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

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