Mt. Manual in July? Are you nuts?!
I should add that you'll get scratch up a bit if you wear shorts and short sleeves. But the trail is hot in October, so it's a compromise.
As of November 11, 2002, certain parts of the Mount Manuel trail were in bad shape.
The trouble starts around the 2000-foot level, as the trail traverses a thickly forested northeast-facing slope. Over less than a half mile, at least 20 downed trees obstructed the trail. None were huge, but they slow progress considerably.
After leaving the forested area, the trail was washed out in many spots and heavily overgrown until reaching the second forested area at 3000'.
There were more downed trees and some heavily overgrown areas in the second forested area.
Other than those spots, the trail was generally in stellar shape.
The true summit of Manuel Peak was an anticlimax for me. As I walked along the ridge, I wondered, "what exactly is a 'bumplet'?" I actually walked over the true summit, and thought that the true summit was actually the prominent 3554-foot peak along Cabezo Prieto. Judging from the topographic map, Cabezo Prieto should have nice views to the north. Nowhere on Manuel Peak was I happy with the views to the north.
By far, the best views from the south are obtained on the "rocky outcropping" with a "lone tree" on its summit.
Our guidebook, "Day Hikes Around Monterey & Carmel", by Robert Stone, recommends stopping short of the summit and turning around at the highpoint just past the obvious reflector.
The prominent southern summit of Manuel Peak, with the lone tree, shows a nice outcropping of good quality marble (metamorphosed limestone). Much of the higher slopes of the peak are also composed of marble, but the lower sections appear to be other jumbled meta-sedimentary rocks. Nowhere will you find the conspicuous exposures of granite, found on the mightier peaks to the north and east.
As of April, 2003, poison oak was abundant along the Mt. Manuel trail. I wore a long-sleeve T-shirt, long pants, changed immediately after hiking, showered immediately after getting home... and am still itching all over today.
A much more pleasant approach to the peak is from Andrew Molera State Park, a few miles to the north of Pfeiffer Big Sur SP. Follow the East Molera trail up from Hwy 1 and along the ridge to Post Summit; this trail is marked on the USGS 7.5' as an old 4WD track, but it's not shown on the USFS Ventana Wilderness map. The final portion leading up to Post Summit is a steep and somewhat loose fire break.
From Post Summit to Peak 3554, the route follows hints of an old trail/fire break, and is an easy walk with abundant wildflowers in spring and excellent views. From the saddle between Post Summit and Peak 3554, the regular Mt. Manuel trail leads to the indistinct summit of Manuel Peak.
Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station: This is the only approach/trailhead if you are backpacking and need overnight parking. Park at the Big Sur Station 0.25 miles south of the State Park entrance and hike south along the Pine Ridge Trail. When the trail forks, go left where you will cross a bridge over the Big Sur River and come to the softball field. From here follow directions for option 3 above.
We tried this but found there was no fork from the Pine Ridge Trail. Several use trail forked off to the left, but there were signs that that said "Please stay on trail". When the trail started the serious uphill, we backtracked a short distances, climbed down to the campground, wandered through it, and found a bridge over the Carmel River and the start of the trail.
There are few major trees across the trail compared to 2002's description, but the upper part of the trail is, pardon the pun, going downhill. Several place required holding on to bushes on the uphill side to safely cross where the trail is going down. Some of these spots are the result of hikers moving to the downhill side because of the overgrown brush.
Shorts are definitely NOT advised. There is much thrashing through Ceanothus, Poison Oak, Oak, etc.
Compared to the early 70's when I went over Manuel a couple times to camp at Tin Shack (now closed I understand), the trail is not in good shape, but it's a great hike, a great view and a good place to get away from the madding crowds.
I started out this trail thinking I could run all the way to the top. Well, I managed to run all the way to just past the first forested section, in spite of a few downed trees...but soon after the forested section, the trail gets pretty sketchy.....no real danger of falling unless you are running and trip. But there were a few spots where you felt like a mountain goat with pretty spectacular drops of unpleasant heights. So I had to just do speed hike from there to the second forested section. After that it was clear sailing to the top except for a few downed trees.
Manuel Peak is really a dead end. The trail to Vado is wahed out and overgrown, and Vado was wrecked by a storm. The Tin House trail is basically gone.
A friend and I ran up this mountain in early August. It took us a little over 2.5 hours to do the whole trail because we had to battle our way through lots of brush. We also had to be careful not to fall off the trail in numerous steep locations. I suggest that no one try to run this trail.