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.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reyes Peak via Chorro Grande Trail, 04/23/2011

I've been up Reyes Peak a number of times, and I've always started at the trailhead at the end of Pine Mountain Road, but I never really felt like I "earned" the summit. It's just too easy from the road, three-ish miles with only about 500ft of gain. Yesterday I earned it.
The Chorro Grande trail takes off from Highway 33 at an unmarked trailhead (2 posts where a sign should be are the marker), at an altitude of 3,400ft. The trail ascends at a moderate angle for a couple miles, climbing through low-land chaparral before the trail abruptly jacks up the steep, and stays that way until reaching Pine Mountain Road at what boulderers call Enlightenment Ridge.
As special word about this three mile "hill". My kindest adjective for this hill would be the word "arduous". I mean, this is right up there with memorable heart-break hills in the Tetons, in the Olympics, the Sierras. It is steep, sustained, arduous.
I blasted through the brutal 5 mile climb from the 33 in 1:50minutes I took a nice break at the last camp on the summit ridge. Patches of snow are still to be found in the shade. The whole ridge felt clean, renewed. The hordes of campers and climbers haven't yet invaded the mountain top. Everything is green. The chalk has been washed away by the winter.

After my break I headed east down the 1.25 miles to the parking lot at the Reyes Peak trailhead and just kept walking right up to the top of Reyes. There are a few steeps in the pines on the way to Reyes, some with snow, but after the grind up Chorro these seem short, almost pleasant. Reyes is a spectacular summit at 7,500ft, notable really for it's 360 vistas. The only direction you can't really see from the summit markers is toward the north, but the views to the north as you descend the peak on your way back are just spectacular. The Cuyama Badlands are quite a sight.

In what seemed like no time I was off Reyes and hooking a left to start the knee-bashing Chorro Grande downhill. It's hard to decide which is worse, the quad-killing uphill or the jackhammer knees on the way down. I can tell you that it's far easier to observe and enjoy the sights on the descent. For instance, I took a nice break at Chorro Grande Camp. This is a comfortable place nestled in a hip of the mountain. It has a clear spring which flows from under a cavernous rock. There are Chumash grinding bowls on camp boulders and the whole place is shaded by pines and oaks. It is a peaceful place and feels very old.

I resumed the knee-bashing descent, most of which provides impressive views up the upper sespe. This is the kind of view that I enjoy traveling through, grand and broad. I could broadly state that my truck seemed grandly far away.
Trip Stats:
Distance: 17 miles round trip
Elevation gained: Over 4,000ft
Time (including breaks): 6hours 20 min

Below: Remains of somebody's bad day, Hwy 33, right above the Snakepits.
Below: Mt Reyes over Piedra Blanca, clouded over as the day grew long.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Banged up, hunting for sun, Tar Creek, 04/19/2011

Yesterday I ate shit in a creek, dislocated my my finger in addition to other tissue insults, saw a bobcat, and pissed off a rattlesnake. Today I'm feeling pretty banged up and not into going far or getting hurt in the process. I know I've chastised myself for numerous returns to Tar Creek, and I've recently said that I would be mixing some things up (and I will), but I wasn't feeling very adventurous today so I just sauntered down to the Land of the Lost and parked my butt on a warm rock.
I spent a few hours lazing around at the pools. Completed both the LATimes & NYTimes crosswords, thought about very little of consequence. Not a bad way to pass time, I say.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lions Canyon Run, 04/18/2011 (a bobcat, a buzzworm, and a busted digit)

What the hell happened to the beautiful, sunny weekend we just had?!? You know, the one that I spent on-call and at work. I got a chance to leave work in the noon hour and bolted out the door, only to be reminded that getting out from under the marine layer would involve some driving.
My first thought was that Matilija might be sunny...wrong! I just kept driving up the 33. The fog and cloud parted at the crest and I drove down into a green and bright Rose Valley. With the limited time I had due to the late hour I opted for a quick circuit of the Lions Canyon and it's east and west fork falls. I took the connector trail that starts just at the entrance to the Rose Valley campground.
West Fork Falls, Lion Creek (above)
I remembered why I liked the connector trail. I takes you up over a ridge and down into Lions Canyon. It's an interesting and varied trail and right now is the time to see it. All the little watercourses are streaming and everything is green.
The West Fork falls are kind of fun to get to. Taking the creek upstream from the WFork camp is pretty and shaded. There are a bunch of old sycamores just before this neat 12 foot falls. Of the 2, the West Fork feels a bit more remote.
I was leaving the falls when I messed up and crashed head-first down some largish rocks into the creek. Yeah, I ate shit. Bashed my knee pretty good. When I could stand and knew that the knee would hold weight, I addressed a corona of pain blossoming in my right hand. I realized that, not only was my right pinky finger not working, but it was also facing the wrong direction. Without giving myself a lot of time to think about what I was doing, I grabbed that digit and yanked hard, added a twist at the end, and felt it pop back into place. A few minutes later I headed over to the East Fork.
The East Fork is more of a collection of waterfalls, most of them less than 10 feet in height, and did I say pretty? Yes, this is a very pretty place and well worth visiting. I think I was 11 years old the first time I saw these falls. It's funny how I forgot how much I like this hike.
A couple other interesting things occurred in addition to the manual, on-site dislocated finger reduction. I pissed off my first rattler of the season. He was in the brush and grass a few inches from the trail and the warning buzz convinced me not to investigate. And to put nice little bow on the day, I spooked a healthy bobcat who had been hiding under a tree full of chirping birds. I guess I wrecked his shot at an early evening snack. All in all, it became a very eventful unplanned afternoon. The 6 mile hike took me 2:45 minutes with stops at both falls. And yes, the finger hurts like hell.
Below: a fat & happy horned toad