Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Santa Teresa

That’s two weekends in a row now that we’ve had beautiful Monday weather after a wet and overcast weekend. The reports for this week are now for an offshore flow bringing 80 degree temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday, with clouds returning on Friday, followed by another chance of rain on Saturday. I always think its funny when people I know at work talk about how they get depressed when they look out the window and see a lot of gloomy weather. I’m the opposite. I get depressed when I look outside and see fantastic weather, but I realize I’ll be stuck inside the whole day, flooded by anesthetizing fluorescent lighting, confined by over-institutionalized labs and dehumanizing cubicles, and choked by an institutional air system that virtually ensures everyone will get exposed to every possible microbe known to man. Sure, I can take some consolation by reminding myself that I am probably lucky to even have a job at all in this economy. Sometimes it seems like those of us who still have jobs are working four times harder than we ever did back in the roaring 90s when 401Ks were actually earning. But this is way too much digression for a hiking blog. What I really meant to say was that when I do get the chance, heading outside always seems like the best option.

Sue and I decided to stay close to home last Saturday, so we went to Santa Teresa County Park for another wet hike. The forecast was for rain all day, but this was our window so we prepared for a wet hike and hit the trail. Santa Teresa is pretty, even though trappings of the surrounding city life are all around. Many of the views are nice, but are obstructed by housing, an IBM research facility, power lines, radio towers, Bernal Road running right through the center of the park, and paved parking areas potentially full with people. But we had a nice time, and despite the rain, there were some wild flowers coming out. I was especially taken by the displays of Tidy Tips along the Fortini Trail. I did not bother with GPS, but I went back later to get a few photos, and decided to share a few of them. The displays are not spectacular yet, but this is a nice precursor. If the sun had been out we probably would have seen a lot more.

Tidy-tips, Layia chrysanthemoides

Tidy-tips, Layia chrysanthemoides

Tidy-tips, Layia chrysanthemoides

California Buttercups; Ranunculus californicus

Goldfields; Lasthenia burkei

Fiddlenecks; Amsinckia eastwoodiae

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Purisima Pummeling

Gentle mountain rain
All week long I had been looking forward to making a trip to Purisima OSP during the first week of spring. I remember seeing some very interesting displays of trilliums at this preserve at about this time of year back in 08. I remember that hike was just after a really wet weather system the day before. Many trilliums of different variations had bloomed, but the effects of the heavy rains were obvious. I was able to get some nice photos, but many of the more delicate varieties were looking very water logged from all the rain. Everything was soaked and drooping, which spoiled much of the display, at least for that day. I would have liked to make a return visit after things dried out a little bit, but unfortunately I never did. My hike for this week was like a case of déjà vu, only worse. During the week I began seeing the weather reports predicting lots of rain on the way with maybe a fairly clear window on Saturday. Turns out the window didn’t happen. Not only was there even more rain than last time, but it rained through out the weekend, and as I was to find out, the storm that rolled through on Friday pelted the Santa Cruz Mountains with biblical hail featuring pea-sized stones.

Purisima Creek
 Conventional wisdom would surely be to stay inside, but after a particularly hard week, I had already committed to the hike. I was lucky to even get the weekend off, so I needed to get outside no matter what the weather. So I made my best preparations for wet conditions, and headed for the mountains. As I was driving up Saturday morning, it was lightly raining all the way there. Woodside Road had been closed due to a downed tree taking out a power line. I diverted over to King’s Mountain Road and arrived at Skyline to what looked like snow covering the ground, and the highway. I slowed way down because I could tell my car was not getting very good traction. But as I discovered, it was not snow at all, but hailstones piled up. I was sliding around on little balls of ice. When I finally made it to the upper trailhead for Purisima I donned my waterproof gear, old worn out boots lined with plastic grocery bags, grabbed my GoLite umbrella, and hit the trail.

In a light rain, I made my way down the Harkins Ridge Trail to the junction with what used to be called Soda Gulch Trail, renamed the Craig Britton Trail in 2009. A plaque immortalizes one of his quotes; “They aren’t making any more land, so preserve it while you can”. Good on ya’ Craig. The Britton Trail passes through a nice thick redwood dominated area which has lots of trilliums blooming. Mostly white colored Western Trilliums, but also many of a small pinkish flowered variation that I have not seen anywhere else except here. But with all that hail falling the night before, many of the trilliums had taken a severe beating. The onslaught pummeled and shredded the delicate blooms, and the rest were mostly soggy and drenched. Only the hardiest and best protected were unscathed enough to be photogenic. It was hard to get pictures under the umbrella anyway. At least the creeks are running thick which made some really nice background music to enjoy.

Hail ravaged trilliums
 I headed down Purisima Creek Trail and found many more trilliums along here too, along with Wood Violets, and some non-native Forget Me Nots and Periwinkle. But most everything had been beaten to death by hailstones. The trail was covered with them, and about 20% of the hailstones were approximately pea-sized. Purisima Creek is especially beautiful when full with rain water though. I passed a young couple on mountain bikes coming uphill, and they were having a hard time getting traction, slipping around on all the hailstones in the trail. As they passed the young fellow kind of grinned and asked “did’ya bring yer crampons?”. I laughed and replied, “nope, just my old worn out vibriams”. I had plenty of traction on foot. As I neared the lower trailhead, I passed a few people who were walking up the trail with little or no rain protection, but they didn’t seem to care. A few young girls were strolling up the trail just talking amongst themselves with their hair, clothing, and shoes soaking wet, and were just laughing and seemed to be having a good time. Seeing them helped me to dispel any thoughts I might be having about being a little nuts for being out here at all, well prepared or not. When I reached the lower trailhead it was raining harder and I had to figure out how to get some inner layers off. I had been hiking downhill the whole time, but Whittemore Gulch Trail begins a long climb back up to Skyline. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be getting more wet from the inside than the outside if I did not de-layer a little. I was thinking about lashing my umbrella to a tree branch. I’m sure that would have been cozy, but luckily, there’s a pit toilet there which provided a roof. Along Whittmore Gulch I spotted more interesting trilliums, mostly variations of the Giant Trillium variety. Some of them were flowering white, and others were kind of pale pink. Usually they are more of a burgundy color. I also found some Mission Bells, and Crimson Columbine. Soon the ground had absorbed so much water that earthworms were slithering around all over the trail. I was hard not to step on them. By the time I was back at my car the rain had melted most of the hail. On the way home I stopped off at the Trading Post at highway 84 for some snacks and chit-chat. Woodside road had been reopened, but more hail was in the forecast. Let’s hope the wild flowers can survive. This will be a really nice display if only it could dry out for awhile.

Click here to check out my photos and track log at Every Trail

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mississippi Lake

Manzanita Point Road (view east)
The historical roller coaster ranchlands of Henry W. Coe State Park are a great place to spend some trail time, especially during the late winter and spring when you get the cooler temperatures. Beside all the natural runoff in the streams and creeks, the entire sprawling tract is dotted with man-made bodies of water, usually created by a strategically placed earthen dam. They range in size from small, forgotten, murky ponds, some of which are putridly stagnant, to larger “lakes” which are actually inviting enough to support water foul and possibly even fish. Mississippi Lake is the largest of these lakes. It’s nearly a half mile long, and with an altitude of 2100 feet it’s the highest lake in the park. Whatever was its original purpose, Mississippi Lake today is mostly a popular destination for backpackers, horse riders, and hardy mountain bikers. A few day hikers also make it out there, albeit not for long. It’s so far from any trailhead, the out and back trek will take from 10 to 12 hours depending on route. If you linger too long, you’ll need either a headlamp, or some camping gear, ‘cause it’s a long way back. Whatever the route, the constant elevation changes make it a very strenuous ramble. In the vernacular; it’s a real “butt kicker”.

The last time I completed a day hike out there was in April of 2006. Last year about this time I was thinking about it, but I only made it to the Summit of Willow Ridge before realizing that I didn’t have enough daylight left to complete the hike. But it was cool, because I really like the views from up there, and actually wasn’t relishing the thought of having to make time over the washboard terrain along Willow Ridge Trail. I had a time anyway, but without pushing my luck with the daylight. But a few times a year I need to do an epic day hike just for sheer challenge of it. Sometimes, nothing provides hiking satisfaction like sore quads. So I decided it was due time to head back to Mississippi Lake.

Distant peaks to the east
I began hiking from the park headquarters complex about 7am. I was going to use the most direct route to Mississippi Lake without looping around to Bear Mountain or anything crazy like that. There are other possible routes, but this is the route I have used before, and I already knew it was about 22.6 miles round trip with somewhere over 6000 feet of total elevation gain. With terrain like this, those 22 odd miles are tough miles, because there really isn’t any section along the route that is flat for very far. On this hike, you are always on a grade, either up or down. It’s just a question of how steep. The Corral Trail leads out to Manzanita Point Road, which is the quickest way to the junction with Poverty Flat Road. From there the trail drops down from 2500 feet all the way to Middle Fork Coyote Creek at 1170 feet where you need to cross the creek. I was changing my footgear to make crossings. This time of year the creeks are running strong. Almost immediately you begin climbing again, up past Jackass Peak with the trail reaching 1750 feet. Turning on Mahoney Meadows Trail you hike steeply back down to East Fork Coyote Creek near Los Cruzeros at 1203 feet. After another creek crossing, you pick up the Willow Ridge Trail and immediately begin climbing again up to Willow Ridge Road. Willow Ridge tops out at about 2590 feet. The views from here are really nice. If it’s clear enough you can see to the east all the way to the Sierras. The next section of Willow Ridge Road is like a snaking roller coaster. You really have to see the elevation profile to appreciate it. Graphically it looks like a bowed saw blade. There’s a whole lot of elevation change along those 3.7 miles from the top of Willow Ridge to Mississippi Lake, even though there is only 275 feet of elevation difference between the two points as the crow flies. The constant up and down will test your lower extremities like nothing else.

Mississippi Lake
As I reached the Lake I had mild sunshine, and fairly clear skies. I had time enough to hike along the trail at the side of the lake watching the water foul, and sat for a spell along the banks enjoying the cool breeze before turning around and heading back. A few wildflowers are beginning to bloom, and I couldn't help spending some time admiring them also. This area is actually a lot nicer than I remembered it was. It would be great to camp out here for a few days and hike around more. I had passed one group of backpackers on my way there, and saw one lone biker on the other side of the lake the whole time. I did pass some other backpackers as I was headed back out, but mostly it was a very solitary day. My GPS shows the final trip odometer at 23.2 miles with 6484 feet of total elevation gain for the round trip. This time of year with the creeks running as clear and strong as they are, the crossings make a convenient place to filter water, even though I wouldn’t normally want to trust any natural water at Coe, filter or not. I was using a lot of water even though it wasn’t very hot. It was another memorable hike at one of my most favorite parks. Let’s all hope that it won’t fall to the budget axe due to Sacramento’s incompetence. 

Click here to view my trip report and track log at Every Trail
Click here to view my photos on flickr