Pleito Hills HP P900
Tecuya Ridge

Tue, Mar 4, 2014
Tecuya Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Snow had come to much of the state, the first and possibly last real Pacific storm system of this drought year. I turned my attention to the southern part of the state around the Los Padres National Forest, near the boundary of Kern and Ventura Counties where the weather for the next few days was predicted to be better than up north. These lower peaks would be snow-free, though access to them was far from certain. I had three days and route information on a dozen summits in the broad area, giving me plenty of options should some prove unworkable for whatever reason.

Pleito Hills HP

The Pleito Hills are a sub-range of the San Emigdio Mountains where the Central Valley rises up against the Transverse Ranges in southwestern Kern County. The highest point has 960ft of prominence which had garnered my attention. Much of the Pleito Hills is managed by the Wildlands Conservancy as the Wind Wolves Preserve, but public hiking trails are restricted to areas around San Emigdio Canyon some miles to the west. The easiest approach is from the east along Interstate 5 near Grapevine where ranch roads could be used to reach the base of the peak through Salt Creek Canyon, but most of the land here is owned by the Tejon Ranch Corporation, one of the largest private landowners in the state. In trying to figure out a way to reach the highpoint, I hit upon the idea of coming from the south in the neighborhood of Cuddy Valley, west of Frazier Park. A Forest Service road goes up to Tecuya Ridge with a branching 4WD road going down the north side of the ridge along Salt Creek. This would get me legally within a few miles of the Pleito Hills HP, by which time I would be so deep in the hills that I was unlikely to see another soul. The approach is a long one, almost 20 miles round trip and involves more than 5,000ft of gain, with the Tecuya Ridge being more than 1,500ft higher than the Pleito Hills HP. It would make for a long climb back out at the end of the outing.

I drove down Monday evening, reaching Frazier Park around 11p. I only managed about half a mile up the Forest Service road from Cuddy Valley when I was confronted by a locked gate - closed for the winter season. It would add less than a mile each way to the hike along with a bit of extra gain, but it wasn't a big problem. Finding a flat spot to park for the night was a bigger challenge, and I ended up with a bit of a slant that I deemed "good enough." Off to sleep I went.

I was up and on my way by 6:45a, my biggest surprise of the day was finding the snow level was much lower than I had anticipated. As I hiked up the road to Tecuya Ridge, I could look across Cuddy Valley at Frazier Mtn and Mt. Pinos, seeing what looked like an abundance of snow on their northern aspects. Was I going to see similar on the north side of Tecuya Ridge? I had not come prepared with snowshoes, so any significant snow was going to put an end to this adventure. There was little snow on the south side where I started, but I found more of the white stuff as I went over the ridge and started down the 4WD route along Salt Creek. Luckily, it was only a few inches thick, and though heavy and wet, it didn't pose a problem at all. In fact the snow ended only about ten minutes down the other side as I quickly lost elevation. The weather was heavily overcast and there would be little chance for the sun to peek out today. The forecast did not have any rain in the mix so I wasn't worried about the clouds despite their threatening appearance.

Around 7:20a I passed by the primitive Salt Creek Camp, little more than a fire ring and a picnic table set among the shade of oaks that crowd the canyon. It looks like it might mostly be used by hunters, judging by the discarded shotgun shells found along the roadway. Just after 8a I reached the beefy steel fence marking the boundary between National Forest and the Wind Wolves Preserve. From the gate, the Pleito Hills HP is just visible down canyon, still almost two hours away. A better view is had a short distance down the road, then the highpoint slowly goes out of view as one drops deeper into Salt Creek and the intervening hills block the view. The flora changes dramatically as one descends the canyon, from pine to oak forest, then to drier, open grasslands. The road I followed was in good shape for the most part, save for a more recent rockslide or downed tree, but there were no vehicle tracks to suggest anyone had driven here in years. Salt Creek Canyon eventually merges with Black Bob Canyon. The latter has another road running southeast and south up and over Tecuya Ridge, a longer, alternate route I might have taken. The combination might make for a good loop route, but today I was more focused on reaching the Pleito Hills HP.

A short distance below the merged canyons, the route reaches a junction with Joe Clark Flat, a delightful valley running east-west along the base of the Pleito Hills. A very good dirt road is found here and I hiked almost two miles of its length heading west. I came across some mile markers for the San Andreas Trail, much to my surprise. I did a search online later to see what this was about, but came up empty. The signs were old, perhaps 10-15 years. I wonder if it was slated to be opened to the public at one time, but perhaps intervening events changed plans before they could be implemented. Though the road was in excellent shape, it showed no signs of recent travel, perhaps none for months. The hills and the entire area have been shaped by grazing cattle for many decades and there was much evidence that this is still taking place, though there were no cattle to be seen today - the grass was just starting to sprout from the recent, much needed rain, so there would have been little for the cattle to graze on in the preceding months.

As I hiked west up Joe Clark Flat (not exactly as flat as the name suggests), the Pleito Hills HP rose 1,500ft up to the right. Almost any route to the summit can be taken, but I chose one to minimize the walk along the summit ridgeline which looked to be somewhat rocky and tedious. Though steep, the slope I climbed had been heavily grazed as much as any of the surrounding hillsides, and as such it was terraced by their grazing patterns and laced with use trails to facilitate the climbing. I reached the summit not long before 10a. The remains of a survey tower were found there, but nothing else man-made, no register nor benchmark. There is a fine view of the San Emigdio Mtns immediately to the south but today much of that was obscured by clouds covering the ridgetops and drifting down into the canyons.

After a brief stay on the chilly summit to enjoy a snack, I descended more directly down the south side, along an old fenceline, long in disuse, that had been constructed with tree branches and barbed-wire. Upon returning to the ranch road in Joe Clark Flat, I retraced my route back to Salt Canyon and the long climb back up and over Tecuya Ridge. It was after 1p by the time I returned to the van, making for a 6.5hr outing. With more daylight remaining, I drove east through Cuddy Valley a few miles to another Forest Service road.

Tecuya Ridge

The Tecuya Ridge is a 10mi-long crest that tops the San Emigdio Mtns with several summits reaching 7,000ft in height. The unnamed summit called Tecuya Ridge here has over 800ft of prominence and the most prominent summit in the range I had yet to visit. A Forest Service road runs from just outside Lake of the Woods to the top of the ridgeline with various trails and 4WD roads forking from there. One trail runs close to the summit as it traverses the crest, but there is no actual trail reaching the top. In other seasons this would be about a 15 minute climb, but today it would take longer since the Forest Service road was gated closed at the pavement for the winter. Still, it's only about two miles one way, and easy enough to do in a few hours' time.

Starting around 1:30p, the hike up the road was for the most part uneventful, with little snow until near the top of the ridge. The trail starting where the road veers to the east was open to motorcycle traffic, hikers and equestrians. There was 2-5" of snow on most of this trail and the cross-country route I followed from the saddle north of the summit. The summit itself was cloaked in trees and virtually indistinguishable as a highpoint, but with the aid of the GPS I picked out the "summit tree" and called it a day. With wet boots and feet ensured, I decided to take the snowier route down the east side as a quicker and perhaps more adventurous way back to the road. The snow had surprisingly good traction despite the steep slope, and I quickly made my way down the wooded terrain to reach the road, followed by more jogging to get back to the start before 3p, taking all of 25 minutes from summit to bottom. Some time later it was determined that the prominence on this one was incorrect, and in fact much less than 300ft. Which means it doesn't really count for shit. Oh well.

I had more daylight remaining, but with wet feet and little energy, it was time to call it a day. I had planned to do some other summits over 6,000ft the following day in the Lockwood Valley area to the southeast, but with visions of more locked gates and more snow, I decided to leave those for another time. Instead, I headed for Santa Barbara County, more specifically Santa Barbara Canyon, near the junction with Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties. I had been to this canyon on a number of occasions, primarily for accessing HPS summits including the county highpoint. It was late before I reached the end of the pavement at the Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch and quite dark as I started down the Forest Service road to the trailhead. I did not get far. Only a hundred yards from its start, I literally ran into a flow of mud across the road. I was stopped dead in my tracks and it was with no small measure of panic that I sweated out putting the car in reverse to get back out. It was a slow, grinding bit of work, but I was relieved to have it finally get free. I examined the road in the headlamps. The mud had flowed smoothly over the road leaving no indication that it was 4-6" deep in the middle. It might need another week to sufficiently dry to make driving over it safe, but in the meantime I would have to live with the hand I was dealt. It would make for another three miles of hiking each way, but so be it. I found a flat spot on the edge of the road to spend the night and called it a day...


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