Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rattled by a rattler

Forgot to note that, last week, on what turned out to be a short Cold Canyon hike, I almost trod on a rattler.

Turns out they don't sit all curled up and rattling all day as they do in pictures. This one was lying across the trail, doing a great impersonation of a silent stick, one upon which I almost trod.

I had just passed a sign warning about mountain lions, so I was pondering 'what if' actions to take in that circumstance, so I wasn't looking for rattlers. I happened to look down right by my feet on a shady part of the trail and saw someone like this:

The one that I saw was stretched out, however, and not curled up looking like a the snake above. I leaped back (instead of forward), and now I was stuck behind a recalcitrant snake-on-the-trail. After throwing some rocks near him to try to make him move, I eventually gave up, having annoyed him, and went back down the trail to try a different trail.

Apparently, that day was a day for a Rattlesnake Jamboree at Cold Canyon because, not two minutes later, I heard a different rattler rattling his heart out near to the trail. Boy--are those things loud.

I sighed, gave up, left the trail to the snakes, and went for a safer Smittle Creek excursion instead. There I saw only wild squirrels and ospreys.

That was also the hike in which I learned that my Vasque boots had that niggley achilles heel problem, so all was not completely lost on that day. Knowing you have boot problems before you go up to a peak is a good discovery, I think.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New New Boots

I liked many many attributes about the Vasque boots, but. . . . they had to go back. They had a niggly litttle achilles seam that drove me batty, so I've moved onto these boots now: Merrell Chameleon Arc Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots.

I gambled and wore these new Merrells (with no break-in at all) on a ten miler up to Castle Peak at Donner yesterday. That was my first hike in them, and they performed beyond splendidly. Grippy, comfortable, no hot spots or blisters. The PCT and Castle Pass trail are composed of a variety of terrain--floury dust, hard-packed dirt, sharp-edged granite, and loose scree/gravel/tiny rocks. The boots worked like a champ on all the surfaces with no problems at all.

I am going to exchange them for a full size larger, however, because my toes kept touching the toe-end of the boot, but I'm confident that these boots, once they're sized correctly, are the ones. And they're supposed to be waterproof.

And, for the first time evah, after the hike I have little to no problems with my plantar fasciitis. None! Normally, with my other shoes/boots, after my day-hike, I've ended up walking around truly crippled that night, stretching my feet on a tennis ball and taking ibuprofen, but with these Merrells, I have no pain at all. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. I've used green superfeet in all my shoes/boots, so the only difference is the boots. I'm sold.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Boots

I bit the bullet, and after some research, bought these boots today:

Vasque Breeze GTX

I tried on several pairs of intermediate weight boots, but these Vasques were by far the most comfortable in the store. Reviews are good on the whole. People love their comfort; waterproofing seems a little spotty. Hopefully, mine are good versions of the waterproofing ones. :) The ankle support feels great, so hopefully, they'll work out well for me on future hikes.

I've signed up for a hike to Castle Peak up by Donner next week, so I'll break them in over the next week and try them out then. It's a 9.5 mile total hike, and I'm guessing rocky in places. To be safe, I'll likely take along my Salamon shoes in case I need to change shoes midway. I'll wear some longer hiking socks and liners too to reduce the risk of blisters.

I'm excited to wear these new boots. They're really comfortable already, and I'm optimistic they'll work out. I guess we'll see.

No big hikes planned for me for this weekend; we have a busy family weekend instead. I'll be doing neighborhood and nearby trail walks instead. No worries.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Marin Headlands: Point Bonita/Miwok/Wolf Ridge/Coastal Trails

Sept 14 09: I took the afternoon off work and returned to Marin Headlands because I wanted to visit Point Bonita again to take more pix and because I wanted to take a hike in that beautiful area.

Weather: Warm in the valley (mid-80's--cool for this time of year); on the Marin coast, cool, damp, somewhat windy in areas but beautiful throughout, around mid-high 60s , with drifting fog. By the end of the hike, beautiful blue skies peeking through the low clouds. Definitely a good day to try out mist-resistant, wind-proof items such as my REI Mistral jacket. I wore shorts, which were fine, but I wore my wind-proof beanie for some of the early part of the hike, when the fog was particularly thick, and I was still warming up. Layers were an absolute must on this hike.

Below: This time around at Point Bonita, it was pretty foggy and damp--a nice refreshing change from the Valley heat. The fog allowed me to appreciate all the more the import of the fog horn at the lighthouse. The coast was very hard to see beyond 50 yards or so, so I could see easily how ships could have run aground so frequently before the lighthouse was built. Apparently, the current fog horn is computer-run (not too surprisingly), and it goes off whenever a sensitive laser senses moisture in the air.

In the olden days, they used some poor guy who had to light a cannon every thirty minutes. He couldn't find anyone to take over his shift, so he did that for three days straight and then resigned for some reason (!).

Below: Here are some pics of Point Bonita doing its job in the fog. The cables on the bridge are inspected by the coastguard every six weeks, the boards every month. They're expecting to replace this bridge (which is 50 years old or so) with a new historically accurate bridge in about a year or so.

Below:To get to Point Bonita lighthouse, you have to go through a hand-hewn tunnel sinewing its way through the rock. It must have taken forever to dig through.

Below: Once through the tunnel, you come out here:

Below: Once on the bridge, if you peek over, you can see this arch rock. The bridge itself has replaced the original walkway, built on rock that has long since eroded. in this pic, you can see one of the (rather rusty) bridge cables.

Below: This is the route back up from the lighthouse--very civilized:

After Point Bonita, I wandered back down to the Visitor Center and finally found two good hiking maps to buy--one on Mount Tam area and one on the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They should be good resources.

The Visitor Center itself has an excellent trail map for free, but it doesn't have topographical details on it, which can be useful sometimes in determining which hikes to do. If you get a Visitor Center map, get two--one for reference at home and one to fold up and use for the hike.

Onward to the hike:
I had decided to do a five miler or so, and I didn't have that long to find it, so I chose hikes close to the Visitor Center and which were loop hikes. That meant that I walked the Miwok Trail to Wolf Ridge and finally onto Coastal Trail--a little over five miles roughly.

Below: The Miwok Trail was quite different (of course) to the Echo Lakes trail. Miwok is really a big damp (on this day) fire road which hugs the side of the hills as it winds up to Wolf Ridge.

It's a beautiful trail with likely beautiful views (although not sea views as far as I could tell; remember it was foggy).

It was pretty quiet; I ran into just four other hikers, two bikers (one of whom promptly fell off as soon as they saw me), and a trail runner. Enough people to think that you'd eventually find someone if you needed someone. It gets steeper as you go further into the hike, but it's not unbearably steep.

Below: Guess which way the wind mostly blows at Marin:

Below: After a mile or so on Miwok, you come to Wolf Ridge Trail- a short pretty and steep single-track trail which takes you to the top of Wolf Ridge (surprise!). It's probably got a great view: sigh. Fog.

Below: Up and around this last corner is the top of the Wolf Ridge: it's a nice short climb:

Below: The trails are well signed:

Below: Actually, despite the good signage, I accidentally went to Hill 88: an old military installation; (this area of the GGNRA is riddled with military structures). This place was interesting but spooky with loose pieces of metal clanging in the foggy wind.

I didn't hang around too long in this area. There was a strange-looking (but probably benign) guy looking at the foggy views--another reason to leave.

Below: The Coastal Trail part of the hike ultimately took me down to Rodeo Beach (which was close to Miwok's Trailhead, where I had left my car). Coastal Trail is paved for some areas, it has dirt for much of it, and periodially it has several interesting series of steps:

Below: Marin Trails are well-signed throughout. The signs and the Visitor Center map make it easy to find your way around:

Below: Coastal takes you all the way to Rodeo Beach--the strip of beach popular with surfers:

Below: You see surfers. I see shark food:

And then, finally, no pix for this part, a pleasant little walk on a quiet road-side trail beside the lagoon and back to the Miwok Trailhead. All in all a wonderful little afternoon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Gear

I always think it's interesting to see what gear people use on their hiking trips. Here's my gear:

My Pack: REI Venturi 30 pack:

I really like this pack; it has great pockets, its zippers are (said to be) waterproof (but I haven't tried that attribute out yet), and it's just the right size. It has a waist belt with pockets (for digital camera, compass, and small snack), and it has plenty of pockets for other stuff.

It has a concave internal frame which keeps the pack off your back to keep you cool. Camelback bladder can go inside the pack (in a pocket) or between concave back of pack and trapeze netting (which goes next to your back). Everything's adjustable, so you can get it to sit just right.

Things I carry in the pack:

  1. Essentials: the ten essentials and a first aid kit. What are the ten essentials? http://www.wta.org/hiking-info/basics/ten-essentials

  2. Personals: bathroom stuff, tiny pack towel, and bandanna

  3. Food: snacks, sandwich, trailmix, vitamin water

  4. Cold weather/rain gear: fleece, beanie, gloves, spare socks, compressable rain jacket--I only take this gear if I'm going up the Hill or if the forecast indicates inclement weather is a real possibility. If it's a tyical Valley summer day, and I'm staying in the Valley or the foothills, I'll leave this equipment at home.

  5. Camelback bladder (2 liter--enough for a hot 12 miles/6-7 hour hike)

  6. Getting Around: map, compass, animal track laminated sheet (because I'm nerdy that way)

  7. Civilization: phone, keys, money, health card

My Shoes: Salamon X4 Comp 4 GTS Trail Running shoes.

They're great mid-cut trail shoes which are waterproof and supportive. I've replaced the insoles with Superfeet, which help a great deal with my arch problem. I have an earlier version of these, but they're the same type of model.

I'm looking for hiking boots to have additional ankle support on such hikes as the Echo Lakes hike, which had plenty of ankle turning rocks on it. I didn't realize I needed the additional support until my ankles were tired and started acting up on the rocks on the hike back to Echo Lakes.

My Socks: I use these socks: Wigwam Cool-lite Hiker Pro Quarter Length socks.

They're muy comfortable, padded (but not too padded). I've never had any blisters or even hot spots with any of my socks or my Salamon shoes. My Trekking Poles: Leki Diva Aergon Antishock Women's Trekking Poles.

I've just recently added trekking poles to my hiking gear paraphernalia, and so far, I really like them.
They really do help reduce stress on your knees as you go up and down slopes, and they're useful for pushing plants and branches off the trail to let you pass. Yes--they're an additional thing to carry as you hike, but their advantages outweigh their disadvantages. I noticed that in the hiking group, about half the people use trekking poles. The people who didn't tended to be still in their 20/30s, so give them time, my friends, give them time. :)

I'll add my cool weather gear in a different post. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, so by then, I'll be able to add some commentary on performance perhaps.

Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha Hike, August 09

August 09: 12 miles; 6.5 hours.

Starting Point: Echo Lakes. (1 hr 20 about from Folsom). Very popular trail, so often met hikers and backpackers. Not exactly crowded but don't look for a solitary experience.

As we hiked along the trail along the eastern shore of the lake, we saw several ospreys diving into the lake to catch fish.

I went on my first group hike with this excursion. I wanted to walk with like-minded folks, and I wanted to visit hikes I wouldn't otherwise likely visit alone.

The folks in the group were welcoming and generous, and I felt very comfortable with them. One thing about walking with a group, however, is that the group sets the pace. That means that, with this particular group at least, we tended to walk at a quicker pace than I would normally have chosen. I'm fit, but I like to look around and enjoy the scenery and not just blow past it on a walk. On this hike, however, I noticed that I didn't have that much time to just look around on the hike; the trail was pretty technical, so I spent much of the time looking down, and when I did look up and around, I found myself falling behind the group. Additionally, I've realized that, with my bum knee, I'm just not a fast hiker.

The disconnect was the disparity between the purposes for the hike. I think much of the group was out for a workout with a side-dish of views whereas I was looking for views with a side-dish of workout. I went out to hike, yes, but not at the expense of looking around and enjoying the views. Why go all that way and not look up, I wonder? Perhaps they did look up, but I found it hard to do so at that speed. No-one's fault; just an observation. I think, though, that this dichotomy is inherent to any group activity: the question is how best to accomodate different goals.

'T'any rate, this hike is a fine one person or two person hike--plenty of people already on the trail to witness any disaster and help if you need it, and then you can pause to see the views.

Weather: starting out around 10, the weather was mild--low 70s, so no fleece or jacket--and dry. An isolated storm was forecast, but while the sky became a little threatening, with a rumble or so of thunder, only a few raindrops fell. Most people added long sleeves at Lake Aloha but quickly removed them on the way back down again. A very pleasant weather day.

Below: Starting Point: Echo Lakes

Below: Early on the trail: people had a despairingly fast pace at first, but eventually, people settled down into groups of similar paced folks.

Below: View of the north end of Echo Lake from the trail. You can rent chalets here apparently.

Below: Another view from the trail. Trail conditions varied from flattish hard packed dirt to granite marbles to clamboring over large rocks (but not boulders). Always interesting.

Below: Looking back to the Upper Echo Lake.

Below: An example of the large granite rocks we clambored over on the way to Aloha.

Below: Resting and regrouping along the trail:

Below: Views along the trail:

Below: A pretty good example of why Desolation Wilderness is called thusly. Granite crags and boulders all around. Beautiful but, yes, desolate. An amazing place to be.

Below: Lake Aloha, finally, after some trail sign confusion, after this year's drought. This arid desert is actually the lake bed.

Below: Finally, the water part of Lake Aloha. Well worth the hike (6.0 miles to Aloha from Echo Lakes).

Below: The early part of the return trail was on a different trail to the one we took to the get to the lake. (The trail signs petered out once you got close to Lake Aloha, and with the arid lake bed, it was hard to see where the lake was. As a result, we ended up on a different trail--which was fine.) Here's a huge boulder pile we passed. It looks like a giant lost his marbles. :)

Below: I don't know how the bark of this fallen tree ended up in a spiral, but it looked interesting.

Below: Image from the return trail:

Below: View from just above trailhead on return trip: you can see Lake Tahoe in the background.

More info:


Point Bonita Lighthouse National Park

Below: View to the Golden Gate bridge from the Point Bonita hike to the lighthouse. Below this cliff, you can see the sealions basking on the rocks. You can also see an old boathouse and boatslide down which they used to push out the rescue boats in the early 1900s.

Below: you can see the wooden bridge to the lighthouse.

Great place to visit; it's in the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (so it's a National Park). Teaming with hikes I haven't yet done, today we just went to visit the lighthouse. It's a 0.5 mile walk down (past jagged cliffs looking down onto sealions barking and basking) and white-capped waves. At the bottom of the trail, you wind through a hand-hewn tunnel (worth pondering how much work went into the tunnel as you walk through it), and then you find yourself on a tiny headland.

There, you wait in line for your turn to cross the (slightly rickety) wooden bridge to the actual lighthouse. Only two can cross at a time, so it can take a while if you go during a busy weekend, but it's worth the wait. Take the time to review the interpretive signs while you wait; they're always interesting.

Once across the bridge, you can visit the tiny lighthouse, look at the breath-taking views, review the stunningly high number of shipwrecks before the lighthouse was built, and talk to the ranger.

The bridge to the lighthouse (and the tunnel to the bridge) is only open on certain days/times of the week; check here to see the latest times/days: