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Big Sur to Sykes Hot Springs - California, United States

by chris  
with a Garmin Forerunner 305
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David and I were ready to try some snow camping in Yosemite this weekend, but the weather report had other plans.  It was set to rain on the first day in Yosemite, and we decided that camping in snow while being rained on did not sound like a good use of a weekend (hopefully we will get some clear skies soon!).  Since we had psyched ourselves up for a backpacking trip for the past few weeks, we set our sights on somewhere a bit closer: Big Sur.

After spending Friday night in Monterey, we drove along the coast through Monterey, eventually making it to Big Sur, but not before taking a few stops along the road at scenic viewpoints to take some photos of the clifs.  Unfortunately we had no map, and we left the book that described the hike at home, so we had to rely on the rangers.  They told us that it was a solid 10 miles to the Sykes Hotsprings, and it was very difficult to go the wrong way, so we parked the car, put on our packs, grabbed our cameras, and hit the trail.

Most of the hike was pretty damp (not muddy, just damp), which was cool and relaxing, and I have seen enough banana slugs to keep be happy for a while.  The recent rainstorms definitely had an impact on the area: flowers were already starting to bloom, trees had fallen over the trail, and we had to hike over some pretty big mudslides. We took a leisurely 7 hours (lunch included) to hike about 12 miles, stopping for lots of macro photography practice as well as a few long-exposure waterfalls shots on our tripods; with 10 miles total, we were in no big rush.

At around the 6 mile mark, we met up with the first river we had to cross and looked upstream for a better way to cross.  After throwing out a few options (like the fallen tree 10 feet above the 2 foot deep river), we found a good-sized tree forming a bridge.  David got on first, and as stepped over the log to get a better picture of him crossing the total weight was too much and it snapped in half.  I guess it was better than in a few seconds when David would have been above the water.  With 30 minutes wasted, we just sucked it up and walked straight through, fought through the cold, and then immediately stopped for lunch and wrung out our socks.

At mile 9 we made it to yet another river crossing, this one was much more powerful and we needed a rope to cross it safely.  We had about 1 mile left, but couldn't seem to find the camp anywhere.  It was getting pretty dark, and we put on our headlamps.  When we eventually found a sign, we were told that we had passed the camp 3 miles earlier--ugh! Rather than walk back the 3 miles in the dark, we just camped there a ways off the trail. 

After setting up camp and getting some couscous in us, we grabbed out tripods, remove shutter release cords, and our headlamps and hiked out to the ridge to practice some night photography.  After a solid 30-45 minutes we started to get cold and headed back to camp, jumped in our sleeping bags, and got some much-deserved rest.

On Sunday morning we were in a bit of a hurry to get back in time to stop at REI on the drive back.  We quickly made breakfast (oatmeal with raisins and dried cranberries), filled out camelbaks, packed our bags and hit the trail.  2.5 miles in we were back at the rushing river and dropped our packs to search for the elusive hot springs (spoiler alert: we still didn't find them), so we crossed the river again and kept going. 

We kept a pretty quick pace, only stopping a handful of times to take out our tripods for waterfalls or for david to use his infrared filter.  We finished the remainder of our food at lunch (which made my pack lighter!) and soon got back on the path. David's knee started acting up with a few miles left.  My GPS device died with an hour left but fortunately I had my iPhone handy to still capture the last couple of miles. 

When we got back to the car we threw everything in the trunk and grabbed our celebratory avocados for our traditional post-hike treat, delicious!

After getting back, we found out that the Hot Springs were before the big river crossing, up a pretty steep hill that we would have needed to scramble up.  I may not get back to it for quite a while, as I would rather hike another one of the great bay area trails that repeating this one.  We shall see...

The Hot springs is up a pretty steep hill (so I've heard), and is not very well marked.  Make sure you do some research before you go, do not just rely on a map or sign posts to find it.
Big Sur, Sykes, hot springs, waterfall, banana slug, Coast, Backpacking, photography
Photos: See all pictures and videos from Big Sur to Sykes Hot Springs
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Trip Info
by chris
January 30, 2010
Trip Location: Pfeiffer Big Sur, California, United States
Length: 26 miles
Duration: 15 hours
Activity: Backpacking
Trip viewed 40,760 times
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