Tag Archives: outdoors

History & a Hike: Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a large outdoor recreation area (a.k.a. park), located just south of San Francisco. It is sandwiched between the sleepy and often foggy, ocean-side town of Pacifica and the less adjective-friendly Peninsula city of San Bruno. Home to the San Francisco Bay Discovery SiteSweeney Ridge is where European explorers, as part of the Portolá Expedition, first laid eyes on San Francisco Bay. There are several trails and trailheads scattered around the ridge, that lead hikers to this historic destination.

To celebrate the survival of another Thanksgiving holiday, my roommate Austin and I spent Black Friday hiking up Mori Ridge Trail, the trailhead nearest to Pacifica (near Shelldance Nursery).

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Alternative trails start from Skyline College and Sneath Lane in San Bruno. These routes are equal in climb and distance, and offer different views and landscape. Our hike had the Pacific Ocean at our backs on the way up, and then front and center on the way down. (See the official park map for more details on the other trails.)

From the Mori Ridge Trailhead, it’s about 1.3 steep miles up to an abandoned Nike Missile Control Site left over from the Cold War days. If you’ve hiked in the Marin Headlands you’ve likely encountered one of these sites, which used to house nuclear warhead missiles pointed at Russia — crazy and interesting. The one at Sweeney Ridge is plastered with wall-to-wall graffiti.  Colorful, impressive, and – it turns out –photo-friendly.

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From the missile site, it’s about another mile to the actual discovery site, where you’ll find a commemorative stone marker. It’s a fun place to pause and daydream about what that day must have been like as the explorers bush-whacked their way up the ridge and laid eyes on the beautiful Bay for the first time. From the top, on a clear(ish) day you can see all the notable and impressive peaks around the Bay including Tamalpais, Diablo and Hamilton. 

It’s a quick trip back down, with beautiful views of the ocean the entire way. If it’s clear you’ll likely be able to see the Farralon Islands and Point Reyes.

Another noteworthy aspect of Sweeney Ridge is that it’s situated just a few miles from San Francisco International airport. This makes for busy air space above you as you hike, with lots of planes taking off and landing. You may find this a nuisance or, like we did, or a point of fantasy. Seeing jumbo jets taking off, heading straight out over the Pacific Ocean, fueled our imagination about where they were going and what they were hauling.

I recommend this hike to anyone looking for a quick and solid workout or who wants a 2-hour hike that’s easy to get to from San Francisco (only 20 minutes drive south). The history is a fantastic added bonus, as are the amazing views of the Pacific, and the opportunities for exploring at the missile site.

Half Dome #3 (brought to you in part by Instagram)

This weekend I completed my third trek up Yosemite’s famed Half Dome. Getting to the top of Half Dome requires a 17+ mile round trip hike that takes you from 4,062 feet at the base of the Yosemite Valley floor, up to the 8,842 feet summit. (Yes that’s 4,400 feet of elevation gain. To put that into perspective, the Empire State Building is 1,454 feet tall.)

Half Dome

Half Dome standing 4,400 feet above the Yosemite Valley

I still remember finishing Half Dome for the first time in the summer of 2007 and thinking to myself, “ok, well that’s something I only need to do once.” I thought this because the hike is not only exhausting but a slight bit terrifying. The last 400 feet requires you to scale up the side of the top of the Dome, pulling yourself up a sketchy set of cables. And of course coming down is equally as terrifying. There have been many deaths on Half Dome and most of them have occurred when someone got tripped up on the cables.

Half Dome cables

The cables of Half Dome greet you with 400 feet to go, straight up

But of course after a few years I forgot about the pain and terror, and decided that I wanted to drag my Dad up Half Dome. During the summer of 2009,  I completed my second trek to the summit with father in toe and then let a few more years pass again before thinking about doing the hike another time.

By now however, due to congestion, an increase in deaths, and unsafe hiking conditions, Yosemite implemented a lottery program to gain access to the trail to complete the hike. Now only 400 hikers and backpackers are allowed on the trail to Half Dome each day and you better believe the lottery is competitive, especially for weekends. This spring I decided it was time to do the hike again and I threw my hat in the ring for a permit. Thankfully I scored one and this weekend the day finally came to subject myself (and a +1) to the torturous hike.

For as tiring and scary as I describe the journey up Half Dome, I should mention also that it’s beyond beautiful. On the way up you get to see two amazing waterfalls and by the time you’ve made it to 1.5-mile-to-go mark to the summit, you’re enjoying expansive, stunning views of the Sierra from high above Yosemite.

Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall stands 594 feet tall on the Mist Trail, on the way up Half Dome

Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall, just downstream from Nevada Fall, boasts a 317 foot tall rushing cascade along the Mist Trail

Glen and the Sierra

Glen soaks up views of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra from the shoulder of Half Dome

This year, I was joined by the company of one of my favorite people, the sun was shining, we were surrounded by happy hikers, and the day ended with pizza, Wild Cherry Pepsi and hot showers. I’m sure this wasn’t my last time hiking Half Dome but it will always stand out as a great day and a memorable hike that I will cherish, probably forever.

Glen and Derek on Half Dome

Glen and me just before tackling the cables up the last 400 feet, note the tiny trail of hikers behind us scaling up the granite Dome

Half Dome, The Visor

Me on The Visor on the summit, 8,840 feet above sea level

the Sierra

Me and Glen on the Summit of Half Dome with the Sierra behind us, one of my favorite views in Yosemite

A Very Glacial Presidents Day

This past weekend I embarked on an outdoor adventure with my friend Nicolas, 7 other guys and 1 (token) gal. We cross country skied 11 miles from Badger Pass to Glacier Point in beautiful Yosemite National Park.

The adventurous crew outside the Glacier Point Ski Hut

Glacier Point is usually a chaotic tourist destination during the summer, with buses dropping off dozens of tourists and an endless stream of cars coming in and out, so visitors can take in one of the most stunning views of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra.

Me, standing very precariously on one of the ledges at Glacier Point (which you can not get to during the busy summer months), high above Yosemite Valley with both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in the distance

From Glacier Point you get a bird’s eye view of the entire Yosemite Valley. From El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome and the great peaks of Mt. Hoffman, Clouds Rest and Mt. Starr King (or Mt. Starr Jones as I like to call it), all the way down to the tiny cars and people that look like ants, scurrying around the valley floor. It was so quiet you could hear the falling water from both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.

Sitting in front of a sight that never gets old, mighty Half Dome

a beautiful sunrise over the Sierra

After our 11 mile workout skiing to the hut, we essentially had this well earned view to ourselves. We stayed overnight at the Glacier Point Ski Hut (also known as the Glacier Point gift and snack shop in the summer) on Saturday and Sunday nights, and enjoyed a 4 mile snow shoe trek up to Sentinel Dome for a 360 degree view of Yosemite on Sunday afternoon. Sitting about 1,000 feet higher than Glacier Point, the sights from Sentinel Dome extend far into the Sierra, with impressive peak views including Cathedral and Tenaya Peaks, Mt. Conness and Mt. Lyell.

Atop Sentinel Dome with views of the Sierra extending for miles

On Monday morning we skied the 11 miles back out to Badger Pass and concluded our quiet and relaxing but active and laugh-filled weekend.

Compared to a lot of folks, I’ve seen a lot of Yosemite. But this weekend I got to see one of my favorite places in a new way and through a new experience, accompanied by good company and a good workout.

Oh, and let’s get one thing straight. Just because you’ve got significant experience with downhill skiing (and consider yourself quite good) and have even done a little bit of cross country skate skiing, it doesn’t mean you’re prepared to cross country ski (classic style) 22 miles in the mountains. Luckily, I’m a quick learner and can laugh off falls and tumbles pretty easily. 🙂

All photos credited to the always awesome, Nicolas Smith. All of his photos from the trip can be viewed here.

Bay Area Bucket List: kayaking

Today I checked an item off my Bay Area Bucket List – kayak in the bay. I had previously been kayaking in lakes, quiet little inlets and even down rivers with a little white water. But never, had I until today, hopped in a wobbly watercraft and paddled around in the intimidating waters of the mighty San Francisco Bay.

on the bay, passing the Ferry building on our way to Aquatic Park

Intimidating? Yes. There is serious traffic out there, ferries, cruise ships, sailboats and massive cargo ships. The tides are significant and the weather can be impossibly windy.   But my 7.5 mile trip from City Kayak (near AT&T Park) to Aquatic Park and back, was fun, breezy, a little wet and rewarding. It was amazing paddling under the suspension spans of the Bay Bridge and alongside sea lions and wet loons.

highlight of the day, going under the Bay Bridge, a unique and humbling perspective

all photos credit to Nicolas Smith!

It was an awesome day, a legit workout and a great way to cap off a great return from CES weekend.

Trip report: Trinity Alps

This weekend for the extended Labor Day break, Dave and I decided to venture up north to the Trinity Alps Wilderness for a backpacking trip. We had never been up there and have been looking for new areas to explore.

We made the 5 hour drive up to the Redding area (with some fun truck stop exploration along the way), had some Taco Bell for dinner (yum!) and ended up in Weaverville, CA and grabbed a room at the Motel Trinity (we are modest and underpaid). We discovered the next morning when we were driving through, that Weaverville is a very cool and very cute little gold rush town (we also love Nevada City on the way to Tahoe).

We hit the trail and ended up covering 16.5 miles round trip over the course of three days, pretty easily. We climbed about 3,500 feet, visited several waterfalls, camped by Upper Canyon Creek Lake the first night and along the Creek itself the second. We scrambled up to L Lake for a day hike and made lots of delicious food (pizza quesadillas, tortilla soup, pudding Oreo desserts).

We had a great time and I’m happy to report that I took lots of pictures! I’m glad I did, documenting a few mini-adventures that we might have otherwise forgotten about (jumping into the freezing cold water fall, draining the left over tortilla soup in a bag, finding a killer campsite along the creek).

Unfortunately, backpacking season is almost over so we might not end up doing another trip this year. I’m glad we finally made it out and I think this will just make us wanting to get out there early next year.

Can you beat it?

Is there a more beautiful place to ski than Lake Tahoe?

Lake Tahoe from about 10,000 feet - Heavenly Ski Resort