Day 1 To Sespe Hot Springs: Swollen Rivers, Lizard Escorts and a Hot Tub

I last wrote to you about being in a snow, wind and rain storm in the mountains above Santa Barbara. That storm turned out to be a string of storms that lasted until the day I hit the trail again on Monday, April 20th, 2020. I got to the trailhead and talked to a woman about the hike and she warned me that “There’s a lot of water out there!”. She told me how the river was deeper than her waist and how she teabagged half of her pack in the deep Sespe river.

It didn’t take long to see what she was talking about because I had to cross multiple creeks within the first half mile. My waterproof boots were soon leaking after barely dipping my foot in a creek. When I came to another creek crossing where the water was about two feet deep, I had to make a decision. I could have taken my boots off and worn my camp shoes across, but I figured that would take too much time. There were many more crossings, so I bit the bullet and walked across with my boots on.

I hiked nine miles the first night from Piedra Blanca Trailhead to Willett Hot Springs. It was mostly downhill and would have been an easy hike except for the river crossings. The thick brown line shows the extent of the Sespe Wilderness Area and the light green light shows the extent of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary.

As I trudged across the knee-deep water, my size 14 boots filled with water and my feet were nicely chilled. I got out and leaned on a rock and lifted one foot over my knee to create a three legged down dog pose. The water poured down my leg and off my knee. I moved my foot around and squeezed more water out of the lining of my boot that was super-absorbent. The weight of my boot doubled with all of the excess water from less than a pound to over two pounds. Over nine miles, this extra weight would make a huge difference.

That’s a half a cup of water in the bottom of my boot. Much more water was absorbed in the spongy layer around the edge of my boot.
Wringing my wet socks out.

I should have checked the map before I jumped in the creek, because the next four miles didn’t have a creek crossing. I felt like Frankenstein walking around in lead boots. I stopped and took my boots off and squeezed my soggy socks out, but they were far from dry.

I entered the Sespe Wilderness – the largest wilderness area next to a major metropolitan area – Los Angeles. The Sespe Wilderness covers 219,000 acres in the Topa Topa mountains and most of the area south of the river was part of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary that was established in 1947. I was hoping to see one of these endangered, majestic vultures plying the air, but none appeared.

Wilderness Areas are designated by Congress and no roads can go through a Wilderness Area. Wilderness is defined as, “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” About 11 million acres or 4.5% of America is designated Wilderness.

After the cool river/creek crossings, I was walking in sage brush and green meadows. It was partly cloudy and only 75 degrees that day – possibly the last cool day of the season. The next day and for the foreseeable future, the temp would be in the upper 80s. I had to go now to avoid the 90 and 100 degree days that would soon be coming.

Besides feeling like Frankenstein hiking in lead boots, the next few miles went by well. I had to cross the creek five more times. Each time I got out, I’d feel the fresh water in my boots. I eventually took off my socks and my feet seemed to work fine without the extra cushion and sogginess of the socks.

Lizards were perched on rocks every few yards on the trail. I saw well over one hundred as the miles wore on. The funniest ones would walk on the trail in front of me. They would scurry at twice my speed ahead of me and stop to seemingly wait for me. As my shadow approached them, they would scurry farther down the trail. This repeated over and over as they escorted me down the trail for a hundred yards at a time. Finally, they would drop off the trail and into the scrub. Then another would jump on the trail and lead me to the promised land.

I took a few breaks and ate a lot of half-price Easter candy on the trail. My favorite was a foot-long, Nerd Rope. I ate the whole thing in one mouthful. For dinner, I had some delicious Three Cheese Mac and Cheese. I decided to hike up the hill for an all-natural dinner in the hot tub.

Here are a few pics from the trail.

Entering the Sespe Wilderness Area.
Some sweet river-carved rocks with the Topa Topa mountains rising in the background. I could see a few patches of snow on the hike in, but they were gone when I hiked out three days later.
Waving fields of grass blew in the wind. The grass will be brown in a few more weeks of sun and 90 degree weather.
Some of the last clouds on the 6,000′ mountains. The clouds were soon gone and summer kicked in.
The trail mainly followed the old road that went to Sespe Camp below Sespe Hot Springs. Since the road wasn’t maintained for about 50 years, most of it has been overgrown and eroded away. The first few miles were in pretty good shape.
Love thy enemy – that’s some shiny poison oak.
Some colorful clouds at sunset over the Topa Topa Mountains.
The Willett Hot Springs Tub at the end of the day. I ate my Three Cheese Mac and Cheese re-hydrated dinner in the tub by myself.