Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 418: Piedra Blanca & Pine Mountain Lodge (for Domino)

Day #418 * Hike #471 * New Track # 434
Friday January 6, 2012
Piedra Blanca & Pine Mountain Lodge

Gene Marshall Piedra Blanca Recreational Tail
A Hike for Domino
My Tripometer: 7 Hours * 12.5 Miles * +4250 Feet

 Piedra Blanca & Pine Mountain

Take the 33 Freeway out of Ventura toward Ojai.  Keep going North past Ojai (take the La Luna short cut if you know it).  Take the 33 through two tunnels and up above 3000 feet.  If you've never driven this route, once you do you will agree it is the most scenic drive in Southern California.  Turn right on Rosevalley Road and drive all the way past the Gun Club.  When you reach a T-Junction, where I took the above picture, turn left and do down the hill to the trailhead parking lot.  --When I hiked a 30+miler, 2-night loop over Hines Peak, this final road to the lower parking was closed (I haven't seen it closed since).  I did that trip with Domino about 8 years ago.

I dedicated this hike today for Domino.  A few years back, after I retired Domino from the "Long Hike", I attempted Piedra Blanca to Pine Mountain Lodge.  This was my first ever hike alone, without my faithful companion.  Then, I found myself lost (mentally) as I heard Domi panting with my heartbeat.  From what I remembered, it was a real hot day and I began running short on water.  The mountain climb was unforgiving and it will creep up on you before you realize.   Today, I took the day off work and was determined to complete the mission.  I weighed in at about 224, some 30 pounds more than I was 8 years ago.  I invited my son to play hookie from school but he opted out.  Probably a good idea because although I think the little sport can out hike me, I doubt that his will would have allowed him to complete this.  Moreover, I don't think I could have stood all of his talking.  Every trip he goes on, he's a nonstop motormouth of ridiculous questions.  Instead, Sammi joined me for the adventure...

 1st of three initial creek crossings

The trail begins at about 3000 feet and then drops about 100 feet or so.  There hasn't been much weather therefore the creeks were easy to cross.  The first half of this track overlaps the overnight trip from:  Day 223 & 224 Willet Hot Springs

After the third crossing the trail comes to a T-Junction.  There is a sign board there, but no sign.  You will want to turn left to hike towards Piedra Blanca, which means White Rock.

 Turn right at this sign

You'll climb up and over the white rock.  The dirt trail will turn into white sand and then you'll need to find your way on the rock itself.  The trail makes sense and you shouldn't have a problem getting lost, although if it's your first time, you may second guess yourself for a moment.

I recommend this short journey to everyone, kids of all ages and pets.  The fascinating formation is well worth the visit.  If you have a half day or more, proceed...

 The Hike Begins!

After hiking over the white rock you have to lower once again to meet the creek.  This was a bit discouraging because basically you are now starting at a lower elevation and there is still a mountain to climb...

 Follow the creek...

...or if you're Sammi, run down the hill into the creek.  For nearly an hour after Piedra Blanca, you will hear the running water but you never quite meet it.  I guess Sammi had enough because she had to take a dip.

 Piedra Blanca Campsite

This is located about 2.5 miles from the parking lot.  The elevation gain isn't much making this area an attractive spot for camping.  Although the area was empty today, on the weekends I imagine that it will pack up.  I only saw one other small group on the trail today and they were camping about 10 minutes before this site.  I guess like Sammi, they could not wait or thought they reached the legit spot.

 Many cool water pools to explore but no crossing required

 Junction for Twin Forks Camp

This is only about a 5 minute trek from Piedra Blanca.  The actual camp is across the stream to the right,  I didn't check it out today.  Moving forward, the real hike begins.  From here, the elevation is about 3500 feet and the climb will take you over 6000 feet.  If you are slightly tired, probably not a good idea to keep going.  But, if you do, you will cross the creek three times (easy crossings) and go up and down again before you see for yourself what needs to be done:

 Prepare to Climb!

 Looking back after an hour of pushing forward

This is a slow gradual climb.  The distance from Twin Forks to Pine Mountain Lodge is 3.1 miles.  Although there are no switchbacks, the mountain slowly picks you a part.  Without any water crossings and exposed to the open sun, the elements could really wear you down.  Fortunately, the temperature was only in the 60's; Perfect!  Well, tell that to Sammi.  After awhile, as usual, she will pick shady spots and rest.  This is usually no big deal unless she does this:

 Sammi falls over the edge!!!

I didn't see it happen because she's always ahead of me until I catch up.  The first thing I though of was, losing two dogs in the same week, this can't be happening.  She was probably looking for shade and slipped.  If it wasn't for the avalanche that she created, I would never have known to poke my head through the bushes to see her.  I had the camera out anyway, snapped a shot and then quickly put it away.  I didn't think it was possible for her to come back this way but it appeared there was an opening above that she could get to.  She saw me and started moving, and sliding and struggling.  For a moment, she was performing a four foot moonwalk going backwards and nearly upside down.  Finally, I told her to stay.  I ran above and could not discover an opening.  I quickly rushed back to make sure she was ok and she was in the same predicament.  I told her to wait again.  I went back up and intended to force my way through the brush.  Just as I was going to do that, Sammi came running up the trail; thank god!!!

We were clearly out of the lower portion now and there were a couple of switchbacks here.  The elevation gain was increasing exponentially.  Every step I was taking I was in fear that one of six spots on my legs were going to charlie horse.  I seriously thought about going back, but then I came upon a stick.  I began using it as a walking stick and kept going.  At this point, I hadn't even stopped once; just trucking through it all and pushed past Sammi's close call like nothing happened.  Why sit down and reflect on that?

 Sammi completely exhausted

She probably expected me to stop, but no way.  My quads were trembling but between a second walking stick and stretching as I slowly stepped, I avoided the cramp.  Eventually, I found a fair spot to rest.  Sammi had one bottle of water and after three minutes of chill, it was step it up one more time for a final accent.  Then, magically I found an amazing walking stick.  No blisters, completely smooth, light in weight, strong and durable.  It was there for me to see.  Likely someone left it behind, or maybe God intended it for me?  It helped with the final few hundred feet to the upper pine forest.

 6000 Feet

 Sammi Chills in a leftover snow drift

I can't remember the last time we had rain (snow for the higher elevations).  It's been 80 degrees in Ventura all week, 90's in Ojai and probably mid to upper 70's here.  Despite the hot days, some snow remained.  I suppose I thought that the camp would be right in front of me once we leveled out, but this was not the case.  It wasn't that much further though...

 No mention of Pine Mountain Lodge?

Did I pass it?  From looking at the map, I knew that there would be a junction to the right to reach the Fish Bowls.  Thus, I looked right.  I climbed up and over and saw nothing.  I then went back to the trail and began hiking toward 3 Mile Camp.  This is the camp that should be between Pine Mountain Lodge and Haddock (where I saw a Mountain Lion).  Of course that was years ago and I hiked in from Pine Mountain.  That coincidentally was the first and last time I camped out in the woods alone without a Domino or friends.  Just as before, there were no people around and I feared that Sammi would be prime mountain lion meat. 

I hiked about a minute down the trail.  At first there was a hopeful sign, a man made arrow but then nothing.  The melted snow created a small creek, which Sammi relished in.  All of a sudden, I felt like I was hiking to 3 Mile so I turned back.  I did not intend to go that far and if I wanted to be home by dark, it would be impossible to go there and come back.  :(  I turned around, but back at the sign, I looked down and saw:

 But which way?

I can't believe I missed that before!  I turned around again and began hiking toward 3 Mile.  I retraced my steps and then went about 20 seconds further (100 seconds total from the sign).

 Turn right and over the creek for Pine Mountain Lodge

 After all these years, I finally made it!

 The Camp; several fire pits

I thought I read somewhere once that there used to be a cabin up here.  Back in the day, miners looking for the mother load would travel on horse back and this spot made for a good resting point.  The, about six years ago I was picking up donations for Crimestoppers and somehow the Los Padres hiking stories came up.  He invited me in his house and he showed me an old black and white photo on the wall from over sixty years ago.  He was at this same spot.  From what I remember him telling me, he didn't recall the cabin but maybe it burnt down before his time; which didn't seem likely because he was surely over 80 years old.  I wonder if he is still alive?  I can't remember we he lived or all the stories he told me.  He told me about this guy named Mr. Reyes that owned all this land back in the day and he was forced to sell.  I guess the named a peak, trail, creek and many other points of interest after him.

 Just 4 miles to Fishbowls

The easier way to achieve Pine Mountain Lodge would be from Fishbowls, (the back side of Ventura County off Lockwood Valley Road).  Essentially, you drive up the mountain and gain access to the real back country that way.  Beside this adding an hour to your drive, those mountain roads are usually closed in the late fall, winter and early spring months.  According to the map, if you park at the Cedar Creek Trail Head, the journey would take you 6.3 miles to reach this camp.  Although the mileage is quite similar from what I just did, you will be spared most of the elevation.  Then, you can loop back a longer way to hit Fishbowls.  This hike is on my to do list and maybe I'll mix up 3 Mile on that journey.


I figured to make it a legit experience.  Although I wasn't too hungry, Sammi really appreciate the sausage.  Of course, she would have eaten them cold but building a fire seemed like the thing to do.  As usual, I didn't waste much time.  I sat for no more than 5 minutes and after about 30 minutes total in camp, it was time to rush back.

Down, down, down we go...

 Back side of the Piedra Blanca

 DOMI: White Sand and my Walking Stick

 Rest in Peace baby...

Domino, may this walking stuck help guide you to where you'll find peace.  I dipped it in the high elevation waters on the Piedra Blanca trail.  Let this magical source of energy keep us connected forever and beyond.  I love you, I will always miss you and I hope for your eternal happiness and peace...

Quick Rewind:
 Day 416: Arroyo Verde

 The islands at sunset from Arroyo Verde

Ayden's friend Chris came with us and Sammi on Wednesday.  My wife picked us up at the bottom, thus cutting the hike down to 1.75 miles +125 Feet.  On Thursday I took the more normal route of over 3.5 miles +400 feet.


  1. Great write-up! I did this hike a week ago. That last mile was a KILLER! So much UP! I had trouble at the top locating exactly where Pine Mountain Lodge would be/was and didn't even see the additional signs that you mentioned (like that .1 mile sign). It was getting late and I was happy with arriving at the top. Great looking dog! Glad Sammi made it out of that tough spot.




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