Friday, February 03, 2006


Welcome to Ben LomondI decide to move to the Santa Cruz Mountains. No home computer or internet yet; I lag on updates....

Mount Sizer at Coe, San Lorenzo River Redwoods, Mount El Sombroso, Wilder Ranch, Mount Tam, Chalk Mountain, Mount Diablo... coming soon.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Joaquin's Revenge

Ohlone Wilderness - 1/14/06

Rustler, killer, hero? For more than 150 years, Joaquin Murrieta has been condemned or celebrated as one of the toughest bandits of the California Gold Rush era. Seems fitting that a visit to the waterfall that bears his name features one of the roughest hikes in the Bay Area. As elusive as the notorious legend himself, Murrieta Falls only shows up during heavy rains, quickly hiding again when the storms pass.

12 miles round trip, 3,500+ feet of climbing. Mud, rain, wind, hail. Brutal January conditions that every INCH hiker loves. Our reward? A gorgeous 60 foot waterfall surging over purplish grey rock.

Still kicking myself for leaving my camera dry in the car, next time I'll chance the raindrops like George. He snapped some great shots of the falls during the hailstorm! Check out his photo album on Webshots.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rose Peak, INCH Style

Sunol Regional Wilderness, Ohlone Wilderness - 1/7/06

Ohlone WildernessStretching from Lake Del Valle in Livermore to Mission Peak in Fremont, the Ohlone Wilderness Trail ranges 28 miles across the rugged Alameda Creek Watershed. Multiple access points and side trips allow for a three day backpacking adventure or a quick afternoon retreat. 3,817 foot high Rose Peak highlights the central section of the trail and marks INCH's destination on Saturday. Covering almost 20 miles, with 5,000 feet of climbing, our route features lonely, rolling grassland, steep climbs, and unique views of the southeastern Bay Area.

The abbreviated winter day and a "parking gates close at sunset" policy at the Sunol Trailhead inspires a lead group of INCH'rs to hit the trail early, so as not to get caught short at the end of the day. Hopefully, our main group will see them on the summit. Reduced in number, but not in spirit, we cheer Marker #13 and head up the hill. The East Bay Regional Park District marks every intersection of the Ohlone Trail with arrows and a red logo disc; key intersections and trailheads receive numbered markers. The required access permit (available at staffed trailheads) includes a great topographic map of the trail which displays distances between each numbered marker. Map and markers combine for confidence inspiring navigation; Ohlone's a great place to teach or learn map reading. With a clear route ahead, our group quickly spreads out on the long climb toward the summit of Rose Peak, half a mile past Marker #28.

Monument Peak, Mount Allison, and Mission Peak - from summit of Rose PeakOvercast skies and cool temperatures keep us moving at a steady pace, but some of us pay the price for not warming up properly at the start of the hike. Somewhere around Marker #26 I get a dead-leg feeling along with mild cramps. George is feeling the hike too, but we push on, slowly covering the last mile to the summit together. The sun pops out of the clouds as we reach the top, brightening our reunion with the early climbers and warming my legs for the descent home.

Goat RockAfter some stretching and a relaxing lunch at the summit I feel much better for the return hike. So much better, that I decide to take a side trip to the base of Goat Rock on the way back. The sidecut adds less than a mile, but more than 800 feet climbing to the day. Still, well worth the trip. At Marker #23 I descend Bluff Road to "The Bluff," an amazing cliffside view of the Alameda Creek Valley. Continuing further down the steep trail reveals the sheer, "down canyon" side of Goat Rock. Bare, hundred foot high, vertical walls of rock pierce the green hillside like a great beast's horn, driven up through the crust of the earth. I hang a right at Billy Goat Road, then follow a well worn cow path, climbing back to the Ohlone Trail near Marker #20.

Making good time through the backpack camp, I pick up a few INCH trailers on the short climb to Marker #18 and a nice view of the Calaveras Reservoir. Scheduled for 2012, a new, more seismically stable Calaveras Dam will include an upgradeable core to allow future expansion and further damage to this already threatened watershed. Backers of the Restore Hetch Hetchy mission point to that future expanded capacity when they argue for the removal of O'Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River. Endless compromise and trade-off...

Homemade biscotti and a few hearty INCH'rs greet me upon my return to the trailhead. Plenty of time before the gates close, we wait for the last INCH hiker to make it back safely before packing it up for the day. Sunday morning, a tweaky left knee's my reward for 5,000 feet of downhill.

Check out all the photos from this hike on flickr.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rainy Mountain Monday

Edgewood County Park, Huddart County Park, GGNRA Phleger Estate - 1/2/06

With all the storms lashing the North Bay over the weekend, sticking close to home on the Peninsula sounds like a good plan. Monday morning I wake up to discover the storm track shifting south, laying the heaviest weather on right on top the Santa Cruz Mountains, my destination... Hail Eris!

At least I don't have to drive anywhere. My route takes me from my front door in the flatlands of Redwood City to the Kings Mountain Fire Station at the top of Skyline Ridge. Living within walking distance of a county park eases a bit of the sting from the crazy rent around here. Edgewood park is less than two miles from my house; mostly through unincorporated San Mateo County though, so no sidewalks or streetlights. Steady rain beats on my vinyl poncho as I walk along the left side of the street.

My hike really begins at Edgewood Park. I grab the Sylvan Trail to Serpentine Trail, cruising the southern perimeter of the park and climbing the whole way toward the park's western boundary at Highway 280. Crossing under 280 on the Edgewood Trail connects me into the county trail system, which stretches from Woodside to Pacifica. Laying mostly along the San Andreas Rift Zone, a whole trail network spans several county and national parks, SFPUC lands and private easements, all tying into the Coastal, Bay Area Ridge, and Bay trail projects. Highlights include several reservoirs, plenty of local history, and some of the best views of the San Francisco Bay you'll ever see. Drawbacks include traditionally crowded weekends in certain areas and long sections of trail adjacent to high traffic roadways.

Crystal Springs Trail, south from Edgewood Road, is nothing but a two mile easement between the SFPUC Peninsula Watershed and State Highway 280. Pretty views to the west, but only a ditch and a chain link fence separate the trail from the sickening roar of three ton SUVs thundering along at 85 miles an hour... One of the few times I'm glad my poncho hood cuts my peripheral vision. The trail turns west at the border of Woodside, hugging the watershed boundary before running along Raymundo Drive for about a block. At the cul-de-sac end of Raymundo, the trail enters Huddart Park with a short descent to Union Creek.

Foamy, chocolate brown water churns under the footbridge at Union Creek. I hang a right after crossing and set off along Richards Road, which parallels the swollen creek. Crossing McGarvey Gulch, I could continue up Kings Mountain on Richards Road, but decide to follow Union Creek for another couple miles into the GGNRA's Phleger Estate. The rain falls harder now; even the dense, second growth redwood forest can't block the deluge. As I leave the creek behind and begin climbing Raymundo Trail, it's obvious the saturated mountain can't hold any more water. The path becomes a stream in its own right, water running 5 inches deep in places.

Lonely lunch at the Kings Mountain Fire Station and Community CenterSlogging ever upward, I hit Lonely Trail and complete the last 900 feet or so of climbing. I'm not sure if the Fire Station / Community Center sits at the exact summit of Kings Mountain, but the emergency phone booth offers shelter from the rain, so I treat it like the top of my climb and break for lunch. Every Labor Day, the Community Center presents the Kings Mountain Art Fair, benefiting the local volunteer fire department. The juried art fair features one-of-a-kind, unique art, no mass or volume production allowed. Strong competition for the limited sales space ensures high quality and a nice turnover of artists year to year; I really like the GIANT peanut butter cookies the local school sells.

Fed and refreshed, a short walk from the Fire Station leads me back into Huddart Park to Richards Road. I leave the fire road after about a quarter mile and link the Crystal Springs and Dean Trails for an awesome descent through McGarvey Gulch. I think the beauty of the second growth redwood forest in this wide gorge rivals that of any other spot in the county. Usually quite crowded, the storm has kept visitors away and I have the entire park to myself. I make a quick stop at headquarters to top off my Camelbak, jump on Crystal Springs past Union Creek, and I'm back walking along the damn highway before I know it. The fire roads are already in place; I dream someday of the SFPUC and Filoli allowing access between Edgewood Park and Phleger Estate, saving me from the sounds of traffic hell. At least the rain stops...

Edgewood Park again, I roll down the northern sections of the Serpentine and Sylvan Loop Trails and run into a couple of hikers enjoying the storm's passing, first people I've seen on the trail all day. The sky continues to clear as the afternoon wears on and I catch nice, if limited, views of the south bay and Diablo Range beyond. Exiting the park after sunset, I'm glad I brought my LED headlamp and taillight for the street walk home.

23 (sweet) miles door to door and my socks stay dry... go go gortex!

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cascade / Carson Waterfall Loop

Marin Municipal Water District, Cascade Canyon, White Hill, and Giacomini Open Space Preserves - 12/29/05

Thursday, dry day, off day... Perfect timing for a waterfall hike after the dousing Marin County got earlier in the week. My route through the watershed district and open space lands north of Mount Tam covers less distance than usual, but features sections of scrambling, a rough unmapped trail, and multiple creek crossings. With some new gear to try out too, I plan for a sunrise start at the Pine Mountain Road Trailhead on Bolinas-Fairfax Road. After only one wrong turn driving through Fairfax (a record!) I start hiking up the broad fire road in the dim morning light.

Gray, overcast skies blot out all but a hint of the sun rising over Mount Tam and heavy fog fills the valleys below me as I climb along the ridgeline. The stunted serpentine brush heightens the feeling of exposure, but barely any wind blows, a lull before the New Years storms. I make good time along Pine Mountain Road, veer right onto San Geronimo Ridge Road, then turn right again, down Cascade Canyon Road toward the Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve operated by Marin County.

Floyd's Falls on Cascade CreekAbout two miles down Cascade Canyon Road, after some switchbacks, an unmapped trail, marked only by a "no bicycles" sign, heads left and back up the side of the canyon. Unmaintained, but not overgrown, the trail winds up the south side of Cascade Canyon to the confluence of Pine Mountain Creek and Cascade Creek. From here, I head back down the valley, following Cascade Creek on a rough trail. In only a few minutes, after a tough creek crossing, Floyd's Falls greets me at pretty much full volume. I've seen these falls marked, but never named on a map. I like calling them after former Fairfax mayor Floyd Elliot who used to own this valley. A few yards from the falls I cross a small cascade that tumbles down the north side of the canyon and continue downstream.

Cascade FallsThe trail climbs up the side of the canyon through heavy brush for a while before returning to the swollen creek. Lush moss and fern seem to cover every surface left unscoured by the roiling gray water. Slow going here, lots to see and slip on. I finally make my way to the top of Cascade Falls; I can see the stairs and viewing area below, I just need to cross the top of the falls... running at full volume... over slippery rocks... Easier than it looks, I cross no problem. Standing on a large boulder below the falls to get the best view, I listen to the creek thunder into the narrow basin. A misty breeze wets my face and I can actually feel the water pounding the creek bed. Awesome.

Poking around the brush on rough trail makes for slow going. Cascade Falls marks my return to the mapped and maintained trail system and my pace quickens as I head down the short Cascade Falls Trail to make a left turn onto Middle Fire Road. A short ways later, I make another left onto Blue Ridge Fire Road and begin climbing towards White Hill. The fire road is closed at the gate to BSA Camp Tamarancho, but the Wagonwheel Trail meanders along the ridge for a half mile or so before rejoining the road. Fresh, green turf graces the rocky slopes of White Hill, giving the bare 1,430 foot summit a Highlands feel in the dense fog.

From White Hill, I continue west along Blue Ridge and White Hill Fire Roads to San Geronimo Ridge Road where I turn south toward Pine Mountain Road, completing my loop of Cascade Canyon. With the afternoon wearing on, I skip my planned mile and a half trip up and down the summit of Pine Mountain so I can be sure of enough light to visit and scramble around Carson Falls.

Middle Carson FallsI turn right off Pine Mountain Road for a quick walk down Oat Hill Road, then follow Little Carson Creek through a grassy, serpentine meadow to the top of Carson Falls. A classic cascade waterfall, Carson Falls features six different plunges, ranging from eight to forty feet. Crossing the creek at the top of the falls, the trail descends all the way to the bottom, continuing on to Kent Lake. I like the view from above the last drop, looking up at the rest of the falls tumbling down the slick, dark rock. Hanging out there until dusky skies prompt my departure, I don't get a chance to climb down to the lowest pool. I'm already thinking about a return trip later this winter though, maybe a loop combining Carson Falls, Cataract Falls, Tam's West Peak, and Rocky Ridge... hmmm... that sounds good.

The gray breaks a bit on my way back to the trailhead parking lot and I get a nice, if hazy, view of Mount Tam to finish off a fine day hiking. Driving home, I heed the call of General Tso and roll Happy Dragon for the spicy, gingery, garlicky goodness.

See all the photos from my hike on flickr.

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