Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yosemite - North Dome Loop

For the past couple of years, I've wanted to venture to the North Rim of Yosemite Valley. I've scoured the topo maps looking for a variety of hikes and after a buddy of mine (Mark) told me about his hike to North Dome with his brother, I knew I had to go there. I didn't want to do the normal out and back from Porcupine Creek like most hikers do. I saw an option for a perfect loop and decided I had to do it.

After several failed attempts to get out there, I finally had a weekend free (okay, one where my wife let me get away) and gathered some of my hiking buddies, Tim, Tony and Rafael and headed out to Yosemite for a 2 day 10+ mile hike. Why do this as a two day hike and not a single day? Because I can! Splitting this trip into two days, allowed for a much more relaxed trip, knowing we had no time limits to get where we were going and could stop for whatever photo opportunity came our way. With a crescent moon and clear skies forecasted, we were also hoping for some great night shots over the valley. We weren't disappointed!

To paraphrase a famous quote, "what goes down must come up"! That was the story of our journey. We arrived at the trailhead at Porcupine Creek(~8100') early and got our packs on were quickly on our way down towards North Dome. The trail near the trailhead is actually an old paved road for the first .7 miles. The road starts out nice and deteriorates the further you get into the forest. Once past the "road", the trail crosses a couple of seasonal creeks (including Porcupine Creek) and roams through a typical "Yosemite" forest, mix of pines and firs and decent underbrush and lots of dead-fall all around.

Within no time (about 1.7 miles) we were at a four-way junction (photo on the right). We almost took the wrong trail, but thank goodness I looked at the topo map a little closer. The first trail heads to the left and down to Mirror Lake and Yosemite Valley via Snow Creek Trail (okay, something I want to do, but not that day). The next trail marker, about 20 ft later was the North Nome Trail to the left. The other trail marker to the right indicated Yosemite Falls. That was going to be our trail on the way back.

Okay, we made it to the junction and now it was time to go down hill to the Dome, right, nope. Gotta go up to get down and that's what we did. As you gain elevation, the terrain also changes to more of a chaparral setting, a little more exposed, but starting to gain some nice views too.

Our main destination was North Dome, but we did have a planned stop along the way at Indian Rock. In fact, I think I was more excited about checking out Indian Rock than North Dome. Indian Rock (pictured left) is the only natural arch in Yosemite and it is spectacular! The Indian Rock trail is a .3 mile spur (.6 round trip, but the topo maps show it much further away) straight up hill to the top of Indian Ridge. The rock is a large outcropping of granite that includes a 15 ft granite arch and provides lots of exploring and photographic opportunities.

After a couple of hours hanging out at the arch, we continued on down to the Dome. It was really downhill this time. In about a half a mile, the trail splits up, to the left is the "established" trail that continues among the trees, but to the right the trail follows the granite of Indian Ridge. A more direct, but steeper route and the way we went. We followed the cairns and were soon greeted with an incredible view of Yosemite Valley and its many icons: Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Glacier Point, Illilouette Falls, etc.

We soon met back up with the "other" trail and were on a ridge above North Dome. Getting down to North Dome was more fun. The trail down drops about 200 feet very quickly and soon we were among the trees at the base of North Dome (Numerous trail camps are among these trees). The gradual slope up North Dome was rewarded with a face to face view of Half Dome. We hung out at the dome for a while and headed back up to a trail camp we found on the ridge above the dome. Still fantastic views of everything, but we didn't have to haul our packs and gear down and then back up. One word of caution to those planning an overnight trip to North Dome, there is no water within a mile. You need to pack in water.

A breezy afternoon turned into a calm and perfect evening, barely a breeze and a clear night. Shutters were clicking all around our campsite. The sunset wasn't as spectacular as I was hoping but it was special. The stars were incredible and after draining my camera battery, I hit the sleeping bag under the stars (no tent for this trip). I kept waking up that night, not because I had trouble sleeping, but because I couldn't keep my eyes off the sky. Morning was just as nice. I worked on draining another battery on the sunrise, packed the packs and then were back on the trail before 8am.

The route back quickly descended on a granite trail and into a forest filled with Red Firs. It was more lush than the route from the trailhead and I thoroughly enjoyed the stroll through that part of the forest. We crossed a dry Arch Rock Creek and made it to Lehamite creek for a needed refill of our water bottles. After the creek, the trail back takes a sharp right. The marker is easy to miss (right Tony and Rafael?), you have to look back and to the right to pick up the route. There are a number of nice established trail camps here near the creek.

Remember that paraphrased quote I mentioned? Well here is where it really came into play. The first part of the trail was a gradual climb including a section through a nice meadow filled with ferns, corn lilies and other wildflowers. After that meadow it's a steep grade and a good push back to the four way trail junction. Getting back to the trailhead seemed longer, but we eventually made it and headed back to the Bay Area.

In a little more than 24 hours we hiked a great loop trail, saw some incredible sites, had lots of laughs and experienced the best night ever sleeping under the stars. I strongly encourage you to get out to North Dome and Indian Rock. It is a popular but less crowded destination and definitely a must do hike. I would rate the difficulty level of the hike a 7 (mostly because of the last steep section and length as a day hike).

Below is the track on a Google Map. You can view my preliminary trip report on Trimble Outdoors. You can also view more photos from the trip on my SmugMug photo gallery.

On the edge at North Dome

Our campsite on a ridge above North Dome

Sunset shades of Yosemite Valley

I love star trails. This is a 5 minute exposure. The focal point is the North Star.

Morning view of North Dome and Half Dome

Friday, July 17, 2009

A San Francisco Gem - Crissy Field to Baker Beach

A few weeks back I managed to get out and explore more parts of San Francisco. What started out as a straight photography trip turned into a great little hike featuring lots of wildflowers, the Golden Gate Bridge, Civil War gun mounts and a great beach.

My photography buddy Tony and I headed out with a plan to get shots of the Golden Gate bridge and then at the San Francisco Zoo. What started out as a foggy and overcast day in the east bay, turned into a beautiful sunny day by the bay. We ended up at Crissy Field, found a parking spot and grabbed our cameras headed to Torpedo Wharf for our first views of the Bridge.

Wanting more, we located the trailhead to the California Coastal Trail and headed up for more views of the iconic golden gateway to the bay. The trail up is moderately steep, but within minutes hikers are treated to full displays of wildflowers and more spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge and the City by the Bay.

Still wanting more, we continued along the trail and came across Battery East (above), one of several Civil War (and later) battlements and ammunition caches created to defend the SF Bay. Part of the trail actually goes through a small tunnel with a very low clearance (good thing I'm short). Further along is the main tourist vista area for the southern view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Still not satisfied we decided to check out the view from the "other side" and followed the trial below the bridge and on the west side. More batteries and gun mounts are along the trail. We saw the trail marker indicating that Baker Beach 1.0 mile and decided to go for it! The hike to Baker Beach was a good hike on a very well maintained trail with a mix of blacktop paths and dirt and sandy trails.

Once the trail hits Lincoln Blvd, there are two options to the beach, the longer, but more gradual descent to the main parking area or the steep and surprisingly fun Sand Ladder (right). Guess which route we took. The Sand Ladder was a series of small diameter logs (about 8") connected together with cables and then laid down the moderately steep sandy hill to provide stair type steps. Very cool!

The hike from Crissy Field to Baker Beach is an easy to moderate hike with some elevation gain and loss. It is a must do venture that can be done anytime of the year, but best in the morning hours to avoid the wind and fog. However, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands from Baker Beach on a clear evening can be stunning. Parking at Crissy Field fills up quick and can be tough to find at peak times.

The hike is about 3 miles round trip. I had technical difficulties with my GPS and did not get a good track of this trail (my bad!). I will attempt to recover the trail and post it if I am able. Your comments and questions are welcome!

More photos from this trip, including the San Francisco Zoo, can be found at my SmugMug Gallery.

View Crissy Field to Baker Beach in a larger map

Baker Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge

Bumble bee collecting pollen from a yellow Bush Lupine

Great views of the Golden Gate bridge from the "outside"

Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point near the south view vista

Friday, June 5, 2009

Yosemite - The Pohono Trail

For those of you who have been following my adventures, you may think I should have called my blog, Yosemite (and sometimes the Bay Area) and Beyond. That's okay, I love Yosemite and can't get enough of that incredible place, even on one of the busiest weekends of the year - Memorial Day Weekend. My wife and daughter flew to Colorado to visit friends and I heard Yosemite calling. My original plan was to hike along the North Rim of the Valley from Porcupine Creek to North Dome, then to Yosemite Point and back to Porcupine Creek. I talked so much about my Memorial Day trip to Yosemite, I was soon leading a group of nine!

The Yosemite weather report and trail conditions were burned into my computer screen in the weeks before the trip and it wasn't looking promising. Although the North Rim of the valley around North Dome and Yosemite Falls was clear of snow, the trail from Porcupine Creek to North Dome was reported to have 75% to 100% snow coverage. Plus, Tioga Road had not opened yet. I made a number of backup plans, which is more challenging when you have a party of nine, especially for Memorial Day weekend in Yosemite! However, I was fortunate and able to switch my permit to Glacier Point and the Pohono Trail. It was actually my fourth choice, but it ended up being a great option.

I had hiked part of this trail before with my son when mapping the Senitnel Dome Loop hike for BACKPACKER magazine. I knew the upper section of this trail had great views and destinations, but was not familiar with the rest. No matter, we had the permit! Early Saturday morning, the nine of us gathered at Glacier Point parking area, two rookies (Bert and Rafael), two energetic boys (Ron and Ray) and four seasoned veterans (Gary, Tim, Tony and myself) and one superstar (Bob, lots of stories about his exploits and climbing El Cap 25 years ago).

The goal for the day was to get from Glacier Point to Bridalveil creek. The topo map showed it to be about 5.5 miles (really 6.4) and I figured it would take us about 5 hours. Not because the trail was too tough or my fellow hikers were slow, but because I knew about all the photographic opportunites along the way! Incredible views of Yosemite Falls (Upper, Middle Cascades and Lower), El Capitan, Three Brothers, Merced River and too many others caused us to frequently stop and take it all in. The views were captivating and breathtaking.

Our first real break was at the Sentinel Creek crossing. A spur trail follows the creek downstream towards the rim and up on a point (I call it Sentinel Point). This was the first of several vertigo inducing locations. 3500ft drops straight down to the valley floor. More stops along the way at Taft Point and Profile Cliff. The packs came off and the cameras came out. Some were more daring than others, but we all had our gut wrenching peeks over the edge.

From Taft Point we headed inland to Bridalveil Creek, crossing a few ephemeral streams along the way. Although we left the rim and views of the valley, we still had the pleasant sights and sounds of the forest. Who needs an iPod when you have that! We finally arrived at the footbridge over Bridalveil creek. Bob beat us all there and had staked a claim to a great campsite. One that could handle our whole group. He even had firewood piled up next to the fire ring!

We got the camp setup and Gary had a special surprise for dinner: Beef Fajitas! Not our normal backpacking fare, but he was training for the JMT and decided the extra weight was a good thing and the meal was a great thing! The original plan was to hike from Glacier Point to the Bridalveil Creek Area and base camp there two nights. The second day would be a day hike to the Dewey Point area and back to base. We would then return to Glacier Point on our last day (Monday). It's great to have a plan! There was some talk about doing the whole Pohono Trail to the Wawona Tunnel, but we did not leave a car there and would have to get a ride back to Glacier Point. What the heck, we figured it would all work out so the plans were changed.

The next morning we had a great breakfast (using the left over fajitas with some freeze dried eggs) and broke camp. Our next destination was Dewey Point (2.5 miles) and possibly beyond. I was surprised by the amount of uphill we had to get from Bridalveil to Dewey, in fact, I had told the guys it was going to be mostly downhill. Oops, my mistake! I had been to Dewey Point before, but from Badger Pass by way of snowshoes. Winter or summer, this was still a spectacular location. There is no water at Dewey Point and we planned on going further to find a camp, but it was such a great place to be, we located a nice site near the point (not on the point) to setup camp. Rafael and the boys headed back to a creek to get water and we relaxed for the rest of the day, had dinner and then waited for the sunset.

The snow capped hills to the east kept us captivated and I was really looking forward to being out in the open for the sunset and stargazing. It was just a day past the new moon and I expected great things. The sunset didn't dissapoint (although I didn't get much color on Half Dome) and the stars were quickly out. I knew there were some great possibilities later in the night, but was already beat and turned in after my son Ron and I took some photos and watched all the lights on the face of El Capitan from the headlamps of the climbers. I ended up waking up at 3:30 am and peeked out my tent door. WOW! What a site! I won't forget that anytime soon. I can only imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago before all the light pollution. Now we have to travel hours or days to see a night sky like the one I saw that night.

The next day was a blur. Sunrise, breakfast, packup, hit the trail! Only 5.5 miles to go, but so many more photo ops. Crocker Point and Stanford Point kept our miles per hour way down and our happiness meters way up! Each point we visited brought us a differnent vision of the valley and a wonder at how, seeing the same thing over and over, can be so fresh. Once we were passed Stanford Point, the major descent was upon us. With a 3000ft drop in 3 miles, I expected some switchbacks, but the first two miles were pretty much straight down with a few level spots in between. The last mile brought the switchbacks I was expecting, but the trail also provided a myriad of wildflowers and classic views of Yosemite Valley. The valley views were similar to Tunnel View without the cars, buses and people. I really enjoyed that!

We made it to the tunnel with smiles all around. A few of the guys decided to pass on Dewey and head back towards Glacier on Sunday. They camped out near Sentinel Dome and were waiting for us when we arrived at Tunnel View.

One thing that really stuck out on this hike was how few people we encountered along the way. Of course, there were the day hikers going to Taft Point or Dewey Point. But, there really were not that many to feel like we were being over run or smothered. The fact was that the valley was packed (as witnessed by the slow moving stream of tail lights leaving the valley Sunday night). Not a lot of people make it up to Glacier Point and even less hike the whole Pohono Trail. We saw no one on the trail Monday until we got within a mile of the tunnel.

The 13 mile Pohono Trail is a moderate hike that can be done in one, two or three days (stretching it, but worked well for us). The scenery from the trail and featured points is unmatched (execpt maybe from the North Rim, it might be a tie) and the relative solitude for being that close to the valley can't be discounted.

Although this hike has not yet been published for BACKPACKER, you can view my rough draft map and report of this hike at TrimbleOutdoors. The link has many more specific details about the hike including waypoints and the ability to check it out on Google Earth( you may have to register for a free account to access parts of the report). You can view more photos (better quality and higher resolution) from this trip on my SmugMug site.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for taking the time to check out this hike.

Classic view of the valley, without the crowds or fumes.

Bachelor's Button

Bob and Bert on the snowy trail

Dewey Point

Star trails at Dewey Point

View from my tent. WOW!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pt. Reyes – Coast Camp Loop

One of my favorite places to hike in the Bay Area is Point Reyes National Seashore and with Saturday’s forecast called for high temperatures in the East Bay I headed north to cool off some and scout out Coast Camp, one of the backcountry campgrounds in Pt. Reyes. I’m taking my Royal Ranger boys there for a three day backpacking trip next month and needed to check it out first so this was a perfect opportunity.

One of the things that drew me to Coast Camp is the relatively short distance it is from the trailhead. n addition, it is very close to the beach (a big plus with the boys).

There are two routes to Coast Camp: Coast Trail (2.8 miles) & Laguna Trail (1.8 miles). Today’s plan was to check out both routes by creating a loop hike and make sure there were no surprises at the campground (like water supply issues, etc). I also wanted a good look at the beach area since I know that will be a main feature of next month’s trip.

The trailhead for each route is within a quarter mile of each other near the Point Reyes Hostel off of Limantour Beach Rd (see map below). A parking lot is located at the Laguna trailhead past the hostel. This is the preferred parking area; however, if that lot is full, there is some parking along the road at the Coast trailhead just before the hostel.

My hiking buddy Tim joined me on this trip and we started out on the shorter route (Laguna Trail). One of the first things that caught my attention was the abundance of quail at the trailhead. I just love quail (to watch, not eat) and enjoyed seeing them skitter along the trail ahead and hearing their distinctive calls. The topo map (Tom Harrison’s is the best) showed a short climb to a ridge and then gradual decent to Coast Camp. The topo was spot on, but what it didn’t show was how nice of a trail it is. If you’ve read my previous entries, you know I’m a sucker for wildflowers. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of flowers I encountered along the trail. Okay, this wasn’t Merced River Canyon wildflowers, but there were quite a number of different types. Here’s a list of the wildflowers I could name: Lupine and Bush Lupine (lots of em), Morning Glory, Indian Paintbrush, Monkey Flower, California Poppy, Forget-Me-Not, Bowl Tube Iris, Yarrow, Blue Eyed Grass, and more that I could not find names to. The trail was also filled with wildlife. I mostly spotted rabbits and a myriad of birds, however, I did see lots of evidence of coyotes, and by the look of its scat, these critters must be very content and full coyotes. In no time at all, we met up with the Coast Trail and were at Coast Camp.

Coast Camp is behind a bluff separating the campground and the beach. The campground is broken up into two sections. Campsites 1-7 are nestled among the native bushes (including poison oak) and more private and protected from the other area containing campsites 8-14. This area is more in the open and contains two group sites. The open area definitely is more susceptible to the coastal winds and each camper I ran into commented on the high winds of the night before.

Coast Camp has potable water spigots and vault toilets adding some conveniences that most backcountry locations lack (although most of the time I’d rather dig a hole than enter the vault). I’ve termed this type of backpacking: slackpacking. I think slackpacking is a perfect introduction to the wilderness for the young and reserved. I have had very successful trips simple because I was joined by others (wife) who refuse to dig a hole.

Santa Maria Beach is a very short hike from the camp along a narrow trail.
It is an idyllic spot with a seemingly endless sandy coastline. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the brown pelicans skimming over the water and the other, smaller, seabirds looking for lunch. We encountered a number of day hikers coming from Limantour Beach (parking lot is 2 miles away). Campfires in this area are only allowed on the beach and not in the camps. Finding wood may be tricky. I didn’t see a lot of driftwood along the shore and will probably need to pack in some firewood or find a friendly mule (did you say something Tim?). Fortunately, it is a fairly short hike.

We left the beach and headed north on the Coast trail. The trail is a basically a gravel fire road, fairly level and only 2.8 miles back to the trail head. The first part of the trail is exposed and follows along the coastline. The slight morning breeze was welcomed as we started to feel heat of the day. After a mile or so, just past some wetlands, the trail turned inland and we came across a glade of Alder trees along a creek. It was very peaceful. Coming out of the glade we were again “exposed” and the trail had such a gradual rise you barely noticed it. The trail head came up sooner than expected and we were done.

This was a perfect hike and although my main purpose was to check out Coast Camp for an overnight trip, it worked out nicely as an easy day hike. Although I preferred the more scenic and shorter Laguna trail, the Coast trail is good for those that don’t want to deal with any elevation or those who wish to ride their bike to the campground or beach.

I don’t know if there is a bad hike in Pt. Reyes. Every hike I’ve done within this National Park has exceeded my expectations. The variety of wildflowers alone made the trip worthwhile (okay, the flowers will be gone by summer, but you know what I mean) however there was much more to see and experience. If you are looking for a nice day hike or an easy backcountry experience, go to Coast Camp. Permits can be tough to get during the spring and summer, but it’s worth the effort.

For more information on backcountry camping in Pt. Reyes, see the Pt. Reyes website.

I hope to have the GPS route uploaded shortly.

View Coast Camp Trailhead in a larger map

Santa Maria Beach

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wildflower Update

I had an opportunity to get my camera (and me) back to Hite's Cove Trail last Sunday to try to capture more of the incredible wildflowers of the Merced River Canyon. I am happy to report that lots of wildflowers are still carpeting the hill sides, however, the poppies are definitely fading. The endless sea of orange that I experienced ten days before was replaced with a more colorful scatter of yellows, blues, reds, whites and purples. I wish I could list off all the types of wildflowers that I saw, but I just don't know the names (yet).

I also spent a little time up on Mission Peak on Saturday. The hike up was grueling as ever, but the hills were bright green with lots of little purple flowers down low. It was pretty crowded, but definitely a good hike and a great time.

The next month is the perfect opportunity to get out and to get your boots on, see some wildflowers and enjoy the many trails of the bay area and beyond.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Merced River Canyon - Oh Wow!

There is a very special event happening right now a few hours drive from the Bay Area. An explosion of wildflowers has erupted along the hillsides of the Merced River Canyon East of Mariposa along Highway 140. Some say they have never seen so many wildflowers in bloom along the canyon.

Most of the Yosemite themed blogs that I follow (LittleRedTent, YosemiteBlog, Michael Frye Photography, etc) have been touting the proliferation of color for the past week or so. I finally couldn't take it any longer and took a day off of work (I was maxed out on my vacation time and had to take a day off anyway) so I could seek out and try to experience the massive quantities of California Golden Poppies I have been reading about. I was also aware of a storm coming this weekend and chances are many of the poppies would start losing their petals after the first rain. I couldn't let that happen without seeing them in full bloom first.

My day started pretty early, 3:45 am. Of course, I really didn't get much sleep either because of my anticipation of what I would discover (and not wanting to oversleep). I had packed the car the night before (but still forgot the bag with all my camera filters, dang!) so I was out the door before 4:00am. Of course, morning is not the right time to photography wild flowers, especially poppies, since they don't open up unless the sun is out. My plan (because I am a planner), was to head to the valley for some morning sunrise shots, then out along Hwy 140 for the wild flowers and then back to the valley for some late afternoon and sunset shots and then home. I thought it was a good plan, and it was!

I arrived in the valley about 7:40am and played around at Cathedral Beach and the Swinging Bridge and Sentinel Bridge and Yosemite Falls. All wonderful and beautiful places for photography, but not really my what I was after. I was coming back from the short hike to Lower Yosemite Falls just before lunch time and decided the sun had been out long enough and I couldn't wait any longer so it was time to take a drive. There were two places I had scoped out(with the help of Michael Frye's The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite), Incline Road and Hite's Cove Trail (did I mention I was a planner?).

My first stop was Incline Road, a narrow (very narrow in parts) frontage road that parallels Hwy 140 on the opposite side of the Merced River for a few miles. To get to Incline Rd from Yosemite Valley, turn right on Foresta Rd and then a quick left after you cross the bridge. It only takes about 15 minutes (give or take) to get there from the Valley Entrance. Following Incline Road will immediately provide lots of golden eye candy on the steep hillsides on your right hand side. I stopped at one of the first spots on the side of the road where my car would fit and jumped out with camera and tripod in hand. I travelled the road on foot and by car for a couple of hours, but I only got about a mile in.

Not all the best scenes were right along the road, some places you had to work for. The steep hillsides are a challenge to navigate, especially carrying the camera gear and not wanting to casue any damage to the flowers, but I saw an incredible carpet of glowing gold up higher on the hillside beyond a tangle of fallen and live oaks. It was well worth the scramble.

So many flowers so little time. I could have spent the whole day along that stretch, but wanted to see more. I then headed out to the Hite's Cove Trail a bit further down Hwy 140. The trail head for Hite's Cove Trail is at the Savage's Trading Post. Although the whole trail is 4.5 miles, the wildflowers are in the first two miles and the best display is only a hundred yards up the trail. There was so much to see there, I really didn't go further than a quarter mile in. However, I do plan on hiking the whole trail in the future.

Although the poppies may start to fade, others will start to take their place. The California Golden Poppy was by far the most prevelant, I must have seen 6 or 7 different types of wildflowers on my trip. There is still plenty of time this spring to get your fill of wildflowers. You can keep track of the status of California wildflower locations at the California Wildflower Hotsheet. This was a great trip and experience. Normally, I get excited about going to Yosemite, but this was extra special. I encourage you to go out and see some of the incredible color out there this Spring (I love it when a plan comes together!).

I want to give a special thanks to Michael Frye who helped me refine my "plan". I also want to thank Edie at View from the Little Red Tent for the constant updates on the conditions along the Highway. I encourage you to check out their sites and galleries. They don't have to get up at 3:45am to get to the valley and I envy them for that.

Use the map below to get directions to the two locations I visited.

View Larger Map

Below are more of my favorite photos. To see even more photos (and at a higher resolution), check out my new Photo Gallery. As always, your comments are encouraged and appreciated!