Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chorro Grande to Reyes Creek, by way of Reyes Peak and Haddock Peak, in one day. Nuts. 03/22/12.

Okay, I've got one that you trail hounds ought to love. A dirty three-way. Three trails that is. Chorro Grande Trail, Reyes Peak Trail, and Gene Marshall Trail. And it was really more snowy and muddy than dirty. Right. Moving on...
This day's effort is the offspring of an evil seed which has been germinating in my mind for some time. It started with my having done Chorro Grande trail to Reyes Peak as a day hike. Then Cliff Griffiths and I hiked the Gene Marshall trail in a day. I began to think that putting the best of those trips together as a one day thru hike, while admittedly ambitious, would create one of the gnarliest trail link-ups in the SLP (Southern Los Padres NF). 22 miles of high lonesome starting off highway 33 at 4,000ft. And hey, why not throw in a pair of 7,000 foot peaks? It had the potential for a very burly day. It was a very burly day.

The Nuts & Bolts
I was pretty pleased that I could wrangle in a partner for this craziness. This hike travels over some really remote and seldom visited country, and having another person around can be good for morale, and can in fact be a lifesaver. There's only three guys I know who I'd consider having along on something like this, and fellow blogger of local backcountry stuff, Jack Elliot, who proved his mettle on our recent trip to Indian Cave, is one of them. We met at 04:00 and drove up the 33 in two vehicles. One vehicle was left at the Reyes Creek trailhead at Camp Scheideck, the other was parked at the start of Chorro Grande on the 33. We saddled up and got moving at 05:50 under a starry sky just hinting at dawn.

These first miles were cool but not cold, the skies scudded with pastel pink cirrus. After the usual warm-up nonsense I settled into Chorro's steep grade and we made good time. Chorro is kind of a beast. This trail gains 2600 or so feet in just five miles and I was glad that we'd be getting that elevation jump out of the way right up front. A wise guy once said, in reference to the Chorro trail, "It goes up from here.". Our first snow of the day came at Chorro Grande springs and things just got better and wetter the higher we got.

Reyes Peak summit. This was an incredibly beautiful day.
By the time we'd blown past the Reyes Peak trailhead, snow became a central theme of the day. Before the route to Reyes kicked up I strapped into my yaktrax, those handy cable chains for light boots and trail runners. These things work well on every terrain but stone, and they made breaking trail significantly easier than it would have been if I'd been slipping and tripping without them. We motored up the short but steep tiers of Reyes and made the summit just 4.5 hours into the day. Things were going pretty good thus far, but ahead of us was a half mile of off trail through snow until we found the trail over to Haddock Peak. 

Route checking. Staying on-route became a constant concern.
I'd be full of shit if I didn't admit to you all that I was starting to get a nagging nervousness about being off trail in foot deep snow. I started to wonder about this trail that ran the ridge between the Reyes and Haddock Peaks. With all this snow, and us descending from Reyes, would I recognize the trail or just go right over it and keep steering us down to some f'd up canyon? And just how obvious is the trail anyway? It's not like it gets a lot of traffic! 
So, yeah. These thoughts pinged around in my head until we got on route. We had indeed overshot the trail, but only by about 75 feet. This was not the last time the GPS saved our ass that day, or maybe that's a little dramatic but it did save us some time and energy. 

Nordoff Ridge, the Oxnard plain, and The Santa Monicas.

The trail to Haddock traverses a stretch of the prettiest, most expansive views in our SLP. The trail stays mainly on the north side of the ridge, the shadier and snowier side. We crunched through forests of ponderosa, blue spruce, and jeffry pine. The trail frequently passed through random rock formations of rusty sandstone. It rolled through pleasant, sunny meadows and frequently took us to the southern side of the ridge, which is mostly sheer drops and endless views to the coast. On and on we trudged, often stopping for a moment to find the trail, until we finally mounted the final steps to Haddock Peak.  This summit has no USGS marker, but it does have a completely soaked summit register. We had been enjoying the view all morning, so hanging out on the breezy summit wasn't a priority. Next stop: Haddock Camp on Piedra Blanca Creek, where we would leave the Reyes Peak Trail for the Gene Marshall.

Trail? You see a trail, man?

The Cliffs of Haddock Peak.

The summit register on Haddock Peak.

Bear markings. 

Haddock Peak summit, You can see Hwy 33 below.

Reyes Ridge is peppered with impressive rock formations.

Jack and I descending into Beartrap.

We were greeted to an interesting sight as we rolled into Haddock camp. Two new but cheap tents had been abandoned, and a pair of sleeping bags lay in the mud. A pee bottle and various sundries had been cast aside in the snow. Clearly, one party had ignored the weather report and paid for it. As I say, the gear was cheap, of the Big 5 variety, and all of it was new. Just a few folks goin' campin'! The scene had all the markings of a night spent huddling in these inferior tents, being blown about in the black night, snow piling up outside. It was not hard to envision a desperate night followed by a miserable descent to Piedra Blanca. Forget the shiny new gear, just tuck tail and run. And never go camping again.

Upper Reyes Creek.
After a brief lunch at Haddock, Jack and I strapped in and set forth on the next 8.5 miles going northeast on the Gene Marshall trail. We had a nasty but brief climb out of Haddock before dropping into the Beartrap drainage. This stretch, like all of this hike, is very pretty. The trail slips through miles of cottonwoods, oak, and cedar, always on the creek. Another burly climb out of Beartrap Creek put us over a ridge and into the home stretch, Reyes Creek. Just a long roll down to the truck.
We saw hundreds of prints, thanks to the snow. These are bobcat.

This hike was something special. We had been blessed with the weather, perfect in the 60's with robin's egg skies and gentle breezes. This would have been a tough enough walk without the snow, but traveling through that snow for 60% of the day upped the ante considerably, not just in the route finding sense but also in that busting trail through all that snow added a 25% labor tax to the effort. As to the route finding, I carried a map, compass and GPS, but staying on route was primarily puzzle solving. I looked for unnatural features, the sawn log, a dip in the silhouette of a hillside and a corresponding one in the logical distance, the tracks of animals who follow the same general paths in their daily wanderings often use trails. All in all, it was as tough and satisfying a day as I'd ever experienced in the SLP.  This is a five star route.

I have to tip the hat to friend Jack. I know that this hike went above and beyond what we'd both anticipated, and that the snow and elevation just added to effort. I gotta hand it to the guy, he earned his stripes that day. He's got a new appreciation for what can be accomplished in a day. Never complaining, Jack is a self-contained guy and a capable trail hand. I look forward to future endeavors.
For Jack's trip report visit: Jack still can't believe he just did that.


  1. Nice hike! I did a quick sub-24 hour overnighter of the Gene Marshall/Piedra Blanca trail on March 9-10. This last weekend, I did Piedra Blanca TH to Sespe Hot Springs on Friday and then Sespe Hot Springs back to Piedra Blanca TH via Mutau Flat/Cedar Creek/Pine Mountain Lodge on Saturday.

    Beautiful scenery up along the Pine Mountain Ridge area. I have yet to see the Reyes Peak area but really want to go have a look around there. Haddock Peak looks equally alluring. Your hike looks like a fun challenge!


  2. That is pretty brutal! I've done Choro to Reyes, continuing on from there is gnar. I did an overnighter from Piedra Blanca to Haddock Peak and back in the middle of February and the trail was nearly invisible up to Haddock Peak, I wandered around and couldn't find the trail up to Reyes Peak from there.

    I did Topa Topa to Hines via Last chance from Sisar this past weekend, that was amazing, your triple crown and this Choro one puts that to shame though.

  3. Awesome! I did this same trek solo around 1996, although in reverse and no Reyes Pk summit. There was a freak dump of snow in the month of April. In fact the week before I turned around almost to Reyes Crk Trl camp to ensure I got over the Maricopa Summit before it closed as the snow started falling. The next week I got dropped off at Sheideck leaving my car at the Chorro Trl on 33. The snow started becoming an issue leaving Haddock Trl Cmp. It was iced over and slick in the spring sun. Careful steps using cat-like skills to prevent skating backwards, testing every step, never committing until I was sure I wasn't going to slide or punch through a hollow surface layer got tiring and stressful. The snow was rather deep on the north side of the Haddock ridge and even the spine was snow covered unless it was sans any shade. I tended to stay north as the south facing craggy side looked scarier in the event of a miss-step. My homemade brush gaiters became ice packs around my shins & ankles and I was quite frozen from the knees down and too exhausted to do anything about it. I was in shorts and had bike tights in my pack but couldn’t make myself put them on. They wouldn’t have helped at this point. When I couldn’t stay on the spine I was forced to drop down the north side and gingerly step hoping I would find just step into snow up to my knee. More often than not or enough to cause discomfort I would be over some boulder filled crevice and suddenly find myself falling hip deep with just my right leg while my left was firmly planted knee deep. By the time I got to visible trail near Reyes Pk my left knee and both hips were hurting bad, I mean bad. I was walking like a stick man, no bending of the knees, hips were saying STOP. It was after 6:00 almost 7:00. I was seriously considering an emergency bivouac. I had nothing so it was going to be a brush shelter and one BAD night. I continued on down Chorro Grande feeling very feeble. 12hrs 5min. Mike Sarver