After work hike, El Corte de Madera Creek OSP

Last night’s after work walk was an old-school loop through El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. ECdM, as it’s commonly referred to, used to be the pre-eminent mountain bikers paradise in Northern California and it is still very popular with bicyclists but it’s nothing like it used to be in the old days.

About the park: ECdM used to be known for very rough trails, poor signage and  a plethora of unofficial trails that varied widely in grade, difficulty, and completeness. Going deep into ECdM was a semi-darwinian experience and it was GREAT! Things are more civilized now, the signage is much more complete and the hairball trails have all been closed or bulldozed into nice smooth trails that go around steep sections instead of dropping straight down the fall-line. But the upshot is that if you’re looking for a quiet contemplative hike with no bikes in sight, this is not your park. But if you want a walk in deep redwoods in a preserve that offers a huge variety of trail experiences, ECdM is still one of the best around. Keep in mind that there is no potable water and no restroom in ECdM.

About the hike: I parked at Gate CM02 on Skyline. This is the ECdM gate right across fro the Methusela Tree, just a bit south of the Skeggs Point overlook. There is a small amount of pullout parking beside the road but you’ll need to be careful pulling into and out of the parking area, traffic on Skyline can go fast and surprise the inattentive driver.  This is a loop of just about exactly 5 miles, give or take. It took me just a smidgeon under 2 hours to complete last night, walking fairly quickly and not taking a lot of time to dream about the good old days. The signage is pretty good and you should have no trouble finding the route. There are lots of opportunities to shorten or extend this basic loop to get further into preserve but you should remember that ECdM is a very vertical preserve. Most trails do down into the canyon with very few opportunities to go across the face of the canyon to a different trail before you reach the bottom. So if you decide to go farther you need to bear in mid that you’ll need to also come back out and a small extension on the map can add up to a big difference in vertical loss/gain. Plan to see lots of mountain bikers and to give them space on the tight singletracks, you as a hiker have more options than they do in many places.

Doing the hike: Go in gate CM02 and pick up a map from the sign-board, if you’re not familiar with ECdM having a map can be a very good thing. Turn right onto the Methuselah/Timberview Trail and descend on the fireroad. Keep an ear out for bikes approaching from behind. At the first intersection check out the cool sandstone boulders and then bear right, going uphill on the Methuselah Trail, going toward the Fir Trail (but you won’t go that far). You’ll climb up the Methuselah Trail to a 4-way intersection and then turn left onto the Manzanita Trail.

Manzanita starts off as a little switchback singletrack through a mixed oak forest and then devolves into a rutted, rocky and hard to walk trail through the chaparral before heading back into the oaks. Mountain bikers have long loved the Manzanita Trail as a way to improve riding skills over broken trail and it can be a bit of a challenge to walk as well but it has great views on a clear day and it’s worth the effort. Manzanita will end at an intersection with the Timberview Trail fireroad. Turn right onto Timberview and descend 0.3 miles to an unmarked but very clear intersection with the Crosscut Trail on your left. If you get to the Giant Salamander intersection on your right you went way too far.

Turn left onto Crosscut and walk back the way just came. This route adds distance but Crosscut is one of the nicest rambling trails in the park and any opportunity to traverse it should be taken. Follow Crosscut back to the intersection with the new Crossover Trail. Crossover is one of the few trails that joins major fireroads in ECdM, it’s what allows one to make this a short loop instead of an epic hike. Follow Crossover downhill to the intersection with Gordon Mill Trail fireroad. Now turn left and follow Gordon Mill through the redwoods all the way up to the top  where it intersects with Skyline Blvd/Sierra Morena. You’ll know you’re getting close to the top when you see the forest transition to more oak trees than redwoods.

Note the intersection with Steam Donkey for future explorations, especially if you’re a biker. Steam Donkey used to be called Voodoo and was supposedly the trail that gave Voodoo Cycles its name. The trail is marked by a slightly hidden old stump that has been carved into a face, sort of like an old Hawaiian Tiki. Steamdonkey/Voodoo is a destination trail, one worth traveling to ride, it’s an absolute blast to ride but it adds too much mileage to be included in this particular walk so we’ll bypass it for now. The steam donkey name refers to an old boiler that used to be near the bottom of the trail, presumably the remains of an old saw mill though the identity of the mill is unclear. 

At the top of Gordon Mill turn left onto Sierra Morena. The mountain bikers call this trail “Blue Hair” because it’s a gentle trail, fit for blue-haired elderly ladies of genteel disposition. It’s maybe not the nicest name. Sierra Morena winds through redwoods and oaks often dripping with fog. There are two options, the short and the long version. The version marked “alternate” on the signs is shorter and has a small steep section. Unless you’re in a hurry, take the longer version, it’s prettier and farther from the road. Whichever route you take,  Sierra Morena will lead you quickly back to Gate CM02 where you began. 

While walking Sierra Morena you’ll see several signs indicating that old trails have been closed. The hill that Sierra Morena encircles was home to some of the most challenging trails close to Skyline Blvd, trails with names like the Witches Knoll, Devil’s Staircase, and Nosebreak. Those trails are no longer legal and have been destroyed in the interests of protecting mountain bikers from having fun and challenging themselves. Ooops, I slipped into a rant there, didn’t I?

 

 

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