This was Brutal.
I’m not kidding. Brutal. It was hot, steep, dusty, 8 or 9 river/stream crossings, snakes, bugs, poison oak, trees and rocks to climb, you name it.
Our plan was to hike from Tassajara Zen Center to Arroyo Secco, where our friends would meet as at a drive in camp site with our gear. Then we’d all play for the day at the swimming holes, camp at Arroyo Secco that night, then Kevin and I would backpack our way back to Tassajara where we would rejuvenate ourselves in the hot springs. Sounds great right? Well…
We had a few problems with this trip. First of all we thought it was only 7 miles each way. It’s more like 10.5. To be honest, we’re not exactly sure how far we hiked this weekend, but we know it was closer to 20 miles than to 14. The trail maps for this area of the Ventana Wilderness are dodgy at best, and the trail signs and the maps did not match in terms of distance. Everything is fairly clearly marked however, so even if you weren’t expecting a 20 mile trek, it would still be difficult to get lost. That is if you can manage to follow the remarkably unkempt trails that tend to disappear into the surrounding shrubbery every time there’s a turn in the trail.
We had planned on starting early in the morning so we could take our time with the trip. We got a later start than we had hoped (which is usual), and we knew the road to Tassajara would be difficult and long, but it was more difficult and longer than we had allowed time for. All this meant we started hiking about midday. If you have ever spent any time at all in the Ventana Wilderness during the summer, you know what this means: unbearable heat. It must have been at least 85F with no shade for most of the hike. And due to our gross underestimation of the trip mileage, we had not brought enough water.
The trail starts out on a steep climb, which in high heat and no shade was enough for us to almost turn back after a particularly terrifying dizzy spell I experienced on a highly eroded section of the trail. However, after a moment to collect myself and a ton of water and salty snacks to raise my blood pressure, I decided we should press on. This hill is the most difficult part of this trail in both directions. Once at the top of the ridge, it goes right back down again; both sides of the hill (or should I say mountain?) the trail is fairly treacherous follows along exposed switchbacks. But once this part is over, the rest of the trail is great.
I wish my camera hadn’t died because there were waterfalls, wildlife, wildflowers, and dramatic views of Los Padres National Forest. In fact, this might have been one of the most exciting trails I’ve done so far because of the sheer natural beauty of the Arroyo Secco River Gorge. It really felt like no one had been out there in years. Sometimes it even felt like no one had been there at all, and we were simply following deer trails through a remote wilderness. I saw at least 10 colorful garter snakes, and a slough of wildflowers I’d only ever seen in books before.
The Arroyo Secco Campground was definitely your standard county park. It’d be great for a group or family camp out since you have all the convinces you want, with plenty of swimming holes for entertainment. After hiking at least 10 miles in scorching heat, swimming in the river was beyond heavenly. I wanted to cool off so desperately I was actually the first one to dive in, leaving everyone else to carefully test the water with their toes.
The trip back was less harrowing, although I have never needed to take painkillers in order to hike out before. But at least we had plenty of water, and we knew what to expect. We made it to the Zen Center just in time for the last serving of lunch, which was vegan and amazing. Usually vegan food is the last thing I’m craving after a long hike, but this was definitely satisfying and left me feeling less disgusting than when I binge eat a large pizza by myself. Once we’d had time to eat and clean up, we explored the Zen Center and indulged ourselves in a long soak in their hot springs. It was absolutely beautiful. The grounds of the Zen Center would inspire even the most highly strung person to stop and take in the scenery. The hot springs themselves are spa style and sex segregated, with partitioned outdoor pools alongside the river. It was certainly a pleasant way to end what we had affectionately began to call a death march, and I’m sure those hot tubs eased our aching bodies even more than I fully realized, seeing as Monday morning was not nearly as dreadful as I’d originally anticipated.