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Big Sur Off-Trail Hiking

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    Having bushwhacked extensively in the Ventana and Silver Peak wilderness areas of the Los Padres National Forest, I want to provide some useful information for others so inclined.  But currently this is only a stub which I hope to expand later. 


Off-trail travel is permitted in the National Forest but prohibited in State Parks.  Off-trail travel in the Ventana/SilverPeak wilderness areas can be very easy or very difficult, largely depending upon the amount of brushiness - and can be impossible when brush becomes interlocked.  Off-trail hiking is generally easier in Silver Peak areas than in Ventana areas due to the former's greater frequency of grassy slopes and valleys.  Off-trail hikers should be especially cognizant of basic Big Sur wilderness hiking information.  Knowledge and planning pays off for off-trail hikers! 

Many "use trail" routes exist, i.e paths which are not official USFS-designated trails but instead created by frequent usage producing a more-or-less followable path.  Many are depicted as orange "use trails" on my Big Sur Trailmap.  Of course their ease-of-use depends upon how frequently they've been recently used, which can wax and wane. 

For "bushwhacking", i.e. routes which are both "off-trail" and "off-usetrail", I've learned to choose my routes carefully - often by examining GoogleEarth imagery before a hike to see where I should and should not try to go.  Nearby clear areas often cannot be seen when inside the brush, so for difficult situations I've plotted a route on GoogleEarth, threading it through the less brushy areas, and loaded that into my GPS.  GPS and GoogleEarth error are such that the track is only a rough guideline - primarily eyes must be used for the best route, but if thick brush is encountered the track proves a direction to head for easier travel and keeps one from straying too far from the best route. 

Traditional Routes

"Sea-to-Sky" route up Cone Peak:  Though officially off-trail, due to frequent usage this route is in many respects actually easier than many official trails - except that it is STEEP !   

"The Window" via Jackson Creek:  The traditional route to a Ventana namesake, the distinctive ridgeline notch visible all over the Ventana wilderness.  At one time getting to "La Ventana" was a rite of passage with a well-defined route, but much of the path up Jackson Creek was destroyed after the 2008 wildfire and subsequent creek erosion - so is now essentially a bushwhack.  Note that the webpage is somewhat out-dated, as the route has become increasingly difficult due to further degradation with time and lack of consistent use. 

Jack Glendening
Trailmap Forum

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