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Big Sur Trail

Re: Big Sur Trail

Postby Jim Ringland on Sat May 07, 2011 1:06 pm

Date Hiked: May 4, 2011
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

I walked the length of the trail from the Pine Ridge trail junction to Cold Spring, staying a night at Rainbow Camp along the way. I'm rating this as passable, but one short section along Cisco Creek deserves a "difficult" and some other sections are on the edge.

There is no sign at the Pine Ridge Trail junction. The tread up to the first saddle is marginally narrower than that on the Pine Ridge Trail, but it is still in excellent shape. South from the saddle, the trail in some places is only detectable as a path of thinner, lighter grass through deeper grass mixed with other soft plants (wild pea, blackberry, etc.). Pink ribbons provide guidance but I don't think I would have had any real problems without them. The grading is fine and also provides an indication of where trail should be. From a bit above Cienega down to the North Fork, there are several deadfalls to deal with. None are all that challenging, but I had to push through brushy branches in places. There are plenty of deadfalls on the way up after the North Fork crossing too, but as before, no individual one is all that hard to deal with. The quantity, however, combined with the 1000+ foot elevation gain, meant this section took a fair amount of energy. Going down from there, the grassy-trail-in-the-grass problem repeats itself. Here it is worse. In a few spots I really did appreciate having the pink ribbons as a check that I was in the right place. There are more deadfalls lower down, again more annoying than difficult.

Rainbow Camp is lovely. After spending two nights under redwoods on this trip, it was a delight to stay at this more open and airy spot under oak and madrones. The river is gorgeous. The old picnic table is (mostly) intact.

Rainbow to Mocho is a little piece of wilderness freeway, save for a blow down that required a bit of ducking. Mocho Camp is not particularly appealing, however, especially after the delights of Rainbow. There is a fair amount of debris just beyond camp. The site itself is a little weedy and not all that flat. It is marked by a charred post.

I had some brief confusion just beyond Mocho Camp. Shortly before reaching Mocho Creek, the trail just ended. A small tree (which I removed) had fallen on the trail and the area behind was pretty much covered with new herbaceous growth (ferns and other things) two or three feet high. Plow ahead 50 feet or so (between two fallen logs), cross the creek, duck under a big fallen log on the other side, and there is trail. There are more easily-managed deadfalls on the climb out of the Mocho Creek drainage, and then the climb over the ridge and down into the Cisco Creek drainage is mostly open.

Once the trail reaches Cisco Creek, the more interesting story begins. There is quite a bit of debris, including some recently fallen redwoods, along the section where the trail follows the creek. It was slow going but at first I had no route-finding problems. A few pink ribbons (that had been otherwise absent since Rainbow) provided guidance. But just beyond the last ribbon, it was not clear where to go. After maybe 10-15 minutes of exploring I found the way out: from the flag follow the vague path that might be a trail along the south bank of Cisco Creek until is ends, cross the creek, and bushwack maybe 20 feet up through more soft growth (no PO) to find the trail. It sort of looked like there ought to be a trail up on that hillside, but there was no sign of a path across the creek or leading up. I doubt anyone coming eastbound from Cold Spring would get as stuck here, but, westbound, I definitely found this section along Cisco Creek challenging.

From Cisco Creek on up the trail is mostly open with a few simple-to-handle deadfalls. There is lots of grass in the tread, but given much of trail is on an obvious hillside cut or follows a wide swath chopped through the brush, there are no route-finding issues. It is almost wilderness freeway after the saddle between the Mocho Creek and Logwood Creek drainages.
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Re: Big Sur Trail

Postby Amy L on Sun Nov 14, 2010 1:08 pm

Date Hiked: November 12, 2010
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

The Big Sur Trail is in great shape from the Pine Ridge Trail junction to Cold Spring. There are a few recent small blowdowns, all easily passed, but no other problems. Tread condition is quite good throughout. We found two small cleared areas near Cienega Camp suitable for setting up a tent.

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Re: Big Sur Trail

Postby Steve B on Fri Sep 03, 2010 12:19 pm

Date Hiked: August 28, 2010
General Condition: Clear (no obstacles and tread well defined)

The Forest Service Trail Crews have cleared the Big Sur Trail from Cold Springs to South Fork Camp and from Rainbow to the Junction of the Pine Ridge Trail. The Trail is stock passable from Cold Springs to Rainbow and good for hikers from Rainbow to South Fork and the junction of the Pine Ridge Trail (via Cienega). The trail has not been opened from South Fork to Strawberry Camp but it is flagged (but difficult to follow) with orange flagging. The trail is a beating now but it is in the plans for work in the near future. As far as I could see Cienega Camp no longer exists. I could not find the trail to the hot springs in Cienega. Now is a good time to hike this trail because I don’t think this trail will last for too many years due to new Ceanothus growth. (3E09 and 3E14) :D
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Re: Big Sur Trail

Postby dragonlaz on Fri Jun 04, 2010 12:09 am

Date Hiked: May 30, 2010
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Cold Springs to Mocho Camp: EXCELLENT condition. Other than 2 logs to climb over/around, it is virtually a freeway all the way to the creek at Mocho Camp.

However, starting with a wide tangle of fallen trees blocking your path down to the creek at Mocho Camp, the trail deteriorates rapidly. Most people could probably follow the trail to Rainbow Camp (only a few short parts where it disappears into grass/brush). However, only hikers who are very confident in their route-finding skills should continue onwards from there: heavily overgrown with dense grass, poison oak, and bushes; and structurally falling apart in places. It is guaranteed that you will have to scout around looking for the trail in several places.

The first segment ascending the pass (between Rainbow camp and the North Fork of Big Sur River) is the worst: so overgrown that it is virtually impassible. 3 foot tall thick grass and bushes completely obliterate the trail; only by looking for a subtle undulation in the steep slope can you guess at the trail's location.
The way down from the first pass is a little bit easier to follow (mainly because slope is steeper, and so cut of trail more evident), but nearly just as overgrown. Almost stepped on a rattlesnake that was laying in the middle of the near-non-existent trail.

From the North Fork of Big Sur River to the Pine Ridge Trail, the quality of the trail seems to improve somewhat, and is somewhat easier to follow (but still heavily overgrown and requiring serious route-finding).

Pine Ridge Trail, after all that virtual bushwhacking, is a real pleasure. Even above Sykes, it is easy to follow and structurally very sound despite being partly overgrown in many places and having a few obstacles (easily circumvented).
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Re: Big Sur Trail

Postby K Vandevere on Sun May 16, 2010 11:00 am

Date Hiked: May 15, 2010
General Condition: Wilderness Freeway (Heavily used and well maintained)

Cold Springs to Rainbow Camp

A Forest Service crew is currently clearing this section of the trail. I walked it from Cold Springs to Cisco Creek and it was freshly cleared with extensive sections of reworked tread all the way down. They were still at work on the trail between Cisco and Mocho, but told me they intend to clear it all the way to Rainbow. Beyond Rainbow, you're on your own.
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BS trail from PRT to the "Cienega" flat

Postby johnradford on Sun Aug 16, 2009 1:02 am

Date Hiked: August 8, 2009
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

PRT junction to the saddle on BS Trail is all open with just some poison oak re-growth (still avoidable). Tread is degraded a little from erosion. From saddle down for 15 minutes to just below the Cienega itself (8-10 minutes before the Public camp on the creek), the tread was quite weedy and virtually impossible to find. I cleared some and I and a couple others (apparently) have left beaten down tread sufficient to follow. Beyond the level of the Cienega, I have not gone. It looks like the route is weedy but easy to find. From distant views, it appears brush was burned out all the way to the top of the divide above South Fork BS canyon. I have no idea what exact conditions are beyond the Cienega, however. [note: from PRT, one glimpses the "Cienega" as a verdant, very lush looking highlight 2000ft below - very much like a golf course green.]
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Big Sur Trail

Postby Site Administrator on Thu May 07, 2009 4:24 pm

Date Hiked: May 24, 2008
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Conditions reported by: Jdoelman
Survey date: 24-MAY-2008
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Hiked this trail again from Cold spring down to mocho. This time we had no time to do any trail clearing as it was getting late. In the downward direction, the trail is very difficult to follow. We lost the trail again (just like 2 weeks ago) and crashed off-trail to cisco creek, this was very discouraging.. Coming uphill from Rainbow/Mocho it is more followable. If you make it to Rainbow, you will find tough going in all directions.

We hiked to towards cienega and found easy going until about 100 yards past the high saddle which divides cienega/Rainbow. From that point northwards looked to be heinous brush.

We hiked out via south fork to strawberry, that was very enjoyable, but still not easy.
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Conditions reported by: Brian Hackett
Survey date: 16-MAY-2008
General: IMPASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp - Impassable

First 1.5 miles (until descent towards Rainbow Camp) is overgrown with some deadfall but easy to follow. Lots of deadfall after starting descent towards Rainbow Camp. A few switchbacks down the trail seemed to just end after a large deadfall area -- no sign of a tread on the other side or anywhere around the deadfall.
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Conditions reported by: jdoelman
Survey date: 4-MAY-2008
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Cold Spring Camp to Mocho Camp - Difficult

It starts off brushy with some deadfalls to hike around. There seemed to be a harsh wind/snow problem which caused heavy damage to the trees/bushes on the upper portion of the switchbacks section of the trail. It is not possible to follow the footbed of the trail for portions of the trail, rather it is necessary to cutoff switch backs and attempt to locate the trail above/below the last sighting of the trail.

If you hike this trail, you may not believe that any clearing has been done recently, but we did actually make some effort to do so.
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Conditions reported by: Leslie Abramson
Survey date: 25-MARCH-2008
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cold Spring Camp - Almost Impassable

Almost impassable, this trail has no less than 50 downed trees across the trail. Keeping to the trail is difficult and requires much bushwacking and detouring through abundant poison oak. Long pants, sleeves and work gloves REQUIRED!! The trail itself travels through beautiful country, but it's the worst I've seen in a while. Maybe it's a bit easier going down? or without a big pack?
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Conditions reported by: Jeff Myers
Survey date: 10-JULY-2007
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp - Difficult

Well here it is! Thhis section is a lot worse then it was just one yr ago; especially the first mile which has overgrown considerably just since I hiked it last yrear. Weird how Ceanothus could grow as such [Ed: not really, but OK!]. Have you ever heard of such a happening?

From the saddle onward; the first half of the saddle is fine and one of my favorite hikes in the wilderness because of the different bedrocks, sandstone and granite formations, plants. The second part of the saddle could only be discribed as probably the worst trail in the forest...at places the surprisingly good tread is less than perfect, so I spent 3 or 4 days pruning and sawing the first 5 or 6 switchback on the lower part of the trail. Will do more next spring so I can say I helped fix the worst trail in the whole forest...also from the around the North Fork of the Big Sur River the contour trail to Cienega Camp is in putrid shape, especially cutting fallen branches and grading the trail. Lots of help needed for that part (anyone interested, email me)
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Conditions reported by: Steven S.
Survey date: 17-MAY-2007
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp - Passable

Some parts overgrown especially the first mile or so after cold springs and before the "Devil's Staircase" (which has 24 switchbacks but is not a big deal going downhill).
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Conditions reported by: Silvio Lopez
Survey date: 15-APRIL-2007
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp - Passable

This section is passable with a clear tread. Some brush and poison oak, but not too bad compared to the rest.

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cienega Camp - Difficult

This section borders on Impassable. There are MANY deadfalls to deal with and lots of brush. This section took us about 5 hours, many times I was on my hands and knees crawling under brush and deadfalls. Poison Oak abounds. Not fun. Thankfully, the tread is easy to see, otherwise we would have lost the trail amidst the brush. Unless we do something about it, this trail will be lost.

Section: Cienega Camp to Redwood Camp - Passable

This section continues with the thick brush and deadfalls, but starts to clear up as it gets to Rainbow. Make sure to keep going left up the hill as you leave Cienega Camp (about 0.10 miles up) and not back down to the creek (someone cleared a trail back down to the creek and actually left two saws down there).
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Conditions reported by: Ryan
Survey date: 17-FEBRUARY-2007
General: WILDERNESS FREEWAY/DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to Cienega Camp - Difficult

VERY Overgrown at times, especially when getting close to the camp and river.

Section: South of Cienega Camp - Difficult

Beyond the Cienga Camp its even worse, I had to crawl at one point to get through the overgrowth and fallen trees. I did not want to continue on at that rate with the 4 miles to Rainbow Camp and turned around.
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Conditions reported by: Boy Scout Troop 60
Survey date: 28-JUNE-2006
General: IMPASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cienega Camp - Impassable

The trail acsends steeply for about two miles out of Rainbow Camp to a small saddle that separates the South and North forks of the Big Bur River. This portion of the trail is open and not too difficult to follow. After the saddle the trail descends sharply into the North Fork drainage of the Big Sur River. This trail has a tremeoundous amount of deadfalls and heavy brush making it virtually impossible to make any descent headway. At one point our party was forced to crawl on hands and knees dragging our packs behind us. Poison Oak and other brush are constantly encouring or obscuring the trail. The intersection of this trail with the Big Sur River is spectacular and would be even more beautiful in the fall. From the river the trail ascends a while and again has a large amount of deadfalls and brush before reaching Cienega Camp. Cienega Camp has room for about one tent and is generally not a great place to camp. Cieneaga Creek was flowing well.

Section: Cienaga Camp to Pine Ridge Trail Junction - Difficult

The trail ascends from Cienega to a saddle about a mile or so on the western ridge of the canyon. There are many downfalls right out of Cienega but then become less as the trail steeply climbs the side of the canyon. After a while the trail become clear with some encourging brush. At the saddle the trail decsends and several more deadfalls are encountered before the trail opens up and becomes clear and open to the junction with the Pine Ridge Trail. It is really a shame that the namesake trail for this area is in such poor condition and precludes many from seeing this beautiful part of the Ventana. This trail really needs some work with deadfalls and brush.
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Conditions reported by: Ken Swegles
Survey date: 8-JUNE-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

There were no difficulties besides losing the trail at the South Fork of the Big Sur River, and the heat that we encountered going over the ridge to Rainbow Camp. There were plenty of deadfalls, yet none of them were impassable. The trail up from North Fork is slightly up stream from the crossing, and then straight up the hillside from the fallen tree. The topos pretty much tell you were it is, yet now it is nicely tread. Plenty of water in both forks still and it doesn't dwindle until 1-2 miles upstream from South Fork Camp. Rainbow to South Fork was fairly difficult with lots of poisin oak and no trail to follow in places. Now it is nicely stomped with plenty of footsteps leading the way. There is a nice reward awaiting you at Strawberry Camp, which is a beautiful spring that we drank from generously and bathed away the intense heat. Cienaga to Rainbow was a cake walk compared to Rainbow to Strawberry, but hopefully now that is more trodden hikers will be able to fully enjoy it.
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Conditions reported by: Dave Lautzenheiser
Survey date: 5-JUNE-2006
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

My son (recently 21 and extremely fit and strong) and I hiked from Rainbow Camp up to the intersection with the Pine Ridge Trail. Although only 6 miles, it was over 6 hours of very tough going. It is possible to follow the tread as someone has recently been through this section and done some trimming and flagging while leaving footprints in some of the grassy areas that help define the proper tread - thanks to them. There are too many deadfalls to count, many requiring very difficult maneuvering with a pack, or pack removal and crawling... The brush in many places is very tough to push through - my son claims to have considerably dulled my favorite trimmers in an effort to assist the next folks. The gradient in some places is particularly steep - mainly above Cienega Camp. We encountered a rattlesnake in a particularly brushy part of the descent to the Pine Ridge Trail - anyone out there needs to know how to deal with one in those conditions!
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Conditions reported by: John Yeo (email: j at colluvium dot org)
Survey date: 20-MARCH-2006
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail junction to Cienega Camp - Difficult

The trail has several sections of deadfalls, one particularly difficult to get through. As the trail decends towards Cienega Creek there is a lot of ceanothus to push through and the occasional deadfall. The trail is pretty clearly flagged. At Cienega Camp, a large redwood had fallen and shattered lenthwise on the trail.

Cienega Camp was inundated in 2" of standing water.

Section: Cienega Camp to the saddle North of Rainbow Camp - Difficult

The trail was incredibly difficult with many dozens of deadfalls to get past. Lots of time spent crawling on hands and knees under the branches of downed trees. Two or three large redwoods have fallen across the trail and one is difficult to get past. Many Ceanothus plants are growing into the trail waiting to soak the morning hiker out of Cienega Camp.

On clear trail, my partner and I can hike at 2.5 to 3 mph but this short of trail took nearly three hours to get through.

Section: Saddle to Rainbow Camp - Clear

This section of trail is on a south-facing slope and consequently has much less vegetation than the opposite side of the saddle. The trail is clear and easy to follow, with minor encroaching brush closer to Rainbow Camp.
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Conditions reported by: Ken Swegles
Survey date: 1-FEBRUARY-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific: The ticks were horrendous.

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to Cienega Camp - Difficult

The trail to Cienega Camp was a bit more difficult with a lot a fallen trees from the winter storms. Some of the brush was impassable, with a lot of ticks waiting to cling.

Section: Cienega Camp to Rainbow Camp - Passable

Easier with a lot of fallen trees and dead brush.

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cold Spring Camp/Coast Ridge Road - Clear

This section was a breeze!

Note: Deangulo Trail from Coast Ridge Road to Coast Highway

"The de Angulo trail has a legal, dedicated and recorded public easement under it for it's entire length from Highway One up to the Coast Ridge Road, so don't let the Partington folks dissuade you from using it. Jaime de Angulo himself gave the easement to the Forest Service before he died, as he wanted to make sure that the people could continue to access the backcountry."

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Conditions reported by: Melissa Summers
Survey date: 3-JULY-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to Cienega Camp - Passable

The trail is easy to follow, though the overgrowth slows progress. We brought clippers and tried to get the worst of the pack-grabbing branches. We brought two dogs along and they made it through the undergrowth. Section: Cienega Camp to the ridge between the North and South Fork - Passable

We briefly lost the trail after crossing the North Fork. The trail begins its ascent of the ridge near the campsite by the river. Overgrowth and numerous deadfalls make the uphill ascent challenging, but doable. The trail has been routed around a large fallen redwood--veer left. Recent work on the tread was appreciated. Section: ridge over South Fork to Rainbow Camp - Wilderness Freeway

Rainbow Camp is mosquito paradise this time of year--any DEET-free body part is fair game to these hungry parasites! Section: Rainbow Camp to Coast Ridge Road - Wilderness Freeway

With the exception of some overgrowth about a mile before Cold Springs Camp, that didn't slow us down too badly.
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Conditions reported by: Ery Arias-Castro
Survey date: 21-MAY-2005
General: CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cienega Camp: Passable

The trail is overgrown with grass, which makes it hard to follow at times.

Section: Cienega Camp to the Pine Ridge Trail: Difficult

Same as above, but worse -- there are markers here and there though. At one point the trail forks, keep left (going uphill); the trail to the right comes back to the creek.
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Conditions reported by: Kent Ryhorchuk
Survey date: 15-MAY-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp: Clear

The trail is mostly clear and easy to follow from Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp. There are many dry oak leaves on the trail in some spots, making it slippery. There was some poison oak overgrowing the trail but it easy to avoid.

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cienega Camp: Passable

From Rainbow Camp up to the pass there are several spots where the trail is obscured by grass. I got confused a few times but ultimately made it to the top. On the way down to the north fork there were several small trees down on the trail. Where the trail picks up after the north fork crossing is not immediately evident, but is only a few yards downstream. The redwood log down across the trail was easy to cross using the steps provided.

Section: Cienega Camp to Pine Ridge Trail: Passable

This is the most challenging section of the trail. There was some unavoidable poison oak. 1/2 mile or so past Cienega Camp there is an intersection with a spur trail that goes down to the creek and ends there. In this direction it looks like the more obvious route, and it looks like the spur was maintained in the past. Turn left and go uphill here instead. I saw two rattlesnakes shortly past this intersection - beware! The rest of the way to the Pine Ridge Trail was not hard to follow.
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers - Stevenson Wilderness Program
Survey date: 7-MARCH-2005
General: CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to North Fork Big Sur River

The trail is Clear to Cienega Camp, which is a real marsh at this time. One large fallen redwood trunk blocks the way to the crossing of North Fork, but it has some hand holds which can be used to cross, although a pack makes it tricky. Thanks are due to those who have helped re-open this trail.

Section: North Fork to the ridge over South Fork (Passable)

Clear so far as trail-finding goes, but in many places the trail is crossed by fallen redwood trunks. Some require lifting packs and climbing five feet over the burned redwood to proceed. This is more difficult when climbing up than coming down; both ways are hard work made slightly easier if you have a strong companion to assist. Most of the brush has been cleared, but there are numerous creep-unders as well as climb-overs in the middle of the ascent. The top and bottom quarters are much easier. The first Stevenson group took seven hours to make this section passable. Three others contributed their work later on.

Section: Ridge over South Fork to Rainbow Camp (Wilderness Highway)

Section: Rainbow Camp to Cold Springs Camp (Clear)

The trail is clear after we did some clearing.
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Conditions reported by: Tanja Roos- Stevenson Wilderness Expo
Survey date: 1-MARCH-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: North Fork to South Fork : PASSABLE

After a wet crossing of the North Fork, the trail up and over the saddle to the South Fork was virtually impassable due to heavy tree fall and brush. (including 2 very large redwoods) We spent a total of 6 plus hrs clearing the trail (one person with clippers, one with a sven saw and the other dragging the clippings away) to get the trail to the point where I could move my crew of 10 high school students through. After we went through several other crews used the trail with greater ease and did additional clearing. The trail is now definitely passable, but still requires some over/under.
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Conditions reported by: John Radford
Survey date: 24-APRIL-2004
General: PASSABLE TO CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail jct. to Rainbow Camp

Over 3 weekends, starting April 24, I have gone after the brush and deadfalls along Big Sur trail, from Pine Ridge Trail to North Fork of BS River and some residual deadfalls further south to above Rainbow Camp. I had some help the first weekend.

Overall, I've managed 45 hours of brush whacking and sawing. I even did a little sawing along Pine Ridge Trail as well, which has woefully neglected deadfalls between Big Sur Trail and Pfeiffer BS Station and neglected brush from Sykes to Redwood Camp. If not for my simple cutting, hundreds of folks in just the past 4 weeks would have had to crawl and contort themselves at several points. Sometimes one person can work wonders quickly, given a simple saw.

In fact, Big Sur trail is currently, overall, now in better shape than the western half of Pine Ridge Trail. This I trust is quite the opposite of the eastern section, which I¹d like to see while recent VWA clearing is still recent.

BRUSH GONE: I noted lots of brush last year along the Big Sur Trail near Cienega Camp. It's gone. The damn stuff is GONE (this year)! It will obviously need some constant maintenance and, of course, another fire would start the cycle all over again.

TREAD: I'd reported the tread, upslope of Cienega near the saddle, needed work. But now I think it is quite clear; the vegetation has filled in alternate routes so that there is now only one obvious route and it is well-trod and clear, this year. A real problem, however, is invisible tread above Rainbow Camp up near the first ridge top. The route must be intuited but is somehow obvious, or seems to be.

DEADFALLS: I got out 2 weeks ago when the weather was changing a bit, with lots of wind. As a result, there were maybe 8 new deadfalls on the north-facing slope down into to North Fork, and a handfull beyond. I didn't have time to clear the first batch and they were a discouraging surprise since I'd walked that section just 2 weeks ago. Luckily none of those new deadfalls were serious. But they will need to be cut. Maybe 1-2 hours of sawing.

IMPASSIBLE REDWOOD LOG: Stevenson's school was discouraged by a supposedly impassible log fallen into a small gulch across the trail between North Fork and Cienega Creek. Well, it really was imposing but not impassible, given a little common climbing skill. Now it is very passable with full backpack. I cut foot and hand notches that make it so you can walk up and over the log almost without breaking stride. Stock, however, cannot cross.

SAWS: I used a simple (new and sharp) carpenter¹s hand saw for the first time 2 weeks ago and this weekend. It handled a 16" diameter oak (I didn¹t expire trying) and all lesser logs and such. It could do 18-20 inch logs. It isn¹t so hard. The saw weighs about the same as a folding SVEN saw and handles more than twice the diameter log and is much faster for large stuff.

CONCLUSION: the Cienega Creek watershed is recovering impressively from the 1999 fire and takes on a new beauty and wonder with the brush finally cleared out of your face. With Pine Ridge and Black Cone and South Fork trails worked over, Big Sur trail clearing now opens up some interesting loop opportunities. I like going cross-country but not while on a supposed trail. The hiking experience on Big Sur trail will be vastly improved now.
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Conditions reported by: Valerie Nordquist
Survey date: 12-MAY-2004
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Cold Spring Camp thru Rainbow/Cienega to Pine Ridge Tr. jct.

Section: COLD SPRINGS CAMP TO RAINBOW CAMP:
Clearly marked trail, slipping loose tread in several places made for occasionally loose footing (of course complicated by the steepness), but otherwise quite clear.

Section: RAINBOW CAMP TO NORTH FORK:
Tread is generally evident heading up to the ridge but tons of overgrowth makes in an inhospitable trek. Brush, including poison oak was often up to the face level and over our heads. Also a very warm-hot ascent in the midday sun. The descent was even more overgrown, but with similar tread conditions. 1-2 areas in which the switchback hairpin had been blocked by deadfall or washed out and the replacement steep connecting descent was tricky. Multiple (8-10?) deadfalls requiring climb overs, but do-able solo for the average size adult (our 5 ft tall hiker required assistance with some of these). Complicating factor was vast abundance of ticks requiring stops every 20-30 feet to remove them from outer clothing before they could make their way onto skin. (with great effort, our group of 4 succeeded with only 1 attached tick by the end of the hike).

Section: NORTH FORK to CIENEGA CAMP:
North Fork River was a boulder hop or tree crossing. Tread is evident, never had difficulty of losing it, but brush was constantly in our faces and occasionally over our heads. Again, not a welcoming or even necessarily enjoyable section due to that, but can be navigated without much fear of losing the trail.

Major obstacle, was a fallen redwood mentioned in previous posts. Foot and hand notches were carved in and allowed for relatively easy climb-over without packs. Would likely be difficult (and dangerous given the angle of the tree and terrain below) for a solo hiker to attempt with a pack. Our group of 4 went over without packs and then passed over packs. Unlike the prior poster, we did get black from the charcoal.

Section: CIENEGA CAMP to PINE RIDGE TRAIL
Of all the sections this one I would rank as difficult to impassable by the guidelines. The tread was often faint and obliterated in multiple places. We lost it several times (only for brief periods) but were able to find tags (blue, orange) to relocate the trail. The brush was in our faces the majority of the time, including poison oak (I have several rashes despite long pants and technu, although I did literally fall into it once). The downhill section from the ridge to Pine ridge Trail was in much better condition (low brush, clear tread) Spent the night at Cienega Camp which was beautiful with few mosquitos or flies (unlike Rainbow Camp or many others at that time.)

Overall this was an exciting trail in the wilderness, but not ideal for those not willing to constantly bushwhack, tick remove, or battle poison oak. But for the solitude and adventure of it, our group would do it again without a second thought. Would love to return sometime (we were visiting from PA and MN) and hope the trail will be able to be maintained for future visits and wanderers.
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers - Stevenson Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: 01-MAR-2004
General: PASSABLE TO IMPASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Coast Ridge Road to North Fork Big Sur River

Stevenson Expedition members cleared the trail (early March 2004) down from Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp. There were numbers of blowdowns. It is a brushy trail, but passable.

From Rainbow up the ridge going north, the trail took a day's worth of clearing to make it passable. The other side of the ridge, down to the North Fork, took almost as long, but it is passable now. However, after the crossing, the trail quickly encounters a large fallen tree which blocks both sides of a narrow gully and makes it impossible to go further.

From my experience in June, 2003, I know that the trail on to Cienega Camp and up to the Pine Ridge Trail is heavily overgrown with ceanothus and blackberry. This section of the trail from the Pine Ridge Trail to the North Fork is essentially out of commission until this tree is removed and brush is cleared to make the tread visible.
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Conditions reported by: Steve Wilson
Survey date: 21-MAR-2004
General: CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Cold Spring to Rainbow Camp

How clear is this trail? I hiked up it in shorts, with nary a scratch! I found the shade canopy intact except for the thick brushy section where is traverses the top of Logwood Ridge. Yes, portions of this trail do seem warm, but I would attribute this more to the southerly aspect of these sections rather than any loss of canopy due to trail clearing activities.

(ED. note: It's amazing how much clearing can be done, in '02, with chain saws.)
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Conditions reported by: Steve Chambers
Survey date: 22-MAR-2004
General: VERY DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail jct. to Cienega Camp

Beginning shortly after leaving the Pine Ridge Trail, deadfall Bay saplings, overgrowing brush, and faint tread greets your progress to Cienega Camp. Look for the old/new flagging of many types/colors to help guide your way. Repeated burnings/wildfires have dramatically changed this once beautiful area into another type of beautiful area (read rampant regrowth). Besides the many deadfalls, brush, and faint tread, there¹s the usual wavy wands of poison oak. Likely this will be another trail lost, due to lack of maintenance, in a short few years.
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Conditions reported by: Rick Johnson
Survey date: 26-JUNE-2003
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Rainbow Camp to Pine Ridge Trail junction

For our 50-miler, (ED. note: A Boy Scout 50 mile hike) we hiked from Rainbow Camp to the Pine Ridge Trail Jct. After the San Antonio Trail, this section was the worst trail we encountered, especially between Cienaga and the ridge summit. We lost the trail several times, the grade was very steep, lots of brush and downfall. Cienaga camp has some shade and a prolific creek. We did this trail in the early afternoon at 95F and it was very tough.
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Conditions reported by: John Radford
Survey date: 20-APRIL-2003
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Rainbow Camp to Pine Ridge Tr. junction

Since I was still in doubt as to the Rainbow Camp - Pine Ridge Trail section, last weekend I hiked it.

All is passable or better, with a few difficult stretches. Some sections, including stretches I hiked of the Pine Ridge Trail and the South Fork trail from Strawberry Camp, are in danger of becoming "difficult" or worse in 1-2 more growing seasons.

RAINBOW CAMP - N. FORK of the Big Sur River: there is NO BRUSH on the trail! (ED note: LPNF had a trail crew work this section last year) It has 8-10 new deadfalls but mostly to step over and maybe 3 requiring some stepping through branches. An hour of sawing would totally clear the entire trail ... in sum, it's the best I've ever seen it in 20 years. The lone fallen redwood at the bottom near N. Fork has a quick step-around. No problem.

N. FORK - CIENEGA CAMP: there is a lot of low brush, nothing "in-your-face" yet. The tread is deteriorating but useable. In a year or two that brush will be quite a nuisance.

CIENEGA CAMP - SADDLE: after crossing the creek at Cienega Camp, the brush is "in- your-face" for the first 1/3 mile; not really bad though quite often you can't see ground. The tread is easy to feel. But if not cleared, it will be bad in a year. Luckily, there are no bad deadfalls but several logs to straddle.

Above that, on up to the saddle, the trail is more in the open as is usually the case in open oak woodland. But, as so often with that section, the little-used tread is quickly overgrown with grass and in doubt on occasion and there are a few new deadfalls requiring slight detours. No trail work has been done since last fall, when I had it in pretty decent shape or at least easy to follow. Someone has tagged the route again (orange) in the past 6 months, almost adequately and mostly correctly.

SADDLE - PINE RIDGE trail junction: From the saddle westward down the last 5 minutes to the Pine Ridge Trail junction, the Poison Oak is the worst I've seen it in over 20 years but there is only one bad 5-foot section of brush where a fallen ceanothus forces one to crawl. About the Poison Oak, I get it for sure but never when backpacking; I didn't get any from this exposure, either. Usually in this section, I can side-step or weave through the evil weed. This time, I couldn't avoid some contact.
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Conditions reported by: Steve Chambers
Survey date: 23-OCT-2002
General: PASSABLE W/ OVERGROWN/FAINT SECTIONS
Specific:

Pine Ridge junction to Cienega Camp

This section of the Big Sur Trail is very rough, with resprouting brush, deadfalls, grasslands and unmaintained tread. Blue tarp pieces and multi colored flagging mark the way through grass and brush. Many pieces of trail are cross country as the original tread has been lost after recent fires.

A Forest Service trail crew, which was working south from Cold Springs, stopped at the North Fork Big Sur River. Hopefully additional funds will be acquired to complete trail clearing between North Fork and intersection w/ Pine Ridge Trail.
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Conditions reported by: Steve Chambers
Survey date: 30-SEP-2002
General: WILDERNESS FREEWAY - CLEAR
Specific:

A USFS trail crew has extensively cleared this trail with chain saws from Cold Springs to Cisco Creek the first water found after Cold Spring. From Cisco Creek clearing continued on to Rainbow camp, but hand tools seem to have been used as required by the Wilderness Act. Due to the loss of canopy, hikers climbing up from Cisco Creek will find this section of very steep trail more exposed to sunlight and therefore HOT.
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Conditions reported by: Stevenson School Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: FEB-2002
General: PASSABLE W/ DIFFICULT/BRUSHY SECTIONS
Specific:

Cold Springs Camp to Rainbow Camp through Mocho Camp:
The trail is in pretty rough shape. We did some clearing and clipping. It is still hard to go fast along this trail.
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Conditions reported by: Eric Graham
Survey date: 02-SEPTEMBER-2001
General: PASSABLE W/ Overgrown Sections
Specific:

Cold Spring Camp to Rainbow Camp

Within a mile from Cold Spring Camp this trail becomes extremely overgrown and probably won't be passable for much longer without maintenance. If tackling this trail, do yourself a favor and at least wear pants. After dealing with the overgrown brush the the trail is a bit easier to traverse but there are several fallen trees and overhanging branches. It is easy to lose the trail near the creek but some ribbon markers help point out the correct path. The mile long trail from Mocho Camp to Rainbow camp is relatively easy to follow. This trail is in dire need of maintenance.
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Conditions reported by: Charles McIntyre
Survey date: 1-MAY-2002
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

The Big Sur trail from Rainbow Camp to Pine Ridge trail is very challenging. The tread is VERY light and at times you must just intuit where it goes. Besides breaking overhanging twigs in the way, we often had to stop to clear fallen trees. Going up to the first saddle wasn't too bad, but going down to the North Fork was very thick and difficult to find the trail at times. There are spots with trail ribbons that are definitely not the original trail because of fallen trees. From the North Fork to Cienaga Camp, basically expect to walk through heaps of poison oak. If you want to do this trail, definitely bring tools to clear the trail for your troop and the next.
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Conditions reported by: Mark Riddle
Survey date: 21-APRIL-2002
General: VERY DIFFICULT SECTIONS
Specific:

This trail was in much worse shape than I expected, even taking into consideration the difficult past trail reports. The first 1/2 mile or so north from Rainbow Camp is fairly clear. The next couple of miles to Cienega Camp is the toughest section of trail I've seen in my 100+ miles in Ventana, due mostly to undergrowth that at times totally obscures the trail (there are also several monster deadfalls that will test your balance, along with the ubiquitous poison oak). On many occasions I lost the trail and had to retrace my steps to find it again. On other occasions I walked where I thought the trail should be (judging by my topo) and would find, lose, and find again the trail. Worst case (if you have good cross-country skills) you could bushwhack down to the North Fork Big Sur, and work your way up Cienega Creek until finding the trail again at Cienega Camp (I mention this because I was giving it some serious consideration during one of my "lost" phases on this trail). A better option would be to take extreme care not to lose the trail... From Cienega Camp to Pine Ridge Trail the trail is very passable, with some visible tread and flags marking the way. (Thanks Stevenson School!)
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Conditions reported by: Jacob Koff
Survey date: 21-MAY-2001
General: VERY DIFFICULT SECTIONS
Specific:

From Rainbow, the trail switch-backs out of the valley of the South Fork of the Big Sur River. The upper section of the trail is in terrible condition. We lost the trail and spent about three extra hours going cross-country to the saddle on the ridge where we hoped to find the trail. Luckily, we found it. If you are traveling this route, be very careful not the loose the trail. It's easy to do despite the nylon trail markers.

From the saddle, the trail descends to the North Fork of the Big Sur River. The lower sections of this trail are terribly obstructed by fallen trees and debris. The trail is very difficult to find in some places, despite the bright nylon trail markers dangling from branches.

The trail out of the valley of the North Fork is fairly easy to Cienega Camp. Just above Cienega, the trail is and remains very overgrown. This is grueling stretch of trail to do in the afternoon in summer as it takes the full force of the sun.

From the ridge about the valley of the North Fork, the trail to Redwood is quite good. There are a few obstructions, but nothing major.
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Conditions reported by: Boon Hughey
Survey date: 19-MAY-2001
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

This trail is in better shape than the other half of the Big Sur trail, but still needs some work. Four of us hiked it with folding saws and snippers, clipping as we went and taking the time to clear the downed ceanothus where it had partially blocked the trail forcing the lazier hikers to push thier way around and break down the trail tread rather than take a few minutes to do some work and clear the way. We didn't get it all, though, so take your tools the next time through.

The stretch along Logwood ridge is burshy in places, but not so bad that you need to break your stride as you make your way through it. Onward toward Rainbow there are a few spots where the ceanothus still bends down over the trail, but it isn't too bad. The biggest challenge is a huge redwood tree across the trail at Cisco Creek that forces folks to lie down in the dirt and scoot under it.

This is a gem of a trail and it only needs a little more saw work and snipping to put it back into great shape.
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Conditions reported by: Francis Tapon
Survey date: 6-AUGUST-2000
General: PASSABLE with DIFFICULTY
Specific:

RECOMMENDATION: If you enjoy rugged hiking, this trail is for you! The trail is readily apparent 98% of the time, but getting through it is somewhat challenging at times. Bring ultralight packs to increase your safety and mobility around numerous obstacles.

WEATHER: Hot and dry! 90-95 degrees during the day with only a light breeze. Nights are in the 60s and are pleasant.

START: We started the Big Sur Trail on the north end, near Redwood Creek/Pine Ridge Trail at 11:30AM on Sat. The beginning is easy to spot, especially if you're tracking your altitude and/or using a compass. If not, just keep you eyes open for a wood post with a busted sign at a T-intersection - it's fairly easy to spot if you're paying attention. Take the trail that heads south.

END: We ended at Cold Spring at 11:30AM on Sunday, exactly 24 hours later. (Then we hiked down the wide dirt road back for 8 miles to return to Hwy 1.)

WATER AVAILABLITY: Water is easily available throughout the trail, especially if you budget with your map. We never carried more than 1 liter per person. However, after Cisco Creek, there no more streams. I didn't find Logwood Creek. However, near the top of the North Coast Ridge Road there is a big water tank with a faucet, and we purified that water and filled up for the rest of the journey down the dirt road.

BRUSH: The chaparral was terrible between Cisco Creek and Cold Spring. It's passable, but bring pants and a long sleeved shirt no matter how hot it is. Sweating profusely is better than getting micro-slices all over! It doesn't help that bugs swarm all over you while you're pushing your way through the tough brush! I hope the Forest Service takes a bulldozer and blasts through this one mile section of the trail before the tough chaparral takes it over completely. If people keep going through it , we may preserve the trail! ;-) This was the hardest part of the whole trail. Luckily, it's pretty flat. The rest of the trail had occassional brush, and you should watch out for those little balls that stick to cotton-like clothing!

DEADFALLS: They are common, but there's always a way around them (some easier than others!).

BUGS: Gnats were around 30% of the time, especially when we stopped to rest. Mosquitoes were rare, but they are there. I didn't get mosquito bites, but my girlfriend got at least a dozen. Head nets are highly recommended. However, at night the bugs go to sleep and we had no problems sleeping without a tent or mosquito net.

TRAIL VISIBILITY: Overall it was pretty good. There were parts where we lost it, but if you backtrack and search again in a loop, you'll find it. A compass and altimeter help to know where you should be looking.

WILDLIFE: A Mountain Plover Spotted Owl landed 5 feet from me on a branch and looked at me for a 3 seconds before taking off! A few quail flew and walked nearby. No snakes. Overall, there were few animals. We think it's because it was just too hot! ;-)

CONCLUSION: Go for it! We didn't see a soul on the trail! It was so nice! It's certainly doable, especially if you bring tiny packs and appropriate clothing. Going during cooler weather would also make it nicer. Good luck!
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Conditions reported by: Jerry Lee
Survey date: 25-JUNE-2000
General: EXTREMELY DIFFICULT
Specific:

Trail from Rainbow to Cienega is severely burned, but is generally easy to follow up the south side to within 100 yards of the saddle. Burn was pretty thorough on the outcrops and ridges, but not very hot in the ravines, where only surface litter, small brush and tree stumps burned. This has killed many small trees, especially madrone, which will soon be falling and blocking the trail.

The trail down the north side to Cienega is heavily burned and blocked in many places by deadfalls, rendering the switchbacks impassable. Also, the trail is covered with a heavy layer of dead leaves which is extremely slippery and dangerous. I slipped numerous times and fell down at least 3. A hiking stick might be useful.

Trail from Cienega to the saddle overlooking the Pine Ridge Trail is completely burned, but is generally passable, but can only be followed because of the blue flags someone has put up to mark it. Once at the saddle, the rest of the trail to Pine Ridge Trail junction is in excellent shape.
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Conditions reported by: Stevenson School Wilderness Expedition 2000
Survey date: APRIL-2000
General: VERY DIFFICULT - AVOID UNTIL REWORKED
Specific:

This trail is in very rough shape and is probably going to be made even worse as it is used by people forced to leave the original trail and forge new routes. It is the most "needy" trail we visited this April.

Rainbow Camp to Cienaga Camp

Fire burned down the north side of the South Fork of the Big Sur River in a very spotty fashion, but most of the trail up to the ridge top exhibits some burning. For half the way up, this has improved the trail by removing the brushiness. Stevenson has clipped and cut out much of the remaining overhanging brush. For the last quarter of the climb, grass and shrubs have obscured the trail, fallen tree trunks require rerouting around them, and erosion paths have cut the trail near the top. The trail can be followed, but a couple of the switchbacks are obscure and need attention. But this is nothing compared to the trail down to the North Fork of the Big Sur.

The entire slope down is burned heavily. The appearance from the top is striking, but after the first few switchbacks it becomes clear this will not be an easy track.

Erosion gullies full of loose rocks cut through the switchbacks. The trail is generally clear here, but rolling rocks require a group to stay on the same level of the trail to avoid dislodging rocks that can hit those below. Just at the large rock outcropping on the western side of the canyon, where the trail cuts along the base of the rock, a five-foot thick redwood lies across the trail. Packs can be lifted over and dropped to the other side, but the process is laborious and covers hikers in charcoal.

Immediately after this obstacle, fallen and burned ceanothus stems cover the trail so completely that the only way to progress is to avoid them by cutting the switch backs and hoping to slide down to the trail below. This cutting of switchbacks covered with tree trunks and brush continues until shortly before the river. Besides the difficulty and potential danger to hikers, the trail is going to be severely jeopardized by these off-trail excursions. One good aspect of the burn is that there is now a view replacing the walls of ceanothus; however, the view is of severely burned canyons and ever more ravaged ridges up towards South Ventana Cone.

After crossing the North Fork of the Big Sur, the trail to Cienaga Camp is in very good shape after significant clearing by Stevenson Crews. The brush is all burned and sawed off, the burnt trees are easy to bypass, and the foot bed is mostly in good shape, although cut by a few erosion channels.

Cienaga Camp is much more open than it has been recently, with most of the brush and trees up the eastern side of the camping area burned or at least scorched. The redwoods are newly scorched: new sprouts around the bases look healthy. The camp is the same limited spot as it has been for the past five years, with an active swamp in the middle of the main flat area. The river appears to have changed somewhat, with more gravel beds and a freer flow. Interestingly, the potential for a new camp is now very obvious just downstream from the creek crossing on a long narrow flat above the creek. The majority of the saplings and brush on it are gone, and with only a little effort it could become a fine, though shady, campsite. There is an old Forest Service stove wedged between tree trunks at the downstream end of this area, leading to the conclusion this was a campsite in the past.

Cienaga Camp to the Pine Ridge Trail Junction:

The trail out of Cienaga begins well, but soon reveals the trickiness that plagues the rest of the way to the ridge top. At the edge of the "used to be boggy area" blackberry vines, fern and grasses have covered the trail where burn has not already obscured it. The trail, as you come out of the gully, does not continue up through the meadow, but instead follows the bottom of the shoulder coming down from the ridge on the west. Don't take the washout that leads up adjacent to the drainage. The flags we have there should help. Assuming one picks up the trail briefly after this, one climbs nearly straight up to a flat two-thirds up the ridge. Then the trail disappears for several hundred yards of bush whacking until it reappears going around the final shoulder of the mountain before reaching the ridge top. This trail has been flagged in blue by Stevenson crews, and now can be climbed with a little more confidence, but it still partakes of a cross country ramble as much as a proper trail.

Coming back down to the Pine Ridge Trail, at the first run-off channel, mud flows and fallen timber require a substantial detour into the canyon and back up to the trail. The re-routing has been cleared as much as possible, but still represents a scramble. The rest of the way to the junction is in good shape.
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Big Sur Trail

Postby Site Administrator on Thu May 07, 2009 4:22 pm

* USFS trail #3E07.1
* Parking: Big Sur Station $4/day
* Watersheds: Big Sur River
* Junctions: Pine Ridge Trail, South Fork Trail, Coast Ridge Road
* Connects: Pine Ridge Trail with Coast Ridge at Cold Spring
* Camps: Cienega Camp, Rainbow Camp, Mocho Camp, Cold Spring Camp
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