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Cone Peak summit (5155') from Limekiln State Beach (0'). I have long looked at this route between the Pacific Ocean and Cone Peak, both from Cone Peak (accessed from the Cone Peak Road (North Coast Ridge Road), and from Highway 1 (at Limekiln State Park, however, the knowledge that the bottom 1000 feet would be a brutal bushwhack through the coastal scrub (and possibly totally impassable) always stymied me. Earlier this season, I found (was directed to) the Twitchell Flat Road (now impassable to vehicles), which crosses the chaparral and delivers you to the foot of the grassy portion of the ridge before it ends.
From the end of the Twitchell Flat Road (1100'), the route is cross country directly up Stone Ridge to Twin Peak (4843') in about 1.5 miles, then traversing across the Twin-Cone saddle to intersect the Cone Peak Trail to the Cone Peak summit (5155').Map(s) of perambulations below.
I started about 10:15am, walking down to Limekiln Beach, to be impressed by the surf (very very big waves). Walking up Highway 1, at least, has spectacular views. Crossing on the slippery log was, as usual, fun.
What ever else this route may be, it has spectacular views, almost continuously, except for the redwood grove on the West Fork of Limekiln Creek and part of the Twin-Cone traverse, however, it also has enough trees that finding a shady spot to catch your breath is fairly easy. The extremely steep parts are interspersed with (more or less) gentle grassy ridge walks.
I got to the top of Twin Peak about 1:35pm, managed to find the USGS Reference Mark, but not the actual Benchmark, went down the ridge towards Cone Peak, and summitted there at 2:35pm, started down at 2:45, went over Twin Peak at 3:20pm (via the use trail), and was back at the car by 5:15pm.
This is one of the more spectacular hikes I have done. While it doesn't have the continuous exposed rock of the Sierra, or the jagged skyline of high mountains anywhere, the continuous grassy ridge and proximity to the ocean has its own power. I expect it will become one of my "yearly" hikes. 6000 feet of ascent over the round trip, happily ameliorated by it being at sea level (The trip to Twin Peak has a round trip ascent of 5000').
Do not attempt this route unless you an accomplished Ventana Wilderness hiker, and familiar with the particular pitfalls of cross-country hiking in the Santa Lucia Range. Be prepared for an extremely strenuous hike and carry emergency bivy and rescue gear. Do not expect to be able to drop into the canyons and follow the stream out (particularly Middle Fork Limekiln, which has a very pretty 100' waterfall). The route is on the ridge, if you are in doubt, stay on the very spine of the ridge, where you can see the entire route down grassy Stone Ridge. Carry and know how to use maps and navigation gear. It is easier to make routefinding mistakes on the way down, where fatigue is also a greater factor. Do not let your party get separated.
~6 miles each way, ~6000 feet of ascent (~5000 to Twin Peak). Approximately 1/4 is on trail or road.
Limekiln Beach (0') to Twitchell Flat (~1100') - there are several variations on this portion of the route. From the beach, the easiest route is to go up the north access road to Highway 1, north on Highway 1, then up the narrow, disused (gated) Twitchell Flat Road (which climbs up between two massive landslides) and over the saddle behind Point 888. The road then contours into West Fork Limekiln canyon, crosses the creek and climbs up to Twitchell Flat where it peters out in the meadow. Alternate 1 is to follow the main paved access road to Highway 1 and cross the high bridge for stunning views of Limekiln Cove and Cone Peak. Alternate 2 follows the West Fork of Limekiln Creek up to Twitchell Flat Road, first on the well graded and maintained State Park "Kiln Trail", then a fairly rough (and wet) canyoneering route (light Class 3), not recommended for uphill or as a shortcut.
Twitchell Flat (~1100') to Twin Peak (4843') - There is a steep use trail that cuts through the low brush on the south side of the ridge to a small grassy flat at ~1400', then continues toward the ravine before switchbacking towards the ridgeline (probably part of the old route to a spring in the ravine). Once on the ridge, the route climbs to and across another flat, again tending right, before cutting left back towards the ridge. At the ridge (~2000'), there is a distinct short trail segment that passes through the forest on the north side of the ridge before emerging and fading out at the bottom of a steep meadow leading up to an obvious prominence (2290') just west of the Stone Ridge Trail. From here, the route is sometimes a more or less distinct use trail, sometimes a straight cross-country up the ridge. The steepest part is from a pleasant lupine filled flat (2700') to a more moderate ridge (~3600'). As you reach a prominence (~4050) the use trail winds through brushed low chaparral along an old fireline, follows a ridge to the bottom of a steep sub-ridge and up to the southwest false summit of Twin Peak, and through the scrub to the summit (4843').
Twin Peak (4843') to Cone Peak (5155') - A more or less distinct use trail leads from the campsite just north of the summit (look for the fire ring and the wooden box next to the oak tree). This cuts downwards and across, below the north side of the saddle ridge before crossing the saddle (~4550'), it then roughly contours below cliffs on the south side of the saddle and meets up with the Cone Peak Trail (~4500'). It is a short hike up to the Summit Trail junction and the summit (5155') is a 1/4 mile up that. It is possible to follow the ridge from Twin Peak to the saddle (better views), the ridge is much rougher on the Cone Peak side, but it is probably possible to contour over to the Cone Peak Trail (leading down to Trail Spring) on the north side of the ridge.
Mostly sunny, light high overcast, highs in the 60s. Lots of wildflowers, the lupines were in full bloom, generally very green.
Map of hike location and route detail, route in red, trail/road sections are at the bottom and very top.
High Resolution image of 7.5 minute topo with route (500K)
Cone Peak from Limekiln Beach / Robert Parks / firstname.lastname@example.org /
revised Mar '05