Friday, February 7, 2020

Maple Falls

DATE: Friday, February 7
DISTANCE: 6.5 miles
TIME TAKEN: 3.5 hours

Maple Falls: February 7, 2020

The Forest Of Nisene Marks is a nearly 10,000 acre state park near Santa Cruz, CA. It's serene redwood canyons belie it's turbulent history: 140 million board feet of redwood trees were removed from the area beginning in 1883, a wholesale massacre that continued until 1924. The present day trees, still impressive, are all second and third growth. The epicenter of the disastrous 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake also sits solidly within the parks boundaries!

Maple Falls is set deep within Forest Of Nisene Marks, where Bridge Creek plunges majestically 40 feet over a rock wall at the end of a lush canyon, far enough out and up a rugged enough trail that a good portion of potential visitors are discouraged!

Killing some time before Deathgrave practice in a San Jose bookstore (okay, not just any bookstore, but the FANTASTIC Recycle Books) I happened upon an exhaustive compendium called California Waterfalls (Ann Marie Brown, Foghorn Outdoors, second edition May 2000) which I bought up right away and began studying. It turned out that Amber and I would both have a free day to hike the next day, so I consulted the book, and chose Maple Falls as the destination. This was skillfully picked so that it could also be done in conjunction with a brunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Gayle's Bakery in Capitola. While at Gayle's, waiting for our number to be called, and perusing the displays of quiche, polenta, and myriad other delights, I ran into my boss from my first job, Melissa, and her husband Tom, from back in Jackson, California, who are friends of my parents and I had not seen in years. It was a really strange coincidence! But I digress. 

Brunch in Capitola put us near the gate of The Forest of Nisene Marks state park, a threshold neither of us had crossed before. We paid the fee, got the map, and drove up into the lush redwood filled park. The "Winter Gate," which I assumed would be closed, because it's winter, was open, which allowed us to drive an extra mile closer to the trailhead and shorten the trip. There were maybe two or three cars in the parking lot at 11:30am when we embarked from Porter Family Picnic Area. North out of the parking lot, past the gate and down the road, forking left onto Loma Prieta Grade. There were some nice ups and downs, a few footbridges (which I ALWAYS take pictures of), some finely constructed cliffside trail work, and even a brief plank walk, which you don't really see too much of. Here and there were seen the remains of old structures left behind from the logging days, which were slowly returning to the earth. 

Eventually, we veered right onto the Bridge Creek Trail, the most direct path to Maple Falls. Here the trail follows the creek, and as you go deeper, the canyon narrows, eventually coming to a wild section where you have hop across the water a few times, climb over some logs and rocks, and do some light scrambling to continue. Through all this, it is quiet obvious where the trail is. There is a small appetizer falls on Bridge Creek in this section, as well as another one pouring down the hill from the east side. The scramble continues, and not far from this is the true cascade of Maple Falls, a majestic silver ribbon slicing down the middle of a woodland notch, pouring over a mossy rock headwall, and splashing into a serene shallow pool. At the edge, there was a rocky, small "beach" and some logs upon which we sat and ate some of our takeaway food. To the upper right of the main fall, we observed the mystifying effect of small rivulets pouring down through the moss from above, creating the impression of a sparkling, twinkling, living wall!

We remained secluded in the blind canyon for about a half an hour, and began to return the way we came. We had only seen two hikers coming down from the falls on our way up, and ran into four more as we were leaving. They looked like they were about to turn back, so we informed them that they were only at the first (mini) waterfall, and to keep going! I took us on a small detour on the return, a section of Loma Prieta Grade that runs to the west of, but basically parallel to Bridge Creek Trail. Just so we could see something different. It was nice because we got up on the hillside a little bit, out of the dark canyon, and got some sunshine. It was actually SUCH a beautiful day out, for February, that I almost regretted spending it in a shady, dank forest. ALMOST. We did not see another soul on Loma Prieta Grade as we meandered south along the folded, steep earth, and soon reunited with the intersection of Bridge Creek Trail, continuing south, back to the car. It was an excellent dayhike, one of my favorite of the local redwood excursions that I have done so far, owing mainly to the payoff of the elusive and secret Maple Falls! 


Maple Falls: February 7, 2020


Monday, January 27, 2020

Santa Teresa Hills

DATE: Monday, January 27, 2020
DISTANCE: 3.66 miles
TIME TAKEN: 1:33 hours

Santa Teresa Hills: January 27, 2020

The Santa Teresa Hills are an east-west oriented ridge on the south side of San Jose. They were inhabited in succession by Native Americans, the Spanish, cattle ranchers, quicksilver miners, and later, suburban homeowners, golfers, and IBM. And on this day, they were temporarily inhabited by me.

After a day of painting a bedroom in San Jose as a favor, I was eager to go outside and get some fresh air. Amber and I ran for the hills, to a trailhead suggested by her intrepid cousin Allen (remember him from Big Sur?). This led us to the southwestern entrance of Santa Teresa Hills County Park, which Amber had actually grown up on the other side of. We started up a rocky (better than muddy!) trail that was signed "closed," but looked very open and very well used. We switchbacked uphill, got some cool views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and came into an interior valley which is rather hidden from the outside world. Atop the ridge, there were cool rocks, old oaks, and scattered people out for a late afternoon hike, as we were. With not too much time on our hands, we made a tidy loop and went back to the car. Better a short hike than NO HIKE.

Map from Santa Clara County Parks

Santa Teresa Hills: January 27, 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Alamere Falls

DATE: Sunday, January 26 2020
DISTANCE: 9.34 miles
TIME TAKEN: 4:55 hours


Alamere Falls: January 26, 2020

Marin County's Alamere Falls is a spectacular waterfall known for cascading down a 30 foot cliff directly onto the beach. It's very popular, blown up on social media, and probably over visited. I could have done it a favor by never visiting at all, but I'm a white American male, and I feel entitled to my piece of EVERYTHING! RIGHT? Errr….. OK, what I am is an enthusiastic waterfall seeker, and this venture has been at the top of my list for quite some time. My brother Alex told me had Sunday set aside for Alamere, so I penciled it in. I ended up not having to work, so Saturday night I refrained from going to the thrash metal show at Eli's Mile High Club, and just stayed up super late at home instead. At least I didn't get wasted. After about 3.5 hours sleep, I got up at 5AM, got my supplies together, and met up with Alex at his house. He had just bought a Honda Civic, so we were going to save a ton gas and drive THAT to the trailhead instead of my giant van. Accompanied by Alex's co-worker Marisol, we were off by about 6:30.

Tree tunnel
We slipped effortlessly through the dreamy, pre-dawn darkness of the Bay Area. Murky fog, forests, cliffs and suburban homes lurked in the mysterious haze. We were on the trail just before 8AM, with three other cars in the parking lot. Refreshed by an overnight rain, the environment was exceedingly lush, verdant, bursting with life. The muddy trail weaved around forested hillsides, over creeks on footbridges, and back out to some coastal cliffs at one point. Our only company was the the occasional pack of trail runners. ("Does anybody just HIKE anymore?") The damp woods had a mystical sylvan vibe that was enhanced by the presence of many fresh patches of giant mushrooms, many shapes and colors, few which I could name, except the famous Amanita Muscaria. Pink earthworms littered the trail, sparrow and quail darted about, and newts scurried to and fro, nature's ensemble at play.

The coastal trail passes by a few small, unnamed ponds, and then two larger ones, Bass Lake and Pelican Lake. Just past Pelican Lake is the left turn which leads you to the "unofficial" Alamere Falls trail. Even though there is a conspicuous arrow made of rocks that points to it, I walked right past ( I though maybe it was the trail to Double Point or something.) When I got to another footbridge, crossing Alamere Creek, I knew I had gone too far. I turned to Alex and Marisol and said, "Fuck, I think it was actually the arrow back there." So we went back and followed it into the bush. Like I said it's not an official trail, but it's the one that everyone uses to get to the falls. Read HERE why they don't want you to go this way.

A bridge too far
The trail opened up into some brushy meadows and rolling hills, and soon we were atop the muddy chutes that lead down to the waterfall area. This is one of the "dangerous" areas that the park service would like people to avoid. Here you could see Alamere Creek begin it's plunge into a small canyon down to the beach in a series of cascades. Down the chutes, and were atop a brief coastal shelf, which the creek spills across, towards it's final 30 foot plunge over the edge. We had come as early as we could so that the tide would not be high, but the low tides of the day were before sunrise, and after sunset, so when we got there, about 10AM, even medium tide was already too high to walk onto the beach and look UP at the falls, so we had to settle for looking down it. Alex and I had a look at the other "dangerous" part, the chute that leads down to the beach, which is where you could go to look up at the falls if the tide was low enough. It was barely class 3, but slippery from sea spray. I can see it being a little dangerous for an inexperienced climber or drunk teenager.

Pelican Lake
We enjoyed our lunch on the bluff by the falls, and watched as groups of hikers came and went, with more frequency as the hour grew later. Alex couldn't resist taking a bath in the frigid cataract, and I explored what there was of the falls, up into the picturesque rocky middle section. On the way back out, I was looking for the trail up to Double Point, so I could bag a summit, but found what looked like nothing but a nasty bushwhack. I decided to let this one go. We returned to car the same way that we had come, with many MANY hikers now heading for the falls. Puffing and sweating and asking us "is it much farther?" Passing back by the coastal bluffs, I heard an unnatural sound, and soon a red helicopter flew into view. Was someone getting airlifted out after getting injured on one of the dangerous sections? Just after, I returned into cell service range, and I got a notification from BBC news that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash. Weird timing. As expected, the parking lot was absolutely PACKED when we got back. On the return home, I suffered out the waning days of my Beer Free January in a brewery in San Rafael while the others imbibed upon the seemingly delicious local offerings. In summation, Alamere Falls is a magical place, and a spectacular hike to a spot that is probably going to be loved to death.

Map from National Park Service

Alamere Falls: January 26, 2020