San Rafael Wilderness
Elevation: Google Earth says the elevation is 5,324'
Distance: It is 3.35 miles swteeply downhill to Coche Camp, 5.79 miles east to the West Big Pine Lookout area; 7.2 miles to the Big Pine road and 3.77 miles to Mission Pine Springs.
Camping at Mission Pine Basin is always a treat. The Basin is huge given the rock-strewn hillsides surrounding it. It more or less bridges the Mission Pines to the west with the Big Pine area on the east. It is the point where all of the backcountry trails come together, creating an array of possibilities. I've always camped at the junction of these trails. There is no table but the huge Ponderosa pine marking the junction always feels welcoming and pitching my sleeping bag at its base always the right place to do it.
In 2007, the Mission Pine Basin got hit by flames from the Zaca Fire perhaps harder than any other area. The fire worked its way up the Manzana, turned south and climbed over the San Rafael Moluntains near McKinley Saddle, roared down into the Santa Cruz drainage and then cut back to the north, climbing up the steep hillside where the Santa Cruz Trail leads up to the Basin, destroying almost everything in its path. The large Ponderosa is gone now but the Basin is coming back. Though you won't fine the shelter of the mammoth pine there to comfort you any more, the junction is still quite a place to spend the night and the starry nights there are amazing.
The biggest issue at the Basin isn't where to camp but where to find your water. Typically in a good rain year we'd head north down into the Fall Canyon drainage and we wouldn't have to go far before we'd fine running water. In drier months we'd end up continuing further down the creek to an old hunting spot by the name of Cooper Camp. According to Bob Burtness, the campsite was established around 1926 by Harold Cooper and his brothers, Clifford and Chester, of Lompoc, mainly because of its reliable water supply. The camp was used as a hunter's camp until 1941, just before the Forest was closed during World War II and abondoned thereafter. Even if not looking for water, the hike down to Cooper's Camp is well worth the effort.
In earlier years before the trail became too overgrown, if we needed to head down as far as Coopers for water we'd climb back out of the canyon and up to the Fall Canyon Trail and circle back from there. We not only got our water but the walk back through the pine forest was always a treat. On one of my trips with Bob and Dave Weaver we discovered how fickle things could be. We got to the camp in the early afternoon and ended up heading all the way down to Coopers before we could find enough water. That night we got hit with a huge storm and by the morning we had water flowing everywhere.
Jim Blakley Notes
An open, grassy depressed basin surrounded by pine trees on the crown of the San Rafael Mountain Range. Four trails meet in the basin under a lone pine tree: from the south, Santa Cruz Trail 29W09; from the North the Falls Creek Trail 29W09.2; from the west Mission Pine Trail 28WO1.1; and from the east the Big Pine Trail 28W41.2.
This camp was used by the Forest Service Trail crews while working trails in the area in early 1924. It was later used by Pelch and Pinkham as a branch camp to hunt from after they had camped for a while at Camp PP on Grapevine Creek. The big buck deer with a good rack of horns stayed way up here near the crest of the San Rafael Range.
The Basin Camp is at the west end of the basin under some pine trees, just above the dry creek bed. At one time there was 1 table and 3 ice can stoves. No water available. The nearest water is down Falls Canyon near old Cooper Camp. The Cooper Camp was established by the Cooper family of Lompoc as a hunting camp.
Bob Burtness Notes
Administration: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Lucia District
Access: About 21 miles beyond Upper Oso Camp via the Santa Cruz Trail (27WO9). Another route begins at the Cachuma Saddle and leads up into the San Rafael range via the Mission Pine Trail (28W01).
U.S. Forest Service map coordinates: J/K-17
Topographical map: Big Pine Mountain
Elevation: 5,400 feet (1,650 meters)
Terrain: large meadow
Vegetation: pines, beautiful wildflower displays in the springtime Tables: I
Stoves: 3 (ice can)
Water: none (The nearest reliable source can be found 1/2 mile north of this site in Fall Canyon, just short of Cooper Camp.)
Special Features: The camp at this scenic location has 2 units. One, which every passerby sees, is the stove beneath a lone pine tree in the center of the meadow. Almost no one sees the other at the edge of the meadow among some trees.
Historical Highlights: This camp was established by a trail crew around 1924. The site beneath the pine tree was used as a spike camp by Mssrs. Pelch and Pinkham in the '30s when embarking on deer hunting expeditions from a base location (later called Pelch Camp) on Grapevine Creek. "Mission" is used because of reports that trees in the area were used to construct the Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez missions.