HaBaSa from JBL

Haystack, Basin and Saddleback (HaBaSa)
Order in ranking: 3, 9 17

It was down to the Adirondacks for another long weekend of climbing and luxury camping, if you can call what we did camping, and if you can call Johns Brook Lodge luxury.  I should probably start at the beginning so you can follow that.

Backwards J is a thing, apparently

First, Johns Brook Lodge (JBL).  This is a hike-in facility run by the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK).  It’s a 5.6 km (3.5 mile) hike from The Garden parking lot to JBL.  It’s a full board lodge, at least between late-June and Labour Day.  The staff, there were three when we stayed there, hike in all the food.  Any special dietary needs (gluten-free, egg allergies, etc.) need to be communicated at least 24 hours in advance so that the staff can bring in any special food (my friend Stephanie, who has celiac’s, had gluten free pancakes one morning).  But this is no luxury lodge – the rooms are all dorms (there are two general 10-bed dorms, and two family four-bed dorms), there’s no electricity, no shower and no flush toilet.  Not to dissuade you too much – the privies are clean, with a seat (no squat toilets!), and there are sinks to wash your hands/do a bird-bath after your climb.  The water is also potable, so you don’t need to hike in water for your stay.  And, while there is no electricity (and no charging phones, batteries, or cameras), there are propane lights, and propane stoves.  We had wonderful meals (turkey, mashed potatoes, bacon, sausage, eggs, oatmeal, coffee, BBQ chicken, etc.) while we were there, and they prepared a bagged lunch for everyone each day.  Additionally, it effectively cuts 11.2 km (7 miles) off your hike; if you’re planning to do the Haystack-Basin-Saddleback (HaBaSa) loop, this is definitely a good thing.

Our big plan was originally to do a Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw loop, and spend a night camping at Johns Brook Lodge.  We’d hike in on the Friday, spend the night, do the loop on the Saturday, hike partway out and camp in a lean-to, then hike the rest of the way out on Sunday.

This plan then grew to doing Saddleback-Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw as a loop on Saturday, spend an extra night at JBL on Saturday, and then hike Haystack and Basin on Sunday, before hiking out.

Which changed one last time when we saw that it was to rain on the Sunday.  Everything we’d read said don’t climb Basin or Haystack in the rain.  So our game plan, upon reaching the Adirondacks, was to do the HaBaSa loop on the Saturday, then the Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolf Jaw on Sunday.  Ambitious, to say the least.

And onwards towards JBL

Our hike in was a little slow – it was the first time that we had carried full backpacks (with clothes, sleeping bags, extra snacks, and our day packs) and we wanted to make sure to conserve some energy.  It probably took us close to two hours to reach JBL.

Once there, we quickly unpacked and sat outside enjoying the view, as well as sharing stories and tips with the other hikers.  The great thing was that most of them were also aspiring 46ers, including two women (also from Ottawa!) who were set to complete the 46 the next day with a hike up Haystack.

It was an early night for everyone, and a mad scramble the next morning as everyone prepared for their hikes.  We had filled our camelbaks and water bottles the night before, so after breakfast (eggs, oatmeal, sausages), we grabbed our lunches (two sandwiches – one pb and j, the other ham, as well as trail mix and cookies), stuffed them in our day packs, and set out.

A few broken sign-posts along the way

The first few miles were definitely easy, with a few rolling up and downs, but nothing strenuous.  This always scares me, because I know that at some point there’s going to be an up, and the longer it takes to get to the up, the harder that up is.  And that certainly proved true, as we had 878 feet to climb in a mile.  But, we thought, ‘how hard can it be’?

Not very, it turned out.  It is steep, and it is rocky, and it was wet (and buggy) but it wasn’t too bad.  I wouldn’t want to go down it, but up – it was fine.

We got to a rocky outcropping, where a woman was sitting, and I got all excited, “Is this Little Haystack?!?”  I asked.  No, it wasn’t.  “Is it BIG Haystack?!?” I asked in jest, no it isn’t.  “Is it Needle-In-A-Haystack?!?” Stephanie jokingly chimmed in, and after a laugh we all agreed that would be the name of that outcropping.  So, for those of you follow us, you will first summit Needle-In-A-Haystack, then Little Haystack, then descend Devil’s-Half-Mile (more on that) before finally summiting Haystack.

People picking their way down Haystack

The trek between Little Haystack and Haystack, Devil’s Half-Mile, is a little bit daunting.  It involves walking carefully on small ledges along the rock face, and gingerly scaling the rock face up towards Haystack.  It’s not hard, but it does require some concentration, and I definitely wouldn’t like to do it in the rain, or on wet rock.  The best piece of advice I can pass on is….leave your poles (or pack them into your day pack.)  We left ours by a cairn on the way up Haystack, which  made the rock scrambling that much easier.  (And yes, they were still there when we got back down.)  Follow the yellow paint blazes and you’ll be fine – there are lots of hand holds and toe grips, and for most of it, you can walk upright, if a little slanted forward.

We convinced two other hikers to do the rest of the loop with us.  Their group was only planning on doing Haystack, and they had been debating doing the Basin-Saddleback loop but were unsure.  In retrospect, I’m very, very, very glad that there were four of us.  The trail up the Saddleback cliffs was….scary.  Especially in the moment.  But I’m ahead of myself here.

Going down Haystack was a lot easier than going up – possibly because we had only spent about 20 minutes at the summit, and the way was fresh in our minds.  We raced back up and over Little Haystack, and back down to the trail, that branched off towards Basin.

More ladders.

Basin was a little slower going.  It was quite steep, and there was a bit of rock scrambling to get up and over some of the larger boulders.  And, because of course always, there was another ladder.  I practically hopped my way up, I was so happy I didn’t have to climb down the thing.  The other two people had gone on ahead, and we ambled our way towards the summit.  We’re not fast hikers, and we’re ok with that.  We hike at our pace, and we get there.  Plus we enjoy it along the way.

We met a few people along the way, including a couple who had come up over Saddleback before tacking Basin (doing it the opposite way from us), with full on backpacks.  Like massive full on backpacks.  So some more advice – do not do Saddleback-Basin-Haystack.  Especially if you have full on massive backpacks.

We finally made it to the summit of Basin, and looked back over the path we had come.  We could see both Little Haystack and Haystack in the distance.  It always amazes me, how distances always look massive when you see them, but seem so much smaller when you walk them.  We met up with the other two hikers from Haystack, and enjoyed a few moments rest before we left to tackle……the Cliffs of Saddleback. (dun dun dun!)

I have no idea of what’s coming

Ok, so, disclaimer.  I am beyond terrified of heights.  Or rather, falling from/being pushed from heights.  Two steps up a ladder and I freak out.  (Second disclaimer:  I do not let this stop me from doing anything I really really really want.  I will tough it out and scare myself if I have to, but I will do whatever it is if I am that determined.)

So back to these cliffs.  Have you seen “The Princess Bride?”  And do you remember the Cliffs of Insanity?  It’s basically that.  Only I’m exaggerating just a little bit.  (Although, we did have a woman following us, and I swear she kept gaining.  It was very Princess Bride.)   The cliffs aren’t that bad.  There are three ‘sets’ that you have to climb.  The first one is probably the hardest, because you have no idea how to begin.  Thankfully, the other two people went first and coached us up.  Once you get the first foot up, and the first hand-hold, the rest just seems to “flow” – you can easily get up the first set of rocks.  After that there’s a small area to stand and catch your breath.  Then it’s up the next “set” – again, once you get going, it’s easy to keep momentum up to the next flat-ish area. 

The paint blazes lead either up and over or over and down

I found the third one the hardest – this one seemed to have fewer hand-grips, but did have some space to wedge an arm against the rock and push yourself up.  And then…you’re there.  You’re at the top, or at least very close.  You have to walk around the rocks a bit (again, on an angle as you are still on a bit of an incline) but after one brief haul up a rock, you’re at the summit.  You’ve made it.  You have accomplished one of the hardest hikes in the Adirondacks (that’s what I think, and I swear I have read it somewhere else.)  Is it scary?  Yes.  Could you hurt yourself, badly?  Yes.  Should you have company?  Yes.  Should you do it the opposite way?  No – because then you’d see where you are going, dooooooowwwwwn, and that is just….stupid.  Go up.  Climb.  Climbing it is easier than trying to descend it and have clean underwear at the end.

Woot number 17!

Once atop Saddleback, we took a group picture with our other two hikers, Chris and Eric.  This summit was Chris’s 16th, our 17th and Eric’s 20th.  We were all a little battered and bruised – I have a few (very minor) scratches from my climb up, as did most of the others.  But we made it, and the pride….man.  If you’re wondering if you can do it – yes you can.  Take a deep breath, and go.

We all slowly hobbled down Saddleback.  We met a crew doing trail repair on the Orebed trail – they were building a new ladder up the slide, to maybe? replace one taken by Hurricane Irene.  The devastation left behind by the hurricane is incredibly evident – the slide is desolate, and piled at the bottom is a massive amount of dead wood – trees, branches, roots.  It’s just incredible.

New ladder being built

If you’re thinking of doing the Orebed trail, it’s not too bad, at least until the split with Gothics.  From the base of Saddleback to the bottom, it’s fine, especially with the new ladders.  (I hear that the portion from the split to Gothics summit is a must-go-up, because of the cables.)  We were a little slow on descending – Stephanie and I went ahead, and Chris and Eric took it slower on the way down.  I was so ready to stop walking.  There are a few times, as you cross slides, that it might be easy to lose the trail.  Follow the cairns and the trail markers, and you’ll be fine.  We did get lost at one point, but we just back-tracked to the last marker, and then made our (corrected) way from there.  I guess that’s the thing with the Adirondacks; it’s like the Hitch Hikers Guide To the Galaxy – Don’t Panic.  If you ever think you’re lost, just go back to the last marker, and re-find your way.

We walked for what seemed forever, when we hit a lean-to.  The lean-to is half way along the Orebed trail, and we couldn’t believe that that is where we were.  We honestly felt like we were closer to the end.  But we kept walking, and a little bit later hit the junction for the trail that leads to JBL.  The good news is that if you’re staying at JBL, you don’t have to walk the half-mile back to the Interior Outpost to start your hikes – there is a trailhead at the lodge.

At this point we were moving on auto-pilot.  One foot in front of the other.  All we could think of was the BBQ at JBL that night.  Dinner is served at 6:30, and we knew it would be close.  Finally, after two river crossings, and a horrid, horrible, set of “stairs” we neared JBL. By this point it was 7:00, but thankfully dinner was still on, and there was lots of food.  As we walked in (me first, Stephanie a few seconds behind me) two massive cheers went up from the hikers already back at camp.  They clapped and cheered us as we entered the lodge and we were both overcome with the sense of camaraderie.  We quickly devested ourselves of our shoes and socks, and sat down for some well-deserved dinner.  About 10 minutes after us, in came Eric and Chris, and another massive cheer came from those of us at dinner.

 

Total climbing time: 10 hours and 57 minutes
Left JBL at 8:05, returned at 7:02
Summited Haystack at 12:30, Basin at 2:40, Saddleback at 4:30

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.

Summit! 

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

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…..it’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.

Summit!

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…..it wasn’t.  The trail kept going.  So we rounded a corner, and…..is 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

Kit Up Kili – What to Pack

One of my major problems when I was planning my trek up Kilimanjaro was what to take.  I’d search website after website after website, but it all gave specifics and no generals, and I headed into it feeling incredibly unprepared, equipment-wise.

Which leads me to this post.  What should you take up Kili?  What did I need, what didn’t I need, what should the company offer me, etc. etc. etc.  Feel free to ask questions – I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.

Under-wear
Not just underwear, but the clothes that will be the base layer for your trek.

– long johns, long sleeve shirt, preferably wicking material – a must.  One set will probably be enough
– several pairs of liner socks (3 or 4) – recommended, but not a necessity.
– underwear – I went with four pairs for 7 days.  (For women – I brought two sports bras)

I had a pair of Helly Hanson base layer pants, as well as a long sleeve top.  A base layer of something is going to be beneficial.  You want to layer to create pockets for air to become trapped, and help keep you warm.  Additionally, you’re going to get hot as you walk, and you’re going to want to take layers off.  And one last thing (because this happened to me) – if it rains, and you’re not wearing your rain gear (and it can whip up in a hot second), if you’re wearing a base layer you can at least take off your wet gear, and pull on the rain gear, and you’ll be warm again in no time.

Cold, wet, weather from Karanga to Barafu

The other thing is that the first few days you’re in lower altitudes, and you won’t be wearing your base layers.  Well, maybe at night, but you won’t need it during the day.  You’ll be wearing these the closer you get to summit – I was on the Machame Route, and I think I started wearing them leaving Barranco camp.

I loved my liner socks.  I wear them whenever I climb anything – i.e. the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks – and they help prevent blisters, keep my feet warm in cold temperatures, and keep my warm, thick socks fresh for a) sleeping in and b) climbing in the next day.  (Plus, they dry quicker)  Any wicking material, or cotton, sock should do fine.  Your rule of thumb should be:  do they hurt my feet when I walk for 12 hours in them?  If no – good to go.

Over The Under-Wear

Lower altitudes:
– zipper pants (unzip for shorts)
-yoga pants
– t-shirts
– light-weight fleece sweater
– long sleeved shirt (zip up)
– running shoes (didn’t need in the end)

Upper altitudes:
– Fleece pants
-heavy fleece sweater (of some kind)
– wool hiking socks
– stretchy gloves

So I brought a pair of fleece pants that I bought at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on sale.  I think they were the MEC brand – so nothing fancy.  But my, were they great the higher we got.  I slept in them, half the time.  They were warm, fuzzy, and kept my legs toasty.  I can’t remember what sweater I brought with me (I have a ton – I’m Canadian.  Sweaters are a dime a dozen) but it was warm, it was fleece, and most of the time it was my pillow.

For the lower altitudes, honestly – I bought two pairs of zipper pants from Walmart.  I have no idea what they’re really called, but they have a zipper half-way up so if it’s cold, you attach the lower legs and you have pants, and when it’s warm you unzip them.   That’s what I brought for Kili and for my safari.  I wore them for at least 4 days out of the 7. My yoga pants are from Joe Fresh (the Loblaws brand of clothing – nothing fancy, and about $20 a pair, very cheap) but they’re long (full pants, not capris), and they were great to sleep in, and climb in after we left the rainforst, and started in on the heather and moorlands.

Starting out in shorts and a tshirt

I also got three wicking t-shirts, from Walmart.  Don’t spend a bazillion dollars on wicking tshirts.  I got mine at Walmart for about $12 and they worked fantastically.  I think I took three up Kili – maybe only 2.  (Remember, everyone smells, no one has showered, no one can tell).  I also brought a light-weight fleece top – I got it on sale from Sports Experts, again nothing fancy, no brand name.  I wore the light weight one a lot at lower altitudes – at night, and in the morning.  During the day, I would tie it to my daypack to air it out/dry it.

For the socks – I bought wool hiking socks, but I think you could use any heavy duty sock, especially if you have liners to protect your feet. I brought a pair of running shoes, (just a pair of cheap Payless sneakers, really), to wear in camp at night, to give my feet a rest from the hiking boots.  I didn’t really wear them – I think I put them on once, and that was it.  I was fine in the hiking boots. 

I bought a pair of $3 stretchy “magic” gloves – you know the ones that look so small that they couldn’t possibly fit on your hands, but they do?  They were great for the mornings (and nights) were it was a little brisk, and you wanted something on your hands.

High Altitude Outer Gear
– I rented a down jacket from my trekking company (Tro-Peaks – excellent company.  I recommend them)
– Heavy-duty corduroy hiking pants from MEC.  (didn’t need in the end)
– Toque (wool cap that you wear in winter, over your ears, to keep your head warm)
– waterproof mitts

I probably didn’t need the jacket, and definitely didn’t need the pants, but the toque was welcome most days, especially when the wind got blowing.  I also wore it at night to keep my head warm!

I usually feel the cold (that should be:  I always feel the cold) but even then – I only wore the down jacket for about a half hour, as I started towards the summit.  Granted, I started later than most climbers.  Most people start at midnight and make a push to the summit.  I started at 5 a.m., which could be why I didn’t need the jacket.  I would say, be safe rather than sorry – rent the jacket, for the few dollars it will set you back.

Chilly lunch at Lava Tower

Something I really wish I had had was waterproof mitts.  Or at least water repellent.  Mine just soaked up the moisture, and was I ever grumpy, wet, cold and unhappy when I got to camp.  Get something that will not only keep your hands warm, but also somewhat dry.

Low Altitude Outer Gear
– waterproof jacket
– waterproof pants
– lightweight fleece
– brimmed hat

Besides the fleece clothing that I brought, I also brought waterproof pants and jacket.  Again, I went with the standard MEC brand, however the key things you want are breathability (jacket), and waterproof.  You could be wearing the jacket for several hours, and it gets warm as you hike up the mountain (body temperature-wise)  make sure you go for a jacket that has vents, or some other feature for breathability.  Don’t go for a standard rain jacket – you’ll be uncomfortable and unhappy.  We hit rain/sleet/snow between Karanga camp and Barafu camp, and I definitely needed the waterproof jacket and pants, I was really glad to have them.  We had some rain getting to Machame camp (about 20 minutes worth) and, once we were at Shira camp it started to rain (after the tents had been set up).  This was in early August of 2012, so plan to have a little rain.

A hat with a brim (I brought one with a brim all the way around – I used it on my safari as well) is good for the lower altitudes, when you’re still in with the trees.  It shades your eyes, but still allows you to see in the sahde, unlike sunglasses.

Relaxing on som rocks, close to Machame camp

Miscellaneous

– face cloth
– camelbak
– large-ish backpack
– sleeping bag (rated 0C at least)
– fleece lining for sleeping bag
– headlamp
– waterpurification tablets (I brought Aquatabs)
– first aid kit
– headbands (to keep the hair out of my eyes)

The face cloth is more to use as a towel.  For that matter, you could even bring a towel, I’m just thinking weight.  I didn’t, and I regretted it.  You’ll be given a bowl of water to wash your hands in, and you’re going to want to dry your hands.  Or, your camelbak could spill in your tent, and you’ll want to mop it up.  This won’t be a bad choice, trust me.

Camelbak – you can certainly go for bottles, but the recommended amount of water to carry is 3L per day.  I had a 2L camelbak plus a 1L bottle (ordinary water bottle that I picked up once in Moshi).  When my camelbak was empty, I’d open up the pocket containing it and fill it with the bottle. (My backpack had a separate compartment for the camelbak, which made refilling it easy.)

Here’s the thing for the backpack:  It should be a pretty good size.  Mine, a daypack, was slightly too small.  You should be able to fit:  waterproof pants and jacket, lunchbox (cardboard), brimmed hat, camera, sunglasses, mitts + toque – basically, anything you’re going to need during the day.

The headlamp – if you need to go to the bathroom during the night (pray you don’t – they’re nasty beyond nasty), you’re going to want the headlamp to find your way around the tents pitched willy-nilly.

Liners for the sleeping bag:  I packed a silk liner, on the premise it would keep me warm.  I don’t think it did a whole lot.  The fleece liner I brought was much better.  I’d recommend a fleece liner if your sleeping bag is like mine, and not made for cold weather.  If yours is, and is rated to -15C, you could probably skip the liner.

Headbands – I have ones that are actually a long-ish tube – you can use them as a scarf (which I did at higher altitudes), as a hat (which I did, under my toque, at higher altitudes), as a headband, over your nose and mouth to protect against dust.  I mostly used them to keep my hair out of my eyes.  Definitely a good thing if you have long bangs/fringe.

three days with no shower, and wearing a headband.

The water purification tablets are a good bet.  The chef/porters boil the water, and the water on Kilimanjaro is said to be quite pure, however….better safe than sorry.  Up a mountain is not where you want to get sick, over something you could have prevented with a few small tablets.

My first aid kit contained:  allergy pills (I tend to get stuffy at the oddest times, so it’s easier to just pack them), Advil (good for helping prevent altitude sickness, and also headaches), bandaids (varying sizes), second skin (moist pads to put over blisters), diamox (I didn’t need it, but it’s better to have it and not need it, than not have it and need it!), spare laces for my boots, chap stick.

Sunhat vs sunglasses:  I found it easier to see with my sunhat on, over the sunglasses, especially at the lower altitudes.  Sometimes, it was in and out shady, and I found it took too long for my eyes to adjust.  Sunglasses are good at higher altitudes, definitely – especially as the vegetation thins out.  On that subject:  bring something to fix your sunglasses if they break – medical tape, masking tape, something.  Mine did, and thankfully my guide had medical tape that he used to tape them back up!

a little tape, and good as new!

Packing

Here’s what I brought, what I wouldn’t take again I’ll strike through, things that I wish I had I’ll highlight

– 1 pair of base layer pants
– 1 pair zipper pants/shorts
– 1 pair thick fleece pants
– I pair of yoga pants
1 pair “hiking” pants (heavy fabric, corduroy – didn’t need)
– 1 pair waterproof pants
gaiters (didn’t wear them in the end)

– 1 base layer long sleeved shirt
– 2 wicking tops, short sleeve (maybe 3)
– 1 heavy-fleece sweater
– 1 light-fleece sweater
1 light-weight long sleeved shirt
– 1 water proof jacket
1 down jacket (rented)

-3 pairs liner socks
– 2 pairs wool hiking socks
1 pair of running shoes (not needed)
– 2 pair of mitts – 1 stretchy pair, 1 heaver pair (Thinsulate brand) – waterproof receommended
– two headbands 
– 1 toque
– 1 sunhat
– 1 pair of sunglasses

– 1 fleece lining
1 silk lining
– 1 sleeping bag

– 1 pair of hiking poles (rented)
– 1 sleeping mat (rented, I think)

– water purification tablets
– small first aid kit
gatorade powder (in case you get tired of drinking water all the time.  I drink a lot of water anyway, so I was ok with just that, but some people like to mix it up)
– energy chews (I brought Honey Stingers)
– energy bars (I brought Clif bars)
trail mix (ok, I brought too much food and didn’t eat half of it)
facecloth/towel

Company Should Provide

The company should provide your tent, a tent for the porters, guide, and chef, all cooking and eating utensils, the food, water (after the first day, when you should have a full 3L on starting out), and a larger first aid kit.  I think most companies give the choice of renting sleeping bags, down jackets, sleeping mats, and hiking poles.

Staggering up Kilimanjaro

I booked a 7 day Kilimanjaro climb back in April. 5 and a half days up, one and a half days down.  I figured I’d need the 5 days for acclimatization – Ottawa isn’t exactly at a staggering altitude, you know.  Turns out – I was wrong.

I started the climb back on August 7 from Machame Gate (I was taking the Machame route).  It turned out that I was the only trekker – so it was just me, and 6 support crew (1 guide, 1 chef, 4 porters.  That’s a lot of people for one person to summit a mountain!)

The first leg took me from Machame Gate to Machame Gate, and from there the next day to Shira Camp, where we get our first taste of “high” altitude (i.e. over 3000 metres).  I had just spent 4 days in Addis Ababa, which sits around 2500 metres, so the first two days were easy.  Which probably explains why I was the first tourist to arrive in Shira Camp.

The day after we hit Shira Camp, we hiked to Barranco, via Lava Tower.  The side trip to Lava Tower is important for acclimatization – you hit over 4600 metres, before descending back down to just under 4000 metres at Barranco.

The next day, our fourth, saw me tackle the Barranco wall (aka the Breakfast Wall, because you do it right after breakfast).  I have to say – I loved this part.  I loved scrambling over the rocks, hugging them as I swung a leg out to land on the next “step”.

From Barranco, our goal was Karanga Camp (which in my mind will always be Kangaroo Camp).  Being the speedy trekker than I am, my guide and crew decided that we should push on for Barafu camp – the camp before the summit.

Did I mention that my guide thought I could summit a day early?

So on day 5, at 5 am, I made the push for Uhuru Peak – the highest peak in Africa.  After what seemed an interminable age of zig-zags up the cliff face, we finally (and I mean finally – there were six or seven false summits!) came up to….Stella Point.  The second highest point in Africa.  Another hour of staggering found me at Uhuru Peak.  Where I promptly fell against the sign while my guide too my photo.  5895 metres is nothing to sneeze at.

We quickly descended, and I found a mild-to-moderate case of altitude sickness come on.  No headache, which is normal for me in high altitudes, but nausea.  And back at Barafu, where I gratefully fell upon my sleeping bag for a quick nap, I actually vomited upon waking.  Classy as always.

We pushed on from Barafu that day, to Millennium Camp – a new campsite that was installed in 2000 as a relief measure for all the people wanting to celebrate the New Years on Kilimanjaro, but who couldn’t take the altitude.  Needless to say, I was in my sleeping bag early, exhausting after the 7 hour hike to the summit, and 3 hours descent.

The next morning we pushed on down to Mweka Gate – a leisurely 4 and a half hour hike down slippery, rocky paths.  I seriously started to consider that they should award certificates for getting down the path safely, rather than for making the summit!

Oh, and the certificate for making the summit?  I have one of those!

Climbing Kilimanjaro (part 1)

I’m off in less than a hour to climb Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa.  Sitting at over 5800 metres (5895 metres to be exact), Kilimanjaro towers overs the plains below.

I’m sitting in a hotel in Moshi, a small town near the base of Kilimanjaro, waiting for my trek company, Tro-Peaks to pick me up.  I spent last night re-packing bags – putting everything I would need for Kili (fleece sweaters and pants, sneakers for the campsites, wool socks, mitts and a toque, base layers and gaiters) into a bag that porters will carry for me.  In another, smaller, day-pack, I’ve got my day-to-day items – camera, bandaids, binoculars and water that I’ll carry.  I think I’m ready.

I think I’m ready.

The company told me to take it one day at a time – don’t try to climb the peak before you get there.  Just look to what you’re doing now, go slowly, stay hydrated, rest and eat.  Those are the keys to reaching the summit. 

I’ve got four days of hiking upwards before I try to tackle the summit, leaving the last camp at midnight, to see the sunrise over the peak on the fifth day.  After that, it’s all downhill, as we push ourselves to be back in Moshi by the seventh day.  (But as they say, downhill is always so much easier.)

I’ve prepared by hiking in the Adirondacks with a friend, and by walking as much as possible.  Here’s hoping it’s been enough!

See you in a week, after I’ve conquered the snows of Kilimanjaro!

Hills, Hikes, and Hot Springs

I thought my trek to Machu Picchu deserved it’s own post.  It was such an incredible journey, and there’s so many things about it that are worth sharing, not just what I did, but what I wish I had brought, and what I wish I had left behind – things that a lot of trekkers and/or hikers might find useful for their own trip.

I arrived in Cusco from Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Acclimatization is incredibly important, and if you’re flying from Lima (or for that matter, taking the bus), I would highly suggest a few days acclimatization in Cusco prior to doing a trek to Machu Picchu.  Your body will thank you for it.

Common symptoms that people experience are headaches, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping.  I didn’t have headaches, but I did have trouble sleeping at higher altitudes, and during the trek, I didn’t have much of an appetite.  Pay attention to what your body is telling you – if the symptoms get worse, talk to your guide, or someone at your hotel prior to leaving.  High altitude sickness can seriously ruin your vacation if you don’t take the necessary precautions.

Having said all that – I had an amazing time.  There are several different treks into Machu Picchu, with the most famous being the Inca Trail.  If you have your heart set on doing the traditional trek into Machu Picchu, my biggest piece of advice is this:  book early.  And by book early I mean by months.  I waited until three months before, and all the permits were sold.  July and August and by far the most popular months, so book especially early for those months.

There are other trails available, and at alternate lengths.  There’s the Salkantay Trek, which can be done in 5 or 7 days variants, and the Lares Trek which is what I did.  I went with Llama Path – a local company in Cusco founded by a former porter on the Inca Trail.  It’s a sustainable tourism company that strives to pay it’s workers reasonable wages, and to provide them with housing and health care.  Most of the porters, chefs and guides come from Cusco or from the surrounding countryside, giving them inside knowledge of the terrain.  They provided sleeping bags, tents, blankets and food, as well as a mess tent, chairs, table and all utensils and plates.

The food was incredible – hearty and tasty.  They try to serve food that grows at each different altitude level, so it includes things like yarrow root (tastes like potato), lima bean porridge, and quinua.  We also had spaghetti, eggs, cake, fish, and popcorn.  They not only provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but snacks along the trek route, and a snack at the final campsite of the day.

One thing they offered us as a rental was a hiking pole.  I stupidly said I didn’t need one.  For the sake of your knees – use a hiking pole.  While I managed ok without it, at the higher altitudes (we reached 4758 metres above sea-level) I deeply wished I had one to lean on.

Another thing that they recommend is a roll of toilet paper.  They provide “toilets” (a hole in the ground, with a toilet seat chair, and tent surrounding it) but no toilet paper.  Definitely bring some.

I brought a small pillow, but found I didn’t really need it.  I used my bag as a pillow at night, and I was usually either so exhausted, or I had trouble sleeping, that I never noticed what my head was placed on.

I did notice what was on my head.  High altitudes are cold.  If you’re from a colder climate, like I am, it’s easy to dismiss people who say “Oh, it’s cold up there.”  Don’t.  It’s cold, and you feel it more when you’re tired and not getting enough oxygen.  Bring a good toque, and a pair of thin gloves at the very least.

I ended up wearing every layer I brought, at least on the day that we hit Pachacutec Pass.  The lower altitudes are a lot warmer, and a thin pair of pants or shorts, and a t-shirt and more than enough.  For shoes, I wore a pair of running shoes (actual running shoes, and not sneakers).  There was no technical climbing, and the path was well marked.  As I went in their winter, and so their dry season, there was no mud.  We did see snow on several occasions, but it was either off the path, or we could walk around it. 

We started at a small village Pumahuanca, outside of Cusco.  Our first day took us up through the forest, and along the Cancha Cancha river, past a small typical Andean village.  We camped the first night “in the wild” – at 3800 metres above sea level.  It was cold that night, so our guide, Roger, built us a fire for us

The yellow tent was our mess tent.

I was on the trek with three other people – Sonia, Eli and Eduardo from Spain, and Connor from Ireland.

We started incredibly early the next day, and hit Pachacutec Pass at 4758 metres above sea-level.  We spent a few minutes up there, admiring the view, and making a traditional Andean offering to Pacha Mama, the mother spirit.  We headed down, and ended our day in another small village – Quisuarani.  In Quisuarani we slept in the yard of the local school.

The next morning, we toured the school, gave small gifts (stickers, pencils) to the principal.  Afterwards, we hiked the last 8 km to Lares, where we got to enjoy the hot springs.

After the hot springs, and lunch, we caught our bus to Ollantaytambo.  We spent some time in Ollantaytambo before catching a train to Aguas Calientes.  We spent the night at a hotel there (Bliss!  A shower.) before waking up at 4:30 to catch the first bus up the switchback road into Machu Picchu.

You really do want to be on the first bus.  You get to Machu Picchu just as the sun is rising, and you get to watch it burn off the mist from the surrounding mountains.  It’s an incredible sight.  Not to mention the fact that there are fewer tourists at that hour than there are later on.  And it doesn’t take long for the tourist to show up and clog the site.

My camera broke that final morning, as we waited in line.  I have no photos of Machu Picchu, other than the one above that I took on my cellphone.  My lesson on this, as I plan for my trip to Africa, is to bring two cameras.  I don’t ever again want to be caught somewhere as unbelievable, with no way to document it.

I’d like to go back and do the Salkantay Trek.  I enjoyed the Lares Trek, and if you’re short on time it’s a great idea, at 4 days.  It’s also very remote feeling – we met no other tourist until we hit Machu Picchu.  We also got to interact with a few locals, which was fantastic.

Kit Up!

So here am I with a plane ticket to Africa, and a plan to climb a mountain.  (Edit #1:And do a safari, which I still need to research, but that’s something else entirely.) (Edit #2: And go gorilla tracking in Rwanda)

You don’t just walk up a mountain.  Especially not the highest peak in Africa.  Sitting at 5895 metres (for everyone else, that’s 19, 341 feet) above sea level, you pass through four different climates on your way to Uhuru peak.  The one thing going for Kili, is that it doesn’t require any actual mountain climbing.  It really is just a hike up a mountain.  But you still need some serious gear, and you do need to be in good physical shape.

I went down to my local Mountain Equipement Co-Op store the other night to pick up the beginnings of my kit.  Previously, I got a pair of base-layers (long-sleeve top, and bottoms) and hand warmers at Sport Chek. Base-layers are pretty important – they help to wick away the sweat and keep you dry, and therefore warm.

But you also need boots.  Not real heavy-duty mountaineering boots, but good trail boots that have ankle support, and somewhat water-proof.  I ended up getting a pair of Vasque Breeze hiking boots.  The reviews on the website sound promising, and one woman even used them on Kili a few years ago.  They’re large enough to fit two pairs of socks – liners (to wick away the sweat, again) and a pair of thicker thermal ones to keep your feet warm.  The two pairs also help to avoid blisters, not something you want happening halfway up a mountain.

I also picked up a wide-brimed oilskin hat.  I’ll need something to protect the back of my head (both on Kili and on the safari)  And sunglasses.  I read in one guide that it is not uncommon for contact lenses to dry out on the windy summit of Kili, and pop right out.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’ll probably need to bring 2 extra pairs of contacts – one in case something happens, and one in case something happens to the pair that I had in case something happens!

Edit #3:  This trip is moving so quickly, that in the time it took me to compose this post (which, granted, took me a few days) I found out some interesting information regarding Ethiopia, and booked a gorilla tracking expedition in Rwanda.  Yeah, that’s right.  I’m going gorilla tracking in Rwanda.  Not to hunt, but to look at.  So expect another two posts in the very near future!

2 Summits. 4 Hours. 1 Bobsled. 1 Road-Trip.

Seeing as this will probably be the last nice long weekend before next spring, I went on a mini-road trip with my friend Steph on Saturday.  We drove down to Lake Placid, New York, to hike up to the summits of Mount Porter and Mount Cascade, two of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks.

Steph is an aspiring 46er – someone who has climbed the 46 High Peaks (that’s the 46 peaks over 4’000 feet) in the Adirondacks.  While she had (previously) climbed Cascade, she had never summited Mount Porter.  Not to mention that she hadn’t clocked herself on the Cascade climb, and the club needs your numbers.  For me, I was eager to get some hiking in as prep for my Kili trip next summer.  They recommend that you hike uphil/downhill as prep for you trip, and I thought that actual mountain hiking would be a great training session.

We left Ottawa at 6am.  The drive to Lake Placid takes about 3.5 hours, and knowing that we would end up spending a good chunk of time on the mountains, we wanted to make sure that we were there early.  The route to Lake Placid took us through the border crossing at Cornwall, and down through Malone, New York, and Saranac Lake.  The drive is incredibly pretty, especially at this time of year when the leaves are turning brilliant shades of orange and red.  The small colonial towns along the route were inviting – had we been going down for several days, I would have loved to have gotten out of the car and explore.

We arrived at the Mount Cascade trail head around 10:30.  We had made a pit stop at the Walmart in Malone so I could buy a pair of sandals.  (Note:  When hiking, always always always bring a change of shoes.)  The trail was busy enough with other groups going up, and the odd group coming down.  We took our time ascending – we were in no rush, and knew we needed to guard our energy as we planned to hit the summits of both Porter and Cascade.  The way going was marked by rocks, trees, branches and mud.

About a half mile from the summit of Cascade, the trail to Porter branches off.  We decided to summit Porter first as Steph hadn’t hit it yet, and it was farther off, an extra 2 kilometers (.7 miles) from the branch.  The trail winds downwards for a bit, before heading back up towards its summit.  This is not a maintained hiking path, it is a winding trail that is awash is mud and water, and just a few minutes from the summit sits a giant boulder that the trail skirts in a tight line, before opening up the reveal the rocky summit, that is lined with pine trees that block the wind.

We decided to lunch at the summit of Mount Porter, as we had now been climbing for nearly 2 hours.  Porter is not nearly as popular as Cascade, so for a time we were alone, enjoying the view of Cascade across the valley.

After lunch we climbed back down, then started the quick assault on Cascade.  The summit of Cascade is thankfully only a half kilometer from the branch, which is about the only thankful thing about it.  The face of Cascade is pure rock that hikers need to scramble up, and if you’re me, slide down on the seat of your pants (on purpose).

In all, it took us 4 hours to hit both summits and descend.  It seemed we would never get off the mountain, as we hiked down.  It seemed to take forever to reach the trail head, and often we were the only people on the trail.  It was such a change from the ascent, when we passed other groups, or had other people in front, behind us as we climbed.  But eventually we did reach the trail head, and signed out.  Taking off my shoes was bliss – my feet were ready for a little relief from the pounding over rocks and mud.

Our drive to Cascade had taken us past a sign that read “Bobsled Rides Today”.  There is no way I can pass a sign offering bobsled rides without participating, so after our hike we took the turn off to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run.

Lake Placid hosted the Olympics in both 1932 and 1980.  The bobsled track from the 1980 Olympics is still in use, and occasionally they offer rides.  At $73 for an adult, it’s not cheap, but it is a once in a lifetime experience.  So I paid, and rode up the .5 miles to the start of the bobsled run.

There is nothing quite like hurtling down a mountain in a tin can, on wheels.  (Yes, in the summer, they put wheels on the bobsled.)  There’s a driver in front, and a brakeman in the back.  All I had to do, was hold on (and try to keep my head from bobbling around in the zigzagging curves)  We finished the .5 mile track in 42 seconds, which seemed to be about the standard times for the “tourist track” (as I’m calling it.)  It was certainly an experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone.

After the bobsled run, and a quick dinner in Lake Placid, we started off for home around 6:30.  The sunset was unbelievable as we exited the Adirondacks, an excellent end to a somewhat crazy sounding day.