Member Comments

Partington Hike • Big Sur

Margie Whitnah

November, 2000  


My husband and I had a wonderful day on Saturday, November 11, hiking the 8-mile loop trip your web pages described so well. We couldn't have had a more interesting hike. Thank you so much for making it possible. We explored the beachside tunnel, saw the old hoist and iron spikes, marveled at the redwoods by the ocean, the delightful cascading creek at the beach, the waves breaking on rocks, even the outhouse. We hiked up Partington Creek's gorgeous canyon and stopped for lunch below the McLaughlin Grove under an old redwood whose bulbous roots seemed to smother the hugh boulder which supports the towering tree. The weather was sunny and bright so the green and fall hues were brilliant and the acorn studded trail was well-cushioned with leaves. Enjoyed knowing about the stonework when we got near the summit.

We found the Tin House and even saw two people at the house after having encountered perhaps only six people on the trail all afternoon. According to them, evidently the house wasn't closed up when they'd been there in January 2000, but now it is. It isn't accessible inside though visitors can peek inside. That same person understood that FDR had actually visited there ...I can't imagine trailing up that trail in a 1930's vehicle! (Is that true?) What a spectacular view from the Tin House. The one-hour jaunt down the fire trail was exciting, especially knowing that we were in for a steep, dark trip ...the sun set just as we were reaching Highway 1 about 5:00 p.m., making it back to Partington under the full moon not long afterwards.

I took lots of photos, but few do justice to capture the lighting and hues we enjoyed ...not to mention my failure to adjust from some mushroom close up settings to distant coast landscape shots. I do have some pretty nice ones however. I'd be glad to share what I have especially if you want to see what I have of the Tin House and views from there. Let me know if you'd like me to mail some photos (snail mail) or scan and send images by e-mail or both. I use a 35 mm SLR camera, not digital camera.

Thanks for letting us know about this great hike. As you indicated, it really was a unique sampling of all kinds of central coast environments at their finest with some historical interest thrown in (I'd read about the indigenous peoples' mysterious hallucinogenic cave near that beach hoist, but figured exploring that area was way too risky!). The bridge before the beach tunnel has a "temporarily closed due to unstable area" sign. The tunnel entrance has rocks piled up to about two feet short of the tunnel top, but it is easy to crawl into the tunnel ...though I imagine citations could be issued and hikers fined.

Margie Whitnah on the Partington Cove trail

Last month my husband and I took a fabulous 8-mile day hike also from Yosemite's Glacier Point past the three waterfalls, partly in rain as snow dusted the trail head. It was spectacular, too, but in some ways the Partington Creek hike was perhaps even more rewarding because we didn't know what to expect ...I must admit the thought passed our minds that "you can't believe everything you read on the Internet" when we just kept going up and up before seeing the stonework. At about that point we showed two men our web printouts to encourage them to go on, but they were skeptical and unfortunately decided to just return down the canyon trail. The trail was steady but a fairly comfortable climb for us over-fifty types. I'm glad we finished the loop, saw the Tin House, and were warned about returning to the highway by sunset!

Margie Whitnah

Margie and her husband, Gregg, live in San Carlos, where she is a librarian and he is a math teacher.


Replies to Margie's questions in her comments:

The Tin House was never visited by Roosevelt. That's one of those popular local myths. There was a war going on, and FDR was running it for our side.

Another myth is that it was built for Roosevelt, and that's why the road was built. The builder was Lathrop Brown, a former Congress member from New York. Also, he was an assistant Secretary of the Interior under FDR. So, he had some pull with Washington folks, and figured a fire road was needed there. But there is no substantiation to the notion he built it for the President.

The Browns did use the house. The lay out of the house is unusual. Curiously, there is no view of the ocean from inside. It is almost as though, in contrast to their home on the ocean, this house was designed as a refuge from the sea.

Fire roads weren't so controversial then, and he likely would not have proposed it now.

In context though, you see he was a rather selfless person. He built an incredible home on the headland facing McWay Falls - called the Waterfall Home. Later he decided it was too beautiful a place for a human to have possession of it.

He turned his land - all the way from McWay Creek to Partington Creek, and up to the mountain ridge - over to the California Park Service. He and his wife dedicated it in name to an early Big Sur pioneer, Julia Pfeiffer Burns.

Mrs. Brown, and apologies are owed here because we don't know her first name - and this reminds us to find it - had become a close friend of Julia, and they so admired her knowledge of Big Sur Natural History). And, you will not see Brown's name on anything in Big Sur. Yet, personally, he had one of the greatest impacts on Big Sur, and set a very high standard for local conservation ethics.

About his beautiful Waterfall Home after his death, he instructed the state to use it for an interpretive center for Big Sur's natural history - but if they couldn't do that, it should be destroyed.

The State didn't try very hard to make the center, and demolished the home - pushing it over the cliff !

We saw the house many years ago- an amazingly wonderful place - even had a funicular (car on tracks, pulled by a motorized pulley) for getting up and down from the road (Hwy 1). Is there even a plaque around to show his contribution?

Personal note from Jack about the hike down: Thanks for heeding our plea on the Big Sur Hiking page. For your amusement, I should tell you I once descended by the fire road in the dark. Slipped and skidded many times -- a lot of steep places - and in the curves where moonlight is obscured, it gets spooky. Saw a Mountain Lion in twilight near the top - and since I knew how to act around them so you don't provoke an attack, there was no problem. But, it certainly gives one pause.)


Big Sur Ecoguide

Big Sur Hikes


Big Sur Coast

Central Coast Eco Guide

Pelican Network Home