May 11

Fifty Weeks

Not even a year, and what a difference.

May 2011:

Last May

May 2012:

20120511-170917.jpg

Mar 11

Camera Confusion

I almost always hike with my Nikon D7000 DSLR. It’s heavy, but I love its speed and flexibility. I always use it paired with the Nikon 28-200mm VR-II lens, which lets me get great wide angle shots of scenery while being able to get great zooms of animals on distant ridges.

The other day I was lucky enough to get another camera as a gift … a (small) present from my employer for 15 years of service. Nothing big … a Canon Powershot A2200. It’s a teeny little point-and-shoot – smaller than an iPhone but thicker. So the question is … what is this little thing good for?

I took some shots in the house, and decided it’s not for that. The tiny lens and tiny sensor make its low light capabilities quite poor.

Venturing into the backyard, I found a pretty little flower trailing over the fence. So I took some shots of it, with several cameras and lenses. What do YOU think of the results?

Canon A2200

Nikon D7000 with 28-200mm Lens

D7000 50mm f/1.8

iPhone4

Hmm. My normal rig did the worst job of focusing. It did much better with the 50mm lens. (Yes, the sun came out before I took the 50mm photo, so it’s not quite apples-to-apples.)

The A2200 photo looks a little bit washed out … fairly low contrast. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the darks aren’t as dark as with the other cameras.

The iPhone 4 (Verizon) actually did pretty well. Its version of the image has a much higher contrast than the others, which adds a lot of interesting depth to the flower petals – giving them a velvety texture that the others don’t quite convey. But the lack of megapixels in the sensor shows at higher zoom … if you zoom all the way in the iPhone pic doesn’t look very appealing.

So … which is best? I can’t tell. Are any entirely unacceptable? No, they all did fine. If I’m going out for a hike and am planning to take flower photos, which should I take? Beats me. Though I should probably take the 50mm lens instead of the superzoom if I’m really going to be focusing on flower photos.

There, that surely cleared everything up, right? :)

Mar 01

SPOT Decision

I’ve written before about my experiences with my SPOT Connect. SPOT Connect is a satellite unit you carry while hiking; it lets folks back home track your progress even when you’re out of cellphone reach. It also lets you send text messages (but not receive them), and perhaps most importantly has an SOS button to call for help in case you desperately need it while in the backcountry.

It could be a little easier to use, but basically at this point it does what I want without much fuss.

I got email yesterday that my prepaid one-year service fee is about to expire, and that they will bill me for the next year soon. So it’s decision time … do I want to renew it?

Like most people, I probably don’t honestly NEED the SPOT … but I DO think it makes Elaine more comfortable when I’m out hiking or especially backpacking. So in general yes, I want to renew. But there’s a new kid in town … the Delorme inReach. Should I switch to it?

The inReach is pretty much like the SPOT Connect … with a couple of important differences. Where the SPOT lets me send text messages, the inReach both sends AND receives them. For me that’s not a huge selling point, but it would be nice.

The inReach’s service plans are pretty expensive. For $150 a year with the SPOT I can send texts, call for help, and Elaine can track my location. The same service with inReach costs $300 a year!

Finally, while the SPOT Connect works with the iPhone I already have, the inReach does not. It requires an Android phone or a Delorme PN-60w GPS. Since I don’t have either of these, the inReach isn’t an option for me at this time.

For some folks the inReach may have a compelling feature set at a reasonable price. If you’re such a person, I’m curious how you like it … let me know in the comments!

Feb 04

Gaming the System: Getting a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit

I really want to hike the Grand Canyon. I visited there when I was 25, not a hiker, and injured … so we pretty much just looked over the edge of the canyon and then drove on. But on that trip I told myself that some day I would return and hike to the bottom of the canyon.

Now, 25+ years later, I actually am a hiker, and am in pretty good shape (for an old guy). And who knows how long that will last. :) So it seems like this is the year that I should do it.

But that’s easier said than done. The Grand Canyon, for obvious reasons, is a popular destination. Far more people want to descend into the canyon than can possibly fit into the campgrounds there. And there are only a couple of small windows each year – May and October – when weather conditions are at their best. So getting a Backcountry Permit for one of the peak times is quite challenging.

Suppose you want to descend into the Canyon on a backpacking trip in May. Here’s how it works.

On January 1 you fax in your application to the National Park Service. You can apply for any hike on any dates in May.

The NPS takes all the applications they receive on January 1 and process them IN RANDOM ORDER. This takes them at least three weeks (which will give you an idea of how many requests they receive). They will then send out permits (to the lucky ones) or rejection letters (to the rest).

If you don’t get a permit in January, then on February 1 you can apply in person at the Grand Canyon for a permit…in case anything is left available.

If planning ahead isn’t your style, you can also show up a couple of days before you’d like to hike and see what might be available. (Good luck with that.)

So given that’s the procedure, I tried to follow it. On January 1 (5 min after midnight!) I faxed in my application. I also planned a vacation specifically to DRIVE down to the Grand Canyon to apply in person on February 1. Extreme? Yeah, but I figured it would be an adventure.

While I was already in route to the Canyon on January 30 a letter arrived telling me that I didn’t get a permit, and suggesting a few dates when a few things might still be available.

So on January 31 I arrived at the Canyon and headed immediately to the Backcountry Office (before I even looked over the rim). The nice Ranger there told me that there were indeed a couple of days when some campgrounds had availability, and said to come back the next morning at 8am when they opened. She also noted that the team in Flagstaff that handles the faxes was still processing them … so things that were available on 1/31 might not still be available the next morning. She also gave me a piece of paper that guaranteed me spot #2 in line the next morning … so I didn’t have to camp out overnight on their doorstep.

The next morning – February 1 – I arrived at the Backcountry Office at 7:30. I didn’t know how big a crowd to expect, but having the #2 position locked up seemed like a good thing. At 8am there were three groups in line, the windows opened, and the “crowd” rushed forward.

#1 in line were a couple of folks from a private touring company. They came to see what permits they could snag, so they could then offer them to paying customers. You’re allowed to get up to three permits in person, and they started working with the Ranger to see what they could get.

While #1 was still being served, another ranger opened his window and started helping me. He showed me the screen he was working from, and we looked through the system extensively…but there was only ONE reservation available for ONE night at the bottom of the canyon. There wasn’t anything available for any night at Indian Garden or Cottonwood … spots halfway down the canyon. The spots that had been available the day before were taken. So instead of the 3 night relatively moderate adventure I had hoped for, the only choice I had was a one night version. Naturally I grabbed it – better to have something in hand than nothing!

While at the window I also turned in another written request for the 3 night itinerary I really wanted … but this time for June. June’s not as great as May – hotter in the Canyon – but 2 or 3 nights in the heat is better than a one night deathmarch in the cool, I suspect. We’ll see in a few weeks if I get anything.

Oh, person #3 in line. He had no idea how the system worked, and just wandered in thinking he could get a May permit. Uh, no. They helped him fill out a written request for June. :)

So … while I’m disappointed not to get the trip I wanted, I did get a permit, and can fulfill the goal I set for myself 25+ years ago. And of course I got to do a day hike at the Grand Canyon while I was there … so I’m obviously a winner!

But … by being there and working through the process in person I learned a few things which aren’t obvious from the NPS website … and which may help others in the future.

Reservation Size

(There are separate systems for groups of 6 and smaller and groups of 7 and larger. Everything I’m writing about relates to smaller groups.)

One of my big questions going into this process was “does group size matter”? If I request a permit for 6 people, am I less likely to get it than if I request a permit for 1 person?

As it turns out, it DOES matter, somewhat.

Grand Canyon campgrounds have a certain number of campsites for large groups and another number for small groups. For example, Indian Garden has 1 large and 15 small sites. Whether there are 1 person or 6 in your group, you’ll all share one campsite if you’re traveling on one permit. So in that sense it doesn’t matter if your group has 1 person or 6, you use the same space in the campground.

However, each campground ALSO has a limit on the number of people, total, it can hold per night. For example, at Indian Garden the limit is 55. Since 15 sites times 6 people per site = 90 … it follows that some “small groups” at Indian Garden can not have 6 people in them. And sure enough, the reservation system that the Rangers at the Backcountry Office use enforces this.

In my case, I was able to snag the very last permit for the month at Bright Angel…meaning that there was one unassigned campsite for that night. But I could only get 4 people on the reservation. If I asked for 6 they would have said “no”, since there were only 4 more spots on the quota for Bright Angel on that night.

So the answer is YES, the number of people on a permit DOES matter, and it IS somewhat easier to get reservations the fewer people are listed on the permit.

Buying a Permit

Permits aren’t free, so in one sense everyone has to buy their permit. There’s a fee to submit a request for a permit, and then a per-person-per-night fee for the permit itself. Both of these strike me as quite fair.

While I was at the Backcountry Office, I asked if I could submit a written permit request for February by handing it to him, or if I needed to really FAX it in. “Sure,” he said. “The other guys just submitted theirs.” The ranger then pointed to a stack of permit request forms that the #1 person in line – from the trip-leading business – had handed in.

The stack was an inch tall.

In retrospect this is completely obvious, but it struck me as astonishing at the time. Individual backpackers all over the country send in their permit requests, and are told by the NPS that requests are handled in random order, determined by computer, to guarantee fairness. (And I’m sure they are.)

But commercial hike leaders are turning in DOZENS if not HUNDREDS of requests, which go into that same lottery. So it’s your one single request vs. their hundreds in that lottery. Hmm.

This fact – which hadn’t occurred to me until my visit to the Canyon – has a couple of implications for folks trying for a permit.

Implication #1. The Permit Request form lets you specify up to 3 different itineraries that you’re interested in … you can list your first choice, second choice and third choice. When your request comes up in the lottery, they’ll see if they can give you any of the permits you asked for.

You’d be better off submitting three separate permit requests. It will triple your odds of getting a permit.

Of course this will cost you more … there’s that $10 per request fee. But you can pay $25 to be a member of the “Frequent Hiker Club”, which waives that fee, so that’s no big deal. There’s also the risk that you might actually GET 2 or 3 permits. That’s also no big deal … you can cancel any permits you don’t want and get a credit (minus a $10 fee).

Implication #2. For those few folks willing to drive more than a thousand miles roundtrip to get a permit … perhaps there’s a better approach.

Submit lots of written permit requests.

Let’s do the math. A 3 night, 4 person permit request costs $60 if you get the permit and nothing if you don’t. So if you submitted 10 requests instead of one, your maximum possible cost is $625. You’re more likely to get 2 or 3 at most, so your probable cost would be closer to $205.

Expensive … but compared to a physical trip to the Canyon to try for a permit? Cheap.

I’ve read the NPS website several times, and I can’t find anyplace where the number of requests you can submit is limited. Naturally if you try this and it backfires somehow, don’t blame me. :)

I’m happy I went to the Canyon; it was a great experience. And I have no complaints about the permitting system; I’m sure NPS is doing their best. But in retrospect, I might have been able to save myself a whole lot of expense and time. Can’t wait to go down into the Canyon this Spring!

Dec 28

The Obligatory End of 2011 Post

It’s nearly the end of 2011, and so it’s practically mandatory that I write the expected “end of the year” post.

Gear Of The Year

What gear did I use (not necessarily buy) in 2011 that I really really enjoyed? That made things better? Hmm…

#1. TidyTip. My 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser. I’ve never owned a 4×4 before, and while some may claim that nothing but a Jeep will do, TidyTip is a lot of fun. Elaine and I took it on some fun off road trips that normally we would never have taken … and which were a blast. We haven’t pushed its limits too far, but it’s done everything I asked it to do with no drama at all. I’m looking forward to more 4×4 adventures in 2012! Highly Recommended.

#2. Nikon D7000 camera. I love this camera. No, it’s not a point-and-shoot. Yes, it’s big, and heavy. And after a year I’m still learning how to use it. But it takes great pictures, and I am quite willing to lug it along on any adventure. My Nikon D60 was a great introduction to DSLRs, but I’m quite happy to have upgraded to the D7000. When paired with the Nikon 18-200 VR II lens it’s an incredible portable picture taking machine. Highly Recommended.

#3. Garmin 62 series GPS. Purchased in 2010, but still going strong. Compared with the DeLorme GPS I had before it, the Garmin 62st is a fantastic step forward. I especially appreciate how easy it is to make calibrated maps, so I can hike / drive on the standard trail map. (Save a little $ and get the Garmin 62s, not the 62st…or take a look at the new Etrex 30, which looks like it has most of the goodness of the 62 in a smaller package.) Highly Recommended.

#4. Big Agnes Fly Creek tent. I have a little trouble with claustrophobia, and I’m fairly tall … so I need a big tent. My first tent .. a Big Agnes Emerald Mountain SL3 .. was fantastic, and sold me on Big Agnes tents in general. Easy to use and perfect in every way … but a bit heavy. I then tried an REI Quarter Dome T2 … which was also a fine tent, but which was a little short for me, and not that much lighter than the SL3. I finally decided to jump in all the way and upgrade to a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 … insanely light, just as easy to use as the Emerald Mountain, and just perfect in every way. If you don’t think about the price. Big Agnes tents are Highly Recommended.

#5. SPOT Connect. This one may surprise you. The SPOT Connect, and especially its companion iPhone app, certainly went through some rough patches early on. But with the app mostly fixed and the firmware updated once, it seems to be a winner. It faithfully tracks my trips, faithfully delivers my messages to waiting family members at home, and in general makes everyone involved feel a little bit better when I’m away on a multi-day adventure.

Having said that, most people don’t need one of these, and SPOT has put out some klunkers in the past. So I don’t “recommend” this … I’m neutral on whether you should get one. It happens to work for me, and after 9 months I really do like it. It might work for you, but you’ll have to evaluate it yourself. I’m happy with the purchase, and will continue carrying it.

#6. Packit Gourmet trail food. Wow, it’s yummy. Quite a few steps, and not everything they sell can be made in a JetBoil … read the directions closely. But it’s way better than the stuff they sell at REI! I’ve been tempted to fix some items for lunch when I’m at home…. Highly Recommended.

Best Hikes of the Year

Too many to choose from … but these stand out:

#1. Hoover Wilderness: Virginia Lakes and Summit Lake. A fantastic two night backpacking trip through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. So beautiful I came back with Elaine a few months later. A fun way to hike IN to Yosemite. Highly Recommended.

#2. Cataract Loop, Marin County. Incredible Waterfalls! At least there were a year ago … with the dry December we’ve had it’s probably a different story this year. A tiny stream gently descends Mt. Tam … then suddenly crashes down a ravine, making dozens of incredible waterfalls. Well worth a visit, after a rain.

#3. Lexington Reservoir to Almaden Valley. Starting at Lexington Reservoir, through the Sierra Azul, through Almaden Quicksilver County Park, across the Almaden Valley to Santa Teresa. (This will be the route of an upcoming Bay Area Ridge Trail event in May 2012…which I’m doing some volunteer work on.) I tried … and unfortunately failed … to do the entire route of the event; I made it as far as Mockingbird (16.1 miles) when my feet declared “enough”. Hopefully I can complete it next time!

Happy New Year, and let’s all have a fantastic 2012!

Nov 28

Dowdy

Henry Coe State Park is the largest park in the Bay Area. It’s so large that all the big cities of Santa Clara County – from San Jose to Palo Alto – could fit inside it. It’s simply huge. And it only has three entrances. Two, really, as two of ’em are only 2 miles apart.

But there’s a secret entrance.

Sort of.

After 20 years of planning, the Dowdy Visitor Center was finished in 2006. It would provide a much-needed link to the far eastern parts of the park … places which were only accessible by several days of backpacking.

But from the beginning there was trouble. Though the facility was completed in 2006, there were no funds to operate it, so it remained closed.

Finally, with much fanfare, it opened in 2007.

In 2008 Henry Coe State Park was one of the state parks slated to be completely closed due to the State’s budget woes. This plan was never implemented.

By early 2009 the Dowdy Entrance was open just a few days a week, a few months out of the year.

By late 2009 Dowdy was closed “until further notice”.

Some say Dowdy was never meant to stay open … that it was all a ruse, built to disguise a secret bunker operated by futuristic beings or perhaps a Google server farm buried 500 meters below ground.

Last winter I did a dayhike with some friends to Rock Springs Peak from the Hunting Hollow entrance. It was a deathmarch … 13 miles. It surprised me to notice that Rock Springs Peak is closer to Dowdy than to Hunting Hollow. That got me thinking … could I hike to Dowdy?

I became somewhat obsessed with it … hiking out to Dowdy, taking pictures of the brand new and yet abandoned buildings. Pitching a tent in the parking lot. An odd goal, but geocachers can’t make fun of what other folks do for hobbies, so why not.

But as with any hike in Coe, there are issues to deal with.

  • Miles. Even the most direct route would be over 20 miles.
  • Feet. No trail in Coe is flat. The vertical climb involved would be significant.
  • Too Much Water. In the winter and spring, there is too much water at Coe. Stream crossings can be dangerous.
  • Too Little Water. In the summer and fall, there is too little water at Coe. Even with a filter, drinking water is available at only a few spots. How much water would one need to carry to make it to Dowdy?

Since I was going in November there was another issue … daylight. With only 10 hours of sun it became a critical factor.

After staring at the map for months, I was lucky enough to be able to get away for 3 days to give it a try. Since I was going alone, I stayed to main roads and trails as much as possible. Since I was going in the Fall, I worried about water. Three different Coe volunteers told me there was drinking water available at Dowdy … but all had just enough uncertainty in their voices to make me worry.

So the plan, day by day:

  1. Hunting Hollow to Willson Camp. Refill my water there. Keep going until 4pm, then find the first available campsite for the night…wherever I was.
  2. Breakfast, then zip over to Dowdy as a day hike – leaving my tent and related stuff behind. If I returned to camp before 2:30 break camp and head back towards Willson Camp; again making camp at 4pm.
  3. Break camp and make a fairly short return to the car. Drive immediately to nearest burger joint.

The out and back route was pretty simple … Hunting Hollow to Lyman Willson Ridge Trail to Willson Camp to Wagon Road to Center Flats Road to Dowdy. The only other possible route was 4 miles shorter, but had an extra 2000 feet of vertical climb. No, thanks.

The hike itself was pretty uneventful. I’ve hiked up to Willson Camp and beyond several times, and knew what to expect. The climb up Lyman Willson Ridge is pretty brutal … 1300 feet in 2 miles.

Lyman Willson Ridge

But once that first big climb was done, that was basically it. Lots of small ups and downs, but no more huge climbs. There were, however, apparently huge ants. Or something.

Lyman Willson Ridge

I got a later start than I intended, so the day went quickly. And sure enough, at 4pm the sun was about to disappear below the hills. I had just turned onto Center Flats Road, so I started looking for a suitable campsite. The nearest flat spot a few feet off trail would do nicely, thanks.

Home

By 5 it was dark and cold. By 6 it was really dark and really cold. By 6:30 it was so dark I could see the Milky Way … and more stars than I’ve ever seen before in Santa Clara County. The fog rolled in at 7, the stars went away, and the shivering began. So into the sleeping bag at 7 … not sleepy at all, and with 12 hours to kill until sunrise.

It’s incredible how warm the sun is. A tent will go from a freezing deathtrap to quite comfortable after just a few minutes of sun. I unzipped the tent flap and stuck the camera out to snap a few first pics.

First Light

After breakfast it was time to head to Dowdy, which was now just 5 miles away. No problem, I’d be there before lunchtime. And Center Flat Road is Flat, right? Riiiight.

Coe Flat

Dowdy

Dowdy and Burra Burra Peak

Finally, I made it to Dowdy. I’ve been there before … rather I drove by the entrance along Kaiser Aetna Road during Backcountry Weekend … the one weekend during the year that you can actually drive into Coe. But I had never turned down the driveway to see it. Now I was walking in … no car, and perhaps no other human for 10 miles in any direction.

Dowdy Entrance

The buildings still look brand new. It’s eerie … ready to go, in great shape…but abandoned for years.

A few things have broken…

…and faded. Or was this always the Pink Panther?

The picnic areas and campsites looked great. And the water, thankfully, was indeed still connected. I took the opportunity to fill up – 5 full liters.

So after a quick lunch at one of the picnic tables, I headed back the way I came.

Sure enough, I made it back to the previous night’s camp at about 2:30. So I broke down camp and headed out. I made it back to Rodeo Pond when the sunlight ran out.

As a choice of campsite this turned out to be an error. Though quite flat and near a lovely toilet, it was in a valley … and since cold air sinks, it was even colder and wetter than the previous night. My fantastic tent kept me dry – no condensation – but gosh it was cold. No looking at the stars … I even skipped dinner. By 5:15 I was buried in my sleeping bag, and didn’t emerge until first light at 7 the next morning. It was the coldest I’ve ever been while camping.

But after a few minutes in direct sun the next morning all was forgotten, and there was nothing to do but pack up and head back to the car.

Willson Camp

Plants

It’s late Fall, so there aren’t many flowers out there. There are a few small yellow and purple ones on Lyman Willson Ridge Trail, and I did see one small patch of California Fuscia left – but this time of year the park is two toned … grey and bright green. Everything left from last year is dead and degrading … no longer “golden” or even “yellow”, by now it’s just grey.

But already next year’s green has emerged and is growing. In some places it’s as tall as the crumbling grey from last year, making an appearance. In other places it’s still hidden. But by next Spring this will be an incredible emerald green wonderland.

Grey and Green

Wildlife

Wildlife out in the, uh, wild is more afraid of humans than in parks near our cities. The deer in Santa Teresa County Park are happy to come into neighboring yards to graze. I never saw a deer in 2 1/2 days of travels. Nor a rabbit, or turkey, or any other large animal of any kind. The one exception was a bobcat … which was sensibly walking down the trail when I crested a nearby hill. At the first sign of me it disappeared.

But though I didn’t see many animals, I heard them. Especially at night. A flocks of birds makes an incredible whoosh as they zoom in to a lake to land for the evening. And yipping coyotes are loud!

Oh, which brings me to ticks.

Coe has ’em. Even in November. I found them crawling on me. I found one trying to make a home in my eyelashes. I found one crawling around inside my tent. Luckily no bites…but never assume, as I did, that you don’t need to use DEET since it’s not Tick Season.

At Coe it’s Always Tick Season. Thank heavens they aren’t as big as those ants.

Human Life

In 48 hours I saw three people.

Near Willson Camp at the beginning of my hike I passed two mountain bikers. They told me that all the springs were running strong … good news, as I was a little worried about availability of water on the hike.

In the last 45 minutes of the adventure I hiked out with another fellow … a nice man from Oakland who had never been to Coe before, and decided to do a 3 day backpacking trip too. He seemed to have had a great time.

But in between … for 46 hours … I didn’t see a single person. Once I turned on to Center Flats Road there was no sign of recent humans … no tire tracks, no foot prints, nothing. (Kaiser Aetna Road near Dowdy had very recent tire tracks – a truck had been through quite recently.)

Damage

In general, I felt pretty good at the end of the trip. One small blister on my heel, but other than that no trouble.

However, I did re-learn a valuable lesson right at the end of the trip.

Heading down Lyman Willson Ridge I was going at a quick pace…it’s very steep. At one point I looked at my GPS to see how far I had left to go. I thought, “looking at the GPS while you hike this fast isn’t safe…you could trip”.

Two seconds later, I tripped.

Thankfully no major damage. Road rash on one knee; twisted the other ankle. But I was able to keep going, and made it to the car a little slower and a little humbled. I had just passed another hiker … the first person I’d seen in 2 days … who stopped to make sure I was OK and hike out with me. I appreciate his concern and his patience.

The End

Coe is an amazing place. Hiking there, for a few hours hours or a few days, is a blessing.

Coe is an unforgiving place. It’s steeper and bigger than you think. Take plenty of water and give it plenty of respect.

And don’t look at your GPS while you walk.

Statistics

  • Total track length: 25.44 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4831 feet

Links

Full resolution photos: here.

SammyTrail map of route and geotagged photos: here.

Nov 12

Yearly Hiking Calendar

I’m not an expert hiker. I’ve hiked quite a bit, especially in the last 2 years, but still have a lot to learn. But one thing that even I have figured out is that some destinations are better during some seasons than others.

Can we put together a list of the best times to do local hikes?

Naturally this depends on Mother Nature. There’s no way to tell for sure when the best wildflower time will be. While 2010 was an incredible year for wildflowers, 2011 was just “meh”. Some years a particular flower might peak in April, while other years it might be in June. What will 2012 bring? Who knows.

But we can certainly figure out some general trends and some fun things to go look for. Let’s see…


January

Places To Go:

Things to Look For:
Waterfalls!

  • Waterfalls!

Shrooms!

Shrooms!

    • Mushrooms! In wet and rainy spots, you will find an amazing assortment of varieties. Spots with waterfalls are a great place to find them … keep your eyes open, and look closely at tree trunks you pass. Do Not Eat!

    Manzanita

    • Blooming Manzanita trees! Manzanita are my favorite trees in the Bay Area. They’re beautiful year ’round … with beautiful shiny bark and cool leaves, they are always pretty. But in December and January they bloom, which adds another dimension to them. The flowers are surprisingly delicate bells … usually white, but sometimes pink. Gorgeous. Lots of South Bay parks have them … Uvas Canyon (Contour Trail) and Sierra Azul Openspace (Mayfair Ranch Trail) among others.

    February

    Places To Go:

    Things To Look For:

    Shooting Stars

    • By late February last year Santa Teresa Park had nice displays of Shooting Stars and Fiddlenecks.

    March

    Places To Go:

    • Coyote Lake Harvey Bear County Park. The Mummy Mountain trail at Coyote Lake County park is a great hike. When I went in March 2010 there were flowers everywhere. Fiddleneck, California Buttercup, Shooting Stars, and many others. The display there continues into May.
    • Canada Del Oro Openspace. In 2010, by mid-March last year Canada Del Oro Openspace was full of Indian Paintbrush, Mule’s Ear, wild Pea, and lots of other great flowers.

    Things To Look For:

    • Flowers! Everywhere!


    April and May

    I’m combining these months together, as they are the peak of wildflower season in the Bay Area. Some flowers are at their best earlier and others a little later … so no matter when or where you hike, April and May will show you some fantastic, ever-changing displays.

    Places To Go:

    • Anywhere! April is peak wildflower time … almost any hike on any trail will give you something to see. But some trails are better than others. The ones listed for March are all still super.
    • Santa Teresa County Park, Fortini Trail. An excellent 2.6 mile loop on a sunny day will show you the best display of California Poppies in the Bay Area.

      On one trip I counted 27 different species of flowers in one hike!

    Things To Look For:

    • Flowers! Everywhere!

    June

    June is still prime wildflower time. The early varieties are long gone, but later season flowers like California Poppies are still going strong. The weather’s still nice too, so June is prime hiking time.

    If it’s getting warm inland, one option is to head towards the Coast. It’s cooler and damper there, so you should be able to find a comfortable hiking spot somewhere.

    I think of Paintbrush as peaking in early Spring, but over by the Coast they are around into June and July. As the weather heats up, and the hills dry out … head towards the Coast.

    Places To Go:

    Things To Look For:

    • Flowers
    • Cool Days

    July

    Hiking in the Bay Area is lots of fun, but by July some other opportunities should be open. The highways to and through the Sierra Nevada mountains should be open, giving you access to some amazing views and great hikes.


    August

    By August the Bay Area is either Golden (if your glass is half full) or brown (if your glass is half empty). Either way, it’s probably hot. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a hike! There are still flowers to see, believe it or not, though you may have to look a bit closer to find them.

    Take plenty of water, wear a hat, and check the forecast before you go. But GO!

    Things To Look For:

    • Shade
    • Water

    Big Oak Trees

    • Big Oak Trees

    September

    I’m trying hard to think of something to say about September. Most of my hikes in September were either at the Coast or in the Sierra. This might be the time to go to Henry Cowell State Park or the Forest of Nisene Marks. For me, September is prime Sierra time … if you haven’t been, this is the time to go. September is still pretty warm and pretty brown around here, frankly. But as the summer fog at the coast starts to lessen, there are some super views to be had in September. If the fog isn’t streaming in the Golden Gate, a boat ride to Angel Island for a hike can yield some fantastic views!

    The important thing is Don’t Stop! Get out there! :)


    October

    In October the weather is perfect for hiking. The days are getting shorter, but gosh this is a fantastic month to get it done. Great views from the hills! As snow approaches, this is the end of the Sierra season. So it’s time to enjoy those hiking spots in the Bay Area that were too hot until now.

    Places To Go:

    Henry Coe State Park near Morgan Hill.

    Things To Look For:

    Tarantulas!

    Tarantulas! Slow-moving and completely harmless, they are quite impressive. You’ll either love them or … not. :) The best time to see them is in the late afternoon, on west-facing hillsides. I have seen them at Santa Teresa, Almaden Quicksilver, and Alum Rock Parks. But the best place to go is Henry Coe State Park. In late October and early November I’ve never failed to see at least one … if not in the park itself, you’ll see them crossing the road on the drive up to Park HQ. Elaine and I saw 6 on our last trip!


    November

    Like October, but more so. :)

    Places To Go:

    Henry Coe State Park

    Things To Look For:

    Tarantulas!


    December

    The rains should have started, and the hills are starting to turn green again. It’s probably still subtle, but the green is there. And there’s a lot to see, so get hiking!

    Places To Go:

    Things To Look For:

    Fungi!

    Mushrooms and Fungi!

    Blooming manzanita trees.

    Waterfalls at Uvas Canyon County Park

    Waterfalls at Cataract Falls in Marin County


    (Edited 13 Nov 2011 for minor editorial changes and to incorporate suggestions from the comments … thanks all!)

  • Oct 18

    Woolent ‘cha Know It

    When I hike, I always wear wicking microfiber synthetic shirts. They do a great job of keeping me comfortable in any conditions. I Never hike wearing cotton … which just gets wet and stays wet, and is like sandpaper after a while.

    Compared to the street clothes I used to hike in, these synthetic shirts – and pants and underwear – are light-years ahead. A huge improvement. The best “gear” I hike with.

    BUT…my more experienced hiking friends don’t wear synthetics.

    Why not?

    Um…how do I say this.

    My synthetic shirts stink.

    Fresh out of the laundry they stink. Not totally disgustingly, but enough to notice. It never goes away. They have to be washed in cold, which apparently isn’t sufficient to de-stinkify them. Other clothes washed and dried in the same loads smell fine.

    If not synthetics, then what to wear?

    Well, the “cool kid” outdoor folks all swear that wool is the thing to wear.

    Yep, wool.

    That sounds totally unappealing. Scratchy, itchy and hot. Right? Well, apparently not. Merino wool clothing is supposed to be soft and cool, with the good qualities of synthetics without the problem that synthetics have.

    So, since I wanted to be cool – and less smelly – I bought a wool hiking shirt. Purely for research.

    I “picked up” an Icebreaker brand Merino wool short-sleeved hiking shirt … a “SuperFineLite 200”. In blue. Size XL, if you must know.

    Mine came from a store in Mammoth, but this one at Amazon is similar.

    “Picked up” above is in quotes, since it wasn’t a trivial purchase. Spending over $50 for a Tee-shirt focuses your attention.

    But it’s for SCIENCE, right? So it’s worth it, right? Anyway, I’ve been wearing it long enough to have some opinions.

    Is it itchy? Not really. It’s not silky smooth like a microfiber synthetic shirt, but it’s not objectionable.

    It it comfortable? Yes. Wicking-wise it works great, as well as the synthetics. It never gets soaked like cotton would. Feels nice.

    Is it hot? So far so good. Apparently the “200” part of the “SuperFineLite 200” refers to the thickness. This one seems great in the environments I’ve used it in so far. Bigger numbers are thicker and presumably warmer.

    Now to the big question.

    Does it stink? My synthetics smell bad straight out of the wash, but the Icebreaker wool does not. Smells great. Washed in cold just like the synthetic, and after numerous hikes. No stinkiness. So that’s great!

    So far, so good!

    Now, let’s go for Extra Credit. After all, a $50 shirt should be able to handle Extra Credit.

    Some of my friends say that their Merino clothes are so stink-free that they can be work for multiple days on strenuous backpacking trips without getting stinky. (Not that the PERSON won’t stink…but the shirt won’t.)

    So – for SCIENCE – I tried the experiment.

    This weekend I wore the same shirt for three days without washing it. I wore it on Friday as we drove from San Jose to the Eastern Sierra, with a couple of short strolls – no strenuous hikes. Then I wore it again on Saturday as we 4×4-ed around the Sierra and went on a 5 mile hike. Then again on Sunday for the drive home and a short-but-steep 2 mile / 700 foot hike to the top of Lembert Dome in Tuolomne Meadows.

    On Sunday, the shirt smelled fine. I wore it all morning and early afternoon with no problem – I didn’t notice any odor, and I checked pretty carefully before putting it on that morning.

    Until the hike.

    Something about going for a steep climb on Day Three in the shirt woke up some microbes. At the top of Lembert Dome I had just two thoughts … “wow, that’s a great view”, and “man, this smells BAD”. I’ve never smelled that odor before, certainly not coming off of me. Yow. I didn’t smell it during the much-longer hike on Day Two either.

    Luckily I had a slightly-stinky-yet-straight-from-the-wash synthetic shirt in the car to change into.

    SO…can you go multiple days on trail in an unwashed Merino shirt without stinking? I won’t declare it “Myth Busted”, but let’s just say I’m very skeptical. :)

    SO…do I recommend the Icebreaker shirt? Sort of. It does what it says it will; it’s comfortable; it doesn’t stink under normal dayhike conditions or afterwards. But it’s pretty expensive. Will I buy another one? Probably someday, but I’m not in any hurry.

    As always, your mileage my vary. :)

    Aug 16

    Six More Weeks

    (OK, actually five.)

    I was lucky enough to get another trip through the Sierra last weekend, and stopped at a couple of old favorite spots. The changes are more subtle now.


    Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra - May

    Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra - July

    Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra - August


    Nine Thousand Feet - CA 108 - May

    Nine Thousand Feet - CA 108 - July

    Nine Thousand Feet - CA 108 - August


    Aug 15

    Packit Gourmet Trail Food

    After a three day weekend of Packit Gourmet food, I am quite happy. I may have gained a pound on the trip. And unlike the bags of salt that REI sells as “food”, these had actual flavors and textures.

    First night dinner: All American Burger Wrap and Wild Carrot Salad.

    The Burger Wrap was really quite good … dehydrated crumbled hamburger with a little sloppy-joe-like sauce and dehydrated cheese. Bring your own tortillas. Everything rehydrated well; good tastes and textures. Will buy again.

    The Wild Carrot Salad, similarly, was really excellent. Shredded carrots, raisins, apples in a creamy mayo based sauce. The tastes were spot on … if I had it as a side dish in a restaurant I would have been quite happy. But the carrots didn’t quite rehydrate enough, so they were a bit crunchy in an odd way.

    The biggest problem was that the single serving salad made about 4x too much. Might be OK as a light lunch or dinner by itself, but it’s unreasonable as a side with another entree for one.

    I love the concept of getting some serious vegetation in the field, but nonetheless I may not get this one again. Would happily buy a half sized version.

    Second night dinner:

    Big Easy Gumbo. Chicken, rice, okra and other veggies. It was almost too spicy for me, even without adding the included packet of tabasco. Non-wimps would love it, though. I’m pretty sure I used the recommended amount of water, and it made a gumbo soup, but that’s OK. The included cornbread croutons were a perfect addition – sweet and crunchy.

    Banana Puddin’. Wow, this was absolutely fantastic. The name tells you what it is. But it had some sweet vanilla croutons to add for crunch, and some coconut to mix in too. Simply perfect.

    Minor downsides to the Packit Gourmet meals:

    1. Lots of bags, lots of steps. Unlike standard dehydrated means you don’t just dump in water and wait. I was fine with it – what else did I have to do? – but my hiking partners were amazed at all the stuff I had to do just to eat dinner.

    2. Odd and somewhat fussy measurements. OK, if you’re at 10,000 feet being eaten alive by mosquitoes how would YOU measure out 5 ounces of water? Telling me it’s a “quarter cup plus two tablespoons” just isn’t helpful, as my only measuring device is just barely capable of measuring a quarter cup with any accuracy whatsoever.

    Next Steps:

    1. Eat more?

    2. Since they sell raw ingredients – various dehydrated things, single serving containers of stuff that are hard to find at retail – I’m tempted to try concocting my own recipes.

    Highly recommended!

    http://http://www.packitgourmet.com/

    Older posts «

    » Newer posts