Gaviota Peak LPC

Thu, Jun 24, 2010
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Gaviota Peak lies in the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking the Santa Barbara County coastline, where US101 turns away from the coast and heads north towards Santa Maria. This LPC peak is the last of the moderately high summits in this rugged chain looking west, as the elevation drops to the more rounded hills found in the Lompoc area. The hike is short, about three miles, but gains more than 2,000ft from the TH. There were five of us staying with my brother Ron for a short holiday, including my eldest brother Jim and three of our kids. The previous day's hike to Cathedral was made tougher than it needed to be due to a late start that made it uncomfortably warm. Summer isn't the best time to be hiking the hills in Santa Barbara in the afternoon but it would still be quite pleasant in the early morning. Unfortunately I was not able to talk anyone else into getting up before 6a, so I was on my own for the hike to Gaviota Peak.

It was easy enough to find the trailhead, a mere third of a mile from the US101/SR1 junction, part of Gaviota State Park. An impressive canyon has been carved through a break in the range here, where the Canada de la Gaviota flows south to Gaviota Beach as it drains a large section of the range's north side. Signs requesting a $2 fee are posted conspicuously, but as I had no small bills I decided to forgo the required donation. I also noted that I was an hour and a half early from the 8a opening time of the trailhead. My van would be somewhat a sitting duck so close to the highway, but I figured my chances of getting caught during a two hour hike were relatively low. Off I went.

There are no signs indicating a trail to Gaviota Peak at the start, but I passed one within five minutes. It also showed another trail called the Trespass Trail that almost had me curious to see where it goes - how does a trail get a name like that? The Gaviota Peak Trail is really an old dirt road that leads up to the main crest of the east-west trending range. Near the start is a hot springs that my guidebook describes as tepid at best and strongly smelling of sulpher, so that I never sought out the pools. I found the creek with lukewarm water running across the road which convinced me I wasn't missing much on that score.

There was some poison oak to be found on either side of the road, concentrated more in the drainages and dissuading me further from trying the narrow use trails towards the hot springs. The lower portion of the canyon near the start had some towering sycamore trees, some of the largest and probably oldest that I have seen in the state. Higher up there were some flower displays, but these mostly of a few varieties as the hot summer months started off.

The coast had been socked in with fog on the 33 mile drive to the trailhead, and hung overhead on much of the back side of the Santa Ynez Mountains as well. Fortunately I did not have to hike long before I was above the cloud layer as the sun rose on surrounding hills that were high enough to poke through the fog. It took but an hour to hike the road to the crest, followed by a few minutes on a side trail at a fork to reach the summit of Gaviota Peak.

A large stainless steel bin placed in 2003 made for an elaborate (and quite heavy) register container. It was filled nearly to the brim with half a dozen register books, tons of loose paper, business cards, and other junk. It all combined to look more like a small trash can than a summit register. The benchmark appears to have been removed but I found a locating marker nearby. The view was much as I was expecting with fog towards the coast where I could just make out two of the larger of the Channel Islands, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. Inland the fog was burning off quickly and would be gone by time I returned to the trailhead. I noted that the road I had taken continues east along the crest and would make for an enjoyable, long hike in the cooler months.

I was happy to find no ticket on the car when I returned after less than two hours. When I got back to Ron's place the others were still in bed, so it appeared I'd missed nothing. In fact Jim's comment upon coming out of the bedroom a short while later was, "I thought you were going for a hike?" I sort of smiled, "I did..." My follow-on, "lazy ass," I kept to myself.


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