March 3 - 5, 2012
As part of a map recon trip I did an ambitious three day trek across the San Rafael and Dick Smith. Inspired by a friend who names his treks, I call this one the Fantastic Five, named after the shape of the hiking route we did (blue above).
Black = Truck Ride (25 miles)
Blue = Backpack Route (40 miles)
Red = Mtn Bike Ride (9 miles)
S = Start and End of Trip (Upper Oso)
H = Start of Hike (Windy Gap)
B = Start of Bike (Buckhorn Trailhead)
1,2 = Nights at Camps
Driving in, view down Moraga Creek into Indian
We were able to glom on to a Forest Service Training trip and hitched a ride in from Upper Oso. After stashing our bikes at the Buckhorn Trailhead, we got a ride up to Big Pine.
In exchange for the ride we spent some time clearing the road.
Bailey Dog, Bryan, Human Masticator Nate
Looking back at Windy Gap. We hit the trail at 11:22am on Saturday morning. Heading for Mission Pine Basin and beyond.
Big Pine, in the rear view.
Good amount of snow, especially considering the lack of precipitation we've had this year.
First stop, West Big Pine
Look closely and you can see the Buckhorn Rd winding towards Bluff Camp.
View West towards San Rafael Mtn and Mission Pine Basin. Hurricane Deck seen on the right center.
East from West Big Pine
Register at West Big Pine
Inside the register showing an old photo of the old lookout tower that once lived atop West Big Pine.
And what remains today.
You can see the cliffs of West Big Pine from many places in the Santa Ynez Valley and across the ridges of the SB Frontcountry. Look for the biggest, baddest looking white cliffs and you'll see where Nate is standing in this shot.
East end of Santa Cruz Island in the distance.
Junction West Big Pine Spur and Mission Pine Trails. Follow that arrow.
View down Rattlesnake Canyon towards the Sisquoc.
The trail was spotty but easy enough to follow until the bottom of the Rattlesnake Switchbacks. Thanks to Kevin, Paul and Kevin who worked the trail last October. Your work was very helpful. Every little bit counts.
View into Santa Cruz drainage.
The Rattlesnake Switchbacks.
Unfortunately the trail got quite a bit worse from here out towards Mission Pine Basin.
It could use a work crew.
View into Grapevine Canyon.
West Big Pine
The trail improves again as you get closer to Mission Pine Basin. Look for the cairns.
This small washout is the worst section of tread. Would not be too hard to fix.
Mission Pine Basin
We took a small detour on Saturday afternoon to explore the upper stretches of the Fall Canyon Trail.
This is where the old Summit Camp used to be. You can see rusted remnants if you poke around.
We then dropped down into Fall Canyon.
Cold, icy, dark and very little flowing water.
Our mission was the find the hard to find Cooper Camp. Luckily we stumbled upon it.
Not much more than an old ice can stove, some nails, wire and a lot of bear scratches in the trees.
We headed up Fall Canyon Creek to the Junction of Mission Pine and Santa Cruz trails.
Nearest water to Mission Pine Basin was at the spring down Fall Canyon.
Destination for Saturday night was Coche Camp.
But first a quick visit to Mission Pine Basin Camp.
Good to see the pine saplings are now nearly waist high.
Back on the trail and heading down to Coche.
Sunset on West Big Pine.
The Santa Cruz Trail down from Mission Pine has seen better days. There were long periods of spiny ceonothus whacking.
The old washout near the bottom.
The CCC worked a reroute around this section back in 2010.
Unfortunately I missed the new reroute. Nighthiking has its drawbacks. Fortunately Nate did not miss it.
We got to Coche Camp at 8pm on Saturday night.
This shot was taken the next morning.
And back on the trail Sunday morning at 6:15am.
Lots of miles to go. Objective was to make it to a special camp along Indian Creek.
Junction Santa Cruz and Grapevine Trails.
Old maps show two long lost camps up Grapevine Creek. Took a couple hours to explore and found Upper Grapevine Camp.
Upper Grapevine has the most elaborate stove I've seen.
Not sure how long its been since someone has seen this camp.
The view is a nice one.
There was a treasure chest of old artifacts at the camp. Porcelain bowls, old glass, burnt tools and lots of poison oak.
The stove can be seen in the upper left.
Back on the trail with a quick visit to Pelch Camp, which also sports an elaborate old stove.
Pelch also sports a good amount of trash. It's my understanding that this was left over from the fire fighters during the Zaca Fire. Would be a great VWR project to hike in and clean this up.
An old wood box.
Pelch Camp comes with a table. No indication that anyone has camped here in months.
The spur trail to Pelch could use some work as well.
Pelch Spur and Grapevine junction.
Coffee sold separately.
Quite a few deadfalls between Bluff and Pelch. VWR trip should backpack to Pelch, clear the downed trees, clean the camp and return to Bluff. Great weekend idea.
West Big Pine, from below.
Another reroute done by the CCC in 2010. This time around a less treacherous slide.
Old cribwall at first creek crossing.
Looking west at the first creek crossing down from Bluff.
Junction Buckhorn Road
We got to Bluff around 11:40 on Sunday morning. Temps were in the 80's. Quick dip in Indian, restock and.......
Back on the trail, into the Dick Smith.
A few downed trees along Indian as well.
Trail down Indian is good at the moment.
Poplar Camp could use a new table and the camp moved about 100 yards across the small meadow.
An old cut from who knows how many decades back.
Lots going on here.
A tinge of sulfur in the water in these parts.
I went searching for a mine and instead found this deep natural cave. Didn't stick my head in too far. Third time is not the charm. The cave was easily 15ft deep, I couldn't see the end.
Found another old camp.
Is this why Indian is called Indian?
Conglomerates rule the day.
Classic Indian Creek
Got to camp around 5:30.
Quick sunset dip.
Pines, sycamore, oaks, cottonwoods and yucca - what else could you ask for?
Another long day ahead of us. On the trail around 9am.
Not exactly K9 friendly.
Too good to pass up, but too cold to stay for long.
We took the high road.
There is a really cool old oxbow on the west side of the falls. The "official" high road goes through there, we took the path less traveled.
Other than frogs and birds, our only local companion.
The meadow at Indian Canyon Camp
Indian Canyon Camp
Table in good condition.
Quite a few downed trees between Meadow and Indian Canyon. The trail is followable, but in the worst shape I've seen it. Time for some trail work.
Not sure why they'd be blasting here.
Old Peg Leg Camp.
WINNER for weirdest thing I've seen in a while. There was a string (not fishing line) that went perfectly down the creek for close to a mile. No kidding. Someone set this up on purpose. Why?
The high section into the meadow is a brushy maze, which is not too abnormal. Again, needs work.
Meadow Camp might be the most aptly named camp, well other than Peg Leg.
And the camp.
Close to 2pm and heading into Buckhorn Canyon. Somewhere up there are our bikes, well we hope they are still there.
Buckhorn Trail Sign
Lower Buckhorn Camp
I had not hiked the trail up Buckhorn in almost 10 years. It did not burn, at least most of it. The tread was very visible but there is a lot of downed trees and some areas where new tread would need to be carved out.
The aforementioned downed trees.
Blazes can be found along the way.
As can old dozer line signs. There are at least three of these up the Buckhorn.
Dinsmore Camp ice can stoves. Belly up and not getting much use.
Shhhhh...... Lets keep this away from hunters.
Buckhorn is great. Crazy mini ladder pools. The sound was very soothing.
Upper Buckhorn Camp ice can stove. Belly down and not seeing much use.
Not sure what sign used to reside here.
Eventually the trail climbs into the burn zone and the trail gets worse. Someone Seldomseen may have flagged this last year. The flags really helped get us out of the canyon and onto the switchbacks.
Steep climb out of the canyon.
Big views of Monte Arido.
And at long last we punctured out of the chaparral and onto the road. 5:45 pm. The stashed bikes and beer were intact.
All that remained was the 9mile descent back to Upper Oso. The sun set, and the full moon rose. Most backpacking trips end in an exhausted state, especially 40miles in 2.5days. Yet the adrenaline rush full moon bike ride was a total rush capper of a trip. Epic way to end. Need to do that again.