05 October 2016

Flores Peak

Los Padres National Forest

Robert wanted to be shown the way up to "Medicine Circle" and I have been meaning to do it in the daylight so I can more easily go a little further to the peak nearby. This is a common hike for the Wednesday "conditioning hike" that the local Sierra Club chapter hosts. (All are welcome to come to that. Hike participants meet at the Santa Barbara Mission at 6:30 PM on Wednesday.) For that hike, we start at the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead and walk up to Gibraltar Road, then a little way along the road before starting up a rough use trail. You know a hike has to have something good to be popular in spite of it involving a road walk. For Robert, I am cutting off those initial three miles and starting at Gibraltar Road. We find parking easily enough near Gibraltar Rock as no one seems to be climbing today. The trail is easy to spot heading east from beside the rock.

start of the trail
The trail starts off near the road beside a pull in parking spot and wastes no time in starting to climb.

Long miles are not to Robert's taste, but he likes the trail, such as it is, going up Cathedral Peak, so I felt safe in not warning him about this one. It starts off steep and quickly gets steeper. It was a little easier a year ago, but now some of the long dead fire victims are starting to tumble over onto the trail. There is also no denying that the trail through soft sandstone seems looser as the drought goes on. The first hundred feet of trail requires ducking under fallen brush, scrambling on sliding hillside, and more scrambling over boulders. And from there we are going up at least as much as across. One of the reasons the road section during the longer version of this hike is not so bad is that it provides a nice rest before hitting the hardest climb.

White Mountain
Looking along Gibraltar Road as it climbs up the side of White Mountain.

It feels like we have been climbing for a while whine I look down at the GPS to see that it has just now ticked all the way to 0.20 miles. Ahead, the trail is still climbing steeply, but it is dropping off ever so slightly. There are still a few boulders to scramble up.

rocky ridge
Our destination is another rocky ridge above.

It is an odd experience to finally see the area in the daylight after at least a dozen climbs in the dark and near dark. The distant sights have never been clear enough to try to recognize. Now I look out and they look very similar to other sights but the details are wrong. My brain has not quite located me properly and keeps claiming various spots below are really somewhere else. Taken together, the information does not quite make sense. Slowly I start to kick out incorrect information for something more like the truth.

Rattlesnake Canyon
Looking down on Rattlesnake Canyon. The trail is visible along the canyon side and the connector trail can be seen climbing from Tin Can Meadow. A bit of road that can be seen above is the eastern most section of the Edison Catway in Mission Canyon and not Inspiration Point as my brain first offered.

Meanwhile, it is fun to take in the peaks along the front side of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

White Mountain and Cathedral Peak
White Mountain again, which drops down to the destination known as Rocky Pine Ridge, then down again to the connector trail and pops up to Mission Ridge. Cathedral Peak rises behind it.

Montecito Peak
More peaks rise to the east with Montecito Peak central to it all from this vantage point.

A well used trail branches off down and to the right as we climb. I do not know where this goes, but it looks like something that needs exploring some time. Maybe it accesses the rocky knob below. We go left and the trail has gotten a lot easier by now.

West Cold Spring
West Cold Spring reaches the road just behind a bit of ridge below and well past the nearby rocky knob. The rest of the cuts are mysterious roads and trails on private property including the Tea Gardens.

trail on upward
Our trail as we get closer to the destination.

We cross a ridge and there is one last steep push upward to "Medicine Circle". I point out what some claim are the rocks set down by past peoples for ceremonial purposes. They must be quite magical because they were not moved when a bulldozer scraped the vegetation away from this ridge to make a fire break decades ago. It went right through to middle of the circle of stones. I can still see the flattened path it left.

Montecito Peak
The East Fork Cold Spring Trail is clearly visible around the side of Montecito Peak now and the scar from the Gibraltar Fire is clearly visible on the peak north (left) of it. My brain initially identified the cut as Romero Road, but there are just too many incorrect details. Romero is behind it.

sketchy path
Our sketchy path along the ridge is visible from the "Medicine Circle".

Medicine Circle
Standing in the middle of the "Medicine Circle". Photo by Robert Bernstein.

And it is only fair that there be one of Robert. This is at our normal stopping point in the evenings. From Robert Bernstein's collection.

We turn to climb Flores Peak. It is only a little further, but the trail is much less used. The cut stumps of large bushes can be seen along it. This was a big fuel break once. Now, a route winds back and forth through this old cut. Little cairns show the way some of the time. It drops a short way, then climbs a slightly longer way to the high point. It was a higher point once, but someone cleared and leveled out enough space to land a helicopter at some point. An even thinner trail seems to wind its way up to Camino Cielo above.

above Flores Flat
The roads above Flores Flat and the first part of the sketchy trail up to Camino Cielo as the trail goes over the next hill and before it goes down a big drop.

to Camino Cielo
The rest of the sketchy trail after its big drop as it climbs to Camino Cielo. There are a few trail looking spots that are certainly not trail, so maybe it is not quite so much trail as it looks.

The peak does not hold quite as exciting views as the initial ridge, so we head back and stop for some snacks while watching the world. The nearest person to us is one of three paragliders sitting around in the sky. A chill breeze off the ocean makes sitting in the sun exceptionally nice.

paraglider over the hills
Someone out there is enjoying even more stunning views. We can hear the paraglider chatting with someone as he sits on the wind.

Flores Peak
Looking back at Flores Peak. It is not much higher than our usual evening stopping point.

Santa Barbara, City of
Looking down upon the City of Santa Barbara along with three paragliders.

There is a spur trail along the ridge to it and explore the trail along it. I think it looks big enough to be an alternate route up and we go along it to see where it might end up. It does not get far, just to the far rock outcrop, then finishes.

ridge below
Out at the end of the ridge top looking down over the trail.

Satisfied with our explorations for now, we head back down. It takes some care over the steep sections. I manage not to be quite careful enough on the last steep section with the end in sight. It is a very short fall backwards on trail like that, so we still get down without incident.

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 6 October 2016


Picard said...

Thank you for the wonderful hike, Valerie! And thank you for the amazingly detailed account!

Best wishes,

george said...

Hi Valerie,
Did you attend San Marcos High School in the 90's? I think I was your algebra/trig teacher and Math Club advisor. I still hike a lot around here and the West in general. I know some local "secret" trails that you probably don't know about and might enjoy.
I wasn't aware of this hike, but did rockclimb a couple times at the nearby, impressive "Cold Springs Dome" years ago.
Happy trails,
George Egbert

Valerie Norton said...

Hey, Mr. Egbert! Class of 1995. You were my "advanced topics" teacher. Math Club, too. I have heard you are a source of backcountry secrets.

Robert also posted this hike to Ed Hat and a comment there verified that the thin track I could see heading north does make it up to Camino Cielo.