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.

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