If a Tree Falls in The Dark…

Since moving to California, I have been immersed in a seemingly endless supply of local wine and craft beers to tickle my tastebuds. Having been to Napa and Sonoma several times, this trip took us up to Mendocino and Anderson Valley to explore the tastes of the coast.

Half of our group headed up to Van Damme State Park on Friday afternoon to camp at the Fern Canyon Trail camp, a short two mile hike in. These spots were nestled in a valley under the canopy of the Redwoods towering high above, and, unlike the park’n pitch sites at the entrance of the state park, were private and available!

Baking pizza using a Fry-Bake from Banks Fry-Bake Company

The sun set quickly as we got a campfire going and started making dinner. It was a two-part meal, starting with some excellent chicken and bean fajitas, and finishing up with a pepperoni pizza.

I baked the pizza in my new Fry-Bake that I had brought along to start practicing with for future trips. While it took about an hour to bake my pizza to perfection, it was well worth the wait!

Goldeneye Vineyard

The next morning we left camp a little after 9am, but not before baking some cinnamon rolls. I cheated a little here in that I used some Pillsbury cinnamon rolls since we had brought along  a cooler, though I’m sure they would be fine in a backpack for a day or two.

We met up with the rest of the group at Goldeneye Winery. Known for their Pinot Noir, they offered a very nice seated tasting on their back patio.

We visited a couple more wineries before heading over to the Anderson Valley Brewery. They had a great selection of beers on tap, many of which are only available at the brewery. By this time it was about 4pm, and the temperature was approaching 100°F, so sipping on some cool beer was just what we needed.

From here, we made our way back to the campground to make some dinner.

The real excitement of the trip came after dinner. The sun was down and it was pitch black under the cover of the trees. We were the only ones in the camp this night, and were trading stories around the campfire when we heard a loud crack come from the dark. It was close, and it was followed by a second, then a third. Somewhere, out in the dark abyss, there was a tree coming down, and we had no way to see where it was. So we froze, looking at each other across the campfire.


We heard the tree land and it sounded big. Relieved that it hadn’t landed on us, we began to joke about our ‘deer-in-headlights’ response and raised the question:

If a tree falls in the dark, and no one is able to see it, does it land on you?

Flickr Album

Banks Fry-Bake Co

Pescadero Creek Loop

Since moving to the Bay Area I’ve had to get used to having to plan every camping trip well in advance. Trail quotas, reservations, first-come first-serve sites… All of these seem nearly impossible to get at a moments notice for any place within a 4 hour drive of San Francisco, and anything within 2 hours is booked 3 months in advance!

I’ve rolled into Point Reyes at 8am on a Saturday hoping to get one of the day-of permits, and there was a line of people, some having been there since 5am! I tried a no-reservation camp ground near the Russian River only to find it packed with people. One lady said she had been there for 4 days holding a site so that her husband could come on the weekend!

So, when I saw that the primitive sites in Pescadero County Park were available as first-come first-serve, I was skeptical that we would be able to get a spot.

The plan was to do a 28 mile loop through the park over three days, so we headed down early Friday morning. We were on the trail at 8am, starting from the trail head in Sam McDonald Park, and were going about 5 miles to Shaw Flat Trail Camp. The trail meandered through second growth Redwoods and was a mix of single track and fire road, and was well traveled by horses.

With such an early start, we made it to the camp by 10:30am. The camp has 8 sites, and only one was filled giving us our pick! While setting up camp it became very apparent that I should have brought the bug spray. The mosquitos had found us! They weren’t terrible, but after getting used to the lack of bugs in the Bay Area, they were definitely annoying. We started a small, smokey fire to keep the little blood suckers away and had lunch.

Fire road stream crossingHaving set up camp with so much day left, we wandered off down the trail. The fire road out of camp lead to Memorial Park in 3 miles. About 1/4 mile from camp the road ran trough a wide stream. There was a small foot bridge built for crossing, and a few small rocky banks to sit on up stream a short ways.

From here we returned to camp and took the Shaw Flat trail the other direction out of camp. This was the trail that we would be returning on from the ridge the following day.

This trail was a single track trail that descended to the same stream we had just came from. Here we sat and skipped rocks for a while before returning to camp to gather some fire wood.

Stream Crossing in Pescadero Creek Park

As we strolled back into camp we came up on a family that had just arrived and was picking out a site. They had hauled several wheeled carry-on bags down the fire road reminding me that, while the campground felt remote, we weren’t quite as far removed from the world as I was used to.

It was now about 5pm and we again started a fire to fend off the mosquitoes. Collecting wood was a bit of a chore because the undergrowth around the camp was thick, and the trails had been picked clean for a couple hundred yards in every direction. But we found enough to keep the fire going until dark. After a dinner of cheesy rice and a mug of apple cider it was off to bed.

Saturday – Butano Ridge Loop

I knew we should have taken that other trail!

The next morning we woke shortly after sunrise. After a quick breakfast, we broke down the camp and headed down the Pomponio trail towards the Tarwater Trail Camp. It was 3 miles to the camp and the trail wound its way through the Redwoods past Honor Camp, a former Boy Scout camp turned medium-security correctional facility. Definitely not a place you want to make a wrong turn.

Once at the Tarwater Camp, we had our pick of the 6 sites. We found one that already had a stack of fire wood in it, and set up. It was immediately apparent that the mosquitos were going to be worse here.

With camp assembled, we made our way towards Butano Ridge to do the 10.5 mile loop from Tarwater to Shaw Flat. We traveled quickly to avoid the mosquitos. Fortunately, about 1/3 of the way up the ridge, we had gotten away from them, though there were a variety of other flying bugs to keep us busy.

The trail climbed about 1,200 ft to a logging road that ran the length of the ridge. Once on the ridge, we followed the road about 2 miles before descending back to Shaw Flat. The trails were nicely maintained, but the trees blocked any view.

Back at camp, the mosquitos had dissipated slightly. Perhaps to go feast on the two other groups that had joined us for the night. With a smokey fire keeping them at bay, we ate a dinner of tuna tortellini and it was off to bed.

Sunday – Tarwater Loop

The mosquitos were barely present in the morning, but we packed up and got on the trail quickly just in case they changed their minds. The trail started off taking us through some of the thickest forest we had seen so far. Circles of second growth Redwoods grew tall around the decaying stumps left behind from when the whole area was logged.

Working our way through the trees we came across the remains of an old shingle mill left behind from the logging days. Not much is left of the mill, other than a few large Redwood beams and an old boiler. One of the long beams was balanced like a teeter-totter so that you can make the whole thing move by standing on one end. Looking at the size of the old stumps, I am amazed that it was even possible to haul those trees to a mill!

The trail widened and began climbing towards the Tarwater trailhead. Along the way we came across a lone old-growth Redwood. Having somehow survived the logging days, it now stood out among its younger neighbors.

A lone old-growth Redwood ~15ft in diameter!

From here the trail took us out of the trees for a short while, giving us a view of the fog sitting over the hills to the west.

Oil floating on top of Tarwater Creek

After dipping back into the trees, we crossed Tarwater Creek. This creek holds true to its name as it is a spot where crude oil naturally leaks out of the ground into the water giving the creek a nice oily sheen and leaving the rocky banks looking like the scene of an off shore oil spill.

The trail climbed its way through more dense Redwoods for several miles before leading us back to the car. This was definitely the prettiest day of trail on this trip, and its nice to know there is at least one place to go for some spur-of-the-moment camping!

See more pictures on Flickr!

Mt Elbert, CO – 14,433ft

Two days after climbing Quandary Peak, I headed off to climb Mt. Elbert. This had been my targeted destination for my trip to Colorado because of the several distinctions it holds: tallest mountain in Colorado, tallest in the Rockies, and second tallest in the contiguous United States to California’s Mt. Whitney (14,505ft).

Mt. Elbert – 14,433ft

My plan was to take two days and go up-and-over the mountain. This created an new logistical issue for me to figure out since this was my first time going backpacking where my gear had to clear airport security.

The TSA website says that camp stoves and fuel bottles can be checked or carried on as long as they are free from fuel residue. This can be a tricky thing to accomplish. Much of what I found online suggested buying a new bottle for the flight out with the understanding that it may not make it back.

I had to completely disassemble my hiking poles to fit them into my checked bag

Since I was heading to a place where getting a replacement bottle would not be impossible, I decided to go with my used bottle. After letting it air out for 3 days and soaking in heavily scented soap, I couldn’t smell the white gas that had been filling it. Both my stove and fuel bottle went into my checked bag, along with my hiking poles and tent poles/stakes. The tent body went in my carry-on along with my lighter (TSA says lighters cannot be checked).

When I arrived in Colorado, I was happy to find that all of my gear had made the trip… I wondered if I could repeat this for the return trip.

May 30, 2012 – North Ridge Trail

I started up the North Ridge trail around noon. This trail starts out a bit easier than the Quandary Peak trail, though it does have a couple fairly steep stretches that had me wishing for a few switchbacks.

My parents hiked with me until we reached tree line where I would be making camp for the night. Above the trees the wind was blowing, but not as bad as on Quandary a few days earlier, so I descended a short ways below tree line to find a camp site.

Looking down the North Ridge trail from just above tree line

A short ways off the trail there was an established fire ring with a flat spot just big enough for my 1-person tent. Home sweet home… for the night at least.

After making camp, the parents headed back down the mountain. There were a few people trickling down the mountain, but it wasn’t long before I was the only one up there. It was about 3:30pm, and I took a nap.

I re-emerged from my tent around 6pm to make some dinner. The altitude was affecting my appetite and I only made it through half of my usual amount of tuna and rice. This was my first time cooking at such a high altitude (~12,000ft; boiling point of water = ~87°C) and I noticed it took a bit longer to cook despite having half the amount of rice I usually have. This was also my first time using my Whisperlite International with 91 octane rather than white gas… works great, but definitely left a thicker coat of carbon on the stove.

After dinner it was off to bed.

May 31, 2012 – Summit Day

I woke up at 5:30am and moved slowly out of camp. I still wasn’t very hungry, but I made my way through a bagel and an apple while breaking down camp. By 6:15am I was back above tree line making my way towards the summit. The sun was just above the ridge casting a beautiful glow over the mountain!

Good Morning from 12,000ft!

Mt Massive from the North Ridge of Mt Elbert

At the top of the ridge (13,750ft) I head some voices coming from below. I scanned the trail down to tree line, but didn’t see anyone. As continued climbing up from the ridge, I saw two people making their way out of the trees. I was amazed at how well I could hear them for as far away as they were. Continuing up, I was treated to some great views of the valley and Mt Massive (14,420ft).

As I approached the summit, I came to two short sections of snow that the trail crossed. I had picked up some yak tracks the day before and decided I might as well use them. It was still early and the sun hadn’t had a chance to warm the snow much, so the extra traction was nice.

I made the summit at 8am… 1st one up of the day, the tallest mountain I’ve ever climbed, and my 1st solo 14er! The view was amazing! I sat down for a bit to eat and sign the summit register. It was cold, but the wind had died down, so it was easy to enjoy the summit.

Summit of Mt Elbert

Summit post

La Plata Peak (14,336ft) from the summit of Mt Elbert

Mt Massive from the summit of Mt Elbert

After an hour at the summit, it was time to head down. I was descending via the Black Cloud Trail which would take me down along the southern ridge. There was a stretch of snow leading down the ridge about 200 yards from the summit, so I again used my yak tracks. It would have been possible to avoid the snow by folioing the scree, but it was much faster to just cross it.

As I approached the saddle, I looked back at the summit as saw the two people that had been following me. They had reached the summit. Once on the saddle, the trail became difficult to follow. The path was much less obvious that the North Ridge trail, but since the trail just followed the ridge, it was clear which way to go.

Chillin’ on South Elbert (14,134ft)

When I reached the top of South Elbert (Mt Elbert’s sister peak), I stumbled upon a geocash and decided this would be a good place for a break. From here I had a great view into the green valley below, and some fluffy clouds began moving in. As I sat there, I saw two figures moving up the ridge towards me. We met up and chatted for a bit, snapped a few pictures and went our separate ways.

Photo Cred: Dan & Ashley

Misleading cairn

As I continued down the ridge, I began looking for where the trail took off down into the valley. I spotted a cairn about 50ft off the trail about where the side trail should be, but there wan’t much of a trail there. I stayed along the ridge for another 300-400 yards until I began to climb again. According to my topo and the GPS I had gone too far, and the cairn had been closer to the right spot.

As I was descending, I decided I definitely wasn’t on the trail. I found a small outcropping and scanned the slope and spotted the trail a short ways over. After traversing over I continued down. This stretch of the trail was well traveled so I’m not sure how I missed it. Perhaps the top stretch is normally covered in snow?

Descending the Black Cloud trail

The trail descended steeply into the drainage where it met the tree line. Here it continued steeply down, winding through the Pine and Aspen trees. The temperature was warming up quickly, so I stopped here to shed most of my layers.

As I neared the bottom, I met up with the parents who had gotten to the trail head about half an hour earlier and started up the trail to meet me. They were happy I had started on the other side, cause this trail was significantly more difficult to climb.

Back at the trail head, we loaded up the car and headed for Aspen for some post-hike brews.

Check out more photos from this trip on Flickr!

Quandary Peak, CO – 14,265ft

I spent the week of May 27th with my parents in Breckenridge, Colorado celebrating their 30th anniversary. We had rented a condo with a great view of Peak 8 and planned on spending the week hiking and touring through the Rockies. This of course meant heading up a couple 14ers!

Quandary Peak Trailhead: Elev. ~10,800ft

On Memorial day we made our way to Quandary Peak, which is the closest 14er to Breck. We started up the summit trail just before 7am and there were already several cars parked at the trailhead, and more rolling in behind us. The trail started off steep as it climbed about 3,000ft in just 3.3 miles to the summit.

As we climbed toward tree line we could hear the wind blowing the trees above. I could tell it was going to be very windy above tree line. A small clearing in the trees provided a brief stretch of flat hiking as well as our first view of the summit.

Looking up at the summit of Quandary Peak

Once at tree line, we were out in the wind, and it had some power behind it! The gusts were strong enough to throw you off balance, and frequent enough to be quite tiring. Shortly above tree line, the parents had had enough and made their way back down. I continued on, but not before taking shelter behind a small shrub to put on my gloves. The wind was sucking all the heat out of my hands.

As I sat behind the shrub adding layers and having a snack, I was caught by another hiker named Vinnie. He was continuing to the top after his buddy had turned back earlier.

Looking up the final climb towards the summit

From there the two of us continued up the ridge to the summit. At this point we were traveling across steep scree. The trail continued to climb until it reached a short plateau before making the final push to the summit.

The summit ridge was a bit narrow, and still had a few patches of snow left. The path over these had been left quite slick from the wind and people, so we passed along the edge of the snow patches in order to stay on the rocks.

The summit was cold and windy, but there were several short rock walls that had been build up to provide some shelter from the wind.

Despite having passed several groups of people on the way up, there were only three other hikers and a dog on the summit when we arrived. After a snack, signing the summit register (we were the 9th and 10th to summit that day), and snapping a few pictures, it was time to head down and get out of the wind!

Looking out towards Breckenridge from the summit of Quandary Peak

Taking in the view (Photo Cred: Vinnie)

The return trip to the trailhead was uneventful as we passed a steady stream of people heading for the top. Back below the line it was time to shed a few layers and head for the cars. Lunch was fast approaching, an I was ready for a beer!

You can find more photos on Flickr!


Back at the condo, I set up the GoPro to catch a little cloud motion over Peak 8

Lost Coast Trail Part II

Check out the 1st part of this trip HERE

Saturday, May 19, 2012 – Spanish Flat to Big Flat

Sunrise over Spanish Flat

Saturday was going to be an easy day. We were only going 7.5 miles to Big Flat and didn’t have to cross any sections that were dependent on the tide. I woke up at 7am as the sun was starting to show over the ridge. The morning was cool, but the night had been warmer than the previous one.

I wandered down to the beach to watch the sunrise and snap a few pictures. On the way back to camp I grabbed the bear canister to make some breakfast. Paul and Charles had yet to emerge from their tent, but it wasn’t long after I started fumbling with the stove that they crawled out.

Bear Tracks!

The low morning tide had revealed some large rocks covered in mussels. After a trip to the beach, Paul returned to camp with a half dozen of the little guys filling his pockets ready to cook up for breakfast. They weren’t gourmet restaurant style, but they weren’t half bad…

We rolled out of camp at about 9:30am taking an easy pace down the beach. It wasn’t long before we realized we were following the tracks of a bear, and since the tracks were below high tide line, we figured we must not be far behind!

We stopped for lunch by Kinsey Creek, where we were passed by a couple, also on their way towards Big Flat. After lunch, the trail took us slightly inland over a ridge giving us a spectacular view of the trail stretching down the coast.

Walking down the dirt landing strip towards Big Flat

As we neared Big Flat, the trail took us down the middle of a dirt runway that was the access for a small cabin. It was a good thing no one was trying to land, because it would have had us diving off into the grass!

We got to Big Flat camp about 2PM. The couple that had passed us during lunch was sitting across the stream behind some bushes. We made camp a short ways up stream, just above high tide line.

Camp overlooking Big Flat Creek

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the surroundings and working on our tans.

Throughout the afternoon, several groups strolled by, but none stopped for the night, even the couple that had been there when we arrived eventually moved on, leaving the whole area to us.

After dinner we took in another amazing sunset, followed by some  stargazing by the camp fire.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 – Big Flat to Shelter Cove

Looking down the beach at low tide

I woke up at 6am. Low tide had peaked at 5:55am, and we had 6 miles to cover before high tide. Based on how quickly we had been moving, we planned on leaving camp by 7:30am.

The first hour of hiking was well out of reach of the tide, but after 2 miles, we climbed down a short cliff onto a stretch of beach that would definitely be underwater at high tide… 20ft cliff to the left, ocean to the right, and not a lot of room in between.

This stretch continued a ways before opening up a bit were we crossed two streams where the other groups had set up camp. They were all just starting to break down their camps, having opted for the hike farther-sleep later plan…

Fog over takes us

By 10am we had cleared the high tide section. We were well ahead of schedule, so we stopped for an early lunch with only two miles to go.

On the final stretch the fog rolled in giving the beach an erie feel. This was definitely Bigfoot weather!

By the time we reached the car, the fog had cleared and we headed back north to retrieve my car. This time we avoided King Peak Rd.

Back at the Mattole River, we hung out on the beach for a bit waiting on a very special show… This afternoon was the annular eclipse! As the moon moved into position, and the light from the sun dimmed, a thin layer of clouds moved in providing the perfect filter for viewing the eclipse, and allowing Paul to take some pretty awesome pictures! What a treat!

Composite image of the annular eclipse (Photo Cred: Paul)

Check out more photos from the trip on Flickr!

Lost Coast Trail Part I

Along the northern coast of California is a stretch of land so rugged that the road crews constructing Highway 1 didn’t dare tackle it. This stretch is the Lost Coast. Here the land rises sharply from the sea, reaching heights of 4,000 feet within only 3 miles of the shore. Since this sort of geology is so rare along US coastline, it was an obvious destination!

The Lost Coast Trail stretches 26 miles from the mouth of the Mattole River to Shelter Cove. While the mileage is not great, there are two stretches that are impassable during high tide. Because of the need to cross these sections at low tide, it is best to make the trip in 3 days.

Thursday, May 17, 2012 – The Drive

We hit the road out of Berkeley at 3pm in an effort to beat the traffic. Our first destination was the Shelter Cove trailhead. Since we were doing a point-to-point hike, we took two cars to run a shuttle.

After about 3.5 hrs of driving, we turned off Highway 101 in Garberville, where we stopped for gas and a bite to eat. As we left the restaurant, a man working there stopped us to talk about the Lost Coast. He told us to keep our eyes open because we may “see some large tracks in the sand… or maybe some larger tracks…” He said this with a bit of humor in his voice, and I assumed he was referring to the tracks from bears and Bigfoot!

View from the parking lot at Shelter Cove

From here we headed to the coast along a winding country road and dropped off Paul’s car in Shelter Cove. Now, with 4 of us pilled in my car, we headed north. According to my GPS, the drive would take us back over the King Range to Ettersburg Rd. This would get us to the northern trailhead in about 1.5hrs.

However! Near the top of the ridge we passed King Peak Rd. Paul said that he remembered Google telling us to take this road. So, in defiance of my GPS, we took off down King Peak Rd.

This road is labeled on the map as being paved… it is not! It starts out as a nicely graded gravel fire road. All was going well until we came around a dark turn and found ourselves looking at a rather interesting stream crossing. The water wasn’t deep, but there was definitely a sharp dip getting into and out of the stream. After a bit of planning, and kicking everyone out to lighten the load, we went for it, and made it… but not without scraping both bumpers along the way.

With that behind us, we continued… how much worse could it really get? Two more tricky stream crossings later, we got to a fork in the road. Our path took a steep turn downhill, which included a significant rut about the width of my wheel base. While the Vibe had performed so well on the streams, this was definitely too much for it. Slightly misled by Google, we turned around.

Getting back out proved a bit trickier than getting in, but once we were back on paved road it was easy driving to the Mattole river. With our minor 2hr detour, we rolled into camp at the Mattole River Trailhead at 12:45am.

Friday, May 18th, 2012 – Mattole River to Spanish Flat

I woke up at 7:30am to a bright sky lighting up the tent, birds chirping, and a chill in the air.  We had about 4 miles to hike before getting to the first impassable section, and high tide peaked at 11:15am. We left camp at about 9am with the goal of getting to the impassable  section by lunch.

Starting our way south from the Mattole River

We started out hiking on the beach. The sand made this quite difficult, so we followed the trail just off the beach. It was nice walking on a surface that didn’t slip away beneath your feet with every step!

The sun was out and the views were amazing! Such a different environment than anything I had ever experienced….

As we continued down the coast, the wind picked up significantly. The strong gusts would occasionally catch my backpack like a sail and throw me off balance.

About 2 miles in, we arrived at the abandoned lighthouse, where we met three northbound hikers, who were using it as shelter from the wind while enjoying their lunch.

Abandoned lighthouse

Rocky land meets crashing waves, blocking our path down the beach

After passing the lighthouse, we reached the high tide section. The tide was on its way out, so we had plenty of room to hike. A short ways in, we reached a section of rock that stuck out into the ocean. With the waves crashing against the rock, we were left scrambling over steep scree in order to pass.

It was not easy going, but Charles ran up and over without giving it a second thought! He may have been a mountain goat in a past life…

Charles waiting up for those of us who aren’t in touch with our inner mountain goat

Past this section, it was back to the beach where we continued down the coast. At this point my feet and hips were really starting to feel the effect of hiking across miles of sand and fist sized rocks.

Once past the high tide section, we were able to get off the beach and back onto the trail. The trail took us across grassy meadows and through a few stream crossings. After pausing for a moment waiting for everyone to cross one stream, Paul took the lead and nearly stepped on a snake. I was a few steps behind him when he let out a good yelp and quickly turned to run in the other direction, nearly plowing me down in the process!

Paul pulling out the camera by the Spanish Ridge Trail

As we approached Spanish Flat, we pasted a sign post marking the Spanish Ridge trail. The trail was completely overgrown, and without even a path through the grass where someone may have walked, it was clear that no one had traveled on it in quite some time. I suppose it’s a good thing we weren’t trying to take it…

Once at Spanish Flat we set up camp behind some trees to get shelter from the wind, which was still blowing hard. It was about 5pm, and it was time to make some food.

As the evening went on, we made our way down to the beach to set up the cameras for the sunset. The wind had let up a bit, though a few strong gusts continued to throw sand at us.

The sunset was beautiful! The sky over head was clear, and there were a few clouds on the horizon to give us some spectacular colors. We even saw a few whales swimming off in the distance.

Once the sun was down, the stars came out in full force. Every time I get out of the bay area, I’m amazed at how many stars are up there.

Sun set off the Lost Coast from Spanish Flat

Check out Part II of this trip HERE!

Check out more photos from this trip on Flickr

Point Reyes National Seashore

Summer has made it to the Bay Area! Or, at least summer took a day trip to the area on Saturday. After a fairly cool week, Saturday had clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid 80’s… It was perfect weather for a trip to the coast.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 2009, I have become a custom to the large fluctuations in temperature that are quite common here. I routinely leave the house in the morning with jeans and a jacket only to wish I had a T-shirt and shorts in the afternoon, then get left out in the cold again at the late hour of 5PM. I’ve gotten used to this, but not this Saturday.

Looking down the Bear Valley trail

I walked out of the house at 6:30AM in shorts and a light shirt… it was in the 60’s! Much warmer than the usual morning. We arrived at Point Reyes a little after 7:30AM and I started the hike off in shorts and T. Warm weather, a day pack, hiking in Chacos, this was quite a contrast to the multi-day winter trips I had been taking the last few months.

We started up the Bear Valley trail for 0.2mi before turning onto the Mt Wittenberg trail. It was 1.8mi to the summit (1,470 ft). The trail climbed quickly to a small meadow where the summit trail splits off. The summit was another meadow nestled in the trees (not much of a view).

After summiting the mighty Mt Wittenberg, we continued another 0.4mi to pick up the Sky trail towards Woodward Valley (0.8mi). The trail up to Woodward Valley was wide and fairly well maintained. It was also inhabited by several large Banana Slugs.

One of the many Banana slugs crossing the trail. This guy was a good 6 inches long!

Trees left bare by the Vision Fire stand above the new growth

Making the turn onto the Woodward Valley trail, we found ourselves hiking in and out of stretches of trail overgrown by grass and brush (This would have been a nice place to have long pants). The trail descended the ridge about 2mi to the shore, winding its way through the section of the 12,000 acres of wilderness consumed by the Vision Fire in 1995. The new growth was thick, but remnants of the forest  poked through.

After descending to the coast, we hooked up with the coast trail. This lead us south, winding along the edge of the cliffs for 3.7mi, providing stunning views of the Point Reyes coastline stretching off into the distance. The sky was bright blue and cloud free, but the fog could be seen sitting just above the water a few miles out. It was now about 10:30AM and the sun was quite warm. The gentle breeze coming off the ocean made the temperature quite pleasant.

Heading south on the Coast trail

A little lizard looking good for the camera

The trail alternated between wide, rocky stretches and thick over grown areas. In several of the over grown sections I came very close to stepping on snakes. They seemed a bit camera shy, as they darted into the grass to quick to snap a shot, but they were black with a yellow stripe running their length making me believe them to be a type of garter snake. While the snakes were camera shy, I did catch a lizard striking a pose…

Looking North from Arch Rock

We made it to Arch Rock at about noon, and stopped for a long lunch. The breeze had died, and the sun was beating down from high in the sky. It was definitely time for more sunscreen. We grabbed a spot up the cliff from Arch Rock to get away from the crowd. I spotted a sea lion bobbing in the surf below and we enjoyed a brief visit from a mountain beaver, but he pilled dirt in front of his tunnel opening when the cameras came out.

Arch Rock

Two spiders chillin' in a flowery hangout

After lunch, we backtracked up the coast trail about 0.5mi to pick up the Sky trail. This brought us back up the ridge for 4mi where we followed the Meadow trail 1.6mi down to the Bear Valley trail. The Meadow trail was probably my favorite stretch of trail. It was wide and shaded, winding its way through the trees to the valley. A nice change from the exposed and sometimes densely overgrown Coast and Sky trails.

Once on the Bear Valley trail, it was only 0.8mi back to the car. Here, we were in the company of the large crowd that had been drawn outside by the beautiful weather. It was a great day for a hike.

It was now about 4:30PM, and with about 16mi of hiking in our legs, we made our way south on Highway 1 to Bolinas to grab a beer at Smilies Bar. After a beer and a short walk through town, it was back to the East Bay for a shower… I hope there will be more days like this coming our way!

You can check out more photos on Flickr!

Trail Map