Fox Mountain #1, Cuyama Peak, Peak Mountain, McPherson Peak
15 September 2001
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
I bribed Sandy Sperling into doing Fox #1 with me (on a warm day in September, no less) by offering to bump her about in the Jeep along miles and miles of dusty dirt backroads, so she could visit three additional easy peaks.
The register on Fox is a treat, going back to the early 1970s. From the most recent page:
May 30, 2001: A bit warm. George Wysup, Sandy Burnside.
This is definitely not the most inviting peak to do on a warm day. Though Sandy S. and I had a better time of it than George and Sandy B. Describing the May trip, Sandy B. wrote: "It must have been the most miserable day of the year. My socks have never been so wet. Is the snake still there? Are the biting, black ants still all over the only shady rock at the top of the peak?" Good news for those of you who still need the peak: the snake is gone, as are the biting black ants. But don't count on a lot of shade!
Other than the fact that I reset the trip odometer 3.1 miles too late (so we had to keep adding a 3.1 mile fudge factor to keep things straight), we easily found the "obscure dirt road" described in the Climbing Guide. "Turn right on this road a few yards to a turnaround, suitable for overnight car camps." Not if you're looking for a pleasant place to camp! The parking area shares more in common with an informal garbage dump than a campground. But no matter, we weren't there to camp, we were there to go up Fox Mountain #1.
It was easy to spot the use trail, but a bit annoying following it, as it faded in and out. Not a lot of ducks or trimmed brush -- this peak is way overdue for a visit from Mars Bonfire. But the general route (follow the ridge up) is clear, the brush in general isn't too bad, there was the occasional tree offering respite from the sun (it was 95 on May 30th, a slightly more temperate 91 last Saturday), and the peak, while not one of the most inviting we've visited, does offer very dramatic views. Besides, it's on the List! Go there.
After Fox, we hopped back in the Jeep and headed on down the Santa Barbara Canyon Road to the Dry Canyon Road. When Brian and I did this drive last May (two days before Sandy and George visited Fox), the Santa Barbara Canyon Road had been in great shape, but Dry Canyon, yikes! It was a real mess, with a serious washed out stretch, an informal detour through the brush, and plenty of bumps and ruts to keep one alert. Well, there's good news for those of you intending Lizard Head and/or Cuyama Peak: the road has been fixed. Except for a rocky stream crossing near the beginning of Dry Canyon, and a less extreme rocky wash near the Lizard Head trailhead, the road will offer no trouble to anyone with moderately high clearance, and you can probably negotiate those two rocky bits with care. Go do Cuyama Peak now, before the winter rains ruin the road again! (A caution: the Climbing Guide for Cuyama Peak describes the old way to get to Santa Barbara Canyon Road, crossing the Cuyama River on Foothill Road. Don't do that, there's a huge barricade across Foothill Road. Instead, read the current Climbing Guide for Fox Mountain #1 for how to get onto Santa Barbara Canyon Road -- that route works.) (Webmaster note: The barricade has subsequently been taken down ... and re-erected. And perhaps taken down again, who knows?)
Having admired the views from Cuyama, we headed back out to Highway 166, headed west through the sparkling metropoli of Cuyama and New Cuyama (wondering briefly why someone had found the Cuyama concept so compelling that it merited a second attempt), and eventually headed south on Cottonwood Canyon Road to Bates Canyon Road.
I think the theory is that the Forest Service tidies up these dirt roads in the fall, so the hunters can use them. After our easy trip to Cuyama, I was quite hopeful that Bates Canyon would also be in super shape. Ha! If you're at all faint of heart, forget doing Peak and McPherson as driveups, lace up those boots, and head for Aliso Campground instead. Otherwise, make sure you're wide awake, and go for it. The problems are large boulders on the shoulder of the road hither and yon, the shoulder next to the mountain, so you get to drive next to the cliff to go around them. Great fun. Though we did it coming and going. We used 4WD, but I don't know that we really needed it.
Last spring, the Sierra Madre Road was in reasonably good shape, good enough that Brian and I had toyed with the notion of driving out on it all the way to Highway 166 after McPherson and Peak, rather than retracing our way down Bates Canyon. No longer true. If you're going to drive here, you may as well do the stiff upper lip thing and drive Bates both ways.
Peak Mountain is a short sweet hike on a firebreak, easy enough to follow. Popular it's not -- the last visitors before Sandy and I on Saturday were Brian and I last May. Our 19th peak!
McPherson was even less fetching -- the top's been bulldozed and various communications stuff installed. But the views to the north (Caliente!) and the south (the Big Four!) make it worth the trip. The biggest challenge, though, was driving out into the setting sun. With all the dust on the windshield, it was nearly impossible to see the road when transitioning from sun to shade. Yet another reason to celebrate turning right onto Bates Canyon and heading down...
The car got more of a workout than we did, but Fox was sufficiently challenging that we still felt as if we'd accomplished something.
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