Ski Mountaineering

Hiking the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

Sep 15-17, 2017

Reiner Stenzel

This is another private trip report of a hiking trip in the "local" mountains between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. It is in two State Parks, the Big Basin and the Castle Crags parks famous for majestic redwood trees. The trail starts at the crest of the mountains on Skyline Blvd and descends to the Pacific coast. Although there is a net drop of about 2000' there are several ridges to climb which add up to a 2000' ascent on a 35 mi hike. Because of the high population density in the area there are lots of regulations: Camping is only at specific campsites, which have to be reserved and booked out half a year in advance. At the start of the trail at Saratoga Springs there is no overnight parking. One has to start at Castle Crags which adds several miles to the reach the Skyline trail. The best campsites are a bit crowded especially Jay Camp which is accessible by road at the park headquarters of the Big Basin Redwood State Park. We could not get a reservation for Jay and camped at Lane Camp which required a detour via an unmaintained trail. There was no water at the camp. But these observations are not meant to deter from the adventures and beauty of the trails which are best seen in the pictures below.

We were a group of 5 participants, two men. three ladies. My daughter Isa had planned it out, did the reservations, organization and finding the right participants. The one-way hike required a car shuttle, so we first drove to the destination (Waddell Beach), then returned to the starting point (Castle Rock S.P.) and after the trip we did the reverse, each shuttle taking about half a day.

On Fri, 9/15, we started hiking around 2pm. Weather was perfect, no fog, warm but pleasant under trees. A steep and rocky section of the trail was protected by a steel cable like a via ferrata. We had no incidents other than something fell down and was lost for good. We followed the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Travertine Springs Trail until we reached the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (STTS) trail which got us to Waterman Gap by 6:30pm. In the last hour of daylight we set up camp, cooked and relaxed after the 9.5 mi afternoon hike. Running fresh water from a faucet was a relieve.

Day 2 was thought to be an easy one since we had a whole day for 9.8 mi from Waterman Gap to Lane Camp. But there was a 2000' ridge (China Grade) to climb. Since there would be no water on the trail or in camp we loaded up with at least 4 quarts or 8 lbs of added weight per person. We started around 9:30 am, followed the STTP trail to the Basin Trail which got us to Lane Trail Camp by about 4pm. The Basin Trail was not maintained and slowed us down because of many fallen trees. On low trees one has to get on ones knees, for tall trees one had to climb over the trunks on ones butts. But it was more interesting than a perfectly groomed trail. When we arrived there was nobody at the camp. Later two other groups with lively youngsters arrived. We ate early (5 pm) and decided for an early start next day since a nearly 16 mi day was ahead. By 6 pm we went to bed, although it was difficult to fall asleep. It was a quiet night, disrupted only when ripe acorns fell doen on or near the tent.

As agreed upon, on Day 3 the wake up call came at 5 am by total darkness. We had a cold breakfast and were ready to leave at 6:30am, just when we did not need flash lights anymore. At the first trickle of water we pumped our empty bottles full of the vital fluid. We descended on the Hollow Tree Trail which lead to the STTS trail and to Big Basin Headquarters (Jay Camp). There were crowds of people, but also a store with food and ice cream. We has an enjoyable lunch break. We filled our bottles with running water and continued our hike down the STTS. The trail followed the Waddell Creek which had many pretty waterholes but bathing in creeks is not allowed. The hours got longer and the legs began to hurt. But by 6 pm we got our first glimpse of the Pacific with a gorgeous white beach, Waddell Beach, our destination. The mood changed and we were in a high at the end. It was a great feeling to have accomplished the long hike as planned.

After some minimal wash up we drove to the first restaurant at Davenport and ordered a delicious dinner. Then we embarked on our shuttle back to the starting point to fetch my car. We divided the group and gave a ride home to everyone. Although the muscles were tired we all parted in high spirits that we had a great time and accomplishment. My hat goes off to those with health conditions, but persevered admirably.

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