Friday, January 11, 2013

Ohlone Backpacking 2012-13 Final part, 4

We knew we had a relatively short day today until we reached our goal, the Sunol trailhead, so we took a luxurious morning. I was in a good mood, as I had passed the night in relative warmth. I did have to get up early to fetch water from the (non potable) pump to make my morning coffee since we used up what we had filtered the night before to heat water for our blow-out buffet.

When it is very important to have plenty of water at hand, such as high altitude and summer hiking, I carry more water bottles, but I knew I wouldn't be drinking that much at a stretch, and I didn't want to carry any extra ounces, so I only had my platypus bladder with drinking hose and one Nalgene bottle. When I have 2 Nalgenes, I designate one for "dirty" water and one for "clean." Something like that is needed when you are getting your water from a pump or hydrant.

What I used to bring the water down to camp instead was my cookpot bag. It does double duty as a sort of freestanding soft-sided pot and holds almost as much as a Nalgene. I heated water for coffee as the camp woke up.

After the big feast of calories and gluten the night before, The eggs with bacon did not seem so appetizing as they had the previous mornings. I had brought some packets of instant oats, which I shared with Loreleigh. I like to stir in black raisins and mixed nuts into the hot mixture and eat it quickly before it cools down. I haven't cared for sweetener in my hot cereal for years.

The girls scrambled up on the rocky hillock to enjoy their breakfasts with the view.

It's hard to look like a dignified alpine explorer with a glittery Happy New Year's hat on your head.

While we were winding up our morning coffee and breakfast, we saw a young man in full backpacking gear walking by our camp on his way to The Little House. He seemed like a friendly sort, so Melinda and I said Hi, and she engaged him in conversation. Actually, it went mostly like this:

"Hi! "(now that the pleasantries were out of the way, she could get to the point, which was his gear.)
"What kind of pack do you have?"
"What kind of tent do you have?"
"How do you like the kind of Thermarest you are using?"
"What kind of hiking clothes are you wearing?"
"How are you keeping warm?"

After several minutes of interrogation, err, conversation, we chatted a bit about the trail and where he was headed to for the night. About that time, he started looking at me curiously and asked, "Do you have a blog?" !!!!! What are the odds? He had been looking online for first hand info on the trail and had come across the blog trail stories I had written 2 years ago here. He recognized us from the pictures. And had just happened to cross our paths. And Melinda had just happened to have engaged him in conversation.

Chris, with Loreleigh and Melinda. He was inspired to start his own blog, and you'll want to read it here. You'll also want to click the link to his video on Vimeo, including his very lovely, peaceful and inspiring landscapes at Ohlone.

Standing at Hawk's Nest, you can watch the edge of sunrise move towards you as the sun rises over the mountain to the east.

For some reason Melinda thought that Tess would look charming perched up on the stone wall just down from our campsite. But no, she did not jump up there. Though she probably could have.

Preparing to cross one of several streams.

Up until now, we had had a marked lack of wildlife interaction. The only maybe was the night at Maggie's Half Acre where Tess alerted, stared off in the dark direction of the water trough and barked. We looked at our guard dog, wishing she could communicate what it was. Bird? Deer? Scary Carnivore? Loreleigh and I flicked on our little LED head lamps and looked in that direction, hoping (or hoping not) for eyes to reflect back. It was sort of pitiful. The light dribbled out of the lamps, fell on the ground and crawled for a few feet until it gave up the ghost. We kept moving our heads, trying, though. I thought I saw a flash of something orangey. And then decided I would just rather turn off the light, go to bed and quit thinking about it, since Tess had calmed down.

Today we ran into a different sort of wildlife. Cattle. I'm quite wary of cattle, especially cows with calves, which is what this herd was. They were across the trail. We stood there for awhile, considering our options, and deciding to go around them on the uphill side. But when we looked up the hillside, there was a bull standing there watching us and HIS cows. I had no plans to get between them! He slowly began walking down the hill. We decided we would go around the other direction, but were thwarted by a hidden ravine. So back to the trail. 

 By now the bull was on the trail too. I noticed that a couple of manly day-hikers coming from the other direction who had paused to view the situation had disappeared back where they came from. We decided we would have to go around the herd from the uphill side, but quickly since the cows and calves were starting to get curious about us. Even though Melinda suggested (ordered) in that voice reserved for subordinates that we should hurry, I took the time to remove my polartec jacket. If we had to run for it, I wanted freedom of movement.

We calmly and quickly went around while the bull kept his girls from ambling in our direction. Whew!

While we walked on, I thought about the annoyance of having to wriggle out of my jacket without taking my pack off. As we went from sun to shade to sun again, I began to wish for some other type of jacket. I began inventing something in my mind, and then I realized it had already been invented. It is a Snuggie! I began modifying it. Soon I had a concept and shared it with the rest of the troop. They smirked, and Loreleigh suggested I call it a Snarkie.

(In case you are one of the few who doesn't know what a Sunggie is, let me educate you. It is sort of a blanket with long sleeves that you put on when you are sitting on the couch. It is open at the back, like a big fuzzy hospital gown, so that you aren't sitting on it when you put it on and off and rearrange it around you.)
Shortened, this could fit right over my front while I was still wearing the pack.

Imagine the possibilities...

As we continued down the trail, meeting more and more day hikers who had come out to enjoy this beautiful sunny New Years Day, most of them glancing up at our hats and then wishing us "Happy New Years!" we spied a large oak tree that seemed to call to Melinda.  After unsuccessfully urging Loreleigh to run over and climb it, she and Tess did.


Actually, it looked more like this...

We got our directions fuzzy near the end of the trail, what with Indian Joes Nature trail turnoff and all. So we took a wrong turn.  The upside was that we enjoyed some really pretty creekside trail. But we did have to turn around when it was obvious we should have been there by now. 

Back on the right trail. 

Last bridge before the parking lot.

Loreleigh signs us out.

I feel like I should have a great concluding insight from this great successful endeavor. Like some part of the meaning of life, or a spiritual understanding I didn't have before. But most of the wisdom I gained is practical; stay warm, eat well, take rests but not too long, you have to live with what you thought to bring. There wasn't really time or energy to ponder my navel.

And that is enough. It is well for humans to take a span to live in the moment, to see what it is like to concentrate on the here, the now, the basic needs. Out there, you don't "need" to brush your teeth every night, to comb your hair, to have electronic communication, to dine on gourmet food, to worry about the larger issues. 

Enjoy that for yourself sometime!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ohlone Wilderness Trail Backpacking 2012-13, Part 3

When I last left you, I was lying in bed, listening to the whisper of frozen dew pattering on the fly of my tent with the background of the cold soughing wind through the pines. I was wearing all my clothes and kept trying to arrange my raincoat to stay on the top of my sleeping bag. To amuse myself and hasten the approach of a reasonable sleepy-time, hopefully closer to 9:30pm than 7:30pm, I played a couple games of solitaire and wrote in my backpacking journal. I'm not sure what my tent-partner was doing, but I think it had something to do with a trashy book and a red light headlamp. I tried that once, but all of a sudden I had several blank, white playing cards, so I switched back to white light.

When the long night ended and the glow of dawn replaced the glow of the full moon through the nylon tent, I crawled out the zipper door, anxious for that first glorious cup of hot coffee. Now it was time to fetch water from the water pump across the trail.

I became concerned when I realized the pumping handle was at the top of a four foot metal water pipe, no doubt frozen up. After trying in vain to bring water up with the pump, we turned our attention to the watering trough standing handily by. It was actually very beautiful. The thick ice on top was clear, revealing an amazing variety of aquatic life. Different shapes, sizes and colors of vegetation filled the bottom half of the metal trough, looking like a salad under glass, or maybe a coral reef under ice. 

I chipped away until I made a hole big enough to drop the filter intake hose into and began collecting our day's water. At first I was quite concerned when I saw that the water trickling into the Nalgene bottle was hazy, until I realized that the water was slushing up as it ran into the bottle!

It felt good to get back on the trail after packing up, trying to keep my fingertips from freezing. Just before I pack up my cook set, I make up a hot cup of coffee for my insulated plastic mug, snap the cover on it, and then hurry up to get ready so that I can have hot coffee to sip on during the first mile of the hike. How wonderful! One reason to spare the few ounces for a cup like that!

I felt guilty when I saw that our trailmaster had persuaded Loreleigh to pull out her own map to see where we were and where we should go next. I KNOW that I should be more in touch with that part. After all, what would happen if they should both keel over all of a sudden and I had to figure it out then? Next time I shall find a place for my reference map that is close at hand and doesn't involve gymnastic arm movements to reach the top pouch of my backpack.

I was glad when I saw lunch called. We had a nice little overlook to the rolling hills and a dead tree to plant ourselves next to.
The best use, of course, was for our chair-less companion to sit on.
As for the rest of us....

Melinda shared her most surprisingly good freeze-dried chicken salad. It was a little soupy, but savory with some onions and mayo-type stuff. And best of all, you use cold water to make it up.

Then we had the most pleasant conversation I could imagine having. The subject? Favorite candy bars suitable for trail treats. We agreed that chocolate was not conducive to summer hikes, so we should take advantage of chocolate candy bars in the winter.

My lists:
Twix (#1!)
Milky Way (I used to like Snickers better, but now I seem to have shifted, even though I love nuts)
Charleston Chew (The dollar box of minis is the best and easiest to eat)
M&Ms (I think I would only bring the peanut butter ones, they are kind of cool)
Almond Joy (It's funny how much I used to hate these. I could identify with the author of a candy book who compared the texture to eating fingernail cuticles. In fact, I never even traded these at Halloween. I just gave them away.)

Big Hunk (#1! I've always loved Big Hunk. My only regret is that the nuts peanuts rather than almonds.)
Peanut Brittle (Well, specifically, See's peanut brittle.)
Payday (Love that mix of sweet and salty!)
Sugar Babies (Haven't had those in years, but it was pleasant to sit there and imagine having a sack of them)
Sesame Snaps (Maybe.)
Famous Amos choc chip cookies (OK, so they aren't really candy, and they do have some chocolate in them, but since I don't have a cookie list, I'm including them in their little, round crunchy goodness.)

It began to get chilly as the sun moved across the sky, so we roused ourselves to set out again.

Got into Sunol Camp, Hawk's Nest, with enough time to have good, thorough discussion about what was level, and who got to put their tent on the most level spot. 
We squeezed right up next to each other, bumping up against the base of the Big Rock formation. 

After a water gathering and pumping and filtering party, we began the preparations for our feast.

No reason to hold any dinner food back at this point, so we had decided to have a potluck.
I cooked up my Mountain House Turkey Tetrazzini and a bag of instant mashed potatoes. I don't usually cook instant mashed potatoes at home, and I don't use the plain ones anyway. But those maroon-colored bags of them that have flavors like, "Loaded," "Baked," and "Homestyle Buttery," are just flat wonderful!

Loreleigh cooked, uh, rehydrated, her Mountain House Lasagne and pulled out the last of the brownies from her stash, and Melinda made her Mountain House Spaghetti with meat sauce.

Tess knows she'll get some if she's patient. Or even if she's impatient, I expect.

We stuffed ourselves and discussed the merits of each. I had not expected to enjoy the spaghetti as much as I had. In fact, I think I prefer it over the lasagne. Tonight, the lasagna seemed to lack the splendor of the other night. Perhaps I wasn't as desperate for a hot meal this time. The others weren't impressed either and were annoyed by the stringy cheese that stuck to the spork. I thought the Turkey Tetrazzini was excellent, though a wee bit more mild than I would have preferred. We all snarfed up the potatoes, and Tess got to lap up what Melinda spilled. (Ok, I know she is going to come back and say I spilled them. When the drop happens in mid exchange, it's really a toss-up who did it.)

Then from somewhere Loreleigh produced a handful of chocolate truffles and passed them out. I quickly made a hot cup of decaf Via to match them properly with, and then I enjoyed my treats.

Then we sat around with our full bellies and graded our meals.

We gave the eggs with bacon a good, solid "B." You kind of feel like there was a limitation on how good they could be, that they could never truly be like eggs, but for what they were, they were good. We agreed that the chicken salad mix got an "A" because it tasted good, but mostly because it was so easy to make, and lightweight in the pack. Then our grades diverged. There was some difference of opinion here, since both the girls are gluten intolerant. What with the pasta in some of the meals and the bit of flour in the brownies, by now they were not feeling as charitable about the meals as I was. 

I'd give the spaghetti an "A," the turkey tetrazzini a "B+," the lasagna a "C+," the chicken fajita an "A-" In spite of the gluten, we all gave brownies an "A+."

Now it was time to roll ourselves off to bed. Actually, it was too early, 7:15pm, but it was cold and we were tired. Melinda handed out the New Years Eve surprise she'd brought. Hats!
We were more than impressed with ourselves!

Tonight, I also slept with all my clothes on, but this time I put my fleece pants over my hiking pants so I wouldn't have to pull anything off to put anything on to get ready in the morning. In fact, that is one thing I learned on this trip. Layer so that you never have to do that--only take stuff off OR put stuff on!

After chasing my slithering solitaire cards all over the gently sloping floor of the tent, I again wrote in my journal, this time putting a big star by it, "Only bring OLD playing cards!"

I was nicely warm during the night. That was good. Better than being cold AND sliding down against my tent mate and inchworming back up to my side periodically.

Stay tuned for the conclusion, Part 4!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ohlone Wilderness Trail Backpacking 2012/13, Part 2

Breakfaaaaast, Glorious Breaaaaaak-faaaast!

You may scoff at the idea of freeze-dried egg chunks with chips of bacon bits in a heap at the bottom of the foil bag, but to us it was ambrosia! In fact, it was so delicious, and I was so hungry that I sipped the warm broth leftover from the rehydration. And the bonus was, no clean-up! And the other necessary breakfast item, hot coffee, was provided via Via, Starbucks instant coffee packets. The first couple backpacking trips we tried to manage the pour-over fresh ground coffee beans, but even though it was a little better, it wasn't THAT much better, and the Via was so easy and neat.

Standing in front of the Breakfast Rock at Boyd Camp.

I wonder how many other people have perched themselves on this very tree limb for the photo op? It all sort of moved in a disturbing way, so you see her foot bracing the effort.

Tess was ready to go long before we were. We had the "first day rearrangement of packs" going on and the routine of packing up to settle on. So we didn't get on the trail until about 9:30am.

Getting started that late meant that our Trailmaster decreed it would be later than noon when we stopped for lunch. We needed to make sure we got to our next camp in plenty of good time.

I had remembered that there were some pretty steep ups and downs in this area, but I'm coming to believe that backpacking is like childbirth. While you are involved in it, you are thinking, "Now why am I doing this?????" but after it's over, a little time passes, and you want to do it again! We went down into the ravine, and collected our water, since it was the first source we had that morning.

I can do it myself, but it is a lot easier to manage the hoses avoiding cross-contamination and get cleaner water with a helper.

Next came, "The Big Burn," a long and steep track up the mountain. My young, nimble hiking partners climbed out of sight as I plodded on. I didn't care, since I knew there would be a certain point they would wait for me, and nothing was harmed by me being a little slower. I believe the most satisfying and enjoyable hike is one where you go your own pace. It's as tiring to slow down for your partner as it is to try to hurry your natural pace to keep up. My motto is, I don't hike fast, but I hike steady. I have already learned that stopping for more than 2 or 3 breaths to straighten your spine can make it more tiring and harder to strike off again.

The long up culminated near Schlieper's Rock. I always think of it as "Schlepper's Rock," because that is when you are thinking, why the heck did I schlepp all this @^$#*! up here! If you recall from my last trip, that is where my sleeping pad and bag separated from the rest of my pack, and I ran down the trail after them, envisioning running ALL the way down after them and back up, while Melinda had to sit down because she was laughing so hard. See here.

Close to 1pm I started looking for Melinda to call lunchtime. Each time I topped a rolling hill, either I didn't see anyone, or I saw my hikers disappearing over the next rise.

Finally, close to 1:30, I decided that I was ready enough for lunch, that if I didn't see them, I would just stop and eat by myself over the next hill!

Melinda and Tess at the bank of Johnny's Pond, Loreleigh on the road.

Thankfully, they were already there waiting for me at Shafer Flat. My lunch was the easy and protein-rich tuna packet with a packet of mayonnaise stirred in.

Though the sun was shining, it was still a little chilly, so it felt good to get up after eating and warm up by hiking.

Soon we began seeing patches of snow.

This may look like a self-portrait, but it's actually a picture of the snow behind me.

Rounding a corner, we saw a shaded little pond that was completely frozen over.

We amused ourselves by skipping stones across the surface, occasionally breaking the ice with a larger rock.

The sun sank as the afternoon wore on.

Nearing our camp, by Rose Peak.

We got in to Maggie's Half Acre about 4 or 4:30pm, just in time to set up tents and get our dinner ready before dark!

Ahh, dinner. We lived for food! We each had our special treats for the trail along with our freeze-dried delectable dinners.  I carried Twix, dried fruit and nuts, Loreleigh carried a strawberry Abba Zabba and brownies. I can't remember if she or Melinda had the Big Hunks. Melinda had Pay Days. For my dinner that night, I had my Mountain House Lasagne Pro Pack to rehydrate. I can't believe it was so delicious! Stringy cheese coated my folding spork, its tomato-y salty goodness warming my innards as the packet warmed my hands. I knew that the more calories I could choke down, the warmer I'd be that night.

And it was cold! I claimed my Little Debbie brownie from Melinda and chased it down with a hot decaf Via.

We had spent a fair amount of time trying out different pieces of real estate for our respective tents. My problem is that I have a hard time telling if something is level or not. Blame my glasses prescription. The strength of them plus the optical qualities of the glass make some lines look curved. That is, until my brain takes over and says, Look! those lines are straight, so start seeing them that way! So my eyes get confused sometimes. Melinda chose our area first. Then I looked up. Big old, maybe dead tree limbs. We'd had a scare one night at Point Reyes when a tree limb broke off in the woods a short distance from us. Crack! We jumped out of our tents, then looked up at the big heavy limb over our own heads. Not nervous enough to re-pitch the tents, but enough to take that into consideration in the future! Read here.

It was so cold that I knew I would have to do better than I had the previous night. So I wore to bed everything I had brought, except for my raincoat. 2 pair heavy wool socks, silk long underwear, smartwool longsleeve underwear top, hiking shirt and pants, polartech jacket, wind-breaker polartech vest, wool beanie, ski gloves, etc. I put my folding backpack chair under my Thermarest Women's Pro-Light pad.

The icy wind was blowing so much and so constantly that I had to wonder whether there was a waterfall nearby because of the noise.

 I amused myself during the hour before I actually tried to sleep by making lists of additional warm clothing I would bring next time. (Yes, a lightweight down jacket would solve a lot of problems, but there were additional options) The short list is: battery operated socks, neck gaiter thing that I could pull up over my lower face, wool cap with earflap thingys, you know the ones that look sort of silly unless your ears are cold and you won't even worry about the braided yarn things that hang down, smartwool underwear bottoms (thank goodness I'd run to REI the night before the hike and bought a smartwool top!!!) or even better, down pants. If they make them.

As soon as I had settled down in my tent, I heard what sounded like little misty raindrops falling on my tent fly. Oh Great! That's all we need--RAIN! Loreleigh thought it might be leaflets and debris falling. But it hadn't been doing that earlier. I reached my had out to feel the fly. Dry. Then Melinda suggested the most reasonable solution. The dew had started to fall, but it was turning to ice before it landed on the tents.

I passed the night, while not very comfortably, not freezing either.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ohlone Wilderness Trail-Backpacking 2012/13

Two Years ago Melinda invited me to a joint backpacking trip on the Ohlone trail. We spent 2 nights and 3 days on the trail, mostly to our own little selves, as one would expect at a wilderness backpacking and hiking trail during the first of January on a weekday. I wrote about it here. Now that another daughter has become interested in backpacking, Melinda decided that she needed to be inaugurated into the same conditions as I had. Ohlone in the dead of winter. And I wouldn't miss it, so there I was too. This article is "Ohlone, number two, 2012. Or 2013, depending on whether you count it for when we left or when we got back.

Happily, we had a driver this time so we didn't have to ferry two vehicles to the start and end of the trail; we just left a car at the end, at the Sunol side.

The day was bright and beautiful, a real relief, since earlier in the week it had looked like rain might be a possibility! By the time we got started, it was about 2:30 pm, which was fine since we were staying in the campground just a couple miles up the trail. That way, we'd get one section of tough climbing out of the way in the first short day.

Tess, the warm little wonder, accompanied us.

It doesn't take long for the going to get steep, here on the Del Valle side.

Unlike the last time, we met several groups of day hikers coming down the mountain. It was pleasant to share a little conversation with some of them.

Again, I was the main photographer, which meant shots of the backsides of my companions (since I was the slowest!) and several self photographs, since I was determined to appear in at least some of the pictures!

One very important element is signing in at the trail sign-in panel.

You never know if that is the way they will be able to locate you if you fall off the edge and lie there waiting for the helicopters!

Here you see a common sight, our Trailmaster Melinda consulting the official map. I know she was impatient with Loreleigh and I, who were not as interested in digging out our maps to share the burden. We trusted her, and if she led us astray, we were willing to shoulder some of the blame for being the sheep we were.

The first camp, Boyd's camp, while not far from the trailhead, was at the end of an extremely steep, longish climb. It was so steep that my feet did not know they could bend that far in the "up" direction. Unfortunately, I had suggested that we come back to the water source once we dropped our stuff at camp, believing camp was closer than it was.

It looked like there were two campsites there. Number one was right there at the trail and by the outhouse. Number two was off a ways and more private.  found our site, the nice secluded one with an impressive overlook, and then pondered the demoralizing trip back down to the water. I volunteered to go back down for it, and scored by getting a Little Debbie brownie for filling Melinda's bottle too.

Loreleigh went with me, and we took an alternate primitive trail down to the water pump. It was obvious we would not be coming back up that steep and somewhat eroded trail, but it was nicer than repeating the same track multiple times! We saw a doe with two older fawns on the way down that track.

After pumping the bottles full through my Katadyn purifier, we headed back up the steep track and arrived just as it was getting dark, around 4:30-5. We wasted no time in boiling up some water four our freeze-dried meals.

Commercial freeze0dried meals are the way to go! Flavor, lots of calories to help you stay warm, no mess, not much thought or prep ahead of time, just picking ones that seemed good. That night I had Mountain House Chicken Fajita, which was delicious! Loreleigh shared around some brownies she had baked.

It was dark. It was cold. All we wanted was for it to be late enough to go to bed. I tried not to think about how hard it might be to sleep all those hours until dawn. But finally it was close to 8pm, and we decided, Bedtime! Which meant a nice peaceful game of solitaire while lying in my bag, and a podcast before curling up for sleep.

At about 4am, I had to get up, and I saw this sight, made beautiful by the full moon.

It was a cold, cold night, but we had expected that, and prepared the best we could. I wasn't yet wearing every piece of clothing I had brought, that would come the next night!

We didn't freeze, and woke up to a fresh new beautiful day in the wilderness, ready to begin enjoy it!