Return to Old Reliable
This past Memorial weekend — while trash cans overflowed up and down the Santa Ynez River and camps up and down the forest were over-run by backpackers, hot springs revelers, and daytrippers — the uber-hund led an intrepid crew of Scouts into the Chumash Wilderness.
We owed the girls a memorable first LPNF backpacking trip, and so naturalement Sheep Camp raised its steady hand and beckoned us. It had been only weeks since our last visit (chronicled here, here, and here), but it’s never too soon for another go in this fine corner of the forest.
The parking lot at Chula Vista wasn’t bereft of traffic as is often the case; some 20-odd vehicles dotted the teardrop-shaped tarmac. Memorial weekend can be a maddening crush of humanity, and unless a freak snowstorm chases the crowds away (as it did last year), one often has to accept company unless you head deep in the backcountry. (In fact just the night before, snow and sub-freezing temperatures were endured by other wanderers of this wood.)
Not so our weather: it was glorious … the kind that brings the masses to the mountains. And so we weren’t alone in our ascent of the old 9N24 road; families and mountain bikers and trail runners all shared the pine-shaded course as we headed for the condor observation site.
A lazy lunch with outstanding views and cool breezes preceded the drop into the Sawmill saddle; we didn’t see anybody again ’til we reached “Lightning Row” atop Sawmill. I will admit that while I often extol the emptiness of the Chumash (even the popular Tumamait Trail), in such great conditions and on a holiday weekend even my beloved Sheep might see its sites full (it’s happened more than once). I had prepared the crew for the possibility of using our guerrilla site nearby, an often windy but always serene spot.
As we approached the North Fork/Tumamait junction, we met with another pair of peak-baggers doing the Pinos–Abel route, and as we turned down the drainage toward Sheep, another crew bade us well from the eastern Grouse approach. As we dropped in to the first site of Sheep, a trio of backpackers who’d come up via Lily Meadows were setting up camp, but the other sites further out toward the ridge were free and clear, and didn’t appear to have been visited beyond a daytripper or 9 since last the RSO and Expat and I stayed here.
Perfect. It was a chilly but great night of burgers, stories, and hanging about the fire into the wee hours. We were putting the “out” back into “Scouting,” oh yes we were.
The next morning (Memorial Day proper) broke clear and warm, and aside from our neighbors at the upper site we didn’t encounter another soul on the hike out ’til again we lazed along the observatory benches and soaked in the ridiculous views of the Cuyama and Pine Mountain.
The lady mountaineers of Troop 284 rocked it.