Snowball Mountain

Jun 11, 2021
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In Santa Barbara for my daughter's UCSB graduation, I was looking for something to do while Mom and daughter went off to get their nails done, have lunch, and whatever else women in boutique-y towns do. Snowball Mtn is an oddly-named summit, especially for a place that sees no snow, and had caught my attention some years ago. The peak lies just outside the Los Padres National Forest north of Carpinteria, with no public routes to get to it that I could find, no TRs on PB or LoJ. I noted that the 2017 Thomas fire had burned over the entire mountain, but four years was a lot of time for coastal chaparral to return. The Franklin Trail gets within a mile of the summit, so I figured I'd use that and see how bad the bushwhacking was from there. I more than half expected to find it too awful to push through and have to be content with a scouting mission. My wife needed the car, so I'd have to bike from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, about an hour and a half each way from where we were staying. The hike itself would be about 8mi roundtrip with 2,500ft of gain, a pretty full day.

I got started on the bike before 8a, following the Coastal Route through Santa Barbara, past the pier, along the strand, through Summerland and to Carpinteria High School where the trail starts by 9:20a. I locked the bike to the fence at the start, changed into long pants and hiking boots, and headed out on foot. The Franklin trail seems popular for hikers and joggers, less so with bikes as it garners a "Most Difficult" rating due to the steepness of the trail. It begins by traversing around the outside of the school, then threading between several avocado ranches before finally reaching the start of the climb into chaparral country. The trail gains elevation through a series of switchbacks, with view benches conveniently placed for rest and view opportunities. The single-track trail ends at Franks Bench, continuing on the utility road that services a power transmission line running up the ridge. After a little more than an hour, I turned right to leave the trail, following a firebreak heading southeast. This got me almost within half a mile of the summit, so far without bushwhacking.

This was the end of the easy part. The expected wall of brush did not materialize as it was evident that at least initially, I could wade through brush without the whacking. I followed a series of old use and animal trailsthe canyon floor, I turned right to follow the dry creekbed a few hundred feet to the western edge of Snowball Mtn. The initial stretch back out of the canyon was the steepest, had the thickest brush, and was rife with poison oak. I would have to stop at CVS to get some Technu on the ride back to counteract any exposure I might have gotten in here. I did my best to dance around it, but there were some spots where contact with my clothing was unavoidable. Halfway up to Snowball there is a welcome break where a utility road is found to service the towers after the transmission lines cross Sutton Canyon. I followed the road only a short distance to the next tower before continuing up to Snowball's summit. Animal trails, less dense brush, and an easier gradient made this far more manageable and by 11:30a I was on the summit.

I had expected to find a brush-covered summit with no sign of visitors, but there was a small clearing with an earthen jar found there. I thought I might find a loved one's ashes, but there was a register book inside. It was fairly busy, the most recent visitor only a few weeks earlier, with a number of repeat visitors. Where did they come from? That part will remain a mystery for now - I did not find any additional clues in an online search later in the day. It's not the greatest summit for views, though those to the south take in Carpinteria, the Pacific Ocean, and several of the Channel Islands in the distance. To the north, the crest of the Santa Ynez Mtns rises several thousand feet higher and there is much chaparral in all directions.

A use trail goes off to the southeast, and from the satellite view one can see that it goes all the way down to the avocado ranches that block access to this side of the Los Padres NF. I briefly though of simply going down that way, finding a fence to climb over or a rancher to apologize to, but decided to head back the way I'd come. It wasn't that bad, really. It would take about 45min to get through the brush and the canyon, and back to the firebreak, then another hour on the trail to get back to the TH and the bike. It was 80F by this time, I was nearly out of the meager Gatorade rations I'd brough (40oz), hot and dehydrated. I stopped at the nearest 7-11 for a Big Gulp and a salty snack that did wonders to revive my flagging spirits. I picked a tick out of the hair on the back of my head for good measure. Then another hour of riding to get back to Santa Barbara and family time...


Willie Kellogg comments on 01/30/22:
Hi Bob,
so cool you found the registry can! I am a student at the Cate School, which owns Snowball Mountain. School trips to the summit are the reason there are so many names there. I always place the Snowball Mountain can in the middle of the summit clearing, but when I went up today it was gone. Any chance you might have moved it to a different part of the summit? It would be really great to find this again. Happy trails,
Sorry it disappeared, but I left it right where I found it.
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