California

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We headed to Dana Point with Nathan’s parents to try to observe bioluminescence organisms with the Ocean Institute.  It was a new moon and the weather was cooperating, but in the end the night cruise turned up a bit disappointing display of bioluminescence.  There is always some bioluminescence, but to really get the ‘wow factor’ you need a bloom of organisms that make the water glow instead of just a few sparks in the water.  The fog quickly surrounded us making it hard to see any faint horizon line at night.  We then got a little sea sick as the boat turned parallel to the waves and rolled back in forth in the fog. We were quite happy to make it back to calmer waters. On the way out to sea they pointed out some curious animals that are active at night including a few different types of birds and some new seal babies. The trip was a little expensive for a night cruise in the fog, but the crew was knowledgable, and if there was a way to predict that there would be a bioluminescence bloom happening on a particular night, then we would definitely recommend it.

Several weeks later, Katharine was camping at the beach north of Malibu (Thornhill Broome Beach) with two of her friends who were visiting LA. The waves were huge and crashing with quite a lot of force on the steep beach. As the sun began to set, we noticed that the waves seemed to be glowing and once it was fully dark, it was an amazing, indescribable show. The white water portion of every wave would glow in a very brilliant blue/green, then dissipate as the waves settled. It was probably a once in a lifetime experience; we talked to other campers who had been there for a whole week and only saw it that one night. Unfortunately Nathan wasn’t there to see it or capture it with his camera. Kim managed to get these photos of the waves and our tent with her camera; it’s a bit blurry, but it gives an idea of how bright the glowing was.

 

Other photos from the Ocean Institute boat trip:

 

 

In May we revisited a couple local hikes because we needed to get out on the trail, but didn’t have time for long drives or lots of research.

One weekend we returned to everyone’s favorite peak in the LA area, Mt. Baldy. Last year we did it as an intense training hike, but this year we decided to take it easy and use the Chairlift to skip the more boring parts. We had a pretty uneventful hike and made good time despite a late start. The chairlift was definitely a good choice, but we were a little surprised how expensive it was ($25/person roundtrip).

The following weekend we returned to Switzer Falls, along the Arroyo Seco. We actually skipped the side trail to falls, intending to go to Royal Gorge (per Jerry Schad’s Afoot & Afield), but unfortunately the trail we planned to take was still closed due to the Station Fire of 2009. So instead we just continued along the regular trail towards Bear Canyon and still enjoyed the stream-side trail and beautiful pools.

We also got a chance to test how how we can upload tracks with photos to google maps using the Accuterra/NeoTreks App on our iPhones. We’ve been using the app for a couple years now as our only hiking GPS and highly recommended it. We hope to use this uploading feature with the photos to share some of our hikes from our epic trip this summer/fall.

View Switzer / Arroyo Seco / Bear Canyon in a larger map

Back in early May we re-visited Mt Islip, a hike that we failed to summit on our first attempt last year due to snow and ice on the trail. Mt. Islip is actually in a really nice area of the San Gabriels so we were glad to have a second chance at it. This time we tried a different route, from the south at Crystal Lake (rather than from the north from the Angeles Crest Highway). We always like to take a new route when we repeat a hike if possible, and the southern approach is longer and requires more elevation gain, so it was a good conditioning hike (7 miles, 2200′ gain). It was a very cold and foggy day, similar to the weather on our first attempt, but this time there was no snow so we started up the quiet trail.

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Low fog hung just a few hundred feet above us so even with the elevation gain we were about to attempt, it was obvious the view was not going to spectacular.  

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The trail is like most higher altitude Angeles forest trails where the plants struggle to survive.  The granite gravel soil arid weather, and occasional fires keeps the vegetation to a minimum.  Today the cold winds pummeled us against the mountain causing us to wear all of our layers of clothes along with hats, gloves and ski masks.  

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We were able to witness a phenomenon that we’ve heard of, but never seen before – in the extremely foggy air, the evergreen needles collected enough moisture to cause rather significant showers behind (downwind) of each tree. The process was efficient and pretty amazing to watch, but actually managed to get us quite wet.

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At the higher altitudes, the condensation was actually freezing on the trees and then would get blown off the trees, causing small showers of ice shards.

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We finally made it to the top and like most trails in LA, even though we didn’t see many people on the trail, there was a huge crowd at the peak! 

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Although the weather was miserable and the views were non-existent, we were glad to summit and check this one off our list!

Back in late April, (yes, we are behind on our posts) we headed to the Channel Islands for another attempt at kayaking in the island caves.  Our first attempt was last spring with a bunch of coworkers and Nathan’s parents, but the swell was too high so we couldn’t go in the caves.

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Although we had a great time on that trip, we really wanted to get the full cave experience. So this time we figured we would hedge our bets with two days of kayaking with Aqua Sports, which meant camping on Santa Cruz island for one night. This time we also just went with Nathan’s parents since the logistics were more complicated with camping.

The early morning ride to the island (via Island Packers) was rough with a very high swell between the California coast and the islands (causing many people some sea sickness), so we were not too optimistic about the kayaking condistions.  As we entered the channel’s marine sanctuary we were greeted by a humpback whale with her calf, which distracted us from the lurching boat for a bit.

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As we arrived at the island we were lucky to find very calm water (protected by the island) and low tide, giving us nearly perfect conditions!

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We spent the day kayaking in and out of caves with our own personal guide Andy who is very knowledgeable about the ocean conditions, caves, and island history.

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The water was so clear we saw hundreds of sea stars, urchins, a few seals, and even an abalone!

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We must have explored a dozen different caves, so many that it became difficult to remember them individually. Some caves were actually more like tunnels that you could paddle all the way through while others just went straight deep into the island.

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A couple of the caves extended hundreds of yards into the island and it felt a bit disconcerting when the ceiling began to lower and the light from outside disappeared. We had headlamps but weren’t always prepared to battle the ocean swell inside a dark cave while trying to avoid brushing up against the sharp barnacle-covered walls.

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Every cave had its challenges and we were extremely glad to have a knowledgeable guide with us who could judge our abilities and check out the safety of the caves before we would venture in.  Set waves can quickly rush into a cave reducing the ceiling height from 6 feet to 2 feet in a matter of seconds.  Also timing was critical when riding waves through small gaps with rocky bottoms. But Andy kept us mostly calm and confident, and made sure we were always having fun.

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The pictures just can’t quite capture the feeling of going in and out of the caves, it was a really unique experience

After 4 hours of kayaking we had covered a few miles of coast and returned to the launch. We had a quick lunch before hauling our camping gear a mile to the campsite.  There is a nice clearing with large eucalyptus trees that shade many campsites that you can reserve on the NPS website.

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We setup camp and walked up and along the ridge-line of the coast for sunset.

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Camping on the island is close to backpacking because there is no electricity, campfires, or cars.  Luckily the island does have bathrooms and fresh drinking water.  Nathan’s parents got a taste of our traditional Mountain House freeze dried meals we are used to eating while backpacking.  By 10 pm everyone in the campsite was asleep except Nathan and his mom, who spent the evening playing with the headlamps and long exposure photos.

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The next morning Nathan spent the morning chasing island foxes around trying to get the perfect photo.  Although the foxes are wild they are used to people and have very few predators. Campers spend a lot of time chasing off the foxes and keeping them out of the food.

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The next day we started kayaking earlier heading out along the coast toward Potato Harbor.  The tide was much higher keeping us out of a lot of the caves but the wind was at our backs making the kayaking a breeze.  At one point though, Nathan’s dad was struggling to keep up and after a 1/4 mile of frustrated paddling we finally noticed he had snagged a 20 foot long piece of kelp and had been dragging it all this time!

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We stopped at lunch at Potato Harbor, a beautiful cove that looks more like a tropical island with white sand a clear shallow water than what you’d expect in SoCal.  Around the corner we kayaked near a sea lion rookery and watched the curious sea lions swim under our kayaks and play with each other.  We have some videos of our kayaking trip which include some underwater video of the sea lions playing under our kayaks, we’ll have to post that soon.

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As we headed back after another beautiful day of kayaking, the wind changed direction and pushed us back.  It was a successful, memorable, and exciting weekend! We highly recommend it as a unique must-do activity for any one in LA!

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The first real hike that we ever did together was about 4 years ago, in May 2009. Based on Katharine’s research on Modern Hiker, we did the 7 mile loop to Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains during a hot May day.  Like many beginner hikers, we didn’t bring quite enough water for the hot day and found ourselves exhausted at the end, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love with hiking.

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Photos from our 2009 hike

Video from our 2009 Hike

Now, 4 years later, we consider ourselves avid hikers and backpackers and have bagged many of the highest peaks in southern California.

Since we are planning to move to the East Coast at the end of the summer, we thought we should hike Sandstone Peak one last time.  This time we were in better hiking condition and the weather was much cooler.  4 years ago it was a challenging hike to reach the top and return, but this time it was just a stroll in the park.

2009 (I sense a little more enthusiasm)

2013

While eating a snack at the top we were entertained by a small mouse gathering grass, so of course now we have 84 photos of a mouse thanks to Nathan!

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A couple weeks after our hike, the Springs Fire swept through just northwest of the trail, charing all the chaparral. Luckily this section of trail was apparently not affected, but we expect the views of the surrounding hills may be quite altered.

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It was fun to return to where all our hiking began and see how far we’ve come!

Potato Chip Rock has been on our hiking list for over a year (since seeing it on California Through my Lens) and we finally had the chance to tackle the 8 mile round trip hike to the unique sliver of a rock.  The rock is located on Mt. Woodson near Lake Poway in San Diego, which made it a perfect hike to do with Nathan’s parents.

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The trail is completely exposed with only boulders scattered through out the chaparral, but luckily the day started out foggy which kept us out of the sun during the strenuous climb to the top.

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During the hike to the top Nathan’s Dad Victor, who is a guide for Cabrillo National Monument, gave us a informative walk pointing out various flowers, plants and their uses by earlier civilizations.

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We reached the top and found the rock to be overrun with people, which apparently is actually unusual.  It was over a 30 minute wait before we had our turn on the ‘diving board’.

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Crossing the small gap onto the rock and scrambing down between the boulders can be interesting and chaotic as you can see in below.

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The rock is 5 to 6 feet wide, but becomes less than a inch thick at the end of the chip.  When you’re standing on the rock and someone else jumps you can feel the rock vibrate!

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Although our jumping photo gives some people anxiety, others were even more bold when we were there. We watched a couple groups hang off the edge and one person even attempt a handstand, which got a mixed reaction from the crowd.

This was a fun hike with a well deserved noteworthy summit, but it can be crowded and you definitely have to be prepared for the lack of shade. A couple weeks later Nathan happened to be at Lake Poway Park and saw the fire department airlift a girl off the mountain and land in a nearby baseball field, luckily it looked like she was ok, likely sprained her ankle or something.

Our friend and coworker, Jim celebrated his 60th birthday with a day full of outdoor sports.  Since he’s Irish, it was only fitting the celebration was on St. Patrick’s Day.  The day was perfectly planned and scheduled chock full of various outdoor activities, one right after another. Jim outdid everyone, completing each event with energy to spare while the rest of us played tag team trying to keep up with him.

The morning started with open ocean swimming, surfing, and paddle boarding in Malibu.

Followed by kayaking with friends.

Although some gave it their best shot, no one capsized

Slightly more dramatic than in real life

It’s good to have friends that enjoy the same hobbies you do

We then drove ahead of the group and hiked a little ways down a nice trail and played on a rope swing waiting for the rest to bike by.

It’s amazing how just a simple rope swing can keep you entertained for hours…it’s fun to be a kid again

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The final activity was a 4 mile hike in Temescal Canyon ending at Jim’s house for drinks, food, and storytelling.

Coming down the final switchbacks of Temescal Canyon

We thought it was a great way to celebrate a birthday, we only hope we will be as fit and energetic when we turn 60! Happy Birthday to Jim!

 

For Presidents’ day weekend we decided to take a trip somewhere snowy that we could do snowshoeing or cross country skiing. We decided on Sequoia National Park since it is not too far of a drive, has plowed and accessible roads, and has some great trails through the Sequoias.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any fresh snow in the past couple weeks so skiing wasn’t really possible and snowshoes were not entirely required since we had our Microspikes.

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But there was definitely enough snow to make the trip worth it and transform the park compared to our earlier visits in the summer. On our first day we visited some of the popular sights including the General Sherman tree, the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Generally in the summer this area is mobbed with people and you have to wait a long time to get your turn with the tree. But in the winter, you can actually get a shot without anyone!

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This year we opted out of camping on the snow and got a hotel room just outside the park.  The drive in and out of the park is long and windy, but the view at sunset was worth the drive.

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On our second day we did a short hike to Tokopah Falls (3.8 miles) that we realized along the way we had actually done once before. It was a different experience in the snow though, and the falls were more impressive this time around. We also enjoyed the icicles and stream views along the hike.

Tokopah Falls

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In the afternoon we decided to do a short hike to Sunset Rock to, as you’d expect, watch the sunset.  It’s a easy 2-mile round-trip hike through the forest and then it empties out on to a giant flat rock overlooking the canyons and of course is a perfect place to watch the sunset.

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We hiked back to the car using our headlamps and then drove down the road to Round Meadow to wait for the stars to come out.  Earlier in the day we had picked out a sequoia tree that was singled out enough to make a good silhouette star photo.

(Click on the photo for full screen view, the stars are more visible)

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The next day we spent a few hours hiking the Congress Trail, which passes through some impressive sequoia groves properly named The House and Senate.

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After this trip we’ve exhausted the main park attractions and probably won’t return to this area of the park for a while.  But we do plan on doing some more exploring in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park this summer… we got permits for the classic Rae Lakes Loop for 4th of July.

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Back in February we took an afternoon to hike the famous Vasquez Rocks seen in Star Trek, Friends, Power Rangers, Outer Limits and many other tv shows and movies.  The unique rock formations were caused by the San Andreas Fault and erosion of the San Gabriel mountains.

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We started the hike late in the day and covered 3 miles in 90 minutes to return to our car before the gate closed.  The rocks are very accessible from the parking lot and don’t require a lot of hiking, but we wanted to hike along some of the higher ridges to get a better view.  We climbed on a few of the rocks, but didn’t have time to scale the large peak.

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The people on the left give a sense of scale of these giant rock formations

Along the path there are also a few clearly marked pictographs.

Although it was a quick hike, it was a good warm up for the many hikes and backpacking trips we have planned for the year.

 

Late January my parents visited for my brother’s birthday so we used the opportunity to also visit the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar. The learning center is a small wildlife way-station that has taken in many animals due to injuries or illegal pets.  We took the deluxe tour with a personal guide allowing us to touch and interact with some of the animals.

My brother feeding a N. American Porcupine

There were 5 porcupines in the enclosure and they seemed very curious and friendly, but they made us nervous as they crawled around our feet.  We got to feed them and they were very cute standing on two feet and grabbing the food with their hands.  I could see how people might think they would make good pets until a loud noise startled one and he pulled back the soft quills exposing the razor sharp ones…not cool.

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We also got to hold an owl, which was pretty cool.  I wish we could have let him fly, but i don’t think he was able to because of an injury.

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We also got to touch a sloth, desert fox, flying squirrel, and various reptiles!

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The deluxe tour made the visit worth it.  The facility is pretty small in comparison to some of the large zoos in the area, but the hands on interactive approach was worth every penny.

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