Saturday, January 31, 2015

Platforms on the Soles of My Shoes: A Sticky, Muddy Hike in Garin Regional Park

Meyers Ranch Trail

Date: December 1 and 21, 2014
Place: Garin/Dry Creek/Pioneer Regional Park, Hayward, California
Coordinates, Dry Creek entrance: 37.607567, -122.017732  Garin entrance: 37.62800, -122.028950
Length, the large loop: 3.2 miles. The shorter loop: about 2 miles
Difficulty: normally easy but challenging when muddy.

Garin/Dry Creek/Pioneer Regional Park is a regular hound for me. Close enough to my home to frequent, isolated enough from the city to escape it, and pleasantly rich with natural diversity of plants, animals and, as was evident in my most recent whiles there: fungi. I love hiking in that park. Usually, when I go by myself, I hike up the hills where I have solitude. This fall I was planning to take my hiking groups there and I was checking out the loop trail that goes along Dry Creek, over the Jordan Pond Dam and up the west part of the High Ridge Loop Trail.
In yellow: my solo loop hike. In orange: the hiking group loop hike
I started at the Dry Creek entrance and walked north on Meyers Ranch Trail along the creek which, following the recent rains was anything but dry.  I was welcomed by the lush, green hills, a green I haven't seen in a while with the long drought we had. Very soon, however, I realized that it wouldn't be a good idea to bring my group via this route. The trail, an easy one most times of year, was very, very muddy. Deep, thick, and highly slippery mud that slowed down my walk to crawling speed. A week later, when I brought my hiking group there, we started at the Garin park entrance and hiked a smaller, more manageable loop. The photos here are from both of these hikes.
Muddy Mayers Ranch Trail
The weather was perfect, though, and I enjoyed the freshness of post-rain air. It ha been a while since I saw the hills so intensely green. I look back at the photos from my last year's hike in Garin and I'm amazed at how dry it looked, at about the same time of year.

The hillsides glistened. It was droplet-covered cobwebs, spread between last year's dry weeds, that sparkling in the sunlight.
Morning dew on cobwebs. on the hillside along Dry Creek Trail
I was by no means alone: this loop is very popular among joggers and dog owners, and I met quite a few along my hike. The runners seemed to be struggling with the muddy terrain. The dogs thoroughly loved it.
Sycamore in winter dress
Dry Creek was anything but dry. In fact, I cannot recall ever seeing it this high before. I was very pleased to see the energetic flow of this creek!
Dry Creek
Narrow old wooden bridges span the creek at several points along the trail. Some of them are shaky and probably better rebuilt before collapsing under an unsuspecting hiker. I took this photo of the flowing grass on the steep creek bank from one of these bridges.

November rains brought forth a bounty of mushrooms I haven't seen in a long time. Although not matching the variety of fungi I've seen in Northern California during my Thanksgiving family vacation, Garin Regional Park sported a splendid display nonetheless.

Not all of the fungi I've seen there were seasonal. Some are visible year-round. They too, however, look better after the rain.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Most of the fungi I saw in Garin were familiar to me from my trip up north. But I did see puffballs too, that were the first I've seen this season
Earthstar Puffball
I came upon Jordan Pond and sat down on one of the benches. Many coots were floating on the water, each in its own, unmarked, territorial circle of water surface. Whenever on bird would cross the unseen border of another,a spat would break out and the dominant coot would do its best to sink the other, until the poor trespasser would flee far enough and the victor would return to its spot to find it occupied by a third bird who took the opportunity.
Jordan Pond
From the pond I hiked uphill to join with the High Ridge Loop Trail. Higher up there was a nice view of the entire pond.
Jordan Pond
I caught a glimpse of color in the grass: an early (or a very, very late) California poppy, shining back at the sun.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
All the way up there is bench facing west. There, below the hill, the entire South Bay is on display. A short trail takes you to the edge of the hill where, visibility allows, one can see the entire Bay Area.
View of the Bay from the High Ridge Trail Vista Point
The view east shows a fantastic contrast: rolling hills of wilderness where one can escape to from the city hubbub, where the spirit can expand to the horizon and beyond.
East Bay Hills
It took me so long to complete the loop that I was almost late for picking up my chikas from school. When I returned with my group, however, it was on the weekend and we were in no hurry to go anywhere.  We took the time to imbibe all these scenes of East Bay beauty.
California Buckeye in winter dress
Children's eyes are closer to the ground. They find all the interesting stuff :-)
A germinating California Buckeye
It rained some more between my solo hike and the group hike. While it made walking even harder, the mushroom display was simply gorgeous!

We had a lunch break by the big sycamore near the cattle gate that separates the north and the south portion of Dry Creek Trail.  The children found a newt wedged in a crack at the base of the tree trunk, peacefully waiting for the noisy humans to finish their business and go away.
California Newt
I led the group on the narrow trail that connects Dry Creek and the High Hills Loop Trail. There were many more newts along that trail and the scattered hastily (as fast as newts go on land) up the hill.
A fallen log on the east side looked like it had grown feathers. On a closer look I saw it was covered with Turkey Tail fungus.

Fungi. Lots and lots of them that day. Even up on the hill, in the open grassland.

Fog covered the hills that day. The air was cool, refreshing, and promising of a long, wet winter. Sadly, December rains were the last. January has gone by without a drop and very little rain is in the forecast. The long California drought isn't over yet.

I'd like to finish this blog post with something I feel ambiguous about. At my solo hike I noticed some well-placed painted stone 'bugs' in tree crevices along the trail. At the group hike I saw some note of them, including one that was very conspicuous - on top of a wood post near the High Ridge overlook bench. They were very well done and looked very cute and pretty. However ... these things, cute as they are, don't really belong in Nature and didn't blend in, as well placed as they were. I have no idea who put them there or for what purpose. I didn't take any with my as I would a piece of trash I see on the trail, I just left them where I found them.

Garin/Dry Creek/Pioneer is a fantastic place to go hiking or even just to escape for a little while. For being really close to the city, this park is still amazingly wild. I love it there.

I'm not even sure they belong here in this blog post. I didn't make them part of the main post, but here they are, smiling at the bottom. Don't belong, but cannot be ignored.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Around Triangle Lake and out to Widow Lake

Date: August 5, 2014
Place: Caribou Wilderness, Lassen National Forest, Chester, California
Coordinates (Triangle Lake): 40.530752, -121.218065
Difficulty: easy

On our second day at Caribou Wilderness we were all ready for a good hike. The morning, however, started with rain. The children convened inside my friends' tent and played card games. I didn't mind the rain, which was more like a light drizzle, so I declined the invitation to join. Instead, I left my chika in care of my friends and went on an hour of solo walk, circumventing Triangle Lake (about 2 miles long).

My hike around Triangle Lake, as captured by my GPS (No, I didn't make a shortcut through the water)
The joy of backpacking begins even before going into the wilderness. Part of the fun is the game of weight calculation, of course. It's about laying out the equipment, adding their weight in ounces (or grams), discarding some, adding others, deciding what is an absolute essential and what's luxury, packing and unpacking a gazillion times until it's time to go whether you're happy with the result or not.
The one item upon which the rules of this game don't apply is the camera, which was by far the heaviest non-essential item I brought along. Never once did I consider leaving it behind. I did leave behind, however, all the speciality lenses, choosing to bring along just the basic, multi-purpose lens. So most of my photos of this backpacking trip (that aren't of my chika and our friends) are of scenery. That, and the intermittent  rain, of course, which made me reluctant to pull my camera out all too often.
Triangle Lake, west shore
There were a few wet birds in the branches. The only other evidence of wildlife were deer tracks in the mud.
Deer was here!
I saw many blue penstemon flowers, small and delicate. Alas, none of my photos turned out good enough. Most of the hike I didn't even pull my camera out. I simply walked quietly along the trail and cherished the solitude I had for the first time in a long while.
As I came around the lake's south corner I was surprised to see a couple of day hikers on the trail. They were the only other humans I've seen throughout the entire backpacking trip (except for our friends, of course). I didn't engage them in any conversation, they too seemed to appreciate the silence.
Triangle Lake, east shore
It drizzled on and off throughout the hike. Mostly on. There was no wind and it wasn't really cold at all. Other than having to protect my camera, I found it to be quite pleasant. The constant dripping was calming and very beautiful. The lake surface was fizzing with the expanding concentric ripples. Little by little, one droplet at a time, I was getting soaked.
Truffle Rock
It took me about an hour to complete my hike.By the time I reached the campsite the drizzle had stopped. We had a quick lunch and went back on the trail, intending to do as much of the planned hike as possible before the rain renewed.
My friends planned to hike to Widow Lake, which is within the boundaries of Lassen Volcanic National Park, about 3 miles to the west.
Triangle Lake to Widow Lake, as captured by my GPS
I was amazed at how fast our friends were hiking, even when with their 4yo who insisted on walking himself rather than be carried. My chika did a good job keeping up. She was too busy playing riddles with her friends to worry about the pace. I also kept the pace, but I had not a second to spare for photos, except on moments when we stopped to put on the bug repellant or to drink a sip of water, or when my friends tried to convince their toddler to let them carry him.
Once a pond, now a small meadowlet.
I love walking in the woods when everything is wet. The colors are much stronger and more intense. Same goes for the smells. Too bad I cannot post here the scent of the forest in the rain, it was so intense! 
Lassen National Forest
Whenever I saw flowers I stopped to take photos. Each stop I was done in time to see the last of our party disappears behind a curve and had to run after them. Most of my photos didn't come out right. Some did.
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)
When we descended to Widow Lake (I haven't figured out yet why does it have that name) I was panting hard from all the running. Everyone else seemed to be tired as well. We all slumped down under a large pine tree, had our snack and relaxed.

Coming down to Widow Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP
Before too long, however, the children felt rested enough and got up to play. They skipped rocks on the calm lake surface (I'm glad I took the reflection photo before the rocks started flying into the lake), and my chika even tried skipping pine cones. Then they looked for interesting tidbits and found a frog. Then they skipped some more rocks. Then they started complaining they were bored.
Then it started raining again.
Widow Lake
It was time to head back to our campsite, but then about half of our party decided it was time to go behind the bushes for some private time. I took the time to look for more flowers.
Primrose Monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides)
Eventually we were all gathered together and we started hiking back on the same trail we arrived at, this time at a much slower pace.
Just slip on the magic ring and step into the pond. What world will this one lead to? 
At a slower pace I could notice more things, like this decomposing fallen log. I love the color contrast of the reddish disintegrating wood with the lush green of the manzanita shuns surrounding it. I pointed it out to my chika but she was more into playing with her friends.

The drizzle stopped. We kept walking. At some point my friends stopped to exchange their toddler one more time and I found myself racing after the three older children that kept on walking ahead. Then one of them cried out, "Snake!"
I hurried forward and got there just in time to take a photo of the cute, sleek reptile as it halted on a rock. It quickly slithered into the shrubs and by the time my friends caught up with us it was gone.  That pretty garter snake was the most exciting wildlife we've seen on that hike.
Garter Snake
Not that the squirrels aren't cute, they're simply too common to get excited about :-)

We arrived at the camp, had a nice dinner and very soon after the sun set we crashed inside our sleeping bags. Outdoors sleeping is best on the second night of camping.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Into the Wild with My Child: Backpacking in the Caribou Wilderness

Date: August 4-7
Place: Caribou Wilderness, Lassen National Forest, Chester, California
Coordinates (of Cone Lake Trailhead): 40.551161, -121.204472
Length: From the trailhead to Triangle Lake: 2 miles.
Around Triangle Lake: about 2 miles.
Difficulty: easy

After enrolling my elder chika to the annual summer 4H camp last spring I turned to console my younger one, who was too young to go to that camp. I promised her a special camping trip, just her and me, during that week. Shortly after that I received an invitation from good friends to join them in a backpacking trip to Caribou Wilderness in August, at the same time exactly as the 4H camp. Our friends, a family of 5 with twins a year older than my little chika, love going on long wilderness backpacking trips and have ample experience doing so with their children. It was with them that I took my elder chika on her first backpacking trip to Point Reyes; they were the perfect companions for my little chika's first backpacking trip. All of a sudden, my young chika got very excited about going backpacking :-)

Our friends had planned to be at Caribou Wilderness for 10 days, and we were to join them for two nights. I got my chika a new backpack that she took on 'practice hikes' throughout the house. We made a list of items to take, replaced 80% of them, packed and repacked and weighed the pack again and again.
August arrived. We packed everything for the final time, said goodbye to Papa Quail, dropped the elder chika at her camp's meeting place and hit the road. Just little chika and me.

Our friends were already 4 days in the wilderness when we arrived at the place. They were waiting for us at the north shore of Triangle Lake, at the north part of the Wilderness area. We started out at the Caribou Lake trailhead, about 4.5 miles from there, hoping to have a nice day's hike before joining our friends.
Caribou Lake
The trail goes up and around the north shore of Caribou Lake. We went down to the lake shore, close to the water.
Vivid evidence of the state-wide drought there too.
The dry edge of Caribou Lake
Little tree frog had a long way to hop from the woods to the water. My chika spotted it and pointed it out to me.
Tree Frog (Sierran or Pacific)
Caribou Wilderness is a good place to initiate children into backpacking. It is a mostly flat area, strewn with little lakes and ponds, the larger ones offer good swimming, and pretty woods rich with interesting wildlife, that also provide privacy from other backpackers or day hikers that may be in the area. It is also fairly close to main roads from three directions, which allows for a relatively quick departure if needed. The trails are well marked and easy to navigate.
Douglas' Spiraea (Spiraea douglasii), near Caribou Lake
That said, we spend a good two hours trying to find the main trail because I made the mistake of trying to short-cut through the woods. That is a bad idea at any time, let alone in a new place and in the company of a child.
We saw some lovely ponds and beautiful flowers during that walk but eventually had to go back to the trailhead. At that point it would have been too late to get to Triangle Lake along the originally planned path. I was ready to go and check into a local hotel and try again tomorrow but the chika insisted on meeting our friends that evening, as I promised her. As tired as she was already, she wasn't ready to quit. So we got in the car and drove north to the Cone Lake trailhead and with renewed energies we set out on the 2-miles hike to the meeting point at Triangle Lake.
The north shore of Triangle Lake

The forecast predicted on and off rain throughout the time period we planned to be there. On a whim I bought an extra tarp in Chester. Added weight, yes, but it proved very useful at the campsite.
The clouds were already gathering as we walked to Triangle Lake. My chika was getting really tired; she has been walking with a heavy pack nearly all day now. When we met our friends at the trail's intersection she was too exhausted to celebrate. They quickly relieved her from the pack and we made the final yards together to the campsite, where we had a nice dinner together and I pitched my tent next to theirs.
Our campsite by Triangle Lake
The rain started that night in the form of a light drizzle. I was glad I got the tarp because I soon found out that my 2-person tent wasn't water-tight. Still, it didn't stop us from having a good night sleep. In the morning

The drizzle continued on and off throughout the next day. The morning started with a lot of kids play, and me going on a solo hike around Triangle Lake. Later that afternoon we took a hike into Lassen Volcanic National Park. Despite the rain (the weather wasn't really cold), we had a very good time. My chika was in an excellent mood: she loved playing with her friends and enjoyed to the fullest that for once, she did not have to compete on her with her sister for her friends' attention. (They did compete for hers, but I left that issue to their parents to deal with ... ).

On the morrow, it was clear that we would stay for a third night. My chika wouldn't hear about going back a second earlier than necessary. It was also clear that I needed to get to my car and get more supplies for that extra time. I thought at first to leave the chika with our friends and make the supplies run quickly by myself but they all wanted to join me; it was a trail they hadn't hiked yet.
The hike from Cone Lake trailhead to the Campsite at Triangle Lake as captured by my GPS unit.
The day started with a perfect weather. It was sunny and warm and everyone was cheerful. We hiked north, the children coming up with word games and riddles, and playfully knocking off the droplets that were still hanging from the trees along the trail.
A once lake on its way to become a meadow
We passed a couple of ponds along the way. These ponds are prevalent in that area. Before long we felt their effect on us in the form of mosquito clouds. If there's one thing you don't want to be cheep about when going to that area it is an effective mosquito repellant.
And there were lovely flowers along the way as well. I often stopped to appreciate them, than had to run to catch up with the others.
Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata)
Funny thing about the trailhead where I parked at was, I didn't remember seeing any lake there. Cone, or otherwise. At the time I parked there I was too concerned about getting on time to Triangle Lake so I didn't dwell on that question.
When we arrived there on our supplies run, however, I looked around for Cone Lake, and again, saw no lake. Then it occurred to me: it was that sunken meadow near the parking lot. That was Cone Lake. A while ago, when it had water.
Cone 'Lake'
It is a natural progression of things: mountain creeks become clogged with rocks, fallen logs, beaver dams and flood-carried debris. It becomes a lake. In flat woodlands, the ponds are formed by snow that melted and the water didn't drain anywhere. Either way, once a lake is there, silt and debris continue to sediment at the bottom, and the lake becomes shallower and shallower, until plants overgrow it and it is transformed into a meadow.
And prolonged drought can surely hasten things in that direction. That nice meadow that used to be Cone Lake turned out to be a very nice lunch picnic place and then a children's playground. While the young ones were reenacting Jedi fights with sticks I was looking for flowers. And I did find a few tiny flowers. So tiny they proved a real challenge to photograph.
Buttercup (Ranunculus sp. )
We spent a long hour at Cone Lake meadow. Then we deposited our trash in my car and I restocked my backpack with supplies for one more day, and we headed back to our campsite.
Saplings sprout from the root crown of a fallen pine tree
We arrived at the campsite in the nick of time: the sun had once again disappeared behind clouds. Soon it begun to drizzle. Our friends went into their tent to play cards and invited us to join them. My chika vanished inside their tent and I got busy preparing my tent for the incoming rain.
The rain intensified. I could hear thunder in the distance. Eventually gave up on being the brave wilderness person whom nothing bothers and I joined everyone inside my friends' tent.
It was my first time in their tent and I was astounded. It is a four-person tent, too low for anyone to stand upright (except for their 4 yo toddler). Not only did our friends slept regularly five persons in that tent (okay, three of them children), but here we were, seven people sitting relatively comfortably amidst all the sleeping gear, with room in the middle for the card game! That tent must have been made in Gallifrey, otherwise I cannot explain how it was bigger on the inside. It was blue, too.

The thunder grew closer and closer and the children got very excited, on the verge of panic.
The rain became a downpour. Five minutes into the storm little stones were knocking everywhere: it was hailing too. Thunder boomed very close and each time my chika squeezed against me, as if I could have done anything should the lightning have struck us. I hugged her and kept reassuring her that lightnings like water and tall trees and would not go for the tent, but my heart was racing too.
Little rivulets began flowing about the tent and one of our friend braved the storm and went outside to dig moats around the tent to divert the flood. When he entered the tent again he was soaked and shivering, but the tent itself remained dry.

It didn't last very long. After less than an hour the storm subsided and the sky cleared. We got out and I went to check my tent. The sun came out, and that was very lucky because I could drag our sleeping bags and mattresses out of the pool inside my tent and spread them on the rocks to dry out.

When evening came my chika started falling into a bad mood. She knew we wouldn't be able to extend our stay any longer than the morrow.
As clouds started gathering again, I spent the rest of the evening digging moats around my own tent, preparing for the night's showers. I, too, didn't want to leave.
The rain, however, didn't return. It was still dark when I woke up. I got out of the tent and into the chill of the pre-dawn morning. Everything was quiet, without even a bird call. Sheets of mist floated over the lake and the water was so tranquil there weren't even ripples on the surface. I went back to the tent to fetch my camera.
Triangle Lake at pre-dawn
In a sense, that was a mistake. I could have enjoyed the quiet sunrise all by myself; it has been so long since I've seen the sunrise like that and I sorely missed the spiritual awakening it used to stir in me. But while I was getting my camera the little chika woke up, so I invited her to come with me and witness the sunrise. I wanted to share that precious time with her.
Rock reflection, Triangle Lake at pre-dawn. 
My chika could've chosen to stay in the sack but she did get out of the tent, and she was in a very dark mood. Sadly, the scenery's beauty and tranquility didn't get to her at all.
Dawn Breaking at Triangle Lake
Soon she became too loud so I had to pull her away further away from the tents so she won't wake our friends.  At that point she started complaining that she was cold, so I went back to the tent, pulled her sleeping bag out and wrapped her with it.
First ray of sun peeping through the trees
The sunrise was a perfect one. The early rays were moving through the trees, playing in the shifting mist, and giving the overall appearance of the new day's ignition. Like tree-top fire, only quiet, smokeless, and benign.
Dawn Fairies Dancing
At that point I was beginning to lose my patience with my chika. I wanted too enjoy my sunrise and her constant whine was getting on my nerves. I tried filming this majestic sunrise, but the audio of that clip makes it unsuitable to post here.
And then, unhindered by us, petty little humans, the sun showed up.
Good Morning Starshine!  
Our friends woke up and the chika's mood improved on the spot. The morning was sunny and beautiful. For the first time since we came there, the weather was warm enough to get in the water, and after breakfast the children took full advantage of that and went playing in the lake.
I spread my gear over the rocks once more to get the last of the moisture out before packing everything. Our friends were breaking camp too - they wanted to move on to a different lake that day.
Triangle Lake
When the children were done with the water they turned their imagination onto other things. I am amazed at where their minds take them when no electronics are available. Out in Nature, combined rocks and sticks and unlimited imagination and a Space City comes to life with space crafts, aliens and of course, Jedi warriors.
Space City
Eventually is was time to leave. We had a nice late lunch together, then everyone hoisted their backpacks. We said our goodbyes and were on our way: our friends to the next lake where they would spend three more days of wilderness immersion, an my chika and me back to Cone Lake trailhead. Despite the lighter packs it was much harder going back. My chika wasn't motivated to hike any more. She kept complaining she was tired and insisted on frequent rest stop.
One last look at that weird looking tree along the way, one last shake of droplets from a hanging branch. Last farewell to the meadow and we were off on our long way home.

I learned a few valuable lessons on this trip, the most important of which was that a successful trip depends, us much as on good, weather-suitable equipment, also very much on the happiness of the participating children. Having their friends along is the best way to keep a child happy/ Also it is very important to involve children in the planning of the trip, particularly in planning the menu. And relaxing the normally tight sweets policy can go along way when you're out in the wilderness with a child.

And another take-home message from that trip was that three days is simply not enough. It is barely enough