Peak 3,693ft P900
Peak 3,442ft P500
Peak 3,114ft P300

Oct 11, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2

A cold front sweeping across the state was bringing sub-freezing temps to the Sierra, around 28F at 6,000ft for a low. This would not do - I was not yet ready to start packing for winter conditions. I turned my attention to the Los Padres NF and some peaks that had been burned in the 2020 Dolan Fire. The Ferguson-Nacimiento Rd has been closed since Jan 2020 when torrential rains washed out sections of the road. Almost two years later, the state isn't any closer to rebuilding it, but I was happy to see that it was open from the east to the Nacimiento CG, which would allow me to get to a handful of these summits. It has been a while since I've hiked through burned chaparral, but I was prepared to get a little dirty to reach some normally inaccessible summits. I left San Jose around 7:30a with about 2.5hrs of driving before I could start hiking. I had no trouble driving through the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation, in fact they had no one manning the entrance booth - just a sign that it was open to through traffic. Temperatures were on the cool side with higher than normal wind conditions - this would do nicely to keep the usual annoyance of flies at bay.

Peak 3,693ft

This summit is located on the south side of Ferguson-Nacimiento Rd. With over 900ft of prominence, it has been on my radar for a decade, but too brushy to attempt ascending. Thus, it was the day's main objective. I had planned to climb it from the Ponderosa CG, but on the drive in I noticed a dirt road running to the high, east-west ridgeline, roughly following the boundary of the military reservation/national forest. There were no gates blocking access along the pavement, so I turned off and started up. It appears to have been recently graded, perhaps in the last year during the efforts to fight the fire. The road is steep in places and can be quite loose and dusty. I ran into a section I couldn't ascend about 1/3 of the way up. After two faiiled attempts (with front and back lockers engaged), I gave up, parked and decided to walk the rest of the way. If I had deflated my tires I'm sure I could have made it, but so far I've been unwilling to deal with that hassle. A little extra hiking wouldn't kill me.

The route wasn't the shortest way to the summit, but probably the easiest. I followed the wide road up for a mile to reach the east-west ridge, then turned west. The road continues up to the main crest of the range in about 3mi, but it was gated just up from the junction I where I'd turned. I followed the road for a half mile to reach a subsidiary ridge running northwest to Peak 3,693ft, another mile further. The topo map shows an old road here, but it appears to be more of a firebreak that used to be more common decades ago when fire suppression was the order of the day. Here's where the 2020 fire helped, having burned off the heavy chaparral that has grown up from decades of disuse. As is usual, the fire didn't incinerate everything - there were many snags left in place, stiff, charred branches that one needed to weave through. I would be half-covered in black charcoal before the day was done, as it is impossible to avoid so many branches. I did notice a few sprouts of poison oak popping up along the route, but for the most part, the fire gave it a hard reset. Despite the soot, this was far better than the typically dense brush this range is famous for. The going was a bit slow, but I still managed to reach the summit in less than an hour and a quarter, the firebreak continuing all the way to the top - sweet!

The summit had nice views in all directions, particularly to the much higher Cone Peak to the northwest, and east overlooking the military reservation. There isn't much military activity or buildings out this way, just a beautiful California scene composed of oaks, grass and chaparral - looking very much like it probably appeared to the indigenous peoples a thousand years ago. I left a register under the summit rocks and headed back the same way, returning to the Jeep before 1p.

Peak 3,442ft - Peak 3,114ft

I drove back down to the pavement, then west to the end of the driveable portion of road at the Nacimiento campgound. They have the road gated beyond this point, but one is welcome to walk the road (at least according to the USFS person I found driving back down from the closed section). These two peaks are located on the north side of the road in the military reservation, but I didn't expect that to be a problem - the first 500-1000ft are in the NF, and beyond that it seemed unlikely I would encounter anyone. And so I didn't. The fire had a more difficult time burning stuff along the Nacimiento River where trees and brush are much healthier and harder to burn. The trick was getting up that first section from the canyon bottom to reach the easier ground above. Starting from the campground, I found some old stone steps on the north side that led only a short way up, but then I came across another old firebreak along the ridgeline I was ascending. This seemed like a good find, though I'm not sure the brush was any less dense than on the adjacent ridgelines. After the initial section with some brush, things began to open up more and I was happy to find no serious bushwhacking on the entire route. My looping route would cover about 5.5mi in total, the last 3/4mi along the road on my return. It took about an hour and a half to reach the higher Peak 3,442ft at the northwest end of my loop, the firebreak continuing all the way to the summit. The last half mile was along an east-west ridge with the peaks on either end. I'd forgotten to grab more registers, so I didn't have any to leave on either of these summits. The lower Peak 3,114ft was about 1.5mi southeast of the higher summit. It would take a little over an hour to get between the two, again with an old road/firebreak running between them and no serious bushwhacking. There was some minor brush encountered just below the second summit, but nothing of any real consequence.

Before reaching the second summit, I had thought I should probably go back down the same ridge I had ascended. This would entail much backtracking to use it, but it seemed the safest option since The lower part of the ridges descending from Peak 3,114ft seemed not to have burned in the fire. After a short break on the summit rocks overlooking the Nacimiento drainage, I decided on one of the ridges descending from this summit. It would add a bit of adventure to the day, hopefully not one I would come to regret. Most of the ridge went just find on the descent, having much the same properties of burned sticks as the ascent ridge had. I eventually had to drop down to a side drainage/gully for the last 1/3mi that would provide the adventure section. There was a good deal burned stuff to work through along with more poison oak than I had seen all day so far, but not enough to make me regret my choice. I spent on an hour the descent, much less than I would have taken on the original route. Once at the pavement, I had another 20min or so to hike back up to the campground, finishing up before 5:30p.

I found a note on my car reminding me to pay the $10 day use fee. What? I hadn't realized there was a day use fee, I thought the fees were just for overnight use. I only had a few $20 bills which seemed too much to pay for a few hours' use, so I tossed the note in the Jeep and headed out. I would find a free place to camp somewhere down the road a bit...


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