We found plenty to enjoy at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve: iridescent orange poppies, a gnarled fairyland forest, panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. Most impressive, however, was the jogger who wheeled his toddler to the summit in a stroller. Breath-taking.
The 7.5-mile loop on the Spring Ridge and Hamms Gulch trails offers two approaches: 1) Begin at the 1,905-foot summit off of Skyline Boulevard and hike down and back. 2) Begin at 541 feet in the Portola Valley and hike up and back.
We began in the valley. Who wants to end a hike with a three-mile ascent? Not us.
But the classic “clockwise vs. counterclockwise” loop-trail conundrum defied consensus. Did we want to stride up the Spring Hill Trail’s steeper grade in the sunshine and wind our way back to the valley in the shade of the Hamms Gulch Trail? Or pamper our heart rate but risk our knees to traverse the reverse?
The Geek would have preferred to begin with the shady switchbacks up Hamms Gulch, but the day was cool, despite the sunshine, and MontaraManDan’s penchant for getting the hard part out of the way first won the day. He hoped The Geek would thank him later.
The Spring Ridge Trail rises through one of the few “naked” hillsides in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The preserve’s meadow stretches across several hundred acres, making Windy Hill a popular launch spot for hang gliders and paragliders.
We saw no hang gliders, but were passed by several determined runners, including the stroller guy, as the trail rose sharply up the poppy-dappled meadow. At one point, MontaraManDan slowed as the grade reached 27 percent. The Geek passed him without a word of thanks.
The Spring Ridge Trail ends at the Skyline Boulevard parking area. A short walk up the Anniversary Trail took us to the Windy Hill Summit, where we enjoyed the view before continuing onto the Lost Trail to Hamms Gulch.
Bent, twisted and toppled live oak, bay laurel and fir trees cling to the edge of the Hamms Gulch Trail as it winds along the lip of the gulch. The occasional stand of coastal redwoods rises from the abyss.
Spring flowers nodded as we passed.
A gingerbread house in a clearing or wicked wolf skulking in a thicket would have fit right in.
Instead, we found a creepy snarl of caterpillars.
The descent ends at Corte Madera Creek, a nice spot to cool tired feet. But we waited until we got home to soak our feet in an icy tub of water. And the Geek made smoothies – the best kind of thank you at the end of the trail.