Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs

Sespe Wilderness
9 miles from this point to Willett Hot Springs
Into the Los Padres National Forest we go...
Fall is here!
In search of water...

 Don at a watering hole we found
Robb checking out the trail and mountains 
The mountains are calling and we must go
Watching for the storm
and then the storm hit
 The rainbow was like a sign, that we were almost there!
You can't tell but my clothes and hat were soaked from the rain 
Nature's hot tub found!
 Home sweet home
 The water was so milky the first night
Then the 2nd morning we woke up, it was clear!
Soaking
The water that was coming out of the tub from underneath
 You have to cross paths with this house to get to the spring
Storm cleared up for us the 2nd day
 You know when you get excited when you see a sign while hiking? Well...
The view never gets old
Me, Robb, and Don

Date hiked: November 2-3, 2015
Trail & Location: right outside of Ojai, Sespe Wilderness. Sespe River Trail to Willett Hot Springs
Mileage: 20 miles out and back
Elevation gain: less than 500 ft, but it was hilly so it felt like more
Difficulty: easy to moderate

Tizzy and I had met Don on our San Gorgonio backpacking trip Labor Day weekend a few months ago and have kept in touch with him. He found out he was getting a few weeks break from work and emailed us asking if we were interested in an overnight trip out to the Willett Hot Springs. So we both were down, but in the end Tizzy couldn't get away, so I ended up driving up by myself since my requested time off got approved. A few days prior to the trip Don mentioned his friend Robb was going to be joining as well. Sweet! I'm always happy to make a new friend.

Robb and I headed over to Don's place Sunday night in LA so we could get an early start Monday morning. With traffic, it took us a little over 2 hours to get to the trail head from Don's house. If you are looking for the trail head, type into Google Maps, Piedra Blanca Trailhead. The Sespe River Trail starts from the same parking lot. At the parking lot there's picnic benches, vault toilets, and some informational signs about the area and its local animals.

We hit the trail around 9:45 am. The trail itself is pretty flat. From what I've read online it's supposedly less than 500 ft in elevation gain. Robb kept his Run Keeper app on and it said around 1700 ft in elevation gain though. Before we left we had checked the weather and it mentioned 30% chance of rain in the afternoon. For a seasoned backpacker, you prepare for the worst, for a beginner backpacker like me, I was not prepared at all for what was to come! When rain comes, it's a whole different ball park!

Anyways, the trail is pretty easy and self explanatory until near the end, when we got lost. As we hiked the first two miles, we started getting worried because we didn't see any sign of water on the trail, and with no water, we couldn't last a whole night without filtering any. But about 3.5 miles in, at Bear Canyon Campground, we came across a small spring fed water hole. We actually ended up running into another hiker on our 2nd day, and he said there's always water here and it's a good swimming hole too during the hot months. After we passed Bear Canyon, the next notable trail marker was a big old metal sign that pointed you to Ladybug Campground and Hines Peak. This sign is so old and faded though, it's barely legible. At this point we started feeling sprinkles so we pulled out our rain jackets. Don had a cover for his pack, but Robb and I did not. Robb did have his stuff in waterproof sacks though. Which I learned the hard way, because nothing of mine was waterproof. But Robb saved me and pulled out his emergency trash bag so I could cover some of my gear and not have a wet sleeping bag and wet clothes to deal with later.

As we hiked on, you need to watch out for a small trail sign, making you veer right. We, unfortunately passed the sign and got lost for a little. We wandered beyond Thatcher Camp and scrambled on rocks along the river wash for a bit before we realized we should back track. We backtracked, found the trail sign and crossed the dried out river crossing and connected again with the trail. From here we were looking for another fork in the trail, which we had a difficult time finding. We knew we needed to cross the river again, we just didn't know where. Because if you stayed on the well beaten trail we were on, it would lead you to somewhere else, not Willett Hot Springs. We eventually found the nondescript fork in the trail and crossed over. An hour and a half in the rain later, we were back on track! You will come across the abandoned house shortly after crossing. At this point, the rain stopped, a rainbow appeared, and it felt like a sign telling us we were close! You have to go beyond the house and stick to the upper trail on the right. We passed a stone stack chimney, keep that on the left and keep climbing up. In a few hundred yards, we came upon a small camp spot with a rock made fire ring. As you go beyond that and scramble a short distance through the forest, you will come across the Willett Hot Spring tub. Woohoo!!! 7 1/2 hours later, we reached our destination. We decided to set up camp before it got completely dark out and then we would soak in nature's hot tub. But as we settled into our tents and ate dinner, we decided to go soak in the morning. After we finished our dinners around 6:15, it started raining again. So we all ended up in our tents having blind conversations with each other. I think we all went to bed around 8 pm that night lol.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, around 6:30 am, ate breakfast, and hiked back to the tub. There are some scrubbing brushes that were left there for new comers to scrub the tub of the algae if they wanted, but we hopped right in. I personally embraced the sliminess haha. Robb and Don both had shoes on. The water was perfect, we guessed it to be around 105-108 degrees. After our soak, we packed up tent and headed back. It only took us 5 1/2 hours to get back to the car.

Some tips for this trail are to bring sunblock, there's practically no shade along the trail, bring a water filter, or bring a lot of water with you if you are doing a day hike, Adventure Pass is needed for your car, and bring water shoes if it's been a wet winter since there are lots of river crossings. (We just didn't experience any wet ones since it's November and it's been so dry).

In the end, I learned so much on this trip! Don and Robb are both seasoned backpackers compared to me. So there was a lot of trail talk and they both shared so much backpacker knowledge with me, I can barely wrap my head around it! Don loves his gear, while Robb was so informative about nature and what plants are edible. If you want to read more about the trail and Robb's experience, click here.

Until next time Sespe Wilderness!

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