Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pleasanton Roller Coaster

With the Lockheed fire still causing havoc and air advisories on the coast we decided to hike somewhere in the east bay. In choosing a venue, I always begin by dreaming about getting away somewhere, but we rarely have the time to take long drives, so the scope narrows accordingly. We usually avoid hiking the east bay hills during summer, as notorious as they are for exposure and heat, but we’ve had a mild season this year. I thought of Pleasanton Ridge only because it’s been so long since I last hiked there, I really don’t remember much of it. Maybe it would seem like a new place? It couldn’t hurt to try. At least we would get some trail miles in.

After struggling a little to find our way there because I couldn’t remember the right exit, we finally arrived after a brief tour of the area around old Sunol. Pretty place. We headed up the Woodland Trail, immediately climbing up some switchbacks to get atop the ridge. There are a lot of little shortcut spur trails in this park, and Sue decided to take advantage of them to play one of her little tricks. Thinking she was behind me I waited at one switchback for her to catch up, wondering what she was doing, only to find out she was ahead of me up at the next turn laughing at me. Once out in the open we could see how bad the air quality was on this morning. A little haze would be normal for long range views, but this was much worse, and we wondered how much of that we should blame on local fires. We couldn’t smell smoke, and the air didn’t seem that bad. We hiked north on the Ridgeline Trail, and turned off to visit the olive grove that sits near the south end of the park. The olives all looked very immature and seemed behind the curve for their normal fall harvest. The groves are an interesting diversion though. The rows of trees make for a shady oasis. This would have been perfect if it were lunch time.

The park has numbered posts that correspond to exact locations on the map similar to the Ohlone Wilderness trail. This a great system, but in the middle of the park there is a transition into a City park called Augustine Bernal. The trail markers in the city park are good, but they do not use the number system. It resumes at the other end. The trail system at Pleasanton Ridge rolls along up and down like an attenuated roller coaster ride. Most of the transitions are gentle, but on the whole, expect them to be fatiguing if it’s hot. There’s very little tree cover and lots of dust. The scattered oaks aren’t much help in providing shade. The Bay Leaf trail is the only really shady trail. The California Bays also fill the air with a nice scent. The high route has pretty good views though. We could see south to Mission Peak and Mt Allison’s TV tower. The eastern panorama provides views down on several golf courses, the 680 freeway, over to Maguire Peaks, and to the east bay hills. To the west is another ridge system that eliminates any opportunity for views of the bay. From high points at the north end of the park you can spot Mt Tamalpias, but with all the haze and smoke I couldn’t tell if San Francisco or other details may be visible under better atmospheric conditions. And of course Mt Diablo cannot be missed. Up high the breeze is a welcome ally. We passed a couple of ponds that were teeming with tadpoles, frogs, and dragonflies. Late in the day the wind really picked up and the sky grayed up with some strange cloud formations like some kind of storm, but nothing came of it.

Click here to see more pictures from this hike

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Soothing cricket sounds

And green gardening in the midst of suburbia

We’ve been enjoying the melody of happy sounding crickets in the evening lately. They have evidently taken a liking to Sue’s natural gardening in our little yard. This year she’s been doing a lot of mulching in order to help retain moisture in the ground because of the drought. But this type of mulching is also very beneficial for the plants. She is also using worms this year to help condition the soil. She did some research and brought in some Alabama Jumpers. They are a very active breed or worm that is great for this type of clay-like soil. She’s been cultivating another kind of worm in the garage called Red Wigglers which are good for making mulch. The plants and flowers have responded, and are thriving even though we are actually using less water. And about 1/3 of it is reclaimed from inside the house. But one unintended benefit is the crickets and hummingbirds. I like the sound of crickets outside the window. Their songs help me sleep at night like a lullaby. Natural sounds can be very therapeutic. It’s actually kind of funny to walk around the complex of townhouses we live in, and everywhere else it’s silent, but we have cricket sounds both in front and in back of our unit. We often laugh when we think about what our neighbors must think. The rest of the property has been anesthetized with blowers and chemicals, but we lock them out. Our little space is a natural oasis complete with blissfully singing insects, contented worms, and buzzing humming birds. This spring there was only one cricket out back which I jokingly named Erving. Then there were more, so Sue named another one Ervina. We can’t really tell them apart, nor do we have a clue of their sex for that matter. It’s just in fun. We’ve also been noticing a lot more humming birds coming around than previous years. They have always liked the pepper tree just outside our fence, but this year they come in to investigate the flowers and foliage. Even though it isn’t practical for us to live in the mountains, at least we can create our own little green environment like an island right here in the midst of silly-con valley.

Click the play button below for urban cricket sounds

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cathedral Pass

The last day of our high country trip began as I woke up about 5 AM and realized that we had all zoned out pretty early that night, and I had fallen asleep with only one blanket, and yet had been perfectly warm through the night. The early morning chill was easing dramatically. I had frost on our Biblar tent that first night at Tuolumne, and now less than one full week later it really felt like summer. Strangely, somehow it seemed more exciting to be wrapped up like a mummy in a tomb wondering whether or not my toiletries would freeze up inside the bear locker. I suppose nothing says summertime like partially frozen toothpaste. With weather this nice I decided to let the others sleep. I tossed on some clothes and boots and decided to scramble up the rocks behind the camp to see the sun rise. I suppose if you’re staying at a place called Sunrise, you can’t very well sleep in every morning. I described this little constitutional briefly in a previous post, but thought it was worth more detail here.

In the morning the mosquitoes were not out yet, so I did not need a head net. Walking out behind the dining hall you can pick your spot to begin climbing up. There were people camped out in tents near the base of the rocks so I tried not to make noise. It’s not like the pristine smooth granite of Half Dome or somewhere like that. The rocks all over this area are very coarse providing fantastic traction. The surfaces feel rough as though they were volcanic, but of course they are not. You could probably climb this stuff in any type of shoe even if it were wet. The cracks and separations between the rocks are festooned with brilliant penstemon, both mountain pride in a pinkish shade, almost fuchsia, and meadow penstemon in a purple radius. This gaiety was commonplace throughout this trip whenever hiking amongst the rocks. All of the lakes are lined with pink and white heather, and the rocks are all decked out in festive blooms just like this. As you reach the top of this formation in the fading starlight you have enough altitude to see the silhouette of the Cathedral Range now in view against the grey-blue horizon. Amazingly there were backpackers camped out up in some of the little plateaus high in the rocks. I thought that was an interesting site selection. I found a comfortable spot to sit along a ledge looking down on Long Meadow, with 3 distinct high ranges in my field of vision, and the sky lightening slowly. As the first sunbeams stream over Echo Peak (actually it wasn’t Cathedral as I said before) they paint the back side of Mt Clark creating a very tricky light balance. My poor little camera will never be able to do justice to this kind of dynamic visual effect. The angle then increases to accentuate the whole Clark Range with contrasting shadows and light before descending to the tree line surrounding Long Meadow. As the radiant heat begins touching your face, the full morning breaks on the grasses and streams, the still low angle creating long shadows. With daylight arriving I began to contemplate the fact that we were leaving that day, and my next night would be back in the totally familiar and annoyingly comfortable confines of our townhouse in the city. I couldn’t wait to hear that first errant car alarm.

After breakfast we all packed up and were ready to hit the trail. Our route was the John Muir Trail over Cathedral Pass and over to the Cathedral trailhead at Tioga Road. By this time the sun had fully risen prompting immediate de-layering. The mosquitoes were now out in force; so I used a long sleeved UV shirt to cover my arms, and a head net, with repellant applied to my hands. In camp I used either repellant or socks to keep them off of my feet while wearing sandals. The camp regulars insist that the onslaught will diminish in a couple of weeks. Hiking out along the meadow was an otherwise beautiful and tranquil morning stroll along easy open terrain. I was surprised that we had seen so little wildlife. One evening we watched a whole herd of deer out in the meadow, but since then nothing was around except a few marmots and ravens. At the far end of the meadow you can see Columbia Finger marking the way to the pass. The trail goes back under tree cover for the climb up to the pass. I didn’t bother to measure the exact elevation change from camp, but it was about 800 feet total up to an elevation of almost 10K. Dave made an elevation profile from his GPS. There is a link to Dave’s pictures at the end of this post. From the top there are good long range views, and of course everywhere you go up here there are endless rock scrambling opportunities for all levels. Curious barren rock formations abound from Mathis Crest to Echo and Unicorn Peaks. We took our time and had a nice lunch break under some shady pines alongside a moist green meadow just below Echo Peak. Further on, the trail passes by one of two Cathedral Lakes. The lower lake is a side trip of about 1.5 miles. I spent some time there a few years ago, but this time we skipped it. Instead, I wound up back tracking to try to find our lost photo mascot. A little stuffed bear, which we never found again. Returning it to the wild we continued on hiking down hill toward Tioga. There is one point along the way where there is a cool bubbling spring right alongside the trail. A perfect opportunity to enjoy some incomparably refreshing “real” mountain spring water. We filtered several bottles and took some with us for the trip home. After reaching the trailhead and a brief car shuttle, we were on our way home. On the way out I did notice that wild flower activity had picked up considerably. We had missed the optimum window by just about a week.

Click here to see more pictures from this hike on flickr.
Click here to see Dave's pictures from this hike.