Cone Peak is a spectacular summit along the rugged Big Sur coast. At 5,155 feet, it is the second highest mountain in the Santa Lucia Mountain range, but it’s the highest mountain to offer a view of the ocean. The mountain rises nearly a vertical mile in less than three miles from the coastline as the crow flies. This is one of the steepest gradients from ocean to summit in the contiguous United States, hence the name “Sea to Sky.” In fact, the average gradient from sea level to summit is around 33%, which is steeper than the average gradient from Owens Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney. The three canyons that descend from Cone Peak to the ocean are impressively steep with thick stands of redwoods and cascading streams. The ridgelines contain oak woodland and chaparral transitioning to a pine forest higher up and even some firs near the top.
Big Basin is one of my favorite places to run. Established in 1902, it’s California’s oldest state park and features the largest continuous stand of old growth redwood forest (in square miles) south of Humboldt State Park (250 miles to the north). It’s only 1.5 hours away from the population centers of the Bay Area, but feels much further. Big Basin’s boundaries contain over 18,000 acres, but trails link to adjacent protected lands. All told, there are hundreds of miles of delicious single track to explore in the “redwood belt” of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
After an awesome adventure run down the Carmel River last week, I returned to the Ventana Wilderness to see the famous Sykes Hot Springs with a variation on the return trip to see the lush redwood grove at Terrace Creek and expansive views from the Coast Ridge Road (22 miles total). The Pine Ridge Trail to Sykes Hot Springs is one of the most popular destinations in the Ventana and without the cumbersome brush and routefinding issues characteristic of most trails in the region, this trail is like a highway. Since the hike to the hot springs is nearly ten miles one way, most people do it as a backpacking trip and everybody we saw on this day was spending the night in the wilderness.
Map, photos, and more trail descriptions after the jump!
I joined Gary Gellin and Jim Moyles for a point-to-point adventure run along the wild Carmel River in the Ventana Wilderness (3 hours south of the Bay Area). The route starts at China Camp along Tassajara Road (rough dirt road) and finishes below Los Padres Reservoir. The first 3.5 miles is along the Pine Ridge Trail with great views into the Tassajara Creek drainage and the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains, including Junipero Serra Peak (the highest point in the range at 5,862 ft) and Ventana Double Cone. Evidence of the huge fires two seasons ago was evident, but the vegetation is coming back and I even spotted small pine saplings.
According to the national park service, the Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular hikes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, if not the entire Sierra. I completed the famous loop in 12 hours, 31 minutes, starting at 5:30 am and finishing just after 6 pm. The loop is 46 miles long and climbs from 5,035 ft at the trailhead to 11,978 ft at Glen Pass. The portion between Vidette Meadows (Mile 14) and Woods Creek Crossing (Mile 29) is along the John Muir Trail. The highlight of the loop is the Rae Lakes area, a chain of large alpine lakes over 10,500 feet with views of rugged Sierra peaks. The trailhead is at Road’s End in magnificent Kings Canyon and travels along Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek, including Vidette Meadows, Castle Domes, and Paradise Valley. Most backpackers do the loop clockwise, which makes sense as you gradually gain elevation through the Rae Lakes basin. However, for running it makes more sense to go counterclockwise reaching the highpoint at Glen Pass in 18.5 miles, followed by 27.5 miles of downhill, in theory (there are lots of blips).
A strong storm on October 13th dropped several feet of snow above 9,000 feet, and a substantial amount of snow remains which made for slow going between Charlotte Lake junction and Dollar Lake (~8 miles). The snow was particularly deep on the north side of Glen Pass with an icy crust layer on top of powdery snow. The result was a lot of postholing and I often could not find where the trail was buried until near the Rae Lakes, but the views of the Sierra with a fresh coat of snow more than compensated. The trails along the loop are generally rocky and rugged precluding a consistent fast pace. I found the section before and after Mist Falls (miles 41 to 43) to be particularly rocky and rough on tired legs at the end of the day.
Splits after the jump!
Gary Gellin and I enjoyed a spectacular 13.5 mile loop in Pinnacles National Monument. This challenging loop entailed nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain and covered most of the highlights in the park, including Bear Gulch Cave, High Peaks, Balconies Cave, and Condor Gulch. The Pinnacles are located in the Gabilan Range to the east of the Salinas Valley. The rock formations and arid habitat make it seem like a slice of the desert southwest, but yet the Pinnacles have unique and intriguing features that can only be found there. Chapparal dominates the landscape along with blue oak in the riparian areas and stately gray pines growing amidst the rock pinnacles.
Complete gallery with dozens of photos here.