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Ventana Off-trail Hiking Route
Junipero Serra Loop

Sierra Club Hike Description - October 16, 2010
Jack Glendening, Hike Leader

The eastern off-trail section of this route can be an enjoyable bushwhack if a wildfire has recently burned the area but becomes increasingly difficult as brush overgrowns in later years.

This loop hike climbs iconic Junipero Serra Peak, at 5857 ft the highest peak in the Santa Lucia Mountains and in Monterey County.  (Also known as Santa Lucia Peak, its earlier name, and Pimkolam, its Salinan name.) 

The route is overlaid in magenta on the adjacent display from the on-line Ventana Trailmap.  We will ascend by bushwhacking along its eastern portion and descend via the Santa Lucia Summit Trail.  [Some alternative routes I have investigated are also shown, in gray.]  Note that photos and additional information can be be viewed by clicking on the icons along the route.  The most difficult section occurs on the ascent between 3100 and 3500 ft elevation, bushwhacking at an average grade of 50%, which must be taken slowly - beyond lies salvation, a reasonably brush-free firebreak of moderate slope which extends all the way to the peak. 
An oblique 3D view from Google Earth - our route shown in magenta
An oblique photograph - we will reach the firebreak at the red "v"

This hike is meant for experienced Ventana hikers who have already ascended Junipero Serra via the official USFS in-and-out "Santa Lucia Summit Trail" [the green line on the Trailmap insert, which can be followed back its trailhead at Memorial Campground on Milpitas Road - or see this Big Sur Trailmap extract] and are now looking for a different way of experiencing the mountain.  It is for the adventurous hiker, not the social hiker.  It is a light-to-medium level bushwhacking hike.  I have previously hiked the route and scouted several alternatives of which we will be taking the "best" one, but much of the hike is off-trail, involves contact with and pushing through some brush, steep terrain with occasional poor footing, and you will get dirty.  The hike is strenuous, with a total distance of 11 miles and cumulative 4200 feet of ascent.  The hike will start at the trailhead at sunrise, and since the drive to the trailhead requires 2 hours from Salinas it requires a very early awakening and departure.  The hike will finish around dusk so the return drive will be after dark.  One reason for the early start is so that the pace will not be too rushed, allowing time for photos, a rest on top, and exploring some features of interest along the way; another reason is that conditions may have changed somewhat since last year's hike, slowing the hike and producing a later-than-anticipated return time. 

As for any bushwhacking, wear clothes which can take abuse and which can cover your legs and arms - they will get sooty from old burnt Basin-Complex-fire vegetation.  Gloves are a must.  I've found a wide-brimmed hat useful when going head-first through brush.  Gaiters should be considered.  I do not recommend the use of two poles, since one hand is often needed for holding onto vegetation/rocks - but a single pole can be useful during the ascent and descent.  Water will not be available until the last 1/4 of the hike - if it is a warm day, you should carry at least 2 liters of water.  I plan to have a late lunch, when we should be at a shady spot with a view of Pinyon Peak, so if you anticipate getting hungry prior to them bring along some snack food to tide you over.  I expect to complete the hike during daylight, but just barely, so please also bring along a headlamp/flashlight in case we get delayed and have to finish after dark.  I also suggest bringing a camera, since views along the route are wonderful :-)

Note:  the route crosses a parcel of private property, the Chase Ranch - I have obtained owner's permission to cross this property.