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Gaviota Peak a quick challenge

Santa Barbara News-Press 29 July 2005

Leah Etling

TAKE A HIKE / One in an occasional series on local hiking spots

Gaviota Peak isn't a summit that you'll easily pick out from Highway 101. In fact, even as you begin the challenging ascent to the top, it is hard to tell where on the coastal ridgeline you are going.

This is a tough hike well-suited for those who are training for an aggressive backpacking trip. You'll gain 1,900 feet of elevation over 3 miles, and there's really only one short downhill portion of the trail at the beginning of the hike.

Weather conditions must be considered if you choose to take this route. Recent temperatures in the Santa Ynez Valley have been in the high 90s. It becomes almost too warm to hike comfortably as early as 10 a.m.

We started our Gaviota ascent at 8:45 a.m. The first portion of the route is shaded, then moves into harsh sunlight as you turn away from the Gaviota Hot Springs. The hot springs -- really more warm than hot -- are a popular destination and could be a sidetrip tacked onto this hike.

As you leave the highway behind and climb up the ridge, views of Highway 1 headed towards Lompoc, Vista Del Mar School, and the foothills behind Buellton and Solvang are dominant.

We were motivated to hike quickly because an enormous black bee was buzzing around us constantly for the final two miles of the ascent. Probably motivated by the smell of my orange-pineapple juice, he was a tremendous nuisance and stayed with us for the first half mile of the descent as well.

On reaching the top of the ridge, take a right to go to the peak. Here you can see the charred manzanita from last year's Gaviota fire. It's a good perspective changer, as from the freeway its now barely noticable how much destruction the blaze wrought.

Any view from the top, at an elevation of 2,458 feet, was obscured by the fog. It's amazing how instantly the climate changes after coming through the Gaviota Pass.

Our ascent took just one hour and 12 minutes. However, I'd allow at least 90 minutes for a reasonably quick pace.

Despite the dramatic descent on the way back, we shaved only six minutes off our climb time.

As we neared the parking lot, my hiking partner remarked that she doubted she'd climb Gaviota again (it was her second time).

"For the amount of effort, there's many more rewarding climbs you can do closer to home," she said.

I see her point, but appreciated Gaviota's challenging, though not entirely hospitable, uniqueness.

The tough climb left me energized to accomplish much that Sunday.

e-mail: letling@newspress.com

AT A GLANCE

Where: Gaviota Peak

How long: 6 miles round trip

What else is there: Short walk to Gaviota Hot Springs is an alternative.

Exertion level: Strenuous, particularly in summer weather. 1900 feet of elevation gain over three miles.

Contact Leah: 564-5281