Saturday, December 9, 2017

Klinker Mountain

Hike track link

Bob and I did another fun hike to a new area with the Any Day hiker group.  Paul put together a set of routes to allow people of all abilities to explore a small part of the Golden Valley Wilderness. 

Our happy hiking crew.  Photo courtesy of Paul Decker.
We chose to do the long hike that bagged Klinker Mountain, then wandered back via some petroglyphs.

We had a bit more wind than we would have liked, which made our snack break (thank you for the cookies Rachael) on the top of Klinker Mountain shorter than it might have been, and forced us to sit on the lee side.  These are the same winds fueling the raging fires in southern California.  For us, it was just a bit cold. 

We then meandered over to the petroglyphs and after duly appreciating them and some old mine remains we had lunch.  And more cookies.  Thank you Brian.

Yes, hiking is tough work.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Little of This and a Little of That

Nine Mile bird list
Sand Canyon Kern
Sand Canyon Inyo

After six weeks of limited activity, we decided to fill an ebird gap and do a very short and very easy hike.  We headed to Nine Mile Canyon.  Our legs were not happy.  We ignored them and finished our little five mile hike.  We knew we needed to do more miles, so the next day we filled the Sand Canyon eBird gap.  It would have been a six mile hike, but I noticed a dashed line on the map, an old trail.  An old trail in a side canyon we had never explored.  We had chores to do in town, but decided they could wait a day and we went off exploring.  We found an old footpath leading to house foundations, and a mine.  It was interesting.  We will be back when next there are flowers.

Since our legs survived ten miles the previous day, but were none too happy about it, we did another short hike.  We did our five mile hike in Noname Canyon.  After a bird filled fall in the canyon we were disappointed that it was once again a bird free zone. 

Noname bird list

Then we had to take a day off as our legs were tired.  Sad, but true.

Sawtooth Peak was our next destination.  We had never been there, but the forecast looked great, so we headed to Chimney Peak campground and took the PCT south.  Then a straight forward, but very steep off trail section brought us to the peak.  Nice views into Domelands, Mt Whitney, Olancha Peak, the Indian Wells Valley.  On the way down we decided to be adventurous.  While a shorter distance, this was much more physically demanding, very steep, with a tricky section in a vertical walled canyon.  We will have to refine the return route.

The Tungsten Hills and a very short jaunt to Aeoplane Mine was another new area for us.  We wandered along dirt roads, checked out mining debris and several holes in the ground, clambered over the rocks, had lovely views of the Sierra and Bishop Bowl, and decided we will do a longer hike in this area.  I already have something in mind for this winter.  All we need is someone willing to go exploring on my car shuttle route.

Our final short get back into shape hike was a ridge in the Inyo Mountains to a finger of rock locally known as the Druid.  A fun scramble and we had a nice view of the snow covered Sierra for lunch.  Another area worth more exploration time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

It Takes A Village

The last leg of our epic trip to Madagascar was without the rest of our group as they had different return flights to the States. Susan and I planned to do an extension for a few days and it was just us and our guide JJ. We returned to the Andasibe area in the rain forest a few hours east of Antananarivo. On the way we got great looks at the endemic subspecies of Hammerkop. 

We arrived at the Eulophiella Lodge in the afternoon and after check-in went for a short walk to a nearby pond. A short while later our guide pointed to the sky and suggested we skiddadle back to the lodge. We made it with minutes to spare as the sky opened up. 

Eulophiella Lodge

All was not lost as the rain quit at dark, just in time for a night walk. With the rain comes frogs, and we saw a bunch. Very cool. 

Leaf-tailed Gecko

Mating Stick Insects
The next morning we were off on a hike through the rain forest for one of the most sought after birds in Madagascar - the Helmet Vanga. This species is uncommon, even in its range. We missed our best chance for them when our Masoala segment was cancelled due to Air Madness' ineptitude. This particular vanga had been most recently seen deep in the forest only three days before, and we had to give it a try. The hike was spectacular, in a boot sucking muddy sort of way. The rains of previous days had made the marginal trail a slippery, gooey mess. But we were up to the task with our mud shoes and expert guides. We trekked 4 miles into the forest, loving every minute of it. 

When we reached the locations, our two local guides - Nestor and Abraham, left us to scour the untrailed forest while we waited... and waited. No vanga. After a couple of hours we all gave up and trudged very disappointed back to the car. After a nice lunch by the river we all piled in to the car. Our driver Andre turned the key - nothing. Uh oh. It's unclear exactly what ran the battery down, but dead it was. And we were miles from civilization. Luckily it was a clutch vehicle that can be bump started if you can get it moving fast enough. The four of us tried to push it up the hill but couldn't get it moving. Andre knew there was a small village close by and ran off to enlist some help. 15 minutes later he was back with a bunch of strapping young Malagasy fellows who made short work of pushing the car up the hill. Andre let it roll back down, dumped the clutch, and she started! Whew!

The rest of the day was lost to another epic rain forest rain storm (it takes a lot of rain to get 250 inches of rain per year). Even our night walk had to be scrubbed because the rain wouldn't give it up in time. 

The decision was made to give it another try for the vanga the next day. Local guide Nestor knows this forest better than anyone, living and guiding here his whole life. He was certain the bird was there and could be found. Why not, we may not get another try in this lifetime. We made the walk on even muddier trails in the morning, this time joined by at least two other birding groups. Nestor said that at one point there were 10 guides and spotters in the forest looking for the vanga. We made it to the spot first. While Susan, JJ, and I waited, our guys went looking. An hour later we heard some yelling from up the hill. Nestor and Abraham had spotted the bird in a brief fly-by. Up the hill we went, splashing and thrashing through the forest. Nestor put us in the spot they saw the bird and we waited while they went and looked around some more. After about 10 minutes of patient scanning I saw a bird come in and perch above my head. I put up my bins and WOW!, a Helmet Vanga!

We had the pleasure of viewing this incredible bird for over 15 minutes as he ate a cicada and preened on this perch. It was pretty amazing. The hike back was very upbeat! Our last evening walk produced lots more frogs too.

Our last day had us at a highland marsh searching for great birds and a very rare amphibian. The tiny Madagascar Golden Frog is one of the rarest amphibians on the planet.

The rest of the morning was spent slogging around the marsh in search of Madagascar Snipe (a very large snipe), Madagascar Flufftail (an awesomely colored secretive rail), and Grey Emu-tail (a hide-and-seek swamp warbler). 

Madagascar Flufftail
And now we make our way back to North America. Hopefully our return journey goes better than our trip this direction so long ago...