San Rafael Wilderness
Beautiful campsite originally built in the 1930s, nestled in the pines at the western base of Big Pine Mountain.
Elevation: Google Earth says the elevation is 6,136'
Distance: Big pIne Camp is .1 miles off of the Buckhorn Road. There used to be an easy route in from the north but the chokecherry have grown over it. The camp is 3.13 miles from Alamar Saddle, about .3 miles from the West Big Pine turnoff and 4.8 miles from Bluff Camp (and a long ways downhill).
Big Pine Camp is one of the bestest camps anywhere in the Santa Barbara backcountry, perhaps only 2nd to Mission Pine Springs in my mind. There is the feeling of being on top of the world. What are left of the pine forest after the Zaca Fire aren't as impressive as they once were but sitting in camp, the scent of the pine needles all around you and the gentle sound of the wind wooshing through thee trees makes this one of the few camps I'm reluctant to leave.
Being near Buckhorn Road, Big Pine Camp is a favorite of bike packers as well. I've done it many times with panniers and with my trusty BOB trailer as well and we never hestitate to spend the night here. By bike it is a glorious trip from Montgomery Potrero to Big Pine. Couple that with a morning hike out to the West Big Pine lookout and 27 miles of easy riding from the high at Big Pine Mountain to Lower Oso and you've got a recipe for an awesome adventure.
On another of the Christmas trips I did with Dave Weaver and Bob Burtness, we camped at Madulce the first night and Big Pine the second. The next day Bob and Dave headed out early while I stayed to explore a bit of Big Pine Creek. Rather than heading back up to the raod and then turning onto the West Big pine Trail, the country is open enough that you can drop down from the camp and then work your way in the general direction of the Lookout point and its nice to be able to go cross-country every so often out here.
By the time I got to West Big Pine Bob and Dave had already moved on. It was about 9am, the air was a bit crisp but the sun was rapidly warming up when I dangled my legs over the edge and marvelled a the views acorss the Santa Cruz drainage. Just then I spotted something moving below me. Then another. Two birds. Circling perhaps a thousand feet below me. Then climbing. Still circling, they came higher and higher until minutes later they were a thousand feet overhead of me. They circled twice again and as they made the last turn they headed west, directly towards the Basin, directly towards Bob and Dave. Then they were gone.
Neither Dave or Bob had spotted them but it left me somehow changed. These were the two condors that would one day become AC-2 and AC-3. One would die of lead poising in the Cuyama Valley; the other would be the first to be captured for the captive breeding program. Like Dave Brower, who spoke at the Fish and Game hearings here in Santa Barbara right before me, I'll believe to my dying day that should have been allowed to fly free forever rather than being captured, breed, radio tagged and viewed via condor-cam. On that morning their destiny was to be free but that would not last much past that Christmas trip in the early 1980s.
Jim Blakley Notes
At one time this was a hunting camp used by folks from Ventura. It was a construction camp during the construction of the Big Pine Road by the CCC. The Hartman brothers built a corral for their pack stock just below the present camp. Just north of the camp is a big patch of choke cherry bushes. At one time there were several ice can stoves, a Klamath stove, a grated stove and dilapidated table. Water is available from a spring below the camp site.
Bob Burtness Notes
Administration: Los Padres National Forest, Santa Lucia District
Access: 1/4 mile off the Buckhorn Road (9NII) via an unidentified but mostly steep Forest trail. This camp is about I mile east of West Big Pine.
U.S. Forest Service map coordinates: K-17
Topographical map: Big Pine
Elevation: 6,100 feet (1,860 meters)
Vegetation: pines Tables: 2
Stoves: 6 (ice can) Water: spring Firewood: yes Toilets: none
Special Features: There is a large chokecherry patch on the trail leading into the camp.
Historical Highlights: Because of its spring and protected location, this site replaced the Windy Gap Camp used by the first visitors to the area. The Hartman brothers used it as a hunting camp until the Forest was closed during World War 11. It was also used by Civilian Conservation Corps crews during the construction of the Buckhorn Road.
During this time the spring was boxed in with a corrugated steel culver pipe. Since water in it is often contaminated, it is better to go west down the little draw to the bottom of the camp area where there is another spring. Should this be dry, go about 2/ 10 of a mile northwest through the old horse corral to the big spring.