Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Old Coast Road – Big Sur

Andrew Molera to Bixby Bridge
10.2 miles
Hiking Time: 5 hours
1650 elevation gain
Jan, Paula, Mary, Pam, Julie, Paul

After the last two short hikes, I wanted to do a nice long one. In my “Day Hikes around Big Sur” book there was a hike along the Old Coast Road which involved a two car shuttle – leaving one car at Bixby Bridge and the second at Andrew Molera. You could do either hike as an out and back hike – with more elevation if you started at the Bixby Bridge. I wasn’t sure how it would be hiking on a road the whole time – I usually prefer trails. Also some of the hikes in this book have not been quite successful – the search for the suspension bridge that inadvertently turned into a stumble on a pot plantation and the Kirk Creek Beach trail with this-trail-isn’t –REALLY-closed-is-it? fiasco. I decided to go for it anyway.

It’s a time of injury and recuperation for many members of our hiking group. Teresa and Jane were having back problems. Graciela has sprained her ankle two weeks before, Jo’s foot was bothering her and Tara’s knees got really bad on the Saturday before the hike. Pam’s hips were bothering her and Paula’s neck hurt the night before. My ankles have been tweaking me. I think we have almost every body covered amongst the group. J This dwindled our number down to five. Jan called and had a meeting that she had to be at in Santa Cruz at 5:00 p.m. So I had almost given up on the idea of a car shuttle.

This was a tricky hike logistically. We met at the Soquel Park and Ride: Jan, Pam, Paula, Mary and I. We agreed Jan would just do the first half of the hike and return to Andrew Molera. Pam’s hips were bothering her and she hadn’t been exercising so she opted for the shorter hike. Paula’s neck was bothering her – so she was going to opt for the shorter hike – but when she got there she wanted to drive and decided to commit to the whole 10 mile hike (since she would be our driver, she had to make it). Pam had the larger car, so she drove with Jan. Mary and I drove with Paula.

We rendezvoused at the Safeway in Carmel Valley and then headed south on Highway 1. As we were driving along – suddenly out of nowhere – a sheriff with lights flashing was right behind us. Paula pulled over and he zoomed by – fortunately in pursuit of someone else. It about gave us a heart attack, though.

When we got to the Bixby Bridge we parked Paula’s car and started moving packs and boots into Pam’s car. Pam was blocking another car while we were loading. The driver came over and said “Don’t worry. You have all the time in the world.” Which we though was very nice until a few minutes later he started backing up. Pam got out of his way. Now we weren’t sure if he was being sarcastic of if we just had different interpretations of what “all the time in the world” meant.

We finally loaded into Pam’ car and the five of us headed to Andrew Molera. It seemed quite a long drive considering we were going to hike back. Highway One hugs the coast – while we would be going considerably inland. Still Jan and Pam were pleased with their half-the-hike decision at this point. I hoped that the road did indeed go through.

We arrived at Andrew Molera and paid our $8 park fee. I asked the guy at the front gate whether the Coast Road was really only 10 miles, but he didn’t seem to have a clue.

As I was changing from my Tevas to my hiking boots, it occurred to me I would have to carry my Teva’s since I couldn’t leave them in Pam’s car. Not a big problem – just something a little more planning at the car shuttle shift could have avoided.

Since Pam and Jan were leaving early – there was no point in coming back to Andrew Molera. We had to make it through to Paula’s car which seemed a long, long way away. We were on the trail at 11:30.

We walked back up to the highway and crossed over. The Old Coast Road was the primary coastal access route before Bixby Bridge was built in 1932. I had assumed it would be gated with car access only to folks with property on the road. I assumed wrong.

A sign said that it was private property on both sides of the road and that no loitering or trespassing was allowed. We started climbing. We hadn’t hiked far before the first car came along. At least it was driving slow. The higher we hiked the better the ocean views became. We could see the Santa Lucia Mountains in the other direction. The road was uphill, hot and exposed. I wondered if the whole hike would be this way.

We passed a cattle ranch on our right. Pam noticed one of the cows was laying down, so Mary whipped out her binoculars to investigate. I had already worked up quite a sweat and we hadn’t even reached the first high point yet. We could see our road winding up a hillside far away in the distance. We finally reached the high point and then started downhill and were in the shade of the redwoods. The road was actually quite pretty and there was very little car traffic on it.

We kept going down, down, down. Jan was planning on turning around at 1:30 and she was concerned about going any further down because – she and Pam were gong to have to turn around and climb right back up the hill. We decided to stop and have lunch at a lovely shaded spot – complete with log to sit on and beautiful redwood grove. Pam was feeling much better and would have probably completed the hike if she hadn’t driven.

We were enjoying our lunch when a Volkswagen van pulled up. Our friend, Paul from dance class jumped out. Paul lives in Speckles and I had told him about this hike since it was in Big Sur. He had offered to be part of the car shuttle and hang out at the River Inn in the meantime, but we had never been able to connect to give him directions or our plan. He said, “You said you were hiking the Old Coast Road, so I figured I’d run into you on it.” It was great to see him.

There was a gate with a trail across the road from us. The sign said “High Fire danger” but not private property. We walked down the trail a bit. I found out later that this is the trailhead to Pico Blanco Camp – a backpack I want to try.

Since Jan and Pam were running out of time – they agreed to have Paul drive them back to Andrew Molera. He thought he might run out of gas – but otherwise it would be faster. This way they go to see the rest of the hike from the comfort of Paul’s van. They saw what was in store for the remaining three of us.

We packed up and headed down the path past a lovely little house. A little further down we finally reached the two bridges that were supposed to be our turn around point for either of the out and back versions of the hike. Now we left the pleasant shade and headed into the heat and elevation again. The road turned into steep switchbacks climbing up. Each bend seemed like it would bring you to a point that would put it in perspective, but the road just relentlessly climbed. We could see that there was construction working on a slide, though there wasn’t a crew working since it was Sunday.

We drank lots of water, sweated and plodded along. Paula was running a little low on water. I had 3 bottles and was already almost through my 2nd one. After what seemed like endless curves – we finally reached the summit.

Two of the trucks that had passed us were parked here. They were also Santa Cruzans who had just finished camping at Kirk Creek. One of the guys took the shot of the three of us at the summit.

Now we got to head downhill again. What a relief. We descended past cool houses and gardens. All downhill from here we thought. Just in time. It was shaded and cool. There was a high point next to the road – so I climbed up to see if I could scout our route. Just lots more road, no bridge, no coast, more uphill. It was a bit discouraging. Paula was pretty beat, but was being a trooper. Suddenly we saw Paul pull up in the van. He offered us a ride part of the way – he said there was about two more miles to go including quite a bit of uphill.

Paula decided to ride for a bit. Mary and I wanted to hike the whole thing. So we waved as they zipped by and then there was just the two of us. Mary wasn’t phased in the least, but I was definitely feeling the hike by this point. We kept going down and then started climbing up, up, up. We came around the corner and there was an incredible view of Bixby Bridge. It was from a perspective you don’t usually see. We could see Paula in the distance already hiking down.

It only took 30 minutes to complete that last section so it couldn’t have been that far, but it sure seemed like it. We saw someone walking toward us and there was Paul again. Joining us for the last ¼ mile of the hike. He took this great picture of Mary and me with an interesting perspective of the bridge.

When we got back to the car there was a guy blaring Fleetwood Mac. Paula had been back for quite some time and wanted to go down to the beach. I took one look at the trail and said –“No thank you.” It would have been quite a scramble down. Paula thought she would go down on her own We said Paul could take us to the River Inn and she considered staying at the beach, but decided to bow to the group and come with us.

At that moment she said. “I hope I didn’t leave my lights on.”

She checked her car and her battery was indeed dead. We were so glad we hadn’t left her there since there is no cell phone reception, Paul saved the day again. He pulled up his van and while Paula looked for jumper cables, he got access to his battery which is behind the passenger’s seat. Paula couldn’t find her cables, but Paul found some in his van. While Paula’s car was charging, Paul cleaned her windows and washed the roof of her car. He was a blessing to have around all the way around.


Paula and I followed Paul and Mary to the River Inn. When we got to Andrew Molera I saw that there was lots of parking along the road which would have saved us a bit of a walk and the eight bucks.
At the River Inn we got drinks at the bar and then headed down to the creek. They have the chairs right in the creek and no one was in the creek, so we had our choice of seats. The water felt great on our poor tired dogs. It’s a great place to stop after hiking.

Paula drove us back down the coast right before sunset. The light was wonderful.

The whole day was quite an adventure. A challenge and yet so rewarding. It reminded me how much I love the Big Sur area. It was absolutely gorgeous. This area truly moves my soul. As always I so enjoyed the company of my hiking partners. It was a wonderful day that far passed my expectations. I would definitely recommend the hike along the road. It wouldn’t be to bad to drive it – but hiking you see so much more. Another glorious hike in Big Sur!

Lessons Learned: If doing this hike from Andrew Molera, park on the road. Think about what you are taking and what you can leave in a car shuttle switch. Have faith and challenge yourself. Know that there are angels in the world – or at least in Speckles.

1 comment:

Canucktions said...


Keep these hiking adventures coming. A latter part of this adventure jogged a memory of you, Tom and I sitting in the Creek near the River Inn. Also I purchased some unique one-of-a-kind t-shirts at the store attached to the restaurant. For me, six months down and another six to go on this kewl Crystal Reporting contract of mine. See you soon in June.