Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is tucked into the northern California coastal range a couple miles outside the town of Guerneville and the Russian River. Located an hour and a half from San Francisco, Armstrong is one of the best displays of old growth redwoods within a day trip of the City. Seasonal Fife Creek runs through the grove at an alluvial flat, the hallmark of many of the most impressive stands of old growth redwoods. Having recently visited the best redwoods in the world along California’s far north coast, I had limited expectations but was pleasantly surprised. While Armstrong is not as impressive as the groves to the north, the character of the forest more closely resembles the giant forests in Humboldt than redwood parks to the south like Muir Woods or Big Basin. Moreover, Armstrong sees a tiny fraction of the number of visitors that swarm Muir Woods National Monument on any given day. In addition to not being a tourist fiasco, the grove at Armstrong is objectively more impressive with larger trees and greater concentration of big trees when compared with Muir Woods. However, unlike Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the grove at Armstrong is relatively small and one is hard pressed to find more than a couple miles of trail underneath redwoods in this park. Within a couple hundred vertical feet above the canyon floor, the forest landscape at Armstrong quickly changes to oak woodland and Douglas fir. By comparison, Big Basin features dozens of miles of trails to explore underneath redwoods and one can find solitude in the redwoods. For a bona fide redwood trail run, Armstrong will likely not satisfy, but the very pleasant grove serves as a great starting point for the trails connecting into the beautiful backcountry of Austin Creek Recreation Area (covered in the next blog post).
As always, I have many great ideas for adventure runs in the Sierra. Listed below are twenty potential trips organized from South to North. Most of these ideas are rather obscure, but the high Sierra is filled with hidden gems and I expect all of these will not be lacking in outstanding scenery and route quality. Hopefully I’ll get to several ideas this summer! All photos by me from last year’s adventures.
- Triple Divide & Glacier Ridge Loop via Wolverton: I’ve scoped out a big loop with big views. The route starts with the Pear Lake Trail up to the Tablelands and Big Bird Peak followed by a high traverse to Coal Mine Pass and across granite slabs to Glacier Ridge. From Glacier Ridge, another crossing of the granite slabs leads to Lion Lake Pass and a scamble of Triple Divide Peak. The descent is through Lion Lake and Tamarack Lake, ultimately down to the High Sierra Trail. I described the loop in one direction although it might make more sense to do the run reverse with the High Sierra Trail portion first thing pre-dawn.
- Tyndall & Williamson: Double the fun for these two fourteeners via Shepherd’s Pass and Williamson Bowl.
- Mount Rixford, Dragon Peak & University Peak: These all look like fun peaks to ascend. Mount Rixford, with its position west of the crest, is a particularly good viewpoint. Dragon Peak looks impressively rugged from the Rae lakes Basin.
- Arrow Peak and Bench Lake: An adventure via Taboose Pass that has been on the list for many years, but I haven’t made it out yet to see the classic Sierra view of Arrow Peak from Bench Lake.
- Observation Peak and Amphitheater Lake: A remote part of the range also accessed via Taboose Pass. Observation Peak is apparently aptly named as it is a great spot to observe the Palisades.
- Josephine Lake: Rarely visited lake tucked in below Glacier Ridge with views to Mount Brewer, South Guard, and North Guard entailing a steep scramble from Cloud Canyon.
- Split Mountain: Another fourteener on the list.
- Palisade Circumnavigation & Palisade Basin: A great route around the most rugged and alpine region of the High Sierra with lots of arduous talus travel.
- Sky Haven & Cloudripper: Just for the tremendous views of Palisades and hopefully an overnight stay for sunrise. Access via South Lake.
- Mount Reinstein, Lake 10,232 and Goddard Creek Valley: This loop comes in around 50 miles and looks stunning, passing through some of the most remote and wild terrain in the Sierra.
- Ionian Basin, Scylla & Hansen: Accessed via Sabrina Basin, this region is near Muir Pass and the JMT, but far away from the beaten path and features spectacular peaks and many high lakes amid one of the most rugged and strikingly desolate settings in the High Sierra.
- Charybdis & Black Giant: Two more peak in the Ionian Basin. Perhaps I will combine climbs of these peaks with objectives described immediately above and make it a single night fastpacking outing.
- Bench Valley: Another western approach to the LeConte Divide, featuring a string of remote high alpine lakes off-trail.
- Evolution Loop: In order to lower the FKT on this 55 mile horseshoe loop, it looks I’m going to have to curtail my photography substantially from the 300+ photos I took last time. Last time I did the horseshoe loop from north to south, but I’m wondering if south to north is actually faster. The argument for south to north is that most of the steep climbing is completed earlier rather than later, which may work better for me as I’ll be able to attack the long and at times steep climb out Pate Valley to Muir Pass early in the route. Despite it being a long uphill slog from the JMT junction to Piute Pass, it’s fairly gradual and I think most of it is runnable for me if I’m feeling good at that point in the run, whereas the climb from Pate Valley to Bishop Pass is too steep for any running late in the run. I also like the idea of running down through Evolution Basin and Valley. Finally, the South Lake trailhead is also marginally higher by about 500 feet. I guess I’ll have to find out if south to north is faster!
- Volcanic Ridge: Easily the best view of the Minarets and another candidate for an overnight bivy to view sunrise and early morning light. Access via Devils Postpile and fantastic scenery including Minaret Lake, Cecile Lake, and Iceberg Lake.
- Rodgers Peak: Accessed via Silver Lake, this is a fairly remote major peak in the region and looks awesome from many of the surrounding mountains, therefore spurring interest.
- Northern Yosemite 50: Classic loop route all on trails from Twin Lakes, including the Benson Lake riviera, a close view of Matterhorn Peak and Sawtooth Ridge, glacially sculpted Matterhorn Canyon, and the lovely Peeler Lake and Smedberg Lake. I first ran this route in 2011, documented here. The complete loop is close to 50 miles, although a short cut via Ice Lakes Pass (off-trail) would shave off some miles and elevation gain to Mule Pass.
- Stubblefield Canyon and Stubblefield Lake: Remote spot in Northern Yosemite for some fun explorations.
- Cherry Canyon and Boundary Lake: In Emigrant Wilderness, this area is characterized by smooth granite and clear lakes. A good route for earlier in the season when snow covers higher terrain.
- Desolation Seven Summits: The same trip as last year, with the exception of taking the trail to Gilmore Lake from Dick’s Pass (instead of the off-trail segment on the ridge) and including Mount Ralston on the way out. With proper hydration and route knowledge I imagine this loop can be done in under 10 hours without too much trouble.
The focus of the recent north coast trip was the redwood parks in far northwest California, but it was hard to resist visiting a couple famous redwood groves in Humboldt Redwoods State Park on the way back to the Bay. The groves we visited included the Rockefeller Forest, and perhaps one of the most famous and visited redwood groves in existence, the Founders Grove. The two groves are quite different in character with the Rockefeller Forest a bit darker, both in terms of overall light and the darker reddish tone of the bark on the redwood trunks. A high overcast layer provided filtered sunshine that made for decent photography.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park in general is a fantastic location for trail running objectives. The park encompasses over 53,000 acres, and 17,000 acres of those acres are pristine old growth redwood forest. There are over 100 miles of trails to explore passing through various habitats. For flatter trail runs, the Bull Creek Trail (both south and north), Big Tree Trail, Homestead Trail and the River Trail are great options. You can literally run near the banks of Bull Creek or the South Fork of the Eel River for dozens of miles, all under old growth redwoods. Note that accessibility to the River Trail and South Bull Creek Trail is very limited in the winter and spring months when seasonal bridges across Bull Creek are removed. For some vertical, the Peavine Ridge-Thornton-Look Prairie Loop is a great option with varied terrain and foliage as the forest shifts from redwood to primarily douglas fir woodland. The Johnson Camp Trail and Grasshopper Trail provide access to the summit of 3,379 foot Grasshopper Peak with panoramic views of the Humboldt basin. As to be expected, the redwoods are primarily in the lower lying areas near the rivers and streams so any trails with substantial ascent will transition to a non-redwood forest. I look forward to returning to Humboldt Redwoods and exploring more of its awesome trails.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is the northernmost of the primary redwood parks. Located just outside Crescent City, it is relatively undeveloped and contains a fraction of the trail mileage of Prairie Creek or Humboldt. However, what it lacks in trail infrastructure is outweighed by arguably the most scenic display of old growth redwoods in existence making it well worth a visit. Considered by many to be among the best old growth hikes, the Boy Scout Tree Trail was our destination for a run. As an out-and-back ending at a fern waterfall that is nice but not extraordinary, the value in this run was not the destination, but the process of getting there.
The trailhead for the Boy Scout Tree Trail head is midway along Howland Hill Road, which is a spectacular drive along a narrow dirt road lined with giant redwoods the entire way. Once on the trail, the impressive redwoods keep coming. The understory is almost exclusively low lying ferns providing unusually good visibility through the forest and the layers of giant trees are reminiscent of pillars in a cathedral. I tried to capture the setting as best as I could with a camera, but the sheer size and grandeur of these trees is impossible to truly comprehend without visiting in person. All told, the round trip for the Boy Scout Tree Trail is only about 5.3 miles, but several miles of extensions can be peiced together along the Mill Creek Trail, Hiouchi Trail, and Hatton Trail, most of which is under old growth redwood forest. I look forward to running these trails next time!
After enjoying the Boy Scout Tree Trail, we continued down Howland Hill Road to the beautiful Stout Grove, where we toured more awesome redwoods. Back at Crescent City, we made a few side trips to the coast, including the photogenic Battery Point Lighthouse and the scenic beach at False Klamath Cove. On the way back south, we merely passed through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. So much to see, so little time. I’ll definitely be returning to Del Norte to explore the Damnation Creek Trail and other sections of the rugged Coastal Trail that I did not have time to visit on this occasion.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is simply amazing. Miles of ancient old growth redwoods, Roosevelt elk grazing in meadows, and unfettered sandy beaches create a primeval setting. Nowhere else can one find such an extensive and continuous stand of old growth redwoods in pristine condition. This park offers a glimpse of what the entire north coast of California once looked like before logging. I’m glad conservationists existed in an era of extraction and destruction with the foresight and wherewithal to set aside such a glorious forest from ax and saw. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this park is a fern canyon with seven types of ferns draped over 50 foot walls creating a lush hanging garden. With 75 miles of trails to explore, Prairie Creek is a paradise for trail runners. The trails range from well groomed paths such as the Prairie Creek Trail and James Irvine Trail, to very technical and arduous single track including the Rhododendron Trail and West Ridge Trail. What all of the trails share is spectacular scenery, most of which is under towering old growth redwoods with a remarkably lush understory. I found it interesting that the Sequoia sempervirens along the far north coast appear to have a grayish bark versus the reddish brown bark common among the subspecies further south.
During our visit to the north coast, I was able to do three runs through the park and in the process I covered a good chunk of the trail network, which is split fairly evenly by the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway that runs the length of the park from south to north along Prairie Creek. Perhaps the best loop in the park, and arguably the best redwood hike in the world, is the Miner’s Ridge and James Irvine Loop, which passes through all facets of the park – prairies, old growth redwoods, beach, and the fern canyon. The loop is about 12 miles long and it’s a very runnable and enjoyable trail run (route on Strava) with under 1,700 ft of elevation gain, no steep climbs, and relatively non-technical compared to many of the other narrow and root-strewn trails in the park. Just before leaving the coastal area to enter fern canyon, we spotted a group of elk grazing on the prairie with ideal afternoon lighting. Fern Canyon is simply awesome and we were lucky to have the canyon all to ourselves. I look forward to returning in late spring when the ferns in the canyon are at their peak of green vibrancy.
The second run I did was around a 20 mile loop and included some of the trails on the eastern side of the parkway (route on Strava). Foothill Trail and Brown Creek Trail were both moderate while Rhodedendron Trail was challenging with narrow, technical single track and steep climbs. Next time I would like to run the entire length of the Rhododendron Trail, hopefully coinciding with peak Rhody blossoms. Crossing over the parkway to the westside, I ascended up to the West Ridge Trail and then down to the coast for a nice run along the coastal prairie with more elk sightings and two surprise waterfalls tumbling off the coastal bluffs in a very lush setting of moss and ferns. I finished the loop with another walk through fern canyon (this time with different lighting) and then the awesome James Irvine Trail back to the campground area in Elk Meadow. The third and final run in Prairie Creek included a run up and along West Ridge with a return via Prairie Creek (route on Strava). The West Ridge trail is technical and will keep your focus down on the trail instead of up at the redwoods, but nonetheless an amazing tour along the ridge and super fun for technical single track aficionados. The upper part of the Prairie Creek trail is more singletrack before opening up onto an improved gravel trail for the final couple miles back to the park headquarters. As a big fan of redwoods, it was a real treat to spend a couple days in Prairie Creek and I look forward to returning here for further explorations!
I had a great visit to Badger Pass at New Years so I was excited to return for a new objective – Ostrander Lake, Horse Ridge and Buena Vista Peak (see Glacier Point XC ski here and Dewey Point Snowshoe here). This is a fantastic route with stupendous views. The total mileage was 26.5 miles according to GPS (Strava route here, and first 4.2 miles here).
We stayed at Mariposa the night before and drove into the park with great anticipation as skies were clear and fresh snow coated the fir trees. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and breakfast snacks at the Badger Pass lodge before setting off down the Glacier Point Road at 8:30 a.m. I strapped on the microspikes for this four mile stretch which helped with traction while running. At the junction with the Bridalveil Creek trail, I switched to snowshoes and soon turned onto the Horizon Ridge trail. I was the first to travel this trail in several days, but the prior tracks were still easy to follow. While it was still only 10:00 a.m. the sun exposure on Horizon Ridge was already making it feel hot. Some sections of snow were getting thin, manifesting the warm nature of this ridge. As I ascended up Horizon Ridge proper, views of Yosemite opened up, including a fantastic and unique angle on Half Dome and Mount Starr King. I took photos from the top of Horizon Ridge and then descended to the junction of Bridalveil Creek trail (which I would descend). I continued up for 1.5 miles to the Ostrander Hut. I had passed a large group of skiers departing the hut and their turns in the powder were evident on the slopes above Ostrander Lake.
Continuing beyond Ostrander, the climbing became steeper on the final slopes approaching the summit of Horse Ridge. The breezes also began to pick up near the summit. Horse Ridge is a fascinating escarpment feature. It’s quite long and the ridge is a tale of two sides: the north side has a consistent cliff drop and steep open slopes below while the south side is gentle sloping with a forest of large trees. I enjoyed the panorama from Horse Ridge, including Half Dome, Tuolumne area peaks, the Clark Range, Buena Vista Crest, and even distant peaks like Mount Conness and Tower Peak. I gazed over at Buena Vista Peak as I checked my watch and figured I had enough time to at least attempt to reach Buena Vista so I set off down the south forested side of Horse Ridge. I soon found myself at a saddle between Horse Ridge and Buena Vista. It began to feel like true wilderness on this side of Horse Ridge since few people venture beyond Horse Ridge’s summit. I began climbing up the open slopes of Buena Vista with views opening up once again. The climbing was pretty straightforward until I reached the point where I had to access the northwest ridge of Buena Vista. Here the snow became step and icy for a small section and an ice axe would have been beneficial. A few steps later I was happy to be on the ridge snowshoing up the final part of the ridge to the summit. All in all, it took a little over an hour to go from Horse Ridge to Buena Vista Peak.
Buena Vista Peak is aptly named with a magnificent 360 degree view. The panorama also includes a impressive views of Gale Peak and Sing Peak on the southern border of the national park. In addition, there was a great vista of the high Sierra to the south including the evolution area of Mount Goddard and Mount Darwin. On the way down from Buena Vista, I went further down the northwest ridge before angling off which was an easier route and retraced my steps down to the saddle and then up to Horse Ridge, taking many photos along the way. On the way down from Horse Ridge, Half Dome was uniquely photogenic with a tongue of clouds surrounding its lower slopes. After some snacks at Ostrander Hut, I made my way down to the Bridalveil Creek trail. This route felt much longer than Horizon Ridge, partly because it is in fact 1.5 miles longer, and also because it’s quite monotonous meandering through the woods with not much to look at. I finally reached the Glacier Point Road and traded snowshoes for microspikes for the last 4.2 miles. I soon caught up to Erica and we traded photos before making the last push to the car. We both made it back to Badger Pass before dark with big smiles, extremely satisfied with the day’s adventure (Erica made it to Ostrander Hut for a 19.5 mile snowshoe).
I had a great memories of a climb of Winter Alta in 2011 so I was excited to come back and this time I ventured further to remote Moose Lake (see route on Strava here). The view from Winter Alta is simply outstanding. Overlooking Moose Lake and the Great Western Divide, it seems as if the entire range is at your feet. At around 10,500 feet in elevation, Moose Lake is one of the largest high alpine lakes in the region. Nestled in a shallow bench, the lake is well above tree line which provides an unobstructed view of a large portion of the Great Western Divide and Black Kaweah. The panorama of Moose Lake and all the peaks in the background is one of the greatest in all of the High Sierra. Complete photo album here.
This area is accessed via the Pear Lake ski hut and a marked winter trail from Wolverton. The path from Wolverton to the ski hut is challenging for a snowshoe hike with lots of elevation gain but well worth the efforts. The slopes near the hut are fairly popular with backcountry skiers, but I found few tracks beyond a couple hundred feet above the hut and no tracks beyond Winter Alta. Prior to summiting Winter Alta, I decided to continue further along the Tablelands to Moose Lake. The lake is about 850 feet below 11,328 foot Winter Alta which apparently deters most people from visiting. The snow conditions on this day oscillated between a stable crust and deep powder, but overall not bad for efficient progress. I made my way down some moderately sleep slopes and soon found myself walking across the tundra that is a frozen Moose Lake. I crossed the lake at its center and my poles hit a solid ice platform about a foot and half underneath the top of the powder. From the far end of the lake, I admired the view down the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, the Kaweah Gap area, and the line of peaks that stretched as far as the eye could see.
I recrossed the lake at a different point and headed up for the summit of Winter Alta taking many photos and video clips along the way. Calm conditions on the summit provided an incentive to stick around and enjoy the scenery for a bit. Once I packed up, the descent went fast and I decided to come down through Pear Lake. After some moderately steep (but soft) slopes, I was on top of frozen Pear Lake, which is located in a rugged granite cirque beneath the Alta Peak massif. After some more photography and video, I headed down the slopes to the Pear Lake ski hut and started my return to Wolverton. This proved to be another fantastic snowshoe outing in Sequoia National Park! I look forward to coming back and exploring further along the Tablelands in the winter, perhaps all the way to Big Bird Peak for views down to Big Bird lake and closer views of the Great Western Divide.
After wrapping up 2012 with an amazing skate ski to Glacier Point, we started 2013 with a classic snowshoe hike to Dewey Point, one of the most magnificent views of Yosemite Valley any time of the year, but especially breathtaking in the winter. Along the way to the point we encountered a winter wonderland in the forest and meadows with countless picturesque scenes. At Dewey Point, we marveled at the snowy view of the Yosemite high country and the colossal granite cliffs of El Capitan immediately across the Valley. From a small point, I gazed down nearly vertical cliffs to the Wawona Tunnel and Meced River nearly 3,000 feet below. On the way to Dewey Point we took the Dewey Ridge trail and on the way back we utilized Dewey Meadows and then the old Glacier Point Road to make for a nice loop (route on Strava). Complete photo here.
I have wanted to do the cross country ski to Glacier Point in the winter every since I heard about it a couple years ago. Despite being eager to go last winter, it never materialized due to lack of snow. This year would be different. After several feet of snow fell in the second half of December conditions were prime and the weather looked great over New Years Eve and Day. The Glacier Point winter trip starts at the family ski area at Badger Pass. Snowhoes and xc skis (both classic and skating) can be rented at the Badger Pass nordic center starting at 8:30 am (to be returned by 4 pm for single day rates). The route to Glacier Point and back from Badger Pass is 22.5 miles by my GPS watch and posted on Strava (the actual Glacier Point is a short walk from the end of the groomed track at the ski hut). We decided to go fast and light and make it a day trip. Despite my lack of experience with skate skiing, I was able to pick up the motions enough to make decent progress and even allow for some time to relax and enjoy the view at Glacier Pint. Total moving ski time around 4:08 and round trip in 5:40. Complete photo album here.
After driving the snowy road to Badger Pass, I arrived at the door step of the nordic center at 8:30 am on the nose (just as they were opening) and I soon had rented the skis for the day. The day was sunny but cold, but skate skiing is an intense physical activity so I warmed up nicely. The track had just been groomed and was in pristine condition as I was among the first to ski today. This was only my second time skate skiing and my form left much to be desired at the beginning expending much more energy than necessary. Despite this, we made decent progress up the long hill to the pass near Illilouette Ridge with occasional magnificent views of the Clark Range. From the pass it was largely downhill with a thrilling decent into Glacier Point as the jaw-dropping view of Half Dome suddenly appears. Glacier Point is spectacular in the winter and this was a magical day with clear, crisp conditions and relatively fresh snow coating everything. We marveled at the views and the beauty that is Yosemite. On the way back we stopped at Washburn Point for more stellar views. The way back was a bit of slog with the uphill portions at the end, but my form was improving making it relatively easier. Working against me was the fact that cross country is about as taxing as running on uphills. It felt pretty good to cover 22.5 miles on only my second time on skate skis. It seemed as if not many people make the trek to Glacier Point and back in a single day, instead opting to stay at the pricey ski hut (where meals and water are provided) or snow camp somewhere in the vicinity of Glacier Point. If you are opting for the day trip, skate skiing is definitely the way to go. The Glacier Point winter trip was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again! Complete photo album here.
I have visited Point Reyes National Seashore many times over the years, but each time I leave inspired by the amazing scenery and look forward to the next exploration. This time I did a loop out of Bear Valley that I have done in the past, but in the reverse direction to best accommodate the day’s tides. This loop hits virtually all the coastal highlights of the south district of the park, including Alamere Falls, Wildcat Beach, Arch Rock, Kelham Beach, Sculptured Beach and Secret Beach. In addition, the inland trails traverse through lush Douglas fir forest with sweeping panoramic views achieved on the slopes of Mount Wittenberg. Access to Secret Beach via Sculptured Beach and Kelham Beach via Arch Rock both require low tides so the route must be designed accordingly. As to be expected, we encountered excellent tidepooling at Sculptured Beach with bountiful anemones, sea stars and mussels. Secret Beach features an immense natural amphitheater and a pristine stretch of coastline. Some of my favorite photos from this outing are below. A GPS map of the route is here. Complete photo album here (photos of me by Joel Lanz).
Complete photo album here.