Ascent of Junipero Serra Peak on 2011-04-17

Climber: James Barlow

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, April 17, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Junipero Serra Peak
    Elevation:5862 ft / 1786 m

Ascent Trip Report

On to a classic hike on a perfect Sunday in sunny California - April 17, 2011: Junipero Serra Peak (5,862)

Score, another two-fer or more than that.... P2k, P4k, CoHP, Range HP, and many more lists...

So, here is a bit of access info since the last CoHP report is from 2008 before the fire:

Fort Hunter Liggett is really professional, accommodating, and friendly when it comes to access, unlike....well you all know....

The proper way to get up to the Santa Lucia Park is NOT via Sulphur Springs and/or Milpitas Road as mentioned in the Suttle book. Some may ask why am I using info from Suttle's book instead of more recent trip reports. Besides the fact that Suttle's book is kick-ass and easy to read, I had no other info along and for a relatively young guy, I'm somewhat of a luddite when it comes to the iphones and all that crap, so no internet access or the new app that Greg just released over at peakbagger. And I'll maintain against the grain.... Skip the next two paragraphs if you just want route beta.

Now, to set the story straight, my original goal for this weekend was the "Big 4" in Santa Barbara County (Big Pine-CoHP, Samon, Malduce, and West Big Pine). When I arrived at a stream crossing very low in Santa Barbara Canyon, still 2 miles before the National Forest even begins, I ran into trouble. This was Friday night, and I had left home (29 Palms, CA) right after work and made my way out to this place. As I attempted to cross the stream in my rockin' 2007 Toyota Yaris (yes a Yaris), I hit a sandbar and was nearly stuck. I dropped it into reverse quickly, and I was out - a close call to be sure. It was dark and an inspection of the crossing revealed that a standard SUV or pickup could fly through this in plain old 2WD, but not the Yaris. I guess I would finally pay for those 40 miles per gallon (though it was worth it for the 35,000 miles I put on my car since April, 2010). I dropped my mat and back next to my car at a pullout just a few yards above the crossing and decided to check it out in the morning when streams generally run lower. I woke up early and no luck, the stream had actually risen. WTF?! Along with me this trip was: backpacking gear only, no day pack, backpacking food, Suttle's book, and maps for the San Rafael and Dick Smith Wilderness areas. Definitely not prepared for plan B. With Suttle's book and the DeLorme Atlas in hand, I was off....

Anyway, after figuring out that trailhead was still 10 miles distant and that the next nearest CoHPs were Sawmill and Pinos, which I did in 2010, I figured I would head for the next nearest CoHPs - sort of. Well, Caliente Mountain is certainly close by, and a very fine day hike. However, I have a friend with a cabin near here, so I figure I'll save that for another day. I may try and mountain bike it. I finally settled in on a CoHP plan of action for the weekend: (redacted) and San Benito on Saturday, and Monterey on Sunday. I drove past oil-drilling hell, then on to the previous trip report I posted for (redacted). After that, I headed down to Coalinga, CA and then up Coalinga Canyon towards San Benito. Good idea, bad idea. There are a bunch of new BLM campgrounds between the turn-off for San Benito Mtn and King City, CA. This is certainly a beautiful location and the camping appears to be free. I started up the road towards San Benito (Clear Creek) only to learn that the BLM has closed the entire area because of the asbestos. Not sure what the big deal is, asbestos isn't that harmful is it?? So, San Benito was a flop, and the alternative route via Idria/New Idria is hours around the mountains and it's probably closed too. Off to King City with failure #2 of the trip where I couldn't even make the trailhead. At least I could camp near the base of Junipero Serra and have a good Sunday, or so I thought....

So, the Junipero Serra trip report starts here...

After dinner in King City, I made my way towards Sulphur Springs and Milpitas Roads. I hung a right on to Sulphur Springs Rd from CR-G14 (Jolon Rd) and there it was - a locked gate blocking access courtesy of the Army. Damn. Well, the atlas shows another way around through Jolon. I made the quick drive to "Jolon" and hung a right towards the base on Mission Rd. You pass through an unguarded open Army checkpoint which states that through traffic is open to the public. Right as it appears that you are reaching the base, the road swings wildly to the left and parallels the base on the west. You quickly hit a T-junction where you can turn left on to Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd which leads to PCH or right towards the base. I chose right as my car GPS showed that I was nowhere near a road as this road must be pretty new. The road which seems like the bottom of Del Venturi Rd starts to head towards the objective and is then met by "Military Personnel Only" signs. Now, this is kind of a grey area for me. I'm in the Navy with an ID card and all, so technically, this means I can go here, but... I really don't have any official business going there, so... I figured that my CO did not want a wake-up call from the Army on my behalf, so I headed back to the main gate to the base.

I have the above-mentioned ID card and a base decal on my car, so I can access the base without any problems. I asked the gate guards how to get to Del Venturi or Milpitas Roads to access the National Forest to the north. They said that technically I could go through the gate and on to the base proper and access Milpitas Road, however, my fellow Sailors were conducting training in that area, and it was temporarily off limits. Now, for most people, even if there were no training occurring, this is not really an option The guards advised me to drive back west on Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd and turn right on to Vasquez Rd, which would lead to Del Venturi Rd after a short bit. They were correct, and I was on my way. So, from Mission Rd in Jolon, head north to the T-intersection with Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd. Turn Left away from the base gate. After about 3-4 miles (I didn't clock it), turn right on to Vasquez Rd. After another few miles, Vasquez ends at a T-junction with Del Venturi. Turn left and head up Del Venturi. There is a higher stream crossing right before Del Venturi merges with Milpitas Rd. This stream crossing could be closed by the Army due to high run-off for safety reasons, so you may want to call ahead to check: (831) 386-2690 or or the hunting/fishing division of the base at (831) 386-2677 or Between these numbers and emails, you should get good beta on the road conditions leading to the National Forest. Once you cross the cement stream crossing (easily navigated in my low clearance Yaris), you are pretty much at the boundary of the National Forest. The road to this point is near perfect pavement. Above here, the road is still paved and perfectly fine, just a little more bumpy. The trailhead is on the right side of the road as alluded to in many previous trip reports and the Suttle book.

Just beyond the Santa Lucia trailhead is the Nat'l Forest Campground. At the far end of the campground, the road further up the mountain is closed. Make a note: As of April, 2011, there is NO WAY to continue north to intersect with County Rd G-16 which runs between Carmel Valley and Greenfield. You could probably hike it if you really wanted to, but the road is gated off and impassable to all motorized traffic!! So, attempting to reach the Santa Lucia trailhead from the north (i.e. Greenfield and/or Carmel Valley) is a NO GO. Anyway, I made camp a few miles below the campground as my camp usually consists of a foam pad and sleeping bag on the ground.

I awoke at 5am, hit snooze once or twice, ate breakfast, and made the 5 minute drive back to the trailhead only to find that one other car had beaten me to the trailhead. Wow, another early bird. I started out along the trail. There is actually a junction of sorts just a few hundred yards down the trail. At least it looked like a Y-split to me. Anyway, if you run into this a few hundred yards into your hike, bear left. The trail is very easy to follow and the "Lucia Lookout 4 miles" sign that appears after 2 miles of walking is half burned and on the ground next to the post that once held it. You can't read the "Lucia Lookout 4 miles" portion, but I assume that is what it once said as described in the Suttle book. Not too far past here the trail heads up an exposed slope that would suck to climb in the sun. Luckily, the early bird gets the shade and I breezed right up it. I would recommend the same for other spring, summer, or fall hikers. I ran into the couple whose car was at the TH as the trail hits the ridge and follows the ridge to the northeast for a while. They had taken a break here and I did the same just above them. After about 10 minutes enjoying the beauty in every direction, I was back on my feet and summit-bound. I caught up to them in a section where the trail seems to fade away to the north side of the ridge. It does not, so stick to the SE side of the ridge here. After 2 minutes of teamwork, we were all back on the trail. I did not even notice this section on the descent, so it only sent us all off-route on the ascent.

The trail is great until it begins the final push to the summit from the north after you crest the ridge with views back towards Soledad. There is a bunch of deadfall which is easily passed on the uphill side, but then the trail is a bit overgrown from here for about 1/3 of a mile to 1/2 a mile when it gets into the tall pine trees with no undergrowth near the summit lookout tower. The tower platform has collapsed, but the stairs go all the way up and were sturdy enough to hold a 160 pound adult with a camera long enough for a few pics. I then made my way over to the real summit, past the metal pipe noted in the Suttle book. The former shelter is completely destroyed as a result of the fire from ?2008?2009? I don't really know when. The summit register is on a nice brick platform, courtesy of Gilbert Anderson. I signed in, perused the names, ate lunch, aired out my feet, and took in the view.

Following all of that, I made my way back to the saddle north of the summit past the overgrown sections and deadfall. I decided to bag the next peak to the north - why not, it's there. I found a register on top with summit entries from 1978, 1984, 1991, 1997 (I think), 2001, and me right here in 2011. Half of those ascents were from Gilbert Anderson alone. Infrequently climbed sub-peak of its famous neighbor for sure...

On my hike back down, I ran into a rattlesnake sunning itself across the trail right below the sunny section when you are about to break back into the forest near the creek. Naturally it was in a section where I couldn't just go around without bushwhacking. Now, I know that a stretched out snake cannot strike (it needs to be coiled), and I was able to get within 7 or 8 feet of it, but the idea of getting a running start and jumping over a rattler just didn't sit right with me. I ended up diverting through the bushes to the left and probably past a whole nest of rattlers in doing so, but I left it to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon as I made my way down to the car. Naturally I capped off the trip with getting my feet all wet in a marshy section of the trail less than 1/2 a mile from the car, and I was down. 2 hrs 50 min to the summit, about the same heading down since I made a side trip to Peak 5,642

Overall, a classic hike through a number of diverse vegetation zones. This area is recovering well from the fire.

Now, my choice was clear: Get home at a decent hour by driving through Jolon to US-101 and on to home or.... over Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd to take the scenic route along PCH to San Luis Obispo and then home a little later. Well, I was already all the way up here, so PCH here I come. I saw a sign as I drove into Hunter-Liggett stating that PCH north of Big Sur was closed. I didn't really care, I was not going to Monterey. So, I made my way over the windy road (spending at least 15 minutes behind some *^!% poking along in a mini-van) and to PCH. The views are incredible and this section of coast highway has to be the best I have ever encountered. I headed south, noting the near absence of other traffic. I found out why in about 10 miles. The road to the south is closed due to landslides. I must have mis-read the sign the night before as I drove past Hunter-Liggett. Crap, I would have to go up to Big Sur and Monterey to get home. That would take some time.... I was at a scenic pull-out and chatted with some guys from the base who were there too. They had spotted my DoD decal and asked how I ended up all the way up there from 29 Palms. I told them about the joys of CoHP peakbagging and how it can take you to places you would have never otherwise hiked. They didn't seem too into the idea of CoHPing, but did inform me that the road to the north of Big Sur was closed for sure as they had driven that direction earlier and were now just enjoying the coast between the 2 closed areas. Fantastic, another hour back over Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd to Hunter Liggett and right back where I had started. At least I got to enjoy this short stretch of PCH. After another drive back over the mountains, I made it to Jolon and then on to Paso Robles for dinner and gas. I got home pretty late, but overall it was a wonderful trip.

To summarize in 75 words or less:
From Jolon, head north on Mission Rd to Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd. Turn left. Go a few miles to Vasquez. Turn right. Vasquez ends in T-junction at Del Venturi. Turn left. Follow all the way to trailhead on right once you enter the Nat'l Forest. Careful: road past NF campground over the mountain to Soledad is closed. Stream crossing on Ft Hunter Liggett may be closed if there is a lot of runoff. Call ahead.

Original Plan: 1 CoHP that is also a P2k and HPS Peak, plus 3 other HPS peaks (the Big 4)
Plan B: 3 CoHPs and a lot of driving
Actual: 2 CoHPs, some other random sub-peak, and a lot of driving
Number of times I had a wrench thrown in plans A, B, or C by road conditions or closures: 4 (well 5 if I had decided to go home via Monterrey)
Vertical gain for the weekend: 5,857
Miles hiked: ~25
Worst smell I have ever been exposed to: feed lot outside Bakersfield on the way home where the air was so thick with shit that I could barely drive along the road.
Number of Army bases that are the best ever for access, boosting the local economy by drawing hikers, fishermen, hunters, tourists, campers, and more: 1 (Ft Hunter-Liggett we love thee)
Number of phone numbers obtained from awesome hiker girls: 0
Number of not-so-subtle Suttle book references in one long trip report: 9
Number of words that one guy can cram into a trip report about a day hike up a trail: 2,886
Number of words that are actually useful to future hikers: 73
People who think I am a witty writer and/or story teller: 2 or 3 at best, maybe more after the first round of drinks...
Number of awesome webmasters who will put this one up on the site: 1 (Thanks Adam!)

Pictures from the whole weekend

James Barlow
USA CoHP #53
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3762 ft / 1146 m
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3762 ft / 1146 m
    Route:Santa Lucia Trail
    Start Trailhead:2100 ft / 640 m
Descent Statistics

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