A Thanksgiving Day assault

A handful of the South Bay Hiking Elite, as Tom Mangan dubs them, met before dawn this morning to climb the steep and windswept slopes of Mission Peak, which crowns the hills east of Fremont, California. I would have been there with that crew, laboring up that @#$&! hill, if I hadn’t woken up coughing, assaulted by some sort of scurrilous *$&%#!! bug.

Ah, ’tis the season for health-zapping peskies, and I s’pose I’m duly taking my turn.

Some kind of hiking blogger I am. I guess I’m not nearly so elite as I want to be. But I didn’t feel like sharing my malady with the hardy hillclimbing lot (nor with my mother at Thanksgiving dinner this evening), so I stayed snug and cozy under a wad of blankets while the Intrepid Elite walked tall in the morning twilight.

Sunrise atop Mission Peak, Thanksgiving Day 2006

Dawn atop Mission Peak, Thanksgiving Day 2006. Photo courtesy of Two Heel Drive.

Maybe “walked” isn’t the right word. Nobody just “walks” up Mission Peak. Well, except perhaps for that young feller John Fedak. But I’ll let Tom tell the story in yet another of his trademark photoessays.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.



Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.


It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.


Will winehikers walk in well-nigh wintry weather? Yup.

The Fall weather here in Northern California is beginning to get cool, almost wintry. I know that’s a mild statement when compared to the weather in much of the rest of the country. And yes, I’ve heard all the usual stories about how we here in California don’t know real weather. But here in my vegetable garden, I’m still harvesting basil, tomatoes, and chili peppers.

It’s still good hiking weather, too. I’ll be rendezvousing with friends this morning for about 9+ miles of hilly trail at Nisene Marks State Park above the seaside town of Aptos. We’re managing, somehow, to sandwich a sunny clear day in between two rainy ones. That’ll make the ocean air pretty fresh for our walk in the redwoods – great for filling our lungs as we gasp uphill.

We’ll follow our traipse with a stop at Burrell School Vineyards, where we “promise to sip” some good Syrahs and at least one good Cab Franc. Fellow hiker/blogger Tom Mangan will be along for this one, ostensibly to further his winehikerness. I think he’s got what it takes.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

******* UPDATE: I’ve now posted my Nisene Marks State Park trip report.


Seredipitous Sunday Links

What’s the happiest you’ve ever been?

Studies show that happy people catch fewer colds, that happiness can buy success, and that optimists live longer.

I’m happy to believe these things. In fact, my first 2006 post to this blog, back on January 1st, sums it up in a little poetry.

Imagine being unbearably happy!

Imagine being unbearably happy!

Fellow hiker Tom Mangan over at Two-Heel Drive yesterday asked, “What’s the worst jam you’ve ever been in?” The story he refers to, about two experienced hikers who still managed to get wildly lost, is, fortunately, one that ends well.

Tom prods me a little in that post. But then, he’s one of the lucky few who’s already heard my bear story. Around a campfire, no less!

I didn’t quite take the time yesterday to recount my 1976 episode with that pesky black bear in Yosemite. Someday I’ll transfer that cautionary noveletta from a campfire tale to the written word. Today, however, I thought I would follow Tom’s formula but switch gears a little to inquire, dear reader, about your happiest moment.

Yes, we’re getting back to the point of this post: a call for your response to the question, “what’s the happiest you’ve ever been?”

Don’t think too hard about this one. After all, you’ve been happy at least once in your life, right? So go ahead and share your happiest moment here by adding a comment, dear reader – kinda let’s me know you’re actually reading this stuff. Not that I need validation or anything remotely resembling it. (But it might make me happy.)

Hey, maybe your words will make another reader happy, too.


Outdoor Blogger Ho-Down a Fine Success!

From all points to a high point: “A pride of bloggers.” Photo courtesy of L&T Nancy.

From all points to a high point: “A pride of bloggers.” Photo courtesy of L&T Nancy.

After three glorious Indian Summer days in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta in upper California, I’m hard-pressed to catch up on things here at work this morning. Frankly, I don’t think I can capture the spirit of our weekend “convention” any better than fellow hiker, outdoor blogger, and compatriot Tom Mangan, so I’ll let him tell the story in his can’t-miss photo essay.

If this past weekend was any indication, the Internet is proving that hiking (and yes, flyfishing) in these United States is alive and well. It sure is a passion with each of us.


October’s Mt. Shasta Ho-Down: Distilled Spirits

Hiking, mountaineering, fishing, camping, food, wine, and blogspeak. Not to mention miles and miles of driving and flying – for all of us except Tom C., who lives (no, exults!) upon the proud flanks of Northern California’s premier volcano, Mt. Shasta. That’s what’s in store for us outdoor scribes one juicy weekend next month.

Wait a minute – blogspeak?

Well sure! After all, we outdoor bloggers have to have something in common to talk about.

The 1st (Known) Outdoor Bloggers Conference, October 2006 (where @winehiker elects himself camp cook because, presumably, he doesn't want to eat Moose Turd Pie).

The 1st (Known) Outdoor Bloggers Conference
♦ October 2006 ♦

(where @winehiker elects himself camp cook because, presumably,
he doesn’t want to eat Moose Turd Pie.)

We’ve been lurking on each other’s blog sites. Heaven knows why. But now we’re enjoying a rather spirited excitement about our pending rendezvous.

Why are we planning a rendezvous? We don’t really know that, either. But I’m sure we’ll figure it out, and have a lot of good outdoorsy fun doing it.

What follows is a boiled-down slumgullion from our recent correspondence. Call it “collected threads from us bloggerheads.”

Tom M. of Two-Heeled Drive: Hey Tom, we need some advice on the environs around Shasta. What can you tell us about fishing/hiking/camping locales around the mountain, and are any of these close enough to nearby trailheads that the mountaineers in our midst could still get in some time on the slopes? For now Horse Camp is OK, but we’re not averse to car camping.

Tom C. of Trout Underground: Horse Camp isn’t a wholly bad choice; no fishing up that way, but the hike in from the Bunny Flats trailhead is relatively easy, so people can come and go. And obviously, access to the mountain is pretty good. Downside is that leaving and going does require a hike in/out and a 20 minute drive to town.

There are many other choices. One good choice is Gumboot Lake, which offers campsites (car camping), good hiking opportunities, and (not surprisingly) a lake. Very pretty setting. I wouldn’t suggest this during the summer due to crowding, but think it might be vacant in October. It’s at the far end of a pretty little river canyon and is a bit farther from town than the 20-minute drive to the Horse Camp trailhead. Surrounded by ridges with nice views, lots of trees.

Hiking-type activities could include a hike up Castle Crags and even some climbing (5.6 or so) at the top. Obviously, there are a few bazillion other hikes available, but I lack the finger power to list them all here.

A couple other thoughts…

First, my house is on the road headed up Mt. Shasta, and – provided that eBomb guy stays away from the cats – bloggers are welcome to stop by and access the wi-fi broadband that permeates the place. (Naturally, all outgoing posts will be edited for [Tom] Chandler-friendly content.)

Second, I’m willing to host a barbecue here at home if it works out. Have Weber, will eat.

Third, I’m not sure if I’ll be camping with the group or out doing other things, but it sure would be nice to have a chance to talk blogging. You know, an opportunity for me to steal everyone else’s blogging secrets.

Finally, Chris Carr (co-owner of Mount Shasta Guides and monster telemark skier, mountaineer, etc.) will just be returning from a conference in Boulder, and has offered to help out or even meet up and answer questions about the mountain, and what to do in the area. That’s gold, baby.

Russ B. of Winehiker Witiculture: I’m with you, Tom Chandler. Winehiker does BBQ and talks blogging! “Gumboot Lake” sounds more quintessentially attractive to me, too, than “Horse Camp” which, to my mind’s eye, smacks of equine ploppage…

…well, I probably wouldn’t mind either place, just as long as there’s no turds in the middle of my Sa-turd-ay….

I’m also hoping to get an early start on the road Friday myself, since I prefer to have camp set up and dinner inside me before dark. I have room for one passenger plus gear; I have most camping equipment, including a 3-person tent, a brand new 1-gallon propane tank/2-burner stove combo. John [Fedak of fedak.net], since it would appear Tom Mangan is driving his own car, perhaps you and I can pal up together.

Tom M.: I like the idea of Gumboot lake, too. Any dissenters?

Tom C.: Are the mountaineering types on board with this? As much as I’m into comfort, I’d hate to unnecessarily deprive anyone of their chance to get mangled by falling rock while freezing to death.

Panther Meadows (campground high on Mt. Shasta) also offers the potential for car camping while still preserving the chance to freeze to death. (I’d have to check with the Forest Service to make sure it’s open.) Not quite the all-around site that Gumboot is, but better if you harbor a desire for hardship.

Finally, I understand someone offered to cook for us on Saturday night. Do we want to do that at Casa Chandler?

Adam M. of GoBlog: I take it you mean us [mountaineer types]. No problem. If we end up going, it will be a quick run up and down. Gumdrop sounds fine. Especially if I bring my boy.

Tom C.: OK. Gumboot it is. To create a little drama for your blogs, we can always photoshop a bear attack picture or something.

Russ: Tom C., how many driving miles is it from Casa Chandler to Gumboot Lake? I propose that it may be better, logistically, to assemble for BBQ at your place on Friday night and enjoy dinner in camp on Saturday.

For Saturday dinner (and after I get a hike in), I’m tentatively thinking of a Thai-style menu, complete with Dutch oven and garden-grown produce:

  • Baked Chili Fish with Fiery Thai Salsa (hint: this dish may contain freshly-caught trout)
  • Carrot Soup
  • Cucumber Salad
  • Ginger-Pineapple Noodles
  • Vino rosso (definitely NOT Thai-style)

Gosh, I hope that’ll do y’all. Comments? Questions? Aversions to food that isn’t brown or white? :)

Tom C.: Probably 20-25 minute drive. The Friday at Casa Chandler schedule works for me, though let’s see if there’s even support for the Friday barbecue. Could be the majority won’t make it.

The menu is OK, though you’ve made no mention of the pine needle garnish, dirt sauce, or mosquito sprinkles that accompany every outdoor meal.

I plan on liberating several float tubes (those inflatable armchairs used by fly fishers to nap in on warm days when they’re supposed to be fishing a lake). A hike on Saturday sounds like the group choice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sneak in a little fishing around the edges.

Still, keep in mind you’ll need a California fishing license if you want to fish, and they’re definitely NOT available up at Gumboot Lake.

Rick McC. of Best Hikes: Where do I sign up to become a “wine hiker”? (I was thinking bland dehydrated mashed potatoes.)

Just in case you one day want to take the meetup to Canada, certainly I would first suggest Mt. Assiniboine. You must hike or helicopter in to one of the finest vistas in the world. No road access. Accommodation is a choice of inexpensive rustic cabins, a lovely campground or expensive mountain lodge. Fine dining is available at the restaurant there. You would fly in and out of Calgary. Logistics are a breeze as this is such a popular tourist area.

Something to chat about over the Baked Chili Fish.

[Editor’s conclusion: apparently we’ll all find it convenient to forsake the hiking boots in favor of debauched and reprehensible float-tube stupefaction. Some may not agree with me, but it sounds better than Vegas.]


An ace up my winehiking sleeve

I’ve been holding back these last 3 seasons, keeping the Fall Creek Loop to myself. It’s one of those special, magical outdoor locations that, while so close to the megalopolis that is Silicon Valley, can seem so remote, uncharted, and gloriously far away from everything.

Ah, but I invited my crew there to hike with me Saturday; it was time to play my hole card and share a little magic.

Aces. You got to know when to hold ’em.

Aces. You got to know when to hold ’em.

They say that the Fall Creek Unit at Henry Cowell State Park, with it’s rugged “chutes and ladders” trails, is the longest seven miles they’ve ever walked. I’m sure that’s true, being as it’s actually more like nine miles, but it’s nine miles through some of the loveliest redwood and big-leaf maple forest that you’ll ever see, especially in late summer when those maple leaves are turning to gold and the tanoaks are dropping their acorns.

But even in September, what you hear as you descend the Fall Creek Trail is equally enchanting. Serenaded by the murmuring voice of the creek, you can’t help but feel mesmerized by its siren call. There’s something about the endorphin-inducing combination of a semi-steep morning hillclimb followed by a descending romp alongside a trailside creek – not to mention a chomp down a creekside lunch – to put one under Nature’s spell. I consider it mandatory to volunteer for such duty to the point of addiction.

I was glad to have fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan along, too. But golly, if you would think that I’m a hiking addict, then my addiction needs tweaking – this was Tom’s fourth day of hiking in a row.

(Hey Tom, don’t you have a day job?)

At any rate, it was good to talk shop with Tom about the world of blogging, the worlds of wine and hiking, and the world in general. And, bless his heart, Tom has graciously shared his thoughts about the day, too.

Give him a read, won’t you? And enjoy Tom’s photos. Then take time to heed that Fall Creek siren call for yourself. It’ll become an ace up your sleeve, too.


Why I hike, too

Tom Mangan, in his blog Two-Heel Drive, this week posted some eloquent reasoning behind why he got started hiking. They’re good reasons, and they match my own. Often there are people who make an impression upon us, giving us just enough cause to make the leap, buy the gear, and get out there to where Nature waits. The following is from my “feedback” response to Tom’s post.

There are moments out there – real, honest, emotion-inducing moments wherein the eyes well up, the spine tingles, and the captured memory – of such a single astounding yet fleeting blip in your Life – finds itself inescapably resonating with you long after you’ve left the trail. Be it a tree growing out of a rock and thriving, or two rattlesnakes mating, or a night filled with horizon-to-horizon meteors, or directly making eye contact with a bobcat, there is nothing like hiking in Nature to bring balance and absolute harmony to one’s Life – not to mention endorphins and the smell of a forest.

We need to be thankful that we have such bounty around us that we can escape into when the feeling calls. I, for one, cannot fathom what it would be like for me to forsake regular visits to the wilderness – even when it’s just the local paved bike path along the creek at lunchtime.

Come to think of it: there was an extraordinary man in my early life who shaped much of the person I am today, and his name was Don Carre; he was my music teacher in high school, but also (lucky for me) an avid backpacker who advised our student’s backpacking club. I learned so much from Don about organizing trips, menu planning, wilderness ethics – even how to tie climbing knots. I remember less about playing the tympani for him than I do the fundamental grounding – and desire to be out there – that he left with me.

If you and your wife Carol are still out there tramping trail, Don, I sure hope to walk with you again.


Cap it off with a Cabernet

Just had a nice exchange this morning with Tom Mangan, a San Jose Mercury News journalist and avid hiker who has spent a fair amount of time hiking in and blogging about his experiences in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Funny that we haven’t already met out there on the trail somehow.

Says Tom, in his blog, Two-Heel Drive:

Here’s an interesting combination: hiking and wine tasting. A guy named Russ who lives in Sunnyvale got laid off from his tech-writing job last spring so he decided to go the entrepreneur/tour operator route.

His prices range from $65 for a spartan day hike at a park near San Jose to upwards of five grand for a plush five days in the Wine Country. Some hikes are easy hills overlooking Silicon Valley; others are over 9,000 feet in the Sierra. His blog is more about wine than hiking – you need that to show people you know what it means to prefer a wine with a “long finish,” for example.

Hmm, if only I had some expertise I could combine with hiking, like, come back to my house after we’re done and I’ll show you how to burn an afternoon surfing the web and updating my blog. People would pay for that, right?