Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #36: Montecito Peak, Saddle Rock, and Cold Springs Trail

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #36: Montecito Peak, Saddle Rock, and Cold Springs Trail

Lately I have picking the wrong days to hike. This time I chose Sunday the only day of this long three day Veteran's day weekend that was totally socked in. Sigh. I would have hiked Saturday - a beautiful day weather-wise - but the Homecoming party lasted until 1:00 am and I didn't feel like hiking on only 4 hours of sleep. The hike was supposed to have some great views but the fog/marine layer/mist/drizzle would drop the visibility quite low along the entire hike. One result is that I did not take as many pictures as I usually do.

My hike this week took me up to the summit of Montecito Peak by way of the Cold Springs trail. I reached a trailhead at 6:40 am for an early start up the trail. It was a trailhead, not the trailhead. The sign that said "Cold Springs Trail 2" should have been a clue. Went right over my head. I geared up and headed up the trail. The trail passes by the gates of homes worth many times our net worth until it starts switchbacking up the hill. I looked at my GPS and realized that I was not getting closer to the geocaches and that I was on the wrong trail. I realized what the sign at the trailhead was saying and, since the trail was going to intersect with the correct trail, I continued upwards.

I eventually came across a sign indicating that this was the Saddle Rock Trail. The trail turned rocky and fairly steep. I paused to rest and looked to my right and saw ... an ammo can hidden between two boulders. I opened the can and it turned out to be a geocache. Go figure. (After I got home I looked for it in the cache listings but could not find it. Not sure why.) I signed the log and continued on the trail.

Near the top the trail arrived at a large flat area large enough to land a helicopter. Someone had laid out a large peace symbol in stones. From this high point I saw that the trail continued up to an Edison road (A road used by the local electric utility to service the power line poles). The Cold Springs trail also crosses an Edison road and I figured this was how I was going to get to the correct trail. I turned left on the road and followed it along the hillside. I passed a strange little structure that I would've explored except that it was on private property. As I looked at it I could have swore I heard something above the structure making a Huffing noise. Not sure if I was hearing things or if there was something watching me.

Down the hill a little ways the road split. I wasn't sure which way to go until I noticed an arrow pointing the way. It turned out to be the right way. I passed a trail that was heading in the right direction but it was not signed and the description said that it was a signed trail. I continued on the road. My GPS showed that I was getting close to a geocache, "Hot & Cold" that was on the trail. After finding it I continued on the road until it dead ended. Drat! So I turned around and went back to the unmarked trail and headed up. 40 to 50 feet up the trail was a small sign that said "Cold Springs Trail" The sign was numbered - this one being 6 - and listed the elevation. YAY! I was on the right trail!

The trail head sharply up the mountain switchbacking up the west side of the peak. The trail was rocky with portions covered in small stones and gravel. It was tough to go up at times. I picked up another cache, "The Spotted Puppy" on the way up. As I climbed higher the soup got thicker as the mist became light drizzle. The good is that it kept me cool. The bad is there was nothing to see beyond 30 or 40 feet. This made navigation difficult. To get to the peak you had to follow a steep overgrown spur. Since I could not see the peak I wasn't sure where this side trail was. I ended up passing the spur thinking it was just a game trail, a wash, or both. The trail eventual brought me up to the top of the saddle where a short 5 foot scramble got me up to the top. Fortunately for me, there was a geocache planted on the top of the peak so I was able to follow the GPS along the saddle to the hidden peak. The trail along the saddle was probably a game trail but it was relatively easy to follow. Once you got close to the peak the trail turned steep, feeling more like stairs than a trail. At the top I rested a moment and looked for the cache, "Montecito Peak". I was having trouble so I decoded the clue. Unfortunately I decoded the clue for another cache and it took me on a wild goose chase. After about 20 minutes, I sat down on a rock and ate lunch. As I ate I looked at the clue, realized my mistake, and decoded the correct clue. Duh! It was easy to find with the right clue.

As I was looking for the cache and eating my lunch the marine layer had thickened up some more. Visibility was down to 20 - 30 feet. I signed the peak register and headed back down. This time I found the top of the spur and started down. I heard voices below. A group of hikers were debating if this was the spur or not. I raised my voice and let them know that they were on the right trail. They said it sounded like God leading the way which made me say "Follow the path up the mountain, my son." We all got a chuckle out of that. Heh.

The way back down to the Edison road was uneventful as I couldn't see any more then when I was on my way up. The rock and gravel made it a little more difficult as you had to be careful to keep your footing. I reread the hike description and I picked the correct trail down. The scenery on this part of Cold Springs trail was completely different from that of the one above the road. This part of the trail was forested and followed the side of a canyon. It was incredible. On parts of the trail you could hear the flow of the creak and waterfalls. The mist and drizzle condensed on the leaves of the trees above dropped like rain and created a counterpoint to the creek sounds. The mist swirled through the trees and along the trail. The sights, sounds, and wet smells of the dew drops made it feel like an enchanted forest. I expected to bump into Little Red Riding Hood , Hansel, or Gretel along the path. I really liked this part of the trail.

The trail winds down one side of the valley, crossing the creek several times. I found the "CITO Falls" cache near a particularly awesome falls. As I went further down I reached where the west and east Cold Springs trails diverge. This part of the trail is marked by a bench. There were four caches on the west branch. I stood there briefly debating going for these caches. I was tired. The farthest of the four was about 1.29 miles away but this could be deceptive. GPS show the "as the crow flies" distance and 1.29 miles could easily turn into a longer distance if you add switchbacks. I made up my mind and headed up the west trail. I found the first cache,"Little Cache, short and stout", fairly easily. The next cache was "The Cave". I had to take off my camelbak and other gear to fit into the cave. I had just got into the entrance when people came down the trail. I waved at them to let them know I was there - didn't want to see my stuff disappear. After they moved on I took my little LED light and crawled further back into the cave. It was about 12 to 15 feet deep with a turn in it. It was pretty cool and very dirty. My clothes were damp from the drizzle and this made it much easier for the dry dust to stick to me as I retrieved the cache. This was the first 5/5 cache - 5 star difficulty and 5 star terrain ranking. It really wasn't that hard. I would have called it a 3/5.

The Last two caches were on a side trail. I found the start of the trail easy enough but the trail turned primitive real quick. The trail followed a water pipe that brought spring water down the mountain. I struggled along this trail for awhile until I was about 0.14 miles from the first cache, "Tangerine Falls". Then the GPS reception turned spotty and the estimated distance started to get longer. This did not help my state of mind. I reached a spot that, I think, required me to go around a steep rock. With all the mist, the rock was wet and slippery. I'd had enough. I looked at the time and realized I was going up so slow that I would not reach the caches and get back before it was dark. This was especially true with the cloudy drizzle - it would be darker earlier. I reluctantly turned around and headed back down. The trail was difficult to follow on the way back down but I had less trouble than on the way up.

I returned to the main trail and headed down. I ran into another hiker who asked me if I knew the way to Tangerine Falls. I smiled and said that I think I did, that I had tried to get there, but that I didn't make it. He was probably in his 20s and was a lot fresher then I was and he said that he had heard it was hard to reach and that this was his fourth attempt. This made me feel better. I wished him luck, we shook hands and parted ways.

I followed the trail to the correct Cold Springs trailhead. I then followed the road about 2/3 of a mile to where I had parked the car.

One good thing is that my feet felt pretty good. I wore my new boots with the new, adjusted insoles for the first time (I had them adjusted on Saturday and they feel much better). While I did have some hot spots on my toes (from coming down hill) and my heals (from going up hill) I didn't have any new blisters and my old blisters didn't bother me at all. My right knee did bother me a little bit but I think that was because of the loose rock and gravel on the trail up to the peak. It took a lot of effort to keep your footing and this strained the knee a bit.

I had a good time on this hike. Better weather would have improved it but the drizzle made it different. Different is often good. I will probably try to go back and do those two caches when I am fresh and don't have 8.5 miles already on me. The mistake I made earlier, taking the wrong trail, actually added some variety to the hike. It turned it from a There-And-Back to a Loop - There-And-Back hybrid. The total distance hiked was 9.86 miles and the elevation change was about 2,710 feet from the correct trailhead, 2,620 feet from the Saddle Rock trailhead. Pictures are here.

Next week: Chief Peak.


  1. Sounds like a fun hike. I personally like hiking in the rain and mist: it can make for some interesting photography and it forces you to look closer and see the things one usually misses when looking at the grand vistas.

    Glad the boots felt good. Footware is everything, isn't it? :)

  2. GH: It was a fun hike. I have mixed feeling about hiking in the drizzle. The part through the woods was enhanced by the drizzle but the part up the mountain was diminished.

    Yes, footwear is everything on a hike. The jury is still out on the boots but they performed pretty well on this hike.