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Summary of Ventana Wilderness Trip

July 17th, 2009

Friday Bottchers Gap to Devil’s Peak, Turner Creek Camp and back again 5.8 miles, 2100’ to 3500’ feet

Friday Ventana Wilderness is a convenient place to backpack in theory. It’s close (about 2 hours away), the roads are paved the entire way, and dogs are allowed. So we set out on a Friday in July to do the 30 mile round trip from Bottchers Gap to Double Cone Peak and back again. We were hoping to fill up on water at Pat Spring, spend the first night at Little Pines, leave our packs there for the day hike to Double Cone, and camp at Little Pines again before heading back to the trail head. However, things didn’t quite work out that way.

The drive was definitely nice and quick, although the last 10-20 miles are on a windy road. It’s wide enough for two cars in most places and still better than most of the places that we’ve been to. We arrived at 10am, and as soon as we stepped out of the car it was blazing hot and the flies were all over us. The sheer number of flies was incredible. We planned to do a three day trip, so I put $15 in the collection box, we changed, and started off.

You start off on well maintained singletrack trail that has some really nice views of the Santa Lucia mountains. Lola started off strong but the heat (in the mid 80s to low 90s) got to her quickly. We crossed two muddy puddles in the first hour that she was able to lay down in to cool off. I started sucking water from my water bladder, spitting it on her head and back, and rubbing it in to cool her off whenever we stopped to give her water. We took a quick break after about 2 hours for a quick snack and for C to put on her mosquito net and a long sleeve shirt. I am better at zoning out the bugs so skipped the net.

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The day continued to get warmer. The landscape was brown and had been ravaged by fire in 2008, and you could tell. The fire lines from the Basin Complex fire were clearly visible. We came across two other hikers, but for the most part it was just us. We saw a few deer scamper across a clearing at one point, but that was it for large animals.

Eventually we came to a fork just before the climb up Devil’s Peak. We had gone maybe three miles, about a third of our goal for the day, and Lola was starting to lie down in the shade and only reluctantly get up again. We headed up the hill but after just a few minutes on the shadeless climb, Lola was done. We headed back to the fork to reconsider things.

Lola rested and I continued spitting water on her. On the map we saw that we could turn left at the branch towards a campsite at Turner Creek. We decided to do this in hopes of finding some water to filter and for the hot dog to cool off in.

We headed off in search of the creek, which was dry at first but started to carry a trickle of water after about a mile. Around then we came across a section of the trail that looked a little bit odd from a distance, like it was moving. Once we got closer, we knew what it was. Remember in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” where the kid thinks that he’s stepping on fortune cookies? The trail was like that, except it was covered with ladybugs. Thousands upon thousands of them. It was solid lady bugs for about ten feet of the trail at least.

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A few minutes after the ladybug encounter we crossed the creek, and the air was suddenly filled with buzzing. A whirlwind of insects started swarming around a nearby tree and we started running. They didn’t follow and we’re not quite sure what they were. C managed to get bitten a few times but Lola and I made it out okay.

After we had turned down towards Turner Creek, the trail had gone from a wilderness freeway to being overrun by poison oak. It continued narrowing after the swarm encounter, and at that point we decided to turn around on the trail and find somewhere else to camp.

We waded through the poison oak and past all of the insects until we got back to the fork in the trail and decided to take a break for Lola. By then we had emptied our water bladder and were down to 1.5 liters in our Nalgene bottles, so decided to head back to the car and either camp there or drive out.

After about a mile we came across a huge flying insect, maybe two inches in length. I whacked the plant that it was sitting on so that it would be out of Lola’s way and we continued on. Later, we realized that it was a tarantula hawk, which has one of the most painful stings in the world and a brutal method for laying its eggs.

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We came across the mud puddles that Lola had previously rested in, but they had dried up in the four hours since we had first passed them. We took Lola’s pack off and strapped it to C’s pack to help cool her off instead.

Eventually we made it to the car. Still covered in flies, we took our things to the car and looked around for any potable water. We couldn’t find anything, and even if we had, the flies and heat were making the place unbearable. We gave Lola the last of our water then hopped in the car, blasted the air conditioning and headed home. We didn’t have any water in the car, but since then always keep a couple of gallons of water and a bottle of apple juice handy. We stopped at a Safeway for some cold caffeinated beverages and then did the rest of that nice, quick drive home. We’ll come back for Double Cone again, but it will be in the spring next time.

Quick summary:

  • Ventana Wilderness has lots of flies and no water in the summer.
  • There is a vast amount of poison oak. Long pants and possibly long sleeves are a must.
  • Probably best visited in the spring when the temperatures are lower and there is still water.