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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.

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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

Bishop, aka L.A.’s Reservoir

The eastern Sierras offer an abundance of outdoor activities and, with climbing being our main goal for this leg of the trip, Bishop was a great home base for exploring the area.  We Couchsurfed with a very nice guy named Doug who showed us around town then left for work for four days.  It was very generous of him to let us take over his house for that time.  Gotta love Couchsurfing!  Having just climbed Mt. Whitney, Doug’s house was a perfect place for us to rest our tired bones.  I set up my solar panel out back and we made nice meals.  Life was grand.

Before leaving on his work adventure hauling oil from the Nevada desert to Long Beach in southern California, Doug drove us around the small town telling us interesting facts.  He told us about the Lone Pine earthquake around the turn of the 19th century that left the whole valley to the south 30 feet lower.  He also told us about how Bishop could never expand because of the fact that all the land around the town is owned by Los Angeles County.  Great amounts of water flow in from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the spring and summer, accumulating in the lakes and rivers around Bishop.  This water is collected and diverted into aqueducts that carry it more than 250 miles to the dry metropolis of L.A.  It seemed wrong to us, but what do we know.

After Doug left for work we drove north towards Mammoth and checked out a few hot springs near the Mammoth Airport.  First we found Wild Willy’s, which was awesome at first but then a van full of adolescent French kids interrupted our scenic soak.  But there were more springs down the road and we found a cool group of people at Hilltop Hotsprings, a small pool with an amazing view.  Everyone soon left except a guy who owned a ski shop in Mammoth Lakes.  We talked about forest fires, as one had ignited nearby.  He explained his idea to drop giant fireproof tarps over the fires to extinguish them.  Sure, dude.

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Wild Willy’s Hot Spring

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Gorgeous, gorgeous eastern Sierras!

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On our second day in Bishop we headed back towards the north looking for a recommended climbing crag called Clark Canyon.  We got off road for a long time then realized we went the wrong way in.  Around the other side of the hills the road got bad and we took our rock-crawling Prius to its offroading limits.  The area was remote and probably a lot prettier before recent wildfires had blackened most of the trees.  Just when I though we could go no further, about six miles and an hour through dirt, we came to the parking spot and geared up.  The rock was fun volcanic tuff and we climbed a few routes.  Several ways up I found some sketchy bolts and had to downclimb, but in general the area was great and we soon found ourselves worn out and headed home.

For our third day we headed to the famous Happy Boulders near Bishop.  We got out there around 8 to avoid the heat and quickly found lots of fun rocks.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of problems and we hung out for a few hours sending a few popular routes such as Heavenly Path, a great rock with a scary 20+ foot top out.   We wore ourselves out early again and relaxed through the hot afternoon, making dinner and catching up on some TV shows.  It sure was great having our own house.

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Yay Happy Boulders!

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Our last day in town we wanted to do some more climbing but all the spots around Bishop had some kind of issues, so we got up in the dark and drove south to try to tackle more routes in the Alabama Hills area near Lone Pine.  We wanted to send the Shark Fin rock around sunrise to capture the classic picture of the climb with Mt. Whitney in the background.  It was a fun climb and we got the perfect shot.  Afterwards we went to the Tall Wall near the Meat Loaf Campsite.  This was my first 100+ foot lead climb– super nerve racking but the adrenaline was well worth it.  We climbed a little more nearby then went and found a fun chimney but it was nearing 100 degrees and we were tired so we hit up the Pizza Factory lunch buffet in Lone Pine and drove home to nap.  We were finally feeling safer climbing and it was great.  If only we had a few more months to bum around the States we might actually be good!  But this would not be the trip that we became climbing pros, Alex Honnold your title is safe for now.

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Carrie on the Shark Fin, Mt. Whitney in the distance!

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Zach up on the edge!

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We love rocks!

Stay tuned for tales of our adventures in Yosemite, Northern California, Oregon for the eclipse, and back to Black Rock City for the infamous Burning Man!

 

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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Transitioning to Dirtbag Life

It felt weird to be back in Arizona. Not our home for six years but the comfort remained as we checked out all our old favorite spots. We hiked to our favorite swimming hole, which was still as beautiful as ever, water a perfect way to cool off in the middle of a seven-mile, 90-degree hike. Nearing the end, we witnessed a teenage couple— the guy foolishly hiking into a deep part of the canyon to get water, cursing back up at his girlfriend for not following him down. They showed up at the swimming hole about an hour later. Apparently on the edge of death, the miserable looking boy pulls out a small battery-powered fan, his girlfriend using his precious water to wash sand off her butt. I never did see them get into the water.

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Smile!!!!

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The Crack

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Hiking is fun!

On the way back we drove through Sedona and up Oak Creek Canyon. The views in this region are unbeatable! We had forgotten what an amazing place this is.

The next day we hiked a section of Bill Williams Mountain, starting at the ranger station east of town.  The hike has some pretty nature and I enjoyed finding four types of wild mushrooms nestled beneath the pinion pines. The grasshoppers buzzed around the woods, their sounds always startling and interrupting the tranquility. We didn’t finish the hike, which round-trip totals seven miles, because we have done it a few times before and we had been hiking a good deal.

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Our third day we got up at dawn and drove to the Grand Canyon. We hiked along the rim until there were less crowds with selfie sticks and climbed over the edge to a nice place to hang our feet over. In the distance we spotted two California Condors which we had never been lucky enough to see before. They circled through the sky, catching air streams, and eventually cruised right in front of us. The sound of their feathers rippling through the wind was mesmerizing, wings stiff like a hang-glider. Easily the coolest birds I’ve seen in the wild.

condors

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Day four we finally got some climbing in. We went bouldering at a place called Priest Draw off of Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff.  The Draw is famous among the climbing community and we were excited to check it out again, having last been there in 2011. We sent some of the easier problems, leaving the classic cave problems for the pros. It was a great spot to spend the morning with our pup Toby who loved tramping around in the woods. We planned to go across the street to The Pit, a sport climbing area, but it started to rain as we entered the parking lot so we went to Flagstaff to a gear shop. We needed just a few more things for our coming Mount Whitney trek.

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Our Prius has been carrying us everywhere and we are calling it the “Rock Crawler” now.  Every day seems to bring about some new dirt road for us to conquer.  We are decked out with gear and a new solar panel/battery bank.  Wish us luck as we head to hike Mount Whitney!

Foodies in Mexico City

After regulated Cuba, it was strange to jump into a city fueled by capitalism.  The streets were full of delicious things to eat and there were way more than four different vegetables.  We found a hostel (Hostel Home) in the Roma district close to a metro station.  Our layover was for about 30 hours so we had time to see some new things.  Four years before we had flown into Mexico City from Tijuana for a long weekend, we had checked out the most famous tourist sites in the city and the pyramids of Teotihuacan on that trip.  This time we would just eat and do a lot of walking through the city.  Making your way though the neighborhoods you never knew what you will come upon.  Maybe such wonderful things as the most delicious gorditas ever right around the corner from the hostel!

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One of my favorite spots I’ve ever eaten.  I will find you again someday!

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A gordita with potatoes, nopales, grilled onions, y muchas salsas deliciosas!

There was a large political demonstration in a neighborhood park nearby.  Every few minutes there was canon fire in response to the speeches that echoed through all of the downtown area.  We got as close as a few blocks, then our ears couldn’t take the explosions.  All the locals saw it as pretty normal.

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Political graffiti of the Mexican President.

There were some very good vegetarian options in the city.  We found a super busy vegan taco cart called Por Siempre.  We got some “pastor” tacos with some kind of homemade fake meat and grilled pineapple.  The flavors were strong and delicious; the texture perfect!  The best part was the toppings bar with salsas, potatoes, beans, and grilled onions and such.  The cart blared metal music and had a spot to park your bicycle– super hip.

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Por Siempre Vegan Tacos

Another place we ate was called Vege Taco in the Coyoacan neighborhood.  This small restaurant had a three course lunch option of salad, soup, tacos, and a healthy drink for around 100 pesos ($5).

Coyoacan is a beautiful, artsy neighborhood with an amazing crafts market.  There was something new and exciting around every corner and I couldn’t taste half the things that I wanted.  It would take years to do a proper eating tour.  We also found the same amazing coffee roastery we went to last time, Cafe El Jarocho.

Back in the Roma area we found another taco restaurant (we walk a bunch then eat a bunch) and had second lunch.  This is when I officially decided that pineapple was a very underrated taco topping.

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Later on we stumbled into a bar in the Roma after walking a long ways.

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I’m pretty sure the skulls where real.  Couldn’t convince myself otherwise.

 

Trinidad: Buildings and Beaches

Trinidad, Cuba is a small colonial city on the south coast of the island, about a four hour drive from Havana.  Nestled on a hillside overlooking the Caribbean, Trinidad offers pristine examples of colonial architecture.  The buildings were painted in all different bright colors and the streets where cobblestone.  This was our favorite city for live music as you could literally hear three or four bands from any spot you stood at in the touristic area.

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Plaza Mayor

Our second day in Trinidad we rented bikes from our casa particular (15 CUC for two mountain bikes for the day) and set off on another adventure.  We were headed to Playa Ancón located about 15km from the city.  It was an easy, flat ride so in no time we rolled through the small fishing village of La Boca and along the coast towards the beaches.  We passed trees of tamarind and swarms of dragonflies and the weather was perfect.  The asphalt road was potholed and sandy the whole way, so bikes were perfect for the journey.  Playa Ancón is the most idyllic beach on Cuba’s southern shore, though it’s popularity pales in comparison to the northern Veradero-area beaches. The beach had beautiful white sand and the water was the exact postcard-perfect blue that we all idealize.  This was our only beach day of the trip because well, we live at the beach in San Diego, California.

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Fishing beach at the Rio Guarabo river mouth in La Boca

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Playa Ancón

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