Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walking Cataract Creek

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It was so cloudy when I looked out the window this morning that I couldn't even see the full moon. I didn't expect there to be much, if any, color for sunrise, but I decided to get out of bed anyway and try to reach Cataract Falls nice and early.


What little color there was quickly faded, and right about sunrise a fog bank started to blow in from the coast. It obscured all but the upper edge of the mountain, leaving a beautiful outline. Sunrise was 6:59 this morning, meaning it's no longer possible to drive up to East Peak for sunrise photography since the Pantoll gate doesn't open until 7 a.m.

Alpine Lake was a lot fuller than the last time I saw it (Jan. 20). It's still not quite full, but at least the mudflats are gone. If I were to stand today in the same spot I stood on Jan. 20, I'd be very much underwater. 

My plan for the morning was to hike from Alpine Lake to Cataract Falls. The water district road and trail crews must have had a busy week. A bay laurel had fallen onto the first bridge you cross going up Cataract Trail, but the tree had already been cut up and the demolished bridge railings already replaced. There was sign of other tree falls and mudslides along Fairfax-Bolinas Road, but it was completely cleaned up this morning.

I really wanted to concentrate on photographing the waterfalls, but I couldn't resist this little mycena. It looked perfect until I put on my glasses and saw that a chunk was missing, so I snapped a photo and continued on my way. Had it really been perfect, I'd have spent more time. I told myself I'd allow digressions from the quest for waterfalls on the return trip, knowing I'd probably be too worn out to care by then.

The trailside view of one of the first major waterfalls is partly obliterated by an encroaching bay laurel tree.

Just a little higher up the canyon I arrived at probably the most picturesque and often-photographed set of waterfalls.

I stitched a few vertical images to make one large horizontal image that I had to downsize to bring it to 24x36 inches.

For those of you who are familiar with this little waterfall at the junction of Cataract Trail and the Helen Markt Trail, can you tell what's missing?

Compare it with this view from four years ago.

Last week's flood finally dislodged the log that an earlier flood stuck in the middle of the waterfalls many years ago.

There's always stuff being hurtled down the canyon. I never liked the log in that previous waterfall, but I kind of like this one. It makes a nice line in an otherwise difficult waterfall to photograph. It's difficult because you can't really shoot it straight on, and it has a tendency to look askew when photographed from the side.

This is Cataract Falls. Hard to believe, but just last week it looked like this. The split rock that you see in last week's image near the center right of the deluge is almost dead-center in this image. Last week, almost everything but that rock and the trees was completely submerged.

I actually did make a couple of stops for "ancillary" waterfalls on my way back down.

This is hardly an ancillary waterfall, but I didn't appreciate this sweet little grotto until I got off the trail and checked it out more closely.

Right behind me was a gorgeous patch of lush northside forest.

I'd seen the scarlet cup fungus on my way up and managed to find it again on the way back down. I'd had the canyon to myself for most of the morning, but by now I was sharing the place with quite a few runners, hikers, dogs, and people milling around holding cardboard coffee cups close to their lips. I can't really do nature photography when there's any kind of hustle and bustle around me, so my camera stayed in the bag from the cup fungus on down.

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  1. Wonderful shots, as ever, but the scarlet cup fungus made me gasp. I'm a sucker for a bright cup fungus. So, THANK YOU! =) For all the photos, of course, but esp. for the reminder that that magical cups of color exist.

    1. Thanks! I only wish those cups didn't like to grow in such boring patches of dirt!

  2. Great shots John! Such a beautiful place. Sometimes I call the place "Cardiac" Falls because of all of those tough (for an old guy like me) rock stairs coming up from Alpine Lake.

    1. I hear you. My legs were a little wobbly the day after. On the way up I was thinking, "This is why I go to the gym, so I can keep doing stuff like this." Except all I do at the gym is swim laps....

  3. Hi John, i stumble onto your blog when googleing 'Mt Tam Circumambulation' and i really enjoy your beautiful pictures. I live in Southern California but one time i went hiking Mt Tam with a friend and i loved it (these are the pics i took I like to know if Mt Tam Circumambulation event is still going on and if there will be one this year, i appreciate if you let me know. Best regards, lien

    1. It was beautifully green when you were there! I have a link to an article about the current state of the circumambulation on the sidebar (click on "continues to this day").