Friday, May 8, 2015

Mike and Linda tour Italy 2015

Song of the Day:  Box of Rain by the Grateful Dead

"It's such a long time to be gone and a short time to be there"

It's only fitting that we start off this trip with one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs.  We ended last year's trip with Truckin by the Grateful Dead.   What a band.  We were unsuccessful in obtaining tickets for their 50th anniversary farewell show in Chicago in early July, so will just have to listen to lots of Dead songs on this trip.

This is year 3 of the Mike and Linda hiking series.  Just to refresh, in May/June 2013, we hiked over 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain.  Emboldened by our success on that trip, we decided to up our game, and in May/June 2014, we hiked  650 miles over 50 days  from Lausanne, Switzerland to Rome.  In September 2014, we also tucked in a 5 day hike through the high back country of Yosemite.  For 2015, we will return to Italy for 37 days, and also undertake another 5 days in Yosemite in September.  Finally, we will end up in Barcelona in October for a wedding and hopefully some more Spanish hiking.

This year's Italy trip looks to be a doozy.  I'm calling it a symphony in four parts:

1.  Part one starts out with a two day visit to Florence, followed by a 17 day hike from Florence to Foligno (just past Assissi) on the St Francis way.  We will hike about 240 miles here, with much of it through the very mountainess Umbria countryside.  

2.  We then take a 2 hour train ride to a farmhouse about 50 miles south of Rome, where we will attend a one week Italian cooking school.

3. Next, we  take a one week hike around the Amalfi coast, including a couple of days on the magical island of Capri.

4.  Finally, we will travel to Lake Como for 4 days of hiking and exploring.  I didn't do a great job of planning all the logistics for this trip, and we will have to take about a 7 hour train trip to get to Lake Como. 

In previous years, I had arranged all of our itinerary, hotels, etc by myself. For this year, I arranged the St Francis walk through the help of a touring company called  Although the St Francis trail dates back to the times of Francis of Assissi, it is not a popular walking path and not always well marked.  While we will be hiking alone again (ie we are not part of a group), we will rely on the touring company to help with the  maps, hotel arrangements, etc.  

Years ago, we visited Assissi with my brother Bruce and his family and have very fond memories of that trip.  That may have something to do with the massive quantities of wine that we consumed on that trip...but mostly it was how much our families enjoyed being together and the always fantastic Italians. 

The cooking school was arranged through another touring company that specializes in food holidays called  What a world we live in, where everything can be arranged on the Internet through highly specialized companies!  Linda and I are very excited about this portion of the trip. We will stay at an old farmhouse in the Etruscan countryside. Everyday will be a mixture of Italian cooking classes and visits to local markets, wineries, olive oil factories, restaurants, etc.  There will be something like 8-10 people at this cooking school, so it should be a lot of fun.

I scheduled the Amalfi coast portion of the trip myself, booking hotels online.  I'm hopeful that the hotels are relatively near the hiking trails!  Based on several videos that I have watched on YouTube, the hiking on the Amalfi coast appears to be spectacular, and we are really excited visiting this part of Italy.  We will also take a ferry to Capri for a couple of days of hiking and visiting the Blue Lagoon. 

Finally, we will end up at Lake Como.  We have visited portions of the Italian Lakes region in the past, but never made it to Lake Como.  We are hoping for a combination of excellent hiking and touring in this beautiful part of Italy.  Of course, we hope to see our good friend George Clooney when viviting Bellagio on Lake Como... Based on the headlines of the magazines at the grocery store, George is either a.  Deeply in love and his wife is pregnant or b. Heading for a divorce.  We will let you all know the truth after our visit.....

We leave on May 13.  I plan to post daily, starting on May 17 when we begin our hike. To paraphrase Jerry Garcia, while 37 days is a long time to be gone, it really is a short time to visit  spectacular Italy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

September 1 Merced Lake to Yosemite Village

                                                              Current Day.                           Trip to Date

Distance walked- miles                                  14.6                                      61.7

Gross climb- feet.                                            500                                   13,100

Gross descent- feet.                                        3720                                  13,100

Net climb-feet.                                               -3220                                 -

Song of the day: When the man comes around, by Johnny Cash, quoting from the book of Matthew

So the last shall be first, and the first last

(by the way, The American Recordings series by Johnny Cash in the late 90's and early 2000's is just an outstanding group of albums that I strongly recommend!).

Today was a mirror image of the 2nd day's walk up to Merced Lake.  Exactly the same paths, although it is quite amazing how different something looks when you are going the other way!  Of course, it also helps that the path today was mostly downhill!

At breakfast today, there was much discussion about the hiker who cramped up on trail yesterday.  Apparently he had to spend the night out in the wilderness.  When we were leaving camp this morning, two guys who were part of the group of the cramped hiker (CH) passed us and said they were going to help the guy.  A couple of miles out, we ran into CH along with a couple of other people.  Linda and Corey spent some time talking to these guys, and apparently two doctors who were hiking came upon CH along the trail.  The Doctors offered CH some of their food and also a sleeping bag to rest in.  The Doctors ended up spending the night on the trail with CR!  Linda said that CR told her that the Doctor's truly saved his life!  Quite an inspiring story.  Later we passed a two coming up the trail on horses, and they also had an extra horse.  We think that this extra horse was going to be used to take CH back down the trail. 

About 3 miles into the hike, Rod caught up with us and walked down the rest of the way.  Along the way, we stopped at Nevada Falls and took our shoes and socks off to soak our feet in the cold stream.  Man did that feel good!  It was a great hike today, and took us about an hour less than the exact hike up to Merced Lake a few days earlier.  That's the difference between going uphill vs downhill...

We truly enjoyed this hike and we having early discussions about doing something similar again next year.  The Yosemite lottery submissions are due by November, so we will need to figure out dates, etc.

Post Script:  about a week after we finished this hike, fires broke out in Yosemite, in exactly the same place that we hiked into Merced Lake and back to the Valley this last day.  1000 people had to to be airlifted out of Yosemite.  We have kidded that it would have been a great way to get a free helicopter ride over Yosemite!

August 31 Voglesang to Merced Lake

                                                              Current Day.                           Trip to Date

Distance walked- miles                                    10.3                                     47.1

Gross climb- feet.                                            1100                                 12,600

Gross descent- feet.                                         4000                                   9,300

Net climb-feet.                                                -2900                                   3300

Song of the Day-  I'm going down by Springsteen

Down, down, down, down

I'm going down, down, down, down

Today we traveled back to Merced Lake from Vogelsang camp, except, on a different trail than yesterday.  After leaving Vogelsang camp, we climbed about 600 feet over Vogelsang pass at almost 11,000 feet. After that, it was mostly downhill, much of it through a beautiful wooded trail along Lewis Creek.   Along the way, we passed several spectacular mountain lakes.  Although it was warm again today, with temperatures in the high 80's, the shade made the hike today quite pleasant.  All in all, an excellent day for walking. 

We had a terrific breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage this morning.  The food at both camps has been quite good, particularly considering the limited facilities and high altitude.  I ended up sitting next to a guy who has worked for HP for 34 years and lives in Roseville, Ca.  Linda and I both worked and lived in Roseville back in the 80's.  

When we arrived back at the Merced Lake camp site, we were ready for a shower after two days.  The shower was terrific, but unfortunately, I knocked my iPhone on the concrete floor and cracked the glass on the face.  Bummer.  Last year,  I broke the glass on another iPhone, suspiciously also in a hotel bathroom in Australia!  Note to self: don't take your iPhone to the bathroom! 

When we arrived back in camp, we came across Rod, who had been our roommate the first night we stayed in the Merced Lake.  He has been staying at Merced Lake the past three days, taking day hikes out.  Tonight, we do not have a 4th person in our camp, so it is just the 3 of us.

As we were sitting down to dinner tonight, a group of 6 or 7 hikers came in.  Apparently, one member of their group experienced severe cramping on the trail and was down several miles from the camp.  The guy who runs the camp left to help tend to the downed hiker.  Funny enough, just two nights ago, this guy who runs the camp had given us a little talk about search and resue missions that they have to do,from time to time.  

Tonight was "Thanksgiving dinner" at the camp, with turkey and all the fixings.  Once again, an excellent meal.  

After dinner, there was a park ranger who gave a little talk about Yosemite.  A special guest speaker was the 89 year old Mother of the guy who runs the camp.  She talked about how she has been coming to Yosemite since she was a little girl and discussed many of the changes in the park over the last 60 or 70 years!  Quite a perspective, and she spoke for almost 45 minutes straight!  I believe she spends much of the summer at the camp.  While she still gets around reasonably well, she takes a horse up and back  to the camps.  

Tomorrow we head back down to the valley.  Linda and I will  then drive back to San Francisco and Corey back to Los Angeles.   

August 30 Merced Lake to Voglesang

                                                              Current Day.                           Trip to Date

Distance walked- miles                                    9.8                                      36.8

Gross climb- feet.                                           4150                                  11,500

Gross descent- feet.                                        1250                                    5,300

Net climb-feet.                                                2900                                    6,200

Song of the Day-  Visit to Mother Nature Land by the Rascals

Can you see the sun a shining there, on the waterfalls?

All the leaves and the flowers and the forest so so beautiful 

I would like to take you there

Our hike today took us from Merced Lake at an altitude of 7,200 feet to Voglesang Camp at 10,200 feet.  Linda mentioned that she had a slight headache from the altitude and Corey was short of breath on some of the steeper climbs.  

This morning, we started the day with a terrific breakfast at the Merced Camp.  Just as we were getting ready to leave the camp, the group who are traveling on horses left in front of us.  Damn, for the first several miles we had to eat the dust and smell the fresh poop of the their horses and the donkey train traveling with them!

On our walk today, a young man passed us with 3 large backpacks on his back and wearing no shoes!  Later we learned that this guy runs some sort of service that carries people's backpacks to the next stop.   Sitting across from us at dinner were two of the women who hired this guy to carry their packs at a cost of $200.   Yes, today was a challenging hike, but jeez, $200?!

Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a lake along the way.  The camps sell sandwiches for lunches and they were quite good.   

The walk today was quite difficult in places, with very rocky surfaces and steep climbs:

Vogelsang camp is smaller than Merced Lake, with something like 40 beds, compared to 64 at Merced.  Unfortunately, there are no showers at Voglesong, so we will have to wait until tomorrow night to clean up.  There is however a stream beside the camp and we cleaned our feet and legs in the ice cold stream.  

The horse people are with us in the Vogelsang camp tonight.  Once again at dinner, several of them were drinking wine that the donkey's brought for them!  The dinner this evening was great-  steak, potatoes, soup, salad, chocolate cake.  

Tonight we are sharing our 4 person tent with a 75 year old woman from Nashville named Evelyn.  She has entertained us with many tales of her adventures, including mountain climbing using ropes, climbing on ice, long hikes in the desert, etc.  She is hiking Yosemite by herself this week, then next week she is climbing mount Whitney (14,000 feet) next week with one of her sons!  Unfortunately, Evelyn was a very, very loud sleeper.  She snored, coughed, talked in her sleep and got up to go to the bathroom 4 or 5 times during the night, slamming the door to the tent each time.  One time, she banged her face on a shelf next to her bed and cried out in pain!  It was a terrible night's sleep. 

On Sunday,  we are heading back to Merced Lake.  We are taking a different route back- a little longer and over Vogelsang pass at an altitude of almost 11,000 feet.   But most of the hike will be downhill.  These first three days have been mostly uphill, with a total climb approaching 12,000 feet.   I think we can all feel it in our legs.

August 29 Yosemite Village to Merced Lake

                                                                   Current Day.                           Trip to Date

Distance walked- miles                                    14.6                                      27.0

Gross climb- feet.                                           3,720                                    7,370

Gross descent- feet.                                          500                                     4,150

Net climb-feet.                                              3,220                                     3,220

Song of the Day- Rehab by Amy Winehouse

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, 'No, no, no.'

We woke up at 6 am this morning, ready to go.  But of course, then we had to go down to the little coffee shop and get our morning latte's.  And once you have a latte, you need yogurt and fruit to go with it.  Before you know it, it's almost 7:15 before you actually hit the trail.

Today was a strenuous walk of over 14 miles to Merced Lake, at an altitude of 7300 feet.  We had a total climb of 3700 feet.  Along the way, we passed several landmarks of Yosemite, including Nevada falls and half dome.   After passing Half Dome, we came upon an area called Little Yosemite, followed by several miles of very deep sand trails.  Although much of this section was relatively flat, it was very strenuous and tiring on the legs.  Plus it was about 90 degrees and hot.

Here is Linda at one of our stops along the way.

Linda and Corey going through a rocky area:

We had several donkey packs pass us on the way.  Yosemite uses donkeys to deliver food and provisions to the camps.  I understand that each camp is serviced about 4 days per week.  The camps have no electricity, other than a very small solar panel for one light.  

Around 4:00, we arrived at the Camp at Merced Lake.   This camp has 17 tents with 4 cots in each tent.  We have been assigned a 4th roommate for the night, a nice man from Merced named Rod.  The camp also has a shower and bathroom facility.  Our tent is perhaps 100 yards from the showers and bathrooms.  The shower was somewhat rustic, but refreshingand after a long hot day on the trail.  The camp tomorrow does not have a shower facility. 

This trip is a little bit like going to rehab.  No alcohol, no cell phones, no Internet!  We later learned that you can actually hire the donkeys to make deliveries to the camps at a cost of $5 per pound!  So, some of the people here have wine brought by the donkeys!  We are sticking to water and coffee for the next four days.

There is a group of about 12 people at the camp who are on a horse trip.   They travel from camp to camp on horses. And they have a pack of donkeys that takes their stuff.  It is quite a diverse group of people at the camp.  At dinner tonight we sat with a couple of guys from New Jersey, a husband and wife who just got out of medical school and a couple guys from the bay area.  All very nice people.  The female doctor was having problems with blisters on her feet and didn't know what to do.  Linds later went to their tent and helped the Dr.  fix her blisters!  How's that for a turn of events?! 

August 28 Yosemite Village

                                                                   Current Day.                           Trip to Date

Distance walked- miles                                   12.4.                                        12.4

Gross climb- feet.                                           3,650.                                     3,650

Gross descent- feet.                                       3,650                                      3,650

Net climb-feet.                                                       0.                                             0

Song of the Day- 

Spinning Wheel by Blood Sweat and Tears

What goes up, must come down
Spinnin' wheel, got ta go round

We arrived at Yosemite a little after 11 am this morning after driving 80 miles from Oakdale, Ca where we stayed last night.  Corey left LA at 5:30 this morning and arrived shortly after us.  We immediately  took off on a hike on "4 Mile Trail" (which ended up being more than a 10 mile hike- go figure!).  The hike was 3,600 feet of climb up from the valley floor to Glacier Point, and then of course 3,600 down on the way back.   This was a very challenging hike, with very little level ground.  This was a great warm-up hike for the next 4 days, and allowed us to acclimate to the altitude as well as stretch out the muscles.  By the way, it was indeed a "warm-up" as the temperature was in the low 90's when we finished our hike.

Here is Linda and Corey part way up the trail to Glacier point.

Linda walking up the trail with  Yosemite valley in the background.

Linda and I at Glacier Point.  You can see Half Dome right behind my head. Over the years, I have been accused of being a half brain, and here is the proof!

During the hike, we came across many, many foreigners, including groups from Germany, France, China and Japan.  I would guess that probably 75% of the people we met were foreigners.  

The National Park system is one of the great inventions of this country.  From my view as a quasi Libertarian, it is one of the few things that our federal government seems to do well!  And, as a 63 year old American, it is also one of the great (and few) perks that I receive from the government as I have the $10 lifetime pass to the National Parks!  

Tonight, we had a great meal at the Awahanee hotel.  The dining room at the Awahnee is one of the most beautiful rooms I have seen.  And, they serve a terrific meal.   We celebrated our hike with a very good bottle of Sonoma Pinot Noir. 

This evening, we stayed in the cabins at Curry Village.  

Tomorrow is going to be a very challenging 14 mile hike with a total climb of about 3700 feet or so.  We will be hiking to the tent cabins at Merced Lake. And it will be another warm day.  So, we will try to get out of here early in the morning.  

Yosemite Hike August 27-31

Song of the Day:  "Here in California"  Written by Kate Bush.  Performed by many, but my favorite versions are by Dave Alvin and Lucinda Williams.  As a side note, in spite of the drought conditions here in California, the grapes in our Sonoma vineyard look to be spectacular this year.

Here in California

The fruit hangs heavy on the vine

There's no gold, I thought I'd warn ya

And the hills turn brown in the summertime

In late August, Linda and I along with Linda's brother Corey from Los Angels, will take took a 4 day, approximately 50 mile hike in the high, back country of Yosemite National Park.  The Park Service establishes seasonal tent camp sites in 5 high country locations of Yosemite.  Each camp site has approximately 10-15  four person tents outfitted with cots and is open from late May to early September.  The park service provides breakfast and dinner at each location, and "take away" lunches are available for purchase.  Most of the camps have shower facilities, although the California drought may impact availability.  Each year, a lottery is held for the available slots and demand tends to far outstrip supply.  However, from time to time, winners will end up canceling their reservations, which is how we were able to score reservations at two of the locations- Merced Lake and Voglesang.   For more information on the camps, here is the wiki entry:

This will be very challenging mountain hiking, certainly at the level of the Alps portion of our Italian hike.  Adding to the difficulty is the fact that we will be hiking at high altitude. We will come up a day early to hike the area around Yosemite Valley.  We are planning a 10 mile hike that with a climb of several thousand feet and stay at Curry Village.   The next day, we will hike more than 14 miles from Yosemite valley, at an altitude of approximately 4000 feet to  Merced Lake, at an altitude of 7200 feet.  The next day, we hike about 10 miles to Vogelsang at an altitude in excess of 10,000 feet.  We then hike back to Merced lake, and then the next day back to Yosemite Valley.

Over the past 5 years, we have visited Yosemite on many occasions and have greatly enjoyed its stunning beauty. However, we always stayed at lodges in the valley and only did day trips out.  This will be our first time in the high back country.

In the month since we got back from Italy, we have done several long city hikes in San Francisco and New York; however we have not done any mountain hikes.  Today we went out for our first hike in the mountains around Sonoma.  Jeez, we have fallen out of shape!  It is clear that we will need to do more work over the next few weeks to better prepare for Yosemite.  We are spending next weekend at Lake Tahoe at the home of our good friends Bill and Liz Klein and we hope to get some good hiking exercise (to offset the expected partying!).

Post script:  the above was written around August 10.  On August 24, the Napa region suffered a 6.1 earthquake.  Our Sonoma home is located only 4 miles or so from the epicenter of the quake.  By a quirk of fate, both of our kids were spending the weekend with us in Sonoma, the first time they have both been there in almost two years.  We were awoken at 3:20 am by a loud rumbling in the house.  The sound was so loud and violent,  I first though perhaps we had been hit by an airplane crash.   We suffered a fair amount of damage to household goods, including lamps, artwork, dishes, glasses, broken bottles of wine, etc.   A pipe to our pool broke and drained several feet of water into our vineyard and there is cracked plaster in the pool.   Truly a terrifying experience for all of us, but we are all alive and healthy!   A little money and time will repair the damage to the house.  A good hike in Yosemite will be a welcome relief at this point!