Neptune’s Rangers complete the Big Sur Challenge

by Eric Soares on October 3, 2011

Six months ago I issued the BIG SUR CHALLENGE, which entailed a paddle on the beautiful Big Sur coast to find a mysterious islet, scale it, and leave proof that you completed the quest. The Tsunami Rangers promised a boon to the first team to accomplish the deed. The quest to find Neptune’s Castle can be found at

Many claimed they would be the bold adventurers who would undertake the task and be the first since the Tsunami Rangers to climb to the top of the rock and leave a message in a bottle. But only one team came through, and that was the newly-formed Neptune’s Rangers, a contingent of Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASKers) who grew tired of my taunting and embarked on the perilous journey to the perilous castle that is Neptune’sRock.

Neptune's Rangers (from left to right): Peter Donohue, Lucy O'Brien, Tony Johnson, Cass Kalinski, Bill Vonnegut, and Gregg Berman.

Here is their personal account of their crusade, written by Sir Cass Kalinsky, one of Neptune’s Rangers. To learn more about this intrepid team, check out their website at

On the wilds of the San Mateo California coast there lives a tribe of kayaking seafarers calling themselves the Tsunami Rangers. A close knit clan, they are known for their daring and courage in braving the rocks and surf and caves of the Western coast of North America. About 25 years ago leaders of this clan toured down the northern and central Big Sur coast. They camped at a hidden little beach, fished for ling cod, and explored in detail the complex rock garden they named Neptune’s Castle. They climbed the pyramidal islet of the Castle and placed a bottle with a message in it on top. They have not been there since.

After much planning and paddling, Neptune's Rangers finally scope out the object of their quest--Neptune's Castle

Time moved on. The Tsunami Rangers beards have grown gray, their exploits more sublime than the adrenaline fueled adventures of youth. Who would rise up to take their place in the surf and caves and chaos of the rock gardens? To encourage others to follow in their path, they issued a challenge to the kayaking world: locate Neptune’s Castle; kayak to the Castle; scale its walls; find the bottle; insert a new message in the bottle to accompany what is there; and take a picture proving it. All they gave for a clue was a photo of Neptune’s Castle.

Neptune's Rangers ply the Gauntlet at Neptune's Castle to find the easiest wall to scale the Rock

Rhetoric and hyperbole flowed across the internet as teams of adventurers from around the Pacific Rim boasted that they would be first to meet the challenge. Fat Paddler from Australia. The Hurricane Riders from Vancouver. A team from the Sonoma coast. Team Oz from parts unknown. Liquid Fusion from Fort Bragg. Lady Lenora from southern waters. Many words. Little action. Time passed.

Many months later, further north in a camp on the Mendocino coast, another band of adventurers gathered around a campfire after a glorious day of riding the waves and braving the rocks. Beer and tequila and marshmallows and tall tales flowed freely. The story of the Tsunami Ranger quest was told. These comrades determined that they must rise to the challenge! Plans were made. Dates were set. A new clan was formed. The Neptune Rangers were born. Within days the troop located the Castle using maps and satellite images. Logistics were worked out on launch points and gear.

The intrepid team carefully climbs the guano-stained rock face of Neptune's Castle

The new team calling themselves Neptune’s Rangers gathered and paddled out onto the sea, braving the crash of waves as they passed through the gates of passage. Miles they paddled over the sea. Determined to reach their goal, many were the play spots they let slip by. At last, the target of the quest lay before them. Out of the kayaks. Climb they did. No treasure was there to be found. The 25-year-old bottle was long gone as was the Tsunami Ranger script. The Neptune Rangers were prepared. They left their own bottle (the geocache) and a poem penned by Sir Tony for the next brave soul to find.

Those specks at the top of the Rock are the Neptune's Rangers team. As you can see, it was not a cakewalk to the top.

The geocache is NOT at the posted coordinates. You must solve the challenge to determine the location. Once there, find the container, sign the log, Contact Neptune’s Rangers and state the words from the poem contained within. Photos, of course, are optional, but why would you not want to show the world your accomplishment?! Sea bird nesting occurs April through June. Conditions are usually tough during that time as well. Trips in that window should be avoided. 

Atop the pinnacle of Neptune's Castle, the paddlers prepare the geocache stash box.

And so last August Neptune’s Rangers completed the quest and subsequently challenged other intrepid paddlers to make the journey and add their words to the geocache located at the top of Neptune’s Castle. I promised a boon to the clan who successfully scaled the walls of the Rock and submitted photographic proof, as you have seen throughout this post. The boon I awarded Neptune’s Rangers was autographed copies of my book, CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR, and a special boon (to be given at a propitious moment) for two of the warriors—Sir Gregg and Sir Peter. Stay tuned.

The poem prepared by Sir Tony and placed in the geocache at Neptune's Rock. Who will be the first to find the cache, read the poem, take photos of their quest, and let the world know of their achievement?

Neptune’s Rangers in ocean rock garden action…

Please congratulate the new team of Neptune’s Rangers on their mission. If you have an ocean adventure kayaking team, tell us a little about yourselves.  Just post your comment below. Arrrrrrrhh!

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Vonnegut NR's October 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Thanks Eric for creating this Challenge and the idea of forming a team. If it wasen’t for you we would still be paddling but Neptune’s Rangers would not exist. Also that was a great name you came up with 25 years ago “Neptune’s Castle” so we could steal it away for the team name.

Not sure where we are going to end up but the new helmet cam I just picked up is a start. What a concept I can take video and brace at the same time…..This could be interesting.


Fat Paddler October 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm

A hearty congratulations to Neptune’s Rangers on climbing the summit! Team Fat Paddler stands tall in salute to your feat but somewhat stooped in shame for being beaten to the climb. We would never of course use such feeble excuses as being based 7,400 miles away, that would be pathetic. True of course, but excuses are for the weak. We shall instead strive to issue our own challenge that is perhaps a little closer to home, say, on the western side of the Pacific Rim.

Again, a big congrats to you all, hope to meet on the water someday.


Marty Perry October 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm

i want to see videos from the crew. Nice to see determined kayakers.


Tony Johnson October 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

Marty, here’s another video. Big water runs with a GP!
On this trip I ended up destroying my plastic boat.
The Video is by Anders Landin



Eric Soares October 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Marty, I may have botched the link to Neptune’s Rangers’ on-water video. Here it is again: Anyone who wants to see them in ocean rock garden action should click on it.

I have two questions for Neptune’s Rangers:

1. What was most difficult about the Big Sur Challenge? Planning? Driving there? The put-in? Surf? The Climb? Getting down after drinking rum on top of the Rock? Or was it actually a cake walk?

2. What is your next big adventure going to be? Inquiring minds want to know.


Bill Vonnegut NR's October 4, 2011 at 6:21 am

The most difficult thing for me was logistics on a place we had never paddled. And a story Mike Higgins had told me about when he was camping on a beach in the Big Sur area only to have rangers rappel down a cliff and drag them off.

The morning when we got back from our formation Mendo trip, I received an email from Peter–he had found the Castle. So I started searching Google Earth for a put-in where we could park overnight. I found there was none. Beaches to camp on? None that were legal to land on or covered in rocks. Would we climb half way up the stack and our prize only to hear a bull horn from the road telling us to get out of there? When can we all go? Where can we sleep the night before with the campgrounds full?……..

So we embarked very early on the morning of the trip before any nosey rangers may be awake and ask us where we were planning on heading with those sleeping bags and camouflage tarps.  This after the cocktail waitress had told us where we would not get hassled car camping.  And an email to the local chamber of commerce asking where I can leave my car for an overnight bike ride. I was just finishing up a couple-mile bike ride to the put-in and I realized I had left the key to the bike lock in my car. Lucky there was plenty of bushes around. And we were off.

After arriving in the Neptune’s Castle area and unloading a lot of weight from the boats, we planned a landing spot on the castle not visible from the road, to give us more time in case anyone was going to tell us we could not be there. Our worst fear was getting 10 ft from the top and hearing a bull horn “you are not allowed there!” We just didn’t know.

With mission accomplished and boats empty, we spent the rest of the day playing carefree in the wonderful rock gardens in the area. Until that evening when I landed a few minutes after Cass at our camp spot 10 miles from the nearest put in and he looked at me with a grim expression: “There is someone looking at us with binoculars.”


Tony Johnson October 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

It’s funny that you mentioned “getting down after drinking rum” Bill and I started the assault on Neptune’s Rock before the others. The bird poop and flies was kicking our ass, I could feel the burning it in my throat. After taking several drinks of rum it increased the effect of the bird poop many fold. I was seriously thinking of jumping off that rock!
That was the hardest part of the trip for me.

I think are next adventure is to start filming what we do. We have done some incredible rockgardening, just need to start filming. We have just purchased a video camera and will be trying it out this weekend in the Point Lobos area



John Soares October 4, 2011 at 5:28 am

Hey y’all. I added the actual YouTube video to the bottom of the post — just click and enjoy.


Cass October 4, 2011 at 7:56 am

The anxiety of the rangers chasing us away was a concern as Bill outlined. To get there and then be turned away would have been the pits.

For me, the exposure climbing up that poop slippery rock was the hardest part of the adventure. Long drops on either side. Crumbly rock. The smell. The dry suit was definitely not dry inside when I got back down. 🙂


Eric Soares October 4, 2011 at 8:59 am

Yeah guys, sorry I forgot to mention how difficult it is to simply put-in and camp anywhere in Big Sur. The campgrounds are perpetually full and anything else is strictly verboten. The park rangers and other authorities are very eager to protect the pristine beaches and views of the rich hippies who live all around there. I know you had camo tarps, which is good, but there is a definite art to staying below the radar (read for more info). I’m glad you didn’t get busted having good clean fun. Homeland security and all….

Yeah, going up and down the “poop slippery rock” was a scary challenge for us too. The best rock climbers in the world would have trouble climbing up and down a steep, crumbly cliff covered in stinky guano. This is why I didn’t want any solo paddler doing it, or kids, or anyone not competent and bold enough. The rum helped a bit though, didn’t it?


Bill Vonnegut October 4, 2011 at 10:27 am

After we realized there was a lookout above that docents and a possible ranger may frequent and we knew that though a lot of our stuff we had left earlier was in plain view but could not be seen we needed to make it look like we were gone. So we found that 1/3 of the beach was not visible from anywhere and when there was a break in the people we had seen above, so we just disappeared for the evening.


Tony Johnson October 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

Bill actually drew a line in the sand that we should stay behind. We (including gear, kayaks) were somewhat confined to a small area by the cliff wall.



Padre Jack October 4, 2011 at 10:02 am

Ship Ahoy!
Well written, Master Eric. But my pirate mentality makes me suspect this was an inside job. Afterall Sirr Gregg is not unknown in Tsunami Ranger circles.
Keep a good eye aft. Neptune’s ears are in your wake.


Steven King October 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

Congratulations to all ye Neptunes Rangers!!!!!

Well done and please do post an update on your next adventure!



Bill Vonnegut October 5, 2011 at 7:27 am

Thanks for taking an interest in future adventures. We will be posting to our new You Tube channel:
We only have a couple of things right now that were shot messing around with a point and shoot camera. But we hope to have some high quality entertaining and fun videos in the near future.



Peter Donohue October 5, 2011 at 11:03 am

Hardest part for me was the scaling up and down on that rock. And then getting my gear cleaned of guano…

Two clarifications:
1) The photo you labelled “Neptune’s Rangers ply the Gauntlet at Neptune’s Castle” wasn’t actually at the Castle itself, but at the beach from which we launched this little trip (location to be kept quiet, so as not to give up the secret of the location to those who may want to drink our rum and read our poem).

2) in the photo labelled “Those specks at the top of the Rock are the Neptune’s Rangers team…”, I am on my way down on the right side of the rock directly above the left side of the arch. I look like a dark blob, so can be hard to see. The spot I am at is what I found to have the highest pucker factor going both up and down. And one where I considered making the plunge from, so as to get away from the stink and start the gear wash process.


Eric Soares October 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thanks, guys, for enlightening us about your tribulations during the quest. Without adversity, what would there be to tell?

It sounds like you used your noggins to “disappear for the evening.” I like that.

Thanks, Peter, for the photo clarifications. I liked the gauntlet photo, even if it wasn’t from the castle. I remember having to pass through some sort of gauntlet at the castle. In your photo of the climb, it seemed very calm seas at the Castle itself. As I remember, and it has been some time, the water is deep off that cliff face. Why didn’t you just take the plunge? I believe we did, to escape the foul guano. One can only take so much stench, rum or no rum. Actually, the Rock looks five stories high, at least, so don’t jump!


CDR Whalen October 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Fellow Tsunami Rangers.

I sense another warrior on the mesa…



Eric Soares October 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

CDR Whalen: use your Jedi mind tricks to determine who is on the mesa. I have my lightning power fully charged, so just point me at ’em.:)


Bill Vonnegut October 28, 2011 at 8:18 am

You may need that lightning power soon!!
Our new HD video:

And I see another new camera coming shortly.



Eric Soares October 28, 2011 at 10:24 am

Wild Bill and his Neptune’s Rangers got some kickass footage here! I watched all 3 videos, and was captivated. Obviously, a lot of your stuff was shot at Yankee Point (there goes another one of our secret spots), but some of it looks like elsewhere. Curious minds want to know where.

And that Hindu Goddess statue and the jumps off the rock–is that a new geocache?


Bill Vonnegut October 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

The Yankee Point Video was shot entirely there last Sunday.
The Other two videos were Mendo and Goat Rock north of the Russian River.

And you will have to check Cass’s geocache site for his Goddess cache, it may not be set up yet. Maybe he will ping in with the site.


Tony October 28, 2011 at 10:39 am

Thanks for posting your comment. Bill spent a lot of time putting these videos together, its nice to hear comments like yours.

That been our secret spot for some time now. To know more you may have to seek your answer from the Hindu Goddess.

Yes, another geocache. Cass can’t pass up these opportunities.



Tony October 29, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Eric, here’s another video. Bill playing around, learning how to set-up his new video camera. The music stops somewhere in the middle.



Cass October 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Yup, there is indeed a new one out there. <>


Eric Soares October 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

You guys are amazing! Way to go. I doubt if I will be the one to find your geocache, but that shouldn’t stop other intrepid souls.


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