Big Basin Redwood Trails 50K | California | August 20, 2006
By Gary Dudney
Sunday morning in Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Race Director Wendell Doman kicks off the Big Basin Redwood Trails 50K along with races at three shorter distances. It’s like three hundred kids getting released into an enormous playground. Over a hundred years ago (1902 to be exact), people were enchanted by the towering Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) in this area, the streams spilling down into murky blue pools, and the solemn spirit of the place and wisely chose to set it aside as California’s very first state park. Located in the Santa Cruz mountains, just north of Santa Cruz on California’s central coast, it was known simply as The California Redwood Park.
The stately giants towering overhead form a thick canopy. Down below, where the runners pad along the well burnished trails, the soft light is dense and green-hued. High levels of tannin and the lack of resin or pitch in the redwoods protect even the downed trees from insects, fungi and fire. Mammoth moss covered logs last for decades on the forest floor. Where the wood on the end is exposed, it glows with what seems like a fierce brick red fire amid the lush green ferns and clover.
We pass by or over a hundred natural bridges formed by fallen trees. Huge logs have slid down into stream beds becoming entangled with the leaping water. One hollowed out log has the stream actually flowing through it with a waterfall at the end. Ridges above the forest are topped with stone, so there we run over a jeep road formed of waves of limestone before dropping back down into the trees.
About fifty of us were lucky enough to choose the full 50K distance. A sign at the trailhead warning hikers that a round trip to the heart of the Big Basin will take 6 hours is a reminder of one of ultrarunning’s gifts, being able to sample thirty miles of fantastic trail all in a few hours without needing to lug along a huge backpack. We’ll make the “6 hour” trip twice and tour another 9K loop before the race is done.
A highlight of the run is climbing up a series of four waterfalls on Berry Creek deep in the heart of the forest: Golden Falls, Cascade Falls (which takes an 80 foot drop), Silver Falls, and Berry Creek Falls, with a combined drop of 200 feet. It would seem obvious the creek must be named for berries found along its banks, but surprisingly the name comes from an 1870s hermit, Tilford George Berry, who built a cabin nearby and was said to have had no dog or horse as a friend. His only companion was his rifle, which he totted everywhere, and eventually, used to kill himself.
The Pacific Coast Trail Runs series is known for its great courses, relaxed atmosphere and well-stocked aid stations. The first aid station this year, however, was nowhere to be seen. A forlorn gentleman stood where it was supposed to be with the news that the supplies were trapped behind a locked gate two miles down the road. “If you need aid, you can keep going to the car.” Even for a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with sourdough bread, I wasn’t going to run four extra miles. But such surprises are the stuff of which ultras are made, so everyone took the news in stride with nary a complaint.
Redwood forests, water falls, and 300 low key runners in a relatively unheralded race above the Pacific Ocean—ultrarunning California style.