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