Navigating the Ups and Downs While Hiking the Condor Trail

The Condor Trail is a wilderness route through the mountains in the Santa Barbara, California backcountry running more than 400 miles from Lake Piru in the south to Bottcher’s Gap in the mountains above Big Sur near Carmel. It goes through seven wilderness areas in the Los Padres National Forest.

It is not an easy trail — in parts, there is no trail.

Inspired by trails like the Appalachian Trail, the John Muir Trail and the PCT, the Condor Trail route was laid more than 20 years ago. The trail was not successfully hiked until just two years ago, by Brittany Nielsen in 37 days.

Finding a route through the wilderness is not like walking on a trail in a park. Nielsen said she saw only 20 other people on parts of the trail, including one whom she literally bumped into when they were fighting brush, coming from opposite directions.

Everyday, there are wet river crossings, maybe 10 to more than 100 a day. You usually just wade across as the water is rarely deeper than your thigh, but it means hiking with wet feet all day.

March is a great time to start this year with water everywhere, green grass and spring flowers (as well as a bumper crop of poison oak). After May, it is almost impossible to hike the Condor Trail, as there are long sections without water.

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