Sunday, August 28, 2011

Backpacking the Hoover Wilderness

Hoover Wilderness
Kerrick Meadows inside Yosemite National Park.

I never knew about the Hoover Wilderness until Romy found a random topo map a few days ago at REI and decided we had to plan a backpacking trip to check it out. Its funny that we never thought of it before, since we've been around the area so many times (its just west of Bridgeport and the Buckeye Hot Springs). Well, we finally made a trip. Romy was kind of in charge of planning it, and he had a good idea about trying to do a thru-hike instead of a loop. It turns out that Marcel & Nicole were also planning a hiking trip for the coming weekend, and they wanted to go to Yosemite, so we asked them if they wanted to hike in the Hoover Wilderness instead (close enough). We would start at one end of the trail, and leave our car there. Nicole & Marcel would start at the opposite end, leaving their car there, and we would pass by each other somewhere in the middle. That way we had a car at each end and didn't have to loop back. We could just do one long thru-hike, never having to repeat the same scenery or terrain.

Hoover Wilderness
The view as we hiked up-valley along Buckeye Creek.

We started out Saturday morning after getting our hiking/camping permit from the ranger station in Bridgeport off of Hwy 395. You need one to camp in the Hoover Wilderness. We had to tell them where we were planning on hiking, and give them a quick itinerary. We planned on starting at the Buckeye Campground Trailhead, hike up the valley following Buckeye Creek, and then go south through part of Yosemite towards Peeler Lake. Then we would hike out via the Robinson Creek Trail, past Barney Lake, and out at Mono Village. The whole hike was about 25 miles long, and split up between two days was not bad.

Hoover Wilderness
Hiking past gigantic mountains on either side of the Buckeye Creek, nearing Buckeye Forks.

We started out strong at the Buckeye Trailhead. It was hot and dry and sage brush was growing all around us, giving the air a nice smell to it. But it wasn't long before it turned into a muddy, marshy cow pasture! We quickly lost the trail, but we were confined to a pretty narrow valley, and we knew according to the topo map that we were to stay hiking up the valley. The cows were very curious, and some even ran towards us to get a better look. This part of the Hoover Wilderness is the least hiked, and it was pretty obvious because the trail was not maintained at all. At first we tried avoiding getting out feet muddy, but after a while we couldn't do it any longer. Romy almost lost his shoe in some ankle deep mud! But luckily, he pulled it out after a hard fight, complete with the funniest suction sound as his foot came out of the mud, happily with his shoe still on! We joked that we had "feet of mud." Every stream we had to cross we made sure to wash our sandals and legs clean. There were a lot of "dissolved" cow pies in the mud.

Hoover Wilderness
Cool clouds in the sky above huge granite peaks.

Eventually we got out of the mud and back on solid ground. Soon we actually entered the Hoover Wilderness, and the cows were no more. We started climbing a little more steeply, and began getting deeper into the mountains. The granite peaks rose high above up on both sides. The sage brush began to disappear, and we hiked through stunted aspen trees, and large pines. Soon we got right up next to Buckeye Creek, which was so crystal clear! We stopped to have a lunch break by the creek around 2pm after hiking about 8 miles. Our goal was to do at least 11 miles that day. After lunch we kept hiking, and soon we got to Buckeye Forks, where the trail splits in two. There was a small cabin, or shelter thing that was in disrepair, but okay I guess if you were stuck in a storm or something. Also, there were soooo many mosquitoes all of a sudden. I kind of was not expecting them so high up in the mountains.

Hoover Wilderness
We reached the Yosemite Park boundary and that means we're up and over Buckeye Pass!

We took the left fork that went south, towards Buckeye Pass, which was 9,000+ feet. We had plans on camping somewhere just before the pass. I was starting to get pretty tired as we hiked towards the pass, but after the trail forked, we only had one or two miles left before we decided it would be okay to stop for the day. But Romy had this crazy amount of energy, which he thinks is due to recently starting the gluten-free diet, and he wanted to hike all the way to Peeler Lake, which was still 4 more miles! I wasn't sure, since my feet were getting pretty tired, but after a few breaks, I was feeling okay to keep going.

Peeler Lake
A panoramic picture of Peeler Lake, where we camped Saturday night.

The trail towards Buckeye Pass was very flat, and was filled with nice meadows and sparse pine forests that had a lot of stunted trees, from the altitude. It made me feel like I was walking around through a different land, where everything was miniature or something (except the huge mountains surrounding us). It didn't really look like we were hiking towards a mountain pass at all. We were walking through meadows of wildflowers and a meandering creek. Before we knew it, we had reached the summit, which also meant we were entering Yosemite National Park, which the trail crossed through for about a mile or so, before heading back into the Hoover Wilderness. We couldn't camp in Yosemite because we didn't have a bear canister for our food, so we were forced to move on to Peeler Lake. The Yosemite part of the trail was really beautiful, especially Kerrick Meadow. We stopped there for a break before finding a camping spot next to Peeler Lake.

Hoover Wilderness
Romy standing at Peeler Lake in the morning.

We didn't see any other human beings the entire 15 mile hike from Buckeye to Peeler Lake, but as we got to Peeler Lake, we saw about 5 people! I guess its a popular spot! Some people were illegally camped too close to the water (you need to stay 100 feet away at least) which was kind of annoying. They have that rule on purpose, so that when you look at the lake, you don't also have to look at tents and stuff. We found a nice spot on the granite outcrops surrounding the lake, south of the trail. Unfortunately there were mosquitoes here too, so we quickly built the tent and got inside, away from the bugs. We didn't put the rain fly up, just the mesh part, so that we could see through the mesh and look at the sunset cast different colors on the mountains and clouds. Then at night, we were able to see the sky really clearly, and we saw the milky way.

Hoover Wilderness
We spent an hour or so at Barney Lake, where we met Nicole and Marcel.

The next morning we woke up when the sun hit us and it started getting hot. It was about 7:30am. We only had 8 easy miles to go to Mono Village. After breakfast, we packed everything up and hit the trail. It was all downhill from here. As I started hiking, I noticed that both my achilles tendons were hurting when I hiked. I figured out a way to walk so that they didn't hurt. I basically had to limp so that my feet would stay flat. I had to take lots of breaks, and it made the last 8 miles seem really long! But at least they were downhill, and most of the route was shaded out of the sun.

Hoover Wilderness
Sage, pine trees, wildflowers, and granite peaks filled our weekend.

When we finally got to Barney Lake, we were expecting to meet Nicole and Marcel, who started their hike that morning in the opposite direction. We got there around 11am, but they weren't there. So we decided to wait for them since it was such a nice spot to sit and relax. After 40 minutes, they came trudging by, and we were so happy to see each other. That meant our plan B, plan C, and plan D (reporting each other missing to the ranger station) didn't have to happen. We almost went swimming in the Lake, since it was so warm, but then the wind kicked up. . . .

Hoover Wilderness
We finally made it to the end of the trail at Mono Village! We are triumphant!

I wish we could've stayed there forever, but we had to start hiking the last leg of the journey. We made it to Mono Village in less than two hours, and i was sooooo happy to see the car because of my feet. But we were also warm and all sweaty since it was getting really hot outside. So we decided to go swimming in the Twin Lakes by Mono Village, but couldn't figure out why there wasn't a beach. So we just pulled off the side of the road and took a plunge. IT WAS SOOOOO COLD! I almost had a heart attack when my body met the cold water and I was out just as soon as I jumped in. Thats why there is no beach! Needless to say, we cooled off very nicely, and felt refreshed for our long, long, long drive home. We really like the part of the hike that went through Yosemite, so I think we will be returning shortly, as soon as my tendons heel up. Get it!? LOL!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Earthquake!

A map of shaking intensity from the USGS 'Did You Feel It?' website.

The beach-ball diagram for the earthquake.

There was another earthquake that we felt this morning, just a few minutes before 10am. It was only slightly weaker, a magnitude 3.5, and the epicenter was almost in the exact same place as the magnitude 3.6 last night, on the Hayward Fault near Lake Chabot! For somebody who has never felt an earthquake before, all of a sudden we have two now! This is so exciting! This time, I felt that the shaking was a little bit different. I was opening the dresser drawer in the bedroom ("getting changed" LOL) and I felt a strange strong pressure pulse in my ears. It was completely silent, but it felt like the pressure pulse you feel if you're parked on the side of the road and a big ass truck passes you by fast. My first thought was that it was actually a big truck going down the street, but that would be a crazy big truck for me to feel a pressure pulse so far away and inside the apartment! I'm not a seismologist, but maybe I felt the P wave passing by. This wave is usually not felt by humans, but it makes animals go crazy, because they are sensitive to it. Anyways, right after the pressure pulse, the shaking started but it was very short. I would estimate at most 2 seconds, and it rattled some stuff in the bathroom and on top of the dresser. Here is a link to the USGS report.

Our First Earthquake!

USGS's 'Did You Feel It?' shaking intensity map.

We've been living in California for just over 3 years, and it was only last night that we finally felt our first earthquake! It wasn't anything crazy, but it did shake the house a little. The shaking started just before midnight. I was sitting on a chair in the living room reading the newspaper, when it sounded (and felt) like a huge truck was going by on the road. At first I didn't think anything of it. But then it started to get very choppy and uneven in the shaking, and began to get stronger. It was very weak shaking, because nothing fell over, but I heard the walls shifting and the art wall panels hitting the wall as they were slightly jostled. If I was sleeping, I don't think it would of woke me up. I think the sound of the walls shifting and the panel jostling made the shaking seem more intense than it really was. It only lasted 3 seconds or so. Five minutes later, there was a small aftershock which I didn't feel, but I saw posted on the USGS website.

The beach-ball diagram of the earthquake.

The USGS report said it was a magnitude 3.6, and the epicenter was just south of Oakland, at a depth of 9.1 km. I think it was on the Hayward Fault, which is the major fault that runs along the East Bay, less than one mile away from where we live!!!!! Also on the USGS's website, you can report the intensity of shaking that you felt on their 'Did You Feel It?' webpage. You report what you felt, and they organize it by zipcode. Then they post the results live, as people in the area go online and report in. It looks like most people who reported in thought the shaking was weak to light, intensity III - IV. I reported in an intensity III last night. Its kind of funny to see some really excited people who report high shaking intensities, higher than the vast majority of the people who live really close to the epicenter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Lost Whale

The night before we left everybody at the EPS grad student camping trip last weekend, one of the new grad students told us about a whale that swum inland, from the Pacific Ocean up the Klamath River, and was just hanging out under the Hwy 101 bridge. Although it was out of the way, since the Klamath River is farther north than we already were by Trinity Lake, we thought it was totally worth going to see a whale before heading home on Sunday! I never saw a whale in real life before.We hoped it would still be there. The Klamath is also in Redwood National/State Park, so we were able to take a detour through the park on the way to the bridge over the river. We saw huge redwoods, and there was little to no fog along the coast so it was warm. The last time we were there in the park with the bus was in 2007, the year before we moved, so driving along north through Redwood was almost like a bus-redwood reunion!

A video of the whale surfacing for air.

I was really excited to see the whale. It took us about two hours of driving to get to where it was. As we got near the bridge, we were really hoping that the whale would still be there, since it had already been swimming in the river for about a month. When the bridge was in view, we saw some orange cones and a scrolling sign that said, "Caution, people on bridge." As we drove over the bridge to get to some parking on the other side, we saw tons of people gawking over the side of the bridge and down into the river. Yay! That meant the whale was still there! After we parked, we literally ran back onto the bridge and got a good spot for the whale watching. The whale was just swimming back and forth under the bridge, as if it was parading for us to see.

Another video of the whale and the Klamath River.

The river was very shallow, so the whale was really visible and it came up for air often. After half an hour of parading under the bridge, it started swimming farther upstream, then stopped, still in view. At that point, a seal started swimming around, and it was munching on some fish it caught. The whale never came back towards the bridge again, but we waited anyways for another half hour. Then we decided it would be a good idea to head back home, since it was already about 4pm and we were very far north still (almost at the Oregon border).

Klamath River Whale
The Klamath River whale, as seen from the bridge.

Apparently, the whale swam up the river with her baby in late June. The mother whale stayed in the river, but the baby ended up swimming back out to sea a month later. Today, I just read online, it beached itself on a sandbar and sadly, died. The scientists studying it don't know what the cause of death is, but they are doing an autopsy. It might of been sick before swimming into the river, or it might of got sick while in the river. It will be buried on the banks of the river, and the whale bones will belong to the Indian tribe, whose land surrounds the Klamath River. While it was alive, people have been coming to the bridge to watch it every day and night, and some people even played music for it (hippies), and some people swam with the whale (crazy hippies)!

Klamath River Whale
People watching the whale as it swims under the bridge.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mendocino/Trinity Adventures

This weekend we headed north to join up with all the people on the EPS grad student camping trip. It was originally supposed to be in the eastern Sierra near Mammoth Lakes, but at the last minute, the group campground was closed down due to budget cuts, and the students in charge changed the location to the Trinity Alps region on the Trinity Lake in northern Cali near by Mt Shasta. It was a place that we never really have been to (only Shasta) so we were excited to go. We joined up with the group a day later because we couldn't leave as early as everybody else did (Thursday morning at 8am) due to a lab meeting Romy had to be at. After Romy came back from the lab meeting, we packed up the bus and hit the road, about 4pm. But of course, we decided to take the scenic route, which ended up taking us a whole 24 hours before we reached Trinity Lake. On the way, we had a great adventure through the Mendocino National Forest.

Moon and Lantern Light
The bus under moonlight and the old Deitz lantern, up high in the Mendocino National Forest.

We never went exploring in the Mendocine NF, so it was all new for us. Our journey started with a drive up Hwy 101 until we got up almost to Ukiah, CA. The mountains started to get taller and taller as we drove north, and being that we were looking for a place to camp, I checked out the map to see if there would be any good spots nearby. The only forest land I saw was north of Clear Lake, which was east of the highway, so we stopped on the side of the road near Hopland to see what the best way to cross the mountains into the Mendocineo NF was. As we pulled off the road, we saw what looked like another VW Riviera stopped on the opposite side of the road. So of course we had to say hi! They were a nice and friendly family from Orange County (in southern California) doing a trip along the coast. Their bus was actually a Westfalia, but they replaced the pop top with a Riviera style one instead. Thats because Riviera pop tops are the best, and those with a Westy don't know what they're missing ;-)! Once we introduced ourselves (halfway through the conversation) they recognized our name because they actually had read my blog online. I was kind of surprised - I had no idea people were actually reading the random adventures I write about occasionally, and I'm glad that some people are enjoying it! They gave us some good camping tips, and also explained how to replace our pop top with new canvas from, which inspired us to make plans to order a new pop top because ours has some tears and the zippers are kind of stuck. Now that we predominantly camp in the Sierras or the desert where bugs don't exist, it hasn't been too much of a problem, but it would be nice to have a good functioning pop-top. Anyways, random meetings of VW people are always fun.

NorCal farmed buffalo between the Coast Range and the Central Valley.

It happened that right out of Hopland was a two lane paved road that went over the Mayacamas Mountains and to Lakeport. Then it was a short drive north of the lake to Upper Lake (very original name again) and into the Mendocino NF. The road (road M1) into the forest first followed a small river, and then started climbing up into the endless rolling mountains of Mendocino county. By this time the sun was getting low on the horizon, so we pulled off the road as soon as we were almost at the top and there was a convenient flat area where it looked like people camped before. The moon was almost full and overhead all night. It was quiet and warm overnight. We used the Deitz lantern as our source of light and ate dinner by lantern-light, pasta with pesto out of tupperware and a 'classy' box wine poured into a plastic wine cup. Dinner in the bus always tastes better.

A video of the bus crossing the water.

The next morning, our goal was to meet up at Trinity Lake to go camping with the EPS people. Since we were on the scenic route agenda, we decided to find a road that went through the Mendocino NF, while also trying to be as direct as possible towards the Shasta area. We found three possible roads. One was close to 100 miles of dirt forest roads which eventually met up with Hwy 36. Another two others were a compromise of about half that distance, give or take about 15 or 20 miles and an unknown elevation gain. We decided to go with the shorter two routes, which were roads M10 and M3. M3 branched off from M10, but both eventually got to Hwy 5 near Redding. So after breakfast, we started on our way. The road turned dirt soon after the junction of M1 and M10, and we saw a lot of dirt bike trails. We even saw some early morning dirt bikers riding along through the forest. The trees were a mix of pine and chaparel type shrubs like manzanita with the red bark. The soil was kind of reddish beige. The dirt road was very well graded and for a while we were able to drive pretty fast. But then the switchbacks started as the road took us deeper and deeper into Mendocino county and we had to slow down. About 25 miles or so down the road, we came up to a small river. There was no bridge. We had to drive through it! So I got out and waded across the river to see how deep it was. It was only a little past my ankles for most of the way, so we decided to drive through it to get across. I took a video of the bus's first river crossing (the one on Pacheco road doesn't count!).

Field of Pitcher Plants
A field full of pitcher plants in the Trinity National Forest.

Soon after, M3 split off from M10. We decided to keep going on M10. Almost immediately after the split, the road quality degraded. There were ruts and deep holes, with rough gravel patches. Then it went up really high along the top of a ridge, called Long Ridge, with death drops on both sides! I didn't get a picture, cuz I was clutching my chair so tightly. Romy noticed I was kind of 'stiff'. It was one of the first times I was actually scared on a forest road! It went on like that for about 5 miles, and then back down. All the while we were kicking up a lot of dust because the roads were very dry. Soon we were over the mountain range and dropping back down towards the central valley. We had the option of getting onto Highway 5, but of course we were on the scenic route so that really wasn't an option. Instead, we stayed on the outskirts of the mountains and drove north, parallel to the highway along farm and ranch roads. Most of them were also dirt, but all were very well graded. We passed by a buffalo farm. It seemed like we were in Yellowstone! I wonder if they are the buffalo that Trader Joes makes buffalo jerky with. They all looked like very happy California buffalo.

Pitcher Plant
A close up of the pitcher plants we saw while hiking.

Before we knew it, we popped out of the ranches and into Red Bluff by Hwy 5. We didn't see any road that we could take as an alternative, so we got onto Hwy 5 at that point and drove north to Redding, where we exited to get on Hwy 299 West. At this point, we followed the directions I printed out to get to Trinity Lake. Right out of Redding, the road climbed up back into more mountains, and we even had some great views of Mt Shasta along the way! The theme of this trip was definately driving through mountains. This isn't really so hard to do in California, since the only flat part of the state is the central valley, and we did our best to avoid it. We got to the group campsite at Trinity Lake just about 4pm, 24 hours after we had left the day before. Nobody was there, since they all went out hiking for the day, so we picked a camping spot and took a swim in the lake. It was soooooo warm! Almost like swimming in a heated pool. Eventually everybody came back from their hike, so it was dinner time, along with copious drinking around the campfire under a full moon.

Swimming and Log Rolling
Swimming in one of the many mountain lakes in the Trinity National Forest, trying to roll a log.

The second day camping at Trinity Lake, we took a group hike to Lake Elanor, and also to another lake a few miles beyond, which was high up in the mountains. Along the way, we saw a whole meadow of cool looking pitcher plants! The hike to the second lake had over 1000 feet or so of elevation gain, so by the time we got there we were all hot. The lake looked so clear and inviting so of course we had to go for a swim. The water was suprisingly warm for its elevation, but it was also pretty shallow, about 10 feet deep. It didn't have a lot of vegetation, so that was good. Everyone had fun swimming, especially when we tried to have a log rolling contest in the water! After having lunch there, we headed back down (which was much easier hiking) and met with the rest of the group who stayed back at the first lake. When we all got back to the camp site, we were all hungry and ready for a cold beer. So the second night followed just like the first, with dinner around the campfire and more drinking. Sunday was the last day, when we all sadly had to go home!