The hike in was tough, typical for Big Sur, a lot of steep ups and downs, putting a mid winter pressure on out of shape knees as they slam down cutting through switch backs along the ridge line. Hiking was gorgeous, the fog tendrils drifting down ravines in the distance and a welcomed breeze floating by at the top of every climb. Hiking through the burned remnants of the 2008 fire at dusk was a little eerie but beautiful in it’s own right as the blazing sunset peeked around the scorched remains of some of the bigger trees now resembling totem poles.
Regardless, we arrived at Pat Springs just as the last bits flaming orange were disappearing beneath the flat line of cloud above the great Pacific. We pumped some good water from the spring and up we went to make camp in the dark and eat a well deserved dinner. Our camp was right on the front of the ridge, a little windy but would surely have a fantastic view come morning and tucked away enough to not be “so” exposed. Getting a fire going was tough and so it was foregone after dinner in favor for the warmth of our sleeping bags and the prospect of a decent nights sleep.
The wind came up in the night and as we were expecting some light rain it was no surprise when the pitter patter against our tent began and eventually soothed us both into a lasting sleep. Upon initially opening our eyes the tent sagged a little but nothing seeming too crazy at that moment, probably just the damp of Big Sur and maybe a little frost as we were up on a ridge.
Waking up a second time a bit later, the sagging seemed more pressing and so a raised hand out of the warmth of the bag and a tap against our tent walls triggered a micro avalanche; unexpected snow had fallen, and our exposed ridge and all the woods surrounding us were coated in a white snowy blanket – the dread of a cold camp breakdown was already in the air.
The wind was still howling and the snow still falling, and as we unzipped, dressed, and put our things together for the sheer sake of getting off the ridge we chuckled to each other over our misfortune and maybe with a slight edge of anxiety over the day’s hike out still ahead. Boots on, lucky to have thought of the gaiters normally left at home as well as the thin gloves and an extra layer, a pat on the back was in order but as the damp cold wind chilled our bones camp was broken down instead. With one foot in front of the other we made our way off the ridge line and into more sheltered lands for breakfast and a warm beverage.
As we sat, savoring the last of our warm oatmeal and coffee discussing the prospects for the day ahead and having a laugh periodically to break the dread of our wet and cold future, we both knew it’d be fine, but the work to get out was going to be way more than we’d bargained for this weekend.
The trials of the hike out began instantly with the thick small vegetation of the area being completely weighed down across our trail inhibiting our ability to travel fast, or dry for that matter, never mind what was still falling from the sky at that point. The first third of our day consisted of not only hiking through a half foot of snow but pushing branches and small trees covered in it out of the way and crawling under or through bushes that became snow walls; hoods up we pushed on comparing ourselves to the winter Buffalo of Yellowstone occasionally shaking the pile of snow that developed on our backpacks.
Arms sore from pushing and wet from the snow we emerged from the thickets and pressed on, up and down, getting wetter as the day went along, the snow giving way to slush which gave way to water shedding from the trees. By the time we made it out and back to our car, soaked and beaming with self satisfaction of a journey well made, we were happy to report the conditions to the ranger of Botcher’s Gap whom only gave us a barely satisfactory “well, I didn’t expect snow on the ridges last night.” Nor did we sir, nor did we.
“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong…” ~Yvon Chouinard
Day 2 – 17 miles – Pat Spring to Double Cone Summit and back to Pat Spring
Day 3 – 8.5 miles – Pat Spring to Bottcher’s Gap
Two women eager to tackle Double Cone. Seemed fitting. But when we read the tid bits of information online about the trail to Ventana Double Cone in Big Sur, the results were confusing. Some “reviews” told of an impassable, totally obstructed trail with zero water, while others spoke of it as a delightful hike with gorgeous views; the mileage was unclear. Per usual with internet findings you have to find the truth somewhere in the middle. Or by just trying it out for yourself. We found out pretty much for sure that there was water at our camp destination at Pat Spring, and decided to take on the potential challenge. How obstructed could a trail really be?
We doubted our negative informers, and we underestimated ourselves. The trail was longer than planned, and invisible at times, but we found our way to the top of Double Cone. And back down. We had nearly enough daylight left to take some photos, write in the mountain-top log book, and begin our 8.5 mile journey back to camp, with the last hour and a half in the dark. We didn’t listen to everything we were told by the internet, or the Eeyore-like ranger, or even those we encountered along the way. We took pieces of it all, said fuck it and went for it, and ended up with a true adventure of our own.
One of our favorite things to cook in cast iron is cornbread. This time we decided to try it out over the fire to go with an easy-speedy version of Chicken Gumbo. Now Gumbo Purists may scoff, but for a fast, flavorful and we think quite tasty stew cooked over a fire, this does the trick. The spice heats up your body real fast, making this great for a chilly night.
Chicken & Okra Gumbo
12″ Dutch Oven
cutting board or cardboard
medium heat fire
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2-4 tablespoons of secret Gumbo spice, depending on how spicy you want it
2 red bell peppers, chopped [tip: chop these, onions and garlic at home so it’s ready to go]
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt + pepper
4cups water or chicken broth
1 package (10 ounces) frozen, cut okra
1 package of smoked andouille sausage (precooked), chopped into half-rounds
1 rotisserie chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), meat shredded – remove skin and bones [do this at home too]
Place the Dutch Oven in the fire, where it’s over decent heat but not ragingly hot. Heat up the oil then add the flour and a few pinches of the Gumbo Spice to make your roux, and keep stirring it constantly until golden (this happens quickly over the heat, about a minute or two). Add in the red peppers, onion, garlic and oregano, season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 4 cups of water or chicken broth to the mix. Add the Okra in. At this point if you have vegans or vegetarians with you, let this cook for a bit (add more spice, salt and pepper to flavor), and then let them eat. Then add in the sausage, and let that cook for about 10 minutes to let the flavor set in. Lastly, add in the shredded chicken. Once it’s fully warm, dig in and serve with a piece of fresh cornbread (see below for recipe).
Click below for full cornbread recipe and more photos!
It’s difficult but well traveled and maintained as if it were a half mile loop in one of our national parks. Although you don’t necessarily see a ton of folks on trail, they’re in there, crawling around the tubs, waiting in line, calling dibs. To be honest, it’s off-putting.
Maybe we’re spoiled at this point having soaked all over the eastern sierra and elsewhere. Honestly, should we be feeling that because we do this all the time, we have more right to it than someone else? No way, these tubs aren’t ours, we didn’t make them and we most certainly do not own this land. So why is there entitlement seething beneath the surface and on the tip of everyone’s tongue upon the realization that you’re not the only one who came out here this weekend?
We all worked hard for this, we all dripped sweat up the steeps and felt our knees pop on the scree filled downs, we all jack-assed heavy packs with more food than we needed; we all did the research, made the effort, rounded up our friends and got here, didn’t we?
Maybe we should all just drop our attitudes and appreciate these places that exist for everyone to enjoy. After all, this isn’t the hip new bar your friends have been talking shit about lately.
The deep churning waters stretch as far as the eye can see. We imagine we catch the shadow of China, off in the horizon. Out there in the faraway ocean where tankers and fishing boats float, seaweed and waves crash, the migrating whales and the cold waters, and the endless sea lives on; that is what we look upon, humbly perched on giant rocks. We are ants, and we could be washed away with one rogue wave.