Redwood Majesty on the James Irvine Trail - Traveling High and Low
Starting out so early in the morning was magical in the rainy, predawn light. The beach was still entirely dismal grey misty when I pulled into the entrance of the park and saw the waves crash against the surf. The flitered predawn sunrise makes things light enough to see in the salty spray. The rest of my hike would become verdant green, but the frothing surface of the water, the mist that hung in the air along the coast, the sand on the ground, dark and slightly tranquil hues with minimal color. I packed up my gear from my box into my backpack, and headed further into the park to the head of the trail to park and grab a map before I started.
James Irvine trail was the goal, a medium hike in Praire Creek Redwoods State Park at 9 miles round trip in and back and a .3 miles bonus hike with a fantastic lunch spot to stop and grab a fun view.
Some helpful park rangers were great in directing me to where I needed to go. The parking lot was right beside the ranger station, so it was a short walk over to talk to them before heading out on the trail. A word on Rangers. Most people have some amount of rancor with them, and that’s fair enough, there are plenty of boss in charge types of their little square footage, but they’re great resources, great civil servants, and usually great people. I say civil servants, because they are, but even further they’re caretakers of both the forest and the communities that visit them. Especially when you realize how understaffed and underfunded they usually are. But on with the show.
The helpful rangers on the front porch, fiddling with a deer antler and some brochures pointed towards the head of the trail and explained how to get started down the way. But first, as always, stretching it out. Do it, you'll be happier, you're body will be happier, you'll have a better time. Don't skimp on it. Don't skip it, and think walking is fine. Stretch it out.
Pretty soon after entering, the little morning light I’d seen would disappear beneath the verdant green ceiling, and the small starting stream of hikers from the parking lot disappeared along with them. Surprisingly, until almost the halfway point when I’d arrive at fern creek, where I’d catch up with most of the crowd, I’d walk by myself beneath these ancient trees. Sometimes straight underneath. I mean it was a tunnel underneath the rootball of this tree only half held into the hill, and free standing. For a picture head to the website but it was almost unnerving. This enormous log, hundreds of feet tall, simply stands upright despite missing half of its base.
Throughout the hike beautiful old growth trees loomed up into the sky, branching out and into each other, creating the effect that you were hiking in a large room. Green carpet, green chilling, and redwood/ earth walls created a cozy feeling. The sporadic cold sprinkles of rain and drenching gusts of built up leaf. Water reminded you of the sprinkler system though, and the entire walk was definitely an exercise in agility staying dry from the soaking vegetable matter that reached out at you from the sides of the trail. Sometimes there wasn’t a way around it and it was simply a straight shot through the trail, and a few hundred glistening fern leaves that, while thrilling to feel against the skin, and connecting me to the forest life, did nothing for my dryness. Miraculously though, I wasn’t nearly as cold as I’d thought I’d be. Coastal temperatures, dry changes of socks, and constant food and water kept me fueled, while the hike provided ample chances to warm up. For instant heat, simply add an extra layer and hat.
Walking through these massive trunks, some 30ft in diameter and hundreds of feet tall, you could feel their age coming off of them in waves. You felt like an ant next to their huge root feet. Even crazier is when you think about their root system extending that same distance down I, not the ground. Like icebergs, plants are often much deeper than we think they are. The interconnectedness of the landscape was apparent in every part of the forest. The thick mossy patches of soft green, hanging from some trees down by the creek, the wall to wall of ferns and underbrush, even in. The dim light, with the abundant moisture and richness of the soil. Everywhere you went something was growing like, well, a weed. The plant matter growing over, into, around, out of everything else. Remarkably similar in some ways to parts of Kentucky. The verdant greens, the heavy rains, the deep forest green.
And that’s something to endeavor to understand. How this landscape creates the different varieties of cannabis that exist. Terroir, the taste of the land, but in the most tactile way. Feel the essence of the landscape in every breath of air and of smoke. What was I tasting? What was I smoking? What was that feeling that I could understand between the trees around me, and the trees between my fingers.
I didn’t plan to stop to eat, using the time instead to explore the canyon, so I broke off cheese, wrapped it in a whole grain slice of bread, and kept munching while I watched the scenery. Every so often I’d grab a handful of the craisens from my pack and get a little sweetness in there as well. I often eat while I’m hiking. The fatty cheese, and filling carbs keep me going strong and extra drinks of water. Although it may have been dropping all around me, it was all dripping down my face a little in the humidity and it’s hydrate or die-drate.
Arriving at Fern Canyon the walls of the ravine were positively covered in ferns growing from the service of the rock and coming out , with the streams of water that flooded down from the streams higher up the hill. It sprinkled, misted, or rained the whole way along the trail, and it made sense to see that huge line of green advancing out of the wall. The creek bottom was less kind on my feet. It was about 55F and I didn’t see an easy way across the creek bed without either A) soaking my shoes and walking back 5 miles in utter wetness as opposed to damp. Or I could undo my laces and give it a pray that I didn’t fall and plunge into the water. I went with the wading, and though piercingly cold between the toes, refreshing after hiking in hot damp feet. In a Vim Hoff Oh gosh kind of way.
Walking up the bottom of the creek bed was an excellent middle step in the hike however, and shoes in hand, pack on back, water up to the knees, it was fun to see the vegetation, feeling of the creek swirl around my ankles as I gingerly hopped and eventually stepped through the cold stones back onto land. The view there is actually mini famous for being a part of a scene in Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Where the stegosaurus walks across the creek.
Mine was much more relaxing. No stegasour spikes dropping during a frantic crawl through one of the trunks. Feet feeling less like a sauna and more like feet, I scraped off the water and flecks of dirt and stick, on the sides of my pants, pulled my socks and shoes back onto my feet after a quick air dry, and laced up for the walk back. The trail, almost the entire way, was clear except for a small cluster around the creek and when I arrived back at the Ranger Station, but for the most part, I walked in solitude. No human voice for almost all of the first half, and then maybe a couple of people coming the other way as I headed back. Most seemed to drive straight to the creek or only do the trail one way, but a couple of people I noticed from the parking lot started and stopped. That’s one thing about the trail, whatever trail you’re on, is a community. You’re all walking separately, but the same path still. Sharing the place, if not the thoughts. That’s probably due to the fact that the redwoods are just as spectacular from the other side. Even a second look is still incredible, plus there’s an alternative trail that you can take if you’d like.
The other thing I'll say about the vegetation is the mushrooms. The fungus. It was amongst us for sure. I see what people mean now about the Northwest being great for mushrooms. They were out in force. I musta seen about fifty different sets of homes along the trail, housing little friends from the torrential downpour. As green as the undergrowth was, the under the undergrowth was a kingdom of mushrooms eating away at the impossibly hard woods, down into the earth to feed the other redwoods.
It was a spectacular trail all around. Highly recommend it for anybody looking for a medium hike that has spectacular views of gorgeous old growth forest, a moderate challenge to build up a sweat over some climbs in the switchbacks, espeically the mud, although I did see one person running it. The redwoods there are enormous and the vegetation underneath is no slouch either. A veritable smorgasbord of fungi, ferns, and other life teemed in the green undergrowth, and created the verdant carpet so delightful you could fall into it.
It reminded me of how green Ireland was, the richness of the moisture supercharging the plant growth with a combination of coastal temperate-ness too, although trees like actual giants. The redwood forest felt alive as all forests do, but here, a softness. The ease with which you can imagine yourself simply deteriorating into the forest itself is incredible. The softness of the rain falls through the canopy and ferns below, the silence away from human life if you’re lucky, the sight of so much life all around you, reaching melding, and growing into each other. The excess of life, piled up on top of each other, growing in layers, a recharge on the mental batteries. Walking between the ferns feeling the life flood back in every time fingertips touched leaves, lichen, or life of any sort.
Not that I was ripping off pieces of vegetation. But walking through a trail like that, with a few collapses resulting in pine tree scrambles, always means you interact with the trail. Especially when it’s grown almost over the trail blocking the way. The easiest though was to slide through between the arms of the ferns, feeling the passing branches and moving without disturbing as much as possible, sticking to the open trail beneath my feet, even if the space above it was occupied with a green arm.
The advice that I’d give then if you’re hiking this trail is that you should bring a rain jacket and pants, or not if you don’t mind getting wet. Although I had low ankle hiking shoes on, I also had mid calf gators on, so my feet were mostly dry. Just wet with sweat. A rain jacket might have been nice although it may have been quite steamy inside of it. I would also recommend a set of flip flops or crocs for the creek so that you don’t get your feet wet but can still enjoy the last bit of your walk more easily.
You could also park at the creek, leave your creek shoes at the car, and hike the Irvine trail to the ranger station and back. As I arrived to the halfway point where the James Irvine goes back, there was another parking lot where people were coming just for the creek. A word also, the James Irvine trail is poorly marked with blazes and has recently had some landfall from larges branches and logs from a recent gale, and maybe older ones. If you go on the trail, pay attention. The trail is fairly clea, but at a few forks, you’ll see some false trails people have formed. Stay on the main. Also, walking in cooler late October no bugs!
Overall at 9.6 Miles in just over 5 hours, a great warm up and a great addition to the previous day. We’re starting slow but our pace is ok, and totally worth the surrounding landscape to be able to soak in that delicious coniferous wonderland. It looks like we’re breaking down about 2 miles per hour. We’ll start settling in with some more weight and longer distances soon. But after 3 days we’ll take a break in the office, and investigate some leads on learning cannabis: the coffee shop that is. Small black coffee for 4 hours of wifi.