Friday, December 31, 2010

Monte Bello Crossover

Taking advantage of a break in the wet holiday season weather, we decided we would take a look at the views available up on Skyline. We hiked a short loop beginning in Monte Bello. Trails are muddy, weather unsettled and windy, sunshine in-n-out, but it was good to get out for awhile. Check out my trip and photos at everytrail.
Monte Bello Crossover at EveryTrail

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in the Bay Area, California

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Skyline Ramblin'

I hiked a slightly different version of my Skyline Rocks hike last Sunday. I always enjoy different variations of this route, but this hike was even more fun because it gave me the opportunity to try out some new things. Firstly, with technology ever surging forward, there are some new models of hand held GPS units coming out. The new stuff will incorporate many new features like touch screens, wireless data, and etc, for those who just need to have every technological bell and whistle. The basic capabilities of the units have remained pretty much the same though. But even if you are not a techno-junkie this is exciting news, because that means the existing models, which have excellent owner reviews, can be had for bargan prices. As for myself, I really only want the basics anyway, and I love to save a few bucks. My new toy for this year is a new more capable GPS unit that will not loose satellite lock every time I walk under a tree, or need a serial to USB converter that will intermittently blow up my computer. It also accepts an external antenna so I can even get satellite lock in canyons and such. So I can now regularly incorporate GPS data in my posts. The other new thing I am trying out is EveryTrail. I've been hearing about this travel sharing site for several years, but have not actually tried it until now. Better late than never (cliché alert). Using this site will allow me to make more posts on Way Points because it saves me time. I can quickly upload GPS data and photos from my hikes, do a quick little write up, and post all at the same time. I was also tipped to public domain software for geo-tagging my photos, so that's another enhancement I can incorporate in my write ups there. I will still do write ups on Way Points when I have more to say, but I can do quick little posts called "trips" on EveryTrail and link them here. And the trips will have meaningful data from my GPS instead of just my own route descripions.

This "trip" shows my route beginning in Sanborn/Skyline County Park, and using the Pederson and Sanborn Trails up to the Skyline Trail, over into Castle Rock State Park, on to the fall, Saratoga Gap Trail to the trail camp, Loghry Woods Trail back to the Skyling Trail, and returning to Sanborn on the San Andreas Trail. The Santa Clara Valley and Monterey Bay were both totally blanketed with thick low fog, but up above about 1000 feet, it was clear, sunny, and warm. The valley, the entire bay, and penninsula stayed grey and chilly all day. From above it looked like a great white void. Summit Rock is still closed, but Indian Rock is always open. Castle Rock has great clear weather views.

Skyline Rocks at EveryTrail

EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking near San Jose, California

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mount Manuel

Lower section of Mt Manuel Trail
The Big Sur Coast is one of my favorite places for a short get-away. This section of the coast highway has always been a popular attraction among residents and visitors alike, but somehow it still seems like a remote location when you’re there. The Santa Lucia Mountains form the beautiful and scenic backdrop that isolates this rugged and picturesque coastline from large population centers. There is no freeway or major crossroads to bring throngs of people, or traffic passing through, ensuring that its character remains rather quiet, and largely unspoiled by unchecked development. Big Sur is virtually surrounded by mountainous designated wilderness, and the Los Padres National Forest. The best way to visit is to stay for a few days. All manor of accommodation is available from wilderness trail camps for backpacking, to campsites in state parks, to some very exclusive lodges. A short trip down there makes a great retreat from the maelstrom of the modern age, and the anthill mentality of city life.

One of my favorite trails in Big Sur is the Mount Manuel Trail. One end of the trail originates in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which incidentally is a nice convenient place to camp. A little bit of history and commemoration is worth recounting here. The namesake of Manuel Peak is one of this area’s earliest settlers. Manuel Innocenti was Chumash, who moved here with his wife Francisca, who was Yokut, and their children sometime in the late 1860s. With abundant fish and game, their lifestyle here was predominantly hunter-gatherer with some crop cultivation as well. Manuel also worked at the nearby Rancho El Sur. Presumably their lives were happy ones, but there was also tragedy in the deaths of all of their children. The family gravesite is somewhere right around the trailhead, but is unmarked. Also along the lower trail is the tiny homestead cabin built by John Pfeiffer in 1893. It was John Pfeiffer in 1933 who sold his 706 acres to the state for parklands passing up offers from developers. He was one of four children of Michael and Barbara Pfeiffer who were among the first European settlers in Big Sur. John lived here as a beekeeper until 1902 when he finally married and moved to where the Big Sur Lodge is now. The partially restored homestead cabin is in remarkably good condition.

Santa Lucia Mountains
 I left my campsite on foot as several great trailheads are nearby. I was still having a hard time deciding whether to head up Pine Ridge Trail, or use the footbridge to cross Big Sur River and head up to Mt Manuel. The skies looked fairly clear, so I decided Manuel Peak was the better choice. The rocky viewpoint near the summit is known to provide breathtaking views if you happen to be lucky enough to get clear weather. The lower trail begins with some switchbacks as you ascend the coastal foothills. Soon the trail begins following the contours of the terrain while steadily climbing. The route follows along the northernmost side of the Big Sur River Gorge. There is very little shade for most of the way, but the open landscape provides for great views. If you look up you can see portions of the trail winding above you in the distance making it seem more daunting, but the grading is really not bad. This trail has not been maintained very well over the last few years and has gotten worse. Some sections of the trail have washouts, and rough spots from erosion damage, and will require careful footing. The trail is narrow and the drop-offs are sometimes quite steep. It would be dangerous to get careless and go off the edge. The trail also passes through some forested areas which have downed trees which can make progress a little bit trickier as well.

View to Point Sur from Manuel Peak
After a couple of miles you begin to gain a sightline over the little ridge to the west for the first glimpse of the ocean, and you have a commanding view down into the Big Sur River Gorge. You really can’t see much of the river through the rough, but you can hear it echoing from the depth. Winding around the contours of the terrain, and into little forested tributary ravines, and up higher and higher, you climb back out into the open, and take a bend to the north. Rather suddenly, the heart of the Santa Lucia Range jumps into your easterly view. Commanding attention is Ventana Double Cone, the highest peak in the range. As you climb higher, the views are mostly to the east out over Ventana Wilderness. After just over 5 miles you make the final switchbacks up to a rocky outcrop at 3379 feet. This not the actual summit, but this is where the best views are. Conditions permitting, you will get breathtaking open panoramic views of the ocean, Point Sur, and the entire Santa Lucia Range. Fire damage is hardly noticeable. The trail continues on from here connecting up with various other backcountry and wilderness trails, trail camps, and another trailhead called Botchers Gap. The Ventana backcountry is notorious for rough, overgrown, unmaintained trails, and there are miles and miles of trails back there. If you are doing the out-and-back, this is the best place to turn around and head back to Pfeiffer, provided you have had sufficient time to admire the vistas, and savor the breezy sea air. The views on this particular day were not as clear as some of my previous visits, so my photoset is from a trip that Sue and I made here in October of 2007. This was also before the last big fire in the region.

Click here to see my 2007 photos

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Seekers

Male Tarantula at Henry Coe State Park
Fall in the Diablos means, among other things, its tarantula migration season again. It’s the right time of year for large, hairy, male arachnids to go on their mass journey quest to find available nesting females. Some of them will travel amazing distances as they abandon the safety of their dens in order to search for the opportunity to mate. Whenever I see one I can't help playing the gutair riffs in my head from The Who song "The Seeker". Once they are successful in finding a suitable partner they don’t hang around. If the male suitors are smart, they will take care of business, and then get away fast before the larger, stronger, females begin to view them more as protein than company. The right motto is, “if you snooze you loose”, because they can literally become a meal for the voracious female.

The tarantulas found in this region are not dangerous. They have large fangs used for hunting, but are not poisonous to humans. Their demeanor is timid, and passive toward larger animals. If possible they will stay hidden and out of sight. The best policy toward any wild creature is to observe at a reasonable distance, but to simply leave them alone, and not stress them out. The best chance you will have to spot one is when they decide to use the hiking trails. Many wild creatures will often use the easiest path to get somewhere, and tarantulas are no different. They will be nearly impossible to spot in high grass or foliage. The biggest concern I always have is that they don’t get run over by cyclists. So if you ride a mountain bike in the Diablos in fall, please remember to look out for them. They are fascinating creatures, and play an important role in the ecosystem.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Garrapata State Park

View from Rocky Ridge
Among the better kept secrets on the Big Sur coast is a great little tract called Garrapata State Park. Located just a few short miles south of Carmel Highlands, it’s easy to miss when you are admiring the coastline headed south toward Big Sur. It’s not marked very well, and the only available parking is in roadside turn-outs along highway 1. There is no staff or fees, and really no facilities at all except for one portable chemical toilet near an old dilapidated barn. The park is rustic with a trail system that is well used, and suffering quite a bit from erosion damage and neglect. It's easy to think this could be due to state park budget cutbacks, but some people actually like it better this way. Quiet and unspoiled. Garrapata is the Spanish word for tick, adopted from early settlers in the 1830s. That rather notorious sounding name seems undeserved though. Garrapata has some interesting trails leading down to a state beach, and to some scenic seaside areas, but on this hike I was using the inland trails heading up into the coastal hills.

The main trailhead is under a row of cypress trees which appear to have been planted along an old rough cut wooden fence adjacent to the highway as though to provide a windbreak, suggesting some agricultural history. I began by hiking up Soberanes Canyon Trail.
Redwoods along Soberanes Creek
After crossing the creek, the trail begins following the contours of Soberanes Canyon and Soberanes Creek. With the recent rains the creek is actively flowing water providing a nice auditory backdrop. At the time I started hiking, the morning haze was lifting, and the weather looked fairly clear. I was anticipating some very nice sweeping coastal views from the higher elevations in the park. Last time I was here we had clear weather, but the glare from the sun was so strong late in the day, it was hard to get decent looking pictures. I was thinking today would be a better opportunity, but meteorological conditions at the coast are always unpredictable, and this day was no exception.

The scrubby, open, hillsides along the lower section of the canyon trail host a diverse mixture of chaparral type vegetation which includes some non-native species. Especially conspicuous is the Prickly Pear cactus which catches your eye as it thrives and dominates some of the open slopes. This species is known to have been introduced by the early Spaniard settlers; ostensibly for its esthetic value, as the plant has no known practical uses. The trail continues winding along the creek with only mild elevation changes, and soon you can spot a very definite forest “edge”. An area where there is an abrupt change into or out of a wooded area. As you go deeper into the canyon, you discover a very nice riparian habitat with a contiguous grove of tall trees lining the course of the creek, with a shady canopy overhead. Redwood and other conifers are among the mix. Soon the grades begin to get steeper, and in some places there are washed out earthen steps, and badly eroded trail sections, which require cautious footing. After climbing higher, the trail begins to leave the cover of this beautiful wooded creek.
View south
There are some spur trails following further along the creek, but I have never attempted to explore them. Soon you are back out into the open grasslands and climbing very steeply. There are more unmarked and unmapped trails that can be confusing, but most of them lead back to the main trail. This portion of the trail is relentless, continuing to climb, with some very steep sections, until you reach the junction of the Peak Trail. The trail is unmarked, and so is Doud Peak. I’m not even sure just how far the Peak Trail goes. Unlike what the map shows, the Peak Trail seems to continue on climbing even higher toward far away ridges in the distance. The only half decent map I have for this park can be found here, but maybe it needs updating. One of the books I have shows a peak marked at 1997 feet, even though it isn’t clear exactly where Doud Peak is on the trail, but you get great views of the mountains to the east along the trail. By the time I had reached a point where I reckoned the peak to be, a very thick bank of fog had moved in from the ocean and drifted across this location obscuring any views to the west. That was really a downer, because the awesome views of the ocean while descending the Rocky Ridge Trail are really the highlight feature of this hike. I was hoping for the fog to lift some as I started back down using Rocky Ridge Trail, but it didn’t. As I got lower, I could hear breakers, but had no vision through the chilly void. My photoset for this hike includes pictures from a few years ago when I last hiked here. Total distance for this route was only about 7 miles, but on a good day, those are some very beautiful trail miles. The diversity of the scrub, cactus, and open chaparral, tall conifers along the creek, the sweeping views, and ocean air, all combine to stimulate the senses. Just remember that you’re always taking your chances on weather.

Click here to see my photoset

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boy Scout Tree Trail

Old Growth Redwoods
 On the northern end of Del Norte State Park is another fine tract hosting some of the most pristine old growth redwood habitat on earth. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is almost completely undeveloped, with its watershed well protected, thanks to the efforts of Newton B. Drury and his Save the Redwoods League. The only roads going in are a couple of narrow, winding, unpaved scenic roads which are not recommended for large vehicles. Turning off of highway 101 at Elk Valley Road near the southern end of Crescent City brought us to Howland Hill Road. The section near town is paved, but as soon as you roll past some country homes and agricultural lands, the road begins climbing and winding. Soon, as you round a bend, the pavement abruptly ends, and the road narrows as you enter the forest. Further on the trees become very dense and the canopy thicker. The deep shade feels much more cool and moist, and the fragrance of the air is laden with barky aroma. This road could be a really great nature all trail by itself. The forest is awesome with thick populations comprised of both old and new growth mixed together exactly how it should be for untouched wild tree habitat. I don’t believe my pictures are going to do justice to this area. The old growth trees, their surrounding undergrowth, the high canopy, the lifting fog, and filtered sunbeams, were simply amazing; and we hadn’t even got out of the car yet. We were looking for the trail head that was recommended to us very highly. Jedediah Smith has two groves that are rated 5 out of 5, but we only had enough time to visit one. The Stout Grove is very popular with visitors, but we opted for the more remote of the two, which according to the map, included a little fall area. It’s called the Boy Scout Tree Trail, and it’s right in the very heart of Jed Smith Park. After slowly negotiating the road, and being profoundly impressed with surrounding area, we easily found the signed trail head along the road which provides a pullout for about 10 cars.

When we got there a forestry department truck was waiting along the road. We did not know this, but there was some trail work scheduled that day to be performed by a supervised team of low risk inmates from the local jail system, whom would arrive by bus later on. Good to know they’re earning their keep, and by helping to protect the parks, they earn bonus points toward good behavior status. Santa Clara County often does the same type of thing. They were working far enough away that we did not hear them until we came back to the trail head; otherwise their noise would have been a definite bother.

Old Growth Redwoods
 We began hiking wasting no time being captivated by the “spirit” of these timeless forest lands. The delicate color and texture variations are impossible for me to describe, or even photograph properly. My little compact camera, although arguably best in class, is simply not up to this kind of a challenge. And of course I’m not a pro. I’m not even an accomplished amateur. I found myself behaving a bit strangely; removing my hat so as not to obstruct any peripheral vision, and craning my neck up a lot to see, then down to make sure of my footing. I was also stopping to turn around frequently so I could see in all directions, not wanting to miss any perspectives. By the end of the hike my neck was actually a bit sore from so much movement. Hopefully that description can better convey the grandeur of this trail without me having to wear out most of my best adjectives and qualitative phrases attempting to do so, and likely failing. After about 2 miles, you arrive at an unmarked junction of what looks like a spur trail. This is the little loop trail to view the Boy Scout Tree. The BST is a very large, and very tall, double trunked redwood, which is obviously thousands of years old. The knarly, fibrous, bark near its base is infused with green lichens, and it even has small plants growing in pockets of soil trapped within the cracks and crevasses of its weathered trunk. The soil all around is the color of mulched redwood debris, and soft and moist, almost like potting soil from a nursery.

After enjoying the BST, we continued on to see Fern Falls. The trail passes through a section of mixed conifers with maples and a few alders along a pretty little winding creek. The fall is not a big one, and there are fallen logs blocking the view along the trail. Fern fall is really more of a little stepped cascade, but this time of year is not the best flow anyway. But there were some nice trickling sounds, and a picturesque little spot to have some lunch sitting on a fallen log. I even found some seep monkey flower exploring along the creek below the fall. We saw a few other hikers, but not enough to detract from our hike. We could also hear fog horns way off in the distance much of the way, but that didn’t really spoil anything for us either. The hike is an out-and-back, so we headed back by the same trail. We only hiked a total of 5 miles or so, but this trail is well worth spending some time to enjoy. You can’t see this kind of fairy tail like habitat just anywhere.

Click here to see my photos on flickr

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Damnation Creek Trail

Heading to the north from Prairie Creek, you pass through the coastal section of Del Norte Redwood State Park. Some nice views of the coast are seen before the highway turns inland a bit and begins climbing into the densely wooded coastal hills. A barely noticeable turnout on the southbound side provides access to the Damnation Creek Trail. The name got my attention just because it sounds cool somehow, even more so than Lost Man Creek. The rating for it is 3 out of 5 for what that’s really worth. Checking out the map, I could see the trail heads down to the ocean, and my interest was peaked. I had another one of my hunches, and began imagining what the trail might be like. I was conjuring up images of a challenging trail plunging down a canyon to a secluded beach that I would have all to my self. This was going to be our second hike of the day and Sue had decided she would rather explore the area around the trail head and find a place to do meditations. The sign at the trail head indicates a 1000 foot drop to the ocean in just over 2 miles. Not the steepest trail we’ve ever hiked by any stretch, but after 5 straight days of hiking I imagine she was beginning to feel a little whipped.

The upper trail originating within Del Norte State Park is thickly wooded, and really quite impressive. It doesn’t take long before you can loose the traffic noise of the highway, and begin to enjoy the landscape. The trail climbs gently for a little while before descending to the junction with the Coastal Trail. The sign at the junction warns that the Damnation Creek Trail is a "steep strenuous trail", but as I found out, it’s really not that bad. Most of the elevation change is along the 1.4 mile section from the coastal trail junction down to the ocean, but the grading is nicely done. There are a few sections with earthen steps braced with wood which have washed out and eroded dramatically. A few other sections will cause you to watch your step, but overall the trail is in great shape. I didn’t count them, but there are multiple switchbacks the whole way down. The upper section is dominated by Redwoods and their typical undergrowth. Further down, there are more Spruce and Douglas Firs, oaks, and a few maples, and a lot of mosses. The lower section is thick with berry bushes and other leafy plants, and the fragrances begin to combine with the salty ocean breezes. After many switchbacks, an old footbridge brings you across the creek along a sandbar, and you finally break out to an ocean view. You don't get to actually see the ocean until you are basically there, which was a little disappointing.

The beach is very rocky. Smooth rounded pebbles and jagged rocks of all sizes are scattered about and piled up together. The surf has a lot of tide pools, and the waves breaking against the shoreline rock formations give them a gentle rhythm of egress and flow. Large rock formations dot the views out in the deep surf, enduring the incessant water erosion like menacing relics from another age. Looking to the south is an almost sheer cliff plunging down from the tree line above. A beautiful setting, I could have spent a couple of hours here. For the most part it lived up to my imagination even though I’m not sure how it got such a foreboding name. It was easy to see that some of the tide pools are full of mussels, but I really did not have time to explore them further. I had told Sue that I would only be a couple of hours, and I wanted to make sure I held to that. It would have been nice to explore the creek bed a little too, but I didn’t stay around that long. After enjoying the area awhile I turned back up the trail to make my promised arrival time back at the car. The return climb up all those switchbacks isn’t so tough. The trail is mostly shaded with nice breezes, and the surface is mostly smooth. This hike was a lot of fun, and I agree with a rating of 3, taking off only for lack long range views along the way, and because you can’t make it part of a loop unless you are doing a side trip from the coastal trail, which is only rated as a 2 along here.

Click here to see photos from this hike on flickr

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon

Ancient Sequioa Turnk
 The one classic, must do it, hike at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is the loop hike out to Gold Bluffs Beach using the Miner’s Ridge, and James Irvine Trails. If you are camping at Elk Prairie campground you have lots of choices among trailheads you can access on foot by simply walking from you campsite. And this time of year, if you get started early enough, you can count on having the trails virtually to yourself. You can saunter through the ancient forest in absolute solitude with the morning fog still lifting. The deep woods of the north coast have an unforgettable character which invites ramblers to sharpen their senses, and heighten their awareness of their surroundings. Creeks flow with clear waters that provide a soft sonic embellishment, even though the vegetation springing from their depths is so dense that you cannot see them. Old wooden foot bridges seem to span beds of ferns, and leafy green plants, but actually conceal hidden drainages carved into the alluvial soils. Ancient sequoias, their bark weathered almost grey, and frayed from the elements, endure the ages to tower to the sky, their tall canopy supporting unseen life; endangered and even undiscovered species. And even still, young growth abounds to join the fray as they reach for the heights in search of sunlight somewhere above as though by faith. Even the fallen logs are teaming with life as ferns and shoots of all variety have deposited seed there, and adopted them as their home. Toads, slugs, and newts, wander about enthusiastically in great health, and small bird species populate the shrubbery. This area is a treasure for the ages, very nearly lost.

Roosevelt Elk
 On this hike, we used the James Irvine Trail on the way out to the coast, which eventually brought us out to the inland side of Fern Canyon. A loop trail allows a route either along the top, or down inside the canyon to the creek bed covered in smooth pebbles and sand. The trail at the top doesn’t allow much of a view into the canyon, so the creek route is much more scenic. The route is obscure requiring lots of crossings and meandering along rocks endeavoring to keep footgear dry, and there’s a lot of fallen debris to climb over, or maneuver around, or underneath. If the water level is high you couldn’t do it at all without wading. We almost needed to wade through parts, but these efforts are worth it however, as the canyon is unique and beautiful. There’s about a half mile section with jagged, abrupt, rock walls absolutely covered in ferns. One section has nearly vertical smooth rock walls about 60 feet high thickly adorned with layers of five finger ferns. You will see people here though. There is an unpaved access road that brings visitors to within less than half a mile by vehicle, so expect to have company. I wouldn’t want to bring my car on that road, but an SUV or truck can handle it well. We hiked the canyon, and as we began hiking the coastal trail toward Gold Bluffs Beach, we began to hear some elk calls. We were hearing males trumpeting to each other, attempting to exert a claim over a harem of cows. One out on the marshy sands of the beach, while the alpha male was laying around in the trees with the cows grazing around. I was able to get a few pictures without getting too close. We had lunch at the picnic area there while observing the elk behavior right around the parking lot for Gold Bluffs Beach. We headed back by hiking up the beach road to find the Miner’s Ridge Trail. This route is an equally pristine and captivating trail through the living ancient forest. A fantastic unforgettable day.

Click here to see my pictures on flickr

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tall Trees Grove

And Dolason Prairie

The other grove that we really wanted to see within Redwood National Park is called Tall Trees Grove. This grove is more remote than Lady Bird Johnson. It's managed almost as though it were a wilderness area. There are several hiking routes which can be used to get there, which is usually the best way to really enjoy the area. But there is also a limited access unpaved road which can take you within about 1.5 miles of the grove. If you want to drive this road you must obtain a pass from the park service by driving to the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Information Center. Located on the coast along highway 101 about a mile south of the town of Orick, this visitor’s center serves as park headquarters. The pass is free, but they limit them to 50 per day during the peak season. This time of year they don’t hand out nearly that many, but you still need to register and obtain a pass. They will provide the combination to the locked gate at the entrance to the road, which is changed every day. Normally we would have wanted to hike in, but on this trip we thought about how great it would be to hike the grove completely on our own, with no one else around at all. In order to beat the crowds, which are very low this time of year anyway, we persuaded the rangers to grant us a pass for the next day so we could get an early start. They usually don’t begin handing out the passes until 9:00am at the visitor’s center. They provided us with the combinations for both days just in case we got there before it got changed. So we planned on hiking the grove early, having it to ourselves, and then hiking the Emerald Ridge and Dolason Prairie Trails as an out-and-back, rather than an entrance route to the grove. Normally it would be a 6 mile hike one way from Bald Hills Road to get to Tall Trees Grove by way of the Dolason route. The other hiking route along Redwood Creek Trail is nearly 8 miles one way.

We were up early the next day and were ready to go by sunup. We drove the 7 miles up Bald Hills Road to the gated Tall Trees access road. Then 6 miles, and about 1200 feet back down to a trailhead and dirt parking area in the heart of the park. The road is a little bumpy, the surface being gravel, dust, and hard pack dirt. It’s also quite narrow in places with lots of bends. We took it slow, but didn’t have any problems with our normal car and tires. On the drive in I spotted some late season redwood orchids on the side of the road. They were already turning back to seed, but I stopped to take some photos anyway because some of them were as much as 7 or 8 feet tall. The tallest ones I’ve ever seen in the Santa Cruz Mountains are maybe 3 or 4 feet tall. We were the only people at the trailhead just like we planned. The trail is in good repair and has good markers in place.

This grove is as close to wild and pristine as possible. The single track trail has some rudimentary markers, but apart from that there are no human influences. The trail meanders through the forest residing on an alluvial flat directly adjacent to Redwood Creek. This location is perfect habitat for the redwoods. The climate is not too cold in winter, nor too hot or arid in summer. The area is not directly exposed to the ocean or the interior valley heat, but has plenty of water, and a channel that ushers in the coastal fog to nourish the trees in summer. The leaf structure of the redwoods functions like a drip system. They also have the ability to assimilate some moisture directly through their leaf system. The alluvial soil has just the right nutrients and qualities for sustenance. The trail makes a loop of about a mile through the glorious forest and thick green undergrowth. There is also access to Redwood Creek and it's rocky sandbars. The trails out near the creek are lined with Big Leaf Maples with their braches covered with thick green mosses. There is a trail section that loops back toward the Emerald Creek junction that uses the rocks and sandbars as an obscure use trail, which requires multiple fording of the creek. We decided not to use that section this time because we were keen to keep our boots as dry as possible. The damp air was making it really hard to dry certain things out once wet. We spotted a flock of common mergansers swimming along the creek foraging for food. They were all females in their non-mating season plumage. We also saw plenty of little toads along the trails, which are a good sign of a healthy ecosystem. It’s hard to adequately describe the ambiance of an old growth forest like this, and adjectives can get well-used when trying to write up hikes of this type. You really need to be there to experience the “spirit” of a place like this, and we especially enjoyed having this time here with all this grandeur to ourselves. We did not see any other people until we were leaving; exactly like we had planned.

After enjoying our time at Tall Trees, we made our way back to the junction with Emerald Creek Trail, and headed toward Dolason Prairie. Emerald Creek is another section of beautiful, deep green, redwood country. The trail descends down to the footbridge at the primordial creek, before beginning to climb back up the ridge on the other side. The trail climbs higher and higher until the woods begin to show more spruce and fir trees. Soon you emerge out into one of the grassy meadows, and you begin to get views out over the coastal mountains. The trail begins switching back into the forest and back out to enjoy a higher perspective on the same basic view. We passed through one section of thick ancient Sitka spruce which finally brought us out for another view to the ridge system to the west. If you study it, you can spot the checkerboard pattern of the legacy clear cutting that lead to the massive 1964 flood. Square patches of much shorter trees are surrounded by a gridwork of very tall older growth as the area slowly recovers. A lot was learned from that disaster. They would never have done that type of clear cutting today. Finally you reach the open meadows of Dolason Prairie, and the remnants of the old Dolason barn. This old barn is listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to the sheep ranching history it represents. We enjoyed the sweeping vistas while imagining thousands of sheep grazing before pristine vistas of wild forested hillsides as they would have been then, around 1914. With rain threatening we heading back down the trail to get back to our car. It never did rain though. On the way back out we spotted a very large owl which flew from a tree down the road ahead of us landing high in another tree along the road. I tried to get a photo, but it took off again before I could get my camera out again. Judging from the size of it, I think it must have been a Great Horned Owl, but that's really just a guess. The wing span was huge.

Click here to see my pictures on flickr.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Redwood National Park

After checking out Lost Man Creek we still had lots of time left in the day, so we decided to head deeper into Redwood National Park. We drove south to Bald Hills Road; the only paved road in the park. There are two main old growth groves in this park that we were interested in. The Tall Trees Grove is more remote, and is far from any paved road. You can hike to it from various routes, or you can obtain a pass to use the unpaved access road that takes you down within about 1.5 miles. We thought Tall Trees deserved an earlier start than we had, so we opted for the more accessible Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

Turning up Bald Hills Road from the highway (101), the road shortly begins climbing, and winding its way up the ridge system. The paving is marginal, hastily repaired, and bumpy, but passable. The many curves are fairly sharp. About 2.7 miles brings you to the trailhead for the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Redwood National Park was commissioned in 1968 under Richard Nixon, and the dedication was attended by Lady Bird Johnson, who was actually quite an advocate for preserving nature. Thus; this grove was named after her. Ironically, this park was created due in part to the publicity created in 1964 when Humbolt County, the Trinity River, and Redwood Creek had a massive flood. The over-harvesting of timber, especially redwood, had severely compromised the washboard terrain. Heavy tropical rains sent massive volumes of silt flowing, clogging the watershed, which caused flooding of near biblical proportions. Today there are signs along the highway showing the 1964 water level being 10 feet overhead. Only then did the threat of wonton destruction of irreplaceable old growth forests become real to general public, and more importantly, to the political machine of the period. If not for that disaster, perhaps there would not have been any old growth left at all on the north coast, where it is the most pristine and beautiful.

The trail is not a lengthy hike. Including the entrance trail it’s still less than 2 miles, and there is virtually no elevation gain. But this is not a trail to ramble through, making distance with one eye on the clock and the other on the map. This is a place to quietly stroll and savor, lift your head up, and drink it in. I almost don’t want to show my photos of this grove because there is virtually no chance of capturing its spirit. Tricky lighting balance, intricate textures, delicate coloration, and deceiving perspectives all combine to make it something you simply have to experience. The trees are not monstrously huge, but the overall character of the grove is captivating. It would be challenging to attempt to portray the essence. The trail is very developed and smooth, but not enough to detract from the deep woods ambiance. The breeze makes a delicate music high within the thick array of leaves and branches, and the sunlight glints in needle-like shafts as you move along imbuing the aroma. We saw very few other people on the trail. That’s one benefit of being here during the quiet season. I don’t know exactly how much time we spent there, but it was hard to leave. We decided we still had time to check out the lower section of The Redwood Creek Trail before heading back to camp.

There is a signed turn off only about half a mile in from the highway that leads to the trailhead for lower Redwood Creek Trail. Our car was the only one in the parking area. Crossing a rustic little bridge, the trail begins in impressive stands of Big Leaf Maple, and Alders which are covered by thick mosses, and carpeted with ferns and leafy vegetation. Along the way there are a few even more impressive large redwoods. There are a few little tributary creeks flowing into the main Redwood Creek which provide the backdrop of flowing water sounds. The trees, mosses, leaves, and vegetation are so thick, the trail feels almost primordial. The first 2 miles or so are under thick shade before the watershed opens up along the rocky sandbars of the main creek exposing you to sunshine. This trail could be hiked 8 miles into the Tall Trees Grove, but we were not going that far. We had obtained a pass for that grove for the next day. We hadn’t hiked a lot of miles that day, but we were more than happy with the quality of the experience. A restful day like this is good for the soul. The next day we would be headed for Tall Trees Grove and Dolason Meadow.

Click here to see the pictures on flickr

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lost Man Creek

We had been reading a lot of different trail ratings for the north coast area in order to plan our time. But I don’t always agree with the available ratings. Sometimes a trail can be rated high, and might be beautiful, but not really be a good hike. And likewise, a trail can be rated low for the general public, but turn out to be a really great trail. I have hiked countless trails all over California that provided me with what I consider to be fantastic hikes that were either rated low, or even totally neglected, without even being rated at all.
Actually, I like the fact that some of my favorite local trails around the bay area are all but ignored by the public. From my experience, if you want to find the best hikes, sometimes you have to be willing to explore and draw your own conclusions. Once in a while I like to play hunches. The Lost Man Creek Trail was one these hunchs that I wanted to explore on our first day. It’s rated low, but studying the map, I could see that it climbed up to a high ridge within the old growth territory, which may have provided a good view point. I was also interested because of the history of the trail. In 1982, Redwood National Park was dedicated as an internationally recognized World Heritage Site. The dedication ceremony took place along this trail. Speakers at the 1982 ceremony dedicated Redwood National Park as a World Heritage legacy site “whose deterioration or disappearance is a harmful impoverishment to the heritage of all nations of the world”. The trail was once a logging road, and as we found out, it still is, even though the areas within the park boundaries are now protected and officially revered the world over.

The trailhead begins at the parking area for Lost Man Creek picnic area near the north end of Redwood National Park. There is a signed turnoff from highway 101 about 1 mile south of the Newton B. Drury Parkway. The unpaved entrance road is in good repair, and did not present a problem for our non off-road car. The picnic area is very picturesque and peaceful, thickly wooded, with Lost Man Creek flowing right past. Not much water flowing this late in the season, but still nice enough to have a soothing babbling quality. The creek is lined with moss covered maple and alders, with a bed of ferns underneath. The maple leaves are just beginning to turn. We started up the trail and began seeing some very impressive old growth redwoods while the trail climbed gently, following closely to Lost Man Creek with the trickling water, and bird sounds as a backdrop. The trail is wide, with strong wide bridges, and shows obvious signs of maintenance, we assumed as a fire road. This would make an excellent biking route. The under growth is rich and green, mostly huckleberry and ferns typical of this area. We spotted at least 5 different varieties of ferns including five-fingered, lady ferns, bracken, and sword ferns. About 2.5 miles in, the trail becomes steeper, and there are a few switchbacks. The forest begins changing, showing more sitka spruce as you climb higher. If the whole trail was as good as the first 3 miles, I would rate this trail as a 4 out of 5, knocking off only because it’s not a single track, and doesn’t have any views. But after that, you begin to find development indicating that the road is still used as a logging road. You eventually climb up above all the old growth, and the character of the trial changes to that of a well used dirt logging road. You could hike this trail 11 miles eventually connecting with Bald Hills Road in the national park. But from what we could see, we decided not to go further. The trail had lost it’s qualities as a pristine nature trail, and changed into a legacy of logging. We decided to turn around and head back enjoying the lower section before moving on. So in the final analysis, I agree with the original ratings we read which rated the trail low. But the first 3 miles are worth exploring. I’ll leave the rest to the cyclists, and we headed off to see the Lady Bird Johnson Grove.

Click here for some pictures

Saturday, September 25, 2010

North Coast Trip

We finally got away for a little bit of vacation last week. The first real time away we’ve had since our short Yosemite trip last February. We had planned a road trip to Oregon last June which we wound up having to cancel, so I’ve been harboring a bad case of cabin fever ever since. We had planned to spend time at Castle Crags on the way up, and were going to return along the north coast, stopping at the redwood parks. I am still kicking myself for not going through with it anyway, but dedicated employee that I am, we cancelled. That time frame should have placed us at Crater Lake during the snow melt, in the redwood country during the rhododendron, trillium, and clintonia blooms, and we would have been headed home before the tourist season kicked in. But instead, we took this week for a post Labor Day north coast camping trip, and we may do another winter trip of some type.

During the late summer / early fall season, you cannot reserve a campsite at most of the California state parks. The campsites are first come, first served. At Prairie Creek the larger loop of sites is closed, but the remaining campsites are usually turning over quickly, and we did not expect to have trouble finding a suitable site. This season is much quieter, and that’s much nicer than during the summer when all the campsites are usually full. We would not have the opportunity to see the spring blooms, but it’s more likely that you can spot wildlife when there are fewer people and less noise. We would also enjoy the trails virtually all to ourselves. It’s very damp and chilly up there during this season, and there are always threats of rain, so being prepared for the worst is smart. Mornings and evenings are mostly foggy, which means the lighting is lousy for photography. You get radiation fog from the meadows, and marine overcast and fog from the ocean. The evening radation fog made for great evening moon-gazing though. We had a couple of nights with full moon, and I took some walks along Elk Prairie to enjoy the interplay of moonlight through the drifting fog and the high treetops to the east after our campfire had begun to die down.

We had monitored the weather reports in the days leading up to our departure. There was predicted light rain on the Sunday we left, and a 30 percent chance on Thursday. The Sunday rain did happen. We had light rain and drizzle part of the way up which actually turned out to be good. By the time we arrived, the campground had almost completely cleared out with people leaving early, so we were able to pick out almost any site we wanted. We chose a nice secluded site right on the banks of Prairie Creek, so we had serenading waters the whole time. It was a little wet, but we were able to deal with it. The Thursday rain did not happen. It threatened on Wednesday, but never rained, and the last couple of days we had were the best weather, even though the clearer evenings were colder. The conditions were nothing we couldn’t handle, so we savored it all.

On the drive up we stopped at Richardson Grove State Park for a road break and to eat some lunch. We did not hike any trails, but they offer a free one hour pass. We admired the redwoods around the visitor’s center just off the highway before hitting the road again. We picked up cheap firewood and filled up gas in Arcadia and headed to the north coast. I stopped along the highway along Big Lagoon after spotting some elk grazing the wetlands there. I took a few pictures of the elk, and also noticed lots of waterfowl on the coastal side of the highway. I spotted a great blue heron, some snowy egrets, and lots of mallards and other species I did not know. After enjoying the wildlife for a spell, we hit the road again and arrived at Prairie Creek with enough time to for a quick little walk. We hiked part of the Skunk Cabbage section of the Coastal Trail before returning to our selected site to set up camp and settle in for the night.

We had an absolutely great time and I will do write ups of our hiking as time permits. We had studied maps and trail ratings, and selected what we thought were the best hikes in Redwood State and National Park, Prairie Creek, Del Norte, and Jedediah Smith State Parks. The time flew by, and we are back home now, tired, but wishing we could be going back soon.

Click here to see photos from the first day

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tennessee 3 Beaches Hike

Marin’s Henry Coe ?

View north toward Mt Tamalpias
 There have been a lot of marine layers coming in lately, but Saturday was supposed to be clear without being too hot. Trusting that report; not that I really ever trust weather reports; I began craving the cool breezes and salty air of a coastal hike. Not that some soothing fog wouldn’t provide the advantage of protection from the heat, but too much visual obstruction would really spoil the spectacular views available from many of the high places near the ocean. It’s been way too long since I’ve been back to the Marin Headlands, so I committed to heading there, hoping for the right weather. On pervious visits to the headlands I have always used the trailheads at the southern end of the GGNRA. These trails have been favorites of mine for their interesting historical sights, and many fantastic view opportunities. But perusing the map, I realized that there was a whole interior section of the GGNRA between there and the Muir Woods/Mt Tam area that I really had not explored before. So the prospect of unfamiliar trails had me interested. I decided to head for the Tennessee Valley trailhead and planned to hike the Coastal Trail from Wolf Ridge to Muir Beach looping back to the trailhead by way of Green Gulch.

Heavy low lying fog
 I left fairly early, reaching the trailhead by about 8:30. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge it was all too obvious that the fog was back again, despite the reports, and it was thick enough to maybe hang around all day. A low lying layer was in over the ocean and bay, but from a distance the towers of the bridge were sticking out. It was anybody’s guess whether it would dissipate. The stables at Tennessee Valley were all but deserted at this hour. There were only a few early morning trail runners. That would change by the time I got back. I was a little concerned that there would be a lot of horse traffic, but it didn't turn out that way. I began by finding my way to the Old Springs Trail to take me up toward Wolf Ridge. The trail is well graded making it an easy climb, and soon I could see the fog had drifted up into Tennessee Valley and all the little gullies, but the peaks were already in the sun. Lots of quail and wild rabbits were scurrying around, and I spent some time enjoying the little calls the quail were making. A little bit of trail music. My route used a short section of the Miwok Trail which was high enough to provide the first views of all the fog down at the ocean. When I reached the top of hill 88 on Wolf Ridge (960 feet), I began to realize that I maybe should have done this route the other way around. This would probably be the best long range views of the day, but it was being wasted by the fog. I was standing in the still rising sun feeling toasted, but could hear fog horns down below in the mire.

Beach at Pirate’s Cove
 After admiring the fog, a concert of fog horns, and the abandoned, crumbling, Nike missile site on hill 88, I headed steeply downhill on the Coastal Trail down to Tennessee Cove. By the time I reached the trail junction at the bottom I was back in the fog, and I was quite chilly in the slight wind out by the beach. Luckily, I had my rain layer to use as a windbreaker and a light warmth layer. In the fog, the beach area seemed unremarkable. I could just barely see the rocky cliffs around the area, so I ignored the little overlook trail. I didn’t hang around because even in foggy weather this little beach has people around. Plus perspiration from the Wolf Ridge climb was still clinging to my shirt, and was beginning to evaporate inside the windbreaker. I found my way back to the Coastal Trail and headed north, climbing back up into the sun. The trail topped out at about 600 feet, and by then I could finally begin to see clearing. I was getting pretty good views of the ocean. I turned off on the Pirates Cove Trail to stick closer to the views, fragrant sea air, and the sounds of the surf on the rock far below. This trail is a single track and I was enjoying myself as it snaked along the coast. It soon began descending toward Pirate’s Cove. In the gully, there is a rocky, well used, trail down to the beach, if you could call that a trail. Very steep and rocky, I negotiated my way down with trekking poles. There was no one there except for one man lying around in the nude behind some rocks. I didn’t see him at first, and he seemed to pretty much ignore me. He went for what must have been a very chilly swim as I was leaving.

Rocky Bluffs
 Back to the trail again, and my third climb up to a ridge top from sea level. These trails were beginning to remind me of Henry Coe except that the ridges are not as high. A good workout for the quads. The day was getting warmer now, and the views were clearing up even more. I made my way along further north until I was looking down to Muir Beach. The trail provides a nice view down to the beach, and to Bolinas on the other side. The parking lot was full, and the beach was occupied, although I wouldn’t quite say crowded. Not that I had planned on sticking around here. I paused for a quick little trail lunch before hiking down to the beach area to find my connection.

Middle Green Gulch Trail begins just inland from the beach. There’s some kind of little farm there with rows of organic vegetables growing. I spotted some pumpkins, squashes, and what looked like red chard, but the rest I did not recognize. You have to remember to close the gates here to keep the deer out of the veggies. After hiking through the farm the trail begins a nice long, winding, graded, climb back up to the Coyote Trail at the top, with a high point of just over 1000 feet. Bikers use this trail a lot, uphill only if they heed the trail signs. This was the last climb of the day on this route, but I still needed to make my way back down to the trailhead at Tennessee Valley. I used the Fox Trail to get down, and was back at my car by about 3pm. By this time the parking lot was full, and cars were parked up and down the road. Early is recommended for visiting here. The route was a little over 10 miles with about 3000 feet of elevation gain. There are stables at the trailhead, but I did not see any horses all day.

Click here to my photos

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Windowless Ridge

A journey or a goal?

I don’t usually think of my hikes as being goal oriented, even though I often plan my routes to seek out some particular sights or seasonal attributes along the way. Some of my favorite routes I feel drawn to, and hike them again and again, while others I may not go back to for years. The Butano Ridge loop is a hike that fits into the latter category. Not to be confused with Butano State Park, Butano Ridge is partly in Portola State Park and partly in Pescadero Creek County Park. Most of the time when I find a trail that runs along the top of a high ridge, my expectation is that I will be able to find vantage points to get views of the surrounding terrain. I love an awesome long range view. Many of the local high ridges will provide views in almost all directions, and under clear skies, for tens, or even hundreds of miles. A fitting payoff after sweating to hike up steep meandering trails to gain the altitude. Walking along a rolling ridge-top trail drinking in the views provides a special kind of down-time for me, because it really seems like I have broken free of the confines of city life, at least for the day. The Butano Ridge loop trail falls short of those expectations. The route is so thickly wooded that no views from the ridge are possible. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a rewarding hike experience. Actually it made an interesting choice after reading a recent post at Backcountry Bliss entitled “Discussion: Does the Journey make the Destination?” I always like to think a true rambler loves the journey as much as the destination, but actually sometimes the payoffs are what make the journey special. Good point Chris. It’s an individual thing. But I wanted to go back and do this hike because I haven’t done it in recent memory.

My route began in Portola State Park, even though most of the hike is actually in Pescadero Creek County Park. You really need maps of both parks in order to figure out all of the trails. The official Portola map does not have enough coverage for this hike. The best map I’ve seen is available from Redwood Hikes Press, and covers both parks. Also the day use fee at Portola has gone up to 10 bucks. Luckily I still have some CSPF free passes left. Don’t forget to vote YES on prop 21 this fall.

I used the Iverson trail to get up to Old Haul Road. There are two different trails that can take you up to the Butano Ridge Loop Trail if you choose to go clockwise. The Portola Trail comes together with the Ridge Trail leading up to the junction near the top of the ridge, which tops out at about 2200 feet. Park headquarters is about 400 feet. The trails are not killer steep, but climb steadily for just over two miles with quite a few switchbacks. When you reach the top your thighs will know they’ve had some work. The terrain throughout the route is thickly wooded and the specter of historical logging is in evidence. This route also provides access to the Basin easement trail which you can use to hike over to Big Basin. Just be sure to stay on the trail. Go right at the fork to continue on to Butano Ridge. Much of the foundation of this section of the ridge was formed from sandstone, and there are quite a few outcrops along there that are worth admiring. The trail finally brings you down to a fire road. The trail markers are more than adequate, which is nice considering that a wrong turn will bring you into private logging company property. This fire road trail is so thickly wooded as to eliminate any possibility of views. The west side of the trail is a property line which is punctuated by lots of “No Hunting or Trespassing” signs precluding any notion of hiking off trail attempting to get a better view, although that may well be possible. The ridge trail/road rolls up and down gently, but mostly down going north. You get a nice stroll in the woods down to the marked trail cutout about 1.9 miles from the southern junction. Back onto single track the trail is now downhill in earnest until you give back all of the altitude back to Old Haul Road.

You could use this road to hike back toward Portola, but it’s a lot more fun to use the Shaw Flat Trail to Shaw Trail Camp. Not shown on the Portola map, this will require a stream crossing at Harwood Creek, so be prepared. It was easy this time of year. I didn’t even use trekking poles. After passing through the camp you can easily find your way to the Pomponio Trail, which is unspectacular, but a much nicer hike than the fire road. As you cross over the paved road to the abandoned county honor camp, you will have to hike up the paved road a little bit, cross a bridge to pick up the trail again. Total distance on this route is about 12.5 miles, and I will estimate about 2800 total feet of elevation gain. Not for the goal oriented, but something a little different for the ramblers. I enjoyed it.

You can probably tell it was a lousy day for photos but here they are anyway

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In the Cool Cool Summer

When I left work one day this week, near the wetlands of the bay, my car’s thermometer read 68 degrees. That’s so unbelievably cool for August in the south bay, I just had to pause and reflect a little bit. This has been one of the coolest summers on record so far, and frankly, I’ve been enjoying it every minute of it. It's really nice when the air stays fairly clear without having the glaring sun baking all the photochemical soup that blows down the channel of the bay, to be trapped by the mountains. We’ve been getting marine layers in from the ocean every evening, pouring over the coastal ridges, which really cools down the atmosphere overnight. Leaving the windows open is just like having an air conditioner running, but without the energy consumption. On hot nights I would likely be lying half awake at night contemplating turning on the air, but resisting that grievous carbon sin. Close the windows before the sun is up, and the house stays cool all day without using a single dirty watt. In hot weather I would normally be spending time indoors at my health club to get my daily fitness fix working, even though I really prefer doing some outside activity. One of the reasons I joined up about 10 years ago was because I find it really hard to get into a good hard workout in the heat. But lately I’ve been able to vary my routine well, taking full advantage of the strangely moderate climate.

I used to do a lot of bike riding, but lately I’ve been getting more into trail running when I don’t have time for an extended hike or bike ride, like on weekdays after work. Sometimes I use a jogging route around our neighborhood, but that’s mostly on pavement. There aren’t many unpaved trails around here, and concrete is hard on the joints. Plus the air quality suffers near noisy city streets. But several years ago I discovered a nice little oasis of naturalism not far away from our door, which is a great little retreat for some quick trail running. Guadalupe Oak Grove Park is said to protect one of the city of San Jose’s last remaining groves of heritage oaks. Like almost all of this area, it was once home to the Ohlone. Unlike most city parks where you tend to find cultivated grass needing lots of maintenance, and hundreds of gallons of water per day, along with a few non-native trees; this place is refreshingly different. It is maintained in a very natural state, and even serves as a wildlife sanctuary. Check out this really interesting birding site that I found, which highlights this park. I have not spotted any owls or hawks, but have seen some burrows both in the ground and in trees. It seems the squirrels and lizards like to lye about sunning in the open trails, then scurry about as you run past. This is not a place to go on a full day hike, or a long bike ride, but the trails are perfect for evening or morning fitness activity. Most of the trail sections are at least partially shaded, and there’s even some moderate elevation change, highlighted by some fairly nice long range views from the hilltops. As you breathe you imbue the fragrance of oak trees and grasses rather than health intrusive carbon monoxide and noise pollution, and the natural surface is great to run on. The park has limited shaded parking, and has water and bathrooms available, even though I always bring my own filtered water. It really helps to beat the monotony of running when the trails are interesting and the mild terrain changes provide a more balanced activity. Sometimes I use an MP3 player which can really help me get detached from my day. And trust me; some of my days need that.

Click here to see some photos

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tigers at Pescadero

After working most of the day on Saturday; (I always hate to work on weekends); I was off for a solo hike on Sunday 7/18, and I was focusing on finding more Tigers Lilies. I’ve been searching around in areas where I have seen them before for the last few weeks, but except for finding some suspected buds along Opal Creek while hiking with Dave (my brother in law), I have struck out each time. Finally, last week I did find blooms. Sue and I did a hike to Berry Creek Fall by way of McCrary Ridge. On our return route along Skyline to the Sea Trail, I was able to search off trail and spot some blooming leopards along Waddell Creek. These were what I like to call Leopard Lilies even though they are really the same species as the California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum). For some reason, these blooms along Waddell Creek have a slightly different coloration than the more vivid orange shading of the ones that I like to call Tiger Lilies. They are all spotted though, not striped. This actually makes them much closer to resembling Leopards or Jaguars than Tigers. Go figure. Common names are fun like that. You can pick the one you like. These felines are typically found in areas that are very moist; normally along creeks, or in marshy meadows, and are almost always hard to get close enough to for taking good photos. They have an uncanny knack for displaying themselves if precarious locations requiring wading, or groping around on fallen logs and rocks to get close, and are rarely found along a trail. But it’s fun to discover them.

For this hike I parked my car at the Tarwater trailhead entrance to Pescadero Creek County Park (San Mateo Co). I was planning to use the Coyote Ridge Trail to get into Portola State Park, and begin searching along Pescadero Creek, working my way back toward the county park, searching out access points to the creek as much as possible. Coyote Ridge Trail is usually a nice trail, but it hasn’t been maintained very well in recent years. Lots of over-growth has begun encroaching on the trail, which includes stealthy poison oak lurking just out peripheral vision. There are some fresh tree falls, and one of them is a multiple-trunked tangled mess. I climbed over the slippery heap of tortured, broken, logs and found my way down to the switchbacks that descend to the junction with the Iverson Trail. Upon reaching the seasonal footbridge at Pescadero Creek where I expected to begin searching, I was a little surprised to find the first Tiger Lilies of the day right there along the trail. I’ve never known them to be that accessible. Actually, a casual stroll in sandals from Portola park headquarters would have revealed them. There was a small cluster between the creek and the trail right at the footbridge. Where there’s one there are potentially more, so I began making my way up the creek bed. The water level is still high though, and I was finding it hard to get very far. I went back to the trail and turned off and hiked through the forest duff until I found a way back down to the creek and onto a sandbar. I was finding my way further up the creek until I ran up against some fallen trees. Looking further still, I could spot some really nice displays of bright orange Tigers in an area where the water was deep, with a steep drop off directly above. I found my way back up to the forest to a place where a small creek ran down to the main creek, and a fallen log provided a pathway to get back down to the creek bed. As I gingerly walked down the moss covered redwood log and got close to the bottom, I discovered another cluster of Tigers that I had not even noticed before. Many of them were inaccessible in terms of getting close up photos. I used my zoom to get some shots, but that type of photo usually doesn’t look as sharp as a macro shot. I did get a few close ups though by parking my butt on a tree limb and dangling my feet over the water. I could have waded to get closer, but the water was waist deep, and I decided not to try it. I had not really prepared for that.

Please understand that I don’t usually hike off trail like this. I cherish our parks and preserves, and I generally follow all the conventional wisdom about staying on mapped trails to avoid erosion damage and protect delicate habitats. Over the years I have been an ardent advocate for preservation, and have devoted many hours of volunteer time to help maintain trails. I am always cautious, and I know how to navigate and maneuver through terrain without causing damage. I always practice leave no trace ethics. I was only doing this because otherwise, these stunning seasonal examples of nature’s handiwork would likely go undiscovered by human eyes.

I eventually got my fill of doing this, and had gotten some fairly nice photos of Lilies, so I found my way on up to Old Haul Road. I headed back over toward the county park searching out any accessible areas along the creek for any further signs of glorious orange spotted bloom-age. With the afternoon sun beaming away, it was great to have the cover of the tall canopy most of the time. I found my way back up to the trailhead using the Tarwater loop trail, and was back at my car by mid afternoon.

Click here to view the my photos

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Big Basin Coastal Loop

Coast Redwood
 The Big Basin Falls loop is an undisputed classic. Beautiful any time of year, the awesome redwoods, babbling creeks, diverse understory, and the singing waters of the 3 major falls all combine to make this a common favorite for Bay Area hikers. This fact is also made evident by the sheer number of hikers on the trails, especially during nice weather. The hike has gotten so popular that the crowds can sometimes detract from the experience. But there are other routes to the falls. One of my favorite ways to hike to Berry Creek Falls is to use a less traveled route from the coast. Lots of hikers and bikers also know about the out-and-back coastal route using Skyline to the Sea Trail. With very little elevation gain and a mostly multi-use trail, this is also a popular outdoor experience. It is possible to enjoy the falls and still have some quality quiet time along the way though. A good outdoor experience should include some time alone in nature for your party. We like to search out the less traveled routes. And yes, there is another route from the Waddell Beach trailhead that virtually no one uses. My wife and I first used this route during the winter several years ago when the water level in Waddell Creek was so high that some of the temporary footbridges along the creek were washed out. The rangers had posted signs at the trailhead warning of this condition, and of dangerous current at the crossings. But seeing this sign only caused me to imagine what the falls would look like with that volume of water flowing. Why would I want to miss that? Right? I considered the possibility of attempting to wade across, but it was way too cold for getting wet. I was unprepared for doing that, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. Plus, Sue was definitely not into any such thing. So we decided to re-route to the fall area using the McCrary Ridge horse trail in order to bypass the section of trail with the bridge out. We had a great time, and we still use this route even when the trail is open. McCrary Ridge connects with Hihn Hammond Fire Road, which in turn intersects the Howard King Trail near Mt McAbee. The King Trail descends back down the ridge all the way back to Skyline to the Sea Trail very close to the junction of Berry Creek and West Waddell Creek, where Berry Creek Fall is close by.

View from McCrary Ridge toward Waddell Beach
 I really don’t pay much heed to the sign at the McCrary Ridge trailhead which warns that the trail is “For horse use” and “Not recommended for hiking”, “Very Steep Sections”. These signs are very reminiscent of the signs up on Middle Ridge Road which state that the Berry Creek Fall hike is a “Strenuous hike”, and warn to be sure you have enough daylight to complete the hike. These signs seem to be intended for the generally public. The route has an uphill return, and I suppose the rangers are tired of having to find people who are overdue because they are really not hiking savvy, or not of a reasonable fitness level for hiking 1000+ feet of elevation gain. For a seasoned rambler, that hike is really only a good intermediate level hike. I tend to enjoy a hike that offers some challenge anyway. As for McCrary Ridge, it’s really not as bad as the signs indicate. There are some sections on the trail that are steeper than the recommended grading for hiking trails, but they are do-able. I find McCrary Ridge to be a really nice hike with beautiful scenery, lots of character, and very quiet due to the relative lack of travel.

Spindly Knobcone Pines on McCrary Ridge Trail
 The trail begins with in dense woods climbing up, sometimes steeply for short sections, but mostly gradual, under the shady forest canopy, eventually reaching the scrubby chaparral at the top of the ridge. On the way up its quiet enough to hear the bird sounds and breeze really well. You get lots of exposure when you reach the upper sections, but it’s quite interesting with its array of scrubby vegetation, and spindly, sparse, weathered, knobcone pines reaching for the sky. Plus you get wonderful views in all directions. Use your sun protection and drink plenty of liquid up here. Many sections level out, but you basically keep climbing almost the entire way to the fire road. Once you connect with Hihn Hammond Road, you turn right and do a short graded uphill to the junction of the King Trail, turning left to go briefly up, before heading down. Soon you are back into dense woods and giving back all of your elevation. This section of the Howard King Trail is the most elevation change in any one section in the whole park. From just over 400 feet up to Mt McAbee at 1730 feet. The direction we were headed has you doing this as a 1300 foot downhill; also a beautiful trail though. We found some really nice Pine Drops along the trail. Sue is usually the one to spot stuff like that. She’s good a spotting Spotted Coral Root and unusual stuff like Pine Drops.

Leopard Lilly
 We visited Berry Creel Fall, and I was impressed at how much water was flowing this late in the season. It was crowded there however, so we didn’t stay around. I had wanted to return by way of the Skyline to the Sea Trail in order to hunt for late season Tiger and Leopard Lilies. This is the third time this year I have planned hikes along areas where I expected to find the Tigers, and so far have struck out, although Dave (my brother in-law) and I found pods that had not bloomed a couple of weeks ago in a different section of the park. Searching diligently in areas where I have found them before, I was able to found several clusters of Leopard Lilies right in the habitats they like, near the creeks. Usually they are difficult to get close to for photos, but using my best skills, and some rocks and fallen logs, I got some decent shots. I then had to really pick up my pace to catch up with Sue as she continued hiking out the Skyline to the Sea Trail back to our car at the coast. On the way back I was tempted to stop at Swanton Berry Farm on highway 1 for a home made organic berry pie, but I resisted for some reason (darn it!). Instead we stopped for some favored food shopping. Sue always likes to visit the natural food stores in Santa Cruz because they have excellent quality and much better prices than in the valley. We expected heavy beach traffic driving back “over the hill”, but it wasn’t bad. Only a little bit of accordion action to watch for.

Click here to see the photos from this hike