From late November to early December, all Italian skiing areas begin to count down for the beginning of the ski season. If the snow arrives in advance, like this year, the ski resorts first open to the happiness of snowboarders and skiers who for 7 months are in a trepid wait.
Skiing is a tradition in Italy, if you live in the Alps and the Dolomites when you’re a kid it’s the norm to get up on Sunday at 6:00am, prepare skis and boots and leave for one of the many ski destinations with the family.
When I was just a teenager, snowboarding started in my beloved northeast and me and my father, brave sportsmen, were the first to throw ourselves into this new discipline. I still remember the first falls. Now I am at least 17 years that I snowboard and in addition to go out-track there is one other thing that I love when I go to the mountains. The famous aprè-ski!
After a day of skiing it is usual to go for a drink to warm up and relax in the bars that are at the bottom of the track or in one of the many alpine huts. Over the years these bars have also started making music and creating a broader offering, to make the drink at the aper-ski the coolest event of the day.
THE BEST ITALIAN DESTINATIONS – WHERE TO SKI AND HAVE FUN:
With its 115 kilometres of downhill slopes, 30 km of cross-country skiing trails and many freeride tracks, thanks to a perfect climate and favorable position, Livigno is one of the TOP locations for skiing and snowboarding.
Livigno is also famous for festivals and events throughout the season, but especially for the Snowland music festival, a 6-day long music festival featuring sun, snow and famous DJs.
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO (Veneto)
Cortina is one of the most glamorous ski resort areas in Italy since the 1960s. Every respected VIP goes to Cortina at least once a year. But besides the glamor curtain, the “Dolomite pearl” also boasts 86 tracks for 106 km of slopes, as well as one of the best nightlife scenes. If you want to be IN go to the Cortina d’Ampezzo.
SELVA DI VAL GARDENA (Trentino Alto Adige)
Selva di Val Gardena is one of the largest ski resorts in Italy. Why? Simply because there are 4 connected ski areas that together are known as “Sellaronda” for a length of 1200 miles of ski slopes. Unbelievable. You can do the rounds of the districts in both directions without ever taking off your skis or snowboard. In this myriad of possibilities I do not think it is difficult to find events, music, alpine huts in the middle of nowhere where you can do the best apre-ski of your life. Have not you left yet?
PRAMOLLO (FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA)
The Pramollo is a beautiful ski resort located on the Italian-Austrian border and in this mix of cultures you can find snowboard lovers who do the typical Italian aperitif with “Spritz aperol”, eat Italian pizza by drinking an Austrian Villacher beer and closing dinner with a Snapps or Grappa (is the same thing). In addition to sharing recipes and tracks, in Nassfeld there are some of the most fun bars and parties of the season, the metal festival in the snow “Full Metal Mountain”, the carnival event or the most unusual wine festival ever. Unmissable.
LA THUILE (VALLE D’AOSTA)
Do you want to ski and party in the presence of the majestic “Monte Bianco”? The most important mountain in Italy? Then you must go to La Thule in the ski area with the French border. La Thuile at 1441 m has trails that start from 2600 meters with bar and rooms with views of the most envied in the world. A lot of world skiing competitions are held on these mountains and events and amusements follow throughout the season.
Have you ever thought about a winter holiday in the Italian Alps?
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!
“The surest way to mend a broken heart is through a forest wilderness.”
On really confusing evenings of self, I like to drink beer and make up quotations that John Muir definitely did not write. I summon him like my own, personal break-up Yoda the moment a man threatens to rip the sticky, sensitive tissue of my heart to shreds. I need this. A stubborn, fantasy-ridden reminder that things can still be beautiful, even when they do not turn out as I’d hoped. Though very much dead, Muir offers surprisingly warm company, a wild-eyed mountain guru who will hold my hand through the thick fog of being a suddenly single outdoorswoman.
On a chilly Friday in November, following a particularly gut-shattering break-up, I got my dates screwed up and realized that my friends were climbing Mount Baldy the following week. I thought it was tomorrow. I stared at the vacuous, blue light emanating from my iPhone as I wondered whether or not I should still set my alarm and attempt the 11-mile summit. On one hand, I had nothing else to do with my Saturday now that my partner was gone. On the other, my heavy heart had plummeted into the very pit of my stomach where anxiety gestates, and the thought of hiking to 10,000 feet alone and in high winds made me shiver. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” whispered my ghostly sidekick. I fist-bumped the air above my bed, set my alarm, and rolled over to get some rest.
The following morning on the trail, I found my mind sluggish and distracted, wind kissing my cheeks with sharp sprays of cold air that turned my face a bright pink. My thoughts wandered. I didn’t often hike at high altitude alone. I set one foot in front of the other, just like I had done a thousand times before, and put my head down. It became a moving meditation as my brain began to massage the precise details of the breakup into something resembling a lesson.
“Had I asked for too much?” “Was my sensitivity too erratic?” “Could I have better shape-shifted into a form that fit the relationship?” I traversed the alpine landscape as my mind roamed through the rocky debris of my heartache. The sound of gravel beneath my rubber soles bit into the air with a familiar crunch. My lungs burned, and the tips of my fingers went numb from the cold. As the massive hump of Mt. Baldy’s east face came into view, I began to feel solid. Alone, but strong.
This was the moment my mind snapped fully into philosophical reverie. I wondered why I fancied malleability such a desirable trait in myself. It left me exhausted and resentful when partners could not follow suit. After all, what was there to change into anyways? I was already a dancer, a yogi, a mountain climber, a college graduate, a political activist, and a road trip sing along master. I read the news as well as the entire Game of Thrones series. I was everything I strived to be. Why was I depleting myself in frantic attempts to keep partners who failed to proffer the same effort?
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” I thought of John Muir’s apparition high fiving me as I rounded the top of the summit mound. It felt blissful to have soloed the massive peak alone and at my own pace. There was no one to impress but myself. I let out a deep sigh as the wind painted my arms with goose bumps. I was tugging at the thread of this break-up and finding it hitched to the universe of how I approached life itself. Perhaps my 20s had all been a vain attempt at searching for the best thing, the biggest job, or the most compatible partner. I began to feel like I had it all wrong.
Maybe the real journey is to give up the hope of better things on the horizon so that we can follow our gut and truly embrace all the good and badassery that we have in the present. I felt it on that summit, the need to hold fast to my strength and my self-respect so that I would not allow another love to topple my ego. “I am a goddamn mountaineer,” I thought. “It’s time to start calling my own shots.” And, with that, I took off down the mountain, feeling more free than I had in a long while, the halo of Johnny Muir’s phantom trailing behind me like a superhero’s cape.
The easiest way to get to Ladakh is by flying from Delhi to Leh (the biggest town in Ladakh). It’s a two day drive from either Srinagar or Manali and you will pass over some of the world’s highest motorable passes. Be prepared for road closures, altitude sickness, motion sickness, and at least a few adrenaline filled moments.
Carley Fairbrother, British Columbia Canada.
Carley is a self-declared nature nerd from British Columbia, Canada. She spent seven years as a backcountry park ranger in northern BC before becoming an elementary school teacher. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, cycling, climbing, wild foraging, snowshoeing, skiing and most things outdoors. She also runs a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching people about nature and inspiring them to get outside. She travelled Ladakh in the summer of 2017 with her husband, Clay.
Best time to visit:
Peak season in Ladakh is mid-June to August. The weather is warm and all of the roads are open. However, September and early October are less crowded, and monsoon season is over, making the roads safer and rivers on trekking routes easier to cross.
Climate/weather/temperature & appropriate dress
Ladakh, nestled in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, is classified as a cold desert. Winter temperatures average well below freezing. In Leh, summer temperatures can get into the high 30s (celsius) during the day, but nights are still chilly, and most treks will take you into higher elevations where temperatures are cooler. There isn’t much shade n Ladakh, so when the sun is shining, it is relentless. Expect a windchill of -20° celsius if you are going over 6000m.
Bring warm clothes, especially if you are trekking or climbing. Don’t forget a rain coat. June-September is monsoon season throughout India, even in the desert.
Leave your shorts and tank tops at home. While Ladakh can get hot, it’s important to note that local women, even the ones who wear western clothes, will rarely show their arms or legs. While nothing horrible is likely come from you wearing shorts, covering your shoulders and legs shows respect for the local culture. Plus you may save yourself a nasty sunburn. Bring light breathable pants and t-shirts.
Main attractions/Must dos
Just being surrounded by them may be enough, but here are a number of “trekking peaks” over 6000m. These peaks are advertised as non-technical, but usually require ice axe, crampons’, and rope, so unless you are an experienced mountaineer, they are best attempted with a guide. At 6,153 m, Stok Kangri is by far the most popular, but it is far from easy. It requires at least three days (usually 4-5) of trekking, a midnight start on summit day, a glacier crossing, some nerves of steel, and plenty of acclimatization.
If clinging to the edge of a mountain with an ice axe doesn’t appeal to you, there are many milder treks. The Markha Valley trek is a popular 4-10 day trek. It is one of the few treks in Ladakh that offer homestays the whole way, so there is no need to carry a tent or hire ponies. There is also lots of information available on the route and is easy to do without a guide.
Many people travel to Ladakh solely for the culture and history. Ladakh is sometimes referred to as “Little Tibet,” and is culturally and geographically similar to Tibet. There are plenty of ancient monasteries and palaces to explore.
Key Highlights for me
Sunrises at 6000 m
We climbed two mountains over 6000 m while in Ladakh, Stok Kangri and Mentok Kangri Both required midnight starts, so dawn hit as we were nearing the top. They were both extremely challenging, exhausting, and a little terrifying, especially when trying to navigate at night. Once the sun came up, we got our second wind and up we went.
Our trek through Changtang
Chantang is part of the Tibetan Plateau and home to the nomadic Changpa people. We spent seven days crossing it do get to the base of Mentok Kangri, our first climb. Among the highlights were the settlements of Changpa nomads, spotting the numerous kiang (wild asses), camping while surrounded by grazing yaks, ponies, donkeys, and goats.
I loved exploring the many old, crumbling buildings. My favourite was the ruins at the top of the hill above Shey Palace.
Things that make this experience different or unique
This is easily at the top of the list. No matter where you are in Ladakh, you are surrounded by breathtaking views. Be it giant mountains, windswept plateaus, or lush green valleys, Ladakh is the perfect blend of vibrancy and sparseness.
I found their honesty and kindness refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Delhi. I especially enjoyed the Changpa Nomads, with their genuine smiles and tendency to sing while working.
From the domesticated yaks and donkeys to the wild asses and blue sheep, I loved all the animals I saw in Ladakh. We didn’t see one, but there was always the chance of seeing a snow leopard.
Ladakh is home to most of the highest motorable passes in the world. They navigate steep mountainsides on narrow, bumpy tracks. They are often closed from landslides, and motorists often have to cross creeks, gullies, and washouts. By then end of the trip, I was sick of them, but they sure did get the heart pumping.
Things visitors should be aware of
Leh is at 3,500 metres, which is high enough to get altitude sickness. To travel most places, you will have to travel even higher. Be aware of the symptoms and give yourself lots of time to acclimatize. Consider bringing diamox to help you acclimatize.
High altitude can alter your stomach flora, which, combined with India’s reputation for water and food borne pathogens, can be a nasty combination. Be wary of any raw foods that might have come in contact with water, including fresh juices and ice. Bottled water is safe, but I’d recommend bringing a pump and treating your own water, as Ladakh has trouble dealing with all the empty bottles. Consult a travel doctor about antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea before you go.
Don’t count on internet access. In fact, count on not having internet. It can be down for months at a time.
Always have lots of cash stashed away somewhere. There are plenty of ATMs in Ladakh, but most of them don’t work. Look for ATMs with lineups.
If you aren’t on a time crunch, don’t book a tour until you get there. You can probably get a better price if you plan from Leh, and you’ll have some flexibility if a good opportunity comes up.
While here you should:
Trekking should be at the top of your list. It’s the best way to meet locals, spot wildlife, and get a feel for Ladakh.
Climb a mountain
If you can, don’t miss out on your chance to climb a Himalayan Peak.
Climb to the roof of Namgyal Tsemo Fort to watch the sunset over Leh.
Visit Thiksey Monastery, a short drive from Leh. If you go early in the morning, you can listen to the monks chanting and avoid the crowds. The 15 m statue of Maitrya Buddha is the biggest indoor one in Ladakh. Its intricate details are pretty.
Ride the bactrian (two-humped) camels in Nubra Valley. This ended up being more of a tourist trap than I’d hoped, but it was still completely worth it.
Ladakh is a good deal more expensive than the rest of India. Expect to pay 30-50% more for food and accommodation than in the rest of India. You can probably get good deals on the shoulder seasons (spring and fall).
Transportation is probably the biggest expense. Public transport isn’t as easy as the rest of India, so most tourists opt for taxis, which are unionized and have fixed rates. This means less stress haggling, but higher fares. Try to make friends at your hotel and share rides or keep your eye out on bulletin boards outside the many, many tour agencies for bulletins of people wanting to share taxis. Expect to pay around $100 -180 USD a day for a taxi and driver. Flights to and from Delhi cost around $100-300 USD.
A fully supported trip with a certified mountaineering guide, ponies, and a cook will cost around $50-100 per person per day, depending on how many people are in your group, your haggling skills, permit fees, and transportation costs. Be wary of price that are too good. You will pay less if you have more people on your trip. Just a mountaineering guide is around $25 a day. Trekking guides cost considerably less. Equipment rentals will cost around $12 a day per item. Trekking peaks over 6000 m require permits, which can range from $50 to $300 or more. Many places in Ladakh require inner line permits, but don’t panic – they are easy to get and cost a few dollars a day.
Medical – There is a hospital in Leh. Most larger towns have a small medical centre, and there are roadside medical tents at some villages and army checkpoints.
Transportation– The airport in Leh has scheduled flights to Delhi, Jammu, Chandigarh, Srinigar, and Mumbai. Taxis and public buses are easy to find and both have central stands near town. There are many motorcycle and bicycle rental shops.
Banks/ATMs – There are several banks on the Main Bazaar. The State Bank of India has the most reliable ATMs.
Internet – WiFi is available at most hotels and tourist restaurants. An internet cafe on Main Bazaar has extremely slow computers. Unfortunately, Ladakh experiences frequent region-wide outages.
Phone – Phoning home can be tricky. We needed to call home, and ended up using local’s cell phone because the internet phones were down. Satellite phones are available in some villages for emergencies. Cell service is surprisingly good along the roads, but SIM cards are hard for foreigners to get because of the proximity to the borders.
Tour Operators – There are hundreds of tour operators in Ladakh offering car tours, cycling, motorbike tours/rentals, cultural tours, bird/wildlife watching, meditation and yoga, white-water rafting, climbing, and paint balling (yes, paint balling).
Restaurants – Most tourist restaurants have similar menus with a variety of Ladakhi, Indian, Chinese, Israeli, and Western food. Take a short walk away from the tourist areas for cheap Indian food.
Shopping – Leh is absolutely packed with shops selling pashmina shawls, made from the wool of the adorable pashmina goat of the Changtang Plateau. There are also plenty of handicraft and souvenir stores selling hippie clothes, wool hats, and knickknacks imported from Nepal.
If coming here, don’t forget to bring:
A good first aid kit. There is a hospital in Leh anda few first aid posts in Ladakh, but if you hurt yourself trekking, you are on your own. Make sure you bring antibiotics for stomach problems and consider bringing diamox for altitude, though it’s definitely better to acclimatize naturally.
Good travel insurance. Check the fine print. Most travel insurance companies will exclude mountaineering injuries, and you can bet they’ll count any ascents of Ladhaki peaks as mountaineering. Also check if they will cover mountain evacuation and any other dangerous activities you plan on doing.
If it’s in your budget, a SPOT or DeLorme inReach will give some peace of mind to your family. These devices allow you to send messages and your location via satellite.
A Diva Cup, or a similar menstrual cup. Tampons and sanitary napkins can’t go into the toilets, and really shouldn’t go into the composting toilets on trekking routes. If you can’t stomach the idea of a reusable cup, bring your own tampons (they are hard to find in Ladakh) and put them in a trash bin or burn them.
A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. Hats drive me nuts, but I learned the hard way and nearly fried my nose off on our first trek. After that, I got a hat.
Reviewer’s rating out of 10
I give it a 9. I loved the mountains, and the unique culture, but after six weeks, I really missed the forests and lush vegetation I’m used to in Canada.
My first backpacking trip turned out to be an utter disaster. The trip consisted of a backpacking, snow-shoeing trip up the mountaineering route at Mount Whitney in California. I labeled myself as a failure, and the weak link in the party of 3 whom attempted the trip. Granted it was my first time backpacking and had not been prepared for the struggles that were endured.
My trip started to unravel when I realized I had inadvertently grabbed the wrong sleeping bag for the November camping trip. I remember laying down to sleep and my shivering turned into jaw shattering convulsions of my body attempting not to freeze. It was the only time in my life I was afraid to fall asleep, because I did not think I would not wake up — I wanted to appear tough, so I stayed silent.
I said many prayers the next morning when after an emergency blanket, hand warmers on arteries, and my down jacket literally saving my life I decided to always be properly prepared for my subsequent camping trips.
My next camping trip was also to Yosemite National Park, but it was a trip in September and we were packing in our tubes to float on a lake. My roommates at the time & I paired off to help ensure we didn’t forget anything.
My sense of accomplishment came from my list of things I would need. My camping skills were significantly more adept for summer and fall camping then they were for winter camping to be sure. I was paired with my roommate who I lovingly call Jelly Bean, she had far less equipment than I, so I volunteered to gather the needed supplies and food.
With our packs set and the car loaded, we headed southwest from Las Vegas Nevada to our destination. We arrived around 11 am and immediately set out on the trail. I am a slow hiker & had to be kind to myself during the hike that it was only my second time doing a backpacking trip, so it is ok that I was the slow one in the group. I find that if I use my hiking poles it becomes significantly easier for me, due to the fact that I have a constant fire like pain in my feet from Plantar Fasciitis. If I had one piece of advice to readers here, it is to be kind to yourself during these times — you are doing more than 3/4 of those sitting at home on the couch watching Netflix all weekend. If it takes you longer to climb, hike or walk….who cares…..you are moving and not letting self-doubt and fear stop you from exploring your own boundaries.
My companions were kind and offered frequent stops for me, and encouraged nourishment along the way to help Jelly Bean and myself keep going.
When we finally arrived at our camping location, I was so excited to pull out my two-man tent and use it in the REAL WILDERNESS. I pulled out the tent sack, and after unrolling it realized with a sinking feeling that the only thing contained within was the fly & the little bit of sand from the prior trip.
I panicked……what was I going to tell Jelly Bean……..I just stood there trying to conjure the actual tent with my mind. Jelly Bean came over and asked, “What is wrong Janiel?” …….I replied softly, “Uhhhhh, we have a problem”.
I’m so glad Jelly Bean is a good sport because she just laughed at me and said, “Of course you forget the tent! Guess we are sleeping with the bugs tonight”. I promised her that we would have adequate shelter from the cold, and there are plenty of people who camp with much less than what we had. A lean-to was decided upon, and the comedy continued. We had the fly, a tarp, and there was a large fallen tree and plenty of rocks.
I tied the strings on the fly around a few rocks, threw them over the fallen tree and Jelly Bean did the same for the other side, but just tacked the strings down to a pile of rocks at the other end to anchor it.
There were tree limbs everywhere so we stacked rocks and bark on the side of the lean two where the breeze was coming in & some branches on the other side with pine needles as our door. Sleeping bags were inserted and we still had enough daylight to fix our dinner.
Our other roommates who were John Muir Trail Veterans & highly versed in camping supplies watched us build this with entertainment value to rival that of HBO. After all was said and done, Jelly Bean and I were quite proud of our Lean-to and when put to the test it worked exceptionally well.
So, if you ever find yourself lacking supplies in the wilderness, just be creative, mother nature always provides a way. Despite my forgetfulness, Jelly Bean and I now have a memorable story and a certain pride for surviving in Yosemite with our Lean-to (#wildernessbeasts).
Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the flip side! Big thanks to Camping for Women for allowing me to be a part of this amazing group and hope to share more adventures with you in the future.
When I decided to hike 230 miles of the John Muir Trial through the California Sierra Nevada with my boyfriend, there was nothing to warn me how hard it might be.
I joined the John Muir Trail Facebook group, with thousands of members, all of them posting beautiful pictures of alpine lakes, craggy mountains, nests of evergreen trees in valleys far below. They wrote quotes from John Muir, said how much they missed the mountains, what a life-changing experience the hike was. But nowhere was there commentary about the daily grind, the bodily torture, the difficulty in motivating oneself to keep going day after day after day.
It took months of preparation to hike the trail, which is notoriously hard to get a permit for. While the traditional way to hike the John Muir Trail is from north to south, Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, my boyfriend Tom and I decided to do it the other way around. Not only that, we got a permit that began three days, or about 30 miles, south of the main starting point of the John Muir Trail. It was the only way we could get a permit in a saturated market of hikers.
The first day of hiking dawned clear and brisk as we got going at 6:30am out of Cottonwood Meadows, down a dry packed path through manzanitas and pine trees. Our backpacks were laden with 12 days of food, and not all of it fit in our bear canisters. We knew we’d have to hike far enough to find bear lockers to store our excess food.
As I hiked down the trail that day, I realized I’d packed the wrong food. My backpack was way too heavy, beyond the scope of my Osprey 65. The straps cut into my shoulders and waist. I’d later realize the pack was between 50 and 60 pounds, about half of my weight! And that first mountain pass, New Army Pass, was huge.
We’d started at 10,000 feet and the pass scaled 11,000. That first day, my body unacclimated to the altitude, my pack super heavy, was one of the hardest. I panted up that hill in the blistering midday heat, stopping every few steps to catch my breath. Then, I got a bloody nose and had to jam part of a tampon up one nostril as I continued to hike, trying to breathe out of my mouth as dust rose around me. At the top, I could barely walk and ate some dried mango as I enjoyed the vista of glistening alpine lakes far below. But we had to keep going, down to a valley, many more miles.
That night we stopped and camped at Soldier Lake, and my body felt like it had run a marathon. Everything hurt, and my lungs were wheezy due to the thinness of the air. On Day 1, the John Muir Trial was already kicking my butt.
It continued like this for days. There was no break. Every day, we rose with the sun, broke down camp, hiked through amazingly beautiful vistas, then set up our tent, bathed in whatever freezing creek was nearby, and went to bed. Some days, after tramping down miles of loose rocks, my feet hurt so badly I felt like they’d fall off. Where were these stories about the John Muir Trail online? Why was nobody talking about how difficult it actually was?
On Day 4, we summited Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States at around 14,500’. We’d left most of our gear at basecamp, Crabtree Meadows, bringing up only the necessities. We started out at 5:30am, motivated for the 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss and 15 miles we’d have to do for the day.
The scenery was breath-taking, with a deep blue lake shaped like a Guitar and views for dozens, if not hundreds, of miles. Wildflowers bobbed among bright green grass. Crystal creeks burbled and curved through meadows. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen.
But when we reached the top of Whitney there was an ominous sight. Thunderclouds at eye level, building up over the valley and the distant mountains. We saw a sign at the summit, If you hear thunder, descent immediately.
We heard thunder.
We immediately started going down, down, down as fast as possible, stopping once to put on our rain jacket and rain pants. It was the fastest descent ever down 4,000 feet, and I felt my breath become ragged, my skin clammy inside my raincoat. The thunder boomed and reverberated off granite as we ran down switch-back after switch-back.
At the bottom, I felt sick. Nausea swept through me, and I threw up near Guitar Lake. I felt dizzy and spent, the altitude and exertion finally catching up with me. I slowly tried to make my way the last three miles to camp, but had to stop several times to throw up. Tom began to get worried, and encouraged me on. It would be dangerous if I couldn’t make it back to camp. He’d have to go alone, then lug gear back to me. I willed myself to keep walking, and collapsed in the tent at 6pm and fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, skipping dinner.
I woke up at 6am feeling refreshed, and started hiking again. And hiking. And hiking. For 22 days we hiked without stopping, up mountain passes, down into valleys, past crystalline lakes and streams. We hiked through rocky cliffs that looked like they belonged on another planet, and through the lush forests of Le Conte Canyon. Taking a dip in a stream at the end of a dirty, sweaty day never felt so good. Hamburgers and beer at Vermillion Valley Resort and Red’s Meadow never tasted so divine. I felt like on this hike, my senses were elevated, with my body experiencing and feeling everything at a primitive, deep level.
The John Muir Trail is an extraordinary hike, one that will take both your breath and your strength away. You’ll feel like you want to quit, but you’ll keep going just to see the beautiful view around the next bend. We even ran into a Pacific Crest Trail hiker who’d been going for two months already, who said the Sierra Nevada slowed her way down due to the difficulty. I knew we weren’t alone in our struggles.
So, you want to hike the John Muir Trail? Just be prepared for how hard it really is. Be prepared for your body to take a beating, and to struggle physically and mentally over each hurdle. But also be ready to be in pure awe and bliss at the scenery around you, to cry when climbing a mountain pass because you can’t believe the beauty. And be prepared to stop and just look, soaking it all in, because those tears are taking your breath away.
About the Author:
Kristin Hanes is a journalist and writer who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. Besides sailing, she loves anything adventurous and outdoorsy, including hiking, backpacking and traveling. Besides staying active, Kristin also loves cooking, salsa dancing and drinking a good beer. You can follow her adventures on her blog, www.thewaywardhome.com
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.
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.
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
Four season Gortex coat with removable fleece inside from North Face (Gortex is NOT necessary! It’s just what I already had.)
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
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 🙁
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
“Why have I never used these before?!” I quietly exclaimed to myself as I skipped down the side of an ice-covered ridge in Yosemite National Park. Rather than boulder-hopping and mountain-goating from stone to stone as I had on my way up the mountain, I was suddenly free to move, parading over frozen streams and mini-waterfalls with the grace of a Bolshoi dancer. The reason? Microspikes.
I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to buy a pair, or why my little forest-obsessed heart was so afraid and untrusting of winter gear in general. Perhaps Southern California had begun to make a permanent impression, declaring all things cold to be untrustworthy cohorts of the Norse gods, or perhaps I just hadn’t found the right winter monkey posse to push me past my comfort zone. In any case, I am now a convert to the religion of microspikes!
In case you’re new to the scene, like me, here’s the scoop: microspikes are a step down from crampons, tiny sets of metal spikes attached to rubber that quickly and easily snaps up and around your regular hiking boots. They’re mostly used for hiking and mountaineering when ice may be present on the trail and the slope is not greater than 25-30 degrees. The best part? They aren’t like other winter gear that costs $100 or more! One set of these on Amazon will only set you back about $30, and they work like a dream. I bought the Uelfbaby set with 19 spikes, and I couldn’t be happier. Getting out in the fresh powder atop a frost-bitten cliff in Yosemite has made my Scandinavian bones begin to crave the chilly thrill of winter sports. Snowshoeing, frozen ascents, and cross-country skiing are all in my near future, thanks to the wake up call these little foot bayonets provided. I think this may be the beginning of a tremendously fun and gear-centric snow season! Does anyone have an ice-axe I can borrow?? 😉
For many of us, there is nothing like going into the great outdoors to get away from the stress and strife of modern-day life. Unfortunately, however, while being out in the wilderness is great to unwind, it’s still nice to have some connection to the outside world, which is why we also bring our phones with us. However, trying to get reception can be a huge pain, and if you ever lose your device while out in the woods, it can be almost impossible to retrieve it. For that reason, we are going to go over what to do if you lose your communication and how to find your phone with AVG if it is lost.
If you are worried about losing your signal while out camping, you can plan ahead by bringing other devices that can offer you cell service no matter where you are. These include mobile wireless routers, cell phone boosters, and portable battery chargers to help you maintain access to your device at all times. These are the best ways to stay connected, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones.
If You Lose Signal
For those that didn’t plan ahead, you can help improve your signal in a couple of ways. First, you can find a clear, elevated area that can give you more direct access to a signal, or you can craft your own makeshift antenna. Chip cans and aluminum foil can help boost your phone’s range if you know what you’re doing. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials out there that can help.
Losing Your Phone
If the worst happens and you misplace your device while camping, all is not lost. If you have AVG as your Android security and antivirus, then you can track your phone’s location, even if it’s off. This will help you pinpoint where exactly you left your phone so that you can retrieve it. Fortunately, if it’s in the woods somewhere, then you shouldn’t have to worry about someone stealing it.
Overall, the best way to keep your phone in tip-top shape while camping is to plan ahead and have AVG antivirus installed beforehand.
I’m hurtling head first down an icy slope, tips of massive pine trees whizzing past my eyes as I wield my ice axe as hard as I can against the snow. My legs twirl around chaotically until I’m right side up again, digging the tips of my hiking boots hard into the side of the ridge. “STAB THE MOUNTAIN IN THE FACE,” my instructor, Eddy, yells from fifty yards away, and I do. I skid to a stop, my cheeks pink and tingly from their recent caress against the sandpaper that is a frozen peak at dawn. I regain my composure as I stumble to my feet, and I can’t help but pause and stare at the thick spider web of clouds licking the tops of neighboring mountains. I can’t feel my toes, and I’ve got the wildest, grin on my face.
In February, emboldened by all the peaks I couldn’t climb due to snow, ice, and avalanche warnings, I embraced the things I do not know and opted for the REI Mountaineering Skills Level 1 class. I cannot express to you how happy I am that I did. Not only was the class incredibly informative, it also moved at a great pace, was an awesome way to meet like-minded adventurers, and contained huge amounts of fun!
The beginning portion of the day began with a quick tutorial on crampon technique and a brief lecture about snow travel from Nile, a sweet but fierce old-school mountaineer who has 409 peaks under his belt, most notably Denali. The instructors set us loose and had us practice uphill travel with crampons and an ice axe on slick, early morning snow, making sure we were comfortable ascending/descending, turning, and maneuvering the oh-so-sexy duck foot position (pied en canard).
The second bit of the day was where things really picked up their pace, as we learned how to properly glissade. For those new to mountaineering, like me, a glissade is when you glide down the side of a peak on a sled made out of your own butt. From a seated glissade, we were taught the technique of how to self-arrest, which is what I was most excited about. Throwing ourselves down the mountain both feet first and head first, the teachers had us quickly roll to one side and shove our ice axes into the frigid slope to stop ourselves before hitting the ground below. One of the things I loved most about the class was that we had ample time to try each thing we learned enough to start to feel comfortable with the skill. By the end of this lesson, I was getting running starts and purposefully switching my hand grip several times to see if I could still screech to a halt in less than ideal conditions.
After a quick break for lunch, we broke into groups (I dubbed mine the terrible twos), and got to work on learning snow travel in teams. We sidestepped up the now slushy afternoon snow, carefully following each other’s footprints to the letter. Being headstrong and probably a bit too alpha for my 5’2’’ good, I marched ahead, driving our group up most of the steep bank but quickly learned why it’s great to tackle mountains in teams – you get to switch off on the hard work of leading! Now, for me, the type-a overachiever, this is not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m glad I caught glimpses of it in this class, trading responsibility to let other people kick a staircase into the slush so that I could blissfully follow for a while.
In the squishy, mashed-potato snow of late afternoon, we got to glissade down even longer and steeper slopes after having traversed them in our teams, diligently swapping out the leaders. Because I’m a mad woman who doesn’t know when to stop, I thought this the perfect time to practice self-arrest at higher speeds, and it was inexplicably gratifying to have the opportunity to perfect potentially lifesaving mountain techniques with instructors present. I feel far more confident having had three different, highly-skilled people tell me I’m following the right movement pattern to properly work an ice axe than I would have if some random friend had just taken me up a slope and watched me zip down it a few times. For anyone serious about upping your snow skills and tackling bigger peaks this winter, I highly recommend finding your nearest REI store and asking them about their upcoming mountaineering classes!