Trails less traveled.

I’m not running much at the moment, so I decided to hike instead. And what better trails to hike than those too steep and too technical to run on? The trails I haven’t visited in far too long.

I haven’t been on any of them since the fire.

So I wonder what state they are in?

It also gives me an excuse to finish off the trail map I’ve been working on. I’ve got almost all the trails … except for those I can’t run (I guess that’s not too surprising).

And finally I’ve been behind in looking at wildflowers this month. First I was tapering for my race (so I didn’t run trails very much) and then I was recovering from it (so I didn’t run trails very much). But January is an exciting time in the wildflower department, and I’d missed it last year. So many flowers start to bloom this month…

Rattlesnake Loop

I don’t really have a good name for the obscure trails involved in this loop (there are two of them). One leads from Rattlesnake to Powerline, and the other goes from Powerline across a ridge and ends on Tunnel. I haven’t heard any names given to either of these…

But whatever it gets called, this route starts at Rattlesnake trailhead, and follows Rattlesnake trail for about a mile.

As I was walking the dirt road, before I even reached the stream crossing I notice a shiny yellow flower, not one I’m familiar with. A little research (back home) revealed that it was a California Buttercup. Rather a pretty little thing.

Of course as I walked along I’d also seen purple and white nightshade, canyon sunflowers, milk-maids, hummingbird sage, and black sage but I was expecting those.

Then the road dipped down into the stream, and inside the stream bed was a hillside gooseberry. I’d been watching for these for weeks. They’d bloomed at the Wilcox property in early December, but I hadn’t seen any on the trails until now.

Then across the creek and up the other side. There was a little 5 petaled yellow flower. I assumed it was a rock-rose and walked past. But I turned back. The rest of the plant didn’t look like a rock rose and it was in an odd place for one. It had leaves like a clover, but it wasn’t a clover, which meant it was probably an Oxalis. But not the common sourgrass, something else. Probably yellow sorrel.

Beside it is a strange little flower that’s probably in the mustard family. But I haven’t been able to identify it yet…

A little further on I saw the blue dicks had started blooming this year. (Last year I did not start collecting wildflower pictures until March, so I’m not sure when the early bloomers started. I’m learning that now). And here is some spotted hideseed.

Rattlesnake climbs in switchbacks, and at almost exactly one mile from the start the trail turns around a rise. Here there is a discrete trail that leaves Rattlesnake to the left and climbs steeply up until it eventually hits Powerline Rd.

This trail used to hide under the cover of chaparral, but that has all burned off. Now it’s in full sun and there are sun-loving flowers on it. Lots of little clumps of rock-roses for example, and here’s some tauschia (now that’s a surprise, I didn’t expect it to bloom this early). Goldenrod is still blooming, and the deerweed has a new lease on life.

The trail is in surprisingly good shape (surprising to me, anyway). It’s pretty clear most of the time, and even if it trifurcates the branches rejoin. And then I reach the top of the hill, and I see Powerline off to my right. The trail winds along the ridge for a bit and then dumps me on to Powerline right at the turn below the final steep hill.

I climb the hill until short side roads appear on the right leading to pylons. The fourth side-road is magic, and when you get to the end of it (it’s not very long) you find there’s a trail leading roughly north (and a little west).

This new trail climbs steeply. Again it used to dive through chaparral, and again it is now burnt down to ground level and open to the sun. But, again, the trail remains clear.

There are a number of rocks with fossilized seashells embedded in them. Those don’t burn up.

It climbs steeply for a quarter of a mile, and then runs along a knife-edge ridge line. The is an almost sheer drop to both the right and the left and a very narrow ridge, garnished with boulders, over which I clamber.

I realize again (as I realize every time I come up here) that this is the same ridge line that leads to Arlington Peak (though Mission Creek has worn a hole through the middle of it).

After another quarter mile or so the trail starts to descend (again, steeply) down toward Tunnel trail. It hits Tunnel about 1/5 mile before the Rattlesnake connector where Tunnel itself turns sharply.

The return is simple, Tunnel to the connector, connector to the meadow, and Rattlesnake proper back to the start.

On the way down I see white phacelia, fiesta flower and California poppies starting to bloom.

Rocky Pine Ridge or Sandcastles

Rocky Pine Ridge
from afar

Actually, I don’t head down quite yet. Now that I’m up here I decide to take another hidden trail, the one up to Rocky Pine Ridge. This trail starts about 10 yards from the junction of Tunnel and the Rattlesnake connector. Simply follow the connector for 10 yards toward Rattlesnake and look to your left. There is a sort of tunnel in the undergrowth that turns into a trail.

The start of this trail may be reached either by climbing Tunnel, or Rattlesnake (or the odd route which I have taken).

At first the trail is clear, and in good condition, and there’s still some vegetation around. The Ceanothus here is even blooming. But as I climb further the fire seems to have burned hotter and there is less and less chaparral.

The manroot, however, is doing splendidly. It climbs all over the burnt stumps as it reaches for the sun.

Looking back the trail meanders through a forest of burned trunks.

Ahead, the trail seems to peter out. I can’t find it. That’s not uncommon for me on this route, the trail has always been hard to find, usually if I just press on I’ll find it again (I can’t really get lost here, if I just head up, I’ll get to the summit). The trail seems more obscure than usual now, but that’s not too surprising given the fire.

Anyway, I keep going.

Looking up the way is blocked by a wall of boulders. I wander around below through knee high shrubbery looking for a way through. I hear the unmistakable sound of a rattler and instinctively leap back. But as I can’t see anything under the shrubs I worry I might have leaped toward it. The rattler is calm now, so I give that area a wide berth, and continue my search.

Eventually I find a way up and through the boulders and a little further along I find the real trail again. I’m almost at the top now. And the trail doesn’t try to hide again.

At the top are some really huge boulders scattered about. Much easier to climb than the ones below. There are also pine trees. It’s a pleasant place to wander around. Climbing the boulders leads to nice views.

The way down proved much easier than the way up. I didn’t get lost; I had no run in with rattlesnakes, and I managed to see my first monkeyflower of the year.

Cathedral Peak

Two days later I went for another hike, up Cathedral Peak. There used to be two trails up to Arlington Peak (which is on the way), but the one from Inspiration has become impassable since the fire. So the only route now takes off from the Seven Falls Trail.

Starting at Tunnel, walk up the paved road and when the road turns to dirt continue walking ahead, past the turn-off for Powerline, past the turn-off for Tunnel Trail, down to and across Mission Creek. (If you look at the elevation profile above you will see a little dip after about a mile, this marks the stream crossing.) On the far side of the creek, turn right and walk up the creek-bed, climbing over a large rock until you again see a trail in front of you. This is Seven Falls trail. It continues up the creek bed for a bit, and then turns left and climbs up to the bluff above the creek (quite a steep climb).

The trail levels off and starts to head slightly down, and when it does so the trail to Cathedral comes plummeting down the hillside on your left. So turn left and climb up. This climb used to be a bit easier because you could hang on to the stems of the chaparral vegetation; now you must rely on your feet.

A little before 1.5 miles the really steep section comes to a end and you stand on a ridge line (with nice views of the city behind, and views of the waterfalls ahead). The route climbs over some rocks here, and on the far side, to the right, is a degraded trail which drops back down to Seven Falls trail (don’t take it).

The main route continues to the left, running along the ridge line. Here, on the ridge the landscape is not as denuded as it was, there are still burnt trunks standing, and these can make handy things to grip, even burnt and dead they are still very strong.

The route ahead continues through a forest of dead trunks along the ridge up to a knoll ahead (where the ridge makes a bend).

A few years ago these dead trunks were living manzanita bushes, and at this time of year they should be in full bloom with humming birds zooming among them.

This trip I get to see my first view of prickly phlox for the year, which is not quite the same.

So far the route has been fairly obvious. Oh, sometimes the trail vanishes for a bit, or bifurcates, but the bifurcations join up, and the trail reappears. If you just keep going everything will work out.

Right around 2 miles from the start I manage to get lost and end up climbing high into an impassable tumble of boulders. Other people have gotten lost before me, and I can see footprints as I go, which gives me a false sense that I’m going the right way. I keep backtracking, and finding a new false trail, and backtracking…

Without living vegetation it is much harder to see where the trail goes…

Eventually I remember that the trail swings round to the left and climbs up from the side, so I backtrack a good long way until I find such a route and follow it.

Below me I can see the cliffside dropping away to the city below and beyond to the Channel Islands.

After that undesired excursion the trail again because well behaved. I still make the occasional wrong turn, but quickly realize it when the route I’m following leads nowhere.

from Arlington toward
Cathedral (on left) and of
the ridgeline between them

Eventually I reach Arlington Peak. This is the end of the really steep section. I climb the boulders and look back at the city, and then on towards Cathedral.

Often people will stop here, as the interesting climb is now done.

From Arlington the trail is almost gentle. The ridgeline is almost flat now, and the trail itself is packed dirt rather that random boulders. There’s even a blooming Ceanothus.

There are some nice views of Cathedral Peak itself, a long jut of rock that sticks out of the surroundings.

Between Arlington and Cathedral there is one other bump of rock and the trail drops down on the left of it to avoid it.

Just below Cathedral itself is a trail in very poor shape which leads down to the cave. The cave is bigger than you expect from the outside.

From the top of Cathedral Peak you can see the city in one direction, and La Cumbra Peak in the other. There used to be (perhaps there still is) a trail from Cathedral to La Cumbra, but I don’t see it this trip.


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