New Year's Backpack

San Mateo Canyon Wilderness
December 31, 2010-January 2, 2011
Nick and I were originally going to head towards Mojave National Preserve for the
weekend, but with snow in the forecast we decided to go towards the coastal range
instead.  Being closer to the Pacific Ocean the temps were going to be warmer and there
was a slight chance of rain on Sunday but otherwise the forecast looked good.  Neither of
us had hiked in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness and we found out that this rugged area
doesn't see too many backpackers.  It does draw dayhikers who hike to Tenaja Falls or
the short Bear Canyon/Bear Ridge Loop.  But we found it to be a beautiful place to spend
3 days.

We planned on hiking a 22 mile loop starting at what I've decided is one of the greatest
trailheads ever - because there is a candy store there!  Actually a country store that
specializes in candy but also sells sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, and bisquits and gravy   
We decided we'd have to partake on our return.  We started hiking on the Bear Canyon
Trail which traverses several chaparral covered ridges hiding lush oak-filled canyons
between them.  We headed towards an area called 4 Corners, although 5 trails intersect
there.  The trail up to that point was pretty well maintained.  After there it's in
disrepair - very badly gullied with recent rains, overgrown in spots, and with only a few
trail signs.  But the views were great - snow-covered San Jacinto and San Gorgonio
Mountains rising in the distance and beautiful against a deep blue sky - and in the other
direction the ocean!

We camped in Oak Flat the first night.  This is a gorgeous green meadowy area ringed
with old oak trees and crossed by several small streams.  It was a cold night but I slept
well.  Nick, however, said he heard an animal come through our camp in the middle of the
night and he heard country music.  I laughed, maybe it was a cow with an I-Pod?

We saw the cows the next morning - long horn cattle.  Nick wasn't too keen on getting
close to them so we hiked up a steep hill in order to skirt around them.   But there we
saw a bobcat so it made the detour worth it.  The next group of cattle we encountered
we couldn't skirt very much, unless we wanted to bushwack through a steep ravine.  
Fortunately I grew up around cows and wasn't too scared, so we went to the right of
them a few feet and survived.  I asked Nick what he would've done if I weren't there.  
"Turned around," he said, lol

Once we were past the cows we were greeted with a wonderful view of where we would
go next - down down down into Bluewater Canyon.  And it was a very steep trail, only a
few switchbacks.  Our knees were complaining when we finally reached the canyon
bottom!  1,800 feet down over the course of maybe 2 miles.

The trail then crossed Bluewater Creek several times before meeting the San Mateo
Canyon Trail.  Then we crossed the San Mateo River, or rather I did, just walking
through the water that was up to my thighs.  Nick wanted to keep his boots dry so he
began bushwacking upstream.  He eventually found a place to cross but that was time
wasted in the waning light of day.  Then we hiked uphill to Fisherman's Camp and saw a
couple of dayhikers, one who claimed to have hiked all the trails in the wilderness.  We
asked him if there was a good place to camp between Fisherman's and Tenaja Falls.  He
said no, that he would camp at Fisherman's.  But we wanted to get at least another mile
in before stopping for the day so we continued up the San Mateo Trail towards the falls,
crossing the river several more times, before finding a grassy bench above the river
that was just big enough for two tents.  We set them up, ate dinner, then turned in for
the night.  It was fortunately warmer than the night before.

The next day we awoke and packed up early with 9.5 miles to hike that day.  We hiked up
to the falls, passing several great campsites, and fortunately found the trail beyond the
falls to be a gentle incline.  It was once a road, evidenced by the old truck wreck we saw
down in the canyon.

Once up on the plateau I advocated cutting across a ranch road that looked like it
became a Forest Service Road.  Nick, not wanting to encounter more cows or armed
cowboys, wanted to stick to the trail.  The trail was flat for a while and pleasant as it
woved its way around oaks and meadows and over small streams.  Then at the weird
"dinosaur" trail sign it started climbing steeply up a chapparal hillside.  I started to lose
steam and so we stopped to eat lunch just before reaching the summit.  Then we
continued on the trail, though it seemed to be heading totally out of our way.  It
eventually started to cut back towards the trailhead, just in time.  The last couple of
miles and about an hour of hiking was in the rain.  But since that was the only rain we got
on the trip, that wasn't so bad.  We made it back to the candy store about 3:00 pm and
there we warmed up with hot cocoa and bisquits and gravy :)

I got on the road back home about 3:45 and called Todd - he said it was snowing at home!  
Fortunately it wasn't really sticking to the highway so it was still open and I got home in
record time.  Today we have a couple of inches of snow and with a lot of roads closed we
both decided to call it a snow day.  So it's a good time to write a trip report and post my
photos...  Hope you enjoy them!

BTW, I'm on a roll - with this trip I've backpacked in each of the last 12 months :D
San Gorgonio Peak
Prior to its wilderness designation in 1984, the trail above the falls
was a road - one without guardrails apparently, this truck was
hundreds of feet down the side
San Jacinto Peak
Oak Flat at sunset
A few of my favorite things
photo by Nick
photo by Nick
That's the ocean out there :)
Our route around the "killer" cows, lol
photo by Nick
photo by Nick
photo by Nick
Tenaja Falls
Potrero de la Cienega "Pasture of the Marsh"

More photos here :)

More about this area
Back to Backpacking
Back to Tarol's Homepage
photo by Nick
California Peony - one of a few flowers who think
the first rains mean it's springtime