scenic hike

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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.

Coastline

Coastline

The weather this weekend was just glorious…one of those days where you’re so happy to be living in California and not somewhere in the Northeast. Notice how quickly we attribute 80 degree weather in San Francisco in the middle of November to living in California rather than global warming. Even the hippies can’t complain when the weather is this spectacular.

To take advantage of this unprecedented state of affairs on our one and only hike in the month of November, Closet Granola surprised me by suggesting a hike in Point Reyes. Normally, I am arguing for a Point Reyes hike and he is adamantly opposed, but even he believes that the weather will be nice up there. And it is!

Bear Valley Trail

Bear Valley Trail

I’ve been bugging him to go on this trail since April, but he’s always found an excuse to go somewhere else. The Bear Valley to Arch Rock Trail is also a bike-and-hike, but we weren’t certain if my cheap commuter bike with its thin road tires could handle the trail. After hiking the entire trail, we’ve decided it would have been fine. A mountain bike would be better, but my little bike could have made it.

With bikers and hikers and strollers, the trail can get very crowded. And since this is a really easy hike with only 300 feet in elevation gain, it doesn’t scare off the weaklings (like myself). This may have been the most crowded hike I’ve been on. Luckily, the trail is very wide for passing people as well as engaging your significant other in forced conversations regarding where the relationship is going. You may be in the great outdoors, Closet Granola, but there’s nowhere to run! <<insert evil laugh>>

Meadow

Meadow

But I digress…on the trail, we passed a meadow along the way, where we stopped to eat a little snack. We wanted to save the true picnic for when we reached our destination, Arch Rock. Incidentally, there are those dreaded toilets available if you need to make a little stop, but beware the horrendous odor. You’ve been warned.

The first leg of the hike is about 3.5 miles of a mostly shaded, sometimes muddy, but very well-kept trail. At the end of the bike trail, there’s a bike rack for parking your bike (so bring your lock if you plan to make this a bike-and-hike). After that, it’s less than a mile to the destination.

Coastal views

Coastal views

Arch Rock juts out into the ocean providing beautiful views of the coastline up and down from where we were. There are a few other rocks out at sea that make the views even more picturesque. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people also picnicking, but I’m pretty sure we had the best spread - bread, smoked salmon, four types of cheese, and turkey pepperoni. The scenery makes up for the lack of privacy.

At around 3:30, we decided to call it a day. Closet Granola was not going to be tricked into a night hike like Eagle Lake, so we packed up and headed back the way we came. A little over 9 miles total and four hours including picnic time, we were ready to head back to our city life.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

On our way back to the city, we stopped for dinner at Guaymas in Tiburon.  We drank margaritas, snacked on tortillas and salsa, ate chile poblano and arroz con mariscos on the outdoor deck with a to-die-for view of the San Francisco skyline. It was the absolutely perfect ending to the perfect day.

Overall Rating: Heels for difficulty, flip-flops for length

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: A city girl’s necessity equals a hiking diva’s luxury. I’ve learned to dread hikes where the guidebooks mention pit toilets at the trailhead. Luckily, the restrooms at Bear Valley are not only clean with functional toilets and running water, but the hand dryers are Xcelerator. Nice touch! (or actually no touch!)

Tip #2: For more serious hikers, bike out to the end of the Bear Valley Trail and hike some of the more strenuous trails rather than sitting on your butt at Arch Rock like we did. When I’m back in shape, we might have to try that.

Point Lobos

Point Lobos

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but easy hikes can be a close second for those of us trying to hike in heels. And Point Lobos is certainly easy, even for beginners. So what’s the catch? Is it ugly and boring and hence easy (slight innuendo here)? Au contraire, the trails are absolutely stunning with ocean views, creepy lichen trails, seals bathing on rocks, and a coastline carpeted in richly-colored vegetation and flowers.

Lace Lichen Trail

Lace Lichen Trail

We started off on the Lace Lichen Trail, where the lichen hanging from the trees was reminiscent of Savannah’s Spanish Moss…pretty in a serene creepy kind of way. A short segment on Pine Trail and then we veered off towards the coast through Piney Woods. Within minutes, we were at the ocean climbing over rocks and peering at the crabs in the tidepools.

Sea Lion Point

Sea Lion Point

Turning right, we followed a path along the coast through beautiful vegetation (with benches if your feet are hurting) that led to Sea Lion Point. Once there, we took out our cameras and started snapping away. We also saw an otter rolling in the water, apparently very amused with itself.

We followed the coastline through South Point, Pinnacle Cove, and Cypress Cove. Here we rounded a corner and came upon a deer eating grass about 10 feet from us. She knew we were there (taking pictures once again) but she didn’t seem bothered by our paparazzi ways. We stayed until she finished her lunch and walked off.

Cypress Grove

Cypress Grove

We then followed the North Shore Trail to Whaler’s Cove and then cut back to the car just a few hours after we had left. Probably the most memorable and picturesque of all the hikes I’ve been on. It was an overcast day, which gives me a perfect reason to come back and hike it again…

Overall rating: You can totally do this in heels…maybe even stilettos. (figuratively…please don’t actually try to hike it in heels)

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: Park outside the state reserve along Highway 1 and you’ll save the park entrance fee. Put it towards your next pair of heels.

Tuckbox Teahouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Tuckbox Teahouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Check it out: The scones with ollalieberry jam at the Tuckhouse in Carmel-by-the-Sea will put you in a good state of mind for the hike. And the cute cottage the restaurant is housed in looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale.

Check it out: Reward yourself for a hike well-done with drinks at Roy’s in Pebble Beach (at the Spanish Bay Inn). Sit outside and watch the sunset while drinking girly cocktails around the firepits.

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