Monday, November 12, 2012

A Chilly Weekend at Willett Hot Springs - Sespe Wilderness


Sespe Wilderness, located just north of Ojai, within the Los Padres National Forest has been a destination I have had my eye on for quite some time.

The plan for the weekend was to hike the 9.5 miles to Willett Hot Springs starting from the Piedra Blanca trailhead near Rose Valley Falls.

It was a chilly start to say the least when we began our hike at 9:30 AM...a balmy 32 degrees.  Layered, packed, and stretched out, we started our long walk to our destination for the day...Willett Hot Springs.

The trail for the first 5 miles was pretty straight forward with little to no elevation change.  It was a really beautiful leisurely hike on this first section of the trail.  It also helped that my pack weight for the trip was under 20 lbs.  A few minutes into the hike, we see our first sign indicating a glimpse of our expected mileage.

As we covered more distance, we soon shed our layers and enjoyed the warming sun overhead.  Temperatures soon rose to around 54 degrees which was perfect in my world.

Though the Sespe Creek was mostly dry, it still offered a very unique landscape with amazing picturesque fall colors.

After hiking for about 4.5 miles, we reached our first stop of the day and had lunch at Bear Creek Camp.

After filling our bellies with chocolates, gorp, and nuts, we set off for the final push to cover the last 5 miles to Willett Camp.  As we continue to head east, the trail begins to gradually change in elevation. This is where the trail starts to become more moderate.

The spring below after Bear Creek is a good water source.  The water comes out of a natural spring from the mountain.

Walking down this trail was absolutely amazing.  The landscape seemed to change on every turn and the terrain constantly changed from pebbly, rocky, sandy, and hard packed dirt.  It was breathtaking to see this and I truly wished my camera captured how beautiful this place was.

Still happy after 7 or so miles but my feet were beginning to feel the strain...

After 2.5 miles, we see the last sign before arriving at our destination.  This was a good sign since my feet were getting sore and the cold seemed to descend on us rather quickly.  A warm meal quickly entered everyone's thoughts as well as the hope of a hot spring to dip our aching legs in.

After the sign, it seemed that the terrain and elevation got a little harsher.  Perhaps, it was our tired legs speaking to us and the lactic acid build up that slowed our pace.  Nonetheless, the views still continued to amaze me and it was the ultimate push that encouraged us to move me along.

Arriving at the Willett Campground...finally!

We arrived at our camp at 2:30 PM.  We find a nice place where the sun was still hitting and dropped our packs and relaxed before doing our camp chores.

After relaxing for a few minutes (45 minutes!), I finally unpack and setup my accommodations for the evening.  A friend of mine graciously lent me her TarpTent Contrail to test...I might write a personal review about this.

Some of the girls on our group decided to head to the hot springs for a dip after setting up.  I decided to stay at camp to finish up chores and grab some water for cooking.  It was actually an excuse for me to rest a little but more (LOL) because my legs were shot at this point.  However, I did muster up the strength to complete the trip by pushing myself to walk that miserable hill to the springs.

From the picture above, you can see how much higher you had to go to get to the hot springs.  That was our camp site below.  After a brisk 10 or so minutes, I reach the springs smiling (fake smiling...)

Photo Courtesy: Julie B.

I only stayed for a few minutes since we were losing daylight and the trail heading up would not be good to hike down on in the dark.  The smell of sulfur also didn't sit well on my nose.  On the walk down from the springs, all I could think of was a warm dinner.  For this evening, I brought some Mountain House Beef Stroganoff...which tasted better than usual.  Dinner was accompanied with some warm apple cider spiked with a dash of rum, courtesy of my best bud Julie.

Photo Courtesy: Julie B.

We decided to have a very small twig fire for the evening for an hour or so to warm up our bodies before heading to bed.

Photo Courtesy: Julie B.

After sleeping on and off during the night, I finally got up at 6:00 AM and warmed up some water for my coffee and breakfast.  From our temperature gauges, it appeared that the night time temps dropped to the 20's...this explains the frost inside my tent and on top of my bag!

Once breakfast was done, everyone packed up and we began our long trek back to our cars.  On the walk back to the trailhead, the trail just seemed so much more beautiful...

The shot below is one of my favorites so far.  On this section, the trail was packed with finely crushed granite and it was actually quite comfortable to walk on.

Almost back to our cars...

About a mile or so and we're back to our cars once again.  The shot below gives a nice perspective of the trail...if only the picture did it more justice, it was a sight to see.

This is definitely a trail that I would love to visit again in the future.  It was actually nice to not have to cross any water considering the cold.  Despite being dry, water was readily available where we needed it.  Logistically, it worked to our benefit.  I personally carried a liter and half of water and consumed 2 liters on the trek back.

After resting for a bit at the trailhead, we headed to downtown Ojai for some Mexican food at Agave Maria's.  The wet burrito I had (Macho Burrito) was the best one I've ever had...

This is a trip that I will remember for a while...a big THANK YOU to everyone that joined me on this trip.  Your company made this trip much more enjoyable and more memorable.