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San Rafael Mountain

15 February 1997

By: Wayne Norman


This was my third trip to the Big Three Peaks area in Santa Barbara County. (I was climbing the peaks one peak per trip). The area is so beautiful that I can never feel pressured to climb all the peaks when I'm hiking here. Also by doing the peaks one per trip I have a great excuse to keep coming back.

Our group of three got a late start on Saturday, leaving Cachuma Saddle about noon. (The previous night was Valentine's evening after all.) On the drive to the trailhead, on Happy Canyon Road, California poppies were already blooming. (This should be a good year for wildflowers.)

This was the first hike of the year for two of the people on the trip so we took our time enjoying the very green foliage along the road/trail. The road is in excellent condition and is perfect for mountain biking, in fact we saw a number of them during our trip, all very polite and courteous. The weather on the Feb. 15-16 weekend was perfect. We had coastal clouds to protect us from the warm sun on the hike in. We arrived at Cold Springs to find it flowing quite well, but the ground around the picnic tables was very wet so we decided to camp on the road since we were the only people here. Dinner was a four course meal by candlelight. The same coastal clouds that had protected us from the sun also kept us warm at night. The temperature never dropped below freezing, and we were at 5500', in the dead of winter! I love California.

Next morning we set out to climb San Rafael Mountain (6593). At the saddle between San Rafael and McKinley Mountain, Lynelle decided not to do San Rafael, she was still feeling the hike in, so she climbed McKinley instead. Ruth and I went on to San Rafael, hiking through some snow on the north side of the ridge above the 6000' level. The snow was only on the trail, it had melted off all the foliage. We made the summit about an hour after leaving Cold Springs. The views were incredible. We could see the snow clad peaks of the Sierra to the east, to the south was San Nicholas Island, one of the Channel Islands, to the west was the Pacific Coast. It was a glorious morning. (By the way the peak needs a new register can, the existing one's bottom is rusted through.)

On the way out we met other backpackers coming in for the weekend. We also were passed by two female runners, one was 70 if she was a day, who were doing a day run of San Rafael Mountain. They passed us on the way up at about 11:30 just below Cold Springs and made it to the cars at 3 p.m., the same time we did! Great Trip to a Beautiful Area.

P.S. We didn't see a single tick the entire trip!

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