06 March 2018

Bald Mountain and Hurricane Deck

Los Padres National Forest

Click for map.

I have been meaning to get to Bald Mountain next to Hurricane Deck for no other reason than that the USGS 7.5' quad is named for it. Of course, I checked it out for access after I camped at the top of Hurricane Deck three years ago. I sort of remember there being a spot along the way, toward the top of the deep cleft of Bald Mountain Canyon, where the brush between the grassy bald across the front of Bald Mountain and the Hurricane Deck Trail was only 20 feet thick. Or maybe 30. Or 40. But really, not all that thick. The difficulty looked like the top, which is not bald. With that in mind, I arrive at the parking for the Lower Manzana Trailhead, just short of NIRA on the road, a little after sunrise and sign into the register in the new register box at the trailhead and start on the 5 or so miles of trail before the mile or so of figuring it out.

high trail down to Potrero Camp
Up on Manzana Trail as it winds high above the creek to Potrero Camp with a bit of Hurricane Deck in view.

light reflecting through pine needles
Up the Manzana and into the morning sun. The light reflecting through the pine needles is quite something.

The creek is noisy below. I cannot tell if it is a bit higher after the rain on the weekend. It might be. Potrero Camp looks about the same as we left it after the hazard trees came down. There is practically a road bed of rocks to cross over the creek to get to the junction on the far side. This is my turn, so up I head.

dirt rut among grass and brush
Potrero Canyon Trail and Hurricane Deck peeking through the gap.

The trail has been rutted before and has the potential to be again, but for now it looks good. A few ticks are questing, but they do not seem all that active in the early morning chill as I brush them off. A thick patch of California peonies are generally budding, one blooming, and one already in seed. Admittedly, they seem to almost instantly be in seed once they bloom. The white rock layers come more and more into view as I climb. To the left, they stretch up into the larger of the pair of features called Castle Rock. To the right, they stick up in knobs along something like a valley. Little ones are nearby as the trail drops briefly to wander the valley area. It is a flat spot of rest before a little more climb.

Bald Mountain
A first look at Bald Mountain sitting behind Hurricane Deck.

potrero area of Potrero Canyon
Turning into the potrero to drop a little and wander the valley. Knobs of rock stick out across the sort of large ledge in the face of Hurricane Deck.

cliffs of wide, white rock in the deck face
Stripes of that same white rock layer extending out to Castle Rock.

A sign post marks the top of the trail and a second, shorter one is visible a little closer. The sign is gone. Still or again? I keep hearing how the trail is not what it should be although it has been fine when I hiked each bit. The eastern section with its long stretches through brush is the hardest to keep open. Here it is a barren top and trail is very clear along the edge. I am more preoccupied with the chaparral that starts just a few feet down the north side. These bushes grow close and thick and tall. There is no crawling under it or stepping over it or breaking through it. I will not be able to get through 40 feet, or even 20 feet, of this stuff without tools. It is still a little over a mile to where I want to try. Hopefully it will change in texture some before then.

down river to the sea
Looking down the deck and the Sisquoc River where there are lots more peaks. Wheat Peak, that I was eyeing last week, is the near one across the valley to the right.

There are changes it the chaparral as I go. Sages get a bit more mountain mahogany (maybe...) among them, then the scrub oak starts to take over. As I reach the top section of the canyon, there are distinct game trails that start from the near cliff on my right and head over the top and down into the cleft. Whatever makes it, it is not big enough to push open a space big enough for me. It is seeming unlikely that I will get to the bald at all as I get to the high point of the trail without finding much promising. There is one spot I want to try, although I am not very enthusiastic about it.

Sierra Madre in view but no route down
Some of Sierra Madre while looking over the brush at the top of Bald Mountain Canyon that splits the Hurricane Deck Trail off from the grassy bald.

maybe a path
Maybe a path. Perhaps promising. The brush closes overhead in 10 feet and there is no impression that it goes on after 40 feet.

Bald Mountain from end on
Another look over the brush separating Hurricane Deck Trail from the bald of Bald Mountain. Now it looks like slipping into the steep stuff to the right near the top could make the peak accessible.

Once at the high point of the trail, I feel like I may as well go on to the top of Hurricane Deck. I was thinking originally that I might go up it as well, anyway. The trail wraps around the side, but there was good use trail up the ridge three years ago. It does seem less likely I will get up Bald Mountain by putting the couple miles in for Hurricane Deck first, but it is seeming unlikely anyway. I feed my complaining tummy while pondering the water I can see down in the Sisquoc River. Following along from the landmarks, it looks to be around Oak Canyon, a bit upriver of Water Canyon. So it really does exist. Then I head on to the ridge high point.

Sisquoc River and Sierra Madre
A wiggle of Sisquoc River below actually has water pooling in it. The high point above it is Peak Mountain and the higher point toward the right has structures on it marking it as McPherson Peak.

Hurricane Deck high point with trail around the back
Up ahead is the high point of Hurricane Deck. The trail cuts around through the brush to the back of it. In the distance, there is a little snow on San Rafael Mountain.

A cairn marks the spot to leave the ridge and follow trail around the back side of the mountain, but I ignore it and start to climb up along a thinner trail to the top. This trail actually seems to have options to continue around the front, missing the top. I ignore those too. Hitting the top, it is familiar as the old camp spot that it was. The winds are light breezes again today.

trail high point and Bald Mountain featured
Looking back at the trail high point, which is only 40 feet lower, and Bald Mountain. Would not want to get too far into that steep stuff on the right, it gets far too steep.

east side of Hurricane Deck
Down the east side of Hurricane Deck.

back the way came
Looking back down Potrero Canyon. Figueroa Mountain is at the extreme left side.

I head down the far side in a whim to "complete the trail" since I have not actually hiked the part around the back of the peak. It is a lot worse than I remember. It is uncomfortably steep most the way, especially in the one spot where the only way through is a careful step over and around a few yucca plants. It does get back to trail quickly. Around the back, the trail bed is slanted and there are a couple dead bushes fallen down in the way. I clear what I can of them and a few cut branches in the trail. When back on the ridge and over the trail high point, it is once again time to glare at the problem of getting to this other peak.

Bald Mountain
Yet another look at Bald Mountain just trying to figure out where the brush will let me through.

It seems silly to not at least try one or two of the steep openings even if they look nearly impossible. I try a couple dead ends, then come to a longer one. There seem to be paths heading somewhat directly up the grass on the far side of it. It is almost a dead end, but the mostly collapsed dead brush blocking it does have a way through. It is brushy with something that is not woody after that, so that is also something I can get through. It is not even very annoying, at least on the downhill. Then there is a choice. Off to the right looks very tempting. That would get to somewhere higher on the canyon. I almost take it, but decide to continue directly down. It hits the scrub oak and there is a cut. Suddenly the possibility of getting through is not so unlikely. It does not even look more than a few years old. The path continues nearly directly downhill. It is wide and comfortable to walk through and it drops to a spot where the bald comes right down to the bottom of the canyon. The trails up the other side are still right ahead of me. The first obstacle is surmounted. I climb and set off across the grass, trying to stick to animal tracks on the steep hill.

rather too green bush
Head out on the trail that glances past the mistletoe bushes.

Once on the bald, it is time for the next part of the plan. Traverse the bald. First, I want to get past the brush dropping down from the first peak, then I want to climb up to where the chaparral is rather thin on the top and eventually swing around to the right and climb some more into the brush. The very last bit it still uncertain. The parts that involve navigating in grass are easy, especially if I keep to the game trails. The make a flatter surface to walk on that is much more comfortable than the slant of the hill side. When I get to the top, there is a very distinct trail, but it seems to have been made by something rather short.

track along the ridge
Following a track up on the ridge although when it hits brush it is a bit too short.

As I near the top and the brush starts making its way down the bald side again, I make my way to the right as planned. I work around and up. Not working up gets into some uncomfortably steep dirt but working up gets into the brush. At least there are bear tunnels. I think I had noticed before that bear really really likes to stick to the ridge, but maybe not quite so much as it hits me as I look at the evidence on this mountain. Bear could easily travel the grass lower down. It is not even that much lower down. Instead, bear has come up here around the very top of the ridge and bashed out the lower branches to make trail. There is nothing for it but to take a few short crawls along that bear trail and work the final bit to the top.

more lines of rock cut by valleys off the deck
The north side of Hurricane Deck.

top of Bald Mountain
The top. Up in that brush. Photographed after verifying that is the top. The trail to the bald was clearly made by hunters and not peak baggers.

I can see just enough from the top to be sure the ridge is heading down again on the other side. It does come to a slightly distinct top. As expected, there is not much to see from up there, just brush. I retreat to a little bit of a view, then retreat some more skipping the steeper side in favor of a slightly different selection of bear tunnel at the end. It works out just fine. Then I have to get back along the bald and find the bottom of that trail through the scrub oak again. It works out just fine too. I do not see a different route back out at the top where things get annoying for going uphill, but it does seem to be a short way from my most promising possible spot as found on the way up. (I really should have marked that with the GPS at the time.) I may have been looking too much for where I got through and not enough for where a cut track might continue. It still worked out just fine.

Lost Valley
The rock layers of Lost Valley are looking really stark in the afternoon sun. Just visible on this end of the layers is the smaller Castle Rock. Or maybe it is Pool Rock. Looking the other way, the larger is also visible.

Back on trail, there is nothing left to do but to retrace my steps back down the little bit of Hurricane Deck, back down Potrero Canyon, and back up Manzana Creek, maybe see a point of interest along the way. Also, to point out to the backpacker setting up in a rather ridiculous spot that there was a much better one not too far down the trail. Hopefully I am not too cryptic about my directions. The spot he is trying was still frozen at 9 AM this morning, among its many faults.

long way down Potrero Canyon
Lots of down to go. Down Potrero Canyon.

Oh, and to realize in the last quarter of a mile that I never turned off my lights. That that little car just ahead that shows not even the slightest bit of shine at its front in the gathering dark does, in fact, have the headlights switch set to "on". But that is another story of minor misery of chill and hunger with almost certain rescue in the morning. It is nice to finally get to use my nice long set of jumper cables? Not really. I try not to let it dim the Bald Mountain triumph too much.

©2018 Valerie Norton
Posted 8 Mar 2018

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