San Rafael Wilderness
Nice camp located on the Sisquoc River at the lower end of the Judell Trail. It is 5.2 miles down canyon from the Sierra Madre Road and slightly over 5 miles up the Sisquoc to Alamar Saddle.
Elevation: Google Earth says the elevation is 3,420'.
Distance: The camp is located at the Junction of the Judell and Sisquoc River trails. It is 5.2 miles from Heath Camp to the Sierra Madre Road; 1.17 miles from the camp down to Cottonwood and 3.9 miles to Lower Bear Camp.
On my longer trips in the backcountry, when we came in from Santa Barbara Canyon we'd always spend the first night at Heath Camp. The hard part of the hike was going up the Siera Madre Road to the crest, a distance of 5 miles, but not that much fun when you are on a dirt road the whole way. By the time we got to the top of the hill and onto the Sierra Madres proper we'd always cheer up. From there is was a short walk over to the top of the Judell Trail and from there almost all downhill. The hike was always a long one — just over 11 miles — but by the trime we settled in at Heath it felt like we were way out in nowhere.
From Heath sometimes we'd head upstream to Lower Bear, climb up and over into the Dick Smith Wilderness and drop down to Madulce Cabin and then down Santa Barbara Canyon to our car. On others we'd be heading down the Sisquoc or up to Bear and from there over to Big Pine and the San Rafaels. On one of our trips down the Sisquoc Jim Blakley dropped us off. He was heading over to interview one of the Reyes family meembers and we were off on our own adventure.
On this trip I'd made my special chocolate treats. I'd melt a huge pot of chocolate while I was toasting walnuts and almonds and sometimes pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. Then I'd mix those in, add shredded coconut, then spread them out in pans to cool. When they were hard I'd cut them up into squares and bag them, with enough for each day on the trip plus extras for whoever else came along.
Though it was late December I remember that it hadn't been that cold but we'd nevertheless enjoyed a night by the fire, telling tales and the like. About 9pm we headed over to our sleeping bags and just about the point where I was drfting off I heard Dave Weaver say, "What was that?" The I heard it too. Something was near our camp. Then I heard a ripping sound, almost like the sound of a metal zipper but not quite. I got up, turned on the flashlight and spotted a silver eye through the crook of a tree branch. I moved to the side and there was the bear, not a big one, but they don't have to be too big to get the heart pounding. It slinked off, almost like a dog that had been chastised and after a bit I surveyed the camp. I'd raised my pack ooff the ground to ward off any of the smaller creatures but I hadn't counted on the bear. The outside pocket of my pack was ripped clear off and with it almost all of my chocolate treats. Bummer!
Jim Blakley Notes
Jim Heath was a rancher in the Cuyama Valley who fished and hunted the Upper Sisquoc River area. He is reported to have acted as a guide and hunted with Theodore Roosevelt. Charley Tant, a mountain Iion hunter, used the camp as his base camp. He tied some corn meal sack up in a tree and whenever he came into camp, he would use the corn meal to make corn cakes for himself and the dogs.
Bob Burtness Notes
Administration: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Lucia District Access: 19 miles above Nira Camp via the Manzana Trail (30WI3) and the Sisquoc Trail (27WO7). It is located at thejunction of Judell Canyon. U.S. Forest Service map coordinates: K-16/17 Topographical map: Big Pine Mountain Elevation: 3,437~6 feet (1,050 meters) Terrain: canyon Vegetation: oak woodland and sycamores Tables: none Stoves: 2 (grated) Water: Sisquoc River Firewood: yes Toilets: none
Historical Highlights: This camp was named in honor of Jim Heath who was a hunter, rancher, horseman, and "character of the hills" around the turn of the century. A bachelor, he tamed bears and mountain lions for exhibitions in Maricopa and hunted with Theodore Roosevelt. This camp was one of his favorite hunting and fishing retreats. The adjacent Judell Canyon was named in honor of Judell Samon, the Assistant Supervisor of the Santa Barbara National Forest, as it was then called, between 1929 and 1933.