Posts Tagged With: Snow drive

Winter hike to Blanca Lake

I almost didn’t get up since alarm was on vibrate mode. I woke up at 6, got ready in 20 mins and left my home. A meetup hike with Jim again and I have started to like his hikes and the group. It was a snow drive again and I felt the snow in between was scraping my car’s belly. We were split across 5 cars and mine had the lowest clearance. I realized even Crosstrek’s clearance was not very good enough for the winters here. We started the hike at 9 AM and the first 2 miles was a walk on the washed out road. Then the switchbacks started and it was steep for the next 2 miles. The long distance, snow-shoes weight, previous day’s snow hike and less sleep was all taking a toll on me and my back hurt a lot. The views on the ridge were soothing and the winter wonderland was at its prime with various shapes of snow. We then dropped around 500 feet to the lake. I wasn’t expecting such green lake and it looked vibrant with all the black and white around. We had fun and lunch facing the lake and started our return hike at 1 PM. It started raining slightly by 3 PM and by 4 it had picked up. It was 11.9 mile hike and I was just glad to have completed it. I neither wore snowshoes nor microspikes, my new Quechua boots was excellent in blocking the cold and water but it has a hard sole. So I might get a soft layer below my feet. We all were done with the hike by 5 and started our drive back to Seattle. I was glad with the rain since it washed my car quiet neatly.

Activity Overview

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Categories: Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Winter Hike on Beckler Peak

Sai and I decided to hike Beckler Peak on a Saturday. Since, I knew road conditions were tricky, we drove in my car instead of his sedan. Till about 1.7 miles from the trailhead, there was snow on the road and it was still an ok drive. Then we saw a car(BMW SUV) parked on the side after which there were no tire marks on the road. Also at this moment, I had a short slide on the road towards the mountain on the left. I wanted to try reaching the trailhead in the car itself, so continued driving. I was slow and the drive was not that bad. It was sunny and the temperatures warm enough to be comfortable in just my sweat shirt. We left our snowshoes in the car and started hiking around 10 AM. The weather was near perfect conditions for winter hike – clear sky, Sun’s rays melting the snow into shiny droplets and piercing through the trees and almost non existent wind. Enjoying the ambience, we slowly hiked up, sometimes with knee length snow. There were 3 ahead of us and fortunately for us, they had broken the trail for us. There was a view point with a decent 180 deg views and since the summit had near 360 deg views, I was excited to reach the top. We reached a forest where the trail passed between huge trees with snow on them. Due to the warmth, snow melted and kept falling on the ground. They made such a sound that I had initially thought they were gun shots. Trail was bit wider so there was less chance of falling directly on our head, but still I experienced some sprays and Sai took a shot on his shoulder. My microspikes kept getting stuck on the snow, so I just hiked without them and couple of times Sai found them lying on the trail. All three who were ahead of us turned back without making it to the summit and we decided to do the same due to the interest of time and difficulty of unbroken trail. We went back to a view point and spent ample time enjoying the snow, clouds and surrounding mountains while having our lunch. I had qualms about return journey on the car in the last 1.7 miles, but there were many people on the trail by afternoon with their cars. We had a quick descent and reached Skykomish for a quick snack where we had Hot cocoa and a sandwich. Weather was a pleasant surprise and we had a good day out.

Activity Overview

Photos and Videos here


Categories: Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Polar Express? Na, Ford Escape to Leavenworth

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Every year, around the time of Christmas, Leavenworth hosts tree lighting festival. We delayed our visit to make sure we attend the same in the snow and decided to visit on Dec 19. Fortunately, weather forecast predicted snow on 19th. I chose to take the scenic Highway 2 and WSDOT recommended snow chains/AWD for the drive. After my recent snow driving experience at Yosemite where I drove with snow chains, this time I wanted to try an all wheel drive and I made sure to book it before hand. It was a Ford Escape which provided us fun, exciting and a safe ride.

I, along with 4 other Cornell/Amazon friends, started at around 10.30 AM. After having brunch at Bothell Gurudwara we hit Highway 2 to begin our scenic ride. We were soon spellbound by the snow covered tall mountains along the route. Even though I had been on a snow drive just last month at Yosemite, I was equally mesmerized to see the snow covered mountains and trees. We decided to take a short break at a town to enjoy the scenery around us. We walked to the bridge which stood on a greenish river and wondered about the setting of the town amidst such beauty. After some time we started the drive again.

I drove on the streets of the town to get back to the highway but something scary happened here which helped me drive safely throughout the trip. Unaware of the capacity of traction I was negotiating a turn at quite a speed. This is when I lost control on steering. The car skid to the right and then to the left before getting under control again. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road and it wasn’t a major skid; it however taught me a lesson. After that I drove on the snow with utmost caution. The next 20-30 miles were hilly and covered with heavy snow. I drove carefully, mimicking other vehicles. Other vehicles either had snow chains or were AWDs or driving extremely slowly. Some vehicles zoomed past us and we wondered how were they able to pull it off. Although quite apprehensive at first, I found the drive exciting.  We saw people skiing at Steven’s Pass and the mountain looked quite steep. Every driven mile increased my confidence and I was able to pick up speed and pass other vehicles. During single lane, a slower car would usually delay number of vehicles behind it which in a way was good by keeping everyone’s speed at check.

It was around 2:30 PM, by the time we reached Leavenworth and fortunately we found a parking spot at P4, right across the front street where the tree lighting was supposed to happen. There was snow all around and it was quite cold. Ithaca had taught me well to dress for cold and I was well prepared with layered clothing, cap, gloves, woolen socks and snow shoes. It was a very lively and fascinating atmosphere. The town itself was nestled between the tall snow covered mountains. The streets were lined with Bavarian styled shops and restaurants. There was snow all around and families were having fun time with kids sliding on board from higher areas. Christmas, a family festival was so evident here. Some people had dressed in costumes like angels and Santa. While my friends chose to go to a restaurant, I took stroll admiring the happenings and the architecture. I entered a shop called Kris Kringl which had numerous Christmas decoration items which looked shiny and cute. I liked the snowbabies the most.

After roaming for a while, I went to a nearby waterfront park along with a friend. It was a downhill to the river and people(adults) were sliding and it was fun watching them. There was a broken plastic slide laying around and I slid cheerfully and ended up breaking it into more pieces. I enjoyed being in the fresh snow and somehow felt being home. During my visit to California, i thought it was nice to have sunny weather but realized I like variations. After spending some time along the river admiring golden lights on houses we decided to go back to the front street. We choose to take shortcut instead and ended up climbing a 70-80 deg elevation which reminded me of final ascent in the Himalayas at Rupin Pass. It was around 4:30 PM and we unknowingly had made it to the front street just before tree lighting where everyone were eagerly waiting for the lights. There was a big Christmas tree with lights and decorations around it. After a countdown, first shops and restaurants were lit and then number of other trees. Apparently there were half a million lights, but it didn’t seem so. With the snow covered mountains in the background, lights all around and smiles on people, the town looked amazing. We entered a candy shop and had a delicious hot chocolate fudge. For the first time I was happy that it was dark so soon as we could see the lights and leave for Seattle soon.

My friends decided to take I-90 instead for the drive back. We took Highway 97 first and then hit I-90. There was even more snow on road and heavy snow fall to make things more exciting. I could see the heavy snow bombarding on the windshield which reduced the visibility to say 50-100 mts. We saw number of accidents on I-90 and the recommended speed was 35 mph. Steering wheel was literally shaking under my hands. We could see some cars skidding and going slowly. Holding our breath we covered the distance carefully and quite swiftly. It was one of the most interesting and exciting drives I have had. After driving a Mini Cooper previous week, I found the Ford Escape much more comfortable. With each mile I drove westwards, we felt a gradual rise in temperature from the initial -1C. There was no snow a few miles from Bellevue. We had dinner at Kanishka Cuisine and headed back to Seattle.

My experiences reminded me of the movie Polar Express and I had really loved it (By the way I wrote this post while watching it).


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Snow and coast drive, Sky dive and Hot air balloon ride

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The many number firsts I had in this trip bear testament to my neophiliac nature! This time during Thanksgiving, continuing the culture of making the most of long weekends in a holiday scare country,  I wanted to cover the famous places near Bay area (CA) – Yosemite and Napa Valley with my Cornell friends. Lisha suggested Sky Diving and it was too added to the list. Soon we made a rough plan to visit Yosemite for first 2 days followed by Skydiving at Hollister and Hot Air Balloon ride at Napa Valley. Due to the unavailability of apt camp sites and unpreparedness for cold, we limited Yosemite to a day trip and instead chose to drive through Big Sur the second day. I had a flight from Seattle to SF on Wednesday night. Expecting a huge holiday crowd, I reached airport 4 hours early and ended up exploring the not so crowded airport much to the suspicion of security personnel maybe. This was a much awaited trip due to the range of activities we would be trying. It also overlapped with the birthday of two of my friends. I landed at SFO around midnight and my friends picked me up. We went to their place at San Mateo. I had started suffering from a throat infection.

Day 1(Nov  26): Snow drive to Yosemite
We were 7 of us – Nivi, Sai, Smitha, Shubhangi, Dhiraj, Lisha and me. We got ready and left for Yosemite around 7 AM. Friends had booked a 7 seater Chrysler Town and Country for 5 days. We put the destination as Yosemite info center on the GPS and blindly followed it and I am glad we did. We started to head east, crossed the long San Mateo bridge and then to 580. I took the driving seat and enjoyed the drive between the scenic meadows playing games with friends. Actually, everyday I drove to destination in the day time and Lisha during the return journey. She was kind enough not to let me drive during dark which I wasn’t very comfortable with. After some time, we hit highway 120 where the actual fun started. It was a winding mountainous drive initially which reminded of drives to hill stations in India. Our first stop was at a Vista point which overlooked reddish mountains which I thought was similar to view at Grand Canyon. There started our craze for clicking pictures which never stopped till the end of the trip. Apparently Nivi had forgotten to carry a selfie stick and we teased for that the entire day. We saw snow on oncoming cars and became skeptical about the drive further since we didn’t carry snow chains and the car wasn’t a 4 wheel drive. As we drove further, surroundings started getting whiter and we reached a toll both which recommended snow chains. Fortunately, someone was selling them at the location and after a long wait we bought them and got it installed. It was a different experience driving with the chains. I wasn’t sure what speed to maintain since the car was experiencing heavy friction(short bumps) due to round metal lines across the tire. I chose to maintain the recommended speed and was careful. The drive was exquisite to say the least. Snow on the trees and the fact that the trees still had leaves made the view all the more magical. It was breathtaking and each turn on the road presented us with unexpected scenery. We stopped at various places enjoying nature at its best.

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I phone’s slow mo capture feature was made use of and the videos looked pretty cool. Soon we reached Yosemite valley and could see Half dome and El Capitan. I loved the views of El Capitan which was crowned with dark clouds and a splatter of snow on the top if its sheer vertical rock face.


The drive in the valley was splendid with tall mountains on either side with snow in various places. Upper Yosemite falls too looked wonderful. We removed the snow chains once in the valley and after frantically looking for a restaurant for lunch, we ended up having lunch in car after shopping for food in supermarket. My friends had packed some food too among which Bhakarwadi was my favorite and I kept munching them.  We decided to drive to Tunnel view for Sunset which allows for a scenic vista of Yosemite valley with El Capitan in the left and Half dome in the far right. I had recently updated my mac to El Capitan OS and it has the wallpaper of this tunnel view. Half dome was fully covered with clouds, in fact most of the sky was covered with clouds which obstructed the sun rays. We were expecting some dramatic colors on the rock face but had to be content with just the views of the valley. We choose not to wait till the Sunset and drove back on 140. The lady earlier in toll booth had suggested to take 140 for the drive back to avoid driving in snow on 120 during dark. 140 made its way through the valley in the absence of snow and suns rays painted some beautiful colors on the mountains. So we were glad that we saw best of both worlds. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Shalimar at SF which turned out to be disastrous both in terms of taste and ambience. We went to sleep soon after celebrating Sai’s birthday. My condition had gotten worse and had gotten cold by now.

Day 2(Nov  27): Coast drive on Highway 1 
After taking some medicines in the morning we headed south to enjoy the scenic coastal drive along the pacific ocean on Highway 1. Our first stop was at Lovers point in Monterey Bay. Clear beach water with a greenish blue tint enhanced the view and sea gulls added the charm. We then drove along Sunset drive to reach the starting point of 17 mile drive. 17-Mile Drive is a scenic road, much of which hugs the Pacific coastline and passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions. Non residents have to pay a toll to use the road. With views of pacific water, golf courses in their backyard these mansions looked royal. After enjoying the rough waters beating the coast we continued our drive on Highway 1 to Big Sur. Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains which rises abruptly from the pacific ocean in the west. It is traversed by narrow 2-lane, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the pacific coastline. This was one crazy joyful drive. We crossed an architecturally beautiful Bixby bridge to reach Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. We had lunch while waiting for the parking spot and took a short hike to view Mcaway falls. While the fall itself was very small the setting at which this was located was impressive.


This 80 foot fall lands on the beach itself and flows into the ocean soon after. We then went to see Pelton wheel expecting it to be in a working condition but were disappointed to see a small non-working science exhibition like model. On the way back we made a stop to watch sunset. Sun painted the surroundings orange and had been ages since I had witnessed sunset in the waters. I was feeling extremely cold even with layers of clothes on my body, so tried to cover myself as much as possible.


Along with other Cornell friends we had a tasty dinner at Anjappar.  At midnight we celebrated Shubhangi’s birthday and had delicious cake.

Day 3(Nov  28): Sky dive
This was the big day we all were waiting for. We had signed up for 18,000 feet tandem jump – the highest tandem jump in the world. After reading some posts online, I was very skeptical to dive with my cold but still decided to go for it nonetheless. Making jokes en-route we reached Skydive Hollister and were ready to venture on one of the biggest adventures of our life. After clearing some confusion during billing, each one of us were called by our respective tandem divers. We were made to wear the harness and all the required safety stuff. Some instructors told about few tricks to stay comfortable and safe during the dive and I listened to them keenly. Instructors had worn two GoPros on their hands (one which took pics frequently and other video).

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I requested to jump first so that I would not have to stay longer time in the cold in flight with the doors opened. But my instructor went first into the flight, so would be the last to jump. Soon 4 of my friends and I got in the flight with huge excitement and we sat with our divers facing back. The flight took off and with every gaining feet, our excitement increased too. En-route, our instructors started attaching our harnesses to their suits. One pair jumped at 8000 feet and another at 15000 feet. Soon we reached around 18k (I was tracking this with my sports watch) and it was now our time.

My friends started jumping one after the other. It was my turn in the end and we inched closer to the door. Sitting at the edge of the flight, it was quite scary to look at the ground from such a height. Soon we embarked and the first 1-2 seconds, I got the adrenaline rush. Within no time I was battling the air gushing at me. My instructor tapped me to signal to get into final dive position. Soon my eyes started getting watery and the water filled the goggles which partially blocked my view. I could feel the pressure building up in my ears and air creating ripples on my face. But there was no adrenaline rush and it wasn’t exactly like falling, but more like traveling at a high speed. I was waiting for the parachute to be deployed which would relieve my ears. At around 3500ft, the instructor deployed the chute and I could feel immense pain in my right ear. I clutched it with my hand and enjoyed the close up views of the ground. I saw my friends’ parachutes at a distance. It was fun, especially when the instructor did some circles. We were first ones to reach the land(interesting that we were last to jump and first to land). We landed safely on our hips and I had partially lost my hearing. Sai landed soon after and I asked him to provide some ear tests and I was glad that both my ears were fine.


Surprisingly I didn’t enjoy the dive much. It might have been due to the cold, or maybe because I didn’t have much under my control or because I didn’t have a clear vision during the descent. It wasn’t as great I had imagined it to be. I will know only if/when I jump again without having a cold. Some of my friends said that their instructors kept showing them the places, asked them to do whatever they wanted during descent and one of them even handed the GoPro to my friend. My instructor had been quiet most of the time, except for the few scary jokes before the jump. So, the experience depends on the instructor too. We got into a Limo and we were driven back to the office. It took me about an hour to get my hearing back to normal (after some slow painful valsalva maneuvers). We had lunch while waiting for photos and videos. We still had some time before the day ended and decided to go to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful beach town with a boardwalk containing some games and amusement rides. We tried some rides, fun games and spent quality time on the beach. That evening we saw our skydiving videos and had fun teasing others based on their acts. Dhiraj’s and Lisha’s video had come out really well.

Day 4(Nov 29): Hot air balloon over Napa valley
Since the cold didn’t desert me through the trip, Lisha would prepare hot soup for me every morning and made sure my water bottles were filled with boiled water. She also had made Kashaya for me the previous day. I am grateful for her kind gesture. We had to reach the location (Aloft Hot Air Balloon, Yountville) by 6:30 AM, so we got up pretty early this day. Hot air balloon rides were cancelled for two consecutive days due to bad weather. We called early morning and were told that there were no cancellations.  We departed pretty late in the morning but Lisha’s swift and safe drive ensured that we reached in time.  The town of Yountville was decorated with lights and it looked elegant. We reached the office, had some snacks and listened to the instructions. The take off point was right beside the office from a small ground. It was splendid to see the balloons being blown by the fans. Soon we got onto a balloon called Calypso and were ready to begin the flight.

I stood right below the burner which made me feel warm whenever it was ignited. Our basket was pretty small with 10 of us excluding the pilot. We took off gently and started gaining height. It was around the time of Sun rise and Napa valley looked magnificent. With vineyards below us, other balloons around us and mountains alongside, the view was breathtaking. Look down was a bit scary this time since we didn’t have any parachutes to rescue us. Getting soaked in the beauty and conversing with the pilot, I had an peaceful and enjoyable ride.

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After 40 mins or so we landed gently at a high ground and we were driven back to the office.

We had our breakfast and then drove to Castello di Amorosa for wine tasting. It was a huge castle which was built in mid 90’s based on 13th century architecture. We went on the tour of the castle and visited various majestic rooms. We then went underground where numerous barrels were stored. It was quite a scene. After the tour of the castle we were made to stand at a counter for the wine tasting. We tasted around 10 wines and I absolutely hated the taste. I never enjoyed any hot drinks before and I don’t want to actually. Unsurprisingly, I liked the plain grape juice the most and bought two bottles. We had lunch at a nearby town and drove back to San Mateo. I had hardly slept for more than 5 hours a day since the trip began, and thus decided to take a nap. We ended our trip with a dinner and grape juice later that night.

This was an amazing trip for multiple reasons. Apart from the fact that I tried so many new things, I had lots of fun with friends. Most of my earlier trips had been with family or unknown people. I was very well taken care of by my friends. I am glad to have such awesome friends in my life and hopefully will have more of such trips in the future.


Nikhil Navali

Categories: Adventure, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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