A Hike to Nordhoff Peak, Ojai, California

Log of Hike to Nordhoff Peak, Los Padres National Forest
Elevation: 4485 feet
Longitude: -119.24182891845703
Latitude: 34.49861314473809

Sunday, July 25, 1992
(Transcribed and edited from a hand-held recorder used during the hike).

The trail head is located at the end of Gridley Road in East Ojai, nestled among the trees of an avocado ranch.  The backpack is heavier than usual due to the three liters of water; it’s full of clothes, too, in case I need a change for any reason. For food I have two green apples, two huge black plums, 0.85 lbs. of sharp cheddar and a loaf of stone ground, flat, thin rye bread.

Three years before the hike, getting acquainted with the mountains over Ojai

1135 hours: Here I am at the trail head; the sign reads 22W05.  Gridley Springs Camp is three miles up the trail, and trail 5N08 is reached in a total of five miles.  I have been at the junction of this trail and 5N08 once; it is at the crest of the ridge of these mountains, at about 4,000′ elevation.  Memory tells me the sign at the ridge reads another mile to the West is Nordhoff Peak at an elevation of about 4,500′.

When I attempted to climb Nordhoff from the other side of the peak, accessing the trail at Signal Avenue, I was unable to get to the top. I was out of shape and a good deal overweight.  This was about six weeks ago.  This time I don’t believe I am as badly out shape and I’m at least five lbs. lighter.  I’ve been boogie-boarding with Matt and Alex and friends between these two hikes, without wrenching major muscles.

I’m wearing my threadbare, brown corduroys to protect me from the brush and to allow ventilation.  I wearing a short-sleeved polo shirt but if the brush, or bugs, or sun get too troublesome I have a long-sleeved shirt in the backpack.

1140 Hours: The sun is almost directly behind me, so I must be headed more West than North, as my other senses tell me.  The sky is a brilliant and clear blue; a slight breeze is blowing to reduce the apparent temperature.  This first part of the hike is always the least interesting in that it traverses the side of a small canyon leading to the main fire trail. This path is full of high brush and is rocky and dusty. I’ve been up this part of the trail at least a dozen times in the three years I’ve lived in Ojai.  It always seems shorter going up than coming back.

I think I’m brown enough for the sun not to burn the exposed parts of my body except, perhaps for the back of my neck; I can’t see it so as a precaution I’ll raise the collar of my shirt for protection.

1147 hours: I’ve reached the fire trail. I reckon the path I just emerged from was about a half mile.

1150 hours: I leave this checkpoint after resting and admiring the view of Ojai, somewhat obscured by the two foothills on either side of my visual field.

1220 hours: I’m now on the point of a big curve just opposite the other side of the main canyon where the sedimentary layers curve upward in a very compelling manner. It really draws the eye — one wonders how it got that way; Jim and I have remarked on it a couple of times; Greg too.  From here is a comprehensive view of the Ojai Valley, including the Upper Valley; the foothills are well below now.  I put my tan shorts over my head and secure them with my sun visor string to keep the heat of the sun from my head, neck and shoulders.  It works.

1235 hours: I’m at the point of the last large curve before heading on a generally straight path to the springs.  I’ve traveled a total of two hours and reckon, therefore, I’ve gone two miles, with one to go before reaching the springs.  I have averaged two miles per hour uphill and three, going downhill on previous hikes.

1305 hours: I arrive at the springs and rest for 50 minutes on my back.  Just before arriving at the springs, I thought I might not be able to continue. But eating a plum, drinking a lot of water and resting has revived me and given me sufficient optimism to try to reach the summit which, if one can believe the Forest Service signs, is only two miles and one hour away.

1355 hours: I leave the springs.

I’m really taking my time on this path.  I’m still pretty much out of shape.  No sense in rushing.

1414 hours: the path becomes steeper and looks to stay that way for the balance of the trip to the ridge.

I can now see the structure built on Nordhoff Peak.  I saw it last hike going up the other side of the mountain, but was unable to reach it because I had exhausted my energy about one mile and 500′ elevation from the peak.

1425 hours: I should have a mile more to go.  I’m pretty certain now I’ll make it to the ridge.

1443 hours: Pause to drink water and rest.

1515 hours: Pause to rest by a small pool and the trickle that feeds it.

1528 hours: I’m beginning to lose my will; beginning to question the worth of this exercise.

1534 hours: I’m at a monstrous switch back.

1537 hours: I can see the fire trail along the ridge where I’m headed, although the precise spot where this path dumps out is obscured.

1554 hours: taking a break in the shade, drink water; feeling pretty beat, weak in the middle of my back.

1603 hours: will I be able to get to the peak and down the other side? I can clearly see the sign at the end of this trail, less than a mile away. Here are three large conifers at this level (ca. 3500′), ap­parently fed by an underground stream.

1630 hours: I arrive at the ridge.  In that I left the springs at 1355 hours, it took 2 hours and 35 minutes to go what is supposed to be two miles.  I’ll stipulate that I averaged one mile per hour, rather than my usual two for uphill hiking, and proclaim, therefore, that it was at least 2 miles from the springs to this spot on the ridge.  The sign here has been defaced completely.    I recall the sign indicating Nordhoff peak to be one mile to the West, last time I was here.

1635 hours: on toward the peak.

1723 hours: arrived in a fork in the road; left takes me downward toward the other side of the mountain; right takes me a little further upward to the Peak and the platform on top of it.  Despite my fatigue I will go the whole distance, so I turn right.

1728 hours: I reach the peak, and am touching the stairs leading up to the platform.  It took around one hour to reach the peak from the last checkpoint, one mile away, so I am traveling one mile per hour uphill in my reduced-stamina state, after the first three miles to the springs.

Fire Lookout Station, Nordhoff Peak

1730 hours: I leave for the downhill trip.

1747 hours: Standing at the same spot I stood on my last attempt up the mountain from the other side, where I quit, exhausted, not able to take another step uphill despite having the peak and the platform in clear view.  I seem to have more stamina today than last time I was at this point, so I’ll count it as a good thing.

1755 hours: I’m at the trail head (more of a path) going down from this fire trail to the one three miles below and to the West. I’ve got to watch out for a couple of patches of poison oak along this path I noticed the last time I was here.

1805 hours: Just got through running rapidly downhill to escape the hornets whose nest was in the ground, directly on the trail.  I leaped over the nest entrance, ran like hell for about fifteen seconds, swatting at a couple of hornets that followed.  I mashed one on my left shoulder.  Adrenaline was high, and I stop a minute to calm down.

1840 hours: still coming down the mountain.  I’m beginning to get mind wanderings due to tiredness, which is not so good to do, given it is quite precipitous on my left.

1853 hours: I’m at the end of this three-mile path down the mountain and have done it in around an hour. So, I went three miles an hour for the last hour, my usual downhill speed.

(Coyotes howling)

1904 hours: getting tired, but the worst is behind me, I believe, except for the final trip down the rocky path to Gridley Road.  I’m resting now at the “Day Use” site and after going a few more hundred feet I’ll be at the junction where I turn back (East) toward the car.

I’m at the fork in the road; the official trail goes down towards Signal Street but I’m going to take the unofficial trail that isn’t marked.  Jim and I have been on it, part way, coming from the other end toward which I’m heading.  Unfortunately, from what I can see from this point, the trail goes around a corner and it’s a steep climb. I don’t need too many more of those.  I think I’ll eat a bit.  I was hoping the bread had some kind of sugar in it, such as molasses, but it is pristine in its healthfulness.  I’ll not eat very much of it.  Perhaps water would be better.

1916 hours: OK, this is going to be my last leg; let’s see if I can do it without collapsing.

1941 hours: I’m getting concerned now; I just finished that uphill. I should have scoped this out; I was under the impres­sion that this leg was pretty much flat.  Now I’m going to have to go up again.  I’m not looking forward to it, nor am I now looking forward to the uphill I know about that connects the end of this trail with the beginning of the last downhill to Gridley Road.

1946 hours: I’m about to go up this very short but very steep uphill; I’m going to do it v-e-e-r-ry slowly.

1957 hours: I’m finally going downhill; I don’t know if there any more up hills — I’ve got to get around this bend first…It’s all downhill as far as I can see, and it looks like I’m getting pretty close to the junction.

Whoops, here’s a hidden little roller coaster dip, so I’ll have to take my time going up this rise.  I’ve just drunk my last water; there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll have to use the flash­light toward the end of the hike.  I’d better get moving.

This is going on forever!  First more downhill, then uphill, then downhill then uphill again.  Criminentlies — I thought I was there!

Here’s a bunch of uphill ahead of me.  I’m really discouraged; it’s getting pretty dark; I’ll get the flashlight out now.

2024 hours: There’s the junction!  It’s just a little bit of downhill to get to it, and then (gasp) I (gasp) will (gasp) engage (gasp) in (gasp) the (gasp) last (gasp) uphill (gasp) of this (gasp) trip (gasp).

2040 hours: I’m at the uphill end of the final leg of the trip.  I am whacked!  I’ve got to be careful going down this path; it’s rocky and loose and a misstep could prove harmful (it’s complete­ly dark now).  I’ll rest a couple minutes then get going. I want to get to phone by 9PM (2100 hours) to tell Mary not to worry.

2050 hours: I made it! Just a short walk to the car.

Ron Pavellas, aged 55 years.

After notes:

I phoned Mary from a Mexican Market on Ojai Avenue near Gridley Road and told her I was safe but incapable of driving safely due to my fatigue.  While I waited for her I drank the world’s most delicious orange drink.  I checked my weight the next morning and found I had lost four pounds due to dehydration.

The marker is at the mountain peak.
Gridley Road is at bottom right,
the locus of the beginning and end
of the roughly circular hike


An Imaginary Hike in the Coastal Mountains of California

The first few hundred yards are the easiest and quickest. Civilization soon gets behind and below me in my initial haste. I change to the regular and slower, upward marching that gets my heart, legs and lungs in a pleasing synchronicity.

I adjust my senses for possible sudden signs of wildlife as the unfamiliar trail narrows and the foliage thickens. I am not afraid of the coyotes, tarantulas, and bobcats, but a harmless lizard will make a sudden move that says: snake!

The only dangerous plants are the shiny red and green bushes of poison oak and the needle-tipped leaves of the yucca plant, both easily discerned.

I enter a cloud and its moisture brings welcome coolness to my face and arms.

The continuous, regular rhythm of my lungs’ halations helps me purge the feelings and thoughts associated with other humans and their works.

There is no trail to guide me further. I find a deer track.

Umunhum-03The foliage is watered by Pacific fogs and low clouds at this elevation.  Patterns of moisture flow through the undulating and twisting canyons, and through the convoluted layers of sedimentary rock below the surface.

Trees, bushes, grasses, mosses, lichen.

I don’t want to twist an ankle or break a bone by slipping into a hidden hole or crevasse.  No one knows where I am.

The delicious danger of this part of the hike makes my heart beat with more urgency than called for by the exertion of the climb.  My senses are at their peak alertness and I feel fully alive and vibrant.  I am not fearful, nor am I careless. I am positive in every movement; I neither hurry nor plod.  I observe everything around me directly, without being conscious of my observing.

This steeper climb taxes my legs and lungs, but the adrenaline generated by the adventure helps me easily overcome the burden.

Without time and almost without space, except for the flow of greens and browns past my eyes, I march upward.

I enter a different vegetation zone. Things are deeper green, and denser. Smells are damper, more pungent.  I step over trickles of water seeping from beneath the layers of fallen leaves and dead tree limbs.

I break through the top of the cloud.  The foliage is too high and thick to permit but small bursts of direct sunlight.  The dryer air has a lightness that stimulates me to quicken the pace.

I suddenly emerge into a clearing, the sun slanting from the right.  I stop, back up slightly to scan the open area from the shade, and allow my breathing and heart to resume slower rhythms.

I’ve worked up a sweat.

A large rock formation in the treeless area ahead offers time in the sunlight.

The sounds of the birds envelope me.  They have become untouched friends over the years.   I am gladdened and relaxed by their chattering, chirping, clicking and warbling.  Even the raucous jays are part of this pleasant symphony.

I see the ridges of the nearby mountains for tens of miles.

I doze, aware but unfocused.  No questions, no concerns.

Time no longer exists.  I am where I am.

I have joined with the forest and its mother, the mountain.

I am home.