Companion blog: Adventures In Stoving

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fishermans Camp

Honestly, my preference is for higher, pine-forested trails, but I'm always looking for new things, and I'm always looking for easy hikes that I can do with my five year old daughter.  So, this past Saturday, I decided to go to Fisherman's Camp.  If nothing else, it being spring, I figured we'd see some nice wildflowers.  I was not disappointed.
Indian paintbrush, Fishermans Camp Trail, San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.
Getting There
The trailhead for Fishermans Camp is only about 5 or 6 miles from Ortega Hwy (Hwy 74) in Orange County.  "Hey, I live in Orange County, this will be easy and quick to get to."  Uh, not so much.  While Fishermans Camp is only 5 or 6 miles straight line distance, getting there is not so straightforward.  There are a couple of options.
1.  Hiking.  If one is willing to hike 10 or so miles, one can start from the Bear Canyon Trailhead on Ortega Highway near Upper San Juan Campground.  There are a number of variations on this route; I've sketched them on a topographic map.  I'll post a link to a topographic map with my GPS track on it down below.
2.  Driving.  In this case, since I had my five year old along, I decided to drive to the closest trailhead, the Fishermans Camp Trailhead.  Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to get to this trailhead from central Orange County.

Driving directions:
First, here's a Google Map.  From Central Orange County, the fastest way to get to the Fishermans Camp Trailhead is to take the 91 east to the 15.  Turn right (southeast) on the 15 and proceed to Clinton Keith Road near Murietta, CA.  Turn right (south southwest) on Clinton Keith Road.  Clinton Keith Road will go out into the country side.  After about five miles, you'll come to a hard right turn.  Clinton Keith Road ends here, and as you turn right, you're on Tenaja Road.  Go about 1.7 miles on Tenaja Road and come to a stop sign.  Turn right here to stay on Tenaja.  There's a large rock on the SW corner that says "Tenaja" on it.
The "Tenaja" rock.  Turn right here to stay on Tenaja Road.
Drive about 4.2 miles on Tenaja Road and then turn right on "Cleveland Forest Road."  My topo map calls this "Wildomar Road".  The Forest Service designation is "7S02."  The proper designation is probably "Cleveland National Forest Road 7S02", but the sign just says "Cleveland Forest Road," so look for that.
Turn right on "Cleveland Forest Road."
In a relatively short distance (slightly less than a mile, about 0.9 mi), you'll see a nice parking area with an outhouse.   This is the trailhead for the Tenaja Trail.  Because of the amenities present, you'll need to have an Adventure Pass to park here.  This isn't our trailhead for today, but it's worth knowing about.  The Tenaja Trail also goes to Fishermans Camp but at roughly 3.5 miles is more than twice as long as the Fishermans Camp Trail.  From what I could see, the Tenaja Trail is the more scenic trail inasmuch as it follows Tenaja Canyon with it's tree lined bottom whereas the Fishermans Trail cuts over the tops of chaparral clad ridges.

But we're headed to the Fishermans Camp Trail today, so we drive on.  The narrow, one-lane road deteriorates somewhat past the Tenaja Trailhead but is in reasonably good shape and is paved the entire way.  It was no problem for my Honda Accord although there was one tense moment when I rounded a corner only to see a large 4WD pickup truck coming straight for me.  We both stopped in time, but this is definitely a road that you wouldn't want to speed on.  The road is narrow and winding to the Fishermans Camp Trailhead, so if one is prone to car sickness, this might not be the road for you.

About 3.7 miles from where you turned off from Tenaja Road, you'll come to the signed trailhead for the Fishermans Camp Trail.
The trailhead sign at the Fishermans Camp Trailhead.
The parking area is small.  Maybe you could get four cars into it, but it's very narrow, so the cars toward the rear would block the cars toward the front.  On the day we hiked, there were dozens of cars at the more popular Tenaja Trailhead, but we were alone at the Fishermans Camp Trailhead.
Fishermans Camp Trailhead.  Note rock.
The trail was a road at one time and Fishermans Camp was a drive in campground.  But the road is now a trail and a large rock at the trailhead prevents anyone from driving past the trailhead.

The Hike
On March 21st, the day we hiked the trail, there was a lot of nice greenery in the trailhead area.  The trailhead rock makes a nice plaything for children.
My daughter, climbing on the trailhead rock.  Note narrowness of parking area.
Leaving the trailhead, you quickly come to a trail register.  Here's my downloadable GPS track, so you can see where everything is in relation to the trailhead.  You'll need to zoom in and scroll around to make sense of things.

Shortly past the register, you'll come to a flexible plastic post that says "Wilderness Boundary".  I'm not so sure this is the exact boundary.  The Forest Service map shows that the boundary is quite a bit further in.  Regardless of where the boundary is exactly, you'll need a wilderness permit if you want to stay overnight.
Wilderness boundary marker, Fishermans Camp Trail, San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

You'll now proceed along the old road bed which makes for a nicely graded trail.  The road basically contours over to a small saddle and then descends to Fishermans Camp in 1.8 miles, losing no more than 500 feet in elevation along the way.  All in all, this is a pretty easy hike and is suitable for small children that can handle dirt trail hiking, such as my five year old daughter.  It is of course not as smooth as say a city park, and there is a rocky creek crossing (dry the day we were there) before one arrives at the camp site.

Along the way, we saw a lot of nice wildflowers like these red monkey flowers.
Red monkey flowers.
I'm used to seeing orange monkey flowers, so these were kind of neat in my opinion.
A red monkey flower.
The trail is fairly exposed in a number of areas, so you would NOT want to do this on a hot day.  On the day we went it was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 Celsius), and it felt very hot in the sun climbing out.
The trail passes through a lot of shadeless chaparral.  Pick a cool day to do this trail!
Especially in drought years, you CANNOT count on water en route.  The only water you can count on is the water you bring with you.  Bring a liter per person for every two to three hours you plan to be on the hike.
Hydration being key to an enjoyable (and safe) hike, be sure to bring plenty of water.
As you descend, you get some nice views of San Mateo Creek coming down from the north.  The San Mateo Trail, which we will shortly join in the vicinity of Fishermans Camp, can be seen making its way down the opposite side of the canyon.
San Mateo Canyon.  On the far side of the canyon is the San Mateo Trail.
 After about 1.7 miles according to my GPS (the trail sign says 1.6), you come to the junction with the San Mateo trail.  Going left, it's only a tenth of a mile to Fishermans Camp.  If you turn right, it's about two miles to Tenaja Falls.  Given the drought, we didn't try for the falls.
The junction with the San Mateo Trail.
Before you get to the camp, though, you have to cross Tenaja Creek.  Tenaja Creek was dry on the day we passed through, but particularly after heavy rains, the creek could be a major barrier.  Normally, though, the creek isn't much of a barrier.
Tenaja Creek. Dry as a bone on 21 March 2015.
We were disappointed to see the creek totally dry, but given the multi year drought that we're currently in, it came as no surprise.  We met some hikers at the camp that had come down the Tenaja Trail.  They said that they had seen some stagnant pools in a rocky section of the creek upstream.

Arriving at the camp, I was pleased to find some nice green areas.
Campsite, Fishermans Camp
I only saw about four campsites, but they all seemed quite nice.  We had a picnic lunch on some fallen trees near the junction with the Tenaja Trail.
Lunch spot, Fishermans Camp.
We brought a stove hoping against hope that we could draw water from the stream even in this drought year.  Boiling, according to the Centers For Disease Control, is the most effective water treatment, more effective than filtering, chemical treatment, or ultraviolet light.  However, there was no water in the creek for us to boil, so we just boiled some of our drinking water that we had carried.
Chef Joyce prepares the noon repast.
The downside to the greenery is that there is quite a bit of poison oak in the bottom of the canyon.  Personally, I think long pants are in order although we saw several hikers in shorts.
Poison oak.  "Leaves of three; let it be"
There's another trail junction at Fishermans Camp.  You can go south to the Tenaja Trailhead or west further down San Mateo Creek.  From Fishermans Camp, it's about 3.5 miles south to the Tenaja Trailhead, which we passed on the way driving in.  The Tenaja Trail had some nice greenery, so we decided to follow the Tenaja Trail a ways south.
Heading south on the Tenaja Trail.
A little ways down the trail, we encountered a downed log.  Some hikers might be a bit annoyed at this turn of events, but my daughter, who loves to climb, appeared to take it in stride.
Downed log on the Tenaja Trail.
We were rewarded on our trip down the Tenaja Trail with the sighting of a fairly rare flower, a peony.  They have a deep maroon color.  It's not often that they're spotted since they're rare and because they point straight down.
A peony on the Tenaja Trail.
You have to turn the flower up (gently!) in order to see it's full beauty.
The lovely peony.
Reaching our turn around time (always set a turn around time on a day hike before you start your hike), we headed back to Fishermans Camp.
Fishermans Camp
We then re-crossed the creek and headed back up the trail to our car.  Enroute we took note of yet more wildflowers like this lovely yucca.
"Our Lords Candle", more commonly called just "yucca." Scientific binomial:  Yucca whipplei.
As we climbed, we took one last longing look down San Mateo Creek, into the area beyond Fishermans Camp, but exploration of that portion of the creek will have to wait for another day.
Looking west down San Mateo Creek.
On the way out, we spotted some very cool looking wild cucumber. Children (and many adults!) find this plant particularly interesting.  I've seen birds eating it, but I'm not sure if it's edible to humans.
Wild cucumber.
We also noticed the berries on a manzanita which will turn a maroon-brown color when ripe.  "Manzanita" means "little apples" in Spanish.  I can see just why the early Spanish explorers named it.
It wasn't long before we had climbed the 1.8 miles (from Fisherman Camp; it's 1.7 miles from the closest junction) back to our car.  A most thoroughly enjoyable hike.

Thoughts for Future Trips
1.  Tenaja Trail.  When my daughter gets a little older, I'd like to hike this again, hopefully in a non-drought year, from the Tenaja Trailhead.  The Tenaja Trail seemed like a much greener, shadier trail than the Fishermans Camp Trail although the Fishermans Camp Trail was nice.  The Tenaja Trail is about 7 miles round trip, which is a bit much for a five year old.  My general rule of thumb is one mile per year of age.
2.  San Mateo Trail.  I'd like to see Tenaja Falls which is about a mile's hike from the same road that one takes to get to Fisherman's Camp.  From the Tenaja Falls Trailhead, the San Mateo Trail descends to Fishermans Camp, yet another way to get into the area.
3.  Were I hiking without my daugher, I'd hike in from the Bear Canyon Trailhead, come down one branch or the other of the Bluewater Trail, and spend the night at Fishermans Camp.  It would be a lot easier to drive to the Bear Canyon Trailhead on Ortega Hwy than to drive all the way around past Lake Elsinore almost to Temecula to get to the east side trailheads, and I think it would be an interesting hike.  The big question mark in this drought is water.  I don't know of any reliable water source  en route, and it's a tough haul to carry two days worth of water (one day to hike in, one day to hike out).  I figure I'd want to carry about 6 to 8 liters, depending on the weather, of water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and hygiene.  A liter of water weighs about 35 ounce, a standard Nalgene 1 liter bottle weighs about 6 ounces, so one has to carry 41 ounces per liter (if one uses Nalgenes).  So, to carry eight liters of water, I'd be carrying 41 x 8 = 328 ounces which is just over twenty pounds!  And that's just water weight.  I still have to carry all my other gear.  Of course, you wouldn't have to carry the water the whole time; it gets lighter with every sip, but carrying an extra 20 lbs even for a short distance would make me think twice before attempting the hike.  If one were to switch to bladders, such as the 1 liter Platypus bladders which weigh about an ounce each, one could save 5 x 8 = 40 ounces which is about 2.5 pounds.  So you'd carry 18 pounds instead of 20.5 – which is still quite a load.  I'll probably wait for a cool day on a non-drought year.

Thanks for joining me on this little hike to Fishermans Camp.


Appendix – The Other Reason
Actually, there is one other reason to head out that direction (the east side of the Santa Ana range):  Nomad Ventures.  Nomad Ventures is a real gear shop.  I mean REI is OK for the casual hiker, but you'll never find high end gear there, the kind of gear that serious, experienced hikers in the know want.  Usually you have to order that kind of gear over the internet, sight unseen, and pay shipping.  Nomad Ventures has somehow survived in this era of slick mass marketing.  It's this funky little gear shop like you'd expect in a mountain town.  They have four stores, one of which is in Temecula, of all places.  Nomad Ventures is the last of the real gear shops in Southern California although Adventure 16 comes pretty close.  In all fairness, Real Cheap Sports is a good gear shop, but they're all the way up in Ventura for crying out loud, double the drive time to Nomad Ventures.  I personally have another reason to visit; a friend of mine works there.  But it's every bit a pleasure to browse at Nomad Ventures.
In Nomad Ventures, Temecula, CA
There's one trick to Nomad Ventures.  There's no sign out front.  Yeah, that's not a typo; there is no sign out front.  You just have to know it's there and go find it.  Weird, but they're surviving on word of mouth alone which says something about just how good their gear really is.  So, do your homework, plot it on your GPS, but go.