Hike: Rigorous day hike up Pine Mountain’s Chorro Grande Trail to Raspberry Spring (and two camps); suitable for fit children ages 9 and above
Mileage: 7-mile one-way trip, with a 2,900-foot ascent to Pine Mountain Road
Time: About four hours hiking, with very steep ascents after Oak Camp heading to Chorro Grande Springs, including 30 minutes for a good lunch at upper Raspberry Spring Camp; 100 driving minutes each way out past Ojai on Highway 33 (past the Sespe Gorge)
Maps: Tom Harrison Maps’ Sespe Wilderness Trail Map is the most readable; Craig Carey’s Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura has this as Route 74, Raspberry Spring (23W02).
English philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, “God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it” of the divine reality. Miracles abounded on this strenuous day hike up the front side of Pine Mountain and a half-mile down the backside to lonely Raspberry Spring. While my colleague Chris Caretto and I knew a bike shuttle would be greener, we opted to drive two vehicles out past Ojai on the Maricopa Highway (33) in order to avoid a freezing bicycle (shuttle) ride 11 miles back down the highway.
My dictionary defines miracle as “a physical world effect which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency,” but I prefer the secondary definition: A miracle is simply “a marvel; a wonderful example,” and therefore the supernatural aspect can be abandoned. It felt like a miracle of good fortune to “awaken” and find myself driving past Ojai and then on Highway 33 (the Maricopa Highway), leaving Santa Barbara’s Westside about 4:30 a.m. in late November.
Driving separately, Chris and I met at lofty Reyes Peak Campground 75 miles inland, dropped my old truck there, sped back along the Pine Mountain Road (4.8 miles) to the 33, and then headed down toward Ojai, stopping at the clearly marked Chorro Grande Springs Trail sign, which is where we began hiking.
In recent columns I’ve verified that both Chorro Grande Springs and McGuire Spring are flowing even in our second drought year. While this trip’s ostensible goal was to check and verify water flow at the third magic spring on the Pine Mountain massif, 6,650-foot Raspberry Spring, my overpowering desire just to hike uphill drove the ignition-idea to scramble 2,900 feet up past gorgeous Chorro Grande Springs to the same Pine Mountain Road.
Grinding up this rugged trail about 8 a.m., I was grateful for the cold and cloudy day as well as the certainty we wouldn’t encounter any humans. The first couple of miles present a balanced warm-up, while constantly ascending. At 4,700 feet, Oak Camp sat sprawled next to dried up Chorro Grande Creek, but there was creek water flow further ahead off trail and to the west.
Chris and I were beneficiaries of two natural advantages: cool but bright weather helping against dehydration. and a light sprinkling in the area a few days earlier had left a firm yet springy footpath. The cleansed atmosphere’s raw clean quality lightly burned the nose and invigorated urban lungs. Our moist footpath also eased the load on creaky knees, hips, and lower back.
Sections of the path exhausted my middle-aged legs. During the whole of the 2.5 hours spent getting to 7,000-foot Reyes Peak Camp and the road, I took no breaks, except to guzzle water occasionally. However, forging constantly uphill at a decent pace improbably restored my troublesome knee joint.
While numbers can show us specifics of this trek (2,900-foot gain in the first six miles accomplished in 150 minutes), ciphers alone do not recount the deeper story of the “miracle on Chorro.” After a strong start, enjoying the hard chaparral plants and unique Sespe sandstone formations, the climb assaulted us with its steep angle once we passed Oak Camp. Mr. C. pressed on far ahead, and I fought off my demons amid the stunning manzanita, mountain mahoganies, and bare ceanothus. Magnificent conifers begin to appear once we were well above Oak Camp, around 5,500 feet.
Persevering, carefully measuring each step, I fell into a steady pattern, deliberately slowing the pace. About 20 minutes after Oak Camp the knee felt much better, a little stronger, and I actually gained some vigor even as the trudging became more difficult.
Solitude, silence, great natural beauty on the mountain, captivating vistas back over the Santa Barbara Channel to our offshore islands, focus on an abused body part; these yielded a surprise healing in the knee joint.
Marvels and miracles are all around us; we simply lose our concentration and miss the beauty for the omnipresent details. Once we passed old friend Chorro Grande Springs and topped out at Pine Mountain Road, we walked past my parked truck and descended very steeply to our ultimate destination: Raspberry Spring. I verified that it was flowing, and there was snow near the camp.
Is it mere luck or some geological principle that Pine Mountain’s twin springs, Raspberry and Chorro Grande, boast almost the same elevation (about 6,500 feet) and both are still flowing strongly in our drought year? More wonders arise when I consider how very difficult it is to get a full day free from our screen-obsessed coastal world, to find the ignition-energy to kit up and make the long drive, and to tackle the mountain with some angst about the knee.
Utilitarian philosopher David Hume famously stated that “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle,” but I prefer “Litttlewood’s Law,” in which the British mathematician suggests that individuals should statistically expect “one-in-a-million” events to occur about once a month.
Head for the hills and anticipate your own one-in-a-million miracle: If you go there, it may appear!