11 miles, 2600’ elevation change, approximately 6 hours of hiking time, rated Hard
I arrived at Big Sur after leaving Monterey in the evening. If I had it to do over I would have skipped Monterey, because I had been there before and by trying to jam that in as well I feel I missed out on a large part of the Big Sur experience. By the time I hit Big Sur it was dark and one of the most wonderful things in that area is the drive right along the coast and the incredible views. Besides that I had no Ranger to talk to once I arrived in Big Sur to gain expertise from. All I could do is read the boards at the campgrounds, and outside the visitor center.
Once I decided on ‘Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’ on the Kirk Creek Campground to Vicente Flats Trail it was pretty late, so I slept in my little car, never a pleasant experience. But I noticed at the lookout I pulled into I was not the only one with that same idea as there was a truck doing the same thing.
At first light I was up and adam excited to begin my journey, and the coastal views from the lookout were spectacular, along with the taste and smell of the salt air, and the sound of the waves far below.
The trailhead is across the road from the Kirk Creek Campground, which is pretty close to being on the beach. There are a limited amount of head in parking spaces for the hike so that could be pretty tricky. The other reason to get there early is most of the hike is exposed with plenty of sunshine, so it can get hot hauling a big pack up the hill. There are some majestic oaks, and even a stand of red woods for a periodic reprieve from the sun.
The hike has the most excellent coastal views, as you wind your way up the trail. Put on your repellent because it is one of the buggiest place I have been. Thank goodness they don’t bite, but the little black flies are most annoying. I suggest a head net. I certainly put mine to good use. The trail is long, narrow and winding. Careful of your footing as there are big drop offs in places, and keep an eye out for poison oak, I suggest long pants.
I set up camp at the first small camp Espinosa, which is one of two areas designated for backpacking on this trail. I was there midweek, just after Labor Day, so I really didn’t see that many people, which generally isn’t the case. There is a water source on the trail just beyond the camping area. I went on to the end of the hike which was Vicente Flats, the other larger campground. That was a pretty cool place with big trees, but no ocean view for that one, and even more bugs, ugh!
Speaking of bugs a couple college freshman went by my camp during the day and were planning on camping at Vicente Flats, but changed their minds with the bugs. After I was out enjoying the wonderful views of the Pacific I returned to my camp to find the boys starting to set up their tent near mine at Espinosa and complaining that they heard nothing about the bugs in what they had read, so I gave them my website info so they could be better informed in the future. They finally couldn’t deal with the bugs, packed up and zoomed down the trail trying to beat the sun before it set.
The next day I headed back down the hill from my journey. There was marine layer, fog down below which gave an interesting mystic feel to Big Sur. It really is a beautiful place. The bugs were irritating, but with the head net I could manage, and other than that it was a fantastic time.
Kirk Creek Campground to Vicente Flats Trail is a fine place to be ‘Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’. Stay with me for other adventure, on this journey to find this inner peace, I refer to here as Balance. Balance between Civilization and Nature, Balance between our very busy existence in a world always in a hurry, and the tranquility of soul. More to come, some epic, some just exercise in nature. Please COMMENT, FOLLOW, LIKE, and SHARE. Check the menu above for other locations and I would appreciate it if you would support PBTA by outfitting yourself with top quality adventure, workout, casual ware check it out at SHOP APPAREL.
6.5 miles, 3,500’ elevation change, approximately 8 hours hiking time, at an altitude of 10,400’, rated Hard (with a heavy backpack I can attest another dimension of HARD)
A review I read said, “tough trail for even those in the best of shape.” This was the hardest backpacking adventure that I have done, but at the same time the most rewarding. During this mountain outing, I persevered a hike that was grueling when considering a heavy backpack, getting off course and thus taking a much more difficult and somewhat longer route, constantly fretting about where my path should be, steep unsettled terrain, well below freezing temperatures at night, and being told a bear had paced the camp all night.
As I mentioned, it was tough, but also the most rewarding backpacking adventure due to the fact that I accomplished the difficult task at hand, Mount Shasta is a very special place, the scenery is super-d-douper, the star gazing is phenomenal, and I met two very interesting young adventure-spiritual-philosopher-Gurus, who were just crazy enough to conquer this mountain in a way that they will be first to say they should not have.
It all started Labor Day Weekend and you can get up to speed by reading my previous post, Horse Camp, which was the first part of my journey up the mountain. I wrote that as a separate post in case someone wanted to know about a day hike that would be fun and was much more moderate.
After checking out Horse Camp for about 30 minutes I headed up the summit trail, the beginning of which is a causeway of hand set flag stones, placed there painstakingly by Matthew Hall McAllister in the 1920’s. It took him years to complete and some must weigh over 1000 pounds. The causeway portion is still a moderate hike and I suggest that any day hikers to Horse Camp due this portion as well as it has stunningly beautiful views of the mountain and the surrounding area. The causeway gets you out of the forest and into a more alpine setting. The causeway of hand laid rocks is amazing, but it does force you to look down instead of at the beauty of nature, but then again- more reasons to stop for a moment and drink it all in, and catch your breath.
Passed the causeway is where we start getting into the steep terrain, switch backs, the trail is loose-rock-gravel-pebbles and dusty dirt known as scree, the air begins to thin, and the adventure ramps up indeed. At times it is hard to follow the trail, as in places it is faint, and because of that hikers get off track making more confusing trails.
I met folks coming down the mountain. It is always nice to stop and chat for a few moments hearing about the day’s adventures of these travelers in nature. Not that many people were on this trail to Helen Lake, but a few. One couple in their early 40’s said that, “It makes you pay for every inch.” I took a pic of fellow adventurers, a young couple from Boulder, CO. I joked with then saying, “And they said this would be fun.” Their quip was, “Who is THEY, and were do THEY live?!” Love it, lol. They were headed down which is a much more joyful experience then the challenge of up, up, up. Some gave me directions on where to cross the snowfield so as not to be sliding down the mountain on ice. I met a Dad and his young teenage son who had come within 100’ of elevation, (not distance), of Helen Lake and decided it was not worth the grind and turned back. I wondered how someone could come that close to the goal and then turn around. I would later learn why when I hit that same mental barrier. I also met a young, very fit, couple with full gear, ropes, helmets, ice axes, and crampons. I asked them if they had made the summit. They said that they had failed to summit explaining that it was just too much and that the young woman had experienced altitude sickness and not wanting to place themselves in danger they turned back.
Once passed the switched backs the great expanse of the mountain opened up, but now it was even more difficult to judge the trail. I had come to the snow field and kept searching for where someone had crossed. I did not really see footprints across, perhaps because the snow was hard like ice. I continued on in search of where others had crossed not ever finding it. This put me on a much more difficult trek, and soon I was scrambling up a steep, jagged rock field, which is known as talus hiking. I continued up, backpack and all, passed the snow field and then a little off trail through more of the loose scree before hooking up with the actual trail. It was soon after this point, where I was tired, breathing hard, that I hit that wall I alluded to earlier. Thinking to myself, and at that point likely saying out loud, “this is not fun, this sucks, this is a bunch of XXXX.” I considered turning around just like the father and son day hikers I had met. Instead I gathered myself and pushed on. I had a ways to go still, but only another 100’ feet of elevation gain.
Finally I arrived at Helen Lake, which turns out to be a massive pile of snow, not a lake at all. But it is beautiful and I found myself staring into the bowl of this incredible mountain. The strenuousness of the hike melted away to a feeling of satisfaction and joy. As I surveyed the area, I saw before me gorgeous peaks, a mountain of rock, scree, and snow. There were encampments side by side of large rocks stacked about three feet high, in about ten foot circles, set there to aid in sheltering tents from the high winds. Helen Lake is the base camp for climbers before they summit Mount Shasta.
There were two tents at the base camp. One of which seemed pretty permanent and I imagine that it is either an outfitter’s tent, or perhaps a First Aid Rescue tent. I had met a local earlier who informed me in the Spring there can be 100 tents.
Up somewhere on the face of the mountain I could hear some climbers. I was later to meet the two characters that I spoke of earlier. Both in their 20’s and fit, ‘Mo’ had what I believe to be an accent from India, which added to this mountain spiritual Guru persona he exuded. “Epiphany”, if that name doesn’t conjure up young philosopher on a spiritual awakening, I don’t know what does, was strong like an athlete with a laid back attitude.
After they changed into dry clothes and had a hot meal we got together to discuss deep matters of the world, the soul of the mountain, what was wrong with society, and the meaning of life late into the evening. They had some ideas that didn’t necessarily gel with mine. I actually found some of their abstract thoughts to be really out there, but that was okay because it was interesting to hear a point of view from a different perspective. Plus it really added to this whole adventure.
As we sat together on the side of the mountain peering into the evening glow, in the waning twilight Mo and Epiphany shared their story of Mount Shasta and high adventure. The two intrepid explorers had made the same trek that I had the day before and also felt the weariness, and struggle of lugging, heavy packs up the mountain, and had then decided against attempting to summit. But in the bright sunshine of a new day “the mountain spoke to them”, and they decide that they would throw caution to the wind and set off for the peak over 14,000 feet high despite not having any of the equipment needed. They scaled this mountain using the claw of a hammer and two sticks. They laughed all the way up, and all the way down on just how stupid they were. Certainly this haphazard way of conquering Mount Shasta is not recommended by anyone including this daring, yet foolhardy duo.
During the descent one of them slid down on the seat of his pants on snow, which I guess is what you do at Shasta, and the other tried sliding down on the scree using the two sticks. During the ruckus a rock dislodged by Epiphany hit Mo in the ankle, which was now bothering him somewhat. They faired much better than a person that was hit in the head with a rock in a similar incident the week before and had to be airlifted off the mountain. Large rocks don’t just become dislodged by climbers, at this time of year, with the snow melting, there were multiple times that I heard very large rocks, tumbling, rolling, speeding down the mountain. This was especially eerie in the middle of the night.
Originally, before Mo’s injury which was swelling a bit, they were going to pack up and high-tail it down the mountain and try to beat the dusk, but I was glad that they recanted as I was enjoying their energy and company, but also I did not want to be left up here alone, high on the mountain all night especially after their tale of being stocked all night by a renegade bear pacing the camp, as they huddled wide-eyed in their tent, clenching a knife hoping to fend off 900 pounds of fur, fangs and fury.
While ’Pursuing Balance Through Adventure’ this summer I had seen a lot of stars. There were great ones in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon, but I have to say the highlight of my excursions for star gazing was at Mount Shasta, in Northern California. Perhaps it was that I was camped at a higher altitude then ever before, or maybe it was as simple as I had company and was not solo in the wilderness. I was not alone, where I might a feeling of being exposed to the danger of things that go bump in the night, and thus was spending more time enjoying the night sky. I will say that on Shasta I saw so many stars that they all seemed to muddle together in a kaleidoscope of starlight, such that I could not find any constellations that I recognize. It was quite extraordinary.
Mount Shasta, believed by many to be one of the sacred places on earth is called by some “magical mountain.” Native people have always held the mountain in high regard as a spiritual and sacred area. Mount Shasta at 14,179’ stands out looming over the landscape. In the distance it takes on the appearance of an aberration seemly to huge to be real. John Muir, the famous Naturalist, wrote that his “blood turned to wine” when he first caught site of Mount Shasta which spurred him on to hasten his journey. Truly Mount Shasta has a inspirational and magical presence about it.
During the frigid night, as moisture in the tent cloth became thicker and more rigid, as the temperatures dropped, and the mountain wind tossed the fabric hither and fro, one can imagine things that go bump in the night. Strange sounds on a lonely barren mountain, a mountain famous for mystic energy and unexplained occurrences. Could this be Mo and Epiphany’s stalker bear that kept them up much of the night in fear of ever seeing the light of day? After all what would a bear being doing up so high on the mountain? There is no food source for a bear up high, no berries, or animals, well except…
Thanks for joining me ’Pursuing Balance Through Adventure,’ NorCal Hiking on the magical mountain, Mount Shasta one of the sacred places on earth. This was my best backpacking adventure yet, although on top of San Jacinto in the middle of the most horrific thunderstorm I have ever experienced was also quite an adventure, hmmm… hold on… no San Jacinto in an all night torrent, with hail, hundreds of right on top of us lightening strikes, and mind blowing thunder still has it… but since it is not the destination, but the journey, then together lets find more profound experiences in nature where we can balance this crazy thing called life. Please COMMENT, LIKE, FOLLOW, and SHARE. Also please checkout the menu above for many more locations and please support PBTA with a purchase of top quality logo adventure gear.
Northern California has so much to offer, from rugged coastline, to redwood forests, to awe inspiring mountains. It is a place to fill the lungs with fresh air, stretch the legs, take flight with imagination, share togetherness and memories, or find solitude in the quiet of wilderness. Fill our souls. Finding balance to our stressful, plugged in, overworked lives through a taste of adventure. It is the journey not necessarily the destination, or said another way what is important is “Pursuing Balance Through Adventure”.
Once again Welcome to NoCal Hiking Pursuing Balance Through Adventure. I am your host Roger Jenkins, let’s find some adventure shall we?
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