We wanted to spend Memorial Day camping but living in CA has taught us to avoid all popular outdoor destinations over a long weekend. Our colleague recommended the Stanislaus National Forest as a way to experience the Sierras without dealing with the crowds. So we planned a camping trip. We also took our bikes with us. Stanislaus did not disappoint. We camped, biked, and hiked along the lake. A wonderful way to experience the Sierras without the crowds!
We love the ice plant that grows wild in California. A native of South Africa, the ice plant (Carpobrotus Edulis) was originally brought to California to stabilize soil along railroad tracks and to control erosion. It was planted along highways in the 1970s. Being a resilient, drought-resistant plant, it became invasive, forming dense networks of roots and competing with local flora. Today the California State Parks warns against planting ice plants, and even urges residents to volunteer to remove them. We, however, enjoy the beauty of the white and pink blossoms in the spring that appear suddenly along the otherwise boring highways. We decided to drive to Pacifica to see the pink blooms along the shore, and then drove on to Big Sur. The drive was very enjoyable and the coast was gorgeous as usual. The ice plant leaves provided an orange glow to the hillsides. Next year I want to return and hike along the Big Sur coast.
Spring is a beautiful time to hike in the East Bay. We did not get much rain in the winter of 2013 and it was warmer than previous years. Our first hike of the year was Mt Diablo in mid-Feb. It was green and gorgeous and spring flowers were starting to bud. We packed a Subway lunch and enjoyed a leisurely hike, vowing to come back again soon when the wildflowers were in full bloom.
Our next hike was towards the end of March. One Sunday after a wonderful brunch at the Peasant and the Pear, we decided to explore Briones Regional Park in Martinez, CA. At first we thought we’d just lay in the sun but when we got to the park, we couldn’t help but go exploring. The rolling green hills were gorgeous! We even got up close and personal with grazing cows and a wild coyote. A few California poppies were already peeping out and we made a resolve to go check out the wild flowers on Mt Diablo later. Given the fire last year on Diablo, experts had predicted there would be rare and abundant wildflowers this spring.
On Sri’s birthday weekend, we decided to go back to Diablo to hike up to Mount Olympia. We parked off Marsh Creek Road at the beginning of Three Springs Road. We hiked up the Olympia Trail, a narrow trail that was fairly steep and lined with wildflowers. I’ve never seen so many types and colors of wildflowers! Here are some I think I’ve recognized –
We rested near the top of Mount Olympia where burnt tree stumps from last year’s fire provided a stunning background to fields of poppies and lupine. The old had made way for the new. A very memorable hike in Diablo.
I clearly didn’t manage to write the follow up posts of the ‘Training for Half Dome’ series I had ambitiously started last year. Nov and Dec were consumed with holiday season festivities, cooking, shopping, and preparing for ‘The India trip’ in Dec, which is always a huge project. However, the pending posts are weighing heavily on my ‘blogging conscience’, so here is a summary of the Half Dome hiking and the remaining travel adventures from 2013.
Half Dome practice hike 3: Grand Canyon National Park
We hiked the maximum recommended for a day hike, which is half-way down to the canyon floor. We turned around at Skeleton Point, from where you first get a glimpse of the mighty Colorado river, vowing to backpack to the base on our next visit.
We were lucky to get up close and personal with some mule deer and elk.
We had an extra day in AZ, which we got to spend in Monument Valley. This was also our engagement anniversary!
Half Dome practice hike 4: Mission peak
Though we had done a few tough hikes by now, none were as steep as the Mist Trail that we would encounter right at the beginning of our Half Dome hike. The closest in gradient was Mission Peak in Fremont, so we decided that would be our last practice hike. Mission peak was my least favorite of the hikes we did, not because of the gradient but because of the crowds! There were people hiking with boomboxes playing loud music. The views from the top were worth it though!
Half Dome practice hike 5: Del Valle
Two weeks were now left for our Half Dome hike and we were feeling pretty good. However, in going over the travel planning with our Half Dome co-hikers, we realized that splitting the hike over two days would be much easier than a day hike. This meant that we would be backpacking! I had never backpacked before and had no idea how I would fare with 20 pounds of weight on the Half Dome trail! So we rented backpacks from REI, loaded them with all the canned food at home, and hiked the Ohlone trail in the Del Valle recreational area in Livermore. That first hike with backpacks was hard but it made us stronger. Now we were really ready for Half Dome! We didn’t take any pictures on this one.
The Half Dome hike deserves it’s own post, but I couldn’t get around to it so the summary will have to suffice. If I were to use one word to describe the experience, it would be ‘spiritual’. The close proximity with nature, the pure atmosphere, the realization of how tiny we are in the scheme of things, the hard work of climbing ~5000 feet…I could go on and on. But here are some pictures instead –
Climbing the mist trail, probably the hardest part of the entire hike.
Catching our breath by the Vernal Falls
We camped at night in Little Yosemite Valley. Our ultra-light two-person tent kept us warm during the chilly night.
Day 2 – after a few hours of hiking, here we are at sub-dome. Ready to tackle the ropes!
On top of Half Dome. It was completely worth it and I can’t wait to do it again!
Mt Diablo, rising 3,864 feet above the Bay Area, is a 20 minutes drive from home. We have driven many times to the summit, but never had I imagined that I would climb it on foot. We had a late start and arrived at the Mitchell Canyon parking lot around 11:45. We visited the park store to pick up a map and chatted with the park officials about our plan for the summit. They recommended we take the Eagle Peak trail back for it’s wonderful views. They were also confident that we would finish the hike in 7-8 hours. Given it was about noon, we decided we had plenty of daylight left.
We planned to do the popular Summit Loop; Mitchell Canyon Road -> Deer Flat Rd -> Juniper Trail to the summit and then North Peak Trail -> Bald Ridge Trail up to Murchio Gap on the way down. Here we would take the Eagle Peak Trail instead of the Back Creek trail to take advantage of the beautiful vistas that the park officials had promised. Starting up Mitchell Canyon Road, we enjoyed a mostly-gradual climb along well-maintained fire roads up to Deer Flat, which we reached around 2:30.
We took plenty of breaks along the way to enjoy the views and to examine the giant cones that were everywhere!
At Deer Flat, we were already at an elevation of 2800 feet and were feeling good about the summit push, the last steep mile up Juniper Trail. Juniper Trail ends at the Lower Summit parking lot, and when we reached there around 4:30 we were exhilarated! It’s a short climb from the lower parking lot to the summit. Reaching the summit felt so good, even though it’s just a small parking lot that is usually full of cars and people. We enjoyed the views, shared a snack, and headed back down the North Peak Trail at about 5:15. Given it had taken us about 5 hours to climb, we figured the descent would take about 3 hours.
However, as soon as we started down, I started slipping and sliding and realized that my old Asics had barely any grip left. I had to step carefully, with Sri holding my hand and supporting me on the steepest parts of the trail. Not only was it scary, it was extremely slow progress. We reached the Bald Knot (a lovely peak with stunning views at about 2645 feet) at 7:00 and realized that we had about an hour of light left! We were a bit worried now and started going down as fast as my slippery shoes would allow. The evening shadows were getting long when we reached Murchio Gap. It was now clear that some of our descent was going to be in the dark. And we didn’t have headlamps or a flashlight!
We hurriedly looked at the map as the trail split into two – Eagle Peak Trail and Back Creek Trail. Sri pointed out that Back Creek descended steeply at first and then became gradual, which meant there would be less climbing in the dark. Eagle Peak on the other hand was mostly flat for the first few miles but would require a steep climb in the last mile or so which would certainly be in the dark.
We rushed down Back Creek trail and immediately started wondering if we had made the right decision. The trail is a creek bed, with plenty of loose rocks that require careful navigation. As we half-slipped, half-climbed our way down in the diminishing light, I tried hard not to think about the sheer drop on one side. When the sun set, we still had 1.6 miles to go. I tried to follow Sri’s hazy figure and footprints on the trail. He, far more confident than me, even stopped to take some pictures in the fading light.
Finally, just when the light completely faded from the valley, we hit the fire road! What a relief! Now we could walk faster and more surely in the dark.
It was 10:00 by the time we reached our car, having hiked in the dark without lights for about 2 hours. Luckily we found the fire road just in time. We were hungry and tired but exhilarated with our 14-mile adventure. And I fell in love with Mt Diablo some more. The biggest takeaway though was that I desperately needed a good pair of hiking boots.
In April, I signed us up to hike Half Dome. I didn’t know much about the hike, except that it was so popular that there was a lottery to get permits. A colleague asked if I wanted to join him on the permit request, and I said “Sure, why not?”
We got lucky and won the lottery! And then realized what we had signed up for -16 miles round trip with over 4000 feet of elevation gain. The last 400 feet is a steep climb over sheer rock face. Neither of us had done anything like it before. So, in late July we decided to start training for it. The training turned out to be as much fun as the Half Dome climb!
We started with an easy but beautiful hike – the Westridge trail in Oakland’s Regional Redwood Park. What a gem of a park right in our neighborhood! Starting at the Redwood Gate, we took the West Ridge trail to the Redwood Bowl and returned by the Peak Trail -> Starflower Trail -> Stream Trail. The hike was about 6.0 miles roundtrip through gorgeous Redwood trees and past the Redwood Creek. We climbed about 800 feet on this hike.
Next, we decided to tackle the big mountain in our backyard – Mt Diablo. We started from the Macedo Ranch Staging area, which is attractive due to the easy parking. We took Wall Point Rd up to Rock City. Unlike the previous hike, this one was hot, shade-less, and steep. The mid-day sun beat relentlessly on us as we climbed 970 feet over 4.2 miles. Though I didn’t enjoy this hike at the time, I started falling for the barren beauty of Mt Diablo. It has a certain charm that is hard to resist. So, the natural next step was to climb to the summit. That is an adventure for Part 2.