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Puerto Suello Trail

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Expand view Topic review: Puerto Suello Trail

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Alan Harder on Mon Mar 29, 2021 11:12 am

Date Hiked: March 28, 2021
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

The Puerto Suello trail has been restored.

It is now reasonably cleared and marked with flags at creek crossings and other spots in the middle section where it might otherwise be hard to follow. This is still a very difficult trail: plenty of logs to climb over, encroaching brush and several short sections that are very steep. However, the impenetrable walls between existing sections of trail have been cleared and are now passable.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Remick Letcher on Mon Mar 08, 2021 9:14 pm

Date Hiked: February 10, 2021
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I am overjoyed that my first trip back in the Ventana after the Dolan Fire closures included Puerto Suello, as it is one of the most intense bushwhacking experiences I've had the pleasure to suffer. I approached from the Carmel River Trail and arrived at Hiding Camp at 3:00pm. Eager for vengeance, I snacked before heading up trail at 3:30. I was delighted to find the beginning section in much better condition than I had seen before, and made it to the creek with ease. My mind was utterly blown as I ascended the creek, following an obvious path surrounded by poison oak and blackberry bramble.

In no time I was halfway up the canyon, when trail became faint and a wall of brush halted my ambitious stride. I saw the rocky hillside was mostly free of brush, so I began ascending on the loose rocks. Big mistake. After gaining a few epic bruises on my shins, I found myself deeply established in the bush. I spent the next hour exerting maximum effort towards movement, sometimes crawling in the dirt, other times walking above the bush on fallen branches and jumping off to crawl in the dirt more.

Finally as last light approached I found a steep, grassy hill and was able to make good progress. At this point I was well out of the creek bed, so I did my best to aim towards the Ventana Double Cone Trail. Once it got dark navigating the bush was much more challenging, and when a lovely little patch of dirt presented itself, I laid down and slept under the stars. In the morning I found there were plenty of rocks to clamber upon, making the last section of ridge walking fairly easy. At last I made it to trail, and was so excited I actually started running.

I made it to the summit of Ventana Double Cone before noon and relished in the endless beauty of such a rugged and spiritual place. With all my worries and fears cured by bush therapy, I had nothing left to do but smile.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Alan Harder on Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:02 pm

Date Hiked: August 2, 2020
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Firstly, I agree with other comments that you almost certainly do not want to venture into Puerto Suello. That said, I was able to make it all the way up and back so I thought I'd share as much detail as I can.

A) Hiding Camp to the creek in Puerto Suello canyon.

The trail for this portion is still mostly followable, but with many obstacles to go around or over. Two tricky bits were:
- Right after leaving Hiding Camp the trail crosses a small streambed, and was unclear after that; I scrambled up the hillside and found the trail ok. Coming back this part was easier.
- There's one switchback climbing up, about halfway to the canyon. Shortly afterwards the trail makes a 90 degree right turn. This is fine on the way up, but when coming down it very much looks like the trail continues straight, but then it'll disappear. Watch closely for a pile of sticks on the ground, and when you see them stop and look for a smaller gap in the bushes to your left.. that's the trail.

B) Lower canyon; heavy growth around and over the stream.

Heading into the canyon the bushes were mashed enough to get down to the stream, but then the trail ENDS. The bushes were so thick all around that there really wasn't much choice but to hike in the stream.. that was my plan anyway, since IN the stream is the best place to avoid all the thick bushes. Plants and trees were growing over the stream in this area, so a lot of it was like hiking through a tunnel.
So through this section I hiked in the stream until blocked, then bushwhacked my way out and hiked along the stream until blocked, then bushwhacked my way back into the stream. Each transition was tough, but this worked reasonably well.

There are several watersheds in the canyon, so GPS is helpful to make sure you stay on the correct branch of the creek (going up; going down is easy, everything is merging). The correct branch is the one shown on maps as solid blue (not dotted), so I was concerned when my path took me over a dry creekbed.. but GPS showed I was ok; strangely a bit later there was water in the creek again.

C) Middle canyon; more open.

It was great when the plants thinned out and there were no plants in or over the creek for a decent stretch. This lasts until the creek makes a right turn (now going NNW on map), the canyon narrows and there are bushes in the creek again. Hiking in the creek still works until shortly before the creek turns left again, back to the west.

D) Transition to upper canyon; challenging.

Here the creek is a wall of bushes, so I headed up the bank on the left side. I found faint tread here and there, but there were a lot of taller/thicker bushes to fight through. This section was tough.

E) Upper canyon; trail!

I tried to stay on the hillside near the creek (not straying too far from where there's a steeper drop down to the creek). After a while the faint tread became real tread, and a followable trail! A little tricky at a couple minor streambed crossings, but not too bad. Then the trail reaches a ravine that's mostly loose dirt. There was just enough tread to see it continuing along the right side (though with all the loose dirt I wonder if walking right down the middle would be better), and soon the trail crosses the ravine and from there the trail is well defined and only minor obstacles. Several switchbacks lead up to the ridge.

There is no trail sign at the ridge, but if you're looking for the trail from the top it's at a bit of a clearing and you can tell you're at a saddle point (ridge trail slightly uphill in both directions). There is a rock on the ground where the trail heads down.

I hiked north on the ridge trail a few minutes and then climbed to the top of Uncle Sam Mountain.. it was fantastic.

That's it! Don't go, but if you do be prepared to battle nature! The Puerto Suello trail took me 3.5 hours in each direction. Final tip: the trail line on Forest Service maps is totally inaccurate; if you're using map/GPS to find the trail in the upper or lower portions make sure you're using the trail on MapBuilder Topo / OSM.

[Ed: note that a more accurate trail route can be found on Big Sur Trailmap - though if semi-bushwhacking it is probably a moot point]

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Remick Letcher on Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:32 am

Date Hiked: July 26, 2020
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

I believe impassable is a very strong word, and I am pleased to say this trail may truly be impassable. The trail is incredibly overgrown, and I was unable to connect with the Ventana Double Cone Trail via Hiding Canyon camp. The hike is a mix between creek-walking and bushwhacking through poison oak. I reached a point towards the top of the creek where debris blocked the creek, and I was able to find trail and an old trail marker. Not far from there I ran into a wall of thick brush and poison oak. I was unable to find any remnants of trail, and imagining the steep accent to the ridge without trail, I decided to turn around.
I recommend this hike to only the stoutest of Ventana adventurers, who crave the insatiable itch of Ventana poison oak. I hope to return soon and have vengeance on this wicked trail, and reclaim one of the few access points to Ventana Double Cone.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by taylor on Thu May 09, 2019 10:16 am

Date Hiked: May 7, 2019
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

The Forest Service has posted a sign at China Camp indicating the Puerto Suello Trail is lost or impassable.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by Andrew Carter on Mon Apr 22, 2019 2:50 pm

Date Hiked: April 19, 2019
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

As mentioned below, this trail no longer exists! At least at the top from its intersection with the Ventana Double Cone Trail. Do not attempt to take it! Impossible overgrowth. No discernible footpath anywhere. I wished I'd seen the post below before I tried to use this trail.

I was trying to do a multi-day loop hike from Los Padres Dam, counterclockwise -- Big Pines Trail, Double Cone Trail, Puerto Suello Trail, Carmel River Trail. I made it as far as the supposed Double Cone/Puerto Suello intersection. There is no discernible intersection! Nonetheless, I tried to find the trail using Gaia GPS, USFS topos, and National Geographic Trails Illustrated topos. The two topos show two different trail paths. I searched in both areas. I bushwhacked in both areas. Finally I tried bushwhacking down the water shed in between the two mapped trail paths. Huge mistake. The overgrowth was overwhelming, impassible. Finally I turned back. Of course, that meant trying to gain back at least 500 feet of altitude I'd already lost. After 4 hours of wasted effort, I made it back to the Double Cone Trail completely exhausted.

I learned the following lesson about ten years ago -- "Never try to bushwhack on the Central Coast. Way too much overgrowth." I ignored that advice on this trip. Shame on me.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by cmbetts on Fri Jun 01, 2018 1:58 pm

Date Hiked: May 27, 2018
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

TL:DR Avoid this trail if at all possible. It is not a trail. It is an aspirational phantom line drawn on the map.

This is much less a trail than an invitation to spend hours bushwacking along a creek through solid chest high poison oak and blackberry canes.

My wife and I hiked this trail from the Double Cone Trail to the Carmel River Trail as part of a loop over the Memorial Day weekend (Coincidentally to the previous post, we regretfully had our dogs with us). The trail started out with very inconsistent flagging that didn't match the expected GPS coordinates despite intense searching. We later learned that trying to follow the trail by GPS was a Sisyphean task. The flags invited us down the canyon along a very light flowing creek. Soon after one of the flags, which I hope in retrospect actually intended us to change course, the creek turned the rocks of the canyon into a ~6ft slide and made it impossible to climb back up to the flag to look for other options. We pushed on only to find that we were trapped between the slide above us and a slick 10-12ft shear drop. We ultimately made the tough decision to belay down the rocks with our paracord and the help of some deadfall, as the GPS said that the real "trail" would be straight ahead.
We tried to follow the GPS coordinates for the trail as much as possible, but everywhere that should have been trail was solid poison oak and blackberry. We eventually ended up pushing our way through the bramble trying as hard as possible not to trip over the hidden boulders. Like the previous poster, we found that walking down the creek was often the best path and used it as much as possible.
About five hours and a mile in, we found another trail marker, but, not having budgeted time for such slow movement, made camp in the flattest spot we could find. Hopes high that we had finally the correct route, we set out the next morning only to find that there were only about four or five flags dead ending back in the bramble. It was incredibly slow going. Getting through the valley is a seemingly endless cycle of tromping through the brush until you hit a dead end, about every hundred feet, then surveying the topology ahead and finding the next bit you can push through. Without GPS, I'm not sure if we would have found the path leading out of the valley.
Once you've made it through the valley of nightmares, the trail leading to hiding camp is fairly similar to other trails in Ventana. There's a few switchbacks that are tricky to notice and lots of deadfalls, but nothing out of the ordinary and it feels like a dream after all you've just been through.
In total, it took us 9.5 hours to traverse this trail, and we were miserable every moment of it.
I feel like other posters have been reluctant to call this trail impassable because they've gone through it. This is wrong. The definition of impassable in the ratings is "completely overgrown or tread obliterated", both of which are an understatement for this trail. I can survive two weeks without food. That doesn't make starvation a "difficult" diet.

It's a dangerous disservice to anyone planning a hike to rate this trail anything other than impassable.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by mmaki on Thu May 24, 2018 10:37 pm

Date Hiked: May 21, 2018
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Hiked this as part of my last section hike of the Condor Trail. I wish there was an alternate but I get to say I've been up Puerto Suelo! This trail is a mess once you hop over the somewhat easy to follow portion from Hiding Camp to where the trail nears the creek. Then all hell breaks loose. There is some orange flagging but I lost it after about the first couple of hours. I estimate I hiked the middle section in the creek. Beautiful creek by the way. Good flow. Then I met a couple coming down canyon about 2/3 the way up with a dog! Little did I know they had come down through what I later experienced the hardest part of the trail, the upper third. When I met them the flagging resumed and I was able to follow their trail through the growth. This helped but the deadfall and growth was incredible. Crawled on my belly a few times to get through. I eventually lost any trace of a trail about a quarter mile from the saddle and hiked through the burn to about 300 yards above where the trail is to meet the Ventana Trail. It took me about 8.5 hours...

See this video (starts at 17:50, I know, it's long...) for some of this trail. Pics are here as well but you'll have to browse through them to get to Puerto Suelo. Look for the pic of Puerto Suelo Trail sign 4/5 the way through pics. Video and Pics are from 5 day trip from Nacimiento Road to Bottchers Gap.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by RSIBryce on Wed Sep 27, 2017 1:49 pm

Date Hiked: August 23, 2017
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Puerto Suelo has been, and may always be, a rugged hike. We approached from the VDC at the top (the preferable direction to hike a trail like this) and began by searching for the tread, well, after a long water break and cool down, (August is an intense time to be out in these parts.) The fire burned hot in this area and we found massive deadfall as well as massive regrowth. I've hiked this trail once before back in 2014 and have also hiked past the junction on 2 or 3 summits of the Double Cone, I recognized nothing. Fire really has a way of rearranging a place. It's steep, brushy and full of deadfall near the top, and the tread was nearly impossible to follow or find, even with the aid of a GPS unit. My hiking partner had hiked this beast a few times (including a legendary 11 hour ascent from the Carmel River with a group of students, greeted at the top by a snow storm) so we had an edge on the chaos that followed. After the initial devastation near the saddle, the trail became more easily found as we descended further, recalling the switchbacks and being delighted as we found semblance of trail that wasn't washed away. Much of it is rather badly eroded. We had to manuever a lot of downed trees, dry ravel, etc. as we made our ascent. It was difficult going, but with patience and a pair of loppers, we persevered. Aside from the Soberanes Fire Summer 2016, the rains in the Winter of '16/'17 really wreaked havoc on trails, especially ones that follow steep drainages like this one. There was a number of sketchy scrambles that involved balancing atop downed complexes of branches and heaving ourselves over. Taking time to remove such hinderances was not on our agenda.

Once we reached the creek it was much easier to follow the trail in theory, but the intense growth of bramble and other water loving plants in the drainage made travel rather difficult. As I read on a previous post, you'll want to be wearing pants for this one, long sleeves is always a good idea as are boots. (I gave some Ventana trail advice to a friend once who later told me they had a good trip but that his friend's feet were in terrible shape- this really isn't Chaco sandal country. Far from it, dude.)

We attempted to follow our GPS track out of the canyon and on an alternate route that climbs the northern bank, wishing to avoid the brambly, deadfall ridden creek. That turned out to be its on untenable challenge as we got caught in half burned chapparral along the steep, hot hillsides, desiring instead to be near the cool of the creek- which had an ample flow. Once approaching the the last part of the trail, it leaves the creek for good and climbs up and over southeasterly over the ridge. This section of tread was evident, but also riddled with deadfall, including tricky complexes of downed trees that involved awkward balancing acts. In summary, Puetro Suello is a mess, but passable if your up for a challenge. We arrived at Hiding Canyon Camp in just under 6 hours from the top. Would be incredible to see this trail cherried out one day, its such a great connector for doing long through hikes.

Re: Puerto Suello Trail

Post by pantilat on Tue May 31, 2016 1:16 pm

Date Hiked: May 29, 2016
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Conditions are largely the same as prior posts (including my post from April 4, 2015) except spring chaparral and riparian growth has added some extra brush. The good news is that some of the chaparral is reaching appreciable height enabling tunneling. The orange flagging and blowdown removals over the past year have improved the conditions on this trail substantially, but it's still a difficult trail overall with brush push-throughs, sloping and/or eroded trail in spots and lots of deadfall/blowdowns remaining.

The Puerto Suello spring 0.20 miles from the top is still trickling but much better water is 0.15 miles farther down the trail (0.35 miles from top) where clear and cold water is flowing over the trail.