Sunday, December 4, 2011

Billy Goat Country

Shafts of sunlight illuminate the Fir Trail
Now that Thanksgiving is again just a memory, I’m just now getting around to posting about some of my late November hikes. Back posting is getting fairly common for me especially, ironically, when I have some time off. Any time away from the anthill is valuable, and my tendency is to dispense with routine as much as possible. It’s not rebellion. It’s just my way of looking after numero uno. I don’t let tedium of modern society mess with my melon. Actually, sitting around in front of a computer screen doesn’t always seem very stimulating, even if I’m not particularly busy at the moment. I’m a lot more likely to feel like reading a book or going for a run (low-tech stuff). But first priority is always to get outdoors, even if the weather is not so good. Eventually I get around to playing around on the computer, but it will usually be while I’m sequestered home evenings during the week.

El Corte de Madera Creek
Many hikers avoid El Corte de Madera because its popularity with mountain bikers is well known. Also well known is its history of logging, and steep terrain. But this preserve has had a strange attraction for me that keeps me coming back. There’s something about the hilly up and down topography that doesn’t let the trails get too boring. It’s always just a bit challenging, and if you look hard enough, there are a few old growth survivors to be found that are worth admiring. It’s kind of a shame that hikers stay away.

Aged redwood
As it turns out, the day before Thanksgiving was a perfect time to hike the long route at El Corte de Madera. Not because the weather was especially pleasant. It was a very chilly day with lots of drifting gray clouds and threatening rain. And not because of the fine displays of Iris, spotted coral root, and forget-me-nots that can tempt ramblers to come out there in spring. Late fall is definitely the wrong time for that. But if you get out there on a week day, you can hike without the usual bicycle traffic that this preserve has a reputation for, and this is especially true on a bleak day like the one I got. I only saw one cyclist the whole day, and didn’t see any others on foot either. How can you beat that? Alone to discover the seasonal beauty of this place for a whole day is awesome.

Just to do something different I decided to hike all of the trails that lead outward toward the outer perimeter of the preserve boundaries looping around the entire tract. The interior trails have some interesting features, but I couldn’t remember any time when I hiked entire perimeter all at once. A route like this has a lot of diverse character. Most of the area is densely wooded with a tall shady canopy comprised of the usual Santa Cruz Mountains arboreal diversity. I really love the all aged Douglas firs, and even though most if it is second growth, there’s lots of redwood. The topography is shaped primarily by the chaotic character of the sandstone and serpentine rock forming the base of these mountains. To use a firefighter’s vernacular; this is “billy goat country”. It’s very not-flat, with many transitions, and because the most accessible trail heads are on Skyline (Hwy 35), it’s an inverse hike with an uphill return. When hiking these trails, you can expect a good workout to be part of your day. Call me crazy, but I love it. You just need to choose the opportunities that allow for enjoying it the most. This long route hike really gave me some good “cleansing” time and set the tone for the rest of my holiday. I combined the photos I took on this hike with an existing photoset on flickr from a hike earlier in the year, and the track log from this route is on Every Trail if you want to see the profile.

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