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.


Chris Marks said...

I would highly advise people not to head up to Pine Mountain. They are trying to rehabilitate the area but people keep heading up there anyway and blazing new trails. It's a pretty fragile environment up there in the dry soil.

Great Post though. Makes me want to hit up one of my favorite little hikes again.

Waypoints said...

Yes, people should not go up there. There actually is a old trail going up there, but it is marked closed for plant rehabibliation.