Archive for the ‘mountain biking’ category

After Work Hike, Tafoni Trail, El Corte de Madera Creek

June 16, 2009

This weekend I decided it was time to start leaving my hiking boots in the truck full time again so I could restart the after work hikes. So last night when I got out of work late I headed up for a short loop in the redwoods at El Corte de Madera Creek OSP on Skyline Blvd. I’ve described ECdM previously as a fairly rugged preserve with a lot of trails with significant vertical changes so doing a short loop in this preserve can be a challenge. This particular hike is no exception, it’s only 3.5 miles total but the last mile is a big climb out from the bottom of the canyon. As before, this preserve is very popular with cyclists on the weekends but mid-week it’s nearly deserted after work.

About the Hike: This particular route hits several highlights of ECdM, including one of the most unique features, a huge rock formation showing what’s known as Tafoni. The Tafoni formation is a sandstone face with myriad lacework pockets that have been eaten away. Look at the images in Wikipedia and you’ll get a better idea but the formation itself is as big as a house. I’m planning to use this formation as part of the geology lesson for our Cub Scout troop so this was also a recon trip in prep for that hike. After a visit to the Tafoni structure the hike heads into one of my favorite parts of the park, not the least because of the old-school memories it holds for me. Back in the old days I broke several bike parts and several Galoot-parts on a now-closed trail known as Carnage out in the north-western part of the park and it’s nice to visit my old nemesis, even if it’s now almost impossible to see. After a ramble along a shrinking fireroad the hike returns on one of the nicest pieces of singletrack MROSD has built, the ECdM Trail and then concludes with a thigh burner climb out of the canyon.

Doing the Hike: Park at the  Skeggs Point Overlook on Skyline Blvd , in between Kings Mountain Road and HighWay 84. Walk northerly on Skyline Blvd (watch for cars) to the CM01 gate for ECdM. Enter the gate, grab a map from the signboard and take the dirt trail (not the paved one) following the signs that point to the Tafoni Trail. About 100 yards in you’ll notice a singletrack trail coming in from the right, that’s the El Corte de Madera Creek Trail and you’ll be returning on that trail in about 90 minutes. For now, though, stay on the Tafoni Trail, which is a patrol route so it’s wide enough for a truck and in pretty good shape. It winds through the mixed Oak and Redwood forest for a little more than a mile before you come to a 4-way intersection. Turn right following the signs to Sandstone Formation and Tafoni Trail. You’ll go about .1 miles and there’ll be a small wooden gate on your right.

Head through the gate to visit the sandstone formation, it’s a very short walk there and back and not to be missed. There’s an informational sign describing the process that created the formation and asking users to stay on the trail, read this and continue on the trail to the observation deck. At one point there’s evidence of people sliding down the hill shortcutting the switchbacks, please don’t do that. Just stay on the trail, it’s very, very short and gets you to the deck every bit as fast and doesn’t damage the hillside. Spend a few minutes checking out the Tafoni formation and then it’s time to head back to the main trail, if you’re doing this after work you don’t want to be caught out in the dark.

Back on the main trail you have the option of turning around and retracing your way. That’s the shorter and easier option, and if you’re familiar with the preserve you can build a second loop into the return. But for more exercise and better scenery, do as I did and continue for just under a mile on the Tafoni Trail all the way out until it ends. The trail narrows and gets rougher as you go along. There are multiple “Closed Not a Trail” signs on the left side of the trail, these are the old-school mountain bike trails that we used to test/wound ourselves on back in the day. Don’t hike those, if you get caught it’s a misdemeanor and you’ll never make it out before dark. At one point the trail passes under a huge tree with an equally huge limb that juts straight out over the trail. As you approach it looks like you’ll have to duck under it until you get close and realize that it’s actually far above the trail. It’s sort of creepy walking under it, the whole thing feels unstable, even though it’s been there for many years.

Tafoni continues to narrow and descend the hill, eventually turning into a singletrack trail that descends into the redwoods to join the ECdM Trail. When you come to the 3-way intersection with the ECdM trail turn right heading back to Skeggs Point and Skyline Blvd. Follow the ECdM Trail as it winds along the shoulder f the hill and eventually descends down to the trickling headwaters of El Corte de Madera Creek. You’ll notice that you’re going down quite a bit and that’s about to change as you reach the first of three bridges across the creek. This part of the trail used to be a mud-bog pretty much year-round but work in recent years has really improved things. Stay on the trail and don’t walk around the wet spots, just walk through them. That’s why you have boots on. Walking around wet spots makes the trail wider and screws up the drainage, your boots will walk themselves clean by the time you’re back to your car.

Climb the sometimes steep and always long ECdM trail all the way up to the trail you began on. You’ll hear traffic sounds long before you reach the top. Turn left on the Tafoni trail and head back about 100 yards to gate CM01. Now walk back up Skyline Blvd to Skeggs Point and you’re done. The hike as described is just about exactly 3.5 miles long and I did it walking pretty quickly in 1.5 hours. There’s lots of potential to make it longer and a few ways to make it shorter if you don’t want the long climb at the end of my described route.


Weekend Hike, Purisima Creek Redwoods OSP

July 6, 2008

I went for a long walk in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve on Friday. Purisima is a very popular preserve featuring a few long trails that descend through some very old second-growth redwoods. The preserve has a rich history of logging and milling, which is sort of cool if you’re into local history. It also can get really busy and solitude can be hard to find unless you use great care in picking your route. Here’s a 13.8 mile hike that will take you around 5 hours and get you away from the the most crowded trails as much as possible.


About the park. Purisima is the first of the Open Space Preserves that you come to when you come south on Skyline Boulevard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There are several parking areas for the park, the largest has pit toilet and decent offroad parking. A bit farther south is a smaller roadside parking area at the entrance to a trail that is actually wheelchair accessible. That parking area also has a potty. These two major parking areas are the source of a LOT of traffic. Mountain bikers are particularly attracted to Whittemore Gulch Trail during the spring and summer. The trail offers a very long semi-challenging singletrack from the skyline down to the bottom of the park. Whittemore Gulch is closed to cyclists in the winter. The Midpeninsula Open Space District has been acquiring a LOT of land in this area, particularly off the end of the North Ridge Trail so hopefully we’ll see increased opportunities for loops and long rides/hikes in the future, maybe that’ll spread the users a bit more. There is a third parking area for the park that is accessed from the Half Moon Bay area, off of  Higgins Purisima Road/Purisima Creek Road and that’s where this hike will begin.


About the hike: Park at the lower parking area marked PC05 on Purisima Creek Road on the Half Moon Bay side of the preserve. To get there take Highway 1 south from Half Moon Bay and turn on the intersection marked Verde Road/Purisima Creek Road. The intersection will also have a sign pointing to Elkus Ranch. You can get there another way but this is way faster and you’ll encounter fewer bikes on the road. The parking area is located at the apex of a switchback in the road and it only holds 5 or 6 cars, which is just stupid but that’s the way it is. Unless you get there very early in the AM you’ll end up parking just off the road like everyone else. Try to pull off the road as much as possible and be aware that there’s at least a small chance that you might get a ticket, though I’ve never known or heard of anyone who actually got ticketed here.

From the parking area, walk in the main trail and pick up a map from the sign board that’s about 50 yards into the park. At the sign board turn left, cross the bridge and take an immediate right turn onto Harkins Ridge Trail. Harkins is a fairly steep climbing trail that will take you up nearly to the top of the preserve. It’s a workout and can get hot in late summer if the fog has burned off. The first quarter of the trail winds through the redwoods and then it emerges onto the ridge top where it gets steep and a little loose. I once led some friends up Harkins on our bikes in late July  when we were low on water. That was 15 years ago, I think they might forgive me in another 10-20 years. Drink frequently and rest when you need to. The top quarter of the trail winds through oak trees and has great views of the Purisima canyon and the Coastside behind you.

At a well marked intersection with the Soda Gulch trail turn right onto Soda Gulch. This is a well-traveled singletrack that begins in open grassland and mixed oak and quickly dives down into the redwoods. It’s a very long and enjoyable wander through the redwoods and can sometimes be a little busy but it’s far enough into the park that it’s usually not a problem. Bikes are not allowed on Soda Gulch but you may see some bikers anyway. Give them a break, don’t hassle them.  There’s absolutely no reason for this to be a hiker-only trail except that the preserve managers wanted to take one of the best trails and give it over to solemn and contemplative hikes. Try to live up to those expectations as you hike this trail. No smiling or conversation, you’re supposed to be solemnly contemplating nature. Try to be morose and worry about your retirement account if you can manage it.</sarcasm>

At the end of Soda Gulch you’ll join the main fireroad in the park, Purisima Creek Trail. Turn right and descend this easy relaxed trail down to the intersection with Grabtown Gulch Trail. Grabtown is a lovely singletrack trail that doesn’t waste any time getting you up the hill. That means there are a couple steep sections but mostly it’s not bad. Climb Grabtown Gulch up through the trees to the intersection with the Borden Hatch Mill Trail.  Turn right onto Borden Hatch and follow it 0.2 miles to the intersection with the Bald Knob Trail (no, I’m not kidding, that really is the name).

Bald Knob was built a few years back at a time when the staff at the district needed to show off for the governing Board. They pulled out all the stops and the result is one of the loveliest and least traveled trails in the area. No visit to this part of the park should skip this trail, even if it is an out and back. Follow Bald Knob out to a 4-way intersection in an open chaparral area. You can turn left and head down to the Irish Ridge trail but bear in mind that a) the trail to Irish Ridge drops like a stone and b) you’ve got to come back up and out to get back to your car. I’d recommend turning around, we’ll visit Irish Ridge another day.

After you backtrack on Bald Knob and rejoin Borden Hatch turn left and descend Borden Hatch. Unlike Grabtown Gulch, Borden Hatch is in no hurry to get down the hill. It meanders around and wanders all over the place on its way down the hill. Eventually, though, the trail will join Purisima Creek Trail, the main trail and the one that leads back to your car. Turn left onto Purisma Creek and follow the stream downhill to the parking area. This stretch of Purisima Creek is likely to have lots of walkers and riders on it, you’re only 1 mile from a parking area. 

When you reach the parking area you’ll have done about 13.8 miles, according to the maps. This hike took me around 5.5 hours moving relatively quickly but not hurrying. There are opportunities to shorten the hike and to do only one of the two loops that are built into this route. If you’re pressed for time either one of these two loops would make a great medium length hike but really you should do the whole thing. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and you will have seen most of the best that this preserve has to offer.

After work hike, El Corte de Madera Creek OSP

June 26, 2008

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?



A lesson for mountain bike advocates

September 15, 2006

Several years ago, I was the president of a mountain bike advocacy group called ROMP, Responsible Organized Mountain Pedalers. ROMP exists for two purposes, to organize fun rides and to convince land owners and park managers to allow or expand bike access to public lands. They do other things like organize trail work groups to help out the land managers but really their efforts are geared towards convincing people that mountain bikers are not adrenaline-crazed jerks who tear up trails, scare hikers, abuse horsemen and eat little children.

The main group that ROMP works with is Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District but they also work with State Parks, County Parks, County Supervisors and other groups. They have all the land on the San Francisco Bay peninsula and they’re only responsible to their own Board of Directors. Our method was to show up at public meetings and try to convince them to let us ride our bikes on their land. And in the course of attending dozens of meetings of various boards I learned a very important lesson and also learned that most people will never learn this lesson. So this post is my attempt to pass along my great insight.

What I learned is that the one thing you cannot ask of a parks board, and the thing that most people ask most often, is for the board to do nothing. Here’s what I mean. (I’ll explain this in terms of a park board but the same thing holds true for your county board of supervisors, city council or any governing body, as far as I can tell)

Typically a park board will be considering who should be allowed to use a particular piece of land. They’ll have their staff (rangers and planners) make recommendations and the staff will recommend whatever is easiest for them to implement. That makes sense because the staff have limited resources and they’re pretty busy already so they try to constrain any new work. Since hikers rarely venture more than a mile from the trailhead the staff will recommend a one-mile loop trail be built next to the parking lot and that the rest of the park be off-limits to all users except horsemen (who are very low in numbers in CA and whom rarely travel far from home because they have to load their horses in a trailer and drive to the trailhead, which is a pain). The staff will do an environmental impact report and spend a bunch of money studying the proposals that they will make to the board. When they’ve got everything all neat and tidy and ready to present, the board will call a public meeting and the staff will present their recommendations.

Now at this point the Board already knows what the staff will recommend since they were part of the planning process and they know that the staff have spent a bucketload of money preparing their recommendations. And now the public comes in and there will be two groups of people: those that are getting what they want and those who are not. The folks who are getting what they want will say that the plan is a great idea and recommend adoption of the staff plan. The folks who are not getting what they want will say that the staff plan is horrible and will ask the board to throw it away and start over or do exactly what the staff recommended against. And here’s the lesson: THEY CAN’T DO THAT.

The one thing that a board cannot do is to go against the recommendations of the “experts” that they hired to make recommendations and to throw away the plans that they just paid a bucketload of money for. They can’t do that. They’d look stupid, they would have nothing to show for the money that they’ve already spent, their staff would quit, and they’d probably be liable for any problems that cropped up later since they didn’t listen to their own experts. And yet dozens (or hundreds) of people will get up and spend countless hours asking for exactly what the board can’t do. This is futile. Don’t do it. Here’s the only thing you can do.

Pick one point in the staff recommendations that you REALLY hate and suggest an alternative. Don’t waste time saying that the whole rest of the plan is junk. The board loves when you do that. They know that you’re eating up the 2 minutes you’ve been granted to speak and they will be free to ignore you. But if you concentrate on one specific point in the plan AND suggest a viable alternative that is more palatable to you there’s a small chance that you might get what you want. And if you get 5 or 6 other people to do the same thing and suggest the same alternative, they might pay attention. At the very least there might be one board member who will suggest that the staff spend time re-examining their recommendations in the light of your alternative. Maybe. If you’re lucky. And the moon is in the right phase.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is a loaded deck and the advocate can’t win. And, you say, I’m suggesting that you go along with that. You’re right. Deal with it. You’re going to get screwed. Accept that and move on. But try to find the one or two things that you just can’t put up wth and suggest an alternative. And you might get something. If nothing else the board won’t be able to ignore the whole public comment period because every person is eating up their two minutes asking that they do nothing, the one thing they cannot do. Heck, our parks boards might even pay attention to the public commentary for a change.

Oh, and BTW, don’t bother pointing out that in the recent case of staff recommendations for a single isolated bike trail in Huddart Park the board listened to the “throw out the plan crowd” and did exactly what I said they couldn’t do. That’s an unusual case in that the opposition had titles like “CEO”, “Founder and President”, “Academy Award-winnging Actor”, etc in front of their names while the pro-bike crowd had titles like “jerk on a hardtail”. That effort was screwed from the get-go.