Oh wow! after a bit of a dry spell I have so much to blog about. Some of it might even be interesting! Today we’ll start with one of my favorite wilderness hikes, Piru Creek both north and south of Pyramid Lake.
Piru Creek offers an immense amount of hiking. Some of it on established trails and some of it is a mix of bushwhacking, stream crossing, and boulder hopping. North of Pyramid Lake you can go upstream, mostly boulder hopping, wading, and bushwhacking for a dozen miles into the western side of the vastness that is the Sespe Wilderness Area. It is there that I had to cross the storm-swollen creek on my way back from a backpacking trip cut short by historic rain. That section of the creek is extremely difficult to access and rarely visited by humans except to cross it. Years ago I backpacked down it with a wilderness restoration group cutting and uprooting invasive, water-guzzling, tamarisk. I have paid it a few visits since but that is another post.
Downstream of the dam, water flow is more constant. Sometimes in drought, they’ll cut the flow back a bit – but they can’t cut it to zero. There is a law that there has to be enough flow to keep the non-native trout alive for the fisherman. Other times it will flood, ten feet above the normal level. This could be the result of torrential rains or it could be the dam letting out water to simulate heavy rain. Some native species need this periodic flushing out to survive.
To get there you head up I-5 to the Templin Highway exit. Turn right and you’ll be going towards Fish Canyon. Turn left, go under the freeway, and you meet the Old Road. Turn right. Left doesn’t go anywhere.
A few miles up the road you pass the Verdugo Oaks Scout Camp. There are a ranger and a public campground there as well. Just beyond that is where I saw my first and only wild mountain lion. It vanished like smoke the instant it saw me. I informed the rangers about it and they said she was an old friend of theirs. Keep going and the road is blocked off and here you park. On weekends I’d advise a Forest Service Adventure Pass. But if you don’t the ticket is only $5, the same price as a day-use pass. Not a big deal. I always buy a couple of yearly passes anyhow. I visit the National Forests a lot and I like to support them, especially since their funding has been cut drastically.
On the left side of the road are Frenchman’s Flats and a much mis-loved public campground. (This is the Google Maps link.) That’s the way I’ll be hiking in this blog. Go straight and the road becomes a much-in-demand movie set. Three miles of two and four-lane road in semi-perfect condition, very popular for television and film companies because it is a road with no traffic and is inexpensive to use.
It is also an incredible place to ride your bicycle with few pedestrians and rare traffic from trucks for maintenance crews for the dam.
A couple of miles down this road there is a trail taking off to the west that climbs up Slide Mountain to one of the few remaining in-use fire lookout stations.
On the east side, difficult to find and to get to, is a very old abandoned campground. with a memorial plaque set in a stone. The Old Road continues until it ends at an access road that climbs to Pyramid Lake Dam. I-5 parallels the Old Road and once it was constructed they were free to construct a dam in the valley thru which it runs. But that is yet another post for another hike.
Saturday I took my first hike there in a while. Since I have been thru there so many times I’ll be using pictures from many different hikes here. If there is nobody parked at the gated area and nobody in the campground, I will typically remove clothing and continue on “sky-clad” as soon as I am out of sight of the road. Otherwise, I stay clothed until I am confident nobody else has gone this way. I’ve discussed this in more detail here.
One must fly one’s freak flag whenever it is practical to do so, else one abandons the right to call oneself a freak and belong to the freaky fraternity. Doing so when it is impractical just pisses people off and could get you in trouble.
“Freak” here refers to an enthusiastically harmless & eccentric person, not a stupid one or a harmful one.
Heading west from Frenchman’s Flats, you follow a “use trail” created by fishermen. At one point the trail meets up with rock and water. You can either wade around or climb over. If you slip here (and it can be deep, fast, and slippery) everything you carry will be submerged and soaked. I always try to keep my feet and head covered, even if nothing else.
Climbing up this first rock face I once broke a bone in my foot for no apparent reason. I consider it a “freak” accident. (Laugh. That WAS a joke.)
Then there is a chute to be climbed down. (Easier to climb up.) Maybe 15 feet, so simple even people in worse shape than me can do it. Then… oh look… someone else has been this way recently and placed rocks to guide you along the correct path. (They might be gone tomorrow.) It is a nice spot here and you could just stop and do a bit of fishing but I’m heading on. Back up the side of the hill I go.
Video of hiking group descending the little chute. Credit goes to the Santa Clarita Hiking meetup group.
The trail climbs and then soon starts dropping. This section itself is on the side of a slope and covers a bit of talus. The view from the crest shows the trail ahead while looking down reveals some good fishing spots.
As you descend to the river start watching for poison oak. I have gotten to the point where I subconsciously avoid the stuff, not even aware that I’m doing this. This is a very good skill for a nudie to have.
A couple of hundred meters ahead the river makes an abrupt right turn. There is a spot where one could go swimming but I would not recommend it outside of early spring. The high flow of water flushes out all the accumulated organic crap and this place has a deep sandy bottom. You are now entering the far eastern edge of the Sespe Wilderness area but there is no signage to tell you that.
In the summer the flow drops and the water slows, becoming stagnant. Algae will bloom and die but can’t go anywhere and… just rots. In fact, the dammed lake upstream will often suffer an algal bloom during the triple-digit days of summer and become unsafe to ski or swim in. The river will often stink during the warmer days. You can cool your feet off or wade around but I wouldn’t swim in it. It will clog your filter very quickly so I always take lots of water and keep the filter for emergencies.
Even if the water is crystal clear and nobody is upstream you should never drink the water untreated. There are plenty of sources of fecal contamination.
Where the river turns, so do you. Just before it hits that wall the creek is wide and shallow. There are plenty of natural stepping stones. Once you cross that spot, the trail becomes sketchy.
Right now everything looks simple but when you return it is very easy to miss this crossing, keep going and end up in a world of cattails. (Speaking from experience here!) At this point, turn around. you have left the ideal crossing point behind. I would understand if you left some bright marker tape as a blaze here. Just be sure to remove it on your way back.
A word on cairns. There are bunches of cairns back here. Most of them mean nothing to you. Somebody wanted to mark a favorite fishing hole or crawdad spot. Ignore them unless you are curious. If you are having a hard time looking for an easy crossing, though, you might get lucky by looking around a cairn in a likely location.
You can’t “get lost” here. Just head downstream, picking out the bits and pieces of trail. Even if you “lose” the trail, you haven’t lost the creek. The trail will always be between the creek and the adjacent wall. The river crossings are always at or before the river meets the canyon side making it impossible to continue on without getting soaked. Blaze these crossings once you have crossed, if you must, but remove the blaze on your way back.
Have I said this clearly enough? Remove that gawd awful bright orange marking tape on your way back! Please let the rest of us wander about lost and confused.
Perhaps a quarter-mile from the first crossing you come to a sandy opening with a large oak tree and a couple of large fire rings. If I’m not already in the au naturel, this is where it happens. It is the last place where people commonly go. Party central for local teens. There’s another creek crossing just up ahead, right by where the creek is hard up against a rock wall. In the spring it is a great swimming hole and deep. The rest of the year it is either too frigid or it is stagnant.
There are sections from here on where there is no real trail and you are left to walking on rocks (Great place to sprain ankle. Be careful.) and generally passing thru clear areas, simply seeking out the easiest passage.
Past this, we have yet another field of overgrown rocks. Cross and you are on the left side of the river (looking downstream) again. The rocks are a wonderful place to twist an ankle or fall and break something. I just go slow. The trail drops back to the river and passes another fire ring. The next river crossing is difficult to find but the rule is that if it is impossible to go any farther without wading in deep water, you missed it. And beyond that more crossings and bushwhacking for another 15 miles to Lake Piru.
Yup, that’s me. Click if you dare! This is “the end” of my story… for now.
For a more recent hike down Piru Creek click here.