Hines Peak P2K HPS
Topatopa Bluff HPS

Fri, Apr 10, 2009
Hines Peak
Topatopa Bluff
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile

I began a 10-day road trip under inauspicious skies, a modest storm front sweeping in from the Pacific. As I was leaving San Jose around 10p, there was still another day of uncertain weather ahead before things were to improve. It wasn't until after 3a that I pulled into the TH for Siser Canyon located a few miles north of Santa Paula. The goal for the next day was a couple of HPS peaks in Ventura County, one of two days' worth of HPS peaks I have left in the area. It would make for a good warm-up for the more ambitious days planned ahead.

With less than four hours of sleep, I was up by 6:30a under gray skies. The roads and trails would be wet, but at least not muddy when I started out for Hines. My route was not the easiest, but certainly the least complicated. The favored HPS route requires contacting the Forest Service for lock combinations, permits, and a lot of dirt road driving - some of the least desireable things to put up with in peak-bagging. The route I chose up Siser Canyon would be considerably harder, but the access was easy and uncomplicated.

From where I parked (and slept in the van) by the water tanks, it was an easy hike up the road to the 4WD TH about half a mile further up the canyon. At this point a locked gate blocks vehicles, two of which were parked outside in the wide parking area. A note warning of the dangerous Poodle-Dog plant was posted at the gate. Until this moment, I had thought that Poison Oak was the only really dangerous plant in California. The description and photo on the notice was somewhat vague and seemed like it might describe a half dozen plants or more found in the chaparral. I promptly forgot about it (though I didn't forget about poison oak which was amply found in the canyon) and thankfully didn't have any adverse reactions in the following days.

After a few creek crossings and another mile or so, the road starts climbing out of the canyon on the west side of the creek, making a few large switchbacks as it makes its way up the hillsides. The flora changes from the dense greens of the water rich canyon to the more familiar chaparral in the transition. Had it not been for the heavy overcast, the views south towards Santa Paula would have more vivid. In fact, the clouds were hovering quite low, covering the upper elevations and it looked like the summits might be completely shrouded in dense fog.

A little more than an hour from the gate brought me to the second switchback in the road (another gate across the road marks this location nicely, the trail sign is rather worn), marking the junction with the trail I would follow up to the main crest of the ridge. This was the most scenic portion of the hike, a delightful hike back through the drier upper parts of Siser Canyon, with colorful flowers in purple, blue, and other colors, a campsite where the trail crosses the creek, and then back through the chaparral for the final climb out of the canyon.

It was almost 9a when I reached the junction with the forest service road that runs along the main crest of the ridgeline. I turned right and followed the road for another hour in a northeasterly direction, past Topatopa Bluff, on my way to Hines. The sun tried to break through a few times, but was soon swallowed again by the thick clouds clinging tenaciously to the mountains. Some lingering snow from previous storms clung to the shadier aspects, but not enough to hinder travel. In places the clouds had lifted above the summits allowing me to see the along the ridgelines or down a side canyon, but the more distance views were obscured by the clouds.

I left the road-turned-trail at the saddle marking the start of Hines' NW Ridge. A modest use trail worked its way up the steep ridge, almost knife-edged in one section, all the way to the summit, taking all of twenty minutes. There had been evidence of the major fires from two years prior, both along the way and at the summit, but from all indications I could see the landscape was recovering nicely. Scattered clouds moved around below the 6,700-foot summit, obscuring many of the valleys in these rugged mountains, allowing only a few peaks to be seen poking up to the north and northwest. The register found at the summit was standard HPS fare with the usual names, with the addition of prominence and range highpointers come to visit the highpoint of the Topatopa Mtns.

As I descended from the summit and backtracked along the trail towards Topatopa Bluff (another HPS summit), the low clouds began to warm as the day progressed and started rising in elevation. By the time I had reached the summit of Topatopa shortly before noon, I found myself in a fog without any views whatsoever. The summit is near the junction of several trails in the area and decidedly more popular than Hines. The large ammo box was filled with papers, cards, and memorabilia, more like a geocache than a summit register. A large number of Boy Scouts had made a regular pilgrimage to the summit, judging from their many entries. Most of the rocks strewn about the wide summit area had been used to build windbreaks for bivi sites, and I found the sight to be mostly unappealing.

I returned to Siser Canyon via the same route I had taken up, not sure that the rain would hold off completely, but glad that it did until I was off the summits. With about 45 minutes left in the hike the rain started, at first just a few drops, but quickly turning into something much more. I'd brought a real rainjacket with me, and quickly had it on as I cowered under a large oak to avoid the brunt of it. Rain turned to hail at one point (the video I took didn't do justice to the fierceness of the downpour) and I had to stop and duck for cover to keep from being seriously pelted. As it let up some I would make a dash for it down the road, which was quickly becoming a creek in itself as the water collected and ran down the road in muddy rivulets. The creek turned from clear to brown within fifteen minutes of the rain starting, a testament to the power of erosion in these hills.

By 2:20p I was back at the van and quickly changing to drier clothes. I spread out the rain jacket and other wet garments over the seats to dry, which they did nicely during the next several hours of driving. I stopped in Santa Clarita to have a short visit and dine with my sister's family, but by 8p I was driving again, headed for Palm Springs. I had a big outing in store for the following day and needed to get some rest - hopefully some sleep as well...


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