February 5, 2016
The world’s best redwood hike. That is what redwoodhikes.com calls it. And since I love that site and it always steers me right, I had to find out!
(As always, click on photos to see larger)
I slept a solid 8 hours before waking up for a bathroom break, and finding out I could not walk because my surgically repaired foot was in excruciating pain. Nothing like stumbling over your tent lines at 4 in the morning! Eventually I hobbled to the bathroom (the starlit one 20’ from my tent) and then slept another two hours before waking up for good. I slept well, though a full size pillow would be nice (most of my gear is for backpacking, so very minimalist).
So, 6 miles made my foot feel that bad, eh? There was only one thing that made sense to do today: hike 12 miles with 1400’ of climbing! You see, my foot hurts like hell after the fact, and especially after a night of rest. But once I get going, it tends to feel pretty normal – I just pay for it later. Doc says I can’t hurt it – when one of the country’s best foot surgeons tells you that you have to put some trust in it. And so it was that after a stop to admire the Pacific Ocean, I found myself today at Prairie Creek State Park, initially hoping to drive back to the Fern Valley parking lot and do a quick hike of Fern Valley. An earlier landslide (not sure if that was last week, last year, or last decade) closed that road, and so the only way to get to Fern Valley was to hike the aforementioned greatest redwood hike in the world, – and hope my foot survived!
I did the route backwards from the way it is described on the site – figuring that would allow me to shave a mile off the trip if I was really hurting. Thus, my hike began on the approach trail from the park office, soon embarking upon the James Irvine Trail. James Irvine wound its way up and down through a fantastic redwood forest to Fern Valley. On my way back to the valley, I would only see 4 people – the only four souls I would see all day. It was a great hike, not the hardest, but I did not need the hardest today. I explored the top end of the canyon, eventually being joined by the 4 guys I saw earlier. They were making a video for their nonprofit, Intensity Trekker. The President of Intensity Trekker has about the coolest name a nature lover could have – Forrest Snow.
They were a good group of guys and we set off briefly in opposite directions to explore. We each found the canyon to be hard to navigate with the just high enough water levels. If the canyon was busy, I would have been climbing over trees to traverse its length. But I was all alone where nobody knew where I was and in a canyon that I did not know if it was susceptible to flash floods – and so I played it safe and hiked back out of the canyon. At this point, my foot was certainly hurting and I was very happy I opted to use my trekking poles today – or else it really would have hurt. Smart call would probably to have turned back the way I came, the way I knew at least 4 other people were going. One smart decision was enough, and I just could not bring myself to only do half of the greatest redwood hike in the world. I turned toward the ocean, and followed the James Irvine trail to its terminus at the west end of Fern Canyon. Here, I was able to wander back up into the canyon a bit, before my watch got the best of me and I decided to make haste and try to beat the darkness. After all, can it really be the best redwood hike if you can’t see it? Maybe, actually, but haste I made anyway.
The hike called for a mile trek south on the Coast Trail, but as the road was closed and no one was using that part of the park anymore, and as the beach was big, I chose not to hope to find the coast trail on the beach, and opted for the mile on the dirt road just off the coast. It was a nice walk, but certainly harder on the feet than soft forest trails. After that mile, it was time to head inland on the Miner’s Ridge trail. I was thinking this would have been an easier hike, theoretically being on a ridge and all, but it was a pretty good climb most of the way. Or maybe that perception was the product of a very unhappy foot! Not sure which, but I do know it was uphill a good amount. I made good time, at least for half of that 4.5 mile stretch. The last half seemed to drag on, and it seemed like I would never meet back up with the James Irvine Trail, but thanks to the fabulous map made by redwoodshikes.com, I really was never in doubt. I made it back just as the last light ebbed. After leaving Fern Canyon I did not see another soul all day.
A note about the map – redwoodhikes.com makes an incredible map that shows where every bench, memorial grove, set of stairs (with the number of steps) and so many more things that it is really impossible to not know where you are on these trails. The trails are well marked at intersections to begin with, but when you can look at your map and know exactly where you are based on the past set of “stairs” having seven steps, or that you just past the Nathaniel and Margaret Owings Grove and bench, it is a great thing. If you did take a wrong turn and wound up on an unexpected trail, these would be great clues for that as well. Unsolicited commercial over.
12 miles, about 1400 feet of gain, in just over 6 hours. What will my feet feel like tomorrow? I can barely walk now, but my soul feels incredibly refreshed.
An amazingly good dinner at the Good Harvest Café and it was off to bed at 9.
Here are a few more shots that I did not include above.