Casey and I (Dave) went for what we had intended to be a moderate hike before the party. We went to Pescadero Creek Park, one of the parks San Mateo County runs. It's or or less between Portola State Park, and Sam McDonald County Park, running from the ridge down to Pescadero Creek.

The hike wasn't quite so moderate, and was probably somewhere between 10 and 12 miles, with probably close to 1800 feet of vertical gain. (There are several intermediate trails from Pomponio back up to the ridge, for those looking for a shorter hike, and less elevation gain.)

Almost the entire hike was in redwood forest, with small sections in chapparal, and pasture grassland at the top, near the Sierra Club hut in Sam McDonald County Park. The weather was quite nice, with the clouds burning off shortly after we started, and then drifting in and out later in the hike. Plenty of mist to be seen in the valleys and creek bottoms as the sun warmed things up, which was pretty.

We started at the Tarwater Loop trailhead at the parking lot (the parking lot is also the visitor's parking for the county honor farm). The trail starts down an old ranch or logging road that branches off Alpine road around 1/2 mile or so below the intersection with the road to Portola State park. As it turned out, we saw only 4 people the entire day, the first couple just as we started, the second couple not far before the end of the day).

The Tarwater trail is an old dirt road for the first part, and almost immediately passes what I think may be the biggest coast redwood I've seen, including Muir Woods. It's been substantially hollowed out by fire, which is probably why the loggers spared it.

At the bottom of the Tarwater trail, we took the Pomponio trail all the way over to the Brook trail (some of it within earshot of Pescadero Creek), stopping briefly to check out the Shaw Trail Camp (looks like it would be a nice stopping point for an easy two day backpack between Portola State Park and Memorial County Park). It was along this stretch that we started to see quite a few mushrooms and other fungi; it's apparently a bit damper down near the creek.

Right at the junction with the Brook Trail is a very pleasant little canyon, with a nice small waterfall, and a second creek (Towne Cr) with some rapids. We spent some time there, and then headed up the trail, topping out not far from the Sam McDonald ranger station, and the Sierra Club hut, which we took a brief detour to see (Casey had been there on an ICO overnight, coming in from Sam McDonald). Having once again failed to take the chance to study a trail map (oh oh), we started out back to the car.

After walking a mile or so, I saw a bobcat up in the grass, apparently hunting some rodent (mouse, rat, ground squirrel?) in a burrow. I got some pictures (on the last page of thumbnails), but they didn't come out very well.

On our way again, we saw the sign mentioning the Tarwater loop. The trails are quite well signed, and include destinations, as well as trail names. Except, that is, the brand new trail signs at the junction of Bear Ridge trail and the Canyon trail... Those just marked the trails themselves.

After a short discussion, and my admission that I didn't remember this trail junction from my brief study of the map (I had the Portola Start Park map, which shows the Tarwater loop and some of the Pomponio, but doesn't show the connecting trail), we headed off on Bear Ridge. As it started to drop down the ridge after 1/2 mile or so, we wondered if we might be on the wrong trail. A bit later we ran into a couple who said "well, yes, you can can get to the Tarwater trail this way, by going all the way down to the Pomponio trail". At which point, we said "oops, we took the wrong trail back there, didn't we?". We were quite happy that we had run into them, and that it hadn't been further down the hill! After a bit more discussion about just where were trying to go, one of them said "when you hit the Tarwater trail, be sure to go left and uphill".

After a rather brisk hike back to the previous trail junction (it was around 4PM by this time, and starting to get a bit dark, as the clouds had come back, and we were concerned about getting to the car before dark), we started down the Canyon trail. And down. And down. And even further down. Realizing we were now in for more than just a short climb back to the car, we were pushing quite hard when we finally got to the Tarwater Loop trail again, where it crosses Tarwater Creek.

We did find the source of the name of the creek and trail, because right where the trail crosses the creek, there is a seep of tar/asphaltium out of the ground and into the creek. This was just about sundown, or a bit past, and in fairly thick redwoods. I was tired enough that I didn't even think of taking a picture, and it wasn't until this morning that I realized I should have!

After a brisk climb, we did ultimately get back to the car (it was maybe another 1 1/2 miles, and perhaps 500 feet up), without *quite* needing our headlamps, about 45 minutes after sunset. That left us just enough time to get back to Casey's, shop for the party, and shower, but not, unfortunately, enough time for that big Gordon Biersch hamburger with blue cheese that we had been drooling over and fantasizing about for the last 90 minutes of our hike! Of course, on the plus side, at least for me, we *did* have vast quantities of excellent chocolate, shortly thereafter.

All in all a wonderful hike, and highly recommended, but perhaps without the wrong turn ;). Definitely a great birthday week for me, even if I still have yet to see a mountain lion in the wild.

Pescadero Creek County Park, 13 Dec 2003
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This was looking down from the bridge over Towne Creek, and is the start of the creek and waterfall pictures.

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