Friday, April 29, 2011

Day of the Condor, Tar Creek, 04/29/2011

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.

Okay, back to Tar Creek. It was another one of those days that I was able to jet out of work early, this time I took Jayson Scott with me. We both took advantage of a rare opportunity and were rewarded. Birds from the sky, oh my.

I've spent so much time on this Tar Creek place that I'll just keep this brief, except for the noteworthy stuff. So anyway, Jay and I bolted out of work like the building was falling down around our ears. A half an hour later we were headed out to Fillmore. We raced down to the Land of the Lost in 41 minutes, took a quick break and continued down to the bottom.

When we got to the bottom I was a bit disappointed that the birds were out. For some reason I just had it my head that we were gonna see the condors. We jumped in the pools, had some lunch, laid around like fat lions, scorched our hides in the spring sunshine, enjoying the teleportation from blood and needles to this rocky water-garden.
I was feeling pretty blissed out when a shadow passed over my closed eyes. I said,
"Jay, look up."

The male circled us first. I just let Jay get his first look at North America's Largest, most endangered bird. I new his mate would be around and she showed a minute later. The birds circled a few times slow and low. I got the sense that they wanted us to leave so we retreated up the canyon a bit until they landed and settled down. We crept back down to the bottom of the canyon. The birds knew we were there alright, but I knew from times before that a slow and respectful approach was the best way to get the picture. I kept easing forward until I was within 10 feet of them, seated about 8 feet above them. After a time I eased out and let Jay take my place.
We spent a full half hour with them. Strange birds, they are. Majestic in the sky.Ugly on the ground. They are exceedingly ugly animals up close. Not one glimmer of intelligence behind those red eyes, at least not in the way we think. They are a bit curious, inspecting stones and driftwood. This pair genuinely seem to like each other, never more than 10 feet from each other, and often coming together to share some silent condor cumbaya.

How do you top that? Really. I decided to run Jayson through the "pro tour", (staying in the canyon on the return upstream from the bottom). He charged right up the Class IV exit chimney in the slot canyon. The rest of the day held to the mold. We swam again at the upper pools and blasted out in 45 minutes from the Land of the Lost.
Please, take a minute to read my little tangent of the week (below).

Now, I'm just assuming that those of you that actually read this blog adhere to the '"tread lightly" ethic. Sadly, Tar Creek hasn't been a secret for a long time. I'll admit to owning my share of the responsibility for increasing the visibility of Tar, should we have that discussion, (Please note, dear readers, that I never leave directions, waypoints, or milage to anyplace I write about. I figure if somebody can't find a place it's because they weren't meant to.). But the spike in traffic over the last three years can mostly be attributed to two things: YouTube and the ubiquitous guide "Day Hikes of Ventura County". YouTube, home of clips of silly idiots flinging themselves from the falls (which resulted in several helicopter rescues last season). "Day hikes..." because it's everywhere, and it's written and marketed for people who would otherwise have never heard about this place, but they get the book and a water bottle, round up 3 pale friends and go see what the book was raving about.
Now, we humans are dirty, disorganized creatures and when we congregate in a place in sufficient numbers, that place begins to look dirty and disorganized. I like cleanliness and order. I cut ropes. I knock down trail ducks. I pick up lots of trash.
Pass it on.

Jayson Scott contributed a couple photos to this entry and both the videos were shot by him.


  1. I very much so liked your blog thank you. :)
    I personally stumbled across tar creek by accident in 2009 while searching topo maps for some undiscovered backcountry face... And ever since love the place!
    Now you mentioned you cut down ropes. I've left three anchor line ropes for repelling over the falls in that time. All of which have been removed. With past careers including working at the Los Angeles zoo, occasionally lending logistical field assist for climbing and micro trash clean ups for the California Condor Conservation Project, and current employment as a falconer, and still volunteering on the side with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, as an avid climber and photographer, I understand the pristine nature of this place and but I must disagree with your stance to an extent. Climbers as a whole are an adventurous and minimalistic group, therefor please do not disturb the expensive safety equipment I have spent hours rigging and testing for the benefit of all. By placing permanent gear we eliminate much of the wear subjected to the native flora and if placed properly will not be attractive enough to play with by the curious condors. Thank you for your concern on the matter though, many people out there are still pigs when it comes to cleanup it's refreshing to hear someone else's rant.

  2. Also I know it goes against your code but the curiosity is killing me: you mentioned a chimney climb? I'm usually so preoccupied by scrambling and repelling I've never found any chimneys where's that? Feel free to message me via my google+
    Thanks David maybe I'll see you out there sometime ;)

  3. Dusty, I've climbed for 20 years, all over the west. For quite a while I was very good at it. As climbers we have a responsibility to clean up after ourselves. We cannot be leaving our gear around these sensitive places. People tend to think of climbers as being environmentally aware in a "citizens of the planet" sort of way. Leaving gear hanging off the bottom of Tar Creek shows a disregard for the sensitivity of the environment and in particular, for the condors. It sends a message that "our trash is okay because we're climbers". For almost twenty years climbers have been using camouflage bolt hangers and stone colored webbing in an attempt to be as discreet as possible in "touchy" areas. The forest service and Ventura County SAR had over 30 rescues out of Tar Creek last summer. Think they aren't itching to find ways to restrict access? Bright blue webbing isn't what I call discreet. And by the way, you called it climbing gear, but what you really meant was "rappelling" gear, because I sincerely doubt you actually climbed the face of the falls.
    Please take your "expensive equipment" out with you. It doesn't belong in the backcountry. I do not apologize for cutting the gear. And you are right, I may see you out there some time.