Monday, September 24, 2007

Andrew Molera - Big Sur Coast

Beach – Bluffs – Spring Trails
6 miles
Hiking time: 3 hours
Bill and Julie

Bill and I were planning on backpacking at the Jenny Lakes Wilderness area in the Sierras – but when we heard storms were coming in with rain and possibly snow we decided to cancel the trip. Instead we went for a day hike to our favorite beach at Andrew Molera in Big Sur. Bill and I have been on this hike several times and we usually have the beach to ourselves. This was my third weekend in Big Sur in a row.

We left Lompico at a leisurely 10:00 a.m. and after picking up sandwiches in Carmel Valley, we were at Andrew Molera by noon. I parked on the road and we walked down the hill saving $8.00. I kept my Teva’s on until we had crossed the river. The last time Tara, Paula and I hiked here the bridge was down and you had to ford the river. The bridge was still up – so I suspect they keep it up through September.

I sat down to put on my hiking boots. When I pulled out my rolled up hiking socks I discovered that one was a shrunken wool sock that I could barely get on my foot. I finally squeezed into it and we were off.

All the photos for this hike were taken on our cell phones. Bill was having some technical difficulties with his in the beginning – so there aren’t too many pictures of me – or not ones that can be posted on the blog.

We started on the Beach Trail – which is always crowded and very popular. It’s a mile to the main beach through golden grassy fields. We saw a small skunk off the side of the trail which is quite unusual to see during the daytime. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a skunk on a hike before. We skirted around him carefully – I tried to get a picture of him, but the resolution wasn't good enough and not worth getting sprayed over.

I always think of the hike to “our beach” as just being a quick two miles – but it is actually two miles from the beach. I always forget about that first mile. We passed a family and several other hikers and were glad to get on the Bluffs trail. We saw a young Australian couple and I took their picture for them, but otherwise we didn’t see any hikers on the Bluffs Trail.

The Bluffs Trail has a great view of the beach, but also of the Santa Lucia foothills. I think of this as an ocean hike – but the golden mountains are spectacular as well. The trail is fairly level though once again it was further than I remembered. You had a clear view of Pico Blanco and finally for the first time I clearly recognize it. In the past I was never sure which peak it was.

We enjoyed the hike, but my ankles were tweaking a bit and I was anxious to get to the beach and my sandwich. We hit the intersection with the spring trail. From here it is only a quick .1 down a steep grade to the beach. There were beautiful yellow wildflowers that I hadn’t seen before on other hikes.

At the entrance to the beach there is always a jumble of driftwood you have to climb over to reach the beach. People build driftwood structures and rock sculptures on this beach.

There was no one else on the beach, I stripped and jumped in the water. The surf was breaking close to the beach – so I couldn’t get too far into the water. The sand flies on the beach were a bit annoying. I decided to get dressed but not before Bill snapped a naked-Julie-eating-a-sandwich shot. (Not to be posted on the blog or anywhere else for that matter). I got dressed about the time the Australians arrived. It’s a large beach so we had our privacy – with other hikers staying at the far end of the beach.

After lunch I walked north up the beach. The cliffs were interesting and you could see different rock layers. Around a point is another beach. This one has a sand dune at the end. The last time Bill and I were here we had run down that sand dune. There were still faint tracks on the dune and I liked to think that they were still from Bill and I, but a rather doubt it.

I came back to our spot on the beach and decided to christen the new journal I had bought the week before at Nepenthe. I went to a driftwood structure built up against a rock. It was quite comfortable and provided protection from the sun and flies as well as lots of privacy. I sunbathed and wrote in my journal.

The sand in this area was purple. My feet were covered by what looked like purple glitter. I discovered a purple rock nearby which must be the source of the sand.

The Australian couple left and a new couple arrived. The guy started building a driftwood sculpture and the woman started stacking stones. Bill and I were content to be much less ambitious and just soak up the sun and the beautiful views. There was an unusual amount and variety of algae offshore. When I got back in the water it would wrap around my ankles as the tide pulled out. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

We watched some sort of slow moving military plane fly by. Kinda creepy. We spent two and a half lovely hours at the beach and then started cleaning off the sand. I squeezed my foot back into that silly shrunken sock.

Another beautiful day in Big Sur.

The hike back was warm and went fairly quickly. We cut through Creamery Meadows and had great views of the foothills. I saw the Molera hike I want to do next – on the far side of Highway One – the East Molera Trail. We came back on the Beach Trail and once again there were lots of beach goers. We saw two deer grazing by the river. We were back to the car in no time.

The drive back down Big Sur was beautiful. We stopped to get gas in Carmel Valley and several people asked us how to get to the Monterey Jazz Festival. We must have looked like locals.

The traffic was bad at Moss Landing so we decided to push onto Watsonville for our post celebratory dinner and drink. After enjoying a nice dinner we walked out to rain and saw thunder and lightening in the distance. I was glad we were heading to our cozy home rather than a wet tent! It had been a long wonderful day.

Lessons Learned: As Kurt Vonnegut says “unexpected travel plans are dancing lesson from God.” Don’t wash wool socks in hot water. It may be hard to get Bill off the mountain – but he always has a great time at the beach.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pacific Valley – Sand Dollar Beach

Big Sur Coast
3-4 miles
Hiking time: hard to say – spent awhile at the beach
Jo, Teresa, Julie

On our girls camping trip to Big Sur we decided to do a hike on Saturday. I looked through the books trying to find a hike that wasn’t too far from Kirk Creek campground and that we hadn’t done before. We finally decided on Pacific Valley. It’s a stretch of Big Sur that always moves me when I come around that bend of Highway 1, but one I’ve never seen up close.

We knew it wouldn’t be a long hike – the “Day Hikes in Big Sur” book said two miles – the more reliable “”Hiking and Backpacking Big Sur” said .7 miles. The “Day Hikes” book made is sound like we could combine it with a hike to Sand Dollar Beach, so we decided to try that and spend the day at the beach.

Teresa had bought new hiking boots and this was their maiden voyage. We packed our lunches, donned hiking clothes and headed south. The turn off came quickly and Teresa braked quickly screeching to a halt. Jo and I were both clutching the sides of the car, but recovered quickly. We parked in front of the ranger station.

The folks next to us were loading up there hang gliding equipment. We crossed the highway, climbed a step ladder staircase and crossed an open meadow. There were lots of cow patties – but no cows in the pasture. They must have been moved to a different grazing area. There was a beautiful view of the coast and in the distance it looked like Point Sur sticking out, but it was probably closer to the area around Nepenthe. We walked to various points and tried to find the loop trail. We followed it up the hill, but it petered out into scrub and poison oak. We turned around and decided to have lunch back on the cliffs.

It turned out Teresa had left her lunch in the car – but there was enough food to share. We talked about going back to the car and driving to Sand Dollar beach. I looked at a steep path snaking up a hillside behind the Pacific Valley Ranger Station. This was the Prewitt trail – which I had considered for the day’s hike until I found out it was 12 miles and strenuous.

Sitting there looking at the switchbacks – I tried to talk Jo and Teresa into climbing to the top of the hill – or just hiking up for an hour. Teresa was concerned about her new boots and would rather wait in the car or go to the beach. Jo could go either way she said. It seemed to me that we needed to get more of a hike in. We decided to go back to the car and decide from there.

As we headed back we saw a trail going off to our right.

Perhaps this is our missing loop we thought and decided to follow it. It did indeed loop towards Sand Dollar Beach. We could see the beach in the distance. We followed the cliff around and walked by more rock outcroppings.

The path eventually led us to a locked gate and then back to Highway One about a 1/2 mile away from the car. We decided to just walk down Highway One to Sand Dollar Beach rather than backtracking to the car. We were going to get our hike in anyway and Jo and Teresa were off the hook for hiking the Prewitt Trail.

This section of Highway One has no bike lane and lots of burr bushes on the side. Cars came whizzing by in groups. We tried to move to the right as much as possible. It wasn’t far and we made it to the parking lot. We took the trail and wooden steps down to the beach. The beach was fairly crowded but we walked past a large family volleyball game in progress and found a nice spot.

I couldn’t wait to get in the water. I was discreet and just stripped down to sports bra and sarong; Jo put on her sarong and Teresa rolled up her red hiking pants. The water was wonderful. Cool and refreshing. The waves weren’t large and there didn’t seem to be much of an undertow. Because I didn’t mind getting my sarong wet I went waist deep, while Teresa and Jo stayed closer to shore. It was great to play in the water.

The only time I usually get into the water is the plunge, so it was fun to be out during the daylight hours. Sand Dollar is a beautiful Big Sur Beach. White sand, giant rocks and the Big-Sur-turquoise-blue water. I adorned myself with seaweed and just played and played. When I came up to the beach in wet sarong, I wanted to find a nice rock to sit on.

Someone had made rock sculptures by stacking rocks into columns. I grabbed one of the unused rocks. It was quite heavy but I lugged it over to where we were sitting. Before I sat on it – I noticed just what a beautiful rock it was. It was green with sparkling streaks of what I assume is Serpentine. I decided that it was just too beautiful and decided to take it home. No matter that the sucker weighed 35 pounds (I weighed it when I got home) and that we had to climb five flights of stairs and sneak past the ranger.

I wondered if it would break the straps of my daypack and decided if I carried it in front like a baby I could give it more support. We named it Serpie – short for Serpentine. We spent awhile longer at the beach. I rarely go during the day and there was plenty to see. Several surfers and a wide variety of dogs. We could see a hang glider in the distance – probably the ones we parked next to. You also had a lovely view of Cone Peak (one of the May hikes) in the distance.

We finally had enough sun and sand. I loaded up Serpie and we headed toward the stairs. I thought – this is how much weight I used to carry around with me all the time! What a realization. I had to stop and give Serpie and my back a restaurant a couple of time going up the stairs. We climbed a little dirt path to the Highway and I stashed Serpie in the first turn out. I didn’t want to carry her all the way to the car.

I found a large plastic bag, so Jo and I picked up garbage on the way back. Teresa was more concerned about getting hit by a car and told us to watch our back packs sticking into the road when we bent over to retrieve the variety of trash we picked up. After filling the first bag, Jo produced another one. She carried the full one and I picked up another bag. There were lots of weeds along the road and we both got covered with burrs. It was a good feeling nonetheless to leave it cleaner than we found it.

We were definitely ready to wash our hands and throw away the trash when we got back to the car. We walked up to the Ranger Station where heavy metal music was blaring. We found a garbage can, next to a very nice weight workout machine. A cute young ranger drove up in a little walkman. We saw the trailhead to the Prewitt trail, but he told us there was a yellow jacket nest right in the middle of the trail. It was good that we hadn’t tried it. Been there – done that. Right, Jan?

We asked if we could wash our hands and he said the hose could be used for both washing and drinking. We washed up and Teresa pulled the car around. Since we had run low on water at the campground and Kirk Creek water is non-potable we had already paid $3.25 a liter at the Lucia Store which was an incredible rip-off. We filled up all our water bottles and Teresa’s thermos as well.

We drove south to pick up Serpie then headed back to camp for our post hike celebratory drinks. We donned our sarongs and took our drinks to the point overlooking Kirk Creek Beach.

We were sun drenched and splashed clean. It had been an amazing day of heat, beauty, playfulness and fun. Both Pacific Valley and Sand Dollar Beach are amazing spots. Well worth investigating up close and personal.

Lessons Learned: Don’t forget your lunch. Just because you can’t find the path doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist - keep searching. You’re never too old to play in the water. Pack your trash and a few other people’s as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Old Coast Road – Big Sur

Andrew Molera to Bixby Bridge
10.2 miles
Hiking Time: 5 hours
1650 elevation gain
Jan, Paula, Mary, Pam, Julie, Paul

After the last two short hikes, I wanted to do a nice long one. In my “Day Hikes around Big Sur” book there was a hike along the Old Coast Road which involved a two car shuttle – leaving one car at Bixby Bridge and the second at Andrew Molera. You could do either hike as an out and back hike – with more elevation if you started at the Bixby Bridge. I wasn’t sure how it would be hiking on a road the whole time – I usually prefer trails. Also some of the hikes in this book have not been quite successful – the search for the suspension bridge that inadvertently turned into a stumble on a pot plantation and the Kirk Creek Beach trail with this-trail-isn’t –REALLY-closed-is-it? fiasco. I decided to go for it anyway.

It’s a time of injury and recuperation for many members of our hiking group. Teresa and Jane were having back problems. Graciela has sprained her ankle two weeks before, Jo’s foot was bothering her and Tara’s knees got really bad on the Saturday before the hike. Pam’s hips were bothering her and Paula’s neck hurt the night before. My ankles have been tweaking me. I think we have almost every body covered amongst the group. J This dwindled our number down to five. Jan called and had a meeting that she had to be at in Santa Cruz at 5:00 p.m. So I had almost given up on the idea of a car shuttle.

This was a tricky hike logistically. We met at the Soquel Park and Ride: Jan, Pam, Paula, Mary and I. We agreed Jan would just do the first half of the hike and return to Andrew Molera. Pam’s hips were bothering her and she hadn’t been exercising so she opted for the shorter hike. Paula’s neck was bothering her – so she was going to opt for the shorter hike – but when she got there she wanted to drive and decided to commit to the whole 10 mile hike (since she would be our driver, she had to make it). Pam had the larger car, so she drove with Jan. Mary and I drove with Paula.

We rendezvoused at the Safeway in Carmel Valley and then headed south on Highway 1. As we were driving along – suddenly out of nowhere – a sheriff with lights flashing was right behind us. Paula pulled over and he zoomed by – fortunately in pursuit of someone else. It about gave us a heart attack, though.

When we got to the Bixby Bridge we parked Paula’s car and started moving packs and boots into Pam’s car. Pam was blocking another car while we were loading. The driver came over and said “Don’t worry. You have all the time in the world.” Which we though was very nice until a few minutes later he started backing up. Pam got out of his way. Now we weren’t sure if he was being sarcastic of if we just had different interpretations of what “all the time in the world” meant.

We finally loaded into Pam’ car and the five of us headed to Andrew Molera. It seemed quite a long drive considering we were going to hike back. Highway One hugs the coast – while we would be going considerably inland. Still Jan and Pam were pleased with their half-the-hike decision at this point. I hoped that the road did indeed go through.

We arrived at Andrew Molera and paid our $8 park fee. I asked the guy at the front gate whether the Coast Road was really only 10 miles, but he didn’t seem to have a clue.

As I was changing from my Tevas to my hiking boots, it occurred to me I would have to carry my Teva’s since I couldn’t leave them in Pam’s car. Not a big problem – just something a little more planning at the car shuttle shift could have avoided.

Since Pam and Jan were leaving early – there was no point in coming back to Andrew Molera. We had to make it through to Paula’s car which seemed a long, long way away. We were on the trail at 11:30.

We walked back up to the highway and crossed over. The Old Coast Road was the primary coastal access route before Bixby Bridge was built in 1932. I had assumed it would be gated with car access only to folks with property on the road. I assumed wrong.

A sign said that it was private property on both sides of the road and that no loitering or trespassing was allowed. We started climbing. We hadn’t hiked far before the first car came along. At least it was driving slow. The higher we hiked the better the ocean views became. We could see the Santa Lucia Mountains in the other direction. The road was uphill, hot and exposed. I wondered if the whole hike would be this way.

We passed a cattle ranch on our right. Pam noticed one of the cows was laying down, so Mary whipped out her binoculars to investigate. I had already worked up quite a sweat and we hadn’t even reached the first high point yet. We could see our road winding up a hillside far away in the distance. We finally reached the high point and then started downhill and were in the shade of the redwoods. The road was actually quite pretty and there was very little car traffic on it.

We kept going down, down, down. Jan was planning on turning around at 1:30 and she was concerned about going any further down because – she and Pam were gong to have to turn around and climb right back up the hill. We decided to stop and have lunch at a lovely shaded spot – complete with log to sit on and beautiful redwood grove. Pam was feeling much better and would have probably completed the hike if she hadn’t driven.

We were enjoying our lunch when a Volkswagen van pulled up. Our friend, Paul from dance class jumped out. Paul lives in Speckles and I had told him about this hike since it was in Big Sur. He had offered to be part of the car shuttle and hang out at the River Inn in the meantime, but we had never been able to connect to give him directions or our plan. He said, “You said you were hiking the Old Coast Road, so I figured I’d run into you on it.” It was great to see him.

There was a gate with a trail across the road from us. The sign said “High Fire danger” but not private property. We walked down the trail a bit. I found out later that this is the trailhead to Pico Blanco Camp – a backpack I want to try.

Since Jan and Pam were running out of time – they agreed to have Paul drive them back to Andrew Molera. He thought he might run out of gas – but otherwise it would be faster. This way they go to see the rest of the hike from the comfort of Paul’s van. They saw what was in store for the remaining three of us.

We packed up and headed down the path past a lovely little house. A little further down we finally reached the two bridges that were supposed to be our turn around point for either of the out and back versions of the hike. Now we left the pleasant shade and headed into the heat and elevation again. The road turned into steep switchbacks climbing up. Each bend seemed like it would bring you to a point that would put it in perspective, but the road just relentlessly climbed. We could see that there was construction working on a slide, though there wasn’t a crew working since it was Sunday.

We drank lots of water, sweated and plodded along. Paula was running a little low on water. I had 3 bottles and was already almost through my 2nd one. After what seemed like endless curves – we finally reached the summit.

Two of the trucks that had passed us were parked here. They were also Santa Cruzans who had just finished camping at Kirk Creek. One of the guys took the shot of the three of us at the summit.

Now we got to head downhill again. What a relief. We descended past cool houses and gardens. All downhill from here we thought. Just in time. It was shaded and cool. There was a high point next to the road – so I climbed up to see if I could scout our route. Just lots more road, no bridge, no coast, more uphill. It was a bit discouraging. Paula was pretty beat, but was being a trooper. Suddenly we saw Paul pull up in the van. He offered us a ride part of the way – he said there was about two more miles to go including quite a bit of uphill.

Paula decided to ride for a bit. Mary and I wanted to hike the whole thing. So we waved as they zipped by and then there was just the two of us. Mary wasn’t phased in the least, but I was definitely feeling the hike by this point. We kept going down and then started climbing up, up, up. We came around the corner and there was an incredible view of Bixby Bridge. It was from a perspective you don’t usually see. We could see Paula in the distance already hiking down.

It only took 30 minutes to complete that last section so it couldn’t have been that far, but it sure seemed like it. We saw someone walking toward us and there was Paul again. Joining us for the last ¼ mile of the hike. He took this great picture of Mary and me with an interesting perspective of the bridge.

When we got back to the car there was a guy blaring Fleetwood Mac. Paula had been back for quite some time and wanted to go down to the beach. I took one look at the trail and said –“No thank you.” It would have been quite a scramble down. Paula thought she would go down on her own We said Paul could take us to the River Inn and she considered staying at the beach, but decided to bow to the group and come with us.

At that moment she said. “I hope I didn’t leave my lights on.”

She checked her car and her battery was indeed dead. We were so glad we hadn’t left her there since there is no cell phone reception, Paul saved the day again. He pulled up his van and while Paula looked for jumper cables, he got access to his battery which is behind the passenger’s seat. Paula couldn’t find her cables, but Paul found some in his van. While Paula’s car was charging, Paul cleaned her windows and washed the roof of her car. He was a blessing to have around all the way around.


Paula and I followed Paul and Mary to the River Inn. When we got to Andrew Molera I saw that there was lots of parking along the road which would have saved us a bit of a walk and the eight bucks.
At the River Inn we got drinks at the bar and then headed down to the creek. They have the chairs right in the creek and no one was in the creek, so we had our choice of seats. The water felt great on our poor tired dogs. It’s a great place to stop after hiking.

Paula drove us back down the coast right before sunset. The light was wonderful.

The whole day was quite an adventure. A challenge and yet so rewarding. It reminded me how much I love the Big Sur area. It was absolutely gorgeous. This area truly moves my soul. As always I so enjoyed the company of my hiking partners. It was a wonderful day that far passed my expectations. I would definitely recommend the hike along the road. It wouldn’t be to bad to drive it – but hiking you see so much more. Another glorious hike in Big Sur!

Lessons Learned: If doing this hike from Andrew Molera, park on the road. Think about what you are taking and what you can leave in a car shuttle switch. Have faith and challenge yourself. Know that there are angels in the world – or at least in Speckles.