Our trip to the Big 4 was planned several months in advance and with
all the rain in the past few months we were thrilled to see clear and
sunny weather predicted for our weekend. Access to the trailhead is
open, but 4WD or high clearance is recommended. Foothill Rd. was
washed out by the recent storms, however there is access via detours
around several barricades - even though there are a couple of signs
that say the road is closed. The remaining water crossings to the
trailhead were not too difficult and there was even a standard
low-clearance car parked there when we arrived about 9:30 PM.
Our group of seven (Virgil Popescu, leader, co-leader Pat Arredondo,
assistant, Spencer Berman, Lilly Fukui, Suzy Hermann, Lloyd Johnson,
Val Saubhayana) arrived at various times on Thursday evening and
camped at the trailhead. It was really cold that night and in the
morning. Suzy's thermometer registered a chilly 27 degrees! Just
before 7:00 AM on Friday morning we bundled up and started our trek to
Chokecherry Spring. We hiked the 9+ miles up he dirt road and arrived
at the spring in time for lunch. By this time it had warmed up and
the temperature was probably in the mid 70's. We met a couple of
hikers at the spring who had been out for several days and reported a
huge rock slide, many fallen trees, and snow on the road to the
"Pines," but advised it wasn't anything we couldn't get around.
After lunch we walked a quarter mile down the road to the "new route"
gully and began our climb to Samon. We made it safely up the gully,
crossed the meadow, then up to the ridge, thrashing through brush,
climbing over rocks, more thrashing, more rocks, and finally the
summit after a couple of hours or so. Back at the spring we loaded up
on water and trudged wearily up the road the 1.7 miles, 700 feet gain
to Madulce Saddle where we set up our camp. By the way, one could
fill a liter bottle at Chokecherry Spring in about three seconds -
plenty of water flow this year.
On Saturday we started out for the "Pines" just before 7 AM. It was a
beautiful sunny day, with a light gentle breeze. We were able to
carefully climb over the rock fall on the road where the big slide had
occurred. We continued on past Alamar Station and farther up the road
we encountered quite a bit of snow and several fallen trees we had to
climb over and/or under - quite an obstacle course! (This section of
the road is in serious need of maintenance.)
We did Big Pine first, the high point of Santa Barbara County, after
avoiding the snow as much as possible the short distance to the peak
(where were my snowshoes?). As we got closer to the turnoff for West
Big Pine, there was a bulldozer parked on the side of the road. From
that point on, the road had been graded and was in fairly decent
condition. We reached West Big Pine and enjoyed the spectacular views
of the Santa Barbara backcountry. Of course, our work wasn't over for
the day, and back we trudged through our obstacle course of mud, snow
and broken trees. Incidentally, there were many places along the
trail where one could get water. All the creeks that are usually dry
were flowing. Some of us added snow to our water bottles too for a
refreshingly cool drink.
We got back to our campsite at Madulce Saddle, had a snack, got more
water, rested a while and then started out to tackle Madulce. (A
short distance from the trailhead we met another hiker/backpacker who
had just spent the night on Madulce.) It seemed like forever, but we
finally completed the 23 switchbacks and got to Madulce Peak late
afternoon. We were all pretty exhausted by this time and after a
break, we wearily made our way back to our campsite. We did it! We
finished the Big 4! What a great time! Tired as we were, we were all
pleased to have achieved our goal! Now all we had to do was get back
to the cars the next morning! Only a little over 11 miles to go in
the morning! We could do that!
The next morning we packed up and hiked down the road. There were
many wild flowers, some just starting to bloom and sweeping vistas,
sandstone cliffs, rolling hills now a rich green color with all the
recent rains. When we were about a mile or so from the trailhead, a
couple of forest service volunteers in trucks drove by. They had been
doing trail work off the main Santa Barbara Canyon Road and were on
their way home. When we finally arrived at the trailhead and our
cars, we enjoyed soaking our sore feet in the cool stream. After our
"good-byes" we started home.
I want to thank our leader Virgil Popescu and all the participants who
made this trip a memorable one - Spencer Berman, Lilly Fukui, Suzy
Hermann, Lloyd Johnson, Val Saubhayana. What a wonderful weekend!
Listening to the news at home I found out there was an earthquake
centered near Maricopa on Saturday afternoon. Was this caused by us
jumping for joy after completing the Big 4???
Lilly Fukui: Now I know why they call it the BIG 4 - ugh. The 50 mile
backpacking hike was a real killer! All of us walked like a zombie
after we got to our cars. Don't ever want to backpack again is how I
feel! But once we reached the car (at the end of our hike), we went
to the river and cooled off our swollen feet!
A short story: We left on Thurs. night and got to the trailhead where
we set up our tent, at about 10 pm; got up at 5:30 to start hiking
(backpacking) in about 10 miles at 6:30 a.m. It was very cold in the
morning but about 8 am the sun came out and it turned out to be a warm
day. After about 4 hrs. we got to the spring and backtracked a bit to
go up the gully (rock climbing) to get to our first peak...it was long
and continuous...and what not! We came back down after about 11
hrs. of hiking (w/day packs only), and when we got back to the spring,
put back our backpacks to our next hiking area to set up tent. Ugh.
Got up at 5:30 again on Sat. to do our 3 peaks...we did e...in the snow,
in the fallen trees, climbing over rocks, etc.! Boy...I couldn't wait
to get back to our tent! We had a good night's sleep before heading
back out 10 miles with our backpacks...beautiful spring flowers on the
trail everywhere - purple, yellow, pink, just gorgeous.
Lloyd Johnson: I like the way the hike was planned, meaning, the order
in which we hiked the peaks was great. I felt good that I made it. I
really liked the way all of us helped each other during the
Suzy Hermann: I learned a lot and enjoyed a lot, well, most of it,
anyway, but not the brush-whacking. I'd love to hike with all these
folks again. They were just delightful and exceptionally helpful
(even though I may never backpack again.)
Val Saubhayana: It was very nice hiking trip. I sure did enjoy it and
I got four more peaks!
Spencer Berman: Backpacking into this area of the San Rafael
Wilderness is always a treat and especially with the great group we
had. Although this remote area has one of the higher concentrations
of Black Bear in Los Padres N.F. no recent evidence of any yet.
Suspect this will change within another month as more food becomes
available up high. With the volume of water flowing at Chokecherry
Spring and in gullies on way up to Big Pine - did not use any
supplemental water purification. Hope I'm not wrong.