Monday, December 28, 2009

Top 9 of 2009

It's hard to resist the temptation to write an annual retrospective this time of year. Work is slow and vacation time is plentiful. I have had plenty of time to look back at the accomplishments and failures of the past year. Certainly 2009 had its ups and downs. I chose poorly to graduate right in the deepest pit of the great recession and struggled to find purpose amongst many an idle afternoon. I've also climbed peaks that I knew only in my dreams, stared out over redwood forests and watched waves crash against the rugged coast. Truly I cannot decide of 2009 was a magnificent success or a colossal failure. Below is my highlight reel from the last year:

9. The Pink Carpet, Pacific Grove (April)

There are many places to see the wildflowers bloom in the spring in California but it's hard to imagine any more explosive in color and beauty than the stretch of coast from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Asilomar. This stetch, for obvious reasons shown in the photo above is known as "The Pink Carpet". Nearly equal to the flowers in beauty is the coastline which draws tourists from around the world year round. It's a wonderful place to go tidepooling or just watch waves pound the rocks in a display of awe inspiring natural power.

8. Santa Ynez Valley (February)

You might never guess it from reading this blog but in the 5 years Beylah and I have been dating we had only been camping once (for one night in Big Basin) prior to our saunter up the coast to the Santa Ynez valley. The valley is prime wine country made famous by the movie Sideways. Instead of B&Bing it we camped on beautiful Gaviota State Beach. Our weekend would be filled with winery's, Danish inspired towns (Solvang) and lakes. After a light rain we awoke from our second night of camping to a magnificent rainbow.

7. Mt. Tamalpias via Muir Woods (January)

When I got off the plane from New England back at the end of Decemeber I made a promise to myself to hike Mt. Tamalpias before going back down south to Los Angeles for school. Just a couple days into the new year I kicked off from Muir Woods through the magnificent redwood forests right up the side of the mountain. Taking a less common train, I was treated to 180 views of the whole bay area the entire way up (once out of the muir woods canyon). The way down was all waterfalls and lush forests and full of beauty. I was reminded why I love living in California so much.

6. Coastal Fog, Point Reyes (September)

I've grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area so if there is anything I know, it's coastal fog. Yet in my many years living in this wonderful place I've never been in fog so thick the trees turned it in to rain. I almost forget in hind sight that this is Point Reyes National Seashore . Its hundred foot cliff, waterfalls, and rock arches are what draw the crowds. I was blown away by the fog though, so thick at the top of Mt. Wittenburg you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. In short everything about this little green gem on the coast was amazing.

5. Mt. Diablo in the Snow (December)

I've often felt that having to work hard for something deepens your appreciation of it. I would consider my Mt. Diablo hike a perfect example of that. It was 6 miles just to get to the trailhead, and another 5 to the summit area after they closed the gates to automobile traffic because of the snow. Yet it all paid off as my snowboots crunched through 1-2ft deep snow on the top of the prominent east bay peak. Seeing one of the hottest places (in the summer) turned into a winter wonderland was a sight to behold. One could not help but revel in the beauty near the summit, if only for the fact that I knew my legs would feel this day hike for a week.

4. Backpacking Mt. Lassen (September)

Few locations offer the same diversity as Mt. Lassen, we crossed a desert of multi-colored volcanic ash, camped along the shores of mountain lakes, climbed scree slopes, and trekked through dense pine forests. That says nothing of the satisfaction of carrying everything needed to sustain Beylah and myself for 3 days on our backs. Our first backing trip was no dud. Without doubt the highlight of the entire year had to be the "ski" down the cinder cone. 45 minutes up, 2 minutes down, as I like to say.

3. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains (June)

Mt. Lassen might be impressive, but there is almost nothing more impressive than the oldest trees in the world, the Bristlecone Pines. Some of these trees are 9000 years old! Now consider that they survive on the nearly soilless scree slopes of the white mountains which receive only 2 inches of rain a year (nearly all of which fell while were there!), oh and at 11k feet right at the edge of the tree line. The gnarled, bark-less and twisting trees just LOOK ancient. Our walk through the Methuselah Grove might well have made No.1 had we not been assailed by a massive hail storm and frequent claps of loud thunder that sent us running in fear for our lives back to the parking lot. (the visitor center at the parking lot was burnt to the ground from a direct lighting strike a few months earlier, so we were not just being timid Californians with no concept of what real weather is)

2. The Eastern Sierra Nevada (June)

In our three day Owens Valley extravaganza we saw the highest mountain in the lower 48 through rock arches in the Alabama Hills, hiked through a subalpine foxtail pine forest, saw the worlds oldest trees, and climbed through glacier carved valleys filled with aquamarine lakes and snow capped peaks. The majesty of the eastern sierra could be compared with almost any natural wonder on earth. Rain and Lightning storms rolled through during almost our entire trip literally adding an electricity and mystique to this high elevation wonderland. I feel privileged to have experienced the beauty of the eastern sierra. There are many amazing places in the world, and we have one in our back yard here in California.

1. Graduating College (May)

I did it! Now what?
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