There has been a dearth of anime in my life as of late. Nothing in the new season has excited me enough to write home about. The latest season of MHA is interesting but so many other people are writing on it that I can’t imagine adding anything to the conversation. I suppose I could go and review another classic. I’m just not feeling it right now.

When in doubt, go for a hike.

I’ve already talked about Piru Creek downstream from Pyramid Lake a couple of times.

Perhaps I’ll talk about my hike last Monday from the north of the lake. It was about 12 miles round trip and the weather was perfect.

Heading north of LA on I-5, continue on past Santa Clarita, Castaic, Lake Piru, Templin Highway, and finally the State Water Project Information Center. As far as I can tell, the center is a huge waste of money. I never see more than a dozen cars in a parking lot suitable for hundreds. There’s a multi-million dollar building housing a visitor center. I’ve been in it. Unless you were writing a report on the State Water Agency for school, it is about as dull as such a thing gets.

It does offer a really nice view of Pyramid lake. I’d have settled for a scenic outlook.

Hardluck Road
The blue line is the driving route. Go to the locked gate. Notice the Angeles National Forest just north of the road. Just past the gate you enter Hungry Valley State Recreation Area, a state park unit. The thick red line to the south is the Los Padres National Forest boundary.

Continuing past that 3 miles or so and we come to Smokey Bear Road. Take the exit and go left under the freeway. Turn left again onto Pyramid Lake Road. (Straight ahead takes you into the Hungry Valley State ORV Park.) Drive south, just past the boat inspection lane, then a right onto Hard Luck Road. (Straight ahead takes you to the well developed Emigrant’s Landing Campground  on Pyramid Lake.) It goes over a bridge, (with a power station to the left) and then turns hard right. It eventually curves westward towards a locked gate.

Along the way, you pass Los Alamos campground on the left, almost entirely used by people in the state park. When you come to a gate, there you stop. There will be a left turn to a National Forest administration building but you won’t take it. This gate has an opening to allow pedestrians and bicyclists thru.

There is a car ahead of me. Drat! That means humans up ahead.
This is state park land, No hunting, shooting or nudity.

Hardluck Road is closed past this point. Two and a half miles up ahead is Hardluck Campground. It is closed to motor vehicle camping to protect the endangered Arroyo Toad. You can still hike back there and backpack.

The road proceeds for about 3.2 miles climbing 470 ft. up a hill and then descending about 520 ft. where you cross Piru Creek to enter the campground. The descent is a bit steeper than the ascent. Roughly the first mile and a half of the walk is on CA State Park land, with all the rules and regs that go with it. Just beyond the crest of the road, you cross over into Los Padres National Forest land.

Locked gate to Hard Luck. Red is the route I took. Good for bicycles, if you don’t mind the hill. Yellow is an obscure footpath (abandoned mining road) I could have taken. That diagonal dashed line is the LA/ Ventura County border. The thick red line is the Los Padres National Forest boundary. You can also see my little diversion to a swimming hole I discovered.

There is a bit of a shortcut, the route of the old mining road that once went back here. It is the yellow line on the map above cutting straight across and shaves maybe a quarter-mile off total distance and fifty feet of elevation. OTOH, it is a sandy and deeply rutted trail. A couple of short sections are “by guess or by golly”.

The advantage of the shortcut is really to get you away from pavement and into some really wild looking land before returning to pavement. (More naked time for me!) I didn’t take it this time but it is usually my preferred route.

The abandoned mining road. Finding it requires map skills and bushwhacking.

The entrance to the shortcut is easy to miss. Just a strand of fencing that is missing. It takes you away from the road and climbs through the sand. Once you reach the crest the world looks pretty wild. You wend your way down thru ridges and gullies and exit thru a gap in the fence to be on the road again. When Avery goes with me, she insists on going this way.

The sign is slowly decaying away. This is also where you cross from LA County to Ventura County.

My understanding (I could be wrong…) is that nudity is legal here. This corner of the Los Padres is in Ventura County. IIRC, Ventura County has no general anti-nudity ordinance. Still, this isn’t a well-known nudist haunt and I’m not getting completely skyclad until I’m confident nobody else is there. Laws may keep you from being convicted but are no protection against harassment.

However, I have heard eyewitness accounts of nude bicyclists riding here. It would be a nice ride if you can deal with the steepness. Beyond my current ability.  I’m thinking of a great place for nude night hiking and biking.

At the bottom of the decline, the road crosses Piru Creek. From here I can follow abandoned and nearly invisible truck trails upstream about a third of a mile to a great skinnydipping hole. It is an area only rarely visited by backpackers. You can even see a couple of abandoned mines along the way. There’s gold out there and as recently as the 80s there was a plan to use a dredging machine to suck gold out of the creek. Thankfully Forest Service put the kibosh on that plan.

Piru Creek looking downstream. That is a fair amount of water for October. Let’s hope for another wet winter.
Looking upstream.

One of several abandoned mines. And a nice skinny dipping hole in spring and summer.

My caution proved well-founded when I encountered the occupants of the vehicle. It was a married Hispanic couple, perhaps in their 50s or 60s, deer hunting. I had forgotten it was hunting season. (!!!) I was down to just my shorts by that time. We talked about hunting and the guy was very excited by the topic. They hadn’t seen anything but old tracks.

They were in head-to-foot camouflage with orange hats. I saw those hats long before they were aware of me. (Deer are colorblind so orange is just grey to them.) The one thing the lady asked me was if I wasn’t cold. It was 80 out and I’d just climbed a hill. No, I was rather hot. I can’t believe they weren’t exhausted from the heat.

Speaking of tracks, there was a great track trap, right where the creek crossed the road and spilled over. Difficult to get around and no reason to do so. Recent tracks confirmed two sets outbound and two inbound. One set of an off-road bicycle going out and then back but they’d started to decay, so that was probably over the last weekend. Confident I was now alone, off went the clothing and into my backpack.

Hard Luck is a huge campground, easily a quarter-mile long and a football field wide. Scattered throughout are outhouses, and disintegrating signs, and campsites. It has a vaguely post-apocalyptic vibe about it with decaying picnic tables, rusted iron fire pits, and grates, and broken pavement all hidden in well over a decades’ worth of bush. Many of the outhouses are unlocked and show signs of use. (BYO toilet paper.) At the southern end of Hard Luck is the Buck Creek Trailhead.

My favorite all-day pack is in real tree oak brush camo. It blends in perfectly with our chaparral. There is enough capacity for 3 liters of water, a full set of clothing, food and emergency gear. (There is an extra key hidden about the car in case I lose it on the trail.) I like to be able to hide it in the bush and be confident that nobody else will find it. That way I can stash it and be naked while I range about radially instead of having to wear the pack which, after all, does somewhat ruin the sense of freedom I’m after.

OTOH, were I unable to retrieve it, I could be screwed. In naked hiking circles (Such a thing exists!) there is a term for hiking naked without carrying your clothes on you. You are, “Flying without a parachute“.) 

BTW, I am using the word naked, rather than nude, intentionally. I am being as vulnerable as a human can be out here.  I want the sense of freedom and vulnerability, of having as little as possible between me and the world. I want to be exposed to sun and wind and water – and prickly things and insects if I am not mindful and to nature and God and the universe in general.

Buck Creek is really the trail I was after. It parallels Piru Creek for another 2.5 miles of fairly level hiking. Most of the time access to the creek is not easy. The creekbank is steep and filled with rocks and brush. For as much water as appears in some of the photos, there are places it disappears and hides. Proceed a bit further and it reemerges where underlying rock formations force it up again.

Red is my route down to the tram and the narrows. Good for hikers and for bicycles that can handle a bit of dirt. There is a small campsite right there but no fire ring.  Buck Creek trail splits to the left and continues. It is hardly used beyond this point.

Along the way, I am forced thru narrow openings with rabbit brush on either side. The yellow flowers are alive with bees. You’d think a naked man would be nervous around bees.

Bees don’t bother me. I can shake off a sting very quickly. It has been a very long time since a bee has stung me. (Years ago I accidentally stepped on a yellowjacket in the mud barefoot.) But mostly I just give them their space. If they buzz near me I don’t swat at them. If they land on me I blow them off with a puff of breath or a gentle brush of grass. These are things bees understand. Waving hands and swatting are seen as threats needing to be punished.

The yucca bloom and the sunflowers are all long gone.

This bumble bee shares the flower with these ants.
Honeybees everywhere!
Another late blooming flower.
A tiny corner of evergreen left over from the Ice Ages survives on the north slope of one hill.
Straight ahead and slightly to the left is the narrows by which Piru Creek enters Pyramid lake. It is a boulder-strewn mess I’m not tackling today.

So I’m finally almost there. Three o’clock, the hot part of the day, and I perspire freely. There’s one small problem. I am developing hot spots under the balls of my feet. Hot spots mean only one thing in this situation and that is blisters.

My first aid kit is still sitting on the floor of my wife’s minivan 40 miles away. Last week my wife and I headed up to a park near Bakersfield where my daughter was at “War”, an SCA campout for Viking re-enactors. One of the Vikings got stabbed in the foot during swordplay and refused to go get medical aid. So as long as we were up there my wife, the RN, will see what needs to be done.

It wasn’t that bad and we patched him up. But I made the crucial error of not returning the kit to the backpack from whence it had come. Now I am six miles out and can sense a blister coming on with no moleskin or even duct tape. Heavy Sigh!

At one point the creek almost disappears. later it is 15 feet wide and a foot deep. Those tracks you see in the water are from a very recent bear, not a bare. The creek finally disappears into some boulders as it rounds a bend and enters the narrows.

This old tramway was used when people had to cross over to get to a flow gauge and manually read to the water level. It is done by remote sensing today. I didn’t test the little car to see if it still worked.

What I should have done is remove shoes and socks, kicked back under a tree and been even more naked until everything dried out.

What did instead was to splash around in the shallow water of the creek just before it entered the narrows and goof off for a couple of hours. It felt good and the hot spot went away but I didn’t remove what was causing the hotspot to start with, moist feet and wool socks wet with sweat. Although, I must say that I’ve hiked in these shoes with hot sweaty feet before and not had this problem. Maybe their time had simply come.

Running thru the water and falling flat on my face. Oh yeah, there was a very fresh pile of bear poop on the far bank. I suspect the bear was searching for crawdads and slowly moving downstream to stay ahead of me.

I did try a couple of techniques for hotspots that had helped in the past. I swapped socks left to right. If there were a part that was rucking up, by swapping it wouldn’t be in the same place on the other foot. I also relaced the shoes differently so as to minimize my foot’s ability to slip. Neither technique proved effective this time.

Left: late afternoon approaches Hard Luck.
Right: Sun has set and I have another hour of hobbling ahead.
That set of hills midway up the picture is where I’m parked.

Still, the night was coming. It gets dark out here around 6:30 this time of year. I made the 6 miles back to the car in about two hours, hobbling badly the last mile.

When I got home I checked out the damage. My left foot has a quarter-sized blister in the center of the ball. Right foot had a silver dollar sized blister in the same place and it had burst. I treated them both with moleskin but I knew the next day at work was not going to be fun.

Three days later it only hurts a little bit.