On Friday, I woke up with a sore throat which got worse as the day went by. I wasn't sure I would be hiking on Saturday. I woke up on Saturday after a restless sleep. I felt a little better but my throat was still sore. I drank some Emergen-C and headed for the Snyder trailhead. The hike went well until the last couple of miles. Before I tell you what happened, let's talk about the good things about this hike.
As I topped the San Marcos Pass I saw a low layer of fog or maybe smoke lying over the Santa Ynez valley. There was definitely a smell of smoke in the air. It was clear over the trailhead. The first leg of this hike climbs from Paradise Road (1,067 feet) to Knapp's Castle (2,936 feet). The trail climbs relentlessly and I put the 20 minutes walking - 5 minutes resting method into practice. It worked pretty well. The 5 minutes of rest was hard to do when I was still fresh - antsy to keep moving but as the hike went on the 5 minutes didn't seem enough.
This part of the trail is a favorite for mountain bikers and you have to keep your ears open for the sound of oncoming bikes. Many of them had bells that made it easier. I was impressed that nearly every biker thanked me for stepping aside and many told me if there were more behind them. None of the bikers I encountered were rude at all.
The trail went in and out of the shade. Views of the Santa Ynez Valley and Lake Cachuma were around every corner. As I approached Knapp's Castle I took a short detour to do the "Snide Hide" cache. I then made my way to the Castle. I found "Knapps Cache" in the lower part of the ruins. I walked around and took some pictures. The only thing standing are three fireplaces and some stone arches. The views from the castle ruins are just amazing. You could also see the ominous plume of smoke from the Zaca fire. I found a shaded place in one of the arches where a light breeze could be felt and sat down to rest. A protein bar and an apple hit the spot.
After a good rest, I considered my options. I could go back down the way I came or I could make my way to the Fremont Trail as an alternate way back down to Paradise Road. I felt pretty good but I was only a third of the way around the loop. I decided to do the Fremont trail. I hiked the short distance to E. Camino Cielo road. From there I climbed up Burro Hill to do the "Burro Hill" cache. I dropped of the Buster Baxter TB that I picked up in Minnesota. The Cache was at the high point of the hike at about 3,050 feet. I followed the trail back down to E. Camino Cielo and followed the road to the Fremont trailhead. Fortunately, the sun went under some wispy clouds during this part which kept the temperature down.
It's amazing how two trails so near to each other can be so different. The Fremont trail starts with a pine forest before moving into rocky terrain. The first part of the trail goes up and down which didn't help much but the views made up for the extra effort. There were great views of the Cold Spring Bridge and Lake Cachuma. Near one of the Edison power poles I found the last cache of the day - "Road To Nowhere." I continued done the trail that switchbacked down the mountain. The trail was steep in places and the gravel and fine dust made walking precarious in spots. Then the hike turned sour.
The trail enters a meadow - a very nice meadow with long grass and trees. I also say a tent and a canopy. I thought this was strange since I doubted that camping was allowed up here. As I approached, I saw nobody. The tent, made of insect netting, was full of supplies - bottles of water, etc. I didn't think much of it and I started looking for the path exiting the meadow. After several false trails, I ran into the last thing that I ever wanted to see - not a rattle snake - not a mountain lion - not a bear. I ran into marijuana plants. At this point my mind went into panic mode. Where there is marijuana, there is often men with guns. I started to look for the exit in earnest now. I ran into another group of marijuana plants and that was enough. I started making my own trail through the forest. I must have looked like a loon hacking my way through the trees. I probably used up three miles worth of hiking energy trying to find a way out of there. After many false starts due to thick impassable growth I made it to a path which turned out to be the one I was looking for. I followed the trail and took a shortcut through some guys yard to get back to Paradise road.
I was pretty much exhausted and paranoid as I walked back to the car. I emptied my camelbak and had to open a bottle that I carried just in case. When I got back home I called the Santa Barbara crime stoppers tip line and told them what I saw. I was told that it had already been reported by someone else and that the information had been forwarded to the Narcotics devision.
Despite the little run in at the meadow, which could have turned out a lot worse, the hike was pretty good. The total distance was 9.43 miles with an elevation gain of about 1,983 feet. Pictures of the good parts of the hike can be found here.