I said in my last Deep Creek post that I was going to try the Bradford Ridge route. I did that on yesterday, Oct. 8th. It was quite the adventure! (Beware NSFW content at the bottom of this post.)
Getting to the trailhead is easy. Find your way to CA Hwy 173. On my way up I followed my Google maps instructions and took CA Hwy 18 to 189 to Lake Gregory Rd. to 173.
Coming back I took 173 around the east end of Lake Arrowhead. More mileage but navigation was much easier. I suppose I could have used vehicular GPS but I haven’t had a lot of luck with that in mountainous and rural areas. It was getting dark so I took the easy over the short. I also wanted to tank up on caffeine and tacos and I wasn’t sure how late local restaurants were open. I knew there’d be something open on the longer route.
You can also approach it from the north via CA Hwy 138 which involves even more twisty turning narrow roads and accurate navigation. Save it for daylight and take some prophylactic Meclizine if you are prone to motion sickness.
Once you are on 173, it is easy. Drive north. You descend from pine to oak to chaparral to the desert. You pass some camps and a shooting range. Seven miles north of Arrowhead you see the trailhead parking at a small bridge. You can’t miss it because in another quarter mile, the road dead ends. Sixty degrees and sunny at 12:30, perfect for freehiking!
Bradford Ridge path is a fun hike until you are about a mile away from Deep Creek River. (They call it a path because it is not on any forest service map as an official trail.) It then becomes heck (a baby hell). I went out using the difficult shortcut. That last big drop descends hundreds of feet in the blink of an eye. It goes from a well laid out trail with a few minor dicey spots to an eroded nightmare of stone and sand. The slope is far steeper than anything on the Bowen Ranch route, hitting a 45-degree angle in spots. At points I was an all fours, crab crawling down the face.
It was unnecessary for the trail to do this! But this trail was not built by an engineer who would have put in switchbacks for safety and erosion control. It was following what is known as a “use” trail. (That’s a trail that exists only because enough people went that way.) Unlike wildlife, who are far wiser than we, people who wander cross country don’t often do switchbacks. They go straight down the slope because it is a shorter distance. Then they bust their buns to go back up.
This is a view of the “not the most difficult” section of the “difficult” shortcut as seen from the alternate. If I had the time I could probably wander down those game trails you see and come out at the bottom with a lot less effort and risk. Because of the risk of slipping and sliding and brush, I donned a shirt and pants. Better to lose cloth than skin. (I may be a naturist but I’m not a stupid naturist.)
The hot springs had their usual mellow ambiance. No children today, just a hand full of old farts like me and some young adults with time on their hands, mostly nude. Mostly locals. I don’t think there was anyone in the 30-55 age range. A few more guys than gals and only one dog. Small numbers compared to the weekend. The smell of pot enveloped me when the wind was right. Spent a couple of pleasant hours chatting and resting and it was time to return.
I probably could have spent the night there in comfort. At the point where the path met the PCT, there was an abandoned tent, in working order as far as I could tell. Even had the poles. Plus there was an abandoned air mattress shaped like a piece of pizza to sleep on. I had clothes, extra food, a way to purify water, a beach towel and a doubled space blanket to sleep under.
I even found an unopened bottle of water someone had tossed. I cannot blame people too much for dropping all the weight they could before heading up that hill. But dropping water is a big no-no. Of course, nothing will go wrong on your way back so you won’t need it, right?
I am always geared up for an emergency, carrying a 12 lb. pack of which most is water. My SPOT Communicator tells people where I am at and it can call out for search and rescue at any time. I still pack and hike like I didn’t have it. Batteries die, electronics can fail and things can get lost.
There is yet another way down to the hot springs. Look at the photo below. See the circled trail? If you go up the spine of this hill and then beyond, there is a gated off and unused jeep trail at the top. Also in the wash on the other side of the hill are”hidden” campsites one can use that supposedly can’t be seen from a helicopter. It is illegal to overnight within a mile of the springs and on the rare occasions when the rangers go down there, you can be ticketed. I have no interest in climbing up that hill.
The hike out took 2 hours. I was lollygagging around, wandering off the trail and manufacturing a hiking staff from a yucca stave – and that last pitch took me forever. Met one young couple returning on the way who looked half dead. They were both drenched in sweat and not carrying any water or anything else but the clothes on their backs. Fortunately, the hardest part was behind them. I was carrying 3 liters plus supplies in my pack but, once again, not wearing clothes. Hmmm…
My daypack is a “Badlands Superday”. At 1950 cubic inches (32 liters) It is bigger than most day packs. In fair weather, I could pack it for an overnight but that would be really pushing it. Much of that capacity goes unused and I prefer it that way. The material is really tough, heavier than the nylon you normally see used. I can fall on it, snag it on branches and thorns and probably even slide down a hill on it without tearing it. It is designed for a 2-liter bladder but holds my 3-liter. Mine is in Mossy Oak camo pattern and is designed for hunting.
I have fantasies of hunting wild boar some day. William Randolph Hearst imported them from Germany so he could hunt them on his vast properties on the CA central coast. They have interbred with feral hogs and become huge. Today they are a nuisance and compete with native deer. An adult boar has no natural enemies out here. Even cougars think twice before tackling one – though they will take youngsters.
I didn’t get out there until 2:30 and with sunset at 6:30, I wanted to be back at the trailhead before then. After a couple hours of R&R I was on my way back, this time the alternate “easier” route.
About a mile west of where the difficult route meets the PCT, the trail passes around the end of a ridge. This is the actual Bradford Ridge. There is a well-established path that goes up the spine of the ridge. On the east side of the ridge is an eroded, steep path you could take. As usual, people with more brawn than brain cut cross country for a shorter route and left a scar in their wake. Just a couple hundred feet further and the PCT rises to meet the ridge path. Go around and come up the west side of the ridge to meet it.
From there it is simple. Follow the spine up the ridge until you intersect with the main path.
Look at this map. The actual Bradford Ridge route is red dashed and the route most people take (because is shorter) is yellow. The area circled in blue is the most difficult and dangerous. The purple is the route on the east side of the ridge that I took. I shoulda stuck with the red dashed route.
I could see the entire route to my next destination following the lower path, whereas if I took the ridge route the going would be easier but there was a rock formation I’d have to negotiate. It looked more like a goat trail than a human-made path. Obviously, it could be negotiated but I didn’t know how difficult it might be, so I took the sure thing.
By now the sun was getting low and I was glad to be on decent trail again. I don’t mind hiking after dark on good trail but if I am unsure of my footing I simply won’t do it. Made it back to my car at about 6:30, almost exactly sunset. Maybe a half hour more of usable light and a liter of water left.
A most excellent and challenging day!