trip report: Patagonia – getting in & Huemul Circuit return, January 2019

On my first solo extended out of the country trip, I found myself at a pub in Bruge drinking with the a bunch of new friends I didn’t know the day before. A quote that stuck with me from that night was that you travel not to experience everything, but to find all the great things about a place to return to. In the travel atmosphere that is suggestive of the bucket list and country counting attitude, I am all for the counter viewpoint of also returning to a place that once put you in a state of awe. The Huemul Circuit is currently my favorite hike in the world, so a return trip to Patagonia meant I’d head back there.

As I start to write this, I am not sure how this report will go. This is the first time I’m writing up the exact same hike on this page and it didn’t deviate much from my first trip. Secondly, my SD card crapped out during this trip leading me to lose a good portion of my data unbeknown to be until I started going through the pictures post trip. To that end, I’m approaching this write up of the Huemul Circuit as a complement to the my first report with the insight that the trail has gotten much more popular.

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This is part 2 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below. Read More

trip report: Patagonia – planning & research, January 2019

Two of my favorite hikes in the world at the moment is in Patagonia, the O-Circuit of Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile and the Huemul Circuit of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. I would return to either places in a heartbeat, as our two previous week long trips out there during our spring breaks left us wanting for more. But these two hikes are just a small portion of the vast region of Patagonia with plenty that I’d looked forward to exploring in the future. So when I saw a USD$400 roundtrip flight from the United States to São Paulo, Brazil in business class, that future was much closer than I originally thought. Not to take away from what we had experienced in Brazil, but it was no question we’d be heading back to Patagonia.

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This is part 1 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below. Read More

trip report: Ausangate Circuit, August 2018

Making the decision to quit on a hike is one of the hardest things you may face on the trail. The last time I bailed on a backpacking trip was in the inhospitable landscape underneath the Peruvian mountain of Ausangate. I came down with a cold or sinus infection of some sort making it hard to breath without coughing heavily. The lack of ability for me to breath with the high attitudes that demanded me to breathe harder during the uphills forced me to recognize the fact that I couldn’t complete the circuit at that time.

When it comes to quitting, the biggest opponent was my own ego. Part of that ego preventing me from making the best decision for myself regarding quitting may be the desire to accomplish something for completeness sake. Perhaps the reason for such as desire is rooted in the fear of missing out, in that I know I didn’t miss anything if I complete it. In a sense, that completeness attitude may actually miss the real reason we head into nature, which is to experience nature. For me, hiking is about the means just as much or even greater than the ends. If it truly the experience and enjoyment of nature we are after, then there is no shame in quitting and returning to experience it when we are in a better situation.

Of course I was disappointed that I couldn’t compete the Ausangate Circuit. What helped was looking back at the experience we did have of climbing the grassy pass around Ausangate before navigating ourselves off the Ausangate Circuit to find our way to the Rainbow mountains off trail and realizing how great that was. It wasn’t the experience I was expecting, but it was amazing nonetheless. Secondly, I knew that I’d return someday and finish the hike for a brand new experience of the Ausangate Circuit. That day came two years later when I found a business class fare sale back to Peru.

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trip report: John Muir Trail, August 2018 – part 6, Onion Valley Trailhead to Whitney Portal

For many, Mt. Whitney is an emotional, spiritual, and personal final closing point of the three week long walking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the John Muir Trail (JMT). It is the tallest point in the continental 48 states and a symbol of one’s achievement through the struggles against nature and oneself. At least that’s the perception I have regarding others on the trail.

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I wish I have a grand conclusion to these trip reports about my JMT finish for you, but I just don’t. I’m sorry if I’m making it sound anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have reached it and I enjoyed the views from the top of Whitney upon the surrounding peaks and the desolate valley of granite below, but I wouldn’t say it was anything different than just another day of hiking.

Perhaps I was emotionally fulfilled already now that I’ve once again returned to my familiar hiking position of following Meg’s butt on the trail; perhaps it was that I would to continue to do so in Peru immediately after this; perhaps it was because my experience of the physical challenges on the JMT was relatively mild for me; perhaps it was because I took zeros back in society to recharge; perhaps I didn’t think the view from Mt Whitney was the best I’d seen ever or even my favorite on the JMT; perhaps it was because I didn’t finish at the same time as Chris, Cindy, Diana, Bob, Jack, John, Alex, Steel, Mallory, Jean, and other new friends I met along the way; perhaps it was the a-hole who tried to rush us off the of the summit of Whitney just so he can have the summit to himself to camp at; perhaps it was my annoyance at the a-hole for an hour after leaving the summit; or perhaps it was the seemingly never ending and pointless switchbacks before our finish at Whitney Portal.

All of these statements were true, but really the key, I believe, was simply that the day I hiked Mt. Whitney and finished the JMT was just as typical as any other day on the trails I’ve hiked around the world. The experiences I had on this last day was what I expected and continue to look forward to in the future on my never ending thru-hike. But that’s not a negative, because I am a hiker and I am fulfilled by hiking. Regardless if it was the final day I spent on my JMT hike, I was happy doing something I like and will always continue to do…

and then write insanely long “magazine style” trip reports of it. Hope you don’t mind the load time. 🙂

This is part 6 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

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trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 5, Muir Trail Ranch to Kearsarge Pass/Onion Valley Trailhead

A key aspect I’ve highlighted (part 3) about hiking alone on the John Muir Trail (JMT), or traveling alone in general, is that you are not really alone. You end up meeting new friends at places you camp or major stopping points like Red’s Meadow, Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR), and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). You may end up hiking with them or see them multiple times over the course of your hike, forming trail families (tramilies). When traveling, you end up at hostels where everyone shares your attitude of explore the city or town so it’s easy to make new friends and explore together.

While that social component is very much present on the JMT, there is still plenty of solitude you will experience at part of your hike. This solitude for many of us gives us the opportunity to reflect and gain that aspect of self awareness that we may not have the chance or time to do in our busy and noise everyday lives. Nothing like the sound of your feet crunching the trail mixed in with nature’s soundtrack of rushing water and singing birds to allow you to get lost in your own mind. It can also literally get you lost on the trail when you are so in the zone that you miss trail markers, which may have happened in an early part of this trip. Solitude is a huge part why I hike and I’d say a beneficial quality of hiking. With the uncertainty of my career during this later portion of my graduate studentship, solitude and reflection was something I looked forward to. This is also why I don’t typically listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music when I go out for a hike and I’d recommend that everyone start off hiking without those either.

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Who needs meditation when the granite walls of the JMT can provide all the solitude you’ll need.

However, feeling lonely is also common as a solo hiker with so many more days on the JMT and other thru-hikes than a typical backpacking trip. Even though I looked forward to the solitude of are part of this hike, I also reached that point of loneliness. For me, this is part of the reason I can never see myself doing any of the long distance thru-hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Continental Divide Trail (CDT), and Appalachian Trail (AT). Of course, the point that we feel lonely and the aspect of how each of us deal with it is different. Commonly, this is where the audiobooks, music, and podcasts are a welcome distraction.

My solution these past 7 years is, of course, Meg. This was the first hiking-centric or backpacking trip I had taken in a long time without her due to circumstances out of our control. That unpleasant loneliness served as a reminder of what is truly important in my life. And within that, I learned the axiom to help guide me through this uncertain point in my life.

This is part 5 of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

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trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 4, Red’s Meadow Resort to Muir Trail Ranch

Throughout my hiking career, there are always days that just does not go your way.

It didn’t go my way when my hiking partner abandoned me on the Tour du Mont Blanc when we had missed the correct trail. I was never more miserable on our aborted attempt up to Long Peak where I didn’t get enough sleep, probably felt altitude sickness, and was shivering uncontrollably in the little rocky hut at the keyhole. Getting sick also brought our first attempt at Ausangate to an end. The thought of “what did I get Meg and I into,” crossed my mind several times when we flew 2 days down to Torres del Paine only to walk through a consistent downpour where visibility was a minimum to begin our trek. That kind of weather would return to greet us on our first time through the Huemul Circuit, but added to the sopping rain was one of the steepest and most dangerous downhills on slippy dirt I’ve every hiked down. Staying in Patagonia, “Oh No” and several other words of anger were spoken when we accidentally snapped a pole in our tent on the O-circuit, but at least it was near the end of our hike and it worked out. The other time our tent pole was snapped in the Lofoten Islands by crazy winds brought our hike to an end. The panic that threatens to wash over me when we realize we were lost in a snow covered terrain during a way too early season hike of the Walker’s Haute Route is not pleasant. Neither was slogging a full day through soft snow, post holing with every step, also on the Walker’s Haute Route. Nor was trying to skip going up a snow field by going further ahead to the next lodging only to be dumped on my a thunderstorm … yes on the Walker’s Haute Route. That hike had quite the experience now that I think of it, it’s a wonder Meg stuck around after that.

When I started writing this, I did not anticipate a trip down memory lane of the most terrible days we’ve had on the trail. However, these are only a portion of the overall hiking experience. An reflection Arnold and Becky had about backpacking in the earlier part of my trip was that it consisted of 60% suffering and 40% benefits. That specific ratio can be argued, but tolerating the suck is a necessary part of achieving the awesomeness in hiking or really anything worth doing.

All those terrible, no good days that one can experience during a hiking career can emphasize all the negatives and can push us emotionally past that point of quitting. But it is hard to make sounds judgements after those kind of days while in the state of low moral. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you are ever thinking of quitting something after a bad day, don’t make that decision until you’ve had a goodnight sleep and a fresh mind. If you still feel the same way in that refreshed state, then you truly know that is the right choice.

While the John Muir Trail (JMT) during the peak season is relatively tame in comparison to some of my other experiences, there are times when the trail will test your tolerance. The section between Red’s Meadow Resort and Muir Trail Ranch was the section that tested my tolerance the most.

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A professional fly swatter you’ll find on the JMT, trying to enjoy the view.

This is part 4 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

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trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 3, Lyell Canyon to Red’s Meadow Resort

When you hear people talking about the John Muir Trail (JMT), they speak of it having a special aura. The impression created for prospective thru hikers is that the JMT ought be done as a whole from Yosemite to Whitney or vise versa for the full experience. While the aesthetics of the JMT is indeed inspiring, it in itself isn’t the reason for JMT’s aura. To that point, you really don’t need to do the JMT to witness the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the impression I came away with from both talking to the locals and personally experienced on my hike is that the JMT is only a glimpse of the wonderment within these mountains. “To really enjoy the aesthetics of these mountains, you just have to get off established trails into the many valleys,” said a local backpacker I met on the trail. Ofcourse, not everyone have the experience to plan something like that, but there are plenty of trails criss crossing the Sierra Nevadas that you can use to plan backpacking trips providing infinite aesthetics.

The aura that draws hikers like Bob to hike the JMT 14 plus times and the reason for the mad scramble for thru hike permits is the social nature of the JMT.

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Bob, a friend I met on the JMT.

The combination of the number of people on the trail, everyone having the same frame of mind, having the same shared experience, and camping at similar spots makes it easy to bond and form friendships. It also makes for one of the best solo backpacking experiences as you are never really alone if you don’t want to be. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on several popular, remote, and usually longer duration hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, Walker’s Haute Route, and the O-Circuit in Torres Del Paine. To a greater extent, it is also similar to the city to city hostel backpacking travel experience where it’s easy to to meet new friends to explore the city. The JMT is just an expanded version allowing for a better chance for you to capture that aura.

The section heading out of Yosemite National Park and up Lyell Canyon out of Tuolumne Meadows is where many of these friendship and trail families start to form. The reasons that lead to this is that everyone have started to establish their prefered pace, you start to get out of the touristy crowds of the main Yosemite trails, the options of the track becomes singular or highway like as some locals say in jest, and there are specific stopping points that everyone tends to end up at. It was during this section that I met the friends I’d see throughout my hike in Chris, Diana, Cindy, and Bob.

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This is part 3 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

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trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 2, getting in & Yosemite National Park warmup

Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.

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This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted. Read More

trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 1, decision & planning

Sometimes you submit an application for a permit with a three day start window for one of the most popular trails in the United States Park system on a whim. And sometimes you’ll just win that golden ticket on the first try. That’s the short story of how I took a long unpaid leave in the summer of 2018 and spent it walking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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This is part 1 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.

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equipment guide: footwear

On this website, I have yet dedicated any posts on just discussing the equipment we use. My equipment page at the time I’m writing this is in pretty disrepair and with this series of posts, I’ll go back and work on it with the affiliated links (guess I should try to monetize this site like all the spam out there tells me to do).

I thought it would be good to start breaking down the major necessities that are required for backpacking, which are backpack, shelter, sleeping system, equipment for sustenance, and shoes. This series will be based on our experiences and will generally be for beginners looking to get into hiking and backpacking. The page for our current load out will be added in the future and the reviews of our current footwear can be found here.

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Meg sporting her Teva trailrunners on the beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

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