Cone Peak P2K CC
Point Sur
Sierra Hill

Wed, Feb 5, 2014
Etymology
Cone Peak
Point Sur
Sierra Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2
Cone Peak previously climbed Tue, Oct 5, 2010

Continued...

As a peakbagging adventure this one was kind of a bust as I had great plans to visit new lands and high places and ended up atop none of those on the day's card. On the other hand, it was a beautiful day on the Big Sur Coast and it's almost impossible for that to be a bad thing, and in the end it was this that I took away, allowing me to have great fun even if my penchant for achieving peakbagging goals wasn't met.

Cone Peak

I had spent the night parked on the Cone Peak Rd, stopped where I was by a few inches of hard snow that lay on the roadway. This in itself was no big deal as I was less than a mile from the trailhead I was trying to reach and the extra mileage would be almost trivial. I was planning to hike to three unnamed summits around Cone Peak that had caught my fancy while perusing maps of the area. Snow had fallen a few days earlier, wet stuff that froze fairly hard over the intervening day. It was not that unusual for snow to fall on the 5,000-foot Cone Peak, but rarer was the opportunity to hike the area with snow on it, as this usually means the roads are undriveable. So starting off at 7a as the sun was just rising, I was somewhat optimistic that I would have some good photo opportunities. I was able to hike the rest of the road in about 15 minutes, reaching the start of the North Coast Ridge Trail. This is where I ran into trouble because I found the snow a bit too slick. Normally this wouldn't be all that big a deal, but the trail drops off to the northeast very steeply where more of the same hard snow is found. I reached several places where the trail slopes awkwardly towards this slope. The first spot I carefully stepped around with some difficulty, but a second spot soon presented itself with even more sloping surface. A pair of crampons would have trivialized the problem, but without them I kept imagining the scenario where I slip down the slope for 50-100ft, caroming off rocks and trees and ending up with a busted leg, arm, both or worse. It wasn't worth it I decided, so I returned to the car.

I hadn't planned to climb Cone Peak at all, but as I was returning to the van I came up with a plan "B". I could hike the Cone Peak Trail to a junction near the summit where a connecting trail drops down to join the Gamboa Trail below the snow level that I wanted to reach. This started well enough as the Cone Peak Trail is mostly on the south side of the peak. The trailhead and 3/4 of the trail were completely snow-free and I had little trouble. Someone had been to the summit shortly after the storm and left footprints in the snow higher up, making it easy to hike to the summit without fear of slipping. Even had I slipped, the snow was confined to the trail for the most part, so it would have resulted in no great drop if I had. I enjoyed the 2-mile trail to the summit, marvelling at the juxtaposition of snow and the Big Sur coastline I could see 5,000ft below. The skies were mostly clear with good visibility. I took photos of the tower, the benchmark and in most directions (E - S - W - NW - N - NE). It was certainly worth the diversion to come here.

Back at the trail junction I had bypassed on my way to the summit, I was faced with the same problem I had earlier. The connecting trail goes down the north side of Cone Peak and contained more of the same hard snow covering trail and slopes. No one had been on the trail, so I had no advantage of bootprints to step in. I gave up on the unnamed summits.

Returning to the van once again, I started driving back along Cone Peak Rd to the south. I had another summit, Peak 3,767ft in mind that sports prominence of 500ft+ only a third of a mile from the road. The 7.5' topo maps shows an old firebreak running down the east side and I could see portions of it on the satellite view but in my drive-by all looked like a near solid wall of heavy brush. I gave up on this one without even getting out of the car.

Chalk Peak

I had been stymied the day before when I found too much brush and too little daylight as I tried to ascend this summit off the South Coast Ridge Rd. I started near sunset, so the lack of daylight wasn't a surprise. The real surprise was that this wasn't the short walk up I was hoping for. I went back for a second try after Cone Peak. I brought clippers and found a better starting point, but had only marginally better luck. The north side of the slope I climbed was amply supplied with leafless poison oak branches sticking up everywhere. I gingerly stepped my way around these as best I could, making my way to the summit ridgeline in about 10 minutes. So far, so good. I was half the distance to the summit as I'd been the day before, now about 1/5 mile, but my enthusiasm was quickly quashed as I came up against a wall of brush well over head level. The clippers were weak and ineffectual against so much biomass which seemed to laugh at me and my puny tool. It would take hours to clip through this stuff and I'd probably choke on and die from the dust in the process. I went back down to the road and took another look at the available options. It might be better to traverse the base of the mountain before heading straight up from the north, but it still looked difficult. The whole route no doubt would be overrun with poison oak. I reconsidered. Why did I want to get to Chalk Peak in the first place? In the end, I decided it wasn't so important. I went back to the car, swapped out all the contaminated clothes and drove back to Nacimiento Rd. That was the third strike, but I wasn't done failing today.

>h4>Little River Hill / Sur Hill These two named summits are not very high as their name implies, lying just a few miles east of Point Sur. Both are on private property, part of the Sur Ranch, but I didn't expect this to matter much since much of the ranchland on the Big Sur coast gets little supervision. The dirt Old Coast Rd runs inland for about 10 miles, the north end starting at Bixby Creek and the south end at Andrew Molera State Park. This had been the old route before Hwy 1 was pushed through in 1930. The two summits are not far from the road. After driving up the Coast Road from the Andrew Molera side, I quickly found that after the first mile, parking is not allowed along the roadway. Further, I found the place less abandoned than I'd imagined. I couldn't figure out how to do this without drawing attention to myself and my van in the daylight and gave up, again without even getting out of the car. Strike four.

Sur Point

With more cards still in my hand, I went back down to Hwy 1 and headed north, looking for a route to Sierra Hill. As I was passing Point Sur, I recalled my previous visit with Steve and Eric and recalled that the tours on Wednesday start around 1p. The twice weekly tours are the only way to visit the lighthouse atop Pt. Sur and we'd been stymied this past Sunday. I looked at the clock and noticed it happened to be 12:55p. This was a stroke of luck. I pulled over where the docent had the gate open and told her I was there for the tour. She waved me in and directed me to park a mile up the narrow road at the base of Point Sur.

The Point Sur tour was a nice break from the usual peakbagging venue. For $12 a pop, they split the group of 15 into two parties, each led by a docent on a 2hr tour. They provided the history of the land, the Big Sur area, the lighthouse and the various wrecks that have occurred up and down this section of coast. With several decades under her belt, our docent was very knowledgeable and helpful. The lighthouse has gone through some restoration efforts but against the elements of the Pacific it's a neverending effort to keep things from falling apart. At almost 300ft above sea level, the lighthouse is the highest one found on the Pacific coast. The highpoint of Point Sur is 323ft. It used to be 40ft higher we're told, but it was bulldozed to make platforms for the housing units and barn that supported the small community of lightkeepers (4 men + families) that manned the lighthouse from the 1880s until the last one left in 1974 after the facility had been automated. In addition to the lighthouse, we toured the other main buildings, ending with the giftshop located adjacent to the head lightkeeper's residence. While others were buying trinkets and other goodies, I went outside to see if I couldn't make my way to the highest point. There are two likely spots, one being just under a water tower in the middle, the other to the north behind the barn. The middle summit had a small dirt path leading up to a concrete cistern and easy enough (though not actually part of the tour, so I made the visit clandestinely). The northern one appeared to be about the same height, but it was more difficult to access. No trail leads up it and it would have disturbed the tour docents to discovery me scrambling up the steep sides to reach it. So I left that one untouched. There were many interesting facts discussed and awesome views of the Big Sur coastline, making the $12 admission charge worthwhile. I thought I might get bored after two hours, but I found it quite fascinating throughout.

Sierra Hill

About three miles NE of Point Sur, Sierra Hill is a modest summit overlooking the Big Sur coast, just south of Bixby Creek. I had thought I might strike out on this one as well because it appeared to be more private ranchland. I was happy to find this wasn't the case. Part of the Los Padres NF for the last decade when the USFS purchased the Brazil Ranch, a trail was established three years ago leading to the summit. Not knowing this at the time, I was surprised to see a FS sign at a locked gate as I came around the corner of the highway. I pulled off a little too quickly and just barely managed to park the van without blocking the gate. The trails are poorly marked, probably because the FS hasn't figured out how to deal with parking access. The trail signs were scant (I found one near the start and another at a junction near the top) and it wasn't clear to me that my venture onto the property was entirely legal. Cattle were grazing in several areas including the summit. A little more than a mile from the highway, as I crested a false summit I had a view looking southeast to the highpoint. In the distance I could see a jeep with two persons and several dogs, delivering alfalfa to supplement the cattle's meager feed (normally the hills would be lush with winter rains, but the drought has kept the grass short and in no hurry to sprout). After they finished they drove around a hillock where they stopped for no apparent reason other than to observe me. I didn't stop or turn around or look directly at them, just kept walking towards a property boundary where a fence ran along. After a few minutes they backed up from behind their hiding spot and came over to the fence. A woman got out to open the rickety gate to let the jeep through. One of the dogs ran towards me barking up a storm but not really threatening due to its small size. I met up with them as they were getting ready to drive off again and asked if it was ok that I cross the property boundary. They seemed very nice and said, "Of course." Not sure what all the hiding was about. Perhaps they wanted to see if I had a weapon with me with designs to poach something. I went through the gate and latched it behind me, making my way south to the top of Sierra Hill near another property boundary. Because it is so broad, the views from the highpoint are only marginal. Better ones are had by walking the periphery or along the route. The two most interesting views were southwest to Point Sur and then north to the glass house atop Division Knoll which I had visited the previous week. In all I spent about an hour and a half covering about three miles roundtrip. It was nearly 6p by the time I was done, just after sunset. This time the drive home would be much easier, less than two hours - much better than those six hour drives back from the desert...

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