Guest Posts

Pirates Cove Adventures with Amigos~ Guest Post on Latino Outdoors

Queremos aventura, algo diferente! My friend, Lorena has caught the "Outdoor Adventure Bug" as I call it.  I had to find a hike that lived up to our previous adventures like Rancho Corral de Tierra at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  We tossed around ideas like Mt. Tamalapais, Pinnacles National Park, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, but nothing sat well with me.  I literally spent days looking for an adventurous place to hike, especially since Lorena and her husband Eliu had just returned from an Anniversary trip to the sierras trip and then I found Pirates Cove....

If you want to go there....
The 5.9 mile loop hike starts at Tennessee Valley Road in Mill Valley, which has a dirt parking lot, bathrooms and picnic tables. Start hiking on Tennessee Valley Road and take a quick right onto Fox Trail which is an uphill 1.0 mile hike to Coyote Ridge.  Fox Trail turns continues to Coast Fire Rd for 0.9 miles, which has FANTASTIC views of Muir Beach.  Turn left onto Coastal Trail for 1.0 mile to Pirates Cove spur.   NOTE: Pirates Cove spur is very rugged and steep, please take caution.

Return back up the spur and continue straight up the stairs and head to the right for 1.1 miles on an uphill hike on Coastal Trail.  Continue on Tennessee Valley Trail on a 1.1 downhill hike back to the parking lot.

Mileage: 5.9 Miles
Elevation: Approx. 1,800 ft
Elapsed Time: 6 hours 28 minutes (Including Lunch Break)
Group: 7 Adults & 2 Toddlers
Family Friendly (Difficulty Level 1-10): Level 6

Related Posts and Links:
  1. Latino Outdoors: Pirates Cove Adventure with Amigos
  2. The Hidden National Park - Rancho Corral de Tierra

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

A Tale of Two Mountain Mamas: The Minimalist and the Planner

Mamá Selfie - Photo Courtesy of Two Groms and a Mom
I've been doing lots of #HIRL this year! That's hashtag lingo for "Hangout In Real Life", so when Teresa from Two Groms and a Mom and I had a chance to meet up, we did! We first met over social media and quickly found out that we have lots in common: our children's ages, our Latino culture, California roots and of course loving the outdoors.

I like to follow rules, have plans and sometimes a plan for a plan.  Sounds a little crazy but I love to be prepared for everything that could happen on the trail.  Some of it is due my personality, but my accountant training, and background as a former law enforcement officer means I'm always doing a "risk assessment" when we head out to the outdoors, and plan accordingly.  I always plan for the worst and expect the best because of certain previous bad outdoor experiences.  My planning for day hikes with my toddlers sometimes feels like a mini-backpacking trip but it's the way I feel most comfortable going into the outdoors with my children.

Groms and Chasqui Niños - Photo Courtesy of Two Groms and a Mom
There is no one-way of hitting the trail as it seemed apparent when Two Groms and a Mom and Chasqui Mom went hiking with their children! Here's a chance to learn about our methods and see what works for you to hit the trail with your kids!

The Pack

Teresa: My pack is the Deuter Kid Comfort II kid carrier. It’s hard to say how much hiking the baby will want to do, so a capacious kid carrier lets me carry a toddler and the essentials.

Melissa: My pack is the Teton Sports Escape 4300 Ultra LightBackpack and the Ergobaby Sports Carrier.  I find it easier to carry all my gear in a large backpacking pack (including the small carrier) because it does not all fit in my larger kid carrier.  My toddler also likes to vary from hiking to being carried quite often and I find it easier to carry her on my shoulders or to front-carry her in the Ergo with the backpack on.
What's Inside?

Teresa: For a morning on the trail with a two- and five-year old, I pack:

Photo Courtesy of Two Groms and a Mom

  • An ultralight Eagle Creek pouch with everyday kid/baby essentials:
    • 2 diapers
    •  A Ziplock bag full of baby wipes
    • Sunscreen
    • 4 Fruit Snacks
    • 4 Clif Z/Luna Bars
  • A trail-appropriate toy or two
  • Shade canopy for the Deuter pack
  • An extra layer for each of us
  • 3 bottles of water or a hydration bladder tucked in the Deuter H20 compartment
  •  iPhone
What’s Missing?
  •  Lunch. My kids ate a big breakfast just before we left the house, so I figured they would be fine with snacks on the trail and lunch at home after our hike.  I was wrong! They ended up eating a sandwich, goldfish, and fruit snacks out of Melissa’s stash. Not my finest mom moment.
  •  Backcountry essentials. I tend to treat day hikes like a walk in the park, not like an adventure in the woods. It’s not uncommon for me to leave behind a compass, first aid supplies, etc.  Sure, it might make for a lighter pack, but it doesn't exactly ingratiate me to those who do prepare properly.

What's Inside?

Melissa: For a morning on the trail with a two- and four-year old, I pack:

Not all items pictured.  Need more food!

  • 4 Diapers
  • Baby Wipes packet
  • 100 oz Hydration Reservoir
  • A Water Bottle
  • Family First Aid Kit
  •  Epi-Pens (2 Qty) and Allergy Pills
  • Small Roll of Toilet Paper/"Poop" Shovel
  •  iPhone and Large Camera
  •  Peruvian Tablecloth/Blanket
  • 3-4 Trail Toys and a small child backpack (items to be carried in)
  • Garmin GPS
  • Two extra layers (Fleece and jacket)
  • Food and Snacks
    • Clif Kid Z Bars (4 qty)
    • Clif Bars (2 qyt)
    • Gold Fish Crackers (2 separate baggies)
    • Trader Joe's Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami
    • Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (4 qty)
    • Yogurt Tubes (4 qty)
    •  Turkey and Cheese Sandwiches (2 qty)
    • Toaster Pastries (2 qty)
    • Fruit Snacks (Lots of it)
    • Trail Mix or Dried Fruit

What’s Excessive?
  •  Lots of it is excessive but there's a reason behind all my gear that I "need" to take.  The Peruvian blanket is probably the most excessive and space/weight consuming, I like it for pictures.  Too many useless trail toys as well as food.  Sometimes my picky eater decides to eat while hiking so I have everything in the world that he might possibly eat!
  • Technology wise: The Garmin GPS isn't really helpful for a 1-2 mile hike, but I like to know the "numbers" after a hike.  I also like to take high resolution pictures with my larger camera but in all reality iPhone pictures are probably good enough.
  • Large First Aid Kit: I have EVERYTHING in my first aid kit in case of any medical incident.  I'm a little paranoid since I have Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis hence the dual Epi-Pens and allergy pills  but half of the kit could be safely left behind.

How I'll Pack Differently Next Time

  • I learned a great lesson while my kids ransacked Melissa’s lunch stash: trailside hunger fosters more omnivorous eating! Hikes are a great opportunity to introduce new foods to picky kids. You’ll be seeing fewer packaged trail snacks from me, and more of the food that gets ignored in the school lunchbox.
  • The basics: I love that Melissa keeps a multitool within reach! There’s a reason this is a backcountry essential. I’m putting together a little kit of trail essentials that will go on every hike from now on, which will include a multitool, a headlamp, energy bars, a whistle, a small first aid kit, and a compass.

  •  I don't need to entertain the kids! Nature will entertain the kids so I shouldn't bring so many toys or bring one toy that would be appropriate for that hike.  My kids did great chasing bubbles on a previous hike, but not on this particular joint hike.  The bubbles worsened my toddler's meltdown, which wasn't the purpose of the bubbles! Fail.
  • Teresa dressed her kids in warm clothes and a fleece sweater.  Even though I checked the weather and knew it wasn't going to be awfully cold, I still brought our down jackets.  More bulk and weight in my pack than I probably needed.  My daughter ended up wearing hers but the other two jackets were unnecessary.  This is when my backpacking mentality is too much for day hiking.
  • Smaller First Aid Kit! Not too much explaining here but if I needed the WHOLE first aid kit then we are probably in more trouble than my first aid kit can handle.  Time to call or send for help!

It's great to learn from one another and I look forward to meeting more outdoor parents like Teresa! I love helping others learn how to get outdoors with their children and hope you can take one of our approaches or a combination of the two to get outdoors with your family.  To hear more on Teresa's point of view head on over to Two Groms and a Mom!

How do you prepare for day hike with your children? Are you a minimalist or a planner?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

A Tale of Two Mountains: Hiram Peak VS Ellis Peak [Guest Post by Nate Rische]

On our last attempted backpacking trip for this year, our good friend and fellow blogger Nate Rische of In The Absence of Something Substantial accompanied us to the Lake Tahoe.  Unfortunately, I became a victim of altitude sickness and we were not able to backpack on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  On the other hand, Nate was able to hike up to Ellis Peak, enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and mark off another peak he bagged!

I’m not Chasqui Mom. I’m not even a mom. And thankfully, because that would be awkward; I’m a guy. But while the chasqui were running up and down the Incan Empire, my ancestors were fierce warriors in Bohemia (the region, not the artists) known as the Chod. So you can call me Chodové Warrior. You might also remember me as cheese-tester-guy.

So much of Chasqui Mom is about hiking as a family, and it may seem odd for a single guy to guest post. You’re thinking about it all wrong; I may be single, but I love to spend time outdoors with my family.  Unfortunately my blood relations all live far away, so I don’t get as many opportunities to get out with them. That just means I have to get out with my other family. Wonderful people like the Chasqui Family.

Nate carrying my daughter on a backpacking trip - Chasqui Mom
Don’t laugh; try to take a couple of toddler’s backpacking, and you’ll appreciate the need to invite along a guy like me, a pack mule willing to weigh down his pack with your extra gear and throw kids on his shoulder when necessary.

I’m not a mountain climber. I mean, I’d sure like to be at some point, at least a little bit. It’s on my to-do list, and you know how that goes. Unless you already climb mountains, in which case you don’t because you’re a little bit better about those to-do lists than I am.

So when I get the opportunity, I like to get what I can.

A bit back, I went camping at Highland Lakes, way up in the Sierra Mountains in the Stanislaus National Forrest. In fact, I think my quote about the location was, “Wow, this is remote. When the Chinese invasion comes, this is where I’m coming.” While driving out there, we watched the thunderheads roil on the horizon. We arrived at the campsite with enough time to set up my tent before it started to hail. Good golly, it hailed. Then rained on and off through the afternoon, evening, night, and even into the next morning.

Those of us camping had desired to hike along the Pacific Crest trail, but illness from one of our campers had cancelled that plan. We had the day and nothing planned. When the rain cleared up in early afternoon, I looked up at Hiram Peak towering over us, and knew what I had to do.

Hiram Peak - August 2012

There was no trail, so I surveyed the mountain and made my initial ascent along the west side, approaching from the smaller of the two Highland Lakes. I had a choice to go around the south or north side for the second half of the climb. The south side looked easier, but the north side remained in view of the lakes and campground. I erred on the side of caution, and took the north route. I circled around a plateau along the north side, and started my ascent towards the peak on the east side of the mountain.

Once I hit circled around on the east, there were gorgeous views of groves and valleys stretching on the southeast side of the mountain, scenery that we couldn’t see from our camp ground. I circled around on the east/south-east, and as I climbed the shrubby undergrowth gave way to a very loose rocky terrain. The summit itself was all rocks, boulders, stones, and rubble, everything in between. There was no clear path, and as I zig-zagged up towards the summit it got steeper and steeper.

Heading up to Hiram Peak
About 150 vertical feet from the summit, I took stock of where I was and what I had left. The terrain ahead was rough, and I’d seen great views already. I still had to climb all the way back down, and I made a decision. I’d done enough, I was satisfied to turn around. Or so I thought. I went back down. I thought I was happy. It was good enough.

I was wrong. I had been so close. I could have made it, I should have finished. I didn’t. I’d taken the easy way out.


Fast forward a bit. We were set to go backpacking on the Tahoe Rim Trail, when one of our group succumbed to altitude sickness. I’m very grateful that altitude sickness is not something with which I’ve had much trouble. Cancelling our plans to backpack, we instead decided to setup camp nearby, but the afternoon was still open, and the trailhead to Ellis Peak beckoned.

I made the initial climb up to the first ridge, and an outcropping of rocks stood away from the trail. I climbed to the top, and looked out over the Lake Tahoe valley. To my right, Ellis Peak loomed.

I followed the trail as it led up the ridgeline, turning into furious wind, threatening to blow us over. Seriously, gale-force winds blowing up from the lake along the north side of the peak. Thankfully, we crossed over to the south side for the final ascent, and the mountain shielded us from the wind thereafter.

On the north face, in the wind, it was frozen cold. In the wind shadow, it was comfortable, and the sun streamed through the pine forest.

The trail led first to Ellis Lake, which is sort of a misnomer, because a lake there is no more. Simply a very large, grassy divot tucked in a valley before the real ascent started.

According to the trail map, the peak was only ½ mile away, and several hundred vertical feet above.
I wasn't going to quit this time. Following the trail, it turned up. And up. After a good climb, we reached the “peak” of the trail. I looked over, the actual peak rose above us another 150 feet, but the trail went no higher.

I wasn't going to regret again.

I climbed those final 150 feet and looked over the peak. It was astounding; climbing up the south side of the peak it was perfectly still. But peaking over the edge and looking down the north side, the wind threatened to knock me over.

Ellis Peak View

The view was spectacular. As beautiful as any I’d ever seen before, with all of Lake Tahoe stretching out before me. I’d say it took my breath away, but that was probably just the wind.

Sometimes you think you’ve seen all you need to see, and that little bit of effort at the end isn’t worth it. You’re good enough. Maybe you’re thinking of the climb back down, or what you’re going to cook for dinner or whatever.

You’ll never regret staring out over the top of that mountain, even if it costs you a little more. Good enough isn’t, and you’ll always have unfinished business with that mountain.

At least until you do something about it. And maybe the view at the top isn’t any better than you’ve already seen. That isn’t the point; the whole idea isn’t about what you saw, but what you did. Or did not do.

My lasting memory of Hiram Peak is staring up at the top from below.  But from Ellis Peak, the whole world was at my feet.

Hiram Peak, I will see you again.

Have you ever had a "trail regret"? What did you do to overcome it?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's Facebook and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed - A Transformative Journey from Broken to Better by Jennifer Fontaine

by Cheryl Strayed
315 p, Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95
"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and in Oprahs Book Club of 2012.  I have not had a chance to read this great book and since it's being produced into a movie, I will definitely read "Wild" before it hits the screens. As much as I love being outdoors, I love reading about it as well.  Jennifer Fontaine, author of shares the same love of the outdoors and provides a great book review of "Wild".

Cheryl Strayed's calamitous memoir of her 1,180 mile journey along the spectacular and harrowing Pacific Crest Trail can only be described as life-changing. Shifting between her tumultuous past and agonizing present, I found myself shifting as well from astonished to uplifted and back again, riveted by her monumental naiveté and an unforgettable drive to go somewhere. Somewhere different. Anywhere. Just not where she had already been, Hell.

Haunted by the death of her mother, full of guilt for the destruction of her marriage and then her subsequent spiral into drugs, Cheryl realized that she had to get out of the daily traps keeping her from moving forward in to a life of purpose and meaning. At 26, she stepped on to the Pacific Crest Trail in a dusty Mojave Desert town in Southern California, in search of answers. Then, the realization hit her, like an avalanche; she had absolutely no idea what she had gotten herself into. Not an avid hiker by any sense of the word, she quickly learned the PCT was serious business and being ill-prepared would not just cost her a few toenails, but could potentially be the death of her. Luckily, it wasn't a death as much as it was her rebirth.

Through her vibrant and spirited words, I could hear the crunch of the leaves under her ill-fitting boots. I could smell the musky pine trees, see the creek as it meandered through the forest, feel her agony and fully grasp the depth of her grief. Her ability to describe stillness, quiet and seemingly inane moments, allowed me to sit with her in meditation, to ponder along with her my own deepest innermost thoughts. "I gazed out over the darkening land. There were so many amazing things in this world. They opened up inside me like a river. I laughed with the joy of it, and the next minute I was crying my first tears on the PCT. I cried and I cried and I cried. I wasn't crying because I was happy. I wasn't crying because I was sad. I wasn't crying because of my mother or my father or Paul. I was crying because I was full."

The unnecessarily heavy load she carried with her on her journey was a brilliant metaphor for the needless, deafening load of criticism, self doubt and misery she had been carrying for years. As if the physical load wasn't enough, the behemoth backpack began wearing through her clothes, cutting into her skin, causing gaping open wounds that poetically lead straight to her soul. Bound by bloody bandages, she continued, begrudgingly forced to care for her self-inflicted wounds, finally conceding that they must heal and in turn, so must she. 

It was under the weight of her Monster pack that she began to get stronger, not only physically, but mentally. Each step reveled more of her truth, no matter how difficult to admit, and with each ridge and summit she conquered, she began to accept who she was and started setting a vision for who she wanted to be. "I gazed at my battered feet, with their smattering of remaining toenails... I looked North... I looked South, where I'd been, to the wild land that had schooled me and scorched me, and considered my options. There was only one. I knew. There was always only one. To keep walking."

I connected to Cheryl's story largely due to her straightforwardness. She has a unique ability to convey her mistakes, her delusion and even at times, her total (admitted) lack of judgement with such honesty that I forgave her most of the time. She took responsibility for her mistakes and eventually she took the extraordinary step to seek a new path guided by an understanding of what it meant to be motherless, divorced, a writer and that her desire for true love was not only acceptable, but well-deserved. By the end I, too had clarity and a deep desire to hike the PCT!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jennifer Fontaine! In addition to my newest title, Blogger, I am also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cat lady, a chef, an actor, a film producer and a screenwriter!

I started The Mommy Hiker Blog in the hopes of inspiring other parents to get outdoors with their kids to explore and discover the wonder and beauty of Mother Nature and in doing so, I have inspired myself

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's Facebook and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

The Grand Hiking Views at Grand View Park San Francisco - Guest Post for Mommy Hiker

Living in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, I always try to find an excuse to go into the city of San Francisco.  Whether to visit family, friends or just a to visit my husband on his lunch break, I'm always willing to visit the "City by the Bay."  A part of me desires to live in "The City", another part of me loves the suburb life, and another part loves the solitude of "The Outdoors".  I've been able to find a happy medium with our "Urban Hikes" in and out of San Francisco area.

My family and I decided to start our Labor Day weekend with a hike up to Grand View Park, which is in the Sunset District of San Francisco, the west side of the city and south of Golden Gate Park.  It's a 1-acre park that has fantastic 360 degree views of San Francisco and beyond, if there's no fog!  We lucked out on arrived on a perfect clear afternoon.

Click here to read the entire article on Mommy Hiker's awesome blog!

Outdoor Summer Round Up!

From North to South, East to West, Summer came and is still here for another month but children are going back to school and vacations are ending. So let's celebrate these wonderful outdoors adventures that Summer brought this year!

Author Jennifer Chambers of "Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle" and Hiking Along, recently had a family hike up to the Nubble on Giant Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains, New York.  What a view!
Also visit "Summer's Snapshots Through a Personal Lens" for more Summer Adventures photographs.

Lesly had a Summer internship in Cordova, Alaska through Environment for the Americas, who hired Latino interns to conduct shorebird monitoring and bilingual environmental education.  Lesly kayaked to a Nest Island in the Copper River Delta to monitor Dusky Canadian Geese  Great work for the environment!

Amelia of Tales of a Mountain Mama, and her family have Yellowstone National Park as their backyard.
How fantastic is that!

Jennifer of Mommy Hiker went on a fantastic family camping trip to Sequoia National Park, California.  One of my personal favorite National Parks! 

Michael Byrd and his family enjoyed a beautiful hike at Standing Indian in the Nantahala Naitonal Forest, North Carolina.  Michael is the organizer of the Google+ Thru-Hiking Community and also blogs about his hiking adventures at ATatDusk.

Sharon from Active Kids Active Family and her family took a trip to The Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan, kids of all ages enjoy sand hills! 

Ken of Big Grey Rocks and his family, explored Banff, C-Level Cirque in the Canadian Rockies.  Those are some big grey rocks out there!

Melissa of Adventure Tykes and family enjoyed the fantastic views of Taggert Lake at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

John of Moosefish and his children explored and camped at Crab Creek in Washington.

As youth leaders, we took our graduating seniors on a their first backpacking trip at Yosemite National Park/Hetch Hetchy.

A big "Thank You" to all my contributing outdoor partners in sharing their Summer adventures and pictures:

Visit "Summer's Snapshots a Through Personal Lens" by Hiking Along, for more great pictures!  Here's to a great Summer from all over North America and hoping everyone can squeeze a few more Summer outdoor adventures before Fall and Winter arrive, because we are certainly trying to.   

Outdoor Father Series: "Discovering the World" by Jesse Avery

In honor of Father's Day coming up on Sunday, June 16th, I will be featuring three outdoor father's favorite experiences with their children.  Last up! My husband, Jesse Avery enjoys the outdoors through hiking, backpacking, camping, cycling, traveling and almost anything you put in front of him.  Jesse is an electrical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area during the day and a great outdoors man during his free time.

I hesitate to call our backpacking trip to Point Reyes National Seashore my favorite outdoor experience but there was just so much about that adventure that was exciting and meaningful, and hey, if it was my favorite it was my favorite.

Outdoors or indoors I love seeing my kids discovering something.  I remember my own joy as a kid when I learned how to fish, swim, and jump off of big rocks into big rivers.  I still remember the first time that I saw Yosemite Valley as an adult and the awe I felt.  Watching my two children see new things and learn different bugs, and plants, and sights and sounds and skills in the outdoors lets me experience that joy and awe all over again, and helps remind me what a magnificent world we live in. 

Malakawena Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

This is not related to the Point Reyes trip – but the first time I realized what a pleasure discovery is was when we took David to the Big Island.  He was nine months old; we went to the beach and took him into the ocean for the first time.

When he first got in the water he was nervous, and went stiff as a board when the water first hit his chest.  Then he got curious and splashed a little and got some in his mouth, he made a face, then smacked his lips and splashed again, fear very quickly giving way to joy, and so he spent most of the afternoon happily splashing around in the Pacific Ocean, swallowing who knows how much and giggling so much it hurt me to watch.  Jthat same dayust watching him experience the ocean for the first time reminded me just how great the ocean is.

Now back to Point Reyes and staying with the beach theme: David and Sophia love the beach and the sand and the ocean so much that when we went to the Wildcat Camp beach on the second day they would let nothing stop them from enjoying it.  The beach is such a great place and it is worth any price to play in the sand and the water that both kids got naked and played for more than an hour in conditions so cold that Melissa and I had to wear our sweaters and huddle together for warmth.  At one point David was sliding on his belly through the sand for warmth because putting on his clothes would mean play time is over and he wasn't ready for that.  That’s how much fun the beach is, as an adult I have evidently forgotten that fact.

Wildcat Camp Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
On our way down to the beach that same day I remember we found a field of ferns and other dense, low green plants still covered in morning dew.   There were butterflies flying around, the air was pretty still and the sun was just starting to break through the fog, Sophia stopped her walk and went up to the ferns to just stand there and stare.  The whole scene was so beautiful and alien to her I thought she must be thinking  it was a fantasy landscape out of one of her Tinkerbell movies and I figured as she was standing there that she was imagining of herself as a little fairy princess.  Just another moment I understood just how beautiful and powerful some places can be for the imagination.

Being outdoors with nowhere to be and no one to see provides a little more time to letting David ‘help’ as well, also known as learning new skills.  David is in this phase, which I honestly hope he never grows out of, where he wants to do everything I’m doing.  If daddy is riding his bike then David has to ride his bike, if daddy is making pancakes then David has to be on a chair cracking eggs and stirring the batter, if daddy is kicking a soccer ball, then David needs to kick a soccer ball, you get the idea.  Anyway he saw that I was lighting a match to start the stove to make food and coffee, so he had to help.  So at first when he wanted to help I held his hand and showed him how to light the match and put it up to the stove to light the burner, then I just sat next to him and talked him through it.  He had some trouble getting enough speed on the match to make it light, but he figured it out, he burned his fingers a couple of times when he let the match burn down too far before he put it to the stove, but again he figured it out.  So after the first night whenever it was time to cook David lit the match and helped me light the burner. 

There are of course other aspects of camping where ‘helping’ doesn’t work quite so well.  When we first arrived at camp and were setting up our tents David wanted to help, specifically spiking down the tent…  For a little boy the joy of hitting things outweighs the joy of setting something up.  I use my boots as a hammer in the back-country when a hammer is necessary, David followed suit and hit the tent spikes, the tent, the table, the other tent, his dad, his little sister, and then the tent again.  At one point he barreled into the tent so hard that he caved half of it in and I thought a pole was going to snap and I’d be sleeping under the stars, but the tent survived.

Another reason I love being with the kids outside – I get to spend time with them.  Melissa was very tired on the final day, so she refused to carry Sophia and Sophia refused to walk, so I got to carry my daughter pretty much the whole five hours back to the car from camp.  I rarely get to spend time with her since if Melissa is within sight then dad is nothing by chopped liver…  Anyway we spent time looking at flowers, singing all of her favorite songs (Barney, Veggie Tales and the Bunny Song…), looking at banana slugs, greeting other hikers and then exploring Divide Meadow.  That was probably the most time I've spent that close to Sophia ever, and it wasn’t magical, or earth shattering, but it was very nice and in general hiking with them provides me that opportunity with both kids, which again is very nice.

All that said - it’s a lucky Saturday when I get to spend all day with my family and this adventure in Point Reyes let us spend three whole days together finding plants and bugs and critters and water and sand and all sorts of other fascinating bits of the outdoors.

At any rate – I think my favorite part of being outdoors with the kids is watching them experience new things and learn how to be just a little bit more self-sufficient – hiking 20 minutes more on their own, finding a cool bug on their own, building a tent, or a fire.  I look forward to spending as many years as possible hiking around California, the USA and maybe even the world with them.... - Jesse -

Outdoor Father Series: "Climbing Mount Emma" by Jeff Moser

In honor of Father's Day coming up on Sunday, June 16th, I will be featuring three outdoor father's favorite experiences with their children.  Second up! Jeff Moser has many family friendly stories, about hiking, backpacking, camping, road tripping, cycling, cave exploring, snowshoeing and much more.  Using Carson City, NV, as his base camp, most of his outings in Northern Nevada and California's eastern Sierras.  You can keep up with Jeff's progress at or follow his Facebook Page The Path Less Beaten.

Posted on September 11, 2012

We've had the mountain climbing bug lately, and so another day hike was planned for last weekend. On September 9th, we headed for Mount Emma on the northeast corner of the Hoover Wilderness. We got a horribly late start that Sunday, not leaving the house until noon, and not reaching the the trailhead until 2pm. Normally, eating lunch on the peak is a good idea, so you don't get in trouble with afternoon thundershowers and wind. The late start set the tone for a nervous hike, but also lowered the expectations if we didn't make the summit.

Mount Emma
Getting Started
Just south of the turnoff to Sonora Pass (State Route 108), and just as Highway 395 bends to the east to head to Bridgeport, Little Walker road leaves the pavement and heads south up into the mountains. Just stay on the same road all the way, crossing the bridge, and avoiding the left turn to the Obsidian Campground. You pass a Burt Canyon Trailhead pullout, and continue to wind up the mountain to Stockade Flat. The road gets rocky at times, but is probably passable in a passenger car if you're careful. 6.7 miles from the pavement, you'll reach the trailhead at a Hoover Wilderness sign.

Mount Emma
Almost to the meadow
Over the course of a mile, the trail climbs from the trailhead through trees, meadows, and barren rock before reaching Emma Lake. Emma Lake is a small greenish lake below the summit of Mount Emma. The outlet creek was still flowing, so it must be being fed by springs. We saw a couple anglers on the upwind side of the lake, and we found a decent camping spot on the northwest side of the lake in the trees.

Mount Emma
Across the meadow
The wind was blowing pretty hard at Emma Lake, so we didn't rest too long. It was getting late, but we decided to go for the peak anyway. The trail ends at the lake, so the rest of the way to the peak would be off-trail. We needed to get to the saddle to the southwest of Mount Emma, and by looking at the canyon above the lake, it was easy to pick out the best route.

Mount Emma
Starting to get rocky below Mount Emma
We started up a rocky drainage on the far side of the lake. It had looked hard from far away, but the rocks were firm and the footing stable. The steep climb wasn't so bad either. Sometimes it's nice to gain a lot of elevation quickly without a lot of walking. We all had our trekking poles too, which made the climb easier. Kristy led the climb, and found the best route up.

Mount Emma
Emma Lake
At the top of the first climb was a little meadow. It gave us a nice break and allowed us to pick out the next climb. The low point of the saddle was just ahead of us, not too far up a scree slope. We were starting to feel good about making it to the top now. Emma Lake was getting smaller below us.

Mount Emma
The Off-Trail section begins
I had looked at this area before coming out using Google Earth. It's funny how everything looks so smooth and gentle on the computer, when in reality, it's steep, covered in rocks, bushes, and trees. It's always much bigger and different than you imagine.

Mount Emma
Across a little meadow
We reached the top of the scree slope, and entered a little forested area that covered just the saddle between the peak and ridge to the west. Trapped under a downed branch at 10 thousand feet was a Mylar balloon. My son looked puzzled and wondered how it got there. Somewhere, someone let a helium balloon go at a graduation party. It's wild that it made it up this far! We stuffed it in my pack for proper disposal back home.

Mount Emma
Gaining altitude quick - Emma Lake below
We could see the peak through the trees, and the GPS said it was only a quarter mile to the top! We'd be at the top in no time. Or so we thought. After leaving the protection of the trees, the wind really picked up. The easy walking ended as we entered the final talus slope to the top. It was hard for us to keep our balance in the wind, and our little dogs were having a hard time negotiating the rocks. Eventually the Chihuahua had to be carried.

Mount Emma
Open bowl to the west
My son climbed on ahead of us and stood up on what appeared to be the peak. He held his arms up in victory. We slowly made our way up to him, and climbed over the last rock to join him. The strong wind now turned into a blast of air as we topped out. And not just periodic gusts, but heavy sustained winds. It was hard to even stand straight up. We held off the celebration of making the summit, because we weren't quite there yet.

Mount Emma
Leaving the saddle for the final climb to the peak
The real peak wasn't much higher, and maybe only 40 yards away. Maybe this was high enough. Nope. We all agreed we needed to finish. The dogs were shaking. They were either freezing or freaked out from the wind. Probably both though. Kristy huddled the dogs in her jacket while the boy and I finished the summit. We quickly signed the peak register, took a quick look around, then went back down to where Kristy was huddled between some rocks. I took the dogs, then her and the boy went back up to the top for a look.

Mount Emma
Getting late, but still enough daylight
Sometimes getting to the peak can be a relaxing. There can be time for lunch, sight-seeing, and photos. This was not one of those days though. I took a few obligatory photos, but looking around wasn't really on my mind. It was 5 pm, and all I could think about was getting the family back down the mountain before dark.

Mount Emma
Toughest part of the climb yet. Steep talus in the wind.
The howling wind got me thinking that you really don't "conquer" a mountain. The mountain doesn't care if you're there or not. It's been there for thousands of years through countless winters and summers. You merely get to visit these special places for a short amount of time before you need to get going.

Mount Emma
There's the top!
The wind was starting to chill us fast. I zipped my pant legs on, and got into my wind jacket. Kristy's fingers were starting to go numb. We had some water and a quick snack, then tackled the talus slope. We couldn't wait to get back down to the trees! My son led the way down, getting ahead of us a bit.

Mount Emma
Summit of Mount Emma in crazy winds
We slowly made our way down, being extra careful with each step on the loose rock. With the wind still raging, my son suddenly stopped and dropped his trekking poles. I watched with concern, hoping he was ok. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Concern changed to "oh no...", as it became apparent he was going to try to take a leak into a 50mph wind. It was a quick lesson. He twisted and turned as if he were trying to water the whole mountainside. On the bright side, it was a bit of comic relief in an otherwise tense moment.

Mount Emma
Emma Lake below
It was a big relief when we finally made it back into the shelter of the trees on the ridge. We took some time to rest, warm up, and rehydrate. After getting down that section, the rest of the hike seemed like it would be a snap.
Mount Emma
Back down the saddle
Recharged and ready for some more hiking, we made our way over to the scree slope. Going down was fairly easy, thanks to our poles and a fairly firm surface. No boots sinking into the sand and filling with rocks. We were back down to the lake in no time at all.

Mount Emma
Into the tress and out of the wind
We went around the south side of Emma Lake this time, a shorter route, crossed the outlet creek, then got back on the trail. The sun was behind the mountains now, only shining far to the east on the Sweetwater mountains. We were glad to be back on a fast trail with only a mile left of hiking.

Mount Emma
Down the scree

Mount Emma
Looking back at Mount Emma
As we drove down out of the mountains, we had a feast with all the food we had brought with us, but never really had time to eat. Crackers, cheese, salami, jerky, and trail mix. It was dark by the time we made it back to the pavement.

Mount Emma
Back at Emma Lake with the sun going down

Mount Emma
Tired Chihuahua
Cutting the hike so close to nightfall was a good lesson. I had even decided to cut "headlamp" out of my ten essentials packing list. Next time I plan to prepare more in the coming days before the climb, so we can just get up in the morning and go. I had left too much to do that morning. It's a lot less stressful during the hike when you know you have plenty of time to make the summit, and get off the top before the worst weather of the day hits.

Mount Emma
Back at the trailhead
Although the view from the top of Mount Emma was not as spectacular as some of the mountains I've climbed, it was still a great hike. The scenery along the way was beautiful, and the off-trail hiking section added a fun challenge. Looking back up at the peak from the base of the rugged north side really makes you think, "Wow...I just climbed that!".

More information:

ELEVATION Trailhead: 8,580
Emma Lake: 9,320
Mount Emma: 10,525
Topo Map: Fales Hot Springs, CA

Outdoor Fathers Series: "The Enlightening Powers of Darkness" by Michael Byrd

In honor of Father's Day coming up on Sunday, June 16th, I will be featuring three outdoor father's favorite experiences with their children.  First up! Michael Byrd is a devoted husband, fun father of four kids, avid hiker, future novelist, excellent cook and amateur photographer, Michael feels lucky to live in the shadow of the Nantahala Mountains in western North Carolina. With literally hundreds of miles of hiking trails in his backyard, Michael is doing his best to explore each one of them. You can keep up with his progress at
Posted on December 17, 2012

It’s not every day I get invited on a night hike. And as much as that sounds like a simple statement, it’s actually a veiled request for more invitations – hint, hint.

I know. It’s not very subtle, but night hikes are fun. In fact, in my opinion, which is what you’re going to get since this is my blog, they’re the second most fun thing you can do at night.

What makes this night hike so special? Glad you asked. It was my oldest daughter’s idea.

Photo by Rob Gasbarro
She’s my outdoorsy kid. Well, all my kids will go outdoors and on hikes – when I ask, but my oldest daughter will ask me to go on hikes. It’s nice. She loves hiking and being in the woods. And I love seeing her excitement.

So, last week, she came to me and asked me to go along with her on the Outdoor 76 Night Hike. She read about it on Facebook. I didn’t have to think about it. Of course, I would go.

I’ll admit, though, I was a little surprised that she was interested in a “night” hike. This is the girl who won’t take the dog out after sunset even with all the outside lights on. Or walk into the dark garage. It’s a big step and I was absolutely not going to let slip by.

But I wondered what could have motivated her enough to hike in the dark?

You know, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was more to this invitation than just a chance to hike at night. It’s possible she knew her brothers and sister would never consider doing a night hike and it would give her some individual, quality time with Daddy.

This isn’t unique to her. They all do it. I’m just grateful they think I’m still cool enough to hang out with.

Anyway, I asked her to gather all the details and we carved our plans in stone. This date was not going to be broken. So, Friday night, December 14th, we were hiking to the top of Silers Bald in the Nantahala Mountain Range – not to be confused with Silers Bald in the Smokies, although it is the same family.

Reservations were required, so my daughter made sure I was the first one to call. All that was left was hammering out the details. (You can see our Fourteen Essentials for a Night Hike here.)

We made a trip to Outdoor 76, our local, community oriented outfitter, so she could pick out her very own headlamp. It was an event. You would have thought she was picking out a prom dress – or, at least, how I imagine other 16 year old girls are about picking out prom dresses.

She inspected every detail and component. She tried them all on – in front of a mirror, looking at herself from every angle. She tested the lights and moving parts. She even read the packaging. And in her ever practical way, she picked the medium priced headlamp that provided the most options and output. See. Not your typical teenager.

While we were there, three of her friends, who were window shopping for clothes, saw her and came over to chat. My daughter’s not your typical girly-girl. Sure, she loves clothes, and dresses, and fashion, and being a girl, but it’s not her whole life. She also loves camping, getting dirty and following the trail less traveled.

Her friends had a hard time understanding why in the world she would want to hike…at night…in the dark…on a Friday…with a bunch of grown-ups. It didn't bother my daughter one bit.

Photo by Rob Gasbarro
She actually looked very pleased by their reaction. I could tell by her piercing blue eyes and her confident, yet gentle smile she was thinking to herself, “You silly little girls.”

Yes. The force is strong with this one.

The day finally came and it was the best hike ever. There were about 30 of us in all. Spirits were high. The temperature was great. The campfire was toasty warm. And zillions of stars were twinkling in the sky.
I’ll never forget the cool mountain air on my cheeks. I’ll never forget the view of the lights of Franklin, shining in the valley below. I’ll never forget the new friends and hiking buddies we met that night.

But there’s much more I’m taking away from that night. I knew my daughter was amazing, but the whole process of planning this trip, climbing to the top of Silers Bald, the way she was with people of all ages, the strength with which she carried herself and overcoming the dark, left an indelible image in my mind.

It was one of those rare experiences where you get a glimpse of who your child is going to be as an adult. And, I like it. She’s going to be even more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

See ya’ on the trail

Guest Post - Book Review "The Last Days of the Incas"

A very good friend of mine and fellow blogger, Nate Rische accompanied us to our trip to Peru in 2009.  During the trip he read, The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie  and described the "story" of the Incas as we walked through the streets of Cuzco and hiked in the Andes mountains.  I had all the intentions of reading this book but four years later I still haven't, but I still plan too.

In 2009, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime; two of my closest friends were taking a trip
to Peru, their second, and they invited me to accompany them. How do you say no to that? Five days,
hiking the “Camino Inca” through the majestic Andes Mountains, stopping only to drink maté de coca
and explore the ruins of the Incan Empire. And Machu Picchu, one of the greatest wonders of the world.

But what did I know? Well, I knew that there was an Incan Empire, and it must’ve been in Peru because
that’s where I was going to see the ruins.

Epic history class fail. I even like history, and paid attention in high school!

How is it that I knew nothing of an empire that spanned over two million square kilometers (almost
775,000 square miles) and ruled a population of over twenty million people? An empire that had
eradicated poverty, and ensured that every single citizen had food to eat. An empire with vast
warehouses full of food, supplies, weapons, all stored away in the event of an emergency or disaster. All
of this done, even more spectacularly, without a written language!

I wanted to know what I was getting in to, hiking through Peru, so I headed over to the local bookstore
to find a book on the Inca. There was only one I could find, sitting on the shelf, The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie. I was upset; I didn’t want to only learn about the last days of the empire, I wanted
to learn about the whole history! But it was the only option, so I picked it up anyway.
I’m glad I did.

I love to read, but I’m a fiction guy. Non-fiction just isn’t my thing; it usually reminds me of a textbook. I
like to learn, but I don’t like to read textbooks. I love to read, but if a book doesn’t capture my attention
quickly, chances are high I’ll put it back down and never finish it.

I decided I wanted to be reading it while I was in Peru, when it was still fresh in my mind, but I wanted
to be a little bit ahead of the curve. I started reading it a few days before we left. I read it on the plane.
I read it in the airport, and on the next plane. I read it in my hotel room, battling jet lag. I read it in the
bus on sightseeing tours. I would have read it even more often, had there been time. I finished it before
we left Cuzco. It was excellent.

Kim MacQuarrie, the author, lived many years in Peru and became fascinated with the Incans. The book
was born out of his passion and fascination, and reads exactly like an adventure story. Much to my great
joy, MacQuarrie begins with the rise of the Incan Empire and details its relatively short history before he
dives into the real heart of the story, the Spanish Conquest. How was it that an army of only 168 men
was able to conquer this vast empire in such a decisive and quick fashion? And what became of the Inca
after this conquest?

MacQuarrie takes the time to address all of these questions, and more. The narrative never stops, and
you never feel like the story is dragging or boring. The story? Oh yeah, don’t forget, we’re learning
actual history!

While we were in Cuzco, we would walk down the streets and I would put my hand up against a wall
that I read about in the book that morning. I could stand on the hills at Saqsaywaman (yes, that is
pronounced nearly exactly the same as “sexy woman”) and look out over the battlefield and siege that
helped determine the fate of Cuzco. The sights became more real to me, and as I read along I could
place myself into the story and really get a feeling for what it was like.

MacQuarrie is very transparent with the biases of the source material, and despite the very one-sided
written view (most accounts of the events come from the Spanish, as the Incas had no written language
of their own), he works very hard to present as complete and accurate of a view as possible.

The book follows the Inca from the birth of their empire to the Spanish Conquest and through the
following years of rebellion, integration, and oppression by Spanish rule. But it would hardly be
appropriate to end the story there, and The Last Days of the Incas concludes with a detailing of Hiram
Bingham’s excavations and discovery of Machu Picchu.

The Incan people have a majestic and tragic history, and Kim MacQuarrie captures it with great detail,
passion, and vitality in his book The Last Days of the Incas. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, or of
history, you will be a fan of this book. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who has visited or is
planning to go visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu.