Saturday, April 10, 2021

Breaking Webs on the Way In and Out

I closed up March (3/30) with a hike up San Juan Trail to Cocktail Rock and back. I was coming up on 24 hours into a fast when I headed out up Ortega Highway into the Cleveland National Forest. Just before I reached my turnoff onto Hot Springs Canyon Road a bobcat, an adult (obviously by his size), ran across the highway. The day was Tuesday, which meant that no one, absolutely no one was on my trail. I felt fine strength-wise, physically, or so I thought.

Let me begin with, the land was beautiful and I was in awe, as always.


One other car was parked in the lot. I didn’t think that mattered. But as I made my way up the seemingly endless switchbacks, I couldn’t help but notice how absolutely alone I was. I was so alone that I found myself searching the ground for foot prints, recent footprints, heck even recent tire prints. Though I wasn’t feeling physically weak, I was astounded by the lack of progress I made on the watch. It took me forever to reach Cocktail Rock.

Eager, yet apprehensive heading up SJ Trail:


A few miles in, it’s pigtail weather!! (I dressed too warm for this hike!)





Gosh, it was beautiful out there, but the switchbacks seemed endless and the weather was quite warm. As I scoured the dirt for prints, I broke countless spider webs on the way up. I learned quickly to keep my arms out front just for that purpose. Astounded by how much time had passed by the time I reached Cocktail Rock, I decided to hang out there anyway, throwing caution to the wind as far as getting back to the truck by dark.




Cocktail Rock:IMG_7370


When I departed Cocktail Rock for the return trip, I knew my chances were slim getting back to the truck before dark. And so I ran some, in hiking boots. The trail was so lonely that I couldn’t help but wonder, Am I crazy? Am I literally crazy? It sure seemed like I was crazy right about then – alone in the mountains, racing against the darkness. It was a bit spooky for me, more so than normal. All the way back, I continued to break the webs that the spiders had worked on so hard since I was there last a few hours earlier. I felt a little sorry for them – I broke their webs on the way in and now on the way out!

Oh how I wished that I would come upon others on this trail. I heard voices when I was about a tenth of a mile from the lot. But I didn’t see anyone. Expecting to see people in the lot, I had my keys out and ready to make a beeline for the truck. I was acting pretty paranoid being that by the time I made it to the forested lot, it was dark. There were no other cars, there were no people, who knows where those voices came from, I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I was weak and I was worn out, ready to go home.


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13 miles, 2,302 ft of elevation gain

Friday, April 9, 2021

Horsetrough Spring (Black Star Canyon)

March 26 was a lovely day to take a long hike with my husband in search of Horsetrough Spring. The skies were blue, it was sunny, but not hot. It was a perfect spring day. My husband pointed out Horsetrough Spring on the map months ago when he spotted it on his Life360 app while I was hiking in Black Star Canyon. Pinpointing its location, I knew that we were headed for some heavy duty bushwhacking, which is not only physically challenging, but mentally as well – which is why we made a long day of it.

The canyon was practically empty on this Friday afternoon. We packed in a wonderful lunch and snacks and enjoyed them at the village on the way up (and the way back). Before moving off trail in search of the spring, we explored the Hidden Ranch area – the location of a terrible battle/massacre between American trappers and Tongva Indians who had stolen horses from Spanish landowners in 1831, and also the location where Henry Hungerford shot and killed James Gregg in a dispute over a pasturage bill in 1899. I always stop at the village when I’m in Black Star Canyon. This day was the first time I had hiked down into and explored Hidden Ranch.

The Village:IMG_727920210326_125832IMG_7284Hidden Ranch Now:20210326_150631Hidden Ranch in 1966 (Courtesy of Santa Ana Public Library):11479331

Not too far from Hidden Ranch, we stepped off the trail to our right at a dry creek bed. We remained with the creek bed for a while but eventually made our way across the meadow to the first of a series of rundown barbed wired fences. Following these series of fences, which all headed toward a line of sycamore trees in the distance, we came up on a trough with water being fed to it by a pipe. Well, that definitely confirmed that we were headed in the right direction. And so we headed off toward the line of sycamores where we encountered more barbed wire. Eventually the meadow disappeared and the vegetation had growth so thick that we separated. I headed up a slope where I could look down into a lush green area that we were certain the spring originated. My husband made his way through that terribly thick vegetation until he was finally beneath the green lush covered area. Though we had separated and I was standing on a slope up above him, he was still close enough that we could still speak to each other. He searched for the spring’s origin for some time. Looking at the lay of the land, I’m pretty convinced he found the location but couldn’t see it because the vegetation was so thick.

We paid only small prices for this wonderful day. My husband had to get a Tetanus shot due to a nasty cut from the barbed wire, and he also had a mild reaction to poison oak (he’s had much worse reactions in the past). As for myself, I got 3 tics! Three. I hate tics. I would much rather come up on a rattler than a tic. You can see rattlers, they make noises. Tics, not so much so. They are silent and sneaky. I found one behind my ear, one crawling on my scalp, and another attached to my scalp a whole day later!

IMG_7276IMG_7269IMG_7270The spring is somewhere in that clump of trees about mid picture (we believe):IMG_7273IMG_727713.5 miles, 3,621ft of elevation gain.Capturecapture1IMG_7305

Monday, April 5, 2021

Winter Was My Season

Thursday March 25, I specifically set out for flat trails. There’s only one place best for that. I headed out to Arroyo Trabuco (the Great Suburban Trail!) of course. I guess that I was a little distracted as I packed because I forgot my beanie and gloves. And it was cold. Boy was it cold. The skies were gray and the trails were empty. Empty and eerie.

Rummaging through my pack, I found my thin buff and wrapped that around my head and neck. Then I zipped up tight and made my way down Tijeras Creek Trail. From there I hiked to Arroyo Trabuco. By then my shoes were wet, as Tijeras Creek was too full to hop the rocks across.

@ the Tijeras Creek / Arroyo Trabuco junction:

IMG_7161Trabuco Creek nice and easy crossing:IMG_7163

IMG_7187My shoes had plenty of time to dry out along Arroyo Trabuco Trail. The creek crossings had more than enough rocks to hop across. I had also warmed up a bit, but remained zipped all the way up, with much of my face, head and neck covered.  At about the 4 mile mark it began to drizzle. I sat beneath a tree that provided ample cover along a dry creek bed and ate my first meal of the day – beef stick, nuts, dried fruit. It was a lovely. But then the rain came down harder and fell right through my tree. I grabbed my stuff and ran back to the more heavily forested area and stood in the trees’ shadows and took in the rain. It was beautiful.  


As quickly as the rain blew in, it stopped and I decided to head back. I saw a couple of people along the way, a guy on a bike, and a woman on foot. At one point, while walking beneath a tall canopy of trees, I heard the familiar sound of a branch or trunk squeaking in the wind. Oh boy, that caught my attention. The first time I heard that sound was about 35 years ago, I was playing frisbee in a forested area near Walnut Creek in Covina with my husband (then boyfriend) and his friends when we all stood still to listen to a strange creaking sound. And then, before our eyes, a 30 foot tree crashed to the ground. Many years later, as I sat in the Holy Jim parking lot in Trabuco Canyon, I heard that same strange creaking sound coming from above. And then right before my eyes, I watched a giant branch fall several stories high, smashing into the ground below, barely missing the cars parked there. And so, having heard this creaking again, I did the only thing that came to mind. I quickly ran ahead out of the wooded area. Then I stood back and watched. Nothing fell this time. I hope that when it does, it does off trail or when no one is around!

The season was surely spring as evidenced by all the flowers. But it was definitely like a winter day. I sure relished it because I knew it would most likely be my last until next winter. Winter was my season this year. I am grateful for it.


8.54 mi with 1,431 ft of elevation gain (not exactly flat, I know, but these trails definitely seem flat in comparison to other trails).

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Way of the Creek

Thursday (March 22) I took another march in my stomping grounds where I let my feet lead the way. I turned off onto Wood Canyon because well, that’s the way of the creek, and I think that if there’s a choice between of going the way of the creek or not, I’m always going to choose the creek.


After a short while in Wood Canyon, I took a detour to one of my favorite places on Cave Rock Trail and spied this little guy:





IMG_7018After the caves, I hiked to the top of the giant rock but before climbing back down on the other side, I took a steep scouting expedition. This well travelled trail ran straight up the hillside. It confused me as to where it might lead. Much of the trail was rock; tire marks and foot prints marked the dirt sections.  Though it was mighty steep,  I continued to climb the trail out of curiosity. My direction intuition was out of sorts and I could not fathom where it  lead – this fueled my curiosity all the more! Eventually I saw the Top of the World neighborhood not too far away – the actual named neighborhood that overlooks Aliso Canyon. Wow. What a surprise. Once I realized where the trail lead (either directly into Top of the World,  or it turned off somewhere near it), I decided to head back down and let my feet continue directing.

Just as I am a sucker for creeks, I am also for caves. Next stop Dripping Cave:




A short time after arriving to Dripping Cave, two men hiked up. Not wanting to intrude on their time at the cave and not really wanting to hang out with two strangers at the cave (but also not ready to leave it), I found a trail that lead up and above it (but not before chatting a bit with the guys about poison oak). The view up top was breathtaking, exhilarating really, but more so because the rock up there sloped forward toward the cave’s mouth. The sensation was that if I were to fall, I would tumble down the slope and fall off of the top of the cave. Yikes! I would not like that one bit. Of course, I wasn’t going to fall. But that slant, though fairly slight, was just too scary. So, I hopped down from there pretty quickly and went and hung out in a tree close by that overlooked the trail . When I heard the voices from the guys coming my way, I jumped down and headed back to Wood Canyon Trail where I continued this delightful afternoon journey.

Above the cave:


Along the way, I saw deer in the field near the old corral:


And then I took another quick detour up a little known, short trail called Alwut Overlook. A bench sits up at the top overlooking Wood Canyon. I rarely visit this spot. But being spring, I knew the view would be superb so I took the hike up and parked myself on that bench. The view did not disappoint.


Last thing I did before heading back toward the way of the creek was to locate a secret meadow that I noticed some time ago while on a ridge trail. I had studied its location for a while, so with relative ease, was able to take a peek at the hidden meadow not too far off the trail. I love moments like this:


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