Winter colors: Lake Tahoe area

As I have noted previously, the West and East coasts experience seasons differently. In the San Francisco Bay Area it is a once-in-twenty-year experience for snow to reach the ground, except on the tops of the highest peaks, where a bit of snowfall occurs most winters and lasts for at most a few hours before melting. Also, as is well-known, California has been experiencing a severe drought for the past four years. A significant component of the drought has been extremely minimal snow in the Sierras during the winter. Happily, with a good El Niño weather pattern this year, there is at least average, or close to average, snowfall widely over the Sierra. It is not enough to end the drought, or even make a significant dent in the water deficit, but it is providing a welcome winter wonderland experience for the first time in several years. This post focuses on winter colors in the Lake Tahoe area, mostly around Tahoe Donner, and includes a few comparisons with recent drier years.

One of the most prominent sights in snowy weather is roof-tops. The amount of snow present depends on several factors: amount of snow that has fallen, temperatures, sun (including direction of exposure, tree cover, etc), and whether the building is occupied and/or heated and/or well- insulated. The houses in Tahoe Donner include many vacation homes, which are typically only sporadically occupied during any given season. Just prior to a recent visit there had been at least a foot of new snow, and many roofs were still covered with snow. In this view, I liked the pile on the small roof over the bay window. There, as well as on the main roof surfaces, parallel lines indicate that some compaction has occurred: this sometimes happens when snowfall alternates with rain.

picture of snow-covered roof

Snow-covered roof

In other cases some of the snow on the main roof has begun to shed. The especially deep areas on the smaller roof areas at the right are likely due to shedding from the main roof above. It is evident that the occupants have not cleared the deck: the depth pattern shows the prevailing local wind direction.

picture of snow-covered roof and deck

Snow-covered roof and deck

Many mountain communities, including Tahoe Donner, require the use of so-called bear boxes for placement of trash between pickup days. Some residents place signs indicating whether there is anything to pick up, as a convenience to the drivers. This example illustrates a phenomenon that occurs when sunny and/or warm weather follows a relatively light snowfall. As the dark-colored metal enclosure absorbs sunlight the snow melts from below and the snow layer gradually – or sometimes more quickly – slides off. It is somewhat unusual for the entire snow sheet to remain essentially intact as it slides down the roof line and then forms a pretty curl.

picture of bear box shedding a light snow layer

Bear box shedding a light snow layer

When warm weather follows a significant snowfall it can take several days for the snow to melt from a roof. The alternating cycle of above- and below-freezing temperatures results in icicles.

picture of roof with icicles

Roof with icicles

Sometimes people leave cars in the driveway – in this case right outside a garage – during snowy weather. Although the driveway has been plowed, this car has not been moved – or the engine started – for, probably, several weeks. When I see vehicles like this one I think about certain friends who have vacation homes in the Lake Tahoe area without garages – and I’m grateful that I have a garage. I would hate to arrive for a visit and need to dig this car out!

picture of snowy car

Snowy car

A topic of high importance in snow country is snow removal from streets and parking areas. In the Sierras the snowfall is greatly dependent on elevation: higher elevation means more snow. Truckee is close to lake level, the elevation of Lake Tahoe (6200 feet), and receives an average of 200 inches of snow per year. Once a significant snow base is established, as long as the weather stays cold there can be snow on the ground until April or May. Between November 1 and May 1 there is no parking permitted on town streets, giving maximum free access to snow removal equipment.

Immediately after a significant snowfall only part of the street surface is cleared initially: one lane, then two, with a sequencing of streets from primary to tertiary. If a several-day break between snow storms is forecast, streets are more fully cleared, and special plows create a nice, clean edge. While out for a walk I encountered such an edge plow, moving about 1 mph and clearing the edge of the pavement out to the snow poles (note the black pole with reflective tape near the center of the picture). The plows are able to throw the snow to quite a distance from the edge of the street, keeping the actual pavement-side piles to a reasonable height. Fortunately, this plow was also doing a nice job of NOT creating a berm at the end of each driveway it passed.

picture of edge plow clearing the pavement edge after a significant snowfall

Edge plow clearing the pavement edge after a significant snowfall

This is how a street can look after the edge plow has cleaned up both sides of the street. The main plowing had gotten the snow layer pretty thin, and a lovely sunny day in the 20’s was all it took to melt the thin remaining layer from the pavement.

picture of street after edge plow clearing on both sides

Street after edge plow clearing on both sides

Around intersections there is often a higher snow pile, since there is a bigger area to clear and, often, not much space to put the removed snow. This intersection frequently accumulates an impressive pile of plowed snow as the winter snow season goes on. I think the green street signs are 8-10 feet above the level of the pavement.

picture of pile of plowed snow at a street intersection

Pile of plowed snow at a street intersection

An activity enjoyed by children of all ages is building snowmen. I had out-of-town visitors for a couple of days at Christmas time, and they had great fun building snowmen at the edge of the driveway, using bits of trees and a traditional carrot to make arms, buttons, hair, eyes, and noses. By the time they left there were four snowmen!

picture of building snowmen is fun and creative

Building snowmen is fun and creative

While out on a walk I was a bit startled to come across a fancy cairn-like structure built from chunks of snow and ice.

picture of snow cairn at a street intersection

Snow cairn at a street intersection

On a different walk, near the golf course at the heart of Tahoe Donner, the path I was following crossed a small bridge over Trout Creek. Rocks in the creek were covered in snow, and a few small evergreen trees practically bowed over from the weight of the fresh snow.

picture of winter scene by Trout Creek

Winter scene by Trout Creek

A local landmark, visible from the higher locations in Tahoe Donner – and from many other North Tahoe locations, as well as from Reno – is Mt Rose, the highest peak in the North Tahoe area and the third highest in the Lake Tahoe region. Although I have read that it is named after a person, I have also read that the name refers to the warm color that sometimes develops in the setting sun. This picture was taken in January 2013 during what turned out to be a low-snow season.

picture of Mt Rose at sunset

Mt Rose at sunset

By contrast, here is another picture taken from essentially the same location, which is along one of my favorite walking routes, in December 2015.

picture of snow-covered Mt Rose

Snow-covered Mt Rose

Surprisingly, this third picture was taken in January 2016, just a month later, and Mt Rose appears to have less snow coverage. Even though sometimes very warm storms come through the region, the peak elevation is about 10,780 feet, nearly always above the snow level even for a warm storm. Earlier in the morning there was quite a bit of fog in the nearby Martis Valley, a low-lying pocket below Truckee, and at mid-day the mist made pretty wisps as it gradually dissipated.

picture of Mt Rose with mist

Mt Rose with mist

I am fortunate to have a pretty view out my back windows. This picture was taken during snowfall onto a relatively thin layer of snow on both the ground and the chaparral. It was taken in February 2015, one of the lowest Sierra snowfall seasons in history.

picture of snowy yard in Tahoe Donner

Snowy yard in Tahoe Donner

A second view shows the same area with a more typical snow layer on the ground. The chaparral is almost completely covered, and recent windy weather had resulted in a very smooth surface that sparkled in the sun.

picture of another view of the same yard, with more typical snowfall

Another view of the same yard, with more typical snowfall

After a recent stay in the Truckee area, on my way back to the Bay Area I made a couple of stops at specific locations, to see how visible the snowy Sierras were from a distance. A couple of years ago I had discovered that it is possible to see the higher peaks in South Tahoe – including Freel Peak, Jobs Peak, and Jobs Sister, where I have hiked – if the air is clear. My first stop was just east of Auburn, and the snow-white peaks were easy to see from 65 miles away!

picture of Sierras viewed from Auburn

Sierras viewed from Auburn

The second viewing spot was just off I-80 west of Sacramento, near the west end of the long straight causeway that crosses the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area. I had discovered that, if you look directly along that straight section of I-80, you are looking directly at the Freel Peak cluster – which is nearly 100 miles away! From the greater distance (and looking across metropolitan Sacramento) the peaks were not quite as distinct, but the view was still a treat.

picture of Sierras viewed from Yolo Wildlife Area west of Sacramento

Sierras viewed from Yolo Wildlife Area west of Sacramento

Of course, winter has a different look in the Bay Area. In a future post I will share some Bay Area winter views.

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San Francisco Bay Trail: Bedwell Bayfront Park

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A recent hike took me to Menlo Park for a walk along the frontage of San Francisco Bay to the beginning of the Dumbarton Bridge on the San Francisco Bay Trail. I later returned to the starting point of that hike to more fully explore Bedwell Bayfront Park, where a perimeter trail is also a segment of the Bay Trail.

The 160-acre park has an interesting history, since it is the site of a former landfill. The area has been rehabilitated and converted into a pleasant open-space park with walking paths and pretty views from the higher locations (about 70 feet elevation). In addition there is a large art installation, the Great Spirit Path. In these respects Bedwell Bayfront Park has some similarities to nearby Byxbee Park in Palo Alto, though each of these parks has its own unique character.

My plan was to walk the entire 2.3-mile perimeter trail and then explore the Great Spirit Path. With that in mind I chose to park in the parking area farthest from the park entrance along the west side, at the beginning of the Great Spirit Path, denoted by the orange dot on my GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

The perimeter path is nearly level, and the interior of the park has grass-covered hills dotted with shrubs and a modest number of trees, as well as quite a few walking paths. Although there are several small structures that undoubtedly relate to the former landfill status, they do not detract from the park experience: an urban park, but on the edge of the San Francisco Bay.

image of view of Bedwell Bayfront Park

View of Bedwell Bayfront Park

Initially I was surprised to find these Bermuda buttercups (Oxalis pes-caprae) already in bloom in late January – a bit early for wildflowers, even in California. When I did some more research I learned that this type of oxalis has a blooming period of December through June, so it was actually in season. I also learned that it is a non-native and is considered by some to be invasive. I am slowly learning that many introduced wildflowers, trees, and other species were introduced in the first place due to their beauty.

image of Bermuda buttercup

Bermuda buttercup

The park is surrounded on the west, north, and east sides by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Near the cutout at the northwest corner of the park’s rectangle there is a small pond where I found a few shorebirds, including these black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus). Even though they have disproportionately long legs, they evidently feed in water that is deep enough to get their belly feathers damp.

image of black-necked stilts

Black-necked stilts

Farther along there were more stilts, along with American avocets (Recurvirostra americana), in a tidal pond. Note the long, upturned bill that is a distinctive characteristic of avocets. I was also interested to note the mud on their feet and lower legs.

image of American avocets

American avocets

All around the park I encountered park users, including families with young children, joggers, dog walkers, and even an apparent boxer practicing footwork and quick moves with a view of the Bay. From the east side of the park you can see buildings that are part of the Facebook Headquarters campus, as well as the Dumbarton Bridge, Mt Diablo, Mission Peak, and so on.

Near the southeast corner there is signage advising park users to remain on the paths, as they pass close to several small mounds that are nesting areas for burrowing owls, a Species of Concern in California.

As I walked around the park, occasionally a commercial airplane flew overhead, most likely on approach to San Francisco Airport. I also noted a few estivating snails on rush-like plants; estivation is a state of dormancy similar to hibernation.

Next to the west side of the park there is a narrow slough, where I found several types of waterfowl. One was American widgeons (Mareca Americana), mostly standing on the dry mud on the far side of the slough. Distinctive features include smaller size than other ducks in the area, as well as the green patch on the head (for males), light blue bill with black tip, and white patch on the wing.

image of American widgeons

American widgeons

There were also several greater scaups (Aythya marila) with green head, black chest, white underside, light blue bill, and yellow eye.

image of greater scaup

Greater scaup

The somewhat similar canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) have lighter backs, brown heads, and dark bills. I also saw several shovelers, which have especially distinctive, almost spoon-like, bills. If you can get a good enough view to pick out the colors and shapes of these body parts, it can be surprisingly straightforward to identify many species of duck.

image of canvasback


After completing my circumnavigation of the perimeter trail I started up the Great Spirit Path to view its impressive rock sculpture. The sculpture was created between 1981 and 1985 in two stages, using nearly 900 natural rocks obtained from a quarry in Sonoma and from a meadow near the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The individual sculptures are based on American Indian pictographs and depict words and phrases in a poem written by the creator of the sculptures. There are 53 sculptures along a ¾-mile path, forming the largest sculpture of its kind in the world. There is a sign with each one, including a diagram of the sculpture and the word or words in the poem that it depicts.

With the welcome rains of recent months, many of the sculptures are surrounded by grass, in some cases now growing between rocks that had been placed quite close together, or in other cases starting to obscure some of the smaller rocks. This picture shows the 7th sculpture, which represents the phrase “with glad heart.” Interpretive guide brochures are available at the major access points to the path and contain the full text of the poem as well as diagrams of all of the sculptures.

image of Great Spirit Path sculpture: “with glad heart”

Great Spirit Path sculpture: “with glad heart”

Near this sculpture I ran across quite a few brilliant flowering plants, called treasure flower (Gazania linearis). Like the oxalis seen earlier in my walk, it is an introduced species considered to be invasive.

image of collection of brilliantly-colored treasure flowers

Collection of brilliantly-colored treasure flowers

The Great Spirit Path climbs fairly quickly up to about 70 feet elevation in the interior of the park, and then continues gently up and down over small hills and undulations. The only individual sculpture I did not view up close was the one representing the phrase “rest here” – as I began to approach I noticed that a couple had stopped there for a brief rest break and it seemed rude to approach any closer.

In this view I show the sculpture representing the word “down.” In the background there is a partial view of the park with a couple of the many trails.

image of Great Spirit Path sculpture: “down”

Great Spirit Path sculpture: “down”

The sculptures associated with the last few lines of the poem are more complex and lead to the last two: “reaching out with supplication” “to the Great Spirit everywhere.” The latter is quite large, over 100 feet in diameter I think, with 3 concentric arcs of rocks and a central cross-like structure. It was a special experience to sense that the poem was reaching a climax and then to arrive at the last sculpture, which is quite spectacular.

Since the end of the Great Spirit Path is almost at the east side of the park, I continued to the northeast corner to a location marked on the park map as a vista point. Even before I arrived at the vista point, as I climbed a slight hill I had a nice view of the Dumbarton Bridge between some trees.

image of Dumbarton Bridge viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

Dumbarton Bridge viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

From the vista point I could see the Dumbarton Bridge still, across mud flats, as well as Mt Umunhum, Mission Peak, Mt Diablo, the San Mateo Bridge, and Mt Tamalpais in Marin County. After enjoying the views I returned to the trailhead by a different path.

Although not a large park, Bedwell Bayfront Park is a pleasant place to go for a short, relatively relaxed hike.

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Cross-country skiing at Tahoe Donner XC to Drifter Hut

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Recently I went cross-country skiing at the Tahoe Donner cross-country (TDXC) ski area in Truckee, California, for the first time in three years. Usually I get out at least a few times per season, but the last few years have been very difficult due to the ongoing drought. In fact, in the 2014-15 season TDXC barely was able to open for only a few days due to nonexistent snow. This season the snow seems quite plentiful, though I don’t know that the amounts are appreciably above average: we just haven’t enjoyed even an average year recently.

I often tend to climb up for views when the weather is clear, as it was this day. At Tahoe Donner that often means going up Hawk’s Peak, which I’ve done many times via showshoe or by hiking. This time I decided to try my luck with a different destination, one I hadn’t reached previously over snow: a warming hut called Drifter Hut. At an elevation of 7635 feet, it is only about 100 feet lower than Hawk’s Peak.

I should note that the higher trails immediately around the top of Hawk’s Peak were closed due to snow conditions. A few days earlier at least a foot of new snow had fallen after some rain, and the snow on steep terrain was considered unstable. The upper trails would be groomed and opened only after the conditions were safe.

I started at the brand new Alder Creek Adventure Center, which opened a couple of months ago and replaces the old cross-country ski center. It’s located at the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

There are two main areas at the cross-country ski area: the Euer Valley, which is at a lower elevation than the Adventure Center, and the area around Hawk’s Peak, which rises up to 1100 feet above the Adventure Center. To get to Drifter Hut you first climb about half the elevation to Hawk’s Peak, then circle around it on Crazy Horse trail, climbing gradually to a ridge that leads to Drifter Hut. The climb is not quite monotonic, but I thought the grade was quite reasonable: in spite of not having skied in three years, I found that I was able to climb mostly in the groomed tracks.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I followed Rough Rider to Intersection 5, then Big Dipper to Intersection 6 (trails and intersections are marked on the trail map). From Big Dipper I had a nice view roughly northeast toward some distant hills. The snow conditions were nearly perfect, and it seemed like I was the first skier of the day in the tracks.

photo of ski trail with a nice view

Ski trail with a nice view

A short distance farther along there was a break in the trees that afforded a view across part of Tahoe Donner with Prosser Hill at the right.

photo of Tahoe Donner and Prosser Hill

Tahoe Donner and Prosser Hill

Mt Rose’s familiar and distinctive profile was visible on the skyline, almost 20 miles away due east. At 10,709 feet elevation, Mt Rose is the highest peak in the north Lake Tahoe area and the third highest in the Lake Tahoe region.

photo of Mt Rose vista

Mt Rose vista

After climbing Big Dipper I continued up Boot Hill to Intersection 10, shortly after which I reached Crazy Horse, which is a big loop. I went to the left, continuing uphill. After 1½ miles on Crazy Horse I reached Intersection 11. As I paused at the intersection I heard a woodpecker, and then shortly I saw it feeding on insects on a big tree next to the trail. I could clearly see the head, which told me it was a white-headed woodpecker (Dendrocopos albolarvatus), which is relatively common in the area during the winter.

photo of white-headed woodpecker

White-headed woodpecker

At Intersection 11 I left Crazy Horse to head up Drifter. The Drifter trail is rated black diamond, so I really wasn’t sure how much farther I’d be able to go. I just kept climbing, stepping out of the tracks to continue herringbone-style when needed. After barely half a mile on Drifter I reached one final intersection with a trail called Far Side. This trail had not been groomed so, even though there was supposed to be a nice view from the far end, I didn’t even consider the possibility of going out that way. Instead I continued to Drifter Hut, which was only 0.1 mile or so further.

I have previously hiked to Drifter Hut from the Glacier Way trailhead via Donner Ridge, but this was the first time I skied there. From the area around the hut there is a spectacular view of Castle Peak, near Donner Summit on I-80, here viewed across Negro Canyon.

photo of Castle Peak viewed from Drifter Hut

Castle Peak viewed from Drifter Hut

There is an equally spectacular view of the Pacific Crest skyline south of Donner Summit, including Tinker Knob, Anderson Peak, and Mt Lincoln; Donner Peak is out of view to the right. It is amazing and humbling to contemplate the seasonal changes that occur in this beautiful high country: snow-covered peaks in the winter, and wonderful hiking in the summer.

photo of Pacific Crest skyline viewed from Drifter Hut

Pacific Crest skyline viewed from Drifter Hut

After enjoying the views and a quick break I started downhill. Not far from the top of Drifter trail I noticed some heavy snow clumps in nearby trees. This is a great example of what I call fairy trees, with snow nicely contrasting with the evergreen boughs. It was so peaceful being out on the trail with pristine snow surrounding me on the hillsides.

photo of beautiful fairy trees along Drifter trail

Beautiful fairy trees along Drifter trail

After passing the dip and subsequent 100-foot climb on the way down Crazy Horse I paused again to take note of a nice view eastward toward the northern part of the Carson Range. I think the two peaks on the skyline are Ladybug Peak and Verdi Peak, both of which I have summited while hiking. The clouds overhead were exceptionally pretty: I think they are lenticular clouds.

photo of lenticular clouds over peaks of the northern Carson Range

Lenticular clouds over peaks of the northern Carson Range

I must confess that I’m not a fearless downhill cross-country skier: one of my main goals is simply to remain upright. So I negotiated all of the steeper downhill sections in what I refer to as a “death wedge:” basically a pronounced snowplow position without very much speed. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I had received quite a workout involving certain leg and foot muscles! However, the outing was a great way to enjoy perfect snow conditions. I can hardly wait to get back out on the trails.

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San Francisco Bay Trail: Menlo Park

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The San Francisco Bay Trail is a work-in-progress network of trails encircling San Francisco and San Pablo Bays along the shoreline. I am sometimes surprised at how much of the trail is in parks and other recreation-type areas quite literally right along the shoreline. Other parts of the trail are in more urban settings. On much of the trail you are very aware of being in the midst of a large urban area because the signs of that are visible all around.

This was a relatively short hike – about 3.5 miles each way – on an out-and-back route passing through Menlo Park in the southeastern part of San Mateo County. I started at the parking area next to the entrance to Bedwell Bayfront Park, denoted by the orange dot on my GPS track, and turned around at the vista point at the west end of the Dumbarton Bridge.

GPS track

GPS track

The route is on a paved multi-use path next to the Bayfront Expressway (CA-84) and passes the large Facebook corporate headquarters campus en route to the approach to the Dumbarton Bridge. Some of the marshland next to the trail is part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Also, the vista point parking area is an entry point for one of the sections of Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.

There are a couple of dirt paths in Bedwell Bayfront Park but I quickly found the paved multi-use path next to Bayfront Expressway and started out for the bridge, where I planned to turn around due to my afternoon start and limited daylight. On the other side of the path from the expressway there is a narrow slough-type channel that, on the day of my walk, contained water, shore birds, and ducks. Almost immediately I saw a black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) busy feeding. These shore birds are distinctive because of their disproportionately very long, red legs. The white spot is actually above/behind the eye but provides an appearance almost of surprise.

picture of black-necked stilt

Black-necked stilt

There was also a clump of grass that looks similar to what I’ve seen in several other places. It also looks similar to pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata) which, unfortunately, is a non-native species considered by many to be invasive and noxious (because it is so aggressive, crowding out native species).

picture of grass, perhaps pampas grass

Grass, perhaps pampas grass

A bit farther along this narrow water channel there was a pair of shovelers (Spatula clypeata). This is the more colorful male, easily identified by the large spoon-like bill and distinctive coloring.

picture of male shoveler

Male shoveler

The Bayfront Expressway has several intersections with traffic lights between Bedwell Bayfront Park, at Marsh Rd, and University Ave, the last before the Dumbarton Bridge. Just past the light at Chilco St I had this view of the destination for my walk: the Dumbarton Bridge, with a bit of the East Bay Hills in the background across San Francisco Bay.

picture of Dumbarton Bridge, the destination for my walk

Dumbarton Bridge, the destination for my walk

The large headquarters campus of Facebook is located at the end of Willow Rd. Facebook has added whimsical-looking colorful touches to some of the many buildings.

picture of Facebook corporate headquarters buildings

Facebook corporate headquarters buildings

At the Willow Rd intersection the Bay Trail is routed along a sidewalk and tramway that passes underneath Bayfront Expressway. The way is clearly signed with Bay Trail signage – some of the signage is painted right on the surface of the bike/pedestrian path. With the multi-use path now on the south(east) side of CA-84, there are two more major traffic signals to negotiate, one at Willow Rd and one at University Ave. Because the light cycles are very long for traffic on CA-84 I actually did not need to wait, only press the button and then determine that the light remained green for auto traffic.

Directly opposite University Ave is the end of Ravenswood Slough and the boundary of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The highway and multi-use path continue on kind of a levee, just several feet above the water level. As I continued, there were more pockets of open, though shallow, water. I noticed a couple of flocks of small birds that, in unison, flew quickly around the area in an irregular formation, tipping one way and then the other, alternately appearing dark or bright white. I tried to capture a picture showing the white undersides. In 10-15 seconds the flock would weave around the entire ponded area, then land together, and shortly after that the same or another flock would take off and repeat the maneuver. It was fascinating to watch! They were too far away, however, to attempt an identification.

picture of flock of shorebirds flying quickly around a pond area at the edge of San Francisco Bay

Flock of shorebirds flying quickly around a pond area at the edge of San Francisco Bay

Just before a sign announcing Toll Crossing Entrance a small frontage road forks off from the highway. It turns out that it provides access to a couple of trails in Ravenswood Open Space Preserve and the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It can also be the starting point for a walk across the bridge. As the roadway ascends the actual bridge begins.

Right around here I noticed an American egret (Casmerodius albus) in the water, now open bay. The water was getting deeper than the shallow marshlands, so it almost looked like the egret was swimming – except that it is strictly a wading bird.

picture of American egret

American egret

Where the bridge roadway is high enough to accommodate an underpass there is a small parking area for the frontage road, as well as some park signage. This was my turnaround point: a convenient place to return another day to continue across the bridge. Off to the southeast are the remains of a former Southern Pacific Railroad line that crossed the Bay until the 1980’s. The small white structure is part of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct.

picture of former Southern Pacific Railroad bridge and Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct in southern San Francisco Bay

Former Southern Pacific Railroad bridge and Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct in southern San Francisco Bay

As I returned from the turnaround point I noticed, near where I’d previously seen the American egret, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) wading in the bay waters.

picture of great blue heron

Great blue heron

Then I continued to make my way back to Bedwell Bayfront Park. I was a bit more aware of the amount of traffic, as it was now into the afternoon rush hour preceding a holiday weekend. In the water I could see groups of avocets feeding in shallow water, as well as sandpipers on the mud flat areas. I turned around every so often to appreciate views of Mission Peak reflected in the water. After passing the Facebook campus again I could see Mt Diablo, a bit faintly, behind the East Bay Hills.

Although the nominal time for sunset was about 5:15 pm, I began to take note that the actual sunset time – when the sun dipped below the Peninsula’s skyline – would be quite a bit earlier, in terms of walking time. In fact, just as I approached the entrance to Bedwell Bayfront Park at 4:50 pm, the sun actually set behind some cloud cover.

picture of sunset viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

Sunset viewed from Bedwell Bayfront Park

I wanted to see how far the multi-use path continued beyond the point where I had joined it, so I continued toward the entrance roadway, where I found an End Recreational Trail sign. Near the sign I noticed a starkly white bicycle chained to the support structure for a pedestrian control sign. I was a bit startled because the entire bicycle, including saddle and tires, was covered in white paint; also the bicycle didn’t have fenders. I kind of wonder if it is a mini-exhibit of urban art!

picture of white-painted bicycle chained to a sign post next to Bedwell Bayfront Park

White-painted bicycle chained to a sign post next to Bedwell Bayfront Park

Before leaving the park I explored, by car, part of a circumference road. A paved 2.3-mile multi-use path goes around the outside of the park and there are several dirt paths within the park. I plan to return another time to explore the park – and yet another time to walk across the Dumbarton Bridge. Both of these walks will be on San Francisco Bay Trail.

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Yosemite National Park: A winter wonderland, with a short hike on Lower Yosemite Fall Trail

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A visit to Yosemite National Park* is special at any time of the year, but in winter it can be particularly magical. This was my first visit in several years, and the first in even longer during the winter. The main premise of the trip was an opportunity to ice skate at the seasonal outdoor rink in Curry Village* with a couple of girlfriends. This post describes the entire visit, which included a short hike on the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail.

The dates had been selected some 7 months prior to the trip, when one of my friends found a limited-time sale on hotel rooms in Yosemite Valley and alertly snagged a room at Yosemite Lodge* for two nights. When the reservations were made, of course we had no idea whether there would be any snow at all, either before, during, or shortly after our visit. We found that the park’s Facebook page was a good source of up-to-date information about weather and driving conditions.

As it turned out, the day before our arrival the valley received over a foot of fresh snow, turning everything into a beautiful snowy fairyland. We were fortunate to have the use of a 4 wheel drive vehicle: fortunate since the Park Service required chains on all other types of vehicle. Indeed, most of the park roads were snow-covered when we arrived, and the parking areas had not been fully cleared of snow, making for challenging parking space entry and exit.

Our plan was to drive in on CA-140, the most forgiving access route during the winter. However, two days before the trip it was closed due to a landslide covering a small section of the roadway not far from the El Portal entrance, with an undefined re-opening date. So the best approach was via CA-120, which climbs up to about 6200 feet elevation within the park at Crane Flat.

When we arrived at the Big Oak Flat entrance, at about 4900 feet elevation, we were informed that the road was closed about 9 miles inside the park due to an accident involving a bus and two cars, with an indefinite re-opening time. Since there were no other options to get to the valley, we decided to wait for a while and hope the road re-opened. While we waited we enjoyed the beautiful snow-covered trees. When evergreens have so much snow piled on the boughs I refer to them as “fairyland trees”.

image of so-called fairyland trees near the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park

So-called fairyland trees near the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park

We had set a cut-off time: if the road was not yet open, we would have to retreat to a lower elevation outside the park to find somewhere to stay for the night. Suddenly, after about an hour and a half – and rather close to our cut-off time – we got word that the road was open. It is worth noting that, outside the park boundary, the pavement was fully clear of snow, and inside the park the road was covered with snow. So, even with 4 wheel drive, I proceeded carefully. Although the road had been plowed multiple times, with nice clean edge cuts, the snow banks on either side were fairly high. This view is not far from Crane Flat.

image of snow banks lining Big Oak Flat Rd (CA-120)

Snow banks lining Big Oak Flat Rd (CA-120)

Due to the wait and slower than normal driving speed, it was after 4:30 pm when we reached the floor of Yosemite Valley and the junction with CA-140. The valley itself was already in twilight, as the sun had set behind the surrounding cliffs about an hour earlier. A magical combination of residual clouds from the recent storm and rising moisture from the valley floor resulted in beautiful wisps of mist floating around the granite valley walls. Although we saw Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan as we drove by, we knew we would return the next day – hopefully in sunlight.

image of twilight mist in Yosemite Valley

Twilight mist in Yosemite Valley

After we got checked in and carried our luggage to our room, we went over to the skating rink to find out whether it would be open for the planned evening skating session. We found that only about half the ice surface had been cleared of snow – this is done using a snow-blower – so a skating session was out of the question.

The next morning we looked out our window to see sunshine beginning to appear high above us at the top of the valley wall. Outside the cafeteria where we had breakfast there was an entire family of snow people, including an adult, two children, what appeared to be a dog and a cat, and one more very small figure. I was impressed that the adult had been outfitted with a snowy knit cap!

image of snow person grouping near Yosemite Lodge*

Snow person grouping near Yosemite Lodge*

After a leisurely breakfast we embarked on a short hike on a loop trail to Lower Yosemite Fall. The GPS track shows an overview of our walk, which included the loop trail and a subsequent jaunt over to nearby Yosemite Village. The entire walk was about 2.5 miles, with only a nominal (<50 feet) elevation gain. The orange dot on the GPS track shows where we started walking, just outside our room.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail is well-designed to showcase Yosemite Falls: both Upper Yosemite Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall. (Note the traditional use of Fall for a single waterfall and Falls for multiple falls.) The upper fall is 1430 feet high, the lower fall is 320 feet high, and between are the 675-foot-high Middle Cascades. The total height of Yosemite Falls is 2425 feet, the tallest in the United States and 5th tallest in the world. In the summer, after the entire seasonal snowfall has melted in the 50 square mile watershed of Yosemite Creek, the Falls dry up until the water flow resumes the next season. In the winter, as the creek tumbles over the cliff it freezes; we could hear sounds that we thought were ice crashing down the cliff side, as described in an interpretive sign.

image of Yosemite Falls viewed between majestic trees lining the trail

Yosemite Falls viewed between majestic trees lining the trail

About 0.4 mile from the trailhead and up a slight climb there is a wonderful viewpoint for Lower Yosemite Fall. Nearby there is a bridge that crosses Yosemite Creek. In the spring, at the height of the water flow, mist from the lower fall creates a shower even at the bridge, perhaps 100 meters from the fall itself.

image of Lower Yosemite Fall

Lower Yosemite Fall

We continued around the loop, with glimpses through the trees of Half Dome and other sights high up the valley walls. Near the end of the loop, as we walked along Northside Drive, I noted tall piles of snow on the tops of fence posts, one indication of the amount of snowfall in the most recent storm.

image of snow piles on top of fence posts

Snow piles on top of fence posts

Between Northside Drive and Southside Drive, across from the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, there is an open meadow. Quite a few people were out in the meadow walking around, building snowmen, and taking pictures of Half Dome. Except for a single interesting-looking tree, the view was unobstructed.

image of Half Dome viewed from the meadow near Yosemite Falls

Half Dome viewed from the meadow near Yosemite Falls

After walking to Yosemite Village and having lunch, we took the Yosemite Valley Shuttle back to our room and embarked on a driving tour, so we could see more sights and enjoy the bright day. Not far from Curry Village* the park road passes another meadow, where there was a slightly different view of Half Dome.

image of Half Dome viewed from the meadow near Curry Village*

Half Dome viewed from the meadow near Curry Village*

Across the meadow there was a nice view of North Dome, still illuminated by sunlight while the meadow itself was already in shadow at 3:15 pm. A bit of mist hovered over the meadow, where park visitors played in the snow and built snow men. (There is one directly below North Dome, almost hidden by the mist.)

image of snow-capped North Dome

Snow-capped North Dome

I noticed a couple of youngsters delightedly making snow angels in the meadow.

image of snow angels in the making

Snow angels in the making

In this view Half Dome, like North Dome, is bathed in sunlight while mist floats over the meadow below. This picture does not do full justice to the beautiful view and the contrast and interplay between sunlight and shadow. Note, also, the coloration that looks remarkably like a human face.

image of Half Dome above the meadow

Half Dome above the meadow

Next we headed west, following the signs for valley exits, along Northside Drive, to look at that part of the valley. There is a section posted “No stopping next ½ mile,” where there are several car-size boulders across the road from the rock face. You would not want to be in the way when one of them came crashing down from above! I think this section is below the Three Brothers. After rounding a curve there are beautiful views approaching El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world. Its top is over 3000 feet above the valley floor, and its sides just go straight up.

image of El Capitan viewed from the east

El Capitan viewed from the east

There is a nice view to the south, across the valley and between tall trees, toward Cathedral Rocks.

image of Cathedral Rocks

Cathedral Rocks

Near the junction where CA-140 and CA-120 enter the valley there is a large pullout known as Valley View. From here there is a beautiful, peaceful view of the Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is at the left and Cathedral Rocks are at the right, both overlooking the Merced River. A lovely mist layer floated over the small meadow. A sign near the river’s edge denotes the high water mark for the January 1997 flood. I estimate that the mark is around 15 feet above the current water level, an indication of how widespread the flooding must have been.

image of Yosemite Valley, viewed from Valley View

Yosemite Valley, viewed from Valley View

At the Pohono Bridge we turned left to return through the valley along Southside Drive. A short distance past the junction with Wawona Rd (CA-41) we enjoyed an unobstructed view of El Capitan across the valley.

image of El Capitan viewed from the southwest

El Capitan viewed from the southwest

At the Swinging Bridge picnic area we stopped again to walk closer to the Merced River and enjoy views. Perhaps surprisingly, a family group was having a winter barbecue in the picnic area. In the fresh air the grilling hamburgers smelled really good, and we told them so!

From the picnic area there is a dramatic, head-on view of Upper Yosemite Fall, including the famous ice cone that forms at its base during the winter. The cone looks like it is about 20% of the height of the fall, or nearly 300 feet tall! The maximum documented height of the ice cone is 322 feet.

image of Upper Yosemite Fall viewed from Swinging Bridge picnic area

Upper Yosemite Fall viewed from Swinging Bridge picnic area

In some areas the mist above the Merced River and nearby meadow was especially dramatic.

image of dramatic mist above the Merced River

Dramatic mist above the Merced River

Looking toward the mouth of the valley, to the west, we could see clouds beginning to come in, perhaps a preview of an expected small storm overnight or the following day.

image of clouds at the west end of Yosemite Valley: signal of an approaching storm?

Clouds at the west end of Yosemite Valley: signal of an approaching storm?

As dusk proceeded to fall, we made a brief stop at the historic Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in 1879 as a nondenominational church serving valley residents and visitors.

image of Yosemite Valley Chapel

Yosemite Valley Chapel

After dinner we packed up our skating gear and headed over to the skating rink once again, hopeful that the evening skating session would take place. We found a staff person driving the Zamboni around the rink, alternately doing dry cuts and dumping the scraped shavings outside the rink. Alas, to truly smooth out the ice surface after the snowfall required a couple of hours of resurfacing. We watched for nearly an hour, chatting with other hopeful skaters, before returning to our room.

With no new overnight precipitation, we went back to the ice rink again for the 8:30 am session. The third time was the charm, and we were able to experience outdoor skating in a spectacular setting, with views of Half Dome and Glacier Point.

image of posing on the ice rink in front of Half Dome

Posing on the ice rink in front of Half Dome

The session wasn’t too busy, and we especially enjoyed watching this father-daughter pair practicing edges and turns down the center of the ice, sometimes in unison and sometimes in mirror paths.

image of skaters at the ice rink

Skaters at the ice rink

After skating we checked out of our room, drove to The Ahwahnee Hotel,* and went inside to admire the dining hall and lounge. What a spectacular building and setting! After a quick lunch we decided to make yet another loop around the valley before departing. By early afternoon the clouds we’d seen the previous afternoon began to intensify, and mist seemed to be everywhere. At the west end of the valley we stopped once again to view El Capitan across the valley through the mist, from the same location visited the previous afternoon (see above) – a simple example of how this beautiful place can change with weather.

image of El Capitan through some mist

El Capitan through some mist

On the way toward the valley exit there is a pullout at just the right place for a view of Bridalveil Fall across the valley. In most places the fall is obscured by trees, but here there are a couple of spots with just enough of a gap between the trees to allow a clear view of this beautiful waterfall.

image of Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall

Finally it was time to follow the signs for CA-120 and our route home. I had targeted 2:30 pm as a “latest” time to leave the valley and was surprised to note that we passed Pohono Bridge for the last time within 5 minutes of that time. It had been a magical visit, indeed.

*Within days after returning home a press release was issued by the Park Service regarding legal issues over trademarks for some names in Yosemite, reportedly even including the name of the park. I have to say that this is a very sad and unsavory situation. The names in question were clearly in the public domain for many years before the now-outgoing park concessionaire acquired trademarks. I certainly hope that a satisfactory solution can be put into place that involves neither permanent name changes nor holding the National Park Service ransom for ridiculous sums of money to regain exclusive use of names historically in the public domain.

Posted in Mariposa County, Sierras, Tuolumne County, waterfalls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2015 Summary – numbers and experiences

As the year 2016 begins, I want to take a look back at 2015 and a look forward to 2016. This retrospective and prospective follows annual summaries for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Each year is different and has special highlights.

My 2014 summary included a look forward to 2015. In light of what I actually did and experienced in 2015, last year’s prospective turned out to be an excellent preview:

I plan another overseas hiking adventure, along with friends in the Tahoe Donner Hiking Club. We’ll hike for 9 days in the Dolomites (in Italy) followed by another week in the Julian Alps (in Slovenia). I am busy planning other exciting adventures for before and/or after the hikes. I will be planning some steep hikes as training, hopefully including more new-for-me segments of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail challenges of 2014 were great ways to explore parks and open spaces, and I hope to be able to do 2 or 3 challenges again in 2015. Each organization selects different trail segments to highlight each year, so these will definitely not be simple repeats. And the Bay Area Ridge Trail is expected to expand by 20 miles in 2015; I’ll plan to hike these additional segments as they are formally dedicated. My plans for walking events are currently undecided while I sort out hiking plans and other special events, but I’ll at least do Bay to Breakers again and I’m sure a few other timed walking events will be added. Last but not least, I hope to stay healthy and injury-free, and I do what I can pro-actively to support that goal.

Stats: With that preview in mind, I start my summary of 2015 with a look at the numbers. As usual, the activities I summarize are those I track by recording GPS data. This means my hiking and fitness walking-type activities, but I don’t try to track distance or steps for other day-to-day activities like running errands or walking around the house/office. Besides carrying my GPS, I also usually carry a pedometer during fitness walks; when I’ve not carried a pedometer I estimate my steps based on the terrain and my experience. Occasionally I wear a pedometer for a hike, and that helps me to estimate steps for that type of terrain.

I separate my activities into these main categories: hikes, training walks, and rehab walks. I am very pleased that, once again, 2015 was injury-free, so there aren’t any rehab miles that need to be included in my summary. My training walks are generally nonstop and fairly brisk, so if I walk slower than usual (e.g. if I’m walking with a friend) or stop for photos, I classify the walk as a hike. Usually, though, I wear running shoes for a training walk and trail shoes or hiking boots for a hike.

A 2015 goal that I didn’t mention at the beginning of the year – partly because I hadn’t thought of it yet and, in any case, I decided to keep it very quiet and informal – was to walk/hike 2015 total miles of GPS-tracked activities. Based on my 2014 total of just over 1700 miles, this was a very ambitious goal indeed. The summary table shows, though, that I did achieve it! Besides improved overall conditioning, the primary consequence was probably my weight: during the training leading up to my Alpine trekking adventure I lost 8 pounds, leaving me at 97 pounds the day before I began the trip. Fortunately I have re-gained essentially all of the weight: I’m naturally slender, but I didn’t need to be that light!

stats - 2015 summary

Here is a comparison of some totals over the last 5 years. Note that 2011 was the year in which I broke my hip in late October, and consequently I spent 2 months of 2011 and 4+ months of 2012 in rehab. Even though I only spent about 5 days completely off my feet at the time of my hip fracture, it should be no surprise that I’m able to walk and hike more when I’m injury-free.

stats - 2015 comparison

In a way it’s difficult to put into perspective 2,081 miles, or 219,000 vertical feet (that’s over 41 miles, and of course I descended a roughly equal amount), or over 4.5 million steps. My stats were pretty comparable for 2013 and 2014, so that might be my “natural” good-health baseline. I certainly ramped up my training during the spring and summer months, but a closer look at month-by-month totals shows that my mileage was higher in 2015 for every month except August (my Irish Dream Adventure in 2014) and December (when I decided to see if I could hit 1700 miles in 2014, and I consciously tapered off in 2015). Not surprisingly, the additional miles in 2015 were predominantly hiking rather than fitness walks. Compared to 2014, my 2015 mileage was about 22% higher and my step count was about 24% higher, the latter reflecting a greater proportion of hiking miles, where my stride is naturally shorter. My elevation gain was a whopping 65% higher, reflecting the increases in total and hiking mileage, moderately steeper hikes, and a greater number of hilly training walks.

For the first time since 2008, I did not enter – or therefore complete – a single half marathon timed event in 2015.

Although this summary includes tables of numbers, I also want to mention several highlights for the year. After all, the journey is really much more than numbers!

Hiking: From a hiking – and fitness – perspective, the highlight of 2015 was my Alpine trekking adventure in the Italian Dolomites and Julian Alps (Slovenia), with additional adventures in Cinque Terre and Croatia. As I write this summary I have not yet written posts about most of this trip, but it was an amazing experience. The training was hard work, and some of the hikes were, too. But the training definitely paid off, in terms of the beautiful scenery, new experiences, and a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.

picture of dawn view from my room at Rifugio Lagazuoi (elev 9000 ft) in the Dolomites

Dawn view from my room at Rifugio Lagazuoi (elev 9000 ft) in the Dolomites

picture of view of the Julian Alps in Slovenia

View of the Julian Alps in Slovenia

picture of myriad of waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Myriad of waterfalls in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

I started this blog as a way to chronicle my adventures hiking the Bay Area Ridge Trail. In 2014 I was proud to complete my circumnavigation of the then-dedicated segments, totaling about 350 trail miles. For 2015 one of my goals was to hike the newly dedicated segments. I hiked two new segments on their dedication days – honored that I could help to plan one of the dedication ceremonies – and two others shortly after their dedications. A couple of short segments – under a mile each, I think – remain on my To-Do list for 2016. Two notable hikes on the Ridge Trail were fund raisers: I did the 20-mile version of Ridge to Bridge as a participant and the 27-mile version of the Ridge Trail Cruz as a volunteer hike sweep. The latter hike was my longest of the year, probably my longest ever. At almost 29 miles it was even longer than my longest training walk for a marathon!

picture of Bay view from a new segment of Bay Area Ridge Trail along Walpert Ridge, Garin Regional Park

Bay view from a new segment of Bay Area Ridge Trail along Walpert Ridge, Garin Regional Park

A second, shorter, trip outside the US involved attending the 2015 World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ontario. While I was there I was fortunate to hike a segment of the Bruce Trail and to visit several beautiful waterfalls in the area.

picture of Tews Falls along the Bruce Trail, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Tews Falls along the Bruce Trail, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

For 2015 I signed up for two trail challenges: one on the Tahoe Rim Trail and one sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District. I completed both challenges, each consisting of 5 or 6 hikes on associated trails. I also enjoyed several hikes on new-for-me segments of the Pacific Crest Trail, where I have an ongoing “project” to attempt to hike all 270 miles of Sections J through M between Sonora Pass and Belden. I am about 60% of the way there. Note that the portion I’m attempting to hike is only about 10% of the entire PCT.

picture of mariposa lilies along the Pacific Crest Trail near Tinker Knob

Mariposa lilies along the Pacific Crest Trail near Tinker Knob

During 2015 I completed three multi-segment hikes or trails, each with special interests or challenges. The first was a 61-mile trek, spaced out over nearly 2½ years, from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, hiked with several of my skating friends. We called the trek Edge to Edge, and I completed the last segment in June with a ceremonial finger-dip into the ocean.

picture approaching the Pacific Ocean near the end of a 61-mile trek

Approaching the Pacific Ocean near the end of a 61-mile trek

The second was the 40-mile Military Ridge Trail in Wisconsin. This was another multi-year trek, spanning 3 years. I visit my brother every July to attend a long-standing family reunion, including a few hikes in each visit.

picture of farm along the Military Ridge Trail, Wisconsin

Farm along the Military Ridge Trail, Wisconsin

A third multi-segment trail completed during 2015 was the Ohlone Wilderness Trail in the Bay Area. This trail is only 30 miles long, but the eastern 20 miles has no additional trailheads, necessitating a 20-mile hike through the extensive wilderness area. I hiked this entire trail in 2015.

picture of view from the Ohlone Wilderness Trail

View from the Ohlone Wilderness Trail

In 2014 I added new categories for birding walks and wildflower walks. Focusing on bird and wildflower sightings, especially when they are numerous, adds a new dimension to some of my hikes. A highlight in 2015 was seeing a pair of endangered whooping cranes while visiting Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin with my brother.

picture of pair of endangered whooping cranes in Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

Pair of endangered whooping cranes in Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin

In spite of the ongoing drought in California, I found the wildflowers to be numerous and spectacular. I think that any type of wildflower that does well in lower-moisture conditions had a great blooming season in 2015.

picture of beautiful lupines lining a trail near Winnemucca Lake in the Sierras

Beautiful lupines lining a trail near Winnemucca Lake in the Sierras

In the Dolomites I saw many wildflowers but just a single edelweiss, a protected plant nearly everywhere it is found in the Alps.

picture of edelweiss near Rifugio Tissi in the Dolomites

Edelweiss near Rifugio Tissi in the Dolomites

Although technically neither bird nor flora, I happened to encounter something like 5 tarantulas during Fall hikes. Here is one, right on the trail, in Alum Rock Park, San Jose. The extent of its legs is bigger than my fist.

picture of tarantula on the prowl, Alum Rock Park, San Jose

Tarantula on the prowl, Alum Rock Park, San Jose

Fitness walking: For the first time since I did my first half marathon in 2008, I did not enter any half marathons in 2015. I had decided to focus my summer training, preparing for the Dolomites trip, on strength and endurance rather than speed. In fact, I modified several outings that normally would have been regular training walks: modified by carrying a pack loaded up to my planned trekking pack weight. Because I returned from Europe a scant 48 hours prior to my local San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon I decided to only attempt the 10k distance. In spite of my unconventional training, I missed a new personal record (PR) by only 15 seconds! I also completed Bay to Breakers (12k) and a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot (10k). Most of my fitness walking is just that, with distances from 3 or 4 to 14 miles. I like to think that I maintain my base fitness level such that, pretty much any time I like, I can go out and complete a half marathon distance, 13.1 miles – certainly not at race pace, but without getting notably sore afterward.

Preview of 2016: While I’ll enjoy many hikes with the Tahoe Donner Hiking Club, our next overseas hiking adventure isn’t until early 2017 – in the southern hemisphere, where it will be summer. In fact, the heavy training for that will be at the end of the Sierra hiking season, providing a bit of extra challenge. Group hikes on several more segments of the Pacific Crest Trail are already being planned. I plan to sign up for the Tahoe Rim Trail and East Bay Regional Park District trail challenges again. Also, once again the Bay Area Ridge Trail is expected to add as many as 15 miles, and it is always nice to hike new trail as soon as it is dedicated. I have a number of ongoing hiking projects: for example, hike a trail in each of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s open spaces, or a trail in each of the East Bay Regional Park District’s parks, or all of the hikes in one of my hiking books, find a certain type of mariposa lily or other special wildflower, and so on. As for walking events, I have already signed up for the 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose half marathon, as well as Bay to Breakers. Because I’m doing the half marathon, I may add a couple more timed events during the spring/summer season. Run the Edge, which offered a “2015 miles in 2015” challenge for 2015, has already announced a “2016 miles in 2016” challenge. At this point I’m not sure whether I will try, even informally, to cover quite so many miles. Of course, in order to accomplish any of these goals I hope to stay healthy and injury-free. And that means continuing to do what I can pro-actively do to support my health.

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Bay Area Ridge Trail: North Garin to Garin Regional Park along Walpert Ridge

stats box

Recently a new segment of Bay Area Ridge Trail opened in the East Bay Hills above the Union City – Hayward area of Alameda County. The new trail extends the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail from its previous ending point at the south end of North Garin Regional Park along Walpert Ridge to the eastern edge of the adjacent Dry Creek Pioneer and Garin Regional Parks.

Because the newly dedicated section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail does not directly connect to a trailhead, it is necessary to hike to it from one end or the other. I had previously hiked the adjacent section of Bay Area Ridge Trail to the south end of North Garin Regional Park, and the nearest trailhead in that directon (in Don Castro Regional Recreation Area) is about 5 miles from the northwest end of the new section. The trailhead closest to the southeast end of the new section is the main trailhead in Garin Regional Park, where I have also hiked, and it is 3.1 miles to the beginning of the new section. I decided to begin my out-and-back hike at the main Garin Regional Park trailhead, denoted by the orange dot on my GPS track. The new section of trail is 3.4 miles long, according to my GPS mileage.

GPS track

GPS track

From the Visitor Center at the Garin Ave entrance to Garin Regional Park, the shortest path to the new Ridge Trail section is directly up High Ridge Loop Trail. As soon as you pass through the gate near the picnic area, you see the trail winding its way up the open, grassy hills. Due to good early season rains, the hills were already turning green.

photo of High Ridge Loop Trail winding upward

High Ridge Loop Trail winding upward

The grade up the hill is reasonable, though certainly noticeable: the trail climbs about 650 feet in 1.25 miles (10% grade). After that the grade lessens a bit, but continues upward. On the elevation profile the new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail begins where the trail gets to 1400 feet elevation, with nearly the next 3 miles running along Walpert Ridge.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

About 1.7 miles from the trailhead there is a well-marked junction with a new Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park trail, Whipsnake Trail. This is signed as an access trail to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, since it can also be reached by hiking from the other end of the High Ridge Loop Trail, at the entrance to Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. (These trails are not marked in my GPS software, but they are on the park maps. Well, the Whipsnake Trail is so new it’s not yet on the printed park maps, but I’m sure it soon will be!)

Along Whipsnake Trail I noticed a few cage-like structures, like this one. I wondered if they are intended for trapping coyotes, as the opening is much too small for the seasonally grazing cattle. Later in the afternoon (see below) I did see a coyote in this area.

photo of cage along Whipsake Trail

Cage along Whipsake Trail

After about 1.4 miles on Whipsnake Trail there is a modest sign marking the continuation of Whipsnake Trail. This almost-invisible junction marks where it is hoped that the Bay Area Ridge Trail will continue, generally toward Vargas Plateau. About 0.5 mile later, at another gate near two water tanks, the trail enters a different parcel of Garin Regional Park and the signage changes to the Chabot-to-Garin Regional Trail.

For the next 1.3 miles the trail passes nearly seamlessly in and out of the park and the Stonebrae Country Club. An indication that you are near the golf course property is the appearance of a golf cart path; the trail itself becomes paved, and there may even be golf carts. These golf carts seemed to have a wonderful view of the San Francisco Bay – or at least their drivers and passengers did!

photo of golf carts near the Bay Area Ridge Trail

Golf carts near the Bay Area Ridge Trail

Just a little bit farther along, there is a nice view of Mt Diablo, about 15 miles away due north, as well as the distinctive skyline of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness.

photo of Mt Diablo

Mt Diablo

After passing the Stonebrae clubhouse signage directs Bay Area Ridge Trail users to a section of the golf cart path. I have walked on many different types of shared multi-use trail surfaces on the Bay Area Ridge Trail and elsewhere, but I think this is the first golf cart path. I did note a pair of black-tailed deer on a fairway to the left; after checking me out, they quickly bounded across the path and off to a wooded area to my right.

photo of Black-tailed deer bounding across the Stonebrae Country Club golf cart path

Black-tailed deer bounding across the Stonebrae Country Club golf cart path

In this area I noticed a few flowering shrubs and what I think may be one of several types of golden aster (Heterotheca sessiliflora). Note that there are relatively few wildflowers and shrubs that bloom at this time of year, even in the relatively temperate Bay Area.

photo of golden aster, I think

Golden aster, I think

About 4.9 miles from the trailhead the Bay Area Ridge Trail leaves the golf cart path and climbs a nearby hill that is topped with a communication tower complex, where the trail goes around the east side of a fenced enclosure. This is the highest point along the section of Bay Area Ridge Trail. From the hilltop there are pretty views of nearby hills, including Sunol Ridge just a few miles to the east. I noted with interest the piles of rocks seen in the foreground. They seemed too regular to be of natural origin, and I wondered if they were a result of clearing off the hilltop for the communication tower complex.

photo of view toward Sunol Ridge

View toward Sunol Ridge

There was also a nice, albeit hazy, view of downtown San Francisco, 20 miles away and almost due west across San Leandro, Alameda, and the San Francisco Bay.

photo of San Francisco viewed from Walpert Ridge

San Francisco viewed from Walpert Ridge

The views in one direction into parkland open spaces and in another direction across cities were occasionally punctuated by airplanes flying overhead on approach to Oakland International Airport. Farther along Walpert Ridge, a look behind, again toward Sunol Ridge, showed one of several small buildings I noticed during my hike. I don’t know what they are, but they seem positioned to be fire lookouts – other than being too close together.

photo of Sunol Ridge with a small structure on the ridgetop

Sunol Ridge with a small structure on the ridgetop

After the communication tower complex the trail descends about 300 feet with an 8% grade and, 6.5 miles from the trailhead, reaches the gate that was the southeastern end point of my previous Ridge Trail hike. I continued past the gate for about 0.2 mile, looking for a place to sit down and take a break. Eventually I decided to stop here, where there were suitable rocks for sitting. In this view the communication tower is visible in the right background. As I took a short break I enjoyed another view of the Bay and downtown San Francisco. I even could – barely – make out Mt Tamalpais to the right of the city skyline, but it was too hazy to show in any of my photos.

photo of nice seating location for a lunch break

Nice seating location for a lunch break

After my break I started back to the trailhead. As I approached the golf course clubhouse I was somewhat amused to note quite a bit of Saturday afternoon activity at the driving range.

photo of Stonebrae Country Club driving range

Stonebrae Country Club driving range

As I approached the southeastern end of this new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail, once again on the Whipsnake Trail, I noticed that the sun was reflecting brightly off the surface of the Bay. The feeling was that of late afternoon, even though it was only 2pm!

photo of afternoon sunlight reflecting from San Francisco Bay

Afternoon sunlight reflecting from San Francisco Bay

Near the bottom end of Whipsnake Trail, as I approached a small rise I noticed an animal in the trail ahead of me: a coyote, checking me out as carefully as I checked it out. After what seemed like a long stare-down it moved into the grassland to my left.

photo of coyote sighting on Whipsnake Trail

Coyote sighting on Whipsnake Trail

Of course I kept an eye on it as I cautiously continued forward. It circled into the grassland, climbing a small rock pile and stopping to once again check me out. Once we were well past each other, it continued its arc and again crossed the trail into the grassland.

About 1 mile further, again on High Ridge Loop Trail in Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park, I noted a pretty, white wildflower. I’m pretty sure it is hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta), still in bloom several weeks after its normal blooming season ends in October. I’m noting it here partly because it is always a delight to discover wildflowers blooming in what I consider to be the off-season.

photo of hayfield tarweed

Hayfield tarweed

Finally, after crossing back into Garin Regional Park, I noticed a western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) perched in some brush and nicely illuminated by the sun.

photo of western scrub jay

Western scrub jay

Although the air was a bit hazy for some of the distant views that can be seen from Walpert Ridge, both the weather and the hike were very good. I find it exhilarating to hike along ridge-tops with beautiful views in all directions. It is also notable that the dedication of this new section of Bay Area Ridge Trail means that the East Bay hosts a continuous section some 45 miles long beginning at Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area in El Sobrante. This is the second longest continuous section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and I look forward to its future further extension.

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