Pine Mtn to Ojai, Calif. Hike
32.7 miles via Portrero Seco
Cool thing #74 about being unemployed; being able to walk 32 miles into the back country for a solo viewing of sunrise. I can't even begin to explain how miserable this hike was! I set out from VTA just before 6 in the am. It was cold and overcast, a sign I took as a good omen. I dropped off the Focus in Matilija Canyon by the hot springs. A good friend then taxied Tess and I up the 33 to Pine Mountain summit. A quick coffee, one last cigarette, we saddled up and stepped off.
The first couple hours were pure bliss. It was chilly but comfortably so. As long as we didn't stop for too long we would not feel the chill. Portrero Seco Road forms an impromptu boundary between undecimated lush green wilderness and fire scorched wasteland. To the northwest as far as the eye can see lies the burn area of the Zaca fire. To the southeast all the way to the Pacific nothing burned. The extremes are separated only by a ten foot wide jeep trail. You are literally walking down this giant seem between the two extremes.
The first nine miles went by quick enough, clocking in at just over 2.5 hours. The cool mountain air and the lite breeze and the freedom of being out on the trail put a spring in my step and a sparkle in my eye. I was feeling great, like I was in my early 20s again traipsing up and down the AT. I started to think we could easily finish the entire 32.7 miles in a single day. After a quick break we set off with this goal in mind.
Shortly after noon my resolve was quickly diminishing. The temperatures had climbed steadily since dawn. The breeze had died down leaving nothing but stale desert air to greet my every step. As we climbed higher and higher the sun got stronger and stronger. Shade was practically non-existent. Nothing grew higher then 12 inches. Every hour or so we would crawl on our bellies into the brush to escape to sun's ferocity for a 15min break. The next 7 miles saw us climbing just short of 1500 feet though the map showed only a difference of 400 feet between. The ridge was an ever changing rollercoaster, we would climb up 400 feet only to drop 100 feet, then we would climb another 200 feet and drop 400 feet, then we would climb 300 feet and drop 200 feet and so on for hours. It was brutal, the downhill just as bad as the uphill.
Finally when hope was wearing thin we came to the alpine pond, our planned overnight spot for the trip. To call it a pond is like putting lipstick on a pig; a big muddy puddle would be more accurate. Around this puddle were dozens of fresh, alarmingly fresh lion and beer prints. It was the happening place for the locals. I filled up on water and soaked my poor blistered feet. I cooked up some red pepper and avocado quesadillas and we relaxed as we waited for the sun to set. About an hour before sun set we packed everything up and set out again. There was no way I was going to overnight in the middle of a bunch of lion and bears.
With the cool air slowly starting to reach up to our altitude my idea of finishing the hike was renewed. I was a little more then halfway done and after dinner my strength was renewed. As the temps dropped with the falling sun I thought finishing around midnight was a definite possibility. So off we went, but first we had to tackle the toughest climb of the hike. Much to my surprise we flew through the climb and shot down the backside. Our pace had quicken and our spirits were definitely up.
Unfortunately our motivation didnt last long. After just barely 3 miles I could barely walk. The blisters I had been fighting all day had flared up with a vengeance. They had gotten so bad each step brought tears to my eyes. Despite everything else feeling great I could not walk without extreme pain. I tried to push on but it was excruciatingly difficult. Finally I threw on the towel and set up the tent right in the middle of the trail. Quickly I slit each blister with my pocket knife to relieve the pressure. I had no first aid kit, moleskin, not even duct tape so all I could do was hope for the best. A few minutes later Tess and I were fast asleep.
We rose with the morning light, had some fruit for breakfast and set out hoping to take advantage of another cool morning. Again though the temperatures would not cooperate. By 9am it was a dry 82 degrees. At 6100 feet, the suns rays are brutal. My forehead bore the brunt of the suns anger and was painful to the touch. It hurt to sweet. After the 2nd mile my blisters came back worse then the night before. After too long hard climbs we reached the last pond. It was a harsh disappointing 5 miles. We struggled to complete the last section in four agonizing hours. We were averaging just over 1 mile an hour, pretty pathetic really but at least we were moving. At the pond I cut open my blisters once again to let the fluid out. I was really looking forward to soaking my feet in the last pond. Once we reached the pond though I was so disgusted with the hike I barely looked up as we walked by.
From the pond down into the Matilija we would drop 3000 feet in 7 miles, 1000 feet in the first mile and a half. Its a brutal decline for blistered feet. Despite the pain I was so driven to get off the ridge line and back down under the cover of the forest we double timed it down to the Murrieta Divide and into the trees. There is a small cold spring just below the Divide. As soon as we were in sight I dropped my pack and Tess and I jumped right in. We lounged in the cool crisp mountains water for about an hour. By the time we left the spring the temperatures had risen to almost 87 degress. The last 5.5 miles downhill was our biggest challenge yet. The dry hardpacked trail was incredibly warm. It was torture on Tess's feet. By the time we finished the first mile down her paws were incredibly burnt and she was limping severely. I ended up carrying her for 20 minutes then making her walk for 20 minutes, then carrying her again. After each section we would take a 15 minute break in whatever shade we could find. Thankfully there was ample water on the way down. Each spring we crossed we would both soak our abused feet in the cool streams. Finally just over 3 hours since we started down we hit the Matilija and jumped in the river. We were still over a mile from where we left the car but it didn't matter.
All told I had nine blisters on my poor feet. Every toe except my two big toes had a blister. My heel had a blister that was over 2 inches long. I had horrid sunburns on my arms and forehead, despite wearing a long sleeved t-shirt and a bandana. Tess's paws were so bad she didn't leave her bed for almost 3 days after we got back. It was definitely and adventure I suppose. Thankfully it is over. I can't wait to do it again, next time maybe try to do the entire trip in a single day. It should be rad!