Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Week in Vermont

After less than 24 hours in Oxnerd, Chris was off to Cincinnati while I opted for a trip back home to see the folks.  I am a slow packer so had wisely packed for the Vermont and Hawaii trips concurrently.  (That was rather weird.)  My travel day was one of blunders and potential mishaps, but everything worked out just fine in the end.  The day started off with my going to the wrong airline terminal at LAX.  Oops.  Then I got randomly chosen for additional screening.  Grrr.  I got stopped for speeding--a first in my life!--in New Hampshire but drove away without a ticket--no small feat as I was driving a rental car with Massachusetts plates while carrying a California drivers license.  And then I had to brake and swerve to avoid hitting a deer a couple of miles from my parents' house before FINALLY arriving in one piece.  Yes!

One of the things I look forward to when going back home is running some of my old routes and hiking in the White Mountains.  November's weather is usually pretty uninspiring, but last week was an exception:  mostly sunny skies, moderate temps, and no ice or snow on the trails yet.  One of my favorite places to run anywhere is the dirt roads of Barnet and adjacent towns of Peacham and Danville.  Since I started running in the early 1990s, I've been drawn to this area for its quintessential Vermont beauty, solitude, lack of traffic, and kick-ass hill work.  Over the years I've logged many, many miles and solved a few of the world's problems on these quiet country roads.  Monday morning I ran one of my favorite loops in Barnet Center, an 8 miler.  One vehicle went by the entire hour plus.  I love that loop!

Tuesday my good friend Al and I did a northern Presi traverse:  up Mt. Washington via Tuckerman Ravine, across Mts. Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.  Look, no snow or ice!  A little blustery though.

We were so happy to be able to do this trek in trail runners and not boots & crampons.  The weather was so nice that the cog railway was even running! 

Another day I did a nice 90 minutes on "the best trail network in North America," this bold statement the result of a Bike Magazine poll and one with which I agree... from May to October anyway!     

My last full day in VT/NH a small group of old & new friends laughed our way across a Moriah-Carter-Wildcat traverse, a gnarly 18.5 miles and 8000 feet of vertical in the Whites, again with good conditions for this time of year.   It was nice to be back in my old stomping grounds for some 4000 footer bagging AND to witness this trio, who were lucky to survive the recent NH moose (hunting) season unscathed.  Yay moose!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hawaii, the Big Island

We had a nice time on the Big Island last week.  Using airline miles for the plane fare, we had intended to try to do Hawaii on the cheap.  In retrospect that statement is pretty funny because there is nothing cheap in Hawaii except for possibly macadamia nuts.  For some reason Chris wasn't too enamored with the idea of camping, so an hour before we left for the airport, he called the timeshare people.  We lucked out:  they had a last-minute cancellation in Kona!  I quickly repacked, meaning I threw out the tent, sleeping bags, pads, and stove.  The only downside was that we'd be relegated to Kona every night as opposed to slowly making our way around this quite large island.  Fortunately we are experts in speed touring.

We drove all the way around the island (~300 miles), hiked to some beautiful waterfalls, checked out the awesome Hilo open air market, photographed numerous beautiful flowers and sea turtles, visited some coffee plantations, Kohala and Puna, walked on a black sand beach, climbed Mauna Loa, ran on Ali'i Drive, visited the self-proclaimed best beach in the world, and otherwise generally chilled.  Oh, and I snorkeled for about 5 minutes total.  I am just NOT a water person and hate getting my head under water, so that was about my limit.  It was a big step to just get into the water.  The water was SO clear, and the fishies were brightly colored and spectacular!

The weather was hot and humid, even on the "dry" Kona side, so we tried to get any running done early in the morning.  Where we live in Southern California, the weather is actually more pleasant--nice warm temps but no humidity.  Probably not too many people can say their weather at home is better than Hawaii's.  :)  The Hilo side of the island is much wetter, rainforest actually, and where most of these plant shots were taken.

Interesting plants and flowers...

The only reason for this trip was so I could stand atop my 50th state high point, Mauna Kea.  Ignoring dire warnings of rental car contract violations and the need for 4WD, we puttered up the 13,000 feet in a PT Cruiser (after all, I've driven on far, far worse roads--this one was a cinch!), then walked the last few hundred feet to the high point.  The summit is littered with various scientific observation stations and gets quite a lot of traffic.  It was cold:  about 30 degrees with winds around 25 mph.  Note the down jacket, fleece pants, hat, etc.  How many people pack clothes like this for a Hawaiian vacation?

Some friends gave me a hard time about driving up when we could've hiked it--there is a parallelling trail.  However, driving to/up high points "counts" (so there), and we really wanted to climb Mauna Loa, a 12+ mile hike, on the same day.  While Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from base to summit, Mauna Loa is considered the largest as far as total mass, kinda cool.  The trailhead, near the Mauna Loa Observatory, was located about 30 miles across the saddle, mostly on a single lane, broken up asphalt road.  The entire hike's surface was hardened lava, and there was nary a sign of life--not an ant, spider, blade of grass, flower.  No noise even--pure silence.  It was rather eerie.  And very strange, probably the weirdest mountain I've ever climbed.   The photo below is Chris near the crater rim, standing on what appears to be old asphalt.  It's not.  It's lava.  The route was very well cairned all the way--good thing because the clouds rolled in later in the afternoon, and we had to navigate cairn to cairn.

The view into the crater was absolutely incredible.  I kept repeating "Oh.  My.  God...  Oh my God!  OH MY GOD!!"   I have been up Mt. St. Helens, Rainier, and other volcanic mountains before but never anything like this.  The crater was H.U.G.E., really quite scary looking, and a place from which I really got a bad vibe.  I felt the urge to leave quickly, which we did!

Our final day on the Kona Coast, we visited Pu'uhonua 'O Honaunau National Historic Site.  Hawaiian legend has it that at this site, the "place of refuge," one is assuaged of their sins/misdoings and forgiven.  :-)

When/if I get sufficiently motivated, I'm planning to devote some space here to my US Highpoint quest.  For now, suffice it to say, I had a great time pursuing this goofy goal and saw some beautiful, interesting, off-the-beaten-path areas of the country that I otherwise never would have visited.  A friend asked which were my favorite peaks.  My response:

Faves: Gannett (WY), Granite (MT), Boundary (NV), and Katahdin (ME)
Pleasant surprises: Black Mesa (OK), Guadalupe (TX), Charles Mound (IL)
Least faves: Britton Hill (FL), Campbell Hill (OH)
PS:  I did Reno Monument in DC for extra credit.  :)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

High point # 49.98 comin' up...

I found the most amazing view of the Hawaiian Islands here.  In the foreground is the Big Island of Hawaii, home of the world's tallest (not highest) mountain, Mauna Kea...  tallest, that is, when starting at the mountain's base, oh about 19,000 feet below sea level.  Above sea level, it's 13,796 feet.  We'll probably drive up it!  :-)  The other high peak on the island is Mauna Loa, which we hope to hike.  Mauna Kea--also known as Mt. BiggieHaHa-ah-low-weee-ha-we by some--will be my last state high point.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of mountain peakbagging lists out there.  Aloha.