Marveling at the Torres, in Torres del Paine Nacional Parque.

End of a Journey, but the Adventure Continues

Thorang La Pass, new elevation high point for me along the Annapurna Circuit.

Thorang La Pass, new elevation high point for me along the Annapurna Circuit.

I’ve now been back in the United States for two weeks since my six month world travels ended and no surprise, things have been busy. Catching up with friends and family, cleaning house, doing ‘adult’ things (stupid taxes and bills), playing with the kitty and generally adventuring whenever I can, it’s a rough life. People keep asking if it is hard to ‘reintegrate’ into the US and if I miss living on the road, and the answer is easily, no. It’s good to be home, now that doesn’t mean that my adventuring is done by a long shot, just changing pace. The #Funployment will continue through the summer, with lots of road trips and a few flights in the works, but keeping Boulder as a home base for all the fun. A few of the potential trips are a visit to the Guadalupe Mountains, canyoneering in the Utah desert, maybe a few weeks in Belize (anyone?), some exploration and maybe a volcano or two in the PNW and some big plans in Glacier National Park. <- So if you want in on the fun, ping me and let’s plan something epic!

Ambling through the dark narrows of Buckskin Gulch. Adventure is not too far from home. April 2017.

Ambling through the dark narrows of Buckskin Gulch. Adventure is not too far from home. April 2017.

Kaytlyn and Ely running into Ding Canyon. The Utah desert holds so many wonderful treasures. April 2017.

Kaytlyn and Ely running into Ding Canyon. The Utah desert holds so many wonderful treasures. April 2017.

But back to this whole traveling out of a backpack for six months deal. The first few days back at home were a bit odd, not waking up in a new location every few days, speaking English all the time, the familiarity of home and the city around. Part of me will definitely miss waking up each day to a new adventure, but part of me is excited to be home as well. I’ve learned a lot in the past six months, but I don’t feel like I’m a different person, just an evolving one. Normally I’d pull on thoughts from my journals for all this rambling, but being that I’ve had 90% of my journal writing stolen, I’m only left with my memories, which I guess is the more important thing. I started this journey with no idea where I was heading or why, only that I had a plane ticket to Thailand and eventually I wanted to make it to Nepal and Patagonia, filling in the gaps along the way. It’s such a different feeling living the adventure day to day and just seeing where life takes you, and it’s made me realize that while planning is a great way to maximize what you see in a location, are you really seeing what matters most? Anyone can hop on a tour and take the postcard shot or follow the guidebook directions, but what really makes a trip special are those unexpected moments where you get to experience the real culture, not the tourism, where you get to meet the real people, not the facade put on for foreigners. I think anyone who travels is guilty of rushing to the iconic site or the stereotypical experience that we’re told we’re supposed to have, but we need to remember that the journey of getting anywhere is a big part of traveling.

Temples of Ankor in Cambodia.

Temples of Ankor in Cambodia.

img_20161120_202443-723x524.jpg

Steve watching sunrise on Annapurna from South Basecamp.

Now to say my travels went smoothly would be a lie. There were numerous transportation mishaps, a few mis-schedules, I was robbed twice (losing ALL my ID, credit cards, cell phone and SD card once), got sick a few times and did numerous stupid things along the way. So is life, make mistakes and learn from them (hopefully). But of course the negative happenings and mishaps were a minor part of what was a fantastic journey. I met so many wonderful people from all over the world (made some new friends), saw countless amazing sights, had innumerable new experiences and had my eyes opened a few times to new ways of thinking. I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug, but I don’t really have the desire to sell off all my worldly belongs and hit the road permanently for years to come.

Chatting with some of my students in Shishaghat, Nepal.

Chatting with some of my students in Shishaghat, Nepal. Photo by Zahariz.

Enjoying sunrise over Bagan with new friends.

Enjoying sunrise over Bagan with new friends.

While I love the unknown that comes with traveling new places, visiting new cultures and meeting new people, I’m also a little bit of a creature of habit. I like my group runs with friends, Mondays at Southern Sun, playing with my kitty, climbing Colorado’s 14ers, and having more than 3 changes of clothes to wear on a weekly basis. But mostly, I just love where I live. I love Boulder (for its good and bad), I love the Rocky Mountains, I love my friends and I love the lifestyle my home affords me, so being home is a pretty darn good thing. Though it doesn’t hurt that Colorado is a great launching off point for all kinds of far flung adventures; I can drive to Moab in 6h, the Tetons in 8h, fly to the West coast in 2.5h, Mexico in 4.5h, Colombia in 10h, meaning that adventure is never more than a day away. Even after traveling my list of places to go and things to see is pretty large. As anyone who has traveled will tell you, each time you travel and check off a bucket list item, you add another half-dozen (or more) to the list, its one of those good problems to have. So I look forward to continuing to check off bucket list items and adding many more. For now I’ll enjoy running, climbing and skiing at home in Colorado for a little bit, but just until that next adventure presents itself and the wanderlust grows so great that it needs to be heeded. Thanks to all who shared travels and experiences with me and to the Pro-Leisure Tour for making this all possible.

Sometimes when you don't share a language, it doesn't matter. Making friends in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Sometimes when you don’t share a language, it doesn’t matter. Making friends in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Marveling at the Torres, in Torres del Paine Parque Nacional.

Marveling at the Torres, in Torres del Paine Parque Nacional.

Sunrise over Paine Grande town, pinch me, because this can't be real....

Sunrise over Paine Grande town, pinch me, because this can’t be real….

Lastly just a few take homes from things I’ve learned along the way.

The most important thing I learned was there is never a ‘perfect’ time for anything, and if an opportunity presents itself sometimes you just need to leap full in and figure the rest out later.

When I first left I didn’t think I could actually live out of an 11-12kg backpack for six months, but turns out you really don’t need a whole lot for life on the road, and I could have gotten by with less (ping me if you want specifics).

Having never traveled Asia the language barriers made me nervous, but in the end many people spoke English and even those that didn’t were eager to help out. Hand gestures are surprisingly useful, and I learned a lot of Spanish along the way.

Sometimes you just need to trust that things will work out. Countless times I was on a bus or in a taxi going somewhere, never knowing exactly what was going on, or where we were, but it always worked out in the end.

Learning the local language (even a few phrases) can go a long way.

Say Yes to new experiences, new foods and new ideas.

Not every location is right for every person. The big city party scenes of SE Asia weren’t my thing, but the small towns offered so many wonderful experiences that were more my style. It’s ok if you don’t want to booze it up every night with the 20-somethings, be you.

Most people are wonderful (locals and travelers); friendly, kind, helpful and mean you no harm, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of your situation as there are a few rotten eggs out there.

When something bad happens it’s no use crying over spilled milk, clean it up and get on living and enjoying the present and future. Losing my SD card sucked, but once it was gone there was nothing I could do but go make new memories.

Lastly, it’s ok if you don’t have a definitive plan for your life. Life is too short to be locked into one single mindset/path, be open to evolution and change.

dsc04580.jpg

Embracing the Unexpected

First views of the mountains reflecting in Lago Pehoè.

In my first blog after I quit my job I wrote about how I wasn’t sure what I expected out of my long term travels. Maybe some adventure, cultural enlightenment, new friends, but more that I’d just take the journey in stride, one day at a time. In my previous life as a working stiff, travels had always been very well planned out, because you don’t want to waste a day when you only have a few weeks. This is what really separates long term travel from it’s shorter counterparts (for me), the freedom and flexibility one has to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. In a 2-3 week trip one can visit all the beautiful places I’ve seen (obviously not in one trip), and meet lots of amazing locals and travelers, but what if an opportunity arose mid-travel? You probably couldn’t/wouldn’t change your entire trip to do something completely unplanned.

Don’t feel bad I didn’t get to backpack the loop, I got in two pretty nice long runs.

The volunteer crew at Erratic Rock before heading out. Photo courtesy of the @TDPLegacyFund

After being shut out of the multi-day trekking options in Torres del Paine, I did some long day runs (see earlier blog), returning to Puerto Natales each night to relax at Erratic Rock. One night while sitting and having a glass of wine I overheard the hostel staff Bill and Jess talking about a volunteer trail building opportunity that they were helping to organize in Torres del Paine the first week of March. For those of you who know me well, you know I have a passion for giving back to the parks and trail systems that so many of us heavily use, and sometimes neglect and abuse. I’ve even taken several courses on trail design, maintenance and construction, along with how to lead volunteer groups in such settings (Thanks Boulder Country Parks & Open space!). So with all that in mind I couldn’t pass up the possibility of joining the group and proceeded to beg my way into the team. Thanks to the folks at the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund I was now part of the team of volunteers, and I’d be back in Puerto Natales the first week of March to head into the park for a full week of camping and trail building.

The team enjoys the catamaran ride across the lake.

The sea of tents at Paine Grande town.

After a five day stint in Ushuaia and a little over a week playing around on the trails of El Chalten and El Calafate I caught a bus back to Puerto Natales for a few nights at Erratic Rock before heading into the park to work. It was kind of like hanging out with the family, and I even got put to work by Bill a little bit, always happy to help out. Friday March 3rd much of the crew met up and made some last minute arrangements before heading out. The group was comprised of several of us gringos from the States, a couple Chileans from up north, a few local guides, a traveler from France and a whole bunch of the local Guarda Parques (park service). On Saturday afternoon we loaded into several vehicles and drove the back road into Torres del Paine. Those of us non-locals marveled at the views of the mountains reflecting off a dead calm Lago Pehoè, how did we get so lucky? We then transferred all our gear from the vehicles onto the catamaran at Pudeto and set off on the 30min journey across the lago to Rifugio Paine Grande, our home for the next week. We were treated to beautiful views as we slowly motored across the Lago. Saturday was spent setting up camp and getting to know our colleagues as we dined in the rifugio, fancy living.

Day one of trail work, the team getting acclimated.

Relaxing back in camp after a successful day.

Work began on Sunday with John (ex-US forest service ranger) from Oregon heading up the trail design and organizing the team. I’d take a secondary role alongside Legacy Fund leader Emily helping organize the teams of workers and answering questions about trail design and trying to translate to the Spanish speakers when possible (my Spanish is still pretty rough, but getting better). We built waterbars, cut bushes, cleared calafate (damn thorny bastards) and dug new trail thread from 9-5 each day. For those of you who haven’t done this it’s a heck of a cross training workout. We then spent our afternoons unwinding in Paine Grande town, multi lingual chatting, playing games and drinking beer/wine. It was such a wonderful mix of personalities and people from all backgrounds, and while we slaved away all day, we had plenty of fun in the process.

The Milky Way stretching over Lago Pehoe. Not sure why it won’t rotate.

Sunrise on Paine Grande town from the catamaran dock.

Digging new trail, with some nice views.

We had to trim a shit ton of brush and stubborn calafate.

Torres del Paine (and Patagonia ) is known for unstable weather, and after three days of hard work in misty conditions Wednesday looked terrible (3-4cm of rain). We decided a day of rest would do us all good, so we kicked back, wrote in journals, played games and just enjoyed each other’s company, because boy did it rain, just nice and steady all day. When I awoke Thursday morning the rain was tapering off, but I found a lake around my tent, and that several of my neighbors were less fortunate and their tents were IN the lake. We made a mild effort to dry some things out, and moved tents out of the lagoon before heading out to inspect how our handy work on the trails had held up to the rain.

Working away on both sides of the outlet of Lago Skottsburg.eventually there will be a bridge here.

Afternoon break to enjoy the views.

Relaxing in the dining hall as the rain fell.

Lago Rifugio, my tent sat front and center on the hill, while four others sat in the puddle to the right.

Obstacle #1 was crossing the shin deep river that had appeared between us and the guard shack. Thursday we split into two groups, one building boardwalk over a marshy section, while Emily and I took team #2 back to keep cutting new trail. Obstacle #2 came in the form of our usual river crossing, formerly on stones, but now fully submerged. Many of us resorted to damp feet, then it was back to cutting, weeding and digging. Though our group was slowly dwindling, those that were left made for a fun crew, as we got to know each other even better. Friday dawned our last day of digging in the dirt, after bidding John (our fearless leader) farewell, we finished up some last sections and called it a successful week. We’d dug more than 1km of hard fought new trail and built 37 waterbars.

Crossing the river at peak flow .

How pretty is this newly cut trail? Our final segment of the week.

Before and after construction #1.

Before and after shot of some new trail #2.

The last thing in the agenda was a night of celebration with all our new friends as a full moon rose into clear skies illuminating the mountains, lakes and fields. It was fitting that our final morning dawned clear, as the sun’s rays slowly melted their way down Paine Grande and into camp. Sadly this is where we had to bid many of the Guarda Parques farewell, while the rest of us headed back to Puerto Natales before eventually going our respective ways. Simply getting to work in the park for the week was an absolute treat in its own right, but getting to meet and share the experience with such a wonderfully diverse group of people made it just magical. Our Spanglish games in Paine Grande town, dance parties on the trail, plenty of poor translations (many by me), realizing you pitched your tent in a stream bed and quiet mornings with friends watching the sun rise over the the magical land of Torres del Paine. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the week, and am so glad I decided to say “screw the plan, I’m doing this”, when the opportunity arose. While most people won’t have this flexibility while traveling I’d implore you not to be afraid to say yes to the unexpected, and let life be fluid, because who knows what opportunity might come your way, and when it might happen. A life of experiences and memories is much better than one filled with “What IFs”.

Enjoying some vino and pisco by moonlight.

Taking in one last sunrise.

One last boat ride out of the park with some new friends.

Goodbye for now, but not forever.

dsc04159.jpg

Exploring the Fitz Roy region

20 years ago El Chalten didn’t exist, merely a guard shack in a pristine mountain valley with Fitz Roy looming overhead. Today the quaint little town is the self appointed backpackers capital of Argentina, and rightfully so. Radiating from town are a network of trails that access some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere in the world. Incredible peaks, crystal blue lakes, immense glaciers and lush green valleys abound. The one problem, this town and it’s visitors are growing faster than the infrastructure. The few groceries in town have an incredibly limited selection, fruits and vegetables of barely edible quality, the one atm is often empty for a week at a time and prices are some of the highest you’ll find anywhere in Argentina. But it’s a place worth dirtbagging it and spending quite a bit of time.

Sunset over El Chalten from the edge of town, not too shabby.

I decided to setup shop at Kaiken hostel, a nice little house with 14 beds, a small living room and kitchen. It felt more like home than a hostel, and was within 10m of the nearest trail! With a nice weather window on tap it was time to go big and run as much of the park in my one week as feasible. Below I’ll give a short intro to each area I explored and some photos for those interested.

Laguna Torre, 2/21

I hit the trail right out my hostel door, smooth double track and very runnable trail most of the way to the laguna. Normally this trail would have fantastic views of Cerro Torre, but a thick layer of clouds hung over the mountains that day, and a light rain blew off the mountains. Consequently a vibrant rainbow formed right over Laguna Torre, so while there were no mountain views, it made for a pretty spectacular scene. I added a short scramble up the hill for a better view before running back down. 14.5miles, 2600ft, 3:29.

A clear view of Cerro Torre from the trail to the lake.

Rainbow over Lago Torre.

Glacier Grande dipping into the lake.

Lago de los Tres, 2/22

Another casual crack of 9am start, this time I trekked across to the Lago de los Tres trailhead and on up. The trail started with a steady climb, but then leveled off into beautiful runnable tread. The views from Laguna Capri of Fitz Roy were phenomenal on the clear sunny day. The first 9km flew by and then I hit the wall that climbs up to Laguna de los Tres, a steep 1km accent to the top of the moraine and a breath taking view of Fitz Roy and more. I hopped around the right side of the lake to a secluded lunch spot, then to a small hill left of the viewpoint that looked down onto Laguna Sucia and the glaciers. But the day was young and I had energy so I cruised back down the trail, took the spur past Hija y Madre lakes until I finally reached a small saddle where I struck up into the forest on animal trails, bound for Loma de las Pizarras. After bushwacking through the forest I picked up a good use trail that climbed to treeline and above. I entered into the talus and broken shale and continued on the class 2 terrain to a nice view high above the lagunas below. Great view of the peaks, glaciers, and town. 23.1miles, 6400ft, 5:23.

The main trailhead for Lago de los Tres.

Running the smooth trail to Lago de los Tres.

The climb up to Loma de las Pizarras.

View from Lago de los Tres with Laguna Sucia to the left.

View from near Loma de las Pizarras.

Cerro Torre and the Glacier Grande

Chorrillo del Salto and Mirador de los Condores, 2/23

If you’re looking for shorter and easier hikes near town, both of these are great for the less adventurous or as an off day. Chorrillo del Salto lies about 4km outside of town along the gravel road, so if you hitchhike to the trailhead it’s only 0.5km. Very nice waterfall in a grotto, and if you hike above the falls (left), there are several wonderful swimming holes and secluded spots. The Mirador de los Condores lies only 1km from the visitors center on the edge of town. But it offers some fantastic views of Fitz Roy and the surrounding area, and is well worth the short trip.6.6mi, 700ft, 3:22. 1.6mi, 350ft, 0:39.

Chorrillo del Salto, the swimming holes are a short hike uphill to the left.

View from the Mirador de los Condores, pretty amazing for 20min of effort.

Loma Pligue Tumbado, 2/24

In my opinion the best view (of the popular spots) in the park. From the visitor’s center the trail starts with a steady climb through the meadows and forest up to the junction with the trail to Laguna Toro. From here the trail climbs slowly up very runnable terrain to the mirador, a lovely viewpoint of Fitz Roy and the lagos. The final climb is a steep 1km hike straight up to the summit, where the views are truly breath taking. I enjoyed a 30min break on the summit, all by my lonesome, marveling at the 360 degree panorama. Then I bombed down the trail, the first part being a bit steep, after that it’s a nearly perfect trail run. 23km, 1100m, 3:07.

Junction of the Laguna Toro and Pligue Tumbado trails, super smooth.

The trail above treeline near the mirador, beautifully smooth with some nice views.

Panorama from the summit of Loma Pligue Tumbado.

Laguna Sucia & Laguna Piedras Blancas, 2/25I’d hit all the major viewpoints so it was time for a little adventure. If you look at a good Topo map of the Fitz Roy region you’ll see many trails that are not listed on the general tourist maps. These are climbers trails and old trails that are no longer maintained, so require a bit of navigation and exploration. My first destination was Laguna Sucia, starting from the Laguna de los Tres trailhead, follow the standard trail all the way to the base of the final climb. Immediately after the last crossing of the Rio Blanco head uphill 20ft and take a hard left onto an unmaintained trail that parallels the North side of the Rio Blanco, don’t use any of the other use trails along the Rio Blanco, as you will then be forced to ford the river (dangerous). From here rock hop and scramble (class 2) upstream until you reach the Laguna, and the amazing views up towards Fitz Roy. Return the way you came, but to reach Laguna Piedras Blancas head straight across the main trail and head North along the West side of the Rio Blanco. The old trail is eroded in sections, but in general stay near the river as you head North. After several kilometers you’ll reach a broad plateau just before the Rio Piedras Blancas, head up the river for 1km to reach the Laguna, and views of the cascading Piedras Blancas Glaciar. Return the way you came, and if it’s a nice day stop for a swim in Laguna Capri. Lots of slow rough trail, but a fun day of adventure. 19.5mi, 2850ft, 5:30.

Rock hopping up the Rio Blanco toward Laguna Sucia.

Laguna Sucia and Fitz Roy.

Following the Rio Blanco downstream toward Laguna Piedras Blancas.

The Laguna and Piedras Blancas glacier.

Afternoon swim in Laguna Capri. Nice way to end the day.

Laguna Toro, 2/26

My last full day in Chalten I went for the long run into Laguna Toro and to see the Rio Tunel Glaciar. Starting from the same trailhead as Pligue Tumbado one splits off about 3km up the trail to the left continuing the slow climb through the forest and into castle pastures (muddy mess). Then comes the steep descent to the Rio Tunel valley. All the water sources in the first 12km are contaminated by cattle, so I don’t recommend grabbing water until the rocky delta that feeds into the Rio Tunel. The last 6km to the Laguna is cruiser flat terrain. The campsites and Laguna at Toro are not very pretty, but if you follow the trail behind the Laguna there are several small Lagunas, and views up the deep glacial valley of the Rio Tunel Glaciar. For the more adventurous one can scramble the rocky hill behind the Laguna for a closer view of the glacier and upper valley (class 3-4). Crossing the Rio Tunel requires harness and equipment for a tyrolian traverse. I’ve then jogs out the way they came in, including the now 250-300m climb back up the ridge. While this is a nice quiet valley with good views, it’s not as spectacular as the other runs I did. 26.1mi, 4550ft, 6:19.

Running though some beautiful forests to Laguna Toro.

Dropping into the Rio Tunel valley.

Sending some class 3-4 rock for a better view.

Laguna Toro and another small laguna from my scramble.


Additional Runs not Done:

Lago Electrico

Lago Azul and Lago del Diablo

Lago del Desierto

Paso de Viento (gear required)

El Calafate doesn’t have much to offer besides the massive Perito Moreno glacier. There is a decent walking path along Lago Argentino and an extensive trail system in the privately owned Calafate Mountain Park (11.8mi, 2600ft, 2:08) near town, use at your own risk. The town does have all the necessary supplies and several good bakeries with lots of facturas.

Flamingos and views across Lago Argentino from El Calafate.

Perito Moreno glacier in all its glory.

Calafate Mountain Park view, trespass at your own risk.

How Argentina does pastries, facturas, 10 pesos each.

For the hikers and trail runners out there El Chalten is a little paradise, as long as you don’t mind paying a bit more and dirt bagging it for a bit. Helpful hints are to bring much of your groceries into town from El Calafate, obtain Argentinan pesos before coming to town, and if you reserve lodging via email or in person it’s often cheaper than via a hostel website. I’m sure in the coming years the town will change dramatically, but hopefully it retains its low key dirt bagger charm.

One of the several crappy grocery stores in El Chalten, what you see is all they got.

Social thanks to Vfuel for powering my adventures, the Pro Leisure Tour for giving me lots of time and Hostel Kaiken for giving me a home for the week (Miguel was a wonderful host, email him directly for a discounted price).

Sunrise glow on Fitz Roy.

dsc03869.jpg

Trail Running Patagonia

I came to Chile without much of a plan or an idea what I’d be doing. All I knew was there was a lot of wilderness, volcanoes and this magical land called Patagonia. Upon arriving in Chile I started to look around and do a little more research. First thing I learned is that Patagonia is really frickin big. The iconic photos of the Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy only encompass a very small portion of what Patagonia is, a largely undeveloped expanse of rolling hills, mountains and ice. In fact the whole of Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia covers roughly a million square kilometers and stretches for half the distance of Chile from the Lakes District southward to Tierra del Fuego!

Torres del Paine as seen from near the visitors center.

The second thing I learned is that because of crowding a new permit system had been introduced in Torres del Paine NP and things were booked up for all of January and February, well damn. Also to add to the pain, three different websites currently manage lodging (rifugios and camping) in the park and it’s up to you to create an itinerary and sort out how and where to book, not so easy. After trying to line up lodging and work out any itinerary I said screw it, it’s time to be an ultra runner. If you have more questions on the current state of booking O or W multiday treks in the park feel free to drop me a line, as I now know the system quite well, but won’t discuss it further here.

So with all the headaches out of the way, I could get back to the adventure at hand. After a few days in Puerto Varas I caught a flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas ($130) and stayed the night in town to stock up. Then it was off to Puerto Natales and Erratic Rock to lay down done plans. I made the decision to run most of the W trek over two days, to the Mirador de los Torres on day 1 and Valle Frances on day 2 (good weather window). Torres del Paine National Park is about 1.5h from Puerto Natales, and buses only run a few times a day (730/1130 to, 1430/2000 return), and cost between 12000-15000 roundtrip (JB bus is the cheapest). The bus arrives at the laguna amarga visitor center where everyone has to buy a parks pass (21000 in cash for foreigners, line can take 15-60min), and if you want to use it for up to three days of reentry you need to have them stamp the pass. After that you have the option of paying 3000 pesos for a shuttle ride into the park or walk/run the 7km alongside the dirt road.

If you choose to run or hike the road the views are actually pretty good.

NOTE it is technically illegal to run in the park per their rules, silly as it may be, make your own decision about the rule. Though no one bothered me, but make sure to be respectful of others on the trail as it’s very busy.

I paid the shuttle fee and was dropped off at Torres Central where I started jogging down the road and hitting the double track trail, taking the spur towards Chileno and the Torres. The trail was quite runnable up to Chileno, but there was a wicked wind that rushed down valley throwing dirt at us. After Chileno one enters a pleasant forest and then starts the steep trek up toward the Torres. The trail is a bit rocky, but easy to follow with plenty of clean water access (I never treated any water). Soon I crested the moraine and an awesome basin of granite lay before me, holy $h!?. It had only taken me 1:40 to get up so I spent 30min just relaxing, taking photos and just reveling in the majesty. Then jogged down the trail all the way back to Laguna Amarga and the bus pickup at 14:30, taking care to be respectful of all others on the trails. Fantastic half day run, amazing view, and a must see if you’re I the area.

Starting the trail into Torres del Paine NP.

Some super smooth single track through the forest near Chileno.

Views down the last hill before reaching Torres Central.

Day 2 saw me doing the same, but skipping the 1h line. This time I headed for Cuernos and Valle del Francés. The trail to Cuernos was buttery smooth and views of the lakes and mountains were phenomenal. I cruised on past Cuernos and Francés to Italiano camp and quickly struck up Valle del Francés. The trail in this middle section of the ‘W’ is rocky and rooty, so much slower travel. The view from mirador Francés and Britanico are phenomenal, a combination of RMNP and Glacier NP; soaring peaks and glaciers abound. I slowly wound my way back down past the crowds and headed toward Paine Grande. From here I had the option of catching a ferry (18000 pesos), but had 3h so decided on the long slow route 17km back to the visitor center. The trail started with rolling hills and spectacular views across Lago Pehoe toward the Torres, then flattened out and was a grind back to the visitor center. I finished off my long Trans-Torres NP run of 55km in 7:50, not fast, but beautiful with lots of photos taken. The final piece was to catch the bus around 1830-1900 back to Puerto Natales, finally reaching town at 2130, hungry and tired.

Lake side single track and expansive views at the start of the Torres park.

A little stint along the lake shore enroute to Cuernos.

VALLE deL Francés, pretty awesome views.

Looking back at the Cuernos from the trail.

Looking back across Lago Pehoe at Torres del Paine.

The next day I moved on to Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego by bus (12h). Quaint little town with an abundance of fantastic runs within a few kilometers of town. In my opinion a great place to post up for a bit and explore, because there are also great facilities available. I’ll briefly mention the runs I did, but note there are quite a few more I didn’t do.

Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego on a nice day are pretty spectacular.

Day 1 I followed the trail up Cerro del Medio to the summit for a view of town, the surrounding mountains and the Beagel Channel. I descended a faintly marked trail on the west side into the forest, squished through a peat bog and over to the Glaciar Martial view point before jogging back to town 30km).

View from the summit of Cerro del Medio.

Looking down on Ushuaia and the Beagel Channel from the summit.

Following cairns through the scree and lush greenery.

For peats sake. Looks innocent, but it’s like walking on a sponge, soft and wet.

All the water in Tierra del Fuego makes for some lovely scenery.

Day 2 a few friends and I hitch hiked into the National Park, paid the entry (160 pesos) and followed the trail up to the summit of Cerro Guanaco, another fantastic view point with amazing views of the entire park. The trail isn’t long (16km), but it’s a 1000m climb with some steep and muddy sections.

The final pitch to the summit of Cerro Guanaco, pretty decent views.

360 degree panoramic views from the summit, pretty awesome.

We made a friend on the summit, a local zorro (fox).

So it rains a lot in Tierra del Fuego, and sometimes things get muddy.

Winding or way through the trees down Cerro Guanaco.

Day 3 I went big and set out from the hostel through the dirt bike park and up into Valle de la Oveja. Fantastically runnable trail high above the valley, finally topping out at the pass in a barren scree field surrounded by mountains. Then I dropped down into the lush Valle Andorra, with a spectacular side trip to Lago Caminante and Superior. Both are amazing blue glacial lakes set in deep green valleys. The run down Valle Andorra was slow due to very muddy trails mixed with some beautiful single track. The 35km run took me 5h, and I was able to hitchhike back into town with a local, saving me 11km of road. Fantastic loop, with almost no one on the trail and expansive views.

Climbing up Valle de la Oveja.

Lago Superior and it’s compete solitude.

Descending Valle Andorra through some beautiful forest.


Notes for Patagonia:

Crossing between Chile and Argentina for US citizens is now fairly easy. No fees, just stamps and passports needed. But don’t bring any fruits, vegetables or meat.

For those coming from the US or Europe, bring a lot of your local currency to exchange  (or use without exchanging) because ATM fees are high and ATMs are often empty in popular places.

Many of the cities aren’t near the best trail running, you’ll have to do some work to get there; bus, rent a car, hitchhike, or ride a bike a long way. Ushuaia, El Chalten and Bariloche are the exceptions, with fantastic running right out of town.

If you’re having trouble finding trails, turn on strava and check segments for running and riding. I’ve used this to find all kinds of trails. You can also contact locals and trail groups for information, though response can be slow.

Traveling around Patagonia is fairly easy by bus or hitchhiking for the more adventurous. Cheap flights also exist within country, but crossing borders is expensive. Chile is cheaper than Argentina.

So that’s just a few thoughts and lots of photos, next up El Calafate and El Chalten. Special thanks to Vfuel for powering my adventures and the PLT for making all the fun possible.

Lago Caminante and all the colors.

fb_img_1486509228778.jpg

Travelers Guilt

Planes, trains and buses. Sometimes you’re packed in like a sardine, other times you have half a plane to yourself. In route to Malaysia.

In the developed world many of us are very fortunate to have the means and the opportunity to travel, both domestically and internationally. I could write pages on the benefits of traveling to different cultures and becoming an international citizen, but that’s not what has my brain cranking. No, what has me pondering what it means to be a traveler is something I’ve deemed “travelers guilt”, let me explain. During my time in Asia I spent a lot of time talking with locals, learning about their culture and lifestyle and sharing mine. Both in Nepal and Myanmar I talked about my travels to many different countries and cities and about all of what I’d seen. For most people in the western world, you may be jealous of the things I’ve done and seen, but the fact that I’m doing them is not a surprise to you. Most of you probably know a dozen other people who have taken off on a several month long journey (or longer), to distant far off lands.

Christmas festivities ibn the Seoul airport, complete with a woman singing songs from Frozen, in Korean.

Most people in the developing world don’t have this luxury. Life focuses on family, friends, home, farm, school and the essentials. Many people in SE Asia and Nepal have never been out of their own country, and some may not have ever left their districts/regions. Traveling for pleasure is just not something they think about or that is part of their culture, so to talk to world travelers opens up a world of different experiences and possibilities. So far, this is all good, sharing different experiences and ideas.
Now the guilt. Both in Nepal and Myanmar the question came up about how much it costs me to travel; hostels, airplanes, buses, visas, etc, there are a lot of different expenses that go into traveling internationally. I’m a fairly thrifty traveler, but flights still cost hundreds of dollars, visas upwards of $150 in some countries. My new friends asked me about all these things and I wasn’t going to lie or sugar coat anything. But as I recited some of the numbers I realized, even my cheap $400 flight to Asia was an amount of money that they could live off for a month, it’s an amount that takes them some time to wrap their head around, and we spend it merely for pleasure.

Our adopted Burmese family, they invited us to their family picnic, gave us beer and food and did out makeup, because…

Teaching my Nepalese kids about America and world geography.

I began to feel very guilty and extremely self continuous about my travels, and spent my several days of transit to Hawaii (via Thailand and Korea) pondering what this concept really meant. Should I not be traveling and instead just donate my extra money to charities, should I travel but share my money more freely with as many locals as possible, or is this just the nature of economic inequality? In the end I came back to the advantages of international travel for our society and individuals. Awareness, understanding and sharing our cultures brings tolerance and in my opinion makes us all better and more compassionate people, but that’s just my opinion on how I travel and what I want to get out of travel.

Wedding in the village of Shishaghat. Family, friends, food, dancing and everyone (even me) is invited.

But this doesn’t mean “travelers guilt” hasn’t changed how I travel. Since there are huge economic disparities between the western world and developing countries I think those of us do have a responsibility to do the little things to help those who need it most. Don’t stay in big corporate hotels instead find a small B&B or guesthouse. Buy from street vendors and small shops instead of big commercial operations (guess this is true for the US too). And even though you have more money than the locals don’t flaunt it, be respectful. I’ve started trying to spread my money around when I can, but not spending more extravagantly than I normally would, just being conscious of where my money goes. I’ve seen way too many people throwing money around and treating the economically less fortunate as slaves, which just disgusts me.

Shopping the street markets of Yangon, Myanmar for fruits and veggies.

Most of you reading this were born with a similar level of privilege that I was, and I feel it’s our duty to be responsible citizens and try to help those wonderful hard working folks who offer more than a simple product, but a story and friendship (I guess this is some degree of socialism for mankind). I welcome different thoughts, opinions, and arguments for/against what I’ve written above. These are just my ponderings and musings and I’d love to hear other opinions or if anyone else has struggled with this topic. For now, I’ll keep on traveling, but am a little more aware of how I do it and how much of a privilege it is. Thanks to ask those who have shared this journey with me, opened their lives to me and whom have helped me grow along the way.

So no matter how you travel, enjoy the ride. The people and places are what make the experience, not how much it costs.

dsc03211-727x486.jpg

Where Fire meets Water; Volcano National Park Ultra

​An ever changing landscape, Volcanoes National Park is one of the few parks that’s still being molded on a macro scale. Not one mm a year like the grand canyon or a few inches like the redwoods, but in some places dozens of feet of new land are added to this national park by the flowing bubbling lava. Ben and I spent a rainy night at camp along the Hilina Pali Rd at Kulanaokuaniki, but awoke at first light to clear skies. After a short drive we located the unmarked trailhead along Hilina Pali Rd  (sometimes called the Halape trail), parked in a small pullout and set off along the cairned, but barely visible route toward Halape.

Ben starting down the Halape ‘trail’ definitely unmaintained.

Following the ‘trail’ through the grass, really just a bunch of cairns.

The ‘trail’ started out as a faint path well marked by cairns, but we were soon dumped onto an old road that was horribly overgrown, but still quite visible. We thrashed through knee to waist deep grass for a few miles until the road disappeared into deep grass and we were left with nothing but a line if cairns to follow. The trail began to descend southward toward the ocean rather than traversing back toward the Chain of Craters road as we’d expected, but it was so well marked we continued forward. We descended steeply down some old switchback to the Halape junction (2:15), much further west along the trail than we were expecting because on the map the unmaintained trail was supposed to drop us onto the Keauhou trail closer to Chain of Craters road. Sadly we’d missed the trail down to Halape and decided that because of the slow conditions we’d alter the route and continue on the loop minus Halape.

Ben making his way across the Ka’aha trail, a major trail in the park.

Lava tube near Ka’aha, a little exploration.

As we started across the Hilina Pali trail toward Ka’aha it was very evident that the day was going to be a slow trudge. While this ‘main’ trail was very well marked we were wading through knee to waist deep grass the entire time and almost nothing was runnable. We passed through a lovely grove of trees (shade!) and then slowly descended toward the beach at Ka’aha (5:45).

At the ocean near Ka’aha, weeee.

The rolling lava fields between Ka’aha and Pepeiao

The Ka’aha shelter is a funny little shack with a rain water tank and a bathroom near a protected swimming bay. We dipped our hands into the ocean and continued onward along the coast. The character of the coast dramatically changed, and we soon found ourselves running across buttery smooth black lava dunes. It was by far the most runnable and most enjoyable section of the entire day. We spent several miles cruising through the barren lava field, the ocean on one side and the Hilina Pali cliffs on the other, finally arriving at the sandy promontory overlooking several sea arches and the crashes waves of the Pacific. This is what I pictured Volcanoes National Park to look like, barren lava beds, towering sea side cliffs, crashing waves and compete solitude, it had only taken us 6 hours to find it.

Seaside living, lava, arches, big waves.

Pepiao shelter high in the hill side.

We then left the ocean and started the long, slow, hot trudge up toward Pepeiao. As we ascended the rocky lava the wind died and we started to bake in the hot sun. I was definitely fatiguing so the pace died a bit. We finally reached the Pepeiao hut perched high on the Hilina Pali with expansive views I the lower park (6:45). We again refilled our water and proceeded to immediately lose the trail coming out of the cabin. After 10min of bishwacking through the grass we finally located the over grown trail headed uphill away from the cabin.

Ben leaving the Pepiao shelter into the deep grass.

Less than a mile out from the cabin Ben began to cough and some horrid smell was tickling my nose, it took us a few minutes but we finally realized it was SO2 fumes from Kileuea, which made both of us a little sick and uneasy. Over the next few miles we’d continually get inundated with toxic fumes, go through coughing fits, then push onward. Finally as we neared the Hilina Pali overlook we left the fumes behind and were free and clear, thank god nothing lasting. The Hilina Pali overlook is a quiet little cabin with good views of the coast and lava field below, but it’s hard to gain perspective I the area from so far away (8:30). All that was left was to jog the final 3.5 miles of road back to the car and closer the loop. We arrived back at the car at 4:10, 9 hours and 10 minutes after starting, having covered between 26-29 miles (unknown because of trail changes and wanderings).

One of the things I’ve learned from my first six national park ultra run adventures is that not only is there a huge diversity of landscapes within the park system, but often this huge diversity applies to a single park. Volcanoes NP transitions from rain forest, to subtropical, to chest deep grasslands, to barren lava beds and finally sandy beaches. And while the route we ran (really mostly hiking) in Volcanoes was not exactly what I thought it would be, it lived up to the showing the true character and diversity that Volcanoes National Park had to offer. The variety of landscapes, the ruggedness of the terrain, the battle between man and nature (nature is winning), and some beautiful solitude. So the project continues on, with six National Park ultraruns competed, and >40 to go, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

NOTES: 

First off Volcanoes National Park suffers the same issue as many other parks, a gross lack of funding. In fact we later found out that the park had laid off all their trail crews for months prior, explaining the overgrown trails. Because I’d this don’t expect super smooth runnable trails, but more an adventurous bushwack, bring a good map. Camping at the ocean side shelters would be quite nice, but Pepeiao want very inspiring and was full of red ants. Since lowers volcanoes is mostly dry grasslands don’t expect to find any water except for the rain collection at the shelters, inquire with the park as to how full the catch basins are and whether the trails have been maintained at all. Note that because of the volcanic activity this run does not include the active lava flows of Kileaua or Pu’u O’o, but both are must see side trips, especially where Pu’u O’o flows into the ocean. So if you’re looking for solitude in a unique volcanic moonscape, give lower Volcanoes National Park a go. Thanks to Vfuel for supporting my habits and to Ben for joining me for this adventure.

Lava flowing out of Pu’u O’o into the ocean at sunset.

The lava glow of the Kileaua crater at sunset.

dsc03540-782x522.jpg

Navigating Medical help in Chile

Morning stroll through the Plaza de Armas on my way to the clinic.

First off, I’m fine nothing major, but I contracted a nasty case of poison oak in California a week ago which has spread to all my lower extremities and has my left leg swollen as if I’d run 100 miles. I’m quite allergic and since it wasn’t improving I made the venture into the wide world of Chilean healthcare for a little assistance.

My swollen and rash covered leg, hard to appreciate my cankle and giant calf.

First off I was relieved to learn that the Chilean healthcare system is quite good. The network of pharmacies is wide, but while one can get many things over the counter, corticosteriods are not one. So my choice was a ‘hospital’ or a ‘clinica’ to get a prescription. Hospitals are government subsidized facilities while clinics are privately run (and often better), so I opted for the Clinica Davila near downtown Santiago. My traveler insurance doesn’t cover small medical visits, so that was of no use, so it was all going to be out of pocket.

Entry to the Clinica Davila, looks legit.

I walked in the main doors of the clinic and up to the front desk, where it became apparent I’d be doing my transactions in Spanish, I wanted to practice and what a way to learn. I was sent to a check-in desk where I was able to get my name on the list for a doctor consult, then came the fun adventure of getting my information in the system as a foreigner without insurance. The guy at the payment desk had a little trouble, but we figured it out, $45 later,  then came the wait to be called in to see the doctor. An hour later I was called in; the doctora examined me, we navigated my issues with my limited Spanish, she looked at my leg and prescribed an antibiotic and a steroid and off I went.

Bottom is my appointment form, top my prescription, mmm steroids.

I stopped in at the local Ahunada farmacia and picked up my meds without issue ($18). In total the process took about 3h, but if I didn’t speak any Spanish I’m not sure how I would have done it. So just a word of warning, that while the healthcare in Chile is wonderful and very available, finding English speakers is a tough task and be ready to fumble your way through the process if you don’t speak Spanish. Here’s to hoping the swelling goes down quickly and I can get back to normal. It’s been a rough start to 2017, full of all kinds of learning experiences.

I am Me. How do I Prove it?

Fu&@#%*, was one of the many curse words that flew from my mouth when I saw the window of our little Nissan smashed to bits and realized my backpack was gone along with my cell phone and wallet. I had no ID (none), no credit cards, no cell phone and really no way to prove who I was.

Smashed window and everything gone, well not everything. They left or dirty clothes.

The short of the lead in is I had misguidedly left a backpack containing my passport, travel journals, camera SIM card with 1000 photos, along with my wallet and cell phone in an area known for break-ins and thefts and was now paying the price. So that sucked, but now came the real question, could I get myself to the mainland via airplane without any credit cards or ID, and how does one get new ID when you can’t directly prove who you are? Hopefully my misfortune can help others through such troubles if they befall you.

Step #1 contact the police. Surprisingly the police were over within 15min; surveyed the scene, took down my name and address (no ID) and filed a report. The police were able to give me a letter stating I’d filed a police report that my ID was stolen, this would come in handy later.

Step #2
canceling stolen goods. Thankfully Ben still had his cell so we were able call in and cancel my credit cards and cell phone immediately. Later that night I went online to cancel my passport and global entry card, nothing needed to be done for the driver’s license.

Step #3
returning the rental car. Since the car was still perfectly drivable Economy Rental said nothing needed to be done right away. We took some photos and later that night drove to the rental car company to return the vehicle. They examined it, took down some notes then explained that once they got it repaired they’d contact me as I’d have to front the payment. Thankfully since I paid for the rental with my Chase Sapphire card they will be reimbursing the cost of the repairs (check your credit card). I also had the option of going through my car insurance, but opted not to. Also note that one cannot take out a new rental car without BOTH a driver’s license and a credit card, thankfully some good friends helped me out in the ride department my last day in Hawaii.

Step #4
airport travel and flights. I had a scanned copy of my passport so hoped that would help. Problem #1 you can’t pay for bags without a credit card. So I was instructed to buy a prepaid visa for a $5 fee to pay for my luggage, ugg. But with the passport copy they let me checkin (Hawaiian air). Problem #2 TSA, They looked at the copy of my passport and said that it was not acceptable. He called over the head officer, who first called the police to verify the police report, then called Homeland Security (I assume) and proceeded to ask me 6-8 random questions to prove my ID, and I guess I passed because they let me through after a thorough pat down and bag search. I made it! Apparently this also works if you’ve simply forgotten your ID but need to get through an airport.

Step #5
navigating life. There are quite a few things that one can’t do without an ID and/or credit card. You can’t buy food on an airplane, buy anything online, enter federal buildings (like a passport office), buy alcohol, enter a bar, among other things.

Step #6
obtaining ID. Since I had flown to California getting a new driver’s license was off the table, BUT if you have a flight within two weeks one can get an expedited passport. So I had to book my flight to Chile THEN they would allow me to apply for a passport, so I booked my flight, called the SF passport office and made an appointment. Now the tricky part, proving my identity without any actual ID. Without ID I would need to provide a whole bunch of secondary identification. Thankfully my awesome housemate sent my California driver’s license (from age 20), my CSU student ID and my rec card. In addition I printed out old bank records, tax forms, utility bills, medical records, insurance cards and a copy of my birth certificate and passport. After getting a personal escort up to the passport office (because of no ID) I presented my DS-11 and DS-64 forms along with the giant pile of paperwork to two separate people. After looking through all my paperwork he grabbed the four copies of photo ID and had my mom sign a DS-71 vouching for my identity, but leaving all the records behind. In the end it was fairly painless and my passport was ready 24h later ($195 total fee). If I didn’t have someone to vouch for my ID I probably would have needed all the extra paperwork.

Step #7
 driver’s license. Getting a new license (lost or stolen) in Colorado requires one to go into the department of revenue to apply for a new ID, a process I’m not looking forward to, but it should be mailed within 30 days. 

I have ID again! Hooray for expedited passports.

So while it’s a pain in the ass to go through these processes it’s not too difficult, just time consuming. The really sad thing was losing my journals and photos, but life goes on. Lesson learned, don’t leave anything in cars in Hawaii, always split up IDs and credit cards and carry valuables with you at all times. Also make sure to back up cellphone contacts to an online source, I only had some saved. Now that I have a verifiable identity its off to Colorado for a few days on the 17th then Chile on the 22nd, let the adventure continue!

There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and I got to hang out in California for a bit.

image

House of the Sun: Haleakala Ultra Run

I grew up vacationing on the garden isle of Maui, splashing in the waves, building sand castles and occasionally fearfully snorkeling. As I grew older our vacation adventures grew a bit bolder, several times taking us to the summit of the mighty Haleakala to watch sunrise from 10000ft before screaming down the road on bicycles. That was when I first learned that some people rode bicycles UP the mountain!?!? Little did I know that the seed was planted for my own epic adventure on this island volcano.

Epic sunsets from Napili beach on Maui

Epic sunsets from Napili beach on Maui.

An unexpected turn in my travels brought me to the Hawaiian islands as a stop over between Asia and South America, starting my journey on Maui. Last year I set in motion a long term project to map out and run ultra distance routes in each of America’s National Parks. As of December 2016 I had completed four such runs; Grand Canyon R2R2R, Zion Traverse, Yosemite Valley circumnavigation and the Grand Tetons loop. This layover was going to be a perfect chance to explore two more National Parks; Haleakala and Volcanos. On December 20th with very little training under my belt I set out from Napili on the 2h drive to Kaupo for the start of the ‘Sea to Summit’ route of Haleakala.

The jungle slowly absorbing the road to the Kaupo ranch.

The jungle slowly absorbing the road to the Kaupo ranch.

Sunrise from the Kaupo ranch trailhead

Sunrise from the Kaupo ranch trailhead

Just after passing the Kaupo store I turned left up an overgrown ‘paved’ road and headed up the mountain. After 1.5mi of driving through the tall grass and bumping along (2wd) I reached the ranch gate and parked on the side of the road at 1500ft above sea level. One can start at sea level and run 2.5mi of road to the TH, but I opted not to. I hopped the fence and followed the Kaupo ‘trail’ signs to a dense field of grass where I promptly lost the trail in the heavily bulldozed brush. I bushwhacked up random ranch roads finally stumbling across more trail signs leading up the maze of Kaupo ranch dirt roads. I lost the ‘trail’ several more times on the overgrown dirt roads before finally popping out in a large grassy cow pasture where I was able to easily follow the marked path all the way to the National Park boundary. The route had been brushy and muddy to this point, but my hopes of better trail inside the National Park were quickly dashed when I looked into the waist deep grass with only faint evidence of where the trail might be, ah shit. It had already taken me 1:30 to cover a supposed 3mi (more like >4mi w detours), and things weren’t about to speed up. I thrashed my way up the overgrown Kaupo trail, occasionally stumbling on hidden rocks or tripping on a root, unable to run.

The trail at the National Park boundary, not really maintained.

The trail at the National Park boundary, not really maintained.

image

So that’s the trail? Looks like a grassy field to me.

As I passed the 5000ft mark the terrain finally became more volcanic and the grass receded. My pace quickened and I finally reached the turn off for the Paliku shelter at 7mi and 6500ft (2:55). I was entering the crater and the terrain was fully volcanic, a mix of gravel and small volcanic rock. I was finally able to run, and made good time over to the Kapaloa shelter (10.1mi, 3:45). The trail was beautifully smooth packed gravel and I kept jogging all the way to the bottom of the Sliding Sands trail where the steep climb to the summit began. I passed several of Haleakala’s iconic silverswords and the crowd of tourist descending from the summit road slowly began to grow.

The brush clears and the trail opens as I entered the crater.

The brush clears and the trail opens as I entered the crater.

image

Running through volcanic lava fields, something a bit different.

I chugged my way up the Sliding Sands trail finally reaching the summit road determined to finish off the final 0.5mi of road quickly. At 12:20p (5:35) I topped out at the Haleakala shelter at 10023ft above sea level after gaining almost 9000ft over 16miles (+2mi of detours). It was a clear and warm day, multicolored cinder cones dotted the crater and Paliku was barely visible at the far edge of the crater. Central Maui, the West Maui mountains and the ocean were all visible far below. After a few quick photos I jogged back down the road to the visitors center to refill water the went bombing down the smooth gravel of the Sliding Sands trail.

Entering the crater the scene is from another planet.

Entering the crater the scene is from another planet.

Silverswords along the Sliding Sands trail.

Silversword along the Sliding Sands trail.

The long smooth climb up the sliding sands trail.

The long smooth climb up the sliding sands trail.

The trail was fantastically fast and soon I was back in the heart of the crater slowly shuffling across. I was really starting to feel my lack of training now as the fatigue set in, but I still had 12mi to go, so go I did. The sun was relentless as it beat down on the black lava rock, finally back at the Kapaloa shelter I sat down for a short break (7:00, 22mi). It was dead quiet in the heart of the crater and I hadn’t seen another person for 3mi (and wouldn’t for the rest of the day). I took it easy across the rocky lava fields to Paliku (7:45, 25.1mi). Then back down the grass covered brushy trail to the Kaupo ranch boundary (8:50, 29mi). This time I managed to locate the proper route through the ranch roads (follow signs and blue flags), if you don’t see blue flags once you reach the brush you’re probably on the wrong route. 9h 15min after leaving my vehicle, I again hopped the fence and stopped my watch. It had been an exhaustingly beautiful day (32mi +>2mi of detours, 9000ft gain/loss) and for about 80% of the route I had the trail to myself.

On the summit of Haleakala at 10023ft.

On the summit of Haleakala at 10023ft.

image

Descending back into the crater from the summit road.

When there is no snow a volcanic sand angel is an acceptable alternative.

When there is no snow a volcanic sand angel is an acceptable alternative.

image

Found the ranch trail on the way down. Follow the blue flags for smooth sailing.

So went my fifth National Park ultra distance run. It was definitely the most trying to date, lots of bushwacking and route finding on unmaintained trails/roads. But it offered a unique glimpse into the variety of ecosystems 10,000ft of pacific island volcano creates. From dense forest to waist deep grasslands, rocky lava beds to weathered gravel and cinder of all different colors. This is definitely not a route for those looking for smooth trail (though the upper crater loop is beautifully runnable), but better suited for those looking for a unique adventure in a one of a kind environment. For the extra ambitious you can start from the road and run east and down to the beach before ascending a full 10,000ft to the summit.

As my National Parks project moves forward I am looking forward to more unique adventures in our amazingly diverse Park system. Coming soon to a blog near you a recount of my gnarly Volcano National Park run. Thanks to VFuel for powering my adventures and to all the hard working folks of our National Parks who make this project possible. To continued exploration into new and beautiful worlds.

fb_img_1481943124196.jpg

Solo in Myanmar, but not Alone

When I set out from the United States in September the only thing that was certain was I was flying into Thailand, after that the possibilities were endless. As I made my way through Thailand and into Cambodia I kept meeting travelers who raved about Myanmar and it’s amazing people and scenery. Well, if this many seasoned travelers think so highly of it, maybe I have to go? Myanmar has just recently opened itself to more expansive tourism (2015), and due to governmental restrictions tourism is developing slowly in most areas of the country (a good thing). So as I was finishing my trek around the Annapurna area in late November I pulled the trigger and put in for an eVisa and booked a flight for a two week stint in Myanmar with almost no plan or idea what I was getting into.

Street market in Yangon

The eVisa came back approved three days later so it was official, I booked a place in Yangon for two nights and would figure it out from there. After another stop through KL on 12/3 I was off to Yangon, and was dumped into a quiet modern airport, breezed through immigration and on to baggage claim. The first thing I noticed was all the locals were wearing lovely dresses and longyis and had smiles on their faces as they waited for loved ones. I shared a taxi into downtown with an Aussie (‘P’) and relaxed for the night. I spent the next two days mostly just wandering the streets and markets of Yangon. The most striking thing was how few tourist I saw. Sure there were a few at the Bongyoke market, Sule pagoda and Shewdagon, but we were by far the minority in a sea of Burmese. I actually felt as though people were simply going about daily life and I was a fly on the wall, very refreshing change from Thailand or Thamel (Kathmandu). The streets were crowded with fruit/vegetable stalls, food carts, electronic stores, longyi shops and thousands of stalls selling betel nut chew (huge in Myanmar).

Shwedagon Pagoda glitters at night.

I’m not much of a city goer but I truly loved Yangon and all the locals I met. And I have to admit I find the Burmese people very attractive (except their red teeth); friendly, well dressed people with soft facial features (thanks to thanaka), sorry, single male here so I notice these things.

Aung Mingalar bus station, oh the madness. Bottom, VIP night bus to Bagan.

First Bagan sunrise, temple all to myself.

Temples temples everywhere, 2200 to be exact.

Sunsets in Bagan are also pretty nice.

After three days I caught a shared truck from Sule up to Aung Mingalar bus station (1000 kyat) on the north end of town and proceeded into the madness. See Aung Mingalar bus station is not a station but a massive complex, covering 6-8 sets of warehouses, and it took me 20min to find my labeled bus. The VIP night bus to Bagan was quite comfortable, but dropped us off and 5am, ugh. I shared a taxi into New Bagan with a few others, paid the 25000 kyat Bagan entry fee, dropped my bag at the Mingalar hotel, rented a bike and immediately took off to watch sunrise. With no idea where I was going I simply rode toward the nearest temples finding a small one that was unlocked. I climbed (literally) up to the top just as the morning sun was illuminating the haze and the hot air balloons drifted by. Wow, what a welcome to Bagan, atop my own private temple. I spent the next two days riding my bike down random dirt roads past temples of all shapes and sizes, admiring the local’s sand paintings and chatting with the artist about life. But what made the Bagan experience were the sunrises and sunsets (didn’t miss one) perched atop a temple just watching the world go by with my new friends Sandra, Yongia and Sergio. Something about watching the soft early/late days light filter across the plains with just the shadows of temples popping out of the jungle is just magical. Finally it was time to catch another night bus, this time to Inle Lake and sadly I had to bid Bagan and the friendly folks of the Mingalar hotel farewell. Night busses may sound convenient (they are faster than trains) but they are bumpy and often arrive at ungodly hours, this one at 4am. Thankfully the Win Nyunt hotel had some space so I crashed out in a bed on the floor.

Sharing sunrise with friends.

One last Bagan sunset before heading to Inle Lake.

Exploring caves in Myanmar means temples and lots of Buddhas.

The following day I met up with my new friends; James, Doris, Morgan and Molly and we took off around Inle Lake for an afternoon ride, finished off by drinking wine with views of the lake. We all hit if off and enjoyed dinner, beers and roller blading (yes that’s right) that night and planned to meet up again the next day for a hot spring and a boat ride. Molly and Morgan ended up taking the morning off, leaving James, Doris and myself to head to the hot springs, which were a bust ($10USD spa, bah). Just as we were about to give up I pulled over to check out some random local pool where a group of locals (who spoke almost no English) handed us beers, sat us down, fed us and after that we were basically family for the next 1.5h. As we pulled away on our bikes bidding them farewell, covered in makeup and thanaka, we were all laughing hysterically and had no idea what happened, but relishing the experience. We then met Morgan and Molly at the boat dock for the standard sunset tour of Inle Lake, which was a nice mellow way to cap off such a wonderfully unexpected day.

Winery with views of Inle Lake, it’s a rough life.

Lunch with our new family. We were literally spoon fed and had our makeup done.

Doris gettingher makeup done.

Just making friends and getting our makeup done. Photo curtousey of James Fletcher.

Afternoon boat ride on Inle Lake amongst the floating villages.

Boat cruising through the floating villages.

Sunset on Inle Lake, relaxing end to a wonderful day.

The right people can make a good experience an amazing one.

Since I had another night bus I was able to spend one last day in Nyaung Shwe just relaxing with the others. Then at 4p I bid them farewell as I hopped the bus to Bago to connect to Hpa-an. So many amazing new friends on my journey, some I will hopefully see again. Once again dumped in Bago at sunrise to await an 8am bus to Hpa-an (apparently there was a direct bus from Inle I was not aware of), this gave me a chance to kick back and watch the locals just do their thing as everyone started up there day.

View from Lombini gardens up toward Mt Zwegabin.

View from the pagoda atop Mt Zwegabin toward Hpa-an.

Kawgun cave and it’s 7th century temple built right into the walls.

I arrived in Hpa-an in the early afternoon and strolled over to the Kan Thar Yar (Royal Inn) right on the lake where I’d phoned in for a room (14000 kyat, not online, 058 21600). Hpa-an is a fairly sleepy town surrounded by massive karst cliffs, caves and countryside. Nice place to relax for a bit. I went for a hike up Mt Zwegabin (so hot and sweety) for the amazing view, visited the monastery at Kyauk Kalap, strolled through temple caves and made some new Burmese friends by the lake. What a way to end my journey, calm, friendly and beautiful. Back to Yangon on the 9am bus I went after 2 days of relaxing in Hpa-an, and a slow 7h ride it was. Shared a taxi from Aung Mingalar back into town for 7000 kyat and settled back in at the Agga B&B. I spent my last day in Yangon just how I’d started, wandering the streets, shopping, eating all kinds of street food, a 5000 kyat massage (19th Spa, worth it!), and just watching the locals do their thing. I’m going to miss this place and these people, but the next adventure is calling, Hawaii with Ben!

Sunrise on Kan Thar lake in the center of Hpa-an.

Random assortment of fried Burmese street food. All delicious, especially the small square things.


Notes, Tips and Tricks:

As of this writing (12/2016) tourism is just permeating into Myanmar, but it definitely hasn’t ruined the spirit yet. The people are incredibly friendly, helpful and curious when it comes to foreigners. The only place where I really noticed the tourism was Inle Lake, everywhere else I was just an Asian man lost in a sea of Burmese. There are just a handful of budget hotel/hostel options online, but there are many more that are phone or walkin only, so while I mostly prebooked you should also be able to find walkin places of you’re into a little wandering. Note that a hotel needs a tourist license to rent to foreigners and not all places have them, look for signs in English. For food, the Burmese like it oily, fried and in a soup. So if you’re a picky eater, good luck, and look for the few upscale western restaurants and try the steamed rice dishes. 

My main recommendation for traveling Myanmar would be, travel slowly, stop and talk to locals and take in everything you can. Zooming by on a motorbike or taxi won’t give you the opportunity to really experience the country, walk or ride a bike when you can. My dozens of wonderful interactions with the people are by no means unique, I’ve heard many other stories from other travelers to the same effect, the people really are that amazing so don’t be afraid.

Getting around the country takes time. To/from the airport you can use a combination of shared truck to Te Mi and bus #51 to downtown, but good luck finding it (taxi 7000-8000 kyat, bargain for it). To/from Aung Mingalar bus station either bus #43 (300kyat) or shared vans from Sule Pagoda (1000 kyat or taxi 7000-8000 kyat). And expect the ride from town to the airport/bus station takes 1-1.5h. Bus travel is slow but more efficient than trains. Night buses work alright but don’t be surprised if you arrive at 1-5a. Motos, eBikes and bicycles can be found for rent in most places though your feet also work really well for getting around town.

Don’t miss a sunrise or sunset in Bagan, you’ll regret it. I can give you directions to my random little temple if you wish, but I won’t post it publicly 🙂 Lastly if you’re the big package tour group kind of person you better stray from the group or you’ll miss why Myanmar is so wonderful, it’s not about snapping iconic photos it’s about experiencing the culture. Safe travels and happy adventuring to all.