When Sandy Lydon, our hiking class leader, warned us
that this all-day hike was strenuous, he wasn’t kidding. Although the
distance was something less than eight miles, the ups and downs were
steep, long, and many. But while I still prefer the solitude of solo
hiking, Sandy’s on-site observations and stories made the hike worthwhile.
He has taken students into the Forest of Nisene Marks for over thirty
years. He wrote the history of Aptos Canyon for the park’s general plan,
and he helped to convince the State Parks Commission to adopt the park.
All this, and he tells great stories with enthusiasm and humor.
When we met behind the Aptos Station, it looked like we
would have an easy time. Doughnuts were served, and rather than walk, we
were driven into the park via truck. We rode past the entrance station,
George’s picnic area, the Mary Easton picnic area, and the Porter family
picnic area. Gates opened magically as we climbed up past the Loma Prieta
mill site, then around and up switchbacks to the "top of the incline."
The "incline" was a steep rail line that lowered stacks
of split wood on narrow-gauge flatcars by wire cable and a steam donkey.
It lowered these cars 600 feet in elevation over a distance of 2250 feet.
In case of emergency, a rider would jump off the car and ring one of the
bells next to the track. They rang often.
We were herded back into the trucks, and then driven up
the Aptos Creek Fire Road to White’s Lagoon Trail, over five miles north
of the Porter family gate. Finally, we began hiking.
It was an easy walk of less than half a mile and only
sixty feet of elevation gain to White’s Lagoon. The lagoon was shallow and
thick with reeds, grasses, and willows. We saw many signs of feral pigs.
We cut back to the Big Slide Trail, which took us about
a mile and a half to Aptos Creek Trail. The first half mile was a gradual
descent, but then we plunged steeply down about 600 feet in elevation
through a series of switchbacks. When we reached Aptos Creek Trail, we
could look down about 150 feet over the canyon. We could also see several
long fissures from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Sandy explored this
area with geologists shortly after the quake, and he believes the
"hypocenter" of the quake was deep under the ground at this location.
Thinking deep thoughts, we displayed our disregard for
this news and ate a quick lunch. My thought was that the earthquake did
far less damage to the forest than the loggers did.
A left turn on Aptos Creek Trail led us to one of the
most beautiful areas of the park. We stayed high on the canyon wall for
about half a mile, and then dropped down into a thicket of horsetail
ferns. We entered a redwood grove, complete with a shaded field of redwood
sorrel and ferns (sword and five finger). We visited Monte Vista Station,
a logging camp and tourist site where nothing remains but a few twisted
Another quarter mile upstream took us to Five Finger
Falls, a little waterfall that bursts out of a rocky cliff to fall 15 feet
into an emerald green pool. Sandy brought fish eggs to feed the hungry
steelhead trout, another species doomed by logging, pollution, and
Then came the hard part. We retraced our steps back up
the trail, past the intersection with Big Slide Trail, and continued
another four miles back to the Aptos Creek Fire Road. We passed Emerald
Pond, massive landslides at Hell’s Gate, a sign reporting, perhaps
falsely, the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake, and up and down many, many
We lost some hikers along the way, but after some
delays, we reassembled at Aptos Creek Fire Road. We could have waited for
trucks, but now on automatic pilot, we stumbled on down to what was once
the town of Loma Prieta, then visited the mill site, and walked on to the
Porter family picnic area. The very welcome trucks came and took us to the
Aptos Station, our cars, doughnuts, and civilization.
Although the last few miles reminded me too much of
basic training, and I wanted more time to take pictures (and dawdle), I
met many nice people and enjoyed Sandy’s running commentaries.
I recommend this hike only to kids and old people who
don’t mind complaining and have plenty of excuses. If you are a young, fit
adult, you may find this trail too tough.