This is my place.

A place where I let it all hang out.

Search results

"piru creek"

Skinnydipping in Piru Creek

Every now and then a deputy patrols the parking for the day use area.

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.

People dammed up this little section for a wading pool.
A talus slope I cross on my way.

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.

Cattails are one of the most useful plants in the wild. The rhizomes are edible, the leaves are great for weaving and the fuzz is a good fire starter. Crayfish love to hide in dense stands of cattails.

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.

This was the guerrilla camp used by the family. There are several illegal fire rings here. They were sitting in the shade of the trees to the upper right.

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.

The rocks are an ankle turning obstacle course if you aren’t careful.

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.

The trail switches between being something and being… this.
Trail to the right

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 is only this much water because it is spring. Later in summer the level will be much lower and it will be stagnant.

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.

Too rocky. I’ll fall and kill myself.

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.

Freehike to Northern Piru Creek

I spent last Sunday thru Tuesday in Joshua Tree National Park. While I was there I met up with Dan Carlson of the Meandering Naturist. That little trip will have to wait for another post on another day as I am still digesting it. Instead, I’ll post on what I did yesterday.

There’s a touch of nudity ahead. That’s because I’m a nudist.

North of where I live, is a vast area encompassed by the Angeles and the Los Padres National Forest. Much of the territory is so remote that your chances of meeting up with a textile on the trail are negligible. Not quite freehiker’s heaven but closer than much of the country. Much of the world, for that matter.

I’ve hiked in this general area for a long time. Its relative lack of visitors makes it perfect for unrestricted nudity. I blogged about it before in “The Story of my Blister.” And I’ve blogged about the middle section of Piru Ceek many times.

Head north of LA up I-5, past Castaic Lake, past Pyramid Lake. You get off at Smokey Bear Road. Left under the underpass and then left again and go south about a mile. Just past a locked-up kiosk, turn right. Follow this road until the very end. The locked gate is where the adventure begins.

Today I am in luck. Despite the trails being swamped by COVID campers, there’s nobody there. Even if there were a car, I doubt that it would stop me. It hasn’t before. (Multiple cars would make me hesitate.) I’m leaving the road for a walk on the wild side.

This is what you see beyond the gate. The gate means nobody is going to drive up behind you unexpectedly. Bicycles are a possibility. The paved road curves to the right. About where you see a small white sign, I’m going left. Do you see a clump of junipers? The trail starts somewhere to the left of them and heads away from the road.
Can’t get my clothes off quite yet. There’s a Forest Service fire/administrative station that is manned all day right there. I know what I’m doing is perfectly legal but I’d still prefer not to be harassed. I have hiked the entire route nude, both by trail and road, before but it was in the evening after the fire people had gone home.
You kind of have to wander a bit to catch the trail. When you do it is a sandy slog. There is dry grassland at the beginning of the hike but it quickly turns into scrub. By the time you get to the clump of junipers, you’re safe to start freehiking.
When you get to the top, you will be tired. But in exchange, you get a wonderful view and pretty much guaranteed your solitude. Unless it is hunting season. Yup! That is snow on the mountain.
Heading down the trail, it is steep and sandy. It will be an effort to return this way. Looking to the right, you can intermittently see the paved road as it winds its way down to where you are going. Not a problem. Most of the way an earth berm and the desert scrub keeps you screened. And then you go behind a hill and it is gone.
Oh goody! Another canyon to explore.
The trail empties into a dry wash. Going right eventually returns to the road. Wonder what is up the wash to the left?
Suddenly it narrows. Would not want to be here during a rainstorm.
Now it is well over my head. Sure hope there isn’t an earthquake. I could be buried and they’d never find my body. But it is cool, both as a geological feature and temperature-wise. I’l take my chances.
Whew! made it out alive.
Juniper berries. They taste waxy and blah to me but are another important source of wildlife sustenance.
A quail. One of many but they were all too fast or hiding in the chemise for me to get a photo of. I could hear them calling back and forth with shouts of warning to other members of the covey. It was quite a chorus with the call being difficult to trace to any individual bird.
All is not dry and dead here. Deep underground there is still water flowing gradually through the sand. This willow sends her roots deep to find it and in the spring sends forth her catkins to be pollinated. The hum of bees is here quite noticeable. They are working overtime today. It has been an extraordinarily dry winter and spring here and plants like these provide what sustenance is available right now.
The blooms of the manzanita are emerging as well. These buds are immature but the open ones are receiving plenty of honey bee attention. Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish. Later they will be an important food source for bear and deer.
Eventually, we return to the road. Boohoo! The trail crosses and continues on the other side but I’ve tried that route before. It was a nightmare of poison oak and thorny bushes that I didn’t want to tackle fully clothed. I am tempted to show up one day with pruning loppers and make the route viable. This little stretch is a little nervous for me because there is a non-zero chance of someone showing up at the trailhead for an evening bike ride as I’m heading down it.
I made it down to the bottom of this hill. If I continue on, I’ll be in the closed Hard Luck Campground. I wrote that place about one of my adventures, I should be really grateful for the endangered species act. It is because of this that the gate at the trailhead is closed and the huge campground up ahead is unused. Personally, I think it would be a great place to arrange nude bike rides. A decade ago when I was backpacking Piru creek with a group of people removing invasive Tamarisk, a woman mentioned that she’d seen a man biking nude out here. Nobody I was with seemed to have any problem with it. Except for the two teenage girls with us who rolled their eyes. Ewww!
But I’m not going straight this time. I’m going right. A long long time ago, Piru creek was a source of placer gold. Nearby there is at least one abandoned mine that I’ve found. There also remains of a camping area. That gate ahead is to the nonexistent road to those things. Notice the bicycle tracks? And the footprints? I suspect this place got some visitors Saturday. The weekenders are all gone on a late Sunday afternoon and I have it all to myself.
I follow the creek upstream and I find a slow spot.
This little guy was shouting at the top of his lungs. He’s perfectly camouflaged from most creature’s vision, calling either for a mate or to declare territory. If he hadn’t croaked I doubt I would have seen him.
I am not so well camouflaged. It has been a long hot trek. When I got home my wife said it was had gotten to 90F. I doubt if this area was much cooler. If you want to find the deepest spot in a shallow river, look for a large rock in the middle of the stream. The current scoops the sand out around it. This hole was just deep enough for a bathtub but I was hot and sweaty and wanted it.

I cooled off and wandered about for a bit then wandered some more. Hoping I got enough sun to begin a tan but not enough to get a burn. (Which I did. 🙁 ) Some of that time I was wearing a backpack. You can’t go on a long hike in the wild on a hot day without one. I’m wondering if I’ll get tan lines from it. (I did.)

Reluctantly I returned home. The best nude hike is one where you forget you are nude. No chance of offending anyone, just focusing on sun and wind and flowers and bees and berries and birds and frogs. Except for a short stretch on the road, that was this hike. Homeward the happy hiker hikes his hippy way!

As I close in on my car I am serenaded by a pair of birds on adjacent treetops above my car. The perfect end to the experience.

Throw Another Year on the Barbi

I have a birthday coming up Friday.

I usually don’t celebrate birthdays. I have been known to go into hiding and refuse to associate with anyone. Being pointedly reminded that I have run out of yet another year’s time doesn’t feel like fun. There is a seeming requirement that the previous year was full of happy memories and the next year full of great expectations. I’m not on board with this. I’ve also grown to dislike birthday parties and cake just makes me even fatter.

What do I want for my birthday? The things I would want are such as cannot be given. The things I value simply are or are not. Not Pearls of Great Price but rather Pearls Beyond Price.

I have some good news though. My right knee was not crippled due to a torn ACL. Doc twisted and tweaked and pushed and pulled the joint and decided it wasn’t the ACL after all. He now thinks it is a strained patella tendon. The ACL never heals on its own but the tendon will. He gave me cortisone injections and I spent some money on an elaborate knee brace rather than Walmart’s cheapest. A couple of days ago I did a tentative hike in a nearby park and came out fine.

Tuesday I did a much more demanding hike in one of my old haunts, Piru Creek. Hooray! I only heard my knee grind a couple of times.

It was a perfect day for a hike. The high climbed into the low 80s in midday and there was a gentle breeze blowing down the canyon. When I pulled into the parking area at the dead-end of the road, I had the place all to myself. The nearby Frenchman’s Flat picnic area was desolate. We know what that means… birthday suit!

Off went the clothes as soon as I got out of view.

No cars and the day-use area is empty. Freedom beckons!

There’s a pair of concrete outhouses in the day-use area. (Far right in the picture.) On one of them, the door was locked. The other had two large-caliber bullet holes in the door that looked a whole lot like they were made by 12 gauge slugs. That door hadn’t been locked – it had been bent so badly the door could not be closed. I needed to use the facilities and I wasn’t worried much about privacy, so I went in. Opposite the bullet holes on the door were a pair of craters in the concrete wall.

I hope the idiots who did this at least checked to see if the place was occupied first. I hate humans. Individuals can be good but the species is a failure.

I’ve put on perhaps 15 lbs. since my knee was first injured. My legs aren’t quite as strong and I’ve lost whatever cardio fitness I may have had. And my skin is the pale pink of skin that hasn’t seen the sun in several months. None of that really mattered.

I was going to leave the mundane world behind. I was entering my own private world where ego would cease to exist. Existence would reduce to the strides of my feet, the warmth of the sun, the cool of water, and the birds and bees buzzing about. A sensuous realm where my body rejoiced while my mind was occupied by photography and geology and ecology and navigation rather than my latest anxiety attack or Europe blowing itself up. A place to forget that I’m a fat old man that the world has little use for.

I can be any age I want out here because there’s nobody to think otherwise. I think I’ll be ten today.


On a normal year, the place would have been carpeted in flowers. We’re still in a severe drought, yada yada, yada, and probably will be forever. Despite this, the plants were trying their best to flower and make seeds. Life will persist against all odds.

I am not worried about humans destroying the world. We might make a mess of it for ourselves but life will persist and probably improve. Today’s species are the result of at least six or seven Great Extinction Events, all biological, geological, or astronomical in origin. Every extinction makes the survivors that much stronger. Do not think we are at the peak of evolution or that catastrophic climate change is unusual. Humans may be nothing more than the next colliding comet.

Piru Creek, right where it flows by the day-use area. My shorts must be here… somewhere.

The hike turned into a comedy of errors.

I’d tossed my hiking shorts into a little pack which I carried over my shoulder like a purse. I’m about a mile in when I noticed a gape in my pack. A zipper was not zipped. Whether it had worked its way open or I had just forgotten it, I’ll never know. There were no shorts to be seen. I checked to make sure my keys and wallet were still there within a smaller zippered compartment. About face! To the rear, march!

Or are they here?

My shorts are OD green and easy to miss in the grass and foliage. This was somewhat concerning. I did have a t-shirt which I’d removed and left in the car. I’d look silly coming home in nothing but a t-shirt and a car towel. My wife would never let me forget it. I’d have to walk from the day-use area to the parking area wearing not much and there’s always a chance someone would pick that very moment to arrive. Still, not a tragedy.

I did find my shorts, right where I thought I’d packed them. This time I packed them very carefully, zipped the pack up with great intent, and off I went.

Poppies and baby blue eyes and blue curls. (I think.) Dense groups of flowers are limited to small areas instead of carpeting everything.

Ordinarily, the area would be carpeted with wildflowers this time of year. The decades-long drought persists. Perhaps it will never again be the way it was. But life does not give up easily. Droughts have happened beforehand. Over the millennia these plants have adapted. Some plants still come into bloom in the hope that maybe next winter will be a wet one. Each year these seeds accumulate, a little at a time. Some will stay dormant for decades if they must. Along will come a wet winter and the buildup will result in a superbloom.

The healthiest poison oak I’ve ever seen. I’m glad my shorts weren’t here.

One plant that doesn’t seem to be bothered by the drought is poison oak. It is growing in unusual abundance, verdant green, encroaching on the trail. At times one has the choice of leaving the trail to bypass it entirely or performing gymnastic contortions to get around it. On steep hillsides bypassing is impractical and in deep grass, you have to slow to a snail’s pace because of the danger of snakes. I stick to the trail and practice the poison oak limbo.

Despite my best efforts the poison oak still brushed against my legs a couple of times. Nothing to worry about. Urushiol oil is poison oak’s active irritant. It takes hours to penetrate the epidermis, so if you wash up quickly there’s no risk. Any soap will remove it. As soon as I get to ye olde swimming hole I’ll scrub the areas with crushed yerba santa leaves and smell minty fresh. The minty smell of the yerba santa comes from a natural oil that one time was the only known useful treatment for tuberculosis. I could also scrunch up the leaves from a yucca plant which produces an excellent soap.

Another fragrant plant, white sage. It is a member of the mint family.

People think that nature is silent but this is not true. All along the way, I am serenaded. Birds calling, the flow of water, the wind in branches, lizards scurrying away, the crunch of my shoes on the gravel, the explosions of quail being flushed as I walk by. Overhead, the screech of the red-tailed hawk. Behind all this is the continuous hum of bees busily collecting nectar while the flowers are still available. It is most pronounced as I pass large shrubs that are fully in bloom such as the white sage and yerba santa.

First, we climb up the south side of the valley…
…and then we go down the other side.

The trail leaves the river to climb up and over, then descends. There’s a bit of rock scrambling here. It isn’t much of a hump, maybe a hundred feet, but the footing is poor and the trail is often wedged in a crack between boulders. I’m careful and get past it. One of the reasons I hike nude is to be close to nature. When one is close to nature, one is vulnerable. Nature is not kind. It isn’t cruel either, it is just unforgiving of mistakes. I move more slowly than most hikers through rough terrain. Because of that, I think I experience more yet my risk is less.

The day has warmed and I am beginning to sweat. Today will be is in the low 80s. That’s a good thing. Most people do not think of sweating as a pleasurable activity. One must understand it isn’t the wind that cools you, it is the evaporation of sweat. I consider sweat to be pleasurable, especially in contrast to the equal pleasure of warm sunshine. If you do not sweat, on a warm day you will die. The wind won’t help you at all. Welcome to heatstroke.

The rough terrain has done me another favor. I’m out here and not on a maintained trail at least in part to test my knee. I need to know it won’t fail me when I’m deep in the wilderness. Between the cortisone and the brace it is functioning perfectly and painlessly.

Coming back down the trail closes with the creek again. Here it flows into a sheer cliff face and turns at a right angle. This creates a long deep pool. Good for swimming – but submerged rocks call for only the shallowest of diving and wading must be done with care lest one trip or bang one’s feet and ankles.

It comes to me – I was out here for another birthday.

It is deeper than it looks. There is strong flow from the dam right now. Later in the year, the flow will slow and the water will be rancid.
That’s my hiking outfit! Note the brace…

While the creek flows north, to the south the canyon widens out. The slopes become shallow enough to hike up. I leave my pack and head up the open hillside. Soon I reach a place where I don’t want to go any farther. No more rock climbing for me today. I am starting to feel fatigued. I have lost some strength in those legs and I need to build up before tackling further challenges. But I am far enough up that I can see some lovely landscapes and that made it all worthwhile!

Back to the water to explore up and down the creek and get wet again.

That rock outcropping is as far as I’ll go today. Too damned tired. But there is still undiscovered country up there waiting for me. The lack of trailishness and litter tells me that few people ever get up this way.
If I turn around and look to my right, I can see the green trees of the creek. Upstream is to the right.
To my left is a grand view of the canyon going downstream. I’ve never looked at it from this vantage before. Can’t really see how steep the slope is but I am looking downhill from way above the tops of those trees.

I wound my way down the hill, carefully avoiding poison oak groves, watching for snakes, and gingerly crossing invisible gulleys and rock outcroppings to get to the swimming hole. I’d left my pack behind on this little jaunt and now of course I couldn’t find it. I hide it in case someone comes along, finds the pack and keeps it for themselves. Very unlikely to happen in the back country but this isn’t that far back.

In freehiking circles, hiking leaving your clothes behind is sometimes called flying without a parachute. One might do this as an adrenaline thing because of the risk of being seen. Or you might even hope you’re seen.

There’s no adrenaline in it for me. I find a shoulder bag or a pack to be just another piece of “clothing” and if I can do so safely, I’ll ditch it. I’d ditch the shoes if I didn’t mind ripping holes in my feet and I’d ditch the hat if it wasn’t essential for heat management. I’d ditch my glasses and my knee brace if I could get away with it.

Obviously getting home without the pack would make life even more absurd. I still had my cell phone with me to take these pictures but without keys, I wasn’t about to get into the car and drive off. A 2013 Ford Escape doesn’t use a key. It requires a fob to be in proximity and it unlocks automatically when you touch the door. Leaving a fob concealed on a car means that anyone who wanted could just drive off. Without the pack, I’d have to hike to a location with cell coverage and call my wife to bring me a spare fob. What a scene that would be!

I’d stashed it out of the way where if someone did happen to come by, they’d never see it. The damned thing is camo-patterned and now all the damned bushes looked all alike. I carefully retraced my steps multiple times. It took 30 seconds to hide it and 15 minutes for me to find it again. This has happened before.

The situation is ridiculous but again, not tragic. I know I’ll find it eventually. Am I getting senile?

Finally, I have all my stuff together and it is time to head back. I get 90% of the way back to the car when I realized my phone wasn’t in the pack. Facepalm. It could be anywhere on the trail from the swimming hole to the campground. That’s miles of trail. Back I go. Same rocks to scramble, same poison oak to limbo around, only much slower. Now I am tired. I found it at the farthest extent of my hike. I’d put it down the second time I went skinny-dipping and just forgot it. The phone itself, a Kyocera Duraforce Pro chosen for its ruggedness, is black but I got smart and put a bright red case on it. I’ve lost stuff in the woods before.

I finally get back to the campground and there’s a car right there. Sometimes people come here after work when the days get longer but they almost never go very far. Staying past sunset was prohibited when they converted this from a campground to a day-use area.

It is now Wednesday evening. Slight pinkness but I’m not feeling any burn. Even though my skin is light and my ancestors are all Northern European, I do not burn easily. (OTOH my wife and daughter burn like matches in the sun.) My knee still feels ok. There’s a bit of a swollen spot on the patella but it doesn’t hurt. My quadriceps are sore. It’s a good kind of sore you get when you’ve just exercised muscles that haven’t been properly used in a while. Hiking up steep hills is hard work that I have become unused to.

I didn’t find any ticks. Pretty good for a spring hike on trails thru brush and grassy grass. I can probably thank the drought for this. Didn’t see a single ‘squito, either.

More importantly, my mood is very greatly elevated. When I was led to think it was an ACL tear I was despondent. Depressed. The sun had gone out on me. Now I can get back to doing the things that set me free.

In the desert you can remember your name cuz there ain’t no one to give you no pain. Appropriate.

Piru Creek in the Winter

Winter is a cool, grey season in southern California. If you want cold and snow you have to head up to the mountains. In March, we are starting to green up a bit. The deciduous trees are starting to bud.

Piru Creek clothesIt’s a warm but cloudy Tuesday. Nobody in the parking area guarantees I won’t meet anyone on the trail. The clothes come off the instant I’m out of sight from the road. If there were cars parked or a tent in the campground I’d have to hike a good mile down and cross the river to be sure to avoid contact. Not that I mind the contact but I can’t be sure the next person down the trail would be as tolerant as my blogging community. 🙂

Black sage, left. White sage, right.

Piru Creek sage brush
California sage brush

Piru Creek yerba santa
Yerba Santa

Along the way, we have the traditional SoCal chaparral. Much of it has a lovely minty scent. There’s Yerba Santa, so named because breathing the steam from an infusion of it in boiling water is used for lung ailments.  California sagebrush (which is not a sage but a sunflower relative) got the nickname “cowboy cologne” because rubbing it all over oneself was a substitute for a bath.  Black sage and white sage, both used in native American ceremonies.

The willows are blooming with catkins. There are California tree frogs and signs of deer. Water striders skate about the calmer parts. Sugarbush is almost in bloom.

The first water crossing is a series of stones to hop across. I’ve got a walking staff from a yucca stave so balance won’t be a problem.

Piru Creek rock hopping

A year ago we had significant flooding. The trail through here is still gone. Where there was once sand with rocks is just rocky now. The brush is piled up here and there where trees created strainers. Some of the brush dams are taller than me. A new trail is barely starting to be established.

Poison oak is also just starting to bud out. The ants go marching. The bright red berries of the toyon are about the only bright color around.

I arrive at a place. It is a favorite skinny dipping hole of mine. The water is so clear this time of year you can see the bottom perfectly. It is deep and cold and inviting. But it leaves me shivering.

Piru Creek swimming hole

This is a place where young people go in the summer to have wild parties. The kind of parties you can’t have in a campground. There are multiple illegal fire rings. But it is neither summer nor a weekend. I might have had to make the next river crossing – or two – for privacy if it were.

Soon it starts to cool off. Evening comes early in the deep canyon. On my way back, I notice the water has risen. Apparently, the dam operators have decided to release more water The tops of my stepping stones are covered. Now I have to wade thru the torrent to go home. At least my clothes won’t get wet.

Happy Naked Hiking Day (Completely suitable for work!)

The summer solstice begins on June 20, 2021 at roughly 11:33 pm Eastern and lasts 24 hours. You could legitimately call either the 20th or 21st Nude Hiking Day. Since the 20th is a Sunday with the potential of weekender hikers on the trail – and since it was still only down to 100 degrees here – I decided to go out on the 21st. Temps should also drop a few degrees between now and tomorrow.

This isn’t about a nude hike. Surprise! (That didn’t happen until the 23rd.) Seriously, some of my hikes aren’t nude.

This is used to be part of Lake Piru. Notice the lack of water. It only gets water from Piru Creek, which depends on the water released from Pyramid Lake. To find water you have to go a mile downstream to the right. At this point, the creek is entirely underground. Welcome to the new reality in Southern California.
Following Piru Creek Road upstream.
This road goes back and forth between National Forest property and that of different ranches it passes through. Not a good choice for freehiking.
This is a cowbird trap. A male and female cowbird are kept in it. This attracts other cowbirds which are not native to the area. Cowbirds are like cuckoos. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds – up to 200 per year! Their chick hatches early. When any other chick hatches, they smother it, and then the parent bird raises it alone. There is food, water and shade provided and it is checked daily.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a bit of trailishness so I follow it. Miles from anywhere, I think I’ve found a homeless camp. I’ve found them before, far from civilization.
These are called the “Wind Caves.” I guess when the wind is just right they make an eerie sound. The largest ones are big enough to sleep 3 or 4 people. There’s a geocache here but I’m too lazy to find it.
These are poison oak seedlings. The larger one has turned red due to dry conditions. Note the 3 leaflets that look vaguely like white oak. The entire plant contains an oil, urushiol, which most people are allergic to. If you touch it, be sure to wash it off with soapy water within a couple of hours. Failing that, use a wet wipe of some sort or use plain water and a natural soap alternative if you can find one. You can also get it from clothing and pet hair that has been exposed and not washed. Antihistamines, calamine, and hydrocortisone are effective treatments if you don’t wash in time.
Back at the parking area. It is also the trailhead for the Pothole Trail, which is another post.

I am finding these posts that are just photos and captions much easier to do.

Piru Creek

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.

Terrain is so rough I’ve never penetrated more than three miles down from the trailhead. I need to do an overnight someday.

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.

Piru Creek Old Road
Old Road is gated a couple of miles before Pyramid Lake dam. Beyond this point, many movies are filmed.

A few miles up the road you pass the Verdugo Oaks Scout Camp. There is 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.

I’d advise a Forest Service Adventure Pass. If you don’t the ticket is only $5, the same price as a day-use pass. Not a big deal. They have since gotten serious about collecting fees, esp. on weekends. The fine is now $99 and if you can later show you had one but just forgot it, the fine is reduced to $59. (Numbers subject to change without notice!)

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. I’ve since picked up a Senior lifetime pass that will get me into National parks as well. It’s a card on a cheesy hanger for your rear view mirror.

Frenchman’s Flat campground. They have since added a permanent outhouse.

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.

Slide Mountain lookout
Slide Mountain lookout, a real lung-pumping hike to get there.

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.

Pyramid Lake Dam
J. Stanley Lloyd
J. Stanley Lloyd was important enough to have his name on a plaque here at what was once a popular campground. Now there is nothing but this, weeds, and a rusted and unused fire pit. Only the rare and very determined angler ever sees it.

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.

Piru Creek 5-14-09 (8).JPG
“Use trail” is a trail that isn’t officially named on any map. It only exists because people use it and there is no trail maintenance.

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.

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.

A hiking group I once went with. When they stopped, I continued on, au naturel. I told them exactly what I was doing. One of them said, “Are you really going to go on naked?”
“Yup! I replied and stepped just out of view. Nobody was bothered but rather they were bemused by the idea. I hiked with them again, many times in the future. Be honest and be upfront about it. If you are not, there is no chance for nudity to ever become more accepted.

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.

Piru Creek 5-14-09 (10)

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.

Piru Creek 5-14-09 (12)
Ribbon of green even in mid-summer.

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.

Piru Creek (39)
One of many deep spots. You cross the river here because there is no longer trail on this side. Look at all that dried scum.

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.

This is a marker left for aerial and satellite surveying. Please don’t mess with it.
Piru Creek 08-29-10 (1) (Custom)
This overly elaborate cairn doesn’t do anything but point downstream

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.

Piru Creek 5-14-09 (19) (Custom)
Party central for local kids. Note the illegal fire ring.

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.

Fine for cooling off feet or maybe even wading but don’t even think about swimming. This water is unsafe to get anywhere near your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, 10 months out of 12.

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.

Rocks along Piru Creek

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.

6Tools (Custom)
Should you really need it and it is safe to do so,  a cheap knife and a ferro rod are all you need for fire. Dried cattail fuzz is a good tinder. This rod has a hunk of magnesium attached. You can scrape off fine Mg powder and spark it. The Mg powder burns insanely hot and is not easily extinguished by rail.
IMG_0146 (Custom).JPG
This is what it looks like in the winter. Not so green, nor so inviting, but at least the water isn’t toxic. A bit chilly to jump into.
Piru Creek 08-29-10 (3) (Custom)
A frog in algea, surrounded by tiny snails.
Sawyer Squeeze water filter, my emergency back up. However, in the worst of the summer, this won’t give you drinkable water. Algal bloom creates chemical toxins that make the water stink and would need a charcoal filter to get rid of it.  If I had to, I’d find a place where the water looked a bit cleaner and dig a hole in the ground and let it slowly filter thru. Then I’d use the sawyer. But I don’t hike here in mid to late summer and I carry 3 or more liters on me so I don’t worry about dayhikes.
I don’t do anything without my SPOT communicator. I was hiking with a group that day so I activated it as soon as I was beyond the group. Anyone who accesses my SPOT page knows where I am within 10 minutes of travel. I can also send back text messages.
Piru Creek map
This is a map of the entire 14 mile trip from Pyramid Lake to Lake Piru. Not a lot of people have done it. I’d like to someday.
Piru Creek Old Road (16)
Sometimes you will find colorful rock formations.
piru creek humming bird 4
Hummingbird and thistle
Piru Creek 08-29-10 (35)
Velvet ant. Is really a wingless wasp. One of the most painful stings in all the insect kingdom. They are all over the place out here. They come in different colors. The grey ones are easy to miss so be careful not to lay on one. The stinger is a quarter-inch long, the entire length of its abdomen.
Piru Creek 5-14-09 (41)
Sawgrass is plentiful.
Piru Creek 5-14-09 (28)
Shield bugs mating
More rocks
Your path zig-zags endlessly back and forth and across the creek.
As you go around each bend, you see yet another canyon beckoning.
Coffeeberry tree.
A butterfly, a honeybee, and a yellow jacket all pollinating the same plant.
There are trout in the water but it is catch and release.
Spanish broom, a lovely, nonnative invasive.
Dragonflies mating.
Plenty of crawdads (aka crayfish, aka freshwater shrimp) in this creek. You will find locals collecting them but they don’t get much beyond a mile in.
Often you are surrounded by hundreds of feet high vertical cliffs.
Piru creek 4-17-13 (9)
It is starting to get a bit narrow here…
Piru Creek Tamarisk (15)
Mud dauber nests
Piru Creek Tamarisk (3)
Horned lizard
Piru Creek Tamarisk (1)
Recent Bear tracks. I eventually saw the bear but not able to get a photo.
There’s a blue bellied lizard
And a grey bellied lizard.
Piru Creek (29) (Custom)
The remains of a turtle.
bee on buckwheat
A bumblebee on buckwheat

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.

The Story of My Blister.

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.

Sawmill Mountain

This is an old post. It was done in the classic editor but the images weren’t showing up correctly so I reformatted it to work with the block editor. For some strange reason, it republished it instead of simply updating it. Oh well. It is a favorite post of mine.

Still pushing that rock up the hill. You need to find a rock and a hill that you enjoy or it gets boring after a while.


Temperature was 61F at 11 am. Elevation start was 8300 ft. then up to 8848, then down to just under 8400 ft. and back up to 8800 ft. Round trip was about 7 miles. Oliver is with me, chomping at the bit for a regular adventure. He’s wearing his harness while I carry food and water for the two of us.

On the uphill, I clip the lead to his harness. He helps me up the steep and rough patches. On the level and downhill, it’s run through the rear of the harness then clipped tho the pincher collar. He won’t pull if he’s wearing that collar and running it to the rear of the harness makes him less prone to tangling himself in it.

I have a lightweight 26 ft retractable lead. When we’re alone he gets the full length to run

Oliver and harness. If we need them, his saddlebags Velcro on.

around and sniff. If I see someone – or something – I call him back and lock the lead at about two feet until we pass whatever.  I’m not worried about him. He is well accustomed to people and other dogs from trips to the dog park. I am concerned about other dogs who are not so well-behaved.

It is yet another reason I like my trails to be empty..

Some people let their dogs run loose on the trail. Some have big dogs on leash they cannot properly control. Some dogs become aggressively protective or aggressively dominant when they see another dog. Socialization is important. If you can’t take the time to socialize your dog and can’t (or won’t) properly control it, I don’t want you on the trail. I have met dogs on the trail that had me reaching for the pepper spray. Never had to use it.

By keeping my dog close to me, the other dog (hopefully) won’t react as much. I can also keep my dog close so I can protect him. I don’t want to catch up after a mauling has started.

pepper spray
Pepper in pink.

I may be old but I am still badder on the trail than any one dog and probably two. The magic of pepper spray and a 4 3/8 inch Swiss Army knife. I will accept whatever damage I may take to protect my dog.

This isn’t anything to be afraid of. It shouldn’t keep you off the trail. An ounce of pepper spray will handle any dog. To me, it is no different than driving defensively. Bad drivers don’t deter me from enjoying the trip. Just a fact of life. When I delivered newspapers in high school I kept a squirt gun with a dilute ammonia solution on hand because of idiots who wouldn’t fence in their dogs. I still delivered papers without worrying about it.

I’m also concerned for people who might be frightened seeing my dog bounding around. You can’t always read an approaching dog’s intent even if you’ve lived with them all your life. And then there are the people who simply fear dogs. Period.

As usual, we start in the large parking lot at the Nordic Center and head up a gated maintenance road. This place is an incredible cross-country skiing resource. Many of the


smaller “trails” aren’t really trails at all. You can follow the blue diamond blazes on skis in the winter and often someone else will have been there before you, so you could follow their tracks.  In the summer, there are just the blazes. Since people don’t hike these routes on foot, there is no foot trail to follow.

When I naked-hike up here, I get out of sight of the main trails and follow the blazes. It seems obvious to me to go there but nobody except a few hunters have any motivation to get off the beaten path. Today I stayed on the beaten path. Other days I do not.

At the higher elevations, broad meadows of rabbitbrush separated by strips of Jeffrey pine.

Most of the elevation gain is in the first mile. Along the way, you wander thru a mixture of tall timber and open space. The timber is Jeffrey fine and some fir while the open areas are dominated by rabbitbrush. The pale yellow flowers are hosting swarms of bumblebees

Along the way, I get distracted and wander off-trail to the south side of the mountain. I get lucky. There is a red-tailed hawk perched atop a pine tree. It is lord of all it surveys, visiting death upon rabbits and snakes and rodents. There may be a nest nearby with chicks demanding to be fed.

At the apex of Mt. Piños, there is a military radio relay station. It has a view of the entire southern San Joaquin valley. A National Guard unit, much like the one I once belonged to, is likely tasked with its maintenance. Today the station is solar-powered. A fence, warning signs, and security cameras are the only protection.

There is a tiny marker at the official top of the mountain and an unofficial logbook in a plastic container you could sign if you wish.

I don’t plan to tarry here too long. I want to get over the hill, down the saddle, and up to the next peak, Sawmill Mountain.

Mt. Piños is rather flat on top with several bumps that provide their own spectacular views. The one at the end of the road is known as a condor viewing area. I suppose that if a condor wandered that way you’d see it but your chances are slim.

Some 30+ years ago I remember driving up here with my wife who was 8 months pregnant with our daughter and driving around various short trails to different outlooks and a small campground. Today those trails are gradually being overgrown but may never disappear completely since people still hike and bike and ride them on horseback. You can still see a bit of pavement remaining in the parking lot by the viewing area.

The Vincent Tumamait Trail begins here and I’m going to follow it to Sawmill Mountain. That is a limber pine behind the display.

At the very top there we come into the realm of the Limber pine. There are relatives of the more famous bristlecone pines of the White Mountains. They are also ancient with some specimens dating back 2,000 years. I can’t say how old our local trees are.

Someday I shall have to time my arrival up here with a launch from Vandenburg AFB. I can look directly to the west from here. Rocket launches can be seen from hundreds of miles away if there are no obstructions and Piños is the highest mountain in the area.

I’m not dead yet!

Now we head down the saddle. Once we drop a couple of hundred feet the Jeffrey takes over and along the way we see many lightning blasted specimens. Typically the crown of the tree is destroyed, so upwards is no longer a growth option. A huge scar is left down one side of the tree where the bolt traveled to the ground. Unlike humans, they continue growth outward and even downward. The bark grows to cover the scar and new wood starts forming. As long as you can still produce seeds, life is good for a tree.

I have seen trees, with every branch burnt off and nothing left but a charred pole, sprout a green coat of needles right from the trunk. Life does not yield easily in the wild, be it a pine tree, the omega wolf in a pack, or a paleolithic human. Simply being alive is its own reward.

Is it possible that depression and anxiety and hatred are the price we pay for civilization? No wild thing could long survive with that witch’s brew in its head.