Field Quarter in the Sierras 1984 – Part 1 Big Sur, Big Creek and Cone Peak

I backpacked for college credit Spring Quarter of 1984, when I chose a Field Quarter in the Sierras during my Freshman year in college at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC extension and the Sierra Institute).  It was a great program!

UCSC logo

After a particularly gray winter in Santa Cruz, I needed to get out of town.  So I signed up for a Field Quarter in the Sierras.  “BACKPACKING FOR COLLEGE CREDIT” for three Upper Division Course Credits: Natural History of the Sierras, Natural History Wilderness Studies, and an Environmental Studies advanced course.  The curriculum included backpacking trips of varying length in amazing natural locations: Monterey, Big Sur, Yosemite Valley, Hetch-Hetchy Resevoir, the Tiltill Valley above Yosemite, the Southfork of the Tuolumne River in the Sierra National Forest, El Dorado-Toiyabe National Forest, Desolation Wilderness in Plumas National Forest and Lake Tahoe.


We all met as strangers in Monterey and drove to a local campground for an overnight stay, where we were introduced to our instructors and each other and given the orientation for the next thirteen weeks (ten weeks of course work, a week of travel time plus a timeout for spring break).  There were thirteen students and two instructors on the first night as we made camp together for the first time.

UCSC Field Quarter in the Sierras - Monterey, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)
UCSC Field Quarter in the Sierras – Big Sur, California (copyright 2010 JoshWillTravel)

PLEASE NOTE: These events took place in Spring of 1984, so trying to recall all the details is a little difficult now.


Big Creek Bridge and Cove - Big Sur, California
Big Creek Bridge and Cove – Big Sur, California

At dawn the next morning we had breakfast and broke camp, packed up and drove to the UCSC Reserve in Big Sur.  Protected by the Santa Lucia Mountains and rocky cliffs, the Big Sur coast includes the largest and most pristine coastal wildlands in central and southern California. In the center of this area, the University of California Natural Reserve System and the University of California at Santa Cruz operate the Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve.  Big Creek Reserve Homepage:

Big Creek Reserve Trailmap - Big Sur, California
Big Creek Reserve Trailmap – Big Sur, California

We strapped on our backpacks and hiked 9 miles to the base camp near Cone Peak.  Cone Peak in Big Sur is the highest coastal mountain in the contiguous 48 states, ascending nearly a mile (5155 feet) above sea level, only three miles from the ocean.  The hike begins at almost sea level and takes you up through the climate zones, lush forest, oak scrub and into high chaparral.

Copy and paste the following links into a new window for some great images:

VR Panorama of Big Creek:

Photo Gallery:

Our first trek was an uphill killer! When we finally reached the base camp we set up our tents and prepared the evening meal.  (Nevermind the part about Jen trying to set the camp and forest on fire with her propane stove and the rest of us helping to put it out before it spread…)

Boronda Base Camp - Big Sur, California
Boronda Base Camp – Big Sur, California

We camped there for a week.  The program included daily class in the wilderness, field studies, day hikes and “homework” assignments.  There was also time allotted for camping duties, cooking, and personal (free) time.  And every evening we gathered around the fire, talked about the day and got to know each other a little bit more.

Trail snack and lunch recipes for wilderness hiking: Flour tortillas, add cheddar cheese and salsa.  Flour tortillas, add peanut butter and honey.  Bread may be substituted for tortillas (but tortillas travel better in a foodsack).  Easy to prepare, no cooking required.

Cone Peak
Cone Peak (Altitude 5,155 feet) – Big Sur, California

One day we hiked to the top of Cone Peak from our base camp and were buzzed by F-14 jet fighters from Moffett Feld and then we watched from high above as Blue Whales swam by during their Spring migration!

View from Cone Peak
View from Cone Peak – Big Sur, California
View from Cone Peak
View from Cone Peak – Big Sur, California

Going downhill is a lot easier than going uphill with a backpack!  The hike out was pretty easy, again passing through the different climate zones, and returning to our cars for the drive to our next destination.

COMING SOON: Yosemite National Park, Yosemite Valley, Hetch-Hetchy and Tiltill Valley, Southfork of the Tuolumne River, Sierra National Forest, El-Dorado-Toiyabe National Forest, Desolation Wilderness, Plumas National Forest, and Lake Tahoe.

NOTE: I have to admit that this is by no means a complete blog at this point.  I started this story unprepared and the details are coming back slowly.  Except for the people, these are not my pictures.  I’m inspired to find my journal, workbook and photos from this time and may revise this blog for next week.  Thanks for reading!  Your feedback is welcome.

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NOTE: Periscope is done as of March 31st, 2021. And they killed themselves. SAD.

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UPDATED July 13, 2021: So sorry, there never was a PART TWO.
We found our Field Journal a couple years ago. And it has just been sitting by the desk.
It sat all through the pandemic, along with everything else, and US. We sat too.
So, we took a few pics today, we wrote very small and in a weird cursive-hybrid back in the day, and now we may soon decode the text, and share some of our wilderness observations and wisdom. 

At journey’s end





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