A Hike in Fern Canyon

We spent the week of September 12 in Mendocino with members of our kayaking club. On Wednesday the 14th we took a break from paddling to go for a hike in Fern Canyon.

This is a lovely hike that follows the Little River. The trail winds along the river, crossing the stream a number of times on bridges and meandering through tall redwoods and the fern-lined canyon. Once we had hiked up the canyon, we opted to continue on the trail up to the Pygmy Forest. Here the tall redwoods give way to pines and cypresses stunted by extremely acidic, low-nutrient soil that sits on top of a layer of low-drainage iron hardpan.

We were happy to have some overcast since it can be quite warm in the Pygmy Forest. The soft light from the overcast also made for excellent photography. I prefer the soft light to the harsh shadows and highlights that can happen with direct sun. I also found that the railings on the bridges were a perfect place to park my Gorilla Pod and my trusty Sony RX100 camera in lieu of my tripod. Walking through the dwarf trees feels like walking through an enchanted forest.

We returned to Fern Canyon by an alternate trail, making a loop. When we returned to camp we had logged 11 miles. You can view more photos of our hike here and you can view more details of our track here.

Mendo Madness 2021

Each year our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) takes over a number of camping sites at Van Damme State Park for a week of camping and kayaking.

This year’s adventure started Sunday morning, September 12. With our kayaks on top of our camper we hit the road. Before we got very far we discovered that our camping reservations didn’t start until Monday. What to do for Sunday night? We pulled off the road to consider the options and Joann booked us a night at the Seagull Inn. Hey, I’m not going to complain about breakfast being served.

After breakfast we drove the short distance north to Russian Gulch. The prediction was for high surf, but the beach at Russian Gulch is quite protected, so getting on the water was not a problem. In poking around the cove though, we decided it was too rough to venture out. After a very pleasant paddle on the cove we checked into our campsite. That’s our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper with the kayas on top parked next to the trees.

In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven. Here’s Joann serving up Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Yum! With rough water predicted on the coast we opted for a paddle on the Big River, and we found a few BASK members happy to join us. We logged 12 miles paddling up the river and back. A very pleasant paddle in an enchanted forest.

Wednesday, September 15, we put on our hiking boots and hiked up Fern Canyon to the Pygmy Forest. Another enchanting trail up a canyon lined with ferns and redwoods. The hike in itself is worthy of a separate blog post so stay tuned.

On Thursday with the conditions on the coast continuing to look daunting, we opted to paddle on the Albion River. We managed to pull together a group of eight people to paddle up the river. That brings us to Friday, our last day in Mendocino and it was time to paddle the coast. Conditions were much calmer than earlier in the week so we launched from Van Damme Beach and poked around a few rocks and paddled through a few caves. Hard to condense a week’s worth of adventures into one short blog post so stay tuned. I’ll be posting separate stories with more details. You can view more photos of our adventures here.

Don’t Trust the Map

This adventure takes place on July 16 as part of our three-day trip to Point Reyes while camping at the Olema Campground. We spent one day kayaking and one day hiking. We based our hiking plan on a map that turned out to be out of date.

Perhaps we are a bit old-fashioned, but there is something comforting about being able to spread out a printed map and get a sense of a place larger than what you can see on a smart phone or GPS unit, not to mention that you don’t need to recharge batteries. So having consulted the map in the morning, we decided on a hike that would originate at Muddy Hollow, follow the Muddy Hollow Road the the White Gate Trail, then on to the Estero Trail, looping back to our origin. This is a lovely hike that meanders through oaks and pines, crossing several streams lined with lush green ferns and alders, and out onto the more open coastal savannah.

We had a very quiet hike, seeing only a half-dozen people over the course of the day. We did see a few elk, at a distance, a few wildflowers and a few birds. When we got to the halfway point, we were looking for a trail junction that never appeared. It showed on our printed map, but not on the GAIA GPS map I was using to track our hike on my iPhone. We had to surmise that the trail on the map no longer existed, which led us to walk a few more miles than we had planned. When we returned to the car we had logged 10.6 miles. We were happy to know that we can still hike that distance over easy terrain. You can view more photos here and look at the track of our hike in more detail here.

Intro to Rock Gardening

It’s time to get caught up on a few of my recent adventures. The past two months have been quite busy providing photographic services to my architectural clients and caring for a family member that is recovering from a hip replacement. That in itself has been an adventure worth writing about, so stay tuned.

Before that, though, I’m going to turn back the clock to May 15 when I had the opportunity to join a few fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASKers) for a paddle out the Golden Gate. The plan was to paddle out for an introduction to “Rock Gardening.” Most of us have had some experience paddling around rocks, so this was somewhat of a refresher course. You’ll notice that we are all “dressed for immersion,” as well as wearing helmets and paddling plastic boats. It’s better to scrape a plastic boat on the rocks and barnacles than a fiberglass boat.

Once on the water, we poked along the coast inside the bridge to get a feel for the rhythm of the waves. Then we paddled out around Lime Point and under the bridge. Our leader Jan pointed out a number of features suitable for testing our skill and timing at navigating the rocks. It’s all about timing. Time the wave right and you can experience the thrill. Time it wrong and you can end up in the water.

Since paddling in the rocks requires keeping both hands on the paddle, I did not take many photos. I did have a GoPro camera on my helmet and I captured some video including a few frames where I ended up going for a swim. Fortunately my paddling companions were well practiced at rescues and they had me back in my boat in no time. I had been thinking it had been quite some time since I had practiced a rescue, so I guess you could say I got my wish. A fun day on the water. More photos available here.

Wind in the Dunes

April 21. I arrived at Eureka Dunes at 4:47 PM. The wind was howling and the sand dunes were alive with moving sand. I tied a hefty rock to my tripod to keep it from blowing away and captured a few seconds of video. Mind you, the recorded sound alone is intense.

I popped the top of the camper up and climbed inside to get away from the blowing sand. Inside, the front roof vent was loose and it was making a tremendous racket banging up and down in the wind. I had visions of a sleepless night.

It wasn’t long, though, before the wind let up. With the sun low in the sky and about to set over the mountains to the west, I decided to go for a walk. I left my big Nikon D850 in the camper since I did not want to expose it to the flying sand. I grabbed my trusty Sony RX100 and went out to explore the dunes with the late afternoon light.

As I ventured out on the dunes I realized this was a rare opportunity. The wind had scoured all the footprints. My experience photographing sand dunes is that they are rarely free of footprints. The clean sensuous lines of the sand ridges in the angle of the sun resulted in some stunning images. This didn’t last long. While I was photographing the dune and sky image you see above, another party of hikers came by and and the clean lines were no more. As the sun sunk over the ridge the lighting became too soft for my liking and I retreated to the camper to fix dinner.

The next morning I was out of the camper at 6 AM with my big camera and tripod to see what the morning light had to offer. One of my favorite images from this trip is the one above with the light and shadow playing on the dunes and the bushes in the foreground. This image and a few others are available as fine art prints in my art store.

The early morning light revealed many interesting compositions. Light and shadows and texture. It was 9 AM when I returned to the camper. At that time I was no longer seeing compositions that I found interesting.

I must say that the campground was not too busy. If you look closely at the photo of the valley you can see my camper alone in the distance with no other vehicles near by. There were three vehicles in the campground representing six people.

Eureka Dunes is located in Death Valley National Park. To get there requires a long drive on a washboard gravel road. It can be slow going if you are in a passenger car. The campground is dry, with no drinking water available. Campsites have picnic tables and there is a vault toilet.

You can see more photos from the Eureka Valley trip here.

Paddle & Party

April 1. Our adventure today includes a paddle on Tomales Bay followed by a party at Heidrun Meadery to celebrate David’s birthday. Seven of us were on the beach at Marconi Cove ready to get on the water at 10:00. We launched on a low tide and paddled across the bay to the Point Reyes Peninsula and then north paddling in flat calm without a breath of air. Temperatures were predicted for mid-70s so I opted to leave my dry suit behind. The calm water gave us a view of thousands of jellyfish just below the surface.

I stuck my waterproof Olympus TG-5 under the surface of the water and snapped a bunch of photos hoping my might capture some of the moon jellies. Low and behold, I actually captured a few images that were worth saving.

Once across the bay we paddled north along the peninsula landing at Tomales Beach for an early lunch. Then it was back to our launch site. Our paddle was just shy of eight miles. You can view the track of our paddle below or click here to see more details. We were in no hurry, but anxious to go taste some wine.

We packed up or kayaking gear and drove the short distance to the Heidrun Meadery for a wine tasting with wines made from honey. These are sparking wines made with the Champagne method. Who knew there could be so many flavors of mead, with the flavors based on the source of the honey. Buckwheat, sage and wildflowers were among the flavors we tasted. Once we were lubricated with bubbly we broke out the cake.

Since we were all sufficiently vaccinated we opted to enjoy the camaraderie sans masks. The last time I was without a mask in this large a group was March 14, 2020, when we had a party to celebrate my birthday. Plenty more photos to share. Go here to see them.

Chipps Island

March 16. Today’s paddle takes us from Pittsburg, out around Chipps Island, with a lunch stop at McAvoy Yacht Harbor before returning to our launch point.

Six of us were on the boat ramp ready to launch at 11:00. Again, our paddle plan was to take advantage of the currents. We headed out across Suisun Bay with some discussion about a proper ferry angle to correct for the current that was carrying us west—the point being to set a course that would carry us directly to Spoonbill Creek rather than pointing the boat there and ending up downstream. The current was quite evident when we stopped mid-channel to chat with a fisherman. You can see on the map below that our actual track was an arc across the bay as we made adjustments to our course. The little blip in the arc marks our encounter with the fishing boat. Once in the creek we found a good current pushing us up the creek.

We paddled past past various derelict structures. I always find these fascinating, and worthy subjects for photography. We also found a few sunken boats.

Once around the island we paddled back across the bay. We opted for a point that carried us east of the entrance to McAvoy Yacht Harbor and poked around the shore until we found the the sign showing the way to the harbor. We were looking for the Bay Point Regional Shoreline which promised picnic tables. We didn’t find the park from the water, so we landed on the boat ramp and found a suitable spot for our socially distanced lunch.

On our return trip after lunch we had a fast ride with the current passing the Pittsburg Power Plant. Off in the distance we could see the faint outline of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Look closely over Alan’s shoulder in the photo above. We were back at the boat ramp at 4 PM.

We logged 14 miles over the course of our paddle. You can view a larger map and more details on my Gaiagps account here. I’ve posted a gallery that includes more photos here.

Four Islands

March 11. Another glorious day on the Bay. Seven of us launched our kayaks from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor in San Rafael. Our paddle plan included an 11 AM departure to coordinate our paddle with the tides, pushing a little bit against the current paddling out past Point San Pedro and riding the current home. We launched under a blue sky with dramatic clouds on the horizon and calm water. From Loch Lomond we paddled to the Marin Islands, passing between the two Islands and then heading North East to The Sisters where we paddled through the slot called Grendel’s Needle. We found a little bit of turbulence where the current coming at us through the slot was constricted. A few power stokes and a forward bow rudder gave us a bit boat control practice and took us safely through the needle.

From The Sisters we paddled over to China Camp where a part of our group that opted to bypass The Sisters were already spatially distanced and eating lunch at picnic tables.

After lunch we were back on the water and we had a quick ride back to our launch site. As we were ready to launch I handed my camera to Alan, one of our paddling buddies, and asked him to take a photo of Joann and me with our boats. The longer boat is a Pygmy Coho built in 1999. The shorter Pygmy Ronan was built in 2017. Too often I’m the one that’s missing from the photos.

Over the course of the day we averaged a little under 3 mph on our way to China Camp, and a fast ride back getting up to 5 mph when we were riding the current. Our course covered 9 miles.

There was some discussion on the water and by email after the paddle regarding tidal predictions which don’t always match the published tide and current tables. Always good to paddle with friends that can temper the predictions with local knowledge. Please view additional photos here and to take a closer look at our track go here.

Calm Between Storms

Friday, January 29. We had calm weather following a storm that wreaked havoc up and down California. Some of our best weather for kayaking happens in the winter in the calm between storms. Come spring, the weather pattern shifts to afternoon offshore winds that create choppy waves on the Bay.

Nine of us were on the water launching from the beach at Ferry Point shortly before 10 a.m. and ready to ride the flood current up the Bay. Our course took us out under the fishing pier and then to the buoy that marks the shipping channel. We had no wind and calm water. Once across the channel we headed north toward Red Rock Island, and from there up to The Brothers, two islands near Point San Pablo.

While we were heading north, a high speed ferry passed kicking up a wake that came at us broadside. I yelled “outside” to my paddling buddies as I turned my boat into the approaching wave. I received a cold, wet slap in the face as the cresting wave broke over the bow of my boat. Tom attempted to surf the wave without much success.

At The Brothers, we found a strong tide rip running between the islands. A few of us decided to play in the standing waves. You can see the disturbed water in one of the photos above.

Then it was over to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor where we landed on the beach and had a suitably socially distanced lunch. After lunch we were back on the water. With the changing tide, we were able to ride the ebb current back to our launch site.

We all had been admiring the clouds that were off in the distance. To the west towards Mount Tamalpais we could see rain. To the east we had pillows of white cumulous clouds. Chris said the clouds reminded him of a Maxfield Parrish painting. His words inspired me to see if I could capture a photo of the clouds that might be worthy of Maxfield Parrish. I gave the clouds some added emphasis in postproduction to make the point. You view more photos here. Let me know what you think. We logged 12.6 miles over the course of the day. You can view details of our track here.

A Tale of Two Boats

On November 30 we put our two wooden boats on the water at Drakes Estero. It’s a 50 mile, 75 minute drive from our house to the launch point. We opted to drive out to the Point Reyes peninsula the day before and spend a couple of nights at a lovely little Airbnb rental so that we could enjoy the paddle without having to get up early. High tide was predicted for 10 a.m., and my plan was to be off the water by 2:30 when the sandbars would likely be exposed.

I’m paddling a Pygmy Coho, a kit boat from Pygmy Boats. The Coho was built in 1999, so it’s marking 21 years of use. At 17.5 feet long it’s a full size sea kayak. Joann is paddling the Ronan, built in 2017. I have to confess that if I have my choice I’ll choose the Ronan. The Ronan is 14.25 feet long. The Coho has very little rocker, so it’s fine for passage making when you want a boat that tracks straight. It’s also great for camping since it will hold quite a bit of gear. Sad to say, Pygmy Boats is not producing kits at the moment, and it remains to be seen if they will be back in business. The Ronan is a bit livelier with more rocker and a hard chine, and I find it a more playful boat especially if there is some wind, waves, or dynamic water. Today we anticipated flat water and little wind, so the Coho seemed like the boat for me.

I decided to capture some video with my GoPro camera. Here’s a link:

I alternated camera positions between my helmet and the deck, experimenting with different camera vantage points. I’m never content with just one point of view.

We paddled out the Estero to Sunshine Beach, just opposite the entrance to the Estero. Here we found ourselves feeling just a bit of the swell from the ocean while paddling through the glistening fronds of a kelp forest. After a quick stop, we were back on the water hoping to get across the sandbars before the tide dropped and before the wind picked up. We meandered back through Home Bay. In Home Bay we found the propeller of a WWII P-39. Check out an earlier blog about the sunken treasure.

Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles. On the return trip we did find that we were paddling into the wind, with the wind blowing 12-15 miles per hour, not enough to cause concern. Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles, a very pleasant paddle, and we were back on the beach at 2:15, ahead of the falling tide. We did see a few birds, including white pelicans and numerous shorebirds, along with a few harbor seals.

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It has the feeling of a pristine section of the California Coast. It’s within the boundary of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, so there are no motorized vehicles. The Estero is subject to closing for seal pupping; check with the park service if you plan to visit.

Check out an earlier post here. And an earlier Youtube video here.

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