dispatches & explored

Chumash XI, XII, and XIII

Sometimes life gets in the way of things that matter … but that’s not actually the case here.

In this case, life just got in the way of my drafting a report about the things that matter — namely, getting the wee ones out into the fair corners of our backcountry. And so now I make up for some lost time by chronicling our annual Chumash Wilderness escape — thrice over.

Our eleventh annual spring escape along Lockwood Creek’s north fork was really part of the reason this site isn’t updated quite at the feverish pitch it was only a few years ago. Well, that might be an over-simplification. The slightly longer version: a few months earlier, I’d helped found a new Boy Scout troop in Ventura, and so in addition to the Lady Mountaineers of Girl Scout Troop 201 dusting me on several trips that year, the usual excursions with the RSO & Co., family trips, and the like, suddenly my calendar was effectively 7 weekends in the wilderness, and a weekend off … and repeat.

Am I complaining? Certainly not! But with a finite number of hours in a day, the time to sit and draft entries for this site became considerably less.

That addressed, Clan Carey and a pal of Trailmaster’s were joined by the heterchromatic hellhound for the initial Spring 2016 mosey under windy, cloudless skies. In the throes of recent Scouting archery outings, the young men of the crew spent a fair amount of their time aiming their blunt arrows for far-off trees and then twice that time chasing down wayward arrows.




Nary a mile in, G and I stopped a moment for a quick drink and to adjust a bootlace. Lilly immediately scrambled onto the ledge below which we rested, rifling through an wood-rat nest. Despite our instructions the she cease and desist, she did nothing of the sort until she sent a rain of debris down upon us, the main flow of which was accompanied by something that sounded suspiciously like a lawn sprinkler.


Never in my life have a seen a teenager move so quickly — what a remarkable Beamon-esque backward leap!

The dog safely retrieved, we eschewed a longer stay with the angry serpent and continued on our way.



It wasn’t long before we met up with Bardlero Primero at Lily Meadows trail camp, who awaited us as coolly as one can await.


Just up-trail from camp was a very large pine that had gone done; naturally we took it upon ourselves to not only measure and assess this fallen giant’s potential for a future Scout service project, but also to have very serious photos taken.



In keeping with the “dangerous beasties abound” theme, immediately upon our arrival at our favorite little guerrilla site, Trailmaster found the not-yet completely-gnawed remains of a deer at precisely the spot we prefer to set out the bedrolls. (He was then doubly-glad to have the unhinged hound with us.)


Water has of course been low throughout the forest and California as a whole, but we were happy to find enough to eke out the necessary quarts for dinner and general use.


We spent the night in the good company of the usual suspects for this annual trek, with G tinkering with her camera and taking various night shots and various exposures.



It was a fine cool evening, with temps dipping into the high 20s. The next morning, Little Man — who by now has become something of a camp kitchen wizard — assembled a rather hearty breakfast for his sister (and pretty much kicked me out of the kitchen because my potato-cutting wasn’t up to par. Whatever!) before we headed back down the canyon.






… and so that’s it, right? These trips don’t vary much, and this was the eleventh consecutive year we’d headed to this little flat and enjoyed the quiet and tidings of the Chumash.

Well, yes … but no. Because the following year …

A year into his Boy Scout experience, and Little Man isn’t so little anymore. He’s clocked hundreds of (additional) trail miles, and now he and a pal are eager to knock our some requirements for their Backpacking merit badge, which means an additional night and additional miles. So along with a fellow Assistant Scoutmaster from the Troop (codename: Skunkbait) headed up Mt Pinos late Friday night for the short walk into Chula Vista camp. Also, this time, we also had Little Man’s new canine companion Scout along for the adventure, as the uber-hund by this point was retired and enjoying the cushy orthopedic beds back home. (She’d earned it.)


The plan was simple — from Chula Vista we’d head across west across Mt Pinos and Sawmill Mountain, pay a quick visit to Grouse, and then double back to the North Fork junction and drop in our little guerrilla site via Sheep Camp and upper Lily Meadows. Easy-peasy.






The plan, it turned out, was soon to be amended. By the time we reached the old condor lookout parking lot just west of the Mt Pinos summit, it became apparent the snows further on were a tad deeper than we’d expected. After some time at the old parking area, we eventually conceded our best route for the would, in fact, be the usual route. So back down to the Chula Vista parking area we went, and fast forward to the lower North Fork Trail:


Hey, What a Coincidence!

At Lily Meadows camp, we crossed paths with Li’l G and Her Royal Hotness, who’d come via this lower route that morning for a daytrip. They were on their way back now, and so here the heterochromatic hellhound suffered some indecision — go with her human for a certain evening of belly rubs and comfort, or stay with me and Trailmaster for an evening afield with tasty fireside victuals? (We eventually convinced her to stay with us.) At our guerilla site, the RSO and sundry others had already set up camp, and so the young explorers laid out their bags beneath our usual copse of Jeffrey pines, and set about preparing their kitchens, practicing their lashings, and generally exploring the environs. That night, I was startled awake by what sounded like somebody dropping their backpack right by my head (more on that in a moment).



The next morning was bade our fellow wanderers the usual goodbyes, and then headed further up-canyon to explore drainages and give the young men the opportunity to perfect their backcountry navigation and document some trail obstacles.





Eventually (and a tad reluctantly), we turned back and began our descent of Lockwood Creek’s North Fork. As neared the falls, behold — a mighty tree had fallen across the very trail we’d walked the previous afternoon. Surely this was the colossal crash that had roused me from my sleep only hours before.



Come Spring 2018 — after another year of wandering with me on dozens of trips — the young Careys joined me once again for what was the (lucky, of course) 13th annual Chumash escape, wherein Bardlero, the Billy Monster, Mighty Mary, Mr G, and a host of the “usual suspects” would convene in a remote corner of the backwood for a fine weekend of decompression.

Unlike the previous few years, which had largely been cool but featuring clear skies, all reports indicated the weather might prove a tad more entertaining. That of course did nothing to discourage either the wee hikers nor their canine companions. For these two, the immortal surety of “death and taxes” is more “dogs and backpacking.”


The snow started shortly after we reached camp, slowly adding to the few patches already on the ground. We collected an inordinate amount of fuel for the fire, as it was early afternoon and already 24F.




The endeavor of cooking dinner became more and more comical as the rest of the crew trickled in, and the snow and wind continued.






But cook of course we did, a veritable calorie-loading to ward against what promised to be a long night in the tents.

The next morning broke crisp and clear and gorgeous and ridiculously cold. Everything was frozen, stiff, shattered, or some combination thereof. It was awesome.


We took our sweet time cooking a big breakfast over the fire, filtering water, throwing snowballs, and letting the dogs run wild in the hills above.


They say parting is sweet sorrow, but that’s a tad dramatic for the slight tinge of melancholy each time we walk away from this beloved corner of the wilderness. Because we know we’ll be back soon enough … and even if delayed in our return, this corner will always await us. See you next Spring.


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Diamond in the Rough: The “Other” Yellowjacket

It’s been a standing joke for some time ’round these parts — how there are in the toponomic scheme of things on the southern Los Padres a bevy of like-named locations.

Early in this site’s life I poked fun at the numerous Sycamore Canyons, Oak Canyons, Pine this-or-that. San Rafael Mountain vs. San Rafael Peak. White Ledges abound. Alder Creek here, Alder Creek there.

One of those doppelgangers that’s always fascinated me however is the other Yellowjacket … not the one out in Grade/Mutau Valley, but one of the many sites on the San Emigdio Mesa that have inexorably been falling off the USFS inventory. Previous sojourns to other lost sites across the Cuyama badlands — e.g., Mud and Blue Rock Springs, Cienega (no, the other one) — punctuate the number of sites lost in this region alone. Never mind how many sites Forest-wide that are now abandoned, lost, or forgotten. The narrowing number of “official” sites makes a quiet weekend of car camping nearly impossible for we misanthropes, and the visitor density at the few remaining sites — further compounded by higher fees for fewer services, and payable to concessionaires — makes camping difficult for even the most casual car camper who might want to bundle his or her kids into the trucks and enjoy a quick night out. These are sad times for our beloved public lands.

My folks had camped at Yellowjacket (and Mine, and Cow Springs, and countless other now-closed or less-accessible sites) in the old Bronco in the late 60s shortly after their arrival in Ventura County and long before my entry into the world; the camp had been mainly a cartographic curiosity to me until a few years ago the Three Kings forwarded a few enticing photos my way.

Yellowjacket Camp Sign No. 1

The photos shared showed a classic routered wooden sign, ice can stoves in near-perfect conditions, picnic tables, and various accoutrements about camp. And so Yellowjacket went onto my “to-do” list that very day.

But as we well know, items registered therein can languish for years before finding themselves the next actual “to-do.” But Yellowjacket’s time had finally come! And so it was the clear morning after Christmas the wee ones and I bundled into Ol’ Bessie with our day kits and two of the pack. Little Man’s new hound — a rescued Belgian Malinois he’s named “Scout” — is still a bit wild, so we felt heading into these largely empty lands to be another good opportunity to work on the dog’s outdoor manners and response timing.


There was a thin crust of ice covering the floor of the obscure drainage I’d selected from the old topo sheet as we started our scramble away from the rig; Scout was thrilled to be “free” from his leash, tearing up side canyons and chutes only to come racing back to check on his bipeds, inadvertently introducing his nose to yucca once, and experiencing his first snow along the shady bends. Lilly — now a seasoned forest-goer and in the wake of the uber-hund’s retirement our de facto elder statesdog, pretended not be impressed. She kept mostly to Li’l G’s side or would on occasion round on Scout to keep him in check. (Even by December 26 her Christmas cheer is always long gone.)




About a half-mile from where I’d estimated Yellowjacket to be, we leveraged a bit of Pythagorean theory and cut straight across a wide ephedra-dotted expanse rather than continuing down the drainage to meet the more obvious tributary. Thus far we’d seen no sign of humans — no litter, no spent shell casings, no footprints. It’s a rare sojourn into any area so near the main thoroughfares where that can be said.


Soon enough, our lucky streak ended, but in an entirely palatable way. A series of heavy posts began to follow the edge of our drainage, with the stray occasional piece of fencing wire attached. As we re-entered the cover of oak and pinon, the gurgle of flowing water greeted us.


Local lore holds that this spring-fed cattle trough once held goldfish introduced by some long-forgotten visitor, and that even when the trough froze over the fish persisted … swimming circles near the bottom. Alas, such hearty carp were not to be witnessed this day.


From the spring and the masses of bear scat beneath the adjacent willow, it was a short walk up-canyon to the site of the old car camp. Little man was fascinated by the old washing machine, ice box, and enjoyed reading through the register. The modern relics of real interest, however — namely the old sign and the ice can stoves — had since been lifted by some treasure-hunter and surely reside in some suburban garage or back patio.






After a leisurely lunch and much picking around, we finally shouldered our packs and retraced our route back to the truck. As we topped out along the last ridge of the drainage, the little ones took a brief pause to soak up the views as temps dipped back into the 30s. It had been a perfect day of wandering a forgotten corner of our big backyard, but tri-tip sandwiches at the Reyes Creek Bar & Grill and the promise of the truck’s heater beckoned them down the mucky slopes.


paws and pause

Get ’em out there!

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11 Degrees of Service

Late last year, I stood in the back of a local elementary school cafeteria during a Cub Scout meeting. The different dens (organized by school grade, first through fifth) were taking turns telling the other Scouts and parents in attendance what their dens had been up to that past month. Trip to the fire station, a hike in the city park, making peroxide-and-baking-soda volcanoes … all the great stuff Cubs enjoy.

When it came time for the crew of Cubs I help lead to share their experience, I had that usual swell of pride I always feel for these fine young men. Great speakers, confident forest-goers, thoughtful citizens. I waited for them to extol unto the crowd their most recent outing had removed hundreds of pounds of debris from an illegal target-shooting area, how they’d identified several invasive plants in the watershed and reported their findings to the Forest Service biologist, or perhaps brag a bit about being only 10 or 11 and cooking all their own meals. (You know, the usual.)

So our most fearless speaker — who shall remain nameless — took the mic, and to collective gasps from grandparents and little siblings alike excitedly announced “We found a marijuana plantation in the forest. There might have been booby traps!”


So let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

This story really should start thusly:

Late last year, I led my Cub Scouts on one of their last public lands service projects before most of them were to make the big transition to full-fledged Boy Scouting.

This project — staged in an unnamed but oft-traveled tributary of the Sespe — was intended to occur in two parts: a shooting-area clean-up on Saturday (please, do appreciate the great irony of 10-year-olds picking up after grown-ups here), and then — for some older Scouts and bioscience students from the local high school — a search-and-geotag project of tamarisk in the numerous branches of this creek (which had been the target of several eradication projects led by LPFW and Keep the Sespe Wild in previous seasons).

Naturally, nearly all the Cubs who volunteered to join the first day’s project were keen to stretch their weekend in the backwood as far as they could. They have tried and true tactics, these kids:

“Mr. Carey, after we clean up all the bullet shells, can we go exploring?”
“Hey Mr. C., can we ‘gorilla’ [guerrilla] camp in the meadow afterward? And make it a backpacking trip?”
“Mr C., could we leave Friday night instead of Saturday morning? Night-hiking would be awesome!”

(As you can tell, I’m a strict by-the-schedule sort of leader. Adaptability is so over-rated.)

And so what I’d organized as a 4-hour Cub Scout project for the US Forest Service on a Saturday and 6-hour high school project on a Sunday turned into something a bit different.

Most of the crew went for the extended addition: with a few LPFA-trained VWRs along to assist, we leaders ushered an adventuresome crew of 5th-graders up the drainage under lamplight. It was breezy, and got cold quickly … precisely not the conditions to discover that somewhere along the way I’d sliced open my air mattress to such a degree all the patches in the repair kit wouldn’t come close to helping.


11F and All is WellCold Toes

It was some cold hard ground that night, and temps dipped to 11F. I was glad to get up and get the day started.

Sunny Side UpP1020217

After breakfast, the crew headed back down to the highway, where we met with the day-tripper portion of the volunteer crew and together headed up to the shooting area. The crew was diligent and scoured the shooting area for spent brass, blasted PC monitors, well-ventilated propane tanks, and sundry detritus strewn across the canyon. They perform this work with an attitude balancing on disgust and resignation sometimes, and I can’t blame them. It can be pretty disheartening to see how immature “grown-ups” can really be.


The team also worked the upper canyon, retrieving more shell casings and litter along the drainage, and hiked it all back down to the trucks parked along the highway. It was a great day of service for the day-trippers, and a fun region to explore for the boys who took the “extended tour.”



The next morn, a core group of Cubs and I headed back down-trail to meet with the older volunteers. We then hiked to the location of where tamarisk are known to thrive, and taught the crew how to identify the invasive and gave a short clinic on geotagging using a GPS receiver.



There are — from a point just above the main falls and pool in this canyon — three main tributaries. We resolved to explore these drainages as far as practical in the half-day or so we’d allotted and see if we couldn’t locate additional specimens of tamarisk. We first headed westward, pushing through the dense chaparral and dodging yucca along the drainage (the first section of which had been the focus of another LPFW project the previous year). It was a grand time navigating the brush and growth and sundry obstacles. The Cubs especially made a fine game of it, bouncing off the rocks like little pinballs possessed. The older Scouts and students were a welcome addition, lending a bit more levity to the actual search for any possible tamarisk.



On the second drainage, we headed northward, following a long, fairly open space along what had looked like a hunters’ trail on Google Earth, checking in minor tributaries on our left and right as we headed upstream. I was knee-deep in some sort of tussock when I spotted a beer can. We were still ridiculously close (as the condor flies) to the highway, but remembering the Sam Young Canyon pot grow a few years previous, I figured it best to advise the boys to hold back a moment. I inhaled to send forth the word, and —

“Mr. Carey! There’s a tarp!”
Well, hell.
“And a sleeping bag!”
“Alright, hold on boys.”
“And boots!”
“And a bunch of trash!”
And then, knowing what to look for, my little man: “Dad, there’s a ton of black tubing up here.”

We pulled the boys back down from beneath a stately live oak, and I with two of my more imposing co-leaders checked the area. It was all the usual junk: dozens upon dozens of Bud Light cans, instant soup containers, empty bottles of Tapatio, pesticide containers, and a ridiculous amount of litter … all well-hidden beneath the shade of this tree, the branches of which he been trimmed well enough to allow standing room.



Once we determined the site had been long-abandoned, we brought the Scouts and students back up and gave a short talk about the impact of the illegal marijuana trade on our public lands, how it was contrary to the Leave No Trace ethics our unit strives to uphold, and the like, but I rather suspect some of the boys — ardent capitalists — were trying to figure out how to haul the 5 or 6 bags full of beer cans out to the nearest CRV center.


We enjoyed a brief lunch back down at our makeshift camp, and then headed eastward along the third and final drainage. And there, growing rather happily among the Incense-cedars and Douglas firs, we did find a few tamarisk, which the students dutifully recorded.


TAMA 003_01IMG_1107


Another great weekend, and one that ensured — once I calmed the parents — that the boys had a story to tell when they get home. 😉

Get ’em out there!

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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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