Ventana Wilderness Forums • View topic - Black Cone Trail

Black Cone Trail

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Betsy M on Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:07 pm

Date Hiked: December 31, 2017
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

I hiked from Strawberry Camp to Black Cone Camp. Conditions are as Pantilat describes, though now slightly better after I cleared most of the trees and brush that made progress difficult in the Zig Zag Creek section. Also flagged the switchbacks. Tried to find the trail down to Black Cone Camp and it was quite overgrown. Only made it about halfway down to the unofficial use camp. But as Pantilat notes, there is NO WATER at the Woodwardia ferns at the top, so there is certainly no water at the camp. The VWA was able to hire an ACE crew for two years in a row and the brush and tread work that they did, even though it is completely burned, is holding up pretty well. This work extended to 3.2 miles above Strawberry Camp.

Just an observation on the fires. Almost all of this area burned, and it seems like regrowth, outside of the riparian corridors, is quite slow. In the past 20 years the three major fires have burned this section repeatedly. While the chaparral can come back easily, entire oak and pine forests have burned to the ground. If they do manage to come back, it will take 40 years. Almost all the wildlife seems to be gone as well. It is sobering to realize that a lot of the burning was intentional, as backfires, rather than the actual wildfires themselves.
User avatar
Betsy M
Posts: 327
Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2008 12:35 pm

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby pantilat on Sat Dec 30, 2017 1:06 pm

Date Hiked: December 27, 2017
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Initial part out of Strawberry Valley: Difficult. Heading out of Strawberry Valley, the riparian regrowth in the first part of the Black Cone Trail is immense. When combined with a few downed trees it's a mess and this short section is difficult. Note that in current conditions the last water along the entire trail is at the Zigzag Creek headwaters.

Middle Burned Section: Passable. After the switchback and rounding the corner out of the riparian zone and onto the dry burned south slopes things improve dramatically. The ascent up the old road to the divide separating the Big Sur watershed from the Arroyo Seco watershed is in good shape. In current post-fire conditions, the ascent up the old firebreak to the summit of Black Cone is steep but fairly straightforward with minimal brush. The extra 1,000 feet of elevation gain results in sweeping views of the Ventana in all directions. While Black Cone is not a tall peak compared to points farther north along the ridge, it has excellent positioning for a dramatic view.

After the divide separating the Big Sur watershed from the Arroyo Seco Watershed, the tread transitions to a trail (instead of an old roadbed) but the trail is initially very well graded and wide. Southern aspects burned almost to the ground and are easy while northern aspects have brush skeletons, some of which have bent or fallen over the trail. The good tread eventually ends and the sloped tread side-hilling begins. While there is quite a bit of regrowth (especially yerba santa) the way is never in doubt and I can imagine how much better the condition is now versus the prior brushy conditions.

Woodwardia spring was dry. White Cone Spring is also currently dry and since the gully is completely exposed after the fire we could see a long ways down and it looked bone dry for at least a couple hundred feet downstream. The summit of White Cone is a relatively short side trip from near the White Cone Spring. The initial part is steep but once on the White Cone plateau the final climb is gradual. White Cone is another fantastic viewpoint with its centralized location in the Ventana.

Back on the trail, there is a short taste of unburned brush just north of Venturi Usecamp. After this short unburned section the trail features an awesome section along the ridge crest. Parts of this were only marginally burned so be careful of brush stumps in the trail.

Northern Unburned Section: Difficult. About a half mile after the Venturi usecamp the trail makes an abrupt turn from burned to unburned. The brush in the next mile is completely interlocking in sections with chamise, ceanothus and scrub oak prevalent. The tread is always obvious but it is time and energy consuming in this section. The trail enters one last strip of burned land before reentering the brush for the last 1.5 miles all the way to end of the trail at the junction with the Pine Ridge Trail. The brush in this last 1.5 miles is easier than the preceding section of brush with evidence of somewhat recent brush clearing in the past few years, but it has become difficult with the rapid rate of brush growth, and I was amazed at how quickly it has filled in over the span of a couple years, especially the manzanita. Before traversing beneath South Ventana Cone there is another great section atop the ridge crest with views of an expansive grove of Santa Lucia Firs in the headwaters of Tassajara Creek.
Posts: 64
Joined: Tue Jan 07, 2014 1:16 pm

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Rowan Hyland on Thu Dec 21, 2017 4:31 pm

Date Hiked: December 19, 2017
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Covers the section from Pine Ridge Trail junction to roughly a mile past Mosquito Spring:

From the Pine Ridge Trail junction the Black Cone Trail would have initially been difficult to follow for the first couple hundred feet or so had it not been faded markers. After this, however, the trail conditions actually begin to improve somewhat and though brushy is fairly manageable. Rounding the next point immediately after the Mosquito Spring Trail junction the trail opens up due to the recent burn and is clear for the most with only the minor annoyance of having to kick aside burned plant remnants. Not far beyond here I turned around and attempted to follow the Mosquito Camp Trail down to the spring but lost the trail about 350 feet from the crest. Overall I was amazed at the views this trail offered and look forward to revisiting it soon with a pair of loppers!
Rowan Hyland

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby RSIBryce on Sat Sep 30, 2017 11:30 am

Date Hiked: September 19, 2017
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

I recently hiked the infamous Black Cone trail as part of a survey of trails within last year's Soberanes Burn area for the USFS. (I have hiked this trail in 2013 and also 2014, both being some of my more intense trail experiences I've had in the Ventana Wilderness.) We started from Pine Ridge camp, and were hiking toward Strawberry. The initial part of the trail was still a bit brushy around the junction and toward the Mosquito Spring turnoff, but the burn did a great job in eliminating (for now) the intense brush that prevailed through much of this trail. There are a few spots that remain a bit brushy, encroaching upon the tread, but for the most part, this trail is open. There's a lot of charred sticks to push through, but they pale in comparison to the thick scrub oak that once dominated this scenic wonder of a trail. The tread is in poor shape, as might be expected, and the "black cone ankle" is real- the tread is at such a slanted angle as to produce a peculiar pain in your left ankle as you hike. We also counted about 8 areas where the tread has eroded or slide. This is minor however compared to the relief and freedom of hiking a notoriously overgrown trail that has been naturally cleared. There was also a effort recently to work the trail from Strawberry prior to the burn, as Betsy McGowan mentions in her post below. We also found water at what I believe was 'White Cone Spring' as well as Woodwardia Spring, near Black Cone camp. Black Cone camp did not look to be in good shape, the fire burned though there hot, but the regrowth is already quite thick. Once the trail makes its descent toward Strawberry, the brush is more present once again and we found 3 downed trees. The trail along the stream at the very last stretch toward Strawberry has a tremendous growth of herbaceous plants, very thick bramble and some other plant I could not identify. The immense rain this past year allowed things to really take off.

Typical view on trail
User avatar
Posts: 83
Joined: Fri Oct 05, 2012 2:48 pm

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Leonie on Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:43 am

Date Hiked: April 24, 2016
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I attempted to hike this trail from the pine ridge trail south toward willow creek. Completely lost the trail within 100 yards of the signpost. Tried it twice with no lucky from the north this trail is not passable, completely over gown, hidden by brush, chaparral, vanishing into thin air. Please do not attempt! I turned back and am confident that was the right decision.

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby nrventri on Wed Sep 16, 2015 12:52 pm

Date Hiked: September 13, 2015
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Terrible trail. We hiked from Redwood to Black Cone Camp, and this was very time consuming and overgrown. If you need to do this route, wear pants, and expect to hike < 1 mph. Completely overgrown.

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Betsy M on Tue Aug 04, 2015 8:23 pm

Date Hiked: July 5, 2015
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Hiked the loop from China Camp to Pine Ridge, down the Black Cone Trail to Strawberry, then the Marble Peak Trail to the Tony Trail, and over to Tassajara. The Fourth of July weekend was warm but there was a steady breeze up on the ridges making things pleasant. There was water at Pine Ridge Camp, and water a quarter mile up from Strawberry Camp (barely). But there was no water anywhere else on the entire trail. If you get to Strawberry and can't find the water, there is a reliable source at the other end of Strawberry Valley, at Tan Oak Camp.

The Black Cone Trail is brushy from the start of the trail at Pine Ridge for about 5 miles. Then the last 3 miles are a wilderness freeway. You can't miss the turn on Pine Ridge; the junction has been cleared out and a sign marks the intersection. There are lots of places where brush is growing into the trail, but only one spot where you could really lose the trail. That is on the ridge approaching Venturi Camp, where the trail meanders over to the left side of the ridge. Hikers have meandered off to the right, often enough that it looks like the trail goes that way. If you find yourself lost, backtrack and look for obscure holes in the brush that might be the trail.

In March and April the VWA, with support from the National Forest Foundation and the US Forest Service, ran two work trips. American Conservation Experience (ACE) provided workers and cleared 1.5 miles from the Strawberry end of the trail. Added to the work accomplished last year, this is 3.2 miles clear. Since these sections were the absolute worst on the entire trail, it was a huge accomplishment to have them cleared. A big thank you goes to the Forest Service packers for bringing ACE in to Strawberry Camp, and an extra big than you to ACE for the huge effort to clear all the way to "Turnaround Ridge."
User avatar
Betsy M
Posts: 327
Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2008 12:35 pm

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby charlie on Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:14 pm

Date Hiked: March 16, 2015
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Took this trail instead of the south fork trail from Strawberry Camp to Pine Ridge. The first mile or so of the trail is very clear. After that, I was bushwacking for the next 8 miles. Ripped my shirt and popped my sleeping pad. It was quite an experience! I was probably on my hands and knees a little less than 10 times to get under fallen trees. I was solo, but if you intend on going with a group...I definitely recommend switching off as the leader (aka bulldozer). I lost the trail briefly twice...once at the top of a ridge where the brush was very sparse and there appeared to be many possible dirt trails...and once at the intersection of pine ridge and black cone (there was a brush fire so a lot of trees were fallen over and brush burned). Overall, it is very difficult, but passable under tough circumstances. After all, I would rather be bushwacking through dense high elevation brush than taking south fork crawling through poison oak!

This review is for Betsy. Thanks for all that you and your team do in maintaining the trails!

PS. I was using the national geographic map...and it wasn't very helpful.

Hope this helps!


[Editor: Thank you Charlie for the report! Good to know you made it through. Hope the Pine Ridge Trail was better. Considering the recent reports for the South Fork and Big Sur Trails, this was probably a good choice. Really appreciate the description. Hope to work on this trail soon. - Betsy]

Pine ridge to Black Cone Trail

Postby mgillming on Mon Jan 19, 2015 4:16 pm

Date Hiked: January 12, 2015
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

We intended to take the pine ridge trail all the way to the hot springs from the east side. We ended up getting onto the black cone trail because everything was so overgrown. There was no water sources past the stream by dived camp. I would not recommend taking this trail at all.

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Betsy M on Fri May 02, 2014 9:54 pm

Date Hiked: April 27, 2014
General Condition: Wilderness Freeway (Heavily used and/or well maintained)

SECTION: STRAWBERRY CAMP TO BLACK CONE CAMP: The section of the trail from Strawberry to the North Fork of the Big Sur River is beautifully clear. The section continuing to the Black Cone Camp trail has brushy sections but is mostly clear.

There was no water at the Woodwardia ferns above the Black Cone Camp Trail, and no water in the seep above the trail just south of the Black Cone Trail. Since these places usually have water when other sources are dry, I suspect that the entire upper section of the trail is again dry. In fact, Zig Zag Creek at Strawberry Camp is drying up already. You can still get water at the Camp, but just downstream the water has dried up. I flagged the spot up the trail, where there is still a good flow after the water completely dries up at Strawberry. This is just below the swithchback, where the trail turns to countour around the face of the hillside. UPDATE: a hiker CONFIRMS NO WATER ON THE ENTIRE BLACK CONE TRAIL, until just above Strawberry Camp. Once Strawberry Camp itself dries up, the water is way up by the switchback, or you need to go down to Tan Oak Camp.
User avatar
Betsy M
Posts: 327
Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2008 12:35 pm


Return to Ventana Wilderness Trails

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest