“Fortunately, the task of preparing this volume has been carried on by those who have had the feeling that a piece of work must be done, but who also have had a purpose to make it reveal beauty and exude the historical atmosphere of the region with which it is concerned.”

—Santa Barbara: A Guide to the Channel City and Its Environs (1941)

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Yosemite Falls

Lower and Upper Yosemite FallsLower and Upper Yosemite Falls, March 2015.

“One of Yosemite’s oldest historic trails (built 1873 to 1877), the Yosemite Falls Trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall, which rises 2,425 feet (739 m) above the Valley floor.”

-National Park Service

And then there is Yosemite National Park. What can be said of Yosemite? What can be said that has not already been said ad nauseam?

I have been there a couple of times since I began this weblog, but I never mentioned it nor posted a photo because it seemed cliched to do so, a snapshot of Yosemite Valley a cliche on film. It is so near perfect, and has been photographed so many times, anything I thought to offer up seemed superfluous.

The wilderness park’s iconic characters, whether waterfalls or granite monoliths or grassy conifer-framed meadows, have seemingly been photographed in every light at every season from every angle and described with every word and turn of phrase conceivable. 

What could I possibly add?

I do not want to add to the excess in an attempt at translating into language the natural majesty of Yosemite. And I doubt that I could cobble together a fresh and original string of words with a few images that was worthy of the place.

I typically hate using well-worn words like this, and do not like telling but prefer language to show. This time, however, I’ll just say, despite my recent posting of a critical opinion of trip reports and not wanting to “waste the time of readers with unnecessary, empty words and pointless rambling,” that the hikes in the park are awesome in the true sense of the term. (Ugh. That was awful!)

Here I offer a few snapshots from the Yosemite Falls Trail. Round trip it’s 7.2 miles with at least 5400 feet of elevation gain/loss. There are 66 switchbacks in the first mile alone! The trail climbs steep talus slopes up a wall of granite. From the valley below it looks impossible that a trail leads up the mountain.

Yosemite Falls Hike

Yosemite Hikes WaterfallsMrs. Elliott heading into yet another series of switchbacks as we near the top of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Half Dome Yosemite Falls Trail hikeUpper Yosemite Falls rainbowsDouble rainbows at the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Upper Yosmite Falls Half Dome

Yosmite Falls HikeTopping out and heading toward the precipice.

Upper Yosmite Falls creek pool hikeA pool above Upper Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls HikingThe Mrs. scrambling toward the edge, Yosemite Valley far below.

Upper Yosemite Falls viewLooking over the edge at Upper Yosemite Falls.

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Rattlesnake Falls, San Rafael Wilderness

Rattlesnake FallsDavidStillman.com standing beside Rattlesnake Falls deep in the Santa Barbara backcountry on a recent backpacking trip, the creek a tributary of the Wild and Scenic Sisquoc River.

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Fritillaria Ojaiensis, Rare Wildflower

Fritillaria ojaiensis checkered lily rare endangered santa barbara santa ynez mountainsA single Fritillaria ojaiensis growing along Fremont Trail in the Santa Ynez Mountains. This photo is from early spring 2014.

This variety of lily is endemic to California. It’s listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as being rare throughout its range, considered to be an endangered species. I completed a California Native Species Field Survey Form for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The data will purportedly be added to the state’s Natural Diversity Database, which according to CNPS is “the largest, most comprehensive database of its type in the world. It presently contains more than 65,000 site-specific records on California’s rarest plants, animals and natural communities.”

Checkered Lily Mission Bells Fritillaria ojaiensis rare endangered Santa Barbara
Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf Santa YnezA Fritillaria ojaiensis leaf sprouting from a bank along Oso Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. There is a fairly large grouping of them at this site, more than 100 individual plants. Photo from February 2015.

Fritillaria ojaiensis Santa Barbara County Los Padres National ForestWith more sun exposure the leaves take on a bronze hue.

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Antimony and Eagle Rest Peaks, San Emigdio Mountains

Antimony Peak San Emigdio MountainsAntimony Peak

I strive to not waste the time of readers with unnecessary, empty words and pointless rambling. I have never had much interest in writing “trip reports” or “trail reports.” I have done that, I suppose, but it is not what I’m after here.

I typically find such posts tedious to read and boring to write. The title itself, report, connotes something dry and institutional, something constructed like a document that one laboriously wades through with two fingers pressed to the temple, rather than a mellifluously crafted story that entertains and delights.

Antimony Peak San Emigdio Mountain hikeAntimony Peak

I started this blog, in part, to fill a void, to offer wilderness literature, something that speaks to the human condition and universal themes in the context of hiking and outdoor recreation in my backyard at large. What trip report information I may include I’d prefer to be incidental not central.

Trail conditions change. Aside from the tedium of reading bland, uninspired, blow-by-blow descriptions of the forest’s contents found along a trail, as if listing the arrangement of furniture in a house, trip reports become, sooner or later, largely pointless.

A trail report written in fall may become useless just several months later after a rainy winter, full of information which no longer accurately reflects the reality of conditions on the ground.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio MountainsEagle Rest Peak, the checkered patches of San Joaquin Valley in the distance.

David Stillman Eagle Rest Peak hikeThe indefatigable Stillman taking in the view.

San Emigdio Canyon upperThe view into San Emigdio Canyon.

Whereas a story about what a man feels and thinks when out hiking, if properly written, is timeless. That is what I aspire to. Perhaps I have failed miserably, but I hope I have achieved something close to that on occasion.

I also thought, after years of wandering cyberspace and reading various local blogs, that the natural world surrounding my hometown was being ignored and when mentioned was given short shrift. There were plenty of websites covering metropolitan life in Santa Barbara ad nauseum; the city and county, its social life, arts, restaurants, viticulture, entertainment and the like. But few sites gave voice to the natural world in a manner I thought it well deserved.

Most sites I did see focusing on the outdoors were not doing it justice. The posts were hastily put together, thin and superficial. Many were little more than photo journals with verbose captions or they read like itineraries of a person’s outings. First we hiked here, and then we turned there, had lunch over here, continued on up there, and finally came back over here. A lot of telling was going on, but little if any showing. The content lacked feeling and depth.

Eagle Rest Peak San Emigdio hikesThe push up to Eagle Rest summit.

Eagle Rest Peak Stillman San Emigdio Wind WolvesEagle Rest Peak

Eagle Rest Peak view of San Joaquin ValleyThe view looking over San Joaquin Valley.

San Emigdio Canyon Wind Wolves Preserve HikingDropping from Eagle Rest into upper San Emigdio Canyon.

San Emigdio Canyon hikingSan Emigdion Canyon hikingUpper San Emigdio Canyon. With no trail and waist to chest high scrub brush in sections, it was a long, hot, tiresome fight up the canyon.

I held off posting anything on a hike DavidStillman.com and I did awhile back because I had nothing worthy to say about it. I offer here in this installment a bare collection of photos with little said of the experience.

Jack Elliott Eagle Rest Peak hike San EmigdioEagle Rest Peak

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A Skillet Full of Fish

Santa Barbara California spearfishing freediving A calico bass might of been the first fish I shot as a kid while spearfishing. They seemed to be the most common, best tasting game in the water at that time. Which merely means that they were largely the only fish I was observant and skilled enough to routinely catch sight of as a floundering young freediver.

In other words, the meager water skills I possessed as a kid were nonetheless sufficient enough to enable me to bring home small kelp bass more often than anything else. I always hoped for the halibut, and I nabbed a few lobsters, caught a fleeting glance of a couple white seabass, but mostly came away with calicos.

I was always stoked to shoot a calico. In later years, however, as I got more experience in the water, and came to better understand the sea life community surrounding coastal kelp forests, both perennial inhabitants and seasonal visitors, and the potential to take larger, more highly prized game fish, kelp bass lost their attraction.

California beach Santa Barbara Channel IslandsWhereas I had previously been proud, or at least happy, to bring home a calico for dinner, they became almost an embarrassment at times when compared to halibut and white seabass and yellowtail and lingcod.

Calico became the grubby little fish you lied to your buddies about having shot to cover the big game jackpot you were hiding on board and didn’t want them to know about.

“Get anything?” He shouted over the gunwale as our boats idled beside each other in the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance.

“Not much. Just a few calicos,” my buddy replied, hoping they wouldn’t see the bloated cooler bag stuffed with limits for four guys of 40 to 50 pound white seabass, big fan tails sticking out.

We’d drive up to a favorite spearfishing spot and, right after killing the engine, somebody would grab a pole with an iron on it and hurl it as far as he could, then crank it in, hooking a calico. “A couple of tacos,” they’d say with a shrug, downplaying the catch while throwing it into the cooler. Then we’d suit up and slip into the water to see about shooting some real fish. Big WSBs.

Santa Barbara spearfishing white seabass catchJack in blue with a friend and well over two hundred pounds of freshly caught white seabass shot somewhere in Santa Barbara County.

But what about the pellucid waters of late fall or early winter, when the weather is exceptional, the swell nearly nonexistent, the seawater invitingly pacific and clear, yet when the halibut have moved into deeper water far offshore to spawn, and the white seabass have migrated away, and the reefs have mostly been plucked clean of lobster?

This during an epic drought in California, when the Los Padres National Forest is drier than it has been in at least a century, when the creeks and rivers meandering in silence through the forest have been nothing but desiccated crusty cobblestone pathways for months or years.

Well then, in these conditions, the pull of the sea becomes irresistible for a saltwater junky like me despite the lack of bigger game fish. I mentally cannot bear to stand on the coastal bluffs of Santa Barbara County overlooking the Pacific Ocean, peering through the shimmering, crystalline aquamarine waters, and refuse its offer.

Jack Elliott spearfishingJack heading out. (c) John Pierpont

I kicked out into the sea scanning the rippled sand bottom hoping to spot a laggard halibut perhaps confused by shifting weather patterns and ocean currents and temperatures. But the submarine forest was mostly vacant apart for several varieties of small fishes. That is except for those other perennial residents, calico bass.

I was fortunate enough to cross paths with a respectably-sized calico among a stand of kelp and manage to get off a well-placed shot. I was stoked to have fresh fish for dinner and something wild and healthy I harvested myself   to offer my children.

Yet were I too walk by somebody on the beach afterward, traipsing back to my truck hauling my gear, I’d shy away from letting them see it and have no interest in letting it be known that I had a calico bass. Unlike hiding larger game fish so as not to attract people’s attention and give away a prime fishing zone, with a calico I’d actually by embarrassed.

When I got home, however, and prepared the fish and its brilliant white fillets completely filled my iron skillet, sputtering in rich butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows and freshly-pressed olive oil, I understood the silliness of my earlier feelings of embarrassment over a supposedly inadequate catch. I came to appreciate that I need far less to be satisfied than I sometimes think, that I can be a tad greedy, and that I’m far more fortunate than most of the seven billion people on this planet, nearly half of whom purportedly still cook meals over open flame campfires for lack of modern technology.

I hear from friends and see their photos of lunkers, the big flatties, big croakers, big tunas, but what do I have to complain about with a skillet full of fresh fish I caught myself? Halibut and white seabass are exceptionally tasty, but a couple of calico fillets cooked properly are pretty good, too.

Santa Barbara freediving spearfishing bassThe centerpiece of one night’s modest dinner for the small family Elliott. Center mass shot, not bad, eh?

Posted in Santa Barbara County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments