Thursday, April 19, 2007

Castle Rock - April 2007

Castle Rock
Summit Meadows to Saratoga Toll Road Loop
Jane, Graciela, Julie
8 miles - 800 elevation gain
Hiking time: 4 hours

The original plan was to hike Garrapata and see the wildflowers and coastal views, but the weather forecast was 60% chance of rain. The Sea Otter Classic would make traffic a nightmare. We decided to stay closer to home and go to Castle Rock.

As the morning got closer, the group got smaller. It finally narrowed to Jane, Graciela, and Julie. We certainly missed having Barbara as our resident photographer, as my photos will attest. The rain was supposed to taper off in the afternoon so we decided on a later start time. We met in Felton at Safeway at 11:00. We headed up Highway 9. Jane had brought all sorts of stuff and outfitted Graciela in wool socks, gaiters, fleece and rain jacket. She also took over navigator responsibilities and actually read where we were supposed to park and monitored the hiking plan. I loved it!

I assumed we would start off on Skyline but Jane’s close reading had us starting on Highway 9 at Sempivirens point. It is located two miles before the intersection with 35. We pulled into a vista point with a parking lot and a bathroom. No sign saying Sempivirens Point, so we continued on. About a mile up the road, we saw a pullout with a trailhead and map. We got out, realized this was the furthest point of our loop. This map showed that Sempivirens Point had a bathroom – so we headed back down to the first pullout.

I had just copied down the details of our hike and the map– not the other Castle Rock hikes. Now at 4:00 a.m. as I read the descriptions of the other hikes I learn all sorts of interesting information, such as: “Sempivirens Point is named for the Sempivirens Fund, the nonprofit agency that has worked so diligently to add lands to Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks.” They are also especially close to our Lompico hearts since they are the one’s who purchased the Lompico Headwaters and saved our community from logging.

In January a honeymoon couple had gotten lost in Castle Rock for 4-5 days. I had been to the main part of Castle Rock with the waterfall and rock formations. I thought how could anyone possibly get lost for four days there? The park is 3,657 acres, running from Highway 9 to Skyline Blvd. After hiking there, I could appreciate how those hikers got lost there. They started late in the day and got lost when it got dark.

They were unprepared – we were not. We had rain gear, flashlights, emergency blankets and most importantly a map with written instructions. Jane had marked a copy of the map with our hiking plan and departure time which we left in the car. What an organizer! She kept saying, “Well, if we had to spend the night, we’d be prepared!” I in my last minute rush had left the bag with my rain pants and gaiters and I didn’t have as much food as usual. I was glad Jane had everything well in hand.

The long range view was obscured by clouds and fog, it was sprinkling, not raining hard. We were all well outfitted and fashionable, especially Jane in her bright yellow rain hat – a classic. (bad face photo for Julie, just couldn’t post it)

It took a bit of an extra loop to decipher the directions from the text of the hike – but we eventually found our way. With visibility so low, we paid much more attention to the map then usual. The trails were well marked but several spots were confusing with “private roadways” intersecting the trails.

Our trail, a loop was described in South Bay Trails by Rusmore/Crowder/Spangle as “Through Meadows to an Ancient and Historic Route”. We weren’t sure what was ancient and historic about it. Later reading, told me the Ohlone Indians used this route to travel from Santa Clara to the coast.

The trees offered some protection from the rain, but also dripped on us and slapped an occasional wet branch in our face. We started out on the Summit Meadows Trail. We left the foggy meadows and walked through a forest on a trail paralleling Highway 9. We saw the first of many wild irises. From the book I now learn they are “Yellow Douglas Iris named after the Scottish Botanist David Douglass who also named the Douglas Fir.” Who knew?

After a mile we crossed over highway 9 and were briefly on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. No horses or bicycles are allowed on this trail and Jane commented how all of these trails were nice and flat, unlike the eroded trails in Wilder Ranch. This portion o the Skyline to the Sea trail parallels Highway 9 closely. Again upon reading “the book” I learn that this is because the State Parks owned a strip 150 feet along Highway 9 and 235. When the concept of Skyline to the Sea was born, they used that easement to create the trail.

It was pleasant to walk in the woods. Some of the trees were covered with moss and had Spanish moss hanging from the branches. I didn’t like being so close to the Highway and unfortunately there was a bit of litter up the hillside that we just couldn’t get to.

We crossed back over Highway 9 (at the spot we had originally driven to) and got on Saratoga Toll Road. I learn now that “The Saratoga Toll Road was built in 1871 to haul people, lumber and supplies between Saratoga and the logging camps all down the western slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains. When Highway 9 and 236 were built in 1915 and 1930 the toll road became obsolete.”

The section of the Toll Road we were walking was an easement through private property. We were walking through a subdivision, but the fog obscured all the houses, fortunately.

Walking in a forest in the fog is a closed in experience. Rather than the expansive views you focus on the trees and flowers. We came across Buckeye, Douglas Fir, California Bay and Tan Oaks. The wildflowers – lupine, sticky monkey flowers, Douglas iris and many that we couldn’t identify. I am an experiential hiker – not knowing the names of most trees and flowers – just enjoying them.

I also enjoyed the conversation with Jane and Graciela. We Talked about our childhoods and our relationship with nature. We were getting hungry and kept looking for a good lunch spot. We passed an old Porsche that had crashed or been dumped down the mountainside many years before (not an uncommon sight to us Lompicans, unfortunately). We crossed back into the state park boundary, passed a landslide and broken bridge. We finally found our lunch spot – perched in an open area. Right when we sat down the sun broke through the clouds to warm us.

Three backpackers passed us – the only other hikers we saw all day.

After lunch, we continue on to Beekhius trail half a mile up to the Skyline to the Sea trail. This was the most elevation gain of the hike. Skyline to the Sea once again paralleled Highway 9 and we started picking up litter along the way. We came across an old Douglas Fir that had fallen over. Jane counted the rings showing how the distance between rings reflected rainy or draught years. The tree was over 120 years old.

Graciela was having strange physical and emotional symptoms. She started crying, but couldn’t explain why. She said that sometimes if those she is close to are suffering, she can feel it. She needed to stop and rest and cry. We weren’t sure if she would be able to complete the hike. I offered to go get the car, since we were so close to Highway 9, but she insisted on pushing on. Sadly, I learned yesterday that her ex-husband who Graciela is very close to had died the next day. It is clear to me now, that this is the sadness she was feeling.

When we returned to Sempivirens Point – we could see a much further vista. The sky was clearing which gave you a taste of the view on a clear day. It was a good day in the woods. Jane and I went for the traditional post hike Bloody Marys at the Trout Farm.

The downside to Castle Rock is that the trails are too close to the road; you’re passing through neighborhoods and the main section is adjacent to a gun club. On the plus side, horses and bikes are not allowed so the trails are not eroded and the signage was pretty good. On a clear day, the views would be great. I would choose a different trail next time.

We didn’t hear the gun range on this hike which was nice. Jane shared her fond reminiscences of her experience at that gun club years ago. Now if I hike in the adjacent portion of the park rather than being annoyed by the sounds of gunshots I will think of Jane and her dear friend Wayne going there for the first time together.

I have enjoyed reading after the fact about the history of the park. I like hiking books for recommending new hikes, but like movie reviews I don’t like them “giving away” the best parts. This morning I realize it would be good to do a little research before hand and that won’t take away from the beauty of the moment. This hike left me excited for more hiking.

Four Lessons Learned:
It doesn’t hurt to do your homework ahead of time.
A walk in the wood sis always a pleasure, regardless of weather.
Leave a map behind in the car for the rescue team.
Some things are beyond knowing.

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