Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hope Emerges for Portola and Castle Rock

Old growth redwood at Portola State Park
It was only a few short weeks ago that I was having a really fine time hiking trails in the area of Castle Rock State Park, and I couldn’t help thinking about all the fine natural beauty we in this area are free to enjoy virtually right at our doorstep in the Santa Cruz Mountains. As I kept walking and brainstorming to myself, I began to consider all the great connectivity of trails that facilitate our recreation and enjoyment of all this blessing and natural heritage, and I couldn’t help thinking about what an egregious waste it would be to actually lock it all up because all the state’s money had been squandered. Nor could I help thinking about what a huge loss it would be to the hiking community for the looming park closures to destroy all that after so many had worked so hard to establish it. It just doesn’t seem right considering that the state only provided matching funds to purchase most of these tracts of land in the first place. The plan was for them to be deeded over to the state primarily because the state has the authority to protect them. Most of the work it takes to maintain them is ably performed by hardy groups of volunteers. In my view they belong to the taxpaying public for their respectful, lawful, enjoyment, as well as for the value they bring to the public in terms of quality of life issues. That’s why I was very encouraged today by the announcement of a new foundation being formed to campaign for keeping Portola and Castle Rock state parks open well into the future.

In September we learned about the successful passage of AB42, which is the bill that allows non-profit groups to help operate state parks that might otherwise be closed due to severe budget cutbacks. Henry Coe State Park which was on the closure list for years, got a big boost with the announcement of The Coe Park Preservation Fund, which actually already existed, which quickly entered into an agreement with the California Department of Parks that will keep that park open through at least 2015. I remember thinking what a great thing that would be if a similar foundation could be similarly brought to bear to protect both Castle Rock and Portola state parks. This press release dated yesterday 12/6/11 announced exactly that. The Portola and Castle Rock Foundation, which  has been the official cooperating association since 1991, with cooperation from Sempervirens Fund, and Adventure Out have taken that goal as their mission. Welcome news, but these parks are not safe yet. (I had originally said not “out of the woods” yet, but that would be ludicrous). The foundation will need to raise about $500,000 in order to ensure that the gates can stay open to the public beyond July of 2012. Tax deductable contributions can be made on line at their website. The Portola and Castle Rock Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit. Hopefully this trend can inspire similar foundations to protect other parks on the closure list as well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Billy Goat Country

Shafts of sunlight illuminate the Fir Trail
Now that Thanksgiving is again just a memory, I’m just now getting around to posting about some of my late November hikes. Back posting is getting fairly common for me especially, ironically, when I have some time off. Any time away from the anthill is valuable, and my tendency is to dispense with routine as much as possible. It’s not rebellion. It’s just my way of looking after numero uno. I don’t let tedium of modern society mess with my melon. Actually, sitting around in front of a computer screen doesn’t always seem very stimulating, even if I’m not particularly busy at the moment. I’m a lot more likely to feel like reading a book or going for a run (low-tech stuff). But first priority is always to get outdoors, even if the weather is not so good. Eventually I get around to playing around on the computer, but it will usually be while I’m sequestered home evenings during the week.

El Corte de Madera Creek
Many hikers avoid El Corte de Madera because its popularity with mountain bikers is well known. Also well known is its history of logging, and steep terrain. But this preserve has had a strange attraction for me that keeps me coming back. There’s something about the hilly up and down topography that doesn’t let the trails get too boring. It’s always just a bit challenging, and if you look hard enough, there are a few old growth survivors to be found that are worth admiring. It’s kind of a shame that hikers stay away.

Aged redwood
As it turns out, the day before Thanksgiving was a perfect time to hike the long route at El Corte de Madera. Not because the weather was especially pleasant. It was a very chilly day with lots of drifting gray clouds and threatening rain. And not because of the fine displays of Iris, spotted coral root, and forget-me-nots that can tempt ramblers to come out there in spring. Late fall is definitely the wrong time for that. But if you get out there on a week day, you can hike without the usual bicycle traffic that this preserve has a reputation for, and this is especially true on a bleak day like the one I got. I only saw one cyclist the whole day, and didn’t see any others on foot either. How can you beat that? Alone to discover the seasonal beauty of this place for a whole day is awesome.

Just to do something different I decided to hike all of the trails that lead outward toward the outer perimeter of the preserve boundaries looping around the entire tract. The interior trails have some interesting features, but I couldn’t remember any time when I hiked entire perimeter all at once. A route like this has a lot of diverse character. Most of the area is densely wooded with a tall shady canopy comprised of the usual Santa Cruz Mountains arboreal diversity. I really love the all aged Douglas firs, and even though most if it is second growth, there’s lots of redwood. The topography is shaped primarily by the chaotic character of the sandstone and serpentine rock forming the base of these mountains. To use a firefighter’s vernacular; this is “billy goat country”. It’s very not-flat, with many transitions, and because the most accessible trail heads are on Skyline (Hwy 35), it’s an inverse hike with an uphill return. When hiking these trails, you can expect a good workout to be part of your day. Call me crazy, but I love it. You just need to choose the opportunities that allow for enjoying it the most. This long route hike really gave me some good “cleansing” time and set the tone for the rest of my holiday. I combined the photos I took on this hike with an existing photoset on flickr from a hike earlier in the year, and the track log from this route is on Every Trail if you want to see the profile.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Saratoga Gap and Travertine Spring

And sudden oak death

Fog bank out at the coast
This area of California is not noted for having a really striking fall. Many of the more suburban areas have lots of carefully planted and manicured trees that display fairly nice color, but that never really impresses me. What I really love is displays of natural growth. I always look forward to perusing photos from my flickr contacts, and checking out blogger content from other parts of the country. To some extent I can live vicariously through them when I can’t get away. That’s the beauty of online photo sharing and blogging. I enjoy great photos from places like the eastern Sierra, Pacific Northwest, and various locations back east, that are all very impressive without even leaving home. But what I really look forward to the most is to get outside, and there are areas around the south bay that do have their own unique quality when fall come into full swing. So that was my goal on a foggy and chilly Saturday morning. The areas around Saratoga Gap and along the southern skyline region have lots of big leaf maple, alders, and deciduous oaks that help to give the fall season a special character, even if you couldn’t really make a post card out of it. The cooler air and increased moisture content play a role too as the shades of green in the mosses and lichens really begin to display vividly, popping out in contrast with the orangey brown of the mulching leaves. The coastal fog rolling in overnight inducing the natural drip system pattering a rhythm on the forest floor provides a nice backdrop to the grayish mist as it floats like an apparition amongst the darkened shapes, and attenuated light.

Deciduous Oaks near Saratoga Gap
As I arrived at Saratoga Gap, I had noticed a temporary sign posted at the trailhead going north from the junction of highways 9 and 35. It had a MidPen logo on it, and provided a brief announcement of a new grant funded oak protection project. There has been an ongoing war being waged between scientists and Sudden Oak Death (SOD) since the mid 1990s in this region, as well as many other areas of California, and part of Oregon. MidPen and the CCC are teaming up to implement the latest front in the war to save California’s heritage oaks. This project involves the removal many California Bay trees from peninsula open space preserves, which did not make much sense to me at first. After all, the California Bay is a native tree species that has co-habited within the coastal range amongst many oak species for millennium. The Native Americans used the leaves for various remedies including headache relief. I have heard a lot about SOD in recent years, and we follow the guidelines for cleaning footgear and staying on trails, but I did not understand about removal of bay trees. The sign at the trailhead does not provide a lot of information, so that compelled me to do a little research of my own in order to better understand the situation.
According to the most reliable scientific studies, SOD is caused by a pathogen which can be classified as water borne mold called Phytophthora ramorum. The pathogen spreads in the form of spores which are born in the wind or by rain. SOD needs an unwitting host which harbors the disease, but does not die from it. The California Bay (Umbellularia Californica), also called California Bay Laurel, Pepperwood, Spicebush, Oregon Myrtle, and other names, have been discovered to be the primary vehicle to spread the disease if they are located within 15 feet of an oak species. This is why this new project has been initiated to remove bay trees that are within close enough proximity to be a threat to vulnerable heritage oaks. This is not the first project of this kind. This article in SFGate describes a similar project that was carried out last July. The following quote from that article identifies the California Bay as a major culprit in spreading SOD.
"The research showed that bay trees are responsible for the spreading of the disease," said biologist Cindy Roessler, the open space district's senior resource management specialist. "If you have a bay tree within 15 feet of an oak tree, that oak tree has a much higher chance of getting the disease."
The seriousness of the situation can be underscored by the following quote from the same SFGate article.
“Scientists have discovered that California bay laurels are the prime harborers of the microscopic spores, which are dispersed in the wind and rain. Arborists and ecologists are afraid that if the tiny marauders aren't stopped, California's golden hills could be denuded of its signature live oak trees. As it is, experts predict that as many as 90 percent of California's live oaks and black oaks could die within 25 years.”

This MidPen document from their website describes an earlier bay tree removal project from 2008. Here is a quote from that document.

“The California bay tree has been identified as a main transmitter of sudden oak death
because it hosts the pathogen on its leaves, but is not killed by it. Spores of P. ramorum
spread from the California bay tree leaves to nearby oak trees, which develop trunk
cankers and die.”

And I will offer one more quote from an article posted to the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management Program website.

“Research in California forests has shown that the greatest predictor of P. ramorum canker on oak is the presence of California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica). Pathologists believe P. ramorum drips or is blown down onto oak trunks from neighboring bay leaves when it rains. Once on the oak trunk, P. ramorum uses natural openings in the bark to colonize the bark tissues, killing cells and clogging water and nutrient transport vessels.”

I could go on, but the science gets really heavy from here, and that's a little beyond my scope. However, it is clear that there is no equivocation from the scientific community on the bay tree removals as being a logical step in order to help arrest the spread of SOD. For more detailed information you can visit the California Oak Mortality Task Force website. Given all the research data and public announcements that I found, I am actually amazed that I had not been more aware of this connection between the bay trees and SOD. I had to get this off my chest because I love bay trees, and I hate the idea that some of them must be destroyed, but this is indeed war, and I am in full support. If I only had more time I would volunteer my help.

San Lorenzo Headwaters
Now back to the hike. Oh, that’s right! I was on a hike. I hiked north on the Skyline Trail making my way through the greyish mire drifting lazily along the ridge tops to the crossover of highway 35 and into Long Ridge OSP. I turned south again using the Achistaca Trail to take me back to the crossover of highway 9, and down to the Saratoga Toll Road Trail. After that I was basically doing the same hike I had done a couple of weeks ago using the Toll Road to get to Travertine Spring Trail. With the progression of the fall weather, I was keen to visit areas with thick populations of the deciduous trees in order to explore the signs of seasonal change.

As the trail descended down toward the headwaters of the San Lorenzo River the fog thinned out into intermittent sunshine. This was on of those odd days when the fog was primarily up high. I was having a really great time checking out, and enjoying the sights, sounds, and even the smells of fall until reaching Castle Rock where I encountered a really large group of hikers that were taking a break around the trail camp. I immediately was thinking that I should really try to get out ahead of them just in case this huge mob of humanity was going to take the Trail I wanted. I was planing to use Loghry Woods Trail to get back to Skyline, and I did not want them to wind up becoming a walking, talking, trail blockage for my assent back to the ridge. I’ve had that happen before with large hiking groups, and it’s really annoying when they don’t have any sense of trail etiquette. Plus their noisy clamor scares away all the wildlife. I decided to make use of the pit toilet there as it was the only one around for miles, and then take off. But when I got finished, lo and behold, there they went en masse down the trail, making a huge racket, in the direction of the junction I was planning to use. And sure enough they began making the turn onto Loghry Woods Trail. Incredulous of my luck, I decided to just hang out around the trail camp for about 30 minutes to let them get well ahead, hoping that would be enough that I would not see them again. Quiet time is good I kept telling myself. The ploy worked, and the rest of my hike was just as pleasant as in the morning. Surely there must be a way to keep Castle Rock open. If this park actually closes, that will severely degrade the trail connectivity of this area. You can visit my photoset on flickr to see some pictures, and see a track log on EveryTrail.

Click here to visit the California Oak Mortality Task Force website
Click here to see MidPen's Sudden Oak Death fact sheet
Click here to download a Guide for Recreational Users from the California Oak Mortality Task Force

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nelson Lake

Echo Creek
Whenever I make a return visit to a location as high on my list of favorite-places-on-earth as Yosemite, the sensory experience of being there has the effect of stimulating a host of old memories of really great camping and hiking trips from years past. When planning a day’s hiking, it can be hard to decide whether to use a route that you know already from a past hike that was especially rewarding somehow, or to seek out new experiences by looking for the best of what you may have missed on previous visits. We have a whole collection of maps and books that we’ve collected over the years. Perusing them all can actually be a little daunting. But on this trip Sue stumbled across a trail description from a little old dog-eared book from who knows when. The book is from a series called High Sierra Hiking Guides by Wilderness Press, copyrighted 1970. These little books do not include any maps. They’re really only collections of trail descriptions, with basic directions on how to get to trail heads, and some marginally useful photos. I do have some nice National Geographic topo maps but they can only show you so much. Reading from the guide book for the Tuolumne Meadows area, there is a fairly detailed description of a route called the “Vogelsang Loop”. The route is a 28+ mile high country loop that is better undertaken as a backpacking trip. Surely this is not the kind of terrain to march over like you were trying to set some kind of record. We’re really just looking to have a nice time in the mountains while recharging the proverbial batteries. But we noticed something interesting. Another of the hike descriptions focuses on a portion of the same loop as an out-n-back to a place called Nelson Lake. The hike begins from the Elizabeth Lake trailhead, which begins at the same campground we were at. However, checking all of our maps, they all show the trail ending in the vicinity of Elizabeth Lake. Searching beyond to the south, Nelson Lake is shown as a feature, but with no trail leading there. Even still, the area seemed very inviting, secluded, and surrounded by unique terrain features, capturing our interest. Obviously there was a trail there at one time, so after considering all the options and making absolutely sure to put fresh batteries in the GPS just in case, we decided to use that tattered old trail description to lead us to this place called Nelson Lake. We were well prepared, but I was expecting this hike to be a lot of fun no matter what happened.

Elizabeth Lake and Unicorn Peak
The hike up to Elizabeth Lake in the morning air was refreshing. Trailhead elevation is about 8600 feet. There are still some wild flowers sprinkled around as you hike up through the woods. In many areas there is brilliant green ground cover which at casual glance looks like grasses. But a closer look and you discover that this is actually a leafy succulent of some kind. Unicorn Creek is not far off, and you can hear the gentle sounds of its course. These woods are beautiful, and if you are early enough, there are no people around. When you reach Elizabeth Lake at 9500 feet you are greeted by commanding views of barren and alien looking Unicorn Peak to the west, and Johnson Peak to the east looking more like a huge knarly rock dome in the middle of a forest. The lake is surrounded by woods and shrubbery, and has rocks strewn about as though fallen from the sky. Signs of ancient glacial activity are everywhere up here. A trail leads around the shores, buy we didn’t take time for that. Elizabeth Lake is pretty, but we knew more people would be along soon as this place is a popular short day hike by itself. We were much more interested to head on up the rocky pass toward Nelson Lake.

Cloudy view from the pass
We quickly found the trail heading south across the lovely open green meadows shadowing the sandy banks of a meandering stream enjoying the breezes. The trail is not marked, but is easily discernable. After about a mile the trail starts climbing again and the habitat changes back into dense woods with many tall, fragrant, incense cedar. The grade keeps getting steeper and soon you are confronted with a steep slope that resembles more of a rock talus, except that the rocks are more embedded in the soil rather than being loose. It’s almost like a natural staircase. What had been a very discernable trail had now become much more obscure. There were no cairns or trail markings at all, making dead reckoning a more reliable way to find you’re way up to the pass at the top of the ridge. I might have built some cairns if I had been sure we were on the best route. We kept hiking up using rocks as steps, and along a passable slot between two steep slopes, and eventually found the trail again on the other side. But pausing at the top of the pass at 10,206 feet the views open up to a breathtaking panorama to the north over the treetops, across Tuolumne Meadows dotted with rocky outcrops, to an expanse of high mountains across the horizon. We took a break at the summit to enjoy the sights before heading on. Views like that are not to be wasted by being in too much of a hurry. Proper trail etiquette compels you to stop, relax, and drink it all in. After all, this is why you hike the Sierra.

Zoomed view to Vogelsang Peak
Back into the trees again the trail begins leading downhill, switching back and forth down through a rocky canyon. You can hear water flowing in a stream down below that is concealed by thick vegetation. As you look through the sparse trees to the west, you can spot the jagged crest of the Cockscomb looming above, and soon the entire Mathis Crest dominates your view to the west as you descend into a valley bordered by the Mathis Crest to the west and Rafferty Peak to the east. As the trail levels out near the bottom, the valley opens up into green meadows, strewn with rock, and a stream system meandering along its course, and lots of wild flowers. In the distance to the south commanding attention in your forward view is Vogelsang Peak directly in your path, which gives you a great landmark for keeping your bearing. As we continued heading south a few more miles, we could notice the trail becoming more obscure, so we began relying more on the GPS than the map or trail. I have California Topo loaded in my GPS, and the mapping is detailed enough to show all the terrain features and Nelson Lake, so we knew we were close. As we approached a solid rock slope, the trail had completely vanished into obscurity, and we were not sure if we should head straight for the lake over the rocks, or continue to follow the stream which would maybe lead around them. We decided to hike up the rock slope to gain higher ground for sight reckoning, which was the more direct route anyway. We hiked over a long rock formation and down into a wooded valley again, and then up another rock slope. Reaching a little pass at the top of the rock ledge, I looked over into the sheltered valley where Nelson Lake lies, ringed by trees and grasses, and surrounded by high jagged peaks and flowing layers rock. Not a sole was down there, and there were really no signs of any human influence at all. It seemed almost perfect. A veritable Shangri-la. This would be a fantastic place to camp out for the night, and permits for the area are available.

Nelson Lake
As we were leaving, we followed our track log back to the trail without doing much exploring. I’m still not sure if the old trail follows the stream around the rocks, or if you need to climb the rocks to get down to the lake. I suspect I’ll be coming back here sometime, so maybe I will have more time to investigate then. We wanted to head back because the skies were beginning to look stormy as the afternoon wore on. The sky in fact continued to darken, and we got rained on a little bit off and on, but not enough to really get soaked. I took some more pictures when we reached the summit pass near the Cockscomb to show the difference in the sky from in the morning. I had been a little concerned about having to hike back down the steep rock slope, slick and wet, down to the lower trail again, but it was no problem. It didn’t get that wet. We did not see any other people until we were back at Elizabeth Lake. We had been on a fabulous hike, and true to the words of John Muir, our cares had melted away.

Click here to see the track log at EveryTrail
Click here to see the photos on flickr

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prescribed burns completed at Big Basin

Looking over Big Basin from China Grade
This time of year is a perfect time to initiate prescribed burning plans. The weather has been just dry enough, and yet the soil conditions have been just moist enough to allow for controlled burn projects. With the temperatures cooling at night, right about now is not only the best opportunity, but is really the only opportunity all year for getting it done. A couple of weeks ago we found a team of CDF firemen preparing to conduct controlled burns at Henry Coe. They had waited for the right conditions, and by now should have completed those plans. Last week prescribed burns were carried out in Big Basin. About 460 acres in the area of Johansen Road was burned to clear out excessive debris and overgrowth. Johansen Road is a fire road along the northern boundary of the park. The remains of the blaze were still soldering on Saturday which was producing noticeable smoke and odor in some areas, but the project was carried out without a hitch, and completed.

There is also some construction work being carried out at Big Basin headquarters. Most of the areas around the headquarters complex including the main office, store, museum, and restrooms have been blocked off because the walkways have been torn up (see photos below). It seems that even though the state is planning to close 70 parks because of lack of funding to keep them maintained, the remaining parks like Big Basin, which are to remain open, still need to comply with the latest ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) demands for improvements. And of course these improvements have to come from the state park budget which has been slashed to the bone already. Parks like Garrapata, Castle Rock, and Portola, have to close completely in order to make compliance improvements at other parks that benefit less than 1% of the population. I am now beginning to wonder whether some of the parks that close may never be able to reopen unless additional funding is found for similar legal requirements.

Store complex
Main office

Trail Closure at Garrapata

(Will not be repaired)

View from Rocky Ridge summit
 It seems the California state park closures are already having an effect on some of the really great little parks on the coast. We drove down to Garrapata State Park last week hoping to get in a quick little half day autumn hike in the ocean air. The reports were showing good likelihood of clear weather, and with Garrapata being on the infamous closure list, it seemed well worth the rather long drive. When we arrived the conditions seemed almost perfect with mostly clear skies and gentle warm sunshine. That was until we crossed the highway and saw the sign at the gate indicating a trail closure. The back side of the Rocky Ridge Trail from the junction with the Peak Trail down to the top of Soberanes Canyon Trail has been closed (see photo below). The sign says its because “potentially hazardous” trail conditions. This means that you cannot hike the loop up through Soberanes Canyon, continuing up to Down Peak, then return by way of descending down Rocky Ridge Trail, which incidentally is our favorite way to hike Garrapata. I suppose you could still hike the canyon trail to the closure point, and then double back before hiking the Rocky Ridge Trail up to the summit. That would still allow the experience of the diversity of the canyon verses the rest of the park.

Trail closure notice
We decided to just hike Rocky Ridge to the summit of Dowd Peak as an out-n-back, but later I wished that we had just ignored the signs and done the hike we wanted to do anyway. The conditions are very likely not nearly as bad as the signs might lead one to believe. This is usually the case because the State has a really annoying, dysfunctional, over-inflated sense of liability. They think they have to treat the public like children. The parks actually belong to the people who have lived here, worked here, and paid taxes in this state all their lives. The trail conditions at Garrapata have actually been less than ideal for years. To make matters worse, I was talking to another hiker who is local to the area and hikes Garrapata regularly, and he told me that he contacted the parks department to ask about repairs. They told him that no repairs are being planned because the park is on the closure list.

At this point this post turns into a little bit of a rant. The state is supposedly closing parks because they say there is no money to maintain them. In fact the state is all but bankrupt mostly thanks to the incompetence of the state legislature. So why then, with the economy in shambles, and all these people out of work, with more going on unemployment every day, and many in peril with their mortgages; why then has the governor signed new legislation that requires taxpayers to fund college education for the children of illegal aliens? Why are we paying for their health care when people who are natural citizens, and have jobs, often have little or no coverage at all? I have to say that I am infuriated by this idiotic state legislature and their pathetic pandering to special interests and unions in order to keep getting elected. I say kick them out on their overstuffed butts! Our parks are not theirs to close, and this is really beginning to hit home with this trail closure.

Don’t worry; I’ll be alright after I’ve had the chance to chill with a good meal and some chamomile tea.I have all but given up on making sense of all this.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mono Pass and Spillway Lake

Lower Sardine Lake and Mono Basin
I’m doing some back posting again from our Labor Day trip to Tuolumne Meadows. I had an interesting talk with one of the rangers as we were walking around on our first day there. We happened to be taking a leisurely late afternoon walk along the river as a young ranger was leading a group on a nature walk. I heard him talking about the various wildlife species in the area, and I paused for a moment to listen in. Noticing us taking an interest, the ranger invited us to tag along. I resisted my initial notion that this would be too “touristy” and we took him up on it. After all, Yosemite’s rangers are generally very knowledgeable folks as well as personable.

Yearling black bear
His presentation was very good, and when his subject turned to bears, I had shared with him about the little yearling cub that was trying his darnedest to sneak into the campground earlier that day. The ranger calling himself B-rad (x-gen for Brad) was very interested to hear the story. He immediately recognized the bear from my description. It was a yearling male cub, a black bear (Ursus americanus), dark brown in color, with blonde streaks in his coat, and a blue ear tag #51. We had tried really hard to do the right thing, discouraging the cub from hanging around the campground, loudly chasing him out of several sites, but B-rad had a story to tell about that little bear. He told us about how that bear’s mother had trained her cubs to look for food around people, recognizing and breaking into any unprotected areas likely to contain food. A tragic story really, because as cute as he is now, he will eventually become a serious nuisance when he grows larger, stronger, and probably more aggressive. That will eventually spell trouble. With the cubs on their own now, the mother, sadly, has already been euthanized as a “dangerous” bear. But B-rad, recognizing my interest in wildlife, had invited me to come to the campfire meeting that evening to hear his discussion about bighorn sheep. After working through the same misgivings about being too “touristy”, I took him up on that as well.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep (photo courtesy of Lewis & Clark Wiki)

It was actually a very engaging little talk, interesting as well as entertaining, during which B-rad, who is an avid backpacker, shared about his personal multiple year quest to spot the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) that were reintroduced to the Yosemite backcountry years ago. This subspecies of bighorn was once thought to have vanashed from the Sierra range that gives it its name. It is thought that they had fallen victim to diseases from domesticated sheep which once grazed the high meadows. That was until a healthy herd was discovered in a very remote section high in King’s Canyon years ago. Some of the King’s Canyon herd was later reintroduced to the Yosemite area. B-rad was also willing to share some tips about where someone might go to find likely places to spot them. One of the places he mentioned was surprisingly close by, which really peaked my interest. The prospect of spotting bighorns had me excited, even though the odds of success were low. The area of interest was the various rocky slopes visible from Mono Pass. I figured the worst case would be to have a beautiful high country hike, spend some time sitting around studying the knarly slopes, and not see any sheep. This is a hike I had done before years ago, and I remembered looking east from just beyond the pass and having some really nice views down to Mono Lake, and gazing at the stark beauty of the surrounding peaks, and inviting meadows, but I had no idea there might be wild sheep roaming the area. According to B-rad, they don’t spend much time in the high peaks as he originally thought. They tend to move along on the rocky slopes, some of which are visible from the Mono Pass area. And so it was due time to head back there.

Parker Pass Trail
There is a trailhead along Tioga Road about 3 miles west of the Tioga Pass entrance station. The trail begins within a dense forest of lodgepole and white bark pines which is still sprinkled with some late season wild flowers. Along the way there are some really picturesque open meadows and a couple of creek crossings, all of which are tributaries to Dana fork Tuolumne. Soon the trail leads alongside Parker Pass Creek, which flows directly down from Spillway Lake. Several access points make great places to filter water, and admire wild flowers. Even this late in the year, all the creeks are still flowing well, and all of the water we were using on our hikes was pure snow melt we had filtered out of streams. It really makes the treated water at the campground taste like crap. After a few miles we passed the junction for Spillway Lake which was a tempting diversion, but I would save that for later. After the sun came out, Mariposa lilies were blooming which are one of my favorites, along with a host of other species (see my photos). We also saw ruins of some old mine shacks, called the “ghost mines”, and lots of small critters.

Summit Lake with Mammoth Peak in the background
After the junction for Parker Pass the terrain becomes very open, exposing vast meadows and lots of high peaks, and the views are tremendous. Along the trail to Mono Pass you hike along the shores of several crystal clear high lakes. The smaller lakes have no names, but I took photos of Summit Lake, and Upper and Lower Sardine Lake. They're not huge, but make a great foreground for the looming peaks. Further down the canyon is Walker Lake. The sign at the pass reads elevation 10,599 feet. From here you begin to have commanding views of the high sierra crest dominated by Mt Gibbs and Mt Dana to the north, with Mt Lewis to the south. We hiked beyond the pass a couple of miles into Bloody Canyon, named after a huge Indian battle between the Mono and Ahwahnechee peoples. We found some negotiable rock outcrops that made fine viewing locations to sit and have lunch and keep a lookout on the surrounding slopes for wild sheep. We could see all the way down across Mono Basin part of Mono Lake, and a section of the While Mountains. This trail can take you all the way down into the Mono Basin eventually bringing you into Devil’s Postpile national monument thousands of feet below. These jagged layered rocks off trail were a great place to just spend some quiet time gazing into clear lakes, scanning the peaks, breathing the air, and catching some gentle rays. We never actually spotted any sheep, (curses....), but we paid some dues in trying, and eventually we will succeed, perhaps in a different location. With scenery like this, this hike is far from a wild goose chase, or actually a wild sheep chase. It’s actually very rare to spot them. B-rad had tried for years before finally spotting any, but they are there. But even without any sightings, the hiking is really a fine time.

Spillway Lake
When we started heading back to the trailhead I really wanted to get down to check out Spillway Lake. It seemed like a long way back to the junction, but one of our old maps shows a trail heading down there from the Parker Pass trail. Sue decided to head back on her own while I would hike down to the lake, and then find the trail back to the junction, and back to the car, arriving no more than about 1 hour after she got there, or so I promised. I headed up toward Parker Pass, and could see down to the lake, but the trail shown on the old map was not to be found. At least it was not marked. Looking over the terrain, I could see that I could easily reach the lake by just hiking cross country following down along the little creeks, so that’s what I did. I made my way to the shores of the lake at the foot of Kuna Crest south which obviously gave the lake its name. The snow packs into the cracks and crevasses of the high rocky crest and flows down forming the lake, which in turn feeds into Parker Pass creek, and ultimately into Dana Fork Tuolumne. It was such a beautiful and tranquil setting, and with no one around, I wanted so much to just hang out for awhile and enjoy it. It was very hard to leave, but I needed to stay on pace as promised. So I snapped a few photos, then quickly found the trail alongside the creek leading back to the junction with Mono Pass trail, and headed back. I had an amazing time, and would recommend this hike to anyone, whether or not you have the patience to sit around trying to spot the highly elusive Yosemite big horns. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

Click here to see my track log at EveryTrail 
Click here to see my photos on flickr
Click here for more information on the Sierra bighorn @ SNBSF

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Travertine Springs Loop

View south from Travertine Springs Trail
  Today I was out for a quick solo hike using an old favorite route that I had not been back to for some years. This little 9.7 mile route is great for a quiet, shady, mountain walk under the trees. The hike really lifted my spirits today, so I thought it was worth sharing. I began at Saratoga Gap and hiked down Skyline to the Sea to the junction with the Saratoga Toll Road. The toll road trail is one of those trails that is largely underutilized, but is really a beautiful trail. It stays further away from the highway so you are never consciously aware of the road traffic higher up. This trail also provides many more great view opportunities along the way than does Skyline to the Sea, and it’s much quieter. I made my way down to the Travertine Springs Trail which provides a route back up to Castle Rock State Park. This trail is also a seldom used trail which is really quite beautiful and peaceful. As you hike toward Castle Rock, before long you begin to notice the horsetails and other leafy green vegetation indicative of a water source, and resulting in very moist soils. The area around the actual spring looks almost tropical except for the tall conifers that tower above. It’s an interesting area to check out. Along the way you also cross over the San Lorenzo River at a point very near its origin. This is the same river that runs past Henry Cowell and ends out at ocean passing right through downtown Santa Cruz. The river still has a very nice current even this late in the year. You will also pass over other tributaries over foot bridges along the way before heading back uphill to the trail camp at Castle Rock. From there you can use the Loughry Woods Trail to get up to Skyline. This trail is also very pretty, but you cannot help being a little bothered by the noise from the private rod and gun club adjacent to Castle Rock where locals go to play with their guns. After crossing the highway you can pick up the Skyline Trail back to Saratoga Gap to complete the easy 9.7 mile route which requires only moderate elevation change. It would be worth checking out soon with the status of Castle Rock still in grave peril as it is on the infamous closure list.

Controlled Burning at Coe

We hiked at Henry Coe on Monday, and it turned out to be hot and dry, even though there was a lot of low fog in Morgan Hill. There was a CDF crew up there preparing for some prescribed burns. Thanks to the excellent wet season of last winter/spring, wild fires in California have been pleasantly absent from the news. This year’s usual allocation of funding and resources for fighting fires has not needed to be depleted for emergencies. This means that the State parks and CDF are free to team up, using those resources for proactively preventing future damaging wild fires. On Monday, the team was at Coe headquarters contemplating starting a controlled burn on Middle Ridge. As it turned out the day was too hot and dry to proceed at that time. Instead, they utilized the time preparing by cutting breaks around some of the beautiful old growth manzanita groves on Middle Ridge to further protect them during the controlled burn process. There was a similar manzanita section near the Jackass Trail that burned extremely hot during the 2007 Lick Fire, and it was reduced to an ashen moonscape. They told us that the team will begin later in the week when the weather is expected to get cooler, or perhaps light it at night. They plan to light controlled fires on Middle Ridge and parts of Hobb’s Road pending approval from the Bay Area Air Quality District. If you are planning hiking in that region in the near future you may want to reconsider. Check on conditions before departing.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gaylor Lakes Basin

Gaylor Lakes Basin
I’m doing some more back posing here. I had let my blog go into hibernation for a couple of months, but we did some really nice hikes during the week after Labor Day while we were camped out at Tuolumne Meadows, so I thought they were worth writing up. A funny thing happens in Yosemite right after Labor Day. People start leaving in droves. The weather might actually be great, and the conditions may be superb, but most of the public packs it in and heads home right on schedule as the off-season officially begins. We were passing entire trains of cars and RVs going the other way as we were driving up highway 120 to Tioga Road. There are still services open at Tuolumne Meadows like the grill, store, mountaineering shop, and gas station, but overall, it’s much more peaceful.

Middle Gaylor Lake
The winter of 2010 - 2011 had bumper crop snowfall, and even this late in the season, the upper Tuolumne is still flowing strong. The snow melt filtering down from the high Sierra crest is still actively feeding the myriad of lakes and creeks with fast moving crystal clear water. If we only could get several years in a row like this one, we would begin to see the re-establishment of the Yosemite glaciers that have receded into extinction in recent years. All things considered, it was a great time to be in the high country. This trip was amazing because most of the hiking we did was on trails that neither one of us had ever been on before, which proved to be like a new awakening to the Tuolumne area. Some of the trails that I had bypassed on previous trips turned out to be really fantastic inspiring hikes. Gaylor Lakes Basin was one of them.

Dana Meadows
Being Santa Clara Valley (anthill) dwellers who live at virtual sea level, we had planned this hike as an acclimation day because it seemed like the trail would not present a major challenge. We were interested in the trail that begins at the Tioga Pass entrance station to the park. There is a route to the lower Gaylor Lake that follows the Dana fork Tuolumne, crosses the river, crosses Tioga Road, and heads out across the moraine flat. That route is tempting, and would get you to the shores of the lower lake in about 5 or 6 miles. We decided on the other trail after one of the trail guides we read characterized that trail as “viewless”. So we used our car to get to the small parking area at the Tioga Pass trailhead, elevation about 9943 feet.

Leichtlin's Mariposa Lilly (Calochortus leichtlini)
The trail begins by climbing about 600 feet up a small ridge system. The lower section is mostly populated with stunted lodgepole pines, but there is plenty under-growth and some wild flowers are still lingering. Among the most interesting were Leichtlin's Marisposa Lily (Calochortus leichtlini), Pine Forest Larkspur (Delphimium gracilentum), and some kind of yellow cinquefoil I still have not verified, and a few others. Climbing up the switchbacks you get a few glimpses of Mt Dana through the trees. The trail never gets very steep, even though I was feeling the altitude a little. This was only our first full day above 9000 feet. As you get close to the top the trees thin out to almost barren rock. Hiking along the side of the ridge, the openness provides the first view opportunity as you get unobstructed vistas down to the lush green Dana meadows, and a cluster of little ponds around the Tioga Pass area. You can see Mt Dana and Glacier Canyon, and lots of the Sierra Crest. After you crest the top, you can then see over into the Gaylor basin. The trees up here are mostly stunted white bark pine. The growing season is short up here.

Lemmon's Painbrush (Castilleja lemmonii)
As you begin to descend into the basin, the middle Gaylor Lake, largest of the 3 Gaylor lakes, spreads out along a flat plateau with the wind buffeting the surface like an inland sea. In the background the still partially snow packed Sierra Crest stretches across the horizon in the distance. After walking along the middle lake, the trail then continues up a little eroded creek through lush grasslands dotted with wild flowers. We saw some brook trout in the creek, and assumedly they are in the lakes too. The trout are introduced. No fish can naturally spawn up this high because of all the waterfalls. There’s miniature lupine still popping up all around, and lots of Lemmon’s Paintbrush (Castilleja lemmonii), with it’s distinctive pinkish-purplish coloration. A few Sierra Wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum ssp. Perenne) are still around too. Sue really loves the fragrance of those. See my pictures for more species, some of which I still have not identified. Continuing up the trail following the creek, and gaining about 400 more feet, the upper lake comes into view. There was still some hard snow pack along the trail and we walked over that rather than sink into the marshy soil along its edge, which almost had the consistency of quicksand. The lake is surrounded by barren rock slopes with Gaylor Peak right across reflecting in the clear waters. The trail begins to climb again, headed up into the rocks to a plateau at 10,780 feet where the remnants of a long abandoned silver mine lies, called the Great Sierra Mine. The views from this place are simply superb. An intricate variety of peaks, some green, some barren, some still with packed in snow, and stunning clear lakes with melt water flowing down the course of the creeks. You can walk around and see the various ruins of the old mining camp including an old filled in mine shaft. You can also walk over to a little rock ledge for a fantastic view down Lee Vining Canyon and enjoy a great view of Mt Conness, the highest peak in Yosemite. It’s a short hike of only about 8 miles round trip, but is worth spending some time here enjoying the quietness and stark beauty. More energetic hikers can walk cross-country to over to Granite Lakes, or explore off trail further back in to the rocky terrain beyond the mine site. I didn’t record a track log, but I do have a photoset on flickr.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Henry Coe gets a Reprieve

The specter of the 70 California park closures announced last year, scheduled for July 2012,  have been looming on the horizon like a flock of vultures circling a mortally wounded carcass ever since. On June 30th, newly elected governor Jerry Brown approved a budget deal that cuts an additional 22 million dollars from the already gutted state Department of Parks and Recreation. Most notable on the closure list for me was one of my favorite wild land preserves; the former ranch lands of Henry Coe State Park. But lately, there was a welcome glimmer of good news. Assembly bill 42 has passed! AB 42 is the bill that allows non-profit groups to help operate state parks that might otherwise be closed, and was signed and passed on September 6th. Not wasting any time, on September 9th, the Coe Park Preservation Fund, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation have signed an agreement that will allow for the park to stay open through at least 2015. The CPPF will provide funds to continue the staff salaries (3 full time employees), and the DPR will ensure that revenue generated by the park will be returned to the park to cover the costs of its operation and maintenance. This could only be possible because of the dedicated cadre of volunteers that are already doing most of the work it takes to keep the trails in shape, and staff the visitor’s center. So for now, the closure list is officially down 69.

What happens in the future will depend on the viability of funds that can be provided by the CPPF, and that the ranks of volunteers can stay strong. Perhaps at some point in time in the future, provided that better times are ahead for California, the parks and recreation budget can recover, but for now there are ways for individuals help. 1) Go on a hike or some other activity at Henry Coe. You will be charged a day use fee of $8.00 per vehicle if you park at headquarters. If you want to camp in a headquarters campsite, the fee is $20 per night. Senior rates are $7 day use parking and $18 for camping. 2) While you are there, patronize the gift shop at the headquarters complex. 3) Donate directly to CPPF. 4) Contact the Pine Ridge Association and ask about becoming a volunteer. 5) Have a great time at Coe and tell other people how awesome it is.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Point Lost

Panorama of "Point Lost"
I was perusing Every Trail last Friday evening trying to decide where I might satisfy my wander lust the following morning, when I happened across a guide posted by username alpharomero on a hike he did to Butano Ridge in Pescadero Creek. It caught my attention because the track log showed usage of a trail head that I didn’t even know existed, along a road that I had not even heard of before called Wurr Road. It was interesting to discover that there was some nook or cranny that I hadn’t been to before in this place. But what really peaked my interest was the mention of a side trip to a viewpoint to the ocean from Butano Ridge. Every time I’ve hiked Butano Ridge, I have always lamented that the property lines do not allow access to long range views to the south and west, which I always speculated would include Pacific Ocean views. The last time I hiked there, I even did a post here called “The Windowless Ridge”, in which I characterized the hike as one that must be a journey rather than a goal. Meaning, in the context of that post, that there wasn’t any really special point that seemed like the highlight feature of the hike. However, after reading alpharomero’s guide, it seemed apparent that my characterization was not completely correct. And having vaguely remembered that I did see a trail sign up there that said there was a possible ocean view by hiking further north on the ridge loop trail, I decided I had to go back and seek out this obscure place that I have since renamed "Point Lost", to find out what I had missed.

Natural tar deposits in Tarwater Creek
The guide posted by alpharomero uses a route along Old Haul Road. Old Haul is an old logging road which I usually try to avoid. Old roads often seem boring, and in Pescadero Creek, the single tracks pass right through the most beautiful areas, while routes like Old Haul, being more utilitarian in their original purpose, tend to bypass them. I will always pick a single track trail over a fire road or logging road whenever practical. My usual route for hiking Butano Ridge begins in Portola State Park, but I wasn’t really keen on burning a state park pass, or 10 bucks, for access to Portola when the hike takes place mostly in Pescadero Creek. So I used this occasion to devise a semi loop route using the Camp Pomponio Road trail head. This route uses some of the really nice thickly wooded trails in Pescadero Creek to get me to the northern leg of the Butano Ridge loop trail. I would then hike up to seek out this mysterious overlook as an out-and-back, and return by hiking up the other side of the Tarwater loop to get back to my parked car. There wasn’t really much point to this exercise, except for the fact that I love to hike, and needed to get outside for the day.

I hadn’t thought about it until I had already turned onto Alpine road and could see lots of low fog was blanketing the ocean. Sometimes the fog will clear out by midday, and other times it hangs like a cheap suit the whole day. As I began, I knew that I might not actually see anything from Point Lost at all except for a sprawling carpet of murky oceanic fog, but I was already committed, and really wanted to hike. Did I mention that I really just like to hike? So I headed across the road to the northern part of the Tarwater loop at about 1000 feet, descending down into the canyon, and all the way to Tarwater creek at 374 feet. By the time you reach the creek bottom, you have passed through the grassy meadows and oak woodlands, and are now in thick conifer habitat. This creek was named for the natural tar deposits that seep up from underground making the waters look like the victim of an oil spill. All the rocks and soil along the banks are coated with the stuff.

After crossing the creek on the half-missing footbridge, I made my way to the Canyon Trail. This section of the Canyon Trail is very thickly wooded with a tall canopy overhead. Along here are some of the most interesting tree specimens in the park. Remnants of legacy logging abound, but there are some old growth trees left, and the always amaze me. There is something almost spiritual about old growth trees, especially redwoods like these. One of the trees along here has the most massive widow-maker burl I have ever seen. The ground is covered with sorrel, and the air is moist and crisp, and scented with the aroma of redwood bark.

Tall redwoods
Turning on Bear Ridge Trail I began climbing back up to about 957 feet before descending again to the junction with Pomponio Trail. Turning there, descending further to Shaw trail camp. With no one at the camp, I hiked on, dropping down all the way to Pescadero Creek at 251 feet, where you have to make a crossing. Not anticipating much water this time of year, I had not brought my trekking poles. I can usually make good use of them when I have to make crossings by using the rocks and logs. I hadn't anticipated it, but this year had been a very wet year and the creek was still flowing a good six inches deep, so the poles would have been welcome . I was able to use some fallen wood and made it across getting my boots only marginally wet, but not wet enough to seep through the GoreTex. Hiking on I made my way up to the Butano Ridge Trail after crossing Old Haul Road.

From the creek up to the top of Butano Ridge, the trail climbs up to 1672 feet over 2.5 miles. Not really a butt kicker, but definitely enough to work off what ever you had for breakfast. The recovering redwood forest is thick enough to keep you in the shade the whole time whatever the weather, and you won’t see any more water for awhile. When you reach the junction at the top, the trail tees with a fire road, and there is a trail sign indicating a view point in 1 mile to the north with the park boundary another mile after that. The mysterious Point Lost was at hand. If you were to turn left the fire road would take you along the ridge to the other side of the loop trail where you can’t see anything but no trespassing signs to the west. Almost immediately the fire road begins turning into a washboard type trail. Descending steeply down, then back up, then down again and back up. You finally arrive at the view point reaching 1720 feet.Check out my track log for the profile.

The Old Tree
After seeing the view from this the overlook, that’s when I decided that I would officially name the place “Point Lost”. I named it that for the fact that I had missed it all these years, and for the stunning view to the formless milky white void stretching to infinity, and the mist that was drifting inward, indicating that the fog was actually heading in, not breaking up. It was only about 11:30, so fog moving in at that hour is quite unusual, but hey, it’s the Pacific. True ramblers are having a good time almost whatever the circumstances, even when you can’t see a freakin’ thing at the viewpoint. I completed the hike by descending back down the Butano Ridge Trail back to Shaw trail camp. Hiking the other direction on Pomponio Trail, I found my way to the other part of the Tarwater loop trail and back up to the trail head. This section of the Tarwater trail is worth checking out because about half way up, it has one of the more amazing redwood trees in the whole Santa Cruz Mountain region. It’s simply called “The Old Tree” and it is massive and ancient. If you have been to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove and seen the tree called Grizzly Giant, this tree will remind you of it, albeit a smaller, slightly less awsome version. The Grizzly Giant has massive upper limbs that jut outward at almost 90 degrees. Then bending upward, each limb supports a growth structure that dwarfs the size of a normal tree by itself. This tree is a coast redwood, and is not as huge as that, and doesn’t have as many limbs, but it’s awesome enough to bring out the images of the last time you visited “The Griz” while hiking Mariposa Grove. When I got back to my car, my trip odometer read 17.4 miles with total ascent of 3625 feet.

Click here to see my track log at Every Trail
Click here to see my photos on flickr

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gastineau Peak

View to Juneau from the Mt Roberts Trail
There are some absolutely fabulous trails near Alaska’s panhandle boroughs. From late spring to early fall there are actually more tourists in this region than residents. Not that I ever like to think of myself as a tourist, but in this case, it’s appropriate. I’ve never been anywhere else before where you can find such dramatic and pristine landscapes within walking distance from a town. In our local area where we live, we have a great many trails to choose from, and I never get tired of getting outside to spend the day at some wild space preserve or another. But if you really want to experience awesome inspiring scenery, and have a world class hiking experience, you really need to get away for awhile. At the very least, you would need to drive for hours just to get clear of the sprawling anthill that is the bay area metropolis. However, in Juneau, for example, you can be walking down a city street past shops, restaurants, hotels, homes, etc; hang a right, and climb a flight of stairs; and there is a trail head heading up into the temperate rainforest at the base of the steep alpine terrain of the mountains that loom above the city. In this neighborhood, the wilderness areas begin right at the doorstep of the largest center of human habitation for hundreds of miles. It’s enough to make you want to miss your ship, and stay lost until your money runs out.

Snowy peaks
There are quite a few choices, but the hike we decided on was the same hike we had done back on 2008. We were hoping for clearer weather than we had last time because we had never made it to the summit of Mt Roberts, but the conditions were about the same. There was still packed in snow along the narrow ridge heading up into the low clouds. I would not have wanted to try it without crampons and an ice axe, so we still have never made the summit. But even without setting out for Mt Roberts, we had the most amazing day. The other fork to Gastineau Peak is a really gorgeous hike.

We began by walking out of town on Basin Road to the lower trail head of the Mt Roberts Trail. Many people skip this section by taking the tram from the harbor area up to the Visitor’s center located about 1750 feet up the mountain. There are some nice view points up there, and some short nature trails. You can even have a meal at the restaurant and enjoy the nature center up there before heading back down. The tram tickets have gone up in price to $27. Hikers have another option though. You can pay $10 for a down only pass on the tram. Or if you make a purchase at the gift shop, you can use your receipt as a down only pass. The lower trail has some steep and muddy sections, but hikers are more likely to enjoy the rain forest hike more than wimping out on the tram.

Rainbow in Silverbow Basin
When you reach the visitor’s center there will be lots of people around, but the tram can only bring a limited number people. As you continue to hike up the trail, the crowds thin out, and before long, a trail signs indicates that you are entering the wilderness area. Above the tree line, the terrain opens up, and the trail gets steeper and a little rougher. The open terrain supports lots of plants, grasses, wild flowers, and wildlife. At this time, many of the hillsides were covered in white bunchberry (ground dogwood) blossoms. There was also lots of purple lupine and yellow cinquefoil. The higher you hike, the better the views. On a clear enough day you will enjoy the most amazing views. The visual panorama takes your breath away. Gorgeous textured green mountain sides flowing into deep basin valleys with lingering white snow fields adding lots of contrast, and lots of gentle peaks, some of which are literally reaching into the clouds. Far below to the west is Gastineau channel, and across its depth are distant peaks and islands along the inside passage. The Chilkoot range to the north and layers of peaks in all directions highlight the glacial carved landscape. Lots of small animals are scurrying around, and we got buzzed by several bald eagles. The trail junction to Mt Roberts was too snowbound, so we headed for Gastineau Peak at about 3460 feet. When you get there you can sit and gaze into Silverbow Basin which has a mining history, many cascade waterfalls, several avalanches, and on this trip we got treated to a really nice rainbow. We spent some time on the peak before the skies started drizzling rain. We donned our GoLite umbrellas and headed down, taking advantage of the down only free ride on the tram for our patronage of the gift shop to purchase some nice waterproof over-gloves. I would highly recommend this trail if you happen to be in Juneau.

Click here to see my photos on flickr
Click here to see my trip report and GPS track on Every Trail