Rescue at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Today’s lesson: Never attempt to set up a tripod on a crowded wooden platform at the edge of a cliff unless it is safely secured to something: preferably, you.

At around 3:30 p.m., we hiked to a viewing point at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, to take pictures of the beautiful cove featured on the cover of our Automobile Club map of California.

The cove

The cove

Dave, Elizabeth, Noah, Miles and I were each doing our own thing – wandering around on the viewing platform and path, snapping pictures.

Elizabeth and Noah: the calm before the (rescue) storm

Elizabeth and Noah: the calm before the (rescue) storm

It was getting close to 4:30 and Dave wanted to start heading back to Monterey, so he went looking for Miles. A few minutes later I wandered back to the viewing platform where Miles was standing. The platform was packed with people staring at something about 20 yards down the steep slope that led to the water.

“What’s going on?” I asked the woman to the left of me.

“That man lost his camera,” she said. “It fell over the railing with his tripod.”

I looked to see where she was pointing. “That man” was Miles.

Miles is a photographer. Taking pictures is one of the main reasons he travels. If his camera was toast – and it certainly appeared to be toast – would he consider this whole trip a waste of his time? Would he be miserable? I know I’d be miserable if thousands of dollars of the equipment I need for my work went tumbling down a steep cliff toward the ocean.

“What happened?” I asked her, because Miles was busy talking to someone and I didn’t want to interrupt.

“We were talking and he was setting up his tripod, and he was holding onto it and then he let go just for a second to reach into his bag for something, and there were a whole lot of people walking by and the platform shook and the tripod went over the railing,” she said.

I couldn’t believe Miles wasn’t having heart failure, but he was shockingly calm. Or maybe he was just in shock. There was no way he could get the camera. The slope to the ocean was at about a 70-degree angle. Also, it wasn’t merely steep, it was unstable. There were signs all over the place warning visitors to stay off of it.

Three people who had seen the camera and tripod tumble over the railing offered to go down the cliff on a rescue mission. One was the Bryon, the boyfriend of Tanya, the woman who told me what had happened. Bryon is a climber. (That’s how he and Tanya met.) After convincing Miles he didn’t mind putting his life at risk to rescue the equipment, Bryon went back to his car and returned with about 25 yards of plastic rope, which he tied to something under the viewing platform, the better to rappel down the slope.

Then he scooched under the platform and began his way down, stirring up dust and sending pebbles scurrying ahead of him. It was like watching a horror movie. Would he maintain his footing on dirt that seemed as slippery as ice? Or, more likely, would he lose his grip completely and slide toward the tripod and camera? It seemed entirely possible that as soon as he got close to the equipment, it would roll further down the cliff, and he’d go sliding right after it.

The rescue mission

The rescue mission

Meanwhile, he now had quite an audience; there were dozens of tourists hanging over the railing, watching to see whether he’d reach the camera and tripod or die trying. I, however, could not bear to watch, so I turned away and missed the moment when he reached for the tripod – and retrieved it before it had a chance to slipslide away.

Long story short: Bryon succeeded in his rescue mission. When he made it back up to the platform, everyone clapped. All of these people, strangers who had gathered in this spot to admire the view, had become a community, united in one dramatic moment. (And I kept thinking, thank heaven it was camera equipment, and not a person that needed to be retrieved.)

Tanya and Bryon

Tanya and Bryon

Happy ending: Miles’ camera still works! Hats off to the folks at Canon. They might want to use Miles’s story to illustrate how well their equipment stands up to rough treatment.

And I repeat, today’s lesson: Always wear your camera strap when you are taking pictures with a tripod at the edge of a cliff.

The lone cypress

The lone cypress

Our day started out much more sedately. We took a leisurely trip down the 17-mile drive, stopping at Spanish Bay, the lone cypress, and other tourist spots, and ending at Pebble Beach.

Cormorants along 17-Mile Drive

Cormorants along 17-Mile Drive

Egret along the 17-Mile Drive

Egret along the 17-Mile Drive

Happy couple along the 17-Mile Drive (note I am looking at Dave, in part because I love him so much, but mostly because the sun was so bright I couldn't look straight ahead without thinking of how much sooner I will be developing macular degeneration)

Happy couple along the 17-Mile Drive (note I am looking at Dave, in part because I love him so much, but mostly because the sun was so bright I couldn’t look straight ahead without thinking of how much sooner I will be developing macular degeneration)

FYI: It costs $500 to golf 18 holes at Pebble Beach, but that’s only if you book a tee-time on the day that you want to golf, which is nearly impossible most of the year, when the place is booked solid. Most people have to book in advance, and are then required to spend not one, but two nights staying at the Pebble Beach hotel or lodge or whatever they call the enforced accommodation (Pebble Beach Prison?). One night will set you back $700. So, basically, a round of golf at Pebble Beach costs in the neighborhood of $2000 – and that’s before you eat. I wonder if the Wifi is free.

18th hole. How much did these people pay for their wifi?

18th hole. How much did these people pay for their wifi?

After the 17-mile-drive, we drove to Pfeiffer Beach, which we never would have found had we not been with Miles – there are no signs for the beach off Highway 1: apparently the locals are so protective of it that they took down the signs, so if you don’t know where the turnoff is, you’ll miss it. Once you take the turnoff, you drive two miles down a road that’s about as wide as this column, which means that whenever someone is going in the opposite direction, one of you has to pull off to the side to make room. We had to wait 15 minutes at the bottom of the hill to get to the parking lot; space is limited, and they only let you in when there’s a parking space available.

It was worth the wait. The beach was spectacular – full of really neat rock formations. And because parking is limited, it wasn’t crowded at all. I can understand why the locals want to keep it a secret.

Elizabeth descends one of the Pfeiffer formations

Elizabeth descends one of the Pfeiffer formations

A fraction of Pfeiffer Beach

A fraction of Pfeiffer Beach

pfeiffer formation 1

Monday: We’re off to San Francisco, but first we’re going to pay a visit to Earthbound Farms, purveyor of some of my favorite prepackaged organic greens. Earthbound’s headquarters is in Carmel, just down the road from Monterey. We drove through the town of Carmel today, en route to the beautiful Pfeiffer beach, but we didn’t visit; the place was frighteningly crowded. Noah counted a line of 63 cars backed up at a stop sign heading into town from the south end of the Monterey Peninsula. We still aren’t sure what was the big attraction, although we wondered if maybe Clint Eastwood receives audiences in Carmel on Sundays, kind of like the Pope in St. Peter’s Square.

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One Response

  1. Thank heavens the camera and tripod were rescued–I would have been beside myself, and I’m don’t even have a “real” camera.

    P.S. I recognized the Lone Cypress without reading the caption. It hasn’t changed since 1982, at least!

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