One of the most delightful pleasures of visiting the ocean are the colorful sea stars and anemone revealed in swirling pools of receding waves. I was stunned and brightened by the tide pools I encountered at Marshalls Beach. It was the first time I’d seen tide pools since moving to California, and it brought back fond memories of tide pooling with volunteers from the Seattle Aquarium at Puget Sound beaches.
Half Dome’s shark fin-shape is one of the most striking and recognizable rock formations at Yosemite National Park. It is also one of the most difficult hikes in U.S. national parks, notorious for its steep, 400-foot gain over 0.25 miles to the 8,836-foot summit. To assist hikers, waist-high stanchions are placed into pre-drilled holes and threaded with braided steel cables. Each year, the cables and stanchions are put up in late spring and taken down in early fall. In order to climb the cables, hikers must have a permit they can apply for in a lottery on www.recreation.gov.
So how did we end up hiking Half Dome? When we moved to California, I was determined to hike to summits—ones that would push my limits, ones that I could train hard for, and ones like Mount St. Helens that I had done in Washington State. Having new hikes to work for was a way to cope with moving to a new state and a way to continue my love of hiking in California. After doing a bit of reading, Half Dome and Mount Whitney seemed like the most exciting and obvious choices.
Our most recent adventure was driving to the summit of Mount Umunhum to watch the sunset. At 3,486 feet, Mount Umunhum is a prominent peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 25 miles south of San Jose. Up until 2017 it had been closed to the public as it went through an extensive restoration, and recently re-opened last September with a brand new 7.5-mile round-trip hike to its summit.
Last Saturday I took Onur on a 14-mile hike from Stinson Beach to Mount Tamalpais, one of the tallest peaks in the Bay Area at 2,571 feet. I had been researching it for Modern Hiker, and found it to be truly original—like no other hike I’d done in Washington. Of course, I wanted to share it with Onur. We parked at Stinson Beach, and from there hiked through a beautiful redwood forest before continuing on to the summit.
While I was at Muir Woods National Monument this past Wednesday, I sidled up to a ranger giving a talk, hoping to learn more about the Coast Redwoods. At that moment, I noticed a young boy watching me. He was maybe four years old, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He looked at the ranger, looked back at me. His eyes were wide and curious. "You look like the lady [ranger]. Do you talk about trees, too?"
At the end of the last post, Grace and I had just finished our Trinity Alps trip when I received a voicemail letting me know I could come back and hike Mount Whitney. The Whitney Portal Road had closed because of wildfire the day Grace and I were supposed to start our hike, so the permit office was offering a seven day window to come back and try it again. Just like that, five days after our Trinity Alps trip, I was again packing for Mount Whitney. This time though, I was solo.
In the previous post, Grace and I made a heartbreaking decision to abort our Mount Whitney attempt. We redirected our energy instead into a new backpacking adventure: the Four Lakes Loop in the Trinity Alps. Tuesday morning, July 10th, we picked up a london fog for Grace and a cortado for me and began the 6-hour drive north towards Redding. After spending the night at Indian Creek Lodge in Douglas City, we got up early the next morning and began what would end up being a stellar, 22-mile adventure in the Trinity Alps Wilderness!
This post is the first in a three-part series about hiking Mount Whitney with a few unexpected twists: a wildfire, an alternate trip, and eventually, a solo summit.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. We were supposed to be driving southeast to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney. But there we were, heading north on a bright, sunny day to the Trinity Alps instead.
I had been eyeing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, since writing about moving to California. When I submitted my permit application to hike it, mine became one of thousands entered into the annual lottery. In 2017, there were over 15,000 applications for 100 day use permits and 60 overnight permits up for grabs per day between May 1st and November 1st.
So in March, when I got the email that I had "won" an overnight camping permit, I was elated, nearly bouncing out of my chair. I had even gotten one of my preferred entry dates: Wednesday, July 11th, 2018. I requested it because the snow was likely to melt out on the infamous 99 switchbacks by then, and because it coincided with a new moon—favorable conditions for shooting the Milky Way. Immediately, I emailed Grace to see if she wanted in. The answer was yes, and we began what would become months of planning for our first Mount Whitney summit attempt.
Hi there. Thank you for being here.
I wanted to share some news with you that this past week, my first California hiking article was published by Moon Travel Guides. It's a compilation of my favorite hikes that Onur and I have explored along the coast since moving here five months ago: beach hikes, mountaintop views of the NorCal coastline, and hikes to see elephant seals. Elephant seals!!
Since moving to the Bay Area, Onur and I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with our dear friends, Pooja and Sri, and their two precocious children, Eesha and Vikram. Sri and I met in graduate school, and after some years, he and his wife Pooja hosted me in their warm Sunnyvale apartment as I was driving up the west coast to Washington State. Fast forward almost ten years, and unbelievably, we're now just a few neighborhoods away.
Pooja and I had talked about going hiking sometime, and decided on a special girls hike for a fun outing together. I wanted to take her and Eesha to a destination—preferably someplace with views, wildflowers, and wildlife that was less than an hour's drive from the South Bay.
I chose one of my favorite preserves: Russian Ridge Preserve, named for a Russian immigrant, Mr. Paskey, who ran a dairy farm on the land from 1920-1950. What makes this 3,137-acre preserve so special are bursting wildflowers in the springtime, views of the mountains, bay, and Pacific Ocean, and the open, often treeless ridgeline: A perfect spot for Mr. Paskey's cattle. And ridgeline enthusiasts like me.
Yesterday, I was catching sight of little nooks and eaves, elegant Spanish tiles, and hidden courtyards spilling with flowerpots in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a seaside city in Monterey County so charming it feels like you're walking through a gingerbread village. No really, it's that cute! It's also an easy drive from the South Bay-just over 80 miles southwest.
With spring in full swing, it felt like the right time to visit Yosemite National Park-before the waterfalls started drying out and high tourist season kicked in. I dreaded the 4+ hour drive to Yosemite from the Bay Area, but luckily, my editor at Moon Travel Guides tipped me off to a hostel called Yosemite Bug, just under an hour's drive from the park entrance.
So, with my bed booked, my 2 day, 1 night visit was set. The plan was to arrive in the afternoon and scout the park in the evening. The next day I would hike Upper Yosemite Falls and do some more exploring before heading home. I had read there were public showers at Half Dome Village, so I planned to check those out too. Here are some highlights from my first visit to Yosemite National Park!
Onur and I have been taking day trips to the California coast since we moved here back in January, and have found it to be a special way for us to connect and discover California together. So far we've driven to Santa Cruz, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Monterey, so when Onur proposed another coastal drive, I got excited about our next prospective destination. I asked him what he thought about taking our usual drives a bit further—a little over two hours—to Big Sur. The pictures and descriptions of the Big Sur Coast Highway in my book, Moon California, looked fantastic, and I had seen lots of scenic spots on Instagram too. Onur was game, so we packed up our usual road trip fare—water bottles, dates, and walnuts—and were soon on our way. Here are four of our favorite moments from our Big Sur Coast Highway road trip.
Last Friday, in a breezeless, 80-degree heat wave, I pulled into a dusty parking lot at Sunol Regional Wilderness. The park, located on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, had looked so idyllic in pictures: a valley floor dusted with a cocoa barn, a domino run of cattle gates, and tiny turtle ponds. It had been high on my wish list for a while. When the wind gusts had died down and the meadows turned an effervescent green, I knew it was the right time to hike it.
This past Monday, I opened up Google Maps and searched for patches of green. I was looking for a nearby hike (preferably to a summit) that had great views, would give me a good workout, and leave me enough time to get home and make dinner. As the morning sunshine quickly ticked away, I spotted the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, roughly an hour's drive south from Silicon Valley.
Clicking through the preserve's website, I discovered a 7.4 mile, 1150-foot elevation gain hike to a mountaintop called Mount Umunhum. This jogged my memory: A new friend, Davina, had just mentioned Mount Umunhum to me a few days ago. It turns out the Mount Umunhum Trail and Mount Umunhum's summit opened to the public in September 2017. The trail was new!
When our friend, Andrew, came to visit last weekend from Washington, we wanted to take him someplace special. Pinnacles National Park was at the top of our list, and since it was only an hour and a half drive from the South Bay, it seemed like the best choice. None of us had been to Pinnacles before, so we'd get to know a new-to-us national park together.
And it ended up being a fantastic trip! We were blown away exploring mystical caves, admiring Pinnacles' signature spires, and spotting California condors. The icing on the cake was discovering it all together.
It's been three weeks since we moved to the Bay Area, and we are on our way to settling in. The other day, while taking a walk with Onur, we glanced at each other, feeling confused. The sun was shining bright, and at the same time, it felt like we were in an air-conditioned building.
It was a strange feeling, almost like sitting at a desk with a sunlamp on one side and a fan blowing in your face on the other. In Washington State, cold rain and scattered sunbreaks are the norm in February, and I don't remember it being as windy as we've been experiencing here, in the South Bay.
Rain beetled on our windshield, crackling like static electricity. It was the kind of rain that made me want to drive the actual speed limit. The kind that left big splotchy streaks on my soft cotton pants while we were loading up the car. Our road trip was off to a blustery start.
When we first talked about traveling from Washington to California for my husband, Onur's, new job, my antenna perked up at the idea of a "Road Trip!" We could see the redwoods! Drive along the ocean! Stop at cute beachside towns! Take one last trip before Onur started his new job! Have "the tank" (a.k.a our trusty Subaru) with us from the get-go in California!
It's a New Year, and a new adventure for our family. In a few days we're moving to California, where my husband, Onur, will start a new job in the Bay Area. Surprise! As you can imagine, we're nervous, excited, sad, and scared, but ultimately happy for the opportunity to grow in our relationship and our careers.
Throughout our eight years together in Washington State, we've watched a rainstorm from a cabin on the Olympic Coast, jet-skied on Lake Chelan, ridden horses on the beach in Seabrook, Washington, and visited our friends, George and Sheila, on Whidbey Island more times than we can count. Close friends became our family—a network of trust, support, laughter, and faith—as we navigated our lives together in Washington.