In the last year I have been itching to do some real backpacking, you know the kind where you carry everything you need and hike into a forest for a few days. I love to walk and I love to be out in nature, as scary as it can be sometimes to be outside of my comfort zone, and I like to push my limits.
However, backpacking is one thing I have decided not to do solo. I certainly know that there are women who backpack solo, and I really enjoyed the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed about her solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in the 90s. And, maybe one day I will change my mind, but for now it’s something I would like to do with a friend or companion. Especially as a novice. So when I recently met Matt and we realized we are both into hiking and nature, a trip was in the works.
Over the summer while I was planning the mother-daughter road trip, I came across a description for Sykes hot springs in Big Sur, California. Now, hot springs being one of the things I greatly missed about the west coast when I lived on the east side of the continent the last three years, I immediately perked up and did some reading. However, it quickly became clear to me that the hike is a long one and more in the vein of a backpacking trip rather than a cute short mother-daughter hike. So I bookmarked it for when I wanted to go backpacking. I asked Matt if he was up for the trek this past weekend and he immediately said yes.
The Sykes Hot Springs are located in the Ventana wilderness on the Pine Crest Trail that starts near the parking lot of Big Sur Station, near the Pfeiffer-Big Sur campground. It says that it’s about 10 miles to Sykes but we read elsewhere, heard from other hikers, and our GPS confirmed that at least portions of the trail are quite a lot longer than the signage.
The trail is really well-maintained and very crowded. It’s clearly a popular location, but I didn’t see the trash and human debris I read about elsewhere. It was very clean and it appeared to me that the other hikers were being responsible with their waste and impact.
I’d say overall it’s an easy hike in the sense of the difficultly of walking at any given point. In other words, the trail is flat, with little debris, it’s well-covered by shade, and it’s never too steep. On the other hand, the trail is hard because it’s long, you’re carrying a bunch of stuff, and the trail meanders up and down repeatedly over ridges so that you end up with a rather large total elevation change compared to your height above sea-level.
After about 6.4 miles of the trail we ended up in this gorgeous little campsite called Terrace near a little stream complete with waterfalls and I knew it was the right spot for me to hang out. We never made it to the hot springs but I had a great time and it made me want to go back all the more and complete the trip to the hot springs. I really think staying in the forest two nights would be the best way to do Sykes, and it blows my mind a little bit to think people do this as a day hike. (Although I suppose it’s substantially easier without the overnight gear.)
To round out the weekend we hit the beach. I couldn’t bear to get more than my toes wet in the freezing waters, but the ambient temperature of 84 degrees with hardly any wind, after hiking for two days, made my sojourn on the sand one of the more relaxing experiences of my life. I can’t wait to go back.