Thursday, January 23, 2014

Commonweal Hiking Trail, Bolinas, CA

Just another stunning Northern California vista: looking toward
Point Reyes on the grounds of Commonweal in Bolinas.
Commonweal Institute has been a beacon of intelligence and caring to me for decades, ever since I saw a NOVA documentary on mind & body and read the works of Rachel Naomi Remen, who leads their program on cancer and healing. I've given her books - which are about a great deal more than cancer - to too many people to count. We've visited the health/environmental think tank a few times on previous Stinson stays, but just learned they have hiking trails and are friendly to dogs! (Also cows, so bring a leash.)

Yesterday we drove two miles north of Bolinas and parked off Mesa Road in a lot at the head of Commonweal's driveway. The trailhead is a gate leading into a cow pasture. No cows were visible but we kept Georgie on the explorer leash to be safe: still plenty of freedom to check out mummified cow patties. The National Park Service map labels the field as "Niman grazing," so these were clearly high-quality patties.

In addition to animal droppings the meadow is dotted with giant concrete blocks, occasional antennas, and stacked metal tubing left over from the days of early radio. We were walking through the remains of the Marconi/RCA Bolinas Transmitting Station, a strategically important high-power point-to-point radio installation that operated for 60 years. The world's first trans-Pacific radio signal went out from here to Honolulu in 1913 - at the time, the longest transmission anywhere. The last official transmission, to Tahiti, was in 1973. The site's sister receiving station, up the peninsula in Marshall, is where news of the attack on Pearl Harbor reached the mainland.

Anchor block today

Bolinas Marconi/RCA station, 1935
It was beautiful and sunny, another in a string of cloudless, dry days.The drought here is serious and scary but it does make for pleasant hiking. The steady ocean breeze kept us in light jackets. 

As the dirt road climbed a small ridge and headed southwest we were treated to ocean views and windswept trees. There are several spur trails, one leading steeply down to a beach, but we opted to stay on the main trail, which turned north and paralleled the ocean. After some stunning views of Point Reyes (see above), we turned a corner and found ourselves in front of an abandoned building, later determined to be the transmitter building.

Wind-sculpted tree
Marconi transmitter building
After this we skirted the Commonweal campus, headed up their long driveway, and rejoined the car and water supplies we'd stupidly left behind. I am a slow learner. Total hiking time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

The Commonweal hiking trail is a loop running from Mesa Road southwest to the Pacific through cow pastures and the remains of the old Marconi/RCA Transmitting Station antenna farm2.5 miles, Bolinas, California.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness, AK

Tracy Arm
[Sept. 2, 2013] Glacier Day! Today we motored up Tracy Arm, a narrow fjord more than 30 miles long, one-fifth of which is covered with ice. It's part of the fabulously named Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness, and lies about 45 miles south of Juneau. (Fun fact: the capital of Alaska is not accessible by road.) The plan was to see the South Sawyer Glacier, then kayak partway back down the fjord.

Glacier-scarred walls
The first indication we were headed for glacier territory was the chunky, floating ice known as "bergy bits." Some were small enough to fit in your hand (or ice bucket) and some were monsters the size of three-story buildings, complete with embedded rocks. As we all know, only the top 10 percent of floating ice is visible. The captain steered carefully.

Meltwater with bergy bit
Next we noted that the rock walls show signs of massive scarring.

Then the sea changed color from the flow of glacial meltwater, full of "rock flour," or ground granite, which when suspended in water scatters the sunlight and turns it a milky turquoise. It's beautiful.

Narrow passage
A sharp-eyed passenger (not me) spotted a mountain goat high up a ridiculously steep slope. We passed plunging waterfalls, and the fjord is so steep that the captain could bring the boat right up to the rockface so that we were in the spray.

We passed a hanging glacier - one that doesn't meet the water - on the right, and another on the left. The canyon walls began to close in.

[To be continued]

Cleveland Passage, AK

Exiting Sikumi, minus dignity
[Sept. 1, 2013] Today, after a morning of fishing off Cape Fanshaw, we anchored in Cleveland Passage and climbed into kayaks - laboriously, off an inflatable dock, and with a lot of help. When you're bundled up in rain fowlies and lifevest, it's nearly impossible to bend in the middle. We had to be rolled into our vessels like sausages into a pan.
Floating over a salmon graveyard

Cleveland Passage is a sound about two miles long tucked between Whitney Island and the Alaskan mainland just northeast of Cape Fanshaw. It's a beautiful, protected place to kayak: lots of bald eagles, seals, and a salmon stream on the mainland.

Once situated in our tippy boats we headed to the stream. At its mouth, fanning out like alluvial deposits, were hundreds of dead salmon lying in mere inches of water. We were directly atop them. It was a little eerie. These were pink salmon who had completed their short life cycle of two years, returned home, spawned, and died. Coho and king salmon live longer than pinks, from three to seven years. We learned that pink salmon are not considered good eating in Alaska; they're used for canning (i.e., to feed us in the lower 48) and for bait.

Pink salmon swimming upstream 
Inside the stream we could see the fish straining forward and occasionally leaping. Three of our party went ashore to take closer pictures. "Watch out for bears," said Mike M.

Sea lion possibly attacked by orca
Further down the beach we came upon a dead sea lion with an orca-sized bite taken out of it. Our theory is that it got away and swam ashore to die. Ashlee, who enters medical school this fall, went ashore to do a post mortem.

Heading south, Cleveland Passage
Everywhere we looked there were bald eagles, both mature and juvenile. They were perched in trees, flying overhead, chasing each other, and crying out.
Don't watch

We continued south, paddling against the incoming tide. The waterscape was liquid pewter. The palette in Alaska, at least the part we saw during September, was almost entirely shades of blue and silver, with accents of dark green and mustard.

Then it was back to the boat, where we learned that getting out of the kayak onto the floating dock was possibly even more undignified than getting in.

And then it was time to head north to Windham Bay, where we were to anchor for the night. On the way the captain called us all on deck to watch humpback whales. When we finished watching them, and looked at the water behind us, it looked like this:

Late afternoon, Stephens Passage
At Windham Bay we set crab and shrimp pots, which we'll return to haul in two days. And then it was off for one of those glacier drinks.

Setting crab pots in Windham Bay

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cascade Creek Trail, Tongass National Forest, AK

It's been a busy summer with lots of visitors and plenty of swimming, dog walks, kayaking, standup paddling, and sailing. But no hikes and no exploring. Too hot, too buggy.

Alaska State footwear
At summer's end we addressed this deficit by taking the trip of a lifetime, to Alaska! There we cruised part of the Inside Passage in a small expedition vessel and visited friends and family in Anchorage and Homer. Most of the trip was too sybaritic to qualify for this blog, but we did manage to fit in some hiking and kayaking. This post covers our first Alaska hike.

Petersburg to
Cascade Creek
[Aug. 31, 2013] The afternoon of our first day out of Petersburg, M/V Sikumi took us to Thomas Bay, where the crew dinghied us ashore to Cascade Creek. The site is part of Tongass National Forest, a 17 million acre national park and the world's largest remaining temperate rain forest. There's a 4.2 mile trail, part improved and part very rough, that winds from a gravel beach up a hill and over a glacier-fed cascade to Falls Lake and
I don't know what this is, but it's damp.
then the western end of Swan Lake. In our borrowed Xtratuf boots - the state footwear of Alaska - we tromped through just a small portion of the trail, maybe half a mile, before it became too steep, slippery, and difficult for us flatlanders.

We hiked slowly because there was so much to see. Temperate rain forests like Tongass occur on the west-facing slopes of coastal mountains along the Pacific, from northern California up to Kodiak Island. They are boggy and foggy, mostly coniferous, with extravagant growth despite thin soil. In our patch of woods there were tons of giant skunk cabbage, blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberry, soggy "nursery logs" (fallen trees which serve as a growth medium for new trees), mushrooms, and ferns. Red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock were the predominant trees. We saw tiny flowers in bright colors, but you had to look carefully. I didn't notice any of these:

Luckily we had good photographers in our group: Mary and especially Cheryl. They had sharp eyes, took most of these photos, and for them I am thankful.

Also I am thankful for Mike M., our leader and the mate of Sikumi, who wore a large gun on his belt and kept an eye out for brown bears, which is what grizzlies are called when they live on the coast. Brown bears love salmon and berries. Also they are very large and have horrific claws and teeth. Later when we caught up with Mike's son the reporter, he told us of the steady diet of bear-maulings he gets to write about.
Staying close to the guy
with the gun

The first portion of the hike was easy, spongy trail. Then it switched to a magical staircase up the hill. Who maintains these things in the middle of nowhere?

Cascade Creek
Then we came to a clearing with a good view of the cascade, climbed higher with considerably more difficulty, crossed a bridge over the frothing water and looked down into the abyss, climbed a bit further, gave up, climbed carefully down, and dinghied back home to cocktails made with glacier ice.

Boat Sweet Boat

Friday, May 10, 2013

Been kayaking

Been kayaking four or five times since I last posted about hiking.

Also have been on many, many hikes, but all of them were local, and all of them dog-oriented. More on that another time. This new dog business is kicking our behinds.

Meanwhile, kayaking with a phone is undoubtedly a bad idea but it's lots of fun. Here's a kayak's-eye view of Damariscotta harbor at 1pm today.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

24 weeks of kayaking: the Pemaquid Paddlers schedule

From the supremely organized & generous John Will of Pemaquid Paddlers:

All trips will leave the put-in point at 9:00 A.M. and will last 2-3 hours. The trips are easy to moderate in difficulty. Participants must provide their own canoe or kayak and wear a life jacket. All trips are free and open to the public and will be held rain or shine. 

Tuesday, May 21: Duck Puddle Pond. Put-in is off of Bremen Road (a.k.a. Nobleboro Rd.) at the outlet of Duck Puddle Pond. From Damariscotta take Route 1 north, 4.7 miles and turn right onto Winslow Hill Road, travel 0.2 miles to Duckpuddle Road and then travel 1.2 miles to Bremen Road, after going 0.3 miles there is a small parking lot on the right or you can park along the side of the road. From Bremen, access Nobleboro Rd., opposite the Bremen Town Offices and library on Route 32 and travel 3.4 miles to the put-in site.

Tuesday, May 28: Damariscotta River. The put-in is at the Damariscotta Town Landing off of the municipal parking lot in downtown Damariscotta.

Tuesday, June 4: Boothbay Harbor area. We will put-in at the Knickercane put-in site. Take Route 27 south from Route 1 towards Boothbay for 9.6 miles to the monument in Boothbay, turn right. Go to the 4-way stop and go straight, where the road comes to a "Y" go to the right. You can also follow the signs to the Botanical Gardens and just continue past it until you come to a bridge. Just after crossing the bridge the parking lot is on your left. We will paddle the Back River.

Tuesday, June 11: Medomak River, Waldoboro Town Landing. The put-in point is on the western side of the river, across from downtown Waldoboro. The put-in site can be reached from Route 32 or Route 1 by Maine Street in Waldoboro to Pine Street to the town landing.

Tuesday, June 18: Seven Tree Pond. To reach the put-in site, take Route 1 north past Waldoboro to Route 235 (Union Road). Travel 8.3 miles from Route 1, the public boat launch is on your right just after crossing a bridge. Bring a picnic lunch for after the paddle.

Tuesday, June 25: Biscay Pond to Pemaquid Pond. Put-in is at Biscay Beach off of Biscay Road. Take Biscay Road at the Damariscotta traffic light, by McDonald’s, the beach is on the right when you see the pond. We will soon leave Biscay Pond and travel under the bridge and into the connecting stream and into Pemaquid Pond and paddle north into the pond.

Tuesday, July 2: Boothbay Harbor area. We will put-in at Knickercane and soon paddle through a culvert and out into the Sheepscot River. See June 4 for directions to the put-in site.

Tuesday, July 9: Pemaquid River from Bristol Mills to Biscay Pond. Put-in is at the Bristol Mills boat launch on Route 130 (Bristol Road), approximately 5.5 miles south of Damariscotta.

Tuesday, July 16: Sheepscot River and the east side of Westport Island. Put-in is the Wiscasset Town Landing at the end of Water Street.

Tuesday, July 23: Johns Bay and the West Branch of the Johns River. Put-in at the Colonial Pemaquid boat launch. From Damariscotta, take Route 130 (Bristol Rd), approximately 11 miles, turn right onto Huddle Road. Follow Huddle Rd. until it ends, turn right and follow the signs to the Colonial Pemaquid boat launch site, past the fort and down the hill.

Tuesday, July 30: Damariscotta Lake. Put-in is at the public boat launch off of Route 213, two miles from the intersection of Route 213 and 215. We will paddle to the right towards the fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills.

Tuesday, August 6: Broad Cove. Put-in is at the end of Storer Road, Bremen, off of Route 32, 3.4 miles north of Biscay Rd or 0.3 miles north of Turner Road or 0.2 miles south of the Bremen Town Offices. The street sign is hard to see coming from the town offices, on the corner of Storer Rd. there is a house with a fence along Route 32.

Tuesday, August 13: Damariscotta Lake. See July 30 for directions to the put-in site. On this paddle we will paddle to the left of the put-in site, towards the center of the lake.

Tuesday, August 20: Boothbay Harbor area. See June 4 for driving directions to the put-in site. On this trip we will paddle onto the Sheepscot River and around the Isle of Springs. Bring a picnic lunch for after the paddle.

Tuesday, August 27: Pemaquid Pond. We will paddle the northern end of the pond. The put-in is the Nobleboro Boat Launch which is off of Route 1, 4.2 miles north of Damariscotta. Look for the ballfield along Route 1.

Tuesday, September 3: Muscongus Bay. We will paddle towards Waldoboro. Put-in is off of Dutch Neck Rd. Take Route 32 to Dutch Neck Road, travel 2.8 miles. Look for a weathered wooden sign, about 6 feet off the ground on the left which reads "Boat Landing". Turn left and go 0.2 miles to the parking area.

Tuesday, September 10: Seven Tree Pond and into Road Pond and up the stream behind the union Fair Grounds. See June 18 for driving directions to the put-in site. Bring a picnic lunch for after the paddle.

Tuesday, September 17: Sheepscot River, we will paddle up the river under the Route 1 bridge and continue up past the railroad bridge. See July 16 for driving directions to the put-in site.

Tuesday, September 24: Clary Lake. Put-in, from Newcastle, take Route 215 north for 14.3 miles, shortly after passing Route 126 you will see the state public put-in site on your left. We will paddle to the old mill at the far end of the lake.

Tuesday, October 1: St George River, Thomaston. At the traffic light in Thomaston, turn right on Knox Rd., if you are coming from the south and if you are coming from the north turn left at the light. Go 0.5 miles, when you reach the Lymon-Morse shipyard (do not go in to the shipyard) angle to the right on the paved road for about 25 yards. You will soon see the state put-in on your left. Bring a picnic lunch for after the paddle.

Tuesday, October 8: Damariscotta Lake, Vannah Rd. To reach the put-in site, take Route 1 north from Damariscotta to Vannah Rd., which is at the intersection by the fire station and power sports store. Travel 1.1 miles to the put-in site, located after the railroad tracks. Park along the side of the road, the ramp is near the center of the causeway.

Tuesday, October 15: Muscongus Bay. See September 3 for driving directions. On this trip we will paddle down the bay towards Broad Cove.

Tuesday, October 22: Biscay Pond. See June 25 for driving directions. On this trip we will stay on the pond and paddle to where the Pemaquid River starts.

Tuesday, October 29: Round Pond Harbor and Muscongus Bay. Take Route 32 to Round Pond and follow the signs in the center of town to the public landing. There is a $2.00 put-in fee.

John F. Will
22 Fieldcrest Lane
Pemaquid ME  04558-4215
(207) 677-6380

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Last dogless walk: West River Trail, Brattleboro, Vermont

The West River, Brattleboro
Saturday, April 27. I've missed a week, due to a family visit to Virginia, and flew back to Boston Friday. Mike picked me up and we drove to Brattleboro, Vermont, to meet our new rescue dog from Georgia! More on her in another post.

After dinner with lots of wine, a night in the cool downtown Latchis Hotel, and breakfast at Putney, we went looking for fun things to do. A cup of cocoa each from Burdick's in NH put Mike close to seizure territory and had me feeling queasy. A hike on the West River Trail in Brattleboro was just the thing.

I-91 thunders over our heads
The trail is the old right of way for the West River Railroad of southern Vermont, which ran from 1880 to 1936. It was plagued by washouts, derailments, deaths, snowstorms, stranded passengers, and other troubles, leading a 1903 newspaper editorial to call it the "try-daily -- they go down in the morning and try to get back at night." The trail follows the West River, which joins the Connecticut River at Brattleboro.

The day was gorgeous and the trail super easy, which suited our hungover, chocolate-amped state. At one point the trail crosses under I-91, which is carried over the West River on two rusty green iron bridges, larger versions of the Ur-bridge that exists in every New England mill town.

Wood turtle
After about an hour we left the trail and scrambled onto a small island in the river. There we saw a pretty wood turtle napping in the sun. I didn't really know what it was; I had to send a picture to my friend Jane who knows all animals. Turns out she had one as a pet for a while as a kid. It's noted for the pyramidal markings on its upper shell.

We took a break and lay in the sun for a bit on the way back to the trailhead, and there I snapped this picture for posterity.

Happy hungover hiker