Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alta Peak - Sequoia National Park

Alta Peak Trail
Sequoia NP
Mileage - 14
Time - 3:58
AEG - 4,221ft

Alta Peak is the highest summit accessible by a maintained trail from the main part of the park. Alta reaches a height of 11,204 feet, offering an expansive view into the Western Sierras. Getting there is a challenge for even the strongest hikers, especially in snow pack.  My 14-mile round trip hike/trail run began from the Wolverton trailhead at an elevation of 7,000ft.  Living at sea level doesn't fair well when starting an ascent like this as my breathing was labored within the first few hundred yards.  I continued on, running at times when the grade was mellow, passing a few backpackers along the way.

The trail was nice and try until 9,000 feet, then mostly covered in wet snow the next four miles.  I questioned whether or not I would be able to reach the top if conditions worsened.  They did.  Alone I traveled up the mountain, ticking off miles at a slower rate than planned, considering turning back a number of times.  Summit fever had a hold on me and the closer I got to the peak, aborting the hike became less of an option. At the junction for Alta Meadows I had two miles to go, wet feet and a decision to make.  I think it's obvious what I decided.  A mile later I caught up to two guys making the final approach through a boulder field. We chatted a bit and when the trail completely disappeared beneath the snow they opted out.  The rock outcropping that I believed to be the summit was in sight less than a quarter mile away and 500 more feet of vertical gain.  Sounds easy enough, except it was a quarter mile of post-holing to get there. My heart raced for a combination of reasons. Elevation, effort, fear of the unknown all came into play.  I crawled the last few feet on to the highest rock and declared my victory!

The return trip was a breeze, slaloming down the snow field and bounding back to solid ground.  I re-hydrated, took a gel and away I went.  Before long I was in the forest running the last three miles back to Wolverton.  

Never a bad view in the Sierras

Two miles to go

High alert
One of my favorite views

Snow field - trail below to the left

Alta Peak - 11,204 ft

Breathing hard at the summit

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sequoia National Park 2014

My "Summer in the Sierras" officially kicked off this Memorial Day weekend with a two day trip into what may be one of my new favorite national parks.  Well, top three for sure next to Glacier and Zion.  I'll have a better gauge once I visit a few more and end the season with a highly anticipated trek through Yosemite. Anyways, back to Sequoia.  In my opinion, this place is grossly underrated among the NP hierarchy and certainly deserves a closer look.  For me the excitement began from the moment those snow-capped peaks were visible from the valley below.  In one day I went from 300 feet above sea level in the town of Visalia to over 11,000 at the summit of Alta Peak.  In between I passed through numerous climatic changes and biomes only found in the Western Sierras.  Within that small geographic space lives a giant; the General Sherman. It's the world's largest living tree and truly magnificent!  Impressive as it is, there are hundreds more in a matter of miles that dwarf even the largest redwoods, being in their presence is really quite a humbling experience.

I did mention peaks, right?  Sequoia National Park has several of those, many well over 12,000 feet within sight of the Generals Highway.  The grandest of them all, Mount Whitney, is 60 miles away though still in the park boundary.  The High Sierra Trail will take you there if you're willing to venture into the back country on foot (with a permit of course). Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, topping out at 14,495 feet and the second most ultra-prominent next to Mount Rainier. From the largest scale to the smallest, Sequoia has a little bit of everything.  There are tranquil streams to relax and read a book by, plenty of picnic areas, bird watching, accessible trails with stunning views, endless trail combinations from easy to strenuous and enough photo opportunities to drain a fresh set of camera batteries.  Any national park is bound to be busy on a holiday weekend, other than the main road, the park wasn't all that congested. I certainly found solitude on the trails, well, other than the 5 bear encounters in those two days.  I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did taking them.

Generals Highway

Nearing 6,000 ft

Some of the first Sequoias
One of 5 black bear sightings
Behold the General Sherman
Big Trees Loop

Giant Sequoia Museum

Tunnel Log
Tokopah Falls Trail
Tokopah Falls
Western Sierras from the Alta Peak Trail

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bay to Breakers 2014

Bay to Breakers 12K
San Francisco, CA
Mileage - 7.5
Time 42:09
AEG - 326ft
Pace - 5:40
Place - 67th Overall

Bay to Breakers - It's seven and a half miles of total chaos and seven and a half miles of total awesomeness at the same time!  I don't even know how to put this one into words, I guess try to imagine an alcohol-infused Halloween parade that meets a road race of world wide proportions. All beings of life descended onto the streets of San Francisco Sunday morning for a day of expression, liberation, competition, and an all together good time.    

I purchased a shuttle bus pass for the race and was dropped off downtown around 6:30 am with an 8:00 start time.  Needless to say, I had plenty of time to warm up and get situated before the seeded/elite corral filled up.  As the minutes passed, the elites kept rolling in, never have I seen so many good runners at such a short race.  I suppose when there's $70,000 in potential prize money you're going to see some of the fastest guys (and gals) show up.  With ten minutes to spare I found my place near the front.  Then we waited, and waited. People became antsy and began doing stride outs to stay loose and keep their heart rate elevated.  The start line became an unorganized cluster and suddenly the announcer said "one minute to start."  Panic brought people back to the line and then "boom" we lunged forward and the race was underway.

Everyone has a story to tell from the craziness that ensued after 8:00 am, mine came within the first quarter mile of the gun going off.  From the sidelines a guy broke through the barricades and launched into the streets perpendicular to the runners as if he was about to tackle someone.  In a split second I witnessed the greatest display of strength and reflex directly in front of me as a police officer (on a bicycle mind you) grabbed this guy by the shirt and whipped him back towards the sidewalk like a rag doll. I never broke stride.

Through the streets we went, and the city came alive with roars from spectators (many already inebriated). I was probably 200 deep at this point slowly maneuvering my way up before hitting Hayes Street Hill.  I heard talk of how tough this incline was, and yes, by the time I reached the top, collapsing sounded like a great idea! The next mile allowed me to regroup and find a good pace. We hit the panhandle around mile five leading into Golden Gate Park and I let it rip.  Passing runners became my motivation to the finish, even though my lungs were screaming I didn't hold back. Next thing I knew I was rounding the final turn onto Ocean Beach and crossing the line a touch over 42 minutes.  That...was...awesome!

Overall results click here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mission Peak - California

Mission Peak Hike
Fremont, California
Mileage - 8.5
Time - 2:58
AEG - 2,292ft

When the timing is right, in between marquee races, I'm trying to knock off as many peaks around the bay as possible.  Hiking Mission Peak couldn't have worked out any better today as I had already planned to be nearby for an event in the morning.  I knew of this peak not only from my own peak-bagging perceptual awareness, but mostly from it having a reputation with the locals as the "workout hike."  Being in the fitness industry, and a hiker, it didn't take long for word to reach me.

So in conversation with one of our fitness center members, Mission Peak was mentioned and she eventually invited (more like challenged) me to join her up the "tough" route to the top.  Challenge accepted.  Just before 1:00 pm we began our trek from the Ohlone Wilderness trail, quickly making a right turn for the Horse Heaven trail and gaining 800 feet within the first mile!  Okay, you've got my attention.

We made quick work out of those 2.5 miles to the peak, even with the 2,000+ft of gain.  The next thing I knew we were standing on the summit with another one checked off the list.  To avoid the crowds on the return trip we opted for a longer route down the mountain to the North.  I was fine with the added mileage and lit up like a kid in a candy store when a guy heading uphill said there was a rattlesnake about a quarter mile down the path.  Of course I began running to see what would be my first rattlesnake in California.

Mission Peak (center) from the Ohlone Wilderness Trailhead

Ohlone Wilderness to the Southeast from Mission Peak

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Peak Trail

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mt Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais Hike/Trail Run
Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mill Valley, California
Mileage - 8.2
Time - 2:09
AEG - 1,162ft

Mt Tam is a mere 2,571 feet at its highest point, though living at sea level creates an illusion of grandeur with it's steep slopes dropping off into the ocean. The mountain towers over the Northern bay area, especially East Peak.  Mt Tamalpais State Park is quite possibly the largest recreation area for both locals and tourists, and has a lot to offer.  Endless miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding will fill any adventurers appetite and the view alone is worth the drive out there.

Reaching the summit has been on my "high priority" list since moving here, along with Mt Diablo and Mission Peak and I was very pleased to have finally stood on the top.  My trip out there was actually prompted by another event going on, the Miwok 100K.  I caught word that a few friends from Phoenix were going to be running the race and I wanted to surprise them with a little unexpected motivation on the course.  I studied the map, roads, and trails surrounding Mt Tam and decided the Pan Toll Ranger Station would be a good vantage point.  Ended up being the perfect location, which is where I eventually began my hike up Tam. In regards to the race, the only person I encountered was Jay Danek around mile 25 on his way to an inspiring finish. Nice job as always bud!

I spoke with the ranger at Pan Toll and she gave some basic instructions and a map for my trek up the mountain.  It was about as straight forward as it gets, "Follow the old jeep road to the top."  Fair enough, I think I can handle that.  As I climbed, the trail became more exposed and I was shedding layers within a mile.  At mile two there was this nice little cabin with picnic tables, water, refreshments for sale and a one of the most picturesque places to have lunch I've ever seen while hiking!  The closer I came to the summit, the more people I passed in all directions as the trails and roads converge a half mile from the peak.  From there it was a matter of "walking the plank" to reach the observation tower (pictured left).

West Point Inn - 2 miles from Pan Toll on the Old Stage Trail.

Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Mount Tamalpais Summit.

Loving the view!