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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

La Ventana

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La Ventana

Derek Bartz

Foggy Coastal Redwoods in the La Ventana Wilderness

A month ago Michele and I made our way west from Colorado where I was dropping her off in SoCal to start the PCT.  We had big plans in the desert but a string of rainy/snowy days were flooding the canyons; forcing us to the coast sooner than planned. The weather didn't exactly cooperate there either for a majority of the trip, but we were able to squeeze in some time in the Silver Peak & La Ventana Wilderness before making our way down to LA.

FIRST night in the van camped above the Goosenecks of the San Juan River

The Goosenecks

Nice spot for breaky

We were all set to go down the Little Colorado River from Cameron to Desert View; here a dry river bed.

The river flooded over night, surging to 700cfs and bank to bank full of water.  Everything I had read highly recommended to avoid the LCR if even a trickle of water was flowing. We bailed. 

Mojave National Preserve

La Ventana 

It is a miracle that this place exists.  The close proximity to the Bay Area has one wondering how this slice of coast was saved from further development.  Thanks to the Wilderness Act though the 240,000 acres La Ventana Wilderness preserves this steep, rugged stretch of mountainous terrain along the coast.  I had been through Big Sur before, but had yet to really leave the pavement.  After pouring over Leor Pantilat's website numerous times I knew the wilderness above Hwy 1 deserved a closer look.  A trip he spoke highly of was Cone Peak via Stone Ridge, especially during the Spring months when you have a chance to see the mountain sides vibrant green and speckled with wildflowers.  Although we were about a month late for that display, the nearly 5,000' climb from the sea to the sky took us through variety of ecosystem.  The banks of crystal clear West Fork Limekiln Creek were carpeted with lush ferns while old growth Redwoods towered above, Poppy's dotted the open tall grass meadows that are iconic to the Big Sur coast, and the sub alpine mountainsides were scattered with a range of unique conifers; the Sugar Pines(which have the largest cones of any tree on Earth) as well as the exclusive Santa Lucia Fur(which are only be found on the high mountain ridges of the Santa Lucia Mountains). 

West Fork Limekiln Creek

Wild Iris

The diverse treeland in the upper reaches of the Santa Lucia Mountains

Once on the summit the fog bank eased up a bit giving a glimpse of the aqua marine waters that line the coast through Big Sur.  Stunned by the fact we were now over 5,000's above the beach, which sat only 3 miles away as the crow flies, we enjoyed dinner from the steps of the shelter while overlooking the northern section of Big Sur all the way up to Ventana Double Cone (the other giant off the coast of Big Sur).  Sunset here could be phenom but unfortunately the clouds rolled back in shortly after arriving (a common theme of the entire road trip); but we will be back.  The potential of the La Ventana is endless, as Leor Pantilat has proven (through his waterfall project; for real, check this guy out).  Looking at the map, a good route traversing/thru hiking the range exists sticking mainly to trail while connecting a few segments with seldom used forest service roads; something I'm sure we will be back for too. 

A good look at the grassy slopes of Stone Ridge.  The ridge makes a near continuous 5,000 line from the ocean to the summit of Twin Peak 

Summit shelter

We cowboy camped...right...there

Cone Peak from the south slopes

Shortly after leaving the summit a strong wind brought in the fog for the remainder of the trip

Made for some moody light in the Redwoods.  Vincente Flat Trail.

After arriving back at the van, we headed up Nacimiento Road in search of some good vamping.  Nacimiento is one of the few (if not only?) paved road to crest the Santa Lucia Range from east-to-west.  A friend had told us the numerous roadside pull-offs were fair game to camping, sounded great.  The only problem is the road is so damn steep, windy, and narrow (and awesome!!!) that finding a somewhat flat spot for the van proved to be difficult.  As we climbed higher and higher we eventually hit the clouds and ended up going over the crest and down into the Nacimiento River valley where we found idyllic roadside camping next to the river.  This area was unexpectedly beautiful; dense stands of Blue & Coastal Oak, Chaparral, and Manzanita cover the mountainsides, the free flowing upper Nacimiento cascades down through the jungle like growth.  In the morning we explored the banks a bit, discovering a large number of salamanders/newts in the water!  These little guys & gals were fun to stumble upon, especially in such high numbers.  

Agh the vanlife

The kitchen has been working out great!

Fresh cookies!...the bottom was burnt :(

Nacimiento River

Salamanders!  or Newts! even with google I can't figure it out.

Great single track and dirt roads within Los Padres National Forest just north of Santa Barbara