Monday, August 16, 2010

Sky Trail, Point Reyes National Seashore

Difficulty - Easy
Length - 2.4mi
Crowds - Quiet
Fees - Free
Best Season(s) - Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall

Mt. Wittenberg (1,407ft) does not feel like a mountain, there are no sweeping views, it's not a wind swept rocky summit, there is nothing to conquer at all. Wittenberg is simply the highest point along a tree covered ridge which is the heart of Point Reyes National Seashore. It is popular to begin from the Bear Valley visitors center, but for a less aggressive hike, beginning from the sky trail with a 700ft headstart is preferable. When the summer fog rolls in though you are transported to another world, thick gray clouds float through the coastal pine forest in an almost cinematic way. It's a unique experience that defies description. You can often hear the savage ocean waves crash rhythmically from the summit in the otherwise quiet and calm of the forest.

The trail seems like nothing special after leaving the Limantour Rd. parking lot. A wide fire road style trail leads up a gradual slope. Pine trees, scrub brush, and the occasional dry grass meadow line the trail. After the first half mile is out of the way the trail eventually opens up a little off to the left side. The southern end of Tomales Bay sticks out along with the rolling hills of Marin off in the distance. Green Ivy, and moss covered trees in the foreground stand in stark contrast to the golden dead grasses of the hills.

Near the junction with the Fire Lane Trail the forest changes into the deep, dark, mossy coastal forest filled with Bishop Pine and Douglas Fir. A left on the Horse trail continues the ascent up towards the summit. The late afternoon summer fog was starting to roll in on us and the temperature plunged, not that the temperature in Point Reyes is ever particularly balmy. The lush Fir/Pine Forest typical of the Iverness Ridge (thats the large ridge that makes up all the Point Reyes high points) is always pleasant to stroll through, but when the fog comes in and the world shrinks to the 75ft in each direction which is visible it takes on an other worldliness.

After less than half a mile on the Horse Trail we made a right on the Z Ranch trail. The Z Ranch trail skirts the summit of Mount Wittenberg before hooking up with the Mount Wittenberg Trail. At times the trail now cuts through a dense thicket of young trees creating tunnels walled off by saping trees. Just as we exited the darkest of these little passages we came upon a large grassy field on the shoulder of the mountain.

A left at the tree way trail junction leads up to the summit which is actually fairly disappointing. There are some decent views of the inland mountains, and Tomales Bay from the back side of the trail but the summit itself is just a USGS monument point surrounded by trees which looks like nearly every other stretch of trail. The summit loop eventually wraps back around the top and descends back down into the grassy field. A right back on to the Z Ranch trail would return to the parking lot in the same direction of ascent. After a disappointing summit though the trail ahead makes the hike worth it.

Following a leg of the Mt. Wittenberg trail back down the mountain now the hike drops in to the forest again. We were lucky enough to catch the forest in the moment of transition, watching te fog sneak in through the trees and finally fill the world around us with grey. Enough light was still filtering in though to just provide a heavenly glow behind the trees. After right on the sky trail, towards sky camp the trail veered out of the thick of the forest into more open areas of dead tree stands. Though the dark grey world of fog against the silhouette of dying trees seems well suited for a horror movie there is something ironically calming about it in Point Reyes.

The trail eventually comes upon Sky Camp, a nice little trail camp that apparently features views of the ocean on a clear day. After sky camp the trail drops back into the forest that was crossed on the way up. At this point I was snapping photo's so constantly that I started to feel bad for how often I was making Beylah wait. After crossing the Horse Trail again the Sky trail returns the way it came eventually leading to the parking lot and a warm car after a very nice few miles of hiking.

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