Santa Paula Peak
By: Coby King
Doug Gardner and I hiked Santa Paula Peak today. It was a good but strenuous hike marked with a little more adventure than we anticipated. Here are the highlights:
I called the day before to ask permission to cross as suggested in the Peak Guide. Was I glad I did! I spoke with Mrs. Diamond who was happy to grant permission. Just before I hang up, she asked “do you know the gate code?” I had no idea there was a gate or the need of the code. She gave me instructions on getting through the gate, which was invaluable because the gate is about 50 yards north of the 126, and thus it would have added many miles to the hike (assuming we could get past the gate on foot).
We got through without incident, and parked in the appropriate place, hiked past the house, and on up the fairly rutted road alongside an avocado grove. The road did not look passable for a truck, and there was a fairly fresh mudflow covering the road at one point. This will be a theme of this report. This was less than two weeks after the torrential rains that had caused the tragedy at La Conchita and the closures of roads throughout Southern California.
We hiked to the gate, and climbed over the barbed wire. From here the landscape changed, as the grove was replaced with massive coast live oaks. We could hear a rushing creek, and in fact rivulets ran down the road, which was becoming more like a trail. We hiked on, listening to and occasionally glimpsing the great creek, and finally came to where the main road turned west, but we were to continue north. The western road had been completely washed out by the creek, and it was clear there was no vehicle that could cross it.
We then hiked through a very wet area, and I was having visions of wet boots all day. The photo below does not do the creek justice. We quickly passed through this, though, and continued up the road, which soon switched back south up and around the main south ridge of the peak. At the high point of the road we mistakenly continued, until 15 minutes later realized that we needed to climb the ridge at that high point. We doubled back, but missed the trail (admittedly well-described in the peak guide). Instead we climbed straight up the ridge, and when we reached the top we found the trail. (I knew from the map we had missed the trail and would catch it on the way back.)
After that the trail was in good-to-excellent shape with two minor exceptions and two major ones. Soon after crossing the ridge we came to two minor mudslides, each of which was fairly easily negotiated. Around this time, we saw a group of five mule deer on the road below. Also, because of all the mud on that road, there were numerous animal tracks, including raccoon, mouse, deer, coyote and (I think) cat. However, much higher up the trail, after crossing over the head of a canyon to start switchbacking to the summit ridge, we found our way blocked by a major slide that had gouged a huge gap in the mountainside. The trail was completely gone, and in its place was a drop of about 5 feet to the gouge “floor.” We had to carefully pick our way across about 15 feet of very loose dirt and rocks, and then climb up out of the this new ravine back to the trail. It was not easy, but we did it without incident.
Because the trail is switchbacking at that point, we had to do it again a little later. Same story, made somewhat more interesting because we could see just a hundred yards or so up the ravine where the mountain had given way.
From there, the rest was just climbing to the summit. The trail marker for the summit use trail had been knocked down, but the trail was fairly obvious. The trail is pretty steep, include a slog over reddish talus. The summit is broad and gives a spectacular view 360 degrees, including the many streams of the Santa Clara River and a number of HPS and LPS peaks. The register can needs replacing.
It took us exactly 3 hours to negotiate the exactly 5 miles.
After a 40-minute break, we headed down. At the second (lower) ravine crossing, I slipped and slid about 10 feet, but stopped rather easily, suffering only some minor scrapes and a small but painful splinter in my thumb. As I expected, we found the correct trail from the ridge back to the road, and this pleasant trail added 2 tenths of a mile to our journey.
We returned without incident, taking 2˝ hours to return, for a total mileage of 10.2 miles. One other note: Doug and I picked dozens of ticks off of our pants.
A great hike, but people should be prepared for the difficult ravine crossings.
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