Morocco’s Todra Gorge

1 06 2020

On this day, we awoke in our castle inspired hotel nestled in a fertile valley with cliffs towering hundreds of feet above.

Morning hikes were on the agenda, followed by walking in the Todra Gorge. Either a sun baked climb to further up the cliffs, or a more gentle walk along the palm-lined valley through which the Todra river flows. I chose the latter, which seemed to offer shade.

This valley and its village, like many in this part of Morocco, has hot, dry walls above, and anything by the river is verdant, green, and lush, frequently with palm groves. This is where people make their homes.

We met our local guide and began the hike. It was very comfortable, the temperature starting about 60 and rising to 75 degrees while on the walk.

It was early spring. Things were greening up, and flowers emerging.

Cherry blossoms.

Before long, we came across fields of crops tended by members of the village.

It seemed the pace of daily life here was somewhat dictated by the needs of the plants in the fields and gardens. And right now, crops needed some tender care to get them established. It was such a beautiful sight and sweet smelling as well. The air was dry, the temperature comfortable, and the view was a contrast of blue sky, reddish orange canyon walls, flowers, and green fields and palms.

 

Further upstream, the village came into view. These homes were made of rocks and sun dried clay bricks. Thus, their colors often resembled the walls of the gorge. Sometimes they were built into hillsides. They have levels and the levels are for different activities. It was beautiful to glimpse the contrasts of field, sky, gorge and structure.

The trail ended on the road, not far from the entrance to the Todra Gorge. After a break for tea and Citron at a cafe, we headed into the Gorge. It is 2,000 feet high at the entrance. Further up, the narrowest passage is about 30 feet wide. It is a popular destination for locals seeking recreation, athletes like rock climbers. Hikers, tourists, and even a crowd of students making merry were in attendance.

If you can zoom in, you can peek in on a woman rock climber!

I also found a lady who had brought everything necessary for a family picnic. Chairs, blankets and a charcoal grill all ready to go.

We made it back to the village for a late lunch. Walking through the winding lanes, it was a mix of buildings in every sort of condition imaginable.

Some were abandoned, some looked very old, and yet, like elsewhere in Morocco, a door could lead to something wonderful inside.

 

I videoed my walk to our lunch riad to show that you just cannot predict where you are going to wind up. Just when an area might seem to be in disrepair, you pass through a door into an oasis!

We had a leisurely lunch. We also saw a demonstration about carpets. I have so many carpets I don’t have room for another!

On our way back to our micro bus, Mohamed took us to his sister’s house. She had a newborn baby to show off!





Morocco: Nomads of the Steppe

25 05 2020

Nomad House resized

Leaving the sands of the Sahara behind, we had a long drive to the Todra Gorge. We traveled on a well maintained highway through the flat, arid steppe. It’s a sparsely inhabited land. For centuries, farmers irrigated this land by digging down to the aquifers below. But in the last 20 years, the aquifer has dropped significantly.

Still, there are wells in places. And the Nomads will set up camp near these wells. Their lives are migratory. They will move to a spot, set up camp, and spend months there. We spotted a Nomad house whilst traveling, and stopped to pay them a visit.

On this day, we saw a mother with two sons. They had a multi room home, goats, chickens, and many things we have at home. Just different. Husband wasn’t there, he was probably working in the fields somewhere, or in town. Mother was welcoming, we didn’t bother her at all. And, she loved showing off her children! At one point she was laughing hard at the antics of her children, and their goat.

It was clear there was a lot of love. The Moroccan Nomads are a culture all their own. They don’t do well in school because they are so different from the other kids, and because they move on. Also, it isn’t long before they’re needed at home to take care of things. They are a dwindling culture. We were fortunate to interact with them for only a short while.

Their camp had many things familiar to us Westerners, but they took different forms.

I think it’s important to respect their culture. It’s delicate. And they seemed genuinely happy to be “living on the fringe,” with little of modern society’s pressures. Their lives are in tune with nature.

At long last, we reach our multi story lodge in the Todra Gorge region. It’s got a nice pool outside. And a river running just in front. Palms line the river. It isn’t long before we were resting around the pool! But it didn’t last all that long, because in this north south valley, the sun went behind the western cliff, and it became chilly right quick!

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This lodge had a restaurant with a substantial wood burning fireplace! Quite a nice spot for dinner. Here I ought to mention a beverage I loved as a child, but it has disappeared from American grocery stores. It is the Schweppes Citron! In America, it was called Bitter Lemon. It has bits of lemon floating around, and is simply marvelous. Available everywhere in Morocco!

Schweppes Citron resized

 

 

 

 

 





Marin Headlands, CA Hike with my Annapurna Sanctuary Trek-Mates!

5 02 2020

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Rod, Cathy Ann, Annette, and Uli!

In early January 2020, I spent a weekend in the San Francisco Bay area. My college roommate Michael Matthews lives there, as does Cathy Ann Taylor, who was my guide on treks in Bhutan, Peru, and Nepal.

I contacted Cathy Ann and we decided to do a nice hour-or-so hike up in the Marin Headlands. Also joining on the hike were two of my Nepal trekking-mates! Annette Brinton and Ulrike (Uli) Koehne. In Nepal, we hiked about 38,000 vertical feet on the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek!

We met at the Tennessee Valley trailhead. It is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The hike wound up the hills and, once over the saddles, we could see all the Bay area! I could see container ships coming in from the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and all the way to Oakland. There was no fog! Cathy Ann said at our highest point we were about 1,000ft above the ocean.

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Cathy Ann kept up a brisk pace. I sweated a bit, but the breeze and my quick dry apparel made quick work of the wetness and by the end of the hike I was dry all over again.

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With Uli!

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Adrian, Annette, Rod, Michael, Amala, Thupten, and Cathy Ann

Following the hike, we met Michael at a dockside restaurant in Sausalito. There were other guests and one total surprise! Cathy Ann’s husband Thupten was with us, as was Annette’s husband. The surprise guest was Amala, Thupten’s mom! I met her in Nepal!

What a perfect day.





Metolius River, OR in October

28 01 2020

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Picture perfect from my campsite.

In late October 2019, two things converged: A couple of midweek days off, and a forecast of 70-degree sunny days for the Metolius River area. The Metolius River campgrounds stay open until mid December. With such a terrific forecast and time off, I scrambled to pack up one last time and get some more camping and river watching in!

The Metolius River valley and its Camp Sherman zip code are one of Oregon’s jewels. The river is super clean as it emerges as a fully grown river from a lava tube at the head of the valley. The valley is populated by orange-red barked Ponderosa Pine. And the Forest Service conducts regular “controlled burns” so that the underbrush never grows too high. The valley road winds along the river but also climbs to vistas of nearby Cascade peaks such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. This means that a drive to the campground immerses you in a lush, peaceful forest with a blue ribbon trout stream populated by hopeful fly fishers, punctuated by blue skies and snowy peaks.

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10,450 ft Mount Jefferson

70 degree days in late October in the Metolius area are not the norm, but they do occur often enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather in case they pop up. The area sits in a rain shadow just east of the Cascade crest. It’s guaranteed the campgrounds will be 50% empty. No reason for a reservation.

I found one of those picture perfect, lots-of-real-estate campsites with a magnificent view of the river. And not far from the rest room either!

Just behind my site, on the other side of the road, was somebody camping with some kind of tiny Airstream trailer. I set up my tent, put the pad, sleeping pad and pillows inside.

Then, I proceeded to set up the camp kitchen and the fire pit that is always a “reason to come camping.”

The valley sits in a north-south position. With a low ridge to the west and a higher, 800ft ridge on the east side.

 

I sat by the river and read my New York Times as the warmth set in. But as it was late October, I started to realize that the lower level of the sun meant an early sunset here.

 

The forecast for this area said nighttime low temperatures would be in the low 40’s. That was no problem for me. So, I brought my 32-degree down bag. This Mountain Hardwear 800-fill down bag has been terrific. It’s been warm even down to the mid 30’s.

With the sun setting and chill creeping in, I lit a campfire and hastily set about making dinner. By 7:30 p.m. it was mighty chilly and time to crawl into the sleeping bag.

With my sleeping bag zipped up, ski hat on my head and gloves, plus my two pillows, I was actually just fine sleeping through the night. In fact, I was quite surprised how comfy I felt. I looked forward to the 70-degree day following.

The next part isn’t so rosy. I went to bed at 7:30, so my 6:30 a.m. I was DONE with sleeping and very much wanted to get up and start the day. What I wasn’t expecting was while although it was light outside, the sun had not come up over the eastern side of the valley. And much of what was liquid last night was now frozen. The pump on the camp stove barely moved. It groaned and squeaked, as did I. The temperature was clearly below freezing and not the mid 40’s predicted. While I was fine tucked into my sleeping bag, outside I was in the discomfort zone, and the sun wasn’t anywhere near rising above the valley wall anytime soon! Worse, I could hear the radio coming from the tiny Airstream trailer just accoss the way. This is when I knew that for late season camping a trailer does have it merits!

I managed to pump up my stove and get a nice few cups of coffee going. Then, the fire. Still, I was a bit put off by the weather forecast. As the morning progressed, it wasn’t until 9:30 by the time the sun came up over the hill, warming everything up. So, I realized the actual maximum temperature was only a few fleeting hours today. Whilst beautiful, I decided to just head back home rather than endure another long morning! It wasn’t the night, it was the long cold morning that got to me. Nevertheless, the Metolius area is beautiful even in late fall. Perhaps a hotel night would do the trick!

 

 

 





Crawdads (Crayfish) at Timothy Lake

27 01 2020

Gone Creek dock morning

A glassy morning lakefront view.

Timothy Lake, about 12 miles south of Mount Hood, within 75 miles of Portland, has been my favorite quick getaway camping spot for years. While it can fill up on weekends, weekdays it is always possible to get a spot without a reservation.

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Happy Hour at the Picnic Table

In July 2019 I met up with my friends Laura, Jeff, Jason and Julie.

We stayed at Gone Creek Campground. This campground had just been given some enhancements by owner Portland General Electric. Enhancements included a new dock, more gravel for the roads, and new toilet facilities. Some of the campsites had been “leveled” with heavy machinery, and the results were not always improvements. For example, sometimes there were less tent sites than before!

It was beautiful weather. Just a few clouds and very comfortable. And no bugs to worry about.

Jason and Julie brought a tandem kayak. They also had crayfish traps, and later in the day, they went out and set the traps whilst Laura, Jeff and I started dinner preparations.

They set out a line of traps, with I think some raw chicken for bait. These were soaked maybe an hour or so.

JasonJulie coming ashore

It only took that long for a nice haul of crawdads! Jason and Julie showed up with enough for all of us.

Raw Crawdads

These crayfish were at most 4″ long. Did you know there are crayfish in Tasmania as big as goliath lobsters!? That’s right. A Giant Tasmanian Crayfish can weigh as much as 13 lbs and 31″ long!

Cooking crawdads is a simple affair. Some seasoning like old bay, boiled or steamed. Then you just take the shell apart and eat. We had some hot sauce which went well. It’s work, but super fun!

Crawdads Cooked and ready

Each of us had a plate. Lots to go around!

Next time someone offers me a plate of crayfish I’ll accept for sure!

 

 

 

 





Deurali to Chomrong, The Stairway to Heaven and Views A Plenty

23 12 2018

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Wow! A panoramic with Chomrong clinging to the slope, Annapurna South (23,680′), Hinchiuli (21,132′), Machapuchare, and our tents!

A Total Day’s Descent Means Lots of Climbing

Today’s hike would take us from 10,670′ down to 6,759′ but descent is not the whole story. For in between there would be some of the hardest climbs done in a day on this trek. We’d end the day back at Chomrong – where’d we’d been a few days prior. But this time, we’d be climbing two of the longest sets of stairs instead of descending them!

The day started cool and comfortable. It was partly cloudy, and I assumed the clouds would burn off, which they eventually did. Being a bit cooler was a real benefit. I used the drying technique again last night of sleeping with wet clothes in my sleeping bag – they were dry in the morning!

More In The Present Time

After one of the break stops, I found myself starting behind the group because I was talking with another hiker when the group just took off. Yet I wasn’t the last guest, as somehow it turned out Madeleine was behind. Before I even knew she was behind I just happily walked my own way and tuned in to the sounds of the Modi Khola River, the breeze and the birds. It was only when I heard Mingma calling from behind that I knew they were there!

2,000 Steps to End the Day

The most challenging steps of the day were our last. In mid afternoon, we rounded a bend to see across a valley to Chomrong. We’d climb steeply to cross the river via a suspension bridge, then ascend some 2,000 steps through the village to our lodge-side campsite. Once at the bottom of those steps, I dressed down to my T-shirt for the upcoming steps!

After much industry I make it up to camp maybe 30 seconds or so behind the main group. And after making home in my tent, Don and I headed to the restaurant for an early beer. And headed back after tea time….and we were joined by Uli, Kevin, and Annette for a couple of well deserved beers!

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Waiting to dig into breakfast.

The best views were in the morning. And those are featured on this blog post.