Friday, September 28, 2018
Palmaria Island – across from Portovenere
This hike was not really planned. The idea was to take the ferry across the bay to Palamaria Island and rent kayaks and explore the coast line. We had heard there was a place on the island to do just that. Instead we found a weird mix of dilapidated buildings, an odd beachfront “cafe” that looked like it might be haunted, wild goats, and questionably marked trails. On top of this, Court was wearing shoes much more suited to kayaking than hiking, so needless to say she was not ready to hike what ended up being just over four miles. She stuck it out though and the island gave us an interesting afternoon hike.
We started off on an old jeep trail that gradually climbed up and around the island, giving us some nice views looking back toward La Spezia and the mainland.
We climbed up into the woods for a bit and then back down to the shore, where we were greeted by the remains of an old military base of sorts. Most of the buildings had fallen down and it had a very eerie vibe.
After this is where the “cafe” was, though it looked deserted as well. The pics of it on Google maps show it full of people and the food looks good, so maybe we were just here at a weird time of year or something.
We soaked our feet in the ocean for a bit and then headed back up hill where we were greeted by the islands wild goats that roam around and eat whatever they can.
We reached a few more military ruins at the top, enjoyed the views, and then cut back across the center of the island.
There was actually a large fort in the center that was completely overgrown and I believe dates back to WWI or WWII.
By this time our feet were hurting and we were a bit disappointed by the lack of kayaks we had anticipated, so we did our best to get back to the dock and catch the ferry back to Portovenere as soon as possible. I think if our expectations had been different, this would have been a much more enjoyable hike, but it was an experience nonetheless.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Cinque Terre – Monterosso to Vernazza
About 3.5 miles
Cinque Terre is an interesting place. It is beautiful, but I will say it is a bit over hyped. Don’t get me wrong, it is unique, but it feels like the towns are still trying to figure out how best to deal with the hordes of tourists that have started to come in the past few years. That said, still a good day.
We took the first ferry in the morning out of Portovenere where we were staying to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town of the Cinque Terre. There is supposed to be a system of trails that connects all five towns, but the first two (Riomaggiore to Manarola and Manarola to Corniglia) were closed, which is apparently a semi-permanent status. After realizing this, we took the ferry up to Monterosso on the north end and made the trek over to Vernazza.
This was a pretty difficult hike in terms of elevation, as you basically go from the beach straight up through the vineyards to the top of the hills and then back down. There were a lot of people to contend with, but the views were pretty spectacular.
There is a wine train track that is elevated along some of the trail, which as far as I can tell is like a tiny rollercoaster that takes you among the vineyards, but it wasn’t running today apparently.
Vernazza seems to be the most popular of the towns and it has the most unique layout with an enclosed harbor and a watchtower that was used to look out for invading pirates back in the day.
There is also cave under the massive natural rock wall that leads to the beach. This was really really cool, though it seems like easy access for the aforementioned pirates.
After a quick lunch and some views from the watchtower we took the ferry over to Manarola, which ended up being my favorite town. Here you could cliff jump into the harbor and it just had the most chill vibe of all the towns.
Cinque Terre was definitely an experience, but just be prepared for huge crowds in both the towns and the trails in between.
September 23, 2018
Muottas Muragl to Alp Languard to Paradis Hutte – Switzerland
About 7.5 miles
This was an amazing hike. We had driven through Austria and then to Switzerland to Pontresina, just outside of St. Moritz, the day before. We stayed at a five star hotel that was a bit too hoity toity for my taste.
We walked about a mile to the bottom of the tram that would take us up to the top of Muottas Muragl (don’t ask me to pronounce that) where we would begin our hike around 8000 feet.
The views were stunning. We were overlooking St. Moritz and the lake, as well as some distant glaciers.
These mountains are also home to the largest ibex colony in the Alps, but alas, we didn’t see any today.
We did see and hear plenty of marmots.
As we wound around the mountain on the Panoramic trail the views were most impressive and the trail well maintained. The grasses and shrubs were starting to turn fall colors. The trees are mostly evergreens, so the contrast was quite striking.
Here’s some video too.
After about two hours we reached the first hut at Alp Languard where we would later take the chair lift back down to Pontresina.
However, after a quick break, we decided to continue hiking up to Paradis-Hutte to try and see some ibex. This was a pretty steep hike that added another mile and a half or so, but gave us our best views yet of the glaciers.
The second hike was a challenge, but beautiful. When we got to the Paradis-Hutte we were tired, but the views were amazing.
After reveling in our place at the top of the world for a while, we headed back down the trail to the chair lift and took it back down to the valley below.
Once we got back to the hotel we had a two hour private spa session that was the perfect way to end a day of hard hiking.
September 21-22, 2018
Dolemites – Ortisei, Italy
It’s been a while since I’ve had a new post and it feels good to be writing again. We had an amazing trip to Italy over the past couple of weeks and got some great hiking in. I’ll probably write at least three entries from this trip, as it was a fantastic experience.
We started off in the Dolemites in northern Italy in the little town of Ortisei in the province of Bolzano. We only got to spend a single night here, which we found out is not nearly enough, so we will definitely be back.
The day we arrived we took a gondola up to the top of Mont Seuc. Honestly, the names in these places were multiple and very difficult, but I’ll do my best. The hiking trails in Europe are notated according to time instead of distance, which is interesting. I think we usually went a bit faster than the time allotted. The trail systems are also much more vast and intersecting than they usually are in America and they all pretty much have the same blazes (red and white). More of a system of paths throughout the land than specific trails that go from point A to point B.
The day was beautiful and the mountains were spectacular. We were at the top of a ridge that then flattened out and had miles of beautiful pastures that we hiked through with views of jagged peaks in the distance. One of Court’s favorite parts was hearing the cowbells from the local livestock, which we more or less were hiking among.
At one point on the ridge we had a great view of the town of Ortisei 2500 feet below. The pictures don’t do it justice, but it was spectacular.
After a relatively short hike we headed back down the gondola for an amazing dinner in town.
We took separate paths in the morning. Court went on a run through the town and I followed a hiking path up behind our hotel through the woods and among several farms in the valley. My hike was about 3.5 miles. We sadly had to leave in the late morning to head to Switzerland (which was amazing in its own right), but we definitely need to come back and spend more time in Oritsei one day.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Mt. Rainier NP – Paradise – Skyline Trail to Panorama Point
Clear, cool, perfect
Ian and Court
Court had a conference in Seattle and I got to tag along, so the first day we rented a car and drove to Mt. Rainier National Park. Mt. Rainier is the fifth national park in the system, established in 1899. It is also the highest peak in the Cascades, topping out at 14,411 feet. We didn’t get quite that high today.
Originally I had wanted to go to the Carbon River section of the park, but the road to that trail head wasn’t open for the season yet. Paradise is considered one of the more beautiful parts of the park and I figured since we were going on a Wednesday morning, hopefully the crowds wouldn’t be too bad. Between that and the snow still covering most of the trail, the Skyline Trail ended up being great, albeit a lot of work.
We arrived at the Visitor Center around 10am to clear skies and an amazing view of the mountain. We took a few photos and then set off up the snow covered trail, marked in many places with flags in the snow placed by rangers. We didn’t have microspikes for traction, but we ended up ok. It was definitely slow going. We averaged about 1.2 mph, compared to the normal 2 to 2.5 mph on regular trail.
The views got better and better as we climbed. There were a couple of melted out parts of the trail where we stopped and re-fueled. We met a family from England who were road tripping in the US and also a couple from Pennsylvania when we reached Panorama Point. It’s always nice to talk to people who are there to experience the same beauty you are. There were also several marmots and multiple chipmunks about, scrounging for human food.
We continued up the trail and it started to get steeper as we got further along. We also crossed paths with some hikers coming down from the summit.
As we ascended, the views of the mountains became grander and grander. We had views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens.
We reached the plaque at the top of what I think might actually be slightly below Panorama Point, but with the snow covered trail, this was good enough for us. It would be Panorama Point today. There was another marmot up top that was sprawled out and sunning on the snow.
Mt. Rainier was now totally enveloped in cloud and we were glad we had such great views on the way up. We decided to turn back and go down the way we came instead of finishing the Skyline loop, as the weather looked like it might turn. We’ll come back one day and finish the whole thing. Great hike and only a couple of slips on the snow.
Once we got back to the car, we decided to drive down to Reflection Lakes and do a quick loop on the Wonderland Trail and High Lakes Trail, but were blocked about a half mile in by a creek crossing that was doable, but just too dangerous for today.
We turned back and decided to call it a day. At least I got to step onto yet another of the long trails that I love so much and add it to my list. We made a quick stop at Narada Falls (amazing) on the way out and then hit the Copper Creek Inn just outside of the park for lunch, which included their incredible blackberry milk shake. YUM.
Sunday, May 27th, 2018
Driving through Arkansas with stops at Hollis CCC Camp and Hot Springs National Park
Not much hiking today, but some interesting sights for sure.
We headed out of Fayetteville, through the Ozarks and Ouchita National Forest on Scenic Byway 7. We made a quick stop at Turner Bend, which is a whitewater rafting destination that we will keep in mind for the future. There’s a little store there with all kinds of gear that reminded me of Neel’s Gap on the AT.
There were several overlooks along the road with pretty views.
My favorite stop of the day was at the remains of the Hollis CCC Camp. Again, one of the New Deal program’s vestiges.
I love the idea of the CCC. There’s a great section in Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary series that really gets into what the CCC was about and how it changed the lives of so many during The Depression. I think we are actually in a great place to bring back something similar today. With our infrastructure in dire need of repairs and updating and the coming job market shake up due to automation and the loss of retail, it makes perfect sense. But I don’t run things up in this joint. I digress.
We walked around the ruins (only 90 years old or so, but still) and read the many informative signs describing what once was.
After a couple more stops at picnic areas we got to Hot Springs National Park. It is really more of a town than a park, with most of the hot springs having been transformed into bathhouses in the early 20th century. There is a small mountain that the hot springs flow out of that you can drive or hike up to the top of with a great view of the town. We chose to drive up today.
I got the stamp for my National Park Passport at the Visitor Center and we felt a couple of the hot springs flowing directly out of the ground. They are really really hot. Not just a clever name. There also is apparently a strong baseball history in Hot Springs, which I will have to research more later. The dogs were a bit of a handful, with the town being full of people for Memorial Weekend, so I didn’t get many pics.
If you would have asked me when I thought I would get to Hot Springs National Park on my list of parks to visit, it would have been way down the list, but I’m glad we got to visit and it was pretty interesting. No grand mountains or epic wildlife, but pretty nonetheless.
Saturday, May 26th, 2018
Lake Fort Smith State Park – Ozark Highlands Trail – near Fort Smith, AR
sunny, clear, hot, low 90s
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
We reached Lake Fort Smith State Park in the early afternoon and I had no idea until we got there that this was the western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail. I had seen the OHT mentioned in various hiking forums, but this was a pretty cool surprise.
From the Ozark Highlands Trail Association page:
The OHTA builds and maintains the growing Ozark Highlands Trail across northwest Arkansas from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Lake Norfork where it will connect to the Ozark Trail of Missouri. About 230 miles of trail are built as of 2017, not including about 15 miles of trail route in the Lower Buffalo Wilderness.
We started down the trail with the dogs, not sure of how far we would go. It started off hot and exposed, but quickly dove down into the shaded forest along the lake shore.
The trail was well marked and we soon got to a seasonal waterfall, but sadly, no water.
We went a little bit further, but then noticed a tick crawling on Finn’s coat. And then another. And then another. We decided it was time to head back and it was getting pretty hot anyway, even under the canopy of trees. The tick key I bought last year ended up coming in handy. We spent the remainder of the night at the hotel, and parts of the next couple of days, picking ticks off both the dogs. Most were tiny and had embedded themselves in the pup’s paws. Not something we are very used to in Texas.
I was glad to have visited my third long trail terminus (adding to the PCT and AT southern terminuses) even though we only got to go about a mile in.
The next day we would start the journey home, stopping at Hot Springs National Park and several Ouchita National Forest sites along the way, which will be documented in next post.
Saturday, May 26, 2018
Devil’s Den State Park – various trails – near Fayetteville, AR
Warm, sunny, clear, mid 80s
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
We had quite the adventure this Memorial Day Weekend. The original plan was to go camp on the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas. The issue is that all of the campsites are first come, first serve. Supposedly, the “check in” time for those sites is 1pm. Well, we found out the hard way that check in is not enforced.
We drove halfway from Austin the night before, staying at a La Quinta in Durant, Oklahoma. Lovely. We then woke up at 6am and drove to the Buffalo National River through the Ozarks, arriving at the first campsite around noon. It was PACKED. We called the ranger station and it quickly became apparent that there were no sites to be had. After a short freak out session and driving through the mountains aimlessly, we settled on going to Fayetteville and getting a hotel and doing some day hiking at nearby state parks. This actually turned out to be a lot of fun.
On the way to Fayetteville the sky ahead got really dark and ominous. We pulled into a Walmart (like you do in Arkansas) and waited out a pretty intense storm in the parking lot for an hour or so. We made lunch in the car and were thankful that we weren’t out in this weather on the river.
We checked into the hotel with the pups and then went out to explore a bit of Fayetteville. It’s actually a pretty nice little college town.
The next morning we headed south to Devil’s Den State Park. When we arrived at the Visitor Center, a CCC-era building, I went inside to pay for my permit, like I always do in Texas. I came to find out that all state parks in Arkansas are free! The funding apparently built into their taxes. Take note Texas.
We started exploring and took the short main trail from the Visitor Center that winds up through the rocky hills and the many caves and crevices that give the park its name. The rock formations were spectacular.
We then went down to the dam (also CCC-era) that created Lake Devil.
The day was still young, so we headed to a different part of the park and hiked a lesser traveled path that followed Lee Creek and allowed for some water fun for the dogs as well. The water was cold and refreshing.
A very brittle shale (I think) lined the creek bed and would crunch as it broke when you walked on it. It was fascinating.
After getting a bit lost, we headed back to the car and then ate lunch by the creek while families celebrated Memorial Weekend in the water.
After lunch, we pushed on to Lake Fort Smith State Park, continued on the next entry.
Saturday, May 19, 2018
Lake Somerville – Nails Creek State Park – near Brenham, TX
Partly cloudy, warm, pleasant, upper 70s
Ian, Biff, Finn
Another new State Park! We went to Navasota for the weekend and I went hiking with the dogs while Court drove up to Tyler with her mom for work stuff.
I left early to make the hour drive to Lake Somerville and got to the trail just before the park headquarters opened at 8am. The Texas heat is starting to hit and that means the hikes have to be early, especially if the dogs are coming along. The Lake Somerville Trailway is a hiking/equestrian trail that actually goes 13 miles (one way) around the lake, but due to some recent flooding, horses aren’t allowed right now. I would also find out, the hard way, that the trail I had chosen today was cut short due to this same flood damage.
I started out doing the short Nails Creek Trail loop which goes along the lakeshore and is very sandy with a lot of flowers. There were a lot of flowers in general on this hike, which was a nice surprise, especially this late in the spring.
After that I hit the main trailway. It is a wide track for horses, but is still very pretty. I only saw two other hikers the whole day. A couple of miles in I got to a bridge and that was to be my turnaround point for the day, due to the unexpected closure.
As we backtracked, Biff decided it was time for a break.
I used Finn’s new leash which attaches to a hip belt so it made hiking with two dogs much easier, as I had one hand free most of the time. When we got back to the car we had a quick water and snack break. I was going to do another short loop by the lake, but about 5 minutes down the trail Biff gave me the look that it was time to call it a day so we got back to the car and blasted the AC.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Steiner Ranch Trail System – Bear Creek Trail
Sunny and humid, but nice
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
We once again headed out to Steiner Ranch to do a quick hike with the pups. We ended up doing part of the trail that we never had done before and it was really nice. Felt very Oregon-y at points. Very forested and a nice creek running through.
Bear Creek was the name of this short trail and we followed it down into the woods and then back up to the neighborhood. Small loop, but nice when you are short on time. Court’s parents should have their house out in Steiner in the next year, so I’m sure we’ll eventually become connoisseurs of this whole system.
All in all, a nice spring hike in Texas. The heat is about to officially hit though, meaning morning hikes only for a few months. We have a quick trip to Seattle and Mount Rainier this summer and also a big international trip this fall though!
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Guadalupe River State Park, near Boerne, TX
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
Warm, partly cloudy, low 80s
3.5 miles give or take
Another new state park for us! We have been wanting to get out to this park for a while and I’m glad we finally made it. We started off at the “Discovery Center” and then combined a few trails for about 3 miles total. The dogs were very happy and are both such good hikers. The prickly pears and other cacti were blooming nicely. There was a nice view of the river from above as well.
We then headed down to the river to cool off and eat lunch. There were a ton of people enjoying the river, including some not well-behaved dogs, so we went pretty far down the river trail to find a spot. The first spot I chose ended up harboring a bee hive, which sent me into flashbacks of when I was a little kid in Pennsylvania and got stung about 100 times. Luckily I wasn’t allergic. I made an immediate u-turn and went back up the river trail in the opposite direction before finding a semi-quiet spot to put our feet in the water and eat. It’s amazing how good food tastes after even a short hike in decent heat. I can’t even imagine the hunger and then satiation that thru-hikers experience.
After the river, we took another short trail a half mile or so more through the moss-covered oaks and then headed back to the car. On the way home we stopped at Sonic and got a slush and a limeade to cap off the warm day.