Guest Author Mason Matthews is a lover of movies, history, politics, comedy, pizza, and travel.
The wilderness of Big Sur has long captivated the hearts and minds of adventurers and artists alike due to the region’s sublime natural beauty. Situated between the endless waters of the Pacific Ocean and dense Redwood forests stretching downwards along the Central Coast of California, I figured it would be the perfect setting for my first solo backpacking adventure. I embarked on the 20 mile roundtrip journey to the Sykes Hot Springs within Los Padres National Forest’s Ventana Wilderness during the final days of winter break this semester. This wasn’t my first backpacking trip, nor was it the first 10+ mile hike alone in the middle of nowhere, but it was the first time I’d experience camping out alone in backcountry.
Waking up at 5:30 A.M. and enduring a nearly four-hour expedition through the traffic of Silicon Valley towards the rugged coast of Highway 1, I was finally off on my great trek into the wilderness. Slowly but surely, I navigated my way up and along the switchbacks of Big Sur’s rolling hills with the ocean at my backside for a little over an hour until the sea eventually vanished behind the sprawling vista of Redwood trees that encompassed the enormous landscape.
Although the Sykes Hot Springs are a popular destination for weekend warriors, I ran into very few fellow human beings along the trail because:
1) I decided to do the trip on a Monday.
2) Unlike myself, most people have a fair degree of practical intelligence and avoid camping overnight in the Redwoods during the below freezing weather of January.
Along the ten-mile journey to the hot springs, I only ran into about a dozen people, most of them traveling in small tribes of three to four college aged hippies returning from a weekend spent down by the river.
Within about five hours of navigating my way alongside waterfalls, across streams using fallen trees as bridges and beside the ice encrusted plants that lined the trail, I had finally reached the Big Sur river. From what I had read online, the only way across the river towards the currently vacant campsite on the other side was to wade directly through the water. Although I’ve played a fair amount of The Oregon Trail videogame in my years, this was the first time I’d ACTUALLY be fording an ACTUAL river that could ACTUALLY lead to great bodily harm (or at least a severely dampened backpack and supplies inside) if things went wrong.
I walked alongside the water until reaching a wider portion where the water was less deep and began crossing straight through it’s rushing current. The frigid water was just over waist deep, and I used the larger rocks within the riverbed as support while working my way against the flowing current. Upon successfully reaching the opposite side of the Big Sur River, I was rewarded with drenched pants, soaking socks and waterlogged boots.
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