Category Archives: bay area

San Bruno Mountain and Windy Hill Trail Runs

California bay trees in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near the bottom of the Razorback Ridge Trail.
California bay – Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

With vaccinations on the increase and Covid on the decline, it was wonderful to once again be able to visit family.

As we always try to do, Brett and I got in a couple of runs. We usually do at least one run that is new to me, and there are certainly plenty from which to choose in the Bay Area.

Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail in San Bruno Mountain Park
Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail

Our first run was on San Bruno Mountain. We’d previously done the Ridge Trail, so this time opted to do a variation of the Summit Loop. The parking lot at the base was was closed, so we started the run using the Old Ranch Road Trail. This was a plus because it added a little mileage and there were a lot of wildflowers along the trail, including monkeyflower, iris, lupine, yellow paintbrush, daisy, and foxglove.

Brett running up the Summit Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain
Summit Loop Trail, near the top.

It was an excellent run on single-track trail. As is the rule on San Bruno, it was a bit breezy, with hazy views of the surrounding communities and the Pacific. An island of open space in an urban sea, San Bruno Mountain is a miracle of land conservation, and an area to be relished. Here is a map of trails in the area.

The next day, after watching a spirited youth soccer match, we headed south on 280. On the way, Brett filled me in on the runs he likes to do in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Huddart Park. We couldn’t go wrong with either choice but finally decided to save Huddart Park for another day.

Brett running through thimbleberry on a lush section of the Razorback Ridge Trail
Razorback Ridge Trail

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is on the northeast-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Portola Valley. We parked near the Alpine Trailhead and ran up the road to the Eagle Trail. Corte Madera Creek was running, but low. Although the grasses along the trail were green and the undergrowth was relatively lush, I suspect the conditions were more like July than May. Open hillsides looked mid-Summer dry and the lichen on the trees was drab and desiccated.

Like the rest of California, the Santa Cruz Mountains have seen well below average precipitation this rain season. One station near Windy Hill, Woodside 3.4 S, recorded only about 28% (12″) of normal precipitation from October 1 to May 19. Another station, Skyline Ridge Preserve, recorded about 41%  of normal (16.5″) from October 1 to May 3.

Western columbine along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Western columbine

From the Eagle Trail/Private Road we turned onto the Razorback Ridge Trail. According to my Garmin track, the Razorback Ridge Trail gains 1000′ or so over 2.4 miles to its junction with the Lost Trail. It’s all runnable, switch-backing up a thimbleberry and fern-lined trail, shaded by California bay trees.

While the Razorback Ridge Trail continues up another 0.4 miles to Skyline Blvd., we turned right onto the Lost Trail. This trail parallels Skyline as it works in and out of the tributary ravines of Jones Gulch, on its way over to the Hamms Gulch Trail. Along the way there were views across the valley to Mt. Diablo, some 40 miles distant. Western columbine was blooming along the trail, its bright red color complimenting the green theme.

Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail

At the top of Jones Gulch, there is an impressive, old-growth Douglas-fir. At chest height, it is about as wide as Brett is tall. This would put its diameter at over 72″ and its circumference at over 220″, suggesting an age in the neighborhood of 350 years.

The run down the Hamms Gulch Trail was as good as the run up Razorback Ridge. Given the weather was nearly perfect for a hike or run, we were surprised to see only a dozen or so people on the trail.

From where we were parked the run worked out to about 8 miles, with about 1500′ of gain/loss. Here is a trail map of the area, and here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the loop. The interactive map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen.

Some related posts: Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Miwok Wanderings

Skyline to the Sea – Fall 2018

Towering redwoods along the Skyline to the Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Towering redwoods along the Skyline to the Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Update July 20, 2020. Here’s a Google Earth image of a CZU August Lightning Complex Fire perimeter from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The date and time of the perimeter is indicated. My GPS track from the PCTR Skyline to the Sea Marathon in Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks is also shown. The locations of all placemarks and trails are approximate. For official information see the CAL FIRE CZU August Lightning Complex and InciWeb CZU August Lightning Complex incident pages.

There’s a reason that Skyline to the Sea is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s biggest event. Close your eyes and picture your ideal trail. The trail of your dreams might be hard-pressed to match the appeal of the Skyline to Sea Trail.

There is something magical about running in an old-growth redwood forest. Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was the first state park in California. It’s redwoods reach 2000 years in age, 328 feet in height and 18.5 feet in width!

The Skyline to the Sea Trail has a net elevation loss, but enough uphill to get your attention. Many miles of the trail are as smooth as a carpet, but some are rocky, root-strewn and technical. It is often cool under the dense forest canopy, but it can also be warm and humid. I was surprised to see an “Emergency Water” stash a mile before the last aid station. In some years it is well-used and much appreciated.

The Park supports a vast variety of animal and plant life. Some plant species can only be found in the Park and a seabird (Marbled Murrelet) nests in its old-growth conifers.

In some years one park species can add extra adrenaline to the race. This year Brett (my son) and I were counting down the miles to mile 4.0 of the Marathon. The R.D. had reported encounters with the beasts at that point of the 50K on Saturday. About 20 yards before mile 4.0 Brett saw what looked like a “cloud of dust” and shortly after that we heard agitated voices from the runners ahead.

In it for the full experience, we — and several other runners — plowed headlong into the cloud. The yellowjackets didn’t like that. A number of us were stung; some several times. The day before a runner in the 50K was stung 18 times.

Yellowjackets or not, running the Skyline to the Sea Marathon was like running a 26 mile nature trail and one of the finest courses I’ve done.

Many thanks to R.D. Greg Lanctot and Team PCTR and all the volunteers that helped with the event. For all the results and more info see the Ultrasignup event page, PCTR’s web site and Facebook page.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Mileages specified are from my fenix 3 and are approximate.

Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge

Running along the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail

I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.

Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.
Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.

Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.

The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:

.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above Sierra Point
Continuing down, down, down the ridge.

That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.

We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point
San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point

We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!

San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.