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Archive for March, 2010

Early on Saturday morning March 20, 2010, myself and five others, Syrah, Peter, Katie, Tristan and Vanessa set out to summit the Ventana Double Cone nestled deep in the Ventana Wilderness along the central coast of California. In total the trip would be about 30 miles of varied hiking through somewhat questionable trail conditions with a total elevation gain of about 2600′. After a night camping at Botchers Gap at the end of Palo Colorado Road off the Cabrillo highway (Route 1) we awoke with the sun (well, some of us) packed up, and started hiking Skinner Ridge trail. 13 miles, 9 hours, and 1800′ later we arrived at Lone Pine Camp. Nothing remains. In the wee hours of the next morning, all but Syrah hoofed that last two miles to look out from the top of the Double Cone. The trail was a bit harsh and slow going in a few spots, but nothing we couldn’t handle without shedding a tear. If you want to read a technical trail condition report I wrote without pictures visit the Ventana Wilderness Alliance webiste. The post needs to be moderated, so it might not be there yet. Be patient, it will be there soon.

We didn’t take many photos on the way in, but Syrah managed to get some really incredible shots:

From Ventana Double Cone I

Much of the trail was like what you see above but there was also sections through thick brush, along bubbling brooks, through forested valleys, and up steep slopes. This hike has it all! Syrah took this crazy shot:

From Ventana Double Cone I

She took this one as well. You can see the burned trees. Can you spot the hikers?

From Ventana Double Cone I

This tree is out of a cartoon or something:

From Ventana Double Cone I

Some encroaching brush. It was worse than this in many spots. From Puerto Suello trail junction to Lone Pine much of the trail is just like this. Slow going, but definitely passable:

From Ventana Double Cone I

We wanted to camp at Lone Pine, but apparently it no longer exists. Now its just an patch of land covered in bushes. Not inviting at all. We decided to make camp about 50 yards up trail. There is a flat, clear spot on the left side of the trail with room for two or three tents. The best part is, on the right side of the trail, only about 10 feet away from the camp spot is a terrific overlook. The proximity to this overlook leads me to believe that our campsite didn’t meet all the USFS wilderness campsite guidelines, but besides that it was perfect. We didn’t have very many options anyway. It was going to be dark soon, and it looked as if others had camped there before. This is a shot of our sunset view. The summit in the photo is Pico Blanco. Its on the the other side of the valley.

From Ventana Double Cone I

Here are some photos from the next morning when we arrived on the summit. We watched the sunrise while hiking. Beautiful stuff.

From Ventana Double Cone II

Yes, that is the Pacific Ocean you can see in the distance. We are standing at 4800 feet looking down to sea level. There are not a lot of opportunities in the world to do that.

From Ventana Double Cone II

Take note of the notch seen in this next photo. You’ll see it again on the way out.

From Ventana Double Cone II

The Big Sur River basin:

From Ventana Double Cone II

There are some foundations left over from when there was a lookout tower on the summit. There also looks like there was once an outhouse up there. A small concrete foundation about 3 feet by 2.5 feet with a hole dug in the center. I don’t know why we didn’t get a photo. A view to the southeast:

From Ventana Double Cone II

After the hike back to camp and a good breakfast we packed up and made our way out.

From Ventana Double Cone II

This is Pat Spring. The water in the pool was full of algae. This is good, realiable water directly in the middle of the hike from Botchers to VDC summit. Its the only water you need if you can carry it.

From Ventana Double Cone II

In this next photo you can see the Double Cone on the left. I believe that notch in the ridge to the right of the Double Cone is the “Ventana” but I’m not positive.

From Ventana Double Cone II

A typical junction. Many do not have signs since the fire in 2003. This is the trail to Comings Camp.

From Ventana Double Cone II

Some pretty trail side shots:

From Ventana Double Cone II
From Ventana Double Cone II
From Ventana Double Cone II

Here is the whole group! Congratulations! 30 miles of hiking in two days!

From Ventana Double Cone II

A better look at the Double Cone and the “Ventana”:

From Ventana Double Cone II

This hike is highly recommended. Give yourself more that two days to really savor the views.

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Syrah and I went to Pinnacles National Monument on Sunday, February 28th to climb Old Original on Machete Ridge. Our friends Robin and Gerick came along but with intentions to hike one of the many fine trails Pinnacles has to offer. I brought along Brad Young’s 2007 guide book A Climber’s Guide to Pinnacles National Monument for reference. Neither of us had been on the route before, and only to the Monument itself a handful of times. We had climbed a few lines on Tourist Trap crag, and a few short lines on Split Boulders in weekends prior. I thought Old Original would be a fun, mini alpine adventure, and it was. I checked the Raptor Adviseries and weather. No birds, no clouds, no wind. We were a go.

To get to the climb, we decided to take Citadel Canyon trail directly abutting the third stream crossing on the Balconies Trail, up past Elephant Rock and taking a left up the slope at a wash that had seen some recent foot traffic. Young’s guide shows this trail on a sketch of Citadel Canyon on page 262 of his guide indicating “some brush to Machete Ridge, south face” I would imagine at some points during the year this would be true, but apparently the end of February is a major peak in growth for this summer desert landscape turning phrases like “some brush” into something like “thick, lettuce filled, brush maze”.

thick, lettuce filled, brush maze

The maze ended at the stream in the canyon abutting Machete Ridge at the southwest face. The remaining portion of the approach was steep, but maze and lettuce free. The lettuce I’m referring to is Miners Lettuce and is quite delicious:

Claytonia perfoliata (Miners Lettuce)

I’d like to share some photos of the other dank vegetation we encountered in the place now known as Lettuce Maze:

Immediately after crossing the stream onto its east bank the trail opens up again and its smooth sailing to the base of the climb. Young’s Guide is very useful at this point. His explanation to get to the base of Old Original is flawless. On the way up we passed a sweet smelling plant neither of us could recognize. Any ideas? Here are some photos:

At the base of the climb, we packed up, racked up, and tied in. The rack was six shoulder slings, one double length sling, two biners for each, and five lockers. I also brought along a couple cordelettes, frction knot loops, and four cams covering about half inch to 1.5 inches. A second rope would’ve been helpful, but we brought one 60m and it performed fine. I ended up using three cams to build a lowering anchor during the decent.

A couple balance slab moves to a comfy ledge leading to a bomber, relatively new stainless steel bolt. Many of the bolts on this route were replaced in 1999 according to Clint Cummins over at Stanford. Young tells us this pitch has two bolts, but we only saw the first one at the left hand side of the ledge. The anchor was there, and the hangers looked as if a nuclear explosion wouldn’t move them:

anchor at top of first pitch

Young’s guide describes a bolt just after moving into the notch at the beginning of the second pitch. Neither Syrah nor I saw this bolt. It is not needed, and may be safer without it. The route soon moves to about 10 feet directly above the belay anchor. Having a bolt at the notch would only lengthen a fall from here and give you an incredible amount of rope drag. I would have passed on it if it was there. From this point the climb moves down the ridge which is mostly third class. All the rest of the bolts described are there. Here is a video view of the top of the first pitch and summit:

The third pitch involves a small amount of technical down climbing at what felt like 5.6 to me, but is 5.5 according to Young’s guide. It involves a sketchy looking foot hold with fantastic exposure and a looming bolt. Exiting and super fun! At the end of this pitch there is a pleasant grassy meadow with just enough room for a couple people to hang out and eat lunch. We didn’t eat lunch there, but next time we will.

The next three pitches are easier on the leader. They are down climbing pitches, and the fall hazard is greater for the follower. The fourth pitch is third class, but is atop a perfect ridge, so a stumble for the follower could be quite severe. The fifth pitch is a rap. If you only have one rope, use the lower intermediate rap anchor as well. The rap anchors used slings which should be upgraded to chains at some point. They were in good shape and safe. Here is a video of the rappel:

On the sixth pitch I took advantage of the rap ring installed on the bolt just through the notch and set a lower-down scenario for the follower (Syrah). This allowed both of us to be in a top-rope situation while descending the fourth class face.

We decided not to do the extension out to Middle Tower and North Tower. It was getting late and we needed to meet Robin and Gerick back at the car. We begun our decent from the Machete Decent anchor. After reading the description, looking at the photos, and checking out the maps I figured the decent was going to take us about two hours bringing us to the trail around 20 minutes before sunset. It ended up taking us 4.5 hours. We finally found the trail in the dark with our headlamps.

At the end of the rappel, we slipped and slid down a fourth class slimy mossy gully. It was absolutely treacherous! I wouldn’t dream of doing this un-roped, but apparently people do it. I would imagine its more practical to un-rope at other times of the year, and not soaking wet February. There was a slime on absolutely everything. There is also no good anchors at the top of the gully, so I lowered Syrah down the slip and slide while braced on slick rock. I was able to set a reasonable achor with he cams I brought along lower down, and the lower gully had some trees we could use. The gully leads to a meadow with a large tree adorned with rappel slings. Part of the decision to take one rope meant committing to the supposedly easier walking off option that involved an exposed traverse over a bush laden ledge with slime covered footholds. It wasn’t that tough, but it was truly exposed to a serious fall. I used the bushes as protection along the way. This ledge leads to another gully that drops into a boulder maze. Yes, that’s right another maze.

There is a lack of description in Young’s guide in reference to the “jumble of boulders” and “far right side of the gully”. First we attempted to stay to the “far right side of the gully”. this lead us to a steep mossy slope that I couldn’t imagine anybody walking down. Since this was supposed to be a “walk off” we assumed we took the wrong way and back tracked. This happened many times and before long it was dark and we had the headlamps on. Each time we went down to find a way, it ended at some sort of chasm, cliff, or void. I wasn’t about to do any spelunking to find the Balcony Cave trail I knew was down there because this was supposed to be a walk off! We finally ended up finding a decent spot to crawl down far enough where we could slide down a low angle face into the stream bed where we found the Balcony Cave trail and our way back to the car.

Syrah was scared, and I was pissed at Brad Young for not telling us about the crazy boulder maze we would encounter at the very end of our decent! The guide should be revised to say something like this:

After the ledge traverse, descend another gully into a maze of boulders. You’re probably going to get lost. There are many dead ends with large vertical drops. There is a way to walk off, but don’t expect to find it easily. Good luck. After lots of rain the entire decent route grows a thick layer of slimy vegetation turning the entire thing into a wet, muddy treacherous experience. More Good Luck.

If your planning to do this route after lots of rain, I recommend finding your way in the boulder maze with a mountaineering set up. Syrah and I had about fifteen feet of rope between us which seemed appropriate for the conditions. It would be terrible if someone slipped and tumbled into one of the many voids we encountered. I also recommend bringing a strong headlamp that has a flashlight beam. Also, an extra pair of socks and underwear because you will get wet.

Our friends did the right thing upon notice of our tardiness. They told the ranger at the station and they initiated a search. We met up with a ranger looking for us on the Balconies Trail while on the way out. I asked him if lots of folks got lost in those boulders, and his reply was “All the time!” In the next edition, I suggest some more description of the boulder maze area. Maybe a map would do the trick. It could be beyond words.

Happy Climbing!!!

UPDATE:

Robin and Gerick shared their photos from their hike and they got this great shot of Syrah and I up on Machete Ridge. You can get a feel for how excellent this climb really is:

Syrah and Tim atop Machete Ridge about to climb through the notch on South Tower

Its us!

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