Peak 3,464ft P300
Peak 3,761ft P500
Peak 3,205ft P300
Peak 1,550ft P300

Wed, Oct 27, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX

I returned to the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County to visit more summits that had been burned in the 2020 Dolan Fire. The three I had in mind were off the Cone Peak Rd, a dirt road that has been closed in conjunction with the paved Ferguson-Nacimiento Rd for almost two years now. Though not open to motor vehicles, they were open for foot and bike traffic. The three peaks would require more than 20mi for the roundtrip, an effort that can be done more efficiently with a bike. I had hoped to spend two nights out this week, but I haven't yet figured out how to bring both bike and camping gear, so this would be just a day trip. A fast-moving storm had brought heavy rains to the state only two days earlier, unusual weather for October. It had made a mess of Nacimiento Rd, which still hasn't been repaired from storms two seasons ago. In places, there was 8-12 inches of sand/gravel/debris on the road, washed out from the various gullies that feed into the Nacimiento River. I had given it two days to allow the ground to dry some, but things were still pretty damp on my visit.

Peak 3,464ft

Starting around 9:45a from near the Nacimiento Campground (I'd already found that you'll be asked to pay $10 for day use if you park in the campground) where the road is gated, I spent 40min riding to the top of Nacimiento Rd and another 50min along Cone Peak Rd. I found only one place with a downed tree across Cone Peak Rd, otherwise the entire route was rideable, gaining about 1,600ft in elevation. Peak 3,464ft is found about a mile and a quarter east of Cone Peak Rd, along a ridgeline that forms the northern boundary of the Nacimiento River drainage. I had hiked two other peaks further east on this same ridge two weeks earlier. My starting point on foot was the San Antonio Trailhead. This trail drops to a saddle on the ridge before descending to the north into the San Antonio River drainage. I found the trail lacking any sort of maintenance (not surprising considering the continuing road closures), but still useable. I used it for less than 15min until I had reached the saddle where my cross-country route would simply follow the ridgeline. I spent more than an hour on foot to reach Peak 3,464ft, going up and over a number of intermediate bumps. The chaparral had burned off much as I'd expected, though there were some slopes densely covered in charred sticks that I dared not traverse. The ridge itself seemed to offer the easiest travel, dropping slightly on the sunnier south sides in a few places. The summit has a nice rocky perch (perfect for holding one of the registers I forgot to bring with me) from which one can take in views around both of the major river drainages in the area. Cone Peak dominates the view to the west, as Junipero Serra does to the north. It would take another hour to return to the bike along the same route.

Peak 3,761ft

This was both the highest and most prominent summit of the day, found along the main crest of the range, a few miles south of Cone Peak. I had initially planned to climb this from the east where I could see the Dolan Fire had cleared off the heavy brush. But as I was returning from the previous peak, I noted I could climb it from the north, starting at the Vincente Flat TH. This would be longer, but I hoped would have coastal views along much of it. The 3/4mi-long route worked better than expected thanks to a firebreak that was forged over the summit during the Dolan Fire. It didn't stop the fire from getting across, but it made foot travel easier. The Vincente Flat Trail climbs the ridge for a short distance before dropping to the west towards Vincente Flat. I left the trail at its highpoint where a chainlink fence has been installed across the slope (presumeably to keep vehicles from trying to drive/ride up the firebreak?). I walked around this fence and then upslope, where I could see manzanita had been cut back. It was nice to see new pine seedlings popping up in many places. Towards the summit, where the slope lessens, the firebreak had been bulldozed, unlike the lower slopes that had been done by hand. A fallen tree, burned in the fire, served as the highpoint. The coastal views weren't as good as I'd hoped - a portion of the coast near Limekiln State Park is visible, but most of it is blocked by the many folds and ridgelines of the range. It was a nice day along the coast to be sure - no fog, clear skies, lovely temperatures. Returning the same way, I spent just under an hour on the roundtrip effort.

Peak 3,205ft

I rode back down Cone Peak Rd nearly to its junction with Nacimiento Rd. Peak 3,205ft is the easiest of the trio, less than half a mile from the rusting gate where I left the bike. An old firebreak along the ridge provides reasonable access, though the brush piled up on it to discourage vehicles proved annoying. This one, too, featured a chainlink fence installed near the bottom. There are two summits, the northeast one about 15ft higher. I spent about 40min on the roundtrip effort.

After riding back down to the junction with Nacimiento Rd, I was surprised to see four cyclists hanging out at the summit. They had just ridden up from Hwy 1 along the coast, reporting conditions similar to those I'd found on the east side (driveable, but closed, debris on roadway). They were a friendly bunch and we spoke for about five minutes before I continued down the road. It took only about 20min to ride back down to the campground and my parking spot just below it.

Peak 1,550ft

I had some extra time and energy, so I thought I'd try to tag one of the minor summits within the Hunter-Liggett reservation. Technically, one is only supposed to drive through the base to reach forest lands unless one has a hunting permit. I hoped my hike would be short enough to not draw attention to my vehicle parked along the roadway. The Dolan Fire burned over the peak somewhat incompletely, so route choice helps in avoiding brush. My descent route to the west was better than the ascent route, but both worked. Views include one to the north of the base that is Fort Hunter-Liggett. 23min was sufficient for the roundtrip effort. No military vehicles stopped to check on me, and no note on my windshield, so all good this time...

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