20 February 2014

NIRA area: San Rafael Mountain

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

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

(Day 2 of 5.)  It is a little less windy in McKinley Spring Camp in the morning, but building again. Get the stove going for breakfast with a little difficulty and then pack it all up again and get moving up the hill with enough water to get to Mission Pine Springs. Just as the hillsides are not as purple as they should be, some places aren't as wet as they should be this time of year. The walk up the hill to McKinley Saddle is quite short. The saddle is a junction with Mission Pine Trail and the fire road. A sign on the right points up the fuel break for "McKinley Peak". It is also initially torn up by motorcycles that do not want to stop where they are supposed to, but not for very far even though it is fairly open. After a bit longer hike than the one up to the saddle, I make it up to the rock outcrop at the peak.

Santa Cruz Fire Trail
At the saddle, the fire road continues as the much smaller Santa Cruz Fire Trail.

Murky suggestions of ocean are visible to the south and the west of the peak. Old concrete feet from a 1935 lookout remain at the top, although they have mostly been dug from the ground. They are small and do not seem like something suitable for holding down a building.

Cachuma Lake from McKinley Mountain
Looking down at Lake Cachuma again, this time from McKinley Mountain. Now the ocean behind the Santa Ynez Mountains is visible, and there is a suggestion of Santa Cruz Island beyond it in the ocean.

flat where small lookout was built
The flat immediately west of the rock outcrop that is the peak, with a few of the concrete anchors from the lookout.

With the peak register signed, I'm not quite done on the peak. Possibly because there was a building here when they were working, the surveyors who placed a benchmark on this peak chose to do so on a lower rock outcrop to the northwest of the peak and I want to find it. Following the fuel break along the top of the mountain, I can get near the rock outcrop. It looks like some people do come out to these rocks and there are a few trails into the first couple, but examining the map makes me think these are not quite far enough along. I check because it is easy, but they have no benchmark. It takes ever more creative ways to wiggle through the brush to get to the next rock and the one after that, but eventually there is a big, round boulder dangling wire with a little metal dome just visible on its top. It is not easy to get to it or up it, but both challenges are short.

rock outcrop to the northwest of the peak
The benchmark is somewhere over there. The rocks visible from here are not so hard to get to, but the target is further along. You can see the thick brush between the fuel break and the rock outcrop.

the boulder with the benchmark, a good eye should be able to pick out the disk near the top
The boulder with the benchmark is a rounded thing still adorned with wires from the wooden post that was set here for surveying. The disk is just to the left of the point at the top. The larger version of the image is really needed to see it.

benchmark with the view
The view out over hills and city to the ocean from atop the boulder with the benchmark. This is an Army Corp of Engineers 1941 monument.

Back down the rock, through the brush, and down the fuel break, I turn to start down Mission Pine Trail. The trail has a register which seems to be mostly signed by the Beeman in his patrols as a VWR. He says there are a few trees down along the way. The branches of the oaks have swept giant arcs in the dirt along the side of the trail due to the wind of the night before. I meet my neighbors from the night before on their way back down from the peak of San Rafael Mountain.

trailhead for Mission Pine Trail
A register and a sign marked "Mission Pine Springs" marks the start of Mission Pine Trail.

fuel break of the side of McKinley Mountain
The route up McKinley Mountain can be seen well from Mission Pine Trail.

growth in the oak branches
One of many spiny growths in the burned branches of the oaks on the mountain. This was burned in the Zaca Fire.

The islands are even clearer from up on San Rafael Mountain. The Beeman notes he can see the southern Sierras from here, but I cannot today. This peak also has a monument, and this one exists in the NGS database so I can look up what to expect. There should be a station stamped "San Rafael 1941" and two reference marks. The first reference is a USGS marker stamped "6581 VA" which must have been preexisting. The second is the more usual mark and all were last accounted for officially in 1959. Looking around, all I can find is the USGS mark. It looks a lot like the one on Cachuma Mountain. Wires and bits of wood were left here as well.

monument on San Rafael Mountain
The USGS disk set near the top of San Rafael Mountain and the view of Hurricane Deck.

unobscured Hurricane Deck and far off ocean
The far off ocean is clearer from up here on San Rafael.

San Rafael Mountain's multiple peaks
San Rafael actually has a series of peaks over a long length.

Unsatisfied with the monument with its bland stamp, I decide to head over to a second peak that looks like it could be higher and looks more to the taste of the crew who placed the McKinley monument. The notes say these are actually Coast and Geodetic Survey markers, but I do not have them with me and only recall that they are set the same year. Anyway, it is a quick climb up to the second peak. Looking out from atop the big rock on it, I can almost see something I could imagine were snow topped southern Sierras, if I believed in them. The southern portion of those mountains is low almost all of what little snow has hit the Sierras has been further north. The missing benchmarks are, of course, not there.

Mission Pine Basin
That looks like a pleasant place to go, and fortunately is my way.

all the way to the southern Sierras?
Looking out toward the southern Sierra Nevadas.

The trail after the peak is somewhat less traveled, but still not difficult. Some portions have become small secondary stream beds, but most of it is good. There is a downed tree along the way, the first of the few trees mentioned in the register. Getting to Mission Pine Spring, I stop to get some water. My campsite for the night is one of those places that most would expect to be wet, but is dry this year, and this is my last water before getting there. The spring is flowing well. The camp next to it has a nice table.

Mission Pine Spring Camp
A little bit of the camp at Mission Pine Spring.

Mission Pine Spring
Mission Pine Spring has been plumbed, but the external portion of the pipe is no longer connected to the underground portion. It still makes a good spout for the water flow.

Continuing down the trail, I find it actually crosses a small stream full of water as well very soon after the spring. There are more and more trees across the trail, far more than a few. I started recording them on a whim with the first, and manage to get all except three of about a foot that are on the ground. There are well over a dozen of them, a few presenting difficult obstacles.

tree with many branches on the trail
One of the more obnoxious of the trees that have fallen across the trail.

Carrying extra water is annoying not just for the weight, but because there is not much space for it in my pack and strapping it on the outside starts to result in the pack listing to one side. The trail has more sections that look more like stream. Cairns become prominent and sometimes mark more than one route. It one spot, there is a wonderful bypass to one of the stream sections, but the stream is also marked, and I wonder how many nice bypasses I have missed. Suddenly, the result of ignoring the changes in the weight of the pack manifest as the Platypus bag drops, landing on a bit of sharp rock. There is somehow a satisfied nature to the sound of the bag hitting. I have managed the highly difficult, putting a hole in a Platypus bag. At least they do not burst like balloons, so I can simply transfer the water to an extra.

rocks with dark lines
These rocks darken where there is contact with air, so the very old cracks show up starkly against the more recently exposed interior.

hills on the way to camp
Small hills of manzanita and sage on the way to Mission Pine Basin.

looking back up the mountain
A look back up toward San Rafael Mountain.

Toward the basin, the burned trees get quite bad and it is no surprise there are so many down on the trail. There were some Jeffery pines up on the mountain, but in the basin they are Coulter pines again. There are a few hillsides here that are also sprouting with fresh Coulter pines at a density that is simply astounding. Eventually, the trail crosses into a meadow with a sign on the far side that denotes the spur to the campground. Heading up it, following the creek generally, I get to a camp that is surrounded by standing dead trees. A campfire ring surrounded by benches set on top of ice can stoves and old fuel cans is in a particularly bad spot.

more trees across the trail and lots of young trees beside it
Some more trees crossing a bit of trail. New trees are coming up, but they are far too dense for the land to carry them.

meadow junction
The trail levels out into a meadow where a sign marks the route back into the camp area.

Mission Pine Basin Camp
Mission Pine Basin is not quite as nicely equipped as other camps before it and is surrounded by standing dead trees.

There is only a breeze, so getting dinner started is not hard this time. It takes a while, but I do eventually find an acceptable spot to throw out my quilt. The sky is obstructed by very little for very good star gazing throughout the night, at least until the moon rises and washes out half of them.

Continue reading: day 3

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 26 February 2014

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