Monday, February 15, 2010

Skyline Ridge OSP: Skyline Parks Grand Loop

The grassy hills of Russian Ridge, OSP

Skyline Ridge OSP
From the Skyline Ridge parking lot I kicked off to a nearly perfect morning and an empty park to enjoy it in. It's a meer 0.2 mile trot downhill to Horseshoe Lake which is wheelchair accessible, but also a fairly unimpressive lake. Trail signage was somewhat poor around the lake and I almost ended up hiking down the dead-end Lambert Creek Trail before following the Bay Area Ridge Trail out of the small depression Horeshoe Lake sits in. The park instantly opened up after the first corner to spectacular views the Santa Cruz mountains and their dramatic topography.

Mt. Uhmunum behind a small ridge 

The trail continued to follow a long exposed flank of skyline ridge offering continuous views for the next miles occasionally ducking in and out of small amounts of tree cover. It was at this point I regretted not applying sunscreen before the hike as even the winter sun burnt me to a crisp throughout the long day of highly exposed hiking.

Sweeping Views of the Santa Cruz mountains from Skyline Ridge

A small roped outcropping shortly before entering Russian Ridge

Russian Ridge OSP
After following the Bay Area Ridge Trail for about two miles the trail starts uphill towards Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve passing through a beautiful forest of heritage oak trees with trunks the size of the VW Bus eventually emerging to Alpine Pond. In the summer months the pond is home to a nature center run by the MROSD. When I arrived however the pond was empty except for some faintly audible sounds of car doors and chatter from the parking half a short distance above the pond.

Alpine Pond

After again having trouble figuring out the signage I managed to reconnect with the Bay Are Ridge Trail as it crossed under Alpine Road and emerged on the other side of the main parking lot.

Small Tunnel under Alpine Rd. between Alpine Pond and the parking lot

The trail again opened up to green grassy hills with scattered trees on the other side of the lot which is beautiful in its own right but after a quick elevation gain back to the top of the ridge it becomes just the foreground for more sweeping views of the Santa Cruz mountains. Mindego Hill and Windy Hill now came into view. I've read these hills become ablaze with wildflowers in the Spring (April is the peak) but even in the dead of winter the explosion of green grasses is more than enough to hold the eye.

Russian Ridge OSP

At the first major junction I switched off the Ridge Trail avoiding the high point of San Mateo County, Borel Hill at 2,572 feet. I chose to descend a little instead and avoid some of the more crowded trails above taking the Ancient Oaks Trail towards Mindego Ridge. The trail crossed under a short stretch of tree cover as it went over the headwaters of several small creeks before emerging back out to more grassy hills.

Mindego Hill from Russian Ridge.

The trail began to climb up the beautiful rolling hills towards the north end of Russian Ridge. Following the trails which seemed to offer the most unobstructed views, I connected Ancient Oaks, to Alder Spring Trail, and eventually scooted up Hawk Trail. At the top of the Hawk Trail I enjoyed views of The Hoover Tower on the Stanford Campus below me with Mt. Diablo in the far distance, and the wild Santa Cruz mountains at my back.

Palo Alto, the Bay, and Mt. Diablo in the hazy distance.

Heading up Rapley Ranch Road a small distance the trail at one point offers a view of the San Francisco Skyline to the North and Mt. Tamalpias, Mt. Diablo to the East, Mt. Hamilton to the Southeast, and Mt. Uhmunum to the South all visable from a single spot along the trail. I used this as a turnaround point and headed back the way I came back down Rapley Ranch Road.

Small rocky outcroppings at the top of Russian Ridge looking out over Mindego Hill.

From the intersection of Rapley Ranch and Hawk Trail I followed the Bay Area Ridge Trail back along the top of the ridge towards the Clouds Rest Vista Point. The unwelcome roar of cars driving too fast along Skyline Blvd returned to my ears as I took the last few bends back towards the parking lot.

The last corners before in Russian Ridge before crossing over into Coal Creek.

Coal Creek OSP 
I followed Skyline Blvd for a distance of about 100ft down to Clouds Rest Rd. and entered Coal Creek Open Space Preserve. I have to admit I was unimpressed by the connectivity between the two parks which were directly adjacent to one another but required some guesswork to jump between them. I was also fairly unimpressed by Coal Creek OSP as a whole, it was muddy even on a sunny day well after the last rains. The views I had been enjoying so far became enclosed on trees as well. To make matters worse while crossing a heavily forested stretch I was startled by a creature which began towards me through the trees, snapping large twigs with enough force to indicate it was of some size. I yelled loudly several times to scare it away, and yet it continued towards me without even a pause in its step. It was not until I caught a flash of orange in the trees, the shoulder of a hiker bushwacking through the trees did I relax. I stood befuddled in by the trail looking at the destructive creature which had just trampled and broken every living thing in its path as he took his earphones out to ask me which way to the parking lot.

Back on the trail the Clouds Rest trail offered some peeks of the Bay Area through small openings in the chaparall before the trail became enclosed on Bay trees and Oaks along the Meadow Trail which continued through the half-mile back up to Page Mill Rd. along a closed section of Alpine Rd.

A closed segment of Alpine Road, covered in mud...

Monte Bello OSP
Fortunately after crossing over Page Mill Rd. the trail opened up again as I entered Monte Bello OSP, now the fourth park of the hike. The general area of the parking lot I had begun the day in was now again visable. The views to the east were now dominated by Black Mountain which loomed several hundred feet above the flat fields that the White Oak Trail crossed.

White Oak Tree along the aptly named White Oak Trail sitting in front of Mt. Umunhum.

The trail eventually descended down into one last ravine (complete with more mud on the way down). Upon returning to the cover of the trees I stripped off my right boot and laid on a blister pad to ease a hotspot that had been bothering me, I drank the last of my water and I adjusted my poles before the last decent down to a small creek.

A large stump in the bay tree forest near the final creek crossing of the hike.

Just under half a mile of gentle climbing later I emerged to Skyline Blvd again and crossed it back into Skyline Ridge OSP and the parking lot a small distance away where my car was parked.


  1. You... are magic.

    Open a shop so that I can buy a copy of the top photo.

  2. Stay posted for a status update on that this week.