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Rattlesnake Creek Trail (2E11) and Rattlesnake Camp
in the Ventana Wilderness
A Brief History
Jack Glendening

Because of its historical significance, now much forgotten, I've developed an attachment for Rattlesnake Creek Trail and to Rattlesnake Camp, the peaceful, secluded, and seldom visited camp which lies along it.  This webpage pulls together bits of information I've gathered. 

Early history
Rattlesnake Creek Trail has a long history, being one of the Ventana's earliest trails.  The 1924 Santa Barbara National Forest map

1924 Forest Service Map  (extract)

shows it connecting with Devils Peak and the Little Sur drainage, along what are currently known as the Ventana Double Cone (VDC) and Skinner Ridge Trails, before the existence of the current Big Pines Trail, Ventana Double Cone Trail, Puerto Suelo Trail, Danish Creek Trail, and even the Carmel River Trail.  The 1921 USGS Jamesburg Quadrangle map (based on 1917 surveys) shows more detail.  Sections of the original Rattlesnake Creek Trail have now been reconfigured and renamed to become sections of the Big Pines, Danish Creek, and Skinner Ridge Trails - the official USFS Rattlesnake Creek Trail currently terminates at trailheads on the Big Pines and Ventana Double Cone Trails. 

1921 Quadrangle Map  (extract)
(for larger area)

1930-1960:  VDC Trail development 
Rattlesnake Creek Trail was used to support initial construction (1935-36) and resupply of the VDC lookout tower and trail via mule train.  (Later, for unknown reasons, the resupply route was changed to Bottchers Gap.).  Sometime, apparently after 1956, its uppermost end was rerouted, probably a "bypass" to make the VDC ascent more direct - the later route heads SW from Little Pines Spring (instead of NW) to intersect the current VDC Trail.  Until 2016, the "historic" route was still marked by a signpost along the VDC Trail, its trail sign having been removed (presumably after the "bypass" re-routing) to leave just holes and a bolt.  But though escaping many past fires, the sign and its post were finally destroyed by the Soberanes fire in 2016. 

Historic Trail Signpost  (note bolt)

The on-line Big Sur Trailmap depicts both the "historic" and "bypass" routes. 

1960's:  trail restoration 
At some unknown date the trail fell into disuse.  It was reopened by H.J. McCracken circa 1965, who placed tin markers on trees to guide hikers along the trail, essentially following the 1921 quadrangle map route.  These markers can be found from Danish Creek up to Little Pines Camp, though sparser at the higher elevations.  (Above there, my assumption is that his route followed the "historic", not than the later "bypass" route, but I've not found any markers along either route.) 

1990-2010:  sporadic maintenance 
The trail has been maintained sporadically since its restoration.  In the 1990's, Bob Eaton's Ventana Mounted Assistance Group and some Cachagua locals helped maintain the trail.  It later became impassable but was restored in the 2000's by Rami Shihadeh, Jan Doelman, and Stephenson School hikers - and likely unknown others.  But by 2010 it was again overgrown above Rattlesnake Camp. 

2010: my introduction 
My personal acquaintance with Rattlesnake Creek Trail and Rattlesnake Camp came in 2010, after losing the trail in brush above the camp on a dayhike.  I did an overnight backpack to explore further and flag the trail markers I could find above the camp, then asked Jan Doelman to show me the upper, mostly unmarked, trail.  He, Rami, and Paul Danielson helped clear brush to where the trail leaves the creek and the following day Jan led me up the remaining, less brushy, section to the VDC Trail.  (As a culmination, I then backpacked up Rattlesnake Creek Trail, staying overnight at Little Pines Camp, to make my first VDC summit on Oct 26, 2010.) I believe this was the last time that any clearing was done above Rattlesnake Camp. 

2010+: above Rattlesnake Camp 
I did not do any later work on the section above the camp (nor did anyone else, to my knowledge) so that became impassable, as attested by my 2013 experience trying to go down from the VDC Trail to Little Pines Spring.  So I had to make that a "lost" trail location on my Big Sur Trailmap .

2010+: Rattlesnake Camp 
I made periodic trips from Danish Creek up to Rattlesnake Camp, the last in November 2015, doing some lopping and sawing and flagging - so that section remained difficult but doable for the determined hiker (though a GPS with accurate trail data was very helpful).  But the 2016 Soberanes fire and following heavy rains produced downfall and brush growth which rendered that route "impassable".  Rattlesnake Camp itself did survive the fire - but those seeking to visit it are now advised to bushwhack instead of trying to follow the trail. 

Historic Little Pines Camp 
"Little Pines Camp" used to be lie along the trail about 150 feet below Little Pines Spring - a basin up in a tree marks that location, near a tree blaze (at N36.35502,W121.72225)

Little Pines Camp  (note basin in tree)

Unfortunately the Marble Cone Fire led to erosion which filled its flat area, after which the icemaker stove and sign were relocated (to a flat area 1/8 mile below Little Pines Spring, 50 ft south of the trail, at N36.35550,W121.72075).  But a huge pine later fell, largely covering the area, the sign burned, and that site is no longer used. 

Little Pines "Use" Camp 
When the "bypass" route was passable, hikers taking the VDC Trail to VDC summit would often camp at the trail's upper end, going down 1/4 mile to get water at Little Pines Spring.  Many maps show a "Little Pines Camp" at that location, but to my understanding the true camp, with sign and stove, was at the "basin in tree" location described above so this was really a "use camp" - but with the loss of the "historic" Little Pines Camp, this can be considered the "new" Little Pines Camp.  Unfortunately, the route to the spring is overgrown so this use camp is now "dry" and seldom used. 

Rattlesnake Camp 
Rattlesnake Camp has survived numerous wildfires, the most recent being the 2016 Soberanes Wildfire which only singed the camp.  As of my last visit in 2017, Rattlesnake Camp remains in good shape, no trees having fallen on it, still (presumably due to lack of use) with a USFS grate and an icemaker store with chimney and a sturdy picnic table (though showing some wear)

Rattlesnake Camp - Picnic Table and Grate

and a sign.

Rattlesnake Camp - Sign

Rattlesnake Creek happily burbles alongside (I've always found water, even in drought when lower Danish Creek was bone dry).  In 2010 I placed a camp register so the few hikers who reach there can record their tale and read about others who have passed that way.  A metal sign at the eastern trailhead near Danish Creek points adventuresome hikers to his peaceful camp.  (If you go, it would be nice to bring along loppers and saw to help do some clearing along the way wink)

Danish Creek Trailhead Sign

(note:  Rattlesnake Camp is mislocated on many maps, shown as lying along a ridgeline - the camp actually lies 0.8 mile beyond, beside Rattlesnake Creek.)

2017: Post Soberanes Wildfire 
The 2016 Soberanes Wildfire went through the Rattlesnake Creek Trail, down to Danish Creek.  Although the spotty burning spared Rattlesnake Camp itself, the historic route to it has been rendered impassible along the ridge - better to bushwhack on the more open southern side of the ridge.  The trail above Rattlesnake Creek Camp has been lost, and sadly the historic signpost along the Ventana Double Cone Trail pictured above, after surviving many wildfires since its erection, was destroyed. 


Coda  (from the Sierra Club "Trail Guide to Los Padres National Forest [Fifth edition, 1989]")
"By some miracle, Rattlesnake Camp and its immediate environs escaped the fire devastation of 1977. So it is one of the few areas that still give the sense of virgin forest, with handsome mature trees. H.J. McCracken, the grand old hiker who died later in Anderson Canyon, first reopened the trail to Rattlesnake Camp over 20 years ago and nailed the markers to the trees. The many friends who loved and admired him can think of peaceful, forgotten Rattlesnake Camp as his permanent memorial."


Rattlesnake Camp Register (2010-2015)




If you have something to contribute or find an error, you can send an email to Jack Glendening at: Email Address or post to the Trailmap Forum (later preferred, as others may have same question/problem).  Additions or corrections will be credited. 

Big Sur Trailmap creator: Jack Glendening   (Bona fides)

Copyright:
The information and data on this website are copyrighted by John W. Glendening.  You may freely search, view, download and print the documents and information contained on this site for personal and non-commercial purposes.