Pico Blanco

2003 April

Pico Blanco, Big Sur

Anxious to get out for my first backpacking trip of the year, I met Henrik and Anne in Big Sur for a trip inland to Pico Blanco. The trailhead is on the Coast Road, a 10-mile dirt track that starts at the north end of the famous Bixby Bridge and wraps around the canyons and hills, joining Highway 1 further south. The trailhead is about 3 or 4 miles from the south end of the coast road so this is where we started our trek.

The trail begins following a small river upstream through a redwood forest. Even on the warmest day it is always cool in areas like this due to shading provided by the trees. The path was well maintained and level. After a creek crossing that required me to take off my shoes (Henrik walked through in his boots) we began to climb out of the redwood forest and into the dry, exposed mountains of Big Sur.

Changes in terrain were matched by the trail as it became narrow, un-kept and wholly unsatisfactory. We walked along through the chaparral under the intense sun with prickly brush scratching our legs and arms and catching onto our packs. This went on, and on, and on. Motivated by the promise of a waterfall falling into a large pool, I went ahead of my friends and was glad when I arrived at the campsite.

A flat grassy meadow, still basking in the sun, was the Pico Blanco campsite, quite a welcome change after the dry brush of the past several hours. Dumping my pack, I found the trail down to the river and was astonished by the waterfall and pool it fell into. Both exceeded my expectations in terms of size and beauty. Not only the water, but also the surrounding area was pristine and soon I was perched naked on a rock, below the falls preparing to dive into the pool.

Redwood shaded waterfall and pool at Pico Blanco, for perspective, the falls are about 20 feet high. I dove off of the rock at the lower right corner of the picture into the breathtakingly cold water and swam towards the falls where the pool was at least 10 feet deep. To the right of the picture (not visible) you can cross the creek easily and collect water coming directly out of the hills.

Once I hit the water I felt as if I went into a small seizure, as the water was freezing cold. With the river always shaded by the trees the water doesn’t have much opportunity to warm up, especially this early in the year. Nonetheless, it was incredibly refreshing and I climbed out and set up my tent in good spirits. Henrik and Anne came along a bit later and I went in the pool again, this time Henrik made me swim to the waterfall for a photograph but it didn’t come out because it was so dark.

Morning came and found us hiking on unknown trails, determined to find a way back that avoided the poor trail and brush of yesterday. We were fairly certain that if we headed straight towards the peak of Pico Blanco we would hit a fire road and eventually we did. Now we could walk three wide on a road with fantastic views of the hills towards the ocean; as an added benefit it was all down hill. Soon we came to the junction where we rejoined the trail and headed back down to the river that we would follow downstream back to the car.

At the vehicle we changed into fresh clothes and stashed our hiking clothes for fear of poison oak and drove the remainder of the Coast Road to where it concludes at the north end of Bixby Bridge. After leaving Big Sur it was an uneventful drive north back to Oakland.