Trip Report - Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Jody in the Spotlight (Jody Pritchard) More photos below.

By Jody Pritchard

Selecting a secluded backpacking destination for a popular 3-day weekend can be a challenge. Sometimes you discover the rare gem, and other times, you uncover why no one has ever heard of the place.

Memorial Day weekends are especially challenging for the Bay Area hiker. It’s too early for the high country and too hot for the low lands. The Redwoods are like Goldilocks’ perfect bowl of porridge: shady and cool, just right. Humboldt Redwoods State Park in particular looked to be one of our least crowded options.

The park ranger seemed confused with our intent. “Backpacking eh?” This was a car camper’s park, and it was noticeably her first time attempting the paper work for trail camp permits. When we inquired about water sources she said, “I think there’s water near Whiskey Flat…” Wait. You think there’s water or there is water? This isn’t exactly a casual piece of information for overnight travelers. We decided to take our chances, grabbed the permit, and hoisted our packs.

Our first night on the trail was spent amidst a grove of old growth redwood trees. They towered over the Whiskey Flat trail camp and filtered most of the sunlight so only a few green rays were available to life on the ground. These trees were thousands of years old and had been collecting a soft bed of debris at their trunks for, well, thousands of years. It turned out to be one of the best napping spots ever, and we enjoyed a quiet afternoon and evening together in the woods.

It’s a good thing we slept as well as we did that first night, because that was the last of the cushy trails and pleasant evenings for this trip. The next day we muscled up a poorly graded fire road over 3000ft to the top of Grasshopper Peak. We spent the afternoon exploring the fire lookout and checking out the view before setting up camp a few hundred feet downhill at the second trail camp.

The Redwoods are like Goldilocks’ perfect bowl of porridge: shady and cool, just right.

Grasshopper trail camp is on a windy ridgeline with few flat spots big enough for a tent. We discovered that our beloved Tarptent—while a joy to carry at only 2lbs.—it is not the shelter of choice on an exposed, windy ridge. Matt and I squeezed our heads together at the back of the tent to accommodate the slope of the site and our shelter’s limited aerodynamics. Dawn did not come soon enough considering our arrangement, the bitter cold, and the roar of nylon flapping in our faces.

I’d like to think it was the lack of sleep that led to the following morning’s navigation mishap. We packed up and sauntered down the trail a good mile or so before realizing we had taken the wrong trail out of camp. Luckily, we recognized the trail features didn’t match our map and did a 180 back uphill to our starting point. A further review revealed how close we’d flirted with disaster. Seven miles downhill the trail was closed. We would have had to walk back uphill for a fourteen mile day only to find ourselves at the same trophy campsite for an extra night out and a packet of ramen for dinner.

The trip back to the car was safe and uneventful. We imagined out loud where the day could have gone over pints of Racer 5 and burgers at the Bear Republic Brew Pub in Healdsburg. Although the trip probably wouldn’t make it in our Top 10, we really enjoyed Whiskey Flat and the training prepared us for trips later in the year.

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