Thursday, October 4, 2012

A stroll in the Alps

As the end of my first year of work approached I still had two weeks of vacation left, and since Jenny was going to Vilnius (in Lithuania - though I'm sure you knew that) for two weeks for a writing workshop, I decided to take two weeks off and travel through Europe with Jenny. We arrived in Munich on a pleasant Monday morning in early July where we promptly hoped on the train to the city center and then boarded an express train for Jenbach, Austria.

In Jenback we transferred from the express train above to the narrow-gauge Zillertalbahn below - a tourist train if I've ever seen one.

An hour later we arrived in our base town of Mayrhofen, population 3,800 at the foot of the Zillertal Alps in southwestern Austria. After combining our stuff and storing a few bags at the train station, we walked to the gondola and ascended 3,500 feet to our trailhead. I could get used to this ( though it seems like cheating if you don't have to hike up yourself...):

We actually began our hike around 3:30 PM, a flat two mile hike to the Karl von Edel-Hutte at 7,300 feet. Here's the hut as we approach (upper left):

And here's my hiking buddy out front:

For those of you who aren't familiar with backpacking in the Alps (at least in Italy and Austria), there is no tent camping like we have in the United States. Essentially you hike from hut to hut (Hutte in German and Rifugio in Italian), where you sleep and eat all of your meals. This has a couple of obvious positives:
     - No tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, or stoves (I didn't know what to do with all the space in my pack!)
     - Regular access to tasty food (and beer!). Not to mention regular showers (if you're into that...)

The huts themselves are built by mountaineering clubs from cities and towns around Europe who pay hosts to run and maintain them in the summer - for example the Karl con Edel-Hutte above is run by the mountaineering club from Wurzburg, Germany (near Frankfurt). The accommodations range from private rooms to 20-person dorms and everything in between. There were only six of us at Edel-Hutte (which sleeps about 50), so the host was kind enough to give us a private room for the price of dorm, which looked like this:

After a dinner of potato salad, pasta, and some complimentary "Welcome-To-Ze-Alps" shots of schnapps, two very jet-lagged travelers crashed around 7:30. Zzzzz....

After hearing some pretty epic storms in the night, we woke up to this... well as stern warnings from the host, that we should hike back to the cable car, ride down to the valley, bus to the next trailhead, and then hike to the next hut from there, instead of hike the 13 miles directly to the next hut. Since there was a pass about 30 minutes after we left the hut, Jenny and I decided to hike up there and then figure out the best course of action. The trail was really glued to the rock on the way up:

The fog also led to some interesting views. This bears an uncanny resemblance to the California Coast:

Once we reached the top of the knife-edge ridge things were a little clearer, so my hiking buddy and I decided to continue on. Here's her agreeing with me:

We also got our first view of the interior of the range. Obscured in this photo is the valley, 3000 feet below, which we didn't see all day.

After a couple of hours of hiking we saw some friends in the distance:

And then much closer:

It turns out that while we just wanted pictures of the sheep, they thought we were reaching into our pockets for food, at which point they promptly stampeded toward us. Here's Jenny singing to her children- blame the cameraman for the bad angle:


The hike for the day translated to the "Seven Sisters", named for the seven ridges we crossed. Here's a couple more, including this knife edge:

And this ridge with an awesome stone wall on top.

About five o'clock we finally saw our destination, the Kessler Hutte- unfortunately we had to cross this chasm to get there. The actual hut is in that cloud...

After a big dinner and a hot shower, we crashed early and woke to clear skies...

To Be Continued.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The day after my birthday I witnessed by far the least statistically likely thing I'll experience for a while. My birthday was on June 12th, so I invited a couple of friends up for dinner and a Giants' game. We had good seats, got to see a season-high 13 strikeouts, and saw a 6-3 win. Not a bad game indeed.

My former roommate and close friend Jared's birthday happens to be June 13th, and he had coincidentally also invited people to a Giants' game for his birthday the next night. The morning after my birthday I gleefully texted him a summary of my birthday game: 13Ks and 10 runs: "Top that."

Wednesday June13th, 2012 Matt Cain pitched the 22nd Perfect Game in baseball history - a 14 strikeout masterpiece (tied for the most in perfect game history) that was the first in the Giants' 129 year history. Here's the final out:


Touche. I'll have trouble topping this next year...

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Well almost. When I heard that there was going to be a(n almost) total solar eclipse centered directly over Northern California on Sunday May 20th, I decided it was a good weekend for an escape.

Our start on Saturday was delayed by Frost Revival, the first concert in Stanford's Frost Amphitheater (site of several famous Grateful Dead concerts) in 35 years, headlined by Modest Mouse:

We left campus around 7 PM and drove to a surprisingly nice National Forest Service campground on Black Butte Lake about halfway between Sacramento and Redding. Fortunately, some kind (or forgetful) soul left the gate open, so we were able to drive in and get a campsite at 1 AM. Since it was so nice out, we decided to sleep with the fly off the tent, which ensured a good early start (around 6:30 AM), once the sun started cooking us.

Four hours later, we stopped for a hearty breakfast in downtown Redding and then walked over to the nifty Sundial Bridge - a bridge that happens to be a sundial that's completely accurate on the summer Solstice. While Jenny finished up some work I wandered around, napped, and watched fisherman lazily float down the Sacramento River.

The bridge was awesome! The work not so much...

Around 1 we left Redding, heading west of CA 299 until we got to Weaverville where we turned north on CA 3. Over the course of the next two hours we officially arrived in the middle of nowhere. After about an hour on paved roads we turned onto a gravel road leaving 13 miles to the fire tower on the top of Bonanza King, elevation 7040 ft. Since we had an hour or so till the eclipse, we wandered around on top of the peak enjoying the views west across to the Trinity Alps:

And east toward the monolithic Mount Shasta.

Eclipses are dangerous for viewers because the sun is obscured enough for people to bear looking into the sun, even though it's still damaging. Being the eclipse newbies that we were, Jenny and I hadn't devised a method to watch the eclipse, so I ended up seeing black dots for the next 4 or 5 hours. I did manage to snag a decent shot of the eclipse, even though the scant number of clouds in the area managed to be right in front of the sun during the eclipse.

 Our nearby neighbors had devised a much more effective method for viewing the eclipse (this photo doesn't do it justice). The eclipse was surprisingly clear projected onto a the paper:

After taking in the scenic Trinity Alps for a few more minutes we trudged back to the car, and began the epic drive six hour drive back to campus. Whew - what a trip!

And although our trip was a whirlwind, I want to give a special shout-out to my #1 adventure buddy, without whom I wouldn't get to do even half of what I do now.

And anyways, this was just a test run for the REAL total solar eclipse - August 21st, 2017. I'll be ready.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Spring time in San Francisco

The first weekend in May Jenny and I planned an epic biking-filled weekend, riding from San Francisco to Pt Reyes on Saturday and around Pt Reyes on Sunday. Being the ambitious bikers that we (I) are (am), we decided to ride up Mt Tamalpais, the highest point in Marin, on the way to Pt Reyes.

Early in the ride (above) we were feeling pretty good (you can see where this is going), but five hours, thirty miles, and 2,571 vertical feet later, we decided that the last twenty cold and foggy miles along Highway 1 weren't exactly what we were looking for, so we retreated back to San Francisco. Regardless of where we finished it was definitely a ride to be proud of.

We'll be back Pt Reyes!

 Stay tuned for more adventures: eclipses, a little baseball, and Europe!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pinnacles (I)

Two Saturdays ago, the predicted all-weekend downpour slacked off (at least in the city) around noon, and my brother, Matthew, and I wasted no time escaping the city. Our destination was Pinnacles National Monument, a little-known monument (I sure hadn't heard of it) about two and a half hours southeast of the Bay Area. After a slight Google Maps related miscalculation, we got to Pinnacles around 6 had a dinner of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and bread, spent two hours trying to get our (very) green wood to catch fire, and then hit the tent around 9 PM just as a full night of rain moved in.

For any potential future visitors, don't let Google Maps fool you- Pinnacles Campground is on the East side of Pinnacles not the West side. While this may not seem to be a big deal, the lack of a road through the park means that this miscalculation can add about two hours to your drive. We did get to see some beautiful rainbows in the process, so all was not lost.

We woke up around 8 AM and were on the trail by 9, heading for the tallest thing in the park (just like our father taught us). The trail started out meandering its way through some caves- awesome!

We squeezed through some narrow rocks first.

Then climbed some stairs inside a cave.

And finally emerged at the base of a dam which we climbed up and over to a reservoir.

About an hour later we had climbed the 2000 feet to the summit of North Chalone Peak at 3304 feet. Here's Matthew modeling at the summit.

We had great panoramic views, including across the Salinas River Valley to the back of Big Sur,

And back toward the Pinnacles themselves:

Two hours later we were back at the trailhead, two hours after that we were enjoying pizza and beer in Santa Cruz, and by 6 we were back home in San Francisco. It was only a 27 hour trip or so, but definitely worth it, even though we didn't see the area's prized resident (the California Condor). Maybe next time...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Break

Thanks to some lucky timing, frequent flier miles, last-minute planning, and a gracious host, Jenny and I had the opportunity to spend five days in Puerto Rico during Jenny's Spring Break. Jenny left San Francisco and I left Boston (where I was traveling for work) and we met up in Atlanta for our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In case you don't know much about Puerto Rico (I didn't), the island is located about 90 miles east of the Dominican Republic and about 1000 miles southeast of Miami. Here's a map to break up all this text:

San Juan, the capital, and 2nd oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere (next to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic), was settled in 1521 by Ponce de Leon, the famous (failed) explorer of Florida. Spain kept a tenuous hold on the island for the next 350 years, surviving a couple English and Dutch assaults, including one by Sir Francis Drake (he really got around!), until 1898 when the United States took possession of the island following the Spanish American war. The United States first declared Puerto Rico a colony (1898) and then an unincorporated territory in 1952 (unofficially a Commonwealth), which it remains today. Whew. Thanks for bearing with me.

Jenny and I landed around 6:30 and headed into Old San Juan, the original Spanish settlement, a small island on the eastern side of San Juan Harbor. We checked into our unassuming (read: boring) hotel and then went to find some Puerto Rican food, notably Mofongo, mashed and fried plantains, and a Pina Colada (the official drink of Puerto Rico), coconut cream, pineapple juice, and of course, rum.

The next morning we woke up to begin a full day of sight-seeing including, strolls around the cobblestone streets of the Old Town,

El Morro, the fort guarding the mouth of the harbor,

and San Cristobal, the fort protecting San Juan from attack by land.

We also took a tour through the Museum of the Americas (during a rainstorm), a quirky museum with exhibits on everything from African influence in Puerto Rico, to religious art, to an exhibit featuring local artists- a steal for $3. Sunday afternoon we checked into our new hotel in Old Town, Da House, which has awesome rooms featuring local art and a hottub on the roof for only $80 a night! Definitely the best value in the city.

After walking the city walls at dusk Jenny and I went back to our hotel and enjoyed some live salsa and mojitos, and even though I don't know how to salsa (or dance at all for that matter), the people-watching was good, and the music even better. And we got to enjoy all three of their sets, even from our room four stories up (haha)...

Monday morning Jenny's friend from San Juan, Isabella (Isa from here forward), our gracious host, picked us up and drove us out to her home (and ours for the next three days) in Guaynabo on the outskirts of the city. Isa's house was open to the tropical air, one of my dreams for a house someday...

That afternoon we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only federally-owned rain forest in the United States, about a two hours drive away, in the northeast part of Puerto Rico. The lushness of the rainforest always makes me think it's fake. Nope.

A few hours later we were on the summit of El Yunque, at the top of an old pirate lookout tower built by the Spanish:

And on our way down we stopped by another old watchtower.

We even got to the end the day on the beach!

Tuesday we woke up and spent the day at the beach in Dorado, on the central northern coast of Puerto Rico, about an hour drive from Isa's house. Sadly, no photos, only some sunburned feet (won't forget that next time...). I did snag this photo when we stopped for gas though- I was a little shocked to see gas prices only two digits long ($.98)!!!

As you may have figured out, gas is priced in liters in Puerto Rico, and with around four liters to a gallon that number makes a lot more sense.

!We also got the chance to check out Isa's neighborhood, and even better show off my mad basketball skills...

Wednesday morning Jenny and I headed back to the airport for the long (really long!) flight back to California, leaving our tropical fairytale behind.

Special thanks to our host Isa, for sharing not only her house, but also her experiences and memories - definitely more interesting and meaningful than any guidebook.