Saturday, November 22, 2014


Some of you have noticed that the post detailing the descent of Deadman and Tecuya Canyons has been removed. Several days after posting that trip I got nasty-grams from both the Kern County Sheriffs Department and the Wildlands Conservancy (AKA the Wind Wolves Preserve) because I'd been trespassing on their land the moment I stepped foot into Tecuya Canyon. The ensuing conversation with the manager of the Wind Wolves wasn't particularly harsh but it was made crystal clear that if I set foot in the place again without prior authorization they will prosecute. I'd always wondered how zealous those folks were about their patch and now I know. Apparently they take their mission seriously.

This is by no means the first example of me being called out for providing evidence that I'd been somewhere I shouldn't have. Also, I'm beginning to think that various groups and agencies, or activists within them, are paying some attention to whatever mischief Stillman is up to. There have been plenty of days in the sticks that I've chosen not to share and this day should have been one of them. The takeaway from this episode is, a.) know when you're trespassing, b.) don't put it on social media, and c.) if caught, play nice and don't make things worse than they already are. Undoubtedly someone will comment that the real lesson is not to trespass in the first place... well, duh.  
I still think there are too many fences in the world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Argh!!! Winter Road Closures!

A tank of gas and 3 hours wasted! 
Before you say I shoulda called the Mt Pinos Ranger District, yesterday was Veterans Day so they were closed anyway. There's a lesson here. And I was really in the mood to do what I'd planned too.
Well shit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Descent of the West Fork of Piedra Blanca Creek

Jaw dropping.
5 Stars.
A virginal forest of arboreal delights.
I think I'm in love.
Can it get any better than this?

Click any image to enlarge it. I think you should.

This descent has been on my list for quite a while. For years I've not been shy about asserting that the Reyes Ridge hosts the best of our forest. There are beautiful places and hidden gems all over the place, but the high country between Pine Mountain and San Rafael Peak are where my heart lies. Cedars and pines and dark hidden places and moss lined creeks and rocky buttes and blue jays and bears... my kind of paradise.

In an enduring effort to know this region as well as anybody I've been eyeing a number of places that people just don't go, which leads to what went down on this day. Jack Elliott and I left the Sespe/Piedra Blanca trailhead on a crisp and clear sunrise. We burned up the miles through the Piedra Blanca and Twin Forks campsites, downshifted up the grinding climb out of the creek, and crested into Pine Mountain Lodge two and a half hours later. We stopped at the old campsite for a time, steam rising off our backs,  sweat turning to frosty wet in the forty degree air. After a bit of breakfast and some basking in the chill sun we tightened everything down for our real raison d'etre.  I had an inkling what this descent would be like, but in the end my own preconceived ideas fell far short of the gorgeous reality below.

We followed the sandy wash out of Pine Mtn Lodge, headed downstream and west. In short order we were oohing and aahing at the huge trees, shallow pools, and sculpted slabs framing either side of the creek. It seemed that we were instantly transported into a primordial forest of Disney-like character. I was just beaming inside. Oh hell yes. This place was a true beauty. We continued downstream through a subtle turn to the south, sunlight dappling through the forest canopy, water trickling beside us, and soon we reached a small branch coming in from the west. Here the creek was a shallow brook  turning back to the southeast, coursing through grasses, huge cedars, alder and spruce everywhere, massive boulders randomly parked along the stream. Heavenly. All through this uppermost portion of the creek we'd had little trouble, a well worn bear trail guiding the easiest path forward.

 Deeper into the southeast turn of the creek we emerged from this eden into a new iteration, a broad avenue of boulders framed by cedar forested slopes. Electric green moss grew on many of the larger boulders. Birds zipped through the trees. Gravelly sinks lay where water would pool in wetter years. We rock hopped along, pausing frequently to just take it all in. Occasionally a natural dam of deadfall wood presented a worthy obstacle but by and large we just bounced along unhindered. And it just kept going.

We gradually descended into another elevation of forest, a different stretch populated by old growth trees, alder, spruce, and cedar, but more densely spaced than in the previous mile. Again there was water in the creek. This was a magic mile which provoked many more exclamations of goodness. Somewhere in it I rounded a large tree and just 50ft away was a big ole bear (below). I hand signaled Jack and together we watched that bear for a while. He knew we were there and moved up the slope a bit, completely unalarmed by our presence. At one point he turned around to look straight into us for a good 15 seconds before vanishing into the forest. In the creek below, the water was muddied, and big wet paw prints revealed where he'd come from.


A bit later we encountered a fractured cliff face which was easy to descend. Water dripped from cracks all along the base of this falls, and lush ferns grew out of the rock on its shady side. In the center of the falls was a deep and mossy grotto. It was early afternoon by this time and we broke for a snack. I observed that this drainage just seemed to go on and on without end. Neither of us were disappointed by this, but we both knew that somewhere below, once we'd descended into the chaparral zone, things were bound to get ugly. An hour later we encountered a 30ft waterfall which was easily bypassed, but that falls seemed to be a message that the beautiful sights and scenes were about to come to an abrupt end. Indeed, soon after we were in a scrum of extraordinary proportions.

Somehow we prevailed over the forces of nature. Undoubtedly the prodigious use of profanity helped grease the way. Suffice it to say that the last hour before popping out at Twin Forks was unpleasant, wet, and tiring. I got garroted by a thorny vine, slapped in the eye by a tree branch, poked in the eye by another, and was totally ensnared in a brush trap which, while fighting out of it, rudely ejected me face first into a pool of water. Good times. A small price to pay however, considering the forested Disneyland we'd beheld.

*The terrain in this drainage is not technically all that difficult, but a good head for solving descent "puzzles" would be helpful in saving time and energy. That being said, this drainage feels long. Hell, it is long. We were both pretty worked by the time we popped back out onto the PB trail. There are consecutive miles of boulder hoping, scrambling, down climbing, up climbing, butt sliding, crab walking, elbow crawling, tree climbing, log walking, and brush fighting involved. Before we even entered the brush zone just the realities of this rocky descent had beaten us up but good. Given the nature of the terrain I would advise following parties to be on guard for that insidious sloppiness that comes with being tired, for there are one million and one ways to injure oneself in an environment such as this. But go, go and leave no trace. The beauty here rivals anything in our forest.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Preliminary Exploration of Trout Creek

Thorn Point cresting a sea of brush.

With only a half day to ramble, and responsibilities haunting my clock, I decided to do a brief recon of a little known and thoroughly feral drainage called Trout Creek. Anybody who's walked the Sespe River Trail has probably rolled right past this innocuous feeder creek without giving it a second thought. What makes it somewhat intriguing to me is that I'd never heard a single thing about it, even though it flows from directly beneath the prominent south face of Thorn Point. 

Now that I've spent a morning getting to know this little mess of a creek I am feeling compelled to go back and take a day seeing just how far up there I can get. I can say that the lower half of the drainage is a nightmare of brush, nettles, poison oak, tangled limbs and deadfall trees. It's not fun. It is, however, unique in one key way; there is no evidence of humanity in that drainage, not even the expected remnants of a Mexican grow operation. This in itself is remarkable given that every time in the last two years that I have felt I was sufficiently "up a creek" I have stumbled into the ubiquitous black irrigation hoses.

Though I only had a few hours to work with I was able to proceed upstream until I was at roughly the same latitude as the Piedra Blanca Rocks, which lie a a mile or so to the west. Perhaps the drainage opens up a bit beyond where I had to turn back. Perhaps not, and Trout Creek remains an extraordinarily clogged little stretch of forgotten drainage. In reflecting on the morning and it's unpleasantness I have concluded that I may not be quite done with this one yet

Thorn Point and Trout Creek.

Even the open ground was a morass of yucca and wild rose.
One of the nicer parts of Trout.
This is a bit more typical of this drainage.

Thorn Point, from where I had to turn it around.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Munson Creek and Unnamed Drainage

Jack Elliott traversing out of upper Munson Creek.

This short day of off-trail shenanigans turned into a bit of a blood-letting. The point was to go explore  a lengthy band of jutting sandstone which transects Munson Creek, explore the creek itself, and descend back to Hwy 33 using an adjacent unnamed drainage. We managed all that and uncovered a bit more.

First, I need to say that I'm so friggin happy it's Fall that I could pee myself. So nice to feel a briskness in the early morning air and a chill in the deeper shadows, to know that the day isn't going to be hampered by heat, and to sense that weird quality of autumn where the shadows are a little longer and the angle of the sun is a little lower. There's an essence in our forest that changes with the Fall, the air and light and animal sounds and crackling grasses and dribbling creeks all speak of a hope for rain. I'm almost ready to commit to saying that this is my favorite time of year in these parts. 

Click image to enlarge.

Munson Creek has been on my list for quite a while. I'm not sure why I've put it off for so long. Maybe it is because I've never heard anything spectacular about the place. Maybe it's because of a pronounced history of illegal marijuana farming. It might be because there aren't any real trails or intriguing mysteries to resolve. Whatever, it is but a fond memory and some superficial scratches now. These days I lean toward appreciating the experience as much or more than whatever destination may await me.

Jack and I hit it at sunrise, meandering up a short stretch of brushed up creek bed. After a bit we came to a subtle fork, a thinner branch of the creek that snuck in from the northeast. I'd already identified this branch as something i'd like to explore as it took a easterly route to a fantastic stack of sandstone. We trudged through the brambles until reaching a small flat. Immediately above us were two towers of stone which were bisected by a disorganized trough of large boulders. We had a merry time busting through brush and scrambling over and around the rocks. At the top of this mess we slipped into a gaping crevice, the result of a huge face of stone which had calved off the larger formation. This crevice was a natural passage between the larger formations. We exited into an oak forest on the north side of this lower band of Munson formations.

The "crevice" which ushered us through to the north side of this lower band of rock.

Immediately upon stepping out of that narrow slot we stumbled upon an abandoned marijuana operation. Further investigation revealed a large area that had been under cultivation either within the this most recent season or a year previous. I'm leaning toward thinking that this had been recent based on the lack of leaf litter on all the trash and implements we discovered.

Tools of the trade (and below).
We did a bit of exploring to the east. I rock climbed into an alcove eighty feet off the deck, and found myself having difficulty reversing those moves. Got the ole adrenal glands pumping, that's for sure. After that episode we turned west, following a huge rock formation down to the proper Munson Creek. From a high point over the creek we had fantastic views to the east and west of this same band of jutting rock as it continued parallel across the foot of Reyes Peak. 

We dropped into Munson Creek again and turned upstream. Things got mighty brushy and unpleasant despite the existence of an old narco trail to follow. We zigged and zagged through the drainage, busting brush in places, getting busted by brush in others. This went on for a fair bit before we came upon a small and sheltered waterfall. Naturally, this clear little falls had black irrigation line draped out of it, presumably the same line that fed the pot grow well downstream. Beyond the falls the brush thinned out and the drainage climbed up under Reyes. Here we backtracked and started the process of climbing out of Munson and into another canyon just to the west.

The falls on upper Munson Creek is tucked beneath these rocks.
A look back down Munson Creek.
Jack, climbing out of Munson.

Our scramble out of Munson was inelegant, a clawing climb until we reached another series of huge rock fins. Atop these, and safely out of Munson, we stood gazing down into a distant potrero framed by the same band of jumbled sandstone which transects lower Munson Creek. The next question was how to get down there. From the looks of it we'd have to go full brush ninja. So we did. The racket of brush snapping, hurled insults, imaginative curses, fleeing wildlife, all of it would have been hilarious to hear from a safe distance. By the end of it I was bleeding from a dozen places and looked forward to enduring a week's worth of the usual questions and the resulting comments in my dealings with everybody else who's not me. I usually just say I spent the day off-trail, this is both foreign and unfathomable to people. It's like saying you spent the weekend juggling fourteen ginsu knives. People just don't get it.

In the sights, that pretty little meadow below.
Donated blood at the office.

Even amusing descents come to an end, and we shook the sticks out of our ears as we strolled into that large meadow. There is one really unusual feature about this little valley, that any water draining off the potrero drips over a series of white slabs, funneled into a narrow slot which terminates in a decent waterfall, but it's what's in the water that grabs the attention. I've seen several natural salt seeps in the forest but nothing on this scale. Everywhere these slabs are crusted over by an eighth inch frosting of granulated salt crystals. All around are stagnant pools of brine, so salty that the water glares white in the sun. The salt content of some of these pools is so high that the actual salt has precipitated out and settled on the bottom. This was a fascinating type of place. Additionally, I explored back east a ways, checking out the ever present rock towers. Later, we found a way down the waterfall at the bottom of the meadow and continued a short jaunt downstream to the highway. 

Well it was another fine day out there in our wilds. Go out and get some.

Salt, salty salt.
Salt slabs beneath the meadow.
The falls beneath the potrero, just a shallow pool of stagnant water beneath.