Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cloud’s Rest

Waking up at Sunrise HSC I was feeling incredibly comfortable and peaceful. It was absolutely still outside, and I wasn’t sure if I should get up to greet he morning out in the elements, or just lie there and drift back into lazy sleeping. Remembering that a hot breakfast would be waiting at 7:30 the balance was swayed and I chose the latter. It’s so cool to get called for meals by someone flailing away on an old iron triangle while shouting across the camp just like back in the chuck wagon days. Often I like to get early starts, but this would be a blissful exception. As I usually do, I had studied the maps, and was entertaining some tentative ideas about hiking routes beginning from this location. I had also made lots of mental notes on the terrain around Long Meadow and the seemingly infinite rock scrambling possibilities right around Sunrise. It’s such a beautiful area I hated to waste the opportunities right in front of us. But talking to Sue, she really wanted to do Cloud’s Rest for some reason. The hike to the highest point in Yosemite Valley is a popular day hiking destination from the same trail head we hiked in on beginning at Tenaya Lake. We saw lots of day hikers on their way to Cloud’s Rest on the day we hiked in to Sunrise. We’ve both done that hike before but we haven’t ever done it together. It seems that this whole trip had somehow become about sharing our remembrances of past times as though to tie them to our lives together now. So vowing to come back some day for another stay we made plans to day hike Cloud’s Rest. What the hey? The views are unique and completely awesome. Who could complain?

We hiked the trail back past the 3 Sunrise Lakes still tempted to jump in. Also hard to resist was the opportunity to hike off trail over to the mysterious 2nd lake barely visible through the trees just to check out the area more closely. Lots of rocky high points that would have been fairly easy to scramble didn’t go unnoticed either. I almost could have sworn some of them were whispering my name, but I hung with the plan to hike with Sue to Cloud’s Rest. At the first lake we had caught up with the group that was doing the ranger led high sierra camps loop. We caught Adriana’s (the ranger) nature notes on the damselflies. She was the same ranger that was in camp the night before leading a star gazing talk, pointing out celestial bodies in the night sky with a laser pointer. Interesting stuff! That’s one big advantage of doing the loop. You get to listen to a real high country naturalist who can answer questions. One of the things I remember about Yosemite Association hikes that I’ve done was how we always had hike leaders, usually rangers, who were both knowledgeable and friendly. Yosemite has the best.

Back to the trail; we returned to the first junction at the top of a ridge, and took the left fork headed southwest. The route begins by heading downhill into a little wooded area which is humid and rocky with a lot of standing seemingly dead wood. Many trees in this area seem to be dead or dying as if by some disease. The terrain is also very moist in places with corn lilies, a few wild flowers, pink heather, and bushes blossoming in white that I still have yet to identify. We passed along the shores of another lake although not an especially pretty one, and filtered some of the clear water. Soon the trail begins the climbing that you knew was coming, all the way to the next junction mostly through tree cover. The final section to Cloud’s rest is the steepest, but you are able to get some really nice views through the trees. As we approached the barren rocky peak the views opened up and begin to dazzle our senses. The sun was strong, but the air smells very clean and the breezes are soothing. I found some Sierra Primrose amongst the rocks as we climbed up. Mostly easy, there is one section that is a little scary to some hikers because it’s narrow with a big drop off on either side. Called the “knife edge”, you want to be careful here, but anyone can do the hike without danger as long as you don’t do anything stupid. In a few places we used our hands (scrambled), but it was far from daunting. We were having a lot of fun on the knife and Sue even horsed around a little. There is another route to the top on the other side, but that would be a longer route for us.

At the top you have the unique experience of looking down on the summit of Half Dome. Awesome views down the abyss of Tenaya Canyon are dizzying, and the chasm of Yosemite Valley yaws open with its granite sentinels on either side. The panorama from the top is the best available; even better than Half Dome. From here you can look to the east and trace the exact route of the mighty Merced River the whole way from its origin. You can’t see the actual river but you can follow the canyon through which it passes. Yosemite’s congress of high peaks is all visible from here. If you have a topographical map and a compass you could spend hours just identifying terrain features. Looking back to the north you can see Tenaya Lake and Tioga Road carving its way along, and you can see way beyond Mt Hoffmann to distant peaks not even in Yosemite. We spent at least an hour up here contemplating, having lunch, and just playing a little. The sights are so uplifting I had completely forgotten all those other hikes I wanted to do. Next time – next time.

Click any of the images to expand.
Click here to see more photos from this hike on flickr.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

We spent one last night at Tuolumne Meadows with warming night and morning temperatures before switching over to backpacks for our hike to Sunrise HSC. We had decided to set up a car shuttle so we could hike in from Tenaya Lake, and hike out to the Cathedral trailhead. We broke up into different groups at different paces using walky-talkies to stay in touch. Our group would total 10 at the HSC. Tenaya Lake trailhead leads up a series of fairly steep switchbacks climbing up a rock strewn ridge with intermittent tree cover. Once you gain some altitude you begin to get fairly good views of the peaks to the northwest. Marmots, grouse, and lots of other small wildlife species are active amongst the rocks and vegetation and a few wild flowers were around. Its uphill switchbacks for 2.5 miles to the first junction before leveling out for awhile. Taking the right fork here will take you back downhill toward an eventual big uphill to Cloud’s Rest. We did a day hike to this peak during our stay at Sunrise, but that’ll be a different post. Not far beyond the junction the trail heads uphill again and brings you around to the first of the 3 Sunrise Lakes. The first lake has very calm waters with a glistening smooth surface. Not a mirror, but clear enough to dazzle with sky, cloud, and rock reflections. The broken, layered, rock cliff on the other side of the lake providing a backdrop to the majestic high sierra pines all picture framed in the waters. There’s a lot of submerged dead wood lying around, but still it looks clear and clean. Lots of brilliant blue damselflies are hovering around the surface near parts of the shore, their seasonally shed carcasses littering the grasses. Pink mountain heather and a few wild flowers add some zesty color to the dark greens and stark grayscale of the rock. I had plenty of time and was so tempted to strip off gear and jump in, but for some reason resisted, but I did spend a little quiet time here.

Continuing on and climbing a little higher the sounds of gently coursing water is heard on its way down from the third lake to the second of the Sunrise Lakes. You would have to go off trail to actually visit the second lake, and could easily miss it through the trees below as you pass. Hiking on by, soon the trail passes along side the greenish waters of the third lake. There’s lots of swampy and mossy vegetation around the lakes perimeter and quite a few mosquitoes. The waters surface looked ripped against the subtle breezes that are moving over the pass ahead, and down the length of the lake. Climbing still higher the trail eventually levels out over a dusty pass nearly reaching 10,000 feet before beginning to descend toward Sunrise at 9370 feet. Hiking down rocky switchbacks the terrain becomes much more moist and green, and after negotiating some of the interfering terrain high peaks are visible to the northeast beyond the trees. There is a backpack campground before you reach the HSC both of which are tucked quietly away situated amongst the high rocks just above Long Meadow, along which passes the John Muir Trail.

All the people we had passed along the way had spoken of mosquitoes when we mentioned that we were headed for Sunrise. This year they were really bad during the time we were there. We had packed head nets and repellant which we were to make very good use of during the entirety of our stay. The people that are up there every year told us that the mosquitoes will probably be gone in a few weeks, but at least for the time being they were pretty dreadful. We camped out in a tent cabin that was just steps away from some big rocks that provided a stunning overlook to Long Meadow below. At one end of the lush green meadow the treetops at the edge of the green grasses dip down to reveal a portal view to the Clark Range and the back side of Mt Clark. At the other end of the meadow a similar drop in the tree line opens up an outstanding view to the range that includes a partially snow covered Mt Florence; the only peak in Yosemite named after a woman. An un-named creek meanders through the meadow grasses cutting a winding pathway down the length of the meadow. It was the kind of a view that you can spend hours drinking in. In the evenings the orange glow of the sunset would illuminate Mt Florence with alpenglow. The first evening we were there we watched as the sun set from the rocks above to see a heard of deer grazing the meadow below. As we also discovered, this altitude provides excellent star gazing if you are lucky enough to get clear skies. Behind the camp is a high rolling rocky ridge that can be scrambled for better views. One morning during our visit, I turned out super early and scrambled up the ridge behind the camp and sat to watch the sunrise. From the top of this high place the Cathedral Range comes into view as well. In the morning as the sun creeps up, it first peeks out from behind Cathedral Peak. It immediately paints the back side of Mt Clark with the reddish glow of the morning before beginning to usher in daylight to the meadow area. My totally amateur photography will not do justice to it. The rocky creases in the rocks are brimming with penstemon of different hues; pinkish Mountain Pride and purplish Meadow Penstemon. There is also a little rock dome at the far side of the meadow which has a trail to the summit. We stayed here a couple of nights before packing up and heading over Cathedral pass to the trailhead on Tioga Road. I enjoyed every minute of our stay despite the mosquitoes and other small detractions that always seem to crop up. The HSC experience is one that totally harmonizes with my inner child. I wish I could spend a month here.

Click on any of the pictures on this page to enlarge.
Click here to see more pictures from this hike on flickr

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Snow Creek Cabin

I had heard of it before. Sue has talked about it on occasion but wasn’t sure what had become of it over the years. It’s always interesting to hear her stories, but I didn’t know what to expect when Sue and her brother Leonard decided that they wanted to revisit the place called Snow Creek Cabin. I had been thinking about this trip for weeks and had a whole lot of other ideas about hikes I wanted to do, so this sounded a little obscure. I thought about doing some other hike on my own. Sue and the rest were open to that, but somehow I was curious and decided to go with them after all. Leonard's wife Sharon made four of us. We studied a whole assortment of maps in order to refresh memories of the lay of the land. There is no distinct trail that can bring you there. There are a few trails near the area, and there are markers for cross country skiing, but that’s about it. It’s officially closed, so there isn’t really any reason for wanting to go there. Unless you have some really great old memories of past times, including some rather lurid stories about past adventures that took place around here. But I found that this little trek was full of surprises.

We began by driving down Tioga Road to a little visited turnout near a trailhead beyond Olmstead Point. The other end of the trail would take you up to the May Lake area. The way we were going would take you down toward a junction with Snow Creek Trail and on to Yosemite Valley by way of Mirror Lake. After about 1.5 miles, we headed off trail, going cross country navigating by dead reckoning based on Sue’s and Leonard’s memories of the terrain. Leonard is a retired forestry surveyor of 30+ years and has fairly extraordinary navigation and orienteering skills. Both Leonard and I had GPS devices with us, but we were not using them for navigation. If you get out into the open this area has enough recognizable terrain features to prevent you from becoming completely lost. We hiked through thick forests of pine and fir, and down through some grassy meadows while being regaled with stories about Sue’s days as a volunteer ranger when she lived at Snow Creek Cabin, and times past when Leonard was doing a lot of adventuring in the area as well. There was one particularly hair-razing story that involved the two of them getting stuck in a white-out blizzard for two full days, enduring 4 feet of fresh powder, huddling together contemplating death. It was almost like having some adventure book coming to life. Some of this stuff was new to me and may never have come up except for this hike.

As we passed along an elongated little stream-fed marshy meadow, thick with corn lilies, and awash in shooting stars, Sue recognized this feature which showed us that we were headed in the right direction. Soon we emerged from the woods onto barren rock, still descending with parts of Tenaya Canyon and Yosemite Valley coming into view. The sea of rock is dotted by tortured pine trees that somehow reach down through the cracks and crevasses to find water and nutrients in the soil somewhere below. Assorted sizes and shapes of boulders are scattered around like a toddler’s discarded toys. Under the clear skies the sun’s warmth is reflected from the grayscale granite to wrap your whole body like a huge tanning spa. With Sue feeling playful, and taking time to fully appreciate the views and unique topography, we gradually worked our way down to an interesting terrain feature called Pumpkin Rock. Not shown on any maps, Pumpkin Rock does have evidence of visitation. People have even established semi-permanent campsites around the area; Leave no Trace ethics annoyingly ignored. Having spotted that rock Sue had smiled and remembered the exact route to get below to Snow Creek Cabin. Climbing down cautiously amongst the rocks and vegetation, we entered into the woods again. Moving along a little stream, soon we came upon a large marshy area with the cabin just visible through the trees. This very moist meadow was worth the trip by itself as it hosted many wild flowers, corn lilies, and interesting plant life. I spotted some Rein Orchid and Small Leopard Lilies among the offerings. Upon wading through the mire, the ground all around the cabin site was covered by Pretty Face and Pussypaws. A nearly idyllic site.

This quaint little cabin was built in 1929, and after being very run-down over the years was partially restored in 2006. At one time it was used all year round, but now only serves as a shelter during the cross country skiing season. It is now boarded up and closed. Sue spent several summers living here as a volunteer years ago. I could tell that she was having a great time with her memories flooding back, and I was glad I decided to share it with her instead of being Mr Loner hiking by myself. The stories alone were seemingly worthy of a Wilderness Press publication. After checking out the cabin and having lunch, we hiked out to "the point"; a nearby spot where there is another open rocky view point out to Yosemite Valley. This area has also been used as a helicopter landing point before, but I'll skip that story for now. We thought about hiking up nearby Mt Watkins, but decided not to expend the energy in the heat. We filtered some nice cool water from a nearby creek and headed back toward Tioga Road, climbing up a more westerly route that was mostly solid rock. This route offered better footing than trudging through the thick woods, making it easier to get our elevation back despite being mostly exposed. On the way back we visited the site of the old quarry that was used to extract the rock for building the bridges, embankments, walls, and other structures in Yosemite Valley during the 1930s. Most of the rock was hand fitted without mortar and many of the structures are still in use today.

Click here to see more photos from this hike

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuolumne Peak

Or was it?

My first day up in the mountains was really a travel and acclimation day. I drove up on short notice because at the last minute I decided to head up by myself and camp out for a couple of nights before the rest of the party arrived. Thanks to the goodies Sue packed for me I made good enough time to take a short hike before setting up my camp for the night at Tuolumne meadows. I pulled off at the May Lake trailhead and decide to hike up past the HSC to the pass and see what views I could get.

I was down to a single layer at the trailhead as the sun was beaming brightly. There was some standing water around that seemed partially stagnant, which probably accounts for all the mosquitoes around. I immediately donned my head net and repellant to keep from taking bites. Once I was up the trail a ways there were some youth groups doing trail work mostly without shirts on and I wondered why they were not being targeted by the little blood suckers. Working and breathing hard should have brought them like a plague. I then realized I wasn’t noticing mosquitoes any more. May Lake isn’t far, about 1.5 miles uphill to 9329 feet. The HSC there is really peaceful amongst the tall conifers sitting right on the easterly edge of a clear mountain lake rimmed trees and accented with mountain heather, having a commanding view across the shimmering waters to the snow capped peak of Mt Hoffmann to the west. From this vantage point Hoffmann’s summit looks very jagged and forbidding to all but technical climbers, but I discovered later on after hiking up beyond this point that it looks possible to scramble the top with intermediate skills. I’d really like to give it a go sometime, but no time for that today. I filtered some drinking water while savoring the air and then hit the trail.

The trail climbs up gently passing through some lush wooded areas, open green meadows, and across barren rocky outcrops. One of Yosemite’s most curious illusions of trees seemingly growing out of solid rock is a common sight as you hike across wavy areas of slick-rock. I passed one little un-named high lake off trail a bit that seemed to be like a natural blue swimming pool made of rock. Narrow sticks of weathered trees stand their ground around the perimeter concealing their secrets of survival. Continuing on the trail winds up higher and around to a nice little view point along an open rock ledge. The alpine high peaks stretch across above waves of flowing rock dotted with trees and strewn with boulders. After descending down a little the trail leads through some areas of moist vegetation, and then back up to what I will call “the pass”. It has no name, but if you continue on from here you will begin descending down the switchbacks toward Ten Lakes Basin. Right there at that point there is a little dome shaped peak that is just begging to be scrambled. Actually, you can practically just walk up the slope to the top. From here I got the best views of the day after climbing up along the smooth seams in the rock festooned with Mountain Pride Penstemon. The peak offers about a 75% panorama including a nice view to Tenaya Lake and Cloud’s Rest, and sweeping views of high peaks and rocky valleys, and another view of Mt Hoffmann looking south. On the map there is a place called Tuolumne Peak, but I was never sure exactly which peak that was. It may have been the dome I was on, but I’m still not sure. From the top the varying winds were intermittently chilly, and then in stillness it would be hot. I spent some quiet time here and at the little rock lake before returning to the car. But someday I will definitely have to come back and scramble Hoffmann.

Click here to see more photos from this hike

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Young Lakes

Having made the reservation on-line at the last minute, I was lucky to get a site at all; so on the day I got there I was assigned whatever campsite was available at Tuolumne Meadows campground. I probably should have just backpacked but didn’t have a permit. On the first night my car’s thermometer had said 31, but the temps got down to 29 degrees according to the rangers. I had packed our not-so-good sleeping bags, but since I was by myself for now, I was able to use the second one as an extra blanket. I called Sue the next day and told her to bring the good stuff up because it’s freakin’ cold. Despite my past experiences, I hadn’t expected it to be quite that cold. The temperature variation between dark hours and light hours was also more dramatic than I anticipated with daytime reaching into the high 70s and low 80s. The overnight temperatures got warmer during our high country visit, but by the time we were up at Sunrise HSC, I did not have a thermometer. We were right on the cusp of seasonal change.

After thawing myself out and having some breakfast I packed up to head for Young Lakes. I hung around until after 8:00 so I could take care of some business with the reservation office, then hit the trail. I used the same trailhead as the route to Glen Aulin HSC taking the right junction after about 1.5 miles to begin climbing to Young Lakes. The bottom section of this trail runs across some large areas of slick rock making it a bit obscure. You have to look for ducks and kind of a worn look on the rock surface until the trail becomes more distinct. Having a GPS is a good idea here. Before long the trail begins climbing higher into the stunted logepoles. There’s lots of fresh water along this route as the trail crosses many clear running little streams including Dingly Creek. Looking back to the south after gaining some altitude, broken views of the peaks of the Cathedral range are visible intermittently through the trees, but no really good views present themselves. The 3.71 mile trail section leading up to the next junction is mostly uphill with tree cover. Only sparse wild flowers are showing. Some varieties seemed to be on the way out, while most were just coming in. The best season was probably just after we left. After making the turn at the junction the first view of Ragged Peak is seen from the south side. Climbing higher and steeper the route works its way around into a stunning green high meadow just at the base of Ragged Peak. It was still very moist here and lots of mosquitoes were around. When you first reach this meadow from this direction, you have been hiking uphill, and the blood sucking bugs are attracted by a combination of CO2 and lactic acid. A head net and some insect repellent are good precautions at this time of year.

After meandering downhill a little, about 1.5 miles from the last junction, lower Young Lake comes into view through the trees at elevation 9850. A little spur trail follows around the north side of the lower lake with lots of mountain heather in bloom close to the waters edge, and mountain pride penstemon blooming amongst the rocks. The south side of the lake is dominated by looming rock formations. Jagged Peak at one end adjoined by a succession of similarly knarly irregular peaks and a big rocky crest all having lingering snow packed into the creases and crevasses, their reflections hovering on the surface of the waters rippled by the haunting breezes. This lower lake had me spellbound and made a perfect lunch spot. At the east end of the lake the waters flow into a creek and down to two more lovely high lakes, one thickly wooded and the other barren. I would love to come back here some year and campout in this area.

On my way back I decided to loop back around to Dog Lake turning left at the junction. This trail began climbing back up even higher over a high crest and down into another large high meadow awash with green grasses and strewn with rocks. The open terrain provided an absolutely stunning full view out to the southwest and the snowy Cathedral Range as a backdrop to the lush meadow with mountain streams running their rocky courses. I was very slow through this section, stopping frequently, as I was anxious to fully savor the idyllic beauty before descending into the trees again. The 3.38 miles down to Dog Lake is almost all downhill and other tantalizing meadow views await at lower the elevations too. A couple of options would be to hike around Dog Lake, or to climb Lembert Dome, but succumbing to the temptation, I decided to head for the Tuolumne Meadow Grill for salmon burgers and famous vege-chili. The store next door also stocks a good selection of cold beer. How can you possibly hit the spot any better than that after a days hiking. Heaven is nigh.



Click here to see the photos on flickr

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Yosemite High Country 09

What a shock to be back down to virtual sea level here in the bay area after being gratifyingly acclimated for a week in the Yosemite high country. I headed up last Tuesday on my own to camp out and hike, with my wife and members of her family making the trip after a couple of days. The soothing gentle breezes high in the trees making sighing sounds and producing pleasantly cooler temperatures is just one of the advantages of being above 8000 feet in the Sierras at this time of year. The frosty cool snowmelt meandering down streams and rivers, bubbling up in springs, and rushing over rocky courses is as inviting as it is contemplative. Daytime temperatures in the high 70s with deceptively intensive sunshine, with nighttime and early mornings in the high 20s to low 30s make for a stark contrast. Timing the prime season is tricky as annual nuances in climatic conditions can shift the balance from year to year. For me the most enjoyable time is during the really good wild flower blooms after the nights have warmed up some, but not so much that the high mountains don’t still have plenty of snowy crevasses to provide contrast to the long range views available from atop the many passes, ridges, domes, and peaks. I would say our timing this year was not perfect, but really, if you are even close, I still couldn’t imagine a better place to be than the “Range of Light" as the high meadows are just awakening for their seasonal transition into delightful green life. We had planned on meeting up with some of Sue’s family members to stay at Tuolumne and Sunrise High Sierra camps, but with the 4th of July holiday providing extra time to bridge with vacation, I decided at the last minute, with Sue’s near insistence, to head up a couple of days early on my own, and wound up in a campsite at Tuolumne instead. I did some nice hiking during this trip which I will write up in separate posts as time permits. The day I arrived, I hiked up beyond May Lake and found some great vantage points up near the pass. I spent some great quiet time after scrambling atop some un-named dome with tantalizing panoramas. I made it short to have time to set up a camp. The next day I hiked up to Young Lakes to spend the midday marveling at the snowy peaks and refreshing waters. Looping around and back down to Dog Lake, the trail passes through an amazing lush green high meadow with simply awesome views out to the high peaks, jagged and foreboding, with snow packed into intricate crevasses, and cool breezes kissing my face. When Sue and the others arrived, 4 of us went on a pilgrimage to a place called Snow Creek Cabin, with Sue, a former volunteer ranger, and her brother Leonard, both having lurid stories about past adventures. Sue spent a few summers at this place, and was bound and determined to find it again in order to reminisce on past times, and revisit some out of the way spots that don’t show up on maps and most hikers don’t even know exist. We had reservations for the next 2 nights up at Sunrise HSC, so we switched over to back packs to hike on in. With 8 people in our group, including two octogenarians, we decided to set up a car pool to hike in from Tenaya Lake trailhead, and hike out on our last day to Cathedral trailhead. While we were there we did some nice side trips including a day hike Sue and I did up to Cloud’s Rest. The time always goes by too damned fast when I’m really having a great time. As tired as I was after this whole week of activity, still I can’t help but be sad when it’s finally time to get back into the car and drive back down into the real world. While crusing along the bay area freeways again with a car full of gear, I can really relate to the song lyric “I see my mind as the closet I’m stuck inside” – “can’t see the light” – “can’t see the light” -- Dave Mathews. It reminds me that I have done this to myself. In my life I have relegated myself to a harried existence in the concrete canyons of civilization. Hike write-ups to come

Click the play button below for soothing acoustic sounds of the upper Tuolumne
(be sure to turn on your sound)

video

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Slate Creek & Ward Road

Watching the weather reports for the holiday weekend we didn’t see the temperatures reaching north of tolerable heat really. We’ve got a trip to the high country coming up so we wanted to go someplace that would give us some fairly stout uphill, but still be mostly in the shade. Last week when it was really hot we hiked at Sanborn which fit the bill nicely, but this week had cooled down quite a bit so we decided to go down to 400 feet at Portola State Park and hike up the Slate Creek trail to Ward Road which would take us up to the BART at Skyline. We could have saved some time and carbon credits by making this an inverse hike using one of the trailheads up on Skyline, but it’s always much nicer have a downhill return. And with Ward Road being mostly exposed on its top section you have to wonder how accurate weather reports can be. It is summer now. A nice cool alternative I was thinking about was to do the Peter’s Creek loop, but I’ll save that for later in the year.

It was sunny up on Skyline in the car, but we could see low coastal fog below. When we got to the headquarters complex at Portola, it was encouraging to see the “Campgrounds Full” signs displayed. At least this is still a popular place on the 4th of July. Hiking out on the Slate Creek trail we could hear lots of gleeful activity in the campground down below and the smoke odor was drifting up for about the first half mile or so, but after making the turn at the first junction we had left all that behind. It was a pleasant morning even though it was a little foggy. After an initial easy climb, this trail is virtually flat all the way to the trail camp allowing for a leisurely ramble perfect for savoring the forest. Sue was spotting lots of interesting and easy to miss plants. We saw some Spotted Coral Root which I am told is in the orchid family. We also found some Shinleaf which is a type of Wintergreen, California Milkwort, and some interesting fungi. It was so nice having the trail to ourselves all morning. An occupied campsite at the Slate Creek trail camp represented the only signs of other humans. The section beyond the trail camp that runs down by the creek bed has a fairy tail like quality with the thick overhead tree canopy providing a deeply refreshing cool breeze, carpets of sorrel, ferns, and other lush green ground cover, and a classic babbling rocky creek (check out the video below) . Old redwood stumps bear witness to some past logging which always prompts me to try to imagine what this place would look like if it were really pristine, but overall, I rate this trail as underappreciated. Not that I’m complaining about the peace and quiet.

When you reach the bend at the creek crossing the trail begins climbing. You still have lots of tree cover, but some sections are steep leading up to the junction with Ward Road. There are fairly good markings, but they are getting somewhat overgrown, so keep your eye out if unfamiliar. You don’t get a break after reaching Ward Road. Some sections of the road are even steeper than the single track you just left. We chose this hike because we wanted some altitude change, but after about a mile or so the trail levels out for awhile. There are a few redwoods along here, but most of the tall conifers you see are Douglas firs with lots of Christmas tree like offspring. Some buckeyes are still at the end of their bloom cycle and you can still pick up the fragrance. Soon you begin climbing again and begin to move out into much more open grassy terrain. This would be a difficult section in really hot sunshine. After passing through a gate you cross into Long Ridge OSP. On this section of Ward Road, I can now see that the Midpeninsula Open Space District has begun using the “swale” technique for water runoff in more places. They basically use a small bulldozer to gouge out huge trenches in the surface in an attempt to control erosion without having to come back every year to clean out the conventional water bars. It’s a lot less work, but I still think it does more damage to the trail than years of normal erosion would have done. I first noticed this technique on the Black Mountain Trail in Rancho San Antonio. I really hate the swails, but if it saves time and labor, I suppose it makes sense from a maintenance point of view. I was pleasantly surprised to find one sunny section of Ward Road where there are still some really nice white mariposa lilies blooming. I was especially glad to see they weren’t obliterated by the bulldozer when they cut the swales.

Up on the Skyline trail we found some nice spreading shady oaks along the ridge, and decided to rest there and have some lunch with a view out to Butano Ridge to the west. We were getting some nice breezes from the coast, so it really was not as warm as we expected. There were a lot of large turkey vultures flying around possibly indicating some sort of nearby predation, but we weren’t about to go looking for it. I got picture of one vulture sitting in a dead tree that was maybe even large enough to be mistaken for a condor if it stayed in that position. It even has a reddish colored head like a condor. We were seeing people up here closely to the trailheads along the highway, mostly mountain bikers, but hiking back down we were alone again until we got close to Portola HQ. The proverbial beaten track successfully avoided again we had a really nice day and still got some decent leg-burn in.

Click here to see my photos on flickr.
Click the play button on the image below to see a short video of Slate Creek.
(be sure to turn on your sound)

video