mt tamalpais

This weekend I went hiking at Mount Tamalpais with a few new friends. Our plan was to hike from near Stinson Beach to the eastern peak of Mount Tamalpais, then drive to the Tamales Bay Oyster farm to enjoy some seafood.

crazy treesWe started out on the Dispea Trail, which starts near Stinson Beach. It takes you through a deep forest with spooky looking trees. But it soon rises out onto a small hill with an amazing view of the beach.

sunny smilesI’d like to think that she’s smiling back at me…

the view from this part of the trail was amazingBut she’s probably smiling at the view behind me… Seriously, it’s a nice view of Stinson Beach from here.

under tall treesFrom there we took the Steep Ravine trail, which again is in a deep forest.

the ladderThe Steep Ravine trail is pretty true to its name. It winds through a deep ravine and gains a lot of elevation very rapidly, with lots of switchbacks, lots of steps, and even a ladder.

lots of bikers near the ranger stationAt the top of the Steep Ravine trail was a ranger station and parking lot. There were a ton of bicyclists gathered here, for what I assume was a club ride.

underneath the west peakFrom there we continued up towards the peaks of Mount Tamalpais.

you can sort of see downtown SF from the trailAs we gained elevation we started to see the tops of the buildings in downtown San Francisco peaking over the hills.

kinda hazy, but you can sorta make out SFThere’s a pretty good view of Sutro Tower, but unfortunately it was sort of hazy that day.

our turning point at the west innWe got to the West Point Inn, a few miles short of the eastern peak. We decided to turn back here to make sure we would make it to the oyster farm before closing.

Photos10We made it to the oyster farm less than half an hour before closing. We ended up buying 50 oysters and a few pounds of clams. Since the farm was closing, and since it would be getting dark soon anyways, we decided to drive back to Davis with them. Luckily we had a cooler and a ton of ice to keep our seafood fresh. It was a pretty awesome meal, and a great way to cap off a beautiful day of hiking.

mesa verde

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern part of Colorado. It’s famous for it’s cliff dwellings, built by the Ancestral Pueblos who lived in the cliff dwellings almost a thousand years ago.

spectacular drive into mesa verdeThe drive into the park is pretty epic, a winding road built into the side of a mesa.

the crazy geographyMesa Verde means Green Table in Spanish. It’s easy to see why. The Ancestral Pueblo natives built their houses into the sides of cliffs like this. You can sort of see one towards the right side of this image.

smaller cliff dwellingA closer view of the same cliff dwelling.

one of the largest cliff dwellingsOne of the larger cliff dwellings– I think this one is called Long House.

ranger led tour of one of the dwellingsThe park offers ranger guided tours of some of the cliff dwellings, but in the winter they are closed except for this one, the Spruce Tree House.

switchbacks to the cliff dwellingThe trail to the Spruce Tree House has many steep switchbacks built by the National Park Service. In ancient times though, the cliff dwellers used ropes and wooden ladders, along with toe holds carved into the cliff to access their house.

learning about the siteThe cliff dwellings were amazing up close, and the history of the area is pretty fascinating. There are several theories as to why the cliff dwellings were built, as well as theories why they were abruptly abandoned in the 1300’s, which the ranger presented.

2013-11-05 - mesa verdeThere were also round underground rooms, called kivas, which they speculate were used for religious ceremonies.

harsh environmentWith a name like Mesa Verde, you’d expect there to be a lot of green, but in truth a lot of the area at the top of the mesa was pretty barren. It seems like a pretty harsh environment to live in.

Usually I visit national parks for the amazing natural scenery. Mesa Verde was a bit different in that there isn’t any spectacular natural scenery– it exists solely because of the cliff dwellings. Apparently it’s the only cultural park in the national park system. It’s a bit remote, far from any major cities, but it was definitely worth the trip. I’d definitely recommend going sometime other than winter though, so that more of the cliff dwellings are accessible.

antelope canyon

Antelope Canyon is probably the most famous and most photographed slot canyon in the world. I’ve seen it in pictures many times, in magazines, in galleries, and even in framed photographs on friends’ walls. It’s a place that I’ve wanted to see in person for a long time, and I finally got to visit and take my own photographs there this week.

IMGP4602Antelope Canyon is on Navajo Indian land, and the only way you can visit is through guided tours. Our tour started with a ride on the back of a 4×4 pickup truck. The ride was fast and bumpy on the rutted road (if you could call it a road– it was more just a large expanse of packed sand), and it was actually kinda scary because we kept bouncing out of our seats.

IMGP4570The entrance to the canyon is about three miles from the parking area. Just from the entrance you can already tell that this is going to be a pretty cool experience.

IMGP4503Our Navajo guide was a pretty experienced photographer. She had recommended ISO and white balance settings for us to use, and at various times during our tour she pointed out places to stand to take pictures. She had names for many of the features we were photographing.

IMGP4530She called this one the sunrise.

IMGP4548This one is the wave.

IMGP4525This one forms the shape of a heart.

IMGP4557This one is called Monument Valley– I thought this one was pretty cool, it does kinda look like one of the iconic monolithic monuments from that famous valley in lower Utah.

IMGP4565Our guide grabbed my camera, sat down in the sand and pointed my lens at what I thought was a random rock to frame this photo of a wolf for us. That was really cool– you had to really know the canyon to get this shot.

IMGP4614After our tour of Antelope Canyon we made a quick stop to Horseshoe Bend, another famous photo spot that was less than fifteen minutes away.

IMGP4629From there we drove east to the Monument Valley. After the craziness of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, the Monument Valley was sort of disappointing. I actually like the picture of the fake ‘Monument Valley’ from Antelope Canyon better.

IMGP4640We just kind of drove quickly through the valley, making a quick stop at the ‘Mexican Hat’ at the end of the valley. It looks more like a mushroom than a hat to me.

IMGP4646From there we made a slight detour to the ‘Four Corners’ monument. I’ve been to all these states before, but never all four at the same time, so I guess it was worth the steep cost of admission for this photograph of my dirty feet in all four states.

It seems that I’ve done a road trip in this southwestern region almost every year now, for at least the last five years. But I think with this last trip I’ve seen most of what I’ve wanted to see in the region (except for maybe Havasu Falls), so this may actually be my last trip to the area for a long time. I’m glad to have finally seen and photographed the Antelope Canyon– it definitely did not disappoint.

the subway

Zion National Park is one of my favorite places. It’s home to spectacular hikes, including Angel’s Landing, the Zion Narrows, and the Subway. These three hikes form an amazing trilogy of hikes, a trilogy that for me was finally completed this weekend, almost exactly three years after first hiking the Narrows in 2010. I did this hike with my old high school buddy Tim, who also did the Narrows a few years back with me.

IMGP4240The hike to the Subway starts high above a steep river canyon.

IMGP4243First order of business is hiking down the steep slopes of the canyon walls.

IMGP4259Once you get to the bottom, there’s not really a trail– you spend most of the time finding your way along the river, sometimes walking right through the river.

IMGP4334At times scrambling over boulders.

IMGP4371Or squeezing between them.

IMGP4285Sometimes jumping off of them.

IMGP4394And sometimes walking underneath overhanging ledges.

IMGP4375Along the way there is some beautiful scenery, including these red rock steps.

IMGP4409The water carves some interesting features into the solid rock.

IMGP4436The most interesting and famous of course, is the Subway, the end goal of this hike.

IMGP4429It’s a quite popular spot for photographers.

IMGP4440There are two ways to hike the Subway– the bottom up approach that we did is apparently the easier way. It dead ends here. The top down approach starts several miles up on a higher part of the river, and requires several rappels, including this one right past the subway.

IMGP4455After taking a few pictures we started our hike out of the canyon. I felt pretty beat up after the hike, and my whole body was sore when I woke up the next morning. It was definitely a difficult hike, but definitely worth it. It’s hard to do justice to this hike with words and pictures, it really is an amazing hike, I think it definitely needs to be experienced in person, and I was glad to have finally gotten to experience it.

angel’s landing

This weekend Jack and I flew out to Denver to meet with Ray and drive back with him to California. On our way back we took a slight detour to Zion National Park in southern Utah to hike Angel’s Landing.

IMGP3548On road trips there are many different conversations. At one point we talked about the ‘ones that got away.’ We won’t be going into which girls in my life are the ‘ones that got away’ (at least not ever on this blog), but Angel’s Landing is sort of the hike that got away.

I had originally planned to hike Angel’s Landing the last time I was in Zion, which was a few years ago. I had finished hiking the Zion Narrows with my friends Tim and Warren, but by the end of that hike we had found that we were too exhausted and our feet were too blistered from hiking in water for two days to attempt another hike.

This time Angel’s Landing was the only hike on the agenda, so I was finally gonna summit the hike that got away from me. Actually now that I think about it, there’s still Mount Whitney, another hike that got away from me. I’ll probably try that one again later this year if I can get a permit.


The hike starts at the Grotto shuttle stop. From there you cross a bridge and begin hiking towards Angel’s Landing, which is clearly visible in front of you the whole way. It was pretty hot, probably almost 100 degrees, which made the start of the hike pretty unpleasant.

IMGP3587But as we started to gain elevation on the switchbacks it started to cool off and become much more pleasant.

IMGP3615After the first set of switchbacks the trail levels off into a narrow canyon area before getting to a second set of switchbacks. Here the trail gains a ton of elevation very quickly.

IMGP3661The view from the top of the second set of switchbacks is really cool, we stopped here to take a bunch of pictures and a few group shots.

IMGP3721Then comes the chain section. There are some sketchy sections where there’s a steep drop below, and also some sections which require you to scramble using your hands and feet.

IMGP3730There’s also a really narrow section with sheer drops on both sides. From here it’s over a thousand feet to the canyon floor.

IMGP3729Several times during the chain section I thought to myself, “What the heck, we’re going up that?!” Those times I tried to reassure myself, thinking that it just looks bad viewing it straight on from afar.

IMGP3756But I was wrong. Those sections looked just as crazy up close.

IMGP3785The peak is relatively flat and wide though. And the views from the top are nothing short of breathtaking.

IMGP3790Ray looks towards the entrance of Zion.

IMGP3794While I look the other way towards the Temple of Sinawava.

IMGP3765From the top you can see the famous river bend area of Zion. I can just barely get the entire area into the frame with my wide angle lens.

The hike back down was pretty sketchy at times, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the hikes in the past few weeks, namely the descent from Half Dome and the descent from Pyramid Peak. I’d definitely do this hike again if I’m in the area again.

pyramid peak

Over the past few weekends I’ve done some pretty long hikes, so I could use a little bit of rest. This weekend was supposed to be my break weekend, I was planning to just sleep in and rest for the entire weekend. But when my friend Mary invited me on a day hike into the Desolation Wilderness, I agreed to go.

I just can’t say no to the Desolation Wilderness.

the long train of hikersThere were about a dozen people who came on this hike. Most of them were hiking to Sylvia Lake and Lyons Lake.

we split off for pyramid peakDennis and Simiso were planning to break off from the group to summit Pyramid Peak, so I ended up joining them.

pyramid peak above sylvia lakeThe trail ends here at Sylvia Lake. Pyramid Peak is the mountain that towers over the lake.

heading up to pyramid peakWe made our own path through the meadow above the lake to the base of Pyramid Peak.

the start of the climb. huge talus fieldThe entire climb from here was on a huge talus field.

steep slopesThe talus covered slopes were quite steep at times. But still, going up wasn’t too bad. But I was really beginning to worry about coming down the steep slope.

the final push toward the peakFrom the front Pyramid Peak looks quite imposing, with a near vertical face, but thankfully we would be hiking up the side rather than risking a full scale assault up the front.

on top of the worldWhen you’re at the summit you feel like you’re on top of the world, which I guess is reasonable. It’s not particularly high, just barely under ten thousand feet, but it’s the highest point in the Desolation Wilderness. So you are on top of this small little section of the world.

aloha lakeFrom the top you can see the many lakes in the Desolation Wilderness, and can even see Lake Tahoe off in the distance.

Screenshot_2013-07-13-13-50-09Thanks to my topo map app I could identify all the lakes and peaks in the area.

a family of marmotsThere was a family of marmots at the peak. They were quite cute.

crab walking down the steep slopeThe descent from the peak was pretty sketchy. The talus gives way underneath our feet pretty easily. I was pretty scared coming down Half Dome a couple of weeks ago, but I think I’d actually prefer it to this. At least the huge monolithic slab of granite that is Half Dome doesn’t move underneath your feet.

made it back to the meadow below the peakThankfully we made it down to the meadow in (mostly) one piece. I left a bit of DNA on the slopes when the rocks slipped from underneath me, scratching up my legs.

heading back home.The hike back to the car took us through several fields of wildflowers. There were maybe half a dozen different kinds of flowers in these fields. I was laughing to myself as we were hiking through them. Last week I hiked with three girls, and every time we came through a field like this all forward movement stopped as the girls took out their cameras to take pictures. Today we marched through at high speed in complete silence, a completely different experience. But completely appropriate, since it turned out the rest of the group was waiting for us at the trailhead.

Screenshot_2013-07-26-16-37-20Dennis was using the MapMyHike app on his phone. I should probably start using this app too, since I’ve been hiking these past few weekends but haven’t been running or biking much. Anyways, according to the app we hiked 13.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,800 feet. It wasn’t quite as long a hike as Half Dome, or as tall a peak as Lassen, but still, not bad for a break day.

half dome revisited

The hike to the summit of Half Dome is probably one of the most famous hikes in Yosemite, if not all of California. Nowadays it’s somewhat difficult to get permits for the hike. You have to enter a lottery, and the chances of getting a permit aren’t that great. (From what I’ve heard, the odds are about one in seven.)

Last year I entered the lottery and couldn’t get a permit. This year most of my church small group ended up entering the lottery, so we were able to get a couple of permits. There were a lot of people who expressed interest in doing the hike, but in the end we only had four people from our small group who went, so I ended up inviting some people from outside the church. In the end we only had five people on a six person permit.

starting up the John Muir TrailThe last time I did the hike, we went up the John Muir Trail and came down the Mist Trail. We did the same this time. I think that’s the best way to do it, I’d rather be going up the switchbacks on the JMT than hiking up the steep stairs of the Mist Trail. Besides, it’s better to come down the Mist Trail during the hottest part of the day.

Clark Point o nthe John Muir TrailWe stopped at Clark Point for a group picture. I guess it’s sort of a tradition for me. With this picture, I now have a group shot here in every season: spring, fall, winter— and now finally summer.

the crew at the base of the cablesThe crew at the base of the cables.

the cablesThe cable portion is as intimidating as I remember. In fact, I was actually more scared this time than last. Part of the reason was my hiking shoes were kind of old. I was using the same shoes that I had worn last time, it’s just that they weren’t as grippy as they were before, so during the steepest portions of the climb my feet were actually slipping a bit.

finally conquered my fears and dangled my legs over

This time around I was able to get over my fear of heights and dangle my legs over the edge of the Visor, the famous picture spot at the top of Half Dome. Last time I was here, Sam and Jason were able to dangle their legs over, but I was too scared to. Now that I have gotten over my fears and have this picture, I never need to return to Half Dome again.

coming down from the quarter dome areaThe hike down from Half Dome is quite beautiful. It’s also quite amazing when you realize how far you’ve hiked to get here– Curry Village, where we were spending the night is near the far end of the valley in this picture.

this filter saved our livesOn our way down the switchbacks we all ran out of water. It looked like we were in pretty bad shape. Thankfully we made it to the backpacker’s camp in the Little Yosemite Valley and found some backpackers who lent us their water filter.

descending into the mistEven though I’ve been here many times, hiking the Mist Trail never ceases to amaze me. Unfortunately this time we had to hurry down, since it was getting dark, and you really don’t wanna be hiking down a slippery steep trail after dark.

hiking back home along the riverThankfully we made it down from the steep part of the Mist Trail before it got dark. All that was left was the mostly paved section along the river.

IMGP3058We got back to the road after dark. We saw a pair of headlights, which we assumed were the shuttle bus. Thankfully Kiefer had enough energy to run and flag down the bus for us, so the bus waited while the rest of our group caught up. Riding the bus saved us from having to hike another mile into Curry Village. In the end (including the bus ride) it took us almost 14 hours to finish the hike.

Half Dome is an amazing hike, but I think I’m done doing it. I have the (now almost cliche) picture with my legs dangling over the edge of the Visor, so I don’t need to come back. The cables are scarier than I remember. Partly it’s because my shoes weren’t very grippy, but I think it’s also partly because I’m getting more fearful in my old age– maybe I just have more to live for nowadays…

lassen peak revisited

This weekend I went to Lassen National Park with a few friends. We left Friday after work and got into camp pretty late at night. The campground was pretty crowded and the campsites were pretty close together, so I guess we were a little too loud for the people around us who were trying to sleep.

a glimpse of manzanita lakeManzanita Lake. It’s a pretty nice lake, and apparently they have kayaks available for rental.

the view from joe's trunk.

On Saturday we drove into the park to hike the Lassen Peak trail. There were six of us, so I ended up in Joe’s trunk. If you ignore my hairy knee, the view from the trunk was actually pretty nice.

IMGP2748All smiles in a pleasant meadow. I guess they don’t realize yet that they’d be hiking up that big peak behind them.

starting up the mountainThe start of the hike.

lots of snow still on the trailThere was still a good amount of snow on the trail.

the steps to the ridgeThe steps before the beginning of the ridge section.

nearing the snowy summitThere’s still a ton of snow below the ridge.

the final climb up to the peak from the craterThe final climb to the peak from the crater.

chilling at the peakChilling at the peak, just over 10,000 feet above sea level.

my new facebook cover photoMy new Facebook cover photo.

IMGP2836We saw a lot of beautiful sights throughout the day, but probably the most beautiful to me was the spicy hot pot dinner when we got back to camp.

IMGP2841This was the weekend of the perigee moon, the biggest full moon of the year. I had brought my telephoto lens to take a supermoon picture, but by the time I took my picture the moon was already pretty high up in the sky, so it looks like any regular full moon shot.

On Sunday morning it had started to rain so we ended up packing out and heading home early. Even though the trip ended earlier than expected, it was still an awesome and fun filled weekend.

arches national park

Moab, UT is famous for mountain biking. It’s also famous for being sort of a base camp for people who are visiting Arches and Canyonland National Parks, which are among the most photographed parks in the United States.

IMGP2636You can tell just from the parking area at the Arches visitor center that the scenery is going to be quite awesome.

IMGP2640There are some famous rock formations that are visible from the road. This one is called ‘Balanced Rock.’ It reminds me of the Roadrunner and Wily Coyote for some reason.

IMGP2650Most of the rock formations, however, require some hiking to get to. So after spending the entire morning biking up slickrock, we spent part of the afternoon hiking up slickrock.

IMGP2655Looking out towards where we came from, the scenery is pretty epic.

IMGP2664The last portion of the trail is on sort of a narrow ledge. The view in this direction is pretty impressive too.

IMGP2679Our destination was the Delicate Arch, which is most likely the most famous rock formation in the park. People came from all over the world to take a picture under the arch.

photoI setup my ultra-wide lens on my camera and setup my tripod here to wait for the sunset. While I was waiting here, I guess because I had a prime spot, people started handing me their cameras and asked me to take pictures for them underneath the arch. There were people from all over the world, several Chinese couples, a few Koreans, Japanese, a Frenchman, and a group of German guys.

(Cellphone cameras have been getting better every year, and I think the camera on my Nexus4 is pretty decent, but the images are still crap compared to the ones that any decent SLR or mirrorless camera puts out…)

IMGP2713My sunset shot. There were just enough clouds on the horizon to add some color to the sunset.

IMGP2731There were no clouds over the arch, so I was able to get a clear shot of the stars over the arch. I originally wanted to get a shot of the arch with the Milky Way in view, but the Milky Way was off in another direction. I had seen that shot in postcards and online, so I was wondering how people got those people had gotten that shot. It didn’t dawn on me until I was on my way home that I just needed to wait for the stars to rotate into place. Ah well– C’est la vie…

IMGP2736We had to hike back through that narrow cliff area in the darkness. Thank God for headlamps.

IMGP2739The slickrock area was harder to navigate at night, because there are wide open expanses. You have to really look for the cairn stones that mark the trail, which is sometimes hard with such limited light.

IMGP2741During our hike back, we stopped several times to gaze up at the stars. When we got back near the car we decided to take a shot of the Milky Way over Ray’s Subaru. Ray light painted the foreground with a headlamp while my camera took a 30 second exposure. This ended up being my favorite picture from the trip.

tilden regional park

Today I went out to Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley to hike with a group from the south bay. When I looked at the trail maps of the area earlier this week, I noticed that some of the trails were open to mountain biking. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden my mountain bikes, so I decided to head out early and bike for a bit before meeting up with the group to go hiking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI parked at Inspiration Point. It’s a nice spot, though I guess I wouldn’t really call it inspirational.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t know this until I got to the park, but the trails that were open to mountain biking were almost all fire roads. There wasn’t really much singletrack available to bikers. Even though the riding wasn’t all that challenging, I still had a good time on my bike, mostly because the scenery was pretty nice. The trail actually connects with the Bay Area Ridge Trail, so I ended up riding the ridge trail to the south eastern end of the park.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the ridge you can see out towards the reservoirs in Orinda. (I’m not sure why this horse is blindfolded?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom looking west from the ridge you can just barely make out the Bay Bridge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI obviously brought the wrong bike. I saw maybe only 3 or 4 mountain bikers on the fire roads in the park, but I saw literally dozens of road bikers on the paved roads that wind through the park. I think next time I need to do some major hill training before a century ride I’d consider doing it here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI made it back to my car a bit early, so I ended up doing some more riding on the northern area of the park, overlapping some of the areas that we’d be hiking. The trails out here were pretty nice, running parallel to a creek.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfterwards I met up with the group at Inspiration Point, and we started our hike. One person was running late, so we caught up with him at the park’s petting zoo. These cows don’t look all that happy with me, probably because I had nothing to feed them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed by a small lake called Jewel Lake which had turtles relaxing on a log.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hike took us to Wildcat Peak. At the top of the peak is a small lookout area called the Peace Grove.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe group admiring the view from the Peace Grove. I had met most of them for the first time today. They seem like a cool group of people, and I’m always happy to find people to hike with.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe view from the Peace Grove was quite nice. You can see both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges from here. I wish I had brought my SLR and my polarizing filter, it would’ve been able to cut some of the haze on the horizon so you could make out the bridges a bit better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATilden park was quite nice. There were quite a lot of people there, hiking, biking, walking their dogs, feeding cows, and even selling lemonade. I was quite impressed with the park, I’d definitely come back.