Camping in Beautiful Bhutan is not as Far Reaching as You Think

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery

By Mary Lyons

When I tell people I went to Bhutan, I get mixed reactions. Sometimes I get asked, “Where’s Bhutan?” Others say, “Oh, is everybody really happy there?” in reference to their reputation for measuring Gross National Happiness. But the response I get most often is, “Wow, I want to go there, but ______…” You can fill in the blank. There’s always a but, and when it comes to Bhutan, there are two main obstacles that prevent people from visiting this amazing country. Number 1 is money. Number 2 is lack of knowledge that results in the misconception that getting there is difficult.

 

SAVE YOUR PENNIES, AND NICKELS… AND DIMES… AND PROBABLY A FEW DOLLARS

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Main building of Bhutan’s airport. It was completely empty except for one custom’s official.

Money is a justifiable obstacle. It can be expensive just to get to Bhutan. I flew from Kuwait to Kathmandu, and then on to Bhutan, for less than 500 USD round trip. However, my friend from Boston who met me there paid 1500 USD, also going to Kathmandu first. Before flying to Bhutan, travelers will have to fly into India, Nepal, Singapore, or Bangkok first. There are two airlines that fly to Bhutan. I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it either. One is Druk Air and the other is Bhutan Airlines. The planes are fairly small due to the decent into Paro, between two mountains. You’ll want to be awake for that.

Most people who are aware of Bhutan’s tourism industry already know that everyone pays a fee per day to go to Bhutan, and it is not cheap. It does, however, include everything but tips, alcohol, and souvenirs.

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Town square in Thimpu and view from my hotel room.

Tourism fees are set by the government and do not vary from operator to operator within Bhutan. I consulted several websites for a variety of tour operators within Bhutan and for the trek I wanted to do, every operator charged the same price. That’s because they don’t charge by the activity you want to do, they charge a fee per day that is set by the government. For groups of three or more, the fee is 250 USD a day. For a solo traveler or a couple, it is a bit more per day. I went with one friend, and we paid 280 USD each per day. I think a solo traveler will pay 300 USD per day. This daily fee is probably the single biggest obstacle for people who want to visit Bhutan.

Wow, that is steep, you say? Actually, it’s not a bad considering what is included. All of our lodging, food, guides, visa, and any entrance fees (not sure there are any…), and a 65 USD tourism fee is included to ensure responsible tourism. The only things not included are alcohol, souvenirs, and tips for the guides. If you know how long you want to stay in Bhutan, you can multiply the number of days by 250 USD (or 280 USD or 300 USD) and you’ll know how much your tour costs without even asking. All the tour companies I checked online post this government set fee on their website. Tourists are not charged this fee for the day of departure.

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We were greeted by this stunning sight after returning to Paro after a short walk to a museum.

There are no hidden fees. You will not be asked to pay for this or that when you arrive. I needed to rent a sleeping bag from my tour operator and I was told up front before arriving what that would cost. However, if you are trekking, you need to have your own gear because it is not available to buy within Bhutan. I rented a sleeping bag that belonged to the manager of Snow Leopard Treks, the local tour company I used. Even in Thimpu and Paro, trekkers cannot find gear, so it is important to bring everything the tour company says to bring with you.

VISA TO BHUTAN? THAT’S THE EASIEST PART!

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Bhutanese people at a local temple at one of the largest prayer wheels I’ve ever seen.

Everyone needs a visa to enter Bhutan except people from India, Bangladesh, and Maldives if they have at least six months remaining on their passports. Everyone visiting Bhutan for tourism purposes must also book through a licensed tour operator, of which there are many. The Bhutanese government does this in order to protect their country and their people from the negative effects of tourism, (not sure this is 100% effective) and also to limit the numbers of people who visit each year so they can prevent environmental damage.  They have never reached the maximum number of tourists allowed in one year, according to my guide, but numbers are growing.

Your tour operator will tell you exactly what to send them in order for them to get your visa. The cost is included in the daily fee. No special documents are required. You’ll just need to photocopy and scan some documents to email to your tour operator.

I recommend booking through one of Bhutan’s many tour operators rather than one in a surrounding country that offers a package including Bhutan. Here’s why. One, your money will go directly to the people of Bhutan. Two, you’ll be certain that you are getting the right information about your tour/trek. Three, you will pay less. There will be no extra fees that go to the tour operator. Tour operators in other countries are just middle men. They have to contact and work with a tour operator in Bhutan to book your tour, and you will pay for that middleman service.

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Me, Big Buddha, and the only decent cup of coffee I had during the entire stay in Bhutan.

 

IF EVERYTHING IS PAID FOR, I DON’T NEED CASH, RIGHT?

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Red Panda is one of two local brews, neither of which is worth writing about.

Wrong! If you plan to buy alcohol or souvenirs, you’ll need cash. Most places do not accept credit cards. Be warned, most souvenirs are made in China. Or Nepal. Or India. Not so much in Bhutan, although most tour operators will take tourists to the Handicrafts Emporium where people with disabilities are learning to create some beautiful works of art, including mandalas, Buddha sculptures, and traditional weavings.

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The other local brew, also not worth writing about. But hey, it’s beer, right.

The main reason you’ll need cash, though, is for gratuities for your guide, cook, and any helpers during your trek. Tipping is most definitely expected. It was impossible to get a straight answer about how much to tip the guides on our trek. I checked my Lonely Planet guide and that was also no help. My guide was not much help either. It is not in their culture to ask or even really discuss money, but he did give me some idea.

 

I’M A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER. IS IT SAFE TO GO ALONE?

My response to this question is YES! Absolutely. Bhutanese people are warm and welcoming. The crime rate in Bhutan is one of the lowest in the world and they have too much pride to harm anyone and risk “losing face.” Anyone visiting Bhutan will not need to carry large amounts of money because most everything is already paid for.

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Artists at the Handicraft Emporium.

You’ll be the only female on your trek unless you’ve joined another group. Your guide, your cook, and any helpers will be men. The horses might be female. Either way, it won’t matter because you can rest assured you will be safe.

 

WHERE SHOULD I GO ON MY TREK IN BHUTAN?

Trekking in Bhutan depends on how much time and money a traveler has. Regardless of both, there are several trekking options and tour operators will tell you in detail about the trekking options they offer. There are three most popular treks in Bhutan, but none of them will be crowded. To minimize environmental damage, a toilet tent will be provided and you will be very thankful.

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Cheri Monastery day trek is quite easy for most fitness levels.

Here’s some information to give you an idea of what to expect from these three treks.

Cholmolhari Trek – app 13 days including flight days – 8 days, tent camping – includes a trek to Cheri Monastery and Tiger’s Nest and other cultural sights, like the Folk Heritage Museum – No one is allowed to climb Cholmolhari because it is sacred. This trek is challenging and you’ll be rewarded with absolutely stunning views and a great sense of accomplishment. You’ll also see some yak farms and yaks are awesome.

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Me and our guide, Sonam, at Cheri Monastery. The caretaker wasn’t there so we couldn’t go inside.

 

Gangtey Trek – 7 nights, 8 days – 5 nights tent camping –  includes a visit to the Folk Heritage Museum – considered easiest trek in Bhutan – trek through the valley of Phobjikha which is a glacial valley at 3000 meters above sea level – This is the trek for bird watchers or those who want an easier trek, but one that still showcases the beauty of Bhutan.

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Prayer wheels on the way to Tiger’s Nest.

 

Bhutan Culture and Haa Valley Trek (this is the one I did) –  app 9 days total – 2 nights 3 days trekking – 2 nights tent camping – 1 day trek to Cheri Monastery – 1 day trek to Tiger’s Nest – visit to Handicraft Emporium and other cultural sites and temples in Paro and Thimpu – Haa Valley was opened to tourism in 2001 and is still unspoiled by tourism. There is an opportunity to walk around and see the small, traditional town of Haa.  You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Haa Valley and Cholmolhari.

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Tiger’s Nest, this time without my big head in the way. Absolutely stunning and not treacherous, although it doesn’t seem that way from this view.

 

No matter what trek you choose in Bhutan, altitude will be a consideration, but in the three treks I mentioned, the highest point is 14,000 feet, but camping is not at that elevation. I did not experience headaches or altitude sickness on this trek, but everyone is different. All treks will have challenging changes in elevation and some steep ups and downs, but your guide will set a pace that everyone in your group can handle. Trekking in Bhutan doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with many rewards.

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This is a yak. Yaks are awesome.

 

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Spinning the prayer wheels. They are everywhere.

 

Experience the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup 1
The herd starts to file through the gates into the corrals.

By Robin EH. Bagley

If you’re on the lookout for new, memorable experience, point your compass toward the Black Hills of South Dakota. Every September, Custer State Park rounds up their herd of 1,300 buffalo, not something you see every day. Disclaimer: the proper name for these animals is American Bison; however, they are colloquially referred to as buffalo throughout this region.

In fact, it’s something that might not have happened at all if hadn’t been for conservation efforts in places like Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Prior to the 1700s, 30 – 60 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains. Their numbers started to fall as settlers pushed west, and by the late 1800s, they were nearly extinct. They were killed for their hides as well as to make way for railroads and settlers, and to deprive Native American tribes of their food source, thus making it easier for the government to force the tribes onto reservations.

It’s estimated that only about 1,000 animals, out of tens of millions, remained. Some brilliant ones hid out in what would become Yellowstone National Park, and they survived. A few were shipped to the Bronx Zoo, and that herd had a huge role in repopulating the western buffalo herds. The rest existed in tiny pockets dotted around the plains, and were saved by a handful of people, including Scotty Philip, who built up a herd after purchasing five buffalo calves in 1901. These five buffalo calves are the ancestors of today’s Custer State Park herd.

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Buffalo are matriarchal and follow the lead cow.

Today the park tries keeps the herd at 900 – 1300 animals. The park is 71,000 acres, but it’s fenced and resources are finite, so managing the herd’s numbers are important for the animals’ health. If the herd grows too large, food becomes scarce. So every fall the herd is rounded up, vaccinated for brucellosis (a bovine disease that can travel between buffalo and cattle), and a number of them are sold at the annual auction in November.

Over 10,000 visitors travel to this remote corner of South Dakota every year to watch the roundup. This year the event is Friday, Sept. 29 and it will be Sept. 28 in 2018. The roundup is held in Custer State Park, which is located five miles from Custer, SD and about 45 miles from Rapid City, SD, which is also the location of the nearest commercial airport. Normally there is a fee to enter Custer State Park, daily and weekly permits available; however, there is no entry fee on the day of the roundup.

This is a morning event, so go to bed early, and set that alarm clock. The roundup itself happens at 9:30 am, but the viewing area parking lots open at 6:15 am. Yes, you read that correctly. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there, leave early because traffic will get heavy as you approach the park and sometimes come to a complete stop. Don’t worry, it will start moving again, just be patient. Personally, I recommend that you leave Custer by 5:30 am. Audio books, podcasts, or plenty of music will help get you through the drive. And once the sun comes up, you can enjoy the scenery.

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There are two viewing areas, equally good.

This is an outdoor event where you will park your car and walk to the viewing area, so it’s nice to have a camp chair or a blanket to sit on. Wear plenty of layers as late September can be very cool in the Black Hills. And it’s nice to have rain gear just in case. It should go without saying to bring snacks, but in case you forget or want a hot breakfast, the park serves a pancake and sausage breakfast at both the north and south viewing areas.

Usually the morning starts cool but heats up once the sun rises, so be sure to have sunscreen. Binoculars are also a good idea to watch the herd as it starts moving in from a distance. You won’t need the binoculars once the herd approaches the corrals. And it’s just fun to absorb the whole spectacle. Bring your camera.

If you stay in Custer, there are a couple of shuttle services that will drive you out and back to the roundup, so you’re free to enjoy the scenery. Many of the hotels also offer an extra-early breakfast as well. And camping? Campgrounds are abundant in the Black Hills.

Camping reservations go quickly in Custer State Park, but there are a number of commercial and Forest Service campgrounds in the area. Helpful links are www.visitcuster.com; https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/, and https://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills.

No two roundups are the same, and everyone experiences it differently. Go with warm clothes, plenty of snacks, and an open mind. See what you experience.

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup 4
A bull buffalo taking a snooze.

 

Hike the Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves before it’s too late

Mendenhall Glacier

By Joy Sheehan

Located just 12 miles outside of downtown Juneau, Alaska sits the Mendenhall Glacier. Hundreds of thousands of visitors gaze upon its beauty each year, but very few people actually see it from its most beautiful angle: the inside.

Inside the glacier is a series of ice caves that are simply otherworldly — like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. Only all of Narnia is blue. And you had to hike a moderately strenuous 3.5 mile trail (each way) to get there.

However, the caves are quickly melting and collapsing. Get to Juneau as fast as possible if you have any interest in photographing yourself as a Smurf experiencing this surreal natural wonder!

 

Know Before You Go

Before you attempt this hike, you need to know that this trail can be dangerous, arduous, and is somewhat unmarked in certain spots. A few people each year come ill-prepared, get lost, slip and fall, sprain their ankle, or need rescuing. I highly recommend not hiking this one alone if you’re not an experienced hiker.

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Expect the hike to take between 2–3 ½ hours each way. Start early and don’t underestimate the time. Plan it so that you’re not coming back in the dark! You should also know that you are not guaranteed access into the ice caves. Take note of the weather (beware on hot sunny days or rainy days) and always use common sense when it comes to your safety.

 

What To Bring

Mendenhall Glacier 5Dress in layers, bring snacks and water for the day, and keep in mind that you’ll get wet! This means safeguarding your phones and your cameras with protective cases! My Lifeproof NUUD Waterproof iPhone case saved me on this trip!

A warm top layer like a sweater, and a light rainjacket to change into will be wanted once you get closer to the cold wet glacier. Bring proper hiking boots or sneakers with ankle support, and wool socks. Chapstick with SPF, sunscreen on sunny days, and mosquito repellent are good ideas too.

Crampons for your shoes are extremely helpful if you want to walk on the top of the Mendenhall Glacier. Gloves to protect your hands while scrambling down the rocks during the last bit of the hike would’ve been handy to have.

And of course, please remember that this is an incredibly beautiful natural wonder in need of protection and safeguarding. Practice your Leave No Trace skills — and if you pack it in, pack it out.

 

How To Get There

The West Glacier Trail is on the Western side of the glacier starting at Mendenhall Lake. This out-and-back trail will bring you to the caves. You could also veer off at the “Viewpoint” sign on the trail, which will still bring you to the caves on a different route (the Cairn route).

Mendenhall Glacier 3

 

If you choose to visit the ice caves independently (not on a tour), you can either drive your own vehicle, rent one in town, or take a taxi. If taking a taxi, tell the driver you plan on doing the ice caves hike at the West Glacier Trail off of Skater’s Cabin Road. If driving yourself, use the Google directions below.

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Mendenhall Glacier 6Start on the West Glacier Trailhead. If you can, set up a GPS to track your course before you start the hike, as it’ll make finding your way back a whole lot easier. I also dropped a pin on my map on my phone when I started, and noted what time I started the hike and what time I arrived to the caves.

If you opt to take a guided tour, you’ll be shuttled by van from your pick-up point to the trailhead and brought back once the tour has ended.

Mendenhall Glacier 7The West Glacier Trail starts out in a forest and is fairly level to walk on for a while. It can get muddy and slick in some areas, and a good portion of the trail has uplifted rocks and roots. It begins to get pretty steep and you’ll have to go over bridges, switchbacks, stairs, and a large boulder with a knotted rope to aid in climbing up it.

You’ll reach a few scenic overlooks, and you’ll end the trail at the top of an area with shrubbery and exposed rock near the glacier. Again, not all of the trail is marked. Look for the colorful ribbons tied to bushes, or for cairns — rocks piled orderly on top of each other — that other hikers have created to help distinguish the route. The last bit is that loose rock scramble downhill to reach the cave entrance.

 

Mendenhall Glacier 8

 

Exploring The Caves

Again, the last bit of the West Glacier Trail has you scrambling down a hillside of loose rocks and pebbles. Be mindful of your footing and go slow. The cave entrances are right in front of you — holes in the sides of the glacier with an icy bubbly blue hue inside. You’ll see a little stream running through them.

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Caution : Once you enter the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves, you’ll want to stay forever and you will seriously contemplate adapting to the cold and taking an ice worm as your wife.

Fun Fact — Yes, ice worms actually exist! They spend their entire lives in glacial ice, only coming to the surface in mornings and evenings to feed on algae and pollen grains. Their bodies actually liquify if they experience temperatures of 41° F (5° C) or higher! So in retrospect, maybe choose a different wife species when you decide to stay here forever, unless you want to become a widow thanks to global warming. 😉

Mendenhall Glacier 10

 

The Mendenhall Glacier Is Receding!

Mendenhall Glacier 11The Mendenhall Glacier is receding and melting quicker than it can accumulate snow and ice. The snowfall at the head of the Icefield is heavily relied on. But with increasing global temperatures, it’s not looking very hopeful for glaciers.

Granted, the total disappearance of the Mendenhall glacier would probably take centuries, but the ice caves inside of it are disappearing at a much faster rate.

I first visited the caves in July 2014 and two days later, a ranger informed me that the main entrance had melted and collapsed! Talk about timing! I returned to these ice caves in August 2017 and the difference was alarming. The new entrance was much smaller and the caves weren’t as vast or extensive. Water was still dripping and pouring from its “ceiling”.

Some predict that it could be as little as 10 years until they are gone completely!

Avoid future disappointment and start planning your trip to Juneau ASAP!

 

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Mendenhall Glacier 13

 

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More of Joy Sheehan’s work can be seen on A Jaunt With Joy, her own Travel & Outdoor Lifestyle Blog.

 

Getting Misty in the Cloud Peak Wilderness

Cloud Peak 1
Lake Helen

By Robin EH. Bagley

If you don’t mind running across a stray moose or getting a little chilly at night, consider a trip to Misty Moon Lake in the Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. This summer we took two trips to this area on the western side of the Bighorns. This is one of the most popular routes into the wilderness area for day hikers or backpackers who are making a run at either Cloud Peak (13,166 feet) or Bomber Mountain (12,841 feet). Plus, it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Trail 63 departs from West Tensleep Lake and more or less follows the creek upstream. Be prepared for a couple of creek crossings early in the hike, and expect high water early in the season from snowmelt. There was a noticeable difference from mid-July to mid-August when we easily were able to cross on stepping stones. Watch for moose along the lake shore and the creek. Moose are large and grumpy, especially cows with calves, so observe from a distance.

 

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Bull moose chilling in the woods

 

The trail begins above 9000 feet and only goes up from there; the air gets a bit thin as you climb. If you experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, or extreme fatigue, it may be altitude sickness, and the only remedy is to descend to a lower elevation. Spending a night there before you hike will help you acclimate.

You’ll wind through meadows and the creek bottoms, and may spy some oxbows in the creek. All the while surrounded by peaks and cliffs. The trail leads in and out of the trees, and while the shade is welcome in the summer, that’s where the bugs are waiting. The mosquitoes are fat and relentless; bug spray is a necessity.

After five miles, you’ll reach the southern end of Lake Helen (elevation around 9900 feet), which I feel is the prettiest lake of the three. It’s a good spot to refuel, and you may be tempted to stay awhile. On our first trip, this was as far as we went, after all, it’s a 10 mile round-trip hike. The lake is so clear you can see the fish swimming around near shore. You can see Cloud Peak from the lake, looming large and broody to the north.

However, there are two more lakes on the list. The worst of the elevation gain is over; however, the rest of the hike will be completed over 10,000 feet. You’ll skirt the west edge of the lake, sometimes hiking above it for great views, and sometimes along the water’s edge where you’ll be tempted to stick a finger in to check the temperature. It’s cold! The most noise you’ll hear are squirrels chattering and the plop of a fish jumping.

 

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Cloud Peak is still five miles away

 

Continuing north along the stream, you’ll climb a bit more and after another mile you’ll see Lake Marion. The trail doesn’t touch this lake, staying above it along the granite wall. Lake Marion is beautiful but much smaller than Lake Helen.

The trail continues through alpine meadows, with the rocks growing larger and the trees smaller. The wind is gets friskier; you may need to grab your jacket. When Misty Moon comes into view, you’ll look down on this little alpine tarn surrounded by rocks and nearly devoid of trees. A few small clumps of trees offer nearly no shelter and campers pitch their tents in the open, at the mercy of the wind. If you thought Lake Helen’s water was chilly, stick your pinky in Misty Moon. Let’s just say I wasn’t tempted to take a dip.

What’s disconcerting is how far away Cloud Peak still seems. I had thought it would feel close, tangible. It still feels very remote from what is considered the main basecamp for attempts at Cloud Peak. It’s still another 5 miles away, and methinks it will be tough 5. Next year!

You’re now about 7.5 miles away from the trailhead, so if you’re doing an out-and-back, don’t linger too long. We departed the trailhead at 9 am and returned around 5 pm with just a few short stops for a snack or visiting with other hikers. And applying tape to the hot spot on my heel. Honestly, the last two miles felt like five, and I know our pace was far slower at that point. Fifteen miles felt like an accomplishment, but damn, were we tired that night! We got back to our campsite, ate our mac and cheese and went to bed.

 

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Taking a break at Misty Moon. Notice the clear water, and Cloud Peak rising in the distance. Hazy skies are from western wildfires.

 

Be prepared for rapidly changing weather. Thunderstorms pop up quickly, so a rain jacket or poncho is a must. The wind is noticeable at the higher elevations, and temperatures can dip quickly. I have another layer of clothing plus my beanie and gloves in my pack. Even the summer, temperatures can sometimes be in the 40s. There are black bears in the Bighorns, so bear spray is recommended for hikers, campers, and anglers.

Pack warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag for camping. You may expect warm temps in summer, but nights are cold. I froze my butt off the first night, even in long underwear in my sleeping bag. Time for a new one! Maybe you’ll hear the coyotes at night, like we did. Plus a moose walked through our campsite during the night. While bears are possible, there isn’t a large concentration in this area. However, don’t keep food in your tent just in case.

There are several US Forest Service campgrounds in the vicinity, but this is a popular camping area so spots fill quickly; make reservations well in advance. I tried to make reservations at the West Tensleep Campground but was unable to get a reservation even three weeks out. These campgrounds are small, some with only 10 spots. However, I did manage to get a spot at Boulder Park the first trip and Island Park on the second trip. If you’re a paddler, bring the SUP or kayak as West Tensleep Lake is a beautiful 125 acre lake perfect for paddling since it’s open only to non-motorized watercraft. For more information on Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn.

 

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Finn & I enjoying the view at Misty Moon

 

Moon Running

Moon Running 1

 

A creative essay…

By Emily Pennington

 

The moment I decide to start trail running is around 4:51pm on a Friday, my body tepid from four hours of sleep and sunset crawling over the horizon by the minute. Armed with a muddy pair of tennis shoes and no headlamp, I set off for Griffith Park after work, promising myself that, no matter what, I would not slow my pace below a run for the entirety of the six mile trail.

 

*                                       *

 

Steady your breathing; find a rhythm. My insides fill with phlegm, and I find myself hacking up mucus jello and narrowly missing tourists at the observatory as I spit out what feels like a tonsil into the parking lot. It eviscerates my lungs.

I allow myself to devolve into messy animal, monkey mind swirling in obscure thoughts as the pounding of my sneakers begins to settle against the ragged in and out of my breath. “1, 2, 3… crunch, step, crunch,” is all I can focus on to avoid the unbearable feeling that my chest is not large enough to hold all the air my hungry flesh desires.

Ambient light smears its way up the wide ravines and valleys of the hillside, rendering the need for a flashlight almost nonexistent. Lost in the hypnotic rhythm of my feet grinding against moon-drenched gravel, I hit an imperceptible divot and am sent tumbling. It makes me bleed.

I shake myself off, determined to keep my head high and my heart rate up. My palms sting as though exfoliated by iron wool, but I press onward, feeling stronger than ever as I throw my mind back into my breathing and shut out the pain.

As my pulse soars, my overactive imagination begins swimming in fears of redlining or not being able to breathe. Determined to keep the pace at a canter, I hone in on the myriad of tiny things my insides are adjusting to keep me alive and moving forward. The phlegm clears up, my breathing deepens, and my eyes adjust to the cool wash of moonlight rising over the cityscape.

Something about throwing my body into the firestorm of uphill running on uneven ground sends my nerves to war and forces me to surrender in a way I haven’t before. My face contorts as my body struggles to maintain an embarrassingly slow jog up the slanted beginning of the fire road. There are moments when I am tempted to stop and take a breather after cresting the last sprint up a steep slope, but I fling the gravity of my determination out front, praying my body will magnetize to it and keep moving. It feels incredible.

Once my legs readjust to a more even incline, I feel a surge of power commingled with peace, as though my body is an engine finally revving up at the sight of the open road. I smile, breathing a sigh of relief as I float above the rocky path on gnarled soles of rubber.

To run is to sit firmly in the seat of your power, but only after pummeling your organs and your expectations and your ego with the mirror-clear reflection of what your limitations are. Running activates your solar plexus, your source of inner motivation and self-esteem. It shocks your system and forces your body into a new normal with the weight of its fire.

I feel like I have finally found something that will best me on even my most self-destructive days. I am hooked.

 

Moon Running 2

 

Ask Natalie video program for women outdoor adventurers starts today!

Ask Natalie Banner

By Nicole Anderson

If you have seen posts published on Camping for Women’s YouTube, Facebook or Twitter accounts over the past two weeks, you might already have seen the video trailers of the brand new and exciting ‘Ask Natalie’ program.

If you haven’t seen or heard what all the fuss is about yet, then do scroll through this post and have a look at this fabulous and latest development to come onto the scene.

 

So what is ‘Ask Natalie’?

Ask Natalie - Natalie McCarthyAsk Natalie is a dedicated free resource for all women outdoor enthusiasts around the world who are interested is so many aspects of the great outdoors that apply specifically to women.

This program will produce episodes on what women say they want to know more about and directly responds to their desire to have answers to specific questions.

The beautiful thing about this program is that anyone can get their topics or issues addressed and the entire outdoor women community benefits from viewing the responses while getting a lot of valuable insights and information.

 

To give you a bit of a feel of what Ask Natalie is about, check out this 44 second teaser trailer:

 

There is a slightly extended trailer at 77 seconds that has also received a great response:

 

Natalie McCarthy
Natalie McCarthy

About Natalie of ‘Ask Natalie’

Ask Natalie is hosted by Natalie McCarthy who is an experienced outdoor adventurer and happens to also be a licensed clinical psychotherapist.  Hence she is very qualified to assist with all sorts of issues and topics that concern women outdoors.

To further explain the purpose and nature of the show, Natalie shot the following video to provide a welcome and introduction:

 

 

 

The ‘Ask Natalie’ program is based on the successful ‘Ask Natalie’ column that was introduced by the dynamic Adventure Some Women  group website in the U.S. earlier this year.  The column’s popularity has really taken off since its inception with many topics being covered from women expressing the issues important to them.

 

If you have a question or issue you want covered

All you need to do is to send a message to AskNatalieColumn@gmail.com and your email will go directly in Natalie’s inbox.  For reasons of privacy and respect, no one else sees the email or its contents or your email address.

Once Natalie receives a question, she then responds after conducting any related or required research or enquiries.  Each person then receives an emailed response before the issue is covered in the written column or appears on the Ask Natalie program.

Unless individuals specifically state otherwise, each woman’s identity is never revealed and their privacy always professionally respected.  The focus of the program of course is on addressing the topic or issue and offering a number of possible options that women in a similar circumstance can take in these types of situations.

 

 

No Limits

This video program is all about addressing any matters that concern women in the outdoors.  If you have something that is troubling you, or simply want to know more information on a particular subject, then this show is definitely for you.

Not all matters are those that people sometimes feel comfortable in confronting.  Ask Natalie seeks to remove any limitations people might feel go beyond limits of the usual video show.  So long as the matter is genuine and you want an answer, the program does not back away from any issue.  Essentially it is one of the primary reasons the program was established.

Ask Natalie is all about making women feel comfortable in raising issues in a supportive setting and being taken seriously in a helpful, respectful way while maintaining their privacy.

 

 

Grounded in reality

Ask Natalie is a program that is all about ‘keeping it real’.  It is filmed privately by Natalie and not in a commercial studio.

Natalie tackles sometimes tricky or delicate questions in a very practical and down-to-earth way.  The intent here is to offer information that can be useful and provide pointers for viewers to maximise their time outdoors.

 

 

Ways of getting involved

Most people communicate with Natalie via email.  However, aside from emailing written questions, viewers can also explore the option to appear on the show if they wish.  This can be done either by sending in a recorded video via email or skype or even in person if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of Oregon, USA, where Natalie is based.  Using Skype, anyone can get involved on camera.

 

 

Ask Natalie Facebook page

In addition to the new video program and the written column, there is now also a brand new Ask Natalie Facebook page.

The Facebook page is being directly managed by Natalie and it is a great place to share and discuss any matters also with other like-minded women.  All are welcome here.

 

 

Tweeting Ask Natalie episodes and issues

Ask Natalie has also just put together a Twitter page, again being managed directly by Natalie where subscribers, readers and viewers can connect and stay in touch via tweets.

 

 

Who runs the program

Magretha Palepale
Magretha Palepale

The Ask Natalie Program is a joint venture between Adventure Some Women (run by the charismatic Magretha “Mo” Palepale ) and Camping for Women.  Both Magretha (Mo) Palepale and Nicole Anderson are the program’s producers.

This program is being produced and shared weekly on the Camping for Women Channel hosted on YouTube.  The dedicated playlist for Ask Natalie is set up within the Channel where a new episode will be added each week.  The playlist which has just commenced can be seen by clicking here.

 

 

Ask Natalie episodes have now started

The first episode was just posted in the Ask Natalie playlist today.  The first topic that is being addressed is the stigma associated with older people being on the trails.  Check out this very first episode here:

 

 

This is just the first of many episodes to come.  Next week’s episode deals with ‘finding a crew’ which is responding to a question about how to connect with other like-minded women to adventure with who also love the outdoors.

The topics and issues that will be covered in upcoming episodes are as broad as they will be interesting.  With no issue being off limits, there is bound to be some fascinating discussion and information that will be covered.

 

So come join us and don’t miss out!

Make sure you subscribe to the free Ask Natalie program videos being hosted on the Camping for Women Channel.

You will immediately be notified each week as a new episode is posted and you can even raise your own issues as well.

To get subscribed, just click on this link to the Channel and hit the subscribe button, following any prompts.

 

I am so excited to be a part of this fabulous program and hope to see many of Camping for Women’s subscribers, visitors and readers enjoy and benefit from the program as well.

Best wishes to all

Nicole Anderson

 

Three ways to enjoy Natural Bridge Campground in Oregon

Natural Bridge Campground 1

By Rita Myers

I think there’s something extremely magical about the world around us that it never seems to run out of beautiful places to see or exciting things to do. Just when you think you’ve “seen it all,” a new thing comes along to surprise you.

That’s how I felt when my family and I first set foot in Natural Bridge Campground in Oregon.

Oregon is filled with an incredible landscape of mountains, lush forests, extensive farms, crystal blue coastal shorelines, and stunning beaches. It is one of the places in the US that I consider an outdoor haven.

Whenever we visit this Pacific Northwestern state, we make sure to visit Natural Bridge. It is a great place full of fun outdoor activities that’s perfect for the family.

I’ll be giving you a list of three things that you can do in Natural Bridge Campground.

 

AT A GLANCE: NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND OREGON

NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

 

THINGS TO DO AT NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

  1. Enjoy The Water
  2. Explore The Mountains
  3. Erase Your Troubles

 

CONCLUSION

 

NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

Natural Bridge Campground 5
Wild and Scenic Rogue River in Southern Oregon in Fall

 

The Natural Bridge Campground is located in the High Cascades District, and it rests beside the beautiful Rogue River in southwestern Oregon. The river flows 215 miles west from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean.

The river is very popular with lots of different campsites positioned along it, including Natural Bridge.

What I love about Natural Bridge Campground is that it is very simple, not crowded, and huge – and I mean, huge. The fact that 17 campsites fit inside Natural Bridge should be a pretty good indicator of just how big it really is.

 

THINGS TO DO AT NATURAL BRIDGE CAMPGROUND

There are a few activities that you can do in the campgrounds. Here are three things my family and I enjoy doing while we are in Natural Bridge Campground.

1. ENJOY THE WATER

Natural Bridge Campground 6
Water Falls on Upper Rogue River in Oregon.

 

Since the campground is found along the Rogue River, it’s only natural to take a dip in it. A great way you and your family can enjoy Rogue River is through boating, kayaking, or rafting.

The river encircles the entire campground, so you won’t run out of space even if there are a lot of people.

The waters in the Upper Rogue River are stronger, which is where you can do your rafting. You can rent out boats, paddles, and life jackets from the staff there.

RAFTING TIPS: Remember your safety when rafting! Dress appropriately, always wear your life jacket or flotation device, hold the paddle properly, stay in the boat, listen to your guide, and don’t panic!

There’s a pretty cool video of some visitors rafting through Rogue River and Natural Bridge. Check it out below!

 

 

If you have your own fishing poles, you can go fishing in the river.  The water is calm by the main area of the campground where a lot of rainbow trout like to hang out.

Whenever we are here, my husband loves to teach our sons how to fish by the river while I prepare our picnic or relax in the water.

If extreme watersports or fishing isn’t your sort of thing, you can always just go swimming instead.

But since I love all of you and love sharing all my experiences with the outdoors, I’ll let you in on a secret. What my family and I like to do is bring our own inflatables like a swim ring, floating seats, and floating beds.

Since the water near the main part of the campsite is calm, it’s a great place to just lay back, float around, and relax.

 

2. EXPLORE THE MOUNTAIN

 

Natural Bridges Campground 4

I’m a strong believer that a camping trip isn’t complete if you don’t go exploring the surrounding mountains or forest through hiking, climbing, or even biking.

In Natural Bridge Campground, you’ll find mountains on both sides of the river that are trail-less and great for hiking or climbing. Of course, there is a trail you can take as well, but sometimes I like to explore other areas.

The hiking loop around the river is an easy one that’s great for kids or beginners. Despite the fact that most of the trail is near the river, it’s eerily peaceful and quiet while you walk through the trail.

One of the reasons why I love hiking is that it helps me clear my mind. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than spending time staring out into the wilderness and just silencing my mind, even for just a few moments.

If you’re curious as to how the trail looks at Natural Bridge, you can check out this short video.

 

Since the campground is really huge, you can also go biking. Besides fishing with their dad, my sons enjoy biking in the campgrounds. But bring your own bike because there aren’t any for rent.

 

IMPORTANT REMINDER: There are no garbage cans in the campgrounds. So if you see any trash while out in the trail, please pick it up and take it with you. The same goes for your own trash – keep it until you find proper disposals.

 

3. ERASE YOUR TROUBLES

Natural Bridge Campground 2

 

If you really think about the reason people go out camping in the first place, it’s probably because they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life or the stresses of being an adult.

Natural Bridge Campgrounds can provide you a place where you can erase your troubles by simply relaxing.

This is also a perfect place to go out on a retreat because the campground offers both single and group tents. There are also picnic tables and fire pits for you to cook your fresh catch of fish.

This means it’s also a great place for a group of friends. You can grill some burgers, enjoy a bottle of beer, and play some camping drinking games by the fire. Really, the place is great for anyone.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Natural Bridge Campgrounds 3
The Rogue River near the Natural Bridge

If you want to spend some quiet time with nature or to hang out by a river, the Natural Bridge Campgrounds in Oregon is the place to go.

There is nothing better than watching your sons fish with their dad, or spend time sharing stories with your friends around a campfire.

Even though there isn’t a load of activities to do in Natural Bridge compared to other campgrounds, it’s still a great place to go where you can enjoy the river, explore the mountains, and erase your troubles.

 

 

If you’ve enjoyed this list, feel free to share it with your friends! If you’ve visited Natural Bridge Campground lately, tell me how it went, I’d love to hear from you!

As always, stay safe and have a happy adventure!

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy

By Alessia Morello

If you are a trekking lover, the north of Italy with its thousands of trails is the ideal place to go.

Whether you decide to go trekking in the Alps, Dolomites or Friulian Dolomites, the scenery will always be spectacular and full of pleasant encounters such as deer, eagles, marmots, cows and goats… and yes! Sometimes you can find bears but is very rare to meet them.

In Italy the flags to follow in the paths are white and red, and usually very well marked so don’t worry and always follow the rule n.1 “never leave the path”.

Here my top 5 of the most beautiful Treks in the north of Italy divided into regions:

Trekking in FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

L’anello delle Dolomiti Friulane – The ring of the Friulian Dolomites

In the middle of the less known dolomites is an incredible 4-day trek that reaches the Pacherini, Pordenone, Padova and Giaf shelters where you can sleep and refresh yourself. You will cross the wonderful and wild valleys of the unknown groups of Pramaggiore, Monfalconi, Spalti di Toro and Cridola.

Prepare yourself on high altitude walks, to the overcoming of many forks at several meters in altitude more than once a day, to established paths and the trek along the beautiful gentian trail and under the symbol of this region: the “Campanile di Val montanaia”. Breathless.

Have a look at a video I made from this area:

 

Il sentiero degli Scalini – The path of the stairs

The Passo dei Scalini Trail is located in the Western Julian Alps and is part of the Jof Fuart group. Starts from Sella Nevea at 1180 m. and arrives at the passo of the Scalini at 2022 meters in 3 hours between woods, alpine huts where the cheese is produced, waterfalls and high altitude views. Carrying on you can arrive at the Corsi Hut at 1874 meters. This shelter is an amazing red building totally surrounded by a semicircle mountain range and hundreds of rock goats.

The walk is not so difficult but long so if you are not trained for this when you arrive at the top turn yourself around and come back.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 1

 

Trekking in VENETO

Trekking from Cortina D’ampezzo to the Croda da Lago alpine Hut

Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most famous and glamorous alpine destinations in Italy in summer and winter. During their winter season many famous sky races are organized here and in the amazing summer time it is possible to explore the dolomites through some amazing paths.

This trek is not so difficult but gives you the chance to see stunning views in just 4 hours of walking. The Hut is at 2042 meters but keep walking to the lake above, as the peaks of the mountains reflected in the calm waters of the alpine lake are something to be seen once in a lifetime.

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 2

 

Trekking in TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Trekking in the Dolomites high panoramic view – Alta via panoramica delle Dolomiti

This itinerary offers one of the most beautiful scenic views that you can admire throughout the Dolomite area! The first part of the trek can also be walked with kids until the hut in 1.5 hours, but the second part is recommended only for trained hikers. From the Valcroce mountain station you climb up Bressanone and through the pastures you reach the Rossalm hut, after which you could proceed to the “Gampenwiesen” meadows.

An amazing trekking that give you the chance to visit Bressanone as well, famous for having the majority population speaking German, for the beautiful churches and gardens, bridges and fountains and its spas. Really recommended!

 

Trekking the Tre cime di Lavardo from Misurina Lake – Le tre cime di Lavaredo dal lago Misurina

If you only have to choose one of these treks I will not make it difficult to choose this one. The tour of the three peaks of Lavaredo is one of the most beautiful landscaping trekking in Italy. It starts already, from 2320 meters, from the Rifugio Auronzo which can be reached by car and rises up to 2454 meters in 4/5 hours. You can find more info here from the official site: http://www.tre-cime.info/it/sesto/sesto/vivere-sesto/tre-cime-di-lavaredo-unesco.html 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 3

 

Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy 4

 

The Dolomites have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site so you can imagine which shows with different scenarios await you.

Italy is famous for the sea but the mountains are also amazing and the food you can find there is healthy and at zero kilometer. This means that milk, butter, meat and vegetables are produced in the same valley you stay during your holiday. Beyond the support you give to the farmers, you can eat fresh food without preservatives and additives.

Sleeping and eating in alpine huts helps small communities to stay alive and to allow us to have unique place to stay.  Another cool thing is that all the treks in Italy are managed and maintained by volunteers for free so spend time in this little villages is really important for the Alpine villages.

So what are you waiting for!?

Italy is waiting for you!

 

______________________________________________________________

 

Alessia Morello lives in the north-east of Italy. After working for several years around the world she decide to stop and come back in her homeland and do the things she loves like trekking into the Dolomites with her dog Giorgino and creating posts and videos for her blog. She grew up doing outdoor adventures with the family and now the nature is part of her life. Other interests? Rock climbing, mountain bike trails, cooking vegetarian recipes and having fun!

Follow her travels at www.theitaliansmoothie.com and on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Preparing for a Quest to Conquer Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro 1

By Mary Lyons

Kilimanjaro is the highest peak on the continent of Africa and thousands of people summit Uhuru Peak at 19,300 feet every year. My dream to summit Kilimanjaro was born about ten years ago after I had been living overseas for a year. For the first time in my life, I actually had a disposable income to use for travel. For some reason, my dream to summit Kilimanjaro got put on the back burner for several years, perhaps because it is an expensive venture and I also wanted to include a safari and a trip to Zanzibar.

Kilimanjaro 13
Sign at our first camp – Every camp has a sign like this

About two years ago, I decided to bite the bullet, or break the bank I guess, and go to Tanzania to conquer Kilimanjaro. I booked the trip in May 2015, but my departure date was January 2016. The travel company I used in the UK had told me a year before when I contacted them, that I needed to book early because January is peak season for climbing because of the optimal weather.

After I booked the trip, the tour company sent me all the information I needed to prepare, but there were some things that were not clear to me, like who was going to carry what. I was used to carrying everything myself and their info made it sound like I would carry my own clothing, but that wasn’t the case. Other things were abundantly clear, like the bill! High altitude trekking does not come cheap, no matter what company you book with.

Kilimanjaro 5
Day 1 Starting our climb at 9000 feet – Everyone was thinking, -This is easy!-

Here are some tips that I hope will help you to prepare for any high-altitude trek should you decided to undertake such an adventure. I feel I should include a disclaimer here. I actually did not make it to Uhuru. Altitude sickness got the best of me, as did lack of sleep due to a snoring tent mate and headaches due to altitude. I did make it to Gilman’s Point, at 18,500 feet, and I’m proud of that, although it wasn’t my goal.

Getting Your Gear On

One of the things I needed to do in the States was buy clothing. I lived in Kuwait during the school year, and it’s impossible to find adequate gear there for such cold temperatures. Temperatures on Kilimanjaro are at zero (Celsius) or below once you get above 12,000 feet, and during the big push on the last day, it’s about -20C. I spend my year between two deserts where I can wear flip flops in winter. I was not prepared for -20C!

This is a list of what I took with me, based on recommendations from the travel company. I did the Rongai Route which was advertised as five days, but the 19km descent from 12,000 feet on the last day meant it was actually 6 days.

CLOTHING AND GEAR

Kilimanjaro 3
Me with Meru in the distance on Day 2

Four season Gortex coat with removable fleece inside from North Face (Gortex is NOT necessary! It’s just what I already had.)

Pullover fleece

Long-sleeve Climadry shirt for hiking during the day

Patagonia thermal underwear – 2 pairs, one for hiking on the last 2-3 days + one for camp and sleeping

Short sleeve Climadry shirt for hiking on the first day, starting altitude 9000 feet

Patagonia zip-off leg trekking pants

Marmot rain jacket and pants (you’ll need the pants to keep warm on the last day)

Fleece pants (for the last day where you have four layers on bottom, five on top, ski pants also work)

 

2 pair Smartwool socks (I wore both on the last day)

2 pair sock liners

2 pair Exofficio underwear

2 sportbras

 

Kilimanjaro 9
Mustafa and Jonas, both amazing guides – Mustafa got me to Gilman’s Point

1 wool scarf (only used it for the final climb, but actually took it off halfway up)

1 wool hat (in addition to the hood on my North Face coat)

1 pair thin gloves

1 pair insulated ski gloves (only used during the final climb)

Vasque hiking boots (again, Gortex is NOT necessary, do not spend the money on it)

 

Rented a sleeping bag from The African Walking Company for about 40 dollars

Therma-rest ¾ length ¾ inch thick mattress (most companies do not rent mattresses)

 

Kilimanjaro 10
Unique vegetation on Kili makes for great pictures

Headlamp

Rain cover for my day pack

Journal and pen

Nikon pocket digital camera (with extra battery – sleep with both to prevent batteries from dying, and carry close to your body during the day)

Two bandanas

Quick-dry pack towel

Facial wipes/toothbrush and toothpaste/sunscreen/night cream and eye cream (Hey, I’m a woman in her 40s! Gimme a break!)

Others in my group carried mosquito repellent. IMO, it is not necessary. The altitude is too high, you’re fully clothed all the time, and malaria is not a concern in Tanzania.

Kilimanjaro 19
Kilimanjaro in the distance – I believe this was taken on Day 3 of our climb

2L water bladder with insulated tube to go inside my daypack – In my opinion, there is a significant advantage to carrying a bladder as opposed to water bottles. There were 8 people in my group, and everyone except me carried bottles. Every time they wanted water, they had to take their packs off. I didn’t. During the climb on the last day, their water froze in the bottles. Mine didn’t because it was in my pack next to my body, even though I had five layers between me and the bladder.

 

Weighing In

It sounds like a lot of weight, but your porter will carry everything except your day pack which contains your rain coat and pants, camera and batteries, gloves, hat, scarf if you want, sunscreen, snacks, water, and I carried my journal and a small book.

Kilimanjaro 4
The porters passed us every day carrying 27kg each – Here they come!

You will most likely be limited to 15 kg total, not including your day pack contents. I left clothes and anything I didn’t need at the hotel. The hotel where you stay the night before your climb is the same hotel you will return to after you finish.

 

Kilimanjaro – The Air Sure Is Thin Up Here!

Preparing for altitude sickness is foremost on everyone’s mind before they climb Kilimanjaro, but there is no way to predict how your body will react. That said, I do think there are some things you can do to prepare. There was an expert climber in my group who was preparing to climb Mt Everest. I talked to him a lot about altitude. He was also a spinal surgeon from New York. You never know who you’ll meet in Africa. He was also married 🙁

Kilimanjaro 16
Kibo Hut at Day 4 Camp

One way to prepare yourself for high altitudes is to expose yourself to them. If you have access to an area with peaks above 12,000 feet, climb them and see how your body reacts. If camping is available at those high elevations, spend the night. I had the worst headaches at night.

Mustafa and Me at Gilman’s Point

To prevent and combat the effects of altitude, drink at least 3 – 5 liters of water a day. Ibuprofen was my friend and when my headaches were persistent, I took 2 every 4-6 hours. Drink when you’re not thirsty and eat when you’re not hungry.

I lost my appetite completely on Day 4, before our midnight ascent on Day 5. I ate some soup at our early dinner, and went to sleep at 6PM, but by midnight, I was running on empty and couldn’t get anything to go down. If I were to attempt it again, I would ask for plain white rice and maybe take saltine crackers with me to eat before ascending at midnight.

Kilimanjaro 6
The descent from Gilman’s Point at 18000 feet, looking down at camp at 15000 feet

There’s a medicine called Diamox that is supposed to help with altitude sickness. Make sure you investigate this option thoroughly before deciding whether or not to use it. There’s a reason a prescription is required to take it. It can also have the same side effects as altitude sickness, which is ultimately the reason I decided not to use it.

Most companies offer the option of using oxygen for the final ascent only, for an extra cost.

 

Let’s Make This Happen!

Kilimanjaro 16
We saw several of these on our last day after we got back down to 10000 feet
Kilimanjaro 20
Jonas was our contemplative guide with a smile like the sun

Peak season for climbing Kilimanjaro is January to March and June to October. January to March means you have a better chance of seeing snow, although you likely won’t see snow until your final ascent. The glacier atop Kilimanjaro is shrinking at an alarming rate. There’s also less chance of rain during these months I have mentioned.

Peak season means it can get crowded on some of the routes, although I didn’t think the Rongai 5-day route was crowded in January. It was busy, but not crowded.

Booking several months in advance is critical if you’re going during either of these peak seasons. If you are planning to hike the Coca-Cola route (Marangu Route) it is especially important to book many months in advance. This is the most popular route, partially because sleeping huts with dormitory style accommodation are used for accommodation along the way. People who prefer not to camp (and not use a camp toilet!) choose this option, but they book up many months in advance.

Kilimanjaro 21
Hans was voted most photogenic out of all the guides. You can see why.

Choosing a tour company can be daunting and some people feel it isn’t necessary. I have met people who just went to Tanzania and hired a guide and porter, and started trekking. It can be done and can cost a lot less than booking through a tour company. However, you won’t know what you’re going to get, or how qualified and experienced those guides and porters are. I wasn’t comfortable doing that, especially when I had never hiked at such altitudes before.

Kilimanjaro 15
Day 4 trek – Looks easy, right- Clean, flat. Ha! We were near 15000 feet and moving at a snail’s pace

Do thorough research on tour companies before deciding. Prices and departure dates can vary, although not as much as you might think. Tour companies outside of Tanzania are well-connected to companies within Tanzania. You pay the tour company, say in the UK, and they pay the local company who in turn, pays their guides and porters.

The cost of a Kilimanjaro climb will vary, but to give you some idea of costs, they could run from between $200 – $500 a day for a climb depending on season, route, number of people in your group, and the tour company you choose. Mine was expensive, but the quality and level of service cannot be beat.

Kilimanjaro 14
This is both a starting and ending point, depending on which route you take. It was our end.

 

It’s Not Glamping, But It’s Pretty Darn Close!

Accommodation on Kilimanjaro can vary widely, depending on the route and tour company you use. But overall, unless you book the Coca-Cola route, you’re going to be sleeping in a two-man tent with a tent mate. Most tour operators will try to discourage one person in a tent because porters are limited to carrying 27kg. They carry these tents from camp to camp, so when someone books a private tent, they actually put a burden on the porters.

Kilimanjaro 11
Our tents were the orange ones, spacious and functional

The tents are spacious, and the porters will carry your air mattress and sleeping bag. When you arrive at camp, your tent, mattress, and sleeping bag will be all set up for you and any personal belongings they carry will be inside the tent. Now that’s service! The African Walking Company also provided a toilet tent so that we didn’t have to use the gross park toilets. This was much appreciated!

Kilimanjaro 18
Me with our Chief Guide, Florence, who was so charasmatic and born to do this job

Tour operators also provide a dining tent. The meals are amazing. Three hot three-course meals a day are standard with most tour companies. They want you to eat as much as you can because it helps ensure your success in reaching the peak. We were also served tea and coffee in our tent in the morning, but I have some tent rules I follow that I also made my friend follow. They are:

1) no shoes inside the tent

2) no trekking poles inside the tent

3) no uncovered liquids in the tent!

We kept our tea and coffee outside the tent for the most part, but I eventually declined it altogether.

Kilimanjaro 17
Meru Peak was visible for much of our trek up Kilimanjaro and was just as photogenic

Tipping the People that Helped You Get There

One of the things I liked most about this adventure was that we were given an actual guide to tipping the guides and porters. There are different levels of porters and guides, as well as the cook and chief guide. The tipping scale gave us a range of how much to tip and luckily, we had a mathematician in our group who could figure out how much we should all put in the pot. These 33 guides and porters were so amazing, we gave them the maximum amount.

Kilimanjaro 2
All 33 guides and porters as well as my group of 8 at the tipping ceremony on the last night

I want to include a word about over-tipping. Over-tipping is not beneficial to those who receive it or to climbers who come after you. It instills unrealistic expectations in the guides and porters, and disappointment when the group after you doesn’t over-tip. Please stick to the guidelines supplied by the tour company.

Now You Know

A good tour company will provide you with all the information you need before making a decision about whether or not to book a tour and climb Kilimanjaro. It’s a serious endeavor that takes planning and preparation. Hopefully my two cents worth can help you do just that. I’d love to hear from you! Leave comments and questions below and I’ll be sure to answer them!

Kilimanjaro 12
View of Meru Peak from our camp on Day 3

 

How To Start Backpacking and Be Fearless in the Wilderness

backpacking 1

 By Lucy Gomez

Imagine leaping into a fresh-water stream, feeling the icy shock as you plunge in and the buzz as you warm back up again… the most energizing feeling in the world! Stepping into the wild opens the opportunity to discover the world’s stunning beauty, and maybe even encounter rare wildlife too! On top of that, it’s proven to boost your body and mind. So what are you waiting for?

OK, so maybe that all sounds terrifying. Don’t worry though, it did to me once too, you’re not alone!

That’s exactly why I’ve gathered all the useful tips that we here at getcampingwild.com have learned so far about how to start backpacking. So, before you know it, your inner intrepid-explorer will be unleashed!

backpacking 2You’ll need:

  • A Trail Map
  • A Compass

Before grabbing your backpack, pick up the map instead. The easiest way to work out what you’ll need is to know where you’re going.

My best advice for getting started is to stay local, because discovering how easily you can access the wild wonders on your doorstep instantly gives you a native feel for how to start backpacking! If you still need some more inspiration, check out our post on The Most Famous Seasonal Campgrounds and see if you can spot one near you.

We’ve been asked a lot of questions about how to start backpacking over the years, like….

 

Backpacking – will it be hot or cold?

In the wild, this decision is totally up to Mother Nature, and she’s famously unpredictable. But you can get one up on her, and here’s how…

  1. Check your weather forecastbackpacking 3

We bet you’re super familiar with the seasons in your region, but keeping an eye on the forecast means you’ll be aware of any freak storms threatening your trip!

  1. Use your map to estimate your altitude

The temperature drops 3.5°F for every 1000 ft you climb, and mountainous areas are known to have a climate of their own, too. When a warm sunny day becomes a hailstorm in minutes – don’t get caught without a raincoat, it’s not fun!

 

So, What should I wear?

When you are a five-hour trek into the wilderness, there is no hiding from the elements. If it’s cold, you need to stay warm in it, and if it’s boiling you need to be able to cool down. The solution? It’s all in what your wear…

  • backpacking 4Base layers – long johns and thermal vests are designed to keep your body heat in and the cold out. They’re cheap and easy to find in the underwear section of your closest shopping mall
  • Sports shirts – made from lightweight, breathable and fast drying fabric, you can get a bargain in discount sports stores
  • Long pants – either jogging or light trekking ones to protect your legs from stings, scratches and bites.
  • Small sweater – one of your ‘layers’ for intricate temperature control
  • Fleece – as warm and cosy as four small sweaters!
  • Raincoat – make sure it’s a strong, lightweight and breathable one
  • Plastic poncho – yep, just like those ones you get at waterparks and festivals, they’re unbeatable in sudden downpours!
  • Hiking shoes – you’ll need fairly firm ones to tackle the undergrowth, but don’t get the heaviest, as they’ll slow you down
  • Socks – specialised walking socks are vital for your first backpacking trip because they’re made from a silky fabric, so they keep your feet both dry and blister-free
  • cotton undies/sports bra – your most comfy pairs!
  • Swimsuit – ready for that freshwater dip!
  • Hat – be sure to protect your head in sun or snow!

How can you actually carry your whole life on your back though?

backpacking 5None of us are secretly snails. The trick is to simply bring all that you need and ABSOLUTELY nothing more. No really, or you’ll regret it – this is one of the biggest and hardest decisions for how to start backpacking! Especially when experts recommend carrying 30% of your body weight with you. For me, 30% of my body weight is 42 lbs, which is 19kg or litres, and I know I’ll be whining if I walk for five hours carrying that much! So I usually aim for just 15%.

Top tip – weigh your bag after you pack, then weigh it again when you’ve repacked!

Another mistake beginners make is shouldering all their weight. If you do that, we bet you’ll never want to go backpacking again! For a happy and healthy hike, make sure your backpack has a waist strap to carry the load, and an adjustable back to fit you.

Top tip – borrow from a friend for your first trip to keep costs down!

What do you eat and drink?

Bear Grylls might be happy to tuck into meals of bugs and berries, but we reckon you’ll be craving something a little less squirmy! After all, you’ll be burning plenty of calories, so make sure you get three square meals a day, plus a few snacks to sweeten your rest stops!

Here’s our team’s top trail menu, and all you need is a mini campstove, a metal cup with a lid, and a spork…

backpacking 6Breakfast: Instant oatmeal (add honey and raisins for extra goodness!) and a sachet of instant coffee

Morning snack: packet of mixed fruits and nuts or cereal bar

Lunch: Saltines, spread with Nutella or peanut butter, plus your favorite chips and a piece of fruit (apples and oranges have good backpack survival rates)

Afternoon treat: your favorite sweets, whether it’s gummy bears or fizzy worms, they’ll give you the boost you need (marathon runners do it!)

Dinner: Freeze dried packet meals are available in camping shops and just require a little heating, but a packet of instant noodles or pasta will also replace those much-needed carbs!

Top tip: Whatever you decide to bring on your first how to start backpacking trip, and every trip after that, make sure it’s sealed, lightweight, packed full of nutrients and doesn’t need refrigeration. Check out our post 7 Easy Foods For Camping’ for more ideas!

What about water?

backpacking 7Well, it’s a fact that you’ll need to drink much more than you can carry on day one, and another reason why your map is so important. When planning your route, trek via water sources like fresh springs or streams, then purify the water before you drink it.

Top tip: Boiling water for at least a minute kills the bacteria and saves you carrying a fancy filtration kit!

 

How does the sleeping part work?

There aren’t likely to be organised campsites in the wilderness, so you get to decide which patch of nature to call home for the night!

Step 1.    Choose a spot

It is generally advised to sleep near the trail, but not on it – about 100 yards away should be fine. Make sure you don’t block a water access point!

backpacking 8Step 2.    Check the terrain

There’s nothing worse than bedding down on spiky rocks, so choose somewhere peaty or leafy

Step 3.    Pitch your tent

Be sure to check you have all the parts before you leave home!

Step 4.    Get out your sleeping gear

Don’t leave home without a sleeping pad (I use my yoga mat). I’ll let you into a ‘how to start backpacking’ secret; although this is the most important insulating layer between you and the cold ground, some experienced campers don’t realise it!

You should also take a small pillow and sleeping bag to cosy up in. They come in sizes for each season – but the warmer the bag, the heavier it is. When choosing, estimate your nighttime temperature and match it to the range of the sleeping bag. Sleep tight!

Need to know

Now that you’re bursting full of top tips about how to start backpacking, there are a few more things to bear in mind (get it?!)

Did you know that you should:

  • Always give way to people going uphill
  • Never light a fire unless it’s allowed in your area
  • Bury your poop with a spade
  • Know the phone number for mountain rescue
  • Let others know your planned route
  • Pick up any rubbish you see, to save the landscape for future visitors, and for the creatures who call it home

For your first ever backpacking trip, we recommend going with a friend or a guide who knows their fauna from their flora. But if you go it alone and you get lost – don’t panic. Retrace your steps to the last place you recognise.

It’s also really important to make sure you’re in good shape before the trip – going running, swimming or working out in the gym is great for you anyway, but it can also be the difference between a good trip or an incredible trip!

And finally, you’ll be glowing with the accomplishment of having earned every single one of those fantastic views! So, take these steps towards how to start backpacking, and get out there to begin your own fantastic original adventure!

backpacking 9