Category Archives: Running and Races

Blogs about running and racing

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Annapurna Circuit 9 Day Trek

​November 6th Day 1; Besi Sahar to Tal

After catching a bus from Pokhara to Besi Sahar (550 rupees) on November 5th I’d intended to catch another bus to Nagdi, but when the driver told me 300 rupees for the 14km ride I said no thanks, checked in with the ACAP and stubbornly walked off. The road went by quickly and I soon found myself in Bhulbule and then Ngadi. These first 14km were pretty uninteresting and can easily be skipped, though I enjoyed the quiet morning stroll. Then began the climbing up through the terraced hillsides of Bahundande, Badalbisuanaa, Lili Bhir and Ghermu (which would be a lovely place to stay). At Syange I rejoined the road for the dusty climb up to a short bit a trail into Chamje. Here I missed the bridge so hoofed it along the road all the way to Tal as the valley was bathed in deep shadow. It had been a long 35km, 8.5h day, but the low elevation sections were behind me and into the mountains I went. 37km, 1400m+, 8:26.

Mountain views near Ngadi.

Terraced hillsides of Bahundande.

Looking down on the village of Tal from the road.


Day 2; Tal to Chame

A more causal morning start had me following the single track out of Tal past several waterfalls through the deep gorge all the way to Dharapani. The lush green trail was sunk deep in the river gorge, and I lost it several times as it was not very well marked. Finally I reached Danakyu and began the steep 600m climb up to Timang, where we were teased with views of Manaslu the whole time. After this exhausting steep climb I settled in for lunch on a roof top in Timang with superb views of manaslu. After lunch it was back on the dusty dirt road through Thanchowk, Koto and finally into the bustling town of Chame. I set up shop at the Tilicho GH for the night, a friendly and quaint lodge. Being my birthday I treated myself to fresh apple pie as I chatted with the other travelers. 23km, 1200m+, 7:15.

Views of Manaslu from Timang.

The Annapurna range finally reveals herself.

Birthday apple pie and custard.


Day 3; Chame to Gyaru

Another casual start in the chilly shade of the valley at 8:25, cruising up the dusty road. When I reached the lovely apple orchards of Bhratang I was overwhelmed by the 50-70 people lining the road in front of me. Apparently I’d found all the other trekkers I hadn’t seen the previous two days. I quickly passed them all by, arriving in Dhikur Pokhari around 11am. Here the massive sweeping face of the Swargadwari Danda dominated the skyline. The terrain soon turned very arid as I passed into the rainshadow of the Annapurna massif. As I neared Upper Pisang fantastic views of Annapurna II and IV appeared. I paused on the outskirts of Upper Pisang for lunch and to gawk at the views.  Till now the trail had been climbing pretty gently, then just 1km from Gyaru it jumped up in cruel fashion,  gaining 300m in a series of relentless switchbacks. I grunted up the slope reaching Gyaru just before 2pm. I settled into the Annapurna hotel,  basic accommodations but a million dollar view. Special thanks to Jessie Wilburn for the suggestion, as sunrise (and starry skies) from this village is a must see, best views around. 19km, 1100m+, 5:10.

Swargadwari Danda looming over the river.

View on Annapurna from near Upper Pisang.

Roof top view from Ghyaru


Day 4; Gyaru to Manang

This was to be my easiest day with the big pack on, but I also intended to throw in a side trip to Kicho Tal (Ice Lake), so it wouldn’t be much of a rest day. After watching a beautiful sunrise over the Annapurna range from my hotel rooftop I set off early across the rolling traverse towards Braka. The views across the valley and to the villages far below were quite spectacular. The terrain was pretty easy going until I hit a broad valley near Julu and stared across at the steep 300m decent and climb that awaited me, well damn. I flew down the hill as usual, then came the grind straight back up, ugh. I made decent time and was deposited in a high hanging valley on a gently descending trail, one of the most pleasant sections of trail I’d been on, fantastic views to boot. I cruised on over to the junction with the Ice Lake trail,  dumped my main pack in some bushes and with only a running vest set off up the 900m climb to Ice Lake.

I was huffing and puffing pretty good but made great time to the lake (1:30), and had it all to myself for 20min. The still lake waters reflected the Annapurna massif as some bighorn sheep bounded up the hill behind me. What a place to spend a morning. Then,  abruptly the wind picked (11:20) up and my scene was gone. I jogged back down the hill (0:45) picked up my pack and mosied on over to Manang. I settled in for the night at the Yeti hotel,  a decent but over priced large complex and just wandered town the rest of the afternoon. Manang is a nice place to grab a pastry and stock up on supplies as its the last cheap hub east of Thorung La. Then it was early to bed again. 25km, 1500m+, 6:25.

Sunrise from Ghyaru.


Cruising the trail between Ghyaru and Braka.

Reflection of the Annapurna massif in Ice Lake.

Descending from Ice Lake, there is a tea house half way with some lovely views.

November 10th, Day 5; Manang to Thorung Phedi
I took a slow and steady pace leaving Manang, climbing from 3600m up the valley. There were nice views of Annapurna and Gangapurna behind me, but I was slowly leaving them behind. I took a break for soup lunch in Yak Karkha (4000m), then continued my trudge up valley. The altitude was slowing me down but I kept slogging forward,  crossing the Kone Khola and taking one last tea break before the final push to Thorung Phedi. There are three guesthouses at 4500m set in a high arid valley. Not much views of the mountains here,  but a spectacular valley none the less. It was a chilly and restless night as I didn’t sleep well at the altitude which made me nervous for the following days climb to Thorung La. 15km, 1100m+, 5:06. Resting HR 64.

Views back at Annapurna from near Yak Karkha.

Tea house break just before Thorung Phedi. Nice views and thin air.

Looking up the endless switchbacks from Thorung Phedi to Thorung high camp. How many people can you spot out for an acclimatization hike?

Day 6; Thorung La Pass to Muktinath.

Worried about the altitude I awoke early and hit the trail at first light (6:15am), wrapped in my down jacket. The first part of the climb out of Thorung Phedi consisted of 400m of steep switchbacks up to Thorung high camp. As I slowly climbed upwards I felt OK,  winded but moving steadily. The sun began to illuminate the valley behind me and Annapurna III glowed pink in the morning light. Surprisingly after only 45min I crested the hill arriving at Thorung high camp (4900m), feeling fairly spry. The sun was slowly creeping down from the pass toward me, and soon I found myself bathed in its wonderful morning warmth. The rolling uphill to Thorung La seemed to drag on,  but finally I saw the thousands of prayer flags that adorn the pass, pushed the pace a bit,  and at last plopped down at 5416m atop the pass (2:15).
The pass is set between two sizeable mountains so the only views are backward and forward down the trail, still expansive. I put on all my clothing and proceeded to hang out on top for 1.5h, enjoying the scenery and people watching, in no rush to descend as the thin air felt good. After quite a few photos I decided it was time to go and bounced off down the steep trail toward Muktinath. The steep and dusty descent past Chambarbu and to Muktinath went by quickly and can definitely be a quad killer (1600m-). I strolled into the bustling voyage at Muktinath and took a room at the Hotel Caravan among a sea of local Nepali. I joined the locals and explored the sacred sights of Muktinath, I still feel strange wandering around holy sights of which I don’t have a particular affiliation, but the culture was intriguing and beautiful none the less. 17km, 900m+/1600m-, 4:30 moving.

Morning light creeping toward Thorung High Camp.

The final portion of the climb toward Thorung La pass. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the scenery.

Atop Thorung La pass amongst the prayers flags at 5416m.

Nepali pilgrims bathing in the sacred fountains at Muktinath.

November 12th, Day 7; Muktinath, Upper Mustang, Jomsom.

I set out on the trail toward the villages of Jhong and Putak to explore these traditional Mustang villages. As I climbed away from Muktinath following a well beaten path and a series of red arrows (not the red or blue flags) I had the suspicion that my route was taking me a little deeper into Mustang than I’d initially anticipated. Soon I was 500m above the valley, looking back at the expansive views, and forward into a deep valley surrounded by rock towers and massive desert mountains. A couple of Nepali confirmed that if I went down and turned left at Chhuksang I’d reach Kagbeni….I was totally about to descend into the Forbidden Kingdom of Upper Mustang.

I descended the steep trail past several small groups, finally reaching the small village of Tetang with its terraced hillsides,  mud huts, gompas and isolated silence. After another 45min I reached Chhuksang and the headwaters of the Kali Gandaki river. I turned left onto the road and began the long (2h) walk to Kagbeni. The surroundings were surprisingly arid and reminded me of the Native American reservations of the SW. Mudstone towers lined the road, deep canyons reached back from the river and views stretched for many miles. Finally after almost 15km I reached Kagbeni, exhausted. The forray into Upper Mustang had been a wonderful glimpse into a life style long forgotten. Kagbeni was interesting,  but after Mustang didn’t have the same intrigue, so I quickly set off for Jomsom along the wind blasted dusty road. This was by far the most miserable section of hiking. 6km of dust storms in the wide open valley, so i was very excited to pull into old Jomsom and find a place for the night after my long day. Jomsom is the bustling hub of the circuit compete with airport, markets (in new Jomsom) and the bus stand. I was just glad to relax and take a load off, enjoying my first yak burger of the trip. 35km, 800m+, 7:00.

Sunrise from Muktinath over a temple with Dhaulgiri in the background.

Looking back from the high pass to Mustang toward Muktinath.

Descending into the Mustang village of Tetang, born of a different Era.

Looking back at the village of Chhuksang along the Kali Gandaki.

November 13th, Day 8; Jomsom to Kalopani.After some debating I decided to close the loop and walk the western section of the loop to Tatopani. From old Jomsom I headed up the hill following the trail on the east side of the valley. I made a short side trip to Hutsapternga Gompa(1:00), perched high on a hill with superb views of the valley. I stayed on the trail,  bypassing Marpha, couldn’t handle more road, eventually reaching the Tibetan settlement at Chhairo (2:00). I paused briefly to listen to the school children reciting the morning prayer and talked with a few locals at the school.

The trail continued to climb and descend along the east side of the valley, avoiding the dust bowl and visiting numerous small settlements. The people all seemed much friendlier and more open, maybe because the new road has left them to a quieter and less tourist riddled life? Views of Dhaulgiri are phenomenal on this part of the circuit, and I mostly had the trail to myself. After many ups and downs I finally rolled into Kalopani/Lete and the See You Lodge. This town has one of the better all around views on the circuit, Dhaulgiri behind and Nilgiri and Annapurna I across the valley. It’s a shame so many people skip the Western portion of the circuit. 27km, 600m+, 5:57.

Hutsapternga Gompa shining in the morning sunlight.

Dhaulgiri towering above the Kali Gandaki river.

 

Sunset on Nilgiri and Annapurna from Kalopani.

Day 9; Kalopani to Tatopani, the end.

My last day on the trail, up and our early to avoid traffic on the first section of road to Ghasa. I then rejoined the trail East of the river for the rest of the day, avoiding the road again. Walking through the now lush forest was very pleasant as I passed countless small villages, a few waterfalls and lots of view points. I paused in Gharpad to enjoy some fresh oranges and guavas with some locals before descending into Tatopani. Tatopani was a small village with plenty of small markets,  a nice hot spring and an interesting mix of Western and Nepali travelers passing through. It was a nice place to relax after my long days in the circuit, but not much more than a way station with fresh fruit.

Lush forest enroute to Tatopani.

Nice little trail side cascade.

After 8.5 days of hiking I’ve reached Tatopani and the end of the Annapurna circuit. Up next a trip to Basecamp.

So ended my 9 days whirlwind tour on the Annapurna circuit. Full of amazing scenery, wonderful people, and some eye opening experiences. I’ll leave you with some final thoughts and notes before signing off.

NOTES; 

Trekking on the Annapurna circuit is not a wilderness experience, you’ll see tons of other travelers,  jeeps and motorbikes. In every village you can find both hot food and snacks to carry away. So technically you could probably carry almost no food and be fine (though you pay for it). It’s easy to simply fall in with the travelers and not meet the locals, so take the time to branch out.

I did the entire 190km loop in 9 days, definitely not recommended for most people. I’m extremely fit and I spent time elsewhere in Nepal acclimating. Climbing over 5400m Thorung La is no joke and should be treated with respect. My short time also only allowed me a few side trips, something many people would prefer to take more advantage of. Though I did walk the western part of the loop from Jomsom to Tatopani, something I highly enjoyed and recommend not skipping by using the bus. Lastly,  always remember to look around and keep an open mind. You never know what each day and experience will bring, so try to soak in as much of it as possible. It’s a fantastic journey that has not been ruined by the roads, the experience has just changed a bit over the years, but in the end it is what you make of it. Stay tuned for the next blog detailing my quick adventure up to Annapurna Basecamp. 

Running the trail down from Ice Lake with. Annapurna in the background.

Langtang Trek post-Earthquake

After meeting up with AJ in Kathmandu to plot or Annapurna trek we parted ways for a week. She was off to Bhutan while I decided to use my flex time to make a quick jaunt into the Langtang valley on one of the lesser traveled trekking routes.

By all accounts the Langtang adventure starts with just getting to the trailhead. Online I read of horror stories about 9-10h bus rides to Syabrubesi (trailhead) that only covered 120km! I will say, the ride lived up to the hype. As soon as I was dropped at the bus station I realized I was in for an adventure. The bus station consisted of a road side shack where guys were shouting in Nepali, passing out tickets and pointing at various busses parked along side the road. Thankfully my nice taxi driver helped me get a ticket then instructed me where to find the correct bus. As we loaded on the bus it was evident that other than one girl from Canada it was all locals.

A little bus on truck action along the road. The usual passing entailed 2-4″ to the cliff on one side and a couple inches in between the two vehicles.

The not so smooth road to Syabrubesi.

As we pulled out of Kathmandu in the jammed traffic weaving around motos, parked busses and people, I started to understand the adventure that is ground transit in Nepal. We slowly weaved our way along the mostly paved two lane highway to Trisuli Bazaar where I bid the Canadian woman farewell and it was me and all the Nepalis for the next 4 hours, and the fun had just begun. From Trisuli Bazaar the road turns to half paved half rough dirt and only 1.5 lanes wide. Our driver navigated the rough dirt road,  passing other trucks and busses with inches to spare on all sides. Finally reaching Syabrubesi after 7.5h of some very impressive driving. This is one you have to experience for yourself to truly understand it.

Lovely trail through the forest.

Finally in Syabrubesi I found a quiet room for the night and enjoyed a nice meal with the local family (as I was the only guest, a trend). After the earthquake of 2015 this region has experienced extreme hardship,  both in the form of lost lives and homes and in lost revenue. The main trail through the valley only reopened in the last year, and the tourism still hasn’t returned. I set off early the next morning making my way up the rocky staircased trail into the Langtang valley. I hike passed several small villages (tea houses) in route my lunch stop at Lama Hotel. I ate a huge lunch of vegetable fried rice with fresh chili yak cheese, all locally made. After lunch I sluggishly plugged my way to the guest house at Riverside for the night as clouds filled the valley. Again I sat with the owner and his family for dinner and watched a few Nepali music videos, as I was the only guest (notice a trend). Then to bed early (8p) as darkness settled in around 530p.

Early morning light on Langtang Lirung from the Riverside guest house.

Earthquake ravaged Langtang, much still lies as rubble.

I awoke at sunrise to clear skies and views of Langtang Lirung looming above,  why hello there, ate and set off on the trail in shadow. I rolled passed several more tea houses finally reaching the avalanche at Langtang, where in 2015 half of the town had been buried under thousands of tons of rock. The village is slowly rebuilding, but less than half the structures have been fixed and many are still piles of rubble. I quietly slipped through and as I climbed higher in the valley views began to widen and the mountains got bigger…wow. I took a break at the village of Sidhum for some Seabuckthorn juice and talked with the owner about the slow rebuilding process, as several locals hammered away on his new guest house (previous one destroyed).

High mountain views and yaks on the way to Kyanjin Gompa.

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View out the back window and front door from my room at the yak hotel.

The village of Kyanjin Gompa.

Then it was off to Kyanjin Gompa where I was greeted by panoramic mountain views, prayer flags and desperate guest house owners. Within 10min of arriving I’d  already been offered and shown accommodations at five different places, when one woman showed me a room at the yak hotel with panoramic mountain views and said as long as I ate my meals there I’d stay for free, I couldn’t say no. So I settled in for two nights at my high altitude accommodations (3800m). Once again I sat with Pema and his family in the kitchen for dinner as I was the only guest in the 20 room hotel. After star gazing for a bit I again went to bed early.
I watched sunrise from the comfort of my sleeping bag, Langtang Lirung out the back window and Langshisha out the front,  wow. Pema suggested I go up Tserko Ri, as it had the best views in the area,  so I donned my running vest and warm clothes and set off for the nearby peak. After a short flat section it was the business, 1100m in 5km, topping out at 4984m high. The thin air was pretty crushing above 4300m, but I just kept slogging away reaching the summit just after 10am in 2:15. I’d had great views the entire hike up but was still awe struck by the 360 degree Himalayan panorama that presented itself. Besides being short of breath I felt pretty decent and spent over an hour up top chatting with two other parties and snapping photos. I finally gave in that I couldn’t stay up there forever so jogged back down the steep trail,  returning to town in just under an hour. I spent the rest of the day mingling with locals over a piece of cake at Dorje bakery, learning about the rebuilding procees and the troubles since the earthquake. Sunset arrived with more clouds, but they lifted just at the last minute revealing Langshisha bathed in lovely pastels. The trail up Tserko Ri, 1100m of relentlessly thin air.

Panorama from the summit of Tserko Ri looking west.

View from Tserko Ri looking east.

I even got to run a little bit. Downhill of course.

Sunset on Langshisha from the village.

Clear and starry night sky able Langtang Lirung

The next morning I took a short jog into the basin below Langtang Lirung before breakfast, then bid my hosts farewell and headed back down the valley. As I walked down the valley I tried to process all the highs and lows of the past few days and to understand all the struggles these people had endured, and most still put on a smile. I stopped in Ghodatabela for lunch before continuing down to Lama Hotel for the night.

Early morning trail run. 

Views from the high route just past Sherpagaon.

Another quiet night, but this time I had a chance to chat with two other guests (from Germany and Indonesia). My final day on the trail I opted for the high route through Sherpagaon and was rewarded with wonderful views from this high trail carved into the side of the steep mountains before making my final precipitous drop down 1200m of switchbacks into Syrabrubesi. But the adventure was not finished,  oh no. It was Tihar, one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year so there would be no busses for two days,  well damn. Thankfully I found a nice Nepali (nira I think) who got me a ride back to Kathmandu on the Jeep he had called. So we squeezed in the trunk (yes seats in the trunk) of the Jeep and sped off. Because of the festival there was no traffic on the road, and our driver took advantage, whipping around turns, flying over bumps so we’d catch air. Poor Nira got sick and I don’t blame him,  as we did the drive in just 4.5h. Safely back in Kathmandu I was able to relax and enjoy the Tihar festivities that were everywhere.

Happy Tihar. Lights and colored designs decorated all the doorways.

So if you’re looking for a tea house trek without the crowds, but with all the culture, mountain views and a little adventure, then Langtang is for you. Since the earthquake the valley had been very quiet,  even though the tall is open and plenty of infrastructure is available.  The people of the valley need the tourism and their valley deserves it. The feeling of desperation was evident among many of the people and it really breaks my heart. You want to help as many people as possible, but there is only so much one can do. For now I’ll leave you with all these photos and say that you need to visit this wonderful place for yourself. 

Ultrarunning the National Parks

As a boy I was fortunate enough to have a family that enjoyed camping and hiking, so we spent countless weekends wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. It was during that time that I gained a love for the outdoors, but it wasn’t until I rediscovered the mountains in my 20s that I gained a true appreciation for mountains that our predecessors had the foresight to set aside as protected land. And so began my love of the National Parks, a subset of protected lands meant to ensure some of the best natural wonders in our country are preserved for future generations.

Over the past several years my mother has put forth the goal of visiting all of America’s National Parks during her retirement, which got me inspired to start doing the same thing. The neat thing about America’s National Park system is they do not just preserve one type of natural wonder, but encompass a great diversity of terrain; from mountains to meadows, wildlife refuges, swamps, canyons, rivers, caves, volcanoes, spectacular rock formations, massive glaciers, towering forests and expansive deserts. This is what is so intriguing about the National Parks, the diversity of landscapes and uniqueness that sets many of the parks apart. So I’ve hatched a plan to outline and execute ultra distance runs in all (or as many as possible) of the National Parks. The purpose is to try and see some of the amazing sights each of these parks have to offer deep within their boundaries, but to do so in one incredible day. Often visits to the National Parks simply encompass a short driving tour with several stops at paved lookouts, but I think that misses what makes most of these parks so wonderful.

Cruising up the trail out of the Virgin River in the middle of the Zion Traverse (May 2009)

Cruising up the trail out of the Virgin River in the middle of the Zion Traverse (May 2009)

Looking down the South Kaibab trail across the Grand Canyon during a R2R2R run (Oct 2010).

Looking down the South Kaibab trail across the Grand Canyon during a R2R2R run (Oct 2010).

Pausing atop El Capitan to take in the Yosemite Valley during a 64mile circumnavigation of the Valley rim (July 2015).

Pausing atop El Capitan to take in the Yosemite Valley during a 64mile circumnavigation of the Valley rim (July 2015).

So far I’m only four parks into this long term project, but am excited for the prospects of where it might take me in future years (many years). Surprisingly I’ve already mapped out ultra distance routes in 50 of the 58 National Parks, more than I’d expected was possible. Some of these routes follow classic lines such as the Bryce Canyon’s Under the Rim Trail while many others are creations of my own design, with assistance from locals of course. So far my completion list includes the Grand Canyon Rim-Rim-Rim, Zion Traverse (W->E), Yosemite Valley Rim Circumnavigation, and the Grand Teton Circumnavigation that I completed this past Monday. All have been fantastic adventures and full of amazing scenery deep within the backcountry of each park. The goal is not to set an FKT (unless it’s a First Known Time), but to enjoy and experience each park in a very unique way.

Sunset on the Tetons with a little smoke hanging in the air 9/11/16.

Sunset on the Tetons with a little smoke hanging in the air 9/11/16.

This past week I made a quick foray up to Grand Teton National Park for a run of the Grand Teton circumnavigation. I started from the Lupine Meadows TH just before sunrise in a dense cloud of smoke from the Berry Fire that had flared up the day before. As I ran south along the valley trail toward Death Canyon the smoke obscured views of the Tetons looming overhead. Suddenly a loud crash echoed out of the forest ahead and I saw a black bear come storming across the trail in front of me, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. Five minutes later another explosion in the forest and a massive bull elk came bounding through the woods. The sun finally rose through the smoke as I started my way into Death Canyon, its massive walls towering overhead as I finally descended deep into the park. After a short jog up Death Canyon I hung a right onto the Alaska Basin trail and began the long uphill grind. The fall colors were lighting up the underbrush; yellows, oranges and reds. When I finally topped out on the Static Divide I was treated to fantastic views down into Death Canyon and back down toward a smokey Jackson Hole. The air up high was clearing out and as I ran the high traverse across upper Alaska Basin, views into the Teton backcountry were quite expansive.

Smokey morning light on the Tetons over Taggert Lake, 9/12/16.

Smokey morning light on the Tetons over Taggert Lake, 9/12/16.

The Alaska Basin Trail as it climbs out of Death Canyon, 9/12/16.

The Alaska Basin Trail as it climbs out of Death Canyon, 9/12/16.

Looking back into Alaska Basin and at Sunset Lake, 9/12/16.

Looking back into Alaska Basin and at Sunset Lake, 9/12/16.

After a short climb to Hurricane Pass I was finally treated to an in your face view of the Tetons, shrouded in clouds. The receding Schoolroom Glacier and its mint green moraine lake to the right, the depths of Cascade Canyon far below. This one moment is what makes this route so magical. I then descended the trail back into Cascade Canyon, opting to run the shorter loop that would take me out the mouth of Cascade Canyon to Jenny Lake. Cascade Canyon, with its 3000ft high walls towering overhead and its gently cascading creek filling the valley with the sounds of moving water was a very pleasant way to finish the loop. As I neared Jenny Lake I slowly picked up more and more on coming traffic, though being September things had somewhat quieted down. The final few miles around Jenny Lake were fairly mellow and I was definitely pretty beat. With less than a ½ mile to the car I paused in a clearing and glanced over to see a moose munching away in the tall grass 100m away. This is what makes the National Parks so spectacular, not just mountains, lakes and trails, but the preservation of the natural flora and fauna as well.

View of the Tetons from Hurricane Pass with Schoolhouse Glacier to the right and Cascade Canyon to the left, 9/12/16.

View of the Tetons from Hurricane Pass with Schoolhouse Glacier to the right and Cascade Canyon to the left, 9/12/16.

Upper Reaches of Cascade Canyon with towering peaks overhead, 9/12/16.

Upper Reaches of Cascade Canyon with towering peaks overhead, 9/12/16.

My loop of Death Canyon, Alaska Basin, and out Cascade Canyon had covered 34miles and 7400ft of vertical gain/loss, in 8hours 45minutes, not super fast, but a beautiful day out with lots of photos taken. For the more ambitious, one can add on the Death Canyon shelf trail (+4.7miles) and/or the Paintbrush Divide (+10.2miles, +3000ft) making for up to a 50mile loop. Any and all variations give you a spectacular look into what makes Grand Teton NP so magnificent. Sadly I wasn’t able to tackle my Yellowstone National Park run as the Berry Fire had closed the connecting highway, for another day I guess. This was my last big foray into the Rockies before leaving the country for 5-6months. Special thanks to Vfuel for supporting all my fun habits and the Pro-Leisure Tour (PLT) for giving me the time to wander the mountains and the world. Happy trails, until next time.

Weddings, Anniversaries and New Beginnings

No, not my wedding……Less than one month from today (on 9/21) I will catch my first of a series of one way flights, leaving behind Colorful Colorado. For some the idea of being jobless and schedule-less is no big deal, but for me it’s a pretty big departure from the life I’ve known for the past 16years. And I know I’m not alone in saying that the uncertainty of it all is a bit frightening. For the first time in my life I’ve purchased a one-way ticket without knowing exactly when I’ll be returning. On September 26th I’ll hop a redeye from LA to Taiwan for a one day layover before hopping over to Thailand where I’ll wander for a bit. I don’t know when I’ll leave Thailand exactly, but eventually I’ll be moving on.

I’ve always lived a busy life; but with work, training/running, friends and family it makes for a tricky balance and a lot of tight schedules. In less than three weeks the timing will slow and I’ll try and shift life to a ‘deal with it as it comes’ mentality. This past month I’ve had a small taste of life on the road, spending nine days of August in Hawaii and California.

Hawaii wedding, complete with post-ceremony rainbow. Congrats Monica and Aileen!

Hawaii wedding, complete with post-ceremony rainbow. Congrats Monica and Aileen!

Running some volcanic ridges on Oahu with Malory.

Running some volcanic ridges on Oahu with Malory.

Exploring the Thousand Oaks (CA) "Backcountry" with Ben.

Exploring the Thousand Oaks (CA) “Backcountry” with Ben.

This month also marks another big anniversary for me, 10years of being in Colorado as of August 9th. One of the best decision of my life, and one I definitely do not regret in any way. The countdown is also on, I only have 13 more days commuting from Boulder to Aurora! Holy cow, after 6years I can’t express enough how excited I am to no longer be making that commute on a daily basis. But right now I’m really looking forward to enjoying the next month at home in Colorado with friends and hopefully lots of mountain time. So anyone who wants to get out, let’s plan something fun!

My first adventure as a Colorado resident back in August 2006 with Wes, Elk Tooth and Ogalala Peaks.

My first adventure as a Colorado resident back in August 2006 with Wes, Elk Tooth and Ogalala Peaks.