Tales from the Trail: Bottcher’s Gap to Pat Springs Via Skinner Ridge Trail
By: Sylecia Johnston
President’s Day weekend was the perfect opportunity to get outside and into the wild! So, I decided to go on a backpacking trip from Bottcher’s Gap to Pat Springs with a couple of girl friends.
We decided to head down towards Big Sur just after work on Friday, February 15th, to beat the weekend rush of the day visitors we knew would overtake parks and trails just off of Highway 1. It was a sunny 74⁰ outside as we turned off of Highway 1 just before Bixby Bridge. We drove 8 miles up the winding Palo Colorado Canyon Road, past beautiful redwoods and valley vistas until we reached Bottcher’s Gap Campground, our destination for the night.
Bottcher’s Gap Campground is in the Los Padres National Forest almost at 2,100 feet. There is a $12 site fee or a $5 parking fee for day hikers. Amenities include a vault restroom (with toilet paper!), picnic tables and grills, trash cans, a permanent camp manager and a breathtaking view of the Ventana Wilderness. There is no water at Bottcher’s Gap Campground so make sure your bring plenty with you.
We woke up bright and early Saturday morning, prepared our packs and began our trek at the Skinner Ridge Trailhead around 10am. The path to Skinner Ridge is a moderate hike – nothing too difficult – though I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve gone hiking so was out of breath and red-faced with the elevation gain of 1400 feet. We crossed Mill Creek a couple of times, went through the chaparral and came across plenty of poison oak (wear pants). At the top of the ridge 2.3 hours later, near Devil’s Peak, we stopped for a PB&J lunch with clementine’s. I built a cairn to celebrate the spectacular panoramic view.
Continuing on, we wove in and out of the fire break, came across a couple of trail intersections, and then ventured into the remains of forest that was burnt in the 2008 Big Sur Fire. It was sad at first, but it was encouraging and surreal to see the forest rising out of the ashes. There were quite a few deadfalls that we had to climb over or limbo under – a feat with backpacks, I might add. On the north side of the peak we actually found little bits of snow left on the ground.
Just past 3pm we arrived at Pat Springs (5 hour hike), scouted out our camping spot and filled up our water bottles from the spring. There was one other couple there when we arrived and they had claimed the west facing ridge camp. We set up our tent on the south facing ridge of the saddle and welcomed two more small groups of hikers. Then we gathered on the west ridge to watch the spectacular view of the sunset.
It got a little chilly once the sun set, but with our campfire, extra layers and cozy tent we were just fine! We woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning, enjoyed our breakfast with coffee, filled up our camelbacks and water bottles at the spring one more time and headed back down the trail. This time, we passed multiple hikers, including a gentleman and his lab who ran the whole trail to the spring that morning and passed us on the way back out!
Spring is here, time to take a hike!