This past Thursday and Friday our heavens opened up and gave us the first really good storm since last spring. This is turning out to be an incredibly dry year for California. We’ve had worse, but this is the third year in a row of below average rainfall for the Santa Clara valley. This new storm brought us up to only about 50% of normal rainfall total for the season to date. February and March are typically the wettest months here, so there’s still hope for improvement. But, without a lot more rain, agriculture will take a big hit, and some water rationing looks very likely.
One of my favorite winter hikes is the classic falls loop at Big Basin. Normally this time of year the string of falls along Berry Creek are showing their best displays, fat with runoff water, especially just after a good storm. Naturally waterfall activity has been less than spectacular this season, and not great for the last three years in a row. Despite the grim water outlook, and the meager runoff, somehow I couldn’t do without hiking the falls loop after this last storm. I’m still not sure if I feared that this would be the best we’d see until next year, or if I simply could not deal with missing my seasonal tradition of doing this hike in the peak of the wet season. It was probably both.
I arrived at park headquarters early and hiked on out to the falls using Skyline to the Sea trail. I always make a point to get there early to avoid crowds in the main area of the park. Some of the parking areas were closed because of construction to accommodate wheelchair access to the redwood trail. I found the expected low flow, but with the sun coming out by then there was some interesting interplay with the sunlight and the dancing water.
I can remember back in 2004 when I was doing a lot of volunteer trail maintenance with SCMTA on the Big Basin crew. During February we had worked all morning in ankle deep water to improve storm diversion on the Skyline to the Sea trail heading up out of the headquarters area, which was completely flooded in places. Footbridges were being washed out of their locations, mudslides were damaging trails, and many trees fell. During that year, Berry creek fall was actually making a pounding noise, and churning up mist. This year it sounds more like a desktop water feature.
After visiting the fall, I scrapped my plans to do the rest of the falls trail. I decided instead to hike up Henry Creek trail. This is the kind of hike that only experienced hikers should attempt. It’s classified as a horse trail, but I would think it would be hard to get a horse to walk that trail. There is no bridge at the creek, and the trail can be hard to discern at the double crossing. If you search along the creek, there’s a place where a crossing is possible because of a large sheet of rock that spreads out the water flow. The rocky trail tread up higher has heavy erosion damage, and it rolls up and down fatiguingly. I like it because it’s somewhat of a challenge, and offers sweeping views down to the unique little valley between this ridge and Chalks road. It’s also a much less traveled route. It’s rare to encounter other hikers on this route. The valley floor is thickly populated with beautiful mature Douglas firs providing some contrast to the redwood dominated areas. The higher more arid areas are mostly exposed with sparse populations of scrubby pines, with lots of Manzanita and array of native plants, lichens and mosses. This section also provided a glimpse of spring. I spotted some fledgling Milk maids, and also a few very rare Fetid Adders Tongue. There's a photo link below.
A rocky outcropping at a high point along the Henry creek trail made a great lunch spot among the blooming heather before heading back using the same little wildcat trail I used for my last trip to Chalk Mountain. After that I had an uneventful return trip to park headquarters using the Sunset trail.
Click here to see my flickr pix