See the Getting There
section of the main page for directions to Bottchers Gap.
All of this route is along regular trails, but due to lack of use much of it is poorly or lightly maintained. It is not difficult to lose the trail in a number of spots, so having a map is essential. There are signs along the way, but they are far apart and some have fallen into disrepair.
From the parking lot, head north, finding the trailhead sign for Skinner Ridge to the right of the restrooms there. There were some serious fires in the area in the late 1990's, and a crude firebreak was bulldozed running directly up the ridge from Bottchers Gap. You might mistake this firebreak for the trail, and it is
possible to follow it, but it is quite a pain due to the downed debris. Particularly if you head out before daylight, you might miss the actually trail to the left of the firebreak. The Skinner Ridge trail climbs the ridge on the west side.
The trail climbs steeply up to Skinner Ridge, then down the other side. The first in a series of ups and downs along the ridge, but this is the toughest. At the next saddle there is a trail junction heading towards Apple Camp. Continue along the ridge climbing to Devils Peak.
Near the summit of Devils Peak, a use trail heads up and north towards Mt. Carmel. Don't go that way. Follow the trail that skirts Devils Peak on the south side of the ridge. This leads to another saddle east of Devils Peak where you encounter the trail junction to Comings Camp. Continue east towards Pat Springs, and avoid turning off the trail at another trail junction heading to Big Pines (this trail heads down to Los Padres Dam).
Pat Springs is approximately halfway, and is a nice camp site with a spring that runs year-round. The spring is a short distance along a use trail on the south side of the ridge. The trail does not continue past the spring (though it appears to, you will get lost going that way), but is instead 100 yards back from the spring. There is no sign indicating you should continue up the ridge proper, and only a faint trail is present here. This is the hardest part of the route-finding, so be careful here!
After Pat Springs, the trail begins to head southeast to Little Pines (nice views, harsh camping), then heads down to another saddle where there is a junction with the Puerto Suello Trail. A trail sign may or may not be present here, it seems to live a temporal existence. There will likely be remnants lying about the ground. About a mile south of this junction is the primitive Lone Pine campsite, with sketchy water availability (don't plan on it). I never actually saw this campsite when I visited, but Matthew Holliman
reports that it can cause confusion:
"At least as of November 2002, there were several prominent pink ribbons (of the same variety that had intermittently marked the main trail's tread on the way up) suggesting the trail heads left here (east). And indeed, a well-defined trail does lead east a short way to a seasonal stream (low water, even after several days of heavy storms when I visited), continuing past that with the same ribbons marking the way. However, after a while, it gradually peters out amongst deadfall.
Do not take this route! This may be obvious to everyone but me; but I wasted a good deal of time thrashing about in the woods here. The main trail is actually unmarked at this small junction, and continues in the same direction you've been heading (south). "
Continue south along the ridge for another 3 miles. The trail ends at the summit of the south cone, the higher of the two. There are remains from a fire lookout that used to be here - a few posts and some concrete where the foundation stood. A fine register can be found in a plastic food container amid the summit rocks.
No technical gear needed. Hiking or tennis shoes will suffice. Bring lots of water. 1.5 quarts barely sufficed even with a refill at Pat Springs going both directions. Pat Springs is the only water on the ridge.
If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.