Tuesday, September 19, 2017

France 2017 - Paris

We took off without a hitch from Sac Metro Airport and landed in Salt Lake City 15 minutes early - great! A 1 hour layover, just the right amount of time. Around the time we should have started boarding, they announced a delay of one hour due to a mechanical problem with the plane.  One hour turned into two, then three, rhen three and a half.  Finally they gave the word that we would be boarding, but we had to be very quick about it as the flight crew was about to time-out and then we would have a big problem and another delay.  Well we all managed to get on the plane and push off from the gate with just minutes to spare. Whew!

We had a good flight and arrived in Paris without incident, but now it was late afternoon and so our plans changed to basically dinner and bed instead of doing a little sightseeing after landing.  The next morning, we woke up and had a nice breakfast of French pastry then decided to walk around a bit.  We walked through the Tullieries gardens and over to the Grande Palais and then the Eiffel Tower.

In the afternoon, we had arranged to go to Monet's home and gardens at Giverny with a small group tour.  The gardens were very nice and still showing a lot of color, it did rain a little bit on us but we enjoyed the gardens and looking inside the house. We enjoyed a good dinner and took ourselves off to bed as we had an early start for Verdun the next day.

France 2017

Back to France! I've been planning our return for several months now, almost since returning from our last visit. When we went to France last year, we realized there was so much more to see and we decided to go again this year!

We decided to spend 3 weeks - the first week with two of our friends to see Verdun and Giverny, and a little more time in Paris. The second week we would all meet up with two more friends and the six of us would take a riverboat cruise from Bordeaux.  The third week would be just Mike and I exploring the Dordogne region.  

So a lot of planning had to go into this trip because the three different weeks are so diverse and so different from each other.  I feel as though I haven't done as much research in some areas as I should have, so we'll see how it all turns out.  :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Yosemite National Park/ Half Dome Hike

This was "take 2" on Half Dome. Last year we attempted it and couldn't make it to the top because I had very bad cramping in my legs. I was determined to have a different outcome this year, so I made some changes in my preparation and approach.

Firstly, I did not work out for a few days before the hike.  I think this was a big factor in the cramps I had last year because I did a leg workout the day before our hike last year. Secondly, we brought more water with us and also a filtration device, because last year we ran out of water on the way down. The third change was bringing salt and electrolyte supplements with us and using them a few times throughout the day.

We started out at 4:30am to take advantage of the cooler morning temps and get a head start on the rest of our group.  They are younger than we are and faster, so getting started earlier meant we could go at a pace that was easier for us.  It was a bit scary doing the first hour in the dark, I imagined bear and mountain lion lurking around the giant boulders on the trail. Luckily we only saw a bobcat and that was actually in the road on the way to the trailhead.

The hike up the Mist Trail was just as difficult as I remembered from last year.  I had knee arthroscopy in 2015 and still have a partially torn meniscus, so all those step ups on the Mist Trail become  painful for me. We were rewarded with a beautiful view of Vernal Falls at sunrise and even some mist this year since the falls are still flowing pretty nicely thanks to all the rain and snow we had this year.  We carried on up to the top of Nevada Falls, more steps and climbing up rocks. There were also a lot more bugs this year, yuk!

Once at the top of Nevada Fallls we headed through Little Yosemite Valley heading to Half Dome Trail. It was about half way to the subdome that our friends caught up to us, so our timing was perfect. We made it to the ranger checkpoint at the subdome in good time. A special permit is required in order to continue up and over the subdome and up the cables to the top of Half Dome.  The ranger checked our permit and we were good to go.

The subdome seemed a little less scary than last year and we all stopped to regroup before starting up the cables.  Going was up was definitely hard but doable.  It definitely takes some arm and leg strength but takes some mental determination as well. Two of our group have a fear of heights so this was a major accomplishment for them and I really admire their veracity.

Once at the top we looked around enjoying the views, had a little rest, took a bunch of celebratory photos and then prepared for the descent.  Smoke from the nearby wildfire was starting to blow towards us as we headed down.

Personally, I thought going down the cables was much easier than going up. We basically went down backwards/sideways, holding onto one cable with both hands.  Thank goodness we had good gloves because we could feel the heat from the friction right through the gloves.  We finally all made it down to the subdome and started the long hike back to the valley floor.  Elevation gain 4,000 feet and distance of 8.1 miles on the way up! Bad news: you have to hike back down now.

Three of us opted to take the John Muir Trail down from the top of Nevada Falls. It added an extra 1.5 miles but we wouldn't have to go down all those steps on the Mist Trail, and my knee was already pretty sore.

We made it back to the trailhead at 15 hours which is an hour better than our time last year. I finally can check Half Dome off my list of things to accomplish! Hooray!

Half Dome Hike - Yosemite Photos

Wildfire smoke 
Half Dome (from Yosemite Valley floor) 

Me on the "diving board" at the top 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fall Creek and lime kiln photos

Fall Creek trail
Lime Kiln remains 
sunlight in the Redwood grove

Monterey/Santa Cruz hiking and whale watching

We went to Monterey last month as Mike was in need of some vitamin "SEA". He loves the ocean and if we don't go visit every few months, he becomes a very sad fellow.

With all our favorite trails in Big Sur inaccessible due to the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge collapse, we opted for some hiking in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was our destination and an easy 45 minute drive from Monterey.

The main park has a grove of impressive old growth Redwoods. There is also a gift store and nature center with helpful volunteers.  We decided to do the Redwood Grove Loop Trail and River Trail first. Well, not really first but we missed the turnoff for the trail to the observation deck so we ended up right back at the nature center! Yeesh! I couldn't believe it when we found ourselves right back at the beginning again. We re-oriented ourselves and headed out for the observation deck on the Ridge Fire Road.  The fire road was paved and easily walkable until it started its uphill climb. This road went up at a pretty steep incline for about a mile before we made it to the fork where you can go on about 100 yards to the observation bench or turn off and take a trail for another half mile uphill to the observation deck. Well it was about 80-85 degrees that day and frankly we were so hot we decided to just see what the view was like from the observation bench. Silly me- I thought the bench might be in some nice shade but that was not the case. We could see the ocean in the distance from the bench so we decided that was good enough for us. Back down the trail and straight to the car for a cool drink.

Next stop was the Fall Creek area. This is a separate unit of the same Henry Cowell State Park but this area has no services whatsoever.  It does have some old remnants of lime kilns that we thought would be interesting.  There is a short hike to the kilns from the road, about half a mile, but the only parking is on the road. We only found a couple of places that we might even consider parking, but ultimately we felt they were just too small and didn't get our car far enough off the narrow road. Back down the road to the main entrance and a 2.4 mile in and out hike instead.  This hike was really pleasant as there were no really steep parts and the trail follows the Fall Creek the entire way. With all our recent rain, the creek was flowing nicely with several small rapids and waterfalls.  There was a lot of evidence of the toll our winter had in this area as we passed many downed trees and there was a nice waterfall created by several downed trees that had fallen on top of each other across the creek.  We made it to the lime kiln remains and poked around a bit then headed back down again. There weren't many other hikers there, especially compared with the area we had hiked earlier. I have to say that if you want to see more impressive lime kilns, try Lime Kiln State Park instead. It's south of Big Sur, and has more intact kilns and also a nice beach on the ocean.

The next morning we went out whale watching with our favorite company Monterey Bay Whale Watch.  There were a number of humpback whales being seen across the bay by Moss Landing.  We made it across the bay and could see a couple of other whale watching boats that were just sitting in one place and knew that meant there were whales around. As we got closer, a whale suddenly surfaced right in front of our boat, blew his stinky breath on us and dived down under the water! It was so close that the captain actually had to reverse the boat engines. We spent about an hour or more watching various whales surface and dive. We didn't see any of the killer whales that have been hanging around the area the past month though. We had a chilly ride back to the other side of the bay as the marine layer was starting to come in and we always stay outside the cabin to avoid seasickness.
Dinner was a nice hot bowl of clam chowder and Chicken Caesar salad then a drive along beautiful Oceanview Drive before heading back to our hotel.

A Wet and Wild Winter

Well, we had record rainfall this winter after 7 years of drought. It was really nice to see California looking so green! We received a lot of snow in the mountains so we won't have any water rationing this year because we'll have plenty of runoff as the snowpack melts.

The downside of all that rain is that many of our favorite hiking trails are either washed out, inaccessible or still covered in snow 😞