Columbia Gorge Hikes: Eagle Creek

12 06 2017

 

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A typical trail side view.

 

 

No visit to the classic Columbia Gorge would be complete without a hike up the Eagle Creek Trail. Only 30 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon, Eagle Creek offers complete refreshment for urbanites in need of a re-set, and amazement for tourists in search of views, waterfalls, ospreys, bald eagles, salmon and more.

Starting at its confluence with the Columbia River, Eagle Creek Trail gently ascends, reaching more than 800 ft in elevation, connecting with other Mt. Hood National Forest trails. The trail could be characterized as canyon-climbing and forested, with waterfall views dotting the way. It contains the classic Punchbowl Falls, often seen in kayak photos.

 

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Punchbowl Falls

 

Eagle Creek Punchbowl Falls

On virtually any day in any season, a Columbia Gorge hike can be great. But it gets more complicated than just heading into the Gorge. Some hikes like Coyote Wall (in previous blog) are good for early spring. On warmer days these trails – with little shade – can become like solar collectors. Hikers roast. So when it heats up,  Eagle Creek Trail is a good choice.

 

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On the steep canyon face, Laura enjoys the fresh water cascading from above! There is a cable to grasp for safety.

 

It offers a forested canyon with a north-south orientation. So, while it might be a bit cool on rainy spring days, it is sublime on hotter summery days.

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Wildflowers take advantage of our wet spring.

 

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One of the side creeks the trail crosses.

 

 

OK – I’ll let this blog be brief. Eagle Creek is a must for a visit to the Columbia River Gorge! Don’t miss it. You’ll be greatly rewarded.

 





Columbia River Gorge: Hiking the Coyote Wall / Labyrinth Area, WA

1 06 2017

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Like the Lower Deschutes River area, the Washington side of the eastern Columbia River Gorge offers beautiful spring hikes with lots of SUN, whereas it might be cloudy in the Portland, OR area. This spring, I discovered the Coyote Wall / Labyrinth trail system.

To reach this beautiful area, take I-84 east from Portland, and cross the Hood River Bridge to the Washington side. Head east on Hwy 14 past Bingen. In about 3-4 miles you’ll encounter a lake on the left. That’s Locke Lake. To reach Labyrinth you’ll have to walk along the north lake shore road maybe a mile to get to its trailhead.

The Washington side of the Eastern Gorge is ideal in early spring because like a solar collector, it faces south, it is sparsely treed,  so it gets lots and lots of sun. This trail system climbs some 1,775 to max out at 1,895 ft elevation. It is shared by mountain bikers and hikers – and their canine friends.

If you like waterfalls, sparse trees, immense views, and wildflowers – and who doesn’t? This system is for you. But if you cannot handle some climbing be warned. It may be that the beauty will just carry you through.

I had recently been to the next-door Catherine Creek trail system. Catherine Creek is so open as to be boring in comparison. Catherine Creek has vast open fields which seem to go on forever. Alternatively Labyrinth has countless micro “worlds” filled with little canyons, trees, flowers, waterfalls and views popping out. Each one different.

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It’s possible to lose one’s way up there, so I suggest consulting an online guide with detailed instructions before heading out.

Laura and I encountered countless wildflowers along the trail.

 

One after the other, these little canyons keep coming, and then, the trail leads to an eye popping view of the entire eastern Columbia River Gorge. The trail eventually leads to the Coyote Wall, which is an escarpment some 70 feet above a valley and goes along a mile or so.

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Now, that’s a time to pause, relax, and take stock of life for a bit! On this day, we were really fortunate to be treated to calm winds. And, the hills were literally “flowing,” draining the burden of the spring rains!

In mid-summer, like many places in the eastern Gorge, this place bakes. So at that time of year, I’d probably pick another hike. But perfect in spring!

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That’s 11,240 ft Mt Hood!





Overnight in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

6 01 2017

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No visit to Vietnam would be complete without a visit to the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay. For many, their only familiarity with it comes from the silver screen. Ha Long Bay has been depicted in “Pan,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Indochine,” “The Quiet American,” and the soon to be released “Kong: Skull Island.”

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The many “junks” carrying visitors.

A World Heritage Site since 1994, Ha Long Bay is some 2,000 limestone islets, most rising vertically from the sea topped with rain forest. They are eroded through countless eons into fantastical shapes. This archipelago forms the most popular tourism attraction in northern Vietnam.  The islets have been taking shape for 500 million years.These islands are literally like giant rocks rising from the sea. Some of them have big caves and grottos.

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While most are uninhabited, there are a few with beaches and residents. It is beautiful. And ethereal. I felt like I was on another planet altogether. There are activities, rock climbing, snorkel and scuba, cave viewing, hiking, kayaking and beach combing.

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The best way to view the islets is by kayak!

Although there are day trips one can book, Ha Long Bay is best visited as a complete overnight. This allows for some activities but also to see the light bathing the islets at different angles. There are all sorts of overnight “junks” one can take. Most have very good dining.

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As  you can see, everyone is BUSY chowing down! Fried whole fish, steamed shrimp, and stuffed crab were on the menu.

Some are only 10 guest rooms, others are 4-decked monsters with pop-out stern docks from which inflatable skiffs and kayaks can be launched.

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My room was plenty big.

Thankfully, the beauty was never spoiled by the noise and smell of wave runners or jet skis. And in the evening none of the party boats had loud karaoke playing. And the stars came out.

 

We were really looking forward to some time on the water. Not long after our boat launched, we took advantage of the roof top lounging area!

It is true Ha Long Bay is popular with tourists. Don’t expect to have it all to your boat. Your boat will share with dozens of others. But it’s still worth a trip. For a more intimate experience with the limestone islets, book a two-day trip to Bai Tu Long Bay. You’ll spend more, but the extra Dong will buy you more solitude.





SE Asia: Before You Go

24 12 2016

I have been to Southeast Asia eight times – to Bali, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. I’ve visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Denpasar, Hanoi, Pakse, Phnom Penh, Saigon, and even Hong Kong. And, well, from all those experiences, there are some common things everyone should know before they go.

People Are Warm

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In every country, every city I’ve been to, I’ve found the people warm and hospitable. Whenever I need help, or ask for directions, someone is able to guide me to the right place. People will go out of their way to ensure I am taken care of – and this is something that keeps me returning time after time. Even people in uniform one might be anxious asking – army personnel, police or security are usually willing to help. Sometimes, I’ve found folks seem to take an active interest in ensuring I’m on the right path. Examples of compassion and hospitality from my experience – In Bhutan, we got robbed on the trail. The King learned of it, and went out of his way to have us cared for and compensated. In Cambodia, when I was part of a volunteer crew building WCs for a village out in the rice paddies, the elders met and had all of us to the communal kitchen for dinner as thanks. In Bangkok, I had dropped my passport on a taxi seat. The driver chased me down to return it! And recently, in Vietnam, my friend Laura was sick. She found her hosts had made her special soup so she felt better.

English Is Spoken

If traveling in SE Asia, don’t be too concerned that nobody will understand your English. I’ve found pretty much everywhere I can find someone with some understanding of my language. If you can pick up a few phrases of the local language, you get bonus points! But locals won’t get upset if you cannot speak their tongue, for they understand their tonal languages are very challenging for outsiders! I’ve been to English classes for grade school kids on the River Kwai in Thailand, and outside Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’ve been approached by children just dying to try out their English on me!

Try To Save Face

Status and appearances are important. So if you discover your meal is not what you ordered, your hotel room isn’t quite right, or the Website you’re working on with someone in SE Asia isn’t in correct English, try to approach the situation diplomatically. Don’t berate a subordinate in front of their boss. Try not to raise your voice when pointing out something is wrong. Instead, gently approach the topic from their side, and use a win-win strategy. Raising voices and pumping fists won’t get you anywhere.

Transportation Is Adventurous – You’ll Need Understanding and Flexibility

Whether walking, taking a bus, a ferry, taxi, tuk tuk or motorbike, Westerners will find getting around an adventure! Traffic congestion can reach biblical proportions, road manners seem chaotic to Westerners, safety standards appear non-existant, and keeping a tight schedule might seem confounding. You’ve got to take it all in stride. At times, getting around seems like a scene from “Mad Max!”

 

The motorbike is the most ubiquitous mode by far. Especially in Vietnam and Cambodia, they swarm like locusts seemingly navigating in unison like schools of fish. They will often filter through cars and trucks to the front at a stop light. In Saigon at rush hour, they spill over onto the sidewalks. Got an appointment at 11:00 sharp? Your late arrival won’t be an insult; rather, an expected part of everyday life.

Pedestrian Strategies – How to cross the street in this seeming madness? The idea is to make up your mind where you want to cross, and cross slowly and deliberately. Believe it or not, the fish will swarm right around you. Even on the sidewalk. Keep going in one direction. Hesitation or quick changes in direction invite disaster.

For us Westerners, visiting SE Asia is fascinating. There is a lot of eye candy – everything from street food vendors, 4 people on bikes, to monks passing by. It is easy to get caught up in all the activity, watching. But when on the sidewalk, mind what’s immediately in front of you, because it might be a hole. This condition pretty much applies everywhere. And I also advise shoes with toe protection just in case.

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Just be careful!

Boats

If your destination lies on a river, hiring a long-tail boat is one fun way to get there. But don’t expect the standards of safety you’re accustomed to at home! You will likely inhale some diesel fumes, get splashed by river water, and feel lucky if the boat has life preservers. And some captains are more interested in haste than simply arriving in one piece. Here, we’re heading from Cambodia into Laos when the Mekong was flooding. Helmet schmelmet.

Renting a motorbike – this is a fun way to get around. Or foolish, depending. Keep in mind that if you get in an accident, you may be required to pay the full cost for damage immediately. Better to try your luck in a rural setting than getting into the melee in a big city!

Pollution and Garbage

Air quality standards seem non existent. In the big, smoky, humid cities, exhaust and smoke can get stifling. Some can be seen wearing dust masks as an everyday affair. It’s part of life over there.

Garbage is another matter altogether. Unfortunately, the thin, black plastic bag is seen blowing around, clinging to whatever it can catch. Then, there are those whose idea of emptying the garbage is just dump the can over the nearest wall. Somehow, this needs to be changed. In Bali, setting out “disposable” offerings several times daily leads to epic “offering piles” of refuse.

In Bhutan, not part of SE Asia, the King has stepped in to circumvent the garbage plague. There, plastic bags are banned entirely. Instead, reusable bags have been used for years.

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The Authorities Might Be Out for Themselves

Cops, customs officers and immigration officials are paid paltry wages, and often make up for this at your expense. Literally. So don’t be surprised if you wind up being asked to pay for something you KNOW you shouldn’t have to. I was in a friend’s car in Bangkok when we encountered a traffic stop run by cops. When asked for his license, my friend couldn’t produce. The cop asked, “You can pay me now and I’ll let you go, or we’ll have to deal with this at the police station.” My friend paid on the spot. After when I asked about it, he said simply, “Oh that happens all the time.” In Cambodia I watched as a cop was trying to ticket an Australian on a rented motorbike with a Cambodian girl on the back. She got into this argument with the cop, and in the end, she convinced him to let them go for a price. And in Bali, where we were traveling on a 30-day visa, we were leaving on day 29. The customs officer says to my friend, eye brows raised, “Your visa is expired. It costs $20 to renew.” My friend began arguing, to no avail. She simply paid up. And on the Cambodia – Laos border, I was in this village where there was only one fisherman authorized to stamp my passport, and there was no fee required, according to the Laotian Website. I already had a government issued visa. But oh no. I had to pay him the extra $15 to get my “stamp.” So don’t be surprised if you need to shell out some extra to keep your trip going smoothly once in a while.

Things Might Not Be As They Appear

Fancy looking hotels, new developments, and sparkling restaurants are often not as they appear at first glance. Construction doesn’t seem to be on par with Western standards. A quick look at window casings even on late model buildings often reveals cracks or caulking to band-aid mistaken construction. A look out back behind the restaurant might reveal standards uncomfortable for the Western visitor. It all needs to be taken in stride. Highways may have less-than-smooth surfaces, necessitating slower travel speeds over bumpy pavement.

Have Fun! Miracles Happen, Magic Awaits, Things Work Out

For all the differences, a visit to SE Asia is worth the effort. Even when difficulties do arise, something magical always seems to happen to make up for it. And those unforseen challenges and successes make memories that last a lifetime.

 





Bangkok: Wat Arun and Wat Pho

11 12 2016
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One of the four towers surrounding Wat Arun

We had a full agenda for our second day in Bangkok. We’d cross the Chao Phraya River to visit Wat Arun, then back, walk to Wat Pho, followed by a massage at the National Massage School. In the evening, we would join my friends Sakun, his wife Yim, and a Feelfree kayak employee I used to work with, Theerintorn (“T”) for dinner.

After breakfast, we caught a ferry across the river to Wat Arun, which has its own stop. Wat Arun in English means “Temple of Dawn.” It is one of Bangkok’s signature skyline features – as its “prang” or “corncob tower” is nearly 300 ft tall, and its beauty dominates the riverside view. The prang is surrounded by four smaller prangs. Additionally, Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple complex. A stroll through the elegant towers, plus the many surrounding temples is a must for anyone visiting Bangkok.

There has been a temple on the site since the late 1500s, but not always in its current form. It is very ornate – it has thousands of pieces of porcelain inlay on its surfaces. The main prang is said to represent Mount Meru, a focal point in Hindu cosmology.

 

It was hot hot hot and very humid. It was overcast, and we had a hard time imagining how hot it could be if the sun were out! We drank a LOT of water.

After taking in Wat Arun, we ferried back across the river and strolled along the south end of the Grand Palace, past myriads of people paying respects to the Late King, and entered the grounds of Wat Pho. Wat Pho is a complex of temples with its namesake as the focal point. It’s famous because it contains the longest reclining Buddha image in the world.

Wat Pho is one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok. Not only does it have the main temple, but it contains a monastery and school. It is known as a center for Chinese medicine and Thai massage. Walking around the complex many inscriptions and illustrations covering parts of the body, traditional massage, history, and culture. To enter a Wat, shoes must be removed. Fortunately shoe racks are provided!

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On the far side of Wat Pho sits a building which is part of the National School of Massage. It was understandably busy, considering massages can be had for a song. Fortunately for us, it’s air conditioned! Our massages were all well worth the wait.

By evening it was time to meet Sakun, Yim and T for dinner! I’d hoped to also see Sakun’s brother Pong, but he had a last minute conflict. We were to take a taxi and meet Sakun at the Jim Thompson house. Jumping into the taxi, I told him where we wanted to go. But things got lost in translation, as there are two places – Jim Thompson House and Jim Thompson store! The traffic was biblical. The time clock was ticking. And the driver took us to the wrong Jim Thompson. I had no cell service. But luckily Kristi had service, and through a communication string involving Kristi, Pong, and the taxi driver’s cell phone, we were able to reach Sakun – who waited for us at the Mercure Hotel. It was so great to see him! He took us to a riverside restaurant where we met T and Yim. They were so sweet to us, they took care of ordering, everyone ate family style. It is traditional to exchange small gifts when meeting friends after a long time – I’d asked Cindy and Kristi to get something small to exchange. Sure enough, Yim had gifts for all of us, so we all exchanged. It was a lovely dinner!

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Next day we were off to Saigon to start our visit to Vietnam!

 

 





Trinidad, CA – A Slice of Coastal Heaven

13 10 2016

My visit with Jason Self and Shay Bickley in Trinidad, California, was more than hikes among Redwood giants and herds of Rossevelt Elk. The region sports some of North America’s most spectacular coastlines!

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Near Crescent City

Foggy and rugged, thickly forested, and impacted by frequent Pacific storms, this coast shows off when the sun pops out. Highway 101 passes through this region, tracing its line along surf beaches, through dark redwood forest, climbing to 800-ft above the sea before opening up to spectacular unlimited vistas dotted with sea stacks.

We spent a sunset hiking along the beach, and another afternoon walking to a point high above the waves. No matter what route you pick, rewards are rich.

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Man’s Best Friend waits for his family to come in.

One evening we took a pre-dinner stroll along the shore near the Moonstone Grill, a terrific restaurant with an unmatched Pacific View. It was surreal. No wind and calm seas. So beautiful!

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The incoming tide was mesmerizing. I could look down on the wavy sand, and see, with each passing wave, how the water was navigating its way further and further ashore. We found a few stranded sea creatures and set them back into the ocean, much to Shay’s delight.

The following day was to be our paddle on the bay. Days here often dawn in a pea soup fog, but most of the time, that fog loses out the the sun by mid day.

On paddle day, there was barely any fog at sun up.

We breakfasted, loaded the boats on the cars, and partially donned out dry suits. Then it was time to head to the bay.

The town of Trinidad leads to a peninsula – with beaches on the NW and SW sides. On this day the swell was coming in from the NW.

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The sea laid down for us!

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Shay readies the P&H Delphin.

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We launched on the protected SW side – which, I’ve got to say, had become an undulating lake! We got maybe a mile or one and a half miles down the shore, paddling amongst sea stacks and harbor seals, before the swells were bigger, and I could see waves crashing against rocks. Even with the small seas, they were quartering from behind, and I got a weird feeling like the sea was a magnet, and I wanted to fall in. Jason said it was a touch of vertigo. I have had vertigo sensations before, but never at sea, and I’ve never been sea sick. Turning around, facing the swell, completely reversed that feeling.

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A bay of kelp and harbor seals. And, as Jason says, sharks.

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We checked out the sea stacks, rocks, and took a “stroll” along a cliff face. There, we found murrelets, more seals, and a couple of otters! One otter came out of a little cave. Another had caught a fish, and was hurriedly eating, as if it were concerned a rival might try to steal its catch.

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And Jason LOVES his recently acquired P&H Hammer, but not having his photo taken! It was a memorable day on the big P. I hope to visit again!





Northern California Coast: Walking Among Redwoods

6 10 2016

In September I had a 5-day span between work shifts, so I decided to visit Jason and Shay, friends from Portland who moved down to Trinidad California a few years back. They now live in God’s Country – with access to breathtaking coastal scenery and unlimited access to Redwood National Park.

The time down there would be spent beach combing, kayaking, sampling the local cuisine, and walking beneath some of the world’s tallest trees. In this post I’ll cover the redwoods. Next post – the coast.

It’s an 8-hour drive from Portland. The part on I-5 is definitely a slog, but once you cut over to the coast, it’s a treat.

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Highway 199 tracks along the Smith River, famous for fishing, scenery, and rafting. It wends its way right through Redwood National Park. Not long after passing an information center, the giant trees emerge – the highway passing within a few feet of them. It’s impossible to just yawn. No, gaping is the reaction.

Coastal redwoods live to about 2,000 years and reach 380 ft high. They dwarf anything in Oregon. These forests also are the world’s most alive. They have Planet Earth’s greatest volume of living matter per surface area. Everything is growing. And, they are very valuable. The Yurok Native American tribe depended on the redwood groves for everything. But then white folks from back east showed up. Back in the days when people thought America’s natural resources were inexhaustible, big money brought industrialized logging to Humboldt County. Giant Redwoods were no match for the steam engines and trucks that came. State parks and the national parks were established to help preserve a national treasure. Later, on some of the private lands nearby, near violence erupted between environmentalists and capitalists seeking to harvest every last old-growth tree.

Taken together, the coast itself and the redwoods make this a place worth visiting!

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Walking in the groves inevitably leads to thoughts of The Lord of the Rings. I wondered if J.R.R. Tolkien was thinking about the redwoods when he created the Ents? You can almost hear the trees talking amongst themselves here! Making decisions very slowly, but always wisely.

If the trees are Ents, the deer are Roosevelt Elk. Driving hwy 101, you need to keep an eye peeled at every blind corner because there could be 40 elk in the road!

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Hello! A herd with a nice bull, who was watching over his band of females and their young.

The bull did indeed indulge in bugling. And sniffing his ladies to determine if they were in season.

All for the people in their slowed-down or stopped cars to watch. This herd seemed well adapted to gawkers.

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It’s a family thing!

In sum, I’ll have to return! A beautiful area to visit. Next post we’ll get into coastal walks and paddling!