To close out 2011 and kick off 2012 on a good note, I decided to take a backpacking trip over New Year's weekend. For this trip I had several goals in mind. I wanted to explore an area I had never been, and see as few people as possible. New life changes have unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it) created a new chapter in my life. Therefore I planned to do a little thinking and "soul searching" while hiking. Lastly, there was a few new pieces of gear that although I had used before, I wanted to get dialed in.
There were a few locations I looked at to backpack. The historically low amounts of snow in the Sierras opened up opportunities rarely, if ever, seen in the Sierras in late December. Henry Coe State Park was an option. Maybe Cache Creek. But the Ventana Wilderness kept calling to me and I decided to focus my efforts on planning a trip in this rugged locale. I originally thought of doing a loop from the Borando Trail, but decided the Pine Ridge Trail and the hoards of people likely headed to Sykes hot springs would not be appealing. Therefore, I settled on a trip out of Bottcher's Gap towards Pat Springs and Ventana Double Cone.
I left Friday at around 8 AM, and after getting gas and some groceries, I set off on the 2 1/2 hour drive down to Big Sur. After paying the $5 per day parking fee and acquiring a fire permit from the campground host, I set off along the Skinner Ridge Trail just before noon.
The trail starts at 2000 feet above sea level, and consistently gains over 2000 feet towards Devil's Peak. This is the first view of the Pacific Ocean a few minutes from the trailhead.
Atop Devil's Peak with panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. The wind was howling, probably 25-30 mph with gusts maybe to 50. I was getting chilled, so I put on my new Patagonia Houdini, which worked perfectly!
Up until the Coming's Camp intersection, I had been walking on the edge of the burn line of the massive Basin Complex Fire that burned over 160,000 acres in June and July of 2008. From here on, I would be in the middle of the burn zone. It was very interesting to see the effects the fire had on the landscape, and how different sections of the forest are responding. I was wary of walking through the thousands of dead trees in the high wind in the chance that one would fall.
Seven miles and 3 1/2 hours from the trailhead I reached Pat Springs, my first water source and first night's campsite.
My campsite on the ridge above Pat Springs. I opted to camp in the open because the high wind and dead trees increased the chance of a widowmaker. Also, the views were much better as well! My Tarptent Sublite Sil performed admirably, and was quite steady in the wind.
Sunset. It was perfectly clear when I crawled in my tent, but around midnight I woke up to the sound of rain?! After shaking off the cobwebs, I realized it was not rain, but the the fog had rolled in, and I was basically in the middle of a cloud. I pulled my pack under the vestibule, checked for any possible leaks in the tent, and went back to sleep.
I was surprised to see that it was clear when I woke up in the morning. My tent was completely dry due to the wind. I quickly packed and set off towards Ventana Double Cone.
The trail towards Ventana Double Cone. Past Pat Springs, the trail became overgrown and hard to follow in spots. With the dead trees, the underbrush has taken off and encroached onto the trail. Manzanita, poison oak, and other fast growing shrubs have taken over. Some parts of the trail were clear, but in other areas it involved getting on hands and knees to go under blowdowns. As I am 6'8", let's just say I did a lot of ducking. I had a quick lunch and filled up my water at Lone Pine Spring Camp, and then set off for the final push to the peak.
On top of Ventana Double Cone looking east.
Pacific Ocean. The Pine Ridge Trail towards Sykes Hot Springs is in that valley.
The views from the top were truly epic. 360 degree panoramic vistas made this peak a magical spot.
Beautiful New Years Eve Sunset. I descended from the peak and camped on the ridge above Lone Pine Spring Camp.
New Years Day sunrise. I had 12 miles to hike back to the trailhead from Lone Pine Camp.
This is what the trail looked like in parts. Sharp brush encroaching on both sides of the trail and many blowdowns. My legs and arms got very scratched up. Note to self: wear pants next time!
I did not take too many pictures on the return, as I only had limited daylight to cover the miles. Also, my bum hip really flared up and slowed me down. Still, the gorgeous views carried me through the pain.
Reaching Bottcher's Gap and my car at 4, left just enough time to drive down the road and catch the sunset.
It was a fantastic sunset, and a terrific way to finish off the trip. There were even whales off in the distance!
I feel like I accomplished all my goals for this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Ventana Wilderness. It was a rugged hike, and I only saw one couple on the trail. I was very impressed with how my gear performed. The Sublite Sil handled the wind amazingly well. The Caldera Cone continued to impress. And the ULA Circuit took everything the thick brush could throw at it and escaped with nary a scratch. This will certainly not be the last time I backpack in the Ventana Wilderness!