Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 10:11 am | Fog/Mist 63º


Dan McCaslin: Hike Upper Mission Falls to Rattlesnake Canyon and Tunnel Trail

Locals unwittingly embrace Wandervögel movement with this 6-mile round-trip route with endless views

The Tunnel Trail gives hikers a view of La Cumbre Peak.
The Tunnel Trail gives hikers a view of La Cumbre Peak. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Despite last weekend’s glorious half-inch of rain, California’s drought persists and constrains my hiking suggestions for readers.

I’d like to describe 8,000-foot Sheep Camp on Mount Pinos, but in this column we will look at the Tunnel Connector Trail stemming off a familiar Rattlesnake Canyon hike.

After ascending the 1.7 miles to Tin Shack Meadow along Rattlesnake Canyon, the hiker desirous of more beauty and solitude turns west and chugs up the brutally steep Tunnel Trail Connector path. At the meadow, choose left (west) at the picturesque old iron sign reading “Tunnel Tr” with “Gibralter (sic) Trail” below.

Historian Philipp Blom’s inspiring book, The Vertigo Years, reveals how 1890-1914 Europe struggled with “modernity.” We today also contend with modernity problems compounded by a sense of an impending collapse of world order.

Blom notes the multitudinous reports of neurasthenia (shattered nerves), hyper-activity and rampant fear among Europe’s best educated people: “Speed and exhilaration, anxiety and vertigo were recurrent themes” between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

As certain empires tottered — Ottoman, Austo-Hungarian, Czarist Russian — imperial uncertainties roiled world order, and everyone felt it in varying ways.

This “vertigo” is seen clearly in writers and artists like Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Robert Musil, Arthur Schnitzler, Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Wassily ​Kandinsky, Gustav Mahler and others sensitive to that anxious Zeitgeist.

OK — this WILL connect with hiking to the dry waterfall above Santa Barbara! — one of the compelling solutions to European urban anxieties 120 years ago was the amazing rise of various therapeutic movements.

These included psychiatry (Sigmund Freud), Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner, independent women cycling clubs, Robert Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts in the United Kingdom, and the curious Wandervögel (wandering bird) hiking movement in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany.

Established in 1896, young German men and woman wanted to wander away together from the expanding cities and enjoy campfires beneath noble conifers. They were rejecting the over-civilized, Prussian-oriented, imperialistic German empire’s rigid society and its many restrictive bourgeois rules and social regulations.

The sign showing hikers where to head for the Tunnel Trail. Click to view larger
The sign showing hikers where to head for the Tunnel Trail. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

In our postmodern world, with Vladimir Putin, China and Iran poking at the American empire, and Syrian refugees flooding old Europe, there are plenty of new anxieties that face our young people today. Seizing your children, even older adolescents, and driving the very short distance to Skofield Park and pushing into Rattlesnake Canyon is a proven antidote to these hyper-civilized anxieties.

When a family member or friend protests, “Oh, we always go to the ‘Snake!” you can reply that this hike will end at a new place within the boulder-strewn confines of a massive stone waterfall high above Mission Canyon.

The hike is six miles (round-trip), and you ascend about 1,600 feet on the first half to the usually dry Mission Falls. In lower stages, enjoy the renewed water flowing in Rattlesnake Creek.

Trudging up the Tunnel Connector Trail leaves ample time for long vistas out to sea and looking down the Santa Barbara Channel and over the marina. There are hawks and other birds, and since I managed to time my walk on the treacherous moving talus slope to hit right after the rain, the sodden talus-gravel held very firm and there wasn’t any dust.

Hiking up Rattlesnake Canyon on Sunday (Oct. 3), I encountered 35 to 40 other hikers, and happily most had children and/or family with them.

There are a few pools in Mission Creek along the trail. Click to view larger
There are a few pools in Mission Creek along the trail. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

These Santa Barbarans are resisting the prevalent “nature deficit syndrome” illness in 2015 California; we are indeed well into the Anthropocene Age

Rebellious young German women and men found a way out into the lovely German countryside by joining the Wandering Birds movement, which had chapters in most towns and cities. Recall, these would-be healthy young women and men roaming around rustic areas without supervision: one smells romance, great beer, wurst and schnapps!

These Wandervögel may have been more attracted by wanderlust than growing Germany’s gunboat diplomacy, their country’s naval competition with the British empire, Kaiser Bill’s neurotic and neurasthenic posturings, or plunging into sensible bourgeois careers in Berlin or Hamburg.

I show my age by noting this reminds me of Theodore Roszak’s book, The Making of a Counter Culture, and Charles Reich’s book, The Greening of America (1970).

Blom supports this interpretation by writing of imperial Germany’s Wandervögel movement: “The nights spent listening to a guitar being strummed by a campfire probably did more to change German society in the long run than any number of debates in (their) Reichstag.”

La Cumbre Peak is visible from multiple spots along the trail. Click to view larger
La Cumbre Peak is visible from multiple spots along the trail. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

Once you’ve powered up the well-trodden Tunnel Connector Trail, at the top you spot the recently refurbished Tunnel Trail sign, and you head right at this junction (north) higher into the mountains. Hike on this stony path for another half-mile and enjoy the view of La Cumbre Peak.

You will find a cavernous waterfall replete with huge sandstone boulders — typically there isn’t any water flowing, and there wasn’t any on Oct. 6 when I checked this hike out a second time: This is upper Mission Falls. There were small pools still holding some rainwater.

This is a grand spot for lunch, and for viewing the Channel Islands and Santa Barbara proper. If you study the photo it is possible to detect Storke Tower at UC Santa Barbara.

While we may imagine we don’t have so many narrow bourgeois regulations as in imperial Germany around 1900, we do have many anxious young people who face a future that is not as rosy as the one most of us faced 20 or 40 years ago.

We Americans also have an empire facing serious challenges, we have European allies besieged by Putin and floods of Middle Eastern immigrants, and there is intense competition for good jobs and material security in an era where the 1 percent dominate.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle in her New York Times essay, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” notes a massive loss of empathy by young Americans, and shows very clearly how the digital screen dominance damages young American brains.

There are huge sandstone boulders with small pools holding rainwater. Click to view larger
There are huge sandstone boulders with small pools holding rainwater. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

If nothing else happens on these day hikes, the hiker can at least shut off his or her electronic devices and savor a bit of the solitude we know is part of being fully human.

One solution is to break away from urban screens and become your own singular Wandering Bird.

Try out this demanding six-mile day hike linking Rattlesnake Canyon and upper Mission Canyon along the Tunnel Trail leading to Mission Falls, and bring your family and children!

4-1-1 on Dry Waterfall Trail Connecting Rattlesnake Canyon and Tunnel Trail

» Hike: Moderate-to-strenuous day hike to Mission Falls in upper Mission Canyon from the Rattlesnake Canyon side; suitable for children over 7; avoid on weekends if possible

» Distance: Six-mile round trip with 1,600-foot elevation gain to the dry waterfall (Mission Falls)

» Driving directions: Drive up Mission Street just past the landmark Santa Barbara Mission, turn sharp right just before the Rocky Nook Park sign and when you’ve ascended to Sheffield Reservoir, go left on up and park in the Skofield Park parking lot.

» Map: Ray Ford’s A Hiker’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Front Country

» More: Philipp Blom’s The Vertigo Years (2008) and Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together and her new Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015) are available at Chaucer’s Bookstore, 3321 State St. 

— Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity, and has written extensively about the local backcountry. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

The view from upper Mission Falls is a great spot for lunch, with a view of the South Coast and the Channel Islands. Click to view larger
The view from upper Mission Falls is a great spot for lunch, with a view of the South Coast and the Channel Islands. (Dan McCaslin / Noozhawk photo)

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