19 February 2014

NIRA area: Cachuma Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5

(Day 1 of 5.) The morning is cool and windy and the National Weather Service is saying it'll be highs of 73°F and lows of 45°F over the next few days. This seems like a very small range to me. I make the last choices on what to bring and what to leave, then cinch up the straps and haul onto my back all that will support me for the next five days. The plan sees three mountain peaks in the next two days, then dropping down the the Sisquoc along Fall Canyon, climbing over the east section of Hurricane Deck, then down Lost Valley and out NIRA. Since I'll be coming out on Sunday, there may be opportunity for a ride, but I'll be pretty rank smelling by then and will probably prefer to get back by my own power rather than subject someone to that. For now, I cross the paved road and start up the fire road toward McKinley Springs. The road seems to allow motorcycles, but I am unlikely to have to deal with such traffic on a Wednesday. It starts climbing immediately, but at that slow and easy road grade, and keeps climbing for a while. Bush poppies are about the only things blooming when the hillsides should be awash with lupine.

a few trees on sage green mountain sides
Starting up McKinley Mountain Fire Road and taking in the grey-green mountain sides that should have plenty of purple in them this time of year.

southeast facing slope
This southeast facing slope is usually a particularly good spot for flowers, but is now full of dried grasses.

Hurricane Deck
Beyond the Sierra Madre Mountains, there do seem to be clouds building up.


The hike up is increasingly windy as I make my way up to Cachuma Mountain. There is a big water tank along the road as it starts to pass below the peak. The fire break following the ridge climbs the side, initially torn up a bit by motorcycles who cannot stay where they belong, but the top seems to vanish into cliffs to delight a mountain goat. Around to the north, the slope is the easiest for climbing, but it is not obvious if the brush is clear enough for travel. At a saddle with the wind blasting through, the last chance to climb the mountain before the road travels on to unnamed peaks along the ridge, the fuel break comes back down. This looks like a usable route and the bit of trail indicates that a few people agree. Twenty or thirty vertical feet worth are a bit overly steep for good footing, but otherwise it is just a bit steep and there is less need to lean into the wind as I move away from the saddle.

McKinley and San Rafael
Looking ahead along the growing ridge of mountains to the ones I'll go up tomorrow.

benchmark with a view
The USGS disk at the top of Cachuma Mountain is stamped with the elevation, but is unnamed and undated.

road up to the mountain
Looking back over the road I came up. Castle Rock, on down the Manzana, can be picked out as a point of white in the distance.

Lake Cachuma from Cachuma Mountain
Lake Cachuma and the Santa Ynez Mountains from Cachuma Mountain.

The air is a bit dusty and hazy, but there's still quite a view. Mine is about the fourth signature in the register set just last November. Heading back down the mountain, the wind is blowing even harder through the saddle. Proceeding along the ridge, a water tank marked on the map turns out to be a spring fed tank with a trough and a picnic table.

picnic table by a tank
In the next saddle, a picnic table next to a spring tank with a trough.

Coulter in a little meadow
A little meadow near the picnic table with a few Coulter pines.

Hell's Half Acre, by the USGS
The road twisting along the southerly slope of the ridge toward the flat marked Hells Half Acre on the USGS map.

wind through the pines
A few feet and the wind goes from still to blowing hard through these pine trees.

After a warmer section on a southerly face of the ridge and a cool section on a northerly face of the ridge, things start to look a little more rugged. There are outcrops of rock all over the place in a section called Hells Half Acre. The rocks themselves have some interesting layers and textures.

layers of rock
One of the rocks along the side of the road in what everyone else calls Hells Half Acre.

some more rugged canyon
The land sloping and rocky as it goes down toward the Manzana.

Hells Half Acre
Looking back down on Hells Half Acre.

The road passes into another northerly section of ridge and things seem to get wetter as it goes. The hillside becomes a crazy forest of young Coulter pines growing within inches of each other. A few large trunks lie burned on the ground. Passing the trail up from Big Cone Spruce and a drainage, the hillside becomes a thick forest of somewhat more mature oaks that often have feet between each trunk, but are still very dense. Two tanks on at the edge of the road, one on its side, likely mark McKinley Spring. Continuing along, there is the campground next to Cold Spring.

White Ledge and Hurricane Deck
Another canyon dropping down the the Manzana with White Ledge and Hurricane Deck in the background.

mountain vegetation changing as it curves around
The vegetation changes drastically along the mountain.

tables at McKinley Spring Camp
McKinley Spring Camp has a couple tables, spring box for Cold Spring that overflows into a trough, and a campfire ring with a grill. The biffy is up by the road.

The camp is full of bear scat and trails, but all of the scat is quite old. I only have the campsite to myself for a short time before some neighbors come up from NIRA by Big Pine Spruce. It turns out to be fortunate, since I got overconfident about my fire starter for lighting the stove and it is too windy to actually do so with just sparks, and they helped me out. No matter where I go around the camp, everything that is light weight needs held down against the wind. Deploying the bivy against the wind makes the night quite comfortable.

Continue reading: day 2




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 February 2014

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