The desire to hike the Ventana Double Cone had been bothering me for too long- so I finally got the chance to do it.
So, my buddy Dan and I decided we were going to hike the VDC during our spring break. We are both students at Humboldt State University and both of our dads were alumni of the college.
This was Dans first time in the Ventana, and this was a great introduction for him.
Overall, the weather was beatiful- especially compared to rainy Humboldt County.
The only drawback was being quite out of shape, since they really arent kidding about the "Freshman 15 pounds" that I seemed to have gained in 5 months.
So, we decided to make a leisurly 3-day trip out of the VDC.
Day 1- Bottchers Gap to Little Pines
We left Prunedale around 6 am and got to the trailhead around 7:30sh. It looked like Larry, the attendant at Bottchers Gap, was just getting up, but he drove off on his bike, and we paid our parking dues.
Before starting out, I walked Dan over to the viewpoint at Bottchers Gap to show him our destination, the Double Cone and nearby ridge, and explained how the Scout Camp is down the canyon below.
The initial climb out of Bottchers Gap was straightforward as usual, but this was my first time hauling a pack up it, and the difference is amazing. There were a few small branches in the way, but nothing major, and a little bit of trail erosion. The trail parallels Mill Creek for a while, then crossed its tributaries.
About 150 yards before Skinners Ridge viewpoint there was a large downed tree, and the only way around was to go through poison oak, then dormant. On our way back, we would work on clearing the tree.
On Skinners ridge, we enjoyed the views and noted the unofficial campsite up there- dry, probably illegal, but a beautiful site under some large madrones.
We then heading downhill, though some poison oak encroachment along the trail, to the Turner Creek junction at the saddle, and decided to take a side trip down to Apple Tree Camp. The camp is about 1/3 mile down and took us less than 10 minutes to get to. There was a little poison oak encroachment and leaf litter making the trail a little slick.
Back up at the saddle, our next task was to hike up Devils Peak, one of the more difficult sections of the hike to the VDC. We took our time going up the switchbacks, and made it up to Devils with little trouble. On the peak, we admired the views and saw a Horned Lizard, which really are cool little creatures!
It was all downhill to Comings Camp junction, where a large tree has fallen across the trail. We continued and within little time came to Big Pines junction. Taking a right turn, we were then bound for Pat Springs. At the Pat Springs junction, the "potentially confusing" junction turned out to be pretty obvious. It is indeed a 4-way junction- the most prominent trail heads down the springs, and is a dead end. The trail to the right and behind you at the junction goes up to some stellar campsites, and the trail to the left is the VDC trail.
We headed down to the springs and refilled our drinking bottles, and filled our 1.5 liter bottles that we kept empty. (Pat springs is the only reliable water source on the trail, so load up with water here!)
An interesting side note is that there is pretty good cell phone service between Devils Peak and Little Pines in several spots.
With our packs laden with lots of water, it was a short haul to Little Pines. At Little Pines, we noted it’s not much of a camp; it’s really just a flat area at the Rattlesnake trail junction. We made camp, took a rest, and then took a side trip down the Rattlesnake Trail, which I heard had some maintenance done recently. The trail was impressively open, and we were able to get to a small creeklet about a mile down. It is said that the trail can now be followed all the way to Danish Creek Camp without much difficulty.
Back up at Little Pines, we had dinner, spent a little more time exploring the area, and went to sleep for the night.
Day 2- Little Pines to VDC summit and back to Pat Springs
We awoke the next morning to the squawking of Stellar Jays- which was a sign that they know who people are, and that they have food.
After ignoring the birds for a while, we got up, had breakfast, and packed our daypacks for the days hike.
The stretch from Little Pines to the Puerto Suello Gap was pretty open and strait forward. At Puerto Suello we noticed it would have been a nice place to camp.
From Puerto Suello Gap to Lone Pine camp is the brushiest part of the hike to the VDC. I used my saw to clear some of the encroaching brush, but didn’t do anything significant. Note that Lone Pine camp was dry.
After the Lone Pine turnoff, the trail becomes progressively more open, but also rocky.
When we started passing by the rare Santa Lucia Firs (aka Bristlecone Fir) we knew we were close. And next thing we knew, we were at the top.
The views were spectacular. Being right in the center of the Ventana Wilderness, it really puts everything in perspective.
I read though the summit log and signed it.
I looked across to Kandlbinder and thought to myself, it’s so close, but so far...
The return trip to Little Pines was uneventful, but got pretty hot.
At Little Pines, we saw that my friend Paul had arrived as planned and was down the Rattlesnake trail, just as we had done. Just as we begun making dinner, he came back up, and we chatted for a while. He too planned to summit the VDC the next day.
To save some time the next day we hiked to Pats Spring Camp and camped up on a bluff at an awesome campsite that overlooks the Little Sur watershed.
We were able to watch the sun set, and were amazed by the stars. When I was just going to sleep, I got up to take a leak. Through the trees I noticed some bright lights through the trees, which I determined to be city light from Salinas or Carmel valley. That night, I believe I even heard a Spotted Owl- a very good sign that they exist in the area.
Day 3- Pat Springs to Bottchers Gap
The return trip was uneventful, although we managed to work on that tree below skinners ridge.
It took us a few hours to get from Pat Springs to Bottchers, and once again it was bye-bye to the Ventana.
This trip was pretty special, mainly because I got to introduce someone to the area.