Cover: Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Article by Kim Hull
Home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is a wonderful 32,000 acre park with towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.
Established in 1891, Itasca is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States. It is also the most popular in Minnesota, with over a half million visitors each year. Most come to cross the rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but discover an outdoor paradise and return to park to explore and enjoy it further, with 70% of Itasca visitors being return visitors.
A good place to begin a visit to Itasca State Park is at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
We always start a park visit with a stop at the visitors center, so we’ve been to quite a few across the country and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve visited. Bright and spacious, it is well laid-out, with interpretive and hands-on exhibits, photographs, videos, maps of the area and a gift shop.
The 13,000 square foot center is named after Jacob V. Brower, a writer, historian and land surveyor, who came to the Lake Itasca area in the 1800’s to settle a dispute over the location of the start of the Mississippi. Brower remained in the area and his conservation work to save the pine forests, which were being threatened from logging, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the state park in April of 1891.
Park naturalists and staff are on hand at the center to answer questions and provide recommendations on exploring the park. Maps and information are also available at the center, including an Itasca State Park overview pamphlet.
When planning a visit to Itasca State Park, the park has several lodging and camping options available for your stay, including a hostel, the historic Douglas Lodge, or, of course, camping under the stars.
The historic Douglas Lodge opened in 1905 and has since hosted guests for over 110 years. While having been updated through the years with modern conveniences, the quiet, peaceful lodge retains its historic feel with period furnishings and rustic decor.
Douglas Lodge has three suites that include a bathroom with a shower and four single rooms that share hallway baths. The common area is a warm, cozy living room with a large stone fireplace. The Lodge also has a full-service restaurant available for both hotel guests and park visitors that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Hiking & biking trails
With 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, Itasca has a wide variety of treks ranging from short, easy hikes to longer, more adventurous trails.
The Headwaters Loop Trail & Doctor Roberts Trail near Douglas Lodge are both wheelchair accessible, boardwalk trails that wind through nature. The Headwaters Loop Trail runs from the Mary Gibbs Headwater Center along the Mississippi River to the Headwaters and the boardwalk section of the Roberts Trail runs to Old Timer’s Cabin.
The Itasca State Park Summer Map has a full listing of the park’s hiking trails. Bicycling on hiking trails is prohibited, but 16 miles of bicycle routes run through from the visitor center to the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center, while also connecting to Douglas Lodge.
One thing we weren’t going to miss when visiting Minnesota was crossing the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River.
Sure we’ve crossed the Mississippi countless times through the years by car in the 10 states it passes through on its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf Of Mexico, but Itasca State Park is the only place on earth where you can walk across it as it begins that path downstream.
If you want to say hi to someone while you are there, give them a call and tell them to go to Mississippi headwaters webcam and they can watch as you make your crossing. Definitely a cool adventure!
Get the book: The Best of Itasca
The Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce provided us with a copy of Deanne Johnson’s book, The Best of Itasca prior to our visit. It is a beautiful, comprehensive book, filled with everything you need to know whether visiting for a few hours or a week.
Itasca State Park location
Itasca State Park is in north central Minnesota a little over 200 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 26 miles from Park Rapids.
New Mexico has some fabulous hiking spots but one of our favorites is Bandelier National Monument.
Located about an hour from Santa Fe or two hours from Albuquerque, Bandelier’s 33,000 acres contain cliff dwellings where the Pueblo people built homes in the rock cliffs, petroglyphs, and evidence of even earlier life, when nomadic people occupied the land over 10,000 years ago.
In 1880, Adolph Francis Bandelier came to the area to study the dwelling sites, later publishing both scientific reports and a fictional book based on Pueblo life, “The Delight Makers.” Bandelier, along with other archeologists, emphasized the importance of preserving the site, which in 1916 was accomplished when President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to establish the national monument, naming it after Bandelier.
Hiking Bandelier National Monument
With over 70 miles of trails at Bandelier, there’s something for everyone, with trails ranging from short, easy loops to steep, long switchbacks.
Main Loop Trail
The Main Loop Trail is a short, partially handicapped accessible, 1.2 mile loop that begins at the visitor center. The trail is well-maintained and takes about an hour to complete, allowing for stops along the way. The upper parts of the trail near the cliff dwellings require some climbing of stairs, which have handrails.
The Main Loop Trail winds along the floor of the Frijoles Canyon past archeological sites such as the Big Kiva, which, according to the park, once had a roof covering it and was a communal meeting place.
The remains of the Tyuonyi (Qu-weh-nee) village is estimated to have once been two stories with over 400 rooms.
The Puebloan people used volcanic tuff blocks, which is relatively soft and breaks easily, to construct the homes. The blocks of tuffs were held together with a mortar mud mixture. Ponderosa pines from nearby were used to make vigas, rough-hewnbeams to support the roofs.
Continuing on, the trail leads to the cliff dwellings called cavates, or small human-carved alcoves. Ladders allow visitors to climb up to view the cavates.
Stops are numbered along the trail and trail guides with coordinating descriptions are available in the visitor’s center.
The views from the elevated section of the trail near the cliff dwellings are quite spectacular.
So, why did some of the Puebloan people live in the cliff dwellings and some live in the Tyuonyi village?
It’s believed that both were occupied during the same period and that the village on the canyon floor would have been used during the summer. During the winters, the south-facing cliff dwellings would have been warmer than on the canyon floor.
Dwellings along the canyon wall were often multiple stories, which can be determined by the number of rows of viga holes.
The Main Loop Trail also passes Talus House, which was reconstructed in 1920.
Other Bandolier National Monument Trails
The Alcove Trail connects to Main Loop at the half way point, adding an additional 1 mile to the hike round trip. The Alcove Trail section leads to Alcove House, which is located 140 feet above the canyon floor.
The 1.5 mile Falls Trail starts near the visitors center, leading to the Upper Falls. The Falls Trail should not be attempted when winter conditions are present. Do not drink the water.
Bandelier National Monument’s Tsankawi section is located 12 miles from the visitor center. 1.5 miles in length, the Tsankawi trail leads to cavates, petroglyphs, a mesa and the ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. The Tsankawi section should not be attempted when winter conditions are present.
Know before you go
Hours & seasons. Bandelier National Monument is open daily, year-round except Christmas and New Years Day, from dawn to dusk except during heavy snow days or other emergencies. Backpacking permits must be obtained at the Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center for any overnight stays in the park’s backcountry.
Shuttle bus. During the summer months between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM, all Bandelier National Monument visitors, except vehicles displaying disability tags, are required to take a free shuttle bus from the White Rock visitor center to access the main visitor area of Bandelier National Monument, including the visitor center, Main Loop Trail, and Falls Trail. Shuttles run approximately every 30 minutes weekdays, and 20 minutes on weekends. The shuttle is free, however the park entrance fee still applies. Before 9AM, and after 3PM, all vehicles may drive directly to the park.
What to bring. Temperatures are high in the summer at Bandelier, so bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen & a hat. Thunderstorms, which can have hail and lightning, are frequent in the summer afternoons and flash flooding can occur.
Between 400 to 700 years ago, North American and Spanish settlers who called the Rio Grande valley home, in and near what is now Albuquerque, created over 24,000 petroglyphs on volcanic rocks. The site of these images, Petroglyph National Monument, was established as one of the largest petroglyph concentrations in North America in 1990.
What is a petroglyph?
Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by inscribing images into the rocks, exposing the lighter-colored rock underneath. According to the National Park Service, 90% of the petroglyphs located in Petroglyph National Monument were created by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians, who would have used another stone or some type of chisel to pick or carve the images into the basalt boulders.
Getting to Petroglyph National Monument
If you’re in Albuquerque and in the mood for a hike, Petroglyph National Monument is easily accessible with several trail options that wind through the New Mexico desert next to the thousands of petroglyphs.
The best place to start is the Petroglyph National Monument Visitors Center on the west side of Albuquerque near Unser and Western Trail. There is a warning on the National Parks website that advises that when entering “Petroglyph National Monument” into a GPS, you may end up in a neighborhood or at the administrative office which is not designed for visitors. They are correct – go to the Petroglyph National Monument website before you head to the park where you’ll find a map, coordinates, and directions to the visitor center.
The rangers and staff at the visitor’s center have park information, answer any questions you may have, and provide trail suggestions based on the hike length and difficulty you desire.
Before you begin your hike amongst the petroglyphs, keep in mind…
Do not touch the petroglyphs. Hand oils can damage them and cause deterioration.
Respect the culture of the native peoples that called this area home. Don’t remove or vandalize anything.
Stay on hiking trails to prevent erosion.
Take water and sunscreen.
Leave the area and take shelter in your vehicle if thunderstorms move in during your hike.
You are in the desert, home of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Watch where you step and report any snakes spotted to park rangers.
Petroglyph National Monument: Boca Negra Canyon
While it only contains about 5% of the park’s petroglyph’s, the Boca Negra Canyon section of the park is the most visited.
Located about 2 miles from the visitor’s center, Boca Negra Canyon has three paved trails.
The shortest trail, The Macaw, is an easy 5-minute stroll that provides easy access for viewing the Macaw petroglyph.
The Cliff Base Trail is slightly longer at .2 miles and takes about 15 minutes as it winds through the boulders with views of numerous petroglyphs. Both the Macaw and the Cliff Base Trail begin from the same point near parking, restroom and picnic facilities.
The third trail at Boca Negra Canyon is Mesa Point Trail which requires more climbing as it rises to reach the mesa top, providing a panoramic view of the canyon. The trail takes about 30 minutes roundtrip and is the most difficult of the three.
Petroglyph National Monument: Piedras Marcadas Canyon
Piedras Marcadas Canyon is located at the northernmost section of Petroglyph National Monument and is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs.
While the trail begins near a parking lot in a neighborhood, the trail quickly winds away from the homes. At just under 2 miles roundtrip, the flat, sandy trail is an easy hike along the boulders with six markers along the way identifying petroglyph areas.
Other Petroglyph National Monument areas
In addition to Boca Negra Canyon and Piedras Marcadas Canyon, Petroglyph National Monument has additional areas for hiking and viewing petroglyphs.
Rinconada Canyon is a secluded 2.2-mile roundtrip walk with no service or water and The Volcanoes Day Use Area offers moderately strenuous hiking near the cinder cones without petroglyph viewing.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
New Hampshire is home to a great après-ski culture. What better way to end a good day on the slopes than sharing a toast with friends? It seems a little unfair, though, that this practice gets attention during the winter, especially when the beautiful state of New Hampshire has so many year-round outdoor activities.
In the fall, deep reds, vibrant oranges, and bright yellows paint the hillsides. It is a perfect time to hike, and New Hampshire is home to many mountain trails with stunning views. Even better, some trails are located only a short distance from small New Hampshire towns with great options for an “après-hike” celebration, especially if a good microbrew is appealing.
Whether you are traveling to Southern New Hampshire, or plan to head up to the heart of the White Mountains, there are countless options. Here are four favorite accessible mountain hikes with great views, and easy stops nearby to share a congratulatory toast after a beautiful fall day outdoors.
1. Southern New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region
Close to the Southwest corner of New Hampshire is Mount Monadnock, a popular mountain for hiking (rumored to be the second most traversed mountain in the United States). However, New Englanders also have a few favorite trails on Pack Monadnock, a neighboring mountain, with great views across to Mount Monadnock and the Wapack Range.
The Pack Monadnock trails leave from Miller State Park, and all trails are fairly equal in difficulty (moderate uphill climbs, but short: about 1.5-2 miles each way). The summit can be a bit crowded at times, but the views from the top more than make up for the crowds. On a clear day, you can even glimpse the Boston skyline in the distance.
Only five miles away from the Pack Monadnock trails is Peterborough, a small town filled with artist’s studios and a few cozy places to sit and enjoy a local IPA or that New Hampshire favorite: pumpkin ale.
Harlow’s Pub is a local institution, a place where musicians and artists gather to enjoy good food and beer with local music. The feel is eclectic; from the British phone booth decorating the corner to the 70’and 80’s memorabilia filling the walls. It is no doubt a unique spot to unwind after a good hike. If it’s a sunny day, the outdoor patio is a great place to sit back and rest after a day on the mountain.
2. Central New Hampshire’s Sunapee Region
Don’t ignore the middle of this amazing state. The lakes here are famous, and when surrounded by fall foliage, this part of New Hampshire is filled with striking views.
Mount Kearsarge is one of the oldest mountains in the state. The summit offers beautiful views of Mount Cardigan and Sunapee, and on a clear day, you can see the White Mountains. Easy trails right to the summit are accessible from Rollins State Park but don’t cheat. Instead, start from a different location and hike a trail that winds up the side of Kearsage. To do so, leave from Winslow State Park, and take the Barlow Trail for a 1.7-mile hike each way. Along the trail, you will catch beautiful views of Mount Cardigan and Ragged Mountain.
A longer hike means a reward, after all. New London is just minutes away from Winslow State Park and well worth the trip. This college town offers views of the Mount Sunapee Ski Resort, as well as great stops for coffee, sandwiches, or a good local brew. The Flying Goose Brew Pub brews beer on site. They have a Saison called “Death of a Beer Geek” that is pretty intriguing. The Goose is a favorite pit stop for outdoor enthusiasts year round.
3. The White Mountains: Pinkham Notch
Northern New Hampshire is home to jaw-dropping vistas and terrain. This is the real drama. It’s Mount Washington, after all, the highest peak in the Northeast. The other peaks of the Presidential Range surround Mount Washington, and the area is famous for intense changes in weather and climbing conditions.
Don’t be intimidated. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a visiting center in Pinkham Notch, and the folks there can help you choose safe, accessible day hikes that offer breathtaking views right out back.
It is a popular pastime to hike up to Tuckerman’s Ravine. However, if a quiet fall hike with fewer people – but still filled with beautiful views – is appealing, there are great loop trails off of Old Jackson Road, just behind the visitor’s center. Trails are about 2.5-3 miles in length round trip, with a moderately difficult ascent at times, but the reward is a private view across to Tuckerman’s Ravine, Wildcat Mountain, and the other peaks around Pinkham Notch.
A toast with a good local beer should follow all of this hard work. Jackson and North Conway are two New England towns within a short driving distance of Pinkham Notch, and between the two towns are some great pit stops for a pint and a snack.
The bar at the Red Parka Pub is a local favorite and is regularly packed to the gills. The outdoor seating area, surrounded by a fence of alpine skis, is a great place to relax. Equally popular is a local brewery’s restaurant, the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company. Celebrate the season with Opa’s Oktoberfest German-style lager along with a plate of Bavarian pretzels and beer cheese. Or better yet, a plate of nachos covered in smoked brisket. Remember: the hike was a calorie burn, after all.
4. The White Mountains: Crawford Notch
Crawford Notch, a gorge in the White Mountains, is a hikers dream. The notch is filled with wildlife, waterfalls and dramatic views. The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a visitor’s center here as well, a great destination for information about the park and its numerous trails. There is no shortage of day hikes all along the Crawford Notch’s nearly 6,000 acres, but a favorite is Mount Willard, a moderately difficult, but short (3.2 miles round-trip) hike to some of the most spectacular views in the area.
In this part of the White Mountains, there is a special location to enjoy a real reward after a hike. You will find it at The Mount Washington Resort. This historic hotel tucked just below Mount Washington, sits outside of Crawford Notch State Park. Breathtaking views of the White Mountains are visible from every corner of the hotel. Yes, there are restaurants here with white tablecloths and waiters with bowties. But, believe it or not, you can be a dusty hiker with muddy boots, especially if you want to enjoy the pub downstairs.
For the real reward, though, I recommend heading out to the porch on a warmer fall day. Maybe splurge and enjoy a cocktail. Kick back in one of the comfy chairs and raise a glass to the day’s work. Take a well-deserved sip while you gaze out at the mountains, grateful for a day in New Hampshire’s wilderness.
The Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail is an easy, short trail meandering along the creek.
Maroon Lake Scenic Trail: Getting there
From the roundabout west of Aspen, take Maroon Creek Road.
Check the sign just past the roundabout for road closure status. During busy times & the summer, cars are only permitted past the guard gate to the Maroon Lake parking lot before 9am or after 5pm. On these days, park at Aspen Highlands and take the Maroon Bells bus (runs approx. every 20 minutes). If driving, a $10 fee applies for a 5-day pass.
Maroon Lake Scenic Loop Trail: The hike
From the parking lot, follow the trail to the lake.
The trail continues to the right of the lake. At the “Scenic Loop Trail or Crater Lake” marker, keep left.
Cross the bridge over Maroon Creek and continue on the trail.
The trail forms a loop through the meadow and trees.
The trail is approximately 1 mile roundtrip.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
A visit to the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum is a fascinating journey that educates, inspires and immerses one in the beauty, history, adventure & cultures found in the world’s mountains.
Located in downtown Golden, CO, the museum showcases the contributions of legendary mountaineers & climbers and their roles in history, while educating in an interactive environment.
Bringing Everest stories into perspective
For anyone that has read an Everest expedition book or article, the push-pin marked routes on the large-scale model of Mt Everest bring the accounts to life.
View the historic West Ridge route climbed in 1963 by American Tom Hornbein & Willie Unsoeld or trace the first ascent climbed in 1953 by Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay, while gaining a deeper understanding and respect for the bravery, adventure & skill these mountaineers have contributed to history.
Historical artifacts & mountaineering pioneers
The evolution & spirit of mountaineering is captured in the collection of historic items the museum displays.
Living in & protecting our mountains
The museum educates with interactive, colorful exhibits ranging from learning more about the effect of altitude on humans to the cultures that live in the world’s mountains.
American Mountaineering Museum
Location: 710 10th Street Golden, CO 80401
Hours: Monday-Saturday, Closed Sunday
Smuggler Mountain is a popular hike with the trailhead located in east Aspen.
Smuggler Mountain: Getting there
From Main Street & Mill (corner of the Hotel Jerome), take Mill to Gibson. Turn right & at the Y intersection, keep left onto South Avenue. Turn right onto Park Circle to Smuggler Mountain Road. There is parking on the right & and a 2nd lot is just above.
Smuggler Mountain: The hike
The Smuggler Mountain trail is a fairly steep 1.5 mile climb that ends at the observation deck overlooking Aspen.
Smuggler Mine sits at the base of the mountain. The trail is actually a multi-purpose dirt road shared by hikers, bikers, runners & dogs and is quite heavily used, especially on the weekends.
At the top is an observation deck with stunning views of Aspen.
My friend, Tina, walked in one day and dropped a coffee table book on my desk. “Kilimanjaro. So why did you buy a book about Kilimanjaro?,” I asked.
She said, “I am going to climb it and you guys should to.” I laughed and said, “Riiiiiight.”
48 hours and couple of bottles of wine later, the three of us had decided that we were going to Africa.
Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa at 19,340 ft or 5,895 meters. It has three volcanic cones – Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, with its highest summit being Uhuru Peak on Kibo’s crater rim.
Hans Meyer, a German geology professor, along with Ludwig Purtscheller, an Austrian mountaineer, and their climbing team reached the summit of Kibo in October of 1889.
Previous attempts by multiple parties were not successful due to the deep snow and ice on Kibo at the time.
There are six official trekking routes on Kilimanjaro today – Marangu (also known as the Coca-Cola route), Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame (also known as the whiskey route).
You’ve probably guessed which route we chose. Actually, Machame is the most scenic route and is longer than Marangu, so it has a better success rate. But, yes, we climbed the whiskey route.
The Kilimanjaro National Park shows that only 41% of trekkers actually reach the Uhuru summit at 19,340 ft, with the majority turning around at Gilman’s Point, 300 metres (980 feet) short of the summit, or at Stella Point 200 meters(660 feet) short of Uhuru, or before ever reaching the crater.
What were we thinking?
At the time, we were going to the Caribbean five or six times per year and had taken to climbing rain forests in the likes of St Kitts, Guadeloupe, and Martinique.
Our typical climb consisted of getting up (too late as always), driving to the mountain, hauling ourselves up the mountain, coming home very muddy, taking a shower, and heading out to the beach with a glass of champagne to relax before dinner.
I had never slept in a tent at this point.
And, I hated the cold.
Kilimanjaro: Training & preparation
So we had decided to climb Kilimanjaro. Now what?
How do you train to climb a 19,340 ft peak when living at sea level in Dallas? It was March and we had arrived on August as our climbing date, so we had 5 months to prepare. We put together a plan.
Our training plan
1. Train harder & more often. We got frame packs (big ones), added three 2-liter bottles of soda (weighs about 60 lbs) and climbed parking garages at the nearby shopping center every morning. Seriously. Our theory was to make it as hard as possible at sea level to simulate it being harder when we got to altitude.
We’d get up at 5AM everyday before work, hike to the mall with our packs and climb the stairs over and over. Sometimes, for variation, we’d walk up the ramps. At 7AM, we’d be at the front door of Panera when they’d open to have breakfast and then head home for a shower before going to work.
After work, we’d hit the gym with the packs on the stair master. Rinse, and repeat the next day and every day thereafter for 5 months.
2. Fly to Colorado or California and climb 14ers. We started with Guadelupe Peak in Texas, then moved on to 14ers – Pikes Peak, Mt Evans & Mt Shasta – then decided we needed a break and went to Guadeloupe.
That was pretty much it. We actually got in great shape by the time we went in August with our homemade training plan.
So, in addition to shots for all kinds of weird things and getting a Visa for Tanzania, we became the most frequent REI customers ever. I thought they were going to give us green vests.
We bought everything anyone could imagine ever needing in the wilds of Africa. From sub-zero sleeping bags to water filters to down booties for camp, we had it.
The Kilimanjaro climb begins in a rain forest, works through the tundra, then ends up at very far below 0° on the way to the summit – so you need a lot of stuff. But, let’s face it – I also love gear.
Dealing with the cold
Growing up in Kansas, my Mom would send me out to play in the snow with bread bags over my mittens for waterproofing. Needless to say, it didn’t work and I learned to hate the cold and thought that snow was dreadful.
After hiking along the Continental Divide one very windy, very cold day, we went back to a local hiking shop in Dallas and told them we wanted the warmest gloves made. They produced North Face Himalayan Mitts. They are amazing – I still wear them on cold ski days.
The takeaway – with the right gear, most times you don’t get cold.
Anyway, we bought and bought and bought, then put it all in zip lock bags, stuffed it in 4 or 5 massive duffle bags and we were ready, almost.
Here’s how you give yourself a shot of dex
Very high altitude is considered between 11,500 and 18,000 ft and extremely high altitude is over 18,000 ft.
When you go to high altitude, potentially two serious issues can occur beyond normal acute mountain sickness (AMS) – high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). HAPE is basically when fluid forms in the lungs and HACE is swelling of the brain.
First, there is a preventive drug you can take during the climb for normal AMS called Diamox. It makes beer taste awful. But, if you get HACE or HAPE, you have to get to lower elevations quickly or you may die. There is also a drug, called Dexamethasone, or dex, that can help save you along the way. Our doctor recommended we take some with us and said her nurse would come in and show us how to give ourselves a shot, just in case we needed it.
The nurse comes in wearing scrubs, turns around, pulls down her pants on one side (she had on a thong) and proceeds to give us our dex instructions on her bare butt. Most bizarre doctor visit we’ve ever had.
Kilimanjaro: Travel & pre-climb time
Just before we left for Tanzania, we were invited to a friend of Tina’s house who had just returned from climbing Kili. While we were looking at his photos, he said, “Africa will change your life.” We smiled and mumbled something like I’m sure it will.
But, he was right. It did.
Heading to Africa
We flew from Dallas to Amsterdam (9 hours) on a jam-packed KLM flight in coach and stayed in Amsterdam that afternoon and night.
Schiphol airport is my favorite airport anywhere – it’s its own little city. We took the train into the city in the afternoon and the first thing we saw when we got off were two completely naked girls, spray painted bright blue from head to toe, just walking down the street. Amsterdam. Bought a watch, had some beers, then went back to the hotel.
The next morning we flew from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro airport (8 hours), arriving late in the evening.
A bus picked us up and took us to Moshi, a small village at the foot of Kilimanjaro, where we would stay for the next few days before the climb.
Our hotel in Moshi was a compound, with a high wall surrounding the hotel. In the center was a great courtyard with a bar. Kilimanjaro beers were 80 cents and they served an amazing grilled cheese with tomatoes. We spent a lot of time in the courtyard.
When we wanted to go out, we were assigned an escort named Peter, who always carried a machete.
The first day Peter took us on a hike in an area nearby. We met some local children along the way and quite a few monkeys.
Since we were going to be on the mountain for a week, Greg came up with the idea that we should have our hair done in cornrows. One of the managers at the hotel was named Patience said she took us to her beauty shop and arranged it. When we went to town, we created quite a stir, with half the village coming by the salon to watch us get our new ‘dos.
Our time in Moshi before the climb was great. Everyone was helpful, fun and very kind. But, the time had come to start climbing.
Machame Gate (1634 m/5,363 ft) to Machame Hut (2834 m/9,300 ft) Hiking time: Approximately 7 hours Distance: Approximately 10 km / 6.21 miles Habitat: Forest
We left the hotel and traveled to Moshi, where we met with our outfitter, Zara. Porters and guides were preparing and organizing our gear and the tremendous amount of supplies they would carry up the mountain with us.
Our group of five would be assisted on the climb by a guide, two assistant guides, 10 porters and a cook.
Next, we were driven to the Machame gate, where we signed in, took some pictures and then headed into the rainforest.
Porters would pass us, practically running up the mountain while carrying huge loads, some of them wearing flip flops.
We climbed through the rainforest all day, through fog and mud, until we reached our camp.
When we arrived at our first campsite our tents were already set up and the porters immediately brought us warm water so we could wash before dinner and they then took our bottles to refill with water.
On this note – we all got sick from the water while on the mountain. Even if someone says they boiled the water – we highly recommend treating it as well.
We wandered around a bit before dinner, signed the register, and organized our gear in the late afternoon. A blanket was spread on the ground and we enjoyed our first dinner on Kilimanjaro. After dinner, it quickly became cold and we retired to our tents for the night.
Machame Hut (2,834 m/9,300 ft) to Shira Hut (3,749 m/12,300 ft) Hiking time: Approximately 7 hours Distance: Approximately 6 km / 3.75 miles Habitat: Moorland (mostly rocky, sandy, windy)
After breakfast, we got our daypacks ready and headed out.
Our guide, Freddy, slowly led us on our trek up and across the valley, telling us, “Pole, pole,” (Swahili for slowly, slowly).
Occasionally, we’d catch up with other hikers who were climbing by themselves. They’d join us for a few hours, or sometimes a day, and then they’d either turn back down or decide to go slower.
It was very windy on day two and the temperature ranged from chilly to hot.
We arrived at the Shira camp late afternoon. Shira camp is located on the Shira plateau in the high moorlands.
After organizing and cleaning up, we hiked around near camp. Shira camp has some great opportunities for photographs of Kibo and Mt Meru in the late day sun. Then, dinner and tent time, as it grew cold.
Barranco Hut (3900 m /12,800 ft) to Karanga Valley (3963 m /13,000 ft) Hiking time: Approximately 4 hours Distance: Approximately 4 km /2.5 miles Habitat: Alpine desert
Dining on Kilimanjaro
Our meals on the mountain were prepared by our cook, who did an amazing job – especially considering all our food for a week was hauled in with us on day one.
For breakfast and dinner, a blanket was spread on the ground and we would gather around our “table” and discuss the events of the day, either planned or experienced. Breakfast usually consisted of bread, spreads, hot cereal, fruit (at least the first few days), eggs, coffee and tea. Lunch was sent with us and was normally a sandwich, hard boiled egg and fruit. Dinner always started with soup, then ranged from spaghetti and meat sauce to chicken and rice, with vegetables, breads, coffee, and tea.
We also brought snacks – lots of them. By day four, salty snacks were like gold. We would have sold our car for another canister of Pringles. We also used them as currency – “I’ll pack up your sleeping bag for 5 pringles.”
The Barranco Wall
After breakfast on day four, we immediately began a steep climb up the Barranco Wall.
It honestly looks harder than it is.
Once over the Barranco Wall, we headed down the Karanga Valley to our next camp at Karanga Valley.
Doing the Machame Route in 7 days instead of 6 days, allowed for days 4 and 5 to be short climbing days, which provided for a bit of rest before the summit and better acclimatization. This was a short day, so we had quite a bit of time in camp to rest, relax and take short hikes to view the plants and valley.
Karanga Valley (3,963 m /13,000 ft) to Barafu Hut (4,600 m /15,091 ft) Hiking time: Approximately 3.5 hours Distance: Approximately 4 km/2.5 miles Habitat: Alpine desert
Another short climbing day, the trek from the Karanga Valley to Barafu is a day to enjoy the views and appreciate where you are and where you’ve been.
Nicknamed, barf food, Barafu is an exposed, desolate camp on a narrow ridge at just over 15,000 ft (4600 m).
We arrived early afternoon and were told to get some rest, and possibly sleep, as we would be leaving for the summit at midnight. Sleep – right.
We wandered around and prepped our summit packs. Dinner was early evening and then everyone retired until about 11:00PM (23:00). At that time, we put on all of our layers and prepared to hike all night.
Barafu Camp (4,600 m /15,091 ft) to the Summit (5,896 m/19,340 ft) and then to Mweka Camp (3,100 m/10,170 ft) Hiking time to summit: Approximately 7 hours Distance: Approximately 5 km /3.2 miles Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit Descent time: Approximately 5 hours Descent Distance: Approximately 12 km/7.5 miles
The day we were waiting for had come – summit day.
Our “day” began at midnight. The night was clear with a full moon. We were bundled up heavily to prepare for the cold and had lighter summit packs for the anticipated 9 or 10 hour trip.
Our single file of headlamps started our way up through the night. We would stop very briefly every hour or so, but our guides pretty much kept us moving slowly.
I knew I wouldn’t want to eat, so I took numerous packets of chocolate Gu for energy. We didn’t bother with a hydration system since we knew the tube would freeze. We put our water bottles in insulated holders – they still froze by about 1/2 way to the summit.
It was cold – the last time we checked it was minus 10 degrees Celsius (about 14 Fahrenheit) and it got colder, but there was no wind, so we were never really uncomfortable. We didn’t take pictures until we got to the crater…we just kept on trudging up.
At sunrise, we reached the crater. It was fabulous.
After hours of climbing in the dark, the combination of sun and wandering through the glaciers was magical.
It is another 45 minutes or so to the summit from that point. It was a odd combination of wanting to run & make the summit and take our time and take it all in. I guess we opted more for the latter, because the guides kept telling us to move along.
We reached the summit at Uhuru Peak at 6:45AM. After pictures, we started back down.
We reached Barafu and got water and a slight rest break, then headed to Mweka Camp.
Mweka Hut (3,100 m/10,170 ft) to Mweka Gate (1,828 m/6,000 ft) Hiking time: Approximately 4 hours Distance: Approximately 10 km/6.21 miles Habitat: Forest
When we reached Mweka Camp in the afternoon of Day 6, we rested and cleaned up a bit, then started organizing our stuff.
We gathered all of the remaining snacks and I took them over to the guides, who were casually listening to a soccer game – it was just another day for them on the mountain. We left Mweka camp the next morning and it was just a few hours to the Mweka Gate.
We bought beers at the gate and enjoyed the last of our time on Kilimanjaro. We pooled money and tipped our guides. Greg and I also gave them most of our gear. We kept our boots, poles and packs, but gave them most everything else. We thought they could use it more than we needed it, or they could sell it and use the money. They were a great group of guys.
We then loaded up in the van and headed back to Moshi for a day of rest before we headed on photo safari for the next week.
Asante sana to everyone that made our climb a success!
Photos: Kim Hull, Greg Hull, Kathy Morse, Tina Santizo
The Corona Arch Trail near Moab is an easy to reach trail just outside Moab that leads to The Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch.
The trail is dog-friendly and is fully exposed to the desert sun, so go in the cooler hours of the day and take plenty of water for you and your four-legged companions. The elevation gain is 440 feet.
The round trip hike is about 3 miles of fairly easy terrain through Bootlegger canyon, with one climb up carved footholds and one over a ladder, just before reaching the arches.
However, the arches are fully visible (and best photographed) at the point just before the climbs. It is still a great hike with arch views even if you stop at the bottom of the footholds section.
Corona Arch Trail: Getting there
Head north out of Moab on Hwy 191 (Main Street). Turn west on Hwy 279/Potash Road and drive about 10 miles. The drive is scenic, with rock climbers scaling the formations just beside the road. The Corona Arch Trailhead is clearly marked on the right, with a good-sized parking lot.
Corona Arch Trail: The hike
The first section of the trail ascends rather steeply, flattens out, then crosses the railroad tracks. After reaching the registration box, the trail continues with numerous cairns along the path marking the way.
The trail is a mostly rock and sand, with beautiful views of the slickrock formations along the way.
Near the end of the hike, fixed safety lines have been placed. The area following the fixed lines is a great photography spot, with both Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch fully visible.
To reach the arches, one must climb up the steps that have been cut into the slickrock next to the second fixed line. Next, on the right is a short ladder leading up and over a small ledge. Once over the ledge, it is a short walk to the base of Corona Arch. The Corona Arch spans a spectacular 140 ft by 105 ft.
Growing up in Illinois, Ed Viesturs read the book, Annapurna, and decided he too wanted to climb mountains.
That he did. Over the next 30 years, Viesturs would go on to become one of the world’s most famous mountaineers. He has summited all fourteen 8000 meter peaks, Mount Everest seven times, and Mount Rainier over 200 times.
Viesturs recently spoke at the American Alpine Club in Golden, CO. Well-known for climbing without the use of supplemental oxygen, he began the evening with the topic of oxygen.
“I don’t personally have anything against oxygen.”
While acknowledging the benefits of using supplemental oxygen, Viesturs decided against climbing while using oxygen prior to attempting his first 8000 meter peak.
“Today, well over 3000 people have climbed to the summit of Mt Everest. This is what you look like taking those last few steps to the top of Mt Everest. It looks like you are in outer space. You have this down suit on, it’s 30 below zero, you’ve got an oxygen mask on, you have tubes and regulators, you’ve got a couple of bottles on your back, and you can barely see your feet. That’s how much stuff is in front of you.
I don’t personally have anything against oxygen. I just felt that if I had the chance to go on one of these climbs, I didn’t want to be hiding behind a mask. I wanted to remove the mask and take the bottles away and climb unencumbered.
It would be a lot harder. I didn’t know if I had the physiology or the strength or the skill to climb to 29,000 ft without oxygen, but I said that’s my rule. If I can’t get to the top of Everest without oxygen, I won’t go to the top of Everest. I’m not going to use oxygen just to get there. It was more in respect. If I’m going to climb a mountain, climb it at its level, rather than reduce it to mine.”
“The mountain decides.”
Viesturs first attempted Everest in 1987. 300 feet from the summit, a storm blew in and stopped the climbers. With a decision as to whether to move forward with a summit attempt and the possibility of not getting back down, or retreating to safety, they chose to abandon the climb.
“The mountain shut us down. I don’t call that a failure. It’s simply a non-success. The mountain decides.
But, imagine what a lot of people do in that situation. They go to the top. Summiting at all costs. And, that’s why you have problems in the mountains. You have to listen to the mountain. You have to temper your ambition. You’ve got to be a little bit more patient. And, if conditions don’t allow, you just walk away.”
“We can climb Everest and live to talk about it”
In 1996, Viesturs joined noted mountaineer & filmmaker, David Breashears, on a project to film a climb on Mount Everest, which would require taking an IMAX camera to the summit.
Viesturs was with the IMAX team on Everest during the 1996 disaster that claimed the lives of eight people. Viesturs and the team assisted with rescues to aid the stranded climbers.
Following a memorial service and a team meeting, Viesturs wanted to continue.
“I decided I wanted to go back up. I didn’t want to quit. Not in spite of what happened, but in respect of the mountain. I wanted to turn that season into something more positive and show people that, under the right conditions, we can climb Everest and live to talk about it.”
On May 23, 1996, they reached the top, which was Viesturs’ 4th Everest summit, having successfully transported the IMAX camera to the summit.
“We all have our own Annapurnas”
After Viesturs’ summit of four of the 8,000 meter peaks, Kangchenjunga, Everest, K2, and Lhotse, he formed a plan to climb the remaining ten 8,000 meter peaks, still without the use of supplemental oxygen, and named his planned adventure, Endeavor 8000.
On May 12, 2005, Viesturs successfully summited Annapurna, completing his 18 year Endeavor 8000 adventure. He became the first American to have climbed all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks and the 5th person to do so without oxygen.
“I had a dream that this book (Annapurna) put me on and the last sentence of the book is that ‘We all have our own Annapurnas.’ I think that is so true in life. It’s such an amazing thing to have something to strive for – a goal, a dream, a challenge – that makes life exciting.”
More on Ed Viesturs
Ed Viesturs continues to climb, works as a design consultant for several prominent outdoor equipment manufacturers and speaks at corporate events.
He has written three books, “No Shortcuts To The Top”, “K-2, Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountains”, and “The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna–the World’s Deadliest Peak”.