dispatches & explored

The Accidental Tradition: Nordhoff Lookout

Sequels seldom live up their predecessors, but I’m happy to report that trend was bucked this past October.

So let me rewind a bit here. Just over a year ago, I led a crew of my intrepid Cub Scouts for a microtrash clean-up atop Nordhoff Peak, under the auspices of the US Forest Service. Condors have been known to roost atop the superstructure of the Nordhoff Lookout‘s remains, and the bottle caps, shell casings, and busted glass are all classic hazards to the endangered birds. During the Day Fire especially the lookout — like that at Thorn Point — saw heavier-than-usual visits from the big birds.

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

Image courtesy D Freeman | Fall 2006

We had a great weekend of service paired with great views, in a stretch of the Forest very few of those boys (and even fewer of their parents) had ever visited.

IMGP5558Service, with a View



Being 9- and 10-year-olds, picking up minuscule bits of trash only held their attention long enough to get the work done — and then they were off, clambering around the hillsides, fashioning yucca tools with zebra-striped duct tape, and devising all those Lord of the Flies-meets-Home Alone implements necessary to protect themselves from Charman.


It was an outstanding weekend of service and Scouting. Fast-forward a year’s worth of adventures that saw the boys explore the trails of Big Sur and the Sespe wilderness, backpack Horn Canyon, overnight at La Brea Tar Pits, launch rockets in the Mojave Desert, snowshoe atop Mt Pinos, fish the Rincon, and explore numerous other “places in between,” and this past October we found ourselves gearing up for another US Forest Service project — a return to the Chumash Wilderness and the North Fork of Lockwood Creek, where we were to clear tread, clip back wayward rose and willow at the creek crossings, and repair some cribwalling as the boys had done as third-graders earlier last year (see here).

Lily Meadows BEARS!

That trip has become legend in the ranks of these young men, and so they were all excited for a return to the area for another great adventure … but it was not to be. The opening of deer season in that stretch of the forest — compounded by crowds, weather, drought, and other logistics — found me and my fellow leaders scrambling for a Plan B at the last moment. (It’s time like these I am reminded I need a more formed Plan B on which I can fall back.)

And so after some gracious eleventh-hour assistance from the Ojai Ranger District, on Friday night the boys of Pack 3179 were on their way up the road out of Rose Valley, headed for Nordhoff Tower.

It was a glorious night, and the boys spent much of the evening watching the Draconid meteor shower and regaling one another with tales of Charman (*sigh* … boys) while G busied herself taking night-time photos.


The next day, I watched the sun rise over the Topatopas from the comfort of my bag, and sipped coffee in the early light before the boys fixed their breakfasts and explored the western slopes of Nordhoff Peak, where much of the old lookout cabin debris can be found. Little Man was especially pleased to retrieve one of the burners from the lookout’s stove. (Because, you know, he’s nine.)

Morning No. 1: CoffeeNordhoff Burner

Whilst we lunched atop the tower ruins, we were fortunate enough to watch Condor No. 696 fly overhead — a great moment for the boys, and one that reinforced for them to relevance of their service work at this spot one year prior.


Lost in the Sun; courtesy Li’l G

696 Overhead

Nordhoff Lookout, ca. 1960

Nordhoff Lookout, ca. 1960

Lunchtime was spent soaking up the views, awarding the boys some bling they’d earned over the previous months, and gearing up for the day’s hike.


We capped off the day with a great hike from the parking space near Elder Camp to the top of Topatopa Bluff. The boys motored up that steep slope with an abundance of Scout cheer (and rests).

Image courtesy ADL MPM Image courtesy ADL MPM IMG_5631IMG_5615

The stalwart Webelos enjoyed reading through the peak register, spotting landmarks far below in Ojai, Ventura, and beyond, and enjoyed a well-earned respite before heading back down to the trucks. We returned to camp just as the sun was disappearing behind the western points.

IMG_5652Bluffs SnacksNordhoff RidgeIMG_5698

So … meteor shower, lookout tower with huge views, unstructured free time, and peak bagging in the great wide open? Truly, this was the Godfather II or Empire Strikes Back of sequels … better than the original indeed.

Get ’em out there!

(The Topatopa Bluff hike is detailed in Route 62 [sidebar] of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura.)

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2 Responses to The Accidental Tradition: Nordhoff Lookout

  1. Claudia Lindley says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story and the gorgeous photographs. I grew up in a house on Red Hill Road with a backyard that abutted undeveloped property which in turn abutted the forest, and my brother and I spent a lot of time in the area. So well-remembered and cherished, and seeing these young ones “learn by doing” under the guidance of their leaders warms my heart. Thanks!

  2. Looks like the perfect day!

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