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