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The Holy Pilgrimage Trek: China’s Yading Nature Reserve

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Kaila & Wyatt

One is never too old to hike.  But then, can one ever be “too young” to hike? 

Our next feature, Kaila, found inspiration from hiking through making a choice to live a healthy lifestyle and discovered hiking in her adult life.  However, joining Kaila, is her 4 year old son, Wyatt, who started hiking at 8 months!  Of course, not literally as he was too young to walk then but his parents have exposed him to the outdoors from that very young age.   So, are you ever too young to love the outdoors?  According to Wyatt, no.

Before officially meeting Kaila and Wyatt, my first encounter with Wyatt was through reading a Huffington Post article on him.  Wyatt aims to hike Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia’s Borneo – the  youngest to do so.  I personally did a solo hike of Mt. Kinabalu years back and it’s a strenuous trail not to be taken lightly as it goes as high as over 13,000 feet.  Luckily, it appears his parents are mindful of his safety and deems that to be the number one priority.  Wyatt’s pursuit of hiking and just being in the outdoors is certainly inspiring for the young and old alike.  Also, it’s a testament to the fact that having kids should not halt our passion for the outdoors as adults, especially for women.  After all, it’s the healthiest way to raise a young person.   So, I’m rather excited to hear from both Kaila and Wyatt about how hiking has been instrumental in their lives.  In addition, their hiking stories take us to the Philippines and Asia (for now).  In case you do wonder if there are trails to trek in that part of the world, the answer is yes, most definitely!  It’s not the easiest terrain either with frequent muddy conditions and steep climbs.  Nonetheless, it’s a heavenly place for any avid hiker.

Outdoor  Woman’s Voice

Kaila (& Wyatt)

Kaila Sharlene de los Reyes – Bedural was born in Santa Cruz, Manila and grew up in Quiapo, Manila.  She is currently residing in San Pedro, a city in the province of Laguna.  Kaila is a freelance web developer, web designer, SEO specialist, and marketer.   Kaila started hiking in 2011.  She hikes in nearby mountains and around Batangas, Laguna and Rizal as time allows.  She also has ventured into the Cordillera mountains in Benguet and explored some of the peaks in Mindanao.  When off trails, Kaily loves collecting banknotes of the countries she has visited and old Philippine banknotes.

How did you discover hiking?

I saw the hiking photos of my officemates and I suddenly feel envious with them. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to join but I suddenly got invited by one of them, so I immediately said yes!  After that, I didn’t join them anymore and I just searched for groups and events on facebook where I could join and I eventually became a solo hiker.

What do you like the most about hiking?

I was born and grew up in a city so I seldom experience being with nature during my childhood and teenage days. When hiking, I loved how I can see different views of nature. Also, there’s an overwhelming joy once you reach the top of the mountain. Next, it helped me have a healthy lifestyle. Our family is prone to being obese. In fact, I’ve been overweight since I was a child. But because of hiking, I’ve lost a lot of weight. However, in 2015 when I became too busy with work and we seldom went hiking, I gained back some pounds again. Third, hiking helps me relieved some stress, especially when spending the night camping in the mountain. Fourth, hiking is our major family bonding.

Do you enjoy hiking solo or with others more? 

When I didn’t have my own family yet, I enjoyed hiking solo. Hiking with big groups delayed the itinerary and I want to follow my own pace. If spending the night in the mountains, sometimes it’s too noisy at the campsite if there are too many people. So without a doubt, I loved hiking alone. However, it changed when I’ve got a husband and a baby. Hiking as a family is the most enjoyable thing for me now. I no longer care about my own pacing because we enjoyed every step with our Wyatt.

Kaila shares with us 3 places locally and abroad that she and Wyatt have hiked. 

Fansipan in Sapa Town Lao Cai, Vietnam is our first ever hike outside the Philippines. It is called the “Roof of Indochina”. It was winter season (December) when we went there and although there’s no snow, the climate is really cold especially at the top. But we’re prepared and equipped with proper gears so we didn’t worry about the cold weather.

Next is Mt. Talomo traverse to Mt. Apo. It is known as Mindanao Megatraverse because of its tough trails. Mt. Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines and potentially-active strato-volcano. There are a lot of trails to get there like the Kapatagan trail (easiest), Kidapawan trail (a little challenging) and a lot more. We did the Mt. Talomo-Apo traverse when we decided to hike Mt. Apo because it’s like hitting two birds in one stone. Before getting to Mt. Apo, you have to hike a series of mountain peaks so it’s hard. The usual itinerary for it is 4 days and 3 nights. But because we have a toddler with us, we extend the itinerary to 5 days and 4 nights

Third is Mt. Ulap Eco Trail. It is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Philippines because of its spectacular views. There are pine trees, grasslands, ridge, hanging bridge and you can also see burial caves. It is just near Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from hiking?

Never underestimate the mountain. Be prepared always. Learn not only the basics of hiking but also the advanced skills. Have more patience.

What advise would you give to women who are new to hiking?

Enjoy the trail and the nature in general. These are the things that no amount of money can buy. So we, as a family, invest on these experiences rather than gadgets and other unnecessary things in life.

What is your most memorable hiking experience to date?

Every hike is memorable for us. But the most memorable perhaps is our Mt. Kitanglad traverse to Mt. Dulang-Dulang. It is also a tough hiking trail in the Philippines. And because we have a toddler with us, it is much harder than usual. The weather forecast in the place was sunny but we still experienced moderate to heavy rain in the middle of the trek. We couldn’t go back anymore because we’re too far already so we have no choice but to go. There are steep descents and ascents so we have to use ropes. There’s a part with big rock with cliffs on both sides. An existing rope is available but it’s too muddy making it slippery. Same goes with the rock. We couldn’t ask any help as well because the local guide already went ahead of us and there are no other hikers during that time. I wasn’t afraid for myself but for my husband and our little one. I went first and I managed to surpass that obstacle. While at the top, I kept praying to God and saints to protect both of them. Thankfully, nothing bad happened.

What treks do you have on your bucket list?

We have lined up Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, then Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hong Kong for 2017. Hopefully, more international climbs for 2018. Nothing specific yet because we’re just relying on promo fares and we’ll go whichever place I get the most affordable fare. Of course for the bucket list, we have the Himalayas – Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp; but that’s too expensive so not a priority.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a “female” hiker? 

When I was still a single woman, there are people who underestimated my capabilities as a female. I was turned down to join a hike simply because I was a newbie and a woman; they thought that I couldn’t do it. I felt so hurt so I decided to go on my own way and proved to them that I can do it just like them (men).

Wyatt

When did Wyatt start hiking?

He was only 8 months old when we brought him to our hiking activity.

How did he get started on hiking?

When we already knew that I was pregnant, we stopped all the outdoor activities until my CS wound was completely healed. We were on hiatus for about 1 year and 5 months. We really wanted to go back to what we used to do before and we really missed outdoor activities. We don’t have a nanny for Wyatt, and since there are only three of us in the house, we decided to go camping with our baby. Surprisingly, Wyatt showed interest being one with nature. He’s really happy with the trees, the environment, and the people we meet on the trail. The funny part is that he didn’t want us to stop walking. Yes, he didn’t want to rest. We had fun climbing together as a family so we decided to do it often when the schedule and budget permit. Aside from the fun that climbing brings, we noticed that Wyatt’s stamina is getting stronger and he was able to resist a lot of sickness. Unlike other kids, he seldom gets sick and never been hospitalized.

What trails has Wyatt hiked to date?

A lot. 43 mountains as of this writing. You can find his hiking log here: http://www.wyattmaktrav.com/climb-log/

What is the terrain like for these hikes?

Mountainous, grasslands, mossy forest, open fields, muddy trail, and river crossings.

How do you coordinate and plan his hikes?

Of course, extensive preparation has been done before we go on a climb. We consider the type of mountain whether it’s only a dayhike or a multi-day climb. We avoid mountains that are rocky and have limatiks (leeches). We choose mountains where baby Wyatt can walk/climb by himself in most parts. As a result, his legs are full of muscles even as a baby. There are more preparations in major climbs because we need to make sure that we won’t run out of supplies for the entire duration of the hike. Aside from the allotted food for the estimated days, we also have some buffer supplies (emergency food) just in case there are unexpected circumstances. We have to know the weather forecast on the location of the mountain, although we know that mountain has its own weather that we can’t control. In fact, we have scheduled climbs in the past that we aborted due to bad weather in the area. We’re also searching for some locals in the area who will assist us, especially for the logistics such as the transportation going to the jump-off and processing of permits so that our focus will be on our internal preparation – mostly for our baby.

As parents, how do you ensure his safety?

We carefully choose the trails that we will hike. As parents, we don’t want him to be in danger. So when hiking, both of us are very attentive to his every step. If there are hard parts on the trail and he’s too tired, we carry him. If the mountain is a major one, we used to seek help from friends to accompany us so we have somebody to rely on in terms of cooking of meals, etc. so our focus is purely on our son. We also take time in the trail. Before, we used to run but now, we just follow our son’s pacing. Very enjoyable!

You also launched a website – what is the goal for your site?

At first, it was a private site because Ed and I were both busy so we couldn’t write anything to be published on that blog. We just wanted to compile Wyatt’s photos of his climbs, travel and other adventures through it. I’ve purchased a domain with his name and made it public in May, 2016. Then eventually, the website helped us establish media presence for Wyatt (TV shows, magazines, and other blogs).

How has the outdoors community responded to your son’s love for hiking?

We’ve been receiving both positive and negative comments about bringing our child in the mountains. For the positive comments, they said they are inspired, amazed and wanted to do the same. For the negative, there’s a lot. They said we are putting our child into danger, some even said we’re not a good example, that it’s a bad parenting, etc. Even so, we’re not really affected with the negative comments because they don’t know us, they don’t know what kind of preparation we do, and they didn’t experience it themselves.

You can read more about this topic via this article on Wyatt’s website.  What future hikes do you have planned for Wyatt?

For nearby mountains, we usually go unexpected. For those that need airfare tickets, I’ve already booked promo fares in advance so we have plans for Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia (May), Lantau Peak and Dragon’s Back Trail in Hongkong (July).

What are some of Wyatt’s favorite hikes?

 Wyatt loves water so his favorite hikes are those with falls, river, and lake.

What advise do you have for parents who have a child who’s interested in hiking and who wish to start going outdoors?

Hiking with a child, let alone a toddler or infant, is not an easy task. So if you are interested to start going outdoors with your child, make sure that you have tried it yourself. The most important thing is that both parents should love what they are doing. Be prepared not only with the supplies but also physically and emotionally.

It’s been a pleasure to have Kaila and Wyatt on this feature and learning more about the hiking life in the Philippines.   The outdoors are meant for any age and stage of life as long as preparations are made.  Wyatt sure has more hikes to pursue and so it’s worth following him via his social media accounts:  Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.  You can also read about Wyatt’s adventures via his own blog.

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

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Oregon (USA)

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains or nature.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

OREGON (U.S.A.)

by Tarah & Tip of Fit Two Travel

Oregon is one of the best places to live if you enjoy hiking. It’s should be a sin to visit Oregon, without getting out on one of the many hiking paths. From forests, to waterfalls, to breath-taking views, Oregon hikes has arguably some of the most gorgeous scenery in the World. A few of our favorites are Misery Ridge Loop, Angels Rest, and the Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park. 

Smith Rock State Park is 3 hours from Portland, located right outside of Bend. Misery Ridge is one of the more popular trails at Smith Rock, at just under 4 miles round-trip. Consider yourself forewarned as it is an intense climb with a mile of straight uphill hiking. It’s all worth it when you see the view at the top! From the top on a clear day, you can see multiple mountains in the distance, including Mt. Hood, Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters.

There are many beautiful views in the Columbia Gorge, but our favorite is Angels rest. Just under 5 miles, it’s not too long, but it does have a steep incline. Silver Falls has 10 waterfalls and over 24 miles of trails to explore. Silver Falls is the largest park in Oregon. With so many trails, you can pick your difficulty level. We highly recommend doing the trail of ten falls, where you can see all 10 falls. It’s a longer trail at 8.7 miles, but it doesn’t have much elevation gain.  

Oregon is a beautiful state to explore, especially when you’re surrounded my nature and incredible views. The many trails of Oregon need to be on your list to see.

If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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Are You Brave Enough? Summiting a Peak That Almost Killed You

I can see IT, touch IT, smell IT.  

“THIS”

The summit, that is.  In just a matter of days I will once again come face to face with a mountain or a volcano rather that has instilled this lingering fear in me.  Her name is Kilimanjaro.

A few years back, I made an ambitious attempt to summit Kilimanjaro via the shortest route – Marangu.  By shortest, I mean 2.5 days to go up the summit.  Sounds intense?  It’s more than intense. I almost died from the onset of symptoms of pulmonary edema.  By the time I hit the last hut, Kibo, on the night I was scheduled to summit, I barely could lift a fork to feed myself pasta.  To be frank, that was one of the scariest night of my life.  A German doctor who happened to be at the hut that night looked me over and said rather bluntly, “You know you’re not making it right?  You’d die if you continue on.  Well, that is if you can even walk at this stage.”

She was right. I couldn’t walk anymore.  My lungs were starting to fill up with fluids and my breathing was significantly limited.  As the night progressed, I started coughing and fever set in.  The minimal amount of oxygen left me devoid of any ability to even fully comprehend my surroundings.  Unbeknownst to her, in silence, I cried that night while the hikers and I made our attempt to get some sleep before the midnight start time for the summit.  My younger self then was consumed with a sense of “failure” – one that I dreaded on the trek.  After all, I came to Kilimanjaro to conquer the peak.  Being only 6-8 hours away from the goal was heart-wrenching.  I was that close to possessing the prize.  But I knew I had no choice except to quietly lay on that top bunk bed struggling to keep myself conscious and awake.  Minutes before midnight, I could hear the noises coming from the adrenaline-fueled hikers that were hastily preparing their gear for the ultimate hike up the summit.  Their day of hiking would take anywhere between 10 and 14 hours to complete whereas my activity for that day took a different shape, one in which I have to be transported down the mountain as soon as daylight arrived.

As they left the room, I felt a sense of disappointment at myself. I could barely stand the thought that I allowed the journey to lead me to this –a distraught, debilitated and hardly functioning version of myself – fully surrendering to the defeat.  I recalled laying in silence for a long time while fearing that if I closed my eyes, I may never open them up again.  Never.  In other words, it dawned on me that quite possibly I might die tonight. 

I thought about my family and friends, how far away they were and without a clue of the predicament that I was in.  Fear mixed with despair wasn’t something I ever conjured in my mind until that night. My only goal at that moment was to survive.  I preoccupied my mind with thoughts, no matter how random they maybe just to avoid the allure of sleep. I reflected on how events unfolded leading up to that point.  Perhaps I became too overly confident that I can conquer any peak I so desire in light of the fact that I successfully trekked up Thorung La Pass on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal just months prior.  Now, as fate intended, I was learning the hard way that being overly confident in Kilimanjaro worked against me.  The decision to hike up over the shortest amount of time worked against me. Now, I myself was against me for making such reckless decisions that led me to this unwanted fate.  I was angry at the situation and myself while placing most of the blame on me.  What was supposed to be an ordeal with summiting had turned into one dealing with survival.

As daylight came the next morning, I was notified of the porters’ arrival at the hut to lift and carry me back down the mountain as a means for me to survive.  The plan was to transport me back to the lower hut where I was expected to reunite with my hiking companions.  To add insult to injury, the transport down via a homemade stretcher was quite a bumpy ride as the porters, my saviors, hurried down the rocky trail as if I was as light as a feather.  Speeding down the mountain did mean a quicker recovery, however.   In fact, within minutes of arriving at the lower hut, I felt completely functional again without a hint of any of the symptoms I endured earlier at higher altitudes.  I survived physically.  But then I wondered, “Would I survive the feeling of failure?”

This all happened in 2009.  Eight years went by and the experience continued to haunt me. I reflected on the sense of defeat while the passage of time which carved out the space I needed to detach from the horrific experience allowed me to grow as a person.  That process of growth afforded me the chance to see the incident from a more mature view point.  Over time, I found a way to release my pent-up frustration and fears that caused me to question myself as a hiker.  I hated every second that I felt this way.  I was scared that if I ever make a second attempt to reach the mighty peak of Kilimanjaro that I will be forced to bare the utmost sense of failure yet again.  Eventually, I learned to forgive myself which proceeded to restore my sense of self-worth.  This process then led me to realize that the power of fear to deter our ability to function to our fullest potential was in essence merely an illusion.

And so, years went by.  Life moved on.  I continued to hike and trek other parts of the world.  But, still, I continued to debate in my head the ultimate question – will I ever make a second attempt?  I promised myself that if I ever decide to do so, it will be for the right reasons.  For 7 years, I hardly considered renewing any commitment to returning to Kilimanjaro and even decided at some point, “Hell no, I will never go back.”  

However, from out of nowhere, I found myself inspired to return.  An epiphany unexpectedly entered my psyche dictating that I should go and make a second attempt.  This time around it’s not so much about proving to myself that I can summit.  Instead, it’s more about proving to myself that I’m fearless and that no matter what the outcome maybe, my self-love is strong enough to resist the pull of the ego to define my inability to summit as “failure.”  Since the fiasco, I’ve been sheltering my heart and mind from the lingering frustrations of the experience.  Eventually, this constant denial left me feeling weary of this baseless fear and my constant subconscious effort to shield myself from it, so much so that one day I decided, “what the hell, it’s time to go back to conquer this fear once and for all.”

As you can see, it took 8 years to finally muster the courage to revisit this unfortunate circumstance.  Whatever reluctance I might have had in the beginning have all dissipated at this point.  Now, I’m genuinely looking forward to the moment I set foot on Kilimanjaro’s trails again armed with my new sense of self – scared but courageous enough to conquer that very same fear.

I am of course returning to Kilimanjaro equipped with lessons from the first attempt.  The lessons include devoting some serious mental preparation for it in addition to the physical training to ensure that my body is at its best shape to overcome the challenge that lies ahead.  From running a half marathon to walking 30 miles in one day with my usual intense hot yoga and cardio workout in between, I am facing this personal fear of Kilimanjaro with the best mindset and physical capabilities that I can possibly have.  I have been diligently preparing for this moment including my extensive research on the best route that will guarantee a higher level of success.  I also added at least 4 more days to the ascent to ensure proper acclimatization to the altitude.  I even wrote notes to myself about how best to prepare for the altitude from a mental standpoint.  Finally, my trekking gear has been upgraded and replenished to withstand cold and windy conditions, which should make the experience less excruciating.

Completing the Charleston half marathon to prepare mentally and physically.

In a few days I’ll be en route to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  As I do so, I intend to remind myself of a meaningful conversation with a random unnamed fellow hiker who shared with me some wonderful wisdom – “what makes one courageous is not the first time experience of successfully climbing a peak; rather, it’s failing at it the first time and yet making a second attempt at it despite the fear of failing yet again.”

If he’s right about that notion, then this only means one thing – that I was courageous then, but more courageous now for facing the same challenge the second time around after a failed attempt.  With that in mind, I forge ahead with my head up high. Trekking Kilimanjaro or any mountain peak for that matter has taught me first and foremost to face my fears. Second, success is defined not by what we do in a physical sense but rather what we tell ourselves regardless of the direction the journey takes us.  Hence, no matter the outcome  the second attempt of Kilimanjaro yields, one thing is for sure this time around – either way, there is no defeat but only life lessons and gratitude for the experience.

So, are you brave enough to go back and tackle that mountain that you didn’t summit?  You are.  You will.

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The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In The Heat

If there is a trek that has taught me well as a trekker, it would be the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim Trek.  Sure, it’s a classic 4 day trek and every avid hiker wishes to experience the grandeur of this terrain but Grand Canyon can be a danger zone if you don’t properly prepare for the potential hazards that are inherent in the trek.  I learned the hard way and so did my trekking companions.   As a trek leader, it was one experience that I will never forget for good reasons.

The Trek

The plan was simple.  As an organizer for meetup.com, a well-known social platform that allows people to organize events to meet and do activities, I intended to organize a classic itinerary of the rim to rim trek of the  Grand Canyon. In our case, the plan was to start at the North side and finish at the South Side in a span of 4 days.  The mileage was moderate in length with the first and fourth days requiring the group to work on the elevation loss and gain – a descent from the North Rim and the ascent to the top of the South Rim.  Perfect short multi-day trek.  The only issue was that I obtained permits for the late June-early July time frame.  Hence, we were going to trek the Grand Canyon at the hottest time of the year!

Yet, despite the heat, a group of us ventured into this unique opportunity.  We survived.  At the same time, one of our members suffered heat exhaustion.  This leads me to say to all those who are considering to trek this mighty landscape to keep in mind the potential hazards. If you can avoid the hottest time of the year which normally falls in July and August, do so.  If you decide to go and battle the heat, then make sure to do all the necessary research to prepare yourself and to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Of course, the experience we had and even the incident itself did not minimize the tremendous beauty of the Grand Canyon as the photos depict.  In trekking the Grand Canyon, we experienced a rather unusual situation where one member of our group, John, suffered from heat exhaustion which occurred on the third day as we all hiked out of Phantom Ranch to proceed to our last campsite on the third night.  During that time, John and Aaron, who volunteered to be  our sweeper, unfortunately became separated from the group.  In the end, we caught up with one another and were all ever so grateful for the safety of everyone and for the lessons learned.  Below, Aaron shares the experience to remind us all about the inherent risks of trekking in the heat and the measures we can take when we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of dealing with heat exhaustion.

The Grand Canyon Rim to Rim: Risking It All In the Heat

(as narrated by Aaron)

The day before the onset of heat exhaustion.

Well, as the camera hog of the group, it’s only natural that I was designated the sweeper out on the trail. So, by the time I got into Phantom Ranch that second day, I had never really caught on all that day as to how Johns was holding up during our hike into Bright Angel camp. I had no idea during the hike if he was having any issues or managing just fine. I just know that I was the last person in line throughout that day’s hike and nobody lagged behind enough to be swept up. Probably the first real sign that caught my attention was how John was doing once the temperatures started to cool down. Getting into Phantom Ranch just before noon, the campsite thermometer had already reached some 130F! Most of the crowd waited out the afternoon sauna inside the dining hall while others welcomed the dry heat by taking turns napping in Bright Angel Creek.

Once the evening started to creep over, I did notice that John seemed a bit lower key than others in taking advantage of the cooler air. He didn’t speak or add to the conversation much and his gait didn’t have the same ‘bounce’ that most of us still carried. Back at camp, I remember asking him if he had yet much to eat and his response didn’t demonstrate much enthusiasm at the idea. The apparent apathy for food and his lethargic demeanor that evening were clear signs that his body hadn’t managed that day’s hike and the camp’s subsequent dry heat as well as it should have been. While some of us were contemplating a quick morning hike overlooking camp, I suggested he take the rest of the evening easy, eat as much as he could tolerate before turning in, and sleep in the next morning while some us caught the sunrise. I was sure through some food and sleep that he’d recover well enough to make the hike out the next day and manage the shorter albeit uphill trek to Indian Gardens Campground.

It was a rough night for most of the group, trying to comfortably sleep through 100+F heat with barely a breeze to console us. After getting back into camp from a spectacular sunrise hike, it was nice to see John already breaking camp. He was moving a bit slow but that was understandable; it took most of us a bit of extra effort to really get in gear. But John’s disposition did seem to have a bit more pep than the previous evening. He expressed some confidence in the day’s hike out in front of us. And he did say that he already had some breakfast, though I didn’t press him for any details.

Heat exhaustion.  Noticing the symptoms.

As the group hiked out of camp, John was out there in line somewhere. I, per usual, hung around until everybody was well on their way out and brought up the back of the pack. Hiking out of Bright Angel Campground, it’s about a mile crossing over and then hugging west along the Colorado River before getting to Pipe Creek, the point of the trek that distinctly signals the start of the climb up towards the South Rim. Pipe Creek as it drains downward into the Colorado includes a section aptly named the Devil’s Corkscrew, about another mile or so up from the river.

It was barely a few hundred yards up Pipe Creek though that I spotted John up ahead taking the climb at a noticeably slower and more deliberate pace than everybody else out on the trail. Barely a quarter of the way to Indian Gardens with plenty of incline still ahead, I found his lack of progress concerning. His pace had become slow and deliberate with frequent rest breaks. 

I eventually caught up with him. He was sweating profusely, which was not necessarily a bad sign. I asked him how he was holding up and what he was thinking. He admittedly expressed how surprised he was to have so much trouble from yesterday through this morning. I assured him to just take his time, pointing out the lower mileage for that day, and that I would be with him for the rest of the day.

The thing with heat exhaustion is that it can strike a person practically on the spot in mid-activity or take over a person through a length of time as that person may go through periodic waves of strenuous activity. Fortunately for John, it was more the latter. He was noticeably less energetic that evening at Bright Angel, appearing to easily tire with basic physical activity such as walking back-forth between camp and Phantom Ranch while the rest of us had obviously completely recovered from that day’s hike into camp. And he exhibited not just a lack of an appetite but an apparent aversion to just the very thought of food. Generally, he had an apathetic manner about himself, based mostly out of fatigue. The less warm air that overnight (one could barely call it ‘cooler’) plus time off his feet seemed to do him some good come the following morning.

It can only get worse before it gets better.

I let John know that we would spend the rest of our hike together and that the pace would be dictated by how he was feeling, noting that although the climb up to Indian Gardens was significant the mileage was shorter than the previous day’s and there was plenty of daylight ahead.

Unfortunately, after a short while, it soon became clear that John’s exertion was causing more harm than it was safely worth for him. His rest breaks eventually turned into seats of him bent over between his legs. He was using his hiking poles more to maintain his balance than to purposefully push himself forward. And most concerning is that he started to slur his speech and became unable to string together coherent thoughts when I engaged with him. His physical grind had been apparent for a while but his mental status was starting to fail him as well.

My hike out of Bright Angel camp to the point of meeting up with John probably took about an hour, give or take. The hike back with John took several hours, partly by design as well as necessity. The most important thing was to take our time. As much as possible, I wanted to minimize the physical exertion it took him to make it back into camp, not too concerned with how long it would take us. This included multiple catnaps, transferring much of his backpack weight onto myself to carry, and taking advantage of any seats in the shade from the sun as we came across them.

Along the way, I encouraged hydration (he refused to eat) and regularly saturated his body with water, all to allow his body to control its core temperature. I also tried to regularly engage with him, whether by conversation or just by occasionally holding his shoulder or arm. I offered encouragement but I was hoping that just the physical interaction itself could help him stay focused and determined.

John and I spent a second night at Bright Angel camp, giving him a full afternoon and evening of physical recovery as well an opportunity to nutritiously replenish his body. I suspect that he didn’t eat well that previous evening after hiking into Bright Angel and whatever meals/snacks he had the next morning was lost out on the trail.

Once back in camp, he was physically and mentally spent. The rest of the day saw him recover well, though, especially once we periodically settled down for a while to recover, alternating between the cool dining hall, dipping in the nearby creek, and relaxing in camp. He was still obviously very fatigued and not at all motivated to do anything all that day. But slowly he became more mentally alert and aware, forced himself to snack and eat what he could stomach a bit more each time (and kept it down), and eventually able to manage himself on his own feet with little concern. By the end of that evening, he seemed more like he was early that morning when he was breaking camp.

After assisting John back to Bright Angel Camp and assuring he was stable enough to rest up on his own, I sought out the on-duty ranger for advice. It was through his radio that I was eventually able to contact the rest of the group after they had made it to Indian Gardens CG. After that, John and I were pretty much on our own until we could meet the group back at the North Rim the next day, which was a bit of an adventure in itself. Fortunately, once back at the North Rim, I could call them from the North Rim Lodge and arrange a pick up.

That evening went relatively well. In a few hours’ time after getting back into camp, John recovered well enough to walk around with little issue, although still in no hurry, and eventually could tolerate eating some food. John’s night ended fairly early as I can’t recall if he even stayed up much past sunset.

The game plan.

After I chatted with the ranger that day and then conferred with John that evening, we decided to push for a pre-sunrise hike out the next morning. Partly to help beat most of the hot weather (especially when considering The Box) and partly to give us enough time to safely cover the 14miles to the North Rim. I encouraged John to eat a full dinner so we could break camp as quickly as possible and take in our breakfast on foot.

Options in hiking out of Bright Angel camp were pretty limited. Direct NPS assistance was only available in immediate life-threatening situations, which did not apply to John by the time he ably recovered. And the South Rim route was not practicable, as even John admitted he doubted he could make the steep climb in the day’s heat, especially considering we’d have to catch the day shuttle back to the North Rim by a particular time. Heading back north was our only real option.

The most appealing factor in hiking out to the North Rim was that the group would be there waiting for us. I was confident that John could handle the relatively even hike through Cottonwood camp with little problem. And I felt that if he could at least get through half of the climb up the North Rim from Cottonwood then at least I could get some help to carry him up the rest of the way, if necessary.

Also, I felt like there would be more available water sources along the hike out the north side. That would allow us to carry a bit less and the easier access would allow me to treat any symptoms of heat exhaustion, if necessary.

The exit out and hike back to civilization.

The morning hiking out of Bright Angel found both John and I a bit slow. We decided to break camp well before sunrise to beat the heat and cover some 14 miles to the North Rim before sundown as soon as possible. But we got going soon enough. And John physically seemed in much better shape than the previous 36 hours, complimenting my sense of urgency to get through the first half of the day’s mileage with a quick pace.

We didn’t spare much time that morning preparing for the day’s hike. The most pressing need was to get out on the trail as soon as possible. So, we didn’t bother with a full breakfast, opting instead for a full dinner the night before and just snacking on our breakfast while on foot. We quickly reviewed the day’s plan and options at hand if/when he reaches the point he can no longer continue.

The hike out of Bright Angel camp was pretty straight forward, even somewhat businesslike. With me taking up the tail end, we pushed the trek to Cottonwood as fast as John felt he could take it. We only took breaks to occasionally snack on some food and sip our water. I wanted to get through that part of the day before the heat really bared on us and also so that we could save as much daylight as possible for the actual hike up the North Rim. I figured that John wouldn’t appreciate getting stuck hiking up the North Rim in the cooler air much more than hiking up the South Rim in the day’s heat. Once at Cottonwood, we both napped a bit and took our time to recover under some shade. Even if a bit slow and tired, John was doing well enough to take in a full lunch and still exhibited some urgency upon hiking out of camp.

Back on the trail, I’m sure I got on John’s nerves as I constantly bugged him to regularly snack and drink. A short while past Cottonwood, the trail profile noticeably steepens and John’s hike started to significantly slow down. I tried to play with him a bit by making a deal in that every time we took a rest break he had to nimble on a snack bar. That lasted a short while. As we continued the climb, John struggled to keep moving forward. I took on as much of his heavy gear as I could handle myself. Rest breaks became more often. Fortunately, that day’s heat didn’t seem as intense as earlier in the trip. But battling up through the sharp switchbacks just before the Supai Tunnel, it became clear that he wasn’t going to clear the North Rim before dark. He was physically hitting the wall hard and pushing him through the trail in the dark by myself wouldn’t be safe.  John and I made it to Supai Tunnel some 1.5miles short of the North Rim about an hour or so before sunset. I can’t recall the exact time I hiked over the rim but it was well over an hour past sunset.

Upon reaching the Supai Tunnel, I told John that he should keep a temporary camp while I hiked up the North Rim and reached the group for assistance. I set him up as best as possible to preserve his energy and body heat before hiking out on my own. Dusk was just settling in when I left and so it was completely dark soon enough before making it out on top. I was able to hitchhike to the North Rim lodge to call the group over for assistance.

It’s a mental, as well as, a physical challenge.

Any challenges early on for that day’s hike was not unlike what one would expect for any other typical day hiking out of the Grand Canyon. Time above all else was a concerning factor. We wanted to get through past Cottonwood the sooner the better so the day’s heat would be less of a factor. And we wanted to get up the North Rim with as much daylight and warmth as possible still available left to us. And, of course, the relentless climb up the North Rim would be a challenge. That made getting past Cottonwood as early as possible even more important since we knew the climb up would likely be a slower than usual ascent.  

John’s particular challenge was more about his body’s ability to physically complete the day’s hike. Although his day started in much better shape than the previous day and a half, I knew his body could replenish only so much of its energy reserve in such limited time to recover. That became apparent with us still a few miles short of the North Rim. And with his body battling the climb, his appetite again turned very defunct. Any food outside the occasional sip of water became intolerable.

The end of John’s hike presented a couple challenges, one of keeping him warm while I hiked out by myself and brought back some assistance and then the actual hike out to get in touch of my group for some assistance. Up along the North Rim, the temperature dropped quickly as the sun hid behind the canyon walls and John’s body could get in trouble from hypothermia after working itself so hard the past couple days.

Addressing and alleviating John’s symptoms.

We managed our time as best as we could by getting out of Bright Angel before sunrise, pushing the day’s early pace as much as John could take it, and rewarding ourselves with a good rest break and meal at Cottonwood camp. And then just took whatever time necessary for John to make it up the North Rim as far as he could.

Knowing John’s body would be near its physical end the closer to the North Rim we hike, I did my best to get John to regularly snack and feed his body through the day’s hike, to the point I’m sure he picked up his pace just to stay away from me.

Making camp at the Supai Tunnel, I did my best to assure John could maintain his body warmth while waiting for me to bring back some assistance. I had him sit on a sleeping pad atop of a large rock while I cooked him a small meal and covered him in a reflective blanket as he ate it. Before leaving, I laid out a sleeping bag for him, gave him a Nalgene of hot water and told him to sip it slowly and encouraged him to snack on some bars with it.

John’s determination to beat the heat from an observer’s standpoint.

Considering what John went through that evening at Bright Angel camp through the following day up Pipe Creek and recovering afterwards, John did fairly well. He fully trusted my guidance and understood the situation we were in at every major step of the way back to the North Rim.  His motivation level on the return hike to the North Rim was very high. Upon reviewing our plan the preceding evening, he clearly understood how difficult this hike back could be for him and exhibited confidence in making it out fine as long as we managed the hike and time efficiently. That morning we maintained a good steady pace upon leaving Bright Angel all the way through just past Cottonwood. Naturally, as the climb progressively became a challenge for him and his body couldn’t help but give out on him, his motivation level dipped significantly.  His hike for some two-thirds of the way was strong and steady. But the last five or so miles saw the trail start its climb up the rim and John’s body eventually worn down too much to finish out the trail.

As I noted earlier, John was just physically depleted by the time we got to Supai Tunnel but he never really lost his mental state. As fatigued as he was, he was still obviously aware of his situation and was responsive whenever I engaged with him. Otherwise, I would’ve opted to not leave him and wait out the hike until the next day.

Motivating John was not easy. Fortunately, while the hike up the North Rim may have been physically too much for him, he was still able to stay mentally sharp. So, the dwindling chances of him coming out on top the rim became pretty obvious to both of us as he continued to struggle up the climb. One motivating factor I was able to use was when the Supai Tunnel became within striking distance. Knowing it would be a camping spot for him while I hiked out for some assistance, we used that fact to motivate him to at least make it up there.

The availability of outside help.

Out on the trail, many hikers passing by John and I offered plenty of advice. But once we got back to Bright Angel, the ranger was very helpful with some medical guidance, establishing communication with Indian Gardens to contact the group, and pointing out our limited options for the next couple days.

Upon hiking out of the North Rim and calling my group for assistance, my hiking buddies helped me pick up John and assist him up the final leg of the hike, as well as carry out our backpacking stash.

 The lessons learned.

Experience helps, whether it is for yourself or in order to help others. Fortunately, I had hiked that route a few years earlier and was familiar enough of the route to make some rational decisions, like choosing to hike back out the north side instead of trying to continue through the south side.

The most obvious answer is just to honestly judge your physical hiking capability. The R2R hike is not impossible and is very doable. But it is a physical challenge that very few day hikers have ever experienced, especially when considering the desert weather climate in the middle of the summer.

It is always a good idea to take on such challenging routes for the first time with somebody else or even a group, especially with somebody/a group with experience in that type of hike.  Basic first aid/back country knowledge and common sense is invaluable for any type of hike. Always review and be aware of it.

As the person who’s handling the crisis, I was pretty fortunate as far as potential emergencies go. That assistance was always fairly nearby whenever I figured we would need it most gave me no reason to lose my composure or to panic. Losing one’s composure is probably the worst way to handle any emergency. As easy as it to just say, stay cool and calm. Making the decisions while distressed about the situation hardly helps.

In closing, the best means to avoid an unfortunate circumstance is to be prepared.  You can find valuable tips here for wilderness backpacking and here for traveling.  I would add as a group, it is prudent to research the means of communication in the event of an emergency, whether via radio or walkie talkie, cell phones, via ranger assisted means or hiking together closely.  Make sure to be aware of the means of assistance available through the park and the exit points along the trail.

AARON- THE SWEEPER EXTRAORDINAIRE – No worries, he got your back.

Thanks Aaron for such a thorough overview of the experience and insight as to how to manage an unexpected crisis on the trail.  You’re one hell of a sweeper extraordinaire!

Photo credits: Aaron Crawford & Ian Macurdy.

P.S. – DON’T BE “THIS” GUY!

 

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HIKER’S PARADISE: The Amalfi Coast (Italy)

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains or nature.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

THE AMALFI COAST (ITALY)

by Isobel of Testaccina

Not everyone knows that southern Italy’s idyllic Amalfi Coast was formed from a mountain ridge, the Monte Lattari, which juts out into the Mediterranean Sea between the town of Naples and Salerno. But the mountains are there, though almost disregarded beyond the coast’s brightly coloured, popular resorts, which attract tourists all year round. The peaks touch their highest altitude at 1,444 metres with the Monte San Michele, and you can also catch a cable car up to Monte Faito, at an elevation of 1,131 metres, from Castellammare di Stabia.

While the coast is around 55km long, you’d be hard-pressed to find any hiking routes that take you the entire length of the coast from Vietri sul Mare to Nerano in the west. Despite that, there are plenty of day excursions under 10km which are popular with locals and tourists alike. Where else can you start out in an idyllic town such as Ravello, and finish your hike by throwing yourself into the sea from the sandy beaches of Amalfi?

The most famous walk of all is nicknamed Il Sentiero degli Dei, The Path of the Gods, and comprises a stunning 8km walk from the tiny hilltop town of Agerola to Nocelle, a village nestling above the pretty coastal town of Positano. Ideally, you should plan to start in Agerola rather than Nocelle, as the route runs gently downhill from this direction, with breathtaking views across the towns of the Amalfi coast and across to the island of Capri. The route doesn’t feel particularly steep, but there are stone steps to tackle in a number of places and they do add up.

The actual starting point of the hike is a hamlet called Bomerano, on the outskirts of Agerola. To get there, catch a local bus run by the Sita group from the town of Amalfi, down on the coast. Ask the driver to let you off in Bomerano, before you reach the town. As soon as you alight, you should see green trail signs which lead you to the beginning of the hike. The signs suggest that this is a 180 minute walk, so bring drinks and snacks.

Once you reach the trailhead, the walk is well signposted by red and white numbers which count down towards Nocelle. Orange and white signs have also been painted on the rocks so you know you’re on the right path. The weather can be changeable up here, so even in the summer (and always in the spring or fall) a light waterproof jacket may be necessary as showers and sun alternate rapidly.

When you arrive at Nocelle, which is a tiny town 400 metres above sea level, there are a couple of bars and restaurants to quench your thirst and sate your appetite (but these may close after lunch, so be aware of this when planning what time you set off).

If you don’t make it to Agerola on your first visit to the coast, there are also plenty of informal walks linking towns along this stretch, including a lovely walk from Ravello down the hill to Amalfi, which is less than 5km and should only take you an hour or so. 

For more information on this latter walk  from Ravello to Amalfi via the town of Scala, please read more HERE. 

If you have a place that you wish to be featured, read THIS for submission guidelines.  

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My Favorite Local Hike: Seneca Creek & Spruce Knob, WV

If you ever manage to spend time in the D.C. area, you’ll soon realize that there’s a large hiking community in the region.  There are options from easy to strenuous hikes and multi-day backpacking trips.  I have had the pleasure to experience the region as my training ground for my overseas trekking adventures.

In West Virginia, one is lucky to enjoy the fall colors in the autumn season although hiking is ideal anytime of the year.  I often organize groups to do overnight backpacking and/or camping & day hiking in the Seneca Creek & Spruce Knob area of the state.  Spruce Knob happens to be the highest point of WV and easily visited by car.   

However, the magic of nature is best experienced by foot.  Some of the best trails including the Seneca Creek which provides a remarkable display of waterfalls along the trail. You can easily combine this trail with the High Meadows, Alleghany or the Lumberjack trail which will then take you up to the highest point of the state, Spruce Knob. 

To learn more about trail options, you can check Hiking Upward website.

The experience is best told through visuals so check out the video and enjoy!

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Trekking Made Me Lose Things to Gain More

Once upon a time I had a 1500 square foot, three bedroom, two bath house with front and back yards, complete with furnishings from top to bottom and front to back.  I had subscription to Costco, a huge grocery chain that sells in bulk; hence,  I bought in bulk every week.  But I lived alone. I had the house for 10 years.  “Had.”  I sold it.

In those 10 years, I spent majority of my  time hiking, backpacking, trekking and whatever else one does with their feet in the outdoors.  During perhaps the most defining moment of my life, I summoned up the courage to leave my career for a year, my house in Washington, D.C. and the comfort of my daily routines and obligations, so to speak.

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In Kotor, Montenegro with my “home.”

I lived life on the road.  Specifically, I trekked in the mountains of Asia and Europe, mostly by myself but also with others as the opportunity arose.  My home then was all confined within a 65 liter Golite backpack plus another compressible day pack.  Both packs carried mostly hiking gear that allowed me to trek in all weather conditions, in addition to a few other personal items.  For the record, this was the most minimalist I had ever been in my life, but the lessons learned from the experience are too many to count.  However, here are some of the lessons worth highlighting:

I learned from this experience that minimalism means what we truly need in life doesn’t take much space as we are conditioned to think from a young age.

I realized that owning a car is unnecessary.  During the one year that I was away, I relied only on public transportation and moved around as a local.  In contrast to the typical driving life in D.C. where you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic, getting around like a local was a refreshing change.  In fact, I found myself much more productive sitting in buses, trains, boats, jeepneys, tricycles, scooters, water buffaloes, camels, and horses, to name a few of the local transports.  The time in transit allowed me to reflect and clear thoughts in my head without the stressors of dealing with the chaotic nature of road traffic.  Looking back, these were special moments; hence, I never took any of it for granted.  My car, a Toyota Echo, is now 15 years old, which I only use on weekends.  When it stops running, my replacement will be the local transports just like when I’m on my travels – an extra routine to add to my workout.  Same goes for one’s shelter.  Living in tents, cabins, huts and hostels taught me we don’t need much space if our goal is to experience life as much as possible outside the confines of the four corners of any room.

me-in-palawan
One of the many boat rides in the Philippines.

I learned from experience that we don’t need to overindulge in the usage of certain products, some of which can last a while if we use them minimally.  

For instance, washing your hair daily is really unnecessary.  Putting on make up became less of a needed routine because on my travels, I did mostly trekking so there was no point wasting time and energy on that.  Likewise, minimalism creeps in when it comes to the usage of clothing.  How many times can you wear your hiking pants before washing, you ask?  A lot, actually.  But if you wish to be sort of scientific about it, you can often answer that by doing the “smell” test.  Generally, outer layers can wait a while before they get washed.  The undergarments, however, will need washing in a much lesser time period.  The usage of clothing changes drastically when on the road compared to being in one place.  Keep in mind though that if you change clothes everyday, the inconvenient repercussion would be having to do the washing more frequently than necessary, which for some can be a burdensome task.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road can transform our daily routines into their simple and basic  forms.  

For one, you’ll have to learn how to wash clothes by hand.  As much as you’d like to think that in this day and age most cities will have machines you can use to wash your clothes, think again.  Some cities may only have washers accessible.  In Chengdu, China, the hostel I stayed in had washing machines but drying clothes required sunlight and good drying weather.  As a hiker, you’ll have to shift your thinking completely as the small towns along the way to the trail heads are unlikely to have any washers or dryers.  At times, you maybe lucky to have washing service at the hostel or guesthouse you’re staying at but AT ALL TIMES be prepared to wash your clothes by hand – your hands to be exact.  If you haven’t tried washing clothes by hands, I urge you to give it a try.  It’s not as bad as you think.  I honestly can say that washing clothes by hand can be such a meditative experience.  If you love nature enough, washing clothes by hand is like being close to nature…living in the moment of feeling the water and the suds touch your skin as you smell the fragrance of the soap.  Sure, it does require a little bit of imagination but you get my drift.  You may not like to hear this but when it comes to bathing in countries like the Philippines, you will need to manage without hot showers and shower heads.  You’ll be using a bucket of cold water instead to wash yourself.  You may have to eat with your hands in Cambodia or Mongolia in lieu of utensils.  Again, approach it as meditation like I do because going back to basics like this can provide you with the rare chance of experiencing humility at its purest form.  These are the smallest of things that can truly leave a mark in a traveler’s life.

etna
Newfound friends while hiking up Etna in Sicily, Italy.

I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road entails minimizing our friendships, only to create more ties along the way.  

I gained, and then quickly I lost the same people I met just days ago.  This taught me to love without being attached, which was a difficult task to do repeatedly.  I had to learn to say “hello” to a stranger who became my friend, but soon enough he or she also became my ex-traveling companion – a process that can happen in as little as 24 hours.  But letting go only means paving a new path for another “hello” and a newfound friend to open up the upcoming new chapter on the road.  You realize, however, that you hardly lost anyone.  You actually have been gaining all along – the people and the memories.  What started out as such an emotional process overtime became an enlightening one for me where I learned first-hand about trusting in the flow of life.

I learned from the experience that minimalism entails indulging in experiences, not things.  

It’s true.  There are many things that are free in life – and they’re what we call experience.  While in the town of Pokhara in Nepal, I had the option to go souvenir shopping or do a day hike nearby for free.   I chose to experience life, and hike.   This led me to discover the historic village of Ghandruk where I spent a night at a guesthouse and indulged in the views of the Himalayas.  Similarly, in Croatia, I decided to go hiking in the Velebit mountains instead of spending the rest of my time in the cities.  Hiking in Velebit was free and when I reached my hut for the night, a local family was having a family reunion which entailed tons of food and drinks.  I was invited and included in the merriment which allowed me to try authentic local dishes while getting to know more about Croatia and the locals’ daily lives.  All that experience cost me nothing.    Had I stayed in the touristy areas and focused on shopping, I would have missed out on these memories I gathered from hiking – the part of my travels that truly mattered the most.

velebit
The hospitable innkeeper of the hut in Velebit. Despite language barriers, we were both thrilled to be in each other’s presence.

I learned from the experience that minimalism affords you joy from simplicity.  

Because I was on a tight budget from the start, I managed to stay in hostels when in the cities and tents or huts in the mountains.  I rarely stayed in hotels, which in my view deprives one of the realness of the experience.  Staying in hostels provided the opportunity to meet people from various parts of the world.  Oftentimes, they became my travel or trail companions for days or weeks, which added meaning to the experience.    After days of trekking together, we were no longer just friends.  To me, they were my family.   Likewise, the art of hiking is simple.  Whether you walk solo or with others, you immerse yourself in the lure of nature with its snow-capped peaks, emerald green lakes and hidden valleys.  Walking in the mountains bestows upon you a world filled with nature’s masterpieces, simple and yet extravagantly beautiful.

Yading Kora Trek
With the Milk Lake on Yading Kora Trek in Sichuan Province of China.
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The majestic rocks of the Dolomites in Italy, along the Alta Via 1.
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In China’s Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), nature meets zen.
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Gobi desert in Mongolia has the the best sunsets with the colors reflected back on its golden sand. Not to be missed in this lifetime.

I learned from the experience that minimalism allows me to appreciate the beauty of solitude.  

When it comes to numbers and company on the road, we gravitate away from “solo.”  Don’t.  When you get a chance to be alone on the road, don’t hesitate to give it a try.  You may discover the power of being “one” and the beauty of your own companionship.  Seriously.  Don’t let solitude intimidate you.  When my journey ended, I brought home with me a whole new set of myself – someone I truly got to know and learned to fully love in the end.

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In Nepal’s Everest region, it never got dull staring at the peaks as I learned about myself each day.

Falling in love with yourself starts with the moments you have in solitude.  Take advantage of it when you’re on travels or better yet, when you’re in the mountains.  I found nature combined with solitude as one of the most organic and powerful experiences to be had in our lifetimes.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to trudge on that path towards self-discovery and self-love.  If you’re venturing out for the first time as a solo traveler or trekker, see this article for tips, 8 Ways (7 Really) to Mentally Prepare for A Solo Adventure.

me-and-tibet-mastif
I had the privilege to meet a Tibetan mastiff in Tibet! He was certainly bigger than me.  Yes, he’s real.

While I minimized many aspects as noted above when I was on the road, ironically this led to an increase of joy and abundance in my life.  That increase included my circle of friends, the trails I have trekked, the mountain peaks I experienced first-hand, the number of stamps on my passport, the happy memories with fellow humans and even furry friends (I hiked with a dog and spent time with cats), and best of all, the love and gratitude I had within me.

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My few priceless possessions – mostly hiking and travel gear.

Indeed, minimalism brought an overflow of love in my life, which brings me to the present.  I sold my first house almost a year ago now and traded that with a 400 square foot studio.  People wonder if I’ve lost my mind to transition back to a studio after owning a house for a decade. To date, I’ve not experienced even an ounce of regret over my decision.  You see, my studio holds everything that is important to me now- my furry friends, my trekking and travel gear, my passport, my laptop, among a few other items.  Other than that,  everything that matters and holds meaning in my life is tucked away safely and kept close to my heart, which suits me well knowing that I’ll never have to worry about losing any of it.

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OUTDOOR WOMAN’S VOICE: Upasana Ray

As some of you may know, I am currently a nomad in Washington, DC which is my third home.   I have called Washington, D.C. my physical home for the past 15 years.  With a few exceptions, this area is a hub for nomads and transients who come to the city to pursue their dream jobs and initiate lifelong careers.  Hence, Washington, DC is a unique place to meet a diverse group of people.  This applies as well to meeting hikers and mountain lovers in the region.

Upasana herself came to D.C. for work opportunities just like many of us.  She came to the D.C. area to pursue a fellowship in 2012 and eventually discovered her love for the mountains.  Upasana became known to me via outdoor groups through Meetup.com.  If you have yet to familiarize yourself with Meetup, I highly recommend it.  If it wasn’t for Meetup, I would have never discovered my passion for the mountains and Brown Gal Trekker would not have been in existence.  Suffice it to say, I’m grateful for the invention of such a platform.  It’s one of those social media sites that actually allows for people to meet and connect in the old school way – plan the activity and go!  This discovery is something that Upasana also experienced herself as you’ll hear more about below.

Truth be told, I have yet to meet Upasana in person which hasn’t prevented me from  hearing about her from mutual friends and acquaintances.  Eventually, despite the lack of an actual meeting in person, we managed to become friends virtually on Facebook.  That allowed me to witness her passion for the mountains, and as such, I quietly admired her nonstop pursuit of peaks in the East Coast, then West Coast, and eventually the Indian Himalayas.

As I got to know her a little more, I realized Upasana and I have this similar love for high altitude treks – the ones that make you work extremely hard to capture an everlasting moment in nature.  At the same time, we both share the same sentiment about trekking – the notion that we spend time with our beloved mountains for spiritual connection, more so than a personal goal defined by distance or speed.   It’s a thrill for me to feature Upasana, who is now a kickass hiker in the mighty Himalayas of India.  Although she has left behind her Meetup hiking friends in the D.C. area, I’m sure we’re all with her in spirit as she continues to trudge up the Himalayan mountain ranges of India.

Feature Outdoor Woman’s Voice

Upasana Ray is from India and is currently living in West Bengal.  She’s a scientist working on research on viral infections and development of therapeutic aids.  She professes to being a nature lover and wildlife enthusiast since her childhood.  However, due to her busy school schedule and lack of like-minded friends, she did not get into hiking until she came to Maryland in 2012 for a fellowship with the National Institutes of Health.   The boredom during her free time led her to discover hiking via Meetup.com, which was a pivotal moment in her hiking life.  Upasana is also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer and loves painting, music and films.

Let’s hear directly from Upasana about her hiking life in the U.S. and India.

Tell us some details on how you discovered hiking via Meetup.com in the U.S. and your experience hiking with strangers for the first time.

In 2013, one lucky day, I do not even know how, I was searching for trekking clubs or nature clubs over the internet. It was then that Washington Backpackers and Young Adventurers groups caught my eyes. These were actually Meetup groups. Travelling with strangers? Oh, I do not drive! Should I take this risk? Are these good people? What if…….? And so on…….Many questions came to my mind especially being a woman.   But then, I decided that alright…..enough of thinking……….I should go for one and see how I feel.

The next question was which one to do? I did not know a single thing about trekking and gear list involved. That time in the meet up group I saw that a night hike meant to view the sunrise from the Old Rag mountain, Virginia was getting organized. This was it. I wanted to do it. It was a group of many hikers…….really many. We did carpooling (something that I could never imagine doing) and reached the trail head at almost midnight. Everything was new for me that time – the country, the people, the culture, the society and the type of activity, as well. But, as it turned out, I liked the people, I liked the company, I liked the fresh air, the darkness of the mountain, the thrill……every moment of the hike. The sunrise…….Ah! I decided, yes, I love this!   And, the journey started.

After this first hike, I did several day hikes before I did some weekend backpacking trips in Virginia and Southwest Virginia with Washington Backpackers. Then I came to know about the DC-Ultralight group. I wanted to do serious mountain treks/hikes with full of challenges and definitely risks. It was this group where I was taught to be methodical and independent on mountains. I kept doing all kind of hikes with them starting from low mileage to moderate to extreme hikes. Very soon, I realized that I have changed a lot.  My endurance level increased a lot and I was getting crazy about mountains.

Between, 2013-2015, I did many… REALLY MANY hikes with them. Even though I returned to India in July 2015, by then I had done many section hikes of the Appalachian mountain/Massanutten mountain, many weekend backcountry hikes in Virginia and Southwest Virginia regions like the Roaring Plains, Dolly Sods, Double Top mountain, Canaan mountain, Catoctin mountain, Mill mountain, Big Schloss, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliff, Dragon’s Tooth, Cranberry Wilderness, Mount Rogers, North Fork mountain, AT-Mau-Har trail, southern SNP, the Tuscarora trail, Great North mountain, so on and so forth. I loved the foothills trail running from South to North Carolina. Then I got the opportunity to taste the mountains of New York. The first one was Devil’s path. I was told that it’s very tough and risky and I should be careful. Yes, it was. But I did it. I successfully finished United States’ one of the most difficult hikes.

Tibett Knob, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
The Adirondacks, New York.

Then I followed my passion and did many peaks of the Adirondacks range.  East Coast was not enough for me and so I went to other parts of the country with different groups of hiking friends and hiked the Rocky mountains, Colorado; the wind river traverse in Wyoming; the famous rim to rim hike in the Grand Canyon, Arizona; Olympic National park in Seattle; Mount Rainier up to the Muir base camp in the Washington state and the Burroughs mountain of Washington state.  All these – in less than 2 years.  As I kept hiking I realized that I like high altitudes more, the snow covered peaks and the beauty of the mountains above tree line.

Olympic National Park, Washington.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Wind River Traverse, Wyoming.

Then in July, 2015 I came back India. We have Himalayas. I had to try. Himalayas have completely different terrain, very unstable weather, more dangerous on high altitudes and definitely majestic. So, I went for a 12 day high altitude trek in the state of Himachal Pradesh, the Bara Bhangal trek that involved two high mountain passes of almost 14,000-15,000 ft altitude, the Kalihani pass and the Thamsar pass. We were a group of just a few trekkers and out of them I knew one who studied in the same institute from where I did my PhD.

This is one of the most remote treks in India and we did it. I was extremely happy. The view that one can get from these high mountains is just breath taking. No, I could not stop here. In fact, now it’s time to explore more and explore higher. This year, after all the preparations, I went for a semi-technical climb of Stok Kangri, in Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is a 20,080 ft high summit of northern Himalayas, the highest in the Stok range. It was a serious expedition as the altitude falls under extreme high altitude range. With a systematic ascent I could successfully be at the top of the summit.  It’s beyond my vocabulary to explain how I felt. This was an achievement.

And the journey continues.

Who or what inspires you to trek?

Mountains attract. They are addictive and keep calling back. The beauty, the massiveness, the sense of achievement after a successful summit or after successful finish of a trek, everything inspires me to do more and not stop. When I stand surrounded by those massive snow peaks and weather doesn’t follow the rules, I feel how tiny I am and how big mother nature is. So, shake off all those unnecessary ego, overconfidence and what not…….here I am nothing but a tiny part of this huge universe. Mountains teach to be human, to share, to live, to smile, to enjoy, to respect nature and to trust each other. When the same mountain allows us to stand on top of one of her peaks, she says…….hey, see, you can do it….this is success! Being a woman, this feeling of achievement is a huge driving force.

What do you like the most about hiking or the outdoors?

Hiking lets me see nature at its much unaltered/ minimally disturbed form and offers me with a feeling of success. This success is something very different than materialistic success. Above all,trekking brings tremendous peace of mind and boosts my confidence level. Even if no one is there for you, nature will always be there. I always feel that mountains make me feel that I am important, I am worth it.  Every time I visit her, she asks me to come back and talk to her, whatever I want, whenever I want. She has so much to offer but for that I need to keep going back.

Apart from walking on the trail or climbing the passes/peaks I also love mountain photography and thus every time I trek, I shoot lot of photographs.

Upasana proceeds to tell us about her most important treks thus far.

I will tell you about not one but two of my favorite treks that I did in India as I can’t pick one out of them. These are (i) Bara Bhangal trek, Himachal Pradesh, India (12 days) (ii) Stok Kangri expedition, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India (9 days). I went for Bara Bhangal trek in the month of October and Stok Kangri, between end of August and early September. The reason I attempted these treks are the challenge levels. These are challenging treks. Additionally, Stok Kangri is a summit climb of a 20,  080ft mountain top that is the highest of the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Bara Bhangal Trek

Bara Bhangal is a very less explored trek. Not many people attempt this. The trek is 12 day long and difficult but what you experience is majestic. The two passes that one has to traverse, the Kalihani and the Thamsar, will drain out the energy from you but once you start feeling like you are now completely drained out, it’s when you realize that you reached the top and then look up to see the heaven. Tons of high Himalayan peaks show up in panoramic form and you now feel all of a sudden that the energy you lost is back again.

Bara Bhangal.
Kalihani Pass.
Thamsar Pass.
Thamsar Summit.

Stok Kangri Trek

If weather is clear, from the summit of Stok Kangri, one can see the higher Karakoram range and even K2. There is a massive glacier that one has to cross after the second base camp of Stok Kangri and that part of the journey is glamorous. However, the summit climb of Stok Kangri is a night ascent, hence one can actually see the glacier only while returning.

Stok River.
Stok Kangri Basecamp.
Glacier after Stok Kangri Advanced Basecamp.
Stok Kangri Summit.

What did you wish to get out of this journey? What personal goals did you have and to what extent did you achieve them?

I am a person who just wants to see very high mountain peaks as closely as possible. I enjoy taking challenges and going through difficult conditions to ultimately view something majestic. The only goal I had was to go for extreme high altitudes to see high peaks, cross glaciers and travel through high mountain passes and snowfields full of crevasses. Of course, when I return I wanted to have plenty of photographs to show everyone what I saw, what you can’t get in cities or low lands.

What lessons did you learn from this trek?

I learnt that one should not get demoralized because many people could not finish a particular trek…..rather you should trust your abilities. Being mentally positive and being happy on the trails, both are very important. Instead of trying to finish a trek, one should try to live the trek and enjoy it.

If you were to do this trek again, how would you do it differently, if at all?

I think I did pretty much what I could. But, more the fit one is, the better it is. So, I would definitely exercise harder and try to improve breathing efficiency even more considering the thin air that one faces at extreme high altitudes.

What piece of advise would you give a female who is thinking about doing this trail based on your experience?

I would definitely say that one must at least give it a try ……..and do not underestimate yourself.

Upasana talks about her toughest trek, which happens to be Stok Kangri for obvious reasons.

There are many tough treks that I have done, each challenging in one respect or the other. However, Stok Kangri was most challenging because of the extreme altitude of 20,080 ft accompanied by bad weather. Many participants had to turn back because of altitude mountain sickness sooner or later, in some cases milder and in some others harsh. The pace of an athlete would not necessarily help in such altitudes.  It’s the discipline and slow but steady ascent that counts. If you hurry, you will be in trouble. Being slow, acclimatization, drinking lots of fluid, eating well, and honesty make the difference.

Someone told me in the beginning of the trek that hardly 50% of the total participants can actually finish Stok Kangri. That was not nice to hear. Also, I am not a very thin person. Plus, I am a woman. But, I kept my confidence level high and did everything that I could. I worked hard on acclimatization, kept my spirit up and that was my key to the successful climb of Stok Kangri.

What other treks do you have on your bucket list?

Oh, many…… I would require lots of buckets. However, some of them are Kalindi Khal, Pin Parvathi pass, Annapurna Circuit, Chamser Kangri, Goecha La, Auden’s Col, Panpatia Col, Everest base camp till camp 2 i.e. crossing the Khumbu ice fall and back and the Siachen Glacier trek for civilians that is organized every year by the India army.

I want to explore more semi-technical peaks of altitude 20,000 ft and more. I am also looking for sponsors for my treks so that I can accomplish more and write about such expeditions.

What is your favorite hiking gear?

They are two: (a) My hiking shoes as that keeps my foot (most important for the journey) safe (b) my backpack as that is required to store the essentials for a multi-day exploration in the rugged mountains.

Have you run into any challenges personally as a female hiker? 

As a female hiker my experience regarding issues that I faced is similar if I compare India and USA. Generally speaking, women are considered less efficient as compared to men whether it’s here in India or the western world (of course, the extent of this type of thinking is of lesser degree in western countries). Let’s talk about hiking alone. I found that a lot of women engage in this hobby. However, if you are interested in high altitudes or multi-day treks, the number of women participants decrease with the increase in number of days and increase in altitude. So, if I am looking for a female company, my chances are low.

Being a woman, I am confident. I fight for the rights of a woman. However, I do have to accept that nature herself has made man and woman different. On the trail, some women can be very fast just like their male hike mates while others can be slower but not inferior as far as endurance is concerned. Lot of times I felt that when I trek in a group of men only or mostly, it’s hard for them to understand that a woman who is slower than them is not necessarily less efficient or is feeling unwell. It is just that she hikes little slow but can hike as much as the others do.

Then, we women have health related issues that we need to consider seriously. If needed, we should have someone to share our problem with. It is a little harder when you do not have other female hiking friends in the group. I have faced this once and I had to take medication and wait on the trail itself in an isolated place where the other group mates went ahead. I waited alone for almost half an hour before I could get up and start walking again. This was way back during one of my initial backpacking trips and would never want another woman to go through. Hence, I would suggest every woman hiker to carry enough medicines and have them when required. Also, if you are not feeling well please tell your hiker friends whether female or male about your exact problem.

Lastly, women always are at the risk of harassment/ misbehavior. I generally keep a knife for emergency use and always maintain distance from suspicious people.

Upasana gave us an in-depth insight on some of the challenges as a female hiker including the pace difference between men and women which I completely relate to as generally men tend to go on a faster pace.  In any event, we ought to listen to our body and learn to respect our own abilities for safety reasons regardless of the pressures from our fellow hikers.

Moving on to the trekking world in India – what are the best areas for trekking in India?

For someone who likes snow peaks, I suggest trekking in the northern and eastern Himalayan ranges in India. The terrain is different in each of these areas. While extreme north (e.g. Jammu and Kashmir) is arid, as you move towards eastern India, the mountains are greener. Each type of the terrain has its own beauty. Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmir), Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Darjeeling (in West Bengal) and Sikkim are some of my favorite destinations.

How would you categorize the hiking/trekking in India?

In India you will find hiking choices of all sorts, non-technical and easy, moderate, non-technical but very difficult, semi-technical, and of course, technical. Some high peaks such as Stok Kangri and Chamser Kangri are semi-technical climbs where you need to trek till the base camp and some more before you need to get roped up and use your ice axe, crampons etc.

As far as elevation is concerned, the altitude can vary from nominal to extreme high altitudes above 20,000 ft. Trekking above 12,000 ft is very common here in India and thus for many treks hikers traverse through altitudes ranging from 11,000 to 16,000 ft. For those who like to go even higher, there are plenty of options.  The Himalayan terrain is not easy. The weather is also unpredictable.

Although many people opt to hike on their own, according to the government rules, Himalayan treks must be done by hiring a guide and you should have permits wherever required. Hence, trekking alone is not advisable. This is particularly important for high altitude treks as altitude mountain sickness is a common issue in Himalayan treks and guides become very useful in case of any sort of emergencies.

What treks would you recommend for someone who is doing treks in India for the first time?

If someone is new here, I would suggest doing Goecha La (in Sikkim), Roopkund (Uttaranchal), Rupin Pass (traverses from Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh), Har ki Dun (Uttarakhand), Chadar (Jammu and Kashmir), Bara Bhangal (Himachal Pradesh) (this is very remote and less explored) and Kuari pass (Uttarakhand). There are many more. These are only some of them. It also depends on individual interests. Like myself, I always look for very challenging treks at extreme altitudes and remote areas where risks are high, and of course, treks with good views. Some trekking companies conduct guided treks and these can be pre-booked. People who are trekking for the first time in India, it will be advisable to book the treks beforehand.

Can people trek solo in India? If so, which areas?   What are the obstacles/challenges of solo trekking in India?

You can trek solo in India but with a guide. However, a group of 5-6 hikers is always better. Himalayan terrain should be taken seriously. As I said elsewhere as well, most of the Himalayan treks involve high altitude climbs in one or the other forms, for less or more duration. Mountain sickness is a commonly experienced issue. Weather is unpredictable. The trails in Himalayas are not well marked, especially at very high altitudes. Hence, even if you want to hike solo, please hike a guide who can help you out in difficult situations.

How does one obtain guides for treks in India for those areas requiring permits and guides?

Guides are mandatory in Himalayan treks. Those who don’t hire guides, violate the law. If caught, you can run into trouble. If you come here and decide to go for a trek unplanned, you can certainly still go for it. You need to get in touch with travel companies and they will assist you.

Are there factors that women should specifically know about when they trek in India?

Yes, being a woman, you have to be a bit more careful. That is why I suggest to be in group. If you still want to go solo, please get in touch with reputable trekking companies. They will take care of your safety. On your own hand, you should keep something for self-defense and emergency situations. Phones might not work on trails. Let the embassy or similar organization know that you will be out solo in the wilderness and share your travel logistics with them.

Upasana encourages everyone, as I would, to experience trekking in India.  As my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, intends to scout the trails in India to promote local tourism, I plan to trek there one day and hope to cross paths with Upasana in her trekking paradise – the Indian Himalayas.

On one final thought, Upasana leaves us with her favorite quote in loving memory of her friend a beloved member of the Meetup hiking community of the East Coast and an inspiring Outdoor Woman’s Voice –

HUA DAVIS

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

                                             -Swami Vivekananda

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HIKER’S PARADISE: Meteora, Greece

Welcome to HIKER’S PARADISE!

We’re glad you’re here!  This series is where you’ll find some of the best recommendations for places in the world to live in or visit if your passion has to do with spending time in the mountains.  Our featured hiker’s paradise is: 

METEORA, GREECE

by Romy of Brunette at Sunset

Before I get into the hiking trails, I have to tell you a bit more about Meteora. Meteora is an incredible phenomenon in Greece. A landscape where the wonders of nature and man meet. Rock formations form this landscape and monasteries were build on top of them. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Monks had to climb the rocks to reach them as there where no stairs then. It somewhat of a mystery how they did it. They must have been incredible rock climbers, because the rocks are steep!

Many people come just to visit the monasteries, but this area has some of the most scenic hiking trails. You can walk the trails that monks may have used centuries ago. Some of the trails are more challenging than others, but they are all beautiful. This place feels magical and I’m sure the monks felt that magic and serenity when they build the monasteries. A couple of the trails lead up to one of the monasteries and a few up the rocks in the area. I’d highly recommend:

Aghio Pnevma

One of my favorite hikes was up the Aghio Pnevma rock, also known as the Holy Spirit. There are a couple of companies advertising hiking tours, but this is one you can easily do yourself. Our hotel staff told us we could do the trail in about an hour, but it definitely took us a lot longer than that. I’ll leave it up to you to judge if the hotel staff was wrong or if we were just out of shape;) The rock is situated in the middle of the valley. Early on in the trail you already get to see amazing views of the monasteries. When you continue you’ll eventually reach a gate, but don’t worry, it is open! You can just open the gate and continue. A rugged trail leads to the top where you can find caves that were once used as prisons for monks. Take a short moment to imagine what it must have been like for the monks to be locked up there, before you finish the trail. You’ll have to climb the last bit of the rock to reach the flag on top. From the top you’ll have breathtaking views in every direction.

How long do you need?

A lot of tour groups have stopover in Meteora for just a few hours, but they are crazy in my opinion! I would recommend at least 2 to 3 days. You need at least one day just to visit the monasteries and maybe do a tour to get to know the history of this magical place. There are a lot of incredible legends. The other days you can explore the hiking trails and view the area from a different perspective.

How to get there:

You will probably arrive in Athens. I would recommend booking the train from there. The train takes about 4 hours to get to Meteora. Just make sure you make the reservation well in advance, because they sell out quickly. We were the suckers that were too late to book the train and had to take the bus. The bus takes about 5 hours and is harder to get to. There’s no easy way to get to the bus station in Athens so we ended up taking an uber there.

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