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?


  1. I hate commenting on myself but I have made corrections to the names "Devil's Gateway" and "Devil's Gate". Thanks to Eric at Ventura County Canyoneering Club bringing my attention to the fact that both places exist and that I was at the Gateway. -Dave

  2. hey david,

    you were w/i 1/2 mile of two alternate campsites - one along the agua blanca and one up the pothole trail which intersects just above the devil's gateway.

    i too would like to see the big narrows.

    after some research, and all things considered, i believe it would be easier to access going up the agua blanca in a day hike vs. hiking from dough flat to ant camp to lake piru. that's definitely an overnighter or two. and there might be route finding and bushwhacking involved.

    to access w/o a key, a mountain bike ride in to the first piru creek crossing would work.

    see recent trip report to the area + pix here:

    email to me: