• Nick Seaton

Horseshoe Lake to Castle Rock SP Loop

August 12, 2018

Distance: 24.4 miles Time: 8.50 hours Pace: 2.87 mph Elevation Gain: 3727 feet

This post is going to be a little different. Rather than try my best to summarize my hike from memory, I used the voice recorder on my phone to save any random thoughts I had on the trail. Often the most interesting part of a hike happens between my ears.

Mile 0, 7:00 am

I just parked at the Skyline Ridge parking lot and am walking past Horseshoe Lake, which is where I ended my last hike. Luckily there are no flies swarming me yet and its calm and peaceful out. The parking lot was completely empty so I took some time to take some amazing pictures of the sunrise over the peninsula, then the sea of fog trapped over the coast on the opposite side.

Mile 2.3, 7:45 am

I just walked through a Christmas tree farm. Its amazing out right now, not too warm yet and getting more clear by the second. You can actually see the fog in the valley below burning off as the sun gets higher.

This Christmas tree farm is noticeably different from the ones on Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay that I grew up looking at. They actually let the brush grow up between every tree and theres no real system of rows or organization about the trees, they're just kind of spread out willy-nilly on the hillside, which is nice because I keep seeing ten to twelve quail at a time fly up as I walk by. There's obviously a lot of wildlife going on here, which you don't see with the manicured aisles that people walk down to cut their own trees. It's also amazing that the owners of this farm allow the trail to go right through the property, which definitely wouldn't fly in Half Moon Bay.

Mile 3.0, 8:00 am

There should be more hiking-related day trips for kids in the Bay Area. Maybe I just haven't researched it enough, but it just seems like there are plenty of kids here that come from households where both parents work and they can use some form of babysitting that's probably a bit more mentally stimulating than paying someone $20 per hour to sit on the couch and make sure their kid doesn't have an allergic reaction. Trails like this would be great. All it takes is one person to put a program together and get it going. I'm sure I'm overlooking much more complicated things like insurance and medical treatment on the trail and gear - where would you get all of the gear and backpacks? I suppose you'd put an ad in the paper asking people to donate their stuff. But I think that would be a really great thing for the Bay Area, especially the kids that don't have the time availability or the resources to be BoyScouts or GirlScouts. And it wouldn't be about the survival or "scouting," it would be more about just experiencing a part of the Bay Area that I think the majority of people here just don't know exists.

Mile 4.0, 8:20 am

The theme of this hike is random thought. Something a little different from my usual hike, which is more about feeling that burn in my legs and having my heart pumping and covering ground and pushing myself to see how much distance I'm capable of covering. Today is more about enjoying the hike and taking time to look around and to take in the beauty. Its also about my flight of ideas and this post will be a way for me to document typical thoughts I have while walking alone on the trail for hours.

Mile 4.3, 8:30 am

Just passed a single bicyclist, which was the first person I've seen today. I've seen four deer, one snake, a handful of rabbits, and a bunch of quail that dart on and off the trail as I'm going.

I think for me at least there are two different types of hiking. Both are kind of determined by the weather and the terrain. For example, the last hike I was on was hot, exposed, mostly rolling hills, a lot of ups and downs...it was strenuous. I think having that certain level of strenuousness on a hike pushes you to an area just beyond comfort. You're less inclined to stop and take a break because you know that break will be in the hot sun, legs burning, sweating, so you may as well just keep going. But on a day like today where I'm walking through relatively flat, cool, shaded trails with amazing tree cover things are different. On a hike like today I'll probably still cover the same rough distance, but it'll be much more leisurely. I'll slow my pace down, probably won't really break a sweat, take more rest breaks to sit and take in the surroundings. I think being able to hike both ways is a good balance. Knowing what your limits are, knowing what types of trails you like to hike, and knowing what you don't like to hike in I think is all super important. I think my weakness is the heat...definitely the heat. I don't like going up and down hills over and over for hours, but its much more enjoyable with a cooler day.

Mile 5, 8:45 am

I'm really impressed by the amount of confidence I think it takes to do something like this but in video format. That's really how I got into this long-distance hiking or thru-hiking or backpacking, however you want to classify it, was through YouTube videos. Theres a few YouTube hikers that I follow as they complete the longer trails in the US, like the AT, PCT, or I'm following one that's about halfway done on the CDT right now, and watching their videos is fascinating. The views that they're getting with just the iPhone camera, their commentary, just the whole production is wonderful to watch. Some of them are editing right on the trail, others send all of their footage back home where it's edited and then posted once a week. Theres one girl that I follow, her trail name is "Dixie," and every once in a while she'll do one of these amazing aerial shots with a drone that she carries on the trail. So in areas where she's allowed to she'll fly the drone and get these amazing aerial views, and I love that, but the problem is that I don't think I'm willing to listen to my own voice on camera. Even now, listening to the voice recordings that I make along the trail I cringe listening to my own voice. And I cant even imagine how worse it would be with intermittent shots of my sweaty dirty face in there, blocking out all the scenery. But, we'll see. Maybe I'll get there someday.

Mile 10, 10:40 am

Having been lost in my own tiny home town on multiple occasions, when I first started hiking reading a map and finding my way was a really big concern. I have a terrible sense of direction. But so far, no issues. I've been using the AllTrails app on my iPhone 7, which hasn't ever let me down. It's not crazy with the features, and its just a basic GPS map system, but it seems to work fine whether or not I have service. It records all of the hikes I do, elevation change, time, distance...all of that good stuff. I can mark waypoints on there too. The only real complaint is that there are things marked on the map but not really described. Earlier I walked by a Zen meditation facility about a mile back, and it was clearly marked on the map with a little symbol, but you'd have no way of being able to click on that symbol or know what it stood for until you were actually standing at that location. So it would be nice to have some popups or clickables on the map, but I assume that would require cell service or updating the entire app way too frequently. I don't carry paper maps really. I feel like in the Bay Area as long as you know your relative location you're fine finding your way back to some sort of road or civilization, or someplace with service. I know how to use a basic compass and paper map, I just think it takes way too long. I've never really been lost, but I take wrong turns or wrong trails all the time. Usually after about a quarter mile you get the feeling that your'e either going the wrong direction or something is off, which is when I just check my AllTrails app. Usually I'm a little frustrated about the detour, but hey that's part of the experience, right? Before I start my hikes usually what I'll do is mark a route on Google Maps. Theres a feature where you can drag and drop waypoints along the directions line to pull yourself away from the main roads and onto the dirt trails. This also gives me a good idea of the relative distance and elevation changes along the way, so I don't repeat the horror of Mount El Sombroso.

I got the full version of the AllTrails app for $14.99 during a promotion on Memorial Day, and I'm pretty sure that was for a lifetime membership, but I'll have to double check that. The upgrade just gives a few different map options like topography or satellite maps, road maps, etc.

One of the concerns about using an iPhone as my primary means of navigation is having the battery die or breaking the phone. As far as breaking the phone goes, i'm not all that concerned. If my phone breaks, it breaks, and I have to deal with it. I think the chances of me being hopelessly lost and breaking my phone on the same hike are pretty low. As far as the battery dying, I've never lost complete charge during a day hike. If I'm really concerned about that on a longer hike I just keep my phone in airplane mode, which saves a ton of battery life without disabling the GPS. But other than that, just out of paranoia, i bought an additional battery pack that is actually a detachable part of the phone case and I'm really liking it. It's made by Voltrox, and I'm planning on doing a review post of it soon.


You can hear the nonstop bangs of the Los Altos gun club, which i'm currently walking around the border of. I could hear them in the distance for well over a mile, but now it's really loud and very frequent. It's not even one second between gunshots. I'm now about a mile and a half, i think, from the Castle Rock State Park entrance and I'm currently doing a little awkward shuffle-jog thing so that I get there in time. I have my little kit with toilet paper and trowel and sanitizer, but would much rather make it the mile and half to an actual toilet, if they have one. Strange that an outhouse feels like a luxury item out on the trail, but it definitely is.


I just left the Castle Rock SP entrance. They have a single pit toilet, which was luckily unoccupied but definitely not recently cleaned.


I was thinking about photography, and I definitely would not consider myself a photographer; I don't know anything about cameras, I don't own a good camera. I've just been using the standard camera that comes with the iPhone 7 and then doing some super super basic editing on the computer. Not even with photoshop or anything, I mean as basic as basic gets. But i was thinking about maybe looking into some of the lens attachments that they make for the iPhone to maybe just improve the picture quality, and the zoom. It would be something new to play around with at least.

I do take a lot of pictures on the trail. I try to keep my camera out every time I see wildlife or anytime I'm walking along a ridge or particularly beautiful stretch of forest or trail. And the whole point of this blog is to save my memories, and sometimes the writing just doesn't do it for me, but the pictures definitely do.


I'm seeing a lot more people around now. It's probably because it's a weekend, and this is definitely the busier section of the trails that run along Skyline because of Castle Rock and Big Basin state parks, which are pretty famous for smaller parks. I've probably seen a couple hikers every two miles or so. They're almost always really nice. Few people try to stop to make conversation. There was one big group that had to have been 50 or 60 people. It was a narrow strip of trail, so I stopped and let them all pass. It was actually pretty hilarious, one guy was carrying a sign on a stick shoved into his backpack that said "we are tourists from Japan, please excuse us." It's actually pretty cool that a big group of people like that would come all the way from Japan just to see our trails.

Mile 16.1, 12:57 pm

I just passed the intersection of Skyline Blvd and Hwy 9, which is where the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail begins. So far my legs have been feeling pretty good. I just started getting a little twinge in my right knee, mostly just there on the downhills. But I've had this before, not an injury, just my body talking to me. It's really nice out. It's in the high 70's, but much more shaded than the last few hikes because it's a much more densely forested area. One of the nicest things about the Skyline trail system is that there are a number of trails that run on both sides of the roadway, which I really like because I'm not a big fan of just out and back hiking. It just feels like wasted miles to see the same trail twice sometimes. But here, I can park, I can hike as far as i want, then when i get to a good spot to turn around I can actually flip over to the other side of the road and take some new trails back.

Mile 17.3, 1:25 pm

I just passed my group of Japanese friends with their sign heading back. I assume they're all hanging out at Castle Rock SP, since that's the trail they were taking back. A few of them recognized me from the first pass and complemented me on going so fast, so that was a nice little morale boost.

Mile 18.5, 1:50 pm

I just summited the hill on the top of the Hickory Oaks trail. Amazing views. Just trees for miles. Miles. Theres a nice little bench up here and I'm going to take a quick break and reward myself with a Snickers bar.

Mile 19.0, 2:30 pm

The landscape has just changed dramatically. I'm now back on really exposed grassy ridge line for miles. This is part of the same ridge that I hiked on during my last hike. Its beautiful, but I just keep wondering why this particular long stretch of ridge line is completely treeless.

Is it the elevation? Lack of water on the ridge? Different soil? Maybe it's just too windy and exposed up here for trees. It's times like these I wish the plant kingdom was a little more communicative with us.



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©2023 by Nick Seaton


 2018:  302.6 miles

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