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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

The Los Padres National Forest and the Ventana Wilderness

Ventana Wilderness recovering after fires

June 2009

On Sunday, June 8, 2008 an illegal campfire escaped control in the Monterey Ranger District of Los Padres National Forest, initiating the Indians Wildland Fire. Less than two weeks later, a powerful electrical storm made landfall on the Big Sur coast, igniting a series of wildfires that would form the infamous Basin Complex. Both blazes evaded containment for over a month, resulting in something of a “perfect storm” that would ultimately blacken over 240,000 acres of Central Coast wildlands. Within the Ventana Wilderness, only the Cone Peak area was spared, but that too burned in October’s 16,000-acre Chalk Wildland Fire. Citing hazardous conditions and a depleted management budget, the US Forest Service closed most of the Monterey Ranger District for the better part of a year.

With two notable exceptions, the District was at long last re-opened on May 1, 2009. Escondido Campground on Arroyo Seco-Indians Road will remain closed until agency personnel complete repairs on damaged facilities. The lower Pine Ridge Trail (including Ventana, Terrace Creek, Barlow Flat, Sykes and Redwood Camps) has been rendered impassible with deadfalls and is subject to an indefinite closure. Most State Park lands east of Highway 1 on the Big Sur coast (Pfeiffer-Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer-Burns and Limekiln State Parks) likewise remain closed. But that leaves over 200,000 acres of backcountry open for exploration, with much of it in a marvelous state of post-fire recovery.

Hikers can expect a fascinating array of fire-following wildflowers, waist-high grasses and a lot less shade than in years past. Trail conditions range from excellent to utter devastation. Trails in the Little Sur and Arroyo Seco drainages appear to have been hit particularly hard. Hikers would be well advised to maintain heightened awareness when passing through burned forests, across steep slopes, over loose tread and when selecting a campsite (detached branches and standing snags are particularly dangerous in high winds). Some routes may be extremely difficult to follow due to landslides and heavy regrowth. The remnants of fire suppression efforts, such as bulldozed firebreaks and slash piles may often obscure ridge-top trails. Familiar areas may be barely recognizable, so stay oriented and allow for extra hiking time.

The Ventana Wilderness Alliance hosts a website with current condition reports for backcountry trails at Ventana Chapter members are encouraged to use the online submission form to file their own trail reports and help update this valuable knowledge base.

For more information, contact Mike Splain, Local Wilderness Chair, .

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