13 January 2018

Fox Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Click for map.

After the ordeal finishing off Thursday, I tried to sleep in as long as I could and generally recover on Friday. I had a message the sawyer project would be postponed, so that plan was out. My secondary plan was to climb Fox Mountain, but I was not in the mood for a bushwhack, somehow. I lazed, I read, I checked out the soggy roads that were preventing us working. Finally, I decided to do the mountain after all and I packed up to walk into the campsite noted in the Fox Mountain Peak guide. It is just a half mile in, so I figured it did not matter much that I had my car camping gear, not backpacking. I would even go ahead and bring my day pack instead of making due with the bigger one. Then I got to lining up the peak guide with the map and noticed that the gate that might be closed was actually the edge of a marked inholding where there is a broken up cattle guard full of mud, remnants of fence, and no gate at all and the hike was 2.5 miles from the actual locked gate, noted as "pavement ends". I shrugged and walked in all 2.5 nearly flat miles instead and never quite got my brain to think about it as backpacking rather than car camping. Just far enough away I did not want to go back for a second trip to get all my gear to the site. The GPS clocked 2.57 miles from car to site, so the guide is very close. The trail up the ridge line next to it was easy to spot even in the dying light, so I was very sure I was in the right starting place.

line of dirt up a ridge line
There is one site at 2.5 miles from the gate and one ridge next to it with one line of dirt up the edge.

The track looks reasonably open. My already well bruised legs with a hundred yucca stabs and many long scrapes and even some rash developing between stomach and socks (seems I probably ignored some nude twigs of poison oak that did not ignore me) are quite thankful for that. I want today to be another rather lazy day. I want to go ahead and take basically all day for what really is just a half day hike. Late start, and slow on the way up. Maybe even 3 or 4 hours for the 2.5 mile climb. Yeah, take the whole time the guide suggests is required for this hike just on the uphill. Now that is a goal! But maybe not too late a start. Maybe more like 9 than 10. It might get warm, after all. But without looking at the time at any point in the morning, my start is when it is and that is a quarter to 10.

Santa Barbara Canyon
Leaving the canyon below where there is a little bit of water shining in the sunlight.

The trail is initially steep, but not so steep that it feels like the dirt will slide out under my feet. I am a little disconcerted that although heading northwest, my shadow is already pointing more northerly than my direction of travel. Still, the "occasionally obscure" trail seems quite clear enough, at least for going up. As I climb, there are a few places that are steep enough to worry about, but most of the ridge line is a gentle slope. The only protest from my legs come when a low, deep bruise gets two quick whacks with stubby scrub oak branches, not from the climb.

false peak on the way up the ridge line
Up ahead, a step along the way. The peak is behind this and will be unseen for a while.

The canyon in the downstream direction. This is what I walked yesterday evening.

pinon pine above the canyons
There are no ticks today although no so many miles from the dozens yesterday. Vegetation has a lot more pinon pines and juniper, too.

Dry Canyon
Upstream and Dry Canyon stretching out. The high peak on the left is Cuyama with an old fire lookout.

The trail flattens out and cairns become frequent. They do not seem necessary, but that is probably only because they are there and helping direct the infrequent users to a single path instead of a braided collection.

sliver of higher ground
Once up on that high point visible before, getting the first peek at the peak through pinon pine and juniper.

scrub covered near bumps
Better look at the peak. The guide says to work toward the left, higher peak.

There are a couple brief dips on the way, but it seems most the climbing is done. The peak ahead is not that far above where I am now. The guide says to work to the left, but once I have crossed the saddle, it seems a little more left than it did before and I almost head on up the right peak anyway. The path to the left just keeps going and going further back and quickly it is apparent that this side is higher than the other. Finally, there is the top with a few trappings of the things humans, specifically surveyors and peak baggers, like to use to mark tops.

long loops in the slot in the ground
More of the curves of the canyon are visible now. The snow on far Pinos and Cerro Noroeste has almost vanished from this vantage point.

large grassy area
A vast grassy area that I expect is Salisbury Potrero, but there are a few in the area.

posts and register at the top of Fox Mountain
The top is marked with a bit of surveyor trash and a register.

FOX benchmark
The station at the top of Fox Mountain. I found reference 2 first and followed it to find the FOX in the shade. I was unable to locate reference 1.

It took me three hours to reach the top. Not quite my goal, but the more real goal was to not add pain to my battered and tired legs. They feel good, so I guess I managed that one. Meanwhile, they have got me to quite a good spot. Badlands and Mount Pinos, the Cuyama Valley and Caliente Mountain and Carrizo Plain, Sierra Madre and its potreros, the rough and mysterious Dick Smith Wilderness stretch out all around me. Now all I need to do is settle in and enjoy it. And then get down and back to the car and drive home. But one thing at a time. Enjoyment first.

long stretch of mountains
The Dick Smith Wilderness, San Rafael Wilderness, and Sierra Madre.

red canyon pieces now visible
There is a steep drop off to the right of the ridge.

Cuyama Valley
The Cuyama Valley and badlands.

Eventually it is time to head back down. As I go, I can hear the sound of motorcycles on the closed road below. Illegally riding it or maybe the volunteer Bryan got to check on the road out to find that if we had ignored the puddles of soft mud, we would have been stopped by a multi-ton boulder.

flatter top area
Heading back over the flatter areas at the top.

The track is almost as easy to follow down as up. Interestingly, I do almost manage to head off in the wrong direct by following my own footsteps. The ground is generally too hard to leave much of anything, but at the top of a particularly steep spot where I had crossed and made a sharp turn, there are obvious prints. The turn, however, is not obvious. Today, though, I just came up the ridge so I have both some memory of where the track goes and a GPS track I can follow, so I make the turn instead of having a repeat adventure. It would be much easier to deal with out on these slopes anyway.

thin track down the hill
Following the thin track back down the ridge.

Santa Barbara Canyon
Another look into Santa Barbara Canyon with its splashes of red and white.

I make it back down to camp without incident. Well, maybe on slight slip. Everything is packed, so I just need to collect it and decide how I want to carry two packs on the way back. As I am dumping the dirt from my shoes for a more comfortable stroll, the motorcycle noises return. Four. I give them time to vanish and then follow them out. They will be quite gone by the time I reach the car. Somehow I still feel like I was car camping. It was within 250 feet of the road, after all.

wide, flat road
Late afternoon shadows already overtaking the canyon.

red cliffs
The red cliffs nearing the gate.

It is a couple minutes past sunset as I drop everything into the car and take off. People like to say that as dangerous as the hiking seems, the driving is always more so. One might think the adventure Friday would be hard to beat, but with the 101 closed, 166 has become a bit of a death trap. Maybe they just could not understand how close I was with my dim old headlights that sit narrow on my small car, but playing chicken with the people trying to do 80 MPH and "needing" to pass a mile of other vehicles just is not fun. After pulling back off the shoulder we could fit about 2/3 onto, which is large shoulder for 166, the guy behind me gives me plenty of room to stop all too literally dead in front of him. I am very happy when I catch up to someone and can let them take on the bulk of the danger. Still, a good peak, and usually would not be so bad a drive.

©2018 Valerie Norton
Posted 17 Jan 2018

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