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John Muir Trail


Aras overlooking Garnet Lake.


John Muir Trail


Ice & Fire: a wee wander on the John Muir Trail in two acts



I don’t recall the impetus for wanting to backpack the John Muir Trail (JMT). I’m guessing that it had to do with my love of the outdoors, going on an occasional backpacking trip, and naming my first son Muir. I do recall that my interest started to climb a couple of years ago as I realized that my younger son, Aras, might favorably mature by taking such a trip, as well as realizing that I wasn’t getting any younger.


Shortly after I started to ponder such a trip and the various logistics, I realized that my nephew, Vladas, might enjoy the trip. I mentioned this idea to my sister-in-law while we were traveling in Alaska and she thought that it was a good idea to consider. Shortly thereafter, Vladas was on board.


A few weeks later in September 2016, I mentioned to that first son, Muir, that I was looking to take Aras and Vladas on the JMT in the summer of 2017. Ten minutes later, Muir surprised me and said that he wanted to go, along with his (then) girlfriend. So, the logistics quickly magnified!


The fall and winter of 2016/2017 were spent studying and planning. Permits for five were obtained from Yosemite National Park in January, 2017 for a southbound adventure. The winter of 2016/2017 was one of the snowiest on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains and I was always monitoring the Sierra snowpack. We made a “go” decision in late spring 2017, knowing that snow would be an issue. The combination of everyone’s schedules allowed us a window from late June to the end of July. The permit that we received in the lottery was for a 25 June 2017 start, which seemed early given the historic Sierra snows (200% of average). But, we were unable to obtain a permit in the lottery for any later.


There was a lot of food dehydrating and vacuum sealing occurring during Spring 2017, as well as picking up additional gear from REI and eBay. The overwhelming snowfall the winter before meant that our hoped for first resupply at Tuolumne Meadows wouldn’t be available; we needed to make it to Reds Meadow to resupply. Buckets of food were shipped in June 2017.





We all flew to Fresno and the next day missed our bus to Yosemite Valley. Quick-thinking Muir found us an Uber to the Valley that was cheaper (I don’t know how the Uber driver made any substantial money). We picked up our permits and heard the warnings about bears and snow. Our last night in civilization was at Happy Isles campground.

Starting, 25 June 2017. L-R: Aras, Tim , Britney is just standing in, Vladas & Muir.


On 25 June 2017 we made our start on the trail. After a few pictures, we were slogging the long, steep grade up Nevada Falls. We had to pack food for more than a week on the trail before our first resupply as well as gear that we’d need in the snow. All of this considerations lead to some heavy backpacks. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that my pack was in the range of 55-60 pounds and Vladas’ pack was likely heavier (but, he’s a much bigger and younger than me). Muir, Aras and the former girlfriend were likely carrying forty pounds or so. The first day to Little Yosemite Valley and beyond to Clouds Rest Junction were extremely difficult, especially for our first day at altitude. When we sighted a bear at Clouds Rest Junction, that was a good sign to enjoy our first stop. (Note: The geolocations I link here roughly came from my GPS.)


The second day, Aras, Vladas and the former girlfriend backtracked and summited Half Dome. This lead to a noon start on the trail. We first ran into snow when we reached an altitude of about 8500’, which was about ten miles into the trip. At that point the snow was instantly about four feet deep, when we could see bare soil/rock. From that point on, the trip was difficult. We were all tired from slipping and sliding, route finding (couldn’t see the trail under the snow) and navigating around tree wells (snow melted around trees to create “holes”). Our goal had been to make it to Sunrise to camp, but we ended up a mile or so short when we stopped about 8:00 pm. It was a rough night as we didn’t eat well and there wasn’t much water where we camped on a bald knoll.

Snow covered Long Meadow, 27 June 2017.

We slept in the third morning which caused another late start (~10:00 am) and spent most of the day slipping on the snow and route finding. There was beautiful scenery but the hiking was brutal. Vladas postholed deep late in the afternoon and it took twenty minutes to extricate him. The goal was to make it to Tuolumne Meadows, but we were well short when we decided to stop near Cathedral Lakes.

Camp near Cathedral Lakes

We had a good discussion that evening and realized that we were in over our heads given the conditions. Our trail pace was much slower than we’d hoped and we’d likely run out of food before we made it to Reds Meadow (if we made it, since we still had a few thousand feet more to climb over some passes). While we were likely hiking at a rate of about ten miles/day, our trail mileage was maybe half that with all of the walking around the tree wells. And, we still weren’t hiking over the higher passes where the snow would be even worse. We decided to bail out at Tuolumne Meadows and figure out next steps from there.


The end of that trip was bittersweet. We “failed” on the trip that we had hoped to make and for which we’d planned so hard. But, we were safe and humbled. We spent a couple of weeks bumming around the Sierras and San Francisco as our “backup” plan.





Not completing a goal like this – especially one where you’ve invested so much time and effort in planning and training – sticks in your craw. In the early fall of 2017, I told my wife that I’d like to try the JMT again and she was agreeable. When I told Aras that I wanted to make a second attempt, his response was on the order of “UGH!” But, we planned the trip, carefully, for the two of us during the winter of 2017/2018, starting from Tuolumne Meadows (where we’d ended). Again because of schedules, we had a similar window for going on the JMT. Unfortunately, we were not able to win a permit in the lottery to backpack the traditional JMT over Donohue Pass. But, we scored a permit to leave Yosemite over Parker/Koip Pass. The other good news is that the Sierra snowpack during the winter of 2017/2018 was about 20% of normal!


We took a bit more time to acclimate this time around by spending a couple of nights in Mammoth. We also significantly reduced our pack weights. I’m guessing that Aras started at less than 25 lbs and I was just under 30 lbs (better planning and paring, and less snow gear). We also started a few days later than the year before – 29 June.


We enjoyed one last civilized snack at Tuolumne Meadows and hitched our way to a late morning start at the Parker/Mono Pass Trailhead. The trail to Parker Pass was smooth and gently sloped. But, I thought that I’d lose Aras as we climbed the side of Parker Peak to get to Koip Pass – the altitude and effort got to him that first day (but, never again!). When we topped out on Koip Pass and could see Alger Lakes, we were pretty excited! We set up camp near Alger Lakes in the waning light, later than we wanted, but very satisfied with our first day’s effort.


Aras crossing Minaret Creek.

The second day started with frost and quickly warmed. The hike to the JMT from Alger Lakes was longer than I calculated, which was not encouraging. We made it to Thousand Island Lake for a late lunch and over to very crowded Garnet Lake for the night. (Day3) Our first resupply was at Reds Meadow the next day, but it was a slightly smoky hike there. The food at Reds was quite welcome as well as the shower.


It was on the second day that Aras and I had our favorite discovery of the whole trip – Rona & Jason, Oscar and Ron. I’m an introvert, so thinking of interacting with other people is not something that was on my radar when I was planning our JMT trips. We met many nice, wonderful, interesting people on the trip who made it fun. But, meeting Rona, Oscar and Ron on the trail late on the second day was the best thing that happened to us for many reasons. It turns out that Rona is originally a Midwesterner and went to college right here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison! And, her son, Oscar, is the same age as Aras, and they became fast friends on the trail. “Ron” is a very sweet Korean woman who surprised me with her strength and stamina. But, for most of the rest of the trip, we camped and ate together, cajoled each other and enjoyed each other’s company. Rona traded out with her husband, Jason, about half way through the trek, and I certainly appreciated Jason’s company, especially when I needed a break from Aras. 


(Day4)  The smoke from the Lions Fire near Reds Meadow the next morning still obscured our views but didn’t affect our breathing. We made it to Purple Lake for the night. I had hoped that we might make it Lake Virginia, as I’d heard it was beautiful, but a late start from Reds nixed that goal, and the smoke from the Lions Fire made for a hazy view at Lake Virginia as we found out the next day.  (Day5) Tully Hole was as mosquito infested as reported. The trail over Silver Pass was spectacular – one of my favorites! The ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort was waiting to leave when Rona & I arrived at Lake Thomas Edison. Vermilion Valley Resort was a wonderful stop. We enjoyed the food and especially enjoyed the company. Sitting around the bonfire there and listening to Pacific Crest Trail hikers tell their stories was wonderful.


The view along the John Muir Trail from Silver Pass, overlooking Chief Lake (left) and Warrior Lake (right), John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.



The view along the John Muir Trail – Marie Lake from Selden Pass; John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.



Taking a break in Mono Creek.


Along the JMT.



Aras approaching Selden Pass, with Marie Lake in the background.

(Day 6) Leaving VVR on the Fourth of July was tough – a bit of civility and comfort is difficult to let go. But, we slogged on in a bit of heat and made it to the west side of Bear Creek. (Day7) Marie Lake and the north side of Selden Pass were as spectacular as Silver Pass. When Aras & Oscar reached Sallie Keyes Lake, they decided it was a good time to jump in! At Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) we had to hustle to resupply (our last!) our bear canisters before MTR closed for the evening. Rona headed home the next morning and Jason started with fresh legs and a heavy load.  Video: Aras jumping into Sallie Keyes Lake


(Day8) After some searching we found John Muir Rock the next day. Our first night with Jason was at beautiful, but mosquito-filled, McClure Meadows, and supper on a boulder in the middle of Evolution Creek. (Day9) Next up was a beautiful hike around Evolution Lakes and then into the rocky alpine zones above before topping out on Muir Pass and its stone hut, before camping along the Middle Fork of the Kings River. (Day10) The following day had an easy morning but a warm afternoon climbing up Palisade Valley. At lunch, I slipped into Paradise Creek and dropped my water bottle and our primary water filter into the raging stream. I quickly decided that it was best to let them go and not chase them; fortune had it that an eddy brought them back to me! Oscar lead us up the Golden Staircase to the most beautiful campsite of our trip with a view over the valley.



Sunrise view over Palisade Creek Valley with the Devil’s Crags in the background.


Sunrise view at an unnamed lake (just downstream from Lake Marjorie).


Aras crossing Evolution Lake Inlet.

Aras & Tim take a break at Muir Hut.

(Day11)  The next morning was tough for me with the long slow climb to Mather Pass. The afternoon was mostly downhill with a last climb to another beautiful campsite at an unnamed lake just below Lake Marjorie. Near the Bench Lake Range Station, we started to hear that there was a forest fire near our planned exit at Whitney Portal that might cause us to change our plans. That evening we lost our knife between the boulders in the lake while trying to wash it – whoops! (Day12) It was an overcast morning climbing Pinchot Pass and beyond that gave way to nice camping weather at Arrowhead Lake. (Day13) Our brief time in the vicinity of Rae Lakes was overcast and the steep climb over Glen Pass may have been the most difficult for me. That night was spent at one of our higher campsites in the upper reaches of the Bubbs Creek Valley. (Day14) The next morning was a long, slow slog (for me) to get over Forrester Pass. The weather descending Forrester was overcast and cool and I worried about lightning as well as the mild rain. But, the cooler day was a blessing as I was able to hike more easily. We made it to Crabtree Meadows after a sixteen-mile day – our longest day of the trip! This is also where we collected our wag bags!!


As our trip was winding down we were talking of when and how to summit Mt. Whitney. We’d been worried about the possible difficulties of exiting at Whitney Portal because of the nearby fire and maybe needing to hike further south to Cottonwood. Fortunately, Whitney Portal opened a day or two before we arrived. We thought about camping high on Mount Muir at the Trail Crest site, but we would need to take lots of water with us. But, the benefit would have been arising early for a pre-dawn hike to enjoy sunrise on Mt. Whitney.


Aras’ “rain coat” wasn’t as helpful as he thought, so he used the tent groundcloth. 🙂 Photo courtesy of Jason.

Jason & me on Forrester Pass. Photo courtesy of Jason.

(Day15) In the end, we decided to get an earlier than usual start and hope to summit Mt. Whitney by noon or so, which we did (actually, a bit after noon). There was no real view on Mt. Whitney as it was socked in by the clouds, but we certainly enjoyed our accomplishment. I cried a bit when I was up there, happy and proud of our accomplishment, especially over two seasons. After a long, slippery and tough-on-the-knees downhill hike, we made it Whitney Portal about 5:00 pm. Of course, Aras and Oscar were waiting on me – Slow Poke – as usual. I was too tired to really eat much of anything and about as sore as I’d ever been. Our last day was about 4000 feet up, 7000 feet down and 19 miles. That night, we enjoyed our first real immersion into civilization in more than two weeks at a hotel in Lone Pine, along with a nice, hot shower!



Ron, Oscar, Jason, Aras & Tim on Mt. Whitney! Photo courtesy of Jason.


On top of Mt. Whitney! Goal attained!


In Act II we hiked about 200 miles over the fifteen days. This was one of the most meaningful and difficult accomplishments of my life, at least over a couple of weeks. I’d do it again, but I’d take my wife with me. As I write this now, five months later, I’ve regained most of the weight that I lost and I reminisce many times every day about this grand adventure – the ups and downs, and the wonderful people, especially Aras!



Closing thoughts:


I wish that I’d lost some weight prior to the trip. I was in generally good shape except I was carrying a few more pounds than I wish. The heat on the trail wasn’t that great, but the exertion and intense sun left me drenched in sweat. As often as I could I was wetting my shirt and hat to help me cool. I was the slowest person in our group which lead Aras to give me the trail nickname of Slow Poke.


I’m glad we pared our packweight between the two trips. It would have been a slower, more difficult trip carrying ten to twenty more pounds in Act II.


I’m glad that we went earlier in the season as the trail was relatively clean. I’ve heard stories about folks who went later in the season and found more human trail scat than they appreciated.


I heard about Rock Tape a couple of weeks before we left for Act II and it was wonderful! I highly recommend it for managing blisters and raw spots on feet and fingers.


I hope that you enjoy your own backpacking trips, whether on the JMT or elsewhere. These kind of trips are wonderful for cleansing the soul and humbling us in these modern times.


“The mountains are calling and I must go.”  ~~ John Muir


Lastly, here’s slidewho of about 300 photographs from along the trail – enjoy! You’ll likely enjoy it more if you view full screen.







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Salkantay & Machu Picchu – bucket list!

Cordillera Urupampa, Sacred Valley, Peru

Cordillera Urupampa, Sacred Valley, Peru

It’s nearly Thanksgiving and cold, dreary November is upon us. Fortunately, we were able to get out and enjoy a little sun and exercise a few weeks ago.

As with many people, we have a bucket list of things we’d like to do and places we’d like to see. On that list was Machu Picchu in Peru. You know, those large, wonderful Incan ruins that sit atop a mountain, overlooking a river valley, surrounded by the Andes Mountains. Most everyone has seen pictures of it, and it was on our bucket list because of the Incan culture, traveling to Peru and enjoying its contemporary culture and being in the Andes.

Going to Machu Picchu takes some planning. One of the major planning issues is how you’ll approach Machu Picchu. The route that most visitors take is to arrive in Cusco, Peru and acclimatize for a few days at the higher altitude. From there, the majority of visitors will take the train from Cusco to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes that is just below Machu Picchu. Alternatively, it is also possible to take a bus or other road transportation to the town of Ollantaytambo in Peru’s Sacred Valley and then take the train from there to Aguas Calientes. The total travel time by driving to Ollantaytambo is slightly shorter. The second most popular way to make your way to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu is to walk the 26-mile long Inca Trail, which starts in Ollantaytambo. One of the people who first made me most aware of Machu Picchu walked the Inca Trail with his wife about twenty years ago. Today, the Inca Trail is extremely popular and crowded; you’ll have the opportunity to share it each day with five hundred of your closest friends – 200 hikers and 300 Peruvian porters/guides, along with their accumulated debris, detritus and flotsam. But, the allure of the Inca Trail is that you’ll also have the opportunity to view and visit several other Incan ruins along the way, and to say that you did it!

Finally, if you’re like us and love your adventures, the mountains and a bit of exertion, there’s a third way – the Salkantay Trail. The route is more difficult and at a higher altitude and, the scenery is spectacular, especially the Humantay and Salkantay mountains. In fact, the altitude is a significant issue on this trek, but not insurmountable. Getting to the trailhead requires a bit more effort as it’s necessary to take small buses from Cusco to the trailhead near Mollepata. You’ll only have to share the route with a couple of dozen folks each day (I suspect, as we didn’t see very many people hiking on the trail). On the Salkantay Trail, along with various guides and porters, you’re also permitted to take pack animals (mules and horses) which can carry your gear (or you, if the situation requires); pack animals aren’t allowed on the Inca Trail. Along the Salkantay Trail there are several minimalist shelters – medium-sized outbuildings surrounded by blue plastic tarps. The wind can blow so fiercely in poor conditions on the Salkantay that we saw backpackers who set up their tents inside of these shelters, just to reduce the savagery of the elements.

Lastly, it is possible to hike the Salkantay Trail while staying in the wonderful Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) facilities. Oh my stars!!! We’ve never done anything quite like this in the past. Yes, we love to travel and camp and eat, but we’ve never thought about a luxury adventure trip until some of our good friends did this same trip a few years ago and raved about it. As much as I like being outdoors and hiking and in the middle of nowhere, I’m also getting “mature” (soft?) enough that I also enjoy a warm shower at the end of a hard day and a comfortable bed. If you’re similarly “mature” or otherwise aligned, then this trek might appeal to you.

Overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Overlooking the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Let’s start at the beginning – Cusco, Peru. After traveling for the better part of a day from home to Chicago and Miami, we arrived in Cusco just in time for breakfast. After retrieving my luggage from another American who thought that his bag looked like mine (close, but no banana), we took a taxi to the small B&B where we stayed, the Quinua Villa Boutique. Before the Spanish arrived in the mid Sixteenth Century, Cusco was the capitol of the Incan empire. Even after the Spanish arrived, the major modes of transportation were feet, horses and carriages. The older parts of town are narrow and there’s not much room for a car or other vehicle to drive. Our taxi driver offered to carry our baggage from the nearest street up the hill to the Quinua, but being a tough guy, I figured I could make it a hundred meters with mine – wrong! Who stole my oxygen?! Cusco sits at an altitude of ~11,200′, which is only 11,000′ higher than home. Our two days in Cusco were not easy if an uphill climb was required, and that was the case when we walked downhill to visit the famous Plaza de Armas.

Our second day in the area was spent on a Sacred Valley tour – Chincero, Salinas de Maras (salt works), Moray Terraces, Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley (the valley of the Urubamba River). As much as I enjoyed seeing these various Incan sites, the scenery and just being in the Peruvian countryside was wonderful. For all of the travels that we’ve done, there are relatively few places that I’d like to visit again and get to know better, but Peru is definitely on that short list. Peru has had it’s difficulties in the past with cocaine and terrorists, but the worst of those days are past. Everywhere that we went, we felt safe and people were very nice to us.

We got our formal start on the Salkantay Trail on the third day. Our wonderful MLP guides, Admil and Ricky, picked us up near our B&B at 7:00 am, and we headed west out of town with four other couples. After a few stops, we arrived at a couple of trailheads beyond the village of Mollepata. Half of our group hiked nine miles the first day when they started at Marco Casa, a few miles after Mollepata. The other half of us started at Challacancha and hiked just four miles. We encountered about an hour’s worth of mild rain that afternoon – and that was the last time that we were rained on while hiking for the whole trip – lucky us!!! The first forty five minutes or so of hiking were uphill, but then it was flat after that as we followed a small canal most of the way to our first lodge at Soraypampa. I’ve stayed in several nice places before but none of them was in the middle of nowhere. We had warm water and showers, a nice big, warm bed, a hot tub and mucho gusto food. We stayed at Soraypampa lodge for two nights so that we could acclimatize to the higher altitude, which was about 12,500′. Soraypampa Lodge is at the end of the road, and it was the last time we’d see a road for a couple of days.

Salkantay Lodge

Salkantay Lodge, with Humantay Mountain in the clouds on the middle left and Salkantay in the clouds up the valley

Lago Humantay, with Humantay Glacier and Mountain behind

Lago Humantay, with Humantay Glacier and Mountain behind

Receiving a blessing

Receiving a blessing

After our first night at Soraypampa, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and then set out on a four- to five-mile “warm-up” hike to Humantay Lake, which also is a climb of about 1300′. Yes, the climbing was taxing, as we still hadn’t fully adjusted to the altitude. The view at Humantay Lake is spectacular! The lake itself is a beautiful turquoise blue, and it’s surrounded on three sides by the mountains. Humantay Glacier’s moraine sits at the south end, blocking the flow of the snowmelt. We were treated to a moving ceremony at Humantay, an offering from a Quechua (native) priest to the mountain goddess, Pachamama, and the sun god, Inti, for our good luck and good health on our trek and in life.

At this point, allow me to tell you about our fellow hikers. First, our guides, Admil and Ricky, were absolutely wonderful, caring, respectful, knowledgeable and fun. Finest kind! Second, we were part of an equally wonderful group of people – four couples from the US and one couple from Perth, Australia. Age wise, the group ranged from mid-30s to about 70. Two of the men were mountain climbers and not phased by the altitude and conditions; they brought their wives on this trip to enjoy the altitude and scenery, but in relatively comfortable conditions. About half of our group had run marathons in their lives, and the group was relatively fit, some of them even use different diets and supplements like the keto, but for people who want to try it, these Keto pure must read this news before trying are essential. But, there were a couple of people who had never done anything quite like this before – hiking at this altitude – in their lives and they readily made the trip special for us all. In fact, everyone was most proud of them because these two people climbed the highest mountains on this trip, pushing their personal boundaries to new limits.

The third day was our big day – at least, that’s how we all built it up to be. We were on the trail by 7:00 am and slowly rising toward the Salkantay Pass. The climb was gentle and we all kept a reasonably moderate pace. A small, scenic meadow (pampa) with a shelter and camping area was our last significant stop before heading up the switchbacks to the pass. I seem to recall that it was “only” about an hour after that significant rest stop before we made the pass, but it seemed longer, arriving about 11:00 am. The scene at the pass was very dramatic with clouds blowing around Salkantay, playing hide-and-seek between us and the mountain. While I’ve hiked to over 14,000′ before in Colorado, this was different. In Colorado, we were on the top of Mt. Elbert, the second highest mountain in the continental 48 states, and looking down on everything around us. At Salkantay Pass, we were at ~15,200′ and Montaña Salkantay is still towering over us, another mile or so higher! It was a very humbling, but grand, experience. The pass is filled with hundreds of cairns from past hikers, giving thanks for making the trek and enjoying the experience. We left our own group cairn, complete with a coca leaf for Pachamama. Onward and downward…  A nice, warm lunch met us about an hour later, and it was well-received, appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. An hour or so after lunch, we were relaxing in Wayra Lodge, enjoying pisco sours and the hot tub (remember, this was a lux trip – sorry).

On the path to Salkantay

On the path to Salkantay


The steepest part is yet to come

Salkantay Pass

On top of the world!

Our fourth day was relatively easy and anti-climatic. The “big” day had been the day before and we were all happy and healthy. Since we were going downhill, the weather was warmer – no need for bundling up. We entered the cloud forest at lower elevations (we were still above nine and ten thousand feet, though), and started to attract the occasional mosquito.  And, about half of us finished the day by enjoying a zip line across the small valley that we had to cross to get to Colpa Lodge. We arrived relatively early, around lunch time, and enjoyed a late lunch of local delicacies including cuy (guinea pig). OK, not everyone enjoyed cuy, but I certainly did!


Cuy – it’s what’s for lunch!

Day five was warmer yet, and we hiked down the Rio Santa Teresa Valley. Along this part of the hike, the flowers of the cloud forest appeared more and more, and were a wonderful diversion. Along the trail, there was another warm, tasty, locally-prepared lunch waiting for us. I could get used to hiking like this! Near the village of La Playa, we were picked up in a small bus and transported a few kilometers down and to the other side of the valley. After being dropped off, we made a short ascent to the last lodge, Lucma Lodge, and enjoyed another fine meal and pisco sours. As an aside here, let me also write that most everyone on our trip was very prepared for hiking Salkantay Pass – the possibility of cold, miserable rain and the altitude. But, since we focused so much on that aspect of the hike, we tended to be underprepared for the remainder of the Salkantay Trek – too many cold weather clothes and not enough warm weather clothes!

Our last significant day of hiking dawned beautiful and pleasant. Since this was the day when we were to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from a distance, I brought most all of my camera gear, and this may have been a mistake. On this day, our hike was about 2000 feet up and 3000 feet down. The hike up was along an ancient Incan route. The hiking up wasn’t difficult, but it was still a 2000 foot climb in some of the warmest conditions we’d “enjoyed,” along with some humidity. After we passed through a saddle on the range, we arrived at Llactapata, an Incan outpost, and there it was – Machu Picchu! Seeing Machu Picchu for the first time, whether near or far, is just breathtaking! Standing at Llactapata, it seemed more like an island in these mountainous jungles than in any other image that I’ve seen of it. Seeing Machu Picchu after the many days of hiking was also quite uplifting. After about thirty minutes of taking it all in and resting a bit, we had a rugged downhill hike to our last wonderful, warm lunch on the trail. We’re also very fortunate on this particular day that it wasn’t raining, as the trail from Llactapata down to the Rio Ahobamba was the steepest trail that we traversed, and it was also quite rocky and slippery – which would have been worse on a wet day. And, woe is me, yes, I was still carrying my heavy load of gear down this slope. By the end of the trail at the Hidroelectrica Train Station, my legs were burning and knees quite sore. The good news is that we took the train to Aguas Calientes, which is the hopping off point to reach Machu Picchu, marched through town to the Inkaterra Hotel, and had a hot shower and delicious meal.

Machu Picchu from Llactapata

On our last day together, we were up early as usual and caught a bus up to Machu Picchu. I don’t feel that any of us was really in the mood to hike up to it. Again, that first full view of Machu Picchu is just breathtaking. It’s amazing to think that the Incans lived here, maybe not for very long, but that they lived here, on top of the world, and the Spanish never knew that it existed. While I could go on describing Machu Picchu in words, the photographs are much more appealing. Our group took in the Inca Drawbridge, a very secure “back” entrance into Machu Picchu, walked through the ruins, and then half of us climbed to the top of Huayna Picchu on the far end of the park. The hike up Huayna Picchu is steep, but there are more ruins at the top of it and the view is overwhelming, and it’s not a view that appears in many photographs that you may have previously seen. After descending, we gathered at the main tourist entrance and that was it – our wonderful group began to go its own ways. One couple stayed on top, while the rest returned to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then more departures. It was sad to part with everyone after having spent such an intense week together – living, hiking and laughing.


First glimpse of Machu Picchu

Inca Drawbridge

Inca Drawbridge at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Asta and I spent one more day at Machu Picchu so that we could also climb Montaña Machu Picchu, which is higher than Huayna Picchu and affords an even grander view of Machu Picchu, the surrounding Andes Mountains and the Rio Vilcanota that seems like it’s Machu Picchu’s moat. I was very glad that this was the last day, as my knees were quite sore by this time. The hike up the mountain was less steep, but more difficult and longer than going up Huayna Picchu. Inti smiled on us while we were on top, as the sun was out, giving us a dazzling view all around. Unfortunately, there were clouds behind us and we were unable to catch a glimpse of Montaña Salkantay to the south – oh well. After a slow climb down, I took one more lap around the ruins while Asta whet her thirst at the tourist bar with a local Cusqueña cerveza.

Machu Picchu from Montana Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu from Montaña Machu Picchu

Following is the gallery of all images from our Peru trip – lots of photographs of Machu Picchu. Remember, click on the gallery below to view it full screen!

And, there you have it. A wonderful week of traveling, hiking, eating, aching, and laughing in the Peruvian Andes, and being overwhelmed by Montaña Salkantay and Machu Picchu. There was only one thing missing from this trip and I didn’t miss it (them) that much until we returned home – the kids…

I hope that you’ll take your opportunities to check things and places off of your bucket list so that you have wonderful memories to last the rest of your life. In our case, we can never have enough memories and rich, warm experiences and new friends.

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…

Posted in cusco, machu picchu, peru, salkantay trail Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Von River Valley, Eyre Mountains

[landscapephotograph description=”Von River Valley, Autumn” photoname=”Von River Valley” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Von-River-Valley-Pan-8b.jpg” photourl=”http://timmulholland.photoshelter.com/image/I0000U20kis5uIXA”][/landscapephotograph]


I’m a person who loves to read maps, especially finely detailed topographic maps. First, I like to discover places that are new and interesting to me, and hopefully interesting photograph. With the plethora of maps on the internet (Google Maps and Google Earth, to name a couple), it’s really interesting to start to see someplace and then dig deeper. When I’m performing my research on US locations, I then find that deeper level of detail by pulling up USGS topographic maps on the Libre Map Project. I suspect that there are other, similar resources in the US, but I’ve been using Libre Map Project for years, so it’s my “go to” resource. My GPS is also a really good resource when I’m in the field, but I love these computer sites when I’m doing my research before I get into the field because it’s so much easier to see things on the bigger computer screen.



Fortunately for me, there’s a similar resource in New Zealand – NZ Topo Maps. When we’re planning our trips and tours in New Zealand, I’ll check out Google Earth for a start, and then head to NZ Topo Maps for a different view. I just love to pour over a good topo map and discover nooks and crannies that I didn’t know exist before.  For example, that’s how I “discovered” The Branches and made the trip further up Skippers Canyon.



Over the past few months, we’d heard about a place called the Mavora Lakes and it has been on our radar as a place to visit, maybe hike, maybe camp. It’s only a couple of hours from Invercargill and it’s not a major tourist area like Milford Sound, Te Anau and Queenstown. It seemed like a nice place to get away for a day and to relax.



I then hit the maps and “discovered” that, yes, Mavora Lakes looks like an interesting place. But the road to Mavora Lakes keeps going further and further from civilization – that’s my kind of road to explore!!! In fact, the road to Mavora Lakes and beyond goes all the way to Lake Wakatipu, which is the lake on which Queenstown is situated. There are no towns or villages on the road beyond Mavora Lakes. The only signs of civilization in this area on the map are a couple of sheep stations at the end of the road on Lake Wakatipu. These two stations are remote. The nearest town, Mossburn, is about a two-hour drive from them, although it’s only a eighteen kilometers by boat to Queenstown.



When we went to Mavora Lakes, the weather didn’t seem like it might be the best. It’s late autumn here and there was a lot of fog as we started the drive. The fog eventually lifted and we made it to Mavora Lakes uneventfully. The lakes were nice and pleasant, and it did seem like it would be a good place to relax. Of course, the sandflies were there, too. There were even a few people camping and exploring the area like us, so this is likely a reasonably popular place to visit in Southland during tourist season. We were contemplating lunch (actually, the kids were more like demanding it) when I suggested that we drive further on the road. It looked like it might be “only” another hour until we reached Lake Wakatipu.



A few kilometers further north of Mavora Lakes is when the good scenery and clouds really kicked in! Asta and I were oohing and aahing all of the time. When we finally came over a rise and saw Lake Wakatipu, we both blurted out WOW! at the same time. I have to say that this drive is one of my top three drives in New Zealand. Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound is likely my favorite drive, and Skippers Canyon is my second favorite. The autumn foliage and dark, majestic clouds really set off the Von River Valley and the Thomson and Eyre Mountain Ranges, as well as Lake Wakatipu. At the end of the road, there wasn’t much to see in terms of civilization, but the views were spectacular! We stopped and enjoyed our lunch surrounded by a few hundred sheep who were hoping that we might want to share with them.



At the end of the road, there are two sheep stations, plus a resort.  One of the sheep stations, Mount Nicholas Station, also doubles as a nice, small, remote getaway place. The resort is the Colonel’s Homestead and is operated a resort by RealJourneys, which is a major tourist operator in southern New Zealand. We didn’t get close to the Colonel’s Homestead and just enjoyed our lunch views of Lake Wakatipu.



On the way back, the skies looked a little dark and blustery. These dark clouds made for excellent photographs and also for a bit of angst – would it start raining and make it difficult to ford the streams before we got past the last ford? Obviously, we made it, again with lots of oohs and aahs.

Again, enjoy the gallery – especially full screen:




46 S EnZed signing off…




Posted in Colonel's Homestead, Eyre Mountains, Lake Wakatipu, Mavora Lakes, Mount Nicholas, New Zealand, Queenstown, Thomson Mountains, Von River, Walter Peak Station Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Skippers Canyon

[landscapephotograph description=”Panoramic view of The Branches, on the Shotover River, Otago, New Zealand” photoname=”The Branches” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Branches-Pan-1.jpg” photourl=”http://timmulholland.photoshelter.com/image/I00006jT26j8X7ko”][/landscapephotograph]  

Near Queenstown, New Zealand, there’s a slightly remote and very beautiful place called Skippers Canyon. Queenstown considers itself to be the Adrenaline Capitol of the World, and Skippers Canyon and its Shotover River might well be the adrenaline capitol of Queenstown.


Historically, Skippers Canyon was a major area for gold mining in the late nineteenth century. Today, it’s a beautiful tourism area where it’s nice to get away from Queenstown’s crowds. No, Queenstown isn’t that crowded, but it does have a moderately high “chic” factor that doesn’t do a whole lot for me, sort of like Aspen. It’s a very pleasant drive from Queenstown to Skippers Canyon by roundabout way of Arrowtown (which is much more my speed).


Some tourism sites call Skippers Canyon New Zealand’s “Grand Canyon.” Skippers Canyon is very nice, and it is quite “grand” by New Zealand standards, but it’s not even a close comparison to the Grand Canyon. If you rent a car or campervan in New Zealand, the Skippers Canyon road is one of those roads that’s considered to be “out of bounds,” as in you’re not supposed to drive your rental vehicle there because they won’t insure it. If you get in trouble there, you’ll have a hard time getting the car rental agency to come and help rescue you, especially since your cellphone likely won’t work there. I won’t advise anyone who rents a vehicle whether to drive this road; I will write, however, that I’ve driven on a lot more difficult gravel roads in rural Iowa (and, with a school bus).  Just don’t look down…


We’ve been to Skippers Canyon three times and enjoyed it every time. The first time was on a hot Christmas Day. We didn’t quite know what we were going to experience and I didn’t come fully prepared. But, we did enjoy our drive on the narrow ledges and dusty road. It also was exciting to see how some of the local youth were enjoying their Christmas celebration. These kids went to Skippers Bridge, which is near the formal end of the Canyon, set up their barbecue (or, “barbie” in the local dialect) and rigged their own private bungy jump site on this remote, quiet bridge. There’s a Christmas that you won’t forget!


The second time that we went, we drove a bit further and ate lunch at the old Skippers Point School, which is an historic landmark. If you want to see Skippers Canyon and don’t want to drive the road yourself, there are several different tour companies in Queenstown that will gladly take you. Three or four of these little four-wheel drive vans were at the school at the same time and their patrons were enjoying their picnic lunches with New Zealand’s finest wines.


The last time that we were in Skippers Canyon in early April, we drove to the far end. Before you get to Skippers Point, there’s a side road that you need to take – The Branches Road. If you drive The Branches road, then Skippers Point is about the halfway point. The Branches road was much more challenging – more ruts, narrower, and not very well maintained. The scenery beyond Skippers Point was nice, but not spectacular.  That is, until you reach the end of the formal road at The Branches Station.


OMG! The Branches Station must have one of the best, if not THE BEST, views and settings in all of New Zealand. The Branches sits in a broad glacial valley with the cobbled Shotover River running through it. To the southwest, the direction from which we’ve driven, the views are nice. But, to the northeast, the mountain views are amazing!!! The good news is that you, too, can enjoy The Branches Station. It’s a luxury accommodation and it seems that most people who visit likely arrive by helicopter, not in their pokey old Subarus. And, the pleasure of staying at The Branches will only cost you a mere NZ$10,000/night (I rounded up by one dollar; and, that’s for two people with a two-night minimum).


So, after enjoying the high life at the gate to The Branches Station, we returned back down the Skipper Road, enjoyed some ice cream in Queenstown and slowly made our way back to Invercargill.


Enjoy the gallery: 
46 S EnZed signing off…


Posted in New Zealand, Queenstown, Skippers Canyon, The Branches Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |


We were fortunate to spend some time in the area of Queenstown and north of there a few weeks ago.  As with most of New Zealand, it’s a stunning place – lakes, rivers, mountains, glacial outwash, forests – and rain.  🙂  Queenstown and Wanaka are two of my favorite cities to visit and use as a central base in southern NZ, but it’s even better to leave them behind and head out into the wilds and the parts of NZ that are less visited, like Glenorchy and Kinloch…

46 S EnZed signing off…




Posted in New Zealand, Queenstown Also tagged , , , , , , |