Sykes Hotsprings Hike
Date: 23rd June 2013
Distance: 20+ miles
Duration: 1 day
Difficulty: Moderate (Strenuous with a backpack – backpacking or when the temperature is high and it’s not a cloudy day)
Trail: Pine Ridge Trail (Big Sur)
This time around it was a small select group of people (Tissa, Pradeep and I). Sunday morning, I got ready for the hike and met Tissa at Lucky near my place. We then went to our ususal meeting spot, picked up Pradeep whose presence for the hike was a surprise. We drove (I mean Tissa did the driving) to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance. It seemed a busy day there as the parking lots were pretty full but we luckily managed to get a parking spot. We started the hike at 9:30am. The Pine Ridge trail was well covered in the beginning but it opened up to the sun very quickly after that. Surprisingly the humidity was high and it was relatively hot. Initially I counted the number of accents and descents by looking at the map which seemed like 800 feet to 1600 feet twice but throughout the journey I felt we were pretty much climbing up and down continuously. It was tiring in the beginning. The ascent was steep. We bumped into so many backpackers who were returning to the trail head at which moment I thought – “Oh my! We are in trouble”. I recalculated the approximate time that we would take to get to the hot springs, take a nice hot dip and get back to the car. I was happy if we could depart from the springs at 4pm.
After hiking a bit, we were in the middle of wilderness. It is the combined land of Ventana wilderness and Los Padres National Park. The gorge was gorgeous J. Mountains everywhere surrounded by massive evergreen trees. The trail was unmaintained most of the way which made me feel even more at home – in the wild. The first pit stop was at the 5 mile marker which had a very nice stream flowing and loads of place for camping. This was the “half-way campground”. A lot of backpackers we met earlier had camped here over Saturday night. Tissa’s pistachios and dried apricots were highly tasty at that time. We reached the half way marker at 11:35am. It was good time I thought (2hrs for 5 miles). It took us very little time to gain the energy that we had lost and I was excited about the hot springs from the start. So we started hiking again. After a mile and half, we came to another stream crossing (previous one was at the half way point). There was a dog “Joie” I guess who was enjoying the stream. It was so hot that he didn’t want to get out of water. Oh yeah, speaking of Joie, I forgot to mention that the Pine Ridge Trail was dog friendly and I saw a lot of dogs. (I mean a lot of them :-D). Continuing ahead, we reached the 7mile marker “Barlow Flat Camp”, which is 3 miles from the hot springs. This is one of the favorite camp grounds close to Sykes. It would be ideal for backpackers to pitch tent here, loose the luggage and head to the springs for a nice hot dip. But yes, the area around the hot springs itself was pretty nice for camping. It depends on the number of people though. I assume it would be pretty crowded during the weekends. Ok, back to the hike. The last three miles were the tricky ones. It felt like more than 3 miles. The springs never came and we kept walking – asking passers by as to how to find the springs and how far they were.
Finally at 1:20pm, we reached the river/stream that we had to follow left along the banks to the springs.
The hot spring was ¼ of a mile along the river. This particular portion was most amazing – we had to hop over small boulders and rocks to move along the river (A playground as Mark would call it). Seeing the hot springs is when I was thrown back into reality of being in the US. There were sand bags placed to make a nice Jacuzzi type area where you could enjoy a nice relaxing bath/dip. I did not wait for food or anything else. I hurried to it and relaxed my worked up muscles in the hot sulphur water. The hotspring was just next to the river. So hot water right next to cold mountain water. The spring water eventually drained into the river. Tasty sandwiches that Pradeep had made along with the banana walnut cake that I bought from Lucky followed the soul soothing dip.We decided to head back and start the 10mile return journey at 3:00pm.
I felt as thought it was a new day and a new hike after the dip. The return journey wasn’t very spectacular. It was a grueling walk back but the weather gave some concession by being cloudy. Mist occupied the foreground of the massive peaks. It was mystical and for a second, I thought I was back in Yosemite Valley. Pradeep and some trouble on the way back but we all made it ok to the car by 7:35pm. I reached home at 10:00pm that day. Sykes hotsprings and Pfeiffer Big Sur park is indeed a gold mine for backpacking. I will definitely make another plan to visit this place for a good 2 day trip.