Black Cone Trail

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Re: Black Cone Trail

by cayers » Mon Nov 22, 2021 10:36 pm

Date Hiked: November 21, 2021
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I hiked this trail in the direction of strawberry camp to the pine ridge trail.

The first half mile or so out of strawberry camp, until the trail climbs away from the creek and onto the ridge, I'd say is impassable. Faint or no tread, interweaving brush, poison oak and thorny vines. After a few minutes into the trail, the tread totally disappeared and I scrambled up out of the riparian zone and onto the ridge, relying solely on GPS and map as a clue for which way to go.

The stretch from the start of the ridge to around black cone camp is passable. There is evident and well preserved tread almost the whole way and walking is relatively easy going. There is encroaching brush but it is not intertwined or growing on the trail.

I decided to camp at black cone camp. I unknowingly walked past the camp and had to backtrack after consulting my GPS. There are no signs of a trail junction or campsite from the trail. The camp is a short but intense bushwack off the trail with noticeable tread at first that quickly tapers into oblivion. The rest of the bushwalk was pushing through 10-foot tall brush skeletons and I needed to army crawl to get past several obstacles. Following my GPS carefully, I was eventually able to find a somewhat flatter and open spot that used to be black cone camp. There was enough room for 2-3 tents. There were flat spots right off the trail 1-2 miles further that were just as nice, a bit more exposed, that I would go to in the future to avoid the spur "trail".

The trail from black cone camp all the way to the junction with the PRT gets significantly worse. The only thing that keeps this trail from being impassable is that there is a faint but followable tread for almost the whole thing. There were times where I pulled my GPS out to confirm my location or had to backtrack, but should be possible for someone to navigate without a GPS using careful routefinding. The only memorable deadfall was right after black cone camp, with no way under, you have to balance on 3 precariously fallen over limbs while surrounded by poison oak and vines. Brush was usually over head height, often intertwined and growing on the trail. Brush is mostly all manzanita and other chapparal-like brush, so poison oak and riparian areas were not really a concern. The trail is a consistent, tough bushwack with a few well-earned sections that pass through rocky slopes and make for easy walking with no brush.

Overall, I would rate the trail passable but very difficult. It is passable because the trail is navigable and could be a viable route for experienced hikers who are up for some pain. Getting from one side to the other is mostly a matter of mental and physical endurance and is much easier than what walking through the area trailless would be like. Total hiking time for me to get from one side to the other was about 7 hours, but that will depend on the hiker. The trail is long, exposed, and, when I was there, totally dry. Combined with the isolated location, it could be very dangerous for someone expecting an experience like the milder trails in the ventana. In a perfect world, the trail would be reclaimed as it has some of the best views I've seen in these mountains and could make for a great way to link two areas of the wilderness.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by Togar » Tue Apr 06, 2021 4:07 pm

Date Hiked: April 4, 2021
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Wow, one year later and the condition of the Black Cone Trail has only deteriorated further. Someone has chopped the sign for the Black Cone Trail to pieces at the Pine Ridge end. Looking back, I could imagine it was someone that tried to follow that “trail.” The sign should be replaced with a, “Trail Closed for Maintenance” or “Abandoned Trail” sign so that no one dies out there. I only had to crawl 7 or 8 feet at one point but the miles of scrub bashing took a toll and tripping over the burned dead fall while trying to part the scrub was brutal, even after the first two miles. It is dense and unforgiving. (See Zenco’s description)
Camped at Pine Ridge Camp the night before and there is a good spring. Filtered 5 quarts of water because I knew water was unlikely for the length of the trail. I didn’t see any camps along Black Cone Trail on my 2006 Forest service map. Four times I lost the trail but found it by projecting the contour forward or across to the other side of the ravine. But the last time I lost the trail I never found it again, no switchback, not even a tread remnant. If it wasn’t for the water I had with me I would have been in great despair. To inflict the least amount of nature’s impede-me, stab-me and scrub-me travel on myself I was able to make my way down a somewhat clear ridge to the West-southwest sometime after crossing what I think was the top of North Big Sur River(per the map, no GPS). Went too far South and wound up right near Tan Oak Camp and the Junction with South Fork Trail.
Like Zenco said, “I do think it is a super important north-south connection…”

Too bad there is no maintenance. I recommend you find another path.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by zenko » Sat Apr 04, 2020 1:02 pm

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

Going into this hike, I knew it would be difficult. I've hiked "difficult" trails in the Ventana before, and so the conditions were not surprising. I think the sheer length of the difficult sections really did me in psychologically. I think this hike is "difficult" if you are GPS-equipped (I am not) or if you are familiar enough with this wilderness to follow faint human traces (this I can do.) "Impassable" for newcomers or those not ready for 8 hours of bushbashing fun.

I hiked south from Pine Valley to the trailhead. Found a pickaxe sticking out of a log near the head, giving me some hope that work had been done. The tread was apparent and not too bushy for the first mile or so, getting progressively more difficult as each mile stretched on. The northern third of the trail (before the burn scar) is thick with scrub oak and ceanothus- full body covering required. I saw no evidence of Mosquito Camp or the illusive "spring" shown on my map. I didn't see any more water until the last third of the trail, be aware.

Before the burned middle section, there's a wonderful manzanita field covering the whole ridge full and in bloom. Trail filled with last year's shriveled berries. In the scar, hiking was pretty easy (even if the tread was less apparent.) My biggest foil in finding the tread was four-year-old post-fire yerba sancta fields. Thick ankle grabbers that obscure any view of the ground tread and slope. Got thrown off into deer trails a few times in these sections. Pretty easy to find the tread in bush tunnels- just slam through and look for previous trailwork (cut branches.) Basically this is endless purgatory of waterless bush bashing. No poison oak (thank goodness), but challenging.

I would mark the last third by the first spring I found, coming from the north end. My map was not detailed enough to know if these thirds were really mile marked or not. There are four or five generous springs and headwaters in a row. These sections were very difficult for me.Thick looping cordage (clematis?) pushed from up slope, while the wet earth around the springs slipped and pulled me down the gully. Small deadfall and branches made it even more difficult to navigate with my multi-day backpack. Every time I came around a bend, I thought it might be over. Then I would see the tread on the opposite side of the gully (going back up!) and let out a shout.

As the sun set, I passed by some old iron tools, but saw no trace of Black Cone Camp. I kept going but lost the tread just a few hundred yards before Betsy's wonderful trail maintenance above Strawberry Camp. Ended up sleeping out on the slope- if I could barely find the tread during the day, I certainly couldn't find it after sunset. So close, yet so far away.

It seems nearly impossible to maintain this trail, considering its remoteness and length. I do think it is a super important north-south connection- otherwise your only option is a road or some other impassable trail. And despite the difficulty, I loved both the rare views of the Tassajara watershed (including some Santa Lucia firs!) and the Big Sur River, all the way to the ocean.

Sorry for the novel, but this felt like a pretty epic journey. I kept thinking it was like wearing a hairshirt. The physical pain just makes the spiritual reward that much brighter!

Re: Black Cone Trail

by jfelts » Sat Jan 11, 2020 4:31 pm

Date Hiked: January 7, 2020
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Black cone trail to start of Ventana Cone South Route.

Fairly brushy, mostly manzanita. Tread is there but covered at times. Pushable throughout. No downed trees.
Starting trimmed route to South Ventana Cone
Starting trimmed route to South Ventana Cone

Re: Black Cone Trail

by Betsy M » Mon Jul 08, 2019 8:48 am

Date Hiked: July 7, 2019
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

I got a chance to camp at Strawberry Camp for 4 days and work on the last half mile. Wow, what a mess! The riparian corridor in the Zig Zag Creek drainage was filled with blackberries, woodmint, and Pacific pea vine, growing over and through the many trees that have fallen since the 2016 Soberanes fire. Climbing out of the canyon, the trail was filled with pea and yerba santa. I was able to clear from the camp to past the creek crossing. Then skipped a section that was fairly clear, and worked above and below the switchback where the trail leaves the creek.

There was good water at Strawberry Camp. But the flow looks like it is slowing down. I also got water up at the switchback, where you could hear the creek but it was difficult to get to. Remember if the creek dries up at Strawberry Camp, there is always water down at Tan Oak Camp.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by Nic Stover » Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:20 pm

Date Hiked: June 4, 2019
General Condition: Impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)

Passable but not pleasurable. Brutal is more like it. I was warned so I only have myself to blame. But its sad that this trail has been completely neglected. It was 80% bushwhacking and in some areas the undergrowth would grab at your feet and ask you to stay a little longer.

My clothes were absolutely covered in plant resins, poison oak oils, pollen, and who knows what else. The bright side? Saw a baby rattler in the morning right after I saw a scorpion in camp. Also a few piles of massive bear shit. So it did feel ... unique.

Neither Black Cone Camp or Mosquito Springs Camp I could see or find and I didn't hit good water till a few hours in. The last section leading down to Strawberry Camp the trail disappears. Each man/woman for themselves at that point.

Would not recommend this trail unless you enjoy being slapped in the face repeatdly and having to wear full sleeves, gloves, pants, and glasses. Okay Ill stop my whining. Time to go tend to my blisters from the Poison Oak that soaked through my clothes.:)

Re: Black Cone Trail

by kevin » Thu May 30, 2019 1:09 pm

Date Hiked: May 25, 2019
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

Three of us hiked Black Cone Trail from Pine Ridge to Strawberry Camp.

Mostly, this will be a re-iteration the recent reports...

The northern section is very brushy, but tread is total evident, just lots of pushing through oak & waxy brush. Since the trail was easy to follow and we didn't run into any unavoidable poison oak, we pushed on with gloves, poles, hats, long sleeves and pants taking the brunt.

We deliberately deviated from the trail to avoid pushing through more bush on the edge of a burned section (approx 36.2425, -121.6133), but ended up making a bit more of a detour than intended, since the ridge to the south, where we thought we saw a cut for the trail was not actually the path of the trial--it continues along the south side of the mountain eastward.

The several gullies on the southern section (on or near Black Cone) were generous with water. One of the gullies was absolutely tick infested and our lead hiker picked up over a dozen ticks on his clothes & pack. We tanked up where the North Fork of the Big Sur river crosses the trail, which had the best flow. The gullies had poison oak mixed in.

The descent into Strawberry Camp was fairly obvious until getting very close to Zigzag Creek, where there are a few false paths, and a few downed trees, lots of overgrown lush vegetation--this was by far the worst section, even though we had gravity helping us. We managed not to be effected by poison oak, though so it wasn't too bad.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by seagoat » Sun May 26, 2019 6:18 pm

Date Hiked: May 11, 2019
General Condition: Passable (some brush and/or deadfalls, tread evident)

Mosquito Springs Camp Trail, between Black Cone Trail and Mosquito Springs Camp
Trail: Difficult. A little brush tunnel at the start (marked by a post and small open space on Black Cone Trail). Then opens up and is easy to near camp. You can see the open space near camp and a burned pine trunk nearby but the last bit is a push through brush. Camp is overgrown and has no flat non-rocky available areas. It is a ways down of the Black Cone Trail, at least 15 minutes. Could hear water below camp but hard to access, did not see it.

Black Cone Trail, between Pine Ridge and Strawberry Camp
Trail: Passable. You can stand up for most of this trail. South facing slopes have shorter, waxier brush, and a few high brush sections continuous throughout trail on more north-facing slopes. Some areas that go into gullies have very thin tread that is falling away into landslides due to the widespread burning crumbling the rocks. One part of trail is seriously undercut. Trail gets progressively easier to walk on. Water was encountered in the last 3 to 4 gullies, the largest of which was the North Fork of the Big Sur River. Many rare wildflowers encountered and zero rattlesnakes.

Black Cone Camp Trail between Black Cone Trail and Black Cone Camp
Trail: Passable. Hard to follow tread but fairy easy going through no more than waist high
brush. Turn off is not super obvious. Had water but not great flow or drop. Good flat wash for camp, probably floods in the winter. No fire ring but old metal objects lying around.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by matty » Fri May 10, 2019 8:15 pm

Date Hiked: May 8, 2019
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I hiked Black Cone Trail north to south this week and it is indeed difficult overall. I generally concur with Iain's report from his March 30 hike although I found the bushwhacking to be worse on the northern section of the trail, between Pine Ridge and Venturi Camp, where the brush is often dense from ground level to overhead. Southern sections of the trail are brushy, but pretty much waist level or lower, so crashing through it is somewhat less annoying. The tread on the northern section is in better condition overall than south of Venturi, where some sections are quite loose and unstable.

I want to specifically point out the condition of the last half mile descending to Strawberry camp where the trail is completely obscured beneath dense undergrowth and several deadfalls. Despite mention of flags in this section in prior year trail reports, I didn't see any. I was able to stay on course through this section only thanks to Jack Glendening's trailmap on my phone. (An indispensable resource!)

Had I started this hike at Strawberry, I likely would have abandoned the attempt thinking: if the first half mile is this obscure, there is no way I'm going to make it another eight. I hope the trail maintenance angels will keep in mind the need for work on this short section just north of Strawberry.

Re: Black Cone Trail

by iainmacdonald » Sun Apr 21, 2019 12:01 pm

Date Hiked: March 30, 2019
General Condition: Difficult (brushy and/or many deadfalls, faint tread)

I did the Black Cone Loop described here: on March 30. I found the Black Cone Trail stretch of this hike very difficult, with many miles of thrashing through brush and occasionally poor tread. Like others have mentioned, I found three distinct parts of the trail that I'll try to describe from south-to-north below.

The southernmost stretch of trail along ZigZag creek was completely overgrown and indistinguishable, despite apparent attempts to flag it. I attempted to follow it for 5 minutes or so before abandoning the creekbed and climbing to ridge immediately east of the creek. From the ridgeline I could see where the trail continued above, so I traveled cross country and met the trail at the second switchback where it crosses this low ridgeline. From here to the saddle west of Black Cone Peak, the wide trail tread was obvious, it seemed wide enough to have been road at some time. The trail was overgrown with brush 2-3 feet high growing next to and in the trailbed, but it was pretty easy to follow despite this.

After the saddle west of Black Cone Peak, the trail transitioned to single track, still overgrown with willows and other vegetation growing in the trailbed. It was passable, but a bit more difficult for a couple of miles, maybe until Black Cone Camp.

The next stretch of trail, from about Black Cone Camp to Venturi Use Camp was in poor condition. Vegetation has largely overgrown the trail. On drier aspects, it's scratchy but passable, on the wetter aspects the trail disappears completely in many places beneath 5-foot tall chapparal. Additionally, in many of the burn areas, the trail's tread has eroded and provides little support. There are many sections that look just about ready to wash away with the hillside. I triggered a number of small landslides below the trail, but otherwise it held my weight.

Beyond Venturi Use Camp, the vegetation is thicker, but there is (mostly) a path chopped through it. The plants still cover the trail, but the trailbed is obvious (except in a couple of spots where I lost it), and the brush can be pushed aside. Conditions continue to improve in the last mile to the Pine Ridge Trail.

I have some pictures of the trail and surrounding area available here: ... 7918332834 The Black Cone Trail section is from about 12:30 until 4:00. The times are encoded as the last numbers in the filenames.

I would not recommend hiking this trail in its current condition, and I believe it should be marked at least orange and possibly red through the middle section on the trail conditions map. It was significantly worse than the yellow-marked Marble Peak and Tony Trails.