Big Sur: Cone Peak, Kirk Creek and McWay Falls, 30 January 2005
At 8 pm on Saturday night I announced to my wife and parents that the
following day we would leave the house at 8 am, drive down to Big Sur,
and hike up to Cone Peak. Jeffrey Schaffer, author of Hiking
the Big Sur Country, states in said book that this little jaunt,
gaining 1,400 feet in 2.3 miles, would take us to an elevation of over
5,000 feet and that on clear days, with binoculars, one might see some
of the High Sierra peaks. Wow, that sounded pretty neat
considering that you could rotate 180 degrees and then view the
ocean. So it was agreed and on Sunday morning we set off at the
agreed upon time minus one large, slobbery dog.
80 minutes later we passed the Big Sur Ranger Station but it wasn't
until around 10 am that we reached Nacimiento Road, some 54 miles south
of Carmel Valley Road and opposite the Kirk Creek Campground. I
had to admit that this was quite a bit further than I remembered but it
was a glorious day so no one seemed to mind (although Pa was getting a
bit car-sick). Heading into the costal mountains we climbed up
Nacimiento Road, during which time we were afforded amazing views of the
rolling green hills, the rugged coastline, and creeks flowing through
redwood forests. After 7.3 miles on the paved road we reached the
highest part of the road and an intersection with two dirt roads: the
South Coast Ridge Road and the Central Coast Ridge Road. A sign
informed us that if we continued on the paved road, Nacimiento, we would
end up at Fort Hunter-Liggett, a source of much frustration for Emily
and myself last year when we were exploring Arroyo Seco from Highway
Back to our adventure, the book stated that we had to drive 5.1 miles
up the Central Coast Ridge Road to the trailhead where we could finally
start our hike. Alas, at this four way intersection one road was
gated and it was the one we wanted to take. Not being CHUPS we had
no recourse so headed back down towards Kirk Creek. The book
mentioned that the road was closed in wet weather but I think that the
real interpretation is that it is closed all winter. Not to worry,
we'll be back in the spring or summer.
|Funny poses all around at the gate at the intersection of
Nacimiento and Central Coast Ridge Road. What's a CHUP
We stopped to enjoy the views and take some photos on the way back
down and then pulled into Kirk Creek. As we took the treacherous
trail down to the beach I thought of the two times I had camped here,
first on a bike ride down the coast with house mates from Berkeley in
1997 and then later with Emily for her 22nd birthday. Both times
we woke up around midnight and drove 10 or so miles to the north to
Esalen where we soaked in their natural hot springs perched on cliffs
overlooking the ocean until the wee hours of the morning. Today
there would be no camping or soaking but we did have binoculars that
allowed us to see hundreds of sea otters frolicking in the waters.
Pictures were attempted but deemed a failure.
|Two pictures from a turnout we stopped at on the way back
down Nacimiento Road towards Kirk Creek. The upper is
looking west down the canyon towards to ocean while the lower is
looking south. We wondered why
the north face of the hills were covered with trees while the
south face was rolling grass. Let us know and you will win
|Another stop on Nacimiento Road yielded this picture of
the Kirk Creek Campgrounds on the bluffs overlooking the
Pacific. Although you can not see them, the waters off of
the coast where dotted with hundreds of sea otters.
|Pa took this picture on the treacherous
trail on the way from the campground down to the water. We
all went down to the beach, except for Emily, who stayed at this
spot with the binoculars and watched the sea lions.
Back in car we headed north, stopping briefly at Lime Kiln State Park
just because we never had. Emily thought she spied some more sea
otters but upon further inspection we deemed it to be kelp.
Heading north again we made our final stop, although we didn't know it
at the time, at Julia Pfeifer Burns State Park, not to be confused with
Pfeifer Big Sur State Park which is further to the north. Perhaps
because the park entrance is on the east, my parents and I had never
been here, which is precisely why I pulled the car in. Sitting in
the car in the parking lot, I once again consulted the book to see if a
short hike was available since our time was running short. I may
have failed to mention that we were due in San Francisco at 5 pm for the
annual Chez Panisse party, an event not to be missed, held this year at
Foreign Cinema in the Mission District. It just so happed that the
park had just what we wanted, a 0.2 mile trail to the world famous McWay
Everyone has seen the falls, maybe on a calendar, perhaps on a
postcard, or in a picture book of Big Sur. Sometimes the real
thing doesn't live up to the hype but this was not the case. The
falls were spectacular as was the surrounding scenery. It didn't
hurt that is was January and we were warm in just shorts and tee shirts.
|Clowning around just before the tunnel that would lead us
under Highway 1 and to the famous McWay Falls. We had to
maintain the arch for quite some time so that our light tunnel
would not be full of shadowy figures.
|It was a short walk and here we are at the falls.
What a spectacular area! The sign behind my legs warns
that there is no trail down to the beach and those that try
often must be rescued by helicopter.
|The pictures we took from this vantage point didn't turn
out due to inadequate lighting so I pinched this photo from the
web. If you do a web search you
will find that all pictures of the falls are taken from the same
spot, only the lighting and color of the ocean changes.
* Several hundred feet further along the trail from the
point where the above photo was taken one will encounter the
foundations of the 'Waterfall House', a turn of the century
getaway for Lathrop and Helen Hooper Brown. Upon her death
the land was turned over to the state as a park and the house
was to become a museum focusing on the Native Americans of the
area. However, a 5-year limit was set for the house to
museum conversion and when the timetable was not met due to
insufficient funds the house was bulldozed into the ocean.
After a sketchy and highly illegal scramble down to the waterfall
(only one of us did it) we hit the road and didn't stop until we reached
my parents house in the Santa Cruz mountains. Pa drove and Emily
and I fell asleep in the back. Not having proper clothes to wear
for the Chez Panisse party we stopped in Scotts Valley and Emily and I
both bought shoes at Payless while she also bought a belt at the K-Mart
that was next door. We zipped up 280 and stepped into Foreign
Cinema around 6 pm and didn't leave until around 10. During that
time we consumed mass quantities of food and drink and burned our raffle
ticket when the tea lady won the grand prize, a trip to Ho Chi Min
City. Actually, nary a single cook won a prize, I think I'll have
to talk to Alice about that.
|Signs abound warning that no trails to the beach and
waterfall exist and warn that this area of Big Sur requires the
most rescues due to people no heeding the warnings. That
said, here I go...
|It was sketchy but I made it down to the falls with my only
mishap being that I misjudged a wave and got soaked up to my
thighs. This area has amazing scrambling, if you haven't
noticed, I'm standing on the rock in the center of the photo.
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