I joined Gary Gellin and Jim Moyles for a point-to-point adventure run along the wild Carmel River in the Ventana Wilderness. The route starts at China Camp along Tassajara Road (rough dirt road) and finishes below Los Padres Reservoir. The first 3.5 miles is along the Pine Ridge Trail with great views into the Tassajara Creek drainage and the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains, including Junipero Serra Peak (the highest point in the range at 5,862 ft) and Ventana Double Cone. Evidence of the huge fires two seasons ago was evident, but the vegetation is coming back and I even spotted small pine saplings.
At Church Divide, we turned onto the Carmel River trail and soon after descending from the pass we found the headwaters of the Carmel River. A trickle quickly grew into a stream and by the time we reached lovely Pine Valley, the stream was flowing nicely. The fall colors in this section were gorgeous with maples and sycamores displaying bright orange and yellow leaves. This area is also heavily populated with madrones, which are adorned with so much red fruit that the trees appear red from a distance. At Pine Valley, we stopped for tea at Jack English’s cabin. Jack English is 90 years old and has lived in relative isolation in Pine Valley for over 35 years. Supplies and food are brought to him via horseback. It was great to meet Jack and hear about his experiences and history of the region.
After Pine Valley, we temporarily left the Carmel River and climbed up to another pass to enter Hiding Canyon. Hiding Canyon was very brushy with numerous blowdowns and other impediments obscuring the trail for a couple miles. A small climb out of hiding canyon signaled the end of the brush and we were treated to great views of the upper Carmel River canyon. Next, we descended down the Carmel River and began over two dozen river crossings. These crossings are necessary because travel on either side becomes blocked by rock walls that descend all the way into the river. The trail connecting the river crossings is nothing more than a use path and was often nonexistent due to brush and dirt slides, but the objective is simple, follow the river downstream.
More after the jump!
The Carmel River canyon was spared fire damage and is lush with ferns, numerous species of hardwood, and even some fir. The setting of crystal clear water, smooth river rocks, and lush forest was amazing to experience from outside and within the Carmel River! The total distance of this section is around six miles. For the last three miles, the trail climbs up and above the river and then Los Padres Dam. At the dam, 0.8 miles remains to the parking area.
One might expect that this route is largely downhill since it starts at over 4,000 ft and ends at under 1,000 ft. The reality is that there are numerous small climbs on this route with total elevation gain likely well over 2,000 ft. Combine this with the brush and off-trail travel and it becomes a real adventure. However, the reward for this physically challenging route more than compensates. This was my first exploration into the Ventana Wilderness and I look forward to more adventures in this vast area in the future.