Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Hot Time on Cold Spring

On Friday I played hooky to go play in the local mountains with my daughter Maddie on what turned out to be a remarkably warm and humid winter day. We decided to go coastal to avoid the rain that was falling inland and headed for the Santa Barbara front range to get the best that both the mountains and the beach could offer. The specific object of our desire was Montecito Peak by way of the historic Cold Spring Trail.

Sun Dappled Cold Spring Trail
From East Mountain Drive, the Cold Spring Trail ascends Cold Spring Canyon a short distance before it splits into east and west forks. The path to Montecito Peak follows the creek up the East Fork before climbing out of the canyon to a vista point separating Cold Spring and Hot Springs Canyon. The trail then continues up the rocky south side of Montecito Peak to a steep spur trail leading to the summit. Ultimately, the main trail intersects the Camino Cielo at the mountain crest separating the front country from the back country. From the Camino Cielo, the Cold Spring Trail drops about 1000 feet down the backside to Forbush Flat (named for Fred Forbush who built a cabin and planted an apple orchard along Gidney Creek in 1910). It then makes another 1000 foot drop to Gibraltar Reservoir and the Santa Ynez River far below.

The Cold Spring Trail is historically significant as it was once one of the prime routes leading from Montecito into the upper Santa Ynez drainage, along Mono Creek, over the Puerto Suelo in the San Rafael Range, and then into the Cuyama Valley. But the trail today up the East Fork is apparently not in the same location as the original trail. According to the Santa Barbara Trails Council:

"Originally, though, the main route was up the West Fork... Passing the site of the Cold Springs water tunnel, bored into the mountain on land donated by Eugene Sheffield, the trail led up to a 300-foot waterfall on the West Fork. There it switchbacked around it on the west and then proceeded by a large pointed rock at the top of the falls, named “The Pinnacle” by E.M. Heath in his 1904 book, A Guide to Rides and Drives in Santa Barbara. From there, it continued up the creek bottom through a narrows, then began to wind its way up shale slopes to the crest, where it crossed over and down the head of Gidney Creek (Forbush Flats) to the Santa Ynez River.

When the Santa Ynez Forest Reserve was created in 1899 the Cold Springs Trail was improved by the forest rangers. Rather than having to split their efforts on trails up each branch of Cold Springs Creek, they decided to concentrate on the East Fork.

“It is considered advisable,” Forest Inspector Louis A. Barrett wrote to his superiors in Washington in 1905, “to have one well built main trail crossing the Reserve from the Coast to the desert side and one half of the field force will be at work on this trail all the spring.”

Felling (sic) that the trail around the falls and up the shale slopes would be too difficult to maintain, the Forest Service began work on the East Fork. With these improvements, the route up this watershed became known as the Cold Springs Trail, and because of them, became the main route over the mountain wall."

Note that the excerpt above refers to the trail as the "Cold Springs" while I refer to it in the singular, "Cold Spring." There appears to be some confusion about the correct nomenclature. Even the signage at the trail head uses both names on the exact same sign-post. Most folks it seems casually refer to the trail and the canyon it ascends as "Cold Springs." But the topographic maps and other sources I have consulted identify the trail and canyon as "Cold Spring" and I believe that is the correct name.

Cold Spring Trail Just Beyond the Trailhead
Water Cascades Into a Pool in Cold Spring Canyon

Cold Spring Creek Deep in the Canyon

With the recent rains, there was still water flowing in the creek. The surrounding canyon was an orgy of greenery and blooms. In addition to a proliferation of colorful wildflowers and verdant ferns, clovers, and grasses, the canyon was thriving with poison oak. The latter can pretty much be avoided if you stick to the main trail and stay observant. 

Bermuda Buttercup (Non-Native)
Wood Fern (Native)

Perfect Vinca in Cold Spring Canyon (Non-Native)

Need Assistance with this Identification - Looks like Arugula

Evil Devil Bush - This is Quite Common in the Canyon
While you are in the canyon bottoms, views toward the coast are limited. But once the trail climbs out of the canyon to a promontory to the immediate east, the terrain opens up and you get unobstructed views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands off in the distance.

Cabrillo Beach and Stearns Warf from Saddle
Anacapa Island in the Santa Barbara Channel

From this point, the trail begins climbing Montecito's south facing ridgeline through the dense and aromatic chaparral that we all know and love so well. The route becomes rocky here and because of the south-facing orientation, gets quite warm. A couple of out-of-place Eucalyptus trees at about the 2500 foot contour provide some shade and additional views before the final push to the summit.

Ridgeline Leading to Pt. 3440 (I think)

Platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel

Clouds Boiling Over Santa Rosa Island

View from Near the Eucalyptus Trees

The Eucalyptus "Grove" Below Montecito Peak
Beyond the Eucalyptus tree rest stop, the trail wends its way around to the north slope of Montecito Peak where a steep and well-defined use trail takes you to the summit which offers panoramic views of the Gold Coast and the Santa Barbara channel, a rocky prominence from which to enjoy it, and the intoxicating aroma of blooming Greenbark ceanothus.

The Channel Islands from Montecito Peak
Santa Barbara from Montecito Peak

View South Toward Carpinteria from Montecito's Summit

Lonely Anacapa Island in the Channel Haze

These are Modern Times We're Livin' In

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