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The 48th Reason

I made this video to give a more brief review of what this last year has been for me. As I am taking a few months break from traveling I will finally have the time to put together blog posts for each of the Parks I have been to. This video is for those who would just like the gist of how “My Story” has progressed. Please feel free to re-post it if you like it:

 

5) Redwoods – 07/09/2017

When I arrived at  Redwoods National Park I stopped by the ranger station to learn a little about the park and get a back-country permit for backpacking. After discussing a few possibilities I settled on a combination of the Tall-Trees to Emerald Ridge and Redwood Creek Trail loop to give me a total of about 7 miles of hiking. I recorded the first 40 minutes of the hike on my GoPro where I descended the hillside to the creek bed among the tallest trees in the world:

The hike continued along the gravel bars of the creek bed which presented a challenge as the water level was low, but not enough for a clear walk-able path. After spending a significant time trying to stay dry I slipped off a downed tree and soaked myself up to my waist in water. Since the damage was done I simply trudged the rest of the way through the water.

Once I found the return trail head (seen above) I hiked another 1/4 mile past it on the gravel bars to make camp for the night. Fires are permitted in this particular part of the park which was fortunate as my shoes and socks needed drying. After making dinner I slung up my food bag and climbed in my hammock to sleep.

The next morning I broke camp and hiked back to the return trail head and began the march back up the hillside through the forest.

The serenity of the forest made it easy to get lost in thought and I found myself going over the events that led me to this particular place and time. I had worked through the anger and rage that had almost consumed me over how things had happened, but I still hadn’t let go of it all completely. I simply couldn’t understand why. It was here while deliberating with myself I concluded I would probably never get the answers to these questions I had been asking myself for months and realized that in order to move on I would need to let go completely. This meant forgiving those that had hurt me so badly, so I did. I made up my mind that no matter what they had done to me I still loved them and nothing was going to change that.

Once I got back to my car and changed I decided to drive the Drury Scenic Parkway en route to my next and final hike. I recorded the drive which can be seen below:

For my final hike in the Redwoods I chose Fern Canyon as one of my friends in Sacramento had recommended it to me. I was also informed that  scenes from Jurassic Park (The Lost World) were filmed here due to the ancient species of ferns that call it home. Some date back over 325 million years! Fern Canyon is located in Prairie Creek, the drive to which passes by the meadows near the visitor center. I stopped here to take a few pictures of the deer grazing in the meadow:

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Fern Canyon itself did not disappoint, walking between walls 30ft high covered in lush green vegetation made me feel like I was walking back in time. Along the way there were several places where water came dripping down the sides of the cavern:

I recorded the hike in 4K on my GoPro which can be seen in the video below:

I finished the Fern Canyon hike as the sun started setting and decided to drive up Bald Road to the ridge of the mountainside in order to get some pictures of the sunset before leaving the park:

On a side note, these hiking videos were the first I had filmed in 4K on my GoPro which in this mode apparently does not have any video stabilization. I only learned this later when viewing the videos and was disappointing to see how much it affected the quality of the videos. To fix this I purchased a gimbal once I got back to Sacramento which helped keep camera movement to a minimum as will be seen in future posts of my hiking videos.

You can find more of my hiking and driving videos on my YouTube Channel and my full photo set for this park in my Redwoods Album

 

3-4) Sequoia and Kings Canyon – 5/22/2017

Two of the first parks I traveled to were Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located next to each other just east of Fresno CA. On my first day I drove the entire length of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, starting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains traversing through Grant Grove and going down the mountainside through Sequoia National forest, finally ending in Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon. More than once what I saw took my breath away. I remember instinctively reaching for my cell phone to text my ex-husband as Kings Canyon exploded into view in front of me, the magnificence of the park had made me completely forget everything that happened for a split second. It was this defining moment that made me realize the true power of the National Parks, Kings Canyon has remained one of my favorites because of this and can be said to be my inspiration for this journey.

I made my way back out of Kings Canyon and stopped at one of the ranger stations to get some advice on where to camp and hike. I settled on two smaller day hikes in Sequoia: Morro Rock and Big Trees Trail. The first hike, a stairway climbing over 300ft to the top of a granite dome, gave incredible views of the western half of the park known as “The Great Western Divide”:

The second hike, Big Trees Trail, was 2/3 mile hike through the serene giants that make up some of the largest trees in the world. While not quite as back-country as I have grown to like, and not as large as the giant redwoods I visited later, I was still amazed at literally how big these guys are:

Upon completing these smaller hikes I started the drive back down into Kings Canyon, this time recording it on the cheap dash cam I had purchased. Since it only recorded in 720p and my windshield was dirty, the footage it recorded was terrible and this has been my biggest regret since I started this journey. Below you can see some of what I recorded and understand, but it was neat to be able to drive through a tree tunnel:

Later I would view this footage and decide to upgrade to a GoPro and DJI Drone in order to get better quality videos that could be used in VR headsets like I wanted. Regardless, the time of year I went was perfect as the snow was melting which created white-rapids the entire length of the kings river which can be seen towards the end of the video. I promise I do get better at recording my drives and hikes through these parks!

Highway 180 ends at the ranger station for Kings Canyon so I stopped by to talk to these guys as the campsites I saw on my way down were closed due to a controlled burn in progress. They informed me that it was free and no permit required to camp anywhere in Sequoia National Forest as long as I was at least 500ft from the road. I drove back out to one of the ridges that ran perpendicular to the road that I saw earlier, pulled off and parked, then proceeded to pack my backpack.

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This was only my second foray into backpacking and at the time not only was I lugging around an 8 person sleeper tent I also packed everything I thought I could possibly need (and didn’t end up using almost all of it) including 2 gallons of water. Needless to say I learned quickly that future endeavors would require less weight but I was able to puff through the 1.5 mile hike to the end of the saddle. This campsite is the same as I describe in the original post in My Story and seemed like it was made just for me, waiting for my arrival. As the sun set I took some photographs of my surroundings for the night:

Fighting off mosquitoes turned out to be my biggest learning experience because of all that I put in my backpack I only had a few packets of ‘bug repellent’ in the first aid kit which proved to be all but useless against the needle nosed onslaught. I managed to get a few shots of the beautiful sunset before succumbed to the biting insects and retreated to my tent to finish unpacking:

Fortunately the campsite came equipped with a firepit and a pile of collected wood which I hastily put to use in order to smother myself in smoke to repel the mosquitoes.

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After a quick dinner I headed to bed as I was exhausted from the days hikes and quickly fell asleep to the sound of a thousand crickets chirping softly nearby. While the stars here were also amazing none of the photographs I attempted to take would turn out (I later learned the appropriate settings from someone I met in Gerlach NV). I awoke the next morning and started to break camp while taking a few more photos before leaving and heading back down into Kings Canyon to get some photos of the River and waterfall in the morning light:

After taking my fill of photos I headed back out of Kings Canyon for the last time heading towards my next destination: Gerlach Nevada.

You can find my complete photo set for these parks in my Sequoia and Kings Canyon album and are free to download.

Lake Tahoe – Mt Tallac Fireworks

On the 4th of July 2017 I went to Tahoe National Forest to try and get a rare perspective of viewing fireworks from above. I was surprised at the beauty of this National Forest, having lived only a few hours from it for years, I wondered why it lay undiscovered by me for so long. After talking with the rangers I decided on Mt Tallac (elevation of 9738 feet) as it was prime height and viewing angle for the fireworks show that night.

My hike up the mountainside started late and my previous experience getting stuck in Pinnacles meant this time I was hiking with a full pack, intending to spend the night on the mountain a bit more comfortably this time.

Trying to make it to the peak before the fireworks started proved to be too difficult a task as even in July much of the trail was covered by snow in places.  I also stopped on several occasions to fill up my water bottle (the kind with built in filter) with cool spring water that abundant due to the melting snow.

As the final glow from the setting sun dissipated I found a comfortable spot on the cliff side that provided spectacular views of the lake below and ample room to cook dinner.

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This was one of my first foray’s into filming at night time and unfortunately my GoPro couldn’t pick up the fireworks at from the distance I was located, however I was able to capture a good amount of photos with my Nikon. Below is a composite video of all the still pictures I took:

 

After the fireworks were finished I found a place to sling my hammock and let the wind rock me to sleep. I awoke just before sunrise and headed back to my perch from the night before. This was my morning view as I drank a cup of melted-snow coffee:

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After finishing my coffee I broke camp and started working my way back down the mountain taking a slightly different path than the way I came up in order to get some good shots of the smaller lakes I had passed the day prior:

You can find my full photo set in my Lake Tahoe Album. Thanks for reading and for coming back as I post more!

2) Pinnacles National Park – 6/26/2017

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I stopped by America’s newest National Park on my way back to Sacramento from The Channel Islands to do some astrophotography since I hadn’t gotten my fix the week prior. The parks location between a few small towns means there is very little light pollution at night allowing for a spectacular view of the stars.

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After talking with the Rangers I found out that some of the trails and caves were closed due to roosting bats. I have always been fascinated with bats and with hopes of getting footage of a bat swarm I hastily packed a day bag and my camera gear and started racing up the trail to get a good vantage point as the sun was already getting low. As the trail became harder to distinguish I found myself scrambling which was pretty fun, it was like a pick-your-adventure to get up the side of the mountain opposite the pinnacles formation.

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As it got darker I began to see a few bats but nothing like I had imagined (think scene from batman) and unfortunately they were way too fast to photograph with my Nikon and too dark to see with the GoPro. The view did get better though as I climbed higher:

As the sun sank behind the finger-like rock formations that the park is named for, I began setting up my camera and tripod. It was about this time I heard a low guttural growl that made the hair on my neck stand on end. I remember thinking to myself “well this is it, this is where you get eaten by a mountain lion” as I frantically searched with my flashlight in the direction the sound had come from. I barely got a glimpse of the rear-end of an animal moving behind a bush and though I couldn’t make out if it had a tail, it was enough for me to literally scramble up to the top of the mountainside. Placing a boulder between me and the creature my backside up against the cliff edge I yelled as loudly as I could for about 15 minutes. Some time later I heard the growl-ish noise again but this time much fainter and from a good distance away. Laughing at myself I set up my camera again and waited for the moon to set.

Once the moon was gone it was so dark it was hard to make out my own feet when I looked down. It turned out to be a perfect night as the sky was clear of clouds, giving way to the vast number of stars hidden from view in the proximity of large cities:

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After collecting my fill of pictures I put away my camera, turned on my headlamp and started to head down. Only problem was in my panicked attempt to get away from the supposed mountain lion I had lost the trail! I was stuck and ended up spending the chilly night on the mountain side in just my shorts and t-shirt. I won’t go into the details here but for those interested there is a progression to “My Story” that goes along with this experience.

You can find more information on the park here and my complete photo set in my Pinnacles Album.

Update

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything but in the time since I returned from The Channel Islands I have traveled to every park in California, Oregon,  and Washington (with the exception of North Cascades). I’ve had many side-adventures as well including driving to Cabo Pulmo, a national park in Baja California Mexico and have met many people as amazing as the places themselves.
My struggle with the darkness during this time made it difficult to determine what exactly I wanted to do with this blog; Everytime I went to post something it felt wrong only including the positive feelings and pictures of the beautiful places I went and I would delete the posts as fast as I made them. But as I approach 6 months clean/sobor (September 6th) and with the support and guidance of friends, strangers, and strangers who became friends I am now certain about what I want this blog to be.

I want to thank everyone who helped me reach this place and all those who have patiently waited to see the things I told them about.

For now here’s a sample of what’s to come in the next few days:

1) The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands National Park

I was beginning to think I was going to have to skip this National Park due to the difficulty in getting a campsite reservation in combination with available transportation to the Islands but with the help of a wonderful woman at Island Packers and a little luck I was able to book it last minute! Monday Morning I will be departing from Ventura CA for a 2 night stay on Santa Cruz Island followed by 2 nights on Santa Rosa Island. On the itinerary is Kayaking, Hiking, Scuba Diving and a bit of fishing, weather permitting of course. I have to check with the Rangers but I am hoping to stay an additional 2 nights on Santa Rosa by kayaking to a few of the more remote beaches where camping is allowed, it all depends on if the Sea-Lions/Elephants have cleared the beaches or not. More information on this national park can be found by clicking the link at the top of this post. Ill be posting pictures/videos as soon as I return, check back soon!

Update 6/23/2017:

I left for Ventura at 1:00 am Sunday morning to both avoid traffic and to try to get there early enough for one of the walk up beach camping sites. Six hours and a breakfast at Denny’s later I arrived at Point Mugu and was able to get a campsite for the night:

After getting my reservation I went back into Ventura to talk to the Rangers to ask about backcountry camping and book the activities for the week. The channel islands welcome center had some neat displays set up:

Unfortunately the Ranger confirmed that there was no back county camping available on either island until September but as it turned out this wasn’t a big deal since the campground was central start point for most of the hikes. I spent the rest of the morning booking the kayaking and scuba diving events and spent a few hours at Starbucks (free wi-fi) before returning to my campsite at Point Mugu.

The next morning I boarded the boat from Island Packers and settled in for the 1.5 hour ride to Santa Cruz island. Upon arrival, after unloading all the camping gear ‘assembly-line’ style (note this is NOT in the island Packers brochure…) we were given a brief orientation about the island.  The main point that was stressed was to not feed the indigenous foxes that would ‘supposedly’ steal the socks off your feet while you slept and could even open zippers on bags and tents. They weren’t exaggerating! These foxes, though cute, are little devils and not scared of anything! I had to literally chase one out of my tent while another ran off with a pair of socks while I scrambled to stuff all my gear into the provided ‘Fox-Box’:

After I set up camp, had lunch and a nap, I set out to do my first hike on the island:

Santa Cruz Hike Route Day 1

This was a pretty easy hike with cool views of Potato Harbor and Cavern Point along with some pretty scenery along the way:

I returned to camp, had a brief dinner and went to bed early both excited and anxious for the sea kayaking I was about to do the next morning. I awoke and headed to the beach to meet the guides from Channel Islands Adventure Co. The guides for my group were Adam and Scott, while the other group got Will and Chuck (Chuck is a professional photographer, check out his work here: Chuck Graham Photo). All the guides were extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and clearly enjoyed and excelled at their jobs as both kayaking instructors and tour guides:

The wind and surf turned out to be a bit too rough to go very far but what I was able to see/do was amazing, thank you again Adam and Scott for an amazing experience!

Following the kayaking adventure I returned to camp to eat and take a brief nap before setting out on my next hike, Montañon Ridge:

Santa Cruz Hike Route Day 2

This hike was by far the hardest I have ever done (though I had just done 3.5 hours of kayaking to be fair) but the views were worth it. I have to admit I didn’t make it to the very top but to the hill right before it (I ran out of water and whenever that happens it’s time to turn around):

Exhausted, sore, and slightly sun burned I returned to camp and passed out. I awoke sometime in the night to relieve myself off the 4+ liters of water I had drunk the day prior and looked up to see an impressive number of stars. Regretfully I forgot my tripod and couldn’t get my camera to remain still long enough to get a decent shot so I went back to bed.

Wednesday morning I broke camp and boarded the Island Packers Boat to take me from Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa Island. On this 1.5 hour ride we came across some and a mola-mola, or Ocean Sunfish:

(Better pictures and video of another pod of dolphin were captured later on the boat trip back)

Upon arriving at santa Cruz and after another brief orientation (I was ready for the foxes here dammit!) I set out on the 1.5 mile trek to the campsite:

I again set up camp, took a brief nap, then ventured out for my first hike on Santa Rosa:

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This hike took me through a Grove of Torrey Pines, a special kind of pine that only grows on this island and in San Diego. The pine tree smell clashing with salty ocean air was invigorating and relaxing at the same time. I rested here among the trees listening to the sounds of the ocean and songbirds for an hour before heading down through the Grove back into camp:

Still recovering from the prior days hike and a little more sun-burned I called it early and headed to bed as soon as the sun went down to make sure I was rested enough for Thursday hike to Lobo Canyon:

Santa Rosa Hike Route Day 2

I set out early for this 12 mile hike before the marine later (fog) burned off in hopes that it would be a bit cooler and more likely to be the only traveler (why I wanted this becomes clear later). As it turns out the fog amplifies the UV rays from the sun and I roasted. Seriously I haven’t been this sun-burned in 10 years, however it was completely worth it as the cloud cover gave the canyon a “rainforest” feel with bright lime-green hanging lichen and condensation on everything that glistened like diamonds as it caught the the rays of sunlight that managed to fight through the fog. For the second time since I started going to the National Parks I was overwhelmed at the sheer magnificence of what I found at the head of the canyon:

Truthfully these pictures don’t even come close to capturing the in-person view of this awe inspiring foliage (I am still working on my photographic skill set). After resting a few minutes to take it all in I continued on with a renewed enthusiasm, the guide brochure promised a beach finale so if the start of this trail was this incredible then I couldn’t wait to see where it ended. Also if I was early enough to beat the crowds (there were only 25 people on the island at this time) a perfect opportunity for a much needed bath! I wasn’t disappointed:

After exploring the tide pools and cliffs around the mouth of the canyon I found that there was only the one accessible beach so I decided it was now or never, stripped and jumped into the surf with camp soap in hand! The water was freezing but felt amazing on my sun-roasted skin. Combined with the relief of removing 4 days of hiking/camping grime I barely noticed the cold until I started shivering, which I knew meant it was time to get out. I dried in the sun, dressed, and put on the small remainder of my sunscreen and headed back out of the canyon to camp. Without the Marine layer the scenery was completely different on the return hike:

Back at camp, exhausted, and the equivalent of being deep-fried by the sun (#2 list), I slumped into my hammock and passed out. Several hours later I awoke determined to do some astrophotography and made the 4 mile trek to the NPS housing to see if it would be possible to get a ride to one of the mountain peaks on the island in hopes of getting above the marine layer. Unfortunately this was a no-go so I settled for the Cherry Canyon route back to camp:

Santa Rosa Hike Route Day 2-2

Cherry Canyon was dwarfed by my experience in Lobo Canyon, yet it still offered some interesting scenery:

It was dark when I finished my final hike on The Channel Islands and when I arrived back at camp I was greeted by the clamoring of what seemed like millions of frogs, though I could not spot a single one. My thirst for adventure quenched by everything I had seen and done the past 4 days I barely made it through dinner before falling into the best sleep I have had in months.

The following morning I spent my last hours walking the beach next to the pier taking pictures with a fellow camper while waiting for the Island Packers boat to arrive for the return trip back to mainland CA:

The 3.0 hour boat ride back to Ventura was much more interesting than the ride out to the islands as we were able to stop and see the Painted Cave, one of the worlds largest Sea Caves:

I was also able to get my GoPro working this time when we joined a pod of dolphins swimming into the sunset:

The remainder of the ride back to shore was uneventful and sadly I did not get to see any whales this trip, though Island Packers does offer whale watching trips. After eating re-hydrated ‘chicken n rice’ for a week the first thing I did back in Ventura was find a pizza place and down an extra large with everything on it. Since my SCUBA diving was not until Sunday I found an inexpensive AirBnB close by for the night. My host, Heather, turned out to be an aspiring model and took me with her and her photographer friend Ashley to a Street Meet in Pasadena. This was a unique and vastly different experience from my previous week of near solitude but I actually learned quite a bit from the photographers present and everyone was very friendly. Ill be putting up a separate blog post for this side-adventure later.

After parting ways with my new friends I drove back to the Ventura Harbor to board the Spectre Dive Boat. The Spectre’s original purpose was to ferry workers back and forth from the oil rigs off the coast so it comes complete with a galley, mess area, crew quarters and bunks for passengers. Divers are able to spend the night prior to diving on the boat so I clamored on-board and slumped into a bunk. I was way too nervous to sleep since I haven’t been diving in years but managed to get a few hours before the crew started their day at 6:00 am. The boat was underway promptly at 7:30 and breakfast was served along the route to the first dive location, Goldfish Bowl:

So at the first dive location I was wearing my GoPro on a head-strap which fell off immediately when I jumped into the water…….I didn’t realize it was gone until half way through the dive! I was extremely fortunate that another diver found it while on his return to the dive boat, but the only footage I got during this dive was 30 minutes of the ocean sea floor. The next dive location was not as clear or full of sea life but was still really really cool and I was able to get a full 8 minutes of diving video here:

Now the GoPro I am using is the Hero5 Session and is waterproof up to 33ft without the need of a case. My maximum depth on the dives was 59ft and it had no issue staying dry, however the pressure at that depth actually is enough to push the buttons so again I was unfortunately not able to get a decent video on the third dive, but it did capture several cool pictures:

Hands down this dive trip was the most incredible experience of my life and as affordable as it is (only $205 for a full day of diving including gear rental, meals, and a place to sleep!) I will definitely be going back one more time before I leave CA for good in the next few weeks. I just have to let my left eardrum heal since it blew out on my last dive……

The Channel Islands are the least visited park out of any of the National Parks in the country, I think mainly due to many people not knowing of their existence in combination with the difficulty in getting reservations and primitive campsites. My experience is typical of what can be found on the islands so if you ever get the chance to see them, do it!