Somewhere around ten years ago David and I spent a day at Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. This is a small and quiet park that is only accessible via boat since other than its lakeshore, the park is surrounded entirely by private lands. Ten years ago we rented a canoe and paddled about a mile to the first trailhead, then did a six mile hike through lava flows and by lava tubes. After the hike we paddled back across the lake. We didn’t see another person and the wildlife was incredible. For years we’ve been saying we need to go back and take advantage of the campsites lining the shore, and we finally got around to it last weekend.
A couple of weeks ago my husband stumbled across a great SteepAndCheap.com deal – Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 kayaks for a killer price and only four available. He could ship free to his loading dock at work so before I knew it we became kayak owners.
I’ve done a bunch of paddling in the past but I’m a casual paddler, happy with renting most of the time. But I’d always been interested in getting our own gear so that we would have the freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted, with minimal fuss. Well, after a trip to REI for the peripheral supplies (rack for my Outback, PFDs, drybags, etc) and the arrival of the kayaks last week, that’s exactly what we did. It was off to Elkhorn Slough for our inaugural paddle, one of the country’s premier kayaking destinations (have I ever mentioned how lucky I am to live in California?)
The Tsunamis have lots of internal storage so I am really looking forward to some overnight outings on the water. It will be an exciting new approach to ‘backpacking’!
I clipped my GoPro Hero 2 camera to my kayak and quickly put together this movie of our outing. The wildlife at Elkhorn Slough is incredible – otters, harbor seals, sea lions, jellyfish, bat rays, pelicans, etc. I only captured a tiny bit of it on camera!
Now that I’m back from my Thanksgiving Trip it’s time to get back to blogging about the previous trip! I need to catch up…
We had set aside a couple of days to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park. The closest I’ve ever been to the Rockies is in an airplane so I was looking forward to spending some time in my favorite terrain: above 10k ft.
After spending the night in the lovely Grand Lake, CO we headed into the park via the West entrance and stopped briefly at the visitor’s center. It was quiet and empty and a ranger took his time to talk us through some ways we could spend the two days we had in the park. My original plans were focused around climbing Longs Peak on Day 2 but recent storms had left the upper part of the peak ice covered and dangerous. Instead, we decided to check out some different places in the park and look for wildlife and fall colors.
Our first stop was the Green Mountain trail. It was a lower elevation relatively easy hike that would take us by some meadows where we might see a moose or two. The ranger had recommended it as our best chance of a sighting for that time of day so we took off from the car with cameras in tow. Alas, the moose hid from us and all we got to see was some nice mountain terrain. Darn. (yes that was sarcastic).
Since it was out first visit, we continued along Trail Ridge Road and did all the touristy stops and viewpoints. We saw tons of elk, pikas, and fall colors. It was beautiful and desolate and very different than my Sierra. I’m used to sharp granite terrain and high alpine meadows at 12k, not rolling gentle tundra. I was kind of surprised – my expectations of the Rockies being as dramatic as the Eastern Sierra were not met. However, it was quite beautiful in its own different way.
We made our way down to the Moraine Campground on the east side of the park by mid-afternoon. Many of the park’s campgrounds had closed the prior weekend for the winter season but we were able to book a decent site. It’s usually not our style to stay in busy campgrounds but it’s convenient to have a place reserved in a park where we’re not familiar with off-the-beaten-track alternates.
After settling in at our campsite we decided to spend the last few hours of daylight hiking the Cub Lake/Fern Canyon loop out of the campground. It was a beautiful loop with all kinds of bright fall colors. The surface of Cub Lake was blanketed in lily pads and ducks. On the return loop through Fern Canyon we walked by a really interesting looking cluster of boulders dusted with chalk – clearly a popular climbing place and I wish I’d brought my shoes.
As we were walking the final mile or so back to camp we heard the weirdest sounds – a whistling grunting noise. It took a few listens to determine that it was the elk herds in Moraine Meadows, rutting and making all kinds of commotion. Though it was quite entertaining they went all night and I had to put in my ear plugs to sleep through it.
The next morning we got up and drove to Bear Lake, a popular destination for fall colors. During much of the year they recommend a shuttle due to the overflowing parking, but we were there early enough that we got parking and headed off down the trail. Bear Lake was beautiful with its bright yellow aspens, but I really enjoyed the area once we got about 1/2 mile up the trail to Flattop Mountain. We left the tourons behind and had the trail mostly to ourselves all the way to the summit.
The summit of Flattop is, well, flat. And kind of boring. But the hike offers great views of the surrounding peaks (including Longs), fall colors (amazing aspen groves throughout the first mile) and lots of wildlife (I saw more pikas than I could count). We wanted something that would occupy our morning and it was a perfect morning hike.
By afternoon we were on the road to Boulder to begin the middle segment of the roadtrip – the Great American Beer Festival (with some interesting non-beer daytrips – the next post)!
I wanted to keep up with my recent trend of long wildflower hikes on the weekend so I took advantage of Saturday’s perfect hiking weather to hit a classic East Bay destination: Mission Peak. Rather than take the traditional approach, I took the longer but much more pleasant route from Ed Levin County Park. From the parking lot near the dog run, I headed up the Tularcitos Trail and caught Agua Caliente. This trail climbs nicely up the hillsides until it meets with the Monument Peak Trail.
I took this trail to the summit of Monument Peak where I enjoyed a snack and the views. One thing to note: the trail goes to the summit in kind of a round-about way via access roads. It’s much nicer to simply cut cross-country from the gate at Scott Creek – just follow the fenceline straight up the last 200 feet or so to the summit. It’s not very steep and it’s direct. This saves an extra 1/2 mile of hiking.
One of the great things about this area is the lack of people. There I was, a perfect hiking day (just barely warm enough for shorts and tank top) and I felt like the only soul on the planet. Monument is higher than Mission and has great views into Sunol and Ohlone Wilderness – I don’t know why more people don’t hike it.
I managed to squeeze in a long dayhike, finally! Since the Sierra backpacking season ended I haven’t gotten out on a lot of long hikes and I’m definitely missing it. On Sunday I headed down to Pinnacles National Monument with David, Antony, Sammydee, Laurent, Jeff and Pang for a nice long 13 mile loop through the High Peaks and unmaintained North Wilderness trail.
It’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to hike every trail I’d like to in my lifetime, but at least I have Pinnacles off the checklist. It’s the only park in which I can claim I have hiked every mile of trail, most of them more times than I can count. But that doesn’t make it any less fun or interesting – Pinnacles feels a lot like the desert hiking I love so much, yet it is less than a two hour drive away from home. Much like the desert, Pinnacles is best avoided during the hot summer months, but it has great hiking once the temperatures cool off to a more comfortable 75 and lower.
So on Sunday we headed down for a nice long hike. On paper it didn’t look so bad – 13 miles, less than 3000 feet of gain. We started off from the west side Chaparral entrance (don’t believe maps that show a road going through the park – pick a side and commit to it – you won’t be driving through) and decided to get the hard part of the day over with by heading up to the High Peaks before the sun broke the ridge.
It was a nice and cool climb and we celebrated gaining the ridge in such a short time. The sun was now on us and we continued along to the High Peaks. The ‘trail’ is made up of steps that have been blasted into the rocks, with small rails to guide you and keep you from falling 1000 feet and becoming a condor snack. It’s a lot of fun, and certainly nothing you’d find the park service doing now. Pinnacles was declared a National Monument back in 1915 so we’ll cut them some slack for the destructive nature of the trail building.
On Saturday I participated in the first annual Wildlife Refuge Amazing Race at Don Edwards S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Since it was the first year, it was a small event with ten teams of 2-5 people each. I look forward to them working out the kinks and offering the event to a larger number of people next year!
The race consisted of five activity stations scattered throughout the Refuge. At the beginning, our team of five received the coordinates to the first station. Upon arriving, we went through an entertaining exercise of bird identification, then received our coordinates for stage 2. By the end of the afternoon we had identified birds, measured water salinity, cast a fishing pole, sketched native grasses, and learned about the endangered species within the preserve. We also managed to get a bit of exercise, walking a little over four miles as we raced from station to station.
I haven’t visited Don Edwards in several years and the Race made for a nice afternoon of exploring the area. Our team came in first (yay us), winning a small prize and of course taking away bragging rights. I wonder how many teams will be challenging us for the title next year?
One of the biggest headaches when planning a longer hike is figuring out the car/parking/shuttle arrangements. Generally, these kind of hikes start and end hundreds of miles apart and it can be a nightmare arranging transportation. The High Sierra Trail is no exception. With the beginning and ending trailheads on opposite sides of a mountain range with no through roads, shuttling between the two is 10x the distance of the hike itself. We were prepared for this and had scheduled shuttle days, and although we weren’t looking forward to that part, we accepted it as a necessary evil in order to have the best trail experience possible.
So you can imagine our happiness when David offered to drop us off at the starting trailhead on Sunday August 9th and pick us up at the ending trailhead the next Saturday. Poor guy didn’t even get to hike with us due to limited vacation time, and here he was volunteering to drive hours and hours to save us the trouble. I knew I married him for a reason! Also, it was a great excuse to drive out for our post-hike party in Lone Pine, but that’s a story for another day.
We started off at the Wolverton Trailhead in Sequoia National Park. Now, the High Sierra Trail officially starts at the Crescent Meadow trailhead, but Wolverton is so much nicer. It has a climb, but it’s shaded and after 2.5 miles of a gentle climb through the woods to Panther Gap you get to experience a sudden and instant view into the high terrain you’ll be hiking through in the coming days. It’s a nice reward, and the trail is less exposed and more enjoyable than the Crescent Meadow counterpart.
After David dropped us off, he left for the drive back to the Bay Area. I had tried to convince him to dayhike with us to Panther Gap, and it’s too bad he didn’t! We had the best wildlife sightings of the trip within this first mile. A fat marmot waddled across the trail in front of us only minutes from the parking lot. Less than an hour in, I came around a curve to see Greg waiting for me. I said (at full volume), “what is it?” and he shushed me and raised his arms in a mimicked ‘rooooaaaar!!’ There was a bear casually poking around a fallen log for a tasty lunch of grubs. We got lots of pictures (unfortunately most were shaded, so didn’t turn out great), and eventually moved on and let the bear have his lunch in peace.
Once we passed over Panther Gap the wildlife excitement was replaced with wildflowers. The trail was lined with colorful sneezeweed, larkspur, paintbrush, geranium, and more. I kept falling behind Paige and Greg when stopping to photograph the flowers, my favorite subject. Eventually we reached camp at 9-Mile, not the most comfortable and scenic place to camp, but it’s a good first-night destination when carrying a heavy pack, starting late, and getting acclimated. We got to enjoy some more wildlife when a mama deer and her two spotted fawns passed through camp to get some water. One of the poor little fawns was a bundle of nerves near us and kept squeaking for his mama, so we moved away so they could be reunited. Awww. Didn’t sleep too well due to the slanted campsite (there are no real flat spots along 9-Mile) and the snorts of a bear that kept poking around the campsite for food (unsuccessfully, I might add) between midnight and 2 am.