Thursday, March 3, 2016

Hiking from Waddell Beach to Sunset Trail Camp

Hiking along the Berry Creek Falls Trail
In preparation for an April two-night backpacking trip along the Ohlone Trail, I've been hiking as much as possible lately. The Ohlone Trail covers about 30 miles from Fremont to Livermore, and is rated strenuous due to the significant amount of climbing involved and the lack of shelter from the elements. I've never backpacked more than one night and have never attempted a thru-hike. I hope this will be the first of many such experiences.

My stiffest training challenge yet came on Monday when I attempted a 15 mile round trip hike from Waddell Beach to the series of falls near Sunset Trail Camp in Big Basin Sate Park. I have never hiked more than 10 miles in one day, and to make matters worse, I was carrying a geared up backpack weighing around 27 pounds. Luckily the trail, a dirt multi-use fire road, was mostly flat and shaded.

Turkey Tail fungi clinging to a rotting log, watched over by non-native Forget-Me-Nots

I was traveling along the end portion of the Skyline to Sea trail that begins near Saratoga Gap, some 30 miles away. Waddell Creek was near my side for the duration, and my surroundings consisted mainly of redwood forest and riparian habitat. Lots of ferns, horsetail, and redwood sorrel lined the wide path, and towering above were redwood, maple, alder and buckeye trees.

Horsetail and alders along Waddell Creek

The trail was very peaceful once I passed Rancho Del Oso, which was buzzing with farm equipment and littered with invasive weeds. I didn't see another hiker until about three hours into the hike on the return trip. While I love solitude, the isolation did make me feel a little uneasy. I kept imagining how I would ward off an attacking mountain lion. Luckily, I had birds, banana slugs and newts to occupy my mind and keep me company. I found myself constantly looking down at the path to make sure I didn't crush any tiny brave souls as they attempted a trail crossing.

A California newt heads for shelter under a canopy of Redwood Sorrel
Six miles into the hike I came upon Berry Creek Falls, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Bay Area. Despite minimal rain over the past month, there was a decent amount of water flowing over the falls. I would love to see it after a series of storms.

Berry Creek Falls
Beyond Berry Creek Falls the trail narrows and climbs past Silver Falls, The Cascades and Golden Falls. This is the most scenic portion of the trail, but also the most popular, so you'll likely be sharing the experience with others. My favorite part was a steep section of damp stairs that climbed right next to Silver Falls, like a mini version of Yosemite's Mist trail.

Golden Falls
Near the Cascades in happier times, before my body started falling apart

The return trip was mostly uneventful, though I seemed to hit a wall with about 3 miles left on the trail. My feet and lower back really started aching and my water supply was running low. By the time I reached the Waddell Beach ranger station, I had registered about 30,000 steps and was about ready to collapse. Luckily there was a beautiful soft sandy beach there to catch me as I crumpled to the ground with my backpack.

Waddell Beach, final destination on the Skyline to Sea trail

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