Hiking

Patagonia: Hike to Laguna de los Tres

The most popular hike in El Chalten is probably the hike to Laguna de los Tres to see Cerro Fitz Roy. For a day hike from El Chalten there are two options. The first option is to walk from El Chalten to the trail entrance. The trail entrance is located at the opposite end of town from the bus terminal. Look for the weary hikers walking back to town to find the entrance. The other option and the option I decided to go with is purchase a bus ticket to El Pilar.

Glacier Piedra Blancas

By starting the hike from Piedras Blanca you have the opportunity to visit the mirrador for the Glacier Piedra Blancas.

If you decide to start the hike from El Chalten you will be rewarded with this view as quickly gain elevation.

Another look back on the views as you leave El Chalten behind.

Cerro Fitz Roy hiding in the clouds.

The bridges in Patagonia always have instructions on how people can safely cross the bridge at the same time.

Patagonia: Hike to Laguna Torre

The hike to Laguna Torre is one of the two most popular hikes in El Chalten, Argentina. This 9 km hike takes you to the lagoon that sits at the base of Cerro Torre. You can choose to extend the hike to Mirrador Maestri.

Having just arrived from the US a day prior with two consecutive red eyes I decided to take it easy and hike the easier of the two hikes I had planned for my time in El Chalten. The hike takes 6-7 hour with some elevation gain at the start.

This hike has two entrances, the entrance closer to the center of town is marked with heavy signage. The entrance closer to the entrance for Laguna de los Tres is less marked and is the trail I chose. At times I was unclear if I was on the correct trail, I knew the general direction I wanted to head so I just tried to pick trails in that direction. For the most part the different trails were all going the same way.

Hiking the day after Christmas it was to my benefit I started early because I had the whole trail to myself. At times I wondered is this really the most popular trail during peak travel season, maybe there’s a new trail everyone else is on. Later when I was hiking back towards El Chalten I ran into crowds of people.

I wasn’t so lucky to see Cerro Torre that day. Cerro Torre stayed hidden in the clouds. I sat down at Mirrador Maestri to have my lunch while staring up at the clouds and wishing they would disappear. I could hear the glacier breaking every so often.

If you’re thirsty, grab a drink from this river beside the trail, #nofilter needed.

 

Cerro Fitz Roy is viewable from a section of the Laguna Torre trail.

 

Cerro Torre, with it’s head up in the clouds.

 

The view from Mirrador Maestri.

Patagonia: El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten, Argentina

El Chalten is a small town in Argentina popular with tourists for hiking and climbing. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end of town to the other. The town was established in 1985 to settle a border dispute with Chile.

I spent 4 days, 3 nights in El Chalten with plans to do two hikes, Laguna Torres to see Cerro Torres and Laguna de los Tres to see Cerro Fitz Roy. I had wanted to do a short hike on the day I arrived but my flight was delayed and I got in much later than I had originally planned. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in El Chalten as my introduction to Patagonia.

Getting There

From the US I flew to EZE, the international airport in Buenos Aires located 22 km outside the city center. To catch a flight to El Calafate, Argentina you can choose between Aerolineas Argentinas or LATAM Airlines. Aerolineas Argentinas departs from EZE whereas LATAM Airlines departs from AEP, the domestic airport. When I initially booked flights LATAM airlines was cheaper. If you need to transfer between airports you can read more about it here. From El Calafate airport or bus terminal there are multiple bus companies that provide transport to El Chalten, Argentina. CalTur is one of the larger bus companies and charges 450 Argentinian pesos one-way from El Calafate to El Chalten.

Money

In El Chalten it’s good to have cash. It’s suggested you get cash in Buenos Aires or any other major city before arriving in El Chalten in case the ATM in El Chalten runs out of money. At EZE there are multiple ATMs located outside the customs exit. Each ATM withdrawal is limited to $2400 Argentinian pesos with a $6 USD fee. You can read more about using ATMs in Argentina here. There is also a bank located inside the airport that offers a fair exchange rate. There are two entrances to the bank, one inside customs and one outside customs.

Getting Around

El Chalten is small, you can walk everywhere.

Where to Stay

There are numerous hostels and hotels in El Chalten. I stayed at the Rancho Grande Hostel. I found this via Booking.com. The hostel is located 15 minutes by walking from the bus terminal. The location is convenient for the two day hikes I had planned. Breakfast is not included but there is a kitchen and a 24 hour restaurant. I was also able to order a packable lunch to take with me on the hike.

What to Do

Hiking, Climbing

Hike to Rattlesnake Ledge

I was visiting Seattle for a weekend to visit friends and I wanted to go on a hike, big surprise. I had seen images of Rattlesnake on Instagram. I asked my friend if she was down, expecting her to say no, but to my surprise she replied with a resounding yes. She wanted to bring the whole family along which included her husband, her parents, a toddler and a baby. I looked up the hike, at 4 miles, round trip and an elevation gain of 1160 feet I figured it wasn’t difficult. My friend didn’t have a carrier for the toddler so I was hesitant as to how far she would make it, but I figured with enough breaks we could make it.

We woke up not so bright and early on Saturday and ate a sugar-rich breakfast of maple bars. Did you know a maple bar is a doughnut shaped as a bar with a maple glaze? I learned something new. We filled up every seat in the minivan and off we went. We had an initial hiccup when our GPS misguided us, but after getting directions from a local we found the parking lot for Rattlesnake. The parking lot was already full, so we joined the other cars parked alongside the road.

If nature calls there are portable toilets at the start of the hike. From the beginning the hike climbs constantly. Within the first 30 seconds the toddler declared she was tired and needed a rest. For the next half hour there was frequent stopping and resting. It was at that point someone decided the toddler and the grandparents would return to the bottom and wait for my friend, her husband and the baby to complete the hike.

With new determination we started again for the summit. We asked someone how far we were from the top and they estimated about 45 minutes. The suggested time says it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit, but after taking so many breaks we didn’t make it very far. We continued up, stopping less trying to get to the summit quickly. The next time we asked someone they said we were only 20 minutes from the top. Not too far now! Just like the parking lot down below the top is crowded. It is a ledge so you need to keep away from the edge and navigate carefully between the groups of people.

The view at top is a nice reward for the short but strenuous hike. We snapped a few photos and then quickly made our way down. I didn’t know, but it was the first time my friends had ever hiked so I have to give them props for making it to the top.

One Day Routeburn Track

We wanted to head out by 8am but we didn’t wake up until 7:45am so we headed out about 2 hours later.

We drove north towards Glenorchy and from there followed signs to the Routeburn Track. The signs are well placed and clear. We parked at Routeburn Shelter. Since it’s still currently winter that means no running water in the bathrooms at the Shelter.

From the parking lot you get a view of the snow covered mountains and the first of many suspension bridges. We were told it would be cold and windy so we were well prepared and it turns out we were over prepared, minus the wet sneakers and socks.

Our plan was to get to as close at the Routeburn Falls as possible. Normally this is three day hike that can be started at either end. We started at one end, prepared to hike back the way we came.

We started the hike and immediately warmed up and shed a few layers. The sun was just coming out and the brisk walking was quickly warming us up.

I won’t be able do justice describing just how beautiful everything was. Every few minutes I just had to take a step back and say wow, this is real and I’m right here.

Everything part of the hike was beautiful. It had snowed/rained the night before so there was a light dusting down below by the start. We began to encounter more snow the higher we went. By the time we reached the Falls Hut there was snow pretty much everywhere and it was hard to find a dry place to safely step your foot, hence the wet sneakers and socks.

We tried to wrap shower caps around our bare feet then layer socks over but got mixed results across the board. It didn’t work.

The Falls were covered in melting snow, puddles and run offs were prevalent everywhere.

We stopped at the Falls Hut for lunch and quickly headed down to get back well before sunset.

IMG_0941.JPG

IMG_0942.JPG

IMG_0943.JPG

IMG_0944.JPG

Katoomba (Blue Mountains)

Day 6

We decided to stay in Katoomba and do the hikes we were not able to do yesterday. Without a car it’s limits how much you can do since the distance between towns and different points can be far. It’s still possible to do it by foot, there’s just more walking.

We started by heading down the Grand Staircase and made it down below the suggested 30 minutes. It’s about 1000 feet to the valley only it didn’t feel like we reached the valley by the time we reached the last step.

We continued along to the Furber steps just walking along the path. We again made it to the location ahead of the estimated time. Going up the Furber steps took a long time because we stopped to take pictures multiple times. The views are incredible and abundant. The Furber steps take you right next to the Katoomba Falls. For us the water was not gushing down it but the gentleness made it beautiful.

Once at the top we headed back into Katoomba to browse some shops and buy some winter gear for New Zealand. After some time we headed over to Leura to hike to the Leura Cascades. Again I was amazed by the beauty of everything.

It may not be as great as the Grand Canyon but the Blue Mountains are lovely and have a little bit of everything, rainforest, mountains, and views.

IMG_6402.JPG

IMG_6395.JPG

Sydney => Katoomba (Blue Mountains)

8:00am Wakeup
8:30am 2 mile run around Hyde Park
9:00am Shower, pack, get ready
9:46am Check train schedule, set goal to leave in 4 minutes to catch 10:09am train to Katoomba.
10:11am Board train, turns out the train doesn’t depart at 10:09am but probably arrives at 10:09am.
2pm Eat lunch at the Yellow Deli in Katoomba town. The Yellow Deli has the cutest interior. My friend H said he felt like he was in Hobbiton already.

After lunch we headed towards the cliffs of the Blue Mountains. We walked about 15-20 minutes or so to get to one entrance to the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. I originally in visioned a cliff walk being literally. And I guess it was but our path was covered in trees so we couldn’t see much of anything. There were some lookout points so we stopped along the way. We were headed to Echo Point where we would be able to see the Three Sisters. According to my national geographic guidebook, there are three rock pillars that are actually three girls turned to stone by their father to protect them from their enemies. Unfortunately the father died before he could turn them back and they remained frozen in stone. We started late so we didn’t get to do the loop we originally intended. The hike takes you down to the valley floor and then back up but the sub sets at six and you want to get out the floor before then.

We had dinner in town and then went to Woolworths to pick up some stuff to take on our hike the next day. One of the things I enjoy about visiting foreign countries is browsing the aisles of the their convenience or grocery stores. I like to see if there’s something that looks interests me.

Unfortunately at that point I felt really cold. Katoomba is a bit chillier than Sydney and then after eating dinner my body felt really cold.

We made it back to the hostel, put away our groceries and our stuff down. At that point I realized we didn’t have towels, we had assumed they would be given to us. The hostel is small and family run which is why I originally liked it but the downside I realize now is there’s not someone always available at the front desk. It’s been awhile since I stayed in a hostel and I’m forgetting the basics. I ended up calling the after hours emergency phone number and got reprimanded for using it to ask for towels. And since I was already being reprimanded I was originally only given one I asked for two more for my friends.

I spent the rest of the night trying to plan later parts of my trip. I’m still shocked that jet lag never actually hit me, just normal exhaustion when it’s close to bedtime.

Mobile Tip:

Word to the wise get Opal as your mobile plan and not Vodafone if you’re looking for more data. Opal gives you 500mb of data a day for $20. Vodaphone gives 1gb for $15 or 1.5 for $20. There’s other parts to the plan but data is my biggest use. On the first day I used 500mb of data so now I’ve tried to be more conscious of my use.

IMG_6375.JPG

IMG_6372.JPG

IMG_6368.JPG

IMG_6389-0.JPG

IMG_6391-0.JPG

IMG_6390-0.JPG

Sydney

Day 4: G’day! I am now in the land down under!

Stay to the left!

I started off the day walking on the right side and after awhile remembered where I was and switched to the left. I did this a couple times throughout the day.

(I started this last night but exhaustion finally hit me and I passed out. I was even sleeping by the time my friends K & H arrived.)

I walked along George St in Sydney and since it was Tuesday around noon everyone was dresses for work heading to or from lunch. I immediately liked Sydney. The weather was was nice, not too hot, not too cold and I saw Asian restaurants everywhere that I wanted to try. Unfortunately I had a 1:05 Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb reservation I needed to make so I didn’t have time to stop and eat. I walked by Din Tai Fung with a sad face and dreamed about what I could have eaten at Mamak. My desire to make my first meal in Sydney epic was soon crushed.

I arrived at the check-in for my climb and the first thing they asked was, “have you eaten?” My reply, “no.” “You need to eat something.” So I scared down a Chicken Avocado sandwich which was quite tasty and not bad for a first meal in the land down under.

Booking a 1:05pm climb on a Tuesday afternoon turns out to be the secret VIP express climb. There was only one other climber on my tour and she was traveling for work. We introduced ourselves, they handed us a jumpsuit and we got changed. The weather can vary widely but they have everything you need. Since it was warm out we didn’t need to bring much. Our tour guide helped set us up and ran through a short physical test. And then we were off! I didn’t find it to be scary, you’re cabled in the whole way.

The views were amazing and being so exhausted I knew what I was experiencing was amazing but it was hard to feel it. I’ve seen images of the Sydney Opera house so many times and to be walking right along aside on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it was breathtaking, and literally too. I’m a bit out of shape. Post-Whitney I haven’t gone on any hikes and lost all my hiking muscles.

We stopped and chatted for a bit and I could tell it was because with only two people you climb a lot faster than the group maximum of twelve. They also stop here and there to take our photo. We ended up finishing a full hour early. Our guide said we could hang out as long as we want since we had so much time but since we didn’t have cameras and we can’t just run around everywhere we decided we had our full and were ready to head down. Since we finished early I headed over to the Pylon lookout to take photos for myself. The package for the bridge climb comes with a certificate, group photo, and free admission to the lookout. They will also record a short 10 second video which you can email to yourself later. I ended up paying $15 AUD for a single photo at the top of the bridge and $248 AUD for the climb. Initially I was planning to do the last day climb of the day to get some sunset but turns out my cousin is in town as well so we were meeting up for dinner and I didn’t think I would get there on time. My guide suggested booking the first night climb of the day since that $200 AUD and you can sunset views before it’s fully dark out. They have a twilight climb in between and that’s about $300 AUD. It is expensive but I had fun and I like I lucked out because we got the express VIP climb.

The Pylon Lookout was nice, I ran around with gopro and selfie stick attempting to capture an epic first selfie in Sydney. If I had to pay extra for it I don’t know if I would have gone. You can also just take photos from the bridge.

I had about two hours until dinner so I headed for to the visitor center to collect brochures and and then I walked around The Rocks. This place is named in every guidebook. It’s pretty touristy and it feels like one of those old places redone to look old but not falling apart anymore. It’s probably nicer on the weekends when it’s more crowded but it felt like a Faneuil Hall in Boston. I headed over to Circular Quay and saw boats coming and going and saw an artist making drawing large drawings. You can check him out on Instagram @pepegaka . He has Facebook as well. I was impressed by his wide social media presence. His sing says he lives purely by donation and does not sell his artwork but donates it. This reminded me of the stone lady I saw in Vancouver. I’ll try to post more photos later on Instagram.

From Circular Quay I continued to the Sydney Opera House. I have a confession to make. When I saw it with my own eyes I was underwhelmed. It looks not so white and a bit dated. Once I saw the stairs leading up to the Opera House and see the detailing I was blown away and attempted to catch the beauty in a selfie. It didn’t work out so well but hopefully this image I have in made head will stay for awhile.

On top of having a express VIP climb we also had gorgeous weather. Before coming to Sydney I imagined it was beautiful everyday because that’s what the photos look like. But my guide informed us it rains a lot and this is the first week with nice weather.

On the way to the Opera House there’s a nice/modern/musuemy restaurant and people were sitting outside enjoying views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House enjoying wine with friends and lovers. This is a nice spot to stop and chill after dinner and get drinks with friends. Also I was impressed that it wasn’t a cheesy restaurant you would normally find near major tourist attractions. It had class. Sydney you got class and I like it.

I needed to head over to the restaurant to meet my cousin for dinner. I had a general idea
of the direction I needed to go. I started walking and it was dark by then and the street was empty. I saw a
few people take some stairs towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge and decided to follow. It was going the direction I needed to go and there were people so I wouldn’t be alone.

At first I was happy I decided to change routes because it was scenic and then I started to panic I wouldn’t find a way down and the road led straight to the bridge. Too stubborn to turn around I continued on. I saw familiar sites and knew I was still going to right direction and then I saw a group I had see earlier in the day walking in the opposite direction so I thought there has to be another way down.

I ran into people taking photographs of the view. From that vantage point you can see both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I was also getting passed by runners left and right. Remember I’m still learning to stay the left but it feels so counterintuitive I freak out when I have to make a quick decision and end up staying to the right. My guide for the bridge climb informed lots of people enjoy running the bridge. I saw lots of people with hydration backpacks and I thought people in Sydney are fit! Later I passed an electronic signboard that said marathon in X days. I’m guessing the high number of runner wearing hydration packs were all training for the marathon.

Luckily I found a way down and continued walking into the city. Everyone was getting off work and I was long queues of people waiting for buses. I was amazed at how orderly everything was and how long the lines were! I took a photo but not the one with the crazy long lines. I stopped and stared for a few seconds. It’s not something I see in LA often and I could remember if it’s like this in NY. My last memory is from China and it was definitely not like that. I can’t imagine what kind of culture shock Australians go through when they move to China.

I arrived at dinner and found the cute restaurant bustling with people. I out my name down and waited for my cousin. I enjoyed people watching and I think people in Sydney are fairly attractive. We sat down to dinner and I was starved. I had originally planned to stop at Din Tai Fung for a pre-dinner snack but I didn’t have much time and thought it would take too long. Everything on the menu looked good and everything tasted good. We ordered a Tom Yum that was so spicy I didn’t ask for hot sauce. It is not the usual Americanized Thai food I’m accustomed to. We ordered too
much and couldn’t eat it all. My cousin insisted I take the leftovers but I stubbornly refused because we were headed out of Sydney the next day. But I’m writing this now on a two hour train to Katoomba and that leftover Thai sounds amazing but not the Tom Yum.

So we did out usual catch up and gab. Before I delve deeper I will give a backstory. I met up with my cousin in NY for dinner. We barely caught each other since she was out of town for the majority of my time in NY and were finally found one night of overlap. We both mentioned we were taking for doing and Austrlalia/New Zealand around the same time but neither of us had plane tickets. Fast forward to days before I’m planning to leave and I frantically start planning and wonder where is my cousin. I shoot her an email and find out we will be in Sydney at the same time. Our communication is choppy and we in the end only have one night of overlap in Sydney, typical us. I pepper her with questions about her trip and ask her for tips in advice. I learn she’s more into learning about the indigenous people and I’m much more into hiking and activities. We finish dinner and head out in search of a coffee shop. We head over to a food court she had been to earlier and find Ippudo and Lauderee! I am floored but sad because both are closed. We give up and head back toward her hotel to drop off the leftovers. We attempt to go to a bar across the street but it’s closing so we just in the hotel lobby. (Bars are sometimes called hotels because an archaic law didn’t allow alcohol to be sold in places that didn’t have accommodations. I learned that tidbit from my cousin the bookworm.)

We continue our gabfest in the lobby but exhaustion finally catches up to me and I am yawning non stop. At this point I haven’t had a proper nights sleep in three nights and I was battling jetlag. She hands me $20 AUD and tells to take a taxi home. This is also after she paid for my dinner. I was initially planning to walk since it’s not far but it’s late and the streets are empty so I accept and we head over to the taxi stand. We say our goodbyes and ponder when we will see other next. She will spend a day in LA but I’ll still be only my world tour. Another useful tidbit my cousin gave, restaurants charge less for cash so she takes out cash to pay for things.

Back to the hotel I see my friends have arrived but are out at the moment. I get ready for bed and start writing and within about two minutes the exhaustion is too strong and I fall asleep. My friends come back, wake me up and we talk while Iay in bed sleeping, too exhausted to get out. And by some magic, maybe being so exhausted I sleep through the night!

Hiking Mt Wilson via Chantry Flats

We read various blogs in preparation for our hike to make a gameplan. Most of the blogs stressed getting there as early as possible because parking is limited and they tend to be filled up by 7 am.

We got the the parking lot at the trailhead by 6:15 am and it was full by 6:45 am.

Since we’re planning to do a lot of hiking in the next months training for Whitney we we decided to purchase an annual parking pass. It was only an extra $5 to get a second pass.

  • National Forest Adventure Pass Annual Pass $30
  • Additional Annual Pass $5
  • Day Pass $5

Where to Buy an Adventure Pass

From the parking lot we started hiking down first. Knowing this would be our toughest hike yet there was a bit of grumbling in the group as  we made our way down and followed signs to the waterfall. This part of the hike reminded me of hikes I used to do in New England with water along trail. After the waterfall you have to backtrack to where the trail split off.

There’s a couple options, they will all take you to the top. The one thing I wasn’t aware of before I started this hike was how popular it was with mountain bikers and trail runners. I thought this was a tough hike I can’t imagine running it!

Having trained for marathons I try to be cautious of keeping a steady pace. Our group split up, but we were probably always about 5-10 minutes away from each other. Towards the last 200 feet I did start to cramp a little so I stopped to stretch but in the end made it to the top without issues. I was more concerned about cramping on the way down, but luckily I didn’t have any issues.

It happened to be cloudy that day. The peak put us above the clouds. That was pretty amazing, I had never seen that before. On a clear day you can see all the way out to Catalina. The second half of our group skipped the scenic viewpoint and headed straight to the cafe to use the restroom. The trail has a portable toilets at the start of the trail and then there’s pretty much nothing until you get to the top.

At the top there are flushing toilets then again nothing on the way down so ladies plan ahead.

After a 30-45 min break we started our hike down a different trail. From the trail we had come up you have to walk a good 15 minutes to get to the cafe. There’s another trail down from the parking lot. We ran into mountain bikers both going up as we were headed down.

We started the hike around 6:45 am, the first group finished around 1:15 pm and the second group finished around 1:45 pm.

When we got back to the parking lot there were cars parked all over the road going up as well as people waiting to park in the lot.

—-

Links

SoCal Hiker: Hiking Mt. Wilson via Chantry Flats

EveryTrail: Mt Wilson via Chantry Flats

 

 

Winning the Mount Whitney Lottery

A few months ago two of my friends asked me if I wanted to hike Mount Whitney. My immediate reply was an over enthusiastic, “YES!”

In order to hike Mt Whitney in one day on the Mt Whitney Trail without the use of technical equipment you need to enter a lottery to obtain a permit. Lottery applications for 2014 are closed.

Back in March every member of team our submitted an application into the lottery. We lucked out, 4 out 6 of our applications were selected. That’s pretty surprising, since this year 11,364 applications were submitted and only 4,473 were successful.

We primarily selected Sundays in July, August and early September.

You can check to see how many applications were submitted for each day of the permit season,

The lottery process has a lot of rules and you will want to be sure to follow them. Even after you have one the lottery you will need to accept it and then again two weeks prior to your permit date.

You can get all the details here.

Good Luck!

—–

Links:

SectionHiker: Climbing Mt.Whitney by Chris Marks

Mount Whitney: Mt Whitney Permits

Timberline Trails: Mt Whitney Getting Started

Orange County Register: Whiting: Secrets to Winning Mt Whitney Lottery