Monday, March 23, 2015

Agua Blanca Backcountry

Here are some photos from an extraordinary day of off trail rambling. The area in question could be described as the wind blasted high country between Whiteacre Peak and the Agua Blanca drainage. I, and two mates, set out from Goodenough at sunrise, pounding through road miles. In time we switched gears, leaving the road for a brushy dragon's back ridge climb. This difficult ascent gained 1,500ft in just 0.85 miles. Hampered by the angle and the human repellant brush, the climb took more than an hour to complete, but this unorthodox route provided a quick access to the top of the hulking Whiteacre massif. 

From that point we turned north, busting, scraping, and crawling toward the wind blasted sandstone plateau behind Whiteacre. The going was rough, taxing. After a time we discovered and explored a tiered series of dry waterfalls, each tier taller and more beautiful and unique than the last. The lowest tier was tucked into a deep hollow of green oaks and spruce. As I explored the dramatic overhang beneath the middle of these three falls my comrades above were treated to the sight of six condors circling.

We climbed out of that sculpted terrain and onto a huge plateau of gently rolling sandstone. Over the ages the wind has eroded the surface rock leaving behind scatterings of harder, more ferrous stone strewn this way and that. Club-like tufas of weathered sandstone stood lonesome, patiently waiting for the day when their supports weathered away and gravity took hold. Wind scoured caves dominated any vertical surface, some being the size of a two car garage. We discovered a dramatic and bulbous arch, the likes of which I've not seen. In the sandy gullies between formations we saw numerous bear prints. This was a place of nearly alien beauty.

The brush mauling we suffered was a reminder that with some ingenuity and grit, going off-trail in the Los Padres is not only possible, but can be hugely rewarding. Enjoy the photos.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rattlesnake Falls

Rattlesnake Falls.
Here's a nice little overnight getaway, a trip into the Sisquoc to a remote waterfall called Rattlesnake. Spring is short and the greenery goes fast. In trying to make the most of it I was joined by Nick Bobroff and Jack Elliot. We took off out of Santa Barbara Canyon, climbed up to Sierra Madre Ridge, descended Judell Canyon to Heath Camp where we dumped most of our gear, and continued downstream a couple miles to this sweet little horsetail falls.

The falls, about 80ft in height, was tucked way back into a deep culdesac that receives very little sun. A large apron of calcific deposits covered in forest green moss fell beneath a twisting spout. A quiet cascade of aerated whitewater cut the apron in a single streamer which splashed into a dark, chest deep pool. We lazed in the shade on that warm afternoon. Nick, a former lifeguard, was the only one to test the waters, verdict: "cold". I've gotten a bit old for polar bear antics in shady alcoves. Had the sun been on the water I would have joined him, but since that was not the case Jack and I sat back and had a good chuckle at this demonstration of baptismal bravery.

In the evening we ate tasteless freeze-dried "delicacies" and burned an excessive amount of firewood while being serenaded by the local owl and what must have been the world's loneliest frog. The stars blazed bright in the crisp night air and as the fire burned low we wandered off to bed. 

In the frosted pre-dawn I crawled out of the bag just far enough to crank up the pocket rocket and boil some coffee. I lay on my side listening to silence while sipping a steaming cup. The others rose and we quickly threw our kits together and moved back up Judell, topping onto Sierra Madre Rd two hours later, another nice outing behind us.

Wide open desert. Judell Canyon.
Heading downstream from Heath Camp toward Rattlesnake Falls.

Two-tailed Swallowtail Papilio multicaudata
The Sisquoc.

Nick, admiring his new favorite oak.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Just Back: The Pacific Northwest

Mt Baker from Skagit Valley, WA.

I've been away for a week. This was originally intended to be a snowboarding trip but this winter's ridiculously resilient north pacific jet stream has largely bypassed the west coast, leaving places like Mammoth, Tahoe, Mt Hood, the Washington Cascades, and Whistler begging for anything that might be snow. At Mt Baker, one of my favorite powder kegs, they're just pushing the snow around to make runs. It's bad, but the tickets were booked, and it was a good opportunity to visit with my parents and see some other sites. In other words, we were good little tourists. Enjoy some photos from our trip. Feel free to click any image to enlarge it.

Whatcom Creek, Bellingham, WA.
Totem Poles, Vancouver, BC. [and below]

Ruth at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, BC.
Pass Lake, Widbey Island, WA
Puget Sound from Chuckanut Drive.
Deception Pass Bridge.
Point Wilson Light House.
Alexanders Castle, Point Wilson, WA.
Puget Sound from Larrabee State Beach, WA.
A Washington ferry landing on Puget Sound.
Downtown Vancouver, BC.
Bald Eagle(s), Skagit Valley, WA. [and below]

From the permanent Northwest Native Art collection at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). [and below]
Bellingham Bay, WA.
Seattle Skyline.
Mt Rainier
The North Cascades.
Flocking snow geese, Skagit Valley, WA.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mockingbird Cave

There is painted beauty hidden deep in the heart of Riverside County. I had to go see this for myself because I don't normally associate Riverside with the word "beauty".

This site is located in a spring fed gulch amid a moat of fancy horse properties. Scrubby oak trees and tall stands of  cat tails frame the tepid stream from the spring. A scattering of granitic boulders and several larger formations dot the slopes on each side of the spring. One such formation is a collection of ground level boulders crowned by two large capstones, and beneath these are two very colorful panels of polychrome art.

Large circles or shields accompany a number of crosshatch designs. Several elements here appear (at least to me) to have a celestial connotation. The work is bright and colorful, rendered in red, white, and a blue/black.

On the opposite side of the creek is a flat granite slab with four bedrock mortars. This slab, just feet from the spring, has been described as a "birthing rock. A short pillar beside the the slab has two faded red pictographs of diamond chains on golden water streaks.  A short distance away is an additional BRM.

I was impressed with this site. The colors remain bright and crisp. Obviously any site with a consistent water source would have been an invaluable commodity in this desert region, and the depth and development of the BRMs speak it's prolonged use.