Showtime In Tahoe?

I really had high hopes for getting into the back-country a lot this winter.  Hopes that, viewed in retrospect from my current mid-February vantage point, seem to have been perhaps a bit excessive in their breadth of ambition.  I started planning back in October for what I at the time expected to be an outdoor season peppered with several vigorous high-country adventures.  In my mind’s eye I saw igloos, frozen waterfalls, snow-caves, fresh powder runs down obscure mountain slopes; but then the winter never came.  After a little bit of rain in November, the sky offered forth nothing in the way of precipitation until early February; and so plans were delayed accordingly, then emended, and ultimately scrapped altogether.  Snowshoe trips in November, December, and January were all dropped from the season’s itinerary; and for awhile it was looking like February might offer more of the same frustrating inertia.

But then the sky opened up for the better part of a week, soaking the Bay Area (and much of the rest of Northern California), and finally dropping some significant snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

These snowshoes shall bear me across the snowy frozen wastes of the Desolation Wilderness this coming weekend, else come to utter ruin in the attempt.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
These snowshoes shall bear me across the snowy frozen wastes of the Desolation Wilderness this coming weekend, else come to utter ruin in the attempt.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

And now the time has come to find out just what we have been given to work with up there in the High Sierra; and so to that end I will be heading east in just a few hours, bound for Lake Tahoe and the Desolation Wilderness, in the hopes of finding something of that winter wonderland that Mother Nature has so stubbornly withheld from us these past few months (as if the blame falls entirely at her feet, and not at all with mankind, and all his reckless disregard for the long-term stability of the planet.  But that’s a different post altogether.)

The weekend’s forecast looks impeccable; there is reportedly a healthy layer of snow on the ground; and my fingers are crossed that my planned 21-mile loop, from the shore of Lake Tahoe up to and along the Pacific Crest, up and over the summit of Mount Tallac, and then back down to lake level, will prove fruitful and incident-free.

Like I said: fingers crossed. And stay tuned for trip report and details, to follow next week.

Hiking As Therapy

The Pemberton Place stairs climb steeply and scenically up the northeast flank of Twin Peaks, from just west of the intersection of Clayton and Corbett streets.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The Pemberton Place stairs climb steeply and scenically up the northeast flank of Twin Peaks, from just west of the intersection of Clayton and Corbett streets.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

I was having a shit day- feeling increasingly frustrated, depressed, and hopeless about the state of our world, the pitfalls of humanity, and the grim future of our planet (as suggested by its current trajectory).  So I grabbed my keys and took a walk up to Twin Peaks, the peerless urban vista that sits perched atop San Francisco; and guess what- my day got better, and stayed better.

The world gets me down fairly often; and my primary ways of remedying these blues are driving, playing guitar, and hiking.  The exercise and the scenery can sometimes be all the distraction needed to turn a Ford Pinto of a day into a Rolls Royce.

Hiking, among other beneficial things, is therapy.

Looking up the Pemberton Place stairs.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Looking up the Pemberton Place stairs.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Discover Your Hidden City

Don’t have a car?  Only have a few hours to work with?  Under court order not to leave the city limits?  Not to worry- if you’re a hiker, you can still meet both your fitness quota and your aesthetic inspiration quota right here in San Francisco, city of 47 hills.

See this winning view of downtown San Francisco from the heights of the Excelsior District.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
See this winning view of downtown San Francisco from the heights of the Excelsior District.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

So many of the streets in this town boast dreamy views that walking around town can often exceed “conventional” hikes on trails, in terms of visual payoff for the effort invested- and that’s certainly saying something in this area.  Between the scenic roads, the hundreds of miles of trails, and the more than 1,000 public stairwells scattered throughout the city, it’s a cinch to string together compelling walking routes, in virtually any part of town, without ever having to cross any bridges, penetrate the city limits, or walk on water; and I should know- Peanut and I have walked over 1,600 miles in San Francisco alone over the past two and a half years.  And we’re still at it, and still discovering new and different inspiring vantage points across this beautiful city all the time.  And, I’m in the best shape of my life as a result.

It’s all out there.

San Francisco's ambitious pedestrians will find that most of the city's hilly, terraced neighborhood streets are linked by public stairwells, often tucked inconspicuously between and behind houses, or under thick tree cover- like this one in the Forest Knolls District.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
San Francisco’s ambitious pedestrians will find that most of the city’s hilly, terraced neighborhood streets are linked by public stairwells, often tucked inconspicuously between and behind houses, or under thick tree cover- like this one in the Forest Knolls District.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The Fleeting Torrents

You might recall that recent four or five days of direly needed liquid manna from the heaven that inundated the Bay Area (particularly the North Bay) last week. Rarely has the sight, sound, and smell of rain in and around San Francisco inspired such relief and gratitude in me; though MUCH more rain (an arguably unrealistic amount) is needed to get the state back on track, reinvigorate its waterways, and refill its reservoirs.  But by all accounts, this was certainly a start.

The Mountain Ampitheater at Mount Tamalpais, site of renowned annual live performances of Shakespeare and other works.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The Mountain Ampitheater at Mount Tamalpais, site of renowned annual live performances of Shakespeare and other works.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

So, you ask- apart from the potentially encouraging news that California’s final, parch-induced death-throe is not yet an utterly foregone conclusion, is there a takeaway here?

Glad you asked; because I’m here to tell you that, for the time being, anyway, the hills of Marin County are awash with raging torrents of tumbling water.  Yesterday I took my trusty crew (Ian, Peanut, Maggie) up to Tamalpais Ridge, and hoofed a 6-mile loop around the mountain’s upper reaches; and the amount of running water on display was staggering.  I felt like a damn fool carrying a bottle of water for the dogs, who had more rippling streams from which to slake their thirsts than would seem plausible, considering the level of water-starvation that has pervaded this area for the last several months.  But there they were- one topographical inlet after another, through-cut with bubbling, falling creeks; infusing the region with a feeling of life renewed; greening a mountainside that was quite recently too swollen in the throat to even be able to ask for a drink; and legitimizing a series of footbridges that just a week earlier appeared as evidence of hopelessly inept municipal fund management- pointlessly pointless.  But no longer.

So if you don’t want to wait for Spring (a Spring that may or may not ever come, I might add) to enjoy the green, lush hills of Marin County, I’d get up there sooner than later.  This runoff festival will not persist for long (unless more rain is brought to bear before the earth can absorb the last of this recently issued dole of precious lifeblood); so now- this week, next, perhaps, is your window of opportunity.

Sunday was a marvelously gorgeous day- with deep blue skies and streaking, benign cirrus clouds, and visibility out to sea to the Farallon Islands and beyond.

Bolinas Bay peacefully settles in for the night, as the sun beyond repeats its regular late-day ritual, falling dramatically behind the walls of the horizon.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Bolinas Bay peacefully settles in for the night, as the sun beyond repeats its regular late-day ritual, falling dramatically behind the walls of the horizon.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

And like so many days here in Northern California, the sunset was a show that in and of itself justified the effort to get oneself to a west-facing viewpoint.

Every Tumbleweed Has a Silver Lining

You know, beach days in January are not the only way that one can take advantage of a snow-less winter.  If we must live without that fun powder throughout the cold months, at least we can still climb the higher peaks- those usually 10-feet deep in snow by this time of year.

Shane towers over Mono Lake from the summit of Mt. Dana, as the vastitudes of Nevada's Great Basin Desert curve away behind him.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Shane towers over Mono Lake from the summit of Mt. Dana, as the vastitudes of Nevada’s Great Basin Desert curve away behind him.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

These photos are from a mid-January ascent of Yosemite’s 13,000-foot Mt. Dana that I did with my friend Shane- a trip only made possible by the dearth of snowfall that has been an increasingly common winter reality for Californians over the past few years.  Yes, it was an evil, icy cold that relentlessly assailed the epidermis for the upper 2/3 of this 3,000-foot climb; but we had the requisite gear for holding gangrene at bay for a few hours while we got our kicks on high.  And there was nobody else up there; so we had our run of the place.

Your friendly neighborhood wordsmith adorns the Tioga Pass entrance station to Yosemite, a place where normally no man can stand between November and May. But then this ain't your parents' world anymore, is it?  (photo by S. McCarthy)
Your friendly neighborhood wordsmith adorns the Tioga Pass entrance station to Yosemite, a place where normally no man can stand between November and May.
But then this ain’t your parents’ world anymore, is it?
(photo by S. McCarthy)

And, it wasn’t quite 24 hours after we had jumped in the truck at Tioga Pass and headed back to lower elevations that the winter’s first substantial snowfall blanketed the area, forcing the closure of Tioga Road for the remainder of the winter.

In life, our thrills (and the opportunities for them) are ever-fleeting (though never-ending).  The takeaway?- get ’em while you can.   If mankind ever gets his shit together, winter ascents of Sierra thirteeners might just once again become a thing of the past.

The Elixir of Life

The San Francisco Bay Area, like the whole of California, has been mired in a record drought these past couple of months, spiking the concerns of climatologists, farmers, recreationalists, regular citizens, and even that holy grail of speedy, effective, low-pork change: the political establishment.  You know the shit’s gotten real when the politicos suddenly start acknowledging a crisis, after having ignored it for as long as they could possibly get away with.

So, to the delight, relief, and (to some of the more astute, long-view-inclined folks in the know) tentative consternation (a preemptive reaction to the waves of climate change deniers who will idiotically proffer any precipitation as compelling evidence against what science has plainly demonstrated as true), the rain finally began to fall this past week all around Northern California.  This all might very well prove to be too little, too late; but on the other hand, any drought relief that might be possible must begin with a few days of rain, right?  So let’s proceed with a little cautious optimism, if we might.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t waste water, now or ever- but especially now.  Think it through: Just because the faucets and spigots around your home behave as if they’ve been magically tapped into some inexhaustible reservoir of fresh water, intellectually we all must embrace the reality that our water supplies are very much finite, and dwindling fast; and the dumb shit we’re doing to the world on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis is doing nothing but pushing the peddle to the floor in our society’s mad race to a fiery crash in the chapped deserts of dehydration.

So no taking this for granted, capice?

Implausible greens routinely attend the aftermath of robust storms along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Implausible greens routinely attend the aftermath of robust storms along the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

And remember this, too: Just because it’s raining out doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy being outdoors.  Why, just yesterday I went with Peanut, and my friend Ian, up to Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco; and, under pissing skies of rain, enjoyed a lush 5-mile loop through redwood canyons, complete with dripping ferns, slippery footbridges, and muddy embankments, all courtesy of the newly (and vigorously) flowing waterfalls and streams- all rejoicing in their (at least temporary) reprieve from the forced dormancy that has been their 2014 thus far.

You should go out and see them while you can- remembering, however, that just as a single brick does not a house make, a couple days of rain does not a lush healthy ecosystem make.  We need more- a lot more rain, if we expect to enjoy any semblance of a normal, healthy spring and summer this year- complete with lush greenery, raging waterfalls, and crackling campfires.

This rain is a good thing.  A very good thing.  Now more, please.  I have a couple of snowshoe trips in the Sierras coming up soon; and unless a good deal more snow falls in the Sierra Nevadas, these trips aren’t likely to happen.