I was attending a conference in Asheville, NC, and had half of a day free. Rather than stay cooped up in my hotel, and knowing there were hills in the area, myself and my colleagues, took a trip out to Dupont Forest to hike Triple Falls.
We didn’t have a lot of time – just about an hour and a half. That worked well for the hike as it isn’t particularly long. Also, there was a risk of rain. There was a light drizzle in the surrounding area as we approached the hike, and a light mist at times for parts of the hike. The light mist was nice as it cooled us down while we climbed the hilly sections.
Here are a few videos from the hike:
We made it to the top of the falls fairly quickly. Here are a couple of videos of the scenic view from the covered bridge that crosses the river just above the top fall:
Just as we were headed out of the covered bridge, which provided some protection from any possible rain, the rain really picked up. It lasted for about 20 minutes and got us pretty wet. Despite getting soaked, it was a fun hike and I’m sure even more delightful on a bright, sunny day.
I was invited to give a presentation to a freethought group in Ocala and thought it might be a good opportunity to explore a little more of Florida. I looked up hikes near Ocala and found Silver Springs State Park. From what we were told by some of the people where I gave my presentation, Silver Springs used to be a privately owned amusement park and Florida’s first tourist attraction. Apparently, the park fell on hard times and eventually was taken over by the state. Now it’s a state park with boat rides on the springs and some hiking trails.
My presentation was supposed to be in the early afternoon, so we decided to go to Silver Springs State Park in the morning, try to get a hike in, go to my presentation, and then come back for another hike afterward.
We got a bit later start than we had hoped as we had to pick up a few supplies before we left Tampa. We got to the park around 11:30 and walked through the main area where they sell boat rides and have a restaurant.
We managed to get in a short hike in the primary part of the park before we had to leave for my presentation. We did a newly created hike called Creek Trail, which wasn’t much of a hike. It looped around in a circle, with Silver Springs Blvd. on one side and Silver River on the other side. It did give a bit of a sample of what Florida’s natural land looks like, but it was a very quick taste. Here’s the route:
We had to leave after the hike to get to my presentation on time. The presentation went well and then we went to a late lunch with some of the people who were at the presentation. After lunch, we headed back into the park to do another hike. This one was a bit longer. It took us through some Florida wilderness and eventually to the Silver River, as seen in this photo.
The trail then looped back around. This was called the Swamp Trail; here’s the route:
After that hike it was getting dark, so we headed out for a bite to eat and headed home. It was a fun little outing. No elevation gain, of course, but a good chance to stretch our legs in Florida wilderness.
I was in Northern California on a speaking tour but had a couple of days while I was there that I didn’t have any speaking engagements. I had combined the speaking tour with a conference I was attending in Seattle, the plan being that I would travel to several locations in California to talk about my books then fly to Seattle for the conference before heading home.
The day before I was to fly to Seattle ended up being free with no speaking engagements. I knew that a few days in advance, so I decided to put in for a permit to climb Half Dome in Yosemite. Whenever I tell someone from California that I like to hike, they invariably ask me if I have hiked Half Dome. They all seem to think it is the greatest hike in the world. In order to be able to tell them that I had hiked Half Dome, I figured I’d put in for the permit and, if I was lucky enough to get it, I’d make a quick trip out to Yosemite, hike Half Dome, then head back to Sacramento to catch my flight the next morning.
I had a speaking engagement on the 17th in San Jose in the evening. I also found out I got my permit on the 17th, so I had to inform the people who were going to host me that night that I was going to drive out to Yosemite instead. The presentation went well. After signing books and chatting for a bit, I took off for Yosemite around 9 pm. It was about a 4-hour drive.
I asked my wife to help me out by trying to find me a place to stay near or in the park so I could drive straight there, crash for a few hours, then start my hike. She ended up finding me a cabin in the park. Luckily, the office for the campground is open all night, so when I pulled in around 1:30, they were open, handed me my key, and gave me a map to show me where to catch the shuttle to the trailhead for Half Dome. I headed to the cabin and went straight to bed – around 2 am.
I got up around 6:30, packed up, checked out of the cabin, then geared up and caught the shuttle to the trailhead. There were quite a few people on the bus and most were getting off at the Half Dome trailhead. After I got off the bus, I made a quick decision to take the steeper trail to get away from the herd of people. It was a good decision. After I reached the first waterfall (Vernal Fall) and first set of stairs, the crowds started to thin.
By the time I reached the top of Nevada Falls, there were very few people hiking on the trail.
I continued to push my pace as I still had to summit, hike back out, and then drive to Sacramento that night. I passed a few people who asked me if I had a permit, as they didn’t and weren’t sure if someone was going to check for permits. Sure enough, about a mile and a half below the cables, there were rangers checking for permits. I had mine and showed it to them, but they were turning others away.
I made it to the cables after about 2 1/2 hours, where there was, unfortunately, a massive group of very slow climbers. I ended up helping a woman who was afraid of heights make it up the cables, but it took me almost 45 minutes with her and her slow-moving friends in front of me. I was happy to help and it made for interesting conversation.
After I got to the top, I took about 20 minutes to grab a bite to eat and air out my feet, changing my socks in the process. It was still fairly early, but the heat was starting to rise and my sweaty feet need to breathe.
Wary that I would get caught behind other rather slow hikers on the way down, I didn’t want to stay long. As it turns out, I did get stuck behind a very slow couple, but they eventually let me pass them. It is definitely true that you can make good time getting to the cables, but the cables are a traffic jam just waiting to happen.
After getting past the cables, I tried to move pretty fast on the way down. I did, however, stop just above Nevada Fall to let my feet cool off. I pulled my boots and socks off and soaked them in the river for about 10 minutes as they were getting really hot. It felt amazing.
From there, it was a quick trip back to the bottom.
Here’s my route:
Total hiking time was 6 hours and 45 minutes to cover 15.1 miles with 6,216 feet of elevation gain across the hike.
Half Dome was a cool hike. Is it the most amazing hike I’ve ever done? No. It was beautiful in spots, and the waterfalls were really pretty. But it has a serious competitor with Zion National Park, where the cliffs are equally amazing and the slot canyons are other-worldly. I have been to lots of places that are stunningly beautiful. I’d definitely do this hike again, but I think it might be more fun to hike half way and camp, summit, then hike out, giving yourself plenty of time to get stuck on the cables and to enjoy the river and scenery. Sorry, Californians, Half Dome is cool, but it’s not the best hike I’ve done.
While on a book speaking tour in California, I had a few days where I didn’t have any talks. One one of those days, while I was staying in Santa Cruz, I drove down the coast to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. I was using my down time to get some work done but also needed some exercise.
I had to park along the freeway, as the parking lot was full. As I walked in, I asked the woman in the booth what trails she would recommend for someone who wanted a good workout. She suggested climbing to the highest point in the park, Whaler’s Knoll. I made a note of that, then headed out.
Based on the map I had, I thought it made the most sense to try to do a big loop, with a side trip up to the highpoint for some elevation gain. I headed mostly northwest, to begin with, worked my way around the edge of the Reserve, took a detour up to the top of the Reserve, then returned to finish my loop around the edge. I ended up back where I started, doing about 5 miles of hiking and seeing most of the Reserve.
Sea lions nest on part of the Reserve. While I was there, that spot was blocked off as there were babies and they didn’t want people disturbing them. However, it was possible to still see the sea lions from a distance. There were also a lot of birds in the area and some really pretty beaches.
I didn’t get the impression that there were a lot of good places to stop for a picnic, but if you’re interested in nature and wildlife, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve has a lot to offer.
For the previous 45 highpoints I had done, my wife had expressed some concerns, but had never insisted that I hire a guide. With Mt. Hood, given that people die on the mountain regularly and that it is snow-covered year round and that I had no prior experience climbing in such conditions, she insisted I hire a guide. And, frankly, since I climb mountains as a hobby and would rather not die, I found her logic compelling. My hiking buddy, Tom, and I located the Timberline Mountain Guides online and made a reservation for late May.
The way the guiding service worked was that we paid for a package. We were supposed to arrive at the Timberline Lodge (which is a ski resort on Mt. Hood) two days before we would try our ascent. I had a nightmarish experience with Spirit Airlines that almost killed the trip before it started. Their flight into Tampa that would then take me to Dallas before heading to Oregon was delayed, and the only way they could get me to Portland that day was without my checked bag with all my gear. I ended up canceling my flight with Spirit and re-booking on Delta last minute (which wasn’t cheap) but was able to get to Portland to meet up with Tom on the night of the 23rd. We picked up our rental car and some supplies, then headed to the Timberline Lodge where we had booked the cheapest room they had (with bunk beds).
Bright and early on the morning of the 24th we headed to the offices of the Timberline Mountain Guides and met the guides and the other hikers who would be headed up the mountain with us. There were nine hikers with three guides, for a 3 to 1 ratio. Of the nine hikers, 8 of us had a fair amount of experience; 1, Terence (not his real name), did not (we’ll come back to him). We first went through the gear we brought and then were outfitted with any gear we were missing. I don’t have an ice ax, mountaineering boots, or crampons. I also didn’t have a puffy jacket at the time (though I do now). I ended up renting all of those.
After we were all geared up, we headed out of the office and to a nearby slope where we spent about 4 hours going over snow climbing techniques. We covered all sorts of topics: hiking in the snow without crampons, hiking with crampons, how to use ice axes for balance and for self-arrests, and how to hike short-roped in groups of four. It was a pretty good crash course on snow and ice mountaineering. We also got a pretty good sense of which of the 7 other hikers could be trusted, and who was not as skilled on the mountain (ahem, Terence). Tom and I ended up working with a guy named Jim who was the oldest in our group, but he was a solid hiker, even if he was a little slower than the rest of us. His reliability on the ropes (we could be tied to him the next day) made us want to have him on our team, but the guides ultimately got to choose the rope teams.
After our morning of training, the guides gave us some final instructions about when we would meet and what we should bring, then let us go. We had a few things we needed to do. The guides mentioned the possibility of taking skis or snowboards up on the snowcats to the top of the resort, which is where we’d start our hike the next morning, so we could ski or snowboard down from there after we had summitted. Tom and I decided to rent snowboards so we could take advantage of that opportunity. I also realized that my thick gloves I bought in the early 1990s for snowboarding had lost their ability to keep water out. They were completely waterlogged after the 4 hours of training. I needed new gloves. Luckily, we found a ski shop in the nearby town that had some really nice gloves (that cost a small fortune). I would have been miserable if it were not for those gloves. We also picked up some last minute supplies and had a big dinner before heading to bed early to try to get some sleep.
We didn’t sleep all that much, maybe three hours, before we got up around 12:45 so we could meet at 1:30 to catch the snowcat to the top of the resort.
The snowcat took about 30 minutes to get to the top of the resort. We then had to gear up, and Tom and I had to stow our snowboards and boots. That meant we were a little later getting ready than everyone else, which drew the attention of our third guide who had not helped with the training the day before and we were just now meeting for the first time. He was probably in his 50s, European, and very professional. He also was completely no nonsense on the mountain. He started out eyeing Tom and I as we took a little longer than everyone else to get geared up because we had to ditch our snowboards. As a result, we were at the end of the pack when we started out.
We hiked for about twenty or thirty minutes to get us warmed up, then stopped for about 5 minutes so we could adjust our layers. At that point, Tom and I snuck up to the front of the pack as we didn’t like being slowed down by the hikers who weren’t moving as fast as we wanted to. That was a good move. We stopped a couple more times between that first stop and the Hogsback, which was the staging zone for our final ascent and the place where we would get our harnesses on and be divided into rope teams. Every time we stopped, it seemed like the group was getting more and more spread out; some of the hikers were much slower than others. Tom and I were nipping at the heels of the guide who was breaking the trail for us, but only because we do a lot of hiking and are in pretty good shape.
When we finally made it to the Hogsback, it was just beginning to get light (the sun wouldn’t come up for about another hour).
It took almost 20 minutes from when Tom and I arrived at the Hogsback with the lead guide before Terence showed up with the last guide. The guides told us to get our harnesses on, then snuck off to the side to have a conversation. They came back a few minutes later and announced to the group that Terence would not be going any further as he was not physically fit or skilled enough to continue. Unbeknownst to Tom and me, who were at the front of the group, Terence had been struggling since our first stop. He was asking other people to carry stuff for him, was trying to walk up the mountain backward in crampons because he was tired, and was generally causing problems. There was no way the guides were going to let him continue up the mountain – it was way too dangerous.
All the hikers in our group had signed forms saying that the guides had final authority on the mountain and that we would do whatever they said. We had also signed a form saying that we would maintain a 3 to 1 ratio with the guides, and if that meant that one person had to turn around, two others would go with them. Now, in this situation, the guides gave Terence an option. He could stay on the Hogsback and wait for us to summit and then come back down, after which we would all descend together. Or he could hike back down with a guide. Terence chose option 3: He would pretend to wait at the Hogsback, but as soon as the rest of us left, he said he was going to try to summit without the guides. Considering the liability issues associated with what Terence was saying, the guides had no choice but to insist that Terence went down the mountain tied to a guide. And that meant that two of us had to go with him.
No one volunteered.
We were all pissed. This also delayed us on the Hogsback for about 30 minutes while we tried to work things out. The guides made a number of calls, to their bosses, to Terence’s emergency contacts, etc. Nothing would change Terence’s mind about waiting. Eventually, the guides came up with an alternate plan. There were a father and son doing a private hike up the mountain with another guide from Timberline Mountain Guides. When they got to the Hogsback, our guides asked them and their guide if he would take one of our hikers in light of our situation and they agreed. That meant just one person would have to go down with Terence. Again, with no one volunteering, we were kind of stuck, until one of our guides decided that, if we didn’t tell anyone, he would take four of us. He put Tom, Jim, and I together with another hiker (basically, four of the more reliable in our group). Terence was then short-roped to the new guide who wasn’t putting up with his nonsense at all and pulled off the mountain.
With Terence out of the picture, we then started our ascent. We skirted around the Bergschrund and the primary chute that most people climb and instead went up the Old Chimney route, which wasn’t as busy. Even so, there must have been close to 50 or so people climbing the mountain the same time we were.
I should note at this point that we had absolutely perfect weather on our climb. Once we broke through the clouds, we had an amazing view. We basically climbed Mt. Hood above the clouds, as you can see in this photo:
We made slow and steady progress up our route. About 100 feet below the ridge, our guide anchored us to the mountain, climbed that last really steep section, set another anchor, then belayed us to the top. It isn’t quite a 90 degree, vertical slope there, but it’s close. I’m sure that is the most dangerous spot on the mountain. Just to be extra cautious, our guides made sure we couldn’t fall there.
We made it to the summit around 7:00 am. There were a few other people up there, but not many. Our guides gave us 20 minutes or so to grab a bite to eat and take some pictures before we headed back down.
The reason they climb Mt. Hood at night is because the sun can heat up the ice at the top of the mountain. When the ice warms up, it’s more likely to break and fall on hikers and is generally just less stable. The idea, then, is to summit as early as possible and then get off the mountain before any ice starts falling. I did, actually, get hit in the leg with a piece of that very dense ice that was dislodged by a hiker above me and can attest to the fact that it is insanely dense. It left a good bruise where it hit me on my thigh. Also, on the way down, we did hear a lot more cracking than we did on the way up.
Our descent was much quicker than our ascent. Once we got back to the Hogsback, we took off our harnesses and stowed our ice axes. We then made very good time down the mountain. At the top of the resort, Tom and I had our snowboards waiting for us, and one of the guides had brought up his skis so he could make sure we made it off the mountain alright. We switched out our boots, packed everything into our packs and then headed down the resort on our snowboards, capping off an amazing hike.