Big Pine Mountain, Madulce Peak, Samon Peak, West Big Pine
15-17 April 2005
By: Pat Arredondo
Our trip to the Big 4 was planned several months in advance and with all the rain in the past few months we were thrilled to see clear and sunny weather predicted for our weekend. Access to the trailhead is open, but 4WD or high clearance is recommended. Foothill Rd. was washed out by the recent storms, however there is access via detours around several barricades – even though there are a couple of signs that say the road is closed. The remaining water crossings to the trailhead were not too difficult and there was even a standard low-clearance car parked there when we arrived about 9:30 PM.
Our group of seven (Virgil Popescu, leader, co-leader Pat Arredondo, assistant, Spencer Berman, Lilly Fukui, Suzy Hermann, Lloyd Johnson, Val Saubhayana) arrived at various times on Thursday evening and camped at the trailhead. It was really cold that night and in the morning. Suzy's thermometer registered a chilly 27 degrees! Just before 7:00 AM on Friday morning we bundled up and started our trek to Chokecherry Spring. We hiked the 9+ miles up he dirt road and arrived at the spring in time for lunch. By this time it had warmed up and the temperature was probably in the mid 70's. We met a couple of hikers at the spring who had been out for several days and reported a huge rock slide, many fallen trees, and snow on the road to the "Pines," but advised it wasn't anything we couldn’t get around.
After lunch we walked a quarter mile down the road to the "new route" gully and began our climb to Samon. We made it safely up the gully, crossed the meadow, then up to the ridge, thrashing through brush, climbing over rocks, more thrashing, more rocks, and finally the summit after a couple of hours or so. Back at the spring we loaded up on water and trudged wearily up the road the 1.7 miles, 700 feet gain to Madulce Saddle where we set up our camp. By the way, one could fill a liter bottle at Chokecherry Spring in about three seconds - plenty of water flow this year.
On Saturday we started out for the "Pines" just before 7 AM. It was a beautiful sunny day, with a light gentle breeze. We were able to carefully climb over the rock fall on the road where the big slide had occurred. We continued on past Alamar Station and farther up the road we encountered quite a bit of snow and several fallen trees we had to climb over and/or under – quite an obstacle course! (This section of the road is in serious need of maintenance.)
We did Big Pine first, the high point of Santa Barbara County, after avoiding the snow as much as possible the short distance to the peak (where were my snowshoes?). As we got closer to the turnoff for West Big Pine, there was a bulldozer parked on the side of the road. From that point on, the road had been graded and was in fairly decent condition. We reached West Big Pine and enjoyed the spectacular views of the Santa Barbara backcountry. Of course, our work wasn't over for the day, and back we trudged through our obstacle course of mud, snow and broken trees. Incidentally, there were many places along the trail where one could get water. All the creeks that are usually dry were flowing. Some of us added snow to our water bottles too for a refreshingly cool drink.
We got back to our campsite at Madulce Saddle, had a snack, got more water, rested a while and then started out to tackle Madulce. (A short distance from the trailhead we met another hiker/backpacker who had just spent the night on Madulce.) It seemed like forever, but we finally completed the 23 switchbacks and got to Madulce Peak late afternoon. We were all pretty exhausted by this time and after a break, we wearily made our way back to our campsite. We did it! We finished the Big 4! What a great time! Tired as we were, we were all pleased to have achieved our goal! Now all we had to do was get back to the cars the next morning! Only a little over 11 miles to go in the morning! We could do that!
The next morning we packed up and hiked down the road. There were many wild flowers, some just starting to bloom and sweeping vistas, sandstone cliffs, rolling hills now a rich green color with all the recent rains. When we were about a mile or so from the trailhead, a couple of forest service volunteers in trucks drove by. They had been doing trail work off the main Santa Barbara Canyon Road and were on their way home. When we finally arrived at the trailhead and our cars, we enjoyed soaking our sore feet in the cool stream. After our "good-byes" we started home.
I want to thank our leader Virgil Popescu and all the participants who made this trip a memorable one – Spencer Berman, Lilly Fukui, Suzy Hermann, Lloyd Johnson, Val Saubhayana. What a wonderful weekend! Listening to the news at home I found out there was an earthquake centered near Maricopa on Saturday afternoon. Was this caused by us jumping for joy after completing the Big 4???
Lilly Fukui: Now I know why they call it the BIG 4 – ugh. The 50 mile backpacking hike was a real killer! All of us walked like a zombie after we got to our cars. Don’t ever want to backpack again is how I feel! But once we reached the car (at the end of our hike), we went to the river and cooled off our swollen feet!
A short story: We left on Thurs. night and got to the trailhead where we set up our tent, at about 10 pm; got up at 5:30 to start hiking (backpacking) in about 10 miles at 6:30 a.m. It was very cold in the morning but about 8 am the sun came out and it turned out to be a warm day. After about 4 hrs. we got to the spring and backtracked a bit to go up the gully (rock climbing) to get to our first peak...it was long and continuous...and what not! We came back down after about 11 hrs. of hiking (w/day packs only), and when we got back to the spring, put back our backpacks to our next hiking area to set up tent. Ugh. Got up at 5:30 again on Sat. to do our 3 peaks...we did e...in the snow, in the fallen trees, climbing over rocks, etc.! Boy...I couldn't wait to get back to our tent! We had a good night's sleep before heading back out 10 miles with our backpacks...beautiful spring flowers on the trail everywhere - purple, yellow, pink, just gorgeous.
Lloyd Johnson: I like the way the hike was planned, meaning, the order in which we hiked the peaks was great. I felt good that I made it. I really liked the way all of us helped each other during the trip.
Suzy Hermann: I learned a lot and enjoyed a lot, well, most of it, anyway, but not the brush-whacking. I’d love to hike with all these folks again. They were just delightful and exceptionally helpful (even though I may never backpack again.)
Val Saubhayana: It was very nice hiking trip. I sure did enjoy it and I got four more peaks!
Spencer Berman: Backpacking into this area of the San Rafael Wilderness is always a treat and especially with the great group we had. Although this remote area has one of the higher concentrations of Black Bear in Los Padres N.F. no recent evidence of any yet. Suspect this will change within another month as more food becomes available up high. With the volume of water flowing at Chokecherry Spring and in gullies on way up to Big Pine – did not use any supplemental water purification. Hope I'm not wrong.
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