Given the title, you can guess what’s ahead. NSFW.
Piru Creek is the only reliable flowing water for many miles. One of my favorite haunts.
Memorial day weekend was coming up and I figured if I was going to get in any freehiking I’d best do it the week before. I expect this day-use area to be flooded with picnics and barbecues. Thursday was the last likely day before the madding crowds buzzed in. Head north of LA on I-5 past Castaic and turn off at the Templin Highway exit. Go under the freeway and hang an immediate right.
The Old Road was formerly designated US 99 until I-5 provided an alternate route. Once that happened, Pyramid Lake dam was built across it and a gate installed. This created a 3-mile section between the gate and the dam of unused 4 lane blacktop. It is much in demand as a movie set. Only government and utility vehicles are allowed beyond the gate without special permission. Everyone else has to walk or bike. Counting my car there were 5 vehicles, most of the people would be fly fishing in the short section where it is allowed. Making sure I was beyond the other users of the area before freehiking would be important.
This used to be the Frenchman’s Flat Campground but it has been downgraded to a day use area. There is a shortage of easily accessed camping in southern California and they keep closing more campgrounds. Most of the remaining open ones have been privatized.
New Zealand mud snails are a nasty invasive species that have infested this waterway for many years. I took this photo of a frog with them a couple of years ago.
If you look west you can see the canyon I’m going to be hiking. Sycamores, willows and cottonwoods form a green ribbon in an otherwise dry land.
The creek would have been seasonal but because of the Pyramid Lake Dam, they allow some water to flow all year. This keeps the fly fishing people happy. It is catch and release. The fish which are not native were planted in the creek soon after the dam was built and anglers have quite the lobby in Sacramento. Fishing licenses are not cheap.
I am well out of sight of the parking area but I noticed several sets of footprints heading out this way and none coming back. Some days it’s just like that. You head out for a little solitude and freedom but you have to delay your gratification.
This is poison oak. It grows quite luxuriously out here. On the left, it is green. On the right, it is red. Same plant but the red is an indication of a drier environment. By the end of summer all of it will be red. Unsuspecting people pick the pretty leaves and make garlands from it.
That’s a Pacific aster on the left and a cliff aster being pollinated by an unknown beetle on the right.
Buckwheat in bloom. Datura, (aka “loco weed”) psychoactive and potentially deadly. Deerweed on the right.
Elegant clarkia, top left. Monkeyflower, top middle. Purple nightshade, (poisonous) top right. Heart-leaved penstemon, bottom.
I hiked along a trail that was sometimes there and sometimes not and soon caught up with the people. Long before I saw or heard anything I smelled an illegal campfire. Then I heard talking. When I came up to this opening, I first saw a (fishing?) net spread out on the ground, then a beach blanket, then a smoking campfire, and then 4 people. There were 2 adult males, an adult female, and a child, all eating a just-cooked lunch. I casually asked them if they’d caught any crayfish (aka freshwater lobster or crawdad) and they insisted they hadn’t been fishing.
It did not occur to me until later that they might have been thought I was a Forest Ranger. I’m typically in khaki and olive green and have been mistaken for a ranger before. Taking crayfish without a fishing license is illegal. Might account for the alarmed look on their faces.
I hiked past them and crossed the river. On the other side, I am met with a boulder field. Further progress will involve picking my way through rocks.
My tracking had not betrayed me. The four people matched the tracks I’d seen earlier and there were no fresh tracks beyond that point. Finally, I felt unconstrained about getting my kit off to enjoy the hike even more. But look! They’ve moved down to the creek crossing and are looking this way. I’m in some shade and brush. They can’t see me but I can see them. I wait.
I watched as they had a long discussion and then headed back upstream. No reason to go any further if there’s a ranger up ahead, right? Now I’m free to be me without concern that I’ll run into trouble. Having children present always makes parents extremely anxious and protective about an encounter. I understand.
First I climb up and out of the rock field and then I plunge deep into sawgrass and other tall grasses and plants. Must proceed very slowly with a stick to probe for snakes. I did manage to scare off a grass snake but nothing dangerous. Also, have to do a tick check after this. My brief elevation gives me a hint that something interesting might be up ahead. There is. The creek slows and widens here.
There it is. Ye olde swimming hole. I remember this from several years ago when I was last through here. I need to go father because this section has an extremely rocky bottom. The river hangs a sharp right and where I am going is actually around the corner up ahead. Attempting to walk on the creek bottom was difficult. I can’t see the bottom and I am banging up my ankles and legs. Back on shore I tuck my backpack with my clothes into some dense foliage (I picked a camo pack for this very purpose) and continued on with just my boots, hat, and my camera on a tiny tripod. It’s a bright yellow Fuji that is waterproof, again picked for this purpose. Need to cross again to continue. I’d prefer not to get my boots wet – but the creekbed is just too rough and I wear them without socks to do the crossing.
Pro tip: When you stash your clothes, always put them inside your pack and zipper everything shut. And be careful where you sit. There are ants everywhere. Experience speaking.
Finally got to the good part. The water is deep in the middle. Lots of rocks on the shore to hurt your feet but just a few steps away it turns into sand/mud.
I spend about a half-hour (maybe an hour?) here and head on back. This time I don’t get dressed and pass right through the guerilla campsite. But further up the trail, I hear a commotion. I slip on my shorts to investigate. It is that same family, still collecting crayfish, only this time invisible behind a thicket of cattails.
Total distance was probably not even 3 miles but took 4 hours including swim time. Rock hopping and wading thru brush can be breathtakingly slow. No elevation gain or loss worth mentioning. Temperature hit 90F but wasn’t a real problem since there was shade and opportunities to get wet. No ticks.
Aw well, it was fun while it lasted. I need to get back to the car and drive home. My wife gets home from work at six and I haven’t done any chores yet today.