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Would anyone dare to take Hiking Diva backpacking? Closet Granola did…and lived to regret it. Granted we had already technically camped at Wildflower when he did his triathlon, that was car camping complete with a brand new enormous tent that all our friends nicknamed the Palais Royal, an air mattress, a canopied area where I could cook Cuban Steak and Skillet Pasta in a Calphalon nonstick pan on a table stove, and bathrooms (disgusting as they were, they were still bathrooms).

Before the first snowfall, Closet Granola and another couple, J and EJ, decided that they better go backpacking before it was too late. And since J and EJ have a 10-year-old Sheltie named Forbin who was going along, there was no way I would leave my precious dog, Bianca, at home. She’d never been camping, or even hiking other than Land’s End, but it’s only 5 miles to the campsite, so how hard could it be?

Well, it was record heat and that doesn’t mix well with a Samoyed or with a Hiking Diva who hates to sweat. And the dusty two miles had a not-so-nice effect on Bianca’s beautiful white coat. Carrying a 35 pound pack was just too much for me, especially since it was slightly too big. It’s very important for a backpack to sit comfortably on your hips. Mine was just a tad big for my hips so the weight was on my shoulders. And poor Bianca! She didn’t have to carry anything, but each time we stopped, she plopped down on the ground on her side, panting heavily and looking like she was ready to die. I was very worried that she might die of heat exhaustion.

The path was very exposed, or perhaps it just felt that way since it was so hot, and rocky, which made for slow progress. It took about 4 hours to make the 5 mile trek from the parking lot to Lake Tamarack. But it was so worth it! The lake was stunning - crystal-clear waters surrounded by granite rock with a small island in the middle. When we arrived, we set up camp and were the only people there. The dogs roamed around the lake and Bianca even walked into the water to cool off her paws. Unfortunately, this just made her white paws messier.

After we (well, actually I didn’t do anything) set up camp right next to the lake and had some snacks, I wanted to take some pictures. The sunset over the lake was virtually non-existent, so I went off in search of a better view. I found it and lost track of time taking pictures. I tried to find my way back to the campsite, but took too sharp an angle, and got a bit lost. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find your way back on a lake. You just keep walking and eventually you run into your campsite. But I did give Closet Granola quite a scare!

When I arrived back at camp, we cooked dinner. I was skeptical of dehydrated food, but our Mountain House packs of Beef Stroganoff and Chili Mac ‘n Cheese made me a believer. Not only was it edible, but it was delicious! Highly recommended from a food snob like me.

As is typical with camping, we went to bed early and given the heat wave, the temperature was pretty comfortable at night. Unfortunately, the sleeping mats weren’t as comfortable as an air mattress and Bianca was a bit restless. She had never spent a night away from her home in the suburbs, so sleeping in a tent without her sister, Sorcha, was definitely a new experience for her. We didn’t sleep well that night, so woke up early. The view of the lake was spectacular. The magic it lacked at dusk, it more than made up for in the morning. The reflection of the granite rocks in the water made the lake look like a mirror. I’ve never seen a reflection so perfect.

After breakfast, the boys went off for a hike to a nearby lake, and EJ, the dogs and I hung out at the campsite, napping and reading. When it was time to pack up camp, that’s when the drama started. Forbin, the Sheltie, all of a sudden couldn’t walk. He was in so much pain. His back was arched and he looked like he was in shock. By the time we finished packing up camp, he still couldn’t walk, so Closet Granola built a stretcher out of my tripod and a sleeping bag, and the boys carried Forbin out while carrying 50 pound packs. It took us even longer to get out, stopping every quarter mile but we have a motto, “No dog left behind.”

After we got out, J and EJ took Forbin to a vet in Placerville. The poor doggy got a catheter and drugs and was transported back to San Francisco. It took a few more days to discover the cause of his pain…a tear in his bladder through which urine was leaking into his abdomen and causing his kidneys to fail. After surgery, Forbin made a full recovery.

Bianca also didn’t come out unscathed. She was on bedrest for a couple days as she rested her paws, which were raw and red. My poor baby! In the end, both dogs and four humans made it out alive, but there were moments when it seemed like a wilderness drama on Fox where it’s 4 city dwellers and 2 dogs vs. nature.

Tip #1: You can rent backpacks and other camping equipment from REI . Next time, I’ll do that instead of wearing a backpack that is too big.

Tip #2: There’s an REI in Folsom on the way from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, so if you need last minute supplies, you’re covered.

Tip #3: You’ll need a permit to camp at Lake Tamarack, so call ahead.

It’s my favorite time of the year for hiking…waterfall season, so Closet Granola and I decided to go chase waterfalls in Marin a couple weekends ago. Although lesser known than the ever-popular Alamere Falls in Point Reyes, the Cataract Falls trail is much closer and easier to get to from the city AND it boasts views of the waterfall for pretty much the entire hike, so it has an excellent cost-benefit ratio Alamere Falls, however, has the advantage of ocean views. Tough call.

This hike starts off flat near the lake, but rather quickly we came to the bottom of the falls. For the next 1.5 miles or so, the trail follows the waterfall straight up almost 1100 feet. There are a lot of stairs to help out, but the narrow trail isn’t too difficult for beginners, and nowhere as difficult as the Matt Davis trail. The trail is also dog-friendly, but the narrow trail doesn’t lend itself well to a pack of dogs and we didn’t happen upon any pampered pooches.

The beautiful trail was lush and very green, but had few wildflowers. The waterfall was set against a background of green and we found many places to stop and have our picnic. Every step of the hike, there’s a different view of the falls, ones with massive drops and ones with smaller ones. I absolutely fell in love with the Cataract Falls and this hike just shot up to top 3 on my list.

At the top of the falls, most people turn back, but we continued on to Laurel Dell and then kept going until we got to Bolinas Ridge. We crossed the street and climbed up the ridge. At the top we could see back to San Francisco and Oakland.

On the outbound part of the hike, we took very few pictures because we thought we would do this on the way back. But on the way back, the sun started to set and we were nowhere near out of there. So we started trail running, and since we had hiked all the way up, this meant we were trail running straight down. After a few minutes of “hoofing it” as Closet Granola so kindly put it, I rolled on my left foot and twisted my ankle. Ouch!

Well, it was a lot harder to get out on a very painful ankle and it was way after sunset by the time we did. We swore we would be back one day to take more photos. In the meantime, you all should get out there before those falls dry up.

Bonus: The drive out to this hike literally goes past “our restaurant”, Cafe Sorella in Fairfax. A delicious pasta dinner is mandatory after this hike, even if you’re in pain from a twisted ankle.

Overall Rating: Trailblazers

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass. Gift Guide