Posted by: James Wapotich | January 25, 2013

Trail Quest: White Mountain

As one gazes north from downtown Santa Barbara towards the Santa Ynez Mountains one is likely to notice that the blue-green blanket of chaparral that covers our mountains is also dotted with splashes of salmon and beige. Prominent among these sandstone outcroppings is Arlington Peak with its angular contours, and behind it La Cumbre Peak, tallest of the mountains right behind Santa Barbara. To the east of La Cumbre Peak, the next prominent mountain over in contrast appears more rounded. This mountain, also dotted with sandstone, is sometimes referred to as White Mountain.

The easiest way to reach White Mountain is from Gibraltar Road, near the intersection of East Camino Cielo Road. The hike follows a well established social trail and is about one mile round trip. Continuing past White Mountain one can explore the nearby rocky ridge, sometimes referred to as the Rock Garden. And while the hike is not very long, the views that one is afforded more than make up for that.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, find your way to Gibraltar Road in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. Gibraltar Road winds its way to the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains and along the way offers intermittent views of White Mountain to the west. Continue on Gibraltar Road to East Camino Cielo Road, which runs along the top of the mountains; and turn left onto East Camino Cielo. And then immediately look for a pullout on your left located across from a cement water tower. An adventure pass is not required to park in this part of the National Forest.

From the pullout one can see the backside of White Mountain. From here walk back down to Gibraltar Road and look for a social trail on your right just past the intersection with East Camino Cielo Road. The trail is not marked, but you’ll spot several paths that lead away from the road that converge onto the route that then climbs up and around the backside of White Mountain. The trail is fairly well established, and is likely maintained by self appointed trail work volunteers sometimes referred to as trail gnomes.

The trail heads west as it wraps around the backside of the mountain offering views of nearby La Cumbre Peak. The route leads through dense chaparral, mostly scrub oak and ceanothus with some toyon and holly-leaf cherry mixed in. As the trail rounds the mountain and continues south, it passes through a small patch of coulter pines, as the Rock Garden, with Santa Barbara in the background, starts to come into view.

It’s here, past the small line of coulter pines, as the trail rounds the front of White Mountain and begins to move east, that you’ll want to start looking for a social trail on your left. This side trail winds up to the top of White Mountain. Near the top, the trail branches, each short route leading to a different overlook. The short trail to the left offers views across Mission Canyon towards La Cumbre Peak and out west along the coast. The short trail to right offers views of the mountains towards Divide Peak, and east towards Carpinteria. And at the end of this trail, one can find a sign planted in the ground that simply states: White Mt. Elev. 3,804’.

From the top of White Mountain one also has commanding views out across Santa Barbara towards the ocean and on a clear day can see all four of the Channel Islands off our coast and enjoy expansive views along the coast.

To explore the Rock Garden, from White Mountain hike back down to the main social trail that you started on, and continue southeast along the trail towards the Rock Garden. The Rock Garden is a long ridge of exposed sandstone boulders dotted with coulter pines and chaparral, that from a distance does sort of resemble a zen rock garden.

The trail joins the ridge near the eastern edge of the exposed boulders, and here one finds a number of divergent social trails that thread their way through the rocks and chaparral, each presumably leading to someone’s favorite spot. For some the ridge is a rock climbing destination, for others a place to take in a quiet view of the city.

Along the top of the ridge there is a fairly strong social trail that one can find and follow westward that lets you take in the views and explore the sandstone boulders at the same time. The Rock Garden is near the edge of the burn area of the 2009 Jesusita Fire and so some sections have more burn damage than others.

A second alternate route to the Rock Garden and White Mountain can also found along Gibraltar Road, roughly a mile before the intersection with East Camino Cielo Road. The easiest way to find the beginning of this route is to track the views one sees while driving on Gibraltar Road. That is for most of drive your views will look out across the front of the Santa Ynez Mountains, however about a mile before East Camino Cielo Road, Gibraltar Road rounds a corner and the views shift to include the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. At this transition there is a pullout along the road. From here hike back down the road and look for the beginning of the trail as it follows the ridgeline west towards the Rock Garden and White Mountain.

This route is also a social trail and although it is more overgrown than the first route, it is still fairly followable. At about the half mile mark the trail meets the first trail. To the left one can continue to the Rock Garden and to the right one can continue and find the side trail up to the top of White Mountain.

There is also a third route that leads up from from Rattlesnake Canyon. This route starts from Tunnel Connector Trail just before Tunnel Connector Trail meets Tunnel Trail. This social trail, however, is not recommended. Although the route starts out fine, after about the first half mile it disappears and requires, pushing through brush, route finding, clambering over rocks and even rock climbing to make it to the top.

Regardless of how far you hike you’ll have chance to take in some great views of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

This article originally appeared in section A of the January 25th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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