Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#1 Adventure of California... and nobody knows about it

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains
          "Oldest living things on Earth"
      Words fail me. How could you describe a forest with the oldest living things on Earth; Trees that have been growing for 4,000 years. Trees which were planted at the dawn of human civilization and lived through five millenniums: the definition of longevity. Me, a 22-year old, walking amongst the patriarchs of all trees... almost seemed like an intrusion. I do not mean to wax poetically about something simply to sound interesting. Though all this might sound appallingly bohemian, the forest is an incredible force of nature. 
      This is why I find myself hesitant to expose such a place to the Internet. The Forest service shares my fear of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest becoming another disneyland and has done its best to make sure that the forest is not well known. So I trust that anyone seeking to explore such a place would treat it with the appropriate care that they would handling any ancient relic.

Standing next to a 4,000 year old tree gives one a feeling of frailty
      The oldest forest on Earth is located in California's White Mountain Range, paralleling the Sierra Nevada Range. The White Mountains are nearly as high but dry, scrubby, and desertous. It is within this niche that this particular species is able to survive for so long. Pinus longaeva exists only in the harshest of climates at the highest of elevations in California, Nevada and Utah.
Bristlecones grow in the cold, dry, and inhospitable alpine desert environments
       In California, they grow at elevations upwards of 10,000ft. Ironically enough, this is the key to their longevity. After all, nothing else really lives at such elevations, much less any predators. Within this forest stand the oldest of all living organisms: a tree named Methusula. This tree is over 4,700 years old. It is such an incredible specimen of life that its actual location is a highly protected secret of the forest service. It is doubtful that more than a handful of people on earth actually know its location. But, the hiking trails still take you deep within the heart of the forest.

The Patriarch Grove at 12,000ft
      The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is notoriously difficult to get to and is not on most contemporary maps. It is located east of Big Pine California which can be reached from southern California by taking I-15 to Rt-395 north towards Mammoth Lakes. Once you reach Big Pine, turn left on State Rt 168. Once you leave Big Pine, there is nothing else on the way up. White Mountain road is about 13 miles up Rt-168 and you drive up this rough but paved road all the way to the groves, which are less than 10 miles away. VERY primitive camping is available and once again, you are really in the middle of nowhere, so be well prepared to handle any car problems that might come up. Don't go in the winter, or you will be snowed out.

Lastly, more than anywhere else, please respect the rules of "Leave No Trace"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

#2 Mt Whitney: Top 10 California Adventures

Mt Whitney, Sierra Nevada Range
         "Top of the United States! (sort of)"
      Perhaps its overstated, but any way up Mt Whitney is a quintessential, Rite of Passage as a Californian outdoorsman. Yes, it can be crowded. Yes, everybody knows about it. Its still California's most sought after mountain. However, the Forest Service does a great job of keeping it wild. While this may make permits difficult to obtain on say, a July weekend, outdoorsman can be thankful that such rigid controls have kept the mountain wild. (More on how to beat the lottery system later) While the 22 mile trail may be the "easiest" way up, it is often overrun. Therefore, the real California adventure is the Mountaineer's Route. "MR", as its called, is a true mountain climb, necessitating the use of climbing equipment. Fortunately it is possible to climb it with only basic training. The sense of accomplishment at the 14,496ft summit is surreal. Every Californian must, at some point, climb this mountain.

Sierra view from the top of Mt. Whitney

      Getting to mt Whitney is somewhat of a drive, but it is a very interesting one. From southern California, take I-15 towards Las Vegas. After you cross the pass into the desert, take highway 395 North. This highway will take you through the desert and parallel the southern Sierras until you reach Lone Pine, which is the small town gateway to Mt Whitney. The Whitney Portal road will take you all the way to nearly 8,000 ft where there is an amazing burger joint. They make THE largest burgers I have ever eaten. Most trails/routes to the top start here.

The much less traveled west side approach to Mt Whitney from Sequoia National Park

Monday, September 27, 2010

#3 Catalina Island: Top 10 California Adventures

 Catalina Island, Channel Islands (Offshore Los Angeles)
          "Wastin' away again in Margaritaville"
      Located 26 miles on the ocean from Long Beach, Catalina Island is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Step off the boat and you are on island time. Parts of Catalina feel like a Jimmy Buffett song and others offer the best adventures in Southern California. Catalina is a SCUBA mecca- massive kelp forests treat the diver to an unspoiled underwater ecosystem. One could spend decades diving its coasts and never get bored. In fact, I have friends who have been consistently diving Catalina upwards of 15 years. Its not all about the diving though, topside adventures are limitless. A well maintained network of trails makes the island one of my personal favorite mountain biking destinations. You can also explore the rugged coastline by kayak or canoe and chances are, you'll find yourself on your own private beach. Last but not least, Two Harbors has the greatest bar on earth AND its the only place in California where you can legally drink your own alcohol on the beach. Nuff said'

Mountain Biking on Catalina's West End
      Catalina can be reached from Dana Point, Long Beach, San Pedro, and Marina Del Rey. The Catalina Flyer and Marina Del Rey flyer offer round trip tickets for about $65. This may sound a little pricey, but it is worth it to get out on the island. My recommendation is to go into Two Harbors for a more rugged and adventurous time. Avalon, the most cosmopolitan place on the island, but its really just a glorified tourist trap to me. If you really want to get out there, backpack out to Parson's Beach 7 miles away from Two Harbors. Just want a nice place to camp? A bus service on the island can drop you off at Little Harbor Campground from Two Harbors.  Little Harbor is a pleasant cove on the sea side of the island with great surfing and hiking.

Welcome to Catalina Island, please adjust your watch to "Island Time"

#4 Mt Shasta: Top 10 California Adventures

Mt Shasta, Cascade Range (Nor-Cal)

      "Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California." -Joaquin Miller

USGS Picture showing the sheer mass of Mt Shasta
       Standing 14,000ft in Northern-est California, Mt. Shasta stands like a gatekeeper to the Cascade Range. Mt Shasta looks exactly like the way a child would draw a mountain- almost perfectly conical, snowcapped, with glaciers gently flowing down its flanks. It is no surprise that it's mythical qualities have lingered long into the 21st century. Theodore Roosevelt, US president, naturalist and explorer once said,  "I consider the evening twilight on Mt. Shasta one of the grandest sights I have ever witnessed." What makes Shasta unique is its mass and prominence- it stands alone, rising over 10,000ft higher than its surrounding terrain. Also, it is a massive mountain, large enough to literally create its own weather. So, it goes without saying that the views from afar and atop are phenomenal. The national forest has also done an excellent job in keeping the mountain a true wilderness. Not just for the climber, Mt Shasta offers day hiking or just simple admiration of California's largest volcano.

Mt Shasta is so isolated that is can create its own weather, often the surrounding areas can be completely clear while the summit is shrouded in clouds
      Mt. Shasta is located in Northern California near the city of Mt Shasta. I-5 will take you right past the mountain and offer great views. From the city of Mt Shasta, take the Everitt Memorial Highway up the mountain to Bunny Flat. From here, you can ascend the mountain via the "Avalanche Gulch" route (despite the foreboding name, its the easiest way up!) However, this is a real climb and crampons and ice axes are needed all year. However, in the summer it is possible to hike up to Helen lake and enjoy the good mountain air without any gear. I will be posting a comprehensive guide to climbing Mt Shasta in the near future!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

#5 Mojave National Preserve: Top 10 California Adventures

Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Desert (So-Cal)
          "Rugged, yet delicate desert serenity"
      When most people think of "desert" a picture of the Sahara probably comes to mind and thoughts of a hot, lifeless wasteland. Clearly, most people have never visited the Mojave desert. Even a short hike around this preserve will reveal the tough and resilient life that teams the Joshua Tree forests and lonely mesas. Desert Tortoises, gila monsters, foxes, desert bighorn sheep and a whole slew of different cacti made their home here so that any visitor is treated to a very different perspective on what is known as a desert. Day hikes abound and can be quite comfortable in the fall and spring. The preserve's "Hole in the Wall Canyon" looks almost alien-like while the park's Joshua Trees prove that a forest doesn't necessarily have to be thick and green. Not only that, but the Mitchell Cavern's are certainly California's most hidden if not most interesting cave formations. Why does Mojave National Preserve make the list over say, Joshua Tree National Park or Death Valley National Park? It gets half the visitors (no crowds!). A visit to Mojave National Preserve will forever banish the lay person's idea that a desert is necessarily lifeless. Two and a half hours from Los Angeles.

Hole in the Wall Canyon- Mojave National Preserve
The Kelso Dunes in the central part of the park are some of the tallest dunes in North America
      Mojave National Preserve is located about 70 miles northeast of Barstow, California. It can be reached via highway 15 towards Las Vegas, or I-40 East. From the I-15 route, continue from Barstow all the way into Baker, CA (the town with the largest thermometer on Earth!) Kelbaker road will take you into the park from the north. Here you will see massive lava beds, Joshua Tree forests, and some of North America's largest sand dunes. However, my preference is to take the I-40 route- from Barstow, drive 100 miles east until you get to exit 100 for Essex. Hang a left and drive north into the park. From here, you can drive to the Mitchell Caverns, California's best kept caves and also into the central part of the park where there is the hole in the wall canyon, camping and a visitor center.
View of the desert from the New York Mountains. The hills on the horizon mark just where the Colorado River cuts through the Mojave Desert.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

#6 The 100 Mile View from Mt. San Jacinto- Top 10 California Adventures

Mt. San Jacinto, Southern California
      "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on the Earth!" -- John Muir

At the summit, I-10 is over two vertical miles below

          When John Muir says something is a "sublime spectacle", you damn well better believe him! From the top of San Jacinto, you can see for over 100 miles. I have stood at the top on a clear day and have been able to see all the way to the ocean and Catalina Island nearly 110 miles away and also could see  into Mexico. There is not a view like it anywhere else in the United States. This is because San Jacinto rises from 500ft to 10,800ft in less than 7 miles on the north side. If you were to climb from the desert to the top (which you can), you are climbing more vertical feet than you would climbing Mt Everest from base camp. You literally pass through different biomes as you climb higher. Best of all, it is only about 100 miles from Los Angeles. You can take the tram up for a nice hike to the top or take the ultimate challenge with the "Cactus to Clouds Trail" which has been rated as one of the most difficult hikes in America.

Climbing San Jacinto Peak
      San Jacinto is 2 hours away from LA and Orange County. From Los Angeles, take the same route as you would going to Palm Springs. For most, this would be taking the 60 East to the 215 South, to the 60 East and on to the 10 East. Drive east until you see signs for Palm Springs and Highway 111. Drive South on 111 for about 8.5 miles and turn right at "Tram Way". This will take you to the Aerial Tramway which is the easiest route up the mountain.
      From Orange County, take 55 North to 91 East. Drive east on 91 into Riverside and take 60 East to the 10 East and follow the above directions to get to the Tramway.

#7 Lake Tahoe - Top 10 California Adventures

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
         "Every season is adventure season"
      Welcome to the greatest skiing and snowboarding on the west coast (Yes, we know that). Welcome also, to California's biggest mountain biking destination (really?). Lake Tahoe, located about 4 hours east of San Francisco, is home of 12 ski resorts and some of the deepest powder in America. Massive terrain parks, 2-3 mile runs, resorts with thousands of backcountry acres, and views of the largest alpine lake in the Sierras make Lake Tahoe an international destination. However, due to the large number of resorts in the area, lift lines are generally short and there are plenty of runs that don't feel like a traffic jam. Summer isn't the off season either. Lake Tahoe instantly becomes a mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, and water skiing destination, although the lake becomes considerably more crowded. However, due to its scenic resorts and endless opportunities, Lake Tahoe makes #7 on my list.

The Infamous "Flume Trail"
      If you really want a ride, you have to do the "Flume Trail". Its on the Nevada side of the lake and is the best single track on the west coast. The trail literally used to be a log flume cut straight into a granite cliff. When the log flume was taken out, it conviently left a handlebar wide trail. Not for the faint-hearted, the trail has 400 foot dropoffs on one side and a sheer face on the other. Stay in control! This trail is located in Nevada's Lake Tahoe State Park.

Friday, September 24, 2010

#8 Redwood National Park: Top 10 California Adventures

Redwood National Park, North Coast
          "Natural Skyscrapers"

Its a jungle out there!
      Redwood National Park is located in the Northwestern corner of the state and is probably the greenest area of the world. Redwood trees themselves can grow to a height of over 350ft- imagine a football field, add 50 ft... that's how tall a single tree can get. Yet, there is more to it than just trees. This part of California is essentially a rainforest. Without trails, it is difficult to walk 5 feet in the forest due to its rich amount of vegetation and lushness. The coast is rugged, unexplored and if you go at the right time of year, you're bound to see a whale or two. It may seem overly bohemian to see a place simply for the trees, but Coastal Redwoods are certainly a hallmark of California beauty.
Redwood National Park is a long ways from anywhwere. Then again, the destination is a perfect excuse for a road trip. The drive up the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway will certainly take you through the rugged and rocky coastline of Northern California and through some delightful little towns in Humbolt and Mendocino County. The Northern Californian coast and extreme southern Oregon is the only place in the world where Redwoods grow.

#9 San Francisco- Top 10 California Adventures

San Francisco, California
          "Go around the world in 8 city blocks"

      As mentioned earlier, I include anything that could be considered an adventure to this blog and friends... San Francisco is an adventurous city. Although I generally consider cities one of the less wonderful aspects of modern society, San Francisco tops my short list of "Cities I Enjoy". Why? San Francisco is very green, historical, diverse, and just a fun to be in. Many cities have their cultural districts, but San Francisco has nearly every major cultural district within 8 square miles. There are massive amounts of cultural food, festivals, art, entertainment, and museums all around. Its not all urban though! Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and Golden Gate National Recreation areas offer hikes overlooking the beach and bay. These parks are much larger and less crowded than say, Central Park. Still too crowded? Hop right across the Golden Gate Bridge and you're in the middle of green California coast.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

Ten sort-of-toursity, yet classically San Franciscan things you must do:

1) Bark at the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf
2) Watch San Francisco's famous homeless "bushman" scare people at the Wharf
3) Taste the greatest chocolate on Earth at Ghirardelli Square
4) Ride a real San Francisco Trolley down to Union Square
5) Explore the Presido of San Francisco and enjoy the historic park
6) Walk the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge (and back)
7) Be a kid again and explore the Exploratorium (Science Discovery Center)
8) REAL Chinese food in Chinatown
9) Check out the famous Alcatraz Prison
10) Drive Lombard St. "The windiest street on earth"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#10 Lassen Volcanic National Park, Top 10 California Adventures

      After a lengthy survey of nearly every wild place in California, I've come up with a list of places I believe everyone should see at some point in their life. I've traveled this great state top to bottom- from Redwoods to deserts, the channel islands to the Sierras, the Cascades to the central valley, and every major city. I've visited every National Park site, every national forest, and every major mountain and have come up with the cream of the crop of our adventurous state. What's on the list? One place gets fewer than 60,000 visitors a year, another is by far my favorite urban area in the country. What doesn't make the list? Yosemite, believe it or not. So, without further ado here it is!

10. Lassen Volcanic National Park, Cascade Range
               "The Yellowstone of California"

      Beautiful, accessible and close to Sacramento and San Francisco, its a wonder why Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the country. Simply put, Lassen Volcanic is California's Yellowstone and has all the features of Yellowstone (minus Old Faithful). Mt Lassen, the center piece of this stunning example of volcanic landscape, erupted only 95 years ago and is still a very active volcano. In addition, there are several other volcanoes in the park, mudpots, hot springs, and geothermal vents which give the day hiker an appreciation for this unique landscape.
Summit of Mt Lassen
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a three hour drive from Sacramento and a four hour drive from San Francisco. This may be somewhat far for some, but the views and uniqueness of the park make it worth the drive from anywhere. I will post more specific directions and a guide soon but if you need it now, just post a comment! Remember, Mt Lassen is very much an active volcano, so see this place before it erupts again!

A landscape shaped by lava
Next up, I highlight my favorite city in the west coast and perhaps the greenest urban area you could ever visit.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"A good traveler has no plans, and is not intent on arriving" ~Lao Tzu

America's First Sunrise, Maine
Adventure is Out There!
     The age of exploration never ended, and it never will. The maps have all been drawn, the earth has been circled, and you can see places halfway around the world with a click of a button... but where's the fun in that? Adventure is out there, it always will be! There are still rivers to run, mountains to climb, sunsets to watch and starry skies to sleep under. The only question is, where do you want to go?

     This is blog is your connection to all the wonderful and wild places out there. What to do, where to go, and how to get there. This blog covers everything adventure- So whether you're looking for your next weekend hike, a month-long backpacking trip, or just a quiet place in a big city, this blog will get you there!

Flume Trail, Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
The Focus-
     I am constantly asked "Joe, I really want to go (hiking/climbing/kayaking/ect) , where's the best place?" Of course, the answer is- "Well that depends..." There are all kinds of trips out there which may appeal to a seasoned backpacker yet be too much for a first-timer. A three mile hike with views of the city may be excellent for a weekender yet deter a climber. So, this blog will be about all adventures, anywhere. General focuses I'd like to provide you are-

  • Wilderness and Nature: Places to explore the untouched world. All the mountains, deserts, forests, beaches and islands that allow you a chance to "get away from it all"

  • Our National Parks: The United States has some of the most majestic protected lands in the world, and most of them are cheap or free to the public. I will highlight our National Parks, Monuments, Forests and other public lands.

  • Beating the Crowds: Anyone who has been to Yosemite in the summer can attest to the fact that sometimes, beautiful places can be more crowded than Disneyland. However, I have a knack for finding out the unexplored parts of such places and how to really beat all those nasty tourists.

  • Urban Adventures: Would you believe me if I told you there are places in Los Angeles and Orange County where I have seldom or never seen another soul? Would you believe me if I told you there is a 40 foot ocean arch a quarter of a mile from Corona Del Mar, or that there's some of the country's best mountain biking only 5 miles south of Newport Beach?

  • Upcoming Trips: I often lead trips out to many of the places I talk and blog about. Stay updated here- I usually run one major trip every quarter!

  • Adventure Culture: In addition to the actual destinations, I would like to highlight some of the best Adventure Literature, new and classic, as well as the general culture of 21st century exploring.
Boldering in Newport Beach, California
The Writer-
Who am I? I'm an average guy with an average paycheck doing my best to live an extrodinary life. I have an insatiable wanderlust, a love of nature, and a desire to share some of this country's beautiful places with anyone and everyone.
     I am by no means an armchair explorer! I get out as much and often as possible. Road trips, mountain climbing, snowboarding, kayaking expeditions, thru-hiking, ect.- Its all in a season's trips for me. I often plan and lead trips for people of varying wilderness experience as well. Although I wish I could do this all the time, I would like to provide you a source where you can gain all the pertinant information you would need to plan your own dayhike/expedition/float trip. Everything that I post about has been "tested" and you won't find yourself going off into a place that I don't know nearly everything about. As mentioned earlier, the advantage of this blog is that there are no limits- if it can be considered an adventure, I will post about it! So, stay tuned!

Mt Rainier, Washinton

Read. Plan. Get Out There!