fountain of youth?

Most people who read my crappy blog with any sort of regularity probably know that I’m not all that great at planning. Sometimes the lack of planning leads to some interesting stories. This weekend, for example, was pretty interesting. For a brief moment on Saturday I stood naked in the Ventana Wilderness, struggling to get my clothes on while shivering in the cold breeze of the pale moonlit night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story begins on Monday with a pile of bones. Not human bones, of course, but beef rib bones. A few of the guys used my birthday as an excuse to go to Cattlemen’s for dollar rib night. (As if you really need an excuse to get dollar ribs…) Afterwards a couple of us decided to go to Jack’s house to try to use my birthday as an excuse to get him to share some of his good alcohol. He obliged with some nice aged whiskey. Somehow between sips of whiskey, limoncello and the wine that I bought during the Giro D Vino we started talking about hot springs.

Initially we started talking about the Esalen institute, which is apparently some sort of hippy colony that has hot spring baths right on the ocean. Apparently it’s open to the public for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, and apparently Paul had visited it before. Since it was going to be a long weekend and since it would be right after a full moon, and maybe because by then I was slightly buzzed, driving down to Big Sur to sit in a hot spring pool and relax in the moonlight by the ocean sounded like an awesome idea.

By Friday we sort of had a half baked plan. Paul unfortunately couldn’t make it since last minute flights were too expensive. After doing research we found that there were natural hot spring pools in the Ventana wilderness in Big Sur, so we decided to try to find those instead of going to the Esalen institute. Sykes hot springs was the name of our new destination. Since it’s a ten mile hike from the trail head to the hot springs we would need to hike in and spend the night in the wilderness. And since Big Sur is so far from Davis, we decided to crash at Dho and Jason’s house in San Jose before driving out to Big Sur Saturday morning. That was the extent of our planning, since I figured we could get the rest of the information we needed from the ranger station at Big Sur.

I remember from middle school history class that an explorer named Ponce De Leon spent the latter part of his life searching for the fountain of youth. Ironically on Friday night Jason and Dho were watching the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, in which Jack Sparrow looks for the fountain of youth. I was tired from the long drive and from mountain biking in the morning, so I fell asleep and didn’t get to see what sort of adventures captain Jack got into while searching for the fountain. As I fell asleep I wondered if the weekend would lead to any crazy adventures. Probably not. But it was fun to think of our search for Syke’s hot springs as an adventure similar to the search for the fountain of youth.

In the morning we set out towards Big Sur. The drive along the coast was beautiful. It took us through Monterey, past Carmel, and down along highway one which hugs the beautiful Pacific coast. The drive reminded me a lot of my bike trip from Seattle earlier in the year, especially when I saw bicycles loaded up with panniers.


We arrived at the Big Sur ranger station around 10, asked a few logistical questions, and then we were on our way. Notice we all still look pretty happy in this picture.


The trail was cut into the hillside for most of the hike.


Once the trail rose up high enough, we were able to see the ocean off in the distance.


The trail dropped down into the valley several times, and we had to cross a creek several times. Each time it dropped down to the creek level it climbed back out of the valley, so the hike was pretty tiring.


Our original plan was to hike to the Syke’s hot spring campground and camp there. But along the way we met this hobo who advised us that the campground at Syke’s was full. He recommended that we stay at Barlow Camp instead. So we hiked the seven miles into Barlow camp, getting there around 5 in the afternoon, and set up camp. It felt to get the heavy packs off our backs. I had carried a three liter sack of wine in– probably not the smartest decision because that thing was heavy, but it started to bring a smile back to our faces (except for maybe Jack’s face– he doesn’t look all that happy in this picture for some reason…)

After a bit of wine and a quick snack we decided to try and find the hot springs. On our way out of camp we met a group who were coming back from the springs who said it would take about an hour and half to get there. They said it wasn’t too bad a hike, but there was one sketchy part where we needed to cross the river on a slippery log, they recommended that we take our shoes off and wade instead of trying to cross on the log. We thanked them for their advice and pressed on.

It took us a lot longer than expected to get near Sykes camp– almost three hours. We crossed the river at what we thought was the sketchy crossing that the group had mentioned, only to find that it took us to the wrong side of the river, so we had to cross again. The first time I crossed I took off my shoes, but afterwards I ended up crossing with my shoes on. The river wasn’t too deep, knee level at the deepest points, but the water was icy cold and the river bottom was slippery, so it wasn’t easy to cross. We arrived at the camping area and found that the hobo’s advice was wrong, there was plenty of area left to set up camp.

We talked to a couple of different people who all seemed to have different directions to get to the hot spring. One person said that it was about a quarter of a mile away, just follow the river until you can’t go anymore, then climb over a big boulder. A nice European couple told us that it was not a good idea to try to get there at night, they thought the lights that we had were insufficient. But when they realized we were going to try anyways, they gave us pretty solid directions, warning us that we would need to cross the river two more times.

When we finally got to the hot springs we found it was pretty crowded. But luckily there was a group that was leaving, so we peeled off our clothes and sat in the empty hot spring pool at the bottom. To call it a hot spring pool is basically a flat out lie. It was smaller and shallower than a kiddie pool, and it wasn’t hot at all, more like lukewarm or tepid. It was quite disappointing and anticlimactic.

Actually now that I think back and write about it, it’s pretty funny. There were four clothing optional pools. Three of them were filled with naked people smoking pot and drinking vodka. In the one cold pool at the bottom, which was filled with the runoff from those upper pools, sat three Asian guys sitting in shorts awkwardly trying to make light of the situation.

We sat there for maybe ten minutes before we decided we had enough. As soon as I got out of the pool I began to feel cold. I stripped outta my shorts and for a brief moment on Saturday I stood naked in the Ventana Wilderness, struggling to get my clothes on while shivering in the cold breeze of the pale moonlit night. As I was trying to change, four people came down from one of the upper pools. They had obviously elected to do the clothing optional bathing. I’m not a prude or anything, but I found myself somewhat bashful. I said hi and asked if there was any room in the upper pools. They said there wasn’t, although I probably wouldn’t have gone up anyways even if there was room.

At this point the hike back seemed pretty daunting. It was pretty cold and we were all wearing damp clothes. The hot spring had been kind of a bust. I wondered if Ponce De Leon’s crew ever thought of mutiny when they searched unsuccessfully for so many years to find the fountain of youth. Similarly I wondered if Jack and Sam were pissed off, but in any case I felt pretty bad. We still needed to hike the three miles back to camp in our damp clothes, crossing the river multiple times. It was not going to be fun.

We finally arrived back at our camp around midnight. After peeling off our wet clothes and filling our belly with hot food and wine we felt a bit better. We tried to get a fire going, but most of the wood we had on hand was wet, so after a while we gave up and went to bed. In the morning we packed up and headed back toward civilization. The hike back was uneventful, albeit much slower than I thought it would be.

I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures on this trip, and uploaded even fewer. I didn’t even bring my camera on the night hike from Barlow camp to Sykes hot springs. (It was too dark.)

The few pictures I have are here:
http://picasaweb.google.com/mikehong81/2011111213BigSurBackpacking

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