Big Sur and Pine Ridge Trail. When I lived on the Monterey Peninsula the Pine Ridge Trail into the Ventana Wilderness was one of my favorite hikes to quickly get to a remote area. A downside is that trail access is easy, Big Sur is popular, and California trails are notoriously crowded. That means that on weekends, when the weather is good, there will be others on the trail with you. If you have the gear and are willing to brave winter weather the trail could be yours alone.
One recent December I had a weekend without plans and decided to head to Big Sur for a solo hike and camp in Ventana Wilderness. As it turned out, a cold front was predicted to move through on Friday night, with rain, wind, and a drop in temperature. My philosophy with weather is summed up by explorer Ranulph Fiennes who reportedly said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Admittedly, winter in Big Sur is not severe, but I did pack my winter sleeping bag and an extra fleece layer.
I arrived at Big Sur Station in mid-afternoon, packed up, and started to hike in. There were about a dozen younger folks hiking out with dogs, guitars, and ukuleles – I guessed that I had missed a good party. My goal was Barlow Flats which was seven miles in but with my late start and the first rain drops falling through the redwoods at 5:15 PM, I decided to make camp at Terrace Creek. I set camp, ate dinner, and to stay dry, was in my tent at 7:15 PM. The rain really came down from about 8 PM until 1:15 AM and I thought that the worst of it had passed. After a lull in the rain, I heard a big crack, not lightning but a big limb splitting off from a tree, followed by the crashing of the limb through lower branches and then a big thud as it hit the forest floor. I had just been through 5+ hours of rain and wind to relax as I stayed dry and the rain ceased and now I had to think about being crushed by a giant redwood branch. Needless to say, I had a few specific thoughts about my end under a giant redwood but then just gave myself over to thinking that I could not stop a branch from falling and there was no place to move my tent as I was in a redwood grove. The real rain came at 3 AM and lasted an hour. Big Sur hugs the coast, and when the storms roll in off the Pacific they come in fast and hard, the wind whips and the rain falls in sheets. The tent held and I stayed dry through the night.
The next morning I covered the two miles to Barlow Flats in under an hour. I washed my tent off, hung it up to dry, set camp, and then was off to try to find Sykes Hot Spring, about three miles further up the trail on the Big Sur River. As it turned out, the river was high because of the rain, the trail crossed the river a number of times and was hard to follow, and I never did find the hot springs. The afternoon was getting on and so I headed back to Barlow Flats. It was a cold night, down to 30 degrees F, but camping close by the Big Sur River I had the noise of water over rocks to help me sleep. On my last day I headed back to the trail head and made the seven miles in about 4 hours. Overall, a quick but relaxing trip; from Friday late afternoon to Sunday late morning I saw no one else in the woods. With the easy trail access at Big Sur Station this is an area worth exploring.