Hiking Kandlbinder in the Ventana Wilderness

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Double Cone peak is a remote peak that few people reach in a day hike, not so much because of the distance but because the trail is obliterated most of the time. Next to it is Kandlbinder (N36.29798, W121.73318) which actually doesn't show up on official maps but that's how it is known in the area. It is rarely hiked, whether in one day or two. There is no trail, there never was one, so at least we can't complain that it is obliterated. Because it is located half-way between Bottcher's Gap and Pfeiffer Park, it can be reached from two different directions.

The easiest is the Jackson Creek route. From Bottcher's Gap descend to the lodge and then follow the sign for Jackson Camp, usually a decently maintained trail (N36.32575, W121.78383). The trail ends here. Keep following the creek upstream (general eastern direction) until it forks with a branch heading southeast, the Jackson Creek (N36.32609, W121.76778). Scramble up this creek that virtually disappears at N36.30205, W121.74308. At some point you reach a ridge from which the peak in front (east) of you is Kandlbinder.

Much longer is the route via Double Cone. See this page on how to hike to Double Cone. Once at the top, scramble west towards Kandlbinder.

Finally, one can try to reach Kandlbinder from Pfeiffer Park. Looking at the topomap, one is tempted to take the trail to Mt Manuel, continue along the ridge towards Cabezo Prieto, but leave the trail at the gulch that descends towards Kandlbinder. Unfortunately, the bushwhacking on this route is likely to discourage even the most stubborn Ventana Wilderness explorer.

From Big Sur Station via Ventana Camp

Drive to Big Sur Station, 40 km south of Carmel (23 km south of Palo Colorado turnoff), 6 km south of Andrew Molera State Park and 1km south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park on hwy 1. This is the trailhead for the popular (infamous?) Sykes Hot Springs. Watch out for the bureaucracy: the "daily" parking permit is good only until 3pm... This trail to Sykes Hot Springs basically climbs the southern side of the same gorge that the Mt Manuel trail climbs to the north. You will see the Mt Manuel trail all the time on the opposite wall of the gorge. The advantage of being on the south side is that you don't need to gain as much elevation before you descend.
About 1h 45' hours into the hike, you reach the turnout for the Ventana Camp. This is not marked anymore because the trail is unmaintained. I put a cairn there but chances are that the rangers will remove it. Just calculate about 1h 45' hours and keep looking to your left. The turnoff is exactly where the trail starts heading south. GPS: N36.25467, W121.74192 (Note: in 2015 the sign had been reinstalled).
Take that "trail" downhill. It used to go to Ventana Camp but the camp does not exist anymore (note of 2010: both the trail and the camp have been restored to their original beauty). You will probably lose the trail and then find it again, because it is wildly overgrown. Eventually the landscape clears out but the slope gets very steep. You reach the Sur River in 30 minutes or so. Wade the Sur River about 50 meters downstream from the camp where it is wide and the water is shallow (water up to your knee even in a dry summer). GPS: N36.25968, W121.74188 Now you are in the middle of a gorge, with steep walls on both sides. In front of you is colossal and extremely steep ridge that separates you from the Double Cone.

The choices are grim. The first one is to follow the river downstream for about 200 meters (relatively easy on the northern side where you are now, although you will have to enter the water for the last 20 meters or so) and then turn right into its northern tributary and then turn right again into the tiny northeastern tributary (Ventana Creek). This is the favorite route because the north side of the ridge has a lot less bushwhacking. Then just follow the drainage northeast (the Ventana Creek comes down from the Double Cone region). Alas, this route involves walking in and out of the creek, and dealing with deadfalls and waterfalls (and at least one pond deeper than me). The waterfalls get taller as you start climbing in earnest, but you are now surrounded by majestic redwoods instead than steep banks. The second choice is to climb the ridge: be aware that it is an extremely strenuous climb, and it will involve some bushwhacking. The soil is loose and you may easily roll down. When you get to the top of the ridge, you might be lucky and hit a gentle use trail (whether man-made or animal-made) that follows the drainage of the Ventana Creek. A third choice is to walk downstream about 100 meters and then climb up a reasonable grade following the ridge that separates the Big Sur river and the Ventana Creek. Stay on the ridge and you'll get to what appears to be an isolated peak. Keep going and you'll realize that there is a blade connecting that peak to the rest of the ridge. Continue along the ridge but stop gaining elevation (so the various summits will pass you by on your right). Whichever way you bypass the ridge, once on the other side continue hiking in the northeastern direction following the Ventana Creek upstream and you are de facto hiking towards the Double Cone (very visible from the top of the ridge). As the condor flies, you are only 4 kms from the destination, but a devastating climb awaits you. If you are up on the ridge it will not be obvious, but there is a tributary coming down from the other side and almost at the same point a tributary coming down from your ridge (this one you can usually hear loud and clear). Beyond this point, you will see a slope that ascends towards Kandlbinger. Here it is safe to cross to the left (northern) side of the creek, which at this point is just a series of tiny waterfalls and rapids. Start ascending this northern bank. There are a number of plateaus with different degrees of vegetation. The summit is Kandlbinder.
The general area:

The route from Big Sur station to the Ventana Creek drainage:
  • Big Sur Station
  • Ventana Wilderness sign: 50'
  • Ventana Camp turnoff: 1.5h
  • Big Sur river wading: 2h
  • Kandlbinder: 7h
  • Pictures of these hikes
  • View from Ventana Double Cone
  • Ventana Wilderness map
  • Trail conditions
  • Flora and fauna of the Ventana Wilderness
  • Ventana Wilderness weather
    Kandlbinder and Double Cone from the west:

    (The red routes come up from Bottcher's Gap, the blue routes come up from Ventana Camp)

    The rare official map that shows Kandlbinder:

    Other recommended hikes in the Ventana Wilderness:

    Poison Oak warning: anywhere at low altitude poison oak is a major annoyance. You *will* be touching poison oak. So i recommend long-sleeve shirt, long pants, and wash yourself in cold water after the hike.

    Tick warning: ticks are ubiquitous. Another reason to cover your body.