Southern Los Padres Writers AssociationHiking, Canyoneering, Climbing, Peakbagging, Backpacking, & Camping in Los Padres National Forest

Welcome to the Southern Los Padres Writers Association weblog, a site dedicated to outdoor recreation in California’s Los Padres National Forest, and the San Rafael, Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespe and Chumash Wilderness areas.

Contributing Writers:

EM Walker
Craig R. Carey
David Stillman
Ventura County Canyoneering
Jack Elliott

Tips for hiking in the heat.


Tips for hiking in the heat.

This is a reprint of an essay I wrote last year discussing strategies for staying alive and mobile on those hot, hot Los Padres days.

It’s now the height of summer and our SLP is stinkin’ hot. I went up Matilija way yesterday on one of my super-secret recons for future follies and guess what? It was hot! Summer temperatures above Ojai average in the 90’s and routinely surpass 100 degrees. It’s the same story all across the Los Padres. Arid heat, tinder-dry conditions, ebbing water levels. How do you bang out long miles in heat like that? One answer is to say, “You don’t.”. But for those that go, the answer is basically, “Any way you can.”. I can’t stop getting out and dirty just because our back-country is a blast furnace, so indulge me while I expound on what works for me on those triple-digit days. Most of this is just common sense (which ironically, is uncommon in a remarkable percentage of our fellow humans).

Let’s discuss the easy stuff first, like water. I need a lot of water to keep going. I know this about myself and plan accordingly. This time of year I never leave the house with less than 3.5 liters of water. That’s my minimum water allowance for hiking during the summer. I recommend carrying too much water every time. I know it’s bulky and heavy, but water is the most important thing you are carrying on the hot days. When I’m on a trail that I’ll be returning on and if it’s a long day I will often leave a bottle of fruity sugar-water for the return trip. I stay ahead of my water needs by drinking plenty the night before and the morning of.

During peak exercise our bodies need a steady supply water to maintain efficiency. Duh. But why? When we sweat we lose volume, it’s as simple as that. We excrete fluid volume directly from our bodies in an effort to evaporatively cool an already over-heating organism. What happens as you lose this fluid volume through prolonged exercise? “Well,” you say, “you dehydrate.”. Yes, but what that really means is that you hemo-concentrate. With less plasma volume all the electrolytes and platelets and blood cells and hormones and everything else in your blood-stream begin to concentrate. As extracellular fluid in the vascular space decreases, all those cells in the blood stream, and consequently in the muscle, aren’t able to work efficiently at the exchange of sodium, potassium, and calcium ions which create muscle movement. The loss of sodium and potassium through sweating increases production and retention of lactic acid which diminishes muscle performance and can lead to muscle cramps. With advancing dehydration the body starts releasing hormones that cling to the last water in the blood stream, but this condition quickly proceeds to rapid kidney failure, cerebral edema, and eventually seizures and death. They say you can survive a few days without water but that doesn’t mean you can’t easily over-heat and die in a single afternoon. Start hydrated and stay hydrated.

So we lose water through sweating. Sure, but that’s only one of the aspects of volume depletion. Another way we lose water is through what we in medicine call “Insensible Losses”, otherwise explained as a loss that’s difficult to measure and quantify. I’m speaking specifically of all the water vapor we lose when we exhale. Every breath we breath out, every expiration of C02 is combined with water vapor from our moist lung beds. Up to 25% of our water loss during high intensity cardio simply gets breathed away, and you’d never even realize it. Now that you know this about yourself let me share one small habit that can spare some of that loss. Hike with your mouth shut. Seriously, if you are hiking at a speed that requires a high heart rate, That also requires that you breath fast, so slow it down. If you’re going so hard that you can’t breath through your nose, slow it down. We all understand that cardio is good for us, but how does it work? Cardio workouts are high intensity and require a sustained, elevated heart rate. The heart rate goes up to accomodate the oxygen and sugar demands of your muscles (including the heart). The muscles demand oxygen as an essential ingredient in the catabolic process that creates energy from glucose. As your hypoxic drive tells you to breath faster to accomodate all these organic needs, you lose more water volume through respiration. And besides, we all know that exercising at a high heart rate increases body temperature (which is a direct by-product of the muscle “burning” oxygen and glucose [a by-product of which is lactic acid], and the increased demand for blood flow to the exercised muscle), so lower your heart rate and oxygen demand by slowing down on these hot, hot days. You’re saving water, saving your muscles and organs, and operating more efficiently.

I recommend carrying some form of electrolyte replacement. Staying on top of fluids and electrolytes is always key, but especially so in the heat. Hyponatremia (low salt) and hypokalemia (low potassium) can lead to muscle cramps, renal failure, cardiac dysrhythmia, cerebral edema, seizures and death. I just wanted to point that out. If you are like me and frequently put down 20 miles in a day, you need to be taking care of yourself. I like Emergenc-C for the vitamins and -lytes. It’s kinda fizzy and doesn’t taste real good in luke-warm water, but you get a buzz out of the B-vitamines. I also use S-Caps! which are basically hi-end salt and potassium, by which I mean that they have an easily absorbed chemical structure. Only a small percentage of the sodium in S-Caps! is bonded with chloride (NaCl), which is a good thing. Potassium is a difficult mineral for people to absorb, but the KCl in these pills is highly refined. S-Caps were designed by a chemist who does hundred mile ultra-marathons and I find that they really maintain performance and aid recovery. I like pure caffeine as a supplement (it’s been shown to improve exercise performance by as much as 20%). Be really careful with caffeine while on the trail on a hot day. Caffeine will raise your heart rate by 10-20 points all on its own, and it is a vasoconstrictor so those blood vessels on the skin that dilate to help you cool off?, they don’t do as good a job and you get hotter. Plus, it’s a diuretic which flogs your kidneys to excrete more urine, which of course depletes volume. Just saying. So be careful whatever you use, and if you don’t have to pee, you aren’t drinking enough. Understand the physiology behind what you put in your body and you’ll be a better athlete.

Never ever take a break in the sun. Don’t ever stop in the sun while on a long, hot day. Make the most of any opportunity to cool down. Exploit shade. Shade good.

Pay the money, get good clothes with a decent SPF rating, something that wicks, breaths, vents, shades, whatever. Get a good hat, like my infamous broad-brimmed hat that looks like it should be the official head-gear of “The Cult of the Black Madonna”. It’s a lifesaver.

Everybody loves visiting places like Matilija in the summer because of the swimming holes, but understand that during high summer a canyon bottom is often 10-15 degrees warmer than being on a ridge a couple hundred feet above the water. This is because canyon walls are great at retaining and reflecting heat, and due to this convection the creek bottoms get much less breeze during the day than you would higher up. There are quite a few places in the SLP that are high and piney, above 6,000 feet. Nice breezes up there. Just something to bear in mind. Well, there you go. See you out there. Adios y Vaya con Dios.

Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: A California Blood-Sport (1800s)

Bear and Bull fightAn illustration that accompanied a story published in the San Francisco Call on January 15, 1911.

“. . .and not again in all the world’s turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man’s will or whether his own heart is another kind of clay.”

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

Grizzly bears once roamed the land known today as the southern Los Padres National Forest. They were arguably the preeminent apex predator of the forestland, and as such attracted more than their fair share of attention from Californios and other early Californians.

Grizzlies were the targets of frustrated ranchers seeking to protect their livestock. They were tracked down by trophy hunters. The fearsome bears were also prized as subjects of a gory form of recreation. Killing grizzlies was a popular pastime. Some men approached them on foot to kill by hand, while others captured the deadly bears alive and hauled them back to town to pit against bulls in public arenas for the amusement of cheering throngs of onlookers.

The following four posts excerpted below relate historic accounts of these olden times through firsthand remembrances and newspaper stories. The stories are, in my opinion, horrific, tragic and sad, but in those feelings lie some degree of hope and optimism, however small, because such reactions testify to how radically social attitudes and ideals toward the wild world have changed for the better.

The shift in mores came, admittedly, too late for the California grizzly, but in going forward there is value in better understanding humanity’s past, and how it is that we living today came to inherit what natural riches we have, and how much poorer we are for what’s been lost. Forever.

There remain in the Los Padres and surrounding environs iconic species today clinging tenaciously to life despite and at the same time thanks to human actions southern steelhead, condors, bald eagles and bighorn sheep. Will future generations be left will only tales of their existence lost in the archives of historic newspapers such as the case with the California grizzly?

grizzly-hunterThe San Francisco Call, January 20, 1901.

1.) Bull and bear fights were a popular form of entertainment in nineteenth century California, a blood-sport brought to the shores of the New World by Spanish settlers and enjoyed by men, women and children. … The more courageous or crazy young men, fueled by machismo, bravado or lack of intelligence, sought to slay grizzlies on foot with a machete or sword like Roman gladiators.

Read more: Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: A California Blood-Sport (1800s)

2.) “When I came here this country was a howling wilderness. It was infested with wolves, coyotes and grizzly bears; and they did a lot of damage to our livestock.”

Jacinto Damien Reyes referring to his arrival in California’s upper Cuyama River valley around 1887

Born in 1871, J.D. Reyes lived most of his life in Ventura County’s upper Cuyama River valley. He spent over 30 years working as a US Forest Service ranger patrolling the Cuyama District of what was then known as the Santa Barbara National Forest. . . .

In 1939, the Automobile Club of Southern California published an interview with J.D. Reyes in which he recounts memories of growing up in the unpopulated and wild hinterlands of Ventura County. His anecdotes reflect the prevailing social attitude toward grizzly bears in nineteenth century California.

Read more: Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: Recollections of Jacinto Damien Reyes (1880)

3.) The New York Tribune published the following story on July 17, 1904.

“No hunters ever knew the grizzly more intimately than these men of mixed Spanish and Mexican blood. They hunted with riata and bowie knife, scorning the safety of the rifle . . . The excitement of the personal conflict more then repaid the Spaniards for the risks they ran, and they ran many, for in those golden says, in the Ojai and Santa Ynez valleys, there was a grizzly for every acorn bearing wild oak, and some of them weighed more than a ton, if the old dons can be believed.”

Read more: Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: Lassoing Grizzlies (1904)

4.) The following article appeared in the San Francisco Call on January 15, 1911.

“The upper Ojai valley lies between the oak clad flanks of Sulphur mountain and the bare gray cliffs that line the sides of the Topa Topa range in their dizzy ascent of a sheer 3,000 feet. . . . Once the upper Ojai was the most famous hunting ground in all Ventura county. . . .In the ’60s and as late as the early ’70s grizzly bears were a common sight in the mountains of Ventura county. They alone of the all wild creatures became ever bold enough to contest the country with mankind, a fact which rendered these huge creatures an easy prey, not to bullets, for a grizzly may charge a mile or more and destroy his assailants even if shot in a dozen vital places, but to the handiest devices employed by the Spanish vaqueros (cow punchers), the lasso.”

Read more: Gladiator Games of Bulls and Bears: Sport of Roping Grizzlies (1911)

Monte Arido Peak and Old Man Mountain in a day.

monte arido & old man

For a nice, easy walk up a pair of our local peaks, look elsewhere. For a grueling, high mileage day with a ridiculous elevation profile, you may just want to read further.


Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido Peak hang above the western rim of Matilija Canyon and are accessed from the Matilija Trailhead. The route climbs Murietta Canyon to the Divide, from which one can access Divide Peak, Peak 4864, Juncal Canyon and Jameson Lake, or you can turn north and climb Monte Arido Rd to these remote summits.



This day, as described on the map above, comes to a 26 mile circuit, gaining over 7,000 feet over the length of the day. It’s a lot of ground pounding, but depending on how you view such things, this might be right up your alley.




For a complete trip report with additional photos, vist: David Stillman’s Blog


Caliente Mountain Lookout (HPS), 02/24/13

Caliente Mountain Lookout, collapsed since last spring.

Caliente Mountain Lookout, collapsed since last spring.

Most visitors to the Carrizo Plain Never see it from altitude, meaning they spend all their time low on the grasslands. I am here to tell you about a great 17 mile hike that takes off from low on the Carrizo and follows a fantastic and scenic ridge out to the Caliente Mountain summit and it’s historic WWII Civil Air Defense lookout. The structure fell in on itself sometime last spring but do not let that alone disuade you from taking this walk. This is a stand alone summit with astonishing and unique views. This is also one of the many peaks mentioned on the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter’s Hundred Peaks page. You don’t need to look up their info because I’ve got it all in one place. Just follow this link to David Stillman’s Blog.

Caliente Mountain Rte

Fox Mountain (HPS)



Fox Mountain is on the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks List (HPS) and it’s a steep little bugger. This route gains 2,300ft in just 2.5 miles to the summit. Which, if you do the math, doesn’t leave a lot of room for nice, flat ground. This is a great peak though, with outstanding views of the north side of our coastal range. For directions and TR see David Stillman’s Blog. See you out there.


SLPWA, Representin’

Hericiums and Lookouts and Maps, Oh My!

The latest issue of the Sierra Club’s Condor Call features content by three of our number; namely Jack Elliott, David Stillman, and Craig R. Carey.

You can read the current issue here, courtesy of the Los Padres Chapter.

Cuyama Peak Fire Lookout
Cuyama Peak, 1934–2012. Image courtesy and © David Stillman.

The Chumash Pictographs of Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument


On the southwest corner of of the San Joaquin Valley can be found a remarkable preserve known as The Carrizo Plain. Jack Elliot has been shedding some light on the area and I have some relevant stuff to add to the conversation so, who likes pictographs? Painted Rock in the heart of the Carrizo is home to what is probably the most significant and prolific Chumash rock art in existence. I’ve posted a small sampling of the pictographs on the Plain here, but if you’d like to see more, and learn how to see these for yourself, I’d encourage you to follow this link to David Stillman’s site.DSC00851 DSC00778