Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chalk Mountain; Big Basin

I was hiking solo this trip with Sue (my wife) away all weekend at a retreat. Not my thing, so why not do one of my old favorites hikes. Chalk Mountain in Big Basin State Park has always had some strange attraction for me. I enjoy having a good probability that I won’t see many other people all day. There are lots of south bay trails that are under utilized by the general public, even though they may offer unique beauty, great challenging hiking, and inviting solitude. Chalk Mountain is a destination that certainly fits those criteria.

Of the many routes that can get you there, my favorite has always been the hike up from Waddell Beach, either out-and-back on the Westridge Trail, or doing a big loop around using Henry Creek Trail and the Westridge. These “horse trails” are more challenging than most of the trails designed for hiking. You get a lot of roller coaster action as the trails climb up and down continuously, and sometimes steeply, with sometimes slippery, rocky, terrain. Like many of the hikes at Henry Coe, this type of a hike can kick your butt, and would not be a good choice for a casual hike. Whitehouse Ridge Trail offers a short and easy route to get to Chalk Mountain for anyone interested in checking it out painlessly. There’s also the fire roads for a bike route too.

I decided to use a different route today. There are a few trails in Big Basin which are older trails that still exist today, but are no longer maintained. They do not appear on the current hiking maps. One of these old trails connects the end of the Sunset Trail with the Henry Creek horse trail by climbing straight up the ridge using switchbacks. A few people still use this trail as is evidenced by the crude markings seen along the way. Using this type of trail is not recommended for novices. I decided to use this trail as a connection to get to Chalk Mountain from park headquarters.

In the morning, while driving through Saratoga, I had to use a slight detour because there was a street festival in town this weekend. Ok, no problem. Then, when got to Big Basin and saw a sign posted indicating that a trail running group was using the park that day. The main section of the park is popular for this kind of activity. Oh well, I was early enough I thought I could get enough of a head start not to see any runners. Since they would use the Sunset Trail, I used the Skyline to the Sea Trail, transitioning over to the Sunset at Timms Creek Trail. From past experience I figured the fast runners would be past there by then, and I would beat the slow ones up to my cutoff. I guess it worked because I never saw any runners. Sometimes I amaze myself.

Overcast early on, the sun partially broke through for an appearance in the afternoon. Great ocean smells, and the sun showed itself just in time to get fairly good views from the summit. Chalks Road is a little better graded than the horse trails, but still a roller coaster, if a kinder, gentler, one. Also nice views all along down into the surrounding conifer habitat. Mostly exposed, it wouldn’t be a good choice in hot weather. There are sections that pass through redwood groves and stands of Douglas fir. Lots of scrubby pine trees, manzanita, and other short, resilient, vegetation. In spring this area is thick with bush poppies and chaparral pea.

On the way back, my previous luck turned. When I got to the junction of Sunset and Timms Creek there was a big mass of humanity there blocking the trail. About 15 or 20 people on a group hike, and wouldn’t let me by. I wound up getting caught up amongst them and had to listen to their talking all the way along to the next junction. What ever happened to trail etiquette? The Sunset and Skyline to the Sea are very popular trails and you have to expect this kind of thing during the peak season. An almost perfect day was kind of spoiled at the end. I guess the detour in Saratoga was an omen after all. Click here to see my flickr pix.

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