Backpacking Desolation Wilderness – Middle Velma Lake

Perfect Camping Spot

Details: Middle Velma Lake – Desolation Wilderness

Trail Head At: Bayview Trailhead Campground, South Lake Tahoe

Length:  10 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2100 Feet

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This was our first time backpacking Desolation Wilderness in South Tahoe and we absolutely loved it! We took a long weekend, hiked to Middle Velma Lake, and were blown away by the alpine lake dotted with fir tree covered islands, sparkling crystal clear waters, our own private swimming cove, and violet sunsets.

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We made our first stop at the bright green Granite lake for some water and a little break. We drove up right after work, spent the evening sleeping in our car and woke up bright and early to hit the trail head, because we wanted to make sure and beat any possible crowds. Truthfully, we were pretty exhausted. We didn’t get to the campground until around 9:30pm (partly to blame was the half hour it took in the drive through at InNOut,) so we had enough time to change into our jams and then crashed out. Oddly, BayView Campground doesn’t have any potable water, so we had to fill at Granite Lake.

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How are these magenta wild flowers? ❤
Purple Wildflowers at Middle Velma Lakes Trail
Are these mountain bluebells dotting the paths? Welp, that’s my guess!

Our Campsite and own Personal Swimming Cove

We found a gorgeous campsite right on the water’s edge, and had the most wonderful time swimming in the crisp take-your-breath-away refreshing waters, swimming to the little islands, lounging on our rock in the sunshine and reading. We even had a mama duck and her babies share the cove with us, paddling around and leaping out of the water in ridiculous little cute flop movements, propelling themselves out of the water.

Our swimming cove - Middle Velma Lake
Check out our perfect lounge spot!

I don’t know about you, but I have to ease myself into cold waters. For me, this means standing in the water to my waist for about twenty minutes just shaking my head before going in. This trip, we decided to go for a morning swim, and as Brad was bout to dive in I just went for it and jumped. I think the latter is a much better way to go about things. Gives your body less time to acknowledge the frigidity and just feels more adventurous!

Islands at Middle Velma Lake
I love a good lake swim!
Perfect Camping Spot
Perfect Camping Spot

Mosquitoes were a little intense at night, so we just avoided them entirely by getting into our tent for dinner around 7:30pm. We lounged in our tent reading, taking in the woodsy lake view, and munched on veggie korma with salty ramen, and later creamy hot chocolates with trail mix Cliff Bars (my new fav).

I knew the sunsets were going to be spectacular. South Tahoe boasts amazing sunsets and I was really looking forward to this one at our mountain campsite. We were fairly worried about mosquitoes, especially as the sun went down after our massacre at Young Lakes, Yosemite but this was just fine, particularly near the water’s edge where the breeze kept them at bay. We slapped on some Deet and found a perfect spot on a flat rock outcropping to settle. We sipped our steaming coffee and Kahluas, as the sun set deep purple over the undulating lake.

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What I read: I read two great books this camping trip! The Guest List –  twisty turny mystery thriller in the vein of Agatha Christie, set during a glamourous wedding on a stormy island off the coast of Ireland. I also read Darkdawn, the third and final book in the Nevernight series, a rip roaring revenge fantasy, about an elite school of assassins and a woman on an epic quest of vengeance.

New purchase: We also absolutely loved our new sleeping pads, the NeoAir XTherm courtesy of my Aunt Bea, as an early anniversary gift. These pads are excellent – they kept us very warm (which, for me, is always a very pressing concern), they were comfy and well padded, and they weigh less then a pound! Great purchase.

Next up on the Hiking Blog – Kennedy Lake, Stanislaus National Forest!

Backpacking Paradise Lake in Tahoe National Forest

Spoiler Alert: I would not recommend taking this trip in early summer!

This weekend we really wanted to fit in a backpacking trip, get some fresh air, clear our minds and just enjoy the beauty of the back country. Many national forests will be opening up next weekend (YES Yosemite!), but most were still closed this weekend. Tahoe National Forest was open and had decent weather so we decided to try our luck. As you’ve probably picked up from some of these blog posts, I am an eternal optimist. Mostly things turn out well. This time, it bit me right in the ass.

Paradise Lakes Mountan Trail
How’s that view? Tahoe you show off 😀

Details: Paradise Lake, Tahoe National Forest

Trail Head At: Paradise Lake Trailhead, parking north side of I-80 at Exit 176

Length: 14.9 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2,582 feet

While the hike was beautiful and sunny, it was also almost completely covered in snow. I figured I’d give it the old college try, but after hiking about four miles and biting it pretty several times, I was done. About half way through the hike, I slipped, twisted my ankle and decided that’s it! I’m calling it! Brad was a total Champ and took some of the heaviest items out of my pack to carry so the return trek would be easier for me.

Paradise Lakes Trail - Covered in Snow

Paradise Lakes Snow Covered Meadow - June

We could have finished hiking to Paradise Lake. since we had a downloaded map we were still able to follow the trail through the snow, but trudging and slipping and falling then trying to recover with those heavy packs is fairly miserable. At least for this gal! Guess I’m just a fair weather camper. John Muir would probably have been quite disappointed in me. We headed home and drove directly to InNOut 😀

So my advice on hiking Paradise Lake: I think it depends on the season and amount of snow fall, but in general terms, for elevation over 7,000 feet in the future I will wait for at least mid summer. This hike was very beautiful though. I think it will have amazing sunsets and swimming in the lake will be super refreshing, so we hope to try this trip again in August!

Brad and Brie Paradise Lake

Next up on the hiking blog – Hetch Hetchy Yosemite!

Camping at California’s Beautiful Samuel P. Taylor

How to Spend a Great Weekend Camping at Samuel P Taylor in Marin

As mentioned in a previous post, Brad and I go camping about six times a year. We like to do a combination of car camping and back packing trips and we try to book places that are within a two hour drive. Samuel P Taylor is one of our go tos,  It’s about an hour drive from Oakland in Marin, which really can’t be beat.  We leave work at 3pm and by sunset we have our tent set up, fire going, and bubbles in hand to toast the upcoming weekend! Our favorite campsite has a creek running through it and is surrounded by towering redwoods. It’s close to gorgeous hiking in Point Reyes, and should you go for the 4th of July (which we often do) it’s close to the Marin County Fair which has fantastic fireworks.

Camping Samuel P Tayor

Best hike: Point Reyes Tule Elk Reserve

Hold the phone guys – there is a sprawling coastal hike that takes you past an elk reserve in Point Reyes. ELK! How did I not know about this before now?!? This 10 mile hike begins at Tomales Point, at the northern end of Point Reyes National Seashore and takes you past sweeping coastal views, blooming wildflowers, the aforementioned heard of elk if you’re lucky, and down to the ocean.

Tip: Bring water, as there are no potable sources of water in the area. Restrooms at the trail head.

Spectacular coastal views, Point Reyes, California
Spectacular coastal views!

Summer Hiking Point ReyesPoint Reyes Coastal Hike

Summer Hike Elk in Point Reyes
Elk sighting! Whooohooo
Hiking Point Reyes in Summer
I call this wildflower trail

Note: If you should experience a rainy day, and it’s quite likely as this is Marin, there is a very cute town about 10 minutes away with a great movie theater. We spent an afternoon watching Aladdin and completely loved it. I love camping, but who wants to sit in the dripping, gloomy rain?

Next up in my camping blog: A long weekend at Big Basin, Santa Cruz.

How To Spend a Perfect Weekend Camping in Henry Cowell

California’s Best Camping

I am a camping, wilderness loving, nature-is-my-heart-song, kind of gal. During the summer, Brad and I go on about six camping trips a year, lately a mixture of car camping and backpacking trips.  One of my all time favorite places to camp is Henry Cowell in the Santa Cruz mountains. We have our favorite, glorious, campsite, and our schedule down pat. We leave work around 3pm, and we have our tent set up, fire going and bubbles in hand (beer for Brad) to toast by sunset.  Summer camping in California is a thing of beauty ❤

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Enjoy the jaw dropping, panoramic views.

Set up your camping chairs for maximum visuals, my favorite are the deluxe chairs from Home Depot. I gave these to Brad as a Valentine’s gift, and we have had these babies for about 8 years now. Grab your chilled drink of choice, snacks ( I like to make a deli platter, with cheese, chips and fruit), grab your favorite book and settle down for some intense lounging and soaking in the views.

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Hike the Redwood Loop and to The Observation Deck

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100% this is the Godswood

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Let the campfire mesmerize you

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Hike to the Garden of Eden for a swim

This idyllic hike takes you through the towering redwoods, along a train track, (if you’re lucky you will hear the old steam town train through the trees), to a beautiful swimming spot with ice cold, crystal clear water. The hike lasts about half an hour, to the San Lorenzo river and back. Located off Route 9 in the Henry Cowell Redwoods. For an even more secluded spot, continue down the river

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Head to the boardwalk!

At least once a season, we head to the Santa Cruz boardwalk for some sand, swimming, and rides. They also have really fun free nigh time concerts on Fridays and Saturdays. The drive is about 20 minutes from the campsite.

Plan your return trip! 😀

More Camping Photos:

Note: I won’t be posting for the next two weeks, because I will be in Costa Rica, (insert haaaapy dance) but expect an epic post about volcanoes and thermal baths in La Fortuna, and wildife galore in the tropical jungle paradise of the Osa Peninsula!

How to Spend a Wonderful Winter Weekend in Lake Tahoe

Oh, how I love Lake Tahoe! Brad and I usually visit a few times a year – once in the summer, once in the winter and if we’re lucky, once in the fall, but I dream about it year round. About a three and a half  hour drive from Oakland, Tahoe is a gorgeous destination for a long weekend. Our favorite place to stay is South Lake Tahoe, at the Lakeshore Lodge and Spa. We love the deck, fireplace, hot tub, pool, and perfect lakefront views. This trip we stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel as a free holiday through the Kars 4 Kids program, so we mainly stayed around Heavenly Village.

Here are some of our favorite things to do for a fabulous winter holiday:

Go for a hike and breathe in the breathtaking views:

Lake Tahoe Hike
Beautiful views, beautiful Tahoe

Hikes are gorgeous and plentiful in Lake Tahoe! We drove straight to Heavenly and chose a trail at Van Sickle National Park. We used the All Trails app.

Hiking Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Hike

Have some lunch at Heavenly Village: we like California Burger Company. Grab a place by the outdoor fire pits, order a happy hour boozy slushie (I highly recommend the Cherry Limeade),  a gourmet burger with onion rings, and if you’re lucky soak up the sun! Enjoy the live music and views of the surrounding snow topped mountains. The bustling, joyous atmosphere can’t be beat.

Outdoor Fire Pits Heavenly Village
Enjoying the sunshine and vibes at the outdoor fire pits at Heavenly

Go snowshoeing! Rent your gear from Rip N Willies, Choose one of the many gorgeous trails, marvel at the sprawling cabins along the road on the drive up, and enjoy sweeping views with almost no people! Hiking through the glittering snow, the scent of pine in the air, fresh stag prints in the snow, and the panoramic views was incredibly peaceful. We had glorious weather – sunny and about 50 degrees in January. Aside: snowshoeing really takes it out of you. Brad swears our trip was only 3 miles, but it felt like at least 6! Tip: The earlier, the better for a hike.

Gorgeous hiking views south Tahoe
Breaktime! Taking in the gorgeous views, while dreaming about breakfast at the Driftwood Cafe!

Brie Tahoe Snowshoeing

We've got this! Snowshoeing with Brad
We’re going on an adventure!
Stag prints in snow south Tahoe
Fresh stag prints ❤

Sweeping views south Tahoe Winter

Grab  a fantastic breakfast at The Driftwood Cafe. Homey, cozy cafe with super friendly staff at Heavenly Village. Serves brekkie until 3pm. We woke up early, went snowshoeing and then for pancakes. It was a perfect day!

Breakfast time Driftwood Cafe

Nightlife: Lounge by the fire pits, enjoy some live music at Basecamp Pizza and check out one of the bustling eateries at Heavenly Village. We like Azul for the vibrant scene and shrimp fajita bowls. We also really like McDuff’s – a rustic scottish pub in South Lake serving comfort pub food with a chill vibe.

Wine by the fire Tahoe
Flickering flames, bubbles and perfect winter vibes. How’s that for a wine pour?!

Alpine Union – Bar outside of Hard Rock cafe with patio and expansive fire pits. We swear we saw Fitz & The Tantrums performing here one year, before they were famous!

Fire Pits at Alpine Union Lake Tahoe
Alpine Union’s expansive fire pits ❤

Check out the listings for cabins for sale and drive around dreaming about living in Tahoe year round!

Final notes: Winter trips to Tahoe are a completely different experience to summer. Summer holidays all about enjoying the glittering, cerulean lake, swimming in the refreshingly frigid, take your breath away water, hiking one of the many glorious trails, picnics, and lounging on a deck sipping your drink of choice while the sun sets magenta and fire orange over the mountains. I plan to write about a summer Tahoe getaway in an upcoming post.

More Tahoe Pics:

 

Hiking Yosemite in Autumn – Best Time to Visit

Sentinel Dome, Roosevelt Point and Bears!

Hiking Yosemite in late Autumn means golden woods, fiery fall foliage, clear blue skies with crisp temps and for us bear sightings!

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This weekend we went on a quick, whirlwind hiking trip. Here are some highlights….

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Golden twilight in Yosemite Valley

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The Hiking Route

Trail Head At: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

Length: 6 miles

We began at the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point trail head. We did a counter clockwise loop hiking to Sentinel Dome to breathe in the glorious views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan and Half Dome. We stopped here for for a quick bite of lunch as well.

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We continued along the trail, and just before Roosevelt Point we saw THE BEARS! I was strolling along the path when I saw movement through the firs coming down the mountain. And then I a saw a huge fluffy butt rumbling down the mountain and my mind jolted awake. I said to Brad – that is a damn bear! And then a few moments later I saw that she was followed by her baby! Insert moment of terror followed by a joyful and frantic, albeit silent happy dance. We have been dying to spot a bear in the wild.

We stood stock still, allowing the bears to continue their path down the mountain. They walked across a granite plateau, looped around us and stopped in a meadow right in front of us to graze on berries. The mother bear acknowledged us, and continued. We were in bliss.

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Happy dance because we saw BEARS!!!!

We continued on to Roosevelt Point  to check out the spectacular panoramic vistas. We marveled at the sheer cliff faces, towering firs and winding rivers bathed in golden sunlight.

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We continued on to Taft Point, which had slack liners and a big swing set up. Jesus. That is not something I ever want to do. One of the slack liners was seated on the line thousands of feet over Yosemite Valley, just chilling. For any fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, I whispered to Brad, that woman is Inej.

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NOPE

After the Hike: The Dawn Wall and Curry Village Pizza

After the hike, we drove through the glorious valley and hiked about a mile to the Dawn Wall, which is a section of El Capitan, because THAT DOCUMENTARY YOU GUYS. If you have not seen it – check it out now. It’s about a superhuman of a man who scales impossible routes up the sheer rock face of El Capitan and it is extraordinary. For dinner, we stopped at Curry Village for pizza and beer (bubbles for me, obvi) and lounged near the fireplace.  

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The Dawn Wall – we had to go touch it and imagine the sheer terror of summiting it and sleeping on a portaledge
The Dawn Wall :)
Happy Brad, because I walked with him to the Dawn Wall, even though I REALLY just wanted some pizza and a warm fire place

The Next Day: Hiking Hetch Hetchy

The next morning we drove to Hetch Hetchy for an easy hike with gorgeous views. We took the Wapama Falls route which during the summer season takes you past three gushing waterfalls. There was no water this time of year, so we picked a spot on a plateau for sweeping views and relaxed in the warmth watching the sunlight glint of the water. We plan to return mid July 2020 for a backpacking trip to see all the waterfalls.

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More Yosemite Hiking Photos

 

Next up in our hiking adventures – Point Reyes beach backpacking and hiking Eagle Creek in Lake Tahoe.

Into The Wild: Backpacking Young Lakes Yosemite

Highlights Of Our Yosemite Hike:

  • The Alpine Meadows!
  • Glorious, sweeping views over both lakes – lounging above the cloud line
  • Falling sleep under a sky slowing filling with stars and the glittering Milky Way
  • Deer prancing up to our tent, ground hogs playing

In July, I went on my very first back packing trip to Sunol Regional Park, and in a surprising turn of events fell completely in love with it! I went on this trip to prepare for an upcoming four day hike to Young Lakes Yosemite. I wanted to give myself a taste of what I might be taking on. 

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On Friday, we took a half day at work, and drove to Tuolumne Meadows (stopping at In-N-Out for dinner  – oooh), and camped at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground so that we could spend the first evening at elevation adjusting. We woke up early Saturday morning, picked up our permit and were at the trail head and hiking by 8:30am.

Details: Young Lakes, Yosemite National Park

Trail Head At: Tuolumne Meadow

Length: 13.2 Miles Give or Take,  6.6 Miles Each Way

Elevation Begins At: 8,584 

Top Lake Elevation: 10,218 

First things first – this hike is insanely gorgeous

Really, about every two miles or so, you are rewarded with the most stunning, take your breath away, panoramic views.

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The first half mile is a steep ascent, (keep in mind that this is a pretty high elevation, especially for a newbie, so I was absolutely dragging ass). When we came across this magnificent meadow, we knew it was the perfect break spot. Surrounded by verdant pines and snow capped mountains, a crystal clear rushing brook, violet wildflowers and a light breeze, we dropped our packs, collapsed and lounged in the grass, listening to the wind through the pines.

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The First Lake

We carried on to the bottom lake, where we perched on a rock by the water’s edge and stopped for lunch. PB + crackers for me,  salami and cheese for Brad. In and of itself, this lake is a gorgeous sight, but Brad insisted the upper most lake was even more gorgeous and so off we went.

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The Middle Lake

We forged on to the middle lake. By this time we had walked about 6 miles, most of it steep. We stopped to choose a place for a tent, when mosquitoes swarmed. It was pure carnage. We had been attacked each time we stopped for a rest along the trail – and those little assholes bit me on every inch of exposed area, including through my pants, but we had managed to continue hiking. This time, it was a total massacre. There was nothing for it – we frantically put up the tent as we were covered by grey buzzing swarms and leapt inside. I tried not to cry.

While we rested in the tent, snacking on dark peanut butter protein bars and wondering what in the hell we were going to do, a massive doe ambled up to our tent, staring curiously at us with her golden eyes. “Hello, beautiful,” we whispered.

Shortly following the deer, two hikers tore by, shouting out that mosquitoes were much better if we could manage to make it to the topmost lake. Originally, we had planned to stop at the second lake, spend the night and hike the last precipitous mile to the top lake in the morning. We chose to trust the hikers. While Brad frantically dismantled the tent shouting “go, go go!” I hurtled up the mountain, scrambling over rocks and waterfalls, pulling myself up by handholds.

The Topmost Lake

When we first glimpsed the meadow, I gasped, overwhelmed by the natural beauty. This  was some angels singing, Lord of the Rings magic, alpine beauty. 

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Alpine Meadow – first glimpse. Go on – tell me magic doesn’t exist!

As we breathed in the alpine air and basked in the beauty of this secluded lake, we quickly realized the mosquitoes were still attacking, and scrambled up another rock to the most glorious, sweeping views overlooking both the lower lakes. We found the perfect place to pitch our tent and lunged in.

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Twilight at Young Lakes Yosemite
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Exalting in the views  – we made it to the top lake!

Once inside the tent, we finally relaxed. We made dinner, and shared chocolate mint Cliff Bars (which I highly recommend) while we reveled in Yosemite’s exceptional beauty. We sipped Kahlua and hot chocolate as the sky slowly filled with stars and fell asleep under the glittering Milky Way.

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We woke up in the morning to fluffy ground hogs scampering and playing near our tent. We sipped Kahlua coffee’s (we needed to fortify ourselves you guys) and decided there was no point staying at the top lake, breathtakingly gorgeous as it was, if we couldn’t leave the tent. We put away our things and hurtled back down the mountain.

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The Descent

The hike down was tough. We were exhausted and achy from the seven mile ascent the day before. Climbing down the waterfall was trickier than going up, and stopping for breaks was nightmarish because of the mosquito swarms, but during that final descent of switchbacks before reaching the car I felt a surge of adrenaline. This is why people fall in love with hiking, this feeling of accomplishment. You just hiked a mountain. You are strong, and capable and perhaps even a little badass. At the very least you have earned the title of Outdoorsy AF. And the first sip of icy cold diet coke once we reached the car was incomparable.

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I HIKED to this gorgeous place! (Notice the outfit change. Yep. I’m wearing Brad’s pants and top. Take that mosquito f**kers.)

 

 

Final notes

I am a car camping kind of gal. We usually go about 5 + times a year. We have our favorites:  a very specific, stunning campsite at Henry Cowell in the Santa Cruz Redwoods with panoramic views, and Samuel P. Taylor under towering redwoods next to a a little running creek. We can leave work and have our campsite set up and toasting bubbles by sunset. We have our menu set, and there is something so fulfilling about watching the embers die in your campfire, while sipping vino and watching the stars populate the sky. We are also comfortable campers – we have a tent large enough to stand in, we have a blow up bed, it’s glorious. So when Brad first suggested backpacking I was very skeptical. I fancy myself outdoorsy, I love nature and wildlife, but I also like to be cozy. I want a soft bed. I want a restroom. I don’t want to do a massive amount of work. So, the idea of trudging up a mountain hauling over 20 pounds on my back sounded less then ideal. Shut that beautiful fucking mouth, was actually what I believe I said to Brad when he first floated the idea. Turns out, I was completely wrong. Yes, backpacking is tough. Yes, several times during each trip I thought – why am I doing this to myself?! But the feeling of absolute freedom gazing over a panoramic sweeping view above the cloud lines, knowing that you survived the trip is empowering as hell. 

May the adventure continue! Stay tuned for more backpacking and hiking trips! Coming up – Hiking in Lake Tahoe and Beach Backpacking in Point Reyes.