Slightly NSFW…

I have been blogging since long before WordPress even existed.

This is an old post, from the early 2000s when I had a web page and a domain. (The hike was from the late 90s.) I was trying to form up a local nTar Creek closed2ude hiking group I called the Canyon Country Bares. Back in those days, you had to know HTML and a bit of Java didn’t hurt. You had pay to register your URL and then to have a company host you. You created your HTML files locally and used an FTP client to upload them. WordPress really spoils a guy.

I was a bolder person back then. I was trying to convince people it was OK to be naked in nature. Never got more than a couple of new people interested and they were too allergic to biting insects to really enjoy it.

You can’t legally do this hike anymore. Tar Creek Trail, which once was a road that serviced oil wells in the area, is closed to public access to protect the California Condor. This area is not part of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary but the ForeTar Creek closed1st Service decided that recreational use was causing too much disturbance in terms of noise and micro-trash so they closed it anyhow.

These days oil companies can do slant drilling from miles away. They are getting more oil out of the area than ever without any direct impact.

Old Ektachrome slides shot with a Minolta X700, 50mm lens, scanned in 15 years ago and then forgotten. This is a blast from the past!

One of the marvelous things about living in LA is that true wilderness is only a half-hour or so outside the suburbs.

In celebration of the Vernal Equinox, I took a little hike into the Sespe wilderness north of Fillmore.

And here is a map of where I went:

Map from: Adventure Hikes and Canyoneering in the Southwest

Lower right, where it indicates “Old Trailhead” there’s a gate. Sometimes the gate will be open and you can drive down to where “Park” is indicated. There’s someone who runs beehives for honey and locates them down there. On this day, it was locked. So I walked.

The parking area was fairly crowded with a half dozen vehicles. Some were using an Tar Creek 03-20-02 (0)informal shooting range immediately adjacent while others had gone on to hike. The main dirt road goes on another 7 miles to the Alder Creek Trail.

I’d planned on hiking the whole thing nude, but seeing all those vehicles at the gate I decided to put that off for the moment. The trail started out along a gated fire road. Views along the way give a hint as to the depth of the wilderness I was entering.

Tar Creek Sespe (1)
If you look closely, slightly below and left of the center you’ll see the trail I’m hiking.

I followed the trail to where it reached Tar Creek and undressed there. Instead of boulder hopping Tar Creek downstream to the falls, I crossed over and followed a rarely used trail into the Wilderness area. Option One on the map. It looked like the other hikers were all

Tar Creek Sespe (6)
Entering the Sespe Wilderness

at the falls downstream and from the noise they were making it was a rowdy group.  It took about an hour and a half to make the trip down. I expected to spend some time on the river and then take about 4 hours to hike back. I intended to hike the entire trip from then on, au naturel.

Never saw another soul on the trail. People who genuinely love wilderness enough to take the trail less traveled are rare. About halfway to my destination, about 500 feet distant, I saw Upper Tar Creek Falls. There were two people standing near it, barely visible as pink specks against the grey rock. These folks had taken the easy boulder hop instead of the difficult trail.

Total drop for the hike was 2300 ft. over 4 miles.  Obviously, I’d have to reverse this on my way out. The trail was steep, treacherous – and sometimes simply not there.

I arrived at Sespe Creek, stashed my stuff by a friendly rock and proceeded downstream wearing only my camera. Eventually, I could see Lower Tar Creek Falls above me but they were difficult to access.

It after this I met my Waterloo.

Keeping the limited time I had left in mind, I decided not to stay there but instead headed back upstream to find the trail I’d come down on. Throughout the length of the creek, there are lovely spots to cool the weary feet and refresh the spirit.

There is no trail paralleling the creek, so I had to boulder hop and wade quite a lot since I was hauling my camera around with me. Interesting rock formations abound as a testament to the power of rushing water. Swimming would have made the trip a lot easier and more pleasurable.

Note to self: Buy a waterproof container for the camera.

Returning from the falls, I eventually came to a place I didn’t recognize. Here the rocks were much steeper and taller. It wasn’t possible to go any further without some very serious rock climbing. In my haste to get back, I had missed my hidden gear and gone right past the path out.

Tar Creek Sespe 15
Oops! Overshot my clothes.

Note to self: Brightly colored tape for marking difficult to see trail intersections. Also; Slow down!

I’d wasted time, it was getting later in the afternoon and I’d have to double back and go more slowly so I didn’t miss my mark again. Fortunately, I’d allowed an hour’s extra time just in case. One last rock next to a waterfall looked exceptionally interesting to climb. It was very smooth and at a 45-degree slope. I thought I’d try out my friction climbing techniques on it. At the base of the waterfall was a large, deep pool of crystal clear water that looked perfect for jumping into and I wanted to investigate. Many swimming spots are quite deep and the clarity of the water can be deceptive.

During winter rains the Sespe can be an unapproachable torrent while in the late summer it can almost dry up completely.

Friction climbing” is where you proceed up a smooth slab with no handholds. (You really do need climbing shoes to maximize the friction between you and the rock.) A climber moves slowly, one limb at a time, trying never to break their bond with the rock. Friction climbing nude feels really good when the air is starting to cool but the rock is still warm!

Tar Creek Sespe 13
Perfect for friction climbing?

I’d almost made it to the top of the rock when I started to slip. Once I’d start to slip, I’d flattened onto the rock for more surface contact. That did not work. The first things to go were my toenails where I’d instinctively tried to jam them into the rock to slow my descent. Other delicate areas were starting to object to the abuse they were getting and I rolled over onto my back as I slid.

My bare feet were the cause. My feet had been softened by prolonged immersion in water and the skin had started separating, like having the soles of your shoes start to peel off. Once started, peeling skin and blood lubricates your slide down.

The texture of the rock was about the same as very coarse sandpaper. I continued the slide down the rock on my back with my rear and the bottoms of my feet taking the worst of it. Then I went off the bottom edge of the slab and into the water.

Note to self: No more barefoot rock climbing!!!

Oh shit! I’d lost five toenails including one on the right big toe. The balls and heels of my feet and the undersides of my big toes were raw and bleeding. My ankles were sore. Knees were bloody. My butt and “delicates” had suffered some pretty significant scraping but nothing mission-critical. Otherwise, there were only some minor scratches and bruises on the rest of me.

My camera beeped madly at me and then died. No more function at all from it.

Time was passing. (Duh!) Injured like this, there was no way I was getting out of there before dark. This was not going to be fun.

I carefully worked my way back downstream and almost missed my clothes again.

Where are my clothes? Was it here?

The place I stashed them didn’t look at all like it did when I’d first come down. Somehow the shifting shadows and reduced light made everything look different. But I knew they HAD to be there so I persevered and found them.

I carefully bandaged up my feet as best I could, slipped on my socks and then my shoes over them and laced them up snugly. It’s important to do this quickly, before swelling sets in or you won’t get your shoes on at all. (No shoes in this state would soon mean immobility.) The snug – but not tight enough to cut off circulation – lacing gives support to any damaged foot structures and slows the seepage of blood from damaged skin.

Note to self: Include a roll of gauze and an ace bandage in the 1st aid kit.

My estimated time out was now up from 2 hours to probably 6 or more. Half of that would be in the dark on a trail that was often treacherous and on weakened ankles and sore feet. I’d left a map and a detailed explanation of my route with my wife and told her to call search and rescue if I wasn’t back by dark, so I decided to spend the night. I could have started up the trail and met up with potential rescuers en route (assuming they got called) but the pain in my feet dissuaded me from that course of action.

If my life had depended on it, I know I could have done it but it would have been most unpleasant.

I began to think about how to spend the night. There were lots of small caves and overhangs in the boulders piled up along the edge of the creek. The rocks would hold the warmth of the sun and keep the wind off me. Originally I’d planned to scoop a trench in the dry sandy floor of a cave and then bury myself in leaves and grass for insulation. But at every place I looked, I found camping gear left behind by previous occupants. I wasn’t going to need to practice my wilderness survival skills.

Or are they here?

The return hike and 2000 ft. elevation gain had encouraged previous campers to leave their excess baggage behind. Before long I’d found 2 5×7 blue plastic tarps, a torn-up red tent filled with empty beer cans and queen size white synthetic blanket. Thank God for litterbugs!

Along with all the beer cans I found unopened cans of beef stew, creamed corn, and Cheeze Whiz. Whatever else happened I wouldn’t starve. I spread one of the tarps out nearby in an open area as a marker for any searchers to see and went to bed with all my found gear.

BTW, I might mention water. It is not a good idea to drink directly from any creeks, anywhere. Even the clearest of them often harbor giardia and e. coli. Critters don’t worry about not pooping in water and people as bad as critters. I’d brought along my water filter bottle which filters out the large bugs and particulates while killing viruses with an iodine matrix, so the water was no problem.

I had brought matches. I had brought a plastic Ziploc bag to put them in. Stupidly I had not put them in it. Stupidly the matches were in a pouch right next to a water bottle. Just enough water had squeezed out of the water bottle and onto the adjacent matches to render them worthless. Not having dry fire-making materials was a real “pisser” and I was too tired to try making fire the “old fashioned” way, with a bow and a drill. It can be done, but without practice, it takes a long time.

Note to self: Multiple means of starting fire in waterproof containers.

With all the discarded gear I’d found I was quite snug and a fire wasn’t a “survival” issue. I also thought about taking all those beer cans (hundreds!) and laying them out in an arrow or spelling SOS with them but I was too tired for that as well. I think my injuries were starting to affect me. I reluctantly dressed to conserve body heat as the sun set.

Sometime after I’d gone to sleep, I was awakened by a helicopter flying overhead. I climbed out of my tent and waved the white blanket around above me. The chopper flew overhead, maybe 200 feet away, and shone a spotlight directly on me. I could read the numbers on its side and see the guy looking out the window but they didn’t see me and kept on going. This happened twice more.

I said “To hell with it!” after the third time they missed me and just stayed in bed. The next morning I woke up to the sound of the chopper again. This time they saw me immediately and landed about 50 yards away on a sand bar near the blue tarp. Five minutes later a guy comes walking down the creek to where I was.

He said that once they’d landed, it was easy to follow the trail of blood I’d left on the rocks… Ow!

Tar Creek Sespe 17
Deeper than it looks.

They’d had search parties out all night looking for me. He couldn’t figure out how they’d missed me since I was right next to where the trail met the river. Looking back, maybe I should have stayed awake all night. If people came down that trail making any kind of noise at all I’d have heard them. Of course, they’d also missed the bright blue plastic tarp I’d spread out in the open, from both the air and the ground.

Note to self: Carry one of those LED warning lights like trick-or-treaters and bicyclists wear. They are visible for great distances at night, you can set them to blink, they last a long time on a tiny battery, and double as an emergency flashlight. Red LEDs also have the advantage of not affecting your night vision.

I managed to walk over to the chopper. Except for my feet feeling like they’d been beaten with a baseball bat, I was in pretty good shape. They’d expected me to be hypothermic and probably crippled. The neatest thing about it was that I got a free helicopter ride out. The view was incredible, better than anything I’d seen on foot.

They’d set up the emergency rescue center right next to where I’d parked my car. They took off my socks and washed my feet and then bandaged them up in gauze. It was quite an effort to convince them I didn’t need immediate emergency medical attention and I had to sign very many papers to that effect. They gave me a new pair of oversized cotton socks to fit over the bandaging and wouldn’t let me keep my old ones. They had blood on them and had already been disposed of in a bio-hazard container. Those were brand new $15 Merino wool socks and a wash in cold water & Woolite would have left them once again as good as new. Rats!

I drove home after that and then my wife drove me to the Kaiser emergency room. There was much amusement among the nurses as to the location of some of my injuries.

The guys from the search and rescue team had bandaged my feet correctly, so well that it

The intrepid explorer

hardly hurt at all and I could still get my shoes on.

The folks at Kaiser treated my feet like they had burns. Really THICK gauze bandaging applied loosely was not what I needed. My feet almost immediately swelled up like watermelons. After they’d bandaged me again, every step was agony. I couldn’t put shoes on afterward, not even shoes that were two sizes larger than normal. Ended up buying a pair of size 12 sandals. (I’m normally a size 9.)

For 5 days afterward, I used a walker. The next five days after I stopped with the walker I still wore the sandals with a double thickness of socks. Three days after that I no longer needed any bandaging and could wear my regular shoes.

It’s been 21 days now since my little mishap and I’m walking okay with just a little tenderness where the worst of the injuries had been. All in all, I really enjoyed the trip but I’d have enjoyed it a lot better if I’d not tried boulder climbing in bare feet. Last night I went back to the gym for the first time since the hike. I use their “elliptical trainer” for my cardio exercise and discovered that amazingly I had neither put on weight nor lost cardiovascular conditioning.

sespe river
Further info from where I learned of this hike: Adventure Hikes and Canyoneering in the Southwest