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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Little Men, Big Sur

I’d like to think over the years I’ve learnt at least a handful of the many lessons I’ve received, and so in a rare act of Labor Day weekend wisdom, instead of heading into the cauldron that is the Sespe in the summer or scaling some blistering hill along Hurricane Deck, I led the intrepid Panthers and Mongooses of Cub Scout Pack 3179 for a four-day sojourn to the Pico Blanco Boy Scout camp in Big Sur.

I’ve camped at numerous BSA camps across the state, but had never visited Pico Blanco (a camp in the Monterey RD of the Los Padres operated by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council). A handful of other Ventura-area troops have made the annual “family camp” offered on Labor Day weekend, and had been recommended to us as a chance to enjoy the programs and environs of the camp with everything available save the mess hall.

After the nearly 6-hour drive to camp, the boys hunkered down and quickly busied themselves with the setting up of their beds and kitchens. As we were car camping, this was a far easier and more complacent task than during some of our more adventurous sojourns.


The boys were up early their first morning, and I was glad to find Little Man busy prepping my breakfast. Having a go-to cook is proving supremely handy these days (though admittedly I greased those wheels by awarding him his own MSR PocketRocket, cook kit, fuel canisters, and a few lighters sans thumbguard … but come on people, this is the gift that keeps on giving [back to me]!).

Head Chef

After colors, our first order of business was to get numerous safety briefings from the camp staff. The instructions for the rifle and archery ranges — as one might expect — took the longest. But as our Webelos are known for their hiking prowess, it was with particular zeal that they took to the trek they’d selected from the menu of options — a journey through the Los Padres and along the Little Sur River toward Jackson Camp. This was a great 5-mile out-and-back along sorrel-clad ravines, cobble- and fern-choked crossings, and all beneath canopies of towering oaks and redwoods.


Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts

Pico Blanco THTrail Masters

Trust UsTriple Towers_Pico Blanco

Fish Camp

At Jackson, the boys lunched and then busied themselves exploring the creekbed, catching bugs and snakes, hunting for albino redwoods, ID’ing (and avoiding … mostly) nettle and poison oak, and enjoying that old stalwart: unstructured free time.

Jackson Camp No 1

Hunting for Bugs

Whilst the boys roamed, some of us lounged in the splendor that is this tight little camp, and there in the duff and dirt lo and behold:

Lost and Found

I know you can read it with ease, gentle forest reader, but for the sake of being thorough allow me to translate: “JACKSON PUBLIC CAMP.” Dimensions are on par with those (very) few we still find afield (e.g., Indian Canyon) and the numerous in protected or private collections.

Indian Camp
Indian Canyon, Winter 2011

Battered, shot, rusted, and a general wreck, but still a nice find.

That night, the Cubs of 3179 unleashed on the unsuspecting staff of Pico Blanco their infamous “poker night” skit during campfire, and over the course of the next two days enjoyed the shooting range(s), waterfront along the Little Sur, the new climbing tower, and a night hike up Skinner Ridge.

poker table skit

Image courtesy Camp Pico Blanco/Mr Roberts


Race to the Top


Nighttime Traffic

A very relaxing time for us Scouters (well, for me at least), and the boys thoroughly enjoyed the camp. I suspect we’ll return before long.

Oh — we talked about receiving lessons, etc., at the opening of this one. The weekend detailed herein also happened to be my wedding anniversary. So … yeah, I’ve been reminded that next year it’s to be somewhere tropical. With the missus. 😉

Get ’em out there!

Pico Bound

(The Jackson Trail is detailed in Route 39 of Analise Elliot Heid’s Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur.)

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Station to Station: Pine Mountain Lodge Flashback

As time has allowed over the past few years (which is to say, almost never), and starting with a brief background I posted about Pine Mountain Lodge, I’ve been slowly pulling together some research that eventually I’ll release as the Footprints Project. Progress has been painfully slow, with real life and all sorts of other similarly silly things constantly impeding momentum.

However, as a very happy sidenote-cum-anchor to the PML section of the Footprints Project, plant systematist and paleobotanist Dr John M. Miller was kind enough to share with me a series of photos of Pine Mountain Lodge taken during his time exploring the southern Los Padres as a Boy Scout in the late 1960s. So whilst real-world obligations beset us on all sides, take a moment to soak up some great imagery of the old lodge site. Then you may go about your business.

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1966

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1966 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge Sunrise 1967

Pine Mountain Lodge Sunrise, 1967 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_003

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_002

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968_001

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968 006
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1968 005

Pine Mountain Lodge, 1968 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1969 001
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1969 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

Miller_Pine Mtn Lodge 1969 002
Pine Mountain Lodge, 1969 | Image courtesy Dr Miller

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Old School Signage: Alder Creek/Mutau

Another of the lost Santa Barbara NF enamel beauties, this one at the junction of the now-abandoned upper Alder Creek trail and Mutau Creek route, 1968.

Mt Pinos district stalwart EmSub and his hearty team have worked the tree-littered Mutau trail several times in the wake of the Day Fire (see some photos here and here), but the upper Alder Creek route (from the lower junction above the East Fork confluence to the Mutau junction) has fallen off the official maps.

Miller_Alder Creek/Mutau Trail, 1968

Thanks to fellow Scouter and Arrowman Dr John M. Miller for sharing this great image.

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