Oregon Coast & Oregon Breweries

After our time mountain biking in Ashland and visiting Caldera Brewing, we headed for the coast. The Oregon Coast is known for its gorgeous views, and we were excited to take them in.

Oregon Coast Camping and Breweries // tahoefabulous.com

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I spent a lot of vacations on the Oregon Coast, but I hadn’t been back since high school or earlier. Greyson had never been to the Oregon Coast at all! From Ashland, we headed north on I5 before cutting west a north of Roseburg to follow the Umpqua River along Hwy 138/38. This drive was beautiful, all along the meandering Umqua through bright green fields and dark green trees. Our eventual destination was Tahkenitch Campground and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, but we enjoyed the scenic route there.

Oregon Dunes // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Despite my many trips to the Oregon Coast growing up, I had never been to the Oregon Dunes. When we arrived, I was blown away! The dunes stretched forever, and there was an entire forest growing on them between us and the ocean. They’re very unique – the large, oblique shape of the dunes don’t occur anywhere else and they’re one of the largest tracts of temperate coastal dunes in the world.

Oregon Dunes // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

After we got our fill of the sand dunes, we settled into our campsite at Tahkenitch Campground. We were there mid-week, and this campground was basically empty. We got our choice of campsites, and most of them looked really great. There were a few that were close to the highway, but I’d generally recommend this campground. The bathrooms were clean with flushing toilets and there was potable water available. It was pretty mosquito-y, being near some ponds, but not unbearable at all. There were very few other people in the campground, so it was a peaceful night. We made dinner, drank some Game of Thrones wine leftover from our wedding, and went to bed early.

Oregon Coast Camping // tahoefabulous.com
Photos by Lynn Baumgartner & Greyson Howard

Our next destination was South Beach State Park, near Newport, Oregon. We got an early start and headed up 101, taking in the gorgeous ocean views whenever we could.

Oregon Coast // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard
Oregon Coast // tahoefabulous.com
Photo by Greyson Howard

Oregon Coast // tahoefabulous.com

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We hadn’t planned on stopping in Yachats, but once we saw Yachats Brewing, we flipped a u-turn and went inside. Yachats Brewing was really cute – lots of light and wood, with a locally focused menu. We didn’t end up ordering any food, but everything sounded and looked delicious.

“Carved deep into the stoney coastal headland, and cut from the reclaimed legacy of our industrial past, Yachats Brewing + Farmstore is a reflection of craft, place, and culture. We are located in the heart of the beautiful coastal village of Yachats, Oregon, and surrounded by the Siuslaw National Forest. Yachats Brewing + Farmstore was founded by Nathan and Cicely Bernard in 2013. Starting with a building originally built as a bank in 1965, Nathan and Cicely have transformed the space into a thriving center for local food, great beer, and coastal culture…Remnants of Yachats’ logging roots backdrop the vibrant color, texture and flavor of locally grown produce, pasture raised meats, hand crafted brews, and house fermented vegetables. Our Sauerkraut, Kim Chi, and Garlic Dill Pickles bring living food fans from far and wide. Our restaurant/taproom features 30 taps, including 15-20 of our award winning beers and house made probiotic beverages, such Kombucha, Jun, and Kefir soda.”

Yachats Brewing // tahoefabulous.com

As for the beers, here’s what I sampled and my ratings (all descriptions from Yachats Brewing):

Camp One IPA (3 out of 5 stars)
An American IPA with a slighty hoppy bite; a slighty sweet finsih with an amber dark honey color. This IPA drinks great all year round.

Coastal Dark Ale (3.5 out of 5 stars)
Our version of a Cascadian Dark Ale brewed with all whole leaf hops from the Pacific Northwest. Patagonia perla negra give it a black color and soft roast flavor. Name: The long dark days of winter on the Oregon Coast.

Thor’s Hammer IPA (4 out of 5 stars)
This IPA has a crisp malt build with an assertive piney bitterness and a strong floral finish. Name: A unique intertidal sinkhole near Yachats

From Yachats, we continued up the coast to the campsite we’d reserved at South Beach State Park south of Newport. South Beach State Park is a HUGE campground with literally hundreds of tent and RV camping sites. There’s a ton of stuff to do there, including trails, beach access, ranger talks, a small store, bike rentals, and more. It’s definitely not a remote or low-key campground, but it is very well organized, with clean bathrooms, free showers, and friendly staff. It’s also close to town, so good access for things to do there.

My main goal was to see some otters and eat seafood. We managed to do both, and we threw in a trip to another brewery while we were at it. Rogue Ales is one of the OG craft breweries. It’s in an industrial area of Newport, near the water and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We didn’t do the whole tour, but we drank good beer and I had a salmon sandwich.

Newport Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

The Beer (most descriptions from Rogue Ales, unless obvious)

Pendleton Pale Ale (4 out of 5 stars)
A light, refreshing pale ale brewed with hops and malts grown on Rogue Farms in Oregon.

Straight Outta Newport IPA (5 out of 5 stars)
We drank A LOT of beers over the course of our honeymoon, and this west coast IPA was in my top 5.

Cold Brew IPA (3 out of 5 stars)
Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ Cold Brew Coffee is blended with an IPA made using Rogue Farms hops for a unique interplay of hops and coffee flavors. Opening with a huge hit of rich coffee aroma that is balanced by a not-so-subtle hop punch, the transition is seamless from one bold flavor to the next.

8 Hop IPA (4.25 out of 5 stars)
The boss of the hop family, this IPA brings brash and burly flavors. INGREDIENTS: Rogue Farms Dare™, Risk™, CaraRed, Maier Munich, Dextra Pils & Dare™ R-1 Malts; Rogue Farms Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Independent, Freedom, Rebel, Yaquina & Alluvial Hops; Pacman Yeast & Free-Range Coastal Water.

Rogue Ales // tahoefabulous.com

Since sea otters are extinct in the wild in Oregon, we needed to go to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. I was worried that I’d been spoiled by the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium, and while the Oregon Coast Aquarium is smaller, it is still worth visiting. Of course, I loved the otters, but I was also enamored with the blind, rescued harbor seals and the very intelligent octopus.

Oregon Coast Aquarium // tahoefabulous.com

Once back at our campsite, I went for a run on the trail and the beach. It was a gorgeous stretch to run, but very difficult between the steep trails and the soft, soft sand. I eventually made it to the beach, and I spotted a whale spout!

South Beach State Park Newport Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

It was another mellow night for us, cooking on the camp stove, drinking beer leftover from the wedding, and an early night before our long drive up to Olympic National Park the next day.

 

Ultimate Northwest Mountain Bike Road Trip Itinerary

After Greyson and I got married this June, we went on an amazing, ~4 week honeymoon. We road tripped with our camping gear and our mountain bikes from Point Reyes, up through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and back again. It was A LOT of planning, but I have to say that our route was just about perfect. I’ll go into more details about the specific destinations – the biking, the camping, the beer, and the other activities. I thought that I’d start with an overview of our route, in case anyone is looking to plan a similar trip.

Planning a PNW mountain bike road trip // tahoefabulous.com

Figuring out our route was a lot of work, but I knew there were some places that we definitely wanted to visit, places that friends recommended, some free hotel nights, and a few other requirements. The main resources I used for planning were:

  1. Trailforks
  2. Google maps
  3. BC Parks website

We needed to be in my hometown in eastern Washington exactly 4 weeks after our wedding, so our itinerary couldn’t be completely flexible. We wanted to not be too scheduled, though, so I broke our trip into a few segments.

  1. Oregon
  2. Olympic National Park
  3. Vancouver Island
  4. Sunshine Coast
  5. Whistler/Bellingham
  6. North Cascades/Eastern Washington
  7. Back to Truckee

PNW MTB Road Trip Route Map // tahoefabulous.com

The towns and regions we picked for mountain biking were

  • Ashland, Oregon
  • Vancouver Island, British Columbia
  • Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
  • Whistler/Squamish, British Columbia
  • Bellingham, Washington
  • Hood River, Oregon

We had a few other must-do non mountain biking destinations, like Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park and friends we wanted to visit. Using the above lists and research I did on camp sites, I came up with a general itinerary and route:

Route Planning Spreadsheet //tahoefabulous.com

(Though this is our final-final itinerary the “final” one we came up with before the trip got a few changes along the way.)

We had a few places booked to stay – campsites when we thought it would be too busy to get first come-first serve, a few hotels, friends to stay with. This itinerary gave us some flexibility within our set dates. For example, we ended up leaving Ashland a day early for an extra day on the coast as a lot of the trails were closed.

Here’s what we ended up doing Point Reyes, CA > Ashland< OR > Oregon Dunes (via the Umpqua River scenic route) > Newport, OR > Lake Quinault Lodge/Olympic National Park, WA > Parksville, BC > Courtney/Comox/Cumberland, BC > Campbell River, BC > Powell River, BC > Roberts Creek/Seechelt, BC > Squamish, BC > Whistler, BC > Bellingham, WA > North Cascades National Park/Winthrop, WA > Reardan, WA > Hood River, OR > Bend, OR > Truckee, CA. It was an amazing trip, and I can’t wait to share more!

We got married!

I didn’t write very much (aka at all) on my blog in 2017 – turns out planning a wedding is a lot of work!

Photo by Marble Rye Photography wedding 4

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All the great photos are by the super talented Melissa of Marble Rye Photography

After our awesome wedding, Greyson and I went on an even better honeymoon. We road tripped from Point Reyes, up through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and back, mountain biking, camping, and drinking beer across nearly 3,000 miles! I’m planning on writing about this amazing trip, now that I have a little more time on my hands.

Super Exciting News!

Hello all! Sorry for the absence, I’ve been super busy at work lately. If you follow my instagram (@tahoefabulous), you probably saw the good news. Greyson and I got engaged in Yosemite last week!

Yosemite Engagement Olmstead Point

Yosemite Valley Engagement

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day in Yosemite Valley and he proposed in El Cap meadow. We’re both so excited, and looking forward to a long, happy life together! P.S. Here’s a close up of my ring, from the jeweler who designed it.

 

Kayaking the Little Spokane River

Hey all, I’m almost done writing recaps of Greyson and my Washington and Oregon road trip! After Leavenworth, we headed to my hometown of Reardan, Washington. While nearby Spokane has several interesting looking mountain bike trails in the area, it was too hot for us to ride. Instead, we decided to go kayaking on the Little Spokane River.

Kayaking the Little Spokane River // tahoefabulous.com

My parents have a couple of kayaks, and suggested this activity to us. They were even nice enough to drop us off at the put in and pick us up at the pull out! We got on the river at the put in between St. Georges School and the fish hatchery off of Waikiki Road in north Spokane. We drove around a little to find the exact spot, but if you’re following google map directions to St. Georges, you’ll see the parking lot to the right, and it’s fairly obvious.

Map via Google Maps
Map via Google Maps

The paddle we did was super easy – I am definitely not a skilled paddler with no rapids, real obstacles, and we were floating downstream. The river gets shallow in spots, so most of the paddling was to avoid gravel bars and to stay on course through the S-curves. It took us ~2 hours, 15 minutes to paddle 6.6 miles, and that included a stop for a cooling swim.

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We saw tons of great birds, including herons, mergansers, hawks, and other birds I didn’t recognize. The water is so clear, and we saw huge trout (probably due to the nearby fish hatchery) throughout the whole length of the river. It made me want to come back with a fishing pole! We also saw a couple of beavers.

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The river meanders slowly through willows, meadows and pine forests (including a burn area from a few years ago). It also goes by some houses that have awesome river access.

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The pull out we used wasn’t super well marked, but it was on the left side of the river, with some parking, after going under a bridge and before some concrete barriers and a big white building, a little more than 6.5 miles from the start, according to my Garmin. While kayaking isn’t usually my number one pick for an activity, I had a great time paddling this section of the Little Spokane. It was super easy and a beautiful way to spend a hot summer day.

Little Spokane Paddle Course via Strava
Little Spokane Paddle Course via Strava

Leavenworth Washington and Mountain Biking Freund Canyon

After Oakridge, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington, the next stop on our awesome OR/WA Mountain Bike Road Trip was Leavenworth, Washington. Leavenworth is an adorable “Bavarian” mountain town in the Alps-like Washington Cascades. Leavenworth is on the east side of Stevens Pass (both the ski resort and the physical feature) on Highway 2. I drove Highway 2 across the state during college when I was traveling between my hometown of Reardan and Bellingham, so I’ve been through Leavenworth lots of times, and I’ve stayed there with friends and family several times.

Photo from here.
Photo from here.

While the Bavarian theme can be a little cheesy, Leavenworth is an amazing town. In the Leavenworth area, there is great camping (I’ve stayed at Lake Wenatchee State Park), epic backpacking and hiking (the PCT runs by Stevens Pass),  Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River flow through town, so there are swimming, floating and rafting opportunities galore, world class climbing, great food, wineries and beer, and more! The drive along Highway 2 from Everett in the Seattle area is beautiful and is almost worth the trip by itself.

Leavenworth 4
Photo by Greyson Howard

Greyson and I met my parents at Stevens Pass to caravan the last segment of the drive to the rental house. We stopped at a couple of points along the way to stick our feet in the gorgeous (and cold!) Wenatchee River.

Leavenworth 2

Obviously of interest to us this trip was the mountain biking, which Leavenworth is also on the map for. Nearby Stevens Pass offers lift serviced biking (sadly, only on weekends so we missed out by arriving on a Monday) and the epic, 24 mile, 3,000 foot climb and descent on the Devils Gulch Trail is on my bucket list, and there are many more trails in the area. We weren’t sure which of the trails we wanted to tackle! Luckily, two of my best friends from college, Morgan and Tommy, met us in Leavenworth, and Tommy is an avid mountain biker. He recommended Freund Canyon.

Mountain Biking Leavenworth WA // tahoefabulous.com

The trailhead for Freund Canyon is up a gravel road, off of Freund Canyon Rd, parallel to the Chumstick Highway.

Freund Canyon/Rosy Boa Trailhead // tahoefabulous.com
Freund Canyon Trailhead Map via Google Maps

Freund Canyon (called Freund Climb to Rosy Boa on MTBProject) turned out to be an amazingly fun, featured, and flowy trail with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains that are so beautiful, you are slightly distracted from the brutal climb.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

It was pretty hot by the time we got on the trail, which did not make the 1,950 foot climb any easier. The climb wasn’t technical at all, just unrelenting. I’m in much better mountain bike shape than I have been in the last couple of years, but it still took me over an hour to do the ~4 mile climb.

Elevation Profile via Strava
Elevation Profile via Strava

The hour of suffering (Type 2 fun!) was truly cancelled out by the incredible downhill. We lost those ~2,000 feet in about 3.5 miles of fun berms and jumps, well built out of Washington’s amazing dirt. This is one of my favorite trails I’ve ever ridden (even though I don’t jump my bike, except when I get a tiny bit of accidental air), and I was woo-ing it up with pure joy. Some of the berms are built so that you’re turning into the steep, downhill side of the mountain, which felt a little disconcerting (what if the berm collapses and I fly into space?), but for the most part I felt comfortable letting off by brakes a little and flying down the trail. Greyson and I were talking about it later, and decided that the downhill part felt a lot like resort riding without the crowds. It was definitely a very “built” trail.

Trail Map via Strava
Trail Map via Strava

Trail Stats:
Location: Freund Canyon Rd., Leavenworth, Washington
Mileage: 7.8 miles
Elevation gain: ~1,95o feet
Difficulty: Advanced

We spent a couple of days hanging out in Leavenworth – swimming in the river, drinking beer, eating good food, watching turkey vultures, ospreys and a bald eagle from the deck of our rental cabin, and we even had some very special guests on the morning we left – a mama bear and her two cubs up in a tree. Greyson got some great pictures with his nice camera.

Mama bear. Photo by Greyson Howard
Mama bear. Photo by Greyson Howard
Baby bear. Photo by Greyson Howard.
Baby bear. Photo by Greyson Howard.

Mountain Biking in Oakridge, Oregon: The Alpine Trail

I just got back from an amazing road trip, mountain biking, camping, kayaking and beer drinking across Oregon and Washington. I had a great time at all of our stops, both those I’ve visited before and those that were new to me. I’ll be recapping our whole trip over the next couple weeks. Our first stop was Oakridge, Oregon.

Mountain Biking the Alpine Trail in Oakridge Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

Oakridge, Oregon is a small town nestled in the heart of the Cascades and parallels the Willamette River, about an hour east of Eugene on Highway 58.  Oakridge had been a busy logging town, but since the down turn in the logging industry, it had struggled, with many businesses closing and families moving away. Oakridge is a beautiful place, with trails for hiking, camping spots along Salmon Creek, rafting and fishing opportunities on local rivers and streams, and, more recently, trails for mountain biking. Oakridge has become a popular destination for mountain bikers – only 2.5 hours from Portland and a “quick” ~7 hours from the Bay Area and Tahoe. (Greyson and I stopped by the local brewery for dinner and literally everyone eating on the patio was visiting from California.)

Mountain biking and other outdoor adventures are helping to bring some much needed money and business to Oakridge. However, it’s a much more complicated story than “mountain biking saves dying logging town!” – check out this interesting article from NPR:

For decades after World War II, the small town of Oakridge in the southern Cascade mountains of Oregon was a booming lumber town. But by the early 1990s, the lumber industry had collapsed, and Oakridge has struggled ever since, losing families and businesses. Now, residents like Randy Dreiling are trying to reinvent the place as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Dreiling owns Oregon Adventures, which offers mountain bike tours. Some 350 miles of trails have earned Oakridge the self-proclaimed title of “Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest. Mountain biking is just a piece of the pie. It’s not the end all be all, but it’s what we got. And it’s been good to us,” he says. “Anybody that’s being honest to themselves can see the amount of people mountain biking is bringing to town — more and more every year.”

Greyson found us an awesome campsite, Salmon Creek Falls Campground, about five miles outside of town. We snagged one of the last few first-come, first-serve campsites and set up the tent. This campground has some amazing spots right along the river, but I’m guessing you have to get there early on a weekday to get one of them.

Salmon Creek Falls Campground Oakridge OR

While there are a ton of trails in the Oakridge area, mostly built and maintained by GOATS (Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards), we had decided to shuttle the Alpine Trail, booking a shuttle with Oregon Adventures, a local shuttle and tour company. They describe the Alpine Trail as

Oh glorious Alpine! Known as the Crown Jewel, this is one wicked trail. A combination of every pleasure known to mountain biking, you can’t not love Alpine.

I pre-booked the shuttle for 8:45 am the next day, so we decided to head in from our campsite for an early dinner and to scope out where we’d be meeting up. We (surprise, surprise) ended up at the only brewery in town, the Brewers Union Local 180. The brewery only has cask ale (or as they claim, the only “real ale” in Oregon) which undergoes a secondary fermentation in a wooden cask. These ales are much less carbonated that a typical IPA (it reminded me of a beer on nitro), and both of the ones we tried were tasty. This was by far the most popular restaurant in town, filled with tourists and locals alike. It was a long wait for food and beer, but both were worth it. We even met a group of people we’d be riding the shuttle with (and the Oregon Adventures owner!) at the brewery that night.

Alpine Trail Elevation Profile via Strava
Alpine Trail Elevation Profile via Strava

We met bright and early at the Oregon Adventures parking lot to drop off bikes with the shuttle van, and carpool to the bottom of the trail, a few miles from headquarters. We reconvened with the ten or so other riders, loaded into the shuttle and were off on the ~30 minute ride. The shuttle driver was very helpful, pointing out road crossings and landmarks that we’d use on the ride back, and soon arrived at our destination. While shuttling the Alpine Trail means a mostly downhill ride, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any climbing. In fact, you start off the trail with a ~350 foot climb that feels steeper than it actually is on cold legs.

Alpine Trail Map via Strava
Alpine Trail Map via Strava

After less than a mile of climbing, you come to a flat, grassy field with a narrow trail cut out and beautiful views. I remember commenting to Greyson about how it was hard to ride in such a narrow trail, and that I kept bumping my wheel on the edges. Little did I know that this was just a preview of the majority of the trail width to come!

Alpine Trail Oakridge Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

Alpine Trail Oakridge Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

The day was cool and cloudy, which was nice but I had a real problem with my sunglasses fogging up for most of the day! After the meadow, we rode into the trees and the first of the many downhills. At this point, we stopped to put on kneepads. This was the first of many stops – we definitely did not break any speed records on this trail. One of the coolest things about this trail was that it had some of everything – awesomely sticky Oregon dirt, miles of fast, flowy sections, rocky and rooty drops, long climbs, steep exposure, loose rocky sections, epic views and closed in forest canopies.

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I’m used to the wider trails of the Sierra, so the narrow, more overgrown trails took some getting used to, and I definitely walked some sections of narrow trail that had steep exposure. Luckily, the Alpine Trail seemed to be about 85% fun flow on good dirt, with a smaller percentage of steep climbs, loose rocks, and only a few sections that I needed to walk.

Alpine Trail // tahoefabulous.com

According to my Garmin, we climbed about 1,224 feet over the 13.8 miles (the shuttle cut off some climbing and mileage from the full, official Alpine Trail.) The trail was very well marked and easy to follow. We got a little confused at about 12.5 miles in, where there was a junction. The MTB Project app told us to go right to stay on the Alpine Trail, but we were pretty sure we needed to go left to get back to our car. One of the things our shuttle driver told us at the beginning was “when in doubt, go left.” We went left and followed an obviously newer trail (I think called A.T.A.C., but I’m not 100% sure) that did bring us back to our cars.

We quickly loaded up and headed straight for pizza and beer. The pizza wasn’t amazing, but we were hungry so that didn’t matter all too much. After buying some cans of local beer, we went back to the campsite and spent some time lounging in my birthday ENO hammock for national hammock day.

ENO Hammock // tahoefabulous.com

Salmon Creek Falls campground is next to (no surprise) a creek and a small waterfall. Just upstream from the waterfall was a great, but cold swimming hole. We tentatively waded in, and, once my feet and legs were numb, the water felt great!

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We stayed two nights in Oakridge and I wish we could have stayed longer to explore more trails! The town was beautiful, the people were friendly, the beer was good and the mountain biking was phenomenal. That’s all I can really ask in a destination. I loved camping at Salmon Creek Falls, and there are a number of motels in downtown Oakridge. The Alpine Trail was worth traveling for, and it’s a trail I’d love to do again with a little more confidence now that I know what it’s like.

Trail Stats:
Location: Oakridge, Oregon (shuttle with Oregon Adventures)
Mileage: 13.8 miles
Elevation gain: ~1,200 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate

Bouldering in the Happy Boulders – Bishop California

I needed to be down in Bishop, California for work last week, so Greyson and I decided to go down on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Not that we ever need an excuse to go to Bishop, but the American Alpine Club was hosting a stop of the Craggin Classic there during that weekend. We were excited to check it out.We took our time driving down on Saturday, stopping to check out the fall colors and expansive views whenever we felt the urge – like the Mono Lake lookout.

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Coming over Conway Summit (north of Mammoth Lakes) I spotted a huge bird flying parallel to our car. It landed in a tree a few hundred feet off of the road, and we were able to pull over on the side of the road and check it out. I had my binoculars, and Greyson had his longest lens so we were able to see it pretty clearly. We debated whether it was a juvenile golden or bald eagle, and finally settled on juvenile bald eagle (with help from instagram). He or she was quite content to hang out in the tree, so we watched it for quite awhile before moving on.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

We pulled up  in Mammoth Lakes for lunch, beer sampler and growler fill at Mammoth Brewing Company. I’ll have to do a full review of Mammoth one of these days, but they’ve recently started serving food. I had a brussels sprouts salad and some of Greyson’s black currant, arugula, goat cheese, gruyere, and balsamic flatbread pizza and both were to die for.

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We arrived in Bishop early enough to set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground. Last time we stayed there, I got eaten up by biting ants and the campground was filled with RVs plastered in confederate flags whose occupants partied late into the night. We vowed not to come back, but the price ($14 a night) and location lured us in. We figured that the cold weather and off season (for everything except bouldering) would keep the ants and noisy neighbors at bay.

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Greyson re-stakes the tent in a windstorm, during a previous Pleasant Valley Campground experience.

One of the best reasons to camp at Pleasant Valley Campground is its proximity to the Happy Boulders.

Bishop, California is a bouldering mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb in the area. There are several well-known areas, and the Happy Boulders are arguably the most beginner-friendly. Not to say that there’s not a bunch of challenging routes for the hard core, but I was able to find lots of routes to play around on that fit my VB-V0 skill level.

The Mountain Project describes the Happy Boulders as:

“The Happy Boulders offer highly concentrated world-class volcanic bouldering with hundreds of worthy problems ranging from simple to impossible.

Long shadowed by the more well-known and publicized Buttermilks, more and more climbers are realizing the potential inside the Happy Boulders canyon. Most first-time visitors will be overwhelmed by the amount of projects they just gathered and will find themselves making time to return. Some say at the Happies your muscles will fail first, whereas in the Buttermilks its usually your skin that will be your reason for leaving. Regardless, it’s nice to have the options so close. Visitors experiencing Bishop in the colder months can find shelter and warmer temps here rather than the exposed and wind-swept Buttermilks.”

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The parking lot was fuller than I’ve ever seen it before, as the crisp November days make for awesome climbing. We were a little worried about the crowds as we hiked up the loose, kitty litter gravel to the boulders, but once we arrived we saw that most of the people there were crowded at a couple of classic routes.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

These routes are far above my pay grade, but it was fun to watch people climb them. The best was when the girl pictured above made the route look easy after two muscled, shirtless climber bros failed on it! I have no idea what routes or boulders I actually climbed (next time we’ll remember to bring the book!), but I had a blast. Everything I climbed was easy in the scheme of things, but I did challenge myself a few times. Greyson claims that I fist pumped and said “Yes!” when I got to the top of a particularly challenging route, but I’m not sure if I believe him.

One of the many cool things about Bishop is that it’s packed with truly awesome climbers to watch and learn from. I’ve said it before, but while mountain biking is number one in my heart and will likely stay there, the people I’ve met climbing and bouldering are the best. They are friendly, outgoing, encouraging and really just want you to send it!

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Another great thing about Bishop in general and specifically the Happy Boulders is the literally hundreds of routes within a short walking distance. When we got tired of working on a problem, or our feet and fingers needed a break, we just packed up and walked 10 – 100 yards until another boulder caught our eye. We also hiked to the top of the Happy Boulders area for the first time and caught an awesome view.

I’m pretty out of shape for climbing (especially finger toughness), so we called it a day during the afternoon and drove into town. We had to stop by Mountain Rambler for a beer and lunch. I had the Phainopepla Black IPA (phainopepla is a type of silky fly catcher, FYI), Greyson got the Sky Pilot Pale Ale, and we split a Picture Puzzler Session IPA. The chef was testing out a beer fondue recipe which we got to sample, along with some beer caramels. I hope they’re both on the menu soon.

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Bishop is a must-visit destination for climbers of any levels and I’d highly recommend the Happy Boulders as a place to start. They’re easy to get to, have something for every level of climbing, and a great scene. When you’re there, be sure to stick to the paths, stay out of the plants, and pack out your garbage. “Crush the problem, not the plants!”

Check back next week, and I’ll be writing about the other place we bouldered, the Buttermilks!

How to Get There: The Happy Boulders Trail is located on Chalk Bluff Road north of Bishop. There’s a gravel parking area with an interpretive sign and a trail marker directing you where to go.

Where to Stay: There’s camping at the nearby Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds. Bishop also has a hostel, The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.

Where to Eat & Drink: Mountain Rambler BreweryTaqueria Las Palmas

Santa Cruz: Sea Otters and Sea Otter Classic

I told Greyson that all I wanted for my birthday was to see some otters. We ended up going to Santa Cruz, and the trip delivered!

The first sea otter we visited was the Sea Otter Classic.

Sea Otter Classic // tahoefabulous.com

The Sea Otter Classic is a massive bike festival and expo that takes place in Monterey Bay, California over a few days in mid-April. Greyson had great memories of attending the festival when he was younger, and we were excited to check it out. The only word I can use to describe Sea Otter is…overwhelming. Maybe people who are more experienced with massive expos would have gotten more out of it than I did, but there were so many booths and exhibits and things going on that it was hard to find anything I wanted to see. We also went on Saturday (the festival started on Thursday), so I don’t know if it was our random wandering or if the booths were already cleared out, but we didn’t score any swag. I did get a good deal on some new bike gloves and I ran into my friends from TAMBA. While I’m glad that I went at least one time in my life, I don’t feel the need to head back to Sea Otter next year.

We drank Sierra Nevada beer, ate some expensive teriyaki, watched some cyclocross, and then it was time for the main event of the day – Men’s Pro Dual Slalom.

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The Men’s Pro Dual Slalom race kicked off with a race between two tandem teams!

Dual Slalom isn’t a super popular race anymore, but it’s a super fun one to watch. Two bikers race head to head on identical courses full of features like berms, drops and jumps. The riders then switch tracks, and their times are combined. The slower rider is eliminated and the other moves on to the next round, until a winner is declared.

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As much as I love biking and all things related, I was even more excited for the next iteration of otters – actual live sea otters in the wild!

Elkhorn Slough // tahoefabulous.com

Greyson and I drove south from Santa Cruz to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve with one goal: to see some otters!

The Elkhorn Slough NERR is

“one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 1700-acre Reserve is a hub of activity and hosts programs that promote education, research, and conservation in Elkhorn Slough. The Visitor Center has award-winning exhibits that invite everyone to explore the Unseen Slough. There are five miles of trails that meander through beautiful oak woodlands, calm tidal creeks, and freshwater marshes. We offer tours on the weekends and special events throughout the year.”

More importantly, Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest population of California’s sea otters, a fact I learned by watching Saving Otter 501 (a PBS Nature Documentary, available to watch online here and via Netflix!) over and over.

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Picture from Saving Otter 501 found here.

California’s southern sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries, but a surviving population of around 50 was found off of Big Sur in 1938. The population has grown to nearly 2,000, many of which live in the protected Elkhorn Slough.

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Greyson and I didn’t really have any concrete plans for finding the sea otters, other than going to Elkhorn Slough, and potentially renting kayaks. We ended up just pulling into a beach parking lot on vague instructions from Greyson’s sister, and we immediately spotted otters! We were on a little spit of sand with a manmade breakwater that made a perfect spot for otter spotting.

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I only had my phone camera, so my photos aren’t great. Greyson got some great shots though, and made an adorable video that I already posted.

Photo by Greyson Howard
Photo by Greyson Howard

A highlight was definitely the two juvenile otters who wrestled near us for 15 or 20 minutes.

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The shot I got with my phone.

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The shot Greyson got with his camera. Ha!

I also loved this otter that floated contentedly while a fisherman and his dog worked on a boat nearby.

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In addition to the dozens of otters frolicking about, the Elkhorn Slough was packed with other wildlife. We saw sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, herons, and the ubiquitous Velella velella. If you’re in the Monterey or Santa Cruz area, I highly recommend a trip to the Elkhorn Slough. If you’re interested in the crucial conservation work they’re doing, you can learn more on their website, or become a member!

We did a few other fun things in the Santa Cruz area over the weekend. We hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium just in time for the otter feeding and to visit the fluorescent-ly lit jellyfish:

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And we hit up Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for some birthday beers just before we left town on Sunday. These weren’t my favorite beers of all time, and I probably won’t write up a whole review of the brewery. I did enjoy their Peoples Organic Coffee Porter and Devout Stout, and I loved their location with an outdoor beer garden and tap room.

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The whole weekend was a great way to celebrate my 31st birthday, and it will be hard to top next year!

Climbing at Smith Rock in Oregon

At the beginning of the month, Greyson and I took a road trip up to Bend, Oregon. I’ve already written about the beer and biking, but we did one other main activity while we were there: climbing and camping at Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock State Park, Bend, Oregon // tahoefabulous.com

The Oregon State Parks website says this about Smith Rock:

If you enjoy scenic views of deep river canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. There are several thousand climbs in the park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. We also offer miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver.

Smith Rock is a major rock climbing destination and the birth place of North American sport climbing. The Mountain Project describes the climbing at Smith Rock as:

“…Oregon’s premier rock climbing destination, and one of the best sport climbing areas in the United States. This world-renowned sport climbing mecca has more than once been at the focal point of the climbing world. Extensive development took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by locals and international climbers alike, who put up scores of classic climbs on the tuff and basalt cliffs; development continues to this day with new moderates and cutting-edge routes going up each year. Ranging from classic beginner routes to hardcore testpieces on a wide variety of rock, there is truly something here for everyone. Although best known for its sport climbing traditional climbers can find plenty to be excited about here as well.

Located in the high desert in central Oregon, Smith Rock State Park’s cliffs and hillsides take a commanding presence over the surrounding terrain. The main cliffs are made of volcanic welded tuff, and surrounding bands of columnar basalt lie above the winding Crooked River…the prominent walls overlooking the Crooked River are home to many of Smith Rock’s most famous routes, but for those seeking some solitude and adventure there is plenty to be found on the back side or among the basalt columns in the Upper and Lower gorge. Monkey Face, perhaps the park’s most recognizable feature, sits proudly on the back side of Smith Rock with spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains and the arid landscape below.”

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Our first night in Bend we stayed in a vacation rental downtown, as we weren’t sure how late we would be getting in, and wanted to avoid setting up camp in the dark. The other three nights, we camped in the walk-in only camping at Smith Rock State Park, about a half an hour outside of Bend, and a quick walk to the climbing area and Crooked River. All of the camping is walk in only, and $5 per person (which includes hot showers and nice bathrooms!). It’s only about a two minute walk from the parking to the camping area, so carrying stuff from the car was really easy. There’s no fires or cooking at the campsites, so we just left all of the cooking implements (food, stove, pots & pans, etc.) in the car to make it even easier. The camping spots are just flat areas spread beneath the juniper trees, so pick your favorite and set up camp! This is definitely one of the best State Park campgrounds I’ve ever stayed in.

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Smith Rocks from the campsite at the state park.

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Bend was head to a gear shop and pick up a guidebook for climbing at Smith Rock. The friendly and helpful staff at Mountain Supply recommended Falcon Guides Rock Climbing Smith Rock State ParkWe started pouring over it while back at our campsite cooking dinner. Luckily, we a friendly local overheard us chatting and gave us a ton of great advice for fun climbs at our skill level.

We ended up spending our day of climbing on the campground side of the river at the Rope de Dope block. This particular block had a number of fun top rope climbs within my range (occasionally 5.10a) and access to the top anchors via a rope ladder. Greyson ended up leading up a 5.7 sport route to get to the top and set up our toprope (note: Smith Rock is known for HIGH first anchors), but it was nice to have the option.

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Greyson getting our gear set up at Rope de Dope block

Though we waited for the sun to come out and melt the frost before we headed down to climb, Rope de Dope was in the shade. It was February in the high desert, so we were dealing with freezing cold fingers. I spent more time trying to warm up my painfully cold hands in the sunny spots down by the river than climbing.

I made it up 5.7 How Low Can You Go (though it felt like a hard 5.7 for a warm up!). I flailed around quite a bit on the crux of 5.9 Shamu, but I persevered after a couple of attempts and made it to the top! The rocks of this area are very different than the Sierra granite that I’m used to, so that was fun to experience. There were a lot more little pockets for finger holds, but I didn’t realize how much I relied on smearing my feet on the granite until I was up there sliding all over the face of Rope de Dope.

After my successful ascent of Shamu, I was physically done and mentally exhausted. Climbing is hard work! I can’t wait to get into better shape so I can spend longer days climbing. Greyson agreed with me, so we packed up our gear and headed on the hike back up to camp. I was worried the climb out of the valley would be miserable, but it wasn’t too bad! Plus we had gorgeous views of Smith Rock, the Crooked River, and a clear look at the Three Sisters way off in the distance to distract us.

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Obviously, one of the best parts of climbing is the meal you eat immediately following. You’re usually hungry enough that a peanut butter sandwich or cheese quesadilla you packed tastes like the nectar of the gods. But since were were on vacation, we decided to live it up and head into Bend and really feast! We planned on hitting up an Indian restaurant that Greyson had been to before, but fate intervened and they weren’t open for the early bird special dinner we were looking for. I was freezing and hangry, so we stopped in a coffee shop to figure out our next step, and the barista recommended Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats – saying it was the best Thai restaurant she’s ever tried. She was right! I love Thai food and living in the Pacific Northwest spoiled me, but this was the most amazing Thai food I’ve ever tasted. Since the menu is all food from northern Thailand, the Thai restaurant staples like pad thai and hangover noodle that I’m used to seeing were not on the menu. We ordered curried basil noodles off the menu, and something off the (huge) specials board that the waitress recommended. Everything we ate was so good! Everything everyone around us ordered looked so good! I can’t recommend this place enough – it’s a little different than the typical Thai restaurant, but unique in the most delicious way.