Round trip: 12 miles & 4000 ft gain & 12 hours
Hike date: November 25, 2017
Waking at 3:15AM is not my ideal way of starting a day – but today lack of daylight was not going to keep me from reaching Rattlesnake Camp. Last time I’d had to abort my attempt due to running out of daylight and energy. This time I would start earlier and would avoid the difficulty of trying to follow Rattlesnake Creek Trail – instead, it would be a bushwhack.
So Paul David Tuff and I found ourselves at Los Padres Dam parking lot, adjusting headlamps. We took the shortest route to Danish Creek and shortly after sunrise started up the Rattlesnake Creek Trail, only 1.7 miles from Rattlesnake Camp. Our route in brief: for the first third we roughly followed the trail up the ridge, then for the middle half bushwhacked along the ridgeline or slightly to its Rattlesnake Creek side, vice the trail which lies along the other side, and for the last one-sixth re-joined the trail leaving the ridge heading for Rattlesnake Camp. We arrived at the camp 3 1/2 hours after leaving Danish Creek. Overall, it was a slow and tedious but not exhausting trip – we avoided thick brush and large downfalls, mostly dealing with sparse burnt (and hardened) brush and an uneven surface.
Although the 2016 Soberanes fire had burnt all along our route, Rattlesnake Camp itself was untouched – but newly singed trees showed how close it had gotten. The distinctive “Rattlesnake Camp” sign still overlooks the camp and the table still stands, though a rotted crossbar has now created a drooping slat. The camp is still peaceful and serene, the brook babbling away.
We spent an hour at the camp, investigating the environs and the fire-damaged trees. Our return trip to Danish Creek was faster, only 2 3/4 hours – mostly because more downhill but also because on the way out I’d inadvertently led us on a side loop while trying to avoid brush. Our speed-toward-goal (i.e. neglecting side-to-side wiggles) on the way out was 0.5 mph, on the return just over 0.6 mph.
For those wanting to visit Rattlesnake Camp, this bushwhack route is the easiest way to go, bypassing nasty sections of the trail – for now. But things may change after the winter rains, since much of the burnt chaparral will sprout. What this portends for the future of Rattlesnake Creek Trail and Rattlesnake Camp is unknown. If there is no “trail”, however rough, to Rattlesnake Camp will anyone continue to go there? Even before the fire, few visitors ever made their way to Rattlesnake Camp. And the current bushwhack route is rugged, as my torn pants attest.
As always, time will tell.