Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Garrapata State Park May 2008

Sobranes Creek - Rocky Ridge
4.5 miles
1,700 elevation gain
Hiking time: 3 1/2 hours
Jan, Paula, Julie

I knew it was going to be hot this weekend, so I was looking for a hike that would be shaded, not too much elevation and by water. I decided on the Carmel River Trail which follows the Carmel River and ends at a backpacking camp which was supposed to have nice swimming holes. Sounded perfect.

With the usual cancellations there were three of us the day of the hike: Jan, Paula and myself. We met at 9:00 a.m. at the Soquel Park and Ride. We were on the road, fairly quickly, but had to make a quick return when Jan realized that she'd left her hat in her car. It was not a day to be without a hat - although I don't where one myself. I did bring my boots and I love this superimposed picture of leg and landscape. A preview of what was to come.

I've been to Carmel Valley road several times, but I always think that the road with our gas station and Safeway is Carmel Valley. I realized this is Rio Road and Carmel Valley must be a little further south. So I took Highway 1 south. We were chatting and I wasn't paying that much attention until we reached the former Highlands Inn. I knew that was too far past Carmel and realized that we had headed in the wrong direction.

I said, "Jan, I think we are going in the wrong direction. I think we are almost to Garrapata. I need to find a place to turn around", which isn't easy on Highway One. We had to make it all the way back to Carmel Valley Road and then it was another 20 miles on curvy little roads. Jan said, "Why don't we just go to Garrapata - if it is closer and that was my favorite hike." I thought about it and asked Paula what she thought.

Garrapata is a hard to beat hike. It has everything forest, wildflowers and coastal views. I knew it was a strenuous hike but Jan assured Paula she could do it. It did seem that last time that the elevation went by very quickly. The coast was foggy but the sun was shining on the hills. I said, "what if it's foggy?" (having just gone on the foggy Montara hike). Jan reminded me that it had been foggy last year, but then had cleared enough for us to see the ocean.

I did want to go to a new place and had planned on swimming - but I agreed with Jan to be flexible and because I love this hike as well. We arrived and I encouraged everyone to bring windbreakers and warm clothes, because it had been foggy and cold on top last year.

We started off on the hike at 11:00 a.m. The sun was already coming out along the path that winds along the side of the mountain. Then you are plunged down into the cool lush redwood forests. Lots of ferns grow beside the creek. It is so pleasant in the shade. I wet my sarong and realized that because I had been planning on swimming I had two more sarongs which I gave to Paula and Jan to use. There is nothing like a sarong to keep the heat off - especially when dipped in an icy spring.

I remembered that there was stairs and then the elevation truly began. We kept winding up and down and Paula would ask, "Is that the elevation?" and I would say "no, that hasn't quite started yet". We would think we were to that point and then it would level out. I said once the elevation starts it just keeps going almost straight up.

We finally came to the stairs in question. They did go straight up into the heat. An old Chinese woman was coming down the stairs. She said "you are getting a really late start, it's too hot to be climbing up now." I assured her we had done the hike before and knew what we were getting into. I looked at my watch and realized that it was high noon. The fog had completely burnt off and it was indeed hot out there.

According to the guide book (consulted after the fact) this trail gains 1,000 feet in less than a mile. In other words it is really steep. And it was really hot. And we were moving really slowly. This seemed a completely different hike from the year before. The elevation kept going and going and going. We would reach the top of the hill, only to see another hill behind. We'd reach that thinking we were finally at the top and then see another huge climb. Even with the sarongs it was hot. We ended up using water to wet the sarongs.

I had brought two water bottles rather than my usual three and we shared water on the whole trip. The intense heat took it out of everyone, especially Paula who hasn't been hiking lately. I was worried that she would have heat stroke. We were exposed with no shade and just lots of elevation to look forward to. I thought we would never make it to the top. I was so glad Bill hadn't come on this hike. He really hates hot, exposed hikes.

The trail was extremely slippery and I was sorry that I didn't have sticks for Paula and Jan. I would have had a real struggle without mine. As we were scrambling up the trail, a hiker coming down informed me that as of the day before the trail had been downgraded from trail to "goat path." It was an accurate description. I started bleating and waited to tell Jan and Paula the good news. Paula was not amused. This hike was not what she had signed up for at all. We had gone from "a little bit of elevation that will be over quickly" to the "hot hike from hell."

When I was looking at hiking books later - I noticed one said, "strenuous. For Serious Hikers only." We earned the name on this hike.

Finally we reached the top and ironically we were looking at a sea of clouds. No ocean views. There were rock outcroppings, but no shade, so we decided to postpone lunch and wait until we were at a cooler elevation. Now we began the descent down. This also was not how we remembered it. A very steep grade with an equally eroded path. We finally found an overlook and had lunch. It was a little cooler.

Paula found a spot to lay in the dried grass until I mentioned ticks. We decided to start down. We were racing for the fog below which looked so inviting and cool. I kept expecting to come to the bench that we had stopped at last time, but we never did. Jan and I wondered if this was a different trail. Certainly different from our memories.

Paula's poor feet were killing her and even though it was somewhat cooler as we got down, we were getting extremely low on water. Finally we made it to other bottom and took a shortcut to the highway. I wanted to see if we could easily get down to the beach and soak our feet. My Achilles was acting up. We walked down to the edge and could see a beautiful little waterfall coming off a creek falling to a rocky beach. . I climbed up to see if we could get to the creek. Paula and Jan waited while I explored.

It wasn't difficult to get down to the creek. Just a bit of rock climbing. It was a beautiful lush wading pool in a grotto with a view out of the ocean. It was easy to walk to the top of the little waterfall. Paula perched there enjoying the ocean breezes and great view. She said "this magical spot makes up for the rest of the hike. I can forgive you now". We all laughed.

I waded across a small pool and soaked my Achilles in the cool water, reflecting on the hike. There is a real sense of accomplishment when you have completed a tough hike and are now safely cooling your heels. It is amazing how conditions such as heat and dryness can change the whole experience of the hike.

Our last minute decision to change destinations could have serious consequences, since we weren't really prepared. Many lessons learned on this hike, and even though it was grueling, I will remember it as an adventurous well earned day.

Lessons Learned: Sticks and Sarongs for all! Listen to old women when they give advice. Better to bring more water than not enough. Consider seriously before hiking elevation in the heat of the day. To forgive is divine.

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