Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Feb 20, 2015 - Pico Blanco


Partners: (None)

Distance: 14.08 miles

Elevation Gain: 5,228 feet

Trip Time: 6:43

Maps and Stats:
My time in Monterey was coming to a close, and I was ready to go out in style. With my conference ending at noon, I would have a nice half day for a final goodbye hike. The plan was to revisit Bottchers Gap, this time heading out to Pico Blanco, a nice looking CC peak in the opposite direction from Mt. Carmel, the peak I visited Wednesday evening.

I arrived back at Bottchers Gap around 1:15, and spent a few minutes looking for Larry, the onsite ranger but I could not locate him. He was probably out prepping the areas for the weekend campers, who judging by the many cars in the lot, were arriving early and often. I paid my entry fee ($4) and got started, this time heading downhill down a dirt road. The road would be navigable by a 4X4 vehicle, but for a gate blocking access. The road drops over 1,000 feet over several miles, finally bottoming out at at a large boy scout area. After dropping about 1,200 feet from the start I finally crossed the Little Sur River, an easy traverse that would become problematic when I came by this way again at night.

It only took about 45 minutes to get to the Scout grounds on the other side of the river which included several buildings and facilities. I ran into a couple of scout leaders and asked them about the size of the facilities. I knew there was a "campground" down here but this was like a little compound. Anyway, I worked my way to the end of the grounds and found a single track trail heading uphill, a nice change from the wide road I had followed all the way down thus far. I had traveled 4 easy miles, but with less than 3 miles to the summit and over 2700 feet of elevation gain to go, it would be a much more difficult trip from this point on. I followed the Little Sur Trail up to PK 2194, where I broke away on a faint use trail that traversed through overgrown brush with poison oak mixed in. I was quite cautious, and it was tough to stay on trail for about 10 minutes until I broke out of the brushy area. As I headed uphill, there really wasn't much of a trail, but the cross country was manageable. Not too much brush, just really steep. A bit after 4 PM I emerged onto an awesome looking ridgeline, looking more like something out of the Sierra than Monterey.

Unfortunately, a ridgeline traverse was not easily feasible, so I had to drop off the ridgeline, maybe 50-100 feet at times. By the time I re-emerged on top of the ridge I had a nice easy walkup some class 2 rock to the summit. The views were simply spectacular, especially out towards the Pacific Ocean. I could make out the small bump of Mt. Carmel in the distance. It was hard to believe that hiking to that location and to my current location both started from the same place! I could also make out Uncle Sam Mountain and Ventana Double Cone, targets for a future trip to the area. I found the benchmark and located the summit register, signed by many a boy scout but unfortunately absent a pen or pencil for me to add my name. I spent perhaps 15 minutes on the summit, most of it enjoying the views as the sun crept lower on its daily arc to the Pacific Ocean. Only mildly concerned about time (I was more concerned about getting home at a decent time, since I still had 3 1/2 hours driving after getting back to the car) I set off on a different descent route, not wanting to redo the ridgeline traverse with its ups and downs.

The new descent route worked extremely well for a little while, and I made excellent time heading down, enjoying watching the expansion of Pico Blanco's shadow as I went. But I somehow managed to get a bit too low, and my options were to 1) continue down, arriving to the south of PK 2194, and reclimbing it before following the Little Sur Trail back down to the Boy Scout camp or 2) trying to go cross country to the north along the slopes of Pico Blanco, hoping to reconnect with my ascent route near the top of PK 2194 and avoiding the extra elevation of climbing back up. I chose option 2, and was faced with quite a few challenges. At this lower elevation the drainages were much deeper and choked with brush, and in particular a lot of poison oak. I gave in and reascended a bit to escape one drainage, only to be met with another one. I would repeat this at least 3 more times, each time pushing me back up higher and higher so that ultimately I would connect with my ascent route well above PK 2194. The slopes were also quite steep, and there were a couple of times I would hold onto branches above me in order to make a traverse across rock. One such instance was above a wall of poison oak maybe 5 feet below, and if my branch were to fail I would take a tumble into the nasty depths of the PO. Fortunately that didn't happen, but the time I was taking to descend was starting to worry me. I didn't have a flashlight, but had my cell phone and extra battery which I could use for a guiding light for a few hours if need be. I finally reconnected wtih my original trail after going cross country for well over an hour, when it should have taken maybe 25 minutes. I hustled on from this point, wanting to get back to the main dirt road (which was nice and wide) before dark.

I didn't quite make that goal, as I arrived back at the Boy Scout camp as darkness set in. I found the trailhead (which I missed on the way up), and followed a path across a bridge which made me think I did not have to cross the Little Sur River again. I was pretty happy about that, although I did wonder how I could have missed this bridge on the way in. Things got really complicated as I followed the path after the bridge and found myself perhaps 30 feet off course from the main road. Where was it??? I only had my cell phone for light and I couldn't make it out anywhere. I wound up convincing myself that I was on some small area accessed only via the bridge, and that if I simply crossed back over the river I would soon find the road, even if I would have to recross again. But this crossing was much more difficult, (as I would find out later) this was not normal crossing spot. The water was higher than the top of my boots, which flooded, and I hurried across, mad that I now had to hike out the last 4 miles in soggy socks. But on the other side of the river there was no sign of any paths or anything, and my GPS now showed me more like 50 feet off track. What the heck was going on? So after cursing a few times I recrossed the river yet again, removing all hope that my socks might not be completely soaked through. Now back to the other side, I decided I would just retrace my steps, back over the bridge, and figure out where the trail that I came in on was located. This would take at least 15 minutes, and with time ticking away I was pretty mad about this whole thing. As I walked back I could see on my GPS that the road was only 15 feet away, but it was on higher ground. I struck through some brush, but still couldn't find it, so went back down and continued back toward the bridge. Another few minutes later I finally saw the wide road. In the dark I couldn't figure out how I missed it, or really how any of this had happened. The Google Earth satellite isn't much help as the area is heavily forested, and the topo shows a bunch of back and forth that I can't really figure out without a satellite image. Oh well, I was finally on my way back up.

Another 20 minutes later I came across the ranger station I had seen on the way down, and the ranger saw me and waved. Great, I guess this meant he wasn't going to get his 4x4 and give me a ride back up to Bottchers Gap. Another couple of miles uphill I ran into a truck coming down, either for the boy scouts or a ranger. He pulled over and asked if I was okay. I said I was just fine, and we parted ways. I finally made it back to my car around 7:45, a full hour+ later than I expected. As I got back to my car I ran into Larry, who apparently was back after his afternoon chores. He remembered me from my hike of Mt. Carmel two days prior, and remembered our discussion where I said I would be down by 10PM and he thought it to be extremely unlikely. He said he was surprised I made it back so quickly that night, thinking I would be out for at least 2 hours more.

I carelessly told him I had just visited Pico Blanco (oops, forgot about the trespassing, which to be fair is done all the time, there are no boundary signs, no fences, no warnings or anything of the sort) to which he was not too congratulatory. He reminded me that only the boy scouts have permission to summit, and I took my admonishment without objection. I told him I'd be back someday to tackle the Ventana Double Cone, and cringed for a second as I didn't know if perhaps there was some minor trespassing associated with that one. Fortunately that one must be all on public land, as he said that it was a monster hike, very tough to do in one day. Relieved that I hadn't put my foot in my mouth yet again I decided to get out while the getting was good, and said goodbye to Larry and to Monterey, a fine way to end a fine week of peakbagging.

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