Miles: >1 (We cheated a little)
Agency: Los Padres National Forest
Over the last few months, I’ve been communicating with Craig Carey, the author of Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara & Ventura. He gave me some tips on where to camp for my backpacking trip to Mt Pinos and Sheep Camp and has been a very openly informative resource as I expand my exploration into the Los Padres National Forest. After communicating back and forth, we decided on visiting Chief Peak and Nordhoff Peak. And, since Craig was recovering from what sounded like a devastating cold, we decided to do it the easy way.
He let me know that the Ojai Ranger District issues permits for accessing Nordhoff Ridge Road and that we can drive up to Nordhoff Peak and get pretty close to Chief Peak. I was game for anything.
I arrived about half an hour early at the designated coffee shop in Ojai, our meeting point. I quickly scanned the parking lot for a truck with a large dog in it. I didn’t see one, so I sat in the car for a bit. Smelling some delicious coffee being brewed, I decided to go inside and wait for him there. As I walked onto the porch, there he was, sitting and grinning, looking like the unstoppable hiking force that he truly is. His grand orange beard is the first thing you notice, and then the smile above it, and then comes the baritone voice I heard during his book signing. This would be a good day.
He led me inside and recommended a lime bar. And delicious it was. Not the most lean hiking food, but it fit the mood of the day and way better than most things I eat before getting outdoors.
I quickly finished the bar as we chatted about the morning and what lay ahead. We got into his truck and I was able to meet Masha, a venerable dame of canine awesomeness. From Craig’s estimations, she has nearly 600 hiking miles on her and has accompanied him on many of his hikes for his book. And this mileage estimate is conservative, since dogs meander constantly while on the trail. She was very friendly and we hit it off instantly.
Immediately, Craig started pointing out landmarks and where we would end up for the day. We drove to the Rose Valley Campground, where Craig performed an awkward maneuver of unlocking the gate. He had to bend over and look upward under a cowl to dial the combination that was given to him by the Ojai Ranger District. Since the truck was momentarily stopped, Masha was up and ready to jump out to being hiking, but she settled back down once we had relocked the gate and were on our way up to the ridge line.
What would prove to be a theme for the day, Craig was happy to share his knowledge about everything I was curious about. Be it a tree, bush, rock, or bird, he knew them all. This was his territory. All of the knowledge in his book was at my disposal, easily retrieved through Craig’s enormous recall mechanism.
We pulled over to a turnout and he pointed out distant peaks, ridges, and canyons. I wished I had a map with me to correlate all my virtual explorations with what I was seeing in front of me. I tried to burn it all into my memory. He pointed out Dry Lakes Ridge and I was determined that it would be my next hike. (It was.)
We continued along the ridge toward Chief Peak, talking about our lives, our jobs, our families, and our adventures. We both tend to laugh easily and share a similar (odd?) sense of humor. We got along like long lost friends. We had a lot in common; most notably our love for the outdoors.
We reached the bottom of Chief Peak and decided it was time to actually start hiking. We got on our gear and headed up the trail. Before long, Craig’s hacking was proof positive that he actually had been recently under the weather. The views were pretty immediate, but we kept going. We scrambled counter-clockwise around the summit block until we were at the top. It was a very short but steep hike. Masha decided to stay below us, since there was a little scrambling that wasn’t to her liking.
We lazed around and chatted at the top of Chief Peak. I absorbed the stunning views and once again I was treated with detail of the surrounding area that I was frantically trying to file away for later use. Luckily, I have a pretty good memory, especially in regards to topography (I am sure it’s saved my life more than once). With no sign of Masha, we headed back down and, reunited, made it back to the car.
Glad to be sitting down again after a .5-mile round trip hike, we headed west towards Nordhoff Peak. Before long, we were seated at a picnic bench, below the tower, having a snack. Masha probably got the best end of the deal with her steak lunch. Watching her wolf down the raw meat, I believe it was about this time we decided that a burger was in order after all of this exertion.
After climbing around a bit on the tower, we got back in the truck and headed back down to the highway to the Piedra Blanca Trailhead. We then spent some time at Middle Lion Campground, a gorgeous oasis next to a pleasant creek. It was getting late in the day, so we decided to head back to Ojai for some grub.
Sure, I didn’t do a lot of hiking, sure, I hadn’t recorded the podcast with Craig that I had intended and sure, some might say that I haven’t technically bagged Chief Peak and Nordhoff Peak. But any day spent in the outdoors is a good day. And I felt like I had made a new friend.
As the truck rumbled over the rough dirt road surrounded by amazing vistas, I was left with a deep sense of place and a man’s sincere love for it.