Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #23: Horn Canyon

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #23: Horn Canyon

This week’s hike was to Horn Canyon in the Ojai Valley. The hike is an Up-Down There-And-Back. The Ventura County Star entry said it was 3 miles to The Pines Campground, which matches the sign at the trailhead, but I found a couple sources that said it was closer to 2.5 Miles. My GPS said it was closer to 2.29 miles.

The trail starts near the grounds of the Thacher School, a very exclusive school, located in the north-east corner of the Ojai Valley. On the way to the trailhead I stopped at the first stop of a two stage Multi-Cache called “Thach-A-Cache”. The first stage is a bridge over Thacher Creek where a set of coordinates are written on the back of the guardrail. The second stage of the cache is on the trail itself.

The trail starts out at about 1,390 feet in altitude and starts climbing immediately. The trail changes from dirt road to rough, narrow dirt road to single trail. There are four creek crossings. The first crossing was dry and I was worried it would be a dry hike. The second crossing dispelled that worry as there was a lot of water. Red dragonflies, bees, and wasps were enjoying the water. (There is a dragonfly in the middle of this picture - trust me.) The second part of the cache is between the second and third river crossings. I reached the cache location and worked up a sweat looking for it. I had no luck so I decided to try again on the way back.

The fourth creek crossing is the coolest. The creek is surrounded by trees that reminded me of the woods I played in when I was young. I stopped and rested here briefly before tackling what I think is the hardest part of this hike.
The trail leaves the creek and steeply switchbacks up, and along, the canyon wall. Parts of the trail use railroad ties to prevent erosion. These ties form steps on the trail – some quite tall. The trail leaves the shade of the trees and enters the pounding of the sun. It was only 9:00 but the temperature was in the upper 80s.

My heart was pounding from the exertion as I climbed and I had to rest often. Part way up I found a lone tree with branches that form a perfect seat to rest on. While I forced myself to rest 10 minutes, I decide to implement a strategy that I came up with while doing the Scenic point hike at Glacier National Park. I set the countdown timer of my watch to 25 minutes and started to walk. When the alarm sounds I find a place to sit down, hopefully in the shade, and restart the timer. When the timer has counted down to 20 minutes, I start walking again. This results in 5 minutes of rest for every 20 minutes of walking. Why it took me so long to use this strategy, I don’t know. When I do this I usually can go farther and feel less exhausted. Now that my hikes involve more elevation gain, I will be using this method more often. The hardest part is finding a place to sit – some trails just don’t have rocks or stumps to sit on. When I’m tired the idea of sitting on the ground is a bad one – I might not be able to get back up – my creaky bones and sore muscles often try to stop me.

I made it to the top and approached Pine Camp. The views from near the camp were sensational. You could see most of the Ojai Valley all the way to Lake Casitas. The little haze there was obscured the Channel Islands. The Pines Campground is named after the stand of Pine trees planted by Thacher students after a fire in the area back in 1948. The trees give welcome shade. There is also a water trough (I presume for horses) made of a hot water heater tank cut down the middle. The trough is fed from a black hose that feeds water from a spring higher in the hills. There were a couple of mountain bikers resting at the camp. They had biked down from Topatopa ridge. They said that the trail was pretty rocky and overgrown further ahead.

I rested briefly after they left. My GPS said I was only about 2.3 miles from the trailhead and I thought about doing an additional 0.7 miles up the trail to make it a total of 3 miles (6 miles round trip). I started up the trail and it immediately became overgrown and very narrow. The plastic hose ran along the trail. The trail entered a creek bed surrounded by trees and the trail degenerated some more. The trail must not be traveled much as the soil is not packed and slants down toward a creek bed. Walking was difficult as my feet kept sliding down hill on the soft soil. In some places the trail faded into oblivion, the hose the only marker I had . After about 200 yards of this I decided to turn around and headed back to the camp. The elevation at my turn around point was 3,379 feet. At the camp I sat down and ate a protein bar, an orange, and drank some water. The food energized me. I seriously thought about tackling the trail again but wimped out. If I had eaten the food before attempting to push on I probably would have been more successful. I picked up some trash at the campsite (why do campers/hikers smoke? I don't understand it) and headed back down the trail.

The hike back down was a breeze … literally. Out of nowhere there was a cool breeze. I must have made record time on the way down. I reached the cache site and resumed my search. This time I found it. The last time it had been found was January 2006. I guess it’s too remote for most casual cachers.
When I got back to the car, my GPS said 4.82 Miles. It was a short hike compared to the last few I’ve done but the elevation gain of almost 1,988 feet more then compensated for the lack of distance. I have to remember that I am not on a forced march and that stopping to rest periodically is allowed and desired. Pictures can be found here.

Next weekend I will be in Minneapolis attending the Altar Boy’s wedding so I won’t be hiking (The first weekend I’ve missed since I started in February). The week after I will be hiking to Knapp’s Castle another hike with a lot of elevation gain.

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