HIKE03: Los Padres NF Davy Brown Trail

NOTE:   So I've been a little delayed in getting this one up, and that delayed me getting up the posts that follow.  The whole day was iffy as you'll see.  Two important things to note--1. it didn't ruin the rest of our time in wine country and 2. we've since bounced back with a few more low key hikes and strategies.  We're preparing for a big one again on May 1st.   So...read on....

This was our first hike outside the home field.  We had been hearing about great hikes up in Santa Barbara county and planned this little trip to coincide with a wine tasting weekend.  Not sure what to expect, we left the house at around 9AM and began the 130 mile drive up to the Los Padres National Forest.  With traffic reasonable, we got up to the area a little after 12.

I was a little overly ambitious in my plans--opting for a 9 mile hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain.  As we drove up the windy 1 1/2 lane road into the hills above the Santa Ynez valley, Liz made it clear that she didn't have that kind of adventure in her.  So we flipped through a Santa Barbara hikes book I purchased a few days earlier and found the Davy Brown trail.  It was a one way hike that would total about 6 miles with 1200 feet elevation gain--shouldn't be a problem.  Only difference was this time we'd be starting at nearly 4,000 feet and hiking down into a valley.

The start of the trail began in a hilltop meadow.  At our back, breezes were rolling up the canyons from the vineyard-filled valley below.

We walked a hundred feet at most before the trail started its steep decent into a wooded canyon. Here we passed a obligatory hiking landmark--the broken gate.

At this point, the shade was a blessing as the cool breezes from the trailhead had vanished. Loved the fact that it wasn't the same ole Santa Monica Mountains environment.  Bigger trees.  More green. And a damp little bubbling creek originating at a spring near the summit. Plus, we had the whole thing to ourselves.

After a few short switchbacks, the trail shifted to a fairly straight creek-side shot down the hill.  The dirt transitioned to a narrow path built on broken bits of rock along the edges of a sliding shale hillside.

When we stopped to take a look at a few strange trees growing from the wall of rock, I almost tumbled down the hill while backing up to take a picture. Yikes. It wasn't anything especially dangerous but I would have been walking back with some nasty scrapes of loose gravel burn.

This was when it dawned on me that we forgot to hang our parks pass permit.  Ugh. So annoying. We'd probably get a ticket.  Could we fight it by showing the pass?  Who knows.  Should we go back? Might be a ticket already.  So why bother. Onward...

About a mile down we encountered a marker for Edgar B. Davison--the first ranger to work in this forest (I think) and creator of the Davy Brown trail. According to our map, his cabin site was supposed to be across the creek.  I didn't see anything.  Maybe "site" literally means site in this case.

An alternate trail that reconnects with Davy Brown farther down the hill forked off here.  We continued on the main trail but planned to take the alternate back for a change of scenery.  We passed more large trees (some fallen) as the elevation continued to drop.  The larger ones are tough suckers--bark covered in scorches and scars from past forest fires. Closer to LA, trees seem to rarely grow large enough to live through our seasonal firestorms. Reminded me of the giant sequoias a few hours north. Those trees of course dwarf what we saw in Los Padres, but I vividly remember seeing and learning about their battle-worn bark and the burn history it reveals.

Other smaller creeks merged into the one we were following--adding to the waterflow as we continued down.  What began as a bubbling sound grew to become a louder hum with each step.  It was great--until we suddenly entered an entirely different--what's the word? "ecozone"?

The thick forest narrowed to barely wider than the creek bed while the trail shifted over to the familiar sun-drenched sight of dry chaparral.  This sun was hot and the air was still. But we were going down, so progress continued with little effort--stopping occasionally to take a few pictures of wildflowers and other desert flora.  Unfortunately, our persistent enemy was already creeping onto Liz's skin.

Down, down, down we continued eventually stumbling into a respite from the sun in an area with huge boulders and a few cascading waterfalls. Stopped for a quick snack and break before moving on.

The sun was starting to make Liz uncomfortable around the fork where the alternate loop reconnected with Davy Brown.  We had a choice to make...continue to the bottom of Davy Brown where the trail ended at a campground--maybe another mile down that we would have to walk up again--or take the alternate trail and loop back.  Shadows were growing long so we decided to go for the loop.  About a quarter mile up the  the trail we came to realize that 'alternate' must be a kind word because no one had taken this path in a very long time and it was almost entirely overgrown.  We could continue--but that introduced the possibility of losing the trail.  Not good.  So we walked back to Davy Brown and started ascending the way we came down. This was where things started to turn ugly.

The walk up was steep. The sun was hot. And when we got back to the boulder where we stopped for a bite, Liz started to panic that she might be on the brink of heat stroke. We were in the middle of nowhere, hadn't passed a single other person since we left the car, and had no cellphone service.

Knowing how Liz reacts to the heat along with the allergic impact of the many gnats and pollen along the trail, I was less concerned that her fears of the worst were true, but very worried that the panic could seriously hamper her ability to hike 2 miles up a steep hill. I did my best to create calm and we came to decide that walking back up the hill was really the only option.

The hike up through the sunny chaparral was long, slow and miserable. Once we returned to the protection of tree cover, Liz worked through the panic and we were able to continue, albeit slowly, back to the car with little additional struggle. As we approached the trail head, a serious hiker couple passed us en route to the cars--the first two people we saw all day. I couldn't help but wonder how long they were following our struggle up the hill.

We crested the hill with the canyon breezes from earlier blowing into our faces.  Ahhhhh.

Fortunately, the car wasn't ticketed.

The day ended with less than 4 miles of hiking.And now I'm left with very real and serious concerns about future plans.  It's supposed to be enjoyable--even when it's hard--and it's going to get A LOT harder (and hotter) than this.  Will I be doing it solo?  That's not what I want. But at the same time I don't want to drag anyone into a situation with the potential to be dangerous.

On the drive out we stopped at one of the most amazing wildflower blooms I've ever seen. Indeed a very nice--and calming--end to a very weird hike day.  California Poppies and Lupines...

We followed the hike with a delightful couple days of wine and good food.

The next weekend Liz was still recovering from a nasty flu so we didn't hike.  This past weekend beerfest kept us off the trails.  I'm not sure what comes next, but there are only nine weekends between now and when we have that cabin booked at Yosemite. Maybe that's why I was a bit anxious to write this chapter.  Could it be that uncertainty?  Regardless, it's part of this journey I set out to document.

As our adventure with Davy Brown proved--you can go from high to low very, very quickly. We just need to find that spirit and drive to climb again.  Love the cliches.


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