Friday, September 24, 2021

Deep In the Forest of Santa Cruz Mountains: Hiking at Loch Lomond (not the original one)

Western Wakerobin, Trillium ovatum

Date: April 24, 2021
Place: Loch Lomond Recreational Area 
Coordinates: 37.111114, -122.064768
Length: 5.1 miles
Level: moderate

Last April it was becoming clear that our school district wasn't going to resume in-person learning that year. Frustrated and stresses I kept looking for outdoors relief and looking for new paces to hike at around the Bay Area. 
Loch Lomond is a lake in Scotland. North of Santa Cruz there's a town called Scotts Valley and near it a smaller town named Ben Lomond. There's a large reservoir there called Loch Lomond. Every time I go to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park I pass through Scotts Valley and pass the signs directing to Loch Lomond. Every time I tell myself that one day I'll go and check it out. One day I told my family that the time had arrived, and we're going to hike at Loch Lomond. 
Driving there is quite and experience. After reaching Felton and deviating from the road I usually take to reach Henry Cowell Redwoods park, the road to Loch Lomond is actually very narrow and scary at places. That people actually live along this road makes it all the more adventurous. 
Our hike at Lock Lomond Recreation Area as captured by my GPS

Loch Lomond belongs to the Santa Cruz Water District and the recreation area is quite popular. When we arrived there the lower parking lot was already full so we parked at a higher one and then walked down to the boat launch where the trailhead was. We avoided the numerous people that were sitting by the water there and immediately started north along the lakeshore trail. 

The trail was somewhat elevated from the water line. More like, the reservoir was already draining. A few lazy geese floated on the surface, but other than they, the lake was fairly empty of waterfowl. 
Loch Lomond

The wildflowers display near the trailhead was also a bit dull. After a short distance however, I did get to see, and mainly to smell, the lovely ceanothus. 
Jim Brush, Ceanothus oliganthus

Further down the trail it started looking more like spring, with many more wildflowers, most of which were little undergrowth flowers. 
Pacific Starflower, Lysimachia latifolia

The first segment of the trail, the part that follows the lake shore, was easy enough, with hardly any elevation changes. We walked briskly down the narrow path, occasionally passing other hikers. There weren't that many hikers there - I guess most of the visitors were there to enjoy the water rather than the land. 

The first iris was a surprise. Pappa Quail and the chikas saw it first and called me to hurry up (not that the pant would have gone anywhere had I taken my time). It was indeed very exciting to see it. Later I would see many more irises along the lower part of the trail, yet my excitement would not diminish one bit. 
Fernald's Iris, Iris fernaldii

The forest undergrowth was fairly thin. Mot much light filters through a redwood forest canopy. The bushes that I did see growing there were too in bloom. Among these was the huckleberry, sporting clusters of delicate flowers, similar to those of its relative, the manzanita. 
Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum

The chikas yelled to me again even more excited than before. When I arrived where thery were I saw that they found a trillium in bloom. I was surprised to see it because it was already pretty late in the season for trillium. I though this might have been a straggling individual but sure enough, there were many more of them blooming along the lakeshore part of the trail. 
Western Wakerobin, Trillium ovatum

An opening in the trees gave us an open view if the reservoir. I was dismayed to see how low the water level was. The past winter had been just about nonexistent and this was a sad foreshadowing of the long, dry months ahead. 
Loch Lomond

Awe found a small picnic area and sat down for a lunch break. As always, I was giving much attention to the wildflowers nearby. Pappa Quail and the elder chika scanned the lake's surface for any waterfowl but all they saw were a couple of canada geese. It didn't take long for Pappa Quail to start referring to the hike as "mom's hike" because we saw many wildflowers but hardly any birds. 
Common Pacific Pea, Lathyrus vestitus

There were some mushrooms too, but not the kinds that pop right after the rains. Turkeytail mushrooms are colorful and pretty, though. 

Beyond the picnic area the trail curved uphill and we followed it on the steep incline. At a slower pace I could enjoy the wildflowers while keeping up with the rest of my family. 
Feathery False Lily of the Valley, Maianthemum racemosum

The display of wildflowers was different further away from the lake and deeper in the woods. Seeing so many strawberry flowers I almost wished it was summer already.
Wild Strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis

There were many, many spider webs all over the place. One could think the forest was preparing for Halloween, or something. I love these little web-spinners. Especially the dome-spiders. Their webs look so elaborate, it's amost hard to believe that this design is engraved in their genetics. 

The trail continued up and up, and we ascended steadily and a moderate grade. The trees changed from redwood to fir, with an occasional oak in between. 

I'm used by now to seeing galls on oak trees, but this type of gall I don't see all that often. It looked like it was a nursery for many individuals, I don't know of what species. 

Occasionally the forest canopy would separate a bit to let more sunshine down to the forest floor. In these sporadic sun spots there were the chaparral flora representatives, such as the sticky monkeyflower. 
Sticky Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus

There were also more irises along the trail, and my camera card was filling with numerous photos of these beautiful flowers. I posted one earlier but this iris was showing a different ornament - the empty skin of a cicada nymph after its final molting. 
Cicada Molt

The darker areas of the forest's undergrowth were dotted with lovely, delicate violet flowers. Always a favorite of mine, especially the non-yellow ones.
Western heart's Ease, Viola ocellata

Wood rose bushes were blooming as well, adorned with few, bright pink blossoms, not too many but enough to make a memorable impression. And I wasn't the only one impressed - many pollinators were buzzing in and between the rose flowers.
Wood Rose, Rosa gymnocarpa

When we reached the ridge we found out that we were not done with the uphill at all. The ridge trail was undulating up and down at even steeper grades than the trail we ascended on from the lake level.

Shortly after making the turn onto the ridge trail we arrived at a high point with an open view. There was and old picnic table there, and we soon discovered that we needed to be very careful when sitting on the rotting benches. The view form that place was very lovely indeed. We could even see the lake way down below.
Lake View

Under the full sun the vegetation was mostly chaparral, among which the most dominant was the yerba santa, at peak bloom.
Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

Beneath the larger chaparral bushes I spotted the red woolly paintbrush plants, now called Texas paintbrush. 
We stayed at that view point long enough to rest and appreciate the view and the wildflowers, but seeing no birds, the rest of my family were soon itching to go on.
Texas Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa

We continued on the ridge trail in what felt to us as mostly uphill but in fact we were slowly descending towards the access road. Most of the ridge trail was well shaded. At time it seemed as if we were walking through an enchanted forest from some fantasy book.

As we neared the access road and the closing of our loop hike, the trail entered a grove of redwoods. Had we've been hiking there 200 years ago we would have see all the giants intact. As we were, we saw large sad stumps of what once a proud giant redwood grove. Rings of young redwoods, clones of the logged giant in the middle circled each stump. The ancient forest was renewing.
Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens

When we arrived at the access road, all that was left to walk was about half a mile down the road. Surprisingly, there was no trail parallel to the road so we had to walk on the asphalt and dart to the side each time a car came past us.

Crimson Columbine, Aquilegia formosa

At the top parking lot I left the rest of my family and made a quick dash down the road to fetch the car. I was happy about the hike, glad to have finally made it to that mysterious green spot on the map that had lured me for so long. A nice place.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Emigrant Escape Day 6: Kennedy Lake to Kennedy Meadows

Date: August 8, 2020
Place: Emigrant Wilderness, Stanislaus National Forest, California
Length: 9.4 miles
Level: strenuous

The rain returned that night, tapping lightly on our tent on and off until I faded to sleep. I don't know how long it lasted but in the morning everything was wet but there was not a single cloud in the sky. 

The sun hasn't cleared the eastern ridge line yet and the waning moon was hanging low over the western ridge. I stood near the tent, shivering slightly in the early morning chill, and watched the line of daylight descending slowly down the western slope. 

It felt like forever but finally the sun cleared the mountain.

Almost instantly the air warmed up and my morning chills subsided. Shortly after, my jacket came off. It was breakfast time.

A hawk was perched atop a large boulder a bit higher uphill. I've been watching it since coming out of the tent, standing motionless at the edge of the boulder. The line of sunlight reached it first. A few minutes later it had reached me too. I raised my eyes to see if the hawk was enjoying the morning heat but it was already gone. 
A hawk basking in the morning sun. 

It was also time to cross the creek to get more water, and also to take a closer look at my yesterday's find - the ladies' tresses orchid. I was very excited to see it. 
Hooded Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana 

Energized and happy, we quickly packed our camp and were ready to go. It was our last day in the Emigrant Wilderness and we expected and fairly easy hike - all downhill on a well maintained trail. A nice conclusion of a lovely backpacking trip. 

The willow thicket surrounding our campsite was blocking our sight of Kennedy Lake. As soon as we got out of the bushes and back on the main trail though, we had a nice view of the lake, looking all blue and inviting. 
Kennedy Lake 

Water trickled in little rivulets all around us. The Kennedy Creek had split into multiple little channels forming a mini-delta before spilling into the lake. We hopped easily over these little flows, even with our backpacks on. I was surprised at the low level of mosquitos, which was a very nice surprise and a big contrast to our previous year's trip in Yosemite, where they've eaten us alive. 

We passed the lake quickly without stopping even once at its shores. The land between the trail and the waterfront was soggy and in many places the trail itself was flooded and muddy. Accessing the lake through the mud didn't hold much appeal. 
It sure was beautiful to look at from a distance, however. Looking back I could also appreciate the descent we did yesterday down the basin of Kennedy Creek. 
Kennedy Lake

This area wasn't as rich in wildflowers as the upper region of Kennedy Creek. Still, there were some nice blossoms to enjoy. 

Despite my concerns the night had passed without any bovine interruption. Hiking past the lake however, we finally met the beasts responsible for all the pies we've seen around our camp site and along the trail. They were blocking our path too. We tried shooing them off the trail, but instead of stepping to the side they turned their backs on us and started down the trail. For about a quarter mile we herded them (unintentionally) down the trail when all they needed to have done was to get off in ...  Silly cows.
Not so smart cows.
The meadow west of the lake sure looked like a fine place to graze. I was glad to have passed the cattle, however. There were no more surprises on the trail. 

Did I just say there were no more surprises on the trail? Well, I was wrong. A cute, little Belding squirrel was blocking our path. It did scurry when we approached it. 

For a short distance the trail neared Kennedy Creek. A large horse caravan was making its way to a corral across the water. I figured this would be a place where the horses would be boarded in between jobs. 
Kennedy Creek

Unlike at the higher elevations, there weren't as many wildflowers near the lake and  the creek. The flowers that did bloom attracted many insects, including colorful butterflies.

We settled into a lazy, slow strolling pace, enjoying the brilliant day to the most. In the back of my mind I had the thought of having to drive home at the end of the day, but I didn't feel in any hurry.

Pace by pace the valley narrowed and it's mountain walls drew nearer to us. At the bottom of the northern slope grazed a small heard of horses, probably another caravan animals on leave.

A fence popped between the trail and the creek, yet another evidence that this area was being used for more than just recreation. 
A movement across the fence caught my attention. It was a coyote, and it was heading towards us. Soon it crossed the fence and came close enough for us to get a good look at it. It crouched and observed us for a few seconds, then dropped into the grass and moved to cross the trail and up the slope a few yards away from us. I do get to see coyotes fairly often on my Bay Area hikes but this was the first time I've seen one on any of my Sierra Nevada hikes, and I was very excited about it. 

Not to minimize my excitement of other wildlife encounters. Pretty lizards count as well.  

The trail entered the woods and begun sloping downward at a very mild, almost unnoticeable grade. It was late morning and getting fairly hot so we welcomed the shade of the trees. 
Faster parties of backpacker were passing us on their way downhill. Other, early rising hikers, were making their way up to the lake, wearing wide grins and waving at us without breaking their pace. It looked like it was going to be another busy day at Kennedy Lake. 
Kennedy Lake Trail

By lunch time we stepped off the trail and made our way down to the river to eat, rest, and fill our bottles. It was nice to take off our shoes and dip in the cool water of the creek. It was hard to pull ourselves from the water side and get back on the trail to continue our last day's hike. 
Kennedy Creek

On our way back to the trail I saw this delicate flower, one that only by prior experience I knew was a species of wire lettuce, of the aster family. It certainly doesn't look like any other lettuce I know. 

Near the trail were more aster-looking asters. One can always count on seeing asters blooming almost any time of year, at almost any location in California. They are always a lovely sight to see. 

No doubt those pines that grow in granite cracks are of the most owe-inspiring plants I know. Standing out in beauty and character, I'm always happy to see them on my High Sierra hikes. These particular trees in the photo below were my goodbye trees for that trip. 

Not that the other pine trees lack in beauty. We were walking through an area of more spacious forest where the trees grew mort in girth, and the canopies didn't shade much the earth, allowing the undergrowth to thrive in the sunlight. 

A common representative of that undergrowth was the buckwheat shrub, another lovely late summer blossom of the Sierra Nevada. 

For almost five miles we descended very little. It was only expected that a big drop would come soon. In perfect timing with the slope becoming steeper, clouds that came seemingly out of nowhere started covering the sky.  
Kennedy Lake Trail

The lizards were still in denial, posing on exposed rock faces, waiting for the sun to return. (It didn't). 

The combination of a steeper downhill grade with an increasingly overcast sky prompted us to increase our pace. before long we reached the Kennedy Creek crossing. I paused on the bridge to take a photo of the pretty water cascade below. It was accessible, but we didn't feel like stopping for another creek side break. 

Wild flowers were fewer yet below the bridge, but even so, I got to see a new one (for me). And that was the last wildflower photo I took for that day and the entire trip. 

Past the Kennedy Creek bridge the slope became really steep. As we made our way down the exposed mountain side the view opened up and I had a good look down the canyon of the Stanislaus River, at the end of which was the kennedy Meadows Resort where we were headed.  Somewhere below us, near where the Kennedy Creek confluents with the Stanislaus, was the trail junction with the Relief Meadow Trail we had come up on our first day. 
The Stanislaus River Canyon

I gazed west to the area of Relief Reservoir. I didn't see the lake itself but I saw that it was getting filled. The rain looked very intense and very local. I figured that cloud might come our way too so I nudged my friend along an we kept on downward. 
Local Rain over Relief Reservoir 

All that time people kept coming uphill en-route to Kennedy Lake. It was around that area when I saw the first mask-wearing person of that day (since our second day, actually). All of a sudden I was reminded of the world outside and the pandemic that was beyond the wilderness. My mood darkened. 
The bridge across the Stanislaus came into view. The trail junction was near. We have completed our wide version of the Emigrant Loop. 

At the trail junction I said my quiet goodbye to Kennedy Creek. It was a lovely, and very intense descent of two days from the top of the Big Sam all the way down to the Stanislaus River confluence. 
Kennedy Creek near the Stanislaus River Confluence

The remaining of our hike was along the trail we came up on our firs day. I didn't take many photos now, on our way out. For one, I was already eager to finish. Usually I feel reluctant to return to civilization after a good backpacking trip but this time, as good as it was, I was ready to conclude it. For second, it had already begun raining and I kept my camera covered most of the time. 
The last couple of miles are blurry in my memory. Perhaps I shouldn't have waited this long to write about this trip, but I also thing that my urge to finish had diverted my mind from being in the present during that part of the hike. Either way, we were back at Kennedy Meadows in no time at all. 
Stanislaus River
When we made our final steps into the resort area the rain was really pouring down. We stopped at the resort's store where we got the well deserved ice cream. I left my backpack with my friend at a bench by outside the store and went quickly down the road to the trailhead's parking lot to fetch the car. 

 Thus ended our six days' backpacking escape from the COVID reality. This trip had fueled my mental strength throughout the months to come until my dire need for yet another escape called me to retreat into the desert