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Nick & Bixby's Excellent Big Sur Adventure
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Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Nick & Bixby's Excellent Big Sur Adventure on 04/30/2011 00:24:57 MDT Print View

With spring weather upon us, our attention starts to drift away from our local Los Padres backcountry and instead to the more northern, wetter portions of the Los Padres National Forest along the stretch of coast known as Big Sur. My girlfriend and a couple of her friends had been planning an all-girls trip for sometime in the spring and it finally looked like it was going to come together for the weekend of April 23-24th. With friends coming up from SB and down from the Bay Area, Big Sur seemed like the logical neutral territory right in the middle; not to mention it's beautiful up there in the spring with the fresh growth, plenty of water in the creeks and wildflowers in bloom.

I decided to tag along for the ride up and set out on a trip of my own with my yellow lab, Bixby.

We had a general plan to hike in on one of three trails, all located along the southern end of Big Sur; either the Salmon Creek Trail, the Buckeye Trail or the Cruikshank Trail. We opted for the Buckeye Trail which leaves from the old, abandoned Salmon Creek Ranger Station. The girls would hike in at their own pace to Buckeye Camp, approximately four miles in from the trailhead and Bixby and I would end up somewhere else... the only rule was we couldn't be near the girls' camp. They wanted to do this trip on their own...

We hit the trail in the late morning after taking our time to get up the coast and get meals/gear sorted. The first part of the Buckeye Trail was an eye-opener... The trail starts a climb up a small shaded canyon to get up to a higher saddle that then allows you to travel across the coastal mountains through mostly grasslands while looking out over Highway 1 below and the Pacific Ocean.


The tread was well worn and easy to follow, but all of the adjacent brush, thick with poison oak, had grown out and over the trail! Hesitantly, Bixby and I forged ahead, well knowing that there was a good chance we'd end up with a major PO break-out. As we climbed up the trail, I could hear the girls behind me, farther down in the canyon questioning their trail selection and the wisdom of continuing on into what would undoubtadley be more poison oak.

A couple of examples of the amount of growth along the trails:

thick brush


Once we reached the saddle, Bixby and I hung out for a bit to make sure the girls didn't decide to turn around. Hearing them coming up the trail, we continued on into the Silver Peak Wilderness.

silver peak

The trail skimmed along the upper hillsides, affording excellent views up and down the coast. At times, the trail swept into a small coastal valley to cross a creek before it continued on a traverse of the coastal hills. Bixby, being true to the yellow lab breed, required a stop and a splash around in each of the creeks!

bixby in the creek

We passed through several of these small coastal valleys, slowly gaining elevation over about 3.5 miles before we finally topped out at a beautiful grassy overlook. Bixby and I took a nice break here, getting in a little power nap and eating some lunch. We wanted to reconnect with the girls one last time to verify where they were going to camp before heading on with our trip.

Bixby taking a break:

lunch break

The girls eventually caught up with us and allowed one of us to join them for a group photo.

group shot

Having verified their plans, we continued on with our trip.

bixby bw

The trail continued to pass through grasslands before beginning a short descent into the meadow where Buckeye Camp is located.


We continued on, across the meadow and back up towards the next saddle. As you head north out of Buckeye, you begin to enter the southernmost limit of the CA Redwoods. The mostly grasslands we had been hiking through started to give way to a more lush, forested setting.


forests 2

Bixby and I decided to head for Villa Creek, a small creek nestled in a grove of redwoods. Having reached the saddle and begun our descent down the other side, we encountered yet more abundant growth of poison oak, but also an impressive display of various wildflowers including a couple of small patches of wild lilies. We covered the four miles from Buckeye to Villa Creek in just a little over an hour and took advantage of the late afternoon sun to leisurely set up camp, jump in the creek and generally just relax.

Campside views:

camp view 1

view 2

view 3

view 4

I tried to get Bixby cleaned up a little and get some of the poison oak off of him since we'd be sharing a tarptent for the night and he's the world's largest lap dog, which meant I'd like wake up at some point in the night with him sleeping on top of me or face to face! Of course right after getting him cleaned up, he curled up in a ball in the pine duff and passed out.

sleeping giant

Right as I was getting the Squall 2 set up for the night, a thick cloud cover moved in and a heavy drizzle began to fall. It would ultimately drizzle for the rest of our trip. The ground was so thick with rocks that I could only get in 1 of the minimum four stakes it takes to set the tent up. I ended up having to set up a series of deadman anchors using the stakes and a couple of heavy rocks at each guyline. With all the moisture in the air and big fat water drops condensing on the overhead canopy and falling on the tent, each time I'd get the tent taut, I'd have to readjust and re-tension my corners!

squall 2

Eventually we said good enough, left the tent alone and fired up the caldera ti-tri inferno to get some dinner going. With all the drizzle and moisture, we didn't bother with a campfire and after dinner, tidied up camp a bit and hit the sack. The Squall 2 performed like a champ through the night and we stayed dry with minimal condensation all the while being bombarded with the big fat drops from above.

Early Sunday morning we broke camp in the drizzle and started the trek back to meet up wit the girls. I started out in my wind jacket and pants but quickly overheated and opted to just hike in my normal hiking pants and shirt. There was so much water on all of the trailside brush though, that we both got thoroughly soaked within the first 1/2 mile! With how wet everything was on Sunday, I opted to leave the camera packed away, so I don't have any pictures to show just how truly wet it was. We made the 4 miles back up and over the saddle in about an hour, helped the girls break camp and hiked, as a group, back out to the trailhead.

The girls got to have their trip and Bixby and I lucked out with our own excellent adventure!

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Big Sur on 04/30/2011 00:49:30 MDT Print View

Nice trip. Thanks for posting. I am not familiar with this part of Ventana Wilderness-but I am familiar with the poison oak! Heading out to Pine Valley in the morning with the wife for an overnighter.


Michael Bachman
(rivrfox) - F

Locale: Western Slope, Colorado
Lovely trip report... on 04/30/2011 00:55:32 MDT Print View

Thanks for being right there on the hike almost.

Love the b&w of bixby heading up the hill. Great pack btw, have the same one for my pup.


Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Excellent adventure on 04/30/2011 12:19:36 MDT Print View

Nothing better than an overnighter with your best friend. I'll be heading out with mine in the morning.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Nick & Bixby's Excellent Big Sur Adventure on 04/30/2011 12:24:54 MDT Print View

Great pictures and good to know there's some TH on the coast side. Did Arroyo Seco a few years back and, while a nice place, the back side of the Ventana's took a lot of driving from SJ.