White Ledge Loop
The hike begins at the end of Nira Campground and follows the same path as the description for Manzana Trail to the Narrows. Use the link for the beginning directions to this hike.
Once you reach the Manzana Narrows camp, I like to think that now the hike is just beginning. You may have passed hoards of boyscouts, dogs, and/or dope-smoking college kids (not that there's anything wrong with that.) But now, you are more than likely to be all alone from here on out.
About a few hundred yards past the Narrows camp there is a junction, marked with a sign, to the trail going up to Big Cone Spruce. It's a pretty rough trail with quite a bit of poison oak. Big Cone Spruce is sort of swampy, but it's very remote. Just an aside about this place...You know how there are very special places that feel spiritually significant? Well, if Big Cone Spruce has spirits they are demons. People tend to get mighty freaked out about the place, describing a distinct sense of being watched.
Anyway, the Big Cone Spruce trail crosses the creek to the right. But you aren't going that way. Stay straight.
Now the switchbacks begin. At the top of them (like how I glossed right over the misery?) you will be at the base of some impressive cliffs. There is an improved (fire grate) campsite up in the cliff, actually two. I'll leave it to you to find them if you want.
As you walk by the cliffs the country-side gets more piny and pretty. You will be taking a gentle climb up and parallel to some very beautiful white cliffs. This is why White Ledge has its name.
At your highest point you will reach a place with a very striking, sweeping view toward the NE. The trail will be heading down from here. It is a natural place to stop and take a rest. It's one of those truly spiritually significant spots. You can sense it, and somewhere nearby there is some ancient evidence.
Now you will descend. At the bottom, the trail crosses places that in wetter months have smooth, round puddles of water. You are near to Happy Hunting Ground campsite now. This is a good place to get your water before you get to camp, or after you set up camp.
At Happy Hunting Ground I always like to spend the night. It gets mighty cold down in this hole, but usually by now I'm pretty exhausted. The times I've been there I've found a funny six-legged bear god rock that is very cute. You must worship it, because you are likely to see a lot of bear prints from now on, if you haven't seen them already. At this point you have gone about 12 or 13 miles, maybe not quite that much.
From Happy Hunting Ground the trail continues along the creek. For about a mile you are in the creek, hopping the rocks. A couple places are tricky.
Around a mile from Happy Hunting Ground you reach White Ledge Camp, an obviously well-used place. It's a very refreshing spot, usually with plenty of water (in deep puddles during fall). This is your last water for a long long time. If you are camping two nights, this is your water for your next camp. So load up. If you are day-hiking (good god you are strong!) load up. Hurricane Deck is hot and dry. (If you are doing the Sisquoc loop, you might want to load up, too, but there will be lots of water further on.)
Here at White Ledge you are at a junction. The trail you have been on, Manzana Trail, continues down the creek toward its junction with the South Fork of the Sisquoc River. It makes a grand loop of about 5 days total around the back of Hurricane Deck in the Sisquoc River Valley. It meets back up with the Manzana River at the Manzana Schoolhouse where Manzana River and Sisquoc River join. There the trail joins back with Nira. Along the way are other trails to take you deeper and deeper into the wilderness. I'd consult a map if I were you, but take it with a grain of salt. Some of those trails are mighty overgrown (although Manzana trail is not.) I highly recommend Bryan Conant's San Rafael Wilderness map, which is color-coded with the conditions of the trails. You can buy it in many local outfitter stores, or online.
Anyway, this hike is destined for Hurricane Deck, so instead of continuing downstream here at White Ledge you cross the creek at the camp site and look for a trail on the other side. There is a fallen iron sign that lets you know you've found Hurricane Deck trail.
This section of Hurricane Deck is very beautiful, with sweeping rock formations and lots of bear and mountain lion prints. At a spot about a half mile along the trail, more or less, there seems to be a spot where I tend to get off trail. If you find yourself on a trail that gets suddenly a lot worse and makes you try to hike along a crumbly cliff you have gone the wrong way just like me. You were supposed to hang a right. Last time I was at the spot, there was a big duck (which I missed). So if you got lost here, just turn back; you will find it and the trail again.
The trail is actually in quite good shape. You should be huffing and puffing up some hills for a distance. The trail is always wide. Stay on the lookout for a double pine tree.
When you get to the double pine tree (two trees close together, not really double) there should be a spot coming up where it's easy to get off trail again. (Nice euphemism for LOST.) Anyway, you will think you should go straight, there is actually a nice trail, but that's not the right way. If you find yourself walking over some sticks that are trying to tell you not to go that way, well, don't. If you got all the way into some dead, blackened bushes, you should turn around and look for the real trail, which is obscured by brush.
Now you're going to get a little lost. You'll be thinking this can't be right. The brush is bad here. You are going to have to push through a section of chamise. You'll probably see the blackened bushes I just told you about. (Now, why didn't I tell you to just push through at the blackened bushes? Well, because it is really hard to get on the right track if you go through there.) It'll look like you've lost the trail. Stay straight, keep a look out, you should find the trail again shortly.
Now the trail will be clear again for quite a ways. You will cross to the back side of the mountains and it will be shady and overgrown. Lots of scrub oak. The trail is clear and easy to follow, but not easy to walk on. Your feet will be walking on a slope and your ankles will get tired. This is for about a mile or so. Then you emerge into the sun after having been so long on the north side of the hill.
From here on out the trail is in very good shape. The bears seem to love it. Lots of prints here. You will follow the trail for about 2 miles or so until the juntion with Lost Valley trail, which is marked by some interesting boulders and a fallen iron sign. I like to camp up here. I think there is water near by, but I haven't found it. I always hear frogs and I've been ravaged by mosquitos.
After a good rest or a good night, the rest of the hike follows the Lost Valley trail. Your next water is only 3 miles away from the junction. You can make it! You'll pass the pine tree, which is another, probably better, place to spend the night, with its little fire circle. You really shouldn't build fire circles, by the way. It sterilizes/kills the soil.
Lost Valley is actually in worse condition than is the section of Hurricane Deck you have just traveled. Some places are really quite dangerous. Right below the junction is one bad place. The fallen trees at the spring is another. Some parts of the lower trail are overhangs waiting to fall. Other parts are really slippery and treacherous. Some people know of ways to hike down the creek instead of the trail, but I understand it's quite exhausting. Anyway, stay safe and be careful.
Once you meet the junction with Manzana Trail again (take the shortcut at the iron sign and the corrugated metal drainage pipe), it's just one mile more to Nira. Doesn't that pool look inviting on the way?
If you do this entire hike, it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 23-25 miles. It doesn't sound like a lot, but because of the ruggedness and the poor quality of parts of the trail, it really is quite a bit. Whew!