It’s August 25 and I’m hiking down a mountainside when I hear cowbells. For a moment I start fantasizing that I’m in Switzerland. I check the map and I’m headed to Upper Gardner Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but let me back up to the previous day. The story starts when Carson, my dog, and I hopped on board our camper for a four-day trip over the mountains. The original plan was to finish some client work and head over the mountains to join my wife and my son’s family in Big Pine, joining them on the 25th. The wildfires burning near Santa Cruz forced me to change my plans. The fire drove my daughter and her family to seek refuge at our house in Albany. Both she and my grandson, Micah, had colds and, as such, my family on the East Side suggested I take my time crossing the mountains to make sure I didn’t bring the cold with me. I can think of worse fates than being banished to the mountains for a few days.
In any event, I decided to drive up State Route 4 and to camp near Highland Lakes near Ebbetts Pass.
The drive took us past Mosquito Lake, which despite the name, provided an idyllic view of a cabin on a rock with clouds reflecting on the quiet water.
Not far beyond we found the turnoff to Highland Lakes. I found a spot to camp for the night a couple of miles down the road, a spot with a well-established fire ring and a babbling stream. A perfect spot to camp and let Carson run off-leash. I popped the top on the camper and cooked a quick dinner.
In the morning we broke camp and drove the rest of the way to Highland Lakes, where we found an established Forest Service camp. I picked a site near the lake. I wanted to be close to the lake to take advantage of the evening and morning light. The campground fee was $8.50, the reduced rate for a senior pass. I ended up putting a $10 bill in the envelope since I did not have the exact change. I wonder if the pricing is just a way to put a few extra dollars in the coffer. Pit toilets and running water was available and the campsites have steel fire rings. Many of the picnic tables are in need of repair. Most of the campers had dogs on leashes so we felt at home. Having established camp, Carson and I found a trail that would take us on a five mile loop, up a mountain side to a lovely little pond. From there we hiked along a ridge and then an off-trail scramble down the mountainside to join the trail again at Upper Gardner Meadow. Then it was back to camp. The air was a bit hazy with smoke, but I found that the quiet waters of the lake provided some nice reflections early the next morning. Here’s the track of our hike
Stay tuned, since I”ll be sharing more stories about the trip.
August 8. The plan was to meet at China Camp, launch our kayaks, paddle out to the Marin Islands and over to the Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor for lunch, then to return after lunch.
Six of us met at China Camp, Michael, Joann, Cynthia, John, Christine and myself. I had posted an announcement that this would be a mellow paddle without the drama of wind and waves. The wind prediction at China Camp was 6 knots, based on Windy, an app I use for wind predictions. Meanwhile, the NOAA prediction for the San Francisco Bay at large was 10-15 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon. China Camp Beach is a bit protected from the wind, so it made sense that it might be windier on the Bay.
We were on the water at 10:10 and proceeded south. As we approached Point San Pedro, we were starting to feel the wind. It was a bit of a struggle rounding the point, but everybody seemed to be doing OK. Once we rounded the point conditions let up a bit, but it was clear that the Marin Islands were out of our reach given the wind. We opted to take a more direct line to Loch Lomond. Even so it was a workout. It was not the mellow paddle I had hoped for, but everybody seemed to be up to the task.
We pulled our boats up the boat ramp at Loch Lomond and found some picnic tables where we could practice social distancing while eating.
After lunch John and Cynthia decided to organize a shuttle back by hitching a ride with John’s wife, who had remained on the beach at China Camp with a good book. They were concerned about the conditions at Point San Pedro on the return paddle.
The remaining three of us put our boats back in the water and, with the wind behind us, it was a fast and easy paddle back to China Camp. Once we rounded the point, the last two miles proved to be mellow. Our track for the day covered close to eight miles. Due to a technical glitch, I only logged the paddle back from Loch Lomond to China Camp. It seems I must have hit pause on my GaiaGPS app as we launched.
Friday, August 7, three of us met at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge with a plan to paddle to Point Bonita and back. These paddles are locally referred to as OTG (out the gate). Predicted conditions looked good since we’d be paddling out on slack water (no current), and riding back in on the afternoon flood. Wind was predicted to be 6 to 8 knots from the south in the morning, with 15 to 20 knots in the afternoon.
We were on the water at 10:35, with the wind blowing from the south, but a bit fresher than we expected. Nevertheless, we decided to peek around Lime Point, the point under the north end of the bridge, to see what was in store for us. Once around the point conditions were favorable and, while we found ourselves paddling into the wind, we opted to continue along the coast.
About halfway to Point Bonita was Point Diablo, the reckoning point for the day’s paddle. Inside the point the water was calm and protected, outside you can catch the full brunt of the wind and waves. I paddled a short distance beyond the point and decided that battling three- to four-foot waves with a 15 knot headwind was not the best plan. We made the unanimous decision to paddle back to Kirby Cove for lunch.
Kirby Cove was quite protected from the day’s wind and waves, so we had an easy landing. We hauled our boats up the beach wary of the rising tide and broke out our lunches. We found a log about 12 feet long that gave us the proper social distancing. After lunch we returned to our boats just as the waves were starting to lap at them. Back on the water it was an easy return paddle, although we did find an eddy under the bridge that was moving counter to the incoming current. You can see Eoin and Michael just inside the tide line of the eddy in the photo below.
I opted to paddle outside the eddy. We were back on the beach shortly after 1 p.m., having completed a very pleasant paddle covering 4.5 miles. I’ve included a map that shows the track of our paddle. I’ve been enjoying using Gaia GPS as my method for tracking activities on and off the water. The phone app synchronizes with the online service, which I find convenient. You’ll note that I am wearing a GoPro camera on my helmet. One of these days I may actually post some footage.
On July 13 it was time to get back on the water. We had a six week hiatus while playing grandparents and dealing with the challenges of social distancing and staying-at-home. With a prediction for afternoon winds we decided to get an early start. China Camp State Park was our chosen launch site and we were on the water at 9:40.
Our plan was to paddle south around Point San Pablo, check the wind and water and round the Marin Islands if conditions looked good. We were paddling on an ebb so we would have the current with us going south, and the wind with us on the return. Once we were on the water two small islands, The Sisters, looked inviting so we set course for the islands thinking we might “thread the needle,” passing through a narrow slot in the west Sister called Grendel’s Needle. Once we were through the slot, we headed back to Point San Pablo. We found that on crossing back we were experiencing the full fetch of the wind blowing from the southwest, giving us some steep wind waves up to three feet with a few whitecaps slapping us; not a place for an inexperienced paddler, but we found the challenge invigorating.
As we rounded the point, we left the rough water behind. I find when I’m paddling in challenging conditions I’m intent on keeping my hands on the paddle and practicing boat control. Putting the paddle down to take photos is not an option.
We took a quick reconnoiter of the Marin Islands and decided that rather than slog into the wind, we’d turn into a little beach near McNear Brick & Block, a brickyard that was established by George P. McNear and his son Erskine in 1898 which still operates today. You can see the chimneys of the brick works in one of the photos.
Once we landed, we pulled our boats out of the water and dipped into our lunches for a mid-morning snack. With the wind building though, we decided that it was prudent to get back on the water to begin our journey back around the point.
We were back at our launch point at noon. We finished our lunch and went back on the water to practice boat control drills and rescues. My Eskimo roll needs more practice.
Our paddle covered six miles, and we were glad to be off the water as we watched whitecaps build in the afternoon.
Here’s my grandson Micah taking me on a walk. June 4, despite the continuing stay-at-home order here in Alameda County, we left town and drove the 80 miles to Mount Hermon for a family visit. My last opportunity to visit with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson was at Christmas.
We’ve managed to keep our distance for a few months, and we were a bit anxious about how a visit would go, showing up with our face masks and keeping at a distance. One of our family pastimes is walking. I asked Micah if he wanted to go on a walk. On previous visits he was a bit shy about interacting with Grandpa. This time he came over to me, grabbed my finger, and led me out to the front gate. My heart melted when he touched me. Such a sweet encounter. There is nothing like the power of touch, and something that’s lost in our social distancing experiences. By lunch time the masks came off, and we were feeling like a family again.
March 5 marked my 70th birthday. So what do I do on my birthday? I go paddling with friends. What better way to celebrate than being outdoors in the fresh air, doing something active with the camaraderie of good friends. I volunteered to be the trip initiator, and after reviewing the tides and currents with some knowledgeable fellow paddlers, I opted to plan the paddle from Emeryville to Point Isabel. With a strong ebb sucking water out of the bay for most of the day, paddling along the east shore of the bay would avoid strong currents. The announcement I posted on the BASK club bulletin board read “Thursday Paddle: Cake and Champagne.”
We met at the the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina and, contrary to the signs that said “Paid Parking” and the a warning that parking might be an issue, we were able to park close to the boat ramp for free. It seems the signs are out of date.
We were lucky enough to have our good friends Danny and Susan show up with a double that they had just acquired; a very long boat. It took four people to get it on the water.
After a safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:30. We had calm water and overcast skies when we launched, with a prediction for winds of 8 knots with gusts to 12 knots in the afternoon.
Our paddle took us north along the east shore of San Francisco Bay. As we approached the Berkeley Marina, we were beginning to feel the effects of the wind as wind waves kicked up a bit. Everybody seemed to be comfortable with the conditions so we paddled on, past Berkeley, past the Albany Bulb and on to Point Isabel. The landing at Point Isabel only accommodates one boat at a time on a rocky beach, so we took turns bringing our boats in.
As we were breaking out the cupcakes and champagne, who should show up but our paddling buddy Tom, on a bike, decked out in a PFD and spray skirt. The best way to explain this is to share Tom’s post from the club message board:
At breakfast this morning, Ellen is perusing Buzz and says “Oh, Treve’s having a birthday pedal today to have cake and champagne at Point Isabel. He says you have to wear a PFD and spray skirt to attend.” She caught me at “cake”, and I replied “When will they be at Point Isabel?” The answer, “probably around noon.”
Now I’ve never ridden my bike wearing a PFD and spray skirt, but Treve’s an interesting fella and might know something I don’t about this.
So I got OTB [on the bike] around 11:15 and had a smooth pedal down to the bay and along the bay trail, no ferry angle needed. Approaching Point Isabel I am astonished to see Treve and his buddies not on bikes, but paddling kayaks! Huh?
Oh well, at least they did let me have one of Joann’s homemade cupcakes and a sip of bubbly.
How was it pedaling with PFD and spray skirt? Not recommended, but if you do, best to secure the grab loop to a buckle on your PFD to prevent tangling (thanks, Susan, for the tip). I didn’t attempt a roll.
Happy birthday, Treve! And it was great to see Danny and Susan on Danny’s Thursday paddle. As it should be.
After lunch it was back in the boats for the return trip to Emeryville. The wind which had been threatening to build moderated a bit, and we found ourselves riding a bit of chop heading back around the Albany Bulb and into Berkeley. As we approached the Berkeley Marina we opted to duck inside the marina. It seems Susan’s legs were going numb from sitting in the back cockpit of the double. Susan swapped places with Steve and we were back on the water. From Berkeley it was an easy paddle back to the Emeryville boat ramp, returning at 3:15. Our paddle covered 9.9 miles. Not a bad day for a 70 year old. You can view more stats on the tracklog here and more photos here.
World-class coaches in an iconic venue. That’s Paddle Golden Gate. This event happens every two years, bringing coaches from around the country and as far away as the UK. The event is hosted by California Canoe and Kayak. I signed up for all three days, February 7 through 9. Courses range from paddle strokes to boat control in tide races to rock gardening outside the Golden Gate.
On Friday it was Master Boat Control. We started in the protected waters of Horseshoe Bay working on paddle strokes for managing a kayak in dynamic water. Later we ventured out to Point Cavallo with a strong ebb creating some interesting eddies and currents. One of my classmates, Jan, captured a video that shows what we were up to. The exercise involved paddling out past the point, into the current at an unfavorable angle, and then using a sweep stroke on the downstream side to turn the boat into the current, using the minimum number of strokes. If you watch the video notice what happens to the boats as they go out past the rocks and into the current. You’ll see me in my boat at -0:38 sec, white helmet in a wooden boat.
On Sunday it was a class in rolling. We started out on the beach, progressed to the water without our boats, getting used to the water and the mechanics of rolling, and then in our boats with individualized instruction. When you see somebody that has a good roll it looks easy and effortless. But the truth is that it’s counter intuitive. When you’re upside down in the water, the first thing your mind tells you is to get your head out of the water. To roll successfully, though, your head needs to come up last. It’s not easy to reprogram your mind. I finished the class with a successful roll. It will take some practice to make it an instinctive action.
On Sunday I had signed up for a paddle to Alcatraz and Angel Island. When I arrived at Fort Baker the wind was howling with gusts to 40 knots. Our coaches suggested we assess the conditions and come up with our own plan. We students were unanimous that we would not be paddling to Alcatraz. We could barely stand on the jetty with the gusts of wind blasting us. Our plan was to stay in the protection of the harbor and practice boat control in the wind. Before we could get on the water, the Coast Guard revoked our permit. It seems they were too busy with other actions to monitor our event. Even so, we made the best of it with some land-based exercises – the main lesson being that flexibility is essential. Things don’t always happen the way you plan. It was an amazing three days with an amazing group of coaches and paddlers.
Thursday, December 5, we had a lull between storms which gave us the opportunity to go paddling. We joined a few of our Bay Area Sea Kayaker (BASK) friends and launched from Ferry Point in Richmond. Our plan was to circumnavigate Brooks Island with a lunch stop along the way. From Ferry Point we headed southwest around the end of the breakwater that protects the Richmond harbor.
Once around the breakwater we headed east, passing Brooks Island, watching the harbor seals that were resting at Bird Rock and continuing to the Albany Bulb. We had hoped to land at a little beach on the Albany Bulb, but the tide was so low that there was no beach, only rocks. We decided to check Point Isabel, a short distance away, but before we got there we found a little pocket beach we dubbed Twin Towers Beach. There we landed and broke out our lunches.
Back on the water we headed towards the Richmond waterfront, paddling past the Red Oak Victory. The quiet water and soft lighting with clouds made for some interesting lighting effects for photography.
At one point I was mesmerized by the pattern of ripples forming behind the boat in front of me. Like dropping a pebble in a pond creating radiating concentric rings, each dip of the paddle would create such a pattern, with the rings drifting off behind the boat and alternating on the left and right; the rings expanding and merging together. It seems the still water and the particular quality of light created a dance. It was a subtle effect and not something I could capture with the camera.
As we neared Ferry Point on our return we speculated about the graffiti which reads “KEEPS” on the old Terminal One building. It seems this piece of real estate is destined to become luxury condominiums. Our paddle covered 8.8 miles. Please feel free to explore more photos here. Fellow BASK members will appreciate the gallery since I made a point of capturing “portraits” of paddlers, taking advantage of the soft light which I find ideal for this kind of photography. You can also view the track log here.
Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday. I prefer to spend the day outdoors. This year we (my wife and I) joined a few of our paddling buddies for a “Buy Nothing Day” paddle. If you look up “Buy Nothing Day” in Wikipedia you’ll find it’s described as “an international day of protest against consumerism,” and one of the activities listed for the day is a “Buy Nothing Day paddle along the San Francisco waterfront… promoted by the Bay Area Sea Kayakers to kayak along the notoriously consumptive San Francisco waterfront.” Nine of us gathered at the beach at Crissy Field.
After a safety talk and radio check we paddled along the waterfront, and then across the bay to Yerba Buena Island. We were hoping to have lunch on a little beach on the Southwest corner of the Island, but with the extreme high tide there was no beach. We opted to go around the island, passing under the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and paddling into Clipper Cove.
There we found just enough beach to land and have lunch. After lunch we retraced out route, being wary of shipping traffic, ferries and pleasure boats.
On the return trip it looked like the weather might close in on us with dark clouds gathering and the wind picking up. Fortunately we had a strong ebb current moving us along and the wind didn’t last.
I managed to capture some video of the paddle with a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. With some effort I’ve condensed over an hours worth of video down to three minutes.
Over the course of the day we covered 13 miles. You can view more photos here and see more details about the route here.
What happens when you have 53 paddlers from three kayaking clubs point their boats towards Angel Island? It’s a Paddlepalooza! Saturday, October 26, we were on the Horseshoe Bay dock at 9:30 AM for a safety talk. Horseshoe Bay is just inside the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a popular launch site for kayaking. On Saturday the currents were favorable for a paddle around Angel Island, riding the flood towards Angel Island and after lunch riding the ebb back. A critical part of kayaking on San Francisco Bay is paying attention to the tides and currents. Following the safety talk we broke into eight pods. We were advised by Vessel Traffic Control and the Coast Guard that if we were to paddle in pods with good separation between the pods we would minimize the impact on shipping traffic and other recreational boaters.
Once we were on the water it was off to Angel Island at a leisurely pace, going around the island in the clockwise direction. While on the water we got to mix it up with members of other clubs. The three clubs involved were Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), Western Sea Kayakers (WSK) and Sacramento Sea Kayakers (SAK).
Our lunch destination was Quarry Beach, a protected beach on the southeast side of the Island. After lunch we assembled into new pods for another opportunity to make new friends, and we headed back rounding Point Blunt, the southern most point on the Island, and hugging the shore until we reached Point Knox. Then it was time to cross the open water back towards our launch point. On the crossing we found ourselves paddling into a headwind with enough wind to kick up a few waves, but with the ebb current we made good time on the crossing.
Things got more exciting as we approached Yellow Bluffs. This spot is famous for kicking up some wild water on the ebb, and true to form it was exploding today. Our strategy was to paddle north around the rough water, but this is not what happened. We stopped for one of our pod members who was having having trouble with his boat. By the time we got going again, we discovered that we were being sucked right into the rough water. It was a wild ride. I was too busy holding onto my paddle to even think about taking photos. I found myself surfing down waves, getting knocked left and right, and somehow I managed to stay in my boat. Paddle forward, surf the wave and keep paddling. Against the ebb it was slow progress. Eventually I made it to smooth water closer to shore where a number of paddlers were holding position while we regrouped.
My wife Joann managed to stay in her boat in the rough water also. Two paddlers capsized. One of them ended up riding the ebb current out towards the Golden Gate before eventually being picked up by a fishing boat.
The water at Yellow Bluff is a popular place for more experienced paddlers to play. Having “played” in it briefly I can see it would be fun to go back with some more experienced paddlers to improve my boat handling skills.
I did take more photos on the paddle. You can view those here. I also had a GoPro on my helmet. So stay tuned for some video footage. We logged 10.6 miles over the course of the day. You can see the map of our route above, or here.