HIKING DISTANCE: 22 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 5,080'
TIME: 16 Hours 22 Minutes
Caught my flight from the Big Island yesterday morning and managed to trim four hours off of my connection in Honolulu by snagging a seat on an earlier flight, so I arrived on Kauai around 11a yesterday. I utilized the public bus system, which allowed me to get directly from the airport all the way out to Hanalei for just $2.50, which put me within 8 miles of the Kalalau trailhead. Way better option than hitching, I thought. Affordable, reliable, low-risk. I arrived in Hanalei by 2p, so I got some lunch and charged my electronics for a few hours before setting out for the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.
I had planned to just road walk with my thumb out, but I realized pretty quickly that that plan wasn't going to work. There is absolutely no shoulder for most of the 7.5 miles from the edge of town to the trailhead. And there are significant stretches where the road is cut into a sheer roadside slope with a sheer drop-off to the beach on the opposite side. Hardly an ideal road walk scenario, but I wasn't in the mood to just sit by the side of a pullout with my thumb out, so I walked quickly and deliberately the whole length, switching from one side of the road to the other in order to maintain a clear line of sight for traffic. The road walk itself was more dangerous than most of my actual adventures have been. Nevertheless, I arrived at the beach safe and sound around 7p. Setup camp, ate dinner, climbed into bed, and set my alarm for 430a. I was filled with excitement and anticipation.
My alarm was hardly necessary this morning, because I slept so poorly last night. There were headlights and headlamps that disturbed me a few times throughout the night. But mostly it was the humidity and the bugs- mosquitoes and sand flies chewing on me all night long. Perils of not carrying a bug net for my tarp shelter. Really gotta get one before I travel abroad. It's one thing to deal with the bugs for a night, or even a week, but a full-on thru hike? That would be miserable. Finally got out of bed around 4a and hit the trail by 5a under the light of a half moon. I was glad to be moving, leaving the swarming pests behind me. The plan was to stop at a sweet overlook and wait for sunrise to catch some golden hour light on the Napali Coastline. There were some pretty spots along the way, but the dream views - the stuff you see online when you google the Kalalau or the Napali Coast - don't come until about the last two miles of the 11-mile trek into Kalalau Valley. Up to that point, it's just a pretty walk through coastal valleys and thick vegetation. Dime-a-dozen kinda walk by Hawai'i standards. Once the views open up, though, they just get better and better until you arrive. That's the part of the trip that sets the Kalalau apart.
I arrived at Kalalau Beach by 1030a with a companion in tow. There were four or five big dogs at Hanakapi'ai Valley who were all barking at me as I forded the creek at like a quarter to 6a this morning. Guess some folks had illegally camped there last night. One of the dogs, some sort of pitbull mix, started following me after I crossed. I couldn't get her to turn around; she followed me all the way to the Kalalau Valley. She stayed right by my side, barely an arm's length from me at any given point. It didn't take long for me to fall in love. She was tugging at my heart strings. She's an anxious, sweet, beautiful little thing. I'd started entertaining the idea of keeping her if no one claimed her by the time I got back to the trailhead, but there is no way I could manage that with all of my travels and career plans the next 8 or 10 years. Fortunately she found another family while we were down at Kalalau. Really gonna miss that little nugget.
Kalalau Beach was stunning, and there were barely a dozen people there. Totally worth the trip. I spent over six hours there- reading, swimming, and napping. I probably wouldn't have stayed so long except that I was hoping to catch some better light on the way out. (You know I like photos better than sentences.) I never quite got the photos I'd imagined, because the sun set forward of the coastline and not over the ocean as I'd hoped, but I managed to capture some cool shots anyways. There is something really special about looking down on the Napali Coast from the top of Red Hill, the folded ridges reaching skyward and the big blue stretching northward as far as the eye can see. What a scene. I doubt if any conditions would've allowed me to capture that kinda magic.
I left the beach around 5p and turned around frequently to capture as many angles and different compositions as I could. I was basically walking backwards for the first couple hours. Once twilight finally faded to black, I turned my headlamp on, put my head down, and hiked hard until I reached the trailhead. Made great time until I was about a mile from the end. That's about the time that it started raining, although the mud and slick roots suggested that it had been raining and I'd just walked into the weather. I took it slow during the final stretch as I carefully picked my way down the steep, slippery trail. Finally arrived at the trailhead a bit after 9p, completely wiped out.
I took refuge from the rain under an awning near the trailhead where I'd planned to nap for an hour. I'm soaked through with rain and sweat. The humidity is still thick in the air despite the rain, and it's plenty warm out, so the bugs haven't relented. So much for napping. It was still drizzling when I made up my mind to road walk another 5 miles to Pohakuopi'o, a lovely little roadside cove I discovered yesterday, to catch what I hope will be a sweet sunrise tomorrow morning. When I left, I really didn't know if I had it in me. But now I've arrived. It's after midnight, and I'm pooped. Still raining. Still buggy. This sunrise had better be worth it.
HIKING DISTANCE: 19 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 2,935'
TIME: 5 Hours 57 Minutes
One of the very few loops in Glacier that doesn't include a road walk. And what a gem. The light wasn't ideal given the fires that are burning in the park. The haze created a cool warm effect, though- a natural smoke filter if you will. This is a hike I'd be stoked to do again, and hopefully will one day. Every step along the ridge walk was like skipping on the clouds. And the Pitamakan Overlook was absolutely unreal. I don't even know what else to say about it, so I'll just let the photos do the talking. Whoever you are, you should do it.
HIKING DISTANCE: 33.5 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 4,950'
TIME: 12 Hours 17 Minutes
This is one that's been on my life list for quite some time. Stoked to finally hit the trail early this morning. Given that the last time I hiked alone in Glacier National Park, I ran into a grizzly, I was hesitant to start before dawn. Instead, I got to the trailhead early and napped until twilight when I stepped into the chilly air and started the climb up Piegan Pass. Elated. Of course I was the only one out there, so I was singing aloud trying to avoid surprising any big wildlife that might- ya know, kill me. Piegan Pass was incredible, and I had it all to myself. Still can't believe how often this gorgeous pass is overlooked except that there are so many special places packed into this wonderful park. Bound to be a few under-appreciated nooks. And Piegan Pass above Siyeh Bend is one of those.
Next, the descent into Swiftcurrent Basin. Excited to climb a much more popular, and at least equally beautiful, pass. And of course, this is where the trail got busy. The views back into the Swiftcurrent Basin from the Continental Divide, there's a reason this place is so popular. And then at the start of the drop down the backside of the pass, the Granite Chalet is prominantly perched overlooking what feels like a neverending sprawl of forest and mountains. And looking out toward Logan Pass, I could see the steep climb up to the Garden Wall and the overlook above Grinnel Glacier. The freakin' trail may as well have been a ladder, it was so steep. And I may as well have been an inch worm making my way up it. I was totally spent and entertained the thought of skipping the climb, but quickly called that thought what it was- stupid. Effing sick overlook. Totally worth the extra couple hours. (Hahah, couple hours for a mile and a half side trip.) The rest of the hike was a fairly steady downhill except one fairly brief climb. The Highline Trail, the section of The Grand Loop that runs from the Granite Chalet to Logan Pass is stunning. The last half mile or so traces a sheer cliff above the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Absolutely incredible trail.
I think most folks would plan to hike this one clockwise starting at Logan Pass; however, I chose to hike it anti-clockwise because - naturally - I wanted to have good light. I don't mind doing a little extra work- miles, pounds, gain. It's just a challenge, right? Loved it. Well, all except the part where I approached Logan Pass in time to watch the last eastbound shuttle pull out of the parking lot. Seriously? Seriously?! Hahah, classic end to a great hike. At least the weather was on point! I'd hoped to avoid those last three road miles, but no such luck. After about 20 minutes of trying to hitch, I just sucked it up and started jogging. At least it was all downhill. Lost about 850 feet over those three miles. Pretty satisfying to finally be back at my car. Another epic hike ticked off my life list. I love this place. By far my favorite national park; worth all the traffic, all the crowds, all the...just, all. Public lands are our greatest national treasures.
HIKING DISTANCE: 74 Miles
VERTICAL: +15,600' / -11,710'
TIME: 34 Hours 8 Minutes
Normally I tackle challenge hikes like this on my own, but a few friends expressed interest in this little venture. Truth is, I was excited to bring 'em along. Haven't known too many folks who are into this kinda struggle fest. Spent yesterday getting them outfitted with food and gear as well as going over tips 'n tricks. Dropped Tom's car at Molas Pass this morning, then came back to meet Alex at the trailhead. Finally hit the trail around 940a. Not exactly an alpine start, as a few trailwork volunteers jokingly pointed out. We'd originally hoped to get going a little earlier, but it really didn't make any difference. We knew we were gonna be doing an overnight regardless. Timing was irrelevant.
The Colorado Trail is popular down toward Durango, especially with mountain bikers. And there were loads of them out there this morning. We were hiking uphill, and naturally, they were shredding downhill. A few times, a rider came screaming around a blind corner and we were ducking and diving to get out of the way. (If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a mountain bike.) The bike traffic thinned out significantly as we neared the end of our 6,500-foot climb to Kennebec Pass. We were about a mile below the pass when Alex told me and Tom that he was struggling with an injury. We all wanted him to continue, and the reality was that if he was pushing through pain at mile 20 that it would only get exponentially worse for the next 54 miles. And the trail was only going to get more remote moving forward, which would make evacuation longer and more difficult. We all knew that he couldn't continue and no one wanted to say it. In the end, he made the decision to call a friend for a pickup. Takes a lot of courage to do what we know we need to when it's at odds with what we want. Good call, Alex. Nothing but love and respect for you, brother. Missed you up there.
Kennebec Pass is where it really started to get good. Indian Trail Ridge was stunning, just miles and miles on the crest above the trees looking out over Sharkstooth and neighboring peaks. And all of this as the sun was setting. What a gorgeous alpine sunset which gave way to a wonderful overnight hike. The new moon and relatively clear skies allowed us to see what felt like every single star in the sky. Spent much of the overnight section in the trees, which was probably ten degrees warmer than the open ridge would've been. Really lucky timing overall. Just before the sun came up, Venus rose over a nearby ridge. It was so big and bright, I couldn't believe it was a celestial body. I was sure it was some kind of tower light. Sure enough, though, it continued to rise as we climbed to Blackhawk Pass. Couldn't have planned it any better.
Descending the backside of Blackhawk and the mile or two after was the sketchiest section of the whole hike. Up until then, we hadn't hit any significant snow. The snow there wasn't too bad, but the grade was steep and it was solid, icy. Would've appreciated traction, but we survived. Didn't seem to bother Tom at all- nerves of steel by comparison. I wasn't concerned about being seriously injured, but it would've been easy to sprain an ankle or break a leg in a fall. Not really my idea of fun, but worth the risk. Didn't hit the real snow until our last major descent from Rolling Mountain Pass. That same trail crew that teased us about our "alpine start" also assured us that we'd never make it with all of the snow and the dangerous swift water crossings. The snow was challenging in a few places, but the water crossings were all totally manageable. Those folks were so sure we'd never make it, that it wasn't safe. In reality, it was totally fine. Funny how everyone is an expert. When folks offer their perspective and guidance, it's important to remember that we all have different experiences and ultimately different risk tolerances. We took their warnings seriously, but we weren't willing to scrap our entire trip because they told us we couldn't do it. If it turned out to be too dangerous, we'd just turn around. No biggie.
The sun finally crested the ridge when we were topping out on Blackhawk Pass. We had something like 25 miles still to go. And from there on, we routinely overestimated our progress. Multiple times we came to a high point and were sure we'd hit Bolam Pass. In reality, we were looking for Bolam Pass Road at Centennial Lake, not a high point at all. Pretty demoralizing when we finally hit it and realized our miscalculation. We'd had 21 miles left for a long time before we actually had 21 miles left. Ugh, I was so annoyed. Just wanted to be done. My feet hurt and my back was sore. Took lots of breaks during the last dozen miles. Pretty slow progress for both of us, though it worked out well. When I got a second wind, Tom was struggling and vice versa. We were able to support each other really well through to the end. Finally finished around 745p, and we couldn't have been happier. All smiles. Met Alex for a celebratory dinner in Durango, and now- bed.
HIKING DISTANCE: 48 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 7,000'
TIME: 23 Hours 57 Minutes
This is a helluva sweet trek, and thankfully underrated. There were very few other trekkers on this route. Given the absolute lack of shade, it's not a trek I'd recommend trying to do in the summer season, but as a late spring trip, it was awesome.
Let's start with the logistics. I only had a two-day window, and I wanted to traverse the entire island. That's not too challenging in itself, but the ferry schedule complicated things a little bit. Actually, it dictated my trip. I didn't have too much time to work out transportation, so I was locked into the San Pedro port, because it's the only one that goes to both Avalon and Two Harbors. I took the earliest ferry I could out of San Pedro en route to Two Harbors, which didn't leave until 1230p yesterday. (Obviously I would've preferred an earlier start, but it worked out pretty well in the end.) From there, I hiked the nicely graded West End Road along the coast and out to Land's End, then turned around and retraced my route back to camp. I took a power nap in Two Harbors before waking up, packing, and hitting the Trans Catalina Trail toward Avalon. Earlier this evening, I caught my ferry out of Avalon and back to San Pedro. Sounds pretty simple.
Now at first I was pretty upset about not being able to get to Two Harbors until about 2p. But then I started looking more closely at the route. I figured I could be out of Two Harbors by around 3p, hike the West End Road out to Parson's Landing in time for some nice evening light, and then on to Land's End in time for sunset. I could night hike back with a clear sky and a little moonlight, catch a few hours sleep in my hammock, then head out pre-dawn to arrive at Little Harbor in time for some sweet morning light. From there, I'd follow the TCT and ultimately take the Hermit Gulch Trail bypass to shave a few miles off the route to town. And all that would give me plenty of time to finish the traverse and catch the late ferry out. A tall order, yes. And all the makings of a sweet trip.
And that's about how it all went. I arrived in Two Harbors a little before 2p, secured my camping permit, and headed over to the waterfront campground, which was situated a short quarter mile from the quaint resort town. I had reserved Site 6, thinking it would be cool to be near the water. Instead, I was setup right in front of the portapotties. Oops. At least I had a couple trees in my site that were prime for my hammock. It took me about 45 minutes to get dialed in camp, then I took the scenic route back to town so I could explore the campground a bit. The views from the upper sites were incredible and nearly unobstructed. I'd recommend reserving one of those, maybe sites 15 or 16.
Catalina Island is in the throes of a severe drought, and has been for quite some time now. I was concerned about how the drought might affect my experience out there. The truth is that the drought has serious impacts on the locals, but there were very few instances where I was personally affected as a tourist. There was potable water available in most camps and at many establishments. There were some exceptions, including camping at Parson's Landing where you would be required to pay for camping and pay an additional fee for a locker that includes wood as well as two and a half gallons of drinking water. Also some of the restaurants on the island don't provide free drinking water to customers, though bottled water is available for purchase at a reasonable price. If you do visit Catalina Island, please be respectful of that place and her people. Conserve their limited water resources.
If you've read about my other trips, you've probably figured out that I like to do things my own way. (No one ever accused me of being a purist.) I decided to break from the official Trans Catalina Trail in a few intentional ways. In fact, I hardly set foot on the TCT yesterday. Rather than endure a tedious and painful slog, as I've heard the TCT described on the western part of the island, I opted for the West End Road, a pleasantly graded, relatively flat route that traces the Pacific as it meanders in and out of coves and along cliffs. Absolutely gorgeous. I traced the West End Road out to Parson's Landing, which was the first highlight of the trip. If my schedule had allowed, I would've cowboy camped right there on that beautiful beach. The sun was hanging low in the sky, so instead I snapped some photos and moved along. I picked up the Trans Catalina Trail for much of the last push out to Land's End. I chose to skip Starlight Beach (the official western terminus of the TCT) in favor of Land's End. Though the sunset itself left much to be desired, the last mile or so to Land's End was crosscountry along a cool spine, and the views of the coast were sweet.
The night hike back to Two Harbors was lovely. Clear skies, bright half moon, light ocean breeze, not another human in sight, and a handful of Catalina Foxes to keep me company. (Did you know that the Catalina Fox has come back from the verge of extinction? Cute little fellas.) I also loved seeing the bright, twinkling city lights of SoCal just across the water. It's funny to think about those millions of people living their lives in the big city as I'm walking along in blissful solitude. I totally shredded the return trip to Two Harbors. It was after 11p before I got back, and my legs and back were feeling it. Still early season. I stopped to sit on the beach at Two Harbors before I continued on to the campground. Knowing I might never be back, I wanted to sit and appreciate this place. I loved sitting there, watching the sailboats shimmer in the moonlight as they rocked gently in sync with the mellow waves. Finally around midnight, I nestled into my hammock. Settling in was sweet bliss, but setting my alarm for four hours later was not.
I awoke the same way I'd drifted to sleep: in a cloud of thick humidity. Dew had settled over my gear, and the light ocean breeze enveloped me as I packed up. I was hiking by 450a. The moon shone brightly as I walked. Still it took me an hour to find the trail heading east outta Two Harbors. I was feeling pretty annoyed. (Guess I wasn't too sharp following my four hour nap.) Once I did finally find it, I was totally cruisin'. The trail, an old road of some kind, climbed sharply out of town and up into the mountains. I gained probably 1,200 feet over just a couple miles. After about 45 minutes, I startled a bison who was lounging right in the middle of the road. Of course, he startled me right back when he stood up and squared off with me directly. I'm just a little fella, so I gave him a wide berth by trapsing through the tall, dewey grass adjacent to the road. I saw about a dozen more before I completed my hike, but the rest were all grazing on distant slopes.
When I finally gained the ridge crest, the road followed it directly, which was contrary to all I'd learned about trail design during my seasons as a trail crew leader. Of course, I reminded myself, it's not a trail. It's a road. The fog was thick this morning as I worked my way along the ridge. views of the ocean a thousand feet below were obscured, and I felt annoyed at my poor luck. But then, the fog started to clear as I neared Little Harbor. And those last few miles down to the water were my favorite of the whole trip, no doubt in part due to the early morning light that finally broke through. Perfect. I actually let out an audible sigh of relief as I captured photo after photo of my descent. I was filled with gratitude. Parson's Landing and Little Harbor were my favorite parts of the entire traverse.
The climb out of Little Harbor and up to the Airport in the Sky was formidable. It was another old road that climbed steeply up and up. The sun really started to come out as I neared the airport. The hike was pretty, and I continued to stop frequently to capture photos even as the midday heat grew more intense. I was making great time and started to take the trail for granted, which is how I ended up getting turned around at the airport. My mistakes could've been easily prevented if I had spent a minute or two referencing my map, but I couldn't be bothered to do that. At least not until I was convinced that I'd lost my way, and by then I'd added a mile or two to my day. Ah well, coulda been a lot worse. I finally got back on track and followed the TCT diligently through a series of steep ups and downs as I made my way along trail segments intertwined with old roads. Though the TCT utilizes many of these old road beds, it thankfully avoids the main thoroughfares, so there was very little vehicle traffic to contend with, and hardly any trekkers either. The miles from the airport to Avalon were hot and felt especially long. I took a short sitdown break under a tree at Blackjack Campground. The break was nice, but the campground left a lot to be desired. Frankly, I wouldn't care to spend the night there if I could avoid it. It was plain and didn't feel compelling to me in any way. And on top of that, I didn't see any potable water system, which I assume means that you have to pay an additional camping fee for a locker key that includes a couple gallons of bottled water. I wasn't upset when it was time to start walking again. To the contrary, I shredded the network of trails and roads all the way to the TCT split with the Hermit Gultch Trail.
This was a trail where I'd set the challenge goal of finishing the entire length in under 24 hours, including sleep. I was cutting it close as I left Blackjack, and I had no issues with staring at the ground while I powered through the next six and a half miles to the turnoff for the Hermit Gulch Trail, then pressing even harder down the steady descent to the Hermit Gulch Campground and on to the beach in Avalon. I was definitely moderately dehydrated and starting to bonk by the end of it, but it was a total blast. Second degree fun and all that. My guaranteed goal was 26 hours, because that's when they'd start loading the last ferry for the return trip to San Pedro. I had to make that goal; no wiggle room getting back for work on Wednesday. My bailout plan was to take the bus from the airport to the harbor. Fortunately it didn't come to that. As difficult as the last four hours were, they were also really pretty.
Since I finished before 3p, I had a couple hours to kill in Avalon before boarding the ferry. I stopped in at Scoops, a local ice cream parlor, and got a pistachio shake. Excellent decision. Next I took a dip in the Pacific to celebrate my photo finish. Then I went to a local seafood restaurant and ate fish 'n chips on the waterfront while I sipped on a glass of California white wine. I was marveling. There I sat in Avalon, enjoying fish and wine, feeling satisfied with the whole thing. Great planning, great flexibility, and great execution. Couldn't have done it better if I'd scouted the trip a hundred times. So much good luck on this little venture.
HIKING DISTANCE: 30 Miles
VERTICAL: +5,980' / -6,380'
TIME: 11 Hours 51 Minutes
S. Kaibab to N. Kaibab to Ribbon Falls to N. Kaibab to S. Kaibab to Tonto to Bright Angel.
I rose early this morning to catch the first hiker shuttle from the Backcountry Office to the South Kaibab Trailhead, which got me hiking by 630a. Early bird and all that. And well worth it, as I caught the morning sun blasting the eastern face of Cedar Ridge, an iconic feature of the iconic-in-and-of-itself Grand Canyon. That view - at that time of day, in particular - never gets old. On the way down, I didn't see too many other folks, which isn't terribly surprising, given the early season. As I passed a crew of young people, they teased me about my pace and asked where I was heading, so I told them I'd originally planned the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim but was settling for a quick jaunt down to Ribbon Falls and back, since the Supai Tunnel was closed for a landslide. They smiled and said "Cool," then a minute later followed up with "Wait, all the way to the North Rim and back...in a day?!" I love when people react that way to hearing about my ambition. Little ego boost, not that I need it. Never gets old.
See what folks don't understand about my time in nature is that it's threefold. Nature is my cathedral, my canvas, and my gym. This early in the season, it's more the latter than either of the former. This trip was surprisingly challenging. It was only about 2/3 the demand of last year's R2R2R, and yet my body suffered nearly as much. Chafe wasn't so much a concern as last year, but my calves were locking up every couple steps for the last half mile of the final climb. I don't even know if I could've completed the R2R2R this go-round. I'm painfully outta shape. Time to get serious about trading pounds for endurance.
The bridge that provides access to Ribbon Falls was closed when I arrived. I considered fording the creek and heading up to the falls, but I ultimately chose to skip it. I visited the falls last year when I did the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, and I didn't feel very stoked about the prospect of getting my feet wet. Speaking of closures, the rumored closure on the River Trail makes three for three. The closure of the Supai Tunnel and the River Trail helped shape a pretty cool trek, actually. I'd be absolutely shredded right now if I'd gone the whole way; I think I'm in far worse shape this spring than last. And I'm stoked that I got to experience the Tonto Trail, which I wouldn't have done without the River Trail closure. All things for a reason. I've hiked the Grand Canyon a half dozen times in various ways and to varying degrees. It was cool to see it from a decidedly unique perspective. Worth the extra effort to cross the barren, esposed plateau in the heat of the day. Absolutely beautiful. The desert is alive with bursts of color- reds, yellows, and greens. Blooming flowers and cacti peppered the landscape- Indian Paintbrush, Red Columbine, Skyrocket, Crimson Monkeyflower, Fleabane, and others. And butterflies, so many butterflies. Shoulder seasons are my favorite.
When I finally reached Indian Garden below the South Rim Village, the sun was hanging low in the sky offering some relief from the oppressive heat, but doing nothing for the strain in my legs. I sat down on one of the benches among the Cottonwoods. Each moment I spent there made it harder to choose to stand up again. But then I noticed that I could see the American flag flying high on the rim. Talk about a carrot. All I gotta do, I thought, is keep my eye on the prize. Just the push I needed to stand up and be on my way. It didn't hurt that I got to enjoy the shade the whole way up, and then the setting sun just as I reached the top. Yes, all of that. And the dozen California Condors circling overhead as I climbed. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up. What an incredible little trip.
HIKING DISTANCE: 26 Miles
VERTICAL: +5,100′ / -2,800′
TIME: 8 Hours 47 Minutes
Hiked 26.2 miles. Cycled 39.3 miles. Altogether, that's 65.5 miles. Dual sport, a biathlon. Officially, it’s the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. I hiked it from the Pacific Ocean at Waddell Beach to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Saratoga Gap. Reverse order to its namesake. Sea-to-Skyline Trail, if you will. We’ll call this little endeavor the “Skyline-to-the-Sea Dual Reverse.”
I staged my bike at Saratoga Gap late last night for the return trip today. Finally made it to the trailhead at 1a. Crawled into the back for a short nap before the alarm screamed me awake at 430a. No rest for the weary. Packing in way too much adventure, per usual. But then, is there really such a thing? I’ll sleep next week. Probably. Maybe. Ok, probably not.
I was on the beautifully maintained, well traveled tread 45 minutes later. It’s like a super highway, this trail. No wonder they limit traffic via user permits. Too accessible, too easy. And this trail is stunning. (Not what I was expecting when a friend told me it parallels a road for most of its 25 mile length. Though to be fair, I saw about as many people as cars.) It starts out among thick vegetation and big trees. As it approaches Big Basin State Park, the old growth forests give way to full-on coastal Redwoods. And Lady Luck graced me yet again with gorgeous morning light cutting through the thick canopies. I snapped some lovely photos during my walk- over, under and among Giants.
Despite its breathtaking beauty, the trail showed signs of wear. The theme of the hike seemed to be: trees, trash, and TP. There was used toilet paper almost at every turn. So disappointing how we use and abuse the world around us, a reflection of how we treat each other. It’s hard to hope for the future when I see how much we take for granted. I feel tremendous pressure to see as much as I can before we ruin our world. I guess I’ll finally sleep once we’ve trampled all the wild places. (Although to be fair, I thought it was pretty cool when I came across a sofa someone had dumped on the trail. Couldn’t have been there more than a week or two. I was totally stoked to lay down for a little break. Guess it’s all about perspective.)
Finished the hike at Saratoga Gap after about 9 hours. The parking area was familiar. Turns out, it was our lunch stop on the last day of my cross country cycling trip back in 2013. It was surreal to be standing there again, this time alone with only the memories of my trip and the wonderful people with whom I shared it. I took a moment there to honor my feelings of love and gratitude. It’s really cool how a place, or a photo, or a song can be so loaded, can bring up so much emotion. I almost expected to open my eyes and see my team there waiting for me. Instead, all that was waiting for me was the ride back to my car. While much of it was either a screaming descent or a mellow flat, there was one 3.8 mile wicked climb. Took me about an hour to do it, and I had to walk my bike twice. I was pretty shredded after the hike, so that climb really kicked my butt. Dunno what the grade on Alba Road is, but it was one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever biked.
The rain started to fall intermittently as I prepared for the first descent, a winding 15-mile drop to Alba Road. I hate descending in the rain, so I reluctantly rode my brakes most of the way. By the time I finally conquered the Alba climb, the rain had stopped, and I was able to descend with abandon for 8 miles until I hit Hwy 101. I finished the last 10 miles on pretty mellow grades. Stoked to finally get back to my car after 13 hours of crushing. And to think, that’s just the warm up for the Lowest-to-Highest Route in a couple days. Psyched.
I’ve got some gnarly shin splints, which I’m feeling a little anxious about, but I’m sure they’ll clear up by Wednesday. Mostly driving and public transit until then, so plenty of rest.
HIKING DISTANCE: 26.5 Miles
VERTICAL: +/- 7,450′
TIME: 10 Hours 49 Minutes
The Four Pass Loop, an iconic trek in the mighty Elk Range near Aspen. Wow.
I left from the Maroon Lake parking area around 630a. Per a friend’s suggestion, I tackled the Loop going clockwise. I’d already hiked the route almost up to West Maroon Pass a couple times during my climbs of Maroon and North Maroon peaks. Still a treat. It was overcast almost all day, which worked out well for some photos and was really limiting for others. Ah well, it all comes out in the wash, I guess. I’m pretty satisfied overall.
The climb up West Maroon Pass was beautiful. And dropping down into the basin below Frigid Air Pass was pretty neat-o. And easy. Short. I only lost and re-gained about seven hundred feet. Dropping down into the next basin, beyond Frigid Air Pass, was awesome. And long. I lost almost two thousand feet before the long, challenging climb up to Trailrider Pass, which was by far my favorite. The view looking down on Snowmass Lake was wicked. And it was cool to have already had a different perspective of Snowmass when I climbed the 14er by the same name earlier this summer. The climb up Buckskin was pretty mellow compared to that of Trailrider. And dropping down the other side was gorgeous, a wonderful way to finish. Expansive views of the nearby Bells and distant Pyramid Peak.
Shortly before beginning the climb up to Buckskin Pass, I came around a corner and over a rise to accidently surprise a beautiful fox (pictured above). At first, she ran off, but not far. I could still see her tail through the brush. I grabbed my camera and started to creep along the trail to get a photo, and she disappeared. I was so bummed, and so grateful. It was really, really cool. Then, suddenly- she jumped up on a downed tree behind me. It sounded like a cat clawing at the bark. It was like she was posing for a photo op. I snapped three quick ones, and then she casually turned and left. She wasn’t even 25 feet from me. Whoa. What a privilege.
I hike alone, yes. But I’m not alone. Never alone.
HIKING DISTANCE: 0.88 Miles
(2,619 steps; 45% Ave Grade; 68% Max Grade)
TIME: 32 Minutes 54 Seconds
Challenge Goal: 30 Minutes
Guaranteed Goal: 40 Minutes
Started out at a light jog, which wasn’t right at all. And it didn’t take me long to realize it. After about 2 minutes, I started hiking.
Turns out “I’m gonna run The Incline,” is just fancy talk for “I’m gonna briskly walk The Incline.” One doesn’t actually run The Incline. I mean, the verified FKT (fastest known time) is barely sub-18. (0.88 miles in 17:45, just shy of 3 mph). That’s my hiking pace on a moderate slope. Basically, it’s just a walk-up. That said, there are over 2,500 railroad tie steps and over 2,000 feet of vertical gain in under a mile on this “walk.” And they’re oddly spaced and have inconsistent vertical clearance. It’s extreme walking; there is just no other way to describe it.
I reached the top and couldn’t believe it. I spent 20 minutes looking for the next leg, but there was none, only a couple trails. I’d topped out at 32:54. Not too shabby. I wonder what I could do when I’m really in shape. Sub-30, for sure. Maybe sub-25? Giving myself too much credit? Only one way to know. Guess I’m coming back.
Snapped some rad long exposure shots at the “summit.” Speaking of summits, that false summit is a morale crusher. Geez. I’d forgotten it was there until I was cresting it, thinking my work was done. I realized just before the next pitch came into view, and I was demoralized. “Just keep walking,” I told myself. “Don’t stop moving; don’t even turn around.” And I didn’t, not until I topped out. It was a snail’s pace at times – anything but graceful or glamorous – but I never stopped making forward progress.
Loads of lightning on the way down. Incredible show, mostly in the clouds. Flashes about every second starting at the halfway point. Definitely triggering my anxiety, but it didn’t stop me from counting the steps. Couldn’t descend the stairs fast enough. Crossed my fingers, and my heart, the rest of the way down.