Day 6 (April 23, 2019 – San Jose, California): “The Big Basin Loop”
It was 5:30am when I awoke. I actually slept in the first couple of alarms thinking that since I had finished the blogging last night, that bought me a little extra time this morning.
However, when I realized that the Hyatt House had included breakfast, which included an omelette bar, I got up on the third alarm and made a scramble to get ready, have a goat kefir breakfast, and then went downstairs for the brekkie.
By 6:30am, I finally got into the car and started the engine.
Julie’s new dashcam threw me yet another curveball when I tried to re-insert the mini-SD card into the bottom spring-loaded slot, but since I had trouble getting it in, the spring ejected the card back down and onto the floor.
With the amount of morning darkness in the parking structure, I decided not to pursue it at the moment. Indeed, this morning was not getting off to a good start.
Anyways, I proceeded to drive towards Big Basin Redwoods. There was already some degree of morning rush hour going on, but I was driving early enough that traffic was smooth until I got off the exit leading south to Saratoga.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time because I saw lots of brakelights and stopped traffic just beyond the off-ramp that I got off of.
The GPS then directed me on some curvy mountain road before it joined up with the Hwy 9. At that point, I then took the familiar curvy forest roads leading towards the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
The drive was smooth going given the light traffic (I couldn’t say the same for those people driving in the opposite direction). And I was even making good time after the one-lane road construction that was going on, where the delay could have easily exceeded five minutes but didn’t on this morning.
Eventually, I arrived at the familiar park headquarters parking lot for the Big Basin Redwoods State Park at 7:40am. It looked like there was one employee just starting to open up shop. So I found a parking spot that I knew would be under shade throughout the day.
Then I walked back to the cashier to pay yet another $10 day use fee.
It took some time to get started because I also had to use the facilities here, and I had to get geared up. So it wouldn’t be until about 8am when I finally started the long loop hike that would take in all the major waterfalls in this reserve.
Unlike 9 years ago where Julie and I did an out-and-back hike taking in all the waterfalls here along mostly the Sea to Skyline Trail, this time around, I intended to hike in a counterclockwise loop taking in the Sunset Trail then the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.
Doing the trail in a counterclockwise manner was recommended by the park employee yesterday. She said the pain of having to get most of the climbing out of the way at the start in the morning when it was cooler would make the experience less painful in her mind.
She did the hike in the reverse direction before and said she wasn’t enjoying the return hike. So that was what I was about to do.
There were lots of trail closures, but it appeared that the loop hike was not much affected by the closures.
Anyways, after getting through the maze of intersections and junctions near the park headquarters, I then hiked amongst the big tall coastal redwoods along the Loos Trail before finally picking up the Sunset Trail.
It then climbed a bit before reaching a ridge near the Gazos Creek Road at around 8:35am. From this familiar spot, I then continued on the Sunset Trail as it descended past a sign saying something about the hike to the waterfalls taking at least 6 hours.
So I was doing mental pictures in my head about how long it would take before I’d be back in Santa Clara. Hopefully, I wasn’t cutting it too close before our 6pm dinner engagement at Kim’s place (Julie’s good friend from university). I had estimated that I should be done at around 3pm, which meant I should be back in Santa Clara probably around 4:30pm or so.
The Sunset Trail ultimately descended towards another trail junction, which I got to at 8:45am. I could see from the detour signs and the blown-up map signs that I would have to take this same trail back to the park headquarters.
The trail descended towards a tiny creek with some tiny cascades. That kind of broke the silence where the odd bird chirping could be heard in the distance.
Then, the trail started climbing before it reached an apex then started to descend again.
Whatever storm or series of storms that came by this past winter and perhaps the prior winter must have really did a number of any trail that skirted the creeks that I suspected must have been flooded.
The higher up this trail went, the threat of mosquitoes had subsided as the trail once again started to dry out.
The climb then peaked and the trail descended eventually made a somewhat long descent towards Berry Creek. I got to the footbridge over this creek at about 10:10am.
As the trail was getting hotter by the minute during the climb, the descent seemed to get into a shaded canyon away from the sun.
And for the moment, the air actually felt cooler once again as it was approaching the Berry Creek drainage.
Beyond the footbridge, the trail then climbed once again, and by 10:20am, I found myself about to leave the relative comfort of the shade provided by the forest canopy and I was now out in the sun for the first time on the hike.
The hike passed by a few wildflowers here and there in this stretch, and then the trail descended back into the forest canopy as I started to hear the rush of water getting louder.
At 10:40am, I eventually got to another trail junction where the Berry Creek Falls Trail and the Sunset Trail made a junction. This time, I left the Sunset Trail (as I wasn’t interested in going to the Sunset Camp) and followed the Berry Creek Trail.
The signage at this point said that I had gone about 5.3 miles from the Park Headquarters.
The trail continued to descend towards the sounds of rushing water. And at 10:50am, I at least got to the source of that sound as the trail descended towards the Golden Falls.
This familiar falls had some blow-out zones as a result of the sun juxtaposed with shadows. So it was a bit harder to photograph than the last time when the skies were overcast.
Nonetheless, this attractive falls was nice to be around, and I even contemplated having a picnic lunch at this spot since I hadn’t seen another soul and I had anticipated perhaps seeing more people down at Berry Creek Falls eventually.
After documenting this falls, I decided to continue on. And as the trail continued descending, I found myself walking alongside another series of waterfalls and cascades in what the map referred to as “The Cascades”.
This featured an attractive series of waterfalls in succession and was probably a bit taller and equally as scenic as the Golden Falls itself.
I documented this feature before resuming the hike. And as I continued along the trail, I found myself right at the top of the tallest waterfall yet, which I knew was the Silver Falls.
The trail actually skirted a cliff right by the brink of the falls, and the descent on rock steps with ropes set up to keep me from getting dangerous close to the precipice, was quite slippery thanks to the wet rocks.
Ultimately, the trail descended all the way to the bottom, where a fragile sign discouraged scrambling to the spot where you get the full frontal view of the Silver Falls. Like before, I went ahead and did that anyways since I couldn’t see another obvious way to get there.
After having my fill of the Silver Falls at around 11:15am, I then followed along a shaded trail flanked by even more impressively tall coastal redwood trees.
At around 11:30am, I saw the first hiker on this trail as he was headed in the opposite direction with backpacking gear.
At 11:35am, I reached a bridge near the confluence of Berry Creek and West Berry Creek (the latter was what the waterfalls I had seen so far had flowed on).
Given the combination of these creeks, I knew that Berry Creek Falls benefitted from both and tended to have greater volume and more reliable flow. That was probably why it was the most scenic waterfall in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Anyways, I’d eventually make it to the familiar Berry Creek Falls at around 11:45am. And to my surprise, I had the waterfall lookout all to myself. There were benches set up along two sides of the lookout platform, and I used that to unsling the day pack and have a seat for a picnic lunch while staring at the beautiful waterfall.
My moment of solitude and reflection was momentarily broken by a trio of people in backpacking gear who got there, checked out the falls, then headed back. And after I was done with lunch at around 12:15pm, I briefly checked out the falls once again before continuing on the hike down to the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.
I ultimately got to the junction with the Waddell Creek Trail at around 12:25pm, and then the trail made a rather steep climb on the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. In one of the switchbacks, there was the familiar bench with a view right towards the Berry Creek Falls in the distance.
One thing I noticed this time around (besides the lighting not being great for photos thanks to the shadows) was that there were quite a few downed trees right at the top of the falls, which I hadn’t noticed before.
I then continued with the climb as the trail ultimately peaked then descended to the Timm’s Creek junction, which had a closure sign.
I got there at about 1pm. And along the way, which followed Kelly’s Creek, I couldn’t help but notice that there were many fallen trees along the way.
So I figured that perhaps this was why they had closed Timm’s Creek Trail.
Earlier on, there was a bunch of mud. But now, there were a bunch of fallen trees.
Whatever flood this area had seen, it must have been quite the big deal.
So onwards I went as signage said I had gone about 1.1 miles from the Berry Creek Falls, and I still had another 3 miles to get to the Park Headquarters.
The trail was pretty much undulating as it was generally climbing. Eventually, I reached some sign that I deemed a “progress indicator” because it showed where I was but there was no connector or trail junction here. I got here at about 1:25pm.
The trail then continued its overall climb as I would eventually get back to the bottom end of the Sunset Connector Trail. I had noticed maybe a handful of hikers along the way to get to this point, and it was a far cry from the very busy trail Julie and I had experienced 9 years ago when I believe we did this hike on a Saturday.
But when I got to the connector trail at around 2:05pm, there was one guy who greeted me, and before I knew it, we were in a conversation talking about the trails in the area as he seemed to be quite familiar with the area.
I think he was checking out all the downed trees at this part of the connector trail, which clearly showed signs of a major flood or some kind of catastrophic event that affected the trees in the immediate area. Again, I could see why they would have closed the connector trail to the Howard King Trail.
Anyways, we were going in the same direction so we pretty much chatted it up on the return hike. We might have seen maybe a few more people going in the opposite direction, and we’d ultimately return to the parking lot at the Park Headquarters at 2:45pm.
The fellow’s name was Paul, and we parted ways once we got back to our respective vehicles. I noticed the parking lot here was full, which I found to be suprising considering how few people I saw on the Berry Creek Falls Trail.
Nonetheless, I promptly got into the car and started driving back to Santa Clara.
The drive for the most part was smooth (except for the odd rush hour traffic on the 101 freeway), and I ultimately made it back to the Hyatt House at 4:10pm. Minutes later, Julie and Tahia made it back to the room as they were returning from their day out.
Julie told me about a scary moment when an Uber driver ran the red light and they almost got broadsided. That would have been really bad, but thankfully, no harm came out of that incident.
We’d eventually get to Julie’s friend’s place at a little after 6pm, and we had a good time over dinner catching up and seeing their place which went through an extensive remodel. It had been many years since we had been here, which preceded the remodel job.
Anyways, we were back at the Hyatt House at 11pm. With everyone exhausted from the eventful day, we slept knowing that we had a lot of stuff tomorrow morning to do.
The plan was to visit Andrew Molera Falls in Big Sur before going to the Pinnacles National Monument. Then, we’d drive home with perhaps a stop in Santa Barbara to avoid the LA rush hour. But we’ll have to see how things go because I started to wonder if the Pinnacles National Monument part of the plan might have to be nixed as that would be too ambitious.
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