Photographer:Kevin O'Mahony
Camera:Canon 7D Mark II

Seeking Solitude and Adventure in Big Sur

Battling mudslides and endless rainfall with deserted beaches and empty trails as reward

Halfway to our destination, and it started pouring, of course. We hadn't checked the weather report. Still, two hours passed and the fog we had entered an hour before started to let up. Breaking waves were becoming visible through the fog, then cliffs and streams. We continued up the coast to Big Sur, an area usually teaming with tourists but now all but shut down due to landslides and other havoc wreaked by weeks of abnormally heavy rainfall.

Further north we began dodging falling rocks as the roadway derriorated—even rock crawling a good portion of the way. The only other people we saw were Caltrans workers and a few locals who also had off-road trucks. With no plans, we continued to see how far we could get as the sun set. After an hour of slow, technical driving we arrived in darkness at the fallen bridge.

"Halfway to our destination, and it started pouring, of course."

As the rain picked back up we were forced to find somewhere dry to hang our hammocks. After 20 minutes of driving through pouring rain, we found another bridge that was low lying enough to offer shelter. While setting up camp it became clear we weren’t the only ones taking refuge there—a skunk den made itself apparent just a few feet away. Luckily, they only briefly peaked their heads out to check us out and enjoy our fire. 

At 7:20 AM we woke to the sounds of a nearby stream and birds chirping. It was dead quite beside that—something of a rarity for a place as popular as Big Sur. We set out to visit some of the more touristy spots knowing there would be literally no one around. And we were right. Being at a place as popular as McWay Falls with no one there is truly amazing. It gives me tingles just thinking about it. 

After exploring the soggy surroundings we headed south to explore some other parts of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, only to find another big landslide in our path. Rather than wait it out as the Caltrans cleanup crew did their thing we decided to call it. With a quarter tank of gas, empty stomaches, and clothing soaked to the bone we found our way out of the park and back on the road home. It was a real experience for sure.

Kevin O'Reilly is an Oahu-based freelance photographer. See more of his work here and follow him on Instagram here

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