Backpacking to Robinson Mountain in Orestimba Wilderness

Robinson Mountain Trail could be more accurately described as a suggested route rather than a trail, but the views on the way up are really pretty. Deep into Orestimba Wilderness it’s a long walk in, and back out again, to get to this rarely walked trail.

For the second year running, I threw my backpack on the back of motorcycle, and headed down to Henry Coe to visit Orestimba Wilderness. I was a little better prepared after my experience last year and stuck to the trails I knew were easily navigable. My goal was to try to get to Robinson Mountain Peak right in the center of Orestimba Wilderness. The trail up to the peak is from the east so I had a long hike from park headquarters just to get to the base of the mountain.

I took the most direct route to get to Orestimba Wilderness from the Park HQ, heading to Mississippi Lake via Poverty Flat Road and Willow Ridge Road, and then dropping down Hartmann Trail and following the Orestimba Creek up to Rooster Comb, where I spent the night. The rivers were pretty full of water and the scenery was very green this time of year. From Rooster Comb it’s a few miles around to Robinson Mountain Trail, just past Lion Canyon.

Robinson Mountain Trail is more of a suggested route than a trail. Like many of the trails at Henry Coe, it walks straight up a ridge to a sub peak of Robinson Mountain. There was only one small section where the trail seems to have been man-made, where it tracks around a particularly steep ridge. The views over the valley on the way up are really pretty. The entire path up requires scrambling through waist to chest high coyote brush, but it’s pretty easily navigable.

After getting to the top though, it’s another story. The chaparral is really thick and has grown well past head height in places. I could see across to Robinson Peak, but there was no obvious path over without crawling through some very thick shrubbery. I was quickly approaching my turn around time, so the summit and views over the western section of the wilderness will have to wait for another year. I turned back, and retraced my steps to Mississippi Lake. The views on the way down the mountain trail were even better than on the way up.

On the way back I met two volunteers trimming and flagging Hartmann Trail, in preparation for the wilderness weekend the next week. This is where Dowdy Ranch is opened to vehicles one weekend each spring, which makes visiting Orestimba a lot more attainable. The volunteers were a couple, both around 80 years old, out maintaining one of the steepest trails in the park, I take my hat off to them.

I also got to talk to a volunteer in park HQ at the end of my trip, a guy named Ken, he explained to me that the ridge roads are actually old fire roads which is why they so strictly follow the ridge lines. Willow Ridge Road is nicknamed the rollercoaster because it goes up and down do many times as it traverses the ridge. It was another fun trip, and I suspect that I’ll be back again in the springtime next year.

Volunteering with the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew

Last year I went on 4 trips with the HSVTC, volunteering to do trail maintenance in National Forests in the Sierra Nevada. They were all a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to doing some more trips again this year.

I’ve met a few people who have done trail work, and each of them talked very fondly of their experiences. As someone who loves the outdoors and was looking for an excuse to spend more time in the Sierra I searched around for volunteering opportunities and came across the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, or HSVTC. They’re based in Fresno, and over the summer period run a series of weekend car camping style and weeklong backpacking volunteer trail crew trips.

Most of their trips are in National Forests, in and around the wilderness areas. After working on the trails alongside National Forest wilderness rangers and the entire trail maintenance team of just 2 people it became clear that the National Forests are significantly more resource starved than the neighbouring National Parks, and need all the help they can get. The wilderness areas in the National Forests are just as beautiful as the National Parks they border.

The first trip I did was 3 day weekend trip, most people arrive on Thursday afternoon/early evening, set up camp, and assemble for dinner in the evening as everyone introduces themselves. Then on Friday we get up early for coffee and breakfast, pack our lunches, walk through basic safety, and then we’re ready to hit the trail. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are work days. On Sunday morning we pack up the camp before heading out, and then on Sunday afternoon everyone says their goodbyes and heads home.

I also went on two backpacking trips, spending 6 nights camped out in the wilderness, first in Sierra National Forest and then Sequoia National Forest. The backpacking trips are supported by pack trains; horses and mules carry out all the tools, food, and camp kitchen, which means for our hiking we only need to carry our tent, sleeping bag/mat, and clothes. There are 4 workdays with a rest (or go explore) day in the middle.

I had a huge amount of fun on each of the trips, got to meet a lot of different people, and learnt a lot about trail building and maintenance, all while supporting trail systems in our National Forests. I’m really looking forward to doing some more trips again this year and hopefully seeing some of the same faces back out there.

Hiking Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail in Carrizo Plain National Monument

The Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail follows the ridgeline of the Caliente Range and offers spectacular views to the east over Carrizo Plain, and to the west over Cuyama Valley the entire way. The springtime super bloom in California this year lit up the sides of mountain with vast swathes of yellow.

After five years of severe drought this winter has been the wettest in California in over a hundred years. And it was sorely needed. In the age of instagram the springtime super bloom in California’s desert climates has flooded the internet and Carrizo Plain has one of the best displays of wildflowers in the country.

Looking over Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake from the start of the Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail. The yellow wildflowers spill down the sides of the mountains and splash across the plain.

Carrizo Plain National Monument is a vast native Californian grassland with two mountain ranges stretching down either side, Temblor Range to the east and Caliente Range to the west. In the middle there’s a large alkaline lake which dries out during the dry periods. Most of the year it’s a harsh and desolate landscape, but during the spring it turns green and color floods down the sides of the mountains and across the plain.

The land is managed by BLM and contains many dirt roads. There’s only one long maintained trail in the monument, which stretches down the ridgeline of Caliente Range. For the first half it borders a wilderness study area and follows along a dirt road, the second half is entirely inside the wilderness study area and becomes a single track trail right up to the ruins of a World War 2 lookout hut at the Caliente Mountain Summit.

I ended up doing the trail as an overnight to split the two legs of 5 hours of driving to get to the monument. The monument was teaming with picture takers and the campsites and many spots along the road up to the trail were full of campers, but in the late afternoon and early evening hiking along the trail I only saw a few other hikers. The trail is completely dry and I had to lug in all my water, but the climbing is gentle, and until the last mile it’s mostly flat going.

I got to the peak just before sunset and backtracked a little to find a flat place to pitch my tent. While the sky was clear, there was a pretty strong wind in the afternoon. It died down a little at sunset but picked up again through the night and the noise of my tent flapping wasn’t exactly conducive to sleep, even with earplugs in.

During the night I was beginning to question whether camping out on the ridge was actually a good idea, but the morning more than made up for it. The wind died down at dawn and the sunrise and early morning hiking was really beautiful. I dropped back down into the valley, through the arriving throngs of picture takers, and five hours up the 101 to home. Carrizo Plain in the springtime is well worth it.

Enchroma Color Blind Glasses

As someone who’s mildly red-green colorblind the Enchroma glasses have a subtle effect on my color vision, particularly for greens; when out hiking that’s no small thing

I’m mildly red-green colorblind, as are around 8% of males, and far fewer females. The human eye typically has 3 types of color sensing cones which roughly correspond to blue, green, and red light. Colorblindness sets of these cones being “defective” or absent altogether, so the palette of colors visible to a colorblind person varies from person to person. The green and red cones have the most overlap, and so the most common type of colorblindness is red-green, which means the cones overlap more than they should.

According to the colorblindness test on the Enchroma website I am a “mild protan” which means the red cones in my eyes are shifted slightly towards the green cones. This results in darker reds starting to become indistinguishable from blacks and at the low-end of the green light my red cones firing too much.

I first read about Enchroma glasses a few years ago but because my colorblindness has never really presented me with a problem, I’m only made aware of it very rarely, the price at the time seemed prohibitive. But this year I got the itch to try them out. Enchroma has a 60 day money back guarantee as they don’t work for everyone (depending on the type of colorblindness you have), so earlier this year I ordered a pair.

I wasn’t expecting a huge effect from them, unlike some of the more dramatic videos online of some people’s first time experiences. And as my colorblindness was caused by my red cones being shifted I was expecting them to have the biggest effect on the range of reds I could distinguish.

The way the Enchroma glasses work is they filter out bands of light where the cones overlap the most, which blocks out a lot of the excessive overlap from the shifted cones. As they are just blocking out certain bands of light you’re not able to see more colors, but it helps your brain distinguish colors by removing a faulty signal.

The first time I tried on the glasses was during a pretty gloomy rainy afternoon (California had a historically wet winter) and the effect was, as I expected, pretty subtle. But what surprised me as that it wasn’t the reds that stood out more, but the greens. I first noticed this in the traffic lights, where the green light looked a lot greener than usual. I think what is happening is that because my red cones are shifted towards the green, by blocking out the overlapping band of red the greens start to look a lot more pure and, well, green.

I’ve had them for about two months now and worn them on my regular (bicycle) commute, out and about, and hiking. The effect when out hiking is easiest notice, especially this time of year in California when everything is temporarily green during the Spring. If I wear the glasses all day and then lift them off I can see the reds start to seep into grass that was previously green, and without them the greens all seem duller.

The glasses are not cheap, but, seeing as being out in the California sun glasses are necessary anyway, I’m pretty happy with a small upgrade to my color vision, particularly when out and about in the green landscapes.

Butano Loop in Pescadero Creek County Park

A 13.5 mile loop with 2,350 feet of climbing up to Butano ridge, this is a long stroll in the woods through second generation redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Pescadero Creek Park is the largest of triad of adjacent county parks, and is also connected to Portola Redwoods State Park. In the Santa Cruz mountains and filled with second generation redwoods the park also features multiple backpacking campsites. Many tree very large tree stumps are visible from the trails but the newer trees are thick and tower overhead.

The Butano Loop follows Old Haul Road, and old logging road, along the Pescadero Creek valley, and climbs up a single track hiking trail which is gently graded, climbing 1,500 feet to a fire road, following the ridgeline before descending back down to the valley.

I’ve hiked this loop multiple times and you almost feel like you have most of the park to yourself once on the loop, there are no great vistas from the trail, just the bay ridge peeking through here and there and a lot of trees.


  1. The hike starts at the Hoffman Creek trailhead on Wurr Road where there’s free street side parking, crossing over Hoffman Creek and following along Old Haul Road for the first 1.9 miles.
  2. At this point you can either follow Ocean View Trail up anti-clockwise or continue on as I did and to the loop clockwise. Butano Loop Trail is another 2.5 miles along Old Haul Road, which undulates slightly but is mostly flat as it follows the valley formed by Pescadero Creek.
  3. Butano Loop Trail climbs 1,500 feet uphill for 3 miles to join up to Butano Fire Road. The trail meanders and switchbacks through the trees with a fairly constant grade which makes it a pleasant climb. Near to the junction there’s some rock formations which overhang as the softer rock underneath has eroded away.
  4. Butano Fire Road follows along the ridge for 1.9 miles peeking out into the sun in a couple of places. The tree cover on both sides obscures any views.
  5. Ocean View Trail descends back down to Old Haul Road over 2.4 miles, the final half mile follows along Dark Gulch valley, a seasonal tributary into Pescadero Creek, true to its name it’s cooler and darker and a little lusher.
  6. Finally retrace your steps along Old Haul Road for the final 1.9 miles back up to the trailhead.

The hike starts at the Hoffman Creek trailhead on Wurr Road where there’s free street side parking, crossing over Hoffman Creek and following along Old Haul Road for the first 1.9 miles.