On the trail of fitness
Original post made on Jul 14, 2007
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on Jul 14, 2007 at 8:22 pm
A run through the Redwoods
By: Robert Rhodes
75 degrees, sunny with 65% humidity. Just a typical summer day here on the San Francisco Bay Area's Midpeninsula. Time for a run! And on a day like today, there's no better place for a great workout than right here in a stretch of the Santa Cruz mountains about 25 miles south of the city.
But it's not just the weather that makes this spot a great place to run. Weaving through the hillsides of these mountains you'll find miles of five-star trails left over from the logging industry that thrived here during the late 1800's. You'll also discover the remains of old mill sites as well as some mammoth, first-growth redwoods that somehow managed to duck the saw blades.
Today I'll be in a section of the mountains called Purisima Creek Redwoods to run a favorite circuit of mine that I've named "Purdy Pharis". Mr. Pharis, a.k.a. "the shingle king," was a prominent businessman that owned and operated several shingle mills in these parts. His dominance over this industry spanned more than two decades until he took his own life. Some say he went mad and killed himself while others say he was murdered. The circuit I named in his honor is an extreme journey across both guarded and exposed trails that finishes off with an unforgiving uphill climb over the craggy and precipitous slopes of Whittemore Gulch.
Heading west along Edgewood Road in the town of Woodside I reach Interstate 280, America's most beautiful highway. The highway offers excellent views of the Santa Cruz mountains and provides access to many of the preserves found in this vast, protected open space. Conditions on the crest of the mountain look crystal clear but it's not uncommon to see a chilly fog bank creeping over the hills as the cool air from the coast collides with the hot inland air.
Up Route 92 towards the town of Half Moon Bay I take Skyline Boulevard and head south for 4.5 miles and enter the parking area for the Purisima Creek Redwoods. After I hydrate and stretch up some, I start my run at 2000'. It begins with a short, rugged downhill along the North Ridge trail where it soon joins Harkins Ridge. At this junction I head left following Harkins until it intersects the Soda Gulch trail. Sweeping views of Half Moon Bay, the gleaming coastline and Montara Mountain can be seen along this part of my run.
When I get on Soda Gulch I let the forest take over and surrender my mind and body to the calming effects that running here can have. When I feel good I think good thoughts. The problems and pressures of life disappear. This is a trailrunner's paradise! I cut my way across a shady hillside brimming with second growth redwoods, cascading streams, deep ravines and blue-ribbon trail conditions.
Ahead I find the portal to Purisima Creek Road, a dirt trail that was once used as a skid-road for hauling logs out of this spacious woodland. I can picture the tired team of oxen dragging the freshly cut timber up this path as the "bullmaster" shouts his commands. At this junction I begin my long journey down towards the main trailhead on the Half Moon Bay side of the preserve. As I follow the Purisima Creek down I can see the many clearings and massive tree stumps left behind to mark the ties this preserve once had with the timber industry.
The next union of trails is the turnaround point where I will start my ascent up Whittemore Gulch. This climb upward is characterized by an elevation gain of 1500' in 3 miles! I really enjoy uphill so this is my favorite part of the run. With my eyes on my feet, I dig in and start the strenuous journey out.
The big redwoods provide cool air and shade for a while as I move along the single track path. This much needed relief is short lived though as sunlight breaks through where the wood line ends. Here, the hillside becomes a broad open space that offers a stunning panoramic view of the coast. I figure it's ok to stop and take in the sights along this first-class vista. After a couple of switchbacks and some more uphill I end up on the North Ridge trail again. I follow it for short distance and consider the steep downhill I took to get into the preserve. On good days for a real burn I run up it and on others, well, let's just say it makes for a great cool down.
Purisima Creek Redwoods is just one of many different parks on the midpeninsula that offer terrific opportunities for runners of all abilities to enjoy the spectacular beauty of this unique region. Choose wisley though as there are some trails that can become a very difficult uphill challenge.
Robert Rhodes is the founder of Baytrailrunners.com. To see this and more of Rob's renowned trail circuits, please visit his website.