Peak 3,807ft P300

Oct 31, 2021
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I was back again for another day trip to the Ventana Wilderness, covering peaks burned in the 2020 Dolan Fire. Today's outing was shorter than the other days, as there was only one peak involved. Peak 3,807ft lies southwest of Santa Lucia Memorial Park and Del Venturi Rd, in an area with some complex, rocky terrain that I wasn't sure I'd be able to negotiate. The outing came in at about 5mi and 2,000ft of gain, taking just under four and half hours - less than the time I spent driving to and from the TH.

I was up at 5a for an earlier start than I've used on the previous outings to the area. I wanted to scout a few roads and access points for a few other peaks that I hoped to do on future visits. One of these is Peak 2,610ft that lies on the edge of the national forest, southwest of Merle Ranch. The ranch is now part of the NF and the topo map shows a Jeep trail going from the end of the road in Wizard Gulch up to a point just below the peak. Unfortunately, I found the gate locked at the entrance to the ranch, and signed for Adminstrative Use Only. If I'm going to reach it from this side, I'll have to park it on the Fort Hunter-Liggett property - something that requires a bit of planning and effort to do legally. I'll have to do more research for this one.

Afterwards, I drove up to Santa Lucia Memorial Park. The route I planned to use was a deep gully that runs southwest up the rockiest lower half to reach Pt. 3,563ft. At the bottom of this gully, where I planned to start, lies a handful of summer tract homes that block access. I might have hiked up there anyway, but I saw a vehicle that suggested someone was currently occupying one of them. Instead, I drove a short distance north and parked in what looked like an abandoned picnic/administrative site on the west side of the road. From there, I hiked up an adjacent gully until I could traverse south into the original one. I don't know how critical route-finding is here - there are places that end in cliffs and faces I couldn't climb, but there seems to be multiple routes one could use. Most of the area had been torched in the fire, but there were a few wetter places that escaped, giving me a taste of what this might have been if choked with brush. It all made for a surprisingly fun scramble, with route-finding challenges, squeeze tunnels, lucky breaks where I could have been cliffed out, and the like. I found a collection of smashed budweiser cans at the base of a huge, knobby block - bouldering practice, perhaps? The views improve nicely as one climbs higher, with Junipero Serra framing the San Antonio River drainage. As I neared Pt. 3,563ft, I could see northwest down to the Arroyo Seco Trail and drainage, wondering if I could use that for an alternate route on the way down (I could, it turns out).

Once over Pt. 3,563ft, the route becomes easier, albeit brushier in places. I still had 3/4mi to go, but the gradient relents and the going becomes more of a cruise. The first unburned area I came to seemed to have an old firebreak through it, but probably just animal paths. I waded through another section thick with charred sticks, blackening much of my clothing. I wondered as I hiked along how long this route would continue to be viable until the chaparral takes over once again - maybe a year or two? I came to find the final 400ft to the summit had not burned, leaving me with about 20min of heavy effort to get through the stuff. There were burned snags buried deep inside, from the Basin Complex Fire in 2008. It was interesting to see evidence from different fires separated by many years. Emerging at the top, I found that the southwest side of the summit ridge had indeed burned, leaving me with open views and perhaps an easier way to return. I considered for a while on whether to continue south to Peak 4,275ft, which would make for a much bigger effort. I knew that the Carrizo Trail could be found just on the other side of the higher summit and could take me back down to Del Venturi Rd. The trouble was the intervening terrain which looked to have been only partially burned in the Dolan Fire. The distance was about a mile and quarter, no big deal if through burned landscape, quite another matter if not, as evidenced by the 20min it took me to travel only 400ft. In the end I decided against it, but in reviewing the satellite view later that evening, I think the route I intended to follow had sufficiently burned. This would certainly make for an interesting cross-country route, and I'd love to hear about it (hint, hint). I left a register under a pile of stones that I hoped would be enough to save the contents in the next, inevitable fire.

I still wanted an alternate adventure, so I decided to try the descent to the Arroyo Seco. Upon leaving the summit, I stayed in the burn area for the first few hundred feet, then plunged into the unburned stuff to begin traversing back to the North Ridge I had ascended. It made for a shorter travel distance through the thickest stuff, but may not have saved any time in the end, certainly not very much. I returned back to Pt. 3,563ft, noting the huge summit block and decided to see if it could be ascended before leaving the area. There were several promising options on the north side of the block that all proved too difficult for me. Not even a younger me would have had stood a chance, though a younger me that had developed upper body strength might have stood one. I returned back down to the saddle just southwest of the summit block and started down the steep slope dropping north and northwest to the Arroyo Seco. There was some moderate brush in the upper reaches, though nothing serious, then more open terrain on a minor ridge I followed, then a bit more brush as I neared the creek. It took a bit over half an hour to work my way down the slope. The creek flows through a collection of large rocks here, making a crossing difficult but not impossible. A faster flowing creek with higher water levels could make it downright dangerous. I was happy to find a reasonable way across, then up a steep but short section of dirt and brush to land myself on the trail - seems I had picked a place where the trail comes rather close to the creek. Back in cruise mode, I followed this downstream for about a mile, taking me through some sportsmen's club picnic area, a short distance from the TH. A group of four 20-somethings were hanging out at one of the pools at the picnic area, their vehicle conspicuously parked in front of the gate. I wondered if they noticed the No Parking sign. I was back to the Jeep just after 1p, wrapping up my outing...

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