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Winter trip to The Window.
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Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Winter trip to The Window. on 01/08/2013 00:33:59 MST Print View

I just got back from a 6 day trip to the window, a place in the Ventana Wilderness with my backpacking friend, Kyle. It was the most challenging trip I have been on. It was challenging in a great way and in some very bad ways. I feel like I gained an incredible amount of knowledge from this trip. All of these pictures were taken by Kyle, so the credit goes to him. Despite this area being located in Big Sur, a huge tourist trap and a ridiculously popular backpacking area (on certain trails), we didn't see or hear a single person the entire time. People really don't like going off the beaten path. The sign in register at the top had one group from early December and the latest one after that was in June.



This trip involved hiking up the Little Sur river, turning up Jackson creek, crossing over a ridge into the headwaters of the little sur river, and following a large drainage up to the Window.

When we arrived, the Little Sur River and Jackson creek were full and swift. It made for some cautious river crossings which were often up to our waists.




The "route" up Jackson Creek was a mess. There were tangles of fallen trees everywhere and when we tried to find alternate routes, we often lost the marked route for more than an hour. Either way, we were going up stream, but managing to stay on the route was much faster. It was slow going.


We ran into a few short waterfalls that required us to backtrack and side hill up some slopes to get around.




Yucca. Don't brush up against one of these!






Heading over the ridge into the headwaters of the Little Sur River.





At this point, I started to have serious problems. My neoprene socks kept my feet plenty warm during all the creek crossings, but as soon as we started hiking through the snow, my feet froze. My feet got so cold that I had to stop, build a small fire, and warm up my feet until I could feel them again. I put on wet wool socks and busted up the slope. After putting on the wool socks, my feet became tolerably cold. Lesson learned here, I should always have a backup pair of dry socks and goretex socks or some kind of plastic bags to keep the snow out. Neoprene works in weird ways. Waterproof footwear would have been useless with all the creek crossings. Neoprene works in strange ways.


The way up to the window had a surprising amount of snow for a place in central California where you can see the coast. I actually post holed a few times, but generally it was above my ankles. It was a little steep and we had to kick step and use our hands to climb. The powder was fairly dry and crumbly, so it was very easy to get traction. There were plenty of rocks and trees to pull up with.



Up at the window.




At this point it started to get cold. We were not prepared for the conditions up there. It got well below freezing with some nasty wind. It even snowed a little. I had frozen feet and became inexplicably cold. I tried crawling into my sleeping bag and layering Kyle's sleeping bag over that, but I still couldn't get warm. I became borderline hypothermic and couldn't do anything to improve my situation. I started getting scared and panicking. Luckily, Kyle was able to get a fire going which helped.


Firewood at the top was scarce and although there was plenty of standing deadwood down the slopes, crawling down there in the dark was dangerous and slippery. Trying to carry wood up was even harder. We spent a cold night. My 35 degree bag didn't cut it, and I think the synthetic loft is started to go flat it in it. The firewood ran out but I did manage to get some sleep.


I woke up to the sun shining directly into our shelter and warming it up enough that I started to sweat. It was amazing to finally be warm. A great start to 2013, but New Years Eve was terrible. We bailed off the mountain and spent 2 days getting back to the car.



Edited by justin_baker on 01/08/2013 00:38:15 MST.

Marc Eldridge
(meld) - MLife

Locale: The here and now.
Re: Winter trip to The Window on 01/08/2013 07:58:56 MST Print View

Good job. Looks like you guys had a little rougher time than we did with the higher water, cold and show. I am curious as to where you guys camped each night. Let me know.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
The Window on 01/08/2013 12:00:21 MST Print View

Looked like a fun, challenging trip. I'd like to someday do some more offtrail exploration in the northern parts of LPNF. Each time I've gone off the beaten path up there even just a little, I've been rewarded with beautiful scenery, lush canyon bottoms and solitude in an otherwise, over run high traffic area.

The two recent trips to "the Window" have piqued my curiousity. Might have to dust off the old LPNF trail atlas and see exactly what you guys are talking about.

I was out on a trip down at the other end of the Los Padres just before New Years myself. We got a bit of snow too- about 3-4" on top of the ridgeline within view of the ocean. I love it.

Thanks for sharing,


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: The Window on 01/08/2013 13:11:53 MST Print View

The first night we camped near the Little Sur River at the camp just before Jackson Camp. Other than one night at the window, we camped at different places along Jackson Creek. Any flat place that we could find. We took this trip a little slow and spent plenty of time by the creek.

Going off trail in Ventana is great, but be careful. It can get really brushy and impenetrable in many places. There are places where you could walk off a cliff. A great way to find some solitude is to hike up or down the Big Sur river. Eventually you have to swim through one of many canyons and after that, you are in pristine and untouched wilderness.

I don't think you will find a trail to the window in a map anywhere, it's just a route that people have used. I really want to go back up there in warmer weather some time. I had planned to hike from the window up to Kandlbinder and hike down the southern part of the window but with all the snow and ice, I didn't want to go scrambling around boulders and steep slopes.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
heh on 02/03/2013 22:16:20 MST Print View

I warned you about using a tarp in big sur in winter, lol, particularly at altitude. Keep in mind that a so called 35 degree bag is probably a 45 degree bag at best, I totally ignore anything except the 'comfort rating' of the bag now, the rest is just nonsense as far as I'm concerned, but the comfort rating will tell you roughly what the bag is good for in real conditions, and will also allow you to meaningfully compare different bags. So a well used 35 degree synthetic bag will have lost loft and you'll be shivering in freezing cold. Here's the trick, when you see 32 as the rating, think 40-45, when you see 20, think 30, unless it's the actual true en comfort rating, or very high quality or overstuffed or from a small gear maker like zpacks/enlightenment. Even western mountaineering uses the mid ratings, without even having the decency to tell you that, not the comfort ratings, on their bags, much to my annoyance. Their supposed 35 degree bag left me cool at 50, absurd really, but totally obvious since it has sewn through baffles, which can't possibly be warmer than 2 layers of thin nylon at that point, just as an example. What you wanted on that trip was a 20 degree en rated comfort level bag. Or 30 at worst with a lot of extra clothes to wear that doesn't get wet during the day.

Congratulations on getting hypothermia, big sur is where I got that too the one time I got it, which is when I stopped using certain types of gear that just doesn't work in cold/humid conditions where you are doing something harder than a one day in/one day out type hike. I may have gotten it once in Norway too, not sure, though it wasn't as bad. Norway is also cold and rainy and humid.

A tent would have made a huge difference some of your nights, full wind protection, and those extra 5, 10 degrees inside. I've sat in freezing rain in big sur for almost a week, it was cool, but I used real gear and didn't have to leave or bail because the gear actually worked. I have a 2 pound double wall tent I got just for such circumstances, when you compare the weight of that versus a full sized tarp, it's almost silly to not carry the extra weight.

I also suspect your neoprene socks absorbed water and basically froze your feet, that's why I don't do stream crossings in the footgear I will wear hiking, particularly not in winter in the cold. And if using neoprene for long stream walking, just take it off when you get to shore and put wool on. It doesn't take long to change shoes/socks, I've never understood the idea of just walking in streams in the dead of winter, but that might be because I was raised at an early age to respect cold climate. Having wet feet in the cold is a very very bad idea, despite what you might think people on bpl say, I never saw anyone out there in the winter when I went, just like you, and that's for a good reason.

But otherwise, don't take this as a reason to not do it again, just realize your gear was just basically fine summer/spring gear, not real winter stuff on the cold humid coast winter climate. The second you fully enclose your body in a shelter you start to warm the air in it almost immediately, so you don't have to waste energy warming your body as much.

Big sur taught me to treat stuff like cold, wet, and hypothermia more seriously, so I upgraded my gear to be able to handle it, overkill for summer/spring of course so I can use less in those seasons.

Awesome pics though, I've always wondered about some of those trails, but you were a bit lucky on your trip I hope you realize, when you get that close it's a strong warning to not mess around with summer gear in winter, and to make sure you have stuff that actually warms you when you need it, like synthetics etc.

In other words, about 2 to 3 pounds more gear would have made all the difference in the world.

Edited by hhope on 02/03/2013 22:21:32 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: heh on 03/02/2013 00:48:40 MST Print View

Hey Harold, I didn't see that you posted until now.
The only night that we had rough weather was on the window, and that night the wind only went one direction so we were safe from that. Down in the creeks it was very calm, so the tarp worked great. Kyle is the tarp master, he can adapt a flat tarp to almost anything. But I agree that a tent is a good idea for camping up on ridges and peaks.

Keep in mind that I don't have great gear and neither does kyle. We end up spending everything on gas to get to places. So for me it's not about carrying more or less weight, it's about not having things in the first place.
My synthetic bag completely crapped out on me. This was my first cold weather trip this winter since using it a bunch last summer and fall, and I had no idea it had gotten so bad. I had to collect a load of firewood every single night and keep a fire going all night, every night. It worked fine and I was toasty warm, but it got annoying. I returned the bag and I am eventually going to invest in a high end down bag.

Up at the window I ended up getting my only pair of dry socks wet because I had planned to rely on the neoprene socks. Between my cold feet, my cold core temperature, and the wind ripping through there, it made it really hard to do anything. I wasn't in any actual danger, I had a sleeping bag to crawl into and shiver all night and I would have survived. It was just very difficult to get comfortable and I was headed towards hypothermia. Kyle was able to set up a great camp and once we warmed up a bit with the limited fuel we could collect and I got some hot food into me, I was much better. We did get snowed on at night and that was a backpacking first for me.

About the creek crossings. When we hiked up the creek, very often one side would turn into a vertical rock wall. Our choices were to backtrack and attempt to somehow get up and around the vertical rock wall or cross the creek. In some places the brush and deadfall on either side of the creek became impenetrable the creek was the only clear path. I didn't mind it that much. With some insulation on my legs I warmed up quickly after each crossing. Wearing gloves also helped take the chill off, even when they got wet. I know it sounds crazy crossing streams up to your waist in temperatures below 40 degrees, but I was never in the least bit uncomfortable. If I had slipped and gotten my upper body wet, that could have been bad.

I learned so much on this trip. I plan on going back from the opposite direction, from the south up Ventana Creek. Hopefully it didn't sound like we were in a survival situation the entire trip. The only rough night was up at the window. The rest of the nights were very comfortable. I had no idea that big sur could get so much snow and get so cold (it was in the teens up at the window).

Edited by justin_baker on 03/02/2013 00:52:59 MST.

Jacob D
(JacobD) - F

Locale: North Bay
Re: Window on 03/04/2013 14:28:52 MST Print View


It was good seeing you at Coe last month. I missed your report for this the first time around. Just now read it. Tough conditions. You and Kyle get up to some adventures. Have fun and stay safe. I'm sure we'll bump into each other later in the year. I'll be looking forward to hearing what you guys have been up to.