Wednesday, March 5

Willet Hot Springs & Forgotten Upper Bear Canyon

There has been quite a few adventures into the wild this fourteenth year of two thousand. Most have been spur of the moment fantastic ideas, so good that other plans need to be put on hold, jobs schedules need to be changed & before dawn departures will likely be required.

The first of such tales this year begins much like all the others, 4 hours of sleep & driving before the sun has made an appearance. The car packed tight with gear & eager souls speeding through Ojai & into the Los Padres National Forest. Our goal was to hike east along Sespe Creek until we just felt content, a perfect plan for the outdoors.

Setting out at a decent hour we made the first miles quite easy. It was apparent from the first twenty minutes of the hike this years drought has taken a major toll on the water in the river. On several previous visits to the area multiple creek crossings were always encountered in the first portion, all of which were dry this time.

As we marched along the many twists & turns the river has created over thousands of years, she begins to reveal water along many stretches, full wide & barely moving. All the same, around many parts of the trail, large sections were dry as a bone.

We eventually decided to call Ten Oak Flat our home for the night. If you walk far enough off the main trail into this basin, there is two very old picnic tables & a nice flat spot.

It was only one in the afternoon & we decided to check out Willet Hot Springs, another couple miles down the trail. Although, the sun was beginning to warm up & those who know, know the Sespe is damn hot with no shade in many sections.


Arriving at Willet after a couple miles & one steep half mile spur trail we kicked back & explored the bungalow, this is nine miles from our start at the car. Sulphur was pungent in the air & four nice guys were also enjoying the hot tub. After soaking a bit, we opted to return to camp via the dry creek bed & river embankments instead of the trail. There is really neat geology in the area, wish I knew a bit more about that stuff.

After flavoring up some pretty mediocre water, dinner ensued & some swell conversations drifted off into the night. I slept out in the open, wishing to see the stars put on a show & really just enjoy things we don't do normally at home this day in age. The next day we retraced our steps out along the Sespe Creek with talk of what the next trip would be.

About two weeks went by & we found ourselves driving in a different mountain range setting up a car shuttle to make another backpacking adventure unfold. This time in the Angeles National Forest along Hwy 39, our goal is to check out Upper Bear Camp & exit via Smith Saddle.

After strolling the easy one mile of paved (gated) road, we turned off onto trail where Bear Creek meets the West Fork San Gabriel River. With tons of water already flowing we knew this trip was going to be a blast.

After a bit of walking & a few creek crossings we reached Lower Bear Camp, very idealic for the beginner backpacker, but the trash was pretty bad. Took some, but it really needs a bag & to be packed out.

After some more creek crossings (there are a lot!) & some fantastic old cabin ruins the trail becomes noticeably less traveled. A few large bends in the canyon produce towering vertical cliffs over a hundred feet at times. Lunch was consumed & we walked on another couple miles. Here is where the trail is apparent at times & much less at others. Just keep going up stream & things are good.

We came to a single old camp/rock fire pit on the eastern side of the stream, headed a bit further up the trail & found Upper Bear Camp with a rock pit above & another below. This was really tucked into the canyon. Quite small & nice under some trees. In the summer months this would be an oasis after sweating to get there.

The usually relaxing, filtering water, making dinner & chatting took course. Vegan marshmellows & dark chocolate tinged with orange was the winner.  It was a beautiful dark moon-less night, there was deer activity within ten feet of our camp while we ate dinner & didn't know until we saw the evidence on the ground that hadn't been there ten minutes prior.

The next morning we found the switchbacks that rise out of Bear Creek to make an exit out of the drainage. This first section was really a fun portion, a few eroded sections, but fantastic views towards Triplet Rocks & Mt Waterman area. The climb to Smith Saddle will really get your legs pumping at times, but grows more forested as you climb.

At the saddle views stretch forever into two great confluences. Smith Mountain just above. This was our last rest before reaching the car down below on Hwy 39. The trail from the saddle down to the hwy takes forever, it ducks in & out of canyons & looses/gains elevation sooooo slowly. Arriving at Congregation Ale House, conveniently right at the bottom of the San Gabriels, just in time to watch the kick off for the Super Bowl.

1 comment:

Halman Freud said...

What an adventure. A friend of maine did the same and he sent me the pictures through whatsapp. I don't have a smartphone but I use whatsapp for pc.