Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tora Tora Tora

I almost waited too long before making a visit to one of my favorite Tiger Lily habitats to peruse this year’s bloom. I recently found that many of the tiger lilies are already fading, but an equal number of buds have still to bloom. That probably makes it the peak season right now. To find tiger lilies you need to seek them out near moist areas close to creeks and bogs. The photos I am sharing here are from an area along Pescadero Creek where there is no trail. I was making my way along the rocky creek bed and wading through several inches of water using logs and rocks as much as possible. But there are some much easier places to see tigers though. If you go to Portola headquarters and walk over to the Iverson trailhead that leads down to the creek there is usually a cluster of them right near the footbridge. Another relatively easy place is along Opal creek in Big Basin along the trail section that leads up the ridge away from the escape road. For a longer hike, Peters’ Creek grove in Portola usually has several areas with clusters of blooms. Also several areas along Skyline to the Sea trail west of the falls area will usually show leopard lilies with a more subdued coloration. These are just some suggestions, and exploring is always fun, but don’t wait; get out there as soon as possible for the best displays. They won’t be around the local areas much longer and won’t be back until next year. I uploaded a photoset on flickr if you want to see more.
California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum )   

California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum )

California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum )

California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum )

California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum )

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tamarack Flat to El Capitan

View east from El Capitan

It seems that there is always another awesome hike to be discovered around Yosemite Valley beckoning a hiker’s spirit to get boots on the ground. If Half Dome is the most iconic feature of Yosemite Valley, then the runner up for that honor must (arguably) be mighty El Capitan. The Ahwahneechee name for the rock is Totokonoolah, which probably means something like “The Chief” or “Rock Chief”. The name El Capitan comes from the Mariposa Battalion being a loose Spanish translation of the native moniker, of which “The Captain” is truly worthy. In the early days of Yosemite as a national park, the original Big Oak Flat road (wagon road) had a very sharp curve which was referred to by guides as “OMG point”. As a wagon negotiated the curve approaching from the west, El Capitan in all its glory would become immediately and suddenly visible from a short distance, inspiring wide eyed surprise and gaping awe. Even today the same sort of effect takes place on the modern paved road as the immense granite face appears through the trees on Southside Drive. Like Half Dome, it was once considered to be impossible to climb, but today El Capitan’s 3000 foot high granite wall has become a personal challenge for accomplished technical climbers from around the world with dozens of established climbing routes. And like Half Dome, the summit is also accessible to hikers by trail.

Zoom to the Clark Range
 Lots of backpackers visit the summit of El Cap along with other points of interest while hiking some variation of the north rim trail, after first obtaining a wilderness permit. For day hikers there are actually 3 possible routes, but I would guess the most popular route must be by way of the Yosemite Falls trail from the valley floor. I hiked that route back in 2005 (pre-blog), visiting the top of the falls, and Eagle Peak along the way, which was a fantastic day of magnificent sights and great challenging hiking. My wife and I also had a memorable hike in May of 2009 on that route, but could not make El Cap due to deep melting snow that was too unstable. But there is another approach from the west which I had never done before this hike. I had planned on hiking the route from Tamarack Flat during my trip in 2012 but had a really interesting day then. On this trip we (my wife and I) finally got it in our trail log.

Jeffery Pine
Tamarack Flat is one of Yosemite’s non-reserved campgrounds. Campsites there are first-come first-served. To reach it you need to drive a narrow, rough, winding little road for about 3.5 miles from Tioga Road not far from Crane Flat. There is a small general parking area which can serve as trail head parking, but as I found out on my last trip, there are no bear lockers except for those in the campsites. On the far end is a gated trail head at about 6,165 feet. The first section begins as an old road, and is probably still used for fire access if needed. Despite the namesake, my observation of conifer populations were approximately equal amongst tamarack/lodgepole, sugar pines, and white fir. Near the campground are a few burned areas showing good recovery, but most of the forest is tall and fragrant, with quite a bit of thick lichens, and showing evidence of weathered patina common at this altitude.

After roughly half a mile you pass the first of several little creeks and begin enjoying seasonal wild flowers, most prevalent near the riparian areas (see my photos). The trail continues descending gently all the way down to Cascade Creek where there is a backpacking trail camp about 2.5 miles in. Some Yosemite hiking guides have this little hike to Cascade Creek listed as a short day hike by itself. This is a pretty area with a nice little cascade down a narrow little canyon, a beautiful little pool upstream, some rocks to explore, and abundant greenery and wild flowers. Continuing on, the trail heads gently downhill toward the junction with part of the old Big Old Flat road where there is a junction to head toward Foresta. Bearing left on a short section of the old road you finally reach the low point of the hike at 5863 feet just over 3 miles in, and bear left again to begin a rather relentless uphill.

The next section of trail climbs about 1,890 feet in roughly 2.85 miles using GPS data, and as always, GPS margin of error applies. This hike is interesting because the summit that is your destination is actually not the high point of the route. You reach the highest point at approximately 7,753 feet just before descending again to Ribbon Creek. Some portions of the trail are quite steep, while others are gentle, but the route is scenic and will keep your mind busy taking in the sights. At one point you spot what looks like a high granite ridge ahead reaching above the trees, but your ascent will eventually bring you well above that point and into the subalpine. Along one section the trail follows up along a rock slope with sparse weathered jeffery pines scattered about, some of which are very stately looking, and you can spot mariposa lilies and other wild flowers that like sun. The next section levels out somewhat and brings you through a dense wooded area which shows lots of white fir and incense cedar, and you can spot lots of pine drops and spotted coral root. Soon after cresting the top of the route the trail descends toward Ribbon Creek and along Ribbon Meadow with more wild flowers that like moist areas. After passing a boggy area with questionable water, you eventually get access to the Ribbon Creek further along where you can filter water for drinking. Ribbon Creek is the source of Ribbon fall, and is usually down to a trickle by mid summer. We found there was plenty of water flowing even though this was a very dry year. The only other potential drinking water stop is all the way down at Cascade Creek.

Alpine Lily (Lilium parvum)

Hiking on from the creek you begin climbing again and soon can begin to see across the chasm of Yosemite Valley and the immense rock structure that is abutted by  El Capitan. As you hike up along the side of the rock ridge admiring the displays of stonecrop, you eventually break out onto “The Captain” and the long range views are simply tremendous. From the top of the rock you can see its true shape. From the bottom it looks like it must be flat on top but it isn’t. El Cap is dome shaped on top and it would be foolhardy to attempt to get near the edge. This will limit the dramatic effect of being able to look over a very high precipice like you can at Eagle Peak, Half Dome, or the top of the falls. Since you cannot see straight down, you cannot even see the valley floor at all, but the long range views will be worth the effort. You also get the satisfaction that you are standing atop a genuine icon; a natural wonder. The cool mountain breeze feels really great on your face, and the mountain spirit will fill your senses. The day we did this hike there was a fire burning near Yosemite Creek deemed the “forbidden fire”, and it was high in the no-fight zone. This was making a lousy haze effect that you can spot in my photos from this hike. The total round trip elevation gain was 3,711 feet with a distance of 17 miles. I uploaded a photoset on flickr, and created a trip report at EveryTrail if you want to see more.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Red, White, & Blue and Trilliums too

Mule deer graze at Edgewood Park

It’s kind of a bummer that the rains of early season have not continued. Now the trends are again for a dry season overall. The Sierra snow pack is now reported to be at only 60 % of normal after what had seemed like a bountiful fall. I’m beginning to wonder if there still is a “normal” weather profile for California, or indeed the rest of the nation. But despite of the drop-off in precipitation, its still getting interesting along the trails in the bay area. I believe it was Jane Huber who first coined the phrase "red, white, & blue" describe the first early season blooms, almost as though nature was doing a little flag waving. Or more specifically, Indian warrior, milk maids, and hound’s tongue, which always spring forth early, at about the same time, as though it would be more appropriate for 4th of July. I’ve also been enjoying seeking out fetid adders tongue in various places lately, not that their greenish and brown coloration would fit that theme very well. It’s just as well though because they are already shedding their blooms leaving only mottled looking leaves. Well now you can add trilliums to the mix as they are showing up now too. I found some really great looking giant trilliums yesterday which are showing some interesting color variations from the usual dark purple or white blooms. I am also seeing lots of white and pinkish western trilliums popping out now, and even spotted a few un-bloomed pods of mission bells. Bird calls are beginning to resonate throughout the forests now too. I don't recognize all of them, but I recorded some video clips with sound. Unfortunately I couldn't get them to load for some reason, but I added some photos below and more at the link provided. With the weather as accommodating as it is now, out on the trails are where you want to be. I just hope we get some more rain (and snowpack) in March.

Click here to see more photos on flickr

Giant Trillium; (Trillium chloropetalum)

Pacific Trillium; (Trillium ovatum)

Giant Trillium; (Trillium chloropetalum)

Pacific Trillium; (Trillium ovatum)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Late Winter Roaming

Coyote Ridge Trail
 I thought it was about time I did a new blog post even if for no other reason than to dispel any notion that I had somehow dropped off the planet, or perhaps had achieved true nirvana, which would naturally make things like blogging seem like a total waste of time. I suppose the former seems more likely but the latter makes a better excuse than being lazy. I am after all still earthbound, still out on the trails whenever the opportunity presents itself, and still warding off nature deficit disorder by taking sanctuary in the natural world. Without being able to get away very much I’ve been hiking in mostly very familiar places all winter, so I feel like a bit of a shut-in, even though that’s not really true either. Without being really inspired to blog about any one particular hike I’ve done in the past few months, there are still those subjectively interesting moments of personal encounter with nature that are the essence of the hiking experience. It is those interludes of communion; those touch points with nature; that keep me rambling.

Berry Creek Fall
The falls at Big Basin were epic this year following the ample December rains in 2012. On New Year’s Eve day the falls were at their best that I remember since 2004, and have not really tailed off since. At first the water was hazy and full of silt, but quickly cleared in the following days. The ground in the redwood areas is retaining lots of water. This can be evidenced when you spot a fresh tree-fall where the roots have been torn up. The craters left by the root system are filling up into virtual ponds by seepage. The Santa Cruz Mountain forests have plenty of seasonal beauty in winter if you know what to look for. Brilliant lichens and fungi are adding lots of color and character, and I love the effect of having the morning mist illuminated by the sunbeams, and of course the water course sounds are a great embellishment. Hiking the redwoods is never out of season, least of all now (photoset link).

Hiking in Sanborn a few weeks ago we were treated to a winter feeding party as masses of wild doves were singing with delight while darting around devouring madrone berries. Their songs could be heard from half a mile away as you approach a thick stand of tall madrones bearing their avian fruit. The debris left from the foraging doves was littered all over the trail. I used my Cannon point-n-shoot to get a video even though the lighting was not good enough to see very much. The reason I posted it was to share the sound recording of the bird calls. (The video is posted at the bottom of the post). I could not make an exact ID, but I think they are Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura). They also have the peculiar behavior of bursting into flight as a flock when one gets a little startled. A large flock can beat the air into a palpable air wave. I remember one time winter hiking in Henry Coe when I inadvertently startled a large flock of doves near Mazanita Point, and the intensity of their sudden mass wing flapping really startled me for a moment. I did not realize it then, but they were also probably there to feed on the winter madrone and manzanita berries.Check out the video at the bottom to hear the bird calls.

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
Last year about this time I remember reading this post from Katie on the Nature ID blog about finding fetid adder’s tongue blooming in late winter. I had wanted to follow up with my own sighting, but I have only seen this unusual wild lily sporadically in deep forested regions over the years. I had tried without success to spot some more to get photos of. Later on in the year I had remembered sighting the distinctive leaves that had long shed their blooms along several trail sections in PescaderoCreek. I went back there this year searching in both Portola and Pescadero Creek, and have spotted lots of them for the last couple of weeks. I have also seen on-line reports of fetid adder’s tongue blooming at Henry Cowell. I had not realized how brief their bloom season is. I have found that the best way to spot them is to look for the distinctive blochy looking blade-like leaves. The flowers are brown colored and camouflage extremely well on the forest floor making them nearly impossible to spot. They are also not easy to photograph in the low light of the winter canopy (photoset link). In any case; now is the time to get out and see them. They will not be around long and the displays change from week to week. The best areas seem to be deep redwood canopy where you see lush understory. Hiking in Pescadero Creek also gave me the opportunity to pay another visit to one of my favorite old growth trees with my good camera along. Simply called “the Big Tree” on the map, it is an amazing example of ancient coast redwood. I wrote about this tree in my post called “Point Lost” dated September 30, 2011 (photoset link).

For one last note, I would like to share the article recently posted in the Monterey County Hearld as forwarded by Sempervirens Club on Facebook. It describes the new plans for some long awaited improvements to Castle Rock State Park. It is really exciting to learn of these plans after not so long ago being worried that Castle Rock was on the infamous closure list. Sempervirens Fund was instrumental in removing the park from closure by their donations. The private land trust has actually been in possession a great deal of property around the greater Castle Rock area that is still closed to the public. A large portion of this land is former water district land that was purchased by Sempervirens for preservation, with the addition of another 33 acres of private land, but these tracts have never been fully realized in terms of public recreation. That situation looks about to change in the years to come if this plan becomes a reality. There is potential for some great new hiking trails to go along with some well thought out public amenities. This is the best news for south bay hikers for some time. Won't it be great in the coming years when Mt Umunhum opens up with new trails, new connections, and new vistas, along with a bunch of new trails at Castle Rock providing access to many new acres of prime mountain habitat to be preserved going into the future generations. I created a new Winter Roaming photoset on Flickr.