Down from the hill, the trail becomes steep and rocky. Some of it is a bit of a climb. It has a history of being a way to sneak around security guards that tried to keep people away from the hot sprints when that was private property, so perhaps not exactly official. Now it gets a certain level of maintenance and signs, but it is still crude.

rocks down the hill side
Looking down at the trail before it gets too steep and the distant Saddle Rock.

I make my way carefully down to the old oak at the bottom of the trail. The sign nailed to it is a blackened, small shadow of itself, no longer suitable for pointing the way anywhere. The tree is black too, but bursting forth with green once more. I head the short way further down to meet my trail up, then back to the car.

©2018 Valerie Norton
Posted 4 October 2018