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!

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