Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: hike

A Nice Vigorous Hike: Purisima Creek

Since moving to our new place, we’ve been trying to find some good places to hike. Hiking in the Peninsula in the Bay Area is very different from hiking in the East Bay. It’s hotter, more exposed, and browner, I find. I’m missing the East Bay hikes (Tilden Park, Wildcat Canyon, etc.). But we’re determined to find something!

So we found Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. Bay Area Hiker is a great website for finding hikes in the Bay Area, and this suggested hike was quite nice. We found it easily, and though the parking lot was crowded on a late Saturday morning in the fall, we were able to park on the side of the road. This is listed as an easy hike, but we noted that the description says there is a 1200 foot decline and and then the loss is regained, so it ended up being more of a moderate hike, I’d say. We worked up quite a sweat because it was pretty warm for a fall day (in the 70s) and in the direct sun it was almost hot.

Some of the nice aspects of the trail was that it goes through forest and then hits open space. There are some really nice views of the bay at the beginning of the trail and then of the ocean later on. You can see Half Moon Bay at a point.

The hike description talks about an open space for a picnic, but it was just too hot that day to stop there, so we went down the trail about another quarter mile or so and found another clearing that was temporarily shaded. At least it was shaded for long enough for us to have a nice picnic lunch.

The North Ridge Trail ends; it’s not a loop. I think we’ll be back to this area for more hikes in the future.

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A Year-ish Ago: Yosemite and Half Dome

Last June (2014), my parents, my friend (who went to the Grand Canyon with us), and I went to Yosemite National Park to tackle Half Dome. It started with some conversations with my parents the winter before about going to Yosemite. Followed by an email where my dad said he had secured a heated tent cabin reservation at Curry Village. And then another email in March saying he had submitted an application for a permit to Half Dome, following the process outlined which enters you into a lottery to “win” one of 225 permits granted each day during the season when the cables are up. Unlike the Grand Canyon trip I blogged about in the previous entry, I was totally along for the ride on this trip – my dad did all the research.

Sadly, we didn’t get a permit through the preseason process. As my dad emailed, “We’re out of luck. Accept w/ humility and God knows our desires.” But he didn’t give up and aimed for the daily lottery in which you apply two days before to hear back a day before whether you get one of the 50 daily permits that are given to go up Half Dome. We set our plans to go to Yosemite in June anyway, hoping we’d get a Half Dome permit but also being prepared to do other hikes if we didn’t get it. And in June, we got the permit on the day we arrived in Yosemite. We were so excited and yet not fully believing that we were to go up Half Dome the day after arriving!

The four of us arrived in Yosemite Valley, in awe of the views of the famous rocks – El Capitan, Half Dome, the beautiful sheer walls of rock rising above the valley floor. We settled into our tent cabin in Curry Village and turned in early. The next morning, we arose around 4am and hit the trails by 5:15am, leaving Curry Village for the Half Dome trailhead on the Mist Trail. I had no idea what was in store for this 14.2 mile, one-day, grueling hike; and that’s a good thing, otherwise, I probably would not have gotten out of bed that morning.

It was a crazy long, crazy strenuous, crazy beautiful, and crazy worth-it hike. We had day packs because we were going up and down in one day. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold and just gorgeous.

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We hit Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls along the way up and back. We ran into people of all shapes, ages, sizes going up the trail (all seeming to pass us – were we really that slow?). And we just kept on trudging along. One step at a time. Stopping for snacks and breaks. I won’t go in detail of the long long trek. But we made it to the bottom of the cables, and I was about to give up. It had been such a grueling hike, and then we were supposed to risk our lives climbing a sheer vertical cliff, pulling ourselves up by these cables? No way! In the photo below, see that line that goes up that rock? Look really closely – that’s a line of people going up the cables!

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With a lot of pep talking each other, we decided to keep going. After all, isn’t that what we came for? And we made it to the top. It was an amazing feeling, and we rejoiced! And then we had to go back down. I’ve never been so tired and so semi-conscious on a hike in my life.

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All in all, here are the stats:

  • 14.2 miles round trip
  • 4800 feet elevation change
  • 14.5 hours
  • no blisters
  • lots and lots of aching muscles

I’m glad I did some training beforehand (running a few miles once or twice a week, practicing yoga once or twice a week, walking the stairs wherever I could) otherwise, I don’t think I could have done it. It was amazing.

The next day, we did the Upper Yosemite Falls trail – another challenging hike. This was a 6.8 mile round trip with “only” 2700 feet elevation change, and it took us “only” 8 hours. This trail is notorious for its infinite number of switchbacks (in reality, about 60, but it sure felt like a neverending number!). No rest for us who came from far away to see the beauty of Yosemite National Park!

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Our final day, with muscles aching and energy spent, we drove up to Glacier Point, opting out of the Four Mile Hike which would have been a pretty strenuous hike. Thank goodness we just drove – there’s a lookout point, and an ice cream shop; it’s pretty touristy – definitely not a rewarding summit after a long hike. But we got to see a panoramic view of the hikes we had done the days before. Wow. In the photo below, Half Dome is the big bare rock on the left. And Vernal and Nevada Falls are on the right – that’s all part of the Mist Trail that we did.

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Grand Canyon Hiking Expedition

I just got back from four days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was there with four of my favorite people, hiking and camping and challenging myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little bit of moral support, confidence, and training.

My parents had done this hike – down to the canyon floor – seven times already, so they were pros. The others of us were new to this particular hike but are all hiking lovers. And it was an amazing experience for all of us, both the novices and the veterans.

For those of you wishing to do this yourselves, here is how it all worked.

There are two choices for staying on the canyon floor – Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground. For Phantom Ranch, you need to call a year in advance, and from what I’ve heard, you’re on the phone for hours, on hold, using multiple phones at the same time, hoping to get through. Knowing this would be too difficult, we opted for applying for a camping permit. There’s specific timing for when you need to fax in your permit application, so since we knew we wanted to get dates in March, we submitted our application in November (four months before). Check out the link for Bright Angel Campground above and all the details are there.

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We got accepted for our request about a week after we submitted the application. And all together the permit cost us $40! Pretty good deal!

Once we got our dates set for two nights (the maximum allowable) at Bright Angel Campground, we started planning – travel to Phoenix where we met up, camping equipment, plans for our meals, our itinerary.

Here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Drove up to the Grand Canyon National Park, about a four hour drive from Phoenix. Once we arrived, we went to Xanterra Livery Barn where we dropped off duffel bags that would be carried down by pack mules which had all our camping and cooking gear and food. This was a luxury we chose to indulge in because we knew it would be a challenging hike down, so instead of carrying all our stuff down on big backpacks, we used the mule duffel service. If you’re not a hardcore backpacker, this is a great option. For the rest of the day, we walked around the main areas in Grand Canyon Village, catching views of where we were headed down the next day. That night, we slept at Maswik Lodge, one of the many accommodations available in the national park.

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Day 2: We awoke around 5:30am to catch the 7am shuttle nearby to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was a brisk morning, but we knew it would warm up through the day as we descended into the canyon, so we just made sure to have lots of layers. All we carried on our backs were our snacks, lunch, and water for the day (about 3 liters per person) for the day. It was a little over a 6 hour hike down the 7.2 mile trail. The trail going down is pretty steadily downhill, not too steep but just a continuous downgrade, which did a number on our legs and a few of us had knee challenges. It warmed up pretty quickly, and the trail was really dusty, so it wasn’t the easiest hike. But we enjoyed the views, ran into some mule packs and friendly fellow hikers, and made it down in one piece. Boy, were we tired!

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Once we got to our campground, we set up our tents, got situated with our whereabouts, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, getting used to the gurgle of Bright Angel Creek, enjoying the lack of mosquitoes, and congratulating ourselves that we had made it this far. We had our first meal that evening (pretty early because we weren’t sure when it would get dark. You’re not allowed to have campfires down there, so we were going to have to rely on our headlamps after dark). Each of us brought something different – instant soup, freeze dried meals that you just add water to, and Trader Joe’s indian curry in a bag that you can heat up in boiling water. We used these great Jet Boil stoves that heat water in something like 10 seconds. And that was our day! We were exhausted, so we went to bed pretty much right after it got dark!

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Day 3: We had a leisurely morning, comparing muscle soreness, hobbling around the campsite. And after breakfast, we walked the River Trail that loops around the Colorado River, just near the campground. We crossed two bridges – Black Bridge and Silver Bridge and were able to witness the mighty force of the Colorado River.

After a lunch of homemade bread and cheese, we went deep into the canyon, following Bright Angel Creek upstream on the North Kaibab Trail. The trail goes through a box canyon with beautiful canyon walls towering above you. We walked over four bridges, not quite making it to Ribbon Falls which we heard was really pretty but was just too far for us to manage, with sore legs and tired bodies. It was a nice flat walk, following the creek in a mix of sun and shade.

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We got back for dinner. And this time, some of us got to eat the Phantom Ranch canteen. When you make your reservation to go down into the canyon, whether to the campsite or Phantom Ranch, it’s fun to call ahead to see if you can get a meal in the canteen. They serve pretty good breakfast and inner, all family style. You can only dine there with a reservation, so it’s best to do that when you get your permit. We managed to get a few reservations, and enjoyed some vegetarian chili, beef stew, fresh salad, and chocolate cake!

Following dinner, we sat in on a ranger talk, which they do twice a day. This talk was about the history of Phantom Ranch and was a well-told story. Here’s a video that captures some of the story the ranger told. And in fact, I think our ranger was the one in this video.

Before bedtime, we marveled at the expanse of stars we could see, including the Milky Way (though some of us could not see it!). Living in a city, I don’t get to such a multitude of stars, and I have this cool app on my iPhone that allowed us to see what constellations there were in the sky. You hold your phone up to the sky and it connects the dots of the constellations for you, even if you don’t have cell service! A must-have when traveling to places where you’ll see lots of stars.

Day 4: Our last day, we arose at 4:30am because we had to pack up all our things for the mule duffel service drop-off at 6:30am. We got our tents and sleeping bags rolled up, packed up our food which we had been storing in metal lock boxes, and wheelbarrowed our duffel bags to the drop off point at the ranch. After breakfast, we started the ascent up Bright Angel trail.

The 9.5 mile hike took us about seven hours. I was prepared for horrible, grueling, and impossible and instead was pleasantly surprised that it was just strenuous at points. The trail was prettier and more interesting than South Kaibab and was a little more of a gradual grade. We stopped at the various rest points and enjoyed the views both ahead of and behind us. The higher we got, the more amazed I was at how far we got in pretty short time. We hiked with the sun and the sky was a perfect spring blue.

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The only thing that wasn’t so pleasant about the hike up was that the higher elevation we got, the more crowded it was. March is a popular time for tourists – spring break, perfect weather (before it gets too hot) – and Bright Angel trail is a popular trail for tourists to meander down for a bit before heading back up to the top.

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We got to the top and celebrated with an ice cream cone and hot dog at the Bright Angel Lodge. We made it! We survived!

I highly recommend this trip if you’re into hiking and seeing the natural wonders of the world. It’s such a different experience to see the Grand Canyon from down below, a trek that they say 1% of the visitors to the park actually make. It’s beautiful and peaceful at the bottom.

Punakaiki: Pancake Rocks!

I'd been hearing about these so-called Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki that were highly touted as an amazing sight. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it. So when I saw them, WOW!

I came to Punakaiki on recommendation from the gardener at Seresin (thanks, S!) and originally planned on staying three nights, but after seeing how small Franz Josef was and thinking that Punakaiki was smaller, I decided to cut back to two nights so I could have more time in Nelson which was my next destination.

It was a pouring rainy day when I left Franz Josef for Punakaiki, but by the time we arrived, the rain had at least stopped. It was grey, but as the day went on (I arrived in the mid afternoon), the sun made an appearance for a bit.

The bus makes a stop in Punakaiki for all the bus-riders to see the famous Pancake Rocks, so I just joined the rest of them while waiting for my pick up to my hostel.

I love how many of the treks and natural sights kind of creep up on you here in New Zealand and then have a WOW-pop factor. There's an easy trail to get to the rocks, and as you turn a corner, you see the Tasman Sea and the first set of pancake rocks. It kind of takes your breath away because you haven't seen anything like it (at least in my case):

I'm a huge fan of the ocean and big waves anyways, so add on to that these amazing natural formations. I kind of whizzed through the trail on this first time around because I didn't want to be late for my pick up. But every bend and turn of this trail revealed more amazing-ness. I heard that it was cooler to see at high tide, which had passed a few hours before. But it was still amazing to see the waves pounding away at these formations, just cutting, cutting away at the rock. Water and wind are such amazing elements– so soft, rough, elusive, nature's agents, really.

I got picked up by one of the hostel owners, checked in, and got settled in this rainforest retreat: Te Nikau Retreat. It's a hostel tucked away in the rainforest (not a tropical rainforest like in South America, but the rainforest in New Zealand is really a lush forest of lots of native trees and plants. It rains a lot in the West Coast, and there is this a forest, so I guess put those together and you get New Zealand rainforests.). There are separate cottages, and I stayed in Rata Retreat, a dorm with a kitchen, common area, and a cool set up of mattresses on the top level.

After getting settled, I headed out for a walk right away. I walked for about an hour and then realized I wasn't on the trek that I had hoped to be on, so I headed back to the trailhead. There were some nice views, but it was a bit boring. Then I went to a beach trail which was beautiful, near the hostel.

My hostel-mates were an Austrian woman (very energetic and totally sweet. We chatted about traveling and about both having quit our jobs to come travel.) and a group of Chinese tourists led by a guy who had just moved to Auckland and spoke English quite well. The three of us (the Austrian woman and the English-speaking Chinese guy) chatted quite a bit, and the other Chinese tourists were kind of in the background, but very nice. They offered us to eat with them! So cute. It's always nice to come across nice travelers along the way. Swapped travel tips and contact information for future visiting!

My second day in Punakaiki, I did a long hike (all together probably about 8 or 9 miles or more? I wish I had a pedometer to measure how many miles I'm walking!) with some nice views.

Then I went back to the pancake rocks and got to see the amazing-ness of high tide when the big waves come in through the rock formations which act as blowholes that spray water through the small holes. I totally got sprayed with sea water. It was incredibly windy and a bit chilly, otherwise, I would've spent hours just watching the spray and waves.

The sun, which had been hiding most of the morning, came out in the afternoon, and I just sat outside, watching the waves of the sea, soaking in the rays. As I think I've said before, I am so solar-powered it's not even funny. I perk up when I get some sun, and my outlook becomes even more positive than before. Happily I'm headed to Nelson which is supposedly one of the cities with the best weather in New Zealand. Hopefully it'll be nice!

I'm getting a bit tired of my hostel meals– hot porridge (muesli and water) for breakfast, cheese-hummus sandwich with an apple for lunch (and an occasional boiled egg), and some kind of curry with rice for dinner. I made a tomato-lentil-leek curry for my Punakaiki dinners. Still tasty (more choices of spices plus cooking oil at this hostel!!) but I'm getting tired of the same thing everyday. I'll hopefully treat myself to a nice dinner or lunch in Nelson. And I'm thinking of buying some bacon to cook for dinners! Miss my bacon!

That evening, there were some new backpackers in the hostel, and we were all a bunch of women– me and a bunch of European women. A few of us went down to see the sunset and I had my small bottle of seresin dessert wine, and the Austrian woman had a bottle of red, and we drank wine and watched the beatufiul sunset over the Tasman Sea. At one point, it hailed and rained, but then the sun came out again from behind the clouds!

With our cottage being so small, it was easy to just make friends with the other backpackers, and we sat around and talked about life, culture, relationships… all sorts of things. It was a nice time to socialize and meet some new people. We even exchanged emails and Facebook usernames! It's amazing how much you open up and learn from travelers when you know you are just crossing paths for a day or two. I've met such kind and open hearted people.

The next (and final) day in Punakaiki, I hung out with my fellow travelers until they left, and then enjoyed a nice cup of coffee (called a long white– I think it's kind of a latte… didn't really understand the explanation). Yumm. I did a final turn of the Pancake Rocks (they're different all the time– depending on the tides, the wind, the sun, the weather…). And said goodbye to the beautiful coastal town of Punakaiki.

Wanaka: Lake and Mountain Town

I spent two days and three nights in Wanaka, and it was totally worth it, and the perfect amount of time. The weather was gorgeous, and I got in some good hikes and walks, and I also got to relax quite a bit.

Wanaka is a small town, about 8,000 people, right on the edge of Lake Wanaka, the foothills of a part of the Southern Alps called Mt. Aspiring National Parki. So there are stunning views of the lakes and snowcapped mountains everywhere you look. Well, the mountains are snowcapped now because it's still spring, but the snow will be melted by summer, I supposed.

There's a cute town center with cafes and little shops and a supermarket and library (no wi-fi, sadly). People come here to avoid or get away from Queenstown, which is the big city for adventuring and sports (skiing, bungee jumping, long treks and tramps, partying). I wanted to avoid Queenstown and read that Wanaka was quieter and beautiful, and I was not disappointed. I don't think I'm missing out on Queenstown, but who knows.

I arrived at Wanaka Bakpaka on a rainy late afternoon and just basically hung out at the hostel until the weather let up, and then went into town to explore, shop for groceries, and get dinner. I ate at The Spice Room, recommended by my taxi driver, a cute little Indian restaurant. There was an early bird dinner special, so that was nice– this whole spread for just $20NZD (about $16USD). After dinner, I just came back to the hostel, read, admired the views, and went to bed.

The next day, I took a hike up Mt. Iron, the local big hill. It's an hour and a half round trip (or “return,” as they call it), a steep climb to the top, and a steep climb down the other side. There were morning clouds but plenty of sun and blue sky, too. It was a bit of a huffer-puffer going up, but totally worth it at the top. I've noticed that NZ hills and treks generally don't have a lot of switch backs or gradual ups and downs, they just go a pretty direct route and it's pretty steep. And this was considered an easy trek.

After taking a long break at the top to soak in the view, I came back down and sat by the lake and had my cheese-humus sandwich, nothing fancy. It's been wonderful to just take my time, breathe in and out, enjoy the scenery, and not be on a mission to the next landmark or activity. I didn't want to push myself too hard, so that was all I did– walked around the town, breathed in and out, and relaxed.

I treated myself to a nice latte and piece of shortbread. Cost $7NZD, so not exactly cheap, but a nice treat. I miss my regular coffee.

After my day's activities, I came back to the hostel to relax some more (noticing a theme here?) and then proceeded to make dinner with ingredients I had bought that day. I endeavored to make rice and black beans, but ran into some snafus:

  • I didn't realize that I had picked up mixed beans, not black beans, so that was strange. Not that it tastes any worse, but I just wasn't expecting a bean medley!
  • The hostel kitchen didn't have any shared cooking oil or salt and pepper, and I realized how much I rely on those to do things like saute my garlic and onions for good flavor or to add flavor to my meal in general.
  • I'm still learning how to make rice in a pot, and my rice ended up being a little undercooked. I miss my Zojirushi rice cooker. Sigh.

So I tried to improvise a bit by adding my little bit of leftover curry from my dinner the night before, some peanut butter (which was unsalted! Darn!), and some rosemary from the herb garden. But it ended up being a bit flavorless. I did have some spices (curry and cumin), but without the salt, it fell a little flat. My first bad meal of my whole trip (except for my first night in Auckland where I had bowl ramen– but at least that was tasty!!). I guess it had to happen at some point. All about saving some money.

I ended the night with more reading (I just bought The Princess Bride and am reading it for something like the fifth time. What a great book! And I've been thinking about “farm boy” as a term since I've been on farms with nice looking boys. Haha.)

My second, and last, full day, I went back up Mt. Iron in the reverse direction which was nice because you don't realize what's behind you unless you're always looking backward, so this way, I got to see what was behind me on my hike up the day before. Not a cloud in the sky on this gorgeous day, so I got a few comparison shots from the day before when I couldn't see the snowcapped peaks as well because of the clouds. A lot of locals use Mt. Iron as their daily exercise– running up and and down the hill. It would be a nice workout and way to see the changing seasons of Wanaka from high up.

I came back down and it was still only mid morning, so I headed out on a shoreline walk for a few hours. This walk was pretty straight and flat, and it followed Lake Wanaka on the shore opposite from the hostel. It was such a nice walk, seeing the crystal clear water of the lake, seeing the mountains, and being reminded totally of Lord of the Rings scenery. It could not have been a better day– probably mid to upper 60s, slight breeze to keep me cool, and sun sun sun. I had my lunch (another cheese-humus sandwich) at my turnaround point, and then came back to the town center by 2pm-ish.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing, sunning myself and my sockless feet, and iMessaging with friends back in the states. What an amazing thing, iMessaging: my way of staying connected to the world back home. I heard about Frankenstorm shutting down New York and Boston.

I had the bland leftovers for dinner. And that was a full day. I don't think I said but 20 words all day, mostly “g'morning” on my morning hike to other walkers… and maybe that was about it! I get very introverted and antisocial at these hostels. More on that in another post.

I left the next morning for Franz Josef, a glacier town. Definitely recommend Wanaka if you like small, scenic towns with hiking trails around, nice restaurants and cafes. It helps to have a car to be able to make the hikes that are farther away (and probably really nice).

 

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