Tag Archives: outdoors

New Zealand cycle tour route map

It’s been a while since my last post I know. Uni exams and then leaving for New Zealand almost straight away left me little time. Anyhow in all this time my brother and I have been to New Zealand, ridden 2400 odd km and returned safely home.  It was a great trip that lasted 8 weeks from 21 Nov 2014 to 15 Jan 2015!

Since getting back I’ve been super busy editing photos and putting together a killer timelapse short film (yet to be released). Over the next few weeks I endeavor to get posting again and break the trip down in all it’s nitty gritty detail.

But for now I’ve put together a map of exactly where we went. Speak soon.

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The next adventure – cycling New Zealand!

This one’s been in the works for a while but now it’s official! My brother, Matt, and I are going cycle touring in New Zealand at the end of this year for around 8 weeks. Interestingly this whole idea started way back on 19 July 2013, when I posed the idea to Matt on Skype from a McDonald’s in Paris! He was as keen as a bean from day dot.

Why cycle touring though? Well, both of us are right into bikes (as Mum would confirm by the growing number of bikes finding homes in every nook and cranny), cycle touring gives so much freedom and independency, it’s a physical and mental challenge, and it works for uni students on a budget. It also gets us out into the outdoors and the elements.

First the grand idea was to ride from the northern tip of the north island to the southern tip of the south island, and call it the “Tip to Tup”, the “Tup” being a play on words of how a Kiwi says “Tip”.

When I came home in November 2013, we delved further into research and decided to focus our energy on the more interesting places rather than just ride “Tip to Tup” because of two points on a map. So for a few months we thought we’d fly into Auckland on the north island and ride south to Queenstown, and across to Dunedin or Christchurch and fly home.

Only in the last couple of weeks have we had another change of heart and finally (I think) decided to spend our entire time on the picturesque south island. That way we can ride a big loop of the south instead of just one way, see impressive landscapes the whole time, plus the added bonus of quieter roads – considering only 1/4 of New Zealanders live on the south there’s bound to be less traffic.

I’ve also found hundreds of km’s of dirt road sections that will really make this trip unique and only doable on bike.

The fun so far
Maps, lists and books. All valuable information.

After we realised this was actually happening we quickly turned our attention to gear – specifically, what bikes were we taking? A pretty important subject for a cycle tour. I already had a mountain bike that could work, but Matt was in desperate need of a bike that fit his growing frame!

In January we hadn’t spoken about the trip for a month, when I said, “Hurry up and sort out your bike, time’s ticking.” To which he replied, “Are we still going? I thought because you hadn’t said anything lately we weren’t going anymore.”

“Are you kidding me!?!? Of course we are!” We couldn’t believe how fast communication can fall down even when you’re living together!

So with that anomaly resolved he got to work researching bikes. A process that lasted months, and convinced him at various stages on a cyclocross, road bike and 29er mountain bike. Finally though he got a 29er, which will be good for the dirt roads, and I stuck with my 26er.

The bike so far
My bike in the works
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Tyres, bar ends, top tube bag, pannier rack and bags the additions so far

The preliminary gear list we put together is slowly but surely being ticked off. Tent – check, sleeping bag – check, bike spares and repair kit – partly checked. It’s taking a while to acquire gear because we are trying to get it second hand or at reduced prices. So far so good.

Our next step towards preparing for New Zealand is a practice 4 day ride on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in a few weeks. It’s the only way to properly test our gear out and see what’s needed, what can be left at home, and see what we are getting ourselves into!

Not long ago Matt said, “The idea of touring seemed so much better when you were in Canada.” Now that the realities of keeping warm, keeping the stomach satisfied, and riding on roads with no shoulders have hit home everything isn’t as rosy as first imagined. We’ve already resigned ourselves to the fact that we are going to lose several kilos, but it will all be worth it no doubt.

“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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

USA roadtrip – Vancouver to San Francisco

At last I’ve hit the road for one awesome month long American roadtrip!

It was such a surreal feeling 6 days ago when I was driving to go pick up Kelly in Vancouver. After 4 months of planning out the whole trip by email I felt like is this really happening? After so long of talking we were finally about to start walking and make these plans a reality.

The weather has been perfect every day, so lucky given it’s supposed to rain a fair bit this time of year along the northern coast. The sensation of actually feeling warmth when the sun is out is amazing. 20 degree days feel like they are nearly 30, I’ve forgotten how hot that is.

First up was Seattle, supposedly the city everyone wants to move to in America. I found the first ever Starbucks, started back in 1971. Starbucks are everywhere around here, and free wifi too.

A big eye opener was the underground tour, the city was originally built on a flood plain and now there are so many passages and first floors of buildings that were once ground level but now completely underground.

Driving further south we passed through the wonderful and small town feel city of Portland, Oregon. It was refreshing walking through a city of low rises instead of sky scrapers for once. Everywhere was so clean and the people so friendly.

Portland from 30 stories up
Portland from 30 stories up

While these cities were fun, I was most looking forward to getting to the big trees. Heading towards the coast to go camping in a California redwood forest was exciting, and it was funny the campground was exactly like I had envisioned it. Right in amongst a dense, dark forest.

Just awesome camping around these goliaths
Just awesome camping around these goliaths
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California
A climbable coast redwood in Jebediah Smith National Park, California

The park info centre guide said go to Klamath outlook to see whales. We thought OMG wouldn’t that be awesome, but we didn’t actually think we’d be that lucky. I mean who ever is that lucky to see whales from land right?

Fast forward an hour and we had soaked up the spectacular view and were about to call it…no whales lets go. Then a man beside us goes “Just to the left of that rock”. Wewewhaaaaat?

We later learned he had been watching these whales for the past 3 days…so lucky we had a trained eye on board or no chance. We ended up seeing 3 or 4 grey whales and a seal or two. They were just hanging out so close to the shore.

Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California
Spotting a grey whale spouting at Klamath Overlook, California. “To the left of that rock”

The next couple of days was redwood central. Walking and even driving through a tree!

Strolling among the tallest trees on the planet with no one else to disturb the peaceful serenity was awe inspiring. It gave me a greater appreciation of time knowing that these trees are up to 2000 years old. Growing inch by inch year by year into where they stand now. Every handrail seemed like it was too small given the scale of the surroundings.

The "big tree" in Redwood National Park, California
The “big tree” in Redwood National Park, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California
Avenue of the Giants scenic drive, California

The last stop we made before San Francisco was at the Napa Valley. It was a big day of driving so not much time but hey I made the time to climb a light post! Now I’m here in San Francisco for the next few days and wow I love it, but that’s for the next post.

A Napa vineyard from the top of an electrical pole
A Napa vineyard from the top of an light post

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.

“Moose”ing about

What an awesome experience! Just me and a moose in an up close and personal encounter for nearly half an hour.

Here’s how the story unfolded…

I went for a drive to Spray Lakes in search of a “photogenic” sunset. What? No sun? The sun didn’t come out at all. Oh well I thought – another day.

Then as I was walking back to the car I spotted a prime “car photo” opportunity. So I jumped in and moved around into perfect position – wheels turned and all.

Camera in hand, I jumped out and started running down the snow covered road for the photo. “Woah”! I stopped in my tracks. Something big, brown and tall about 100 metres away.

A moose! It’s elongated horse-like head gave it away straight up. What else did I see? No antlers. Mrs Moose.

I scurried back to the car pretty quick though I can tell you that. My first thought was I can drive up and get a photo out the window. But then I remembered what Damien had told me.

So I stayed in the car, windows up, just a tad anxious as it was coming.

12/12/12 - I see it approaching!
12/12/12 – It’s coming!

Next thing I know I’ve got a big moose licking the boot. I can see it in the rearview. Yep Damien was right! Moose love licking cars. Random I know but I’ve since found out it’s for the salt.

I figured what could possibly go wrong… so cautiously opened my door and hopped out. As I moved around the car to get a photo so did she. Always one eye on me and one tongue on the car.

12/12/12 - Huh?
12/12/12 – Big alright hey. See where she’s licked already?

She was a peaceful giant though, if I moved towards her she would back off and run away. Then slowly and carefully amble back to the (unbeknownst to me) astronomic salt supply. But as you can see I got really close, only a metre or two away. Amazing stuff.

12/12/12 - Just me and a moose
12/12/12 – Just me and a moose
12/12/12 - Compare the pair
12/12/12 – Compare the pair