Tag : mountains

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Backpacking Back from Island Lake (Day 3)

This post is mostly to provide closure and post more pictures that were taken on the third day of this trip. I got my best pics of Island Lake on Day 3. I mean, fwiw.

And then it was time to bid sad farewell to this magical place where I mostly just felt sick and out-of-breath. One last pano on the way out:

I decided I’d go back to Eklund Lake and see if I wanted to spend the night there or just head on out of the wilderness. Spoiler: I chose the latter. Before that decision was finally made, though, the way back looked much like it had the day before except from the other direction.

Right, then Eklund Lake, decided to finish the whole thing out. This return trip was (IIRC) a little over 11 miles coming back. Net downhill, but with a lot of up and down still, and 11 miles is a long ways for me with a backpack on. Anyway.

On the route back, went via Photographer’s Point, which…

Shrug?

But anyway. And then I drove home.

Some generals:

  • Man, but this area is crowded. They have a short season with the trails snow-covered well into July and then snows starting up again usually mid-September, which probably helps explain it (plus amazing scenery), but still: the Uintas on a weekend were less crowded.
  • It’s not even close to anywhere (well, maybe an hour-and-a-half from Jackson, but that’s not a huge population center is it?).
  • And it’s not really a super-easy hike. Still: crowded!!
  • And most people camp in “illegal” sites that are too close to the lakes, yet the NFS doesn’t do much to prevent it from happening aside from sending some rando rangers out to tell people “don’t camp next to the lake” while they’re hiking along the trail.
  • Yeah, sure, I’ll avoid all the developed campsites next to the lake so that I can… what? Anyway.
  • Was my first trip with all my ultra-light gear. Was geared up for 5 days, 4 nights and kept it down to (IIRC) 23 lbs. total.
  • This is purported to be a great trout fishing area, but no one I talked to who was using flies caught anything on the lakes I visited. I sure didn’t catch anything there. Apparently lures are the way to go, except that I don’t especially get excited about fishing with lures. Flies? Sure, raw passion.

I am done writing about this trip now.

bkd

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Backpacking to Island Lake: Day 2

And then I woke up. Because it was the next day.

Here’s probably my favorite photo of Upper Sweeney Lake. I took it on the way out on Day 2. Better lakes would come, but, hey, meadow, etc.

From there, you’re hiking out of the lake basin. This second day was just a series of hiking out of a basin, then hiking back in to the next one. The net altitude gain from the trailhead to Island Lake is minimal (ca. 1,000′), but the actual vertical feet hiked over that span is maximal (don’t recall except for being ready to just concede and die of exposure by the side of the trail on several occasions on Day 2).

On that happy note, just as you’re exiting the Upper Sweeney basin, you get your next view of the Winds:

Always taunting.

And then, not much further, another meadow with a tarn in it and some people that I didn’t meet ever.

Next lake on the agenda is Eklund, but hopefully I got a better photo of it on the way back, because my in-route photos aren’t very compelling. And then after climbing out of that basin, you climb quickly back into the next one with some lake that’s small and the name of which I’ve forgotten and can’t find anywhere.

This is sort of a high point of the hike. Scenic lake, mountains in the background, enough up-and-down to feel like you’ve done something, not so much that you’re writing the letter in your head informing the forest service that they should probably just go ahead and start using dynamite to form some tunnels. Anyway:

Seems like it might have had a woman’s name. The lake, I mean.

Then it’s on to Hobbs Lake, which is a little more strenuous a trail — but not entirely without upsides.

And then ol’ Hobbs itself:

There weren’t many obvious campsites on Hobbs, but from a distance perspective, this would probably be my lake of recommendation for first-night camping. It’s the last good location before the big slog up to Seneca Lake.

This photo, not much past Hobbs, makes the slog look better than it was:

As does this pretty little unnamed (?) tarn:

But then that last mile hiking up to Seneca was pretty awful. Steep and kind of ugly.

The mud wasn’t actually a big factor, but I didn’t take pictures of the true awfulness. Steep tree prison with nothing to look at. Slog.

But then you get to the top of the slog and get to take in Seneca Lake. You’re pretty much above the timberline and Island Lake is at about the same elevation. You actually have quite a ways to go to get to Island Lake, of course, none of which is anywhere near flat, but whatever: here you are.

Just the walk around the lake has a ton of elevation change (Dear Forest Service: Go ahead and start blasting out some tunnels in the Wind Rivers. Thank you, bkd). There are campsites here, but none of them looked very cozy or inviting. It’s the biggest lake on the hike though. I think.

Then you leave it.

You pass by Little Seneca Lake next, which is just like Seneca Lake only smaller. Then you start getting into the talus slopes.

After the talus, you still have a little ways to go. Here’s yet another tarn.

And then the final descent into Island Lake basin:

Finally, to where I camped, this is close-ish:

Not pictured are the literally dozens of tents scattered across this slope heading down into the lake. So crowded. I was also pretty dehydrated by the time I got here because I am stupid. I set up camp, took a nap (!), ate dinner, read that Chichester book about flying airplanes to New Zealand for not good reason, then, because it was night-time, slept.

bkd

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Backpacking to Island Lake: Three Days in the Wind Rivers (Day 1)

It was supposed to be five days, but then I got bored, lonely, and dehydrated. Plus the fish weren’t biting on flies and it was super-crowded. Nice place, though!

At one point, I had the perfect recommendations in mind for how everyone should do this hike. Now? We’ll see.

Here’s the prime payoff pano of Island Lake. I worked two whole days for this.

I did this hike back in August. Was supposed to be heading into Titcomb Basin, spending a couple nights at Island Lake. Again, didn’t end up in Titcomb Basin, turned around at Island Lake. OTOH, someone wrote once that Island Lake was the most scenic part of all that anyway, inclusive of Titcomb Basin. Just, you know.

First night I hiked to Upper Sweeney Lake, which was about a five-mile walk from the Elkhart Park trailhead.

The first couple miles of the hike are talked about in un-glowing terms (e.g., “tedious”). I can see what they were getting at, it’s sort of a tree-prison, but it’s a gently-sloped tree prison where the trees aren’t entirely right on top of you and that opens up into meadows often enough. In other words, it’s a tree prison you can live with (with which you can live, sorry).

Eventually the trail breaks into a large meadow (possibly “Elkhart Park”), from which you can see the jagged Wind Rivers in the distance. This is the point where the trail branches (it’ll reconvene later): photographer’s point to the north, or the Sweeney lakes to the east. I went east.

The trail then drops into a basin, where I encountered my first lake of the trip: Miller Lake. This hike is eventually all about lakes, and this is arguably the least photogenic. I mean:

Right?

I skirted Miller Lake and kept going till I hit Middle Sweeney Lake.

So: most of the good lakes were on the second day. Just above Middle Sweeney, then, I hit Upper Sweeney, which was my objective for the day. The problem with this trip, to some extent, is that most of the good camping locations between the trailhead and Island Lake are either only 4-6 miles away, or are Seneca Lake, which doesn’t actually have great sites and is 10 eventually pretty steep (a lot of up-and-down) miles from the parking lot.

Campsite, Upper Sweeney Lake

And then I made a campfire (!). I rarely make campfires, but there was a (not-literal) ton of wood around. It had been sprinkling (rain) off and on, so the wood was a little wet, which added to the challenge as well as the sweetness of the victory.

About two hours later I went to sleep.

bkd

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Hiking Logan Canyon: White Pine Lake

If you look up “best hike in northern Utah” in the dictionary, everyone agrees that that’s the High Creek Lake hike. I didn’t go on that one though.

White Pine Lake is a pretty great hike, particularly considering its trailhead is 30 minutes from my house, right next to Tony Grove Lake. It’s possibly #2.

View of Tony Grove Lake (and parking lot!). This is about a half-hour from my house.

~The Lake~

Heading back.

I don’t love the shirt.

<fishing-related story>I took my fishing pole up there with me. When I got to the lake, I went through the jam-knot marathon to tie my bubble  on behind the swivel, the leader to the swivel, then the fly to the leader. Went down to the lake side and filled up the bubble. Opened up the bail, cocked the rod behind my head, threw forward to cast, and my bubble, leader, and fly all went flying off into the water, detached from the rest of my line. I only brought the one swivel. My bad.</fishing-related story>

  • It’s about an eight-mile round-trip.
  • There are some decent-looking campsites at the lake.
  • It’s a pretty well-used trail.
  • The two mountains seen above are, I think, Mt. Gog and Mt. Magog. (Gog is the one seen most frequently above.)
  • I don’t think there are actually all that many fish in that lake.

bkd

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High Uintas Ibantik Lake Hike ft. Notch

If there isn’t already a rapper named Notch, there really should be.

Went on this fun, short-ish overnighter just so I could say I went on an overnighter and had been in the Uintas. The Uintas are pretty cool, or are at least pretty. I guess also cool. Man it’s been hot here in Cache Valley. Uintas were cool, but also pretty.

Found this hike in the Falcon Guide, turns out everyone online also thinks it’s amazing. Would be a pretty easy out-and-back day hike, but I was using it to practice backpacking and do a safe-distance shakedown of my gear that I haven’t used in a year. The hike is supposedly just under four miles from the Crystal Lake trailhead over The Notch (featured) then down to Ibantik. Just: whatever. Photos, then observations maybe, then go on with lives, etc.

~The Trailhead~.

Parking lot was super-crowded with three other groups, a couple of them pretty big, arriving just before me and milling about their respective cars loudly. Despite this, the hike to (and back from) Ibantik wasn’t all that crowded. I met maybe four groups on the way out, then probably a similar number coming back. Apparently the parking lot services enough different trail to keep anything from getting too unwieldy. I’m sure it also helped that I set out on a Wednesday, but still: I”\NiIK L•KF, 4 miles.

This photo wasn’t far from the trailhead, and its purpose in this post is to illustrate that even the scenically un-scenic parts of this trail were not actually all that un-scenic. I mean, there’s not much on that trail that’s uglier than this.

The first real lake you come to is Wall Lake (there was another lake and a couple ponds by the trailhead that don’t count), from which you get your first look at THE NOTCH. Many hikers tremble in its gaze, cowed by the prospect of having to climb its ca., I dunno, 700-800 feet to get up and over it? Anyway. And yes, Wall is a fake lake, it’s just “real” in size. So’s Ibantik. There’s not much I can do about it at this point.

The trail has a lot of views like ^^, with ponds and meadows and peaks. There are also trees and clouds in this photo. Probably bugs also, germs for sure.

This is the view from the top of the Notch, looking north toward Lovenia Lake. Ibantik Lake is almost in the picture — it’s just on the other side of that talus slope on the right.

This is Lovenia Lake. I think. I dunno. Seriously, there are a lot of lakes there and some aren’t named very clearly and sometimes there’s one name on the map, but then you somehow stumble onto three different lakes. Whatever. Good clouds, decent reflection, and pine beetles have had their say in the Uintas.

^^ is about where I ran into members of the Boy Scout troop that would feature so prominently in the outing’s drama. Oh yes, there was drama. Drama! But it involved Boy Scouts, so maybe temper expectations. Temper!

The glory that is Ibantik. There was a sign on the trail that labeled the lake. When I say “on the trail”, I mean it was laying down on the trail. Also, Ibantik is a Ute word the definition of which is unknowable.

So I set up camp (on the shore to the right of that last photo there), ate lunch sort of, fished for about an hour (caught a couple small brookies, but had a bunch of strikes), then decided to go exploring further down the trail. About ten minutes later, I hear someone yelling at me (not by name). I look over and there’s a backpacker who’s gone cross-country a bit. He asks me if I know where the trail is (“yeah, it’s where I am”), then comes over to the trail. He asks whether I’ve seen some scouts at the lake. I tell him I saw some scouts, but it was about three hours ago and they were already heading back to the trailhead. He then explains that he used to be a wilderness adventure guide, so he knows his stuff, but that he got a little too involved trying to help the scouts (?) and that he’s been wandering for 20 miles trying to find them. He says he spent the entire night awake, wandering around looking for them, but the trails have so many loops in them and he never did find them and how far away is it back to the trailhead from here. I told him it was maybe 4.5 miles, tops, which seemed to make him excited. I told him which direction to go, then off he went.

About five minutes later, it occurred to me I should probably go back the way I came and make sure he wasn’t, I dunno, dead or something. Went back, found him right about where I was camped, talked to him a little more, asked him if he needed any food or water or if he maybe didn’t want to just hang out and rest up for a little bit. Nice enough guy. Refused everything, then headed out.

The lake had a bunch of campsites, although this one (that’s my gear) was the first one I came to and the one I ended up using. It was probably my favorite of the ones I took a look at — enough wind breakage from the trees, but no shortage of views of the water, plus you could hear the sound of the creek feeding into the lake a couple hundred yards away. Also had some good branches from which I could hook up my IV drip line.

Went fishing again.

Caught a bunch more eight-inch brookies. I had one stretch where I brought one in on three straight casts. Eventually I started worrying that I was just catching the same fish over and over. This concern started seeming less paranoid and more plausible when I landed my last fish of the evening, a non-fighter that, when it got almost to shore just flipped over onto its back and resigned itself to its fate.

That was also about the time I started hearing a helicopter in the distance. The helicopter got closer and closer until…

…it basically landed at my campsite. It actually did this twice over the span of about an hour. The first time, it didn’t actually land, but some guy from some sort of state rescue service jumped out of it and came over to ask me if I’d seen anyone who looked lost in the woods. Apparently the scout troop had called someone about their missing leader, who by that point probably should have been to the parking lot already. About an hour later, the helicopter came back, landed for real, and the ranger came out and talked to me again, as well as a few other folks with nearby campsites.

I checked online the next day. Didn’t see anything in the news the next day, so >shrug<. I’m sure it worked out. So much drama. It was pretty amazing, though, to see a helicopter land there, reminded me of watching that show about helicopter rescues in the Himalayas, only louder.

^^ The lake at sunset. A lot of mosquitoes and helicopters, but all-in-all it was a good place.

It actually got cold enough to wear this stuff, which was refreshing. So tired of mostly sunny and 97 degrees.

That evening I discovered two problems with my gear: (1) my water filter was clogged up (was fine, I’d brought enough water from below to last for two days, plus I could/did boil more) and (2) I forgot to bring bug spray. The bugs weren’t *that* bad, I just couldn’t stand in one place for more than 15 seconds without getting enclouded. Had Mountain House spaghetti for dinner, the first in-wartime use of my new, non-Jetboil stove. The water boiled and what was once dehydrated became hydrated anew.

After sleeping parts of four hours during the night, I woke up bright and early, ate dry granola that tasted somehow drier than usual, then packed everything up and headed toward home.

The scenery was about the same, but with different lighting.

From The Notch, a view southward. Apparently I can only take photos aiming the direction in which I am traveling. I’m not sure it’s a fatal flaw, but it’s probably a flaw.

And then I saw all the same stuff I’d seen the previous day, only the other side of it, which didn’t look all that different, and even though I took more photos, I mean, they’re kind of just the same as the other photos up above.

Then two days later I got hit by an SUV while crossing the street in Logan, but didn’t die. The end.

bkd

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I Went to Costa Rica This Summer; It Wasn’t That Great, but Here Are Some Photos

At first it seemed like it would be a cheap, easy way to see whether I could be a productive person while spending time in a foreign country. Then the car rental got involved ($80/day, most of which is revealed once you get there), then it turns out there’s not really all that much to do there and the Internet is sometimes flaky. Also, my Spanish isn’t very good. But anyway.

Here are a bunch of photos in chronological order to keep you guessing. Or not guessing.

The flight down was surprisingly easy and cheap, flying Southwest all the way by way of Houston-Hobby. Unfortunately, Southwest wouldn’t sell me a ticket from OKC to San Jose, so I ended up flying into Liberia, which meant I had about a 3.5-hour drive to get to the central highlands town of Athenas, where I was staying. Made it just at the onset of dusk, which was a good thing as otherwise there are no street lights once you get off one of the two highways (which is still one more than Canada has). I don’t have any photos of that drive. I only got lost once. They don’t do road signs there sometimes. And they have a lot of slow, underpowered trucks on curvy, hilly two-lane roads.

So: turns out that most of the exciting animals I saw, I saw in this zoo on the first full day I was there.

OTOH, as they say, "hell is other monkeys".

OTOH, as they say, “hell is other monkeys”.

The next day I went to Nacional Parque Volcán Poas. There were a lot of clouds and a lot of people. There’s a hiking trail there that takes you into the crater. That hiking trail was closed. It costs $25 to enter the national park, which, after closing the one trail, amounts to a parking lot, a mile of an asphalt trail, a viewpoint (to which the asphalt brings you), and a gift shop.

Also, the crater is usually socked in with clouds.

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It took a half-hour of waiting to get a picture this clear.

Then I went down to the gift store, found nothing I wanted to buy (do I really associate Costa Rica with wood carvings? with what real souvenirs *do* I associate Costa Rica?), I realized it was still only like 9:30 in the morning and I had nothing else planned for the day, so I walked back to the crater so I could at least “get my steps in” as they say.

It was like this for about six seconds before returning to windy and no visibility. But, hey, I wasn't there to live in the moment, I was there go get one clear photo of a crater with a lake in it. And for the exercise.

It was like this for about six seconds before returning to windy and no visibility. But, hey, I wasn’t there for the longitudinal experience, I was there go get one clear photo of a crater with a lake in it. And for the exercise.

By that time it was 10:30, so I figured I should go to the La Paz Waterfall Garden. It’s this place with butterflies in cages, jaguars in cages, hummingbirds who choose not to leave of their own volition, and three privately-owned waterfalls. It cost, iirc, $60. Yes, US dollars. Nice waterfalls, though, the giant, curved-beak hummingbirds were cool, and, hey, at least the employees were friendly and happy to be there. And it costs less to visit than the far less enriching Biltmore Estate (which is now, inexplicably, $65, despite being the unfinished vanity project dwelling of a trust fund kid).

There are actually three waterfalls there in slow succession, so it's really just $20 per waterfall.

There are actually three waterfalls there in slow succession, so it’s really just $20 per waterfall.

Next day, I… I think I just hung out at the house. I found the place via airbnb, and that part of the experience was all good. I was basically renting the granny flat of a Canadian expat couple from Calgary who had been living in Costa Rica full-time for a couple years. Really nice people, interesting insights into the expat lifestyle; I would do that again. (The lodging was also pretty inexpensive at ca. $40/night.)

Then, at some point forward in chronology, I took a drive out to the town of Zarcero, which was a pretty drive through rolling, green hills. The town is known for this:

Where by "this" I'm referring to a Catholic church surrounded by topiaries.

Where by “this” I’m referring to a Catholic church surrounded by topiaries.

Was something I’d never seen before. It rained that day. This all happened in July, which is part of the rainy season there. Here’s an article from NPR about the guy who does the topiaries.

After that (hours? days?), I took a drive out toward the coast to visit another waterfall that promised to be a “real hike” to the Catarata Bijagual. This being Costa Rica, you have to drive several miles up a rutted dirt road, park, then pay some dude $25 in order to use the trail (but, you have access to your choice of walking sticks for the journey). It’s a tougher hike than it ought to be. It’s hot and humid, the track is slick, and there’s a lot of up-and-down (including one spot where you’re effectively lowering yourself on cables for about 10-15 feet).

The catarata itself is a'ight.

The catarata itself is all right.

I think you’re also paying for the guy to watch your car for you maybe. On the way back, I stopped near the bridge in Tarcoles. This was the most interesting wild animal-viewing experience I had.

Not because they did a lot. Just because they are wild crocodiles and very large.

Not because they did a lot. Just because they are wild crocodiles and very large.

Because it’s what they have in Costa Rica, at some point after the crocodiles I visited Parque Nacional Volcán Irazu, which actually required me to drive through San Jose, which is a place that really could use a few more road signs since its highways don’t actually intersect. I don’t so much love Oklahoma, but doggone it, at least our highways intersect.

Irazu was colder and windier. There was no lake in the crater.

Things were in a state of some disrepair.

There was a sign there that looked like this. This park also cost $25 to get into.

I then drove out to the town of Orosi, which was a little oversold in the guidebooks. It was a nice enough valley, but there are plenty of nice enough valleys in Costa Rica. The outstanding thing about Orosi was the little soda (small restaurant) I went to, that had the best comida tipica in the country (that I ate). Two good-natured women run it (which seems to be the typical set-up in Costa Rica). It’s on the left side of The One Street most of the way through town. Good luck.

Before leaving my headquarters in the Athenas area, I went into town and walked around. Here’s a photo I took while doing that:

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A church.

Athenas was kind of a ramshackle little town in the way that almost every town in Costa Rica seems to be a ramshackle little town. Friendly and non-threatening though, and given its proximity both to the central valley and the coast as well as its willingness to keep it real (it doesn’t come across as a tourist or expat town), I could see why my host family had chosen that area.

Then I left the central highlands to go to the touristy places.

Drove up to La Fortuna and, right off, hit the La Fortuna Waterfall.

Which, once you get down to the waterfall, is just swarming with semi-inebriated college-age individuals, bless their hearts.

Which, once you get down to the waterfall, is just swarming with semi-inebriated college-age individuals, bless their hearts.

I think that cost another $50. And there was only one waterfall. La Paz was such a value.

Some time thereafter, I went to an, I dunno, ecological reserve?, to do a hanging bridges jungle hike. Saw no animals, but definitely saw bridges and a jungle. There was also a waterfall here (not pictured).

The reserve was called "Mistico" for some reason and only cost $24.

The reserve was called “Mistico” for some reason and only cost $24.

La Fortuna is located in the shadow of Arenal volcano, which was an active volcano recently but no longer appears to be so. It looks like this sometimes:

Other times there are more clouds.

Other times there are more clouds.

I stayed at a place that has, like, four cabins. This is what the view was like from my front door:

It didn't always rain. But often it did.

It didn’t always rain. But often it did.

The owners of the hotel were the only people in the country nice enough to try and have a conversation with me in Spanish. It almost worked.

I also went to the Parque Nacional Arenal, which was another place. They had some views of the volcano and another jungle hike. A lot of jungle hikes in Costa Rica. They all pretty much look like trees.

I took this picture there.

I took this picture there. It’s one of those butterflies that tries to look like an owl. I was not fooled.

Later, I walked around La Fortuna and took this photo.

Later, I walked around La Fortuna and took this photo.

That town was indeed touristy. Food was just okay. Weather: overcast and sometimes rainy.

Then I ended up driving to my final hangout in… I can’t remember the name of the place. Bijagua apparently. It’s near the Tenorio National Park, which is where you find the Rio Celeste, which looks really pretty in the photos. But it was way too rainy while I was there and so I didn’t ever go. I did take one more hanging bridges trip, though.

These bridges were much higher, much longer, and much sketchier.

These bridges were much higher, much longer, and much sketchier.

I think the one pictured above is the one where I had half a mind to just give up and die of starvation when I was about halfway across. I didn’t, though. I persevered. The bridges shake a lot. That wood is old and looks rotted out. I don’t really like heights.

And then I was going to go to the river, but then the rain, so I started driving in the direction where I saw sunlight, then I kept going, eventually ending up in yet another Parque Nacional, but the one that no one goes to (Palo Verde I think). Here, I had my favorite Costa Rican experience:

The vehicle is a Suzuki Jimney, for the record. It was terrible.

The vehicle is a Suzuki Jimney, for the record. It was terrible.

Seriously, though, this was the one time on this trip where I felt like I was doing something interesting. I was 50 miles from the nearest town, no pavement, no humans, pulled over on a dirt road changing a tire. Absolute bliss.

I think the national park is mostly for birdwatching. I only saw buzzards, which — well, that was good too I guess.

Then, after that, the place I was staying called itself a “farm” and offered “farm tours”, which included an old dude with Parkinson’s (Jesus) walking around trees pointing out plants and sloths, then taking you to their frog and butterfly enclosures. Jesus was a good dude, the sloths were cool, and the frogs were photogenic.

Or at least this one was.

Or at least this one was.

And then I drove to the airport and they let me go back home. Which, unfortunately, meant going back to Oklahoma. Oh man.

Some positive things:

  • The people there are pretty decent and not burned-out-from-tourists like you’d think they’d be.
  • The comida tipica was simple, but good and cheap.
  • Driving there, once you got settled in, was actually kind of fun — a lot of pretty stretches of road. Drivers there are actually (IMHO) very good. Patient when they have to be (= most of the time), efficient when the opportunity presents itself.
  • Even without Spanish skills, it’s an easy and non-threatening place to get around in.

Also:

  • There’s no way to do anything worthwhile in this country without paying a guide or tour operator (I think).
  • Apparently I should’ve gone to the beaches.
  • This isn’t a great solo tourist destination.
  • And it’s also not great if you prefer DIY-style adventuring.
  • I really wasn’t very productive working from another country.

bkd

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Ski Weekend on the Front Range

Went to Colorado for a quick (three-day) weekend back in February as sort of a proof of concept. The concept being the reasonableness of going to Colorado to ski for a weekend. I flew in on Thursday night after class, rented a mid-size SUV (Ford Escape as it turned out) “at” the airport, then headed west on I-70, stopping at a pretty awful Super 8 ($89/night!) in a windy, very cold town whose name I’ve forgotten (and now looked up: Georgetown).

Skied on Friday at Copper Mountain, then Saturday at Keystone. On Sunday, I had lift tickets already bought for Loveland, but I was wiped out and it was still cold and windy at that hotel (the mountains were way nicer), so I just slept in, then drove to Denver and walked around Cherry Creek for a few hours before heading to the airport for a 5:00 (or so) flight. I bought a base layer in Cherry Creek at the Marmot store across the street (ish) from the mall.

The old-school Blackjack lift on the back side of Copper Mountain.

The old-school Blackjack lift on the back side of Copper Mountain.

 

Some run at Copper, looking down on I-70 below.

Some run at Copper, looking down on I-70 below.

Really liked Copper. Was mostly locals (the random lift strangers were in very good form), wasn’t super crowded, easy to access off the interstate, a ton of terrain, mostly north-facing, and you can find any kind of skiing that you want. The Super Bee lift was great to lap, especially from the perspective of crowd avoidance. I liked Copper so much that I bought a season pass there for next year. We’ll see how that goes. (Season passes there are stunningly inexpensive — $399 with no blackout days, plus three free days at three other could-visit resorts, Taos, Purgatory, and Monarch.)

Keystone on Saturday started out cold, then got crowded.

Cold.

Cold.

The crowds were mostly (based on a non-zero amount of data) with University of Denver frat boys and sorority girls. Which compromised the day, particularly after about 11:30 in the morning. It has an interesting layout — it’s a series of successive peaks, so that once you get off the first peak, you’ll never see the base area again. The best skiing seemed to be on the furthest peak back, where there’s a hike-to bowl (not much of a hike) and some interesting, officially recognized tree ski runs (tiring, but good fun and better snow than the rest of the mountain, which was a little scraped that day).

Top of the first at Keystone.

Top of the first at Keystone.

On a chairlift at Keystone was also, btw, the first time anyone actually asked me if I was 420 friendly. (“Oh yeah, I don’t care.”) Because he hurt his back in a dirt bike accident.

The crowds got bad enough after lunch that it was hard to ski. And on the drive back, I took Loveland Pass, which is a pretty harrowing snow-covered, insufficiently guardrailed route (and not actually any faster than staying on I-70 and coming via Silverthorne).

Here’s a photo of I-70 through the Front Range:

I think this was on the way home from Copper.

I think this was on the way home from Copper.

The Colorado ski weekend concept sort of worked. Might have been better to fly in on Friday, rest up and acclimatize to the elevation on Saturday, then go hard on Sunday and Monday, flying back Monday night. Staying in Georgetown was okay from the standpoint that it was a little easier to get to from Denver and only about 30 minutes from Copper, but the hotel itself seemed way overpriced for its level of badness (the carpets were worn down to nothing, the draft from the closed front door could be felt from the other side of the room).

Resolutions and observations:

  1. Next time, pay a little more and rent a condo in Frisco or Silverthorne for the weekend.
  2. The midsize SUV was probably the right rental car.
  3. Traffic was worse than you would expect for the middle of nowhere, but was not the 60 miles of bumper-to-bumper that the locals insist is typical on weekends.
  4. The Saturday crowd was bad and it wasn’t a holiday weekend or anything.
  5. It’s amazing how many huge ski resorts there are in that relatively compact area (Vail and Beaver Creek are just another 20 minutes west of Copper, Keystone and A-Basin are on that highway out of Silverthorne, Breckenridge is just east of Copper, Loveland is on the freeway and east of those areas, Winter Park is about, I dunno, 20-30 minutes north?).
  6. Also amazing that most of the skiers I talked to were local — in other words, those resorts get full to the gills with primarily locals as opposed to tourists.
  7. Denver airport itself isn’t bad as an origin/terminus, but the rental car lot that’s a 15-minute bus ride away and its location way to the east of Denver itself are inconvenient truths.

That’s probably enough.

bkd

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New Zealand South Island Road Trip

I don’t usually do road trips in foreign countries, but when I do, they apparently can look like this. (You can click on the photos — you’ll get a much bigger version if you do.)

Heading back to Christchurch

Heading back to Christchurch

In Mt. Cook NP

In Mt. Cook NP

Kea Point, Mueller Glacier Lake, and the Southern Alps

Kea Point, Mueller Glacier Lake, and the Southern Alps

Hooker River

Hooker River

Hooker River with Mt. Cook in the distance

Hooker River with Mt. Cook in the distance

Swing bridge heading toward Mt. Cook

Swing bridge heading toward Mt. Cook

Mueller Lake in Mt. Cook NP

Mueller Lake in Mt. Cook NP

Hooker River in Mt. Cook NP.

Hooker River in Mt. Cook NP.

Moeraki Boulders, made of naturally occurring cement for some reason.

Moeraki Boulders, made of naturally occurring cement for some reason.

Kiwi viewing station. There were no kiwis. Weren't even any New Zealanders.

Kiwi viewing station. There were no kiwis. Weren’t even any New Zealanders.

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South coast shoreline.

South coast shoreline.

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As far south as I've been in my life.

As far south as I’ve been in my life.

View from the southern tip.

View from the southern tip.

Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown)

Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown)

There are also cows in New Zealand.

There are also cows in New Zealand.

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Marian Creek, on the way to the lake.

Marian Creek, on the way to the lake.

Lake Marian in Fjordland NP

Lake Marian in Fjordland NP

Bowen Falls near the Milford Sound port.

Bowen Falls near the Milford Sound port.

Sunny day on Milford Sound, looking out from the port.

Sunny day on Milford Sound, looking out from the port.

Sterling Falls in Milford Sound

Sterling Falls in Milford Sound

First there would have to be a kea for me not to feed it.

First there would have to be a kea for me not to feed it.

Waiting to enter the Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound

Waiting to enter the Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound

Mirror Pond on the way to Milford Sound

Mirror Pond on the way to Milford Sound

Drive heading toward Milford Sound

Drive heading toward Milford Sound

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Sheep following other sheep. You might need to click on the photo to see the white sheep dots.

Sheep following other sheep. You might need to click on the photo to see the white sheep dots.

Matukituki sheep.

Matukituki sheep.

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A bridge over the Matukituki

A bridge over the Matukituki

Matukituki Valley

En route to Rob Roy Glacier

En route to Rob Roy Glacier

Rob Roy Stream; en route to Rob Roy Glacier.

Rob Roy Stream; en route to Rob Roy Glacier.

Waterfalls, peaks around Rob Roy Glacier in Mt. Aspiring NP.

Waterfalls, peaks around Rob Roy Glacier in Mt. Aspiring NP.

West Matukituki River

West Matukituki River

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Trail heading toward Franz Josef Glacier. Many unruly European tourists. Many.

Trail heading toward Franz Josef Glacier. Many unruly European tourists. Many.

Route back from Fox Glacier.

Route back from Fox Glacier.

Fish, chips. Ketchup and tartar sauce cost extra.

Fish, chips. Ketchup and tartar sauce cost extra.

Hokitika Gorge (, bridge over).

Hokitika Gorge (, bridge over).

Castle Hill, west of Christchurch. With lawnmower.

Castle Hill, west of Christchurch. With lawnmower.

Track heading toward Devil's Punchbowl in Arthur's Pass NP.

Track heading toward Devil’s Punchbowl in Arthur’s Pass NP.

So that was it then. Nine days I think? Close to that. We went counter-clockwise. Rained a lot. This was in December 2014. Just trying to keep the blog from getting lapped by a year.

bkd

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Last Summer: Driving, Hiking, Fishing the Beartooths

The Beartooth Highway is probably the prettiest drive I’ve ever been on and it’s not for lack of trying. This is the best photo I have, but it’s not that communicative of the vast excellence of the drive.

beartooth highway

So there was that. The Beartooth Mountains are in southwestern Montana, south of Bozeman a ways, a little northeast of Yellowstone. Sort of also in northwestern Wyoming.

I ended up going on a couple of overnighters, one solo and one with my brother. (more…)

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Last Year): In Washington

Oregon gives way to Washington. BTW, this, all this last summer stuff, was part of a homelessness-inspired road trip I took in 2014. My house in Pittsburgh sold way faster than I meant for it to sell and — well anyway. Starting June 8th or something I was on the road. Went from Pittsburgh to Norman to look for a place to live, then drove up to Utah (by way of the Colorado posts I’ve posted) for my niece’s wedding, then down to San Diego. From SD, I had to fly back to Pgh to defend my thesis, then I flew back to San Diego and started driving north. Ergo: Eastern Sierras, State of Jefferson, then Oregon, then this post.

Also, driving from Bend up to Hood River is a really nice drive.

After crossing the Columbia on a bridge, I camped somewhere and then went to look at some cave where people in the nearby town used to visit to get ice. Because there’s year-round ice in this cave. It’s a real thing.

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There were also some natural bridges around there, but they were odd and green and maybe not quite as dramatic as the ones in Utah. Here:

I mean, they were fine. Totally fine. That ice cave was super cold though.

The drive from Trout Lake, past Mt. Adams on the unpaved roads up to Packwood, was also super scenic and highly recommended (although it’s kind of a long stretch on a rough road).

Mt. Adams from NF-23

Then a couple photos from when I was hanging out with my parents in Tacoma. I know, you’re only here for the text. Sorry.

Rail transport! And then it was time to go to JHole for the family reunion by way of the Beartooths.