“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.