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Tinta Ridge is a P1K in the Dick Smith Wilderness of the Los Padres NF in Santa Barbara County. The unofficial name comes from the summit register left by John Vitz, and fits well since the Tinta Creek, Trail and Campsite are all found on its flanks. Though the area is generally covered in thick chaparral, hunters have left a collection of use trails along the various ridgelines to allow it to be climbed from several directions with minimal bushwhacking. Beforehand I had only limited information and concluded that the surest route would be to follow that used for the approach to Lizard Head, a nearby HPS summit. This would virtually guarantee a clipped route up from Tinta Creek to the main ridge, with the last mile and a half to the highpoint a bit of an unknown. From what I could tell in the satellite view, it seemed reasonable to follow along the ridge, but it would have to wait for on-site verification to be sure. The route would be a long one, about 11 miles one-way. This became longer by three miles the night before when I found myself nearly stranded in a flow of mud across the Forest Service road in Santa Barbara Canyon. I had been lucky enough to back out of the morass and was not going to try my luck a second time in the morning.
On my way shortly before sunrise, I started hiking from the Santa Barbara Canyon Ranch at 6:30a, spending much of the first hour hiking up the road to the junction with Dry Canyon. The mud flow that had stopped me was the only obstacle I noted along the route on what was otherwise a very good road. I had expected to start from Dry Canyon, knowing it was unlikely I could navigate the more difficult 4WD road that runs east up the canyon. This side road crosses Santa Barbara Creek just after it forks and though there was little water flowing, it was a muddy mess that would stop almost any vehicle. I danced around this obstacle to continue hiking east, the rest of the road in decent enough shape. By 9a I had reached the saddle between Dry and Tinta Creeks, dropped over the east side and soon met up with the start of the Tinta Trail. The route is open to motorcycles, but it would be difficult at best to manage with one, considering the rockfall and treefall found along the trail. I followed the trail downstream for a bit more than a mile, sandwiched in the narrow canyon between Tinta Ridge to the south and Cuyama Mountain to the north. The lookout atop Cuyama was clearly visible from many parts of the trail. As an HPS summit I had visited Cuyama more than nine years ago, though most of the memory is pretty hazy.
I reached the unsigned Tinta campsite shortly after 9:30a. A few ducks mark the junction, but otherwise it is easy to miss. I wandered through the campsite in search of the use trail on the other side of Tinta Creek that would take me up to the ridge. This was found with only minor trouble. Once past the creek, the trail is easy to follow as it makes its way up a subsidiary ridge to the main Tinta Ridge. Little more than half an hour later I had reached the main east-west ridgeline with fine views south towards Lizard Head and north across Tinta Creek to Cuyama Peak. In places, a number of the Channel Islands can be seen off the Santa Barbara coast far to the south. Once past the junction with the Lizard Head turnoff a few minutes later I was unfamiliar terrain, but was soon put at ease. I was happy to find there was a fairly decent use trail running the entire length of the ridge to the highpoint and then some. I was less happy to see a good deal of detritus from previous visitors, cached water not used, old jackets, tatered tarps and sleeping bags, lots of plastic and plenty of empty beer cans and discarded shotgun shells. It's not that the route was covered in all this stuff, but more that I was expecting to see almost nothing. I had not considered that hunters might frequent this area as much or more than the HPS peakbaggers.
The views from the ridge were quite fine stretching north and south across the western half of Santa Barbara Canyon. Before reaching the highpoint I made a slight detour to visit the Tinta BM marked on the 7.5' topo map. I found the remains of a survey tower, but found no benchmark nor reference marks anywhere. Another 15 minutes west along the ridge brought me to the highpoint. At just over 1,000ft of prominence, it didn't really surprise me to find a register here placed by John Vitz. He seems to have visited most of the P1Ks I've been climbing these past few years. In this case, he'd beaten me by less than four months and his was the only signature on the stapled pad of paper in a glass jar when I found it tucked among some rocks at the base of a charred manzanita bush.
It was now almost 11a, having taken 4.5hrs and 14 miles to reach the summit. The route was not direct, but at least it had worked. I had noted on some of the older versions of the 7.5' topo map that there were trails or firebreaks shown along Tinta Ridge and some of the subsidiary ridges that do not appear on the more current ones. The satellite views had been unclear as to whether these might still exist or not, but the use trail I had found leading to the highpoint had been encouraging. I could save a number of miles if I found a more direct route west and north off the highpoint and have a more adventurous return as well. It was also possible that I could find myself in bushwhacking hell if the route deteriorated or otherwise proved unworkable. Having to then backtrack over Tinta Ridge could make for a 30+ mile day. What to do? I sat on a clump of rocks to eat the snacks I'd brought with me while I mulled this over. I decided to follow the use trail westward for another mile or so before commiting one way or the other, but of course in the back of my mind I knew this was pretty much making the decision already. The further west I went, the more willing I'd be to press ahead despite obvious warning signs to do otherwise.
I was happy for a second time in that the return route worked as well as it did. I continued for another half hour or so along the main crest heading west where I came across a small pocket of pines that had not burned in the 2007 Zaca fire that burned most of the Dick Smith Wilderness. This and similar pockets were hard at work regenerating the forest, a process in this dry climate that will take many decades. New seedlings pop up here and there among the hardier chaparral that thrives in such burn conditions. I went past these trees for another mile, coming to a fork in the ridgeline. It looked like the use trail continues in several directions and I turned north hoping it would lead me back to Dry Canyon. The route passed along a narrow ridgeline descending from the crest. There was evidence of an old road that once ran up this ridge. Indeed, I later noted it on one of those older topo maps. At one point along the ridge the west side drops off precipitously in what looks to be a continuing source of sandy landslides. A large section of the road where it ran along the ridgetop has fallen away into the deep canyon on the west side. I continued to spot periodic beer cans along the route along with shell casings. Where the old road turned northeast I kept to a ridgeline running northwest and then west down to an unnamed side canyon of Dry Canyon. All but the last part of this ridge proved easy enough to navigate and the last couple hundred feet where the ridge dropped steeply to the canyon was negotiated with only minor brush entanglement. The dry creekbed itself that I reached turned out to be an easy route back to the road in Dry Canyon, avoiding more awful-looking brush found to either side of the creekbed.
It was 12:45p by the time I reached the 4WD road and 2:30p by the time I returned to the van at the mouth of Santa Barbara Canyon. The return had taken an hour less than the ascent route and combined with the additional adventure it proved, I considered it a great success. I spent the next hour driving back to SR166 and west to Sierra Madre Road where I had planned to do more hiking the next day. I found the road gated at the highway, evidently having been closed for some time due to fire damage. Rats. My backup plan was another P1K in the Carrizo Plain, so I turned around and drove the length of SR166 nearly back to Maricopa and into the Carrizo Plain National Monument. This is another fountain of all that is BLM goodness - no fees, no park rangers, miles of dirt roads to explore and nobody around for miles. I found a campsite of sorts on an old concrete pad near a lone tree at the base of Long BM. I had driven 4-5 miles off the main road through the monument to find my way as close as I could reasonably get to the next day's peak. There was even a picnic bench located next to the tree where one could get afternoon shade. Nice! A fine place to spend the night...
This page last updated: Sat Mar 15 16:42:00 2014
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