15 Death-Defying Hiking Trails And Cliff Diving Spots For Adventure Junkies

By SJ Baxter

When we think of vacations, we often consider the beach, amusement parks, or even just staying at home and lounging on the bed or sofa.

For others, however, especially for people who love going out on an adventure, going extreme is just the thing to make their vacation fun and memorable.

The goal? Find the next destination that can give them a shot of adrenaline that is legal, painless, and preferably drug-free.

Whether you are the lounge-around-type of person or the extreme-sports junkie, you can end up having fun while appreciating life by visiting these death-defying hiking trails and cliff diving spots!

 

Nausea-Inducing Hiking Trails

Time to dust off your signature sneakers and your age-old sleeping bag from the basement. Heaven knows you need both to keep yourself safe and warm while hiking through these famous trails. And while you are at it, be sure that you have high-quality tents just in case you’d love to stay overnight in these places. Won’t that be a great idea?

 

#1. Mount Hua Shan, China

Fancy an authentic Chinese tea at the top of a mountain after a wonderful hike? With this trail, you can do both. With only planks suspended at the side of Mount Huashan plus chain links serving as a handrail, pilgrims and extreme sports enthusiasts alike love to take a visit every year.

It’s not all futile, though. At the end of the trail, a Daoist temple that has been around since 2nd century BCE and also served as a home for monks and nuns can be found. Worth the trip, most tourists say.

 

#2. Bright Angel Trail, Arizona

This trail is one of the many hiking trails established for hikers who want to experience traversing the Grand Canyon. It is around 9.9 miles long and elevations can go from 2,480 feet (Colorado River) to 6,860 feet (South Rim, the starting point).

The strenuous trail has been open for camping and hiking to the general public which can be an opportunity to enjoy the flora and fauna. One important rule though?do NOT feed the squirrels.

 

#3. Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

This mountain is NOT for the faint of heart. Although relatively short (6,288 feet) according to experienced hikers, the wind speed and the weather all throughout the year are the primary reasons why deaths are common in the area. These obstacles are proven to be a good practice area for climbers who plan to go mountaineering at Mt. Everest.

 

#4. Longs Peak, Colorado

This mountain summit is located at the northern Front range of the Rocky Mountains. It boasts of 14,259 feet elevation and four trails; each with varying difficulties and weather conditions.

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Longs Peak, Colorado

If you want a straightforward, easy hike, pick the Clark’s Arrow and the Shelf Trail and the East Longs Peak Trail. But if you prefer a bit of difficulty (with the guidance of a professional hiker in the area, of course), go for the Longs Peak Trail.

 

#5. West Coast Trail, Vancouver

Also known as the Dominion Lifesaving Trail, this 47-mile traverse is only open during May to September. Hiking at off-seasons cannot guarantee that you are safe and people would come running if they realized that you are nowhere to be found.

 

#6. Abram Falls, Tennessee

Witness the fusion of the elements of water and earth as you traverse this 5.2-mile trail that runs near Abram Creek and passes by the 20-foot Abram Falls and is found at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

And before you ask; no, hikers are discouraged to take a plunge to the magnificent waterfall because of the strong currents and undertows. You are free to breathe in the fresh air and admire the view, though.

 

#7. Kokoda Trail, Papua New Guinea

This seemingly underrated trail is not just an ordinary pathway within thickets of trees and rivers?it also is a silent witness to numerous World War II battles between Australians (back then, the colonizers of Papua New Guinea) and Japanese forces.

Even as you hike along the 60-mile trail, you can see remnants of weapons, helmets, and other debris along the way. Because of its rich history, hikers of all ages come not just for an adventure but to see the aftermath of a war that happened more than 50 years ago.

If you plan to put this in your itinerary list, we ask you to employ the services of KoTrek, a company that supports the tour guides who are natives of the place. Aside from the relatively low cost it offers, it aids the locals in the vicinity by giving them a source of livelihood. Besides, who else is better at guiding you across the whole trail than the people who live there all their lives?

 

#8. North Cape, Norway

Knivskjelloden (or North Cape if you can’t pronounce the local name) is actually a peninsula found at the municipality of Nordkapp in Norway.

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North Cape, Norway

The top, which is considered to be the “northernmost point of Europe” can only be reached by walking through an 11-mile trail filled with moss, vegetation, and sharp rocks. The spectacular view at the end of it all, though, is worth the exercise.

 

Cliff-Diving for the Brave

Wanna take your swimming adventures to a whole new level? Then try these death-defying cliff diving destinations found in different parts of the world. Water slides, who?

 

#9. Ponte Brolla, Switzerland

This famous cliff diving spot is found in a small quaint village in Ticino, Switzerland. The cliff boasts of 80-foot long dive from the top of the valley down to the cool, clear waters. Because of the staggering distance, only professional divers are allowed to showcase their somersaults and diving techniques.

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Ponte Brolla, Switzerland

This does not mean you cannot go here even though you are a first-timer. The annual European Cliff Diving Championship sponsored by the World High Diving Federation is usually held here, and people, young and old, are invited to watch and learn from the experts!

 

#10. Hell’s Gate, Possum Kingdom Lake, USA

Think that Ponte Brolla is too high already? Then you have not seen this one yet. Cliff diving in Hell’s Gate means jumping down at 92 feet at a whopping 85 kilometers per hour!

The name originated from the way the rock forms were positioned; both cliffs face each other like an open sliding door. One of the rock formations has a downward diagonal edge that is made up of sharp, shaggy rocks. Because of the danger and the height, only professional divers who are participants in the annual Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships are allowed to jump off the cliffs.

 

#11. Azores, Portugal

Another Red Bull Cliff Diving Championship location, this cliff was a product of nature; it is a portion of a crater of a submerged volcano that has long been dormant.

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Azores, Portugal

The 88-foot rock formation is safe for cliff diving professionals and enthusiasts. And while it is not yet your turn to take a jump, you can do a bit of whale watching on top.

 

#12. Tar Creek Falls, California

To enjoy this one, you might have to take the hike up the 70-foot waterfall before jumping down the water. Calculate the leap carefully, though; most outcroppings of the rocks beneath may be enough to end your life.

But don’t worry, the lake below will catch you. Also, try visiting during the spring. You may find the lake all dried up otherwise.

 

#13. Angora Lakes, Nevada

Another 70-feet cliff diving location, the Angora Lakes in Nevada is the home of two freshwater lakes?the Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. During the summer season, the cliff is flocked with tourists who want to experience leaping all the way down to the two famous lakes.

 

#14. Poco de Diablo, Brazil

Most tourists travel to Brazil because of their sandy beaches and amazing nightlife. But what most people do not know is its hidden cliff diving gem?the mystical black (Yes, black!) lake surrounded by cliffs at every turn.

Not many details are provided because it is grossly underrated but some cliff divers who experienced the place can attest that it is safe for first-timer cliff divers to try.

 

#15. Kimberley, Australia

Another perfect but underrated cliff diving location is from Kimberley, Australia. Although dubbed as one of the best cliff diving spots in the entire world, only professional divers are allowed to jump down its treacherous rock formation made of limestone.

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Kimberley, Australia

Whether you prefer to pack hiking boots, sleeping bags, and a tent or to go all out in wearing your newly-bought swimwear, make your summer season extra special by trying something you have not done yet.

 

You only live once, after all. So cross out the hiking adventure and cliff diving experience off your bucket list by paying a visit on one (or all!) of these wonderful sites!

 

Dear Natalie: Oregon Lessons, Part 1

Ask Natalie Banner Dear Natalie: Who else does this? 

Dear Natalie,

Do you think we can learn from places?

Signed,

Those who wander

_______________________________________________________________________

 

Dear Wanderers,

I do.

In fact, I have Facebook evidence (we all know that if it’s on Facebook, it’s true). A little over a year ago, I had spiraled quite high into the Siskiyou Mountain Range along a rustic mountain road, and I noticed an arc above me. From either side of my car, the fir trees curved toward each other, as though their tops were kissing. The sunlight flittered downward like tinsel, and I had to brake and blink against the twinkling. Only a meter to my left, the road crumbled into tree trunks and steep, downward-careening mountainside; on the right, trees grew from rock, bowed and bent against the mountain.

 

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“Legit, I could open my car door and fall off this mountain,” I said to myself. I became aware of the stab of fear in my chest. I thought, To be this high off the ground is unnatural. A moment later, I gave it a second thought: Except people have been here before. Someone plowed this road. Thousands of people, probably, have pushed themselves up this mountain. Discovery – discovering new things – is arguably the most natural, most human thing one can do.

This experience, and the amazing hike I eventually took that day, made me consider some of the lessons I had learned from my relocation to Oregon. As I made my way home, I composed a mental list that later went on Facebook; a year after that, I reposted it.  Here, I share it again, with a little added commentary. I offer you…

 

Ten lessons I have learned in the 2+ 3+ years I’ve lived in Oregon:

 

  1. Driving on one-lane mountain “roads” that more closely resemble city park bike paths becomes less terrifying and strange over time.

 The road I described above was not the first, the last, or even the scariest Oregon road I’d driven. My ex-husband and I decided to take a drive to the coast. We took the GPS-recommended route there, which required driving south and west to go north, and that made no sense to my still-urban brain. “Modern engineering is a miracle!” I exclaimed on our way back home. “Certainly there’s a more direct route!” Sure enough, the GPS offered an alternate route, traversing the mountains along forest service roads. I noticed an open gate, used to block the road in winter, and an ominous sign about the road being unmaintained and unnavigable from November 1 – April 31. It was April 30. We’d be fine; I mean, the gate was open.

 

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I will spare you the details. The route we took is known as the “Bear Camp Coastal Route,” a moniker that sounds harmless, like it’s a beachy-fun path full of dancing, surfing Care Bears.  That’s not what we saw. However, it’s worth noting: We survived. We later learned others did not. (Seriously – Google it! The Wikipedia page mentions two deaths and “numerous motorists…stranded” on the route. Creepy.)

Anyway, my point is that nowadays, I am a lot better prepared for wilderness travel; I play it safe; and yet, I don’t abide by that fear. Traveling those roads has allowed me to see things I otherwise never would have seen. Which brings me to…

 

  1. With enough patience and enough travel along the aforementioned roads/bike paths, one might see the enormous, retreating butt of a black bear as she hightails it back into the woods.

People always get bear-a-noid. I do too. I don’t understand why. In Oregon, we do not have grizzlies, the more ferocious of the North American species. We have black bears, and unlike our friends in the eastern portion of the country, we have introverted, timid, scaredy-cat black bears. Almost all of my native Oregonian friends have remarked that while they’ve seen evidence of bears – scat, scratches, that kind of thing – they’ve never actually seen one. I, however, have.

 

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As I navigated a one-lane mountain road, slowly so as not to hit an oncoming car (which is hilarious, because the likelihood of another car being there was slim to none), I saw movement about fifty feet in the distance. I slowed the car to a crawl as a giant black bear sprinted along the roadside, jumped up a hill, and got swallowed up by the forest.

“Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that is so dang cool!” I am still bragging about this.

 

  1. 8 times out of 10, fear is a liar. Of the remaining two times, one is fear asking us to more closely examine something, and the other is fear acting as a legitimate warning of potential death and/or destruction. Preparation is prudent but bravery is mandatory.

According to the United States National Park Service, the likelihood of being attacked by a bear is 1 in 2.1 million (and that’s including statistics for grizzlies).

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, you have a 0.0064% risk of death while mountain hiking – and that risk can be made even smaller by avoiding foul weather, preparing appropriately for climate and terrain, staying hydrated, and knowing your way around a map and compass.

Who doesn’t feel afraid when they’re trying something new? How many new things have I done over the past four years? I hit a point a while back where I realized: I could either be a perpetual ball of fear and anxiety, or I could step bravely into life. I choose the latter most of the time, though sometimes I also cry while I eat potato chips with salsa (I know it sounds gross, but it’s actually delicious).

 

  1. Always close the lid of the latrine before exiting, and never try to shove a pizza box down it.

 I just think this is a valuable life lesson. Always, always, always close the lid of the latrine. Do you know what happens if you don’t? Flies attack the bare bottom of the exhausted explorer who uses that toilet after you. If avoiding a plague of bum-flies isn’t enough, you might also consider the odiferous contribution an open latrine makes to its surrounding environment. By “odiferous,” I mean everyone for three square miles will gag.

 

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Also, just don’t shove pizza boxes in the latrine. Don’t put any trash in the latrine. It can’t be pumped out, it will take forever to decompose, flies will think it’s their penthouse apartment, and people like me will have to – you know – on top of it.

 

  1. Untouched natural beauty of an unimaginable magnitude exists if you are willing to leave your car behind and walk in search for it.

5 and a half. Even the fanciest camera in the hands of the most talented photographer cannot capture that beauty the way a human eye can in real time.

 We live on a large and beautiful planet, and I want to see as many quiet, barely touched places as I can before I bite it.

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Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Photo © me, 2017

 

It is difficult. I have had some injuries, and sometimes my body hurts and my motivation is non-existent. Sometimes napping all day seems appealing. Sometimes I start to get fearful, especially when I’m alone, and I create intricate, imaginary scenarios that ultimately result in my early demise. In the end, I am perhaps a little addicted to those vistas, and I covet them the way some people long for fine jewelry or haute cuisine. They remind me that I am a tiny part of a much larger whole, and in this way, they remind me that I am connected to everything. I am never alone.

Until next time, when I will share the remaining five lessons,

Natalie

 

 

 

 

P.S. – What life lessons have you learned from being in a new place? Share via email at AskNatalieColumn @ gmail.com – Contributors are identified by their first name, but you can request anonymity if you’d prefer.

8 Health Benefits Hiking

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By Elizabeth Wambui Mathu

The next time you hear a friend invite you for a hike, acknowledge them for bearing in mind your health!

Hiking is a precious activity with great gratification that we do for fun, but do you know that it has numerous health benefits? We do hiking for several reasons, including checking out blogs but at the end of it all, it contributes to a healthy lifestyle. It adds to tremendous mental and physical well-being.

Here are some of the health benefits of hiking:

 

Weight Loss

8 Health Benefits Hiking 2If you are struggling with excess weight, good hiking can help you reduce extra calories in the body. The physical activity involved blasts out the calories and burns excess body fat. Even without creating a calorie deficit diet, exercising through hiking is an effective method to burn fat.

The steeper and the more challenging the trails the more the more calories you burn. During a hike, a normal adult burns 300-500 calories. While doing away with fats, you also strengthen body muscles creating a balance and flexibility.

 

Increases Body Stamina

You are hiking and building more endurance, but do you how good is your body stamina is getting? While on the trails, walking long distances day in, day out, your body gains more stamina. When trekking up and down, your legs and back get stronger and stronger.

Every day you want to achieve new heights. Hiking exercises key muscles around your bones, more than the regular activities you undertake on daily basis.

 

Hiking Boosts Creativity

Ever felt dull, uncreative and non-artistic? That might be due to a lot of monotony at home and less outdoor adventure, and you have to try hiking to overcome this. Spending moments in the outdoor increases your attention to details and opens up your mind to a significant higher level. A research by Stanford University found out that while trailing, the body creative juices flow better than while sitting.

Another study by the University of Kansas suggests that hikers performed better in a skill test after a 2-day hike than those who undertook the test before the hike. Hiking gives people greater ability to focus and build up new ideas.

 

Hiking Boosts Vitamin D factor in the body

Vitamin D deficiency in the body leads to skeletal deformity and soft bones. The gazing early morning sun is vital for boosting a person’s Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is acquired when the body is exposed to sunlight. It enables your body absorb calcium strengthening your immune system. A stroll in the woods and the hills gets you the essential amounts of vitamin D that your body requires. Apart from hardening bones, Vitamin D also improves sleep patterns, and staves off depression.

 

Controls Diabetes

Are you struggling with diabetes? Hiking is one of the best-known practices that helps diabetic patients recover from their predicaments. Walking for fairly long distances lowers blood sugar levels in the body. Instead of seeking expensive medical care, trekking several miles a day is the ultimate natural solution for you. Although walking seems like a basic form of exercise, it is a highly sought method of reducing blood glucose.

 

Strengthens Body Muscles

8 Health Benefits Hiking 3When you are feeling a little bit weak after performing simple tasks, it might be a sign of weak muscles. Maybe it’s because of sitting all day in an office without any significant exercise. If this is the case, then you to pull out your backpack and set off for a hike. By doing this, you will be doing your cardio some good. The longer and the further the hike, the better. Hiking helps strengthen your leg and back muscles thus boosting your fitness.

 

Reduces ADHD in children

Are you looking for a natural therapy for a child with ADHD symptoms? Relieve the kids from stress by giving them a hike and help improve their attention. No cost and no side effects. Just a wander along the trails and you will notice some improvements after some time.

 

Gives You a Better Perception of the World

You are going for a new experience in a new place to meet new people; that sounds cool. A breakaway from your monotonous workplace with a hike gives you a better picture and feeling for the world. You are going to have a thrilling adventure that will change your perception of the boring world, the one you left behind. Hiking gives you the feeling of throwing away what feels dull and picking up the bright stars around you.

 

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Hiking is a natural remedy to many health problems that we face day in day out. The above are just some of the health benefits of hiking. If you are out there and yet to give it a try, it’s your chance to take up the challenge and you will experience the numerous benefits.

 

THE PLACE WHERE I’M FROM | Discover the northeast of Italy

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By Alessia Morello

Hi girls,

Today I decide to write a different post.

It’s not just a trekking post, it is more a celebration of my homeland.

You have to know that my region is not considered much at all in Italy. Sometimes this is sad and sometimes I’m happy for that because we don’t have many tourists that hike and explore our incredible mountains.

I live in the northeast of Italy, in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Yeah, my region has three names because after wars and wars it was decided to join together 3 different areas.

I live very close to the border with Slovenia and Austria and to the south it is lapped by the Adriatic Sea. In the upper part you can find wonderful mountains where you can ski or hike and climb. In the middle there are amazing hills and open spaces to ride by bike and in the south there’s the sea side with beaches and ports.

 

Nothing missed at all in my land but why is it so unknown?

The main point is that Italy has too much in the way of beautiful places to go and the tourists that come here want to see the most famous things like Rome, Venice, Milan, the Tuscany etc etc. so it is hard to compete with these beauties. Secondly our people are a bit stuffy and don’t like having a lot of new people around. After a hundred years of foreign domination we do not openly welcome new tourism that much. Thirdly, our land has never had problems of job shortages or similar so we never needed the tourism market.

But now with the help of social media and the Internet, I want to show you the magical place where I’m from.  NOW I bring you with me in the “hike of the cheese” that is the walk that the cows usually do in the mountains from the Aly (or alpine hut where the cheese is made) and the place where the cows are brought to pasture.

Ready?

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If you do a hike in Italy there are 3 different kinds of hut that you can find. The Bivaccothat is usually a red metal covert shelter just with some bedding where you can sleep. The classic alpine hut is an easy restaurant and where you can rent a bed or room and then there is the malga (the hut where the cheese is made and where the cows stay during summer season).

The nicest hikes always finish with a lunch in a hut.

 

The trek

The trek starts from the bottom malga where the cows stay during the night and most part of the dayand.  This is where the restaurant of the malga makes delicious homemade gnocchi with their cheese, cheese and ham plates to share together with other typical mountain dishes.

From there after we enjoy an espresso coffee and start the walk. After a not too difficult uphill part, a flat walk followed and we had the chance to visit a little cave. In just one hour we arrive in a wide lawn where the cows are left free to graze.

After a break we decide to start again and to make the whole ring of the pastures also overcoming the border with Austria.

We walk along the cresta a few meters from the border and we can admire on the right Italy with its pastures in the distance and on the left the meadows and the slopes of Austria, where in winter there is one of the biggest ski resorts in the area.

The walk is beautiful, the sunny day allows us to take beautiful photos and also reach the Bivacco Lomasti, a red dot in the middle of the valley that dominates above all. Very beautiful.

 

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An amazing day spent in the middle of my mountains that are not just beautiful and sweet. My mountains are hard, difficult, challenging. Not for everybody. But surely, they leave you with a sense of success and greater satisfaction.

 

Hope you love my pics of my homeland and I hope one day if you decide to visit Italy, you remember my beautiful area in the northeast of Italy ? The Friuli Venezia Giulia.

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

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.

 

 

The Natural Beauty of Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

By Nicole Anderson

I had been fortunate enough to visit this wonderful country a couple of times on past trips but my most recent visit (April 2018) took me for the first time to Northern Thailand, which is a stunning contrast to the metropolis of Bangkok and the more popular coastal areas.

Known as the “Rose of the North” Chiang Mai is where I was based, which is quite central to explore all this fabulous region had to offer.  The Chiang Mai region is situated much higher geographically than the rest of the country and is known for its mist-shrouded mountains, its lush green valleys and abundance of fauna and flora.

While it would just not be possible to pack in everything I saw, experienced and learned into this piece, I have instead included a summary of what I thought were some of the more significant highlights and photos of the what this part of the world has to offer for the outdoor enthusiast.

 

Northern Thailand: A paradise for nature lovers

Here are my top 5 nature-related places from my trip that I really enjoyed and would recommend you to see if/when you visit this corner of the world.

Mae Kajan Hot Spring

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Mae Kajan Hot Spring, Chiang Rai Province, north of Chiang Mai.

I have previously seen natural hot springs/pools/geysers in Japan and New Zealand and even though these weren’t quite in that category in terms of size, this was still worth a stop.  This spring is located at Tambol Mae Chedi Mai, Wiang Pa Pao District, Chaing Rai Province (north of Chiang Mai).

This natural feature has become very popular for Thai people as a stopover while travelling between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai or vice versa.  The Spring has also become a bit of a tourist attraction and many enjoy getting a wooden basket to boil quail eggs in the water and then eat the eggs as a snack.

The water contains a high concentration of dissolved minerals.  Visitors are really captured by the naturally hot spring and in some sections (that are not boiling), love to bath their feet in the natural warmth.

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People relaxing by soaking their feet in the warm waters of the spring.

 

The Golden Triangle

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This monument overlooked where the rivers intersected on the Thai side.

The “Golden Triangle” refers to the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers.  The name “Golden Triangle”, coined by the CIA, is commonly used more broadly to refer to an area approximately 950,000 square kilometres (or 367,000 square miles) that overlaps the mountains of these three countries.  This area has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia, and indeed the world.

So long as you travel in established routes where locals and tourists go, you are really very safe from the dangers associated with the illicit drug trade.  In the case of my fiancé and I, we were visiting the area to see the lush vegetation and natural beauty as well as to travel the rivers where the Ruak and Mekong converge between the three nations.

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James, my fiance with myself immediately behind making the journey down and across the rivers.

We hired a local boat (punt) along with other visitors to experience the waters here and it was amazing to see how obvious the demarcation of the different rivers were where they met.  You could actually see straight lines that formed separating the different colours of each river!  We went up right next to the Myanmar shore and then turned to visit some markets in Donsao, Laos.

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Made it across to Laos!

In Donsao, we took a few photos of the area (including some bottled snakes, scorpions and other creepy crawlies) before doing a bit of Jade shopping where my lovely fiancé bought me a lovely green jade bracelet.  We then took the boat (which was really rocky) back to the Thai border to return back south.

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Jars of snakes and all kinds of nasty things were for sale as a novelty at this market.

 

Doi Inthanon National Park

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Entrance to the park

Doi Inthanon National Park covers an area of 482 km² in Chiang Mai province. The park is actually part of the Himalayan mountain range even though the elevation ranges just between 800 and 2565 meters.

Located south of Chiang Mai, the park is one of the most fertile troves of natural treasure in Thailand.  The invigorating mountain air and fresh, cooler climate makes it a rejuvenating break from the cities.  This area is extremely popular among bird watchers and many tours come here also with people wanting to experience a very different side of Thailand.

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This was one of the sites greeting you near the entrance to the twin chedis.

Aside from the amazing vistas of stunning nature, the park is also home to the Twin Chedis.  The twin chedis were constructed by the Thai Royal Air Force to honour the 60th birthday of the King and Queen of Thailand (in 1987 and 1992 respectively). The darker colour chedi with the brown tint (Phra Mahathat Chedi Nophamethanidol) is for the king and the one with the light-blue or lilac hue (Phra Mahathat Chedi Noppholbhumsiri) is for the queen. The area is beautifully landscaped with a stunning display of flowers and on a clear day provides glorious views over Northern Thailand and the mountains of Myanmar/Burma (to the west).

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It was hard to get both chedis in one shot and you can’t really tell from here how big they are.

 

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Me on the balcony area of the King chedi with the Queen chedi in the background.

 

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Beautiful gardens abound all around the twin chedis with natural vegetation beyond.

 

Great Camping Spot in Northern Thailand:

Doi Inthanon HQ is situated at 30.8km near the Ban Khun Klang village of Hmong (Meo) tribe. 500 meters west from the HQ there is a market with few restaurants around, there is also an ATM nearby.  The camping area and bungalows are 500 meters north from the junction or nearly 400 meters east of the HQ. Camping gear can be rented at the entrance to the campsite. There are no restaurants in that area, the nearest options are around the HQ and the market. The smaller options of tents for 3 people costs 250 THB/day while bigger ones for 5 people costs 400 THB/day, sleeping bags, matt and pillows included in the price.

 

“The Roof of Thailand”

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Me at the “Roof of Thailand”!

Doi Inthanon within the National Park is the highest mountain in Thailand.  It is in Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province. This mountain is an ultra-prominent peak, known in the past as Doi Luang (‘big mountain’) or Doi Ang Ka, meaning the ‘crow’s pond top’.  These days it is referred to as “the roof of Thailand”.

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Dense vegetation all around the summit.

Due to the higher altitude, the summit has high humidity and cooler weather all year round. The average daily temperatures are normally around 10-12 °C.

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At a pergola at the summit.

Reaching the summit, you can definitely feel the chill and moisture in the air.  It was really fun to follow the established path under the canopy of forest branches, noting the different plants and many insects and small lizards as well as to appreciate the cultural monuments there such as the King Inthanon Memorial Shrine.

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King Inthanon Memorial Shrine

 

Wachirathan Waterfall

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Wachirathan Waterfall

This waterfall is really lovely.  It is a multi-level fall with a total drop of around 80 metres.

It is reached via a narrow and steep road off the northern side of the highway at roughly the 21 KM mark on highway 1009.

Although the falls are flowing all year, the biggest quantity of water will be flowing during the wet season from May to November.

There is a lot of spray from the falls which creates a rain-like mist that flows down the valley. If you have camera gear or sensitive electronic equipment that may be prone to water damage you may wish to bring protective coverings.

The mist can be at times very impressive to look at and you will almost always see rainbows within.  This makes it a popular spot for taking movies and photos.

It is also recommended that you wear appropriate footwear as the area is often slippery and muddy.

 

 

Below is a very quick video shot by my fiance showing me and our guide Maggi at the falls

 

Northern Thailand’s Flora and Fauna

Quite aside from the top 5 attractions/locations of this holiday, I really feel I should make mention of the wildlife flora and fauna that is fairly unique to the region.

Elephants

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At the main entrance to the largest elephant camp in Northern Thailand, housing some 80 elephants.

This majestic animal is the national symbol of Thailand.  They are revered where ever you go and there are countless statues, ornaments and images of them across the land.  I first came across elephants in Thailand when visiting the resort island of Koh Samui and really fell in love with their intelligence and beautiful personalities.

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An overview of the entire camp and attractions to see and learn all about the elephants.

While in Northern Thailand, I visited the Maesa Elephant Camp and to quote from their website: “This area of the Maesa Valley is home to the largest assembly of domesticated elephants in northern Thailand. Visitors can see the elephants working with their mahouts (trainers), bathing in the river and even painting landscapes!”.

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Two of the elephants getting their bath!

 

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Mahouts ride their elephants into the arena

 

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Playing soccer. The aim of kicking the ball was really good.

A 4 minute compilation of video of the elephants:

I was very fortunate to see all of the activities described above and even got up close and personal with a couple of very large elephants that came by for a cuddle!  What a photo opportunity that was!  I was halfway between being exhilarated and terrified…

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A couple of elephants coming in for a cuddle from behind…

 

Tigers

The largest and often most feared of the cat family, Tigers are looked after these days in wildlife preservation centres, some of which also encourage tourism and (for additional fees) will facilitate photos right up close.  How close you might ask?  Well at Tiger Kingdom you actually are let into the enclosure and can pat them before (or while) posing for a photo!

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Planting a flag at the entrance to Tiger Kingdom after making a donation to wildlife preservation.

 

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Tiger Kingdom had a variety of all the big cats and most where understandably under cover during the day.

Now I have considerable respect for the sheer grace, speed, strength and power of these awesome animals and I was not overly keen to push my luck here…not even with experienced trainers with me.  So instead I opted to go into the enclosure with some smaller cats to give them a bit of a pat, get a photo or two and then respectfully retreat.  One of them even gave me a bit of a kick with his hind paw, much like a domestic cat when annoyed and I took that as my cue to leave!  Being up close was a wonderful experience to look back on and their fur is quite soft, although quite thick at the same time.

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Feeling particularly brave that day…

 

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This guy gave me a kick with his hind paw after this photo was taken and that’s when I thought it best to retreat.

 

Orchids and Butterflies

Not far from Tiger Kingdom is Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm which, although not overly large in size, contained some wonderful displays of flowers that grow so well here.  A visitor who was a keen photographer and lover of nature could probably spend many hours engrossed here.  Although I am not a professional photographer by any means, I have included a few shots here of the flora here as well as a couple within the butterfly enclosed area.

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People and Culture

I don’t think any article on the beauty of this area could be complete without talking a little about the wonderful people of Thailand having regard for the cultures and traditions that make up this peaceful country.

Thailand is predominately a Buddhist country and its people are overwhelmingly friendly, courteous and thoughtful.

Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand generally has fascinating natural beauty and cultural heritage. The endless rice paddies that you will find at every corner of the region, tranquil lakes, and lush forests make the atmosphere full of phenomenal calmness.

The temples of Chiang Mai are many and all are just stunning in their design and workmanship.  I doubt anyone could visit here and not want to see these amazing structures from the outside and in.  Their beauty mirrors that of the fundamental principles of Buddhism and has such a fundamental and lasting impact of serenity for most of the people.  It is hard not to be moved.

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With fiance James at the famous and beautiful White Temple, Chiang Rai.

Externally, adventure seekers are drawn from all four corners of the globe.  During my trip I met a solo woman traveller (Brooke, from Florida USA) who was on extended holidays from her job as a military and civil air traffic controller based in Kabul, Afghanistan!  She was having a wonderful time traveling through South East Asia and loved Northern Thailand just as much as I did and focussed a lot on hiking as many scenic treks as she could.  Otherwise my fiancé and I met many other couples and singles that could not get enough of the fabulous country and its people.

Below is a video of Brooke and I try a local Thai delicacy…silk worms!

 

Naturally it goes without saying that if you like Thai food, Northern Thailand has some of the most mouth-watering dishes full of taste.  Even the mildest Thai curries are so yummy and the ingredients used are all fresh and very healthy for most diets.  They also offer Thai cooking classes for tourists who want to be able to show off a few exotic culinary skills back home.

 

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So tasty, healthy, looks good…what is not to love about Thai cuisine?

 

While we were there the annual Songkran (Water) Festival also occurred which really should be seen to be appreciated.  This festival takes place at the beginning of the New Year in the traditional Thai calendar.  The festival is the most important/significant in Thailand, originating in Northern Thailand and involves spraying water on anyone in your vicinity as part of a traditionally spiritually cleansing process.  Nowadays the festival has gotten a lot bigger and is all over Thailand.

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Water shooting, spraying and throwing on the streets as part of Songkran Festival.

To quote the website: “A feature of the celebration was that some of the lustral water used to bathe the Buddha images was collected. It was then gently poured onto elders and family members as a sign of respect and to ensure good luck and prosperity in the coming year. What has happened in modern times is that this aspect of the celebration has become its central theme, and has become much more intense. The result is that Songkran now resembles a three day water-fight in which any weapon, from high pressure squirt guns to buckets filled with icy water, is considered fair game.

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Two standing at the ready – and one shooting at us as we go by, in front of a stall selling water blasters.

It has become very popular with younger Thai people, and the younger tourists from overseas, who see it as three days of fun, rather than a religious festival. In fact, most Thai people are happy to take part in this fun aspect of Songkran, particularly as April is usually the hottest month of the year, when temperatures can top 100º F (40ºC). Every year there are calls from political and religious leaders to moderate the festival, particularly in light of the horrendous carnage on the roads, but every year these calls are ignored.”  I had to laugh at James (my fiancé) who got well and truly drenched while traveling in an open tuk-tuk and arrived at our accommodation completely soaked!

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A young local girl stands by with her bucket of icy water, ready to soak anyone who passes…the road is definitely not wet due to any rain…

 

Northern Thailand In Summary…

Many enjoy the Northern Thailand region as it’s relatively higher altitude means it is not as hot as other parts of the country.  It still has the warmth of hospitality as anywhere else in Thailand and is surrounded by natural beauty.  It doesn’t have the crazy-busyness of Bangkok or the same heat of places like Koh Samui or Phuket.

I am so pleased to have come here to discover and experience much of this special part of the world first hand and I know I won’t be the last to want to make this trip, as more and more, the word gets out about everything Northern Thailand has to offer.

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Appreciating the intricate beauty of the 600 year old Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep on a mountainside overlooking Chiang Mai.

 

Dear Natalie: Try Outxes Rugged Power Bank

Ask Natalie Banner Dear Natalie: Who else does this?

By Natalie McCarthy

Dear Natalie,

Word on the street is that Outxe sent you another product. What did you think?

Signed,

Someone whose phone is at 2% battery

________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Dear Someone – wait a second. Who lets their phone get to 2%? Seriously, man. That’s just negligent.

Anyway, yes, Outxe kindly sent me their rugged power bank – actually, the 9,622nd rugged power bank they’ve shipped this year (a cute little thank you card came inside the box informing me of this fun fact!). Maybe you should receive number 9,623, since you seem to treat your phone’s charge with such brazen disregard.

 

Outxes Rugged Power Bank 1

 

But seriously – if you’re as hypervigilant about maintaining a charge as I am, you will adore this power bank. Given how rugged and useful Outxe’s line is, I’m not surprised so many of these bad boys have been shipped across the world. They’re popular – and photogenic! Okay, maybe they haven’t made the cover of Vogue just yet, but they are huge on Instagram! Outxe sponsors a monthly photo contest. Folks snap a pic of their Outxe product in the great outdoors and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #RealPowerSurvives. Once a month, one lucky winner scores a prize worth $100, and twice a year, a super-lucky person draws a $500 prize.

 

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One of the contest photos

 

I’m excited to enter the contest. I just need to find the perfect outdoorsy scene….

The Outxe Rugged Solar Power Bank arrived in a sleek black box with an instruction manual in several languages (more proof that keeping your phone charged appeals to people of all linguistic backgrounds!). Given my confusion with Outxe’s last product about water resistance, my eye immediately noticed that the Rugged Solar Power Bank is – get this – waterproof!  I have evidence. Are you ready?

 

 

Yes, that’s my power bank in my bathroom sink.  As you can see, an indicator light was still on after I pulled it out of the water. (Also – I didn’t get electrocuted!)

If you’re a spec person, allow me to offer you this:

  • 20,000mAH/74Wh capacity
  • Lithium-Polymer battery type
  • IP67 waterproof level
  • Input: Micro-USB at DC 5V/2A (max); Type-C at DC 5V/3A (max); Solar charging at 5V/400mA/2W (max). You can double-charge via Micro-USB and Type-C at the same time, shortening the recharge time to under 7 hours.
  • Output: One is DC 5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A (max), and compatible with QC2.0, 3.0, and other quick charge protocols with 9V output. The other is DC 5V/2.4A (max). The power bank self-regulates to 24W when you use both outputs simultaneously to charge two devices; this avoids overheating.
  • 170 x 86 x 30 mm in size and 525 grams in weight

So what do I think? In a nutshell, it’s awesome.

Drawbacks

  • It is a bit heavy. It’s worth noting that “heavy” is relative; in the hiking and backpacking world, where weight is carried directly on one’s back, just a gram or two can make the difference between “heavy” and “not that heavy at all.” For car camping, kayaking or boating, or any other activity where space and weight aren’t so pressing an issue, I think this unit will be perfect.

Benefits

  • It can charge two devices at once! Seriously!
  • This power bank can be reloaded a few ways: Micro-USB, Type-C, or via solar panel! The Micro-USB and Type-C inputs take about half a day to fully restock the power bank, which is really reasonable in terms of charge time. The solar panel, of course, takes longer – about 70 hours under ideal conditions. Still, not too shabby, particularly when you consider…
  • …you will not deplete this power bank right away! I charged two devices off it simultaneously for about two hours, and they barely made a dent in the bank’s reserves. It’s been well over a week and my bank is just now indicating that it needs to be repowered.
  • It’s waterproof! The outlets are perfectly covered by little rubber caps. I wouldn’t recommend randomly throwing electrical devices into the ocean (or your sink) for fun, of course. Still, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that a splash or some rain won’t ruin your power source.

If you’d like to check out this or other Outxe products, head on over to Outxe’s website.

See you again soon,

Natalie

 

Great Hikes Down Under

By Eunise Quintano

The Great Outdoors with Great Hikes Down Under!

In case you did not know – but we’re pretty sure you do, Down Under is Australia. The beautiful country of Australia is filled with hiking opportunities you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Through dense rain forests, across open plains, over mountain ridges, beside lakes, and oceans – there’s somewhere here for every type of hiker. Looking for great hikes in this part of the world? We’ve prepared this article just for you! Here are some great hikes you can find in Australia.

 

Great Ocean Walk

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The Great Ocean Walk has enabled many to go where its namesake road couldn’t. The track meanders through eucalypt and gum forest and reaches Cape Otway Light station, goes through sand dunes, beaches and even cliff-top tracks. You’ll see shipwrecks and the world-famous rock formation called the Twelve Apostles.

 

Overland Track

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This Tasmanian hike lets you experience the vast Cradle Mountain trail, known for its eco-friendly lodges that litter the track. There are great views to be found and highlights including Marion’s Lookout with a view of the Cradle Mountain.

 

Cape-to-Cape

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Rugged sea cliffs, eucalyptus forest, a china-blue sea, white beaches, and coastal are just some of the things you will encounter as you hike between Cape Leeuwin Cape and Naturaliste, strategically located in the southwest corner of Western Australia. If you go in the season, you’ll see whales and wildflowers as well.

 

Maria Island

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Whether you take a day trip by ferry take or a 4-day guided walk, Maria Island National Park offer all you want from abundant wildlife, untouched sandy beaches, convict ruins, mountains, and fossil cliffs. The park spans 11,550 hectares, including 1,878 hectares of Albany marine reserve as well as the 7.4-hectare Ile des Phoques.

 

The Bibbulmun Track

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Australia’s perfect answer to the great Appalachian Trail. The Bibbulmun hike makes its way through approximately 1,000km of some of WA’s best scenery. It begins in the hills outside Perth and then whirls through jarrah forests and granite mountains, south of the great karri forests to the southwest, after which through the magnificent south coast before reaching Albany, WA’s oldest town.

You can do the walk-in bits, linking where it crosses major roads, or if you’re a veteran, do it in much longer stretches. You can use many timber shelters that were built 1 day’s walk apart. You can also make use of “Walking Break” packages, which is based on the towns through which the track passes.

 

The Blue Mountains

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No Australian hike is complete without heading over to the majestic Blue Mountains. The bushwalks in the Blue Mountains National Park boasts splendid views of valleys, waterfalls, cliffs, and the lush forest. Plus, the area can be easily reached from Sydney.

 

Here’s a bonus hike for when you really want something out of the ordinary – head over to Victoria for an autumn hiking adventure! Cope Hut to Pretty Valley, Masons Falls Circuit, and Cape Schanck to Gunnamatta track, these Victorian hikes are perfect for newbies and veterans alike. There you go! Now that you have a list of some of the best hikes in Australia, it’s time to rent a car and visit these hiking trails! Don’t forget to book your car in advance to avoid unavailability or surges.

Have fun!

Crow Peak – where the plains and hills collide

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By Robin EH. Bagley

Crow Peak 2If you’re road-tripping along Interstate 90 in the Great Plains, it’s hard to miss the Black Hills, an island of tree-covered mountains in the middle of an ocean of prairie. The Black Hills, or Paha Sapa to the native peoples of the Northern Plains, are entirely unexpected but offer fantastic hiking and camping opportunities. Plan a stop in Spearfish, South Dakota to hike Crow Peak in the Black Hills National Forest.  Crow Peak dominates the landscape west of Spearfish, its height makes the summit one of the best vantage points in the area and well worth the climb. Another bonus is that the trailhead is only about seven miles outside of Spearfish, so you can make the hike and cool off in town with a local microbrew.

The trailhead starts at an elevation of 4,200 feet, and the summit rises to 5,760 feet. Math doesn’t lie. You’ll climb over 1,500 feet in the 3.2 mile hike up, so be prepared to take breaks when you need to and bring plenty of water because a climb like that is a great workout. Who needs the gym?  It’s the ultimate stair climber with fresher air and better views. The US Forest Service rates this trail “difficult,” and that’s true for the ascent. However, what goes up must come down, and the 3.2 miles back is all downhill.

Plan to spend some time at the top enjoying the views. Looking west you can see into Wyoming, and to the east you can see Mato Paha (Bear Butte). Watch for swallowtail butterflies at the top especially if any native plants are blooming. You’ll also want to watch out for snakes, which are always possible in the Black Hills. Rattlesnakes are possible, as are non-venomous bull snakes, but it can be difficult to tell the difference, so be watchful and keep your distance if you do see one.

The Black Hills are notorious for fast-brewing thunderstorms May through August, so hike early in the day in order to be off the peak before afternoon storms hit. If a storm brews up while you’re on the trail, turn around and head back down. Speaking from experience, Crow Peak gives hikers an excellent view of lightning storms, perhaps too close for comfort.

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After a hot hike, celebrate with a cold beer from Spearfish’s local microbreweries, Crow Peak Brewing and Spearfish Brewing Company. And if you’re looking for some local fare, stop into Killian’s Food & Drink for the best fries west of the Missouri River.

Crow Peak’s trailhead is easily accessible from Spearfish. Just head seven miles west of Spearfish on Higgins Gulch Road and watch for the sign and parking area. Maps are usually available at the trailhead, but you can pick them up at many area visitor centers or download them from www.fs.usda.gov/recmain/blackhills/recreation. There are a number of Forest Service campgrounds in the area as well, check out www.fs.usda.gov/activity/blackhills/recreation/camping-cabins and look for the Northern Hills category.

 

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Dear Natalie: Try the Urban Canairie Hat

Ask Natalie Banner Dear Natalie: Who else does this?

By Natalie McCarthy

Dear Natalie,

What are your thoughts on Urban Canairie’s outdoor hats?

Signed,

You all, because you like covering your head

__________________________________________________________________

 

Dear friends,

I’m going to be honest with you: Getting gifts in the mail is really, really great. I mean, it exceeds the typical daily level of greatness; it is a special degree of great.  And since I’m pretty excitable anyway, you can imagine my joy when a gift box arrived on my doorstep, all the way from the Canadian Frontier, where bear rugs still growl and the winters make girls into women. Inside the box were two caps from Urban Canairie, an outfitter specializing in outdoor headgear.

Mark Freeman, the company founder, sent me two of his specially vented caps, along with a kind, personalized note. One of the caps was the Arctic Stone color, a nice grey shade; the other, which came with a removable, vented neck-shade, was a creamy Wintery White color.

 

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(Note briefly: As a child, I was taught a serious fashion rule. That rule dictated that beyond her wedding day, a lady must only wear white during the summer season between the end of May and the first week of September. Obviously, I had to take pause and wonder, “Should I wear a white cap when it’s only the first week of May?” Since this cap was a ‘wintery white,’ I figured I could break the rule. Rest assured that no fashion gods smote me.)

I want you to trust my reviews, so let me speak frankly. I had two remarks immediately upon opening this box of hats:

  1. “Oh wow, look at the vents on the top of these caps! Bye bye head sweat!”
  2. “Oh gosh, these… are not… my style.”

Now style is subjective, of course, and my opinion is just one in a sea of bajillions. I figured I’d gather others’ opinions, so I put on the Wintery White cap and snapped a selfie. First, I emailed my picture to Nicole. “I don’t know what to think about this, Nicole,” I said. Next, I texted my friend: “Do I look like a dweeb?” (She responded, “Always.” Gee, thanks a lot!)  Regardless, style is fleeting; substance is the real deal. I decided that even if I looked like a dweeb, I’d take these caps for a test drive on a couple hikes, and I’d make a fully informed assessment.

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Selfie!

 

Drawbacks—all subjective:

  • It really wasn’t my style after all. “I feel like I’m in an old timey Army,” I said to my friend as we set off on our hike. She encouraged me to march stiff-kneed with a long water bottle cradled against my chest. I tried it for a while, and it actually felt appropriate. Turns out my military vibe was spot-on! On the Urban Canairie website, Mark remarks that the hat design was inspired by “the cylindrical shaped, flat topped military ‘kepi’ hats from the French Foreign Legion and U.S. Civil War.” I found this a bit too masculine for my tastes, but my friend – who, like me, dresses femininely – said she thought the hats were neat looking. It really is a “to-may-to, to-mah-to” thing. As the company website mentions, “The hat may be a little ‘different’ looking, however we now live in a world where uniqueness is accepted.”
  • I felt the fit was a bit “iffy,” but this was also a benefit (see below). The hat band fell above my ears, so even when I tightened it, it still felt as though it were resting on the top of my head. I was paranoid that it would fall off throughout the day, and I remedied this by putting my ponytail through the hole in the back of the band.
  • I found the neck shade awkward to wear. I’m not always the best at applying sunscreen to the back of my neck, so I appreciated how the shade protected that area. However, I’m on the petite side (worded less delicately: I’m really freakin’ short; my backpack frames are either child length or women’s XS). Thus, I found the shade a bit too long for me. I imagine adult-sized adults would be perfectly fine with the neck shade’s length.

 

Benefits—More measurable!:

  • One of Urban Canairie’s mottos is “Our Hats Keep You Cool.” This is a true statement. Despite my feelings that the hat fit precariously, the lack of weight and fabric around my ears really did cool off my head. The vented design at the top of the hat significantly cooled things off, too.
  • The bill of the hat is a great size. I’ve found many of the ball caps I wear while hiking have bills made for larger faces; I sometimes feel like I’m hiking beneath an awning. The front of the Urban Canairie hat was large enough to shade my face, but not so big that my line of sight was obscured.
  • In his letter, Mark informed me that others—perhaps those with lots of hair, like me!—have remarked on how these hats do not cause “hat head.” I can vouch for this! Although I certainly don’t put a lot of effort into my hairdo while hiking, I was pleased to see that I did not have a weird dent in my hair at the end of the day.
  • The hats are manufactured in Canada from 65% recycled plastic and 35% American-supplied, certified organic cotton. This results in an ecologically minded product made in fair work conditions!
  • These hats are built tough. I rolled them up, dropped them in dirt, crunched them into my backpack, and accidentally stepped on one, and they came out looking fresh as a daisy. These are meticulously crafted hats.
It might not be obvious, but I was warm here. My face was red and my back may or may not have been sweaty. My head, though, was super comfortable!

 

My final thoughts?  Urban Canairie’s hats are worth a look-see. I can see myself wearing them again, without the neck shade, during a hiking or camping trip. You might opt to wear them everywhere! Let’s focus on function: These hats are, literally, cool. If you tend to run warm, like I do, you’ll be pleased with how breezy you feel wearing these caps.

Feel like learning more? Check out the hats and learn more about Urban Canairie.

See you again soon,

Natalie

Exploring Mount Rogers, Virginia

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By Ashley Barlow

Mount Rogers is most famous for being the highest point in Virginia with a height of 5,729 feet (1,746 m) above sea level!

There are a few different trail options you can take leading to the summit. This includes the Elk Garden Trailhead which approaches Mount Rogers from the west and is a 9 mile round trip hike. The Mount Rogers Trail approaches the summit from the north and is 12 miles round trip. The most popular hiking route to the summit is from the south approach located in Grayson Highlands State Park via Massie Gap. Not only is this trail the shortest, but also the most scenic out of the three. This trail is an 8 mile round trip hike and I decided to hike up and camp out for the night.

The trails approaching the summit provide the most scenic, sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On your trek up, you will pass open grassy meadows and even wild ponies! This was something I had not experienced before and I could not believe that this was in Virginia!

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Although these ponies may be considered wild, they have learned to become very comfortable with people who pass through the park.

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I even had the pleasure of petting a few ponies that came up to me!

Be warned though, these wild ponies are extremely spoiled and were begging me for food.

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Not only did I see wild ponies, but there were even some bulls hanging out in the meadow! I did not dare get any closer though!

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There were many campsites located along the trail on the way up. It was a popular weekend for camping and most of the camp sites seemed to be taken. I kept continuing along the path and thankfully lucked out with one of the most scenic and last campsites before the top. I was able to get the tent set up just before sun down and the views did not disappoint!

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I was spoiled to a breathtaking mountain sunset as the sky lit up in various shades of pink!

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I even made myself my own fire and spoiled myself to some smores! Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this!?

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The next morning I arose to the sound of drizzling rain. The rain had thankfully died off by the time I decided to pack up which made for a cool morning hike. It was only a few short miles left to the top.

The top of Mount Rogers features the most northern high-altitude Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests. The only one of its kind in the state of Virginia with only 5 others in existence! This forest, in particular, is one of the few remaining that contain a Fraser fir tree; a high altitude evergreen tree normally found above 5500 feet (1700 m) in elevation.

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I had never seen trees like this before and I felt like I was in another world when I entered the spruce-fir forest. It was quite a magical experience and I was still in shock that this was located right here in my home state of Virginia!

Contrary to most hikes, the top of Mount Rogers does not feature an overlook because of the dense spruce-fir forest. Nonetheless, the hike up approaching the summit more than made up for the scenic vistas. When you approach the top, there is a National Geodetic Survey triangulation station disk on the rocks in the middle of the forest. They are easily missed and not the most impressive.

Overall Mount Rogers was one of the most amazing hikes I have ever done in the state of Virginia. The wild ponies, open grassy meadows, the scenic sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the magical Southern Appalachians spruce fir forest definitely make it one of my favorite hikes around. Despite it’s far distance, Mount Rogers is worth the drive if you’re looking for a scenic hike. Plus it is the highest point in Virginia that even features wild ponies!

DRIVING DIRECTIONS

Grayson Highlands State Park is located near the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. From where I live in Fairfax, Grayson Highlands State Park was 342 miles away and about a 5 hour and 16 minute drive. When you enter the park, the park rangers will direct you to where you need to park at the beginning of the trail head. It was very crowded that weekend and the parking spots were full so many cars parked over on the side of the road.

  1. From Interstate 81 S take exit 50 toward VA 11/Atkins
  2. Take Va-16 S for 47 miles to VA0362 N in Wilson Creek
  3. Turn left onto Nicks Creek Rd for 4.4 miles
  4. Turn left onto VA 16 S for another 17.4 miles
  5. Turn right onto US-58 W for 7.7 miles
  6. Then turn right on VA 362 N for 1.8 miles to enter Grayson Highlands State Park

TRAIL DIRECTIONS

To reach the summit via the popular Massie Gap look for a huge open field. You will follow the signs and start out on the Rhododendron Trail for about half mile towards the Appalachian Trail. You will then turn left and follow the Appalachian Trail up towards Wilburn Ridge through the Rhododendron Gap. As you continue you will pass the Thomas Knob Shelter to the short spur trail which leads to the grand finale at Mount Rogers summit!

FEES

There is a fee when entering Grayson Highlands State Park. For weekends there is a $3 fee and during the week there is a $2 fee.

MAP OF THE PARK

 

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