Monday, April 28, 2014

Hole In The Wall.

Hole In The Wall. A legendary gem of the SLP.
Multiple brutal and bloody attempts have ended in failure, the only knowledge gained having been the elimination of suspected routes of entry. HITW is likely the most remarkable geological landmark in the Southern Los Padres. There are many peaks, many caves, and many drainages and narrows, but there is only one
 Hole In The Wall.

Girded for war. I use archery arm guards turned outward if the brush calls for protection.
Try to imagine the acoustic shell of the Hollywood Bowl, a large and resonant hollow behind the orchestra. Now imagine a similar arch, made entirely of a blend of limestone and sandstone, only much, much taller, wider, and deeper. That's what comes to mind when standing below The Hole. Fully mature spruce and sycamore trees fail to reach even half of the Hole's height. The rim of The Hole hangs 130ft over a small pool of clear water, and a spring seeps from a low apron. The rounded concavity of The Hole is a 75ft climb up ledges and, in the Hole itself, up fragile patinas of limestone. From this vantage the roof of the Hole extends outward at a horizontal angle for about 50ft, and the rest of the rim wraps left in a long arc, going from deeply overhung to a vertical cliff on the southern side of the formation. This place is astonishing, beautiful, unique. It could have been plucked straight out of the haunted cliff dwellings of Canyon de Chelly or Mesa Verde.

This should help put The Hole in scale. Click any image to enlarge it. Photo: Mike S.
As I said, the acoustics reflected off The Hole are incredible. My comrade Mike was 100+ feet away and could hear me rummaging through my pack and opening a Clif Bar wrapper. And Mike, he doesn't hear too good. With one ear we could barely hear a woodpecker at work some distance from The Hole but with the other ear turned toward the Hole we could hear it just fine. The echoic affect was so alien that we found ourselves speaking in hushed tones, yet this was the only time I have ever wished Mike could sing opera (I have never wanted to myself, ever).

Having been around a bit I can honestly say that I've never encountered anything that nature has put in the Los Padres as singularly unique as this place.

There are four condors in this image.
Five in this image.
As for getting there, I am at a loss for the right words to describe the degree of difficulty involved. Before getting to that I should make clear that our route required logistics and brainstorming and failed attempts, and even then our plan shifted on the fly once we were in the shit. And more than just Mike and myself were a part of this overall plan. Every one of us literally bled for this route. That being the case, we regard our route as a trade secret.

Pictures cannot capture the immensity of HITW. A video (below) might help.
The day included numerous uphills and reciprocal losses in elevation. Some of those climbs and descents were dangerous, dancing with disaster. By the end of the day I was able to share with Mike that Los Padres brush doesn't get any worse than what we experienced that day. I can speak about going off-trail through biblical scale brush with some authority. This was the real deal. Miles of it. At times I've attempted to describe what that scenario involves, but words fall short. It was an ugly, bloody day. I bulldozed through a lot of lumber this day. On one occasion a branch sprang back at me striking my eyebrow and tearing a bloody half inch scratch in my lower eyelid before raking off a good patch of nose skin. Faring little better, Mike was covered in cat scratches and even lost a third of one trekking pole somehow. Ugly and bloody. The price of admission to The Hole was paid in blood, sweat, and curse words. Mike held fast and worked hard all day.

Overhead brush is no easy place to stay on course. Both of us pulled together on the navigation and Mike put a fair degree of faith in my course change suggestions. In the end we were able, as a team, to stagger into HITW. We adopted a different route for a good portion of our escape, one which, again,  required some faith. It worked out a bit better than retracing our steps would have. I can look back on this and say that this was probably a one time thing for me. The route was just too brutal to overcome the knowledge of the hell that awaits those that venture into The Hole.

Got into some brush. The brush got me back.
HITW from miles away, taken on an unsuccessful route recon. Courtesy of Mike S.


  1. ... and the envy meter just went to 11. Dammit.

  2. A Gem Indeed......Hefty Price of Admission, But Worthy of The Investment!!!!

  3. Bittersweet... wish I could've made the trip.

    Nonetheless, super impressed with the effort y'all put in and the resulting experience/scene. I'd place this high up on the list with a few other choice Stillman adventures in the local hills.

  4. Thanks Gents.
    Nick, wish you could have been there man. It was worth the investment and effort. -DS