Friday, September 30, 2011

Point Lost

Panorama of "Point Lost"
I was perusing Every Trail last Friday evening trying to decide where I might satisfy my wander lust the following morning, when I happened across a guide posted by username alpharomero on a hike he did to Butano Ridge in Pescadero Creek. It caught my attention because the track log showed usage of a trail head that I didn’t even know existed, along a road that I had not even heard of before called Wurr Road. It was interesting to discover that there was some nook or cranny that I hadn’t been to before in this place. But what really peaked my interest was the mention of a side trip to a viewpoint to the ocean from Butano Ridge. Every time I’ve hiked Butano Ridge, I have always lamented that the property lines do not allow access to long range views to the south and west, which I always speculated would include Pacific Ocean views. The last time I hiked there, I even did a post here called “The Windowless Ridge”, in which I characterized the hike as one that must be a journey rather than a goal. Meaning, in the context of that post, that there wasn’t any really special point that seemed like the highlight feature of the hike. However, after reading alpharomero’s guide, it seemed apparent that my characterization was not completely correct. And having vaguely remembered that I did see a trail sign up there that said there was a possible ocean view by hiking further north on the ridge loop trail, I decided I had to go back and seek out this obscure place that I have since renamed "Point Lost", to find out what I had missed.

Natural tar deposits in Tarwater Creek
The guide posted by alpharomero uses a route along Old Haul Road. Old Haul is an old logging road which I usually try to avoid. Old roads often seem boring, and in Pescadero Creek, the single tracks pass right through the most beautiful areas, while routes like Old Haul, being more utilitarian in their original purpose, tend to bypass them. I will always pick a single track trail over a fire road or logging road whenever practical. My usual route for hiking Butano Ridge begins in Portola State Park, but I wasn’t really keen on burning a state park pass, or 10 bucks, for access to Portola when the hike takes place mostly in Pescadero Creek. So I used this occasion to devise a semi loop route using the Camp Pomponio Road trail head. This route uses some of the really nice thickly wooded trails in Pescadero Creek to get me to the northern leg of the Butano Ridge loop trail. I would then hike up to seek out this mysterious overlook as an out-and-back, and return by hiking up the other side of the Tarwater loop to get back to my parked car. There wasn’t really much point to this exercise, except for the fact that I love to hike, and needed to get outside for the day.

I hadn’t thought about it until I had already turned onto Alpine road and could see lots of low fog was blanketing the ocean. Sometimes the fog will clear out by midday, and other times it hangs like a cheap suit the whole day. As I began, I knew that I might not actually see anything from Point Lost at all except for a sprawling carpet of murky oceanic fog, but I was already committed, and really wanted to hike. Did I mention that I really just like to hike? So I headed across the road to the northern part of the Tarwater loop at about 1000 feet, descending down into the canyon, and all the way to Tarwater creek at 374 feet. By the time you reach the creek bottom, you have passed through the grassy meadows and oak woodlands, and are now in thick conifer habitat. This creek was named for the natural tar deposits that seep up from underground making the waters look like the victim of an oil spill. All the rocks and soil along the banks are coated with the stuff.

After crossing the creek on the half-missing footbridge, I made my way to the Canyon Trail. This section of the Canyon Trail is very thickly wooded with a tall canopy overhead. Along here are some of the most interesting tree specimens in the park. Remnants of legacy logging abound, but there are some old growth trees left, and the always amaze me. There is something almost spiritual about old growth trees, especially redwoods like these. One of the trees along here has the most massive widow-maker burl I have ever seen. The ground is covered with sorrel, and the air is moist and crisp, and scented with the aroma of redwood bark.

Tall redwoods
Turning on Bear Ridge Trail I began climbing back up to about 957 feet before descending again to the junction with Pomponio Trail. Turning there, descending further to Shaw trail camp. With no one at the camp, I hiked on, dropping down all the way to Pescadero Creek at 251 feet, where you have to make a crossing. Not anticipating much water this time of year, I had not brought my trekking poles. I can usually make good use of them when I have to make crossings by using the rocks and logs. I hadn't anticipated it, but this year had been a very wet year and the creek was still flowing a good six inches deep, so the poles would have been welcome . I was able to use some fallen wood and made it across getting my boots only marginally wet, but not wet enough to seep through the GoreTex. Hiking on I made my way up to the Butano Ridge Trail after crossing Old Haul Road.

From the creek up to the top of Butano Ridge, the trail climbs up to 1672 feet over 2.5 miles. Not really a butt kicker, but definitely enough to work off what ever you had for breakfast. The recovering redwood forest is thick enough to keep you in the shade the whole time whatever the weather, and you won’t see any more water for awhile. When you reach the junction at the top, the trail tees with a fire road, and there is a trail sign indicating a view point in 1 mile to the north with the park boundary another mile after that. The mysterious Point Lost was at hand. If you were to turn left the fire road would take you along the ridge to the other side of the loop trail where you can’t see anything but no trespassing signs to the west. Almost immediately the fire road begins turning into a washboard type trail. Descending steeply down, then back up, then down again and back up. You finally arrive at the view point reaching 1720 feet.Check out my track log for the profile.

The Old Tree
After seeing the view from this the overlook, that’s when I decided that I would officially name the place “Point Lost”. I named it that for the fact that I had missed it all these years, and for the stunning view to the formless milky white void stretching to infinity, and the mist that was drifting inward, indicating that the fog was actually heading in, not breaking up. It was only about 11:30, so fog moving in at that hour is quite unusual, but hey, it’s the Pacific. True ramblers are having a good time almost whatever the circumstances, even when you can’t see a freakin’ thing at the viewpoint. I completed the hike by descending back down the Butano Ridge Trail back to Shaw trail camp. Hiking the other direction on Pomponio Trail, I found my way to the other part of the Tarwater loop trail and back up to the trail head. This section of the Tarwater trail is worth checking out because about half way up, it has one of the more amazing redwood trees in the whole Santa Cruz Mountain region. It’s simply called “The Old Tree” and it is massive and ancient. If you have been to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove and seen the tree called Grizzly Giant, this tree will remind you of it, albeit a smaller, slightly less awsome version. The Grizzly Giant has massive upper limbs that jut outward at almost 90 degrees. Then bending upward, each limb supports a growth structure that dwarfs the size of a normal tree by itself. This tree is a coast redwood, and is not as huge as that, and doesn’t have as many limbs, but it’s awesome enough to bring out the images of the last time you visited “The Griz” while hiking Mariposa Grove. When I got back to my car, my trip odometer read 17.4 miles with total ascent of 3625 feet.

Click here to see my track log at Every Trail
Click here to see my photos on flickr

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