Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cone Peak - Big Sur

June 9, 2007
Big Sur

4.5 miles
1,200 elevation gain
Hiking time: 2 hours
Weather Man Steve, Trespassing Julie (me), Backseat Julie

The most difficult thing about this hike is getting to the trailhead.
It’s six miles back on a dirt road that rivals Lompico – blind hairpin curves, no pullouts and steep drop offs. The road itself is not too bad, but my car doesn’t like gravel roads. Fortunately, Steve was willing to take his new truck.

We were camping at Kirk Creek and had talked about getting an early start. However, we woke to fog and decided to wait and let it burn off a bit. My other rationale was I was enjoying reading on my lounger too much to rush the morning.

Julie and Mike showed up at 10:30 from Lompico. Julie wanted to go on the hike – so we told her we’d pick her up at 11:00. I packed extra water (after the Mt. Manuel hike) and a snack for the peak. Julie brought a walking stick and a small bottle of water.

The Naciemento-Ferguson road is a twisty, steep grade with incredible ocean views. It was foggy as we left, but Steve predicted it would all burn off, right when we reached the top of Cone Peak. We drove seven miles up and the fog started diminishing. Then we turned onto Cone Peak for another six miles of door clutching terror. (Just kidding – Steve is a great driver). The view is spectacular from Cone Peak Road.

I had hiked to Cone Peak on my first backpacking trip to Big Sur in 1994. I remember one of the women on that trip had a fender bender on a blind curve of Cone Peak Road. We had climbed Cone Peak at the beginning of the backpacking trip. At that time I was doing a topless-on-mountain-tops ritual and I ended up leaving a very powerful medicine pouch on the top of Cone Peak. I always said it wasn’t lost – that I knew where it was – in the center of the Ventana wilderness, but I had a secret fantasy that I would find it after all these years – perfectly preserved.

When we came to the second pullover on the road, there was a couple there and we asked them what turnout this was. They pointed to a trail sign clearly reading Cone Peak”. The sun was out in full force and Julie was wearing a long sleeved fleece and knew she was going to boil. I gave her my long sleeve capilene shirt which would at least wick and dry fast. I tried to convince her to take a larger water bottle, but she thought the little one was enough.

I was ready to take the first picture of our fearless driver and his blindingly blue truck and we discovered the camera wasn’t working. What? No pictures for the blog? Terrible. But what can you do? I decided to try and always bring a throw away camera as a back up.

We started up the trail. It is similar terrain to Mt. Manuel. Chaparral. Dry. Rocky. Manzanita bushes and brush. We saw trees that were scorched in the 1999 Kick Complex fire. Also like Mt. Manuel, the bugs and flies were nasty. I donned my sarong. Julie wasn’t too bothered in her long sleeves and jeans. But poor Steve in tank top and shorts was exposed and slapped away at them on the whole hike. He eventually used my hat as a bug swatter. I should have brought the bug spray, which I actually had in camp!

We curved around to ocean views and as Steve had predicted the fog was clearing. We reached the intersection with Cone Peak Trail. It gains 324 feet in just .03 miles. The trail was wide, but the drop offs were steep. Julie has a fear of heights, we discovered. On two of the switchbacks which were narrow, she didn’t think she could go on – but she overcame her fear. The hike was a challenge for Julie – the heat, height, elevation and she has been struggling with foot pain as well - but she came through like a champ.

We reached the summit pleased with our success until we saw Stella, a tiny Chihuahua with several young girls. Stella had made it to the summit on her four inch little legs and was happily running around. Julie said it put our accomplishment into a different perspective that such a tiny dog could make it to the peak.

At the top of Cone Peak is an abandoned fire station. Unlike Eagle Rock, this one is in good shape and hasn’t been vandalized. The views were spectacular without a wisp of fog.

We snacked on cherries, figs, oranges and drank lots of water. I filled Julie’s little bottle with my extra bottle and lightened my load. We walked the fire tower enjoying views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast.

Then I saw the spot where I had left my medicine pouch. It was way out on the farthest point. The trail was quite eroded and overgrown. Part of it was a narrow saddle with drop-offs on both sides. I started climbing out there, but it got beyond my comfort level. I’d had an experience climbing around the cliffs at the beach the day before with Steve that made me more cautious. I realized I wasn’t going to make it to that point, but it didn’t matter. I knew the pouch wasn’t there. And regardless, the pouch and what it represents and the power it gives is already in my heart and in my love for Big Sur.

As usual the hike down was easier than the hike up. We passed the couple from the trailhead who were still working their way up the trail. Julie talked about a new therapy she is using to overcome fear. It’s definitely working for her. We were back at the truck in no time.

So where did these lovely Cone Peak shots come from? I ended up going to Flickr to grab some representative shots. I’d give credit under the photos, but my blogging skills aren’t that sophisticated. If you go to Flickr and look under Cone Peak, there are many beautiful shots. I’ll still bring a back up camera next time!

I am so glad that Julie joined us on this hike. It was a nice little adventure.

Lessons Learned: Fear is in the mind and can be overcome. You can’t lose the power of the heart. Improvise!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Mt. Manuel Trail

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
11 miles
3,200 elevation gain
Hiking Time: 6 ½ hours
Jane and Julie

This hike was a challenge hike and Jane and I met the challenge! 3,200 elevation gain over 5 miles. I have wanted to do this hike for several years. One of the Big Sur hiking book said “you can do this hike – but is it worth it?” Jane and I would both say, “Yes!”

When I was backpacking to Sykes Host springs two years ago – I had seen a trail cutting across the mountain and first thought – “My God, that’s not our trail, is it?” But then I realized it must be the Mt. Manuel trail. You can actually see the trail from Highway 1.

We have been trying to schedule this hike since May, but just haven’t found the time. If we hadn’t done it this weekend, I would have put it off until fall. My new Big Sur Hiking Book say summer months are foggy and the best months for hiking peaks is mid-November to April. Now, we find out!

I picked Jane up at 6:30 a.m. We were determined to get an early start on the hike. As was the case four days ago for the Garrapata hike – it was foggy and I had to have the windshield wipers on all the way to Seaside. My stomach was upset and we had to make several unscheduled bathroom stops. I hoped I would feel better before the hike. This is not the kind of problem you want on the trail, especially this trail! We got to Pfeiffer and stopped in the camp store. I bought two maps and a Big Sur medallion for my hiking stick. It took a couple of false turns to get to the trailhead, but we packed up and were still on the trail at 9:00 a.m.

Jane had brought plenty of water. I had brought three nalgene bottles full and that would not have been enough without Jane’s additional bottles. The trailhead starts on a paved road which climbs to John Pfeiffer’s Homestead Cabin. We climbed up a dirt trail and got our first peek of an ocean view. By this time it was starting to clear.

Part of the trail went through a little tunnel of undergrowth, including plenty of poison oak. I’m not sure why they didn’t clear this part of the trail since it was right at the beginning. The next part of the trail went past a giant fallen oak tree. Unfortunately, many of the oaks in Big Sur are succumbing to Sudden Oak Death.

Further up the path we came to the junction of Mt. Manuel trail. The sign gave us pause because we knew it was a 3,200 elevation gain overall – which means that we had already come 400 feet. 2800 elevation gain over 4 miles is nothing to laugh at. We were ready for it or at least ready to begin! My book says the grade is 11% for most of the trail. It didn’t seem that steep to me, just steadily uphill. The trail was pretty well maintained by Big Sur standards – though we were in for a couple of rough spots.

Mt Manuel is named for Manuel Innocenti an Esselen Indian who had a cabin near the peak in 1886. The first part of the trail clings to the edge of the mountain, with steep drop-offs. The trail is wide enough, but you want to watch your footing. It wouldn’t be hard to go plunging off the side of the trail. I was thankful for my walking stick which was extremely useful for balance on this hike.

You could definitely see the trail traveling the contours of the mountain. The question was what was beyond that farthest point? I could look across the valley and see the trail to Sykes Hot Springs. Now I was seeing it from the other side. It’s amazing when you are hiking how quickly you can cover territory. You turn around and are amazed how far and how high you have come.

There were plenty of flowers for Jane to study. She had brought several guides. There were many lizards and two snakes slithered quickly off the trail. The air was filled with the buzzing of honeybees busy among the flowers. The sun had come out. This trail lived up to my expectations of being hot and exposed. We were looking for a good place to stop. Jane was starting to get a blister which needed treating and I wanted to put on more sunscreen. There were two shaded gullies full of trees. The rest of the trail was exposed chaparral and the morning sun was getting hot. The second gully had a nice stopping point with rocks to sit on. It’s so easy when hiking to stop just short of the perfect stopping place – five minutes before the giant waterfall or grand vista – but sometimes you just gotta take a break.

Jane treated her blister, we had water, trail mix and put on sunscreen. Onward. We finally reached that furthest point and turned the corner to see the Santa Lucia Mountains. We entered a forest and Jane stopped to treat her second blister. This is when the biting flies and bugs showed up. We discovered another use for sarongs – wearing them as veils completely covering head, arms, shoulders and backs worked as both a sunscreen and a bug screen. I don’t think we would have made it to the top without our sarongs – the bugs were nasty.

We thought we were pretty close to the top. Jane pulled her left groin muscle which was painful but not debilitating. Being a trooper she did not complain. She was ready to reach the top, however. As we climbed, the Santa Lucia mountains became more impressive. Jane was busy noting the wildflowers. We stopped to take this picture. Jane had to climb up the hillside and lay on her back. You can see her legs and water bottle at the bottom of the picture. I am demonstrating proper sarong bug protection. We kept thinking we were close to the top, but then there would be another curve.

Finally our destination came into view. It was definitely the top and there was a tree there for shade! We crossed a saddle and the ocean came into view. You could see all the way north to Pt. Sur Lighthouse – with the fog hanging off the coast. To the south you could see the whole coast, but shrouded in fog.

We stopped to take a picture next to an Our Lord’s Candle that was in bloom. These Yucca plants dot the mountains in Big Sur. I just learned their name in my post hike reading. Quite apt. We climbed around the bend, up a last little hill and we were there. We had summited! What a feeling. We reached the top at 12:30 p.m. after 3 ½ hires of hiking.

We ate our lunch in the shade and enjoyed our hard earned view. I took a water inventory and thanks to Jane’s extra bottles we had enough. Jane had brought a protein drink which we shared and is a great idea for future hikes. There was a black “reflector” thing that we never discovered the purpose of.

In addition to the ever present bugs – there were many butterflies. As we ate lunch they circled around us; Swallowtails, little white and blue ones. I tried to use mind control to make one land on me, they came close, but they didn’t land. Jane and I must have looked like two giant flowers in our purple and pink sarongs. On the trail down Jane had a Swallowtail land on her briefly and take a taste of her sarong. He didn’t like it so he didn’t stay long.

After lunch we headed down the trail. The trail seemed a bit different and Jane kept saying – I don’t remember this. Sure enough we ended up at the Reflector. Still don’t know what it is. Retracing our steps – Jane spotted a Horned Toad (Horny Toads we used to called them as kids) in the bushes. It was only the second one I have seen in the wild. It wasn’t listed in the book as being native to Big Sur. We were excited to see him. There was a reason for our extra little side trip.

We had not seen a soul all day and figured we were the only two fools brave enough to hike it in June.
We were wrong. The first person we met on the trail was a young woman with a full size pack. Turns out she was training for the John Muir Trail. We had her take our picture while we had the chance. Next we met a pair of older hikers. Jane was looking more closely at the flower leaves after spending time with her identification book on the summit. She was noting the shape of the leaves and how they came off the stem. I though I’d be lucky to remember the color of the flowers.

We kept winding our way down. We met two more pairs of hikers. It was 3:00 p.m. and they had a far ways to go and hadn’t hit the bugs yet. We knew they were going to be eaten alive, but wished them luck.

Coming back was a breeze. Of course, it took longer than we remembered. We saw a giant blue nosed honey bees amongst the flowers. We couldn’t tell if his nose was naturally blue or if it was from the pollen of the flowers. It took us three hours to hike down. When we stopped for a pee break, Jane got bit on the butt by one of the biting flies. The Noive!

When we finally got to the Homestead Cabin we started down the paved road. Jane remembered the road being dirt, so we went back and circled around several times before pulling out the map and realizing we were right in the first place. Nothing like a little detour at the end of the trail. My dogs were barking (an expression Jane and had never heard) and we were both anxious to change out of our hiking boots.

We drove to Nepenthe and stopped at the Phoenix – a store I always love to visit. Jane started talking with one of the salesmen who was extremely knowledgeable about the area. I had a long talk with him about backpacking and hiking. He had been everywhere in Big Sur. Jane ended up buying me the book Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur by Analise Elliot which has been really informative. We thought about having drinks at Nepenthe and went up to see the view.

Instead, we decided to go to my favorite – the River Inn. We got our Bloody Marys and took them down to the river. They have Adirondack chairs set up in the river itself. So we went and soaked our feet in the cold water. Heaven after a long hike! We stayed for a nice dinner and then headed home completely satisfied.

We had expected to be challenged and we were, but in spite of the fog and the sun, the blisters and pulled muscle, the biting flies and bugs, the poison oak and 11% grade – we had accomplished our goal! There is something so empowering and fulfilling in being out in nature. I feel it on every hike. This hike made me thankful as well – for a hiking partner like Jane and for a strong, healthy body.

Lessons Learned: A sarong is effective bug protection. Training helps for a big hike like this. Climb Big Sur Peaks November to April. Protein drinks work great on hikes. Go to the River Inn after all Big Sur hikes and soak your feet in the river!