Distance: 10 miles mountain biking, 10 miles hiking (very approximate)
Elevation: 6,000' total gain (very approximate)
Weather: 50s-70s, overcast
No other area has called my name more than Ventana since I've started exploring the wild places of the Bay Area. Unfortunately, shortly after I got one quick glimpse last spring (out and back hike to Manuel Peak), the area was subject to massive wildfires. It was subsequently closed to the public for over a year. The area was originally slated to be opened 6/1/2009, but we got a nice surprise, and the forest service saw fit to open the area up a month early. This is significant, since spring time is the time to go to Ventana with cooler temperatures, less bugs and lots and lots of wildflowers. It was no small deal when I got an invite from my friend Jim for a day of multi-sport adventure deep into the Ventana Wilderness on May 2, one day after the re-opening. Jim is a guy who knows the area well, and knows extreme adventure well. We couldn't go wrong.
Our route started on Tassajara Road, the dirt road leading to Tassajara Hot Springs, the site of the first Buddhist monastery to be built outside of Asia. Tassajara Road starts out smooth but steep, taking hikers, bikers and vehicles up up and away, deep into the Santa Lucia Mountains. At 4,000'+ elevations it twists and turns over rocky terrain through eye-poppingly beautiful mountains, before eventually descending to the site of the monastery along the banks of Tassajara Creek. We would take the road all the way to the top by bike, before locking our bikes to trees and beginning the descent to the monastery on foot.
To the top of Tassajara Road by bike....
On the way up Tassajara Road, entering burn zone.
Elena on Tassajara Road.
Bill motoring up through the burnt out trees.
Cool looking white trees.
Church Ranch Road. This would be the return path of our hiking loop.
Among the hazards of recreating in a fresh burn zone. This big tree was missing large portions of its trunk.
Jim cruising through the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Jim and Elena survey the scene.
Spring flowers over the mountains.
Flowers along a rocky outcrop.
...and more flowers.
Time to lock the bikes for our wilderness hiking loop...
Our group descending Tassajara Road.
A water fill up spot. That's a bathtub at the bottom.
Looking down into the canyon we are entering.
A view of Tassajara Road descending along the face of a ridge.
Tassajara Creek flowing with mud.
Doll found along the creek, close to the monastery.
Blue flowers near the Tassajara Creek.
Jim crossing a log bridge.
Nice rock formation.
Elena in the rocks.
Noah in the rocks.
Our rocky path.
After passing through this rocky zone the path got hairy fast. Trail gave way to increasingly thick vines, waist-high grasses, burnt out thickets and big rocks. The camera went away for some serious scrambling, bouldering and belly crawling to get out of the last creek and up to Church Ranch Road, our path back out to our bikes.
The final three miles of the hike climbed a smooth, wide, fire road. This gave me the chance pull the camera out and snap a few parting photos in the early evening sun.
Summary: Ventana is every bit as spectacular as I imagined and more. Stunning mountains, beautiful spring wildflowers, extremely rugged terrain. Explore with much caution until you know the area and watch for hazards from recent wildfires. Fire roads provide reliable access for scouting, even in the burnt areas.
Note about the distances. I shaved off several miles on the downhill bike ride at the end by hitching a ride with a couple of friendly locals (motorized vehicles are allowed on Tassajara Road).