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Black Cone Trail

Black Cone Trail Conditions History

Postby Site Administrator on Thu May 07, 2009 4:27 pm

Date Hiked: May 26, 2008
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Conditions reported by: Betsy MacGowan
Survey date: 26-MAY-2008
General: PASSABLE
Specific: The first four miles from the junction of the Black Cone Trail and the Pine Ridge Trail, to Venturi saddle, are clear. The tread is excellent, the brush is away from the trail, and it is possible to walk this section without contact with annoying brush. I didn't check for water at Mosquito Springs, but would guess that the access trail down to the springs is pretty overgrown and water would be accessible only by going quite a ways downstream from where the access trail ends.

The springs on the west slope of White Cone are bone dry. Not a trickle of water. There is minor brush, including poison oak in the face, obstructing the trail right at the White Cone Springs, but this is a small difficulty. The next mile is brushy, including some deadfall that must be stepped over, and the tread is sloping.

The last 3.6 miles to Strawberry Camp on the South Fork Trail are quite brushy. However, under the brush, the tread is about 3 feet wide and level. In several places, people have made an effort to clip back brush. They have either placed the cut branches alongside the trail, or directly in it. These now dry and brittle branches trip you as you hike, and generally slow you down. I tried to pick up as many as I could and toss them over the wall of brush on the side of the trail. There are also places where people have clipped back the dead trees and brush, but not moved it out of the trail. Because they didn't clip back to the side of the trail, they left sharp poky ends concealed in the masses of living brush that is weighed down by the dead stuff. The result is that you get speared as you hike along, trying to wade through the stuff. In some places, people are stepping off of the perfectly good tread to get around these brush assemblages, causing the tread to deteriorate.

Black Cone Camp is discreetly marked by a faded piece of flagging. The access trail is pretty overgrown but there is good water down at the camp. This water probably won't last much longer. Specific:

The creek at Strawberry is flowing well.

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Conditions reported by: Patti
Survey date: 25-MAY-2008
General: IMPASSABLE
Specific:

This trail is visible only if you look hard through the very thick brush. There is evidence of some maintenance, but appears to have been along time ago. What limbs have been removed from the trail way are still laying in the middle of the trail and it's hard to see them b/c of all the brush. Be careful if you plan to hike this trail, as they will grab your legs as you passs through and trip you. The brush also likes to hang on to you, if you can get through it. One must be a very strong hiker to get through here. There are also dead tree fall through the entire trail, some very difficult to go over or under. On days when snakes are out hiding from the heat, this would definitely be a very unsafe hike, more so than with just the brush, as one can barely see the trail much less the snake which hisses below. Mosquito Springs and Venturi camps are not visible, never even found them. Black Cone camp has a small trickle of water coming from a spring and is a little tri cky to get to.

Also, parts of the trail are so narrow and very sloped, it is in my opinion, not very safe. I do not advise this trail be used, unless you enjoy bulldozing brush and dead tree hopping for 9 miles. Otherwise, the views, when you can get a glimpse of them through the brush, are beautiful.
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Conditions reported by: Adam Wachtel
Survey date: 13-APRIL-2008
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to White Cone/Venturi Camp area - Wilderness Freeway

After passing on climbing South Ventana Cone, I decided to take advantage of the amount of water I had and the recent work on this trail.

This section of trail was in great shape, wide open and well graded, and was very scenic around sunset. The only disadvantage is a lack of water, but the open trail allows for smooth sailing and quick travel.

I also encountered a rattlesnake within a couple feet on the side of the trail, luckily it is wide enough that I could back away in enough time.

Thanks VWA trail crew for your hard work on restoring this trail!
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers (Stevenson Wilderness Expedition)
Survey date: 2-MARCH-2008
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

After significant clearing, the trail from Strawberry Camp to Black Cone Camp junction remains somewhat brushy but is generally clear. From there to the Pine Ridge Trail, the brush has been largely removed and the trail is clear. Black Cone Camp has been cleared out and is usable by a small group.
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Conditions reported by: Jeremy McCormick
Survey date: 17-NOVEMBER-2007
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

The first 5 or so miles of Blackcone Trail at the higher elevation is clear with no major obstacles. In fact, we were able to night hike the first couple miles of this trail without much difficulty. The last 3 or so miles are overgrown with bushes in places, and there is a lot of deadfall. The last several miles of the Black Cone Trail through to Strawberry Creek could be rated impassable in sections, as there are a lot of sections with multiple deadfalls that make getting through with a full pack somewhat tricky (hands and knees or bending very low). Additionally, some parts of the trail have slid or been washed-out but the many deadfalls will be the major obstacle.

Be on the lookup for poison oak along this trail. I contracted a nasty case from making the mistake of wearing a short sleeve shirt for a few hours. Several sections near the bottom of Blackcone Trail are infested with it.

The report previous to mine does not recommend this trail and calls it the "Black Death Trail". I don't necessarily agree with this, though I can understand this opinion.

The trail is challenging but doable if you are in okay shape and have a bit of dexterity. We were able to climb around all the deadfall without (a lot) of difficulty and push through the bushes without resort to a machete, which I brought along. The views descending the ridge line are spectacular and worth fighting through a bit of brush and downed trees.

Funny that the previous poster mentions the undergrowth when the dead falls were by far a worse obstacle. There were approximately 30 fallen trees across the trail in the lower section of the trail. Some of these were combined dead falls that had almost completely obliterated the trail. Several spots required climbing over or under logs or branches. None of these areas prevented us from continuing, but just be careful and aware of the fact that it will be slow going in these sections.

What I would not recommend is doing this trail during the summer (or probably even late spring / early fall). There is NO water from the top of Blackcone Trail until a stream at the bottom, which I would guess is around 7 miles. This area gets very hot, probably +90 F, and you are likely to have trouble carrying enough water.

I also don't recommend doing this trail uphill (NE) due to the brush. Instead you should arrange your trip to descend on this trail. It is fairly easy to crash through brush going downhill but it becomes a lot more strenuous when you're headed uphill.

Since there is an ongoing drought, many of the water sources listed in the guide books are not available. For instance, their is a spur off Blackcone at approximately the halfway point (Ventura?). At the end of the spur is a camp site with a dried-up stream. This is listed as a dependable water source by my guide book (2002), but it was completely dry.
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Conditions reported by: Zensen Steve Kent
Survey date: 10-SEPTEMBER-2007
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

I would actually rate this trail as Difficult to Impassable. From the Pine Ridge Junction to about the location of the now non-existent Venturi Camp is Wilderness Freeway. There is no water at all along this trail. I went through about 4 and a half liters. The trail is very long, exposed, and hot. The bottom half of the trail is immensely overgrown with many tread washouts. Gloves, hat, long sleeves, and long pants are all necessary. There are 2 nice resting spots with nice views on the top half of the trail but no campsites. I would not recommend this trail at all. It took 6 hours hiking time to get from Pine Ridge Junction to Strawberry Camp at the base of the trail. Little to no bug activity on the trail, probably due to the lack of water. I wouldn't even consider hiking this trail from Strawberry Camp up to Pine Ridge. I've nicknamed it the Black Death Trail for now. Good luck!
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Conditions reported by: Reed Thayer
Survey date: 25-FEBRUARY-2007
General: CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to Mosquito Springs - Clear

The brush has been trimmed back and the tread is in relatively good shape. Thanks for all of the trail work.
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Conditions reported by: Dave Lautzenheiser
Survey date: 4-JUNE-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

WOW!!! First opportunity to hike the Black Cone trail. We went from the "top" at Pine Ridge Trail down to Strawberry. Wonderful views and the work that the VWA Trail Crew has done so far is marvelous. The upper half or a bit more is well trimmed and the tread among the best we encountered in a 4 day excursion. The lower couple of miles has a lot of brush that we had to push through but the tread is easy to find and follow all the way to Strawberry Camp. I highly recommend this to anyone willing to put up with the brush on the lower portion. Without the brush on the lower portion, this would be "Wilderness Freeway" all the way!!
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Conditions reported by: Betsy MacGowan
Survey date: 29-MAY-2006
General: WILDERNESS FREEWAY
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail Junction to Turnaround Ridge (five miles) - Wilderness Freeway

From the north (starting at the Pine Ridge Trail junction) to south (Strawberry Valley) the trail descends gradually. The first five miles have been cleared, and are still in great shape. This section is a true wilderness freeway.

The brush at the start of the trail on Pine Ridge is just starting to crowd the trail. There seems to be a growth spurt in early summer, when the wart-leaf ceanothus just takes off. The individual plants seem to have increased the length of their stems almost a foot in the past 2 months. Partly this is because the branches have become heavier, and lean down more. As a bonus, the leaves produce an oily coating during the warm summer months that sticks to skin or clothing.

Because the trail winds along near the top of the ridgeline, there are great views as you walk along. You occasionally peek into the Arroyo Seco drainage, then pop back out on the Big Sur side of the ridge. The trail arrives at a small water source at about 4 miles, and a more dependable source about 200 feet further along. Near these two small streams is a delightful laurel-shaded rest spot. Both before and after these streams are spots where one could camp, if you don't mind carrying water for a quarter mile. The camps get a good breeze that cools and keeps the bugs away.
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Conditions reported by: Betsy MacGowan
Survey date: 29-MAY-2006
General: DIFFICULT
Specific:

Section: Turnaround Ridge to past Black Cone Camp (5 miles to 7 miles)

At Turnaround Ridge, the next major ridge past the streams, the cleared section ends and the wart-leaf ceanothus section begins. The sticky brush varies from knee-high to about 5 feet high, and while it isn't impenetrable, you definitely have to push through it and the sticky resin will definitely get all over your clothes.

This section in the middle of the trail is about 2 miles. It has been cleared following the 1999 fire, but has become choked with brush. Scattered through the brushy sections and beyond, several down trees must be negotiated.

We met two groups during our hike, and those hikers who wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts were definitely not enjoying the push.

Section: Last 2 miles into Strawberry Valley - Passable

The final two miles or so are a descent, partly on an old jeep road. There are bits of brush, a few trees are down, and some dense growth in the stream area as you enter Strawberry Valley. But it isn't bad.
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Conditions reported by: Greg Minter
Survey date: 28-MAY-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Pine Ridge Trail junction to ~1 mile south of Venturi Camp - Wilderness Freeway

The trail is a state treasure and we're very thankful to the Ventana Wilderness Alliance for reclaiming this beautiful trail for the public to enjoy. Absolutely clear and well-graded trail on this section.

Section: ~1 mile south of Venturi Camp to Strawberry Camp - Passable to Difficult

Definitely a 'before and after' experience south of Venturi. White Cone Springs was flowing very well, especially the main, central spring. Met Betsy and David from VWA, working very hard on clearing brush and reclaiming more of the trail (Thanks again, guys!). Please realize these folks completed a 25 mile loop just to work one day on the BCT! Some very brushy sections- lots of ceanothus. Hardly any deadfalls. Faint tread, especially as you approach Strawberry Camp. We completely missed the spur to Black Cone Camp. Overall, this trail can be completed by most hikers not afraid to push through some brush on the lower portions. All worthwhile to experience this stunning trail through the heart of Ventana.
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Conditions reported by: Jon Benner
Survey date: 28-MARCH-2006
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

From north to south - for most of its length the trail's in great shape, with a very nice footbed and generally only minor brush. Just south of the water source at White Cone/Elephant Hump, the brush gets pretty thick for a stretch - between a half mile and a mile. You can push through without too much trouble, but it's certainly brushy. Heading south towards Strawberry Camp past this brushy stretch, the trail is again in good shape; there are a few blowdowns on the switchbacks down to Strawberry.

The southernmost cleared camp along the trail - not sure of its name, but it's in a hollow below the trail with many standing dead trees around - looks like it might get pretty wet if it's raining. The creek was spreading over about half of the campable ground when I was there.
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Conditions reported by: Jim Kingdon Survey date: 11-APRIL-2005
General: PASSSABLE
Specific: Trail Condition Report by Sebastian the Dog

Section: Pine Ridge Trail to Strawberry Camp - Passable

The first 3-4 miles from the Pine Ridge Trail end are utterly clear going. Wide path, no obstacles, no brush. Your biggest problem here is that your human might keep stopping to admire the view. The middle mile or two is rather overgrown. Don't let your human get lost here. Fortunately the dogs-eye view will show you the tread and an identifiable gap in the brush which might not be quite so apparent to your human. The 3 miles or so at the Strawberry end have some encroaching brush and fallen branches, but most of the branches have been cleared (including one or two by my human). The trail is hard to find in a few grassy stretches here, but look for the tread and a faint line through the grass. This time of year there were a number of flowing streams in the middle section, which was good because I was panting pretty hard due to the lack of shade along most parts of this trail.

Oh, and if you run across a volunteer trail crew (as we did), it is fine to let them pet you. They are friendly.
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers - Stevenson Wilderness Program
Survey date: 8-MARCH-2005
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

The crews we had hiking this trail all had the same comments: the middle third was brushy with slumping sections and lots of sloping footbed, some of which was slippery when wet. Both ends are significantly better, although brush is common on the section above Strawberry. Also noted: Black Cone Camp had a river running through the only campable part on a rainy day. Hopefully, more of the area there can be cleared to make the camp more useable.

Of course, in the week after our hikers crossed the BCT, VWA members worked hard on these problems. Their pictures speak volumes. Even after the recent rains, it can be assumed the trail has longer sections that are Clear if not Freeway quality. And more such trail work is planned.

We are all grateful.
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Conditions reported by: Lindsay Jeffers - Stevenson Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: 05-MAR-2004
General: CLEAR
Specific:

Section: Entire Black Cone Trail

VWA worked on sections of the trail two days before we went down. We did some clearing, especially pulling and pushing downed timber off the section immediately above Strawberry Camp. There are still sections that scratch at backpackers from both sides of the trail at the same time, but the tread is always clear. This trail is getting lots more use, and it is well worth the effort, but it takes a toll on legs and feet. We had a group camp at Black Cone Camp; they reported it was difficult to set up a tarp but would work for tents. They did not find the water there that is reported to be there. In fact, the only active water source we found was the double torrent coming from White Mountain, where the mud and water crossing the trail caused several people to slide off and into the blackberry vines. Take care in this section.
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Conditions reported by: Rich Popchak
Survey date: 15-FEB-2004
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Venturi (camp) to Strawberry Camp

I will report on the BCT from Venturi (Pliers) Camp to Strawberry. Refer to Mike Heard's trail report for the section from Pine Ridge to Venturi.

The trail is certainly passable but encroaching brush will require vigilance each year to ensure this gem remains a joy to hike. We used loppers to eliminate encroaching brush in the area immediately before and after the springs near White Cone. The main threats are encroaching scrub oak and ceanothus. The tread in this area remains somewhat sloped ... but once you arrive at the section of the trail that was re-worked in the spring of 2003 ... you can simply focus on the grandeur the area.

The quality of the tread is outstanding and the brush that so many worked so hard to cut back rarely reaches the hiker. The only obstacle we encountered on the re-worked section was a pile of rocks that slipped out just as you enter the Black Cone Camp area. We removed most of them, but it is evident that more will slide down before too long. (By the way, a deadfall blocks the trail going down to Black Cone Camp and some sort of tall stringy riparian plant sprouted and died in the area around the fire ring proper. It would not take much effort to remove it for anyone camping there. Surprisingly, the spring at Black Cone Camp was but a trickle on this February afternoon. I imagine subsequent rains have re-invigorated it.)

Encroaching brush (yerba santa mainly)again became a problem as we began the descent down to Strawberry Valley ... but only because of the few dozen ticks that latched onto my clothing ... but they were simply brushed away and not a one bit me this day. We encountered a few deadfalls just before we arrived at Strawberry and I used a hand saw to eliminate the limbs it could handle. A bow saw (or gravity) will be required to completely clear it.

The meadow around Strawberry Camp has been rototilled by pigs and the picnic table has deteriorated to the point where it is more like a board balanced on rocks with large rocks for seats.
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Conditions reported by: Andrew and Jennie Ricciardi
Survey date: 8-OCT-2003
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Section: Entire - Pine Ridge jct. to Strawberry Camp

The first 2 miles of this trail are in very good shape. Unfortunately, someone defaced the BC trail marker on Pine Ridge, writing, "warning, no water". Fools! It starts getting very brushy and overgrown before Venturi Camp (at about 3 miles).

The first spring (at about 3.75 miles) was slow flowing but we were able to fill our bottles. The next water, "White Cone Spring" was plentiful (I filled a 6L container in about a minute).

Still brushy after this until you see the trail following what looks like an exact contour level over Turnaround Ridge. From here on out (about the last 4 miles) the trail is an absolute beauty! Excellent work from all the volunteers on this stretch as you are treated to beautiful views of the peaks (Pico Blanco, Double Cone, and more) and Big Sur watershed.

The spring after Shotgun Ridge (6 miles) was a very slow, muddy seep, but was probably better below the trail.

As we made our way down Strawberry Valley, the first creek crossing looked like a herd of cattle had gone through. At Strawberry Camp we were greeted by a herd of wild boar (6 piglets and a BIG mom and pop).
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Conditions reported by: Rob Yang
Survey date: 24-MAR-2003
General: PASSABLE
Specific:
Section: Strawberry Camp to White Cone Spring

I hiked from Strawberry camp up to White Cone spring, after participating in a very satisfying and instructive VWA trail work event. First, I was amazed to spot a banana slug on the lower part of the trail, near Strawberry.

Conditions were pretty much as expected - the brush in a few spots was thick, but the bigger branches had been pruned well. Water was flowing at the usual places. Views were phenomenal, in spite of the lowering cloud cover that day.

The jungle-like vegetation near the spring had been pruned back, but footing was tricky - be careful and have your walking stick ready, in case something catches your boot.

BTW My goal was the White Cone summit (peak 4721'), atop which sits a newer USFS rain gauge (I took pictures). The granite here was very nice, but depending on the route you take up, be prepared to tackle some thick brush first - I think maybe next time I'd choose more carefully; was a bit rushed by the threat of rain.
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Conditions reported by: Ted Merrill
Survey date: 10-OCT-2002
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

The junction of the Black Cone Trail on the Pine Ridge Trail is marked with a metal plaque nailed onto a burned tree trunk; the description in guides of logs should now be ignored. I wrapped an orange tag around the burned tree trunk to make it more visible, and also tagged the trails in three directions (the Bear Basin trail not being obvious).

Starting from Pine Ridge Trail and heading south, the first few miles of the trail is in pretty good shape. There are some great views of both the Big Sur and Tassajara drainages, as well as the ocean. There are, in the upper parts of the trail, some pads cut out of the chapparal adequate for a tent or two; it was quite an experience to spend the night up there. There was one creeklet about halfway down the trail that had a steady trickle of water, and a later one with some moist soil, but otherwise no water (although i did not check out the reopened trail to Mosquito Springs, about 1 mile from the start). After several miles, the vegetation begins to scrape on both thighs with every step, and it is easy to imagine problems a few years down the road; in addition, there are many (now small) plants growing in the middle of the tread. Somewhere in the middle of the trail was a significant patch of six foot high manzanita through which it was a push; perhaps this escaped the fire of several years ago and was not effectively cut back by volunteers?

The ground in the middle section of the trail is softer and thus has slid out in some places, and in general is at a slope due to fallen debris; my left foot is still hurting me. The last, most southerly several miles of the trail is in fairly good shape except for the last several hundred feet which are entirely overgrown by low-lying riprarian plants. The trail is still marked at the southern end by the volunteer-provided sign reading "Black Cone Trail".
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Conditions reported by: Ojai Valley School - "Las Papas Gigantescas"
Survey date: APRIL-MAY, 2002
General: CLEAR to PASSABLE
Specific:

Black Cone Trail went through a recent burn area and was exposed. We traveled on a cold and overcast day, but it could be hot on a clear day. Springs flowing everywhere. Trail rolls nicely up and down but is generally descending. Trail is very off camber causing severe "Black Cone Ankle". Strawberry camp is small to medium in size, but is a nice place with reliable stream water.
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Conditions reported by: Jim Yurchenco
Survey date: 14-21-APRIL-2002
General: CLEAR TO PASSABLE
Specific:

Clear to Passable over its entire length; some clipping could be done in the last couple of miles. Water was flowing at all springs.
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Conditions reported by: Mark Kiehlbauch
Survey date: 31-MARCH-2002
General: PASSABLE TO CLEAR
Specific:

It's easy to follow. Only slight difficulty is finding trail on north end. There's a huge Ponderosa deadfall that parallels the trail by the crest, heading westbound on Pine Ridge. About 100 yards west of that there are several burnt out trees and also a small metal sign for the trail (2" x 2") affixed to a tree, which is only visible from the east (heading west). Tread is fairly distinct leaving the Pine Ridge and is also tagged. I would echo all the comments about the side slope of the tread, my feet were sore upon exit. It's very exposed and hot! Don't hike this northbound (climbing all the way) on a hot day. And watch out for rattlesnakes, one rattled at me AFTER I had passed without seeing it. What's up with that?! Otherwise a trail with beautiful views. 4 places with obvious water, camping didn't look too good, however (I didn't go down trail to Mosquito camp). Thanks to Boon Hughey for the Topo! map of the trail (see his report on the website).
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Conditions reported by: Oregon Dave
Survey date: 26-APRIL-2002
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

The black cone trail was passable with some scratchy brush could be called difficult, the camber was off and led to some sore feet/ankles, mosquito springs has water but the area is clogged with brush, needs a lot of work, good water at white mountain in three different spots all close together.
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Conditions reported by: Stevenson School Wilderness Expedition
Survey date: FEB-2002
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Pine Ridge to Strawberry Camp: The trail is certainly not for the tender of foot, but it is better than one might expect. The brush is not bad and we cleared some scrub oak along the way. There is reliable water (at least at this time of year) at the five mile mark. The footing is often tilted at an angle from the horizontal, which can cause blisters after a few hours. This is most noticeable nearer the south end of the trail. It is a serious day-long hike for people with heavy packs, but certainly doable in good weather.
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Conditions reported by: Rob Yang
Survey date: 10-October-2001
General: PASSABLE to DIFFICULT
Specific:

Black Cone Trail - Pine Ridge Trail to Strawberry Camp

*Fantastic* views and a pleasant grade. Now for the bad news :

The northern part was in pretty good shape, but about half the springs were choked with near impenetrable vegetation, making it hard to locate the tread, not to mention the spring underneath. Those made for some scary moments. The other place like that was down near Strawberry camp. Generally seemed like the brush was starting to close in again - I've got lots of scratches on my arms and legs. There was also some kind of whitish plant that left a sticky residue, and miles of that stuff. Long sleeves/pants would probably be a good plan, if one can get away with it.

The tread on the southern part seemed a little off camber, as per the last trail report I'd read. I did find it helpful to apply a blister patch to my right big toe, but didn't have problems other than that. The grade was mostly pretty gentle, fortunately.

The main spring near White Mtn was trickling and accessible, though I didn't need to refill until I got to Strawberry (had a full 2L in the hydration bladder at Pine Ridge).
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Conditions reported by: David McMillan
Survey date: 27-MARCH-01
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

Winter was very kind to the exposed black cone trail. There were no washouts or noticeable erosion. The frost having suppressed the annuals and discouraged the Yerba Santa makes the trail very friendly to hike right now. I would even rate it Clear if not for the grade. Most of the Springs and Streams are running strongly.
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Conditions reported by: Jack Nelson
Survey date: 13-15-OCTOBER-00
General: PASSABLE, SOME DIFFICULT SECTIONS
Specific:

Coming out the end of the Black Cone Trail (BCT) at Strawberry, I was begrimed with charcoal marks and various sticky-papery seeds coating my clothes, along with scrapes and bruises decorating my shins. Yet, despite the rough trail conditions, I felt elated at completing this adventuresome, remote, awesomely beautiful, and only recently passable trail. For solitude in the deep heart of the wilderness, for spectacular mountain ridge views, for seeing the regenerative vitality of nature after the autumn '99 fire, and for the opportunity to help renew a remarkable path in the wilderness, this trail rates an A+.

My notes here assume you'll also read the prior info below.

WHERE TO FIND DRY-SEASON WATER:

1) Out of China Camp, and 20 min. W of Divide Camp on the Pine Ridge Trail, I crossed the headwaters of the Carmel River where there was a strong flow of water, apparently perennial. Last water before the BCT, unless you detour to the spring at Pine Ridge Camp.

2) Mosquito Springs: I encountered several gal/min here (to find, see campsites description below). Since I came through on the heels of 1 inch or more of rain, it's not certain that this was flowing so well earlier.

3) "White Mountain" Springs: I suspect that the main spring at White Mountain , flowing over mossy vertical rock on the flank of the mountain about half a mile past Venturi Camp, is the one (roughly) perennial trailside water supply, running at several gal/min when I was there. This spring is the traveller's reliable key to the BCT: normally perennial, with campsites nearby. I would not be shocked if this dried up in the 1st or 2nd dry season of a solid drought.

4) I found multiple l-quart-per-5-min trickles dripping from a small hillside slipout above the trail in the rocky ravine which follows next after one passes by the releafing, open-canopy OAK woodland (Boon's "formerly-forested campable bowl," Dave's inaccurately-named "madrone flats"), map-located near the midpoint of the east boundary of topo map Section 2.

5) The topo-map-labelled North Fork Big Sur River had audible water splashing within 0.1 mile below the trail, for anyone desperately needing to make the rough scramble.

6) Water was abundant in Zig Zag Creek at Strawberry Camp.

WHERE TO FIND CAMPSITES:

Mosquito Springs Camp: The topographic saddle at the junction with the side trail to Mosquito Springs looks like it has been used for one or more tent sites in the past years. The junction is marked by a partially burned post propped in the brush, now labelled with felt-tip marker. The Mosquito Springs Trail, after a few feet of steep grade to get to the original gentler trail bed, angles down to the right across a canyon slope, fading out completely as you near the canyon bottom in an area of big firekilled ponderosas. For now, post-fire, cross-country travel here is easy, and for now you can spot an old rectangular "icemaker" rectilinear stove a little above canyon bottom on the opposite (north) side. Next to the stove on the ground are the bolts from a burned picnic table. This would be the site of the Mosquito Springs Camp shown on the 1972 ed. of the Los Padres National Forest map. A flatter tent site can be found briefly downslope in the canyon bottom, and I found sweet water flowing a minute or two further down from there. This area may be wind-sheltered and campfire-suited but lacks the grand views of the main route. Side trail length is about 1/3 mile.

Granite Ridge Camp: At a pronounced bend in the trail (from southward to eastward) below topo point 4703 the trail crosses what I call Granite Ridge, a rough ridge of much-exposed and exceptionally beautiful granite with multicolored flecks. There is a granite spire just west of the trail for a commanding viewpoint, and in the saddle between the spire and the trail is one established tent site. I happily camped here, having earlier dayhiked for water at Mosquito Springs. This site remained under clear night skies even as higher elevation Pine Ridge was (again) socked in with a cold wet fog. This extra-rocky ridge is periodically visible and is a prominent marker as you hike south and look back.

Venturi Camp (aka Pliers Camp): The others have described this location. A knoll shades it late in the day and a strong, cold wind funnelled up out of Tassajara watershed as advertised. There is a fine view to the east. Several tent/sleeping spaces are present, and good water is available .4 miles further along the trail.

Mountain Springs Camp: This is my name for a wonderful, single flat tent site located a short distance south past the main spring at White Mountain. The site is noticeable 50 feet below the trail, right on the ridgeline which separates the small watershed of the spring from the next watershed area to the south. There are magnificent views of the Big Sur River watershed, the Coast Ridge, Mt. Manuel, Ventana Double Cone, etc. as well as up at the unusual white rock formations of White Mountain above the site. My rain fly made a shade ramada tied between my tent and some standing burned poles.

Shotgun Ridge: This shadeless saddle area (see Boon's locating) is marginally campable but lacks the amenity and appeal of other options.

Black Cone Camp: This camp, shown on the 1972 edition of the Los Padres National Forest map, is almost certainly lost (and soon to be found?) somewhere in the aforementioned burned, releafing oak woodland located in a topographic bowl below the trail in easternmost Section 2 before you come to the topo map's blue-lined creek labelled N. Fork Big Sur. This camp vicinity offers nearly year-round water, some shade (more in the future), and respite along the southern stretch of trail. SOON would be good timing for someone to locate and flag the old camp or other suitable camp area(s), while the vegetation remains low post-fire.

Strawberry Camp: Tent sites under an ancient unburned oak, gurgling creek, crumbling picnic table, fire ring. Practically civilization.

TRAILFINDING:

There is gradual attrition on Boon's helpful trail flagging. But, a key to following this trail is that it near-invariably forges roughly ahead on the contour, with no switchbacks. The exception to the rule is on the old bulldozer cut from the Big Sur/Zig Zag divide down to Strawberry, on which there are several sharp switchbacks and one unclear dive left across a small drainage as you leave a small ridge. Once the trail reaches the creek above Strawberry, you cross the creek then stay confidently on the west bank all the way to Strawberry Camp, pushing through the lush riparian annuals (machete, anyone?).

Don't worry dept.: You won't be able to see the White Mountain springs area, tucked in the mountain's folds, until you are right there.

Boon prepared a great topo-base trail map. Send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope (to 127 Rathburn, Santa Cruz CA 95062) and I will send you a photocopy.

TRAILWORK:

A choice of tools are useful to bring. Just walking through with your boots will help the trail tread. Loppers (2nd choice, pruners) are needed for the resprouting scrub oak, whose wiry multiple stems just bounce around on saw teeth. Bow saws and folding saws will find plenty of burnt sticks to cut, even though the worst spots have been done. A McLeod, mattock or shovel would be great to do some treadwork, of which there is plenty to be done. Work gloves (or bare hands) can yank the fire-following yerba santa, warty-leaved ceanothus, etc. out by the roots now while the plants are young. There is plenty of this in/along the trail bed. As a reward, you will take on the marvelous aroma of these plants. Let's all pitch in and keep this trail alive!

MISCELLANEOUS: Poison oak: I first saw PO in the area between the annual-choked spring and the main rock-face spring at White Mountain, much sooner than noted by Dave M. PO is relatively rare on this trail--what a delight! Still, I fumbled into some PO simply because my guard was down.

Walking stick: This is a near-essential tool on this trail, not only for counteracting the sloping tread but for support in the slippery-hazardous spots and as Leg 3 when your feet catch unseen obstacles.

Impacts: Litter and those awful spreading camp fire ashes were nonexistent at the tiny ridge-area tent sites. Let's keep it that way! In my opinion, the little ridge-area camp sites, away from water supplies and susceptible to sudden wind gusting, are not suited for campfires. Bring your warm clothes, flashlight, and stargaze.

Nomenclature: I can't believe as prominent a feature as "White Mountain" is unnamed on the USGS topo map. This mountain is not remotely cone-shaped nor was it given shape by volcanism, so calling it "White Cone" seems off the mark to me. Really, there are two equal-height points (4721, 4719) plus lower prominences, all connected by a long mountain ridge, capped with exposed white rock. I understand some have called this Elephantback Mountain in the past, though the resemblance is not striking. Perhaps with input from a geologist, an artful, informed name could be devised and proposed to USGS?
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Conditions reported by: Dave McMillan
Survey date: 7-8 SEPTEMBER-00
General: PASSABLE WITH FEW DIFFICULT SECTIONS
Specific:

The whole north half of the trail as far as Venturi camp is in much better shape than the half south of it, and was decidedly more trafficked recently. A horse and rider had gone from the Pine Ridge Trail down as far as Venturri and back up inside the last 2 weeks. (Ed. note: Venturri camp (aka Pliers Camp) is a locally named small saddle camp near the halfway point, referring to the way in which the wind howls through the gap all night.)

The water situation looks promising. There were 3 spots just south of Venturri that could have had water. The 1st and 2nd ones did. The first is overrun by fantastically selfish annuals and will be dry in about a month I think. I had to drop down the gully about 30 feet and dig out the little rocks under a big boulder to fill my bulky canteen. Flow rate seemed to be about 2 gallons a minute, but I'm not a good judge of these things. The second water source a little further along was flowing fast (5 gal a minute?) and was not covered in annuals at the trail thanks to the rocky face it runs down. It was covered in moss though, and filling the canteen was easy. Though I'm not gonna bet my life on it, I'd say it's perennial and a spring to boot. It seems to come out of the mountain just above the trail and beneath all the exposed white rock that is White Cone. I theorize that the trail was built intentionally to run beneath this "spring". Just before it the trail cut has exposed seeps that have eroded the trail badly, it is now mobbed with aggressive annuals to the point of being downright treacherous.

Sadly the madrone flats beneath Shotgun ridge were dry as was the North Fork source, but the North Fork source has a muddy spot and pool with water skeeters attesting to the fact that only recently had it dried. (Ed. note: Shotgun Ridge is another small camp,located just below the trail near the center of section 2.)

Like I said earlier the north half of the trail has seen decidedly more use than the south. Below Venturri there was the obvious track of only one person having passed with a hiking stick, perhaps Betsy but I don't know how long ago she went. I did a little work with the loppers. A saw is needed in perhaps 6 locations, and more lopper work. I think the dropping altitude encourages the growth so overgrowth will be more of a problem on the south half. I saw no poison oak till I got to madrone flats. The whole trail was easily followed, owing in part to its very logical construction. Without maintenance it will be difficult next year and the year after probably a serious challenge. The tread was better from having been walked on at least a few times, especially along the north half.

All in all the trail structure is in good condition with only one major slip out between the springs near Venturri. In a large number of places the original trail builders took care to reinforce the trail with small stone walls. SW facing "desert" portions of the trail will probably never become entirely lost even in total disuse. I seem to remember seeing shades of the trail as a kid.

The stickiness the Betsy had reported had almost entirely dried up. Some of the dry stalks of annuals reached 4 feet in height. After madrone flats, an annual was seen that had to be 7 feet high or more. The scrub oak, manzanita and affiliated desert perennials have gotten a good start about 1 foot to 3 feet worth, depending on species, flatness of terrain etc. The last 300 feet through the riparian zone at strawberry are a proper nightmare. I don't remember that area being so bad when I was a kid but back then there were a lot more shade trees at Strawberry camp.
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Conditions reported by: Betsy MacGowan
Survey date: 3-JULY-00
General: PASSABLE (but sticky!)
Specific:

Sticky, Sticky. The fire of last fall must have been unbelievably intense here. Throughout most of the length of the trail there is a fine crust of sand and small stones, covering a layer of ash. A host of fire-followers, notably phacelia, has grown up everywhere, and this growth will brush against your clothes eventually making them hopelessly sticky. Then you will brush past burnt branches, acquiring a thick patina of delicately scented armor on all outward-facing clothing surfaces.

I started from the Tassajara Road, coming down the Pine Ridge Trail. Stopped for water just past Pine Ridge Divide. Had no trouble locating the trailhead of the Black Cone Trail, it is at a saddle where the Pine Ridge Trail crosses the crest of the ridge, moving from the north side, with a view of Bear Basin, to the south side, looking towards the Big Sur River drainage. Look for the large pine, sawcut through the middle, and a metal stake. The Bear Basin Trailhead should be here somewhere but I didn't find it.

As soon as you head south, look for Boon's flags; the next indicator of the location of the trail is the fuzzy green fiddle-headed plant, with delicate pale white flowers. It grows everywhere, but most profusely right in the middle of the trail. So in many places you won't actually see the tread, just a line of especially thick plant growth, and this will be your route. When headed into a canyon I tried to locate the trail on the other side; most times it was straight as a ruler and easy to spot from a distance but could fade out amongst the flowers which grow shoulder high in many places. Pretty, in fact beautiful, but did I mention sticky?

This trail is generally a delight. The entire length is gently contoured, gliding in and out of each slope, popping up on top of the ridge to get a view of the Tassajara watershed to the east, then gently descending past ridge after ridge. Mosquito Spring had just a little water, but there was a nice knoll just above the spring which made a good campsite.

Water further on was plentiful, at springs and streams throughout the second half of the trail. Some of these were noisily gushing and it was great to hear the sound all the way down into the canyons. It was a little tricky getting through some of the thickets grown up at these water sources. In fact the closer to Strawberry Valley, the denser the growth.

This trail is challenging, and will become more so as plant life returns. And the tread is definitely downsloping and hard on your ankles. I tried to break off the charred wood which blocks the path in many places, sometimes if you step on the base of the burnt part it will break off, but there are miles like this and it will take some work to get this stail back in shape.

Strawberry Valley was great, just a little breeze coming over the saddle to keep bugs away. Lupines in full bloom. A little skunk was prowling around my pack at 4 AM, when I decided maybe it would be better to move my pack from the head of my sleeping bag to over by the picnic table. I pleaded with the guy not to spray me, he was quite curious and couldn't decide whether he should investigate me and my stuff or spray me, luckily he held off until I got my pack moved, then the rest of the night was uneventful.

I hadn't really realized what the elevation difference is between the north and south ends of the Black Cone Trail: the easiest direction is definitely from Pine Ridge to Strawberry, where you are steadily descending.

===========
Conditions reported by: Boon Hughey
Survey date: 23-APRIL-00
General: PASSABLE
Specific:

After decades of total overgrowth and disuse, the Black Cone Trail between Pine Ridge and Strawberry Valley is once again open all the way through.

The North Kirk Fire of Autumn 99 burned the entire west-facing slope of the north fork Big Sur River drainage and burned it hard, leaving nothing but black sticks and stumps where there was once a sea of impenetrable brush. Several attempts had been made over the years to reclaim this trail from the upper end, but none succeeded in getting more than a few miles in. Now the fire has done most of the hard work, but there's still plenty to be done so bring along a bow saw or better yet a McLeod.

In early April of this year Steve Wilson and I made an exploratory day-hike foray out the Black Cone Trail from Pine Ridge sawing and lopping as we went, but had to turn back about 5 miles out in order to get back to camp before dark. But this past weekend, the 22nd and 23rd of April, David Jacobs, Dave McMillan and myself carried packs and set out to hike it all the way to Strawberry.

The upper end of the Black Cone Trail leaves the Pine Ridge Trail just a couple hundred yards west of the top of Pine Ridge at elevation 4540. The area burned heavily so there is no longer a sign, but when we passed we hung out flagging tape and there was a steel angle-iron post laying on the ground across the beginning of the trail. These things of course can disappear with time, but if the westward traveler keeps a sharp eye out to the left of the Pine Ridge Trail, a couple of fallen pine trees can be seen with 4 foot sections sawn out of them laying about 30 or 40 feet off the main trail. The beginning of the Black Cone Trail passes right through these cutouts.

Once a short distance from the Pine Ridge Trail the tread of the Black Cone Trail becomes evident, and remains that way all the way to Strawberry Valley. But to be on the safe side we flagged the route well, given the amazing propensity for post-fire regrowth to quickly hide trail tread. Also, after the first few miles the tread, while evident, is nonetheless pretty poor and rather filled in from decades of disuse. Be ready for some complaining from your feet and ankles from walking along a sloping sidehill for mile after mile. Also keep in mind that there is ZERO shade anywhere along the first 80% of the trail's length, so a hat is a good idea.

The trail first skirts around the westward side of South Ventana Cone, regaining the ridgeline at about mile .75 in a saddle at elevation 4460. The trail down to Mosquito Springs from this saddle was also opened up by the fire and can be seen making a sidehill traverse to the right down into the headwaters of Tassajara Creek. We didn't take the time to explore it, but the going looks pretty easy.

From the saddle the trail continues along or near the ridge and at mile 1.8 comes to a pocket of unburned brush just to the southwest of point 4661 that must be pushed through with little effort. This short stretch is ripe for loppers. This is essentially the only real brush to be seen all the way to Strawberry, and in fact the only verdant foliage.

After winding in and out and descending for a while the trail passes to the west of and just below point 4135 before arriving at Pliers Camp, which is nothing more than a flat spot in a saddle at mile 3.4 and elevation 4050. It is immediately east of a distinctive triangularly shaped geographic feature on the 7.5 minute topo map, in the northwest corner of section 35. It seems like a pretty strange place for a camp, but camp artifacts abound (including a pair of pliers) and in fact is the only flat place for miles around. The missing element is water, but that's right around the corner.

The trail leaves Pliers Camp and gently traverses the westward face of an impressively white granite mountain made up of points 4721 and 4719. Being unnamed on the maps and of significant size and color we decided to call it "White Cone," which upon seeing it most will agree is quite fitting. Within a half mile of Pliers Camp, at miles 3.8, 3.9 and 4.2, strong flows of cold spring water can be found gushing out of the west side of White Cone at elevation 4100. I can't say for sure if it is perennial, but it certainly has the feel of year-around water flow rather than seasonal drainage. Be aware that both Schaffer and the official USFS Ventana Wilderness map have this stretch of trail all wrong, showing it following the ridgeline high above rather than traversing past the water.

Leaving the waters of White Cone, the trail arrives at a prominent forked ridge just west of point 4589 at mile 4.8. Excellent views of the trail ahead can be enjoyed from southerly fork of this ridge, with the amazingly level layout of the trail suggesting that a transit must have been used in its construction.

The trail then traverses into a canyon, passing possibly perennial water at mile 5.3 (elevation 3680) before coming out onto prominent Shotgun Ridge (mile 5.6, elevation 3700), named for the burned skeleton of an old 20 gauge shotgun found there amongst some other artifactual detritus.

Beyond Shotgun Ridge the trail traverses above a once forested bowl (mile 5.9, elevation 3600) that appears to have a good number of flat places suitable for camping. Water runs freely from the hillsides, across the trail, and down into the bowl in a number of places. Just beyond this campable bowl the trail crosses the blueline creek labeled North Fork Big Sur River at mile 6.3 and elevation 3600. The flow here is strong and certainly feels perennial.

The trail then traverses across a couple more significant ridges before arriving at an exceptionally significant ridge that marks the divide between the North Fork Big Sur River and Strawberry Creek drainages at mile 7 and elevation 3700. At this point the trail becomes an old historic bulldozer cut, which can be easily located just a few feet uphill from where the trail tops the ridge. Peak Baggers should take note that this same crazed dozer pilot also drove is cat straight up this same ridge almost all the way to the summit of Black Cone, making for a somewhat clear summit approach.

But onward to Strawberry the dozer cut is easily followed as it traverses in and out of small canyons before arriving at Strawberry Creek at mile 7.7 and elevation 2860, where it crosses and once again becomes a trail that arrives at Strawberry Camp at mile 7.8.

Generally speaking the trail is in passable shape, but there are still many burnt sticks that need sawing and lots of tread that needs re-working. So please bring along a tool or two and spend some time helping out as you go. This trail is an absloute gem with huge views out over the Big Sur watershed to the Coast Ridge and beyond to the blue Pacific, and it would be a real shame to lose it to the brush again. Lets all pitch in and see if we can get it back in shape and keep it that way.

ps: if anyone who owns the mapping program Topo! would like an overlay .tpo file that shows the route and features, just send me an email to
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Conditions reported by: Jon Benner
Survey date: February, 1999
General: IMPASSABLE TO THROUGH HIKING
Specific:

From the junction on Pine Ridge the Black Cone Trail starts out as passable and continues as such with some encroaching brush for over 2 miles. Right before the trail skirts to the west of 4135 the brush thickens and the trail becomes difficult. The trail descends to a saddle on the ridge past 4135 and soon after the trail becomes impassable. Brush makes any sort of progress impossible and the tread is not evident unless you get on ground level and try to see if there's a swath where no brush is growing.

The southern end of the trail, starting from Strawberry Camp, is not followable for very long, perhaps a half mile. It starts up the canyon from Strawberry Camp along the stream, and the tread is very faint in the blackberries. Immediately on the left as you start up the trail there should be a sign on the ground that reads "Black Cone Trail." The trail is difficult but followable as it crosses the drainage and switchbacks across the slope above it, but the brush quickly becomes very thick and the trail soon becomes impassable.

After working on the Black Cone Trail this summer, I think one of the biggest obstacles to clearing it is that it takes so long to find the route. If anyone is interested and would like to work through and flag the route for as long as possible, from either end, it would make the clearing operation go that more smoothly. But, as of right now, it is impossible to follow the trail in its entirety.
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Black Cone Trail

Postby Site Administrator on Thu May 07, 2009 4:25 pm

* USFS trail #3E14
* Parking:
* Watersheds: North Fork Big Sur River
* Junctions: Pine Ridge Trail, South Fork Trail
* Connects: Pine Ridge Trail at Pine Ridge with South Fork Trail at Strawberry Valley
* Camps: Mosquito Spring, Venturi, Strawberry Valley
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