Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day Hike in Suburbia

I'm visiting my family in Southern California and Christmas Day I decided to do a little exploring behind my dad's house in San Juan Capistrano. There is a little ridge behind his housing tract on the other side of Trabuco Creek and I wanted to know what was on the other side.

When I lived down here I didn't do much (if any) hiking so it was a real treat to get up high and get my "topographic bearings." Suburban sprawl is definitely a theme here and I could see roads, communities, and cities that didn't exist when I was a kid. The views were nearly unobstructed. I could see north through the smog to Mt. Baldy capped in snow and south through the gap in the hills to the Pacific Ocean. To the east was Saddleback Mountain in the Santa Ana Mountain Range with Santiago Peak the tallest in the range at 5,687 feet. To the west was I-5 and more rolling hills. I also saw some remnant straggly orange trees left over from the old Rosembaum Ranch property back when Orange County's name brought to mind something other than a teen TV series and tract home sprawl.

I didn't have a trail map (or any map) and was using a satellite image from the EveryTrail iPhone app. I thought I saw a loop trip that I could do but I was thwarted by private property. I ended up calling my dad to come pick me up in Ladera Ranch as I was running out of time and needed to get home in time for Christmas dinner at my uncle's house in Capistrano Beach.

Note: More pictures to come. I don't have the proper USB cable here in Orange County, so I will need to wait until I get back to Oakland to add them. In the meantime, view the EveryTrail GPS track map with my iPhone photos:

village san juan / rosenbaum ranch to ladera ranch via trabuco ridge trail

Map your trip with EveryTrail

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice 2009!


Happy Winter! The solstice officially happened this morning at 9:47 a.m. Pacific Time in the northern hemisphere. The time of the winter solstice refers to the point at which the hemisphere you live in is tilted farthest away from the sun. I posted a slightly more specific definition from Wikipedia here last year.

These pictures are from a few weeks ago when the snow level in Oakland dropped down to about 500 feet above sea level. That’s a really rare occurrence here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The picture was taken at about 1,500 feet elevation in the hills above Oakland at Sibley Volcanic Regional Park. I was able to get up to the hills after my reading tutor volunteering gig by late-morning. The snow was melting fast, but I was lucky to capture some photos of it. You can view the album on flickr. Here is the link to the the flickr map view.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Backpacking at Big Basin

Berry Creek Falls
Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, © Rebecca Bond

Bummer. I wanted to do the approximately 30 mile Skyline-to-the-Sea trail over Thanksgiving weekend. It runs from Castle Rock State Park in the hills above Los Gatos through Big Basin Redwoods State Park down to the ocean at Rancho Del Oso and Waddell Beach. But, according to the reservation office, due to budget cuts Big Basin has closed all trail camps from the beginning of November this year to the end of April. The lack of financial support for State Parks is getting ridiculous.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

DSC_4706, originally uploaded by bondgurl.

I went on a nice fall day hike in Sunol Regional Wilderness yesterday... trip report soon. In the meantime have a great All Hallow's Eve!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Berkeley Fall Geocaching Bike Ride

K.G. riding “red bike of unknown label” under a golden canopy.

I went on a nice little bike ride today with a friend that lives in Berkeley to do some Geocaching. We were in the fancy part of town with lots of golden deciduous trees displaying their autumn finery. One of the highlights was discovering a park named Monkey Island Park. Who names a park in a fancy residential area Monkey Island Park?!

We found three caches: two “micro” caches (basically film canisters with a paper log inside) and one medium cache that I took a trackable “geocoin” out of with plans on relocating it in a different cache this weekend. Trackable items are things that the owner wants the finder to log the item’s journey and sometimes it has a mission of reaching a certain place or traveling a certain number of miles.

What the heck is geocaching you ask? Well it’s a coordinate based treasure hunt often employing a GPS receiver. “Geocaches” (i.e. treasure chests) are listed and logged on the internet. To find out more about what this geocaching business is about visit

Berkeley Fall Geocache Bike Ride at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Trail Maps

Friday, October 16, 2009

GPS Arcana

Okay, so yesterday I posted about a geocaching urban walk that I did, and I realized that I don’t do much gear talk on here even though I’m kind of a gear/gadget geek. You may wonder what inspired this internet outing of my inner geek? Well last weekend I had to give a GPS Basics presentation to a bunch of leaders in the local Sierra Club snowcamping group I belong to and had to brush up on the technology and fill in the gaps of my own knowledge.

In order to enlighten myself, I did the usual web surfing, but I also bought a really good PAPER book (GPS Made Easy, Fifth Edition 2008, by Lawrence and Alex Letham). Why did I choose this particular guide you ask? Because a.) the edition was published within the last couple of years—as opposed to five years ago which in electronics' years might as well be 50 years ago, and b.) the book used screen shots from my family of GPS’s: the Garmin GPSmap 60 series. The reasons I say this is a good book are that it boils the technical stuff down nicely, you don't have to start at chapter 1 even though it's a good idea to, it gives reasons WHY I might want to do something or use a feature, and demonstrates different navigation scenarios.

Now why did I capitalize “WHY” in “reasons WHY...” of that last sentence? Because the Garmin owner’s manual SUCKS. I repeat: it SUCKS! Are you listening Garmin??? It doesn’t show all of the features or screens and it doesn’t explain WHY I would want to use any of these features, or barely HOW, or what they are for, thus leaving a beginning GPS user crying tears of frustration and pulling out her hair. I’ve had this GPS for four years now and I’m STILL figuring the thing out.

In Garmin’s defense I will say this: Garmin is today—mostly—Mac compatible. And that is why I bought a Garmin. I originally bought a Magellan but made an about face when I realized I couldn’t use it AT ALL with my Mac (even today Magellan’s & DeLorme’s Mac solution is for Intel chip Mac users to run Windoz through Bootcamp—“bite me” is what I say to that). And lucky me, the Garmin GPSmap 60CSx units are still one of their most popular handhelds, so Garmin continues to put out firmware updates and compatible accessories. (Note: my unit is the 60Cx—basically the same as the 60CSx but lacking the real compass and altimeter.)

Alright so the point of this rant is not all pointless. I’m going to share with you, dear reader, the mostly Garmin-centric GPS mysteries I have unravelled so far:
  • Why would I want to “project” a waypoint?
To project a waypoint is to create a new waypoint based off of another waypoint using bearing and distance. This may be handy if you are using a paper map & compass and want to create a waypoint for a location but you don't have a map with a UTM grid or don't know how to come up with the latitude & longitude coordinates for a location (hint: it takes a special map tool you can buy).
So for example, you would like to hike over to that peak labeled Pk1195 on your paper map, but it's not showing up in your GPS receiver but another nearby point is in your GPS & on the map (this will be your reference waypoint), so using the ruler on your compass you measure the distance and then take a map bearing from your reference point to Pk1195 on the map. Let’s say you got a distance of a .5 mile and a bearing of 270 degrees from your reference waypoint. Now you select your reference waypoint via the FIND button an hit enter... now you access a sub-menu by hitting MENU and select PROJECT WAYPOINT and at that time you enter the distance and bearing of your desired destination and voilé! You have a new waypoint.
Another example (this is from the book above) is if you are Search and Rescue and somebody tells you that they saw an injured person about a mile away due East. The SAR person can then project a waypoint to the estimated location of the injured person from her current location.
  • Why does my accuracy suck when yours is rockin’?
I embarrassingly just figured this one out today. I had always suspected my accuracy was not as good as it could be despite having one of the more accurate consumer receivers and secretly suspected that mine was defective. I had read that in ideal conditions I should have an accuracy of about 9 feet with WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) activated.
Well the best I ever got was about 14 to 21 feet and often 30 to 60 feet. And last week before my GPS Basics talk I had the opportunity to play with several different GPS receivers and the Garmin Vista & ETrex were kicking my 60Cx’s butt. To add insult to injury, when on my geocache yesterday even my iphone GPS was more accurate. So I did some searching and found tonight on the Garmin support forums that if the Battery Saver option is turned on, it decreases your accuracy. OH SILLY ME! I didn’t know that saving battery power was a BAD thing?! Especially since it DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING about it IN THE MANUAL. Nice. Thanks Garmin.
This is the direct quote from the Garmin support forums:
Question: I have noticed a high EPE reading on my device since changing the mode of the unit to Battery Saver, is this a normal response to such an adjustment?
Answer: The products with high sensitivity GPS receivers will show an increase in EPE (estimated position error) while in Battery Saver Mode. An adjustment of Battery Save Mode back to "Normal" or "WAAS" modes will assist in lowering the EPE.
  • What is that little D in the bar graph on the Satellite page?
I also just discovered this one today because ALL ALONG I'VE HAD BATTERY SAVER TURNED ON except for tonight when I learned that it kills your WAAS accuracy and therefor I turned OFF Battery Saver Mode (EVEN THOUGH the GPS said I had WAAS turned on in the settings menu all along *ahem*). Well now I’m seeing these little D's popping up in the reception bar graph on the bottom of the Satellite Page. And pouring through the owner's manual gives absolutely no clue as to why. Well thanks to Google and I now know. It means my WAAS is being activated to increase the accuracy. Who woulda thunk?! Not I obviously...
  • What’s the difference between trip odometer vs. odometer?
Okay I admit I got this answer from the owner’s manual glossary and then fooling around with the Navigation Page settings. It’s in theory like the difference in your car’s “tripometer” and odometer, except for the GPS's default is to reset the trip odometer AND the odometer at the same time, so the difference isn't so obvious unless you UNCHECK reset odometer. This way you can keep the odometer rolling as long as you want, but keep resetting the trip odometer when you tell the GPS to Reset Trip Data which resets all of your trip statistics.
  • Why aren’t my loaded topo maps showing up?
Basically there is a map displaying hierarchy and there are sub- sub-menus you need to access in order to easily switch off which maps you want to see. You can individually switch off map sections, but if you have a lot of maps loaded that option sucks.
My story is that I have Garmin’s City Navigator maps and Garmin’s Topo U.S. 2008 maps, but I can’t view my topo maps unless I switch off the City Navigator ones. I originally was doing this individually one “quad” at a time, but when you have several quads loaded this method sucks. But there is a sub- sub-menu that allows you to switch all on or off that I stumbled upon one day. Here is how to access: go to MAP PAGE, press MENU, select SETUP MAP hit ENTER, scroll right to the “i” icon, hit MENU again, scroll down and select “Hide City Navigator”, hit ENTER. Now all of your loaded topo maps will show up.
  • The hidden tide graph!
Here is a little sub- sub-menu gem. Don’t bother looking for it in the owner’s manual either. It's not there. On you Maps Page scroll to a coastline, for instance the San Francisco Bay area. There are several round icons that look like sideways blue ying yang simbols. Highlight one of those and hit ENTER. Those are little Tide Prediction Stations, and a little tide table will pop up for that location and date. You can also change the date. If you hit MENU you will get more viewing options. Play with it. It’s fun! You can also access the tide stations closest to you on the Find Page and then scrolling down to Marine Points, hitting ENTER and then Tide Stations. It will list the Tide Stations closest to you!
  • The hidden elevation profile!
I thought that only the 60CSx with it's altimeter showed elevation profiles but you can view them on the 60Cx too!!! And don't expect the owner's manual to tell you about this because, just like the tide graphs, it’s not there (well it is sort of mentioned in passing, but not exactly made explicit). You have to have a route created on your GPS first to view. So make a route and on the Route Page and highlight it, hit ENTER, now hit MENU, on the list scroll down and select “Profile”, hit ENTER and then select which elevation data the GPS should use, and POOF! an (estimated) elevation profile for your route appears. Hit MENU again and you can control the exaggeration and length

Okay that was a long blog posting, but hopefully somebody somewhere will find it useful. As I make new discoveries, I will post them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Geocaching Walk to Marcom Rose Garden

I went for a walk today in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland to view the Marcom Rose Garden (a.k.a. Oakland Municipal Rose Garden; a.k.a. Marcom Amphitheatre of Roses) and do some geocaching. There is a geocache located in the park and on the way home I found a second lovely little geocache on a hidden stairway “street” called Davidson Way. Along my route I picked up a nice sandwich at Jenny's Cafe and took some pictures of the local sites including my favorite local coffee shop/hot dog stand: Day of the Dead, the historic Grandlake Theatre, and The Alley—a wonderful dive piano bar.

Learn more at Friends of the Marcom Rose Garden here.

p.s. I'm also playing with posting to EveryTrail so the results are below. Click on the red bubble pins to see the associated photo:

Geocaching with Roses in Oakland at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: GPS Trail Maps

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

The fall season has officially begun here in California. The autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere will happen today at 2:18 pm (pacific). The equinox is the exact time when the sun is directly over the equator and the earth’s axis is not tilted toward or away from the sun.

It’s not quite true that the equinox is 12 hours of day/12 hours of night. For instance here in Oakland the length of day today will be 12 hours 8 minutes. Further north in Eureka, Montana (hi Aunt Kris!) the length of day will be 12 hours 10 minutes, and further south in Oceanside, California (hi Grandma!) it will be 12 hours 7 minutes.

For a more in-depth explanation check out

(Photo: Poison oak in it’s fall disguise at Mount Diablo State Park. © R. Bond 2009.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Letter To Our Representatives RE: State Park Closures

I just sent a letter concerning the closure of California State Parks via the California State Parks Foundation website, text follows below. If you are as disappointed as I am, feel free to write your representatives too. The link is at the bottom.:

Dear Legislators and the Governor,

I am seriously dismayed at the threat to basically shut down 80% of California's State Parks and pretty much all of the state parks in my region. I think it would be a mistake to shut down OUR parks for the following reasons:

1.) The State Parks represent a fraction of the state budget yet they attract millions of tourists and millions of tourist dollars from all over the country and the world. 

2.) Many small communities are heavily dependent on the tourist dollars that their local State Parks attract especially in places where they've transitioned from resource destruction to environmental conservation (i.e. from logging to eco-tourism). Park closures would destroy many of these communities.

3.) This one's for the governor: I hated exercise until I discovered hiking. Hiking is one of my main sources of exercise. Most of my favorite places to hike are in my State Parks. What if somebody threatened to shut down all of your gyms when you were becoming a body builder? 

4.) California State Parks are home to THE TALLEST trees in the world, hundreds of miles of protected coastline (a precious commodity considering our ever increasing development), endangered animals such as the California condor, and many also protect important watersheds that provide clean water for our communities. If there are no employees stationed to protect our parks, they will fall prey to unauthorized trespassing and potential abuse & vandalism (and what about those destructive illegal pot farms springing up on public lands guarded by outlaws with machine guns waiting to shoot a stray hiker?!?).

I voted yes on most of the latest propositions (except for 1C—we need to stop borrowing money we can't pay back). However, even though I was in the minority, I know how the majority feels, and to say that California voted down the latest propositions because "they don't want to pay for it" (it being services) is disingenuous. We are just tired of paying for waste. If we felt our money was being used as efficiently and usefully as possible we would have no problem paying more.

And because I don't want to see my parks shut down but realize the money needs to come from somewhere, this is what I propose: There were 33.2 million registered vehicles in California in 2006. So if there was a $20 state park fee added to the registration of each of those vehicles that guaranteed California state residents free entry (but not covering other fees, just entrance fees), that would mean $662,000,000 in funds to keep our parks running and maybe even allow them to catch up on some badly needed maintenance! And since registration fee payers are getting something in return (free entrance), it makes it much easier to swallow.

Like many I've been hit hard financially by the current recession, but would gladly find a way to pay that extra $20 if it went to my state parks and guaranteed me free entry into those beautiful places.

Rebecca Bond

Monday, May 18, 2009

Goslings Galor

I've witnessed lots of baby birds in the past month here at Lake
Merritt and the Oakland waterfront parks including Middle Harbor
Shoreline Park. So get out there while they are still cute and fuzzy.
(It may even be too late! Our feathered friends grow quickly.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

More Friends Doing Good Deeds on Bicycles

Ray and Steve (Ray and Steve in the Oakland/Berkeley Hills on a training ride. Photo credit: Steve Burton.)

Last year I was a little shocked (actually more than a little) when my friend Ray told me he and his husband were going to ride bikes 545 miles in the AIDS LifeCycle from San Francisco all the way down to L.A. Not that I didn’t think Ray could do it, but I know him to be more of the lounge by the pool with a nice cocktail type rather than the endure lots of breathlessness and muscle pain on a bicycle type. But in spite of my shock I was super proud of him for “pushing his limits” and “getting out of his comfort zone” as they like to say, while raising funds for HIV and AIDS awareness and research. And this year I'm double proud because he and Steve are going to do it again.

Friday night they had a fundraiser at Buck Tavern in S.F. complete with raffle, beer bust, and drag show. I went and it was a really good time. Unfortunately my pictures from my phone are just a blurry mess so I had to steal one of Ray and Steve's photos off of Facebook. I love this photo and I love the little furry ears growing out of their helmets... (I'm so jealous. I hate my bike helmet.) Anyway, I wish the both of them the best of luck and success on their journey.

More Information:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

UPDATE: Healthy Lungs Coast to Coast

I have a backlog of posting to do, but i wanted to share this and test
out posting from my iphone.
My friend Shawne took off today on his bike ride across the United
States from the Golden Gate Bridge to Washington DC. He has a Spot GPS
Tracker with him. I'll post the link later, but here is a photo from
the bon voyage gathering...
(I apologize for the quality of the photo... there is a scratch on my iPhone’s camera lens covering.)

I should mention that Shawne is doing this to raise awareness about lung health and to raise funds for the American Lung Association.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hike #3 Trails Challenge ’09

self portraitYours Truly in front of San Leandro Bay with the Oakland hills to the north behind her.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Bike Ride

For my third Trails Challenge 2009 “hike” (See original post about EBRPD's Trails Challenge) I didn't do a hike at all—I did a bike ride. Not all of the trails in EBRPD are just for travel by foot. Quite a few are available to wheeled users as well. Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline is one of these wheel-friendly parks as it has many paved pathways. I used this paved opportunity to take my bike out for a sunny Easter Sunday ride along the waterfront from Lake Merritt to MLK Jr. Reg. Shoreline including parts of Bay Farm Island & Alameda. Since only seven of the seventeen round trip miles where in the Trails Challenge Guide I've only included those seven miles in my Trails Challenge total.

View all of my photos from this hike on flickr.

Trails Challenge “Hike” #3 Stats:

  • Date Completed: April 12, 2009
  • Location: CA, Oakland, Alameda, & Bay Farm Island, Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline
  • Mileage: 7 trails challenge; ~17 mi trip total
  • Elevation: Sea Level

topo mapTopographic map of my route. Click for a larger view. (The yellow line is the “Trails Challenge” portion of my route. The red line is my route to the regional shoreline, and the blue is my return route.)

More Information:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hike #2 Trails Challenge ’09

Murietta FallsYours Truly contemplating the interesting trickle that was Murietta Falls on our visit.

Ohlone Regional Wilderness: Lake Del Valle to Murietta Falls & Stewart’s Camp Backpack

For my second Trails Challenge 2009 hike (see original post about EBRPD's Trails Challenge) I chose a recommended hike that I’ve wanted to do for quite awhile now—Murietta Falls in the Ohlone Regional Wilderness south of Livermore. Murietta Falls is supposedly one of the tallest waterfalls in the Bay Area falling 100 feet over a huge chunk of serpentine rock jutting out of the surrounding grassy oak savanna and draining into La Costa Creek. The Trails Challenge trail guide lists it as “the longest continuous drop waterfall in Alameda County.”

This waterfall however doesn’t have much water volume and can be less than spectacular or even dry if visited too late in the season or in a low water year like this year. The Trails Challenge guide lists it as a “winter” hike just for this reason, but I was willing to risk it as the weather was still cool—the San Francisco Bay Area's valley interior can get blistering hot—and since spring has sprung, I was hoping that the wildflowers would be out. Another consideration was that all of my trail guides stress the strenuousness of this trail. I figured I would better enjoy this hike as an overnight backpack which shortens the daily mileage and elevation gain/loss, and luckily, since stewart’s camp trail camp was available and only half a mile away from the falls I could.

On our visit it turns out the falls were more of a dribble than a gush, but fortunately my hiking partner Amy's and my efforts were more than rewarded with vast views of lush green hills, fields of beautiful wildflowers, soaring raptors, frog-filled ponds, coyote howls and sweet solitude.

View all of my photos from this hike on flickr.

Trails Challenge Hike #2 Stats:

  • Date Completed: April 2 – 3, 2009
  • Location: CA, Ohlone Regional Wilderness (south of Livermore)
  • Mileage: ~14 mi round trip
  • Elevation: +/-4485' RT, ; lo pt 750; hi pt 3,372'

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hike #1 Trails Challenge ’09

Western Hound's Tongue (Cynoglossum grande) seen on French Trail.

Roberts Regional Recreation Area & Redwood Regional Park Loop

As I wrote a couple weeks ago the East Bay Regional Park District is hosting its annual Trails Challenge. Last Thursday I hiked my first official challenge trail of 2009. I chose a “summer” recommended hike as it was a nice warm sunny spring day and this route would be shaded by redwoods and oak woodland most of the way with just a smidge of chaparral and grassland. Being midweek I had the first half all to myself, but later in the afternoon I was joined by equestrians, mountain bikers, and dog walkers. Along the route, I was pleasantly greeted by plentiful wildflowers and a “serpentine prairie” right here in Oakland.

  • Date Completed: March 26, 2009
  • Location: CA, Oakland, Roberts Regional Recreation Area & Redwood Regional Park
  • Mileage: ~7.1 mi round trip
  • Elevation: +/-1700'; lo pt 822'; hi pt 1,535'
  • Trails Challenge Total Miles: 7

California tortoiseshell butterfly (Nymphalis californica). It briefly landed on Dunn Trail in the Serpentine Prairie Preserve part of Redwood Regional Park.


backlit fern

Backlit sword fern on Graham Trail in Roberts Regional Recreation Area.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Trillium of Tres Sendas


The day before St. Patrick’s Day it rained here in Oakland and I thought it would be really wonderful to go traipsing around the lush forest floor of Redwood Regional Park. I knew the rain would make the understory fresh and green and fill the creeks and tributaries, and also unfortunately make the trails muddy, but keep the crowds away. I decided to try some new trails including East Ridge Road and Prince Road, but what I really wanted to explore was more of Tres Sendas Trail. From previous visits I knew that Tres Sendas was flanked by watershed and deep within the shade of redwoods, so it would be particularly nice on a wet cloudy day.

My decision paid off as I was rewarded with dozens of blooming trilliums along the path of Tres Sendas. Normally I only see trilliums with their buds munched off by ravenous deer or shriveled up long past their prime.

The trillium is a pretty easy wildflower to identify and remember as there are three leaves, three sepals, and three petals... hence the “tri” in trillium. As you can see from the photos above the flower can range in color from white, to pink, to purple. I’ve seen two kinds of trillium in the local redwood forests. One is the Trillium ovatum pictured above, also called Western Wake Robin or Pacific Wake Robin, and the other is Trillium chloropetalum otherwise known as Giant Wake Robin, Giant Trillium, Common Trillium amongst other common names. Coincidently, Tres (as in Tres Sendas) means three in Spanish! Tres Sendas = Three Trails.

Unfortunately, I was only able to explore the lower half of Tres Sendas as I took a wrong turn on French Trail and spent too much time lollygagging, and so chose a more familiar trail to return to the trailhead insuring that I got back to my car before dark.

My Links:

Outside Links:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Springtime in Oakland

daffodilDaffodil amongst the Nasturtiums on Newton, March 7, 2009.

Oakland has had a lot of dark news the past few months due to a sad slew of high-profile shootings. In a feeble attempt to brighten the mood, I thought I’d show a tiny bit o’ O-town seasonal color. The pictures above and below where taken on my way to deposit the ol’ unemployment check at the Patelco in “Uptown” Oakland, I spied this sprightly daffodil blooming amongst various layers of nasturtium foliage in my neighborhood and the purple magnolia(???) tree dwarfed amongst the high-rises near the new Catholic church— Cathedral of Christ the Light.

purple bloomsMagenta blooms on a tree with high-rise, March 7, 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Trails Challenge 2009 EBRPD

The deadline to register for the East Bay Regional Park District's Trails Challenge 2009 is quickly approaching! It's a yearly event that the East Bay Regional Parks Foundation hosts to get us out exploring our parks.

In past years there was a registration fee for participants which included the Trails Challenge guidebook, a t-shirt, and a pin upon completing the challenge. This year registration is FREE for participants living in Alameda and Contra Costa counties thanks to sponsorship from Kaiser Permanente and a few changes including an online trail guide instead of a mailed printed guide and making the t-shirts available for pick up at select park visitor centers instead of mailing them out. The fee for non-district resident participants is $20.

So what exactly is the challenge? Hike at least five trails picked from the official Trails Challenge 2009 trail guide OR hike 26.5 trail miles of your choosing in the EBRP District and log them in the official Trails Challenge 2009 log. You have to complete the trails and submit the log by December 1, 2009 to receive the 75th Anniversary commemorative pin.

I signed up this afternoon and am really excited about it. If you want to join in on the fun hurry, because registration closes March 31st!

For more information visit these links:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I <3 Yosemite

Originally uploaded by bondgurl
Yosemite National Park is looking for a “Visual Information Specialist”. Of course I had to apply. How amazing would it be to work IN Yosemite doing what I was educated and trained to do? It would be the perfect marriage of career and avocation.

This picture is from my very first ever visit to Yosemite in the fall of 2004, which wasn't that long ago, and totally changed my priorities in life. If it wasn't for this trip I may have never gotten into hiking which means I may have never tried backpacking and long story short, this blog wouldn't exist. So, Thanks Yosemite!

View my Yosemite collection of photo albums on flickr here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Trip Report: Sierra Club Snowcamping Training Group 5 Trip 2— Carson Pass to Winnemucca Lake

February 20, 2009: Friday hiking in pleasant weather conditions towards Winnemucca Lake with Round Top peak in the background.

Last weekend I went on Group 5’s second trip of the Sierra Club’s Snowcamping Training Series. Originally we were supposed to go to Lassen, but due to a good amount of snow during the week the avalanche danger was rated as “extreme” and the weather forecast was for more snow, so the plan was changed to Winnemucca Lake near Carson Pass.

This trip started out sunny and mild. The first day for the hike in was warm and no wind to speak of. But Friday night late the winds kicked up. Saturday morning was sunny, but by early afternoon the sky had turned a mean gray and the wind gusts were getting wild. Saturday evening the gusts got so bad that they completely obliterated one of the tarps covering the snow kitchen. Sunday morning we woke up to white out conditions.

February 22, 2009: Sunday morning hiking out back to the trailhead with low visibility. A few wind gusts almost knocked me over and I’m no feather.
Snowcamp Stats:
  • Dates: February 20 – February 22, 2009
  • Location: CA, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Eldorado National Forest, Mokelumne Wilderness, near Winnemucca Lake
  • Mileage: ~4.5 mi round trip
  • Elevation: +/-450´; lo pt 8,595´; hi pt 9,055´
  • Trailhead: Carson Pass Sno-Park
  • Sno-Park Lat/Long.: 38.69498062, -119.989357
  • Sno-Park Facilities: porta-potties, trash bins, no water; parking permit required.
  • Winter Trail Route: cross-country, loosely following the Pacific Crest Trail south towards Winnemucca Lake and Round Top peak.
  • Route Type: out and back.
  • Trail Terrain: semi-popular cross-country route; rolling; mild ascent to Winnemucca Lake; altitude makes it feel harder.
  • Campsite: an exposed plateau north/ above Winnemucca Lake with sparse Juniper tree cover.
  • Why go?: views down to Caples Lake and surrounding peaks Red Lake Peak, Round Top, The Sisters, Black Butte, Elephants Back. Non-technical climb up the south side of Elephants Back.
  • Caveats: Wind is a problem here, as I experienced first hand and learned after the trip second hand.
  • Website: Eldorado National Forest Winter Recreation
  • Wilderness Permit: Mokelumne Wilderness
  • Parking Information: Sno-Parks California OHV
  • View my photo album.
The white haze at the surface is spindrift. Even though this morning was sunny we were still getting “snowed on” due to the wind picking up the loose surface snow and throwing it around.

Spindrift is Not Your Friend

I was first introduced to the word “spindrift” unwittingly through my friend Mary, who is an actress, and sometimes does productions with the Pacifica Spindrift Players. One time buying tickets to see her perform I got curious about the name so I looked up the term— SPINDRIFT: spray blown from the crests of waves by wind. Also, blowing snow or sand.

For our purposes I’m talking about blowing snow—one of the reasons why most three-season tents with their generous mesh inner walls are not good for snowcamping (or camping in Death Valley during a wind storm, but that is a another discussion).

The first night, in the middle of the night, the wind kicked up—I would guess 30+ MPH gusts. Despite being snug as a bug in my 0 degree Marmot Teton mummy bag, I kept getting rudely awakened by ice cold spittle hitting my face every time a gust would come by. I cinched up my sleeping bag hood and pulled down my beanie and pulled up my fleece neck gator, so only a sliver of my face under my nostrils was exposed, but the freezing spittle still managed to find skin.

My tent window Saturday morning with a lovely view.

Damage Control

In the morning, I rose to find a nice layer of finely sifted snow blanketing me and everything else inside my tent. I shook everything off as best I could and launched a campaign of spindrift damage control. First, everything inside my tent including my sleeping bag got tossed in plastic bags. Second, my sleeping pads got flipped upside down so the snow would collect on the waterproof bottom and not on the surface I would be laying on. Third, I would construct a windbreak composed of snow blocks (see picture below).

Almost everybody else had a spindrift problem, even the snowcave dwellers, as we all misjudged the direction of the wind. It was predicted to come out of the Southwest. Unfortunately, the wind decided it wasn’t going to be pigeonholed and it would come out of whatever direction it damn well felt like—which was every direction.

My tent post construction of wind wall/ spindrift block with upside down Nalgene.

The “W” Word and I’m Not Talking George W.

In the context of camping, my dad hates wind. It is the one weather condition he finds miserable and I tend to agree. Therefore nobody in his camping party is allowed to call it by name. He is superstitious about it.We call it “the double-u word”. To utter the w-word is to taunt the weather gods and anger them. Last weekend, we must’ve really pissed ’em off.

During the group morning shelter fortifications, several people banded together to tie up some tarps to cover the snow kitchen. All was well until in the late afternoon as we were gathered to prepare our evening meals a giant gust came through and ripped one of the weaker tarps to shreds. It tore the grommets straight out. Everybody jumped up to grab an end of the remaining tarps, but efforts to stabilize them where in vain and they had to be taken down.

At this point the weather gods decided that the tarps were not satisfying enough. They decided it was a good time to make me slip on an icy spot in my down booties and twist my right ankle.

My tent window Saturday afternoon covered in spindrift

The Princess and The Pea

It wasn’t the worst sprain-job I’ve ever done on an ankle, but it did make a popping sound, which disturbed me. I’m just glad it wasn’t my left ankle. The left is kinda screwed from being sprained too many times.

The leaders sent me to my tent. I felt like a child being grounded and I was acting like one too (it didn’t help that my lower back was painfully acting up the whole trip either). Our medical leader wanted me to elevate and ice my ankle, but the idea of putting a baggy of snow against my skin whilst shivering in my tent sounded irrationally horrifying. At this point I was a little off my rocker. Finally we struck a deal and I would only have to ice it for half an hour. The upshot was that I got my soup and dinner served to me in my tent like a little spoiled princess.


My tent window Sunday morning is somewhere behind a not-so-thin layer of slushy wayward snow.

A Nylon Ripstop Snow Globe

Saturday night the gusts would reach 50 MPH (I checked the weather history after I got home). I could hear the gusts approaching before they hit as they whipped up the valley through the trees. I imagined a rabid gang of faceless phantoms flying past my tent as it would shudder and flap and the abrasive sound of ice granules would scrape harshly against my rainfly and then subside.

The snow-wall/windbreak I constructed wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped. Since the gusts would change direction throughout the night I probably should have built a four-foot wall surrounding my tent, but I had constructed a variable height wall—only two to three feet high on the west side and north sides and one foot high on the east and south sides of my tent figuring that side would need the least protection.

Spindrift made it inside my tent anyway (I shudder to think how badly if I had not made the wall—see the picture above). Throughout the night I would knock off the collected snow from the mesh body so that my hot breath could escape, and in theory, wouldn’t condense and create rain from the inside. However, when I did this even more spindrift would fall on my sleeping bag and melt. At one point in the night the gusts calmed down for a bit and thus the trapped air inside of my tent got “too warm.” With no ventilation near the roof (I had closed the vents) collected snow on the top of the mesh melted and dripped all over me.

When the sky began to lighten, I was more than happy to pack up and leave.


Packing up Sunday morning in the snowstorm.

Post Script

Besides spindrift, the other reason why a 3-season tent is not always a good idea for snowcamping wasn’t really an issue this time—that reason being heavy snow-load, the weight of lots of falling snow bearing down and bending the poles or tearing the tent fabric. The actual snow falling this trip was only a few inches overnight and the wind wouldn’t let it collect thickly on top of my tent (on the inside obviously a different story).

In conclusion, no more two-night snowcamping trips until I get some better, lighter, 4-season gear and that requires having a job. I also need to increase my fitness level so I don’t get run down so easily in the cold. Gear-wise, primarily I would like a light yet snow-resistant single-wall tent; light down-insulated pants (not the fleece pajama bottoms I’ve been using); and also warmer winter boots that don’t constrict my circulation, so that my feet stay warm while relaxing around camp while providing some ankle protection (the down booties are cozy but slippery and non-supportive).

Without the above improvements, I mentally can’t shake the idea of becoming the next “Ice Man” discovered thousands of years later perfectly preserved frozen to death with the look of terror still plastered on my face. But, then again there is global warming to consider, so I would probably just end up a putrid defrosted mess.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

White Out

Originally uploaded by bondgurl
Snow camping is not playing in the snow. It is not being a little kid and having your parents bundle you up in whatever warm clothing you own, mostly cotton except for that acrylic beanie your aunt crocheted, making a beeline for the local mountains which received a once-every-couple-years dusting of snow, your dad finding a pull-out with a good slope and plopping your butt into a plastic baby bath tub or tractor tire innertube and pushing you down a hill, flying and crashing you go with plastic pieces flying everywhere and belly-laughing and your younger cousin starts crying even though she is not hurt. And then your parents scoop you up, dust off the snow and fill you with hot cocoa from an old glass-insulated Thermos that rattles when you shake it and you are happy and filled with wonder at the white stuff from the “safety” of a warm van, hoping that it will snow again next year.

Snow camping IS a lot of work, even just sitting idly. In fact that is probably the hardest—just staying warm while sitting in your tent alone. Psychologically there is nowhere to go except right where you are. If the weather turns bad, you better have confidence in your equipment and a positive attitude. That’s hard to do if you are feeling bad before you even start a trip.

I've learned something about myself this season: if I’m experiencing any mental anxiety before the trip (including that which is unrelated to the trip) it will only be magnified during the trip. The cold can bring out all sorts of mental demons and infect one’s thinking. In other words, snow camping is not an escape. It’s a cold, hard punch—a wake-up call to get yer sh*t together.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Trip Report: Sierra Club Snowcamping Training Group 5 Trip 1 Rematch

February 1, 2009: Group 5, Trip 1, Sierra Club Snowcamping Training Series on top of Andesite Peak elevation 8,219’ with Basin Peak in the background on the left and Castle Peak on the right.

A couple years ago I had read somewhere that the local chapter of the Sierra Club offered training in snow camping skills. I thought, “Wow, how fun! I bet I would learn a lot of additional survival skills too.” But the image of snow that was running through my mind was like that of a small child seeing snow for the first time from within the protection of a warm car — pretty and fluffy and soft — completely disregarding the “burning cold and wet” reality. So, I signed up.

For last year’s first trip was forecast a bit of snow and wind. We went out anyway. It is good training to deal with less-than-ideal weather — that is the point isn’t it? Well we got more than a bit. We got two to three feet of snow overnight, cold temperatures, crazy winds with accompanying wind chill. We got white-out conditions. We got a blizzard. In fact, this is the weekend that two skiers got lost nearby and landed themselves on the news here and here.


Me digging a snow trench on my very first ever snowcamping trip last year February 2, 2008.

Photo credit: Ted Pekny/Shonna Moodie.

The following events highlighted last year’s trip one, my first ever snowcamp: Because I was so cold, and tired, and queezy, I went to bed at about 7:00pm. After my body heat reluctantly warmed my sleeping bag and trench (a sleeping ditch dug into the snow) I finally fell asleep around 1:00am.

Some time shortly after dozing off, three assistant leaders were sent out to find and unbury me. Because all traces of my location were wiped out by the heavy snowfall they ended up standing on my “roof”. I heard scratching noises. In a half-dream state, I thought it was a bear. I heard voices. I saw my roof suddenly sag deeply. I yelled at them to get off the barely supported tarp, but they could not hear my voice muffled by deep snow and howling winds.

One of them ended up collapsing the roof. All of my gear was now buried in snow and wet. I was cranky and ungratefull. I whined, “But I was warm!” I was removed to a tent. My new tent partner was having a panic attack. We anxiously waited for morning. I proclaimed to never do snowcamping again.

Morning came. We packed without breakfast. We began the hike out. We were sinking up to our thighs and falling in tree-holes. We were on a steep hill. We heard a deep “WHoOMPF”. I panicked. I fell over. I was helped back up. We got our asses off that hill. We could have triggered an avalanche. We got back to the cars. They were buried. We began to dig...


Returning to our cars last year February 3, 2008.

Photo credit: Jesse Costello-Good.

Fast foward to 2009. I am now privy to snow’s evil deception, it’s come-hither looks yet lethal bite. So what do I do? I sign up again.

I’ve gone on four more snowcamping trips since that first trip, three being with the Sierra Club—each mostly dominated by sunny skies and mild weather. Last weekend, I went out again with Training Group 5. Even though I “graduated” last year, I rejoined the training groups because they offer plenty of opportunity to try out new techniques, experiment with different gear choices, and practice navigational skills in the context of a supportive group with designated leaders and assistants.

Snow Camp Stats:
  • Dates: January 31 – February 1, 2009
  • Location: CA, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Ranger District, Castle Peak/Round Valley Area
  • Mileage: ~8.5 mi round trip
  • Elevation: +/-1,674´; lo pt 7,185´; hi pt 8,219´
  • Trailhead: parking at Donner Summit Sno-Park near Boreal, trail starts on the other side of I-80 north of the overpass.
  • Sno-Park Lat/Long.: 39.33956146, -120.3453979
  • Sno-Park Facilities: porta-potties, no water; parking permit required. Other facilities at Boreal ski resort
  • Winter Trail Route: Forest Service Road 80-50/Castle Peak Rd along Andesite Ridge through Castle Valley, Pacific Crest Trail at Castle Pass through Round Valley, bits of cross country here and there.
  • Route Type: figure 8 lollipop loop.
  • Trail Terrain: mostly compacted snow—heavily traveled route, some cross country/trail breaking if desired; mild climbing through Castle Valley then steep over pass, then mild through Round Valley. Ascent of Andesite Peak steep from northwest side and steep decent on east side.
  • Campsite: north end of Round Valley, below Basin Peak
  • Why go?: Travel through some fir forest and plenty of open exposed areas with views of Donner Pass area, Castle Peak, Andesite Peak, Basin Peak, and more; nice alpenglow opportunities; near Peter Grub Hut if you don’t want to snowcamp (hut reservation required). Dogs allowed.
  • Caveats: Popular = lots o’ people; Exposed areas can be very windy. Dog poo along the trail! Snowmobile area nearby (potentially noisy).
  • Land Manager: Tahoe National Forest, Truckee District
  • Parking Information: Sno-Parks California OHV
  • View my photo album.
me castle peak
The porch at Crystal Springs Inn, Alta, CA—our excellent pretrip accomodations for 2008 & 2009.

Group 5, Trip 1, Wash, Rinse, Repeat?

Like last year, we all met the night before at the very affordable Crystal Springs Inn in Alta, CA—a labyrinth like Victorian bed & breakfast owned and operated by the very fun JoAnn Blohm. And also like last year, we regrouped the next morning at the same Sno-Park next to Boreal. But that is where the similarities end.

Unlike last year, the weather forecast was for sunny skies and warm temperatures. (Note: After returning home I checked the weather history. It would get up to 50 degrees F this day.) So, we headed north towards Round Valley near Peter Grubb hut in the Castle Peak area of Tahoe National Forest which was about four miles in with ~1,140 feet of elevation gain and ~400 feet of loss.

Conversely, last year in the deep unpacked powder of a blowing snowstorm, we only made it one-and-a-quarter miles with only 200 feet elevation gain/loss to arrive at Flora Lake, south of the same trailhead in about the same amount of travel time.

Our fearless leader Shonna at the crowded trailhead getting ready for a group map check.
me castle peak
Me with Castle Peak in the background on the left. It was so warm on Saturday at one point I proclaimed, “This sun is brutal!”

A Snow Kitchen Dance Party

After setting up camp and a little relaxing in the remaining sun, we gathered around the snow kitchen to cook our evening meals. I noticed Rob was digging around in his pockets with a mischievous grin on his face. Out came an orange iPod Nano and a teeny tiny set of folding speakers. He had a surprise for us. Rob cranked up the volume:

“Snowshoes and solitude
is what we dream of.
World of wind and water
to explore.
Keep a fire burning
in our shelter...”

Les Stroud a.k.a. the Discovery Channel's Survivorman apparently is also a musician and the above lyrics are from his song “Snowshoes and Solitude”. Rob had made us a special snowcamping play list.

Shortly thereafter, somebody broke out some whiskey, another some rum, another some bourbon, next thing we know we are shakin’ our down booties and doing “The Hustle”. At one point we had a conga line going through the center of the kitchen, an official “Hustle” demonstration, yoga practice, air guitar/ banjo/ fiddle contest, and several group sing-a-longs.

Chris and Shonna dancing in the snow kitchen.

From 0 to 30 MPH in 8 Hours

Warmed up from the dance party, I decided it was time for bed a little before 10:00pm. Crawling into my tent I noticed thousands of little ice crystals had formed on the inside and outside of my tent rainfly. This didn’t concern me too much as long as they didn’t decide to shed themselves and melt on top of my down sleeping bag. I checked my little zipper-pull thermometer. It was just a hair over 10 degrees F (low teens) inside the rainfly.

The ice crystals did not last long as a breeze kicked up just before midnight and with it the temperature actually rose. I rechecked my thermometer and it was about 20 degrees F. I performed my usual backpacking insomnia routine as the wind slowly picked up and the hours ticked by. My emergency-blanket-cum-ground-cloth was driving me nuts flapping and crinkling in the now gusty wind. My thoughts turned to those in the group that camped out in the open with no cover and hoped they were doing ok as I tucked the loose e-blanket corners under and burrowed into my zero degree bag.


Inside my REI Half Dome 2 HC Tent in the “minimalist shelter” configuration using just the rainfly and footprint—no tent body.

The sky began to lighten, and I crossed my fingers that the wind would calm as the sun rose over the ridge. Alas, the wind was insistent on continuing in spite of the day. Resignedly I got up and began the process of feebly lighting my stove and not trying to burn my braids off like the night before (we won’t talk about that). It took three tries but I got it going and soon much-welcomed hot cocoa would fill my gullet. (After getting home Sunday night I checked the weather history and wind gusts were up to 30 MPH.)

As the bright sun rose higher and we began the hike out, I was now thankful for the wind as it tempered the heat generated during our uphill slog. Our leaders the night before decided we would take Andesite Ridge and do a little bag of Andesite Peak — my first winter “summit” (a puny one but you gotta start somewhere right?).

On the decent of the ridge, and to hook back up with the main trail through Castle Valley, we basically went cross country straight down the east facing side of Andesite Ridge below Andesite Peak which was pretty fun, like running through a giant marshmallow pillow.

Being Superbowl Sunday, there was little traffic on the trail and on the road so we made pretty good time with a stop for dinner at the brewery in old-town Auburn. I had a well-earned order of fish ’n’ chips.


The view of our camp location from Andesite Peak, 8,219´. Basin Peak is the tallest point in the background.