Pine Creek Wilderness HP P300

Thu, Mar 22, 2018
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With a major Pacific storm moving into Central and Southern California, the weather forecast was bad - 1-2" predicted for the Pine Valley area where I planned to hike. I had come prepared with rain jacket and pants, but rain in these amounts would be most unpleasant, regardless. I wanted to reach the Pine Creek Wilderness HP, about 6.5mi from the Horsethief TH on the west side of Pine Valley. My hope was that by starting early and moving fast, I could avoid the rain for at least a portion of the hike. If I could avoid it for the mile of cross-country bushwhacking up to the summit and back, that would be a first victory. If I could avoid a wet crossing of Pine Valley Creek on the way back, that would be a bonus. And with that in mind, I headed out from the TH around 6:45a.

The initial mile and change is a downhill hike from Lyons Valley Rd down to Horsethief Canyon, a smaller canyon running parallel and west of the bigger Pine Valley. Once in Horsethief Canyon, the Espinosa trail goes goes east across the connector where Horsethief drains into Pine Valley. It is very pleasant down here with lush, green grass and stately oak trees lining the creek channel, currently dry. After entering the Wilderness, the trail then crosses Pine Valley Creek in about half a mile, water flowing in the channel, but not much since it's been some time since there's been any real rain. The trail continues going east, now climbing out of the drainage at an easy gradient, passing by a junction with the Secret Canyon Trail that goes north. The Espinosa Trail is more eroded and overgrown past this point but still easy to follow. I noticed the first of several ticks around this point and would come to find the place is loaded with the little devils. Before I was done hiking I would flick half a dozen from my clothing and pick several out of my skin before they had gotten too burrowed in. Nasty little creatures, ticks.

The sky was heavily overcast to the west but not so much to the east in the direction I headed, even offering some brief sunshine. This gave me hope that the rain would hold off for the first half of the hike. After about 4mi the Espinosa Trail ends at the Corte Madera Truck Trail. The wide truck trail is followed up to the northeast, past a locked gate and a homestead found about half a mile past this gate. It appears to still be occupied, but I couldn't see any newer vehicles and the ones I did see don't appear to be functioning any more. In any event, no dogs came out to greet me and no persons were seen. After about two hours I reached the point where the road goes over a small saddle south of the Wilderness HP. A check of the GPSr showed I had half a mile to the highpoint - time to do some bushwhacking. The very beginning starts off promising with low brush and easy ways through it, but it devolved quickly within about 30yds as I found myself up against stiffer brush over head level where the route reenters the Wilderness at a barbed-wire fence. Some of this was quite nasty as I struggled to gain a rock outcrop that would have been better avoided altogether (I did just this on the descent and it was much nicer). Fortunately the brush improves as one climbs higher and the upper half was rather easy with sparser, shorter brush. I spent just over half an hour getting to the summit where one finds a benchmark and a register left by Sue & Vic Henney in 2009. Three other parties had signed in, almost all of the names recognized as similarly deranged. The most prominent nearby peak is Corte Madera to the south with Cuyamaca poking up in the distance to the north. Corte Madera Lake and its private community lie to the east (seems that would be a much shorter approach if one could come in from that direction) with most everything in view lying within the Cleveland National Forest.

My return was very much along the same lines as the ascent, save for the bit of improvement I made in the lower section of the cross-country travel. My luck continued to hold out as I made my way back along the Espinosa Trail to Pine Valley. No rain meant no tricky creek crossing at Pine Valley Creek when I returned there at 11a. A few sprinkles came down as I made my way between Pine Valley Creek and Horsethief Canyon, but these did not amount to anything and soon dried up with the wind. No rain also meant no muddy trails and when I got back to the van well before noon I was completely dry - perhaps carrying rain gear is one way to ward off the rain gods. I stripped off my clothes and started a thorough tick check, finding them in the seams of my pants, several on my shirt, one on my leg, more than a dozen all told. A couple with a small dog were preparing to head into the wilderness on a backpack trip so I thought it only prudent to warn them about the ticks. They seemed thankful for the warning but more or less shrugged it off. I suspect that pooch was in for a bit of suffering over the next few days...

Rather than press my luck, I decided to call it a day and hunker down to wait out the rain. The 1-2" never materialized in the end, probably less than a a tenth of an inch the rest of the afternoon and that evening. No matter - my feet had been busy the past few days and didn't mind the additional rest one bit.

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