Monday, February 27, 2012

Stinson Beach

A really short post here, though it epitomizes one of my favorite parts of California. Two Saturdays ago Jenny and I slept in till 10:30 or so, then decided we wanted to go hiking, normally a little late to plan a trip (especially without a car). However, by 1 o'clock Jenny and I had managed to grab a delicious burrito (Taqueria Cancan at Market and 5th- awesome stuff), ride a bus across the Golden Gate and find ourselves at the foot of the famous (apparently...) Dipsea Trail in Mill Valley. The trail itself is home to the DIpsea Race, the oldest trail race in America, a 7.4 mile jog from the Bay, starting in Mill Valley, to the Pacific Ocean at Stinson Beach. The trail starts with a pant-inducing 600-feet of steps before crossing Windy Ridge and dropping back through the Muir Monument. The trail then works it's away along ridges and through some classic California Coastal Redwood groves before ending at Stinson Beach.

I managed to snag this disorienting shot on the trail:

A few hours later Jenny and I were sitting at Stinson Beach enjoying a nice cold drink before hopping on the bus back to Sausalito.

From Sausalito we rode the ferry back to the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco, a beautiful night-time ride, regardless of how bad it looks on my iPhone...

Thanks San Francisco! It's amazing that even after sleeping till 10 I could cross the Golden Gate, enjoy a scenic hike, picnic on a beach, ride a ferry across one of the world's most beautiful harbors, and be home by 7.

Henry Coe

Continuing my blog post tear, MLK Weekend, Jenny, Andrew (my friend- see last post), Anne (Jenny's sister), and I decided to go backpacking at the lovely Henry Coe State Park just southeast of San Jose, on a whim. And by on a whim, I mean 17 minutes after I decided it might be fun to go backpacking we had four people and a location picked- ah California. We left campus at 1 and started our hike at 3- definitely the best photo of the gang (left to right: Jenny, Anne, me, and Andrew) :

Our hike was about seven miles in, starting along a ridge with great views of classic California Oak forests,

then quickly descending 1500 feet through China Hole and up the Narrows, a skinny gorge hosting a creek (and lots of ice!), as the sun set. We didn't bring much water because we heard that there was plenty in the park, though I started getting a little nervous when the creek was so frozen solid we couldn't break through. Fortunately we eventually found some flowing water.

Saturday night was freezing, and after making a quick dinner, we retreated to the tent for some good cards and good company (even though I didn't win at Hearts...). Around bedtime we realized it was in the mid-20's (definitely the coldest night I've spent in a tent in California), so we decided to all sleep in one tent. Here we are, settled down for the night:

Kidding- fortunately Jenny's new tent was fairly spacious, even for all four of us.

The next morning, we cooked a quick breakfast, warming our hands on the stove, packed up and started our all-uphill hike out. We even managed to snap a few amusing group photos on the way out:

Before finally managing a decent self-time shot with our camp in the background:

The hike out provided some nice views, including the Narrows in the daylight,

and we were back at the car by 3- a short but sweet backpacking trip.

Special shout out to Andrew who kicked some ass on his first backpacking trip.

Here's to many more.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The next few stories didn't manage to get their own posts (mostly because I don't have many pictures), but I thought I would still share them.

1. Stanford vs USC

Halloween weekend, my buddy Andrew and I left campus on Friday around 5 PM headed for Los Angeles. We arrived at a friend of Andrew's house around 2 AM in Thousand Oaks where 12 or 15 other friends were staying. The next morning we woke up around 9 and headed into LA (in traffic of course) to get some tailgating in before the game. Our seats weren't the greatest, but the Coliseum is still a pretty impressive stadium...

5 hours, 3 overtimes, 13 touchdowns, and 2 heart attacks later Stanford pulled out a 56-48 victory prompting wild celebrations among the 2000 or so Stanford students who came down for the game, and keeping Stanford's National Championship hopes alive (at least until Oregon drubbed us...). My freshman roommate and I celebrating after the game:

The expression popular at Stanford, "Cal is the rival, but USC is the enemy" definitely resonates. And I'll savor a victory- at least until USC comes up to Palo Alto next year...

2. Seattle (Take 2)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Jenny worked on her Honors Thesis this summer with NOAA in Seattle, and since she didn't finish, she went back just before Thanksgiving Break. Given my flexible work environment and our client in Seattle, I decided to tag along. After leaving San Jose head-achingly early for a 6 AM flight, Jenny and I arrived in a freezing Seattle on Sunday morning. After dropping our stuff at our hotel we spent the day hanging out the University District, where I had a personal first: two vegan meals in a single day. The previous sentence is true even without the "In a single day" part actually. The first was a little cafe where I had a delicious peanut rice bowl, and dinner was a 3-course prix fixe at a restaurant Jenny and I discovered on my first trip to Seattle but couldn't fit in, Sutra- half restaurant, half yoga studio (how Seattle). Our dinner included courses like, "Tarragon-Pecan Cheese-Cauliflower Stuffed Celery Root-Spelt Gnocchi with a Satueed Spinach-Cipollini-Chanterelle Ragout, a Curry Leaf-Porcini Demiglaze and finished with Parsnip Chips," with each course explained by the chef, a very Seattle experience, and most importantly, an awesome dinner.

Wednesday, Jenny and I left again at the crack of dawn (before actually) and flew back to San Francisco, eventually heading to Fresno for Thanksgiving with Jenny's family. My only photo of the Seattle trip, waiting for our flight at 5:30 AM:

Jenny's family was gracious enough to host me in Fresno for the holidays, which included a lovely hike in the foothills of the Sierras. In the photo below from left to right, Paul, Jenny's father, Anne, Anne's roommate Vanessa, Jenny, and me (looking quite sassy with that hip for some reason):

All in all, a lovely Thanksgiving with Seattle and Jenny's family.

3. Christmas!

This Christmas Jenny came to Tennessee (again), and even though I had to work several days, we still had some fun. Saturday night the whole family and Jenny went to a hockey game, the Nashville Predators game against the St Louis Blues, Jenny's first hockey game! Not sure why this photo distorted, but it's still pretty cool...

Jenny was even entrusted with my mom's secret iced cookie recipe!

And she got a chance to see just about the only non-cave related natural wonder in the area, the Natural Bridge in Sewanee.

4. The Fiesta Bowl

On New Years' Day I flew to Phoenix to go see Stanford play in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State on the 2nd. Jenny's family and I took advantage of Phoenix before the game, enjoying a lovely hike in the Tonto National Forest, 30 miles east of Phoenix. We had a nice view from the top of our hike,

and everyone got to see my best Saguaro cactus impression- not too bad if I do say so myself:

I won't dwell on the actual Fiesta Bowl, a loss I still haven't overcome. A game we did everything except win- hopefully paying off our karma debt from the USC game (above). While the atmosphere of a BCS game was awesome, our seats were definitely less so:

Fortunately our heart-breaking loss was offset by a stop in Joshua Tree National Park on the way home for a short day-hike. Special thanks to my constant hosts through Thanksgiving and New Years: Jenny's family. Thanks Jenny, Jean, Paul, and Anne!!

5. Vermont in January

There will be some more 2012 posts coming soon, but I wanted to especially thank my Vermont host, Mark for a great weekend. The last three weeks of January I found myself traveling to Boston every week for work, and at the end of the month on a Friday I found out that our client wanted me to be back in Boston the next Monday. Instead of spending 12 hours flying back and forth to San Francisco, I decided to stay in Boston, rent a car, and drive up to Stowe, Vermont to visit my fried Mark for a weekend of quaint New England towns, snow-shoeing, skiing, good beer, and a great time. My only photo from the trip:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

- Robert Frost (talking about Stowe, VT I'm pretty sure).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Big Sur

The second weekend in October Jenny, her sister Anne, and I decided we weren't getting enough punishment in our lives, so we planned a trip to Ventana Double Cone in Big Sur. My brother Matthew, Jenny, and I attempted to do this hike last spring as a day hike but were turned back, so I decided it was time to go back and seek my revenge. Last May we attempted to climb Ventana (the blue pin below) starting from the ocean side of Big Sur at Botcher's Gap as 30-mile day hike (red pin). This time, since we had seen the ocean-side, Jenny, Anne, and I started from the inland-side of Big Sur in the quaint Carmel Valley at Los Padres Dam (green pin).

While our total trip was longer, around 40 miles, this time we had two nights to do it. We started our hike Friday afternoon around 4 and hiked a quick four miles to our first camp on the banks of the Carmel River, a river we would come to know intimately...

The trailhead at Los Padres Dam:

In the middle of the night we were awakened by hooting and, with the fly off the tent, we were able to see two owls flying around camp. It was so quiet that we actually heard them snatch a mouse (and it's terrified squeaks as it was carried away)!

The next morning after a quick breakfast we began hiking, and after about 3 minutes came to a river crossing. And then another and another and another. We took bets to see who could stay dry(ish) the longest. Anne was the loser, dipping her toe (and foot and leg) in at the 4th crossing. Jenny hung on a little longer, making it to the 6th crossing, and I was the winner, but only managed to stay dry until crossing 9 or so. By lunchtime we had waded, hopped, splashed, and stumbled across the Carmel River 53 times. One of the easier crossings below:

and Jenny losing her bet:

The river was quite pretty, though the time lost to crossing the river and our wet feet were less than desirable.

After lunch we began a brutal several thousand foot climb on an overgrown trail (like pretty much all the trails in Big Sur actually), and we got our first view of our goal...

After a few hours we made it to a trail junction on the ridge where we dumped our packs hiked to the summit. Late in the day, as the sun started to set, we finally made it to the top. Whew!

I even brought some bubbly for the summit.

The champions' self-timed victory shot:

And even though we couldn't see the ocean through the clouds, it was definitely a worthy view, and Ventana Double Cone was conquered. We hiked back to our packs as the sun set, the biggest casualty of the day being my pants (or perhaps my legs underneath), which went from having one or two small holes to having many different leg hole options.

The next morning we hiked a quick eight miles further down the ridge and then began our descent back down to the trailhead. Taking a wrong turn at the top was a bad omen. We eventually determined which of the two charred trail signs we were supposed to follow down and back-tracked to where the trail down split off. Trail was a strong word however. It turns out that the top two miles of the trail we were hiking down were obliterated by a forest fire in the summer of 2008. Luckily for us, after 3 and a half years the only thing that had time to re-grow were fast growing plants like poison oak and briars...

Note the poison ivy below- all the non-green in the photo.

After bush-whacking through briars thick enough to hold you up, losing the trail several times, and walking through dense thickets poison oak we finally made it the seven miles from the top of the ridge back to the trailhead in five hours. Four hours after that (two of them stuck in traffic) we made it back to campus scratched, itchy, and with our punishment quota fulfilled for a few weeks. Take that Ventana Double Cone!!! I certainly won't forget you any time soon...

A special thanks to my usual hiking buddy (Jenny) and special guest (Anne).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kings Canyon

My second weekend back in California, Jenny and I decided to take advantage of the last of good backpacking weather of the year, so we headed south to Kings Canyon National Park, stopping in Jenny's hometown Fresno on our way there. Friday afternoon I got off work early and we drove to the remote southwestern corner of the park, Mineral King, an extension to Kings Canyon added in the 1950's to prevent Walt Disney from purchasing it and turning into a resort and amusement park. The drive was around 4.5 hours, though we spent the last two going the 22 miles up into Mineral King (racing to get a permit before the ranger station closed!). We started our hike and the first thing we noticed was the deer. Oh deer. The summer pack station was closed down and housing dozens of deer (see how many you can find!).

In the fading light we quickly began ascending, quickly gaining 2000 feet for some stunning views (and another deer in the foreground...).

We arrived at Franklin Lake just as the sun set and rain moved in, so we threw up camp and cooked as fast as we could, watching lightning flash on the lake and nearby peaks.

The next morning we woke up and started cooking breakfast at which point the wind started picking up and then all hail broke lose (haha)...

For the next four hours it hailed/rained/stormed off and on. Around 1:30 we decided to make a break for it during a calm spell and we ran up to Franklin Pass at nearly 13,000 feet for some awesome views east into the Sierras. Below is a photo of my altitude sick hiking buddy,

a shot of me looking east,

and a view back down to our camp at Franklin Lake 2000 feet below.

On the way down we even encountered my favorite sun-bathing high-altitude animal, a marmot!

After we got back to camp the wind was picking up and it was hinting at rain, so we decided warm beds sounded better than another rainy night and hiked on out. While we didn't get to do all the hiking we wanted, the weather was still a cool experience and the Sierras are always beautiful.

The next day we even had time for a fun hike on the San Joaquin River near Fresno.