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Santa Barbara Hikes

Photos from Willets, August 2016

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On what had to be one of the hottest weekends in a long time, a bunch of crazy people decided to go on an overnighter to Willets on the Sespe.

We figured it would be okay even in the heat since there is a nice swimming hole at Bear Creek Camp. So we stopped there mid-morning for a swim. It was so pleasant under the Alders at the camp we could forget that the heat was building out there.

As soon as we went out into the noonday sun we were hit with the full-strength of the sun. A few of us had umbrellas to help a little bit.

I hope these pictures convey a little bit of how hot it was.

We think it was in the upper 90s and probably got to around 100 degrees in the afternoon.

After Bear Creek, there was no water on the Sespe or anywhere else at all. We were each carrying about 5 or 6 liters just in case there wasn't water at Willets. We were prepared to drink the hot spring water if we had to.

After quite a lot of difficult hiking, difficult only because of the heat, we reached this turnoff. I knew we were close now, but it felt so far away still.

We needed to rest in some shade to make the final push. We found a little shade tangled in this dead tree.

We each found a way in and rested in the shade.

Here's Tony!

This is me. I have a large scarf on my head to keep it out of the foxtails. The scarf is sarong-sized and really helped provide some shade. Wetted down it helped keep me cool. I got it at Tienda Ho. It's 100% cotton and the tag says dry clean only. Woops!

A mile later we made it to the sandy alder groves below Willets. We heard running water and went to investigage.

There was a small waterfall. What a delight!

We each soaked ourselves in the cool water.

It was an oasis.

Then we rested in the sand until the sun went over the hill.

Once the sun was away, it was much more comfortable to start setting up camp and making dinner. The rocks were still very hot, however.

We set up our tent since there were red ants everywhere. Later there were mosquitoes.

Nancy and Me.

Kristie's tent looks so odd. It's a frame that stands by itself and the tent clips onto it.

Our dinner-to-be. We're living it up with real Mountain House dinners. Tony adds extra chicken and then we split it. We joked about eating 100 degree dinner on a 100 degree day.

Paul is making his 100 degree dinner while sitting on a 100 degree rock.

The Topatopas loomed over us looking prettier as the sun set.

Here's my delicious 100 degree dinner. It tasted great and didn't overheat me like I thought it might.

Tony enjoying his Mountain House dinner. Chicken Teriyaki with extra chicken.

Nancy also made a 100 degree dinner. She observed ants with her cous-cous grains, seeing if they could carry one.

Paul and Kristie

Tony amused us as he blew up his neo-air with his giant condom-like Instaflator.

He also used it to, er, cool off or something.

The Topatopas looking prettier as the sun went lower.

With dinner done and the air a little cooler, it was time to check out the hot spring.

There's an access trail that gets steeper and scarier as you climb. It's the Kalalau trail of Willets.

There's a creek flowing down the canyon parallelling the access trail, and then suddenly you are there at the source.

It's so nice to see water even if it's warm. There were many small frogs leaping at dusk in the water.

After much stabbing by the plants along the way, we reach the pool! It's a strange milkly white. I have never seen it like this. Usually it's clear all the other times I've been here.

We did not even question the decision to soak in 100 degree water on this 100 degree day after our 100 degree dinners sitting on 100 degree rocks. It just had to be done.

It actually felt very relaxing, as you can see. It seemed like it would be too warm, but once you got in, it felt great and once you got out, the breeze on your wet body felt great. We were able to sit on the boards with our legs in the water without overheating. While sitting there, suddenly bats emerged from wherever they hide and one of them did loops over the water. He was so tiny and so close. His body was about the size of a walnut and his wingspan was about like a small hand.

After a while, it was getting dark so we headed back down to camp. The moon rose over the Topatopas. We looked forward to seeing the Perseid meteor showers. We laid down in the sand to watch them, but the moon drowned out most of the sky. I didn't see a single one. Tony saw one meteor. We saw a lot of sattelites. At 10:40pm I went to bed. There were many toads leaping about.

The night was warm. I used my sarong/scarf as a blanket until it cooled down enough to put my sleeping bag over my legs. I should have brought my 45 degree bag, not my 20 degree bag. The weather report made it sound like it might get into the low 40s at night but I'm pretty sure it didn't even get out of the 60s, for sure not inside our tent. The morning dawned comfortable and beautiful with crystal clear skies.

We lingered in camp a long time, watching the sun came up.

We weren't looking forward to leaving or to hiking in the hot sun again. But we'd have to get going soon. We filled up our water from the little waterfall, which was actually coming from the hot spring. The water has a soft water taste that sometimes tastes sweet and sometimes tastes like it might make you sick from the sodium.

Tony noticed that my big scarf is the same color as the buckwheat plants so he took my picture with it. You can see how open-weave the material is because you can see my checkered shirt behind it. It seems like a great multi-purpose piece of gear.

Finally, wetted down and laden with about 4 liters of water a piece. we got going again. The sun already felt hot but it was much more comforable in the morning than it was yesterday afternoon.

Into the waxing heat. It was actually tolerable so far.

According to a nearby weather station at the gun club near Rose Valley, Saturday's high was only 92 and the low was 44. This was not how it felt at all. It felt much hotter in the day and much warmer at night. Sunday's high was 98 at 2pm, but our car thermometer said 99 in the shade and all the way down to Deer Lodge in Ojai. And to us it felt cooler than yesterday, and only because we left before 2pm.

A little reminder that this is the desert. I also saw deer and fawns. There were lots of bear prints and poop in the trail and I thought a few times I might have seen small and large cat prints.

Tony took my picture with my scarf being used to keep the morning sun off my bare arms. Soon I would take off my pointy hat and launch my umbrella. I have one of those old Go-lite Chrome Dome umbrellas. I swear the difference under the umbrella was about 10 degrees, and keeping the sun off your skin was worth more than that. With the wet scarf around my neck and my clothes and head wet, the wind would blow on me while I was in the shade of my umbrella. This way the heat was tolerable. Go-lite is out of business but you can get the same umbrella called a "Euroschirm Swing Liteflex" trekking umbrella. I think the silver color works well.

The air was so clear. Probably single-digit humidity.

Paul took my picture. He jokes that "Diane's Big Adventures" is really "Tony's Big Adventures" since I never take my own picture.

Another picture of the crystal clear morning. I missed taking any pictures of our swim stop at Bear Creek. I also could not take a picture of the strange heron-like bird we saw there. It was sitting on the same branch both days we swam there.

Woops, I missed the opportunity to take a picture of all of us and our umbrellas.

Another try, still no good.

There are two miles to go to the cars. Now we were looking forward to the air-conditioning in the car and a cold crisp beer at Deer Lodge.

Zooming in to the inviting water hole. Each time I've visited there seem to be more turtles and ducks here than at Bear Creek.

Some of the pictures on the Hike Los Padres website of Bear Creek are actually of this spot which is only 2 miles from the Piedras Blancas parking lot. The swimming hole is smaller and more full of water plants than the one at Bear Creek.

With about a half mile to go to the last turnoff, we stopped one more time in the shade to cool off. The sun on your skin takes a toll. There's Tony and Kristie and Tony's umbrella.

There's Paul and Nancy.

There's me. The shade is almost gone from my spot. I missed taking anymore pictures, like pictures of our delicious beers, so this is the last one.

It was sort of an epic adventure. I always recommend to people to never go backpacking in our backcountry in the summer. It's just too darn hot. It's true. But we did it anyway.

The key to surviving this was using the evaporative properties of water to keep us cool, to take breaks in the shade (or to use portable shade), to bring our core body temperatures down in the swimming hole and the little waterfall, and to have chosen a trail that wasn't a huge physical challenge for us. Another key was to drink the water there, even though it may be sub-optimal both in flavor and alkalinity. You just cannot carry enough, you have to drink what's there.

Most important of all is to maintain a positive attitude and remember to notice all the beauty, the animals and plants, the joy you feel finding water in the desert or shade when you need it, and the pleasure of spending time in childlike wonder with good friends.