Archive for the ‘hiking’ Category

High Shoals Falls

August 12, 2016

It had rained hard the night before, but by 11 it was partly sunny and I persuaded my brother and his family to go hiking with me for a picnic at High Shoals Falls. None of us had ever been there, but it was close enough and was supposed to be impressive. So we bundled into the car and drove off.

The trail is off Indian Grave Gap Road, a dirt forest service track not far from Unicoi Gap.

The road was a bit more run down than I had anticipated. First we had to ford High Shoals Creek, and then go up a rutted road for a mile or so.

It also proved more popular than I had anticipated and the small parking area was full, so we parked at the side of the road and walked back. It began to spit rain as we walked, but too lightly to worry about.

The trail itself is only a mile or so long, rather steeply downhill.

It began to rain harder, but we decided to press on.

After a quarter mile or so we were in a deluge and we turned and went back.

By the time we reached the highway it had, of course, stopped. I considered turning back, but I was soaked and it just didn’t appeal.

The next morning I decided to try it differently. I couldn’t face asking people to go again. I set out alone to Unicoi Gap, and ran up Rocky Mountain, and down the trail to Indian Grave Gap Rd. and then down the road to the trail head.

No rain this day. Fewer cars too.

On the way down I found some Lungwort Lichen, which I’d never seen before.

There are actually two waterfalls on the trail. The first is Blue Hole Falls (the water drops into a deep pool which is supposed to be blue, though it did not look so to me). Clicking on the image below loads a video.
Blue Hole Falls

Not far beyond that is High Shoals Falls itself
High Shoals Falls

When I researched the trail I read something on the net from the Atlanta Trails group, but I also read a 40 year old trail guide of my father’s. This guide indicated that the trail made a loop, and at the trail head there had indeed been two trails, so I took a side trail that I hoped would lead back to the start.

It didn’t. It lead me to someone’s back yard. Oops.

I turned back, and passed a blooming Rhododendron. This is surprising, because I think of them as blooming in June.

When I got back to the trailhead I took the other route, but it was clearly not maintained and soon degenerated into nothing. Oh well. Best not to rely on 40 year old trail guides.

I ran back up the road and found an interesting Yellow Fringed Orchid, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before.

At Indian Grave Gap itself I turned back onto the appalachian trail to run up to the top of Tray Mtn. and back down to Unicoi Gap.


Trail Maintenance

September 28, 2013

I usually don’t bother with trail maintenance. I my opinion our trails are fine as they are. I made an exception after the Jesusita fire because I was told the fire had damaged them. But generally when someone asks me to do maintenance I will say “That trail doesn’t need work; Arroyo Burro needs work, but none of the others does.” And for years that has been appropriate — but today they wanted to work on Arroyo Burro. Which does need work. So I felt I had to go.

We gathered at the top of Ontare Rd. at 8 o’clock. And we continued to gather there until about 8:45 when we finally got into city/county vehicles and carpooled through the locked gates and up to the powerlines near the 420 rock. At that point we waited again (one of the vehicles couldn’t climb the last hills and the people in that car had to be shuttled up to us). Then we had a little talk on safety. Picks are dangerous, and even the hoes we used are sharp — so we should space ourselves out on the trail and make sure people working knew when someone was passing. Then a discussion of what we were to do.

I think a trail needs to be about a foot wide, and not overgrown. If it is then I’m happy. These people want the trail to be 4 feet wide with at least a foot of cleared space (two feet even better) on either side. This is probably why I disagree about the need for maintenance — there’s almost always a foot-wide trail, but rarely a 6 foot trail…

Then we divided into groups, 5 groups of 6 people spaced along maybe half a mile of trail (the trail goes up for perhaps 4 miles beyond the 420 rock — we weren’t going to get it all). Then we started hiking. Once we got to our spot we had another lecture on what to do.

I started using my hoe after 9:30.

The trail is steep and overgrown. By their definition it has been washed out. Our job was to clear away the brush — uprooting shrubs, and pulling out dead vines (and then piling them on the downslope side of the trail) — and digging into the hillside above the washouts to fill in the trail below.

Before: Brush has been partially cleared in the foreground, but the trail dips into a washout where the guy is standing.
After More brush cleared, and trail bed more nearly level (it should have a slight camber so rain will run off the edge)

No one had worked on this trail since the Jesusita fire (probably much longer than that), and there was a lot of ravel. Also there was a lot of ash and charcoal lightly buried. The fire was more than four years ago… Strange to see that ash again…

At Work

Oh, there was a cruise ship in the harbor today
Cruise Ship

It was a hot day, but there was a breeze. It could have been worse.

We took a break after an hour. After two hours we completed a section and our group leader decided that was enough for today. No one argued. We started back, but ran into the group below us who were going to work until noon, no matter what, so we found a little more we could do. And we did it.

I was a bit dismayed by how little we had accomplished. Not that we hadn’t worked hard, we had, but there is so much more to do. We (all 5 groups) might have worked on a quarter of the trail. So now about half a mile? or three quarters of a mile? of Arroyo Burro looks nice (a bit wider than I think is needed, but they pointed out that no one will work on it for maybe another ten years so the wider the better) but the next three miles need work.

We didn’t get to the section which I think is overgrown.

So I can still use Arroyo Burro as an excuse not to work on the other trails, and that is a relief.

A walk in the rain

November 20, 2011

It’s been more than a month since I had a chance to see what (if anything) was blooming in the back-country, so I decided to hike down to Forbush.

Then I learned it was going to rain.

I went anyway. But I drove up to Camino Cielo.

This is about the nadir of the year for blooming flowers. The summer flowers are over (or almost over) and the winter/spring flowers haven’t started yet.

The everlastings turned out not to. There’s a little bit of wand chicory left but it looks kind of sad. The silk tassels are just short stubby buds, and the sugar bush has about four months to go before its buds turn into blooms.

Well, there are a few flowers I really like that I’ve been watching to see how long they will bloom. One is actually on front side of the mountains, down almost to Montecito Peak, there are a couple of others down near Forbush, and one even further down near the grotto. I’m not sure I’ll get that far in the rain.

I’m most interested in Golden Eardrops. Last year I thought they finished in July, but this year they were still blooming in October. They are down near Montecito Peak.

But to get to them I must pass a patch of dense false gillyflowers. These were also blooming in October, but are now just withered stems. On to the eardrops!

I begin to worry that I’ve passed them, but I find them. And still in bloom too. Not the abundant blooms of June, but still respectable.

Now I head back to Camino Cielo, and when I turn I realize the trail looks more like a little stream. I hadn’t really noticed when I was going downhill. The clouds are hugging the mountain tops here and it’s very misty.

It becomes windier as I approach the top again, and the rain sweeps past.

And then down the other side. I’m looking for morning glories here (well, false bindweeds anyway), but I don’t see them yet. I had assumed that since the coastal false bindweed blooms all year in the front country then the pacific false bindweed would probably bloom all year in the back. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I haven’t seen any pacific since August.

🙂 I like the way the trail switchbacks around. The rain seems to have enhanced the contrast, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this view before.

Ah. Here’s another patch of dense false gillyflower, and like the first one it has become a tangle of dried stems. On the other hand, there are a few Plummer’s Bacharis in bloom here. It’s almost over, but around here I see a few blooms. They are pretty shabby looking though.

Even the toyon berries disappoint, they haven’t turned red yet and are a drab indeterminate shade.

Then looking behind me, up the canyon, I see a couple of big-leaved maples which are pretending that it is fall and have turned yellow.

The little bush, here on the left of the trail, is a mature oak tree with lots of acorns. Acorns which look disproportionately big on this small shrub. It’s 3~4 feet tall. I still can’t get over the scrub oaks here. I expect oak trees to be big.

When I get to Forbush meadow I am initially disappointed — I don’t see any Elegant Madias. Off to the side are some fleabanes with rather bedraggled blooms because of the rain, but no Madias. Nonetheless I walk through the meadow, and finally I spot a single bloom. A rather inelegant madia, but still, a madia. Well, I doubt it will last another week; I’m glad I came down today.

Just beyond Forbush, about a quarter of the way up the trail on the other side of the valley, is a little patch of hummingbird trumpets. Hummingbirds don’t like the rain, so the flowers aren’t living up to the name, but they are in bloom still.

It’s another mile to the grotto, and my hands are cold (the rest of me is ok). I decide I’m not really that interested in learning if the Lobelias are still blooming. I think I shall turn back.

The fog is slowly creeping up Blue Canyon toward me. In the course of 5 minutes or so the hill on the right becomes lost in the mist…

On the way up from Forbush there’s a rather nice glen of live oaks, seen through a lens bespeckled with raindrops.

Trails less traveled.

January 28, 2011

I’m not running much at the moment, so I decided to hike instead. And what better trails to hike than those too steep and too technical to run on? The trails I haven’t visited in far too long.

I haven’t been on any of them since the fire.

So I wonder what state they are in?

It also gives me an excuse to finish off the trail map I’ve been working on. I’ve got almost all the trails … except for those I can’t run (I guess that’s not too surprising).

And finally I’ve been behind in looking at wildflowers this month. First I was tapering for my race (so I didn’t run trails very much) and then I was recovering from it (so I didn’t run trails very much). But January is an exciting time in the wildflower department, and I’d missed it last year. So many flowers start to bloom this month…

Rattlesnake Loop

I don’t really have a good name for the obscure trails involved in this loop (there are two of them). One leads from Rattlesnake to Powerline, and the other goes from Powerline across a ridge and ends on Tunnel. I haven’t heard any names given to either of these…

But whatever it gets called, this route starts at Rattlesnake trailhead, and follows Rattlesnake trail for about a mile.

As I was walking the dirt road, before I even reached the stream crossing I notice a shiny yellow flower, not one I’m familiar with. A little research (back home) revealed that it was a California Buttercup. Rather a pretty little thing.

Of course as I walked along I’d also seen purple and white nightshade, canyon sunflowers, milk-maids, hummingbird sage, and black sage but I was expecting those.

Then the road dipped down into the stream, and inside the stream bed was a hillside gooseberry. I’d been watching for these for weeks. They’d bloomed at the Wilcox property in early December, but I hadn’t seen any on the trails until now.

Then across the creek and up the other side. There was a little 5 petaled yellow flower. I assumed it was a rock-rose and walked past. But I turned back. The rest of the plant didn’t look like a rock rose and it was in an odd place for one. It had leaves like a clover, but it wasn’t a clover, which meant it was probably an Oxalis. But not the common sourgrass, something else. Probably yellow sorrel.

Beside it is a strange little flower that’s probably in the mustard family. But I haven’t been able to identify it yet…

A little further on I saw the blue dicks had started blooming this year. (Last year I did not start collecting wildflower pictures until March, so I’m not sure when the early bloomers started. I’m learning that now). And here is some spotted hideseed.

Rattlesnake climbs in switchbacks, and at almost exactly one mile from the start the trail turns around a rise. Here there is a discrete trail that leaves Rattlesnake to the left and climbs steeply up until it eventually hits Powerline Rd.

This trail used to hide under the cover of chaparral, but that has all burned off. Now it’s in full sun and there are sun-loving flowers on it. Lots of little clumps of rock-roses for example, and here’s some tauschia (now that’s a surprise, I didn’t expect it to bloom this early). Goldenrod is still blooming, and the deerweed has a new lease on life.

The trail is in surprisingly good shape (surprising to me, anyway). It’s pretty clear most of the time, and even if it trifurcates the branches rejoin. And then I reach the top of the hill, and I see Powerline off to my right. The trail winds along the ridge for a bit and then dumps me on to Powerline right at the turn below the final steep hill.

I climb the hill until short side roads appear on the right leading to pylons. The fourth side-road is magic, and when you get to the end of it (it’s not very long) you find there’s a trail leading roughly north (and a little west).

This new trail climbs steeply. Again it used to dive through chaparral, and again it is now burnt down to ground level and open to the sun. But, again, the trail remains clear.

There are a number of rocks with fossilized seashells embedded in them. Those don’t burn up.

It climbs steeply for a quarter of a mile, and then runs along a knife-edge ridge line. The is an almost sheer drop to both the right and the left and a very narrow ridge, garnished with boulders, over which I clamber.

I realize again (as I realize every time I come up here) that this is the same ridge line that leads to Arlington Peak (though Mission Creek has worn a hole through the middle of it).

After another quarter mile or so the trail starts to descend (again, steeply) down toward Tunnel trail. It hits Tunnel about 1/5 mile before the Rattlesnake connector where Tunnel itself turns sharply.

The return is simple, Tunnel to the connector, connector to the meadow, and Rattlesnake proper back to the start.

On the way down I see white phacelia, fiesta flower and California poppies starting to bloom.

Rocky Pine Ridge or Sandcastles

Rocky Pine Ridge
from afar

Actually, I don’t head down quite yet. Now that I’m up here I decide to take another hidden trail, the one up to Rocky Pine Ridge. This trail starts about 10 yards from the junction of Tunnel and the Rattlesnake connector. Simply follow the connector for 10 yards toward Rattlesnake and look to your left. There is a sort of tunnel in the undergrowth that turns into a trail.

The start of this trail may be reached either by climbing Tunnel, or Rattlesnake (or the odd route which I have taken).

At first the trail is clear, and in good condition, and there’s still some vegetation around. The Ceanothus here is even blooming. But as I climb further the fire seems to have burned hotter and there is less and less chaparral.

The manroot, however, is doing splendidly. It climbs all over the burnt stumps as it reaches for the sun.

Looking back the trail meanders through a forest of burned trunks.

Ahead, the trail seems to peter out. I can’t find it. That’s not uncommon for me on this route, the trail has always been hard to find, usually if I just press on I’ll find it again (I can’t really get lost here, if I just head up, I’ll get to the summit). The trail seems more obscure than usual now, but that’s not too surprising given the fire.

Anyway, I keep going.

Looking up the way is blocked by a wall of boulders. I wander around below through knee high shrubbery looking for a way through. I hear the unmistakable sound of a rattler and instinctively leap back. But as I can’t see anything under the shrubs I worry I might have leaped toward it. The rattler is calm now, so I give that area a wide berth, and continue my search.

Eventually I find a way up and through the boulders and a little further along I find the real trail again. I’m almost at the top now. And the trail doesn’t try to hide again.

At the top are some really huge boulders scattered about. Much easier to climb than the ones below. There are also pine trees. It’s a pleasant place to wander around. Climbing the boulders leads to nice views.

The way down proved much easier than the way up. I didn’t get lost; I had no run in with rattlesnakes, and I managed to see my first monkeyflower of the year.

Cathedral Peak

Two days later I went for another hike, up Cathedral Peak. There used to be two trails up to Arlington Peak (which is on the way), but the one from Inspiration has become impassable since the fire. So the only route now takes off from the Seven Falls Trail.

Starting at Tunnel, walk up the paved road and when the road turns to dirt continue walking ahead, past the turn-off for Powerline, past the turn-off for Tunnel Trail, down to and across Mission Creek. (If you look at the elevation profile above you will see a little dip after about a mile, this marks the stream crossing.) On the far side of the creek, turn right and walk up the creek-bed, climbing over a large rock until you again see a trail in front of you. This is Seven Falls trail. It continues up the creek bed for a bit, and then turns left and climbs up to the bluff above the creek (quite a steep climb).

The trail levels off and starts to head slightly down, and when it does so the trail to Cathedral comes plummeting down the hillside on your left. So turn left and climb up. This climb used to be a bit easier because you could hang on to the stems of the chaparral vegetation; now you must rely on your feet.

A little before 1.5 miles the really steep section comes to a end and you stand on a ridge line (with nice views of the city behind, and views of the waterfalls ahead). The route climbs over some rocks here, and on the far side, to the right, is a degraded trail which drops back down to Seven Falls trail (don’t take it).

The main route continues to the left, running along the ridge line. Here, on the ridge the landscape is not as denuded as it was, there are still burnt trunks standing, and these can make handy things to grip, even burnt and dead they are still very strong.

The route ahead continues through a forest of dead trunks along the ridge up to a knoll ahead (where the ridge makes a bend).

A few years ago these dead trunks were living manzanita bushes, and at this time of year they should be in full bloom with humming birds zooming among them.

This trip I get to see my first view of prickly phlox for the year, which is not quite the same.

So far the route has been fairly obvious. Oh, sometimes the trail vanishes for a bit, or bifurcates, but the bifurcations join up, and the trail reappears. If you just keep going everything will work out.

Right around 2 miles from the start I manage to get lost and end up climbing high into an impassable tumble of boulders. Other people have gotten lost before me, and I can see footprints as I go, which gives me a false sense that I’m going the right way. I keep backtracking, and finding a new false trail, and backtracking…

Without living vegetation it is much harder to see where the trail goes…

Eventually I remember that the trail swings round to the left and climbs up from the side, so I backtrack a good long way until I find such a route and follow it.

Below me I can see the cliffside dropping away to the city below and beyond to the Channel Islands.

After that undesired excursion the trail again because well behaved. I still make the occasional wrong turn, but quickly realize it when the route I’m following leads nowhere.

from Arlington toward
Cathedral (on left) and of
the ridgeline between them

Eventually I reach Arlington Peak. This is the end of the really steep section. I climb the boulders and look back at the city, and then on towards Cathedral.

Often people will stop here, as the interesting climb is now done.

From Arlington the trail is almost gentle. The ridgeline is almost flat now, and the trail itself is packed dirt rather that random boulders. There’s even a blooming Ceanothus.

There are some nice views of Cathedral Peak itself, a long jut of rock that sticks out of the surroundings.

Between Arlington and Cathedral there is one other bump of rock and the trail drops down on the left of it to avoid it.

Just below Cathedral itself is a trail in very poor shape which leads down to the cave. The cave is bigger than you expect from the outside.

From the top of Cathedral Peak you can see the city in one direction, and La Cumbra Peak in the other. There used to be (perhaps there still is) a trail from Cathedral to La Cumbra, but I don’t see it this trip.

Homestead trail

August 1, 2010

I’d pretty much forgotten about this trail, haven’t been on it for a decade or so, but I saw someone coming down when I went up to Tangerine falls the other month. And yesterday I decided to follow it up.

There are three main branches to Cold Springs creek. The east fork trail follows one branch, the west fork trail follows another branch (generally dry), and the Tangerine falls trail follows the middle branch.

You start at the Cold Springs trailhead, and go up the trail for about a quarter of a mile to the place where the west fork diverges from the east. Cross the creek and go up the west fork for another half mile. At this point a side trail dives down precipitously, this is the trail to Tangerine falls. You almost immediately cross the (usually) dry streambed of the west fork, and then about 50 yards further on a side trail leads off to the left. This is the trail to the old homestead site and it continues on to Camino Cielo.

Although currently not much traveled, this was the original route of the cold springs trail and led to the old Los Prietos mercury mines. First cleared in 1878.

Anyway, after turning off from Tangerine Falls the trail starts to climb, and switchbacks across a burnt out landscape. This surprised me, I had thought the fire stopped a the West Fork streambed, but I now see that was an illusion. The fire skipped over the streambed, and the trees in it are unscathed (mostly), but nonetheless it continued up the slope on the other side.

Finally the trail works its way up to the ridge-line between the west fork and the middle fork, and we get some good views of Tangerine Falls. Or we would if there were more water flowing down it, at the moment it just looks like a damp patch on the rocks. I don’t recall having this view of the falls before; I suspect the fire has opened up this vista.

The trail continues just below the ridgeline, wending its way toward the top of the falls. There is a strange flower blooming here, I can’t identify it, a little yellow flower with five petals, but its stems seem to be enfolded in large bracts. As the plant dries (and further up the trail it has stopped blooming and dried up) these bracts seem coated with velcro-hairs which cling to my legs and my shorts and my shirt and my arms. I guess that’s how the seeds get distributed, but it’s annoying to humans.

There are still a few mariposa lilies (Calochortus weedii vestus) in bloom on the side of the trail. In previous years I’ve have not seen as many blooms as we are getting this year, nor in so many places, nor lasting so long.

Finally the trail reaches the top of the waterfall. Unfortunately (as is so often the case at the top of a waterfall) you can’t see the falls from here. There is a spur of rock that juts out from the trail and from it you can see a precipitous drop to the canyon below (though not, as I said, the falls themselves). This spur is called “The Pinnacle”. Tangerine falls drops more than 200ft and we are now considerably higher than the top of the falls. It’s a long way down.

The trail descends to the creek and then becomes much gentler as it runs almost level beside the stream. The rocks in the water have turned yellow (or tangerine, perhaps), I presume this is from sulfur in the water.

This section is quite lovely, a gentle trail beside  a little steam:

Tree reflections distorted by waterstriders

About ¾ mile from the turn-off on tangerine falls trail, this trail branches. One branch goes steeply uphill to Camino Cielo, the other branch continues beside the creek for another ¼ mile. Just before the end of this trail is an immense oak, the trail passes underneath its branches and ends in a small clearing with a fireplace. This is the site of an old homestead. I assume that the fire place is of more recent construction, though probably on the original site? perhaps with original stones?

A little way back along the trail, a faint side trail leads off to the right (as you go down). The side trail is not very long and ends at a small junk pile in which may be seen the rusted remains of a plough and some other iron trash (a griddle perhaps?).

I’m a little perplexed as to what, exactly they were able to plough. The trail isn’t particularly steep, but the canyon is narrow and the stream, though small, takes up a good chunk of that. The sides of the canyon are rocky and steeper than I’d want to plough…

The trail that leads up to Camino Cielo, climbs precipitously. There’s another patch of mariposa lilies here (which cheers me up). Eventually it levels off for a bit and goes through a kind of open air tunnel — chaparral to each side and blue sky above. We used to have more trails like this, but many have been burnt.

But that level patch doesn’t last, and the trail goes up steeply again. And up. About ⅔ mile from the trail junction we come to a little knoll.

I walk around the top of the knoll in hopes of a good view, but the chaparral grows tall enough that I can’t see out. And then down the other side. It seems rather a shame to go down, when I can see my destination still high above me.

Down below is a saddle, and then the trail climbs again. I had thought it steep before, but this is more so. In places I need to use my hands. Looking forward I don’t see anything but trail, but when I turn and look behind there are some nice views of the city, and the channel islands, peaking out of the fog bank.

It’s another .9 miles from the knoll to the Camino Cielo. My clothing and my self are covered with dried bits of plant velcroed to me.

There is no sign to mark this trailhead at the top. Just an old aluminum can stuck in a bush on the side of the road.

Front country panorama. Montecito peak is to the left of center, the little knoll on the trail is right of center, and the channel islands show as dark patches in the clouds near the horizon. The hill cut off by the right edge of the picture is the great switchback on Gibraltar Rd.

Back country panorama

It took me longer to go up than I expected. On the way down the sun started to set through the mountains.

Cold Spring: aide mémoire

September 24, 2009

It was hot already at 7 as I biked up to Cold Spring. My route went through the devastation of the Tea fire. Which stopped so close to Cold Spring trail. And a few months later the Jesusita fire went on to burn its west fork.

When I was in college I used to bike over to Chantry Flats and hike. I didn’t know where I was going, I just knew that I could go for hours without seeing a road. I would stumble back in the evening twilight. When I left Pasadena I took a few pictures, but I thought “Why bother? I can always return.”

Well, now that forest has burned up too, and I can’t return, not in my lifetime anyway.

Live Oaks and a rock near the start of Cold Spring trailSo perhaps I should take some pictures of Cold Spring — just in case.

September is probably not the best time to do this, at the end of a dry summer everything looks a little sere. But now is when I am here, thinking of it. So now is when I shall do it.

Cold Spring Trail and its treesI want to remember the simple, ordinary things. Normally I look for things that strike my fancy, but today, I want to capture the essence. These very ordinary trees reaching over the trail. Nothing special, but worth remembering nonetheless.

The stream itself is dryThe lower part of the trail goes beside (or near) the stream. Today, at the end of summer, with no rain since June, the stream is hibernating, it has hidden itself under the ground, and all I see is the dry stream bed.

In a month or two the Sycamores will start dropping their leaves. One of the few local trees that bothers to do that. But for now the sun shines brightly on those leaves…

Mud puddle Dry waterfall
Mud Normally a pretty waterfall

Fern beside a trickle of waterThe trail crosses the streambed here, and winds up on the other side. Then it crosses again and here the water has been pushed to the surface, a little of it runs over the rocks where I cross, and a fern takes advantage of the water and the sun.

Away from the creekFor a time the trail continues beside the creek, but soon it starts to climb out of the canyon. The vegetation is still comparatively lush, and there are ferns beside the trail for a while yet…

After I’ve been trotting through the canyon for about 20 minutes the trail breaks out into the sunlight. It’s hot today. Here are the powerlines. First view of the trees And here is the first view of the trees. About halfway up the trail, standing tall amid the chaparral, there are two eucalyptus trees. How they got there, I don’t know. But they are visible for a long way, quite different from the surrounding landscape, and make a clear goal. I’m going up there (and beyond). From here, just a tiny dot on top of a ridge line… but I’ll get there.whitespace

Coast, looking east toward CarpenteriaAs I climb away from the fire road that services the pylons, views open out. First a view up the coast, east, toward Carpenteria. It’s hazy this morning and I’m looking into the sun.

Then round the bend and past the “No trespassing” sign that marks the Hot Springs connector trail.

Steep bit of trailThe trail gets steep, and then opens and flattens out on a ridgeline, with the mountains just peeking down on me.



Second view of the treesFrom here I get a second view of the trees. They still look terribly far away. The trail continues on this ridge for a bit and then starts climbing, eventually reaching the hill in the distance where it is dimly visible traversing on a diagonal under the trees.


Looking back at the treesAfter 35 minutes or so from the base I have reached and passed the trees. The city of SB is in the background. Somehow they don’t look nearly as impressive when seen from above.

Now we head toward Montecito Peak. The trail is fairly exposed here and travels through chaparal (mostly manzanita) about as high as I am. Sometimes I can see over it, often not.

ViewOff to the left is the ridge line containing Camino Cielo, while on the right is the slope up to the peak.

Switchbacks criss-cross this area, eventually taking me to the shady side of the peak.


Montecito Peak Panorama

Again Camino Cielo is on the right, on the left is the trail, which bends right and follows a series of ridges which lead, eventually to the road.

Tunnel of shrubsOne of my favorite spots on the upper trail, the shrubbery becomes tall enough that it arches over the trail, leaving a pleasant tunnel through which the far ridge line is visible.

Sadly, in 2015, the Gibraltar Fire burned this area (so it was a good thing I took these pictures). This area now looks like:

Out from under the shrubbery the trail bends right and then makes a big “U”, eventually looking back on Montecito Peak.

Looking back toward Montecito peak and the oceanThe peak, with  Santa Cruz Island poking out of the haze just above it, and the city of Santa Barbara spread out below.

After a few more twists and turns I reach the top. The paved road, Camino Ciello.


CS16-Top-24Sep2009-1600Across the road lies the valley of the Santa Ynez river, and the trail beckons me on. Only “4 miles to Forebush Flats” it says.

Sigh. But that journey is for another day. Rusty has only given me a two hour run today, and it takes about one hour to get here. I must turn back now.

Santa Barbara, from aboveAs I turn back I see a better view of the city than I have yet had.

And another of Montecito Peak.

Montecito Peak

A flowerAnd here is a flower. I realize it is the first I have noticed today. Whereas a few months ago the trail had many wildflowers, today there are almost none. Spring is long gone, and now summer is over too.


Seed pods June blooms produced these pods.
Seed pods produced by these June flowers
Celmentis whilagigs clementis
And here a few seed pods from the clemantis which bloomed even earlier.

Oh Island, in the haze/ Brought to me by...Off in the distant haze Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands.


The trees againThe trees again, arching over the trail in a friendly way.

But between the trees, I see the barren wasteland left by the Jesusita fire.


Barren hills from the Jesusita fire.
The other fork of Cold Spring trail is all burnt up.

Have feet will travel

August 12, 2009

My friend Ken organized a trail run. “Cold spring trail.” he said. “West fork.” he added.

But the west fork is all burnt up. I know. I did trail maintenance on it just two months ago.

We ran up it anyway.

I was interested to see how (if) things had changed.

WestForkRegrowth1-12Aug2009-1600From a distance — not much had.

Still the burnt out landscape with a faint odor of ash.

Or so I thought at first, but closer examination revealed that almost every burnt trunk was surrounded by a ground-level halo of green shoots. The trunks, I guess, are WestForkRegrowth4-12Aug2009-1600completely dead, but the roots seem to be alive and have put forth new growth.

We saw some of that two months ago, but it seemed much more common now, and larger patches of green around the trunks.

The ferns which were also coming out 2 months ago seem not to have done so well. They are still there, but no bigger, and no more frequent than before.

But the most cheering sight was a yellow aster blooming in the ash:

Bracken fern upper left, yellow aster lower right

Bracken fern upper left, yellow aster lower right

Have shovel, will ravel

June 14, 2009

After the fire they closed the trails.

JesusitaTrail3-23May09-1600“Why?”, I wondered. The trails couldn’t burn.

If you go out and look, the trails are still very clear — light colored paths meandering amid a dark wasteland dotted with burned tree trunks.

The trails used to be demarkated by vegetation, but no longer. Still the route of the trail is very clear.

So why were the trails closed?

Scofield Park, meeting area

Scofield Park, meeting area

Yesterday they had a trail cleanup day, and about 110 volunteers went out to join the forest service (and the county and the city and various other organizations) to help make the trails usable. And this meant learning why they were not currently usable.

One reason is simple: Just as the proper route of the trails is clearly visible against the soot-dark dirt, so too improper routes that used to be hidden behind brush and with signage now are revealed and stand out against the dark dirt. Over the years our trails have shifted, they can get washed out or land-slid, and then rerouted, so an improper trail can lead to an abrupt cliff.

Many of our trails go through a belt of shale. Shale absorbs water. When water is heated it tends to evaporate and expand. When a rock is full of expanding steam it tends to shatter leading to lots of little bitty stones (called ravel) which tumble down the mountain and catch on the trails. Some of our trails were covered in great drifts of ravel. People don’t like walking in ravel drifts and will walk on the trail’s edge where there is little ravel, but the edge of the trail is fragile, and if enough people walk on it then it wears down and the trail becomes narrower.

So we needed to

  • put up signs to redirect hikers onto the correct routes
  • remove the build-up of ravel and relevel the trails
  • Perform normal train maintenance
    • Trim away any vegetation which was encroaching on the trail (much had burnt up, but not everywhere, or not completely)
    • Open any drainage channels which had filled with silt after the winter’s rains

TopOfWestForkI and my friend Nichol ended up going to the West Fork of Cold Spring Trail. This trail burned from Gibraltar road down to the (dry) stream bed that is one branch of Cold Spring creek.

The top of the trail was in pretty good shape, the mountain doesn’t slope steeply so no ravel accumulated. There is the problem that a lot of trash has been tossed into (what used to be) bushes here, and all that trash is now plainly visible.

DrainageDitch2No ravel to move here, but there were drainage ditches to clear out. These ditches went across the trail at a slight diagonal and directed any run-off down the hillside. (Normally the hillside is covered with vegetation and can absorb runoff better than the trail. Now…) We didn’t have to make new ditches, just take the silt out of the old ones and pile it up on the downslope side of the ditch.

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

Nichol, stamping on the berm of a ditch

The silt tended to be loose after being moved, while the trail itself was hard packed. The two did not merge well. We needed to stamp hard to compact the silt. Even so we felt much of our work would vanish before it could be useful.

The landscape is quite barren. A week ago, I had been up to the top of this trail and saw YuccaBloomYucca blooming. In spite of having all their leaves burnt, and the main stem cooked, they were still able to produce a flower spike.

At the time, it was an encouraging sight.

Usually there is no rain in June (or July, August, September …), but this year we had a steady slow rain which lasted about 6 hours. That was a week ago. This week we noticed — leaves! RegrowthGreen leaves huddled around the base of the burned out manzaneta stems.

I guess that means the trunks are dead above the ground but the roots are still alive. I had hoped leaves would come out on the old trunks, but that doesn’t seem likely any more. Still, it’s a start.

As we went further down we saw other greenery coming out. The next new growth we noticed was Brackenbracken ferns. This surprised me. I think of ferns as fragile things which require lots of moisture to become established. They have a very complex system of reproduction which requires lots of water (I thought), yet here they were on this barren dry ground.

Further on we found new shoots of grass, and shiny new leaves of poison oak.

I know I should be grateful that there is anything, that the natural plants are reestablishing themselves… but did one of them have to be poison oak?

Now we came upon ravel. We had a switchback completely inundated in these small stones. We tried to clear off the top part of the switchback (by dumping the stones onto the lower part), but more little stones rolled off the mountain making this a Sisyphian task. Mixed in with the ravel was a good deal of soot and ash. We got dirty and stinky. After much labor the top part was relatively clear, and we moved larger rocks and put them under the top edge, to stabilize the bank.

Remember how I said the fire shattered rocks? Well not always. Sometimes it just weakened them. I was picking up a large rock, had it about at hip level, when suddenly it cracked down the middle. I needed two hands for each sub-rock; but I only had two total. Both rocks fell, and I fell around them and slid down the hillside.

Then we cleaned out the bottom part of the switchback.

DownTheTrailAnd moved down the trail to the next spot that needed work.

As we worked down the trail we could see the end of the burn area. We started to see more dead stalks, from small forbs as well as the larger manzanita trunks, and then there were scorched trunks still with cooked (dead) leaves attached, and then finally normal, unburnt plants. But there we stopped.

horizontal rule

Sunrise, Sunset, each New Year following another…

September 11, 2007

31 Dec 2006/1 Jan 2007

Very many years ago, when I was about as old as some of you are now, I went mountain climbing in Scotland with a very dear friend of mine. There was this mountain, you see, and we decided to climb it. And so, very early one morning, we arose and began to climb. All day we climbed. Up and up and up, higher and higher and higher. Until the valley lay very small below us, and the mists of the evening began to come down, and the sun to set. And when we reached the summit we sat back to watch this magnificent sight of the sun going down behind the mountain. And as he watched, my friend, very suddenly and very violently vomited.

— Alan Bennett, Beyond the Fringe

Several years ago, on New Year’s day, two friends of mine and I decided to go for an afternoon hike. We were trying to find a trail we had heard about which led up the back side of Rocky Pine Ridge. We went up Tunnel, beyond the dry falls, and found a likely canyon which seemed to have the vestiges of a trail which indeed led up to the Ridge. But there it petered out. We were left on the ridge, but far from any part we knew. We set out, in what we imagined to be the right direction. Through the chaparral. Which is not easy. Occasionally climbing rocks so we could orient ourselves.

And the sun began to go down.

We were all experienced hikers with lights and had no qualms about hiking in the dark — on a trail. Being lost in chaparral was another matter, and we began to worry.

As the sun neared the horizon, I finally saw the rock castle that marked the top of the trail we normally took, and suddenly the sunset was no longer dangerous and became beautiful. The rocks around us were stained red and the clouds to the west blazed up.

I had run the Resolution Day races for the first time that day (and was very proud of having run the 10k at a 6:40 pace:-)) and had watched the sun rise as I biked toward them. So this was one of the few days when I’d actually seen both the sun rise and set.

I was thinking of that day a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that I should like to do that again (well, not the part about getting lost). I could hike up Cathedral to watch the sun rise, and then hike back up to watch the sun set. Then I thought — it would make a better story if I watched the sun set on New Year’s Eve, an ending to the old year, and watched it rise on New Year’s Day, as a beginning. So I decided to do that, and to see if I could get some people to join me.

I hiked up Cathedral to see how long it took. About one hour, fifteen minutes. I checked the times of sunrise and set (On the 31st the sunset was at 16:59, and on the 1st the sunrise as at 07:04 — at sea level — at elevation the sun will set later and rise earlier, but I didn’t bother to rewrite my program to check for that).

So allowing for the fact that I’m a fast hiker, and that groups always take longer than they should to do anything, I decided to call for a start time of 3:15pm on the 31st and 5:20am on the 1st.

I got some “Maybe.”s. I got some “That’s a wonderful idea but I’ll be out of town.”s. Dennis said he was interested. Aha! a definite response.

The route up to Cathedral starts at Tunnel Rd. and follows the Jesusita (Inspiration Pt.) trail for a way. It goes up the road, across the bridge, and then over the stream crossing — there it diverges from Inspiration and heads up Mission Creek (along the seven falls trail). At first this is easy but it soon has you scrambling up a steeply sloping rock face and then climbing steeply up a rocky trail. It levels out (a bit) after a quarter of a mile or so, and the Cathedral route leaves the river and climbs steeply up the hillside, eventually reaching a razer-backed ridge with ocean views to the left, and the canyon of Mission creek (about five hundred feet below now) on the right, and steep drops on either side.

The ridge is covered with manzanita bushes and rocks. Clambering over, among, around the rocks is a fun challenge. Halfway up, there is a place where one must climb through a small tunnel. The trail continues steeply up the ridge-line, until it bends to the left underneath the peak and climbs up (steeply, of course) the other side of the mountain in the final ascent.

Actually, I should add that what I call Cathedral Peak isn’t the true Cathedral — that peak is about ½ a mile beyond the terminus of this steep trail. Again reachable by another razor-backed ridge-line trail, but not quite such a steep one.

On New Year’s Eve I got off my bike a little after 3 to find Denis and his friend Steve there already. We wait around for a bit, but no one else shows up, so off we go.Rocky Ridge in the mist There are some clouds around Rocky Pine Ridge, and they seem to be increasing. There is a cloud trying to work its way over the top of the ridge near La Cumbra. Dennis remarks happily that more clouds make a more interesting sunset. They do — up to a point, of course. You certainly get more colours if the light can bounce off clouds — but too many clouds can obscure the sun and lead to no light at all.

When we get to the first steep bit, Steve starts to flag. I guess I hadn’t made it clear enough that this was a difficult trail. We wait for him to catch his breath and then press on. But I’m still going too fast. This is worrying. I had not expected to be moving this slowly. We haven’t even reached the Cathedral turn off, and that’s where things get really hard.

Dennis says he’ll stay back with Steve (Dennis knows the route). At first I try to wait for them, but I start to worry about missing the sunset. So, regretfully, I have to leave them behind.Moon and mist over ridge When I get up to the ridge I can see that the clouds are creeping up all around us now. There is fog down below in mission creek canyon, there are clouds up by Rocky Pine Ridge, clouds are spilling over the tops of the mountains from the San Ynes valley, there are even wisps of clouds blowing across the ridge I’m on.

The moon is just rising over Rocky Pine Ridge, a waxing gibbous moon.

As I climb up the ridge the fog seems to be racing me to the top. Rocky Pine is now out of sight behind clouds. Luckily the peak I’m heading for still seems bathed in sunlight.

The ridge is covered with manzanita, and even to my colour-blind eyes the red trunks stand out against the green leaves. Many of the bushes are covered with the bell-shaped flowers of the heath family and — yes — there are humming birds up here, whirring around all over the place. Perhaps they like the flowers? (but the flowers are white — I didn’t think humming birds noticed white flowers).

I stop to photograph the manzanita, and suddenly the mist is all around me. Oh dear, will there be any sunlight at the top?

Two small furry creatures run across the trail in front of me. They are hiden behind a low rock and all I can see is the top fur on their backs. I can’t identify them, and by the time I reach that spot on the trail they are long gone.Ridge out of mist A little higher and I have pushed through the fog. It also seems to have dropped down the face of Rocky Pine Ridge leaving that floating in a sea of mist. As I climb higher the mist dissipates further. I turn several times to watch the peaks rise from obscurity.

And finally I reach the top. The horizon is almost clear now — a few clouds, just enough to make the sunset interesting, but the clouds are still trying to climb over the mountains from San Ynez.Sunset from Cathedral Peak I’ve made it up with a few minutes to spare. The sun is setting through the clouds and is quite spectacular. The city is mostly covered with clouds which writhe underneath the sunset. I need a video camera to do justice to the sight. The sun sets, slowly creeping down below the horizon. As it finally slips below I stand for a while on a rock to watch the colours slowly fade to the west — and, good heavens, someone is coming up the trail behind me, I didn’t think they’d make it.
Sunset from Cathedral PeakAh, no. It’s Martin. And he’s running. I didn’t think it was possible to run up this trail. Martin rushes past me for another 20 feet until he finds the end of his run. Then he announces that it took him 52 minutes to get up here today.

We head down the hill together in the fading light. After a bit Martin finds my pace too slow and zooms ahead. I’m even more afraid of running down this trail than I am of running up itFading light.

And then I’m out, and at my bike. I never saw Dennis and Steve again (Martin had seen them on his way up), but I check for their cars and those are gone, so I assume they got back ok. (They did).

I’m up before 4, out of the house on the bike at 4:30 and at the trailhead at 5:10am. Four people have said they might join me. As I wait, a car drives up (there is no traffic on Tunnel Rd. at 5am), ah, I think, someone has made it! — But no, the car reaches the dead-end, appears confused, turns around and drives off. Who on earth is going to be wandering around the boondocks of SB at 5 in the morning on New Year’s day?Aside from me, I mean.

I wait a little longer. No one else shows up.

So up I go again. It is black. There is a faint glow off to the west showing where the moon set about half an hour ago. The stars are out. It isn’t as cold as I feared.

When I get to the ridge I meet the wind. I comes roaring across the ridge top. Somehow I seem to be out of the worst of it. I hear it lashing at the trees, but very little actually blows against me.

Now there is a faint glow off to the east, and the moon is long gone.

A little higher and I get a good view of the city sparkling below, and the faint line of colour off to the east. I take out the camera, knowing it won’t work, and take a picture. The picture is dead black.

I start to worry if I will have enough time to reach the top… I hike more slowly in the dark, I hadn’t thought of that.

I realize I don’t really need the headlamp any more; there is almost enough light now, and, yes, I can get a photograph of line of colour on the horizon.

A little further and I take the headlamp off. I’m out in the wind now, it’s quite blusterous.

The rocks beside me glow red in the morning blush, but the picture I try to take of them is almost black still.

I turn the corner and here’s the peak. I climb up on to the rocks at the top and the full force of the wind hits me. I’ve got about 10 minutes before sunrise, and it is cold. I take some quick shots of the horizon and then drop down out of the wind and put on a few more layers. It is still cold.Sunrise from Cathedral Peak There are no clouds this morning. A little haze over the city. More haze between here and the Islands (I can only see Santa Cruz, and only the top of it). Dennis would have been disappointed.

I try to find a vantage out of the wind. Well I can’t, but here’s a spot with less wind, and good heavens, the sun is rising now!

So I take my photos. But it’s cold in the wind.

I turn back down. It’s scarcely 5 minutes past sunrise when I hear my first humming bird, buzzing somewhere nearby. As I descend into the manzanita I hear them all over the place. Humming birdAt one point I see three of them hovering near a tree in front of me. I pull out my camera and two of them zoom off to do acrobatics in the air. The third perches. I can even photograph him. Of course he’s just a tiny dot in the picture.

I keep going, and the humming birds keep tempting me. They hover briefly a few feet in front, but are gone by the time the camera comes out. If I stand still they don’t come back. If I go on, I’m never prepared when they appear.

And then… I cross some boundary and they are all gone.

Almost at Jesusita, I look across Mission creek at the mountains on the other side of it. And the mountains are reflected in the creek. A beautiful instant.

Reflections of the mountains