The Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills is a famous location for photographers. I’ve been here many times and no matter what time of day it is the place is crowded with professionals and amateurs alike. This photo was taken just as the morning light hit the arch. We were camped about half a mile from it and when I woke up I grabbed my camera and ran over to the arch for morning shots. It’s fun to find angles to frame Sierra peaks through the arch. This shot is the classic view of Mount Whitney through the Mobius Arch.
Modern Hiker recently published a great post about training and preparing to climb Mt. Whitney. Hop on over there and give it a read, especially the parts about altitude. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Casey wrote about some training hikes in Southern California, and that inspired me to think about good training hikes in the Bay Area. These are lower in elevation than the Southern California hikes and won’t prepare you for the affects of altitude, but they will help you understand how it feels to put in a long day on the trail.
Mount Sizer Loop (Henry Coe State Park)
If you’ve never hiked over 15 miles or over 4000 feet in a day I highly recommend doing this hike before committing to Whitney. I try to do it every spring as a benchmark of my hiking condition going into the summer. It is a 16 mile, 4500 ft of gain and descent hike at the minimum, and there are options to make it longer if desired.
In fact, hiking a long distance to anywhere in Henry Coe is good training. As I’ve said in this blog before, people don’t go to Coe to train for the Sierra, they go to the Sierra to train for Coe. Steep roads, east-west trails that pass over endless parallel north-south ridges, and the heat all conspire to beat you down. Learning how to make these kind of hikes bearable, and even enjoyable, was a triumph of my hiking career.
Sizer is the highest point in Henry Coe State Park and the hike along Blue Ridge is excellent – you can see deep into the park’s backcountry and find all kinds of interesting trees and wildflowers. One other reason I like this hike is that it can be done on fire roads only (the track I include here has one stretch of single-track trail), so it’s easy to avoid poison oak if you’re really sensitive to it. This hike will take you on the “Shortcut”, often cited as the steepest trail in the Bay Area. Choose your loop direction based on whether you prefer going up or down really steep trails. I prefer going up.
Kennedy Road in Sierra Azul (Mt El Sombroso)
Kennedy Road is a trail that starts in the hills above Los Gatos and climbs up to the main ridge of Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. The stretch to the first trail junction is a steady uphill slog, and then you have the option of making a loop along some roller coaster rolling hills (gain 200 ft, lose 200 ft, rinse, repeat a million times) or heading to the summit of Mt El Sombroso. Sombroso is an uninteresting high point of the ridge, complete with a PG&E tower and wires and trees blocking 80% of the view. However, it makes a good turnaround spot for an in-and-out hike up Kennedy Road that will get you 4000 ft of gain in 12 miles. It’s also a great place to hike in the snow when we get the rare dusting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Or, you can do a lollipop shaped hike by turning on Priest Rock Trail and connecting to the Limekiln trail. This gets you the same amount of elevation gain in 14 miles. If you’re feeling really ambitious you could do this loop with the additional side trip to El Sombroso. This will add on another 2 miles and a few hundred additional feet of gain.
Rose Peak from Sunol Regional Wilderness
Until recently, Rose Peak was known as the high point of Alameda County. That honor actually belongs to a slightly higher bump on a nearby ridge according to recent measurements. Rose, however, is the highest *legally accessible* point in Alameda County. It is along the Ohlone Wilderness trail about half way between Sunol and DelValle. The track I’ve included here is the slightly shorter Sunol approach via the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, coming in at 17 miles with about 4200 ft of gain.
Like most of these hikes this is best hiked in the spring since there is very little shade on the trails and it gets very hot and dry in the summer. The winter can be muddy. But the spring is usually beautiful with green rolling hills and wildflowers.
Monument and Mission Peaks from Ed Levin County Park
Mission Peak is an extraordinarily popular summit with hundreds of people hiking it each weekend. Most people, however, take the short approach from the Stanford Road trailhead. The longer and more difficult approach via Ed Levin County Park is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable since the trails aren’t busy. The most likely place you’ll see someone is on a hang glider soaring above. The hardest part of this hike is the first and last few miles where you climb from the parking area to the ridge. Once the steepest climb is done you can take the side trip to the quiet summit of Monument Peak, then follow the undulating ridge over to Mission Peak. After enjoying the view with the large crowds that will no doubt join you on the summit, you can retrace your steps back along the ridge.
There are some variations to this loop – it can be an in and out, or you can follow different trails up and down. In any case, is is approximately 14 miles long with about 3500 feet of gain. It’s not the most strenuous of these hikes but it’s a beautiful wildflower hike in the spring and if you love rolling ridge walks this is a good one.
Murietta Falls is also along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail and is not that far from Rose Peak. But this hike starts on the opposite end in Del Valle Regional Park. Just like the hikes in Coe, this goes up and over a few different ridges between the trailhead and the falls. Over the 15 mile round trip you’ll gain almost 5000 feet.
Although there is a bit more shade on this hike than the others, spring and winter are still the best seasons for this hike. The waterfall dries up easily so if you want to see water find a nice day about a week after a good rainfall. There should be water in the falls but the trails should have had some time to dry out.
Mt Tamalpais from Stinson Beach
This is kind of an unusual hike in that you have to do a lot of work to get to a place you can drive to. The loop I’ve included here is one of many options; there are so many trails on Mt Tam that you could probably hike this every day for a month and not do the same exact loop twice. Coming in around 16 miles with a bit over 3000 feet of gain, it doesn’t have quite the vertical oomph of the other hikes I’ve listed here, but it provides a different type of scenery than the stuff south of San Francisco. The Steep Ravine trail is rich with deep, damp shades of green. Starting at the ocean usually means a nice cool layer of fog to make the beginning climbs more comfortable.
When you get to the summit you’ll be joined by the picnicking families and tourists that have driven to the top. Grab a hotdog and cold soda from the stand. (Yes, this summit has a hot dog stand. Don’t expect that on Mt Whitney).
I’ve been meaning to visit Cerro Gordo for a long time and it was with great excitement that we turned up the dreaded road on Saturday afternoon. I have heard that the road condition is anywhere from an easy Sunday drive to a 4WD nightmare. Truthfully, the answer lies somewhere in between, depending on the time of year, the type of vehicle you drive, and your experience driving on steep and narrow mountain roads. In our Trailblazer, we made it up the nicely graded but steep and occasionally very narrow 7-ish miles in less than 30 minutes, including a few stops for photos. Compared to many other roads we’ve been on it was quite an easy drive, but someone who has never driven in the mountains or on dirt could very easily classify it as a nightmare.
With the road condition report out of the way…what’s so cool about this place? Cerro Gordo (‘Fat Hill’ in Spanish) is the ghost of a once busy silver mine. Still private property, there are caretakers that live on-premise, still work the mines, do upkeep and maintenance, and watch over the remains of the town. For a quite reasonable donation, you can wander through the ghost town and even see inside some of the remaining buildings like the fascinating step into history that is the American Hotel. Please be aware that this area is still private property, and it is best to call ahead if you plan on stopping by.
The 2010 Calendars are here!
Every year I wait until the last minute to print calendars, and usually do just a personal run of a few to give to family at Christmas. I had a calendar last year at Cafepress but was disappointed in the print quality. This year I’m trying out a new service, redbubble.com. General consensus on photography message boards is that the quality is pretty good, so I’m looking forward to receiving my order.
The nice thing about redbubble is that I can offer my calendars for sale to the general public. I originally was just going to do a single calendar of my favorite photos from 2009, but someone asked if I could do a wildflower specific one too. Then, I couldn’t narrow down my favorite photos to 12, so I did two calendars, one specifically of Mt Whitney, and another one of the Sierra Nevada.
All photos featured in the calendars were taken by me on my various trips in 2009. Click here to view the calendars (or on the photos below), or here to see all available prints at redbubble.com. For other ways to support calipidder.com, please see the new and exciting Brazen Commercialism page.
Lastly, I’d like to thank the people who encouraged me to set this up. I’d been putting it off, but there is something very motivating about people actually asking to buy prints of my photos. Thanks!
It’s Whitney Day! My watch alarm woke me at 4 am and remembering last night’s cold temperatures, I maneuvered myself to the door while staying inside my sleeping bag. I wanted to heat my breakfast and coffee water inside my vestibule and get as much packing done as possible while staying all warm and cozy inside my down cocoon. As I started moving around I realized it was warmer than the previous night – a check of the thermometer on my GPS revealed a temperature of 47, warmer than most mornings in the Sierra. I ridiculed myself for being a baby and finally got out of my bag.
We packed up quickly and were on the trail by 4:50 am. Hiking by headlamp is fun, but we didn’t need them for too long. My eyes adjusted and the starlight reflected off of the light colored granite enough to see the way. The only disappointing thing about starting this earlier is the inability to photograph the scene around us.
I mentioned in the blog entry from the previous day that Backpacker Magazine had named Guitar Lake as the best place to watch a sunset, but I have to disagree. It’s the best place to watch a sunrise. As we climbed the switchbacks to Trail Crest we could see the predawn sky start to lighten, creating a strip of pastels above the Kaweahs. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:10 am, and at 6:11 we could see the first morning alpenglow sunlight begin to hit the distant peaks. As we climbed, the sun did too, exposing more and more peaks. Eventually the lower lakes like Guitar and Hitchcock caught the colorful reflection and started to glow orange. It’s a trail experience unlike any other, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have enjoyed it twice.
We dropped our packs at the junction below Trail Crest and headed up to Whitney. After a week of hiking with the pack on my back it felt like I was flying that final couple of miles to the summit! This is another favorite stretch of trail in the Sierra – the views and structure of the trail are just out of this world. Additionally, the polemonium (sky pilot) was in full bloom and brought a burst of color to the desolate granite landscape. This is my favorite flower, mostly because I can only find it in my favorite of places – the very highest peaks and passes in the Sierra.
It was a lot colder up there at 14000 ft, the wind was blowing, and the sun hadn’t yet hit the back side of Whitney so we didn’t spend a lot of time on the summit. Enough time to snap pictures, sign the log, take in the views and revel in the feeling of a successful trip, and then it was back down to warmer temperatures to thaw our hands and faces. We found a Staples Easy button in the summit register and delighted in pushing it. “That was easy!” it told us. I don’t know if I’d call it easy, but we were blessed with a successful trip without any major mishaps or injuries.
Signing the Summit Register:
Once you turn around off the summit there is another motivating factor, especially after spending a week on the trail: real food. On the hike down I would recite with each footstep: “burger…beer…burger…beer…burger…beer.” I don’t know if it made things go any faster, but it sure made me hungry. I also tried counting the 97 switchbacks. I lost count at 88. Guess I’ll have to go back!
We made it down to Whitney Portal around 1:30 pm and headed to the Portal store for cheeseburgers, fries, and beer. David pulled up to meet us just as we sat down – great timing! Then a few others showed up to welcome us back to civilization. We had quite a little party there at the Portal store, and finally left to continue it in Lone Pine. As we spent the night celebrating Paige’s birthday and our successful High Sierra Trail trip in the town of Lone Pine, I kept glancing back up at Mt Whitney, wondering when I’d be up there again. I’m already jonesing for another entry in the log sheet.
Today started with a 6 am wake up call. Technically it looked like we had a big day in front of us – 10+ miles with almost 4000 feet of gain – but having done most of it before I knew that a lot of it was a pretty gentle and shaded climb. I was looking forward to climbing the rest of the way out of the Canyon and getting back into the high country.
The climb out of the canyon along Wallace Creek was really nice and enjoyable with views of the Kaweahs and sunrise over the Kern Canyon. I was really glad to be doing it in the morning though – it was another stretch that would have been hot and miserable in the midday sun. After a few miles we joined the John Muir Trail. From here on out it’s the same trail I hiked back in 2007.
We continued our trek to Guitar Lake with a brief stop at Crabtree to pick up the required Wag Bags and refill our water. From here, it was only a couple of miles and about 1000 feet of gain until Guitar Lake but I ended up taking it quite slowly. 11k is kind of a wall for me. I can cruise along below 11k barely noticing the altitude, but above that and suddenly it hits me. Although I don’t usually get any AMS symptoms (headache, nausea), I tend to slow down and suck air a lot harder.
So I took my time between Crabtree and Guitar, and that’s just fine. It’s a great stretch to stop and take in the views in all directions – Kaweahs to the west, Whitney to the east, and meadows and lakes surrounding you. You quickly climb above treeline and get incredible views of the Whitney ridge and surrounding peaks. It is so amazing to approach Whitney in this direction. I still don’t know why anyone would choose to do the horrible climb from the Portal to bag the summit when this is so much nicer.
I got to Guitar Lake around 1 pm and had a long afternoon of nothing in front of me. Again. I’m not complaining – I loved our afternoons of nothing! The only problem with Guitar Lake is the exposure. There is nowhere to escape from the sun, and since it was a hot afternoon, bailing to the oven that was my tent was not possible. So I lathered up with sunscreen, grabbed my camera, and went on a casual walk around the lake. Every once in a while a cool breeze would pick up, giving me a break from the hot sun.
After the long afternoon of recharging the batteries and acclimating, we waited for sunset with dinner and Paige’s birthday surprise from Greg – Snickers bars for all! Dinner timing was perfect – as soon as we were done the temperature dropped and we started adding layers. Sunset was late (around 7:15 pm, I think), so by the time the colors really popped it was freezing and we were bundled up. Quite a change from a few hours ago!
Backpacker Magazine named Guitar Lake as the best place to watch a sunset (and used one of Paige’s pictures in the article, natch), and I don’t know if it’s the *best* place I’ve ever watched one, but it has to be close. The peaks surrounding the lake all turn orange and the color reflects in the lake. It’s just beautiful, and a fitting way to enjoy our last night on the trail. As soon as it was done, however, we bailed to the warmth of our sleeping bags with our alarms set for a 4 am wake up. Tomorrow will be a big day with Mt Whitney and our return to civilization!
Video of our campsite at Guitar Lake:
I spent last week on the High Sierra Trail and am still furiously working my way through the photos. They should be posted, along with the trip report, within the next few days. The photo with this entry is a bit of a sneak peak – Precipice Lake, one of my favorite places in the high country. We followed a great itinerary, with a good mix of long days and short, lazy days. Thanks Paige!
Day 1: Wolverton Trailhead to 9 Mile creek
Day 2: 9 Mile to Precipice Lake
Day 3: Precipice Lake to Moraine Lake
Day 4: Moraine Lake to Kern Hot Spring (1/2 day of hiking, 1/2 day of lazy)
Day 5: Kern Hot Spring to Upper Kern Canyon (1/2 day of hiking, 1/2 day of lazy)
Day 6: Upper Kern to Guitar Lake
Day 7: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal, with the side trip to Mt Whitney Summit
Detailed tracks and stats (distance, elevation gain, map) will be posted with the coming blog posts.
In the meantime, here is some fun stuff that has come through my Twitter feed that I thought I’d share.
The nighttime shot of campfire smoke and lights in Yosemite Valley is great. It’s amazing how the natural surroundings haven’t changed a bit, but all of the human activity around it has changed significantly in such a relatively short period of time.
I’ve encountered bears in the wild, and most of the time they are just being bears – foraging and scratching and ignoring us and our packs. I love those kind of bear encounters. It’s not so nice to encounter them when they are trying to get into your food. This bear had an entirely different idea. Imagine coming back to the trailhead after a week long trip to find out a bear had moved into your car!