Edge to Edge part 5: Grizzly Flat to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

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Almost exactly a year ago a group of ice skating friends started a multi-segment hike from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.  Last year we hiked a total of 23.9 miles, with 3970 feet of elevation gain, in 4 segments, reaching the Grizzly Flat trailhead on CA-35, Skyline Blvd.  We took the summer and fall off and are ready to resume our adventure.  In this 5th segment we started at Grizzly Flat Trailhead, which is at the edge of Upper Stevens Creek County Park in Santa Clara County, and hiked generally along Skyline Blvd to CA-9 just west of Skyline.  Our endpoint for this segment was the junction of Achistaca Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.  We hiked most of the length of Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, including a short portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Long Ridge OSP is partly in San Mateo County and partly in Santa Cruz County.

GPS track

GPS track

After a brief descent we climbed up to Long Ridge, where we achieved the highest elevation of the entire trip at approximately 2630 feet.  We ended the segment about 100 feet lower than the high point, prompting someone to declare that we are now the Over the Hill Gang!  During the remainder of our trip (after this segment) we will lose more elevation than we gain in each segment.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From the Grizzly Flat trailhead we immediately crossed Skyline Blvd into Long Ridge OSP.  At 0.4 mile from the trailhead the trail intersects Ridge Trail and, another 0.1 mile farther, Long Ridge Trail.   Here, at the lowest elevation of the segment, we followed Long Ridge Trail which makes a loop to the north and climbs in elevation, heading south along Long Ridge.  In this section the trail is mostly in a beautiful forested area, with manzanita interspersed here and there.   The trail has been built along fairly steep hillsides.

picture of Long Ridge Trail climbing up to the ridge

Long Ridge Trail climbing up to the ridge

The trail arrives onto the ridge top and rather abruptly emerges from the trees into open grassland hills.  Almost immediately there is a beautiful view, roughly west or southwest, across several ridges of the western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with the Pacific Ocean peeking through in a couple of places.  It was our first view toward our eventual destination, and we tried to figure out how we would be able to get to the ocean without actually going up and over the ridges.

image of western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with a small peek at the Pacific Ocean

Western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with a small peek at the Pacific Ocean

We had gotten a somewhat late start, and the view was so beautiful that we stopped for a break.  The trail becomes more like a fire road, and is now named Long Ridge Rd.  About half a mile later we were surprised to encounter a trail junction marked by street signs.

photo of street signs in the middle of an open space preserve

Street signs in the middle of an open space preserve!

At this junction we picked up the Bay Area Ridge Trail route, which we followed for about 1 mile.  At the street signs we continued straight, heading toward Hickory Oaks Trail.  Looking back, it was easy to see how Long Ridge got its name.

picture of Long Ridge, looking back to the northwest

Long Ridge, looking back to the northwest

Just before the junction with Hickory Oaks Trail we passed remnants of a former fence, with fence posts waving down the hillside.

image of fence along Long Ridge Road, near Hickory Oaks Trail

Fence along Long Ridge Road, near Hickory Oaks Trail

Hickory Oaks Trail continues southeast, roller-coasting up and down a bit from hill to hill (see the elevation profile).  There were frequent views of the Pacific Ocean kind of behind us, and I found myself turning around frequently to enjoy them.  This view was from the top of the second rise and shows that the typical coastal fog bank was in place just off-shore.

photo of Pacific Ocean from Hickory Oaks Trail

Pacific Ocean from Hickory Oaks Trail

About 0.6 miles along, the trail splits, rejoining again after about 0.1 mile.  We chose to go left, not realizing that the other trail goes up a little higher right at the highest elevation of our journey.  So we just missed being able to view our destination from our highest elevation.

About 0.2 mile past the re-convergence of trails, we arrived at the junction with Achistaca Trail.  Here we continued along Achistaca Trail, on the west side of Skyline Blvd, while the Bay Area Ridge Trail crosses to the east side to follow Saratoga Gap Trail.  Shortly after we started on the Achistaca Trail I happened to be behind the rest of the group, rounded a curve around the side of a hill, and saw a majestic solitary tree ahead, just above the trail where the first hikers in the group were passing by.

picture of solitary tree guarding Achistaca Trail

Solitary tree guarding Achistaca Trail

Just after passing this tree the trail enters more forested area; indeed, it is forested for most of its 1.7-mile length.  It was clear that we were close to Skyline Blvd because we could hear, though not see, traffic passing by.  Achistaca Trail loses and then regains 100 feet or so twice.  About ½ mile from the northeast end of this trail, we passed a couple of bleached animal bones right next to the trail.  Perhaps a mountain lion had had a meal here.

image of bones next to Achistaca Trail

Bones next to Achistaca Trail

Just as we approached what turned out to be the highest point along Achistaca Trail we were startled to find a large, elaborate cairn.  Part of the reason we were so surprised was that there was no ambiguity at all about where the trail was supposed to be.  (Usually cairns are used to assist with way-finding.)  The cairn was about as tall as my waist, included 9 rocks on top of the base rock, and was even decorated with a small leaf on top!

photo of elaborate cairn along Achistaca Trail

Elaborate cairn along Achistaca Trail

Past the cairn the trail descends about 125 feet, generally along a steep hillside, before regaining most of the elevation approaching the trailhead.  At the bottom of dip in this section there is a huge, amazing tree with numerous trunks and main branches branching out close to the ground.  To illustrate the scale, I decided to stand on an open spot at the base of several trunks.

picture standing on the base of an amazing tree

Standing on the base of an amazing tree

As soon as my picture had been taken, I took a picture of several of my fellow hikers who had just been taking my picture.  It seemed like a paparazzi moment.

image of paparazzi who had just taken my picture

Paparazzi who had just taken my picture

A few minutes after we continued past the tree we found another large tree that had fallen across the trail, and the trail had not yet been cleared.  Fortunately we were able to make our way over the main trunk, which was about chest high and surrounded on both sides by smaller branches.

At the end of Achistaca Trail there is a junction with Skyline to the Sea Trail.  We were excited to reach this milestone in our journey and to mark that we are officially over the hill and on our way to the ocean.  Here two of us point out the trail name while a third feigns exhaustion.

photo of part of the Over the Hill Gang at the junction of Achistaca and Skyline to the Sea Trails

Part of the Over the Hill Gang at the junction of Achistaca and Skyline to the Sea Trails

It is always a special experience to hike with good friends, and we are having a wonderful time on our march to the Pacific.  Next time we’ll continue to Waterman Gap.

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One Response to Edge to Edge part 5: Grizzly Flat to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

  1. Pingback: Edge to Edge part 6: Saratoga Toll Road and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to Waterman Gap | trailhiker

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