Cathedral Peak Hike
Cathedral Peak via Arlington Peak
This hike is no joke. I read on multiple sites that this is the hardest Trail in Santa Barbara, and I believe it. It is more climb than hike for most of the trail. The trail is difficult to follow at times. It’s hot! The rocks are sharp. It is 2,000+ ft worth of up. I’m in pretty good shape, and live in Flagstaff where everyday is high altitude training, so I figured I’d be ok. I was, but the heat and humidity were a huge factor.
Bring lots of water. I’m hiking in July, so, it’s the hottest part of the year. I brought my 1L nalgene and 2.5L Osprey bladder, and I was wishing for another .5 at the very end.
The trail starts at the top of Tunnel Rd in Santa Barbara. You have to park on the side of the road leading up to the gate. It was already loaded with cars at 6:30 am (early morning walkers mostly). From the gate you walk up Spyglass Ridge Rd for about a mile until you come to the Jesusita Trailhead. Go left at the trailhead and start heading up. After a while you come to a triangular trail marker, and you will bear left. This is the Inspiration Point Trailhead. Follow this trail until you get to the Mission Creak-bed.
At the creak, you will pick up the 7-Falls trail. It was tricky to find, as you can see from all of the squiggles in the track. The entry, and the first 25 yards or so are overgrown...the road less traveled. Once you have found the trail, start heading up and eventually you reach a left trail join for the Cathedral Peak Trail. Around this point I realized that my trekking poles were not going to be useful. I found them very helpful on the final stretch back down, so I found them still worth bringing.
Now the trail starts getting steep and rocky. Very quickly it becomes much more of a climb than a hike. The rocks are all sandstone and really tear up your finger tips. Some reviews said bring gloves, and I understand why. I did not have gloves, so I wrapped tape around my finger tips. I ended up re-taping at least twice because they got shredded.
From here on you just climb up. The trail can be tricky to follow, but since “up” is where you want to go, it doesn’t matter too much. There were definitely some places where all of a sudden there was just a dead end, and I had to back track. There are also some handy cairns here and there the help along the way. Following the trail back down was more tricky.
There are so many beautiful viewpoints on the trail. It was very enjoyable despite the significant work out. After much climbing, you come to Arlington peak. From there you travel across a saddle to the base of Cathedral peak. I have to say, after what it took to get to Arlington peak, it was intimidating looking up at Cathedral peak. The climb to Cathedral is very similar to Arlington as you climb higher and higher.
At the very top there is a register, with some emergency snacks. Sign the book, and enjoy the view. It is wonderful. There is also a strong LTE signal at the top so you can let everyone know you made it. After some rest, I headed back down.
Coming down was just as hard as going up in my opinion. As I mentioned, the trail was harder to find on the way down. Some of those same cairns were there which was helpful. As you can see from the track line, I took a couple wrong turns and had to back track. It also started to get very hot around 12 and the heat and fatigue started to wear. In particular, I missed the turn off of Cathedral trail back on to 7 Falls, and ended at the Mission Creak bed a little too far north.
If that happens to you, enjoy a little boulder hop down the creak until you meet back with the trail. Head on up and out of the creak for the home stretch back to the car.
Phew! What a hike!