Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A slice of the Piru Backcountry, 03/30/13

A beautiful morning above Lake Piru and Blue Point (front left).
It's good to hear from old hiking mates, and even better to get out and eat some brush with them. Though he and I intermittently communicate, I haven't been out with Nico in almost a full year. We were overdue for teaming on something so I was happy to hear he had a day open and that his idea for the day had the potential to satisfy several long standing questions I've had about the backcountry to the west of Piru Lake.

The bright green lines show our route up the Pothole Trail and our eventual return down Reasoner Canyon.

Nico, high on the the Pothole Trail.
We started walking a bit after 5 in the morning, pounding Piru pavement under a blanket of low clouds and fog. I was a bit surprised at where we were forced to park due to gate closures. We later understood that the lake was so low that the upper boat ramp and the road to it were closed, which added 1.5 miles to what I figured our walk in would entail. Lame. We should have brought bikes, though that damn lake road is pretty steep in places. So after 4.6 miles of muffled and misty pavement plodding we finally encountered the take off for a neglected route called the Pothole Trail.

If not for the pretty clouds this shot would be looking down Reasoner Canyon  onto  Lake Piru.

The Pothole Trail is an old path that ascends west out of Piru Lake, climbing a tough 3 mile ridge before turning north and dropping into Agua Blanca Creek near the Devils Gateway. Agua Blanca Creek and this Pothole route to it are seldom travelled. The trail is named for a pair of grassy depressions just south of Devils Gateway. The first such "vale" is called the Pothole, it is about 5 acres and on the eastern side is a spring (I have no current info on Pothole Spring). Nearby is a smaller but similarly grassy bowl called the Devils Potrero. Nico and I didn't walk down into the potreros so I can't say what that's like, but the potholes/potreros looked pretty much like a place to keep passing through, if you read me.

So getting back to the climb out of the lake, let me tell you that it isn't a giveaway. This Pothole starts climbing very quickly, the terrain being steep and staying that way. Most of the route is overgrown with knee high weeds and brush. The soil is loose and the trail is undefined. It is pretty much a deer trail at this point as it is pretty obvious that very few people use this trail anymore. The low clouds held off the first rays of morning light while we climbed the steep path away from the lake. We'd moved quickly and had ascended above the clouds by sunrise. Looking back down our path we saw a sea of rugged ridges, their valleys deep in shade and hidden by clouds. We watched the first rays hit the small summit called Blue Point. The skyline to the north was dominated by the incomperable Cobblestone Peak. It was a very nice morning for a walk.

Cobblestone Peak and an old OHV sign.
We proceded up the ridge for a further mile until we reached a well marked junction where the Pothole turns north and descends into the potreros. We took a long break here, taking in the views to the north. Nico was hiking well and I was doing alright. It had been an unusually stressful and sleepless week and I judged that I was only at about 75% of normal. After some calories we turned our backs on the Pothole Trail. We had other business in the area.

Nico and I headed south on an ancient jeep road, still climbing. Eventually we ended up wandering westward for a ways, spent a couple hours in the upper parts of a nearby drainage. Saw a lot of interesting rock formations and brush and stuff. We learned quite a bit about that area and yes, I'm being kind of vague about this part of the day.

After a few miles of off-trail, and with no nearby water sources, we decided to turn it around. We returned to the northwest rim of Reasoner Canyon and started down that long grade toward the lake. This was the same overgrown jeep track that eventually meets Pothole trail at it's highest point. This route was long, hot, brushy, and at time difficult to figure out. Twice we thought we'd gotten off route when in fact it was the crazily wide switchbacks that threw us off. In the end we cut those switchbacks pretty easily, but the going was brushy. 

Nico, on the ridge west of Reasoner.

Nico descending through Piru high country.

Soon we dropped into a pretty series of hilltop meadows scattered with old oak trees. A short time later we were back on Piru pavement, just in time for the hottest part of the day. On the walk out we saw just how low the lake is and how little water is coming down Piru Creek. We got a good look back at some of what we'd accomplished, felt pretty good about it. By the time we reached the truck we had banged out 22-23 miles and over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in just 10 hours.

Pleasant meadows above the Lake.

Piru Creek is a trickle.

Cattle and kids on the upper boat dock.

Pothole Trail ascends the endless left leaning skyline.

Piru Creek isn't, and the Lake is a puddle.

Just a warning for those going out this way... Piru is not a nice area, by which I mean that any time you are in the neighborhood of Cobblestone Mountain and Piru Creek one should expect everything to be a little rougher, pricklier, hotter, drier, and buggier than one would normally anticipate. Travel in the area just seems harder than in other parts of the SLP. Also, the snakes are really out now, and so are the ticks. I brushed around three dozen of those creepy parasites off me throughout the day (they give me the willies). And it now appears evident that water (the lack of it) will be a major factor in our backcountry this summer. Plan accordingly.

I had a really nice day, don't feel like I worked too hard despite having started the day with an energy deficit. It was good to hang with Nico again and hear all his tales of what he and other trail burners are getting done in the SLP. Many people are doing extraordinary and athletic things in the Los Padres, whether it's peakbagging, mountain biking, big mileage ultras, or thrashing through the "impassable" old trails. There's lots of people out there doing big things.
Pretty pit-viper

Road miles.


  1. Lots of inspiring sites here - reason enough to get out in the Potholes area! Your snapshots are always from new and interesting vantages I haven't reached. Thanks for sharing.
    - Gary

  2. Glad we got to team up again for another trip and thanks for putting together the TR.

    Some interesting, unique views over the Piru area on this trip.

    Looking forward to some continued projects in the future.

  3. Good trip. Lots of nice places to see in one of the least known parts of the LPNF. Curious about the holes in your description. Maybe you guys hit he wall.

  4. Wow! looks like you guys found a really nice sanctuary!

  5. Yeah guys,
    Nico and I just did a little s'ploring. Interesting area, no? -DS

  6. Which "wall" would that be JR? If you meant -Did we run into several walls of brush?- yes. Or do you mean we hit an exhausted bonk type of wall?-no. Can't imagine what other wall we might have run into. Anyway, the answer to that one could be -not quite. -DS

  7. thanks David,
    for your life, and prose, shared -- in the Los Padres -- in the Wild ...
    and for your honor and discretion, respect for the sacred ...
    Sky Coyote, and all our sacred relations, returning ...
    Millennium Twain

  8. just found your site. Enjoying your rambles a lot. I spent quite a bit of time in the Los Padres 20 years ago. Now that I have more time I plan on doing many more trips.

  9. Thanks Micheal. Lots to do out there.