Peak 3,177ft P300
Wizard Peak P750
Peak 4,547ft P300

Nov 6, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profile

Once again, I was back in the Ventana Wilderness, traveling through Fort Hunter-Liggett to reach summits burned in the 2020 Dolan Fire. This would be my eigth day in the last month. I had in mind a summit a few miles west of Junipero Serra, above Santa Lucia Park. I also wanted to check out a few drive-ups on Hunter-Liggett.

Peak 3,177ft - Wizard Peak

These two peaks lie between Del Venturi Rd to the north and Nacimiento Rd to the south. I had first noticed them the previous month when I was climbing Peak 3,410ft about a mile to the southwest. They could have been climbed in conjunction with that one as they are all connected by a series of roads in varying conditions, but it was already afternoon and I was out of time and energy. Since today was Saturday, much of the military reservation was open for hunting. The reservation is broken into various zones, some open for general weapons, some for primitive rifles, others for archery. Today, most of the zones were designated for archery only, including the zones these summits lie in. Knowing that archery is far less popular than rifles, I figured I'd see few folks. In fact, I would see no one. I had studied the maps to determine the better roads that lead to the summits, choosing to drive up from the east off Del Venturi Rd. It was an enjoyable drive in the Jeep, possibly a little scary in a less capable vehicle as some of the gradients were quite steep. I managed to drive to within half a mile of Peak 3,177ft on its northwest side. The spur road going over the peak is no longer driveable (at least until they run a grader over it), so I had to walk this, an easy enough effort that took only 10min. The summit is open to fine views overlooking the reservation. I wasted no time returning to the Jeep, driving back up and over Pt. 3,502ft (where there is a small telecom installation and some odd hardware), then west to the slightly higher Wizard Peak. The name derives from Wizard Gulch, the drainage to the south that likely predates the existence of the military reservation. I had to park just west of the summit where the road begins to descend on the east side. It takes but a few minutes to hike up an old firebreak to the top where an army survey marker is found and more open views. After returning to the Jeep, I continued on the road heading north and northwest down to the San Antonio River. The road is in good shape, but the river crossing was a bit tricky and I had to engage my rear lockers to get across the step on the other side. I wouldn't take a Subaru across this one. I eventually returned to Del Venturi Rd and drove up to Santa Lucia Park, happy to have seen no one for that whole time.

Peak 4,547ft

This was the real outing for the day, a 3,400-foot effort covering seven miles. My first thought was to use the Junipero Serra Trail in conjunction with the Santa Lucia Trail to reach a saddle half a mile east of the summit. This had two problems - first, that section of the Santa Lucia Trail was last reported in May as Difficult, and second, the half mile of ridge from the saddle had not entirely burned, requiring non-trivial deviations from the ridge. I decided to try from the southwest off Indians Rd, an effort that would have more than two miles of cross-country, but from what I could discern, all through the burn zone. The north side of the main ridge had not burned, but the deviations, if needed, looked to be minor.

I started from the locked gate on Indian Rd just after 9:30a, using the bike for the first mile and change on the roadway. It would have been easy enough to walk this since the distance was short, but I still had the bike in the Jeep from the previous outing, so why not? It took less than 15min to get myself to my starting point along the road, halfway to the Escondido campground. I locked the bike to a large bush and started up. I found the terrain to be pretty much what the satellite suggested - open, with little in the way of charred sticks and brush. Some of the slopes are quite steep, but the footing was decent in most places, though a few required care. All class 2. Views open nicely during the ascent, looking south and west. The ground was damp from prior rains, the tarantulas out looking for mates in their usual manner during the fall. I reached the main E-W ridgeline by 11a, after which the slopes relent and the going more undulating. The fire appears to have burned right up to the ridgeline in most places, leaving the northside intact, but not limiting travel along the ridge. About half an hour from the summit, I found one place along the ridge that had not burned, but I didn't have to drop more than about 100ft on the sunny south side to get around it. I reached the summit at noon, finding the very top had not burned, but a convenient path through the short distance obviated the need for any bushwhacking. I enjoyed the views, noting a dozen summits I had climbed recently. I could just make out the tower atop Junipero Serra to the east, a summit I haven't been to since 2009. Maybe time for a return visit?

I left a register under a small cairn I built before leaving the summit. I thought the ascent route had worked so well that I planned to follow it back down as well. Curiosity and adventure got the best of me, however, and I ended up deviating in the lower half by taking an alternate ridge to the east. I liked this even better, as it avoided the steepest slopes I had ascended, and took me down to a small creek that had some water in it, a fun little scramble with no bushwhacking. It emptied out onto Indian Rd a short distance below where I had parked the bike. After retrieving it, I rode back to Santa Lucia Park, finishing by 2p. After loading the bike in the back, I drove to the campground where I took a quick shower, changed, and then headed for home. This was one of the easier days I spent in the area, and quite enjoyable.

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