Saturday, August 19, 2017

Little Pine Mountain Benchmark and Alexander Peak

Hiked: 8/18/2017
Distance: 18.7 miles round trip on trail, cross country, and dirt road
Summit Elevation: 4449' (Little Pine), 4107' (Alexander)
Elevation Gain: 3980'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.18
Round trip time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 156 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

When I completed the Lower Peaks List, Little Pine Mountain Benchmark was suspended. It was still suspended when I did this hike. The road to Upper Oso Campground opened a couple of weeks ago which is the starting point. There are two routes to the summit, the Santa Cruz Trail and Camuesa Road. The USFS listed the Santa Cruz trail as impassable, while the road was open to hikers and horses. Little Pine Mountain Benchmark is in the Los Padres National Forest northeast of Santa Barbara, more than a three hour drive from my house. It was going to be a very long day.

The first crossing of the Santa Ynez river from Paradise Road had about 6 inches of water over it. I arrived at Upper Oso Campground and found several camping spots taken, but no one was at the day use parking area. I planned to gamble on the Santa Cruz trail in part to scout it out. Also to see if I could make the impassable possible. From satellite recon, there were only a couple of cliff areas that concerned me. If I hit a spot that I couldn't bypass above or below, I planned to retreat to the nearest ridge and cross country around it. Half a mile from the start is the split for the Santa Cruz trail. Camuesa Road rises quickly to the right. There is a register at the start of the trail and I signed it. The start of the trail follows the right bank of a creek. The small stream provided a welcome murmur as company. A couple of miles later, switchbacks started up the mixed layers of exposed sediment. The Rey fire had ravaged the area, burning 32,606 acres. There were signs of trail clearing and cut branches. The trail was in good shape to this point. The next section of trail went through tall dead grass. Over my head tall. Then, it contoured right and I hit the first couple of minor washouts, none dangerous. I bypassed most above, but one I had to descend about 10' to cross. I could see the trail cut into the cliffs above thinking it might be a different story there.

Trail split

Low grass

Alexander Peak

Minor washout

As I reached the higher trail section built into the side of the mountain, I saw the destruction. Metal support rods were exposed, bent and twisted in odd shapes. Wooden beams were broken, charred, and buried. The trail was covered in slides in some places and missing in others. This was the one major washout. Still, it was relatively easy to pick my way slowly across. Sadly, it will take a colossal effort to rebuild this part of the trail. Once I had crossed that section, there were a couple more tall grassy areas. Then the trail was overgrown and became a bushwhack to the saddle with Alexander Peak. The plants growing out of the side of the mountain naturally pushed you toward the edge that you could not always see or judge very well. This was probably a more dangerous part of the trail than the destroyed section. At the saddle, Alexander Peak looked too close not to do it. There was one bump to go over before climbing 150' to the plateau. I thought there would be a useful firebreak on the way, but it was overgrown with more tall grass. There was no benchmark or register but the view back to Little Pine Mountain was worth the effort. I returned to the saddle and continued up to the use trail that branches to Little Pine Mountain BM. The summit was a pile of ashes and burned trees. No benchmark, no register. I doubt the summit area will grow back in my lifetime.

Major washout

Not much to salvage here

Affectionate plant

Saddle between Alexander Peak and Little Pine Mountain BM

Approaching Alexander

Looking back at Little Pine Mountain BM

Nearing the summit

The summit, ashes and cinders

Looking down toward Sage Hill

Alexander while descending to the road

Finally, I had to make a game time decision on whether to return on the trail or the dirt roads. In the end, I wanted to scout both routes so I returned on the roads. It is a long descent along Big Pine Road and Camuesa Road as they stayed on major ridges. Wildlife is returning to the area. I saw a red tailed hawk, a mule deer, and a gopher snake (pretty sure) on the way back. The snake was the only one willing to be photographed. The geology was spectacular. There is a weird greenish-bluish-grayish layer that draws attention as you scan the landscape. There were also pink, rust, and yellow layers. The road had some large boulders that had fallen on it, a few slides and two downed trees, but was perfectly usable for hikers. Horses would not be able to make it all the way through. At the end, Camuesa Road made a turn back upstream, adding an unwanted half mile to the hike. I went back to the register and filled in more details before heading home. Car to car was 8 hours 15 minutes. House to house was 16 hours 30 minutes.

Life goes on

Strange monument

Chill gopher snake

Little Pine Mountain (proper), Little Pine Mountain BM slightly left

Greenish gray dirt

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Canyon Acres Cliffs

Hiked: 8/12/2017
Distance: 9.5 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 1008' (near Top of the World)
Elevation Gain: 1830'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.46
Round trip time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Canyon Vistas Road
Difficulty: Moderate

Every time I drove out of Laguna Beach on Laguna Canyon Road, I noticed a small cliff band to the east above Canyon Acres Road. I wanted a closer look. A trail leaves from the end of Canyon Acres that goes near the cliffs, but parking looked severely limited. I decided instead to start on Canyon Vistas Road in Aliso Viejo at Canyon View Park. The West Ridge trail in Wood Canyon connects to the southern end of the park and leads to the Top of the World. The cliffs are a short hike down from there. I took a long route to the cliffs linking several Wood Canyon trails. The fastest way to get there is to drive to the Top of the World and hike down.

I started around 8 AM with weekend hikers and mountain bikers out in force. The West Ridge trail is wide and tame with plenty of room for everyone. It is also rather boring, especially on a day with a heavy marine layer. On the plus side, the marine layer kept things cool. When I reached the Top of the World in Laguna, I descended a trail to the east (not the southeast trail) that got me to the cliffs. There are some interesting formations on both the north (right) and south (left) side of the trail. I exited the trail here: lat="33.557743" lon="-117.766666".

On the north side, there was a "Closed Area" sign. Dropping below the sign, I followed a use trail at the base of the rocks. Wind and water had scooped caves and holes out of the sandstone. Unfortunately, the area was littered with discarded bottles, cans, and other trash. I climbed up to one of the caves and found it filled with graffiti and a fire ring. No wonder the area was closed. I picked up some trash within reach on the way out and headed to the south side (left as you descend).

Closed Area

Below the closed area

Trashed -- it happens

Directly across the trail from the north cliffs, a mountain bike trail branches left toward larger rocks. As the trail starts to drop, a hiker use trail breaks off and skirts the top of the cliffs toward a large rock formation. It ended at the side of the formation. I scrambled half way up and crept down the edge to peek into a large cave with human footprints but no graffiti or trash. I guess the party crowd didn't make it to this side. I scrambled the rest of the way to the top and found three climbing bolts. Two of the bolts were relatively new. The rock has good holds, small pebbles and sea shell bits embedded in it. It would be sweet to have a climbing area this close to home but I'm not sure I trust the eroded sandstone. I went down the other side and found another large cave. I only explored about 1/3 of the southern cliff band, but my curiosity was satisfied (for now).

Climbing bolts

One of the shallow caves

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Subway, UT

Hiked: 7/31/2017
Distance: 10.1 miles round trip on trail, use trail, and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5350' (The Subway)
Elevation Gain: 1150'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.92
Round trip time: 5 hours 50 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: $30 National Parks (per vehicle, one week pass) + $15 permit fee
Difficulty: Moderate

Subway Permits - Zion National Park

An unexpected lottery win gave us a permit and a chance to hike The Subway. This is a popular canyon hike in the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park, UT. Currently, 80 permits are issued per day, mostly through a lottery three months in advance. Walk up permits are sometimes available. It can be done top down or bottom up to an oval shaped section carved out of the canyon resembling a subway tunnel. My wife and I opted to do the non-technical bottom up hike. Our adventure started the day before when we stopped at the visitor center to pick up the permit. The ranger grilled us on canyoneering risks, flash floods (a real danger this time of year), and had us complete a form with 8 check boxes confirming that we understood what the trip entailed. She also told me my GPS would not work in the canyon, but it worked great except for the last half mile where the canyon got too narrow. There was an additional $15 fee for the permit.

For safety, we double checked the weather forecast and there was a very low chance of rain all day. We drove at dawn to the Left Fork Trailhead and began the steep 450' descent into the canyon. A sign was placed at the bottom to show people the way out. I had a waypoint for the exit and confirmed it was accurate. We started upstream on the left side of the creek along a solid use trail. I expected the trail to fade out quickly, but it continued close to a mile before we had to start picking our way around boulders and debris. In fact, the only section where we couldn't find some semblence of a use trail was a half mile stretch roughly one mile upstream from the drop in point. Other than that, we were able to find use trails on one side or the other, sometimes both. We needed to cross the creek frequently and sometimes going straight up was the path of least resistance. There is no way to do this hike without getting wet. However, we never had to cross water deeper than our knees. About half way to the Subway, there are two gray slabs on the left side with petrified dinosaur prints. A nice bonus. I had a waypoint marked for the dino prints, but there was also a small cairn with a stick set up next to it to point it out. On the topo map, the South Guardian Angel sits along the right edge of the Left Fork, but the canyon walls were too steep for us to see it.


Hiking down into the canyon

Working upstream

Leisa leading on the use trail

Dino prints

Red walls

Past the dino prints, the canyon started to get narrower. Another mile upstream, we ran into the first cascade. These are gentle shelves of red rock with sheets of water washing over them. The whole canyon was picturesque. We walked up the cascades and learned to avoid the black algae growing on the rock. It was less slippery to stay on red rock, even if there was more water flowing over it. After a longer set of cascades, we came to a 10' waterfall. It was easiest to go up on the right side of the waterfall. A few more twists in the canyon and we arrived at The Subway. The curved walls start wide, then close in, maybe 20' apart. Pools were carved out of the floor creating some interesting effects. The early morning lighting wasn't ideal, and I have low end photo gear, so my photos don't look much like those taken by professionals. We hung around for a while and had the whole place to ourselves. I expected to see some people there from the top down route. We continued further until we ran into a pool that was too deep to get over without swimming. I wanted to continue up to the next waterfall, but didn't have extra dry clothes with me. An oversight. We turned around and started back, looking for a place to rest and refuel. We soon ran into three other parties doing the bottom up route. We had no trouble finding the exit point, but it was a hot climb out. My GPS clocked just over 10 miles for the round trip. Most sources list the round trip as 8-9 miles, but we did quite a few boulder bypasses on the sides of the canyon and some general wandering around. I did have to delete some random error points in the track so it's possible the GPS distance was off. In any case, it was a great hike to one of Zions many attractions.


The 10' waterfall

Approaching the Subway

Leisa at one of the main pools


Swimmers only past here


I tried to clean up the track near the top,
send me an email if you want the GPX