Alder Creek Worktrip

A Cut Above

In late April of this year, I received an email from the Ojai RD that a small crew was being assembled to slay some downed trees along the Alder Creek Trail in the Sespe Wilderness. It was admittedly a long-shot for most of the prospective volunteers … a three-day mid-week sojourn via Dough Flat, that trailhead I last visited during last fall’s ill-fated and aborted Agua Blanca survey.

… Oh, what the hell.

To the hills!

Thataway! (The Encore)

It was as good a crew as one could ask: VWR and mountain bike legend Mickey McTigue, Ranger Heidi, Bardlero Primero (Patron Saint of the 20W15 and, somehow, first-time backpacker), and myself. We met early on a Thursday morning at the Ojai station, went through the requisite safety briefs, loaded the stakebed, and were off.

The hike in from Dough was akin to summers in the Sierra. A tad muggy, mid-60s and storm clouds a’brewing: great conditions. There was a slight chance of storms forecast, and the prospect of some precip was a welcome one: it’s miserably dry out there right now. Squaw Flat was bone dry, but the well-known grapevines that grow along the banks are thriving (as is the poison oak, of course). The camp is in better shape then I’ve ever seen it; apparently the recipient of somebody’s care rather than indifference or (more often) abuse.

Squaw Flat


Cow Spring, too, yielded little more than a damp spot in the dirt, and so we enjoyed a brief snack there at the old Klamath stove, the likes of which are becoming fewer and fewer in our venerable forest (McPherson and Mine come to mind, but only just). Soon enough Bardlero and I were having a bit too much fun (re-)recovering many of the EM-series monuments as I am often wont to do; in the winter of 2012 I spent a fair amount of time recovering some of the series down the Bucksnort route toward Ant.

Monument EM-22

Bardlero and the Corral

Monument EM-21

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Recovering monuments and boring somebody with a history lesson; images courtesy and (c) Bardlero Primero

The descent toward Dripping Springs yielded a mucky few pools and a hedge of poison oak; the gloom I usually associate with lack of water was mitigated somewhat by some really vibrant yellow mariposa lilies.

Yellow Mariposa

Monument EM-20

McDonald Junction

Down in the creekbed of the East Fork, again we found no water. Hmph. But behold! Upon reaching the confluence of the east and main forks, it was like somebody at the McDonald Mountain Water Dept. had cranked open the spigot. A lovely sound (and sight) to behold.

Alder Creek

We rejoined Ranger Heidi and Mickey at camp, and after some mid-afternoon siestas, headed out toward Shady for the first bit of why we’d made this trip. It was clobbering time!



All Smiles

We worked a few hours, made plans for the next day’s attack, and then returned to camp for an evening beside the campfire which largely consisted of equal parts tasty eats, good company, and great stories from Mickey. The man has seen pretty much every corner of the Los Padres, and has five or six great tales from each of those corners. We stayed up a bit later than we probably should have, but it was worth it. With the rain looking more and more likely, I erred on the side of dryness and had the tent up for the night’s slumber.


The next day broke considerably warmer. After confirming Bardlero had in fact survived his first night backpacking, it was an early rise and we hit the trail to render the numerous fallen trees and brushed-in stretches back into smooth hikin’ highway.

The Master
Should I be Half as Cool in 30 Years

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Image courtesy and (c) Bardlero Primero

After a few hours of sawing in the heat, we took an extended lunch at Shady, enjoying the water and namesake protection from the sun’s wicked rays.

Slim Shady Water

And then we got back to work, tackling the tree the RSO noted some years ago during our visit to Shady shortly after the Day Fire. This was a medium-sized and nasty, knotted and hard oak, but under the masterful tutelage of Mickey, I can happily announce Shady camp is open for business.

"Oh, *that* tree"

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Image courtesy and (c) Ranger Heidi

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Image courtesy and (c) Bardlero Primero

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Another fine evening spent around the campfire that would prove my last of the summer (Level 3 restrictions going into effect shortly after this trip), and Bardley and I enjoyed some drams of Laphroaig round the kitchen. Enjoy the new bench there on the western edge. 😉

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Image courtesy and (c) Ranger Heidi

The temperatures for our third day were projected to be in the 90s, so — pretending at least I’d learnt my lesson the previous summer — I packed everything but my tarp, bag, knife, and headlamp, and set my alarm for 0430. I would be making my departure under cover of night and had every intention of being back to the trucks before the heat got ridiculous. The frogs serenaded us to sleep that night, and when my alarm went off I tucked my remaining gear into my pack, slung the cross-cut over my shoulder, and was off. It was a surreal but supremely comfortable climb out of the Alder Creek drainage singing Monthy Python tunes to myself; first light hit as I was crossing the Stone Corral en route to Cow Spring.

First Light on the Stone Corral

Bucksnort Junction

I enjoyed an extended respite and some breakfast at Cow Spring, and then continued on my way, stopping only to take the traditional photo at the Bucksnort Junction and to chat with the few hikers I encountered near the top of the climb from Squaw and further toward the trailhead.

I reached Dough Flat a bit after 0830; the mercury had already reached 81. Lesson learned?

Well, I guess only time will tell.


5 responses to “Alder Creek Worktrip”

  1. Am going stir crazy. Yet hesitant due to this weekend’s projected heat index. Los Padres in summer=nuclear caldera. Kinda bummed that Pine Mountain Road is a no go. High in the pines would be the perfect place to be. Guess I’ll be hunting shade. -Stillman

  2. Oh duh, forgot to say “Thanks” for the efforts of you and your team. DS

  3. Well done Craig, yours and the others hard work is greatly appreciated! I was just out there over memorial day weekend and the weather was perfect, made it to the Alder cave, which was beautiful. I know the relief/joy you felt upon hearing the water in Alder creek. Great write up as usual. Look forward to hearing more of you wanderings.

  4. Jeff Boberg Avatar
    Jeff Boberg


    Just heard you last night at REI Oxnard and bought your book. Had to come to the website this morning to read about your trail work, since that was the trail I backpacked with my two ten year old sons about 2 weeks after you all cleaned it up. We actually expected to camp at Cow Springs, but it was dry. We ended up camping along Alder Creek about 1/2 mile from Shady (it was getting dark at that point), thinking Alder was dry for the season. I was worried we’d have to hike all the way to the Sespe to find water. The next day, we woke up and went about 300 yards to where water was plentiful.

    Thanks for all your hard work. Two more kids (and a golden retriever) are experiencing the outdoors in part because of people like you.

  5. John Boggs Avatar

    I have enjoyed reading about the Alder Creek work trip. It brings back many fond memories of 5 day hitche s at Cow Springs ,Alder Creek camp, and Shady to Cottrell Flats. Worked with FS trail crew, then YACC (youth conservation corp crew), and last with Volunteers. Some of the volunteers on Alder Creek were Mike Rose, Roger Berry with his lama, Carol Day, Boy Scouts, Tony Alvus.
    Before the Wilder Designation of this land, trail maint was much faster due to the use of chain saws. Very few hikers would see us during the week, but when they did, we received praise and no complaints.
    This is very hard work, your with out radio communication, you carry your pack, tools, water. You have hot and cold weather and its a climb to get in and out. Nothing about this work is easy.
    Its healthy, rewarding and you keep the memories , and above all, be safe.

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