Peak 3,852ft P900
Peak 2,937ft P900
Peak 2,465ft P300

Oct 14, 2021
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2 3

I went back to the Los Padres National Forest to spend more time hiking in the aftermath of the 2020 Dolan Fire. There are dozens of peaks that would normally be difficult or impossible to reach, now made easier by removal of the dense chaparral. Today I was after a pair of P900s, adding a third summit because I had some extra time.

Peak 3,852ft

This summit lies about 8mi east of Junipero Serra in the heart of the Ventana Wilderness. Paved Del Venturi Rd runs from Ft. Hunter-Liggett to the Santa Lucia Memorial Park near the TH for Junipero Serra. A dirt road then continues to Escondido CG another 2.5mi further, but this was gated and closed to vehicles due to the fire. The Lost Valley Trail starts from the Escondido CG, running over a saddle on the south side of the peak in less than 2mi. Half a mile of cross-country then leads up to the summit. I'd brought a mountain bike to ride the first 2.5mi on the road, which worked nicely. I parked near the locked gate and took about 25min to reach the start of the Lost Valley Trail. The road was in excellent condition, so I'm not sure why it's currently closed, but perhaps it's because the campground isn't yet ready for business. The road follows the Arroyo Seco to start, then stays high on the east side of the canyon as the creek continues to descend lower along the way. The campground is found about 400ft above the river on a wooded bench. The road seems well-designed with only modest elevation changes between Memorial Park and Escondido. Peak 3,852ft can be seen prominently to the northwest during most of the ride. It was easy to see that there was very little about it that hadn't burned. About half of the Escondido campground and surrounding trees were burned in the fire. Almost everything outside the campground was burned, so it appears there was some effort to save it. I locked my bike to the trailhead sign and started on foot from there.

The Lost Valley Trail begins by descending to the river. There was only a small amount of water at this time, so crossing was easy. Finding the trail on the other side was not so obvious. The topo map shows the trail on the south side of the side creek that the trail ascends to the saddle. In fact, it is found on the north side of the creek and stays there, crossing over a few minor drainages. While the trail down to Arroyo Seco was cleared and easy to follow, the portion starting up from the river has not been maintained and is more of a challenge. There is some poison oak, but easy enough to avoid if one can recognize it. There are a number of washouts along the trail, some making it harder to recognize the continuing trail. Brush encroachment is a regular feature, but not really onerous. This last bother improves once the trail begins to climb out of the drainage. There is a bit more just before the saddle is reached. I spent about an hour and a quarter on the trail portion of the outing. The cross-country was better than I had found on the previous visit a few days earlier. The slopes had burned more thoroughly, the charred sticks more widely spaced and easier to avoid. There is an old firebreak running up the upper half of the ridge I ascended, making it just a bit easier. It took an additional 30min to reach the two closely-spaced summits. The north one appears to be higher, and I left a register here among the modest summit rocks.

The views are really outstanding, despite the fires that plague the area. The Arroyo Seco cuts a deep drainage to the north, the range's highest summit, Junipero Serra, rises to the east in a series of rugged ridgelines and folds. Cone Peak can be seen to the west. I was surprised to have a clean view of Ventana Double Cone and La Ventana to the northwest some 20mi away. After a short stay, I reversed the route without deviations, back to the saddle, the trail, down to the creek, back up to the campground, and then the final ride back to the Jeep, finishing up before 12:30p - almost 4hrs exactly for the roundtrip.

Peak 2,937ft

This summit is located back down Del Venturi Rd, on the south side. Despite its low elevation, it has a lot of prominence formed by the various drainages of the San Antonio River that cut it on most sides. Salsipuedes Ranch Rd runs over a saddle on the northwest side of the summit and down to a private inholding surrounded by the Ventana Wilderness. This saddle might be the shortest route to the summit, but it looked to be quite steep near the summit. Instead, I parked adjacent to the dry creek on the north side and went up the gentler North Ridge. The route was a mile and quarter each way, all cross-country, and brushier than the first summit. The entire route had burned, but there were more charred sticks to weave through and some rocky sections with large blocks and boulders along the ridgeline. Once up the ridge, there was another 1/3mi of rolling summit plateau to reach the highpoint, taking just about an hour. The summit is surrounded by higher terrain on all sides, unusual for a peak with more than 900ft of prominence. I left a second register here before returning back, with only a minor deviation near the summit, saving me a bit of elevation loss.

Peak 2,465ft

It was 2:35p when I got back to the Jeep. I had planned to leave the area by 4:30p in order to get back to San Jose for a 7p dinner date. With a few hours until then, I turned my attention to a nearby summit, a third summit I hadn't planned on. Peak 2,465ft would be the easiest of the day, about half a mile from the dirt road I drove to get me close on the west side. The summit sits directly on the border between the national forest and the military reservation, though my access route was all within the forest boundary. From where I parked, I had first to descend a short distance to the dry Santa Lucia Creek, then started up the terribly steep NW Ridge, comprised of much loose scree. The forested slope had a good amount of poison oak (all first year growth - it would probably have been impenetrable before the fire) to weave through, all the while slipping and sliding for the first 2/3 of the slope until the footing improved. I spent less than 30min to make my way to the top, which like Peak 3,852ft, has two closely-spaced summits. I believe the south one was higher here (where I left a last register), though I went over the north one on the return just to make sure. The descent line proved better thanks to an old firebreak running down the North Ridge. This got me back down to the dry creekbed without the loose scree I'd encountered on the Northwest Ridge. I was done just after 3:30p, showering where I'd parked, then heading out of the forest and back to San Jose...

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