Arlington Peak
Cathedral Peak P300 LPC / CS

Wed, Jun 23, 2010

With: Jim Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Cathedral Peak in Santa Barbara County is the lowest of four such named summits in California. I had tried to reach this LPC peak a year earlier with son Ryan and my brother Ron. We had attempted to take the "easy" way from the north via La Cumbre Peak and the nearby road, but the short distance between the two summits was choked with brush. The other two balked at the effort it would require and I was loath to put them through such tortures that would have led to endless complaints. A year later and armed with the LPC peak guide, I had directions for the standard route via trails from the base of Mission Canyon. Ryan and Ron were both with me for this second effort as was brother Jim and his two daughters, but Jim was the only one professing any desire to reach the summit - the others were content to look for newts, snakes, and frogs in the various pools found in the canyon.

It was noon when our large group started up the paved road to the Mission Canyon TH. It is quite popular with the local folks and consequently parking is often difficult to manage. The area had been swept by fire a year earlier (not long before that first visit) but was already showing determined signs of resurgence. Though not as high or dense as pre-fire cover, the chaparral was growing back, even from the roots of brush that had been completely consumed in the fire. Evidence of the fire was all around us as we hiked up the canyon. To protect the road, some barriers had been erected to catch the expected landslides in the side canyons during the ensuing winter, and these we found filled with rock and debris.

Jim's eldest, Rebecca, lagged almost from the start with no apparent reason other than to take her sweet time in protest on being made to go on an outing she had little interest in. We waited for her at the bridge and several other places before we had managed to get our whole group to the creek about a mile in from the TH. Rebecca decided to hang out by the first pool found here in the relative quiet of the shady canyon (although there is almost always one group or another that can be heard somewhere upstream or downstream in this busy canyon), while Ron took the other two kids upstream to look for animals. Jim and I headed up a side use trail on the west side of the creekbed, following our guidebook directions.

The fire had burned off almost all of the tall brush overhanging the trail which consequently opened up the views starting from the bottom of the canyon. We could see and hear Ron and the others in the canyon below for a short while as we made our way up the steep trail. Soon after we started, Jim began to fall behind as I took to waiting for him about every five minutes along the way. It was warm out, at least 80F and possibly warmer as we sweated our way up the trail. Twenty minutes later Jim complained of bowl trouble, asked for the TP I was carrying in my pack, and told me not to wait for him as he might be quite some time in concluding his business. It sounded like he was making his case ready for not going all the way, so I obliged him and stopped waiting.

A few minutes after leaving Jim the sound of sirens were heard down by the trailhead. This was followed by a helicopter flying into the canyon, and for the next thirty minutes or so it circled the area further up canyon known as the Seven Pools. It seemed likely that a rescue had been called in and there was some chance that it was one of our own party. But the accident must have happened soon after we'd left them and I didn't think they'd had time to scramble up to the Seven Pools yet. Concerned parent that I am, I continued up, pausing now and then to watch the helicopter, but figuring Ron would handle things just fine. Of course I would catch h*** later if it turned out to be our party.

Not long before I had left Jim the route started up the long, rocky Southeast Ridge of Arlington Peak. The use trail was hard to follow as it skirts in and around the large boulders that make up the ridge, and I lost it half a dozen times. The route is probably class 2 if one can stay on the trail the whole way, but in losing it things quickly turn to class 3, and rather enjoyably too. In fact, I thought it was the best scrambling I'd found yet on the LPC list and one of the better routes to be found in Southern California. The rock was primarily made of rough sandstone that gripped well to the hands and boots. The ridge went on for almost a mile and it took an hour to reach the summit of Arlington Peak. I found no register among the various summit blocks vying for the highpoint, but I didn't make nearly as much effort to look for a register as I did in tagging the multiple highpoints. Grafitti carved and painted on one large boulder seemed to serve in the absence of register for recording visits. Nice.

The views were hazy towards the coastline due to fog that had lingered over Santa Barbara most of the day. Inland it was clear and quite warm. Cathedral Peak was easy to pick out a quarter mile to the northwest, La Cumbre Peak higher by a thousand feet and dominating the view to the north. I spent fifteen minutes on the traverse between the two summits, up and over an intermediate summit along a better defined trail than I had found up to that point. The fire had cleared out all the high brush here as well, making travel and views easier, but make no mistake the chaparral is coming back nicely. There was one white flower in particular that carpeted large pockets of the terrain that had been burned. It must be one of the early species that thrives initially, only to be eventually beaten back by the slower growing, but hardier chaparral.

A register at the summit of Cathedral dated to 2002, placed by Erik Siering, the same person who had authored the route description I was carrying. Though I've never met him, I've seen his name in many, many registers, often rather obscure ones. He's one of the few to have completed all four of the Los Angeles Sierra Club's peak lists. And I still haven't completed even one...

It was 2:15p when I reached the summit, an hour since I'd last seen Jim. I'd seen no sign of him below me and could not see him anywhere on the traverse from Arlington. Guessing he decided not to go all the way, I wasted little time in turning back and starting down. The others would likely be waiting back at the car since the hike was taking longer than the two hours I had planned for. I did a much better job keeping to the trail on the way down, but managed to lose it in a key location that had me pushing through burnt sections that had not been wiped clean of soot. I was a mess of black streaks across my pants and shirt before rejoining the trail again five minutes later. Not long after I'd left Jim I realized I was carrying all the Gatorade, so I'd left a bottle in an obvious spot in the shade for him. When I returned to this point I found the bottle gone which further convinced me he had turned back already. Little did I know that I had passed him back up the ridge on my way down when I had gotten off the trail. He had heard me and called out, but I was out of earshot. Seems he had settled down for a rest to await my return but didn't act soon enough when he'd heard me approach.

So down I went at a good clip, imagining everyone would be back at the car, waiting. I jogged where I could, stepped carefully down the steep sections where prudent, then jogged some more to get me back from the summit of Cathedral to the TH in only an hour and a quarter. The only stop I made was to photograph a gopher snake that I found sprawled across the road when I was a few minutes from the TH. Ron and the kids were at the van as expected, but no sign of Jim. Oops. We decided to drive the kids back to Ron's place about 15 minutes away, and then I drove back up to the TH to wait for Jim. I'd even taken an extra five minutes to pick up refreshment from the Starbucks nearby and still managed to get back before Jim had returned. I had thought that perhaps he would continue to the summit such that I might be waiting more than an hour, and had settled in to read my book. He was not long in coming. I was only there perhaps 10 minutes when he came jogging back down. He described his adventure as we pieced together how we managed to miss each other along the way. No summit for Jim, but perhaps we'd try again on a different peak the next day...

Ron and the others had been below the scene of the accident which they described as upstream from the Seven Pools. They reported hearing someone call out, but because they were barefoot (having left their shoes somewhere downstream) they couldn't reach higher above the pools. Other voices assured them the injured was not alone. A rescue team reached the party shortly after that and airlifted the injured member out with the helicopter. From the Daily Sound:

Firefighters rescued a 20-year-old college student who sustained moderate injuries in a fall on Tunnel Trail yesterday afternoon by hoisting her out of the rugged terrain with a helicopter.

Emergency crews received reports of an injured hiker at 1:01 p.m. and learned the Santa Barbara City College student had been hiking with friends when she fell approximately 20 feet. A helicopter crew located the group about two miles from the trailhead and lowered a firefighter to the scene, County Fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

After assessing her injuries, firefighters and search-and-rescue crews packaged up the hiker and hoisted her to the helicopter. The 20-year-old was flown to Santa Barbara Airport and taken to the hospital via ambulance, where she received treatment for head and rib injuries.

Sadecki said the hoist operation took about 25 minutes and no other injuries were reported.


Bill F comments on 03/07/19:
The white flowers you noted in your report are Calystegia macrostegia, with the common names island false bindweed and island morning glory, is a species of morning glory in the Convolvulaceae family. It is considered quite invasive and is growing in profusion at this time (March 2019) in the areas burned in the Thomas fire in the hills just east of Cathedral Peak.
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