Sunday, 17 June 2012

Point Reyes: Look, a whale! and Muir Woods: Look, a shitload of people!

Em organised a surprise weekend trip to Point Reyes that was a lot of fun. We visited the historic lighthouse, and walked down the 308 steps to see it up close. While we were there we saw a baby grey whale quite close - just beyond the waves breaking on the rocks.

After that we checked out the seals and then hiked out to Chimney rock.

And then hung out on Drake's beach for a while, where Ella ate more sand and crawled after various groups of kids. The weather was surprisingly nice, especially since Point Reyes is renowned for its fog. So much so that John Carpenter filmed The Fog there.

We stayed at a great little B&B and had some really good meals, including local seafood, in the town of Point Reyes Station.

On our way home we did some redwood hikes in Muir Woods. Like the last time we tried to visit, it was stupidly busy. We walked more than 1 km from where we parked the car to the entrance of the park. Honestly I don't think it is worth it, the boardwalk loop is disney-fied nature with theme-park-size crowds. That may just be me though, I have realised that my enjoyment of natural places is inversely proportional to the number of humans present.

I'd recommend Henry Cowell instead: it has redwoods that are just as good with way less people. If you are going, I'd recommend getting one of the many shuttle services that operates during spring/summer.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


I'm ashamed to say it took us a year and a half of living in the bay area before we went to Yosemite for the first time. I'd been before many years ago in winter on a bus tour, which just made me mad that I had so little time. I've wanted to come back ever since.

Our friends Mary and John were just about the best tour guides you could hope for - experienced Yosemite climbers who have lived (as staff for some time) and played in the park for years.

First order of business, get on some rock. We headed to sunny side bench, just around the corner from Yosemite falls, fearful of the crowds on the 'fee free day'. But there were surprisingly few climbers around and we hopped onto the popular Jamcrack (5.7, 5.9) pretty much straight away.

I'd injured my shoulder the week before so I was happy that I could get on the rock at all. With the help of some ibuprofen I jammed up the nicely smoothed crack and had a fun time topping Bummer (5.10d), but the injury, and a month in spain before that, meant no gym training so I was spent pretty quickly. Ella hung out with her buddy Lily at the bottom of the climb, sleeping and crawling in the dirt and eating pinecones.

We had a picnic with a view of Yosemite falls, and then hung out in the meadow looking at El Cap and trying to find the climbers. When we did spot some M+J could tell us exactly what pitch they were on :)

We stayed in a beautiful house on the Tulomne river, with two other couples. Great place to stay although still about an hour's drive to Yosemite village on the valley floor.

On the second day Em and I hiked with an 18 lb (8.2 kg) Ella from Porcupine Creek to the top of North Dome (9.2 miles, 14.8 km). You do most of the climbing in the car but there is still an elevation change of 3900 ft (1.2 km) on the round trip. Most of the distance is in undulating pine forest, but towards the end it opens up for spectacular views of the valley.

In one direction you have half dome and cloud's rest. In the other you can see the sentinel, cathedral rock, and the nose of el cap. It's hard to convey the immensity of that view. I think this hike beats Angel's Landing, making it my new favourite day hike in the US.

This was definitely the toughest hike we've done with Ella - she is getting heavy! The small number of people we encountered seemed genuinely astonished that we'd brought a baby out onto North Dome - maybe it made them feel less tough :)