Monday, February 28, 2011

Murietta Fall

View from the top of Big Burn
It was a little disappointing when the south bay didn’t get the widely speculated snow all the way down to the valley floor during the evening Friday 2/25/11. We wound up cancelling a trip to Yosemite recently because of my work commitments, so this was going to be our paltry alternative, at least for this timeframe. Absolutely no comparison really, but even still, we had already been planning just how we would enjoy the rare phenomenon should it actually happen. But when it didn’t, that narrowed our choices for a Saturday hike to either views or a waterfall. Or even better, a hike that potentially features both. The hike to Murietta Fall is a bay area classic. The round trip distance is only about 12.5 miles, but don’t be fooled. With total elevation gain in the neighborhood of 4700 feet, this is not casual hike. That’s almost enough elevation gain to match a Half Dome assent. The Ohlone Wilderness Trail can be a punishing trail if you are not in at least reasonable condition for strenuous hiking.

The northeastern trailhead for the Ohlone trail is in Del Valle Regional Park right near the Lichen Bark picnic area at about 748 feet. From there the trail begins climbing immediately. It’s fairly steep up to about 1251 feet, where it descends gently down to the sign-in panel at 1191 feet. The next section is a mostly steep uphill to the top of the first little ridge topping out at about 2386 feet. On the way up you pass through a trail camp called Boyd Camps. Feeling spry after making the ridge top and gaining almost 1700 feet in the process, you shortly come to a junction, turn to the right, and immediately start heading downhill again giving back a nice chunk of that altitude. A few switchbacks bring you down into William’s Gulch where you must cross the creek and transition over to the next ridge system. I registered the lowest point at 1829 feet.

Creek at William's Gulch
The creek was running strong on this trip. This was the first time I have hiked this trail when the water levels were actually at near peak conditions. It was actually a bit tricky to cross without wading in the frigid water. I have done hikes to Rose Peak on this trail, usually during the spring wildflower season when the rains are more sporadic. But on this hike, all of the creeks along the whole hike were running strong, and the cascading water makes really great background sound. I really love it when I get naturally occurring sonic waves like rushing water, gentle wind in high trees, or bird sounds playing in the back of my head. On this hike I was even enjoying sounds from little creeks that I didn’t even know were there before. That’s a great benefit of doing this hike just after thick winter rains. Of course the disadvantage is going to be the mud. Early in the morning there’s ice everywhere, and the ground itself is partially frozen. But if the sun comes out, the surface turns into soupy mud. I used one of my old pair of boots.

The next section is called “Big Burn”. It’s aptly named as this is a relentless uphill section from the creek bed in William’s Gulch all the way up to the next ridge top at nearly 3400 feet, bringing your total elevation gain to about 3200 feet, and you’ve only hiked about 5.0 miles. In springtime, this is a great section for spotting wildflowers. At 3080 feet is a little outcrop called Schlieper Rock that can easily be scrambled for some fine easterly views, but you can also see pretty well from the trail. The weather conditions on this hike were changing. In the morning it looked kind of if’y, but later some fog came through up high and we had hiked right into it. I was expecting, or should I say hoping, to maybe enjoy clear views which have been good enough in the past to see the mighty Sierra Nevada in all its winter glory, however the high fog was thoroughly preventing that. Instead we got very chilly winds and sub 40 temperatures. No matter; we were having fun just the same. Turning the corner at the partially frozen Johnny’s Pond (no clue who Johnny was), we headed down to Murietta Fall.

Murietta Fall
Murietta Fall occurs when a couple of very seasonal creeks join together and flow down a large crevasse cutting down the center of a large jagged rock formation jutting form the hills. The rock formation can be seen while hiking down the trail, but the water eroded crevasse is so deep that you cannot see the actual fall until you hike all the way down to the bottom. The trail to get there is not marked, and is almost un-noticeable. It would be easy to walk right past it if you did not know what to look for. You walk out along the rocks and climb down a steep trail almost scrambling in places down to about 2857 feet at the base of the fall. That makes Murietta the highest waterfall in the bay area. On this day, it was flowing strong; much stronger than I have ever seen it. The fall comes cascading down the jagged course of rock and splashes into a little pool at the bottom, the sonic embellishment making it a perfect place to relax for awhile. On the hike out we spotted a golden eagle, but not close enough for pictures. The eagle is unmistakable with such a commanding swift soar, its flight feathers extended like flaps, nary flapping its wings at all, cutting over the terrain. The sun came out for awhile on the way back making the trails even soupier, but we expected that. We found that walking through patches of snow works great for cleaning boot soles. So that’s my hot tech tip for today. We had a fine time even though the better weather would have been on Sunday. You can view my trip report with GPS track and photos at EveryTrail.
(fixed the track log)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Brook Trail Variation

Tall redwoods along the Brook Trail
This hike was a variation on the Brook loop at Pescadero Creek County Park. Most of the hikes I do around the bay area are planned out as different variations of some predefined route. My usual practice is to peruse my maps and study the trail systems to see how they interconnect. I try to never hike the same route twice in the same year, even though I might use the same trails for other routes. By doing this, I can go on hikes in familiar places that can seem like a completely different hike than my last visit. Not that there is anything wrong with the Brook loop. Actually, if you’ve never hiked at Pescadero Creek before, I would recommend hiking the Brook Loop as shown on the map as a perfect introduction to the park. If you follow the trail markers, they will lead you on a great little loop of about 6.5 miles depending on which trailhead you use. The route as marked is comprised of single track trail sections, using fire roads only minimally to make connections. The Brook loop will take you through many of the prettiest areas, which would get bypassed if you were to divert to a fire road for simplicity. Pescadero Creek overall is very peaceful and underutilized. Having a good map is essential here, as the trail system can be confusing if you don’t pay attention. There is an excellent map available on line. I highly recommend purchasing a hard copy.

Towne Creek
I decided to park at the Heritage Grove trailhead on Alpine Road, even though this is a longer drive than using the trailhead along Camp Pomponio Road, which always necessitates an uphill return. Heritage Grove is a little wooded park right along Alpine Road where there are a few fairly nice old growth redwoods. There is only a small turnout parking area. Most of this area does show signs of legacy logging, but some impressive trees remain amongst the recovering forests. After enjoying the grove on this chilly but clear morning, I diverted over into Sam McDonald County Park hiking west on the Heritage Grove trail. This section is a flat easy walk along thickly wooded slopes with its trail tread carpeted with cushioning tree duff. I turned off to hike up the Big Trees Trail. This is another nice, mostly redwood, section leading uphill to the Towne Trail. After passing the junction with the Ridge Trail and the Jack Brook horse camp, the Town Trail becomes a fire road leading through open grassy meadows. The horse camp looked completely deserted, and the meadow grasses are turning deep green like springtime. Most of the trails are still closed to horses for the season even though it’s not very wet up there right now. At the next junction I picked up the Brook Trail.

Tiny red mushroom
From this point, the Brook Trail leads gently downhill into a densely wooded canyon. The switchbacks along the trail make the grading easy. Lots of Pacific Hound’s Tongue is just beginning to bloom all over Pescadero Creek right now. Most of it is just peeking out, but the leaf structure is unmistakable. I was seeing it everywhere and even saw some bees buzzing around it. By the time you get down to Towne Creek you are in deep forest canopy with the water sounds echoing around, and I was hearing lots of bird and squirrel calls. The creeks that run through here have cut some fairly deep little ravines thick with greenery, and one of them looks like a miniature version of Fern Canyon. After crossing Grangers Bridge at the junction of several creeks I turned on the Pomponio Trail and over to the Bear Ridge Trail eventually rejoining the Brook Trail and returning to Towne Road. I used the other part of the Heritage Grove Trail to return to Alpine Road. I didn’t see any other people for most of the day. Not until I was almost back to Town Road did I pass a Boy Scout troupe and some other hikers close to trailheads. I found a tiny white trillium along Bear Ridge alongside some yellow Wood Violets, providing a glimpse of the coming spring, even though I hope we get some more rain before that happens. This route was 11.7 miles with a moderate 1941 feet of total elevation gain. You can check out my trip report and photos on EveryTrail.
(fixed the track log)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Buzzard’s Roost from China Grade

View of Buzzard's Roost from Pine Mountain
Looking for another new variation on a familiar theme, I was back in the mountains again this week. Big Basin has a popular destination called Buzzard’s Roost, which is an old favorite for many who regularly visit the Santa Cruz Mountains. Normally the hike to this curious little sandstone outcrop near the summit of Pine Mountain is a short hike from park headquarters. The Pine Mountain Trail originating near Blooms Creek Campground climbs gradually up 1200 feet over 2.4 miles to an elevation of about 2200 feet. In clear weather it offers some really wonderful nearly unbroken views out over the miles of rolling conifer habitat, and out to the ocean. It’s definitely worth periodic return visits. But on this day I was looking to make a full day hike out of it.

This route utilizes some lesser know trails which are virtually ignored by the general public, as well as some popular ones. I always have a good time searching out routes that are a little different than the pack. I love it when I can hike for miles just enjoying the trails, and the mountain air, without seeing anyone else. The East Ridge Trail offers that without straying very far from campgrounds and park headquarters. The trail is not pristine. You will find evidence of logging legacy, and occasionally spot unsightly power lines. Some sections are single track with nice tree duff like carpeting, while others sections are actually old roads, some of which even have old gravel deposits to support vehicle use. The recovering forests of pine, oak, and redwood are beautiful, shady, and fragrant. There are a few road crossings and marginal trail markers. But I had a really great time doing this hike, so I decided to share it.

Sequoias along East Ridge Trail
I actually began up on China Grade Road at the point where the Skyline to the Sea Trail crosses the road. You have to avoid the potholes, and there’s not much parking there, but there are a few very small turnouts. I started hiking east on Skyline to the Sea Trail toward Waterman Gap, downhill to the trail junction that occurs just after the trail crosses over Highway 236. This trail leads back up to China Grade Road, and crosses over to a gate where East Ridge Road/Trail begins. East Ridge Trail starts out as a dirt road. There are some junctions, so follow the trail signs toward Lodge Road. The trail is a “roller coaster” but its nice terrain with some views and lots of trees and shrubbery. After a few miles, the trail crosses the paved Lodge Road, and turns into a single track. I followed this trail past some unmarked junctions, and all the way up to the junction for Shadowbrook Trail, and to the left. This dirt road section will lead around to another crossing with Highway 236 near the southern entrance to the park. Following the trail signs, it leads along Bloom’s Creek, and eventually connects with Pine Mountain Trail which leads up to Buzzard’s Roost. You also have the option to use Bloom’s Creek Trail into the campground for potable water. It was still late morning when I began hiking up the trail to the peak without a soul around.

View west from Buzzard's Roost
The hike up to Buzzard’s Roost is an interesting hike. You begin within the redwoods, but after about a mile the trail changes to become quite rocky, and you see a lot of the scrubby knobcone pines characteristic of the dryer, rockier, terrain found atop some of the ridges here. I have heard them referred to as "sand hills". In a couple of places you actually have to do a really easy scramble up some little small rock formations. The clear weather views are great at the top. You can see Mt. Loma Prieta, a little bit of the ocean, and lots of thickly wooded coastal hills and valleys. You can spot the old lookout on Eagle Peak near Empire Grade, and you can look down across Big Basin while catching some rays. The Pine Mountain summit trail is closed, but you can’t see anything from there anyway. After enjoying some time on the peak, I returned by using the Hinh-Hammond / Skyline connector over to the Skyline to the Sea trail and hiked along Opal Creek eventually climbing all the way back to Chine Grade. These are some really beautiful trail miles, but you will likely encounter people close in around the headquarters area, and you get to smell the BBQ smoke. Further on as you climb higher, there are no more people around, and you get some really nice views along here too. There are some interesting sandstone outcrops and slick-rock along the upper section of the trail. My total distance was 15.9 miles with total elevation gain of 3581 feet. The elevation profile is almost comical the way it juts up and down. That’s one way to see Buzzard’s Roost when you don't feel like following the crowds, and are up for a bit of a challenge. You can view my trip report at Every Trail here, and I also have my pictures on flickr here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

January Iris

I haven’t been able to find the time to do any blogging the last couple of weeks, but after thinking about all the blizzards, ice storms, and sub zero temperatures in other parts of the country, I decided I had to share this photo taken on 1/22/11. This is an Iris in full bloom that caught Sue’s eye while we were hiking at Pogonip in Santa Cruz. I almost walked right past it. There were a few more close by, but I did not spot any other native species blooming anywhere else except for a few fledgling Milk Maids. Last year I saw Milk Maids blooming on New Year’s Day which really took me by surprise, but seeing Iris on January 22 seemed even more amazing, even though it was isolated to one spot. Today I saw some partially bloomed paintbrush in Big Basin. I will probably work up a post on that hike soon, but things are really busy right now. I’m taking all this as a possible omen of a really great spring season, and I’m thinking maybe I should start doing some seasonal trip planning.

Iris blooming in January