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Lizard Head, Cuyama Peak, Fox Mountain #1

26-27 April 2003

By: John Meehan and Laura Joseph

The Great Cuyama Drive-down
Laura's Provisional Backpack

John: It was called, "The Laura and Maggie Great Backpack Adventure and Party." That it was -- and more -- on April 26-27. In her never-ending battle against driveups, Laura Joseph had spotted a ridge route to Cuyama Peak and, a year ago, scouted it with Jim Kalember. This new route would satisfy those hardy souls who are foolish enough to actually hike to a peak instead of driving up. In early April, she, Jim Kalember, Maggie and Mike Wilson retraced the route. "Laura's Loppers, Inc." cleared the trail and prepared the way for the scheduled hike -- the first ever on this particular route.

Laura: A little context is needed here. When the time came to make a plan for my provisional back pack, I recalled the route Jim and I had scouted and the fact that there was a campsite at the base of Cuyama. Aha! I thought, checking the map. This is a campsite that is only 1.3 miles from the parking area on a virtually flat trail. My back sighed gratefully as I made my plan. Throw in Lizard (affectionately named "Lizard Lips" by Laura's Loppers, Inc.) and the challenge of Fox (I'd been lost on it once with the best company and could certainly try again) and, voila!, a back pack plan.

John: Most people in the party, including Zobeida Molina, Pat Brea, Tom Connery, Laura and I, spent Friday night in Maricopa. The Dry Canyon trailhead in Santa Barbara Canyon is remote, and this helped us get an early start on Saturday morning when we were joined by Don Borad and the Wilsons. From the trailhead, Don's car was shuttled to the top of Cuyama Peak to await the next day's hike. Now, back at the trailhead, the backpack adventure could begin. It was very overcast, and rain looked likely. However the sky quickly cleared, and we enjoyed fair weather for most of the weekend.

It is only 1 1/4 miles to the Lower Tinta Campground on a level trail to a campsite that no longer appears on the maps and all of us carried water for two days. A trail guide, "Hike the Santa Barbara Backcountry," by Dennis Gagnon, states that "there is no water available here." However, we found the creek to be flowing, and there were pools of water that would later welcome us after a warm day hike to Lizard Head.

Laura: I must interrupt John to sing his praises. He carried a gallon of water for me in addition to his own gear which included all the comforts one could want at a campsite, lacking only a hot shower.

John: We dropped our backpacks, donned our daypacks, and were off to see the Lizard. At the trailhead, Laura warned us, "the pace on all hikes will be brisk; neither lagging behind nor surging ahead will be tolerated by Merciless Maggie and Lethal Laura." And so it was. We made good time and had lunch at Lizard Head. There were great views of surrounding peaks, and the spring wildflowers were in full bloom.

On the hike back to camp, having pitched tents, repaired the fire ring, gathered wood and made a fire, the party began. Laura, unfortunately, had forgotten to bring the wine [Laura: surely a demerit on my evaluation.] However, this was a group that excelled in punnery without need of stimulant, and there was great fun and great conversation that seemingly solved all of the riddles of the universe. At least for the night. My veggie soup, Zobeida's gallo pinto, the Wilson's cheese and munchies, and Laura's brownies were greatly appreciated.

It was a cold and damp Saturday night. A morning fire [Laura: made by that saint, John] warmed the party, and we were soon ready for our real goal: the Cuyama drive down. Virgil Popescu, Tom Hill, and James Carden joined the group at the campsite and we made our way down the Tinta trail and to the nose of the ridge. We were pioneers! A new route! No more driveups to Cuyama! It is actually a route that has apparently been visited in places by hunters as indicated by an old Pepsi can. Laura led the way to the top, and now a new route can be added to the peak guide. Including the Tinta trail and ridge, this will be about 1,800 feet of gain and about three and one-half miles.

Laura: To satisfy George Wysup and the others who always want the technical stuff, here it is: From the campsite, travel east about a mile on the Tinta trail to a point just short of where the trail meets the road from Brubaker canyon. This point was selected for the ascent to the ridge based on a relatively (emphasis on that word) gentle slope. Virgil placed a duck at the spot where we began our climb, but a different approach could be selected as long as one ends up on the ridge that heads northwest up to the lookout, parallel to Brubaker Canyon.

Not so technical stuff: Everyone admired the spectacular views from the ridge, Tom Connery periodically stopping to spread his arms and call "behold!" as Tom Hill yodeled in delight. In fact, there was unanimous agreement that this is a really great route. You get treed spots, clear spots, rocky spots (but nothing to give Zobeida the heebie jeebies), saddles and very steep grades ... whatever you like.

We did not linger on the peak as we were anxious to complete our agenda as early as possible. Hence the idea of the "Drive Down" as John has named it.

John: Eight of us squeezed into Don's vehicle to drive down fro the peak, while Virgil, Tom and James were left to make it on foot. We hiked back to camp to pack out, and wee were ready for the final peak of the weekend, Fox Mountain #1. We drove to the trailhead and hiked the usual route to the top. Laura had actually prehiked the route on Friday and had ducked the trail at critical points. This facilitated the trip since rain clouds were now threatening, and we did not have time to spare. After a long weekend, it was nice to do Fox quickly with a minimum of effort. Meanwhile, Virgil, Tom, and James did the peak as a pathfinder along another ridge and met us at the saddle northwest of 5038'.

Laura: Hah! I fooled them: That was my own route we followed; the wildflowers had completely obscured any use trail. I must say more about my ducks. There was one in particular which Tom Connery dubbed the "ducking duck" in recognition of its position atop a branch that formed a bridge over the route. Another peeked its adorable head from behind a bush just where one thinks there is no duck in sight.

John: It was a great weekend with a good group. Congratulations to Laura for a well-done provisional backpack. There is no truth to the rumor that she is planning additional drive-downs and is proposing an emblem for that category.

Laura: Since John brings this up, Kate Rogowski can testify to a drive down from Haddock and Reyes thanks to a photographer named Archie whom we met at the top of the Chorro Grande trail. Then there was the time I hiked the road to Santa Rosa and got a ride down on a motorcycle. On an inclement day, I hitched a ride down from the summit of Pacifico with a man who was reading the Sunday Times. And there was the first time I did Modjeska and got caught in the snow but these guys with a pick-up truck ... Let's see, that's five so far...

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