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.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Grelle Recreation Area
Cloudy, 50s-60s, giving way to sun and 70s
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
Another new trail for us. It turns out there are a lot of trails within the LCRA parks that aren’t well known or traversed. Grelle Recreation Area is right near Muleshoe Bend, which we hiked a few weeks ago, but I liked this trail much better. It was a true hiking trail (not a mountain bike trail) and had lots of ups and downs that made for a semi-challenging experience, especially with our relative lack of hiking, and therefore fitness, as of late.
The original plan was to hike on Saturday morning, but a random cold front came through on Friday night and temperatures went from the 70s on Friday to the low 40s all day Saturday, so we pushed the hike until Sunday when things got a little closer to normal.
We drove out in Courtney’s new car, a Tesla Model 3, which is certainly not a normal car to take out to the trail, but we figured it would hold up on gravel roads and save us gas money. Moreover, there is just something about taking an electric car to go hiking that seems right.
The trail started as your typical rocky Texas trail, but eventually gave way to more traditional tread and even soft dirt in some places along the ridge, which challenged our ankle strength. The dogs did great for the most part, though Biff pulled a fake injury at one point, causing me to carry him for a couple hundred yards until he miraculously recovered. What a goof.
As we climbed up the ridge and hit the Mustang Ridge trail, the sun decided to show itself and the temperatures rose, which was a welcome occurrence and made us shed our jackets and stow them away in the pack. Towards the end of the hike, the sky was clear blue and the trees showed their normal Texas spring time selves.
What a great day to get out and enjoy the trail and life in general.
I generally don’t like it when blogs have all the text first and all the photos second, but that’s how I did this one. Deal with it.
Saturday and Sunday, March 24-25, 2018
South Llano River State Park – Fawn Trail and Golden Cheeked Warbler Trail Combo + River Trail
Upper 60s, partly cloudy, perfect
Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
Around 7 miles total
Oh, look at that. I still have a blog! That’s right. Gotta remember to update this thing more often.
Honestly, we just didn’t do much hiking the past couple of months. Family stuff and life stuff got in the way. There was maybe one short hike in there that I didn’t bother blogging, but finally here’s one I wanted to document.
We are trying to hit the state parks in Texas that we haven’t done already. South Llano River fits the bill. It is about a 3 hour drive from Austin, right near Junction, Texas on I-10. So kinda the middle of nowhere. I’m going to throw it in the Other Texas category. It’s more or less on the border of the hill country and the desert, so the plants and wildlife are interesting. Very spiky.
We headed out with the pups on Saturday morning and stopped in Fredericksburg on the way for lunch at a place called Woerner Warehouse. We got sandwiches to go and they were HUGE. Great call on that and we will be going back there next time we go to F’burg.
Headed on to Junction and drove by Texas Tech University at Junction (who knew?) before making our way to the park. There were only a few spots left, as the Cub Scouts had moved in the night before, like they always do. I guess it’s good that they are getting out in nature, but it does make it difficult for us adults who have to work on Fridays to get decent camping spots.
We did end up getting a semi-secluded site and each site has a covered table, which is unique to this park, in my experience anyway.
We set up camp quickly. We realized this is the first time since our trip to Sequoia back in September of 2016 that we have actually used our backpacking tent. We did bring the larger car camping tent in case Finn didn’t fit our sleeping arrangements, but it worked out fine.
After setting up camp we decided to head down to the river trail, but soon found out that the area by the river is closed after 3pm in March because it is a wild turkey roost area, so we headed back and spent the rest of the evening playing trivial pursuit and reading. The sunset was nice and the stars were out soon after. South Llano River State Park is a dark sky park so the stars were brilliant.
We woke up with the sun and Court made wonderful breakfast tacos with egg whites and veggie sausage. This was also the first time we used the skillet we bought way back when we first started purchasing gear. Lots of firsts this trip. After breakfast we packed everything up before hitting the trails.
The trails out here are pretty much all old jeep tracks, as this was a ranch back in the day. They are more for function and less for aesthetics, but they do the job. They are your typical Texas rocky trails that are ubiquitous throughout the hill country. We took the Fawn trail and then connected with the Golden-Cheeked Warbler trail to make a nice loop a little over 5 miles long.
When we finished the loop we went down to the River Trail that we had attempted to hike the day before. We did actually catch a glimpse of a wild turkey and the river and lake views were pretty as well.
After a total of around 7 miles the pups were pooped and we drove back home. On the way back they got some good naps.
Monday, January 15, 2018
Hike: Commons Ford Ranch
Weather: partly cloudy, pleasant, mid 60s
Hikers: Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
Length: 2.1 miles
New trail today! We went out to Commons Ford Park, which apparently used to be a ranch, and did a short hike up to the waterfall. Today is MLK day and we both had the day off work, so we took the opportunity to get the first hike of the year in. The weather was amazing. It felt like spring, but there is a winter storm blowing in tonight, so even better that we got to enjoy the day.
This was a nice little trail along a creek that feeds into the Colorado River. The trail is your typical Texas Hill Country trail: rocky and surrounded by cedars. Just a half mile in or so, we came to the waterfall, which is the main highlight of this trail, but it wasn’t flowing very much. Still pretty though.
After passing the waterfall, we climbed up and along a ridge.
Someone had set up a lean-to just off the trail, but it didn’t look like it had been used in a while, if ever.
We came down off the ridge and found a restored prairie that led down to the river.
There was a boathouse and dock at the water’s edge which we scouted out and then headed back up the creek towards the car.
On the way we saw the foundation of an old house that I’d like to think was from the old ranch as well.
Court especially liked this trail and I hope to hike it again when the water is flowing better.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Hike: Buescher State Park – near Smithville, TX
Weather: chilly, overcast, low 50s
Hikers: Ian, Court, Biff, Finn
Length: 4.4 miles
We went out to my parent’s cabin near La Grange for New Year’s Eve, as usual, and decided to go hike in Buescher and see how the trails are recovering from the Hidden Pines Fire in October 2015. They aren’t completely open yet, but we were able to hike about three quarters of the main trail.
It was really fascinating to see the life cycle of the forest and how it is recovering. Little saplings were everywhere amongst the dead and burned trees. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.