Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Days 648 & 649: Santa Paula Punch Bowls - Last Chance Trail - Big Cone Camp - Water Slides- Thomas Aquinas College

Camping at Big Cone - above the first Punch Bowl

Days #648 & 649 * Hike #770 & 771 * New Track #636 & 637
Saturday & Sunday August 25 - 26, 2012
Santa Paula Punch Bowls - Thomas Aquinas College - Santa Paula, CA
Last Chance Trail - Big Cone Camp - Water slides
My Tripometer: Overnight * 10 Miles * +1100 Feet

Trail Map in the Sespe Wilderness

From the 101 Freeway in Ventura, hop on the 126 East and head out to Santa Paula.  Take the 10th Street exit (the 150) and turn left.  Follow the 150 out of town and continue up the road for about 10 minutes.  If your car window is down, you'll smell the sulphur and know that you are close.  Look for the Thomas Aquinas sign, pass the driveway and then park in the dirt lot just up the road from the gate.  This area is very popular and the parking fills up quickly.  Today was no different but we snagged a spot on the side of the road.  The first part of the hike is a real drag.  You'll have to hike along the pavement around the college to reach the actual trail.  This part takes a good 20 minutes with your heavy overnight bag...
The Trail is Near!

The Trail begins just beyond the oil pumps!

First Creek Crossing

The creek is just a minute up the trail.  You will want to cross it to the left and pick up the trail on the other side.  When in doubt, follow the graffiti along the trail.  It's horrible!!!

We didn't reach the trailhead until nearly 5:00pm.  This was a last minute trip planned that the kids agreed to and my wife allowed me to.  My wife remained at home while I took the kiddos.  Earlier this day we were raising money for Alyssa's Soccer program at our community garage sale.  Alyssa ate something like 4 brownies, half a pie of pizza, 4 sodas, 5 cookies... and by the time we reached the creek, she was ready to explode!  She had the runs and she wiped her butt with a rock!  Yuck, moving forward...

Entering the creepy forest

The sun was still far from down but you wouldn't know when entering this section of the trail.  The trees were thick and crickets were honing like it was already dusk.  I imagine that it's always night time here.  --After you cross the creek in the beginning, you will remain on the left side of the creek for a long while.  The trek is relatively flat up to this point.
Opening back out to the creek, the trail is easy to follow

I believe it was 2006 when we had torrential rains.  I lived in Santa Paula at the time and this entire area was washed out.  Good news, the trail is in great condition and with all the fresh graffiti trail markers, you really can't go wrong.  However, there will be a switchback so don't miss it...
Moving right along...

Finally, cross the river to the right side

Keep going...

The turn off is up and to the right...

What usually ends up happening is that people will continue to follow the creek.  There is no legit sign letting you know to take this route, but people who know, know.  I hiked with a group of guys back here in 2010, before I started my 1000 Hike journey.  Although some of them hiked faster than me, I still beat them to the first Punch Bowl.  They were bamboozled because they were so far in front of me and I beat them by plenty.  As we began climbing the switchback, we heard people stumbling through the creek.  We had passed many people coming back from their day hike but once we reached this trail, we passed no one...
One tricky part, it's not so bad...

Above the creek and heading into the mountain

A shortcut on the shortcut trail...

The only disadvantage of taking the trail versus the creek is that you will gain more in elevation before you decent to the Punch Bowl.  However, the switchback trail is not difficult and it's the only sensible way to make this hike.  Along the switchback you will notice two separate short cuts through the wooded mountainside.  Take Them!  Normally it's not advisable to do this, nor is it good due to the rain drainage, but in this case, the shortcuts are simple and it's a no brainer...
Welcome to Big Cone Camp!

Scary!  Against the rock to the left is several bags of trash.  The good news is, someone has come back here to condense the mess.  Unfortunately, thugles have been back here to leave it!  Pack in Pack out FOOL!  The load is lighter on the way back and you are going more down than up.  Why be so LAZY?!
The Moon; I reflect upon Domino

The night came quickly - Alyssa dancing with a marshmallow

Ironic, all those cars parked, all those people that we passed and not a soul in site.  There are easily 5 legit spots with fire circles and grills to camp out in this area.  The space is open and you can fit many tents back here.  We chose the spot near the cliff which offered the tranquil sound of water moving below.

The night was colder than I thought and we were definitely not dressed appropriately.  My tent would not zip all the way up and I did not bring my rain cover.  We woke up early, made a fire and warmed up.  Let me tell you, not much good wood back here.  The thugles must have taken it all.  This camp is about 3.5 miles from the car parking but there is another camp spot on the other side of the Punch Bowls, about a half mile up.

That next morning we left the heavy stuff behind and hiked down toward the creek.

Ayden attempting a back flip off the rock - He better Not!

Cross the creek and raise up the other side - follow the trail signs

After descending from Big Cone, you will follow the trail to the right, up stream.  You may naturally want to head down stream because there is a track and some graffiti down there and the creek does lead to the Punch Bowl area.  However, have faith and continue up the stream for a moment and then cross as seen in the picture above.  You will then climb up and at the top there are a couple ways you can go.  Turn left up there.  Stay on the main trail around the ridge.  There is no sign pointing to the punch bowl but there is a trail opening which goes right down the side of the cliff.  It's a bit steep but you can do it.  For now, we bypassed the Punch Bowl because we were still cold.  The bowls are great on a hot afternoon and temperatures do hover around 100 degrees up here in the summer months.  That said, the water temp always stays around 55 - 60 degrees - freezing!

Hiking above the punch bowls

The upper bowls - notice the rope people climb to get out after jumping!

The running water system

In the daytime, a great place to sunbathe

Another look

Let's Jump!

Really Alyssa!

Some natural water slides - have fun - the rock is slick!

Further down - rope over stagnant water

Here we go hiking again!

We reached the next camping area

Once again, not a soul in site.  Many more places to camp, it's a Sunday morning after a Saturday night and no one is around...
Back down toward the creek...

After the camp, if you cross the creek and hike up the rock face on the other side, you will reach the legit trail.  I know this because Captain America showed us the way last time.  We called him that because he knew the area well and was very helpful.  Today, with the kids, I stayed low and followed along the creek.

This lead us to a magical spot!

Where are we...

I am in a cave of sorts...

This is another water slide, be careful

Amazing geology back here

Ayden Crying, he fell in - Told you it was slick!

I slid on the rock back out, nearly fell in!

We hiked higher around the other side of the rock canyon
Lower Jackson Falls

Alyssa sliding down the rock

Back to Captain America

If you want to hike up to Jackson Hole, which we could never find, or Last Chance Camp, which is way out there, somewhere, maybe, you have to hike up this rock face.  Treat it like a switchback.  The route we just took was through the canyon.  Once up here, you will find the trail and it works really well for a mile or so.  However, it dead ends at the poison oak and we found ourselves walking through it last time.  It was horrible for the next MONTH!  -- However, it was worth it.  You will reach Upper Jackson Falls and when we went, the water was flowing good.  I've seen YouTube videos when the falls are half frozen, way cool.  We found some random camp way up there.  It had a grill and it was off the creek.  I don't know, maybe it was Last Chance but I don't think we quite got that far.  There was one point where we hiked straight up some loose dirt, maybe 50 feet up with heavy packs and I felt like I was going to die.  It's crazy back here, well worth exploring...
Finally, back to the first Punch Bowl

People leave coolers!

Very beautiful, but usual scum overpopulate this spot!

Way cold - my kids will not be jumping!

Thomas Aquinas College - Nearly back to the car!

So, I left my broken down tent at Big Cone.  Wonder how long it will remain there?


  1. You complain about trash and graffiti yet you left your broken tent behind?

    1. Yes. I left money and other treasures in it. I left a note in it and was hoping someone would solve thecriddle, but that never happened. Wonder if anyone has gone inside the tent or if it's still there?

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