Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Divide Peak: To Infinity and Beyond

Mouth of North Fork Matilija Canyon 
A recent trip report by David R reminded me that it had been years since I'd been up beautiful Murietta Canyon just north of Ojai. I used to ride this canyon on a fairly regular basis when I lived in Ventura, but after moving further east in 1998, I hadn't been back and it was bumming me out. So on Sunday morning, I  made a return visit to my old stomping grounds to get reacquainted with this magical place.

My objective for the day was Divide Peak, a 4,707' bump along the Santa Ynez Mountains that separates the Ojai Valley from the coast and affords incredible views of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands. From road's end in Matilija Canyon, the route is about a 4.5 mile road walk up scenic Murietta Canyon, a steep 1.5 mile scramble up the Monte Arido Trail, and then a 0.8 mile amble along Divide Peak Road to the summit. You can avoid some of the road walk (and shave a bit of mileage) in lower Murietta Canyon by taking a foot-path that leads to Murietta Trail Camp and then rejoins the main fire road at 34.498565, -119.402450. 

North Fork Matilija Canyon

View Down Matilija Canyon from Murietta Road

Scenic Murietta Canyon
The day was unusually warm for late November and the road felt steeper than it should have felt. I wore a halo of flies as I made my way up Murietta Canyon, grateful that I had grabbed my bug net at the last moment before leaving the house. But the canyon was quiet, colorful, and completely vacant. I had the run of the place.

The walk up Murietta Canyon is pretty straightforward. Get on the road and walk uphill. The road up the canyon climbs gently at first but steepens further up as you approach the saddle. There, you have options. You can tack right and continue north up to Old Man Mountain and beyond on the Monte Arido Fire Road. You can continue west on the fire road which descends into Juncal Canyon and into the upper Santa Ynez River drainage. Or you can turn south and ascend 1,200 feet on the Monte Arido Trail to the Divide Peak Fire Road and the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Jameson Reservoir from the Monte Arido Trail
Juncal Canyon from Upper Monte Arido Trail

Murietta Trail from Upper Monte Arido Trail

Old Man Mountain and Monte Arido

The path for this latter option is not immediately obvious, but it is not difficult to find. Simply scale the southern embankment just beyond where the Monte Arido Fire Road joins the saddle and the way forward will come into focus. Initially, the trail follows what appears to be an abandoned road bed and the going is easy. Eventually, however, that road bed peters out at which stage the trail climbs steeply and directly up the spine of the ridge. Not being in prime adventuring condition, I struggled here, but the expanding views into Juncal and Murietta Canyons distracted me and pushed me forward. I took a breather at flat spot along the ridgeline straddling the two canyons that would make a very fine spot to spend the night.

After a final stiff climb, the Monte Arido Trail intersects the Divide Peak Fire Road. You'll know you're done with the climb when you arrive at a large sandstone boulder with a cairn atop it. To get to Divide Peak, turn right and follow the sandy and relatively flat road for approximately 0.8 miles. The summit can be attained by climbing steeply up very loose rogue motorcycle trails that scar Divide's north-eastern flank. The easier and less frustrating alternative, however, is to wrap around Divide's northern side on the fire road and then come back at the summit from the west.

As far as summits go, Divide's is somewhat underwhelming. It's basically broad, flat, and exposed humpback. But the views of the Santa Barbara Channel and the Oxnard Plain are unmatched. On the day I was there, I could clearly see Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa Islands. I could also plainly see Santa Catalina Island floating in the Pacific almost 100 miles away.   

The trail register is located in a water-bottle canister tucked into a rock-pile just northeast of Divide's high-point. I could not located a benchmark. I sat on the rock pile for a spell enjoying a burrito and the sound of the breeze. 

Back at the Monte Arido Trail junction, I contemplated attacking the Santa Ynez Mountains high point which sits at 4,864' and approximately 3/4 mile east of the junction. But that is all I did. I knew I didn't have enough gas in the tank or water in my bottles so I began the long walk back and committed to return to explore this area on another day.   

Divide Peak Summit Canister. Big Ass Ham.

View South from Divide Peak

Oil Platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel

Anacapa Island from Divide Peak

To Infinity and Beyond

Lake Casitas from Divide Peak. This Drought is Real Yo.

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