Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yosemite Hiking, June Lake Camping

I had yet another marvelous weekend hiking at high altitude. This time I hiked exclusively in Yosemite National Park near the eastern entrance of the park. I managed to escape work (with permission of my manager) at noon and drove to the Oh Ridge campground at June Lake on Friday.

I arrived at June Lake at about 5:30 p.m. and checked in with a friendly lady who was glad I showed up as "someone was Jonesing for my site" and she was glad she stuck to her guns and kept telling them someone had it reserved. That someone being me. I was at site 53 at Squirrel loop. This was a very well signed campground and it was very easy to find my site. I set up my tent and then had a lunchy dinner meaning I ate lunch food for dinner. I had salami and swiss cheese on crackers and a bottle of Super Food orginal. Yum.

As I sat eating I discovered the flaw of Oh Ridge campground. A stiff wind blows off of the lake in the evenings and it gets chilly quickly when the sun sets. Oh well. I wasn't really camping for fun but camping for a cheap place to sleep and this campground did the trick. I was warm inside my tent all night. It just wasn't conducive to hanging out at the campsite to read a nice book in my lawn chair. Instead on night two at the campground, I read my book inside my car where the wind didn't seep in and it was nice and cozy. Friday evening I did take a short walk to June lake and saw the beach where one is allowed to swim if one so desires. I never did because it was chilly when I got back from hikes.

Saturday morning I got up early and ate a quick breakfast and headed to the Mobile gas/store/restaurant at Lee Vining where I got myself a nice hot cup of coffee and sipped it while admiring the view of Mono Lake out the window. After coffee, I drove to Tioga Pass and into Yosemite to the Mono Pass trailhead parking lot. When I got there there were only about four parking spaces left. I snagged one and used the restroom there and then sat down to put on my hiking boots and find a nice spot to settle down and wait for the Ranger led hike that was set to start at 9:15 a.m. It was 8:15 when I got to the lot. I managed to wander around the lot and the trail head amusing myself by day dreaming and trying to find a spot where the mosquitos would not find me. I finally found a spot and sat there till Ranger Salli arrived. She arrived at 9:05. For the next twenty five minutes we chatted and she spoke to others at the lot and found one other taker for her hike, M. She gave both M. and I a chance to spray insect repellant on ourselves and we both accepted.

We set off on our hike to Mono Pass at 9:30 a.m. The first bit of the hike was through beautiful woods and meadows full of "spring" wildflowers in August! We had to cross two streams but with Salli's knowledge we had very easy crossings (she knew where the hefty log was located to get us across). The first portion of the hike was ever so slightly up hill. Salli told us all about the plants, the animals, and the history of the trail. It was an animal trail originally and then became a native american trading trail and then the Europeans arrived and started using it and hoped to find gold, silver etc. to mine. She told us about the ground squirrels, an animal called the pika, the birds we saw, and some stuff about geology. I got a little overloaded on information at times and tuned her out a little. But it was great for me, a very active hike leader for the Sierra Club, to have a chance to be a follower and not be responsible for anyone but myself!

The last bit of the hike to Mono Pass goes up hill. My heart got beating really fast because of the high altitude (the pass is at 10,599 feet). We reached the pass and it was beautiful. We could see a lake in a green meadow and great views of Mammoth Peak, Mt Gibb, and others whose names I forget. We hiked .3 miles past Mono Pass to Sardine lakes and a great view of Mono Lake. We had lunch here. Ranger Salli was accosted by a gang of men with tons of questions and while M. and I enjoyed our lunch she patiently answered all their questions. She did a very good job and loved being questioned by them. While she did her job, I borrowed her binoculars and scanned the hillside of Mt Gibb for Big Horned sheep. Salli has been told that they hang out there but she has never seen them. I did not see any either. Both M. and I finished our lunches and when Salli was done answering questions we retraced our steps back to the parking lot. On the way back we saw a deer and we saw an old miner's cabin that we missed on the way out because we were admiring an incredible meadow full of wild flowers across from the cabin! In the last quarter mile, my feet started to complain but not the rest of me. We arrived at the lot at 4 p.m. I did not dilly dally and talk more with Ranger Salli as the mosquitos were thick at the trail head so I wanted to pop in my car to escape them and start heading back to my camp.

I drove down to Lee Vining and decided to stop at the Mobile restaurant and have dinner there rather than cook something at the cold windy campsite. I had a big half pound burger, french fries, and a coke. Not very healthy but oh so satisfying. It felt good to sit down. I munched on my burger and fries while people watching. It was very crowded. The food was decent but I believe it was crowded because the location is so good. All those people streaming out of Yosemite and folks driving north and south along 395 stop there to eat on their ways elsewhere. After finishing I drove the 11 miles down the road to June Lake and spent a couple of hours in my car reading. At 8 p.m. I shifted to my tent and continued to reading. By 8:30 my eyes were closing so I put the book away and went to sleep.

On Sunday I was up at 6 a.m. I took down my tent right away and packed up the car with most of my camping gear. I then had a bowl of cereal and banana at the campsite picnic table while gazing at the lake. It was not windy in the mornings but was still cool until the sun came up. I finished up my breakfast and packed the rest of my gear in the car and left the campground. I again stopped at the trusty Lee Vining mobile station for another cup of coffee. Then I drove to Tioga Pass and parked in the little lot there. Just past the Yosemite entrance gate is a little lot that holds maybe 10 cars. At 8 a.m. there were several spots still left. I snagged one, stuffed my cooler into the bear locker, used the restroom, put on my sun screen, and headed off on the Gaylor Lake trail to, surprise, Gaylor lake.

I had the trail to myself. I went at a slowish pace as the trail starts at 9943 feet and climbs about 600 feet to a saddle of sorts just below Gaylor Peak. The views from the saddle were incredible and I took lots of pictures. I then descended to Gaylor Lake. It was so blue and so gorgeous. When I got to the lake I followed a trial to one end of it and then followed a use trail next to a creek. The mosquitos were thick there so I nicknamed the trail mosquito alley. If I kept moving, they didn't seem to land on me so I kept up a good pace on the trail till I reached what I think was middle Gaylor Lake. I took a quick picture of it and then continued my quick pace. When I reached the end of the first Gaylor Lake, I finally ran into another hiker. It had been a treat to have the trail to myself for the out portion of my hike. As I retraced my steps I ran into 4 other parties of hikers. But it didn't feel crowded like some of the more popular hikes at Yosemite feel. I reached the cars at 10 a.m.

I retrieved my cooler from the bear locker, used the handsome restroom a second time, and hit the road to go back to the bay area. I decided to stop at Olmstead Point on 120 to admire the view of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Tenaya lake. Olmstead Point is this big old parking lot off of highway 120 within Yosemite with awesome views of the valley. A Yosemite conservation volunteer had set up a scope today aimed at Half Dome. I took a look through it and saw it was focused on the cables on Half Dome and I watched some people climbing up the cables for a little bit. I then snapped several pictures of the views and had one of the volunteers take a picture of me. Then I hit the road again. I made a few more stops: a bathroom break at a wonderful vista point/rest area just outside of Yosemite and a Starbuck's stop in Oakdale for an iced mocha to perk me up for the boring drive on highways 205, 580, 680, 237, and 101 to home!

I took scads of pictures and posted them here

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rock Creek Weekend

I spent the weekend of August 13-14 camping with a couple of friends, T. and C., at Rock Creek French Camp campground in the Eastern Sierras. This was the first of three Eastern Sierra mountain weekends I planned to get in high altitude training hikes to prepare me for my August 30th attempt to day hike to the top of Mt Whitney and back!

I put in a couple of long days at work on Wednesday and Thursday so I could leave work at noon on Friday and drive to Rock Creek and get there before dark. I had a very uneventful and pleasant drive to Rock Creek and arrived at 6:15 p.m. at site number 9 at the French Campground. My buddies, T. and C. had already been at the site for a couple of days and were not there when I arrived. I got my tent set up and loaded all my food into the bear locker and then set off to figure out where the restrooms were located, where the dumpster was located, and where the water was located. When I got back I sat down and read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets until my friends arrived back from their day of hiking. They kindly fed me a nice dish of gnocchi, red peppers, basil, and a red sauce and left out the chick peas at my request. I felt very spoiled and very content to be out in the woods with friends. After dinner we chatted about the next day's plans. C. decided to go exploring on his own as the hike T. and I wanted to do was a bit tough for him. T. and I planned to hike from the Little Lakes trail head at Rock Creek to Mono Pass. After the plans were firmed up we all headed to our tents around 9:30 p.m.

We were up shortly after dawn and I cooked myself some oatmeal and had some General Foods instant mocha. It was a bit weak. Next time I need to add more heaping teaspoons than four! T. and I then loaded up our day packs with food, water, extra layers, a small first aid kit, and some bug repellent and then put away our other food in the bear locker and headed to Little Lakes trailhead. Before we got there we stopped at the Rock Creek lodge in the hopes of having some of their famous pie. We arrived there at 8:30 a.m. way before they serve their pies. The pie service doesn't start till 10:30 a.m. and ends when the pies run out or at 3:30 p.m. I did a little shopping at the general store and got some much needed lip balm for the weekend. After our short stop we drove to the trail head and the main parking lot was already full by 9ish. We did find parking at the first overflow parking lot which was lucky. It added maybe a quarter mile to our trip. We hiked to the trailhead restrooms, put on sun screen, packed away our wallets/keys in a safe place in our day packs or pockets, and headed off to Mono Pass.

The first half mile was on the very popular Little Lakes trail and went up mildly but my heart started beating fast. The trail head started at high altitude, 10,200 feet! I managed to keep a steady pace while my heart beat fast and there were enough little flat spots to give me a chance to get my breath back and for my heart rate to slow down a bit. When we felt uncomfortable we just stopped and the view filled us with energy! The view of the lakes and mountains was incredible.

From Rock_Creek_Camping_8_13_and_14_2011

T. is in great shape and she never seemed to need to stop because of being out of breath but she did need to stop to eat more often than me. After a half mile, we turned off on to the Mono pass trail. For about a mile or so it was a steady up with flat spots to rest at and wonderful views of the Little Lakes valley. We met other folks as we slowly made our way up to the pass. Everyone was really friendly and in a good mood. The typical greeting was “where are you heading today?” Some were day hiking to Mono pass like us and some were backpacking futher into the mountains. We reached the Ruby Lake turnoff junction at 11,200 feet and that is where the steeper part of the Mono Pass trail starts.

We hiked up switch backs for a good while. We got passed by a horse led burro train taking supplies up to the mountains for someone. Finally we turned into the rather narrow pass. Big old granite walls rose up around us spectacularly. I had to rest lots on this section as we approached our destination at 12,000 feet. The air was getting thinner and thinner! But stopping was nice as it gave us time to gape at the views and neither of us were in a great hurry. We finally reached the top after a last bit of hiking on snow. The really late rains and snows in California have made conditions in August more like those found in July. However the snow trail was well trodden and easy to follow. We had lunch near the top and after lunch hiked a tiny bit to Summit Lake and then turned around to head back.

From Rock_Creek_Camping_8_13_and_14_2011

On our way down, a fellow caught up with us and we offered to let him pass but he declined. He looked like a sherpa from Nepal and much to our surprise he was a sherpa from Nepal on vacation in California. He looked as if he was talking a walk in a park up there. He told us he lives at a place higher than Mono Pass. He lives at 4000 meters (~13123 feet) and his Father is a sherpa on Mt. Everest. He was very nimble on the snow. He was with another man who we never got close enough to talk to. He left us when he saw that his buddy had gotten ahead of us. Quite amazing the people you meet while you are hiking.

The rest of the way down was so much easier for me. I wasn't gasping for air hardly at all and my knees were just fine. I have always had pretty healthy knees and they hold up well going downhill. On really long downhills I will start to notice some knee soreness but this 3 mile descent did not cause me any knee soreness. I was happy though to have done all that uphill hiking to start getting my body used to hiking uphill at high altitudes. The Whitney hike starts at ~8400 feet and goes to ~14,500 feet.

We arrived back at the trailhead at 3:15 p.m. and were hoping we could make it to the Rock Creek lodge for pie by 3:30 p.m. We did make it to the lodge by 3:30 p.m. But alas, the pies had been sold out since 1:30 p.m. Instead we bought ourselves something to drink (I got gaterade) and then drove down the Rock Creek road in search of a nice spot on the creek to sit down and soak our feet. We found a wonderful spot with a comfy spot of green grass to sit on right next to the creek and even better it turned out to be mosquito free too! We soaked our feet for 15 minutes. It was marvelous to be sitting together with our feet in the ice cold water, drinking our drinks, chatting, and to boot we head this section of creek all to ourselves.

From Rock_Creek_Camping_8_13_and_14_2011

After the soak, we headed back to camp and spent some time doing our own thing. I read more of my Harry Potter book. We would not start dinner till C. got back from his day of hiking. He returned around 6:15 and told us stories of his day at Convict lake and we told him about our hike. T. cooked a dinner of ravioli with roasted red pepper sauce. I volunteered to help and was put in charge heating up the store bought roasted red pepper sauce to mix with the ravioli. It was a delicious dinner. Somehow food at a campground tastes better than it would if cooked at home. Its probably because we were exerting ourselves all day and were hungry and would have liked almost anything. After dinner T. and C. got busy packing as they had to leave at o-dark-hundred the next day. T. had an appointment in the SF bay area at 3:30. They left at 5 a.m. I heard them taking the tents down and just turned over and fell back asleep for another hour.

I was up at 6 a.m. In typical camping fashion what got me up was I had to use the restroom. When I came back from the restroom I felt fully awake so I decided to have a small cold breakfast and then pack up my gear and head back to the Little Lakes trail head and hike on the Little Lakes valley trail for an hour and then turn around and hike back. While shaking out my tent, I saw what I thought was a bug on the ground but on closer examination it turned out to be a scorpion. I was sort of glad I slept in a zipped up tent so the scorpion could not crawl on me! I soon finished packing and I got to the trailhead at 7:10 a.m. and this time I got a parking spot there and did not have to go to the overflow parking.

I made a quick stop at the restroom and then put on sun screen and headed off on the Little Lake Valley trail. It was gorgeous. I was happy to be giving my body another taste of high altitude hiking albeit a more mellow taste than the day before. I passed by Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, and Long Lake. At Long Lake I reached my one hour turn around time and started heading back.

From Rock_Creek_Camping_8_13_and_14_2011

It was a wonderful solitary hike on the way to Long Lake. I did pass one backpacking couple but they were so quiet that it felt as if I had the trail to myself the whole way. It was a different story on the way back as I ran into more and more people. I got back to the trail head at 9:20 and the lot was full and folks were hiking up the road from overflow parking. I got in my car and headed to the Rock Creek lodge to have a more substantial breakfast. I was too early for pie but the cook at the lodge made a mean short stack of pancakes. I filled up on 2 huge pancakes and had a freshly brewed cup of coffee. While I was at the counter a Dad and his two small sons were there also. The sons were delightful to talk to. They were friendly and so excited to tell me all about their fishing trip with their Dad. Dad was there too but he was more quiet. He would just speak up to add bits to the stories his sons were telling. They also wanted to see a bear but not get eaten by a bear. It made for a nice breakfast to have their company. I finished up at 10 a.m. And started on my long trip home.

On my way home I did something very unusual for me. I was turning off of highway 395 at Lee Vining and there was a young man hitch hiking with a brown card board sign saying Yosemite and a big backpack. He looked friendly and I decided to risk it and give him a ride to Yosemite since my drive was on 120 which goes right through Yosemite (the Tuolumne Meadows part of Yosemite). I almost never pick up hitch hikers for fear I'll pick up a lunatic hitch hiker and get attacked or something but I decided to risk it for this guy. I picked him up and he was excited to have gotten a ride. Before we started up the climb on 120 to Tuolumne Meadows, I stopped at the Mobile station to get some gas. As we drove up 120, I found out he was from Brazil and had 7 days left in his vacation in the U.S. and wanted to spend it exploring Yosmite. He told me his name and I had trouble pronouncing it. I'm not sure how to spell it. It sounded like “hanough”. He works as a computer technician and was impressed that I write software. We had fun chatting as we waited in the long line to get into Yosemite at the top of the pass. I dropped him off at the visitor center in Tuolumne meadows after we finally got through the wait to get in.

The rest of my drive home was more ordinary. I stopped at Oakdale to have a late lunch at McDonalds. There was a Starbucks right door so after lunch, I got a iced mocha to go. I sipped it as I made my way to Manteca. At Manteca I had the last sip. At Manteca, it was back to freeway driving and no stunning mountain views anymore. I got home at 5 pm so the drive took 7 hours. All in all it was a great weekend of hiking and camping. I hope next weekends trip to June Lake in the Eastern Sierras goes as well although it will be a solo trip. It will be fun to spend the week planning the hikes I will do from June Lake.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blogher'11 Blues

I was looking forward to the Blogher'11 conference and meeting lots of cool women and going to the famous parties. All the posts and all the chatter about previous conferences conjured up a picture in my head of an incredibly fun inspiring event. I imagined all the women I would talk to and all the things we would have in common. I imagined sitting around a table with several other women sipping drinks and laughing up a storm about who knows what. It was all so wonderful in my head.

I did get to meet lots of cool women. I didn't get to know them very well. All my interactions were short. The boogie woman of social anxiety reared her ugly head. I just knew that all these women were doing me a favor to even deign to converse with me for a few minutes. I couldn't shake the feeling despite my rocket scientist brain telling me it was bull.

Thursday night I really tried hard to pretend I was OK and not anxious in the hopes I could fake it until it no longer felt fake. I managed to get through the People's party and part of the Queerosphere party before throwing in the towel and retreating to my hotel room at the Best Western in Chula Vista. I felt relieved to be out of the crowds but also lonely. I escaped to my Harry Potter book to forget my woes and be entertained. It worked.

The sessions and speakers on Friday went better for me. I felt less fear when there was a topic to be talked about or an expert to be listened to. Its always been easier for me to be social when being social is not the only thing going on.

I decided to skip the Friday night parties as I couldn't face up to the fears. I decided to save that energy for Saturday's parties. I enjoyed the voices of the year speakers and headed back to my motel in the hopes of a hot tub soak. Alas, the hot tub was broken so I settled for a nice long shower and watching some TV. I was alone but not lonely.

Saturday was a struggle at times. I was getting creeped out by how much social anxiety I was feeling at the conference and I started to dwell on that instead of putting energy into making a space for myself where I was comfortable. I started to think what I loser I was. I would search for tables with no one at them and then bury my nose in a book or in my iPad so no one else would join me and I could be alone. Its like someone just turned off my courage faucet and turned on my fear faucet. I did enjoy the speakers and the sessions I went to and giving blood but the interim times were icky.

The Saturday party I chose to go to was the Aiming Low party. I figured it was aiming low so there wouldn't be as much emphasis put on being super social. But I arrived to find out they were playing a sticker game where the sticker says “You are _________” and you fill in the blank and stick it on a stranger. I guess it was a ice breaker sort of thing but to me it was something I just was not wanting to do. As the sticker woman went away, I got rid of my sticker and I sat there sipping my wine alone at a table until two women asked if they could join me. I said sure and talked with them a bit but my mind was a million miles away dealing with this mountain of fear. I felt tears of frustration that at 50 years of age I'm still dealing with this damn fear I have had since I was 5 years old. Before the tears threatening to spill down my cheeks I excused myself and headed to the restroom to let the tears eke out a little. After I had them under control, I hoofed my way through the hotel lobby to the parking lot and dived into my car for more crying. Sigh. It was all so deja vu.

This isn't the first conference that I have gone to with high hopes of tremendous fun so I don't know why I thought Blogher'11 would be any different than the other conferences I have gone to. I'm mystified as to why I still seem to get this urge to go to conferences. I guess I keep hoping that as I get older I'll kick this social anxiety problem and things will be different. The fantasies of what it will be like are just so good that I overlook the past realities. If the conference did one thing for me though, it did inspire me to write this and that is something good.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Peters Creek Hike at Portola State Park

Saturday I led a hike for GLS to Peter's Creek redwood grove at Portola State Park. The day started in typical bay area fashion with there being no parking at the park-n-ride lot. It was full at 9:00 a.m. I parked on the side of the road just outside the lot and after about 5 minutes someone left the lot and I ran like a bat outta hell to my car and managed to get that valuable parking place. By 9:15 the other hikers showed, just three of them. One had to leave their car along the side of the road. The other, my co-leader, volunteered to drive to Portola so we all tumbled into his car. It was four in all.

We wiggled our way up Page Mill road and down Alpine road and Portola road and got to the park at 10:00 a.m. We paid our state park fee and were off on our hike. The hike started on a paved road in the park that took us to the Summit trail. We hiked up the trail to, what else, the summit. Then we were off on Slate creek trail which runs along a wooded ridge to the Slate creek backpack camp. It was nice to have an outhouse for a bathroom break rather than finding that private spot behind a bush without poison oak! After a short break we hiked on Bear Creek trail three and a half miles when we stopped just short of Peter's Creek trail at a little water fall on Bear Creek with a great log for sitting and eating lunch.

After lunch we hiked the last little bit of Bear Creek trail to Peters Creek trail and then we did the lovely one and a half mile loop around the grove. It is an nearly pristine redwood grove since its so far from the beaten path. The only thing that makes it seem not quite pristine is the memorial signs for patrons who supported the park and of course the trail. There are no names for the trees like in other redwood groves that are more accessible. There are no fences to keep one from walking right up to the trees. Its a wonderful place to hike.

After our wonderful loop around the Peter's creek it was time to climb back up the big hill we descended to get there. I decided to hike up the hill at my fastest pace and planned to wait at the top for folks to catch up. But everyone followed me up the hill at the fast pace. I think we all wanted to get it over with quickly. I did stop once or twice on the way up to admire the views I missed on the way down.

We retraced our steps the rest of the hike. I plodded along for the rest of the hike trying to ignore my sore tired feet and enjoy the quiet of the redwood forest. We finished up our hike at 4 p.m. and were glad to sit in the car and take a load off our feet, me especially. My feet don't usually get this sore on a 13 mile hike but I think I just over did my training for the big Whitney hike the past couple of weeks and did not give my poor old feet a chance to recover. Thankfully the rest of the body served me well. I really can go up hill a blistering pace these days! Its fun to do long day hikes and have energy at the end of the day!