Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fall at Coe

Fall is a good time of year to be hiking the Diablo Range. With cooling temperatures the exposed high ridge tops and steep elevation changes are not quite the punishing ordeals they can be in the heat of summer. Long range views are usually better simply because of the effect of heat on the photochemical smog that normally permeates the air. The winds pick up a bit overall and there’s more moisture in the air which has a cleansing effect. And of course when the rains begin, the precipitation provides a through bathing of the airspace all the way down to sea level. On a good day the views you can enjoy from the high places are well worth stopping to admire, and you can notice the difference in air quality, especially when you’re breathing hard climbing up some trail.

We like to get out to Henry W. Coe State Park during this quieter time of year. We went to Hunting Hollow at the south end of the park to hike the Steer Ridge loop. We decided to go up the Steer Ridge trail mostly because we both prefer climbing a wicked steep trail section like this to steep descending. And it is quite steep, trust me. The consensus seems to believe that the Hobbs Road "short cut" is steepest, but this trail must be second. There was a bank of fog hanging around along the bottom of Hunting Hollow making it very chilly, but it didn’t take long to get some heat going once we began climbing. And soon we were above the fog which was isolated to that little valley. After that the weather was great as long as the sun was out, but if it moved behind a bit of cloud, then I would contemplate a warmth layer. The skies were mostly blue with thin scattered cloud systems moving slowly eastward. Overall it was just too nice to be inside.

On the way up Steer Ridge I finally spotted an illusive tarantula moving in the grasses. First one I’ve seen this year. This one had more of a brown coloration compared to most of the others I’ve seen in this area which are usually darker, almost black. It occurred to me that the only time we ever actually see the tarantulas is when they happen to be crossing the trail at the same moment we’re hiking past. You might spot something large like a deer or coyote off in the bush, but you could almost walk right over top of a tarantula and not see it when amongst the grasses. Plus this one seemed to be camouflaged fairly well. It was the only one we saw all day, but their migration will continue for a few more weeks.

The views up on the ridge were not the best I’ve seen, but were still a delight. We had a good time visiting Wilson Peak and hiking through to Wagon Road. The serpentine rock along the ridge has brilliant swatches of orange, green, and yellow lichens. The grassy hills in this area have green grasses from the last storm that passed through, the latent effects of a Pacific typhoon. We followed Wagon Road all the way down, giving back all the altitude, to Hunting Hollow trail at the bottom of the valley. A little bit of fall color is evident down here amongst the maple and sycamore, and many oaks are dripping with mosses. There's lots of green grasses that could almost rival even the best manicured lawns back in the city.

Click here to see photos from this hike

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Favorite Places

Surely everybody who hikes regularly has one or more favorite spots. Familiar places they keep going back to because they possess some special appeal on a personal level. I don’t mean some far flung location requiring travel and an overnight stay, but rather someplace you keep going back to once in awhile whenever the urge arises. A place you can visit on a spur-of-the-moment basis that you tend to think of as “your place”, or perhaps “our place”. It’s great to have the choices we do in the bay area, but wherever you may live there’s probably someplace that you think is just cool in a special way.

For me Chalk Mountain, in Big Basin, is one of those places. It’s not a marquee destination, but I suppose that fact accounts for some of its appeal, at least for someone like me. It’s extremely quiet and still there. In fact you rarely ever see other people there, whether mountain bikers, horseback riders, or hikers. The summit is only a shade over 1600 feet, but even still, it provides some of the best long range views available in Big Basin easily rivaling the more popular Buzzard’s Roost. The general area around it is mostly exposed making unobstructed viewing possible. On a good day you get an unbroken 360 degree panorama, which unlike Buzzard’s Roost, includes views of the Pacific Ocean off Ano Nuevo, and weather permitting, south to Monterey Bay. The surrounding ridgelines and valleys vary in character from dense mature coniferous groves, to scrubby open terrain having a shale-like quality.

The hike to get there can be challenging depending on which route appeals to you the most. The easiest way is to use the Whitehouse Ridge Trail originating in Ano Nuevo State Park. You will need to drive in to the trailhead using the unpaved Whitehouse Canyon Road. An easy to miss turnoff from highway 1. But I usually prefer to use one of the various more challenging and less traveled routes. And of course the route that Sue and I took on this day was the same one we used for our first hike (alone) together on which we shared our first kiss (blush). We had done an out-and-back along the Westridge Trail originating at Waddell Beach. Access is from the Skyline to the Sea Trail along the hiking only route that follows a little ledge high above the little farms near Rancho del Oso. Before re-joining the fire road past Twin Redwoods trail camp is the Clark Connector which switches back up through the trees allowing you to gain the ridge top. The Westridge Trail is designated as a horse trail. It’s ok to hike it, but I think it’s designated that way because it’s not properly graded for hiking. Rather than being carved into the terrain, it climbs up and over every rise and peak in the natural terrain, and conversely descends into all the little gullies. It’s a roller coaster of a trail, and much of the terrain is very susceptible to erosion damage, which is in great evidence. Some sections are wicked steep down, and then immediately wicked steep back up, and very rough. So to use these trails, you want to be well informed, and up for the challenge.

A funny thing happened when we reached the summit on this hike. We had not seen anyone since leaving the beach area, so were not expecting to. There is a little hill that has a picnic table out at the end. The little trail leading there is hidden by brush on each side. Out at the end is a great view, but you cannot really see down to the trail from there, nor see up to it until you get there. This spot makes a great place to rest up and have a nice trail lunch. This is also the very spot that is special to Sue and I that we remember from our first hike together. As we approached on the trail, there was some movement out at the picnic table. It seems that we had arrived at an awkward moment for some other couple who were not dressed. Hmmm, interesting. I won’t elaborate on what they were doing, but I’m sure you can imagine without much help (wink, wink). Obviously this spot is also quite special to at least one other hiking couple. They scrambled into the bushes grabbing for their clothing and looking sheepish. Sue and I turned around quickly, but didn’t quite know how to deal with this obviously embarrassing situation, so we just walked away over to the other view point near the famous Chalk Mountain outhouse-with-a-view. We took a break there while the others quietly slipped away.

We had a great day and returned to our car with time enough to check out the new location of the Santa Cruz New Leaf store on Fair Street. Just around the corner from their old location. Great place to shop for local produce.

Click here to see the pictures from this hike.
Click here to see the photos from last years solo hike to Chalk Mountain