'The Big Three' - McKinley Mtn, Santa Cruz Peak, San Rafael Mtn

May 28-30, 2011

By: Mat Kelliher


Suzy Hermann has had it with backpacking. Enough. No more nights on the cold, hard ground. But she still needed the peaks of The Big 3 to progress with her dreams of a 2X List Finish. So when she heard that a few of us were planning on a private trip out to Santa Barbara County to knock out McKinley, Santa Cruz, and San Rafael over the Memorial Day Weekend, she eagerly joined in. Not only would she get those coveted 2X peaks, but she could do so while being fully, blissfully, consciously, ‘in-the-moment' aware that this weekend would be the last one that she'd have to spend sleeping on the cold, hard ground.

On Saturday May 28, 2011 Jim Fleming, Dave Baldwin, Elaine Baldwin, Winnette Butler, Suzy Hermann, Stella Cheung, Tanya Roton and I all drove across open and debris-free roads to meet at the trailhead at Cachuma Saddle, where we shared hearty greetings and promptly started up the dirt 28W01 road toward McKinley Saddle. Temperatures were cool under sunny skies as we hiked with steady, gentle winds gusting in occasionally. After some debate we opted to get the LPS Cachuma Mountain as we headed up to camp rather than try to find the energy to do so on our way out.

Cachuma Mountain
Summit of Cachuma Mtn. Clockwise from Maui Fleming (the dog): Suzy Hermann, Winnette Butler, Jim Fleming, Stella Cheung, Tanya Roton, Mat Kelliher, Elaine Baldwin, Dave Baldwin.

After getting that summit we slogged on up the dirt 28W01 and arrived at McKinley Campground in mid-afternoon where we set up our tents, refilled our water (after filtering!) from McKinley Spring, and set off for McKinley Mountain. After getting that summit we headed back to camp and enjoyed a low-key Happy Hour, ate dinner, and all ducked into our tents to get out of the rapidly descending cold.

As if to reinforce Suzy's resolve, it rained lightly but steadily all through the night. When we awoke in the morning, ice had found its way into most of the moving parts around camp; not enough to freeze things solid, but enough to slow everything down a little bit. But as the sun rose higher in the sky, we found ourselves under beautiful partly cloudy skies with cool but pleasant temperatures as we headed towards Santa Cruz Peak. As we toiled up the numerous steep sections, occasional strong gusts of icy-cold wind would remind us now and then that it really wasn't all that hot out there after all. We achieved our summit shortly after noon and enjoyed our lunch out of the wind down just a bit below the top. We returned to camp in high spirits - 2 of the Big 3 behind us, and only one more night sleeping on the ground for Suzy.

McKinley Spring
Post-Santa Cruz Peak Happy Hour at McKinley Spring Camp. Back row from left: Tanya Roton, Suzy Hermann, Winnette Butler. Front row from left: Dave Baldwin, Elaine Baldwin, Jim Fleming, Stella Cheung.

The cold winds blew all night - clear, moonless, starry skies visible to any of us who dared outside of their tents. In the morning we awoke to dry ground in our camp. Still in high spirits we dashed off to San Rafael Mtn to complete our triad. We got there under crystal clear blue skies and enjoyed views that seemed to go for hundreds of miles in all directions. After a hearty round of high-fives and with well deserved feelings of accomplishment, we hurried back down to camp, packed up, enjoyed a last lunch together, and slogged it back down to the cars under warming temperatures.

Back at the cars we all gave one-another our mutual congratulations and looked forward to our next shared adventure, wherever and whenever that might be. When we left, Suzy drove off ahead of us all. A few miles down the road, probably about where cell phone reception first comes in, we passed Suzy's car stopped alongside the road. We slowed to look in and be sure she was okay. She was - she waved us along to indicate that. But as we passed we could see her cell phone pressed against her head, she seemed to be excitedly telling a loved one that her nights of sleeping on the ground were at long last, over.


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