Condors seem to have an eye on Whiteacre Peak in Sespe Wilderness. The first time Stillman (davidstillman.blogspot.com) and I hiked the peak, after having just left the summit, condors came soaring out of the vast blue sky east of the mountain, dark dots in the far distance. Not long after one bird flew over us making a few passes before landing atop the very summit we had been standing on a short time before.
On our latest hike to the top of Whiteacre Peak, the summit of which is polka dotted with white bird poop, a condor once more flew over our heads making several passes, flying into the wind, easing slowly by looking us over before soaring off and disappearing into the distance.
Such relatively close encounters I suppose are rare. The California condor is a critically endangered species whose total population in 1987 numbered in the twenties. Between 1987 and 1992, after all known birds were captured for a captive breeding program, no condors at all flew wild in California. At the time of this writing about 219 free flying California condors are alive with about 53 of them having been released and fledged in southern California. (CDFW)
Number 92 giving us the beady bird eye from the sky.
From the Dough Flat Trailhead, gateway to Sespe Wilderness within the southern Los Padres National Forest, Whiteacre Peak looks more like a rocky ridgeline than a peak. From some angles along Sespe Trail the summit actually looks to be lower in elevation than the surrounding sandstone outcrop.
Yet, despite it’s appearance from below it’s a notable summit, a rocky knob rising above the surrounding terrain and offering three hundred and sixty degree views of the Sespe Wilderness and far beyond including some of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.
There were no signatures in the register since we were last there a year ago. And before that time the last signature was logged in 2007. It is appropriately labeled a “Seldom Visited Site” (SVS). While there are some sections of footpath and animal trail on the way to the peak, there is no official trail. It’s a relatively short, but tough hike requiring some scrambling and bushwhacking.
The tilted slab of bedrock forming Whiteacre Peak slopes eastward and is hollowed out by wind and rain in various places to form a number of caves, alcoves and massive overhangs. There are several small grassy flats amongst the uplifted sandstone slabs and boulder piles, which are veined with wiry chaparral and punctuated with the occasional conifer. Several small basins or tanks in the slabs serve as reservoirs on the otherwise dry mountaintop by catching and holding rain.
The peak holds some well-preserved traces of the sandstone’s marine origins including ripple marks from water or wind on sand and rill marks suggesting the erosive work of retreating water during low tide. There are fossilized mollusks scattered about, which are common all over the southern Los Padres National Forest, but there are a few fossilized bones, too, from something relatively large.
It is a landscape I look over and feel compelled to explore, and since our first visit last year I’ve wanted to return, and to stay a night. Despite its relative close proximity to the trailhead, Whiteacre Peak feels very remote and desolate. Add the bear and mountain lion prints we’ve seen along with the condors and the peak is a rather notable bit of wildness in southern California.