OCTOBER 29, 2015 – Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) @ Vasquez Rocks

October 29, 2015

Every time I tell friends that I’m going to Vasquez Rocks, they warn me about Gorns. This time I saw my first one, in the dirt parking lot. He was scary looking but exceptionally slow. Even at my normal hiking speed I easily left him hissing away in my dust.
The PCT runs along the lot and continues South.
I hiked toward the under-freeway tunnel, passing many caches found on previous visits.
Away from the iconic giant thrusting rock outcroppings, there were no muggles near the equally interesting smaller formations.
Parts of the trail were washed out (from the freak storm in mid October?) and debris covered. The tunnel approach was especially ripped up.
I walked through along the right edge, because road apples tend to accumulate in the center, and emerged at the old I-beam framework. There’s a cache just off screen to the right: Vasquez Tunnel (GC1AQ03).
The South side of the freeway is outside of the park boundary and not as well maintained. Debris covered the trail. I got through by remembering the way from my June 2014 visit.
It was a relief to see a PCT marker. But then, I went the wrong way (RIGHT) at the fork. d’OH! d’OH! d’OH!
The trail ahead was in great condition. But it looked unfamiliar and there were no footprints. There should’ve been recent evidence of SOBO (SOuth BOund) PCT thru hikers on their way to the Mexican border.
Two new PCT caches on my GPSr screen weren’t getting any closer. At 1.5 miles away from the caches the trail headed into a network of powerline service roads. I turned onto a side trail going in the right direction. Soon it became rocky and went steadily uphill.
This is the view from the top, looking back across the 14 to Vasquez Rocks. The tunnel exit is a small dot below and just to the right of the largest vehicle on the freeway, 1/3 in from the left side of the picture.
All of the gained elevation was lost on a steep downhill that connected to the PCT less than 400’ from my target cache of the day, Lunchtime! (GC5JQCC). Unfortunately for me I found only a pen and no cache. I sat on a rock, ate a Clif Bar, and looked South. One of those must be the PCT. It’s not realistic at my age (54) and physical ability (middling at best) but I imagined reaching the same spot having hiked NOBO (NOrth BOund) all the way from the Mexican border.
I returned to reality and started hiking back toward the tunnel. On the way I found FRZ Cache#13 (GC56CV). Erosion was evident. Hiking here in wet conditions could be treacherous.
Another part of the trail was partially collapsed into a ravine.
102515_15_washout2Just before the tunnel a REAL PCT SOBO thru hiker sped by. I asked and he yelled back his trail name “Tiger” and confirmed that he was going “all the way” (to the border).
My goals were accomplished. I’d hiked the PCT beyond my previous trip and found a cache. Additionally I’d hiked an unknown wrong-way connector trail and reached an unexpected summit. There was plenty of remaining daylight for sightseeing on the way back to the parking lot.
I wondered how many people camped in the numerous caves in prehistoric times and what they’d think if they could look into their distant future to see me walking by.
This may be one of them.
The roundtrip hike was 9.1 miles. Eventually I’m going back to spend the day rock scrambling to find the new caches there that aren’t on the PCT.

OCTOBER 19, 2015 – Natural Bridges State Beach, (Santa Cruz, CA)

October 19, 2015

On the last full day of my central coast vacation I drove to Natural Bridges State Beach at the northern edge of Santa Cruz.
From a few steps off the parking lot I saw what must be a natural bridge.
In the foreground a juvenile seagull harassed its parent for a regurgitated meal.
But caches called and I walked inland. With each step I dreaded what I’d probably see at GZ;
the ground covered with sticky, smelly eucalyptus leaves and bark! Even with my HSP (hiking-stick-poke) method I wasn’t able to locate the cache. At least the humidity of the last 2 days was gone and broken cloud cover provided part time shade.
I somehow got through the eucalyptus forest without stepping on any hidden doggie landmines. Construction barriers blocked access to the next cache about half way down and to the right of this ugly trail.
It was worth the hike because earthcache I wouldn’t sit on these Coastal Benches (GC5EQGF) and THIS were at the end.
Turning North I walked to Seymour Marine Discovery Center and found a cache off the parking lot. More hiking along another part of the construction zone eventually led to 3 easy caches near Antonelli Pond.
Without detailed local knowledge, finding ways through or around the construction zones to more caches was too time consuming. So I hiked back to the car and drove North along the coast and found 4 more caches on desolate, windswept beaches. More to follow in the next post.

OCTOBER 18, 2015 – SFB Morse Botanic Reserve, (Pebble Beach, CA)

October 18, 2015

Another area with a cluster of hiking caches is SFB Morse Botanical Reserve. It’s only 5 minutes away from Cannery Row. It seems to be part of the Del Monte Forest, mostly (but not all) in Pebble Beach. I drove around winding surrounding streets and encountered multiple guard shack payment stations. It would’ve sucked to pay for entry and find out that the caches were far away from parking. Eventually I found street side free parking and a public trailhead at N36°35.632 W121°55.286.
The hike started on deteriorating pavement.
Then my GPSr arrow soon pointed to side trails. Lots of old downed trees were evidence that the weather can be extreme. The tree below looked like it’d been twisted apart.
Even though the road was never more than a ½ mile away, at times there were no human sights or sounds.
Occasional clearings were convenient places to sit and enjoy the solitude.
The humidity was uncomfortably high and a brief thunderstorm made it worse. As a botanic reserve there were undoubtedly many unusual plant species thriving on the moisture. With no knowledge of botany I only recognized the plentiful ferns.
I can’t spot special plants but I saw this well placed cache below.
Thankfully no caches were hidden in pine cones.
101415_08_pineconesIn 3 hours I hiked 5.3 miles, found 5 caches, DNF’d 1 and didn’t reach 2. Due to the rain I didn’t look for a trailhead into the Northern part of the reserve that contains another cache cluster. Instead I drove back to Cannery Row and reset for bike caching, only to find 2 flat tires (they were fine at the bike shop 4 days prior) and my fully charged portable compressor completely dead. To save the remainder of the day I walked 3 blocks to the neighboring town of Pacific Grove and found a few coastal caches skipped on prior visits. PG Beauty (GC4XM0X) was 70’ from the posted coordinates, only found using alternate coordinates posted by a prior finder. It’s an all too common occurrence, one of the main reasons why urban caching is so much more frustrating than it used to be. The hider? Zero finds, 1 hide.
By now it was late afternoon and the fog rolled in. I turned inland for a cache and then an early dinner. The hike was 1.9 miles with 4 caches found and no DNFs.

OCTOBER 17, 2015 – Palo Corona Regional Park (Carmel, CA)

October 17, 2015

I went back to the Monterey Peninsula for my annual October vacation. Instead of the usual 1st day hike at Jack’s Peak I went to Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel. I first noticed it on the geocaching.com map last month because of a cluster of 15 caches. Following up I learned that access is permit (limited to 13 per day) based. On the assumption that something interesting is being protected from being overrun by the masses, I applied online for the free permit and received it a few hours later. On Tuesday morning the trip was 10 minutes from my Cannery Row hotel to this sign.
This foreboding gate keeps out the riff-raff.
The permit had the current lock combination. That’s NOT it in the picture.
Once inside it was immediately clear that the hike was not flat. What I’d planned to be a 3 hour visit would take much longer.
I was glad that the few cowpies directly on the trail were completely dry. My first stop was at this barn. Oddly there’s no cache there. Benches like those in the picture were helpfully placed every few hundred feet. And there were picnic tables at every scenic spot. I had free use of them all because I saw only 1 other person all day and she was hiking.
Multiple gates kept the cows from wandering too far. They can’t read the posted signs that explain how to open the counterintuitive locks.
I wandered around at the bottom of the hill finding caches on various small loop trails.
The cache here, Spooky Oaks (GC377VZ) WOULD be spooky to find in gloomy weather or at night.
Eventually I had no more excuses for not going up the hill. Once started, the hike was surprisingly easy. It helped that there were easy caches to stop for and find on the way. At the top there was the ubiquitous bench & picnic table. This is the view back down to the barn and the Carmel State Beach beyond.
The summit cache You’re Inspirational (GCZH17) was covered by large ½” brown ants. Here are the ones that remained after I rolled the container a few feet. I very carefully avoided getting chomped by those jaws.
After the scenic view I was disappointed that the trail continued on the backside of the hill as a generic service road. There were still caches so I kept walking. At least the ocean breeze made it comfortable.
The final cache was just beyond the table, Animas Pond (GC121A3). I turned around there.
The walk back down was easy. I ended the 5 hour, very relaxed visit with 7.3 miles hiked, 9 finds, 3 out of the way “did not reach” caches and 3 true DNFs where I thought that the containers were truly missing. I recommend this park to my geofriends who want a muggle-free scenic day hike away from the touristy parts of the peninsula.

OCTOBER 4, 2015 – Backbone Trail (BBT) West from Kanan

October 4, 2015

It rained overnight. And today was the first day below 85 degrees in a month. It was a good time to hike the Backbone Trail (BBT), West from the Kanan Trailhead. I arrived at the free parking lot with my good friend sissopolis at 9:30am.
It drizzled for the first half hour. It’s been dry for so long that even with the overnight rain there was no mud. The streambed was completely dry.
We stepped under the bridge to find the clue for multi-cache, Bridging the Backbone (GC3T9Y2). In a normal year sissopolis’ would be foot deep in creek water. We checked out a coned-off 8’ circular sinkhole and enjoyed the overhead canopy.
There were lots of small elevation changes. I lost 15 lbs this year and recently changed to lighter gear (more about that later). Still, I got a good workout keeping up with the younger and ultra fit siss. We emerged at an unpaved service road from behind this sign.
Looking forward (NW) from the same spot we saw what looked like an old landslide. This stretch of the BBT was completely new to me because there are no caches. (NPS land).
We reached a trail intersection and hiked to a cache just outside NPS land NPS is the Neighbor (GC26NYH). I logged it in 2011 and now reaching it from the East closed a gap on my “BBT hiked” map. I didn’t remember how the cache was hidden. Siss made the find today.
The drizzle was long gone and sunlight occasionally came through the clouds. We turned back toward the parking lot. On approach we took a short side hike to Kanan and found a roadside telephone pole cache Peace Get Set 151 (GC5H69R). We could’ve walked along the road back to the parking lot. But the noise and the possibility of being splattered by a speeding-texting-distracted driver convinced us to dip back onto the BBT for the last ½ mile. The round trip was just under 8 miles.

Gear changes – inspired by Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers, those who hike 2,653 miles on the trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, all in 1 trip. Pack: Marmot Ultra Kompressor 22L ultralight, Fujifilm Finepix XP-80 waterproof freezeproof dustproof outdoor camera, Thermarest-Z sitting pad, “Storm – world’s loudest whistle.” And of course, I now wear trail running shoes (Brooks Cascadia 10) instead of hiking boots. So far, so good. All the new gear is working flawlessly.

AUGUST 24, 2015 – TSP, Trippet Ranch to Parker Mesa Overlook

August 25, 2015

During a break in inferno like heat I drove to the upper parking lot in Topanga State Park at Trippet Ranch for a hike.
About 5 minutes later, I hiked right (South) at the sign, found a nicely placed cache Belly of the Beast (GC545W8) and left a Don_J memorial wooden nickel.
A few hundred feet later I sat on a convenient bench. I’ve always thought that it’s more for resting than sightseeing because there’s not much of a view.
I took a swig of slowly melting frozen Pocari Sweat. I prefer it to Gatorade but it’s $4.99/1.5 liter bottle so I only buy it on sale. The Smart Water cap from last week worked well with no leaks. I’m going to get more and use them on all future hikes.
It was gear test day. At this point I opened my newly bought German hiking umbrella (picture later).
It’s been so dry and so hot for so long that it was a surprise to see lots of mostly red stage poison oak on the West side of the trail.
Eagle Rock was visible in the distance. There are famous caches (Scab Island / El Indio Amazonico) in the canyon between. Bushwhacking, crawling through hot humid brush tunnels and rope climbing doesn’t appeal to me so I never tried to find them.
Today, I found another easy cache and repaired one of my own.
90 minutes and 3 miles from the parking lot I arrived at Parker Mesa Overlook. No one else was there!
The haze obscured Santa Monica Bay and the pier where I had lunch (Bubba Gump’s) last month.
Geocaching.com’s map shows a series of caches extending from the overlook toward the ocean. I’d never noticed that trail on past visits. Two runners staggered in from below, saving me the trouble of searching for it. Only a few dozen feet in below the overlook it widened and became obvious.
I found E piʻi kuahiwi me ke akahele (GCPTGA) and saved the rest of the caches for another day, and a hike from the bottom. When I reached the overlook again it was full of people. My umbrella caused curious looks and questions. Despite the dorky appearance, it’s like walking with a portable shade tree. The silver metallic coating kept me much cooler than expected. I’m going to start using it on all hot, open terrain hikes.
On the way back to the parking lot a passing group of Asian teens snickered at me. I heard “BOBA!! BOBA!!” when they were safely beyond my reach. It’s a new derisive term for immigrants, “Brought Over By Airplane.” The umbrella must’ve uncomfortably reminded them of their mothers who take extreme measures to avoid tanning. It was a long uphill hike back.
Including a short side hike, the round trip was just over 7 miles. It was made easier with Brooks Cascadia 10 trail runners, almost a pound lighter than my regular Merrill hiking shoes. They’re a favorite of long distance hikers. I’ve never rolled an ankle so I’m going to take a chance and wear the Cascadias from now on.
Note: The lower parking lot at “Daid” Horse, closed for years, is now open.

August 16, 2015 – Emma Wood State Beach (Ventura)

August 16, 2015

It was 101 degrees when I left the Valley at 10am. 40 miles and less than an hour later it was 71 degrees in Ventura. My worries about finding a full parking lot were unfounded. Before I could hop on my bike, a campground volunteer walked up and said I “drove right through,” (past the iron ranger). I pointed to my California Explorer day pass hangtag on my rear view mirror. She put her hands all over my window, peering in, and didn’t recognize that type of pass. She said it was facing the wrong way. I told her that Emma Wood State Beach was specifically listed as “good at,” on the pass’ CA state website and that no regulation specified which direction to hang it. She decided not to make an issue out of it and went on her rounds.
Right away I saw that the bike path going North was uphill. It ran parallel to active railroad tracks, between a chain link fence on each side. Here are the track and a parking lot road as seen through a break in the fence. The caches were M&M tubes hidden along the fences. I found 5 of them before reaching a narrow section that ran along an unguardrailed freeway onramp, and turned around.
Close to the parking lot and through a tunnel there was a cache along a dirt single track. (GC5HR4R) Rogue Cache.081615_03_dirt_path
I parked and poked at suspicious rock piles.
Finding nothing, I sat on the log below and enjoyed the view.
Note to my non-Camelback/Platypus using friends: It was there I noticed a great new cap type on my Smart Water bottle. It’s easier to use then a regular screw-off cap.
In years past I would’ve driven around looking for more caches. I’m more relaxed now so I watched sandpipers grazing,
and sailboats sailing by for an hour before returning to the now 111 degree! Valley and my customary after-outing In-n-Out double double.


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