Golden Rush

From glorious Yosemite to city streets, 3 great reasons to visit Northern California

Sentinel Dome
Sentinel Dome. Photo: Max Whittaker

California has been one of my favourite destinations for the past 20 years. I love the pier at Santa Monica, running endlessly along the Pacific Ocean boardwalks, but touring Northern California exposed me to nature in so many new ways. Here are three memorable experiences in the Golden State.

[/media-credit] Waterproof hiking shoes are a good idea on snowy Yosemite trails.

Hiking Yosemite

Yosemite Park is known as the Mecca of the climbing world and it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. There are hundreds of climbs available for the beginner and the hard-core. The scenery takes your breath away and the valley offers numerous day hikes from easy to strenuous, all with captivating views of mountains, sky, waterfalls and valleys.

The best way for us average outdoor adventurers to experience Yosemite is to take a hike. Climb above the tree line and onto exposed rock plateaus that – stay alert here — drop away down steep cliff faces. As a late-spring hike, our path wasn’t completely free of snow, in fact, we found ourselves waist-deep at times in areas that received little sunlight, but for the most part our path was exposed and warm, making us strip off layers of clothing quite quickly. A reasonable level of fitness is required here and the climb up (and down) the slippery slopes can be a little scary, but the reward at the top is so worth it.

We enjoyed a four-hour hike and fairly easy scramble to the top of Sentinel Dome and were rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan, one of the world’s most famous climbs. Wow. An unexpected discovery at the top of the Dome was the Jeffrey pine tree, made famous in Ansel Adams’ spectacular black and white photography. It’s hard to imagine how this tree grew atop a solid granite dome without soil at 8,122 feet.

To help find your way around the park, take advantage of the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide service. This could help you stay on track (no guarantees) and get you to some of the most beautiful viewpoints safely. For families, the area also offers an easy, 18K flat bike ride following designated paths along the valley floor. It is suitable for adults and children alike (rentals included), offering incredibly gorgeous viewpoints to all the highlights of this national park.

[/media-credit] Fishing guide Rick Maier ties a fly.

Fly Fishing

Who knew fly fishing would be one of the highlights of this California adventure?

Our guide Rick Maier, of Yosemite Adventures, made it easy for us. He was the real deal. He took care of everything — waders, boots, fly assembly and the basic techniques of casting to get us ready to head to the water.

I was dropped off alone in the mountains, standing in the cold, raging Stanislaus River, in head-to-toe waterproof gear (very stylish) and this unexpectedly proved to be one of my favourite experiences on this trip.

Practicing the gentle rhythm of casting the line and reeling it back, in this spectacular setting, hearing only the sounds of nature, was meditative and beautiful.

Of course, Maier was only a yodel away, but he made me feel that I was the only person in the wilderness for miles.

Bay to Breakers
[/media-credit] The annual Bay to Breakers run features thousands of costumed runners.

Bay to Breakers Run

I knew when I passed dozens of naked men crowding San Francisco’s Howard Street as I made my way to the start line this was going to be a race like no other. After five days exploring the mountains, I was quite excited to complete this California adventure with what I know best, a road race. What great timing.

Originally developed to help lift the city’s spirits after the 1906 earthquake, it continues to do so with elaborately costumed runners, (or elaborately un-costumed male and female runners, regardless of the official 2009 nudity ban), bands and entertainment along the way, and a lot of extremely happy runners and walkers.

This 12K run took us through the streets of San Francisco, up Hayes Street Hill (it would be impossible to avoid hills in this city), through Golden Gate Park and ended at the ocean with a fabulous party and festival atmosphere,

San Francisco-style.

Bay to Breakers held the distinction of being the world’s largest foot race when 110,000 participants arrived on the start line in 1986. In 2010, it was surpassed by City2Surf in Australia.

For me, this race wasn’t as much about running as about the experience. It was the happiest run I’ve ever done and I absolutely loved it. I have decided to make this my new annual run. Anyone interested in joining me?

California, here I come again.