Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Montara Mountain – February 2007

February 17, 2007
Brooks Falls Trail to Montara Mountain Summit
7.3 miles
Total hiking time: 5 hours (lots of photo stops)
Graciela, Barbara, Mary, Julie

Another amazing hike. We drove to Pacifica where the trail began in San Pedro County Park. We started a little after 11:30. It was a beautiful clear day – not a cloud in the sky so rain jackets were left behind. The trail began with some mild switchbacks though a large eucalyptus grove. As you climbed higher you could see more and more of Pacifica below.

The trail was on the edge of the hill with a bit of erosion – but well maintained and signed. As we climbed we began to get views of the coast; the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tamalpais and eventually we could see the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. When we came to the first viewpoint you had a clear view of the north coast from Pacifica all the way up the peninsula. We had a great view of the Farallon Islands through Mary’s binoculars.

We started on the Montara Mountain Trail which now entered the Sam McNee State Park. Our original plan was to do a car shuttle with one car in Montara and the other in Pacifica. This didn’t make sense with just the four of us, but it would definitely be doable with a larger group. The trails were well marked.

We heard from other hikers that Brooks Falls was just a trickle – which is what we really expected. We decided to wait until our return to take the waterfall path. We came out on a fire road leading to the top of Montara Mountain. The views kept getting better – you could now see the Oakland skyline, Mt. Diablo, the San Mateo Bridge and a lot of the bay. To the south you could see down the coast to Ano Nuevo. We noticed by the time reached the summit the Farallon Islands had disappeared into a mist off the coast.

At the top of the Mountain is satellite equipment, but the view was spectacular in so many directions. You could see the San Francisco skyline and almost all the way around the peninsula. I really started to better understand the geography of the Bay Area. There was a summit journal in a container, but the journal had gotten wet. We wrote a quick entry and left it in the sun and wind to dry. We asked the next group of hikers to put it away.

Although it was a three day weekend – the trail was not too crowded. There were other hikers, a few bicyclists and two motorcyclists (don’t know where they came from). We had lunch in a secluded shady spot. We looked at the view through binoculars and watched the crows catch the air currents.

As we headed down we could see a blanket of fog rolling in. It was still fairly far out to sea, but by the time we reached our trail junction we were engulfed. If we hadn’t just seen the spectacular views we would never suspect they were there. Everyone pulled on long sleeve garments and Mary even put her gloves on.

Now the landscape was transformed into a lush mysterious trail bearing no resemblance to its earlier rendition. We stopped to take a picture in the fog where earlier that morning had been a panoramic viewpoint.

We took the Brooks Falls trail – but never saw the Falls. We peered into the fog, but couldn’t see across the canyon. This trail and the Old Trout Farm Trail had giant eucalyptus trees and followed the creek.

By the time we got back to the car and drove out to Highway One – the fog had cleared. It took a long time to get back to Santa Cruz – we made several stops and hit holiday traffic in Half Moon Bay. Mary kept us entertained with stories from her travels sailing around the world. It was a wonderful day and a great hike.

Lesson Learned: Seize the moment – take the picture when it strikes you and don’t wait until later – the opportunity may be lost in the mist.

Friday, February 9, 2007

North Coast - February 2007

February 2007
Gazos Creek – Table Rock – Again!
9 miles
Super Bowl Sunday
Graciela, Barbara, Tim, Julie

We decided to repeat the same hike as the week before- which is not like me. I wanted coastal views and it had been such an empty and wonderful hike. I figured on Super Bowl Sunday it would be really deserted. Not so.

When we got to the Gazos Creek parking lot, it was already crowded. There was what we suspected was a Sierra Club hike with about 20 people heading out. We let them pass.

Even though we had done the same hike the week before – we couldn’t find the same trails. Again we ended up bushwhacking through the brush, grasses and possible poison oak until we reached Franklin Point. It was hotter then the previous week and slightly humid. We were stripped down to sleeveless tops in no time.

At Franklin Point, Tim pointed out a murre nesting in the sand. Tim led us onto an “illegal route” that came out back on the main trail. The beach where the elephant seals were the week before was filled with families with babies. Babies seemed to be everywhere on this hike.

We lunched a little further down the bluff from the cypress trees. Lovely view of the coast. We continued on to Ano Nuevo. We walked past the many “No Trespassing – Entering Ano Nuevo” signs until we couldn’t go any further.

I found a very unusual rock – a big blonde quartz with unusual formations. It was fairly heavy – probably about five pounds. Walking back I alternately carried it in my backpack or did bicep curls with it. Everyone laughed at me – but I’m glad I brought it. It’s a rock that looks special even

On the way back we came across two different kinds of clay in the cliffs one earthy and one black. We joked up taking a mud bath and dip in the ocean. We shortly came across two seal carcasses with their heads bit off and giant bites taken out of their sides, which convinced us we wouldn’t be going into the ocean after all.

We also ended up seeing another Elephant Seal. He was lying up in the sand dunes and it would have been easy to walk by thinking he was a log. Tim spotted him. He wiggled a bit at us and we moved on quickly.

We found even more heart shaped rocks on the beach. We figured they would make lovely Valentines Day gifts (or Anniversary gifts as the case may be). Barbara and I came back on Bonny Doon road. We stopped at Bonny Doon Winery – but although the lights were on and people were still tasting it was after 5:00 and the door was locked. Oh well. We tried. Another great hike.

Lesson Learned: The hike on Super Bowl Sunday because it will be empty, doesn’t always hold true.

North Coast - January 2007

January 2007
Gazos Creek – Table Rock, Ano Nuevo
8 miles, no elevation gain to speak of
Josephine, Graciela, Tara, Jane, Julie

The weather was iffy for this hike – it was raining at 4:30 a.m. that morning. I personally love to hike in the rain and knew at least Jane would come, even if it was raining. There were phone calls the night before talking about other possible destinations or cancelling the hike. In the morning we decided to go for it.

We gathered at Safeway and then moved the cars to Western Drive. Everyone squeezed into my Honda, because I wanted to drive and no one else did – and I didn’t want to move all my stuff out of the car. It was a tight fit with the five of us in the car, but the company was good. In retrospect, we should have taken two cars since folks were on different time frames.

When we got to Gazos Creek parking area there were just a few cars in the lot. We got bundled up and prepared for rain, even though the sky kept getting clearer and clearer. We started down to the beach. There was a stream crossing that we cobbled together with logs. The hike starts with a beach walk. Gazos beach is wide and open.

I knew the bluff trail came off the side somewhere, so we left the beach and did a bit of bushwhacking along a deer trail. Eventually, we saw white poles, which we hoped were trail markers rather than “restricted area” poles.

We arrived at Franklin Point where there was a platform and bench with a beautiful view. Franklin Point is named after a clipper ship that went down there in the 1800s. The trail was clearly marked from this point forward.

It had turned into a beautiful day. We stopped at a bluff and Jane spotted whales. Jo brought out the binoculars, but they were close enough to see without them. Our timing was perfect, since we didn’t see whales for the rest of the trip.

Our next exciting adventure was sneaking by two elephant seals on a very small beach. Elephant Seals can move very fast when they want to and can be aggressive. Jane went first, but then the rest of us followed Josephine up a brushy “not-quite-a-trail”. Jane was waiting on the other side, not realizing until too late that the rest of us had detoured off. The elephant seals hadn’t even opened an eye.

We lunched in the sunshine on a bluff by a stand of cypress trees. Several had been cut down and others burned. It was a gorgeous day. We were slightly pushed for time, so we headed back briskly.

Graciela found all sorts of beautiful heart shaped rocks which seemed a specialty at this beach. We loaded back into my car and as we headed back into Santa Cruz. The horizon was a sea of black clouds. When we reached the cars it started raining. Our timing had been perfect. We had great weather for the whole hike. Jo, Jane and I celebrated with Bloody Marys at the Watering Hole – a dive bar on Mission Street. It was a glorious day.

Lessons Learned: A day of stolen sunshine is all the sweeter. Be prepared for poor conditions, but expect the best.

2006 Hiking Summary

What an amazing year for hiking it was! It’s been fun to think about all the hikes I did last year. Each one was special. Looking back – the tough ones always come to mind: Murrieta Falls and Mt. Carmel. I think the most beautiful was Eagle Lake in Mineral King – but Andrew Molera was gorgeous as well. Hiking gives me such joy. I enjoy the company of my friends even more when sharing nature together. I look forward to lots of new adventures with the ever expanding Hiking Group in 2007

Julia Pfeiffer - November 2006

November 2006
Ewoldsen Trail, Julia Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur
4.5 miles, 1,500 foot elevation gain
Josephine, Julie

The Ewoldsen Trail has always been one of my favorite Big Sur hikes. Josephine and I decided to go the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Not recommended. I have never seen the parking lot so crowded and this is a popular spot. We had to park outside the entrance and walk in. Most people are parking and doing the short walk under the highway to McWay Falls – the trails themselves are usually not crowded. Not so on that day. LOTS of hikers on the trail.

Ewoldsen is a loop trail. First you hike along the creek past some lovely picnic sties which are rarely used. Then the climb begins. After hiking for awhile you reach the fork of the loop. Unfortunately someone had taken the signpost down and we ended up doing the loop backward. I like to go through the forest and then come out to the panorama of ocean views.

I was surprised that even here the trail was overgrown. I decided for all Big Sur hikes I will bring clippers. (I should have learned my lesson from the last hike, but Julia Pfeiffer is usually well maintained). When we finally reached the overlook – which seemed to take forever in this direction – there were at least six groups of people in space that would ideally have room for two. We retreated to a different vantage point, not as panoramic but more private.

We decided to go back the way we came – since I like the ocean views. It wasn’t worth completing the loop. On the way home we stopped at Rocky Point Restaurant for appetizers and celebratory drinks. We were racing to catch the sunset from the restaurant with has magnificent views – but just missed it.

Lesson Learned: Don’t hike at Julia Pfeiffer on the Thanksgiving Weekend.

Andrew Molera - October 2006

October 2006

Andrew Molera, Big Sur
9 miles, 1100 elevation gain
Tara, Paula, Julie

This was Tara and Paula’s first hike with the group and their first hike in Big Sur. What a treat to share a place I love so much with them. I was so busy talking when we drove in that it wasn’t until I got to the River Inn that I realized I had driven right by Andrew Molera! It was a gorgeous day – blue skies. It was a bit of a climb up to the top of the ridge but we were rewarded with wonderful views of the coast.

We descended to my favorite beach – which is almost always deserted. I had forgotten my sarong (when have I EVER gone hiking without a sarong?) and in spite of another couple on the beach decided to get naked and into the surf. I know about Big Sur riptides, so I couldn’t get to deep – but the water was refreshing.

We were finished with our lunch when other hikers started arriving, so I got dressed and we headed out. I haven’t ever seen so many people on the trail. Don’t know if October is a popular time to hike Big Sur – you definitely get spectacular sunsets. We hiked back along the bluffs and came out at the beach. We decided to wade across the river rather than doubling back to the bridge. It was an easy crossing. I have pictures from the hike and will post them if I ever get them developed.

Lesson Learned: Always bring your sarong!

Big Sur - September 2006

Soda Springs and Lower Buckeye Trail – Big Sur

3 miles, 750 feet elevation gain

Josephine, Julie

Jo and I did this hike while camping at Kirk Creek. This hike has some beautiful views of the coast from the bluffs. Then we descended down towards Salmon Creek Falls. The trail kept getting more and more overgrown with branches that you had to push through. We had lunch at Salmon Creek Falls – which was more of a trickle than a fall. Salmon Creek had lots of algae and was barely flowing.

We decided to hike back along Highway One rather than facing fighting our way back up through the jungle. There was a spectacular farm or complex with a swimming pool and outbuildings perched on the cliffs Walking against the traffic was a little scary – we had to carefully time a few of the narrow spots – but it gave you a different perspective than driving in a car. You still got great views of the coast.

Lesson Learned: Bring your clippers when hiking in Big Sur.

Mt. Carmel - August 2006

August 2006
Mt. Carmel, Big Sur
10 miles, 2500 elevation gain
Graciela, Julie

This is known as the hike from hell. I talked Graciela into doing this hike on the last day of my month off. I had read about the Mt. Carmel hike for years with its spectacular panoramic view. When you reached the top, there was a “conveniently placed” telephone pole and a giant boulder that you could climb to get the view.

I had always wanted to see Botcher Gap campground as well. The hike started creek side, but then it was a relentless, hot climb through chaparral. The guide book described great views of Pico Blanco – a supposedly white mountain that we never could identify. We did come out on a plateau with a lovely view. We should have stopped there – but we pushed onto the “summit”.

We were supposed to ignore a spur trail, but take the trail to the left at a fork. Then we would climb to the summit. Instead, we went down and down. On an out-and-back hike I knew what you go down you must come back up, but we kept looking for the “fork.” Finally, I said enough and we climbed back up that trail. I had all but given up on the summit.

The second time I realized that what I had taken for the spur trail was actually the ever allusive “fork” It was getting late, but we decided to climb to the top. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back on this hike.

The last mile was through Manzanita taller than our heads – with barely a tunnel to crawl through. Graciela got scratched and tried to protect her legs. It was very claustrophobic and a bit spooky since you couldn’t see where you were going. Finally we achieved the Summit!

The telephone pole lay on the ground broken in half and eaten by termites. The “giant boulder” was barely big enough for Graciela and I to stand on at the same time. You felt like a groundhog popping your head up trying to see over the brush for the “spectacular” view. We had a good laugh over it during our late lunch.

We still had to get out of there. Even though it was mostly downhill – it was a long way down. We barely got out before dark. We stopped at Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing for a well deserved dinner. Our friend Sarah and her bluegrass band were just finishing playing. It was a good end to a hellishly long hike.

Lesson Learned: Making it to the top isn’t always worth the effort.

September 2006

Soda Springs and Lower Buckeye Trail – Big Sur

3 miles, 750 feet elevation gain

Josephine, Julie

Jo and I did this hike while camping at Kirk Creek. This hike has some beautiful views of the coast from the bluffs. Then we descended down towards Salmon Creek Falls. The trail kept getting more and more overgrown with branches that you had to push through. We had lunch at Salmon Creek Falls – which was more of a trickle than a fall. Salmon Creek had lots of algae and was barely flowing.

We decided to hike back along Highway One rather than facing fighting our way back up through the jungle. There was a spectacular farm or complex with a swimming pool and outbuildings perched on the cliffs Walking against the traffic was a little scary – we had to carefully time a few of the narrow spots – but it gave you a different perspective than driving in a car. You still got great views of the coast.

Lesson Learned: Bring your clippers when hiking in Big Sur.

Mineral King - July 2006

July 2006
Eagle Lake Mineral King, Sequoia National Park
7 miles, 2,200 elevation gain
Bill and Julie

This was a gorgeous hike in Mineral King. You felt like you were in the backcountry even though you were day hiking. The lush meadows still had abundant wildflowers in July. There were beautiful views to the mountain ridge across the valley.

This hike had a lot of elevation and you kept thinking we’re here! The lake is right up there – but no - so the lake must be right behind those trees – but no. etc. etc. We had to climb across a large boulder field. At the top was a giant Sequoia that had recently been felled by lightening.

Finally we reached the lake which was lovely. Snow banks still fed the lake. We sat down for lunch. I pulled out my avocado which was completely black and rotten. I was going to pack it out, but Bill said, “Just toss it here”. I threw it and it landed SPLAT against a giant sequoia tree where it just hung. Immediately there was a flash of lightening followed by a clap of thunder – close.

This was not the place we wanted to be in a lightening storm – exposed on rock next to a lake. The other folks at the lake started heading down. Even though we hadn’t had time for lunch we hightailed it out of there. We zipped across that boulder field. In about 10 minutes we were through what had taken us forty minutes to climb. It rained lightly as we came out, but the thunder storm passed once we were off the mountain.

Lesson Learned: Don’t anger the Thunder Gods by throwing avocados. Pack it out!

Cruikshank Trail - May 2006

May 2006
Cruikshank Trail – Upper Cruikshank Camp – Big Sur
5 miles, 1,200 elevation gain
Terri, Jo, Julie

This hike started with a bit of elevation – looking at houses with spectacular views of the Big Sur Coast. The I-want-to-live-there fantasy cabins. Early on we encountered a snake in the middle of the trail. He was coiled up, but wasn’t moving, even when poked with my hiking stick. He seemed injured, but not dead. Josephine really hates snakes, so she wasn’t happy with this development. We finally leapt over him to continue up the path. Quite a sight to see – a new sport: snake jumping.

The hike had beautiful wildflowers but like most Big Sur hikes the trail was overgrown and bushy. Other dangers along the trail were an active beehive, poison oak, lots of ticks and strange sounds coming from the forest. At one point we heard something crashing through the woods. I didn’t realize Jo and Terri were a bit freaked out, so I said, “Oh it’s probably a mountain lion and you know what to do…” Then I proceeded to demonstrate my technique for scaring off mountain lions which involves yelling and “appearing larger than you are”. I ended up scaring the heck out of Jo and Terri (though no mountain lion appeared).

Our lunch spot and turn around spot was Upper Cruikshank camp – a not very appealing backpacking camp. I followed the trail down to the creek below which was much more scenic and would have made a better lunch spot. The return out was uneventful. We zipped past the beehive, did constant tick checks and the snake was fortunately gone. I don’t believe we saw any other hikers on the whole hike.

Lesson Learned: Be careful where you practice your mountain lion defense or you will be teased mercilessly around the campfire.

Pinnacles Loop - April 2006

April 2006
Pinnacles Loop
8 ½ miles, 1,540 elevation gain
Graciela, Mary, Julie

In April we went to the Pinnacles. It takes awhile to drive there, so we stopped in Hollister at a little bakery and got delicious bagel chips.

What a glorious hike. We did the loop which took us up to the high country climbing stone steps, ladders and narrow walkways. We took a break up on top. A ranger told us that several days before condors had been sighted at this spot. It was hot. Graciela improvised hiking shorts out of her sarong and looked quite sexy hiking along. We ended up taking a little side trail to go through a tunnel. The Pinnacle formations are amazing.

The trail looped around through a small meadow o the picnic area on the King City side of the Pinnacles. This used to be a campground and years ago I was attacked by either raccoons or wild boar while camping there. We continued around the far side and climbed down into and through the Balcony Caves. They are steep and dark and you definitely need a flashlight to go through. Often there is water in the cave, but I think it was dry that year.

Then we continued on to car. It seemed like the trail went on forever. Each time I do this hike, it comes out with a different entry and exit point. I do love the variety of environments you travel through. Don't do this one too late in the year - it gets too hot and dry.

Lesson Learned: Coming back can be the hardest part of the hike.

Murietta Falls - March 2006

March 2006

12 miles, 3,500 Elevation Gain!
Hans, Bill, Julie

“Do you love waterfalls enough to be willing to grunt out a 3,500 foot elevation change?.... Murietta Falls is special because it’s much taller than other area falls and because it’s hard enough to reach that most people don’t make the trip.” Thus Ann Marie Brown describes Murietta Falls in her book California Waterfalls. The photo made it look quite impressive. Of course, I was immediately hooked and determined to do it. The problem was finding someone else willing to do it with me.

The other problem with Murietta is that it is an ephemeral fall and is only there for a very short time after a rainy period. Graciela was more than willing to do the hike and we scheduled the one weekend we could do it. I woke up to find it is snowing in Lompico – a rare event and one not to be missed. Weather conditions cancelled the hike (and I’m glad we made the choice – it would have been a miserable hike in the rain).

I told my husband Bill, that I would do it alone the following weekend if I had to. I asked our friend Hans and when he agreed to go, Bill said, “Of course, I’ll go, too!”. I had my team. The waterfall is outside of Livermore so we had to get an early start. We had some difficulty finding the trail head. We ended up on the wrong side of the reservoir and had to stop several times to get directions to Del Valle Lake.

We got to the trailhead and quickly packed up and hit the trail. Right off the bat – steep uphill climb. 2.4 miles up! It was a fire road so the grade was steep. No switchbacks here. Bill took off like a shot – but we all eventually hit our strides and shared the lead. I came around a corner of the trail and there was a bull in the middle of the road. Well, maybe it was a cow – but it had big horns and it wasn’t moving – just looking at me. I waited for Hans and we got around the cow somehow.

The road was either steep up or steep down. Eventually it turned into a pleasant path next to a stream. I never thought I would be so happy to see switchbacks. Then back into the rolling hills. It seemed like we would never get there. I had serious doubts about making it back out.

To get to the falls you have to circle around the back of it making almost a U turn around the fall. There you scramble down about a ¼ mile. About halfway down the scramble Bill said, “I’m too tired to go on, let’s stop here.” You had a sideways view of the fall from there. I was so tired I thought he was serious and I was ready to give up going all the way down for the full fall view. I got ready to sit down. “I’m joking” he said.

The bottom of the falls is in a steep canyon. There weren't too many places to sit and there were already several groups of hikers in the close-up spots. We found a perch and had a quick lunch. Not a lot time to rest. The waterfall was a bit anticlimactic, I’m afraid. The photo had made it look like Bridal Veil Falls.. Too many people and too much work to get there. I wondered again if I could make it out.

Hans was eyeing the terrain. We were at the bottom of a grassy canyon. The side walls were steep – maybe a 70 degree angle. Hans said, “We can climb straight up this hill – the trail is right at the top. It looked like a scary proposition to me, but I was so tired I agreed. We zipped up the side in about five minutes and saved at least 40 minutes of hiking. I was so encouraged that I ended up getting a second wind and sailed back – making good time and feeling great.

We stopped and climbed a giant rock which gave us a great view. That’s the photo of me and Hans on the rock. It was steep going downhill – but still easier than climbing up. When we got back to the car, Hans and Bill cracked open beers and I went to the bathroom. A shepherd with hundreds of sheep surrounded the restroom. I was really impressed with the way the sheepdog moved those sheep to the commands and whistles of the shepherd.

When I came out a sheriff’s car had pulled up and an officer was talking to Bill and Hans. Turns out you can’t have beer in the parking lot – though you can at the picnic table 10 feet away. They explained we were so busy getting on the trail that we didn’t read the sign – which was true. He was very nice about it and let it go as a warning. We happily drove back to Santa Cruz with a sense of accomplishment and exhaustion. This was the hardest hike of the year.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes taking a short cut is the right decision. Don’t drink beer in the parking lot at Del Valle lake.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Maple Falls - March 2006

Maple Falls Nicene Marks
9 miles - 600 foot elevation gain
Josephine, Graciela, Julie

After the success of the Berry Creek Falls hike we decided to do Maple Falls in Nicene Marks. This was Graciela’s first hike with us. It was a beautiful adventurous hike with several stream crossings that got the heart pumping. I had been to Maple Falls several times before. The last ½ mile used to be a scramble, but then a trail had been established. Now it was back to a scramble crossing the creek many times. We almost gave up when we came across a huge mudslide with trees and stones. I climbed to the top and glimpsed the fall just ahead.

It is a sweet waterfall. Graciela and I stripped and got under the icy cold flow. Nothing is more life affirming than getting under a waterfall unless it is plunging into the ocean for the annual birthday plunge. Josephine was quite happy to sit and eat her lunch. We had a nice hike out. Jo and I stopped at the Brittania Arms in Aptos Village for our post hike celebratory drink.

Lesson Learned: Don’t give up; your goal may be right around the next mudslide.

Berry Creek Falls- January 2006

January 2006

Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin

12 miles round trip

Super Bowl Sunday

Josephine, Terri and Julie

This was the first hike of the year and we chose Super Bowl Sunday because we thought it wouldn’t be crowded on the trail. We were right. We hardly saw anyone the whole day. We wanted to start the year with waterfall hikes because there was a lot of rain that winter. Waterfalls have always been a power source for me. We had all done the Berry Creek Fall hike before, but the creeks were running full and the falls were really flowing.

Golden Falls was beautiful – the trail descended right next to the falls with steps cut into the stone. It was a little scary being that close to the falls on the slippery steps. We had the platform at Berry Creek Falls all to ourselves – which is almost unheard of.

The hike out is where you hit your elevation. A bit of a long haul. There was a movie crew filming some movie – but there were movie trailers and activity when we got back to the parking lot.

We stopped at the Mexican Restaurant (used to be Adelitas) on the river in Boulder Creek for our post hike drink and dinner. It was a great way to start the year.

Lesson Learned: Super Bowl Sunday is a great day to hike.