Whale Peak 3x
Clear Ridge

Sat, Feb 1, 2014

With: Steve Sywyk
Eric Smith

Whale Peak
Clear Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profile
Whale Peak previously climbed Thu, Mar 31, 2011

Our friend Eric was in town, visiting from New Mexico where he'd just had a hernia operation a few days earlier. That someone can go out and hike seven miles two days after such surgery says a lot about how far we've come in the medical field (if only paying for them was as easy getting surgery nowadays). We decided to head to Big Sur for a few days of easy hiking, good eating and relaxation. The good eating started before we even left San Jose, a delicious Thai lunch that kept us in town until nearly 1pm. Mmmmm... well worth the delay.

Whale Peak

As we were driving south from Carmel and discussing whales, Eric mentioned that it was gray whale migration season and we might be able to see some off the coast. I commented that I'd never seen whales off the California coast, but quickly corrected that to include one time in Pismo. As if on cue, not ten seconds had elapsed between the time I completed that statement and several spouts were spotted about half a mile off the coast. There were a number of additional sightings as we drove along and it seemed a more proper thing to do would be to get out and take a better look. Almost as though it were planned, we happened to be just approaching Garrapata State Park and Whale Peak. The hike takes no more than five minutes, but brings one to an elevation of 300ft and a commanding view of the surrounding ocean for more than 180 degrees. Even better, there's a nice bench installed near the summit on the ocean side from which to take in the view. Eric had brought his binoculars with which he and Steve traded close-up views of the various spoutings and occasional body or fin sightings that sometimes accompanied them. I preferred the wide-angle view which allowed me not to miss any of the random-seeming spouts. As they last only a second or two, getting them in focus in the binoculars is a difficult task at best, best left to professionals.

There are two places to park for the short hike to the summit, both having a separate trail that come together about halfway up. The northern approach has parking for only about two cars. The southern one, just south of the saddle in Hwy 1, has more parking but the trail has more encroaching poison oak. It's a good idea to be careful to look out for the noxious plant on both trails. Keep to the middle and you can probably hike it even in shorts without trouble.

Clear Ridge

Near the community of Big Sur, Hwy 1 goes inland for about seven miles, following the drainage of the Big Sur River for much of this. Pfeiffer Ridge runs along the southwest side of the highway facing the coast, the highpoint rising to about 1,220ft. About ten feet lower than this is the highpoint of Clear Ridge, a subsidiary ridge running south off Pfeiffer Ridge. This highpoint marks the boundary of Andrew Molera State Park, making it possible to reach it entirely within the park - no trespassing necesssary. The hike from the parking lot at Andrew Molera is about three miles, one way, passing through redwood forest, grassy slopes and chaparral covered hills as well. The views from Pfeiffer Ridge stretch out to the Pacific towards the west and the high summits of Pico Blanco, Manuel Peak and Post Peak to the west. There is free parking alongside the highway for those wanting to save the $10 entrance fee. We paid the fee because Steve likes to consider it a donation to the State Park System. He's awfully kind and considerate that way.

The ranger at the entrance kiosk warned us that the trails required crossing the Big Sur River due to a washed out bridge. A foot deep and colder than some descriptive metaphor, he told us. I honestly don't remember the metaphor, but it wasn't "a witch's titty." We poo-pooed his concerns as did everyone else who came to hike in Andrew Molera that day. And in fact it wasn't really a big deal. It was no more than 7-8 inches at the deepest place, and most of it was barely past the ankle, no colder than tap water. Normally at this time of year the river would be quite strong and make for a far more difficult crossing, but there had been so little rain this past year that the river was more like a creek. With a late start of around 3:40p, a generally slow and considered pace, and an extended stop for some attitude adjustment, it was nearly sunset before we reached the summit. The CORNER benchmark (or more accurately, triangulation station) was found just outside a fenceline at the summit. The sun was very low in the sky, diving behind some thin clouds that dominated the sky to the west. This made for some brilliant orange and red colors at sunset while we were on our way back. Though we had several headlamps with us, we managed to make our way back to the creek by 6p without needing to use them. Steve and I wondered what we might do should Eric slip, rip open his bandages and have his intestines spill out onto the trail. Do we leave him and go for help? Wash his intestines in the creek before stuffing them back inside? These were tough questions we had no answers for. Luckily he was very sure-footed and beat us back to the river. We met up with a couple who were coming back late from another trail and all crossed the creek at the same time. It was a fine hike that we all enjoyed a great deal.

Because this was not a low-cost road trip, we had plenty of dining options in the Big Sur area. I picked the Nepenthe Restaurant south of Big Sur as I had been there several times in the past, though not in the last 20 years. Little about the place has changed in the 60+ years it has been around. Started as a steak house, it remains one (though two of us had seared tuna and Steve had vegetarian fare) to this day. Dinner came in at roughly the cost of driving to New Mexico. Armed without reservations and plans for the rest of the night, after a false start we found our way to the Big Sur Lodge inside the State Park where we got a room (at $200/night, not cheap) and drank ourselves into the evening with conversation and revery about the past. Having known each other for almost 30 years, that's a lot of revery. Good times...


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