Cathedral Peak ScramblePosted by Ray Ford on Jan 1, 2011 in Day Hikes, Featured, Front Country | 0 comments
Distance—2 miles to Cathedral Peak; 2.75 miles to La Cumbre Peak
Elevation Gain—2350' to Cathedral Peak; 2950' to La Cumbre Peak
Topo— Santa Barbara
From Santa Barbara, the Mission Crags dominate the skyline. On the left side of Mission Canyon a rocky shoulder rises from its depths, forming a long, steep and picturesque profile. If you can imagine yourself climbing up that ridgeline, leaping from boulder to boulder, you will have a sense of the feeling you will get. Climbs such as these are for those who do not mind the hard effort which comes before the well-earned reward. It is hard to describe what it is like to be there atop Cathedral Peak unless, of course, you have already been there.
From the Santa Barbara Mission drive up Mission Canyon Road to Foothill and turn right, then turn left several hundred yards later (by the fire station). Continue up Mission Canyon to the Tunnel Road turnoff, a half mile before the Botanic Garden. Continue several miles to the end. Park properly. The police frequently ticket illegally parked cars. The trail begins about three-quarters mile beyond the locked gate.
SETTING THE SCENE
For many millions of years, as erosion from the high interior mountains brought huge loads of sand down the rivers to the sea, a massive layer of sand began to form, more than 500 feet thick. Successive layers of other material covered this rock and as the earth began to buckle under the force of the movement of monumental pieces of the earth's crust the pressures solidified this sand into a series of thick layers and began to turn them skyward.
The process of erosion continued, breaking down the sandstone. Along the mountain wall cracks began to appear in its flanks and perhaps a million years after, the first creeks began to carve out the canyons. For unknown reasons, portions of the bedrock remained intact, resisting erosion. While on either side of them the canyons began to take on more definitive shapes, the peaks seemed to rise even higher, thousands of feet above the coastline.
This is how we come to have these peaks: La Cumbre, Cathedral, Montecito and White Mountain. High above us they are sentinels, beacons of yellowish white light which draw many of us to them. And so we climb them.
To reach the start of the hike to Cathedral Peak continue past the turnoff to Tunnel Trail and follow Jesusita Trail for two hundred yards until it drops down into the west fork of Mission Canyon.
Just as you start upstream a trail of sorts leads up into the chaparral on the left side of the creek. Follow this for about 50 yards until you come to a six-foot-high wall. Instead of climbing it. look to the left. You will spot a small opening which appears to be going straight up a chute. It does, but quickly opens to become a more of a hiker's trail. Nevertheless, from here on the route is more of a scramble than a hike.
The narrow route is almost completely covered by chaparral and is very steep. You will find yourself using the branches to help you over the boulders and up the hill. After a few minutes of hard climbing the trail levels out and turns up canyon. Look for a small trail leading off to the right to a promontory. You will find yourself looking almost directly down on Seven Falls and the best views of the pools from anywhere but a helicopter.
The trail you have been on thus far is actually a route up and around Seven Falls. If you should continue straight ahead on it you would find yourself dropping down into the upper canyon, beyond the narrow gorge.
Look for a small trail leading up to the left just after the promontory. This is the Cathedral Peak trail. The first part continues in the chaparral and gets even steeper in places, What you are still doing is making your way up the side of the ridge. Just when your legs need a break you will find yourself coming out onto the ridge itself. It is quite a feeling to step onto the sandstone boulders of the ridge and look directly across at the Tunnel Trail or down into the upper end of the canyon.
Now the adventure really begins. Below you on the right you are looking almost directly down at the upper pools in Mission Canyon. Your eyes can trace the route from there up the right fork of the canyon to Mission Falls and to La Cumbre Peak looming well overhead.
From here the route is nothing less than spectacular. The ridge is about fifty feet wide, filled with huge, beautiful sandstone boulders all the way to the top, and plenty of places where you will use your hands and feet to get up and over or around them. Along the way you will find lots of places to sit and relax, and magically, graceful Coulter pines here and there growing out of the rocky recesses.
It is a grind to the top—no doubt. If you aren't in shape you will regret it and even if you are you will still find this route challenging. Finally, after several hours of climbing you will be nearing the top. The last section is extremely steep, which makes the views even more spectacular. Then, 2300' of vertical elevation later, you will suddenly find yourself topping out on the Mission crags, and glad for the chance to rest for awhile.
Once your breath has returned to a semblance of normal and some of the rubbery feeling has gone from your legs, look for the register tucked away in the recesses of one of the rocks. It is worth reading what others have had to say.
You are almost, but not quite, at Cathedral Peak at this point. Standing on one of the higher rocks you can see its toothy point just off to the north. The trail continues on to it. As you approach the peak be very careful. The ridge becomes very sharp, and at places, if you slip the fall would be much longer than you would ever want. The drop off the peak itself is 300'.
Should you want to continue on it is possible to do this. The route is sketchy but makeable all the way to the top of La Cumbre Peak. Drop down off the back side of Cathedral Peak and then across the rocky ledges you can see ahead of you. Once you reach the last of these outcroppings look for a rough trail leading severah hundred feet almost directly down to the saddle between Cathedral and La Cumbre Peaks. From there it is a 900' gain to the top of La Cumbre. If you watch out for cut branches and footprints you should be able to find your way up without too much difficulty.
A warning: this is perhaps the most hard-core route in the front country. Make sure you have plenty of time if you attempt to make it all the way. Even once at the top it is still a long ways down Tunnel Trail if you loop back down that way.