Dan and Hannah Hike in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

LV map 2

A chance meeting with an older couple (our age!) in the elevator at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Reno this Saturday morning in late September gets me wondering about our plans for the day.  They tell us that they couldn’t get into Lassen (Volcanic National Park) because of the snow yesterday.  In the high Sierras, Lassen is where we are headed today.

LV map

Checking online, I find that a section of the park road is indeed closed due to snow; though we can get into the park, we will not be able to drive through as we had hoped.

LV shoe tree 1

Heading north out of Reno on highway 395 in California, we spot a tree with hanging ornaments at, what we later learn is, Hallelujah Junction.  As we whiz by at 65 mph, we see that they are athletic shoes.  Wanting to explore this mystery further, we double back and find that we are at a classic shoe tree.

LV shoe tree 2

I learn online that A shoe tree starts with one dreamer, tossing his or her footwear-of-old high into the sky, to catch on an out-of-reach branch. It usually ends there, unseen and neglected by others. But on rare occasions, that first pair of shoes triggers a shoe tossing cascade. Soon, teens are gathering up their old Adidas and Sauconys, families are driving out after church with Dad’s Reeboks and grandma’s Keds.

LV 1B sign with D and H choice

After cruising the flat high desert route 395, we turn west at Susanville onto route 36 to climb into the mountains where Lassen reigns.  At the entrance to the park, we learn the entire park road has reopened, and there are two waterfalls trails for our hiking pleasure.

LV 6B KC falls even better

Kings Creek Falls

On our park map, the ranger circles the 3.5-mile roundtrip Mill Creek Falls Trail that leaves from the visitor center and another 3-mile hike to the Kings Creek Falls Trail eight miles into the park; we would not have had access to the Kings Creek Falls yesterday due to the snowfall.

Different from most waterfalls hikes where we climb along the creek bed up into the mountains, the Mill Creek Trail has us hiking first up, then down along the hillside; but perplexingly mostly downs.  WTF!  Adding to the up and down-ness conundrum, the trail has no signage; after 15 minutes, I wonder why no one else is on this made-for-the-average-Joe-and-Jane trail; the trail is short, promises waterfalls, and leaves from the visitor center.

LV 2B picture of valley from MC falls

Valley below Mill Creek Falls

Hiking on for ten minutes more, we have to be a mile into the 1.6-mile hike at 6500’.  Still no signs and still no other hikers returning from the falls at what would be a very popular hiking time (130P).  I am ready to bail; Hannah is not; she pulls out the faith card.  Though I don’t have much faith in the trail, I do in her, so we continue.  Listening intently, I don’t hear any sound of a rushing creek or thundering falls; seems like a wild goose chase to me.

LV 2 Mill Creek falls

Mill Creek Falls

Finally, spotting two couples returning from the falls, Hannah learns that we are indeed on the right trail.  Forty minutes after leaving the trailhead, we arrive at the Mill Creek Falls.  Hiking an additional tenth of a mile to the bridge at the top of the falls, we have a classic picture of the valley below.

Upon our return to the visitor center, Hannah goes in to buy postcards as I sit in the sun on the bench outside the front entrance.  Ready to change into sandals from my hiking boots, I head to our little nothing rental Hyundai Accent, when I see an older couple approach.  She looks familiar.  Being semi-bold as any good introvert would be, I speak up and say, Do I know you?  She doesn’t seem to recognize me, but I am pretty sure and introduce myself.

LV sweet dreams robyn book

Joy responds, Dan Rothermel, yes.  Turning to her husband Ted, she mentions I told you about his book, “Sweet Dreams, Robyn.”   We have not seen each other in 25 years!  Her Centering Corporation published my first book back in 1991.  Joy was the one who believed there was a market for my narrative poetry about our family dealing with our four-year-old daughter Robyn’s leukemia (Robyn is now 36!).  Joy’s belief in me as a writer set in motion my writing career.  I am forever indebted to her for taking a chance on me.

LV 4B Joy and Ted choose

Joy, Dan, Hannah, and Ted at Lassen Volcanic National Park Visitor Center

What are the odds of us all meeting in this out-of-the-way national park, miles from civilization?  If there was thirty seconds difference in timing, we never would have met.

After sitting with them in the café for thirty minutes and still happily stunned at our chance good fortune, Hannah and I then take the winding park road (which was closed yesterday) past the 8501’ Lassen Pass for the King’s Creek Trail.

LV 5B roaring river at KC falls

Roaring creek just above the Kings Creek Falls

At 3P, we hike on the meadow trail, again unprepared for the steady descent over rockiness down to the Kings Creek Falls.  A mile and a half later, we see the rushing river down the canyon which ends at a fenced off area for viewing the falls.

LV 6B KC falls even better

Kings Creek Falls

Seeing twenty-somethings, and even a family with preschoolers down the cliffside, I descend for one more picture while Hannah follows.

Leaning into the rocky cliff away from the chasm below, Hannah is not loving the descent at all.  Once back at the rim, she tells me that this is the very last such rocky descent – ever!  It was only this past February that she fell 25’ off the San Ysidro Falls Trail near Santa Barbara; cliffside hiking is no longer her thing any more.

LV 6D H at falls

One last climb into the belly of the beast

With that realization, we blissfully return to the trailhead for our drive to Redding for our overnight.  We toast common sense with a fine Merlot.

Dan and Hannah Pickle in Reno, then Hike Hunter Creek Waterfalls Trail

HC pickleball

I just hate being the newbie.  I can guess what you are thinking, who does, Danny Boy?   Point well taken.  With introvert tendencies, I want to get past the initial awkwardness when we play pickleball at a new venue.  Showing modest courage, I suck it up and walk through these self-doubts to play when we travel; with Hannah, I’ve been that newbie in White County, Georgia, Santa Barbara, California, Moab, Utah, and Beaverton, Oregon.

Approaching 70, I love hiking with Hannah and playing pickleball.  There’s a significant difference between the two; hiking is an activity where we are not competing, just completing.  (Like that little word play?  As you can probably guess, I do!)  Man and women v. the mountain or canyon.  While pickleball is mano y mano, a  competitive contest.

That said, with two years of experience on the court, Hannah and I do love us some pickleball.  Whenever we play in a new venue, I wonder if my play be good enough?  It’s a self-imposed pressure, I get that.  When I pickle, I just want to work on my game with good folks.   That said, I prefer not getting crushed when I play.  I am not a tournament player; I am what you would call a recreational player, who loves to compete and improve.

HC Reno map 2

After yesterday successfully navigating a late summer snowstorm through the Donner Pass in California, this late September Friday Hannah and I are looking for pickleball love in Reno.  Who knew Reno, a town of 250,000, would have five venues for pickleballing?  Feeling confident, Hannah and I select the one site that is specifically for advanced players.   How is that for introverted-ness chutzpah!

HC 1 pickleball courts

Evelyn Mount Rec Center indoor pickleball courts

Arriving at the indoor Evelyn Mount Recreation Center in Reno, we hear the pickleballs beyond the gym door.  Stepping into the gym, Mark introduces himself and says there should be lots of play since not many are here.  While eight others play doubles on two courts, Hannah and I set up a third net and begin to rally.  Soon Chad and Pete join us, and play begins.

HC 1A group picture

Within the first hour we are reminded of why we love pickleballing.  One is that the overwhelming majority of pickleball players are friendly and welcoming, which these Reno players certainly are; and two, Hannah and I love whacking the wiffle ball with damn good players.  By no means are we better than the top players, but we are in their range.  After two hours of play, we feel like part of the group; taking a big risk, we ask for a group picture.  But… we are not so bold to ask for a group hug.

It is not lost on us how fortunate we are this morning to be in Reno rather South Lake Tahoe, our planned destination.  After hiking in Yosemite National Park yesterday, we had planned to go to South Lake Tahoe through the Sierras to play outdoor pickleball.  Since the cold and snow kiboshed that plan, we took the long way around to our new destination (Reno), 300 miles by way of Sacramento.  This morning, in the town of South Lake Tahoe at 7000′, pickleballers, if there are any playing, are outside in the upper twenties.  Ouch!  Today, we hit the jackpot playing in the warmth of the indoors with a good bunch of women and men.

As for being the newbie?  I just walk through any self-doubts or fears and come out the other side better than I went in.  Just got to remember that.

HC 2 start of trail

The Hunter Creek Trail begins

At noon, we head to the Hunter Creek Trailhead at 5000’, not twenty minutes away in the nearby mountains.  Booting up, we have three miles of hiking to the Hunter Creek Falls in the Toiyabe National Forest.  It’s a brisk 48F, and later on the trail we see yesterday’s snow high above the valley.

HC 2A fording stream H

Knowing that there are some water crossings as a part of this trail, we find the first, not 100 yards into the hike.  With large stones and branches over the white water of Hunter Creek, we have 25’ of river fording ahead.

HC 2BB more H fording stream

Finding a staff-like branch for me to use to balance my way across the creek, Hannah watches me first teeter then settle, finally making my way above the six inch rushing waters.  With her surgical repaired left knee (a skiing accident) and left thigh stitched together in a Santa Barbara emergency room (a fall off a mountain trail), Hannah deftly makes her way across the crick, and soon, we are on our way.

HC 3BB D with snow

September snow in them thar hills

Keeping the creek to our left, the Hunter Creek Trail is obvious.  From dirt to loose rocks, we are rocking along, warmed up after our morning pickleball.  Never perilous, the trail has expansive views of the neighboring mountains and the Hunter Creek Valley.  From grassy hillsides, we eventually turn into the forest.  There, we have two more creek crossings, but they are stone-stepping-ly easy to navigate.

HC 3D H on log

With the roaring creek to our left, eventually we must cross a 30’ log, eight feet above the stream.  Eighteen inches in diameter, the log is our only passageway to the falls.  Hannah crosses first and then I take the babiest of baby steps inching my way across, only staring down at the log before me.  Piece of cake.

HC 4B D at falls

Hunter Creek Falls

After hiking three miles in 80 minutes, we hear, then spot the 45-foot Hunter Creek Falls.  Unfortunately, a leafy tree has fallen to block a full view of the falls.  The Chamber of Commerce needs to do something about this visual.  Nonetheless, check out the falls video.

Now at 6300’ with cooler temperatures, we have gray, could-rain clouds above; cooled off noticeably during the ten minutes hanging out at the falls, we about face and beeline it back to the trailhead.

HC 3 trail into mountains

Reno Valley in the distance

Seeing what might be rain/snow clouds above us, we increase our stride length out of the mountains.  Navigating the two easy creek crossings, we soon are out beneath the threatening clouds into the sunshine.

HC 6 H fording steam

No fear.  The five foot drop off is to the left of the wobbly branch in the center of the picture.

One last obstacle – the initial 25’ roaring Hunter Creek crossing.  Hannah goes first, but something has changed.  The large branch is wobblier as she tries to cross to the other side.  She wavers and wobbles, then steadies herself.  Hoping she will just step into the 6” stream of smoothed rocks, I see her continue to teeter, pause, and pause some more.  The five-foot downstream drop-off into the rocky, soaking abyss makes me shudder.  Balancing precariously, she inches forward.

HC 6A H with staff

A true pioneer

Finally, she makes it to the other side; but she has made my choice of creek crossing an easy one.  I just stomp into the turbulent stream and walk across, soaking my socks and shoes while maintaining my dignity.

With soaking feet, I’m a believer (a la the Monkees).  When in doubt, balancing on river stones and well-intentioned logs comes in a poor second to just tramping through the stream itself.

What do you know?  Semi-maturing at nearly 70!  It’s never too late.

Dan and Hannah and the September Snowstorm at Donner Pass, California

Over wine poolside this late September Wednesday evening (70F!), Hannah and I wonder if we should roll the dice to squeeze in just one more hike in Yosemite National Park?  The weather forecast for Thursday is not promising.  Is just one more hike on the Taft and Sentinel Dome Trails off Glacier Point in the central Sierras too much to ask?

Y 3AA four on trail

Wayne, Hannah, Mary Lynne, and Dan with the Vernal Falls in the background

Moteled in Oakhurst, California, 16 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, we struck hiking gold yesterday with our longtime friends from York, Wayne and Mary Lynne Boardman, climbing to the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls, on a golden day in the mid-60s.  Click here for the link to that blog.

Waking Thursday morning, we look out our motel window to see heavy gray clouds, smothering the nearby mountains.  The forecast hasn’t changed, but we have.

At 40F here in 2200′ Oakhurst, CA, we know it’s not likely that we’ll be hiking at 7000’ Glacier Point.  If we did drive into the park to hike, our plan was to continue to the 9945’ Tioga Pass to South Lake Tahoe.  Any precipitation today will likely be snow.  If the pass is closed, we will have to backtrack on winding park roads that will make our travel day a travel day and night-mare.

DP central valley map

Choosing not to roll the dice on the Glacier Point trails, we do the Columbus thing.  No, not wipe out the indigenous population, but go west to reach the east.   Driving west to Merced in the Central Valley, then north on the four-lane route 99 to Sacramento, we have the clouds parting and the sun emerging.  Though stormy in the Sierras, it’s 70s here in the valley.

Texting us as we drive east, Wayne confirms our suspicions about the weather in the Sierras; he lets us know that Glacier Point Road has been closed due to snow.  In Sacramento, I take over the driving with a sweet 100 miles of four lane Interstate all the way to Reno, Nevada.

DP dp map in california

In short order, ominous clouds are covering the mountains to the east where we will summit at the 7000’ Donner Pass.  Passing signs saying 1000’ of elevation, then at 2000’ and 3000’, we have threatening gray/black clouds blocking the sun.  Driving by pull offs for putting chains on tires, we are rolling along on this last day in summer.

DP sleet out front window

Hannah riding shotgun doubles as snow photographer

Clearly, if there were to be weather issues at the Donner Pass, the California Highway Department would close the highway.  They haven’t, and we motor on.  But now the car thermometer has dropped from 73F in Sacramento to 40F and the first rain drops spot the windshield.  Soon, heavy wet snowflakes bombard the windshield as the car thermometer keeps dropping, now to 37F.

As a major east/west truck route, the big boys are exiting the highway.  Clueless, I don’t make the connection to their leaving the highway and the increasingly nasty weather.  Cautiously driving at 40 mph, we are still climbing into the Sierras.  Only later do we learn of the forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow along Interstate 80 above 7,000 feet!   That’s Donner Pass country, cowgirls and cowboys!

DP cbs snow

CBS News photograph

On the opposite side of I-80, we see a car off the road; for ten miles, as we head east, we see little movement in the trucks and cars heading west.  Later we learn that the slick roadway caused a chain reaction crash involving 16 vehicles with at least one fatality.  Click here for CBS News report

DP car passing by

SUV leaving me in the dust (snow dust that is)

Having travel issues on our side of I-80 as well as we climb to Donner Pass with low snow clouds, we crawl at a snail’s pace as two lanes merge into one.  Relentlessly, the snow comes down in large flakes as the wiper whips them away; we hear thunder and see flashes of lightning as the snow begins to accumulate.  Over 45 minutes, we stop, we crawl, we creep, we inch, but we mostly stop.

DP donner summit

Seeing signs for Donner Pass State Park, I notice another sign that warns us of a 7% grade descent over the next five miles.  On one hand, that’s good news that we are getting off the summit; on the other, we’ll be picking up speed going down the mountain on these slick roads.

DP donner party

And all the while the ominous history of the Donner Pass comes to mind.  Led by George Donner and James Reed, pioneers in the mid-19th century found snow blocking this very pass through the mountains.  Forced to spend the winter in the Sierras, only 45 of 81 settlers survived.  Reportedly some of the 45 resorted to cannibalism.  Clearly, Hannah and I hope the snows don’t cause any such historical reenactment.

Even though I am the slowest one on the road, I never feel the rental car slide or shimmy on the wet, snowy highway, despite it being a little Hyundai Accent nothing.  With few 18 wheelers on the road, we are trending well as we pass through Truckee at 6000’; the snow lightens and begins mixing with rain.

Soon the car thermometer rises to 35F, then 37F and the changeover to rain is complete.  Nevada’s warmth beckons.  Once in Reno at 4500’, 15 miles to the east of the California border, we are home free.

Tonight, at our Quality Inn, there are no news reports of cannibalism on I-80; Hannah and I celebrate with a gluten-filled mushroom pizza.

Click here for news link of this late summer storm.

One month later on Halloween, an early fall storm is on the horizon.  Forecasters said Monday that gusty winds and 1 to 2 feet of snow are likely Saturday and Sunday along California’s main mountain passes, including Donner Pass near Lake Tahoe, Tioga Pass at Yosemite, Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass, with perhaps a foot along the shoreline of Lake Tahoe this weekend.  “There’s a potential for chain requirements, travel delays and possible road closures.” said Chris Hintz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. 


Dan and Hannah Hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park

Y 8 VF and NF picture at Comfort Inn

Nevada Falls above, Vernal Falls below.  Picture in our motel room in Oakhurst, California

We hit the mother lode of hikes today.  Let me tell you that our hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls rivals our favorite dramatic trails – Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Comet Falls in Rainier National Park, and Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge.

And it all happened by cosmic karma.  Hannah and I knew our longtime York friends, Wayne and Mary Lynne Boardman, were going to be spending a week in Yosemite at the same time we were passing through the park.  We go way back.  When our son Will was in fourth grade, he and I took a course in bicycle maintenance at York High School from Eric Boardman, their son.  Will and their daughter Lani competed in foul shooting contests in elementary school and later dated in high school.

Y 3AA four on trail

Wayne, Hannah Banana, Mary Lynne, and Dan with the Vernal Falls in the distance

We have scheduled to hike together in Yosemite National Park tomorrow (Thursday), one of the two days our hiking vacations overlapped.  But Thursday’s forecast is for rain, even snow, which would kibosh any hiking on the rocky, granite trails to the falls.

Y 3E closer to VF

Vernal Falls

If we want to hike the Vernal and Nevada Falls at all, we have to change our hiking togetherness day to Wednesday.  Texting with Wayne early this Wednesday, we all adjust on the fly to make our hike together happen.

Y map

Hannah and I have avoided Yosemite National Park for years.  Too crowded.  Finally, with Hannah giving me a 70th Birthday Road Trip to anywhere of my choosing, I chose Yosemite as one of the five California national parks we would visit.  Waiting til September, we’d miss the school kids and their families whose young’uns would be back to their classrooms.  But not so fast, my friend.  It seems that Asians and Europeans understand September is the perfect time to visit, too.  Oops.

Y map with oakhurst

Wayne and Mary Lynne are one of my favorite married couples; they always seem just so damn happy to be together; thoughtfully, they saved the primo Vernal and Nevada Falls hike, high above the Yosemite Valley, to do with us.

Y 1 fire damage on route 41

On route 41 from Oakhurst to Yosemite

Staying in Oakhurst (pop. 2829), the southern gateway city to Yosemite, we have a 90-minute drive to Yosemite Valley.  Just two weeks ago route 41 to the park was closed due to wildfires.  Passing within arm’s length of the charred trees and white ash strewn up and down the hillside, we soon wait for flaggers to let us through on a one-lane road; these government heroes repair the highway and use their chainsaws to manage the burned acres.

Y 3B H and ML on trail by river

Hannah and Mary Lynne at the Footbridge

Once in Yosemite Valley, we might as well be in Times Square as we are crawling in traffic, unable to find a parking spot.  Looping around the park road hoping for a miracle (It’s only 930A on a Wednesday in mid-September!), we create a spot by a side road, then take the park shuttle to meet up with Wayne and Mary Lynne.  Finally arriving at the Vernal Falls Trailhead 30 minutes late, we fall into their waiting and loving arms.

Y 3F on rocky trail to VF

Hannah on the Mist Falls Trail to the head of Vernal Falls

Make no mistake about it, Yosemite is busy in September.  At 4000’, the trailhead to Vernal Falls is teeming with hikers, but not in an objectionable way.   It’s all good!  We are in Yosemite, for goodness sakes.  Many go just ¾ of a mile to the Vernal Falls Footbridge, but numerous others join us on the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls themselves.  It’s 1.5 miles of steady climbing with 1000’ of elevation gain.

Y 3BB four with VF

The foursome at the Vernal Falls

At the Footbridge, we catch a view of the 317’ Vernal Falls in the distance.  They call it Vernal Fall.  What’s up with that!  No s!  Say Vernal Fall; you got to admit, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue.  I’m sticking with Vernal Falls.  (Dan, you are such a rebel!)  Soon granite steps take us higher.  With views of the falls as our constant companion, we let the exuberant step by and just mellow time it to the top ourselves.

Y 4B H on trail with metal fences

Just prior to the head of the falls, we hug the mountainside, though the very solid metal fence gives me the confidence that I would never have without it.  Among the steady stream of people, we see groups of school kids who, among other things, are asked to take their resting pulse.  California, at the forefront of education, (my first teaching job was at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim, CA) requires all school districts to provide a week in nature for all sixth graders.  That legislative mandate makes opportunities for all communities, not just the elite and wealthy.

Y 5A atop VF overlooking the valley

Merced River from the head of the Vernal Falls

At the head of Vernal Falls, we are with a hundred others taking in the view of the Yosemite Valley below.  Looking across the valley, we see no sign of the smoke and haze from recent wildfires.

From the top of Vernal Falls at 5000’, we take the trail along the Merced River to the 594’ Nevada Falls.  Steadily climbing through the wooded terrain, we soon hit the granite switchbacking steps that efficiently, but with some serious effort, get us to the top.

Y 6C four atop NF

Atop the Nevada Falls

Though a tough climb of an additional 900’ of elevation gain, once atop the Nevada Falls, we have a wide view of the valley as a backdrop to our lunch together.

Choosing to make ours a loop hike, we take to the more gently sloping, though one and a half mile longer, John Muir Trail back to the trailhead.  Throughout our descent, we have the Nevada Falls as a backdrop to our hike.

Y 7D D and H with NF

Nevada Falls in the background

We couldn’t ask for better hiking companions.  Fit and personable, Mary Lynne and Wayne are easy company with miles of good conversation over six hours of hiking up and down the mountains of Yosemite.

Back at the trailhead, the eight miles of hiking with 1900’ of elevation gain has made me one weary boy; satisfied and stunned with our good fortune to hike on a sunny 65F afternoon, we know weather nastiness is coming Yosemite-way tomorrow.

Y 7E four with NF preview

Quartet on the John Muir Trail with the Nevada Falls as a backdrop

Turns out on the following day, the forecasted rain and snow comes and the high is 44F.  In mid-September!

Y 7F ML and H on way down

Mary Lynne and Hannah on the John Muir Trail

If you have time for one hike in Yosemite, make it to the Vernal and Nevada Falls.  And if you can, take along hiking companions like Mary Lynne and Wayne.