Sunday, November 15, 2009

Summit Lake, Tahoe, Nov 14 09

Pic above: Very Narnia, wouldn't you say? This is a pic of early in the hike, going along the Castle Pass PCT Trail. Stunningly beautiful, I thought, and quiet, quiet, quiet. Just the crunch of my boots and the rustle of my pack.

Weather: a stunning "blue bird" day, as the snowboarders say: sunny, low 40s, no wind, no clouds, just plain ol' gorgeous. A great day to explore winter hiking with new gear.

Stats: The Top Trails book suggests starting this hike at the Boreal PCT trailhead, but that trailhead charges you snow-park parking rates after Nov 1, so I parked instead across 80 (well, under 80) at the Castle Valley Road trailhead. It added about 2 miles to the hike, but I wanted to do a longer hike anyway.

There's an I-80 rest-stop on the Castle Peak side of 80 just before you get to Boreal exit. There's no unattended cars allowed at that stop, however. Instead go to the PCT trailhead (if before Nov 1) by Boreal, and park there instead. The PCT start makes the hike a little over four miles.

If it's past Nov 1, then just drive under the freeway at the Boreal exit, and then park along the side of the Castle Valley Road; then you can walk up the (dirt) road a mile or so to the junction with the Donner Lake Rim Trail (off to the right through a meadow). The Castle Valley start made it 6.5 miles--perfect. 3 hours with only a few photo stops and one or two changes in trail plans along the way.

Gear: Since it was my first real winter hike, I was anxious to see how the gear would perform: Keen Waterproof Targhee II Cross-Trainer shoes, OR low gaitors (with red straps), REI Mistral pants (waterresistant, windproof, softshell), base layers, synthetic t-shirt, light fleece, REI Mistral soft-shell, SmartWool beanie, Swix gloves, handwarmers.

Poles were really helpful on this hike in particular; they helped me decide which piles of snow were just snow or instable rock or stable rock--all of which were helpful pieces of info when crossing small streams and rockbeds along the way.

I started out the hike in all the gear but, as I warmed up, spent most of the day in just the fleece and base layers on top; all of the gear worked splendidly, and I learned that, with the right gear, a sunny snow day-hike can be really great.

My feet were warm and dry in the Keen shoes, with no hotspots whatsoever, and the gaitors worked out very well keeping the snow away from the tops of my shoes. I only have low gaitors, and I was in 4-5 inch snow; the knee high gaitors, I think, could be overkill for most day-hikes; perhaps they're for mountaineers. Of course, I didn't explore Castle Peak with snow, so who knows?

Handwarmers and good winter gloves made my hands and fingers sing for the first half of the hike (when I no longer needed gloves); chemical hand-warmers last about seven hours and weigh next to nothing; they're well worth bringing along.

Pants were very comfortable (wind proof, water resistant, soft shell with fleece lining) although I realized that I need a belt to keep them exactly in place as the hike progresses.

Below: the view from early in the hike on the Castle Pass PCT trail: while tiny parts of the hike was on wet trail, most of the hike had snow around 4-5 inches, a mix of icey crunch and powder--delightful and a great workout.

Below: pix of Summit Lake--summit to see, indeed. Not another soul in sight, no critters to be seen or heard, just me and the lake and the sun. Wonderful. It's not that high a lake by Tahoe standards, and it's not a huge one either, yet it's still worth the hike.

Below: The hike is quite well-signed, with periodic small Donner Lake Rim Trail signs affixed to trees as a comforting touch. I always take with me, though, a xerox of the map from Top Trails, just in case the posted signs don't mesh with my expectations.

On the way back to Castle Valley from the lake, there's a three way junction about 2 miles from Summit Lake; at that three way junction (one to the I-80 rest-stop, one back to Summit Lake, and one to Castle Pass), take the Castle Pass trail to get back to your car on Castle Valley Road.

I learned also that on snow-covered trails, it's good

a) not to be the first person on the trail since the snow fell and

b) you have to believe that the footprints into which you're treading (cue King Wencelas from the carol) are going to your destination. It pays to pay attention to surroundings, of course, to ensure that the footprints are heading at least in a feasible direction. You don't want to follow a crayzee off trail person, after all.

Ponderings about the hike:
It wasn't deep enough for snow-shoes although I can see how snow-shoes will be fun. That's definitely for my to-do list--try snowshoeing this year.
The trail is as close to Boreal as you can be and not be at Boreal. Very convenient if you have skiers/boarders in the family but you don't ski or board. No snowshoe or X-country at Boreal, but there is some X-C at Royal Gorge which is only a mile or so away from Boreal. Hiking always available at Castle Pass, however.
I can see how crampons (or some kind of additional grip sole for boots) could come in handy going up a steep hill--Castle Peak, say, or Ralston.

It's fun to look at animal tracks in the snow; I saw several coyote print trails and lots of smaller animal trails along the way. Cool.

Next Boreal day-hike is Peter Grubb hut.

More info about Summit Lake:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Finally, the hiking shoes I love

After much gnashing of teeth (and toes and heels), I have finally settled on my hiking footgear--Keen Targhee II hiking shoes.

I wore them for today's hike up to Blue Ridge, with no problems at all.

No toe bashing? Check.

No heel rubbing/hot spots? Check.

No hot spots with laces? Check (once I'd reconfigured laces like the local running store showed me).

Good for plantar fasciitis? Check--no problems, very supportive.

Waterproof? Check.

Comfy? Check.

Cool (in all meanings of the word)? Check.

Happy hiker?


Stebbins Canyon/Cold Canyon Hike, Nov 13 09

Hike: 5.0 mile loop around Stebbins/Cold Canyon, via the Homestead Trail to Blue Ridge and then back down to the lot. Steep, clambory (more than expected), but fun.

Weather: perfect hiking weather for the valley--cool, bright, clear, no wind. Perhaps mid-50s/low 60s.

Stats: 30 mins from home; hike is 5 miles long--about 2.5 hours to complete with a few photo stops.

The hike starts off at a moderate grade following the (currently dry) stream bed in the canyon. No rattlers today, which was nice; they must be hibernating (or thinking about it) by now. Lots of interesting rocks on the trail, which eventually led us to the abandoned homestead at about 1.0 miles.

We continued further up the trail; take the steps off to the right, opposite the first homestead ruins you see to find the Blue Ridge trail. This trail is pretty steep in places, with 'elevation assists' (otherwise known as stairs--over 200 of them, I've heard) and plenty of switchbacks.

Periodically, the trail appears to disappear, but just look carefully, even up over rocks, to find it continuing its ascent towards the Blue Ridge peak.

Bring your climbing shoes--hiking boots with good grip a must for the rock clamboring necessary to reach the peak from the Homestead side. Poles are helpful too.

Below: the views of the surrounding hills are stunning; hard to believe I haven't been here yet lived in the area so long.

Below: A view of Lake Berryessa from the Blue Ridge peak:

Below: A sampling of the trails: hard packed dirt mixed with large boulder size clamboring rocks: pretty interesting, quite technical in places.

Overall: a fun, local, easily accessible trail day. I was pleased to be able to explore finally the upper echelons of the Cold Canyon area. It's well worth exploring again.

Learn more about the trail:
(UC says the trail is five miles; the berryessa trails site says four. You choose.)

Ralston Peak hike Nov 8 09

See the tiny people on the top of Ralston Peak above? That's my group, and that's where I had lunch. :) We didn't climb up the sheer rock wall; instead, we hiked up the ridge, which was exciting enough, thankyouverymuch.

Weather: beautiful; sunny, chilly, but amazingly great for November in the Sierras. Probably around 50s for start; once you get hiking, for the first half, you're in the forest, and consequently sheltered, so t-shirts and light pants are fine. In the second half of the hike, when you're on the exposed part of the hill, you're grateful for windproof pants/jacket/hat/gloves. It felt about 45 at that point, albeit a sunny cool and windy day on the peak.

Company: On this hike, I was grateful for company--my intrepid friend, Maria, came with me---and so she and I travelled solo up 50 to the Ralston Peak trailhead wherein we met up with the hiking group. There were maybe about 15 or so people on this hike, and as usual, we started out in a big long line of hikers but gradually, each found our place and speed and settled into the hike.

Stats re hike: Ralston Peak trailhead--directly opposite the 50 exit to Camp Sacramento. A little tricky to get to because it's right on a corner, but plenty of parking, so no problem there. Hike was about 7.5 miles or so. We hiked the longer, not so steep way, in order to see the Lake Aloha overlook, but if you go the more direct route up to the peak, it's about .5 mile shorter (but much steeper). We hiked for about 2.5 hours up and then maybe 2 hours down? We didn't keep tight watch of the time for this hike.

Out and Back hike: Elevation gain: 2,735ft (from 6,500 - 9,235ft)

Below: the hike starts out in a series of switchbacks, ascending through the lower forest:

Below: Periodically, you pop out into a clearing with magnificent view of the surrounding areas, including the unfortunately snow-free slopes of Sierra at Tahoe (which you can see in the pic below):
Below: after a mile or so, you enter the Desolation Wilderness area. We were with a group who already had permits, but there were no permits that I saw available (or even a place to sign up for them) at the trailhead. I'm not sure where you're supposed to get them from unless you want to go to Echo Lakes or another trailhead.

Below: The trail varied in terrain, but in the lower parts of the hike, the trail was hard packed dirt (easy to hike on):

Trail Notes: Once you get to the bottom of the peak, you can choose between two routes to the peak; a use trail, marked by cairns (piles of rock) that leads straight and steeply up the peak. That's about half a mile shorter than the other trail option, which leads off to the left.

The left trail, really the continuation of the main trail, is less steep but also about a half mile longer than the steep use trail. The long trail, however, also contains this stunning view of the Lake Aloha area, which was fun to see since I did that hike not too long ago.

Below: About three miles into the hike, once you're through the forest and out onto the slopes of Ralston Peak, you come across the overlook to Lake Aloha and Lake of the Woods and some amazing Desolation Wilderness scenery.

In the pics above, you can see Pyramid Peak (off on the left), followed by Dicks Peak, and then, I don't think you can see it really, off on the far right, is Mount Tallus--a goal of mine for spring 10.

Below: A piece of wood demonstrating exactly the harsh effects of a life at over 9000 feet:

Almost directly opposite the Lake Aloha overlook is the use trail (ie unofficial trail), marked by cairns (or clearly people-made balanced piles of rocks) indicating the way up to the peak. Keep an eye out for the cairns, which are placed strategically along the way; they can help you keep going toward the peak.

Below: On the way up to the peak; you can see that we have to hike/clambor over several hundred feet of loose tallus, precariously balanced pieces of granite, sheered off rock faces over the years. It was tricky but worth the hike to get to the peak.

The view from the peak was stunning; you could see 360 degrees from Echo Lake to Lake Aloha (past Mt Tallus), all the way round to Sierra at Tahoe with whole number of peaks with which I'm unfamiliar. Stunning views and a great place to have lunch.

Below: I think this is a pic of Lake Aloha from Ralston Peak :

Below: Echo Lakes (upper and lower) from Ralston Peak:

Below: After lunch, a small group, including Maria and I, hiked off to the east to find some little lakes called "Cup Lake" and "Saucer Lake." First, though, we had to survive this tallus field:

Below: We missed Saucer Lake because we'd moved off the tallus field onto the more hiker-friendly meadowland, but we did see Cup Lake--an amazing little patch of water completely hidden from view inside a very steep 'cup' of granite. Worth the additional little hike to see it.

Gear Notes: I definitely needed windblocker gear for this hike; while it was calm and warmish in the lower forest hike, once out onto the slopes of the peak, the weather, while still sunny, was quite a bit cooler and windier; windblocker pants (REI Mistral) and softshell jacket (REI Mistral again) both proved their worth today as did a windblocker hat and gloves. I was very glad I had bought/worn them along.

Below: Finally, the forest on the way back down again; a beautiful hike, with great company, on an amazing weather day for November up at the hill.

Below: Ralston Peak from Google Earth: you can see Cup Lake at the bottom right, Echo Lakes at the top right/middle and possibly Triangle Lake above the Echo Lakes.

Learn more about Ralston Peak: