Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Snowy Owls of Boundary Bay, B.C.

    About 15 minutes north of the US/Canada border, on a tidal flat called Boundary Bay, young snowy owls have ended their migratory journey south from the arctic. On the day my dad took us there we saw 19 individual owls, and having never seen one in the wild, seeing 19 was a trip. These birds are in "rest" mode after having flown (and starved) for up to 3,000 miles. The snowys have come south in unusually high numbers this year, presumably due to diminished food sources (lemmings) in the arctic circle. These are large owls, 2 feet tall with a 5-6 foot wing span. Beautiful animals.

 My dad is a "bird guy", and by that I mean that he has been working with and studying raptors for years.  His current specialty is merlins, but who could resist seeing these owls. I was only able to take these photos using a technique called "digi-scoping" in which the camera is placed over the eye-piece of, in this case, my dad's $3,0000 Swarovsky lens. This made the experience way more enjoyable because I would have hated not coming away with these photos. This was the highlight in a trip full of highlights.  Thanks for showing us these guys, dad.

Mt Baker, 3 days of Cascade Dreamy, 02/16-21/2012

Ruth & I are just back from the great wet Pacific Northwest. My parents live in Bellingham, WA, and just an hour east is one of the most photogenic ski areas in America, Mt Baker. This is the kind of place that ends up in Skier and Transworld Snowboarding galleries every month. Baker holds the world record for the most annual snowfall of any resort. This place, frankly, kicks ass.

We had three superb days on the mountain, and one true powder day. Our first day was a warm welcome back, clear-ish skies, plenty of white, and stunning vistas. We boarded our little hearts out that first day. We have boarded Baker in all forms of weather and made good while the good was gettin'.  I had fun relearning the stuff in the trees. Ruth just had fun.

Our second and third days on the hill were powder deluxe. I spent most of those days in the trees, hunting for the deep stuff. I spent a fair amount of time up to my knees in Cascade crystals.

Two guys headed out of bounds on the same day that four people died in two avalanches near Stevens Pass. There was a small slide just outside the ropes at Baker on the same day. This was the result of a 2-3 foot overnight dump that lay on top of a weeks worth of older snow. This was very big news in Washington. One pro skier was saved by her avi-chute (a rip-cord pops a CO2 which deploys an airbag, keeping the skier {in this case} near the top, or above the avalanche).
The previous pics above: the incomparably photogenic Mt Shuksan.
I gotta say, this pic says a lot about riding in the Northwest.
As if to illustrate the obvious, the signs were out.
Rurthy, checking out the Nooksak River.
Sadly, this little shop in Glacier is guilty of false advertising. The goodies are yum though.
"The Shop that grew with the Great Northwest", home of Northwest Riders.

Ruthy, gearing up for one of our favorite mountains.
Cascade Dreams

The resort's live-in cat. He's been around for years.
A view of Ojai, Ventura, and the Channel Islands.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A long and poorly produced video from Gene Marshall Trail

Like I say, it may not be worth watching but the video does show you some of what parts of the trail are like.  I'm gettin' better at this. As Bad Santa (Bill Bob Thornton) said, "They can't all be winners, now can they?".

David Stillman & Cliff Griffiths on the Gene Marshall Trail, Feb 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gene Marshall Trail 1 day. Tough.

This is my new favorite Los Padres trail of all time. The Gene Marshall trail, all 19 grueling miles of it, provides the most comprehensive exposure to the wonders of our region that can be crammed into a single route. This walk has it all: high cedar forests, creeks, meadows, valleys, wildlife, snow, desert, Chumash rock art, more than 30 creek crossings, very remote wilderness, ever present bear sign, cat tracks, epic vistas...about the only thing missing is a sulfury hot spring. 

 Above: The first cat prints of the day came early and often.

Cliff Griffiths and I met bumpers at the Deer Lodge on 33 at 05:00 on Sunday. From there, we dropped his truck at the Piedra Blanca trailhead and drove my pick-up over Pine Mountain and into Scheidek where we parked at the Reyes Creek trailhead. We saddled up and started walking in the frozen, pre-dawn light at 06:05. It was a great start to what turned out to be an truly amazing day.

I should get one disclaimer out of the way...this is not a day hike. I want to be clear that this is more than most people can do in a day, and careful consideration should go into attempting to do this route all at once. This is true wilderness, not the place for "scenic walk". Having said that,  if we look at the map, the numbers don't look too bad. That is a lie. The map suggests that the first 9 or so miles from Reyes Creek trailhead is a more or less gentle, but consistent climb of about 2,500', the high point being Haddock Camp at 6165'. The real story is this: the Gene Marshall basically transits through a series of small valleys. Every 2-3 miles the hiker has to descend into, cut through, and then climb out of a valley, clear a saddle, and repeat process. There is a lot of shifting gears between climbing and descending, and any experienced hiker can tell you that those change-ups tend to drain your batteries.

Our morning was cold and clear, the three-quarter moon hanging above Reyes Peak. We walked on the paths of the Old Ones. Many parts of this trail make almost too much sense, in terms of efficient travel. The route is obviously old, a highway connecting Rose Valley and the ocean to the coastal interior. We blazed through valleys full of cedar and poderosa, old oak forests waking to the birds greeting the dawn. High above our heads, arctic winds and scattered clouds frosted the Pine Mountain Ridge. Cliff and I wondered just how soon we'd be in that freezing mess, but we needn't have worried. The route stays low, sliding from one valley to the next. By mid-morning we were deep into the wilds.
Cliff and I both moved fairly quickly. The path is, in most cases, easy to follow. We had two moments of  route finding difficulty, quickly resolved.  The trail was largely smooth, and most of the day we walked on a springy loam of decomposing bio-mass (leaves). Crossing animal tracks and scat became routine. The place felt very wild, wildernessy. After the first mile we saw no tracks of man or horse for the next twelve. This is the high rugged country. Cliff remarked that it reminded him of the area around Bass Lake near Yosemite and I concurred. High and dry with the ever present scent of pine. We both agreed that, by the end of the day we had crossed over water at minimum, 35 times. This dry winter worked well for us yesterday, water levels were low and consequently we were able to keep "feet dry" all day. It was very pleasant to hear the bubbling sounds of a small creek nearby. No, I didn't eat shit in a creek, which is sort of my SOP.
Over the saddle from Reyes Canyon, headed down towards Beartrap.
Miles of cedar forest.
One of the nicer features along the stretch of this trail is the placement of campsites. We started comparing it to the California Mission System. From our direction we passed through: Reyes, Beartrap, Haddock, Three Mile, Pine Mtn Lodge, Twin Forks and Piedra Blanca camps. These camps are 2-5 miles apart and they became the next logical pit-stop as we trudged the long miles. 3 Mile camp is a pretty sweet little spot.

For miles, it seemed, the only evidence of man was an ancient trail shrouded in leaves.
Remarkably good signage along the route, though very few use the trail.
Cliff looked down and found this 1934 quarter at Haddock Camp.

Above and Below: Momma Lion and cub. Mom has a 5" foot which would probably put her at 100-115 lbs. Healthy. We followed her prints for over 6 miles. She would intermittently depart the trail but for the most part, we walked in her steps. We figured that she observed us. We also figured that she'd be making sure that we never saw her or her kitten. These tracks weren't new, but had definitely been made sometime in the last day. Mom's with kittens don't travel far unless they are driven from the den site. She was out there watching, somewhere. A surfer would say it felt "sharky".
Above: The Chumash pictographs of Piedra Blanca Creek. We added 45 minutes to the day to reach these.

Cliff, making it back into the sun. The day never did warm up.
0.8 miles from the truck. Then 45 minutes back to my truck. Then an hour and 15 to get home, except that right in front of me Cliff has stopped. This is because there are numerous emergency vehicles and a sheriff's department helicopter, rotor turning, stopped on Highway 33. We were told that a motorcyclist had just had a very bad day. I got the chopper on video, which I'll post soon.

This was one of the most fulfilling days I've experienced in the Los Padres. Not only was the journey long, the route tough, and the effort legit, but the route was beautiful, remote, rugged. Over every saddle lay a new valley, it's own distinct place. Different from the last, yet familiar. I felt like I was in an environment that required and rewarded the alert, and the watchful. The constant cat tracks and the copious piles of bear shit made daydreaming an activity for the foolish. The area had a vibe, ageless yet old.  For all this and everything I can't put into words, I rate this a 5 Star Trail. And a word of admiration for Cliff, the guy is fit and has the stamina to just go on. He don't quit easy. Comrade Cliff, a good one for the trail.  
Trip time with breaks: 9.5 hrs