This is our 11th year of spending the Thanksgiving holiday in the desert with friends. It’s one of my favorite trips of the year. Friends from Northern and Southern California gather together in a remote location far from civilization, where we hike, climb, eat, and make merry for the week. This year we met in an old mining alcove in the Mojave desert.
Last weekend was my birthday, and as usual, I was suffering from a head cold. That seems to happen every year. I had made a half-effort to plan an outing to the snow, but going to elevation with a stuffy head usually leaves me with an ear infection. So instead, I decided to find a shorter day trip to somewhere new. I ended up picking out Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley.
I was looking for a way to get rid of my extra Halloween candy, so why not go on a hike fueled by M&Ms and 100 Grand bars? I chose one of my local favorite trailheads, the Hicks Road entrance to Sierra Azul Open Space. From the trailhead it’s about 12 miles round trip to the summit of Mt El Sombroso. As I arrived at the trailhead I decided to continue on to the next one near Bald Mountain – I had never been up there before and the lack of traffic and people made it as good a time as any.
The Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival is a major event for Bay Area residents in the fall. Pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and pony rides attract many families and traffic can back up for miles. Although the festival only lasts one weekend, a lot of the fun events and activities are open throughout October, so we decided to spend last Sunday enjoying the great weather and some Halloween cheer.
If there is one way to get me to visit touristy spots in the Bay Area, it’s to get family to visit. I didn’t visit Alcatraz, ride the Cable Cars, or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium until my parents came to check out the new state I was calling home. Even after 15 years here, I’m finding new places to take not only visitors, but myself. This past week my parents were here to visit and we rather serendipitously stumbled across a couple of these spots!
On Monday, we decided to head into San Francisco to see the Fleet Week ships before they headed back out to sea. And, of course, to indulge in a traditional San Francisco tourist lunch of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl followed by a Ghirardelli chocolate dessert. My dad is in a wheelchair, so accessibility is a must. My post-lunch plans were to wander along the paved pathways of Crissy Field since it was a such a beautiful day.
Last weekend we popped over to the Eastern Sierra to check out how the fall color is coming along. This doesn’t seem to be a terrific year. Many trees are already bare, while others are still green with a summer vibrancy. We found a few groves that are in that in-between sweet spot with color, but not a lot. Here are a couple of shots from the good spots we found.
The hard days were over and we took our time packing up in the morning. As soon as the sun rose enough to hit out campsite, however, we started moving quickly. It was going to be a hot day and we had 3000 ft of sunny climbing in front of us.
Junction Meadow also marked the closure of our loop. We had a small celebration when we saw the sign pointing us to East Lake, a turn we had taken a week before.
On one of my earliest backpacking trips I had a view of the Sphinx rock formation. When I got home, I eagerly Googled it and discovered trip reports about the off-trail approach to Sphinx Lakes via the Avalanche Pass trail. This route along Sphinx Creek came with horror stories of bushwhacking, nasty rock scrambles, and difficult route finding. As a beginner backpacker at the time, I filed it firmly into the “NOPE” file.
On day 6 we continued our cross-country travel over Cinder Col, through Brewer Basin, and over Sphinx Pass. It was probably both the most challenging and most enjoyable day of the trip. It is the most remote I have ever felt in the Sierra. After leaving the crowds at East Lake we had been getting deeper and deeper into the backcountry, and we had reached the point where we didn’t see or hear another soul for days.
After our long day on Mt Brewer we decided to take a partial rest day on Day 4. Well, we didn’t decide that right away. We followed the fading use trail for about 2 miles up to Lake Reflection, and upon seeing the view we decided it would be a lovely place Read more…
Our Circle of Solitude Variation was essentially a big loop around Mt Brewer, so I knew I had to include a climb of that peak somewhere along our route. There are multiple class 2 approaches to the summit, but after asking around I decided we had to go for the East Ridge. Although it’s a longer approach than the other routes, the East Ridge is composed of slabby open terrain that looked really fun. The other routes looked like unenjoyable sandy slogs.
Although our loop includes the word “Solitude”, it did not start off that way. The Eastern Sierra trailhead at Onion Valley is a popular one and it’s difficult to mentally prepare for a quiet week in the backcountry when you’re fighting for parking like CostCo on a Saturday afternoon. There Read more…
The Circle of Solitude in Kings Canyon National Park was first written about in Mike White’s guidebook to Kings Canyon. He describes a loop around the Kings-Kern and Great Western Divides that follows trail and avoids the highways of the John Muir Trail and High Sierra Trail. Also described are some off-trail variations. Many people who hike this loop take the promise of solitude to heart and include some cross-country travel.
I’ve been traveling quite a lot lately – only a few days after returning from our Yellowstone trip, I hopped on a plane to go visit family in Michigan. Less than 24 hours after landing back in California from that trip, I was back on a plane to Germany for work.
Germany is a frequent work travel destination for me and I’ve explored it quite a bit, so when I realized I would have a layover weekend in Europe I decided to see where else I could get on a Friday after work via high speed train. If I left work at 5 pm I could be in Belgium by 10:20pm so I booked a first class seat on an ICE train and a hotel room in downtown Brussels for the weekend for beer and waffles. Two coworkers decided to join me so I was happy to not be traveling solo in Europe yet again!
On our recent roadtrip through Wyoming we decided to stay in the cabins of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. They are dog friendly and reasonably priced considering the captive audience (not cheap, but people would still pay more). They are close to the action and each location has its own personality.
I know that we normally camp – even primitive camp – but inexperience with grizzlies and the desire to keep packing to a minimum had me looking at the cabins for this trip and I’m really glad I did!
I thought it would be fun to share my experiences at the different locations from the perspective of someone who normally camps. We visited the Old Faithful Cabins, Roosevelt Cabins, Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins, and Colter Bay Cabins. The first three are in Yellowstone and the last in Grand Teton. We had different cabin types at each location and each had their pros and cons.
I don’t splurge on lodging that often but I paid for these on my own – this was not a sponsored trip. Even the rustic cabins seemed like luxury to me. Still, I compromised by packing all of my camp cook gear and bringing easy camp meals – as much fun as it was to stay in cabins I wasn’t about to eat out at National Park Service Cafes every meal. So I call this ‘cabin camping’ – and here’s how it worked out for us.
If you’re following me on Facebook, you know that we just got back from an incredible roadtrip to Yellowstone via Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. I tried to post regular updates with pictures on the trip, but we were in and out of wifi so I was a bit inconsistent. The trip covered 16 days, 3500 miles, 11 National Park/Forest/Monuments, 11 breweries, and more wildlife sightings than I can count.
It’s just too much to write about in a single post, so I have a lot of posts coming up from this trip. I thought that starting with this quick summary would be nice (especially for my own memory!) Scheduled upcoming posts include a review of the cabins we stayed at in the National Parks, tips for visiting Yellowstone with a dog, incredible wildlife photography from my husband, and some hike reports from the Wind Rivers, Grand Teton, Gallatin National Forest, and Teton National Forest.
I have a confession: I haven’t been backpacking in almost a year. Last summer I focused on a lot of big dayhike-able peaks with car camping. So I’ve been crazy eager to get out on the trail again!
Another reason we haven’t gotten out as much is because we have been raising Thor, our yellow lab pup, training him and waiting for him to develop a strong body that can handle the trails and a pack. This summer he’s finally ready for his first backpack so we decided to join on a trip with friends in Emigrant Wilderness where he could get his introduction to the fun!
Our trip was an overnight from the Crabtree Trailhead, taking the Pine Valley lower trail to the West Fork Cherry Creek for the night. In the morning we returned via the higher trail that went by Camp Lake. It was a perfect ~17 mile loop for the weekend and we had a ton of fun (…except for the mosquitoes).(more…)
Just south of Santa Cruz is a small pocket of a park known as Byrne-Milliron Forest. Its 402 acres is managed by the Santa Cruz Land Trust as both a working forest and public park. It won’t take you very long to hike all the trails in this park – a quick glance through the park map only shows about 7.5 miles of trails. But we thought it would be a fun place to explore before meeting friends for lunch.
During last summer’s two week peak bagging extravaganza, I took a few ‘rest’ days with easier peaks. On one of those days I decided to head up into the White Mountains to climb Mt Barcroft, one of the few 13k+ peaks in California that is not within in the Sierra Nevada range. On its own, Barcroft is a rather boring side trip along the way to White Mountain (one of the two California 14ers that is also not part of the Sierra), but it was just the right amount of peak I wanted for this easy day. Plus, the views across Owens Valley to the Sierra are pretty spectacular and make this a worthy peak despite the rather simple route.
Every time I drive south down highway 395 between June Lake and Mammoth, I am struck by the imposing face of Mount Morrison. A steep pyramid, it rises from the crest and dominates the view of someone driving into the Mammoth area from points north. It is sharp and steep and Read more…