Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, April 2021

Prime Hiking Season is HERE!
 
Indian Warrior
 
Question for you hikers out there: Why is everyone exhausted on April 1? 
 
Because we just finished a 31-day March. (Thank you, I guess, Distractify.com)
 
In case you wondered, there wasn’t a March issue of this newsletter; I needed the extra time for hiking in order to see the wildflowers emerging. Don’t miss out on this prime hiking season!
 
Contents:
1Treeline reviews and backpacking gear list
2. Grand to Grand Ultra
3. Anish’s podcast on her newest book, Mud, Rocks, Blazes. Interviewed by Jennifer Pharr Davis
4. Film screening and Q&A of Wesley “Crusher” Trimble’s short film, “Within Weakness.” 
5. New edition Sierra South by Elizabeth Wenk  
6. Ivar reports from Santiago weekly’ the March 22nd report had hopeful news.
7. Marcy del Clements new book of poetry and prose about Appalachia.
8. Regional: California: Tom Courtney suggests a California Walkabout
9. Regional: Northern California: Envision ‘The Great Redwood Trail’ 
10. Regional: SF Bay Area: Bay Trail: Osprey and the Lone Tree Point Bridge Installation.
11. Regional: SF Bay Area Ridge Trail: Ridge to Bridges. 
 
Articles:
#1. Treeline Review. I am a fan of Treeline. I know that the founders, Naomi Hudetz and Liz Thomas, started the company (in large part) to help others choose gear wisely. They don’t take advertising and they recruit other hikers to give honest reviews. So I expect that their 2021 PCT Gear list will be well vetted. There is so much useful information for hikers here in their “PCT Strategy & Gear List for 2021”! https://preview.tinyurl.com/y7ggb4ka
 
#2. Grand to Grand Ultra: Looking for an extreme challenge? Check this out: Grand Canyon, USA. September 19 – 25, 2021. Self-Supported Foot race, 6 stages, 7 days, 171 miles (275 km). “Aloha and howdy! As we reflect on the past year and our need to cancel three races, we wanted to reconnect with everyone and let you know that we continue to plan ahead for G2G 2021. The vaccine roll-out gives us hope that things will get back closer to normal by the summer and that governments will institute protocols to keep everyone safe while permitting us to do the things we love.
 
“Whilst we can see difficulty in holding mass participation events, particularly indoors, we are hopeful that our stage races will fit the bill for safe, organized outdoor activities. We have been busy developing and updating our own Covid-19 protocol to keep all our participants, staff and volunteers safe.
Registration is currently open for:  Grand to Grand Ultra. Be sure to check out the cancellation Policy – Covid-19.” https://g2gultra.com/g2g-homepage?idU=7 
 
#3. The book launch of Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Trail, by Heather “Anish” Anderson, was held virtually on March 25, 2021. Heather: “Everything looks a bit different this time around. In 2019 I was honored to give a presentation for the Mountaineers at their sold-out clubhouse event BeWild as the book launch for my first book, Thirst. While I miss the energy of the in-person events, I’m excited for the virtual book launch of my newest book Mud, Rock, Blazes.” 
 
The book launch was facilitated by Mountaineers Books and hosted by Jennifer Pharr Davis. It was co-sponsored by REI and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6agii56uLKI&t=38s
 
In case you haven’t followed what incredible accomplishments Heather has achieved, here is a partial list: In 2013, she set the unsupported speed record (no one bringing her food, etc. while on the trail) on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon and Washington. 
 
In September 2015, Heather broke the unsupported speed record on the 2,180-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia. Anderson completed the entirely self-supported thru-hike in 54 days, 7 hours and 48 minutes. 
 
She has received the ‘Calendar Year Triple Crown” after becoming the first woman to hike the entirety of the Continental Divide, Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails in one calendar year (in 2018.) 
 
You can also follow Anish on Instagram (@AnishHikes). 
 
#4. Treeline Review did a film screening and Q&A of Wesley “Crusher” Trimble’s short film, “Within Weakness.” A blurb about the film, “Cerebral palsy hinders Wesley Trimble’s strength and coordination on the right side of his body, but it hasn’t thwarted his goal to climb all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Along the way he discovered great strength within weakness, though tragedy taught him these adventures could cost him everything.” Here is the link to watch his film in HD. 
 
Wesley asked Treeline to share Disabled Hikers as a resource for anyone interested in learning more about how to advocate for great accessibility in the outdoors. “
 
#5. New edition Sierra South by Elizabeth Wenk. The consensus is that it is worth it to get this updated guidebook from Wilderness Press. On PCT forum, Ethan wrote, “Over 100 pages added to each volume with GPS coordinates for everything.  Routes verified and changed where time has shifted things. Details about recent fires. More details about side trips, geology, plants.” 
 
#6. Ivar reports from Santiago weekly. This is from March 22, 2021, and is more encouraging news than we’ve heard for a while. Click here
 
#7. Shinrin-Yoku by Marcy del Clements. Marcy writes that she has a new book with her poetry and prose based on her travels. “It’s an anthology of all my work printed in Appalachia, since the early 90’s.” The flyer is here; to reserve a copy send message to editor, pdhowe2@gmail.com  
 
Marcy, my long-time readers may remember, was one of the amazing backpacking women featured in my “We’re in the Mountain Not Over the Hill.” https://tinyurl.com/Marcyflyer
 
Regional: S. F Bay Area and Beyond
#8. Highlight: California. Tom Courtney has two Inn to Inn Hiking Guides: Walkabout Northern California and Walkabout Malibu to MexicoLink here.
Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn includes:  The Marin Coast; The Mendocino Coast; Crossing the Sierras on the Emigrant Trail; San Francisco to Half Moon Bay; Lassen Volcanic Park; Point Reyes National Seashore; Tahoe Basin; Monterey Bay; Lost Coast Circumtambulation; Sierra Foothills; Carquinez Straits.
 
Walkabout Malibu to Mexico includes: Exploring the Malibu Coast; Santa Monica to Santa Catalina; Santa Catalina to Newport Beach; Newport Beach to San Clemente; San Clemente to Oceanside; Oceanside to La Jolla; La Jolla to Mexico
 
Tom writes: “Is it Safe to Hike from Inn-to-Inn?
For most of us, the trails feel like the safest place these days.  Most hikers wear masks and distance when they approach others and a breeze cleanses the air.  Inns and B&Bs have added safety measures.  Here are some suggestions for a safe inn-to-inn hike:  Check lodging websites for safety protocols.  Contact your innkeeper or host for more details.  Ask about dining options – outdoor, takeout, delivery, and preparing meals yourself.  Bring hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.”
 
Featured to the north: Spring Inn-to-Inn Hikes: Walkabout the Marin Coast. Hike the coastal bluffs and forests of America’s western edge.  This moderate 41-mile, 4-day Walkabout starts in Marin Headlands and hikes to Point Reyes National Seashore.  The trail passes through three coastal hamlets: Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, and Bolinas, each offering interesting inns and wonderful cuisine.  Walk the trails of the Coast Miwok and a stretch of California’s wild and beautiful coast right at the doorstep of the San Francisco Bay Area.”  
 
Featured to the south: Oceanside to La Jolla:
Hike a gorgeous stretch of the Southern California Coast on this three-day, 28 mile adventure.  You will join scores of beach lovers on lively, popular strands, then hike long, secluded beaches.  Savor a stroll on miles of pristine beach under the 300-foot cliffs of Torrey Pines State Park.  Hike the rugged bluffs of La Jolla Peninsula.  Enjoy long days hiking along and swimming in the wild and beautiful Pacific.”
  
9. Regional: Northern California. Lisa Hettler-Smith is keeping us up to date on the progress to create ‘The Great Redwood Trail.’ In a recent virtual event, State Senator Mike McGuire asked everyone in his remote audience to close their eyes and “Imagine a strip of land roughly 50 feet wide and running for 320 miles, from the edge of the San Francisco Bay in Marin County through the vineyards of Sonoma County, showcasing the stunning beauty of Mendocino County through the redwood- and oak-studded hills of the Eel River Canyon, and then you’re gonna end your hiking adventure on the fog-shrouded shores of Humboldt Bay.” link here.
 
10. S.F. Bay Area: Osprey AND Bay Trail. “Just a few weeks ago, on February 18, Rosie completed her annual migration and returned to the Point Potrero’s Whirley Crane to reunite with her endearingly quirky mate Richmond, an event greeted with jubilation by the thousands of fans who follow the couple’s adventures on the Golden Gate Audubon Osprey Cam at sfbayospreys.org
 
“Richmond is one of just a few Ospreys around the Bay who don’t migrate in the fall. Instead he stays close to his namesake town for carefree winters of fishing on the Bay, paying occasional visits to the nest site while awaiting his mate’s return. This year’s reunion marked the start of Rosie and Richmond’s fifth season of nesting together at the Whirley Crane. The pair have fledged ten chicks since 2017, all banded for identification, and at least two of those banded offspring have been seen around the Bay after their own first return migrations.”
 
And on the Bay Trail: “A new bridge completing a 4-mile stretch of the SF Bay Trail from Lone Tree Point in Rodeo to Wilson Point in Pinole was installed in early March.” 
 
“This trail will eventually connect to the future Hercules Intermodal Transit Station. When the final SF Bay Trail gap from Pt. Pinole to Wilson Point in Richmond is completed, this stretch of trail will run 30 miles from Rodeo to Oakland.” The project is expected to be completed in summer 2021.”
 
#11. SF Bay Area Regional: Registration for the “Ridge to Bridge” fund-raising event and challenge for the Bay Area Ridge Trail is now beginning. Member can sign up today; April 12 for the general public. The self-guided events will take place over many weeks: April 1 to June 5, 2021.  
 
“What is Ridge to Bridges (and how is it different from past years)? Ridge to Bridges 2021 is a self-guided trail event for hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Choose your own DIY adventure! Register here. 
+++++
Thank you everyone. Stay well, keep hiking when prudent—and I encourage you to send in items of interest to the hiking community.  
 
Susan ‘backpack45’ Alcorn 
Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA
Author of Walk, Hike, Saunter: Seasoned Women Share Tales and Trails; Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo, Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers; and Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago. 
 
Please note: Hiking and backpacking can be risky endeavors. Always be prepared for emergencies and carry food, water, shelter (warm clothing, etc.), flashlight/headlamp, matches, first aid supplies, and maps. Cell phones don’t always work. Leave word where you are traveling and when you are due back.
To subscribe, unsubscribe, or send a message to this (almost) monthly newsletter, please email Susan at backpack45 “at sign” yahoo.com

 

Hmm, where is Vasquez Peak?

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!

 
Hiked it March 25, 2021.  Our Nifty Ninety Peak #84

El Sombroso or Bust!

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.  

It worked!

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.

 

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, January 2021

“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!

The trails await — though many are muddy!
Alviso Slough Trail (near San Jose, CA)

Contents:

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

Articles:
#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 

And in further good news, we learn that the Holy Door has been opened and the Holy Year has begun. 2021 is a Holy Year, but because of COVID-19, the pope has expanded the definition and the “year” now continues through 2022. Very good news for those who will not be able to walk the Camino, or otherwise visit the Cathedral this year, but might be able to next. Ivar wrote, “As you might have seen, we will also have a holy year in 2022, so no hurry. https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/pope-agrees-2022-also-a-holy-year.69116/ 
 
Another resource for keeping up with what’s open and what the conditions are on the pilgrimage trails and in Santiago, go to American Pilgrims.org
 
#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.
 
There is a great deal of other important information on the PCTA website. The site also asks hikers to consider whether it is wise to hike the trail during this period when COVID-19 is still very much with us. Link here
 
Springtime in Section A of the PCT.

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. 
 
If you are on Facebook, you’ll find a lot of information on the PCT Section Hikers group moderated by Jaunting Jan. If you are eager to have good information on the John Muir Trail, look at Inga Aksamit’s Facebook group. She administers the group and the site does a great job of explaining the often confusing rules and regulations of the JMT permitting process, etc. 
 
#3. Bay Nature: “What’s it like inside a Woodrat Nest? When recently walking around our nearby Lafayette Reservoir, a friend and I were talking about wood rat nests, which can be seen from the popular walking trail. So, when I saw this recent article in Bay Nature, I was pleased to learn something new about these cute critters. 
 
Pack rats are also known as wood rats, and even trade rats. I knew that the nests were commonly used for generations (some have been documented at being used for 60 years or more.). And this time of year, when most nearby lower-growing vegetation is bare, it is pretty easy to spot their homes —3-6 feet high, up to eight feet wide, and made of branches, bark, and grasses—but also sometimes wires, glass, and author Michael Ellis adds, old shoes. 
 
Compartments and trading:
I was also intrigued to learn that rats’ homes have compartments—separate chambers for giving birth, sleeping, and pooping. I was also intrigued to learn that the things that they swipe from humans—as disparate items as shoes, jewelry, and gum wrappers—may end up being woven into their homes’ walls. The “trader rat” moniker is appropriate because sometimes they may be carrying home one shiny object, encounter one it finds more appealing, and trade.
 
Rats are one of the few mammals that can eat the leaves of toyon. The toyon leaves are highly toxic to humans and most other animals because they contain cyanide compounds. But the packrats store the leaves in one of their many pantries until the leeching process breaks down the toxic ingredients, which makes the leaves safe for them to consume! (From Bay Nature, Winter 2021. Michael Ellis.) 
 
#4. Regional, SF Bay Area:
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.
 
These grants complete funding for construction of this $6.5 million project when combined with Plan Bay Area Priority Conservation Area grants of $2.2 million, EBRPD funds from Measures CC, FF & WW, and funds provided to the City by Chevron in 2009 as settlement of litigation over underpayment of utility user taxes. EBRPD has funded design plans now at the 65% preliminary stage, approved a Mitigated Negative Declaration under CEQA and applied for the major permits required. Construction should be completed by the end of 2021.
 
This will be more than a multi-use trail. It will provide the first public access to this shoreline, other than Point Molate Beach Park, since the Huichin tribe of Ohlone dwelled on this stretch of San Francisco Bay shoreline. The first mile of trail from the RSR Bridge will follow a shoreline easement granted by Chevron to EBRPD, while the remaining 1.5 miles will be on the City’s Point Molate property. Click here for more news.
 
#5. The Alcorns explore new and old local hiking trails: Like I’m sure many or most of you, we have not been traveling afar recently. However, we are blessed with a good range of hiking trails throughout the region. The EBRegional Parks District (across the bay from San Francisco) is the largest urban regional park district in the US. 
 
Whenever I consider the options we have, due to the individuals, informal groups, environmental organizations, and governmental agencies that have fought to safeguard our open spaces, I marvel at the vision and tenacity displayed. Beyond that, it has been the public as well as private donors who have funded our wealth of recreational sites. 
 
In December, we hiked primarily in wetland areas — Coyote Hills Regional and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Fremont), Arrowhead Marsh/Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional (Oakland); Corte Madera Marsh; Alviso Flood Plain (near San Jose) — because this is bird migration time. We also watched, a couple of times, a murmuration, an incredible display by tens of thousands of starlings swooping and weaving incredible patterns in the sky before they landed in nearby eucalyptus trees at dusk. 
 
Murmuration (starlings) in San Rafael, CA

#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 

#Trail Challenge 2021. East Bay Regional Parks. There are twenty featured trails, you choose whichever ones you want to compete and “to complete the challenge, hike five of the 20 trails – or 26.2 miles of trails within East Bay Regional Park District.”
 
The “twenty featured trails are now available on the AllTrails app. First download the free app, sign-up and log in, then go to https://www.alltrails.com/lists/ebrpd-trails-challenge-2021 and click on “Copy to my lists”, followed by “Continue in App”. The featured trails will show under ‘Lists’ in ‘Plan’. The app indicates where you are on the trail, enabling easy return to the trail if you stray from it. You can also record your hikes, and share your photos, comments etc. with others.” More info here. 
 
++++
Thank you everyone. Stay well, keep hiking when prudent—and I encourage you to send in items of interest to the hiking community.  
Susan ‘backpack45’ Alcorn 
Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA
 
Author: Walk, Hike, Saunter, which is now available in both print and Kindle versions!  
Also: Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo, Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers; and Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago. All are available in both paperback and Kindle versions.  
 
Please note: Hiking and backpacking can be risky endeavors. Always be prepared for emergencies and carry food, water, shelter (warm clothing, etc.), flashlight/headlamp, matches, first aid supplies, and maps. Cell phones don’t always work. Leave word where you are traveling and when you are due back.
 
To subscribe, unsubscribe, or send message to this (almost) monthly newsletter, please send a message to Susan at backpack45 “at sign” @yahoo.com

Treasures of the Galapagos

Frigatebird in flight

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. 

Unique wildlife

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!

Male Frigatebird

The Frigatebird

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.