Saturday, June 15, 2013

Big Sur-hiking, mapping, wondering what happened to the trails!

A summary of our trip to Big Sur, hiking in the Ventana Wilderness and the need for more funds in the Los Padres National Forest.

Yessi Ye planning our hiking for Green Trails Maps
Yessi and I recently returned from northern California where we spent 3 weeks hiking 200 plus miles of trails in the Big Sur/Ventana wilderness, part of the Los Padres national forest.  These were some of the toughest trails I've hiked.

Yessi Ye climbing a steep trail
After hiking 5000 miles last year on 3 continents, through bush, over mountains, past volcanoes, down roads, through snow, dessert, forest and jungle, at elevations up to 18000 ft, I feel I know what makes a trail hard, and the Big Sur trails were very difficult.

Yessi Ye taking an ice cold shower at Limekiln falls, CA.
Yessi is here from China visiting for a couple months as we hike trails and map them with a GPS for Green Trails.  Though we met in NZ near my completion of the Te Araroa trail, she had never hiked before we did the Annapurna Circuit almost a year later.

Yessi Ye is tiny and these TuTwo trees are huge!
Turned on to hiking by the beauty, the adventure, the self reliance, sense of accomplishment and my company (what can I say, she likes me!) she came to hike with me this summer with the promise of fun, beautiful backpacking and hiking.

Headed to the hot springs in Big Sur, Pine Ridge
What we got at Big Sur was occasionally fun, once in a while beautiful, but mostly overgrown, unmarked and rapidly becoming lost trails.  None more appropriately named than 'Lost Valley' which we never did find.

dbBrad and Yessi next to a lovely Cairn at the hot springs
In 2008 there was a big fire which killed most of the deciduous trees and scarred black almost all of the redwoods.  While the redwoods suffered damage, many sprouting like mad at their bases as the tops  struggle to push new growth from burnt branches, the oaks, manzanitas, madronas and other hardwoods didn't make it.  Instead they have mostly fallen over, providing a wealth of sunlight to those smaller plants like thistles, pokiething bushes, scratchy berries, barbed roses, spear like yucca, and of coarse, poison oak.

Yessi enjoys a hot drink on a chilly morning along the coast of California
The falling trees have also made the un-maintained trails (most of them) almost impossible to navigate as the fallen trees and undergrowth are almost impossible to get through.

dbBrad and Yessi at Limekiln park, CA.
The only way I could convince Yessi to keep hiking with me was by relating our time at Big Sur to the concept of Boot Camp in the military.  A couple weeks of training to be more prepared and in better shape for our other hiking in the Cascades and the Olympics.  'If you can do this, you can hike anything' I kept saying.  And in her determined way, she kept hiking.

dbBrad, Yessi, Oxalis and Redwoods in Big Sur
As we hiked, we noticed one thing.  We were pretty much the only people out there.

Yessi at 5000ft approaching Cone peak with the Pacific Ocean (and China, though not quite visible!) in the background.
I attribute this to two things.  One, that the demographic of people driving convertible hot rods in fancy clothes and silly shoes along Hwy 1 isn't much of a match for hikers.

dbBrad and Yessi with backpacks on bike in Hunter Ligett, east side of Ventana wilderness, CA.
And two, if your going to drive an hour or two to go hiking in northern California, why would you go to Big Sur when you could go to Yosemite.

A ribbon means this is the trail, but doesn't mean that there is a trail!
Big Sur /Ventana definately has some beautiful hikes, most along the ocean.  However we also found some great hiking on the East side at Memorial Park, though without the spectacular ocean views.

One of hundreds of trees we had to climb over hiking Big Sur.
What Big Sur has is remoteness and wildness and solidarity.  If you are brave enough to venture more than a couple of miles from the trails heads, assuming you can find them, you will find amazing streams and rivers, spectacular falls and rocks, towering redwood forests lush and green, and occasional views of the ocean which take your breath away.

Yessi Ye sets up the tent up on Coast View Road, Big Sur Ventana
But the rest of the time you'll be wishing you had better maps, a protective suit made of leather, a full face shield, gloves and a chain saw.

Yessi, though new to hiking, steps across rocks like a pro now.
One the issue of maps, there are currently two sets of maps for sale.  USGS maps are no longer available, leaving you with National Geographics map, and one printed by Wilderness Press.  If you have a GPS then you have old USGS maps used by Garmin.

Yessi and dbBrad in northern California along one of the many rivers.
The Wilderness Press maps are so far out of date it's silly.  Not only are the trails and roads often misrepresented, but most of info regarding camping and parking and trail heads is down right erroneous.  This is much more true for Garmins maps which should be taken off the market they're so bad.

Yessi Ye models the TuTwo flag!
The National Geographic map was the best, thanks to Ventana Wilderness Association who recently revised the maps, editing trails, parking, road closures and access points.  It's the best map available right now, but still full of errors and un verified trails.

dbBrad and Yessi, Big Sur.
Im proud to say I work for GreenTrails Maps.  I've been using Greentrails maps for 30 years and have always found them to be reliable and accurate.  And when the GreenTrails Big Sur, Ventana map comes out, it will be the best map by a long shot.

Yessi, Yuca and the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur.
Not only is GreenTrails verifying virtually every map, but they're getting the new trails, the state camp grounds, the services along the sometimes desolate portions of Hwy 1, the camp grounds, distinguishing between walks, trails and routes and most importantly, they're working with local authorities and groups to mark and verify public access points letting hikers know where they can access these trails.

Yessi and dbBrad at Memorial park on the East side of Ventana wilderness.
This I found to be a big problem.  Even with 2 different maps (above mentioned) and my Garmin GPS maps for California, I was unable to find some of the trail heads.  Private property along the fringes of our Public Lands threatens to choke off access, particularly since there is almost no signage.  This is especially true on trails off Hwy 1 which often start as dirt roads which are gated.

Yessi struggles across a difficult section of trail.
Knowing which roads are public and lead to trails and which roads are private is the best way to keep property owners happy and maintain our public access points.  And by being thorough and conscientious, Green Trails is not only helping to preserve our land, it's helping you have a funner safer hike.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting reading. Apparently your pre-hike planning relied upon only "official" information, which can be badly out-out-date in Big Sur, missing the information used by locals (and others who find it via the web) at ventanawild.org and bigsurtrailmap.net

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