We’ve noticed over the past few weeks that this site has started receiving traffic from people using variations of the phrase “How to sneak into Sykes Hot Springs” as search terms. Since we have not, until now, provided any information on that subject, those people have, no doubt, found their visits here disappointing.
Sykes, for those who haven’t been, is a series of lukewarm seeps on the banks of the Big Sur River, deep inside the Ventana Wilderness. The existence of this nominally hot water has long made Sykes vastly more popular than any other Ventana Wilderness destination.
When the Pine Ridge Trail from Big Sur Station is in service, it’s not unusual to find more than a hundred campers crammed together on the narrow flats between the river and the canyon walls. Trash and human excrement pile up in vast quantities, making living conditions squalid and unsanitary and, as every group of campers must have a fire, competition for firewood is intense. As a result, the surrounding area is essentially devoid of down wood – which at least lowers the danger of fires escaping.
But the Pine Ridge Trail is not currently in service. It’s been off-limits since a large portion of the Ventana Wilderness was ordered closed during the 2016 Soberanes Fire. While most of the Wilderness reopened recently, the Pine Ridge Trail and the camps and subsidiary trails along it – including Sykes – remain closed from Big Sur Station to the Big Sur Trail junction (well beyond Sykes).
While it’s hard to justify the unprecedented and unreasonably lengthy closure of so much of the rest of the Ventana Wilderness, the closure of this portion of the Pine Ridge Trail is easy to justify. Portions of the trail have slid away leaving virtually impassible cliffs.
If the trail and camps remained open, large numbers of people would attempt to by-pass the wash outs by crashing off into the woods in search of alternate routes. When a few people take cross country routes, it isn’t a big deal, but when hundreds do, it’s another story. The result would be a criss-crossing network of un-engineered and erosion prone “use trails,” and a general trampling of what, in spite of its rugged appearance, is actually sensitive and easily damaged habitat.
There would also, of course, be an increased danger of people getting lost and hurt. But as this is a WILDERNESS AREA, which it is no one’s job to make safe for the public and, in which, all adults should be free to make their OWN DECISIONS (however uninformed or bad) about the level of risk they’re willing to accept, “public safety” remains an exceptionally weak reason for this, or any, wilderness closure.
So here’s my advice on sneaking into Sykes:
If you’re searching online for instructions and tips, you’re wasting your time. There is currently no way to get to Sykes that is easy enough for you. If you knew enough about the Ventana Wilderness, or wilderness travel in general, to make it feasible, you would already know what to do and wouldn’t be online looking for pointers. You would, in fact, know enough to know that there are plenty of better places to go.
The Forest Service and Ventana Wilderness Alliance volunteers will no doubt be breaking their behinds to get a nice comfortable trail built for you in the months to come. Until that’s finished, go party somewhere else.
And, while you’re waiting, take the time to learn something about Leave No Trace camping. Maybe when Sykes reopens we can start treating it with the respect that it deserves.