Ventana Cone from Los Padres Dam

*This route was designed by Leor Pantillat. You can find his report here

Leor said something about exploring a creek in the Ventana Wilderness, so I found myself awake at 3:30AM, driving the winding Carmel Valley road and Cachugua road in a mad dash to meet him at 6am. I was glad I happened to charge my light because it turns out it is still dark at 6am.

The first several miles of the Carmel River trail are very run-able. It was dark for the first hour out and the last hour-and-a-half heading back, so I can’t comment on the beauty of this section near the Los Padres Dam. In the dark, we let a skunk set the pace for half a mile as he scuttled along the trail in front of us. We made sure not to get close enough to get sprayed. Finally he turned off, and we went by. The first 4 miles are in good condition by Ventana standards, and we made decent time.

A lot of azure pools can be found along this route.  We entered the river shortly after Round Rock Camp.

A lot of azure pools can be found along this route. We entered the river shortly after Round Rock Camp.

As you get farther in, there is more and more dead-fall that you must climb over – but the trail is still there, becoming progressively fainter. Leor told me there are 28 river crossings before Round Rock camp. I didn’t count, but considering his aptitude for these things, I’d venture he’s spot on. By Round Rock camp, which is about 10 miles in, we weren’t able to run much any more.

Just upstream from the Round Rock Campsite, you find this enormous... round rock.  Imagining how this rock arrived here is mind boggling.

Just upstream from the Round Rock Campsite, you find this enormous… round rock. Imagining how this rock arrived here is mind boggling.

From here, it was 0.2 miles of “use trail,” and then we were walking in the river. The river was surprisingly navigable, and extremely enjoyable with the crystal blue pools of water, sheer cliffs, and enormous ferns clinging to the rocks. This section was 2 miles, and very enjoyable. Leor always knew exactly where to turn, while I was eyeing my GPS.

You'll find a number of intermediate falls along the route.

You’ll find a number of intermediate falls along the route.

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At the head of the river, we proceeded another 3 miles straight up the mountain. Leor admitted that he gets poison oak pretty badly. We were in it so thick that if you made a treading water motion, you might have floated above it. I had poison oak going up my shorts, flicking open my eyelids, and often found myself grabbing onto it for hand holds.

This was the most difficult section to go-around.  It was found at about the 2,550' contour along our route.  I selected the direct waterfall ascent, which went well in spite of wet rock.  It would have been considered easy class-5 climbing.  Leor went around as seen in this picture.

This was the most difficult section to go-around. It was found at about the 2,550′ contour along our route. I selected the direct waterfall ascent, which went well in spite of wet rock. It would have been considered easy class-5 climbing. Leor went around as seen in this picture.

After a pair of dicey waterfall climbs, the poison oak eventually gave way to a talus slope, which we used to carefully make our way to the summit.

Leor enjoying the view from Ventana Cone

Leor enjoying the view from Ventana Cone

An annotated view towards the North West from Ventana Cone

An annotated view towards the North West from Ventana Cone

It was great to be on the summit, and Leor’s enthusiasm for the scenery (which to explain, was something like a child who just discovered candy) helped me worry less about the return. Leor gushed about every single piece of scenery, which helped me to see the terrain with more appreciative eyes. It was calm, with no wind. The return down the talus was challenging, and eventful.

The talus was loose and mobile, but it allowed us to make great progress up and down the mountain!

The talus was loose and mobile, but it allowed us to make great progress up and down the mountain!

The first event was when I fell – but was able to stop my fall… with my pinky. The pinky bent backwards 90 degrees, and I shouted in pain! It wasn’t that I had felt the pain yet, but the horror of seeing your pinky in that position was dismaying. Fortunately, it went back into position, but there isn’t going to be any guitar practice for a while. The second event was when I grabbed onto a 40′ tall, 8″ diameter tree for support. The tree just came out! I lurched just in time to keep my leg from getting crushed by the falling tree, feeling the pain of it almost happening. Second order of business was to yell at Leor who was below me and the tree. To me, he seemed to move in slow motion, but he narrowly escaped it – maybe 6 inches to spare. After this event, he said, “no more drama.” Indeed, there wasn’t too much drama after that.

Beautiful Water!

Beautiful Water!

We got our adrenaline pumping down-climbing the waterfalls, and eventually got our hearts pumping after the 2 mile river walk, when we were able to start running the remaining 10 miles along the trail with the 28 river crossings. The final drama occurred at home after my shower, when I felt a significant pain in my butt. I had Janet inspect with her reading glasses and headlamp, and she eventually extricated the lone tick of the day. Unbelievably, it hurts more than the finger!

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