Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Grunions Ran

July 1, 2018

I tried to organize people to go out and watch for grunions last night (30 June), but since the run wasn’t supposed to start until 11:20PM I did not have high hopes.

I, myself, arrived a little early. Partly this is because I usually arrive places early, and partly because you get better pictures of the moon on the waves the closer you are to moonrise.
Moonrise on the waters
The lights on Stern’s Wharf and the city were also rather nice:

Then I went and sat in the parking lot. No one showed up. I waited another 5 minutes. No one continued to show up.

I went back to the water.

I tried watching the shore without a flashlight, but I found I could not see if there were fish (even with the full moon). The moment I turned the flashlight on I saw them in the waves.

For the first hour or so all I saw were scouts (that is unattached males surfing to the shore to see if there are any females around). I saw one female around midnight, but that was about it. But there were a lot of scouts. Did that mean there’d be an impressive run later?

After I’d been there for about 20 minutes I noticed that most of the other people (and there were about 3 other groups watching) were leaving the beach. I think this is a serious mistake; more often than not the next hour and a half will be far more interesting than the first 20 minutes. People leave thinking they’ve seen a grunion run when all they’ve seen is a scout or two.

After a bit I found a cellphone, left in the damp sand just above the waves, with drops of sea water on it but still working. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but leaving it in the ocean was wrong. I dried it off and put it in my pocket.

About half past twelve I noticed that the grunions in my flashlight beam lighted up with the moon shimmer on the waves:
Grunions and the moon

As I was taking the picture someone bounded up to me and asked if I were a trail runner (I had posted a note in the trail runner group inviting people to join me). His name was Pyry, a researcher from Finland. He knew what Moomintrolls were, but I knew nothing else of Finland. I asked if he had lost a phone, and he had. So that solved that problem.

I explained to Pyry that as yet we hadn’t seen a real run, there had been no females, just males…

When I turned back to the shore it was covered with fish, and the spawning had begun.

But it was the sheer number of fish that was really amazing
Lots of Fish
I’ve only once before seen comparable numbers, and that was three years ago.
Lots of fish

bouquet of fish
Bouquet of fish

fish holes
The fish left lots of holes (in which they had laid eggs) just above the wave line. It made walking difficult.

Cal Fish & Game predicts a two hour window during which the run is expected to take place. This run was still going strong 20 minutes after the window had ended, and there were still scouts 35 minutes after (I left then, at 1:55, bedtime).

Video links:

Who can see the gruns?
Neither you nor I.
Wait till the moon is full again,
The gruns will then draw nigh.

Who can see the gruns?
Neither he nor me.
But when high tide has turned at last,
Upon the beach they’ll be.

Who can see the gruns?
Neither I nor you.
But when the waves come washing in,
We’ll see the gruns pass through.

Who has seen the gruns?
Either none or all.
But if the beach were coverèd,
Then we just stood in thrall.

I thought I saw a Banker’s Clerk
Alighting on a dish,
I looked again and found it was
A school of grunion fish,
“If they should come to dine,” I said,
“I’d make a better wish.”

When the moon on the sea
Makes a path to fairy,
There are grunion.

When the moon on the bight
Makes a path through the night,
There are grunion.


Poisson d’Avril!

April 2, 2018

Last night was supposed to be a good night for a grunion run, but it was also April Fools day. Many people view grunions as a myth, and asking them to go out at midnight to look for a mythical fish on April Fools day seemed unlikely to get a favorable response. Worse, the French term for “April Fools” is “Poisson d’Avril” (or “Fish of April) and the jokes tend to have a fish theme.

It turned out to be densely overcast and slightly foggy, no lovely full moon shining on the waters to tempt people out. It was also Easter and the second day of Passover.

Nonetheless, I asked a bunch of people to come meet me on the beach at 10:40PM.

Seek for the fish that is buried:
On beaches spawning soon;
There shall be flashlight carried
Stronger than clouded moon.
There shall be shown a furrow,
That eggs are near at hand,
And fish shall start to burrow,
While others up shall stand.

I went directly from contra-dance (and I tried to get the dancers to join me too) so I got to the beach a little early. I hung out just above the tide mark to see if any fish would come early. No fish did, but some waves came and wet my shoes — to keep me from feeling lonely.

No one did join me.

I waited around for 10 minutes and then went walking down the beach.

No fish were out either.

At first there were Night Herons on the beach… when I got within 20 feet of them they’d fly off further down the beach, so it ended up as a kind of leisurely chase (though that was not my intent).

After 15 minutes or so one of them found a fish, and I watched him/her try to eat it. It was dark so I couldn’t see if the fish were a grunion. I tried to take a picture, but the camera thought it was dark too.

Night Heron with fish

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Night Heron actually capture anything before.

After another 10 minutes I turned around and walked back. The Night Herons were gone now. I’ve noticed that in the past, they seem to disappear after a bit. I wonder if they are only out for the high tide? Anyway they always seem to miss the grunion runs.

Now I started seeing a flock of Sanderlings. I don’t recall seeing Sanderlings at night. I tried taking a picture of them too, this one was even worse, as a wave made me jump as I was taking it and I got rather an odd effect (but no Sanderlings).

Those are the lights of the wharf. The bright one is one the Corps of Engineers has placed on the beach.

The Sanderlings stayed out all the time I was out there, and I tried several times to take their picture, but they are smaller and more erratic than the Night Herons and I never actually captured an image.

I saw my first fish at 11:30, just a few scouts, no matings at first. They came up, intermittently for about 45 minutes. A little after midnight I saw one mating, five minutes later I saw another. Then a couple more scatterings of scouts, and that was it.

Not the best run I’ve seen. I suppose I was the fool after all.


November 14, 2017

I decided I wanted to continue adding bits of the Appalachian Trail to what I’d done so far. I’ve run all of the AT in Georgia (and maybe a mile up into NC), so the obvious thing is to go up into NC and run south to connect, and then run north…

And when I think of Western NC, I think of Asheville. I decided to rent a little cabin for a week or so. I did not bother to check how far it is from Asheville to the southernmost section of the AT, I simply assumed it would be close. This turned out to be incorrect. Western NC is long…

I also got to thinking the maybe I should move closer to my parents now that they are getting older. So far my siblings have taken better care of them than I and this seems unfair. I thought Asheville might prove a nice city to live in, so I thought I’d check it out for that. The internet quickly found not just one but two contra dance groups, an English Country Dance group, and a Square Dance group — that seemed promising.

I rented a little cabin. Asheville has its own airport but seems to get very few flights. To get there and to leave at the times I wanted I found it easier to fly into Charlotte and drive from there.

Monday, 30 Oct

I arrived in Charlotte (late) at about 4PM and drove out to Asheville arriving at my little cabin just before dark.

Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Bald

My primary focus was to run the AT down to the NC-GA line (to connect with the sections I’d already run in Georgia). It looks as though the most southerly highway access to it was off of US64 at Winding Stair Gap. From there it was a 30 mile run down to the border, and another 30 mile run back to the gap. 60 miles in a day is a lot (for me anyway) more than I’ve ever done before. So I thought I’d postpone that run. On this day I decided I’d find my way out to the gap and run north instead of south, and just see what there was to see.

It turned out to be about 100 miles from my cabin to Winding Stair Gap. I had not anticipated that. It took more than an hour and a half to drive there.

Unsurprisingly, southern NC looks very much like northern Georgia. The AT in autumn looked much as I was used to. I had hoped for more color to the leaves, but most trees were bare, still there was some (or I thought there was).

In several places I found seedpods of some kind of Gentian, probably soapworth gentian but one gentian looks much like another without flowers.

When I crossed a small road I found a young woman sitting by the side of the trail, she offered me candy. I was confused. She pointed out it was Hallowe’en. I had forgotten. I little later I met two hikers in costume.

After a bit I stumbled on signage for the Bartram Trail, this is another long distance hiking trail that follows the route of the naturalist William Bartram who explored this area about 240 years ago. The Bartram Trail and the AT run together for a couple of miles here, climbing up to Wayah Bald (The Bartram trail uses yellow blazes, the AT white).

A little further on I found some patches of snow. I learned later that it had snowed three nights before, but this would be the only snow I saw. I was impressed that Shining Clubmoss and Marginal Wood Fern both seemed happy growing out of snow.

A little further on I reached the summit of Wayah Bald (where there is a carpark) and discovered a small viewing tower.

Geographically this seemed a good place to turn back; I’d run to a named stop with car access; if I ever returned I could just drive here and start running north… But I wasn’t tired, so I pushed on for another couple of miles, and got to see where the Bartram trail diverged from the AT. Then I was ready to return.

On the way back I took a few diversions, I climbed up to the top of Silar Bald (not far off the AT) which had some 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.

When I reached Winding Stair Gap again I found my two costumed hikers (without costumes) were now thumbing for a lift (without much success), so I offered to drive them down to Franklin (the nearest town). I don’t think I’ve ever taken a hitch-hiker before.

Winding Stair Gap to Standing Indian Mountain

I realized I didn’t want to run a strange bit of AT in the dark, and I wanted to get back to Asheville before restaurants closed. This put a bit of a constraint on how long I could run and a 60 mile day seemed out of the question… that would be 15 hours if all went well. Now it’s about 10 miles from Dick Creek Gap (in Georgia) to the NC-GA line so the distance from Dick Creek to Winding Stair is about 40. So as long as I run out more than 20 miles I should cover more than half the route, and I can go back to Dick Creek and do the rest from there. I thought I should be able to do 24 miles out if I left Asheville at 6AM.

I packed a flashlight to take with me, just in case. Indeed I always packed a flashlight, but I never needed it.

But I managed to get lost on the freeways in the dark, and by the time I got unlost and then back to Winding Stair Gap, it was about 8. It got dark soon after 6:30PM. So at 4MPH I had time for about 42 miles. Maybe a little more. Best to turn around when I hit 21 miles.

I set off southward with no expectation of reaching Georgia.

The day before had been sunny and warm, but today was clouding up, which meant there was a bit of color to the sunrise.

I actually found some flowers…

Bluets (of some kind) Small Bellflower

A little further on were some white violets (if you’ll pardon the oxymoron), probably Viola canadensis.

Albert Mountain has an old watchtower which one can climb until one bangs one’s head on the trapdoor that leads out to the cabin on top. This is locked. Still there are good views from the steps.

I found witch-hazel in bloom.

Witch-hazel is a small tree, and I think its flowers rather live up to the name. A good bloom for All Hallow’s.

At almost exactly 21 miles (by my watch) I reached Standing Indian Mountain. This seemed like the perfect spot to turn around. There’s a short (1/4 mile) side trail here that leads to the summit, and I took it and ate my lunch (such as it was) on the rock face at the top. Seemed very like the cliffs of Lynch back in Georgia. The air was too hazy for good views. I found bush honeysuckle on the top, not flowering any longer, but with seedpods.

On the way back my stomach started bothering me after about 8 hours and I struggled with mild nausea when I tried to eat. Instead of eating one Cliff Bar every hour I started nibbling on one every 10 minutes or so — with the nibbles shrinking and the pause between nibbles increasing as time went on. Luckily I only had another 2:30 hours to go, so I managed to get back to the car before dark in spite of that.


I was a little tired, so I decided to take a day off and explore Asheville.

Visiting the Biltmore cost $75 and I decided I wasn’t that interested.

There was an exit from I40 labeled “Farmers’ Market” and that sounded promising. The SB farmers’ markets don’t get freeway exits. But when I got there all I found was a greengrocer and some touristy shops. It was the off season, I know, but it was disappointing.

The day before I flew out to Asheville my trail running shoes ripped open. I hadn’t had time to buy a new pair before I left SB (I’d been running in trainers the last couple of days), so I figured a visit to a local running store would be a good idea. I found three in the Asheville area, and I went to the closest. They had new shoes for me.

I visited a couple of other places. Wherever I went I found either massive highways or very narrow streets. Neither conducive to bicycling. I decided Asheville was not a city I could commute in. Rats.

In the evening I went Contra Dancing. A much younger group of people than I am used to, but since the dance was held in the gym of a local college, I guess that’s what you’d expect.

Around Mt. Pisgah 1

I decided to explore on the Blue Ridge Parkway — a scenic route that follows the spine of the Appalachians from the Great Smokey Mountains in southern NC to the Shenandoah in Northern Virginia. Oddly enough this road is considered to be a national park. Anyway it runs through Asheville and had an entrance about a mile from where I was staying.

I learned that North Carolina has something called the Mountains to Sea trail which stretches from Smokeys on the Tennessee border out to and along the Outer Banks. Or will stretch. It isn’t complete yet. But the part in the mountains is supposed to be complete.

I drove to Mt. Pisgah expecting to take the MST south. I parked at the Mt. Pisgah parking area and found the trailheads. I picked the one going south. The MST blaze clearly marked. I ran on it for a mile to the Pisgah Inn, also on the Parkway. After that I found no indication of where the trail went (this is the section that is supposed to be complete). I ran around the Inn. I ran across the parkway to the campground and ran around it. No sign for MST. I found something called Frying Pan Trail and followed it south. It had no MST blazes and only lasted a mile or so and left me on the Parkway again with no sign of where MST might go. There was a fireroad here which led up to an old lookout tower and then it stopped too.

The sun popped out for a bit, and there was a nice view from the tower

I gave up on MST in that direction. My best guess is that it simply follows the Parkway and no one has bothered to put up signage, but I found this rather discouraging.

I found two conifers I wasn’t familiar with. One looked like a perfect christmas tree — I believe this was a fraser fir, the other a bit like a hemlock — I believe this was a red spruce. I’ve not seen these trees in the Georgia mountains.

Fraser Fir Red Spruce

There had been a couple of side trails on the one mile section of MST that I had run and I decided to explore them.

The first was called Laurel Mountain trail. I’m not sure where Laurel Mountain was, the trail was about 7 miles basically down hill, and then I turned and ran back up. It wasn’t too steep.

Galax Leaf, with color

The next trail was Pilot Rock trail, it was shorter. Again I don’t know which was Pilot Rock.

When I got back to the top I realized that if I ran another mile I’d have run 100 miles in 3 runs across 4 days. So instead of heading back to the parking lot I ran out to the Parkway in the other direction and looped back. I got in my 100 miles.

I also noticed that there was lichen growing on the roadbed of the Parkway.

Sam’s Gap to Spivey Gap

I decided to explore a different part of the AT. I saw that I26 crossed the trail at something called Sam’s Gap on the Tennessee border. I checked the location of Sam’s Gap on google maps which assured me it was on I26. So I just drove until I reached it. I found Sam’s Gap… but no access to the trail. No access to anything in fact, just at truck weighing station (which was closed). So I drove down into Tennessee to the first exit where I could turn around thinking to try from the other side of the freeway. The east bound side had a “scenic overlook” and I exited here, but again there was no sign of the AT. There was, however, another paved road. No access to the paved road from here. So I drove down to the first (last) exit in NC which got me onto the road (Bear Branch Rd. which Google Maps calls “the old Asheville Highway”) and drove back up to Sam’s Gap. And here was the AT.

I should have done more research. The sources I checked should have been more accurate.

I’ve never really thought about how the AT might cross a limited access road, such as I26; it isn’t a situation that happens in Georgia. Hikers can’t be expected to try to run across the interstate the way they do the smaller highways I’m used to.

Here, the AT popped out of the woods and ran along beside Bear Branch Rd. as they both passed under I26, then the AT went off into the woods again.

At the parking area, signage for the trail is very different from what I’m used to further south (including Winding Stair Gap), I’m used to signs saying “Appalachian Trail” very clearly. Here there was just a sign reading “Hiking Trail” but surrounded by a lot of AT white blazes.

I went north from Sam’s Gap. The sound of the interstate is audible for about 2 miles after the freeway crossing.

I found some very bedraggled asters still blooming. I believe these are Frost Asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum), it’s not easy to tell at this point. It’s a very foggy day and dew drops have joined the aster.

The fog has also made a some Lungwort Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) very happy, I’ve never seen it so lush and green before. In theory this grows in California, but not as far south as SB (I’ve only found it in the Appalachians myself).

Here I met the only trail runner I saw in my time in Asheville. At first I thought “there don’t seem many runners here”, but then I wondered… how many other runners do I actually bump into in a week in SB? I might see one or two on Jesusita, but on any other trail? Unlikely. Presumably there’s a trail in Asheville that everybody does by default, but I haven’t found it yet.

Trees in the mist

I noticed I was feeling tired today. The previous 3 runs had all averaged 4mph, but today I’m going more slowly. The one trail runner I saw was going faster than I.

After a bit more than 6 miles of climbing I reached Big Bald Mountain (elevation 5516ft.). In November this is a large grassy meadow on top of the mountain. Today it was covered with dense fog.

There were posts across the meadow (which stretched for half a mile maybe) to mark the trail, and they truly disappeared into the mists so you couldn’t see far ahead. It was chilly, and drizzly and I kept thinking “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” — though I had on a hat, or cap anyway. But I got across the moor and no worms ate me up.

The trail then dropped down and I came upon two women camping by the side of the trail — with their dogs. The dogs barked at me, and the women attempted to hush them. I’ve never met campers with dogs on the AT, and rarely met dogs at all. Checking the AT’s pet regulations, I see that dogs are permitted on the trail. Cats, ferrets, birds, and lizards are not mentioned. Pack animals are banned. Interesting list of “pets”, I don’t really consider pack animals to be pets, and I do consider cats to be. Savannah Cats are even supposed to like hiking, so it’s not a completely silly train of thought.

The trail climbed again to a peak called “High Rocks” and then dropped to Spivey Gap where US19 crosses the trail. That seemed like a reasonable place to stop, but I wanted to go a little further, so I pushed on for another couple of miles. There was a sign at Spivey Gap saying that in 2.1 miles I’d reach Devil’s Creek Gap, but I ran well beyond 2.1 and found no sign proclaiming that gap. In Georgia (and southern NC) every gap has a sign, but this section seems to have a different signage regime — perhaps I’m just expected to know where the gap is. Or perhaps the sign was inaccurate and I needed to run 4 miles.

Anyway I turned and headed back.

When I got back home, and plotted my route on a map, I learned that in this section the AT runs right along the NC-Tenn border. Half the time I was in NC and half in Tennessee. Now the NC-Ga line was well marked, but no one bothered to add boundary indicators every quarter mile on this section.

For an hour or so the sun peeped out and the mist vanished.

Red Oak Leaves

Blackgum leaves (perhaps)

But after a bit the clouds closed in again and the colors faded.

I heard a rustling noise, stopped and looked up.

White Tailed Deer

Yes, in this picture the tail looks black with a white outline, but when the deer raises its tail in alarm the underside is white and very obvious. This deer was not alarmed. It watched me calmly to see what I’d do, and when I did nothing interesting it browsed. All I could see were ferns (Marginal wood fern I think). I’m not sure if deer eat ferns though… After a bit I got bored and moved on. The deer didn’t seem disturbed.

This seemed odd to me… I could hear guns going off in the valleys below the trail…

I found scat in a scrape in the middle of a human trail. In SB this combination would been bobcat. Bobcat is certainly a possibility for this area too.

I climbed back up to the top of Big Bald, and found a young man with his tent set up cooking his supper on the edge of the bald. I’m not sure I would have chosen such a campsite… it seemed rather exposed to me and it was (again) spitting rain.

There was an overcast, but the dense fog from earlier in the day was gone.

On the other side of the bald I was greeted by barking, and noticed a young woman setting up her tent in the light rain. She turned to me and asked worriedly “Do you think it will be all right?”. I had to admit I had no idea. The sun did seem to be breaking through in the valley below, and the rain was light here, it might be clearing…

I said I was heading down to Sam’s gap and left her to the rain.

Around Mt. Pisgah 2

I went back to Mt. Pisgah, this time intending to take the Mountains to Sea trail north. And this time it did not vanish. This section of the trail is variously labeled as “Buck Spring Trail” and “Shut-in Trail”. It is the old route from the Biltmore to Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge.

The day was very foggy, and driving the Parkway was a bit nerve-wracking, it’s a twisty road and visibility was close to nil. Luckily there was no traffic at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. Oddly, the only relief was in the tunnels (of which there are about 7). Normally the tunnels are difficult to drive as you come from bright sunlight to darkness and the eyes take a while to adjust. There was no fog in the tunnels, and it wasn’t much darker inside than out.

The Pisgah parking area was above the clouds. On one side the fullish moon was setting, on the other the sun was about to rise

As I ran down the trail I reëntered the fog. I liked the look of the mist in the sun with the trees…

I was under a bit of a time constraint this day because I wanted to go to the English Country Dance that afternoon. So after running out 2.5 hours I turned around and returned. When I got back to the top, I found the route up to Mt. Pisgah itself (which I’d somehow not seen earlier) and I had to do that too.

I saw a butterfly, a Common Buckeye. These are common in SB. I hadn’t realized their range stretched across the country.

Mt. Mitchell

I had no firm plans for my last day. I had, at various times, thought I might:
1) Go further north from Wayah Bald
2) Go further south from Sam’s Gap
3) Climb Mt. Mitchell
4) Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore it
Mt. Mitchell isn’t on the AT, but as the tallest peak in the eastern US (yes, it really is taller than Mt. Washington) it does have a certain caché. A little research proved the trail up it is part of the MST.

Now it’s possible to drive up to the top, but that wouldn’t be any fun. The accepted route for summitting Mt. Mitchell starts from the Black Mountains Campground on the S. Toe River, and is reachable from the Parkway. (Why is the river called a “toe”?)

I read several reports of making the climb and all warned of the difficulty route and the changeable weather. It wasn’t a cold morning, but I stuck many layers and a windbreaker and gloves into my pack.

And then I just worried about how hard the route might be. It’s a 3600ft climb in 5.5 miles. In contrast San Ysidro climbs about 2800ft in 4.3 miles. So Mt. Mitchell is a bit longer, but shouldn’t be much steeper. Or so I thought.

I set out early in the morning. It wasn’t quite as foggy as it had been the previous day but there were still patches of dense fog. I managed to find the South Toe River Road without too much difficulty (that is — I only worried about being lost, I never actually was). After a bit the fog cleared away and I could see patches of blue sky. Perhaps it would clear and I’d actually get some views from the summit.

The Black Mountains Campground turned out to be closed for the season

Not really surprising, everything seems to be closed in November. There was a day use area parking lot just outside which was open. And empty.

The Mount Mitchell Trail was blazed with blue diamonds (in theory, often rectangles in practice) and the MST trail (which used mostly the same route) was blazed with white circles. The trail led across the bridge, through the campground and out the other side. Seemed like a very easy trail at first.

At about 4000ft elevation I started to see red spruce and fraser firs — I’ve not seen either at 4000ft in Georgia… I saw the occasional hemlock too, something I am familiar with. Both the hemlock and the spruce are suffering from adelgid blights.

There were also rhododendron plants. I initially assumed these would be R. maximum that I’m familiar with, but I see there are several other rhododendron species here that I’m not familiar with…

It also started to get muddy with little creeks running down the course of the trail for a while.

There’s a powerline (or perhaps telephone line) which shoots straight up the mountain in a wide clearcut. The trail switch-backs across it many times and, although it looks rather ugly, it does provide good views — in that one direction.

I found traces of mica in the rocks. That made me think of home.

After I’d reached an elevation of about a mile I turned a corner and found a blooming gentian, probably Appalachian Gentian, the only blooming Gentian I’ve seen this week.

The higher I went, the wetter it got, until the area started to look like a temperate rainforest (though probably cloud forest is probably more accurate).

It started raining, and after a bit I pulled out my wind-breaker and put it on. The wind picked up as I got closer to the top. A mist gathered. When I reached the top the fog is quite dense, the wind strong and the rain chilly. I climb up to the lookout platform — and can’t see a thing in any direction.

I’ve been going for two and a half hours now, and I don’t feel particularly tired, nor have I used most of the gear I packed. I feel a bit misled about the difficult of the route (and about the terror of the weather — though I admit it’s better to be prepared for worse weather). So I wander around until I find trails leading down the other side.

The trail I find is called “Old Mitchell Trail” and it leads down to the restaurant (closed for the season), it is also part of the MST. It leads to several other trails, Camp Alice trail, and Commissary trail, which are also part of the MST. There are some very nice waterfalls on these trails

But finally it is time to head back. I climb up to the top of Mt. Mitchell and head down the Mitchell trail.


Of the 7 days in spent in the Asheville area, I ran on 6. In that time I ran 172 miles (according to my watch) and consumed ~40 cliff bars. That’s more miles than I’ve ever run in a 7 day period until now.


September 4, 2017

When I was 10, back in March of 1970 there was a solar eclipse whose path of totality basically ran right up the Eastern Seaboard. I was slightly outside totality, in Durham we only got 98% coverage. My siblings and I were playing underneath the neighbor’s Magnolia tree and I vividly remember that the little patches of light that worked through the leaves to hit the ground suddenly turned into crescent moons. The leaves were acting like lots of pin hole cameras. I have no idea why the full sun doesn’t get focused into little circles, but a partial sun does get focused…

That was my only solar eclipse experience until now (I didn’t pay attention to the eclipse on 1979 though I guess some dimming would have been visible where I was).

A year ago I realized that the path of totality went right over my great-grandfather’s house in Georgia, and since I normally go there in August I decided to be there at the right time this year. And I tried to get my family to join me. And then friends. It’s a big old house with lots of room, seems a shame not to fill it up with other people to watch this event…

I got very excited about it. I ordered a ten pack of solar glasses, a sun filter for my camera, and I wrote various little apps for my cellphone and tablets. I wrote something to take time-lapse video, something else to record temperature/humidity/luminosity. I wanted to see how these changed during the eclipse and compare it to other days to see if the temperature profile looked different. And tripods, and tripod mounts for tablets and extension cords…

Ten days before the eclipse the long range weather forecast showed thunderstorms. And my cousins who lived there started complaining about incessant rain.

A week or so before the eclipse Amazon posted its warning about bogus eclipse glasses, and I saw that the ones I had bought were not on the list of reputable vendors. So I rushed to buy another set. Many were sold out, and the ones that weren’t were expensive…

I arrived in the valley late Friday night (before the Monday eclipse), and luckily my second order of eclipse glasses had preceded me. It had also stopped raining. Whew.

Sun at 9:15AM, long before eclipse

The partial eclipse was scheduled to start at 1:06PM so around quarter past we went out to the front porch and could see (through the eclipse glasses) that the sun was just being nicked by the moon. It took me a while to get my camera set up (it turns out that a normal tripod doesn’t work very well when taking a picture of something near the zenith. The tripod prevents the camera from pointing straight up. I hadn’t thought of that. If I angled the tripod legs enough for the camera to point up, then the tripod overbalanced).

Now it takes the moon a good while to cover the sun, almost an hour and a half from the start to totality. You get rather bored staring at an object which doesn’t change noticeably… so my brother organized a game of cards, and after every hand was completed (every 10 minutes or so) we’d all get up and take a look. That worked pretty well.

1:28PM T-1:07

1:37PM T-0:59

1:48PM T-0:49

1:53PM T-0:42

2:01PM T-0:34

2:16PM T-0:29

2:35:10 T-0:00:47

2:35:40 T-0:00:17

As far as the naked eye could tell there was surprisingly little dimming until just before totality. There are several reasons for this, the first is simply that the eye isn’t designed to measure brightness, it is designed to see things and to adjust so that it can see no matter what the level of light. So when it gets darker the pupils automatically get wider and you don’t notice any change. The second is that the eye reacts to light levels in a logarithmic fashion, so a diminution by a factor of two makes just a slight change in what we see.

But a few tens of seconds before totality happened the light started changing significantly, rapidly and noticeably. It got much darker. Not black, but a dim twilight. A sunset light spread around the horizon (or such of it that wasn’t hidden by trees). A planet was visible up near the sun. Not dark enough for my eye to see stars though.

The difference between 99% coverage and totality was extreme and worth seeing. I had assumed that it would just be more of what I’d seen as a child with 98% coverage. It was not. It was a completely different thing.

Above us all hung a black sun.

2:36PM Totality
2:36PM Totality

Then, of course the moon started to come out the other side…
2:53PM T+0:16

Timelapse video around totality (sped up too much. next eclipse I’ll know better). Looking across Sautee Valley.

Another timelapse video around totality, sped up even more. This one from the top of Lynch Mountain looking toward Tray Mountain.

About 20 minutes before totality I noticed that the holes between tree leaves had started acting like pinhole cameras (they might have done so earlier, that was just when I noticed it).

About 6 minutes before totality I started making a time lapse video of this effect. The crescents go through totality and come out the other side (sped up by a factor of 30).

I set my cellphone (Samsung Galaxy S4) to logging temperature, relative humidity and luminosity, taking samples every 15 seconds starting (roughly) a day before the eclipse and ending a day after.

I am graphing log10 of the luminosity, as I think that is more in keeping with what the eye sees. (The abrupt spikes in luminosity may reflect brief moments when the sun shone on the device. I thought it was in a well shaded spot but since the spikes are at the same time on different days I suspect there were a few moments when it was in full sun. Temperature was also affected as might be expected).
3 days around eclipse
The light blue region is the time of partial eclipse, the darker blue line in the center is the time of totality. The luminosity drops to 0 with totality (at least with the inexact sensor I had). The temperature also dropped during the eclipse, but only by about 2~3°C, a short thunderstorm the next day at about the same time caused a sharper and more substantial temperature drop. The relative humidity spiked up, as you’d expect with a temperature drop.

The graph below is the same thing, only expanded to show only the ~6 hours around the eclipse.
5 hours around eclipse
Interestingly the temperature continues to drop after totality. Rather to my surprise luminosity goes to 0 about a minute before totality, 2:34:40PM, and continues there for a minute and a half afterward, 2:39:11PM. This is probably insensitivity in my sensor.

I doubt I’ll go to Chili in 2019 (or Antarctica in 2020) but the eclipse of 2024 looks tempting…

Expected Rainfall… or why you shouldn’t use the mean or standard deviation

November 17, 2016

How much rain do we usually get?

There are three common answers to this: the mean (average), the median (halfway point) and the mode (most common). For a “normal distribution” these three are all the same, but in the case of Santa Barbara’s yearly rainfall they are not.

Mean 18.0 inches
Median 15.3 inches
Mode 13.4 inches

Let us look at the rainfall distribution pattern for Santa Barbara. Here I use the horizontal axis to displaying the number of inches of rain that fell in a year (rounded down to the nearest inch) against the count of the number of years that had that much rain. (These data are available from the county public works department.)

rainfall distribution

Santa Barbara’s historical rainfall data stretches back (patchily) to 1868. All in all there are 145 years of data (as of Nov 2016).

The Mode

The first problem with using the mode is calculating it. SB’s yearly rainfall is reported in hundredths of an inch. This level of precision means it is extremely unlikely that any two years will have exactly the same amount of rainfall, so there is no amount that occurs most frequently.

That, of course, is easily solved by dropping precision and just looking at the number of inches that fell in a year (as I have done in the graph above). But there’s a hidden problem with this method. I lumped years together by having a series of intervals that start at 0. But suppose I started at .5 inches instead? If this were a normal distribution that wouldn’t make much difference, but here…

rainfall distribution offset

The distribution looks quite different now. That tends to argue against the utility of the mode.

Probably if I had several thousands of years of data (and the climate didn’t change in that period) much of this variation would smooth out. But I’ve only got 145 years, and the climate is so variable that this isn’t enough.

Now let’s compare our actual distribution to a normal distribution centered on the mode and with a standard deviation set to the square root of the variation about the mode.


They do not look alike. Part of the problem is that there can never be less than no rain, but the normal distribution acts is if there could be. The variation less than the mode is much less than the variation above the mode (a range of 9 inches below, but 35 inches above).

The mechanism I choose to calculate the mode is to create a series of bins, each one inch wide and offset from one another by .1 inches. So the first bin would count all years that had between [0,1) inches, the second bin [.1,1.1), and so forth. Clearly any give year will end up in 10 bins rather than just one (but that’s fine). Then I look for the bin with the most number of years. This method suggests that the mode is at 13.4 inches — or in the bin counting years where the rainfall was between [12.9,13.9) inches.

But this does not produce stable results. Below is a graph showing the mean (blue), median (green), mode (red) of accumulated rainfall as the year progresses (rain years in Santa Barbara start in September).
Mean, Median, Mode (year to date)
(Click on the graph to see a more legible version)

The mean describes a very smooth curve. The median has small bumps, but is pretty smooth. On the other hand the mode dances all over the place with a 10 inch jump in April – from 18 inches down to 8.

Again if I had a much larger sample, presumably these fluctuations would calm a bit, but for the noisy mid-sized dataset I have available the mode does not provide a useful tool.

The Mean

The average is what we usually think of as the best metric for looking at the mid-point of a distribution. But with Santa Barbara’s rainfall it doesn’t work very well.

Because we occasionally get 45+ inches of rain this distorts the mean in a way that is not useful when trying to figure out what a normal year looks like. In fact about 61% of years have less rainfall than the average, which makes the average seem rather unusual.

The Standard Deviation

The standard deviation is defined as the square root of the variation about the mean (or as the variation about the point which minimizes the variation — which happens to be the mean).

As the mean isn’t useful to us, one might presume that the standard deviation is also not much use.

However that’s to some extent a question of semantics, we could examine the square root of the variation about the median instead.

Here we once again bump up against the asymmetry of our distribution. There is simply more variation above the median than there is below. Calculating the square root of the variation for rainfall below the median gives a value of 4.5 inches, while that above the median is 11.6, and the combined value is 8.8.

So perhaps we should look at negative and positive variation about the median instead of one combined number?
pos/neg variation about median
(the median is the dark green line, the light green solid lines show the positive and negative “standard deviation”s from the median, and the dashed lines show percentiles)

The negative 1 “standard deviation” line tracks close to the 15th percentile, and the positive 1 “standard deviation line tracks close to the 85th percentile. In a normal distribution the 1 standard deviation lines should track the 15.9th percentile and the 84.1th percentile. So my peculiar definition seems as if would describe the variations of this distribution comparably to the standard definition for a normal distribution.

But it’s so complicated to explain and use, that for most purposes using the median with percentile lines is probably better.

A better viewpoint

My friend Dave suggested looking at the logarithms of the rainfall to see if that revealed a better pattern. And it does.
It still isn’t perfect, but the mean and median have moved closer together and the standard deviation is similar on both sides of the mean. The mode is still in the wrong place for a normal distribution.

Mean 16.3 inches
Median 15.3 inches
Mode 13.5 inches

High Shoals Falls

August 12, 2016

It had rained hard the night before, but by 11 it was partly sunny and I persuaded my brother and his family to go hiking with me for a picnic at High Shoals Falls. None of us had ever been there, but it was close enough and was supposed to be impressive. So we bundled into the car and drove off.

The trail is off Indian Grave Gap Road, a dirt forest service track not far from Unicoi Gap.

The road was a bit more run down than I had anticipated. First we had to ford High Shoals Creek, and then go up a rutted road for a mile or so.

It also proved more popular than I had anticipated and the small parking area was full, so we parked at the side of the road and walked back. It began to spit rain as we walked, but too lightly to worry about.

The trail itself is only a mile or so long, rather steeply downhill.

It began to rain harder, but we decided to press on.

After a quarter mile or so we were in a deluge and we turned and went back.

By the time we reached the highway it had, of course, stopped. I considered turning back, but I was soaked and it just didn’t appeal.

The next morning I decided to try it differently. I couldn’t face asking people to go again. I set out alone to Unicoi Gap, and ran up Rocky Mountain, and down the trail to Indian Grave Gap Rd. and then down the road to the trail head.

No rain this day. Fewer cars too.

On the way down I found some Lungwort Lichen, which I’d never seen before.

There are actually two waterfalls on the trail. The first is Blue Hole Falls (the water drops into a deep pool which is supposed to be blue, though it did not look so to me). Clicking on the image below loads a video.
Blue Hole Falls

Not far beyond that is High Shoals Falls itself
High Shoals Falls

When I researched the trail I read something on the net from the Atlanta Trails group, but I also read a 40 year old trail guide of my father’s. This guide indicated that the trail made a loop, and at the trail head there had indeed been two trails, so I took a side trail that I hoped would lead back to the start.

It didn’t. It lead me to someone’s back yard. Oops.

I turned back, and passed a blooming Rhododendron. This is surprising, because I think of them as blooming in June.

When I got back to the trailhead I took the other route, but it was clearly not maintained and soon degenerated into nothing. Oh well. Best not to rely on 40 year old trail guides.

I ran back up the road and found an interesting Yellow Fringed Orchid, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before.

At Indian Grave Gap itself I turned back onto the appalachian trail to run up to the top of Tray Mtn. and back down to Unicoi Gap.

Flowers on Nine Trails

March 25, 2016

My best guess for the flowers on the Nine Trails course tomorrow…


Dichelostemma capitatum
blue dicks



Toxicoscordion fremontii
Star Lily



Avena barbata
Slender Wild Oat



Torilis arvensis
Field Hedge Parsley

Sanicula arguta
Sharp-Toothed Sanicle

Sanicula crassicaulis
Pacific Sanicle

Apiastrum angustifolium
Wild Celery

Tauschia arguta
southern tauscia



Cotula australis
Southern Brass Buttons

Matricaria discoidea
pineapple weed

Baccharis salicifolia

Logfia filaginoides
California Cottonrose

Pseudognaphalium biolettii
twocolor cudweed

Bidens pilosa
Beggar’s ticks

All year
Encelia californica
Bush sunflower

All year
Venegasia carpesioides
canyon sunflower

All year
Senecio vulgaris
Old man of Spring

Centaurea solstitialis
Yellow star thistle

S. asper
Prickly sow-thistle

Uropappus lindleyi
Silver Puffs



Sambucus nigra-caerulea
Blue Elderberry

All year


Vinca major

All year


Galium porrigens
graceful bedstraw



Stachys rigida

Salvia mellifera
black sage

Salvia spathacea



Fraxinus dipetala
Flowering Ash



Castilleja foliolosa
Woolly Indian Paintbrush



Mimulus aurantiacus
sticky monkeyflower



Antirrhinum kelloggii
climbing snapdragon

Collinsia heterophylla
Chinese Houses



Scrophularia californica
California Figwort



Calystegia macrostegia
Coastal Morning Glory

All year


Solanum douglasii
white nightshade

All year
Solanum xanti
purple nightshade

All year


Amsinckia menziesii
common Fiddleneck

Cryptantha sp.

Eriodictyon crassifolium
Bicolored Yerba Santa

Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia
spotted hideseed

Phacelia grandiflora
large flowered phacelia

Phacelia viscida-albiflora
white Sticky Phacelia

Pholistoma auritum
fiesta flower



Mentzelia micrantha



Arctostaphylos glandulosa
Eastwood manzanita

Comarostaphylis diversifolia
Summer Holly



Gilia capitata
Globe gilia

Leptodactylon californicum



Ribes speciosum
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry



Lithophragma cymbalaria
Mission Star

Micranthes californica
California Saxifrage



Chenopodium murale
Nettle-leaved goosefoot



Stellaria media



Calandrinia menziesii

Claytonia perfoliata
miner’s lettuce



Mirabilis laevis
Wishbone bush



Brassica nigra
black mustard

Capsella bursa-pastoris
Shepherd’s purse

Cardamine californica
milk maids

Cardamine oligosperma

Caulanthus lasiophyllus
California mustard

Hirschfeldia incana
Summer Mustard

All year
Sisymbrium officinale
Hedge Mustard

Thysanocarpus curvipes
Fringe Pod



Erodium botrys
long-beaked storksbill

Erodium cicutarium
Red-stemmed storksbill

Geranium dissectum
cut-leaved geranium



Helianthemum scoparium
Common Rush-Rose

All year


C. hirtella
Hairy suncup

Eulobus californicus
California suncup



Rhus integrifolia
Lemonade Berry

Toxicodendron diversilobum
poison oak



Marah fabaceus
common manroot

Marah macrocarpus



Lathyrus vestitus
common pacific pea

Lupinus hirsutissimus
stinging lupine

Lupinus nanus
sky lupine

Lupinus succulentus
arroyo lupine

Acmispon glaber

All year
Acmispon grandiflorus
Chaparral lotus

Acmispon maritimus
Coastal Lotus

Medicago polymorpha
Bur Clover

Melilotus indicus
yellow sweet clover



Quercus agrifolia
Coast live oak



Ceanothus spinosus

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus
Blue Bush

Rhamnus crocea
Spiny Redberry

Rhamnus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved Redberry



Cercocarpus betuloides
Mountain Mahogany

Prunus ilicifolia
Holly-leaved cherry

Rubus ursinus
california blackberry



Ricinus communis
Castor bean

All year


Oxalis corniculata
Yellow Sorrel

Oxalis pes-caprae



Dendromecon rigida
Bush poppy

All year
Eschscholzia caespitosa
Tufted Poppy

Fumaria parviflora
fine leaved fumitory



Clematis lasiantha
wild clematis

Delphinium parryi
purple larkspur

Ranunculus californicus
California Buttercup

Thalictrum fendleri
Fendler’s Meadow-rue



California Asterella


Coastal Wood Fern


California Polypody


Giant Chain Fern
California Aligator Lizard


Variable Checkerspot


Western Tiger Swallowtail


Pacific Banana Slug

The Waterfall on Gidney Creek

March 9, 2016

Gidney Creek has its headwaters near the little bench on the backside of Cold Spring trail (the one about half a mile down from Camino Cielo with the watertrough beside it). Gidney flows down, roughly parallel to the trail until Forbush Camp at which point it turns west, out of my ken and eventually flows into Gibraltar Reservoir just east of the back side of Gibraltar Rd.

Forbush sits on a divide and on a wet enough day there’s a little spring in the meadow, perhaps 100 yards from Gidney but which flows east down Forbush Canyon to Cottam meadow where it merges with Blue Creek. It’s kind of neat to see a place where two different watersheds diverge.

Gidney Map

Perhaps two thirds of the way down to Forbush there’s a spot where you can turn and look back up the canyon, and if you are lucky you’ll see a waterfall. This doesn’t happen very often, there must be a good flow down Gidney Creek, and I hadn’t seen it for years.

But I saw it yesterday.

There was water flowing near the bench, and I could hear the stream intermittently as I ran downhill, so when I got to the magic spot I turned and looked back and there it was.

It’s hard to get a good look at it because you can’t even see it except at this one spot, and you’re fairly far away there. It’s even harder to take a good picture because, looking north, you are always looking into the sun, and because the waterfall itself is in a shaded nook surrounded by sun.

Maybe if I had a stronger zoom and could get rid of the bright background… But that camera is too heavy to run with.



I ran on down to the Grotto, and then back. The waterfall was still flowing, and I thought what a pity it was not to be able to take a better picture (at this hour the view was even worse because there was more light nearby but still none on the falls.

As I plodded up the trail I was tempted to go down to the creek and look at the falls from close up. After all, who knew when they’d next be running? Eventually I got to the place on the trail which I estimated to be about the closest I could get to the falls.

I cast about and found a spot where there was an opening in the brush and plunged down.

According to my GPS the horizontal distance between the place I left the trail and the creekbed where I ended up is about 65 meters (as the rock plummets). The vertical distance is about 100 meters (take this with a grain of salt, GPS altitudes are not very accurate). Or about a 50° incline on average. It’s steep.

For a while the open space continued, but then the chaparral closed in. Chaparral has lots of tough wiry branches that tangle up with each other. In theory there’s an open space underneath, but not here — too close to the creek probably.

Oh, and it looks as if about half the wiry branches are actually poison oak vines. I don’t usually worry much about poison oak, but then I don’t usually push through thickets of the stuff either.

The chaparral liked my cap too, and kept pulling it off my head. Eventually I just carried it in my hand (which meant one hand less for climbing with).

After I’d been going for a while I realized that I was being stupid. If I had an accident no one would ever find me down here. Cold Spring trail is fairly well traveled (even the back side) and there were people camped at Forbush, so if I had problems on trail someone would find me, but no one would come down here.

Still, I was more than halfway down. It seemed a shame not to continue now.

I ended up about 10 feet above the stream with a fairly vertical drop to reach it. I decided to leave my cap on the rock here while I turned all my hands to climbing. If going down was difficult, how was I going to get up? I decided to ignore that question.

I managed to slither down in one piece.

It took about 15 minutes to cover those 65 meters.

The stream was in a deep channel with closed canopy forest above it. It began to seem unlikely that I’d actually be able to see the waterfall from this angle… but having come so far (or at least having spent so much effort to move such a short distance) it seemed silly not to go and look.

The going was easier now, no plants to hold me back, but the rocks beside the stream were slippery and the stream was steep. I was below the waterfall and had another few decameters to go upstream.


If I had been willing to sit still, it would have been pretty.

Eventually I could see the falls peeping through the trees


And finally I pulled myself into the open area around the falls. A little shallow pool. A very thin stream of water, but it looked an impressive drop. Hmm.

I wonder…

This cascade seems awfully well screened by trees, perhaps it’s not the fall I saw from the trail, maybe there’s another one right above it?

But I have absolutely no interest in trying to climb higher. This cascade is quite enough for me.


I turn back.

Looking, essentially down, the way back looks steep. And slippery.


But I manage it, though I do worry a little about finding my route up again. And even that I find eventually.

I go a little below the precipitous drop I took on the way down and find an alternate route up.

I recover my hat.

I follow my footsteps up for a while, but after a bit I lose them. Oh well, I just have to push my way up, I can’t really get lost.

Eventually I reach a spot where I can see, and find the trail to my left and below me, so now I head downward (through a poison oak tangle) and eventually reach the trail.

I’m glad I saw that waterfall, but I don’t think I need to do that ever again.

Next time I ran the trail, nine days later, the waterfall had gone.GidNoFall

Christmas Run

December 25, 2015

Every year I plan to do a run on Christmas Day. Or a bike ride. It’s a peaceful time to be out.

I was thinking I would run from my door to Upper Oso via Arroyo Burro trail, not Hwy 154. I thought it would be considerably shorter than the highway (though a good deal slower than driving).

About a week in advance the weather forecast showed a big rain on Christmas day, so I started thinking I might go out Christmas Eve instead. Then the forecast wiggled around and Christmas Eve was also supposed to be rainy. So I decided I’d do my long run on the 22nd.

rainbowOf course when the morning of the 22nd dawned there was suddenly a 20% chance of rain starting at 9:15. Well, 20% didn’t seem likely. I set out a little after 7, I saw a rainbow and then it started to drizzle.

So much for the forecast.

With the drought there is almost nothing blooming now, so I had my eye out for lichens. Lichens react quickly to the rain and often change color — the outer fungal layer draws back revealing the more colorful algal layer underneath.

I was also looking for fern fiddleheads and liverwort thalli. Last year they were all over the place by now, but this year I’ve just seen a few starts which have since died back.

When I got to the Jesusita mudbank, the mud had reached the point of being slippery, but not yet of being sticky. So it didn’t stick to my shoes, but did make the climb difficult. Still, it wasn’t really cold and the rain was barely noticeable, so after a bit I thought about taking off a layer, but I waited a little longer.

Once I got out of the canyon containing San Roque Creek I felt the wind, which was quite strong and suddenly chilly. I decided I’d keep all my layers on.

I found a wild cucumber vine in bloom, the first I’ve seen this year (and about a month later than I usually see the first). That was an encouraging start, but it was the only winter bloom I saw that day.

Arroyo Burro trail is quite overgrown for about a mile after the 420 rock, but after that there’s a little valley with a nice stream (which had no water in it) and the climb becomes more scenic. This is also the boundary of the Jesusita burn and the vegetation becomes older (probably unburnt since the Coyote Fire in the 60s). Anyway I start to see lichens now.

BigpodLichenThe rain has brought out the yellow in the goldspeck lichen (¿Candelariella rosulans?) which covers the trunks of the shrubs, here on bigpod Ceanothus.

As I climbed up to the pass with Camino Cielo the wind picked up. It is usually more intense on the ridgeline and when it is blustery below it is very windy above… And the wind made the rain seem worse. Or maybe it was worse. Anyway I was soaked and cold.

And my glasses fogged up. I was in a cloud here, so it was naturally foggy too. I couldn’t see where I was going and ended up on a side trail I’d never known was there. I didn’t realize it until I came to the water tank that I also didn’t know about.

So I scrubbed off my glasses, but that didn’t help I still couldn’t see. Eventually I realized that the road had to be downhill of where I was, so down I went. And got across.

The shooting range is still closed because of fire danger. This is a comfort when you run past a range in dense fog.

And down the other side, and out of the wind and fog. I took out a cliff bar, and had to use my mouth to tear it open.

ThalliThe backside of the mountains must have had more rain than the front, I found lots of Polypody fiddleheads, and some Asterella thalli. Neither of these have I seen in the front country this year, though I have seen both on other back country trails.

But there wasn’t anything blooming here.

Further down the trail there are Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), a species not seen in the front country and I was interested if they had a similar lichen load to the Coast Live Oak of the front country. The problem is that lichens prefer branches in oaks (rather than trunks) and Valley Oaks tend to be tall. Much taller than Coast Live Oaks. Generally too tall for me to see their branches.

But one nice thing about high winds is that you get broken branches lying on the ground
And here on this one small bit of Oak branch I’ve got at least four different lichens. In the upper right the bushy whitish thing is Oakmoss Lichen (Evernia prunastri), in the middle left the bushy orange thing with the weird circles is Orange Bush Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans), the small yellow areas are probably some kind of Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella sp.), and the grey flaky patches are probably Common Ruffled Lichen (Parmotrema perlatum). This one little stub of a stick has just about everything I was hoping to see.

FordAt the bottom of Arroyo Burro the mud had turned sticky as well as slippery and I had to run off the trail if I wanted to stay upright. The rain was slackening now, and when I got to the river there wasn’t even a puddle visible in the ford.

It is 12 miles from my house to Paradise Rd. 13.5 miles to Lower Oso, and 14.2 to Upper Oso. At least according to my watch.

When it was time for a bite to eat I found my fingers too cold to open the package. They were too weak even to pull against the grip of my mouth. I pressed my fingers against my thighs in an attempt to warm them, and after about 5 minutes I was able to eat.

On the way back I avoided the worst of the mud but taking an alternate route, but even when I couldn’t avoid it, it seemed much less of a bother going up than coming down.

As I neared the top I felt the wind picking up again, occasional drizzles of rain and my glasses were fogging, so, although it wasn’t time to eat yet, I tore open a packet in case my hands numbed out again.

At the top, I was running with the wind (so warmer) and the fog wasn’t as bad as it had been, though hardly clear. But my hands were warm enough that I could have opened my food package.
Foggy Camino Cielo

A half an hour later I had ducked under the cloud cover and weak sunlight was peaking through, and when I got to the overgrown section it was almost sunny.

When I reached the trail bottom and looked back…
it’s quite a different view from what I saw 5 hours earlier.

Although I spent about three hours in continuous rain, with a second light drizzle when I got back to the ridgeline, the county’s downtown rain gauge reported no precipitation at all. Looking at how the rainfall went across the county, it looks as if the storm was stronger farther north but petered out when it got to the mountains. So the downtown forecast was somewhat accurate, rain was unlikely there, I had just assumed that meant rain would also be unlikely 5 miles away, but that was not the case.

And, of course, when Christmas did roll around there was absolutely no chance of rain — bright sunny skies, high winds, no clouds. So I biked out to Refugio and then up Refugio Rd.

I always forget just how steep Refugio Road is, and how much steeper it seems when it follows a ~20 mile ride just to get to the base. And the wind came blowing down the canyon too.

I wanted to see if the refugio manzanitas were in bloom. This is a rare species that only grows between Refugio and Gaviota. I met it for the first time last January, but I suspected it would be blooming earlier than that, so I went for a look.

There are a few spots on Refugio Rd. where it grows, and more on Camino Ciello. I didn’t want to have to climb all the way up to the top, so at the first patch I stopped and looked hard at the plants. Two were in bloom, so I didn’t have to go any further.

One had old flowers dropped underneath it so it had clearly been blooming for a while. Next year I’ll need to check even earlier.

The Appalachian Trail — in Georgia

October 10, 2015

ome years ago my father announced that he was going to have to give up his goal of hiking all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia (in sections, not a through hike). He felt he was getting too old and his balance was not up to it. He said he only had one 5 mile section left to do, the one at the very start.

Hikers InnThe problem with the start of the Appalachian Trail is that you can’t get there by car. Before you start hiking the AT you must do an 8.3 mile hike just to reach the start. And that 8.3 mile hike was beyond him — to say nothing of the subsequent 5 miles, and somehow returning. He had checked out the Hiker’s Inn which is 4¼ miles from the start (and reachable by a 5 mile hike) but that still left him with a 2*9 mile hike on one day (my father does not like camping).

So he was giving up the idea.

But I (who had not been aware that this was a goal of his) thought that might make a neat goal for me. I intended to run it, of course. I wasn’t 90 yet, and I thought I could make it. It’s only about 75 miles, or 85 if you include the Approach Trail.

So I set out to do it.

No rush, but each time I visited my parents I’d do a section of the trail. Our house is maybe 15 miles from the center of the AT in Georgia, so I sort of worked my way out from the middle. Each section had to be done as an out and back stretch — I didn’t want to discommode anyone else by having a car at each end of a section — so in fact I’ve run all of the AT twice.

The closest highway access to the trail (for us) is at Hogpen/Tessnutee and Unicoi gaps so I ran the sections starting at them first. Then I ventured out to Neel’s Gap and Dick’s Creek Gap. Last Thanksgiving I ran from Dick’s Creek Gap to the NC border (at first being confused because Garmin Connect showed the wrong location for the border and suggested that I had not reached it).

This summer I ran from Woody Gap to Hightower Gap. But there I was stuck, like my father, with the start of the trail yet to do.

The problem is that from Woody Gap to Amicalola Falls (where the approach trail starts) is a ~29 mile stretch with no highway access. Now I could run 29 miles in a day… but that would require getting someone to drive me around and leave a car, and I didn’t want to do that. I had run from Woody Gap to Hightower, which meant that all I needed was to run from Amicalola to Hightower which was ~17 miles. Or 34 miles there and back. I’ve run that far in a day before, but not often and I didn’t want to do it unsupported in strange territory.

Of course there are dirt forest service roads that criss-cross the mountains, most of the mountain gaps have some sort of road crossing through them, but they are often in bad shape and I didn’t really want to drive them in a rental car with city suspension.

But my first cousin had hiked the AT from the start up into NC and he had managed to get up to the AT about a mile from the start at Springer Mountain.

This intrigued my father. He had not felt up to the 8 mile hike up to Springer from Amicalola, but felt he could manage a 1 mile hike to it. He still wouldn’t hike the entire trail, but at least he’d get to the start. But now he was worried about the state of the road (my father likes to worry).

So at the beginning of this visit I had ~17 miles of AT to do, and I wanted to scout out the trail and the road for my father.

I decided that I would make two expotitions. The first would start at Amicalola Falls and go up the Approach Trail to the start at Springer, and then continue on the .9 miles to the forest service road to make sure I would recognize it when I drove up the road.

The second expotition was to drive up the road to that spot, park, and run out to Hightower Gap and return. I know it sounds simple. Just drive up the road. The problem is that the roads are often unmarked (or if they are marked have a different name from what is on the map), and the maps show roads that aren’t there (or aren’t visible) and don’t always show roads that are there (but might actually be someone’s long driveway if I really knew the area).

So you can’t look for road signs, and you can’t count turnings.

I expected to get lost.

And I did, but not very.

The road was in worse shape than I had hoped. So on my return journey I looked at a map posted on a sign at the parking area up there (foolish me, I had not brought a map of my own), and saw a road that claimed to reach Ga. 60, a road I knew. So I set out on it. The map had not said how far it was to 60, and although the road was in good condition, it was also much longer than the route I’d taken up. So I reverted to that first choice when I described it to my father.

Sadly, when the day came, my father was not feeling up to it. So I wasn’t able to take him. And then the next day it was raining.

Perhaps on my next visit…

But in the process of scouting for my father I had managed to complete my goal and I ran the last sections of the AT I needed.

ATstartThe Appalachian Trail used to start at Mt. Oglethorpe, but in the 1958 this start was deemed to commercial, and the official start was moved to Springer Mountain. But 8 miles of the original trail remains and has become the AT Approach Trail. Behind the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center is a gate that informs you it is 2,108.5 miles to Mt Katahoin, Maine.

175 stepsAs the name implies Amicalola Falls State Park is the home to a waterfall, and the Approach trail climbs towards this. After a bit it stops being a conventional “trail” and becomes a set of steps. The sign reminded me of various signs in London Underground stations which warn you that there are “320 stairs to climb and only people in good health should attempt this. Otherwise use the lifts.”

There are no lifts at Amicalola Falls.

Amicalola Amicalola


The falls are spectacular though.

425stepsOnce you reach the base of the falls you are treated to even more steps to take you up to the top.

You can’t see the falls from the top. But there is a nice view of the valley below.Amicalola

And here the trail turns back into a trail. It heads off away from the state park and into the woods.

Back at my parents’ house there isn’t much in the way of fall color yet, but here, at a slightly higher altitude the leaves appear to be turning…

East coast trails are marked with blazes on the trees along the route, usually painted but sometimes nailed on. The Appalachian Trail is marked with a white rectangular blaze, and the various spur trails to it are marked with blue blazes. The trail to the hiker’s inn here is marked with a yellow rectangular blaze. That’s a new one to me, I had previously thought that “yellow blazes” was a euphemism for the highway (the dashed yellow lines that divide the lanes) and have only heard “yellow blazing” as a derogatory term to mean someone who hitch-hiked to skip difficult sections of the trail. A little further along I found the Breton MacKaye Trail which was marked with white diamond blazes.
The approach trail is considered a spur and is marked with blue blazes.

GentianA little further up the trail I find my first gentian. I think this is Sampson’s Snakeroot (Gentiana villosa). I don’t see them often, but today they are quite common — I’m not usually here in October and I guess this is when they bloom. I’ve seen one in September, and my sister used to find them at Thanksgiving some times.

The odd thing about these flowers is they never seem to open, they are always closed buds. But today I watched as bumblebees flew to the flower, pulled the petals apart, wormed its way inside, wiggled around, and then came out again. Sometimes when it came out the flower remained open — perhaps this is a signal to other bees not to try pollinating this flower again.

Gentian-Bee1 Gentian-Bee2
Gentian-Bee3 Gentian-Bee4

Eventually I reach the top of Springer Mtn. There is no fancy gate here, just a plaque embedded into the rock.

Now I proceed along the AT.

After a little while I reach the road and there I find a large parking area and a big sign. So I now have a clear idea of where to deposit my father.

The next day I meander around the nameless dirt roads until I find the sign. And then I run out along the AT to Hightower Gap. I have now completed the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

This section of trail is not terribly interesting, but it does have a very nice waterfall about halfway along it.