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.

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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.





Annapurna Base Camp & Machupachare Base Camp

21 12 2018

The Annapurna Sanctuary. Photo: Wikimedia.org

A Cold and Starry Night

After dinner at MBC, the fog cleared and stars shined bright. It was so clear it seemed I could jump up and touch the stars. Being that now we were at over 12,000ft elevation, it got chilly quickly. It would dip to 29 degrees Fahrenheit. My clothes being wet, I pretty much committed to sticking around base camp and dry stuff – and planned on doing a 30-minute each way hike up and back toward Annapurna Base Camp in the morning.

A Perfect Day Dawns

I was up before dawn, and indeed the stars were to die for! I could see the outlines of some peaks in the starlight. Some trekkers could be seen already hiking to Annapurna. Then pink of dawn came, and gradually the sun bathed the peaks more and more!

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One by one, our group emerged from their tents, cameras in hand, to capture the unfolding spectacle!

Each peak was 21,000 ft or higher, with Annapurna I, hidden behind a nearby hill, 26,545 ft.

There was no wind. Just still perfection.

With mountains this big, it was enough to just stare at their magnificence.

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I had to get out some of the tutu gear for a last photo and evidence I got there!

All for one and one for all, I did it. WE did it. For Joani Carpenter, for Shari Roberts, and in memory of my brother John.

We’d have our breakfast, and then the group would hike up about 1,200 feet to Annapurna Base Camp.

I wasn’t the only one with wet gear!

 

 

 

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Frozen Clothes

Annette’s bandana had frozen completely stiff! It was my job to defrost and dry it!

I had experimented during the night with trying to use myself and my sleeping bag as a dryer for my synthetic and merino wool layers. It actually worked out pretty well. Still, I was reticent about hiking up and making myself/clothes wet again at the altitude/cold.

Morning at MBC

It worked out pretty well. As the others climbed, I went to one of the restaurants and wrote in my journal, had coffee, and visited with some trekkers from Germany, Holland and India. The German couple had already returned from Annapurna Base Camp, having captured images of the stars up there before dawn above the peaks! Wow such beautiful photos.

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A Short Hike Up

It turned out to be darn comfortable outside the restaurant that morning. Then I took my 30-minute walk up. In this video I mistakenly say all the mountains are above 25,000′. Not so. But they are above 21,000′ for sure! And as you can see, for the first time on this trek, we were 100% above tree line. This was something different for me, for on the Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan, and the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, we were above tree line most of the time.

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Our Group At Annapurna Sanctuary

My trek-mates Annette, Tara, Madeline, Uli, Amee, Gerry, Cathy Ann, Kevin, and Don all made it up to Annapurna Base Camp and took in the Annapurna Sanctuary! The top of that ridge is 26,545′ Annapurna I.

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Left to right: Cathy Ann, Don, Amee, Madeleine, Uli, Annette, Gerry, Kevin and Tara! Annapurna I right above Gerry.

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Takar, Mingma and Sonam on the left!

Sometime after mid day, everybody returned and we had lunch. And then it was perhaps a 2.5 hour hike down and out to Hinku, where we had lunch yesterday. We arrived about 3 p.m. I think this was a good decision because there isn’t a whole lot to do at Machupachare Base Camp – and it shortened one of the hardest hikes on the way back.

The hike back to 10,650′ Hinku was mostly forested. And due to local showers in the valley, the steps were damp – and leaves had fallen on some of them. A recipe for slips and falls. And several of us, including myself, had spills. The hike down, down, down steep steps brought home why I was so beat up yesterday on the way up! And each and every step needed to be carefully placed, lest one sprain an ankle and get helicoptered out! Regardless of the gauntlet of challenges we got into Hinku safe and unhurt. And as was what seemed a regularity that week, fog rolled in mid afternoon making a bit moist.

So what! We unfolded our camping chairs and enjoyed the views!

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OK time for late afternoon tea/coffee and then dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

 





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal: Doban to Machupachare Base Camp!

18 12 2018
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Morning in Doban. No more rain clouds!

 

 

Dawned Bright

Despite the twilight monsoon-ish downpour, sleeping at Doban was fine. There were only a few light pitter-pattery showers overnight, and the river’s music lulled me to sleep. No nightmares this time.

Doban lay in a steep, waterfall-laden, forested, tightly wound valley. Morning broke clear. As always, snowy Machupachare watched over us.

Today we’d hike along the Modi Khola River, up and down with an eventual attainment of 3,576 feet by evening, arriving at 12,204 ft Machapuchare Base Camp! From there, it’s another 1,231 feet to Annapurna South Base Camp – the Annapurna Sanctuary itself.

Ecosystems Galore

This is the bit. Yes it is a TON of climbing and descending to finally arrive at Base Camp.

But the thing is, the ascending and descending north and south facing slopes of this incredible canyon reveals incredibly diverse biospheres at each elevation or direction. South facing slopes have produced incredibly dense forests with bamboo or rhododendron, whilst the north facing slopes have flora resembling a high desert plateau.

We Were at the Whims of the Himalaya

And as we continued climbing, we were increasingly in close proximity to mountains 23,000 – 27,000 ft, and the weather was changing accordingly. Up here, things change quickly. Expectations of a full day of sun were dashed, and in their place we experienced chillier, damper, and sometimes foggy weather. However, it could just as easily clear up for a couple of hours and become warm!

So I donned what clothes I thought best, and stashed extras in my day pack, including the pack cover for an unexpected shower. After a multi course breakfast, we set off. And our dedicated kitchen staff, porters, and guides worked for us. The “stepped trail” pretty much followed the left side of the river, climbing up and down along the way. It was very beautiful, as the rainy downpours created incredible 500+ foot waterfalls coursing down the valley on both sides.

Peak Experience

It was on this day that the moment happened when I knew that I got the experience I was looking for on this trek. It just happened in an unexpected way. Sometime in the morning, our hikers split into a lead and a following group. And I found myself in the lead group.

Trekking Nirvana Comes Upon Me Without Warning

All during this trek, and for that matter, on any trek, there are some ‘concentrations,’ or ‘distractions,’ well, I don’t know know exactly how to describe them, or perhaps they can be described as the “snow globe of thoughts that must  be addressed,” but they are there. I am not passing judgment on these things, but they are simply part of any trek. Such things are sentiments about keeping up with other trekkers, breathing the oxygen necessary to get legs over the next pass,  performing the best “rest steps,” or talking with other trekkers, or waiting for other trekkers, well, I don’t know. And, as these things are natural, there is nothing wrong with these sentiments/duties or ordinary aspects of hiking with others and on challenging terrain. But the thing is, they distract from experiencing the natural environment in which one treks. Like static blocking out the beauty. I’d been talking with other trekkers, or de-layering to be comfortable, not even thinking I was missing something essential. So on this day one of us passed me playing some kind of pop music on their cell phone. I was so totally turned off. I just wanted to experience the Himalaya – leave that stuff back home. So I slowed my pace so that I allowed the front group to get ahead so that the noise died away.  Before long, I only heard my boots on the trail , birds overhead, my own thoughts and lullaby of the Modi Khola river nearby.

I found myself alone, in between the front group and the following group of trekkers. And everything about trekking fell into place. My footsteps, the river burbling, the birds soaring, Machupachare seemingly watching, I don’t know, it all just came together and I guess the serotonin in my brain started pumping. I was lifted up into some kind of nirvana-like state which I wanted to go on forever! This just went on and I felt absolutely nothing about walking up and down that trail until lunch. Nothing but pure pleasure worth every penny of going on this trek. I just couldn’t believe how it seemed to require withdrawing from other people. But it was there nonetheless. Maybe it just required withdrawing from the snow globe of requiring to respond to others and then to just focus 100% on THE PRESENT. I just don’t know. But it was there. It was 100% palpable and incredible. Such simplicity, Such whole-ness.

Here is a sweet video of one of our rest stops on this day.

During our delicious multi-course lunch, a sinister cold-moist breath reached our break spot. It was the Himalayan cloud pattern, which reversed the sunny warmth and in its place laid a moist, cold foggy layer. Yikes! It was so palpable I was taken aback. But it required an after lunch re-set of layers once again.

The trek up to Machapuchare Base Camp was varied. At certain points it opened up above tree line, where we could see where we were going, but then again, the fog would close in, so we really didn’t know what was coming up. At one point the trail seemed to open up and become more level, but then again the fog rolled in, the steps steepened, and I had to stop and re-layer. The lead group forged on, and MingMa stayed with me as I layered for the final push. This last part of this leg, for me, was super annoying. Reading the trip description I thought this section was more level, but OH NO. In fact it was steps ascending relentless to the camp. This was confirmed on the way back down, it was a whole heck of a lot of steep, high, steps. I give MingMa a ton of credit for going with me on this last stretch.

Once we arrived at ‘MBC,” it turned out to be a complex with multiple lodges, tea houses, and camp sites. It was so foggy MingMa had to figure out where our group was camped. It took Oh, 10 minutes to find our group.

This time, I’d had it. I was finally out of dry clothes and with the cool fog, no way to dry anything. I pretty much gave in to the idea of just staying around camp the next day, maybe taking a 30-minute each way hike, try to dry things out. However, our plans changed. The original plan was to spend two nights at MBC. But that would mean two very very long days before we get down to the end of the trek. So, it was decided that we’d hike out of MBC for a couple of hours, and spend the night. That way, it’d shorten one of the days hiking out.

No pictures of arrival at MBC, too foggy. But I can show you our dinner! In the kitchen tent. Our cooks were super. They made pumpkin pie, apple pie, two types of cake, and even some kind of fruit basket made of hard candy! They made a lot of local specialties like Momo, and a type of “potato chip,” lots of vegetable dishes, a type of tempura, but I cannot remember the names of the others!

Speaking of food, they introduced me to SPAM! I don’t eat ham. But I tried spam at breakfast, and while I wouldn’t eat it daily, on a trek it was perfect.

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Next morning dawn was gorgeous and bright. The stars before dawn were unforgettable.

I’ll cover Annapurna Base Camp next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chiuli to Chomrong

9 12 2018
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Sunny breakfast at Chiuli

The sunset last night was beautiful, but it was behind a hill directly to the west above us. Good news – we were perched on a ledge with an incredible view to the north and east – so I didn’t take photos of our beautiful site at Chiuli last night because I knew morning would be 100% better! Annapurna South (23,684′), and Machapuchare (22,943′) would all dominate views!

I was fortunate that my tent was next to Amee’s last night so I could visit for a little bit. But, my legs were so beat up and in need of rebuilding so I crashed out before 8 p.m. I awoke a couple of times, but slept very well and rested. I think Amee was wrapped up reading “The Snow Leopard.”

Dawn. Probably due to my early to-bed-time, I’m the 1st up. I’m rewarded with opportunities to get images of sunrise! You can glimpse Annnapurna South, plus Machapuchare up the next valley east.

Mornings on the trek began with a luxury. The first thing an awakening trekker hears is “Good Morning! Coffee or tea?” And believe me it might be the most welcome time of the day. We get 15 minutes or so with morning nectar.

 

15 minutes later, staff brings washing water. It’s a big stainless steel bowl with hot water we can do a sponge bath with.

The sun rose up and strong. It was so beautiful that the staff took the dining tent down and we had breakfast outside!

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I had a nice photo of myself with Cathy Ann.

And like any other day, we start hiking around 8:00 a.m. We watch our porters load up and hit the trail, too.

Today was considered a “rest day,” by that way meaning it didn’t have so many ups and downs. I’d say I agreed, for the day’s trail was definitely more “meandering,” less steeps. And overall, we would end up about 2,000′ lower than we began.

This day, like others, was a challenge for my perspiration! I de-layered a lot.

We would end our day at Chomrong, another perch with an amazing view. It was a “rest,” or shorter, not so steep hike, and we arrived to juice and a shower tent about 2 p.m. The “shower” was a single person standing tent with a drainable door mat inside, a chair, a 5-gallon bucket of hot water and a scoop. So I would stand and pour a nice hot scoop of water over myself, over and over. Felt great.

Our “lodge spot” Chomrong had a cozy restaurant with beer, wifi and a charging station available.

And later in our trek, we’d camp exactly at Chomrong on the return! Chomrong has some pretty intimidating steps down to the river and back up the other side!