When you travel to the same place often, to visit family, it is important to have ritualized outings and to sprinkle in some new experiences each visit to keep things fresh. We are lucky, my in-laws live on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and it is always fun to travel there.
We have our list of musts, which includes over-the-top breakfasts at the Oak Table, swims in Lake Crescent, visits to Lavender Farms, maybe a day trip to Victoria, British Columbia and walks on the Dungeness Spit to name a few. This summer we had a longer visit planned and decided to explore some spots farther from our home base in Sequim.
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One of my favorite things in the world is to plunge into a lake, preferably in the mountains, fed by snowmelt. The Pacific Northwest drought and climate change have sadly warmed the temperature of many of these glorious lakes. The upside is that swimming is more pleasant. It used to be, numbness and a deep bone chill was assumed after a mountain lake dip.
This summer, as I embark on a big birthday, I was feeling a bit shy, or let’s say not really embracing the idea of a blowout celebration. I have never reveled in birthday glory, despite being a Leo, a theatrical being, and anything but a shrinking violet. It felt so dismal to ponder, plan and pretend to be festive when I wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I just said yes to a variety of unconnected plans and invitations, and inadvertently (perhaps a little by divine design) got to experience numerous lakes this summer. I’m choosing to call it “The Summer of Lakes“ and not my big birthday summer.
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A good friend took a group of kids and parents rock climbing in the Sierras recently. We walked ten minutes to a steep rock face and unloaded the gear and started setting up. My son has taken indoor classes at a gym, and hanging out in that atmosphere, I have never been enticed to join in, but in the mountains, out in nature, it was a totally different story.
I know my limits. Jumping out of a plane, bungee jumping from a bridge, crossing the Atlantic or Pacific in a small boat or running a marathon are not even remotely on my bucket list. That said, it’s invigorating to try new and adventurous activities at any age, to keep your mind and body fit, flexible, and to constantly look for new challenges.
It’s not that often a new, jaw-dropping cliff-side trail is opened. After much controversy and many years of debate, the Devil’s Slide Coastal Trail and companion tunnels are now in full swing and if you haven’t had a chance to walk, roll or run on the path it is certainly a great quick getaway for Bay Area folks. If you are planning a trip to San Francisco and want a manageable walk with Pacific Oceans views, make the trek just a 20-minute drive from the city.
When my daughters and I rode the chairlift to the top of the Passo Tonale resort this summer, it was easy to see that this would be a great place to ski. On the edge of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, the area around Ponte di Legno is a dramatic series of limestone mountains, river valleys, pine forests and mountain meadows. It has ski resorts at the pass and right on the edge of town. That’s fine for winter activities, but this mountain terrain is also perfect for summer fun.
It wouldn’t be Italy if there wasn’t a town square where everyone congregates in the mornings and evenings. Ponte di Legno’s is known as September 27 Square (Piazza 27 Settembre) to commemorate a battle with the Austrians in 1917. The piazza straddles the River Oglio, literally. The river runs under the stone piazza, which joins both riverbanks in a seamless merger of cobbled lanes and shops. Outdoor cafes edge the central fountain and look out to the mountains dominating the horizon. We started all of our mornings there, being served every day (and in the evenings too) by the same reliable waiter. (He was always there. When did he sleep?) Continue reading »
Last month the Rim fire, Burning Man and the closing of the Bay Bridge meant our planned Labor Day backpacking trip to the Sierras was in question. Finally, after much discussion we opted to head for the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area about 110 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Lake County.
Armed with outdated maps and hopes of some lake swimming, we hit the road ready for our adventure. Stopping at a ranger station, we got the skinny on the trails and hoped to hike to some small waterfalls. We were told the driving was rough to get to the trailhead, and included fording a river, which sounded exciting till we got to it and panicked.
We promptly set up camp and found a swell swimming hole, as we were to wait till the next morning when the other half of our party was to arrive. Once our big group was assembled, we decided to spend the day at a big lake before attempting to ford the river again.
The driving was dusty, long and we made a few bad choices. Desperate to swim in a lake, we headed for Lake Pillsbury, which sounded enchanting, but was, alas, quite a depressing scene. Lake Pillsbury is a man-made lake in Northern California, situated an arduous 33 miles east of Ukiah in the Mendocino National Forest. Reviews were mixed, but as the the temperature climbed, we just wanted to cool off. What we found was a dried up, somewhat scungy car-camping scene, with campers and giant garbage bags full of empty beer and soda containers all smooshed together in the seedy campgrounds. The bathrooms, cute store and expensive gas were welcome, but this was not what we had in mind for our backpacking adventure; we didn’t even want to swim in the lake.
Finally we decided to return to the small menacing river and attempt to get past it with an all wheel drive Subaru Outback.
Continue reading »
A man jumped off the dock into the crystal blue, glacially carved waters of Lake Crescent and when asked how the water was, he replied: “Like butter.”
Like butter on a croissant, Lake Crescent in the Olympic National Park, just 17 miles from Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of my most favorite spots on earth. Perhaps because of its brilliant blue waters and extraordinary clarity (caused by a lack of nitrogen in the water, which stunts the algae growth), perhaps because we make the ritual pilgrimage each time we visit my in-laws in Sequim, Washington. When we round the bend to the lake, my husband says in his best Inspector Clouseau accent “Lake Croissant!” Continue reading »
The other day I accompanied my daughter’s 6th grade class on a field trip to Calaveras County where we wandered among the big trees (giant sequoias) and camped in the forest by a meadow in one of California’s pristine state parks. I expected awe and inspiration, and a lot of kid fun, and I got that. But I also got some things I didn’t expect.
That’s usually the way with travel. You have some notions about what you’ll experience and at some point the path diverges and you end up someplace you hadn’t planned. A side trip in Calaveras County took me to the Fiji islands, the California 6th graders gave way to a Fijian Sunday school, and I was left awed by the redwoods and the sea. Continue reading »
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It’s climbing season again on Mount Everest, and like most years, it looks to be a busy time at high altitude. The peak period for reaching the summit is a few short weeks in late April and early May, and reports say at least 32 expeditions are planned from the Nepal side. That makes for quite a crowd trying to inchworm its way up the mountain. Tempers, no doubt, will flare.
Just a few days ago, in a widely reported story, things did get out of hand when a crowd of Sherpas fought with three foreign climbers in a dispute over fixing ropes on the route high up the mountain. In a story for National Geographic News, Brot Coburn provides good context for understanding the relationship between Sherpas and foreign climbers, one that has been and continues to be positive in almost all respects. Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book from 1997, Into Thin Air, illustrates how badly things can go wrong when the mountain gets crowded and the weather changes.
But most of us don’t need to worry about the crush of climbers on the route above base camp. Elite mountaineers climb, the rest of us hike — or trek, as they say in Nepal. Continue reading »
San Francisco is known world wide for stunning views and hilly terrain. Some streets are so steep that more than 300 stairways exist throughout the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas difficult to reach otherwise.
There are the famous routes to Coit Tower where one can catch a glimpse of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and the now famous Mosaic Stairs in Golden Gate Heights. Although not as crowded as say, Lombard (the crookedest street in the west), these top stairwalks can be bustling.
Instead, grab Adah Bakalinsky’s stairwalk bible, now in it’s 20th edition, and explore some of the more quirky areas. The book offers up the popular routes, but many of the stairways highlighted are tranquil spots, used only by locals and known only to a handful of people. Most walks take no more than an hour and string a number of staircases in a neighborhood together, with informative descriptions of the history, architecture and flora and fauna of the area.
Together, families can explore the nooks and crannies of this great city. My family often decides on a route and picks a restaurant or café in the area to make our ultimate destination. Avid hikers, we love to take our boys on treks outside the city, often inspiring them with treats or the prospect of counting banana slugs. Some days however, we just can’t get out of town, but want an outdoor activity that feels like a hike. Then we reach for our stairwalk book and pack a few snacks and layers of clothing. Continue reading »