Matt is currently out on the Pacific Crest Trail

Hey all!

Sites updates are going to be pretty sparse this summer as I’m currently making my way northbound along the Pacific Crest Trail.

If you’d like to follow along with my trip I’ve been posting quasi daily pictures on my Instagram and it’s always great to hear from people along the way.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Lower Rancho Nuevo to Piedra Blanca

April 22nd to 26th, 2020
48 miles, 7,000'
[Pics] [Caltopo]

I'd now been  backpacking the Condor Trail since April 9th. I'd started at the northern terminus doing 85 miles Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek and then when they closed some of those trails I jumped south for another 58 miles Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Cuesta Pass on the 101 to Adobe TH on the 166.

Now I only had about 5 days left before my Pacific Crest Trail plans were starting. Jen and I had booked an Airbnb for a week starting on April 27th so that I would have a chance to recover before kicking off  what was potentially 5+ months of nonstop hiking on May 5th.

I'd originally eyed continuing the last section and coming out at Manazan but Brian Sarvis had described the trail as involving some significant bushwhacking and as much as I was enjoying the solitude I was really hoping to get in more hiking and less manual tick removal to better prepare for the PCT.

I also debated doing Piedra Blanca to Lake Piru allowing me to see the southern end of the trail but that also reportedly had some  bad sections.

I decided to do the section from Tina / Lower Rancho Nuevo along the 33 down to Piedra Blanca aka the trailhead most people use for Sespe & Willett Hot Springs.

So this time I did the yellow section of the map above and while there was still some significant brush and an ungodly amount of ticks it was another enjoyable section of the Condor Trail.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Cuesta Pass on the 101 to Adobe TH on the 166

April 18th to 22nd
Condor Trail
58 miles, 8,800'
[Pics] [Caltopo]

This is the second of three sections I backpacked along the Condor Trail during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on the trail itself please see the first post Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek. It covers the first 85 miles along the northern end to the point where I was forced to exit at Kirk Creek due to county trail and road closures.

Since then my girlfriend and spent two nights in an Airbnb. This mostly involved sitting in bed researching options on my laptop, taking some very well deserved showers, and resting up my feet while eating everything in sight.

So why did I settle on the the section between the 101 and 166? I'd originally intended to continue the trail south from Vicente Flat but I didn't want to flagrantly violate a trail closure even if the chances of getting caught where I'd be spending most of my time were slim.

Also near the area marked Ragged Point on Google Maps there's a somewhat unfortunate 50 ish mile section of "trail" which involves walking along the beach / PCH. If I had a shot at doing the entire 400 miles then I would have powered through that section but considering I had a hard stop date when I needed to pivot to the PCT I was inclined to spend what time I had along the more wilderness-y section.

Talking to the always informative Brian Sarvis I settled on starting at the 101 near Cuesta Pass and heading south. He said the trail was likely to be in better shape than what I'd been through and he said it was a spectacular section where he'd seen more bears than anywhere else along the trail.

So the morning of April 18th I threw everything back in my pack and I was off for another round of tick infested bushwhacking.

Section Hiking The Condor Trail: Bottchers Gap to Kirk Creek

April 9th to 16th, 2020
Condor Trail
85.5 miles, 15,000'
[Pics] [CalTopo]

Life has been rather interesting the last few months. In February my girlfriend and I gave up our apartment in favor of living out of a conversion van in a local campground. It seemed like the perfect fit for our lifestyle which rarely involves sitting around at home these days and would hopefully allow us extra flexibility when it came to travel.

With all the planning that went into downsizing and the move itself I felt like I'd considered everything. Except, oh I don't know, a worldwide virus pandemic causing mass closures of campgrounds, businesses, ect.

And so here we are in the times of COVID-19. The campgrounds we used are all closed. An issue with our vans solar system left us without reliable power and forced us to throw it in storage and temporarily move into an Airbnb so we could meet our teaching commitments. And then I got sick.

I don't have confirmation what I had thanks to the testing situation but I had all sorts of potential exposure thanks to a public transportation trip a few weeks ago, campground living, and contact with a friend who did test positive for COVID-19. I ended up having a rough few weeks health wise.

Meanwhile the shutdown forced us to end the Wilderness Travel Course early without the snow travel or snow camp outings and then I had to cancel the Spring Advanced Mountaineering Program course completely. And without a home to shelter in per the state orders I started to look at options to get on a long trail as soon as possible.

Amongst the other issues the virus caused shutdowns of local trailheads and so I wanted something relatively obscure that would get me away from any crowds. Starting the Pacific Crest Trail early was an option but that situation has been fluid with more closures potentially on their way and reports from people on the trail of getting doxxed or even death threats from slightly obsessive Facebook keyboard warriors. All of which left me inclined to stay away until my May permit date.

The end result was that I found myself taking a hard look at the Condor Trail.

The Condor Trail is 400-ish mile thru hiking route that runs the length of Los Padres and promises a remote wilderness experience. It first came onto my radar after my Hot Spring Trail trip back in February and had the advantage of going through a lot of areas I've yet to visit.

The dashed black line is the entire trail. I ended up doing three sections and this write up covers the northern red section which I did across 8 days before a local road and trail closure caused me to skip south.

Thru-Hiking The Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT)

March 4th to 8th, 2020
Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail
73 miles, 11,600' gain
[Pics] [Caltopo]

The Santa Monica Backbone Trail (aka the BBT) is a long distance trail running the length of the Santa Monica Mountains. It has been around in various forms since the 80s but it first hit my awareness in 2016 when I saw a press release announcing that it was now complete. I promptly got excited, looked into it, and was discouraged by the warning that it was a long trail that wasn't intended to be thru hiked because of the lack of backcountry campsites. The recommendation of doing it as a series of dayhikes just didn't have the same appeal considering the drive to get there but they did mention plans to add campsites in the future. So I filed it away in my list of things to do someday.

Fast forward to spring of 2020. I've been trying to get ready for an attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail and looking for PCT-like hikes where I could get some distance in. That caused me to take a more serious look at the BBT and start asking questions of friends in the area.

The backcountry campsites still don't exist and fire damage over the last few years has made the developed off trail camping options even worse with the closure of Circle X Ranch. However after my experiences on the Desert Trail and Hot Spring Trail sections I was ready to be a bit more flexible.

I ended up doing the trail east to west over 5 days and I had a spectacular time. I've done my best to compile everything I used, saw, or looked at and hopefully this can help spur interest and the further development of the trail so that more people get to experience this remarkable trip.

Section Hiking The Hot Spring Trail: Santa Barbara To Ojai

February 5th to 9th, 2020
The Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal
Santa Barbara to Ojai
5 days, 57 miles, 10,300' gain
[Pics] [CalTopo]

After my last big excursion Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs I was eager to get out again on my next PCT 2020 prep hike.

I'd already looked at and discarded the California Coastal Trail for not really being a trail down here in Southern California and the big trek through urban Mecca had me a bit less excited for the next Desert Trail Section. Fortunately I had another prospect and turned my eyes to the Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal.

Paddling Black Canyon & Visiting Arizona, Boy Scout, Gold Strike, and Sauna Hot Springs

January 19th to 21st, 2020
[Pics] [Caltopo] [Map]

An overnight paddle trip within driving distance of LA / Orange County with access to multiple hot springs? Sounds awesome doesn't it?

Black Canyon is an area just south of Hoover Dam that is known for the hot springs that flow out of the various side canyons.

It's the northern part of a 30 mile designated National Water Trail stretching from Hoover Dam (mile 64) to Eldorado Canyon (mile 39).

Paddling up river from Willow Beach to the hot springs has been a trip I've been wanting to do for years. There's been at least three times I was all set to go only to have to cancel the trip at the last minute due to weather extremes or other issues.

With big changes on the horizon that may limit our access to our kayaks Jen and I decided we really wanted to make doing this trip a priority. And when weekend plans cancelled in mid January we jumped at the chance and headed off for two nights and three days paddling up from Willow Beach.

Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs

January 12th to 16th, 2020
Desert Trail Section Hike
Bucktrack's Desert Trail Info
Dirtmonger's Desert Trail Info
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

I've been back from Thailand for a little over a week with only a brief three day excursion to backpack Santa Cruz Island with Jen and I'm having a bit of a hard time adjusting to being back. I've been eyeing contract work options but at least so far the options I've found haven't worked with the timing of the next big outdoor event: attempting the Pacific Crest Trail starting on May 5th!

So, priorities being what they are I started to look around for ways to use the time to better prepare for the PCT since I'd spent the last few months diving instead of hiking. I wanted to get out and backpack, it needed to be fairly local, and I didn't want to repeat any of the sections I'd be hiking on the PCT come May.

That led me first to the California Coastal Trail which I put aside due to the fact the southern section is basically just walking down the streets around San Diego and anyone who had thru hiked it ended up having to stealth camp in urban areas. Not ideal for a guy that dresses in neon green.

I also came across a proposal for something called the Hot Springs Trail but I wasn't able to find any sort of a map online and I didn't feel like laying out $50 for another print guidebook that would end up rotting away in my closet.

Then I came across the Desert Trail. A proposal by Russell Pengelly back in the 60s for a desert route stretching from Mexico to Canada that seems to have largely fallen into obscurity these days particularly in the California section. There are two solid sources for information Buck and Dirtmonger who have both hiked the entire trail. Outside of that information is sparse.

The blue line shows the Pacific Crest Trail while the red is the Desert Trail. (To see the entire Desert Trail route from Mexico to Canada see Dirtmongers page here.) So it was in range, went through areas where I'd done peaks but hadn't done any sort of distance backpacking, and the weather was almost ideal. So I had a plan!

A Return To Cold Water Diving At Crescent Bay

January 8th, 2020

I think I've been starting to go into diving withdrawals.

I spent November and December diving my butt off in warm clear water while working on the SDI Divemaster certification. And then once Christmas hit it was a hard stop as I flew back to the states to visit my family. I did get in a quick freshwater drift dive in San Marcos (the best drift dive in Texas!) but come on!

So once I was back from Santa Cruz I pinged Jack seeing if he was up for another two tank morning dive like we'd been doing before I left. He grumbled that he hadn't had to set an alarm since I'd left town and then cheerfully agreed to meet me at Crescent Wednesday morning.

And so just like that we were back!

Backpacking Santa Cruz Island: Prisoners Harbor to Scorpion Harbor

January 3rd to 5th, 2020
El Montanon Peak (1,808')
High Mount Benchmark (1,581')
Day 1: 3.2 miles, 1,250' (+4.3 miles, 750' oops)
Day 2: 11.5 miles, 2,200'
Day 3: 0 miles, 0'
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

After two months spent out in Thailand diving my butt off I'd spent a week in Texas visiting family and now I was back in Southern California.

While plans have changed a bit from the initial plans Jen and I have been working under the assumption I would spend the next few months doing contract work until we start the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially I was going to be available for work on the 1st of January

We'd been eyeing backpacking across Santa Cruz Island ever since we did the Trans-Catalina Trail in 2018 but the timing and weather hadn't ever been right. And then it turned out they were closing the main anchorage Scorpion Harbor in late 2019 due to the construction of a new pier.

But they reopened the harbor for a brief period and we managed to snag campsites right before it closed again on January 5th.