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Archive for the ‘Pursuits’ Category

Climbing Volcán Villarrica

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The most popular activity when it comes to adventure tourism in Pucón is easily climbing Volcán Villarrica with an elevation of 9,341 feet. There are certainly no shortage of operators that are willing to take you there, and I went with the reputable Aguaventura.

Our day began at 6:45am with a 45 minute drive to the volcano. We were provided with all of the hiking gear that we’d need for the day: helmet to protect from the falling rocks, ice axe for hiking through snow/ice, and all equipment required to slide down through the snow.

The moderately strenuous hike to the top took about 4 hours, with rests every 45 minutes or so. There were many people climbing the volcano, but as some of the first for the day, we were less prone to getting hit by falling rocks loosened by parties above.

Upon reaching the summit, the first thing I did was walk to the edge of the pit to see what this volcano was all about. We couldn’t see lava, but we could hear it – it sounded like small jet engine. Mainly, the volcano was belching smoke and toxic gases, which the wind was thankfully blowing in the opposite direction from us. When we did smell the gas, though, it smelled of chlorine and made you cough.

After about an hour enjoying the view from the summit, we put on the gear that we carried to the top that would allow us to descend in an hour by sledding through snow chutes. This was quite fun, and you could really gain some speed when you sat on the small piece of plastic! Before we knew it, we were back to the beginning of the snow line and hiked the remainder back to the shuttles. Overall, a great day with lots of sun and stunning views, and I can now see why this is such a popular activity for Pucón.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

A few weekends ago, Bob, Joey, Jules, and myself made a quick two-day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. After arriving and hiking Ryan Mountain, we setup camp for the night at Indian Cove. The next day we hiked 49 Palms Oasis before driving through the park to hike Lost Palms Oasis. The weather in Joshua Tree can be hot in late April / early May, but we lucked out with comfortable temperatures in the 70s and lots of sun.

Bug Hunting

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Bug hunting, or lobster hunting, is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years – ever since seeing lobsters underwater while diving in California and coming back to a boat that had large, empty lobster tanks. Finally the stars aligned, and over Halloween weekend, Jimmy, Jeremy, and I participated in our first bug hunting adventure. We joined a 2-day live aboard organized by Channel Islands Dive Adventures on the Peace Boat (both excellent operations). Our planned destination was the remote San Nicholas Island, where bug hunting was rumored to be exceptional due to the few boats that travel there. When we boarded the Peace, though, we learned that the island was closed by the military and we would instead be diving the island of Santa Barbara.

Over 6 dives on Santa Barbara throughout the first day, the diving and bug hunting was in large part a disappointment. Santa Barbara is known for its great underwater visibility, but unfortunately the strange weather patterns that California has experienced throughout the year had clouded the water – at times the visibility was only about 15 feet. Additionally, the water was unseasonably cold, and as such, the lobsters were not to be found at their usual depths, which made finding bugs more difficult than it should have been.

That being said, the night dive on Halloween (and the 6th dive for Jimmy and me on the trip thus far) changed the course of the ship (literally). The dive itself was incredible (my first night dive in California), the water seemed warm, and I even caught a bug (too small to keep, though). We also received our fair share of Halloween spooks, when sea lions would rapidly swim into the light cast by our flashlights and back out of it again. After the dive, the captain of the Peace decided to cut our losses on Santa Barbara and over the night we sailed to the island of Santa Cruz.

The captain made the right choice, since one could not have asked for better conditions for our three morning dives on Santa Cruz – the sun was shining, the temperature was in the 70s, the seas were calm, and, most importantly, there were bugs on the sea floor. It was at Santa Cruz where Jimmy, Jeremy, and I each caught ourselves a keeper (with many more caught that were just under the limit and therefore had to be released).

The hunt itself was quite exciting… Jeremy, Jimmy, and I dove as a team, and as we swam a bearing away from the boat, we would comb the sea floor looking for bugs. When one of us found a bug, we would signal the others and try to retrieve it. Since lobsters usually hide under rocks, the key is to not hesitate, lest they move further back into their hole, making it more difficult to grab ’em. The retrieval involves simply getting a good grip on the lobster, either at the base of the feelers or by grabbing the carapace (upper shell). (Since the lobsters we were hunting were California Spiny Lobsters, we didn’t have to worry about claws.) Once one of us had a lobster, somebody else would measure the lobster with their lobster gauge, and if the lobster was a keeper (i.e., the carapace measured longer than 3 1/4 inches), we would bag it and bring it to the surface at the end of the dive.

Usually after a diving trip, we go home to cleanup and relax. However, since we had three lobsters to cook after this trip, we went to Jimmy’s and cooked up a delicious feast. Overall it was an incredible experience and a great success for our first trip hunting bugs – I look forward to the next bug hunting expedition!

Iva Bell Hot Springs

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

The idea to backpack to the Iva Bell Hot Springs and the Lost Keys Lakes was born around the campfire during the Yosemite Trail Ride. More specifically, I was examining a trail map of the wilderness around Mammoth Lakes in search of lakes with fish that could serve as a destination for a 4-day / 3-night backpacking trip. This search led me to the remote Lost Keys Lakes, and as a bonus, the Iva Bell Hot Springs were en route to the lakes (I’ve had yet to experience hot springs in the wilderness). As soon as Mark confirmed that the Iva Bell Hot Springs and the Lost Keys Lakes were some of his favorite destinations in the Sierra, the decision had been made: I would be booking a permit to the Lost Keys Lakes with three companions. Jimmy, Ben, and Darcy signed-up for a 4-day backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend.

Day 1:
With a big 13-mile day ahead of us, we left Reds Meadow as early as the shuttle service allowed so that we would have time to stake out a campsite at Iva Bell and soak in one of the seven pools. The hike was relatively easy since it was a gentle downslope to Fish Creek (apart from the switchbacks) followed by a gentle upslope to the Iva Bell Hot Springs. Reading Iva Bell trip reports on the Internet told us that the pools were located at different altitudes and that the pools at the top commanded a spectacular view of the Fish Creek valley. So, we headed to the top and found the pools we had sought. After soaking in the mineral water for hours, I can say that I have never felt better after a 13-mile hike! Also, sitting under the stars in a wilderness “hot tub” is remarkable.

Day 2:
The ultimate destination of this backpacking trip was the Lost Keys Lakes, and the hike to them from the Iva Bell Hot Springs involved a 2,000 ft. elevation gain over 4 miles. Upon sighting the first lake, there was no doubt that our hike was worth it – the calm waters nestled at the base of granite cliffs provided ample opportunity for fishing and relaxing. After picking out a campsite, fishing for a while, and cooking the keepers (delicious), we ventured to another lake in the Lost Keys group. The evening was spent around the fire eating smores and listening to some of our favorite backcountry music.

Day 3:
Apart from a group of forest rangers that were “renovating” the campsites around the lakes, Jimmy, Ben, Darcy, and myself were the only backpackers that had spent the previous night at the Lost Keys Lakes (a testament to the remoteness). Before beginning the hike back, Jimmy and I spent a few hours fishing and cooking the few additional keepers that we caught. The hike back went much faster than expected, and in no time we found ourselves back at Iva Bell. We spent a few hours soaking in my new favorite Iva Bell pool before continuing further down the trail so that we could make an early exit the next day.

Day 4:
Our early start made the shaded, uphill hike back to Reds Meadow very comfortable. Before finishing the hike at Reds Meadow, we made a quick stop at Rainbow Falls. Once we made it to Reds Meadow, Jimmy and I decided to treat ourselves to the famed chocolate milkshakes of the Mule House Cafe – it was a tasty end to an amazing summer in the Sierras. Until next summer, Happy Trails!

Mineral King

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Only a day after the completion of the Yosemite Trail Ride (now the end of July), it was back to the Sierras with Jimmy and Nick for a 4-day, 3-night backpacking trip to summit Black Kaweah. We began our journey at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park, and little did we know, it would be the most challenging backpacking trip to date.

Day 1:
The remoteness of Mineral King and our intended destination of Black Kaweah became clear after a few miles on the trail when there was no longer a trail to follow. Instead, we were scrambling over talus (steadied by our trekking poles) and constantly referring to the map to determine if we were on the correct path to Glacier Pass. Once we made it to the pass, we decided to take a small detour to summit the nearby Sawtooth Peak. After what seemed like a good decision and a fun hike, we soon found ourselves scrambling through the loose scree on the steep slope to the summit. We all eventually made it to the summit, and the view was amazing, but we couldn’t stay long since we still had to get back to Glacier Pass and down to Spring Lake, which was the planned camp for the night. So, we hurried back to Glacier Pass, and in doing so, we all descended at our different speeds and became separated. This was not good, since Nick and I found ourselves traversing a bit lower than Jimmy, and as it turns out, the lower you traverse Sawtooth Peak, the steeper the slope became. We all individually got ourselves into less than desirable climbing situations, and we unnecessarily turned a class 2 scramble into a class 3 climb. Needless to say, it was an unexpected surprise that we should have avoided.

After getting back to Glacier Pass, we vowed to not get so separated in the future and rapidly descended to Spring Lake and arrived just in time to witness a beautiful sunset on the surrounding mountains.

Day 2:
After breakfast and re-packing the backpacks, we spent some time fishing Spring Lake before continuing on to the foreboding Black Rock Pass. This wilderness Sierra fishing experience was the first for Jimmy and Nick, and they seemed surprised at how easy it was to catch trout in the mountain lakes. Nearly all of the trout we caught were too small to eat, though, so the fishing on this trip consisted of catch and release.

Once we completed the 1000 foot vertical hike up Black Rock Pass, we saw Black Kaweah for the second time on the trip (the first was from Sawtooth Peak). Unfortunately it looked like there was too much snow to summit Black Kaweah, so we changed the goal of the trip to now summit Red Kaweah, which was the peak next to Black Kaweah that had less snow. We then continued the hike to the base of the Kaweahs by descending into the Big Arroyo and climbing to a spot just below the fire line (the elevation above which fires are not allowed). We went to bed early for the big day that awaited us.

Day 3:
The climb to Red Kaweah began at 6am with a scramble up some steep talus to a picturesque basin with a bright blue tarn. Upon reaching what felt like the base of Red Kaweah, I realized my limits and decided to bow out of the remainder of the class 3 climb – I was too tired to safely continue, especially given the imposing view of Red Kaweah and the large distance that still remained. Jimmy and Nick continued the climb and returned a number of hours later, reporting that they had successfully signed the summit register from 1936. We hurried back down the mountain, grabbed our bags, and made it to an incredible campsite at one of the Little Five Lakes. The lake here was filled with fish, and I spent the evening catching Rainbow and Golden trout before relaxing around the campfire.

Day 4:
From here on out we simply had to retrace our steps back to the car, which involved climbing Black Rock Pass and Glacier Pass. We made good time, though, and we soon found ourselves enjoying the obligatory meal at In-N-Out, which was definitely deserved after our first trip to Mineral King. Next time, we plan to go later in the season and summit Black Kaweah via a different route, so stay tuned!