Birthday in Banff

For Darlene’s birthday last week, I took her on a ski trip to a surprise destination: Banff, in the Canadian Rockies!  We stayed for five nights and skied at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. We also spent a little time exploring the national park: hiking in Johnston Canyon to see the ice falls, up to Lake Louise to walk out on the mostly frozen lake and out to Lake Minnewanka.  We were super lucky to decide to go revisit Lake Minnewanka after dinner on our first night because not only were the skies clear but the aurora borealis made a pretty good showing that night.  It also happened to be the first time either of us had ever seen an aurora in person!

Aurora Borealis over Lake Minnewanka, near Banff, Canada.

Click through to see the full gallery and video montage:

  

Short video montage of our trip.

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Colorado Ski Week

Pictures and videos from a week of skiing (and tabletop gaming) in Colorado at Breckenridge, Vail and Keystone with Jon, Bill, Stan, Rick, Jim, Lewis and Tom:

  

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A Kayaking Initiation

Darlene invited her cousins, Travis and Dylan, to join us for their first kayaking adventure and we took them down to the Elkhorn Slough today.  It was a pretty windy day – lots of extra paddling required but they got to see lots of sea otters, sea lions, brown pelicans, white pelicans, cormorants, canadian geese, snowy egrets, blue herons, godwits and curlews.

Click through for the gallery of pictures and videos:

 

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Return to Kauai

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Darlene and I just spent twelve days in Kauai, my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands.  There’s just so much to do and explore there – you can never have enough time! Twelve days was still not enough for everything we wanted to do. I last visited Kauai about eleven years ago on an REI Adventures trip.  And, as I found with the extra days after my REI trip last time, I highly recommend Andrew Doughty’s The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook to making the most of your time in Kauai.

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We stayed four nights in the southwest, in Waimea, and did a bunch of hiking in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. Our first full day was along the Awa’awapuhi Trail – out and back only as the Cliff Trail is currently closed due to cliffside collapses.  Another day was the Pihea Trail through the Alaka’i Swamp to the wonderful Kilohana lookout and another day for the Cliff Trail to the top of the Waipo’o Falls.  Every trail was more than the usual adventure (and slow-going) due to all the clay, mud and severe trail erosion, particularly along the Pihea Trail.  Finally, we also explored a little bit in the south near Po’ipu along the beaches and cliffs.

We found ourselves getting a late start on seemingly every day-long excursion so that we were always the last ones out of a given location, which was pretty cool for feeling like we had the place to ourselves and getting pictures without anyone else present.

Our next four nights were at a rented condo in Princeville, overlooking the ocean and we were thrilled to be able to watch the lengthy parade of humpback whales blow and breach right from our lanai.  The super dark night skies here were also fantastic for star watching.  From here, we visited the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, hiked the Kalalau Trail through the start of the Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi’ai Falls, checked out a couple of the wet and dry sea caves (including swimming into the “blue room”), watched the winter storms pound the coast around Hanalei Bay and at the “Queen’s Bath” and kayaked one evening up the Hanalei River. (And unexpectedly met Josh, my guide from my previous Kauai trip eleven years ago, who now owns a kayak rental/tour outfit of his own in Hanalei: Napali Kayak Tours.)

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Our last four nights were spent at a hotel on the east side in Wailua.  From here, we rented kayaks and paddled up the Wailua River and then hiked the remainder to “Secret Falls”.  (This is a very popular and well-known kayak/hike outing.  They’re anything but secret!)  We also visited Wailua Falls and hiked our way down one of the very unofficial trails to swim in the large pool of the falls. Another long day was spent trying to hike into the center of the island and the crater of Waialeale.  Once again there’s no real dedicated trail: it’s more about repeatedly finding and following and re-finding hunters’ trails to make your way as far as you can.  And of course we encountered plenty of mud along the way! We got further than I managed the last time I was here, despite having to hike the road a couple of miles due to fallen trees blocking our rented vehicle.

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We made a few attempts over the trip to get in some snorkeling from various beaches but were repeatedly thwarted by high surf conditions due to the winter storms and/or too-shallow sheltered waters in low tides.  We finally squeezed in a little snorkeling at Lydgate Park by ignoring the protected but shallow fish-feeding/snorkeling pool and swimming out what seemed like nearly a half-mile on a relatively calm evening.  (We had to go that far out to just get like a dozen feet of depth and find some fish.)  On some future trip I still want to set aside a few days to go out on a boat for scuba diving.  We ended our trip like my first one with a spectacular helicopter tour around the island.

Click through for the full gallery or below for a video montage from the trip:

(5-minute video, 71 MB download)

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We’re Flying on Air!

As an almost-surprise gift this year, Darlene signed us up for a pair of “flights” at the indoor “skydiving” facility iFly in Union City, CA.  Glenn and Michele came down from Portland for the weekend to give it a try with us along with several friends in the area: Martha, Dave, and Greg as well as Darlene’s 79-year old aunt Betty and her two young charges, Travis and Dillon.

After a bit of instruction on how to hold your body, we each got two one-minute “flights” in the vertical wind tunnel with our iFly instructor, Charlie.  As beginners, we were all just learning how to hold a more-or-less steady hover in the 110-145 mph winds.  (They adjust the wind speed on-the-fly for the size of the person.)  Everybody had a blast and opted for the “fly high” option on our second flights where the instructor takes to the air with you and carries you aloft spinning up and down the shaft.

Click through for pictures and videos:

  

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Beginner’s Ride?

Glenn and Michele came down from Portland this past weekend to try “iFly” with me and Darlene, but on Saturday they joined us for their first taste of mountain biking.  They rented some nice, new demo Trek Fuel EX bikes and we set out from the Epicenter bike shop in Santa Cruz to take them on a nice beginner’s course around the middle half of Wilder Ranch.

They took to it so quickly, picking up each new handling skill easily and conquering all the climbing and maneuvering, and always up for more.  So much so that we ended up climbing to the top of Wilder and on over to do some UCSC back campus trails before coming back by way of my favorite descent in Wilder.  So much for sticking to the beginner’s route!  But I think they enjoyed their first time out!

  

And… bonus!! A video of all of us belly-dancing (sort of) the night before at Menara’s, a Moroccan restaurant in San Jose:

 

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Edwardian Ball 2015

Last weekend, Darlene and I attended both nights of the Edwardian World’s Faire and Ball in San Francisco again:

  

And then on Sunday we spent the day at the California Academy of Sciences:

  

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Finally Rode Up Mt. Diablo

It’s strange but I’ve lived in the Bay Area since 1988 and yet I had never been up Mt. Diablo. Neither had Darlene so, last Friday morning, we dusted off our road bikes and drove to Danville to start up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly an ideal day to take in the tremendous views: it’s been weeks since we’ve had any sort of wind or rain to clear the air.  There was a smog advisory in effect but also an inversion layer in place holding much of it down to lower elevations.  A late morning Friday made for a nice quiet ride up what is typically a pretty busy road on the weekends and we could still see the Sierras off in the distance.

Click through for pictures:

 

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Revisiting the Galapagos Islands

I originally got to visit the Galapagos Islands five years ago but Darlene has long wanted to go herself.  Of course the Galapagos Islands are well known for their abundant and unique wildlife, their fascinating and beautiful geology, as well as for the inspiration and development of Darwin’s theory of biological evolution.  So, no, I really didn’t mind going back for a second visit!

We were in the Galapagos for twelve days (December 5th through the 16th) and we stayed overnight on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal with day trips out to Santa Fe, Bartolomé, Leon Dormido as well as a few smaller outcroppings.  (Here’s a great map.)  This was a land-based trip (as was my previous trip), but this time I booked the trip through BikeHike.com and extended it with time on our own for four days (and to include San Cristobal).

Our days were filled with hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, and boating as well as with sea lions, iguanas, penguins, giant tortoises, sharks, sea turtles, rays, cormorants, pelicans, frigate birds, crabs and fish!  And great food!  The whole trip was fantastic!  (Thanks again to our guide, Jorgen, and to everyone else who contributed to making this such a fun experience!)

Here’s a little video I put together covering the whole of the trip:

(6.5 minutes, 120 MB download)

And here are my pictures and other video clips from the trip (including some of Darlene’s), separated into four galleries:

Days 1-3: Santa Cruz and Santa Fe

  

Days 4-5: Bartolomé and Santa Cruz

  

Days 6-7: Isabela and Sierra Negre

  

Days 8-12: Santa Cruz and San Cristobal

  

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Tahoe Skiing

Click through for my gallery of pictures plus a video montage from this past weekend skiing at Squaw and Alpine Meadows with the Outdoor Adventure Club:

  

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