Cone Peak & Beyond

Cone Peak is the King of the Big Sur Coast and a visit to the region is always awesome. Rising 5,155 ft above the Pacific Ocean in around 3 miles as the crow flies, the summit has a commanding view of the region with stunning coastal vistas. The rugged topography is simply spectacular with a background of deep blue ocean a constant. The diversity of vegetation on the mountain is fascinating, including redwood, grassland, oak, and Santa Lucia alpine forest with the rare Santa Lucia Fir, Coulter Pines, and Sugar Pines. This time, I joined Brian Robinson for a repeat of the Stone Ridge Direct “Sea to Sky” route that I did last Spring. We also added on a very worthwhile extension from Trail Spring to Tin Can Camp. Iinstead of taking the Twitchell Flat use trail from Hwy 1, we took a more aesthetic route from Limekiln Beach and through Limekiln Park to a new trail (currently under construction) that links up with the Twitchell Flat use path in the West Fork Limekiln Creek drainage. Stone Ridge was every bit as amazing the second time around with mesmerizing ocean views with each step; perhaps my favorite route in all of the Big Sur coast. From the top of Twin Peak we traversed the rocky ridge all the way to the Cone Peak Trail which included a couple rock moves on the spine of the ridge. After visiting the Cone Peak lookout, we descended the trail on the north side which was an extremely treacherous ice skating rink of snow and ice. We gingerly walked through this section utilizing any kind of traction we could find. We arrived at Trail Spring happy to be done with that stretch.

After filing up water bottles at Trail Spring we continued along the Gamboa Trail north. This section was brand new to me and I enjoyed the views down the South Fork Devils Canyon and the beautiful alpine forest of Santa Lucia Firs and Sugar Pines. After a climb, we reached the junction with the North Coast Ridge Trail and continued north along North Coast Ridge Trail, entering a lovely Sugar Pine forest near Cook Camp. Beyond Cook Camp, the North Coast Ridge Trail emerges from the forest along a high ridgecrest with amazing views down the wild and rugged Middle Fork Devils Canyon on one side and Junipero Serra Peak (Pimkolam Summit in Native American) on the other side. We made Tin Can Camp the logical turnaround spot and enjoyed the spectacular views from a rocky outcropping. From this point, we talked about continuing along the North Coast Ridge Trail and then Coast Ridge Road all the way to Big Sur, a future project we were eager to tackle. After retracing our steps to Trail Springs and filling up water one last time, we continued along the Gamboa Trail west, one of my favorite stretches of single track in the Santa Lucia Fir forest. We took the Stone Ridge Trail back to the rocky knoll and ~2,100 ft and then the Stone Ridge use path down into Limekiln Park. After the adventure run, I drove out to Pacific Valley Bluff and snapped some great sunset photos of Stone Ridge and Cone Peak.  It was another great day Cone Peak and I’m already planning future adventures on the mountain!  Strava route here.

Panther Beach & Hole in the Wall

North of Santa Cruz near the outpost of Davenport is a stretch of rugged coastline with rocky cliffs, sea stacks, and unique marine terraces interspersed with golden sandy beaches.  Panther Beach and Hole in the Wall Beach are two of these stunning beaches. Both are located just south of Bonny Doon Road and accessed from the same point. The parking area is not marked along the road and very easy to pass. If you’re traveling from the south and you reach Bonny Doon Road and the parking for Bonny Doon Beach, you’ve driven too far. The parking area is actually an elongated gravel strip by the old railroad tracks that is often potholed. 

Once parked, the descent to the beach on foot can be tricky in flip flops as it’s steep and rocky in spots. The extra effort to get here is well worth the effort as Panther Beach is beautifully situated among the cliffs. At the south end of the beach is a rock formation with an arch, known as the Hole in the Wall, that leads to its namesake beach. The only way to access Hole in the Wall Beach is through this arch and one must be mindful of the tides as this entry point can become inaccessible in high tides. Hole in the Wall Beach is equally gorgeous with several sandy alcoves and a distinctive golden hue to the rock walls.  At the far south end of the beach is an impressive sea stack with a large area of rock terraces for exploration in low tides. Look for Jah Beach and Ship Rock in the next post. Here are some photos with the complete album here.

Complete album here.

Pigeon Point Sunset

Pigeon Point Light Station, built in 1871, is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States standing 115 ft tall. It is located a few miles south of Pescadero on a rocky promontory with gorgeous views of the surrounding coastline and Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is currently undergoing restoration to preserve this important heritage site. I have driven by Pigeon Point several times on the way to various trails in the area including fantastic running in nearby Butano State Park and Big Basin State Park via Waddell Beach. After a nice run, I stopped to enjoy a marvelous sunset on the cliffs near the lighthouse. Some of my favorite photos are below with more here.

Many more photos here

Long Ridge Sunsets

Long Ridge Open Space Preserve has some of the best vistas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The combination of meadows and forest on a high ridge overlooking the Pescadero watershed to the Pacific Ocean produces some awesome photography opportunities. Here are some photos from a hike to the Stegner Bench at Long Ridge last summer and a recent run through the park.

Full albums here and here.

Above the Fog on Mount Tam

Earlier in the week the forecast called for blazing sunshine and warm temps for the entire Bay Area over the weekend. Instead most locations experienced a gray weekend as moisture trapped under a strong ridge of high pressure produced widespread fog and stratus. In other words, the forecast was a bust!

However, it was a different story at parts of the  coast and higher elevations which were above the stratus layer that hovered between 1,500 to 1,600 feet all weekend. At these locations, the sunny and warm forecast verified. In search of sunshine I first hiked Black Mountain on Saturday on the Peninsula and then one of my favorite parks, Mount Tamalpais, on Sunday. The classic Steep Ravine-Matt Davis loop was the hike of choice and sunset was from the top of the ridge near Rock Springs. The Steep Ravine-Matt Davis loop showcases much of what Mount Tamalpais has to offer – lush redwood forest, sweeping coastal views, rolling meadows, and fantastic single track. I also recommend an out-and-back along the Coastal trail where the mountainside becomes steeper and the views of Stinson Beach more expansive.  Head out for as long as you desire and return back to the Matt Davis descent or continue on to the Willow Camp Trail for an alternative descent back down to Stinson Beach. From sunbursts, to lush forest, to clear views, the photography along the hike was delightful.

Sunset from the ridge about 200 feet above the stratus layer was equally amazing. Clouds and fog always adds a different dimension to the photography with their intricacy and the fact that they are constantly changing. No two photos are ever the exact same and this is why I call it “fog play”! A complete gallery can be found here. I’ve posted some of my favorite photos below, which you can click for a larger image.

And… there is always a need for a panorama!

Dozens more photos in the complete gallery here.

Above the Fog on Windy Hill

With the stable pattern of morning fog and afternoon sun the past week, there have been many opportunities to rise above the fog. Here are some shots from Windy Hill looking over the San Francisco Bay with the Diablo Range rising above. With all the human infrastructure inside the fog layer I could kind of imagine what this area might have looked like when the first explorers arrived in the Bay Area.


Looking down Spring Ridge with the Diablo Range beyond

Diablo Range above the fog

Rose Peak across the Bay

Panorama II

More photos!

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Sun beams through the fog

Fog is one of the most captivating things to photograph from all perspectives – above, within, or in the “twilight” zone. Photography from above the fog produces a submersion feeling for lower elevations with higher land points above the layer like islands in an ocean. Photography from within the fog creates a mystical perception with unusual light and shadows. After all, sometimes a scene is most intriguing when you can’t see all of it. One of the most rewarding places to capture fog is in the “twilight” zone between the fog layer and sunshine where the tiny droplets of moisture that compose fog or mist cause the suns rays to be dispersed. This effect is most dramatic in the forest where beams of light seemingly descend to the ground from the heavens. Since fog is constantly changing it’s depth and coverage, finding the twilight zone is often unpredictable so those moments when it feels like you are in a fairy tale are always special. Fortunately, there is no shortage of fog opportunities in the Bay Area!

On this day I was able to find the twilight zone  at the 1,100 ft elevation on the slopes of Wunderlich County Park with a fantastic display of light through the forest. Here are some of my favorite photos!

Rays of light

Enchanted Forest


Rays of light

Many more photos after the jump!

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Bay Area Waterfalls!

The Bay Area has many waterfalls in beautiful settings. However, most of them are trickles a good portion of the year. With heavy rains expected all week in the Bay Area, it’s time to think about checking out waterfalls! Here is a selection of some waterfalls I have visited and want to visit. With 21 waterfalls on this list and a relatively short rainy season in the Bay Area, it will take some time to visit all these waterfalls in idyllic conditions.

Jones Gulch Falls, small but beautiful

  • Waterfall Trail, Garland Ranch: This waterfall near Carmel Valley is dry or a drip except for a few weeks of the year.
  • Uvas Canyon, Uvas County Park: Includes five waterfalls along a trail loop in oak woodland. Known as the best waterfalls in the southbay, but I have yet to see them myself and hope to do so soon.
  • Murietta Falls, Ohlone Wilderness: This one takes a lot of work to get to, but it’s apparently beautiful.
  • Donner Creek Falls, Mount Diablo State Park: Flowing off the north side of Mount Diablo, I have yet to see these falls, but I have heard they are very nice after heavy rains when Donner Creek comes alive.
  • Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin State Park: Surrounded by lush redwood forest, this is my favorite falls in the Bay Area. Since it is relatively downstream, Berry Creek Falls has decent flow well into the summer.
  • Silver Falls and Golden Cascade, Big Basin State Park: Located about 1 mile upstream from Berry Creek Falls, these falls are composed of several cascades and include the same lush setting as Berry Creek Falls. The trail also passes right next to the top of Silver Falls climbing over steps cut into the rock.
  • Sempervirens Falls, Big Basin State Park: A small waterfall near the park headquarters worth a visit if you have a few extra minutes after gazing at giant redwoods.
  • Five Finger Falls, Forest of the Nisine Marks: A small ~20 ft falls falling into a cavernous rock formation in a lush setting with (you guessed it) five finger ferns! This small falls flows from a small tributary of Aptos Creek so higher flow is needed, but be aware that crossings of Aptos Creek are required.
  • Maple Falls, Forest of the Nisine Marks: A small waterfall like Five Finger Falls, but in a nice setting. Also flows from the upper reaches of Bridge Creek so higher flow is required for it to look impressive.
  • Castle Rock Falls, Castle Rock State Park: A 75 foot drop over shear cliffs that comes alive after rains. The Saratoga Gap Trail passes above the falls so the accessible view is only from above.
  • Tiptoe Falls, Portola Redwoods State Park: This falls is only 6 feet tall, but sometimes the delicate falls are the pretiest. It’s located in a redwood forest with lush ferns.
  • Pomponio Falls, Memorial County Park: Peterson Creek drops 24 feet into Pescadero Creek. Easily accessible, but might be impossible to view when Pescadero Creek is flowing high.
  • Jones Gulch Falls, Pescadero County Park: Another delicate falls near Pescadero Creek in a sublime setting, this one can be viewed from the Jones Gulch Bridge.
  • Brooks Falls, San Pedro Valley County Park: A tall, thin waterfall flowing off of Montara Mountain and seen from Brooks Trail that is only flowing after rains. There is no close-up view of the falls, which is surrounded by cliffs and brush, but you get a good profile view from the trail.
  • Morses Gulch Falls, GGNRA: This is a hidden falls that is located off Highway 1 and up an unmaintained pathway. I have yet to see this falls.
  • Steep Ravine Falls, Mt. Tamalpais State Park: A series of cascades along Steep Ravine and a small waterfall next to a wooden ladder combined with old growth redwoods make this one a highlight on Mount Tamalpais.
  • Cataract Falls, Mt. Tamalpais Watershed: The most famous falls in Marin County with numerous waterfalls and an extremely lush setting. This is a must-see after a heavy rain.
  • Carson Falls, Mt. Tamalpais Watershed: Near Pine Mountain in the Mount Tamalpais Watershed, this falls is apparently spectacular after rains. It’s on my list to see.
  • Phantom Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore: Aptly named, this falls is usually non-existent. However, after a heavy rain, this 160 ft waterfall comes to life, tumbling over shear ocean cliffs to the beach. It is located north of Wildcat camp and low-tide conditions are necessary to walk the beach to see it. This could be an ideal time to see the Phantom!
  • Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore: An iconic waterfall tumbling from ocean cliffs into the ocean. There is descent flow in this falls even during drier periods. It can be reached in a few miles from Palomarin.
  • Stairstep Falls, Samuel P. Taylor State Park: A small waterfall that might be worth a visit after a heavy rain.

Alamere Falls, Point Reyes