Pico Blanco, Spanish for "White Peak," is perhaps the most distinctive and immediately recognisable peak in central California's Big Sur region. It is located at the far northwestern end of Los Padres National Forest, a few miles south of Monterey, and splits the north and south forks of the Little Sur River. The peak is the prominent white limestone/marble cone seen from the Ventana Trail leading to Ventana Double Cone, as well as nearby Post Summit. (In fact, it is reportedly the largest limestone deposit in the state). Summit views are quite good, taking in the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ventana Double Cone and Kandlbinder Peak to the the southeast, as well as a host of other Big Sur peaks: Mt. Manuel, Post Summit, Uncle Sam Mtn., and Cone Peak far off in the distance.
Pico Blanco is most noteworthy for its cultural and historical significance. The peak was considered a sacred mountain from which all life originated in the native traditions of the Rumsien and Esselen. According to Indian legend, the world was destroyed in a great flood, and when the waters rose, the summit of Pico Blanco was the only land to remain exposed. Several creatures--according to one version of the legend, an eagle, coyote, and hummingbird, according to another, an eagle, crow, raven, hawk, and hummingbird --survived the flood. A magical feather was plucked from the eagle and planted in the ocean to cause the waters to recede, recreating the world.
Still another fascinating legend concerns Al Clark's Lost Silver King Mine. In this legend, Al Clark, a "haggard toothless hermit" who eked out a poor existence from a silver mine on the peak, claimed to have found in the course of his excavations a vast cave with paintings by native peoples. This artwork would be some 20,000 years old, amongst the earliest evidence of native people's presence in America anywhere. Clark died in the 1920s, but before he did so, he blew up the Silver King Mine to protect the ancient treasures he'd found. Was his claim true or not? It's tough to say, but it's a neat story.
Pico Blanco is most easily approached out of Bottchers Gap. Follow Highway 1 south from Carmel for about twenty miles, and turn left on Palo Colorado Road, about 0.4 miles past Rocky Point. Follow this narrow, winding, but paved road through a remote residential community for about 8-9 miles to its end at Bottchers Gap. This is the same trailhead used to access Mt. Carmel and Ventana Double Cone.
From Bottchers Gap, head south down a gated dirt road to the Pico Blanco Boy Scout Camp. Continue south to where the trail forks, and take the right fork up to Point 2194, 0.7mi ENE of Pico Blanco. (The left fork heads along the Little Sur River to Jackson Camp). From Point 2194, you can head west up the connecting ridge and follow Pico Blanco's north ridge to the summit (class 2), or you can follow the drainage west of Point 2194 a short way before heading directly up the peak's east slopes (class 1-2). The cross-country travel on both options is surprisingly easy (mostly grassy slopes), especially by Ventana standards.
A $5 parking fee (per car, for both overnight and day visits) is required at the Bottchers Gap trailhead; it is payable when you park. A USFS ranger is stationed at Bottchers Gap to collect the fee, and also provide campfire permits if needed.
The summit technically lies on private property. It is owned by Granite Rock, which has been denied permission in the past to quarry the mountain. (The peak is visible from Highway 1 and thus falls under the purvue of the Coastal Commission). This may change in the future, although it seems doubtful given the peak's historical significance. Regardless, there are presently no signs indicating trespassing is forbidden, and there is no enforcement of the private property boundaries.
The peak lies outside the boundaries of the Ventana Wilderness. However, if you camp within the wilderness, a campfire permit is required if you wish to have an open fire. This can be obtained from any Forest Service office, or from the Bottchers Gap ranger.
When To Climb
The peak can be climbed year round, although it can be unbearably hot in summer. Winter and early spring are the most pleasant times to visit.
Backcountry camping is found nearby at Pico Blanco, Launtz Creek, or Vado campsites, all within the wilderness boundaries. A campfire permit is required for these options; see the red tape section for details.
"Said to be the largest body of pure limestone in California. Spanish for 'White Peak,' referring to the white limestone which caps the summit and east and south flanks of the peak. Legend has it that Pico Blanco was sacred to the Esselen Indians who considered it the center of creation. Variant name: Sur Peak.
Pico Blanco Boy Scout Camp - The land upon which the camp is sited with its '... rich growth of forest was purchased by William Randolph Hearst from the Swetnam heirs in the 1920s...Hearst bought it to protect the redwoods there, which grow alongside Monterey County's finest stand of old-growth Douglas Fir. When the famous publisher gave the land to the Boy Scouts of Ameria, in the early 1950s, it was with the understanding that the Scouts would treasure the trees and keep the forest intact. -- Norman'
In her memoirs, Elfrieda Swetman Hayes wrote:
'in 1936 [the land] was sold to Hearst who gave it to the Boy Scouts for a Camp, for 99 years, a fact that made me very happy as it ensures that the beautiful forest will not be touched until their lease is up.'
However, Norman goes on to report:
'Ironically, incredibly, many of the finest and oldest trees have been cut recently by the Scouts and milled into lumber stacked neatly here and there besides massive stumps. Economic reasons are cited by Scout officials unused to public scrutiny of their forestry practices.'" - Donald Clark, Monterey County Place Names