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Big Hill Springs

We were introduced to a new trail today. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is just 10 km north of Cochrane and is a beautiful, short loop of 1.6km with an elevation of 70m.

Big Hill Springs

We arrived at around 11am and the park was already crowded, mostly with families and lots of small children who were enjoying the shallow pool near the beginning of the hike. There are picnic tables near the pond and many people had obviously settled in for the day.

Big Hill Springs pool

The trails runs past the pool and follows the creek uphill offering lots of opportunities to paddle and explore.

Big Hill Springs stream

We passed a series of waterfalls,

Big Hills Spring waterfall

and then climbed up through the woods.

Big Hill Springs path

We stopped often to take photographs and enjoyed some really nice views near the top of the loop.

We had an active four year old with us who managed the climbs with ease and had a great time collecting sticks along the way.  Not a hike for those looking for a challenge or wanting to enjoy the peace and quiet of a nature walk but we found it unexpectedly beautiful and will certainly go back.

May 21, 2018 Posted by | Hiking | Leave a comment

Sunshine Meadows

I’m having a wonderful, totally free Saturday so thought I’d catch up on some of my writing.  A couple of weeks ago I went with Ray and Brian on one of the most beautiful short hikes which I have done.  My photos aren’t wonderful – my camera is finally giving up the ghost – but I think they give some idea of the beauty of the landscape.  Although the weather had been reasonably warm, on the Friday before the hike it snowed in the foothills and up in the mountains, which always makes everything look just that much prettier.

We drove through to Banff and picked up the shuttle bus at the base of the Sunshine ski area – thus avoiding trudging 5 kms up a fairly uninteresting road.  The bus delivered us to the Trail Centre in the Sunshine Village where we started walking, after picking up a couple of hiking sticks for Ray and Brian.

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We set off up the Rock Isle Trail which climbs for about 1 km and is the steepest part of the hike.

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Near the top we reached the continental divide and crossed over into BC.

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This part of the trail looks out towards Mount Assiniboine among a number of other peaks and opens up into the alpine meadow where, unfortunately most of the wild flowers were buried under the snow.  A few hardy specimens shook their petals free and showed us what we were missing.

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We soon reached the Rock Isle Lake and spent some time there, just enjoying the vistas and taking numerous photos which fail to do justice to the scene.

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We were lucky enough to have started early and were alone most of the way around the trail, meeting a few more hikers later in the morning.  This made it possible just to soak in the views and the silence.

From Rock Isle Lake the path led down through the trees  and over a number of little creeks

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and a few more flowers showed themselves.

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We stopped to have a final look at the lake from the other side before carrying on.

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The right hand pathway led us down to and past Grizzly Lake. Many of the ‘bridges’ over the creeks are just a few (and in many cases, just one) roughly hewn logs placed over the water, some artistically rotting, making crossing not dangerous (there is no depth to speak of) but a challenge. The views were stupendous and we kept stopping to take photos and just enjoy being there.

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Brian found some small fish swimming about in one of the creeks which ran into the Grizzly Lake.

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Grizzly Lake is very different to Rock Isle Lake but just as beautiful and again we spent some time just looking and taking pictures.

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Not far past this second lake we came rather unexpectedly upon the Simpson Viewpoint.  The view was breathtaking! Looking down into the valley we suddenly realized just how high we were, walking above the mountain peaks.

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From the viewpoint we took a leisurely wander around the last of the lakes – Larix Lake – stopping occasionally just to enjoy the quiet beauty.

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A couple of Columbian ground squirrels entertained us along the way but I didn’t compete with Ray in photographing them as I think she must have taken dozens of pictures. The pathway looped around and joined up to the one leading back to Rock Isle Lake.  By the time we reached this lake again there were a number of groups of hikers starting along the trail, unfortunately accompanied by the inevitable loud music which seems to be unavoidable on popular hikes, so we were not sorry to have completed the trail.  Back down the hill towards Sunshine Village – the downhill rather hard on the knees – and we  went to the picturesque restuarant to book ourselves onto the next bus back and then enjoyed a nice relaxing meal and a beer while we waited.

This is a hike I would love to do again, perhaps a little earlier in the season when the wildflowers are at their best.  And next time I’ll take the first bus up.

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fullerton Loop

Yesterday the Bragg Creek Woodland Walkers hiked the Fullerton Loop. This hike used to start at Allen Bill Pond (which is no longer a pond since the 2013 floods) but the trailhead is now accessed from the Ranger Station on the north side of 66, in the parking lot of the Ranger Station. Probably due to the change, the loop is given as anything between 5 and 7km. The elevation also seems to be in doubt – between 220 and 360m and the hike is listed alternatively as beginners’ or moderate.
We started just after 2pm and completed the loop by about 4.20pm with a short stop at the bench half way through the hike for water, a snack and to remove our jackets.

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We chose to do the loop counterclockwise, starting in the valley and climbing steadily through the forest. The path is fairly wide, enabling us to walk in pairs, but was very muddy in places.

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The trees are mature and for much of the way formed a partial canopy above us through which we could see the very blue sky.
The south end of the loop runs along a cliff overlooking the Elbow Valley giving lovely views of valley and mountains.

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Although not a difficult hike, my calves did feel the final ascent and my knees complained intermittently during the steep downhill back into the valley!
Still, an afternoon well spent and I look forward to doing the loop again when the mud has given way to grass and the wildflowers are out.

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | | Leave a comment

Snowshoe Hare Loop

This week I joined the Bragg Creek Woodland Walking Group again and we hiked the Snowshoe Hare Loop in West Bragg Creek.  This is a fairly new trail and has been set up for snowshoeing.  I suspect it will be a bit too marshy for enjoyment in summer.  Because we have had a week or more of really warm, spring-like weather much of the snow has started melting and the trail varied tremendously, from snow and ice to dry grassy pathways.

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A couple of short hills kept it interesting and there were a number of places where crampons would really have helped. As it was a few of us detoured under the trees to escape the ice.

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Although the trail is well marked we managed to get lost briefly

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but quickly picked up the path again and found a sunny spot in an open meadow to stop for a snack and a chat.

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The approximately 5km took us over two hours with the stops.

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , , | 1 Comment

Hiking in West Bragg Creek

Yesterday I joined a group of hikers walking a trail in a section of West Bragg Creek I didn’t know existed.  We started in Highland Place and trusted our leader to identify  the unmarked pathways which took us along the snowy loop and back to our cars.

After a cold snap the weather was lovely – up to 9 degrees – and the sun was shining.  The snow has virtually disappeared from our yard so I was surprised to find how much still lay on the ground under the trees.

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We passed the skeleton of a stag which had very probably been taken down by a cougar.  The hike organizer, who lives in the area and walks these paths often, told us that it took two days for the carcass to be reduced to its skeletal remains.  Her husband took the rack.

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Some of the trees, birch or aspens – I have difficulty telling the difference –  had had pieces of bark stripped from them, presumably by elk, or maybe moose.

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We had a number of dogs with us who enjoyed the hike as much, if not more, than the hikers.  They ran free through the woods and rolled in the snow. I was going to take Sherry with me but am glad I didn’t. Not only would she have vanished into some of the snow drifts, she would have been bowled over numerous times by the exuberant four legged hikers!

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All in all, a lovely afternoon, spent in beautiful surroundings and with good company. Hope to join the group again soon.

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , , , | 3 Comments

The Annapurna Circuit

(As experienced by a 60-something moderately fit trekker)

I have just completed 16 days trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.  Fourteen of those days were spent on our feet for an average of eight hours a day, walking above green terraces, along cool forest pathways, up endless stone steps, over dry, dusty roads and snowy mountain passes, in sun, rain, sleet, snow and howling winds.

During this time we stayed in remote mountain villages, most accessible

only by foot or on the back of a donkey.

We had the privilege of briefly sharing the lives of the gentle, hardworking people who make these magnificent mountains their home.

What follows is a copy of the journal I kept during the trek.  So much remains unsaid ….

 

Starting out – Besisahar to Khudi

Our journey, in a surprisingly comfortable minibus followed the road to Palung for a while and then turned off towards Besisahar.  The roads were congested at times but what a beautiful route!  We stopped for lunch at 11.30 at a Nepalese restaurant in one of the little villages along the way and then continued our journey, finally arriving in Besisahar at about 2.30pm.

Besisahar – the start of our trek

Suresh, our Sherpa, had announced during the last leg of our drive that we had a 2 hour walk from there to our first lodge.  No-one had really prepared for walking but, after a half an hour looking around Besisahar and doing some desultory shopping – Judy got her track suit pants – we headed out of town.  The 2 hour walk was fairly easy with no steep inclines and we made good time, even with a number of stops along the way to take pictures, look at birds – a bulbul and a king-fisher – or just admire the view.

We walked through a couple of small settlements before arriving at Khudi and finding our lodge, which was basic but clean and inviting. We sorted out our bedrooms and wandered through to the dining room for tea and a few games of Bananagram.  After a delicious but far too lavish dinner we drank hot chocolate or tea and chatted or read for a while.

The lodge at Khudi

A young American girl turned up with her guide/porter quite distraught just before we went through to bed.  They had been walking for a couple of hours in the dark and the rain, having missed the bus which would have taken her through to join her two friends.  Although she originally planned to walk on for another hour our shocked looks and exclamations changed her mind and she booked in for the night.

By 9pm everyone was ready for bed to prepare ourselves for the next day which would be our first full day of hiking.

Khudi to Siurung

I slept well, woke early and tried for a shower but had to settle for the tap.  Sorted out our belongings and then went up to the dining room for tea, followed by breakfast and bought water.  The American girl came in for breakfast and we got photos of her with all of us before starting our walk.

Setting out from Khudi

Walked in the rain on and off and then the sun came out.  It actually got unpleasantly hot for climbing – and we did a lot of climbing! Siurung, the village we were aiming for is at 2300m.  We stopped a couple of times for a short break and then lunched on the mountain side on fruit and boiled eggs – lovely!  It cooled off after lunch, raining intermittently and soon getting cold enough to don raincoats.

A nice long winding road past a picturesque farmer’s cottage led down to a suspension bridge.  We could see our destination at the top of the next mountain!  Flowers were quite prolific along the way – rhododendrons and white orchid-like flowers hanging from the trees.

The first of many suspension bridges

Crossing the bridge

We continued climbing up to the village where we were given three rooms in three separate houses.  Very basic accommodation but it felt good to be able to lie down on the beds for a while after enjoying a cup of tea.  The skies cleared and we were treated to a stupendous view of the snow capped Himalayas.

Flowers

A good dinner in the ‘’community centre’’ followed by entertainment in the form of first a small boy and then a woman dancing to a drumbeat and singing.  Judy, Mel and Ruth gamely joined in, Sarah and I declined.  Leis were handed out to all.  The entertainment went on far too long with everyone dying to get to bed.  When we eventually did I slept well, to be woken by barking dogs around 5am. Judy and I probably had the best accommodation – two separate (but tiny) rooms, mine with no window and Judy with unglazed openings.  Mel and Ruth slept above a very noisy goat and Sarah had rats in her room!

Siurung

Siurung to Jagat

Breakfast at the ‘’community centre’’ – muesli instead of the oats and honey we had ordered – and then we set off through terraced fields and isolated villages.

Terraced fields

The villages this high in the mountains are lovely – cobbled stone streets and clean and picturesque.

Village

Lots of downhill today, mostly over rocks which was taxing for the knees.  There were some beautiful waterfalls along the way.  We stopped at one for a water break then climbed up to a shop/restaurant where we had lunch – noodles – delicious!  We have all sworn off meat for the duration of the trek.

Waterfalls crossed the trail

It rained a little on the way to our lunch stop but soon cleared up and we continued downhill until we reached the road.

Walking in the rain – little boy tending to water buffalo

This was dusty and uninteresting after the paths we had been following but a bit easier on the legs.  We followed the river which was a torrent of blue water augmented by waterfalls gushing down the mountains – no shortage of water here!  The river must be fed chiefly by snowmelt.

One of the many waterfalls along the way

The road turned away from the river and started climbing up the mountain.  We opted to take a shortcut to cut out one of the curves in the road.   I managed this with a little help from Lila whose ready hand helped me over a couple of really difficult spots.  The road continued upwards for a while and then dipped down towards the village, Jagat, where we eventually found our lodge.  A  beer and a shower in rapid succession and then dinner and bed

Donkeys in Jagat

Jagat to Dharapani

 

After tea and breakfast we left Jagat for Dharapani in sunny weather.  There were lots of ups and downs today as the path and road followed the Siyanga river.

The trail followed the river

We walked about five hours before we reached Tal where we had noodles for lunch.  At the restaurant at Tal our meal was interrupted by a series of blasts bringing rocks crashing down from the mountain side into the river – evidence of the construction of the new road which will eventually change for ever the Annapurna Circuit. ( Due to the road construction, after Chamje we had to follow a new route along a rather dusty road and had to move to the side of the road a number of times to make way for donkey trains coming and going).

Road construction

We crossed the river a couple of times on suspension bridges and, at one stage, walked through a waterfall which cascaded onto the road, ran across it and down the mountain side.

Another waterfall crossing the road

Another suspension bridge, shared with donkeys, cows and two men carrying mattresses took us through a picturesque little village from which we had another half hour walk to our destination.

Crossing into Dharapani

One last suspension bridge, yet another climb and we were in Dharapani.

It was a long walk today – 8 hours on our feet with a stop for lunch – and not an easy one, with lots of rocks to negotiate.

The lodge we stayed in was comfortable and the food, once again, delicious.  Ready for bed by 8pm.

Our lodge at Dharapani

Dharapani to Chame

 

We had less than 7 hours walking today, starting off with a fairly easy walk along the river and then climbing steeply up through pine forests – an amazing variety of pine trees – interspersed with rhododendrons.  We were rewarded for the climb by magnificent views of Annapurna 2 and the Lumjung Himal massif.

View of the mountains

After the climb the track widened and the trek became fairly easy with just a few difficult places to negotiate along the way.

We stopped for lunch

We stopped for lunch after about four and a half hours – vegetable curry and rice and noodles – and sat outside to eat.  However the weather rapidly cooled off and jackets were quickly unearthed from backpacks.

After lunch a short two hours of walking took us to Chame for our overnight stay.

Walking into Chame

Our excitement at finding each room had its own toilet was somewhat dimmed by the fact that there was no water for the cisterns.  But hot tea and a lukewarm shower refreshed everyone while Judy wandered off to the market to find another flashcard for her camera.  An internet café right in the little lodge complex allowed us to access our emails and send off messages to families at home.

Internet sign

The weather had started to close in so we only had brief glimpses of Annapurna 4 through the clouds.  We drank hot chocolate and played Bananagram until dinner – Dal Bhat (rice and lentils)– then, well fed and nicely relaxed, we retired to bed and read.  An early start tomorrow for Lower Pisang.

Chame to Lower Pisang.

 

After breakfast we walked out of Chame along a relatively easy, wide road, shared by various donkeys, cows, horses and porters.  It rained a little and was too cloudy or misty to really enjoy the peaks.  After climbing a while we crossed a landslide and rounded an enormous rock face.

Rounded a rock face

Crossing  a suspension bridge, we continued to climb in earnest as the rain changed to sleet and then snow, turning the landscape into a winter wonderland.

It started to snow

It was snowing quite heavily by the time we reached our lunch stop and everyone donned beanies, gloves, buffs and jackets.

Vegie curry for lunch and then a magical hour and a half walk along wide easy pathways to Lower Pisang.  The rest of the group elected to do the climb to Upper Pisang but I opted to stay and finish my book which I did wrapped up in my sleeping bag – our room was freezing!

Wearing virtually everything I had, I joined the others on their return and we gathered in semi-dark in what appeared to be a dining room/bedroom.

We gathered around the fire

Tomato noodle soup for dinner accompanied by hot chocolate and I was more than ready for bed by 8pm.

The room was very cold and I battled to sleep, as did Judy who was sharing the room with me.  I finally unearthed and donned the down jacket lent to us by Himalayan Glacier Tours which did the trick.

Lower Pisang to Manang.

 

I was feeling a bit queasy in the morning so ate very little before we started our day.  A nice trail today, although it felt long.  A long, steady climb near the start at the top of which we overlooked a lovely snow clad valley surrounded by mountains – Pisang Peak, Tjuli and Annapurna 4.  The latter, however, kept coyly hidden beneath the clouds.

Clouds hid the mountains

We stopped for lunch and listened to our host explaining, in impeccable English,  how vegetable growing in the mountains hasn’t changed over the generations – no pesticides and only compost made of pine needles which had been thrown down in the animals’ enclosures.

Lunch menu – nice, if you like yak!

Sureth told us we had about an hour and a half to go to Manang after lunch but it seemed to come up far quicker than that.  A large, clean and quite sophisticated village – we passed a little shopping centre and a couple of places offering laundry services. Once we reached our lodge we found our rooms and quickly put our feet up

Manang

Manang – Rest Day

 

I felt tired and quite miserable on our rest/acclimatization day in Manang.  I must have picked up some sort of a bug and was quite nauseous at times.  Spent most of the day on the bed, reading.  The others were more adventurous and walked up to the monastery and then later to the glacier lake.

Glacier lake

In the afternoon I went to a lecture on AMS given by an American doctor who runs a clinic in Manang.  I spoke to him afterwards and he recommended a course of antibiotics which I bought from his clinic.  Hoped I would get my appetite back soon as I needed the fuel for the pass!

Manang to Ledar

 

After breakfast of poached eggs Judy went to the clinic for antibiotics as well and brought back a batch of imodium tablets for me.  We left Manang after 8am and started a steady climb which lasted most of the day through increasingly barren countryside but with some stupendous views of the mighty peaks of the Himalayas, including Tjuli West, and Annapurna 2, 3 and 4.

On the way to Ledar

We stopped for lunch – onion and garlic soup – and learnt that we were making for Ledar instead of Yak Kharka – about an hour further along the trail.

Lunch break

Very tired of walking by the time we arrived.  We had a short rest and tea – although I had lost my appetite completely by then and gagged over a cookie!  Then we walked uphill for about 200m and sat in the sun for about 15 min to acclimatize.  Headed back when the sun went behind the mountain and it started getting really cold.

Sitting in the dining room, we chatted to a Belgium couple for a while.  I declined dinner in favour of snacking on dried mango and nuts.  Took ages to get ready but finally climbed into bed and started warming up.

Another 2 days and we start heading back down. (When I wrote that I had discounted the climb to Ghorepani!!)

Ledar to Throng Pedi/High Camp

 

I hadn’t eaten much for about 4 days and finally hit a brick wall today.  Made it to Throng Pedi by stopping to rest every 10 steps or so on the uphills. I don’t remember much of the day’s trail as most of the time I had my head down, counting my steps and trying to control my breathing.

A frozen waterfall on the way to Throng Pedi

When we got to Throng Pedi Sureth wanted to push on the High Camp which would mean that we would have a shorter hike up to the pass in the morning.

Shuffling into Throng Pedi

I assured him that I could not walk any further that day and elected to hire a yak of which there were two at the lodge.

A choice of yaks

For the record, riding a yak is not the most comfortable of experiences. However, having reached High Camp in one (rather shaken) piece, I arranged for the yak to take me to the top of the pass as well.

It was bitterly cold in our room at High Camp and I sat with the down jacket covering everything else I was wearing trying to write my journal wearing gloves.  Apparently the next day, after crossing the pass we head downhill on a rather harrowing path, made worse by ice and snow.

High Camp over Throng La Pass to Muktinath

We were woken at 4.30am this morning and quickly sorted out our bags so that the porters could collect them.  We then made our way to the dining room through a fresh fall of snow for a plate of hot porridge.  It was still very cold.  The rest of the party went on ahead as I waited for Baba, the yak, to take me to the top.

Yakking up the mountain!

Feeling as I was, without Baba I doubt I would have made the top of the pass, (although there were times when I came close to climbing off my stumbling steed and trying to make it on my own two feet).   It is a long, hard climb, made worse by the freshly fallen snow and the bitter cold.  The first people to set out had started trampling a path in the snow and the man who led my yak attempted to improve the path by stamping down the snow as he walked, but unfortunately what held a human’s weight didn’t do as well for a yak and more than once Baba stepped into deep snow and went down onto his knees.

Since much of the path led around the edge of a precipice with snow sloping down from above and dropping away below, I quickly stopped looking down and just concentrated on staying on the yak’s back.   Apparently my fellow ýakker’ also found the trip quite hair-raising.  He had hurt his knee and had decided to avoid damaging it further over the pass.  Once we reached the top, however, he emphatically refused to go downhill on the yak and, as far as I know, made it on his own.  Quite honestly, I think attempting a ride downhill on a yak is suicidal!  Still, looking back, I count the ride as one of the highlights of my trek.

Sarah arrives at the top of the Throng La Pass

Everyone quite euphoric having made it over the pass as the possibility of AMS had remained a spectre in the background during the previous days’ climb, especially for those who had never climbed to that altitude before.

Our party at the top of the pass

Prayer flags were hung and photo’s taken before slithering our way down to Muktinath

Throng La Pass 5416m

Swopped the yak for my ‘’yaktrax’’, (named after the yak, these are light weight ice grips which are worn over regular hiking boots} and managed the downhill without too much trouble.

On the way down

A long, hard haul though!

Muktinath to Marpha

Our lodge at Muktinath

We left at 8am this morning and walked until 6pm with a break for lunch.  The first two hours were lovely. It was sunny and we walked through villages, downhill most of the way.

Villager weaving yak hair scarves

Unfortunately this didn’t last very long. At around 10am the wind came up and blew gustily for the rest of the day.   The trail led along a plateau above the Kali Gandaki gorge.

Kali Gandaki gorge

The landscape was barren, and the trail  very rocky. After a while we turned off the track onto a road where the passing jeeps threw up sand and stones at us and evidence of landslides kept us from walking too close to the rock walls.  The wind whipped up sand which stung our faces and then, just before Jomsom, it started raining, the wind driving the rain to the extent that it, too, actually stung at times.

We clambered down a rocky slope to Jomsom where we stopped for lunch and discussed taking a bus through to Marpha but none was available and hiring a jeep would cost around 7500 rupees.  Instead we pushed on to Marpha and arrived exhausted.  Beers brightened us up, as did the decision to take the bus through to Tatopani the next day.

Marpha to Tatopani

 

We got away at about 8am this morning after a visit to the Buddhist temple.

The village of Marpha from the Buddhist temple

Marpha is such a lovely clean town with cobbled streets and cedar branches burning aromatically in little braziers in the road.  I would have loved to have been able to spend more time exploring.

Marpha

Lila had organized a jeep for the same cost as a bus as three Russian girls had already hired it!  We finally set off with 13 people loaded in like sardines.  Sang the Mountain Song and then entertained everyone with some Xhosa and Afrikaans campfire songs.  The Russian girls sang for us and then the rest of the crew gave us a few renditions in Nepalese.

Ruth and Sureth set off from Ghasa

After an uneventful but hair-raising trip to Ghasa Ruth and Sureth got out to walk the next stretch.  The rest of us caught a local bus with no shock absorbers on the back wheels and quickly set sail again.  Riding a local bus is an experience all its own.  We had to stop and back up a number of times to let other vehicles pass as generally the road is only wide enough for one at a time.  We drove above the Kali Gandaki valley along the edge of the road looking down into the gorge, and, at one place we had to stop and wait while road workers cleared a landslide on the road.  Altogether quite an alarming trip, not improved by the fact that we passed at least one ill-fated bus which lay forlornly at the bottom of the valley!.

A local bus

The bus finally lurched into Tatopani where we found our rooms and then went down for lunch and drinks.  The rooms each had their own showers and (working) Western-type toilets.  Luxury!!  After lunch we went to the hot springs and soaked in the hot water for a while – lovely. Then back for a shower and just to relax.

The lodge at Tatopani

Ruth and Sureth arrived earlier than expected and most of the group went back to the hot springs later in the afternoon.  Everyone met for drinks down in the courtyard afterwards  – nice atmosphere, 70’s music playing.

Relaxing in the courtyard

We ate dinner in the courtyard as well – spinach burgers – delicious! So nice to have my appetite back! – then played a few rounds of rummy before retiring.

Tatopani to Shikha

 

Lay in a bit this morning and then had a shower and breakfast and chatted for a while with two guys from the Netherlands before leaving at about 9am.  After climbing for a while we crossed a very rickety suspension bridge and started climbing again in earnest.

Crossing a rickety bridge

The sun was shining – a beautiful day – but it got steadily hotter.  I really battled on the endless steps and thick sandy road.  By the time I reached where Judy and Ruth were sitting in the shade of a tree I had grave reservations about being able to complete the trail today at all.

Endless steps

Fortunately the landscape started changing as we walked through forests which gave shade and a light breeze started blowing.  Although the trail continued upwards the cooler weather was a life-saver and I managed a lot better, albeit with a number of stops to catch my breath.

View from our rest stop

We reached our lunch break after about 4 hours.  We heard the first rumbles of thunder while we were having lunch and the thunder continued as we resumed our walk.  Clouds covered the sun, the breeze freshened, and, although we continued climbing ever upwards, it was much easier to keep going.

Steps leading through a village

We finally arrived at our destination where hot showers awaited us.  A nice fire was going in the dining room where we all gathered to read, play cards, or just sit and chill.

Then dinner at 7pm and off to bed.

View from my bedroom window

Shikha to Ghorepani

Leaving Shikha for Ghorepani


A short walk today.  We left Shikha at about 8am after a breakfast of poached eggs and Judy and I arrived in Ghorepani at 12.30pm.

The path between the two villages is beautiful, forested and filled with the sound of birds, but the climb is relentless.  We had a couple of short stops but the plan was to push on to Ghorepani for lunch.  The trail led through miles of rhododendron forest where most of the trees were in flower – absolutely beautiful.

Rhododendron forests

Judy at a village water fountain

Sarah and Ruth were not feeling at all well.  They went on ahead with Lila and Mel and were both rolled up in their sleeping bags when we arrived.

The rest of us had lunch and chatted for a while to Ned, a young American who had signed up for a hike to the Annapurna Base Camp and then found he was the only member of the trip!  It didn’t seem to faze him.  However, the rain and hail, which started to fall again soon after we arrived, did, and he went off to buy a rain-jacket at one of the little shops in the village.

I went down to the internet café, which was part of the lodge, where I picked up an email from Richard.  This was the only the second time I had been able to gain access since starting the trek – so nice to hear from home and to know that everything was alright.

Back in the dining room I sat at the fire for a while to get warm and then went up to the room I shared with Ruth, climbed into my sleeping bag and read for a while, dozed, and wrote up my journal.  Finally went down for dinner then back to bed where I slept fitfully all night.

Judy and I had decided not to be woken early to climb Poon Hill in the morning as we were almost certain that the cloud cover would obliterate any view of the mountains.  Ruth, apparently, woke up at about 9pm, though she had been left behind from the trip up Poon Hill and dressed and rushed down stairs only to find everyone was in bed and asleep.

Ghorepani to Hile

 

Melanie, Ruth and Sarah went up Poon Hill but the clouds obscured the mountains and Judy and I were well satisfied with our decision.  Woke and read for a while when Ruth left then went downstairs and had a lovely hot shower followed by coffee.  Packed our things when the others arrived and then had poached eggs and toast for breakfast.

Rain poured down as we ate but abated a little before we left.

The road to Hile

The trail through the forest

We  started climbing down almost immediately and continued to do so for the next 6 hours with a short break for a drink and another longer one for lunch. which we ate in an open rondavel overlooking a valley.

Lunch at the rondavel

After ordering potato soup for lunch we watched in horror as the porters chased and caught one of the chickens in the yard and proceeded to slaughter, clean and cook it for their own meal.

The mist started rising

The mist started rising in the valley as we sat there and it got steadily colder.  After finally getting and eating our lunch we sat around, freezing, waiting for the staff to complete their meal in the warm kitchen/kiosk!

According to the map there are 3280 stone steps on at least one section of this journey and my knees felt every one of them.  Despite this, it is a lot easier climbing down than up and we felt for the many trekkers who passed us coming in the opposite direction.

The pathway led through rhododendron forests with the occasional magnolia tree, figs, cherry trees and many other unidentified species.  Hundreds of birds could be heard in the branches and we even caught sight of a monkey.  The rain made the stones and rocks slippery and I landed on my backside once, but on the whole, a beautiful, if damp, walk.

When we arrived at Indira everyone thought we had made it for the day so it was with some reluctance that we forced ourselves to walk the final ups and downs to our lodge in Hile.

Our lodge at Hile

Once there, we sat outside under cover, eating popcorn and chips, while Sarah, Mel, Ruth, Lila and Pratish played cards.  Eventually it got too cool so we elected to eat dinner indoors and retired to bed around 8pm.

Hile to Nayapul and Pokhara

 

Our last day of walking today, as we hike out of the mountains to meet our jeep which will take us through to Pokhara.  I chose poached eggs again for breakfast then we set off downhill again, out of the little village of Hile.

Leaving Hile

It was a much easier downhill without the rocks and the thousands of steps we had to negotiate yesterday.  Most of the walk was very pretty with the river running along on our right and lots of trees and greenery all around us.

The path through the trees

I love the stone cobbled streets and little walled paths running past the quaint little villages which we passed on our trek.

Unfortunately too soon we came to the construction of the new road and followed that almost as far as Birethanti.

The village of Birethanti

Right now the ‘road’ is simply a wide dusty track where walls and vegetation have been blasted away – as yet, no traffic other than the ubiquitous donkeys.

We reached the village of Birethanti by 9.30am and, because we were not planning on a lunch stop, and the jeep was only expected at Nayapul – 35 minutes down the road – by 11.30am, we stopped for tea/coffee and apple pie or pancakes.  Aside from the flies, this was a pleasant interlude, and far better than standing waiting at the bus terminal for the jeep to appear.  While there we tried to get photographs of Fishtail Mountain as it teased us from behind the clouds, but with little success.

Lila started getting restless so the rest of us filed obediently after him leaving Sarah, still shopping at a little stall near the teahouse, with Sureth.

We walked down the hill, across the pedestrian bridge, and into a different world.  Instead of the well swept stone streets, we negotiated muddy, churned up roads.  Many cars lined the pavements and a couple of motor cycles zoomed past.  This side of the village is much dirtier and far less attractive than all the remote villages we have wandered through on our journey and an unfortunate reminder of the negative consequences of building a road through the Himalayas.  It was with  relief that we finally climbed the last hill and found the terminal with our jeep waiting to be loaded up.

Nevertheless, it was a bitter-sweet moment.  Our epic journey was over.  A jeep ride into Pokhara and tomorrow a tourist bus back to Kathmandu – leaving rural Nepal, which we have come to love, behind us.

The journey to Pokhara on barely paved roads took us about one and a half hours and the hotel was a pleasant surprise.  Near the lake, comfortable rooms, hot baths/showers etc.  We sorted out our belongings and bathed then joined our porters and Lila for one last time to thank them and hand out tips.  Quite an emotional moment – they have been a great crew and attentive to our every need and we have felt quite close to them over the almost three weeks we have spent together.

It was from our hotel in Pokhara that evening and early the next morning that we finally got our photo’s of the elusive Fishtail Mountain: Machhapuchhre, the holy mountain.

Fishtail Mountain

Back in the city

A long bus ride over some hair pin bends, above deep valleys brought us back eventually to Kathmandu and Hotel Shanker and the end of our trip.  We had dinner at Rummydoo with Suresh, provided by Himalayan Glacier, obviously a favourite with returning trekkers – where we decorated a ‘foot’to be hung in the restaurant, celebrating our own trek.

Our ‘foot’ commemorating our trek

Coming back to civilization’ was quite a culture shock after two weeks in the mountains.  Both Pokhara and Kathmandu seem to have achieved an uneasy peace between town and country living with fields, haystacks and livestock extending far into the urban sprawl, but the traffic and confusion, especially in Kathmandu, was made bearable only by the proximity of flush toilets and hot showers!

The peace and tranquility of the ‘himals’  have been left far behind, but hopefully we all carry a little back with us in our hearts.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Hiking, Travels | , , | 2 Comments

Hogarth Lakes

With temperatures stubbornly sitting in the minus mid-twenties it has been difficult for me to get in the training I’d planned on these past two months for an upcoming trip to Nepal to tackle the Annapurna Circuit, so it was really great to be able to get out onto the snow on Monday.  The sun was shining and the temperature hovered at around -4C as we headed for the mountains. The picturesque  journey to the trailhead took us through Canmore and onto the Smith-Dorien Trail, past Spray Lakes to the Burstall Pass parking lot from where we set out to snowshoe the Hogarth Lakes Loop.

The start of our trail

This is an easy, fairly flat trail of about 4.5km at an altitude of  6,368 feet.  The first part of the trail was well sheltered from the wind and took us through forests of snow-covered trees which allowed frequent glimpses of the mountains surrounding us.  A picture perfect setting requiring many stops for photographs.  Finally the pathway opened up at the lakes which, covered with ice and snow, had no definitive beginning or end.

 

A cold wind harried us as we snow-shoed past the lakes and back into the shelter of the trees. Since we were in no hurry to complete the trail, we found a spot in the sun where we could sit and enjoy a snack.  Someone had been there before us and dug a large hole in the snow into which we dangled our snow-shoed feet.  Other than the risk of frostbite on our nether ends it proved to be a pleasant place to stop, eat and talk.  Getting out again, however, did test our physical prowess!   Another 20 minutes took us back to the beginning of the loop, shortly before which our path intersected with a cross country skiing pathway.

Trees and snow, a magical combination!

Despite many stops for photographs the trail only took us an hour and a half to complete, not counting our snack stop.   Altogether a very enjoyable afternoon in the mountains.

One of the snow covered lakes

 

 

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , , | Leave a comment

Snowshoeing

According to at least one report snowshoeing is the fastest growing outdoor winter activity – could the growing number of baby boomers taking to the trails have something to do with this, I wonder?   Maybe not. After all, snowshoeing was the traditional way of moving over snow covered territory and has been around for thousands of years.  As a sport, it caters for all types of enthusiasts, from those who just want to wander through winter forests along pristine snow covered pathways, to those who like the challenge of the back-country and even those who snowshoe competitively.

Snowshoes work by simply distributing your weight over a larger area and so preventing your feet from sinking too deeply into the snow. This quality is apparently known as flotation.

It didn’t take me long to settle on snowshoeing as my winter pastime.  Its relatively inexpensive – the only outlay is for a good pair of snowshoes; it can be enjoyed virtually anywhere there is snow (and in Calgary in winter that is usually everywhere), opening up parks, forests and mountain paths which are usually inaccessible for other hikers; AND they don’t slide! Well, generally don’t, but that’s another story.

Snowshoes

Having tried downhill skiing, cross country skiing and skating I rapidly discarded each as leaving me with the unpleasant sensation of being completely out of control.  Snowshoes keep me grounded while allowing me to explore this wonderful new white world I’ve adopted.

 

So far I’ve been snowshoeing at Nakiska, in Turner Valley, on Powderface, along the Elbow river, through a community park, and around the acreage.  Beyond stepping on the back of the shoe once or twice and falling on my face, it has been an easy skill to accomplish and satisfies my desire to spend quality time out of doors, regardless of the weather.

Hiking in the snow

If that’s not enough to convince anyone to try their hand (foot?) at this sport, snowshoeing is a low impact, high cardio workout, burning up to 600 calories an hour.  See you on the snow!

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | | 1 Comment

Sundance Canyon

Yesterday we answered the call of the mountains and drove through to Banff where we hiked the Sundance Canyon trail.  This is a lovely, scenic loop of around 10km, starting at the Cave and Basin. The Cave and Basin, a National Historic Site featuring warm mineral springs, has been a tourist attraction since the 1880’s but is closed until November next year for major revitalisation.  Warm, sulphur smelling streams offer a stark contrast to the ice-edged river which flows nearby.  Apparently green grass flanks these streams even when the snow is thick on the ground and they offer an oasis for many of the animals and birds which frequent this area.

View of the Bow with mountains in the distance

Because of the construction work, parking was at a premium so we parked a distance away from the trail head, adding another km or two to our hike.

We met a deer along the way

The first part of the trail, leading up to the Sundance Canyon picnic area is an open, paved pathway and is used by both hikers and cyclists.  We met a deer along this section and waited for him to take a leisurely stroll across the path before resuming our hike.

The initial short descent leads through a forest to the Bow river and then runs beside the river channels and wetlands before climbing gradually again through the forest to the picnic area.  Here the paved trail ends and a footpath meanders up alongside a number of half frozen cascades to the canyon itself.

Sundance Canyon

Standing beside the frozen waterfall

A short, steep scramble takes you to the top and then a winding path loops through the forest for about 2 km before ending back at the picnic area.  Reading up on the canyon after our hike I discovered that both black bears and grizzlies frequent this area which generally has an abundant crop of buffalo berries.  Fortunately the berries have been depleted now and most of the bears are probably heading off for their winter snooze.

Green marshland pond

We walked back to our starting point west of the main path past marshlands and startling green pools and stopped to photograph a small pond in which streams of small bubbles appeared to have been frozen on their way up to the surface of the water.

Leaving the canyon, we drove through Banff and then, not yet ready to leave the mountains, walked the short Fenland Trail before heading back home.  A great way to spend the day!

November 14, 2010 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , , | Leave a comment

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

We drove to Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park on Sunday and hiked to the waterfalls.  A short, but truly lovely hike.

Johnston Canyon

The first waterfall is at 1.5 km and a small cave-like tunnel leads through the rock to the head of the falls.

Lower waterfall

Ray going through the tunnel at the lower falls

Much of the hike to the first falls and some of the way to the second is along catwalks which have been fastened to the walls of the canyon.

Richard, Ray and Brian on one of the catwalks

The second waterfall, which requires a more strenuous climb, is at 2.7 km. Once the falls have been duly and damply viewed in the constant mist a short, steep climb through the forest leads up to the head of the falls and a different viewpoint.

Looking down into the canyon at the upper falls

All along the way a number of smaller falls cascade over the rocks as the water surges downstream and every corner turned offers another view which demands a photo-stop.

One of many small cascades

A path leading up into the forest

A restaurant at the trail head provided a meal, coffee and cold drinks to finish off our afternoon before setting off on the 2 hour journey home. Must do this again in winter when the waterfalls are frozen!

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | | Leave a comment