South Ventana Cone is the highest peak in the northern part of the Ventana Wilderness, and the fifth highest peak (after Junipero Serra
, Pinyon Peak, Cone
Peak and Chews Ridge) in the whole Wilderness. It lies at the triple divide between the three largest drainages in Ventana: the Carmel, Big Sur, and Arroyo Seco rivers, so in one sense the peak can be said to lie at the very heart of the range.
Though only a short distance and 30 minutes from the nearby trail, the peak is infrequently climbed, about a dozen parties each year. The views from the summit are outstanding.
The peak can be approached from either the east or west side of the range. The Pine Ridge Trail, which runs a short distance to the north of the peak runs east-west across the range from China Camp to Big Sur State Park.
The easiest approach is from the China Camp TH, 8.5 miles to Pine Ridge (the closest point to the peak). China Camp lies at 4300ft elevation, and the route follows a scenic up and down course along the ridge dividing the Carmel River and Arroyo Seco drainages.
A very different approach starts from Big Sur State Park along SR1 and the Pacific Coast. It follows above, then along the Big Sur River for 14 miles before climbing out of the drainage over the next three miles to reach Pine Ridge.
Pine Ridge is the easiest jumping off point to head for the summit. It's easy to locate since it's the highpoint along the 25mi Pine Ridge Trail. Head south from the trail through chaparral on the northwest side of the peak. The north and northeast have considerably more brush to contend with. So if you're coming from China Camp, don't head up too early. The summit can also be reached from the Black Cone Trail, climbing either the Southwest Ridge or the West Slopes. All routes are class 2, your bushwhacking mileage may vary.
No permits are required for overnight stays, but fire permits
are required for overnight visitors planning to have open fires in the Ventana Wilderness (the link above will tell you how to obtain one by fax). The main office is just south of the entrance to Big Sur State Park, on the left (east) side of the road. This is horribly inconvenient for trips starting from the Tassajara Road on the east side (so consider going with just cold food).
As of May 2004, The NF Adventure Pass is no longer required by the Monterey Ranger District which covers all of Ventana.
When To Climb
Most hikers visit in spring, after the winter rains have diminished and when the wildflowers are in bloom. Summers are usually too hot for hiking in the Ventana Wilderness. A worse scourge is the flies that visit in the summer and can make a hike rather annoying. At least you can get repellent for mosquitoes...
Fall is also a nice time to visit, though the wildflowers will be absent. Winter can be a nice time to visit as well, though the weather is more fickle, making advance planning difficult. Cold temperatures and snows reach areas above 3,000ft, so be prepared for cold weather if visiting Nov-Apr.
Camping is allowed in most parts of the Ventana Wilderness. There is no charge, but you must have a valid Fire Permit if you plan to have open campfires.
Due to a lack of water in many areas, it is advisable to use the existing campgrounds in the area. Many of these have water sources fed from springs, ensuring adequate water supply year round. This is particularly important along the many trails that follow ridgelines rather than the creeks or rivers.
There is only one regular water source along the Pine Ridge Trail between China Camp and South Ventana Cone, this located about a mile west of Church Creek Divide. This divide, the low point along the ridge, is also a fine camp location but without water. If you continue west a short ways past Pine Ridge to the Pine Ridge Camp, you will find a great campsite (good view site) with spring-fed water year-round.
If coming from Big Sur SP, there are ample camping locations along the Big Sur River and the trail. The last one before climbing out of the drainage is located at Redwood Creek.
Mountain ConditionsBig Sur Activities and Services
Trail condition reports
/ message board
from the Ventana Wilderness Aliance