Friday, September 28, 2012

Hiking Ripley and Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire

An easier hike brings you to the highest or second highest waterfalls in New Hampshire. A longer hike could bring you to both waterfalls and to the summit of Frankenstein Cliff. Its a wonderful place to hike in New Hampshire!
Ripley Falls, second highest in New Hampshire
Well its about that time of year to start writing about some great fall hikes in New England. This last Saturday, I figured the first day of fall should be kicked off properly. I had even more of an excuse to get out and hike because my favorite college football team had a bye week! The day's destination was Mt Willey which I was unable to climb when I did Mt Field and Mt Tom on a winter trip

However, I did discover that Frankenstein Cliff, Arethusa Falls and Ripley Falls can be hiked in the same trip! The hike is strenuous but passes by three of New Hampshire's most iconic natural landmarks.

The parking lot for Ripley Falls is where the Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 302 near Bartlett, New Hampshire. There's a paved road that ascends to a small parking lot which fills up quickly in the summer and fall. You can also park at the bottom of the road near the intersection with 302. The parking lot for Arethusa Falls is just before (or past) the Ripley Falls parking lot and is well marked. Both falls can be accessed from either parking lot. 

View Hiking New Hampshire's Waterfalls in a larger map

So as you can see from the map, there are plenty of options for hiking in this relatively small area. Ripley and Arethusa Falls can be hiked separately or together depending on how adventurous you're feeling. Ripley Falls is the easier of the two hikes. Its a moderately strenuous, 1 mile round-trip hike from the Appalachian Trail Parking Lot. Arethusa Falls is a strenuous 2.8 mile round-trip hike from the Arethusa Falls Parking Lot. This is a somewhat steep trail- it ascends about 1,000 feet in 1.4 miles. However all the hard work of getting there is made enjoyable with views of the cascades of Bemis Brook before getting to the waterfall. 

For those looking to bag both waterfalls in the same trip, there is a grueling side trail that connects the two over Frankenstein Cliff. Its a steep 2.4 miles one-way between the falls so be prepared for a much longer day if this is your plan. However Frankenstein Cliff can be seen from this trail if you add another 0.5 miles to the total distance. This is one of the most spectacular views in the state and a mecca for ice climbing.
Arethusa Falls in the Winter
Arethusa Falls is just as impressive in the winter as it is in the summer and the hike is frequently done in all seasons. In the winter, you might catch a glimpse of some ice climbers tediously ascending its frozen slopes. Ripley Falls isn't as impressive in the winter but Frankenstein Cliff is ever so gorgeous.

I've always wanted to come out here in the early morning to photograph the falls- they are east-facing falls and can be completely shaded by early afternoon. Nevertheless, its a serene place to visit any time of year at any time. 
Ripley Falls and the little pool at the bottom
So there are many options and many seasons to hike in this place! Whether you're looking for a short jaunt or a long-day hike, you're bound to see something beautiful. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Pursuit of Life: 2 Years of Blogging!

Well, here we are 2 years down the line with 160 posts about places all across the country and some in Canada! The Pursuit of Life has grown from an infrequently read blog by friends and family to one read across the World!
The Pursuit of Life is read in over 90 countries!
This is, of course, one of those shameless self-promoting posts that liter the blogosphere but I'm genuinely exited to say that the Pursuit of Life has been on the air for 2 years. Its been a wild ride and I would never have guessed that two years after starting this blog I would end up 3,000 miles away from Southern California, working towards becoming a Nurse Practitioner at the University of Southern Maine. In fact, when I started this blog, I was deep in the middle of getting my EMT certification and struggling to find work amid the chaos of being a new graduate in the 2010 economy. Blogging was kind of an outlet away from the repetitious and job and grad-school applications. Spending long hours at Starbucks, posted up with a ultra-caffeinated grande coffee answering the questions like "Why do you want to go to grad school?" and "Why do you want to work here?" gets pretty damn tedious after a while. Why not start a blog and write enjoyably about National Parks and wildernesses across the country? Would anyone care or would this end up shelved with the countless forgotten web domains?
The first picture ever posted on this blog!
Well I'll be dammed if this actually became something read across the country and World! I get twice as many readers a day than I did in the entire first month of the blog! More surprisingly, I still enjoy doing it two years down the line. Now, its an outlet away from the countless hours of hitting the books and studying nursing (still more enjoyable than job applications!). But beyond the personal satisfaction, its become a way to showcase the thousands of glorious wildernesses, parks and trails which make this place so unique. Plus, its given yet another reason to get out there and explore.

Domestic Readership
So Who's Reading?

Several months ago, I signed on to Google Analytics which has been a helpful way to track readership. What's especially useful is the geographical statistics. Blogger tracks this too but not nearly at the level of Analytics. So now I get a state-by-state breakdown of where the blog is being read. I was most excited to see that there are readers in all 50 states! About 25% are visitors from the Northeast while another 25% are from California. The Mountain States, Midwest and South account for another 30% of traffic and the rest are international visitors. This blog has been a hit in Europe and Canada where its shown up on all sorts of message boards and tourist sites! 

I've unwittingly ended up with a blog with excellent search engine optimization (SEO). So a significant amount of traffic is organic (from un-paid google searches and such). But I've also had a fair amount of returning visitors which is also encouraging . I write about places all across the country so its not surprising that a lot of readers are looking for information on a single issue or location. 
Moving Forward

I suppose this post is nothing more than a brief interruption of adventures as I will soon be writing about all the rock climbing we did in North Conway this summer and I'm headed for a fall hike in New Hampshire tomorrow. But its nice to look back and see where this blog came from and where its going. Its almost strange to read my first couple of posts... a lot has changed and improved since then. Its like looking back on childhood finger paintings- partially endearing, partially embarrassing! None the less, blogging is still a wonderful pastime that will keep me away from studying and on the trail. So thanks for reading and I hope you get a chance to get out there and explore! 

As always...

Read. Plan. Get Out There!  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hiking Pinnacles National Monument, California

A small but unique National Monument just outside of the Bay Area with a full range of hikes and a chance to see California Condors. It is also at least somewhat likely that Pinnacles National Monument could be upgraded to America's Next National Park.
A ruggedly beautiful destination on California's rural coast
While perusing some of my favorite outdoor adventure websites I came across an article detailing the serious proposition that Pinnacles National Monument could become a National Park! That would be exciting news for everyone! First of all, Pinnacles National Monument is one of the oldest National Monuments in the US. Its also one of the best preserved wildernesses on the California coastal region. At just 2-2.5 hours outside of the Bay Area, its a glorious opportunity to get away from the congestion of the city. Why not add this unique place to California's collection of National Parks? (I'm sure its a much more complicated issue than that). Still... Pinnacles was a classic destination for day hikers and I found the place to be serene and surprisingly accessible.

Where is Pinnacles National Monument?

Pinnacles National Monument is located about 2.5 hours and 120 miles Southeast of San Francisco. After leaving the greater Bay Area, the scenery becomes much more rustic and rural. Paved country roads take you through the rugged Central Coast Mountains which completely contrast what most people think of California. The East Entrance is from highway 25 and the West Entrance is from the Salinas Valley. The two are not connected except by hiking trails.

Hiking Trails

The loop trail above is probably one of the best ways to see the park in a relatively short distance. Its a 5.5 mile long but it is very steep and very rugged. There are some things that you can't miss though!

If you start in a clockwise direction from the parking lot, the Bear Gulch Caves are within a short distance of the trailhead. These are not really caves in the traditional sense but house-sized boulders have covered the narrow canyon creating a cave-like feature with a natural entrance and exit. You will need a flashlight through this area. Its quite a sight but if caves aren't your thing, there's a trail which bypasses this section
The Bear Gulch Caves were created in a narrow canyon
Bear Gulch Reservoir
Just past the caves is Bear Gulch Reservoir. Obviously its not a natural pond but it is pretty none the less. Its also very reflective and gives the hiker an opportunity to see the lush, shrubby flora which are so characteristic of the Central Coast. For a reservoir, its pretty cool... 

For the adventurous types, its possible to turn south and hike North Chalone Peak. This trail is a round-trip 6.6 miles from the reservoir and summits the highest point in Pinnacles National Monument. The view itself makes the trip worthwhile and its also a rarely traveled portion of the park. However the summit is full of radio towers which may be discouraging to some. I'd recommend it simply for the views of Salinas Valley and the actual Pinnacles which the park was named after!
View from North Chalone Peak
 Most will elect not to do the North Chalone Peak trail and will head up to the "High Peaks" trail (which is, ironically enough, not the real high part of the park). Semantics aside, the high peaks trail is much more rugged than the North Chalone trail. In fact, it was downright scary in some sections! As you skirt around the precipitous ledges and hang on to the metal railings, keep an eye out for California Condors which have been reintroduced to the park. This is one of the most likely places to see them in the wild. You don't even have to have binoculars- they have a wingspan of almost 10 feet!

The High Peaks trail is stunning and scary. Its no wonder that so many rock climbers love to come to this monument. 
You might get that classic knot in your stomach hiking the high peaks trail!
Wonder why its named Pinnacles??
Without a doubt, the High Peaks are a spectacular sight on the Central Coast and its one of my favorite trails in California. After getting through the dicier sections, the trail circles back around and comes to a fork. Heading back towareds the Bear Gulch Trailhead, the trail gives you some panoramas of the Pinnacles. This is another opportunity to see some of the California Condors riding invisible thermals. Up close, Condors are somewhat ugly looking birds but they can be graceful giants on the wing. 

Well... that's alot to see in less than 6 miles of hiking! No doubt the rugged and steep trail will leave your calves and thighs sore, but its worth it! This is one of many trails and variations that can be hiked in the Monument and I'd recommend multiple trips. There are also hundreds of Rock Climbing opportunities. Its a small monument but there are endless adventures. Wouldn't this make a great addition to California's collection of National Parks?

Now that I live out East, its a bit more difficult to get to Pinnacles, but it would be at the top of my list if I had a week to see California's Central Coast! If you live in the Bay Area or Sacramento, I hope you get the opportunity to make it to this special place!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!