Ventana Wilderness is our local gem just a bit South of Monterrey. It is a set of wild coastline, going quite a bit inland, just a couple of hours from Sunnyvale. The area is mostly coastal central California environment superimposed on mountains roughly below 4oooft. Closer to the coast there are still some redwood groves. But further inland and higher in altitude the nature changes to oaks, madrone, pine, yucca, etc with the appropriate set of fauna to live there. This place gets very hot in summer. But in winter it sometimes gets snow. It seems to be closer to a desert-like environment. The best time to visit Ventana would be Spring – the days are long, temperatures are not cold or hot, flowers are blooming, and the hills are still green.
So far we usually go to Ventana to visit Sykes hot springs. However, I have been eying all that other trails around the area. There is that nice Carmel River trail loop, but it requires 3 days to complete (which may be done in 2 with the right group). There is also an idea to do a traverse of the Carmel River trail. And of course there are numerous other possible routes for a far longer periods of time (and all this beauty is just 2 h from Sunnyvale!).
So, since this spring seem to still bring good relatively cool weather it was a good opportunity to explore some new areas of Ventana Wilderness. The traverse of the Miller Canyon Trail, suggested by Weekend Sherpa, was interesting. However, after reading a couple of accounts and the warning on BLM’s site that a portion of this trail is way beyond maintenance I decided against it. Again, it probably could be done with the right group, but with the short notice done it wasn’t feasible. In the end I found a reasonable weekend backpacking trip to Pine Valley. Permits were easy, as usual for BLM places. In this case they just require a fire “permit”. I put it in quotes because it was just a form that can be downloaded from their website, printed, then filled up and signed. Not sure if it had any legal force behind it. That was actually nice for them to do. Since the permits were not quantity controlled nor did the rangers do any lecturing on safe fire use or leave no trace, which perhaps they should, downloading a form really saved me a great deal of time.
I had to post the trip to SOC. Well, technically I didn’t have to, but it is nice to send the message. I also always get nervous when posting a trip publicly. You basically stick your neck out and thus can be reprimanded, big time. Since I don’t really have the skin of V’s thickness the criticism is a bit painful for me, especially when people criticize without actually doing anything themselves. But in the end I have gotten a small group of seasoned backpackers to share this trip with.
Saturday, May 5
Starting early – 6AM. Google was showing the drive time to be about 3 hours from Sunnyvale to China Camp trailhead. Thus I wanted to get there at reasonable time so we would have enough time to hike. Kim graciously offered her car to be (ab)used on this trip. She has RAV4 small SUV which was just what was needed – the last section of the road was gravel in rather bad state.
Starting up early has its advantages and disadvantages. On the good side you get an early start on your day. On the bad side – I can’t really sleep well that night. Perhaps I just worry that I’d miss the alarm clock. In addition to that breakfast is kind of presenting a problem because your body isn’t really awake yet. However, this group was game to start early and stop somewhere on the way. The selection of place to stop went to the leader, as usual. For some reason people, including myself, just surrender their decision-making to anyone who calls himself a leader. In some ways it is fine, but puts too much pressure on the person doing a lot already. Anyway, to find the breakfast place I just searched for bakeries in Monterrey. I found this excellent local gem called Paris Bakery. It had all needed for hearty early morning urban food – good pastry and coffee, just nothing vegan for Venkad.
After the sugar loaded breakfast we headed to the trailhead. The initial drive through Carmel Valley was nice – narrow winding tree-lined street. After the beginning of the Los Padres National Forest it turned into a dusty gravel road. Someone had an event right at the border – a wedding. The hosts, it seems, asked people to leave the cars and probably drove them on that gravel road themselves. Good thing we had Kim’s high clearance car. Going there on my Civic would be eventful and very slow. But this particular gravel road didn’t seem significantly worse than some others I saw. Eventually we made it to the China Camp.
The camp site was frankly boring – dusty and dry. There was no river or any other body of water nearby. No wonder it was deserted of people. Funny that it didn’t even have notice of parking payment. I wonder if it was used any more at all or if the use went down a lot after the fires. There were, however, cars parked; even more of them at the trailhead. It seems that the Pine Valley was popular. We did meet one large group of happy youngsters and some single people on the way.
The trail was very green. It was going down a bit around some hills, it was a ridge trail after all, thought the new grown after a very large forest fire. The remains of that fire were everywhere. But the nature seem to be coming back in full bloom. After a bit of a climb and mostly downhill we reached a four trail junction in Church Creek Divide. Our destination at that point was just 2 miles away and it was something like 1PM, way too early. The main most used direct trail to the Pine Valley was just 2 miles downhill to the right. Due to such an early time I’ve decided to take a different slightly longer route.
The new route turned out to be a lot more “interesting” than I expected. First we met two guys who seemed rather inexperienced backpackers and were not having fun there. Their buddy, who was also the fearless leader, seem to have deserted them. We met that leader am hour later – he was with a dog, was wielding a machete (!), and was very pissed. I guess his friends didn’t really live up to his expectations. Well, it happens. The trail itself was not used much and was all overgrown. At some point it was very difficult to follow. It was almost bushwhacking. But we made it to the camp on time – right when the sites were being given away. There were different groups fishing around for “the best” camp. We just picked the first we stumbled upon. This camp site was right by the Carmel River, it had some flat space, logs to sit on, and fire pit. It also had a ton of trash. What were these people thinking? Plastic water bottles, packaging, half-burned food containers, aluminum foil, some old towel, some sort of underwear, even one half-burned package of California prunes. Someone even took a dump on the shore of the creek nearby and left all the toilet paper. Grrrr. The valley is so nice and beautiful and they had to trash it. They should be ashamed of themselves. Well, it isn’t really the first time I’ve seen this. Sykes campground, on the other side, isn’t much cleaner. On top of it someone lost a shoe on the trail to the Pine Falls. So instead of carrying out the second shoe this genius dumped it. Sigh. I suppose there should be more education about leaving no trace. I frankly don’t understand why people have to be even educated about it. Yes, knowing to do it in the woods properly is not a common knowledge. But not leaving trash around – your parents should have taught you that. How is this campground any different from your house or your car? So we collected a whole bag of trash.
It was still relatively early, perhaps around 3PM. Thus we set the camp and headed down the Carmel River to Pine Falls following some unmarked trail. This trail was even more interesting. At some point it even require a bit of rock climbing. Juicy fresh poison oak was omnipresent. In the end we were rewarded by a lovely waterfall with a nice swimming whole. Venkad went swimming and dragged me into it also. It was rather cold but very refreshing.
After the waterfall the group was getting ready to cal it a day even though it was relatively early and there was still plenty of sunlight, but I suppose this day started early. So we just set the camp, gathered wood (my brand new echo-candle wasn’t used), cooked, and just relaxed. In the evening we were watching the rise of the biggest full moon. At about 10PM everyone was out.
Sunday, May 6
Get up. Cook. Eat. Standard camping morning routine. It was a bit chilly during the night so the morning sunshine was a welcome relieve. We even fired up the campfire to get some warmth. The plan for this Sunday was to do a small day hike towards Carmel River valley, come back around noon and then head to the trail-head.
The trail we took was going through a piece of private property, it seemed. There was a modest cabin in the trees. Nice place, right before a small plateau with pine trees. There was also a fine camping spot in those trees. The trail was easy, mostly flat. After a bit of time we reached the end of the fenced enclosure (quite a bit of land) for some reason called “Tourist Pasture”. What were they doing there – raising tourists?
After the gate it was almost total bushwhack. The trail, it seems, was rarely used and was quite overgrown. It was difficult to follow. I set that we would follow it for about and hour and turn back (it was also going down and down). At one point we stumbled on this beautiful giant blooming Yucca plant.
That trail had lots of blooming blackberry bushes. It would have been fine time to go there in September. What is didn’t have was views. It was just a very overgrown river canyon with not much views. So I made a call to turn around.
By the time we reached our campground it was so hot that the water hole at Pine Falls felt really inviting. But for the lack of time, or maybe laziness, no one wanted to go there. So we started a long slog in the heat towards the China Camp.
It wasn’t too bad actually. Yes, it was hot, but there was a breeze cooling things down. I saw two (!) snakes on the trail. One very unhappy rattler. He was vigorously shaking his rattle while escaping into the bushes. The other snake was a simple gartersnake. This one was more quiet.
We made it to the parking lot by around 4PM. Drive back was fine thought a bit hot. I took a wrong turn again and ended up in Carmel. Perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient route. I was actually looking forward to some fresh strawberry stands on the way, but for some reason nothing was open. In the end I was so hot and dehydrated that I didn’t even want to eat dinner.
That was fine trip. Even though it was the largest full moon this weekend for some reason I didn’t make any photos. The moon was coming up behind the trees and I was too tired to wait for it to clear. Pine Valley is very close and quite easy place with a lot of beautiful little gems. Hopefully there won’t be many idiots to trash it. It would be interesting to see how it will recover after the fire. One person on the trail said that before the fires the trail were a lot more shaded. There were many old trees blocking the sun. Right now it is all exposed. I would be also be nice to explore other corners of this wilderness area.