The View from Red Hill

We had a neighbor in Guerneville who once a week walked to the top of Red Hill to see the sun rise. Our last climb was a year ago January and the picture on the blog’s masthead is from halfway up that hill.

Saturday morning, only one other car was parked at Shell Beach lot on Hwy 1 south of Jenner. The sun was warm, the breeze cool and the horizon bumpy with a distant fog.

The gate across Hwy 1 from Shell Beach leads to a steep ascent.

You may be asking yourself “a hill? steep? Lynn?” Well, this walk is gorgeous. And if you can’t make the trip you can at least read about it and see Mike’s pictures.

Okay, the first section is old pavement and is now rocky gravelly eroded and has waterbars to prevent erosion.

I often stopped to take notes, look at the flowers, check for birds, and catch my breath. The coastal iris was done blooming, but there was some lotus, blue-eyed grass, flax, and scarlet pimpernel. Part way up, I can see Bodega Head and Pt Reyes to the south. This is a place where you look down you see flowers and when you look up you see ocean, mountains and birds.

Cars and RVs zipped by on Hwy 1. Eventually I heard the ocean. The breeze from the east rushed down the hill, promising the heat that scared us off our original planned trip to Sacramento. At the top of this first rise, the worst steepness was over. Hwy 1 was hidden and mountain tops and ocean appeared in the distance.

The trail was now more grass and dirt and fairly level! Red Hill beckoned from the right. In less than ¾ mile the trial split with Pomo Canyon left and Red Hill to the right. Most people walk between Pomo Canyon (the campground is soon to reopen) and Shell Beach. They miss this amazing hill with grand vistas and an old growth forest, to say nothing of bragging rights for scaling this place.

The path can be muddy in winter and spring, but now it only hinted at wetness. The path narrowed and the coyote bushes were taller. The path curves up between two large outcrops. In younger days I would have climbed these rocks. Now I admired the Sea Lettuce blooming while clinging to life on the rock faces.

We kept climbing. Jenner and the Russian River came into view where the trail heads north. I looked up and saw a Red-tailed Hawk, down I saw California Lotus (better name: Witches Teeth Lotus – a blossom of white, yellow and purple in a circle). I looked up again and saw an osprey slowly circling.

In 1 ½ mile are the remains of a fence opening. No more fence. Cows used to graze from here to the top of the hill. Now the grass is thigh high and the flowers harder to see except for those right next to the trail. What is easy to see –  is the rodent roto-tilled ground. And the scat and puke (fur and bones) of whomever feasted on them.

I puffed on and the climb got steeper. Sheep Sorrel intermixed with redheaded grass and when the path became more red and rocky, the sorrel mixed with blond grasses. The rodent work was less.

Finally we reached the lower edge of the woods with a fine arch of Bay tree at the entrance. The woods of oak, fir and Redwood were dark and cool with big sword ferns. The trail exited the woods too quickly, but a beautiful meadow and mountain awaited.

Curving around the woods the path led up with the wind rustling in the Douglas Fir. Looking north I saw Goat Rock, the Russian River and Penny Island. Two hawks talked on high as they circled over us.

At the 2 mile mark the path splits again with Pomo Trail to the left and Red Hill to the right. After greeting a bicyclist, he went left and we went right. To the east, I saw layers of mountains, including Mt. St. Helena.

Still climbing and circling the hill and woods, the path goes into the woods again. It was a needle soft trail and I got dizzy looking at the treetops. I searched for the elbows of old growth limbs. We came out into sunshine again and tried to steer clear of the poison oak.

More steep climbing through the grasslands to the top. Without the cows there were no cowpies, but the high grass the obscured the view. Flies buzzed, butterflies fluttered as we had a snack.

Five egret-shaped clouds headed north. Their shapes changed slightly but they held position as we worked our way back to the car.

Down was easier, in that we could both walk and admire the flowers, grasses, hills and birds. The last stretch down was slow for me and I wished I had my sticks. The parking lot was almost full and the Kortum Trail was busy with perhaps more sane walkers. But they were missing that whole “Look down, see flowers. Look up, see mountains, ocean, river and birds” thing.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

It’s about a 5 mile hike. The walk to Pomo is about 6.5 mile.

Shell Beach and Red Hill are part of the Sonoma Coast State Park. Areas that have been closed will supposedly reopen July 1st.

Cautions: Big cats and ticks. Wear sturdy hiking boots and bring water!

Dogs: Are not allowed. You think it was hard on me, what about your poor doggie?

Bathroom: At Shell Beach, for the coast’s most scenic setting for a bathroom.

Food: We brought snacks for the hike. Had a picnic at Duncan’s Landing. Dinner at the Sandpiper in Bodega Bay. (I highly recommend the Lemon Cake. Chowder and crab cake are good too.)

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