Saturday, June 15, 2013

San Rafael Mountain, McKinley Mountain, Cachuma Mountain. 06/14/13

Cachuma Mtn at sunrise. Ranger Peak, Figueroa Mtn and Zaca Peak are also visible in this shot.

Real Life gets in the way of things and mine has been unusually full of the "real" stuff lately so I was pretty happy to finally wrangle a day to get out. I'm pretty unfamiliar with the Santa Barbara backcountry and have lately been making tentative forays into that part of the SLP. In the interest of furthering my understanding of the complex Manzana drainage I figured it might be a good idea to start by tagging some peaks that offer good views into that portion of backcountry. I also wanted some miles. A walk up Cachuma Mountain Road offered both.

Cachuma Mtn Rd. Route for the day.
I left the trailhead at 04:00 and progressed quickly up a nicely angled and unusually smooth fire road, headlamp leading the way. It was full dark and the stars pricked the black sky with stabs of crystal light. I saw several meteors which appeared to fall out of the Milky Way. The morning was blustery and cool, good walking weather. I killed the headlamp as I passed through Hells Half Acre and just kept at it until I got to McKinley Springs Campsite at 06:50.

McKinley Springs Campsite.
McKinley Springs is a nice little campsite tucked in a fold of the peak for which it is named. The site lies just off the road and is hard to miss. It was easy to envision a nice night up here. This site has one amenity that sets it apart from almost any other SLP site this far from anything, a very nicely built semi-private privy. It even has a forrest view. As of this writing the water in the overflowing spring tank is cold and clear, but it needs filtering.

Today was a good day for wildflowers.
Flannel Bush
 After a generous break at the camp I continued east on the road for a half mile before reaching McKinley Saddle. This is the end of the Cachuma Fire Rd and the junction of three trails. The short route up Mckinley Mtn starts here as does the Mission Pine Springs Trail which leads to San Rafael Mtn. A long abandoned and unmantained track called Mckinley Fire Rd descends SSE to Santa Cruz Peak. 

In the back of my mind I had started out the day with the idea of doing whats called the "Santa Barbara Big 3". This is a link up of Santa Cruz, San Raf and Mckinley that comes in at 33 miles and over 8,000 feet of gain for the day. Looking over Santa Cruz Peak from the Mckinley Saddle I came to the conclusion that there really wasn't anything special about that peak and that I didn't feel like putting myself through all that for a summit I'd actually have to lose altitude to get to. I could readily see how doing all that in a day was possible, but I just didn't see what was in it for me. I got nuthin to prove. I had the time and energy, just wasn't interested. My perspective was shaped in part by Bob Burd's description of the route and his thoughts on Santa Cruz. I agreed with him, Santa Cruz "isn't much of a mountain". In fact, all of the summits tied to this ridge in this post are kind of ho-hum underwhelming. They lack character. 

Santa Cruz Peak from McKinley Saddle

 From the saddle I took the well-marked Mission Pine trail up to San Rafael Mtn. This is a nice trail with some pretty sections and good views down into Manzana Creek and up toward the Hurricane Deck. This route gains 1100ft over a gentle 2.5miles from the Saddle. A short time later I crested San Raf. The summit lies about 15 feet off the trail so your sense of summit related accomplishment is somewhat muted. About the only thing interesting about this hilltop were the mobs of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
Santa cruz Peak from San Rafael Mtn
San Rafael Mountain summit
McKinley Mtn from San Rafael Mtn

I descended back to the Saddle and turned my sights on Mckinley. From the saddle the summit is a half mile climb with 400ft of elevation gain. The trail up is well defined and not too difficult. As was the case on San Raf, this hilltop was alive with several species of butterflies. Bees buzzed over numerous flowers and hummingbirds and swallows flitted here and there. This summit offered great southern views into Happy Canyon, across to Ranger Peak, and down to Lake Cachuma.
Mckinley Mtn summit
Lake Cachuma
McKinley Mtn summit, view north toward Sierra Madre
 After descending McKinley I walked back west to the McK Springs site where I took a good half hour in the shade before continuing back toward Cachuma Mtn and the trailhead. I got to see Hells Half Acre in the daylight and concluded that the crazy rock blobs reminiscent of the Divide Peak Boulders actually occupied about 2.5 acres of space. There is one east facing cave that's interesting but unfortunately this rock pile is completely overgrown and exploring the rocks may not be worth the scratches.
Approaching Hells Half Acre from the east.
High and dry road miles

Lake Cachuma and Santa Ynez
Cachuma Mtn, looking toward Figueroa
 A couple miles later I found myself trudging up what was the sportiest climb of the day. The line up Cachuma Mtn ascend a ragged and rocky scar on the east side of the peak. It's pretty obvious. I was surprised to find a USGS benchmark here, though it didn't name the peak. Another thing I thought was weird was that there wasn't a summit journal and after looking around I realized that almost nobody comes up here. Strange. No tracks on the climb up and a bit overgrown with grasses, and no summit register on a named and benchmarked peak, weird.

Here's how the day went:
 Mileage: 23
Elevation gain: >7,000ft
Start Cachuma Saddle 04:00
McKinley Springs Camp, 7.5 miles, 06:50 (2:50)
San Rafael Mtn 08:20 (4:20)
McKinley Mtn 09:40 (5:40)
Cachuma Mtn 12:40 (8:40)
Out 14:10 (10:10)

Cachuma Mtn Benchmark

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