Particulars

The tale

San Francisco’s famous fog isn’t limited to the peninsula. One Friday afternoon, I could see ground-hugging orographic clouds crawling over the Santa Cruz Mountains from my day-job office in the South Bay. The fog lingered through Saturday, perched atop the peaks as far south and west as I could see. By Sunday, there was no discussion. The fog must be hiked.

Forty minutes south of San Jose, and 15°F cooler than the valley floor, Castle Rock State Park is a popular destination for local free climbers. I saw many people trying to ascend the park’s pitted sandstone formations, but the moisture-slicked surfaces gave them trouble.

The park’s visitor center is a hut from which a lone attendant gives information and takes $8 entrance fees. But the parking lot was full, so I parked on Skyline Boulevard, a few minutes away from the entrance. On the plus side, parking outside meant I didn’t have to pay. Ten minutes of waiting for an open spot was worth saving a few bucks.

Unlike my recent hikes, Castle Rock SP has few level stretches of trail, few exposed areas, and no open fields. Where there weren’t trees, there was fog. While San Jose caught ample sunshine, I walked through waves of mist and gentle drizzle. Twice, the trail required scrambling on all fours to get over obstacles.

I followed an easy loop to Castle Rock itself before heading to Goat Rock, my ultimate destination. Groups of people, including an REI-lead tour and a family speaking German, were attempting to scale the fog-soaked sandstone.

Not everyone was happy to be there. As I left the Castle Rock formation, I heard a little girl — single-digits, at a guess — bawling with fear. She’d gotten stuck rappelling a dozen yards off the ground while adults tried to coax her down. Not everyone is Brooke Raboutou.

Goat Rock is a higher climb, less than five miles into the park. At least, I think it is. The atmospheric scenery made judging distances hard. The Saratoga Gap trail descends along a creek that runs through the mountains, before climbing again towards the park’s campsites. Even on a clear day, trees and steep inclines enclose the trail. When I finally reached an open stretch, I was facing south, away from Silicon Valley and into more fog-enshrouded wilderness.

The scenic overlook, wasn’t.

The fog was still thick when I left. But before I reached the highway, I was back under clear skies and brilliant sunshine.

Views

You can see the fog from the valley.
You can see the fog from the valley.
Boulders and trees mingle along the trail, dressed alike in green.
Boulders and trees mingle along the trail, dressed alike in green.
Climbers attempt to scale one of many rock formations in the park.
Climbers attempt to scale one of many rock formations in the park.
A young climber calls for advice.
A young climber calls for advice.
Ferns, lichens, mosses, and more grow cling to sanstone.
Ferns, lichens, mosses, and more grow cling to sanstone.
A scenic overlook near Goat Rock.
A scenic overlook near Goat Rock.

For next time

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June 17, 2018