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San Rafael Mountain, Santa Cruz Peak, McKinley Mountain

16 March 1996 (Private trip)

By: Mark Adrian

Despite a restless camp Friday night at Cachuma Campground, our group of six weary-eyed hikers departed promptly at 7 AM Saturday, from Cachuma Saddle Ranger Station. Unfortunately, several unruly campers kept us awake until two Saturday morning. Loud radios, gunshots, and doughnut-spinning 4WDers made the evening/morning chaotic. So much for the tranquility of the wilderness.

It took us 2.75 hours to hike the 7.5 mile dirt road up to Cold Springs Camp. From here, it was 0.5 miles up to Cachuma Saddle where we ran the ridge ENE out to San Rafael Mountain (the range's highpoint by the way) amidst patches of slippery snow. San Raf's register is just about full and the register can is developing progressively worsening rust holes. I found the benchmark which has an incorrect altitude stamped in it. The weather was great and the views were out to the coastline. Next stop, McKinley Mountain. Back through the snow to Cachuma Saddle, then it was a short climb to McKinley. Since it was only 2 PM, we lounged on McKinley's summit for about half an hour before returning to Cold Springs Camp. McKinley's register is about 2/3 full and again, the register can is degenerating.

When we returned to camp, we discovered a four man crew repairing the Spring's water pipe which had been broken. It was a volunteer group from the Santa Ynez Valley Sportsmans Club and they were there for at least two hours installing a new galvanized feeder pipe into the nearby catch tank. We chatted for a while and they generously offered us cold beer which really hit the spot after the moderate day we had spent hiking. Of interest to other hikers, they did mention and confirm that there were/are bears in the area. As such, we had hung our food.

It was a cool evening, but a warm fire and generous amounts of wine kept us all warm. Despite the engaging conversation and tasty hors d'oeuvres, the long day had taken its toll. We were all in bed by nine in preparation for the 6:15 AM Sunday departure.

Sunday morning, we were off promptly at 6:15 headed for Santa Cruz Peak, five miles to the SE. Hiking along old and overgrown dirt roads we picked up numerous ticks and startled two bears as we neared the brushy summit. There had been a fire there some time ago, but the Forest Service allegedly spent "millions" putting it out. This was a sore point for the volunteer crew we met earlier. They believed it should have been left to burn and clear out old brush. That wouldn't have bothered any of us as we tangled with and groped through the burned trees and new growth on the summit's N and W slopes. We topped out at 9 AM. The summit offers good views if you work to look through the brush and charred/sooted tree skeletons. The register is fairly new, starting in 1994.

The can is developing holes. It always amazes me how these die-hard HPSers can do these peaks six, seven, eight, and even nine times. We even noticed a July ascent that couldn't have been too much "fun" in all that heat.

Leaving the summit at 9:30, we were back in camp by noon. Several hikers left shortly thereafter, the rest of us by 1 PM. It was a long walk back to the trucks enduring tired and achy feet. We arrived at the (now abandoned) Ranger Station at 4:15 PM.

The late afternoon drive out Happy Canyon Road was stunning as the hills were alive with lush green grass and huge moss-laden oak trees. After a dinner stop in Santa Barbara, we had a non-stop drive through LA (hard to believe, I know) back to San Diego, arriving home by 11 PM.

Approximate climbing stats (round trip) : 35 miles, 6,000 feet gain.

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