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It's not unusual for me these days to drive between several trailheads during the course of a day's hiking, but this was the first time I would use six different starting points. Only the last of these hikes had any significant hiking distance, the remainder being fairly short, in a few cases nearly a drive up. All of the summits are located in Ventura County with the exception of Divide Peak which is located just across the border in Santa Barbara County.
Conejo is located in the northwest corner of the Santa Monica Mountains, just south of US101 and sporting more than 900ft of prominence. I had first noticed the peak many years earlier on the drive between Santa Barbara and the San Fernando Valley on US101. It stands somewhat apart from the rest of the range, like the black sheep that wasn't allowed to play with the others. I had no idea if it was private property or public or how one might get up it and I didn't give it much further consideration until recently. I could find no online accounts for reaching the summit so there was some guesswork involved. The satellite view showed a powerline road running across the east side of the peak, the nearest approach I could find. A use trail looked to then head up from the highest tower towards the summit. When I arrived in the area during the night I found my planned approach from the NE wasn't going to work so well - a fence blocks access and the cul-de-sac that ends at the gate to the powerline road was heavily fortified with No Parking signs. I ended up driving around the suburban neighborhoods south of the summit before finding what looked like an unsigned hiker/equestrian trailhead. I parked nearby to spend the night, figuring further investigation would benefit from better lighting in the morning.
I was happy to have been able to spend the night in suburban camping without having a 2am visit from the local police. I did not rise early, partly because I thought the coastal fog had moved in during the night. Turns out it was just moisture on the inside of the window, something that never happens in the desert where I'd spent most of the last week. The temperature outside at the moment was not far from the dew point - a good sign I was close to the coast. The trailhead I had identified the night before turned out to be just the ticket I was looking for. It is part of an Open Space trail network that runs through the few undeveloped areas left in the neighborhood, including the largest parcel around Conejo Mtn. I followed the trail up and north as it first skirts around the edge of the neighborhood (a bit too close, if I were living here) before dropping a bit to a saddle, then starting the modest climb up the powerline road. A pair of ladies' voices could be heard behind some, the only other folks I saw on the trail some. They were at least a quarter mile behind me but their voices carried well in the still morning air.
It took 40 minutes to reach the highest tower southeast of the summit. The use trail was right where I had expected to find it and proved key to making the summit. The surrounding brush would have been too painful to fight through without it. It took only another 15 minutes to wind my way up the hillside to the top, losing the trail only once in a flatter section about halfway along. Careful backtracking got me heading the right way. The top is rounded and without a distinct summit. A small cairn marks the probable highpoint amidst the chest-high brush, a plastic container stuck to the end of a yucca stalk sticking out of the cairn. The register cover labeled it as Camarillo Peak, but that's appears to be a mistake. I found no reference to such a name online later, and even one of the entries refered to it by Conejo Mtn. The register was only a month old with a few pages filled. The powerline road appears to be a regular exercise route with the locals, but the use trail probably sees much less traffic. Though sunny and blue skies towards the west, it was hazy in the other three directions. Oddly, fog was drifting in from the northeast rather than the more expected southern direction where the ocean lies. It was hard to tell if the fog was going to increase or start to burn off as the sun rose higher. I jogged some of the route on the return, covering the two and half miles in about 40 minutes.
It was 8:30a by the time I returned to the van. I spent 20 minutes driving south and west down Long Grade Canyon on West Potrero Rd to the very edge of the range. Just west of Camarillo State Hospital, surrounded on three sides by agricultural fields in the Santa Clara River plain, rises Round Mtn. Barely 550ft in height, it still sports more than 500ft of prominence. The mountain appears to lie completely on private property. Having driven around the peak, I concluded the peak could be climbed from the south via a direct cross-country route where the brush isn't too burdensome, but the easier option appears to be from the north where I spied a road switchbacking to the top. The access road leading to this no-longer-used dirt road is owned by the Camrosa Water District where they have a water reclamation facility next to the state hospital. I parked outside their property, shouldered my pack and decided to just take my chances walking down the road for the quarter mile to reach the junction. Though busy with large trucks coming and going, no one stopped to ask what I was doing there.
A simple chain with a No Trespassing sign blocks the start of the old road. I was happy to find a use trail went up the center of the road which might otherwise be too overgrown to be useful. It took less than fifteen minutes to hike the trail to the rounded summit. Low brush at the top allowed for decent views of the surrounding farmlands. A small tower once stood at the top but has since fallen down. There was no register, cairn or other interesting items to be found aside from a few random trash items. The town of Oxnard lies about seven miles due west across the fields while Camarillo lies four miles to the north, though haze limited visibility. Back at the car before 9:30a, the hike took all of 45 minutes.
South Mtn is a 12-mile long ridge at the west end of the Santa Susana Mountains with 1,360ft of prominence, lying southeast of Fillmore on SR126. The Santa Susana Mtns hold the site of California's first oil well, dating to 1876. Oil extraction still takes place in the range with a majority of it centering on the north slopes of South Mountain. The satellite view shows the extent of the development around South Mountain including a paved access road that leads to the summit up the north side. The trick of course is getting access to the road. I'm not sure if I got lucky or not. Driving south across the Santa Clara River from Fillmore, I took South Mountain Rd to the access road I had identified in the satellite view and marked on my GPS. The gate was open so I simply drove in and continued driving until I reached the ridgeline four and half miles later. The GPS was helpful for knowing which way to turn at the half dozen or so forks I came to. The north side of South Mountain is incredibly rugged and steep, and it is an engineering marvel that they not only graded and paved a road up this side, but installed dozens and dozens of oil wells. It is obvious that the development has gone on for decades. Old and disused equipment litters the places, strewn among the newer sites that are still producing. White pickup trucks with service personnel ply the roads. I thought for sure they would stop me and ask what I was doing there, but they seemed more interested in their own tasks at hand. They probably leave the policing to a security detail that I thankfully didn't run into.
I didn't actually drive to the highpoint, but stopped near a saddle on the east side of the summit where some old pumps are slowly rusting away. It was only a five minute hike to the top from there. An old lookout tower has been permanently closed, the structure used as scaffolding to hold a handful of microwave relays. Communication towers are located at a handful of sites across the ridgeline. Haze partially filled the valleys to the north and south, making for marginal views. I drove back down the same route, once again left to myself though I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to be there. I breathed a sigh of relief once I got back to South Moutain Rd and publicly accessible roads.
Sulphur Mtn is another 12-mile long ridgeline, this one about 10 miles northwest of South Mountain, just south of Ojai. It is also a P1K and mostly private property. It is unlike South mountain in other respects though, looking greener, more wooded, and taken up by ranching concerns and private residences, both newly rich and oldtimers. The pavement running across most of the summit ridge is public roadway, making access less stressful, too. The highpoint is not located along the road however, and requires a short hike on private property to reach an old water tank that lies at the top. I had to rely on the GPS for this as it is neither obvious nor certain exactly where the highest point is at the broad summit area. There is a collection of old farm equipment found along the way, a mini museum of sorts amongst the tall grass. Large, picturesque oaks and other trees block any chance for views.
Black Mtn is located between Sulphur Mtn and Ojai. I hadn't even had it on my radar as it rates less than 500ft in prominence, but as I was driving over the mountain on SR150 on my way to Ojai I noticed the small Dennison Park that looked like it might offer public access to this small mountain. It turns out the park is very small indeed, barely bigger than your standard city park and only encompasses the small acreage around the west side of the highway. The bulk of the mountain is located on private property, gated off from the park and signed for No Trespassing. There is a more formidible fence I didn't let this bother me too much as the area appears to see little traffic and no use, currently. A gravel road leads to the summit about a mile and a half from the park. I found the summit surprisingly flat - it looks like it was bulldozed at some time in the past and appears long enough for a landing strip for small planes. But there were no towers or other developments that might indicate why the top had been shaved at one time. According to readings I took with the GPS, the highest point appears to be atop a six-foot boulder on the side of the road at the east end of the bulldozed summit area. There is a fine view of Ojai to the northwest from the summit, though one has to walk a short ways over from the highpoint to the edge of the mountain to get the view. In all I spent an hour on this bonus peak, returning to the van by 1p.
My last stop of the day was the main event, so to speak, a visit to the high point of the Santa Ynez Mtns with 1,400ft of prominence. Evan Rasmussen had first brought it to my attention when he was chasing the CA Range Highpoints back in 2008. Unfortunately or otherwise, it was two years after my first visit to Murietta Canyon when I was chasing HPS summits in the guise of Monte Arido and Old Man Mountain. I might have gotten the Santa Ynez HP as a bonus for only a few miles' additional work on that outing, but the more I hike around the state the more I don't seem to mind finding a reason to return to any given trailhead.
Murietta Canyon is a bit of a throwback to the 1960s. Located northwest of Ojai off SR33, the road snakes up the canyon for almost five miles to the end of the public road. Along the way one drives past a number of somewhat eccentric residences, old cabins tucked into the trees along the creek, others newer, all looking for some sort of habitation out of the ordinary. The creek is popular with day visitors who come to swim and fish in its waters, often to take a break from the foggier, cooler conditions found along the coast. The VW van with a hand-painted 60s theme was an unusual sight, but not really out of place.
The road continues past the gate blocking vehicles, going through what is called a private preserve but looks like some sort of private farm that isn't designed to produce any products. Peacocks and other out-of-the-ordinary animals can be found in enclosures. Some structures are old and in need of repair while others look quite nice. The public has been granted easement rights through the property along the road in order to reach the National Forest lands found further up the road. The hike to Murietta Divide is five miles in length. One can either take the dirt road to the top or follow the Murietta Creek Trail for the first half before returning to the road. I took the more picturesque creek trail going up, but decided on the all-road route coming back. Though lush with flowers, ferns, tall oaks, pines and other greenery, there is also a good deal of poison oak along the trail that keeps you on your toes. Murietta Camp is located about halfway up the trail, but there was no one camping there as I passed through. Back on the road I found it much greener than I had remembered, probably only seasonally so along with the springtime flowers.
It was after 3:30p when I reached Murietta Divide. Heading north from this point takes one to the higher HPS summits of Old Man and Monte Arido. Heading west takes one down into Juncal Canyon and to Jameson Lake some four miles down the trail. My route was to the south, heading up to the crest of the Santa Ynez Mtns less than a mile away. The 7.5' topo shows the Monte Arido Trail going up the ridge leading to the crest, but it is no longer maintained by the Forest Service. This is probably true of more than half the trails that once criss-crossed the Los Padres NF. Luckily, some dedicated soul(s) has seen to keeping the trail open with occasional clipping and sometimes reworking it where landslides or downfall have obliterated sections. There's no sign at all to be found at the divide indicating a trail and one has to climb up a short, steep embankment in order to find its beginning, marked by a simple duck in the trail.
I spent about 30 minutes climbing to the crest where the trail meets the Divide Peak Route, a USFS OHV route used primarily by motorcyclists. The Forest Route runs along the divide for more than 12 miles to the west where it eventually meets up with the paved Camino Cielo that comes up from Santa Barbara. The Ocean View Trail shown on the topo maps used to continue for 10 miles to the east to meet up with SR33, but that has long returned to virtually impenetrable chaparral that characterizes much of the range. Divide Peak is a short distance to the west from the trail junction while the Santa Ynez HP is to the east a bit further. The OHV route goes towards the highpoint, but skirts low around the SW side before petering out at a local highpoint a third of a mile from the my peak. Along the way the trail gets within a thousand feet of the summit which is a big help. The dense brush that one needs to contend with for the final stretch is decidedly less helpful.
I made a first attempt on the SW side where I saw a partial break through the brush, marked by a small cairn atop a large boulder on the side of the road. I followed this up for a few hundred yards to a subsidiary ridge, only to lose any semblence of trail and the summit still a long way off to the east through much nastiness. Too ugly to continue, I went back to the road. I continued along it until nearly south of the peak where another break in the brush, this one unmarked, seemed to offer a solution. It was only slightly better, but enough to keep me moving upward and focused on reaching the summit. The brush was thick, chest-high in most places, sometimes higher, but with enough breaks in between the tough sections to keep my hopes up. Getting nearer to the summit proved immensely motivating. With 300ft to go I could probably crawl under, over or through almost anything. With only 100ft to go I might brave choking dust and stinging insects while with only 50ft I might plow through my greatest of nemeses, a wall of poison oak. Luckily I had none of these, though I did find a few ticks that joined me for a short ride on my pants before getting flicked off. Once I reached the rocky crest, the going for the last couple hundred feet was relatively easy, getting me to the top at 4:45p.
A set of nested red cans held a register whose oldest scraps dated back to 1990. Highpointer Mark Adrian had visited in 2000, MacLeod & Lilley in 2001, with a surprising number of additional entries before and after. Evan had left a new register notepad on his 2008 visit. A number of the entries mentioned that this peak had been a consolation on a failed effort to reach White Ledge Peak another 2.5 miles east along the crest. The non-existent Ocean View Trail had foiled more than one effort in that direction. The descent proved far easier along a route which is probably the easiest way to the summit. I retraced the few hundred feet along the rocky crest, then dropped SW down a gully that led directly to the road. There was much loose sand and gravel, but very little brush to contend with in this gully. I took a picture at the junction with the road as a possible aid to future visitors to the highpoint.
I next turned my attention to the last summit of the day, Divide Peak. This one was a piece of cake since the road goes virtually to the top and a motorcycle track allows a brush-free experience. Once I was out of the gully and on the road, it took only 15 minutes to reach Divide Peak. There are two closely-spaced summits, the eastern one being the highpoint according to the topo map. Though the western one was only a few minutes away, I decided it could be left untrammeled. I was getting tired by this now and happy to start back. I spent the next hour and a half returning back down the Monte Arido Trail to Murietta Divide and then east down Murietta Canyon to the trailhead. The sun had not set by the time I reached the van just before 7p, but shade had since taken over the canyon and it would not long before the sun would be gone for the day.
I would spend more hours driving, first west to Santa Barbara where I stopped for dinner and an hour of online catching up (the wife appreciates post-hike emails when I can) before continuing north on US101. I had hoped to drive to San Luis Obispo near where I planned to hike the next day, but drowsiness overcame me somewhere north of Santa Maria. I pulled over at a little-used exit and slept alongside the frontage road in the back of the van. Not exactly the quiet little hideaway I might have desired, but the day's effort ensured I would sleep well despite the drone of the highway noise...
This page last updated: Wed Apr 17 09:23:26 2013
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