I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and took the 1 up the coast. The road weaves and winds through the hills of Marin and onto the shoreline cliffs before crossing large marshes and a few sandy shores. My favorite section of the road is through the town of Dogwood, with a population of something like 37. There, tall Eucalyptus trees line the roads and create the feeling of being in a mystical forest.
The park itself is pretty representative of the unique ecosystems of the Golden Coast – it is a mixed and mashed representative of rocky coastline, foggy beach-cliff scrub, towering evergreen forests with a huge area under the canopy, low lying and dark evergreen forests, and mixed temperate forest. The park basically covers the coastline and the first mountains east of it, but just beyond the reach of the park in the valley behind those mountains exists desert-like pastures. The close proximity of the vastly different ecosystems is amazing, yet quite expected upon a thorough examination of the geology and microclimates created by it.
After checking in and getting my backcountry permits, I took off up the mountains, reaching the highest point in the park. The evergreens along the trails tower far above my head – almost as tall as many of the redwoods I had seen in Big Sur. The branches on the bottom of the tree are bare of leaves and covered only by hardly green mosses – perhaps the trees lose their leaves on the lower, shaded branches where it is no longer favorable to maintain the leaves. Lush, green tropical-looking ferns covered the fairly clean forest floor (clean meaning free of leaf litter – likely an effect of the extreme moisture which allows microbial life to decompose all organic matter quickly). I reached a particular vista overlooking a valley where the trees were all dead, and it afforded me a more complete view of the scenery around me – the mountain tops where I was were soaked in sunshine but just below me a giant cloud extended from halfway up the mountains to as far as the eye could see. I scrambled down to a level that was even with the cloud and realized that I could see below the coast-encompassing structure to see the distant shoreline, covered in points and marshes.
Just after passing the highest point in the park I noticed that the giant cloud hanging over the ocean was starting to move in and over the mountains – quickly. It smoothly swallowed up the marshes and began to devour the first of the coastal pines, and continued to roll on up the mountain. I decided to make it in to my destination – ‘Sky’ camp at ___ feet, early. The fog rolled in and I ate what I could afford to – which wasn’t a whole lot since I did not bring too much for the short trip. It basically consisted of some banana chips and yogurt. The fog stayed through the night, mist coming down on the tent constantly. It was thick enough that I could hardly even see the large spruce trees just 20 feet or so away from my tent, but at some point in the night I woke up to see a sky full of stars – a nice treat. In the morning the fog had rolled back in and I decided to go on a short trail run through the giant misty trees. I stopped about a mile in because I was nearly knocked off my feet with the beauty of a tall stand of coastal trees blocking the sun, but allowing rays of light to bend around the stand, radiating out from behind it in every direction. I wished I had a camera to capture the sight.
Afterwards, I finished packing up camp and set off towards the coast down a trail that dropped in elevation and grew continuously more narrow until it was simply a thin line weaving through deep undergrowth. At some point I found a large mountain lion footprint just off the trail and grew nervous, but eventually made it to the section of trail that opens up into the mountainside wasteland – filled with desert-like vegetation and covered in thick fog so that I could only see 20 feet or so in front of me. The topsoil here is much more rocky than in the interior forest – both a result of the bedrock type as well as of the harsh growing conditions that do not allow forests that create the thick soil layers as plants die and decompose. I made it down to Sculptured Beach and had lunch and played harmonica on a large rock outcrop. As I was leaving, I met Raphael – a postdoc in Chemistry studying in Switzerland. He afforded me my only picture of the trip by taking a picture of me before we had even met.