Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DAY 223 & 224: Willet Hot Springs & The Secret of Jungle George

Cabin on the Eastern Side of Willet Camp

DAY 223 & 224: Willet Hot Springs & The Secret of Jungle George
DateSaturday & Sunday June 25 - 26, 2011
Miles: **20
Elevation Gain **2000 Feet
Time10 hours
Difficulty: Don't fool yourself thinking that this is going to be an easy level hike.  Little shade, lots of sun and HOT!  Leave your dogs at home, this is too much and not fair for them.  The trail is easy enough for young children but I wouldn't recommend taking them the entire way.  There are several water pools along the way that would be more appropriate for kids.
Reward: The Hot Springs, when it's 90 degrees?  How about the warm Sespe; cool off!
Description: Follow the Sespe River Trail to Willet Hot Springs.  9 total creek crossings but if you are going late in the dry season, you should be able to hop across without getting wet.  The trail is easy to follow, until the final half mile.
History: This trail was once known as Sespe River Road.  Before the rains washed the road out in the 1970's, 4 by 4 vehicles could drive the 15 mile road past Willet all the way to the Sespe Hot Springs.  The road then continued several more miles to what's now known as the Condor Sanctuary.  In the 19th century, this area was mined for gold.  In the early 20th century, oil drillers explored for sludge.  It wasn't until 1992 when the United States Congress designated over 200,000 acres as the "Sespe Wilderness".  The Sespe Creek begins at Potrero Seco in the Sierra Madre Mountains at some 5000 feet.  The small stream gradually becomes a larger creek and flows 61 miles, 10.5 of which is protected as a National Scenic Water way.  The Sespe is one of the last untouched wild rivers in Southern California.  After receiving waters from thirty tributaries along it's course, the Sespe eventually merges into the Santa Clara River in Fillmore at approximately 400 feet of elevation.  The Santa Clara then dribbles slowly and spills out into the Pacific Ocean between Ventura and Oxnard.  This hike will start you at about 3000 feet and like a slow roller coaster you will end up at 2500 feet.
Where: Ojai, CA
Directions: From the 101 Freeway in Ventura, take the 33 North toward Ojai.  The freeway will reduce to a two-lane road, keep going.  (Shortcut) At the junction with the 150 (Baldwin Road) turn left.  500 feet up, turn right on La Luna.  Take La Luna all the way to the end, a couple of miles.  This ends at the 33, turn left on the main highway leading into the mountains.  Careful driving on the 33; sharp windy turns.  Go thru 2 tunnels and after you reach 3000 feet in elevation, look for Rose Valley.  Total drive to Rose Valley Rd from Victoria in Ventura is about 30 miles (45 minutes).  Turn right on Rose Valley and stay straight on this all the way to the end ~5 miles.  The final cut off will lead you down and to the left.  Park in the large parking lot, there are usually a lot of cars and horses.
**This mileage includes a bit of nonsense wandering but does not include the remaining stretch to the Hot Springs.  You'll want to add an additional 1.2 miles and +500 feet (round trip) to reach the tub.  

This was my first overnight camping trip since beginning the 1000 day mission.  Chris, Nick and Adam along with my son Ayden and I ventured out to the Willet Hot Springs.  I've gone camping with these guys many times in the past and this expedition should be one of our easiest efforts; unless of course I find a way to mess that up :)...

The Piedra Blanca Trailhead (Chris & Ayden)

 1st of 5 small creek crossings

 After the last creek crossing you'll reach a T-Junction.  Turn right

2 miles in: Welcome to the Sespe Wilderness!

Unmarked Camping area
Slow, long hill down meeting up with the Sespe

Unmarked Swimming/Camping area

On a real hot day, this area is very inviting.  There will not be any shade again until you reach Bear Creek Camp (about 2 miles further up).  Chances are you will be hiking out of Rose Valley in the morning before it get's too hot.  Additionally, from the trailhead you will be slowly heading downhill so you probably won't be that tired.  We didn't stop here; we trucked forward!  However, on the way back it's grueling and most people will want to take advantage of any shade and water break.

Bear Creek Camp

This is where people seem to gather.  You're only about 4 miles into the journey but the lightly graded uphill trail raising above the creek and then back down may question your body's integrity.  The direct exposure to the sunlight and hot temperatures will drain the you.  If you are carrying a heavy overnight bag, forget about it!  Nick, Chris and Adam made it to this spot 20 minutes before Ayden and I.  By the time we got there, they had already taken a quick dip.  Ayden and I took the opportunity to bypass the swimming holes in effort to beat these long lean hiking machines to Willet...

Swimming at Bear Creek
First Real Creek Crossing

Just around the corner from Bear Creek Camp is a river crossing.  I recalled that the forest ranger said that the big creek would be knee deep and it would take 4 crossings before reaching Willet.  Ayden and I unstrapped our shoes and with my sandals on, I marched to my thighs across the water.  This did feel refreshing!  As I was lacing up my shoes on the other side, the rest of the guys caught back up and found an easier way to walk across the rocks.  They didn't even get their feet wet!  Lol, the Ranger's report must have been from the rainy season...

Kerr Spring

You will hike above the south side of the creek for less than a mile.  Kerr Spring is known as the halfway point to Willet.  Water is running like a faucet out of the hill.  This picture was taken on our way back.  Adam (in all grey) is waiting in line to refill his camel pack.  By now, Nick and Chris were already back at the car.  They completed the 10 mile march in 3.5 hours!  Very impressive with the Heavy Pack!  **Moving forward from here to Willet will become more difficult.  Shortly after Kerr Spring you will need to cross back to the north side of the creek.  From Bear Creek, the hike is 2.6 miles to Oak Flat and then another 1.6 miles to the Lady Bug Junction.  Basically, the next 3.5 miles from Kerr Spring is torture!  There is no shade and you will hike up and down along the ridge four more times before reaching the junction.  In the hot sun, these hills accumulate around 500 feet of total elevation.  It doesn't sound like much, but you try telling that to a seven-year-old!

Fire Damage

Looking Back, rising back up over the creek; again...

The mountains above are lifting higher and higher

Oak Flat ahead...

Hines Peak (I think) above at 6716 Feet

Ladybug Junction Ahead...

Ladybug/Hines Peak Junction

Nick had been waiting for awhile and said, "We camp here!"

Ayden is happy to rest with his feet in the water

Adam and Nick say, really?...

About seven years ago I planned a solo mission with my then 5-year-old dalmatian named Domino.  At that time, the lower road to Lion Camp was closed so I parked my car above the hill between the Piedra Blanca Trailhead and the Middle Lion Trailhead.  After trekking a half mile up pavement, I reached the Lion Canyon Trail and began climbing.  My bag must have weighed near 70 pounds!  I was inexperienced but felt ready to take on the 3-day/2-night loop expedition.  I was hoping to reach Ladybug the first night but after hiking up to an elevation of 5500 feet, I was completely exhausted!  The six-mile journey was an awesome adventure.  I remember lifting up from one side of the mountain into the clouds to the top of the ridge and then splitting the mountain on a very narrow trail.  I set up camp at where the Sisar Canyon Trail from Upper Ojai meets Nordoff Ridge Road.  It was a lonely night; I was missing my baby boy and wife (then girlfriend).  The lights and the life of Ojai were nearly 5000 feet below.  When I woke up the next morning the skies above were perfectly blue but the city below was hidden beneath a thick layer of clouds.  I was told that it had rained all night at the city level and somehow I dodged it.

The next morning I began to hike toward Ladybug.  The wide road became the narrower Red Reef Trail.  At three miles in I was expecting to pass the Last Chance Trail.  I saw signs pointing to Ladybug but I never did find the Last Chance Junction.  About a year ago I tried climbing to Last Chance Camp from the Santa Paula Punch Bowls but our group could not reach it.  We hiked through poison oak and hiked past Jackson Falls, further than most.  

Reaching elevations of just over 6000 feet, Hines Peak stood above on my right and then I began to lower to the shaded forest.  2.3 miles from the Santa Paula Canyon I reached Ladybug, elevation 4000 feet.  I'm actually glad that I did not camp here alone; it was creepy!  The trail gradually continued lower through Red Rock Canyon.  Parts of the trail were nearly completely wiped out, but 5.1 miles later I made it to the Sespe Creek.  This was a river and I could not find any decent way to cross.  Offering hope, I saw people on the other side hiking the Sespe River Trail.  This was my first sign of human life since I began this voyage.  I crossed the thigh deep river and began to take the final stride to Willet.

..."Really", Nick, Adam and Chris had their mind made up that we were camping here.  However, I wanted to reach the Willet Hot Springs.  Yes, this area was a beautiful place to camp, but 7 years ago I fell just short of reaching the hot springs.  Just 1.1 miles from this junction is Willet Camp.  Then, I hiked to the camp, set up my tent in front of a cabin and then could not move.  I hiked nearly 12 miles that day, almost 20 total miles and my feet were gone.  Domino was toast.  I saw the California Conservation Corp (CCC) hiking up to the hot springs but I could not muster the strength to join them.  Later that day they came back down and they told me that this drunken guy came out on horse and fell asleep with his head down in the hot tub.  His beard was keeping him afloat but he was snoring like a frog.  The young men drained the tub as a joke but also for safety because they didn't want the guy to drown.  They ran off and continued repairing the trail.  Earlier that year we experienced torrential downpours.  It was one of the rainiest seasons in decades.  The CCC did a nice job and the to this day, the Sespe River Trail from Rose Valley to Willet is easily passable.

It came down to the flip of a coin.  Do we camp here or do we hike another 1.1 miles to the Willet base and then 0.6 miles to the Hot Springs...
(Heads: We Hike) +150 feet or more from the Ladybug Trailhead

Almost There!

This trail will meet again at the Sespe Creek.  In the picture above, just as the creek turns to the right you will notice two lower ridge lines angling up and to the left.  The lower sandy colored line in the mountain is the trail leading to the Hot Springs.  

The trail that you are on will bypass several small camps with fire circles.  There is a trail sign that points to the right to cross the creek, but Adam missed it and I was following him.  Nick and Chris were already much further ahead, out of sight...


We forced our way into the creek because the wooded area on the left side of the creek was too much to handle.  We hiked a ways up, saw nothing and then hiked back.  Finally, we heard Chris and Nick and went forward again.  To say the least, they were not happy about where we were...

Camp Willet (Beyond the Hot Springs Trail)

Looking East, 5 miles further is the Sespe Hot Springs...

Rock Formation (Willet Hot Springs Trail rises above here)

**If you find yourself at the cabins then you went too far.  Hike back on the north side of the creek until you reach the rock formation in the picture above.  Look to the right and you will see the single track trail leading up to the Hot Springs.  The cabins are not the ideal place to have a camp because you are away from the creek.  There is a working water faucet, but I wouldn't trust it.  The cabins may be a nice place to stay in the winter time to help stay warm.  Although I didn't explore them too thoroughly, I'm told that one of the cabins has a wood burning fireplace.  I imagine hiking up here in the winter you can leave the tent behind, enjoy the Hot Springs and sleep cozy at night...

Our Camp

About a quater mile from the Hot Springs Trail we made camp.  This spot was ideal.  We were overlooking the creek and there was plenty of firewood and a firepit.  Now that camp is set, lets play in the water:

 Chris and Nick; Paradise!

New Species? (Jacobus Retilium)
A Frog

A Water Snake
A Mirror Sunset
Beyond the creek, the ridge trail to the Hot Springs rises above the trees
The Secret of Jungle George:
Jungle George discovered the Fountain of Youth at the Willet Hot Springs.  He believes that if he soaks/camps for 30 consecutive days, his life will be extended by one-year!  Saturday June 25th marked 23 straight days.  Although I did not meet Jungle George, other hikers explained that he was very excited to share his mind and hot tub.  As more groups of people ventured up to the source in the early darkness, Jungle George offered his voice to help guide them.  He bared it all while soaking in the hot sulfuric water with random hikers.

There must have been at least 20 hikers that passed us en route to the springs.  Many of these groups camped back at Oak Flat or the junction.  It made sense to camp there and then take the easy hike without the pack.  I bet if we did camp at the junction, we would have wandered the 1.7 miles to the top (3.4 miles round trip).  I would recommend this to anyone who desires to take this endeavor.  Oak Flat is too far out so the junction island site would be perfect! 

Beyond all this, darkness was upon us.  My little 7-year-old was still eager to reach the springs.  We were all hot, and soaking in the cool creek waters was more than refreshing.  Quite honestly, I was tired.  Eating dinner and sleeping early seemed like the right thing to do.  By 9:00, we were all passed out.  The camp next to us was blaring music all night.  However, I barely heard it because the sound traveled down the creek and my tent was close to the hillside which deadened the sound...

Good Morning (Ayden tending to the fire, Adam waking up)

Ayden going #2 with a bug net on

Chris and Nick darted out like lightning.  This happens every camp outing.  They are eager to reach camp and then they rush double time to the car.  I work with Chris and see him occasionally but I probably won't see Nick again for months.  The picture above represents Ayden's second #2 of the trip.  He did this just outside Bear Creek (halfway back).  Of course, that was the easier half.  Although there are many up and downs between Bear Creek and Willet, the section Between Bear Creek and the Piedra Blanca Trailhead will gradually increase you an additional +500 feet.  This is a long, hot torment.
Piedra Blanca (White Rock) in the distance
Getting Closer!
On the way back, Ayden and I fought through the hot sun.  It wasn't easy and he was complaining.  Finding a rock to sit on in shade was rare, but we found one.  We witnessed a group pass us and one guy puked a clear liquid in full stride.  He continued vomiting/walking until his friends stopped to help him.  It just proves that you need to be prepared and should not take this or any hike too lightly.  The conditions are extreme and you cannot expect to hike 10 miles to the Hot Springs, party all night by drinking or doing whatever, and then hike back like you are the breeze.  This guy is probably a smoker and was in way over his head.  This was probably the worst day of his life!  He could have died!!!  Heat Stroke...  He probably refilled water at the Kern Springs and didn't think to bring Iodine.  He'll probably suffer from Giardia later... 

Many years ago my wife and I were at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead with our dogs.  The idea was to take a short dayhike.  Two steps in, our dogs were looking for shade because their paws were burnt.  We turned around and said, "forget about it!"  That same day, three kids hit the trailhead at the same time that we were leaving.  They asked me if this was the way to the Sespe Hot Springs.  I looked at them awkwardly and said, "Yes".  They said, cool.  Their plan was to hike all the way there and all the way back in the same day.  They were holding 1 water bottle of water for three people.  I advised them that the round trip would be over 30 miles and it was impossible.  I told them to turn around and go home now.  They were like, no, they can do it!  Huh???  Oh right, when you are 17 you are invincible.  I remember feeling that way until my mid 20's and then realized that I really didn't know anything.  I wonder how far they got that day?  I can guarantee this, they did not get past Bear Creek.  They were leaving at 5:30 at night!  Yo- Ridiculous....

Nearly back to the car; wouldn't this be an easier way to travel?
Ayden found a butterfly

So that's it!!!  You'd think Ayden was completely wiped out but when we got home, he was jumping around on the trampoline!  He then told me that this hike was too easy and he wanted to attempt a harder challenge.  Sure, well let me tell you, along the way he could not stop complaining about being tired.  I suppose the end of the trail did drag on, kind of boring, hence the reason why I hiked it as a 3-day loop adventure many years ago.

Unbelievable, same result.  I still have not made it up to the Willet Hot Springs!!  Hmm, I am going to plan a 4-day adventure thru the Sespe and I will do this as a solo shot.  No Dogs, No Kids, No one telling me I can't.  I will.  Until then, my feet are on fire from walking in water and then blistering for miles.  Happy Birthday Mom; your birthday was on the 26th (Sunday).  Your son and grandson survived the overnight, and now the adventure begins...


  1. Quite an adventure, over a lot of different scenery. And a snake, of course!

    I suspect your bug is probably some variety of stone fly. Fish food. :D

    Glad you and the kid had a good time.

  2. Good post i am here to be a partner of your hiking if you fade up from hiking i will relax you buy my body and love i want to do just two things fucking in jungle love in jungle, my shaved pussy and milky boobs is waiting for you.Click To Aware




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