It's funny how after a five day camping trip it only took one off day to draw me back into the woods. I had been eyeing an area of the Gabriels every single time I drove out of the mountains, but had not yet explored. From the highway it looked like some far reaching canyons away from the normal front county trails.
| Stunning trail section cut above Bear Canyon River |
Beyond the need to explore mountain solitude I had some serious gear testing to do & needed to scout a trail camp for further adventures. Thanks to my great girlfriend Georgette for blessing me with a new Camelbak medium day hiking pack. Filled the pack with just under 20lbs to really test it out.
Starting from Switzer Picnic area my goal was Bear Canyon Trail Camp, some 8 miles round trip from the car & back. This was my first time down the popular Switzer Falls trail seeing several people enjoying mid week.
| Rock formations above Bear Canyon |
The hike eventually crosses high onto the west slope to avoid down-climbing the waterfall. After a fun narrow sky high trail, one drops back to the water with a junction. Most travels head left to the waterfall up canyon, I was off the the right, down the canyon further.
Now passing several large natural pools, great for swimming in the hot afternoon sun. Some pools even chest deep & large as your bedroom. On further down the trail I passed an interesting natural wonder, or in my opinion at least. The whole hike had followed the river downhill, then all of a sudden the water was running the opposite direction of the trail.
| Small Bear Canyon Fall |
Logically this meant I had reached my half way point where Bear Canyon reaches the Arroyo Seco I had been following. A deep swath had been cut where the two rivers turned into one. Learning from past experiences, I have been trying to hike smarter, not harder. This trip I had been filtering water along my hike so as to not carry too much weight. Just fill up in the river when the CamelBak runs out.
| Becoming more remote |
Within the first five minutes of being in Bear Canyon the trail conditions were less traveled, less maintained & all the perfect surrounds I had been looking for.
| More stunning trail cut on the left in Bear Canyon |
The walls of the canyon began to narrow and grow taller on all sides as I winded around the cuts the river had built over the years. There seemed to be only one other footprint repeating on the trail, I was slowly gaining the solitude I was working so hard for.
| Believe it or not, the right side of the pic qualifies as trail in Bear Canyon |
Water was cold & looked much cleaner coming down this river, mostly due to its source in such a lightly traveled area. Dropping in small waterfalls all throughout the canyon, breaking the silence of my soft tread.
| Narrow bend in Bear Canyon |
The two miles of trail that it takes from the river junction to Bear Canyon Camp are a serious rock hop, ridge line walk & ten plus river crossings (all on rocks). Someone has nicely flagged certain areas were the trail hits the river bed & then picks the trail back up some 30 feet down the river with an orange plastic flag. I built a few rock cairns where markers could have been used, but with a little patience each time you think the trail is lost, it will only take seconds of scanning to reveal the route.
| Beautiful rock walls along Bear Canyon |
At an elbow in the river coming from Switzer, the Bear Canyon Trail Camp sign is very visible. I had no problem seeing the camp & singing praises of the beauty and challenge that was the last two miles. If a group was coming from Tom Sloane Saddle, the sign would be a bit hard to see on your left.
To my surprise, the camp was beautifully maintained, shaded all throughout within 25ft of the river for water to filter. There appeared to be three sites, all with picnic tables, however, two of the sites were equipped with firepits and logs for seats. The third site seemed to just have a table. Each pit even had a metal shovel head to assist in maintaining the pit.
After a fun magazine article about climbing in Patagonia over a sandwich, it was time to slowly press on, back the same direction I came. Just a hint, you will know you are getting closer to the camp when the trail rises above the creek for a while, then drops down & hits a short stretch of knee high grass (dead on my hike).
The hike down Bear Canyon was much easier that coming up the canyon, leading me to wonder if this would be the best way to come to the camp in the future. Cursory searches seem to reveal that Tom Sloane Saddle is a bit tricky to reach, but could happen. Then thru hike to Switzer, with a night at Bear Canyon Camp and a swim the next after noon in the natural pools halfway to the car on day two.