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Black Cone Trail

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby robert_barringer on Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:24 am

Date Hiked: October 27, 2013
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Myself and 3 other adventurous hikers set out to hike the Black Cone Trail this past Sunday (October 27th) from Pine Ridge down to Strawberry Camp. I have always wanted to experience the Black Cone Trail not only for it's awesome views of the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River corridor BUT also for the profound enjoyment of being in perhaps the most desolate place of anywhere in the Ventana. Without a doubt the Black Cone Trail is in itself a quintessential wilderness experience -- not for the faint of heart as there are numerous challenges to face along the route.

Section: From Pine Ride Trail Junction to Venturi Camp
Rating: Passable - Mostly good tread, with some brush encroachment

The upper portion of the Black Cone Trail starting at Pine Ridge is quite delightful in all respects. You start out high and gradually descend along a ridge that separates the Big Sur and Tassajara watersheds, all the while meandering back & forth from one side of the ridge to the other with stunning views in all directions. The trail condition along this stretch is fairly decent -- good tread and only minimal brush to deal with. There is mostly low-lying manzanita here which encroaches the trail in some spots, but nothing too annoying as it tends to pull apart your boot laces here & there.

Morning view from the Black Cone Trail looking down into Cienega Creek.

Looking over the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River corridor and across to the North Coast Ridge.

From the Black Cone Trail looking east into the Tassajara Creek drainage with Black Butte on the far ridge in the distance

Section: From Venturi Camp to Strawberry Camp
Rating: Extremely Difficult - Completely overgrown / Tread varies from well defined to severely eroded/deteriorated

Once past Venturi Camp the trail becomes extremely difficult -- The entire route through to Strawberry Camp (nearly 5 miles) is a gauntlet of severe brush, most of it being over the top of your head, and in some stretches this combines with sloping/deteriorated tread to make for a long & exhausting "brush-bust" experience, particularly more so if you're carrying a heavy pack.

The brush in this section is very dense -- mostly ceanothus, scrub oak, and manzanita. Highly recommend long pants, long-sleeved, gloves, and eye protection for this stretch. If carrying a heavy pack be extra cautious as the brush tends to push you off the trail in most spots. You can "crash" through the brush with steady determination BUT your body will take a beating.

View looking back towards the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River corridor from near the base of Black Cone. Also in view is the Ventana Double Cone, The Window ("La Ventana"), and Kandlbinder Peak

View from the saddle above Strawberry looking into the headwaters of the North Fork Big Sur River. Note in the distance the prominent view line of Ventana Double Cone, The Window ("La Ventana"), Kandlbinder Peak, and Pico Blanco

Water Availability: I MUST EMPHASIZE that as of this writing (late October 2013) there is NO WATER to be found anywhere along the Black Cone Trail between Pine Ridge and Strawberry. If you're coming down from Pine Ridge be sure you pack all your water before heading down the Black Cone Trail (as our group did). And we were thankful too as there is NO water currently flowing at Strawberry Camp itself. There is a spring source about 1/4 mile up from Strawberry however it only a trickle at this point. Perhaps the start of the rainy season will alleviate this condition but for now be sure you plan ahead and don't count on there being any water anywhere along the Black Cone Trail until after we get a few soaking rains and the ground saturates.
[Editor: the flow of water "up from Strawberry" is along the Black Cone Trail, as it follows Zig Zag Creek. This is adequate to fill water bottles. Other sources on the trail are dry.]
Last edited by Betsy M on Tue Oct 29, 2013 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby RSIBryce on Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:59 pm

Date Hiked: April 11, 2013
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Section: From the Pine Ridge Junction to Strawberry Valley and the South Fork Trail

Black Cone starts off very manageable and pleasant as it meanders along low lying higher elevation chaparral with outstanding views over the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River corridor. (We found the spur trail to Mosquito Springs just after the South Ventana Cone and went down to take a look. Pretty badly burned out and the trail disappears, the camp is there but not much of a destination camping wise. No water was found in the creek.) The closer you get to White Cone Peak (4721) along the trail, the ceanothus chaparral begins to appear and in higher brushier quantity that makes for rather difficult hiking, i.e. brush-crashing. We happened upon a rare encounter with the California Mountain Kingsnake and paid our respects with gaping mouths. It was a big one and the first I've seen, what a treat. Just after the Kingsnake we saw a bannana slug. What it was doing in such high 'n dry territory was hard to say, but gave us some inspiration to keep going.

In a few years and with no attention, this trail may very likely become impassable. We failed to find water near Venturi Camp (just off the trail bout halfway) and made for some dry thirsty hiking towards Strawberry. We made it down to Black Cone camp, a spur trail that leads down southwest off Black Cone, also brushy and deadfall to duck under. The camp was in decent shape, though crowded on all sides with brush. I imagine at one time there was a view out to the river valley below. Water was very difficult to get to from the camp, my trail partner Sam was able to sniff some out after a lengthy exploration through the blackberry bramble of the obvious stream zone, only for a small trickle however. The ticks began to make their appearance and in rather annoying numbers, hard to hike very far without stopping to brush them off. Trail remains quite brushy, thick and tick infested all the way into Strawberry Valley. Through such gorgeous country, we here still happy to be out and about despite the challenges. A good stream flow was a sigh of relief and we camped at Strawberry for the night.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby bigsurnut on Thu Apr 11, 2013 3:17 pm

Date Hiked: March 21, 2013
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

So, I took this trail starting from Strawberry camp. Overall, the trail is clearly defined and easy to follow. However, there is a lot of brush! The first 3.5 to 4 miles are intense - brush is scraping you quite a bit. Then there are sections of the trail that are quite clear (a godsend!), followed by sections that, again, are quite scratchy. Then there are parts of the trail (much of it, actually) that are a bit sloped, so just be prepared for that. I didn't encounter any water on the trail, so be sure and bring plenty with you. I had 2 liters with me and that was barely enough, certainly not ideal. But, it is, of course, a trail that provides gorgeous views. Will always be one of my favorites.

Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby cdwahl on Wed Mar 27, 2013 8:21 am

Date Hiked: February 16, 2013
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I hiked the Black Cone Trail from north to south during a loop that I started at the Church Creek Trailhead.

I decided to hike up South Ventana Cone before starting on the Black Cone Trail that morning. I ended up approaching from the north, off the Pine Ridge Trail, descending the southern ridge and meeting up with the Black Cone Trail near the Mosquito Springs Trail junction. Neither of these routes were clear, but I would suggest the southern one:)

The first mile or two of the Black Cone Trail was in fair shape and so was the last mile or two. These sections were pleasant compared to the middle section that had patches of thick overgrown brush which took a large portion of the day to get through. It was easy to follow the trail, but just hard to get through the brush with a pack. The views were amazing and completely worth the struggle!

I found an ax on this trail, identify it and I will try to return it to you.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Rob on Sun Nov 25, 2012 6:52 pm

Date Hiked: November 24, 2012
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I hiked this trail yesterday from north to south, and it looks like trail conditions haven't changed much since the last report. I didn't see water flowing anywhere along the trail, though that may soon change with the arrival of winter rains. Enjoyed the incredible views. The northern half is a must for any Ventana enthusiast.

There were definitely sections on the southern half where I had to plow through brush, but also a few sections that appeared to have had recent (?) treadwork and brush-clearing. I think it's gotten better since the last time I hiked it. Long pants/sleeves mandatory. There were a few small blowdowns on the southern half as well.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Jim Ringland on Sun May 06, 2012 8:02 pm

Date Hiked: May 3, 2012
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I hiked this downhill, from the Pine Ridge Trail to Strawberry Valley. My experience pretty matches that of recent posters.

The trail is clear-to-passable until about White Cone Spring. Along that stretch, there are no route finding problems and only minor brush and trail slumpage issues. The Mosquito Spring junction is marked by a burnt post and there's an obvious trail, but I didn't check it out. Farther along, Venturi Camp is right on the trail, is obvious, but is otherwise one of those not-terribly-exciting utilitarian openings in brush. White Cone Spring, about a half mile beyond Venturi Camp, was just seeping. Actually, there were three wet spots in the area. The first had the most flow, but even here, getting water would have been a slow task.

About a quarter to a half mile beyond White Cone Spring, I hit my first real encounter with dense warty Ceanothus. From here until about 2/3 mile short of Strawberry Valley, there were on-and-off sections of some very serious plowing through the shrubbery. There was tread at foot level, albeit with some slumping in places, but it took some real pushing to get through. Woodwardia Spring was dry, but there was a seep about 300' beyond the Black Cone Camp Trail junction – an obvious trail marked with a flag – that could supply water to the very patient.

I chose to go onto Strawberry Valley. Lovely camp next to a meadow under three huge live oaks. Plenty of water in Zigzag Creek.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Chad H on Tue Feb 21, 2012 8:56 pm

Date Hiked: February 19, 2012
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

From Pine Ridge Trail down to Strawberry Camp. (Thanks to Betsy's trail reports advising the downhill direction). The top section of the trail is quite nice to "Lunch Rock". Past that brush starts encroaching, starting with knee-slappers then getting progressively worse. The slopes with more sun exposure had more brush encroaching. The brush got thicker as the elevation dropped. Venturi Camp was clear and includes a metal stool. There were isolated sections of clearing that were a relief. Around Black Cone the trail seemed its worst with overhead brush to push through. The trail was easy to follow (I dont know if it would be possible to NOT follow the trail), but difficult to make progress.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby Betsy M on Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:28 pm

Date Hiked: December 31, 2011
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

This report is for the southern-most mile of the trail, starting from Strawberry Valley and heading north towards Black Cone Camp. This mile is quite easy to follow, even though it is brushy in some spots. The trail follows a creek from Strawberry Camp, turning to follow a dozer cut as it switchbacks up a south-facing slope. As noted by a previous poster, all of the large deadfall has been removed, making this section much nicer for hikers. At the end of the dozer cut, the trail turns and goes straight up the nose of a ridge for about 50 feet, then turns again and continues contouring. From that point on it is a trail, not a dozer cut. After recent work on isolated sections, any other switchbacks or turns in this trail are now quite evident. North of the dozer trail, there is about a mile between the end of the dozer cut and Black Cone Camp that is quite brushy. You should not get lost, but this is not a fun section to hike.

Note: with the very dry winter we have had so far, it is likely that there are NO WATER sources along the entire 8.6 miles of this trail. Please take this into account when you make your plans. Also, many hikers have found that it is easier to push through brush in a downhill direction, rather than try and fight your way uphill through the brush. This means you would want to hike from the Pine Ridge end of the Black Cone Trail to the Strawberry Valley end.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby js_radford on Fri Sep 09, 2011 2:31 pm

Date Hiked: July 11, 2011
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Per the last posting, let it be clear that Ventana Wilderness Alliance trail reports are the ONLY up-to-date info, unless one has some personal contact with a recent user. There is a persistent problem, that maybe cannot be addressed except online, with people having paper or other mapping without current info getting into trouble on any number of Ventana trails. I've met people on most every trip to the BCT who were more or less seriously set back for lack of valid info on trail conditions. The simple fact is that S. Fork trail is nearly impassible for a few miles past Strawberry Camp and that Marble Peak Trail is similarly difficult past Strawberry turn-off and is not even indicated on site by any signage at all.

Unless and until Ventana Trails Forever gets a grip on trail maintenance, the problem will persist for any number of sections leading to many a disoriented and discouraged newcomer.
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Re: Black Cone Trail

Postby none on Sat Aug 06, 2011 10:25 pm

Date Hiked: August 3, 2011
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Hi all,

My gf and I walked up Pine Ridge to the junction with Black Cone in the hopes of connecting with Marble Peak and back to Pine Ridge via the South Fork Trail.
Not sure if we missed something, but we ended at an impassable section just past an isolated re-worked/maintained section. Random question but why would someone work on an isolated section?

We're not sure whether we should have been able to pass to Black Cone Camp or Strawberry Camp, or whether we'd even missed them because of the density of the overgrowth on the trail (apparently abundant growth of . We had to backtrack to Venturi, stopping at one of the springs on the trail in order to replenish water supplies. Very frustrating given our high hopes and lack of water and sunlight. Our goal was to get to South Fork Camp or otherwise Rainbow Camp on the South Fork Trail - this plan was hatched at Sykes without the aid of the trail reviews on this site.

There was one cutoff to the right that had no obvious signage, so I wasn't sure whether we should have taken that route. It headed downhill into one of the two watersheds, but I'm not sure which one because we were tired and hungry. Maybe that was Black Cone Camp? I'm looking at "Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur" at a p.216 topo map now - the impassable point was likely at an eastward cutback just above the North Fork.

Other reviews about sideslope waling are on point, excepting the re-worked section. Hard on the uphill ankle. Moreover, the brush is so thick in some sections that is hard to know where to place one's feet for fear of not knowing where to place your face.

If any single person could give some feedback that'd be wonderful. I wouldn't want to forego another trip with such an ambitious plan. The views from up top were wonderful, but without the loop option it makes for backtracking.

Hope this helps, and hope that someone can chime in.

Berend and Lisa from San Diego

Editors Note: The best map information is here:
South Fork is also considered impassable: viewtopic.php?f=36&t=271


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