After Work Hike, Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP

Last night I decided to go explore some an area of Purisima Creek that I’ve never gone to before, the Irish Ridge Trail. The hike ended up being a 6 mile hike with lots of descending and climbing and more opportunities for further exploration in the future. In retrospect I wish I had held off until a weekend because now I want to go back and explore the rest of this area but it was still a very lovely hike and well worth a try if you haven’t gone there before, even if it is an out and back. I should note, however, that if you’ve read my other hike descriptions you’ve probably figured out that I tend to hike solo. This area was one of the few areas of the San Francisco Peninsula that I actually thought that was a bad idea, the Irish Ridge area appears to get almost zero usage and it’s deep in the nowhere. If you fall or injure yourself in this part of the park you cannot rely on someone finding you and coming to your aid so take a friend on this walk.

About the park: I’ve described Purisima previously so I won’t spend more time describing the park. I parked at the PC04 gate off Tunitas Creek Road. To get here take Skyline Drive to the intersection with Kings Mountain Road and Tunitas Creek. Turn westerly onto Tunitas Creek and slow down. This is a twisty and bumpy road. Follow this road for about a mile or so and you’ll come to an intersection with Swett Road, stay to the left and continue on Tunitas Creek for another couple miles until you see the brown and yellow gate for PC04 on your right. There’s no developed parking here but there are lots of roadside pullouts you can park in. Also bear in mind that there are no bathrooms or water on this side of the park so be prepared.

About the hike: From PC04, walk down The Grabtown Gulch trail 0.3 miles and then turn left onto the Borden Hatch Mill Trail. Follow BHMT for 0.2 miles and turn onto the Bald Knob Trail. Follow the lovely Bald Knob singletrack for 1.3 miles to a 4-way intersection and take a sharp left turn onto Irish Ridge Trail. I’m not certain but I would suspect that this ridge is named for Milton Irish, who operated a sawmill over in El Corte de Madera Creek OSP back in the late 1800s and this area has a heavy logging history.

You will descend steeply on Irish Ridge Trail for the first 100 yards or so and you’ll be tempted to turn around but continue on for a bit and the trail begins to descend more gradually. You’ll hit one section which has some stunning views of the southcoast, especially if the fog should be out. Continue on this trail and you’ll note that the trail becomes rougher and shows little sign of recent use. In places there are branches of poison oak reaching out over the trail so be cautious about touching the plant life. This trail also has lots of coyote and scat and similar evidence of other critters, testifying to the scarcity of use in this part of the park.

Continue down Irish Ridge to the end of the trail or to the intersection with Lobitos Creek Trail. You’ll have descended about 500 feet in total if I’m reading this here topo map correctly.  Lobitos Creek appears to be a 2 mile long ramble through the redwoods, a welcome relief after the open ridge trail you just descended on. I’ll be coming back to check out Lobitos Creek another time when evening is not approaching rapidly. But even if you’re turning around, walk down the first 50 yards of Lobitos Creek and check out the huge redwood tree just to the left of the trail with the very funky branch arcing over the trail. I’ve never seen a redwood growing like this one, it’s quite cool and worth a look while you’re in the neighborhood.

Now, unfortunately, it’s time to turn around and head back up the hill. It’s not too steep until you hit those last 100 yards or so and it’s a pleasant ramble back the way you came on Bald Knob to Borden Hatch to Grabtown Gulch to PC04. According to the map this route was just about exactly 6 miles. If you do Lobitos Creek it would be 10 in total. I did the hike in exactly 2 hours but I was really pushing and wished I could take it slower but I had gotten a late start leaving from work and it was getting dark by the time I walked out. Plan that it’ll take you 2.5 -3 hours at a comfortable pace with time for a snack at one or more points along the trail.

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2 Comments on “After Work Hike, Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP”

  1. Ken Fisher Says:

    Hey BG,

    One minor point. Irish Ridge was not named after Milt Irish but after a series of Irish families that settled there early in the mid-19th century. For that I refer to the Dr. Alan K. Brown’s classic, “Place Names of San Mateo County”, pg. 42. It is hard to find but if you’re really interested you can find a copyt at the County Historical Association library in Redwood City.

    Same place, same page you will see an “Irish Gulch” named in early assessment rolls but no longer used for the northeast quarter of Section 20 in the Corte Madera watershed. This is just northeast of where Irish had his shingle mill which is clearly shown on the map in Stanger’s “Sawmills in the Redwoods”, page 72. I excavated the mill site decades ago, locating shingling blades, gearing, the main drive shaft off the mill, steam boiler grating, foundation spikes and other gear common to a mill of the era. It was on the north edge of that singular tributary of Corte Madera in Section 20, centered on the north bank where it runs due east/west, on a topo map almost immediately under where the “2” in “20” is for Section 20, located at 1400 feet in elevation. There should still be minor decadent rusted garbage metal there as there is at most former mill sites. If you’re so inclined its at: N 37″ 23.737′ W122″ 19.3340′ using WGS 72.

    One more point. The tree you refer to on MROSD’s Lobitos Creek Trail with the “funky branch”. This tree is very well known locally, is pin pointed on various commercial maps and is shown as a photo on page 144 of Tom Taber’s excellent book, “The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book”, available in most book stores. For some strange reason Tom has named it the “Blarney Tree” although that is not an historical name for the tree at all.

    What you refer to as a “funky branch” is technically not a branch at all but a “limb” and is called a “reiterated limb” or more commonly, “reiteration”. Reiterations occur when a branch has damage to its end and the tree, being redwood, unlike most conifers, has the capability to generate an apical meristem anywhere and in the case of reiterations from the broken branch end, then growing vertically straight up, parallel to the tree’s main stem, hence called a reiteration. It “reiterates” the main stem of the tree. The process transforms from branch to limb when to support the extra weight of the vertical reiterated new stem it creates heavy “buttressing” under the former branch and growing into it, transforming it and holding it up. The buttressing on this particular tree is classic, heavy and angular creating triangulated support for that weight, very much like a cantelever. There are few reiterations in northern San Mateo County and none I’m aware of as big, fine and particularly low down on the tree as this one although up north they are very common in flat-stand forests like Bull Creek, Prairie Creek and Jed Smith–and often much more impressive.

    Lobitos is a marvelous watershed to explore with some great rock formations and impressive reminant old poor quality lumber trees that were left behind and scattered all over it–from its headwaters southwest to its redwood edge, both with feet in the water and trees upslope and out of watersheds. One nine-plus foot diameter tree with a marvelous, huge, crown grows almost straight out of a huge rock up a cliff and within 40 feet of the park’s southwest boundary. Another upslope 10-plus foot diameter tree has a fire column in it from base to its top at about 130 feet, very unique.

    But they were cutting old good lumber trees out of this area as recently as the early 1990s when Paul Tyson still owned the land and you could drive trucks all over it–right up to Bald Knob. While very, very hard to find–in a most improbable place–and I very much discourage you or anyone from trying to find it, the Lobitos watershed also has the twistiest known redwood extant anywhere, a 217 foot tall tree 12.5 feet dbh that does six full circular twists from the deck to the crown. It also has the most total volume of any tree MROSD owns.

    Just a bit down the same tributary watershed from the tree with the reiteration is the tallest tree MROSD owns, one that has its feet in the water and is 255+ feet to a dead top gaining no height. While taller, it isn’t as big as the tree with the reiteration or the tree with the twists because it isn’t so big around.

    Overall Purisima has fully two thirds of all the old and tall trees MROSD owns, although regrettably most aren’t on trails. But as you say, this one with the reiteration is a major trail and close to the intersection of what will become part of MROSD’s “skyline to the sea” trail network, making it a great tree for folks to visit.

    I like that you’re offering people a sort of hiker’s tour of various locations. It is almost like your website is a companion piece to Tom Taber’s book. Keep up the good work.

    • tpmcgee Says:

      Thanks, Ken, for the correction on the origin of the Irish Ridge name and for all of the other details. I very much appreciate the time you took to expand on this post and I’m glad you like the hike descriptions. Now that the weather is clearing and it’s staying light later I’m getting back to spending more time on the trails. I still have a long description of a hike in Portola State park that I need to post and I did several long hikes on Montara Mountain recently that I should write up.

      Best – Todd


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