San Martin Top
Alder Peak P1K
Three Peaks West
Three Peaks Middle
Three Peaks East
Lion Peak P300
Silver Peak P500

Tue, Feb 4, 2014
San Martin Top
Alder Peak
Three Peaks East
Lion Peak
Silver Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profile

Having just gotten back from a short visit to Big Sur with friends, I hastily made plans for a return visit, this time by myself. I often find my attention focused on repeat visits once I have discovered (or in this case, rediscovered) a place that has so many beautiful places to hike. I had done some fairly extensive hiking in the northern part of the Santa Lucia Range, but only a smattering of visits to places in the rest of these mountains. In the center, just south of the Ventana Wilderness is the Silver Peak Wilderness, established in 1992. I had been to only one summit in the area, Mt. Mars, on a previous visit, but today I would climb three additional summits within the Wilderness and several others at the periphery. Access to these peaks can be found in long, strenuous hikes from the coast along Hwy 1, but all are more readily reached using the dirt South Coast Ridge Rd that runs along the crest of the range. This decently maintained road is often impassable in wet weather and or when blocked by rockfall or downed trees. As it had been more than a month since the area had had any serious rain, I figured the chances were quite good that I would find it serviceable even for my low-clearance van.

San Martin Top

The South Coast Ridge Rd is most easily accessed via the paved Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd, but it is a very long way south to the Three Peaks area, more than 20 miles. A better approach to the area is to take the dirt Los Burros Rd starting up from Hwy 1 just south of Cape San Martin, reducing the dirt road driving by more than seven miles. An advantage of this approach is that it allows one to pay an easy visit to the summit of San Martin, only a mile from a junction along this road. I found the Los Burros Rd to be in good condition, and though steep in places, manageable in the van. There are a number of homesteaders high up this route, so it appears the USFS keeps the road in decent shape year-round. San Martin Top is the spur ridgeline separating the South Fork of Willow Creek and the Alder Creek drainages. The highpoint is reachable as a driveup with a primitive campsite located at the clearing found there. The Google map shows a truck and camp set up in the satellite view but it was completely bare (and thankfully, no trash) when I reached it shortly before 11a. Though a bit hazy as often is the case along the coast, I could see snow on Cone Peak some 12 miles to the north. Alder Peak dominates the view to the east, the highest point in the range south of Nacimiento Rd. And of course the blue Pacific lies restlessly to the west.

Alder Peak

I next drove back to the junction and continued up Los Burros Rd to the crest where it meets the South Coast Ridge Rd. Alder Peak has a spur road reaching to its antennae-topped summit starting about a mile south of the junction with Los Burros Rd. I parked in a clearing found here to walk the road to the top, less than half a mile away. Though I found the gate open, the road was much too steep and rough for my vehicle. It was a good thing I didn't drive anyway, as I found after the short hike along the road that there were five service trucks and an equal number of technicians working at the installation. The highpoint is thankfully to the south of the main towers, just behind an older, smaller antenna that was not being serviced today. I gave a passing wave to a technician near his car when I walked by and made my way to the highpoint.

I wasn't there more than a minute, spending the time trying to reattach a belt that had come loose on my pants, when another gentleman came up to tell me I was on federal property. Though maps show the Fort Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation boundary as running over the crest, technically the summit is probably all managed by the army. I simply apologized and said I had believed it to be part of the National Forest, which was in fact what I had believed up to that point. The guy softened upon my conciliatory tone and even offered that there was a glass jar among the summit rocks. So I spent a few more minutes photographing the five pages of a register that had been left by John Vitz in 2006. I took a few pictures looking south, west, and east before heading back down.

Three Peaks / Lion Peak

From the junction with Los Burros Rd, the South Coast Ridge Rd runs another nine miles to the south. At about the six mile mark the road passes by Three Peaks and it was in this direction that I next headed. The road continued to be decent though I had to get out several times to remove some larger rocks that had fallen on to the roadway and I managed to scrape the bottom of the van a few times on big rocks embedded and immovable. High clearance would definitely have been to my advantage. I had just passed the junction with the Salmon Creek Trail, about two miles shy of Three Peaks when I decided to stop abusing the van and give it a break. A section in the road looked rougher than I had managed so far and I didn't want to push my luck - there was no cell reception out here and aside from the technicians at Alder Peak, I was pretty isolated. Of course the rest of the road past this one point was just fine as I found out by walking it, but the outing was still short enough that I could hardly complain.

As the name suggests, there are three summits to Three Peaks, fairly closely spaced. The highpoint is the southernmost of the three, but rather than just tag it and return I wanted to see if I couldn't visit the other two points as well. Though only a very short distance off the road, access is not a given as the chaparral can be incredibly daunting in the coast ranges, the Santa Lucia being no exception. Luckily the summits are somewhat rocky and therein lay the key to making it up. The north summit was the first I approached and it looked like there was enough rock on its western flank to get up that way from the road. This worked nicely with a bit of fun scrambling, about five minutes' effort. Looking southeast, it was easy to tell from the brushy summit that the other two points were higher. I dropped off the south side to return to the road, taking advantage of more rock found on that side. I then continued on the road until I was just abreast of the saddle between the middle and south summits. Here, a fortuitous use trail is found leading to the saddle, then splitting off in either direction towards the other summits. I first visited the middle summit, losing the faint trail about halfway up and dealing with some minor bushwhacking. I took a photo looking to the southern highpoint and beat a retreat back to the saddle. The south summit is actually the easiest of the three as it used to have a fire lookout atop its summit years ago and the old road leading to it, though badly overgrown, has a serviceable use trail. Though the lookout has long been dismantled, there are still remnants of it, including sawed-off telephone poles, wooden posts, some metal scraps and small areas of poured concrete. The summit is actually less satisfying than the other two because the views are partially obscured by trees and there are three or four various rock formations all vying to be the highest. I visited all of them in turn but found no sign of a register anywhere among them. I had expected this could be a difficult endeavor, but was happy to find I could visit all three summits in less than an hour.

Lion Peak is found to the west of the Coast Ridge Rd, less than a mile WNW of the Three Peaks highpoint. I walked back along the road to a saddle on the north side of Lion Peak, the closest point I could get without heading into the brush. Though the top portion of the peak is partly barren and easy to walk around on, the lower portion is surrounded by some formidable brush that looks distressing. Though only 1/6 mile to the summit, there was a chance I'd get stopped. I was happy to find that the saddle was the best starting point as one can make their way into a forest thicket here and follow a path of sorts that was created by previous visitors or perhaps by a bear. Without much bushwhacking at all, I found my way to the summit area and from there an easy stroll south to the highpoint. No register, no cairn, but it had wide-open views all around. I liked this one better than Three Peaks because of this.

Silver Peak

For some odd reason, I did not have Silver Peak on the day's agenda though it was not far away and I had not previously been to it. I think this was probably because I was focused on peaks closer to the Coast Ridge Rd when I was doing my research and Silver hadn't gotten into my field of vision on the computer screen. It was as I was walking back along the road to the car and looking at the GPS that I noticed a peak depicted on it to the west somewhere, and discovered it to be Silver Peak. It could be reached via the Cruickshank Trail that I had passed by earlier, only a few minutes from where I'd parked the van. Upon my return, I spent a few minutes repositioning it to a better location at an overlook near the Cruickshank TH, and by 2:20p I was on my way.

The trail was in good shape, much better than the Salmon Creek Trail I had tried to hike from Hwy 1 two years earlier (on my first attempt at Silver Peak) which I had found badly overgrown with poison oak. There was some found along short stretches of the Cruickshank Trail, but these were only found near the spring that feeds Lions Den Camp about ten minutes below the trailhead. A mile from the trailhead I reached an unmarked junction where the Cruickshank Trail begins a steady downhill towards Villa Creek and traverses the lower north slopes of Silver Peak. The unmarked fork I knew was for the old trail to Silver Peak and I turned to follow it along the ridgeline. In most places the trail is quite good. Though no longer maintained by the Forest Service, it sees semi-regular maintenance by volunteers from Ventana Wilderness Alliance, most noteably Boon Hughey who has been to the summit more than any other human. There are a few brushy spots which are easy to push through and a long section of tunneling under mature manzanita that requires tall folks to hunch over for about a quarter mile. The trail actually skirts just north of the summit but a spur use trail marked by a small cairn leads one to the chaparral-covered highpoint. In a small clearing where the benchmark is located is an ammo box with a register dating to 2002. Though less than 12 years old, the register has some 86 pages filled (most often by Boon) with names and musings. It was really surprising just how popular this peak is. As the highpoint of the Wilderness area, it sees some highpointer traffic, but that is a small fraction of the visitors that make their way to Silver Peak's summit.

Now after 3p, the sun was beginning its slow dive into the Pacific to the west. To the north stood out Alder Peak, Cone Peak, and Junipero Serra Peak across the range. To the south were lower peaks but a hardly less rugged section of the range and a view of the California coastline. To the southeast could be seen the other peaks I had just come from, Lion Peak and Three Peaks. The return took about 45 minutes, the same time I had taken to reach the summit - there was not a lot of elevation gain or loss on this one. I would spend more than an hour driving north on the Coast Ridge Rd, hoping to get one last peak in before the day was through.

Chalk Peak

This is the only named summit on the crest between Alder Peak and Cone Peak, the name likely derived from the whitish rock found on the steep slope facing the road. The summit was only a third of a mile from where I parked which led me to believe I might get up and back down without a headlamp even though it was only minutes from sunset when I started out. It was not to be. For one, I didn't realize there are 3-4 summits to Chalk Peak and I was climbing the one furthest from the highpoint. Secondly, there is a good deal of brush and a non-trivial amount of poison oak to be found along any route one might choose to take. It took me only 10 minutes to climb to the top of the nearest summit where I was surprised to find a benchmark not marked on the topo map. But I was not on the highest point and it was distressing to see so much brush between me and my destination still a quarter mile away. Noting the poison oak, I decided it would be incredibly foolish to fight my way along at this time of day and disappointed, went back down. The last ray of sunshine came blazing out from under a cloud layer just as the sun was setting behind the horizon and it was already growing dark and cold as I made my way back to the car.

I could have spent the night parked here and tried again in the morning, but I thought I would get up before dawn and get a few miles in by headlamp on a trail. So I left Chalk for another time and drove the remaining section of the Coast Ridge Rd out to Nacimiento Rd, and then almost six miles further along the crest on the Cone Peak Rd. The snow I had seen on the south flank of Cone earlier in the day had been the result of a small storm that had come through only a few days earlier and some of it still lay on the last portion of the road. Though only about two inches in depth, I did not want to take the chance of getting stuck, so I pulled over to spend the night about a mile short of the road's end and the trailhead. Despite the failure on Chalk, I found the day to be highly rewarding and considered it a great success, though it may be a long time before I drive the length of the South Coast Ridge Rd again...


Petesthousandpeaks Ptp comments on 02/06/14:
Thanks so much for the look at the Silver Peak register. Another bucket list peak goal.
Andrew comments on 02/07/14:
Thanks for the register pics..."we perservered through many sticky thickets of doom!"...Classic
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