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Skyline To Sea Trail

Day 2 of 3

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Saturday, August 1st
Waterman Gap to Jay Trail Camp
9.5 miles
1280 vertical feet (ascent)
6:12

The next morning we woke up around 6:30am. The mosquitoes were just beginning to get up, as well. It was only when I mustered the courage to step outside that I realized how beautiful our camp was, set in the middle of a redwood grove, morning light filtering through the leaves high above.

Waterman Gap trail camp, early in the morning

The view looking up from our camp site

We had breakfast, cleaned up and packed up our stuff. I don't think I've ever been able to do all this in less than 2 hours, and today was no exception. It wasn't until 10:45am that we started off on the second part of the journey. By then, we knew it was going to be a hot day -- warmer than the previous day, for sure. While we were getting ready, Joe saw a bunch of day hikers at the vault toilet and water faucet. They'd apparently started early in the morning from Saratoga Gap and were planning to do the 28 mile hike down to the coast in one day. Yikes! But at least they didn't have to carry all the weight that we did.

The Skyline To The Sea Trail crosses Highway 9, Highway 236, and several private driveways. Along the way, it's decidedly NOT all downhill. We were immediately met with rolling hills. We passed a couple of trail runners coming in the opposite direction. Joe asked them if we were close to the end of our climb, but they said it just kept on going. And it did. Up and down, up and down.

The first part of this day's hike is perhaps the least scenic, crossing as many roads as it does. And it's also probably the most demoralizing. Most other parts of the trail at least have long stretches of gentle up or down. But this part is steeper. We kept on looking to our right, trying to see when the climbing might end, but victory seemed elusive.

Jean races away from us so fast, she leaves a white blur on my film (I really have no idea what that is -- I did not put that there!).

We stopped for lunch in the forest, and the mosquitoes zeroed in on us again. After refueling and doing the mosquito tango, we continued along the trail. The rest of the day, whenever we stopped, we would be bombarded with squadrons of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. I seemed to be the one complaining the least, thinking I was getting off fairly bite-free, but I was to be sadly mistaken.

We passed a couple backpackers coming the opposite direction -- I think the only people we saw doing so on the entire trip. Even if the trip we did wasn't all downhill, it's still much easier than going in the opposite direction, in which case you'd have to do roughly twice the climbing!

Shortly after we saw the backpackers, we crossed a section of the trail with a sheer cliff on one side, falling several hundred feet off to the right. And then, out into the bitter sun. When we crossed the China Grade road, much of the hike for the next mile or two was unshaded, and the hot afternoon sun bore down on us with 92 degree heat. The problem is that whenever we stopped in the shade, the mosquitoes came yet again. Our only recourse was to keep moving, hoping shade would come.

Eventually the hike did return to mostly shade. And then, as if in answer to our unspoken prayers, we came across a beautiful vision -- a creek, set amongst redwoods and ferns, calling out to us. I believe it was Opal or Rogers Creek where we stopped. Because we'd started our hike much earlier than the day before, we had the luxury of not worrying so much about racing against sunset. And so we savored the creek, dipping our fingers, toes, hands, feet, other body parts, in the cool gentle creek. I was tired of drinking the chlorinated water we'd gotten at Waterman Gap, so I whipped out my water filter and filtered the creek water to produce some great-tasting, cool drinking water. Of course, all this time we had to do battle with the mosquitoes. But it was definitely worth the stop.

Jean gets ready to soak her tired feet in the creek!

After our long break, we grudgingly parted ways with the creek, and continued on the trail. Soon thereafter we began to see signs of El Nino. Scenes of mass destruction littered Opal Creek -- huge trees leaning over the water, landslides, sections of the trail in jeopardy.

We saw a hiker or two. And then another. We knew we were getting very close to Big Basin Park Headquarters as we began to see a new set of faces around almost every turn.

And then we were there. I talked to the park ranger there to confirm our reservations and find out that our campsite was a quarter mile down the road, first come first served, showers were 25 cents for each 2 minutes, and the snack shop closed in an hour, at 6pm. Of course we went straight for the snack shop where we filled up on ice cream and drinks (Joe had a cookie, too!). We relaxed and chatted with people who, seeing our packs, were interested in hearing our adventures and plans. Colorful birds flew around us -- solid blue birds, bright multi-colored birds. I tried to take a picture, but I was no match for their speed. I need a bigger zoom lens.

We hiked over to Jay Trail Camp down the road, and picked Camp 4. It looked like there was only one other site being used out of the 6 main sites. As we started to set up camp and cook dinner, Jennie and Tim joined us (they drove to Big Basin). They arrived with gifts of fresh fruit and vegetables. Yummy.

After dinner we ventured off to the showers, which were actually very good. Well, very good considering I was in the middle of a backpacking trip and sorely needed one. The water was hot, the pressure was good, and it turned out 6 minutes was plenty enough for me. I do have to admit that it made things a lot easier to wash up and wash dishes with a sink there. The sink and showers were only a few hundred feet away from our camp site.

I originally put the rain fly on my tent. Joe did the same. After stepping inside and thinking about it for a few minutes, though, we both decided that it was a bad idea. It was 69 degrees inside the tent at 10pm. You may think that's a comfortable temperature, but it's way too hot to sleep comfortably in. We both took our rain flys off. The inside temperature would later reach a comfortable 61 degrees without the rain fly on. Still, I didn't have to zip up my down sleeping bag the whole night (though I did at least slip inside later in the night).

Around 2 in the morning, I woke up to noises and the sound of Tim warning Jennie (who was returning from a trip to the bathroom) that there were raccoons in our camp site. I shined my flashlight (which was performing better due to the heat) outside of my tent. There they were -- two raccoons digging into Joe's roasted almonds and our garbage. Jennie and Tim managed to take the garbage away, but the raccoons eventually ate all the almonds. They stared back at us as we shined our flashlights at them, then continued eating. We were of no concern to them. I'd placed all my food into Jennie's car, but I was kicking myself for not dumping the garbage.

Before they left, I took my camera out and took a picture. The bright flash didn't faze them. And, unfortunately, my camera got a wonderful picture of the mesh of my tent from the inside, but nothing resembling two raccoons. Eventually the raccoons finished the almonds and convinced themselves there was no more food, and left us alone. The whole night, though, we could hear animals rustling around near our camp site.

Update: I have been told by readers that in some parks, raccoons are so aggressive that they actually rip open tents in the quest for food. So, I suggest that you probably shouldn't store tent in your food in almost any situation. If you're worried about critters getting to your food outside the tent, then bring a bear canister, even if you're not in bear country. If it can stop a bear, it can certainly stop a raccoon.


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