Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #33: Cathedral Peak

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #33: Cathedral Peak

There are some hikes on my list that I have been anxious to do since I heard about them. Potrero John was one and it turned out to be one of my favorite hikes. Cathedral Peak was another. I was originally scheduled to do Cathedral Peak back in early August but I postponed it, first to build up to what I was expecting to be a difficult hike, and then to give my foot time to heal. This hike lived up to my expectation and then some. It was beautiful and challenging.

I did the hike on Friday, getting up at my regular work time (5:20 am) and leaving the house at 6:00 am. I left this early because of the bad parking experience I had on the Seven Falls hike last February. The Seven Falls and Cathedral Peak hikes leave from the same trailhead which has limited parking and tow-happy homeowners. I arrived at the trailhead shortly before 7:00 am and I was the fourth car and had no problem parking.

I put on my gear and started out just to turn around a few minutes later when I realized that I had not locked the car. After cursing myself out and locking the car, I started back on the trail. The weather turned out to be better then I expected. The forecast had said overcast all day but the sky was blue with only a few clouds in the sky. This would change later in the day but for the start of my hike, the weather was near perfect. There was a slight chill in the air and the sun was still over the ridge. From the start of the trail you could see the Channel Islands. They always look like a distant mountain range to me.

I followed the trail down to the bottom of the seven falls where the trail crosses Mission Creek. Here you can follow a trail up to Inspiration point or a trail that follows the creek upstream. I turned up this trail and followed the creek for a short while until I reached a side trail that heads up the ridge. This ridge takes you up to Arlington Peak (I have also seen it referred to as Anderson Peak) shown here on the left of this panorama that I took when I hiked up to Inspiration Point. Many mistake Arlington for Cathedral Peak. Cathedral is located behind Arlington in this picture. The rocky ridge is called the Dragon's Back or Anderson Ridge.

The side trail switchbacks up the end of the ridge (on the right side of the panorama) up to the top of the ridge. The trail is more of a rock climb then a trail. near the top I ran into a couple of ladies hiking down from Arlington Peak. I ended up following their footprints all the way up. The trail up the ridge alternates between sandy trail winding through Manzanita trees and walking around, over, between, and through narrows of sandstone. Descriptions of the trail warned that it was hard to follow at times and as I walked the trail I thought it seemed easy enough to follow to me. Soon after thinking that thought I lost the trail. As the trail became more rocky, the trail became harder to follow. I managed to get back on the trail after losing it several times on the way up. I tried to take note of where the real trail was to make the return trip easier.

On the way up I found the "Dragon's Back" geocache. As I approached the top of Arlington Peak I thought how clean the trail was with no graffiti at all. Then I saw this. Sigh. I need to stop thinking while I'm hiking. I stood on a rock at the top of Arlington and looked down the dragon's back. What a spectacular view. You could see the islands, the city of Santa Barbara, and the surrounding mountains. At about this time the weather started to change. A cool ocean breeze was picking up bringing in haze and clouds.

After a bit of rest I set my sights on Cathedral Peak. The trail followed a saddle over to the peak. The peak has three rocky outcrops and a shear rock cliff that faces the ocean. Cathedral Peak is also known as the Monkey's Tooth and I can see why that is. I climbed up to the top and leaned back against the middle tooth and snacked on a protein bar and orange. It was totally awesome. The views, even with the haze coming in, were beautiful. The peak was above the incoming clouds. The silence was broken only by the sound of the breeze rustling the manzanita. I felt like I was on top of the world - Cathedral peak is around 3,333 feet high and is about 2.73 miles from the trailhead.

I was also experimenting with a sports drink mix in some of the water bottles that I was carrying. They are supposed to help replenish electrolytes lost when you sweat and I have to confess that I am a sweater. I carried two half liter bottles of the sports drink and two liters of plain water in my camelback. I drank a bottle while at the top.

After taking in the sights, including the La Cumbre Peak watch tower, I headed back down to the saddle. I then headed down a steep overgrown side trail that lead down to the bottom of the cliff face to a large cave. Some refer to it as Horse Thief Cave, others the Monkey's Butt. Either name works I guess - Ha! I explored the wide mouthed cave and looked for, and found, the "Horse Thieve's Cave" geocache where I picked up the Darth Vader Travelbug. I scrambled back up the steep slope back to the main trail and headed back to Arlington Peak. There I rested and planned my descent. There was a third geocache near here and I was going to get it on the way back. I believe it was on the trail that continued up Mission Creek.

I headed down. I ran into my first rattle snake. It was only a baby one about 12 inches long. It was coiled in the middle of the trail. I tapped it's nose with my hiking staff and it slithered into the brush.

The haze thickened into light drizzle. I was concerned it would make the trail hazardous but the drizzle soon stopped. The trail eventually dropped below the cloud layer allowing me to see where I was going. I found that climbing down a rocky scramble used a whole different set of muscles than a climb up. Some descriptions of this hike suggested taking gloves. I didn't heed their warning and I found my hands being rubbed raw from lowering myself over the sandstone boulders. This is especially true when you loose the trail and do a lot more rock scrambling then you have to. All the mental notes I had made on the way up went right out the window. I really lost the trail good here. I wasn't lost since the way I needed to go was clear (down) but it became more difficult to move in the direction that I wanted. At one point I found someone's lost backpack down in a crevasse between two huge boulders. I tried to reach it with my hiking staff but I only managed to make it fall further out of my reach. I'm sure there was a treasure in it but I will never know because I decided to give up and move on.

I climbed up a big boulder and realized there was no easy way down. I sat down and slowly crab crawled down the side reaching my feet down to a rock just out of my reach. I slid a little bit before I caught myself. Now I was at the base of the boulder surrounded my manzanita that didn't want me to go anywhere. I struggled against the stiff branches scratching up my arms a bit before I climbed over a small boulder onto the trail. As I slid over the rock I felt a hot sensation on my butt cheek. I reached around and realized I has ripped the A$$ out of my pants. The burning sensation I felt was the sandstone rubbing against my butt cheek and I can tell you that sandstone feels just like sandpaper - OWW! I think the pants tore as I lowered myself over the side of the big boulder. Here are the results. Later on my scramble down I wore a hole through my tighty whities as well and ended up mooning most of Santa Barbara.

Back on the trail I made my way down. Then once again, for a reason that I do not comprehend, on the easiest part of the trail to follow, I lost the trail again. I have no idea where my mind was but it was obviously not on the trail. Next thing you know I am heading straight down the hill towards the creek. Since the brush was rather thin and it wasn't too difficult I decided just to head down until I hit the trail or the creek, whichever came first. On the way I managed to twist my ankle - the left one since my tendonitis wasn't bothering me enough - and smash my thumb between a tree branch and a rock. %$#@#$#.

I made it to a trail and headed up the creek looking for the cache. Unfortunately the trail ended at a shear rock wall a quarter of a mile from the cache. I just did not have enough energy to climb up around it. I decided to do the cache some other day and headed back down stream. The trail became hard to follow again and I reached a split - up through a rough looking trail or down to the creek. Here I made a really bad mistake. Since the creek was completely dry, I figured it would be easier to follow the creek bed to where the trail crosses the creek. I get down to the creek bed and remembered that this part of the creek is known as seven falls. Between me and the trail were about three falls. How hard could it be to climb down? Heh. The first falls was about 7 feet and wasn't too hard to climb down. The second was about 8 feet but there were no hand holds and there was a small pool of stagnant water full of mosquito larvae and junk at the bottom. I tried to slowly lower myself down - I tried until I started to slide. By some miracle that I do not understand I stopped sliding when my feet were 6 inches from the surface of the pool. I hopped over the pool and looked around. Walking over to the falls I saw a shear drop of 15 to 20 feet with only hard rock to cushion my fall. The rock was smooth with no foot or hand holds. CRAP! I looked to my left and saw a shear rock wall. CRAP CRAP! To my right another unclimbable wall. CRAP CRAP CRAP! The way I came from - no way. CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP! I had done what I told myself I'ld never do - I had gotten myself into a place that I couldn't get out of. I wasn't panicking ... yet ... but my heart was racing. I was pretty sure there was no cell signal in this narrow canyon. On the right there was a little ledge so I climbed up and shimmied my way around the corner to see what was there. Looking down there was nothing but air but looking up I saw a wash whose sides had a lot of hand and foot holds. The climb up was about twenty or thirty feet or so. I started climbing up. It was a little more difficult then it had looked from the bottom but it was my only option. I rested part way up on a dead tree while I suffered from a painful stitch in my side. I must have been climbing like a rabid monkey or something. I finished the climb up and found myself back on the trail.

That was enough drama for the day. I returned to the car passing several people on the way. I hope they didn't turn around and see my bare behind.

Despite the drama, maybe because of the drama, this hike was spectacularly awesome. It exceeded all my expectations. The total hike was 5.39 miles including my detour to the cave. The total vertical was a fabulous 2,539 feet. My muscles have been screaming since Friday. My thighs and my upper chest-shoulder area are the worst and don't ask me to do a deep knee bend - it would kill me. My ankle isn't too bad and my thumb, while still sore, is getting much better. Pictures are here.

Next week: Less vertical - The Slides.


  1. Glad you are okay after this hike. I found it hilarious to read. Love the pants picture.

    Again, you saw, you climbed, you conquered.

    Matron of honor

  2. It kind of ruins the next time I want to tell him "to blow it out his butt" because he'll just claim he's already been there and done that.

    What a hilarious picture.

    Let's go buy you some new pants, honey.

    The Wife

  3. Matron of Honor: I conquered it all right but it didn't go down without a fight!

    The Wife: HA!

  4. Heh, you are a brave man to post the pants picture. :)

    Hikes like this are the most memorable to be sure.

    Sounds like a cool hike, though it might be a bit far from me. Can you recommend a site with directions to the trailhead?

  5. GH:


    Select hikes - front country

    Then on the left select Cathedral Peak.

    This link gives you a description of the hike including directions to the trailhead. The site has good information about the hike as well as other hikes in the Santa Barbara area. The only issue with the hike is the parking. Parking sucks on the weekends. If you can do this during the workweek and you get there relatively early you will find parking. When I was there Friday there was plenty of parking.

    As for the picture, I like to think that my buns of steel make the ladies swoon and I'll go to great lengths to make them swoon - HA!

  6. Thanks for the directions, though it might be a litte out of my range.

    Heh, maybe I should post a pic on my site to attract the ladies, then, since it works so well for you. LOL

  7. GH: Cathedral Peak is well worth it. If you find yourself in the Santa Barbara area and you have 5 or 6 hours to kill I recommend you check it out.