Leaving the trail head at sunrise on a day that would touch in the mid 90's was the best we could do to cover the 8 miles of open land before anything that resembled shade would come available. Cruising on the upper rolling hills of Los Padres National Forest the terrain was mellow with loads of plants slowly creeping onto the trail. We passed a few Scouts hiking out & two other ultralight hikers that had come from Piedra Blanca trail head. Nice work.
After several sunny hours passing fantastically shaped sandstone rock formations, we grew closer to a huge cut in the mountains. Losing altitude switchback after switchback all four of us grew anxious for the shade & water the creek held below.
Resting up at an old trail camp, complete with broken down NPS ice can stove, we all looked forward to jumping off trail soon. Fast forward an hour of pretty standard SoCal chaparral canyon walking, we came to a definitive bend in the trail & canyon we were following. Thus the fun begins...
A narrow gateway of massive boulders & towering cliffs was our entrance to what would be roughly the next two days of travel. Weaving side to side, rock shelf to the next, we finally emerged out into a wide stream bed with all that cacophony behind us.
The terrible heat of the day never really caught up to us, a strong breeze blew upstream that carried the cool surface of the water almost to your face. Everyone sort of chose their own best path forward now. After about a mile our major tributary creek merged with the longest continuously flowing river in Southern California.
Now we were traveling down a much wider & deeper canyon, mountains all around guarded any exit. After many twists in the fractured canyon walls, miles of boulder strew riverbed we pulled up camp on a small sandy beach near the river. The usual frisbee, lounge, beer, nap & stories ensued till the stars took over our attention that night. Especially dazzling with little too no moon that eve.
The next morning coffee was brewing around 6am & things were getting packed away in the dry bags. We shouldered our living essentials & set off in the same direction, down canyon. Within minutes we came to the first bend in the river that took up the entire floor of the canyon. Slowly wading through the early morning still waters deep in this wild place was the thrill of a lifetime.
Moving into much more rugged & rocky sections of the gorge navigation became consistently full on climbing moves. Smooth sandstone pathways would emerge, leading to another connecting set of boulders & more scrambling. Perfectly untouched in the morning calm, our reflections passed swiftly down canyon.
Every twenty minutes a turn in the canyon would reveal huge cuts in the cliff of stacked layed rock. Geology like no other canyon I had seen up close. Other portions of the LPNF had these type of mountains/formations, but nothing I had walked right up to & touched.
Moving further down the canyon we encountered larger & larger boulders that had at one time fallen from the sheer cliffs above. Pulling up to stop on a prominent flat rock, we snacked & sat in total awe of the place our feet had brought us too. Spires of sandstone just out of reach overlooked pools of pure flowing water. Morning light still sinking into deep corners of the canyon.
Preparing our things for another dip in the water. We have come to a full on swim with our gear. Tiddying up our stuff, Sam plunges in with his cuben/dyneema pack, waterproof no problem. Three of us follow suit with our various versions of keeping our things dry, I used a 50L cheap silnylon dry sack. The sandstone spires are looming directly overhead now. I float slowly on my back in the water between the narrow canyon walls, everything is right in the world.
Still hours of rock hopping are in front of us & a few more chances to dip into the water. The record high rainfall has really done a wonder from the whole river. Large sections are waist deep or more & are a welcome temperature from the outside heat.
During the early afternoon, we reached the largest obstructing pool yet that embodied the whole canyon floor. Some sediment remaining allowed for semi-dry travel to a point. Another swim was in order. Everything was so perfect out, it felt great to jump in. It would be easy to spend several days relaxing along the river anywhere in this lower portion.
Still more hours of gorgeous off trail travel ensued, in the water, on the rocks, climbing the sandstone & bushwhacking river banks. The boulders somehow became larger than anything previous in the trip, taking on all shapes & textures. This place was putting on a real show for us. The path in the river had become a mix of take the plunge OR climb some serious small house sized rocks.
After navigating some of the more difficult moments around the large rock arrays, we sat exhausted high on a sandy plateau. Positioning ourselves best to take advantage of the minimal shade in the afternoon heat. All agreeing that 4pm would be our "pack up" time.
One last full body dunk in the river & filter loads of water for the hot exit out of the canyon were the last tasks before setting out into the unknown. We started & lost what we could only know was the trail because our GPS told us so. Obliterated & non-existent come to mind when thinking of this "trail". After loosing our way for a bit less than two hours, we all had a new definition of what bushwhacking meant. Keep thinking Type 2 fun.
Still miles from the car we thankfully re-locate the game trail. Now only a few hundred feet above the river, even with the aggressive effort we just put in. Nevertheless, several hours of busting through walls of vegetation uphill commence. Swearing, silent cursing, visual consternation are all found here. A couple well needed rest breaks later up the cliff side bring us to the upper rolling plateau that we were familiar with. The inkling of night had begun to take over when the circuitous path dropped us at our car a bit before 9pm that Sunday eve.