A review on High-Altitude Trekking in Ladakh, India

Political Location Map of Ladakh (Leh)
Political Location Map of Ladakh (Leh)

Getting there:

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.

 

Reviewed by:

Carley Fairbrother, British Columbia Canada.

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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

The mountains.

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.

 

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Looking up at the mountains on the drive to Pangong Lake

 

Trekking.

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.

 

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The fertile Markha Valley

 

The culture.

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.

 

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Looking up at Thiksey Monestary

 

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. 

 

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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.

 

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Yaks visit our tent at Korzok Pho, a summer camp of the Changpa Nomads on the Chantang Plateau

 

 

Exploring ruins

I loved exploring the many old, crumbling buildings.  My favourite was the ruins at the top of the hill above Shey Palace.

 

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The ruins above Shey Palace

 

Things that make this experience different or unique

The landscape

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.

 

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The green pastures of Tso Kar Basin

 

The people

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.

 

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A local Changpa man provided the ponies for the trek

 

The animals

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.

 

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A blue sheep visiting camp on the way up Stok Kangri

 

The roads

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.

 

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Things visitors should be aware of

Altitude

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.

 

Traveler’s Diarrhea

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.

 

Internet

Don’t count on internet access.  In fact, count on not having internet.  It can be down for months at a time.

 

Money

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.

 

Booking tours

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:

Go trekking

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.

 

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Visiting with a pair of curious Changpa boys

 

Climb a mountain

If you can, don’t miss out on your chance to climb a Himalayan Peak.

 

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Clay’s final push to the top of Stok Kangri

 

Climb to the roof of Namgyal Tsemo Fort to watch the sunset over Leh.

 

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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.

 

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 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.

 

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Budget considerations

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.

 

Facilities/nearby activities

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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

Find Out More

I will be releasing videos about my Ladakh trip throughout the fall and winter on my YouTube channel.   https://www.youtube.com/c/TheLastGrownupintheWoods1

Check out these videos of Carley’s trip in and around Ladakh:

 

 

 

 

The Lean-to Virgin, A Comical Journey

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By Janiel Green

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.

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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.

 

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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.

lean-to 4With 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.

lean-to 5When 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”.

 

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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.

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lean-to 8I 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).

 

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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.

                                                                                                                                                                                   

Author: Janiel Green from https://culturetrekking.com/

Janiel is a Physician Assistant with a Passion for helping people and traveling.

Culture Trekking LLC and its community are committed to connecting culture, exploring without boundaries, finding unique adventures and serving those throughout the world.

Janiel has been able to visit 5 of 7 continents and 16 of 196 countries and she hopes to visit all 196 within her lifetime.

 

Tips for Becoming a Better Outdoorswoman

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By Andrea Willingham

Whether you grew up in an outdoorsy family, or are just now discovering the joys of outdoorsmanship, there’s a lot to know and a lot to learn about this wonderful world of exploration and adventure in the great outdoors. And despite what the media and history books might have you believe, women have always been a part of this world as well, if not perhaps in different capacities at different times. Believe you me, we have always found our own ways to take part in the fun! One of my biggest pet peeves about the traditional pubic portrayal of outdoor recreation is that you have to be tough, or strong, or masculine to participate. I would argue that spending time outdoors can help you become stronger, but it is by no means a prerequisite to getting outside, challenging yourself, or adventuring.

As women, we are so often deeply socialized to believe that it’s not safe for us to be alone or outdoors without a man along with us. I think in recent years this myth has become increasingly dispelled, but I’m still frequently surprised by how many women I meet who struggle with this. That said, because many of us in the US (and many other countries) live in a culture where we do worry about these things, there are some best practices we can follow to ensure our safety, boost our confidence, and maximize the fun.

 

Do your Research

 

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Anytime I’m planning to go out on a hike (especially if I’m planning on going solo), I put in a little bit of research ahead of time. I’m looking to find out things like how long the trail is, if it closes at a certain time, how strenuous, what the conditions will be like, whether there is cell service, what the road condition is, how far away it is, and how crowded or remote it is. A simple Google search can find you most of this information, but many areas also have good guide books, visitor centers, and ranger stations to consult.

Funny story: Last June I decided to solo hike up in the mountains not far from where I live. It was a warm, sunny 80-degree F day. I thought I had done my research – I Googled it, read some blog posts about the trail, looked it up in my guide book. However, when I arrived, I found the road cut off by a wall of snow halfway up the mountain! Turned out, I had completely missed the detail about the trail only being accessible July-September. So don’t just “do” your research. Also keep in mind what to look for, depending on where you’re going! 😊

 

Be Prepared

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Fortunately when I came across that wall of snow last spring, I had come well-prepared for any conditions. I had plenty of food and water, warm layers that I had been sure I wouldn’t need, a change of shoes and socks, and even had a trekking pole in my car. I parked at the edge of the snow, and hiked in another mile or two and had myself a lovely picnic lunch! My friends often laugh at me for being overprepared whenever we go hiking, but I guarantee you about 85% of the time, someone ends up needing something that I just happen to have thought to bring.

Extra layers, rain gear, a change of socks, extra water, extra snacks, first aid supplies, and a back-up plan I think are the best ways you can be prepared for any outdoor day hike or overnight trip. Take a photo of the trail map for where you’re going, too, if there is one. Whether this is on a kiosk sign, in a guidebook, or online, get a picture of that map, because you may want to consult it later!

 

Be resourceful

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Focus on keeping your bearings as you hike. Note which way the water is flowing if there’s a stream or river (you can always backtrack upstream or downstream if you know which way you came from). Keep an eye out for landmarks. Note the direction of the slope if you’re on a mountainside or hill. Listen for traffic if you’re near a major road. If you’re a real nerd like me, you’ll probably try to learn the local flora and fauna ahead of time – what grows near water or in dry areas, which plants are edible, which are dangerous, the geology of the landscape. Being aware of your surroundings and the signs of nature around you is an enormously useful tool for becoming comfortable in the outdoors.

 

Trust yourself

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There’s a lot to be said for trusting yourself, and I think it’s actually easier to trust yourself when you’re alone rather than when you’re in a group. In recent years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable calling it quits even when the rest of the group wants to keep going. If you’re exhausted and your body says, “Nope, I’m done,” or if you have that tingling sixth sense that something just isn’t right, trust your gut. Make a plan with the rest of the group to either wait for them, or meet up at an agreed time and place. Stick with a buddy if you can (usually if you’re hiking in a group, there’s probably at least one other person who feels the same way you do!). Clear communication is essential when you’re looking out for your own needs and safety outdoors. Anyone who makes you feel bad about having to stop or turn back is not worth your time.

 

Attitude is Everything

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Whether you’re hiking alone or in a group, attitude really is everything, and it can be the difference between a great experience, or the most miserable day of your life. There’s a practical component to this as well though – having a positive attitude can actually increase your chances of survival in some emergency situations. Sometimes called “The Attitude of Survival,” having control over your state of mind can help you keep calm, clear-headed, and thinking straight even when you find yourself lost, in a sticky situation, or unsure of things. As difficult as it is sometimes, we are almost always in control of our attitudes; it can be hard to switch from being panicked or upset to feeling determined and upbeat, but it can be done and it can empower you to find the strength and resources you may need to change the situation you’re in.

These are just a few of the “tools” I keep in my own personal mental toolbox as an outdoorswoman. What are some of yours? What kinds of experiences have you had that have made you the outdoorswoman or outdoorsman you are today? What tips do you make sure to follow when you’re out adventuring? It’s always great to learn from others who enjoy similar activities and have their own tricks of the trade to share!

 

Trekking in Bhutan – From Dream to Reality

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View of Haa Valley, not long after we started our trek.

By Mary Lyons

Bhutan had been a dream destination of mine for a long time, since before I moved overseas. Fifteen years ago I saw a quick blurb about it on television and thought, “I have to go there.” Just a couple of years ago, I finally went. Bhutan is more accessible than many people realize, even though it only has two airlines that fly into the country. The government does limit tourism numbers, but they have never reached their yearly limit since tourism began there in 1974. That year, 287 tourists visited Bhutan.

A lot more tourists do visit these days, but you’ll probably never see a crowd the entire time you’re there. What draws people to this beautiful Asian country? Trekking. Bhutan offers numerous trekking options, but all will be a bit challenging because of the altitude, although I did not experience headaches or altitude sickness like I did on Kilimanjaro. The highest point on our trek was 14000 feet, but we didn’t sleep at that altitude.

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One of many spectacular views on the second day of our trek.

My friend Alan decided to join me for this trip, and I was pretty surprised since he lives in Boston. I lived in Kuwait at the time, so the flight was much shorter for me. We decided to see some cultural sights, do some day treks to popular monasteries like Tiger’s Nest, and do a three-day trek. The three-day trek began in the Haa Valley and included two nights camping, three days trekking, and unimaginable views every day.

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Tiger’s Nest Monastery is amazing and not treacherous, but parts of it are steep. So worth it.

Walking the Walk in Bhutan

We started near the small (tiny?) town of Haa Valley where we walked through some farm land and gradually climbed throughout the day. After a leisurely picnic lunch at 12000 feet, we continued on for about an hour and camped at Saga La at 11,800 feet. We arrived at camp around 2:00 I think, and I fell asleep in my tent just as rain started to fall. We had tea and snacks around 3:30 and dinner at 6:00. Lots of time to rest, read, write, and chat. Our guide never stopped talking, but fortunately for me, he shared some fascinating information about Bhutan and seemed willing to answer any question I asked, even if the subject was a bit sensitive.

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Cook, me, Alan, horseman, and in front the helper and our guide, Sonam. Sonam is not shy, but the others sure were.

The next day we started out around 8:00AM and had about five hours trekking, but with frequent rest breaks that we didn’t really feel we needed. It wasn’t actually that strenuous, even though we were trekking between 13000 and 13800 feet nearly all day. We had amazing views of Chomolhari on this day. We arrived at camp just as a hail storm and rain hit, but our guide, Sonam, and the other members of the staff set up our camp and managed to dry our tents on the inside so we could wait out the rain. On this night, we camped at Ningula above 13000 feet where we were surrounded by rhododendrons and had an incredible Chomolhari view the next morning before the clouds moved in. I’m glad I was prepared for the cold at that elevation.

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View of Cholmolhari from our campsite. This photo is unedited.

On day three we started around 7:00AM so we could finish before the afternoon rains, but not to worry! It didn’t rain at all on this day! We ascended to the highest peak of the trek, Kung Karpo, at 13500 feet where there is a small temple highly revered by Buddhists. From there we walked down to Chelela Pass through the thousands of prayer flags where we met our driver. Day three had a couple of steep climbs, but wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. The steep climbs were fairly short and had switchbacks.

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Kunk Karpo Temple at the highest point of our trek at 14000 feet.

We arrived at camp in the early afternoon both days and had plenty of time to read, write in a journal, have tea and snacks, and talk to our guide who has some interesting insights into Bhutanese culture and how it has changed in last 15 years. If you do decide to book a trek in Bhutan, take some time to talk to your guide and learn about the country and the culture. Be prepared for some surprising answers.

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Me at the highest point of our trek at 14000 feet.

Our views were mostly of Chomolhari and the mountains on the border of Bhutan and Tibet. With such stunning scenery, we didn’t miss technology at all. Trekking in Bhutan shouldn’t be taken lightly though, because of the elevation and rain, which when combined with cool temps can be dangerous. My trekking company, Snow Leopard Treks, sent me everything I needed to know before arriving so that I could be prepared.

Preparing for Your Haa Valley Trek Bhutan

Or any trek in Bhutan really…

Preparing to trek in Bhutan is not difficult because the tour operator will provide nearly everything you need. Mine did at least. If your tour operator doesn’t specify what they provide and what you should bring, ask them. Don’t arrive unprepared because, oddly enough, you cannot buy any gear in Bhutan. It’s not like Kathmandu where you can arrive with nothing and buy whatever is needed for trekking, although I don’t recommend that. There are no shops selling gear or even trekking clothes in Thimpu or Paro.

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Welcome to the tiny town of Haa, where nary a decent cup of coffee can be found.

Most likely, tour companies will provide the tent and either a foam or air mattress. Snow Leopard Trekking provided a wonderful foam mattress and even a pillow! But you will need to bring your own sleeping bag, trekking poles, headlamp, and clothes. Although, for my Haa Valley trek, I didn’t even use my poles. I carried them for three days and never once used them. The downhills weren’t that steep and I preferred to use my hands for balance on the brief steep, rocky downhills. Our packs were light, so I didn’t feel the need to use poles.

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Small prayer wheel at the start of our trek. These were a common site at lower elevations.

We left anything we didn’t need for our trek with our driver, who took our belongings to the hotel where we would stay after finishing our trek. While we were not worried about anything being stolen, we didn’t leave any valuables or paperwork behind. Carry these things with you.

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Cholmolhari in the distance, but this was our view, not our destination.

Specific tips for preparing for a trek in Bhutan

1) Shoes are very important and a personal choice. I wore hiking boots, but for the Haa Valley trek, hiking shoes would work just as well. Because trekkers only carry a day pack with the essentials for that day’s trek, the support of a boot isn’t really necessary. The terrain isn’t particularly rocky either. In my opinion, based on my backpacking experience in a variety of terrains, I think trainers, hiking shoes, or hiking boots are all suitable for this trek. I think it depends on what you are comfortable in and the level of support you need.

2) Socks are also important. It’s cold at these higher elevations. Wear wool! Wool socks help prevent blisters and naturally repel water. They keep your feet warm and dry and offer additional padding. I’m a big fan of Smartwool socks. A sock liner can also help keep your feet warm and prevent blisters.

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Smartwool socks on display on a chilly afternoon before tea time at camp.

3) I recommend a sleeping bag with a 0 degree rating or lower. It’s cold at higher elevations, no matter what time of year it is. If you get hot, you can always stick your leg out.

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Our trust steeds and porters on our Haa Valley Trek.

4) It rains all year round in Bhutan, even when it’s not the rainy season. You’ll need a rain jacket and pants, and a pack cover for your day pack. You should carry both with you while hiking. Horses will carry your sleeping bag, clothing, and anything you need at camp, but you’ll need to carry your rain gear, camera, etc. You’ll need to bring a backpack or duffel bag to use for anything you want the horse to carry. Your backpack will be carried inside a waterproof duffel.

5) A headlamp comes in handy in camp for getting around, making a midnight toilet run, or reading in your tent. We had a toilet tent, so as the only female in my group, I was thankful for the privacy, even though it was basically a portable toilet over a hole in the ground. It was fully stocked with TP, too.

6) Other things you might want to bring include a hat, pack towel, bandana, sunscreen, lip balm, and wet wipes for washing your face. The sun can be relentless when you’re at that elevation.

On being the only female…

I would like to add a note here about being the only female on my trek in Bhutan. The guide, horseman, cook, and helper were all male, and they probably will be when you do your trek as well. Women in Bhutan don’t often do these jobs. But not once did I feel outnumbered, threatened, or fearful. People in Bhutan are some of the kindest I have met during my travels. Everyone on my trek, except for my guide, was actually quite shy and reserved, but it could have been because they didn’t speak English. It was a wonderful experience and until I had to use the toilet, I hadn’t given a second thought to being the only female on the trek. But I was very thankful for the toilet tent.

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My friend Alan and me at the end of our Haa Valley trek with helpers and two dogs that trekked with us the entire three days.
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Another view of Haa Valley.

 

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Lunchtime on our trek. This is our cook. He was amazing.

 

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Our handsome horseman preparing our porters, I mean, horses.

 

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This lovely Bhutanese man was a prayer wheel in his village at the start of our trek.

 

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Prayer flags are a common sight in Bhutan. These were near the end of our Haa Valley Trek.

 

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My guide, Sonam, on our last part of the trek, carrying flowers home to his wife.

 

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Another unedited view of Cholmolhari using a zoom lens.

 

How Backcountry Camping can decrease Stress, Pain, and Renew your Appreciation for Life.

Backcountry Camping 1

By Amy Fahlman

Overworked, overstressed, not enough hours in a day, responsible for too many tasks, projects, or people?  As a physiotherapist, I commonly encounter how a high demand, high distraction lifestyle manifests not only as mental anguish, but physical pain.  However, recent research has shown you can actually reverse these negative effects by spending time immersed in nature.  This is why I love backcountry camping – to routinely unplug from devices and reconnect with oneself.  Here are the top 5 ways backcountry camping improves your health.

 

  1. It improves mental capacity.  Attempting to stay focused and productive in an environment of emails, texts, push notifications, advertisements and noise pollution is mentally draining. David Strayer studies how we can reset these effects by what he refers to as ‘the 3 day effect.’  He has found people perform 50 percent better on creative problem solving activities after they have spent 3 days immersed it nature. The tranquil sights and sounds of nature don’t require the same level of mental focus as our typical day, giving our brains a chance to rest and recover.  This actually restores our mental capacity so when we return to our usual tasks, we are actually more productive.

Backcountry Camping 2

 

  1. It improves physical health and training capacity. Paddling or hiking trips require daily, multi-hour, low level aerobic exertion.  More commonly referred to as zone one heart rate training, during these trips you are working your heart at a low level of your training capacity over a long period of time.  Zone one training builds the base of your cardiovascular fitness, which improves your physical recovery time and teaches your body to burn fat as energy.  Not to mention zone one heart rate training lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and decreases the risk of heart attacks. Though the intensity of paddling or hiking may not be up to your usual workout standards, you are allowing your body to recover while continuing to be active, so you are getting health and fitness benefits at the same time as you rest from exertion.

Backcountry Camping 3 

 

  1. Less is more. It’s hard not to get caught up in our consumer driven society.   Keeping up with the proverbial Jones’ can leave us unfulfilled and constantly consuming more.  However, one gruelling long portage through a boggy swamp is enough to reconsider the extra amenities.  Pack simple and light.  You don’t need much to meet your needs in the backcountry.

Backcountry Camping 4 

 

  1. The appreciation for an abundant fresh water supply. Living in Canada, I have grown accustomed to fresh drinkable water flowing endlessly from the tap.  Though when backcountry canoeing, water is readily available in the lake and river systems, it is not so easily consumed.   Here you must consider how to safely collect and purify drinking water.  It’s a small extra step, but it brings the ease of first world water consumption to the front of our consciousness.  We are extraordinarily lucky to have an abundance of fresh water in Canada, a privilege billions around the world will never experience.  This serves as a reminder not only to be grateful for the world’s fresh water sources, but also to be conscious of consumption and preservation for future generations.

Backcountry Camping 5 

 

  1. Let go of what you can’t control.  You can’t control the weather, neither literally nor figuratively.  Sometimes the conditions won’t be all that pleasant, and you will have to push forward and tolerate the discomfort if you want to make your destination. Likewise, sometimes it’s going to storm heavily and you’ll need to stop moving.  These things happen.  Yes it will slow your progress, but in the end that’s ok. Eat, nap, meditate, rest, refuel, refocus, and then push on. Certain aspects of life are simply out of your control.  It’s not good luck or bad luck, it just happens.  My advice – avoid checking the weather forecast.  If you approach each day in the backcountry without expectations, you will always be able to find gratitude in what you are given.

Backcountry Camping 6

 

If you have never experienced backcountry camping, but are at all conscious about your health and fitness, I would certainly recommend you give it a try.  You may be impressed by the wellness benefits you gain while exploring the world’s natural beauty.

 

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

Bhutan 1
Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery

By Mary Lyons

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Town square in Thimpu and view from my hotel room.

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

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

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

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

VISA TO BHUTAN? THAT’S THE EASIEST PART!

Bhutan 5
Bhutanese people at a local temple at one of the largest prayer wheels I’ve ever seen.

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

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

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

Bhutan 6
Me, Big Buddha, and the only decent cup of coffee I had during the entire stay in Bhutan.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Artists at the Handicraft Emporium.

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

 

WHERE SHOULD I GO ON MY TREK IN BHUTAN?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Prayer wheels on the way to Tiger’s Nest.

 

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

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

 

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

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This is a yak. Yaks are awesome.

 

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Spinning the prayer wheels. They are everywhere.

 

Avoiding Bear Problems in the Backcountry

Avoiding Bear Problems 1

By Carley Fairbrother

I went on my first backpacking trip when I was 19, and since then, solo backpacking has been an important part of my life.  It does shock people sometimes, though.  One of the first things people ask is, “what about bears?”

On the other end of the spectrum, I hear people talking about their bad habits and saying, “I’ve been doing it like this for years, and I’ve never had a problem.”

Both these mind frames can really ruin a trip.  On one hand, the fear of bears can hold people back from immersing themselves in nature, but on the other hand, being too relaxed about it can result in disaster.

What we really need to bear in mind (pun intended) is that bears think a whole lot like us.  We have similar food preferences, we’re both curious, neither of us are great hunters, and we’re both pretty darn smart. It makes sense that we run into each other so often in nature.  It’s helpful to keep those similarities in mind when considering how to avoid dangerous situations with bears.

Avoiding Bear Problems 2
Berries – a favourite food of humans and bears

 

On the Trail

Like us, bears want to avoid other large predators. It’s their instinct to avoid us, and knowing where we are will allow them to do just that.  They don’t like being surprised, and running into a potentially harmful creature like a human may trigger some aggressive behaviour.

Avoiding Bear Problems 3

A lot of people like to bring bear bells with them, so that they are constantly making nose.  However, I’ve heard of accounts of bears coming to inspect the curious noise.  This is unlikely to create an aggressive encounter, but it’s something to keep in mind.  The main reason I don’t use bear bells is that it stops me from hearing my surroundings.  Aside from the fact that I love the peace an quite of the forest, I feel a lot more comfortable if I can hear a large creature moving around in the underbrush.  Instead I opt for yelling periodically – something like “Hey bear ” or “Way O.” This also lets other people on the trail know that I am human.

 

Avoiding Bear Problems in Camp

Bears usually wander into camp because they’re hungry – no, not for human flesh, but for whatever delicious meal the humans have been cooking up.  Bears have very similar food preferences to us, though they are significantly less picky.  This means that you have to watch out for things like your garbage and sunscreen too.  To keep your camp safe, follow these three rules.

Avoiding Bear Problems 4

 

 1. Store your food (and other smelly stuff) properly

When it comes to storing food, it’s important to put it somewhere where a bear isn’t going get to it.  Anything that smells, such as chapstick, toothpaste, dishes, sunscreen, and garbage should be stored with your food. Some folks say to put the clothes you wore while cooking in the bear cache, but I don’t think that’s necessary unless you’ve spilled food on them or have been gutting fish all day.  And yes, a bear can smell your candy bar, so don’t even think of trying to store it in your tent for a midnight snack.  When it comes to how to store your food, there are a few options.

Avoiding Bear Problems 5

 

Use the bear cache provided: A lot of sites that are maintained by parks will have bear caches already set up.  They can come in the form of big metal lockers, a cable and pulley system, or, if you’re lucky, an old rickety ladder leading up to a sketchy platform.  Use these if you can.  If those aren’t available there are other options.

Avoiding Bear Problems 6

 

Hang it from a tree:  This is probably the most common method.  It’s a pain in the butt, but all you need is a waterproof bag and some rope.  There are a number of ways to hang food, the simplest being to throw something weighted (I use my water bottle) over a tree limb, tying one end to my food bag, pulling it up, and tying it off to a tree trunk.  Of course, there is always the risk that I’ll lose my water bottle in a tangle of branches, and it can be hard to get it far enough away from the tree trunk using this method.  Speaking of which, your food bag should be 2 m (6 ft) or more away from the trunk and 3 m (12 ft) above the ground to actually get it out of reach of a bear.  Make sure your bag for this method is waterproof.

Avoiding Bear Problems 7

 

Use bear proof canisters: If you like camping in places with no trees (or small trees), hanging food from a tree is obviously not going to work.  Even in some forested areas, bears, being the smart critters that they are, have managed to figure out that getting that yummy smelling bag down from a tree isn’t actually that hard.  As a result, many busier parks, particularly in the United States, now demand that food be kept in a bear canister. This saves you the trouble of hanging it from a tree, but they are heavy (at least 1 kg/2 lbs) and bulky.

Avoiding Bear Problems 8

 

Use bear resistant bags: Bags such as the Ursack are made of tough, bear resistant fabric.  They are light and easy to stuff into your bag. The drawstrings are very strong, and allow you to tie the bag to a tree.  The downside is that a bear will be able to crush your food, and probably get a tooth or two through the fabric.  As a result, most of the parks that require bear canisters do not allow bear resistant bags.  This is, however, my preferred method.  If I’m camping in the forest I will put it in a 20 L dry bag and hang it from a tree.  If I’m camping in the alpine, I will hide it outside of my camp and try to tie it to a rock or a dwarfed tree.

Avoiding Bear Problems 9

 

Odour Proof Sacks:  There are a number of companies that make odour proof sacks. The most popular is LOKSAK’s OPSak.  I’ll admit that I haven’t used them, but many people swear by them. This should be used in combination with one of the other methods, and not a replacement for it. I’ve heard of people keeping their food in a “smell proof” bag in their tents. Bears have an amazing sense of smell; some sources say that a bear can smell a carcass upwind from up to 30 km (20 miles) away.  Sorry, I but I trust a bear’s nose over a piece of mylar.  However, many of these bags are very light and make an excellent supplement to your food bag or canister.

 

2: Store your food away from camp:

Don’t get caught up in idyllic campsites on TV and movies where happy campers are roasting their hotdogs over a fire with their tents only a few feet away.  Evidently, movie makers don’t know much about camping in bear country.  Sleeping near anything that smells like food is a bad idea.

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Don’t do this in bear country
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Planning your camp area

 The last thing you want is to draw a bear into camp.  This means cooking and storing your food at least 100 metres (or yards) away from your tent.  You also want to minimize the smell around your food to reduce the chances of a bear finding it.  This means eating 100 metres away from where you are storing your food.  Essentially, your camp should make a triangle, with each side at least 100 m apart.  If you need help estimating distances, that’s about 120 steps.  Unfortunately, some sites are set up with a cooking area or fire pit right next to the tent pads.  Evidently, it’s not just Hollywood who don’t know much about camping in bear country.  If this is the case, still try to find somewhere else to cook.


3. Keep you camp clean:

Going through all these precautions aren’t going to do you much good if you’ve left a bunch of smelly morsels of food around. Try really, really hard not to spill, and pick up what you can if you do. Don’t bury leftovers or put them in lakes or streams, even if you think they will decompose easily.  Aside from bear concerns, this could attract a variety of unwanted critters and disrupt the ecosystem.  Pack your leftovers out or store them and eat them for breakfast the next morning.  Try to eat every bit of food before washing your dishes; heck, lick your plate if you need to (no one cares about table manners in the backcountry anyway, right?). Remember, leaving a mess not only puts you in danger, but also the people who camp there after you.  Plus, no one want see little bits of your ramen noodles in the stream.

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Don’t burn garbage or leftovers.

 

If you follow these rules, it will go a long way to keep you safe.  Bears are just like us but hungrier, and better at smelling things (okay, they also have bigger teeth and shorter tempers).  If you keep food smells away from camp, store you food properly, and make noise while you hike, the only time you are likely to see a bear is from a safe distance.  While following bear safe principles aren’t guaranteed to keep you safe, the vast majority of bear attacks happen when people haven’t followed them.

 

To see all about avoiding bear problems in video form please take a look at the video below:

 

Getting Misty in the Cloud Peak Wilderness

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Lake Helen

By Robin EH. Bagley

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

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

 

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Bull moose chilling in the woods

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Cloud Peak is still five miles away

 

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

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

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

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

 

Cloud Peak 4
Taking a break at Misty Moon. Notice the clear water, and Cloud Peak rising in the distance. Hazy skies are from western wildfires.

 

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

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

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

 

Cloud Peak 5
Finn & I enjoying the view at Misty Moon

 

The Complete Safety Guide for Camping with Dogs

By Bailey Chauner, Redfin

How to Prepare, What to Pack, and Campsite Safety for a Fun Outdoor Adventure with Your Dog

At Redfin, we know that sometimes your home away from home is a tent hidden in the woods. And it wouldn’t feel like your second home without your dog by your side. With summer in full swing, Redfin has compiled the ultimate safety guide for camping with your dog! Camping with your dogs requires a bit of preparation and safety precautions to ensure that you and your dogs can enjoy a safe and fun outdoor adventure – but we’re here to help! We’ve covered important health and safety precautions as well as how to pack the right safety and comfort essentials for your beloved furry family members, and will arm you with important safety tips and information to keep your dogs safe at and around your campsite.

What You’ll Find in This Guide:

  1. Before You Go: Health Checkups and Safety Supplies
  2. Packing for Your Dog
  3. Dog-Safe Best Practices at the Campsite
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Redfin employee Brittany hanging out with her pup, Rugby / Photo credit: Noelle Marchesini

 

Before You Go: Health Checkups and Safety Supplies

This section covers all the know-before-you-go information that you should take care of before planning a camping trip with your dog, preventative veterinary care tips, and more.

First things first: schedule a visit to the veterinarian for a health checkup. If your dog’s health isn’t optimal, ordinary camping hazards can quickly become serious dangers, so you should discuss your camping plans with your veterinarian. If you plan to take your dog backpacking,  you’ll want to make sure that your dog is up to the task physically. Aging or chronically ill dogs may not be physically able to keep up with a daunting trek, so it might be wise to leave Fido with a trusted caregiver in such a scenario.

Check your dog’s records or double-check with your regular veterinarian to ensure that you’re on top of all preventative care, such as core vaccinations like the Rabies vaccine, as it’s possible that your dog may encounter a wild animal with the disease in the great outdoors.

Pests such as fleas and ticks are often common in the wooded areas many people favor for camping. Consider having your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease and make sure that he’s been treated with flea and tick prevention. Additionally, heartworms are transmitted through mosquito bites, so make sure your dog’s preventative heartworm treatment is current for optimal protection.

Pack a first-aid kit with essentials. A few must-have supplies for dogs include:

  • Coated aspirin for pain. Use with caution and give only the recommended dosage (between 5mg and 10mg per pound of body weight). You may also consider a safer alternative, but your best bet is to discuss it with your veterinarian before your trip for specific advice.
  • Tweezers or tick removal tools and scissors
  • Butterfly bandages, gauze, and/or bandages designed for pets to close wounds.
  • Rubbing alcohol or antiseptic to clean wounds.
  • First aid gel or spray designed for pets.

If your pet takes medication regularly for a chronic health condition, take enough medication for the duration of your trip, plus enough to last at least a few extra days. You never know what you’ll encounter in the wilderness, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take copies of your dog’s health records, including vaccination history, and locate the veterinary clinic closest to your campsite before you leave. Save or print the phone number and directions so that they’re easily accessible in case of emergency. Finally, make sure that your dog’s microchip registration is up to date and that your pet has a tag with complete and accurate information so that finders can easily locate you should your dog get lost. If you know ahead of time that you may not have reliable wireless service, you might also consider adding your veterinarian’s phone number or the contact information for a trusted friend or relative.

Camping with Dogs 2
Redfin employee, Bailey, lets Tonka take a dip

 

Packing for Your Dog

This section covers the essential packing list for camping with your dog, including supplies for nutrition, water safety, and just plain fun.

You’ll need more than first-aid supplies for a camping trip with your furry friend, of course. You’ll want to pack your dog’s food and water dishes, as well as enough fresh water to last the duration of your trip plus a few extra days, unless you’re camping at a site with a readily-available supply of fresh water. If it’s going to be warm, keep in mind that your dog may need to drink more water than usual. Take an ample supply of your dog’s regular food and treats, as well. Your dog will have to do his or her business as usual, so you’ll need a good supply of dog waste bags to keep your campsite free of waste and avoid disgruntled fellow campers.

You’ll also want to pack a leash or two, as well as whatever supplies you’ll need to tether your dog while outdoors. Pack your dog’s bed so that he or she can get a comfortable night’s rest. Some dogs prefer to sleep in their crate, but it’s a good idea to take a dog crate or carrier regardless in the event that you need to confine your pup. If the weather will be cooler in the evenings, pack blankets or a dog jacket to keep your furry friend warm in the elements. If you’re heading to a destination near water, a dog life preserver is a good idea, as well as plenty of extra towels to dry your dog off after a swim.

Don’t forget about enrichment. Does your dog have a favorite toy? Take a few trinkets such as balls, frisbees, and squeaky toys to keep your dog entertained. The other items you’ll need to pack for your dog depend on your plans. If you plan on going hiking, for instance, you’ll want a portable water dish that you can easily store in your backpack to keep your dog hydrated throughout the day.

Camping with Dogs 3
Sushiil, Redfin’s E-Learning Specialist, has a camping Corgi named Mugi

 

Dog-Safe Best Practices at the Campsite

This section provides helpful tips for monitoring your dog’s health and maintaining a safe environment for your dog and other campers.

Many campgrounds require that dogs be leashed at all times. Make sure you know and understand the rules if you’re heading for a managed campground; some even specify the maximum lead length permitted. Some campgrounds prohibit dogs altogether, while others place limits on the size or number of dogs permitted. Researching before you go is a must.

Keep an eye on your dog’s well-being throughout your trip. If the weather is hot and humid, you can bet your dog is feeling the heat, too. Watch for signs of heat stroke, such as excessive panting, excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, or seizures. If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, wrap your dog in a towel soaked in cool water and get her to a veterinarian immediately.

Ideally, you’ve already spent time training your dog, but if your dog isn’t the most well-trained pup in the pack, it’s a good idea to start slowly, taking a few short trips to see how your dog fares when exposed to the many new experiences he’ll have during a camping trip. The many sights, sounds, people, and scents can send even well-trained dogs into a flurry of excitement, so testing the waters and learning how to work with your dog to manage behavior will ensure not only his or her safety, but the safety of fellow campers and animals, both domestic and wild.

At minimum, your dog should obey a few essential commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it.” If you don’t know how your dog will react to strangers, particularly excited children, use extreme caution until you’re comfortable with your dog’s temperament in new situations. These commands will come in handy for situations such as encountering poisonous plants or other hazardous substances; a dog who obeys the “leave it!” command will be much more easily redirected than a dog who can think of nothing else but devouring those delicious-looking leaves or berries. You should do your research to know which plants your dog must steer clear of and how to identify them in order to be proactive about keeping your dog away from these dangerous plants.

Above all, have fun! A camping trip is a great opportunity to kick back and relax. When you take the proper precautions and keep safety top-of-mind, a camping trip is an enjoyable bonding experience for humans and dogs alike.

Camping with dogs 4

 

Resources on Safe Camping with Dogs

This section provides valuable resources on dog health, camping safety, and other essential information for a safe and enjoyable camping trip with your furry friend.

Camping with Dogs offers a wide range of articles about camping safely with your dog.

Ruffwear’s Blog provides advice on all types of outdoor activities with your dog and products to keep them save.

IHeartDogs.com provides 12 important safety tips for camping with your dog.

The ASPCA offers a comprehensive guide to vaccinations for your dog, including information on core and non-core vaccines, regulations and risks associated with vaccination, and how to determine the proper vaccination schedule for your dog.

GearJunkie is an excellent resource for discovering the essential outdoor gear your dog needs for a fun outdoor adventure.

Dogster.com also covers some common outdoor risks for dogs, including helpful tips for helping your dog cope with anxiety from thunderstorms, preventing poisoning, and other helpful advice.

Even in the warmer months, when the sun goes down, the chill can set in. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers helpful cold weather safety tips for dogs and other pets.

CampTrip provides a useful guide for first-time camping with your dog, including tips for getting your dog in tip-top physical shape before your trip, acclimating your dog to tents, and more.

Mother Nature Network offers helpful advice for camping with your four-legged friends, including an informative discussion on determining whether your dog’s temperament is well-suited for camping.

The Humane Society provides a comprehensive list of what to include in a first-aid kit for your dog.

BarkPost names 10 ideal, dog-friendly camping destinations that are surely on every dog’s bucket list.

The Pet Poison Helpline provides a handy list of 10 plants poisonous to pets. Knowing how to identify the plants that your dog must avoid is essential for a safe and enjoyable camping experience.

See the original article from Redfin.

 

Using a post camping checklist or process

Free Checklists post camping

By Lynley Joyce

Packing up, getting home and unpacking is the part of the post camping process most of us enjoy the least. Here’s a bit of a rundown to help you get through it all.

1. Packing up

There are two broad approaches to packing up the campsite.

  1. Clean, dry and organise everything as much as possible to make life easier back at home.
  2. Stuff everything back into bags and the vehicle to worry about when you get home.

Obviously (A) is the better option, but it’s not always practical. If the last day of camping is wet, most of us get out as quickly as possible. Often most of us have better things to do on the last day of a camping trip than ‘housework’. Most of aim for (A), with the post camping process, but usually end up somewhere between (A) & (B).

Aim for the following in order of priority:

  1. Packing 1Put all dirty or wet clothes in one bag (or several bags) separate from clean stuff. You’ll be able to toss those bags in the laundry as soon as you get home.  Hopefully throughout the camping trip you’ve been putting dirty things together, so this should be easy.
  2. Put any dirty eating and cooking items in a single spot, ready to quickly offload into a dishwasher or whatever when you get home.
  3. Pack up clothes vaguely in to bags that correspond to their storage place at home.
  4. Make a note of anything that needs fixing or special cleaning as you go along.
  5. Sweep out the tent before folding it up. If the tent is damp when packing up, just get it in the bag in whatever way is easiest, as you’ll have to dry it out at home.  If it’s dry, shake it off and fold it properly, checking the number of pegs etc.
  6. Put any perishable food in one spot, preferably a cool box, so it’s easy to offload into the fridge at home. Hopefully there’s not too much left by the end of the trip.
  7. Carefully check around the campsite before you drive off to make sure nothing has been left behind.

 

2. Everyone fed, watered and (relatively) clean

Once home, it’s best to get the people in order before worrying about the stuff, especially if some of those people are kids.  Everything is so much easier if everyone has had a good feed and wash. Kids then are generally happy to entertain themselves or go to bed. If it’s a long trip home or it’s late, many people buy dinner on the way home. If you arrive home very late, this might be the most you can hope for until the next day.

 

3. Post camping: Unpack the car

Unless you’re travelling with small children, and you arrive back home in reasonable time, you’ll probably unpack the car and possibly some of step 4 before step 2, with everyone pitching in to help.

 

4. Sort everything out, preferably ready to pack & go next time

Start at the top and work your way down the list. Stop & go to bed when you’ve had enough.

post camping 3a. Avoid a public health hazard

  1. Unpack the cool box and any perishable food.  If the safety of the food is in doubt, throw it out.
  2. Clean the cool box. Leave the lid off so it can dry properly.
  3. Put any rubbish in the outside bin.
  4. Clean any dirty eating/cooking equipment. Your camping stove may need a scrub.
  5. Throw dirty tea towels and cleaning clothes in a laundry basket

b. Avoid long term damage to expensive camping equipment

  1. Air out sleeping bags by turning them inside out in an open area for a while.
  2. Hopefully you swept out the inside of you tent before you packed up, but if not, shake it out now (an outside job).
  3. Set up or hang the tent to ensure it’s dry before packing away. If it needs cleaning, give it a wipe. Check for and follow up any needed repairs.
  4. Check the tent still has a decent number of tent pegs. Straighten any tent pegs as needed.
  5. Completely empty out backpacks and let them air/ dry. Trust me, you don’t want to find old food there the next time you pack for a trip.
  6. If you have wet or muddy walking boots or gaiters, wash them and put them somewhere suitable to dry. If the boots are leather, polish and wax them to keep the leather in good nick. Check the shoelaces and any gaiter straps. If they are worn, make a note to replace them now. It’s easier than having to deal with them half way through your next hike.
  7. Throw all dirty clothes, in with the dirty tea-towels etc. Start washing either the most essential, the dirtiest/wettest or the most valuable first.
  8. If items are wet but not dirty, hang them out to dry & air.

c. Get ready for the next time

  1. packing 4Once things are clean and dry, pack them away, preferably in one or a few locations ready to grab & go next time if you can.
  2. Anything you forgot or didn’t have this time that you needed? Follow it up now while the memory is still fresh. Maybe store whatever it is with your other camping items for next time.
  3. Check you have the right number and range of eating and cooking implements and pack them ready for next time. Remember to check there’s a box of matches with enough matches.
  4. What needs to be replaced in your first aid/emergency kit? Restock as needed, and check the expiry on antiseptic, headache and any other medications. It’s usually band aids that disappear first.
  5. Make notes for yourself for things to remember next time.
  6. Tidy up any remaining stuff in the area you dumped all your camping gear when you arrived home.

d. Flake out

You’re fed, watered, everyone has what they need for the next 24 hours and nothing is going to get damaged if you leave it. Be sure to relax a little and have a drink of whatever it is you fancy.  Get a good night’s sleep in the luxury of your own bed. Most of us are pooped after returning from a camping trip, no matter how enjoyable and relaxing it was.  There’s no point becoming so exhausted from unpacking that you need another holiday.

 

Also don’t forget…

Important: As part of the post camping process, notify any person(s) that you left your Personal Itinerary Notification (P.I.N.) details that you are now safely home again.

A post camping checklist, covering the points included above has also been put together by the author and is able to be downloaded from Camping for Women’s free checklists page.

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