Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #14: Piedra Blanca With A Side Trip To Rose Valley Falls


Piedra Blanca (Spanish for White Rock) is named for the large outcroppings of white rock. I had been here before but I never really walked this trail. I did do a now defunct geocache in the area. This time I was going to hike out to the rocks to see them up close. As I drove to the trailhead I could see that the rain the day before had left snow on the mountains. There wasn't very much and I'm sure it won't last for long in the California sun. Rose Valley road passes by two odd neighbors - The Rose Valley Work Camp (as in juvenile work camp) and the Ojai Valley Gun Club firing range.

The hike is a down-up-down-up there-n-back.
The trail starts up near a gate. The gate, which is often closed, was open and people were parking down by the Piedra Blanca Camp. I considered doing this myself but one of the reasons I hike is for the exercise. Taking a short cut seemed to be counterproductive. If you park down by the campsite then the hike becomes an up-down there-n-back.
I started with a cache that was supposed to be in the area of the trailhead. "What a Toad" was supposed to be near a sign that talked about the Arroyo Toad that lives in the area. I looked and looked but could not find it. I suspect it is not there anymore. It hasn't been logged since July 2006.

After failing to find the cache, I headed down the trail. It had rained the day before and the trail was a little muddy. My new hiking shoes were getting heavier as the mud accumulated. Eventually I arrived at the camp and the trail dried up. There was a horse trailer or two parked here and several cars. I figured the trail would be crowded but it turned out not to be the case. I suspect most of the car occupants were camping in one of the various campgrounds further down on the trails in the area since I only ran into a handful of people.

Early on the trail, there are three river crossings. Two of them are small and feed into the wider Sespe Creek. This was the widest river crossing that I had ever done. The creek was swollen with rain runoff. I carefully made my way across the river stepping from one small stone to another. I paused halfway across on a stone 18-20 inches across and took a picture down the creek. I noticed the low battery symbol flashing on my camera so, being the silly guy that I am, I changed the battery while precariously balancing on the river stone. I am lucky that I didn't drop the batteries in the water. I managed to get across the river with only one wet toe.

After the creek crossings, the trail heads up to the rocks. Once the trail hits the rocks, the trail became hard to follow. A faded orange ribbon, similar to the Potrero John ribbons, led the way to the trail. The trails winds through the rocks. At the 2.25 miles mark I arrived at a decision point. The trail continues for several miles and at this point, the trail goes down, down, down to the creek far below. I decided to not continue on the trail and headed up to explore the rocks instead.

Did I take the best way up to the top? I doubted it on the way up but I think I did. The rock protrudes from a ridge. To get up to the top of the biggest rock, you have to climb up to the top of the ridge. In the picture at the top of this post, I climbed to the top of the round lump of rock on the right side of the formation. I had to bushwhack up the ridge passing a large cave on the way. I looked for animal prints but the water dripping from the roof obliterated any prints. I did see something that could have been deer prints.

Eventually, huffing and puffing, I made it to the top. Rock climbing is not my forte. The sun was out and hot but the wind was chill and I ended up resting on the shore of a large rain pool sheltered out of the wind. There was a small tree living a meager life at the edge of the puddle. It looked like a miniature tree on the shore of a mountain lake. Here I broke out the water and protein bar. I was wearing new shoes and I was feeling a sore spot on my heel. I took off my shoes and sure enough - a dime sized blister, ripped open. After a brief rest, I put my shoes back on, this time cinching them tight, and started looking for a way down.

The way up had been tough so I figured I'd look for a way down of the opposite side that I came up on. I walked to the other side and stopped at an abrupt drop. I moved further up the rock towards the ridge line periodically moving to the edge to see if there was a way down. I ended up climbing all the way up the the top of the ridge and making my way through burnt trees (There had been a fire in the past like most of southern California - my hands were black from the soot), scratchy scrub, and sharp thorn bushes. Thank god I was wearing jeans - shorts would have been a killer. I'd hoped to find a path but there turned out not to be one. I had to bushwhack my way all the way down. I'm actually surprised that I wasn't scratched up more then I was. On the way down I ran into a stand of poison oak (At least I think it was poison oak). I did my best to avoid it but I'm sure my arm rubbed against the leaves several times with no ill effect.

I finally made it out of the brush and back on the rocks. I came across some cans and, since Sunday is Earth Day, I picked them up and put them in a grocery bag I had and clipped it to my belt. I got back to the trail and headed back to the trailhead. On the way back I passed more people going the other way. Some had dogs. Some rode mountain bikes. As I walked I heard a clank - one of the cans had fallen out of the bag. As I reached down to pick it up, I notices a large hole in the grocery bag and all the cans were gone ...Sigh. Oh well, it's the thought that counts. Next time I will bring a tougher bag.

I got back to the Sespe and I swear the water level had risen an inch or two and the stepping stones were harder to find. I managed to make it across and I stopped to washed off all the soot from my hands and forearms. The water was ice cold. At this point I noticed that my GPS had turned off at the 3.22 mile point. This sucks since I like to compare my actual hike length with what is "advertised." I have to assume that the total hike was around 5 miles.

I had debated visiting the Rose Valley Falls which is not too far from where I was. After I got back to the car, I decided to think about it as I did the "Rose Valley Quick Stop" cache. I dropped off the "Tabisbast, Algeria" Unite for Diabetes Travel Bug. I decided that I still had some time and energy left so I headed for the Rose Valley Falls campground.

There was a new cache hidden recently on the trail to the falls. Several previous caches disappeared as this is a well traveled trail. GPS reception sucked. I reached what I thought was the location but couldn't find it and muggles were approaching so I continued on to the falls figuring that I would get the cache on the way back.

There were little patches of snow and ice along the shaded trail. The falls were beautiful as always. Lot's of dripping water and emerald green moss. I took this cool picture in 2003 on my first of now four visits to the falls. I have climbed to the top of this falls before. At the top you can rock/tree hop up to another higher falls. When I was there in the past there was no water coming over the falls but there was water running from the base. Apparently the rock is so porous that it seeps through the rock and comes out the bottom. I thought about climbing up to the upper falls but I was tired from the 5 miles I had just finished and the hillside was muddy. I will be back - Rose Valley Falls is one of my favorite places.

On the way back I managed to find the cache: "No Bridge Over Troubled Waters." I had to wait for all the muggles to go by before I re-hid it. I was the first to find it - my second FTF. There was another cache on the Rose Valley road but my GPS just wasn't getting a signal so I had to skip it.

All-in-all, a good day. My left knee, the one I twisted on the Potrero John Trail, was a little sore when I got home. Piedra Blanca and Rose Valley combined is about 6 miles. Pictures of Piedra Blanca are here. Pictures of Rose Valley Falls are here.

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