During the wedding weekend, we had all Saturday free. H thought it would be cool to meet his colleague B for a climb in Santa Barbara. B suggested Fire Crags on Painted Cave road off Highway 154. We looked it up online and gave a thumbs up via text. Our plans were set.
We arrived around 9:30am with the sun was already blazing, flies buzzing around our ears. We parked the two cars in a pull off on Painted Cave road and got out to look for the trail. We couldn’t find it at first and thought maybe it was further back down the road. Back into the car, and rolling slowing down the steep road, we looked for a possible “hairpin turn with a pull-out on the left”.
We saw another dirt spot and parked again. H and B headed down what looked like a trail going west to see if they could find the actual rock wall.
After about 5 min of hiking, they came to a crag with a view, and bolts in the face. This was the spot we were hoping for. I could see them off in the distance from where I waited near the road (in the shade, shaking my hair to deter the flies). They came back out, we parked both cars, and started unpacking the gear to carry back down the trail.
The trail was pretty clear, if narrow, and we made it back to the crag in good time. The trail leads to the top of the routes and then you hike down a bit more to drop your stuff and climb. You can set some of the routes from the top, no lead climbing needed.
B set the ropes, explaining his plans to H. Recently, H bought us a rope, so we’re starting to learn how to set up our own top-rope climbs. But this is nothing to mess around with – it’ll take time and practice to learn and stay safe.
Luckily, the rock face blocked the sun. We climbed for over 2 hrs before the shade disappeared. It was a gorgeous, hot day to be out in the woods climbing rock.
The climbs were challenging, especially for me. The sandstone wasn’t as sticky as other rock I’ve climbed. The height of the route wasn’t too bad – all of them are pretty short (maybe 50 feet or less). But the view out towards the ocean was disorienting. It made me feel like I was up much higher than I actually was.
The heat + lack of sleep + poor nutrition (aka not enough food / water and drinking the night before) pretty much ruined my endurance. It took me a long while to get up the first route, which was the easiest to climb for the day. At the top I was shaking so badly, either from exhaustion or adrenaline (from the perceived height) that I couldn’t walk backwards off the ledge to come back down. It took me a few minutes to be calm myself enough to be lowered.
H had a better time of the routes, though he also felt pretty exhausted. With more experience B was able to climb the routes with minimal struggle.
I did pull a cool move on one route, trying to get up and out of a “cave”. I ended up working this problem for a bit, trying different combinations of hand-holds and foot positions. This was super fun, and the most I’ve worked a route in an outdoor setting.
Climbing is a physical sport, but I love the mental challenge of it – being on a route and not knowing where your next move is going to be. In the gym I tend to climb routes I understand before I’m even on them, but when you’re outside, you don’t know until you’re up there.
Two days before, we climbed Point Dume, and we were pretty spoiled to climb outside 2x in one week.
Being out in the woods, working my body and sweating in the sun, is such an amazing break from the day-to-day drama of work and household crap. Even though we were exhausted afterwards, it was so worth going.
We topped the afternoon off with trip-tip sandwiches at the iconic Cold Spring Tavern, just down the road from Fire Crags. Talk about a time warp. Established in 1865 during the stagecoach era, the property has a few buildings, all of which look like they’ve never been renovated. There was no a/c in the bar, where we ordered from a few of the beers on tap, and received a ticket for the trip-tip, which we then took to a BBQ outside. It’s popular in the central coast to have salsa on your tri-tip – this is the Santa Maria-style BBQ.
We ate our sandwiches in the shade, at a picnic table, with cold beer in plastic cups, and a blues band of 50-something year old men playing out front. Motorcycles lined the dirt parking area and kids ran around parents eating at their own tables.
It felt like a mini-vacation and the perfect way to break up the more social, busy parts of the wedding weekend. H drove us back down Hwy 154, and we switched drivers at the 101 north on-ramp. He slept while I drove us back up to Santa Margarita, listening to the college radio station play The Weepies and Joan Baez.