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Church Creek Trail

Re: Church Creek Trail - Church Ranch Road to Tassajara

Postby Kirse on Tue Apr 20, 2010 3:29 pm

Date Hiked: April 10, 2010
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

As per previous post we enjoyed the stroll down Church Creek trail and considered going on to Tassajara. We had to backtrack to find the trail where it cut off the Ranch road. The only remaining part of the original sign was a burnt post. We followed what was like a game trail along contour from there and found pink flagging tied up for the first several hundred yards of the trail route, but the tread was totally gone both slope-wise and entirely grown over. We decided not to continue for fear the entire trail was in that condition, but were able to ascertain some sections the trail from above on Ranch road and many sections looked open and evident past the initial stretch.
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Re: Church Creek Trail - Pine Ridge junction to Church Road

Postby Kirse on Tue Apr 20, 2010 3:21 pm

Date Hiked: April 10, 2010
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

Gorgeous trail from Pine Ridge junction to Church Ranch Road. A few minor obstacles but deadfall had been cut through allowing trail passage. Tread was evident. Wildflowers off the hook. No other travelers all day. Great lunch by the creek then scouted the connection to Tassajara - found that to be in the opposite condition (as in non-existent) see next post. Continued up the Ranch Road back to China Camp trail head. A nice 12 milish day.
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Church Creek Trail

Postby mikesplain on Thu May 28, 2009 6:14 pm

Date Hiked: May 25, 2009
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Reported by LuvPO:

From Pine Ridge to the Church Ranch the trail is generally well defined with no major obstacles. In a half dozen or so areas the trail appears to disappear into overgrown grass for awhile, but becomes evident soon thereafter. Overall, this section of Church Creek is manageable. I heard second-hand rumors of the section from the Ranch to Tassajara being difficult.
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Church Creek Trail

Postby mikesplain on Wed May 27, 2009 6:17 pm

Date Hiked: May 21, 2009
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Reported by Jerry Lee:

From Tassajara Road to wind caves, Wilderness Freeway. The trail is easy to follow and no more difficult than usual. All the trees in the first part of the trail were killed and are still standing, so a future windstorm will create serious obstacles here. The washout just before Wildcat Camp is bridged by three flimsy looking sticks, with a fourth for a handrail. It held my 250 pounds OK. Wildcat Camp is completely burned and much more wide open. Some trees survived, but all branches burned 20-25 feet up, so it is not as shady as it used to be. Creek flowing very well. The wind caves area is burned nearly clear, so all the rocks are exposed and easy to explore.

Past the wind caves the trail deteriorates rapidly, with impediments including standing dead brush, eroded trail on loose soil, tanglefoot vines and other new growth. Finally the trail disappears almost completely. The big meadow is visible at this point, so I followed the general course of the trail to the meadow. It was much more difficult than I expected. The trail along the edge of the meadow is completely gone, and the grass is five feet high. Past the meadow is the worst part. Although I know the area and the location of the trail, it was still very difficult, and the change in vegetation caused some disorientation. Twice I crossed over the trail without being able to recognize it. The final climb up to Church Ranch Road has no trail at all, and the slope is all loose soil. Anyone who enters this area is likely to need the services of the Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team. This trail will need extensive treadwork to repair, much of it over loose soil that is no
longer stabilized by vegetation. I don't even know if this can be done.
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Trail Conditions History 1999-2008

Postby Site Administrator on Tue May 26, 2009 8:39 am

Date Hiked: March 25, 2008
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers (Stevenson Wilderness Expedition)
Survey date: MARCH-2008
General: IMPASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Church Creek Divide to Church Creek Ranch - Clear

The trail has been cleared of the worst of the brush.

Section: Mesa to Wildcat Camp - Clear

Also clear, although still difficult to follow in spots.

Section: Wildcat Camp to Tassajara Road - Impassable

Crews unsuccessfully attempted to clear the trail. The condition was such that one crew preferred to walk the rest of the way to the top of the Church Creek Ranch Road and come down it to resume their route to Pine Valley even after making a start on clearing brush and timber on the southern end of the trail. This section needs a serious effort to open it back up for hikers wishing to take this route.
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Conditions reported by: Betsy MacGowan
Survey date: 9-JULY-2006
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Church Creek Divide to the Ranch - Clear

Brush has been kept clipped back, there are several small streams with abundant water. Nice views of the sandstone formations along the Church Creek fault.

Section: From the Ranch driveway to Tassajara Road Difficult

The section from the ranch driveway to the broad, grassy meadow on the next ridge is the hiker's equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. I have almost always gotten lost in this section. To add to the confusion, there is a large oak fallen on the trail immediately after it leaves the road. Take the high road above this oak, continue down to the bottom of the hill, and head off down the meadow.

There are several fragments of old trail, but at some point you need to go up a hill to your left. We actually left some flags in error, leading straight across to the chapparal covered ridge. While it is possible to negotiate this chapparal by wiggling between the brush, and sometimes crawling on your hands and knees in the dirt through the very base of the plants, popping up when you get ot a rock to look for the grassy meadow where the trail goes, this is not the best option.

Summary advice for this section: Before you leave the ranch driveway, look out across the valley and observe the location of the grassy meadow. The trail runs along the base of this meadow. If you become lost, you must somehow get to this meadow.

Once you have accomplished this, you will be fine. The trail winds up and down quite a bit, and in the final mile the conditions improve quite a bit. There are amazing sandstone formations, which you get to see at close range.
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Conditions reported by: David Laredo
Survey date: 11-JUNE-2006
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Church Creek Divide to the Mesa - Clear

Many streams and tributaries flowed with ample water. No problems with Poison Oak here. Views are stunning.

Section: From the Mesa towards Tassajara Road - Impassable

At Church Creek Ranch Road we had trouble finding the trailhead. The marker is old and missing key elements. The trail here is hardly distinguishable from a deer trail, and the tread would be outright dangerous if wet.

Several deadfall block the trail. I fear that we took a wrong turn and followed a deer trail. After over 2 hours of searching for the way forward, we finally gave up and backtracked to Church Creek Ranch Road and climbed the long way out to Tassajara Road just below China Camp. This was frustrating as our pickup point was to have been at the kiosk at Arroyo Seco.

All in all, the hike was beautiful, and the views stunning. We will return with a GPS and make another attempt to follow the proper path.
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Conditions reported by: Dave Nelson
Survey date: 26-APRIL-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Church Ranch Road to Tassajara Road - Passable

We started off from the Church Ranch Road and got into trouble right away with an oak snag, which we snipped and climbed over, then a small slide where we lost the trail. We started to follow a strong animal trail that looked pretty good but it was one of many, as noted in previous reports, and before long we realized we were lost. But it was a beautiful spot! and all we had to do was trudge up a grassy ridge into brush where we found the real trail near where it enters the grassy saddle with brush on the northeast side and sandstone to the SW.

I regret to say that I left about four pink flags leading the WRONG way starting within the first 200 yards of the trail at the ranch road. Don't follow them. When you get to the oak snag just below the road, the trail must go up and left, not down as we did.

Once on the right trail things were pretty easy all the way to the Tassajara Road, or at least typical for the Ventana - plenty of overhanging brush and saggy tread. Lots of ups and downs too with great views.
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Conditions reported by: Jon Benner
Survey date: 26-MARCH-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Tassahara Road to Church Ranch - Passable

The trail is in pretty good shape. The footbed is fine, and there isn't too much brush in the trail. About a mile from Tassajara Road a ravine washout took out the trail, and someone has placed a board across the ravine. In the meadows around the "Mesa" it's pretty easy to lose the trail, but you can pick it up again on the other side of the meadows as long as you keep heading towards Church Ranch Road. Section: Church Ranch to Church Creek Divide - Passable

all is well except for a fairly brushy section about a half mile before the Divide. Not so bad that you lose the trail, but it could certainly use some lopper work.
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Conditions reported by: Greg Minter
Survey date: 25-SEPTEMBER-2005
General: WILDERNESS FREEWAY
Specific:

Section: Divide Camp to Pine Valley - Wilderness Freeway

Easy to follow, fairly well maintained. Some picking through Pine Valley to find the right trail due to numerous campsite trails and use trails.
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Conditions reported by: Greg Heck
Survey date: 7-SEPTEMBER-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Trailhead to to Church Creek Road

Encroaching brush at times. Strongly suggest a low profile pack as branches hang over trail in many spots causing us to stoop. Some poison oak reaching for ankles and shorts are asking for an itch. On the way Wildcat Camp has good water. Tempting deer trails get a bit prevalent toward The Mesa area beckoning one to go astray. Some deadfalls have diverted the trail but pink ribbons in the worst spot leading up hill and around a gully are of some help. The big deadfall on a steep hillside is a place to keep watch for the right trail. Go uphill and around it to the right, then cut back quickly (don't keep going up) across hill to the left and look for the main trail.

Once you hit Church Creek Road the going gets easy. If you are going to Pine Valley area keep going past private ranch on FS easement. At least two springs running on the way to Church Creek which itself is flowing quite well. We came back via same route. We did some trail work, but this trail needs some further pruning.
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Conditions reported by: Ery Arias-Castro
Survey date: 19-MAY-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Divide Camp to when the trail leaves Church Creek Road: Clear

Section: Church Creek Road to Wind Caves: Passable

The tread is faint, though there are some tape markers here and there. Section: Wind Caves to Tassajara: Clear
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers - Stevenson Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: 05 MAR-2004
General: PASSABLE W/ DIFFICULT ROUTE FINDING
Specific:

Section: Entire trail: Church Creek Divide to Tassajara Road

This trail is in good shape. The section between the Mesa area and the next ridge offers some challenges in trail finding, but is certainly doable.
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Conditions reported by: Jerry Lee
Survey date: 5-DEC-2002
General: WILDERNESS FREEWAY to PASSABLE
Specific:

It appears someone has done a good deal of brush clearing on the trail between Tassajara Road and Church Ranch Road. It is much easier than I remember it from last year. Good water flows on all the streams after the November storm. There are a couple of deadfalls blocking the trail, but they are easy to go around. While going around a deadfall near the divide, I hit upon what appeared to be a formerly well-used trail going off in the wrong direction. I followed about 1/4 mile. It still looked like a formal trail, possibly made by local residents, but didn't seem to go anywhere I wanted to go, so I gave it up. Be sure to stay on the right trail.
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Conditions reported by: Ted Merrill
Survey date: 8-OCT-2002
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Southern part of Church Creek trail (Tassajara Road to Church Ranch Road):

This is definitely a little used trail; i saw only one human footprint north of Wildcat camp, apart from my own. Be prepared for repeated elevation gain and loss and excessively steep trails, perhaps impassible when muddy. The trail is well-brushed and in generally good shape until Schaffer's third divide where it has some brush encroachment, not too bad; bring clippers and hit the worst spots as you go. If several people could spare a weekend, they could camp at Wildcat Camp, easily walk to the areas needing attention and trim them, with time left over to play on the fascinating rocks complete with wind caves.

After reading Schaffer and Sierra Club guides which implied reliable water at Wildcat Camp, I was shocked to find that the water consisted of five puddles in an otherwise dry creekbed (this is October...). Fortunately, the puddles were sufficiently spring-fed to provide clear and good tasting water. But i have to wonder if they might dry up entirely in drier years. There was steady trickle of running water in a creek about a mile and a half further north; I came across no other water sources in this section.

I found the trail easy to follow except at one critical point where you suddenly enter a large grassy area; be sure to follow the tags (I added some!) to the left (along the chapparal) instead of following the deer(?) trail that goes straight. There are several other possible deer trail confusions, but staying left and looking for the tags will keep you on the right track. The trail follows a very unconvincing course, finally heading at an angle steeply upward across a crumbling dirt slope, but then suddenly you are on Church Ranch Road (a well-maintained dirt road) and there is an old forest service sign marking the trail you came on. In the reverse direction, you wouldn't miss the sign. (Although the crumbling slope does not inspire confidence, it is not steep or rocky enough to be dangerous).

Continuing in the northward direction one stays on Church Ranch Road through private property until it suddenly crosses the creek on a bridge with No Trespassing signs; here keep straight (even though there is no sign marking the trail) and the trail should become obvious. It was once a dirt road but this is now barely evident. The trail continues on the right side of Church Creek (which can be heard clearly gurgling along it's stream bed). At the point where the trail begins to climb steeply up there is a campsite right by the creek (although it might be on private property; very hard to say since there are no boundary markers). Halfway up the hill to Church Divide i found two tributary creeks with water flowing, and with possible (although somewhat sloped) tent sites nearby. The trail is in generally good condition except for about a mile of burn recovery area (not so far from the divide) where the chapparal is severely impinging in places; a relatively modest volunteer effort could help this a lot.
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Conditions reported by: Mark Kiehlbauch
Survey date: 30-MARCH-2002
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Lot's of p.oak until you reach the burn zone. Trail is fine (heading north) until you reach Schaffer's 4th divide. Although trail was tagged, I still lost it here. Being too stubborn to spend a lot of time looking, I took the direct path of most resistance. If you lose the trail and are smarter than I was, drop down a bit on the north slope of the 4th divide and you will be able to cross the valley between the 4th and 5th divide (again, Schaffer's terminology) on grassy slopes and hit the bench below the 5th divide pretty easily. Rather than struggle through chaparral as I did. This trail is probably not for the inexperienced, especially southbound. Northbound, at least there's a well defined target - the road and the Church Creek valley. North of the Bruce Church ranch, the trail is passable/clear, there's a couple of vague spots but nothing too difficult to the Pine Ridge Intersection. Note: there's no water on the between Wildcat camp (not on map, see Schaffer) and just before the road, and then again until ~1.5 miles north of the ranch.
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Conditions reported by: Steve Wilson
Survey date: 30-MARCH-2002
General: PASSABLE W/A DIFFICULT SECTION
Specific:

Tassajara Road to the Church Creek Road - Clear with one Difficult section. This stretch of trail has been recently trimmed and is mostly clear, except one must dodge a sprout of Poison Oak here and there. True to the Schaffer "Guide", the trail becomes difficult to follow in the last 1/4 mile or so before reaching the Church Ranch Road. We lost the track where it heads into oak shaded grasslands just before it reaches a fairly steep sided gully. Don't follow your instincts to continue traversing, but head straight down the hill, looking for faded ribbon (sorry, I had no replacement on hand) where the trail does an end run around the bottom end of the gully. From there you climb up to the road.

Church Ranch Road to Pine Ridge Trail - Passable. The lower third is grassland, quite pleasant to walk. The middle third is brush, which the fire cleared out. But as as these fire adapted plants are wont to do, the brush is exploding in new growth. Luckily, this growth is fairly soft and easily pushed through where it sporadically encroaches on the trail. Bring your clippers along and do a little pruning as you pass by to help keep this trail open. The upper part is Oak woodland and fairly clear.
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Conditions reported by: Oregon Dave
Survey date: 26-APRIL-2002
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

The church creek trail is passable to clear with some difficult sections, the section a mile east of the road leading to the ranch the trail dissapears in spots, but the route is easy to find, other than that and some slightly encroaching poison oak it is a nice trail.
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Conditions reported by: Stevenson School Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: FEB-2002
General: PASSABLE W/ ONE DIFFICULT SECTION
Specific:

Tassajara Road to Church Creek Divide:
The trail is obvious and easy to follow. There is some overhanging poison oak and brush, but the foot bed is generally clear. Wildcat Camp is an embarrassment: it is covered with poison oak and has virtually no flat ground. We used it, but would prefer not to have had to. There is enough land there to make a passable camp, but it would take considerable earth-moving and poison oak removal. On from there, over the next couple of ridges, the trail is fine and easy to follow. But in the section before the Mesa, the trail disappears. A few flags assist in keeping on the trail, but the last climb up to the Church Ranch Road is excessively steep and has fallen in. This section could use a brief visit from someone with marking tape; unfortunately, mine ran out before we reached this point. From the Mesa and through the ranch proper, the trail is on the road. At the ranch, note that the trail stays on the east side of the creek and goes around the corral to continue up the valley. Once it returns to a trail, the route remains clear and well marked until it leaves private land. Back in the National Forest, the trail becomes fainter and brushier until it reaches higher into the trees below Church Creek Divide.
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Conditions reported by: Beth Austin
Survey date: 2-MAY-01
General: DIFFICULT due to occasionally faint trails
Specific:

Church Creek Trail from near Divide Camp to Church Ranch is an amazingly beautiful stretch of trail especially this time of year with all the wildflowers and full Church Creek coursing through the canyon. Up to Church Ranch the trail is easy to find except in a few thickets of manzanita where the trailbed is lost and continuing south in the direction you've been travelling will eventually bring you to traces of it again. Below Church Ranch the trail heads up and down and up and down .... across many open steeply slanted hillside meadows and thickets where no trail is discernable - heading south along the course of the canyon is all there is for it - fortunately the end of April 2001 a crew had just tagged this stretch of the trail with pink and orange tape. The tape is not always evident but is assurance that you are not lost - when spotted.

It is my opinion that the stretch of trail below Church Ranch is not marked correctly for mileage. Judging by our time the trail maybe be or seems several miles longer than it is shown to be. The canyon descents and climbs are seemingly endless and steep and very dry and hot by the time you arrive if travelling south from Divide Camp (which we left by 6:30 am). Plenty of poison oak. This was the last day of our backpack in from Big Sur Station via Pine Ridge Trail, and i think the last few hours were the toughest of the whole trip.
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Conditions reported by: Jim Powell
Survey date: 4-JUNE-01
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

I dayhiked the Church Creek Trail from Pine Valley to the ranch house area in the canyon about 5 weeks ago. There are a couple stretches of the route, about a mile below the Church Creek Divide, where the trail is in process of disappearing due to erosion following the fire and encroaching brush. On the whole the fire cleared out the upper canyon nicely -- it was WAY too brushy when I hiked it in Feb. 98. Besides these stretches the trail is plain enough, but those couple stretches need work.

Incidentally, it's certain that the Esselen kept this canyon clear of brush with fire. It would be SO cool if the Forest Service turned over some terrain -- how bout upper Church Creek Canyon -- to surviving native practitioners of that art -- as a sort of 'demonstration forest'. When Vancouver rode from San Francisco to Mission Santa Clara in the 1790s, he marveled -- in his log book -- at how beautifully kept the peninsula was -- all open grasslands and enormous spreading oak -- 'like the parklands of a great English estate' -- kept that way with fire.
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Conditions reported by: Tom Hopkins
Survey date: February 1999
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

In general, I found the trail to be a typical Los Padres trail with some overgrown sections, some blowdowns and a couple of areas where the "correct" route was tricky to find. All in all, the trail is passable for hikers and backpackers, and the tricky spots add to the adventure.

Specifically, the overgrown sections still allow room for backpackers although there is a lot of "brush brushing". This time of year, that can mean a lot of ticks. I probably knocked 50 or so off me during the trip. The shrubs in question are typically chamise, various ceanothus and manzanita. None of the blowdowns are of major size and at most locations reasonable walk-arounds are in place.

There are two tricky spots to look out for. The first is between the third and fourth divides (to use Schaffer's terminology) where there are several possible routes at one stream crossing. The crown of a blowdown has landed right on the ford of what may have been the original intended trail, thus giving rise to a series of vague alternate routes. The second tricky area is between the fourth and fifth divides (also called The Mesa). Here, over a couple of steep grassy ridges, various game and use trails wander helter skelter. On my way out, I had to follow my instinct, rather than the current trail I was on, which necessitated some bushwhacking to get to where I wanted to be. But like I said, it adds to the adventure.
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Church Creek Trail

Postby Site Administrator on Tue May 12, 2009 4:34 pm

Image
* USFS trail #3E05
* Parking: Tassajara Road (south end)
* Watersheds: Church Creek
* Junctions: Pine Ridge Trail
* Connects: Pine Ridge Trail with Tassajara Road (near Horse Pasture Trail)
* Camps: Wildcat Camp
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