Monday, August 2, 2010

Day Hike - Marin - Cataract Falls , Alpine Lake Loop - 8/1/10

We parked our car just beyond Alpine Dam at the trailhead for Cataract Falls. The trailhead is normally full of cars, however, we were lucky enough to pull right up and find a spot.
We set off up the Cataract Trail. Although this time of year the water is but a trickle, it was still visually stimulating. The trail starts off skirting the side of Alpine Lake. Although boats are not allowed on the lake we did see a pair of MMWD rangers zoom by us in a powerboat.
MMWD rangers hard at work!

What a fun job that would be! After less than a half mile along the lakeshore the climbing begins in earnest. The trail leads away from the lake and up Cataract Creek. The trail is steep with wooden stairs and many switchbacks. The creek is full of cascading waterfalls and small wading pools, great for a hot summer day.

Small Waterfall

Cascading Cataract Creek

Wildflowers were not prevalent on this hike, however, we did run into this Foxglove on the side of the trail.


Another half mile or so uphill brought us to a junction with the Helen Markt trail which we would be returning on. We continued on the Cataract Trail. From here it levels out a bit still staying close to the creek offering views of the fern filled streambed.
Soon thereafter we were visited by an owl. It landed on a branch above us and stared for a while.
Great Horned Owl

View of owl from below

We hung out underneath it for about ten minutes before it flew away.
We continued on up the trail as it continued climbing. We soon came to another trail junction where we took a left onto High Marsh Trail.
The trail veers eastward away from Cataract Creek and onto a grassy, sunny hillside offering some of the best views of the hike.
(click on image to enlarge)

We could see Bolinas Ridge extending out to Olema with views of Tomales Bay as well as the golden hills of West Marin. The trail continues past a signed junction with Bare Knoll trail (which leads to Laurel Dell Fire Rd.) just before heading back into the shaded forest.
At the junction with Bare Knoll

The majority of the hike save for the grassy knoll and a few other patches would be in the shade. For most of the High Marsh Trail the elevation falls and rises frequently, quite steeply at times. We passed another unsigned spur trail on our right leading to Laurel Dell Fire Rd. followed later by Old Stove Trail also leading to the fire rd..
One of the few sunny patches

We crossed the W. Fork of the Swede George Creek which was dry at the surface at this time. We continued onward past the junction with Music Stand Trail across the Swede George Creek and then took a left on Willow Trail.
Lush ferns beside the trail

We then walked by the “High Marsh” which was pretty much dry and then stopped for lunch at the “Willow Meadow” along the E. Fork of Swede George Creek. In my many trips on this trail I have yet to see the East Fork dry up, and today was no exception. There was a healthy flow of running water which made for a nice setting.
E. Fork Swede George Creek

After lunch we continued along Willow Trail to the junction with Kent and Stocking Trails. We opted not to check out “Hidden Lake” which is just a short distance further down Stocking Trail. I’ve seen it plenty of times before and we figured it would be but a mud puddle. Instead, we took a left onto Kent Trail which is a straight shot down to the shore of Alpine Lake. Along the way we passed "Foul Pool" which was covered in pretty green lily pads and algae.
Foul Pool

The trail down is steep most of the way with some filtered views of the lake below.
Once at the shoreline we took a break on the rocky beach which had great views of the lake.
(Click to enlarge image)

Alpine Lake with start of Pine Mtn. in the background

We sat and watched several osprey diving for fish, none with any luck. Interesting bright red Dragonflies were flying in abundance along the shoreline.
Red Dragonfly

From our break at the shoreline we moved onward along the Helen Markt Trail toward Cataract Creek. We soon crossed Swede George Creek which was flowing gently. We’ve been here in the winter and its been roaring! Although still very enjoyable, the trail then unfortunately leads uphill and away from the lake. It climbs quite a bit before leveling off.
At the very beginning of our hike we had heard noisy bird calls in the distance which sounded like babies. It is now that we heard those noises again. Only this time they were much closer. We then spotted a giant osprey nest full of babies. The mother soon landed on a perch nearby.
Mother Osprey on perch with baby poking its head out of the nest

We sat and watched contently as the babies squawked.
Close up of the mother

The "fierce look"

Spread Eagle....or "Spread Osprey"!

Unfortunately the mosquitoes had started swarming and without any repellant were forced to move on.
Just a few steps further down the trail Sarahs’ knee gave out. She put on a brace with hopes of it helping with no avail. We soon came to the junction with Cataract Trail where we rested by a small cascade trickling into a good sized pool.
Small waterfall at junction of Cataract and Helen Markt

A great pool to cool off in on a hot summer day

Sarah was in a great deal of pain and she suffered greatly down the last mile or so which consisted of mainly steep stairs. I did the best I could to help her down the stairs. At the bottom of the trail near the lake I noticed a very interesting plant that we missed on the beginnnig of the hike.
Red Clintonia

We eventually made it back to the car and quickly drove back home to ice Sarahs' knee.
© copyright 2010

1 comment:

  1. How totally cool to see an owl at Cataract Falls !! We saw different flowers blooming when we hiked Cataract Falls Trail in March.