Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm not ready for some football, how 'bout you?

Ridge Trail, Castle Rock State Park
About a week ago as I pushed a quarter into a SF parking meter, I noticed a message on the display screen: "Welcome to Superbowl 50." I may have shrieked; I wasn't ready for this. Here in the City, folks who work and/or live downtown are fuming about traffic delays and security checkpoints. Luckily I don't go downtown often and I can avoid the chaos. But things are likely to get super crowded leading up to the big game in Santa Clara. How can you avoid the insanity on Superbowl Sunday?

Those of you in the North Bay -- stay in the North Bay. This is a great opportunity to explore parks and preserves in Sonoma and Napa. Sugarloaf, Mount St. Helena, North Sonoma Mountain, Annadel, and Jack London all are great choices.

East Bay, I'm picturing you on quiet back roads, traveling to Mount Diablo, Round Valley, Chabot, Del Valle, or Sunol.
View from North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park

Peninsula hikers -- you know the freeways? Avoid them. Take surface streets and county roads away from Santa Clara, to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Windy Hill, Long Ridge, Portola Redwoods, or Castle Rock.

South Bay peeps -- shelter in place? Maybe. Or get up and at them early and head south away from Santa Clara, to Grant, Henry Coe, Sierra Azul, Uvas, or Calero.
Batteries to Bluffs Trail in San Francisco

San Franciscans? I plan to stay off the roads completely, or maybe take a little trip somewhere in the City, like Mount Sutro, Batteries to Bluffs, or Lands End. If coerced I might consider driving a few miles to a destination such as the Headlands, San Bruno Mountain, or Montara Mountain.

Timing is sure to be important. I would suggest leaving early and planning your return trip to happen during the Superbowl (it starts at 3:30). Stay safe and sane!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Muir Woods Problem

Leaves in Redwood Creek, November 2013
Last week I read an excellent Bay Nature article describing the changes coming to Muir Woods in 2017. A new reservations system will limit the number of visitors to the main park trailhead -- which effectively means no spur of the moment visits will be allowed.

All week the news swirled around my brain and my feelings about it were about as clouded as a foggy San Francisco summer day. Then over the weekend, I read Summer Brennan's outstanding book The Oyster War. About the Drakes Bay Oyster Company conflict Brennan writes: "...it was about loss and the seeping panic we feel about that loss." Those words made my confusion drift away and sharpened my thoughts. The Muir Woods Problem is an impossible conundrum and that makes me feel sad.

Muir Woods drew over a million visitors last year, and there is no doubt that redwood lovers from far and wide are a boon to the local economy. But there are just too many people cramming into the park.
How can overcrowding be managed? There is no space for a larger parking lot, and parking along Muir Woods Road increases the possibility of damaging nearby Redwood Creek. Locals turned down proposed satellite parking lots, and I can't say I blame them. Many people already arrive by private bus. The roads into the canyon certainly can not support larger buses. The Muir Woods Shuttle is an option, but there is no true public transportation available into the national monument.

Today most visitors drive to the parking lot, pay their $10, go for a short walk on the paved trail, then leave. Do visits of this nature "count" in the same manner as day-long hikes through Muir Woods (and beyond)? It is not possible to quantify a nature experience (although it is tempting when you rub shoulders with perfumed visitors wielding selfie sticks).

There are other redwood groves in the bay area (some just miles from Muir Woods), and there are ways to circumvent the crowds, fees, and restrictions (for years I have hiked into Muir Woods from Mountain Home). Still, Muir Woods is a special place and should be accessible to locals as well as those traveling from all over the world.

When my son was just over a year old, his adult cousin came into town and wanted to see Muir Woods. After a lovely afternoon, we began to walk back to the car. My son insisted on toddling along the path, where he found a fallen maple leaf. He picked it up and refused to let it go. I know, it's not acceptable to remove anything from Muir Woods. But there was no reasoning with this boy. He clutched that leaf passionately and later fell asleep in the car still holding it tightly. On a subsequent school trip at age 7, when I showed him the famous giant redwood slice, he bent in and kissed it. Maybe these stories could have unfolded in another park with redwoods. But I am so happy remembering his first visits to Muir Woods; we all should have that chance to open ourselves to nature and joy.

I think the park service is right to enact visitation limits to this pristine bubble. The proposed reservation system will likely improve the Muir Woods experience for all visitors. But at what cost?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Best of 2015

Favorite hikes:

Hazelnut Trail at San Pedro Valley Park
  • Hazelnut Loop, San Pedro Valley County Park, July 30, 2015. Even in a drought year, the coastal scrub of Montara Mountain was green and leafy.
  • Hidden Villa, May 25, 2015. So many flowers, sweeping views, and about a billion lizards.
Hostel Trail at Hidden Villa
  • Edgewood Park and Preserve, May 19, 2015. Although the wildflower display wasn't as dense as "normal," I delighted in the many flowers, including huge mariposa lilies.
Mariposa lily at Edgewood Park and Preserve
  • Fremont Older Open Space Preserve, February 25, 2015. That perfect day when the sun was shining, the grass was emerald green, and all was right with the world.
  • Bon Tempe Loop, Mount Tamalpais, March 18, 2015 (a variation of the description on BAHiker). Mount Tam magic -- wildflowers, wonderful views, and always, surprises (this time it was newts).

Best new (to me) trails/hikes:

Ridge Trail, San Bruno Mountain
  • North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park -- love at first step.
  • Unnamed Trail Center-built path at Sugarloaf Open Space -- what a difference a proper trail makes!
  • El Corte de Madera Creek's Oljon Trail -- everything I want from a woodland trail.
  • Ridge Trail, San Bruno Mountain. I hiked this out and back route (not yet on BAHiker) many times this past year, as my new regular exercise destination. Shocked to learn that the ridge hosts the best wildflower displays on the mountain.


Most improved:



Boardwalk at Tomales Bay State Park

Resolution for 2016:

Hike more! Life threw me some big curve balls this year and I wasn't able to hike as much as I would have liked. I also spend a good hunk of time updating BAHiker (and it's almost done!). Next year I hope to visit loads of new places and add them to BAHiker.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Winter hiking chills and thrills

Raccoon tracks in the snow, 1999
BAHiker Dhananja suggested a blog post for rain-friendly hikes. "I was thinking today of good parks to hike at when it is raining and yet you want to hike. Which parks would you think of, where one can stay relatively dry? Sometimes you are statistically close to a mark - say 995 miles done for the year up to 12/30, and your mind prompts that you MUST hike at least 5 miles on 12/31. And it is going to rain. Then what? Which ones are the better places to go to on such a rainy day?

With autumn ending, it's a timely question, so I'm expanding it into a post about winter hiking.

In my mind you can choose one of two options when it's raining and you want to hike. Pick a preserve with heavy tree cover and try to stay dry, or bundle up in waterproof gear and head for a paved trail.

Veteran hikers know from experience that our local paved trails tend to be on the mild side. Some are long, but few offer enough substantial elevation change to feel like hikes.

Some paved ideas:
Sweeney Ridge -- probably the "hardest" paved trail in the Bay Area
Sawyer Camp -- the southern section is flat but the northern part does have hills. A good place to rack up the miles.
Nimitz Way -- great views in the East Bay
(also Google paved hiking trails San Jose, North Bay, etc for walking destinations)

Dhananja had some very good ideas for forested hikes (comments are mine):
Steep Ravine -- redwoods, waterfall, and hot chocolate before or after in Stinson Beach
Windy Hill -- on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, sheltered somewhat from storms
Fall Creek -- near Felton, but beware of slick CA 9
Castle Rock -- had a fantastic hike in the rain here once, with the forest canopy an aromatic umbrella
Purisima Creek Redwoods -- thick forests of redwoods but a good idea to stick to fire roads

I would add these:
Redwood Regional Park -- a protected redwood canyon with ladybug colonies
Mount Diablo's Donner Canyon -- waterfalls, with often super muddy spots
Robert Louis Stevenson State Park -- it's a long slog to the top so you may as well do it when it's cold
San Bruno Mountain -- hardly any trees to potentially block trails
Cataract Falls -- the prettiest waterfall when it's roaring, pretty even when it's not
San Pedro Valley -- blooming manzanitas and possible salmon spotting
Uvas -- waterfalls in nearly every nook and cranny
Jack London State Park -- sheltered from the storms on the east side of Sonoma Mountain 
North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park -- newly built trails should withstand winter storms
Huddart -- loads of trees on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains
A fallen tree to scramble over at Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, February 2014

I can't stress enough how important planning and research are for winter hikes. After this past Sunday's heavy rain my family and I drove Panoramic Highway in Marin and noted several trees that had fallen across the road and were thankfully already cleared. Storms cause trees to fall and sometimes damage roads, so check traffic conditions before you leave the house. My go to is https://www.chp.ca.gov/traffic (note our communications center is Golden Gate). Once you determine the roads are clear, check the managing agency for your destination. Some agencies also tweet or post on Facebook, updating trail conditions, while others (California State Parks) may only note closures via answering machines at their ranger stations. It's worth calling if you're planning to drive a significant distance. 

When sequential rain storms combine with wind, there are several destinations that get red flags, indicating "do not attempt at this time." Portola Redwoods, tucked in a deep canyon reached by a series of tiny roads, is on this list, as is Big Basin State Park (as Dhananja pointed out: "that drive sucks even on a not-wet road"), and most forested preserves on the west slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Also avoid areas that commonly flood, such as Russian River. Any park grazed by cattle is an immediate no (too muddy). 

If we're lucky and snow frosts our highest peaks, most roads that access those mountains will be temporarily closed. You can often start at lower elevations and hike up into the snow. For Mount Tam, begin in lower Mill Valley. For Diablo, start on the north side of the mountain near Clayton. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, sometimes CA 84 is open and it's possible to reach the skyline preserves.

When winter hiking, use common sense. Trails will be slippery and fallen trees are common. Turn back rather than risk a dangerous situation. Even when you're taking day trips, be sure to keep emergency supplies in your car, including water, food, and blankets. Don't forget a stash of dry clothes for the post-hike drive home. Have fun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What goes down must come up

Gordon Mill Trail
El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve hangs west off the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains. With elevations ranging from 2200 to 800 feet, 36 miles of trails through more than 2,800 acres, and aromatic redwood-scented air, it's so easy to set off down a fire road and keep descending for miles. The huge trail network permits mountain bikers (and hardy hikers) to create long loops through these woods. This preserve is a Bay Area anomaly in that only one trail (a short spur to a sandstone formation) is off limits to bikes.

There's something about Corte Madera (as many cyclists call it) that clouds my judgement. After years of feet-on-the-trails researching I have found reasonably easy hikes at this peninsula preserve (such as this one and this one), but my natural tendency is to hike with my head in the clouds until in a bolt of clarity I realize I have to hike all the way up what I just hiked down. What follows is a steady trudge uphill and a silent promise to remember my mistakes next time.

Steam Donkey Trail
Yesterday at Corte Madera I would have achieved my standard stroll downhill/semi-trudge uphill, but on the fly, I deviated. I began from the newish deluxe staging area at the eastern edge of Corte Madera, on Sierra Morena Trail. After an easy 1/3 mile, I turned onto Gordon Mill Trail. As I hiked downhill, I remembered working a volunteer project on Steam Donkey Trail; it was nearly 20 years ago and I don't recall what we did, but in my hazy memory Steam Donkey was pretty. So I worked my way downhill, via Gordon Mill Trail, and then began to ascend via Steam Donkey.

Oljon Trail
Oh my this singletrack trail is steep! Steam Donkey gains about 400 feet in 1/3 mile, with a grade lingering near 10%. It is a sustained ascent, with only a few tiny downhill dips, a real butt-buster. I was actually grateful I was ascending, since I worried that a cyclist would zoom downhill and not see me (all in black) in the deep shade. Heading uphill I kept scanning the trail and listening for bikes, and I was very cautious when turning blind corners. But there were no bikes, nor hikers. Just me, panting up the trail and scores of squirrels chattering through the redwoods. This trail's name refers back in time to a logging winch used to extract redwoods from these woods -- corte madera translates from Spanish to "place where wood is cut." The forest is relatively young and dominated by redwoods, but here and there bigleaf maples had dropped orange leaves to the trail. Finally, I chugged to a junction, with the worst of the ascent back to the trailhead over. I had the option to jog (metaphorically -- my glutes were screaming, also, metaphorically) left and return to the trailhead via Gordon Mill, but I wanted a change in scenery, and here is where I made the best decision of the hike. I turned right and continued on Steam Donkey. As the path began to ascend I pressed on warily, not wanting another climb as steep as the one I'd just finished. Like the previous segment of Steam Donkey, this is a narrow singletrack, but with increased visibility and a more gentle grade. At the junction with Oljon Trail, I turned left.


This relatively new singletrack is now my favorite Corte Madera trail. Oljon weaves uphill through redwoods, crossing two bridges and ascending via switchbacks. I marveled at a very large (and perhaps half-dead) tanoak on the left near the second bridge. This lovely path skirts a hilltop, relaxes to an easy grade and ends at a junction with Sierra Morena and Gordon Mill trails. From there, it was a pleasant stroll back to the trailhead. Total mileage was about 3.2, but due to Steam Donkey's torment, felt further.

Would I take this loop again? Probably not. Instead, next time I'm thinking of stringing together Sierra Morena, Oljon, Steam Donkey (not the steep part), Gordon Mill, Crossover, Timberline, and Methuselah (finishing on Sierra Morena). But I had a great time, even on Steam Donkey (in retrospect) and am happy to have made the acquaintance of Oljon (which by the way, on the map looks kind of like an elephant head).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In praise of the spur trail
View east to Las Trampas ridge from Brittleleaf Trail at Anthony Chabot Regional Park

You probably hike past them all the time -- little path nubbins marked "not a through trail." We treat like them the side dishes at Thanksgiving; they are mostly ignored as we hike along enjoying the main course.

Is it worth expending extra effort on a spur? Most spurs lead to wonders: waterfalls, beaches, tall trees, and surprising views. Many lead to a destination end point, such as Haypress and Hawk campsites in Marin Headlands. A few are downright disappointing -- I'm looking at you Mt. Wittenberg. Some of the best I've hiked are Old Tree Trail in Portola Redwoods State Park, the triple threat of waterfall spurs at Uvas County County Park, Tomales Bay State Park beach spurs, and Alamere Falls at Point Reyes (the latter unfortunately currently inaccessible).
A spur path at Tomales Bay State Park leads to Pebble Beach

Sometimes, as I found recently at Chabot Park, the trail name gives away a surprise. I lingered at the junction with Brittleleaf Trail, a tiny spur off MacDonald Trail. I kept going but the name continued to poke at my brain until some synapses fired and I remembered that brittleleaf is a variety of manzanita. I know there are manzanita barrens north of Chabot in Huckleberry Preserve, but I had never seen one in Chabot. So on my way back I popped onto Brittleleaf Trail. Sure enough, the path ends at a rock formation surrounded by manzanitas. The sweeping view east (to Las Trampas ridge) were ample reward for taking a chance on a spur.

Now I'm wondering about spurs I've neglected or never considered. Lambert Creek Trail in Skyline Ridge? Lobitos Creek Trail at Purisima Creek Redwoods? Upper Ritchey Canyon Trail at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park? Bring on the rain, I've got some map reading and planning to do for spring!

Have you ever stumbled upon an interesting spur? Please comment!

Monday, October 19, 2015

BAHiker updated (mostly)!

My husband and I have been working on a site update for about a year. He does the technical work and design, while I have been focusing on photos.
BAHiker goes mobile!

Here are some new features:

  • Improved design with easier navigation
  • Mobile friendly
  • More photos
  • Improved photo display, with true slideshows and galleries
  • Rich photo information -- each photo is labelled with location, date, and for plants, Latin names
  • Metadata: every hike now has a file with a list of prominent features and characteristics -- this will be used when we enable tagging. You can't see the metadata, but it's there! 


Future features:

  • Comments
  • Tags/labels
  • Ability to rate individual hikes
  • Ability to plan a hike using tags (like "dogs welcome" "loop hike" "peninsula" "wildflowers")

Check out the changes! Here's an example of a "new" page: Water Dog Lake Open Space. In addition to the features mentioned above, I've added a map to the hike as well as a map navigation box.

What would you like to see added (or changed) on BAHiker?

Thank you for your support! If you like BAHiker, please consider sharing it with friends. I post frequently on Facebook, sharing photos and hiking info.

PS: Hikes with orange markers are updated; I'm still working on the gray ones. New hikes are in the interwebs pipeline!