|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
Cone Peak previously climbed Fri, Nov 7, 2003|
The main objective of the day was going to be a hike to Pine Mtn, a CC-listed peak in the southern part of the Santa Lucia Range, obscure by most any standard. I didn't make it there, obviously, but I had fun trying and the warm up peaks were pretty good in their own right.
I overslept at the Cone Peak TH, intending to rise at 6a but not waking until after 6:30a following more than ten hours sleep. Somehow I was expecting to need less sleep as I got older, but I'm not finding that to be the case. I was dressed, fed and on the trail in less than fifteen minutes. I was primarily interested in reaching Twin Peak which I had missed on a previous visit. Cone Peak would just be a bonus. Both peaks were on the list of the 15 highest summits in Ventana.
Following the directions I got from Robert Parks the night before, I hiked up the Cone Peak Trail through the first series of switchbacks and then the long traverse across the SW Face of Cone Peak. Sunrise came around 7:15a, the sun fighting its way up through cloud layers and never really making much of a presence most of the day. At the first switchback following the traverse, it was easy to find the use trail continuing NW along the face. Robert had described it as hidden and hard to find, but it was fairly well-defined. This use trail led the rest of the way across the face, to the saddle between Cone and Twin peaks, and from there to the summit. An hour after starting out, I was already atop the summit, one of the easiest peaks I've had all summer.
The grassy top offered views in three directions, east to Cone Peak, south along the coastline, and west to the ocean. The north view into the Ventana Wilderness was blocked by scraggly trees on that side. I found a reference mark but no benchmark, no register either. Having had such easy success, I decided to continue on to Cone Peak. My first visit there had been in the fog, so at least I would have a chance to see what the views look like. I retraced my route back to the saddle, and from there followed the ridgeline east towards Cone. Along with some undulations taking me up and down several times, there was some rock scrambling as well to keep it interesting. On the way I came across a small gauge of some sort, though to what purpose I couldn't tell. In fact it may have only been the incomplete platform for a gauge not yet installed or forgotten.
Somewhat unexpectedly I came across a trail while only ten minutes along the ridge from the saddle. This must be the Summit Trail that Robert had described to me in the alternate route to Twin that I did a poor job of remembering. Conveniently, the Summit Trail meets the Cone Peak Trail at a junction only a few minutes later, and from there it was less than ten minutes to the Cone Peak summit.
The lookout at the top is rather small and squat, boarded up and closed many years ago. The views are much better than on Twin, unobstructed in all directions (W - N - E - S). I found several benchmarks, but again no register. I took the Cone Peak Trail in its entirety on the way back. It is certainly one of the better trails in all Ventana for views. Only the lowest portion of the trail is hidden by 15-foot high chaparral on two sides, somewhat claustrophobicly. When I returned to the TH there was another car there and a couple with gear spread out all over the place. It looked like a garage sale, of sorts. They had just finished breakfast and were quick to move their stuff away from my car so I could drive out. I didn't bother even to take my boots off, simply tossing the pack in the car, a quick chat, and then was off, leaving the semi-privacy of the TH to them.
The next stop on my tour heading south was Mt. Mars. Like Twin, there is no regular trail to the summit, but several use trail that I conveniently found online. I had saved a coordinate and used this with my GPS to find the unmarked gate just south of Salmon Creek along SR1. The closest parking was well-signed as No Trespassing and No Parking, the entrance to a group of homes on the west side of the road. Just north of there I found a small turnout that was more than adequate. By 10:20a I was heading up the road.
The "road" is an old 4x4 rancher's jeep track that hasn't been used in a number of years. A stripe of matted grass following up the roadbed makes for a decent use trail. There is none of the usual dense chaparral on these lower slopes, just steep, open grass hillsides. There are fine views of the coast during most of this hike. The nice use trail fades out in a flat area at an elevation of 1,300ft, a point indicated on the online map as a junction of several use trails. Though I was looking for it carefully, I saw no evidence of another use trail coming in from the north and the Salmon Creek Trail. I started up the ridgeline shown on the map, quite steep initially but then becoming merely steep in the ordinary sense. There was evidence of previous passage through the grass here, but it was very thin and may well have simply been deer or other animals.
Though not long - less than two miles from the start - the gain is more than 2,000ft and tiring. The last few hundred feet to the summit see the grass slopes give way to manzanita, dense trees, and thicker walls of chaparral. Rather than trying to bull through dog-headedly, it pays to search around and look for the easier ways through. I managed to find the old trail cut through the brush and though it was heavily overgrown, it was far easier to follow the still-obvious tread than to do without. When I emerged at the other end of this tunnel of sorts, I found a yellow flagging marking the point of entry for those heading downhill. It took exactly an hour to reach the summit.
Luckily, the top was partly bare and mostly covered in thigh-high brush, leaving the views mostly open, though the cloudy weather and marine layer conspired to make the views hazy at best. The best view was to the south where the coastline could be seen stretching for many miles. No benchmark, no register, no cairn to be found at the 2,600-foot summit.
I decided to make a loop of it and started searching out one of the other use trails shown in the online map. There was some bit of faith involved when first leaving the summit as I saw almost no evidence of a trail. Shortly though, after only a few minutes, I was able to discern a trail leading through the tall brush on a ridgeline going southeast and then south off the summit. Some parts of this route were open and easy, but most of it was heavily overgrown. Seeds, thorns, thistle, and leaves showered down on me as I pushed through the stuff, much of it sticking to my clothes with special emphasis on my socks and shoes. Though there wasn't much poison oak, there was enough that I would break out around my ankles, just above the sock line, several days later. All part of the price of fun.
Twenty minutes down from the summit I burst upon a clearing and a freshly plowed road - my ticket back down. I put away my leather gloves and spent a few minutes removing as many of the pointy, sticky things from my socks as I could before starting down again. The road follows down a canyon, switchbacking and crossing a few dry creeks several times in the process. Most of the route follows through the woods, dampening the views. Jogging helped speed up the process, and thirty minutes later I had emerged back to the open, lower hillsides and the gate found at the start of the road.
Walking back along the highway I had time to view a number of the homes tucked into the landscape, mostly on the ocean side of the highway. One in particular caught my attention. There was a sign, years old now and partially obscurred by brush, indicating a landscape and building project that was going to be harmoniously incorporated into the environment. The reality was an eyesore, rusted junk piled outside and a building either left incomplete or badly damaged by fire. So much for harmony.
By 12:30p I was back at the car and ready to tackle Pine Mtn. I continued south on Highway 1, stopping only to check out the elephant seals lazing about on their favorite California beach. There were many cars and hundreds of spectators there to watch the seals lie about the sandy beach, a very popular attraction, it would seem. I eventually found the San Simeon Road and spent half an hour driving east into the hills to the expected trailhead. Only there was no trailhead. Instead, I found private property lining both sides of the road for ten miles and a locked and signed gate at the end of it, hiking expressly forbidden. I briefly considered parking and doing the six mile one-way hike anyway, but thought better of it. Judging by the number of signs, it seems they took their privacy very seriously. And there were plenty of fresh tire prints on the dirt road to indicate it was not so lightly-used as I could have hoped. So I gave up on that one - I'll have to come up with a better plan for a future attempt.
It was still early, but I was out of hiking options that I'd brought with me. I intended to spend the next day hiking in the Pinnacles, so drove back out to Highway 1, south to SR46, and then back over the hills to Paso Robles and US101. Soon after starting north on the freeway it began to sprinkle, eventually turning to rain, for more than an hour. Rats. Even if it cleared during the night, the brush would be soaked in the morning which meant I would get soaked as well. I decided to give it a day to dry out and continued driving back to San Jose. A day at home isn't such a bad thing really - especially if it's going to rain.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Cone Peak
This page last updated: Fri Oct 15 20:08:28 2010
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