San Martin Top
Three Peaks East
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I wasn't there more than a minute, spending the time trying to reattach a belt that had come loose on my pants, when another gentleman came up to tell me I was on federal property. Though maps show the Fort Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation boundary as running over the crest, technically the summit is probably all managed by the army. I simply apologized and said I had believed it to be part of the National Forest, which was in fact what I had believed up to that point. The guy softened upon my conciliatory tone and even offered that there was a glass jar among the summit rocks. So I spent a few more minutes photographing the five pages of a register that had been left by John Vitz in 2006. I took a few pictures looking south, west, and east before heading back down.
As the name suggests, there are three summits to Three Peaks, fairly closely spaced. The highpoint is the southernmost of the three, but rather than just tag it and return I wanted to see if I couldn't visit the other two points as well. Though only a very short distance off the road, access is not a given as the chaparral can be incredibly daunting in the coast ranges, the Santa Lucia being no exception. Luckily the summits are somewhat rocky and therein lay the key to making it up. The north summit was the first I approached and it looked like there was enough rock on its western flank to get up that way from the road. This worked nicely with a bit of fun scrambling, about five minutes' effort. Looking southeast, it was easy to tell from the brushy summit that the other two points were higher. I dropped off the south side to return to the road, taking advantage of more rock found on that side. I then continued on the road until I was just abreast of the saddle between the middle and south summits. Here, a fortuitous use trail is found leading to the saddle, then splitting off in either direction towards the other summits. I first visited the middle summit, losing the faint trail about halfway up and dealing with some minor bushwhacking. I took a photo looking to the southern highpoint and beat a retreat back to the saddle. The south summit is actually the easiest of the three as it used to have a fire lookout atop its summit years ago and the old road leading to it, though badly overgrown, has a serviceable use trail. Though the lookout has long been dismantled, there are still remnants of it, including sawed-off telephone poles, wooden posts, some metal scraps and small areas of poured concrete. The summit is actually less satisfying than the other two because the views are partially obscured by trees and there are three or four various rock formations all vying to be the highest. I visited all of them in turn but found no sign of a register anywhere among them. I had expected this could be a difficult endeavor, but was happy to find I could visit all three summits in less than an hour.
Lion Peak is found to the west of the Coast Ridge Rd, less than a mile WNW of the Three Peaks highpoint. I walked back along the road to a saddle on the north side of Lion Peak, the closest point I could get without heading into the brush. Though the top portion of the peak is partly barren and easy to walk around on, the lower portion is surrounded by some formidable brush that looks distressing. Though only 1/6 mile to the summit, there was a chance I'd get stopped. I was happy to find that the saddle was the best starting point as one can make their way into a forest thicket here and follow a path of sorts that was created by previous visitors or perhaps by a bear. Without much bushwhacking at all, I found my way to the summit area and from there an easy stroll south to the highpoint. No register, no cairn, but it had wide-open views all around. I liked this one better than Three Peaks because of this.
The trail was in good shape, much better than the Salmon Creek Trail I had tried to hike from Hwy 1 two years earlier (on my first attempt at Silver Peak) which I had found badly overgrown with poison oak. There was some found along short stretches of the Cruickshank Trail, but these were only found near the spring that feeds Lions Den Camp about ten minutes below the trailhead. A mile from the trailhead I reached an unmarked junction where the Cruickshank Trail begins a steady downhill towards Villa Creek and traverses the lower north slopes of Silver Peak. The unmarked fork I knew was for the old trail to Silver Peak and I turned to follow it along the ridgeline. In most places the trail is quite good. Though no longer maintained by the Forest Service, it sees semi-regular maintenance by volunteers from Ventana Wilderness Alliance, most noteably Boon Hughey who has been to the summit more than any other human. There are a few brushy spots which are easy to push through and a long section of tunneling under mature manzanita that requires tall folks to hunch over for about a quarter mile. The trail actually skirts just north of the summit but a spur use trail marked by a small cairn leads one to the chaparral-covered highpoint. In a small clearing where the benchmark is located is an ammo box with a register dating to 2002. Though less than 12 years old, the register has some 86 pages filled (most often by Boon) with names and musings. It was really surprising just how popular this peak is. As the highpoint of the Wilderness area, it sees some highpointer traffic, but that is a small fraction of the visitors that make their way to Silver Peak's summit.
Now after 3p, the sun was beginning its slow dive into the Pacific to the west. To the north stood out Alder Peak, Cone Peak, and Junipero Serra Peak across the range. To the south were lower peaks but a hardly less rugged section of the range and a view of the California coastline. To the southeast could be seen the other peaks I had just come from, Lion Peak and Three Peaks. The return took about 45 minutes, the same time I had taken to reach the summit - there was not a lot of elevation gain or loss on this one. I would spend more than an hour driving north on the Coast Ridge Rd, hoping to get one last peak in before the day was through.
I could have spent the night parked here and tried again in the morning, but I thought I would get up before dawn and get a few miles in by headlamp on a trail. So I left Chalk for another time and drove the remaining section of the Coast Ridge Rd out to Nacimiento Rd, and then almost six miles further along the crest on the Cone Peak Rd. The snow I had seen on the south flank of Cone earlier in the day had been the result of a small storm that had come through only a few days earlier and some of it still lay on the last portion of the road. Though only about two inches in depth, I did not want to take the chance of getting stuck, so I pulled over to spend the night about a mile short of the road's end and the trailhead. Despite the failure on Chalk, I found the day to be highly rewarding and considered it a great success, though it may be a long time before I drive the length of the South Coast Ridge Rd again...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Alder Peak - Silver Peak
This page last updated: Thu Sep 25 11:41:50 2014
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