Tag Archives: mountains

“Hello winter” Maligne Lake canoe trip

This trip was just awesome! Great people, great scenery, and so many laughs. We had “paradise to ourselves” for two straight days. Top three trip of summer for sure along with Berg Lake and Mt Temple.

"Paradise to ourselves" at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.
“Paradise to ourselves” at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.

It sounds like everything went as planned right? Don’t be fooled though, it didn’t start out as well as it finished. There were problems. Like waking up…

A big night out for birthday celebrations the night before didn’t help our cause. We could forget “let’s be paddling by 10am”. Just pretend that was never said – we only began paddling at 12:20pm. We didn’t know if we were going to make it! We still had 22 long kilometres ahead of us to get to Coronet campground.

The first couple of hours didn’t get much better either even though our spirits were sky high. We had our first break only a few hundred metres from the start, we were battling into a headwind, and at our first change over break Joel discovered his only jacket was dripping wet. Of course he left his other jacket at home and only had packed a sleeping bag and some food into his huge backpack.

Joel discovers his jacket mishap.
Joel discovers his jacket mishap.

Despite the less than perfect situation we were all as happy as kids in a candy store. Joking about how crazy we were going on a canoe trip while it’s snowing and daily highs of just 5 to 7 degrees. We wanted to check where we were on the map but of course we didn’t know where the map was (when I got home I found it in my pocket).

We knew we had to do two things though. Keep paddling and most importantly keep this canoe the right way up. Capsizing here is no joke. So we did our best to keep near the shoreline out of the way of the tour boats’ wake. Jackie was the expert on this front, us Aussies need serious practice at keeping a canoe straight!

Thankfully the headwind disappeared after the first break and paddling became a soothing and relaxing motion. The sun even came out for a while and everything was just perfect. The mountains were beckoning in the distance, and the blue waters extended as far as the eye could see.

h
The mountains got bigger and more dramatic the further we paddled.

There were a few moments where it looked like the lake just ended, even though we knew it didn’t. It reminded me of how your eyes play tricks with your mind when climbing a mountain. It looks like the summit is just ahead until you get there and find it was just a false one.

Because of the “ahem” map issue, we only found out where we were when we stumbled upon Spirit Island. Somehow we completely missed our bail out option of Fishermans Bay campground, but it was all good. We were going to make it!

We knew the world famous Spirit Island was 15km in so with another two hours of paddling to go we had time to burn baby. A break on the island was in order.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
We’re here already! Going to make our goal.

On a side note the reason Spirit Island is famous is because an amateur photographer entered the image into a photo contest, and won first prize, upon which the photo was enlarged to billboard size and displayed in Grand Central Station, New York for a number of years.

Another interesting note is that the island is only an actual “island” for a few weeks of the year when the glacial waters melt and fill the lake. The rest of the time it’s still connected to the land, as you can see above.

From Spirit Island to the end of the lake the mountains loomed all around us. It was a sight to behold and Joel and I both agreed that these landscapes rival the Berg Lake region for sheer dramatic scenery.

We headed that way!
Not too much further…

We made camp just before dark and enjoyed a fire and warm pasta, which never ceases to do the trick after a long day. Once again, there was no one else around and upon signing the book we proposed the idea “will we be the last ones to camp here in 2013?” Joel volunteered to come back next year to confirm or deny our hopeful suspicions…

The next day we unfortunately had to leave this place and head for home. The weather was cloudier, colder, and snowier today, but not to worry. The “Earlybirds” as we ironically called ourselves can handle any deadline.

Needless to say we got underway later than planned and pulled away at 11am. This time only 2 hours behind schedule – we’re improving!

Beautiful surroundings.
Beautiful surroundings.

A few hours of paddling and the weather took a bit of turn. The waves picked up beyond what’s comfortable in a canoe, which lets face it isn’t much, so we pulled ashore and waited it out. Jackie amazingly found comfort sleeping on a tree trunk! We really connected with nature on this trip that’s for sure.

Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.
Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.

Strangely after this point the waters were almost as flat as a pancake. Brilliant paddling even if the temperature plummeted from a balmy 5 degrees down to a biting 2.8 degrees. Then it started snowing even more. All layers of clothing on!

Team Earlybirds in full flight.
Team Earlybirds in full flight.

With one last break and the end in sight we jumped in the canoe for the last time. Within an hour and a half we were back at the dock. Mission complete. Against all odds we had made it.

For all of us it was our first canoe trip. 44km in 15 hours of paddling in less than perfect conditions.

What a brilliant trip team. Thanks for the memories. And remember even if everyone says “you know there’s snow at Maligne Lake don’t you?” it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

This is going straight to the pool room.
This is going straight to the pool room.
Advertisements

Why do we climb mountains?

In light of me crossing another two mountains off my list on the 9th and 10th of September it got me thinking about why people climb mountains…

9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.

Now I’m not going to try and put such a vast topic into my own words just yet, but I have found some excellent quotes that align with me.

These first three come from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Kathy and Craig Copeland.

“Though unaware of it, human beings exist on the thin seam of extremes: earth, and atmosphere. Only on a mountaintop does this dawn on us. Only then does it exhilarate us. Our reality doesn’t shift when we climb a mountain, but our perspective does. So be it. If that’s what it takes to open our eyes, let’s climb. But for mere hikers to climb it can’t be just any mountain. The climbing must be merely ascending, not dangling from ropes. And the mountain should be close enough to much bigger mountains, so we can revel in the rewards of climbing without assuming it’s risks. (Pathetic, but true.)” p129

On top of Pyramid Mountain looking towards the Colin Range
On top of Pyramid Mountain looking east towards the Colin Range

“The desire to explore is bred in the bone. Hiking fulfills that desire for many of us.” p149

“To promote peace, to advance social justice, to foster more soulful living, we need new ideas. But we won’t find them by hunkering longer at the office, behind the newspaper, or in front of the TV. To change the world, we must join it. We must get outdoors where we can see, hear, feel what’s happening around us. The answer is to walk. It can shift your awareness to the here and now. It’s the optimal pace for allowing your senses to appreciate your surroundings. And, by emulating the rhythm of your beating heart, it balances and centers you, inducing clarity and focus. Walking, anywhere, will open you to what really matters.” p152

Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake
Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake

“One cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

“What is hard to endure is sweet to remember” Unknown

Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid.
Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid. Jasper town is middle right.

So with those deep thoughts I’d like to leave you with a bit of a photo diary of the last couple of days…

First up, Hardisty.

Hardisty is a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
Hardisty was a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
What a spot for a break on Hardisty.
What a spot for a break. Pyramid Mountain is the tall one in the distance on the right.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
On the way down the lighting was awesome!
On the way down the lighting was awesome over Horseshoe Lake and back towards Pyramid Mountain.

And now from Pyramid.

Nearing the top.
Nearing the top from the back side. Still one hour to go from here.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.

Until next time.

Berg Lake trail and back in Jasper

I’m back in my second home, Jasper, and the mountains are a calling. I’ve sorted myself a job until mid October and right now summer is in full swing. There’s no time to waste! Let me explain…

Summer in the Canadian Rockies is oh so short when compared to seven months of snowy winter. Snow snow go away come again another day.

For people like me who want to walk along ridges and stand in places looking down on mountains, summer only lasts two and a half months. That’s it. Mid July until late September.

Let’s break it down. That’s 75 days. Factor in working five days a week and I’m left with 21 days off. Furthermore consider that one in three days are likely to have some form of precipitation that leaves just 14 days.

14 days of work free and snow free summer days. 14 days…

I’ve made a list of adventures for the summer and one of the big ticket items was a three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. It’s a hidden gem behind Mount Robson – the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies by a long shot at 3954m, a whopping 3100m above the visitor centre.

Mount Robson from the highway. It's almost always covered in clouds.
Mount Robson from the highway near the visitor centre. It’s almost always covered in clouds.
Interesting comparison. This was Robson on 21 Dec 2012 when I visited it.
Interesting comparison. This was Mount Robson on 21 Dec 2012 when I visited it.

Ben and I started our adventure hitch hiking from Jasper. We waited an hour which wasn’t too bad and arrived fresh at the visitor centre at midday.

Our destination was Adolphus campground, still a whopping 28km away with a heavy pack.

The 21km trail to Berg Lake is the most popular in the Rockies, so when we started out we were pleasantly surprised. We only saw a dozen others on the trail all day. We figured as it was the day after a long weekend we hit the jackpot. Ding ding ding.

The first 10km was nothing too exciting. Kinney Lake was the highlight, but pressing on and up the first part of the 800m days elevation gain we were engulfed inside the Valley of a Thousand Falls.

Valley of a Thousand Falls.
Valley of a Thousand Falls.

It’s an impressive place. A big wide valley with mountain peaks protruding in the distance and a fair few giant waterfalls cascading down the vertical walls. It reminded me of Yosemite even, and that’s saying something cause that place rocks.

The most awesome part though was witnessing a bizarre stream junction. One stream flowing with brown water and the other blue water. After intersecting there was a definite line separating the two shades for hundreds of metres.

Brown vs blue
Brown vs blue
The stream in the valley
The stream in the valley

Stretching the legs again the trail turned evil, presenting a steep grade that just spelled out lactic acid. This must have been round about kilometre 12 and over the following 3.5km we gained 450m. But it was worth it.

Up here we glimpsed a rather ferocious looking waterfall – Emperor Falls. I didn’t think too much of it until we branched off the main trail to check it out. Woahhhh!!!

Emperor Falls
Emperor Falls and Mount Robson behind

The endless power in this fall was tremendous. Constant, unrelently, loud. I have to say the most impressive waterfall I’ve experienced. It is a showcase of the extreme forces of nature.

What contributed to it’s impact was we could walk right up beside where the water was crashing down. On our hike out we even braved the tame looking mist (which is actually painfully strong) and stood beneath the edge of the fall. It was like being hailed on!

It really puts things in perspective
It really puts things in perspective. Nature rules.

We reached Berg Lake near sunset and it’s just like the postcard. Bliss.

Ben and I take it all in
Ben and I take it all in. Berg glacier on the left, Mist glacier on the right and mighty Mt Robson.

Camping out in Canada is different than in Australia.

Over here it’s all about securing your food away from a hungry bear’s grasp and definitely not keeping food inside your tent. Unless you want an uninvited guest at night. I slept within reach of bear spray to let my mind rest easy.

We cooked our three course meal of pasta, pasta, and rice well away from our tents and hoisted our food bag up a tree. Even at this height it’s a bit low but it’s the best we could do.

Lucky bears can't untie knots
Lucky bears can’t untie knots

It’s off putting to think a mighty bear might be roaming around me while I sleep but I was fine. Slept great after such an exhausting eight hour grind.

The second day we lightened our loads and hiked up another 800m higher and 25km round trip to Snowbird pass. It was really worth it.

This trail takes you right beside Robson glacier. It’s so close and gave me such an appreciation of the size of it, especially when compared to the tiny dots that were people.

See the people down by the blue pond bottom right...
See the people down by the blue pond bottom right…

On top of that you are presented with a 180 degree view of the Reef icefield upon reaching Snowbird Pass. It’s a great tough day hike, but take note that it’s only open from 1 July onwards.

At snowbird pass. The halfway point of our trip. "It's all down hill from here" says Ben.
At snowbird pass. The halfway point of our trip. “It’s all down hill from here” says Ben.
Ben checks out the view. Not bad, not bad.
Ben checks out the storm on the horizon. Not bad, not bad.

The last day we spent hiking back out with a good dose of time allocated to swimming in Berg Lake and Emperor Falls. We were so so grateful that the sun appeared after we awoke to mist.

There was no way I was jumping in a biting cold Berg Lake with the sun hiding, or the Falls for that matter.

Arrgghhh. The hailing waterfall.
Arrgghhh. The hailing waterfall.
I love this one. Ben just feeling the moment.
I love this one. Ben just feeling the moment.

I said to Ben as we were pacing along the shore feeling refreshed after our swim, “This is just how hiking in the Canadian Rockies looks in guidebooks”.

The sun was out, the glaciers shining, and the water was vivid.

There’s no doubt this is a premier trail and it’s popular for a reason. It presents the most glaciers I’ve seen in such close proximity, plus blue lakes, waterfalls, tall mountains and provides plenty of camping space. Just try to go mid week.

Scaling snowy Mont Blanc

Well at last I’m back on level ground after a remarkable journey skywards to the summit of Mont Blanc – the tallest mountain in western Europe 4810m. What an adventure!

A rare moment where the sun aligned perfectly
Battling upwards

I am writing this post from the perspective of a prospective climber who is trying to find out what’s involved in a Mont Blanc summit. Hopefully I can shed some light on this…

First up I know some people will be put off by Mont Blanc’s infamous record of consistently 20-30 deaths each year. Why is this number so high though?

The reason is Mt Blanc is just so accessible and cheap! That brings potential high altitude dangers such as rapidly changing weather, glacier travel and altitude sickness in direct contact with inexperienced and unassuming climbers.

If you go with one of many reputable guiding companies then you should be fine and have a blast. The people in the most danger are the ones who underestimate the difficulty of the mountain and stroll up in jeans and sneakers. No joke!

I spent a good deal of time researching companies and in the end decided on a company which in hindsight I’d definitely recommend, Mt Blanc Guides. They’ve been guiding on this mountain for 25 years.

A big part of making the summit was acclimatising to prepare our bodies for the 11.4% oxygen levels ahead (at sea level air is 20.9% oxygen) so that’s what we did. We drove a couple of hours into Italy to get a feel for things on Gran Paradiso, a reasonably challenging 4060m peak. Well past my previous highest of 2300m I’d climbed in Canada.

As well as providing good acclimatisation, starting here also gave our guides a chance to test our fitness and to give us a chance to see what we were getting ourselves into. A fair few clients bale out of Mt Blanc after they see just how hard this one is…regardless they still have a blast going on other mountaineering adventures around Chamonix.

The first day was an easy few hours climbing from 1800m to the “hut” at 2750m. I say “hut” because it was more like a hotel than what you envision a mountain hut as. This one had a restaurant, bar and slept more than 50 climbers. Alcohol is the enemy if you are trying to acclimatise so I stayed off it.

It was quite funny that first day though as all eight of us were making sure we didn’t lose a step in order to “pass” the silent fitness test. With a couple of hundred metres to the hut the guides stepped on it and it really felt like a definite test of fitness.

Keeping the pace
Keeping the pace
The hut and Gran Paradiso in the background
The hut on the right and Gran Paradiso in the background

That night was almost sleepless for me as I felt my body working hard to adjust to the lack of oxygen. My breathing was heavy and my heart was racing at 92 bpm. I was also a bit anxious about how I would cope with the altitude.

Summit day was a tough 9 hours but satisfyingly all of us made it and the guides cleared us all to give Mont Blanc a crack. We learned how to use crampons, scramble down rock faces, travel roped together across a glacier and how our bodies coped with altitude.

Making our way down above the clouds
Making our way down above the clouds was remarkable

Thankfully I fared pretty well, I felt a slight headache at 4000m but nothing worse. Still enough to keep me slightly concerned about how I will be 800m higher. Unfortunately there is no way to tell beforehand how your body will cope however the head guide said that only 10-15% of people don’t summit Mont Blanc due to altitude sickness.

After spending a second night at 2750m we descended and spent a night in Chamonix (1000m) before we embarked on the monstrous Mont Blanc the next day.

Chamonix sits on the valley floor and the mountains loom all around. I pointed to the mountain peaks from town and found my arm at a 45 degree angle!

The first day on Mont Blanc was similar to the first one on Gran Paradiso except this time we caught a train from a nearby town up to 2400m, then hiked up to our sleeping quarters at the Tete-Rousse hut at 3200m. It seemed like cheating a bit catching the train but with still 2400m to go I was happy to take the metres.

The Le Nid D'aigle train station was the last stop
The Le Nid D’aigle train station was the last stop
Hiking up from the train
Hiking up from the train. Here we are about 3000m (2000 above the town down there!)

From the hut the route to the summit can be spilt into three distinct sections. First up is the 45 degree rock scramble from Tete-Rousse hut at 3200m to the Gouter hut at 3800m (2-2.5 hrs), next the “Gran Paridiso” like glacier travel up to the Dome du Gouter at 4300m (2 hrs), and finally the scary looking path along Bosses ridge, which is a series of narrow steep ridges, up to the summit 4810m (2 hrs).

Looking head on at the rock scramble is a bit daunting and two out of the eight of us pulled out that night. But how bad was it?

This is a side on picture I took from the Gouter hut on the way back down. You can see the Tete-Rousse hut bottom left and the old Gouter hut top right.
This is a side on picture I took from the Gouter hut on the way back down. You can see the Tete-Rousse hut bottom left and the old Gouter hut top right. 600m vertical difference.

At 2:30am the next morning it was time to roll up the sleeves and get into it. A good 12 hours of effort ahead. The remaining six of us, along with four guides headed into the blackness and what looked like a vertical wall with dozens of head torches shining way way up high.

I thought it was quite fun climbing in the dark and really quite safe too even though it was steeper than I had anticipated. Two of us were roped up to a guide who would catch us if we fell and there were steel cables to grab onto for the worse parts. The last half hour the legs started to burn but that’s expected – 600m vertical is a long way.

A half  hour break in the warmth of the Gouter hut and we hit the trail again. It was sunrise and a magical moment of the day where the snow and the clouds turned a brilliant pink. Everything felt so calm and at peace.

Magical moment
Magical moment

Section two of the climb was just a matter of grinding out slow and steady footsteps for two hours.

The grind up the glacier to the Dome
The grind up the glacier to the Dome du Gouter. See the tiny looking people…

From here standing on the Dome du Gouter we could see the summit for the first time. That was encouraging! I had a slight headache here too.

First sight of the summit
First sight of the summit from the Dome du Gouter. Again if you look hard you can see people…

Funnily enough there is a small descent here before we were greeted by Bosses ridge and a rush of lactic acid to our depleting legs.

There is no doubt that the last hour to the summit was the hardest of the whole climb. I never doubted I would make it but it was a physical challenge for sure.

The final push for the top
The final push for the top. Steeeep!

It was fantastic to come up that final slope and be congratulated with magnificent views and handshakes all round. Eve, Sam and I summitted at 9:15am Thursday 11 July 2013.

On top of Europe!
On top of Europe!
Sam and I
Sam and I

It was cold up there, about -10 to -15 degrees so after some well earned pictures and time to soak up the moment we turned back.

Descending felt so easy in comparison, but you have to keep your head in the game because a fall on the descent is more dangerous.

Sam descends Bosses ridge only metres below the summit
Sam descends Bosses ridge only metres below the summit

1 hour 45 minutes later the three of us were refueling back in the Gouter hut waiting for the rest of our party. Out of the six of us who attempted the climb five made the top. Neil made it to within 150m and had a great story how he was on his hands and knees crawling up! His legs just said “enough” but his mind was not giving in.

The most dangerous part of the whole climb was to come – crossing the Grand Couler just before the Tete-Rousse hut. Rocks become dislodged 600m above and come tumbling down the slope at ferocious speeds.

Neil crosses the Grand Couler. A rock tumbling in front of him :/
Neil crosses the Grand Couler. A rock tumbling in front of him :/ Was it his unlucky day?

We did this section in the dark on the way up so we didn’t appreciate it’s full danger until seeing it in the daylight. The risk is best managed by crossing it at the time when least rocks are falling – at the beginning of summer and in the morning when they are more frozen. Besides that we had spotters watching for rocks. If you are caught in the middle at least you have plenty of time to see it and avoid it.

All in all the week of climbing Mont Blanc was a fantastic experience. Highly recommended by me and one to be remembered for a long time. Now get out there and do it for yourself!

Part 2 – Iceland the Incredible

Where were we up to…oh yeah that’s right. Wind, wind and more wind. Arriving into Swan Lake after the gob-smacking day we were greeted Icelandic style. Erecting our tents became a 4 man job and while brushing our teeth, spitting out became dangerous at the outdoor sinks. The wind blows doesn’t it Christiane?

But despite the high winds and our droopy eyelids we gathered around in the tent and relished the simple pleasures in life. Like being out of the wind (yay), sipping on hot chocolate…maybe with a dash of Bailey’s, and chowing down on a delicious pasta dinner.

Tonight we also discovered that Alli our guide loves to dish out daunting weather forecasts. “So I called the weather station and it’s not good. They say more wind and more rain tomorrow and getting even worse the next day” he said with a big grin and laugh. He’s a mountain man and loves “Icelandic” unpredictable weather.

We managed to drag ourselves out of our cosy cocoons to tackle Day 2 (of the official trail), 18km from Swan Lake to Emstur. This was the day of stream crossings and lava fields.

jj
Feeling refreshed after our first stream crossing

The three stream crossings required boots off, pants up and a walk through icy cold water. We learned good stream crossing technique – pick a shallow section (generally wider), unclip backpack straps, link arms with the stronger person upstream and slowly walk across angling slightly downstream while keeping your eyes on your target – the far bank. We were all super happy to get through all three and not have to face the arctic water….well until tomorrow anyway.

Furthermore some highlights of the day were eerie desert-like lava fields, witnessing angry, “tear you to pieces type” waterfalls and a magical low slung rainbow.

Lunch overlooking a lava field
Lunch overlooking a rock-strewn lava field
This is the most angry waterfall I've ever seen
This is the most angry waterfall I’ve ever seen
A low rainbow.
A low rainbow after the rains

With poor weather forecasts for the coming days we got lucky. Alli pulled some strings and got us into huts for the next three nights. To be fair the weather didn’t fully live up to it’s expectations and we really could have camped but it was a welcome luxury.

Even so we still spent a few days hiking for many hours in sopping wet boots, soaked gloves and depending on how good our clothing was, somewhere between dry and saturated for the rest.

Day 3 we continued along this incredible trail from Emstur to Thorsmork. About 19km and 7 hours of wet and windy work. We made it up ridges, gazed down into inspiring canyons, and finished by making our way up a dry river bed in the shadow of unforgettable glacier tongues.

Here's the old riverbed
The old riverbed that likely carved the surrounding mountians

Surprisingly we even found some actual plant life! A beautiful field of Alaskan lupine flowers. As Paul said as we approached lush vegetation, “Did we just leave Iceland?”

Alaskan Lupines were imported to Iceland from you guessed it Alaska
Alaskan Lupines

The food throughout the whole trip was brilliant and more than enough for seconds (or thirds) and I took full advantage of that! By the end of the trip if someone couldn’t finish their meal they knew who to ask.

Day 4 was the last day of the trail and it was just awesome. As it turned out the bad weather prevented us from taking the originally planned route so Alli made a good call to hike halfway and then re-trace our steps back down.

The trail went up and up until we came to a wind struck plateau about 850m up. From this point on we charged head down through mini blizzard-like conditions ever higher and into snow. We were now in a solid winter environment when just half an hour earlier we were enjoying a peaceful lunch.

One exposed plateau
A wind struck plateau
1000m elevation gain took us right up between two glaciers and into a mini blizzard.
1000m elevation gain took us right up into the thick of things

The sideways sleet stung my face like little pin pricks until we eventually reached our destination and the reason for enduring this – the still warm lava field from the eruption 3 years ago. It’s smack bang between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Mýrdalsjökull hence the crazy weather.

I dug down into the loose gravel just 20cm and it’s still hot! Don’t ask me to explain how but it sure is, Iceland is wild.

The last couple of days were busy but also a welcoming wind down. Ice climbing on Sólheimajökull glacier was brilliant, seeing more thunderous waterfalls, and relaxing in natural hotsprings that got so hot I started sweating.

Iceland is just one of those places!

Ice climbing was a great experience but tough with soft soles boots
Ice climbing was a great experience but tough with soft soles boots
Skogafoss -  a picture perfect waterfall
Skogafoss – a picture perfect waterfall

It was so hard to pick which photos to put in these posts. To see the rest of my Iceland photos click here.

USA roadtrip – Yosemite

Yosemite National Park in California (pronounced Yos-sem-it-tee). Boy oh boy. The closest thing to paradise I’ve seen and the highlight to date of my USA roadtrip.

Waterfalls galore, tremendous glacier carved granite cliff faces, greenery abounds and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range that’s only visible from the highest peaks.

At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak  El Capitan
At the summit of the famous rock climbing peak El Capitan with the snowy Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background

There’s one problem though – everyone knows it!

And isn’t that the problem with so many “must see” places? By the time they reach that “must see” status that once secluded paradise has turned into Highway 101.

Now that’s not to say Yosemite was over crowded  or even remotely unpleasant when I was there. Not at all. I hiked for five hours straight and only saw five people.

What I gathered from others was right now is one of the best times of year to visit too. The waterfalls are approaching their peak, the crowds are quite alright, and the weather is just about perfect. The summer crowds of July and August are apparently wild.

But even so the evidence is still there. Trails that are a four hour tough slog away from the nearest car are well and truly beaten in and over a metre wide. And this is at the start of the hiking season too, albeit after the snowmelt. What will the trails look like in four months time?

This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak
This is the trail just before reaching Eagle Peak, four hours from the trail head

But regardless of this I had a really really damn awesome and satisfying time. Just mind blowing surroundings.

Yosemite was the place I was most looking forward to visiting on this roadtrip and it didn’t disappoint.

The valley itself is really impressive. 1 mile wide, 7 miles long and surrounded by sheer walls of granite that loom 1000m above in all directions.

I knew I only had two days to make my Yosemite experience one to remember so it was go go go.

Day 1 I did a 9km return hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. The mist at the base of Vernal falls was so intense that a rainbow was visible.

Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
Vernal Falls (the mist falls)
The rainbow from Vernal Falls.
The rainbow from Vernal Falls mist
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls
Liberty Cap looms over Nevada Falls

Then I caught the free shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth tallest in the world. 739 metres top to bottom over two waterfalls – Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.

I managed to squeeze in a drive up to Glacier Point stopping at the awesome and very popular Tunnel View lookout.

The weather turned wild that afternoon. Rain, fog, clouds, and even some hail.

The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel lookout
The awesome view of El Capitan on the left and Bridleveil Falls on the right from Tunnel View lookout
That's Yosemite Falls way down there looking from Glacier Point
That’s Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls way down there from the Glacier Point lookout

So so happy the weather played nice for Day 2. Thank-you weather gods. I did the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day. 31km over 10 hours and climbed about 1500m up and down. It was pretty tough but awesome to have accomplished. Eagle Peak was the highlight (and coincidentally the highest point) of the day.

Someday I’ll have to get back here to do the mother of all day hikes – Half Dome (the one in the picture below). Easy right? Only 26km.

Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.
Eagle peak. Still a few hundred metres below the top of the majestic Half Dome. It took me 8 attempts on timer to get this photo.

Whistler first impressions

It’s a couple of days now since I left homely Jasper in search of the famous ski town of Whistler. Here’s some of my first impressions…

The first item of worthy mention – the huge 750km drive really took it out of me; I don’t know if that’s the sole reason I’ve been feeling below par these last couple days but 10 hours of travel certainly can’t help.

Awesome scenery near Kamloops
Awesome scenery near Kamloops (visible in the distance at the end of the lake)

The first 550km was straight forward highway driving, then the last 200km was all twisty mountainous roads. A lot more fun and interesting to drive on but when you just want to get some tucker and a bed not so great.

The roads around Lillooet were down right wild, narrow tunnels cutting under the railway, followed by single lane wooden bridges over creeks and canyons. Then you were climbing up switchbacks and not long after descending down windy snake-like roads.

The quirky mountain town Lillooet
The quirky mountain town Lillooet

I got lucky around these twisty spots and sighted my first ever bear, a little black bear cub. So awesome!

The best shot I got before he ran away into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!
The best shot I got before he ambled off into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!

Now that I’m here in Whistler the second thing that springs to mind is how damn quiet it is here. With ski season just about all over red rover it’s understandable but was unexpected. The hostel I’m staying at was part of the athletes village when the winter Olympics were held here in 2010. Very nice facilities even though it’s 7km from Whistler village.

Walking through the village yesterday I can conjure up what it might have all looked like just a couple of months ago.  Snow covering everything in sight and skiers and snowboarders rushing to get up the gondola. Then after a big day on the hill caving into the irresistible warmth of the coffee shops, restaurants and pubs. The glow of the fireplace oh so tempting through the icy windows.

Whistler Olympic Plaza with some of Whistler Mountain visible behind
Whistler Olympic Plaza with Whistler Mountain visible behind

Today is Thursday and on Monday Whistler Mountain closed for the season leaving only about half the Blackcomb Mountain chairlifts still open. Which brings me to my third point…for all the talk of how gigantic Whistler and Blackcomb are, from the village they really don’t look it. Not at all. I proposed this to someone who actually has skied here and he said you can’t see the top from the village and the terrain is endless. Looks can be deceiving.

Over the next few weeks I can only imagine it will remain really quiet here as the ski season finishes up and Whistler is transformed into a mountain biking mecca. The official mountain biking season starts up on May 18; wish I could fast forward time by a month for a couple of days then rewind it.

As a side note yesterday was the warmest day I’ve felt for over 5 months! +17 I heard and with the sun out too – arrr how great the warm sun feels again.

Signal Mountain summit stories

Just a cruisy six hour return hike we thought. Ouch, how that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Take a look at the mountain. Looks kinda small right? Like a big hill, no real “mountain”.

But as we found out looks can be deceiving! The trail was covered in snow so with every step we sunk and slipped backwards ever so slightly. Over a few hours and with the steepness rising we felt the mountain trying to repel us backwards.

Signal Mountain - the target for the day
Signal Mountain – the target for the day
The going was tough through the snow
The going was tough through the snow

As we climbed through the tree lined trail I couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to have such brilliant sunny weather. Yesterday the prediction was overcast and a high of 3. Just our lucky day I guess.

The views in every direction are so worth the effort
The views in every direction are so worth the effort. Just a little further Gedas!

Once we finally got above the treeline we could see the summit for the first time. Life was good and we were within reach but we also glimpsed the challenging slopes that loomed in the distance. “We’re another hour away” was Gedas’ accurate guess.

At one stage it got steep enough that I and my Lithuanian climbing buddy had to monkey it up on all four hands and feet. The going was very slow and steady all the way to the top.

Gedas and I at the summit!
Gedas and I at the summit!

Now we well and truly realised that this “big hill” was definitely a real mountain. 2300m above sea level and views in every direction. What a fabulous feeling standing a top the snowy dome. For interests sake Pyramid Mountain (the tallest one on the right) is 2750m.

After three and a half hours up and just an hour and fifty back down we both settled for a soothing hot tub and a good feed. Awesome day!

Cross country skiing in Jasper

So here I am in “outdoorsy” Jasper in the north of the Canadian Rockies. Before getting here I’d read all about how Jasper is “wildlife central” but nevertheless it still surprised me to see a herd of elk roaming the main street when I arrived. They sometimes come into town at night to use humans as protection from wolves, smart!

The drive up from Lake Louise sure was brilliant; it’s called the Icefields Parkway and is one of the most scenic drives in the world. 230km of snow-capped peaks, lakes and glaciers. I’ve posted some pictures into Canada Snaps!

It’s been almost a week and todays the first day that I haven’t been out and about either skiing or walking on water – well ice to be exact but water sounds better right?

Maligne Canyon icewalk is one of Jasper’s main attractions and it sure was a fun and slippery experience. These huge frozen waterfalls were majestic and our group even got to wriggle into a cave – as Andy from Australia rightly pointed out “we’ve now been in the Rockies too”.

15/12/12 - One of a few frozen 20+ metre waterfalls at Maligne Canyon
15/12/12 – One of a few frozen 20+ metre waterfalls at Maligne Canyon
Walking on water at Maligne Canyon
15/12/12 – Walking on water at Maligne Canyon

Then there was skiing…again. Last time I had skied was four long years ago so I had to recall all the muscle memory I could when I went skiing at Marmot Basin with Andy – bit of a stretch? No way!

Surprising myself even, I was back on some black runs by lunch – albeit not with the style or flair of some…

This skier shows me how it's done
This skier shows me how it’s done at Marmot Basin

One of the most memorable days in Jasper so far would have to be giving cross country skiing a go for the first time. No doubt it’s a tough sport. Think of it as a cross between speed walking, sliding on timber floors wearing socks and skiing. It’s all about the glideeeeee.

I just so happened to go with two Canadians who had been cross country skiing for nearly ten years so they were fast. They said I did really well so gotta be happy with that. Boy I was happy to get back to the car though, 19km and 5 hours later. We saw plenty of wolf and cougar tracks but no sightings of the wily beasts – maybe not a bad thing?

18/12/12 - Keeping up with the two speedsters.
18/12/12 – Keeping up with the two speedsters, Andes and Bree, on the ski to Moab Lake

Something I didn’t know beforehand (but realised straight away) was how dark the skies are here. In fact the dark skies have been officially recognised and Jasper National Park is the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. Great for star gazing but northern lights are still quite rare here. Come on northern lights!

“Keel Train”ing and Mt Tibrogargan

Sliding, surfing, slipping,

Twisting, turning, tipping,

Diving, dodging, ducking,

Mixing, marching, mucking,

Lunging, laughing, learning

Bending, bobbing, burning.

Woah! Try getting that one out in one go! What an action packed couple of days! Had a blast sailing on “Keel Train” in the Saint Helena Cup on Saturday and on Sunday climbing up a picturesque Mount Tibrogargan in the Glass House Mountains.

Scottie hooked me up with a ride on “Keel Train”, a fast Farr 40 racing yacht for the annual St Helena Cup in Moreton Bay.

20/10/12 – Keel Train

After finding the boat through the maze that is Manly marina Liz my cousin randomly turned up for a sail. Small world sometimes.

With all ten on board we quickly donned our “XL” crew shirts and headed out to face the fresh 20 knot northerly.

The start of a sailing race is chaos. Full stop. There are boats coming at you left, right and centre so it was a good thing our knowledgeable (me not included) and youthful crew was on their ‘A’ game… or so it seemed…

Unfortunately we were a bit too eager to tear the race apart and ended up over the line at the gun, but with a quick spin around Torpy had us back with the leaders in next to no time… ‘A’ game recovered.

We absolutely hooted along with the kite up and finished the day in fourth I believe. A solid effort!

20/10/12 – On board action (Credit to Ryan’s GoPro footage)

Sunday was rock climbing day up Mt Tibrogargan – Wooo! And there were ten of us brave enough to take on the challenge – regardless of death stories or the 25 helicopter rescues a year Mum warned us about.

21/10/12 – Mt Tibrogargan from the highway. We climbed up the other side (Nice photo Avin)

The trail started off as a gentle uphill stroll but in the blink of an eye we were scaling up a near vertical rock chute!

Funnily enough it was at this moment that we heard a rescue helicopter hovering above like a bee in search of nectar. It sensed Kelly was on the mountain…

From there the grade eased up a fraction but only once we got to the top could we truly take a breather and soak up the stunning landscape now 364m below.

Short, sharp, steep – and stunning – is an apt description.

Standing on the edge of a sheer cliff top, Cherry pulled some daredevil poses for the camera, assuring all of us she was “both mentally and physically stable”. Whatever you say Cherry… whatever you say.

Anyway thankfully we all made it down intact – albeit minus the hole Kelly tore in her pants. Sorry had to be said.

21/10/12 – The top of Tibro! From left: Peter, Avin, Mike, Cherry, Kelly, Matt, me and Ash
21/10/12 – A seat with a view
21/10/12 – It’s certainly no bushwalk
21/10/12 – Ash, Kate, Zoe and me halfway up
21/10/12 – “The Conquerors” Kelly, Ash and Cherry with Mt Beerwah and Mt Coonowrin in the distance