Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tar Creek, 11/30/10

12/10/13: The US Forest Service will be enforcing access restrictions to Tar Creek soon. TC is part of the Condor Sanctuary established as critical habitat to this endangered bird and other wildlife. Epic numbers of visitors, and the trash and graffiti they have left behind, has led to the acknowledgment by the Forest Service that access must be curtailed and enforced. For more information on the impending action visit: Tar Creek Closure.

Sometimes my schedule seems opposite from the days Ruth (my wife) has off work. While this is good for the blog, it's not the way I would actually prefer things to be, and yesterday I was once again footloose. I used that time to do some exploring in and around Tar Creek. In addition to catching all the usual sites I added excursions up several small side canyons and tributaries. I was kind of hoping to get lucky with wildlife, or at least find some bones or fossils.
I couldn't have asked for a nicer day to take a solo jaunt. The weather was perfect and the light in the canyon was superb for picture taking. At last, a day of perfect weather with no high-mileage agenda. A day to just take things as they come, see what's to see, kick back on a warm rock, get caught up on some writing, etc...
I didn't run across any rare critters but I did find a nice vertebrae stuck in a crack. Another plus, I didn't see another living soul all day, which used to be the norm in this canyon. I wish I knew just how many times I've visited Tar, considering that the first time I saw the place was in 1992. I'm guessing it's near 150 times, but I just have to keep coming back.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

Ventura Sunset, 11/30/10

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hines Peak, Topatopa Bluff, 1 day. 11/24/10

The day before Thanksgiving I went back to Ojai and had a second go at the Sisar Rd>Hines Peak>Topa Topa Peak>Sisar Rd loop. Last week's attempt was called on account of the weather, but this day was ideal and I was feelin' mustard.
Below: the end of Nordoff Ridge Rd., entry to the wilderness.
As you can see, it was cold: 32F@07;30, 33F@11:00, 38F@12:15, 35F@14:00. Cold yes, but the dire warnings of high winds in the mountains and passes never materialized, and not that I was under-prepared, but I'm not a big fan of wind, so I was very pleased that I wasn't getting blasted by freezer air the whole day.

I decided that, unlike the last time I did this hike, I would take a more moderate approach to this hideous trek. In other words, I took more breaks on the ascent. Last time I was feeling pretty worked for several days post-slog. Not this time. By adding on 45 minutes to my prior time of 8.5 hours I was able to get back to the truck in pretty good shape. No delirium, no nausea, and with considerably more energy than on my prior go.

FYI, some years ago I gave the Topa Topa trail the name "Suffer Machine". I had time to think it over and have decided to call this Hines/Topa loop "The Unrelenting Bitch".
I encountered snow early, about half-way between White Ledge and the ridge road. By the end of the day I estimated that I had spent at least 50% of it trudging through the stuff. Snow is good for tracks and I saw a whole range of them: coyote, weasel, rodents, deer, birds. The critter tracks gave me a good idea of the amount of wildlife in the neighborhood, most of which one never actually sees.
Below: the approach to Hines Peak
Above: I secretly hope my sticker genuinely confuses someone
Below: looking southwest toward Topa Topa Peak

Below: The summit ridge up Hines, usually 2nd Class, but not this day!
I reached the Hines Peak/Lady Bug Trail junction at around 11:30 and after refueling went after it. In my mind I was already behind schedule and only half way through the day. Also, some rather dark clouds had started building up on Topa Topa just a couple miles away, which can be a cause for concern. I kept a close eye on those clouds as I ascended the summit of Hines and after a while I realized that the clouds weren't really doing anything I needed to worry about, so I just concentrated on what was in front of me.
Like I mentioned, what route exists up the west ridge of Hines usually feels like a tough scramble. Not so today. I spent a good amount of time kicking steps upward. A few spots, even if just for a few moves, were fairly dicey. In other words, not a great place to fall. Once in a while, when I'm on uncertain terrain with an elevated degree of danger, the voice of my guardian angel will pipe in with a friendly warning. It is the voice of veteran actor Sir Michael Caine. He says to me, in his calm and deliberate voice, "Now, mate. Don't muck this up.". Words to live by when kicking steps up 45 degree snow in trail-runners, with a long slide to the rocks if you choke.

Above: Hines Peak Summit
Below: Hines Peak, 6,704 feet
I arrived on the summit of Hines at 12:15, took a few pictures, checked on the ominous clouds over Topa (no real threat), adjusted a couple of things, and started down. The descent was a bit easier than the up because I had already done the hard work kicking steps. I raced down the peak, picked up the trail, and enjoyed walking in the sun before entering the shadow of the aforementioned clouds. It took exactly 1:30 hours to reach the next summit on this torture loop, Topa Topa Peak.

Above: dead manzanita on Hines
Below: dead manzanita under Hines
Below: Tracks of animals, myself included.
That final trudge up the north side of Topa was the last significant uphill for the day, which suited me fine. The summit of Topa was cold, dark, and icy, which was not fine, which explains why I spent even less time on top than I did on Hines. I signed the book for the 20-somethingth time, fired off a text to Ruth, shot the pics below, and turned my sights on getting back to the truck.
Above: Topa Topa summit bivy, Hines Peak in the background
Below: rather chilly on Topa's summit
I have noticed, numerous times, the phenomena of a stray cloud bank just seeming to find it's way to Topa Topa. They have the entire atmosphere to explore but some clouds just want to smash up against Topa's Bluffs, where they park for the afternoon. This usually creates some great light shows as the afternoon progresses. Today was one of those days.
Below: The view north toward Pine & Reyes Peaks
Below: God-rays over Upper-Ojai
Below: Afternoon light on the bluffs
Like I said, I made it back to the truck in one piece and better. Make no mistake, this is a hard hike. It's just about at the limit of what I'm willing to put myself through for a day-trip. As a comparison, consider that a marathon is 23.6 miles over generally flat terrain. Here's the stats on this hike:
  • Miles: around 22
  • Elevation gained over the course of the day: over 6,000 feet
  • Number of steps: don't ask
  • Calories burned: would be interesting to know
  • Advil consumed: 1,000 mgs
  • Start time & elevation: 07:30, 1,700 feet
  • Max elevation: 6,704 feet
  • Total time for the day: 9:15 hours

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rainy Day Hike. White Ledge Falls, 11/20/10

Hey, folks. I've survived another round of poison oak. The moment I got home from Agua Blanca creek I dropped a pharmaceutical atom bomb on my system. I have refills of the prescribed meds on-call lest I blunder into a thicket of doom, as I did last week. Talk about better living through chemistry. Without the aggressive treatment I am certain that I would have had to miss work and would still be wallowing in a pruritic pit of pain. It could have been much worse.
So I had this grandiose, overly ambitious and generally stupid idea to do Topa Topa Peak and Hines Peak in a day, in a storm. I threw together a pretty good kit for that kind of venture and drove up to Sesar road in Upper Ojai. At the trailhead I sat in the truck listening to the rain pounding down. After a few minutes of this, and some second thoughts, I suited up and got going.

All it took for me to revise, edit, and abbreviate my plans was a few thunder claps somewhere up the mountain. That, and the persistent volume of rain was all that was needed to take some of the wind out of my sails. I decided to settle for getting as far as White Ledge camp. An eight mile rainy day loop was about all I could really muster the heart for.
Having been relieved of my self-imposed plan to flog myself through endless miles of sodden misery I was able to just settle back and stroll up to White Ledge. The whole dynamic of my day changed, for the better. By the time I reached the camp I was thinking completely differently about the day. I was out in the hills, enjoying a nice walk in the weather, and in the mood to take a few pictures.
I explored down-stream from White Ledge, saw the falls, had some food while sitting under a big stone overhang. Just so you know, the falls at White Ledge aren't really anything special except in the early spring, which is why I haven't included a picture here. After lunch I just strolled back to the truck, taking pictures the whole way.
Above: a dead yucca
Below: clouds in Sesar Canyon
Below: macro shot of fern & moss
Below: bear food
Below: heart of manzanita

Below: Topa Topa obscured by clouds
Below: poor dead lizard, would appreciate help with identification
Below: ancient oaks