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 :)

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photo by Nick
California Peony - one of a few flowers who think the first rains mean it's springtime