Monday, April 5, 2010

Santa Paula Peak...the knee basher.

Another Saturday, another 4,700ft climb, this time up Santa Paula Peak. Describing this trail as "strenuous" is a gross understatement. Those 4,700ft are hiked in just 5miles. Tack on two more miles over the backside to the spectacular Cienega Camp and you've got a full day. I joined the lads I had formerly called "Geezers"(Jack, Rick, and Cliff). Again, I am quite impressed with these guys. They hike at my speed, which is to say, they don't fool around. And what a great trail!
I have tried to get up Santa Paula Peak twice before and failed both times. I was in my teens the last time I tried the south side of the peak and one of the guys I was with got heat-stroked. The other time was a trek up the East Fork of SP Creek which failed because we hadn't really thought it out, so I was very pleased when Cliff offered to run us up the peak. There are some access issues which prevent the uninvited from getting to the trail head, and the trail itself is none too obvious in some spots. I now have the key to the gate on Timber Canyon Rd (private), and a trail of GPS breadcrumbs to follow so the future looks bright.

As for the trail, it winds steeply up a ridge via a series of burley switch-backs. It leads over, around and through grassy hills, chossy crags, and dense chapparel. It ends in a scramble up a 40degree field of scree. The summit is small, with sheer cliffs on two sides. The view to the west is remarkable, staring down on upper Ojai Valley. To the northeast lies Bear Haven. To the north is Devil's Gate, the Sespe, Topa Topa, and Santa Paula Gorge (Ted Tuschka's beloved Gorge Camp). It is quite a vista.

Descending from the summit we picked up the trail and headed north, descending about 1,200ft into the top of the east fork of Santa Paula Creek. There lies a beautiful camp, sandwiched between two small creeks, with tables, benches, barbeque pit, and even a bar. Cienega Camp in nestled in a little dell amongst a forest of ancient oak trees. Several equipment caches provide everything one needs to cook up some great chow. I am most definitely going back for an overnight stay. It seems like a very peaceful place.
The climb out of Cienega was blessedly quick and the descent of the front side began. An analogy for the descent comes to mind...jackhammers. That's basically what it felt like. Thank dog for trekking poles. They are the knee savers. On the lower stretch I could tell Rick was getting a bit grouchy and a discussion of the benefits of Advil ensued. Gobbling Advil is a sure sign that you've had a great day. Aye, it was.


  1. Cool hike, looks like some nice views. I tried to get to Cienga Camp via the East Fork last year and could not find it. It looks really nice. Do you know anything about Bluff Camp? Like does it still exist? I'm always impressed by your hikes.

  2. I look forward to hiking with you and Eric Palmer this weekend. I have always wanted to hike Santa Paula Peak, Cienga Camp.

  3. Hey david,

    Great piece - I'm going to quote you on my blog let me know when you want to do that trail again, i'd like to join you.

  4. nice hike did it about a year ago from Hall rd. definitely easier if you start from timber canyon rd. lots of ticks in some spots on the south face so keep an eye out we were pulling them off what felt like every five - ten steps lol

  5. Thanks for documenting this journey. I'm interested in heading up there...can you share the contact information for the land owner? I definitely want his/her approval and would love to explore this new (to me) trail.

  6. Sorry Kyle, Timber Canyon Rd is private so I can't in good conscience share the secret behind the gate and/or where the trail start is. An enterprising individual could figure it out though. -DS