Ventana Cone 2x P500
South Ventana Cone 2x P1K CC

Jan 18, 2003

With: Matthew Holliman
Michael Golden
Monty Blankenship

Ventana Cone
South Ventana Cone
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Ventana Cone previously climbed Apr 16, 2002
Ventana Cone later climbed Jan 17, 2004
South Ventana Cone previously climbed Apr 16, 2002
South Ventana Cone later climbed Jan 17, 2004

This hike was intended to be the Mother of All Hikes in the Ventana Wilderness, a gruelling effort to dayhike South Ventana Cone, Ventana Cone, and Double Ventana Cone from the TH at China Camp. The two mile stretch of our route between VC and DVC was to be the biggest challenge, a very rugged cross-country bushwhack along the ridge connecting the two, lying in the center portion of our 23mi loop with 10,000ft of elevation gain. It would be right up there with the toughest hikes I had done to date. I had three other companions signed up to join me: Michael and Monty who I've climbed and hiked with on numerous occasions, and Matthew, an online friend who none of us had previously met. Matthew had completed the VDC dayhike out of Bottchers Gap a few months previously, so I knew he had a good deal of stamina for the planned hike. Michael and Monty I was less sure of, but willing as they were, I was quite happy to have them join me.

Monty, Michael, and I left San Jose shortly after 2:30a in Monty's car. I made a deal with them that if they came to pick me up last, I'd drive all the way to Ventana. That wasn't much of a sacrifice on my part since I wouldn't have slept very well anyway on the drive. Alone in the back seat, Monty managed to catch a few winks, but Michael almost none. We arrived at China Camp around 4:30a, and Matthew met us ten minutes later. We headed out shortly before 5a under headlamps.

The weather was surprisingly mild for early morning in January, starting out at nearly 4,500ft. Two others from SummitPost were supposed to meet us at the trailhead, but they hadn't shown by our 5a start. We had said ahead of time that we'd wait until 5:15a, but none of us wanted to wait any longer. 15 minutes into the hike as we were hiking along the trail west up the ridge, we could see a pair of headlights off in the distance coming along the road. Most likely it was our other two companions - but at least our consciences felt better knowing they didn't make it to the trailhead by the appointed time.

Though the sun was several hours from rising, we found that we had timed our hike to coincide with a full moon that provided excellent light, enough to navigate by without headlamps. Not that it was easy (we stumbled a few times), but it was a very different experience, almost magical, as we were able to appreciate the subtle nature of our surroundings during the night. I found this part of the hike thoroughly enjoyable. Most of the trail was easy to follow, but there were a number of downed trees and some overgrown bushes impinging on the trail. At one point there was a hundred foot section of the trail wiped out by downed trees, but we managed to find our way around them and regain the trail.

The hike follows an east-west ridgeline dividing two drainages, the Carmel River to the north and Church Creek to the south. At 6:30a we arrived at Church Creek Divide where we took a short break to regroup and refresh. It was still quite dark. There is little water along our planned route for many, many hours. The last known source along the route was about half an hour west of Church Creek Divide, where a series of four or five small streams trickle down the gullies where the trail follows low on the north side of the ridgeline. At the largest of these we refilled our water bottles and drank our fill as much as we could. I had two water bottles totalling about a quart and a half which I ventured would last me till past Ventana Double Cone and the Puerto Suello Trail where we would next find water many hours from now. The others carried larger quantities, each to his own estimation of need.

Around 7:20a we came along the ridge with a full view of Ventana Cone to the west, the full moon setting just as the sun was about to come up. It was a beautiful transition to daylight as the sun came up on both Ventana Cone and Ventana Double Cone, and we paused often to take pictures of our views (and make scary faces). The Puerto Suello Gap was a great distance away - it seemed almost too far away to be possible to reach it today.

By 8a we reached Pine Ridge, the northwest-southeast ridgeline that connects the three Ventana Cone peaks. We left the trail and headed south up the easy slopes to South Ventana Cone, reaching the summit 20 minutes later. It seemed a shame if we'd left this peak off our hike, though it took an hour diversion and some expediture of energy that we'd later miss. There had been only a handful of entries in the summit register since my last visit a year earlier. Though it lies close to the trail, it gets climbed infrequently, less than ten parties a year. We made our entries, had a snack, and headed back down. Once at the trail again, we crossed to the north side and headed out again cross-country, this time for the long trek to Ventana Cone.

Having done this hike previously, there was much savings time-wise in lack of route-finding errors. Not that we avoided bushwhacking entirely, as there was still much of that. The route had been cleared some years ago in a fire-fighting effort, but it was growing back steadily now. The day had warmed nicely, another unusually fine January day, not a cloud in the sky. It was almost too hot as we made our way across the ridge, and we consumed too much water as we tried to ward off thirst. Midway to Ventana Cone we took a short break at the intermediate highpoint, of some interest to the USGS who had left a marker some many years ago. We had a bit of easy rock climbing along the way, avoided the poison oak and yucca occasionally found along the way, and had our Kodak moments when the view impressed us. After another half mile, and with another half mile to go to Ventana Cone, we had overcome the trickier route-finding sections and followed along the easier ridgeline. I was a shorts distance in front of the others now, making my way towards the summit, and by 11:20a we had all made it to the summit.

Here we took a long break to eat lunch and take in the swell views. Michael had purchased a surplus ammo box and stocked it with a new register and pen for the purpose of installing it on this worthy summit. I was glad to get it out of my pack, as it had taken up half the weight I had on my back. We found the previous register, a small film canister that had been left on the summit a year earlier. The plastic had hardened and cracked in the weather, and rain had dampened the small note left inside and washed out most of the ink making it illegible (fortunately it is recorded for all posterity here). The film canister cracked further while we handled it, and we left what was remaining of it in the new register box. Matthew took a series of photos which he later used to create a fine 360 degree panorama of the views we had. After we had exhausted our numerous photos recording of our visit to the summit (as near as we could tell, we were probably the only ones since our visit a year ago), we got down to the business of deciding what to do next. Michael had mentioned earlier, before we had reached Ventana Cone, that he did not want to continue to VDC. I was interested in continuing, while Monty and Matthew were initially undecided. We had two cars back at the trailhead, so it would be possible to break up into two groups and not have to wait for each other back at the trailhead. It seemed clear that the full traverse over to VDC and down to Puerto Suello and up through Pine Valley would be as much as five hours longer than the return route. No doubt we be returning in the dark, exhausted, with a 3,000ft climb out at the end. It was a bit frightening to consider really, but that what I had come here to experience. The others were coming now to a full understanding of what this meant as well. The biggest issue seemed to be a lack of water. I had half my supply left which I was sure to exhaust by the time we reached VDC. Then it would be some suffering before we hiked another five miles to water, but I wasn't overly concerned. Matthew was nearly out of water and hadn't brought enough with him. Monty was reasonably situated, but also low. Michael had about a quart and a half, but didn't have any to spare as he expected to consume it all on the return journey (he had carried three quarts from the stream). Monty decided to return with Michael, and Matthew considered a bit longer. If he'd brought more water he'd have been up for continuing. We talked briefly of the possibility of getting water enroute to VDC, but that would have involved dropping down a good distance into one of the drainages, and would have made the day's effort that much harder. I took fifteen minutes or so hike down the north side of Ventana Cone to see what the route might be like to VDC. There was no evidence of previous passage by man or beast, and the route was considerably tougher. But, but going slowly, at the pace allowable rather than the pace I wanted, I was able to make my way down about a hundred yards. It seemed the route would probably go, but be difficult as expected. I went back up to report what I found, but there was no magic trail that might make this easier. In the end we all decided to go back as I had no desire to try the loop alone, and didn't want to make anyone wait for me so many hours back at the trailhead.

The hike back was a bit tougher than planned. Michael had been stabbed a few times by the Yucca, and blood was smearing through his pants making it look much worse than it really was. Worse, we were running out of water quickly. I gave Matthew about a third of my bottle, but I was finished with my supply by the time we returned to the trail shortly after 2p. The others had run out even earlier, and we were all quite thirsty. Thirst drove us on, and Matthew and I left the others in a quest to reach the streams as soon as possible. Matthew spoke very little during this forced march, his parched throat obviously not worth wasting words which would make it feel worse. I paused for a last picture looking back on VC and VDC, but Matthew continued on, stopping for nothing. I caught up to him again shortly before we reached the welcomed water. Matthew made a beeline for the first stream, though it was little more than a weak trickle coming down the hillside. I left him for the larger (and probably cleaner) source a short distance further on. There I took my fill, filled one of my bottles, and waited for the others while I admired the lushness of the little fern gully here. There was suddenly no reason to rush left, as was well with the world again. In time we were regrouped, and all finally rid of our nagging thirsts. We resolved next time to take more water - this had caught all of us a bit on the short side.

It was 5:30p when we arrived back at our cars, tired but not exhausted. It was good to know we still had some reserves left. I was a bit disappointed to have not made the full loop as planned, but it was still a very enjoyable outing. I was happier having enjoyed the company of the others and not made it to VDC than I would have been had I gone alone and completed it. The peaks would still be there for a future adventure, and I have always enjoyed my visits to Ventana.

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