Placenames of the Wilderness:
Devil's Staircase
by Boon Hughey

Devil's Staircase Map

T oward the west end of the Big Sur Trail in the Ventana Wilderness is a notably challenging climb for those leaving Rainbow Camp hell-bent for Cold Spring. This particularly evil segment of trail between Cisco Creek and Logwood Ridge (between the red arrows on the map above), where according to local resident Jeff Norman "there are an ungodly number of switchbacks," has been locally known as The Devil's Staircase since the early 1900s. During the summer months this 1,240' climb over 1.4 miles can be hotter than the hinges of Hades, leaving the suffering traveler plenty of time to face his demons and ponder the time-worn words of Virgil as he endures what feels like everlasting punishment:

Facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.


Clark, Donald Thomas. Monterey County Place Names. Kestrel Press, Carmel Valley, 1991

Dryden, John. Translation of Virgil's Aeneid. New York, 1909

Virgil. The Aeneid. Rome, 19 B.C.

The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.