First step: get to Ojai.
Let's back up -- the first step, for me, when I decided to join some friends on a 20-mile round-trip trek to the amazing Willet Creek Hot Springs in the Sespe Wilderness, was to put together two days of bare essentials in my trekking pack. If you're anything like me, the list of what you normally bring camping will get cut by a few items. My list wound up looking like this:
Change of clothes
Giant bag of mushrooms
Eleven 40's of Panther Malt Liquor
Net for catching sloths (do not hide from me, sloths)
Hardcover copy of "Infinite Jest"
Be ruthless with your packing, your back will thank you later. Now about this hike: the 9-mile trek in gives you a little of everything -- vast desert expanses, glistening river-and-stream vistas, treacherous river crossings, bracing shadow-groves of snow and pine, and in the last four miles, ALL THE HILLS. Hills that make you think "Who put this thing here? I'll kill that motherfucker," and "How am I actually seeing my future descendents making their way to the top of this thing ahead of me?" and "Why are my future descendents Chinese?"
Finally, you crest a ridge, and below you opens up a valley of rock gardens and sandy riverside beaches shaded by sycamore trees. This is Willet Creek Campground, where you drop your backpack and go up one last face-kicking 3/4 mile slope to the springs. By this point in the hike, if presented with a choice between trudging up one more hill and nibbling Dan Rather's balls, you'd probably have to sit down and think about it. But you go anyway. Because up top is a treasure.
Nestled inside a verdant canyon is a tub big enough to fit ten (or more, depending on cozy you and your friends are) redolent of sulfur and wet rock, soundtracked by the whisper of the running springs. You're technically not allowed to get naked, but if Johnny Law wants to schlep into the middle of nowhere just to write you an ass-ticket, se la vie; it'll be worth it, just to float unencumbered in that toasty warm tub, letting the water ease your weary spirits back to life. Beyond the hills, the sun goes down; later the sky will become a riot of stars. You know, in the back of your mind, that you still have to trek another 10 miles to return home tomorrow, but as Lou Reed once said, "that's just some other time."
For now, you've got nothing to do but sit and soak and lay your burdens down.
- WHAT: Willet Creek Hot Springs Trek
- WHERE: Start at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead
- WHEN: Good year round, best when it's not too hot
- $$$: $10 for parking