Just north of Castaic Lake is a hike that takes one from pavement to spectacular wilderness in just a few miles.

Let’s head north on I-5 from Los Angeles. We leave the San Fernando Valley and climb through Newhall Pass. We continue beyond, passing through Santa Clarita and Magic Mountain and then Castaic Lake. The freeway starts to climb again until we crest Violin Summit. Just beyond is the Templin Highway exit. We take this and turn right, traveling until the road is blocked and park. This is the beginning of the hike.

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At one time Templin Highway was slated to be a link between I-5 and CA-14 to the east. Then came Governor Brown (his first time around) and the end of that idea. All that remains is a two-lane stub a few miles long that ends at the Castaic power plant. What continues beyond is an abandoned National Forest road, 6N32, that is slowly returning to its natural state. At one time one could drive on 6N32 all the way to Lake Hughes Road.

Just before an abandoned bridge, a quarter mile in is an area where pine trees were planted experimentally and was once a popular recreational shooting site.  Today it is gated at both ends with only rare Castaic Lake Water Agency and National Forest trucks allowed to enter. Farther in the road is blocked and by the fallen trees, the severe erosion, and the intrusion of foliage, one can tell that no 4 wheeled vehicles have passed that way in years. Bicycles and motorcycles still come this way. I don’t care about the roadway but I wish the dirt bikes would stay the heck off the foot trails.

Also just before the bridge is a porta potty, mainly for the CLWA workers who occasionally come down here to check to make sure the water level gages still work. The bridge is over Castaic Creek which is dry now. Just past the bridge is a little-used trail (7N22.2) heading north along the creek to an abandoned mine a couple miles north. I’ve been up there a few times, it is a great trail for cautious nude hiking but is rocky and brushy. It heads into an area called Red Rock Canyon, then up and over and down to Fish Canyon Narrows. (I swear Red Rock Canyon has got to be the most common name for a canyon.)  Today we stay on the road which follows Fish Creek.

Templin Highway turns into Warm Springs – Fish Canyon Truck Trail.

Lower Fish Creek has no surface water in it today. (Earlier in the winter, it had plenty of water.) It crosses the road several times and at the second crossing, there was a trickle. The third crossing we have a steady stream which becomes more pronounced as you head further upstream. This road was once paved with asphalt which has largely disappeared. Stream crossings are concrete and survived better. Still, you see where they have been eroded down to expose rebar and in some places undercut and collapsed.

 

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Fish Canyon becomes narrow along the way. At spots, there is room for just a narrow two-lane road and the creek flowing beside it. Very pretty location and studying the collapsing and eroding concrete was interesting. I could only imagine what world lived inside the caves created by the undercutting.

About 3 miles in we come to the abandoned Cienega campground. It is not really a swamp but is fairly moist. Foliage just to the west of it is quite dense. The road narrows to a footpath at one point, thick with blackberries and poison oak. Then you come upon the campground. Open and grassy with ancient oaks, it is a lovely place to rest. There is a pair of concrete outhouses that have been vandalized to uselessness. If you explore along the creek you may discover an old deer blind.

 

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Pass through the campground and there will be Fish Canyon Trail going north (6N32C) while the road starts looking more road-like and continues east to Hughes Lake Road and its gate (6N32.1).


I once found a smoldering tree on 6N32.1. A fire had passed through here several months earlier and despite time and a couple of rainfalls, a large oak had kept burning slowly down the center of the trunk.  The trunk was starting to split open, Smoke was wafting out of it and you could see glowing red coals. The original fire had been so long ago that new grass had grown up. There was no shortage of yet unburnt fuel about.

 

I hiked back to my car and drove to nearest cell reception and called 911. I suppose I could have used my SPOT communicator and sent the message to my wife but I thought it better to speak directly.  911 gave me a ration of shit. A heart attack at a street address would probably have been easy but they didn’t have a clue of what to do for a smoking tree on trail 6N32.1 at a particular GPS coordinate. They thought I was spoofing. Finally, I got through to the forest service fire station, explained the situation and agreed to meet them at the trailhead and show them where the fire was.

But that was a while ago. Back to today.


There had been two cars back at the trailhead. I’d met two separate groups of people returning. Pretty confident the trail was empty and since nobody starts a hike in the early afternoon on a weekday, it was likely to stay that way. The trail north is 6N32C.

Yay! Naked freedom! Just be careful of the dense poison oak along the way.

About a mile north we come to the Pianobox Prospect. Many of our trails are the remains of old logging or mining roads. Even without knowing there was a mine there if you looked carefully you could tell you were on a former road because of the unnatural flatness that remained in sections. Long ago this was a working mine and in an effort to provide a bit of entertainment, a piano was brought in. You can still see the collapsed mine and some concrete footings where the river was channeled into a sluice for separating ore from dirt.

 

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At this 6N32C is no more. Go straight ahead into the narrows and you’re on 16W05 (still Fish Canyon Trail). If you are stubborn and in good shape, you will eventually rock hop and bushwhack your way up to Atmore Meadows or snag Burnt Peak Trail to Burnt Peak (16W02). Hang a left on 7N22.2 and you’re on your way back to the start, the hard way. You will have just passed a well-used fire ring near an oak tree where I have camped in the past.

The hike through the narrows is impressive. One of the things you should never do is hike through a narrows if there is any chance at all of rain upstream. Too easy to get trapped by steep walls and nowhere to go but with the flow until you are battered to death or drown. There was no rain in the picture for days, so we are good. The evidence indicated that sometime last winter the water had gotten at least ten feet deep. At the closest, the walls are about 20 feet apart and straight up.

I’d like to suggest you follow the trail through the narrows but with that kind of water flow, there are only the traces of people who’ve been there since the last major flood. For about the next mile it is nothing but finding the easiest way to walk, rock hop and wade upstream. Half a mile up you pass the tailings from a mine. At last check, the tunnel for it had not been collapsed (yet) but it is a glorious POA to get to it. Not on the schedule today. Just beyond, at the 2/3 mile mark is a small campsite. From there it opens up a bit for a long hard scramble to Atmore Meadows or to Burnt Peak, depending on where you want to go. Also not on the schedule today.

This section is very slow going. If I managed 1/2 mile per hour I’d say I was hurrying.

 

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I lay down on a warm smooth rock and soaked up the sun. Next to me, the babbling of the creek relaxed me further. I’ve had some memorable experiences out here. One time a red-tailed hawk swooped past my head only feet away. Another time, Avery the Wonder Dog warned me of a rattlesnake that was blocking the only easy way out. (We took a difficult way instead.) In the summer, some of the only surface water available for miles is right here. You may encounter bears, coyotes, and deer.

I could not spend the entire day as I didn’t care to be wandering thru the narrows after dark. That would be a prescription for disaster, even with a headlamp. Reluctantly I followed the trail back to Cienaga Camp and clothing.

En route back I encountered a man out for a late afternoon jog on the truck trail. I remembered the time I was doing a nude night hike on the trail with a couple other guys when some kid and his girl came screaming by on his dirt bike. I remembered a family was letting their dogs run free off-leash and they went after my Avery.  The truck trail is not nude safe for a relaxing no cares hike. But, not to disappoint those of you where were waiting breathlessly for the naked shot, here’s one from that bridge a while back.

 

Wait….

 

 

Wait for it…

 

 

Here it is!

 

 

 

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God, I look great when I suck my belly in!

 

One thought on “Fish Canyon Narrows (NSFW)

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