Hood Mountain Transect
By Austin Explorer on 5/13/2018
Distance: 9.25 Miles Duration: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Coppertone and I made use of the "Sugar Shuttle" to do a one way hike through Hood Mountain Regional Park to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
The temperature was quite a bit cooler than yesterday, so we thought we hit the jackpot. Surely, the fog would burn off as the Sun rose higher. It would, but would it burn off quickly enough?
We started off at the Los Alamos Road trailhead where the Sugar Shuttle dropped us off and quickly worked our way down Hood Mountain Trail. Our pace was interrupted now and then by banana slugs. We had seen them before on other hikes, but the frequency in which we encountered them today was uncommon. What was really interesting is when we came upon one eating a sprig of moss. I had never seen a banana slug eat before. When we encountered addition slugs later we offered up some moss we found nearby.
The water was flowing briskly in Santa Rosa Creekso the creek crossing was not as easy as it had been during our previous trips. The trail splits into two right before the creek with the trail leading into Sugarloaf Ridge to the left and continuing on to Hood Mountain to the right. We ended up going down the Sugarload fork, cross the creek and then hug the creek shore on the other side for the short distance until we could get back onto Hood Mountain Trail.
From that point the trail steadily climbs towards the summit. Hood Mountain Trail is a jeep trail that presents a wide path for hikers, cyclists and horses. At the junction with Summit Trail we considered taking the hiking-only path to the summit but found the trail there a bit more overgrown that we would have liked. So we continued on the main trail that roughly parallels to the top.
We did later join Summit Trail higher up when it intersected again and the trail there looked far more clear. The higher elevation helped thin some of the grass from Summit Trail, but so did the October 2017 fires. Parts of the trail looked like the scene of a post apocalyptic movie set. Blackened trees and brush stems reflected off an eery light. With that said, the evidence of recovery is abundant. Sprouts of new growth are popping out of the ground and even out of the trunks of trees many would have considered dead.
As we encountered in our previous visit to Hood Mountain the last segments to the top are very steep and tiring. When we reached the summit we took some time out to have lunch try and check out the views, which were non-existent. The fog had not burned off. The view from the top of Hood Mountain was never as great as from Gunsight Rock Overlook, so we had hopes that the time spent eating would deliver us some clearer weather.
We continue from the summit along Nattkemper Trail towards Gunsight Rock Overlook. The trail junction with the overlook spur was severly burned. The charred remains of the trail marker pointing to the spur was leaned up against and equally burned tree trunk. Miraculously, the overlook itself was not badly burned. We did not get a miracle today from the weather though. The fog, though thinning somewhat, was still too thick to provide a view over Sonoma Valley.
We continue down Nattkemper Trail, hiking along paths we had never been before and discover it's charms. There's an interesting mixture of steep grasslands and forested groves. The grasslands open up to the west, providing views over Sonoma Valley. Yes, the fog is lifting and with every open vista to the west we can see farther and farther. Just a bit too late for us!
We continue towards the boundary with Sugarloaf Ridge State Park where the trail turns into the Goodspeed Trail. There's extensive fire damage in sections here as well but an abundance and variety of wildflowers provide color to even the most burnt areas. We see a young lady passing by with a handful of picked wildflowers. Unfortunately this just means there are fewer flowers for other visitors to enjoy and fewer plants laying down seeds for next year's plants. Please enjoy the wildflowers where you see them!
At a bit over 9 miles and lots of climbing (over 2,000 feet) we were fairly tired heading back to our parked car. But the Goodspeed Trail provided some interesting experiences, including a tree trunk bridge over a creek crossing made somewhat easier by the installation of a climbing rope handrail to help steady oneself.
I think when we go back to get a view from Gunsight Rock Overlook without the fog I think we'll head out from Sugarloaf if we need to do an out and back. The distance to the overlook is a bit shorter and the elevation gain seems more consistant. But return we must. We can't let the fog get the best of us.