The route starts from the top of Pine Ridge, where the Pine Ridge Tail has a junction with the Black Cone Trail (heading south) and the Pine Valley trail (heading north).
The easiest approach is from China Camp on the east side, a six-mile hike along a scenic ridgeline. Alternatively, you can approach from the Pacific Ocean, at the trailhead near the ranger station along Highway 1. This approach is 17 miles long, with considerably more elevation gain. Both approach routes follow the Pine Ridge Trail, a popular trail that bisects the Ventana Wilderness from east to west.
The Ventana Wilderness is in a constant state of flux. The chapparal grows aggressively over trails, and can obscure an unmaintained in a few years. Some old trail have been abandoned, and others are infrequently maintained. In addition, fires strike the region almost every summer, as part of the natural cycle of the ecosystem, making cross-country travel easier due to the clearing of the old chapparal. With this in mind, consider that you may find conditions along this trail much different that what is described below, based on a visit in April of 2002.
At the trail junction found along the top of Pine Ridge, follow the unsigned trail north towards Pine Valley. Leave the trail at the high point along the ridge. Follow the ridgeline for two miles to Ventana Cone. Unfortunately it's not as easy as it sounds due to the requisite bushwhacking involved, but it's not as hard as one might imagine either. There is evidence of brush clearing along the route, either for an old, abandoned trail, or for access to the survey marker found on the summit. The brush appears to have been cut even before the fires that swept the east side of this ridge a few years ago. Look for these cuts, about 6 inches from the ground, to ensure you're on the correct (i.e. easiest) route. At other places it looks like fire breaks were cut along portions of the ridge. Though much of it has grown back, it is still easier travelling than through more mature sections. In three key places where the trail is hardly obvious, the route is marked with orange tape. Since this is not an official trail, there is no reason to believe this tape will be replaced when worn, so don't count on it [these were all gone during a Jan 2003 visit]. You should never have to leave the ridge for more than about 100 feet, and then usually on the east side. The west side is denser and more difficult to manage while the east side provides easier going due to more recent burns. If you find yourself bushwhacking through thick manzanita or tangled brush, you are probably not taking the easiest way. Don't be surprised when you lose the trail. It is definitely a route-finding challenge!
There are two intermediate peaklets along the way. The first is Peak 4445, located at the halfway point. There is a USGS marker at the high point. The second is at the 3/4 point, after which the amount of bushwhacking diminishes.
At the summit of Ventana Cone are two USGS survey markers, one placed in 1955, the other undated. The ridge continues for another two miles to Ventana Double Cone to the northwest. However, this route appears much more difficult due to steep, loose slopes and difficult bushwhacking. If you have any information on this alternative route from Ventana Double Cone, please post some route information for this mountain page. The author is interested in a one-way dayhike from China Camp to Bottchers Gap.
There is both poison oak and yucca growing along this route. The yucca is easy to identify and avoid, though a jab will pierce your pants and cause bloodshed. It is not poisonous, however. Poison oak is a different story, and you are advised to know how to identify it and avoid it.
If you are hiking along the ridge in the fog, be sure to have a compass with you - it is easy to get disoriented and bushwhack your way down a side ridge. Typically the fog is thickest in the morning hours, clearing around noon. If there is no fog in the morning, you will likely have clear hiking the rest of the day.
The most essential gear is a sturdy pair of pants. Wearing shorts on this route is most definitely a bad idea. Even with pants, two of us still had cuts, scrapes, and bruises at the end of the day.
Bring plenty of water. There is some water available along the approach route from China Camp in winter/spring in the vicinity of Divide Camp, but these cannot be counted on later in the season.
No technical gear required.
If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.