Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Horn Canyon Trail and Chief's Peak, 04/28/10

This morning I committed to a trail I've never hiked, and I gambled that the much talked about high winds would blow the clouds off the peaks. On the former, I hiked my ass off! As to the later, I lost that bet and spent the whole day slogging through clouds.

Man, that Horn Trail is steeeep! Much of the Horn Trail is a bit overgrown, which wouldn't ordinarily be a problem. However, because of some early morning showers, and combined with a thick fog, all the grasses and branches along the trail were dripping with moisture. I was dry for the first 20 minutes of the day. The next 3 hours I spent drenched to the skin. I'm a bit finicky about being wet and cold. This did not work for me. Sadly, I had told the Geezers about my plans and they will expect photographic evidence of my achievement. So I toiled on through a forest that had more in common with the Olympic Rain Forest in Washington than it did with SoCal.
The low clouds obstructed Chief's Peak from view for the entire day, and was completely socked in clouds as I approached it. I had only the GPS to show me where the peak actually was. Unfortunately, the device did not indicate a summit trail which explains why I must have just walked right by what passes for a route to the summit. This also explains how a new summit route was pioneered on Chief's today:

Chief's Peak, Direct Northwest Face; Grade II, Class III.
This unpleasant route starts from Nordoff Ridge road and ascends the northwest face. Climb directly up the northwest face making sure to go in a straight line up the mountain regardless of obstacles. Deviating from the route is not advised. This route is characterized by thick brush, prickly plants, scree, loose rock, brush tunnels, and several sections of Class 3 climbing. This climb is not recommended. First Ascent: the author, 04/28/2010.
Upon the summit I was pleased to find a real summit register (last entry: 04/08) and a USGS marker. As you can see in my summit entry I was not impressed with the views (clouds), and I was still pissed about being soaked. The summit is narrow and rocky but I found a sheltered spot to get off my feet and devour my PBJ. I reached the summit at 12:05, 4:20 minutes, and 4,400 feet gained over 7.5 miles.
Lord 'ave mercy! I was able to find something resembling the trail off the peak! It was steep, rocky, and reminded me of a common military colloquialism describing goats fornicating. But it pointed down which is a good place to start. Being in a cloud I was a bit concerned about my direction until I popped out onto Nordoff Ridge and quickly located my earlier tracks. After that I pounded out the remaining 6 miles of grueling downhill.
Chief's Peak from the Ojai Valley.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Agua Blanca Creek & Devil's Gateway, 04/24/10

I was provided with a rare opportunity this weekend, and rare opportunities are rare indeed. Ted Tuschka MD, PhD had acquired a gate key through a friend of a friend's friend. This key opens the gate that follows Piru Creek from the top of Lake Piru past the long-closed Blue Point Campground and up to a pair of hundred year lease properties on Agua Blanca Creek. The trail, such as it is, heads straight up Agua Blanca Creek until one reaches a place called Devil's Gateway.
I have heard conflicting stories of where and exactly what Devil's Gateway might be. Some people believe that the Gate is at the bottom of the Sespe (I just found out it is it is), somewhere near the outllet of Tar Creek. I always thought it was somewhere in that neighborhood. The Devil's Gateway of the southern Los Padres is about four miles upstream from where the Agua Blanca and Piru Creeks merge.
As to what can be found at Devil's Gateway, those with low expectations will be pleasantly surpised. The trail up the creek is difficult to find, though it is a real trail and it does see sporadic use. Numerous on-line trip reports describe a brushy, hot, buggy, and poison oak infested wilderness. I did not exactly find this to be the case. First of all, this is a remote trail, difficult to access without having a gate key or prior experience in the canyon. A big help would be in knowing that the trail stays high above the creekbed much of the time and that it meanders from one side of the creek to the other. Having this intelligence on our way up the canyon would have made things considerably easier. As for the numerous creek crossings, I would say that it is near impossible to keep one's boots dry. This is a broad, shallow stream with a fair amount of obstacles, including quicksand. Of the four miles we walked to Devil's Gateway, only the last mile had any significant amount of poison oak, and this was easily avoided.
At around four miles in we start to see where various water-courses have intersected creating a deep slot canyon. Standing in the bottom of the slot I estimated that the sheer cliffs rise about 250ft on either side. The bottom of the canyon is only about 30-40 feet wide and the length is less than a football filed. This dramatic chasm is the Devil's Gateway. We searched around for anything resembling a campsite but there was none to be had and settled for making an early camp on a shaded sandbar. As Ted took a nap I looked around a bit and didn't see anything else of significance besides the obvious walls of the Gate.
As the sun set the frogs started up their racket and the swallows added their sing-songy whistles to the evening. Bat's flitted about the upper reaches of the Gate. A few pair of ducks headed downstream. And I made dinner: fire-grilled fillet mignon with mashed potatoes and cheesy pasta shells. Superb. Nothing contributes to a scenic interlude like delicious food and a pot of black coffee. We had a very mild evening with a 3/4 moon and clear, starry skies. I heard a mouse skittering around but he stayed well away from me (he had, I think, heard from his relatives in Matilija that I am known to boil mice in my coffee so I can consume their powers.). No other critter activity to report. After a late morning start we headed out and, as is frequently the case, finding the trail was much easier going downstream. We were out and eating carnitas at Familia Diaz in Santa Paula by 2:30PM.
I have several things to discuss regarding Devil's Gateway and the Agua Blanca watershed. First, the amount of poison oak in the canyon is greatly exaggerated. What there is of it is easily avoidable. Second, the nasty, bitey little black bastard bugs are out in force, however, one can repel most of them with 100% DEET. Finally, were one to look a a topo map and see much further up Agua Blanca one would see a place where all those neat little topo lines stack up on each other forming a narrow and very deep chasm called "The Narrows". I want to see this place and I suspect that finding it from the top of Agua Blanca would be easier than going up form the bottom the way we went. I'm thinking that approaching it from Ant Camp in the Condor Preserve would make more sense. Any takers?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hines Peak & Topatopa Bluffs... I hurt.

After a couple of stressful weeks I needed to get outside, and I decided to do something hard. You know, one of those really desperate goals that you never seriously consider doing. By the end of it all I had hiked 22 miles and gained around 6,000ft. This is the only time of year that one can really push on the peak trails of the Los Padres. In another month all those long trails will be very exposed to the sun and the temperatures will soar. At that point I will most likely be found in the Matilija and other local watersheds.
Yesterday was perfect for a masochistic trek with cool breezes and mild temps. A couple of weeks ago I summited Santa Paula Peak, and a couple weeks before that, Topa Topa with the Geezers. Hines is a whole other animal. I have come to the realization that, by peak-bagging standards, Topa Topa is actually a nice, moderate hike. I started at 07:30 from Sesar Road and ground out the miles through White Ledge and up to the Red Reef. Up on the ridge, instead of finishing the Topa Topa summit stretch I kept to the road heading east past the tank trap. This trail was nearly overgrown prior to the Day Fire but is now wide open.
At the saddle behind Topa Topa, Hines Peak isn't quite visible and I was a bit dismayed by how far the final two miles to the Lady Bug/Sespe junction seemed. Basically this was new territory for me and being solo, I immediately realized the potential for serious problems if I were immobilized. This is something that always concerns me when I'm on unfamiliar ground by myself. I think of it as a healthy paranoia. I mentally hunkered down, put one foot in front of another, and started up the steep summit ridge to the top of Hines. At times this ridge pushes a 40 degree scramble and I spent much of it kicking steps in snow. Finally, the summit, and not a very interesting one. There is no USGS marker, no register, no comfortable place to collapse, just some brush and loose rock. The views of the back-country are far superior to those from Topa. Looking north and east is like staring at a topo map of the Sespe, though the distances and the severity of the terrain are amplified. I know that sounds dumb, but you weren't there.
After carefully picking my way down Hines I backtracked toward Topa Topa. Arriving at the summit I dropped into the lounger and just kinda let my brain go for a bit. I just sat there for a while before I was able to pull myself together enough to change my socks, eat something, and give serious thought to the next 7 miles of knee banging downhill. I nearly forgot to sign the register, my 17th entry. As I stepped off the summit I devoted all of my attention making the most of my trekking poles and putting my feet down carefully. When I am worn out my joints get a little loose and it's far easier for me to turn an ankle or make dumb mistakes. Nothing makes for a bad day like a sprained ankle.
After a long break at White Ledge I continued down, down, down. Somewhere along the way I drifted into a zone of semi-awareness. A state where I wasn't paying particular attention any one thing except putting one foot down, then the next...repeat process. I wasn't quite out of gas but I was on reserve. Back on the fire road I ran into Lenore ( and Cheryl and a friend. They've been banging away at the local trails in preparation for a run up Mt Whitney in July. I don't really recall much of the conversation because I was running on fumes but they're nice people, I'm sure they'll understand. Soon I was back at the truck.

Stats for the day: 8.5 hours Sesar>Hines>Topa Topa>Sesar; greater than 6,00 feet of elevation gained, and 22 honest miles.