Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bear Attack: Lessons to be Learned

DSC_2943 I just got done reading an article on's blog: Getting Beyond the Bear. It was a pretty scary and graphic story about a father and daughter surviving a bear attack in Glacier National Park. I'm glad the two victims survived and lived to tell the tale. However, my frustration with outdoor survival (or tragedy) stories is that they tend to avoid any criticism of the victim's actions. I understand that the victims have been traumatized enough, but I think these stories could have a more useful purpose besides scaring the reader if more objective analysis of the mistakes made would follow. So here are two mistakes that I noticed that were not addressed by the story involving bear pepper spray:
  1. Bear spray was carried but not handy—Those “handy” mesh side pockets on backpacks are not so handy when it comes to accessibility. Whenever I store stuff in them I inevitably have to take my backpack off to reach it. Charging Momma Bear is not going to wait for you. Carry your bear spray like a cop carries a gun—near the front, easy to grab, unobstructed.
  2. Hiking partner did not know how to release the bear spray safety tab—Know how to use the bear spray—that includes your hiking partners. The daughter saw the bear pepper spray laying on the ground (it fell out of the mesh pocket during the attack) and grabbed it, but panicked because she DID NOT KNOW how to release the safety tab. PRACTICE! Releasing the tab should be second nature because NOBODY can think clearly in a panic situation. Everybody reverts to instinct. Knowledge becomes instinct when practiced thoroughly.
(View my photos of Glacier National Park on flickr.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day Hike: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Loop


Finally, I went on my first secluded mid-week day hike. On Thursday I hiked in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. I had never been there before and was intrigued by a former coworker commenting that his friends abandoned ship after only a couple miles in this park claiming it was too steep for them. I'm not sure if this was the route he took his friends on, and being in the East Bay hills I was expecting plenty of up and down, but it wasn't anything yours truly couldn't handle. It ended up being short and sweet with just enough steep ascent to get my heart thumping.

Hike Stats:
  • Date: November 19, 2008
  • Location: CA, Bay Area, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon
  • Lat/Long: 37.81600189, -122.0496292
  • Trailhead: Staging Area End of Bollinger Canyon Rd.
  • Facilities: toilets, picnic area, no drinking water or phone
  • Trails Hiked: Bollinger Creek Loop, Las Trampas Ridge, Corduroy Hills, Las Trampas Ridge, Chamise, Bollinger
  • Mileage: 3.75
  • Elevation: +/-881' ; lo pt 1,049'; hi pt 1,736'
  • Route Type: Loop (w/ side trip spur to Eagle Peak bench)
  • Terrain: single track & fire/ranch roads, cow ruts and mud potential, Corduroy Hills Trail steep in spots with rock & gravel.
  • Flora: Oak Woodland & Grassland/Savanna, Chaparral, Riparian (winter/spring)
  • Why Go?: Ridgetop, wide views; Geology, faulting, uplift, fossils; Dog friendly.
  • Caveat: Cows = cattle gates & deep mud when wet
  • Official Website: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness
  • View the entire photo album here at flickr.
Change of Plans
Actually driving to Mount Diablo S.P. for a 7-mile summit loop hike, I noticed that the air quality was lousy and I wanted to reserve that hike for a crisp, clear day. Remembering that Las Trampas was very close to Mount Diablo, I switched on my GPS and told it to lead the way to the Las Trampas trailhead. But after arriving at my new destination, I realized it too might be better on a crystal clear day as most of the trails in Las Trampas head up for the many surrounding ridges with wide-angle views.

Panorama from Eagle Peak on a spur trail that breaks to the right off of Corduroy Hill Trail. There's a little hidden bench here facing east to facilitate taking in the view of Mount Diablo and the San Ramon Valley. (Notice the smog and haze.)

Flora Identification
I brought my pocket-sized Pacific Coast Tree Finder with me this time, as usually I end up not being able to identify a tree after I get home despite taking a photo of it. I was glad I brought this little booklet. Along Bollinger Creek Loop Trail I added two new trees to my native plant repertoire: Northern California Black Walnut and Oregon Ash. Amongst the plants I already recognize were bigleaf maple, California buckeye, plenty of various oaks, bay laurel, and madrone trees. And on the higher trails were coyote brush, chamise, black sage (trail perfume!), lupine, pink flowering current, and toyon a.k.a. christmas berry.

Northern California Black Walnut—Juglans californica var. hindsii
Oregon Ash—Fraxinus latifolia (not the small tree in the foreground. I couldn't figure that one out.)

Fall is Where You Find It
Those that say California doesn't have a fall season don't get out and hike much. California may not have the in-your-face color and temperature drop-off of the East Coast but the seasonal signs are here for those who bother to notice. Besides the quick set-of-the-sun behind Rocky Ridge and yet-to-be-filled, bone-dry Bollinger creek, other fall season signs at Las Trampas included pretty orange bigleaf maple foliage, the above mentioned yellowing walnut and ash trees, naked California buckeyes with their giant fuzzy green splitting seed pods, dangling bunches of dimpled blood-orange madrone berries, the smooth bright-red toyon berry clusters, the fuzzy cream-white blooms of coyote brush, the burnt-orange sprays of spent chamise blooms, even some yellowing cottonwoods.

All-in-all a nice little fall hike in a nice little park. I will definitely return this winter to see Bollinger Creek flowing and what's on the other side of Rocky Ridge.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Okay So I Gave In

Instead of hosting this blog on my paid webhosting service's servers, I decided to have this hosted on Google's servers. This gives me the option to add all sorts of doodads and thingamajigs without having to work or think too hard (if at all). However I commit to this with trepidation due to a loss of control and the fact that I can't backup all my work so easily now... I guess only the future will tell whether or not this was a good idea.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day Hike: Redwood Regional Park Loop II


Being one of the unemployed masses means I can hike when the gainfully employed world is stuck in their grayish beige cubes. This epiphany motivated me to get off my butt on a Friday afternoon and go on a local hike. Previously, on a rainy gray day I had done the mirror version of this hike, so I wanted to explore the "other side" figuratively and literally and start out at the opposite end of the park on a warm, dry (and windy) November day.

Hike Details
  • Date: November 14, 2008
  • Location: CA, Bay Area, Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
  • Lat/Long: 37.8317, -122.18544
  • Trailhead: Skyline Gate
  • TH Facilities: restrooms, drinking water, pay phone
  • Trails Hiked: West Ridge, French, Mill, & Stream
  • Mileage: 5.5
  • Elevation: +/-1,060' ; lo pt 735'; hi pt 1,345'
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Terrain: double track (small rocks); single track (roots); and then more well-maintained double track
  • Why go?: Oak Woodland/Pine, Redwood Forest, & Riparian plant communities; dark forest feel at canyon bottom, spawning trout in Redwood Creek and newts in wet season, dog friendly park.
  • East Bay Regional Parks official website: Redwood Regional Park
Trailhead at Skyline Gate. Eucalyptus and pine trees, but no redwoods here. (I started on the high road and returned via the low.)

One is Never Alone

My hopes of being a solo trail hog were soon dashed as I pulled into the VERY FULL trailhead parking lot. Either the economy is crappier then the government is letting on (which it is) or there are a lot of independently wealthy outdoor enthusiasts (I wish I was) or many people only work a half-day on Friday (I feel robbed for all those years of 8-hour Fridays) or who knows. All I know is I was not going to be alone this weekday. A bonus note is that many of these work truants traveling the trails owned big happy friendly dogs—and I love big happy friendly dogs.

Pretty trail through the oaks.

Deep Dark Forest

Starting out on a ridge at the Skyline Gate staging area, across the street from multi-million dollar bay-view homes, you wouldn't quite understand why this park is called Redwood Regional as you mostly see pine and eucalyptus trees ahead of you. And continuing down West Ridge Trail, you enter oak woodland filled with lots of California hazelnut, bay laurel trees, madrone trees, oak trees, huckleberry bushes, pine (not sure if they are Monterey or knobcone, but definitely pine) and many others. But descend farther, and the oak and madrone trees become older, the underbrush sparser, and the sunlight dimmer. As you get closer to the bottom of the ridge it gets much darker, and suddenly, you are amongst those giant conifer trees—Sequoia sempervirens a.k.a Coast Redwood, hundreds of feet tall, blocking out the majority of light. It feels as if you've entered a fairy-tale forest—moist, dark and cool.

Oak trees on French Trail as I'm getting closer to the dark canyon floor.
redwood trees
In the dark forest amongst redwood trees near the intersection of French and Tres Sendas trails.

Diablo Winds

Today, due to the warm, dry air, this moist, dark coolness is welcomed, however it is accompanied with danger. The "Diablo Winds"— S.F. Bay Area's version of southern California's Santa Ana winds—are blowing hard. This weather phenomenon, like the Santa Ana's, is a dry, warm wind that comes out of the state's interior usually during the driest season of the year—fall. But when I speak of danger, I'm not talking about what most people think—fire; I'm talking about what loggers like to call "widow makers". Redwood trees have a self-pruning method that employs the help of winds. When their lower branches die and become a heavy burden, they usually get knocked off during a strong wind. Some of these branches are the size of a lesser tree's trunk. Hence, getting knocked in the head by one of these "widow makers" is a good way to get yourself injured or killed. While passing under these swaying giants, I kept an eye on the sky and my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's a newt!

Originally uploaded by bondgurl

Taricha granulosa
Rough-skinned Newt

This little guy was cruising around the nasty porta-potties at Muir Beach.

Apparently they have a toxin so poisonous that if ingested (who's going to eat a newt?) it can cause paralysis and death even in large animals including us humans. However, Garter Snakes are apparently resistant to this toxin and can gobble up this little newt no problem. These small amphibians chill along the U.S. West Coast from Santa Cruz north to Alaska.

Check out the hike photo album click here.

Day Hike: Muir Beach, Green Gulch, Marin Headlands Loop

Originally uploaded by bondgurl
Since I was a having a week (being laid-off and all) Mary decided she would take the reins and plan a day hike for us. It was short but still a good workout and peaceful, and she also treated to a tasty lunch buffet after at a nearby nice English pub / cottage / restaurant: The Pelican Inn. (I think I could have eaten myself to death on their stilton cheese and French bread.)
Day Hike Notes:
  • Date: November 9, 2008
  • Location: CA - Bay Area - Golden Gate National Recreation Area - Marin Headlands
  • Lat/Long: 37.86080933 -122.5752182 (NAD83 / WGS84)
  • Trailhead: Muir Beach
  • Facilities: portable toilets, no water
  • Trails Hiked: Green Gulch, Coyote Ridge, Coastal Trail Fire Road
  • Mileage: 4.5
  • Elevation: +/- 888'; lo pt 16'; hi pt 903'
  • Route Type: loop
  • Trail Terrain(s): fire/dirt road double track; single track; muddy after storm in spots; some overgrown spots
  • Other: coastal scrub / chaparral; green gulch farm / zen center; beach at trailhead; ocean views, some city & bay views, mostly exposed, windy on upper coast-facing ridges
View my photo album for this hike here.

click for larger map

Day hike: Ahhh, the smells...

Originally uploaded by bondgurl
I wanted to revisit Muir Woods, Mount Tam and Bootjack trail since it was so lovely a couple weeks before. Luckily it had also rained hard the two days previous so the forest was flush with renewal...and TREE FARTS. Unlike animals, trees (and bushes) smell really good when they release their body odors. Hints of orange, cinnamon, cedar, incense, pine, and other olfactory pleasures filled the air.

Dayhike Notes:
  • Date: November 2, 2008
  • Location: CA - Bay Area - Muir Woods National Monument / Mount Tamalpais State Park
  • Lat/Long: 37.8926506, -122.572197 (NAD83 / WGS84)
  • Trailhead: Muir Woods Main Entrance
  • Trails Hiked: Main Trail, Camp Eastwood, Plevin Cut, Sierra, Troop 80, Bootjack, Main
  • Mileage: 5.0
  • Elevation: +/-1,000; Lo Pt 150'; Hi Pt 1,050'
  • Route Type: lollipop loop
  • Trail Terrain(s): some paved; well maint double track; single track; roots, wood / rock steps, bridges
  • Nature Notes: Riparian, Redwood Forest, Mixed Evergreen, Chaparral; Fresh good smells from recent rain, Perennial Stream (Redwood Creek), Deciduous Bigleaf Maples, Ladybug Swarms.
Visit my photo album for this hike, click here.

MuirWoods_AliceBoot_loopclick for larger map

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day Hike: Tomales Point Tule Elk Reserve, Point Reyes — September 21, 2008

My friend Sarah mentioned that she had gone on this hike the previous weekend and enjoyed seeing the tule elk. Still awed by all the megafauna I had seen on my 3000+ mile western states vacation the two weeks before, I also thought it would be nice to see these big wild ungulates so close to home. And, it would be a nice way to celebrate the fall equinox and usher in a new season.

I convinced a few friends to join me at the trailhead early-ish in the morning to hopefully beat the crowds and to enable a leisurely photo-friendly pace.

Hike at a Glance:

  • Length: 10 miles RT (out and back)
  • Elevation change: +/- 1300 feet
  • Trailhead: Pierce Point Ranch, Point Reyes National Seashore
  • TH Lat/Long: 38.18884°, -122.95398° (NAD83/WGS84)
  • Trails: Tomales Point Trail
  • Terrain: Mostly rolling, old ranch dirt road; sandy single track before Tomales Bluff
  • Facilities: Payphone at Trailhead but NO water or toilets (toilets nearby at McClure Beach parking lot).
  • Why go?: Tule elk, sea birds, wide ocean views (when not foggy)
  • Note about directions: Consult the official Park Service directions, not google maps—google tells you to go on Marshall Beach Road which is not open to through traffic, stay on Pierce Point Road.
  • View all of the photos at flickr (click here).

Pre-hike Treats

Point Reyes National Seashore still has many working dairy farms, so driving through the north end feels more like a drive on a country road rather than a drive in a national park located very close to the San Francisco Bay Area metropolis. The rural feel is also augmented by the fact that it is surrounded by water on the northeast, northwest, and southwest sides: Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and Drakes Bay respectively. Add to this the quiet of the morning hours, my passenger Brian and I were lucky to not only see the usual birds foraging for breakfast along the road, but a barn kitty, a coyote, a fleeting glimpse of a mature bobcat or young mountain lion (the tail seemed short but dark not striped), and a small herd of bull elk before we even started the hike.

Bull elk chillin’ by the roadside
Trailhead at Pierce Point Ranch

When Brian and I arrived at the Tomales Point trailhead at the Pierce Point Ranch parking lot we were the second car there. After Emillie, Shawne, and Heather arrived there were about a dozen (and two different sierra club groups—one local, one national). Alas, my idea to beat the crowds was only partially successful.

Pierce Point Ranch was a former dairy ranch that closed in 1973 and is now a historical exhibit allowing you to explore the old wooden buildings. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures there...I could've as we were a wee bit early, which Brian was not happy about...

It was still a little overcast and foggy, but I was optimistic that most of it would burn off so we would at least have a view of the elk, if not the coastline. As it turned out, it would burn off completely to be a nice warm sunny day but with a strong breeze to cool us off during the very few steep ascents.

fog burning off—looking south down the coast
Elk Segregation

We didn't have to travel too far to see elk from the trail. There was a large group of cow elk (the ladies) at Windy Gap which is about a mile in from the trailhead. Apparently the bull and the cow herds hang out separate from each other until it is mating season (June through September) when the most dominant bull elk will protect his harem of cows from other bull elks, having earned the "right" to first mating by winning fights and other dominance contests with the rest of the bulls. When he's worn out and tired and can't hoard his harem any longer the other bull elk get their chance to score with the ladies.

Cow elk herd at Windy Gap
Two bull elk giving us a photo op by standing on top of a ridge

Watering Hole

About three and a quarter miles in along the trail there was a pond being monopolized by a herd of bull elk and the accompanying wildlife watchers. Since our goal was to reach Tomales Bluff, we still had a mile and a half to go, so we decided to keep marching on. Just past here is a grove of eucalyptus trees, probably the remnants of what my USGS topo map lists as Upper Pierce Point Ranch (not listed on my "Tom Harrison" trail map).

(Eucalyptus trees, even though ubiquitous in California, are not native. Groves of these Australian trees began to be planted in California during the second half of the 1800s.)

Bull elk drinking in a pond near the trail
Lunching Spot

About four miles in we decided to follow a spur trail that headed towards the ocean with a view of Bird Rock (which we renamed Bird Poo Rock as that is what lends it that bright white color). At the end of the spur was a nice warm sandy bluff overlooking the ocean as well as the rock. We decided to break here and eat lunch and even take a little nap. After our naps and some discussion, Heather decided to continue to nap in the sand, while we headed off toward the end at Tomales Bluff.

The very smelly Bird Rock— downwind on the trail we would occasionally get nasty whiffs
The Last Mile

The last mile of trail from our picnic area to Tomales Bluff got very sandy in spots, but manageable. It also looks a bit deceiving as there are two hills you have to hike over, with the first one tricking you like it's the going to be the last, but no, there is one more. Many spurs appear here and there but the trail goes all the way to the end which sits just above some tidal rocks. Sea birds seemed to enjoy this area between Bird Rock and the rocks around Tomales Bluff, with pelicans, cormorants and gulls flying and hanging about.

Pelican soaring past us on the trail
Tomales Bluff
Cormorants and a few gulls sitting on the rocks below Tomales Bluff

Well Not Really

The last mile really wasn't the last mile. There were five more miles to go to get back to the trailhead. After picking up Heather at the sandy spur, we marched back the way we came—a little bit quicker as we didn't take so many pictures on the return trip.

Near the end of our day looking north back up the coastline from whence we came.
Tomales Point Topo Map
(click on topo map for a larger version.)

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