Skyline to the Sea Trail, February 2004
Casey, to read Pa's version click here)
Around 4 pm Emily came home from work and we hit the road at bit
later. It was Valentines Day and soon we were eating Vietnamese
sandwiches in route to Castle Rock State Park. By the time we
arrived at the parking lot it was 7 pm and very dark. Hiking in the
after dark is strictly forbidden, as it should be, but I chose to ignore
this little detail and after Emily pulled away I was left alone in the lot. With the adrenaline and excitement that comes with
doing something that you are not supposed to do (and that also is a bit
scary) I set off on the 2.8 mile hike to the Castle Rock Trail Camp.
During the hike it came back to me that I had been on the trail
before several years back, although at night, as expected, it was a
totally different experience. Lights twinkled in the distance, way
down in the watershed, indicating human activity that could never be
seen during the day. Areas where the trail was cut through the
sandstone presented a unique challenge, or at least caused me to slow
down. At one point I heard rustling in the bushes and froze,
quickly realizing that was a pretty stupid thing to do since I had a
headlamp beaming brightly on my forehead.
After an hour I arrived at the Frog Flat Camp and found a group with
teenage kids making a lot of noise around a campfire. Kids will be
kids so I moved on to the Main Camp and the loop consisting of sites 18
through 25. Here I found one site occupied with a serene
group of older hikers but still decided to move onto the other loop of
the Main Camp. It was vacant and I slept in site #11.
Although the sites were pleasant, with fire pits and picnic tables, I
can not imagine and reason to warrant going back for the night.
The next morning I awoke and was pleased to find that my Cloudburst
Tarptent was dry both inside and out. By 7 am I was on the move
for I had to hike 3.1 miles up the Saratoga Gap Trail to where I would meet
my parents at the intersection Highways 9 and 35.
|An early morning view of the fog
shrouded San Lorenzo Valley watershed somewhere between Castle
Rock Trail Camp and Saratoga Gap. I found the scenery
especially inspiring since it is the upper end of the valley I
grew up in.
Shortly after the above picture was taken the trail, or rather a fire
road, entered private property and then the road became paved and
remained that way almost all the way up to the gap. I met my parents in the
parking lot, ate a few egg sandwiches my Mom made (thanks Mom!), edited
(threw some stuff out of) my Dad's pack, and by 8:30 am we were on
|I arrived at Saratoga Gap a few minutes
before 8 am and found my parents waiting for me. My Dad had 4 liters of water (about 10 pounds)
in his pack so I made him get rid of
half of it.
|Oh, did I mention Scoobie was with
them. He sure was sad to see us go.
For the rest of the day I set the pace and my Pop followed
along. Although I tried, I couldn't lose the 60-year old
man! Actually, I was walking at close to 3 miles/hour and he had
no problems keeping up. Normally, I don't hike that fast but most
of the terrain was enclosed forest, just like I grew up in, so I saw no
need to prolong the experience. It is also worth mentioning that all the
way from Saratoga Gap to Big Basin Headquarters the trail follows the
road, first Highway 9 then 236. As this was Sunday morning we had
the sounds and sights of motorcycles racing along the road to keep us company, along with the shots from
a firing range echoing through the
In addition to the noise was pollution of another kind, litter.
Since the trail was so close to the road (sometimes below, other times
above, often to the left, and even to the right) trash from cars was
evident. The trail itself was spotless but at times refuse abounded only feet away.
|Here is one of the many places that the
trail crosses the road, Highway 9 in this case. Some of
the best views, maybe "the best" views of the entire
trail occur where the trail crosses the road.
|This picture is taken just seconds from
the previous picture, but on the other side of the road.
If you want to come here please note that there is a parking lot
20 feet to the left.
|This picture is a better representation
of the trail. Next time try to remember to use the parking
|And another representation of the
trail. 90% of the time you are hiking in conditions shown
in this and the previous picture. Better make that 95%.
|Around noon we started to look for a
lunch spot and Pop joked that maybe we would find a bench.
Lo and behold, a few minutes later we did!
|And after lunch we rested. After
the trail started following Highway 236 we had about an hour of
continuous uphill climbing. Nothing to steep, but quite a
bit more than one would expect on a net downhill route.
This lunch/rest spot was after the climb.
|After lunch and shortly after crossing
China Grade we began to encounter large blocks of sandstone that
very much remind one of Sierra Nevada granite. This was by
far the largest.
|Here the trail has been cut through the
Around 3:30 pm we arrived in Big Basin, having walked 15.3 miles, all
of it following roads. Although the day had started out sunny it
was now overcast and occasionally I would feel drops of water on my
arms. As usual, the last few miles seemed to go on forever
although seeing day hikers in pristine clothes let us know that we were
At the park headquarters I inquired about the availability of tent
cabins, on the off chance one was available. Both my Dad and I had
brought tents and I had made a reservation for Jay Camp but with rain
likely a cabin seemed a reasonable luxury. Although I didn't tell
my Dad at the time, I also wanted one for my own personal well being as
I had been walking most of the day with an extremely sore right Achilles
tendon. A few were available and after plunking down $49 (seems
like an awful lot) we were headed to them, "towards Boulder
Creek" the girl told us, "then a sign will tell you where to
After 3/4 of a mile we did reach the sign and went left, but by that
time our spirits had begun to sag. We didn't want to walk any
further at all, much less 3/4 mile. Additionally, we were headed
in the wrong direction so all of the distance would have to be
backtracked tomorrow. I confessed my injury to my Dad and he
responded with a hip ailment. Ahead of us, the road showed nothing
but more road, and it was straight so we could see fairly far. I
took out some of my aggression on a bush with my hiking sticks. To
keep up spirits, I told my Dad that we would have hot showers at the
tent cabins (we could also have had these at Jay Camp) but my mind then
turned to my parents hot tub and I told him so. Still walking, he
reasoned that if Mom picked us up now we would save her quite a bit of
driving, after all home to Big Basin was about 30 minutes while home to
Waddell Beach was over an hour.
Still walking and talking we developed our excuses even
further. We had both been on the remaining bit of the trail
before, seen the falls, etc. Cutting it short would mean missing
nothing, except a good nights sleep at home. We could drive to
Waddell Beach anytime and ride bikes, lock them up, then walk the rest
of the way to the falls (I have done this before and recommend it over
any other method to see the falls). The trail was just a walk
through the redwoods, no different than a walk around the house.
By this time it didn't matter who said what, the other agreed.
Finally we made another turn and the tent cabins came into view but our minds were made up and we were looking not
for our cabin but a pay phone. The camp host didn't have one and
someone camped at another cabin told us we would have to go back to the
park headquarters. The look on my poor Dad's face was more than I
could bear. He had been a perfect trooper, but now we had to walk
all the way back. I sat him down at a picnic table, made him some
Gatorade, and told him to rest and walk back when he was ready.
Then I took off and made a bee line for the phones.
On the second ring my Mom picked up (I don't believe in God, but
"Thank God"). Seconds later the situation was explained
and she was on her way. With that out of the way I went to get a
refund for the tent cabin but found the gift shop closed. What the
f**k, it wasn't even after 5 pm yet. I also wanted to have an
espresso waiting for my Dad but the snack shop was closed as well.
|And here we are in Big Basin!
Ready to pile in the car and go home instead of hiking to the
sea the following day.
Not much later Pa showed up and within 20 minutes my Mom arrived,
with Scoobie of course. I had to know, so we drove from the
headquarters to the tent cabin and back to headquarters. Would you
believe it was 4 miles?, we didn't. That means we had covered 19.3
miles that day. All of it either within 20 yards of a road or on a
road, plus, I had gone an extra 3.1 miles before meeting my parents.
To summarize, before ever going on this hike I suspected I wouldn't
like it. I only went because it was a three day weekend and Emily had to work the
entire time (plus, my Mom volunteered to pick me up so a car
shuttle was not required). As I expected the trail was
uninspiring, but I you must realize I grew up in a log cabin surrounded
by a redwood forest so it was not in the least bit exotic. Castle
Rock is nice, and so is Big Basin, as is Waddell Creek, but for me they
are day destinations. Sleeping in a tent in the redwoods (and paying
for it) when I could be sleeping in the redwoods in my parents house
just doesn't make sense to me; it's like someone from Hawaii vacationing
in the Caribbean. Of course, the next day I wished I
hadn't given up, but only because when I set goals I like to keep them,
even if they are a bit stupid in the first place.
(click here to read Pa's version)
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