Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Garrapata State Park

Memorial Day Hike
May 28, 2007
Rocky Ridge – Sobranes Canyon Loop
6 Miles – 1,600 elevation gain
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Jan, Marianne, Julie

I decided to do a Memorial Day hike since it was my only open weekend until July. I knew it was risky – I usually try to stay off the road for the entire weekend and ideally don’t leave the house. I hoped everyone else had the same idea. It could either be really crowded or not. Jan said she was in right away. I talked Marianne into coming on Sunday afternoon. It’s our first hike together, though we have known each other many years.

Marianne has done Garrapata several times, while I had only done it once, years ago. Jan had some concerns about the elevation gain, since her knees can be problematic. I told here it would probably be hot and exposed. I shared a memory from the hike years ago – where the trail was badly eroded and one of us got stuck in a bad spot. It fed into Jan’s fears from her own past scary stuck-on-a-cliff experience in Big Sur, so she was expecting the worst on this hike. She decided to go for it anyway.

We met at the Soquel Park and Ride at 9:00 a.m. on Monday. It was foggy and overcast and we wondered whether it would clear. It would be a bummer to do this hike and not be able to see the ocean. It has happened to me before in Big Sur. The Memorial Day traffic was very light as we headed for Monterey. We exchanged life stories and reached the Garrapata pullout in no time it seemed. There weren’t too many cars and still several parking spaces.

We were on the trail by 10:30. We left the book in the car with the map. Marianne was confident to be navigator on this trip. We crossed the highway to the trailhead. There was a holder for maps – but sadly none inside. The bulletin board had information on whales – but no map of the park. We weren’t worried since there aren’t too many side trails on this hike.

We followed the trail which began by crossing Sobranes creek, then clung along a ridge above the creek. The weather was still foggy and cool.

The trail followed the ridge. Eventually it dipped back down to the creek with lovely ferns and redwoods. I never found the spot that had been so scary so many years before. We passed a mother and daughter hiking, but otherwise there was no one on the trail.

We started climbing out of the forest and up the hillside. Marianne and Jan were busy discussing marathons past (for Jan) and future (for Marianne). It was a steep climb and the path was often eroded. It was easier going up then it would have been coming down. Marianne in her Go Light sneakers has a bit of trouble finding traction on the slippery sand slope.

As we climbed the sun started coming out. The wildflowers were growing in profusion. I was afraid that we had missed the season – since it has been such a dry winter. I needn’t have feared. I wished Jane as our botanist-in-training and Barbara as our staff photographer was there to properly document them. They were lovely. We saw Indian Paint Brush, Sticky Monkey Flower, Morning Glories, Purple thistles, Lupine, Poppies and possibly Delphinium to name the few we knew. Yellow, purple, red, orange, white, blue flowers, everywhere.

As we climbed higher up the hill you could see the hills in the distance. We stopped to admire the flowers and put on sunscreen. The mother – daughter team caught up to us. The mother looked rather winded and both were concerned about how much more elevation gain there was. They had obviously taken on more than they expected, though we didn’t see them again, so they must have made it.

We kept climbing to the top of the hill. We followed the crest to our lunch spot, a rock outcrop with a great view of the ocean. We arrived at 12:15. The sun was out, but it was windy up top. Out came the fleeces and Marianne (who runs cold) put on her gloves. As we got ready to hike again – I noticed that the fog was rolling in from all directions. I wanted a photo with a slice of ocean in case we didn’t see it for the rest of the trip. (shades from the Montara Mountain hike). I needn’t have worried.

The path came around a bend and there it was. The path led down with ocean views on one side and hills in the other directions. The flowers became even more intense on the ocean side – perhaps because of the ocean mist and fog. This hike was definitely about the flowers.

We stopped at this bench which would make a great lunch spot. My hiking book recommended coming up Rocky Ridge – then circling down to the canyon. I liked having the ocean views as we came down. We ate dark chocolate and wished for a glass of red wine to go with it. The bench overlooks Highway One and you have a good overlook of Garrapata and Sobranes Point. From here it was just a hop, skip and a jump to our starting place.

We got back at 2:15 and Jan and Marianne were anxious to hit the road and avoid the Memorial Day afternoon traffic. I convinced them to take a quick jaunt to the ocean side of the Garrapata. A very short trail led to coves and beaches. The steps to the beach were completely eroded away. The water was that lovely turquoise unique to the Big Sur Coast.

We walked to the other point and watched waves crash against the rocks. We were all refreshed and knew we would bring this joy back with us as we faced the Tuesday after a three day weekend.

We headed out and once we got turned around the traffic was not bad at all. We decided to go to Manuel’s Mexican restaurant in Aptos for a bite to eat and the celebratory post hike Margaritas. The food and company was good (though the margarita was weak) but it was a nice way to end the afternoon. The traffic was light all the way back to Santa Cruz.

Garrapata is the quintessential Big Sur hike – creek with redwoods, wildflowers and beautiful coastal views. All our fears about this trip were unfounded: heavy traffic, crowded trails, too hot, no view due to fog, too hard, too scary. Instead it was a lovely uplifting day. Once again nature did its magic.

Lessons Learned: Fear naught. Stop and enjoy the wildflowers while you can.

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