Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Mt Pinos and Other Adventures

a "sea" of indian paintbrush

Last weekend was July 4th – a big deal over here in the USA . As in the UK this means a long weekend but also loads of crowds and traffic so the trick is to get away but avoid the melee.

Realising that the more accessible part of the Sierra would be packed and with Lynn not keen on a 5 hour each way drive, I was excited to discover that the Wilderness and National Forest areas inland from us reach heights of almost 9000ft. A short trip down the coastal freeway and then a longer twisty, hilly road inland would take us to the Mt Pinos/Mt Abel area which hosts x-country skiing in the winter and offers an opportunity to get up into Pine forest ecosystem in the summer. This is what I was looking for as the sagebrush/chaparral environment is ever present here in Santa Barbara.

After a great breakfast in Ojai we were at the trailhead at the crack of 11.30am – just as the temperatures were really cranking up. I had somewhat underestimated just how hot it gets inland and we were probably hiking in 100 degrees – it certainly felt that way on a mostly uphill trail anyway.

The principal attractions of this area are the flowers – Indian Paintbrush, Lupines, Iris, Snow plants and many many more – in fact, as you can see below – their profusion paints the mountainside.

Overall, it was a pretty chilled weekend apart from an exciting couple of minutes encountering one of my slithery friends. Whilst Lynn took a nap I hiked up to the top of Sawtooth Mountain on the Saturday afternoon – just a few steps before the summit cairn I heard that cricket/cicada/rattling sound that a dimply recognised as a rattlesnakes warning. I saw it move at the same time – just off to the left of the trail, under a small rock ledge. I moved away quickly!! Seeing he was a pretty large specimen I was keen to get a picture but even from 10ft away he was rattling, coiled and poised to strike. I don’t know their strike range but am not keen to find out first hand so let him be.

Prior to last weekend I have had a couple of challenges. The first of these was an extended run into the backcountry locally – setting off up my usual, the Jesusita trail, I continued down to the bottom of Tunnel trail and the ascent all the way to the ridge. Expecting fog (and therefore low temps) all the way to the ridge I was surprised to break through into sun almost immediately. So – the brief record of the day goes something like this – trail uphill for 3000ft – hot – dusty – reach ridge – half of water already gone – getting hotter – decide to shorten planned route – progress along ridge road overtaken by 3 guys on long boards ripping it up – arrive at trailhead for Arroyo Burro trail, no trail in evidence – temporary panic as if I can’t find a trail here I have some unpalatable alternatives – eventually find trail/trod and proceed down – head high thistles – see (yet another) snake – a “racer” this time – trail fades in and out – entering dram/nightmare world of dehydration, heatstroke and lost world landscape – trail at times completely overgrown – start renascent and into dryer more arid terrain – now means overgrown and prickly – birds of prey overhead – they seem to be circling over me – am I lunch. Of course, with hindsight, it was a great mini-adventure and a few people I have spoken to since (but didn’t think to ask before) have all said “Oh yes, the Arroyo Burro trail is pretty sketchy”.

Descending the summit of Mt Pinos in the cool evening

The other challenge is the one of hanging onto the Santa Barbara cycling group who head out Tuesdays and Thursdays on a 35 mile loop from downtown. It all starts innocently enough – steady pace – turns at front – me learning to pack ride – and then at some invisible signal it goes mental and the pack accelerates. Tuesday I hung on – helped by a couple of 60-70 year olds. Thursday they were at Bingo and I was dropped like a dog. I am assured it was nothing personal – not my lack of bike riding skills, not the impertinence of having Campagnolo kit on a bike in the USA – just that these SB guys like to hammer it.

Oh, and then yesterday. I had made a passing comment about times for Gibraltar Road so found out that there is a time trial race up it in February and that the record time is around 49 minutes with 1hr 10 being regarded as half decent for a training ride and showing potential to beat the hour in the race. Well, you know me. That meant I had to go for a little ride – just to see. Well, I think I know why they hold it in February – I boiled my head, scorched my lungs, broke down all the muscle fibres in my legs and damn near threw up at the top. Suffice to say – the hour looks possible for the race but 49 minutes might require some serious EPO type “vitamins” or some contaminated meat :)

Lupins carpet the forest floor