16 March 2014

Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido

Los Padres National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


I have a list of potential hikes that seems to add items faster than they get done, and many hikes I do do not even come from this list, so when Bernard said, "We should have another 20 mile hike," I jumped at the chance to check the item "Old Man Mountain" off of it. Then I remembered him mentioning that he was not a fan of fire roads and tried to backtrack on this suggestion because this route is almost entirely on fire roads. It was too late, the suggestion was made, it was declared that a fire road might be alright once. The Matilija Trailhead has cars stacked in everywhere, but not so many as I expected and it is easy to find a spot. This area got almost 18 inches of rain by one gauge, so maybe people are worried the creek is still uncrossable. Online USGS stream gauges include one below the dam which indicates water flow is already below normal for this time of year. It is an illustration of the need for a long, soaking rain before the big storms to get as much as we can out of them. I was worried that with the road closed preventing access to popular areas, everyone might be coming here. Luckily, I am also wrong, or at least not yet correct.

Matilija Canyon
Still somewhat early, but not too terribly early, on the gated part of Matilija Canyon Road.

For once, there is no watering going on along the first ranch. We admire the peacocks and the fat geese as we walk past their cage. The two creek crossings are easy, but delightfully full. We are feeling the slightest bit of warmth of the day as we come to the Murietta Canyon Trail and duck down it under the trees. The trail seems to have suffered nothing in the heavy rain of the last storm, but a much older oak fall forces a sudden divergence from the set route. The camp is empty when we arrive, which is also unexpected. Before long, we climb back out of the trees and onto the road again. The climb under oaks and past a stream that dives underground as it hits the road is rather pleasant. As we come to the flow from the spring toward the top, the sound of water and birds grows louder. It is a very pleasant climb to the divide between the Santa Ynez and Ventura River watersheds.

high point of Santa Ynez Mountains
The rocky peak that is the highest point in the Santa Ynez Mountains rises above Murietta Canyon.

At the saddle, we turn north along Monte Arido Fireroad and climb the divide. The climb is quickly broken with a drop past a small lake behind the earthen Murietta Dam. Climbing again, Garth notes that it is already 87°F according to his watch. The rest of us disagree that it could be that hot already, maybe partly out of wishful thinking, and he hooks the watch so that he is not heating it up himself, but it refuses to read lower. A multitude of breezes off the ocean help to keep us cool as the sun tries to heat us on the south slope climbs. It is quickly apparent that visibility is somewhat limited by moisture haze.

hikers looking to the west along the divide
Garth and Bernard check out the Santa Ynez basin and a little bit of water.


the little bit of water behind Murietta Dam
The source of the Santa Ynez River!

looking down over the Matilija drainage
Looking down into Matilija with Cara Blanca dominating the left.

Monte Arido Road climbing the south face of Old Man Mountain
A look at the road climbing the south face of Old Man Mountain and its somewhat impressive looking false peaks.

Coming to one of the very few trees along the divide route (dead), we settle in for a bite to eat on some nice rock seats. We drop some of our elevation again as we get good views of Jameson Reservoir looking quite small. As we climb again along long switchbacks, it starts to feel like it could really be a bit warm. It never quite gets to feeling like a normal Pasadena hike, but we suck down plenty of water as we go.

dead tree on the top of a hill
We have found a tree, but it is dead.

Jameson Reservoir
Looking down over the water supply for Montecito, Jameson Reservoir.

waterfalls on Haddock Peak
Haddock Peak seems to be bursting with water as the glint of waterfalls in the sun come from all over it. This is unexpected, perhaps it is an optical illusion from something else. The approach to these is not easy even in the best of times.

the start of new grasshoppers
Dirty pictures of grasshoppers.

There are trails heading up the edge of the ridge as we get close to Old Man Mountain. We can see a rugged peak that looks quite impressive, but we cannot see the real peak even as we get close. A large rock cairn makes my companions feel like we should be climbing the ridge to the peak and no amount of pointing at the map and stating it is a false peak can dissuade them, so we climb up to the ridge route and along it for a bit until they decide it is not pleasant, then make our way with varying amounts of care back down to the road. A line through the thorny ceanothus on the south side of the false peak is visible and I am game for all sorts of challenges, but it is really not the route I was headed for.

As we continue along the mountain, dropping many feet along the trail, we cannot find the route that we are looking for. There is the saddle it contours toward and there is a line doing just that, but it frankly looks even worse than the line around the false peak. Heading up the earlier ridge to the flat shoulder above actually looks best to me, and we start up somewhat near a plastic watering hole for animals marked as a water tank. This is initially very open and easy, but becomes brushy toward the top. A lone fence post stands along this ridge hinting at a slightly more civilized past. As we hit the brush, it is ceanothus to the left and yucca to the right. The fellows seem insistent on shoving along a narrow path through the thick ceanothus even though it is more open where the yucca is. I brave the swords of the yucca, which are more sparse the closer I can stay to the line of the ridge. They must not be too bad, because they do not get any good stabs in.

All this work ends when we hit the route the hundred peaks folks are actually using to claim this peak. Crossing a little rock line, we are suddenly on what feels like a maintained trail. There is still yucca to avoid, but it is generally sitting under rocks that divert the swords from the trail. We zoom along this trail, comparatively, to reach the peak. The register tells us there was a group up here yesterday. Judging from the list of sights supplied in the register, our visibility is just over twenty miles. As we enjoy the view, the wind is enthusiastic and we do not feel the least bit hot.

Monte Arido from Old Man
Monte Arido, the local big peak that has about five hundred more feet than Old Man Mountain.

Matilija Canyon
Looking down Old Man Canyon and Matilija Canyon, the rugged false peak rises impressively to the right.

looking out over the much shorter Santa Ynez mountains to the Ventura coastline
Past the shorter Santa Ynez mountains, the Ventura coast fades into the mists.

We take the big route back down to the road on the north side of the mountain. It is steep at times, but easy travel. There is a patch of Matilija poppies along the way, but this year their only display are the weathered seed pods from past years. At the bottom, I am still feeling ready for more hike, so hitting the larger Monte Arido seems like the thing to do. Admittedly, I might be just getting a little light mad from having all this extra daylight and I am not quite understanding how late it already is. Garth is game, but Bernard would rather nap. From this point, the second peak is another 1000 feet climb and just over two miles as measured with a bent thumb.

Matilija poppy seed pods
The seed pods of Matilija poppies are also rather impressive as they weather into spiraling cages.

Old Man Mountain
Looking back at Old Man Mountain. A bit more of the Ventura coast is now visible, or would be if there was not so much murk.

Once near Monte Arido, I head up a fuel break that a few feet have taken recently. This proves to be a waste of effort as the peak is the next bump along after the fuel break touches the road again. Monte Arido feels like it dominates the area a bit more than Old Man Mountain did, but it is also an easy peak. There should be a benchmark here. Checking the database tells me this:

 EW7698'DESCRIBED BY COAST AND GEODETIC SURVEY 1941 (JCS)
 EW7698'STATION IS LOCATED ABOUT 16 MILES NE OF SANTA BARBARA, ON THE
 EW7698'HIGHEST POINT OF A BRUSH-COVERED PEAK KNOWN LOCALLY AS MONTECITO
 EW7698'PEAK, IN SEC. 2, T5N, R25W.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'THE STATION AND REFERENCE MARKS ARE STANDARD BRONZE DISKS
 EW7698'WEDGED IN DRILL HOLES IN BOULDERS FLUSH WITH THE GROUND.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'STATION MARK IS STAMPED MONTECITO 1941.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'REFERENCE MARK NO. 1 IS STAMPED MONTECITO NO. 1 1941.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'REFERENCE MARK NO. 2 IS STAMPED MONTECITO NO. 2 1941.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'THE AZIMUTH MARK IS A STANDARD DISK SET IN A ROCK OUTCROP
 EW7698'ABOUT 1/4 MILE S OF THE STATION.  IT IS STAMPED MONTECITO
 EW7698'1941.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'TO REACH STATION FROM OJAI GO W 1 MILE TO THE JUNCTION OF
 EW7698'U.S. HIGHWAY 399.  TURN RIGHT ON U.S. HIGHWAY 399 AND GO 31.6
 EW7698'MILES TO A LOCKED GATE NEAR THE SUMMIT (SIGN POTRERE SECO ROAD).
 EW7698'GO THROUGH THE GATE (FOREST SERVICE KEY IS NECESSARY) AND
 EW7698'FOLLOW THE MAIN-TRAVELED ROAD, KEEPING ALL RIGHT FORKS, 3.4
 EW7698'MILES TO BOB FRAZIERS RANCH HOUSE, GO THROUGH IRON GATE TO
 EW7698'RIGHT OF HOUSE, AND CONTINUE ABOUT 0.1 MILE TO A GATE OPPOSITE
 EW7698'A WINDMILL, WHICH IS THE END OF TRUCK TRAVEL.  FROM HERE THE
 EW7698'TRAIL TAKES OFF TO THE SW AND S TO MONTECITO PEAK, FOUR
 EW7698'HOURS BY HORSE.  HORSES MAY BE OBTAINED FROM L.E. HOBACK, TO
 EW7698'REACH HIS RANCH TAKE THE LEFT FORK AT AN OAK TREE 1.6 MILES
 EW7698'FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE POTRERO SECO ROAD.
 EW7698'
 EW7698'ALL OBJECTS VISIBLE FROM THE GROUND.

I include this because it makes matter-of-fact mention of so many things that are no longer true or no longer there and as such is a wonderful glimpse of history. It is hard to think of SR-33 as a US highway and what is known locally as Montecito Peak is a much less impressive bump these days. An entry would usually contain notes from more recent surveys who found, or did not find, the station mark over the years. This one does not have that, so it is up to us to find it, or not as the case may be. Looking around, there are no benchmarks like this. Not only that, there are no boulders for the benchmark. Bulldozers have rendered the area a flat stretch of broken up rocks. The only marker I can find is a blank stub with a tire around it and the peak register.

blank marker
A blank marker in some concrete, itself marked by a discarded tire that keeps the peak register from wandering down the hill.

Cuyama badlands from Monte Arido
To the north, we can see the Cuyama badlands.

flattened top of Monte Arido and the west view
Looking west to some more big mountains from the flattened top of Monte Arido.

Cara Blanca
Another look down into Matilija past Cara Blanca.

When finished taking in the views at the top, it is time for the very long downhill.

long shadows over west falls canyon
Shadows getting long over the canyon with the west falls. Once, the Bald Hills trail crossed over the far ridge.

The sun sets as we round Old Man Mountain again. There are hills blocking the east, but as we drop south of them, we find a massive moon hanging in the sky. The moon is bright enough for travel. We keep to the road on the way down in the dark. We finally meet other people at the Upper North Fork Trail where backpackers are waiting for their friends, playing music from a sound bar. This marks a new high mileage for me at 24.7 miles, according to the GPS.  The verdict, a surprisingly nice hike for a bunch of fireroad.

after sunset colors in the western mountains
Colors washing over the mountains surrounding the Santa Ynez River.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 18 March 2014

2 comments:

David Stillman said...

Strong work Val! That is a long, tough haul. The first time I tried Old Man I jumped the gun and ate a bunch of brush before finding the summit trail. He's a neat summit.
Monte Arrido is no piece of cake either. I remember developing a new understanding of just how steep those fire roads can get.
-DS

Valerie Norton said...

You've probably avoided Edison's catways so far. They'll sometimes take off at a crazy tilt. I wasn't feeling like anything was steep that day, but I was dreading coming back down. The downhill kills me. The fire roads seemed to stick to no more than a 10% grade. That's pretty reasonable, except that they really stick to it. Mile after mile, still at it. I had some good company and that can make it a little easier.