Friday, April 9, 2010

Olympus Binoculars: the latest gadget

These little binoculars are the latest craze I have, apart from my Stoke backpack; these binoculars are tiny yet powerful, and they're really fun to have with you on a hike. They're 10 x 21 (which means that things are viewed as 10 times larger than they are in real life), and that's a great optical zoom to have in such a small, reasonably priced package.

They fold up to be much smaller than they look in the pic above; they are small enough to fit in the waist strap pockets of my Stoke 19, which is not a huge pocket. You don't have to wrestle them into the pocket at all. Really impressive.

I used to have this optical tool:

But this gadget was so small, I misplaced it somewhere in my house, and it will turn up, undoubtedly, in a few years when I finally open a drawer and move a piece of paper and find them there, waiting and lonely.

The monocular was also fun to have; I used it on my Tomales Point hike to look at the cormorants and rocks. I learned, however, that, with a monocular, you have to have a pretty steady hand to see the image clearly, particularly when the item was pretty far away and you were really focusing in on it. I learned also that, while it's fun to feel like a pirate using a telescope, now I've used binoculars on hikes, I can see why there are many more pairs of binoculars around than monoculars. It was just harder to squint through the single lens using one eye instead of two. The optical vision is similar between the two, but if you can fit in the binocular into your pack and budget, it's worth doing, I think.

So, happy with the bins. You probably would be too. :)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Angel Island, April 2010

To top off the Spring Break Week Of Hiking, I went with my friend and mom to Angel Island because, remarkably, I haven't really been there before. (Well, I have been there once before, but I was on vicodin with a broken arm, and hence, that visit a) isn't part of my memory and b) doesn't count. :))

After catching the Tiburon Angel Island Ferry ($13.50 round trip), we decided to have what we termed an 'active cultural' day rather than a 'hiking' day, so we weren't under any pressure, personal or otherwise, to rack up some miles. Instead, we would take advantage of the cultural info on the island and mix in a lower mileage hike to top off the day.

Below: The fog bell at the beach (and the beach) near the Immigration Station. This bell was one of the first things detained immigrants saw as they stepped off the immigration boat onto the island.

Below: The beach on the beach side of the bell above; this beach was the first American land upon which to step for many immigrants landing at Angel Island. I imagine lots of fascinating stories lie in those sand grains.

Since we were on a cultural hiking day, we went first to the Immigration Station for a tour, which turns out, after quite a lot of confusion on our part, to be $7 on top of the state park entrance. It's obvious, in retrospect, that the tour would cost some money, but at the time, with the ferry's 'including state park entrance," we thought we had already paid for the tour. We paid, of course, but with some puzzled expressions, but eventually we figured it out.

Mea culpa and no problems, and the tour is well worth the money.

The Immigration Station there is described as the 'Guardian of the West' (in contrast to Ellis Island's description as "Gateway to the West"), and the Immigration Station slogan was, unfortunately, well deserved. The guide had lots of stories about immigration detention, particularly of the Chinese immigrants (with the various Exclusion Acts vs just about every Eastern ethnicity, it seems), and the carvings on the walls of each room tell more tales of woe. All very sobering, particularly since right now I'm reading Simon Weisenthal's The Sunflower. Not the same thing, I know, but parts do smack of each other in a disturbing way.

Below: Chinese poetry carved into the wall, lamenting the poet's stay in detention on Angel Island:

After the sobering tour, we decided to walk the Perimeter Trail--a paved road used mostly by mountain bikers, who rent or bought their bikes with them from the main land. It was paved (con), but it had some great views of the surrounding lands and sea.

As always on the majority of CA hikes, the island, as you can imagine, has some gorgeous views of the Bay area--the bridges (Bay, Richmond, Golden Gate), Tiburon area, Mount Tam, Racoon Stait, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and so on.

Plenty of stunning views on a sunny day (a sunny time which snuck in between two storm systems). Great timing for us.

Below: My friend Caroline also went with us to enjoy the day. Here she is looking toward what I think is the Richmond Bridge.

From Caroline's attire, you can see that layers are a must on the island (or really anywhere in the Bay area coast); the island has a warm sheltered side and then a side that isn't so warm and sheltered. While it was a beautiful sunny day, for a while there, we all had on gloves and scarves, but by the end of the day/hike--around 4 or so, by the time we reached back to the ferry again, we had peeled off to long sleeve t's and baseball hats.

Below: These flowers are everywhere, and they're stunning at this time of year. They have a kind of pink glow to them because of their tiny little pink hairy edges to their blossoms.

A great day had by all--apart from those who missed the last ferry off the island. I'm not sure what they were going to do next, but they didn't look pleased at their situation.

Next time I'm on Angel Island, I'll walk the trail up to Mount Livermore; the views are said to be fantastic up there plus no paving, which will be a plus.

All in all, a fun, low key hiking day. Good fun. Definitely worth the trip.

Sugarloaf Ridge Redux

So, I returned once more to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to share it with my hiking buddy, my mom. She's 74 years old, but she still can hike your legs off. I hope I can be that energetic when I'm that age. :)

Here are some pics from the hike; for details about the park and more pics, visit my other Sugarloaf Ridge hike here.

Below: The creek on the trail is still there, but it's easier to cross now with the tree bridge. Still, hiking poles are a must if you want to increase your chances of staying dry. :)

Below: My gear enjoying the view and the rest on Vista Rock. The new pack works out really well; it's incredibly light, even though I had plenty of water in the Camelback. Highly recommended pack.

Weather: mid 50's and mixed cloudy/sun. Perfect hiking weather.
Trails: Meadow to Vista Rock. Meadow is fairly torn up with horse hoofs, but it's still a great trail. Probably about 6 miles total. Going up to Vista turns out to be pretty steep for some legs, so we went to Vista Rock, had our Luna bars, enjoyed the view, and then headed back down.

A great day--beautiful weather, beautiful place, no people apart from a few other hikers here and there and one elementary school class enjoying the day.