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As a native Californian, I had been to Yosemite as a little girl. I was far too young to remember any of it, and I’m sure that whatever I had seen or visited were the typical tourist traps where you park your car, get out and take some photos. But Closet Granola, the true outdoorsman, had not yet visited California’s most prized outdoor wonderland, so this trip was a highly anticipated weekend excursion.

We arrived in Yosemite on Friday (I with only 1 hour of sleep due to a crazy deadline for work) to dreary weather. It was raining and cold and foggy and gray. But I’ll save the Friday happenings for a different blog post. Suffice it to say that Saturday had to more than compensate for Friday in order to salvage this vacation. Therefore, I let Closet Granola choose the hike for Saturday…and he chose a killer, the Upper Yosemite Falls Hike, a 7.4 mile out-and-back hike with 2,700 feet in elevation gain. That’s pretty much like climbing the Empire State Building TWICE…and then a little bit more tossed in for good measure. We even tossed in a little more mileage by parking at the Day Use lot near Yosemite Village and walking past the Lower Yosemite Falls before getting to the trailhead for the Upper Yosemite Falls.

The climb up occurs in three stages - a series of switchbacks through partly shaded but mostly exposed area, followed by a straighter path with views of the waterfall and a cooling/drenching mist, ending with yet another series of switchbacks that seem to go on forever. On the first set of switchbacks, there’s a nice outlook of the valley and Half Dome. We also saw deer there and a very annoying man from LA who fed the deers (against park rules) and very blatantly tried to pick up two girls who looked half his age. It’s a hike, not a feeding zoo and not a meat market.

Anyway, I digress…On the second part of the hike, there are few flat or downhill sections. Whenever I go downhill on a hike like this, I get sad because I know that not only do I still have to climb the thousand feet or so left, but now I have to compensate for this downhill. Argh! On this section, though, you get a good view of the waterfall and the valley below. We could see faint traces of a rainbow over the valley underneath Half Dome…pretty much perfection. Closet Granola says that I’ve been spoiled and that I only think a hike is worth it if there are “rainbows and unicorns”. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, but there weren’t any unicorns on this hike and it was the prettiest hike I’ve ever been on. It blows Cataract Falls, Alamere Falls, and Point Lobos away.

On the final ascent, the switchbacks were daunting after all the progress that we had made, but thinking it was the final stage really helped. Closet Granola kept threatening to turn around since he was worried that I would turn this into yet another night hike with a new moon (see Eagle Lake hike), but his fears were unfounded as we made it off the trail without our head lamps. At the top, you’ve basically climbed out of the valley and you’re standing at the top of the ridge where the waterfalls flows over the side. There’s a small trail that goes to the Falls Overlook. It’s quite steep and feels like you could fall off if there was a strong gust of wind, but we were undaunted in our quest to take photos and got ourselves out there. The views aren’t as stunning on the top as on the way up, but knowing that you’ve accomplished 2700 feet in elevation gain makes it worthwhile.

Once you’re on the top, there’s only one thing left to do. What goes up, must come down…and so we did. I thought the hike up was painful, but it was nothing compared to the hike down. The rocks were very slippery due to the mist coming from the waterfall and it was just a lot of downhill on a rocky terrain. My knees started hurting (as did Closet Granola’s) really quickly and then after that, it was a very, very long hike back. And I was so looking forward to the downhill!

This was possibly the hardest hike I’ve ever been on, even more than Big Basin despite the shorter distance. I was very proud of myself for making it to the top and back to the bottom. We passed a dozen people on our way back down, so they were still on the trail after dark. We also saw a lot of people without water and without the proper equipment, so I am very lucky that Closet Granola always ensures that we’re all good in that department. Although I probably look like a PSR, I am glad to not be able to claim that title just yet. That’s the new term I learned while in Yosemite…PSR = Potential Search and Rescue.

Overall Rating: Hiking Boots

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.

Tip #1: If you have trekking poles, bring them. The trail going downhill is vicious on your knees. I just went to the doctor today and she says I’ll be out of commission for a while.

Tip #2: A rain jacket is a must on this hike unless you like the feel of wet clothes sticking to you and you like to flirt with the idea of pneumonia. I bought the Marmot Precip Rain Jacket from REI for this trip and was so glad I had it, although I don’t recommend buying it in white like I did. It looks good, but it really did dirty very easily. It’s also on sale during REI’s Anniversary Sale.

Tip #3: Don’t be a PSR.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

It’s always interesting to see what someone or something looks like without all the adornment - the fancy clothes, the makeup, the accessories, or in this case, snow. The naked Squaw Valley looks very different and less magical than the winter version with its beautiful white coat. Although, to be fair, Squaw looked a lot better than the other ski resorts like Homewood or Northstar.

Reflection

Reflection

After three hikes over two days and being so exhausted I could barely speak (and that’s true exhaustion for you!), Closet Granola said he would, in his words, “take it easy on me”. We would do a short hike before we headed back to the Bay Area. He chose a hike that was just 2.5 miles each way on an out-and-bike hike to Shirley Lake in Squaw Valley. On our way there, I read the description and practically hit the roof. His idea of “taking it easy” was to climb roughly 1,300 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles over rocky granite cliffs. This hike could barely be classified as a hike…it was more like rock climbing. I know I spent a good deal of time on all fours climbing over the rocks.

Shirley Lake Trail

Shirley Lake Trail

The first part of the hike was rather well-shaded, walking through a forest, climbing over fallen trees. In the spring, I would imagine that the creek would be full, but by September it was rather bare. In the winter, I would bet that this looks like one of Robert Frost’s poems about snowy woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

On our way out of the woods, we could hear a solo hiker mumbling about where the trail was. We soon learned why. The trail on the rocky section was extremely hard to find. I got my first lesson on looking for cairns (little stacks of rocks) and paint to find the trail. It was kind of fun and I was really bad at it, getting us completely off the “trail” many times. Good thing this wasn’t a night hike like Eagle Lake! While climbing up the rock, even if you’re scared of heights, don’t forget to turn around and look at the view. We could see Squaw Valley Resort at the bottom and it looked so small.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

After 1300 feet in elevation, we arrived at Shirley Lake about an hour before sundown duringthe magic hour. The reflection of the granite boulders in the lake was perfect for photography. We spent about half an hour taking photos and hanging out watching the chipmunks before heading back down.

Tip #1: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe is a great time to stop at Tahoe Dave’s. They offer great discounts on demo skis from the last season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great skis for a fraction of the price.

Tip #2: Stop by the Starbucks at Squaw Valley before heading out and you’ll have enough energy to get up the mountain and back.

Redwoods

Redwoods

The very big Big Basin Hike kicked my ass. Complaining for days afterward that I needed a hip replacement, this city girl was ready to hang up the hiking boots for good after this hike. But after the all-over soreness faded, the memories (and photographs) of this beautiful hike will last. Without any ocean or coastal views, I knew it was going to be difficult for this hike to make it into my top 10, but sure enough it did not disappoint.

How old is this tree?

How old is this tree?

Big Basin State Park is located in the Santa Cruz mountains and is a great place to see lots and lots of redwood trees. Some of the redwood trees have been around since the Byzantine Empire and the Mayan civilization…quite unfathomable to someone who thinks being thirty is just way too old. Around the trailhead, there were a lot of tourists…too many tourists. But luckily, a lot of them seemed to be there to get a quick glimpse of the redwoods on a half-mile loop. But alas, my boyfriend is way more hard-core than that. We were

Strenuous Hike

Strenuous Hike

off on a 12 mile hike through the redwoods to search for 3 waterfalls - Golden Falls, Silver Falls, and Berry Creek Falls. This was our mission and I even bought a brand new neutral density filter for the camera for this hike, so I was not going to waste my new filter on a 1/2 mile non-waterfall version.

Throughout the hike, there was quite a lot of elevation gain/loss which accounted for the hip replacement desire. Halfway through the hike, we came to the falls. We stopped for lunch at Golden Falls and dined on our Whole Foods sandwiches - prosciutto/brie and caprese…yum! And of course, we spent plenty of time taking pictures and figuring out

Silver Falls

Silver Falls

how to be creative with a long shutter speed and makeshift tripods from whatever materials we could find nearby. But save the best for last because Berry Creek Falls was the most spectacular of the three. With a platform and a bench extending out towards the waterfall, this was the easiest to shoot.

The rest of the hike back to the car was just painful, knowing the best of the hike was behind you and yet there was still 6 miles to go before you rest. Despite the pain and the length of this hike, the waterfalls here were seriously underrated (only Alamere Falls is better in my

Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

opinion, and Castle Rock doesn’t even compare). There were very few people on this hike, so it was less crowded than Point Reyes. I would definitely do this again in the spring to try to capture an even fuller waterfall, or I might try the bike-and-hike version.

Overall rating: Hiking boots…This hike totally kicked my ass.

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.

Tip: Carry your own water pack if you can. It gets pretty nasty if you sweat a lot, but it’s nice to have your own source of water you can sip from instead of asking your boyfriend when you want water. But make him carry your 10-pound camera!

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore is fast becoming a city girl’s favorite out-of-the-city spot. The views on the Tomales Point hike are stunning and the difficulty won’t kill you, so it’s a good value for your feet. This 10.5 mile out-and-back hike exposes you to full sun (wear sunscreen lest you look 40 when you’re 25), fly-me-away-Mary-Poppins winds, and a trek through sand to reach your final destination.

A bit further north than the the Alamere Falls hikes, the Tomales Point hike may be

Coastal views

Coastal views

even easier if longer. Like it’s sister hike, it has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and rolling hills rather than steep climbs, and a very climactic ending that makes the first couple hours worthwhile.

Elk Preserve

Elk Preserve

In order to get to Tomales Point, we hiked through an elk preserve and saw many herds of elk along the way. They were grazing, sleeping, resting, running, and playing. We saw two young males standing on their hind legs as they tried to show each other who was boss; we saw another two using their antlers to initiate play; and we saw an elk prancing around in front of another like dogs do when they want to play/attack. It was all very cute and Nature channel-y.

Tomales Point

Tomales Point

Towards the end of the first section, the dirt trail becomes sand, which was much more difficult to walk around in and slowed our progress. But we persevered and continued out to the very end of the point, where we had views of the ocean on one side, views of the bay on the other, seagulls and pelicans overhead, and wildflowers at our feet. We were the only two people out there (probably because we always get a late start) and we marveled at how wonderful it is to be able to leave the city after noon and be in such an idyllic location.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

It took us 5 hours to complete the hike with a half-hour stop for a late lunch picnic that we picked up at my favorite place, Cowgirl Creamery.

Overall rating: Flip-flops for difficulty, Pumas for duration (hiking boots if you don’t want sand in your shoes)

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.

Tip: On the way back to San Francisco, stop at Sorella Cafe in Fairfax, where the locals dine delicious, home-style Italian dishes, snack on bread with chunks of Parmesan cheese, listen to the pianist, and chat with the hostess. As much as I love the anonymity of the city, sometimes it’s nice to be at a place where everyone knows your name…not that they know my name yet, but one day.

Castle Rock Views

Castle Rock Views

This figure-eight hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains was my very first hike with the new boyfriend (several months ago). Totaling 5.5 miles, I was quite doubtful beforehand that I could finish it and quite impressed when I did. In retrospect though, 5.5 miles isn’t that bad. And this hike is rather easy with the exception of the last uphill climb.

Castle Rock Falls

Castle Rock Falls

There was a promised waterfall, views, and sandstone formations, unfortunately most of which didn’t live up to the imagination. Although we went in early spring/late winter, there wasn’t enough water to make the waterfall memorable. It was also really, really cold! There were decent views of the mountains and surrounding areas, but I’m more impressed by coastal views than valley views. My high-maintenance side is coming out…these views just weren’t good enough!

Moss

Moss

Despite all this, I had a great time. I learned a couple things on that excursion. One, a pastrami sandwich from Robert’s Market in Woodside with a bottle of red wine transforms a hike into a gourmet experience. Two, my boyfriend and his friends talk about how to get women outdoors. Three, women talk about how to get men to talk to them. And four, men can get women outdoors if they talk to them and women will go outdoors since the only thing to do is talk. Perhaps that is how to solve life’s greatest mystery - how to make both men and women happy.

Fence

Fence

And this is how I determined that my first hike would not be my last. The conversations we had on this hike make it all worthwhile!

Tip: Beware the poison oak. This is a danger that us city girls aren’t so used to. We know to look out for men loitering in alleys late at night, and the occassionally over-aggressive creep at the bar, but this little plant can be just as dangerous and a bit more innocuous. Watch out for those three glossy leaves!

Overall rating: Flip-flops (figuratively, please don’t actually try to hike it in flip-flops)

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.

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