03 November 2011

Cold Spring East Fork Trail

Santa Barbara Front Country

Map the trailhead.

I hiked up Cold Spring trail from E. Mountain up to E. Camino Cielo and hit Montecito peak on the way back down. I started off well enough. I got directions from the Independent that told me to turn on Foothill/192 from Hot Springs, then down Cold Spring and park by the creek. I missed 192 because it is actually Sycamore, so got to Mountain and turned toward Cold Spring, thus finding the trail head which is on Mountain a bit east of the road called Cold Spring. I guess sometimes two wrongs do make a right. Three trails apparently leave from the creek. The one on the west side just goes far enough to find a good place to cross and then joins the main trail. The easternmost trail climbs to join the main trail much further up forming the other side of "the loop", if the map the Independent had is more accurate than their directions. The middle trail is the main trail and is signed with mileages for various destinations along the east fork including the turnoff for the west fork and pools along the creek. The peak is marked as 3.5 miles and the road at the top as 4.5 miles.

I followed the trail for a bit. It generally follows the creek, climbing up out of the canyon a little bit from time to time as it gets tight. The trail only crosses the creek twice along the way. It passes by a number of pretty little cascades as it goes.

rock outcropping with oak along the side
The canyon is rocky and tight, so the trail generally must maintain a height above the creek.

little cascade into a large pool
A little cascade that is almost a waterfall just above the first creek crossing.

rocks holding pools with moss covered natural slides between
A system of natural slides along the way, although I wouldn't recommend actually using them as slides.

After the second crossing, the trail starts to climb out of the canyon for the trip to the top, but I managed to stay in the canyon just a little too long by taking a switchback I shouldn't have. A little further, the trail along the creek just dwindled to nothing, so I went back and took a climbing trail. This trail started out at a normal grade, but after a short bit, it just started to turn upward until the little trails breaking off that had looked like switchback cuts while passing started to look like maybe they were the proper trail. This got me up onto a little shoulder with a large cactus and some very low rock walls holding a couple areas flat. Possible ruins with one garden survivor.

a cactus and a little bit of the view into the next canyon over
A cactus greets me on a hilltop with a few low rock structures around it.

It was clear I wasn't on the right route, but I wasn't sure where I'd gone wrong because it had become obviously wrong where there was no turn. I had no idea how much I'd have to backtrack. Meanwhile, there was a fairly well used trail here headed up. It would get to the proper trail or to the road, from which the proper trail would be easy to find, so I went up it. And up it went as fast as it could along the edge of the ridge. Someone had been through there cutting branches and maintaining the route, though not for a couple years. I got a bit hungry, since it was nearly lunch when I started, so stopped and drew the city below while perched on a bit of the trail, then climbed some more.

sketch of the city below, somewhat obscured
A common sight from trails in the Santa Barbara front country.

The trail upward seemed easy to follow, if a little bit steep. In some sections the rocks became like a ladder, but there were always ample hand and foot holds. Then I got into an area of chaparral marked with pink striped ribbons where the overhead stuff just closed in until I couldn't pass without crawling. It was just getting worse and worse, so I backtracked, and quickly found another route I had missed the first time. This one was marked with a yellow stripe, but the ribbons were not placed as often. This route got me much further up. Soon I could see the trail I should have been on above me, then at the same level, but off to the side, then the chaparral closed in again. I was so close, so I managed the scramble through the tunnel at the end and got back to Cold Spring trail. The proper trail was like a highway.

a bit of well used but unsuable trail looking stuff that is not a trail, or even a route
This may look like a route somewhere, but it just gets lost in chaparral brambles and vanishes. No idea why someone chose to mark it with all those ribbons.

lots of air
The canyon and the city beyond. The west fork trail can be seen climbing up to the road on the other side of the valley.

lots of clouds
Looking up to the top of the ridge in the direction of the destination.

the local hills are used for broadcasting purposes
Off to the west, they do all kinds of broadcasting.

this is used trail
A nice steep section of the trail, maybe a little thinner than below, but still clear and used. It's hard to see how steep the trail is since the bushes are happy to grow out a bit as well as up, giving an illusionary vertical that isn't closer to normal with the ground.

power lines close up and the bird refuge in the distance
Looking out toward the bird refuge, the local hill is populated with high tension power lines. The proper trail can be seen dropping from the utility road near the power lines.

a little break between the chaparral
This is what my trail looks like as it joins the main trail, if anyone is fool enough to want to try to go down that way. I happily managed to completely miss it on the way down.

nice, big, easy trail
Cold Spring Highway... er, Trail. No more rock scrambles or ducking under brush. It looks like it was once graded as a road.

some of Cold Spring as it climbs
Looking down into the source area of Cold Spring.

It wasn't too far after finding the trail that the route to Montecito peak appeared. I decided to leave this to later while going downhill. A little further, and I came out onto the road at Cold Spring Saddle. There was a crisp wind blowing through the saddle and I had the incoming clouds had obscured the area, so it was quite cold and the visibility wasn't anything to speak of. I was glad to have my fleece in the pack, but a little disappointed the rain jacket hadn't made it since it would have cut the wind nicely. My fingers were frosty after a little drawing.

view from a spot nearing the top, looking over the city again
The view as the top get nearer. A pair of eucalyptus trees offer shade along the trail below for those days when it is much warmer, but today the clouds are closing in instead.

sketch of not much more than clouds being blown by
My sketch at the top as the clouds were rolling by and obscuring anything more than 100 feet away.

The sign on the continuation of trail on the far side of the road promised campgrounds in 2 and 5 miles and the maps show a lot of trail going further than that. I checked out the water tank (full) and then headed back down. The sign on that side said it was 4 miles back down to the bottom.

Even though the clouds were quite thick above, I decided to go ahead and go up Montecito peak. It was another trail much like the ridge trail, but much better traveled so no tunnels to move through at all, but less sure footing where the trail was more torn up. An older version of the trail was some feet to the side, but had become a creek bed during rains. At the top, I crossed the peak following the main use trail going straight to a rock. I noticed that someone had set a memorial stone upon it and as I went to look closer, I found the 2nd survey marker set in it. Coming back, I followed a second use trail left from the peak to find an ammo tin holding the peak log. It had a lot of extra logs and an emergency blanket as well as a plea to water the pine tree. I didn't notice the pine tree, it might have died of the bark beetles someone had tried to save it from by cutting off the top (or so the note said). Since there was poison oak growing on the peak, I didn't think I needed to find it and get it some water.

I wrote my bit in the log book and closed it back up against the threatening weather. I turned and proceeded carefully down the use trail on the peak to the proper trail below. I followed the proper trail down, getting a lot more switch backs than I had on the way up and got down to the utility road below. Someone (probably the forest service) had kindly put a "trail" sign on it to be sure people would know that this turn off was the correct one as they climbed. Soon after getting onto the road, the trail dropped down from it again. I'd seen this from above, so was expecting it, which is good because no one had put the "trail" sign on this side. I guess they assume that if you are going down it, you already went up it. It eventually met with a thicker trail, and again there was the helpful "trail" sign to mark the route. Left would have taken me back to the second, unsigned trail at the start, but I turned right. Then, not much more than 40 feet along, there was the switchback I had taken but shouldn't have, closely followed by the 2nd creek crossing. I followed it the rest of the way in the dwindling light of the evening.

©2011 Valerie Norton
Posted 5 November 2011

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