Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dough Flat Walkabout

The Striated Bluffs of Whiteacre Peak
Many years ago, when I first came to Ventura County and before I got my Los Padres "forest legs," I made the long drive out of Fillmore up Squaw Flat Road (6N16) to see Dough Flat. I don't really know what compelled me back then since Dough Flat is generally not touted as much of a scenic destination, but I had noticed 6N16 stabbing deep into the Los Padres National Forest from the south on maps and I was intrigued by the relative isolation of the spot. So I made the drive just to satisfy my curiosity. When I arrived, a couple of rag-tag characters were loitering about the small gravel parking area. They stared me down as I rolled through like I had interrupted some nefarious activity, so I just kept moving. At least that is how I remember it now. In truth, they were probably just a couple of dirty backpackers who were surprised to see someone else make the trek to Dough Flat. Regardless, I stayed away for a couple of decades as the place just didn't spark my imagination or feel that inviting.

Last weekend I decided to return to the scene of the original crime. Half of the adventure in going to Dough Flat is getting there. Squaw Flat Road, which begins in Fillmore as Goodenough Road, is initially paved. As the road wends its way north and gains elevation, that pavement deteriorates eventually turning into gravel. The lower section of the road, which is routinely used to access the numerous oil leases that dot the area, is fairly well maintained. Past the last oil lease about 1/2 mile before roads end however, the track steepens a bit and becomes considerably more rocky. It's all negotiable without 4-wheel drive, but the going is slow.

View Across the Sespe Creek Drainage and Into the Condor Sanctuary
Bluffs Along the Whiteacre Ridgeline
When I arrived at Dough Flat this time I found the parking area completely empty. A sense of isolation came over me as I pulled on my boots and began up the Alder Creek Trail. Before I even reached the wilderness boundary, I encountered huge piles of scat on the path which I would continue to see throughout the day. This is undoubtedly bear country although it really doesn't look like it. I always imagine bears in lush green forests ribbonned with flowing water and festooned with lakes. This is definitely not that. It is an arid and inhospitable place of rust and tan and prickly plants.

I didn't really have an agenda for the day other doing a bit of exploring. I first wandered up to Squaw Flat and kicked around at a guerrilla camp I found there located in a clump of trees. After that, I continued up the gently rising path to the split with the trail out to Ant Camp and scouted routes up Pts. 4082 and 4706. The left fork of the trail took me out to Cow Spring Camp where I lunched at the fairly unattractive trail camp and searched without success for the spring after which the place is named. Water is so yesterday in this parched landscaped of the new millennium. I did, however, locate a Forest Service benchmark (EM 22) trailside around Stone Corral next to a rock formation I dubbed the Backcountry Throne.

Trailhead Signage en Espanol. The English language version is vandalized.
Entering the Sespe Wilderness
Whiteacre Peak from the Alder Creek Trail
Squaw Creek Drainage
Point 4082 from Squaw Flat

View South toward Dough Flat
Point 4082 (left) and 4706 (right)
Doubling back to the trail split, I followed the track out toward Bucksnort Spring to see if I could find water there. A trail guide I have from the late 1980s said that the spring was "fouled and useless." But that guide was written in an era when cattle and mountain bikes had free reign of the land. Now it is wilderness and a condor sanctuary.

Over a small rise and up a drainage, I spied a knot of green that looked out of place in the sea of brown. This was clearly Bucksnort Spring. I followed an obvious use trail up to where the spring is supposed to be where I found another guerrilla campsite, but no surface water. The greenery was no mere happenstance, however. There is water here, but it must all be subterranean at this stage.

On the way back to the parking area I scouted Sulphur and Whiteacre Peaks. Both are in the Condor Sanctuary and technically off limits, but I know they have both been scaled by intrepid adventurers who shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say that of the two, Whiteacre is the easier to access. Anecdotally, Sulphur, which is further away, has to be attacked from the Tar Creek side since any approach from the Pigeon Flat area is reputed to be chocked with brush. But the forest service has been forced to close Tar Creek because people don't know how to behave in the backcountry. So until that changes, Sulphur Peak seems to me a very difficult proposition.

View North to the Sespe Backcountry
Cow Spring Trail Camp

Forest Service Benchmark EM 22

The Backcountry Throne
Back at the parking area I found myself still completely alone. Not really surprising given the effort required to get to Dough Flat and the lack of an immediate "wow" or payoff, that many forest visitors are looking for and expect. Of course, I was completely content with the solitude. I pulled out my chair, removed my boots, cracked a cold beer, and listened to the light breeze rustling through the scrub and the faint but perceptible hum of the land.

Blue Sky
Cow Spring Area from Stone Corral
Native Flora


  1. Nice TR! I believe that final pic of Native Flora may be one of several versions of Mountain Mahogany.
    If we ever get some proper winter rains I would like to try to backpack in the Los Padres. I'll ping you for some ideas when the time comes.
    -- John

    1. Hey thanks for the ID John. Now that you mention it, it does appear that it may be Mountain Mahogany. I'm waiting for the rains too. The Sespe in nice in the spring when water if flowing and everything is green. Regards.