Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Rose by any other Name

What does it mean when you plan something a certain way, only to wind up getting a completely different result, but upon refection on the matter, you realize that you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way? Does that represent a dose of irony? Or could it be a taste of Serendipity? A simple case of fortuity? Or could it be all of them? Or are we on the Twilight Zone? On my hike today, it seemed like all of the above while sitting on the summit of Rose Peak with 24 other people. How ironic does it sound to have 25 people sitting around on the highest and most remote point in the Ohlone wilderness at the same time? I suppose people head into the backcountry for different reasons. Certainly being among friends is as valid a reason as anything. But for me, my hikes are often about getting away and enjoying the peace, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I began the day by pulling into the parking area near the visitor’s center of Sunol Regional Wilderness expecting to embark on a solo hike to Rose Peak. As I pulled in to park, I noticed a group of people in hiking gear kind of milling around. Someone was waving at me because they seemed to think perhaps I was looking for them. I talked to them for awhile and found out that they were a hiking group called Super Fabulicious. I’m still not sure what that means, but it really sounds cool. I'm sure that word must be in the dictionary. Turns out I was not the person they were looking for, but we soon discovered that we were all headed to Rose Peak. After discussing the routes, elevation, distance, and chit chatting for awhile, I was invited join them even though I am not officially a member, and accepted without reluctance. They seemed affable enough to scrap my plans for a solo hike. There were now 13 in the group including myself.

So we headed across the foot bridge and onto the Canyon View Trail to the McCorkle, and continuing on to find the markers for the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. At 36 degrees, it was crisp, but the sun soon beamed over the top of the ridgeline to the east to warm things up quickly. It didn’t take long with the climbing before everyone was removing layers of gear, and even applying sunscreen. When we reached one of the markers somewhere beyond the backpacking camp, and had stopped to regroup and take a break, I saw some other people headed up the trail behind us. I soon recognized these intrepid folks as members of the Sierra Club's Loma Prieta chapter Day Hikers group. My wife and I have hiked with this group numerous times in the past years. Sue being technically still a member still gets their emails. They had a group of about 12, most of whom I knew. The two hiking groups would kind of intermingle all along the way as we stretched out with varying paces, and then formed up again at stopping points. For me it was in interesting mix of enjoying new acquaintances, and re-kindling some old ones. Eventually we all met at the summit in one big mass, populating Rose Peak as I would have never imagined. It was like a perfect storm of hiking camaraderie. I had to laugh when I thought about what some poor soloist would have thought to hike up to Rose expecting to be alone to ponder the views in quietness and solitude, only to walk into this sprawling encampment of lunching hikers. It was especially funny to think that that person could well have been me, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. A rose (peak) is indeed a rose.

Click here to see my photoset
Click here to see the Super Fabulicious photos

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wilderness Protection Moves Forward

Good news on the wilderness protection front. Federal legislation to protect wilderness lands comprising two million acres in nine states successfully moved forward on Sunday toward likely final Senate approval on Friday. It is expected to move on to the House after that with approval likely there as well. Components of the bill were able to ensure wide Bi-partisan support despite some opposition 'spin' over property rights, and heavy criticism by one Republican Senator who made a push to stall the process. Here is a link to the LA Times story.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Willow Ridge Hike

Well its way past Thanksgiving, but why have only one day a year when you decided to be grateful for the things you really care about. I love to take time to appreciate the simple things in life. And borrowing on a recent post by Adam Shake on his blog Twilight Earth entitled “Vowing to Praise the Beauty of the Ordinary”; I would like to offer the following quote:

“What is Beauty? Some would say that it is a rare thing, and it is the rareness of it, that makes it special. But I disagree. Beauty is a common thing. As common as a field of grass. As common as a trail snaking between pines with the sun filtering down through them. Beauty is an ordinary thing.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the more I visit Henry Coe State Park, the more I am grateful to the estate of his namesake for their gift of this awesomely “ordinary” track of land for use as a State park. Coe’s parklands abound in quiet, subtle, beauty that can only be truly appreciated by those who are willing to venture outside of the droning concrete anthill of the bay area’s metropolis. To those who are willing to venture inward in spirit by venturing outward in body, rewarding experiences are waiting for them a places like Coe.

Being solo for today, I had no really specific destination for today’s hike. I thought I might hike up high for the long range views, but I wanted to go somewhere I had not been lately. Henry Coe’s Willow Ridge came to mind because that would give me the opportunity to hike some sections that I haven’t been to in years. The last time I went up that way was on a hike out to Mississippi Lake. That hike was on a spring day, so I wasted a lot of time photographing wild flowers, enjoying the views, and after all the brutal climbing and decent, I didn’t get back until after dark. I had taken a route by way of Poverty Flat, down to Little Fork Coyote Creek, then back up and over a little ridge, and back down to East Fork, loosing all that altitude all over again. Then you head up daunting Willow Ridge Trail. All that up-and-down really burns a lot of energy. But if you don’t mind doing a little scrambling, you can reduce the impact a little by using the section simply called “The Narrows”. And that’s where I was headed.

Being one person hiking alone allows for the experience of the striking quietness of the morning. Large groups tend to make a racket which will spoil your chances for wildlife viewing. Hiking out through Manzanita Point early in the morning I noticed many young black tail, mostly doe. The one big buck I spotted pranced off as soon as he saw me. I have often noticed the males are a lot more skittish and wondered if this is a learned response due to hunting. Along the China Hole Trail several large masses of doves would actually startle me a bit as they all broke into flight at the same instant, beating the air intensely with their wings sending a palpable sound wave through the air.

After shedding layers up on Pine Ridge in the sun, down in China Hole it was still so cold that thick sheets of ice were covering any still sections of water. After re-outfitted myself with gloves and skullcap, I headed up The Narrows. There is really no trail through this interesting little rocky canyon. You must choose your own way, hiking across jagged rocks, often scrambling a bit, re-crossing the creek many times, with difficult footing. This route may not save any time, but any other way to Los Cruzeros will involve more climbing. It’s a beautiful area as well. I love the way quartz is laced through the rock as though drizzled by some master confectioner.

Trudging up Willow Ridge Trail I was soon back in the sun, and was soon back down to only a single wicking layer and a boonie hat. I was encouraged by the extent of recovery I could see in the areas to the south of Willow Ridge that were burned in the Lick fire some 17 months ago. The fire was not very hot in this area, and all of the visible charring is almost gone. The large double trunked pine that stands at the summit point of Willow Ridge is still there, but severely damaged with one of it’s trunks torn off. The mist lingered around the peaks to the southeast all morning making them look mysterious. I enjoyed a good view to the Sierras, but the snowpack is less than spectacular. And indeed the views in all directions were clear, and fine, the subtle color variations inviting a lingering gaze. Perfect for a nice backcountry lunch.

Back down at Los Cruzeros, I made my return trip by way of Mahoney Meadows Road to Lost Spring Trail, gaining altitude all the way to my turning point onto the other part of China Hole Trail, and back down to Coyote Creek. Up until this time I had not seen anyone else all day. Back at China Hole there was a whole group of people headed to some camping area somewhere. I talked to them briefly before heading back up to Manzanita Point by way of Madrone Soda Springs. My GPS batteries quit on me somewhere up the trail, but it’s just as well, because I am not at all happy with its performance. I knew the altimeter was usually off unless I can find a known point to calibrate to. But in trying to plot out my route on TOPO software, the coordinates do not match up very closely with the map. It’s supposed to be within about 15 feet with good reception, but sometimes it’s more like hundreds of feet. Not good enough to accurately show you my route. Maybe later this year I’ll get a decent GPS so I can include the track logs and elevation profiles in my posts.

Click here to see my photoset on flickr
Click here to see my Mississippi Lake photoset from 2006