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Yosemite’s majestic mountains

Yosemite National Park

sunny 36 °C
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We can call ourselves really lucky: a couple of days earlier when it was obvious when we’d be getting to San Francisco and then to Yosemite I was lucky to get a reservation for a single night at Crane Flat Campground. Considering that campgrounds for Yosemite in summer time are usually sold out a couple of months in advance, we were very happy.
And then we were even more lucky when I found space for us for the following two nights at Upper Pines Campground (so even a campsite down in Yosemite Valley) just before leaving towards Yosemite – i.e. when we still had reception.
So it was a very relaxed drive and late arrival in Yosemite – having a reservation is not really what we’re used to. But admittedly this was extremely helpful, as also most of the national forest campgrounds before entering Yosemite were full. And while dispersed camping might be allowed in the national forest, we were not too sure if this was a good idea in bear country without having any proper food storage at hand.

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Crane Flat is a nice campground with large sites located in a big pine forest. We easily found our spot and marveled at how nice it is not having to think about where to stay for the night.
The next morning, we got up early by our standards and headed into Yosemite Valley. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints as we got closer.

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The trail to Bridaveil Falls was short and nice. But it also gave us a flavor of how many people are crowding the valley. And despite all kinds of warning signs with visual examples and statistics of 2015 injuries displaying how dangerous it is to scramble in the granite rocks leading up to the falls, we were able to observe a tourist slipping and hitting his nice camera lens on a rock…
So we left in search of a quieter place and were successful at Cathedral Beach where we enjoyed the nice views of El Capitan and the Cathedral Range and the river with a pleasant beach.

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Later we used the nice afternoon sun for taking in the major view points in the valley before retreating to our spot in the Upper Pines Campground next to newly named Half Dome Village to have BBQ with roasted marshmallows as desert.

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The next morning, we decided to allow Jordan and Chris to join us with their tent on our campsite. The couple had tried their luck at the only first come – first serve campsite. As they had camped up close to Glacier Point, they got up at 4:15am, to get into line at Camp 4 at 5:20am in order to learn eventually from the National Park Staff that the group before them was the last one to get a spot… Wow! And as all reserved campsites are laid out for 6 people, Jordan searched for sites with less people and that’s how we got together. As usual, our guests get to sign our guest book...

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Our target for the day was a hike up to Vernal Falls and we even got further up vs. our original plan. We hiked up to the top of the falls and then even further up to the John Muir Trail to head down in a loop.

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Given that it was quite a warm day and a ‚moderately strenuous‘ hike (as per the park flyer), we deserved a dip in the river before having dinner at our site. And yes, we slept very well after so much exercise.

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Our last day in Yosemite was dedicated to Sequoia trees. Due to the fact that Mariposa Grove is currently closed for improvement works, we headed to Tuolumne Grove. And yes, it was very impressive to see the trees grow. But it was also interesting to see a fallen tree just to take in the dimensions of the giant sequoias. After all, their diameter is just enormous.

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After a couple of stops with great vistas along Tioga Road, we had ‚scrambled pancakes‘ (aka Kaiserschmarrn) at a nice lake.

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A bit later we got to the Tuolumne Meadows before going up to Tioga Pass at nearly 10,000 feet. With crossing the pass, it was time to wave good-bye to Yosemite national park and to recognize how quickly a landscape can change from one moment to the other.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged mountains waterfall rock hike yosemite sequoia Comments (1)

Bye bye mountains, bye bye sightseeing

Whitefish Lake State Park, Glacier National Park

sunny 18 °C
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The first couple of miles back in the US looked just like Canada before the forest subsided and fields took over. We did not feel like driving much longer and eventually turned into Whitefish Lake State Park. It seemed like a nice location right next to the lake – perfectly suited to stay overnight not too far away from Glacier National Park.

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While in principle the above reasoning was right, there’s one major factor we overlooked in our decision taking: the state park was squeezed in between the lake and the railroad tracks. And the railroad tracks were unfortunately more than busy with lots and lots of freight trains all through the night. Still, the lake was nice, we saw a woodpecker, and there were some deer grazing in the park. And Max found enough building materials to build a house for his cars.

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From there it was just a short distance to reach the west entrance to Glacier National Park. We were planning to take the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is famed to be one of the most scenic drives through the Rockies.
It was a nice day to take the drive with a good share of sunshine. Even though it was the shoulder season and a weekday, the road was still very busy. In retrospect we were very happy that we had not gone there on our way from Yellowstone towards Washington, where we would have ended up on a weekend during vacation period. The road started as a nice and easy drive along some lakes and rivers.

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Eventually the road indeed went to the sun: it turned into a narrow and windy road taking us all the way up to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The further we got up, the more impressive were the views of the valleys and mountains below and around us.

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At our lunch location just below Logans Pass we were really impressed: we met a very nice couple and got to talk. Eventually we found out that they were the parents of 13 kids (of which two are adopted) between 32 and 9 years of age. We were thunderstruck. That is just too much to even imagine…

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Eventually we headed up all the way across the Logans Pass and hiked to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was a nice hike and brought us one last time up to the continental divide before we headed down towards St. Mary’s Lake.

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Down at the lake we were extremely lucky and got the last available campsite at the National Park campground. Lucky us! And even more lucky that on our walks through the campground we only encountered fairly fresh bear poo and not the bear that belonged to it.

Glacier National Park had been worthwhile seeing and we’re glad we took the detour vs. having continued straight east within Canada. And it marked a nice end point to our travels to date. Our trip down to St. Mary was the last stretch of road in the mountains, as we’d now be hitting the great plains. And it marks also the end of our sightseeing, as we’ll now try to simply get to the Great Lakes in as little time as possible in order to enjoy two weeks with friends and family.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:27 Archived in USA Tagged mountains lake road sightseeing hike railroad pass whitefish divide Comments (0)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

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