13 April 2013

Divide Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trail head.

I decided to go up to Divide Peak partly because so far I have scorned the road that the forest service sends the public down instead of Matilija and partly because I wanted to see what the terrain really looks like about half a mile up from the end of this rather unsatisfactorily aborted attempt at White Ledge where the lines get a bit close together on the map. Sure, White Ledge doesn't haunt my background, I have other bumps to wonder about, but it is sitting there in the middle of everything being virtually unobtainable. The last few days, the marine layer hasn't been bothering to burn off, which tends to lessen the views of the ocean, but I decided to not worry about that. I added my car to those carefully ringing the dry Loch Lot and made my way down the locked road through Matilija Canyon Ranch listening to the squawks of peacocks, an action that now seems casual after the other trips from this trail head.

looking up the canyon toward peaks that will not be obtained today
There's a little bit of mist in the air from a small amount of marine layer leaking over the top of the ridge as I start up the canyon.

The first creek crossing was just a step from bank to bank and the second seemed to have okay flow as I hopped along the rocks south of the ford. The map on the Upper North Fork Trail sign has pealed into uselessness. I turned off the road after another tenth of a mile to start down Murietta Creek Trail, which may reduce the distance slightly, but definitely reduces the amount of time on the road. It starts off dry, but as it gets near the creek starts offering an assortment of poison oak leaves to rub against but are currently almost entirely avoidable.

Murietta Canyon Trail
A little bit of single track trail on this mostly road route up to a peak. The cut of the alternate route is visible to the right.

poison oak in bloom
The tiny flowers of a poison oak that was waving in the breeze.

I could hear the sound of water playing, then came to a spot where the water could be seen. Plenty of water, but it seems dwarfed by the bed it flows in. Coming to the creek, a slapstick admonished me to stay on the trail as three possible routes opened up in front of me. One directly across the wide expanse of rocky creek bed, one crossing at an angle, and a third along the bank still. I spotted another sign out in the middle of the rocks and took the middle route. A third slapstick on the other side of the creek marks the trail climbing back into the underbrush.

an extra wide section of creek where the trail decides to cross it
Looking back after crossing the creek at an extra wide spot where the creek has split into three streams. Signs admonish hikers to stay on the trail on this side as well.

Quickly, the trail dropped me into a clearing that is Murietta Camp. There are three grills supplied, but only one shows any use with a ring of stones and ash a foot deep and a couple rock seats near it. There was once a biffy, but now there's only an exposed hole with a concrete edge at the side of the clearing. It is still empty when I hit it, but will be in use later.

Murietta Camp
Murietta is a well used campsite with modern adjustable grills.

After the campground, the trail crosses back over the creek. It is not so incredibly wide here, but it still gives the impression of once regularly holding a lot more water than it does now. After the second crossing, it seemed to be butterfly central as I climbed the last of the way back up to the road.

Murietta Creek
Little creek in a big bed.

Swallow Trail that is almost entirely white (where not black), but has a bit of blue and dark yellow right at the bottom
The bit of blue on this Swallow Tail was eye catching. Another was quite a bit larger than the average.

guerilla camp
An excellent guerrilla camp that must have exceptional morning sun.

A sign at the end of the trail marks the mileage to the hundredths for going back down to the campground or up to the divide. I had an impulse to take off points for significant figures. The views open up with the last of the trail and getting onto the road. I feared that I'd seen my last shade tree, but found some good ones here and there as I climbed.

fog creeping into the canyon
The bottom of the canyon is full of tall trees. The fog has crept a little further up the canyon from when I started.

the valleys stretching up to the ridge where Ocean View once passed
I do believe that behind that ridge is the proposed approach to Ocean View and then White Ledge. There may be something to it.

small white flowers in great bunches and full of little beetles
These seem to be a delight to a number of small beetles as well.

As I climbed, I found that a rocky peak was catching my fancy. Would it be the one I was climbing? Probably not, the OHV route practically goes over the top of that. Maybe I could climb it as well anyway? Thus was born the whim, the first part of a three part recipe.

a bit of the road and a rocky peak ahead
Now that looks like an excellent peak to be headed toward.

velvet ant, really a wasp
The velvet ants, a type of lone wasp, were out in force today. This first of three was being harassed by an actual ant.

water dribbling down a bit of rock wall
A couple of soggy spots at the side of the road mark springs. One a little further up had more water.

deep purple pea pods
A few flowers and some maturing pods on a local pea plant.

Reaching the saddle, I chatted with a hiker coming down Monte Arido Road who turned out to be a biker with a dead battery. (Don't bikes generally come in manual? Actually, you can pop a clutch on an automatic car, it's just harder.) He'd seen the trail I was about to go up and confirmed that it looked more like a fire break folks had claimed for a trail than a trail. Someone had placed rocks lining a bit of trail right at the road intersection, but the maps indicate the trail starts up a little further along. I found a couple more spots with trail going up and took one of them. In a few feet, I found a bit of old road cut. A little further on, the other trail came down a small hill to join mine along the old cut. It continues along the old road cut for a while before losing it as the mountain side gets steeper.

old road cut with the trail following
At first, the trail winds along a wide cut that was likely once a road.

Jameson Lake (reservoir)
Jameson Lake in the distance down the Santa Ynez side of the divide. A bit of fog is spilling over the mountains on past it.

A few spots had a bit of brush over the trail, but there were also a few rather recent looking cuts on some of the bushes. As the trail climbs the ridge, the tread is easy to follow. A few times, it seems to cross a little more old road cut, but that vanishes away from the edge of the ridge. I suddenly came upon some unexpected fir trees, which were quite welcome. Climbing further, the trail starts to switchback a little before coming to the OHV route at the top.

Monte Arido trail and road
Monte Arido Trail climbs the ridge in the foreground past a few fir trees. Monte Arido Road climbs toward its namesake in the background.

lizard on a cairn
A few cairns marked the way although not really required.

The trail comes out at a lovely boulder field. I had a glance at the map. Divide Peak is to the right, the peak I liked the look of is to the left. With some very lazy map reading, the second part of the three part recipe, I noted that the trail goes to a peak to the left and decided to do that after all. To be followed by Divide Peak.

boulder field with Divide Peak in the background
A view of the boulder field at the top of Monte Arido Trail. Divide Peak behind it is somewhat, well, there.

a small arch among the boulders up the ridge
Some more of the boulders, which can be quite artistic at times.

As it was becoming increasingly obvious that the trail was not going where I hoped, I ran into a pair of hikers coming back from Ocean View Trail. They've been coming up each weekend and getting a little further down the trail each time. They tried to entice me down Ocean View for the great views of the ocean, which was invisible in the clouds lapping at the mountain's feet below. They also pointed out that the enticing peak had no trail up it, but people did go up it. Based on their reading of Stillman's blog, there is a gully back the way I came that climbs nearly to the top and the vegetation is thin enough there to push the rest of the way. They mentioned there is a register at the top as well. This chat became a third part in my three part recipe. I continued around the mountain. I spotted Ocean View and started down it.

the west end of Ocean View Trail
Ocean View Trail continuing along the side of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

I didn't go very far down the trail. I wanted to go up that peak. I returned to the spot where Ocean View leaves the OHV route and looked up along the various bumps toward the peak. Truth be told, it looked like the vegetation was thin enough to push through from here as well. I the ingredients a stir and started up, turning them into a peak ascent. After about 20 feet of climbing, all loose and open rocks, I dumped the big camera in the top of the pack for safety. Much of the brush is not much more than knee high. I came to some sections that were chest high, but it's still low enough to spot the soft areas and push toward them. With pushing the branches aside and a very small amount of bouldering, I made my way generally upward, generally along a bit of ridge to the crest of rock. Edging along the crest a little way, I came to a point where I couldn't go any further next to a pile of stones containing a plastic "coffee can" with a register. Popping it open, I found that this is "King's Crest", noted to be the tallest peak in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Glancing over the maps, I can't dispute that, although the survey for this point isn't as stable as one to the east that is almost as tall.

looking down along the way in
A glance down the steep and rocky face of King's Crest to the trail and roads that lead to and away from it. That next range is higher.

red plastic Folgers coffee 'can'
The coffee plastic tub register for this spot.

vegetation obscurred view of the eastward range
Looking along the range to the east, it looks like this could be the highest point, although it is also a bit obscured by vegetation.

looking west
Looking west, somewhat along the range, with the sun glinting too brightly off the fog coming over.

The vegetation at the very top of the peak does not allow for much looking around. It had taken 40 minutes to get to the top and I did still want to get to the original goal, so after a brief time, I edged back along the rocky crest to where I'd come up. A gully comes up just about to where I was, as advertised. The bottom of it looked fairly clear of growth. Realizing I was following the directions of people who hadn't actually come up here, which might be foolish, I gave the gully a try. It had the suggestion of footprints and then I even found a cut branch. Someone had gone this way. It turned out to be one of those routes where I'm glad I'm not going the other way. I skied down steep slopes of small rocks that would be hard work to go up. After 20 minutes, I passed a large cairn and hit the road. I gained a couple good scratches going up, but didn't add to them coming back down. I glanced over my hiking pants to find a few spots of wear and I just cut the tags off them this morning. Arg.

the gully with the cairn marking the bottom
A rock strewn gully that will probably become the regular route up.

I turned and followed the road to Divide Peak. The road goes over the smaller part of the divided peak. I found a marker by it, then went up the illegal motorcycle trail to the taller peak. I made every effort to locate a marker on it, but could find nothing. The White Ledge quad shows markers for both peaks, but searching for information on the National Geodetic Survey site only comes up with three on the smaller peak. Two of these were destroyed by road grading and one was later replaced. I found the replacement which is on a tall rock north of the road. The remaining older one is south of the road. Divide Peak is, well, not much. It does have the advantage that it is easy to look out from and I stopped to sketch the sea of clouds on a big flat rock that was a likely candidate for a survey marker but was quite unviolated.

White Ledge Peak and clouds
White Ledge Peak may not be all that tall, but I can see how it's stark crest could call a person.

I decided not to take the motorcycle shortcut down the steep side of the peak, rendered slick with loose rock and dirt from illegal bike activity which I'd watched (and listened to) some of while climbing King's Crest. I climbed back up to the top and down the gentler slope of the road. I headed back down Monte Arido Trail. Coming down, I tended to use some older treads that seemed quite obvious when going in this direction. The current tread is loose and steep while the older ones have a bit of growth in them to help hold them together. Coming down to the road again, I found someone had set rocks as a "40 min" sign at the bottom. I passed the too early marked trail again and started down the road. The fog had made it much further up the canyon in the late day. I took the road all the way down again.

fog has come up Murietta
Just starting down from the top and the fog is already visible, having climbed its way up Murietta Canyon.

I stepped out to the edge at one point to look over the canyon and could see a bright tent, lit from inside by a couple of headlamps, and small campfire. Voices could be heard as one exited the tent. The camp had found some occupants. As I got to the last stream crossing, I had to battle two very bright headlamps coming the other way. There were still people making their way to one of the sites. Do wish they'd do it without shining lights into my face repeatedly, it's worse than car headlights. Got to admit, I felt pretty satisfied with the hike, but I'm not sure just Divide Peak would have been half so nice.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 15 Apr 2013

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