The Hunt for 26W03

“Climbing Up on Salisbury Hill …”

Some time ago, the idea of exploring the old Salisbury Trail — last seen fading into obscurity on the 1988 quadrangles — was bandied about by a small crew of USFS volunteer wilderness rangers. Lead dog among these proceedings was Mark Subbotin, who in recent years has really led the charge — along with legendary VWR Kim Coakley — in inventorying the trails of the Mount Pinos Ranger District.

26W03 and Vicinity

In my years of obsessing over abandoned routes, forgotten camps, and curious itineraries of course I’d pondered the old Salisbury route a handful of times, but it was deep in a long list of destinations, and admittedly not one I expected to hit for years. Funny how sometimes these trails — like the Irish proverb says — rise up to meet you.

The gents in charge were kind enough to extend the invite to both the Expat and Trailmaster Cobra, so it was a posse of three who rendez-voused from the east with the VWRs and Bryan Conant (he of the cartographic infamy) and John Z.

We spent that first night camped aside the Sierra Madre Road amongst the rock formations of Pine Corral, aways west of the next day’s stomping grounds.

Night at Pine Corral

I’d not been along this stretch of the southern Los Padres since the RSO and I had walked the length of the Sierra Madre Road a few summers previous (see here); having the ridge to ourselves and in much cooler conditions was a huge improvement on the bovine-impacted pressure cooker we’d endured that previous sojourn.

Arch #2
Pine Corral formations, Summer 2011. Image courtesy the RSO.

Shouts at Hamburger ponders the sunset, Summer 2011. Image courtesy the RSO.

Upon our arrival at the old Salisbury Potrero inholding the next morning, we hailed the house and were greeted by the local caretaker, none other than hard-as-nails Sierra Madre cowboy poet Dick Gibford. After explaining the nature of our business (recon and survey), he gladly allowed us access and even offered some insight as to what we could expect … and we were off!

I Run this Potrero!
The Expat along lower Salisbury Potrero, Fall 2013.

I don’t think any of us were really sure what to expect. This was a trail that had technically not be maintained by the USFS for decades, and it cut through some pretty rugged terrain. There were some stretches where the old topos indicated it could get steep, sketchy, and downright interesting.

New Territory

Heading down the ridge into Salisbury Canyon wash.
Downbound Posse. Image courtesy The Los Padres Expat.

I’ll also admit that having my stalwart 7-year-old sidekick along for this run had me predisposed to not necessarily be the brush-busting, ravine-rattling and ankle-busting knucklehead I on occasion become. This would be exercise in a measured approach, and in making sure the little man got out of the ravine for the most part unscathed.

Excellence Afield
The devil is in the details. EmSub and the Expat take their respective readings.

Hangin' with the Big Kids

Holy Blocks, Batman!

As it turns out, some relatives and visitors of the landowners in the area are avid hikers, and — with some help from the local bovine population — have been keeping the trail in some semblance of shape with their occasional use. We kept to the track with little difficulty, and dropped steeply into the oak- and sycamore-clad ravine of the wash.

Old Hat, New Turf

Tafoni Factor 5

It was far more impressive than I think any of us had expected, with wind-eroded walls several stories high and wide expanses of tafoni formations (see here for Jack Elliott’s musings about this unique form of weathering).

"Dad, come see this!"

We continued on after an extended lunch break, scrambling along a few stretches where the tread was failing and the VWRs up front taking diligent notes. Along one eerily quiet stretch a California spotted owl sat sentinel near the lower stretch, watching us from a deep alcove directly above the trail.

Owl on surveillance duty in a rock alcove in Salisbury Canyon wash.
Salisbury Wash sentinel; image courtesy The Los Padres Expat.

After three-odd miles, the canyon opened back into the lower-elevation scrub I was more expecting, and shortly thereafter we could hear target-shooters practicing their trade in the nearby inholding. Trailmaster Cobra was keen to charge on, but I felt this was his turn-around point. He’d enjoyed a length of steep downhill; going back up was very likely going to be a different story.

The Expat was good enough to join us for the return trip, and the other four of our crew opted for a cross-country triangulation toward the Bull Ridge route. It was agreed we’d meet back at Salisbury Potrero before sun-down.

A new generation gains experience and receives wisdom: I can't think of anything more important than this.
Image courtesy The Los Padres Expat.

Over the course of the next two or so hours, of course, I was reminded why this little seven-year-old had been given the moniker “Trailmaster” (and it wasn’t my doing).

Above the Drop

Big Man and Little Man near the end of the hike.
Image courtesy The Los Padres Expat.

A measured pace — punctuated with frequent Gatorade breaks and Sports Bean motivation — saw us return to the potrero in good spirits and with time to spare.

A Toast to Salisbury Success

Salisbury Canyon Wash
A little stretch of “Done.”

All the Pretty Horses

Later, whilst affixing another “spent the night here” pin to his wall map of the southern Los Padres, Trailmaster Cobra was pretty pleased that previous night was “off the triangles.”

That, my boy, is where the magic really happens.

Off the Triangles


3 responses to “The Hunt for 26W03”

  1. Great write up and honored by the company for the day. The little man has major trail cred by all accounts.

    1. HeOfCartoInfamy Avatar

      Lets do it again soon!

  2. George Armstrong Avatar
    George Armstrong

    Great story. Neat to see you have Jack out learning at such an early age.

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