19 February 2018

Sisquoc River trail work

Los Padres National Forest

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This is another bit of volunteer trail work hosted and organized by the Los Padres Forest Association. It is a little longer with groups coming in Friday morning or Saturday morning, all leaving on the holiday Monday except one hiking out earlier. Food and BEvERages are provided with a dedicated cook for the preparation. Since we can drive in, it can be quite elaborate. I opted to come in on Friday.


We gather at the Lower Manzana Trailhead at 8AM. From here, there is the option of hiking in while others carry any gear and a few people take that opportunity. At least one is even going to try out Hurricane Deck for their route in. The rest of us collect into a reduced number of high clearance 4x4 vehicles to travel the private road that accesses the ranches near the Manzana Schoolhouse. This is something quite new to us since in general the public has no access, not on foot and especially not on bike, to this road. It is rough and extra long, climbing high over a ridge before dropping down again with great twists the whole way. The creek crossings are a bit rough and one is wet. They should all be wet this time of year, but it has been another miserable rain year.

Hurricane Deck to Castle Rock, er, west
We may never pass this way again, at least not other than Monday on the way out, so we pause once high above Castle Rock and Hurricane Deck for the view.

Once in camp, we set up. There are some rather tall and dead trees in camp as well, so we try to avoid them. Since we are still not quite in the wilderness, out come the chainsaws to make the camp safe. They knew these danger trees were here and came prepared.

carefully carving the tree with a huge chain saw
Micky perfects his notch, which directs where the tree will fall.

The rest of us are told that today is an optional work day, but that is just silly. We have lots of tools and the whole afternoon and we came here to work on trails. We get the safety talk and the sign in form and collect tools for working along the Sisquoc River Trail. The overall objective is to work everything to Water Canyon, about 4 miles up. First we have to locate it, somewhere across the dry Manzana Creek. It is not entirely clear where the trail is supposed to go through the camp, but someone has put up a cairn and one can eventually spot the signs on the other side after enough looking around. We head out, each with a pair of loppers and a trail smith. (The trail smith is something Mike Smith has been working on and there would be more of them about if he had more time to put them together.)

San Rafael Wilderness sign backed by a mileage sign
Entering the wilderness. The painted wilderness sign is the easiest thing to spot from the other side of the creek and campground. The metal mileage sign blends a bit better.

oak savanna area with a trail
Trail climbs onto "the ledges" which host oak savanna. There are a few flags along the way that seem unneeded in this season, but may come in quite handy in others.

11 February 2018

Forbush Canyon trail work

Los Padres National Forest

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This volunteer trail work trip was actually advertised as in Blue Canyon, around who's edges the Thomas Fire lapped its greedy tongues but ultimately left. That may come, but for now we are actually along (north) Cold Spring and Forbush. Workers could go in Friday night or Saturday morning and I chose the morning. We work Saturday, mostly, and come out Sunday. The roads along the edges of the burn are closed, so we gathered at the road block at the top of Gibraltar Road to drive in along Camino Cielo to Cold Spring Saddle, then gather up tools and take off into the green side of things.


But first a look at the burn scar to the south. It was astonishing in its completeness over some areas as we drove in. Other areas were mysteriously left.

Montecito Peak cleaned off by fire
The high part of Cold Spring Trail as it reaches the saddle from the south. Montecito Peak has been scoured by the flame.

Loaded down with a few tools and our overnight gear, we turn to make our way down Cold Spring to the old homestead at Forbush Camp. The spring is flowing again, so we only need enough water to get there. Blue Canyon is also flowing, but we will stay higher than that. As we head down, we overlook a bit of the Rey Fire scar, which still makes the mountains look scraped. We stop to look out over Blue Canyon, too, to see that it is still with brush. Mostly, we just get down the hill, and set up our spots when we get there.

crew members in the slightly brushy trail
A couple fellow workers in spiffy hard hats on their way down. There is a little work needed along Cold Spring, too, but that is not the goal yet.

Once our pack have been lightened of camping gear, we are ready to head down Forbush for the work. This is brushing and a major slide area. There is a bit toward the top that I always think looks a little bit weak and ready to go. This is the slide area. Below it, the trail settles down closer to the creek and much of the brush is poison oak. I setting in working above on brush trying to push people out and off the trail.

workers two down
Working on the switchback down two levels.

05 February 2018

San Mateo Canyon: Tenaja Falls

Cleveland National Forest

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DAY 1 | DAY 2

The night on the ridge line was wonderful and calm and warm with stars from ear to ear... or that is how smiles go. Anyway, there were a lot of stars to see with only one tiny bit of civilization glowing with its own stars. Well, not as many as there could be with the big moon. It is nice as the light brightens in the morning too. The warmth makes it easy to get up with that light.

north along the ridge
Looking back up the ridge and trail.

Those sycamores I was looking for on Saturday are visible in the canyons on either side of me and even some in the tributaries. There should be water down there. Accessibility is another question. It is a gentle downhill the rest of the way along the ridge until a post marked with a message of "1.8" (miles, presumably) and "1300 feet down" with the "down" written vertically to help the reader understand the word. There was another, less perfect, site before the post, but there certainly is none after as it drops away and the semblance of road disappears. Not all that steep, but there are steep spots. Someone has tried to add in a switchback on the steepest bit, but no one seems to be taking it. When I get back from trying it, I find that is probably because it has only traversed half of the steep bit by the time it finishes. The only choice for the rest is straight down the edge. At least they tried. It really does need a switchback.

as the trail drops
It is not too terribly steep as it drops down, at least at first.

line of branches far down the creek bed
Looking downstream, there is a thin line of deciduous trees. Here, that is usually something water loving, especially when the growing area is extremely limited in breadth.

04 February 2018

San Mateo Canyon: Sitton Peak

Cleveland National Forest

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DAY 1 | DAY 2

Everything just looks a little hotter, so I think this 3 day, 30 mile plan will require more water than the one I just pulled off in Agua Tibia Wilderness. Although it looks more likely there could be water here, the map indicates all streams are seasonal. Since I could get no information on either water or the state of the Bluewater Trail, marked as unmaintained on the wilderness map, I have to plan as though there is no water and Bluewater could be difficult travel or navigation. The result of sitting down with the map and some mileage information that is helpfully supplied on the trailhead sign is to cut off 5 miles and the unmaintained part so that travel will be more certain and it is doable in 2 days. This leaves me confident enough to leave one bag of camping water, but none of the hiking water. Starting water weight is still 20 pounds and am considering this a rather minimal amount. Water planning can be quite the balancing act. I have also chucked out a pound or so of warm gear I decided was extra on the previous trip. Somehow the lighter pack still feels heavy.

sign at start
Morgan Trailhead with wilderness map (faded to remove all maintained trails and falling apart) and written trail details (also available online) and the usual regulations for wilderness.

I sign in as I pass since it makes it clear that my backpacking permit is an additional requirement for overnight travel. This time, I take the main path following the creek under the oak trees. They look a little haggard by the increasing drought. It is about a mile before I actually enter the wilderness, not that the arbitrary line matters all that much. Lion Spring above is keeping less than 100 feet of the creek moist, but there is one hint that there might still be water around in the form of a not too mucky puddle down in the rocks. That water does not last long either. There are a few possible nude sycamores in very random spots, too.

San Mateo Canyon Wilderness sign under the spreading oaks
While having a pleasant walk under the oaks, the area turns to official wilderness.

After a few dry crossings, the trail climbs up into the dry chaparral. With the junction, I swing to the right to begin the looping part of my hike. This crosses those rolling hills I was seeing yesterday as well as the service roads for the camp and ranches that sit surrounded by this wilderness.

bushes and brush and shallow canyon and mountains across the hills
Right down in the bouldery chaparral by the shallow canyon.

buildings in the flats
A camp and ranches below that sit surrounded by wilderness.

03 February 2018

San Mateo Peak

Cleveland National Forest

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I arrived at Morgan Trailhead and started stomping up and down the first few hundred feet of trail and glaring at the gentle rolling hills covered in short chaparral. I was pacing, really, wondering if I really want to do this again. Do I want to load up my pack with three days of water, again, to hike another dry wilderness? One that looks a fair bit hotter than the last as I will be losing elevation along the way rather than climbing and the elevations here are lower overall. Maybe I should just drop it and go home. Still, I had the whole afternoon. When planning, I had noticed I could hike a nearby peak and thought I might if I had time after. It is only about 2 miles, so I have time today. I could at least get something out of being at the trailhead and gain a little more perspective on what is here. Surely there is a bit more than gentle rolling hills covered in low chaparral.

plastic lizard tops a hidden sign
A hidden sign found shortly after finding the unmarked trail. Perhaps I should pay some attention to the loop noted on it.

Heading down about twice as far as my pacing, things actually change quite drastically because I hit the bottom of the canyon. Oaks grow tall here rather than chaparral growing low. It did not take long at all to show there is more to it. I am looking for an unofficial trail, or at least it is not on my wilderness map. I get to the sign in station for the wilderness and follow one across the dry creek to find that is not the one I am looking for and start back again. Turning back, there is a more obvious trail splitting sharply off the one I came in on. Maybe 50 feet further is a sign topped with a large plastic lizard that startles me as I first notice it. The map shows Lion Spring in the area, so there should be a challenge to my impression that it is dry, too.

green puddle of water
The water is a little bit green, but Lion Spring is definitely a current source of water.

path through the oaks
A thin but clear path through the oaks.

The spring is thick with green stuff, but also with water. It may not be located helpfully for backpacking, but there is water in the wilderness. Well, every so slightly outside of it actually. Details. A little bit further, there is another sign pointing the way out of the canyon and up San Mateo Peak. A dinosaur and a basketball nailed to the top of a stick also mark it. Of course they do. I make the turn and quickly leave the oaks for the low chaparral I was staring at before. It seems to mostly be made of chemise.

trail between chemise and other things
Is that the peak? Winding through the chemise.

Agua Tibia: Dripping Springs

Cleveland National Forest

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DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

Morning is lovely. At least it is as I wander over to the first spot of a northerly view while getting breakfast ready. There is not much long view from the camp site. There is a mist playing in the valleys, especially around the tall mountains. Thomas Mountain is no longer producing a streak on the sky because they have put out the controlled burn for the weekend. I pack up and head out for some more expansive views as the mist slowly rises.

Dripping Springs Trail and view
A little piece of that view from Dripping Springs Trail.

The trail is still a little brushy, but not so imposing that it forces a stooped walk or anything like that. Everything from the southerly viewpoint, up past the junction sign, on down is clearly hiked a lot more than the trail above that. The few bits of brushy open up further as I go down, especially as things dry out.

lots more view from Dripping Springs Trail
Thin early morning mists everywhere.

02 February 2018

Agua Tibia: Eagle Crag

Cleveland National Forest

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DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

It was a mild night and with the sunrise, I can have breakfast in bed. Or actually, make breakfast in bed, but then pack up my gear while the pistachio pudding full of coconut and chia seeds "refrigerates" in the morning chill. My water looks so low. I used 4 of 2.5 liters for the hike up. There is still enough to go up Eagle Crag, and then I will be right back here and can evaluate it again. Perhaps if I can hike it with just the water left over from the second bag of water, then it will be fine, so I set that line and eat my breakfast.

green slopes heading down to sunrise colors
The new view I hiked to last night. The only city lights were in that blue distance.

shadowy Eagle Crag
Eagle Crag, the goal for the day, stands in shadow against the brightening sky.

I toss in another bag of water and what I need for day hiking. With my gear and extra water tucked away, I am ready to hike nearby Eagle Crag. I still see none of the poodledog that is supposed to be choking Crosley Saddle. Another write up for the loop seemed to imply the dominant vegetation up here would be manzanita and ribbonwood. I suspect ribbonwood is the one that reminds me of the redshank in the Santa Monica Mountains and it vanished as I climbed. (Ribbonwood is a less common name for redshank, so there you go.) It clearly does not grow this high. No, what is choking the saddle is white thorn ceanothus. A blue and white checked piece of flagging waves beside the gauntlet of its sharpened twigs marking what is obviously Cutca Trail. There is room for me between the points and it thins out as I climb out of the saddle. There were trees up here before the fire, but now they are a morning jungle-gym.

plenty of tree to climb through
A tree across the trail. This is what helps make the morning walk a full body workout.

San Jacento in the mist
Looking back the way I came, which tucks around the mountain on the far left on this side of the point, which is the Agua benchmark. San Jacinto Mountain is looking a little misty this morning.

01 February 2018

Agua Tibia: Wild Horse Peak

Cleveland National Forest

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DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

Researching the Agua Tibia Wilderness, I found it may be a rather tough backpack. Its namesake looks to be very difficult to obtain from anywhere. It looks like my most likely chance is a stream that I will come to while technically outside of the wilderness. There are a couple springs on the map, but they seem rather close to some black squares of buildings. Looking on satellite, there do seem to be a couple of homes next to these possible sources. As if to drive the point home, my permit specifically calls out for the respect of private property in the "special notes" section. That eliminates the best bet. I will have to carry all my water for three days. I have found and filled a total of five Platypus bags to take. One to hike, one to camp, one to hike, one to camp, and one to hike. Camping actually takes less than one and hiking down will not need so much either, but the other two hiking days may require more. The one to hike today goes in the sleeve and the rest fill in all the space around it making a single thick band of water in my pack. With my sleeping bag below, food and a few other camping and warming items above, I have a pack that is a little more than 40 pounds, but 3/4 of it is consumable.

The pack feels like a torrential weight upon my back as I lift it and start, but the slowly rising walk through the campground to the trailhead allows my legs to slowly accept the burden. With the obstacle of water solved (I sure hope), there is still the obstacle of the trails. The two trails up to the ridge above are supposed to be fine for travel, but the connecting route along an old road may be a bit of trouble. Some trail runners through just a couple weeks ago are certain that no one could get through there with a full backpack. Now, I have heard stories of backpackers tying their pack to their ankle with a bit of rope to crawl through a quarter mile of bear tunnel and worse. "Where there is a will, there is a way." I am not quite certain that I am that sort of backpacker. Still, trail runners probably have no real idea what a backpacker can do. (I sure hope.) Someone before them was claiming to have needed to "army crawl" to get through.

fences lining the first 100 feet of trail
The trail start has a register for day hikers, a bit of fencing to start, and signs about the endangered aquatic life.

wilderness sign along the trail
Entry into Agua Tibia Wilderness.

Sorting my gear took longer than I had hoped it would and it is later than I expected to start and already getting warm. There seem to be quite a lot of people also on the trail. As the trail splits and I take the left up Wild Horse Trail, most of them go the other way up Dripping Springs. I see switchbacks for it going up an east facing slope with very short vegetation and suspect it must already be baking up there. My climb seems to be among somewhat taller stuff and soon turns out onto some nice, shady, north facing slope. Whyever would they want the other trail? Well, eventually this one will turn around to the south, but I bet the guy alternately carrying or walking with a toddler is not going all that far. I pass rock gullies and the air coming down each is like air conditioning. Then there are some short exposed bits in the sun, but the trail mostly finds shade. Below is a rocky wash that should be Arroyo Seco Creek in this season. There just has not been enough rain this year although I do see a little wet in the dirt as I climb.

Arroyo Seco Creek from above
A wide canyon that should have Arroyo Seco Creek flowing along the bottom this time of year.

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