Kaua’i- the Garden Island

I’m writing this blog entry from the flight home. We’ve had an incredible time in Hawaii and it’s really bittersweet to be heading back to the UK. Kaua’i had it’s ups and downs but overall was a great experience.
After the Big Island we flew to Kaua’i– the second-to-last island. It’s known as the ‘garden island’ as it’s so green (largely due to heavy rainfall) and the amazing flowers and plants there.

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We flew in to Lihue and rented a car there, stopping at Wailua falls and Kilauea beach on our way north to the town of Kapa’a. We spent a night there while preparing to start the Kalalau trail the following day. This involved buying food (not an easy task in Walmart- don’t be fooled) and camping gas (an even harder task). We packed up 4 day worth of granola bars, mac ‘n’ cheese, and instant potatoes- not the delicious local salumi and fresh bread and fruit that we usually pack in the Alps. Finding camping gas was a serious issue- in the end we bought the last can on the entire island (it’s not a very big island, but still). If anyone is thinking of going + cooking on a european-style stove make sure you ring around the camping stores on the island in advance- otherwise prepare to eat a lot of sandwiches… We had brought the rest of our gear from home (amazing tent included), and decided to eschew sleeping bags in favour of one big blanket- it’s Hawaii right?! who needs sleeping bags?

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Map of the Kalalau trail- credit: http://www.youhikeapps.com

So the Kalalau trail is 11 miles along the Na Pali coast, and the places that you hike into are only accessible on foot. It’s a linear walk so you have to retrace your steps to get back out. There is an area where you are permitted to camp at mile marker 6 (Hanakoa) and another at mile marker 11, where the trail ends. Most people hike to Hanakapi’ai beach at mile 2 and then back out in 1 day. Those who choose to do a multi-day trek need to book camping permits well in advance, and generally spend 1 night at mile 6, one at 11, one at 6 and then finish the next day. Each camping permit costs $20. But be warned- although the distances sound short on the flat there is a lot of ascent and descent into each valley. It also can get very hot, and large parts of the trail are exposed. All of this we were prepared for, and yet…
Day 1 (trailhead to Hanakoa) started off nicely- we had a hearty breakfast of blueberry/macadamia nut pancakes before parking at the YMCA at Camp Naue and beginning the trek. It’s a 2 mile walk along a road from the YMCA to reach the start of the trail. There was no sign-in or entry to be paid. We hiked to the Hanakapi’ai beach, which has claimed many lives in the past- there’s a sign on the trail which says 83+. The waves hitting the shore here are huge, and slam up against huge rock faces either side of a narrow beach. There’s a trail you can follow to see the waterfall up the valley but we decided to continue to Hanakoa. It was getting very hot but luckily there were plenty of rivers to collect water from (don’t worry- we always filter the water now, we have learned our lessons!). The trail itself is really beautiful but very bumpy and overgrown in parts. One annoyance is that it’s apparently a ‘thing’ to take a tour of this coast by helicopter- which means that the whirr of helicopter blades overhead interrupts your thoughts every 20 minutes or so. When we arrived we were wrecked, so we pitched the tent and took a short nap before deciding to do the Hanakoa falls hike before sunset. This was only approx 30 mins each way, but was uphill and the path was very overgrown which made things a little trickier. Anyway it was well worth the effort and when we got to the top we had the place to ourselves. After a dinner of ‘bangers and mash’, camping style, we hit the hay. We woke up a few hours later to the sound of torrential rain. This happened on-and-off all night, and early the next morning we had the horrible realisation that the ground was wet underneath us.

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View along the Na Pali coast

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Hanakapi’ai falls

Day 2: We woke up before sunrise, and lay awake listening to the rain falling/pouring on our tent. Eventually Luca got up and came back with a report- our tent was in a puddle. Finally the rain let off and we hung as much as we could, hoping it would have time to dry. However the camping area is in a deep valley with thick tree cover, and no sunlight was able to get in. We knew we had to press on so packed up our wet tent and set off to Kalalau beach. We spotted some wild goats and small black deer on the trail, which was even more overgrown, and while spectacular it was really very dangerous. Large parts were completely exposed, a decent amount involved walking up and downhill on red clay (which turns into a river with the slightest bit of rain), and one section which involves side-stepping around a slippery cliff with just a sheer drop on one side to massive waves 30m below. Anyway, we took it slowly and the rain behaved itself, and we got there in time to dry out our tent, have another nap, shower in an actual waterfall, and enjoy the incredible secluded Kalalau beach all before sunset!

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The red clay towards Kalalau

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‘The cathedral’

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Our shower (an actual waterfall, the tubes are used to direct water flow to make it feel more shower-like)

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Day 3: We woke up feeling refreshed, having slept for 11(!) hours and having not been bothered by the rain overnight. As we had been sleeping in wet gear and were borderline fed-up of the rain at this stage (and being Irish/almost-Irish we have a high tolerance for it!) we decided to bite the bullet and hike the full 11 miles back to the start of the trailhead that day- we knew that the rain was only going to continue and we didn’t want to be stuck across any rivers if their levels rose. This way we could get back to our car, our dry clothes, and maybe even a hostel/hotel. We were only 30 seconds after packing the tent when the rain began… 15 minutes in we hit our first river, and we realised that we would have a problem. All of the lovely stepping stones of the day before had disappeared, covered by an extra 20cm of river. We very carefully plotted a route, involving large sticks and some acrobatics. We made it across eventually and had even managed to keep our feet dry. Looking back now I don’t know why we bothered… As we climbed the red clay out of the valley it really started lashing. We took 2 steps forward for every 1 slide backwards and eventually got on to a proper path. We knew we would have to make up time now, so we tried to accelerate on the ‘easier’ parts, but that was tricky as almost every path had become a mini-river. At 11am we passed through our campsite of the first night- it looked like a graveyard. Everything was absolutely drenched, each flat piece of land had turned into a pool. It was only then that we realised that not a single person had passed us travelling the opposite direction all morning…

Anyway, the river crossing here was also a lot trickier than it had been the day before, but luckily somebody had already strung a line across it. We cautiously stepped across, and luckily both made it in one piece. We were now really starting to worry- we knew that the river at mile 2 would be the worst. It was the widest and was well-known for being dangerous. We walked as fast as we could from the campsite at mile 6 to mile 2, as it continued to pour down, and became more concerned as we met 3 groups of people hiking the opposite direction to us- all of them said that the river had been dangerous already when they had crossed, and all said that they were worried it would be impassable for us. They also mentioned that the forecast had changed since we had started the trail, and that the rain was now expected to last at least a couple more days. One of the groups, a couple, asked how the conditions of the rest of the trail were, and when we explained what we had seen we actually managed to convince them to turn around and leave with us. There was an extra dodgy river to be crossed, which wasn’t even marked on the map as it had been an insignificant stream before the rains began. We waded through, and the deepest part was just above our knees- but it was extremely fast flowing and really quite frightening. We were 100% soaked at this stage, and had given up on trying to find shelter during the worst of the rain. We pushed on and finally reached the river. In fact, we heard it before we saw it- a massive thundering came from the valley as soon as we came around the headland. We weren’t sure whether it was the sound of the waves or the river, but as we approached we saw little groups of people sitting by the river, waiting. Luckily the rain had just decided to stop at this stage, so we walked down to talk with them. Clouds still loomed overhead but the rain held off for a little while. The river was completely brown, and about 20m across. There were only a handful of rocks visible throughout the whole thing, and none on the way to the trail on the other bank. We spoke to a couple of Germans who had been waiting there for a while and had last seen someone cross an hour previously. Apparently it had been an experienced looking hiker who struggled to cross, and had to carry his backpack on his head as the water had been to his waist. The river had also risen by about a foot since then. Nobody had any phone signal, and there were no emergency phones anywhere. As we sat and waited, in our damp clothes, time ticked on and sunset became more of a threat. After a while a group of young boys came to the other bank of the river, and had one adult with them. We shouted across the river, asking them to try to get help. It took a few goes to make them understand, as nobody could hear anything over the sound of the river. A few other people came and went at the opposite bank and we shouted the same thing to them. A couple stopped to take photos of us, and even selfies with us stranded in the background (eh, thanks?). In the meantime, some of the braver group members (there were about 20-30 of us at this stage!) on our side of the river tried to figure out ways to get across, some trying to check river depth with sticks, others trying to tie together bits of rope to make a line that would reach the other side. After a few hours, a group of 5 people arrived to the other side, and for the first time seemed to really realise that we were stranded. They did their best to help us- catching the ropes that we threw and trying to find big logs that we could use. Unfortunately it didn’t work and they had to give up. Not until they had thrown us all the food and water in their bag though!

After this group left, a couple of people on our side became really desperate to get across and decided to chance it. One man, walking very slowly made it across while holding onto a rope. It was obvious that he was struggling against the current – he was up to his chest in rapidly-moving water, and he wasn’t able to do it with a backpack on. The rope was really thin (just a few guy lines from tents knotted together) and in fact, as they tried to pass a backpack over on it, it snapped. Luckily there was nobody attached to the line at the time, but the backpack was lost for good.

We gave up on that option for a while, and I left to set up our tent for the night as we had decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of trying to cross- even if that meant spending the night in our cold, damp tent. After a few minutes I heard shouting coming from the river, so I ran back down. It turned out that some of the group had decided to chance the usual crossing route (the river had come down about 5cm at this stage). They held on to each other and had strung a rope across this part also. But the river was still extremely strong and multiple people only made it a few metres across before having to turn back. The river was at chest height on everybody, and wearing backpacks meant that there was extra surface area for the river to push against. One couple decided to try their luck, and crossed together (it was the same girl who’s backpack had already been lost) but at one point she lost her grip on the rope. We all inhaled in unison- it seemed as though she would certainly be washed away. She was pushed about a metre downstream before her partner managed to grab her. All of this happened in the blink of an eye. They decided to keep going (they were about halfway across at this stage) and struggled across- slowly. Approx 5m from the opposite bank they both lost hold of the rope at the same time- it was horrendous to watch. Luckily some of their friends managed to throw in a huge tree branch for them to grab on to, and the partner had to pull the girl up on to it. Milliseconds later and they almost certainly would be dead.

By the time they had landed on the other side and had caught their breath they were already shouting across to us not to try to cross. But we had already decided- we were staying put for the night. They promised to call for help and wished us luck, and set off back to the trailhead.

We retired to our tents, about 15 of us left behind, feeling a little despondent. Just after sunset we heard shouting coming from across the river again- 2 lifeguards from the nearest beach had hiked up to us and were radioing info to the emergency services. They asked questions of us- were there any babies or older people with us etc. They said that if the rivers didn’t drop by the next day they would arrange for a helicopter to lift us out. Finally, they mentioned a locker at the nearest helipad which was stocked for emergencies such as this, and gave us the code.

As I cooked dinner and we tried to share out our emergency food among those who didn’t have any left (I felt a little bit guilty giving hungry people cheese strings but I’m sure they didn’t mind) Luca and some others hiked to the helipad. They came back with torches, emergency blankets, huge boxes of granola bars, glucose tablets, and bottles of water (the one thing we definitely weren’t running out of!). We all felt a little better about the night ahead, and finally got to sleep to the sound of only light rain.

The next morning we all woke up before sunrise and waited for the moment of truth… And there it was- the river had dropped! We packed up quickly and ran to the river- it was blue and clear, and there was a ranger on the opposite bank with a megaphone directing us. The first people crossed and the river was at their hips- a massive improvement on the day before. We eventually struggled across and it only hit us as we hiked back to the trailhead – we made it!

As we walked back, we met some people travelling the opposite direction who had already made the crossing the day before- they were coming back to check that we were all ok- so nice! They even gave us a lift to our car at the end. (We later bumped into them in a coffee shop, and then in the airport too…)

Just as we came back to civilisation we noticed some red tape strung across the trail with ‘DANGER’ written across it. When we emerged from the trees we saw police, reporters, and a crowd of disappointed hikers. It turned out the trail had been officially closed and the news of stranded hikers was drawing in some onlookers. You can see the news features here and here. (Just to be clear- we were not airlifted out, in fact the reports say that helicopters couldn’t access the area due to weather but tourist helicopters seemed to have no such issue. Also, Luca and I are not the couple mentioned in the news. Finally some comments on the above news websites have suggested making tourists pay for rescues- considering every tourist pays 60$ if camping 3 nights, and there are no other services provided or staff present, the least they could afford is a bridge over the river or at the very least an emergency phone. Anyway…)

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When we got back to our car we decided to dry out in the sunshine before going for fresh espresso + fresh bread- perfect! We also visited Hanalei beach, which features in the movie ‘The Descendants’ (that one with George Clooney). We ate more poke and visited more beaches and slowly made our way to the Waimea Canyon.

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Hanalei beach

This is a huge canyon with a beautiful drive along the length of it – we spent our time driving slowly up the winding roads, stopping along the way to look out over waterfalls and rivers. When we reached the top of the road (it stops just after an air force base) there is a huge lookout station that actually looks back over the isolated Kalalau trail. We camped that night at Koke’e state park (can book here) which was lovely and soft compared to our previous few nights!

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The next morning we drove back to Lihue airport via the Salt Pond beach in Hanapepe- a beautiful secluded beach that has a natural rock wave-breaker. We dried out all our equipment there while looking for honu (sea turtles)- unfortunately we didn’t spot any this time. A quick pit-stop at the supermarket to buy macadamia nuts, postcards and Hawaiian coffee and we were off back to the UK via Honolulu.

Hawaii- we will be back again soon! Mahalo!

 

 

 

 

Hawai’i- the big island

Aloha from Hawaii!
We are currently on the island of Kaua’i (see map here for location). We first arrived in to Oahu– Luca came here a week before me to visit the university of Hawaii and then to observe at the telescope of Mauna Kea volcano.
I arrived into Honolulu by myself, and stayed there overnight. The next morning I decided to hike Diamond Head at sunrise (jetlag meant that getting up at 05:30 for this was easy!). Diamond head is a large crater that overlooks Honolulu, and hiking up the ridge at the edge gives a lovely view over Pearl Harbo(u)r and east Oahu also. 
I flew to the town of Hilo on Hawai’i– Big Island later that day (this can get confusing, the island itself is called Hawai’i and the state/collection of islands is called Hawaii) to meet Luca, and from there we rented a car (one of us is finally 25, woohoo!), ate some mahi and loco moco (a meal usually eaten for breakfast but served all day in most places) and drove up north to the town of Honomu. We stayed in a really nice Airbnb there and were all set to start our tour bright and early the next morning when Luca broke out in a rash, all over his hands, legs and torso. So we headed back to Hilo to the urgent care clinic as we knew there was a Dengue outbreak on Big Island. A few blood tests and $150 later we were sorted (thank god for travel insurance) and we got back on the road. The department of health have been tracking our whereabouts and chasing the blood results but Luca feels absolutely fine so we’re not too worried!!
We finally headed off on our road trip and drove north along the ‘scenic route’ out of Hilo, stopping at a picturesque black sand beach on the way.

We visited the Akaka falls, which are 442 feet tall and in some amazing gardens.

 

Akaka falls

 

We also went to the stunning Waipi’o valley, but unfortunately it’s closed due to Dengue fever so our plan to hike down into it wasn’t possible.

Waipi’o Valley

 

Instead we decided to bring forwards our night snorkel- with manta rays! We drove to the town of Kona on the west coast of Big Island and boarded a huge catamaran. We sailed out of the bay at sunset and saw some whales on the way. When it got nice and dark we put on (shortie) wetsuits and jumped in. It turns out that certain types of plankton are attracted to lights, and these attract manta rays, which attract us… It was a little choppy the night of our dive which made things a bit chilly (as you float half out of the water on the surface). The manta rays were absolutely gigantic and swam in huge spirals, coming right up to the surface of the water where we were. We managed to film a bit of it, as you can see by clicking on this link!
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Each manta ray can be identified by the spots on their abdomen, so the guides were able to tell which was which. After 45 minutes in the water we hopped back on board (which had a hot shower!) and headed back to land.
We drove north for a further 1.5 hours to stay in the town of Hawi overnight.
The next morning we drank some Kona coffee and headed to Pololu valley for a mini hike. This is a huge valley only accessible by foot, so we hiked down from the top in for approx 30 minutes. The black sand beach and view up the valley was extremely rewarding – well worth the effort of having to hike back up in the heat! We went in the morning but going in the afternoon/evening is probably a better idea as you will be shaded on the hike down. The sea is rough down there – so don’t expect to be going for a swim! (At least in winter)

Pololu Valley

 

 

Pololu Valley

We then drove down to a coffee plantation on the hills of Mauna Kea. Kona coffee is world-renowned for its flavour, and has won many awards. Unfortunately the coffee we tried was watery and too sweet, also much too expensive (which means we won’t be bringing any home this time- sorry mum and dad!). The macadamia nuts are much nicer.

Next stop was a daytime snorkel- on the same catamaran as the night before. We headed south to Kealakekua Bay where there is some readily accessible coral and lots of tropical fish. We snorkelled alongside spinner dolphins and even saw hammerhead sharks!  

That night we travelled south to Punalu’u beach where we had planned to camp. Unfortunately due to a combination of strange drunk old men, no other tents, stray animals, and GIANT cockroaches we decided that it would be a better idea to find a room for the night. We returned to the beach the next morning as we had heard good things about it (during daylight hours). We arrived just in time for sunrise- Punalu’u is a beautiful black sand beach famous for its turtles, and is much nicer during the day! We saw some turtles for ourselves and decided not to hang around too long…  
Next stop on our tour was the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, beside the town of ‘Volcano’. Even though we grumbled about it, it was worth the $15 entrance fee- we hiked the Kilauea cauldron which was just as hot as it sounds… It was a 4+ mile hike down in through the crater of America’s youngest and most active volcano, and then back up the other side. On the way we passed through a ‘lava tube’, walked around geysers, and generally felt like we were on set for Jurassic Park.


That afternoon we returned to Hilo for some fresh ‘poke’- a local dish of raw fish (often chunks of tuna) with seasonings like sesame seeds, avocado, soy sauce, chilli, ginger, and served with rice.  

We then went to Richardson beach park before realising our plan for accommodation for that night had fallen through, and Hilo was really busy… We called a lot of different places and eventually one hostel mentioned that we could camp in their garden, so off we went! It was just before sunset by the time we had pitched our tents, so we decided last minute to drive up to the Mauna Kea observatory for their nightly stargazing events. We arrived just in time for sundown- which meant we had an amazing view of the sunset from just above 3000m. They gave a talk about how the observatory runs and then set up some telescopes so that we could see for ourself why Hawaii is so well known for astronomy!

View of the sunset from Mauna Kea

 

The next morning we set off for our flight from Big Island to Kaua’i (via Honolulu). We’re writing this update from Kaua’i and our next update will be about the Kalalau trail!

Mahalo for visiting our site!

PS Luca’s test results have just come back and he doesn’t have dengue!

Back on track – Hawaii!

As you (might) have realised, we have been out of touch for a long time now – life just got busy and we happened to have moved to a place far far away… from any mountains. Nonetheless, we have decided to start keeping you once again updated about our less frequent, but nonetheless big, adventures.

And we are coming back with a HUGE and adventure-intensive one: Hawaii!
It just so happened that I (Luca) had to come here on a work trip, which we decided to follow-up with some exploration of the amazing surroundings. Just to let you know, flights to here from Europe are around 1000€, so strictly speaking this trip is less ‘small budget’ than normal, though flights aside we’ll try and be reasonable as per usual.

As you might know, the state of Hawaii is part of the US and is formed by an archipelago of volcanic origin in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at tropical (+20deg) latitudes. That means that its weather is pretty much constant throughout the year, with day temperatures always in the high 20s (Celsius) at sea level. However, its climate can go from humid and tropical at sea level, to dry, cold and mountainous up on the volcanoes, which reach above an astonishing 4000m above sea level.

To allow you to find your way, here is a map of the islands:
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Honolulu is the main city in the State, and is located on the island of Oahu. Although I spent some days here at the beginning of my business trip, for the holiday part we will only use the city to fly through in between islands and on the way from/to Europe.

Our travels will focus on two islands, Hawai’i (commonly known as Big Island to avoid confusion), and Kauai. Arriving in Hilo airport, we will be spending the first few days exploring the Big Island, which might entail things like visiting the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for some lava-spotting, a lot of snorkeling, drinking local coffee, whale-watching, hiking and camping (of course). Then, we will fly into Lihue airport on the island of Kauai, where the main focus will be on hiking the world-renowned Kalalau Trail, along an 11 mile stretch of the famous Na Pali coast. As well as that, we will be visiting the Waimea Canyon State Park for more (though quite different) amazing landscapes and general awesomeness.

All-in-all, it’s going to be a great trip and we can’t wait to both experience it and tell you about it! So stay tuned – live updates will begin next week.

And to conclude, here are some teaser pictures that I have taken on my trip so far!

View of Honolulu and its Waikiki beach from the plane (Oahu):OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And sunset above the clouds from the Mauna Kea Visitor Center at 2800m altitude, with the Mauna Loa volcano in the background (Big Island):

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Aloha!

Cerro Manquehue, first Chilean hike

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The location of Santiago (about halfway up)

The city stretches right up to the edge of the mountains

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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).

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The trail

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The terrain is a lot drier than Ireland!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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