For the third Saturday in a row and what will probably be my last outing of 2003, I headed down to the Ventana Wilderness near Carmel. During last weeks trip. I had failed to reach Ventana Double Cone from China Camp after running out of energy about 3 miles from the summit. I've been on the Atkins diet for about 6 weeks now, and this was the first 25+ mile hike I've tried on low carbs. Bad Idea. This week, I added dried fruit, yogurt raisins, and some chocolate to my trail mix and felt much much better over the course of the day. The weather had been wet for most of the week, so I decided not to chance Tassajara road to China Camp. Instead, I headed over to the Los Padres Dam trailhead for an approach along the Carmel River.
We're close to the shortest day of the year, so I needed an early start. I Left Mountain View around 2:30am after going to bed early the night before. Took 101 south to Salinas and reached Carmel Village via Laureles Grade Road. Headed intentionally past the Chachagua Road turnoff on G16 and instead continued down to Tassajara Road and then looped back onto the back end of Chachagua, thus avoiding the as the steep windy section of Chachagua road from G16 always makes me nauseous. It was a little past 4:30am when I turned onto Nasen Road and traveled the remaining short distance to the trailhead parking lot.
The parking lot was empty when I arrived and riddled with large mud puddles. I drove around a bit looking for a dry spot large enough to park in. Despite the full moon, visibility was near zero as there was a thick blanket of fog covering the area. Donning my pack and headlamp, I headed through the gate and onto the dam service road. The headlamp created a 5-10 ft bubble of visibility in the fog, which didn't dissipate until several hours later as the sun rose.
The first 1/2 mile to the dam followed the service road, crossing a bridge and then following the spillway up onto the dam itself. The fog was thick enough that the reservoir was not visible even from the dam itself. The next two hours were a bit of a blur, as I hiked along in the darkness. Once past the damn, there were numerous small signs marking the trail, a signed junction with the Big Pines trail, and, after a mile or two, a sign marking the wilderness boundary. Even with the fog and darkness, routefinding was never really an issue. The early trail followed the canyon wall, high above the reservoir. It was often narrow and there was evidence of past mudslides in numerous places. The ground was mostly firm for my passage, but some poor soul had recently been postholing in the mud. The trail gave way underfoot twice- once spilling me painfully onto my tailbone.
The first (of 26 each way) Carmel River Crossings was about 4 miles past the trailhead. At this point there was enough ambient light to walk by, but I still needed to use the headlamp to see the river bottom through the water. Given the recent rains, there was a good possibility that the river would not have been fordable at this point and I was prepared to abort the trip if the crossings looked unsafe. As it turned out, the water was only knee deep and easily passable. Anticipating the route, I had worn Tevas and shorts for the early portion of the trip, and carried a pack with change of clothes and trailshoes for after I reached Hiding Camp.
A mile past the first river crossing brought me to Carmel River camp and the junction of the Miller Canyon Trail. From here, it was 3 river crossings and another mile to Sulfer Springs camp, then 7 crossings and a mile and a half to Buckskin camp. Routefinding along the river wasn't terribly difficult, though picking up the trail on the other side was sometimes non-obvious. None of the crossings were more than knee deep, but none were passable without getting my feet wet. The final 2 miles to Hiding Camp brought another 13 river crossings, some of them only a hundred yards apart.
At Hiding Camp I stopped to change clothes and eat breakfast, caching my river gear and pack for retrieval on my return trip. The dry shoes felt heavenly and were well worth the added weight. At this point my path joined my route from last week for another arduous 1500ft, ~2.6mile ascent of the Puerto Suelo trail. (Not sure of the exact distance here- Schaffer's Book says 2.6mi, the trail sign at the bottom of the trail says 3 mi, and whats left of the one at the top says 3.5mi) The Puerto Suelo hadn't changed much in 10 days, though some of the early streams now had enough water to require rock-hopping. The ladybug thicket was still there though they were completely dormant when I passed in the morning. On the return trip, it had warmed enough that some were stirring lethargically.
At the top of the gap, the trail turned left to join the Ventana trail for the final 4 miles to the VDC summit. I didn't see Lone Pine camp along the route, though I did see a trail junction with an old sign labeled "H2O" that may mark where the campsite lies. The first half of the trail along the ridge was heavily overgrown with chamise that was still very wet from either the fog or the recent precipitation. I was quickly soaked from head to toe as each brush against the vegetation dumped a new sprinkling on my head. So much for my nice warm dry shoes. About midway to the summit, the trail widened and I was able to dry off a bit.
I reached the summit shortly after noon after about 7-8 hours on the trail. The day was still overcast, though the clouds were still above the ridgetop while I was on the peak- They would envelope the ridge shortly afterward. The stone foundation of an old fire lookout was still present on the summit. Looking southeast, I could see Ventana Cone, the Pine Ridge, South Ventana Cone and, on the horizon, Junipero Serra Peak. I reflected for a moment on what a miserable slog it would be to do the bushwack over to VC, and then sat down to eat lunch and peruse the registry. There was a brisk wind on the summit and, being soaked, I cut the reading short and headed back down.
The 6-7 mile trip back to Hiding camp was uneventful and took a little over 2 1/2 hours. Once back, I retrieved my river gear and changed back into shorts and sandals. Did a tick check and picked a few off my clothing while changing clothes, missing one on my hip that I'd find on my post-trip tick check back at the car. Poison oak was abundant in the river valley, though (knock on wood) I've never really had any problems with the plant. The flies and mosquitos were mercifully absent all day.
I departed from Hiding Camp quickly, as I had about 2-3 hours of daylight left and I wanted to do as many of the river crossings as I could while there was still enough daylight to see. I ended up reaching all but the very first crossing before having to don my headlamp once again. By this time, the clouds had cleared and the valley was lit by an extremely bright full moon. It wasn't enough to navigate by, but it did cast a shimmering reflection in the river (and later, the reservoir) as I passed along the canyon wall far above. Had two route finding issues on the return trip, both after entering a clearing and having difficulty picking up the opposite side trail continuation in the dark. After backtracing a bit on each, I was able to reorient myself and continue on my way.
With the moon, I actually got to see the reservoir and dam on the return trip and was even able to turn off the headlamp for the final half mile along the service road. I got back to the car around 7 after 14-15 hours on the trail. Very tired, left knee, right ankle, and tailbone sore, but generally not feeling too bad.
Pics from this trip here
Better pics from last week's trip here
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