WOMAN TRAIL LEADER: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

I must admit – life can be hectic.  But what happens when your passion takes over most of your waking life?  Since the inception of this blog and my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, any minute I get outside of my legal career has been dedicated to building the foundation for both entities.  Luckily, my effort to do so is inspired by so many wonderful women who thrive in the spirit of the outdoors.  Rebecca happens to be not only an inspired hiker, but also an INSPIRER for many women who love the outdoors.

To be honest, life before meeting Rebecca was like living in a bubble with the presence of such frequent thoughts in my head:

Am I the only one who is obsessed with hiking?  Why can’t I be normal like the rest of the single girls back in Washington, DC?  Why do I preoccupy myself with the idea of mountains and summits?

Shortly after launching this blog and Peak Explorations, I met Rebecca through her women-focused outdoors website, Hike Like a Woman.  This discovery was completely by accident which happened through a network of bloggers on Facebook.  From the HLAW website, I gathered that there are more women who care about hiking that I could have ever imagined.  In fact, I discovered through HLAW that there IS a community of women supporting one another in their pursuit of the outdoors.  How did I overlook the idea of the existence of such a community?  From there, I gained interest in getting involved and contacted Rebecca about the Ambassador Program with HLAW.  I then contributed a few articles to HLAW and eventually became a contributor for the website.

The thing is I never really thought of the possibility that networking with other outdoor bloggers/leaders would be feasible.  But, Rebecca through HLAW managed to pave the way to connect many of us and create a community that continues to grow as time passes.  As I learned to get to know Rebecca and her mission behind HLAW, I began to sense that Rebecca’s role within the hiking community for women is irreplaceable.  

Rebecca embodies the role of an icon for women as a reminder of the possibilities out there for us, be it in the world of the outdoors or in our personal lives.  There is no limit to what we are capable of as women – whether we choose to be a trail leader, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, or to simply be a hiker.  In the most authentic version of ourselves, we have the power to be what we wish to become.  HLAW is a testament to the empowerment of women that we embody individually and celebrate as a whole.  The sum of all the parts leads to HLAW as the vehicle to promote the voices and the relevance of women in the outdoors.  HLAW’s success, of course, goes back to the founder herself.  It’s a reflection of Rebecca’s commitment to be of service to the community of diverse women who share her passion – hiking and the outdoors.

There are plenty of individuals and organizations I’m grateful for since the start of my blogging life and entrepreneurship.  As such, undoubtedly, Rebecca and HLAW are on top of the the list of those who I’ll always be grateful to in terms of inspiration and support.

So, with all that said, I’m thrilled to share Rebecca’s hiking story, her role as  a trail leader and her experience as an entrepreneur in the outdoors world.  As I learn about Rebecca’s insight and passion for all the above endeavors, I quickly came to this realization:

When our passion takes over our lives, it may very well be so damn exhausting. Yes, indeed it is.  And yet, alongside with it, is a feeling of immense joy- after all, it is all about going after what is truly dear to our hearts.  Hence, we rest, if needed, but no matter how tired we may be, we never stop forging ahead.

Outdoor Woman’s  Voice, Woman Trail Leader & Freedompreneur: Rebecca of Hike Like a Woman

Rebecca Walsh grew up in Bozeman, Montana.  She currently lives with her husband and two children, ages 5 and 3 in Laramie, WY.  As our feature, it’s a pleasure to have Rebecca because she not only is a voice for outdoors women, but she is also fitting as a feature for the Women Trail Leaders and Freedompreneurs series of the blog.  Rebecca has founded several outdoors entities: Hike Like a Woman, Little Laramie Hikers and Just Trails.  She’s also a published writer.  Rebecca’s love for the outdoors is unquestionable as any activity that she partakes in almost always has everything to do with the outdoors.  Talk about passion!  It’s amazing how she manages to find time for all these things.  It must be true love!  So, let’s read on about Rebecca’s hiking life and learn about her amazing projects that have become instrumental to the hiking community.

When and how did you start hiking?

I grew up in a really outdoorsy family so I don’t really remember when I started hiking but I’ve seen a lot of picture of me as a baby in a backpack carrier on my Dad’s back. So I guess it started from before I was born. It’s just kind of in my nature to want to be outdoors and on the mountain.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I like that it’s something that can be done almost anywhere there is a dirt path and that there’s minimal equipment required. After all, a hike can be nothing more than just a walk in the woods. You can make it as extreme or as easy as you want just by varying the terrain.

Rebecca shares with us her most memorable hiking experience to date.

A few years ago a group of my Mom friends and I decided that we needed a break from hiking at the pace of our toddlers and young children. So we planned a quick trip to Colorado where we climbed four 14ers in one day. Mt. Democrat, Cameron Lincoln and Bross. We showed up at our campsite late at night on a Friday after working all day and then woke up at 4 am to begin the climb. It was a long day, with breathtaking scenery and lung-busting ascents. The whole adventure lasted maybe 24 hours but it was exactly what we needed to do something a little bit challenging and have some fun together.  

See the full story here.  

14er trip/Democrat: Twice/year the moms in our hiking group plan a girls-only trip where we leave the kids at home and do something epic. Mt Democrat was our first 14er together.
14er trip:The entire group.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned lately is how to slow down. When I’m on the trail my email isn’t buzzing, my phone isn’t ringing, my to-do list disappears. It’s just me and the trail with nothing to do except enjoy the beauty that surrounds me and become lost in my own thoughts. My best ideas don’t come when I’m busy, they come when I’ve taken a few minutes to slow down, breathe and walk.  I’ve also learned to listen and just be at peace with who I am.

What advise would you give to those new to hiking?

Just lace up your boots and go. The hardest part for me is getting out the door, so I have to put hikes on my schedule so the space doesn’t get filled up with work. If you’re new to hiking find an experienced friend to show you what to pack and where to go. If you’re a new Mom and looking to start hiking with your baby don’t wait, hiking is so good for children of all ages.

Rebecca shares with us some of her favorite family photos while playing on the trails.

3 year old Finn
5 year old William
We don’t shy away from difficult trails as parents because we like to push ourselves. This is the summit of Medicine Bow Peak at 12.016 feet.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

Definitely Kilimanjaro. I turned down a trip there last year and totally regret it. I’m also planning to do Rainier in a few years to celebrate my 40th birthday.  But yeah, if there’s a big mountain I want to climb it.

What challenges have you faced if anything as a female hiker?

This is an interesting question, because after all I do have a website called Hike Like A Woman. But honestly, I  grew up in a family where all of us hiked. I live in a place where I see just as many women (if not more) on the trails as I do men. I feel really comfortable and safe on the trails, and I’ve never experienced any sort of gender discrimination on the mountain.  I guess I’m lucky, not all women experience that.

You have a hiking group called Little Laramie Hikers in Wyoming. What is it about?

Shortly after my husband and I left our careers to move to Wyoming I noticed a few things. First, I noticed that my entire town seemed to hibernate for the winter. I rarely saw any women and children on the trails once the snow started to fly. Second, I noticed that occasionally I’d see a family on the trails but only on the weekends. There were a lot of outdoorsy women in my town who love the outdoors but weren’t comfortable taking their children on a hike without their spouse. I wanted to change this culture so I started a family-friendly hiking group.

The friendships that my children are developing with other children in our hiking group are invaluable. I think they will explore with this group of children for a long time.

What made you decide to start this group and tell us what activities does the group do? 

I started the Little Laramie Hikers because I’m passionate about connecting women and children with nature and local trails. I also wanted a way to make friends who had similar interests (like the outdoors) and I wanted to provide a fun way for parents to meet up and hike.

Right now, we hike together every Friday morning. We alternate between different trails, we have a lot to choose from and sometimes we throw in other activities or environmental education lessons. Our hiking group went to look at dinosaur bones and fossils with a paleontologist last year and that was amazing for the adults and the children. We’ve also learned about pikas with a wildlife biologist, tadpoles, hiked with a senior citizens hiking group, hiked in Halloween costumes, had picnics, learned about wildflowers, and sometimes we hike deep into the woods and read our favorite children’s outdoor books. We’re fortunate to live in a college town so grad students are always looking for fun ways to come out and hike with our group.

The kids in our hiking group love hiking to a place and then stopping to read outdoor stories. I like combining literacy with the outdoors, it’s fun.
This was a joint hike with the Little Laramie Hikers & a local senior citizen hiking group. It was a huge group, we had so much fun. Multigenerational hikes are great.

Do you have other folks organizing?

Right now it’s pretty much just me. There are 200 families in the group, but someone always steps up to lead if I can’t make it to a hike or to help plan a fun outdoor adventure for the group. It’s really a sub-community of outdoor families within our larger community and I like that.

Where do you hike with the group?

Everywhere! We try to keep the driving distance to less than an hour but we’ve hiked all over Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado.

What do you like about being a trail leader?

I feel like one of my goals as the leader of the group is to make sure that I get to know everyone who hikes with us and to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. I like meeting new people who who up for a hike the first time.

What are some of the challenges of being a trail leader?

Naturally I wish I could do more for the group. I wish I had more time to find us gear sponsors for our lending library, or more time to coordinate hikes with other groups but that’s just life. I do what I can.

Also, our hiking group is really family-oriented but since we usually hike on Friday mornings we tend to attract the work-from-home and stay-at-home spouses, so it’s usually a big group of Moms and children. Once we got mistaken for a daycare! I actually love having the support of a good solid group of outdoor women and mom’s and I’ve found that they have developed into my closest friends. My biggest challenge is being able to lead hikes on weekends so I can get more women who work during the week involved.

What advise do you have for women who are interested in starting a group?

Go for it, set up a communication platform that is easy (we have a private Facebook page to communicate) and tell your friends to come out. For the first 6 months only 2 women joined me on hikes and sometimes no one would come at all but that’s okay, we kept on hiking and planning hikes and eventually the group grew. Now I think our hiking group is one of the best things going on in my town for families.

Name 3 qualities that will help to be a successful a trail leader.

Patience, kindness and organization.

You started an enterprise called, Just Trails. What is it about? 

In 2012 my husband and I left our careers are Army officers. We had deployed to Iraq a bunch and had a new baby and just needed some time to decompress. We also loved to hike, cross-country ski, mountain bike and explore so we wanted to combine our love for the outdoors with a small business that we could pursue while deciding what to do with the rest of our lives.

What is the purpose of Just Trails?

Our goal was and always will be to help people explore. We had noticed that wherever the Army sent us we had a hard time finding accurate and useful trail information so we spent our precious weekends researching where to go instead of actually exploring. So our goal was to map out every single trail in Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado to provide a mega data base of local trail information.

What made you decide to initiate this enterprise?

Honestly I think we were just in this weird transition phase after leaving the Army where we just weren’t quite sure what to do. We had saved some money and wanted to work for ourselves so we just went for it.

How has it been like for you running this enterprise?

It’s been amazing. It’s been hard and we’ve learned that it’s not a sustainable business model, so we made a lot of mistakes financially. But at the same time everyone in our local area knows that they can find reliable trail information on our website so it’s quite popular locally. I don’t really know what the future looks like for Just Trails but we really enjoy it.

What do you enjoy about your role in running Just Trails?

I like working closely with my husband on a project. I think it’s been good for our marriage, it’s taught us both how to communicate with each other better.

What are some challenges?

The biggest challenge is funding Just Trails. After a few years with my husband and I running it together we decided that he needed to go back to school and find other employment, so for the past 2 1/2 years while he’s been in law school the bulk of the work has fallen on me. As a result we haven’t been able to put up any new trail maps, or launch a few other projects we have brewing on the back burner. But we’re hoping to hire a few employees someday to help us expand and grow. There’s interest in it, it’s just a matter of being strategic with our funds.

How did you overcome them?

I think it helps to have a long term vision and strategy. We’ve built the brand, we have a solid reputation, the next step is just growing smartly. We’ve cash-flowed the business and are committed to keeping it debt-free. Because we want to keep the risk low it limits the speed by which we can grow and expand.

What 3 tips would you give to outdoors women who are thinking of starting an outdoors-related business?

Chose your business partner wisely. Have a plan. Don’t go into debt, it’s just not worth it.

How do you define success as an entrepreneur?

Do you work hard to provide a good service that helps people? If so then you are a success.

What keeps you motivated in running a business?

I guess it’s selfish but I really like being my own boss, I don’t really want to work for someone else.

How hard is it for a female to run a business in this niche?  Any challenges?

Since it’s been a partnership from day #1 I haven’t noticed any challenges related to being a female. I like to think that if you want to pursue your passion and work hard nothing will stop you.

As I met Rebecca through her organization, Hike Like a Woman, I definitely had to ask her about HLAW, its beginnings and  how she envisions it evolving over time.

What inspired you to start HLAW and tell us about its mission?

A few years ago I felt like I needed to find my own voice in the outdoor community so I started HLAW.  The mission of HLAW is to build a community of outdoor women inspiring each other with stories, tips and advice.

Where do you see the group heading in the future?

My ultimate goal is to have all-women guided trips and tours. I’d especially like to start something geared toward helping female Veterans, because as a Veteran myself I know that there’s a huge need for that.  But HLAW trips, tours, retreats –  it’s on my horizon. For now, however, I just want to keep building the community, sharing experiences and providing good information for outdoor women.

You have successfully launched a community for women in the outdoors.  Can you share what factors led to the success of HLAW?

Bringing a group of women on board as Ambassadors & Contributors to help share their experiences is the first thing that comes to mind. It helps the website feel less about me and more about the community. The next thing would be partnering and collaborating with other outdoor bloggers, especially my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama. I love bouncing ideas off of her and a few others. The last thing would be to know your people, I have a photo shared by one of my readers. She’s a heavy-set middle aged woman who hikes in a blue jeans, she’s a real woman. Her photo is printed off and I look at it when I write blog posts and record podcast episodes. She reminds me to speak to her when I write and podcast. It’s not about her, it’s about the thousands of women just like her who read my blog and listen to my podcast.

Rebecca then shares with us some of her favorite moments through HLAW

Since it’s a visual community one of my favorite moments was the first time when my group of Ambassadors hopped on a google hangout. It was like meeting my readers for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling.  

See the article HERE.

What have been some of the challenges along the way in running HLAW?

Sometimes I get haters and everyone is always pointing out typos. I do my best but I’m not perfect. If someone wants perfect I’d prefer the they didn’t read my blog 😉 If someone wants honest and real, then they are in the right place.

Tell us about some of the upcoming projects for HLAW.

I launched the podcast earlier in December, 2016. Growing the podcast and getting to know my readers is my goal for 2017. In 2018, I’d like to take the show on the road and maybe travel across the country hiking and interviewing inspiring outdoor women.  Maybe a kickstarter is in my future.

You have expanded the HLAW community through the creation of the Ambassador program. How does it work?

Last summer I took Darley Newman, the host of Adventures With Darley, a show on PBS on a hike when she was in town filming an episode of her show. I noticed that while the show had her name in it, it wasn’t about her. It was about the areas she was exploring and the locals who were guiding her. At the time I decided that I needed to change HLAW, it needed to be a place that wasn’t about me, that’s boring. It needed to be a place where others could come and share their stories. So I invited my community to apply for a chance to be an Ambassador for HLAW, basically someone to contribute to the website and be more involved with planning on the back end. I thought no one would apply but 118 women did! I selected 35 of them from all over the world. Since the program is new I’ve decided to add a group of contributors, as well.

How can women get more involved with HLAW?

Definitely follow along the website and hang out with us on Facebook 🙂

This is a photo from a trip last winter where we skied or snowshoed into backcountry cabin for the weekend. There was wine, chocolate and a lot of fun.

You also write yourself.  To date, which piece of writing by you is your favorite? 

Speaking of haters, a few years ago I published a post about hiking with kids on HLAW. One women freaked out about it in Facebook, she said something about how it was dangerous to hike with kids. Her comment got me all sorts of fired up so I wrote a post called, “Why I Put My Babies At Risk By Taking Them Hiking” it’s been my most popular post to date. And while I wrote it out of anger, it was super honest and I think that’s why people love (or hate) the post.

What advise would you give to female bloggers who are new to writing or blogging?

Find a blogging mentor, someone who has been around that you can throw ideas at or find a blogging group that is supportive and fun.

Share with us your favorite quote that keeps you going whether on or off the trail.

“What if you fall, but darling what if you fly?

                                                      -Erin Hanson

How do you see yourself in 5 years with HLAW, Just Trails and Little Laramie Hikers?

I hope I’m just still getting outside as much as possible, encouraging others to get outside and having fun.

I love camping with my family and just being able to unplug and focus on what’s most important in my life, them.

On that note, I think it’s clear that Rebecca’s passion for the outdoors will continue forward for a lifetime and is easily a calling for her.  Not only does she create the world that is safe and supportive for us women hikers but also she lives life true to her passion for trekking.  That, in and of itself, is the real inspiration that she sheds on all of us.

Going back to my initial thoughts before discovering HLAW and knowing Rebecca, I’m happy to say that they have dissipated in my mind.  After all, the hiking world turns out to be pretty darn amazing for women!  I’m no longer the only insane person who is obsessed over hiking and neither am I alone in my continued pursuit of my own calling and commitment to living an authentic life.

Thanks, Rebecca!  I look forward to seeing you flourish in your momentum of empowering women.  I can’t wait to see your creative ideas come to fruition as you forge ahead to inspire the hiking community.

You can follow Rebecca via Hike Like a Woman and Just Trails.

Hike Like a Woman is one of the collaborators for BGT’s Film Project, Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks.  Learn more about the project here.

If you know of an outdoorsy woman who you think should be featured on the WOMEN TRAIL LEADERS SERIES, OUTDOOR WOMEN’S VOICES SERIES or FREEDOMEPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), please see THIS LINK to find out how to be a part of it.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.

The Top 5 Camping Ideas for Couples

A Guest Post by Isabella Beck

Do you want to improve your relationship by camping? Are you aware of the best camping ideas for couples that you should try? If you are planning to camp as a couple, then you must know ideas that would work best for you.

Making the right choice will always make you happy together as you enjoy these unforgettable moments. Here are the top 5 camping ideas for couples to try on your next vacation:

1. Understand their misgivings by preparing for them 

For those couples who have zero desire to camp, it is important that you prepare well to ensure that you enjoy your stay after making a decision to visit the place.

Why is this important? You should ensure that you carry luggage as well as issues that you are likely to experience once you make a decision of camping in your preferred destination.

In addition, it will help you to work together by strategizing on ways to avoid encountering these issues. For example, you must put a working plan for both of you especially if you want to enjoy your stay in the camping as a couple.

Couple tent camping in the wilderness

2. Incorporate activities you already love together 

Camping can be hard if you lack activities that you enjoy both together. Why is this important? You must ensure that you come up with list activities that would keep both of you together while having romantic moments.

For instance, you can come up with list outdoors activities such as place for photography, biking, painting, camping game, swimming in nearby pools, cooking, sketching, craft cocktails to enjoy your camping.

Couple in a camping site playing guitar and singing – Lovers on a wekk end vacation in the nature

3. Cooking with fire

Having a good campfire can inspire a visceral response. How can do this? Maybe it is your cave people roots, however, breaking out the cast iron, roasting marshmallows and roasting a bunch of veggies or a big slab of meat just feels right. With fire, you will be certain of experiencing such amazing moments by creating moments that you will remember together as a couple after camping.

This tactic may work mainly well on a husband who is obsessed with cooking or kitchen toys. You might also have to listen to a debate on merits of different types of fireside meat preparations during your vacation stay. You will be certain that you would be in a place where you can have unforgettable experiences with your spouse by celebrating life.

Portrait of a couple making coffee on the bonfire in the forest

4. Snuggling

Having outdoor snuggles is always something romantic that you can try as a couple. From an inspiring sunset to “catching” shooting stars, you will get into this romantic mood.

In addition, you can zip two bags as a couple together. This will give you an opportunity to have endless jokes at the same time discussing things that inspire your love significantly together.

This will create unforgettable moments together when camping as a couple. Never forget to share light moments with your partner by reminding one another the best and worst days of your relationship as a couple.

The Love story of young people outdoors.

5. Make sure you have the right gear

There is nothing worse in this world than going camping when you are unprepared. Why say this? It is worth the effort and time to either rent or buy an appropriate gear before traveling with your partner.

The absolute worst case is getting cold especially in the tent camping—talk about that romantic buzzkill. What should you do? Make sure you have sleeping bags, which are rated for the given temperature range that you expect to encounter during your vacation. You should also check the temperatures on the listing before you head out.

Another pro-tip to remember is to make sure that you have sleeping pads for insulation. Why is this important? When you have what you need before traveling, you will always be certain that you will enjoy your moments in your preferred place for vacation.

It is important that you get help from traveling experts who will give you an overview of the place where you would love to visit, thus helping you to prepare psychologically. If you are not sure what you need, make sure that you include a checklist of the things that you need in your preferred destination.

In conclusion, the above are the top five Camping Ideas for Couple to try on your next vacation if you want to enjoy an unforgettable experience.

About the Author

Isabella is a hiking enthusiast who has an in-born love for nature.

She is the editor of MadOutdoorist.Com, a blog that provides crucial information about outdoor adventures.  You can follow via Twitter & Instagram.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

 

The Holy Pilgrimage Trek: China’s Yading Nature Reserve

IMG_20160525_144848

The Discovery of Yading

How I feel about Yading is incomparable to all the other trekking or travel experiences I ever had.  It was in many ways the highlight of my trekking experience in China and I cannot express in words how relevant Yading has been in my life.  Yading is within the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and is part of the Sichuan Province.

Let’s start from the beginning.  How in the world did I find out about Yading or to be complete, Yading Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province of China?  It was due to a blog that I ended up making my way to this part of the world with determination.  I had no idea about this place until I read this blog.  In fact, the discovery of the blog was accidental which happened during my research on treks that I could do in Sichuan province.  As it was venturing into an off the beaten path, I wasn’t so sure how I could make it materialize itself into a real trek.  The blog contained such astounding photos of Yading that I couldn’t resist.  Could it be that this place looked THIS stunning in person?

But not only was I captivated by the beauty of the place.  It was the notion of walking around mountain peaks on a trail known as a kora or holy pilgrimage trek.  The local Tibetans treat this place as a highly spiritual place.  Along the trails, you’d see evidence of their wide-known respect of the nature that can be found here.  The mountain peaks, the lakes and everything else were treated with respect the way mother earth intended.  Prayer flags abound in some portions of the trail which signify the depth to which the local Tibetans show their lasting connection to this land.

On a more practical level, Yading lured me for the sense of adventure that it brings.  Simply put, “How does one get to this heavenly place alone without speaking a word of Mandarin?”  From Chengdu, it is a 24 hour bus ride.  However, one can split the travel days by going to Kangding, another town in TAR, from which you take a 12-13 hour bus ride to get you to Daocheng and from Daocheng you take a bus to Riwa where you pay your entry fee and then from there you take the final bus to take you to Yading Village.   The bottom line is it takes a significant amount of time and effort to get to Yading, that is, if you are lucky enough to manage the transports as a solo traveler who could hardly speak the language.  I took the challenge, so to speak, and had not regretted it one bit.

So fast forward to the days leading up to my arrival in Yading.  It is important to note that my adventure in this place entailed meeting a lovely soul in the form of a solo traveler who had once trekked the Himalayas in Nepal.  Her name is May.  She is from the northern part of Thailand near Chiang Rai.  May was on the bus with me along with other travelers who were leaving Rilong town where people stayed to visit the Four Girl Mountain National Park.  I expected no English speakers on this bus en route to Kangding where I had to catch the next leg of the trip.  In fact, May’s English is perfect and later I learned that she is an avid learner of foreign languages.  What a treat, I thought to myself.  How did I get lucky (yet, again)?  So, May told me she had been traveling solo in China and had just a few more weeks left.  She had been to China before but mostly for sightseeing.  I told May about my plans to trek Yading.  She didn’t plan on going to the same place but upon hearing about my crazy intention to do an overnight trekking to complete the kora trail that was 30 kilometers long, and with the altitude being no lower than 4,000 meters, she excitedly asked to join me.  Other than her noting that she trekked in Nepal before, I didn’t really know anything else regarding May’s experience with hiking.  I figured that for safety reasons, having someone join me on this adventure was more beneficial than not.  Also, May happened to speak Mandarin as well! So, I took the risk and hoped that with  my new found trekker friend, we would be lucky enough to rent a tent and other trekking gear upon reaching Daocheng, the biggest town before heading out to Yading.  After all, based on my research, I was told gear rental is possible in Daocheng.  Well, that turned out to be false.  More on that later.

Meanwhile, May and I had a smooth ride to Kangding where we were fortunate enough to find a couple of spaces at a hostel.  Upon arrival at the hostel, we quickly walked to the bus station to get our tickets to Daocheng.  It turned out there was no such thing as a scheduled “bus” to Daocheng.  It was more of hiring a personal driver.  We ended up having to bargain hard and after a few minutes of haggling, we secured our ride for the next day.  The next day came rather soon as we had to be up so early to catch the ride.  It was an SUV with a few other passengers and most of them were Tibetans.  Interestingly, we had to transfer to another SUV at about midpoint in Litang.  The second ride was unusually slow, so much so, that one of the passengers was fuming mad.  It had been a long day of being cramped in a car and when we were nearing night fall, tempers were starting to flare.  May and I were astonished at our predicament but didn’t wish to create any tension with the driver so we remained quiet.  When we got to Daocheng, the originally chosen hostel turned out to no longer be in existence; hence, May and I had to decide at the last minute on our hostel for the night.  We ended up finding a basic and crowded hostel that was able to arrange our private transport to Riwa.

The next morning was so much better as we were able to have a bit of rest the night before.  I was also getting excited to finally enter Yading.  The ride was not that long and on the way, the scenery of the mountains just got better and better.  When we got to Riwa, we had to buy our tickets and from there we hopped on a big tourist bus.  At that point, we were finally entering the outskirts of Yading village.  I already could tell that we were going to have a magical experience with the views.  We also arrived at such a perfect time as the fall colors were in full showing and the peaks had snow on them.

Upon arriving in Yading village, we realized we didn’t book any accommodation but thought it should be easy.  We quickly learned that we came during peak season; hence, the accommodations were almost at full capacity.  The hostel we wanted to stay at was full.  We were then advised to walk around the village to find spaces.  After about 40 minutes or so, May and I settled on a guesthouse with a Tibetan family.  The room was shared with a few others but we did get our own beds.  That night the guesthouse was full and the next day we all had to experience the unwelcome aftermath concerning the condition of the toilets.  Of course, as usual, they were the typical Chinese toilets where water runs gently through a hole on the ground.  Certainly, this was effective enough to wash away #1 but not #2; hence, I opted to avoid the toilet the entire time we were there.   I had managed to deal with the toilet situation in China up until now; this was when I finally found myself reaching my tolerance limit of the so called “Chinese” toilets.

20141022_084013
Pillow!

Moving onto much more pleasant thoughts, a sweet black cat resided at the guesthouse who chose my company and bed that night. The cat showered me with affection and warmth as it snuggled with me all night.  It was a nice reminder of how I missed my furry roommates back home after being away for almost three months.

Yading village appears to be a hub for tourists as opposed to it being a natural village.  The area is owned and ran by Tibetans and no Han Chinese can own and operate any business in Yading.  It is quite a remote area apart from the tourists visiting at certain periods during the year. I can only imagine how quiet it can get during off seasons.  But for now, we have to brave the influx of Chinese tourists.  As always,  the sight of a western or non Chinese tourist was uncommon, which makes the experience great in its own way.

During our first day, we decided to take it easy as we were already at a significantly high altitude.   We decided to use up the rest of the day by visiting the reserve.  As usual, the reserve had very well marked trails and they had golf carts moving people up and down the park and to different platforms to view the surroundings.  We managed to get as far as the starting point of the kora trek that we planned to do so we had a clear idea where to go.  Despite the cloudy weather, the views were spectacular, nonetheless.  See the photos –  Yading Nature Reserve Photo Gallery.

The next day, we managed to get beds at the originally chosen  hostel.  After dropping our bags and breakfast, we did a practice hike to Frog Lake.  It was again a superb hike with gorgeous views and the lake was pretty.  Hardly did we see people on the trail.  This was also an opportunity for me to assess May’s hiking abilities especially given the altitude.  It turned out quite well for both of us.  I did notice on my end that at that point in my China trip, I was very much well acclimatized which tremendously helped with raising my level of enjoyment on the trail.  See the photos – Frog Lake Gallery.

Back at the hostel, the manager, Andy, was very helpful in planning out our kora trek.  So going back to the gear rental – well, I was wrong again.  Andy told us the only tent he had was an old and simple one. He even refused to let us use it for its lack of utility.  When we told Andy about trekking the kora, he looked at us like we lost our minds because most people only hike up to the famous Milk Lake and then turn around.  Andy advised that as a day hike, it can take more than 12 hours to do the 30 km kora trail so attempting to do this in one day is insanely risky given the low temperatures at night in the event of hiking in the dark, the lack of people on the trail and the lack of easy access to getting help.  The other problem is the fact that the last bus leaves at sunset so we were very limited in terms of time.  The only saving grace is the fact that there is a guesthouse near the park entrance to which we can walk should we miss the last bus.

With no gear at all to use for overnighting, May and I had a tough decision to make that evening.  Do we push through with doing this so-called kora in one day?  Or do we do the usual hike to that Milk Lake and back?  I was, however, so convinced that the best part of the trail was what lies beyond Milk Lake.  We had come such a long way and to not even give it a try just felt downright unacceptable.  So, May and I decided to go against Andy’s advise.  We were going to complete the kora in a day but depending on the weather, our pace and our physical condition,  we allowed ourselves to revisit this decision once we got over the first pass beyond Milk Lake.  That night we prepped our gear and made sure to get to bed earlier than usual as we had to take the first morning bus in order for us to have the maximum time possible to finish the kora before dark.  I was very excited and nervous all at the same time.   Finally, the trek was materializing despite the hurdles along the way.  It was a cold night so I didn’t have the best sleep and the excitement also contributed to the sleeplessness.

The Kora Experience

Early morning we were aboard the bus to enter the Reserve.  From the entrance, we decided to take the golf cart to Luorong Grasslands as our starting point.  From the starting point, we were already afforded views of the three holy peaks – Chenresig, Chana Dorje, and Jampelyang, even if behind the morning clouds.  We started hiking at sunrise at which time the temperature was rather low and I felt my hands and feet semi-frozen, even feeling numbness at some point.  I had to just remind myself that as the morning progresses, the sun will be up and all will be heavenly.  An hour more and that became a reality.

IMG_20160525_145219

The hike started with trying to get to the first highlight, the Milk Lake, at 4480  meters from Luorong Grasslands (4180 meters).  Even if our trek that day had to end at Milk Lake, I would have been satisfied as Milk Lake was a phenomenal sight to see.  It was such a gorgeous lake that deserved more time so we decided to eat our lunch next to it.  Next to the Milk Lake was the hill that took us to the nearby lake, 5 Color Lake at 4530 meters.  It was a pretty sight, as well, but not as wonderful as Milk Lake.  After lunch, we proceeded to walk further to hike up the first pass.  As we walked further away from Milk Lake, it became increasingly apparent that there were only the two of us now trekking on the trail.  This was to be the case for the rest of the time for we didn’t see a single soul from that moment onward.

IMG_20160525_144732

IMG_20160525_144545

IMG_20160525_144224

IMG_20160525_143827

IMG_20160523_234256

We successfully made it to the highest point,the first pass, at 4700 meters, without much delay and observed the place to be filled with prayer flags complemented by the 360 degree view of the peaks including the southwest face of Chenresig.  At that point, we decided given our pace and the decent, albeit cloudy, weather we were going to move forward with our trek.

IMG_20160525_143122

IMG_20160525_142937

IMG_20160525_143022

The next couple of hours consisted of walking a very gradual descent and then ascent with more lakes to be enjoyed along the way.  The clouds moving in fast worried me as May notably slowed down her pace.  We were walking for about 6 hours at that point and we just made it to the one and only shelter along the way that was made of rocks.  At that point, May and I had to assess how we wanted to proceed as the clouds above us seemed to indicate potential for snow.  She reassured me that she was doing fine and could continue on.  So we did.  The hardest part of the trek was just about to start.

IMG_20160524_232302

IMG_20160524_232934

IMG_20160523_232031

As we trudged along up a number of uphills and false summits, I was relying on the blog write up that I had on my phone to remind us of the landmarks and how far along we were on the trail.  I was also concerned we have yet to make it to the second pass which was only a few meters lower than the first one and after hiking for about 8.5 hours at that point, the trek was starting to feel rather slow going.  Eventually, we came around a bend and the trail became more downhill with another hill for us to climb.  I suspected at that point we were nearing the second pass.  At times, we were also losing track of the path as there were some snowy patches on the trail which made the path harder to decipher.  May reminded me that the trail was a loop so we need to keep the range of holy peaks to our right side at that point.  We eventually rediscovered the actual path and from there it was just a straight steep uphill.  I felt more difficulty with my breathing which signaled that we were gaining a much higher elevation and that we were nearing the highest point of our trek.  At that moment, snow flakes started coming down upon us as we reached the second pass at 4665 meters.    The pass itself was a much smaller area than the first one, almost just an opening between two hills or rocks.  But on top, it was filled with prayer flags. May and I were ecstatic that we made it this far even though we still had a little less than one third to go.  May and I snapped our photos and off we went down to the other side as we worked our way down with mostly a downhill trail the rest of the way.

IMG_20160524_234101

IMG_20160523_164112

IMG_20160524_232632

IMG_20160524_223306

IMG_20160528_110139

At that point, we still had clouds above us but the flakes were short-lived.  The sun came out intermittently which allowed us glimpses of the holy peaks as we descended at a regular pace.   Soon enough, we were below the treeline and inside a pristine forest.  We were making our way to the next landmark, Pearl Lake, which alerted us that we were close to the end of our trek.  After Pearl Lake, the last stretch took us back to a trail near the main entrance which then led us to the steps where the usual Chinese tourists are usually seen; but as it was late in the day, the place was deserted.  May and I were fortunate to have made it to the last bus with just a minute or two to spare.  We were exhausted after 11.5 hours of trekking at such high altitude.  But we did it.  And as the bus rolled out to take us back to our hostel, May and I smiled at each other contently.

At the hostel, Andy was so delighted to see us back and made sure to prepare us our meals to recover from the grueling day.  We learned that Andy was awaiting our return and that he intended to send for help in the event we didn’t make it back to the hostel that night.  We were delighted to hear that gesture but glad it never headed that way.  At dinner, May revealed to me that she trekked Nepal years ago and that she had not done much high altitude hiking since then.   Had I known this, I might have decided not to do the kora with May. I would have second guessed the idea because I prefer not to put someone in danger.  In some ways, I felt responsible for May’s safety the entire time as it was my plan to begin with.  But she did exceptionally well, and I was proud of her achievement as I quietly thanked the world for our safe journey.

may and i

may and i 2

We were such strong trekkers that day and for sure it felt like such a feat!  But the truth is the highlight of the experience was the golden moment we had to ourselves as we enjoyed nature’s finest.  In many ways, that moment captured the essence of life, which we were reminded of every step of the way.  We were in perfect harmony with our natural surroundings and ourselves that day. I knew then that Yading was a life altering experience as I forged an everlasting friendship with my new friend, May.

And YES.  Yading is hands down gorgeous.

Yading and the Kora Aftermath

andy may and i 2

May and I left Yading the day after we completed the kora.  We took a photo with our kind host, Andy, and bid him farewell as we hopped on the bus to move onto our next destination.  In Riwa, we managed to get a private SUV to take us to Daocheng where we spent the night before parting ways.  May wanted to go to another town, Soda, in TAR to witness the sky funeral, a local Tibetan tradition, while I had to get myself to Daocheng airport, the highest one in the world (and the coldest), to get back to Chengdu to meet my American friends for the start of our journey to Lhasa; and then Nepal.

20141025_075342
Coldest airport I have ever been…better to be hiking in this temperature than waiting for the flight.

That night we stayed at a different hostel and indulged in traditional Tibetan cuisine which consisted of their traditional bread, yogurt and grilled meats.  We spent sometime chatting about life and where we envision the road leading us from there on.  We were delighted at the spontaneity of our adventure – two female trekkers/travelers who crossed paths to do one of the most amazing hiking experiences ever.  I knew my heart was heavy to say goodbye yet again, especially this time because I connected with May in many ways as a hiker and a friend.

20141024_161507
Simple but delicious! Bread, yogurt and yak millk.

But as life goes, I woke up the next morning earlier than my friend to catch the taxi to the airport.  I bid farewell to May and suggested she meet me in Chengdu after her adventure in Soda.  After all, I was curious about the sky funeral and a bit dismayed at not having extra days to join her.  My journey was shifting yet again.  The next chapter would entail having to reconnect with people back in the U.S.A. which felt at that point in my travels a bit strange.  It was something to have to get used to again after months of traveling alone and meeting random people along the way.  Truth be told, the notion of  this shift scared me a little because I was fully enjoying the time spent alone and the spontaneity of my experiences; hence, I didn’t feel I was ready to give that all up.  This was the first time that I completely grasped the beauty of solitude.  Having to part from it was scary for the first time.

Travel bloggers can be heaven sent and that became evident in my case.  For that, I am grateful.  For full details on Yading and the Kora Trek, please visit the website, The Land of Snows, which I used as my personal reference for this journey.

Without further ado, here is the gallery of photos on our Kora Trek in Yading Nature Reserve:

Read also: FILM PROJECT: Don’t Date a Girl Who Treks, which was launched based on BGT’s trek in Yading.

Follow Brown Gal Trekker via:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest

Interested in joining solo travelers for trekking tours to Peru, Nepal, Kilimanjaro & many others?  See PEAK EXPLORATIONS.