Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chief Peak via Horn Canyon, 10/28/2011

Above: Ojai, from above Horn Canyon
Below: Chief Peak from the east
I've taken myself off the DL. Back to the dirt. I chose my trail with a wry touch of trepidation. Just about any real day hike in the Southern Los Padres is going to be steep and tough, but Horn Canyon Trail's first four miles are a doozy even by the standards of it's sister trails. I've always leaned toward the school of "go big or don't go" and since I figured myself to be pretty out of shape after months of not having fun, what better way to test myself than a burly 15 mile round trip?

I started up Horn at dawn. I moved through the low forest of beech and oak, enjoying the quiet murmur of the creek, listening to the waking birds. It was crisp, cold really, so I moved fast in order to warm up. Soon I was feeling pretty good and as the trail got steep I was in fine form. I gotta say I felt mustard. I think I was on a pretty good buzz just being out on a trail alone. I didn't even notice the steeps until I realized I was already walking into The Pines Camp.

The Pines is a sweet little campsite tucked in a fold of the great big hill that looms above Thatcher School. The camp is nicely shaded with several species of pine, and a few of the trees have probably been planted there as seedlings. Several of these trees have bear markings on them. A spring box is tucked in the brush on the west side of the camp and is mostly used for horses. The horses, which I've never encountered, have their own picket posts and a bit of grass to crop. Within the past several months somebody has gone to a great deal of effort, crafting log benches for the site. It's pretty nice but the best features of the camp are the wind protection and the sunrise. The mornings here are golden and warm, but I kept on walkin'.
In a little less than 4 hours I was on the summit. Not bad time-wise. I lingered on the top for over an hour. It was too nice a day to just sign in and bail. A long lunch and a cat-nap later I was scrambling down to the fire road.
Above: Ojai, Ventura, and the Channel Islands form Chief's summit

Below: The Sespe. Nuf said.
So here I am, feeling pretty good about my over-all fitness and very happy with my cardio. Smiles all the way around right? Telling myself that I'm a super great guy in super great shape until...I tried to get outa bed the next morning. What the hell did I do with that god damn oil can?!? And where's my Motrin?! And glucosamine?! Hell, bring me a dead shark and I'll eat it's raw cartilage! I had aches that I didn't never have, ever. This, in a word, sucks. So I have a ways to go to get back to the type of shape these hills require.

Below: I saw the tracks of many deer. Guess the deer of D-13 have had an easy hunting season so far. Also, I saw a very large red tail hawk, and from about fifteen feet away I spooked a pretty Coopers hawk with a lizard in it's mouth.

Below: The Pines Camp


  1. Tried this hike last month but turned around at 7.6 miles due to time (had to pick up kids at school). We were going around the eastern end, and the peak still seemed a ways off. We'd like to try it again if we knew where to go off of the fire road to the left to climb up to the peak.

  2. Cortney, after the junction joining Sisar Rd to Nordoff Ridge Rd you'll continue west toward Chief for a ways. Eventually you'll have a face-on view of the peak. with your eyes follow the left hand (S) skyline down to the road. You should see the remnants of an old bulldozer track cutting up to that skyline from the road. It's actually fairly obvious once you're there. Luck.

  3. Thanks! I think we can figure it out using your map. Heading up this week.

  4. Yeah, Cortney
    When you get to that cat track you'll see a big red boulder about a hundred feet up that track. Follow the use trail up the summit ridge. -DS

  5. We went up today & found the cat track easy enough (there were stacked rocks this time)...however we heard a rattlesnake right near that big red boulder. We chickened out on that route and went back to the ridge road and got to the top from there. Longer but better safe than sorry. Thanks again for the help!

  6. Hi David,
    I wrote you on another blog as I attempted to reach the Pines Camp in February and chickened out due to the steep incline and ledges found on the final mile of the trail. At your recommendation, I came back to Horn Canyon WITH hiking poles. And I made it. I know this is a piece of cake for you but for me, it took a lot of courage and mental focus to face my fear of falling and heights. The reward was unbelievable. I saw a hummingbird, a woodpecker and a couple blue jays while taking a break under the shade of the Pines. It was pure magic. Thank you for encouraging me to try this trail again. Now if they'll open Hwy. 33 - I'd like to try Chief Peak from Rose Valley :) Thank you again!

  7. SG,
    Now take that spirit (and your new poles) and roll with it! -DS

  8. the wife and i are planning to do the sespe gorge again this next month, mid to late june. forest service folks say there's water in there and a distant forest flow measurement site [called, i believe] mentioned there were 2-3 cfs passing through at the lower end near tar creek. not sure what that looks like in terms of pools and beds. last time we were in it wa late and we appreciated that we didn't have to float through the were wondering if there is enough even to swim. once a couple years ago i found a water report share page on your blog here...curious how to find it now, to see if theres info...