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Up at 3a, I was at the start of the Pine Ridge Trail along Tassajara Rd by 6a, just as it was growing light out. Not surprisingly, there were no other vehicles at the trailhead on a Monday morning in mid-November. I've traveled this trail now five or six times and I still enjoy it a great deal. It has wonderful views of the drainage and surrounding mountains to the south for the first part of the hike to Church Creek Divide. I reached this saddle at 7a not long after sunrise. As the trail moves to the north side of the ridge the views change, now looking into the Carmel River drainage surrounded by familiar peaks - VC & DVC, Uncle Sam and Elephant, and Miller Mtn just above Pine Valley.
There is much evidence of the 2008 fires all around this area. All of the pines along the trail received burn damage from the big fire, but many of them survived with their upper canopies out of harms way - no doubt these trees were used to this sort of environment and have adapted well to the fires. When I reached the junction with the Black Cone Trail around 8:15p, I noted changes since before the fire - the snags at the trail junction had burned even more and were now little more than stumps. Sometimes it takes a number of fires to finally do these old trees in.
I turned south and headed down the Black Cone Trail, my first trek along this section of it. I had a good deal of apprehension due to the heavy overgrowth I'd found on the southern section of the trail the previous week. Fortunately, conditions were better and I made good time traveling along. Not that there weren't places a bit tedious, but overall it was decent. There's a fine view of the Coast Ridge and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Mt. Olmstead stands out in particular at the end of an offshoot of the Coast Ridge - another peak I'd like to visit this season. Half an hour along the Black Cone Trail I paused to scramble up a small rocky outcrop found on the west side of the trail. It provided a good vantage point from which to view much of the Black Cone Trail looking north and south, though one has to have a keen eye or good memory or even better imagination to figure out just where it is.
It was another mile along the trail before I got a good view of White Cone, still about two miles to the south. The whitish rock slopes on the northwest side became evident for the first time and my optimism increased that it would not be the ordeal I had feared. In fact, it turned out to be about what I'd held out as the best hope in looking at the satellite views. It was just before 10a when I crossed over a weak spring that was dribbling across the trail. About 50yds past this point is where I chose to make my way upslope cross-country. As I had suspected from the satellite view, there is a 40-50yd barrier of heavy brush that must first be breached before the easier white rock slopes are found. Once through this I was happy to find the going much easier. Although steep and somewhat loose, it was far easier than your typical Ventana bushwhack, and I was able to reach the summit only half an hour after leaving the trail.
Just north of the summit is a small tower, fairly new, that is part of a Monterey County flood warning system. They were nice enough to leave it off the highpoint, so kudos to whoever made that consideration. The summit was surprisingly free of brush. It looks like perhaps the entire top was burned off in the 2008 fire as the manzanita looked to be only about two years old, or shin high. There were no dead snags standing up waist high as there were in other areas. My first impression was that I was not on the highpoint as the rounded knob half a mile to the southeast looked higher. The topo map shows it as 2ft lower, but that seems too close to be certain, so I decided to walk over and check it out. The decision was made easy by the uninvolved nature of the intervening terrain - a pleasant walk, that is.
It took only ten minutes to reach Pt. 4,719ft and once there I could not tell with any certainty which point was higher. I'll trust the original surveyors for it. The extra walk was not in vain as the views south to Junipero Serra and Black Cone were better from this vantage. I took some other photos and then headed back to White Cone. I found no register on either point. Twenty minutes later I was back on the Black Cone Trail, heading north.
About half a mile north of the "spring" (term used loosely here - perhaps its better in other seasons, but I wouldn't rely on it for water. The only water source I found along the route all day was about a mile west of Church Creek Divide - this one is always good) I found a side trail leading to a small trailside camp. A stool and some other gear were left here. There was a fire ring (seems like a dangerous area to make an open fire) and a small flat area to hold a tent.
The rest of the return was enjoyable if mostly uneventful. The most interesting find was a small gopher snake that was stretched across the Pine Ridge trail sunning himself, a short distance east of Church Creek Divide. He did not move when I approached, nor initially when I bent down to pet it. He seemed to consider me for a moment, turning to see what was going on, then slithered off as though he'd been bothered enough. It was 3p when I returned to the TH, making for a nine hour day - much easier than the Black Cone outing and quite enjoyable.
This page last updated: Sat Nov 20 14:15:05 2010
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