Saturday, September 10, 2011

Buena Vista Trail, Montecito 9-10-11

Finally, after even more time off fretting over issues with the SubUrban tow vehicle brakes, we hit the trail again. This time we took on a very ambitious trek, starting at the base of the beautiful Buena Vista Trail on the top edge of Montecito, and going straight up into the frontcountry.

Very unusual weather, thunder booming in the distance, where a fierce lightning storm was putting on a display over the interior valleys. Heavy cloud cover, obscuring the islands off-coast and the tops of the mountains inland.

Length: 5.7 miles
Duration: 4 hours
Difficulty: Quite strenuous. Lots of single track with drop-offs into steep canyons, lots of water crossings even this late in the year. But the worst are the constant visible skid marks on the trails from the high speed mountain bike riders, who are forbidden but highly present. Hikers warned us of them and Mr Mule was ears-up alert whenever he saw or heard them.

Altitude gain: 1440 ft 

Grade: III

View Buena Vista 9-10-11 in a larger map

 This photo is actually from the very top of the ridge, the mid-point of the ride, but Tobe looks so very proud of himself and satisfied with the accomplishment of getting to the top that I want to start the post with it.
 Here we are at the bottom of the frontcountry access, starting out on the Wiman Trail. It is very civilized at this point, a mulch-strewn path frequented by dog walkers and winding between estates. Wonderful peeks through floral fencing at grand Tuscan style villas and modern architecture, all nestled into the oaks.
 Now, this was weird, A cage in a dug-out hole in the ground with some small red potatoes and a dead squirrel. Nasty.
 And here, guarding the locked back gate access to an estate, what looked like a plasmacut metal Smokey the Bear sign. Is the Forest Service wondering where he wandered off to?
 The Wiman Trail takes a turn and becomes the Old Pueblo, and runs a bit more horizontal along fencing above homes, and gives some nice views out to sea. But today there was very heavy marine layer cloud cover, so the islands were not visible.
 Even simple oleander bushes are lovely as the borders of the trail, which is so nicely maintained by the Montecito Trails Foundation.
 Here is an example of the kind of steps that the MTF installs. They work to combat erosion and make the trails accessible for all kinds of users.
 This big rock always impresses me, the house has been built around it in a fine compatible way. The really impressive thing is that the "house" actually appears to be just a guest house or garage, because a bit further down the trail is a gigantic building in the same architectural style.
 This fence has a neat detail, enlarge the photo to see it. The top is the raw wire, left as spikes, and about 4 grids down the wire bends out in a triangular wedge, visually quite pleasing.
Now at this point we start on the Buena Vista Trail, which will take us all the way up the side of the mountain. It gets significantly more narrow and rough, because we are now in the Los Padres National Forest and out of the area with houses.

 The trail is certainly no problem for the mule, or the quarterhorse companion, and we see lots of families and couples with dogs, runners training for marathons.
 At this point there is a tiny sign that says "trail easement ends" which I actually don't understand. Something perhaps about the legality of trails in the forest vs inside the boundaries in the incorporated area of Montecito.
Notice the ear position..... Tobe is alerting to something ahead, a hiker coming, or a wild animal perhaps.
 But we waited while I took a photo and Tobe switched his ears to the all-clear position, relaxed and ready to go on. Those 11 inch indicators are a big part of how he can communicate with me.
 This is the same spot, turning to look across the valley we will soon traverse. This is such an unusual year, so much rain in the winter has everything still lush and green. Great to lessen the fire danger, something we are constantly thinking of today as thunder booms above us and lightning strikes are possible....and I keep trying NOT to remember that I am on a 16hh mule and that puts my head 10' in the air quite exposed on a mountain.
 Zigging and zagging we make our way up the mountainside.
 At points like this neither of us can really relax, because even though off road bikes are not legal they are definitely here, and there would be very little warning if they came barreling down the hill at high speed.
Much of the trail has been constructed around boulders and huge trees, and it meanders as a way to combat erosion when the winter rains come.
Unfortunately a wet year has also caused a huge proliferation of German ivy, and it is hanging in swags from many of the trees and covering the ground. Given time it supplants the native flora.
At this juncture you can choose to go up either San Ysidro Canyon to the left, or Romero Canyon to the right. Today, we went left, to the northwest.
While this may look lush, think kudzu. As the ivy covers the native trees and shrubs it steals all the light and they die, and I fear eventually we will have a real environmental crisis here.
Finally, at the top of the canyon we come to the Edison towers, and the Edison Catway, the service road that allows vehicles to access them.
Some nice person has placed a bench near the towers, so it is a nice place to stop, let the animals graze on weeds, and have a bit of a stretch. We drank some coconut water and listened to the thunder. And marveled at the enormously long stretches that the cables span, across gigantic canyons. Quite a feat!
If you know it is there you can see the Santa Barbara Harbor. Just barely.

From the tower we could look back and that tiny thin line of track starting above Tobe's left ear is what we just traveled. I am filled with gratitude that my mule is such a sturdy guy and can carry me to such heights.
But onward we must go.
Tobe lets me know that he is concerned about something, and a hiker comes by and tells us that two mountain bike riders are on the trail ahead. We proceed with great caution, not knowing which way they are headed.
Tobe is very wary, and finally he locks on a glimpse of two mad youth going down the trail at a break-neck speed, but going DOWN and ahead of us on the Girard Trail, where we want to go next.
Tobe and the Little Red Caboose confer on strategy, and then down the Girard we go.
Many of the trees here are dead sticks, burned over in recent fires, but the ivy once again gives the impression of lush growth.
Coming back down you can bet the animals were glad to see the stream flowing briskly and giving them a chance for a long cooling drink.
Anyone who travels the chaparral develops a fondness for lichens, growing on so many rocks, the visible bones of the landscape.
Someone took a great deal of effort and care to build this stone bench at a vista point on the Girard. Now can you see the harbor? Lost in maritime mist.
Does the lad look pleased with himself? I think so. Any day out on the trail is a day of accomplishment.
The sun began to break through, but the cloud cover was still very low, like tropical island weather. Thunder booming, rain predicted, we continued down the mountain.
This dead tree had a curious fungal growth coming out of cracks in the bark.
Suddenly we hit a stretch of very old eucalyptus trees, huge trunks. I had always thought that the groves were planted to harvest for the medicinal effects of the oil, but my companion attested that they were thought to be a fast-growing wood suitable for railroad ties. And a bit of Googling tells me she is correct! The mighty eucalyptus is a very versatile tree, and we are fortunate that many old groves have survived throughout California.
Coming down to the bottom of the trail we see another lovely stream crossing. Tobe likes to drink fresh stream water, but he likes even better the tender plants that grow on the edges.
But, what's THAT? This is a perfect example of the alert system a mule uses. The rider who watches for clues gets a lot of data from those radar ears. In this case in the middle of drinking he went on alert and soon a set of hikers rounded the corner on the trail above. 
Mirror mirror in the stream, 
who is the handsomest mule in this dream?