Road Trip to the Rockies: Windy Yet Wonderful Hike to Mills Lake

November 18, 2017

Mills Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Fees: $20 day pass as of post
Website: http://www.protrails.com/trail/50/rocky-mountain-national-park-mills-lake-and-jewel-lake
Elevation: 9,240-9,955 feet
Distance: 5.3 miles

Another Saturday, another missed forecast…these weathermen!  We planned a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to Mills Lake.  While we expected cold weather (27-35 degrees) and blue skies, 40 mph sustainable winds were not in the forecast.  The wind was supposed to be over on Friday!

As we drove into the park, we hit a few icy patches on the road as loose snow swirled across the pavement.  We joked, maybe we should just go on a scenic drive, as the wind seemed menacing!  Upon arriving the parking lot, the wind howled.  If we weren’t careful, I think a door could have blown off the car.  The intensity increased and sometimes we felt 60 mph gusts.

photo credit: Danelle

We all layered on our clothes.  I wore short sleeves, long sleeves, a ski sweater, a vest, and a puffy jacket with a hat, buff, mittens, and hand and feet warmers.  We were holding out hope that the trees would protect us from the wind as they had the last few hikes.  Fortunately, this was partly true.  As we began, the wind wasn’t too bad and as we gained elevation, we quickly heated up…enough for some people to shed a layer.

Being cold-natured, I wasn’t part of that group.  I was warm and gave thought to it briefly, but stopping to snap a few photos or removing my hat and gloves for a few minutes was enough to cool me off.

The previous evening, a snow storm swept through the Rockies.  Some areas got a foot of snow.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, at 9,240, the elevation at the trailhead, there was just a dusting, though as we continued to climb, we hiked through about three inches of new snow.

The fresh snow wasn’t too slick or deep, so we didn’t need any help from traction devices.  We just squished squished along the trail.  Fortunately, others started out earlier than us, so we didn’t have to break trail, though at times, the wind was so strong, that it blew loose snow over previous tracks to make the trail barely decipherable.

The scenery was spectacular.  Snow dusted, dark grey, granite cliffs towered around us as snow swirled across the surfaces.  The evergreen forest was blanketed in snow.  Icicles hung from rocks.  The creeks were frozen enough for just a little running water to pass through. And after we entered a wind tunnel where I briefly considered turning around as we did have to turn our backs to the stinging snow, we hiked another mile to see an amazing frozen lake.

The view was just breathtaking.  I’m not sure either my description or my photos can do the scene justice.  At times, surprisingly, the wind died down and the feeling was simply serene.  At other times, the wind gusted viciously and snow whirled across the lake creating an almost eerie sight.  It was really awesome!  We stayed at the lake much longer than I expected, as certain sun drenched places which were protected from the wind were rather pleasant.

25 second Video Courtesy of Danelle.  Worth watching!

Soon, however, we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.  I think the total distance was only 5.3 miles, but the hike sure felt like a workout.  It’s just that much harder to hike on snow which requires engaging some balancing muscles.  Not to mention, keeping warm burns more calories.  I loved this hike, and I think I may return in the summer to hike past Mills Lake and on to Ribbon Falls and Black Lake.  I’m really glad my friends were “gung ho” and willing to brave the wind for a wonderful experience.  ETB

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Hiking in the High Atlas Mountains!

March 3, 2017

Our breakfast at Riad Karmela was quite nice.  We found a table in the corner of the courtyard and picked our favorite foods from the buffet which included a variety of breads, jams, fruits, juices, vegetables, cheese, meats and eggs.

Soon after we finished, we were picked up to go on our three-day tour of the High Atlas Mountains.  The weather was terrible…cold and dreary!   I thought I hope we won’t have to hike in the rain as we drove through a drizzle and clouds so low that the surrounding landscape was hidden.  Who knew there were giant snow-capped mountains in front of us.

Our first stop was in Tahannaout a town about 45 minutes south of Marrakesh.  Here we visited an Argan Oil Co-op located across from a view point that overlooked Azrou, a 400 year village.  Fortunately, the weather cleared enough for us to see this ancient Berber capital named for the city’s quarry of black volcanic rock.

The Argan Oil Co-op called Feminine D’Huile D’Argan was quite interesting.  The argan oil comes from a nut on the argan tree which only grows and produces fruit in Morocco.  The nut starts as green, then turns yellow and soon falls to the ground.  It is left on the ground until it turns brown and harvested in May, June, and July.  It is kept for a year to dry.  The nut goes through two shelling processes before the almond is removed, roasted, and ground by hand for edible oil.  The raw almond seed is ground by machine for beauty products.

The fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent noticed the silky skin of the Berbers and soon attributed the aesthetic qualities to the argan oil.  With increased price and demand for the argan oil, the oil is considered Berber Gold, and the Moroccan government helped establish women’s co-ops to help extract the oil and protect the argan forest.  This has provided much needed employment to women in rural areas.

After watching the nut cracking process and trying a few products, we joined our guide, Omar, on the rooftop where he pointed out the building is located next to a cemetery.  The only way to know that is was a cemetery is that is was fenced.  Otherwise it just looked like a grassy knoll, as headstones are not used to mark graves.  Sometimes a small rock will mark the location of loved one, but after many years when the body has decayed, others are buried in the same location.

From Azrou, we traveled 15 more minutes south to Tagum Village (or Tagom on Google Maps) where we made a very hard right (almost a U-turn) to climb a wending dirt road to have tea with a local family.  We were invited into their cinder block home where we saw their small kitchen (basically a firepit), a hammam which I didn’t know individual homes had, a shelter space for their cow, and a room for the tea drinking ritual.  Omar quickly asked, “What is a hard tea to swallow?”  Soon, he answered, “Reality.”

Kids played outside which prompted me to ask about their schooling.  They go four hours a day, six days a week.  Large villages have their own primary school while small villages tend to share one.  Students go to boarding school for secondary education which is paid by the government.

We continued on through the Asni Valley where we passed by a hotel owned by Richard Branson before we finally arrived in Ait Souka Village where we had lunch at our Riad.  We were served a hot tajine of chicken, rice with fish, bread, yogurt, and of course more tea which warmed us up before we prepared to hike.  It was so cold on the rooftop patio, that we opted for lunch inside and piled on clothes for our hike.

We started our “easy” hike passing by cherry and apple orchards that were still dormant.  We crossed the bridge to get to the street where we hiked down to a trail on our left that I would have never noticed.  We crossed the street and began climbing up toward the Village of Armed on a dirt path.  It led us by plain homes with decorative windows and doors, through a batch of trees, across a creek, along an irrigation ditch, and past mules to a waterfall!  The waterfall was lovely and of course, no matter where you go sometimes, commercialism abounds.

We visited slightly early in the season, so no one was working at the creek side restaurant with a patio and lots of chairs.  The primitive orange juice stand seemed like someone could appear from around the corner at anytime as a basket full of oranges sat on the counter with a knife and hand squeezer.  A make shift sink with a circular spinning hose sprayed water for washing the glasses.

After admiring the waterfall, we climbed some more up a rocky steep path to another village.  All I could think about is how do the Berber people climb up to their homes in slippers or clogs with their groceries or other supplies they fetch at the weekly market.  It’s simply their way of life, and in my eyes quite amazing.

The Berber homes are generally two stories and 300 square feet.  The bottom story is for their animals.  Most families have a cow, some chickens, and a few sheep.  The upper story is for the family, which is usually around six…the parents and four kids.  It makes me think that sometimes Americans just don’t realize what is really needed in life.

Our trek ultimately led us through at least four Berber villages, including Achelm, Mzik, and Arhrene.  All had a mosque.  The buildings in the larger towns seemed to be more colorful than those of smaller towns.  Kids played soccer and hopscotch and women worked near the house while men transported their goods on mules.  I lifted my camera to take a picture of the hopscotch design on the ground as it differed from the one I grew up playing, and it was drawn with water in the dirt.  The kids were off to the side, but one went running away.  Kids, along with women, are not allowed to be photographed.  I knew this and wasn’t even aiming the camera at her, but they have been told by their parents to disallow it so the little girl didn’t take any chances as she sprinted off.

Most of the kids are quite shy, though occasionally we were greeted by a cheery bonjour.  All primary and secondary kids learn French in school as when Morocco was ruled by the French Protectorate, French was the official language. High schoolers study English.  They have twelve years of schooling before they may attend free college, though the must pay for their lodging and such.

The villages clung to the steep hillsides which were terraced for their crops. Currently barley was being grown which is used to feed their animals, but for the summer other vegetables will be planted.  Occasionally we got a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains that poked through the low hanging clouds.  Toward the end of our trek, the skies cleared for some lovely view.  Most of the trek felt like it was uphill, but we finally started heading down where we saw three kids rolling loops with a stick, and a few others sharing a tiny bicycle.  They sipped water from a pipe coming from the irrigation ditch.

Eventually we reached the bottom of the valley and its town that catered to tourists.  In fact, 90% of the families that live in this Imlil area survive on tourism.  A few outdoor gear stores rented crampons. snow shoes, hiking boots, and poles.  Here we met one of Omar’s nephews who was walking home from school.  He was only seven and had to walk at least a mile with all of his schoolmates home.  No parents accompanied them.  They were entirely self-sufficient.  We stopped off at a small convenience store where Omar bought his nephew and his friends candy bars.  As a soccer fan, I was pleasantly surprised by the “Pringooaals!” can.

After 3-4 hours and six or seven miles later, we arrived back at our riad ready for a shower.  Our room included three single beds draped in heavy blankets with a spare by the side of each bed.  Our bathroom appeared to be recently remodeled it nice tile and a good shower.  It didn’t seem quite finished as a small pillow filled the square window and the toilet seat wasn’t attached to the basin so it fell to the floor if it was touched!  Fortunately, the shower water was hot, and that was all we cared about aside from dinner.

Once again, we chose to eat inside.  This time we wrapped ourselves in the blankets as there was no heat in the mountain house.  We ate a bland soup for our first course.  Neither of us could tell what is was, but we thought it just might be leftover vegetables from our lunch tajine blended together.  Next we were served kefta…ground beef meatballs, tomato sauce, onion, and egg for our dinner and a pudding for dessert.  It was tasty.  I’m certain we were offered tea again, but there is a limit to how much sugar we could intake for the day.  Occasionally, we were able to get the tea without sugar if we remembered to ask before it was prepared.

Though freezing cold, we expected to sleep well after a busy day.  Not so, we both woke up melting (those blankets were warm), and couldn’t fall back asleep for hours!  We hadn’t overcome the jetlag yet.  Anyway, I absolutely loved walking through the villages and could have spent hours watching the Berber way of life. ETB

PS.  Omar asked, “Why don’t hens have boobs?”

He Answered, “Because roosters don’t have hands.”

He has quite a grasp of the English language!

 

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From Little Petra to Petra…Phenomenal

December 28, 2016

I count today as our first real day in Jordan. The forecast improved as it called for sunny weather with a temperature around 50 degrees. Much better than the fog, rain and snow of yesterday. Our guide planned to meet us at the hotel at 7:00am, so we went upstairs to breakfast when it opened at 6:30am. They cooked us tasty scrambled eggs to go with a buffet of pita bread, hummus, olives, jams, and za’atar (my new favorite spice).

20161228_043425948_ios-restaurant

We filled our bellies, met our guide (Ramiz), picked up our to-go lunch at the front desk, bought water (3 litres for only 1JD) at the convenience store and prepared for our long day at Little Petra and Petra which included a 6-mile hike between the two. We didn’t know what we were getting into!

After purchasing tickets, a two-day pass and entrance to the night show for $106 at the visitor’s center, we returned to meet our guide who had a truck for transporting us to our first stop, a large cistern on the side of the road that held rain water for irrigating the land and watering the animals. From the outside, the cistern we visited didn’t look that big, but once we followed the stairs inside, we were quite shocked to see such a sophisticated chamber covered in cement so that the water didn’t seep through the soft sandstone native to the mountains. The Nabateans, who settled Little Petra and Petra in the first century are known for constructing impressive water systems. The Nabateans built cisterns to catch rain water, they built aqueducts to transport the water, and even dams to control flooding. In fact, the verb Nabat in Arabic translates to water percolating from underground to the surface.

From the cistern, we walked down the road to Little Petra. On the way, we discussed the rules. Don’t pay the kids as they should be in school. The merchants will ask our guide to sell us items. He will explain to us what they are, but we were only to buy what we wanted. Just as soon as we passed through a small lot where local Bedouins sold their wares, a young boy approached our guide and asked if he could show us a dance. We said, “No, thank you” which became a repetitive phrase later in the afternoon upon arriving in Petra.

In Little Petra, however, the atmosphere was very quiet with few visitors. Also known as Siq al-Barid, Little Petra is located north of Petra in a town called Wadi Musa (meaning the Valley of Moses). While the purpose of some buildings carved into the sandstone is unclear, the Nabatean site is thought to a complex that housed visiting traders on the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes.

In the open area of the canyon, before we entered the narrow Siq al-Barid (meaning cold canyon) we saw our first Nabatean building. Ramiz told us the soldiers used this as a lookout to warn of any danger. The Nabateans built the rest of their city at Little Petra behind a very narrow entrance to stay protected from enemy forces.

We walked through the narrow opening to find a wider area which included caves, stairs, cisterns, and a colonnaded triclinium. It is thought the kitchen was on the ground floor of the triclinium and the food was carried up the stairs to the dining area to entertain guests.

The caves may have housed their animals, but it is hard to know as after the area was abandoned during the Nabatean decline in the 7th Century, the only people who knew of the site were traveling Bedouins who lit many camp fires in the covered areas which destroyed much of the art and paintings.

Paintings from the Nabateans are extremely rare and can’t even be found in Petra. In Little Petra, however, a fresco was discovered on the ceiling and recently restored. The fresco is very detailed and depicts many images related to wine consumption, possibly reflecting the worship of the Greek God of Wine, Dionysus. Three varieties of grapes and two types of birds were found among the gold leaf and translucent glazes. This room is now referred to as the Painted House.

After tea and a toilet break, we began our hike. In the beginning, we followed a dirt road through the desert that took us past a mine, caves, Bedouin tents, recently planted barley fields, and countless rock formations. Most of the natural vegetation, which was limited, was poisonous. It didn’t take long before we reached the middle of nowhere. We left the road, crossed a plowed field, and reached another road where we met an Arab who checked our Petra ticket. It was kind of funny to find a ticket taker out in the desert miles away from the Petra entrance.

We continued our hike along mountain ledges, we ate lunch next to women selling goods on a cliff over-looking the maze of canyons, and we passed men working on the trail. The weather seemed to change like Colorado. One minute we were hot in the sun and shedding layers. The next minute we were adding them back on as we stood in the shade with a breeze.

At one point we had to climb the mountain via stairs. Syreeta, not too keen on hiking, asked Ramiz, “How many?”

He replied, “Not more than 300.”

In disbelief, she exclaimed, “I’m counting.” Upon completion, she concluded there were 287 stairs.

img_0009-syreeta

The stairs were not the last incline. We slogged up another hill, this time off trail through the sand which winded us. at the top, we could see a mosque atop the mountain peak across the way. Preferring to know the plan, Syreeta asked, “Where to next?”

img_0025-mosque

Ramiz calculated, “We have about a mile to the monastery.”

Ok, we prepared for our next jaunt, and as we turned the corner, there was the monastery. We let out oohs and ahs in astonishment! Not one of clued in that our fit bits read 6+ miles and 13,500 steps! What a tricky guide we had!

It was SO exciting to see the absolutely massive monastery. Margaret and Syreeta were jumping in celebration for a picture with the monastery in the background. Little did they know, we still had four hours of hiking ahead of us!

The hike from Little Petra to Petra had us entering Petra from the back way and the monastery doesn’t even show on the map provided by the visitor’s center despite its grandeur. The monastery was built as a Nabatean temple in the 3rd Century BC. It derived its name much later from crosses carved on the inside walls suggestive that it was used as a church during the Byzantine times. I can’t easily describe its size and the thought of the entire building 45m high and 50m wide being carved out of rock is simply mind blowing. We sat in amazement while enjoying a refreshing drink by the fire in the café situated across from this magnificent site. For the movie buffs out there, the Monastery was used in the filming of Transformers 3.

From the Monastery, we hiked at least an hour toward the city center. Fortunately, it was mostly downhill. We followed the crowded steps and dodged donkeys carrying tourists at an uncontrolled speed. The path was lined with merchants and their cats. For every ten cats there was one dog. We were consistently greeted with, “Free to look, good price, happy hour, only 1 dinar.” And we consistently replied, “No thank you,” despite the amazing deals. I really don’t know how they could have made any money selling their wares which included shawls, jewelry, and knick knacks for only one dinar. For bargains, visit Petra in the off-season like we did, though keep in mind if it is foggy and rainy, the complex is likely to be closed! We got lucky and only had to one day of bad weather which was mostly driving.

Our next stop along the path was at the Lion Triclinium which dates back to 200 AD. It is off the path and secluded in a canyon which can easily be missed. The structure derives its name from the two lions carved at the base of the façade. We could see tombs in distance from here. Ramiz told us that the way we could tell that they were tombs was two sets of stairs were carved above the entrance. One set was for the soul to go to heaven and the other set was for the soul to go to hell.

From there we finally reached Petra’s main trail. Petra is one of the seven new wonders of the world, so noted in 2000. More than 2,000 years old, Petra was the capital of the Nabatean Empire which began to prosper through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices in the first century BC. In its heyday, under King Aretas IV, the city was home to 30,000 people.

By AD 106 the trade routes shifted from Petra to Palmyra and new trade routes via the Red Sea to Rome. This weakened the Nabatean Empire and the Romans took control of the city. The Romans added familiar Roman features to the city such as colonnaded streets and baths. The city continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 destroyed most of it and it was ultimately abandoned by the 7th Century. Petra was lost to all except the local Bedouin. It wasn’t until 1812 when a Swiss explorer dressed as an Arab convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the city that Petra was rediscovered.

Our first stop on the main trail was at Qsar Al-Bint, the only free standing Nabatean building in the complex, as the rest were carved out of the colorful sandstone. We continued past the colonnaded street and the Great Temple, of which only columns and steps remained. Next, we stopped at the church which was built around the 5th Century AD where well preserved mosaics covered both sides of the church’s floor. The mosaics are not colored. They simply take on the natural colors of the sandstone created by the minerals inside.

Soon we reached the Royal Tombs which was quite spectacular. The four adjoining facades of the Royal Tombs are known as the Urn Tomb, the Silk Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, and The Palace Monument.

Of all the structures in Petra, Ramiz likes the Urn Tomb because of its loud echo inside and the amazing sandstone colors. Margaret, Syreeta and I liked the Monastery the best, and Suman liked the Treasury the best, as ever since she saw Idiana Jones and the Last Crusade, she had wanted to visit the site.

It was approaching sunset around 4:30, and we still hadn’t even seen the Treasury! Ramiz gave us the option to watch the sunset, but Suman was all about seeing the Treasury so we continued past the Theatre and the Street of Facades to FINALLY lay eyes on another magnificent site. We simply admired the treasury and snapped some photos as dusk fell upon us, and we decided to let Ramiz tell us about it in the morning when we returned as we had soaked up enough information for the day and still had a 45 minute walk to reach the exit!

We passed through the Bab Al Siq, another narrow gorge lined with aqueducts and dams which protected Petra before reaching another open area of structures. With jet lag set in and our brains shut off, we walked in silence until we reached the exit. The night show in Petra was not going to happen for us…all we wanted was dinner!!

We stopped at the Red Cave Restaurant which received four stars on Trip Advisor and was recommended in the guide book, but we didn’t find it quite as good as the hole in the wall we went to yesterday. It didn’t matter. The people were nice, the service was good, and we were hungry! What I found most humorous of all, however, was the sign in the bathroom.

After a 13-mile day, we were asleep before the night show started! But we will be ready for more tomorrow. ETB

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Fantastic Forest Lakes!

August 25, 2016

Wow…we are two for two for picking good hikes on Thursdays recently. Last week, Mohawk Lakes was amazing, and this week Forest Lakes was a pleasure!

Diana, Tanya, and I made it to the trailhead of Forest Lakes shortly have 9:30am. For some reason it seemed like forever to get to the East Portal of Moffat Tunnel. We went through a short construction zone, drove behind a hay truck, and finally reached the long dirt road at Rollinsville which led to our destination.

It was slightly nippy in the parking lot, so we added a few layers before we started up the trail. The path took us through an aspen grove, past an old house, and across a creek at during the first minutes of our hike. In about a mile, we reached a junction where we could turn right to go to Forest Lakes or go straight to Crater Lakes.

After shedding a layer and indulging in a few wild raspberries, we took the right turn up the mountain. We gradually gained altitude as we criss-crossed log bridges over beautiful waterfalls. A few purple and yellows wildflowers dotted the green, lush forest. The mushrooms were profuse. We worked up a sweat as we continued climbing through the evergreens draped in moss on this humid day. We were surprised to reach the lower Forest Lake so quickly. I suppose we hiked 30 minute miles which is normal, but last week we took so many detours it took forever to reach the lake. This time, 1.5 hours later, we were enjoying the reflections of the mountain peaks in the placid waters, as a nearby fisherman cast his line in search of a hungry trout.

From the lower lake, we hiked another 0.75 miles to the upper lake. We were admiring the contrast of the green forest, blue sky, and gray boulders when we suddenly noticed the upper lake. It was so big, it was kind of funny we didn’t even see it at first, but now we know why they are called Forest Lakes. The lakes were really tucked in beneath the pines and camouflaged by the greenery.

After stopping for a few pictures, we climbed up on an awesome boulder with a lovely view of the lake for lunch. The only downside to our lunch spot was having to watch the only other hikers at the lake fly a drone over their friend who was fishing. I don’t know if they were trying to spot fish or to just capture the action, but the constant buzz was a bit disappointing. We had just discussed how tranquil it was on this hike. It was far less crowded than Mohawk Lakes…in fact we had most of the trail to ourselves.

Fortunately, they only made a few passes with the drone, but in the short time we snacked, the clouds rolled in and socked down. While it was amazing to watch the surrounding peaks disappear in minutes, we also knew we shouldn’t admire the change of weather for long. We were already chilled from the sweat on our backs, the overcast skies, and cool 50 degree temperatures. I found myself in a puffy jacked, wool hat and gloves as I finished up lunch!

Soon, a sprinkle started, which turned into a steady drizzle. The tree cover didn’t seem to keep us clear of the rain, but we stayed dry enough with our raingear. It’s funny because the only other times Tanya and I have ever hiked in this area, it was cold and damp too. We wondered if this location attracted more moisture. Despite the early rain, we enjoyed another great hike. ETB

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Our Last Day in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

January 1, 2016

At 3:30 am, the stars twinkled overhead. We dressed in pants and long sleeves and packed our jackets, hats, gloves, and snacks up to Torres del Paine under of the guidance of our headlamps along with a trail of lights from other campers. The ranger suggested we arrive by 4:45am to see the sunrise. I think we got there sooner.

Once again, we climbed up the rocky hillside for a perfect view only we weren’t sure exactly where the sun would rise. We broke a sweat as we ascended and piled on extra layers of clothes. It’s amazing how warm both our sleeping bag and the sun is, as the darkness in Patagonia is cold! I put on all my clothes and had to dance around occasionally to keep my feet and hands from going numb.

The thin wisps of clouds behind the torres turned pink around 5 am. I think we may have waited an additional 1.5 hours to see the sun light up all the torres on the diagonal. It was breath taking to watch the grey granite torres turn more and more orange with every minute as the color moved down the rocks. As we waited we saw an avalanche. The morning couldn’t have been any better! It was spectacular to end 2015 and begin 2016 at the Torres del Paine…and with perfect weather to boot!

Photos every 15 minutes starting at 5am. Watch the light change!:

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Other photos from New Year’s morning:

With our legs on the tired side, we strolled down to camp, heated some water for oatmeal and coffee, and packed up our gear. I read it took 3.5 to 4 hours to get down to the hotel for the shuttle ride. We had tickets for the 2:30 Bus Gomez who really has their act together. We had to get the 2 pm shuttle from the hotel to Laguna Amarga for 2,800 pesos and wanted enough time to eat lunch by the hotel that is $500/night and requires a two night minimum stay. As such, we hiked down at a slow pace around 8:45am. I think it only took us 2.5 hours so we chilled out with some other campers while we waited for our transportation. One girl quipped, “This is going to be a stinky bus ride.” No doubt!

The shuttles ran at 9, 2, 4, 7:30, according to the chalk board at the ranch style hotel, but one came early around 1, so we hopped on and paid our fare. Sadly, we both fell asleep on the slow, 20 minute bus ride to the administration office where we waited in the shade of a shelter with several others for our 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. We learned to dress according to the weather for the bus rides as A/C and heat were lacking. In shorts and T-shirts, we were hot!

From the bus station, we meandered through the quiet town as most everything was closed for New Year’s Day to Kau Lodge. This time at least we got twin beds that weren’t bunk beds. With nothing clean to wear, the shower became our washer and later in the evening we celebrated New Year’s dinner at Afrigonia which received spectacular reviews on Trip Advisor. I suppose we should have stuck with the regular menu as the king crab special was expensive, over cooked, and somewhat flavorless, especially with out warm butter. Having said that, with as much crab as I have shelled and eaten in my lifetime, I’ve never had a giant king crab placed in front of me. It was a fun experience, and David liked the curried shrimp and scallops he ordered. Not being a curry fan, I skipped that.

The coffee shop at our hotel has happy hour and makes tangerine sours. Apparently happy hour wasn’t over even though it was 9pm, so we ended the night with a sour and dessert. I think I passed out before 10, but who knows. We were up before 6 getting breakfast and a taxi to the bus station for the 7:15 am Bus Fernandez to Punta Arenas. This may have been the nicest bus with assigned seats, a bathroom, and temperature controlled.

We enjoyed our last view of the countryside…wind blown trees, lamb, guanacos, bus stops in the middle of nowhere, flowers that looked like blue bonnets, estancias and more. Three hours later we arrived at the airport, very early for our flight, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The airport was small, but nice with two restaurants and three shops or so. The cash machine was out of order, so glad we didn’t need any money! We were trying to get rid of the rest of ours, and I have to say the restaurant upstairs was really good! I got a chicken sandwich that had about two avocados of guacamole…not the thin spread that barely covers the bread that restaurants in the States serve! We had an awesome trip, though I’m looking forward to home. ETB

VISITING CHILE?
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IF I TOLD YOU YOUR CELL PHONE BILL WOULD BE FREE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE OF YOU REFERRED 4 PEOPLE TO YOUR CARRIER, WOULD YOU DO IT?

IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

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Lighthouse website copy

Hiking to Mirador Torres del Paine in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

December 31, 2015

After a very good egg breakfast, we left Los Cuernos just before 8 with our box lunch in hand. The park map suggested it would take about 7.5 hours to Campamento Torres by taking the “short cut” and not hiking by the hotel in the valley. As such we prepared ourselves for a long day of backpacking.

We climbed up and down the undulating, rocky path and wondered why it wasn’t cut closer to the lake’s shore that seemed much more level than the track we were traversing. We passed through some intermittent trees, but mostly followed the shoreline of the lake for a few hours under a partly cloudy sky. Along the way we spotted a few hares and listened to chirping song birds.

As we cut across the valley of rolling hills and wild flowers, the sun became more intense. We crossed many streams and tried not to kill ourselves on the primitive bridges and in mud pits. Soon we began a steep climb. From speaking with the group we met last night at dinner, I thought we had only just begun the climb to the intersecting trail from the hotel. I planned on refueling over lunch at the trail intersection to tackle the rest of the incline. We snacked on our pork tenderloin sandwich for energy and continued.

Little did I know, though winded, we had plowed through the hardest part relatively quickly. We reached a look out over the valley and saw a Refugio below. I thought this must be Refugios Torre Norte and Torre Central. From these we would continue the steep climb. As we rounded a tight turn, a young man commented, “You are almost there”.

David quipped, “Yeah, right”.

The young Asian replied, “No really! That building down there is Chileno.”

David and I looked at each other in dismay. We couldn’t believe we had reached El Chileno Refugio, operated by Fantástic Sur, so soon. We weren’t staying at Chileno, but we knew it was only 1.5 hours from Campamento Torres, and that we had just ascended the steepest part of the trail! About a mile earlier, we were discussing Chileno’s advertisement “Feeling tired, stop in to reserve a horse ride down the mountain”. Given we met 30 years ago riding horses, we thought it might be fun. By the same token, the weather was nice and we didn’t want to waste any time in the offices. Furthermore, we wanted the freedom to chose our schedule in the morning so with a bounce in our step, we strode forward.

As we hiked past the Refugio and through the camp grounds along the powder blue river with the Torres in sight, signs displayed 1 km to Campamento Torres. I was trying so hard to contain my excitement and hike slowly, but I don’t think I was succeeding. Anytime I have ever seen a photo that made my jaw drop, and I looked to see where the photo was taken, it was always the Torres in Patagonia. I have wanted to come here for years. With each step, I just kept hoping the clouds would cooperate!

The path led us across several bridges, many only supporting two people at a time, some only one, as we climbed up and down the steep terrain through a beautiful forest. As much as we enjoyed the forest, this elevation change was slightly unexpected based on our review of the map and our conversation with the group we met at dinner last night.

Soon we reached a sign for the camp. We were amped! We had reached the camp in 5 hours instead of 7.5 hours. With smiles spread across our faces and an energized laugh, we began looking around for the check in building. It wasn’t in sight! Confused, we wondered if we should have split off the path somewhere. It wasn’t long before some fellow trekkers hiking the opposite direction came along.

We asked, “How far is it to the campgrounds.”

The European gentleman replied, “45 minutes with your luggage.”

We must have looked at him in bewilderment because he quickly pointed to his partner and exclaimed, “Her English is better!”

With the language barrier, David asked with hand gestures, “Did you see an area with tents where you can sleep?”

She confirmed that the campground was 45 minutes away and there we signs pointing down to the camp and up to the Torres.

Ugh…a few more Kilometers! We probably would have enjoyed the lush vegetation much more had we not been so demoralized! We prodded on and reached camp in six hours instead of the 7.5 hour projection. I suppose we still should have been proud of ourselves, but by this time we were ready to dump our heavy packs, set up camp, and hike the last hour to the Torres lookout.

We presented the ranger with our reservation slip that took me a little while to find given the countless bus tickets, food tickets, and reservations slips I carried in my travel purse. We immediately headed to the back of the campground, found a flat spot beneath low hanging trees, and set up our tent. We threw our packs inside, planned on laying our sleeping out later, and stashed some snacks, water, and layers in our day packs. We were ready to tackle the final kilometer.

I couldn’t contain myself as I zoomed up the path. David remarked, “You know how sometimes you say I get crazed over good meals?”

I replied, “Yes, I know. I’m crazed over this photo!”

We criss-crossed a small stream on ladder-like bridges as we maneuvered over boulders, stairs of rocks and loose scree. The terrain was slightly similar to the top of a 14er though at a much lower altitude. Coming from 5,280 feet was a blessing for us, as it made the climbs somewhat easy.

With the Torres in sight, we rounded the bend and soon found the grey lake with the granite columns towering above. It was spectacular! And much to our surprise, there were far less people there than we expected. With a limited hiking area, we were able to scramble over some boulders to an area that allowed us to snap photos without anyone else in the pictures!

Loaded with many snacks, we hung out for probably three hours as we watched the cloud formations swirl around the north torre and many times change directions. Of course, I could never decide when the sky seemed the clearest, so I just snapped one photo after the next. I had to capture the waterfalls, the surrounding peaks, the valley behind us, and of course the Torres poking through the clouds. What a way to spend New Year’s Eve! We celebrated back in the tent with ricotta and spinach ravioli drenched in red sauce with a sprinkle of cheese, a bottle of red wine that David lugged all the way from Los Cuernos, Godiva Chocolate that I got for Christmas.

We hardly made it to 9pm, much less midnight, but we planned on waking at 3:45am to go up for sunrise as long as we could see the stars when we woke up. Today was all that I could have hoped and more! We had such good weather for the whole trip, I was worried our luck might run out. Fortunately, luck was on our side, and the landscape met my high expectations (which doesn’t always happen). ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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weathered the storm website copy

Valle del Francés in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

December 29, 2015

We arose early today. It’s not hard to do given it’s light at 5am. The moon lit the sky over the towers briefly before the clouds blew in. We packed up our camp and sat for the traditional South American camping breakfast. Toast, cheese, ham, oats, yogurt and surprisingly eggs that didn’t look like grits (yesterday was the first time we were served eggs for breakfast, but their texture was strange).

We turned in our lunch tickets for a to go box and stuffed it in our pack before we headed toward Campamento Italiano and the Valle del Francés. The wind gusted violently this morning. I was thankful to be following somewhat flat terrain through tall grass and low bushes by the lake so I could keep my balance. Soon we entered a stand of dead trees. It is amazing how well leafless trees block the wind. We turned from cold to hot as the morning sun gleamed on the white trunks. Eventually the dead trees turned to live ones, and we were in and out of stunted forest.

The path was muddy from the many waterfalls that spilled down the walls to our left into the lake on our right. Many of the boardwalks and bridges were in complete disrepair and may have been the only run down thing we’ve seen at the park thus far. Some of them looked rather dangerous. I was careful to walk on the boards with supports beams, and looked for ones that might pop up from being loose. Sometimes I just followed along the side in the mud.

After we made it around the lake and up and over the ridge, we walked through the prettiest forest yet with large trees and soon arrived at a rickety, suspension bridge over an aqua river with a fantastic view of Francés Glacier. This bridge led us to Campamento Italiano which is free and operated by the park. We filled out a form and provided our reservation tickets to the ranger before we seeked a campsite. We didn’t look long because we wanted to climb up to Británico whose trailhead begins at the camp. We found a flat spot not too far from all the amenities (a kitchen and bathrooms which were 80 yards away). Had we scouted at all, we could have found a quieter spot along the river.

We set up our tent quickly, packed up our day packs and followed the trail up the Valle del Francés. Signs pointed us in the direction of Británico. Our walk took us through the campground in the woods and then along a scree path. The gentle sloping path turned steep as we exited the forest to the rocks where we enjoyed a nice view of Francés while eating part of our lunch. We were still at the bottom of the trail, and I was feeling antsy as I wanted to reach the top during the nice weather given it is so unpredictable. Though during our short stop, we did spot another ice calving.

The path, peppered with location signs, crossed countless waterfalls. At times when the trail leveled out, it turned into a small stream. We trounced through the water, climbed over boulders, and wandered through more forest until we stopped again at Francés lookout. Several people had stopped here for lunch as it provided a close up view of the glacier. We didn’t stay long, but kept going toward Británico lookout. We passed through an open space with dead trees, more forest, and more rocky steep areas before we finally reached our resting point surrounded by granite towers and walls a few hours later. What a magnificent panoramic view!

Lucky for us, while slightly breezy, the usually windy lookout point was rather pleasant. We hung out with a handful of hikers for a few hours as we watched the clouds shift. Each set of peaks and walls, once wrapped in clouds soon protruded into blue sky. We sure have been fortunate with the weather! Come late afternoon, we ran out of snacks so we meandered slowly back to camp. Hearing several thunderous booms in the warming day, we decided to make one more stop at the glacier and wait to see ice calve. On the way up, we saw a few poofs of snow. At our final stop, we basically saw a waterfall of ice tumble down the rocks. With that, we finished our descent. After a ten mile day, we chopped up cheese and sausage and complemented it with dried fruit and walnuts for dinner. We were asleep by 9:15! The only disappointment is neither our pictures nor my description can do this place justice. It is so beautiful! ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

IF I TOLD YOU YOUR CELL PHONE BILL WOULD BE FREE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE OF YOU REFERRED 4 PEOPLE TO YOUR CARRIER, WOULD YOU DO IT?

IF SO, THIS VACATION CLUB IS FOR YOU!

Get the gist here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/can-i-do-it

Want more details, click here: http://www.ratpacknation.net/pages/featured

To browse experiences or to sign up, click here: http://www.bethbankhead.dreamtrips.com

For photographic notecards and key chains, visit Notable Notecards or Niche Notecards on Etsy

the barn website copy