Hanging Valley Firebreak: a distant view of Deer Pasture

Round trip: 12 miles & 2700 ft elevation gain
Hike date: July 2, 2017
(click for larger, interactive map)

Back in 2010 Paul Danielson and I GPS’d the Santa Lucia Trail from Eagle Creek north to Last Chance Camp, a 19-mile/14-hour marathon highlighted by crawling with a saw under an interlocked ceanothus brush canopy – no actual “trail” but the brush only let us move where the tread had been, other directions being impassable.  To get there we’d taken an overgrown firebreak up from Indians-ArroyoSeco Road, which in turn led to an overgrown road.  At the time Paul spoke of the other old roads that had once been there, now overgrown, and wanted to return later to explore them.  We never did that, but with the Soberanes fire re-opening of the road from Hanging Valley to the ridge above, and the firebreak created along the ridgeline itself, I decided to take the opportunity to see the views from high above Hanging Valley.

Maria Ferdin joined me for a reprise of the first part of my previous route, up the firebreak paralleling Eagle Creek. (BTW, “Eagle Creek” is a local name, not an official USFS name – but is widely used and known.) Although clear of brush, the ground was rough with erosion-control branches strewn about – we had to pick our way through and I was glad to have brought 2 poles

We start to climb (m.ferdin)

The newly-cleared brush made it much easier than in 2010, but it was still steep – one section had a 52% slope!

A steep section – I’m high above (m.ferdin)

A “hanging valley” is one much higher than an adjoining valley, often with a steep drop where the two valleys meet.  The Ventana’s “Hanging Valley”, which lies along the Indians-ArroyoSeco Road, is a wide and long plateau which collects water flowing from the surrounding mountains and funnels it into the Arroyo Seco.  From above, its extensive meadows are lovely.  As we climbed, we glimpsed those – and also meadows in another hanging valley, smaller and further away.  It took awhile to realize that was the fabled Deer Pasture, of which I’ve heard stories but never actually visited.  Both appear in the panorama photo below, which I took at our high point.

High-point panorama (click for full-size)

The views were wonderful in all directions. Nearest are the ridgelines surrounding Santa Lucia Creek, winding downstream to Arroyo Seco  and upstream to Junipero Serra Peak.  Also prominent is the ridge from Black Cone to South Ventana Cone, leading to Miller Mountain just visible behind the Church Creek Divide and on to Black Butte and Arroyo Seco.  And the summits of Cone Peak and Junipero Serra are visible, if you know where to look.  Deer Pasture is the meadow just visible above the ridge behind Hanging Valley.

The firebreak then turns NW to continue along the ridgeline paralleling Hanging Valley.  At its mid-point, I climbed a knob for a final photo of Hanging Valley and Deer Pasture.

Hanging Valley and Deer Pasture meadows

We then headed down the newly re-opened road to Hanging Valley – along which I found this weird plant I’d never seen before.

What is it ?

The day was warm and the firebreak and road exposed to the sun, so we were hot and sweaty.  I’d purposefully not mentioned the cool and shaded pool found at Hanging Valley, collected from the water flowing into it, so it was an unexpected surprise for Maria.  We rested in the coolness of this oasis, listening to its waterfall.  And filled up our bladders gratefully – despite being full at the start they were now nearly empty.

For me, the highlight of the trip was the unexpected views of Deer Pasture – hopefully someday I’ll get there myself.  The old road now re-opened from Hanging Valley up to the ridge is clear and makes for easy hiking, so you can get your own views from a point not usually accessible.
Deer Pasture from afar

6 comments on “Hanging Valley Firebreak: a distant view of Deer Pasture

  1. Excellent post! I’ve also heard “Sky Ranch Creek” as a local name for Eagle Creek. The strange plant is probably an otherwise common species that has undergone fasciation.

    1. Thanks for the explanation, which I’m sure is correct since the Wikipedia page on “Fasciation” has a photo of an asparagus plant which looks very similar. At the time I’d wondered if it could be some strange mutation – I’d never seen the like before.

  2. Re: “Sky Ranch”. Going through Paul Danielson’s old notes, I found a map with a”Sky Ranch Homestead” label at the point where we left Eagle Creek, aka Sky Ranch Creek. Hence the reason for that name. Did not know I was at a former homestead at the time, did not see any obvious signs.

    1. looks like a soap plant, my asparagus gets this also…. I too want to go to deer pasture, just to stand there at least once!

      1. I don’t have a “bucket list”, but if I did Deer Pasture would be on it. It’s so remote and difficult to get to – and alluring. I’d heard the approach was difficult, being surrounded by steep terrain – so checked it out and found that the least steep approach I could find on a map had a slope of ~50° over a gain of 700 ft! One wonders if that might have been an attracttion for, say, natives trying to avoid or escape the mission system.

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