Monday, September 28, 2009

Visiting Julia and Chris in Vancouver/Portland

After a couple of lovely sunny days in the valley we headed up to Vancouver/Portland to visit Julia and Chris. This coincided with a dramatic change in the weather with a significant drop in temperature and heavy rain. Given we were going to get wet whatever outdoor activity we chose Julia and Chris suggested we go white water kayaking.

So we loaded up their car with several boats and drove up the Columbia River valley to the Salmon River. This is a fairly easy river with grade 1/2 rapids - perfect for Aaron who had never been white water kayaking before.

The car loaded up with boats!

The first few rapids were more of a grade 2 than a grade 1 - so it was a little terrifying to begin with - especially for Aaron, but I had not been on white water for quite a few years! Julia had persuaded me that I would have much more fun in a play boat than in a white water boat and despite my objections she had loaded up the play boat. The increased maneouvarability and the "tippyness" of the play boat led to a bit of a swim after the first rapid! We were wearing dry cags and pants - but it was cold!

Aaron coming down a rapid with Julia shouting instructions from the eddy

Julia and Chris coached us down the river - Julia shouting instructions and Chris demonstrating the instructions. Aaron eventually got the hang of breaking in and breaking out of the main flow into the eddies. I think he even started to enjoy himself! I also got the hang of the play boat and didn't swim any more of the rapids!

Julia and Chris (our instructors)

Helen and Aaron

Visiting Aaron's family in Oregon

Aaron took his family on an adventure in the Cascades. We started at Clear Lake and then headed down the McKenzie River trail to Sahalie Falls.

Sahalie Falls

We drove up to the Dee Wright Observatory at the McKenzie Pass. We had lunch and went for a walk through the lava fields on to the levees.

Emma Lee and Kortney with Mt Washington (left) and Mt Jefferson (right) in the background

We had a fun day and Kortney and Emma Lee certainly enjoyed interogating Helen and tickling her in the back seat.

Kortney, Helen and Emma Lee in the back seat of the van

Saturday, September 26, 2009


After an uneventful flight from New Zealand to San Francisco we had a slow drive out of the city and up into Yosemite. We managed to find a good Mexican place in Oakdale - so Aaron was happy to get his first fix of Mexican food. We arrived in the dark and the next morning we set off up the road to Glacier Point to get our first glimpses of the famous Yosemite landmarks. From Glacier Point you get great views of Half Dome.

Half Dome taken from Glacier Point

We then set off slowly up the hill to Sentinel Dome and on to Taft Point where we could see El Capitan. It wasn't very warm when we left New Zealand and the heat and altitude in Yosemite were a bit of a shock to the system. So we spent the first couple of days in Yosemite acclimatising and getting over jet lag with the aim of eventually walking up Half Dome.

El Capitan in the shade in the morning

We drove up to Tuolomne Meadows several times. Although there are less iconic views up here compared to Yosemite Valley, in many ways we preferred it and it was just as spectacular.

Tenaya Lake from the Tuolomne Road

We did a couple of short walks to get in some altitude training up in the Tuolomne Meadows area. The first one we did was walking to Dog Lake and Lembert Dome looking down on the meadow. Then later in the week we walked out to Cathedral Lake with views of Cathedral Peak and Echo Peak. The latter walk we did with Steve Woodhull, a friend of Aaron's who came to meet us and hang out for a few days as he had been working a couple of hours away and had never been to Yosemite either.

Tuolumne Meadows looking towards Lembert Dome

Cathedral Lake with Cathedral Peak behind

Although it was hot in the valley (~30C) it was much more pleasant up higher and we were very lucky with the weather all week as it was clear blue skies and not even the slightest threat of thunderstorms which are quite common in summer and often prevent you from walking up on to the granite domes as they become slippy, not to mention getting hit by lightning.

Yosemite also has several big stands of the very large sequoia trees (related to the redwood). These are the largest trees in the world by volume. These trees were in fact one of the reasons that Yosemite was first made in to a National Park. The early tourists cut tunnels in to several different trees to create a tourist attraction.

A very large sequoia - supposedly the wood in one tree is equivalent to one acre of pine!! But it takes several hundred/thousand years to grow.

Steve and Aaron in the sequoia tunnel tree.

Despite the hundreds of signs to make sure you used bear lockers for your food and "speeding kills bears" along the roads, we never saw a single one. Supposedly we just missed one on a walk to the bottom of Bridalveil falls. We did see lots of squirrels, chipmunks and quite a few birds and dear. Sometimes you looked around the forest and the whole ground seemed to be alive with squirrels and chipmunks.

One of the many grey squirrels

On the last day we were finally feeling good about walking in the heat and altitude, so we figured we were as ready as we would ever be to attempt walking up Half Dome. The walk is 26 km and 1480 m climb and takes around 10-12 hours. We set off at 7 am in the cool morning and headed up the Mist Track past Vernal and Nevada Falls. This is a steady climb up many steps. Then the walk levels off for a good distance before steadily climbing again, with a final very steep climb right at the top as you climb up the granite domes. The last 100 m is up a series of cables with the odd wooden step across. The problem is that they put the cables in the same place every year and the rock has become rather smooth and slippy.

The cables up the last part of Half Dome

Helen climbing the cables on Half Dome

There were quite a few people and there were a few traffic hold ups on the way up and down the cables as there isn't a huge amount of room to pass, especially when everyone is wearing backpacks. We were climbing it in the low season, so I can't imagine the queues in the middle of summer.

We all made it to the top and had some amazing views back down the Yosemite Valley and up towards the Sierra's to the east. We were all starting to suffer a little on the walk back down as we got tired and our feet got sore. We had taken 3 litres of water and several sports drinks, but Aaron and Steve ran out as it was pretty hot and dry. Luckily a guy offered to filter us some water from the Merced River, so we topped up half way down.

Aaron and Helen on top of Half Dome

It was a very enjoyable week in Yosemite. We managed to see many of the sights and do many of the one day/short walks. It was also great to catch up with Steve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mount Victoria Milestone

This morning I rode to work over Mount Vic on my single speed. I managed to ride the whole way without having to get off and walk up any of the hills for the first time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another night ride

Grant, one of my co-workers, lives up by Makara Peak. I rode home with him after work and then headed into the park. I rode up to Big Tom's Wheelie and then down Lazy Fern to the bottom of the park.

I decided to try something a little different and headed across to Salvation. This is a nice track that meanders up Wright's Hill. From there I followed the fence line around the Sanctuary to the start of Car Parts Extension. the light was fading but the track was open enough that I was still okay without the light on.

Once I reached the start of Car Parts, though, it was dark and overgrown enough that it was time to switch the light on. I really like Car Parts. It is a fast and flowing track with just enough tricky bits to keep your heart pumping. The light wasn't totally necessary but it definitely helped out in a few places.

After Car Parts I crossed the road and jumped onto he Rollercoaster. This is just fire trail with a few jumps built on it. I took the nana lines around all but the easiest jumps as I don't really like to leave the ground that much. At the bottom of the Rollercoaster I jumped onto Choppers from some rutted switchback fun.

From Aro Valley I went through town and up Marjoriebanks Street to Mount Vic. I scared some poor woman with the brightness of my light on the main fire trail. I scooted down the other side and home without any more hassles.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Belmont Regional Park

To recover from Saturday’s ride I went for another mountain bike ride. This time with Bec and we went a little further north to Belmont Regional Park.

The ride started out with a really fun cruisy climb up the Korokoro Stream valley. We then took the track up to Oakleigh Street. From there we rode along the road to the start of the Old Coach Road.

From there we made our way to Belmont Trig (457m). The track down was pretty interesting: steep and loose, but not as bad as yesterday. We descended to the Horokiwi Valley. The track follows another stream down the valley for a few kilometres. By follow I mean beside, through and in the stream. We ended up with very soaked feet.

The track eventually hooked back up with the one we rode in on. This was again a gentle stroll back to the car. We made in back in almost exactly three hours.

Mount Kaukau to Red Rocks

Saturday I met up with Josh for what turned out to be another epic ride. I left home about 1:00PM to meet Josh at Kandallah Park at 2:00PM. From there we carried our bikes up to the top of Mount Kau Kau. From there the ride was pretty similar to the one I did a couple weeks ago. Except this time instead of taking the singletrack option after Wright’s Hill we turned right and headed for the coast.

The road climbs a fair bit from the intersection by the windmill up to the turn off to the Tip Track and Red Rocks. I was getting pretty tired by this point and the “final” hill to the start of Red Rocks took me a while to complete.

But then the downhill began. At the start it was fast fire-trail that quickly deteriorated into fist sizes boulders and steep grades. There were a few pinch climbs to negotiate that drove home the fact that I had been riding for nearly four hours all ready. One was so bad I had to walk it.

The final descent is ridiculously steep with and covered with large jagged rocks. Even if I wasn’t exhausted I doubt I could have ridden it. I struggled just to walk down the last bit. But it was over quickly and soon we were smashing it back to civilization. Josh was getting picked up and I need to get home before it got dark.

I reached home about 6:15PM as it was just getting pretty dark. All up it was about 5.25 hours and maybe 60km. I laid on the couch the rest of the evening and was in bed around 9:00PM.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Night riding at Makara Peak

A while ago I order a light for riding off road at night from a Chinese company called Dealextreme. It cost about NZ$125 delivered to my door. The light has three settings: 900 lumens, 500 lumens and a flashing setting and comes with only a handlebar mount. I have read about people making helmet mounts for it with some PVC pipe and zip ties. A quick run through Mitre 10 on the weekend didn’t yield any PVC pipe the correct size, so I will have to keep looking. A nice thing about the handlebar mount is that the battery pack can be attached under the stem.

Dealextreme light

Last night I finally had a chance to give it a try. Bec and I headed up to Makara Peak after work. We hit the trails just after 6:00PM and didn’t get very far before having to switch the lights on. I used the lower light setting for climbing to save the battery. I was a bit worried as the light didn’t come with any instruction so I didn’t know how long the battery would last. The webpage claims 3 hours on the high setting and 4.5 hours on the low setting.

We climbed up Salley Alley to a point where we could bail out and head over to Ridgeline Extension. I switched over to the high beam for the descent. It was okay but with all the twists and turns I really missed having a light on my head. Most of the time the light was not pointed where I wanted it to be.

We continued down SWIGG and Starfish to the bottom. Then we rode back up Koru to the Start of Lazy Fern. Going down Lazy Fern I had the same problem as before. Because the light was mounted on the bar it was not lighting the right part of the trail. I will have to suss out a helmet mount before trying it out again.

The light seemed to work really well and it will be interesting to see how it holds up over time.