Sliding Down Big Slide. An Adirondack Tale.

Big Slide
Order in ranking: number 27

Last summer, while I was enjoying East Africa and Kilimanjaro, my ‘dacks partner, Stephanie, went down for a couple of day trips and climbed Lower Wolfjaw and Big Slide.  I managed to get down and climb Lower Wolfjaw last fall with the BF, but never got to do Big Slide.

So I went down this June to give it a shot.  I’d asked a few friends if they were interested, and unfortunately no one would take the bait (seriously guys, stop saying “Someday” because someday you’re going to be dead, and will never have done it.  Someday might as well be today).  So I drove down by myself and hiked up and over the Brothers to Big Slide, then down via John’s Brook Lodge (well, not really, but close enough.)

Ah, home.  (Stopped at construction, no picture taken while driving)

I hated it.  There, I said it.  I hate Big Slide.  Everyone will tell you that Big Slide is awesome, and you’re going to love it (I know this because everyone told me it was awesome and that I would love it.) but for me, it was one giant sucky fail. 

It started off nice enough – the parking lot was mostly empty, which I’ve heard is true of most weekdays.  Weekends and holidays the small parking lot (The Garden) fills up quickly, but there’s a shuttle that runs from Marcy Field.  Parking is $7, I think it recently increased.  The shuttle is still $5, I believe.

I signed in at 8:46 and off I went.  10 minutes in, I had to return as I had forgotten my lunch in my car.  9:02, and I was off for the second time. 

It was a pretty climb up to First Brother, and only moderately steep in places.  For the most part, it was an easy, but uphill, climb.  I think there are 8 or 9 rock ledges that you go over before you’re at the summit; 3 and 4 sort of blend together, as do 6 and 7.

This may, or may not, be a summit.

I assume the summit was close to where I found the rock cairn, I couldn’t find any notes anywhere in my book about it, but it seems an apt spot to put a cairn, right?  Otherwise, I have no idea what it was for.

After that, it’s a quick easy climb to Second Brother, with a great view back over First Brother.  I was making really great time at this point, I think it was only an hour in.  I took a quick break for some food, then was off to conquer Third Brother, and then Big Slide.

I don’t ever remember getting to the summit of Third Brother, so I’m assuming it was a treed summit, with maybe only a few views.  I must have hit it, though, as I sat down to re-read the trail info from the High Peaks Book.  I was getting a little worried about my water, and wanted to see how far I had come.  It turns out I was pretty close to the trail marker for the trail split up Big Slide.

Worst type of ladder/stairs ever invented.

Once there, I quickly started up, stopping for a moment to shake my head at the wooded “ladder” leading up Big Slide.  I hate these.  Not the going up, but the coming down.  But I was soon over them, and then scaling a log to stand in front of huge rock face wondering “How in the world do I get up this?”

Turns out you *don’t*, or at least aren’t supposed to.  The log is there to block it off, the real trail is off to the left, and then up over a slightly less steep portion of rock face.  Good thing to know!  So after a brief set back, I got back on track and wound my way up the summit of Big Slide.  Where I was promptly assailed by bugs.  Lots of bugs.  It was a calm day (threatening to rain, although it did hold off) so I’m assuming that a little wind would have blown those suckers away, but they did put a damper on my summit celebrations.  It was a quick photo and then off I went again, planning to eat some lunch further down the mountain.


I breezed through most of the downhill portion (not the stairs, which I took my time over.  I have a fear of heights and these stairs kill me) and managed to miss the trail marker going back to the Garden.  It didn’t matter, as I was on the right trail, but the first time I saw a red marker I was a little worried, so to note:  It’s a blue marker up the Brothers to Big Slide, a red marker down towards JBL and the Garden.

And this is where my dislike of Big Slide comes in.  My boots have no grip.  None.  (They are so bad that I’m getting new ones, and I refuse to donate my old ones to charity because I don’t want to be responsible for someone using them and getting into an accident).  And as I stepped onto a dry rock, a boot slid out from underneath me.  No problem, I caught myself before I fell, and I kept going.

Then the same thing happened on a root (note:  I didn’t trip.  I didn’t catch a toe or a heel or anything.  My boot slid off the root) and I fell onto my right side.  No problems, I feel onto moss/grass and it cushioned my fall.  I kept going.

Then, third time being a charm, during a river crossing, I stepped onto the river bank (sloped rock) and….slid right into the river.  That’s right, I went right in.  And, because I was sliding, I went in diagonally, so both boots were soaked, my pants, my top, my pack….everything.  I was horizontal in the water at one point, and the current starting carrying me downstream.

I floundered and managed to get my feet under me and I stumbled to the shore where I took stock of the situation.  I was wet, although items in my pack were relatively dry.  I took off my socks (both climbing socks and liners) and wrung them out, before putting the climbing socks back on.  I dumped out my boots, but there wasn’t much to do.  They had soaked up a lot of water, and I was just going to have to deal with wearing heavy, wet boots for the next 4 miles.

After that things got worse.  I fell two more times – once on a river bank as I descended towards the water, and again as I came to the portion of the trail that actually descends (or ascends, if you’re coming from JBL) the slide itself.  And here I fell hard, cracking my right elbow on the bare rock, as well as my right hip and knee.  I didn’t break anything, but I have an impressive set of bruises.  I decided that I couldn’t get any wetter (or dirtier) and slid down the slide on my ass.  The slide was mildly wet, not enough that it should have caused a problem, but it was wet enough to allow me to easily slide down. 

Once I got off the mountain, and onto the even ground of the path back to the Garden, things improved.  The path was incredibly muddy (they’re in the process of improving trail conditions, and building new bridges over particularly muddy patches) but at this point I didn’t care – my boots were wet enough, and dirty enough, that a bit of mud wasn’t going to make a difference.  I ploughed through and made good time back to the Garden, where I thankfully had a change of clothes (and shoes)

Important Notes:
– Go on a week day to ensure parking at the Garden
– Bring $7 for parking
– If going in spring/early summer, bring river shoes with you on the climb.  You can change into them for the river crossings, and not have to worry about climbing in wet boots
– Markers are blue (up and over the Brothers to Big Slide), red (down Big Slide towards JBL/The Garden), yellow (off of Big Slide, on even ground towards the Garden)
– Summit was buggy
– Trail was very muddy back to the Garden

Total climbing time: 5 hours 34 minutes
Left trailhead at 9:02, returned at 2:36
Summited at 12:01

GuestBlogger: Banff & the Canadian Rockies (Post by Jessiclick)

Hello! I’d like to start out by saying thank you to Anya for the opportunity to guest blog on Itchy Feet 🙂  You can catch my regular (by which I mean sporadic) updates on or be thoroughly inundated with tweets (@613jess).
I was never much of a traveler, growing up.  My folks tried to arrange some family trips, but my brother and I were always pretty typical teenagers who didn’t want to spend all that time in the family van – if only I knew then what I know now!
My first trips – that were for the sake of the trip – were in 2008, when I visited Vancouver in the spring, and Italy in the fall.  I was hooked (but also broke)!  The Italy trip was incredible, and I can’t wait to explore more of the world – but that trip to Vancouver was when it really sunk in how vast my own country is, and how fortunate I am to be able to travel within it.  I’ve since travelled to Newfoundland (with Anya) and now to Alberta.

Fortunately, my visit was before Alberta was hit by the recent devastating flash flooding, and have written the below post before the flooding happened.  I’ve just added this little caveat now, and would encourage you to support those affected in Alberta by visiting the Canadian Red Cross website to learn about how to make a cash donation.

Folks, let me tell you about Alberta – it is stunning. Calgary is flat – and just barely, off in the distance, you can see the Canadian Rockies almost 100km away.  My final destination was to be the small mountain resort town of Banff – the first town incorporated within a national park, the community with the second highest elevation in Canada (after Lake Louise) and a population just north of 7,500 people.  I had the opportunity to stay in the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, one of the luxurious railway hotels of the 19th century.  Throughout the town of Banff, and especially at the Banff Springs, you’ll hear reference to Canadian Pacific Railway president William Cornelius Van Horne’s expression, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”
I was travelling with a friend who was in Banff on business, so I had most of the days to myself while my friend worked and then we would get together for dinner. Banff is fairly easy to navigate – I got around the town on my own two feet most of the time, though there is public transit and plenty of taxis as well, as a tourist town.
There are two sites in particular that I want to talk about – since the draw to Banff is the natural wonder that surrounds you, not the town (which is lovely and clean, though is just one giant tourist trap, with every store seeming to sell t-shirts and shot-glasses adorned with moose and maple leaves, not to mention a wealth of maple-based consumable products).  The first site is the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and the other is the Icefield Parkway and Athabasca Glacier.

The Birth of Canada’s National Parks

Cave & Basin - Birth of Canada's National Parks

Basically the Canadian Rockies are so beautiful that your ‘to do’ list could literally be simply ‘look outside, wander around.’  But nonetheless, I was doing some research on things to see and do and came across the Cave and Basin National Historic Site – located in the town of Banff, it is the birthplace of Canada’s National Parks system.  While working on the railway, three workers stumbled across a cave opening – had the guts to go inside despite the sulphur smell – and discovered a beautiful underground hot spring.  After the discovery came the plan – a plan to profit from this incredible place – sparking controversy over the ownership of the land, and in 1885 the Canadian government protected 26km2 of land, the Banff Hot Springs Reserve.  In 1887, the Rocky Mountains Park Act expanded the protected area to encompass 674km2 of land – Canada’s first National Park, and the second in North America.  Banff National Park, along with Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber Provincial Parks, are also a World Heritage Site.
The day of my visit called for rain – but as the weather changes quickly in the mountains, I was fortunate upon waking to find a beautifully clear day.  I made my way on foot the 2.5km to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, meeting a mule deer on the side of the road along the way.  I arrived before the site itself opened, and so I wandered some of the outdoor trails – including the Discovery Trail and the Marsh Loop, both of which have lots of interesting information posted along them and offer stunning views of Cascade Mountain and Mount Norquay.  Finally, I was able to enter the site – which has a display about its history – and at last the cave.  Stunning.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Outside, you are able to view the Basin, another hot spring on the site.  There, I learned a bit about (and see, for real, live and in person) an endangered species, the Banff Springs Snail, the entire population of which apparently could fit in a 1L container.
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site has recently reopened after some major renovations and building improvements, and as I have at other National Historic Sites I found the Parks Canada staff friendly, welcoming, and informative.  It is well worth the stop.

Icefield Parkway and Athabasca Glacier

I’ve not done many organized tours in my limited travels, but after reading about the tour offered by Discover Banff Tours for the Columbia Icefield, I was convinced that this would be the way to see it.  Discover Banff Tours is a smaller tour company operating out of Banff, and I’m really happy I went with them – their tour size was small (about 14 people), their guide was experienced, friendly and knowledgeable, and their price was very reasonable ($159/person for a 10 hour tour, complete with picnic lunch and the ice field explorer tour).  Visit to learn more about the other tour packages they offer.
My morning started at 8:30 a.m. when a small tour van picked a few other guests and me up at the hotel.  From there, we made our way to a site in town where some other guests were waiting and we hopped on a larger (but still smaller than a greyhound, again nice tour size) bus with our guide for the day.  My tour had a few people from England, a couple from Ireland, some folks from Australia, another Canadian couple from Toronto, a woman from South Africa and another from Germany.  We were promptly whisked away to our first stop – Lake Louise.  Wow.

Lake Louise

We had a number of stops along our journey, while our tour guide told us about the history of the area – predominantly from the perspective of the tourism industry, guides and outfitters, the early settlers to the area and the families who’s legacies are still evident throughout the town today.  We learned about the difference between a glacier and an icefield, and about the wildlife in the area.
Our lunch stop was near Saskatchewan Crossing – where the North Saskatchewan River meets the Howse River and Mistaya River on its way to British Columbia.  Not a bad view for lunch, eh?

Saskatchewan River

From there we weren’t far from the Columbia Icefield – after arriving at the centre, we transferred first to a greyhound along with other tour groups and individuals, which would take us on the eight minute journey to the ice explorers at the edge of the Athabasca Glacier.  This eight minute ride is full of more information from another great guide – learning about the moraines, and what really stuck with me were the trees – all were very small, despite some being 300 years old – and others, in the distance, a remarkable 800 year old ancient forest.  The trees are so small due to such short growing seasons.  Also, there were areas where the trees only grew on one side – due to how cold the glacial winds are, freezing the sap in the trunks, stunting the growth.
We transferred to the Icefield Explorer – an industrial machine worth over $1M each (they have a whole fleet of them – the only similar machine not located in Banff National Park is trotting around Antarctica).  They are built especially to climb the incredibly steep moraine – basically wall of dirt and rock – at the side of the glacier.  It’s an impressive piece of machinery, and again the guide was a delight.

Ice Explorer at Athabasca Glacier

Getting to walk around on a glacier – to touch the ice, to drink the water – is amazing.  The word one of my tour buddies, a lovely woman from South Africa used to describe what we were seeing, was “blessed.”
Our ride back included some discussion about the environmental impact of these tour groups driving and walking on the glacier.  It was an interesting conversation, and I think it’s a delicate balance that needs to be achieved in our national parks – a balance between preserving and protecting our land and our water, and providing people with the opportunity to experience and make use of these incredible places.  That access helps solidify a connection, and enhances your understanding of just what is at stake as our world changes.

Banff Gondola - View of the Town of Banff, Tunnel Mountain and the Canadian Rockies

I left Banff feeling refreshed by the beauty of the land, and grateful for the chance to visit such a wonderful place.  I hope I’ll get to visit again, but first there’s still so much of Canada to explore…

Guest Bloggers (and Big Blog Exchange)

So with my recent trip being to Iceland, I did some research into things to do in and around Reykjavik (I love to do research.  I love scoring the ‘net for cool and interesting things to do and see, off the beaten path).  All this research led me to “I Heart Reykjavik” – a very comprehensive guide of things to do, see, eat, stay, etc. in Reykjavik.  It’s a wonderful blog if you’re thinking of visiting Iceland, it’s very resourceful, easy to read, and easy to navigate.


I follow the author on Twitter as well, thinking that that way I would know if/when she added something new to her blog, so I could check it out for any other helpful hints.  Currently, she is participating in “The Big Blog Exchange” – a competition run by Hostelling International, where readers voted for blosg, and the top 16 authors exchange blogs, and cities!, for 10 days.  They then write their thoughts, activities, impressions and ideas in the other person’s blog.

I think it’s a really cool idea.  And it got me thinking, of doing guest bloggers here.  I (unfortunately, alas) will never be able to visit all the places in this world (no matter how much I wish that were otherwise) so why not give someone else an outlet, to share their experiences? 

So in the next little bit, my friend Jessi will be a guest blogger, on her trip out west to Alberta.  My first guest blogger!  I’m pretty stoked.

Hiking the Adirondacks

For the past year and a half, I’ve been going down to the Adirondacks with a friend of mine, and we’ve been climbing various 46ers.  She had heard about the 46er club, told me about it as we climbed Mount Cascade and Mount Porter (see post about that here), and ever since…we’ve been working towards the goal of joining.

I really should have been keeping this updated on those hikes, for others who have the same goal.  I’ve been lax, what with my giant Africa trip, and then various little trips afterwards.  So I’ll post a short summary of the ones we’ve done so far, excluding Cascade and Porter because I’ve hit those two.

Algonquin, Iroquois and Wright
Order in ranking: numbers 2, 8, and 16

Last year, we summitted Mounts Algonquin, Iroquois and Wright (on one day), and then Giant Mountain the next.

Our original plan was to hike (or as we call it, mountain-hike) Algonquin and Wright, as they share a path, with Wright a junction off of the main path up Algonquin.  But as we suited up at the car, a guide with the ADK offered us some advice: climb Iroquois as well.  It turns out that to get to Iroquois, you first must summit not only Algonquin, but also Boundary Mountain, between two.

This was one of our first lessons on attempting to call the 46 High Peaks:  do your research before you go.

With the Peak Steward

Algonquin is a nice climb, although there is a lot of sheer rock face at the end, and a few false summits.  We actually yelled out to the Peak Steward “Is this really the summit?!?” by the time we got there.  It’s a little windy on the summit, so bring something to cut the wind.

Follow the cairns

Iroquois is a trailless peak, but all that means in this case is that the trail is not marked, and it’s not officially maintained.  There is a herd path that you can easily follow; and down the side of Algonquin and up Boundary there are cairns marking the way – they’re very easy to see and follow.  Once you get to Boundary, there’s a small sign pointing the way to an official DEC path, and scratched into the sign is a arrow with the word “Iroquois.”  (In case the scratched note is gone, you want to go in the opposite direction of the official path).  From there, you follow a path through the trees towards Iroquois.  The last bit is a mad scramble up a massive rock, to the summit of Iroquois.  I’m afraid of heights, and this scramble up did trigger that, so be forewarned.

Atop the rock to the summit
This rain cloud followed us all day

Back down we scrambled, after a very short stay – it looked like rain, and we didn’t want to be caught out in the open on any of the peaks so far.  They’re all (Algonquin, Boundary and Iroquois) open summits, with no trees for shelter.  We high-tailed it back to Algonquin at a pretty good clip, and stopped to enjoy the view from there one more time.  Then it was back down, to the junction with Wright.

We wheezed our way up Wright, and got caught by more false summits than I care to admit.  I think if we had saved Wright for another day, we could have been faster, but as it was we were exhausted.  We did make it to the summit, but not until after a lot of pep talks to ourselves.  We didn’t even attempt to find the bronze plaque that commemorates the bomber that crashed there in 1962, we just too tired.

No, I’m done for the day.  Nap time.

Total hiking time: 9 hours and 33 minutes
Left Adirondack Loj at 9:20, returned at 6:53
Summited Algonquin at 12:32, Iroquois at 12:46, and Wright at 4:09

Giant Mountain
Order in ranking: number 12

We weren’t up as early as we had wanted to be the day after, but in all fairness, we deserved a bit of a lie in.  We still made good time, though, as we got ready for another day of mountain-walking.

We had decided to climb Giant Mountain from the Roaring Brook trailhead, off of Hwy 73.  This is opposite to the trailhead for Nippletop, Dial, Colvin, Blake, and Lower Wolfjaw, if you intend to do it alone, and not as part of a loop with Armstrong, Gothics and Upper Wolfjaw.

This was a very pretty climb, with incredible views the entire way, and a moderate incline at the beginning.  Towards the end, it gets fairly steep, or so it felt to us.  There’s a marker that announces it’s only .7 mile to the summit of Giant, but that .7 mile felt like the longest .7 mile in the existence of history.

On the summit of Giant

The route was moderate in popularity – we saw a few other hikers, and met people at the summit, but often as not we had the path to ourselves.  This was a welcome relief after the day before, when we saw a lot of people out on the paths around the Adirondack Loj.

Seeing as it was so quiet, we actually did get to see some wildlife – a small snake was sunning himself beside the path on our way back down to the trailhead.

Total hiking time: 6 hours 14 minutes
Left the trailhead at 10:05, returned at 4:19
Summited at 1:18

Tabletop Mountain
Order in ranking: number 18

Later on in the fall, we had a plan to go down for a weekend, and climb Tabletop and Phelps Mountains (they share a trail, until a junction for Phelps) on one day, and Street and Nye (again, they share a trail) on the other.

But wouldn’t you know it – it started to rain, as we pulled onto the road to get to the Adirondack Loj, where we were to camp.  We remained optimistic, as it was only a light drizzle, and set up our tent.  We went to sleep, hoping that the rain would abate before morning.  Our luck wasn’t with us, and we awoke to full rain in the morning.  Still, we persevered, and got ready to tackle Tabletop and Phelps.

Wet start

We were late starting, as we had to register at the Loj, and get a few things together.  We started off, and immediately had problems.  It was wet, the trail was met and muddy, and it was slow going.  We pushed on, and tried to remain optimistic.  We staggered and pushed our way through the mud and trees, and finally got to the Tabletop junction.

Tabletop is an trailless peak, although the herd-path that you take to the summit is maintained somewhat.  It’s easy to follow, for the simple reason that it’s actually a streambed you’re following.  And in the rain…’s a stream.  You have to walk up and through the stream to get to the summit.  To compound our problems, because it’s a trailless peak, the herd path is very narrow, with lots of trees (with their roots and branches) in your way.  My waterproof pants ended up ripped at the bottom from getting snagged one too many times.

We made it!  Finally!

We finally did reach the summit, but we were so worn out and tired, not to mention cranky and cold, that we didn’t stay long.  It was long enough, though, for us to realize that we had least picked a good day to climb Tabletop – it’s a treed summit, so there’s no view.  We were happy not to have wasted a nice day with a summit that had no view.

We started to stagger our way down, still with the intention of climbing Phelps when disaster struck.  I slipped on the rock, and started to slide down – thankfully, still on the path, but I’d have a nice bruise on my backside the next day.  I picked myself up, swore, and continued on.  We reached the junction, and pushed up on Phelps.  We climbed for what seemed hours (actually, I think it was 2) and came to the realization that it was too late – we weren’t going to summit Phelps that day.

Spirit still high, on the way up

This was our second lesson of hiking the 46ers:  Be prepared to turn around. 

And our third:  Plan for all eventualities; plan to hike two mountains, expect to only summit one.

We turned around, and started down, when disaster struck again.  Steph caught her foot in a root, and fell.  Hard.  She thankfully didn’t break anything, but her leg was given a nasty jar, and she bruised (and possibly sprained) her thumb while catching herself on her fall.  We were extremely lucky that neither one of us hit a jagged rock or tree root when we fell.  We started back down at a slower pace, limping and in bad moods.

Total climbing time: unknown
Left Adirondack Loj at 9:45
Summited at 1:23

Phelps Mountain
Order in ranking: number 31

We had unfinished business with Phelps after our disastrous trip in mid-September.  We decided that we’d do the fool-hardy thing, and drive down from Ottawa early early (5 am early), climb Phelps, have some dinner at Desperados (fantastic Mexican food, with many gluten-free and vegetarian options), then drive back home.  It would make for a long day, but we were up for it.

Marcy Dam

We got onto the trail at a reasonable hour, and blew through the first portion, to Marcy Dam.  This is relatively flat terrain, and good for beginner hikers.  It’s very pretty, and the Dam makes a nice backdrop for lunch.  We kept going, though, and quickly came to the Phelps junction.

Up we started.  It didn’t take much time for us to come to the realization that it had been a good thing to turn back last time.  We were no where near the summit when we had turned around, and we probably wouldn’t have made it back to the Loj before the sun set.

We kept going, and eventually reached the summit.  Phelps isn’t a difficult climb, and if it hadn’t been for the rain on our first trip, we would have summited it with no problems.  Reaching the summit, we were both glad that we had summitted on a better day, the view of the surround area was incredibly.  The nicer weather was definitely a boon, to actually get to take advantage of the view!

On the way down, we actually managed to find the root that had tripped Steph on our first attempt.  Considering everything looks the same after a bit (it was a root, on the trail, near a tree – very vague statement when everything is a root on the trail near a tree).  It was one of the few areas on the trail that didn’t have a million jagged rocks that she could have fallen on.  Seeing it again, in the clear light of a sunny day, we thanked whoever had been looking out for us.  It really could have been a lot worse.

Total climbing time: 5 hours 49 minutes
Left Adirondack Loj at 10:20, returned at 4:09
Summited at 2:09

Lower Wolfjaw Mountain
Order in ranking: number 29

Misty Mountains

While I was in Africa, Steph took a few trips down to climb some of the other 46ers, Lower Wolfjaw and Big Slide.  While I still haven’t had a change to climb Big Slide, and I did go down over the Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving) weekend to climb Lower Wolfjaw.  It was another somewhat wet climb – it drizzled on and off during the morning, but the rain cleared up in the afternoon, although it took a little longer for the clouds to dissipate.

The BF and I did this as a day trip, so we didn’t get started until a little later, just after 10:00.  We were accessing the WA White trailhead on the AMR property, so we took a short jaunt up the road to the clubhouse (faaaaaancy), and turned left at the tennis court.  We quickly came to the trailhead and signed in.

Beautiful trees

The first part of the hike is incredibly beautiful, as you hike through birch stands.  The trail begins to do a bit of a zig zag up the mountain, as you climb around a rock wall.  It’s not too steep, but it does add time to the climb.  We came to a few junctions, and it was at the final one, 1.5 miles to the summit, that I left the BF behind.  (It’s not that I don’t love him, but he’s a computer geek.  He’s not in the greatest of shapes.)

I quickly picked up the pace and raced towards what I hoped was the summit.  Every now and then I’d hit an open patch, and think “is this it??”  And it never was.  I finally met up with a group of people who said that the summit was a little further on.  So I continued, and….found the path going down.  I figured I had hit the summit, and returned.  When I met up with them again (in the same spot, as they were taking a break) they informed me that the trail actually descends quite steeply first, then climbs steeply before you hit the summit.

So heaving a great sigh…..I turned back and continued through the steep bits (with lots of “Ok, how will I climb/descend that???” thrown in for good measure).  I finally did hit the summit, along with three other hikers who had come in from Upper Wolfjaw.  They kindly took my photo, and I raced back, to find the BF.


Who just so happened to be at the steep upper part!  He had made it that far, although his knee was starting to hurt, and it was getting late, so we decided we had better head back.

It was slow going on the way down, due to the BF’s knee, and me totally forgetting that I had Advil in my pack.  But we did make it, a little later than we had hoped, but back alive and in one piece.

Total climbing time: 8 hours 22 minutes
Left trailhead at 10:14, returned at 6:36
Summited at 2:09

Nippletop and Dial
Order in ranking: numbers 13 and 40

Seriously?  It’s the end of May

Nippletop and Dial were our first climbs of the 2013 “climbing season” as we call it.  We’re fair weather hikers/campers – we firmly avoid the mountains in the winter months.  We thought by the May long weekend, it would be warm enough, and nice enough, to venture up.

It was and it wasn’t.  We did encounter snow, although nothing that deep.  There were the odd occasions where we wondered if we needed crampons, but in the end we were fine in just our hiking boots.  It did pay to go carefully through the snow and ice, as occasionally the ice masqueraded as rock – all the dirt covering it was doing a good job at disguising it.

There are two possible ways to do the loop that we did – climb a steep, but non-treacherous path over the shoulder of Noonmark, over Dial, to Nippletop, and then descend over a very steep, rocky section, or the reverse.  I’ve found, after climbing 9 High Peaks, that it’s over easier to climb up the rocky section, rather than down.  In essence, the rocky sections are where the mountain has fallen away/been pushed down by glaciers or water, so going up means you can see how the rocks fell.  It’s much easier to find footing when you can see how the rocks interplay, then to descend these rocks, and how that interplay hidden.

So we walked down the Lake Road to Elk Pass, and up over Nippletop.  There are actually three or four steep bits, but the last steep bit is the steep bit that guide books warn you about.  It’s not a bad hike though, and there’s lots of waterfalls along the way, so no matter where you take a break, you get a view.  The trail was incredibly wet as we wet along, and I’m not sure how much of that was due to the wet spring weather, and melting snow.  Guide books mention that Nippletop is known for being wet (not weather-wise, trail-wise).

We met other hikers on the trail going to various peaks – Colvin, Blake, and Nippletop.  It was nice having company, especially so early in the season.  We reached what we thought was the summit of Nippletop when we realized… wasn’t.  The trail kept going.  So we rounded a corner, and… that Nippletop?  Way over there?!?  We have to hike all the way over there?!?  The true summit seems forever away, when in fact it’s a quick 3 minute hop over.  The distances can be very deceptive when you’re looking over the range.

That looks really far away

We had a half hour break on Nippletop, admiring the view, before we headed out to Dial.  It’s a great walk along the ridge line, to Dial.  There is some gentle grade up and down, which is a nice break after the scramble up Nippletop.  The summit for Dial comes up on you all of a sudden – it’s a rocky outcropping from the trail.  More great views here, so you have a choice of where to have lunch – both summits afford a good look at many 46ers.

Hanging out over Nippletop

Dial summit

After Dial, we continued over Bear Den (it’s a treed summit, so good luck figuring out where it is.  Also, no we didn’t see a Bear Den.)  and down.  Well, down and then up, as the trail climbs over Noonmark’s shoulder, before descending back down to the Lake Road.  The last bit is quite steep, but there aren’t any rocks.  It’s hard on the hips and knees, but there’s no scrambling.

Total climbing time:9 hours 15 minutes
Left St. Hubert’s parking lot at 7:18, returned at 4:33
Summited Nippletop at 10:40, Dial at 1:40

Whiteface and Esther
Order in ranking: numbers 5 and 27

We were up nice and early the next day, and drove the short distance to Whiteface mountain.  The parking lot for the trailhead is minuscule – about enough room for 2 cars.  It’s easy to drive right past it, but you don’t get far before realizing you’re past it.

Can’t miss the cairn

We were entering from the Wilmington trailhead, mostly because we wanted to climb Mt. Esther as well.  The first part of the hike was great – fairly flat, with moderate inclines/declines, through trees and few to no rocks.  But we quickly hit the steep portions, as we started climbing higher to the almost summit of Marble Mt.  It’s a steady incline, somewhat steep, that will have you asking when the next flat bit will come along.

From there, we pushed on up towards the junction with Esther.  Again, it’s a steady, moderately steep, incline to the cairn that marks the junction.  The guide books call it “small” but it certainly isn’t – you can’t miss it.  Esther is another trailless peak, but again, the herd path is moderately maintained and easy to follow.

The climb to Esther is easy, once you get past the first 100 yards or so, which are steep.  After that it’s a gentle up and down grade, as you wind through the trees.   You almost feel like you are circling the summit as you come up to, and then it opens up and you get a great view of Whiteface.  There’s a small plaque on the summit, for Esther McComb who made the first ascent. 

We paused for a moment, but other than the view of Whiteface, Esther doesn’t provide much.  So we hustled back down, meeting a few other climbers on their way up.

We got back to the junction and paused for a food break.  I think we were hungrier on day two, after expending so much energy the day before!  Thankfully we had packed a lot of munching food for our climb.

You skirt this wall, you don’t climb it

We headed up Whiteface, which at first was an easy, if somewhat wet, climb.  There were a lot of downed trees along our route – clean up crews hadn’t been by to clear the trail, yet – so we had some manoeuvring to get over them.  We came upon a old ski lift area (or perhaps it’s a ski run) and stopped to have some more food.  After that, it was steeply up as we followed old ski lines.  We went up up up, and then up some, over snow and ice at some points.  The trail was slick in places, especially as we came up over the rock scramble to the road, and wall surrounding it.

The rock scramble was fun going on, somewhat treacherous going down, as you couldn’t see what was hidden by the rocks on the other side, as you could when you were going up.  The boost to get up to the path above the road was wet and slick, so we took our time.  After that, it was a moderate grade incline – not as steep as it had been, but certainly not as gentle as Esther had been.  We followed the paint blazes on the rocks, as we had hit the Alpine zone at this point.  There’s a wonderful open area just below the summit, where you get great views of the surrounding countryside, and without all the other people like you do at the summit.  If the weather had been better (by this point, clouds had blown in) we might have stayed for a bit.  As it was, we pushed on.

Just beyond that wall is a highway

We staggered up to the summit, and had our picture taken with the sign.  All the tourist who drove up kindly let us go first.  We popped into the building at the top to warm up a little (Whiteface is always windy, but today it was freezing at the top), and regroup.

If you do climb Whiteface, don’t forget your wallet.  There’s a cafe at the top where you can grab food or water.  We both forgot ours, which led to our fourth lessons of climbing in the Adirondacks:

Always care money in backpack.  You never know when you might need it.

Made it!

We left the peak, and began the descent.  We were so focused on our conversation, that we both missed the open area where we had had our lunch.  Just towards the end of the hike, it started to rain, and we were very glad to have missed the rain at the summit.  The tree cover kept the rain mostly off us, so we didn’t bother with pulling out our rain gear.

Total climbing time: 9 hours and 8 minutes
Left trailhead at 7:10, returned at 4:18
Summited Esther at 10:43, Whiteface at 12:55

What to do when you’ve done what to do – Re-visiting Reykjavik

My BF is heavily into EVE Online.  (I’m ok with that – he’s a hockey widower in winter, I’m an EVE-Online widow all year)  Every year there’s a fanfest in Reykjavik at the end of April for, well, fans of the game.  They organize a few activities – Golden Circle tour, Blue Lagoon, a pub crawl in Reykjavik; along with fanfest activites at Harpa concert hall  There’s also an activity for the non-Eve players who accompany their friends and/or significant other to the event.

Anyway.  I’ve done the Golden Circle tour, and the Blue Lagoon.  I wasn’t against doing either again – I didn’t get particularly good photos last time; or rather – at Strokkur, I was taking a video and some man stepped right in front as Strokkur erupted.  And then I forgot to bring my camera to the Blue Lagoon.  So doing those two again was fine by me.  But what to do with my days that were free, while the BF is off fanfesting it up?

I should note – we didn’t spend all of our time in Reykjavik.  We head up north, to Akureyri (I have never typed that right the first go around), for three days before the fanfest.  I didn’t make it there during my last trip, so everything there was new.

So from the beginning:


Akureyri from the air

 Akureyri is in northern Iceland – while we could have taken the bus we said “uh, no.” and flew with Air Iceland.  It’s a short hop of a flight, really, that leaves from the domestic airport in Reykjavik.  International flights land at Keflavik airport, so we hopped the FlyBus into the city, and decided to drop off one of our bags at the Downtown hostel, where we had booked to stay when we returned to Reykjavik.

We spent 3 days here early in our trip – April 20 – 23.  Everything was still snow covered, but it wasn’t too cold – about -3C, maybe a little warmer during the day.


We spent a total of one day (two afternoons) walking around Akureyri – the downtown portion of the city is fairly small.  We also walked out to a bridge across the fjord to get some great photos of the city one afternoon.  We popped into a few different pubs and restaurants as well – we were very pleased with the food at the Thai restaurant (Krua Siam) as well as the local favourite Bautinn.  A lot of the pubs didn’t open until 8:oo, so we missed visiting a few that we thought might be interesting, but we did go into the pub beside Café Paris – good beer, nice atmosphere, and interesting décor.  The Italian Restaurant wasn’t worth much – the meatballs tasted like they had been frozen, then re-heated when needed.  Tip for those planning to visit:  Most shops don’t open until 10:00 or 11:00, and most bars don’t open until 8 p.m.  Try to plan dinner for later in the evening.

The other two days we took two side-trips.  One day we booked a Lake Myvatn day-tour with Saga Travel.  Highly recommended!  Since it was still a little before the tourist season, it was a small group – there were 5 of us in total, including the BF and myself.  Our tour guide, Anton, was great – he’s from the area, so he was incredibly knowledgeable about the places we were going.  We visited Goðafoss (a waterfall, where supposedly the lawspeaker threw his heathen idols upon converting the country to Christianity), followed by Skútustaðagígar (false craters in the Lake Myvatn area), dimmuborgir (where the Yule Lads live), grjotagja (a small lava cave with thermal hot springs inside),  hverir (stinky mud pots, and sulfer flats), ending with a soak at Myvatn nature baths.  We had a really great day – and we were lucky to have incredibly weather!
Lake Myvatn nature baths
This is a full day tour – we got back to the hotel about 5 or 6 in the evening.  We were originally told we would have only an hour and a half at the hot springs, but seeing as it was such a small group we extended it (with everyone being enthusiastic with the idea) to two hours.  Admission to the nature baths was included in the price we paid for the tour itself.  Not included was lunch.  We stopped at Vogafjos (The Cowshed Cafe) a family run restaurant that is built beside a cowshed – in fact, it shares a wall of windows, meaning you can see into the cow shed from your seats.  We were lucky enough to have a view of some calves that had been born not too long before.  As a quick review:  the food is excellent (the BF enjoyed the arctic char, I had a massive plate of lamb shank) and reasonably priced for northern Iceland.
Lake Myvatn
One tiny bit of useful information:  In the winter (before May 1), the tours run from 8 a.m.  After May 1, they begin at 10:00.  When we booked our tour through the HI Hostel in Akureyri, they told us 10, so we had a bit of a mad scramble at 8 when the tour guide showed up. We were really lucky in that our hotel (Hotel Akureyri) allowed us to pack up a bit of a breakfast to take with us – breakfast had been included in the price we paid for our room.

Icelandic horses near Lake Myvatn
Husavik Whale-Watching

The next day we headed off to go whale-watching in Husavik.  We took the bus (by the cultural centre) which was incredibly easy.  If memory serves, it cost about 2100 ISK per person for the hour and a half ride.  We caught the bus around 8, and arrived in Husavik in time for the 10:45 trip with North Sailing.

Seeing as it can get cold out on the open water, especially in winter, North Sailing provided massive (and warm!) coveralls – like snowsuit onesies you get for kids – to everyone on board, as well as storage for bags in the hold underneath.  We headed out onto the water and quickly spotted quite a few birds – gannets, skuas, and puffins mostly, with a few ducks and geese thrown in.  We went as most birds were migrating back to Iceland; had we gone much earlier I don’t know how many puffins we would have seen.

About a half hour or so after heading out, maybe a bit more, we came to the other side of the bay, and slowed down.  This is apparently a big spot for whales.  Another half hour of slow going the BF and I (and most likely the guide, but I’m pretty sure no other tourists) spotted a spout of water.  Sure enough – whale!  And not just any whale – the guide identified it as a blue whale.  We raced over to where we had seen it surface, and waited.

Here’s the thing with whale-watching -you wait a lot.  We did see it surface several times; it would surface a series of times before diving back down, at which point we would wait 20 to 30 minutes, before it would surface a series of times again.  We probably saw this repetition four or five times before we headed back to Husavik.

Reykjavik – hotels
The next day we headed back to Reykjavik.  Another short hop of a flight, and then a taxi ride to our hostel.  We stayed at the Downtown Reykjavik HI Hostel, which I highly recommend.  It’s decently priced – we stayed in a private double with en suite bathroom, and it was about $100CDN, which for Reykjavik is cheap.  The dorm rooms are, of course, cheaper, but then you’re sharing the room with 9 other people.  The hostel itself is relatively close to most things of interest – close enough that you can walk, far enough away that you’re not woken up at night by drunken revellers (unless you’re in the dorm rooms, of course.)  They serve a buffet breakfast for about $12 (bagels, deli meat, cheese, some fruit, coffee, juice, cereal).  They also have free wi-fi.

Halfway through our stay in Reykjavik, we switched to Hotel Centrum Reykjavik.  The BF (up to this point) wasn’t too sure about hostels, so as a compromise we agreed to switch to a hotel.  Fail.  Massive, massive fail.  The doors to the hotel are marked with the hotel logo, but not the name.  The name is on one of the buildings, but the logo is not there.  When you first walk in, you are greeted with a menu for the attached French restaurant.  The check-in desk is a few metres into the building.  It’s a strange set-up, and at first we had difficulty figuring out if we were in the right place.

The staff there were great – very friendly, very helpful.  The hotel itself is clean, although the carpets do look like they suffered some water damage in the past, which isn’t a comforting thought.  The bed in our room (Room 423) was horrible.  Two single beds, of different heights, pushed together.  Very uncomfortable to sleep on.  Other than that our room was fine – large, airy, en suite bathroom, small sitting area.  Also worth a note: wi-fi is not free.  I think it was about 150Kr per hour.

Reykjavik – activities

With Smairi the first horse I rode

The last time I was in Reykjavik, I had wanted to go horse-back riding but didn’t have the chance.  So this time, I pre-booked with Ishestar to do a full-day of riding.  I took horse-back riding lessons as a kid/teenager, but to be honest, it’s probably been about 20 years since I’d been on a horse.

I sent off an email, and quickly received a reply.  They have a full day “Viking Tour” that combines  a morning Lava tour, which doesn’t require any experience, and an afternoon Express Viking tour, which does require an intermediate level of knowledge. It was about $155 CDN for the full day, with lunch and hotel pick up/drop off included.

On Ljosi, my afternoon ride

I had fun with both – the morning was a good re-introduction, and helped me feel more comfortable.  The afternoon was more exciting – I got to try several different gaits, including the tolt, and we spent a lot of time galloping over the terrain.  The staff was wonderful, and the horses (mostly) fantastic.  In the afternoon, I started out on one horse that….well, she wasn’t for me.  She was a little stubborn, and I found her gait very bumpy; so not only was I spending most of the time fighting to get her to go (her default speed was stop) and I also spent a lot of time trying to stay on her back during the gallops and tolting.  My guide and I switched horses at our first break, and the second horse was much more my speed – eager to run, and he had a very smooth gait. 

The BF and I also got a 24-hour Reykjavik city card.  This gave us access to the city’s swimming pools, some museums, as well as the bus system.  We visited Settlement 871, and the Laugardalur swimming pool (take bus 14 from the city centre).  The swimming pool was really interesting – besides a pool to do laps, there are several “hot tubs” as well as a kiddie area.  Nothing quite like swimming in a bikini when it’s only 2C outside!  Well worth a visit.

One day while the BF was at Eve Fanfest, I wandered around the city.  I visited the Penis Museum, which had wanted to go to last time, but didn’t because I was with my mother.  My mom and I are close, but not sharing the experience of going to the Penis Museum close. 
It’s nearly $10 CDN to get in, and they don’t accept cards (make sure you have cash, although there is an ATM in the bus station across the road).  I had a good laugh while wandering around – it’s not a large museum, one large open room, with three or four smaller rooms on the sides, but it is interesting.  Besides preserved penises, there are also a few penis memorabilia (a phone, for instance)

I also wandered around the city a bit, seeing sites that I had seen before, and looking to see what I remember, and what I didn’t. I went by Red Rock Cinema, where a local volcano chaser (is that a thing?) shows his volcano movies daily.  I had already seen it with my mother back in 2008, so I chose not to do a repeat.  I did, however, buy the DVD.  My mother had wanted a copy and we never got a chance last time.

 One night the BF and I did hit up The Volcano House, which is close to the Downtown Hostel (and offers a discount to HI members).  It was OK, but I have to say I preferred Red Rock Cinema.

The Eve Online fanfest people had arranged for the Reykjavik symphony to play music from Eve on the opening night of the Fanfest.  The Fanfest is held at Harpa, the concert hall by the harbour, and so was the symphony.  I enjoyed the music – I thought the musicians did a fantastic job, although I don’t actually know the music from Eve.  (The BF says they were very good, so I figure he would know)

Eating and Drinking
Most evenings in Reykjavik, we headed to the Dubliner Pub.  It was a quiet pub most nights, although they did frequently have someone on stage playing music.  We’re not huge party people, so this became our “local” for our stay.  We did hit a few other places – The English Pub was also a nice place to hit up, as was Uppsalir Bar (which has two for one draft for happy hour!).  And Cafe Stofan was a great place to chill out on a rainy Saturday – comfortable armchairs and couches to sit in, and good coffee.

We tried a variety of restaurants in Reykjavik.  I like Tobasco’s – a Mexican restaurant (that serves traditional Icelandic food as well).  We also ate at an Indian restaurant – Gandhi Restaurant – that had good food, if not very spicy.  Geysir, close to the hostel we stayed in, had good food, and a bit more of an upscale atmosphere to it.  Krua Thai, on Tryggvagata, is a good place for Thai, very tasty, but they don’t do table service.

Waterfalls, Geysers and Hot Springs (Oh My)
We did a tour with the Eve Online Fanfest people to Gullfoss, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park.  A Golden Circle tour is worth it, although I think summer is better, as you can spend longer at Thingvellir….or at least, that was true 5 years ago.  We had a 20 minute “leg stretch” really, and then it was back on the bus and on to Gullfoss.

Later on, after the Fanfest, the BF and I booked two tours with Reykjavik Excursions.  I had used them in 2008, and had a wonderful experience.  I saw no reason to switch to a different company (there are several that ply the same routes to the major tourist attractions.)  That was a bad decision on my part.  They wrote down the name of our hostel wrong, so our pick up for the Blue Lagoon never showed up.  When we called, they just said “We’ll pick you up in an hour” and that was it.  No sorry, no discount.

Chilling in the sun and warm waters

We did at least get to go to Blue Lagoon, eventually.  I preferred the Myvatn Nature Baths in the north, but Blue Lagoon is relaxing as well.  We were lucky – there really weren’t a lot of people, although it can fill up.  If you’re not going up north, it’s worth the trip.  If you have, or are planning to, visit Myvatn, don’t feel you’re missing something by not going to the Blue Lagoon.  One handy feature many companies have is  a combined Blue Lagoon/airport trip – they will pick you and your luggage up, drop you off at the Blue Lagoon for a few hours, then pick you up and take you to the airport (The Blue Lagoon is between Reykjavik and the Keflavik airport).  We didn’t choose this option, we wanted to take our time, but some people on our bus had.  Reykjavik Excursions, and I assume the other companies, have huge luggage storage areas for your luggage if you choose to do this option.

When we had arranged our Blue Lagoon tour, we had also arranged to do the South Shore Adventure, the day after, again with Reykjavik Excursions.  Our pick up showed up, and took us to the BSI terminal to transfer to a bigger bus (this is a common practise.)  We got on, and immediately smelt smoke.  We asked some people already on the bus – and they told us that the bus had filled with smoke a few minutes before.  The driver and guide had opened the windows to air it out.  (No, we didn’t get a different bus.  We took that one.)

Other things about the tour bothered us:  The tour guide had a horrible stutter, so it was really hard to listen to him.  He was very friendly and very knowledgeable about the area, but it was painful trying to follow him.  The bus had some trouble at the glacier we visited, but we were told it was fine.  Later on, it actually over-heated, and the driver had to use water to cool the engine down.  The driver was also very unfamiliar with the bus – he couldn’t figure out the heating, so we had to keep pulling over and stopping so the driver could fiddle with it.

Now that that’s out the way, the sites.
We started at Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted three years disrupting air traffic to and from Europe.  (Considering that I tend to visit places right before natural disasters, that might not have been the best of places for me to go).  It was a quick stop, as there really isn’t much to see, but it was still interesting.  Especially when you find out that there’s a farm at the base of the volcano!

Dirty ice

From there we hit the Salheimajokull glacier, where companies over glacier walking.  (You actually just walk on the tongue of the glacier, as the body of glaciers are very dangerous.)  We didn’t get to walk on the glacier, although we did get to go up close and touch the ice – if we dared.  This particular glacier sits over an active volcano, so intermixed with the ice is ash.  It makes for a very dirty glacier.  If you’re planning on driving yourself, be aware that it is a very rough, dirt road to the glacier.

Not black sand.

After that, we continued along the Ring Road down to Vik.  There’s a “black sand beach” just outside Vik that is a big attraction.  It certainly is interesting, however….it’s black rocks, not black sand.  I think we would have enjoyed it more in the summer, as it was the wind was blowing, and it was cold on the open beach.  We did get a good look around at the basalt columns and natural rock formations just off the beach.

Basalt columns on the beach

If we had had more time, I would have loved to have taken a walk along the beach, or up the hill over the basalt columns.  But we had only a short stop, and it was chilly, so we quickly got back on the bus for the short jaunt into Vik, and for lunch.

We stopped at a small cafe, that served the regular food – hamburgers, fries, and Icelandic lamp soup.  The food was good, although it wasn’t anything fancy.  There was also a shop nearby that we took a quick look in.  (We ended up buying a reindeer hide)

A 92-year-old Icelandic man explaining fishing gear

 After lunch, it was back on the road, this time to the Skogar Folk Museum.  Here we got a look at items used in everyday life in Iceland, up to quite recently.  It was interesting to see how they lived before the advent of international air travel, when goods had to be imported by boat.  We were given a brief tour, then allowed to wander around on our own.  We also were allowed to wander into a few sod roof houses that are part of the museum.  One of the houses was used up until 1970!

Sod roof houses in Skogar

 Beside the town is a beautiful waterfall – Skogafoss.  We drove over, and walked beside the small stream up to the waterfall.  As you approach, the view opens up, and you get a glimpse of an incredible rainbow, from the spray as the waterfall descends.  It’s a beautiful sight, and we had amazing weather for it.  Blue skies, sun shining.  We spent a bit more time here, as everyone was enjoying themselves.

 But we weren’t done yet.  We had one more waterfall to go, before we headed back to Reykjavik.  Seljalandsfoss is a short drive away, back towards the city.  This waterfall is interesting, because you can actually walk behind the waterfall, as the water has worn the surrounding rocks away.  Or at least, normally you can.  Given how cold it had been when we went to visit, it was hardly surprising that the spray had turned to ice, coating everything close to the waterfall.  Even the staircases were coated with a fine layer, as was the grass.  I’m sure in better weather it’s magnificent, but I was a little underwhelmed at this point.  (Then again, it was the fourth waterfall I’d seen in under a week.)

TL;DR version:

– Hotel Akureyri
– Bautinn Restaurant in Akureyri
– Saga Tours
– North Sailing
– HI Downtown Hostel Reykjvaik
– Ishestar Riding Tours
– The Dubliner Pub in Reykjavik

– Hotel Centrum Reykjavik – uncomfortable beds, no free wifi
– late open for shops (10:00)
– Pubs not open in Akureyri until 8 p.m.
– Expensive – understandable, but still 😦
– Reykjavik Excursions tours