Last Thursday for training, and to celebrate Jacob’s birthday, J and I set out to summit Double Cone, aptly nestled deep into Ventana Wilderness, which is one of the more remote peaks in this area along California’s widely acclaimed Big Sur Coast. From the vantage point at 4,800 feet with pretty panoramic views, Ventana Double Cone sits at the Northern part of the Santa Lucia mountain range and acts as the triple divide point for the Big Sur, Little Sur, and Carmel River drainages. The different ecosystems, biodiversity, and a chance to really get into the backcountry is why I love California- and here, the topography and proximity to the Pacific creates a mosaic of conditions for a wide array of natural communities, ranging from dense chaparral to mixed conifer forests.
In total the trip is about 30 miles, and with the terrain, it took us significantly longer than our typical 3mph pace. The trailhead started at Botchers Gap, which is at the end of fog-inundated scattered redwood forests on Palo Colorado Road, off the more famed Route 1.
We parked and payed at the trailhead and started our way up Skinner Ridge, gaining elevation quite quickly, and moved through the home of coast live oaks and madrone intermingling with coastal sage and chamise chaparral. After reaching a summit, higher up, we traveled into manzanita dominated territory, and glimpsed the northern side of the wilderness. After this, the terrain changed, to rocky, arid, semi-desert like exposure moving up to Devil’s peak. At this point, we could see Double Cone, and were privy to the elegant gliding air circles of larger birds of prey, along with a killer view. After resting a little, and a few futile attempts at using my field guide to identify some of the birds we came across, we continued. The trail started to descend a third time, and we followed a ridge trail that reminded me of some of the little footpaths in Nepal, the woodlands graded into forests of ponderosa pine, and sugar pine whose kin are more often found in the Sierra. We descended again to take a break at Bigpines junction, which appropriately coined, is a campsite with a gurgling stream passing through the pine covered canopy. We continued along to Pat’s Springs- a man-made watering hole, and continued through one of the many parts of the wilderness that is still sprouting from the 2008 fires. After an ankle-strengthening traverse on a ridge, through the misty fog, and with the night’s imminent approach, we finally made it to the saddle. We quickly set up camp, and enjoyed the sun falling over the ocean. Couscous and refried beans put us quickly to sleep. The next morning we were up early and tried to continue on to summit the elusive peak. The trail was a bit harsh, and very slow-going, with encroaching brush, and serious bush-wacking. Memories of Tanzania came in, and I wished we still had a machete, which would have proved to be quite useful through this stretch. After getting pretty torn up, and yes, defeated, we decided to turn back. We were both concerned about too much damage to our gear-we’ll have to count on those packs for 2,650 more miles……
We ended up turning back, and emptied our packs at Bigpine Camp, and went exploring on the Big Pines trail for a couple of afternoon hours. That evening, we cowboy camped under the clear blanket of stars, testing out our 2 person homemade sleeping quilt. With Jacob’s pack at our feet, we were pretty toasty, and the insulation proved to be just right. The temp dipped and held steady around 33 degrees. It was a beautiful night.
We hiked out on Saturday, and met up with the Camp Manager who informed us of the 9.1 earthquake that spawned a massive tsunami in Japan. It’s always disconcerting hearing about tragedies/catastrophes when you’ve been blissfully unaware in the backcountry. Just because you’ve tuned out doesn’t mean the world stops. My heart goes out to all the families and people of Japan and abroad who were there, and all those who’ll be rebuilding for many years to come.
The manager told us that there had been warnings on the California Coast, so we decided to travel further down the 1 to check it out. Wildly misleading was the beautiful day we found in front of us, leaving no hint of destruction along the Pacific Ring of Fire.
As we were driving North, the silver lining was illuminated when we caught a glimpse of a California Condor perched up on the rugged cliff facing the ocean. At one time, there were fewer than 25 of these ginormous scavengers, and now there are only around 160 of them left in the wild. In the wake of a weekend of tragedy for so many, we search for silver linings.