Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Can you walk across an entire country? Yes, yes you can. Enter: Liechtenstein.

Every year, one of my goals is to leave the US and to visit a new country. In March 2017, I was still feeling the energy behind my new year's resolutions, and wanted to take care of this goal early in the year.

My boyfriend had a business trip in London that month. And while I often join him on these trips, the scheduling just didn't work out this time. But we decided to take advantage of his being in Europe for me to fly over there and for us to visit a new country together: LIECHTENSTEIN.
A tiny bit about the tiny country of Liechtenstein...  
Schloß Vaduz or Vaduz Castle
Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy. At the head of the monarchy is His Serene Highness Hans-Adam II. The prince and his heir apparent, prince Alois, still live in an actual castle, Vaduz castle. Liechtenstein appears to be so safe, that you can walk right up to the front door of the castle. (Can you imagine doing this at the White House?!)

Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world. At 62 square miles, it's just 20% larger than San Francisco. It is also highly developed: it has more registered companies than citizens and boasts has a literacy rate of 100%! (Other Liechtenstein fun facts here.)
Now, back to the story of our hike...

From London, Brett headed to Zurich where I met him. The day after my arrival, we took a quick train ride to Lucerne, where we climbed Mount Pilatus....in sneakers....in knee deep snow (route on Strava). In our defense, we did not know it would be covered in snow until about halfway through the hike, and by that time, we didn't feel like turning around.

Pedestrian bridge across the Rhine
In order to hike across Liechtenstein, we were going to start in Switzerland and end in Austria. So a few days after our Pilatus hike, we found ourselves on a train to Buchs with some friends of ours—two of whom live in Berlin and two of whom live near Fribourg, Switzerland.

The Buchs train station is just 0.4 miles from the Rhine River and the Liechtenstein border. After getting off the train, we walked toward the river and headed north for on a bike and pedestrian path to reach a pedestrian bridge.

On the bridge, we crossed over into Liechtenstein. My 2017 goal was accomplished and I was feeling good!

Love locks: a global epidemic
On the other side of the bridge, we continued north on another path along the Rhine. After about 2.5 miles, we began to bear right to get off the riverside path to enter a town called Bendern where we took a small detour to look at a church. The church was perched on a hill and gave us a nice view of the valley below.

We continued on main roads to head east across the country. We decided to take a lunch break in the town of Eschen. There were just a few restaurants there and many of them were closed. We loaded up on food, and reinvigorated by the calories (many of which came from Pringles), we soldiered on, starting our post-lunch walk with a long staircase.

Snow in the Alps, smiles on our faces
We passed many adorable houses on our way. I don't think it gets much quainter than this.

Quant surrounds all around
We eventually reached a stairway with a view of the next valley, which was in Austria!

Looking down at Austria
At the bottom of the stairs, we approached the Austrian border. While most people drive, we, of course, were walking. We also saw a cyclist ride through. Now we were in a small city called Feldkirch (population ~30,000). 

Crossing the border on foot
We reached a serene path lined by fields. There was a garbage cleanup crew with an adorable border collie. I think there were two pieces of trash in the whole country.

Nature's glory. Why did I leave this place?
We continued into town and headed to a bus stop to get to Vaduz, Liechtenstein's capital, where we spent the night. The next day, we got our passports stamped at the Liechtenstein Center for a few € and hiked to the ruins of an old castle, WildSchloß, also known as Shalun Castle.

Here is a summary of our hike!
Distance: 9.8 miles
Time: 4.5 hours total including lunch; 2.5 hours moving
Start: Buchs, Switzerland
End: Feldkirch, Austria
Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/916801849

If you ever get a chance to hike across Liechtenstein, I highly recommend it. The walk was lovely and you'll get bragging rights for crossing a whole country on foot.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes: Elk, Sun, and Sand

The Fourth of July weekend was a great time to do a day trip outside my normal stomping grounds. My friend Alex was game for an adventure, so we decided to hit up the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Hike Stats:
  • Distance: 9.5 miles 
  • Elevation gain: 1,223 feet
  • Moving time: 3:14
  • Elapsed time: 4:13 
  • Trailhead: goo.gl/kaMAE3 
According to this site, the hike is rated as  Challenging, but I'd rate it as Moderate. Though there were some hills, but I didn't find them particularly difficult or steep. That said, I do live in San Francisco, so my view on hills is likely skewed.

Why this hike was awesome:

Tomales Point
1. Non-stop ocean and bay views: This hike follows a narrow peninsula between Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This means you are surrounded by water for the entire route. The first part of the hike ends at Tomales Point, a great place to have a picnic lunch while soaking in the views.

2. Wildlife: The hike goes through a Tule elk preserve. I mean look at these guys! After speaking with a bunch of hikers, it seemed that people who hiked earlier in the day saw more elk than we did (we started at 11 am). The early hikers mentioned that the crowds that come later sometimes scare the elk away. We were lucky to hike at a time of year when there were many babies among the adult elk.

In addition to the elk, another hiker saw sea lions and I saw an adorable gopher.

Yellow bush lupine
3.  Wildflowers: There were a lot of lovely flowers including wild radish and yellow bush lupine and wild radish. While the rest of the trail was covered in dead grasses, the flowers added a lot of beauty. 

4. Easy to follow: I venture to say it's almost impossible to get lost on this trail. You find the trailhead by walking in a straight line from the parking lot, and there are zero turns on the trail. It was super easy to find our way into, out of , and around the area.

What could have been better:

I really enjoyed this hike, but if I could come up with a few minor critiques, they would be the following:

1. Crowds: There were a lot of people on this trail. I did do the hike on the Fourth of July weekend, so maybe that was my fault. :)

2. Out-and-back instead of a loop: I am a novelty seeker, so I prefer loop hikes that don't double back over repeat territory. But honestly, this out-and-back trip didn't bother me. I enjoyed it!

3. Walking in sand. From miles ~4-7, the trail is unmaintained. It's marked as such, so you know when you're getting to the unmaintained section. This wasn't a huge bother, but parts of the trail were very sandy and sand is not my favorite terrain. Still, not a big deal! You can just empty your shoes after the unmaintained section. And you can't really be surprised to see sand when you're walking on a narrow peninsula between two bodies of water

Overall assessment:
As an animal lover, I really enjoyed this hike. The elk sightings were a true highlight as were the ocean and bayside trails. The hike was also just hard enough to be satisfying, but not hard enough to be too tiring. I would definitely do this hike again as the elk sightings would be different every time. As long as the weather is good, this is a unique hike I'd bring out-of-town friends on, too.

View this trail on Relive: https://www.relive.cc/view/1065011721

Note: No restrooms at the start of the trail, so stop 5 miles before this trailhead at the Abbott's Point Lagoon trailhead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Exploring Oakland's Redwood Regional Park

Distance: 8.7 miles
Elevation: 1,627 feet
Time: 3.5 hours 
Route: https://www.strava.com/activities/1012052562

The wide Stream Trail
Yesterday, two friends, my dog Jodie, and I headed to Redwood Regional Park across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland. I'd wanted to visit this park for years to see redwoods in a less busy and hectic setting than Muir Woods.

For our route, we chose two longer trails that would create a large loop around the park. We started our hike on the southern side of the park near the Wayside Picnic Area. (You can click here for a trail map.) The entry fee was $5 for our car and $2 for the dog. 

From the parking lot, we picked up the wide and peaceful Stream Trail that took us on a 3-mile ascent to the northern edge of the park. Along our way, we found plentiful restrooms and groves of redwoods to duck into.

Redwood grove off the Stream Trail
The trail ended at a parking lot, the Skyline Gate Staging Area. To return to our start, we climbed 0.5 miles on the West Ridge Trail and then turned left onto the French Trail. For about 0.5 miles, the trail was narrow, downhill, and covered with rocks and roots.

After this section, the trail widened and we encountered a number of rolling hills through more redwoods. As we were on higher ground here, there were no more restrooms in sight. We continued on the French Trail for another 3.5 miles, passing a number of trail junctions on our way.

At 7.7 miles total, the French trail met up with the Orchard Trail, where we turned left, dropping 400 feet in just 0.3 miles. At 8 miles, we turned right on the Bridle Trail, and continued back to our car for a flat last 0.7 miles of the hike.

Jodie on the French Trail
This hike was a nice break from the hustle of the city. It was a cool summer day in the Bay Area, so I could imagine this trail being much more crowded on a warmer typical summer day. 

As this is a dog-friendly trail and we saw a number of off-leash dogs running around, I'd avoid this trail if you're not a lover of our four-legged friends.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hills of San Francisco - Mint Hill

Name: Mint Hill
Neighborhood: Duboce Triangle/Lower Haight 
Elevation: 150 feet

The history of Mint Hill is the history of the San Francisco Mint...or mints...there have been three in San Francisco so far, the last of which is the one on Mint Hill.

The need for a mint in San Francisco came about due to the Gold Rush. At the time, there was so much gold flowing through the city that President James Polk asked Congress to allow for a new Mint to be built in the city, so that gold from California would no longer have to be sent to Philadelphia or New Orleans to be turned into coins.

Congress voted for the creation of the new mint in 1852, and it was opened in 1854. The coins all bore the letter "S" for San Francisco. The mint remained in operation for just 20 years and was replaced wiht a second one in 1874.

Then the second mint was then deemed too small in the 1930s, so a third mint was built in 1937 on a hilltop that's now called Mint Hill. This third mint closed down in 1955. It was opened again in 1965 when the US was experiencing a coin shortage. 

Today, the San Francisco Mint no longer create coins for general circulation. It's still used, however, for printing proof coins, including regular proof coins and silver proof coins. The mint is closed to the public as all of its floor space is dedicated to printing coins.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Four Quick Steps For Identifying Poison Oak

It's that time of year again, and poison oak leaves are sprouting out all over the Bay Area. Getting poison oak is no fun, so if you don't know what poison oak looks like, today is your day to learn! 

Poison oak, you say...
So first, why is poison oak so poisonous? It's not that it's actually poisonous, but it does contain urushiol, an oil that can irritate the skin, causing rashes or blisters. The frustrating thing about poison oak (well, one of many frustrating things) is that it's hard to know immediately if you've had contact with the plant. It normally takes 24-36 hours for any skin irritation to appear.

You can download this comprehensive PDF on poison oak identification here: The Sure-Fire Poison Oak Poison Ivy Identification System, but my quick 4 step system below has worked for me for avoiding poison oak so far. Remember, I am not a medical professional. This is not medical advice. :)

The four-step system

Step 1: Listen to the old adage, "Leaves of three, let it be." Poison oak has clusters of three leaves on the entire plant. While many plants have clusters of three leaves, poison oak always does. 

Step 2: Shiny leaves. Poison oak leaves aren't always shiny, but they can be. They can red red and shiny, green and shiny, or not very shiny at all.

Step 3: To distinguish poison oak from other plants with clusters of three leaves (like blackberry), remember that poison oak leaves have smooth, rounded edges, rather than jagged ones.

Step 4: Poison oak has smooth branches with no thorns. If you're looking at a plant with thorns, it's definitely not poison oak.

While just one of these steps can't help you decide whether a plant is poison oak, combining all four steps together can get you well on your way to preventing a very un-fun rash.

So what if you've been exposed? 
On official trails, you are unlikely to come into direct contact with poison oak. If you think you have been exposed, wash your clothes and your skin as soon as you can. Products like Tecnu are also handy to have around as they can remove poison oak oil from your skin. 

Stay safe out there, urban hikers! Now you can impress others with your poison oak identifying skills.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Merced Heights Park with Two Names: Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park/Orizaba Shields Rocky Outcrop

Name: Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park
Neighborhood: Merced Heights
Elevation: 515 feet

March 5, 2017

In our quest to climb all the hills in San Francisco, Brett and I took a five-mile walk one-way walk to reach a few San Francisco neighborhoods I'd never visited, including Merced Heights and Ingleside, and Westwood Highlands.

We're still trying to determine what counts as its own hill and what is a foothill of another larger hill. This led us to explore a bunch of hills, only two of which will actually remain on our work-in-progress final list.

This post is about one of these two hills, situated in what's called Lakeview and Ashton Mini Park or Orizaba Shields Rock Outcrop Park, a small 0.5-acre natural area situated atop a Franciscan sandstone knob. Though this is the tallest point in the area, it stands just 25 feet above the rest of the neighborhood. As we visited in the rainy season, the short trails to the top were surrounded by lush, green grass.

Looking north from Orizaba Shields Park
Though the park is small, it offered impressive panoramic views. To the north, we could see Mt. Davidson, Sutro Tower, and Mt. Tam. To the south, we could see San Bruno Mountain. To the east, we could see as far as Mt. Diablo. And to the west, we could see the Farallon Islands and the Pacific Ocean.

If you want to visit this hill and park, you can enter from Orizaba Avenue, Shields Street, or Lakeview Avenue.

View of Mt. Tam through the trees in Brooks Park
Since you probably won't spend more than 15 minutes on this hill, I recommend heading to neighboring Brooks Park from here. Brooks Park was named for Jesse and Helen Brooks, who bought the land where the hill sits in 1936. It's now a 3.77-acre park and community garden. It has a shaded picnic area and a grassy hillside with unobstructed western views. You can enter Brooks Park from Shields Street. 

In 9+ years of living in San Francisco, I hadn't visited this area of the city. It was great to explore somewhere new and find amazing parks. I'm excited to see what else this project brings!

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Goal: Climb Every Hill in San Francisco

In 2014, I made my it my new year's resolution to hike every trail in San Francisco. After exploring the city's trails and blogging about it, my experience turned into a book deal with Mountaineers Books for Urban Trails San Francisco. I spent most of 2015 and the first half of 2016 writing, editing, and finalizing my book, which finally came out on November 15, 2016. Since that time, I've been able to take some time off. After all that work, it's also been fun to do book some book talks and to see my book in stores.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Buena Vista Park
But now, a few months after publication, I feel myself itching for another goal or quest to keep me occupied for 2017. I wanted my goal to be a challenge, but also achievable. And I wanted it to be a way to learn more about San Francisco. Finally, after about a month and a half of 2017, going by I finally came up with an idea: this year, I will climb every hill in San Francisco.

Now climbing every hill in San Francisco may seem like a pretty concrete task, but isn't as easy as it seems because no one can seem to agree on how many hills there are! (This page from SFGazeteer explains the dilemma well.) 

My personal goal meant I'd need to create my personal list of hills, so I did this drawing from a few sources:
Using these sites and articles, I came up with my own list. At first, I had 53 hills, and then my boyfriend added a lot more using topographic maps to complement the sources listed above. While this feels exhaustive now, I realize this list may change, and I may add some new hills to/take out some others from this list.

As with my 2014 goal, my plan is to blog about this quest as I complete it. I post photos, history, and key stats about each hill.

While I'm a little behind in my quest—not starting this until late February—I luckily have a good head start—I've already climbed 36 hills. I'll write about the hills I've been to—and hopefully visit the remaining ones before January 1, 2018. Do you want to join me in my quest? If so, copy my list in Google Spreadsheets, empty my "Been There?" column, and start using this as a checklist to track your progress. All right, who else is in?

View from Bayview Hill

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Two Great Hiking Loops From the Presidio Main Post

When I first moved to San Francisco in 2007, I didn't really know what to do in the Presidio. Since that time, this neighborhood and former military fort has become a lot more interesting. A new visitor center opened recently, and it now houses four Andy Goldsworthy's artworks, fantastic restaurants like The Commissary, and other draws like Off the Grid and The Walt Disney Family Museum. 

And then there is hiking... 

With over 25 miles of trails, The Presidio is quantifiably the best neighborhood for hiking in San Francisco. For this reason in my book, Urban Trails San Francisco, there is an entire chapter on hiking in the Presidio—with seven routes in that neighborhood alone. And while following one of the Presidio's trails is great, sometimes it's nice to create loops that combine a number of different trails.

In the spirit of creating new hikes, here are two great loops that start and end right in the Presidio Main Post. For simplicity, I'll call the shorter one, Presidio Express and the longer one, Presidio Plus.

Presidio Express 
Distance: 4 miles
Park Trail - Presidio Express
Time: 1 hour 10 minutes 
Start Point: Presidio Main Post Lawn 
Route: Google My Map 
Description: From the Main Post, you’ll head to the San Francisco National Cemetery, which dates back to 1884 and serves as the final resting place for some 30,000 soldiers and their families. You then reach National Cemetery Overlook, one of the Presidio’s best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Next, you take a wooded trail through cypress groves and past the Presidio pet cemetery on your way to Crissy Field. You’ll make a final climb on the Battery East Trail before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge. Your return trip takes a different route back to the Main Post, passing the old cavalry stables and visiting an overlook with great views of Crissy Field and downtown San Francisco. 

Presidio Plus 
Distance: 5 miles
Bay Area Ridge Trail -  Presidio Plus

Time: 2 hours 20 minutes 
Start Point: Presidio Main Post Lawn 
Route: Google My Map 
Description: From the Main Post, you’ll hike the Ecology Trail to Inspiration Point and Andy Goldsworthy’s 100-foot-tall artwork, Spire. You’ll then hike through eucalyptus and cypress-lined trails that will make you forget that you’re in the middle of a city. You’ll pass the National Cemetery Overlook with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Rob Hill Campground, the only overnight campground in the city. As you reach the Pacific Coast, you’ll walk along former gun batteries until you reach the Golden Gate Bridge. Your return trip takes a different route back to the Main Post, passing the old cavalry stables and visiting an overlook with great views of Crissy Field and downtown San Francisco.

View of the National Cemetery - both routes
View of the Golden Gate Bridge -  both routes
View of the Crissy Field Overlook - both routes