Monday, November 30, 2009

Castle Crags

November 14, 2009
Crags Trail
Castle Crags
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain:2,250
Hiking Time: 3 hours
Becca and Julie

I wanted to do the Castle Crags hike when I was up in Redding, because I haven't done this hike in years and because it has a 2,250 foot elevation gain, which is perfect training for Kilimanjaro. I asked my niece Becca if she would join me and she was thrilled.

Years ago I had done this same hike with Becca's sister Amy and she had it enjoyed it so much, I thought Becca would as well. Becca didn't tell me that this was her first hike, in which case I might have chosen something a little easier - but she was a complete sport about it and had no problem finishing the hike.

This was the fourth time I could remember doing this hike. Castle Crags is a landmark on the drive to Mt. Shasta and is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. There are the Crags and then the Thumb, as it is called.

The first time I did this hike was with my sister-in-law Cathy, before she married Mike. We were both dying on the climb which is steadily uphill for 2 and half miles. When we finally reached the top, my brother Mike and his German friend Gunter were sitting having lunch on a point below the thumb. Cathy and I peeked around the rock to where they were sitting and it was the first time I experience vertigo.

It is a sheer dropoff from the rock down thousands of feet. I remember my knees shaking and I was unable to move for awhile. The view of Shasta is fantastic, but Cathy and I went and found lunch at a safer spot without the dropoff.

The first part of the trail is all forest and you can't see the crags for the trees. The crags are quite impressive, when you get that first glimpse of them.

We were the first to arrive at the parking lot, but when we started on the hike another car pulled up. This was a group of students from Simpson College. There were probably 12 of them in different groups that all passed us.

We just climbed steadily up the hill. The college kids were doing some pretty risky rock climbing, so Becca and I just watched from a safe distance.

Here is a cute shot of Becca with our first view of Mt. Shasta in the distance. Hard to believe I have climbed to the top of that mountain. I'm amazed with myself every time I see it.

We kept climbing and were just coming to the last section which is all rock, so we decided to take a break. There was a nice rocky point that had a good view so we decided to climb out there.

First you had to climb over a tree and then out onto the point. Becca went first. The area she was climbing over was covered in pine needles.

Becca was just wearing tennis shoes which don't have much traction and she slipped on the pine needles. I watched in horror as she started sliding toward an edge with a huge drop off of hundreds of feet and nothing to break her fall or for her to grab onto.

My heart went into my mouth, because it all happened so fast, I really didn't have time to move. I thought she was really going to go over the edge. Somehow, she stopped herself. Her elbow was banged up and bleeding, but that was the least of it.

My heart wouldn't stop pounding. I could barely climb out to where Becca was sitting. Here I had almost lost my neice on her first hike. That wouldn't have been a good track record. Accidents can happen so quickly and can occur any time. This was a really scary reminder.

We continued up the trail and I asked a British woman to take this shot of us. She had done a lot of climbing in the Andes and has been to Machu Picu which is on my life list. We had a nice chat about altitude sickness and the affect of coca tea on it. I may try to get some for Kilimanjaro.

When we got towards the top, the trail disappeared and we chose one of several paths and scrambled up through the manzanita bushes. We were right below the Thumb and I knew this was the very spot I had experienced vertigo all those years ago.

Becca is very comfortable with heights and scramble right out onto the ledge, even after her near death recent fall! I called out anxiously to make sure she was all right, but she was fine.

I was able to join her on the rock ledge with a bit of queasiness, but no vertigo. We were surrounded by gorgeous rock faces. The ledge is quite wide and gentle, it is just the fact that it drops off to thousands of feet that can be a problem.

We ate our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and enjoyed the spectacular views. It was fairly windy out on the rock.

This shot shows the view of Mt. Shasta we wer enjoying. You can't tell that right below my red shoes is the dropoff.

Here is a great shot of the two of us.

This is on the hike down.

We stopped at Indian Springs as a small side trip on the way back down.

Lessons Learned: Don't procrastinate! I should have posted this blog four months ago and now I don't remember any of the details. Oh well. Better late than never.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Moss Landing - Marina Beach Hike

September 26, 2009
Moss Landing - Marina
Distance: 7.25 miles
Hiking time: 5 hours
Pole Dancing time: 1.5 hours
Hikers: Lola, Chantel, Simone

This was a chance for the Kilimanjaro Crew: Lola (Mary), Chantel (Julie) and Simone (Jo) to start a training for the big climb next February. This was also Simone's chance to finish the California Coastal Trail from Santa Cruz to Monterey. She had done every segment of the coast except this first one.

When I did this hike over a year ago, it was foggy and cold even in August. This was a beautiful day for hiking -clear blue skies and sunshine. We did the usual car drop off - leaving Simone's car in Marina and then driving back to Moss Landing.

We started off down the beach - Lola and I barefoot, Simone wearing her hiking boots. I remember the year before the sand was much coarser for most of this hike. I have tough feet, so it didn't bother me even then. This time we would often sink up to three inches into the sand - even at the waterline - which is usually much firmer. This made walking more difficult.

I remember this stretch of coast as being particularly isolated last year. This year there were many more people on the beach. As we walked along, we could see a large group of horse riders in the distance. We felt we were in a Western and the posse was coming to get us. I vaguely remember seeing one horse and rider last year.

Lola went to investigate where they were gaining access - which turned out to be Molera Road. In the parking lot, there were instructions to keep the horses down by the waterline, so that they wouldn't disturb the snowy plovers nesting areas.

I remember from the year before there was a lot of death on this strip of beach, because it was more isolated. We came upon several dead sea lions and a dead sea gull. We noticed the gull because a turkey vulture was nearby. The gull had obviously just died. There wasn't anything visibly wrong with it and it's beak was buried in the sand. It was very odd and we wondered what had killed it.

As we walked we came upon a housing complex close to the beach. I don't remember seeing this the year before and suspect that it had been obscured by fog. There were several large driftwood structures which people had built, so we went to investigate.

I assumed that there wouldn't be a river crossing at this time of year. We had crossed the Salinas River driving back from Marina and it had looked quite full, but I knew from the year before that it probably wouldn't empty into the ocean. I was right, but knew to look for the river this time. We ended up having lunch at the edge of the river which was quite a ways in from the beach.

There were many birds in this area and we noticed another seagull, who was in the same position as the seagull we had found though this one was still alive. It was obvious that he wouldn't last much longer either. It must be some kind of bird flu that was killing them.

After lunch, we reached the old rusty barge. I remembered this landmark from the year before. I was finding whole sand dollars along the way. Some were the bleached white ones, but I found several that still had purple fuzz on them. Simone then found a cool, large vertebrae - we weren't sure if it was from a sea lion or dolphin.

I was jealous and said how much I like bones and wish that I could find a nice skull along the beach. We hadn't taken a few steps further, but what should we find but a decapitated Boar's head!

It was a pretty wild coincidence. I will spare you the pictures. We didn't know if it had come off a boat, or if someone was roasting a pig on the beach. It was partly decomposed, so I was trying to detach the lower jaw with the big teeth, without any success. After messing with it for awhile and completely grossing out Lola and Simone, we moved on. Simone gave me the vertebra as an act of consolation.

I talked about the time I almost got a sea lion's skull up at Patrick's Point, when what should I discover up the beach, but a sea lion corpse with the skull completely exposed. Here was my chance. I will spare you the gory, gory details, but I tried to get that skull by cutting with Jo's pocket knife, hitting the vertebrae first with my hiking stick and then a two by four. It just wouldn't come loose. I was eventually able to get some of the jawbones and teeth. It was not my most shining moment. (After all that work, Bill says my teeth stink, so I have them drying in the backyard).

Afterward, to do penance for my brutal butchery and to improve my karma, I started picking up garbage. The Save Our Shores Beach Clean Up was the weekend before, so there wasn't too much garbage until you came to the populated areas. I knew we were getting close to Marina - I didn't want to carry a heavy bag of garbage, too far.

Jo spotted a flag in the distance. As we came closer we realized that we were at the Marina sand mining operations. There was a pond with a barge in it. Later, when I got home and opened up the Sentinel there was a whole article about this operation in Marina and the impact that it was having on the sand and causing erosion of the shore.

Next we came to the sand dunes right before Marina. We could see there were lots of people up ahead, so we knew we were almost finished with the hike. Lola and I decided to climb up and run down the sand dunes. The climb up was hard but the running down is always a blast. Lola was really flying down that sand dune - talk about getting some air!

We reached Marina State Beach, deposited our full bag of trash in the garbage can and headed back to Moss Landing and our post celebratory drink and pole dancing. We went to the little dive bar next to the Whole Enchilada and since it wasn't a Sunday, the bikers weren't there. We picked out a bunch of songs on the juke box and started the pole dancing.

I had gotten the true pole dancing bug at Burning Man and couldn't wait to get on the pole. Simone was of course a bit more reluctant to get on the pole, but once she was on it she had a great time, as this picture shows.

The bar is covered with dollar bills with messages written on them taped to the walls, ceiling, everywhere. We signed a dollar bill "California Coastal Trail" and came up with our aliases. I taped the dollar to the top of the pole.

I convinced one of the regulars - who I was told was quite a pole dancer to get on the pole. He was reluctant at first, but under pressure he got on and showed off his moves to the delight of the bar.

Then Lola and Chantel got on the bar at the same time. We were having so much fun we could have stayed there all night. It is both a great cardio and strength training exercise. I could certainly feel it in my biceps the next day. We danced for a long time, each song saying it would be the last. Simone said the guy at the table next to us said we were "poetry in motion". We were just having a great time. I made a buck and a half in pole dancing tips.

So Simone has completed the Santa Cruz to Monterey hike. Way to go - Jo! We will probably turn from the beaches and get into the hills and mountains to start our true Kilimanjaro training. We'll keep up with the pole dancing - no matter where we hike, though. This was a great way to end our Coastal journey!

Lessons learned: There is a little "Lord of the Flies" potential in all of us. Nothin' like a good pole dance after a nice long hike!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pogonip Hike

Harvey West to Henry Cowell
Lookout, Spring, Rincon, Fern Trails
34,000 steps (according to Jo's pedometer)
Hiking Time: 5 hours
Jo, Paula and Julie

We wanted to do a hike close to home and were interested in exploring Gray Whale Ranch - which is really just a part of Wilder Ranch now. I bought a map at Wilder Ranch which included UCSC and Pogonip - so we decided to hike at Pogonip. I hadn't been there in years.
We met at 10:00 a.m. at Harvey West and parked near the Friendship Garden. We could see the beginning of the Lookout Trail. The trail climbed up with a view of toward Pogonip meadow. It was a winding trail that headed towards UCSC.

It was a winding trail that headed towards UCSC. Through the trees you could see a view of Pogonip meadow in the distance and a view toward Costco.

Jo was breaking in her brand new hiking boots. This was their maiden voyage and by the end of the hike she gave them two thumbs up. She had tried them on in the store but needed to order them online to get them in her size. I'm next in line for some new hiking boots.

The trail opened up to a connector trail to the Spring Trail up at UCSC. This is the trail that we take every May Day to get to the magic meadow. It climbs into the forest, past the quarry and smokers hill. At the beginning of the trail there was a sign warning of coyote activity in the area. We never saw a coyote or a roadrunner for that matter.

We made our way through the forest and followed Spring trail all the way to Highway 9. Now there was a sign saying "equine event". It turned out there was a 25 to 50 mile horse race in progress. We were going to see lots of horses over the course of the day. We crossed 9 and went down to the railroad tracks and then followed them to the trail leading to the river.

The river was quite shallow, but shaded and green. We had lunch here and I went exploring looking for swimming holes, but just ended up getting stung by a stinging nettle. I never see them in time. After a leisurely lunch we retraced our steps back to the railroad tracks. We met two women who had chairs and a shovel. I asked what she was going to do with the shovel and she was going to clean up horse poop from the race at the beach by the river. That seemed a worthy activity.

It was hotter coming back along the tracks. Paula tested out her balance.

We took the Fern trail which I thought would lead to Pogonip meadow. I was wrong. It wove thought the forest and it kept going in the opposite direction from the meadow. There were beautiful gnarled oaks. There was a sign with an arrow, but no named trail, so we followed that for awhile. It one point I wondered - "where the heck are we?" Of course, the hike was taking much longer than I anticipated. It didn't really matter, because the company and conversation was good ranging from crematoriums to sacred cows. It was great to see Paula hiking again.

I haven't done much hiking in the past year, so this was a special treat.

We started climbing up the hill and saw a ranger led hike coming towards us. There were about five hikers and the ranger was talking about the area. Paula had hiked with him before. When we got to the connector we went to the Spring Trail. This is where we made our mistake, we should have looped back through the Pogonip meadow - but instead we retraced our tracks. It was at least nice to know where we were. We had a nice view of the church - always such a landmark of Santa Cruz.

When we came out at the Friendship Garden there was a big birthday party in progress with a live band. The place was packed. We headed to the Rush Inn behind the town clock for our post celebratory drink. I called Teresa since this bar is so close to her house and invited her to join us.

I hadn't been to the Rush Inn for years. It's a cool little dive bar. We asked the bartender to take our pictures and he was a really good sport about it and took several shots. Unfortunately, they didn't come through on the camera and I didn't want to tell him. The guy next to me struck up a conversation asking what we were up to and I explained about the hike. Turns out he's the Head Ranger at Pogonip! What are the odds? I brought out the map and he showed me how we should have completed the loop without backtracking.

Teresa showed up with Poppy her new puppy who is adorable. It was great to see her. I asked the guy next to me to take our photo and he got several good shots. He's quite the photographer! It was a nice end to a good day of hiking.

Lessons Learned: 1. Even in our own backyard there are still places to explore. 2. Sometimes it's a good feeling to know where you are. 3. You never know who is sitting on the bar stool next to you!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Whiskeytown Falls - Redding

Whiskeytown Falls
Redding - CA
June 19, 2009
3.5 miles
2 hours
Dave, Mike, Julie, Nick, Sarah, Kevin

I have been wanting to do this hike for several years. During the winter months, the trail was closed. I had thought that Nick and I had hiked to Whiskeytown Falls the year before, but it turned out that was Brandy Creek Falls. This hike was a family affair. My Uncle Dave from Wisconsin, brother Mike from Minnesota and my nephews Nick and Kevin and niece Sarah were all up for the hike.

We had gathered in Redding to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday and the morning after we hit the trail. Sarah and Nick drove from the hotel with me and Uncle Dave drove his rental and picked up Mike and Kevin from Mom and Dad's house.

It's been a couple of weeks since we did this hike - so the details are a bit hazy. Dave, Nick, Sarah and I had hiked the Old Mine Trail in Whiskeytown the day before. This one was about equivalent in length and elevation, but much more shaded and scenic with the big pay off of all the falls at the end.

The trail started downward after the trail head. Not the best sign, since this is an out and back hike, so you know that we would be hitting uphill at the very end of the hike.
It wasn't too much of the downhill however before you started the climb. I had heard there was a bit of uphill in the hike and it turned out to be true.

Dave was stylish in his sun hat and walking poles. He set out a good pace that he maintained throughout the hike. He walks daily in Wisconsin and is in great shape. He definitely felt the uphill of this hike, but kept plugging along at it.

At the bottom of the first downhill, we caught up with the creek. Now was the beginning of the climb. There were nice bridges for all of the creek crossings.

The three younger Kowalewski's all stuck together on the trail, though Kevin would often run ahead. Mike was taking up the caboose, since he was carrying a gallon of frozen water and was stopping to take pictures along the way.

The climb was steady, but the trail was wide. Dave wondered how the trail was made. I suspected it was old fire or farm roads. There were a few places the trail was eroding, but it was for the most part well maintained.

There were strategically placed benches along the way. Here the Minnesota Kowalewskis take a break.

Here is the second bridge which was at the top of the main climb. The path got narrower after this above the creek. Soon we came to the bottom of the falls. There was a large open area at the base of the falls and a steep iron railing leading to the upper falls.

Here are Kevin and Sarah above the lower falls.

Father and son at the top.

Dave contemplates the lower falls. He wasn't sure that he would climb the narrow railing to the top, but he did.

Here is a shot of Mike and the railing to climb up to the upper falls. The path is narrow and muddy, so it's nice to be able to hang on to the rail.

This is the view from the upper viewing platform. It was a really sweet waterfall.

We enjoyed the falls up above and then sat at a log at the base of the falls. Uncle Dave started back early, since he was travelling slower then us, he thought, though we never caught up to him until the parking lot.

The hike out was a breeze, since it was mainly downhill. Even that little uphill at the end didn't bother us. We met a man and his son in the parking lot who had a form for all three waterfalls in Whiskeytown. There was supposedly a post where you could do a rubbing and if you did it for all three falls - you got a free scarf at the ranger station. No one had told us about this program.

It was an enjoyable morning and a hike that I will definitely repeat. It was great to hike with my family.

Lessons Learned: Postponed pleasures can be worth the wait.