July 31, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Victoria

Our last port of call on our Alaska Cruise was Victoria, BC, Canada. Since we had been to Victoria before we opted out of the excursions which included popular sites such as Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Instead we walked about 20 minutes from the ship to Downtown Victoria.  Here we stopped at several shops and walked along the Inner Harbour. We spent some time admiring the Fairmont Empress Hotel and watched the street performers. As we made our way back to the ship we passed by the Parliament buildings which were beautifully lit. There was a cadet event at the Parliament buildings, with a parade, so we stayed and watched for a while. As we approached our cruise ship, we marveled at the beautiful sunset behind the brightly lit ships and came to the sad realization that our trip was nearly over. Below is a video of the highlights of our Alaska Cruise.

July 30, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan

Our third port of call for our cruise in Alaska was Ketchikan. We booked a short excursion through the ship, which after much research seemed like it was the one thing not to miss. We went to the first showing of the day of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. It was only a short walk from the pier. There is a merchandise store that you need to go into to get to the show because the entrance of the show is in the store itself. We got there with time to do some window shopping before lining up for the show. They let us in about 15 minutes before the start time. Seating was stadium style with overhead covers in case it rained. They had a snack bar with cold and hot drinks and limited food that they kept encouraging people to go to before the show. For the event there were two teams of lumberjacks and they split the audience in two to cheer for the two teams. They competed in several events such as the speed climb, axe throwing, chopping, sawing and log rolling. It was 45 minutes of entertainment. Nothing we hadn't seen before on television but still worth watching in person. After the show we had a few hours to spend in Ketchikan on our own. We walked up the famous Creek Street which is a historic boardwalk perched on pilings along the banks of Ketchikan Creek. It used to be the Red Light District at one time. We stopped at a few souvenier shops along the way and admired the salmon in the creek. We then walked to the Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center. After paying our fee, we saw an owl, two bald eagles and some fish. The center raises and releases salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout and cares for injured bald eagles. It was a quick 30 minute tour of the small center and then we moved on to the Totem Heritage Center which is right across from the hatchery. The center preserves 19th century totem poles from uninhabited Native American sites near Ketchikan. Along with the totem poles there were other native crafts on display. We then made our way back towards the pier, making stops at shops along the way for souveniers and other goodies like kettlecorn. We returned to the ship early, with about an hour to spare.

July 29, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Glacier Bay

This was to be a special at sea day on our cruise. We would be cruising Glacier Bay National Park. The most common way people get to see Glacier Bay is by cruise ship.  In the early morning National Park Service park rangers boarded the cruise ship. They setup in one of the lounges with some educational information and to answer questions. One of the rangers headed to the bridge and provided narration for the cruising of Glacier Bay over the ships intercom. The outer decks of the ship got crowded as everyone headed outside for the views. The main highlight was reaching the Margerie Glacier. Margerie Glacier is a 21 mile long tide water glacier. The ship got very close to it and then turned all the way around that way everyone on the ship got a great view of it no mater where you were viewing from. We took lots of great pictures from the front of deck 13. It is truly a remarkable site to see. As the weather was pretty cold we headed back to our room and would enjoy the rest of Glacier Bay from the privacy of our own balcony.  The next big site to see was the Johns Hopkins Glacier. The ship did the usual turn so everyone could see. It was a beautiful site to see but no where near as impressive as Margerie had been. After the ship continued on a bit we headed to the ships theatre where one of the rangers put on a slideshow about Glacier Bay. After the presentation the rangers left the ship and the ship headed out of Glacier Bay.

July 28, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Skagway

For our day in Skagway we picked another hiking excursion. The description was to hike to Laughton Glacier and if time permitted hike on the glacier itself. We started on the White Pass Railroad which many people take as their excursion. There was about twenty people in our group. We met up with our three hiking guides from Packer Expeditions and then boarded the train. On the train trip we signed waivers and filled out emergency contact forms in case they were needed. The tour company provided us with lumbar packs for the hike which included two bottles of water, candy bars and assorted nuts. We were also provided with food to create our own sandwiches to be eaten on the hike. We took the snacks and water and used our own packs. On the train ride the guides provided us with great information about the scenery and there were amazing views and photo opportunities. We were dropped off near the trailhead while the rest of the people on the train continued on with their train tour. At the trailhead we were given a safety chat and were offered hiking poles and crampons. The guides each had a large pack that included safety equipment but also extra jackets, rain gear, gloves, etc. They also happily carried the groups extra clothing layers once they were shed.
We headed out on the well maintained narrow dirt trail. We started at a fairly quick steady pace with several stops along the way for information about the flora, the glacier and Alaska. After about one or two miles we took a very short detour to the only outhouse on the trail. After the quick stop we made our way back on the dirt trail that soon became very rocky. Much of the rocks were loose and unsteady and we were glad to have the hiking poles. Most of the rest of the trail was over loose rocks along the creek. Because of the unexpected great weather we got some early views of the glacier and mountain. It turned out to be a sunny clear day with minimal wind. We eventually reached a point on the trail where we could have either crossed the creek on a rock bridge that was recently created by one of our guides or take a long route around the creek. Since the long route would cut into our time to hike on the glacier we crossed the rock bridge instead. Some of the gaps between the rocks were large so one of the guides positioned himself on the bridge to help us along. Once on the other side of the creek, path of unsteady rocks continued and there were sections where we had to scramble up some fairly large stones. The air became increasingly cooler from this point on, as we got closer and closer to the glacier. Clothes layers that were shed earlier on the hike were now being put back on. Finer and finer rocks made up most of the rest of the trail and as we frequently slipped on the rocks we could easily see that there was ice just under the rocks, we were actually already on the glacier. We continued on a little while longer before stopping to break for lunch.  We ate our sandwiches and snacks and the guides also had Tang to add to our water bottle if we wanted as well as hot water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
After our nice lunch break we were given three options: 1. head back, 2. rest a little longer and then head back or 3. head up a bit further on the glacier then hike back. The larger group broke up into the three groups. We decided to continue on the glacier but put our crampons on before doing so. We hiked about another mile and were rewarded with much better views of the glacier. After admiring the great scenery we headed back. We retraced our steps over the glacier and over the rocky trail. The water level had swelled over the creek flooding a few parts of the rock bridge. Our guide rearranged a few of the rocks and we made our way across. We soon joined up with one of the other groups. We made a quick stop for some snapshots by the creek before continuing on. We made our way along loose rocky trail back to the detour near the outhouse again and met up with the third group. Another quick break before finding the dirt trail. We moved quickly from this point on to make sure we made one of the last trains taking us back to the harbor. We stopped only briefly for a few more picures of the creek and more stories by the guides. We made it back to the start with a few minutes to spare. We celebrated with nice cold Alaskan beer that the guides had brought in a cooler. They also had apple juice and water for those underage. The train came through and picked us up and we made our way back. It was a great hike and experience overall. It ended up being about an 8 mile hike for us and with the train rides and breaks it took us the majority of the day. The weather was great, we could not have asked for a better day.

Packer Expeditions

July 27, 2010

Alaska Cruise: Juneau

Vacation time was finally upon us. We had planned months ago to do a cruise to Alaska. We boarded NCL's Pearl in Seattle, and over the next week we would be making stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria along with cruising Glacier Bay National Park. Our first port of call was Juneau, the capitol of Alaska. We booked a hiking excursion through the ship. Upon getting off the Pearl we hopped on a bus with about 30 other people and headed out for the short drive. We had three guides from the local Gastineau Guiding company. They gave us some great info while on the ride and even pointed out several bald eagles along the way. We arrived at the parking lot across from the trailhead, which was full of buses. We were given water and snacks and we split into three groups. Our group of about 10 and our guide headed out for the hike. The hike would be about 4 miles round trip. We were surrounded by lush green scenery and crossed a creek where we could see some salmon up close. The pace of our hike was slowed greatly by a few people in our group who were constantly stopping for pictures and obviously don't hike much. Our guide provided us with great information along the way and kept the group moving. The payoff came towards the end of the hike when we got our first view of the Mendenhall Glacier. The spectacular views of the glacier were what we came to Alaska to see, and it was amazing. The end of the hike continued with more views of the glacier all the way until we reached the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The visitor center area was busy with people, most take a tour bus straight from the ship here. We ended up with only a few minutes before we had to leave, not enough time to even take a look inside the center. It was a nice hike but in the end we did not get to see much more than the visitors who don't hike. The bus dropped us off at downtown Juneau where we had some time to walk around and do some shopping before getting back on the ship.

Norwegian Cruise Line
Gastineau Guiding
Mendenhall Glacier

July 22, 2010

Dublin Hills Regional Park

It is rare that you are able to attend the opening of a new park. So I couldn't miss the opportunity to attend the dedication and official opening of Dublin Hills Regional Park. Dublin Hills is the newest addition to the East Bay Regional Park District, and has been over 16 years in the making.  The park covers around 660 acres of land in the hills above Dublin. The dedication took place at the newly constructed Donlan Point Staging Area. The staging area has space for about 23 cars and has a restroom. It is located right off of Dublin Blvd. It was a large group of people that turned out for the dedication. Various speakers talked about how this new park came to be. After the dedication which included words from the current and past mayors of Dublin, the ribbon was cut and the gate opened. Most everyone proceeded to hike to the top of Donlan Point and enjoy the 360 degree view. Its maybe a 1.25mile round trip. It is fantastic to have an additional park in the East Bay for residents to enjoy. I thank all those who put so much work into making it possible. I look forward to enjoying the park again.

Dublin Hills Website

July 18, 2010

Jail Break Run

We ran the 10k Jail Break Run at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin today. They also had a 5k race. The location of the race got us interested initially and because it benefitted the Special Olympics we decided to participate. There was ample parking at the jail so we had no delay finding a spot. It was a short walk to race bib pick-up which was on the running track. After signing the required waiver, bib and t-shirt pick up went smoothly. The start line was not so obvious but announcements were made in plenty of time to let us know where to go. It was a mass start with the 5k and 10k groups starting at the same time and surprisingly was not as chaotic as it sounds. Although it was delayed about five minutes or so since there were a lot of people doing same day registration. The SWAT team lead the start, running in formation. The route started by making a loop around the jail. Just as we got back to the start area there was a split between the 5k and 10k race routes. It was obvious that there was a split but not obvious as to who goes in which direction. We nearly missed our turn and we know one person who went the wrong way.
The route for the 10k went north, next to the jail, before going up a hill. This is the same hill that the SWAT team has to run in their training. It wasn't too steep but it was an impressive hill that climbed over a mile to the water tower. The trail on the hill was completely exposed so the sun beating down was tough. Once at the top we made our way around the water tower before heading back down the hill. Passing through the start again the route takes you by the training center before joining Tassajara Creek Trail. We followed this trail for about a mile or so before returning on the street through a residential area. The course in this area had some slight uphills and downhills with few flat sections. Heading back toward the start was the finish line, with the 10k chute to the left and the 5k chute to the right. There were several water stations along the course and mile markers at every mile. There were chalked arrows along most of the route to help guide the runners on the right path. Plenty of bananas, orange slices and water were on the running track postrace. The kids races followed, then the raffle for Giants tickets then race awards. We left just as it was really warming up. It was a good race course with good support but the split of the two races could have been better.

July 10, 2010

Wildcat Peak Hike

We had been planning to get out to hike Wildcat Peak for over a month, just never seemed to get out there. On this particular weekend the stars aligned and we headed out the door. Wildcat Peak is located within Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills which is one of EBRPD's parks. For the hike we headed to the Environmental Education Center which is adjacent to Little Farm at Tilden. The one thing you definetely need to do is get a trail map before you head out. The reason is the trail posts in this area are not marked with the usual name of the trails but little pictures instead. A picture of a tree signifies Pine Tree Trail, picture of a bird for Jewel Lake Trail and so on. The trail map has a key to go by.

We began our hike from behind the Education Center, and headed towards Sylvan Trail. This is where a deer jumped from the bushes and crossed the trail right in front of us. Of course I didn't have our camera out, but I did get some pictures as it continued on away from us. Proceeding forward we turned right onto Wildcat Peak Trail. Wildcat Peak Trail heads up hill, you become more exposed the higher you get. When you get to the top there will be a junction to the left that will take you the last few feet to the top. Wildcat Peak tops out an elevation of 1211ft giving you great views all around. On our particular day the fog was still lingering and there wasn't much to see. After a few pictures we continued along and made a right turn onto Nimitz Way. Nimitz Way is a  wide paved trail popular with runners and bikers. We were only on Nimitz a short bit before making a right towards Laurel Canyon Trail. Laurel Canyon heads downhill, the trail is pretty narrow and overgrown in spots. Also a few muddy spots so you may want to avoid this trail in the winter. Laurel Canyon will take you all the way back down to the back of the Education Center to the hikes end. This hike is about 3.5miles roundtrip and took us almost two hours. A nice easy hike, which would have been better if it was a clear day. Afterwards we stopped by the Education Center. The center was very impressive with lots of exhibits. We grabbed a few trail maps for some other parks on our way out the door. We stopped by the Little Farm before leaving, check out our video below.

Laurel Canyon Trail

Tilden Education Center

Tilden Park Website

July 4, 2010

Ano Nuevo State Park

Our last stop of our holiday weekend coast trip was Ano Nuevo State Park. It's located just off Highway 1 in Pescadero, in San Mateo County. After paying the $10 entrance fee we parked in the good sized lot. There are also picnic tables and bathrooms at the parking lot. Not too many people at the parking lot or at the picnic tables, not sure if this is typical or if it was because of the cold breezy day. After grabbing our gear and jackets we stopped at the visitor center to pick up the free permit that is required to hike in the reserve. We didn't think we'd be able to see any Elephant Seals at this time of the year but the docent at the visitor center let us know otherwise. Excited about the news we headed out to the Ano Nuevo Trail. The trailhead is only a few feet from the visitor center. The dirt trail is nice and level and passes around a pond. The Ano Nuevo Point Trail passes to the east side of the pond but we passed along the west side which is Pond Loop Trail. Passing through the wetland areas, kept an eye out for garter snakes which are native to this area. We didn't see any on our trip. Just under a mile in we came across a kiosk and staging area for the Wildlife Protection Area. There is often a docent here with exhibits pertaining to elephant seals. You need the permit to continue beyond this point. The dirt trail soon turned into sand and we were on the sand bluffs for the rest of the hike. There were three turnoffs from this trail that lead to coastal views and on this day, views of the Elephant Seals. The first turnoff is to South Point which we bypassed since we had been told earlier that you could only see a couple of pinnipeds there. We continued on and took the turnoff to Bight Beach where we were met by three docents. They gave us lots of information about the few elephant seals we could see from that viewpoint. We could also see Ano Nuevo Island which is few miles off the shore and houses an abandoned lighthouse.
On most days, including this one, it also houses sea lions and seals. Binoculars came in handy to view the island, and the docents had a telescope we could use as well. After a brief stop here we made our way back on the sandy trail and continued to North Point. Again we were met by knowledgeable docents that gave us additional information about the large elephant seals, specifically their behavior. We were fortunate enough to get great views of the huge elephant seals. We marveled at the sight and loud sounds of the seals before heading back on the trail. We retraced our steps on the sand and dirt. After passing the pond we heard and luckily saw a happy little bird that was a nice end to our hike. We took about 2 hours to do the four mile roundrtip hike, including the stops at the viewpoints. We would like to comeback during the elephant seal mating season (December-March) when the area is accessible via guided walks only.

Visitor Center

Ano Nuevo SP Website

Pigeon Point Light Station

We were spending the weekend on the coast for the 4th of July weekend. On our way from Half Moon Bay to Ano Nuevo we stopped at Pigeon Point Light Station. Pigeon Point is a State Historic Park and is located on Highway 1, about 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay. The lighthouse is 115 feet tall and was first put in to operation in 1872. The lighthouse itself is closed to the public but the grounds are open. There is a small gift shop and the old fog signal building shows a video on the history of the lighthouse.  There are observation points next to and behind the lighthouse that provide excellent views of the coast. Guided history walks are given on the weekends provided it doesn't rain.  The lighthouse keeper's housing is restored and operated as a Hostel. The Hostel has around 59 beds and prices start at $23. On our visit we walked the grounds taking numerous photos of the buildings and the coast. We stopped in the gift shop for a chat with one of the docents, and even bought a souvenir magnet. If you happen to be driving down the coast it is definitely worth while to stop by and check out Pigeon Point.

Keepers Store


Pigeon Point Light Station Website
Pigeon Point Hostel Website

July 3, 2010

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Our next hike of the holiday weekend was a short one at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The reserve is located on the San Mateo County coast in Moss Beach, California. It was established in 1969 to protect the marine plant and animal species in the area. There is a small visitor center and a parking lot at the reserve. No entrance or parking fee. From the parking lot you can walk down to the beach and tidepools area or you can head a few feet south to the Coastal Trail, which is a cliff-top dirt trail that follows the coastline. At lowtide you can enjoy the tidepools or walk 2.5 miles along the beach down to Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay. The Coastal trail takes you about half a mile to another beach access point. We happened to be at the reserve at near high tide so we decided to skip the tide pools this time and enjoy the coastline views instead. The trail was fairly flat and the views did not disappoint. We were able to get great coastal views and saw the sea lions well from above. We realized that the beach itself had areas that were roped off so that people would keep their distance from the sea lions so had we wanted to we would not have been able to complete the 2.5 mile hike to Pillar Point along the beach. The traffic on the trail was moderate. We saw some amazingly colorful flowers and even some bees at work! We spent about 45 minutes on the one mile roundtrip hike before heading down to the beach to relax before ending the day.