Where’s our peak?
Woo hoo! For us, Vasquez Peak in Henry Coe State Park was our 84th peak of the Nifty Ninety Peak Challenge.
It was supposed to be 10.2 miles rt., but my friend Patricia and I were ahead of the guys and we didn’t have any navigational devices. We thought Ralph was keeping track on the GPS. Every time I looked back to see if he was signaling me we were close, he was engrossed with walking and talking with our friend Tom.
It turned out Vasquez Peak was not marked — and there were several high points nearby so you wouldn’t just know by looking around. About a mile past Vasquez, we all stopped to assess exactly where we were. We had reached Rock Springs.
Our route out and back
We walked out on the Hunting Hollow (dirt) road from the parking area at the Hunting Hollow entrance (fee or State Park pass required). There were five creek crossings, but none even ankle deep and rocks had been placed that made it easy.
We turned left and up the hill on the Lyman Willson Ridge Trail. This was the steepest park of the hike, but we stopped tons of times to photograph wildflowers so we didn’t care. We turned right onto Bowl Trail, which took us past Willson Camp.
Willson Camp, as the name implies, allows camping, but there was no one there. The wooden buildings were in disrepair. The large shed was in the worst condition, but it provided some shelter from the strong wind as we ate our snacks. We appreciated the fact that there was a porta-potty available that was being maintained. The water faucet had been turned off. So this is a reminder to either carry all the water you need or be certain there is a source within the park when you hike or camp here!
Past the camp we made our way onto Vasquez Road, which took us past several high points — one, as I noted, was Vasquez itself and Rock Springs!
It was a great hike and I had the feeling that the display of wildflowers was just beginning. Among others, we saw California Poppies, Buttercups, Vetch, Lupine, Hounds Tongue, Baby Blue Eyes, and Fiddlenecks in profusion! Gorgeous!
I am getting stronger, but can I do this?
Sometimes I feel like I am my own worst enemy — at least when it comes to having the confidence to complete a hike. In this case, we wanted to tackle El Sombroso — near Los Gatos — in Santa Clara County. The problem facing me was that the hike, though rated moderate, was given as 11.6 miles round trip and it’s about a 2,000 ft. elevation gain. Because I have been dealing with leg pain for many months, I was feeling stuck at about 7 miles.
A Nifty Ninety Peak
Climbing this mountain would give us #83 on the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge! We are at the point where the remaining peaks are all upwards of 10 miles, or a greater distance from home. For most we will have to either get a very early start, or camp out and stay overnight near the trail.
Since I didn’t think I could do the 11.6 miles of Sombroso as a dayhike without far too much pain, and possible injury, I tried to figure out an alternative. I considered approaching the folks at Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve to ask if we could camp partway along the trail (generally not allowed!). I don’t know anyone connected to the agency, but I thought that I could plead my case based on how close we were to reaching the 90 peaks and because of my age (79). Worst case scenario, they would say no.
Giving it a try
But, I decided against that and just decided that I would try to do the hike — if I had to turn back, I would do so. Not a scenario I wanted to see, but thought I could accept.
It was with these thoughts bouncing around in my head that on February 25, 2021, we drove south to give it a try. Our friends and hiking buddies, Tom Coroneos and Patricia Schaffarczyk, drove separately because of the continuing concerns about COVID 19.
Still not knowing which trails we would take in and out, we parked our two cars in different parking areas: one along Hicks Road in the Sierra Azul Jacques Ridge/Hicks Parking area (with the Woods trailhead), and the other a few minutes higher up the hill on the Mt. Umunhum Road (with Barlow trailhead).
The Woods route was described as an easier one, but was two miles longer. So, we decided to start from the Barlow trailhead, go out to the El Sombroso peak, and then — based on our observations, either return to the car we’d left at the Barlow trailhead, or go out on the Woods route to where we’d left the second car. Returning on the Woods would therefore save us one mile.
As it turned out, we had a fine hike. The Barlow was shaded most of the way by Bay, Oak, Madrone, and Pine trees as we walked the initial 1.8 miles along a wide trail. We joined the Woods (turning left), which was a fire road, and took it the rest of the way out to the unmarked, but easily determined, spur trail to the peak.
The peak, as advertised, was adorned with a cell tower, but despite that we were elated to have conquered our fears (at least I was). So we hooped and hollered at our/my success. Of course we were only halfway finished, but since it had been a much easier hike than I had expected, and painless, we felt great!
When we came back to the intersection of the Woods to the parking lot and the Barlow to its parking lot, there was no problem deciding to return on the Barlow.
Indeed the trail is up and down, steep at times, but alternating with relatively flat areas so that none of it is an exhausting grind. The initial part is shaded, but much of the Woods trail toward the peak is not, so bring plenty of water and wear a hat for sun-protection. This was a good time of year for this hike — during the summer it can be extremely hot.
And finally, enjoy the views of Mt. Umunhum (It’s also on the Nifty Ninety list) as you move along the undulating trail.
A fine day — and one I greatly appreciated because I regained my confidence for going forward on this challenge!
Hiked: February 25, 2021 Our #83 on the Nifty Ninety.
“Hope, sanity, compassion, thoughtfulness, health, recovery — it’s time to WELCOME 2021!” Couldn’t say it any better than how friend Katie Williams recently posted it on Facebook!
1. The “New” Cathedral in Santiago
2. Pacific Crest Trail — time to apply for permits coming up soon!
3. Bay Nature: “What’s it like inside a Woodrat Nest?
Regional, SF Bay Area:
4. Bay Trail extension coming to Richmond, CA
5. The Alcorns explore new and old local hiking trails
6. Two rewarding hiking challenges for you
#1. The “New” Cathedral in Santiago: Big happenings in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral is open to the public again. Ivar, who hosts a Camino forum and manages the Casa Ivar in Santiago, has also been doing a weekly podcast about what’s happening pilgrimage-wise in Santiago. He recently took a walk through the cathedral and gave us a look at the restoration of what he calls the “New” Cathedral. Have a look here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2sSUoL8tDk&feature=youtu.be
#2. Pacific Crest Trail Permits: Very good news! It appears that the USDA Forest Service and Pacific Crest Trail are going to issue permits for PCT hikes of 500+ continuous miles of the trail this year. You’ll be able to apply online starting on Jan. 19, 2021 at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
Northbound permits for trips starting anywhere from the PCT Southern Terminus at the Mexican border to Sonora Pass will be issued at normal levels of 50 permits per day from March 1 through May 31. Southbound permits for trips starting from the Northern Terminus will be issued at normal levels of 15 per day June 15 — September 15.
Friends of the Bay Trail in Richmond shares great news. The City of Richmond and East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) have been awarded $2.2 million for building 2.5 miles of Bay Trail along the shoreline from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Trail to the northern border of the City’s Point Molate property at Stenmark Drive. For details, see the CA Natural Resources Agency press release below about award of these Prop. 68 Recreational Trails & Greenways program grants.
#6. Two of the 2021 hiking challenges in the Bay Area
#PixInParks Challenge. Santa Clara County Park System. Complete all seven featured hikes and get a tee shirt of bandana. Parkhere.org
In 2014, Ralph and I were able to visit the Galapagos Islands with Wilderness Travel. I expected that we would see some amazing wildlife and landscapes, but I had no idea how unique our trip would be. Visitors to the islands usually have to chose between the eastern or western group of islands. However, a friend who knew about which animals lived on each cluster of islands encouraged us to visit both groups. We decided to make our trip a two-week adventure—living on the romantic Mary Ann, a three-masted sailing vessel.*
Our leisurely days
Generally our days began with an early walk on an island or two> Then we came back to the ships for a delicious breakfast of fruit, breads, and eggs. Depending on where we had sailed, our next stop might have been another island visit.
After that workout, came a hearty lunch; then a swim, snorkel, or kayak period in the afternoon. Generally by that time of day, we were ready for a nap, followed by dinner (often fresh seafood) and conversation. Sometimes the boat moved to a different island during the day, usually it did so at night.
For most of us, it was not just seeing all of the exotic wildlife, it was the fact that most of the birds and other animals were not afraid of us. They didn’t run or fly away when we approached (the number of boats and visitors is strictly controlled by the Ecuadoran government.) That allowed for wonderful viewing and photography!
One of my favorites was the Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). While this strange looking bird is not endemic to the Galapagos, it is usually only found on the America’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts from Georgia and California to Ecuador and Uruguay, and on the nearby islands.
It would be hard not to love these odd-looking birds. The male shown here is doing a courtship display. When he tries to show his dominance over other males, and woo a female, he inflates his gular sac, which then puffs out into the heart-shape.
He also clacks his beak, which resonates in the sac like a drum beat. Researchers have observed that the more adept the male is at his drumming routine—faster and longer—the more successful he will be at attracting females. And if that isn’t enough to attract a female, he may even shake his head or his body disco-style.
Frigatebirds are not considered to be at risk as a species—but we were only able to see them in great number because it was mating season. The rest of the year, they may spend months in the air–only swooping down to the sea for moments to capture a meal.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip!
*The Mary Ann is used by various Galapagos tour companies. Though the crew does use the sails a bit of the time, during most of our cruise, we were powered by motor.