Day 1 Mission Pine Springs: Poison Oak, Broken Glasses and No Spoon

Poison Oak in the spring – nothing I hate more.
Here’s a video with a lot of captured videos about the first day on the trail.

My old college friend Chip Buckingham and I love to look at topographical maps of Los Padres National Forest and plan long backpacking trips. Santa Barbara county has extensive trails and some amazing mountains that rise above snowline. At about 4,000’, the forest supports large groves of pine trees that resemble the Sierra mountains. One of the most historic groves is Mission Pine Basin where pines were harvested around 1800 for constructing the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Missions. We would need to hike almost forty miles in four days to get to the Mission Pines. We created a four-day itinerary to do just that.

On our first day, we started hiking at Nira Campground and had about nine miles to hike to Big Cone Spruce camp. The first seven miles were up Manzana Creek and pretty easy because it is a heavily used trail. The trails are maintained by the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) and I volunteer to help make the trails better. The LPFA scheduled trail maintenance on the trail to Big Cone Spruce Camp where we were, but it was canceled because of the coronavirus. So when we left the main trail, the Big Cone Spruce Trail was drastically overgrown.

One of the first things we ran into was big patches of poison oak. My nemesis was thick and growing everywhere this spring! I was usually able to dodge the dreaded weed, but it was unavoidable in places – especially where some trees had blown down.  The blowndowns were one on top of the other and it was a struggle climbing through the limbs. I was already tired from the 8 miles of hiking, so climbing under, over and through the downed trees was exhausting. I grunted and groaned while climbing through the tangle of limbs and got caught on them many times. I found out later that the limbs ripped my pack and Chip’s in several places.

The worst part of the blowdowns is that there was no way around the downed trees because the undergrowth was so thick around the trees. At one point, I climbed on my hands and knees under the trunk of a fallen tree and came out in a patch of poison oak. I was exhausted and looking right at fresh poison oak sprouts. I used my hiking poles to push the poison oak away and did an army crawl over the poisonous plant. I managed to keep it off my face, but I got some on oak on my wrists and figured the oils were on my clothes and pack. When we finally made it to camp, I used Campsuds soap to wash my wrists and poles. I couldn’t wash my clothes and pack and have probably gotten the oils all over me. It would take a few days before the rash started.

Our camp at Big Cone Spruce was in an amazing grove of Douglas Firs, red firs and other big trees. Several creeks converge at out campsite and the creeks were flowing well from the recent rains. The wind was blowing the trees and the forest offered great shade. Check out some of my pictures of these massive trees.

Here’s my shadow in front of a tall pine tree that’s about 6′ in diameter.
I like how the sunlight lit up the grass here.
Chip balancing on rocks to get across Manzana Creek.
A sycamore holding a big rock.
Some massive acorns. It was odd that there weren’t any squirrels in this remote forest.

Then the problems really started. I took off my sunglasses and found out my normal glasses had broken in half – right at the nose piece. Not much of a problem for the MacGyver in me. I got out my duct tape and quickly repaired them.  I was officially a nerd! 

Then I go to make dinner and find out that I didn’t pack a spoon or anything to eat my dehydrated meals with. No problem, I’ll carve one out of a stick. First I tried to carve a big stick down, but I quickly realized that it would take a few hours to make something that worked. 

I had to find the perfect stick that was already spoon like.  Tons of branches and fallen trees were all over camp. I don’t know why so many downed trees were in the valley, but it looked like a major windstorm and landslides had blown many of the trees down. I scrounged around and found a broken limb with a knot in it.  All I had to do was carve out the knot and I would have a spoon.  After fifteen minutes with my swiss army knife, I had my spoon.

My wooden spoon came in handy.
The backside of my spoon looked like a face. The red color that looks like a mouth was naturally in the wood. The eye was made when I carved out a lump in the knot on the outside of the knot.

I made my chicken teriyaki dinner and had to open wide to get the big spoon in my big mouth. It went down well and we relaxed by the fire. I was exhausted and went to sleep at 8:30 when I usually go to bed at 11.  I slept for 11 hours and woke up feeling good for the second day. The second day was looking to be even harder with a 2,600’ elevation gain.  That’s my next story.

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