Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Week

With the arrival of Thanksgiving week it seems that the south bay weather has finally begun transitioning from a dryer and balmier than normal early fall into the cooler temps and moist air of late fall. Certainly the scant appropriation of rain over this fall season has been welcome, and hopefully this recent trend will be the signal of more to come lest we endure deepening drought conditions. Hopefully, when and if sufficient rains do materialize to fall from our bay area skies, this time we will not be blighted by some self-professed oracle at some newspaper ringing a clarion call to the over-burgeoning populous of silly-con valley that it’s time to throw off the burdensome shackles of conservation and immediately return to the careless wasting of public resources. That’s one letter I will definitely make time for should it begin to look like we may get out of this mess. I am equally hopeful that falling gasoline prices will not be misinterpreted by the masses in such a way as to lessen the resolve toward reducing foreign oil dependency. We desperately need to continue the momentum gained from the last round of predatory price manipulation, notwithstanding whatever may or may not become of our ailing economy. But I will not digress further.

Having some vacation time to use up, I decided to take Thanksgiving week off utilizing the holidays to stretch the time. My agenda for this little respite would naturally include some stay-cation hiking, with Sue cooperating as possible. Off season hiking in the bay area is something I always look forward to. Having the cooler temps means I can get by carrying a lot less water for one thing. It usually also means that the trails are less crowded, with many trail users apparently opting to stay indoors. But generally, as long as you have some nice versatile gear, the climate here should not be much of a bother. We are truly blessed if you will. Why waste it? Heck, the worst day here is still a cake walk compared to many areas of the country. When fall has finally brought it’s full manifestation we start getting a lot of fog, haze, and overcast, at least as superficially observed from the valley floor. But often times, those who are willing to leave the comfort of their indoor environment and head up into the surrounding mountains are treated to a different experience. Usually, upon early rising, it’s difficult to tell exactly what weather condition is actually in place, official weather reports notwithstanding. On countless occasions I have either hiked upward, or driven upward, to find that the weather on top of the ridges, and on the crests of hills and mountains, is in stark contrast to the murk and mire of low lying blankets of fog. What might look like overcast from the valley is actually quite clear, sunny, and warm higher up. And this can happen even in the middle of winter. It’s best to be prepared for otherwise, but you certainly can’t tell without actually venturing out. We experienced this type of climate variance on three different hikes during Thanksgiving week. What better to be thankful for than wild space preservation, and what better way to spend the holidays?

We usually string together a visit to Mission Peak by including Monument Peak. It seems natural unless you’re just doing a quick little fitness hike. The two peaks are only about 2.2 miles apart, and two peaks are definitely better than one. The trail in between that passes behind Mount Allison is part of the BART. We usually do the hike from Ed Levin County Park, but this time we decided to begin the hike from Sunol Regional Wilderness. On this occation it was more a case of the fog partially clearing to a haze rather than finding different weather up high. Long range views were not so good but still a nice time. I was paying particular attention to rocks on this hike after remembering Tom Mangan’s post about mysterious stone walls on his Two Heel Drive hiking blog. His post was about some walls he saw in Ed Levin, but we spotted evidence of similar walls in the nearby area east of Mt Allison (photo at right). Some of them were quite long as though they could have been boundaries of some kind. Funny, but I had never paid them any mind before Tom pointed them out. I put some photo links below.

One of our favorite little secrets has been Rancho Canada Del Oro. At least it has seemed like that since it opened. We used to whimsically refer to the preserve as “our park”, but gradually this underutilized gem has been finding its way onto the radar screens of hikers more and more. There are new sections being added, and really nice new trail markers have been installed. The trail system also seamlessly connects with Calero County Park, making it possible to plan many different hiking route variations, or to map out a big killer loop. Foggy and grey when we started, we soon found sunny clearing weather up on the Bald Peaks trail. The view down to San Jose was totally obscured by low lying fog and muck the whole day. Better to be up where it’s nice, lingering on the peaks, and enjoying the trails almost entirely to ourselves.

Our final hike for the week took us to another of our close-by locations. Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, hiking up to the summit of Mt El Sombroso by way of the Kennedy Trail. Cool, clammy, and appearing overcast from the trailhead at Kennedy Road, we hiked up to find that the entire region in all directions was totally mired in thick low level fog like an ocean of white foam. From what we could see we could have been hiking at 30,000 feet rather than 3000. We got some sunshine and some really interesting views of the lake of fog below. We could imagine ourselves hiking on some lost island in some trackless void of nebulous clouds. Layered clothing is the key to this time of year.

Click here to view my combined Thanksgiving Week photoset on flickr
Click here to view my Sierra Azul fall photoset from 2006
Click here to view my December 2006 Ed Levin to Mission Peak photoset

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