Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cone Peak getaway

While blogging about Alaska for the past three weeks, I've had a full November here in California, including rapidly expanding my range of mobility, exploring new bike routes, and relishing the freedom of running again. There's really no better way to gain new appreciation for something then to have it taken away, even for a short eight weeks. I'm slowly gaining confidence in my knee stability and have worked up to eight-mile runs. Even on my boring old routine trails from home, I feel an almost manic buzz when returning from a run — along with tight IT bands. Eventually both of these things will balance out, but I'm enjoying the fun while I can. 

 On Sunday my friend Leah and I stole away for an overnight bike trip in the Big Sur region, climbing to Cone Peak and then looping around the Coast Ridge back to Highway 1. I have a tendency to fixate on planning larger trips, and all too often neglect quick getaways from home. After chatting with Leah earlier this week, we both realized how easy it would be — just cobble our bikepacking gear together, scope out a route to maximize the scenery-to-effort ratio, and hit the road.

 Cone Peak is a striking mountain — a marble pyramid that rises to 5,160 feet a mere three miles from tidewater, for one of the steepest vertical reliefs in the coastal ranges of North America. The Santa Lucia mountains ripple east to the Salinas River Valley, and the Pacific Ocean sprawls over the western horizon.

  We got a characteristically late start at Kirk Creek on Highway 1. But we enjoyed lunch with a view at the campground before pedaling up the sinuous pavement of Nacimiento Road and Cone Peak fireroad. These miles were climby but relaxed, with views everywhere.

Cone Peak is located in the Ventana Wilderness, so we parked the bikes at 3,800 feet and continued on foot in the deepening afternoon light.

 The Santa Lucia mountains have a unique look and feel — rounded slopes and grassy hillsides that I associate with California's coastal mountains, along with rugged peaks and granite outcrops that are more characteristic of the high Sierra. The marine layer rises to about 2,000 feet, and above and below this line are two completely different climate zones. In the lower zone, the state's southernmost Coast Redwood groves reside in narrow gullies, and fog-happy coastal plants thrive. Above the marine layer are oak trees, cypress, douglas fir, chaparral, and other drought-resistant plants. The air is noticeably drier (and in the winter, cooler) up high.

 And the views! Three horizontal miles from the Pacific, and one vertical mile up.

 Cone Peak at sunset. We had discussed packing up our camping gear by hand and sleeping up here, but a cold November wind made us glad that we were only on the peak for a short visit.

 More Pacific views. Although windy, it would have been nice to linger.

 Descending with the last beams of sunlight on the Santa Lucias.

 Sunset over the ocean.

 The sliver moon. We made nice camp spot beneath large oak trees, with my Big Agnes tent and Leah's jet boil for bikepacking luxuries. However, we didn't have access to water and had to conserve what we'd hauled up from sea level. Limited drinking water plus high-sodium Mountain House Chicken and Noodles for dinner resulted in one of the worst midnight muscle cramps I've ever experienced. Two days later, there's still a massive knot in my left calf that hasn't let go. People have asked me why I'm limping, and I've had to reply "Sleeping injury."

 But we did save enough water for the most important thing — morning coffee. We hiked back up the Cone Peak trail a little ways to take in the views with freshly ground drip coffee courtesy of one of Leah's cross team sponsors. She was still recovering from a race on Saturday, and I had that knotted-up calf to limit my moving enthusiasm. We drew out the morning lounging as long as possible.

 Then it was on to Coast Ridge Road. I was a little nervous about the water situation, as we hadn't found a single natural source and were rolling along the spine of mountains. But down the paved road a short distance there was a fire station with an outside tap, and a friendly black cat who wanted her own bowl filled.

 We took a short detour out Prewitt Ridge to find a nice spot to eat our lunch. Oak tree swing with sweeping views of Cone Peak, and a warm, clear day in November. What more could you ask for?

 The ancient oak tree was completely hollowed out, but alive.

 Heading back to the coast on a brake burner of a descent.

Big Sur and Cone Peak. Our two afternoons of riding and hiking came in just shy of fifty miles, with 10,000 feet of climbing. This really is the kind of route that packs a big payout in a small number of miles. Why don't we do this every weekend? I'm determined to return to this nearby mountain range for more winter explorations (especially through the wilderness areas, on foot.) But for now, Beat and I are headed out to Utah for some turkey and, hopefully, some snow. Happy Thanksgiving! 


  1. You may appreciate my recent Cone Peak adventure, including the footnote. Thanks for the inspiration and route finding!

  2. Superb Jill! I just linked your blog to one of mine on Weather Underground..and posted one of your photos. Hope you don't mind.

  3. Though I couldn't bike it, your photos and text (Jill and Chris) made me at least promise to hike part way. thanks.

  4. Sure glad my daughter and I did Big Sur last year in April for both our birthdays. I was on my bucket list, spent a few seconds days lingering there. Amazing views of nature.


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