Breckenridge-Piute-Santa Ynez-Sandstone Highpoints Trip Report

Piute Peak (8,440+ feet)

Breckenridge Mountain (7,580+ feet)

Santa Ynez Peak (4,298 feet)

Sandstone Peak (3,111 feet)

Dates: May 19-20, 2004

I cannot stand staying at home! So out I go, in search of southern California peaks with good prominence. My parents had cancelled a trip to the Grand Canyon, one which I had looked forward to as a "spacer" in-between county highpointing trips.

Setting their sights closer to home, they planned a trip to Solvang, that tiny community northeast of Santa Barbara which makes out as a Danish hamlet. With gasoline prices "through the roof", I decided to meet them in Solvang as part of a more extended trip bagging summits in the area. The additional venues would give more results for a small increment in total miles driven, i.e. more "bang for the buck".

Which summits? The most obvious ones were selected - two peaks on California's Fifty Finest list near Bakersfield (Breckenridge Mountain, Piute Peak); and two peaks on California's 2,000+ foot prominence list located near Solvang (Santa Ynez Peak), and on the drive back to San Diego (Sandstone Peak).

Gail Hanna and Richard Carey had long ago invited Edward Earl and myself to attend Gail's completion of the Fifty Finest list on Breckenridge and Piute. Edward, being quite patient, decided to hold-off on these summits for Gail's sake. However Edward is away climbing Denali ... and I am at home wishing I would DO something. Right now I want to enjoy the freedom of the hills, and of the open road ... who knows whether Gail's invite will occur at a similar time? Perhaps her completion will occur at an inconvenient time, e.g. immediately prior to or after a major trip, or, worse still, during a major trip of mine.

No, folks, it is right now or bust!!

Both Gordon MacLeod and Andy Martin provided valuable information regarding the contemplated summits. For Breckenridge Mountain I was advised that of several possible highest points, there is a twenty foot rock outcrop that according to Gordon requires class 4-5 climbing. Andy investigated on a recent trip and found that the north-northwest side is "doable", at least for a person with long limbs. I brought my sit harness, an old climbing rope borrowed from Edward, and prepared myself to use them should my on-site assessment suggest their use. The remaining possible highest points include the eastern lookout, and within either of two fenced radio facilities.

For Piute Peak Gordon advised me that careful GPS measurements lead him to claim that the central of three high points is the highest - and this despite the fact that it is the only high point without a benchmark! BM Piute (to the east) and Pah Ute (to the west) are both lower.

Santa Ynez Peak is the Santa Ynez Range highpoint, near the coast and just northwest of Santa Barbara. Andy advised me to try the western approach via the Camino del Cielo ("Road in the Sky"), as the eastern approach along the same road is closed. Andy also advised me that Sandstone Peak, the Santa Monica Range highpoint just northwest of Los Angeles, has a popular trail leading to its summit.

I awoke at 7:30 a.m. and was driving at 8:05. I chose a south approach to Piute Peak, leaving highway 58 fifteen miles northwest of Tehachapi - and followed, in turn, by driving stretches along Caliente-Bodfish Road (14.5 miles), Walker Basin Road (9.5 miles), and then unpaved Piute Mountain Road (7.6 miles). The latter road is quite steep on average, gaining some 3,750 net feet - roughly a 10% grade, as it ascends from perhaps 4,250 feet to 8,000 feet at its closest approach to Piute's central high highpoint.

The hike lasted all of twenty-five minutes with some 400 feet of elevation gain - fifteen minutes up and ten down. From the central high point I found by visual inspection that the western high point was quite obviously lower. I could not see the eastern high point. It was about 2:15 p.m.

On the descent along Piute Mountain Road, I was in "L" gear for nearly the entire time. High clearance is not needed. Allow one-half hour for traversing this road in either direction.

I drove west along a branch of Walker Basin Road, and then drove north about five miles to the Breckenridge Mountain Road's eastern terminus just south of Havilah. It is nine miles along this road to a turnoff that leads to both a campground and the road leading directly to the Breckenridge summit lookout - another 3.5 miles for a total of 12.5 miles from road's beginning.

In the interest of time I simply drove up the summit approach road. I parked at the saddle in-between the eastern high point area (with its rocky outcrop and lookout), and the central high point area (with its radio facilities).

I investigated the rocky outcrop from all angles and determined that Andy's approach from the north-northwest provided the easiest route. After free-climbing it, I sauntered over to the lookout just east and trivially surmounted the highest set of boulders. I rate Andy's route as low class 4 for the first ten feet, and class 3 for the topmost ten feet.

Returning to my vehicle, I stashed my bright red daypack and went over to the central radio facility. I also climbed the rock pinnacle just west - only to learn that, again, Andy was right-on with his assessment - it was a foot or two lower than the concrete slab of the radio facility.

I drove west to park just south of the western radio facility. Another sub-hundred foot gain led me to its high point. Satisfied that all was covered I drove to the Breckenridge Campground and retired for the night even though it was only 5:30 p.m. with 2 1/2 hours of useful daylight remaining. I suppose that I figured that I was way ahead of my original schedule, and so there was little point in getting even further ahead by driving to Solvang.

I awoke at 5:18 a.m. and was driving at 5:35 a.m., west along the Breckenridge Mountain Road towards Bakersfield. Apart from being tortuous in the first ten miles from camp, this paved road is pretty decent. I was in Bakersfield after thirty-one road miles from camp.

After gassing up and getting coffee, I drove west on route 58 to route 99, thence south some twenty or thirty miles to highway 166. It is just over 100 miles along route 166 to Santa Maria, much of it pretty countryside. I recommend it as one means of approaching the coast from inland.

From Santa Maria I drove south along highway 101, without stopping at Solvang since my parents had yet again cancelled. Instead, I drove to the Refugio State Beach exit, some sixty miles after Santa Maria, and started my "southwest approach" for Santa Ynez Peak at 10:28 a.m.

The first seven miles from highway 101 is along a narrow, paved road which passes by several private residences as it winds north upslope and tops out on the main east-west ridge within the Los Padres National Forest. Here, at Refugio Pass, is a sign indicating that Santa Barbara County is not responsible for any vehicle damage or injury resulting from passage along Camino del Cielo.

Camino del Cielo is paved, and, disregarding the sign, I drove it without hesitation east towards the range highpoint. After about one mile the road, already narrow, traverses a precipitous set of south-facing slopes. Leave your vertigo-prone and safety-conscious passengers at home!! Now I understood the reason for that sign. Being a highpointer, however, the road was well within my tolerance zone - especially since it is paved.

At 5.5 miles from Refugio Pass the road forks. The left fork leads up the paved road to a subpeak's summit electronic facilities and is not relevant. The right fork is the continuation of Camino del Cielo as it becomes dirt and generally requiring high clearance. Take it for 0.5 mile to a second fork. Here the left fork is the desired one.

The paved route along this left fork leads after 0.3 mile to the summit of Santa Ynez Peak. There were enormous potholes in the road surface when I was there in May 2004. High clearance is a must, and, in addition, I engaged four-wheel drive when traversing them. Frankly, it only saves one a 200 foot gain, 0.6 mile round trip to not start the hike at the indicated fork.

I was atop Santa Ynez Peak around 11:30 a.m. The clouds were wafting in-and-out, and, between them, enjoyed good views to the north and east - including Lake Cachuma.

I was considerably ahead of schedule yet again, since I had planned upon a twelve-mile road walk in the event that Camino del Cielo was either gated or impassible. I realized that it was now possible to hike up Sandstone Peak, and, Los Angeles traffic notwithstanding, make it home by late evening!

I left the summit area just before noon and was back at highway 101 in an hour. Driving east along the coast through Santa Barbara, I accepted my parent's offer to enjoy a restaurant meal with them in Camarillo - and this even though I knew that a large meal would nulify my ability and desire to hike Sandstone Peak afterwards.

I considered it appropriate to visit my parents since I had planned upon spending time with them anyways in Solvang prior to canceling their plans. Furthermore, I had originally planned upon spending an entire six days with them at the Grand Canyon, as well as at Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah. In contrast, I could always return at a future date for Sandstone Peak. The option of camping the night and doing the Sandstone hike by morning did occur to me. The option of waiting a few hours after eating and then hiking up Sandstone Peak also passed through my mind. However an enormous meal at Marie Callendar's left that option out in-the-cold.

After an appetizer of onion rings with a cajun-parmesan sauce, I received a mini loaf of cornbread - served with honey butter. The bread came as part of my entreé - a salad with assorted lettuce, gorgonzola, apples, dried cranberries, glazed pecans, and a balsamic vinagrette.

I received major-helpings of food from both of my parent's dinners - including trout with artichoke, mushroom, baked potato with sour cream, chives and butter; and fusilla pasta with salmon filet in a delectable cream sauce.

The lemon-drop cream pie slice was superfluous. I struggled to finish it, along with some dutch apple pie from father, and custard pie from mother.

I reveled in making assorted combinations out of all the food, e.g. sour cream atop my gorgonzola pecan salad; salmon inside the same; and a few candied pecans with some apple pie.

My mother insisted that I choose an entire pie for taking home as a special treat. And so I have a german chocolate cream pie in the freezer, quite massive (I have not taken a peek inside the box), and presumably studded with coconut and pecans. I plan to save it for my fourty-fourth birthday come July 12. The pie will serve admirably in place of the more traditional cake and ice cream - it is at once cool and creamy like ice cream, while being rich and chocolaty like a fudge cake! Can I resist for nearly two months?

I also received a large care package of dry goods from my parents - a potpourri of gourmet delicacies that is only part of what I was to receive when visiting them next week for the Jewish festival of Shavuot. I am about to inventory the goodies to assess which items will go well with what other items so I can plan menus going forward. That said, I already know about the pine nuts; bruschetta sauce (for spreading on bread and broiling); the real Quebec maple syrup; the Thai peanut sauce; the blueberry jam; and that's just for starters!

After our "lupper" (a combination of lunch and supper) we bought dad some gifts (I cannot recall if they are for Father's Day or his seventieth birthday in July) at a fancy clothing store; and strolled around the outdoors shopping mall, entering various stores to sample gourmet delicacies. I bought a "Valencia Mocha truffle" at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory - the "Valencia" a reference to orange flavor in addition to coffee and chocolate.

We said goodbye - and I'll see them in less than a week anyways. Traffic through Los Angeles was horrific. Upon arrival home around 8:30 p.m. on day 2, the trip odometer showed 790.4 road miles. I have reason to believe that my odometer is low by about one part in sixty. Thereby the true mileage is slightly over eight hundred. Any road distances in this report should be adjusted upward one-sixtieth to reflect my supposition.

Three summits and a great afternoon with my folks. Apart from literally what's on the menu tomorrow, the other question is, when will I get Sandstone Peak? I have offered to hike it with my dad early on Father's Day. Regardless, having left home for a few days, I now feel "whole" again.