Trinity Alps. May 2015

Prologue

As usual I was trying to find a good trip to do on the Memorial Day weekend. One prominent runner-up was to go to Rogue river again. I was also wearily eying the couple of routes in Hells Canyon. After all May is the best time to go there. But that place scares me a little. Luckily, Viyasan posted a nice trip in Trinity Alps and I jumped to it.

Thursday, May 21

Driving to the trailhead after work in the early evening. About after an hour of driving I found that I forgot my camera. Had to ask Rama to pick it up. It took about 2 hours to get to Berkeley from Sunnyvale due to heavy traffic. But then it was all smooth sailing. The road after ReddingCA299 – was very winding. The driving was a bit perilous, especially at night. It was also late and I was tired and sleepy, and my companions were already off. Lame, they didn’t even talk to me. I was also afraid that it would be difficult to find the Douglas City Campground. But luckily the signage was very well done. We arrived there around 1AM. Jenny’s car was already there. I was way too tired from all the driving to set up a tent so I just put my tarp and slept on the ground hoping there won’t be any rain.

Friday, May 22

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Morning in Douglas City Campground

Lovely morning at the campsite. Nice weather – not too cold, not too hot, cloudy. All members of the group made it to the site, which was good. We packed and headed to the town of Weaverville for the permits and some breakfast.

When I was looking for a campground I was also considering a nice place to get breakfast. Generally a good local bakery and coffee. I did find this Mamma Llama place. On the web site it looked like it had everything needed.

The first order of business was to get permits and inquire about the current conditions in the local Forest Service office. Unlike NPS, the Forest Service people don’t really care what you do in their forests. As long as you don’t do something outrageously stupid, like destroying their valuable timber. I’ve never seen rangers actually giving tickets. There were a couple of places where my permits were checked and that was it. Also there is usually no limit on the number of people. Desolation Wilderness being one notable exception. Even in this case I believe the permit was actually to allow making fires.

One thing to note is that this Weaverville office was staffed by very friendly federal employees. The lady at the front desk was patiently explaining everyone what the rules were, what the current conditions were, what best places to visit, etc. Well, perhaps they didn’t have to fight these hordes of tourists clamoring for few permits (like in GC or a similar place).

My coffee choice was redirected to an even smaller place called Red House Coffee. Our large group made the workers there busy for a while. But they certainly knew how to make good stuff – none of that acidic liquid.

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Trailhead Yoga

The drive to the Swift Creek trailhead was long and winding. The road was in reasonable shape. The weather was a bit strange – it was actually raining periodically. Good. For some reason I’ve had this fear that this trip would be hot and dry. Well, as long as it doesn’t rain like in Canada, it would be fine. After some trailhead yoga we were off.

We were actually making good progress in these conditions with occasional drizzle. The elevation gain wasn’t too bad. The forest was green with many flowers. There were actually not that many people despite the trailhead parking lot being full (that is there were two more cars). I believe we saw perhaps just one backpacking group. As a result, we had this lovely Granite Lake campground all to ourselves. There was plenty of time to set up good campfire, meditate, and enjoy the outdoors properly.

Saturday, May 23

A beautiful morning. Not a sign of that little drizzle from the day before.TrAlps_2015_105 Right after breakfast and pack we had a nice climb in front of us to some unnamed pass. The trail up the pass was simple to follow. Not much snow-covered it due to the drought year we are still having here. In fact I was a bit surprised to see this area – Trinity Alps – to be so clear of snow this early in the season. It seemed more like a middle of Summer than late May. On the way to the trailhead we passed a shoulder of the giant Shasta Lake and it was very sad and low.

But we made it to the crest of the pass. It had great views further West to the guts of the Alps. It also had numerous ground squirrels. TrAlps_2015_123 These little buggers were very well adapted at stealing food from unsuspecting travelers. Or maybe they were just looking for salts from my sweat.

The trip down was uneventful. The trail was very well, how to say it, switchbacked. It didn’t just dive down but went back and forth for good knee-safe descent. I believe the original plan was to do some four lake loop around these mountains covering a couple of high passes today on a day hike. But due to a bit more wet snow and lack of self-arrest training in our group it was scrapped. Good thing I didn’t know what the original plan was otherwise I would be pushing for its completion no matter what. But instead I was happy with what was in store. So we decided to go up Deer Lake and camp there.

There weren’t many people on this trail. However all the flat spots around Deer Lake were taken. And people were just coming and coming via a different trail from Long Canyon trailhead. There was actually a constant stream of people going over the pass and continuing to Diamond lake. We could see them on the side of the mountain navigating the scary looking trail in the snow bank.

TrAlps_2015_175 The Deer Lake was gorgeous. If it wasn’t so crowded it would be even better. We managed to come early enough to secure a secluded flat two-level spot on the South side. It was early enough in the day to even go for a swim. The water was very refreshing as expected. The problem with swimming in these cold alpine lakes is not getting into the water – the problem is warming up afterwards. But with enough sunshine it is very doable.

The site we had was great. The only problem was the toilet. You can’t really go on the lake side because it is all open and people could see. On the other side of the rocks there was a full view of the valley and thus people there could see. I hope I did a good job doing it properly. But I doubt if everyone around this lake did the same.

In the evening the group went up hanging food to preserve it against bears. Well, I would be more worried about the squirrels we saw earlier rather than bears. Anyway, I tried my sharp skills at throwing rope around tree limbs using rocks. Local granite rocks had very sharp edges cutting well into my rope. Once I threw it, the rocks made one extra loop and ended up the tree. That was the end of it. One idea was to throw the other tail of the rope to release it, but this tail got stuck there as well. Thus my 30 feet of rope still remains on the pine tree next to Deer Lake in Trinity Alps.

Sunday, May 24

Another lovely day. Some of our neighbors were up early. The rowdy group on the other side was still out sleeping. I’m not sure when they were out the night before. We didn’t have a fire last night even though there was enough wood collected. For some reason there was no feeling.

TrAlps_2015_208 We went down and within an hour or so ended up along the Deer creek at the junction with Bear Basin trail. I guess there were bears here at some point, and deer. There was this constant talk about some day hike somewhere. Good thing I wasn’t leading. So I was just following along with the group making sure things were taking care of.

The junction had a decent campsite – flat, under trees, and next to a river. People were setting up, mostly to prepare the camp but also to dry out the dew. However, there was a change in plans. Someone made a communal decision to continue to the Black Basin and camp there. The trail going there was not the major one, but that usually much more interesting. Generally National Parks have all trails marked and well maintained. National Forests – not so much. There may be some unmaintained trails that could go anywhere or disappear altogether. But that usually means that the destination could be interesting and devoid of inexperienced groups.

TrAlps_2015_221The Black Basin was located on a plateau above Deer Creek. Getting there required a steady climb through forest with many down trees. The weather was changing to some rain in places, but nothing came down from above. Yet the moving clouds provided nice change in scenery.

We reached the Black Basin in good time. Finding a decent campsite there was a bit of challenge. There was a nice flat area, but it was swampy. Nothing there really had good views of the Deer Creek valley. There was always some bushes in the way. This basin seemed popular because I found several old campfire pits and lots of unburned trash. Seriously, people – Leave No Trace. In the end we decided on a flat-ish secluded place near a flat rock cliff. It seemed that it was used before.

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Meditation on the Pass

While the rest of the group stayed at the campsite Kim, Michael, Jenny, Peter, and myself went for a hike to the next unnamed pass. The main goal was to explore its difficulty, and also pass time. If the pass was too difficult we would take a different route. It didn’t take long for our small group to reach this pass. The view from it was spectacular. Even Mt Shasta was visible somewhere in the distance.
At least I thought it was Shasta because there was no other mountain in the vicinity fitting the description.

The rest of the evening was spent discussing planet formations and life issues, and enjoying spectacular sunset. The campsite was facing West. The floating clouds really brought up a lot of colors. There was also this strange lone female deer walking around. People were saying that she lost something, maybe a child. Not sure why she would hang around humans though. Maybe we were scaring mountain lions.

Monday, May 25

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Pass Photoshoot

The first order of business was to cross the pass that we scouted the day before. Michael went ahead of the main group since he packed his fancy ultralight backpack first. He seemed to be getting slow and wanted to have a head start. We caught up with him right at the crest. I wanted to see Mt Shasta. Perhaps there would be fewer clouds in the morning. But she was still hiding. The descent on the other side was fine, though a bit steep. Then we went down to Mumford Basin trying to follow a very faint trail. Not many people visited this place apparently.

There was a tiny junction at Swift Creek with one trail going up to Horseshoe Lake. The decision was to do a day hike to this lake after lunch. Then continue further down Swift Creek.

The Horseshoe Lake is located at this plateau up in the mountains. A bit of a basin like formation that allowed snowmelt to collect and actually form this lake. However, accessing this basin required a bit of a climb. Nothing difficult, though, without a pack.

We met a couple of groups going down from camping at the lake. It was a gorgeous place to camp. Beautiful secluded semi amphitheater with a clear alpine lake in the middle.TrAlps_2015_329 Unfortunately, I apparently have no photos of this lake. Perhaps because I was busy swimming and then warming up after. I wasn’t the only one swimming. Michael was the leader in this process. And then under peer pressure Suji, Jenny, Peter, and your truly. V and Rima were supervising it from a rock above.

After the swim and warm up the hike down was just a breeze. Actually the hike with the packs was a breeze too – slow downhill slope. The weather was nice, the trail was good, easy to follow. We followed beautiful green Swift Creek valley. Interestingly, there were several lonely redwoods dispersed among pines. I wonder if they moved into these mountains or were the remains of the old vast redwood forest that covered most of West coast.

We passed remains of some structure indicated on the map as Fosters Cabin. Someone probably tried to homestead this area. They were actually well-preserved ruins. The climate perhaps was too dry and thus preserving the wood well.

TrAlps_2015_376We found a very lovely campsite along Swift Creek. It was on a flat bank above the flowing water and a bit off the trail to provide good privacy. It was an established site so we didn’t have to arrange logs around a campfire. There was enough room for all the tents. Also enough wood for a decent fire. It was the last day so we had finished all the food and drinks over interesting conversation. We finished the day early enough that was still time to meditate on the rocks of the Swift Creek.

Tuesday, May 26

Going back was very fast. We only had to do a handful of miles, downhill.TrAlps_2015_406 Sadly, early in the morning I’ve missed to photograph the morning mist slowly drying in the morning sun. No excuses – my laziness got to me.

On the way back Michael, who have already connected to the wide word , was planning the after trip lunch. The funny thing was that the trail looked very different from 4 days ago. The rain really made the difference in colors. I knew that we came up this way, but the surroundings looked very different. One of the rules of outdoors is to periodically look back at the trail so that you won’t be lost if going back, so that you will recognize the trail, which may look very differently.

After we successfully come out there was a regrouping event at the aforementioned Mamma Llama place. I wasn’t sure why. Some people had drinks there. The place was also selling ice cream, but I wasn’t interested by their flavor selection. Instead I was looking at their comic book posters and checking my emails. Not sure why – nothing really happened while I was gone. The world didn’t even notice my absence.

The best lunch place with steak and vine Michael found in Redding. The driver there, however, took a while. The driver there – the scenic route CA299 – has, apparently, being widened (and getting more boring). It was a substantial construction activity. The machines were moving material from one part to another and thus smoothing the twisty curves. The traffic was only allowed on one lane and there was a pilot car to guide cars. This kind of construction is common in far away forest places. But this one lane closure was a bit long.

The after trip lunch was in the place called Moonstone Bistro. Michael found it. I generally trust his judgement on food places. This bistro looked a bit too upscale for our dusty sweaty crowd. But it was midweek lunch time and it wasn’t busy. The burgers were good, thanks Michael.


Map.

Photos.

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Trans Catalina Trail. March 2015

Prologue

I’ve heard about this trail from one of the Bay Area backpacking Meetups. It sounded like an interesting place to visit, sometime in the future. One of those trips to be added to the ever-growing bucket list. However, relatively simple logistics for this trail made it very attractive. The Trans Catalina Trail is a relatively new trail. There is one organization that basically manages the whole of Santa Catalina Island – Catalina Conservancy, and it perhaps wanted to bring more visitors. It was created by the original ‘owner’ of the island – William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate, as a deed to manage the island as a one giant park, excluding lucrative Avalon, of course. Campsite permits, which could only be obtained through Catalina Conservancy, are a bit expensive by American forest standards – $22 per person per day, as opposed to $20 per camp site (or free). However, a camp site usually includes a source of drinking water, which is not readily available on Catalina. Firewood need to be purchased separately.

I would have probably never visited this island in the foreseeable future if not for my oldest nephew. He wanted some backpacking trip for his spring break (good man, much better than going to Cancun or something and get drunk). I floated an idea of Death Valley or Grand Canyon. But they seemed scary to him. Catalina, on the other hand felt close and easy. It is true that logistically backpacking in Catalina is easy. However, the Trans Catalina Trail itself was far from easy. But he didn’t know that. Neither did I. He did manage to convince a couple of his ultimate buddies to come along. In the end we had a nice 6 people crew. I was a bit worried that I would be lagging behind all those spring chickens, but it didn’t actually happen.

Sunday, March 22

I was really worried about the trip, as usual. I even had a weird dream that there was a foot of fresh snow in Catalina. Sweet, but I just desired to leave half of my tent behind. A half of tent could be a bit wet. Anyway, I got up and headed to San Pedro port to catch ferry to Catalina, courtesy of my sister who gave us a lift. All the crew showed up on time. I just had to get the read boat tickets based on my online reservation. The first bomb was dropped by the ticket lady. She said that we can’t bring anything flammable on board. The coastguard may rummage through the backpacks to check and then levy a significant fine. And we could buy fuel on the island. This could possible be due to all the terrorist scare or Catalina people just want to restrict access to their island like the movie theaters not allowing people to bring food. I tried to call the shore in Avalon but it was closed. Being a bit suspicions of the threat and the possibility that the aforementioned store would have the right fuel cans, I just decided to risk it. It would be safer to pay fine that end up without the right fuel.

The boat ride was uneventful. Most of the people were vacationers, but there were a couple of backpacking parties. One on the shore I had to perform a wild goose chance to find out the place where my permits could be registered. People were just sending me all over the place. With late boat arrival and all this permit stuff we gotten seriously delayed.

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Group Photo at the Beginning

Finally on the trail, or so I thought. Technically the trail starts somewhere on the end of the island, which is a bit away from the main town of Avalon. The builders and promoters of the Trans Catalina Trail failed to add signs in the town to direct people to the trailhead. Added to it the lack of good maps made for interesting first hour or so. I’ve tried to find a good shortcut route through the vacation homes. Eventually we managed to find the proper road that was skirting around the island and leading to our trailhead.

It was Sunday. People were having relaxing weekend exploring Catalina. This involved renting all sorts of vehicles and driving on the island’s roads. After we turned inland at the aforementioned trailhead the number of people in golf carts went down to zero. However, there were a number of these big buggies allegedly organizing back-country tours in Catalina that passed us. Aside from creating a lot of dust they also were a bit depressing because they indicate that this wasn’t wilderness at all. Sad. Well, what was I expecting? We could still see the town of Avalon and the cell phone reception was strong.

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Resting Gazebo

The trail was relentless! We started a bit late, right in the middle of the most heat. The ocean breeze didn’t really make things easier. There was obviously no shade. To top this off there were no switchbacks. This was not a trail per se – it was a road. Roads generally don’t need switchback because you (whomever is transiting it) are not doing to walking. By the time we reached the second ridge of the day everyone was out of fuel. There was a little gazebo that provided some shade and rest relief. But there was no water.

After this point the trail/road had become a bit more interesting. It became more choppy elevation-wise. We saw our first Catalina buffalo enjoying dirt bath right next to a busy road.

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Vintage Bus & Buffalo

The interesting thing was that vintage 60s bus transporting tourists somewhere. The road/trail sometimes would disappear into a strange unused area. A bit further down there was this old playground with picnic area. It didn’t look like it was used much. Perhaps no one really wanted to get a bus ride here to have a BBQ picnic in the middle of the island with remote ocean views while a better location was available, and no bus ride. At least it had a water source. The kids had some fun on the swings and seesaw and continue the deathmarch.

The group has becoming more and more unhappy. There were some knee and ankle issues. The mental state was getting thin because the damn trail just wouldn’t end. It was getting dark and we still had a couple of miles of a not flat trail. But no one was really complaining. Finally, right before the Black Mountain campground it became a real trail. It was narrow and properly went around the last hill.

The campground was busy. Where d’hell these people came from? We haven’t seen any backpackers all day. Our proper camp site has been occupied by some student couple so we took theirs. Apparently they came earlier because they took the Stage Road shortcut. Wussies. Other than that the campground had all the amenities, wood boxes that could be used to store food, fire pit, table, even a shower (the shower was old style – a water pipe under a tree. Who cares that there is no cover – after all that heat any cold water would be fine). There was a brief, but tasty dinner, and everyone passed out at about 10PM. It was a long day.

Monday, March 23

Part of the night someone large an unhappy was walking around the campsite. This organism was stamping and snoring loudly. I suspected it was a local buffalo. We’ve seen a couple the day before. I was a bit afraid that it would just trump the tent. But it should see well enough to walk around in the dark. Otherwise the evolution would remove any desire from these species to be out at night.

TCT_2015_061After the campsite the terrain was a bit flat-ish. The lovely Black Jack mountain was presiding over the area. Perhaps if we have reached the campsite earlier we could have summited it.

At this side the trail was more like a trail rather than a road. It was snaking through some bushes and dry creek until reaching the Catalina Airport. A bit before the airport there were a couple of native American artifacts. Some soapstone formations used by them to make goods that could be traded.

The Airport was deserted. At least no flying planes were visible while we were there. One must be really lazy to hike a plane to get here (or maybe own a plane). There was, after a all a shuttle from Avalon. It may be intersting to hire a shuttle and then bike back. It would be all downhill. The airport had a shop and eatery located in a cute vintage building. You can almost feel to be on some remote island in 1960s. There was a large mural display explaining the history of Catalina.

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View Towards Little Harbor

After the airport the now road continued on the plateau before diving down to Little Harbor. It was a lovely walk. It wasn’t yet hot or difficult. The guys were cracking jokes. If I was more talkative the mood would probably be better.

Little Harbor was nice secluded campground. It had all the amenities, especially fresh water (I wonder where they’ve gotten it from). The best part was that it was possible to hike some shuttle to drive you there avoiding two very strenuous hikes either from Avalon or Two Harbors. We spend quite a long lunch at Little Harbor. Even enough to swim in the ocean. There was a group of college students on a break from some spring break volunteer thing. Nice place to spend a spring break.

The climb after Little Harbor was … regular Catalina – steep. The guys separated by their abilities or stamina. In reality, I timed one scary looking climb and it only took about 20 minutes. The views of the Western ocean very spectacular. There was also wind blowing from the West, but it didn’t help much. A climb is a climb. As a consullation the Catalina people put a nice gazebo at the top of the hill.

The road down was nice if knee busting. It was just the end of a very long day and, at least myself, was ready for a finish. However, we still had to wonder around the town of Two Harbors in the desperate search of our campground. The map wasn’t detailed enough and signage, again, was no where to be found. But after a couple of failed attempts we located it.

I’ve pick a campsite close to ocean which wasn’t the best. It was on some road and for some reason was lacking bear box. Not against bears, of course, but local squirrels. The funny thing was in this rather large campground almost only 3 camping sites were occupied. And they were all located around us. The other people were all involved with scuba diving activity. There was one single dude with all the diving equipment and large straw hat. The other was a family from Minnesota (if I remember right). The matriarch of this family, it seems, was teaching the next generation scuba diving. Interesting. Both of these groups were set in the site for a couple of days already, it seems.

There was pretty much one restaurant in town.TCT_2015_103 We gotten our fix of fresh food from it. They cooked good fresh fish. I’ve gotten my tuna there with some cider. The cold cider went down well. I was still severely dehydrated from the hike.

This day I did order wood. However, the location and general tiredness of people wasn’t conducive for folks to sit around the campfire for a long time. The moonlit view of the Isthmus Cove was spectacular, however.

Tuesday, March 24

I couldn’t sleep well again. Not sure why. I should have been sleeping like a log after all that climbing. Maybe I’m just too dehydrated. So I got up early to take shower before everyone, including the neighbors, were up. The shower, like in Black Jack, was just a shower head next to toilet structure. Whatever, if someone doesn’t like what they see they can look away.

The group slowly gotten ready by 10AM. Late. I should have kicked their butts better. Not that were were in the hurry, but it would be nice to beat of the heat as much as possible. The local squirrels got into food. For some reason this glorious campground didn’t have neither storage boxes, no places to hang stuff (or I just didn’t find our camping spot). So we organized our food on a BBQ pit. Didn’t help. Some creter found a way to a bag of pistachios.

I had to stop by the ranger station, which doubled as an activity center right next to the ferry docking, to pick up keys for water/wood lockers. This was actually important since there was no fresh water at Parson’s Landing.

The climb this day was not easier than the two before. The bloody road was just going straight up the hill. And the weather was warm. I was trying to go slow and steady. The other spring chickens were constantly running ahead. There was no much shade. There were just scattered trees here and there and we clinged to their small shade to have a bit of rest. But eventually we made it to the top. It felt good and views were spectacular. I thought the fight was over, but not quite.

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Parsons’ Landing

After the climb the road down was steep, very steep. It was so steep that we were sometimes sliding. The progress was very slow and frankly dangerous.  Whomever had their knee issues, which most of my crew who like to play Ultimate did, were having hard time. I just percued the same slow and steady approach of small steps. Hiking poles were helping quite a bit as well.

Parson’s landing campsite was essentially a secluded beach with some amenities. The amenities included good toilets and lockers. The lockers had water and wood that had to purchased extra. You get one key at the ranger station in Two Harbors. The other key belong to the rangers. If you open the locker you pay for its contents.

We picked one of the camping spots. It wasn’t exactly the assigned one, but it looked good. People seemed to have spent a lot of time on this beach because there were structures all over. All sorts of rock walls shielding tent spots or campfire pits. Someone even made sitting chairs. Our more adventurous group went further to Starlight Beach – the real ending of the Trans Catalina Trail. I decided to skip this march and just relax on the beach. I didn’t really want to swim due to serious waves and lack of fresh water to wash after.

The advanced guys came back a bit after dark, tired and thirsty. We sup up fire. The guys eat all their supplies since this was the last night. It was nice to sit by the fire and watch ocean and the distant lights of LA. I didn’t set the tent to just sleep under the stars. Tomorrow would be early rise.

Wednesday, March 25

Again I didn’t sleep well. Not sure why. Maybe the waves didn’t lull me to sleep as they should. Maybe I was just concerned about something. So basically I was just lying there waiting for the sun to rise. Once that happened we all got up, packed, ate, and moved on. This day the road would be flat. Just very annoying.

TCT_2015_158Right out of the camp the road led to some other fairly full boy scout or something camp in Emerald Bay. The problem was signage again. We wandered into this place with some old frames from probably canvas tents. Some dude on a golf cart seriously told us that were were on the wrong trail. Perhaps he was scared of liability of six strange man walking into his children camp. After that scolding the road went to the right direction.

It was flat, but it hugged all the nooks and crannies on the coast. This meant that sometimes we would have to go quite significantly inland to make it what seemed like just a bit of distance as a crow flies.

Catalina on this side was quite busy. We passed several different camps of various levels of comfort. They all had access to the water and it seemed supplied numerous ocean activities. Even from far above it was obvious that the water was quite clear. It would be interesting to come back here and do some scuba diving. Living in LA I always thought that the Pacific is completely polluted in this area, but it might be true to only the areas close to the main shore.

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Elevation Profile

We made it to the Two Harbors on time. It appears that there were several backpacking groups. I’m not sure where they stayed because there were no other groups on the road coming back from Parson’s Landing.Finally this brutal trail was over. I wasn’t sure what was more difficult – heat or elevation.

Getting back from San Pedro port was quite a hassle. There were a whole bunch of taxi drivers, but they were asking for way more than I was willing to pay. And at that time I didn’t have Uber set up. So half the group took a taxi to go back to UCLA. Myself and two others walked to the bus station to go to the subway.

The city of San Pedro, it seems, was trying to develop this area around the port. There was this weird dancing fountain. Weird becuase there was no one to see its performance. There also some nice signs and notices. Well, at least they are trying.

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After Trip Burger

At the downtown Long Beach we found some sort of hip burger joint to get the deserved after trip meal.After that we had a very long subway ride back to Hollywood. It was actually interesting so see the parts of LA we were passing through.


Photos.

Map.

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Winter in Yosemite. March 2015

Generally I try to do a couple of winter trips. Real ones – with camping in the snow. This year’s winter trips were either rainy or too warm. The trip a couple of weeks prior to Ludlow Hut was very wet with cold rain pretty much dominating the weather. However, by this time (early March) the weather became quite warm – almost as warm as in late spring. Yosemite would be a good place to go, however, the regular Yosemite winter route – Badger Pass to Glacier Point – was outright closed, let alone plowed. Lassen NP could be a good choice. But it is a bit far.

My friend Girish had a childcare-free weekend so, mostly, he had to come up with something to backpack on a short notice. As a result, Yosemite worked fine. In fact we could have done some very nice summer routes without the hassles of crowds and permits (the permit was self-issue at the entrance). The planning for this trip was a bit last minute. I actually had to pack on Friday evening a hour before start. It was a bit more stressful for me than usual, but I managed.

Friday, March 6, 2015

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Stars Above El Capitan

Driving was through Fremont where my team member leaves. It was on the way and since he would be driving I was obligated to go there. It wasn’t too bad and we made it to Yosemite by about midnight. The air was clear and crisp, but there was no sign of snow. However, there was enough light to make some night photos. We picked a site in one of the walk-in campgrounds and settled for the night. Again, this would have been an impossible feat to do in Summer.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Beautiful weather in the morning. Very early morning. Since we arrived to Lower Pines campground a bit late the only empty site we could find was on the way to the toilet. As a result the other residents, who probably went to bed earlier,  started using it very early in the morning. Then those giant Yosemite ravens started most probably looking for food and discussing something with each other. Regular campground life. We broke the camp and headed to Curry Village for some food and campground payment.DSC_5402

We reached the designated 4 mile trail at about 11AM. A bit late, but doable. Left the car just on the side of the road with the full view of Yosemite falls and headed up. Nice. I fish this park was like that in Summer.

The trail was reasonably crowded. We met one group of “campers” going down (they really stayed at the hut). The rest were just day-hikers. Since we started a bit late most of the people were already going down. We, on the other hand, were slowly progressing upward. We had to carry quite a bit of weight, especially all the water for two days.

DSC_5431We reached Glacier Point at reasonable time – still light and sooner than I expected. There were still some people walking around. It was a bit strange looking for a place to put our tent. Generally this area is used as a viewpoint in Summer. Essentially it is a parking lot. In normal Winter it is covered by snow so it doesn’t look like a parking lot and have no people. Now – it was like camping at a vista point in a national park. Doable but weird. Eventually we picked the little hut designated as a Geology Hut. Luxurious, with even better view. There was just a little problem which we would find later.

Closer to sunset the day-hikers disappeared. There were a couple more people staying overnight. However, there was no-one in the Ski Hut. In fact it was open so we could have just stayed there. But then it wouldn’t be camping.

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We did a lot of different night photography after dusk (memory is cheap), before full moon came up and flooded everything with light. It was nice and not cold at all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Camping at the Geology Hut turned out to be not that much fun. It had very nice springy wooden floor that transferred any movements everywhere. As a result, I could really feel any Girish’s movements and especially his walking. He got up early to get some dawn photos that I’m yet to see.

DSC_5507After simple breakfast we slowly started down. There was no rush – just 4 miles all downhill. We saw the first person right below the rim of Glacier Point. It was kind of early. But it turned out that this day was the time change. We saw some people climbing uphill while enjoying easy hike down. We made it to the car by 1PM or so. It was still there on the side of the rad without any ticket.

It was a nice trip. The sad part was that this nice trip was made possible by almost complete lack of snow this season.


Photos.

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Winter Trip to Ludlow Hut. Feb 2015

Once again the California drought, exacerbated by the climate change, is messing up our snow supply. Not only did we have only a couple of real storms, but the snow also fell as rain. People here were watching, longingly, at the feet of beautiful snow that inundated the North-East.

Somehow I managed to get in touch with one of the Sierra Club leaders. In particular a leader who primarily leads winter trips. I’ve asked him about some trip requirements what looked quite technical. After that he asked me if I want to come on this trip. The weather reports promised nasty cold rain, which is actually much worse than snow, but I didn’t want to say no. We were also not camping, but staying in Ludlow Hut, which could somewhat mitigate the bad weather. In the end there were only three people in the group, mostly due to the incoming rain.

Friday, February 5, 2015

Starting the regular driving. The leader graciously agreed to drive his Subaru in the rainy weather, which would behave much better than my Prius. Not only that, he also let us stay at his parents’ cabin in Truckee area (and thus he probably knows the area much better making for efficient drive). We stopped at Dairy Queen for some supper. I never knew they sell sandwiches. The name Dairy Queen generally brings up images of ice-cream or milk shakes.

By the time we reached Tahoe the heavy rain turned into wet snow. Highway 80 was slowly moving. The CHP blocked the parallel streets to all traffic except the local access. Our leader had to tell them that he lived locally. We were wondering why CHP did that. One idea was that Google maps was probably rerouting people around the main blocked area. However, there was still danger in driving on new snow without chains and CHP was trying to enforce this.

The leader’s family had a simple mountain hut – an A-frame but with all the amenities. Lovely place to stay during Summer or Winter. Just have to mind increasingly smart neighborhood bears.

Saturday, February 6, 2015

The morning weather looked fine. At least nothing was coming down. After a simple breakfast and release signage we headed to the trailhead – McKinney-Rubicon trail, which is apparently world famous. By the time we found a place to park it was actually sunny! Lovely. That would have been a very nice weather.

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Ludlow Hut

We parked a bit away from the main trail head. It was, however, occupied by the smelly 4-wheelers. The main trail was more like a road. It was expected – a similar forest road was leading to other huts. I gather it was also needed for the 4-wheelers. They probably could hammer through the forest, but that would eventually create a road anyway. Yesterday’s snow added a lot of water all over. We have to almost do a couple of river crossings. The weather slowly turned by the time we reached the hut. It was actually snowed very well.

I was happy to settle in the hut and watch the snow falling. It had everything needed, except solar lights. However, the other members wanted to hike up some local mountain (Lost Corner Mountain) and I had to go with them. I didn’t want to look weak even though the weather looked more and more nasty.

We reached the peak fine – hiking up a snowy mountain on snow shoes isn’t that hard. But there was nothing to see except very thick fog. Oh well. By the time we reached the hut everything was wet. At least there was a decent stove with some ability to dry things out.

We spent the rest of the day in the hut burning one of the stoves and drying the equipment. Wet snow was falling periodically with more or less rain. Somehow Sierra Club has this tradition that a trip leader would actually bring and cook the dinner for the group. Very nice. I’m a bit lazy with my trips. But probably the difficulty comes from negotiating what people want to eat. If everyone was no picky with food it would have been a lot easier, but that generally isn’t the case.

Sunday, February 7, 2015

Morning was semi-clear – cloudy, but nothing was falling down. Again the team wanted to do a dayhike.DSC_5326The view was better this time, but it was clear that a change in weather was coming. By the time we reached the Hut it was snowing again.

The slog back to the car was nasty. It really started coming down mostly rain. I suppose dry cold snow would have been fine, but that wasn’t the case. I was drenched, completely. Even my socks were wet. Somehow I managed to keep the insides of my pack dry. Thankfully the leader wasn’t particularly picky about getting his Subaru wet. I brought some change of clothes, but not that much. Also, changing outside under rain would make new closes also wet.

It was sad that the weather wasn’t really wintery. But other than that it was a nice trip. And I also located one more of the Sierra Club Huts. It could be useful for future visits. Ans I med a cool Sierra Club snow trip leader. Perhaps we can do more trips in the future.


Photos.

Map.

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Winter in Chester. December 2014

The long trip this year was out of question. Sad. As a result I was looking for some nice place to spend the holidays. Something homy with lots of snow and good food, preferably not too far. I like the state of Oregon and I also like B&Bs. So it would be nice to spend Christmas weekend in some cabin far away in the snowy woods, with good food and skiing. I’m not sure if it even possible. Still, I couldn’t find anything reasonable. The places were either too expensive, too remote, or already booked or closed.

Bidwell House DrawingSo after some extensive searches I found a place called Bidwell House in Chester, CA. They were closed on Christmas holiday, but seem to fit all the rest of the parameters. The house was really cute. And with all the recent storms I was really looking forward to the winter cabin like experience. The place actually had a web camera to look outside on their green yard where the Summer weddings are held. Initially it was covered by wet snow, but by the time Christmas ended the snow melted and it was all green grass again.

Surprisingly, we were not the only people staying at the same time. But the place was empty with only a couple of rooms rented. I’ve picked the cheapest one called McKenzie Suite A. Not because I’m such a cheap skate (which I am), but because it was a top floor small room. Just good enough for two nights.

Friday, December 26

The B&B hosts actually required in the reservation the time we would be arriving. Why, you may ask, they set this restriction since I’m paying for it and a regular boring Hotel usually open 24/7. Well, generally good B&Bs are someone’s houses. As a result it is not reasonable to expect people to attend to your every wish, including late arrival, because of that. Fensalden Inn people, for example, were actually very particular and were waiting for us to come, to give keys to the room and the house and such. As a result we had to leave Sunnyvale in the morning. I was also not cooking forward to driving at night.

Initial traffic out of Bay Area was heavy. I suspect people were trying to take advantage of holidays, good weather, and fresh snow at Tahoe. However, after about Richmond the freeway became clear – no one really wanted to go to Lassen NP I suppose.

We’ve gotten to deserted Chester almost by the nightfall.  The last parts of the drive were a bit iffy due to the freezing temperatures and some small amount of black ice. The Bidwell House was deserted too, as expected. However, it was open. There was another outdoorsy looking couple in the house who also just arrived. They showed us an envelope with keys to our room and the rules. That was it. It seems as if anyone can come and stay. Only later I found that there were many cameras installed around the house. On the other hand no one really would be wondering around freezing Chester in winter.

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The Bidwell House was nice. Large old house (though it was moved when the lake Almanor was created) with giant fireplace that had lots of Christmas little houses on it. There was also a local gorgeous outdoor cat. We found her wandering around the grounds in the freezing cold, which didn’t seem to bother her. She had so much lush colorful fur to protect against the cold that she probably felt fine. I’ve let her inside.

There was also lots of magazines to read, local activity and historical books, tea and coffee, and sherry, but no chocolate covered almonds. Aside from no snow it was just what I expected.

For dinner my other half selected a Chinese place – highly recommended Happy Garden. Well, it seemed that the reviewers had no idea how the real Chinese food taste like. And the restaurant owners were happy to change their cuisine to fit the local perverted ideas. Since I knew how Chinese food taste the Happy Garden was way a disappointment. Seriously, never expect a good ethnic food in small towns that are not populated by the said ethnicity.

Saturday, December 27

Beautiful bright freezing morning. Best time to go visit some nature. We had great breakfast at the B&B appropriately. It included omelet, juice, and dessert served by very friendly hired staff. Interestingly they had many different types of forks for different dishes in the meal. Very classy. We had a good chat with the other couple staying in the inn. They were also surprisingly from Sunnyvale. They were visiting all the national parks in California. I believe Lassen was their last. Very sporty people. But they were complete newbies to backpacking.
DSC_0080Among all the activity literature that the B&B had I finally found the one that we could both do – Lake Almanor recreational trail. The trail followed the West side of the like and was mostly flat. Surprisingly there were many trails around. In the National Park, of course, but also in many Forest Service lands around. Our fellow guests went to see some waterfall North East of Lassen. It just required several hours of driving.

Outside the town of Chester was sunny, cold and deserted. Maybe people went away for Christmas. It was possible that the lake Almanor surroundings were just tourist resort type of place. As a result, it was deserted during Christmas weekend. How nice. One down side was that there was pretty much zero snow.
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Obviously I had t miss the trailhead. It was right off the CA-89. Instead I went to some gated lakeside summer houses. But eventually I found a spot that looked like a parking lot about a mile off the proper trailhead.

The Lake Almanor recreational trail was mostly flat, clean, wide, and paved. It would probably be great in summer on a bike. Especially if you are staying in one of the those campgrounds on the shore.

Lake Almanor was low. It was clearly visible. About 4 feet low. There was no snow, but there were different frozen entities in the forest like some old frozen mushrooms or ice covered logs. All in all we did about 12 miles of hiking.

We cam back right at sunset. This day I was really looking forward to some good local food. The B&B had some recommendations and the best looking one was Red Onion Grill. Little dd I know that the person who ran (and maybe owned) the Bidwell House also owned the said restaurant. Well, the B&B was ran fine, so the restaurant should be too, though the food quality depends a lot on the cook.

I’ve ordered some giant egg burger and Rita had lamb again. The burger was good, just too large. So big that I didn’t have space for dessert. Restaurant was very sparsely decorated. It had good sized outside patio with some view of the lake. It was probably very nice in summer. Now it was all dark and cold.

After dinner I walked around Chester a bit to shake that burger down. It was cold and dark and deserted.

Sunday, December 28

My plan was just to drive back – days were short and the drive was long. I found this scenic California highway 70 called Feather River National Scenic Byway that looked interesting and on the way. The breakfast was good – tasty and different from the day before. The Bidwell House seemed to be a popular place. The lady there told us that they were booked for every weekend in Summer for the weddings. It was a nice place to have a wedding.

DSC_0089The drive was great. Feather river road was not busy, clean, sunny, with many stop points to see the tamed feather river. One of our power companies dammed the hell out of it – there were power stations one after another almost entirely removing all the beauty out of this natural river. At least they didn’t make another Lake Almanor size reservoir. In a couple of places there were small hot springs coming out of sheer rock. In addition to that I managed to hike PCT, a very short section.


Photos.

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Thanksgiving in Mendocino. Thanksgiving 2014

Once again we are spending Thanksgiving around Bay Area not-backpacking. Last year we went to Mendocino. Also due to the same reason. How sad. Perhaps I should figure out some sort of interesting route in the Southwest that could be done in 3 or 4 days. Winter is not the nicest time, but going there during the best time – March – is a bit difficult (vacation time).

The Thanksgiving Day itself was spent in semi-idle resting. Rita had some patients in the morning and we went to see the Hunger Games afternoon to the local movie theater which was for some reason working. At least there were no problems with tickets.

Friday, November 28

We visited our friends for a post-Thanksgiving gathering and then headed to the rain in Mendocino. Rita wanted to try different places instead of the lovely Fensalden Inn we stayed in last year. As a result she picked two different places – one in Mendocino proper and one in Fort Bragg. None of them B&B, which was sad to me. All hotels, in the world, are more or less the same. B&Bs at least have some uniqueness in them.

Since we started a bit late right after sunset I had to drive through the night into the upcoming rainstorm on the never-ending highway 128. That drive is nice in good weather. But with the wall of rain in the dark it wasn’t much fun. At least it was empty except for several frogs who enthusiastically tried to cross it. They were really lit up in the headlights. I hope I didn’t kill anyone. Eventually the drive ended at the expansive Mendocino Hotel, which was the accommodation for the day.

The hotel was very old bar/staging place/hotel. It was also probably brothel at some point. Old, of course, was by Mendocino standards. It had a lively restaurant with was bustling with activities at the dark time when we arrived there. At some point the owners also acquired some more places around because our humble room was in a house across the street. There was nothing special about it other than color broken TV and working fireplace. The hotel provided two of those per-packaged artificial logs and matches. The logs were easy to light, but they didn’t really want to create a good fire.

Saturday, November 29

Since this hotel didn’t provide any food in the morning we had to scramble. The good thing was that Mendocino had several very nice coffee shops within walking distance. Well, technically the whole town is within walking distance.

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Art

Mendocino is tiny. There is a nice ocean view trail, lots of little galleries and specialty shops, and some restaurants. That was pretty much what we were doing there the first half of the day. I liked some works. There were many very beautiful photos. Some were just weird or too expensive. After lunch we visited the currently being held art festival. Then headed North to Fort Bragg.

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By this time the short late November day was already over. But it was just the right time for the attraction of the day – Festival of Lights in Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. They really lit up the place with very elaborate and creative light installations. Some of the stuff, like this dragon, was also moving. The garden also had a large fire pit with provided marshmallows to roast. There was also a pavilion with guitar music and hot cider and vine. Very nice. Good thing that by that time the on and off rain of the day had subsided.

The difficult part was to find a place to eat. Mostly because of too much information. One can pull up Yelp and find several places around. But then their rating were that good, which may or may not be true. People like or not all sorts of things. Eventually we settled on Herons by the Sea for some seafood. There wasn’t a whole lot of choices and I didn’t want to drive South to the fancier places there. The food in Herons by the Sea was OK, that is after we found the place. I just had this slight suspicion that it wasn’t the best quality and probably laden with chemicals. Like the Mexican cooks there didn’t care for it. The place also looked shabby and cheap – like a McDonald’s.

Sunday, November 30

Morning in rainy Fort Bragg was a bit slow. The whole downtown was close aside from one or two places that were packed with hungry people. The wait time was about 30 minutes. I was tempted to just drive down to Mendocino for their food. Yelp again directed us to this highly recommended place called David’s Restaurant. Yes, it was highly efficient and clean. But the food was just regular diner food same as in Denny’s. The people there all seem to know each other. I had an impression that they all came to this place after Sunday church. After this we headed South.

The rain stopped and left this beautiful clear weather. It was like it washed away all the dirt and smog. The sky was the usual after-rain eventful – clouds and some sun. Much more interesting than clear blue.
DSC_0049The main goal, aside from getting home, was to stop for some mushrooms. There should be lots of them with all that water. There were some at this park with a beach access, but the main place to see was the Salt Point State Park. This was the place we visited 2 years ago and gotten some training on mushroom picking.

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One Boletus

Well, we were not the only people with mushroom picking idea. In fact Mendocino had some sort of even just a week prior all about mushrooms. There was even one place serving wild mushrooms soup, but they were out when we asked them. But this also meant that the Salt Point State Park was stripped clean. We could see trails that people made in the grass. I did manage to find two Boletus and many slippery jacks. Enough for one dinner, if I knew how to cook them best.

There was one park ranger who stopped to probably check on Rita in the car while I was coming down the hill. I was afraid he’d give a ticket. But he checked my two mushrooms and said that it will be enough for a dinner. He was the one who mentioned about all the people in this park.

Then it was all drive back. Good thing it was still light so that I could enjoy the ride. We stopped at Bodega Bay for gas. The gas station was old. The station attendant used binoculars to read the numbers of the machine from the shop building.


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Desolation Wilderness Trip Report. Oct 2014

Another short backpacking trip to Desolation Wilderness, this time in Autumn.

Originally I wanted to have a birthday trip – just a short trip as gift to myself. Then for some reason I decided to lead it and then it suddenly became very complicated. I could barely find permits for the area I wanted to go to. Then there was the King fire on the West side of Desolation. Due to the prevailing winds it covered Lake Tahoe with enough smoke to be a health hazard. As a result the trip had to be postponed a week moving it into October. The good thing about the postponement was that by that time the camping quota was lifted.

Then the group presented a bit of a challenge. The trip was re-posted on the Indian Adventures MeetUP group. As a result out of 12 people in my group 9 were Indian men not all of them with experience. At least we had two women to dilute the gender ratio a bit.

Friday, October 3

Regular weekend trip start – just drive to Tahoe in the evening after work. I was carpooling with Parul and Kaori. Fallen Leaf Campground was not busy this time of the year. Though I’ve managed to miss it a couple of times it in the dark.

Saturday, October 4

The morning was sunny if crisp. Good weather. Tahoe had a couple of inches of wet snow a week or so before. But it was all gone. All of my gang have made it. Now we had to get some food, check the gear, and perhaps pick up some lost items. Right there I noticed that my group wasn’t exactly thrilled about sleeping outside. There was no rain coming so I just put my pad and slept on the ground. But some of the guys were visibly uncomfortable this cold morning.

As it became a tradition I found an interesting coffee place to have breakfast – Keys Cafe. I’ve gotten some huge insanely sweet Belgian waffle from there. Barely digesting all that sugar I ran through the gear list. Everyone seemed to have taken all the necessary gear. This is where I’ve made the same mistake – just because something is called a “sleeping bag”, it doesn’t mean it is the right sleeping bag. One dude brought the same proverbial WalMart  sleeping bag attached to a school backpack. Why did I post this trip again?

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Lake Aloha

The Fallen Leaf trailhead was actually busy. We barely managed to find space. It was a popular place for some day hikes, plus we were also starting a bit late.

Beautiful day. Crisp, clear, dry. A bit too dry for this time of the year. It was hard to see on Tahoe itself, but it was visible on the smaller lakes that the water level was low. We did quite an uphill the first half of the day. The group was struggling. Someone brought a bug of cuties. Tasty, but heavy.

We lumbered to our destination – Clyde Lake – by nightfall. There was a small group there already, but they occupied a flat area a bit away from the lake. We just took over the main flat rocky area right on the shore. This place was already improved. There were a couple of rock walls to shield from wind and some old fire pits. Clyde lake is actually rather small. I suspect that our large inexperienced group severely damaged the environment there, mostly with the human “results”. Processing of those “results” is a bit slow in our dry climate. I tried to teach the crew how to “do it” in the woods properly, but I’m not sure how many actually followed.

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Starry Sky

After dinner, which was sometimes interesting, we had this glorious starry sky. People were kind of separated into groups. Too bad we didn’t have a fire, but they were enjoying themselves. I didn’t really feel in place. I tried doing some night photography, but without timer and tripod my options were rather limited.

Sunday, October 4

Get up and go back. Crispy autumn morning caused a bit of a slow moving. There wasn’t much rush to get back, at least from my standpoint since the mileage wasn’t that high. This, however, proved detrimental. First the green group was slow. Second – people just get lost a couple of times. Seriously? Some of them just failed to follow the well traveled trail. Then they didn’t find anything better to do than yell “help”. Perhaps even this very easy trip was too much as an introductory.

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Lake Tahoe from Mt Tallac

We did, however, went up to Mt Tallac for the gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe. The approach from the West to Tallc summit was much easier than from Tahoe basin. We were probably also well acclimatized already. It was just a simple persistent climb, not much work without the backpack.

We made it to now deserted parking lot after dark. Some people were really happy for this trip to be over. But they did pay for the expenses. With all that mountain climbing and fairly warm October weather I was severely dehydrated. Luckily Kaori found a good ramen place somewhere in Davis so that we could replenish the lost salts and water.

Photos.

Map.

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