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Damnation Creek

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Photo by Ernie Hawks Photo by Ernie Hawks

The steps chiseled out of the rock crossing the face were only wide enough to place a foot. They climbed to a tiny ledge, then turned and crossed the wet stone up another several steps to a slight rise onto the bluff several dozen feet above the ocean. As we ascended we kept our bodies close to the wall since there was nothing between us and the boulder strewn creek below. This was the only way back up the Damnation Creek trail to our car, which was a little over two miles and 1,100 feet above us. 

We were on the coast of the Redwoods National and State Parks in northern California. We were not at all surprised at what was ahead of us since we had trekked down the dead end trail to the surf pounding the black rock shore. 

There was ample warning at the trail head about the perils of the hike. Still, we had headed down excited to be hiking in the redwoods. The first half mile is a slight rolling ascent of about one hundred feet. It is an easy trail through the old-growth, moss-shrouded giants. To add to the mystique of the misty path was a canopy of rhododendrons looking more like trees than bushes. Reaching over 20 feet above our heads, their pink to deep red and white flowers in full bloom were reaching into the occasional ray of sun.   

The forest is nearly pure redwood; straight with elegant fluted bark, the old monarchs create a stately passage away from civilization. Interspersed with them were a few Douglas fir. There was not a heavy understory, only ferns accompanied the rhododendrons. 

Breaking over the top we started the descent the signs had cautioned us about. At times, long switchbacks that wound around the trunks allowed a more pleasant slope than we had expected.

People often complain about trails in dense forests without expansive views. But even without the vistas, the forest is always thrilling to experience. The track passed fallen trees taller than me while lying on their side. Cuts in them creating a portal took us to the next part of the journey. I walked in awe even though there were no open sights. Huge burls, some with ferns growing out of them, added character to the mighty trees our route transported us through.    

Farther down the trail became a little more open and the redwoods were replaced by Sitka spruce. The understory was more dense where the light reached the trail. However, there still were no wide outlooks. The trail, while quite good overall, had several sloughs like I would expect on a rain forest trail. Crossing them was quite precarious and if meeting another hiker, one always needed to wait for the other. We were appreciative of the gripping soles our Keen hiking boots had as we traversed the sloping pathway. 

Near the bottom walking became easier. There were two foot bridges over tributaries to Damnation Creek and after a short, sandy hill we found ourselves on a bluff and overlook. From there we had open views of the cove, rocky beach and ocean surf.

At this point we started looking for a way down to the ocean and could only find those steep, damp, steps chiseled out of the rock. They were the only way to complete the trek to the surf so we took them. Wanting a dry crossing of the creek, we traversed rocks and logs to the beach.

Looking up from that base was a forested but near vertical hill, resulting from the constant movement of the tectonic plates. 

Sitting next to a natural arch listening to the pounding of the waves we ate some fruit and protein bars. There were only a few other adventurous souls sharing the sights and sounds. 

For thousands of years the Tolowa Indians used this route to collect seaweed and shell fish. I am sure they did not have the advantage of bridges made of sawed beams or a trail that at times looked engineered. However, when I looked at those steps carved in the stone cliff at the bottom, I wondered if they were chipped out with Stone Age tools.  

At the bottom looking up, knowing that was the only way back to the car, I speculated that may be the source of the name “Damnation Creek,” but that is only speculation.  

Ernie Hawks is the author of “Every Day is a High Holy Day: Stories of an Adventuring Spirit” available in your favorite bookstore or from Amazon.com and Kindle. 

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

hiking, The Hawks Nest, Damnation Creek, Redwoods National Park

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