San Rafael Wilderness
Historic hunting camp located on a spur trail off of the Grapevine Trail in a very nioce oak meadow. 4.1 miles from Bluff and 1.4 miles from the Santa Cruz Trail.
Elevation: Google Earth says the elevation is 3,314'
Distance: Pelch Camp is .12 miles off of the main Grapevine Trail on a short spur. It is 4 miles to Bluff and 1.6 miles from Kellogg Camp.
Though Pelch Camp may not get much use, I love the camp. It is nestled in a small meadow area a few hundred yards down a spur trail from ther main Grapevine Trail, in a world all to itself. The creek is small but usually flowing and the meadow area has a cluster of oak trees that provide both shade and comfort.
One one of my first major trips exploring the area from Bluff Gaurd Station my friend Bard and I decided to hike down into the Santa Cruz Creek watershed. We followed the trail down to the East Fork and then headed down it with the goal of finding the lower end of the creek leading up to Pelch and then circling back via the Grapevine Trail. The hike down the East Fork of Santa Cruz Creek is really cool and fairly easy if you're willing to walk in the water at times. Like the Indian Creek Narrows, the creek cuts through a long band of chalky white limestone, creating its own narrows and that was especially nice.
When we got to what we sure sure was Grapevine Creek we turned north and headed up it. It was small and narrow enough that we had to walk in the creek most of the way up but after a half mile or so the canyon widened a bit and there we were right in the middle of Pech Camp. What a way to see Pelch for the first time ever!
A number of years later, the Fall after the Zaca Fire had burned through the area, Rik Christensen and I made the same trip to see what impact the fire had on the area. Much of the East Fork of Santa Cruz Creek was completely burned over, with only the larger of the oaks and sycamore trees surviving. But the going was really easy and before we knew it we were to the Limestone Narrows.
Because the hillsides were so open we decided to hike up through the limestone and cut across the hillside rather than going all the way down to the mouth of Grapevine Creek. Almost all of the vegetation on the hills was completely gone but as we got closer to Pech to the point where we could look down on the camp we realized that it had been spared completely, the fire burning through so fast that the flames had gone across the small valley without torching the camp itself. Amazing!
Bob Burtness Notes
Administration: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara District
Access: About 23 miles beyond the locked gate at Upper Oso Camp via the Santa Cruz Trail (27WO9) and the Grapevine Trail (27WIO). The camp is half a mile below where the trail crosses Grapevine Creek.
U.S. Forest Service map coordinates: K-17
Topographical map: Big Pine Mountain
Elevation: 3,640 feet (1,109 meters)
Stoves: I (homemade steel and concrete) Water: East Fork of Santa Cruz Creek
Originally at the end of a trail up Santa Cruz and Coche Creeks and Jack Rabbit Flat, this site was used during the latter part of the 1800's. In 1930 Frank Pelch and Fred Pinkham established a hunting camp here and called it "Camp P-P." The site was used for hunting and fishing until World War 11 when the Forest was closed to entry. After the war, it was used by Frank's son, Otto, until vandals destroyed the cabin. Since Otto's death, the camp has occasionally been used by hikers. The large grapevine, after which this area was named, is just up the side creek from the camp and was probably planted by a member of the Ruiz family, early users of the camp.
Jim "ER" Blakley Notes
This site was originally located at the end of a trail used in the Iate I880's that ran up Santa Cruz Creek, Coche Creek and then to end on Grapevine Creek. The Romo firnily of Gerleta used it first, then in 1930 Fred Pinkham and Frank Pelch established a very fancy hunting and fishing camp. It had a big stove with an oven, a screened in eating area with a table where lots of caret games were played for a penny a hand and Golden Glow Ale was the beverage. When all the ale was drunk and one person had all the pennies, ben they got down to hunting and went up to Mission Pine Basin where the big buck deer could be found. The meat was all turned into jerky for the trip home as here wasn't any other way to preserve it. After World War II, Otto PeIch Franks son used a "Tate Goat" ORV vehicle to drive into the camp until the area was incorporated into the San Rafael Wilderness and motor vehicles were prohibited.
Hike Los Padres Notes
Pelch Camp is located along the Grapevine Trail within the Southern San Rafael Wilderness. It’s tucked in amongst a thick blanket of oak trees at the junction of the Murietta Spring canyon and Grapevine Canyon. The camp can be a little dark in the wintertime but there is a nice open meadow that is great for stargazing. Pelch is most commonly accessed as part of a loop trip from Upper Oso along the way to Bluff Camp. While the Grapevine Trail does see some traffic, very few people stay at Pelch Camp.
At one point in time there was a road dropping from Bluff Camp towards Pelch but it is unknown if the road extended all the way to Pelch or not. Pelch is named after the Pelch/Pinkham families who used this camp as a hunting camp for an extended period of time in the early 20th century. There are some great photos of an old cabin at Pelch and the remains of some of their setup can still be found.
Currently there is a table located in the upper meadow and the remains of an elaborate stove down closer to the creek. There is also an old wooden food box that is unique to this area. There is only one place to camp but having neighbors should not be a problem. You should have the camp to yourself. Water is somewhat reliable but access to the water can be tricky. There is a lot of poison oak in the camp and if you plan on camping here it might be a good idea to bring some loppers to clear the access path to and from the water source. In addition, the spur trail that leads to camp is followable but can be overgrown as well.