Cerro Manquehue, first Chilean hike

Chile_topo_en

The location of Santiago (about halfway up)

The city stretches right up to the edge of the mountains

10637978_10204234812697728_1942648205_n

Amazing cloud formations!

We are delighted to announce that Luca just moved to Santiago, Chile for a year, so he’s going to be reporting from there! Aisling is still going to take care of European hikes (including a few last month that she still has to report on!). So here we are, the blog’s first extra-European Andean adventure! A guest post from Luca: First of all, a primer on hiking in Chilean Andes. There is much more wilderness in this country than anywhere in Europe. Although this is great for us, this also means that more care needs to be taken! For example, I was surprised to find a general lack of maps of the Cordillera, there are only few of the most visited peaks and parks but they’re nowhere as detailed and accurate as European maps. At the same time, the Andes reach very high altitudes very quickly; i.e. none of the Alps+preAlps business. Here in Santiago, the closest Andean peaks easily reach over ~2500m – And yes, they are REALLY close! Regarding the weather (Reminder: we are currently heading towards the end of winter here), this changes a lot across Chile (it stretches from the deserts of the north to icy Antarctica in the extreme south, longest country in the world!) but here in the Region Metropolitana it is typically mediterranean. It can get particularly dry, especially in the summer months, and this is reflected on the landscape (pics of that further below). Further into the mountains, peaks hit as high as 5000+ metres, up to the highest mountain in South America, the Cerro Aconcagua (6900+m), and the environment is glacial and unutouched by humans. Considering the amount of snow still up in the Cordillera peaks, I decided to take it “easy” (for Andean standards) and hike up a lower mountain just in the outskirts of the city, the Cerro Manquehue (1638m), which in the native Mapuche language means “place of condors” (Yes, condors!!), and is one of the Santiago’s favourites, particularly for its accessibility (see peak location in map below). A detailed (Spanish) version of the route can be found in the really handy wikiexplora , which ranks it as #1 of the “unmissable routes in the Santiago area”. Screenshot from 2014-09-07 22:37:24Rather than climbing along the most popular, shortest way (above), I decided to climb along the route that leads almost up to the peak of the Cerro Carbón (1344m, see here for the route), traverses to the Manquehue, and descends on the other side to a road called via Roja. The route leaves from the La Piramide roundabout (there are buses that get there, however I decided to walk from the nearby Parque Bicentenario, and crossed the river to get to the roundabout) and quickly and very steeply climbs up to a hill full of antennas. After that, the climb goes through a series of steep and flat parts, where the flat parts are well marked as miradores (“view points”) from which incredible views of the city and the menacing snowy peaks of the Andes open up in front of your eyes.

10682112_10204234794497273_779123974_nThe path through the miradores remains quite clear, and after being overtaken by a few mountain runners (fair play to them!), I finally reach the base of the last approach to the Carbón. The direction to its cumbre (“peak”) is marked by a sign, but I did NOT take it and instead veered right towards a well-defined ridge that leads to the higher Manquehue (see below).

10653902_10204234804097513_1067731334_n

The trail

10602603_10204234812897733_1479115739_n

The terrain is a lot drier than Ireland!

10622055_10204234784777030_912338284_n

The view back into Santiago

From here, the path becomes less wide and slightly more ambiguous in certain places (remember the lack of a map!), but on a clear day mountain features are easy to read and the presence of a path becomes somehow less vital. Once I got to the end of the ridge, however, I faced a dilemma. The route I had read about on wikiexplora (see above), indicated to proceed straight to the peak along the spur, which however showed some exposed steep rock sections that, I will admit, did not look the safest to approach with no climbing equipment. In addition, a big rock was marked with an arrow clearly indicating not to proceed straight ahead. In the end, I noted a small path that veered left and contoured on the side of the Manquehue, so I began following it, deeming it to be a better idea than risking a scramble on my own. After some contouring and climbing at a gentler angle, I passed some cliffs whose base was surprisingly hollow (great for sheltering in case of bad weather!) and then the path started climbing back up straight for the peak! 10668086_10204234812737729_68846142_oIn this last approach to the peak, the path became very steep and rocky (quite unpleasant!), but the motivation was high to finally get to the peak so it didn’t take me too long :) I then rewarded myself with a couple of sandwiches (the total ascent took ~3-3.5h), sunbathed for a while and took some nice pics of the incredible view. Unfortunately the sky started to cloud over…Here’s a view looking back to the Carbón (maybe you can also spot the antennas I mentioned at the beginning!) and the route I followed: Finally, I descended through the main path which is quite steep and rocky (hiking poles would have been great!) but goes without trouble all the way to the bottom. It was also very crowded; apparently this ascent is very popular in the weekends, particularly later on towards the summer). Worth noting is that the end of the path at via Roja is still quite far from the city; it took me another ~30 mins walk (unfortunately, on the road) to get to the nearest city road (with buses, taxis, etc). Another option would be to hitchhike down – but having heard that robbery does happen at times around these paths I preferred to stroll down. So yes, do not bring valuables! I would also advise against venturing on these paths in the rain or just after it – the ground is soft, muddy, and quite steep in some sections (particularly the climb/descent from via Roja) that will easily turn into little rivers and seriously compromise your balance. Having said that, it is indeed a nice hike and I would definitely recommend it: the views are definitely worth the effort. 10683306_10204234812817731_291248777_oHopefully spring will be here soon – there is a lot of hiking and adventuring to do around the city and hence to be looking forward to! Until then, this is all from your correspondent in Santiago de Chile!

Lake Como, Ireland, and the Peak District

One month since we finished! It’s probably time to look back at how we got on…

So after a nightmare journey from Macugnaga to Milan (involving a very picturesque bus journey to Domodossola, a very nice “city” in the Alps) and a few cancelled trains we finally took a shower! It had been 6 days since our last shower (not counting the attempts to clean ourselves in lakes).

We scrubbed ourselves clean before tackling our laundry, and spent the following days eating and seeing the sights of Milan! We visited waterparks and Gardaland theme park, watched many World Cup games, ate our body weight in pizza and ice-cream, and discovered the wonders of the Milanese “happy hour”. Unfortunately a couple of us developed a sort of gastroenteritis, and we’re still not sure whether it was caused by the mountain water or the happy hour. Luckily it was short-lived for everyone and we had a really great time in Milan!

4 of the group went back to Ireland/the UK and Luca and I headed to the Lago di Como for a day trip, only an hour’s drive from Milan, where we climbed the majestic-looking Resegone (translation: Big Saw). There are a number of other peaks around Lake Como, forming a part of the “pre-Alps”.

Monte Resegone

Monte Resegone

The path we took was very well-marked, with signposts giving the approximate time to the next part at intervals. Of course we interpreted these as a challenge and tried to beat them! The trail started off at the cable car of Piano d’Erna and passed by some very quiet rifugi, before reaching the scree slopes of the peak.

The view over Lake Como

The view over Lake Como

"Saw teeth" of the peak

“Saw teeth” of the peak

After returning to Dublin I climbed the Sugarloaf a few times, which is an easy 500m peak near Bray, Co Wicklow. It only takes an hour for the whole thing so I went up a few days after work when the weather was nice!

Approaching the sugarloaf from the West (the easy route) on a nice day

Approaching the sugarloaf from the West (the easy route) on a nice day

The same mountain on a cloudy day!

The same mountain on a cloudy day!

The terrain isn’t great and it involves using hands and knees for a little bit, but it’s well worth the short climb for the views at the top (once it’s not cloudy!)

Sunset from the sugarloaf

Sunset from the sugarloaf

The view east over Bray

The view east over Bray

Two weeks ago I had planned a trip to the Galtees but unfortunately it fell through at the last minute. Instead we headed to Lugnaquilla, the highest peak in Leinster, and the highest in Ireland outside Kerry! The weather couldn’t have been better: intermittent sun but not too hot, and it started to rain 5 minutes after we got to the car. We approached from Fraughan Rock Glen, passing the Glenmalure Hostel (must stay there some day!). It was really peaceful, although we encountered some other hikers and mountain bikers on the way down the zig-zags, which is a wide and pleasant plateau walk for the first half.

Nearing the peak!

Nearing the peak!

Next time I plan to approach from the Glen of Imaal, even though it’s a longer drive from Dublin. (Of note, it’s an active artillery range so check online before hiking there).

Highest point in Leinster- Lugnaquilla cairn

Highest point in Leinster- cairn of Lugnaquilla

IMG_3968

The easy path down!

Threat of rain....

Threat of rain….

Last weekend we headed to the Peak District, and details of that will follow in the next post!

Here’s one of our photos to get started:

The view of Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District!

The view of Kinder Scout, the highest mountain in the Peak District!

Our final hike

So today we have just finished our final hike of the trip!!

We had an interesting night yesterday with delicious local ice-cream, and spent the evening watching the Italy-Uruguay match with a few beers. We tried to walk home but it was absolutely lashing so we had to hang out at the bar for a while. We ended up walking home in the pouring rain for an hour (uphill!) but we were greeted by an incredible sunset when we arrived.

20140625-163248-59568234.jpg

After a rainy dinner we went to bed and slept reeeally well. This morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and got a good bit of drying weather before we set off (we washed clothes in the river last night) and headed up for a loop hike.

20140625-165241-60761034.jpg

Long story short: we headed towards Rifiugio Zamboni, but got quite lost in a forest (silly path markings, not our fault!) but we made it out alive! Got plenty of experience rock climbing too ;)

We have just descended to our favourite pub and enjoyed some crepes and ice-cream! We’ll head to our tents for the last time before setting off on an epic journey back to Milan (leaving camp at 7:30am and the boys won’t be back to the city til 10pm).

Monte Rosa has been great but the weather has really beaten us! We’ll be sure to return some day but only when the snow has melted!

20140625-165053-60653172.jpg

A fresh start!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we are doing well! We slept on a slant last night and woke up soaking wet, but things improved from there. We set off after having fresh milk in our breakfast, and headed towards the Monte Rosa massif before hiking the Monte Croce/Faderhorn. We headed up some steep slopes before reaching a beautiful plateau (that we’re currently posting from).

20140624-104300-38580841.jpg
A live photo!

We’re planning a few mini-adventures over the next few days before our triumphant return to Milano!

Here’s some pictures from the last few days:

20140624-104434-38674996.jpg

20140624-104454-38694773.jpg

20140624-104516-38716091.jpg

20140624-104530-38730352.jpg

A sudden ending to the TMR!

Breaking news: the TMR is no more! Unfortunately we have had to cancel the tour as the conditions are just not appropriate this early in the season and we’ve had some extreme experiences… We’re all safe and sitting in a town called Macugnaga (Northern Italy) planning what to do next. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’ll describe it from the beginning…

So yesterday at around lunchtime we were planning to take a car for some of us, and a train for some others, but we got a bit carried away at our delicious italian lunch and were quite rushed, so made the decision to drive to the mountains, and luckily Luca’s mum drove 3 of us the whole way up! The two cars met up briefly on the motorway and we were on our way! After a very sleepy drive to Alagna we separated the communal goods into our backpacks and we were off! We hiked into the forest for two hours and started cooking while setting up tents- had some delicious sausages with pasta and we were feeling good! We happened to set up our stove next to a putrefying frog but otherwise it was perfect. Off to sleep at 10pm and we set our alarms for 4am. We had set up camp on a path but luckily it was really flat and we had no incidents, and we woke up at 4am (in the pitch black!) to begin our long day. After a quick breakfast and packing up our things we set off. It was a beautiful morning and we were making good time on the way up, and the sun came up at about 6am. There was a bit of snow towards the peak of Colle del Turlo, but we took it slowly and made it to the Colle at 10:30am.

20140623-223208-81128971.jpg

We were all pretty chuffed with ourselves…until…

We got down to the North side of the peak (heading down towards Macugnaga) and there was a HUGE amount of snow awaiting us. It was incredibly steep and had a lot of blind turns. It was still a nice sunny day so we decided to head down…by sliding! We actually slid on our bums for most of the descent- with Alan going first to scout out the routes. It kind of felt like a freezing, dangerous, uncontrollable waterslide. At first this was great fun, however as we went down the snow became thinner, and rocks became apparent under the snow. We had to slow down a LOT as this happened because we were worried about hitting a rock beneath us. This slowed us down loads, especially as some of us have little experience on snow and were very nervous. We stopped for a delicious lunch of cured meats, cheese and italian bread, which lifted the spirits for a while.

For the second half of the descent we were essentially crawling on hands and knees, making really bad time, and slipping every few steps. This was a big problem as there are thunderstorms in the alps (almost) every day from about 2pm onwards. We had tried to set off early so that we couldn’t be stuck in any storms but due to the delay we were still stuck descending on the icey snow when the clouds started closing in.

At one point Alan took Alice down in a ‘human sled’ formation (Alan first, with Alice sliding down behind him holding on to his back), but as they neared the bottom of the slope they noticed a big gulley that they were heading towards, so braked suddenly, but in the panic Alan’s bag tumbled loose and fell directly into the gulley! Slowly the rest of us came down to their level, and then we set to the task of whether or not to rescue Alan’s bag. It was approx 3m down a dark hole, couldn’t be reached by hiking poles, and had a lot of important equipment in it. Slowly we decided to risk it and try to rescue the bag. Alan and Aisling went to the edge of the ledge and Alan sloooowly climbed into the hole (we made sure he was well wrapped up first!) and managed to rescue it! But then…. He threw it up and out of the hole and it landed directly in the next gulley! We couldn’t believe it… Anyway he managed to get it out easily enough and we set off.

But next thing, there was a rumble of thunder and the visibility turned to nothing. It was time to run!! This was the most terrifying part of the day. We knew that we were well off the path (there was no path visible under the snow) and we could barely see 5 metres in front of us so we tried to run forwards without slipping, while the rain changed to hailstones, and we called out to each other between claps of thunder about which direction to head… It was a disaster- We were soaked and terrified and had no clue where we were going… We knew there were sheer cliffs to the left but towards the right there was an incline, and if we were to head up there we would have been more exposed to lightning. As a result we tried to head forwards- fast- to try to find a way off. We contoured around the cliffs, blinking through the rain, and the snow underneath our feet changed to heather, and snow, and back to heather again. It was really slippy and we were all quite shaky, so it was a really unpleasant way to hike.

After what seemed like hours (probably 30 mins overall) the thunder seemed to be further away, and a few minutes later the clouds began to lift. We contoured further and finally found the path, delighted. We were soaked to the skin and still had hours left to walk…. Anyway we passed down by some biouvacs, and climbed through a couple of waterfalls (one of which was so torrential that Alan had to stand calf-deep in the water to help some of us across). After a horrendously long descent along wet zig-zags, we got slower and slower and had to redistribute weight as we weren’t all able to descend at the same speed and we were still in danger of thunderstorms.

Eventually we made it to the floor of the valley- wet, cold, hungry and sore. We found a place to camp after a while and we began to set up (in the rain), until a farmer came along to shout to us (in italian) that his herd of cows would be coming through the meadow at 11pm and again at 6am so we decided to relocate! We moved to another patch and set up our tents. Unfortunately at this point all sleeping bags and clothes were drenched and showed no signs of drying… Also our plan had been to continue on to the town of Macugnaga to buy food, but the town was two hours away and it was starting to get dark. Luckily we had brought some ‘emergency frankfurters’ (a tradition of ours which has served us well in the past) and we were able to have two frankfurters each, to tide us through until morning.

We slept badly due to the cold, and the wetness of our sleeping bags/clothes. However we were all exhausted after our THIRTEEN and a half hour hike and we slept until 7:30 this morning (having gone to sleep at 21:00 last night) even with thunderstorms outside. We had a very leisurely breakfast (of a few handfuls of dry cereal) and didn’t set off until 3 hours after getting up. Reflecting on last night we all agreed that we were so luckily nobody had been injured. We discussed the whole trip and concluded that the skill set of the group was just not up to scratch for these conditions; some of us would have been ok to continue but all together we couldn’t risk it.

We walked through the valley towards Macugnaga and relaxed by a couple of lakes. The glacier rivers are really blue and clear (but have 10 times the iron level that is acceptable, and the pH is two units below legal levels, along with a high level of bacteria growth, according to a sign we passed!) and we got the chance to enjoy the forests as we walked.

Nearing Macugnaga we were getting extremely hungry so we agreed to ask the first local we met where we should go. The first local we met owned a restaurant and actually took great care of us. It was the restaurant of Hotel Flora, and he created a set lunch of MANY types of meats and cheese for us, followed by pasta, for just 15euro each. As we ate we began chatting, and we explained our situation. He described a group of Americans that had set off on the next stage that morning, and we realised that they were the same ones that had passed us on the snow the day before! This ‘other Luca’ of the hotel offered to ring the cable car for us to see if they would let us go up early in the morning (it technically doesn’t open until next weekend) which would mean that we could take the cable car up and take our time descending on the other side, but as the lunch progressed it turned out that the Americans had done the same, and two of them had just had to turn back as conditions were so bad up there- apparently worse than the day before!! That was that then: the end of the Tour.

20140623-223340-81220578.jpg

We sat for a while at lunch discussing possibilities for what was to happen next. In the short term, we agreed to camp in Macugnaga (tonight anyway) and figure out what to do next. We ended up sitting at the Hotel Flora for 4 hours chatting and playing cards while we waited out the thunderstorms overhead. When the skies cleared for a period we set up camp behind the graveyard of the town (thanks to a local tip we found a perfect place) which is where I’m posting this from. We were able to buy some basic groceries and have a beer/hot chocolate in the town, and we’re all set for a nice loop walk in the morning. It’s still 1000m ascent but it’s well below the snowline so were hoping not to have any problems. Our main priority for tomorrow is to be back at 6 for the Italy match ;)

Alarms are set for 5:30am, and we’ll decide what happens next tomorrow afternoon! Looks like we’ll stay here for a while, we’ve picked out a few ‘easier’ routes, and then might have to head back to Milan early, but we’ll be sure to update the blog with our plans.

So far it’s been a beautiful but treacherous hike: the scenery is incredible and the locals are so friendly, but we’re now scared of every cloud that we see forming. We’re all covered in blisters and mosquito bites but otherwise well and happy!

Happy hiking!

20140623-223450-81290026.jpg

Getting started on the TMR!!

Hi folks! We’re finally ready to set off on our TMR (Tour de Monte Rosa) adventure!

We’ve spent the last few weeks finely tuning our gear, keeping our packs as light as possible, while also being sure that we have enough clothes for the snow. We’ve decided to go with 3 tents, 2 stoves, and everyone’s individual equipment (boots, clothes, waterproofs, poles, sleeping bag, ground mat, plates/cutlery). We can’t make our traditional stop to Decathlon before we go (we’ll explain why in a bit) and we won’t be able to get a good grocery shop done before the mountains so it calls for a little bit more organisation than last year… But overall we’re very excited to get going!

This evening, the newly formed ‘famous 6′ will reunite in Milan to travel to the Alps. Four of us flew in this morning, we’ll have a quick lunch in Milan, and then 2 of us will be put on the train while the other two pick up Alan and Alice from the airport and drive up (thanks again to Luca’s mum for her car!). We meet in Varallo Sesia which is a 40 min drive from the town of Alagna, where we leave our car. We’re hoping that the trains will run on time as one of us is very particular about our schedule for the day ;)

And this is where the hike begins! 17:00 tonight we’ll be setting off on our first stage- we decided to start this evening as the first day would be reeeally tough otherwise (a ten hour hike to Macugnaga, not including breaks) so we plan to get a bit done tonight to make it easier on ourselves tomorrow. It’s >1,300m ascent both of the first two days so we’ll be testing our fitness right at the start! We’ll also be reaching highs of 2,900m so we’ll be making lots of new red blood cells. There’s snow from 2,200m upwards (yep, we actually emailed some locals to ask) so that will give us a nice tan anyway!

Signal permitting we plan on updating this blog every 1-2 days with some impressive pictures of the Monte Rosa massif and the Matterhorn, along with live updates of our trip. If you click ‘follow blog’ on the right you can get an email every time we post!

20140621-134544-49544662.jpg

Preparing for the TMR

Due to a series of never-ending exams I haven’t been hiking as much as I’d like recently… But that’s all about to change- this time 2 weeks the TMR will have started!!

As of today there will be six of us on the trip: four of whom were with us last year. My friend Alice (who is Irish) will be joining us, as will Luca’s friend Keith. We have all booked flights to Milan, where we will be driving from, and we’re giving ourselves 9 days to complete the Tour, plus an extra day in case of emergencies.

We start at Alagna Valsesia, in Italy, and the route is 133km around, with 9 thousand metres of ascent. The route passes around Monte Rosa, which is the second-highest peak in the Alps, and it also passes through the Europaweg (from Grachen to Zermatt). Continue reading

Welsh adventures!

Just back from an exhilarating long weekend in Snowdonia! 

The Thursday before Easter I flew to Cambridge, and we set off the next day on a 5 hour drive across the UK. There were 6 of us (Irish, Italian, American, and New Zealanders), so we decided to rent a car in Cambridge, as it’s cheaper (overall) than taking public transport, and it gives a lot more freedom once you get to the mountains. It was tricky to find a car rental company that would rent a 7-seater to a 23-year old driver for less than £300 but we managed to get it for £180 in the end!

Image

Our first selfie of the weekend! L-R: Luca, Scott, Keith, Tricia, Aisling, Francesco

Continue reading

From Wexford to Wales…

On an extremely clear day it is possible to see all the way to Wales from the coast of Wexford, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite that sunny when we went!

A group of us headed down to north Wexford to celebrate Francesca’s 18th birthday, and when we arrived it was absolutely lashing! We lit the fire (thanks Granny!) and hoped that the weather would clear up…

and it did!

View from Ardamine in the sun!

View from Ardamine in the sun!

Continue reading

In search of the heart-shaped lake…

Last weekend I went on a hike with Trinity Hiking society to the Wicklow mountains. We decided to do one of the hikes from my favourite Joss Lynam book.

The route starts at the carpark at Glenmacnass waterfall, with a river crossing and a gentle hike to begin. The weather was amazing!

View across the river we had just crossed

View across the river we had just crossed

IMG_2493

Continue reading