"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience." -- Eleanor Roosevelt
My friend Emily and I have been on a mission lately to fulfill her California bucket-list before she heads back to Texas in August. She has been in California on a temporary assignment for the last 10 months, and has seen more of this beautiful state than people who have lived here their entire lives! While both of us have been to the San Francisco bay area before, we both agreed that a weekend up there would be a nice break from the heat. Not one to actually relax on vacation like a normal person, I made it my mission to make the weekend as active as possible, including a great deal of walking around and a trip to Muir Woods, which neither of us had ever visited before.
Muir Woods is a National Monument dedicated to protect an old growth, coastal redwood forest. Once at risk for deforestation, it was saved by a Congressman (William Kent) and later dedicated to the United States for inclusion and dedication as a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt (uncle to First Lady Eleanor, quoted above). I've wanted to visit this park since a friend visited it in college, but it somehow never made it to my itinerary on previous trips to the bay.
There are several trails located within and near the National Monument. The majority of visitors stick to the main trails (Hillside, Cathedral Loop, and Ben Johnson), and we originally planned to do the same... until... I saw a path veering off the main trail called "Ocean View Trail," indicated above in yellow. It didn't appear to be terribly steep, and it looked like we could loop back down to the main trail. I had previously mentioned to Emily, however, that I definitely wanted to see the Cathedral Grove, so she smartly recommended we push ahead on the main trail to see that before we got too adventurous.
The Cathedral Grove was beautiful! The trees are overpowering, and I can see why so many visit here in search of peace and personal reflection. Just past the Cathedral Grove, we came across another trailhead called the Fern Creek Trail, which appeared to loop back to the main trail via the Ocean View Trail. Success! We decided we had time to make a go of it, so off we went!
Initially, Fern Creek Trail looked much more reasonable than the Ocean View Trail we had encountered before. I mean, Ocean View Trail had a few stairs leading to it, but look how relatively flat this Fern Creek Trail is (above)!
As we went along, the trail eventually began to climb. Mind you, both Emily and I were not dressed for hiking. We had just left a champagne brunch cruise and a stroll along the bay near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. We did not intend to go hiking. But... even with a bit of an incline, this didn't seem too bad... right? I mean, at least now we'd only have to take the stairs we encountered at the Ocean View trailhead going down... right?
The higher we climbed, the more evident that this was not a casual stroll in the woods. The climb grew steeper and steeper, and the trails became narrower and more interesting. Just past this bridge, we encountered a couple asking how much further to the end. The girl looked exhausted, and said she couldn't wait to go down. "So... many... stairs," she explained. I figured she was just talking about the ones we had passed at the other end...
Oh... these must be the stairs... This is not what I had planned on. Oh well... it looks like you just have to climb up them for this particularly steep part of the hike. No big deal. I'm sure that they'll end just around the corner...
NOPE! Ugh. How many freaking stairs are there? This was a terrible idea. I'm a terrible friend. I always get these crazy ideas when I am on vacation with my friends - why do my friends tolerate me? Why do I tolerate me? Ugh. Please let it end. Maybe we should just turn back. I don't think I can do this...
It was around this time that we encountered a family of four heading downhill. They had lost their father/husband, but didn't seem overly concerned with it. Everyone in this family seemed completely unfazed by this treacherous hike. WTH?? God, I'm out of shape. Maybe Emily won't make too much fun of me if I just give up now? I can blame my asthma, right? Ugh.
Roughly 250-260 stairs total... that's what other bloggers have said about this part of the hike. Who the heck makes a trail with 250-260 stairs on it? Would it have been that much worse to just hike the stupid slope? (... Probably) This is the face of a girl who is completely over it at this point. I totally didn't want to continue, but that ever-elusive ocean view would be worth it... right?
I have been wronged. The trail lies!!! The Ocean View Trail doesn't have an ocean view at all! See this? Just trees! Fellow hikers warned us that this was the case along the way, but I didn't want to believe it. Near the "peak" another couple told us that to see the ocean we would have to venture off this trail onto the Panoramic Loop. WHAT! I feel so deceived. I'm so sorry, Emily.
It was around this time that we encountered another hiker that warned us the second leg of the trail was worse than the first. They told us to go back the way we came (don't horror movies start this way?!?!). Still... I found that hard to believe. We would be heading down... how hard could it be?
Well... I'm certainly glad we took the steeper route up. It may have been steep and narrow, but at least it wasn't an obstacle course. This is our trail. There were areas where it was even worse, with many of the trails covered with shallow roots and fallen trees. It was a little easier though, so I was grateful for that.
About an hour later, we finally made it back to the much flatter main trail. Night was quickly approaching - we timed it perfectly. Actually, we could have timed it a little better... our parking spot was locked when we arrived, with signs warning that both gates would be closed at 8pm (it was just after 8 when we arrived). Luckily, they left the back gate open. Whew!
Verdict? This is an absolutely beautiful hike! Emily pointed out that the trailhead signs warned that the Ocean View/Fern Creek/Lost Trail loop was "strenuous," but I must have missed it. Reading about it later, the National Park Service calls it "steep" and warns of protruding roots and uneven trails, but again... Becky never plans well enough to read such warnings. One day I will learn. All this being said, there are worse ways to burn a thousand plus calories. If you have 2.5-3 hours to kill, and don't mind hiking approximately 3 miles in very humid conditions, this is an excellent place to get your steps in! I would totally do it again. You can read about all of the Muir Woods trails here.
My friends may never want to vacation with me again after reading these blog posts. This hiking habit is probably costing me a few traveling buddies. I'll never forget the look on my friend Dawn's face when I told her to pack tennis shoes for a spa vacation we were taking to Scottsdale, AZ (For hiking, of course! She was not amused...). Other friends often ask if we're actually going to vacation on vacation, or if this will be another "Becky" vacation (meaning that we'll walk until we have blisters on our feet). Let this serve as a public service announcement to all of you: If you thought I was bad before, I'm only getting worse as I start running and walking more as part of my fitness routine. If you want to vacation with me, bring along a comfy pair of shoes! Hahahaha! Well, I better hit the hay. I have a very busy week ahead.