Wednesday, November 2, 2011

10-25-2011, Blue Canyon, Waitakeri Ranges, New Zealand

 Sky Tower

One of my top priorities for this trip was to bag some New Zealand canyons. I've only experienced Los Padres canyons prior to this trip. I found a guide company called CanyoNZ that offered a couple local canyon trips. I thought I'd start with their easier canyon first. My brother decided to join me as well. We met up with our guides Tom and Elise at the base of Sky Tower. We also met out other trip companions. There were some Irish guys, some South Africans guys, a French dude, and a South African couple. I think they were all here to attend the Rugby World Cup. 

After introductions we all piled in to some vans and the guides drove us to a farm house in the Waitakeri region. We were then outfitted with some wet suits, helmets, and harnesses. I had brought my own canyoneering boots, but they had shoes for everyone else to use. Another short drive and we were at the trailhead to Blue Canyon. We tramped up for about twenty minutes to the top of the canyon. It's a beautiful, rain forest environment. There's lot's of ferns and green plants. I've trained myself to be always be on the look out for poison oak, but there's no need for that here. We put on all our equipment and then got a short lesson on abseiling from the guides. Then it was time to start down the canyon. It began with a few jumps into the cold water. The guides encouraged us to have fun, and we did.

There are many jumps

Next was a waterslide that we went down backwards. Then maybe some more jumps? I can't remember the exact order of things. There were a lot features to this canyon. At some point we had to make a mildly high abseil. I went down first, well one of the guides went down first, but I was the first client down. I sat on a rock in the middle of a pool at the base of the waterfall, and watched everyone else come down. I was kicking my feet in the water when I noticed a four foot long eel swimming a few feet away. I chased him around a bit, but couldn't catch him. Maybe another slide or two then I think we took a short break for lunch and some hot tea. We were all getting along well and enjoying the experience.

Backwards waterslide

While we finished our sandwiches one of the guides rigged up the next abseil. I don't know why they use the word "abseil" here instead of "rappel". I forgot to ask. It's probably because it's a French word. Kiwis hate French stuff. I did ask what type of rock the canyon was cut from. Tom told me it was a basalt conglomerate. It's a super tough product of volcanic activity millions of years ago.

There were a few abseils

And more jumps

Another abseil, some more jumps and slides then one last abseil and we were done with the canyon. We took a short walk back to the vans. From there we returned to the farmhouse to get changed. Then we were off back to Auckland.

This was fun canyon. Nothing too scary. The guides were really professional and friendly. They kept everything safe, but still made it a really enjoyable, memorable experience.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

10-23-2011 Rugby World Cup Finals, Auckland, New Zealand

The City of Sails
 I know this doesn't really have any connection to hiking, but this is my blog, so I can talk about whatever I want to, so I'm going to talk about rugby. I'm in New Zealand to visit family and to attend the Rugby World Cup championship game. The night I flew out of LAX to Auckland the quarterfinal test between New Zealand's All Blacks and the Australia's Wallabies was to be played. My flight was continuing on to Melbourne after I got in New Zealand, so there were a lot of Aussies flying back home in the plane. There was a lot of tension in the planes dry, filtered air. When the stewardess announced that, "The host nation will be in the finals" half the cabin started applauding (me included) and the other half looked down in their laps sadly. I had to smile, the All Blacks would be facing their much despised rival, France. Our Kiwi stewardess donned All Blacks scarves for the rest of the flight. The drive through Auckland to my parents house was lined with black banners hanging from windows, supporting the national team.

The week leading up to the final test was like nothing I've seen before. This whole country is absolutely obsessed with the All Blacks. I already knew this. I've been an All Blacks supporter myself since my family moved to New Zealand in late '90's. I wanted to learn more about Kiwi culture and rugby is the thing that unites all Kiwis. So now that the All Blacks were in the RWC Championship game the country has gone completely bonkers. I'm not sure if any thing newsworthy happened in the world this week because the only thing on the news here has been speculation of how much New Zealand is going beat the French by. But on television they will say "rival team" because they don't actually want to use the word "France". 

 For the ladies, giant billboards of Dan Carter in his underwear are all over the city

Most Kiwi's I talked to predicted lopsided scores like New Zealand 45 France 9. My gut told me that the French would come to play, and that the score would be close. But I was definitely picking New Zealand to win. I watched Australia beat Wales in the third place test on the television a few nights before the big game. I found out the most hated person in New Zealand is not a Frenchy, but a Kiwi, Quade Cooper. He plays for the despised Australian team. When he went down with a devastating knee injury in the test against Wales, Kiwis cheered. It was a bit sanguinary for me, but it shows how crazy the locals are for this game.
 Outside Eden Park

Finally the day of the Championship arrived. My companion for the game was my 11 year old nephew. He got decked out in all black, and and his mum painted his face. She dropped us off in Takapuna where we caught a bus to the stadium, Eden Park. We got there before the gates opened, so we had time to walk around outside the stadium and take in the atmosphere. New Zealanders are fairly civilized bunch. There was excitement in the air. Anyone wearing blue was getting an earful of smack talk by drunk Kiwis, which I thought was great. We went inside when the gates opened and watched the stadium fill up. I saw a few beer drinking challenges between French and New Zealand fans, followed by drunk singing from both.

The sun went down and it was time for the opening ceremony. There was a naked Maori (I hear it pronounced: Mah-ree, with a little roll on the r) blowing on a big horn of some sort. Then the two sides sang there national anthems. 

Les Bleus supporters singing their national anthem...
... And Kiwis singing theirs

Then it was time for the All Blacks to do the Haka. Normally the protocol is for the opposing team to stand silently and watch as the All Blacks do their war dance. But in a show of confidence the French walked up on the All Blacks as they began to do the Haka. The Kiwis fans hated this and started booing. I thought it was a nice show of bravado. It said that the French were not intimidated this night.

France steps up to the Haka

Then it was time to start the test. From the opening kickoff it was a battle. The high score the New Zealand fans had wanted didn't materialize. At half time a lot of Kiwi's were nervous wrecks. And the French were sensing another upset was in the works. The second half was much like the first, a low scoring, back and forth war of attrition. The last five minutes of the game were just so tense. But then the referee blew his whistle and the stadium went erupted in joy. People started singing and dancing. I was hugged many times by total strangers. This went on and on while the grounds crew set up for the closing ceremony. After the medals were handed out the French team did a lap to thank their fans and they got a well deserved round of applause from the Kiwi crowd too. Then the All Blacks did their lap, and closed the evening by doing the Haka one more time.

After that the crowds swamped Auckland, and celebrated for the rest of the night. The next day there was a big parade in downtown Auckland for the All Blacks.

A little people marching band in the parade for the Champions
Queen Street after the parade

I had a blast this whole week of the finals. It's been an experience I'll never forget. This is a great country populated by really nice, honest, slightly crazy people. Stay tuned, there's actual hiking and canyoning content to follow soon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

08-14-2011 Seven Falls

Megan and I decided we wanted to get a hike in this weekend. I thought she might enjoy a hike up to Seven Falls in Santa Barbara. It's a fairly short hike with some nice scenery. The hike starts on Tunnel Road. It's a pretty popular trailhead. There were plenty of people out hiking. We took the Jususita fork in the trail. When we reached the Mission Creek junction we ignored the use-trail and went straight up the creek.
The creek is easy to navigate, and probably has less poison oak than the trail. There are small waterfalls that flow into little pools. The last waterfall is larger then the first six. It spills into a pool that could be dip worthy. However on this day there were people already in the pool, and the water looked kinda cloudy.
Looking up Mission Creek. In the upper left you'll see an antenna looking thing.

 Here's a close up of the antenna.
This looks just like the antenna  above. But at some point in the past this was washed down the creek. Does anyone know what these are?

There were thousands of tadpoles in the creek. Some of them were beginning to sprout their legs. We saw a Two-striped Gartersnake that was no doubt enjoying the bounty of polliwogs. There is a large salamander  living in the deep pool. It popped up to the surface for a quick second, and then disappeared back into the murky depths.
The deep pool

If you want to go further towards Mission Falls you either have to go up and over the steep sides of the canyon. Or if you don't mind getting wet you can try to wade and climb out the pothole at the top of the falls. I remember going beyond Seven Falls once many years ago when I was a teenager. As I recall there was a lot of poison oak and fallen trees. I can't imagine much has changed since my last visit.
Fossil sea shells

  So ,we had a good time hanging out in Santa Barbara. People are so much better looking in SB than Ventura. I look forward to hiking with Megan again. Maybe something more challenging next time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

07-30-2011 Jesusita Trail

A few months ago my favorite day-pack got torn up in Santa Paula Canyon. I finally got a replacement for it this week. I was really itching to give it a test run. I also wanted to try another Santa Barbara hike this week. One of my co-workers suggested that I try going through Stevens Park and hooking up with either the Arroyo Burro or Jesusita trails. That sounded good to me.

So, I did the bus thing again. This time I got dropped off on Ontare St. I walked up North Ontare past Foothill Rd. until I came to a gate that said "residents only". I wasn't sure what to do. I walked around for a bit to see if there was something I missed. Luckily for me a lady was walking her dog and she showed me the way down to the park (not the dog, the lady). Once I was down there it was a short walk to the Arroyo Burro / Jesusita Junction. I took the Jesustia fork.

The trail is all uphill. At times the trail skirts a paved road, and goes by some private property. Let's see, there's also some power lines, and some storage tanks as well. The first three-quarters of the uphill section are fairly shady. As you get higher it gets more and more exposed. On a clear day one could get some nice views of Santa Barbara.

A water fountain and some shade along the trail

As I neared Inspiration Point I saw a couple a couple of hundred yards in front of me. I could tell the female wasn't doing to well. She was having to stop and rest every few feet. When I caught up with them the guy asked if I could spare some water. It looked like they hadn't brought any at all. So I said sure, but all I got is in my Camelbak. But the girl said, "No thanks."
"Are you sure? You look pretty flushed. you should probably drink something."
"No I'll be fine, thanks."
"Really? I think you should drink something."
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
"Alright, last chance..."
"No thanks."
So I left them there, to die I suppose.

Soon I came to Inspiration Point. There was a bunch of people there. One guy was asking a girl if she knew where the trail to Cathedral Peak was. She was trying to get a map to pop up on her phone. I chimed in and said I have a map. He sort of ignored me and I realized that he was hitting on this girl. So I backed off and showed his buddy the map. I overheard the guy ask the girl if she wanted to join him when he tries Cathedral Peak again. "No way." she said.

But he didn't give up, and he asked her for her number. To my surprise she gave it to him. But he didn't have any way to write it down. So I got be Johnny on the spot and gave him a pencil and paper, and put my cock-block karma back in balance. She was pretty cute too. I found it... inspirational.

I was so inspired that I walked down the wrong fork in the trail and ended up doing a big circle around some power lines. Once I got back on the right trail it was a fairly quick downhill walk to Mission Creek. I found a shady spot and ate lunch. At least a dozen people passed by while I fueled up. That spot is the confluence for the Cathedral Peak and Seven Falls trails, so it sees a lot of traffic. 

Mission Creek

From there it was a real easy walk down to Tunnel Rd. I walked through the Botanic Gardens, and waited in the parking lot for the bus to pick me up. I had time to kill before the Vista bus came, so I cruised State St. Wow, no more big bookstores on State St. How can that be? I remember my first job, restocking the magazine racks at the Earthling Bookstore on State and Victoria, so long ago. And Russ' Camera is gone too, sigh. I grabbed a ice cream sandwich, and a Gatorade, and caught the bus home. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

07-23-2011 Romero Canyon

This week I challenged myself to find a good hike using public transportation to get me to the trailhead and back. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to use the bus. I was thinking it would be nice to for a one-way hike to not have to drive back the trailhead and retrieve a vehicle. I didn't find anything in Ojai. So I looked to Santa Barbara. I saw the 14 goes right by Romero Canyon. Okay I'll do that I thought. If it seems reasonable at a later date maybe I could make it into a multi-day trip through the Murrietta Divide, and get picked up at Matilija. So I figured out what time I would have to catch the Vista Bus from Ventura to SB. I wanted to get up there early, but the way the schedules worked out I didn't get to SB until 8:30. The bus ride through Montecito is pretty nice. The bus driver pointed out some the highlights to me.

Driver: "There's Oprah's estate"

Me: "Oh, that's pretty impressive"
Driver: "That's just the guest house, you can't see her house from the road"

Me: "Whoa!"

The bus dropped me off on the 192  (East Valley Rd.) and Romero Canyon Rd. The road immediately starts angling upward towards the mountains. There's no sidewalk but traffic is pretty light. The street is lined multi-million dollar mansions with exotic cars in the gated driveways. Being a gate maker in Montecito must be a great gig. Everybody has one, and they all look like they are trying to be fancier then their neighbors. One might be made of intricate iron work, another ornate tiles, or maybe finely crafted wood.

It took me about twenty-five minutes to walk up the 1.75 miles to the trailhead. There were a few cars parked along the side of the road. I couple and their dog arrived at the same time I did. I watched them walk right past the dogshit bag dispenser. After a few hundred yards the dog started shitting all over the trail. It was a pretty impressive amount of dookie for a little dog. The owners did not even pause to consider picking up after their pup. So I picked up some poop and threw it at them. No, I didn’t do that. I didn’t do anything actually. In hindsight I should have spoken up and at least embarrassed them. Maybe next time.

I had brought the USGS topo for the area (Carpinteria quad 1988) but the trail I was on didn’t feel like it matched the trail on the map. I was on a trail right next to the creek and the map just showed an old road further to the east. Meh, I just kept charging up the trail. Every once in while I would hear a bell jingling to alert me to a mountain biker that was coming down the trail.

After about an hour and twenty minutes I came to a junction. A wide dirt trail ran east-west and the trail I was on continued upward. There are few signs there that just say, “Trail”. Gee, no shit that’s trail, and that’s a tree, and that’s a rock. What would actually be helpful is if the signs identified the trails or said where they went. Can you imagine driving around town and all the street signs just said, “Street”.

Maybe there should be a sign to point out the "Sky"

I stopped there for about ten minutes and ate some Pop-Tarts. Every couple of minutes mountain bikers would come by on the east-west trail. I dunked my hat in the cool flowing water of the nearby creek. I wasn’t really sure if I was I on the right trail, but I figured up was the right direction to go.

Overlooking a hazy Montecito. You can see the tip of one of the islands braking through the marine layer.

 East Camino Cielo Rd

  Getting near the top

I kept hiking for another forty-five minutes or so. Then the trail started to top out. I saw a water tank, and a paved road that I knew had to be East Camino Cielo. So this had to be the Romero Saddle. A couple of friendly women who were on the trail with me split off and took a trail that led off to the east. They said they were going to Blue Canyon Pass, but I think that trail would have taken them to Escondido Canyon. The trail I was on split. The right fork looked like it went off into an overgrown mess that might lead you to Blue Canyon Camp, but I'm not sure. I took the left fork that just went up a few hundred yards more to a peak. From the 192 I had climbed about 3000 feet. I took in the 360 degree view, snapped a few pictures, then started back down the trail.

I stopped at the junction again and ate lunch. Then I continued on down the canyon. Then back down the road. It was a little funny to me sitting there waiting for the bus to pick me up as Ferrari’s and Porsche’s and some really nice custom motorcycles passed by. I got back to the transit center on time, but had to wait some more because the Vista bus was 50 minutes late. So if you live in Santa Barbara it should be a pretty simple bus ride to Romero Canyon Rd, give it try some time. I'm sure the folks there will appreciate any increase in foot traffic in their neighborhood.

Friday, July 15, 2011

07-07-2011 Sequoia National Park

Many months ago Frank planned a summer trip up to Sequoia National Park. This week we rented a van, and along with Heidi we drove up the I-5 to the 198 up into the park. As expected there was a mass of humanity up there. We had a nice site in the Lodgepole campground for three days. Much to my dismay I had forgotten my air-mattress, damn it. Conveniently there's a store on site that sold really cheap foam mattresses. So with that and some folded up tarps, towels, etc.. I would have to make do.  After we set up camp Frank and Hedi took off to do some horseback riding in Kings Canyon. I took the opportunity to make the leisurely hike up to Tokopah Falls.

Kaweah River

This is a super easy hike. I saw tons of smiling kids walking the trail and plenty of parents carrying the ones that were to tired to do the whole thing. As popular as the hike is I didn't see much trash. The few bits I did see looked they had fallen out of people's pockets, not left deliberately. There's a huge mountain overlooking you the whole way. I saw a few of the local marmots doing their thing.

It took me maybe 45 minutes to get to the falls. It's a 1200ft cascading waterfall made of pure snow melt. To say I was impressed is an understatement.

Tokopah Falls from below

This is the biggest waterfall I have ever seen in person. I snapped some pictures and headed back to camp. That night we ate smoked salmon and corn on the cob. We washed it all down with Doghead Midas Touch and some Port for dessert.

 An interesting looking grill

My alarm clock

The next morning we decided to hike up to Heather Lake. It's the first of three lakes on the appropriately named Lakes Trail. Instead of hiking all the way from Lodgepole we started from the Wolverton Trailhead. It's a nice winding uphill trail. About half way up the 2000ft ascent we started to see snow in shady spots along the trail. By the time we made it 2/3's of the way up the trail was pretty much covered in snow. Thoughtfully the powers that be have put yellow markers high up in the trees to show the way when the trail is hidden by snow. It took us about two and half hours to get the first "peak".

Heidi navigates the trail

 Tokopah Falls from above

From that vantage we could see Tokopah Falls in all it's glory down below us. We were up around 9000ft, I think. We dropped down a couple hundred feet and were greeted with an incredible view of the lake.

 Heather Lake

We hung out for a bit and ate lunch. Some of the local wildlife came over and checked us out. The lake had a big disk of ice taking up the majority of the surface area. I tossed a brick sized rock out there and it just landed on top of the ice, so I think it's still fairly thick. Snow melt waterfalls framed the lake.


This marmot was feeling pretty bold

The yellow markers were super helpful in getting us out of there as there was no way to see the trail beneath the snow. A couple of hours later we were back at the trailhead parking lot. Then we went back to Lodgepole. We got cleaned up at the shower facilites. Then we grilled up some steaks and potatoes. We drank Gulden Draak. And for dessert we made some pie-iron smores.

The next morning we started a little late. Around 11:00 we drove to the flagship of the Sequoia National Park, The General Sherman Tree. Before this trip the biggest tree I had seen was the massive kauri, Tane Mahuta, in New Zealand. It seems barely gargantuan in comparison to the General. General Sherman and the other giant Sequoias are awesome in the classic sense of the word. They are dumbfoundly gigantic, just stop you in your tracks behemoths. I could use every "big" word in the dictionary, but nothing would do these trees justice. You really need to experience them for yourself. I don't see how even the most pessimistic person couldn't be impressed by this natural wonder of the world.

General Sherman

We headed down the highway for bit then turned off on a narrow, winding road.  Our destination was the Crystal Cave. This cave discovered back in 1918 by a couple of fishermen. It been a tourist destination since the ‘30’s. Frank had signed us up for the Wild Cave Tour. Two guides would lead us and two other people through the tight, muddy, caverns that the regular tour never sees. We met our guides Khrys and Tara. They both seemed very knowledgeable, professional, and enthusiastic. Having never been caving before I was excited to see what this entailed. Once we got inside the cave the temp dropped to a refreshing 48F. Khrys was the leader, and he took us all over the place. We spent about three hours crawling through ice cold water, and mud. This was no place for the claustrophobic, or fatties. Our guides showed us sparlkly golden bacteria, rock formations that looked like popcorn or bacon. They took us down to a subterranean pool with perfectly clear water. We were shown little, tiny spiders and centipedes (or were they millipedes?)  At one point the seven us were in a  tight little slot that only had enough room for us to lay on our belly's. We all turned off our headlamps and experienced the complete and utter darkness, it was pretty cool.

We gotta go through this?

Sure, no problem

We emerged from the cave with big smiles on our faces and sense of accomplishment. That was something I've never done before that turned out to be super fun. Gotta give Frank credit on this one, good call. We headed back to camp tired. Frank and Heidi had feasted on steak again, I had left over Fourth of July hotdogs.

The last morning of our trip Heidi woke up early and hiked out to Tokopah Falls. Frank and I packed up the van. On our way out the park we made one last stop. When I had been up at the Lodgepole Cultural Center (or something to that effect) a few days earlier I saw display about the local indian tribes. The display said that Monanche Indians had left some pictographs at a spot called Hospital Rock. The ranger at the center said it was easy to find. When I got home and did a little research Wikipedia and Flikr both suggested that the pictographs belonged to the Potwisha, a band of the Monanche. Those aren't the best sources, but that's all the research I'm gonna do.

So a big thank you to Frank for organizing everything. This trip took some foresight and pro-activeness to plan, two qualities I'm severely lacking. Thanks to Heidi for joining us too, it was a lot of fun.