First – Nuthin’ but the facts…
Type of hike: Loop
Difficulty: 9 – I suppose it could be harder somehow
Trail grade: Boronda is say a 7 until Timber Top – dirt road for 2 miles – then de Angulo Trail is say a 3 – 4. Overgrown with treefall – described below. We felt extremely lucky that there actually WAS a trail though. Thank you Jimmy and Kim Chi for resurrecting it.
Trail use: Hardly anyone on the trail – We saw people but it was Easter weekend.
Highest elevation: ~3,263 at top of de Angulo. Timber Top is 3,060. Highway 1, where we parked, is about 580′
Total climbing: 3152′
Round trip distance: 10.6 miles (1.4 along Hwy 1 to Boronda TH, 3.0 to Timber Top, 2.2 along Coast Ridge Road and 3.3 down de Angulo plus a little bit)
How long: About 4 hrs 40 minutes not including time eating lunch at Timber Top
Quality of views: Pretty astounding… gotta be a 10. If it’s not a 10, what could a ten possibly be?
Weather conditions when we did it: Sunny, 70 degrees-ish, mostly clear ‘cept for some sea haze and fog in the distance
Red tape: Absolutely none
Maps we used: Green Trails Big Sur Ventana Wilderness but mostly Robert Stone’s book Big Sur
Water: None – bring what you need
Parking: Only parking is on the side of Hwy 1 in turnouts
How to get there:
From Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 through Carmel. Proceed down the coast another 27 miles to the Big Sur Ranger Station. From there, go another 5.3 miles where you’ll find turnouts. This is the Boronda Trail trail head. The trailhead is behind a green gate on the inland side of the road. There is also a cattle chute and some signage plainly visible.
Another 1.45 miles down further south are another set of turnouts, and another green gate to a road. This road goes into a ramshackle neighborhood. If you park here (this is where we parked), park along the highway outside the gate. This is where we came out from the de Angulo Trail.
Now for the details… Additional pictures
Donna and I have been trying to do more in the Big Sur area. And as I’ve said elsewhere, we like to hike loops. Well actually, I prefer loops and Donna humors me. She does lots of ‘out and backs’ when she’s out with other folks and doesn’t have to deal with my nonsense. Anyway… this is a loop. Kind of a tough loop but still a loop.
Our overall plan was to park at the base of the de Angulo Trail, then walk along Hwy 1 until we reached the Boronda Trail trailhead. From there we’d climb Boronda, have lunch at Timber Top camp. Then make our way south along the Coast Ridge Road until reaching the top of the de Angulo Trail. From there we descend back to the car via de Angulo for a total of about 10 miles (10.6 by GPS).
We chose to park at the base of the de Angulo Trail cuz we wanted to use the easy beginning of walking along the highway as a warm up before doing the climb. We also rightfully predicted that we’d be pretty hammered from the hike that all we’d want to do at the end of the de Angulo Trail was climb into the nice comfy car without having to endure an additional 1.5 mile walk in traffic on Hwy 1 to get back to the car. Turns out this was some good thinking.
So off we went. After walking the on and a half miles along the highway to get to the base of Boronda, we started the climb.
The climb is pretty steady, relentless really. For the most part the trail is an old ranch road that was clearly used for transporting farm animals back in the day. The grade ranges from flat to more than 30% (by GPS). The views are constant and get more and more stunning as you go up. Sooner than you’d expect, you notice the sound of the highway has completely disappeared. There’s just the wind, which seemed to build as we got higher. Of course this could also have been because the wind just got stronger as the day wore on.
The 2,500 foot climb up to Timber Top covers almost exactly 3.0 miles (for an average grade of about 16%). We did this in late March and the grass was so green that it almost hurt to look at it. The wildflowers were everywhere, and thick. Everything was lush. So we had plenty to distract us from our suffering as we trudged upward. Donna was in heaven with all the blooming wildflowers. Her borderline rapture She took lotsa pictures so she could identify them later when we got home. This was good for me cuz with all the picture taking, I was managing to keep up with her. I just kept walking as she took pictures of the flowers that we passed. The flowers were really pretty amazing though. Even a cretin like me couldn’t help but be amazed.
One thing about this climb that makes it special… After about say 1000 feet of climbing up this bluff…
…the trail then goes along this long, grassy ‘arm’ or bluff almost all the rest of the way to the top. It’s very unusual and only adds to the wonder of it all. And of course it was especially amazing because everything was so incredibly green. I’m a little troubled cuz the photos here just didn’t capture the deep green that we could see with our eyes. I guess it may be time for a little Photoshopping.
Eventually we arrived at Timber Top. Not sure what the history of this camp is but if I find out, I’ll update this blog post accordingly. Crazy as it seemed, there was zero flat ground anywhere for the entire two hours of our climb, but suddenly here was a very pleasant place to camp. Only problem was that you gotta climb 2500 feet with a pack on to get to it. Timber Top is at 3060 feet… and yes it really is true, I do keep carrying on about the elevation. But if you had climbed all the way up there, I’m betting you would mention it once or twice too. My body got a pretty good reminder that 2500 feet of climbing is non-trivial. Anyway, the camp has a picnic table, a barbecue stand (stove in the parlance of the Ventana Wilderness), a fire pit, and even some nasty water… but most importantly, lots of luxurious flat ground. And of course the views continued to be absolutely astounding.
We ate lunch and rested a bit. Then we were off onto the Coast Ridge Road to get over to the de Angulo Trail. You’d think that finding the road would be easy… but it wasn’t. We were a bit tired from the climb so we were trying to minimize our walking to find the road. Our search grid wasn’t very big. I could go into why it was a puzzle but that would likely be tiresome to read. I’ll just say that at last we figured out where it was so we could start walking (hobbling… I was getting tired and my foot hurt) to the next trail head. Previously, I had fantasized that the road would offer astounding views of the coastline. After all it is on a ridge top overlooking the Big Sur coastline. However on the section we walked, it does not. It’s tucked into the ridge on the inland side of the ridge, not on the ocean side. We did however have an amazing view of the northern most mountains of Ventana Wilderness area.
Now that we were on the road…
…the goin’ was pretty easy. Since it was our first time on this route, our biggest concern was finding the top of the DeAngulo Trail so we could get back to the car. We didn’t want to just walk by it on the road, so no matter how miserable I was feeling, I had to stay ‘heads up’. From the Robert Stone book, we were expecting to walk say 1.8 miles. We got to 1.8 miles from Timber Top, and no de Angulo Trail… Robert Stone had been spot on with his mileage notes so far so I was starting to worry a little. We didn’t see anything though so we kept walking… Of course we eventually came upon it in logically the right location. Just a bit further than 1.8 miles.
The descent down the de Angulo was horrific. A combination of factors made it pretty unpleasant. First my foot was bothering me, and we were tired. The descent was pretty steep and steep descents aren’t any fun. I knew Donna wasn’t feeling much better. Neither of these factors helped… The descent was steep and went on for 2,500 feet with an average 15% grade. But sometimes there was a little uphill only to be countered by a stretch of 20 – 35% grade. Tough on the ole quads… I was losing my sense of humor.
But the views continued to be phenomenal, even though I was getting to be too uncomfortable to properly enjoy them.
On the way down we ran into this guy doing trail work… His name was/is Jimmy. He told us that he and his wife had pretty much single handedly brought the trail back from the dead after it was nearly destroyed in one of the Big Sur fires. They had scratched it back out of the side of the hills all to honor the legacy of Jaime de Angulo, a local legend (Jaime de Angulo wiki). After coming off Boronda, and then the Coast Ridge Road, this trail seemed pretty rough though, and of course I was sniveling. However it soon became clear that there were some genuine heroics behind the maintenance of this trail. It was obvious that it literally had been clawed back from the dead after the fires. So now I want to say a big THANK YOU to Jimmy and his wife, Kim Chi for doing all this for us. I wish I had gotten a picture of Jimmy but when we talking I just didn’t think of it.
Now then… not gonna lie, the trail WAS overgrown… in places with poison oak… and it was the juiciest poison oak that you’ve ever seen. The leaves just glistened. Oy! AND… there were LOTS of ticks… I’d never had so many ticks on me. Donna and I were flickin’ em off each other right and left. It was like there was a tick hatchery nearby just spewing em out. I’m sure this isn’t a permanent situation… but it was a real concern.
We met another guy along the trail… Richard.
He was on his way up the road to fetch some sheep he had left to graze up higher…
Richard was very friendly and pleasant to chat with. He told us more than we could absorb about the local history. Finally, Richard had to tend to the sheep and we had to get a move on back to our car so we parted company. We still had about a half mile to go down the hill… ouch!
And then we were back at the road. Getting back to the car felt unbelievably good, and that was only to be exceeded by how good the shower felt when we got home.