Tag Archives: hiking

Photo Friday – Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

25 Jan

The Abel Tasman trek is one of the easiest ‘Great Walks’ in New Zealand.  Most people take 3-5 days to hike the whole thing and camp, or sleep in Dept. of Conservation huts along the way.  We didn’t have the time, or the gear for an overnight trek, but we really wanted to spend some time walking in the park.  It’s possible to take a water taxi to many points along the track, and walk in either direction.  We opted to head to Bark Bay, which is halfway out.  We walked the whole way back to town, normally a two day walk if you are camping, but without the gear it’s totally possible in one day.  We saw some spectacular coast, and it was well worth the absurd cost of the water taxi, even though we did get rained on for the last 12 kilometers.


Photo Friday – Wildflowers in New Zealand

18 Jan

We are fortunate enough to be tramping around New Zealand in early summer when there are flowers blooming everywhere.  These are super tiny, each flower is about 1/3 the size of my pinky fingernail, but there were so many of them where we were walking this morning that the meadow looked almost like it had a light dusting of snow.

Word on the Street – Trekking the W in Torres del Paine

26 Apr

During our initially planning for our hike on the W in Torres del Paine, I spent hours sifting through material about the park, the hike, gear lists etc.  This post by World Travel for Couples was incredibly helpful for us and contains a whole wealth of information.

I was nervous because we aren’t generally big hikers and I wanted to make sure that we were totally prepared.  I stressed about the route, and then I stressed when we realized we’d have to change the route.  I stressed over what clothes to bring, what kinds of food we would need and how much food to bring.  Now that it’s all said and done I can honestly say that I could have spent that time doing other, more productive things.

I had pictured the trail as a great wild wilderness, where we would be out on our own, miles from nowhere, reliant on only ourselves for survival.  While the park is a great wilderness to some extent, it’s also incredibly heavily travelled.  Puerto Natales, where you will stay to base yourself and leave most of your regular travel gear, has built a huge industry around supplying trekkers for this area.  You can buy or rent everything, and I mean EVERYTHING you need in this town. If you do forget something, the refugios along the way have everything you might need, for a higher price of course.

The trails are very well marked.

There is no chance of getting lost, the trail is like a backpackers super-highway, and while there were plenty of times when we were alone, there was always someone just a few minutes behind.  The trails are very clearly marked with signs telling you where you are, and often, how far you have to the next stop.

The refugios that you will come across on the ‘W’ portion of the trek have bathrooms with flushing toilets.  Inside they have hot water available for you to use for free.  If it’s cold and raining you can sit in the dining area next to a fire and play cards, or buy boxes of wine and warm meals.  Occasionally you can find an open electric socket to charge a camera battery.

By the time this post goes up the free sites with the pit toilets will be open for use, and those will provide a considerable amount more of the “wilderness” feeling, but we hear that they too can get really crowded during high season so you’ll never really have to worry if you run out of toilet paper or need an extra package of crackers.

If you want to undertake the 10-day trek you will need more careful planning as the back half of the circuit lacks the amenities of the ‘W’, but as a novice, the ‘W’ circuit is challenging enough to make you proud of yourself, but not so wild as to require any knowledge of how to tie your food up into the trees or start a fire with nothing but a piece of flint and some dried grass.  In fact, you can even decide to just trek with the clothes you need since you can buy full meals from refugios, and if you arrange it in advance, you can rent tents and sleeping bags at specific campsites so you don’t have to carry your own.  One woman we trekked with decided her sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough for her, so for the second and third nights she rented one from the campsites we were at and returned it in the morning.  If you really feel like blowing some cash, you can even sleep in dorm rooms inside the refugios.

At the end of the day, what it all boils down to is this – if we can do it, you can do it.

Here are my personal top bits of advice if you are planning a trip to the park:

*      Even if you don’t stay at the Erratic Rock, you MUST attend their daily ‘3 o’clock talk’.  It is chalk full of info, in English.  If covers what to bring, routes to take, where to buy any food or gear supplies you need, and generally what to expect regarding trail conditions in the moment.  These guys are experts, they spend a lot of time in the park and they know what they are talking about.  You can rent all the gear you need from them (or a variety of other places in town).

*      Bring, or rent hiking poles. I have never in my life hiked with poles, but I swear, with a huge pack on your back they will save your knees on the down-hills and help you balance if you get hit with giant gusts of wind.  They also really help distribute the weight going uphill…”4 legs good, 2 legs baaaad.”

Our daily food bags

*  Think about what will fuel your body.  We met some guys who, I kid you not, brought 4 loaves of white bread, a huge jar of dulce de leche, and a bottle of whiskey for their 4 day hike.  Yeah, they survived, but still…give your body something to work with.  We found it easier to deal with mealtimes once we portioned our food out per meal ahead of time.  We had a huge ziplock bag for each day, and inside was all our food for that day – oatmeal with chocolate and raisins for breakfast.  Trail mix, chocolate, granola bars and dried fruits for snacking while hiking. Noodles or rice and meat sauce in foil bags for dinner.  We also had some random cheese, sausage, and apples that we ate along the way.

*      Speaking of fuel, if you plan to stay at the pay campsites, you don’t need to buy a whole new canister of fuel for your campstove.  Simply root around the “almost empty” bin at the Erratic Rock and pick out a canister or two that feel about half full.  You can use the already near-boiling water supplied by the refugios to get you started and you’ll end up using very little gas.

Justin fills up our bottles from one of the many streams.

*      You only need one Nalgene bottle.  The water from the streams really is drinkable.  Growing up in Colorado I was instilled with a healthy fear of getting Giardia from drinking mountain stream water.  Well, I swear, it doesn’t exist in Torres del Paine.  All the water you encounter is fresh, cold, and perfectly healthy to drink.

*     Bring two sets of clothes – one to hike in, one to sleep in.  When you take your hiking clothes off, hang them outside for a while if you can because, well, they stink.  Does it suck to wear stinky, dirty, damp clothing for four days in a row?  Not gonna lie here, it totally sucks at first, but once you get moving in the morning you just forget about it.  That shower on the fourth day will feel like heaven.

*      Blister band-aids.  If your feet don’t thank you for these, I promise you’ll run across someone who will.

*      Bring a spare camera battery.  We met a few girls who only had one camera between them, and the battery had died.  They were on their way up to the Torres and had no way to capture the moment.  Super bummer.

*      Go to the ‘3 o’clock talk’.  I have to put it one more time because really, you’ll get all the info you need from them.

Miscellaneous Details

At the time of writing….

  • To get to the park there are multiple busses that all leave from Puerto Natales and take you as far as the entrance to the park. Your hostel can probably sell you a ticket.  They tend to leave twice a day – around 7am and 1 or 2 pm, and return from the park twice a day – around 1pm and 5pm.  Cost – 12,000 – 14,000 per person, round trip ($25-30, depending on the company)
  • Entrance to the park for foreigners is 15,000 Pesos, which is about $30 depending on the exchange rate.
  • From the park entrance, you can walk, or take a shuttle for about $5 to the Hosteria Las Torres, which is where we started the trek.  If you prefer to start at the other end of the W you’ll need to take a catamaran across the lake to Refugio Grey, which costs more.  If you start where we started you will end up taking the catamaran back across the lake at the end.  Check for current catamaran pricing, it’s not cheap.
  • Camping in the park is free at some sites, but not at others.  In January 2012 we paid 6,000 Pesos (about $13)  per person for the Los Cuernos site, and 5,000 Pesos (about $11)  per person for the Chileno site.  Prices change though, so check out the website for each of the major refugios before you head out – Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia

Trekking the W – Torres Del Paine, Chile.

24 Apr

One of the original bits of inspiration for our trip was the desire to head way, way south to hike the W in Torres Del Paine, in Chilean Patagonia.  Unfortunately, the park was closed at the end of a December due to a devastating fire that was set by a careless trekker who chose not to follow the rules, and we feared that we wouldn’t be able to see this rugged bit of nature.

We delayed our journey south for a few weeks, which proved to be a wise decision as more and more of the park was re-opened to the public every week throughout January.  Just a few days before we were set to start our trek the entire circuit we intended to hike had officially been opened, though we were cautioned that the most recently opened part (the west side of the classic ‘W’ trek, named for the shape of the route through the mountains) would still be smoky, ashy, and not such a great place to be wandering around in. We decided to play it safe, and shortened our trek to just a ‘U’.

It was the first time that we have been ‘real backpacking’ together, which means carrying all our own gear – tent, sleeping bags and pads, cook stove, and all our food.   Patagonia is notorious for wild weather and it’s not uncommon to encounter anything from blistering sunshine to snow or sleet all in the course of a single day.  We attempted to balance packing enough layers for all the possible elements, while trying to keep our packs at a reasonable weight.

We had attended the infamous “3 o’clock talk” given at the Erratic Rock hostel, which is where we ended up staying both pre, and post-trek in Puerto Natales, Chile.  With their guidance, we diligently separated our food into ziplocks, portioning out each meal for easy access and efficiency.  We brought mostly lightweight, carb-rich and sugar loaded food such as oatmeal, noodles with packets of meat sauce, granola, peanuts, and tons of chocolate bars and caramel candies.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be eating chocolate every few hours to keep my energy up, and knowing all the while I was definitely burning it all off.

Ready to go!

Looking ahead.

We set out with high hopes and heavy packs, and day one was fairly uneventful.  We chose to trek first to the Campemento Cuernos, the traditional middle part of the W.  We originally wanted to be able to stay in one of the free sites in the French Valley, but due to the fire the camps were closed so we knew we’d need to stay two nights at Cuernos to accommodate a long 26 kilometer day hike to the valley and back.

One of many river crossings

Towards our first campsite

The big attraction at Torres del Paine is, well, the Torres.  However, we had heard that the French Valley was majestically beautiful, and we were looking forward to spending the whole day exploring the valley.  The day started out beautifully and it didn’t take us as long as expected to reach the base of the valley where, unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse.

Storms in the French Valley

As we made our way over giant boulders, past glaciers, and wound our way into the forest at the top of the ridge, the weather turned from chilly and drippy to downright freezing with whipping winds and sideways rain and snow.

I swear, there's a view back there somewhere!

We made the push to the very top where the last mirador (viewpoint) lay just to say we did, but we weren’t able to see much.  By the time we made it back down to camp we were soaked, exhausted, and my feet had multiple blisters.

The next day was another big push, retreating out of the campsite and up towards the towers.  We started early and made good time, though we ended up stopping at Campamento Chileno instead of continuing another hour up to the free site at Torres.  My feet felt like they were on fire and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue standing, let alone hike another 5 kilometers.

Down into the last valley before the Torres

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing inside by the fire and debating the merits of waking at 2:30 am to hike the last two and half hours in the dark to see the Torres at sunrise.  We ended up deciding to sleep in a bit and start the hike at the more reasonable hour of 7.

The next morning we made it to Torres in great time since we weren’t weighed down with our heavy packs, and we were greeted with clear skies, and only a few other trekkers marveling at the immensity of the stone towers.

The Torres in the freezing morning

On our way down we began to encounter huge groups of hikers on their way up, as well as people on their way down who had stayed at the free Torres campsite and gotten up early to see the towers at dawn.  Apparently, there was nothing much to see at dawn as the sky hadn’t yet cleared, so it turns out we’d had the perfect timing – arriving after the sky cleared, but before the bulk of the late-morning crowd appeared.   We rushed back to the campsite, packed up all our gear, and started down the mountain, for the last 8 kilometers.   My feet screamed at the thought of being back in my hiking boots, so I wore my New Balance barefoot trail runners for the remainder of the day and while I might not recommend them generally for multi-day hiking, they were so much more comfortable for my aching feet.

We arrived to the end of the trail with plenty of time to spare before the shuttle left for Puerto Natales, so we rewarded our tired bodies with huge glasses of beer and some of the most expensive hamburgers we’ve ever eaten.  I have to say, after 4 days of oatmeal and ramen noodles with tomato paste, those hamburgers were the most delicious things ever!

We made it!

After it was all said and done, we had hiked around 60 kilometers in 4 days, consumed something close to a million calories in chocolate and peanuts, and realized that we are more ‘outdoorsey’ than we thought.  With the exception of one trip a million years ago when I was in college, we just don’t tend to do these kinds of multi-day outdoor hikes.  We weren’t really sure what to expect, and we were both pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed ourselves. Initially we were really disappointed to not be able to do the last part of the ‘W’ trail.  The thing is, Torres del Paine isn’t going anywhere, and we can always come back to finish the circuit.  In fact, when we come back we plan to do the full 10-day loop, which promises to be even more spectacular than the glimpse we saw in our 4-day version.


Word on the Street

In the interest of not making a blog post into a novel, I’ve made a separate post dedicated to what you might want to know if you’re thinking of doing this hike.  Look for it in the next few days!

Until then, check out the slideshow on Flickr!

Blown Away in Patagonia

4 Apr

The title pretty much says it all.  We had heard that we should expect some ferocious winds during our time trekking Torres del Paine in Chile and in the Parque National Los Glaciers  in Argentina.  We sort of thought people were exaggerating when they said you might literally be knocked down sometimes, but that’s exactly what happened to me on more than one occasion.  The winds can supposedly reach speeds, in bursts, of 180 kilometers per hour!  We didn’t feel anything that strong, but there were times when it was strong enough that we had to just give up for a bit, sit down, and wait it out.

So far, hiking in Patagonia has been one of the highlights of our trip.  We love the feel of the small mountain towns, and just when you think the scenery can’t get more spectacular, it does.  We’ve got lots to say about each of these parks, but for now we’ll leave you with a video of some of our windiest moments.

How To Hike Colca Canyon, Without A Guide

28 Nov

**UPDATE (March 2018) – We still get loads of hits on this particular post, which leads me to believe that guidebooks still aren’t giving great directions on how to do this (get it together guidebooks!).  There are a number of readers who have written posts of their own with updated pricing etc – you can find links to those in the comments, or the section below the comments (Trackbacks/Pingbacks).  We would highly encourage you to check those out as well to see what’s changed since this was originally posted.**

Really, the only reason we went to Arequipa was to hike the Colca Canyon.  Originally it was going to be our test hike to see how well Justin’s leg might hold up on the Inca Trail (he had a muscle tear, no fun), but even after we decided not to trek to Machu Picchu, we still wanted to take this hike.  Why?  Well, partly because it’s billed as the world’s second deepest canyon, and partly because we didn’t hike the Inca Trail, so I was bound and determined to hike SOMETHING for more than one day in Peru.

Colca Canyon is a big tourist destination, and as such, there are about a million different tours or trekking packages available from every single “travel agency” or hostel in Arequipa.

Lonely Planet suggests that you can do the trip yourself.  Unfortunately, the edition we have doesn’t give a whole lot of info about how exactly you do that, and I am not the kind of person who feels comfortable setting out on 3 day hiking trip without some fairly solid details, or at least a decent map.  After searching around quite a bit online (tons of people have done the trek alone and posted basic itineraries), and pestering the moderatly helpful agents at the tourist info booth in Arequipa, and then asking around a bit at Cabanaconde, we managed to figure it out.  However, it would have saved a whole lot of time and quite a bit of stress to have found some detailed instructions somewhere.  To that effect, I present –

How To Hike Colca Canyon Without A Guide.

This is long…if you don’t plan on hiking the Colca Canyon, you could just stop here and check out the slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Disclaimer – I am just a regular person, writing about MY experience.  I hope you find this helpful, but it certainly shouldn’t be your only source of info.  Please ask around before you head out to make sure things haven’t changed, and obviously, use your own common sense.*

1)      You need to get yourself to Cabanaconde, where the hike begins.  This is about a 6 hour bus ride away from Arequipa.  There are a number of bus companies that go there including Andalucia, Milagros, and Transjesa.  The booths seem to be clustered on an island in the center of the central bus station rather than around the edge like the long-distance companies.  You can buy tickets from a travel agent, but they will charge you an outrageous commission. We opted to take a combi to the main bus station (Terrestre) and just buy one way tickets the day before we left.   Most combis seems to go there, ask around as to where to catch one near where you are staying.

Cost: 16 soles one way.

2)      If you want to avoid spending a night in Chivay or Cabanaconde you can take an early morning bus to Cabanaconde – they seem to go around 1am, 3am, 5am, 6am and hike all the way down the same day.  We took the 6 am, which got us in around noon.  We had time for lunch, and then had no problems hiking down to our first destination that same day.  Taking the 1 or 3 am bus seems masochistic.  The reason people do it is to stop at the Condor viewing overlook when the birds are supposedly most active.  We aren’t really into birds, so we didn’t care about that, but I will say we saw one from the bus, and many while hiking so unless you are REALLY a birder, choose sleep and go with the 5 or 6 am bus.  It also seemed like if you got off the bus at the viewing spot, you’d be stuck there for at least another hour until the next bus came along.  If you’d rather hike in the morning, you can stay at either Chivay (about 3 or 4 hours into the bus ride from Arequipa there is a stop at this town, they apparently have a hot springs and places to stay) or at Cabanaconde.  If you go during high season it might be worth making reservations somewhere in advance, but it seemed utterly dead mid-November.

3)      At some point you will have to buy the tourist boleto.  People in the past have argued that this is a scam, but you really do need to buy one, just like you do in the Cuzco area.  We got ours in Chivay while the bus was reloading, but we could have bought one in Cabanaconde as well.  Officials with green or beige vests and clipboards have them for sale, and you have to buy one, there is no way around this.  They are square, and MAKE SURE they have a rectangular tear-off section attached for “control” at the end of the hike.  Ours got lost along the way and we nearly had to pay again.

Cost: 35 Soles per ticket.

4)      We tried with diligence to find a trail map.  We could not.  We found a few rough maps online that people had scanned, and those turned out to be the same at ones that were given to us by hostel touts upon exiting the bus at Cabanaconde.  There seems to not be anything better, and we did just fine with these, so I imagine unless you really get off track, you should be ok.  There are two different basic maps, with estimated times, but they are NOT to scale and NOT technical.  Here is one, and here is another.

5)      To get to the trail depends on which route you take.  We wanted to hike down to San Juan de Chuccho the first night, then onto Sangalle the second day, and then back up to Cabanaconde.  If you want, you can just head straight down to Sangelle one day, and back up the next.  If you are in good shape you could do it all in one day as it apparently only takes about 2 hours to get down that trail, and it took us 4 hours to hike back up.

This sign shows the way to Sangalle, but it marked the finale of our journey as we headed back into the main Plaza.

To Sangalle – follow the gigantic sign just off the main plaza by the Hostel Valle Del Fuego.  It points you in the correct direction, which leads down a street (no turns, just stay on that road) and eventually into a cornfield where you follow a rough path that ends up on a trail that really looks like a ditch, where you will turn left.  The ditch leads you directly to the proper trailhead and a control checkpoint where you will have to show your boletto.  You will likely doubt that you are on the right path, but we saw a number of hiker groups on that path on our way out, and you can always stop and ask a local if you’re headed the right direction.

The trailhead to get to San Juan de Chuccho

To San Juan de Chuccho– Facing the church in the main plaza, go down the road that runs along the left side of the church.  After about 3 blocks you need to turn left onto a street that is ‘more’ paved with stones than with dirt, and after a few more blocks you will end up on an actual paved road, which is the one the bus comes in on.  After about 10-15 minutes you should pass a large football stadium on your left, and shortly after you will be at the overlook Mirador de San Miguel where there is an actual trailhead sign.

Hiker footprints *generally* mean you are on the right path.

6)       Stay on the main path.  Do not take shortcuts.  Shortcuts increase erosion, and the place is slippery and rocky as is, so don’t encourage any more small landslides!  When you come to a fork, take the bigger path.  If you see a lot of hiker footprints, you are probably on the correct path.  There are not many forks, and when there was, there was always a very obvious ‘main’ path.

7)      It took us about 2.5 hours to get all the way down to the bottom where there is a little bridge you have to cross.  We had to show our boletos here as well.

Justin outside our Rivelino house accommodations.

8)      There was a woman waiting at the bridge who took us to the Rivelino’s House in San Juan de Chuccho where we spent our first night.  There is another place to stay in this village, Roy’s House.  If nobody is at the bridge waiting to take you somewhere, you can take either path leading to the village (there are two, apparently they go to the same place, the lower path is very steep for a short bit, but is quicker.  The upper path meanders a little, and thus takes a little longer).  There were directional arrows and signs painted on big rocks along the trail that would lead you to either Roy’s or the Rivelino’s house.

We thoroughly enjoyed staying at the Rivelino’s House.  They had a number of huts/rooms that were basic, but clean.  There were hot water showers, flushing toilets, and a little store with beer, water, tp, some candy, etc.  They also served a basic but filling dinner (I believe we had beef, some veggies and rice, if you are vegetarian you might just get pasta). The next day we had a lovely breakfast of banana crepes drizzled with caramel.

We were the only people there without a guide, and we seemed to get the exact same service/meals that everyone else did, with the exception of dinner.  We were the only people to get meat.  I can’t imagine that everyone else (maybe 15 people) were vegetarians, so I suspect it’s just what the guided groups either carried in or contracted to pay for since it’s easier to serve a batch of spaghetti than to cook 15 steaks.

Cost : room was 8 soles per person

           dinner was 8 soles per person

           breakfast was 5 soles per person.

Did you get to this bridge? Then you are going the right way!

9)      The next day we were up early and on the trail by around 8.  To get to Sangalle you have to go through two small villages – Cosnirhua and Malata.  You can alternatively head out to Tapay, which we didn’t do, and then loop back around.  The locals pointed us in the right direction, and we just followed the path around the side of the canyon, and eventually down to the bottom again where we had to cross another small bridge.  I was worried we would accidentally take the turn-off to Tapay but we didn’t, and in fact I’m not really sure where the turn off is so if you want to go that route, I suggest you just ask before you are out of San Juan de Chuccho.  It took us around 30 minutes to reach the bridge, and then it’s uphill for around 45 minutes to the town of Cosnirhua.

10)   Once at the edge of the town of Cosnirhua there are two paths you can take.  The one headed left will take you on the edge of town, the one leading the right will take you through the town, but they meet up again at the end of the village.

11)   It takes about 20 minutes to walk between Cosnirhua and Malata, and it was flat and easy.

Justin is excited that we can find beer in this little village.

12)   In Malata there is a hostel with a little store and a museum.  All the tourist groups stop here and are served the fermented corn beer (which seemed warm and terrible) and are given a little red smudge on their faces from the cactus.  As we had already played with the cactus smudges on the trail, I didn’t really feel like we were missing out.  The store has all the basics, pasta, soup packets, rice, soda, water and beer.  The beer apparently used to be only 5 soles, but it’s now 10, so you’d be better off just waiting until Sangalle.

13)   From Malata the trail continues very obviously down to Sangalle, it took a little less than an hour for us to get down there.

The pool at our hostel in Sangalle

14)   Sangalle is odd because it’s not really a town, just a series of little resorts.  There are at least 4, and I strongly suggest you look around before you accept a room.  We made the mistake of being lazy and just saying yes at the first place we came across in Sangalle, Oasis Parisio, which apparently used to be quite nice, but is now a total shithole a bit rundown.  Our hut was tolerable, but had dirt floors, and we heard afterwards that the two places beyond it are newer and have tile.  The whole ‘resort’ is in a bit of shambles, and I wish we had just sucked it up and found our way to the next place.  Unfortunately it rained most of the afternoon that we arrived so we only got to enjoy the pool for a little while.

Cost: 10 soles per person for a room, unless you get a matrimonial       (double bed) and then it’s 25.

10 soles per person for dinner – soup and pasta.

They also serve breakfast (7 soles) and lunch (10 soles) but we didn’t partake.  We just bought a few bananas the next morning to supplement the bread and granola bars we brought with us.

15)   To hike back up was very obvious…you just go straight up. It’s mostly switchbacks, and there were no real splits to confuse you.  Hiking times vary greatly…we did it in four hours.  Some English guys that were also staying at the Oasis made it in about 3hrs 15 min, and there were a few other guys who claimed to have done it in just over 2.  If you are in great shape and acclimated to the altitude I’d say between 2-3 hours is reasonable.  If you are in terrible shape, give yourself 5+ hours.  The average seems to be 3-4 hours.

A much needed rest about halfway up.

We started around 6:30am to try to avoid some sun, which was a good idea as there are no trees or shade other than the sides of the canyon before the sun is up. After about 2 hours we had reached this little overlook with a little hut and a place to sit.

If you just can’t (or don’t want to ) hike back up, you can hire a mule from every hostel in Sangalle.  We didn’t do this so I can’t speak to the actual cost, but Lonely Planet puts it at around 60 Soles.

16)   At the top there was a control guard who needed the tear off pieces from our boletos that we didn’t have.  We got lucky and he eventually let us pass without it, but we were a bit nervous that we were going to have to pay a fine or something.

I swear this is the trail. Ok, it might ALSO be a ditch, but it really is the trail.

17)    Once at the very top you follow the path into something that looks like a ditch (you will probably be thinking “no way is this the right way…”), then when you see the cornfields you go over the small wall to your right onto the path through the corn and follow that into the town and right onto the road that has the Hostel Valle Del Fuego and onto the main plaza.

18)   You can buy your bus tickets when you get back (might be a good idea in high season to do this before you hike down, just make sure to be back up in time!).  The bus times change frequently, but we caught one at 11:30 headed back to Arequipa.

Cost: 16 soles one way

Our total cost per person for the whole three days (including all water, some beer, food that we brought as well as meals in the canyon, lodging, transportation and entrance tickets): 140 soles per person

Did we save a ton over the tours? 

No, but most tours didn’t include the boleto though, so without that we did cut the cost by at least 1/3. Prices seemed to land around 150 Soles for some type of 3 day package, though what you get for that 150 varies.  Some tours offer no hiking at all, they merely cart you to a number of spots on the rim of the canyon to see the condors and to marvel at the depth of the valley, others take you to scenic overlooks, spend the night in Cabanoconde or Chivay and then have you trek down to Sangalle (the oasis) on the second day, and trek you out on the third.  Yet others offer a solid three days of hiking where you get to spend 2 nights in the valley, usually one in a village and the other in Sangalle.  If you’re looking at a tour, make sure you know exactly what the itinerary is as well as what’s included – will they provide all the meals?  Snacks?  All the water? One thing most companies don’t include in the cost of their trip is the tourist boletto that MUST be purchased in order to enter most villages in the area, including Cabanaconde.  As of November 2011, it was 35 Soles, but rumor has it that price is about to double.

Incidentally, Lonely Planet’s suggestion of the company Colca Trek, seems totally out of whack for the otherwise budget friendly guide.  Colca Trek quoted us 690 soles for a 3 day tour that included one night of camping at the oasis, and one night at the top of the canyon.  The stopped at a number of places along the way to look at the vicuña and some natural landscapes as well.   It may well be one of the better tours in the area, but the price just about blew us out of the water.

Would we have rather taken a tour considering how close the cost was?

No.  It was nice to be able to do things at our leisure, and not feel like we were being rushed, or having to wait on people. It also was really easy to do on our own.  If you don’t hike much in your day-to-day life, or just want to have the added comfort of going with someone experienced, then I’d recommend a tour.  Just make sure you shop around and are very sure what exactly is included before you put any money down.

What did we bring with us?

One outfit to hike in – we wore it each day for 3 days (with new socks and personals each day)

One outfit to sleep in

Sleep sacks (which we didn’t need)

Swimsuit for Sangalle

Lightweight towel

Two giant (2L, heavy but necessary) bottles of water (bought a third in the canyon)

A few bananas, 6 granola bars, 2 chocolate bars, and 4 rolls.  The rest of our meals we bought at the hostels or had en route in Cabanaconde

Headlamps – a must, most places in the canyon do not have electricity.

Flip flops

Warm fleece for night, it gets COLD.

Hats with brims

Sunscreen and bug spray.  There is no shade, you will get fried.  There are also these little flies that bite in Sangalle, highly irritating.

Basic first aid kit with advil, band-aids, sports tape, dehydration salts, anti-bac, immodium and water treatment tablets.

Rain jackets

All the money we needed for the whole time as there are no ATMs in the canyon.  Bring small bills.

With, or without, a guide, we’d definitely recommend this trek if you’re in Arequipa and have at least 2 days to spare.

How To Spend a Week in Acadia National Park

10 Oct

Acadia National Park, located on Mount Desert Island in northern coastal Maine, boasts a beautiful combination of natural features.  It has mountains, lakes, forests, rocky and sandy ocean coastline all intermingling in its 47,000+ acres.

If you’re heading to the area for the first time, check out the following websites for park info http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

and general information about the area: http://www.acadiamagic.com/activities.html

Carriage Road in Acadia National Park

There are many ways to enjoy the scenery of the park, the most straightforward of which is to get yourself a great map, and start walking the many carriage roads and hiking trails.  There are more than 50 miles of gravel carriage roads and stone bridges that are great for walking or biking.  Hiking trails can be accessed from many of the carriage roads if you are looking for some variety in your terrain.  The ‘Around The Mountain’ carriage road is a worthwhile 12-ish mile loop that takes you through the forest, past Jordan Pond, and up around a variety of the smaller mountains including Penobscot, Sargent, and Parkman.

As for hiking trails, the mountains are small, most being less than 1,500 feet but many trails are steep and offer a worthy, if short, hike.  It is easily possible to climb multiple peaks in one day.

View from the Peak of Cadillac Mountain - towards Bar Harbor

Cadillac Mountain, at 1,532 feet, is the tallest point on the Northern Atlantic seaboard.  The summit can be reached by car off the Park Loop Drive or accessed by a number of different trails.  We opted for the Cadillac West Face Trail, which is the shortest, but steepest (and full of rock scrambling)  route to the top.  After about a mile the trail connects with the Cadillac South Ridge Trail for an easy half-mile finish to the summit.

Cautionary sign at head of the Beehive

For the adventurous types, the Beehive and Precipice Trails offer heart-pounding non-technical rock climbs up nearly vertical cliffs.  The Beehive is a great warm-up at only about a half-mile to the top and will give you a good idea as to whether or not you are up for the more challenging Precipice trail, which finishes at the summit of Champlain Mountain (1,058 ft).

If climbing iron rungs isn’t your thing, you can also take a number of other trails to reach the top, including the short and sweet Champlain North Ridge Trail, which is an easy mile (one way) hike.

If you want something very mellow, but incredibly scenic, the Jordan Pond loop is an excellent 3 mile loop around, you guessed it, Jordan Pond. Afterwards, stop at the Jordan Pond House for some delicious hot (or cold, depending on the season) chai tea and fresh popovers.

Stop for popovers and tea while you look across Jordan Pond

Another flat and mellow, if probably crowded during high season, walk is the Ocean Path.  You can park just off the park loop drive in the Otter Point parking lot, and then walk north along the coast.  It’s 1.4 miles to Thunder Hole, then another .7 miles to Sandy Beach.  There are ample places to stop for a photo op, or just to wander out onto the cliffs and enjoy the scenery.  You can easily catch one of the free park loop buses along the way to get back to your car.

One of the many views from along the Coast Path

Outside of the park itself, there are a plethora of activities to suit all tastes.  Bar Harbor is the biggest of the towns in the area.  There are many shops and restaurants, all easily within walking distance of just about anywhere in town.  One notable free activity is the walk to Bar Island, which is located just north of the town.  Bar Island Trail (starts at the end of Bridge Street) is only passable at low tide when the gravel and shell path appears and leads to the small island.  There is a little walking trail that leads to the top of the island and has great views of Bar Harbor during good weather.  You can begin walking across about two hours before low tide, and just make sure to return before the next high tide or you’ll be stuck on the island!

A lovely walk to Bar Island, even in misty weather.

Southwest Harbor, on the other side of the island, offers a quieter scene for those looking to relax without the crowds.  Red Sky is probably the best restaurant in town, with incredible meals and an ample wine selection.

There are also many companies offering kayaking, whale watches, lobstering trips, sailing, glider tours, and much more.

Although we were thoroughly blissed out during our trip to Ogunquit earlier in the month, we completely fell in love with this more rugged part of Maine.  If we could have stayed for another month, we would have.

Hiking Mt. Ascutney – The Weathersfield Trail

21 Aug

One of our goals for our time in Vermont was to hike at least 3 times per week to prepare ourselves at least a little for the massive amount of hiking we’ll be doing in South America.  Mt. Ascutney is a great mountain for our purposes because it has 4 different trails to the summit, all within a half hour drive from our house.

Not more than a few days after our arrival in Vermont we jumped right into the fray and our first hike was on the Weathersfield Trail, which was listed as “moderate” according to the Chamber of Commerce.  I hiked a fair amount growing up in Colorado, and even some here in Vermont over the years, but I was not prepared for the Weathersfield.  The trail starts out as a lovely pine-needle covered path, and while it’s certainly uphill, you get a beautiful view and a small waterfall at about a mile in.  After this point though, the trail gets more serious.

The trail

There is a significant amount of scrambling over rocks, it is consistently steep, and there are huge chunks of the trail where you have to pay close attention to the markings since there is quite literally no real path.   Justin and I were not happy hikers, but we managed to reach the summit and were rewarded with the great view.

Finally we made it above the mist!

Why was this trail so difficult for us?  Maybe it was because it was one of the hottest days of the summer.  Perhaps it was because it was the first hike we’d done in over a year.  It could have had something to do with how much beer we’d had the night before.  In any case, we were wiped out, sore, and felt defeated by what should have been a fairly straightforward 6 mile hike.

I’ve been avoiding this particular hike for the last few weeks due to the bad memory, but this week a friend was visiting and was up for a good hike, so we decided to try to tackle it again.  We started out early and were the first car in the lot.  We kept a steady pace, and while it was just as steep and scrambley as I remember, it somehow wasn’t as hard.  By the time we reached the summit we had shaved at least 30 minutes off my first ascent time.

Much happier camper the second time around!

There are a plethora of reasons this was easier than the first – it wasn’t as hot, we had gotten plenty of sleep, and I’ve been hiking and/or running an average of 18-25 miles per week, which I suspect made all the difference.

Nothing beats some Moxie after a long morning on the mountain!

At this point I’ll still call it a heft half-day trek, which is just under 6 miles with about a 2000 ft ascent.   It’s got some great views though with at least 3 excellent overlook spots and a fantastic panoramic view from the observation tower at the summit.

%d bloggers like this: