Posted by: James Wapotich | December 16, 2012

Trail Quest: Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers

There are a number of great reasons to head out on the trails, such as taking in some of our local scenery, getting some exercise and breathing in the fresh air; and if you go with friends, the opportunity to enjoy some great company and conversations, as well. Of the different groups out there taking in the trails, Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers has a done an excellent job of combining all of those attributes together in their weekly hikes. Both in terms of selecting some great hikes to go on and creating a fun group to hike with.

The group was started in 1978 by Santa Ynez Valley resident Lloyd Mills and friends, and hits the trails every Wednesday morning. The group regularly visits trails ranging from Romero Canyon near Montecito to Guadalupe Dunes near Santa Maria and just about everything in between. Including backcountry trails within Los Padres National Forest and occasionally visiting trails as far north as San Luis Obispo County. During the summer months the group mixes in beach hikes to avoid the heat. The hikes vary in distance, but the overall average is around 7 miles. Each hike is about three to four hours longs.

Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers

Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers along Manzana Trail

With the majority of its membership in the Valley, the women typically meet at the Solvang Veterans Building and carpool from there to the trailhead. At the trailhead they circle up, introduce any visitors and count off how many hikers there are there that day, so no one gets left behind. The hikers then head out on the trails and that’s were the real magic of the group surfaces.

“It’s a group that’s supportive and accepting of one another. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie. We really enjoy each others company and the hikes give us a chance to develop friendships and learn to work together.” Mrs. Mills told the News-Press.

“I also think that if you’re new to the Valley, it’s a good way to learn about the Valley. Not only will you be taken to a lot of places that you might not otherwise see, but you will also have other women to ask about the local businesses and services available here.” Mrs. Mills added.

The number of hikers can vary from hike to hike, but on average there are about 15 women on any given hike. The group usually stops for lunch at the midway point and then returns to the trailhead.

I was granted special permission to join them and hiked with them along Manzana Trail from the trailhead near Nira to Horseshoe Bend, about 8 miles round trip. The hike was well organized and the members are outgoing and friendly and it’s obvious that part of success of the group is the connections developed between members, combined with all the great places they visit.

Many of the hikes are selected and led by Mrs. Mills, but other members can lead hikes and offer trail suggestions. Each month one of the hikes is in Santa Barbara and is selected and led by one of the members from the Santa Barbara area.

Originally from Pasadena, Mrs. Mills moved to the Valley in 1972 with her husband and got her own start hiking here locally with the Sierra Club learning the local trails. And then from there starting leading her own hikes. The first official hike for the the group, in 1978, had 5 women, and subsequent hikes also ended up being just women and the format just stuck. The group, from time to time, has voted whether or not to keep it all women, and each time has voted to just keep it the way it is.

Since that first hike, largely through word of mouth, the group has grown to over a hundred members. Member dues are $12 annually and members receive a monthly bulletin listing the upcoming hikes and events for the month.

The group is open to new members, however new hikers need to be in reasonably good shape and have some hiking experience and as many of the hikes would be challenging for beginning hikers. Prospective members need to complete four mountain hikes with the group before becoming an official member. Mountain hikes typically are any trails that involve a significant elevation gain such as Tequepis Trail which is among the groups favorite hikes, because of the views the trail provides. Tequepis Trail gains roughly 2,300 feet over 4 miles on its way to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and then returns along the same route for an 8 mile hike.

When asked about other favorite hikes, Mrs. Mills offered, “A lot of us really like the hike to Little Pine Mountain and back. The trails at Midland School. We like all the hikes up and around Figueroa Mountain. And of course the ones in Santa Barbara. I guess I’m naming too many for them to be favorites.” Mrs. Mills enthusiasm for the different trails she’s visited is evident when she starts naming them off. “And Guadalupe Dunes, we enjoy that one too.”

Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers

Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers at Horseshoe Bend along Manzana Creek in the San Rafael Wilderness

About every other year the group also hikes to McKinley Mountain which is a longer day hike of about 20 miles roundtrip. On the days with the longer or more challenging hikes, the group sometimes offers a second, alternate hike.

A lot of people might wonder how safe it is to be out there hiking on the trails and whether or not one might run into bears or mountain lions. The reality is that most animals hear you coming long before you do and most animals particularly bears prefer to head in the opposite direction of large groups.

“We’ve seen a bear a couple of times, but a large group of women is not something a bear wants to come near. We haven’t seen any mountain lions.” Mrs. Mills shared.

The group has also spawned several other groups including a book circle and a knitting group, both of which include both current hikers and former hikers from the Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers. In many ways the group serves as a social hub for its members and each month hosts a potluck open to both women and men connected to the group.

The group also meets one a month and picks up trash along State Route 246 from Alamo Pintado Road to Refugio Road as part of Caltrans’ Adopt-a-Highway program. And last year the group raised funds to contract the California Conservation Corp, who do trail work for the Forest Service, to open the lower section of La Jolla Trail in Birabent Canyon, near Figueroa Mountain. The trail had become increasingly overgrown and the much needed work has helped make the trail passable again. Similarly, in 2000 the hikers raised funds to hire a group to clear Munch Connecter Trail, near Davy Brown Trail in the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area.

For more info about the Santa Ynez Valley Women Hikers contact Lloyd Mills or Sybil Cline

This article originally appeared in section A of the December 16th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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