Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Piedra Blanca

Photo by Bill Snider
Img50.pngFor my birthday I got a walking stick and a pair of rock climbing shoes, so I decided to break them in at Piedra Blanca.  This is an easy hike in the Sespe Wilderness, about 20 miles up the 33 from Ojai.  I convinced my husband, Bill, to join me, who always proves to be a first-rate hiking companion (he carries the water).

After stopping at the Wheeler Gorge Visitors Center for a $5.00 day-use Adventure Pass, we continued up the 33 then took the Rose Valley turn-off and drove 6.6 miles until it dead-ended at a day-use parking lot.  There were only about a half dozen cars parked and from the lot we could see the many white rock formations of Piedra Blanca just to the north.

Since the trail is currently being re-routed to rehabilitate the Arroyo Toad, we knew we would have a couple of extra creek crossings.  So with my Summit Trekking Pole at the ready, I wobbled across with a stealth precision that caused my husband to break out into a sweat as he watched and waited for several minutes ahead of me on the shore.  When I landed with dry feet on the other side, he let out his breath, shook his head and smiled.  We did this twice more, and Bill was equally entertained each time. 

The route is fairly well marked until you come to a fork, which deceptively appears could lead you to the rocks either way.  We went left when we should have gone right, but that was easily corrected with a quick turnaround 10 minutes later.  The trail is relatively flat with a comfortable overall elevation gain of 300 feet.  We trekked about a mile and a half total, mostly through chaparral and manzanita.

And then we landed on the moon. 

It was absolutely spectacular.  Quite suddenly, the landscape changes from thick brush to smooth sandstone.  The breeze was really kicking up, too, but it was welcomed after the brisk hike.  The sun was bright overhead, not a cloud it the sky, so the valley surrounding us looked like you could reach out and grab it.  We found a shady spot to cool off with some water and snacks before setting off on our “bouldering” quest.

I readily spotted several areas where I could scramble around without the need for harness or ropes.  This would be the perfect place to break in my new Sportivas.  In the distance, we caught sight of a lone climber, perched atop the highest rock formation, no doubt taking in a stunning view below.  He must have used ropes to get there.

I started up one rock face and noticed that my shoes did well on the sandy texture.  The slope of the rock inclined enough that I was soon in crawling mode and getting a little high up for my level of confidence (and skill), so I crab- crawled back down to the more level areas of the rock, which were plentiful.  I found my way into an egg-shaped cave, which I just barely fit into.  Bill was busy scouting out the continuation of the trail and snapping lots of pictures.

Having collected a sufficient amount of scuffs on the new shoes, we decided to call it a day.  The return hike was all downhill and the creek crossing less painful for Bill to witness. 

For more information about Piedra Blanca and for a list of locations selling Adventure Passes, check out the Los Padres National Forest website at

Published December 2005 in the Sierra Club's Condor Call.