We were enjoying a pleasant breakfast of coffee/tea and apple-chia mucus in our roadside tent when a middle-aged Hispanic couple walked by and greeted us. They had woken in the dark to drive up from LA, and had probably started hiking from the car closure soon after first light. While they were just headed over the Murietta Divide that day, they were clearly familiar with the area: when I mentioned that I hoped to tag Old Man Mountain, the man immediately asked if I planned to continue to nearby Monte Arido. Like many Angelenos, they often hiked with a large group, but this time they were blessedly alone. We talked longer than usual, but eventually they had to continue their hike, and we had to pack up ahead of the weekend hordes.
We continued riding and pushing up the Murietta Divide Road, meeting a few people headed in the opposite direction on the way up. At the divide, I took off by myself on Road 6N03 toward Old Man and Monte Arido. Though it looks identical to the Murietta Divide Road on the map, this road has not seen wheels in years, and well on its way to fading back into a brushy hiking trail. The road climbs a sometimes faint and meandering ridge north of the Divide, passing the “water source” of Murietta Pond (a 20-yard-wide puddle of greenish-brown slime) within ten minutes. Beyond, it wanders back and forth across the ridge, sometimes descending slightly on its way past minor bumps.
Not having been able to download the topo maps before leaving town, I was not sure which bump was Old Man, so I chose one near where I found what looked like a use trail and headed up and north along the ridge. My so-called trail soon disappeared, but regular and recent fires had fortunately tamed the chaparral, leaving a sparse mix of dead sticks and small plants amidst the loose dirt and granite boulders. There was a strong wind on the crest, encouraging me to sidehill up the left side.
Reaching what I thought was the top, I found a large metal pole that seemed like a summit marker. However, the Peakbagger app informed me that the actual summit was the next bump north, which looked like it might be a few feet higher. This point was the upper end of an uplift, so I had to detour and sidehill around some minor cliffs on the way to the true summit, where I found the expected red-painted tin can. Old Man is not a popular mountain, so the register went back a few decades, and included both Bob’s entry and a dozen or so from local character Mars Bonfire.
I had hoped to tag the higher Monte Arido as well, but did not have enough time to do that before rejoining Leonie back at the saddle. I dropped straight down the loose hillside, then hike-jogged the road back, passing one other hiker heading up. After a break at the saddle, we headed up the other side to tag the Santa Ynez Mountains highpoint via the Monte Arido Trail. This route heads more or less straight up a faint ridge to the south to join a jeep road along the Santa Ynez crest, looking more like a use trail than anything built by the Forest Service. We passed a few other hikers on their way down, apparently finishing some loop.
Dirt bikes seem to frequent the route along the divide, but the obscure and unnamed summit sees little traffic, and has no established trail. It was getting late, and Leonie had no interest in Peak Points, so I jogged off by myself along the road. I found a small cairn at a likely-looking ravine, and tunneled up through the unburnt chaparral toward what I hoped was the top. I eventually emerged on a rocky ridge just west of the highpoint, which I followed to the summit to find a recently-placed register tin. The summit has sweeping views of the Pacific and Channel Islands to the south, and the higher peaks of the Los Padres Forest to the north, but it was getting cold and late, so I stayed only a few seconds before returning to the OHV road.
We descended the trail to the pass, then put on all our clothes and reassembled the bike to coast the short descent to the Upper Santa Ynez campground. This abandoned site has a creek nearby for water, a picnic table, and flat space for a couple of tents. Unfortunately, a covetous bike-packing couple had laid claim to the last two, forcing us to set up our tent on a less-than-flat patch a short distance away, and to cook on the ground. We were both too tired, cold, and surprised by the unfriendliness of a fellow-traveler to do more than passive-aggressively grumble as we set up camp and prepared our hot, oily pasta and veg.