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May 14

Black Cone back to Arroyo Seco via Marble Peak Trail

View from the Black Cone trail

View from the Black Cone trail

The wilderness pilgrim's step-by-step breath-by-breath walk up a trail...carrying all on the back, is so ancient a set of gestures as to bring a profound sense of body-mind joy.  -G. Snyder 

Strawberry Valley

Black Cone trail enters Strawberry Valley

Continuing on the Black Cone trail with its incredible vistas over the Big Sur Wild & Scenic River corridor and distant view of the iconic Window and Double Cone,  the glory of the Ventana was laid out all around us and there was nothing to do but breath deep of its aroma and happily push through the thick, encroaching chaparral of the trail, stopping now and again to flick off the insane amount of ticks that kept appearing all over our pant legs and enjoy the incredible vista.  What would possess a person to hike through the danger filled country of poison oak, ticks, rattle snakes, heat and disappearing trail of wild nature?  Only to be sweating profusely under the weight of a pack with parched lips and an empty water bottle.  Wilderness travel such as this is not for the faint of heart, but those who know its rewards sleep with a sweet smile, knowingly privileged to be out experiencing that certain body-mind joy that only exploration in nature can deliver, especially in a wilderness such as the Ventana.
Strawberry Camp

Strawberry Camp

Arriving at Strawberry camp just before sundown, Sam and I were happy to find a healthy running stream near camp and drank deep of its cool waters, having not filled our bottles since the little spring at Pine Ridge camp, about 9.5 miles earlier in the day.  Sam had actually found the spring at Black Cone camp, deep in the bramble and was able to get a little trickle for himself.  Precious water is life, and finding the source becomes one of those essential pleasures easily taken for granted by many in the front country,  where the simple turn of the faucet can be done mindlessly and a fresh couple gallons conveniently whisks our excreta out of sight with an easy flush.
Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca

South Fork trail, Sam looking back in the direction of Strawberry Valley

South Fork trail, Sam looking back in the direction of Strawberry Valley

Having spent the night at Strawberry, Sam and I awoke the next morning early to day hike the South Fork trail of the Big Sur River to inventory the campsites.  A rugged and overgrown trail, falling away into the steep canyon that  proved difficult hiking until we got down to the river and practically rock hopped the whole way to South Fork camp.  Walking along this beautiful river was truly a pleasure and easy to see why it has been granted such high protection as a Wild & Scenic River.   Mountain lion tracks in the riverbank was a pleasing sight along with trout darting around the clear waters.  With such difficult trail to access this area, very few people have probably been back in here to experience this area in recent times.

Pacific Stonecrop, Sedum spathulifolium

South Fork of Big Sur River

South Fork of Big Sur River, confluence with Pick Creek

The Big Sur National Wild & Scenic River was designated as such on June 19th, 1992.  The Wild & Scenic Rivers system of protection was created by congress in 1968 to "preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations."  As of April 2012, the act protects 12,598 miles of 203 rivers in 39 states and the common wealth of Puerto Rico.  In comparison,  600,000 miles of rivers have been modified and altered by over 75,000 large dams across the country.
South Fork

South Fork

Spikenard, Aralia californica

Elk Clover, Aralia californica

Elk clover, also known as spikenard, is the only member of the ginseng family, Araliaceae that is native to California, and traditionally has a variety of medicinal uses made from a concoction of its roots, including for arthritis, colds, fevers, stomach diseases and lung diseases.
Tan Oak Camp

Tan Oak Camp

After tagging the camps along the South Fork and making our way back out to Strawberry Valley, we continued on to the Marble Peak trail towards Arroyo Seco, taking a side trip to get Tan Oak camp.  Word on the trail is that continuing on past Tan Oak towards Indian Valley is practically impassable.  We were bound for the other direction anyhow and the recently cleared sections of the Marble Peak, which has been lead by Trail Crew leader Betsy McGowan of the VWA.  I had lead a Youth in Wilderness outing in conjunction with her volunteer crew and students from UC Santa Cruz back in February.  Hitting this open section of trail was a welcome relief from the rugged country we have traveled from, and made us very thankful people are willing to spend their time opening up trails.
Recent trail work on the Marble Peak trail

Recent trail work on the Marble Peak trail

Stopping one final night at the end of our 50 mile journey we chose to rest at Willow Springs camp.  An exceptionally large camp under some giant oaks that sits majestically above the Willow Creek (not to be confused with the Willow Creek on the west side of the range, which is an entirely different watershed.)
View over Willow Creek drainage from the Marble Peak trail

View looking eastward over Willow Creek drainage from the Marble Peak trail

Willow Springs camp

Willow Springs camp

Being a big open camp with lots of oaks, it's not surprising that we found the classic remnant of the native past nearby, who also found this a pleasant place to be.
Acorn grinding stone

Acorn grinding stone

Honeycomb on the trail

Honeycomb found on the trail

Retire these boots

Retire these boots

After 50 miles of hiking with boots that were already falling apart, I knew this was the last trek I'd be wearing these bad boys on and snapped this photo before my long awaited swim.  I purchased these Lowa boots back in 2005 when I first got into backpacking and they've lasted a good long time.  Nothing lasts forever, only the rocks and the mountains.    

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