I finally figured out why I was the only I had seen on the trail that day, a sunny, if brisk, Sunday in October, the kind of day that drives one outdoors one more time before the rains start.
The hike from Damnation Creek is steep. Really steep. And having the body of a heavy reader made my return trip back to the car a little more difficult than it should have been.
I'd be wasting ink telling you how incredible the coast redwoods are, the world's oldest and tallest living things. But this trail shows you another side of the habitat that redwoods call home. Most who see the redwoods are content pulling their minivan over on the highway, walking through a level grove of giants, snapping some photos that can never quite portray the beauty of the trees and then continue on.
There is nothing wrong with this but, for those who want to get a better feel for the bioregion, Damnation Creek is a great place to stop. The 4 mile out and back trail demonstrates the unique interactions that make the region such an interesting place.
The hike starts from a trailhead about 11 miles south of Crescent City on Highway 101 from a dirt pullout on the west side of the highway amid redwoods. The redwood grove is magnificent, with rhododendron and sword fern and a few Douglas Fir trees. As the sounds of the highway disappear and the trail crosses the coast trail at about 0.7 mile, it descends rapidly.
The switchbacks are steady at first, with the first half-mile gliding down the incredibly steep slope. Redwoods tower overhead and one begins to hear the roar of the ocean. Thin fog glides through the trees, the marine air rapidly condensing as it rises from the sea. Ferns offer their fronds up to the sky, reaching toward shafts of light striking down between the trees.
The descent steepens and the trail narrows. It is washed out and eroding in places and is not really passable for much other than a goat in places. Sturdy boots are definitely a must for this trail.
From the redwoods and ferns, the vegetation shows more variation as you start to hear the trickle of Damnation Creek. Redwoods give way to Sitka spruce and Douglas fir on the steep slope and tan oak and vine maple join in near the creek.
Damnation Creek courses quickly down past huckleberry, sorrel and finally some grasses as it opens up and trickles into the Pacific Ocean as the trail ends.
Your reward: A rocky strand replete with tide pools. Enjoy the breathtaking coast without another soul in sight.
I walked down the beach, hoping over driftwood and weathered basalt, and skipped stones for a while, until I saw a marbled murrelet diving for food. There was a gull perched on a sea stack and I watched the waves crash against an arch.
Once I had my visual fill, I started to climb the 1,100 feet back up to the trailhead. While not incredibly difficult, it gave my legs and lungs a workout and I got back to the car sweaty, with the scent of spruce, fir and redwoods in my nostrils. Solitude can sometimes be rare thing to find on popular trails on the Wild Rivers Coast, especially on weekends, but I found both that and an abundance of trees, plants and animals at which to look.