Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kathryn's Hols - Day 2 - lazy start then up to Spooner Lake and Wild Cat Cabin

Completely knackered from yesterday's action-packed adventure it was all we could do today to shop for our stay at Wild Cat Cabin. Finally got our supplies sorted out, got the bikes in the car and headed up towards the cabin.

As we arrived at the carpark there wasn't much daylight left. We got organised with the bike shop guys who run the cabin (based at the Spooner lake car park) and headed off on our bikes for the 2 mile uphill slog to the cabin. It wasnt too bad a journey really but for the gathering darkness. We were very glad to eventually spot the cabin and make our way inside. A quick fiddle with the gas lamps and we were in business.

Although dark we could already tell this was an idyllic cabin.

We lit a fire and quickly got used to our new secluded home and went to sleep, with our final thoughts returning to the casual warnings of the bike shop guys, "if you need to go to the toilet in the night, check the deck, the bears like to sleep on it..."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kathryn's Hols - Day 1 - Harley, Lunch with gang, Virginia City, REI and Atlantis Casino

harley heritage

What better way to see Lake Tahoe than on 2 wheels! We had little time so opted for motorised wheels in the form of a Harley Heritage, a lovely bike. The guys at Reno HD warned us off our proposed route up Mount Rose (10,000 ft) because it was possibly snowing up there. One guy went to outrageous lengths to explain the harsh conditions he had previously endured up there. So, we went around Mt Rose and back through Incline Village and over Donner Summit to meet my workmates for lunch in Carson.

heritage, carl, kathryn, amy, sam, scott, dave, chris

Photo shoot following our lunch at Chillis, left to right is me, Kathryn, Amy and Sam, Scott, Dave and Chris (I work with Scott and Dave!), and of course Kathy who took the picture for us.

virginia city

After lunch we cruised back to Reno via Virginia City, famous as the main gold rush town nearby and for it's discovery of "The Mother Lode" - quite a lot of silver. This was a much more interesting place than we expected so we vowed to return when we had more time.

Excellent twisty roads led us back to Reno, just in time to hand back the trusty Harley.

On the way home we couldn't resist spending far too much money in the REI camping shop. We went to experience Denny's for a coffee and to recover.

Having recovered a little we went to the Atlantis casino, just to see what casinos are like, and then had excellent 'all you can eat' sushi in there.

Quite an action packed day!

Friday, October 28, 2005

More Bear Thoughts...

Doug and Alex saw a bear on their walk up Yosemite Falls the day after I left them at Yosemite, it was number 34! I'm not sure how well they slept in the tent that night!

Kyle has fed me another bear story today. Apparently a 500lb bear has been breaking into houses around Lake Tahoe and they finally shot it yesterday.

As I've been planning my week off with Kathryn (who arrives today) I had wondered how active the bears were at the moment. We're staying in a cabin by Spooner Lake and it s a very bear filled area so we could well get visitors. However, I figured the bears would be probably winding down for the winter anyway - how wrong could I be? Here's what the article Kyle sent said...

At least one other bear in the area is believed responsible for some recent break-ins, and with bears now roaming and munching up to 20 hours a day as they fatten up for the winter, the problem is probably not completely resolved, Bryant said.

Hmm, we were also planning on going camping in Yosemite, in the north part of the park where I understand the bears are particularly active at the moment. Hmmm.

Happy Halloween!

Mum posted me some halloween juggling balls she'd knitted for me, and a set of juggling baked beans! She's right that Halloween is a big thing here. No idea why!

I've not posted much on the blog recently because I've been away on business in The Netherlands and Belgium. Interesting but a bit tiring.

Kathryn arrives tomorrow so I've got a week off to go camping (with bears no doubt).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Grizzly Bear Notice

"In light of the rising frequency of human/grizzly bear conflicts, the Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters, and fishermen to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while in the field. We advise that outdoors men wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that aren't expecting them. We also advise outdoors men to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a bear. It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoors men should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings. Black bear droppings are smaller and contain lots of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear droppings have little bells in them and smell like pepper."

Kyle at work sent me this.

There are no Grizzly's around here so no worries but if you live in Calgary or Alaska this probably isn't so funny, though in reality I think Grizzly's rarely play with people either. Received wisdom when confronted with an angry grizzly is to get on all fours and expected to be patted around a bit - you'll probably survive. With Black Bears, in the rare event that they come at you, you need to make yourself look big, make noise (metal on metal is good), punch, hit them with anything, throw stones or whatever. If you see a mountain lion and it takes a dislike to you, make yourself look big and abandon all hope. Don't planning on outrunning these animals, if you run they have a 'catch-it' instinct and they are faster. Don't plan on climbing trees either (though I think if it's a grizzly it might be worth it).

Some of that received wisdom is semi-serious but in reality very very few such animal encounters have occured in the last 100 years (I think 10 mountain lion attacks in California in 100 years, most in the 1990s though).

So, there you have the bear necessities. My advice, just sing a lot, my John Denver songs seem to 'fill up their senses' and keep bears away.

Philip Greenspun has some excellent photos of bears in his famous story 'Travel's with Samantha', like this one

I'm going to hear Philip talk in San Francisco on 8th November at BayChi. I'm really impressed with his guide to web publishing and his simple approach to websites with GREAT photos.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Half Dome - Sunrise

Awoke a little late. The night was quiet with no sounds of animals, which was a relief but it was a cold one. In the morning I found out it was minus 2 degrees and our water bottles had frozen. I'd slept wearing nothing but a woolley hat so no wonder I was cold, but we were travelling light after all.

Eventually got going around 9 and left the tents up for our 2.5 mile stomp to half dome. A bit of a slog but nothing like that of the folks who had come up 4,000 ft from the valley floor.

half dome from the back

Even up close Half Dome looks intimidating. Just getting to the shoulder involved a couple of dogey steps on some extremely sandy surfaced gravel (not nice to slip near such big drops).

When i eventually saw the means of getting to the very top of Half Dome I was a bit shocked. A little more extreme than I had expected. Although i've done quite a bit of climbing (mostly tied on!) I struggle climbing a ladder and this was a 400ft ladder. i quickly decided that I wasn't up for that kind of excitment in despite of the 12 mile walk in.

Here are Alex and Doug on the cables (Alex in Blue and Doug beneath)...
doug and alex on half dome chains

Here's the same shot zoomed out...
half dome chains zoomed out

(Scarey eh?)

When they got down i was surprised that Doug was actually quite regretful that he'd done it. The view wasn't great and going up was awful (though coming down was ok).

Sitting at the bottom we contemplated the rest of the day - another 12.5 miles to the car, first packing up our campsite. So the rest of the day was pretty much a stomp! With a couple of nice views like this lake...
views of yosemite heading to sunrise

And this sunset, which whilst nice, was a little premature for us - we still had over a mile to do as the sun went down. I sang quite a bit during this mile to be sure we didn't surprise a bear!

sunset at sunrise and still an hour's hiking to go!

We got back to the cars all pretty knackered. Doug and Alex headed back to the backpackers campsite and i headed back to work. I had one pleasant suprise on the way. The petrol station at the junction with the 395 also does food. I ordered a veggie burger and salad and was extremely impressed, the burger was just vegetables and the salad most excellent - I think the place is called Whoa Nellie and I'll be happy to check it out again.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sunrise - Clouds rest - Wild Camping

Saturday we decided to head out of the Valley and back up Tioga Pass towards the eastern entrance to the park. We got to a place called Sunrise and hiked towards Half Dome from there (a 12+ mile hike).

So, 10 miles of hiking to our campsite with full kit (at least 40lbs each). We took in Clouds Rest on the way, which Doug and Alex thought had better views than from the top of half dome. Clouds rest itself is no doddle with a somewhat airy ridgewalk to get to the viewpoint (though not like a UK ridgewalk - much less wind and much drier under foot). Here's Doug at the start of it...

doug on clouds rest

And here's clouds rest from Half Dome later...
clouds rest from half dome

And here is the backside of Half Dome looking extremely imtimidating (the rock in the centre of the picture...)
half dome from behind

With our first 10 miles done (and a few thousand feet of ascent) we camped near a creek about 2.5 miles from Half Dome, with about an hour of light left. Just enough time to get some water pumped through our filter, get the tents up and get some food on (quite nice dried rations).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Yosemite - Backpackers Campsite

Things didn't go quite to plan on friday night. Doug and Alex were to get to Yosemite early and get sorted and I was to join them later. Plans were complicated a bit by the fact that mobile phones do not work in Vosemite Valley (thank goodness). We met at the Pavilion Cafe in Curry Village. I hopefully asked where they had camped and they explained they hadn't yet. We both had vague directions to the super secret "Backpackers Campsite". We spent a while driving around trying to find somewhere to park (which didnt have threats of towing) and eventually ended up at the trailhead carpark, which is pretty good and surprisingly was not full. Doug and Alex then had to get into bear mode, which meant not leaving anything smelly in the car (bears get into cars for as much as a tube of toothpaste, a stick of chewing gum or even a water bottle). After some faffing about we were ready and it was very dark. We had vague directions of a trail we needed to find to the fabled backpackers campsite.

In the end it was quite easy. All you need to do is get to the North Pines camp ground and stay on the easterly road around the camp near the stables (you are on foot by now, not in a car). When you reach the camp toilet block, take a few steps to your right and you will see a wide trail. Follow that 200ft or so, cross the Tenaya Creek and you will find yourself in the backpackers campsite. Don't forget to pay your $5 to stay here (outside the toilet block are envelopes) - rangers are not stupid, expect to see them at your campsite to see evidence that you have both paid and put your food away properly.

Anyway, we found a space and put our tents up in the dark (not difficult). The night was not especially quiet though was perhaps more so than at Camp 4. The next morning we were up and away by 8am, which is the general idea with this campsite - don't expect to stay for several nights. You are only allowed to stay the night before a backpacking trip and the night after and you need a wilderness permit to stay there (though we didn't get one until the morning after we arrived and this seemed ok). However, wilderness permits ran out by 11am that morning so we were lucky (they work on a quote system).

It is nice to learn that you can turn up at Yosemite Valley on a friday night and manage to find somewhere to camp - some even camped without a tent (brave souls).

Mountain biking - The Flume Trail

Scott took Doug, Alex and me on The Flume Trail on mountain bikes after work (we borrowed 2 excellent bikes from Bently Adventures - the adventure club at work).

Scott has been trying to get me to do the flume since I arrived. The trail is one of the best mountain bike trails in the area, though the flume itself has sheer drops down into the lake (hundreds of feet), and nice views too.

Getting to the flume is pretty fun too with some nice technical mountain bike sections and some great views of Marlette Lake and the forest (Scott has seen bears near there 3 times before).

The flume itself isnt 100% terrible if you are scared of heights but at times it does make you think. The path gets very narrow in a couple of places, which might be ok if it was firm but in fact some of the narrow parts are very sandy too. Scott helpfully suggested following me on a particular section like this to see how bad I would get! But generally, it was ok and the overall rideout was great. Doug and Alex loved it and Scott was an excellent and patient guide.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Doug and Alex arrive (late)

My brother Doug and his girlfriend Alex arrived tonight. Drove over from San Francisco via the Nappa Valley. A bit late to eat out so I subjected them to my menu de Gardnerville (mozarella, tomato and avocado sliced). Nice to catch up!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Paula and Paul

Paula, my friend from Impington Swimming Club and her chap Paul swung by and stayed the night tonight. We went to eat at B'sghetti's in Carson. It was really nice to eat somewhere that i knew the owner, Scott, a friend and neighbour of Scott from work. Really nice meal, and very nice service too. I wonder if they can make anything wheat free for when Kathryn comes out here.

Paula and Paul were on a whistlestop tour so i suggested the flume mountain bike trail as the best way to see Lake Tahoe, and Travertine hotsprings on the way to Yosemite. Have not heard from them - I hope they're ok!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A "Growler" (growl.er)

It was Amy's 26th birthday again on friday and I was invited around for "sugar (cakes) and beer". In addition to partaking of the kegerator, which is still well stocked with Black Beute, one of their neighbours turned up with a couple of "Growlers".

growl.er (Informal. A container, such as a pail or pitcher, that is used for carrying beer)

A Growler
Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.

Anyhow, the growlers were left over at the end of the evening and Scott insisted i took them, resorting to threats that he would pour them down the sink if I didn't (underhand).

Anyhow, it transpired that the red beer in these growlers was pretty damned good. Beer from growlers tastes nearly as good as beer from the kegerator, and much better than that from little bottles. I have not idea why but it seems solid fact! Perhaps it is because it is less fizzy from the growler.

So, "growler" is my new US word of the week, and a fine one it is too.