Tue, Apr 27, 2021
I met up with Chris along Hwy 1 around 5:30p. Originally we planned to meet at 7:30p, but to avoid Bay Area rush hour, I'd left town before 2p. Chris had done likewise, and at the the last minute we decided to start during daylight, rather than wait for sunset. We drove to the nearby San Simeon Campground where we left Chris' car and carpooled in the Jeep to our starting point. It was past the end of the pavement and the number of homes to be seen dropped off dramatically. We parked along the side of the road below the junction with the old ranch road. We would not see another car going up or down the road, either on our way up, or on the way back. The old ranch road is hidden from view, such that without a gpx track we'd have had a hard time finding it. There is a locked gate here, the only gate or fence we'd run into the entire evening. The road immediately drops down to a creek, easily crossed, then begins a steady climb of 1,800ft over the next mile and a half. The views open up, with vistas of the surrounding ridges, the ocean in the distance, and really stunning scenery. Our route went around Rocky Butte, a P500 that would have made for a fine bonus peak if it wasn't covered in so much brush. We looked at it from a number of angles, thinking the north side might offer a way up. We imagined we'd revisit the idea on our way down, but it was quite dark by then and the thought of wading through unseen poison oak was a deterrent.
There were a number of places with poison oak growing on or adjacent to the trail, easy to avoid during daylight, less so as it grew dark. I was commenting that "at least I haven't seen any ticks" when I looked down to see half a dozen of the beasties on my lower pant legs. I brushed them off and did more frequent checks after that, but they were the only ones we encountered the whole outing. The old roads we traveled looked like they haven't been driven on in several years, yet oddly there was almost no downfall for the entire route. There were a few cattle that we disturbed soon after starting out, but mostly we seemed to have the hills and the forest to ourselves. The second half of the route was mostly under forest cover, surprisingly lush with large oaks and madrones. Sean had warned us of a cabin on the route that they went out of their way to avoid, but we found it unoccupied and some time since it was last used. The sun set while we were in the forested areas, twilight settling over the landscape.
It was late dusk when we reached the Rocky Butte Truck Trail on the main crest of the range. This road is wide, well-graded, and obviously sees regular traffic, though probably little to none at night, at least as far north along it as we were. There are homesteads to the south, but there seems to be none to the north. We traveled the truck trail for about half a mile to a hard-to-see junction with the lesser road going to Pine Mtns' summit. We turned off a little too early, but soon got back on to the correct road with the help of Sean's gpx track. This road had lots of downfall, some of it still semi-fresh with green leaves. We found it taxing going over and around it as needed. There is a small utility shed near the summit in a small clearing. The road ends here, so we had to thrash some through the thickets for another 100-200ft to reach the highpoint. There are a number of large, granite boulders at various places in the forest understory, and we explored 3-4 of the higher ones, using the GPSr to take differential elevation readings to find the highest. Satisfied that we'd identified it, we built a small cairn atop it, under which we left a register. Only later did we learn that Sean and Daryn had a left a register, too, so now there are two of them hiding under rocks up there. It was while we were looking around the summit boulders that we caught a glimpse through the trees of the deep orange moon just rising.
Where it had taken us nearly three hours for the ascent, the descent went much quicker, taking just over two hours. This was mostly due to the swift pace that Chris maintained while I did my best to try and keep up. The full moon did very little to help us since it wasn't yet high enough to reach through the forest cover. We used our headlamps for most of the descent and I was wishing I had bothered to replace the batteries in mine before I'd left home. I was stumbling over rocks and half-jogging in places to keep up with Chris. When we reached the open grass slopes in the lower part of the route, we turned off our headlamps and enjoyed the moonlit terrain. The cows had gone off to nap somewhere and were nowhere to be seen. Only a few lights could be seen within a few miles of our location, generally across San Simeon Creek Rd. Other lights along the coast could be seen in greater abundance. It was just after 11p when we returned to the jeep, satisfied with a good evening's work. I drove Chris back to his campsite and bid him farewell as I drove off to find a place to sleep along SR46 on the way back to Paso Robles.
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