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Category Archives: Hiking

Crater Lake National Park – Clean, Clear, Deep, and Blue.

 

Entering Oregon was something we were super excited for.  Carrie hadn’t been there yet, so it was her 44th state.  We found a free campsite in a quiet spot on the shores of Klamath Lake and set about relaxing for the afternoon.  The sky was again smoky from distant forest fires which created a cool haze.  After dark we had to escape into our tent because the mosquitoes were intense.

It the morning we got an early start and made our way north, passing through beautiful empty spaces.  Getting close to Crater Lake National Park we passed many cyclists racing up to the lake.  It looked like a fun ride, but grueling.   Our first view of the lake was very impressive.  I had been here before as a child and enjoyed it then just as much.  My family tells me stories of how I talked about it for weeks.

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Dirtbag life-131Crater Lake was created almost 8,000 years ago by the collapsing of a volcano.  It is the deepest lake in the United States, at 1,949 feet deep.  There are a couple of beautiful islands, Wizard Island being the most prominent.  We drove around to the north side, which took a lot longer than expected but was a stunningly beautiful drive.

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We parked at the top of the Cleetwood Trail, the easiest way to the bottom.  I had also heard from my father many times about how he had to carry my brother and I back up this trail after the whole family went to the base.  It was much easier now with full-sized legs.  There trail was just over a mile one way and we were quickly at the bottom.  The water was icy cold still even though it was August, but Carrie just had to get in so she cliff jumped off an awesome rock.  You’ll see it in the awesome trip highlights video we are making!  You can never complain about blue blue water and rocks, no matter how cold.

On the way out we joined the traffic headed north for the big event.  It was eclipsing time and we were pumped.  Stay tuned for stories from Solar Town

 

 

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Lassen Volcanic – A National Park Forgotten

(Note: This post and the last one are out of order because we forgot while writing that we went to Lassen before Mt. Shasta .  Oops!)

After fighting traffic jams of rented RVs in Yosemite, we were ready to get away from the crowds.  DO NOT GO TO YOSEMITE IN AUGUST!!!  We had learned a valuable lesson and the smoke was choking us out anyhow.  Leaving a few days early, we headed northward and decided to use our extra few days to check out the lesser-visited Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.  The drive in was through beautiful forest and we were so happy to just not be in a cloud of smoke anymore.  This was a terrible year for wildfires and it had affected our trip greatly.  We found an awesome campground just outside the park and set up for a relaxing afternoon.  Our Prius (Rock Crawler) was packed full of fun toys to keep us entertained while camping, from slack lines to hammocks we were well stocked with fun.

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In the morning we drove into the park.  There were very few people, but a few of the major attractions were closed because of the amount of snow still covering the paths.  We saw a random geyser on the way in and could smell sulfur in the air.  The views were insane and we were relieved to see that the hike up Lassen Volcano was open despite there being snow taller than me around the parking lot.  The hike was steep and relatively empty when we started.

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We’re headed up THERE!

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At the top there was still tons and tons of snow.  We looked into the crater and saw some adventurous snowboarding ladies whom were about to ride all the way down after hiking to the top.

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Seriously, don’t come here.  It’s terrible and there are bears that eat Europeans and have learned how to open RV doors.

Mt. Shasta and NorCal Hippies

After climbing around Bishop, we made our way through to Yosemite National Park which we were super excited about.  However, once in the park we realized that all our plans had to be thrown out the window because the Yosemite Valley was full of smoke from nearby forest fires.

Smoky views on day 2

We spent two nights camping and doing what we could (not much so we caught up on some work) but then decided to cut our loses and head for northern California where hopefully the air would be cleaner.  The drive was beautiful and we covered some new territory that we had been looking forward to for a long time.  In the shadows of Mount Shasta we drove around looking for free camping.  We were hoping to find a spot at the free campground near Crystal Lake but they were all full.  Finding space would become a battle for the next few days with everyone on the west coast traveling through on their eclipse-bound road trips.  We were doing the same so couldn’t be too mad, so we jumped in the amazing lake and felt instantly better.

Refreshed, we drove a few miles away into the forest where there was lots of free dispersed camping.  We found a nice spot near a river with lots of grimy hippy kids.  These were like the people we are used to seeing sleeping on the beach in Ocean Beach, San Diego, so we weren’t too bothered by them.  After being there only a few minutes a Forest Service ranger pulled into the area and about 10 of the hippie bums casually walked off into the woods, warning us as they went that the cops were here.  Eventually the ranger came and walked through our camp, telling us to we might want to camp elsewhere.  We didn’t find anyone threatening and kept to ourselves as did they.  Our only complaint was that their drum circle that lasted til 2am.  They were actually really good musicians, we just weren’t into it at the time.

Our free spot

The next day we payed for a campground with showers and laundry and enjoyed Lake Siskiyou by renting a stand-up paddleboard for the first time ever.  Shasta was beautiful in the background and we hoped to come back later to hike the mountain.

Lake Siskiyou

Zach is waaaaay out there SUPing!

SUP selfie!

On our last day in the area we hiked the McCloud River Trail, an easy, scenic hike which takes you by three different waterfalls, each with its own swimming hole and cliff jumps.  We didn’t end up getting in because the cold mountain water was just too frigid!  We couldn’t do it.  It was great just to stick our feet in and admire the powerful waterfalls.

Upper Falls

Middle Falls

Lower Falls

Mt. Whitney, TO THE TOP!!!

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The view UP from Whitney Portal

We had been trying to get a permit to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney for years.  This year we finally won the lottery and got the chance to hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states.  We picked up the permit the day before at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center then drove up to Whitney Portal where we would camp for the night.  It was an amazing campground with huge boulders and even bigger rock walls.  The area was always full, but a nearby stream of icy mountain water blocked out the sounds of other people.  We packed our big backpacks, ready to wake up early and adventure upwards.

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The morning came fast; the adrenaline had already kicked in making for anxious sleep.  We packed everything we wouldn’t be carrying into the car then, after putting our extra food into a bear box, we started up Whitney Trail.  There were lots of hikers, mainly very friendly people.  The trail wove its way up a steep canyon and eventually leveled out to high lakes with constantly flowing water.  There were many creek crossings where we had to rock-hop through deep, streaming water.  We were especially glad for our trekking poles at those times!  Soon we were among the snow piles, still melting from the hard winter.  We saw chipmunks and very fat marmots, waiting to score a snack off an abandoned backpack.  It was only six miles to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet so we made it around 1pm, the summit above us and cold lake beside us.  We set up our tent and got water to filter.  With our boots off we spent the afternoon lounging, hydrating, and reading.  We felt strong and had great feelings about making it to the top.

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Energy Gu Cheers!

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At Trail Camp

The alarm went off at 5 and we were out at 5:30.  Dawn was already creeping over the horizon, so we left our headlamps at Trail Camp and started up the infamous 99 Switchbacks. There was running water over some of the paths and when you took your feet from the water to the rocks your feet would become instant ice-skates. Good thing it wasn’t any colder.  We wore hats and gloves; it was cold but the air was still and since we were well trained we powered up the switchbacks as I sang “99 Beers On The Wall…” in my head, to surprising accuracy. We thought the name “99 Switchbacks” was a joke.  Nope, there are really 99 of them.  Hikers going up were in all shapes, mostly doing pretty well, but a few seemed to be struggling with altitude sickness. We finished the ‘backs and entered another area called the Pinnacles, I think. This was the stage where you merge with the John Muir Trail hikers to summit for the finish of their weeks-long adventure. The trail zig-zagged behind the peaks with some amazing views of the inner Sierras and nice drop-offs to the opposite side toward camp. Carrie thought that it looked like an ancient castle, long worn down by weather. The final section was up the back of the peak, sometimes jumping rocks and following a new path near the end as the old was still snowpacked. Up, up, up until finally around 9:30am, the peak of the Stone House, more than 100 years old, inched over the horizon and then the world was below us and a cliff of nightmares and we had made it!!!!!!! 14, 496 feet, the highest peak in the lower 48 states!  Everyone was overjoyed, we kissed and sat near the edge and soaked in the moment. We signed our names in the register with everyone else and didn’t linger, it was a long way down.

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Sunrise view from the 99 Switchbacks

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Going through The Pinnacles

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Looking west over the John Muir Trail into Sequoia National Park

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We made it!

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Back at Trail Camp we packed our tent and were out of there by 1pm.  The way down was easy but we took it slow, avoiding injury.  We felt accomplished, the world was ours!

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Enjoying some flowers on our way down

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Viñales – Enchanted Land of Tobacco

Havana was great and all, but after spending four nights in the the busy big city we were ready for some country time.  Our señora in our casa particular arranged for a taxi to grab us in the morning for the ride east.  The shared cabs only cost about 10% more than the Viazul buses and get you there way faster with their door-to-door services.  We were picked up by an old blue 1950s Buick – a wobbly, feel-the-springs-in-the-seat, smell-the-exhaust-in-the-cabin, but still-watch-music-videos-on-the-dashboard kind of taxi.  No seat belts in Cuba, but the AC worked somehow.  We rode with a pair of students from New York, who were on a whirlwind tour of the country.  Outside the city we felt like we had gone back in time.  Horse-drawn carriages and tropical farms of bananas and sugar cane.  Everything was green and lush and it was hard to believe that there wasn’t an abundance of all foods on the island.  We were headed for Viñales, the land of the worlds finest tobacco.

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Rain storms over Viñales, Cuba

After about a three hour drive we arrived at our new casa, a cute pink house run by Cary and Anay, a mother and daughter.  Like all the houses in Viñales, it had rocking chairs on the front porch, from which you could lounge and people-watch the day away.

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Viñales, Cuba

Day two we rented bicycles and headed out into the countryside of Parque Nacional Viñales.  The grand moros (rocky hills) were all around us.  Instead of the mountains raising from the earth, underground rivers had caused the valley floor to fall creating the dramatic landscape.

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The Cuban countryside

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Riding bikes past La Cueva El Palenque

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Transportation

A few miles outside of town we came to La Cueva del Indio, one of a series of many caves in the area.  The cave tour is accessible through a restaurant and costs 5 CUC.  The caves had a nice walking path through them that led to a boat ride down an underground river.  It was nice except for a super-obnoxious family in front of us.  Seriously, who yells in caves and moves precariously-balanced rocks around trying to find a lens cap?

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The underground river at la Cueva del Indio in Viñales, Cuba.

Once back in town we headed down a side street to the edge of the village where we were found an organic tobacco farm.  We took a tour (in Spanish) where they explained the growing, drying, fermenting, and rolling processes of Cuba’s famous cigars.  They also explained the difference between organic and chemical tobacco production.  At the end we tried some of the organic Monte Cristos dipped in local honey.

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Organic tobacco drying house

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Traditional tobacco drying house

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Fields of tobacco

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Telling us about Monte Cristos, Che’s favorite cigars!

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Rolling a cigar.  They use four leaves and honey to hold it all together.

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Packs of cigars in banana leaf packs

We only had the bikes for one day so headed out again in the other direction to the strange and epic Mural de la Prehistoria, a strange giant painting on the cliffside.  Apparently it took several painters many years to complete.

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Mural de la Prehistoria

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On day three we decided to go for a hike.  We walked past the turn off for the Mural then after about one more kilometer took a right turn and headed towards Los Aquaticos, a village on the hillside.  The Lonely Planet had some general directions but we asked some farmers along the way, brushing off several dudes who wanted to guide us up there.  The views were fantastic along the way and we felt at peace amongst the country animals and fields.

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Carrie’s new bestie!

At the top there was a small blue ranch house with a view of the valley.  They sold delicious  coffee grown on site that you could sip while enjoying the scenery.  A cute pig snuggled up to Carrie.

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Royal Palms

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The view from Los Aquaticos

You could hike up farther but it was growing late in the afternoon and we were satisfied with our adventure.   After eating dinner we took a nap then went out late to the government-run dance hall.  Every town had at least one of these places with a salsa band and bar and lots of people.  We really need to learn some moves!  Until we do, it’s still fun to watch everyone boogie down.  Viñales was an all-around great time, with lots of nature and fun nightlife!

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Let’s salsa!

San Jacinto and Idyllwild, California

From our campsite we looked down over the dusty towns of the Inland Empire, imagining their residents choking in the thick layer of smog that was ever present.  But the air on the mountain was clean and as the sun set over the desert below, the stars shown brightly down on the lights of the towns, like scars strewn across the desolate landscape.  We went to bed early as we sometimes do when camping, not having brought firewood and wanting to wake early to hike the peak.  We left the cover off the tent so we could fall asleep under the stars in the brisk mountain air.  Peaceful dreams came fast.

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We stayed at the Marion Mountain Campground.  There were only a few other people staying there, all quiet and keeping to themselves.  We picked site number 8 because it overlooked the valley.  It wasn’t a very shady spot and didn’t have trees for our hammock, but the view was worth it.

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We made some breakfast in the morning and decided NOT to go on the 12 mile round trip hike to the summit of San Jacinto Peak.  The weather man was predicting possibilities of rain and being caught on a giant mountain in a thunderstorm is not one of our favorite things to do.  So we went to the ranger station in Idyllwild town and they recommended the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, a more manageable hike to some white rocks overlooking town.

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The hike was moderate and peaceful, with only us on the trail.  Lizards of various sizes ran away as we made our way upwards, there were also birds and chipmunks scurrying about.  Once at the top there was indeed a few perfect places to off yourself.

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I climbed to the highest rock over looking the biggest drop and looked down on the town of Idyllwild, hidden beneath me in the pines.  The iconic Tahquitz Rock was across the valley.  We ate some snacks and took some Go-Pro shots.  We started back down with a lot of morning left and were down the hill before noon, glad that we didn’t do the big hike.

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The Idyllwild town monument

Our car took us back to town where we grabbed some tasty sandwiches at Idyllwild Bake Shop & Brew.  There were lots of interesting people walking around; climbers, outdoors people, Asian tourists, old hippies.  We checked out a few of the smalls stores.  They had few customers but very friendly shopkeepers.  We especially liked the pet shop where the owner told us that Idyllwild was the most dog-friendly town in America and gave us a magnet of Mayor Max, the golden retriever.   We were tired from hiking and wanted to take our boots off, so we headed back to camp and relaxed for the rest of the day.  The city life had destroyed our connection with nature, so we were happy to take it back for a day.

Sintra – A Town of Castles

Sintra, Portugal is located to the west of Lisboa, a short train ride out of the busy capital.  It is a magical mountaintop on the edge of a national park that is the home to many castles built by many conquerers.  Romans, Moors, and Christian crusaders fought many battles and all occupied the space for a time before Portuguese kings began to use the town as a weekend retreat, (Wikipedia Sintra will explain the complicated history better than me.)  Now it is one of the most touristy places in Portugal but well worth fighting the crowds to see.  From perfect castles to ruins of ancient fortresses to cobblestone hikes through thick forests, Sintra has a lot for everyone.  We didn’t actually go inside any of the castles because they are expensive and we would rather just take pictures and walk around the outside.

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Quant old houses with the Moorish Castle visible on top of the hill

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The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (like everywhere else in Europe, it seems) and has many nice restaurants and cafes.  We brought some food for a picnic because everything in Sintra is overpriced.

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Hiking to the Moorish Castle at the top of the mountain.

6We enjoyed the hike to the top.  There were amazing views and it felt like we had escaped the city life for at least a short time.

Part of the Moorish Castle

We continued along the trail to Pena National Palace.  They made you pay like 15 Euros before we could even see anything, so here is a picture that I stole from the internets.

Pena National Palace

If we had a little bit more cash to spare, we definitely would have gone inside the palace.  As it was, we felt more like hiking and enjoying some nature anyway.  Sintra was a very good escape from the big city!