Redwood National Park Adventure
After clearing the snow and ice off the driveway, Apryle and I drove off into the darkness en route to Redwood National Park. After about 8.5 hours and 520 miles of driving we arrived at the Lighthouse Inn in Crescent City, California. Although it was 0300, the night was alive with sounds, Pacific Tree Frog’s incessant chirps set a consistent tempo while California Sea Lion’s barks echoed through the harbor creating a unique symphony. I internalized my excitement and went straight to sleep.
I awoke on January 19th and drove up the unforgettable Howland Hill Road, which steeply snaked up the hillside curving between giant Redwoods. The dusky light was further obscured by a light fog that hung just below the canopy. The trees towered 200 feet above the lush green vegetation which appeared denser than a tropical rainforest. I reached the Fern Falls trailhead and began my first Redwood area run since August of 2011. The trail had a clay-like surface that carved through the forest dominated by Redwoods, Rhododendrons, and Sword Ferns. The waterfall was a worthy destination, but I found myself distracted by my desire to book it over to the Grove of the Titans. I quickly navigated through the forest and back out to Howland Hill Road and continued running up the road to Mill Creek trail. The vegetation hugged the banks of thundering turquoise waters of Mill Creek. Grove of the Titans dwarfed the surrounding trees (which dwarfed the typical tree). The grove was well protected by a metal boardwalk that eliminated foot traffic over the delicate root system of the trees.
Later in the afternoon, we journeyed down to our weekend cabin rental in Klamath and after unpacking we continued down the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway. We stopped at the Ossagon Trailhead and completed an impressive loop around the Hope Creek and Ten Taypo trails. The trail on the north side initially followed Hope Creek up to a broad ridge through old growth redwoods that clearly survived a fire or two in their lifetime. On the southern side of the loop the trail followed Ten Taypo Creek where there was additional evidence of massive trees surviving fire. After completing the loop we took the Ossagon trail towards the Pacific on the west side of the road. This trail passed through Redwood forest before transitioning to Sitka Spruce forest near 800 feet in elevation. After remarking on the interesting tree species transition we descended back to the trailhead and concluded the first day of our Redwood National Park adventure.
On January 20th we started out for the Tall Trees Grove in the predawn hours and had to move a fallen branch from the road to even reach our destination. We arrived at the Tall Trees Access Road and I punched in the gate code and we descended the 6 mile gravel road to the trailhead. Back in 2011, it was the first gravel road I had ever driven on and I remember thinking it was quite adventuresome, but now after thousands of miles on rutted precarious forest roads, I found it well groomed and tame. We stepped out into the pouring rain and jogged down to the grove. We transitioned to a walk to fully immerse ourselves in the experience of the landmark site. It was a special experience to be in the presence of natures infinitely growing towers. Redwood Creek thundered in the distance and provided an apt backdrop to the grove.
After visiting with Tall Trees, we decided to visit more tall trees at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove off Bald Hills Road. This grove was my favorite of the entire trip because of the density of towering trees. They were not necessarily the tallest, but I thought their scattering on the forested knoll provided more visual interest than the Tall Trees Grove. The trail felt more open and the light filtered in to the forest floor nicely. After completing the loop, Apryle went back over the skybridge and I continued down the Berry Glen trail towards Prairie Creek Meadows. Berry Glenn trail was my favorite stretch of trail in the park dropping from 1550 feet at the Lady Bird Knoll to 250 at Prairie Creek Meadows. The 1200 foot drop stretched over 2.4 miles and highlighted some of the most impressive hillside Redwood forest in the area. I crossed the wooden bridge over Prairie Creek and then ascended up to Trillium Falls which was much more impressive in January than when I saw it in August of 2011.
After drying out the clothes and warming up back at the cabin for a bit, we traveled south to Prairie Creek Visitors Center. We walked around the interpretive center and I bought a small Redwood tree to take back to Little Bird Landing. We meandered around the trails and continued to marvel at the quantity of enormous trees even right out the door of the park headquarters. We finished out the day on the beach at Orick Point, south of the mouth of Redwood Creek, where we would have watched the sunset, if the sun was visible.
On January 21st, the third day of the trip, Apryle and I had a big loop planned starting from Prairie Creek Visitors Center. We started fairly early in the morning and were surprised to find that it was not raining. We took the James Irvine trail up to the junction with Miner’s Ridge trail, which reached a highpoint of about 800 feet before descending towards the Pacific Ocean. The trail was swallowed up into a forest of Redwoods, Hemlocks, Douglas Firs with every square inch of ground occupied by Deer Fern, Sword Fern, Salal, and Evergreen Huckleberry. Unfortunately, the rain started as we descended along Squashan Creek. The lush green forest transitioned to Sitka Spruce canopy with dense deciduous thicket replacing the carpeting of ferns. Upon reaching the California Coastal trail at mile 4.8, the sky really opened up and we did not have the trees to shield us from the rain. The landscape was dominated by grasses and sedges that pushed up through the dunes while the occasional stunted Sitka Spruce stood a few feet above my head.
We ran alongside the lapping waves of the Pacific as we headed north towards Fern Canyon. I carried Apryle across Squashan Creek as it emptied into the ocean and then we were forced to wade through a knee deep lagoon in order to reach Fern Canyon. The last time I was in Fern Canyon there was a small trickling stream and dozens of people admiring the wall of ferns. However, this time the trickling stream was a cascading creek with knee deep water and there was not another person in sight. The canyon walls were lined mostly with brown maidenhair ferns, but it was still a beautiful sight. Ribbon-like waterfalls sprayed over the cliff and mosses created a drip wall down to the stream below. An American Dipper sang and bobbed into and out of the water as we made our way eastward through the canyon. We said goodbye to the Dipper and ascended to the James Irvine trail. We were completely soaked from the rain and the creek, but we had 7.5 miles behind us and were ready to complete the loop.
The James Irvine trail followed Home Creek until the path trended upward back into thick Redwood forest. The understory again transitioned to Sword and Deer Fern as we gained the ridgeline above Godwood Creek. The further away from the ocean we got, the less it rained and by the time we reached the junction with Miner’s Ridge trail, we were actually quite comfortable. We finished out the 12.88 mile loop (1450 feet vertical gain) in 3:20:10 and headed back to the cabin to again dry out our clothes and rest up for the next adventure.
Having accomplished the biggest loop of the trip we focused our attention on smaller roadside attractions for the afternoon. We took the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway and stopped at the Ah Pah trail which showcased the importance of restoration work for forest health. Then we completed a short loop around the Corkscrew Tree and the Big Tree. Corkscrew tree was perhaps the most visually interesting tree in the park but Big Tree was one of the most impressive. Big tree is estimated to be 1500 years old and stands 286 feet with a circumference of 74.5 feet. After our hike, we stopped to watch Roosevelt Elk graze at Prairie Creek Meadows and then called it a day.
January 22nd was the final day of the trip and I woke up early to tackle the West Friendship Ridge Coastal California Loop. I started from the Prairie Creek North trailhead and under the light of my headlamp I zigzagged up the Zigzag trail until I reached the West Ridge. Even though I have never actually seen one, I was still a little nervous that I would encounter a Mountain Lion. However, I did not see any wildlife, just towering redwoods faintly visible through the darkness and fog. As I reached the 800 foot high point, (which seems to be typical of the ridge lines here) the forest again changed from Redwood to Sitka Spruce. The light filtered through the fog and moss covered branches of the spruces created a spectacle reserved only for sunrise runs in Redwood National Park. The trail dove steeply to the ocean as I followed Butler Creek and I emerged from the forest right into a vernal pool. My legs sunk mid calf into the mud and I nearly gave up my shoes, but I managed to keep them both.
I planned to run down to the ocean, but the knee deep water and two sentinel bull Elk made me rethink my decision. I continued southbound skirting the forest edge, trying to stay on dry land. However, this proved to be an insurmountable task, I waded through the standing water providing some entertainment for the waterfowl that were floating to my right. Every now and then the trail would touch dry soil just long enough to reach a stream crossing where I would begin wading through water again. There were some spectacular waterfalls plunging from the forested bluffs and I recall passing by three en route to Fern Canyon. After passing over Boat Creek, I reached Home Creek and the Fern Canyon again. However, this time I arrived from the north and skipped going through the canyon and instead elected to take the James Irvine trail on the cliff edge.
From the James Irvine trail, I jumped onto the Friendship Ridge trail which traversed a 2.4 mile ridge with 575 vertical feet of elevation gain. This trail featured the usual suspects, Redwoods, Sword Fern, Deer Fern, Rhododendrons, and Evergreen Huckleberry. I completed the loop when I reached the West Ridge trail and then continued back down to the trailhead. Overall it was a great send off run, capping off an amazing weekend in Redwood National Park. The loop was 11.86 miles with 2034 feet of elevation gain and took me 2:15:22.
Before leaving California, I went for one last miniature adventure at the Crescent City Harbor. Although it was generally an industrial looking inlet, it was teaming with sea life. I stopped at a jetty and observed dozens of California Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks. Their annoyed barks and playful antics made for an entertaining afternoon. As I continued down Anchor Way towards the Whaler Island Rock I picked out a few White-winged Scoters, Surf Scoters, Buffleheads, Common Loons, Cormorants, and Western Gulls. I summited the highpoint (108 feet) of the rocky island and enjoyed views of the seaside landscape and finally saw the Banana Slugs that I was looking for all weekend. It was a perfect way to cap off a successful trip to the Redwoods and California coast.