Sneaking Past Humbaba: The Cedars of the Southern Los Padres

Indulge me now some idle dendrological musing.

I often refer to the uber-hund as my Enkidu, an allusion to Gilgamesh’s wild and better-sensed partner. A few months ago, whilst a crew of us stood around a cedar-fueled campfire at Upper Reyes, the irony struck me.

Upper Reyes Night No. 3

Bear with me here. In the first half or so of the epic that is Gilgamesh’s tale — for those who read the Cliff Notes or haven’t read it in a while — it was into the cedars (believed to be the dwelling of the gods) into which the Uruk king and his companion Enkidu ventured, facing all forms of peril.

G and Mad-Eye
Upper Reyes, Boxing Day 2011

What better place for gods to dwell indeed? Some of the nicest sites in the Forest are those set beneath cedars, specifically our Calocedrus decurrens, or California incense-cedar. Accident? I think not … in fact, I cannot think of any area with good cedar coverage that doesn’t feature a trail camp. (This last point has given rise to some conspiracy theories in the crew that the Chumash planted the cedars in their favorite hang-outs, but we’ll save that for another time.)

Maybe this Rock ...
Upper Bear, Winter 2011

Upper Reyes, Beartrap, Haddock, and Pine Mountain Lodge (current and prime); Fishbowls and Cedar Creek; Madulce, Upper Bear, East Fork Lion, the lily-clad drainages below Mission Pine Spring … so many of the sweetest sites within the C. decurrens‘s altitude range are shaded wholly or in part by these great conifers. Were a few to show up at Sheep Camp or Cienega, I might not ever leave.

Beartrap, Spring 1997
Beartrap, Spring 1997

Fairly drought resistance, to my unlearned eye the cedars also seem to withstand fire far better than their pine cousins (especially the Coulters, those weak and perilous trees littering the burn areas in numbers too great to fathom). Sequoia are regarded for their fire resistance, so maybe it’s a Cupressaceae thing. Runs in the family.

Madulce Station: 1983 and 2011
Madulce Cabin Site. Image courtesy and © the Los Padres Expat

“Who would go down into his forest?” the tablets ask.

I would — I’d brave Humbaba’s wrath to reach any of these sites. (With my four-legged uber-Enkidu, of course.)

Marv on Alert


2 responses to “Sneaking Past Humbaba: The Cedars of the Southern Los Padres”

  1. Coyote Dave Avatar
    Coyote Dave

    Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Camps with cedars are hallowed ground. I had a walking stick made of incense cedar that I found at Upper Bear 8 years ago. I took it home and sanded it smooth and used it on every backpacking trip since. Unfortunately the stick met its demise last April when the tip snapped off while using it to cross a creek. I still have what’s left of it and it resembles a cane more so than a staff. As you can tell by the amount of time I’m dedicating to its obituary, it was one of my favorite pieces of gear. Although a little heavier than a trekking pole the additional utility of a staff is worth the extra weight. You can push through poison oak with it, use it for crossing streams on large logs, you can prod lethargic rattlers in the morning off the trail, or goose your buddy in front of you whose hiking too slow. I’m heading up the GM/PB trail next month to among other things, claim a worthy replacement. I can’t wait!

  2. I’ve been getting quite a bit of time amongst the Cedars lately… ready for another dose come tomorrow!

    Out of the camps I’ve visited in Cedar country, the trees ringing the Cedar Creek camp seemed like a particularly impressive cluster.


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