Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Munson Creek and Unnamed Drainage

Jack Elliott traversing out of upper Munson Creek.

This short day of off-trail shenanigans turned into a bit of a blood-letting. The point was to go explore  a lengthy band of jutting sandstone which transects Munson Creek, explore the creek itself, and descend back to Hwy 33 using an adjacent unnamed drainage. We managed all that and uncovered a bit more.

First, I need to say that I'm so friggin happy it's Fall that I could pee myself. So nice to feel a briskness in the early morning air and a chill in the deeper shadows, to know that the day isn't going to be hampered by heat, and to sense that weird quality of autumn where the shadows are a little longer and the angle of the sun is a little lower. There's an essence in our forest that changes with the Fall, the air and light and animal sounds and crackling grasses and dribbling creeks all speak of a hope for rain. I'm almost ready to commit to saying that this is my favorite time of year in these parts. 

Click image to enlarge.

Munson Creek has been on my list for quite a while. I'm not sure why I've put it off for so long. Maybe it is because I've never heard anything spectacular about the place. Maybe it's because of a pronounced history of illegal marijuana farming. It might be because there aren't any real trails or intriguing mysteries to resolve. Whatever, it is but a fond memory and some superficial scratches now. These days I lean toward appreciating the experience as much or more than whatever destination may await me.

Jack and I hit it at sunrise, meandering up a short stretch of brushed up creek bed. After a bit we came to a subtle fork, a thinner branch of the creek that snuck in from the northeast. I'd already identified this branch as something i'd like to explore as it took a easterly route to a fantastic stack of sandstone. We trudged through the brambles until reaching a small flat. Immediately above us were two towers of stone which were bisected by a disorganized trough of large boulders. We had a merry time busting through brush and scrambling over and around the rocks. At the top of this mess we slipped into a gaping crevice, the result of a huge face of stone which had calved off the larger formation. This crevice was a natural passage between the larger formations. We exited into an oak forest on the north side of this lower band of Munson formations.

The "crevice" which ushered us through to the north side of this lower band of rock.

Immediately upon stepping out of that narrow slot we stumbled upon an abandoned marijuana operation. Further investigation revealed a large area that had been under cultivation either within the this most recent season or a year previous. I'm leaning toward thinking that this had been recent based on the lack of leaf litter on all the trash and implements we discovered.

Tools of the trade (and below).
We did a bit of exploring to the east. I rock climbed into an alcove eighty feet off the deck, and found myself having difficulty reversing those moves. Got the ole adrenal glands pumping, that's for sure. After that episode we turned west, following a huge rock formation down to the proper Munson Creek. From a high point over the creek we had fantastic views to the east and west of this same band of jutting rock as it continued parallel across the foot of Reyes Peak. 

We dropped into Munson Creek again and turned upstream. Things got mighty brushy and unpleasant despite the existence of an old narco trail to follow. We zigged and zagged through the drainage, busting brush in places, getting busted by brush in others. This went on for a fair bit before we came upon a small and sheltered waterfall. Naturally, this clear little falls had black irrigation line draped out of it, presumably the same line that fed the pot grow well downstream. Beyond the falls the brush thinned out and the drainage climbed up under Reyes. Here we backtracked and started the process of climbing out of Munson and into another canyon just to the west.

The falls on upper Munson Creek is tucked beneath these rocks.
A look back down Munson Creek.
Jack, climbing out of Munson.

Our scramble out of Munson was inelegant, a clawing climb until we reached another series of huge rock fins. Atop these, and safely out of Munson, we stood gazing down into a distant potrero framed by the same band of jumbled sandstone which transects lower Munson Creek. The next question was how to get down there. From the looks of it we'd have to go full brush ninja. So we did. The racket of brush snapping, hurled insults, imaginative curses, fleeing wildlife, all of it would have been hilarious to hear from a safe distance. By the end of it I was bleeding from a dozen places and looked forward to enduring a week's worth of the usual questions and the resulting comments in my dealings with everybody else who's not me. I usually just say I spent the day off-trail, this is both foreign and unfathomable to people. It's like saying you spent the weekend juggling fourteen ginsu knives. People just don't get it.

In the sights, that pretty little meadow below.
Donated blood at the office.

Even amusing descents come to an end, and we shook the sticks out of our ears as we strolled into that large meadow. There is one really unusual feature about this little valley, that any water draining off the potrero drips over a series of white slabs, funneled into a narrow slot which terminates in a decent waterfall, but it's what's in the water that grabs the attention. I've seen several natural salt seeps in the forest but nothing on this scale. Everywhere these slabs are crusted over by an eighth inch frosting of granulated salt crystals. All around are stagnant pools of brine, so salty that the water glares white in the sun. The salt content of some of these pools is so high that the actual salt has precipitated out and settled on the bottom. This was a fascinating type of place. Additionally, I explored back east a ways, checking out the ever present rock towers. Later, we found a way down the waterfall at the bottom of the meadow and continued a short jaunt downstream to the highway. 

Well it was another fine day out there in our wilds. Go out and get some.

Salt, salty salt.
Salt slabs beneath the meadow.
The falls beneath the potrero, just a shallow pool of stagnant water beneath.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lunar Eclipse "Blood Moon", 10/08/14

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning our planet's shadow cast a shade on the full moon, a rare-ish event. It is called the "Blood Moon" due to the occurrence of an eerie reddish pall on the moon, which is caused by atmospherics. The event began in the 01:00 hour and peaked locally, with the moon just a dark shadow of itself, by 04:15. Quite a sight. 

These photos were shot on a Sony NE-X F3 using a telephoto lens and the camera's integral digital zoom.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Horse Thief Canyon and Environs

What a delicious day. Didn't feel that way when I woke up but man, what a great day this loop turned out to be. The Santa Ana winds were gusting out of the east, that strange quality of arid, lower latitude sky, the lengthening shadows of fall. All of it, combined with the terrain I chose to travel, made for a stunner of a day of off-trail antics.

Horse Thief Canyon drains off the eastern edge of the ridge on which Thorn Point sits. It twists and turns through eroded sandstone bluffs and feral meadows, eventually emptying into the southernmost part of Mutau Flat. The surrounding landscape is a confusing jumble of steep sided ridges, plunging gullies, sandstone cliffs, manzanita, and cedar, all overshadowed by the epic cliffs of Thorn Point. This area is one of the most dramatic landscapes in our forest, and one of my favorite places to roam.

Dropping off the other side of Thorn Meadow was like entering another world entirely.
The first falls I encountered (and below).

I took a very indirect route into Horse Thief, by design. An overview of the area directly east of Thorn Meadow (where I parked) shows a remarkable basin of steep drainages and deep washes. Some of these gullies have cut through bedrock resulting in dramatic waterfalls, seasonal and currently dry. I set out due east from Thorn, tracking up an old hunters route, climbing through loose soil and pines. Cresting on the ridge some 400ft above Thorn, the route faded, petering out into a thready animal track dominated by the paw prints of a passing cat. Rather than follow this ridge to a point where I might descend into Horse Thief I instead launched straight off the other side, carefully descending into a forested gully. Once reaching the floor of this mini-canyon I turned right (S) and back-tracked up the drainage a bit to a vertical dry falls. Done there I turned downstream and followed the gully roughly east encountering, a short time later, another hidden away falls draining in from the right. This was a very pretty hollow, shaded, framed by cedars, butterflies flitting here and there as they stooped to sip from a meager seep of water which eked out of the 30ft high falls. Ten minutes later I was again hanging a right, this time into a third branch gully. This was the one I'd come to see, a gracefully arcing amphitheater of cobbled sandstone, 40ft high and significantly overhung at it's deepest point. Climbing out and up above that dry falls led to a series of glaring white slabs  sculpted with shallow erosion channels. From here I connected a couple small ridges headed south, ultimately arriving at a photogenic overlook which provided keen views both up and down Horse Thief.

The second falls, the one with a hint of water (and following 2 photos).

The third falls hidden deep in an amphitheater (and below).
The slabs atop the third falls (and below).

With clear views into Horse Thief I decided to hook left on the ridge (E), paralleling the canyon from the ridge top.  Eventually I descended over a large butte of rock and dropped into a pretty meadow on the floor of the canyon. Here I continued east, following a deer track through dry grasses sprinkled with mature cedars. Lower down canyon I crossed the deeply cut wash, finding a tenuous animal track which climbed out the other side and up to another meadow. Blue jays squawked and a large squirrel bounded from tree to tree. This place had a primordial, untouched feel to it.  Really, I'd had that feeling ever since departing at Thorn, but this canyon felt truly wild. Needless to say I was enjoying myself immensely.

The first look up Horse Thief. Thorn Point dominates the skyline.
The meadows of lower Horse Thief Canyon.

On the canyon floor, untrodden meadows (and below).

Eventually I turned around and retraced my steps. I continued up the canyon past where I'd dropped in. The upper portion of Horse Thief narrowed considerably and gone were the broad meadows and open views. I was forced into the wash, wide and easily navigable. Later the wash started getting tight, and numerous smaller drainages had started showing up on the right and left. Manzanita and scrub oak started reaching into the drainage and I decided it was time to climb out of the canyon and exit the day. I picked a gully of crumbly gold sandstone that opened up after a hundred feet of brushy stuff, becoming a fun and semi-sketchy exit up to a point on the ridge where I could connect with my entry line and drop back into Thorn. 

Just had myself a super day out there. May you soon have the same.

A portion of my exit route.
A last look down Horse Thief Canyon.
And finally, looking down from the ridge into Thorn Meadow. The Mt Pinos ridge looms in the background.

Join me for an evening of SLP chatter, slides, and more

So yeah, I got talked into a talk.  I'll touch on a few gems, places of interest, off-trail fun, generally share some experience and try not to put anybody to sleep. I'll follow with a slide show and wrap it up with a Q&A. I know this is only scheduled for an hour but the nice folks putting this on have assured me that it's okay to go over if that's how it shakes out. I hope to see some of you there and hey, let's have a good time.