Shuffling through the profiles of everyone who has registered for the Circle of Trust & Beer. I've noticed an inordinate amount of Trustees who claim Purisma Creek as the hike they'd most recommend to the group. Perhaps it's a regional bias among Peninsula hikers, but no matter: The Purisma Creek loop from the lower Higgins Canyon trailhead holds it own, eight days a week, among the among the elite Bay Area day hikes.
While the Circle of Trust & Beer was still a burgeoning group in early November, a mere six hearty Trustees joined me on this loop. But how times changed as The Circle's legend rippled across the Bay: because we have no ambition to become the Disneyland of hiking clubs, we've had to put a cap of 44 hikers on all of our 2013 each hikes. Thanks for the love, Trustees!
But don't hesitate to put yourself on the waiting list. Trustees are pretty conscientious about changing their RSVPs when they change they change their minds, and the higher you are on the waiting list, the better your chances that a spot will open before the hike.
Take Highway 92 West though Half Moon Bay until it intersects with Highway 1 (Cabrillo Highway).Turn left (south) on Highway 1, drive 1.25 miles and turn left at the fire station. It's actually a 3-way intersection, because Main Street -- which starts at Highway 92, one traffic light before you hit Highway 1 -- ends at the fire station, as well. For some reason, an inordinate amount of hikers turn onto Main instead of Highway 1 from Highway 92 -- so, if you're one of them, know that you'll end up at the fire house, but the traffic on Main Street through downtown HMB on weekends is as brutal as it gets. So unless you have an overwhelming need to suck exhaust fumes, avoid the temptation and use Highway 1 for the short trip between Highway 92 and Higgins Canyon Road.
Alrighty then. Once you're on Higgins Canyon Road, strap yourself in for a stomach-churning ride through the dramatically rising and falling farms and ranches of Higgins Canyon (bonus: you'll be sharing the narrow lanes with bikers). Yes, it seems like you're headed into nowhere, but enjoy the beauty of the canyon for 4 + swooping miles (which will take you 10-15 minutes to cover). As you might expect from anything carrying the Higgins name, there's an element of danger on this road. So heads up.
You'll eventually come around a 180-degree turn where Higgins Canyon Road becomes Purisma Creek Road. Here you'll find a tiny (six-car) parking lot, a kiosk and the lower trailhead for Purisma Creek/Redwoods Open Space Preserve. The odds are about the same that you'll hit the Pick Six as find a space in the lot, so join the dozens of cars parked in the ditch along the barbed-wire fence on the right side of the road. As you're soon to discover, it was well worth the drive.
This is a hike for all seasons and represents all that is holy about the great Bay Area trails: a wild diversity of micro-climates (many are the times I could see my own breath in the dankness at the bottom of the trail, only to bake on the steep fire road at the top of this loop); magnificent redwoods growing (and falling) at every angle; haunting canyons carved by untamed water; and, of course, (slight exaggeration dead ahead) microwaved-sized banana slugs (below, One-Hike Wonder Claire goes down one one -- oddly, we've never seen Claire again).
I don't know who Craig Britton is, but the trail bearing his name was, until recently, called "Soda Gulch." Soda Gulch is a little piece of paradise unto itself, a steep ravine reminiscent of those that arise from stream beds further south in Big Sur. Soda Gulch -- about halfway up our climb -- is a study in survival of the fittest among its redwoods. One end of the gulch is still charred by a fire that ravaged the mostly second-growth giants [masked] years old). Footbridges cross and recross Sold Gulch Creek, which rushes downhilll and keeps the canyon reverberating in a symphony of birds and burbling water, year-round.
But where this hike truly differentiates itself from other Bay Area classics is a view that greets you, about three-quarters of the way to the top, as you rise above the redwood line and make a sharp southern turn. There, an extraordinary canyon of Douglas Firs -- so thick that they require counting by the thousands -- seems to extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The ocean always seems to have a mystical reflective quality from this vantage point, as if it could merely be a mirage.
Although the length of this hike is more typical of our more arduous Semi-Circle hikes, it's among the easier 9-milers you'll come across. We always finish in four hours, the same time as the 7-mile Steep Ravine-Matt Davis loop on Mount Tam. That's because this unique trail lingers for 6 miles to cover the 1,800 foot ascent -- a gentle climb that encourages a healthy pace until the final mile, when we meet up with the steep and exposed Harkins Ridge fire road. After lounging about a bit in a grassy knoll just below Skyline Boulevard, we'lll make a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am descent -- just 3 miles -- via the multi-faceted Whitemore Gulch Trail.
Although Cameron's is a very cool and unique British pub just across the street from the Higgin Canyon firehouse, the accommodations are limited. A few miles north on Highway 1, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has plenty of indoor and outdoor space -- and is situated in a sweet spot in Princeton-By-The-Sea Harbor. The beer garden is exclusively ours! Check out the menu.