Home > Uncategorized > Skyline to the Sea Backpacking Trip

Skyline to the Sea Backpacking Trip

Right, then…

So I just completed one of the items on my “To do” list:  Hike the Skyline-to-Sea trail.

You’ll note that this is only a “To do” list item and not a bucket list item.  I save the bucket list for things like climbing Kilimanjaro or building a boat or writing a book.  To do, on the other hand, is something that is quite attainable that merely poses a logistical problem. 

In this case, the logistical problem revolved around transport.  Skyline-to-Sea starts at Castle Rock State Park at the top of Santa Cruz Mountains and ends at Rancho Del Oso – a part of Big Basin State Park near the ocean.  That means, unless you have a ride back to the top, you will need to plan on hiking back up to Castle Rock.

For reference, the trail is 33 miles end to end, with about a 2600 ft elevation change.  Doing that once – going downhill with a 37 lb pack – was a bear.  I do not want to think about going back up.  Regardless, this logistical problem is solved with two cars – one car is left at Rancho Del Oso and one is left at Castle Rock. 

We got on the trail at 13:00 on Thursday afternoon.  The late start was in deference to John (not his real name) who got in late the night before from a business trip.  I was concerned about daylight, as we had ~10 miles until we reached Waterman Gap Trail Camp, and neither of us really knew what to expect of the trail.  I figured we’d make about 1.5 miles per hour or take 6 to 6.5 hours.  We made is in 3:20.  Light was not an issue.

Waterman Gap has six sites, a vault toilet and potable (albeit, limited) drinking water.  It had some nice scenery, and the road noise from Highway 236 was not bad; other than that, it was somewhat unremarkable.

The rest of the afternoon was spent setting up camp, staring at trees and generally bullshitting.  John and I have known each other for almost 12 years as we used to work for the same company – in fact, I think technically he worked for me for about 15 minutes way back in 2000.  Thus, we caught up on all the people we know and chatted about past experiences, relived inside jokes and created some new ones throughout the entire trip.

On Friday, we got on the trail by 09:00 for a 10-mile hike in to Big Basin State Park.  In retrospect, this was the hardest leg of the trip.  It started out with approximately 800 feet of climbing through some undulating hills (meaning, the actual elevation gain was 200 feet, but we kept going up and down for a bit).  After the climbing was completed, there was a steep decent for about 1 mile.  Complicating this was the fact that it was semi-technical trail – slick rock and some scrambling was required.  Despite this, we were feeling fairly good and John suggested pushing through to the end.  The thought was to stop at Big Basin, have lunch and rest, then get back on the trail.  That would have put us at approximately 23 miles for the day.  The purpose of which would be to get John home a day early, so he can work on his backyard – something I learned about the previous afternoon.  This conversation occurred before we had hit mile 6 on our current leg.  By mile 6, we had changed our plans – we were getting a little more tired as we kept on and we kept dragging our feet a little, causing us to trip on roots.  While we were remaining silent on the thought of pushing through, I was worried about a) my increasingly fatigued legs, b) more downhill, and c) more slick rock combined with potential weather.  John was having some of the same thoughts in addition to the fact that various ligaments in his right knee were sore, most likely due to sudden overuse (a cyclist, he doesn’t use those stabilizing muscles and ligaments much, these days).  We were checking into Big Basin 3.5 hours after we started.  We had long since abandoned any lofty thoughts of pushing through to the end.  After we set up camp, we had agreed that this was the smart play.  True, we had to entertain ourselves for about 6 hours until dinner and sleep, but it was better than pushing through, fighting both physical and mental fatigue which could easily lead to injuries or other hazardous situations.  Discretion, meet the better part of valor.

Big Basin was a different experience than Waterman Gap as it not only had trail camps (we stayed at Jay Trail Camp, the name explaining the blue birds that we kept hearing), but also drive-in camps (or car camping sites, or whatever you want to call them). As is such, there was a store/snack shop and gift shop as well as flush toilets and pay showers (2 minutes for $0.25).  In short, it was civilization.   

As a quick aside, despite it being civilization, I am amazed at how uncivilized folks act in situations like this.  True, we’re all on vacation and should be enjoying ourselves, but for some reason, this comes with a general lack of courtesy.  Cases in point:  At some time during the afternoon, an insanely large amount of children thought it proper to have a screaming contest.  Apparently, no adults thought it necessary to actually stop them.  This, however, was minor compared to the folks in the drive-in camp about 0.1 miles down the road that were celebrating loudly until 04:00. This, of course, earned them the “Douchebags of the Year” award. 

This was an interesting phenomenon, in my mind.  I mean, admittedly, MIMW2 has certainly earned his D-bag stripes in his earlier, less refined years, so he cannot judge too harshly (but he can refer to himself in the third person, so there).  However, it seems that one cannot really keep going until 04:00 without the aid of powdered sleep (that’s a euphemism – I’ll let you figure out what I’m talking about).  It’s virtually impossible to hang like that with booze, alone.  Now, considering that, the last thing you’d want to do is attract attention to yourself by being obnoxiously loud and annoying the other campers, at least one of which might be more than happy to contact The Authorities to come over for a quick chat.  If that were to happen, most law enforcement officials would be observant enough not notice that the said conviviality is not the product of Freeze-Dried Folgers.  Hilarity, then, would not ensue.  In short, if you want to party like a rock star, either a) do it somewhere that you will not piss anyone else off, or b) make sure you have rockstar money to bail your happy ass out of jail. 

[We did note – with a bit of schadenfreud, I might add – that around 07:00, the neighboring campers would start to rise and make all sorts of noise, much to the dismay of our hard-partying friends.]

All this was going on as we were trying to sleep, because we had to get up at 04:00, so we can get on the trail at 05:00, to get to the truck at 09:30, so John could be home by 12:00 to start his landscaping project.  Shockingly, despite the soreness and fatigue and whatnot, we were on the trail 10 minutes ahead of schedule.  The first hour and a half were in the dark – there was Sun going on somewhere in California, but it had not reached our dark section of the Santa Cruz Mountains, thus we were going by headlamp.  Fortunately, I had some experience with hiking in the dark when I was training to hike Half Dome last year.  John had similar experience during his college years back in Colorado, so we were OK with the distorted perception that comes with headlamp hiking.

This section started with a short rise – maybe 400 feet of climbing, followed by a steep drop, some undulating hills that drained down to virtually flat horse trail.  Now, I like to view myself as someone who can rise up to challenges, but there was a certain feeling of relief when we hit that horse trail – that meant flat, wide and no technical parts – after hiking 25 miles or so, that was welcome site. 

From that point, it was a push to the finish.  In fact, it turned out that John could not really stop; if he did, his leg would lock up.  This just encouraged us to keep on going. 

We made it back to the truck at 09:00, that last 13 miles taking 4 hours.  At 10:30, I was back at the Castle Rock parking lot dropping John off at his car.  From there, I had a leisurely drive up Highway 35 to Millbrae.  There was dense fog and/or rain (could not tell which) that made me glad that we left on Thursday and not Saturday.  Having weather come down on you while you’re out is one thing; setting out in weather is entirely different. 

The next day, I called John to report that stairs were particularly evil and inquire about his knee.  I haven’t heard back from him yet, but that does not surprise me.  I’m told that when you have a pregnant wife and a child, free time comes at a premium.  I suspect that he might have spent his monthly allotment of free time with me in the mountains. 

I’m very happy that we got to do the trip.  I’d certainly do it again and if time were limited, I’d stick to the final leg between Big Basin and Rancho Del Oso as that was by far the most scenic.  Also, as an alternate to our plan do do 23 miles the second day, we talked about doing the first two legs (20 miles) on one day with minimal supplies, push through to Big Basin and stock up at the store in the park for the final leg on the second day.  Further, I’m looking to just visit Big Basin and check out some of the local trails.  Looking at the map, there are some good trails to be visited, there.

Oh!  One more thing – I must report that a gear failure occurred on the last day.  As I was getting dressed, one of the eyelets on my left boot tore out.  As you can imagine, I made it out fine.  Further, the boots were 4.5 years old and I think had ~500 to 600 or so miles on them with precious little tread left, so I can’t complain about a failure at this point.  Improving this scenario is the fact that REI had their annual Anniversary sale this weekend, so I did the logical thing:  A “like in kind” replacement pair of Keen Targhee II’s.  Why change what you know works well?

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  1. free penny press
    May 29, 2012 at 09:21

    Although I am quite active, exercise regularly, etc.. I am exhausted just reading this.. For you I am very happy you accomplished something on your “not-bucket-but-to-do-list, where as I would have been happy to be waiting in the bottom of the hill car with a cool beverage, enjoying the scenery:-)

    • May 29, 2012 at 18:28

      Aye, but I think you’d probably prefer a warm beverage instead. Our ocean up here in The Bay Area is cold and windy (very much unlike the waters around The Sunshine State…in fact, the first time I experienced warm, clear ocean was in Key West)

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