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christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Big sur... on 09/23/2011 02:58:30 MDT Print View

So I've got 28 backpacking trips under my belt. Only 2 were in big sur, and both trips were not quite ideal. One trip was to Sykes hot springs which was ok but we got poison oak and ticks. The other was to cone peak where the trail was indistinguishable from game trails and we never did find flat place to camp and I ended up losing my backpack off a cliff (don't ask, sad memory)

Before I write off that place for good, should I reconsider? Are there any really nice well cut trails there I should be aware of?

Jesse H.
(tacedeous) - MLife

Locale: East Bay, CA
gotta do it... on 09/23/2011 03:47:19 MDT Print View

how how'd you do it! I gotta know!

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Big Sur hiking on 09/23/2011 05:23:00 MDT Print View

I went in at Arroyo Seco a few years back, with a nice flat campground but, trying to get towards the course, the trail essentially disappeared into manzanita. Pretty nice for several miles but had to start bushwacking when the sun started beating me down. Luckily there was a stream to rinse and cool off the feet..

Big sur feet soaking

Minor gripe: I really didn't like paying the private concessionaire at the Arroyo Seco trailhead who runs the campground. It was never clear who owns the wilderness trailhead. I didn't mind paying the small fee for use of their showers after the hike though!!

(ed: add photo)

Edited by hknewman on 09/23/2011 10:35:29 MDT.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Big Sur on 09/23/2011 10:27:11 MDT Print View

There are a lot of beautiful places to hike in Big Sur. Unfortunately, most of the trails are not well-maintained and even the popular ones that are maintained, like the Pine Ridge Trail to Sykes will have abundant PO along them and ticks in the spring.

The ticks are easy to avoid- just don't hike in the spring months!

The PO is a little more tricky. If you have bad reactions to it, the best you can do for hiking in Big Sur is take lots of preventative actions to avoid it/minimize contact with skin and wash up good after exposure.

Check out the Ventana Wilderness Alliance website. They have a discussion forum that will let you know everything you ever wanted to know about hiking in Big Sur. You can also find out which trails have been recently brushed; and might be opened up enough to walk along without brushing into as much PO. There are also some fire roads up along the ridgelines you could hike without having too much trouble with the oak.

christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
okok I'll share the story. on 09/23/2011 16:24:15 MDT Print View

So in 2006 ish, we were hiking Cone peak. The trail kept disappearing and we ended up going up this very very steep hill. There was one point where I had to take off my pack to safely climb over a rock, slipped. I watched it tumble perhaps 500 ft before falling off a cliff. Never saw it again. Had a hard night without any equipment except for some clothing I borrowed from the other guys. I apparently went hypothermic because I felt drunk in the morning until I was able to start a fire. Not fun. Learned some good lessons on that trip. If anyone happens to find that pack I swear I will pay a good reward for it.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
Trails vary on 09/25/2011 23:52:10 MDT Print View

Some of the connector trails for the better and longer loops are still not rebuilt fully after the last fire. All volunteer, I've never seen a forest ranger ranging there in 3 decades of visiting, so it's either the California Conservation Core doing some great heavy duty trail work, or it's volunteers mapping out and rebuilding damaged or faint trails. Very little poison oak above 4k feet. Most Poison Oak while leaves are on plants is very easy to avoid, just don't touch it or brush into it, but this requires watching where every single of your steps falls. Sort of a zen thing in my opinion, probably why the SF Zen Center picked Big Sur for their Zen retreat, their real monastery that is.

I did the ventana double cone trail in 2006, from Botcher gap, and it was fine, not sure if that's what you are referring to, you did have to pay attention and not get lost in the Chaparral and backpacks with mesh all over as pockets would not be happy in such circumstances for sure, especially SUL ones, but the trails were totally passable if you just watched where you were going, and didn't mind scraping along some sections, and I mean real scraping that would rip apart silnylon type stuff, was bushwacking though for sure in some segments, but that's fun. Other trails are very very hard. I've gotten lost there trying to follow trails marked on map as questionable or not maintained before. Good place to do serious compass/ map reading practice, once you cross a few ridges you are almost certainly not going to be where you thought you were if you are off trail... (edit: reading up on this the Cone Peak trail is pretty wiped out, not sure the rebuild status, nor of the 2006 status, experts only it looks like, join the ventana wilderness trail projects if you want to help)

Last week a girl I talked to briefly there said she had seen some unexpected rattle snakes along the overgrown chaparral parts of Puerto Suelo, which surprised her, and me a bit, usually they prefer to sun on more open surfaces, like the trails which aren't overgrown. that's definitely a cause for serious attention when you hike anywhere there.

Didn't do the Puerto Suelo connector down to Pine Ridge that time in 2006, it's still not fully passable last I read on the ventana people's website trail conditions reports, so that potential loop will take a while before it's reasonably passable again, but apparently it's only about a 1 mile portion that is still not really existing.

Poison Oak requires substantial respect and care to avoid. My last trip I used full camp clothes/socks/shoes and changed clothes before pitching tent each night. And also of course avoid bumping into it and annoying it in other ways.

Sykes is in my opinion a totally lost cause, like Yosemite Valley floor, give it to the overnighters and others who make it their destination because they still don't know any better, and is good only as a stop over to get to a nicer place, plus when I consider the number of poison oak oil covered bodies soaking all that oil off in the hot springs, I have no problem at all totally ignoring the hot springs in the first place and just going on. When I heard they had actually cemented up / in one of the pools to make it 'nice' I lost all interest in ever using those again, the swimming holes and pools all along the creeks of Big Sur are way nicer anyway.

I don't think Big Sur is for everyone, re gear, difficultly, risks, etc, that's certainly the impression I get. And that's good, it's not that big a place. Takes work, sometimes a lot of work. Some people used to Sierra type elevations get confused by the Big Sur elevations, if you start from the main trailhead, you climb all the feet the map tells you you are at. USGS trail map uses 200 foot contour lines because the stuff is so steep and extreme.

As for the rest, if you have to ask if you should go there again I'd say, no, you shouldn't, if it didn't click it didn't click. And the big nice trails only lead to places everyone else goes, which can be pretty nice in their own way if you slow down enough to see why. Plus if Big Sur took your pack from you, I'd say that's a pretty strong message you'd probably be well advised to pay attention to, that place can seriously mess you up with one single misstep on a hot tired sweltering day... That's why this is by far and away my favorite place in the world. And it's best in winter, when the rains hit. That gets rid of all the riff raff...

Give the Lost Coast a try, that's very cool, for the mountains you need spare water bottles because water is unreliable, but if you stay on the beaches, all you need is a tide table. And there's no poison oak on the beach, is in the camp sites though, like everywhere in California at lower altitudes. Hiking along the beach at low tide, when the sand is hard, is really nice. Though your calves and feet are going to let you know you've just walked that far in sand if you're not used to it. And you can get some fierce winds, so you might consider leaving the ultra light tents at home and use some stronger ones.

By the way, give up on your pack, rodents, mice, racoons, rats, and so on, have an insatiable curiosity about anything in a bag or enclosure, and are driven to bite through all coverings to see what's under them, as do Jays and other birds, so you can be absolutely assured that every single thing in that pack has been poked and examined so thoroughly that there is almost certainly nothing at all intact bar maybe some shirts or pants. Be glad you were able to walk out without needing a medivac helicopter flight, or a visit to the coroner, and count your blessings.

Edited by hhope on 09/26/2011 14:34:23 MDT.