Every winter, the entire population of gray whales (oceanographers estimate 15,000 to 20,000 of them) travel down the California coastline as they travel between summer feeding grounds in Alaska and breeding lagoons in Baja.
Now's the time to see them up close. And few sightings in nature are more impressive than a 45-foot mammal surfacing for air alongside your boat.
Virg's Landing (Morro Bay) and Patriot Sportfishing (Avila Beach) offer whale-sighting tours until rock cod season opens May 1, as do outfits out of Monterey Bay, San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.
Virg's goes out weekends for 21/2 hours. Tickets are $39 for adults and $29 for kids 15 and younger. Details: virgs.com or (805) 772-1222. Saturday's tour produced five or six sightings.
Patriot offers 2-hour tours departing at 10 a.m. and noon every Saturday and Monday. Tickets are $35 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and younger. Details: patriotsportfishing.com or (805) 595-7200.
Andy Finch Qualifier
When: Jan. 26
Where: China Peak
Attention shredders: This is your chance to impress an Olympic snowboarder and qualify for the Andy Finch Invitational on March 16.
There are separate categories for ski and snowboard slopestyle. Early registration is $10 at The Boardroom or skichinapeak.com and $15 on contest day.
Also, the Central California High School Ski & Snowboard Series holds its first of three races Jan. 27 at China Peak. Disciplines include boarder/skier cross, slopestyle and giant slalom.
News & notes
-- The Mavericks Invitational surf contest will be held Sunday morning near Half Moon Bay. For more details, check out sports.fresnobeehive.com
-- Logan Marlow and Chase Hauber, 16-year-old whitewater kayakers from Three Rivers, will spend the next five months attending the prestigious World Class Kayak Academy. They'll go to Chile for two months to practice their paddling skills and attend classes before heading to the Pacific Northwest for the rest of the semester.
-- Clovis native Mike Libecki is among 10 finalists for National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year. In 2012, Libecki's travels took him to Borneo, Afghanistan, Franz Josef Land, Greenland, the Philippines and Antarctica. Learn more at adventure.nationalgeographic.com.
-- To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, all national parks will waive admission fees Monday. The next free days are April 22-26 in honor of National Parks Week.
-- It's too early to make much of these figures, but snowpack in the Southern Sierra Nevada is 109% of normal for this time of year and 47% of the annual total for April 1.
-- Widow's Tears and Silver Strand, frozen waterfalls on the south rim of Yosemite Valley, were both climbed this week by expert ice climbers. Yes, it's been cold out.