Series 21 West

“21! Read ’em and weep, boys.”

Continuing now our discussion of trails by Range number (see the conversation about trail- and road-naming conventions for more on the specifics), we find ourselves at Series 21 West.

(Refer to Series 18 West, Series 19 West, and Series 20 West for the earlier installments.)

Pleito Creek

21W01 + 21W21

For years this was the “sneaky” way in to KER-77, even after access was closed. Now it’s gated by a metal barrier about three and a half miles from Cuddy Valley Road. In its 4WD route form (Trail 111), it’s a fairly rough road … but when there aren’t any Jeeps or raised Blazers bouncing up this route, it’s a beautiful walk, and the campground about half-way along is a nice one under mixed conifer and oak shade with a table, fire ring, water … the works.

I do think however it’s a bit over-rated as a 4WD route … USFS ratings mark it a black diamond, but that seems to me a trifle dramatic. This isn’t the Rubicon Trail, and I venture to guess a skilled driver could get up there in a 2WD PreRunner-style Tacoma with no modifications. (Sorry for the tangent.)

The 1967 visitor’s map excerpt shown above also has a non-contiguous section of the trail coming down the NE slopes of Antimony Peak. For this I cannot account. Would it be petty for me to point out the typo on the 2011 MPRD MVO Map? Yes? Okay, then I’ll provide the excerpt and not say anything:

21W01 Errata

McGill Trail


A beautiful and easy drop from McGill campground down to the Y along Cuddy Valley Road (or a steady climb north-to-south). Popular with mountain bikers (and formerly with skiers, judging from the old blazes), this is a great hike along the lower north slopes of Mt Pinos.

McGill Trail No. 4
Blazes! McGill Trail, Spring 2011.

Vincent Tumamait Trail/Pinos-Abel Trail

21W03 + 22W02

My second home. The 21W03 is the highest route in the Los Padres, bar none. In about six trail miles one can bag four peaks over 8,000′ (Pinos, Sawmill, Grouse, and Mt Abel/Cerro Noroeste), never dipping below 7,500′. It forms the top of the Chumash Wilderness’s roughly pi-shaped trio of trails, one leading down to Sheep Camp and Lily Meadows, the other to Mesa Spring and the San Emigdio Mesa.

Descending Pinos
The RSO and pack descending Pinos, Spring 2012

Troop 284 at the North Fork/Tumamait Junction, Spring 2012

Exploration Trail (or not)

21W04 Report

The USFS maintains (at present, anyway) that the 21W04 is the nice trail that circumnavigates McGill campground. (I believe it’s the only ADA-compliant route in the southern districts, but haven’t verified.) It’s a nice stroll for the wee ones, and has some giant sequoias that were planted here in the 1970s as part of a forestry experiment. I’d accept that on proximity alone; Range-wise it’s a match and it’s tucked between *02 and *03 well enough.

But as discussed in our Series 20 West conversation this past September, the 1968 and 1969 LPNF visitor maps used the 21W04 label on the Yellowjacket Trail out in Grade Valley (of course, Yellowjacket’s designation is almost a running joke, so let’s not dwell overly).



21W05 + 21W06 + 21W07

Naturally, we can’t just rifle through this with any form of cartographic clarity … mais non! When we arrive upon Grade Valley/Mutau/Fishbowls/Cedar Creek it all goes to Hell’s Half-Acre in a hand basket.

The current (2008) USFS visitor maps show the Fishbowls route as 22W05, whilst the USDA website labels it as part of 22W10 loop (I assume they mean 21W10, but the MPRD is infamously bad at providing accurate web content, so let’s skip this for now, since on other USDA sites it’s listed as 21W10 … sometimes you just can’t win). But legacy maps all the way up to the infamous 1995 series (including the USFS’s recent vector digitization of the 1995 series, which I’ll use below for illustrative purposes) list the Fishbowl route (both incarnations, either the original starting from the corrals or the “new” route from the former Grade Valley campground-cum-Fishbowls TH) as 21W05.

21W06 Redux

Fishbowls Trail sign, 9/1984
Fishbowls Trail sign at Camp, Fall 1984. Image courtesy and © The Los Padres Expat

First Bowl
DAW-G at Fishbowls, Fall 2009

(North Fork?) Cedar Creek

Adding to the confusion with regard to the Fishbowls route/loop/etc. above is the fact there were once two Cedar Creek routes; the one we know and love these days (meeting with the Pine Mountain Lodge connector at its high point), but also a lower route that cut southeast much sooner after leaving Fishbowls and following a more direct route along the north fork of Cedar Creek. See the 1967 excerpt in the 21W05 entry, above.

The old map(s) showed the North Fork to be 21W06, and the upper loop to be 22W10, further muddying the waters and lending some credence to why current ranger districts still can’t get it straight. Then of course the 1995 maps showed up and used the 21W06 label for the upper loop, but only from the PML junction down to the road (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).

21W06 Redux II

Thorn Point

21W05 + 21W06 + 21W07

Like the resolute lookout itself, at least the label on this tried-and-true route has remained dependable throughout the ages.

PVH and the RSO, Fern-bound. Summer 2012.

Um, "Thataway!"
Bardlero Primero, Patron Saint of the 20W15, along the Thorn Point trail. Summer 2012.

Racing the Sun
Herr Weßen and the uber-hund along 21W07, Fall 2010.

Red Reef

Four Days Out

One of the greatest stretches of trail in the Forest, the Red Reef route cuts from the Red Reef/Sespe confluence up the Red Reef and Timber drainages beneath the shadow of Hines Peak. Atop Nordhoff Ridge, it then traverses the old Navy road before dropping into Sisar Canyon to connect with the Sisar Road. The RSO rightly ranks this as possibly the greatest route of the 2009–2011 research exploratories. High praise indeed.

The 21W08 got a major re-working in the summer of 2011 after the Day Fire (2006) wrecked huge stretches of the trail. The C.R.E.W. — with an assist here and there from the CCC — re-routed some of the most damaged sections, and it’s now a veritable highway of wilderness wonder. Go get some.

The Master at Work
The uber-hund and the RSO along the 21W08, Spring 2010.

Wrecked trail, pre-C.R.E.W.

Santa Paula Canyon (Last Chance Fork)

21W08 + 21W09 + 21W20

Santa Paula Canyon, 1928
Santa Paula Canyon Signage, 1928. Image courtesy LPNF Archives.

Don Borad route onto Topatopa bluff, November 18, 2011
Don Borad trailhead atop 23W09, Fall 2011. Image courtesy and © the Los Padres Expat.

Another great and (almost infamous) route in the Santa Paula/Ojai frontcountry, starting at Thomas Aquinas and ending atop Nordhoff Ridge just east of Elder camp, by way of Topatopa Bluff. Several camps (and on the lower stretches, a whole lot of graffiti) line the route.

Jackson Falls
Jackson Falls, Winter 2009. Image courtesy and © Roy Ubu.

In the upper reaches of the canyon, the compact and rather sad Last Chance camp was abandoned by the Forest Service in the 1970s, but began to reappear on maps in the 1990s, and has maintained a steady cartographic presence since. Another site abandoned in the 1970s fiscal crunch was Topatopa Lodge, which made a fleeting appearance in the 1969 visitor map. It also still stands.

Topotopa [sic] Lodge

Book in Repose
Blatant and shameful product placement amongst the ice cans at Topatopa Lodge, Summer 2012. Image courtesy and © the RSO.

Bluff Dog
The uber-hund atop the Bluffs, Fall 2010.

Cedar Creek

Part of that Grade Valley bramble, this might be the trail leading from the PML junction down into Cedar Creek and Road 7N03C.

Cedar Creek Camp
Cedar Creek Camp, Fall 2010.

But then there’s the 1967 visitor’s map, insisting it’s the segment of trail between Cienega and Bluff camps.

21W10 + 21W11 + 21W12

Once and Future Signage
Bluff Camp Signage, Winter 2011.

Santa Paula Canyon (East Fork)

This much we know is true: the 21W11 is the East Fork. The route was wiped out in the late 70s floods, and hopelessly hammered again in 2005, but is still genuinely one of the most beautiful stretches of our fair forest. The RSO and I did the Santa Paula Trifecta in the Winter of 2011 … and whilst his favorite may be the Red Reef trek, I daresay this was mine. It’s lush, it’s empty, and it’s awesome. A quick look at the FRAP Wildfire Perimeter map shows a few tiny spots in our local backcountry that’ve not been burned since 1950, and this pocket of verdant wonder is one of them.

Wildfire Perimeters; 1950–2008
Wildfire Perimeters, 1950–2008.

See that bare gray spot above the “RA” in “VENTURA”? That’s Cienega and Bluff; spared every time since either the Matilija (1932) or perhaps Wheeler Springs (1948) Fire.

Mad-Eye, Doubtful. East Fork SP Canyon, Winter 2011.

W Fork Mud Creek Canyon/Santa Paula Ridge Trail

21W10 + 21W11 + 21W12

Not much beta or on-the-ground intel with regard to this route. But of course there are plans afoot, dear reader.

Last Chance Connector

21W08 + 21W09 + 21W20

This route cutting between No-Name and Hines Peak has throughout the years been mistakenly referred to (and labeled) the upper stretch of the Last Chance trail, but it’s actually always been the connector.

The uber-hund, happy to find water along the Last Chance Connector. Fall 2010.

Antimony Peak

21W01 + 21W21

All the way back to the San Andreas Rift Zone, this route doubles as Forest Road 9N19, but now stops far short of the peak.

Bradley Canyon


Finally, and again in the northern reaches of the MPRD, we have the 21W24. I cannot help but think this was some cartographic error, as this route by all rights must surely be a 20W-series route at its western-most.


Again I am left a bit perplexed as to the chasm between the contiguous labels (1–12) and *20, *21, and *24. Might there have been others to fill in that empty space? Let us ponder.

Timber Canyon

One of those routes (and camps) abandoned in 1974, and one of the earliest posts I made on this site.

Timber Canyon campsite

In the long-ago post, I discussed the cartographic legacy of the site, but in the associated graphic (below), the very short route in never held a trail number. Could it be one of the 21W series?

Well, in 1904 when trails were being built, Santa Barbara National Forest rangers set up camp at a Timber Creek site (the other Timber Creek being too far east, based on the description). Might the below be an image of a 21W spike camp?

Timber Canyon, 1904
“Ranger’s camp at head of Timber Creek H.Q. while building trail. Sec. 10, T. 5, R21W. Santa Barbara National Forest, Calif. Ventura Co.” U.S. Forest Service photo courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.

The Section (“Sec. 10”) mentioned places the site slightly too far upstream, but looking at the maps (see below), the site was always plotted a bit further south than it actually was (nor is the “head” of Timber Creek located there, and I would be hard-pressed to accept this as Horsethief). These minor details may account for the caption not quite synching.

Timber Canyon: Gotcha, Catfish!

Topatopa Peak Trail

Topatopa Peak Trail
The route from Santa Paula Canyon (Last Chance Fork) to Topatopa Peak, as shown on the 1944 War Department Topatopa Mountains and Devils Heart Peak 7.5′ quads.

Here, then, is really the holy grail of any 21W pondering. By the time the visitor’s maps started showing the trail designations (1967, as best I can tell), the Topatopa Peak route was eight years lost to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. (See the “Lookout!” entry here for details re: the lookout tower). The 1944 War Department quads (see above) show the route, and my copy of the only other maps that show the route on a properly-detailed map of any usable scale (the BLM cadastral maps) doesn’t show a number, nor did the 1981 Lancaster 1:100000 include trail numbers.

In the Fall of 2012, local backcountry explorer David Stillman busted brush along the ridgeline from Hines all the way to the site of the old lookout; a portion of his epi– sorry, I mean “entertaining” — route would have followed the old trail (see his TR here).

Topatopa Lookout Frame; Image courtesy and © David Stillman.

The 21W is rough country, but some of the best.


6 responses to “Series 21 West”

  1. confessing to being a bit of a map geek, but with nowhere near the comprehensive library as shown here, I find these series fascinating! Thanks.

  2. I think I just went crosseyed trying to keep all the inconsistencies straight from map to map, era to era. Ugh.

    Seems easier at this point to just go out there and walk and not pay heed to what the trail names/numbers are. Although I’ll admit to being driven crazy by the number of “trails” (using the term loosely here) out there in the LPNF that don’t show up current maps. Sure makes for an interesting trip trying to combine historic, abondoned and current trails together into somekind of coherent route. Now with the scrambled numbers, it will only help to further confuse me in my adventures…

  3. 21W11 Santa Paula Canyon (East Fork), Fact Check: The trail up the East Fork of Santa Paula Creek was obliterated, in large part, by a massive landslide during the epic floods of January and February 1969. Our scouting group walked what was remaining of the trail in April 1969, including scrambling up the so-called “plaster-of-Paris” portion of the slide, which is on the north side of the creek. After crawling through brush and climbing over jumbled and cracked terrain we found the lowermost switchback of 21W11, which led us up the hill and to the northeast to Cienega Camp. Historical Note: many of our surveys were chronicled in a 300 page, multilithed Camping Guide to Ventura County, which was printed in late 1969 by the local Boy Scout council

    1. Outstanding; thanks for the additional intel, Dr Miller. Do you know if any prints of the Ventura County camping guide still exist? Any chance you have photos from your April 1969 exploratory?

      1. Yes. The title of the 1969 guide to campgrounds in Ventura County was, “The Camping Booklet,” which was compiled by the Topa Topa Lodge, Ventura County Council, BSA and the Trails Committee. Many of us have kodachromes and prints stashed in storage boxes, including historic photographs of Bluff Camp, Cienega Camp, Last Chance Camp, Pine Mountain Lodge, and so-forth. These will require the usual scanning and conversion to digital format. I have already shared some of these adventures with my nephew, Adam Searcy, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology in Camarillo. I may post these from time to time to your very nice and informative web page and blog.

        1. Thanks again, Dr Miller. I’ve reached out to some of the old guard Scouters with Ventura County Council to see if we can’t secure a copy of the booklet for use here in the “dungeons.”

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