Montecito Peak LPC

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

With: Ron Burd
Michele DiGiuseppe

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Montecito Peak lies to the south off the main crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains, just above the town of Montecito near Santa Barbara. The easiest route is from the crest along the Cold Spring Trail, a bit more than a mile each way, with about 500ft of gain going to the peak and 800ft coming back. The peak is on the Sierra Club's LPC list, a collection of "worthy" peaks under 5,000ft in elevation (in other words, peaks shunned by the HPS chapter). While staying with family in Santa Barbara during the holidays I talked brother Ron and sister Michele into joining me for this easy hike. Ron had joined me a number of previous times, but this would be a first for Michele.

From State St in Santa Barbara, we drove east on SR192 to first Mountain Dr, then Gibralter Rd which winds its way steeply up the ridge between Rattlesnake and Cold Spring Creeks. This was ground zero for the recent Tea Garden Fire that devastated the area, and the views of demolished structures and starkly barren hillsides was sobering. Crews were at work stabilizing the vulnerable hillsides before the brunt of the winter storms can do more damage with mud slides, and despite a few Road Closed signs we were able to drive all the way to the top of Gibralter Rd. We then drove east for 3.5mi along the ridge on Camino Cielo to the wide turnout at Cold Spring Saddle. Nicely, the approach was paved the whole way.

From the saddle, it is easy to discern Montecito Peak to the south, the highpoint along a ridge descending from the main crest. I had not written down the directions I had gleaned from the Internet the night before, but I recalled "find the trail behind the water tank at the saddle" or something to that effect. I noted the TH for the Cold Spring Trail to the right, or west, but this seemed nowhere behind the water tank. The water tank offered few clues itself as the ridgeline had been recently bulldozed, probably in an effort to keep the Tea Fire from spreading north over the range. In any event, I wandered east over the bare, tilled earth to the connecting point with the ridgeline heading to Montecito. There was a thin use trail that I started to follow down, my siblings in tow, but before we got 100 yards I had a mutiny on my hands. Yucca below the knees and other brush above the waist combined to make this a bit more than my sister was looking for in an easy hike. Ron suggested she could hike along the road back at the crest for an hour while he and I went to the summit, but Michele nixed that idea as unacceptable. I offered that we could go back to the start and see if the Cold Spring Trail went to where we wanted to go, and if not I could come back and climb Montecito another time. That seemed agreeable.

It was a good choice too, because as it turned out the trail was exactly what we wanted. It traverses around the west side of the ridge running to Montecito, conveniently intercepting the saddle just north of the peak before the trail begins its descent to the town 3,000ft below. At the saddle there was a well-worn use trail climbing steeply through the brush and on to the summit, no bushwhacking required. It probably would have been more enjoyable if the other two hadn't spent the whole 30 minutes the hike took in giving me a hard time about my route-finding skills, but I suppose I might have deserved that.

We found our way to the summit with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands for some 120 degrees, with Santa Barbara and the other coastal towns laid out neatly below us. If was a fine morning with clear skies. There was an ammo box with several registers inside, a novelty to Michele who couldn't understand why people would do such a thing. I had no ready answer. We signed our names to one of the books before starting back to the car. The return trip was only slightly harder with a few hundred feet of extra elevation gain, but overall a very tame outing that can be done in an hour.


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