Big Sur

2005 January 30th

Big Sur: Cone Peak, Kirk Creek and McWay Falls

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 101.

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 anyway?

I have yet to find a decent map of the Big Sur area so we took these pictures knowing that we where likely to refer back to this page. All signs are at the summit of Nacimiento Road, 7.3 miles above Highway 1 near the Kirk Creek Campground. Kirk Creek is 54 miles south of Carmel Valley Road (G16). Both Ridge Roads are dirt but only the Central Coast Road has a gate. Had we continued on the paved road it would have taken us to Fort Hunter Liggett, the military base that one must pass through to make the famous trek down the Arroyo Seco

* This trip occurred on a Sunday. The following Friday I received an email at work from a gentleman looking for information regarding Indians Road. As I am writing this (the following Sunday) he will be part way through an awesome bicycle loop that he described to me as follows: Start at Carmel Valley Road (G16) and ride down Highway 1 then up to the summit of Nacimiento Road and camp. Day 2 will consist of a ride into Fort Hunter Liggett and onto Indians Road. Then he will ride, and sometimes carry, his bike on that dirt fire road to Arroyo Seco where he will ride east to meet G16 and then take it back to Carmel.

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 a prize.

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 Falls.

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.