Mt. Olmstead

Thu, Feb 3, 2011
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

The warm, dry second half of January was spilling over into February, offering a perfect excuse to visit Ventana again. No coastal fog, beautiful blue skies, cool air, green hillsides, dry trails, plenty of water in the creeks and the place all to myself on a weekday - what could be better? That I had just recovered from last week's bout of poison oak was testimony to the draw the place has for me, despite the dangers.

I first noted Mt. Olmstead when I was hiking the Coast Ridge back in October, then again from the east when I was hiking to White Cone in November. It is a good looking peak at the north end of the three mile Logwood Ridge, overlooking the Big Sur River. There is no trail reaching the summit, though the Big Sur Trail goes within about a mile of it to the south. I'd found no info online of others heading out that way so the big unknown would be the difficulty of the cross-country along Logwood Ridge. Having been on much of the trail portion of the route on my visit to Anderson and Marble Peaks, I initially though I'd take an alternate ascent up to the Coast Ridge via the DeAngulo Trail. The online reports for this were not encouraging. It was described as 'difficult' with heavy brush covering a faded tread with frequent wanderings off the trail. This seemed like it might be a bit much to add to the bushwhacking on Logwood Ridge, so I opted to take the previous ascent route up the Boronda Trail.

It was 6:15a when I started off from Hwy 1 under an inky, moonless, predawn sky. My headlamp batteries had not been changed in a very long time and I found them terribly weak - I could barely see my boots, let alone the ground in front of me. Luckily the Boronda Trail starts off on a wide, easy to navigate old dirt road and the sky would start to grow light within the first fifteen minutes and I could go without the headlamp. The air was quite cool, in the mid 40s, but quite comfortable for hiking. The trail is steep enough (average of 19% grade) that I needed a fleece only until I warmed up, allowing me to pack it away along with the headlamp after those fifteen minutes.

In half an hour I had climbed high enough to have a fine view looking south along the Big Sur Coast, a beautiful predawn treat. Meanwhile, I had no trouble navigating the Boronda Trail, having avoided the minor pitfalls by remembering which forks to take (the more direct ones along the ridgeline) where a choice was offered. Near the top I found another fork, this use trail shortcutting Timber Top to the south, cutting off some distance for the trip south on the Coast Ridge. It was 7:30a when I reached the road, following it south for some 40 minutes. There are fine views of the Ventana interior along this route, including Kandlbinder and Ventana Double Cone, and a few views off to the Pacific, notably at a view spot with a bench to sit and take in the scene.

At the signed junction for Cold Springs Camp and the Big Sur Trail, I turned left and followed the road down to its end. Near the bottom is Cold Springs Camp, just across the road from a large, green water tank that oddly advertised the contents as non-potable. At the road's end, half a mile from the Coast Ridge Rd, is a large turnaround and the trailhead for the Big Sur Trail. The trail was in excellent condition with no significant overgrowth anywhere along the several miles of the trail that I hiked. About half a mile from the TH one crosses Logwood Creek, the only good water source I passed by all day. After the creek crossing, the trail climbs to near the top of Logwood Ridge, following northwest for about a mile before dropping almost 2,000ft to the South Fork of the Big Sur River at a saddle. Along the ridgeline there are views of the Logwood Creek drainage and the Coast Ridge to the west.

It was 8:40a when I reached the saddle where the trail drops down to the river, about a mile from Mt. Olmstead. I left several quarts of Powerade that I deemed to be extra weight in the shade of a tree next to the trail, taking what was left of a third quart that would suffice for the next several hours. The brush appeared formidable at first, but quickly proved to be not so bad. Sometime in the last five years fire had burned the large pines that once topped the ridge here. Charred stumps with large holes in the ground where their roots had burned out were all that were left. Partially burned branches of the chaparral were in abundance, new growth prolifically sprouting from the bases. A dense section of waist-high brush proved rather easy due to the lack of hard, burned material mixed in, a simple matter of wading through. Things got tougher after the first third of a mile and my progress slowed accordingly. Remembering old words of wisdom, I took my time to look for the easiest routes through, trying to think like the animals that canvas the landscape for a living, not just for recreation. I took advantage of animal trails where I could, exploring options on the left and right sides of the ridgeline before choosing a route. For the most part I kept to the ridge directly, sometimes dropping down on the sunnier southwest side where grassy sections helped to bypass some particularly thick sections on the ridge. Rarely did I venture to the northeast side of the ridge which generally was thicker with brush. There is a gap in the ridge just before the final climb to Olmstead, and initially I thought it would be easier to approach this from low on the southwest side, but it proved easier to follow the ridgeline across the gap.

In all I spent about an hour and a half to travel the mile distance to the summit. The top was somewhat flattish and overgrown with trees and bushes over head level, making it difficult to obtain views. These I got looking in all directions (N - E - S - W) by thrashing about from one side to the other until I had ascertained that I covered the highpoint. I found no cairn, no register, nothing to suggest another human visit, though I have no doubt more than one intrepid soul has graced its unremarkable summit. In way of proving my point, I came across a steel survey stake about halfway back to the trail. Somehow I had missed in on my way out. I spent about the same hour and a half traversing the cross-country in the opposite direction, getting me back to the trail by 11:30a. I picked up the cache I'd left and continued on my way.

It was with some sense of relief that I walked along the trail, knowing that the rest of the way would be a piece of cake in comparison to the previous three hours getting to Mt. Olmstead and back. With a bit of jogging it took only twenty minutes to get back to Cold Springs Camp and another ten to Coast Ridge Rd. At the overlook bench, I got a good look at Partington Ridge, the descent line for the DeAngulo Trail. I could see homes about halfway down the ridge, and though I couldn't see the trail, the ridgeline did not appear overly brushy. Just north of the bench is a well-padded use trail that I guessed (correctly) was the DeAngulo Trail itself, and decided to give it whirl.

Unlike the most recent VWA trail report from September, I found the route in excellent shape, at least the first half. This concurred with a more recent report update from Jack Glendening who hiked it two days after me. There was much evidence of recent trailwork that included reworking the tread as well as clearing brush. There were two nicely signed trail junctions where the route intersects with some of the use trails and old roads coming from private property that lines both sides of the lower route. Some blue flagging had been placed in a stretch of switchbacks about halfway down, but then suddenly stopped where the trail maintainence apparently ceased (or had started, going upward). I had been cruising along so nicely that I had forgotten about the old trail reports and was surprised to see the trail end in a pile of blowdown. The area was infested with poison oak, the new leaves having just recently begun sprouting in the recent warm weather. The last flag I found had actually been tied to the poison oak. I carefully scouted ahead in several directions, looking for signs of trail and additional flagging. I was fairly certain where the trail was, but it was going to be an ugly affair that I wanted no part of. Luckily I had an out, the nearby homes which had a private road leading to them from Hwy 1. I backtracked along the trail until I came to an old roadbed that served the residences for access, and hiked this out to the road. Somewhat to my surprise I found a trail sign that I had viewed online recently. It seemed to indicate that this might be the part of the trail that I had heard talk of an easement. In any case, I figured I had a good excuse if anyone found me on the road and questioned me.

No one did. The road was in excellent shape and there were many parked cars and signs of activity along the road. Only one truck came lumbering by while I was hiking it, and we simply exchanged waves with each other. The first ranch I came to was on a beautiful stretch of grassy property with several llamas and a horse in a large enclosure. A pile of gathered brush was burning to one side. There was a gate adjacent to this property with one of several pink flaggings I came across, leading me to believe they were marking the easement route along the road. There were other flags tied to stakes a regular intervals, but these gave out after a mile or so - perhaps I had missed a turn. The last several miles of road are definitely outside of the easement, a sign down at Hwy 1 indicating no backcountry access. Still, no one bothered with me. Most of the homes along the route are old, many run down, though a number were fresh with new money and recent construction. An old mill, no longer in service, was left piled with uncut redwood logs and equipment, all of it in a slow state of decay. An old motorhome that had not been registered since 2007 was parked at the base of a driveway to one property, and it seems unlikely that it will drive away ever again. Redwoods line the canyons along the road in the last few miles and there are a number of homes tucked into these picturesque groves along the way, some with incredible views of the Pacific.

Once down to Hwy 1, I had another 40 minutes or so to hike north along the highway to get back to my car. I kept an eye out for the DeAngulo Trailhead, wondering if it was easy to spot along the highway. I did not find the TH in the location I expected, but I did find an old gated road with a National Forest boundary sign about a quarter mile south of the Torre Canyon bridge. This seemed to be in the location of a second TH shown on the TOPO map, one the converges with the main one further upslope about half a mile. It certainly was a much better route to take going down than it would have been trying to go up. I was back at the car not long after 2p, just under eight hours for the whole excursion. It had been easier and more enjoyable than my previous visit to Elephant Mtn. I think my next visit will also be from the west side of Ventana, perhaps a visit to two of the higher unnamed summits in the range.


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