Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Off-Trail Over Lockwood Valley

Here's a fun filled off-trail excursion through the forests and gullies just above Lockwood Valley. This all started when a friend mentioned that he'd heard that a guy had found some arrowheads in a couple meadows somewhere south of Lilly Meadows. Looking further I figured out where this tale may have originated, got confirmation from the friend, plotted a route and took off for a look see. My plan started and ended at Camp 3 Falls (BSA Camp) in Lockwood. I planned to make a big loop, traveling up the trail toward Sheep Camp as far as Lilly Meadows, and from there I'd head south and west off-trail to see what was what and with luck, arrive safe and sound back at the BSA camp. Fun.

Detail of the loop route described in this post.
One of the waterfalls for which Camp 3 Falls is named, this one being the biggest. There's still water here, a persistent drizzle of about a half gallon per minute.
A short while before reaching Lilly I had a fun bear encounter. The trail where I met her passes through a steep and narrow ravine with nearly dry creek just off the left side of the trail. I was probably only 10-15 feet from her when we both got a little startled. She (I want to say the bear was a lady) jumped out of the creek and started climbing the steep and loose cliff opposite me. She was a glossy black beauty, large, a young adult. I've seen a lot of bears move faster than she did so I don't think she was particularly alarmed after the initial contact. She climbed up the cliff, breaking sticks and trundling down rocks, and from in the shade above where I took the photo (below) of her, she paused to take a look at me. After that I got to observe her traverse away from me across that same slope. She was my second bear sighting of the last month.

I asked her if she wanted to dance and she ran off. Click to enlarge.
Grouse Mountain from the saddle south of Lilly Meadows.
After the excitement I continued up to Lilly Meadows and turned due south from the campsite. I climbed up to a forested saddle and took stock of what I wanted to do. The view from here was unobstructed and I could see across the valley to Lockwood Peak, and further, to Thorn Point and Cedar Peak. Behind me was a nice view of Grouse Mountain. Below was a terrain of thickly forested ridges, and between those, a bewildering array of twisting ravines. I revisited my intended route and decided to do things a little differently, to try to maintain a position on the high ground and ridge tops instead of descending into the drainage below me. I figured that staying in the cedar and juniper up high wouldn't be so tough, and that if I descended right into those gullies I would be in the mix without any real view relative to landmarks. So, that being the plan I moved laterally from the saddle and made my way over to a tall and wavy ridge which descended in the direction I wanted to go. 

Land of the incense cedars.
A view south from high above Lockwood. Lockwood Peak is in the middle distance.
I selected the appropriate bear track and set off, descending through tall cedars, short manzanita, and scruffy junipers. The going was pretty easy but the forest was pretty thick at these lower elevations, which restricted visibility. Eventually I dropped off the ridge and continued down a narrow, twisting ravine. This gully terminated into a slightly larger drainage which came in from a different direction. These little gullies would have been pretty bewildering if I hadn't been solid on where I was going. I clambered over the umpteenth dead fallen cedar and stepped right onto a pile of bones, the nicely stacked remains of a mountain lion's supper. A short time later my gully met another, broad and forest hedged drainage. Here I turned a sharp right and started up this drain headed due west. Fifteen minutes later I stepped into a widening, grassy meadow. A dry watercourse ran through the middle of the meadow, and following that through this one led to another, larger meadow of the same sort, this one being even prettier. 

This has to be the tidiest cat kill I've ever run across.

The more southerly approach into the meadows on the western edge of my day.
In this westerly meadow I dropped pack in the shade of a massive cedar and had a little lunch. Tucking my pack behind my head I stretched out on the pine needles. A cool breeze rustled the pines, the sun beat down on the grassy lea, the birds were chirping and the cicadas sang their hypnotic, buzzing song. I fell asleep. And it was nice.
This is the first in a series of small, connected meadows. Ringed by old cedars, I can imagine that on a wetter year this place would be booming with wildflowers. Deer and bear sign were literally everywhere.
The meadows.

Later I took a different drainage which headed due east and back toward the Scout Camp. At a junction where another gully came in from the north I discovered the now familiar remains of a pot grow operation. I've seen too many of these damned places despoiling our forest. This one covered about 5 acres and had been well irrigated. The Ventura County Sheriffs Dept pulled the plants out last spring but left behind all the equipment and trash. I'm not sure why they left that stuff in the mountains, but I did mark the spot and made sure that the 3 Falls camp ranger is aware that all that crap is still up there. Maybe getting it out of there would be a good Eagle Project for an aspiring young man (hint, hint)[06/07/14 Craig Carey and Leo Genet will be organizing a clean-up including OA Scouts and the Camp Ranger].

I'm getting really sick of this bullshit and these people fucking up our woods. I'm sure there's more than a few Iraq/Afghanistan snipers out there looking for work. Maybe the government could start up a bounty program. You know what? Never mind. That's just me daydreaming.
The trash, hoses, fertilizers and rat poisons these assholes leave behind is harmful to the environment, not to mention the plant destruction and water diversion required to make a grow operation successful.
These tiered rows of micro drip water line covered two hillsides, roughly 5 acres of cultivation.
At the bottom of this drainage, just above where it meets back with the trail out of the Scout Camp, I encountered an interesting geological feature. Sharp pinnacles of black lava rock rose from the gully like pointy fangs. The gully twisted steeply through these towers. The rock was jagged and crumbly and unsuitable for a scrambling exploration but this feature was unique and different than any other rock I've seen in the SLP. All in all, it was a fun day. To top it off, I drove over to Grade valley and Mutau for a bit of late afternoon meditation.

Clidophleps vagans [desert cicada] {song}. They are swarming in the cedars right now. This little bastard tried to drill a hole in my finger while I took this photo
And here's a couple pretty views from Mutau Creek for you all. Mahalo.


  1. Another of "my" spots!
    Did you see the deer antler in the tree halfway to the meadows? Did you skirt the falls at the pinnacles and slide down?
    Mike B.

  2. Anon,
    No sir, didn't spot a fruit bearing antler tree, but I did descend the slot through the pinnacles, no slide though, just an easy down climb. Maybe I missed the slide. -DS

  3. D, we often did a variation of this route as Scout when learning backcountry navigation, coming out at at the pinnacles on our back (once in the pitch dark, stories still abound). Really enjoyed this post.

  4. And good grief, I obviously need coffee because my comment made about zero sense. ;-)

  5. Death before decaf, Craig. Happens to the best of us. -DS

  6. That sucks to get so far away from things and then run into the mess left behind by others. Maybe the bounty idea isn't so bad after all....
    Great post and really nice photos David.