I decided I wanted to be in the woods for my birthday this year, as usual. So I recruited my buddy Frank to plan a return trip to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area for the beginning of November.Read More
I haven't been to the OuterBanks since I was in college, over 10 years ago. My family, like many from western PA, spent a lot of our summer vacations in this beautifully wild, yet over developed area. We always headed for the area around Cape Hatteras, where there was a lot less development and people, and more wide open beaches. This year my parents, with the help of my brother and sister-in-law, planned a late September vacation with my father's side of the family, who would usually join us on these summer trips.Read More
My buddy Matteo and I have been talking about getting together in the woods and cooking some serious food for quite a while now. Last month, on an oddly warm late October weekend, we finally made it happen.Read More
Our train arrived in Prague around 7:30 on Saturday. After purchasing tickets for public transportation, we walked around the train station like lost tourists (which we were), until we finally were able to get our bearings and find the correct tram stop.Read More
Sloane and I were up early to finish packing our suitcases - we had a train to catch in Budapest at 830AM. We called a cab, and were at the train station with over an hour to spare. After collecting our tickets we walked across the street for some good old American starbucks - Sloane really wanted yogurt, and we knew it could be found there.Read More
Buda And Pest, Two Sides Of The Danube.
Sloane and I just got back from another fantastic trip overseas to Europe. Sloane had mentioned Prague when we were planning our trip last year, so we decided to try it out this time. My family has roots in Hungary, (see our delicious family tradition here), so I was excited that Budapest was so close to Prague and easily accessible. We researched a bunch of different options: flying in and out of both Prague and Budapest, renting cars, riding trains and flights from city to city. Our plans began to take shape when we finally purchased plane tickets in late July. We found it was cheaper to fly into Budapest and out of Prague, so that gave us a starting and end point. We planned the rest afterwards as we talked to folks who had already travelled to these areas.
Sloane and I just got back from another fantastic trip overseas to Europe. Sloane had mentioned Prague when we were planning our trip last year, so we decided to try it out this time.Read More
I recently took a trip north for a long hike through the woods of Harriman State Park in NY with my adventure buddies Loren and Frank. There were no open campsites at the limited car campgrounds - which is what we usually do on the eve before a great adventure, so everyone can meet up throughout the night at various times easily. We decided to hike in to the first shelter area on our trek - which happened to be a sweaty 2 miles up hill. Frank and I car pooled and arrived at the trail head around 6pm. Of course we had to bring beer with us, thats what we do on the first night of our trips, so I loaded my already heavy pack up with cold beers in coozies, and Frank decided to bring his entire soft sided cooler with him - it was hysterical - it even had his name embroidered on the front of it - a groomsman gift from a wedding long ago. When hiking with beer, you of course must drink beer - so we set about climbing the steep hill to our first nights destination with beers in hand, and some extra weight in tow.
Frank and I made it to our first nights stop, the Stockbridge shelter at the top of the trail. It had some pretty incredible views, and we were tempted to make camp up there, but I was quick to remind Frank of the last time we camped on an open mountain top - we didn't sleep because it was so damn windy. I was able to talk Frank into a campsite we had passed just below the summit, so after hanging out and seeing the views, we headed back down to set up before dark.
Frank and I had just about finished setting up when Loren wondered into camp - it was damn near dark and we quickly said our hellos and went back to camp chores. I got some wood ready for a fire while Frank and Loren finished up setting up their hammocks. We didn't need a big fire, since it was near 70, but of course we needed something to stand around and stare at. Our campsite had a fire ring built into the rock wall, which made us feel a little bit like cave men. Frank and I got the fire going and we proceeded to boil up water on Frank's fancy new wood gasifier stove for some Mt house meals. I'm not 100% on the technology involved but it works well, except for the fact that is leaves a ton of carbon on whatever cup, pot or pan you are cooking with. We made sure to drink all our beer (except for the two Frank and Loren had for breakfast) - we certainly didn't want to carry it 10 more miles the following day.
I was up early the next morning as usual and grabbed the camera to see if I could catch the sunrise from the shelter area. First I went about getting the bear bags down from the tree we had hung the previous night - on a dead limb. As I pulled down on the rope, I heard a cracking noise and I quickly dove backwards. The bags came down quickly, along with the twelve foot limb they had been hanging from a second ago. I was able to escape injury and the food seemed to be ok, except for the crackers, which we would discover at lunch, had mostly turned to crumbs. A quick lesson was learned, to make sure the bear bag limb is a live one. After assuring Frank and Loren I was ok, I headed up the trail, unfortunately there were some folks camping in the shelter area, and I figured they would appreciate me not waking them up by climbing on top of the metal shelter roof so I wondered around a bit, but didn't find too much exciting, with trees blocking the sunrise.
The rest of the gang was working on getting up when I finally climbed back down to camp, we had breakfast, packed up our gear and were on the trail by 9ish - not bad for drinking the night before.
We headed southwest along the Long Path which followed a ridge line for the first mile or so, then once you reach the top of Stockbridge mountain the trail descends into a small valley where we found some running water and stopped to filter some for the long, hot day ahead of us. We spent the next few hours hiking past swampy areas and through large sections of what used to be hemlock forest, now a sad graveyard for fallen giants. I can assume the cause is from the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an insect that feeds on the sap of hemlocks and essentially sucks the life of the tree.
I was ready for some lunch, but Frank and Loren were determined to eat lunch with a view, so they coaxed me into a serious hill climb on an empty stomach. We veered off the Long Trail onto the Lichen Trail which took us to the top of the bald rocks area, where of course there was a spectacular view - but it was also about a million degrees in the direct sun. Loren went ahead and found us a shady spot off the trail that we could eat in comfortably - so we all took a much needed load off and chowed down in the shade.
After some seriously needed food and hydration we were back on the trail, just as lots of people started showing up at the vista, the perfect time for us to make an exit. Hiking up here was very reminiscent of the Dolly Sods in WV, lots of boulders to traverse, low vegetation, and trails that are sometimes easy to lose.
We barely hiked a mile up on the rocks, but it was a tough one for sure, lots of scrambling and dodging giant thorn bushes, and almost zero relief from the relentless sun. We stopped at the top of Hogencamp mountain to take a group photo, we had a pretty incredible view from up there.
From Hogencamp mt, we descended down to an area known as times square - where a bunch of trails intersect - it was pretty underwhelming. We picked up the Arden Surebridge trail from here and were heading towards what we thought was going to be our campsite along a babbling brook. When we got to the site Loren had imagined, it had a posted sign that it was an illegal site and was patrolled - so we decided against staying there for the night. We wondered around for about half an hour more - looking for sites that weren't deemed illegal, but found none. So we sat down by the buggiest section of the creek to filter some water and sat in misery while we filled our bottles and came up with a plan B. After a brutal 15 minutes of fighting off no see-ums and mosquitos, we were finally ready to head out to find a legit campsite near a shelter on the AT.
We did a little bit of bushwhacking to find a trail, but we managed to pick up one that was marked by bottle caps nailed to trees, it was one that hadn't been maintained for a while, so it was really tough to follow. We managed to stay on it most of the way, and it took us back up to a ridgeline, we followed that for a mile or so and met up with the AT at Fingerboard mountain, where we set up camp for the night.
We got to camp and slowly set up our gear, I was exhausted and I think Frank and Loren felt the same way. We put in about 10 miles, so we were ready for some food and rest. We set about checking ourselves out for ticks, and Frank was the winner with two attached that day - it appeared as though Loren and I were in the clear - I found one crawling on my arm but he hadn't attached yet. After a proper tick check and setting up my hammock, I quickly went about getting water boiled for dinner, and ate it as soon as it was ready to go. Frank and Loren soon joined me and we were all feeling much better after a full meal. We grabbed the whiskey that Loren had been graciously carrying all day, and headed up the hill to check out the sunset.
After a great happy hour on the hill we walked back down to camp and lit a small fire, to sit and stare at for a few hours. I was able to pull together enough energy to put my boots back on and gather my photo gear to paint the tree from our sunset adventure with some light, before the moon had come up.
When I got back, Loren had already turned in, and Frank was working on gathering his gear for the bear bag. He and I got it hoisted pretty quickly and headed to our hammocks to embrace the slumber we had been putting off for the last few hours. We were up around 7 the following day, had our breakfast, packed it up and were on the trail by 830, for a quick 6 mile hike back to the cars.
Our first priority was water, we only had a 1/2 liter between the 3 of us after cooking breakfast, so we decided to take a quick 1/2 mile detour down to a swimming area at the nearby lake to grab some water for the hot day ahead. Once we were back on the AT we made good time and found ourselves back on the Menomine trail that we had started out on after only a few hours.
We made it back to the cars around 1130, just in time to go grab lunch up the road in Tuxedo, at a spot Loren had been to a few times. It was an amazing feast to finish our journey. After a long drawn out lunch, we piled back into our cars for the long ride home - mostly for me, since I had a five hour drive ahead of me. I did happen to find on tiny tick attached to my hip area after showering, it hadn't engorged yet, so we pulled him off fairly easily. I think everyone else managed to catch their ticks at camp and remove them with the swift action you want in those situations. Harriman was a beautiful park, and I am sure we will make a return someday soon, perhaps in the fall to peep those leaves.
Our flight from Bergen was relatively easy, we had a quick layover in Oslo and landed at the Keflavik airport around noon. We were ushered through the duty free store, and decided to be smart about booze this time, and just buy it now - so we stocked up on wine and beer at the airport. We grabbed our luggage, our sweet little rental for the next few days and headed out to explore, but first we had to dig out our winter coats, hats and gloves, it was a bit chillier here. We had the good fortune of having a friend who had a friend who lived in Iceland, and we pretty much did everything they suggested to do - including checking out the Reykjanes Penninsula on our way to Reykjavik.
Our first stop was the bridge between two continents. This is a foot bridge over a fissure in the ground, that happens to be a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. The big deal is you can walk from Europe to North America - its honestly a bit under whelming - but worth a quick stop if it happens to be on your way to something else.
Our next stop was the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs, which are sheer lava cliffs that rise straight up from the ocean below. We had about a 15 minute hike from the dirt road that we parked on, and getting to the trail was a bit of an adventure its self - I almost got our car stuck in some seriously loose sand. We eventually made it. I would suggest parking on the main road - and hiking a bit further, rather than driving down the shitty road like we did - it probably took just as long.
We hung out at the cliffs for half an hour, and then decided we needed to get back to the car, we had to meet our air bnb host in Reykjavik soon. I decided to follow the GPS, which took us the opposite direction we had come from on the dirt road. It came to what seemed like a dead end after about 10 minutes of driving - although the GPS said it was still a road. Instead of turning around and driving the half hour back out to the main road, which we could see where we were sitting, I decided to use the four wheel drive and climb over some small boulders blocking the way. It was a pretty bumpy few minutes, but we got safely to the road and saved our selves some time. We had plans to visit a few other sites on the peninsula, but we decided to skip them and get over to the city so we didn't miss our window to check into our apartment. We got to our apartment complex around 430, and after some language barriers, finally found the right place.
We splurged on this AirBnB, but it was worth it. This apartment was super modern, brand new, had an amazing bed, was pretty much right on the water and was walking distance to all the cool stuff in town.
After meeting with our host, and exploring the apartment a bit, we made ourselves a grocery list for the next few days, and headed out to get some grub. Firs thing I noticed about the particular grocery store we went to was there was no individual coolers for meat and cheeses - they were all just in a giant walk in cooler - it was pretty interesting. We loaded up on snacks stuff for dinner and lunch, then made our way home for happy hour.
We gorged ourselves on cheese and crackers, unpacked all our belongings, got laundry started and basically got settled into our home for the next 3 nights. We started to plan our next adventure, which would be driving Iceland's "Golden Circle", ate some dinner and took some time to relax, we were pretty exhausted from jet lag. I was feeling a little more energetic than Sloane at this point and decided to go walk around with my camera for a bit to see if I could find anything interesting in our neighbor hood.
It was pretty cold and windy - so I didn't stay out very long. When I got back I found Sloane getting ready for bed and was about to do the same, but decided to sit down and do some more planning for the following day. I got pretty involved, and an hour later found myself searching the internet for the Aurora Borealis forecast. From what I could tell - this was the only night during our time in Reykjavik that they could be visible, even though it was currently cloudy. I checked the cloud cover and found a spot about 45 minutes away that had somewhat clear skies. I was incredibly tired, but seeing the Aurora was on the list of top things for me to do here, so I packed my camera bag, some food and water and informed the now sleeping Sloane I was heading out. I did invite her, but since she was in a deep sleep already, she wasn't interested.
As I left the city, the rain began which made it hard to see where I was going, the Jimny's windshield wipers weren't the best. I was a little discouraged, since clear skies are necessary to view the Aurora - but I drove on, with hopes that the forecast I had viewed online was accurate. When I got to my destination - Lake Kleifarvatn - which I had been told was a good place to view the Aurora - the clouds were clearing, and I could see stars, as well as a full moon. I parked the car and began to watch the skies above for any sign - not really sure what I should look for. To help pass the time, I decided to photograph the car, painting it with my headlamp - it turned out pretty cool, as you can see below.
The temperature was just around freezing, and I of course was getting cold, so I got back in the car after about half an hour of sky watching and drove a little further down the lake. I pulled off at the next car park, and decided to hike down toward the water. I set up my camera and began taking long exposures of the clouds, which were passing very quickly and creating great motion in the still photographs, lots of cool shots, but no Aurora. I was freezing, it was actually snowing at this point and I was getting frustrated, not to mention exhausted, so I decided to pack it up and head back to Reykjavik. I picked up my tripod as the shutter closed on my last exposure, I was folding up the legs as the camera processed the 30 second exposure - just as I finished the image appeared on my LCD, and there it was - a faint green line across the sky - not yet visible to my naked eyes.
I hurried up and re - framed my photograph as I excitedly looked up at the sky - snapping away every 30 seconds. It took a few more minutes, but all of a sudden, there is was - the Aurora Borealis, dancing across the sky - I was super stoked to finally be seeing this, and I definitely yelled in excitement. It was pretty awe inspiring and I didn't know what to do, watch it or try to photograph it. They showed up quickly, and vanished just as fast. I probably only saw this amazing phenomenon for a total of four minutes, but I will remember it forever, and I have some pretty great shots to help out with that.
The clouds closed in, and I could not longer see the show - so I hopped in the car as fast as I could, and began driving back toward Reykjavik. I stopped a few more times alongside the road, to try and capture them again, but it seems the show had ended at the lake, and just a few little glimpses here and there were all that were left. If you find yourself in Iceland and want the forecast for the aurora - try this link - its what I used to find the best spot.
I drove toward home, excited about what I had just witnessed, but sad at the same time that Sloane hadn't been there to see it - I knew she was going to be disappointed when I told her it had come out. We looked every night afterwards at the forecast - to see if we could head out again, but it was always too cloudy to see anything - so I am really glad I braved the lack of sleep and snow to go when I did. Of course a few days after we left Iceland - the city of Reykjavik shut off all the street lights one particular evening, and you could see the Aurora from anywhere.
The following morning we had a nice breakfast at home, packed ourselves some lunch and headed out to drive the golden circle - along with the rest of Iceland's tour groups. The sun was out, but it was still cold. The first thing we noticed while heading north east from the city were the horses - they are everywhere, and pretty handsome as well. At first we thought they were statues, because they stand perfectly still for long periods of time, but turns out they were all real. We stopped to photograph a few of them and say hello - they were very happy to do the same.
Our first stop was Oxarofoss - a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park - where Iceland's parliament was founded in 930 AD, and also the place where witches, wizards and convicts were executed. Once you can see past the grim history, it's easy to see why this is one of the most visited places in Iceland. One thing you will learn quickly in Iceland - any word ending in "foss" is most likely a waterfall, and probably worth stopping to see - there are a lot of big ones here. We hiked down from above, which was a good move, since all the tour busses stopped below the falls. It was a nice short hike through what seemed like a crack in the earth.
We spent a few minutes looking at the waterfall with the rest of the folks, then headed back up the trail towards the car and our next stop the Kerid volcanic crater. Unfortunately the sun had been covered by clouds at this point, and the wind had picked up, so we didn't stick around very long. The colors here were pretty amazing, and would've made for a great shot if the sun had been out to give them some more depth.
Our next stop was Bruarfoss, another waterfall, and one of the less trafficked attractions we had the pleasure of visiting, since it is difficult to find, and you have to hike about half a mile (through some serious mud) from your car. It was worth the trip for sure. We had our lunch in the car as we drove, to save some time and money. When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead for Bruarfoss the wind had begun to pick up and the temps seemed to have dropped even more, but it didn't discourage us. We began the muddy hike over creeks and through thick brush, I almost ate shit a few times, but was able to save my pride by awkwardly skating in the mud. We finally reached the waterfall after about 20 minutes of walking - and below is what we found.
I could've stayed here all day, waiting for the sun to poke out, or a wild rain storm in the distance to create a more dramatic sky - but we had more to see. So we slogged our way back through the mud to our car and headed up the road towards Geysir - a very active geothermal area in Iceland, and Sloane's first time seeing an active geyser.
The wind had really picked up when we reached Geysir - and it was cold. We put on our heavy coats, gloves and hats and stepped out to see some water explode from the below the surface of the earth. It didn't take long, maybe five to ten minutes until we heard the first eruption. We managed to catch a glimpse of it and decided to head down to stand right beside it for the next eruption. This one took a little longer, but we stuck it out and were pretty stoked to be standing right in front of the geyser when it spewed forth from the ground. We stuck around for another eruption, then headed back to the car pretty quickly - we were freezing at this point. I pulled over at the visitor center and Sloane got us some hot beverages, then we were off to the next spot.
Our next stop on the tour was Gullfoss - one of the main attractions of the Golden Circle tour. There were people everywhere, and keep in mind - we were here during the off season, I can only imagine what it is like during the warm months. We parked and began the walk towards the first overlook, dodging old folks with walkers and little kids throwing mud at each other. It was cold, windy and wet from the mist, which was being blown towards us. We made it to the first overlook, saw the waterfall and quickly decided we had seen enough. Had it been warm and sunny, I would have petitioned to stay longer and try to make some photographs, but it was down right miserable. We walked quickly back to our warm car and began our journey home to food and alcohol.
On our way home we made one last stop along side the road to check out this lava field covered in iconic green moss.
That evening we again made ourselves some kind of dinner in the apartment that I can't remember. Then we went out on the town for a few (expensive) drinks at a local bar. I'm pretty sure a beer was twelve dollars, but we had a good time anyway. The next day was another day trip out east. We again packed ourselves a lunch and were on the road around 9AM. Our first destination was a hike to some natural hot springs, where we planned to hang out for a while. The spot we were going is known as Reykjadalur hot springs - it is about a 45 minute drive from our apartment and we pulled in around 10. The weather was very discouraging - it was in the 40's and there was a light mist - with some seriously dark clouds looming.
We put on our rain gear in the parking lot and started up the trail - there is a considerable amount of elevation gain at first, and it is a bit of a work out. The trail is just under 2 miles one way, and some of the views are fantastic once you are up on the ridge line. There is an amazing waterfall in the valley below, about halfway to the hot springs. It was visible both times we came across it but each time I finally had my camera and tripod set up, fog had quickly rolled in to hide it from view. The rain was pretty constant during our hike, so very few pictures were taken. As we got closer to the hot springs, we began to smell sulfur in the air, and it wasn't long before we were literally walking through clouds of warm steam.
There are mud pots and steam vents all through the valley, but the closer you get to the hot spring area, the more concentrated they become. The rain slowed to a drizzle as we made our way to the hot springs. There are boardwalks built along the stream to reduce errosion as well as a few areas for changing - which were basically walls you could turn and face while putting your bathing suit on. There were 3 or 4 other groups of people already at the bathing area, so we tested out the water as we made our way upstream - it gets much warmer the further up you go.
We found a spot where the water seemed like a good temp and I began the painful process of taking off wet rain gear, boots, pants and shirts in a light drizzle at about 40 degrees. I simply wore my bathing suit under all this to make it as simple as possible. I wrapped all my gear up and stuffed it under the board walk in an attempt to keep it dry, then proceeded to wade out to the deepest spot I could find (which was about 1.5 feet) and lay down completely to cover myself with the water and warm up. It felt great, but I soon realized why no one else had chosen this spot, there was a cold water spring pouring in on the side, which obviously made the water here not so hot in most spots. We grabbed our gear and headed a little further upstream to a small pool with only a couple other people, and quickly got back in the water - it was much warmer here - so we sat and relaxed for about 10 minutes before deciding it was time to dry off and get dressed.
The rain held off until we had completed this difficult task, and just as we were heading back past all the mud and steam pots, it began to pour. The wind picked up, and soon it was actually sleeting. There were a number of people we passed who were hiking to the springs in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, they were in for a wet, cold miserable hike for sure. We made it back to the car, again took off our sloppy wet rain gear, and drove up the road to have a quick lunch in the car, then to the closest town to find a coffee shop to warm up in and have dessert.
Our next destination was the famous waterfall Seljalandsfoss, which was an hour drive to the east. We drove along the coast, on the ring road, with sun and clouds interchanging every 5-10 minutes, it made for some pretty dramatic skies, and lots of rainbows.
Seljalandsfoss is another one of those road side attractions with bus loads of people, not my favorite - but it was pretty impressive. You can walk behind this waterfall, and if you happen to be there when the sun is out you can catch a pretty good rainbow in the mist from the falls. We were lucky enough to see if briefly when we first arrived, then the sun disappeared as we made our way under the falls with the 300 other people there.
We hiked beneath the waterfall, which was pretty cool, took a few pictures and were back to the car pretty quickly. At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had plans to eat dinner out in Reykjavik - so we decided to quickly check out one of the black sand beaches which was close by.
We were cold and hungry, and had an almost 2 hour drive home, so we didn't stick around long. I of course stopped along the road for some photo - ops on the way home, the light was crazy beautiful, but it was only out for a few minutes at a time.
That night we had a great french dinner at Snaps Bistro in our neighborhood - we had a bit of a wait - but had some delicious booze to help kill the time. Sloane requested I leave the camera at home, so I complied - no dinner pictures to share here.
The following day was our last in Iceland. I was up early to grab some pics of the famous church in town Hallgrimskirkja, and a very cool statue down by the water, the Sun Voyager.
After my morning safari I came home to find Sloane up and ready to go - we started off strong by having breakfast in the harbor area at a place called KAFFIVAGNINN - it was simple and delicious. The sun was out, so we decided to eat outside, the staff thought we were crazy, but kindly wiped down a table and brought us out our food anyway.
After breakfast we took some time to walk around the harbor area, the light was amazing once again.
After a little tour around the harbor area, we drove back to the city center, parked and started walking around being tourists. Poking into various shops, getting lost, eating amazing pastries - the sun was out and it was glorious.
After our morning exploring, we made our way back to our apartment to have a quick lunch and get ready for our spa day at the Blue Lagoon. You will read a lot about this place on the internet - it is by far the most visited attraction in Iceland - and for good reason. Lots of people will tell you to stay away, it's too crowded, too expensive, yada yada. But if you have made the trip to Iceland already - I will tell you what people told me - treat yourself! go to the Blue Lagoon - its freaking awesome.
After all the hard miles I had put Sloane through, hiking to stare down at villages and waterfalls, she was so happy to have a relaxing day in a giant hot tub, and so was I. The sun had disappeared by the time we got into the water, but the experience was still amazing. We grabbed a couple of drinks at one of the swim up bars, and started exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place. It rained on and off for the next hour but we didn't care - we were in heaven. We slathered the healing mud on our face, put silica in our hair, sat in the sauna and showered mud off in waterfalls. Of course no vacation is complete if I don't injure myself. After being submerged in the water for over an hour, I accidentally kicked a lava rock on the side of the lagoon - this of course put a very large gash in my soft skin and I was bleeding pretty good. Instead of freaking everyone out by walking around with blood gushing from my foot, I decided to alert someone - who then took me to the nurses station. I was patched up quickly and we were both very relieved to hear that the water is supposedly good for wounds, and wouldn't cause any more harm than I had already done to myself.
The moment that Sloane had been waiting for had finally arrived, it was time for our in water massages. This isn't cheap, but it's and incredible experience. They put you on your back on a foam pool float which keeps you just under the surface of the water, cover you with warm towels and massage your legs, arms, neck and back. After our massages we had another drink and relaxed for a few more minutes before heading to the locker rooms to shower up and get dressed. Although my foot never hurt while we were in the pool, it was incredibly sore when I put my shoes on, good thing there was no more hiking to do. I got dressed and hobbled out to meet Sloane at the entrance, where we walked around the resort a for a few minutes before heading back to the car.
We loaded back into the car, and started our journey back to Reykjavik for the night, to pack up our belongings and get ready for a long flight the next day. The Blue Lagoon was a great way to end such an incredible trip, and it has been great going back and recalling all the details for this blog. Hopefully after the next trip I can get these out in a more timely manner.
Sloane and I had one final hike to accomplish in Voss, from our AirBnB to the train station, with all of our crap. This is where rolling luggage would have been a good choice. We made it, with a few minutes to spare, purchased our tickets, and sat down to enjoy the last leg of the scenic train ride to Bergen, on Norway's west coast. We arrived in Bergen, a gorgeous city on the water and surrounded by mountains, around 10:30 AM that day. We hailed a cab after a failure to find the correct bus, and made our way to our apartment for the next 2 nights. We dropped off our luggage, and set off to find something to eat for lunch in our little neighborhood of Bryggen.
We ended up in a little cafe, ordered some sandwiches and found a spot to sit outside - and enjoyed the little bit of sunshine that would poke through now and then. After we finished our meal we headed out to explore the rest of the harbor by foot, and see what we could see.
We wandered around for a few hours and visited the local fish market, tried to visit Illums Bolighus, a Danish design store - but it of course was closed like most things, since it was a Sunday. We found this out the hard way, we were searching for an open grocery store or pharmacy to buy laundry detergent, toiletries that I had left in Oslo and some food, but no dice. We visited at least 3 places that had Sunday hours listed on Google Maps, but no one was open. We gave up around 2, when our apartment was ready and headed back to change into some hiking footwear for a light hike on top of Mt. Floyen just outside of town.
We walked down to the station for the Floibanen Funicular, which was only about 10 minutes away from our apartment. We purchased our round trip tickets for the tram, which would take us to the top of the mountain where we could do some exploring. We didn't have a solid plan, just that we wanted to see the sunset from up high. We began hiking in the general direction of up, under some serious cloud cover, and soon found ourselves at the treeline, with a spectacular view of the city below. The sky kept threatening rain, but it began to clear as we approached the summit of Mt Floyen
It was a very unexpected, and incredible view - and we were alone - most of the folks who rode the tram up here didn't make it past the gift shop, we were pretty glad we did.
As the sun began to set, we made our way back down the mountain, to the tram platform.
We decided to get some food at the mountain top restaurant - the Fløien Folkerestaurant - but in keeping with the days events, they had all ready shut down the kitchen. So we ordered some drinks and "salty sticks" (pretzels) from the nice gentleman at the bar and headed out on the patio to enjoy the rest of the sunset.
As dusk settled in, I left Sloane with her wine and took a walk to the overlook at the top of the tram, for some night time shots of Bergen, just below us. I kept hearing what I thought were goats, and finally after lots of head scratching I found these guys, hidden under the cement overlook I was standing on. The city keeps a small herd of goats on the summit to keep the underbrush from growing up and ruining the view of the city - pretty clever.
I made my way back to Sloane - who had found a stray kitty while I was gone and had made best friends with it - we finished our drinks and headed back to the tram which would take us back down the mountain to the city to find an open restaurant. We made our way back to Bryggen, and the fish market - which had people dining outside - a good sign! We found an open restaurant - I don't even remember which one, but they had the most amazing mussels and we were very, very happy. We sat, ate and drank outside, right beside the harbor, under the glow of heat lamp - watching a full moon rise over Mt. Floyen - it was perfect, except for the extremely drunk guy who decided he was going to woo the woman eating alone behind us - he failed. When we were done eating, I decided I wanted to get a quick shot of Bryggen from the harbor, so I left Sloane once again, to go on a photo safari. I was gone for what I thought was ten minutes, but after making quick friends with a man from Poland, who also happened to be photographing the moon, I had let more time than intended pass (it was more like 25 minutes). Sloane was understandably upset when I finally caught up with her just outside the restaurant. I spent the walk home doing my best to apologize for leaving her alone - which she finally accepted later that night - after I promised to pay more attention to the time, and not leave her alone in foreign countries, at night, for long periods of time.
The next day we had plans of taking a boat to see Ole Bull's Villa - a famous violinist who grew up in Norway and oddly enough tried to start a Norwegian settlement in Pennsylvania. This abandoned settlement is now Ole Bull State Park and somewhere my family I spent a lot of time while Jim and I were growing up - my parents now own property right next to the park. It turns out the Museum is closed on Mondays, along with the design stores Sloane had wanted to visit., so I went about planning a hike for us - which I of course thought would be easy - as I usually do.
We made a plan to hike from Mt. Ulriken, which we would take a bus, then a tram to the top of, to Mt. Floyen, which we had been at the night before. This would be a nine mile stroll on top of the mountains. We found an open grocery store right around the corner and stocked up on snacks for the day, as well as some food to make for dinner that night, and laundry detergent to clean our filthy clothes. We made our way to the bus stop, about a half mile away. We surprisingly found the right bus this time, and got off exactly where we needed to for the short walk up to the Ulriken cable car, which took us almost to the top of Mt Ulriken, the highest mountain in Bergen.
The weather was looking good, with lots of clouds and intermittent sunshine. We began following the rock cairns and sign posts - on our route to Mt. Floyen. This hike was entirely above the tree line, and mostly over very rocky terrain except for the last 1/2 mile - so we would be relying on these types of trail markers most of the day, which made navigating slightly more difficult. Thankfully the signposts were very informative.
After about an hour and a half of hiking we decided to stop for lunch on a large rock. While we ate we discussed the chance of Sloane's boots falling apart on us and ruining the day. This was a problem we had noticed in Voss, her sole was delaminating from her boot, and we hadn't had time to get them repaired. So we decided to be proactive and keep the issue from getting worse. With little to choose from in materials, I found Sloane's backpack had a long thin bungee on the outside, so we wrapped it around her boot and sole mulitple times to keep the sole attached. It thankfully did the job, we had to re apply it a few times, but her sole stayed on the entire 9 miles.
We powered through at least 7 miles of very windy and rocky terrain before we began to tire out and lose enthusiasm. We were at the bottom of an old ski jump, that is no longer in use, with a very steep climb ahead of us - we sat here for a few minutes and had a snack, while I reassured Sloane we would be done soon. Our small trail joined up with a much larger, and much more used trail here, we watched 3 groups of folks walk by us as we gathered energy for this final climb uphill.
When we reached the top of the hill, we looked back and a thick fog had begun to roll into the valley that we had just climbed out of. It happened very fast, and soon we were simply hiking in the clouds, with almost zero visability.
With our energy levels at almost zero, and a thick fog that had set in all around us - we decided to cut our hike short and stick to the paved road to take us back to the tram. It was all downhill from here, and very eery. We passed old viaducts, things that looked like bunkers from WW2 and guardrails that were falling into the valleys below. In our last 1/2 mile - when we finally could recognize where we were from our hike the previous day, it began to rain, hard. We tossed on our rain coats and made a final push to get to the tram. When we finally arrived, it had stopped raining, just as fast as it had started, and we waited patiently for the tram to head down the mountain, along with a bunch of other very wet people. We got into town with enough time to make a beer run (finally) , so I did that while Sloane prepared our final Norwegian meal - which I'm pretty sure was actually Italian - although I can't quite remember. That night we finished up our laundry, and hung our clothing up to dry around the radiators and fans - since the clothes dryer didn't seem to be doing the trick. We got as much packed as we could, because the following morning, before the sun would rise we had to be on a bus headed for the airport. We made it to the bus right on time the following day, and watched the city roll by in the cover of darkness, our last glimpses of Bergen were from some very heavy eyes. As we sat waiting for our flight to board at the Bergen airport, I grew increasingly excited for what lay ahead - Iceland.
My friends (who all happen to be RIT alumni) finally got me out backpacking, for the first time in about 5 years, this past October. I took a long hiatus from carrying 40 plus pounds on my back, up and down mountains, due to a knee surgery I had a few years back. We decided to head to wild and wonderful, West by god Virginia, to a spot known as the Dolly Sods WIlderness Area. This place looks very similar to an arctic tundra, like parts of Alaska or Canada, and it is amazing to have such a unique landscape so close to home. I had been here before, and hiked a very short section of the trail we were hiking this time, but had never done any overnight trips.
We drove up on a Thursday evening and had planned to camp out at the only car camping spots in the area - Red Creek Campground - which is right near the trailhead. We arrived at the top of the mountain around 1030 pm, and were surprised to find a lot of the roadside parking was full, and the campground with its 11 or so sites was also full. So we parked and left a note for Loren, who was meeting up us later that evening, that we had hiked in on a nearby trail and to meet us there. Thankfully we found a cell phone signal and were also able to text him our coordinates so he could find us in the darkness. Loren finally showed up around 1230, with some more cold beers, so we were obligated to stay up and drink it with him until about 2 am. We sat by the fire and caught up with each other while the fog rolled in heavily all around us.
The next morning we woke to a log of fog and slowly got our wet gear packed up for the journey ahead. Nate cooked us up some bacon egg and cheese muffins while the rest of us finished up packing. We headed out to the car and began to gear up for some serious hiking. Just about the time we were ready to go, it started raining - and raining hard - that big ol fat rain, like in Forest Gump. We jumped in the vehicles and put on all our rain gear, at least we didn't have to stop along the trail and fish it all out of our packs. The trail head was a few miles up the road, and we were there quickly, after a brief stop to see if we could get a weather forecast, but no luck. For now we just assumed rain all weekend, which was a pretty accurate assumption. The weather could only improve!
We started off at the trail head at Bear Rocks, and planned to hike about 8-10 miles each day, doing a loop and ending up back at our the vehicles on Sunday. Fall was definitely setting in here, and the colors were gorgeous, even when blanketed in a thick fog.
The rain that morning was on and off, but it was always foggy. When we go to the ridge, where normally you could see across the valley to the next mountain range, we couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of us. Up here the wind was relentless, but thankfully the rain was either non existent or a light drizzle most of the time. We found a few massive boulders to hide behind while we ate lunch, but mostly we were in a hurry to get off of this section.
We finally got off the ridge, and decided to head down into a valley to a water source (left fork of Red Creek) and hoped to find a campsite there as well. When we got down to the creek - there were people everywhere, but thankfully they continued on their way after filtering water and we were able to find a nice spot beside some other hammockers in the pines. These neighbors helped us get a much needed fire going with the aid of a small hatchet and some vaseline soaked cotton balls. I won't ever rag on Frank again for wanting to bring a hatchet backpacking, it was a huge help. The rain held off until much later that evening and we had a relatively peaceful dinner around the warm fire.
The Dolly Sods is know for having been a testing ground for artillery during WWII. There are signs at every trailhead warning you to stay on the trail to avoid the possibility of finding a bomb or mortar that may not have exploded back in the day, and could potentially still go off. We didn't find any of those thankfully, but our neighbors learned an important lesson about warming up canned goods around a fire - put a vent hole in it first. This is something we all knew all ready, however the fellas from WV we were camping next to did not. I was off in the trees throwing the rope for our bear bag when I heard a loud explosion come from the campsite, no one was screaming so I assumed all was ok. When I got back to the campsite, I found our neighbors scooping chili off the ground with a trowel, and realized that the chili had exploded. So much for keeping the bears away from the campsite. Luckily no one was sprayed with molten chili, or shrapnel from the can, it could have been so much worse than someone's dinner being wasted.
We decided that night if it was pouring in the morning when we got up, that we would sleep in. We all turned in as the fire died down, and fell asleep to the sound of rain pelting our tarps - we woke up to that same sound. I slept in as long as I could, but eventually I had to get up to take a leak. When I did, I decided this rain wasn't going to stop, and set to work getting the rest of the crew awake - by noisily beginning to pack my gear. After everyone was up and we had some breakfast under the protection of tarps we slowly began to take down our tarps, cover our packs and put our rain gear back on for a wet uphill hike.
We started off the day with some entertainment, as we watched a group of about 15 cross the creek that we had camped near, and witnessed at least 3 of them step off the rock bridge and up to their knees in the water. They then turned around to watch us cross, hoping for more of the same, but were let down when we all made it across with dry feet. We headed up the hill and were soon hiking in a literal creek. I tried to take some shots, but the combination of body heat and moisture in the air were fogging up the lens too much, and since it was pouring rain still I didn't want to leave it out long enough to acclimate. We rock hopped with the aid of our trekking poles for about 1/2 a mile through this creek (trail) until we finally connected up to another trail that was a little less waterlogged.
This was the day of water crossings. We managed to avoid a few serious crossings by bushwhacking until we found our trail again, but some just were unavoidable. The rain let up for us by midmorning, and was on and off again all day long and we once again found lots of fog as we gained altitude.
Once we passed the waterfall, we took a trail that was called Rocky Point Trail, and it turns out this was a very good name for it. Our pace slowed as we picked our way across large slick boulders, trying not to twist an ankle or knee.
We attempted to find a spur trail that went to the top of Breathed Mountain, to a spot called Lion's Head. We missed the first turn off, so we decided to keep going and pick up the other side of the trail where it connected back up to Rocky Pt. Trail. When we found it, we wished we had turned around and chose the other route - because this one was pretty much straight up huge boulders. But we decided to climb it anyway, hoping to have a good view while we ate lunch. We made it to the top after a lot of nervous scrambling, and were disappointed to see more fog, so we quickly headed off the overlook to get away from the wind. We found a spot in the rhododendrons that was protected from the wind and we had a quick lunch, all the while considering if we should actually climb down what we had come up. We decided that it was worth the risk to climb down, rather than hike an extra mile and half to go back around the opposite way, so we slowly made our way back down the boulder field, and everyone got down safely.
We made it to a decent campsite, right beside Red Creek around 6pm. After some back and forth on whether or not we should stay here, a decision was finally made to stay. Frank and Nate had hiked ahead to a stream crossing just a 1/4 mile up the trail and found people everywhere - they came back with the news and we all decided this secluded spot would be our home for the night.
After about 2 hours of carefully tending a very poorly burning fire - which needed to be fanned constantly, with my trusty origami bowl - we finally had enough coals to let it burn on its own. It was quite the team effort, and it all paid off in the end. We were able to enjoy our mt house meals around a warm fire - the best way to raise your spirits after a hard day of wet hiking.
We went the entire night with out any rain, and woke up to dry tarps and gear the next morning, it was quite a welcome feeling not needing to put on rain pants to start the day off. We had breakfast, packed up and were on the trail by 9, after a quick group shot with some blue skies.
We were quickly at the creek crossing where Nate and Frank had seen all the people the night before - and we were very happy we didn't stay here - there were about 8 sites, and it seemed like everyone of them was filled up the night before. We watched folks crossing the creek where the trail said to, wading up to their knees through the water, and decided to go off the trail to find a spot we could boulder hop - to keep our boots dry for the long hike ahead.
After crossing the creek, we again had a steep climb to get up onto the plateau that we would hike along for the rest of our trip. Thankfully we didn't have to hike up a creek today.
After a glorious lunch in the sunshine, we made it to the end of our loop, and began retracing our steps, on the bear rocks trail, back to the car. We passed about 20 times as many people on this leg of the trip than we had on our way out in the rain.
After about 7 or 8 sunny miles, discussing what we would be eating for dinner on our way home, we finally made it back to the trail head, along with the wind. As we stowed our gear in the trunks of the cars, being careful to not let anything blow away, I made an amazing discovery - we had saved two beers from our first night, and they were still cold! Victory was ours. We were on the road by 1:30, and on our way to a gluttonous meal of pizza and wings at a little spot in Cumberland MD.
This hike wouldn't have been possible without gaitors and trekking poles, so I want to thank them for the support and dry feet. This was the most adverse weather I have had to endure on a hiking trip in recent memory, and it was good to find out I could still hack it. We plan on doing more overnight hiking trips next year, hopefully discovering some more awesome spots in PA and MD - places that may be a little closer to everyone, although WV never disappoints. To keep up with future adventures, scroll to the top of the page and enter your email in the subscribe box on the right.