Nisene Marks

Sunday, Jan. 26, 2003

Contact: Vladimir Gusiatnikov

Found this week here:

"The [...] stream flowed from from the mountainside down a deep jagged crevice lined with a dense mixture of ferns and mosses. Towering redwoods stood far above on the rims of the gorge whose rusty trunks glowed in the streams of sunlight that found [its] way through the shady woods. The moist ferns and conifers looked right out of the Triassic, and the trail was the only marker of human presence. At any time a dinosaur could have come lumbering through and, except for the cool winter weather, wouldn't have been a bit out of place."

Are you O-fan enough to venture out into the Triassic on a Superbowl morning? On January 26, we'll return to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. We will use the northern portion of the park which has been seldom utilized in the past. This portion has more agreeable vegetation than the PO-infested southern portion. The forest is mostly young (50–100-year-old) redwoods. These redwoods are strikingly (see above) beautiful, and I personally find them even more spectacular than the giant, thousand-year-old monsters in Big Basin; in Nisene Marks, the sun sometimes gets to shine through the canopy. In many places, there is some deciduous undergrowth, and a few young redwoods. The visibility is sometimes impaired by this undergrowth. You will not encounter many places with a continuous fern/moss cover, but there are some. The PO is mostly limited to ankle-high sticks, dormant in this time of the year. However, this PO cover is literally everywhere; use ample Tecnu if you are sensitive, and try to stay upright.

The map is a 1987 offset print; the scale is 1:15,000 and the contour interval is 7.5 meters. The closely-spaced contours make for some steep hills; one-time BAOC member Swampfox says of the park, "hillsides so steep and loose that just glancing uphill [is] enough to set off miniature landslides". He is not that far from truth. The portion we use was surveyed by James Brown, Hilary Beck, and Ross Burnett, in preparation for the 1987 US Relay Champs and the US Long-O Champs. The area used by the courses mostly corresponds to the area of the 1987 Relay Champs. As far as I know, these were the one and only Relay Champs BAOC ever won.

The map has aged remarkably well. At the time of production, it was state of the art. It still is quite accurate, but to 1987 standards, not to those expected in 2003. There are two issues with the map that are likely to affect runners. One is the lack of mapped light green (slow running). Maybe the deciduous bushes were not as tall in 1987 as they are now, and maybe the mappers did not find them worthy of mention. The map you'll have is mostly white. Some large areas of the woods are mostly light-green, with small, localized patches of medium green; none of that green is mapped. The mapped patches of green are still there. Some of the woods are wide-open runnable, mostly for the first half of the advanced courss. The areas of dark green (difficult to walk) are chaparral and their borders are quite reliable.

The other issue is with contours. To someone used to meticulously surveyed maps of the oak forest, those will appear overly generalized. Almost all of the peculiar "redwood reentrants" are mapped, with different degrees of trueness to life. Small local distortions persist in areas of high detail. A contour may be missing here and there, and extra ones exist in places. I personally find these peculiarities much easier to deal with than the baffling plunging contours and large-scale shifts of Big Basin. I am very confident that there are no medium- or large-scale distortions on the portion of the map we use.

The steep slopes and redwood-forest vegetation add up to quite slow going. While test-running courses this week, I clocked myself going at about 20 min/km while actually running through open woods, albeit up a good hill. The impression I constantly get from the map is that the scale is wrong. It isn't, but you may have a better chance of keeping internal peace with your estimate of your orienteering abilities if you treat the map as if it were about 1:20,000.

The portion of the park we will be using gets very light use. There is one fire road and one trail. These woods are as close to wilderness as it gets in the Bay Area (however, see below for the indigenous life). If you are really, hopelessly lost, safety bearing is NW; you'll either hit Hinckley Fire Road, or Hinckley Creek. Follow either to the west, but try to stay high above the creek, or you'll get the complete Triassic experience.

There are some dirt-bike trails, some of which follow old logging road beds. The trails and the beds are unmapped.

Course Specifics and Items of Concern

All standard courses will be offered. The course parameters, still subject to last-minute changes, are below. The "ET 100-pt" column is the estimate of the time it would take a hypothetical runner with a 100-point USOF ranking on the respective course to finish without mistakes. The "EWT" is the predicted winning time at the event. The error on the EWT is +/– 7 minutes, owing to the surprises of the redwood forest and the smallish sample size. The length and climb info supercede all previously published parameters.

Course      Length, km   Climb, m     Controls    ET 100-pt, mins   EWT, mins

Blue            6.19        550           10           70               80
Red             4.94        460            9           60               72
Green           3.84        285           10           50               60
Brown           2.43        235            7           45               47
Orange          1.94        130            8           40               45
Yellow          1.44         40            6           30               22
White           1.44         15            7           20               17

There will be electronic punching on Blue down through Orange.

The maps will be in unsealed plastic bags. There is no legend on the map, but the control descriptions will be on the maps.

The beginners' courses are shorter than usual. The advanced courses are mostly runnable after some brutal initial climb. There will be some nontrivial route-choice problems on Red and Blue; also, plenty of coarse navigation using large, well-defined features, and some fine navigation closer to the control areas.

There are some dangerous cliffs and really steep slopes, all shown on the map. Those are best avoided.

The person who took down a part of our course in May has been located. He seems to be a reasonable guy. He and his family live on the map, and the woods are his back yard. There are two more property owners in addition to the family, all clustered near Hinckley Fire Road; you will pass by the properties on the way to the start. The family seemed quite receptive once I explained orienteering to them. All of the owners know about the event. Nevertheless, please do not go into the properties. The advanced and intermediate courses do not intentionally cross the properties; the beginners' courses should stay on main roads as they go around the houses. These people have several dogs, none of whom seemed particularly threatening, but they allow the dogs to run loose. There are no clear boundaries to the properties in the terrain. The properties are not shown out of bounds.

There is a water line that these people use; you have a chance to cross the line immediately after the start on the advanced courses. The line will be flagged. Please do not step on it.

Start and Finish Organization

There will be shuttles to the finish. The shuttle ride takes about 7 minutes. It is 1.00 km to get to the finish from the shuttle drop-off point, with 65 m climb; a 13-minute comfortable walk. You will cross streams 4 (four) times on your way to the finish, and your feet will get wet; you may want to consider taking shoes off. From the finish, it is a further 1.55 km walk to the start, with 143 m more climb; allow 23 minutes for a slow walk.

If you are a part of a large group all arriving in the same vehicle, it would be best if you drive directly to the shuttle drop-off point, bypassing the shuttle. Pick up directions at the registration. There is parking for several cars at the drop-off point.

The start will be open until 1:00 pm; however, the registration will close promptly at 12:00. All other standard BAOC times apply. You must be back at the finish by 2:00 pm to catch a shuttle ride back; otherwise, you walk.

Driving Directions

The parking for the event will be at Mountain Elementary School, 3042 Old San Jose Road, Soquel, CA 95073. There are two sets of directions to get there. The suggested one is the first one. Only use the second one if you are comfortable with turning left from Highway 17. The second set is faster unless you wait to turn for several minutes. Only the first set will have "Orienteering" direction signs. The second set is fastest for getting back to the Valley.

Directions 1: Take Highway 17 south to Highway 1, and take Highway 1 east ("south") from Santa Cruz. Take the Porter Street/Bay Avenue exit; follow Porter St. north to Soquel. Shortly after crossing Soquel Drive in 0.4 miles, Porter becomes Old San Jose Road, also known as Soquel San Jose Road. Go north on this road for an additional 2.9 miles. The school will be on your right.

Directions 2: Take Highway 17 south. A while south of Patchen Pass, turn left onto Vine Hill Road. Continue for 2.3 miles and take a left on Mountain View Road. Stay on Mountain View for 0.9 miles; it will become Laurel Glen Road. After further 2.2 miles, Laurel Glen will merge into Old San Jose Road. Go south for 0.5 miles to the school.

Parking is limited to 40 vehicles and the suggested donation is $4.00 per vehicle. You won't have to pay an additional park entry fee. Carpooling is strongly encouraged. For those coming from the Bay Area, the suggested meeting place is the Los Gatos VTA Park and Ride on Highway 17. To get there, take Highway 17 south from San Jose. The Park and Ride is west of Highway 17 at the Highway 9 ("9 Los Gatos Saratoga") exit. Another, much larger VTA Park and Ride is in Scotts Valley. Follow signs from Highway 17 to this Park and Ride.

There are no bathrooms at the school or in the park. Suggested facilities are in Soquel, about 2.6 miles south of the school and 0.7 miles N of Highway 1 on Porter St.

For the diehard public-transit fans (of whom I haven't seen many like myself), the school is served by SCMTD #60. There is one and only one trip in the morning, and one and only one trip in late afternoon to come back. E-mail the event director for directions. Public-transit time from San Francisco is about 3 hours.

Volunteers Needed

I still need volunteers for key positions, especially as shuttle drivers. Please contact the event director.


Check out the Aptos history page. Corralitos, near Nisene Marks, is the site of the first recorded encounter of white people with the redwoods.