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The Coast Ridge Trail starts off contouring along the steep northeastern face of Cone Peak. Landslides have taken out a portion of the road within the first quarter mile, making it easy to see why the road was abandoned some time in the past and is now used only as a trail. Oaks, madrones and pines crowd the trail in the initial mile, keeping it steeped in shadows. A predawn glow through the trees could be seen within the first ten minutes and I was soon able to turn off the headlamp. As the trail broke out onto the more open ridgeline, chaparral replaced the forest in most places. Cone and Twin Peaks, now behind me, could be seen in outline as the new day came on. Sunrise came at 7a, providing a warm orange glow to Cone Peak and the Coast Ridge.
There are numerous trail junctions along the Coast Ridge Trail, not all of them signed or obvious. I passed by the Gamboa Trail junction without finding it on both my outgoing and returning trips. The first junction I noted was the Carrizo Trail, though it was unsigned and even later, after studying the maps for the area, I'm not entirely sure of its location. It was after hiking about an hour that I first glimpsed Peak 4,820ft in the distance, when I was about halfway to it. It is easy to confuse Peak 4,760ft with Peak 4,820ft, as the former is pointier, more peak-like than the higher peak which is flatter. Where the trail makes a detour to go around Pt. 4,736ft, I came across a young gentleman named Chris (maybe in his 20s?) from Morro Bay who had spent the night at a small campsite along the ridge. He had come up the Gamboa Trail from the coast highway, a regular ascent for him and part of his training for the PCT starting in April. He pointed out the unique feature of his site that offers both a great sunset view over the Pacific as well as a great sunrise to the east, one of the few places along the trail where the views are superb in both directions. He seemed to be very familiar with the Ventana area and I envied his ability to get up here so often.
Just past his camp, a large tree blocks the trail, seemingly for good. A use trail has developed around it in typical fashion. Soon the trail returns to the ridgeline and becomes a firebreak. Much less traffic seems to make its way along this portion of the Coast Ridge. One section that traverses just east of the ridgeline was broad, shady and looked almost driveable - a portion of the old road that had not returned to nature so readily. Somewhere I missed the junction with the Arroyo Seco Trail, but it was impossible to miss the next one, the Rodeo Flats Trail. This was visible from three miles away as the Rodeo Flats Trail descends along the south side of Peak 4,735ft. My first stop, Peak 4,820ft, was just before this junction. Though the Coast Ridge Trail contours around the east side of the summit, the firebreak goes up and over the top making an ascent trivial by Ventana standards.
It was just before 8:30a when I reached the top where a modest cairn was found. There was no register anywhere among the rocks. There is a fine view of the Pacific to the west with most of the peaks of the Ventana interior visible, from Double Cone in the north to Junipero Serra to the east, and of course Cone and Twin Peaks to the south. Peak 4,029ft was clearly visible in the foreground to the northwest, some 5-6 miles away. Though quite a bit lower, it has more prominence and stands out much better along the ridge. Off I went, continuing over the firebreak and back down to the Coast Ridge route. 20 minutes after leaving the summit I was at the Rodeo Flats Trail junction. The weathered sign still standing there is barely readable and seems to be struggling to remain erect. The Coast Ridge route starts a descending traverse across the southwest and west sides of the ridgeline immediately after the junction. The only water source I saw all day was a trickle coming down through some grasses where the route meets back up with the ridgeline. It did not look very inviting. Fortunately I've gotten into the habit of carrying all the liquid I would need on my treks in Ventana and today this amounted to about three quarts of Powerade.
The route moved back to the ridgeline and stayed there for the next hour as I continued northwest along the undulating firebreak. Along the way I missed a junction with the Lost Valley Connector. It may have been hard to spot, or possibly I missed a portion of the trail that did not follow the firebreak, or perhaps I just wasn't paying attention. In either case, it was not a crucial junction, just another measure of progress on the 12mi+ trek, something to mark the passage of miles with. There were nicer views to the Pacific as I moved closer to the coast. The summit of Peak 4,092ft is just over 2 miles from the coast, rather short considering its height. I found a large duck along the road where the trail to Upper Bee Camp ought to be found, only I found nothing resembling a trail in that direction. If anyone still uses it (and I'm guessing they do since there was a duck there), it must see very few visitors.
Shortly past this point it was time to leave the Coast Ridge and find my way up Peak 4,092ft. Though more difficult than the previous summit, this was not very hard at all thanks to the existence of a brushy firebreak running up the SE side and a thin use trail that follows this firebreak from the main route. There was some poison oak, no leaves this time of year, to be found along the firebreak and I was cautious about watching for the stuff whenever I started anything remotely resembling bushwhacking. Still, I would break out some in the next few days with rashes from contact I must have made on this outing. At least it wasn't anything serious and I suffered minimally. It took a bit less than half an hour to cover the distance from the main ridge to the summit of Peak 4,029ft.
There was no cairn or register at the summit, but it was remarkably free of tall brush, offering a 360 degree panorama (SW - N - NE - SE - S). One could see where the North Coast Road improves a few miles north of where I turned off. In fact the road is driveable to within a few miles of the peak, but that would have been impossible to negotiate in my vehicle, and I'm not sure if road is open to the public in any event. The next visible peaks north along the ridge are Marble and Anderson, two peaks I had climbed last October. I stayed long enough to collect my photographs and have a very brief rest. I had not brought lunch with me and so sufficed with the remains of my first quart of Powerade, then shouldering my pack to head back.
I did a better job on the way back of looking out for the trail junctions I had missed during the morning, the first of these being the Lost Valley Connector. About an hour south of the Rodeo Flats junction, I came across the Arroyo Seco Trail junction. I had missed it earlier because the dilapidated trail signs are tucked off to the east side of the ridge about 10 yards off the crest, partially hidden by the chaparral. As I neared Cone Peak, I once again failed to find the Gamboa Trail junction. Somewhere in the vicinity of where i expected to find it, I found an unmarked trail that goes up and over the crest to the east side, in the general area of the Carrizo Trail. I followed this for half a mile, mistakenly thinking it was an alternate route back to the Coast Ridge TH. It seemed recently cleared and easy to follow, but did not head in the right direction. I'm still stumped by this find as it doesn't show up on the 7.5' topo or Jack Glendening's more accurate online map.
It was almost 3:30p by the time I returned to the car. A nearby stump provided a clean platform for my warm water rinse to wash off the salt and sweat. A Mike's for the drive out was similarly satisfying - all I was missing was the salty snacks I'd forgotten to bring. I stopped along the Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd on the drove back to Hwy 1 to take a few photographs of the lovely green hillsides, cliffs, and coastal views that it offered. I had missed all of these on my drive up in the dark. Traffic along the coast highway was light, but not without some delays thanks to the continual construction that seems to be ongoing in some place or another. The only motorhome I came upon was kind enough to pull over within a minute - hats off to whoever was driving and doing their part to give RV drivers a better reputation.
This page last updated: Sun Feb 10 10:06:49 2013
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