Beautiful Treks in the North of Italy

By Alessia Morello

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

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

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

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

Trekking in FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

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

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

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

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

 

Il sentiero degli Scalini – The path of the stairs

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

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

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Trekking in VENETO

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

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

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

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Trekking in TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So what are you waiting for!?

Italy is waiting for you!

 

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

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

 

Glamping Southern California Destinations

By Lucy Gomez

Are you wondering about what glamping Southern California means? Did you know that there are a lot of places where you and your loved ones can go glamping? Get to know these amazing destinations by reading the information below.

For people who don’t know, glamping Southern California means going camping while enjoying the beautiful glamourous sky that is full of stars in comfort. Glamping is short term for glamour camping, wherein nature is giving you the best that it has to offer as you enjoy personal comforts.

Some nature sites already have everything that you need for camping or just relaxing, while some will require you to bring pillows and a sleeping bag.

 

Glamping Destination #1 Treebones Resort

Treebones Resort will let you cuddle with your loved one while enjoying the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. The good thing about this place is that you no longer have to bring pillows nor sleeping bags, because the place will let you enjoy a queen size bed, crushes that are cushy, electric lights, and heaters. Enjoy the view outside while you relax on their deck chairs, which is also perfect for sunset lovers.

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Another good thing about Treebones Resort is that there are heated pools, a spa, outdoor bar, restaurant, and a sushi bar. Some other activities that you can enjoy here are kayaking and hiking.

 

Glamping Destination #2 Greater Palm Springs

Greater Palm Springs will let you enjoy a campfire to keep you warm, while a nearby private tent awaits you after a tiring day. Toiletries and sleeping bags should be brought by the guest since the private tents do not have sleeping bags inside. Enjoy the amazing sound of nature while relaxing under the stars. During the day, enjoy seeing desert kit fox, javelinas, cheetahs, and Giraffes.

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Another good thing about Greater Palm Springs is that they offer a private tour of a desert, which offers the different animals and amazing deserts in the area.

 

Glamping Destination #3 Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is a four-hour drive from the south of Yosemite Valley. Relax in their cabin with the amazing wilderness. You will surely enjoy the one-mile hike from the parking lot because once you reach the tents, you will surely enjoy the mega style and the glamping that you can do there. All the canvas tents are equipped with cozy beds, with luxurious blankets and rugs. There are also propane lanterns and the amazing view of the Sierra Nevada.

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Another good thing about Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is that they offer a delicious breakfast and a hike to the high summits, alpine lakes that are jewel-like, and mountain meadows.

 

Glamping Destination #4 Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park will let you work to be able to enjoy the place. This work means you need to do some hiking or a horse packing to different campsites inside the park. This site is open from June through the early days of September. You will love the distances of each park, since they are ten miles apart, which will give you plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. You will also get to see the Tuolume Meadows, which is known to have the best view in the area.

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The Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks is offering a cabin with a wood stove to keep you warm during the night. They serve family style dinner and breakfast, which you and your family will surely enjoy.

 

Glamping Destination #5 Costanoa Lodge

Costanoa Lodge will let your bike around the redwoods that are towering. You can also do some horseback riding through the coastal meadows and enjoy the tide pools and beaches. The site offers a tent with bedding, WiFi, and electricity. There are other amenities around the area, including body treatments and spa massages, which you will surely love after a tiring day.

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Another good thing about Costanoa is that they will let you enjoy skylights and fireplaces to make your stay enjoyable.

 

These are the glamping Southern California destinations to go to with your love ones. Get close to nature by staying one of these ideal sites for glamping Southern California.

Did you enjoy the list mentioned above? Then sharing it with your family and friends is essential, for them to have an idea on where to go to next time they want to go glamping.

Anarchy and Otter Pops in East Jesus

East Jesus 1

By Emily Pennington

What do you do when one of your best friends invites you to a debaucherous birthday weekend at an off the grid artist commune deep in the California desert near the Salton Sea? Attend whole-heartedly and experience EVERYTHING you can, of course!

East Jesus is a non-profit, off the grid intentional community founded by the late Charlie Russell in the ass-crack outskirts of Slab City. If you’ve never heard of Slab City, well, it’s known as “the last free place,” and is basically a makeshift town made up of people in RVs and trailers who are, essentially squatting on government land about 4 miles outside of Niland, CA (85 miles southeast of Palm Springs). There’s no water, no power, and no resources, just a bunch of abandoned concrete slabs left over from a WWII base, Camp Dunlap. Oh yeah, and it’s 110 degrees during the daytime in the middle of October.

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In spite of the fact that the sun was actively trying to kill me and nearly every other living thing out there that weekend, I had a freaking awesome time. First off, I got to stay in the best hobo accommodations that money can’t buy – a hand-painted Totoro trailer with tentacles for a doorknob. I got a hand-picked tour of the sculpture garden when I first arrived (this is the only part of East Jesus accessible to tourists unless you’re visiting a resident), which features a hodge podge of assemblage pieces and art cars, broken glass and duck decoys, and a non-functioning Mercedes that has been lit on fire so many times that it is lovingly referred to as the “Car-B-Que.”

To be honest, the daylight hours at East Jesus are brutal. I mostly lay around eating Otter Pops, talking about art and trying not to get bitten by horseflies in between dunks in the cool pool that seriously saved my Scandinavian booty! But, at night… wow! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am not a desert person. But, something about the camaraderie of a group meal, the intense flickering of flames from a rusted out Mercedes, and the deep black of the night sky as the stars make their nightly, nomadic journey was truly magical. I giggled my ass off with new friends and ran, half naked, sprinting full force into the interminable blackness of the desert in search of Slab City’s famed hot springs. I soaked my tired bones and stayed up to see the sunrise.

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Now, East Jesus does concern me a bit in the way that many intentional communities concern me, and that is this: I think that, too often, great ideas and experiments in off the grid living are executed in a way that is too far-out, too anarchic, and too poorly packaged for anyone of consequence to take note. The rebellion and chaos themselves seem to take center stage, which can serve to highlight the cracks and weaknesses of these spaces, rather than shifting focus onto some of the truly innovative strategies for clean living that they are implementing. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I would sincerely love it if a solar-powered, leave-no-trace community sprung up within 30 miles of Los Angeles so that the impact of these ideals could be more easily shared with the population at large, since finding a wide reach and making the project feel accessible are the fastest ways to shift culture.

East Jesus 5

But perhaps their inaccessibility is precisely what makes these spaces special. Certainly, Burning Man is a bit more pure because of the massive amount of foresight a pilgrimage to Black Rock City takes. Maybe they are meant to serve as beacons for the brave as they journey across the long night, burning like “fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding,” as Kerouac so aptly put it. There is definitely a large amount of magic hidden in East Jesus; don’t let Wikipedia fool you into thinking it’s a roadside attraction. Have an adventure and see it for yourself.

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Glamping Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Africa!

By Mary Lyons

When I first heard the word “glamping” it didn’t take long to figure out what it meant. As someone who was used to carrying her own backpack, stocked only with essentials, for several miles and then setting up camp in the wilderness, I think I had a different perspective on glamping than most people. To me it meant car camping, having someone else build a fire, and eating at an actual picnic table. A wooden hut at a campground with showers and a store to buy candy? Wow! Now that’s some serious luxury camping! There’s a pool? At a campground? Awesome! We’re glamping!

After two trips to Africa, I now fully understand that none of the above is glamping. I always thought I could never afford to stay at the beautiful campsites I saw in the coffee table books about Africa. And while I still can’t afford many of them, teaching overseas at least meant I could earn enough money to have a genuine glamping experience in Africa. Actually, I had two.

 

GETTING MY GLAMP ON – THE SERENGETI IN TANZANIA

My first safari in Africa was a year and a half ago in Tanzania. I wanted my first safari experience to be on the Serengeti. Wasn’t it Toto that sang “I miss the rains down in Africa”? That’s what I wanted my first safari experience to be like. I knew that the tents would be semi-permanent structures, but I didn’t realize that my meager 500 USD a day had bought me a glamping experience until I actually arrived.

Make no mistake, a safari is expensive. Even a cheap safari experience is expensive. At 500 USD a day, that’s a relatively inexpensive safari. I spent my first night in Tanzania in a stunning hotel at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. (Say that three times fast!) Technically, this night wasn’t glamping because I was in a gorgeous hotel. It was so gorgeous, I’m going to post pictures anyway even though it doesn’t qualify as camping in any way!

Hotel room at the Ngorongoro Crater
Luxury digs at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania
Bathroom at our hotel at the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

My next two nights were where glamping got really interesting. My campsite in the middle of the Serengeti could accommodate up to 10 people, and there were six total, so three of the five tents were in use. There was a kitchen tent, which we didn’t get to see, and a huge dining tent, as well as a spacious tent for relaxing and having drinks at the end of a long day of safari-ing.

We were welcomed with freshly squeezed juices and a cool towel, and then we were given a tour of the camp while porters took our bags to our tent. There are certain rules in a safari camp, one being that you never go out alone without an escort when it’s dark, for obvious reasons. Another rule in this camp was that if you wanted hot water for your shower, you just had to tell them what time you wanted to take a shower, they would bring hot water to fill your tank outside, sing a little song as they walked away, and you hop in the shower in your tent where the water was so hot, you had to turn on the cold water as well.

Common living area and open bar on the Serengeti

Yep. Hot shower. In my tent. In the middle of the Serengeti. Awesome. There was also a flush toilet and two sinks. This bathroom was nicer than most of the bathrooms in apartments I’ve rented.

What really made this experience luxurious was the service. The people working at the camp were just amazing. We received 5 Star service. These young men were so charming, funny, and gracious. The dining experience was just that – an experience! Breakfast and dinner were each served in three courses on linen tablecloths, and by candlelight at night. The presentation was beautiful and the food was delicious. In fact, the food at our camp was the best food I had the entire two weeks I was in Tanzania.

Dining tent on the Serengeti in Tanzania

I could hear lions outside the first night. Their low, throaty rumbles were intimidating at first, but eventually I fell asleep. Turns out two female lions would often get quite curious about the camp almost every evening. And J.J. the elephant sometimes slept between the sleeping and dining tents, flattening a huge swath of grass! We saw the evidence our second morning in camp.

 

WANNA GO GLAMPING IN BOTSWANA?

I loved every minute of this glamping experience in Tanzania on the Serengeti. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about doing it again, this time in Botswana. So just a year later, I made my way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. What’s with these African names being so much fun to pronounce? Ngorongoro. Serengeti. Okavango. They sound so exotic. Oh wait! That’s because they are such exotic places!

The Okavango Delta is actually drier, with fairly low water levels, during the rainy season when I was there. It’s the rains that fill the rivers in Central Africa that actually flood the Delta. I visited the Okavango Delta region in January 2017. My friend John, from Philadelphia, joined me, and he’d never been glamping. Actually, I’m not sure he’d ever been camping. So, when I showed him pictures of the tent – with a claw foot tub in the middle! – he was pretty damned excited to come to Botswana, and so was I.

We stayed at Little Kwara Camp which can host 12 people, and when we were there, five of the six tents were rented. I thought I knew what to expect since I had glamped in Tanzania, but I was blown away by these luxurious digs. I had to tell myself to close my mouth, and then I had to tell John. After a flight in a tiny six-seater Cessna, we arrived at Kwara and were met by our guide, Wago, and our spotter, Mike. Wago drove the short distance from the “airport”, and I use the term airport very loosely, to our camp.

Mike was our super spotter on safari!

When we arrived, we were met by Charles, the camp manager, and some lovely ladies who work there. We had fresh guava juice and hot towels to refresh us before going on a tour of the camp.

Holy Schnikey! It was so beautiful! These structures are actually permanent and have underground plumbing. The living room area and dining area were huge, and constructed out of local wood, but open to the elements. There was even a small pool and a shop. But more importantly, there was an open bar, and anything you wanted to drink, you could help yourself after 11:00AM. The fridge had a special baboon-proof lock on it that the rather pesky baboons hadn’t figured out yet. There was also a seating area around a fire pit, and a view of a huge pond, stocked with hippos!

Swimming pool at Little Kwara Camp
Firepit in Little Kwara Camp on a rare dry evening

John and I were shown to our tent, and we couldn’t wait to see the bathtub! Our tent was spacious, beautifully decorated, and had a big back porch with a view of the pond, the hippos, and impala. But the bathtub? Well, isn’t a claw foot tub in the middle of the room just the epitome of glamping? It was to me! John didn’t say a word. He was still in shock, but I don’t know if it was because of the luxury digs or the open bar.

My lodging in Botswana’s Little Kwara Camp
View from our tent in Botswana
Bathroom in our tent in Botswana
The clawfoot tub did get used!

This luxury experience did not include losing any weight. We had breakfast at 5:00AM every day. Muffins, porridge with all the fixins, fruit, coffee, tea. At 6:00 we left for our first safari of the day, returning at 11:00 for brunch. Then the afternoon was free until 4:00 when we had afternoon tea of homemade cakes, cheese and olives, fruit, scones, quiche, all made right there at camp by the lovely ladies in the kitchen. After another safari in the evenings, which included a sundowner with drinks and snacks at 7:00PM in the midst of the Delta, we returned to camp for a three-course dinner with all you could drink by candlelight.

Time for afternoon tea in Botswana
Dinner by Candlelight Every Night in Botswana

The people who worked at the camp in Botswana were so warm and welcoming. I became quite fond of them, especially our guide, Wago and our super spotter, Mike. Glamping in Africa is an addictive experience. The people you meet and the sights you see will make you want to go back again and again. The glamping? Well, that’s just a giant bonus.

Mike, Wago, Me, John, and Charles on our last day in Botswana

 

Band on the run

Band on the run 1

By Robin EH. Bagley

We’ve all seen that iconic plains animal, the American Bison, in Custer State Park. They loaf, wallow, saunter, and thunder around the park like they own the joint. Perhaps they do; I don’t want to argue with a buffalo. Yes, I’m using the vernacular; if you’re from South Dakota, they’re buffalo. Anyway, my point is that the buffalo really aren’t the most interesting animals in the park. If you’re looking for entertainment, grab some apples or carrots and drive the Wildlife Loop Road. You’re looking for the park’s famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) Begging Burros, or as I like to call them, the Band on the Run.

What’s a herd of wild burros doing in Custer State Park? Are they burros or donkeys? And are they really wild? Excellent questions. Let’s start at the beginning.

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Donkeys have been domesticated for thousands of years; the first records of domesticated donkeys date back to approximately 4000 BCE in Lower Egypt. Domesticated donkeys’ wild ancestors were the wild asses, Equus africanus asinus. They made their way from Africa to other parts of the world; around 2000 BCE they were brought to Europe. The first donkeys in the Western Hemisphere arrived in 1495, on a supply ship bound for Christopher Columbus’s expedition. So, to be clear, the donkeys gamboling about in Custer State Park are not wild in the same sense that the buffalo are. Donkeys are a long-domesticated animal, which makes them much easier to approach. For the record, NEVER ever approach a buffalo. Ever.

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My long-burning question was really whether this herd was burros or donkeys. Custer State Park naturalist Julie Brazell cleared that up by explaining that burros and donkeys are the same species, Equus asinus. So it’s correct to call them either name; they won’t answer anyway unless you have snacks.

Burros were released in the park in the mid-to-late 1920’s; they had been used to haul visitors to the top of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). When that activity stopped, the burros were turned loose in the park where they continue to flourish. I had heard, but have not been able to confirm, that the animals were also used to haul supplies for the employees at the fire watchtower on the peak. Anyone who has climbed that last quarter mile to the top can appreciate how handy a pack animal would be for hauling a week’s worth of groceries!

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Today this fun bunch can be spotted in Custer State Park, usually along the Wildlife Loop Road. They have been known to stop traffic as they meander down the middle of the road trolling for snacks. If you’re eating something you’d rather keep for yourself, don’t step out of your vehicle with it – they have been known to snatch food from indignant spectators. If you plan to feed them, please bring appropriate food such as apples or carrots and avoid junk food. One day when I was out shooting photos, a family stopped alongside me and the boys had no snacks. One brother was game, grabbed a couple of carrots I was proffering, and began feeding his new friends. The younger brother was a bit apprehensive of the crazy carrot lady and told me very formally, “I’m not a rabbit.” But when he tried feeding gummy bears to a burro, his father intervened and they happily took a couple of carrots to feed her instead.

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Also, they are large animals with hooves so mind your feet and avoid standing behind them in case they kick. Their ancestors hauled visitors, but this bunch runs free and are not trained for riding, so don’t go playing cowboy. Be safe and enjoy this entertaining bunch in Custer State Park.

Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre state park in South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s located five miles east of Custer, SD on Highway 16A or about 40 miles south of Rapid City, SD via Highways 385 and 16.  The park is great stop on your way to Yellowstone National Park. For more information on the park, visit https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/.

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The piece Band on the run was originally published by the author on the Black Hills Travel Blog. It has been updated by the author.

Robin EH. Bagley is a freelance writer and social media manager who spent most of her years in South Dakota, from the prairies to the granite spires near Custer. She loves to camp, hike, and paddle but is a reluctant mountain biker. She has recently relocated to Sheridan, WY near the Bighorn Mountains and is getting accustomed to hiking in bear and moose country as opposed to buffalo country. If you meet her on the trail, you can hit her up for a granola bar or Band-Aid.

 

Preparing for a Quest to Conquer Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro 1

By Mary Lyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Your Gear On

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

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

CLOTHING AND GEAR

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Me with Meru in the distance on Day 2

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

Pullover fleece

Long-sleeve Climadry shirt for hiking during the day

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

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

Patagonia zip-off leg trekking pants

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

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

 

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

2 pair sock liners

2 pair Exofficio underwear

2 sportbras

 

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

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

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

1 pair thin gloves

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Unique vegetation on Kili makes for great pictures

Headlamp

Rain cover for my day pack

Journal and pen

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

Two bandanas

Quick-dry pack towel

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

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

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

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

 

Weighing In

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

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

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

 

Kilimanjaro – The Air Sure Is Thin Up Here!

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

Kilimanjaro 16
Kibo Hut at Day 4 Camp

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

Mustafa and Me at Gilman’s Point

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let’s Make This Happen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) no shoes inside the tent

2) no trekking poles inside the tent

3) no uncovered liquids in the tent!

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

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

Tipping the People that Helped You Get There

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

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

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

Now You Know

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

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View of Meru Peak from our camp on Day 3

 

How To Start Backpacking and Be Fearless in the Wilderness

backpacking 1

 By Lucy Gomez

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

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

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

backpacking 2You’ll need:

  • A Trail Map
  • A Compass

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

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

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

 

Backpacking – will it be hot or cold?

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

  1. Check your weather forecastbackpacking 3

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

  1. Use your map to estimate your altitude

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

 

So, What should I wear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you eat and drink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about water?

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

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

 

How does the sleeping part work?

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

Step 1.    Choose a spot

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

backpacking 8Step 2.    Check the terrain

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

Step 3.    Pitch your tent

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

Step 4.    Get out your sleeping gear

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

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

Need to know

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

Did you know that you should:

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

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

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

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

backpacking 9

 

6 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping

By Carmen Baguio

“I’ll be at the ball field all weekend with Jane’s soccer tournament.  Then somehow I have to get Jake to karate and Jill to her softball game.”

Does this sound familiar?  It’s become almost a badge of honor among moms to see whose kids can be involved in the most extra-curricular activities.  Then you have the whole “competitive” leagues that required the family’s life to revolve around financing and scheduling vacations around competitions.  Don’t get me wrong.  My youngest was involved in competitive dance for nine years, but that wasn’t our life.  She also had to choose dance or another activity.  We couldn’t afford more than that, and I certainly wasn’t going to have every weekend consumed with travel to one convention center after another.

Parenting is all about balance.

These days (wow that makes me sound old) it seems like more and more family activities involve everyone doing their own thing.  Even when the family is at home, often everyone is on their electronic devices, totally unaware of what the rest of the family is doing.  As a teacher, I’ve never had a student come in Monday morning excitedly telling me about their fantastic weekend on a ball field or in their room playing video games.  However, if there is a Boy Scout Jamboree or if their dad takes them on a fishing trip, even if it rained the entire time, I hear all about the food, hiking in the mud or the big fish that got away!

Girl Scout Camping Bonfire

 

In our quest to have a balanced family life and well-rounded happy children, you can’t go wrong with taking your kids camping.  Here are 6 reasons why:

 

1. Your children can see the country inexpensively.

 My childhood pop-up camper (pictured: me in the back, my mom, our exchange student from Brazil, and my brother)

Compared to hotels or condos, campgrounds are cheap.  You can buy a nice tent for around $100 or less. Tents today are a snap to set up compared to the tents of my childhood.  We didn’t have much money growing up and started out in a tent, then went “big time” with a small, used pop-up.  Camp food is way cheaper than going out to eat every meal.  Even if you are just cooking breakfast and doing sandwiches or hotdogs for lunch, and eat supper out, you will still save a ton compared to staying in a hotel.

Our first family tent (pictured: daughter Lauren, now 22 and her cousin Nathaniel)

 2. Camping is great exercise. Hiking, Chopping, and Canoeing

Getting a campsite set up is great exercise for children, and they won’t ever realize it.  We would always bring logs for the campfire, but it was the job of my girls to gather the kindling.  Back and forth from the woods they would trudge carrying as many twigs as their little arms would carry.  Growing up camping, I remember being the “raker”.  It was my job to rake the leaves from away from the fire pit, then I would spend hours raking out my house, arranging camp chairs and logs for benches so everyone would want to come visit my house.  Then I would change my mind and repeat the process all over again.  I remember one trip where my brother and I spent an entire day trying to roll an old, super-heavy stump over to our fire pit.  Unfortunately, we were never able to get the thing to burn!

Then of course there’s riding bikes everywhere, climbing on the log and jumping off (repeated frequently for precision), canoeing, and hiking.

 

 3. Kids learn to relax and shut out the world. 

Lauren loved to relax and draw in her sketchbook early in the morning.

Rachel relaxing while coloring

In this day and age, kids are under tight school and extra-curricular schedules.  Some of the stress is self-social media induced.  Fortunately, a lot of the places we camp have no cell signal.  There is nothing to do but relax and play.  My oldest daughter (She is now twenty-three) recently told me some of her best memories involve the two of us getting up at the morning light when the whole campground was still quiet.  We would start a little fire and she would sit in my lap with a blanket talking about anything and everything.  Little did I realize how special those mornings by the campfire made her feel.

My youngest, Rachel, has always said that she hated the outdoors.  I think her early exposure to camping and trips to the lake is starting to come back to her.  She has had a super hard freshman year in college.  For a girl who doesn’t like nature, I’m seeing a whole lot of pictures of her laying in her hammock, hiking, and picnicking at the lake.

Rachel, now a college freshman, hiking with friends

4. Camping teaches the appreciation of nature.

I grew in a rural area with woods galore.  When you have that kind of daily exposure, you become comfortable with nature, and it becomes part of your world.  Back then, there wasn’t the fear of child abduction so we were allowed to play all day long in the woods, climbing trees, and building forts.

My girls grew up in suburbia with only a few small trees in our yard unlike the unlimited access to nature that I had growing up.  Times may have changed, but going to a state campground hasn’t.  Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts pretty much teach the same outdoor skills that were taught when I was a Girl Scout.  I was a Girl Scout leader for nine years.  The girls that started as Brownies in second grade turned into seasoned outdoor lovers by high school.

 

5. Camping teaches kids new skills.

Learning to make a campfire & fishing. Yes, that’s me with a catfish!

I built my first campfire with some coaching from my dad.  I was able to use what I learned to teach my daughters and my Girl Scout troop.  It never ceases to amaze me when people assume Joe (my husband) has made the campfire.  Girls can be fire masters, too!

Growing up poor, we couldn’t afford to go to the community pool, so I learned to swim at the state campground.  My girls also learned swimming while camping at a state park.  My youngest still has distinct memories of being in charge of lunch when she was tall enough to put the hot dogs on the grill.  To say she was proud of “cooking” is an understatement.

I asked my daughter Lauren what she learned most from camping. She said it helped her appreciate the silence of the mornings.  She learned to use her creativity to create “kingdoms” in the tent and make toys out of sticks and rocks.  Considering she is in graduate school working on an art history masters (all paid for with scholarships), I would say any camping mishaps were well worth the imaginative skills she learned!

 

6. Your family forms close bonds when camping.

Pictured: I’m playing cards; my grandma cooking & my mom, brother & I.

My fondest memories of my brother involved playing marathon rounds of card games.  Long after our parents would go to sleep, we would still play cards.  After my brother and his roommate (our cousin Joey) went off to college, they would meet us at the campground next to the university.  So then our marathon card games increased to involve three.  When we all married, we still went camping with the six of us playing cards long into the night.  A few years later, the camping tradition continued with our children all becoming camping buddies.

My cousins’ boys, my nephew Nathaniel, and daughter Lauren

Pictured: Cousins at the campfire, Rachel & Lauren playing in the camper, Lauren & Nathaniel

My biggest regret is selling our little pop-up camper.  I had divorced my first husband and thought there was no way I could manage my two young girls and set up a camper by myself.  I should have had more confidence in all that camping had taught me.  I’m now back camping again.  Even though my kids are now longer living at home, they still enjoying meeting hubby Joe and me at the campground and sitting around the fire.  I’m looking forward to the day their future children can get the same benefits from camping that their mothers and grandmother have enjoyed.

 

This post is dedicated to my mom who gave me my first camp cooking lessons.   At the young age of 48, she passed away way too soon, but the memories of her cooking up camp breakfast and snuggling with me around the campfire will never leave me.

~ Carmen Baguio

I miss my camping mama!

 

Carmen and Joe Baguio are a middle-aged couple  who started their travel blog http://www.packyourbaguios.com a year ago.  Their goal is  to encourage other empty-nesters to learn to become adventurous travelers, campers, and cyclists.

 

Inspiration for the (Female) Adventurer’s Soul

Inspiration 1

By Andrea Willingham

I confess: I’m a sucker for a good story with a strong heroine, and we’re not talking Scarlett O’Hara here. We’re talking that rare breed of female lead that somehow seems to elude most mainstream media, disproportionate to the number of male protagonists that dominate our literary landscape and cultural narratives.

Although this topic has become of great interest to me in the last few years, I have tended to shy away from addressing it, frankly because I don’t want to be pegged as some feminazi whining about the patriarchy. That’s not why I’m writing this. I am writing it because I think there are a lot of other people out there — men and women alike — who enjoy hearing the stories of female characters just as much as I do, and just as much as we all like stories about male characters.

I will be the first to admit that some of my favorite stories of all time center around the dude protagonist. Anyone who knows me knows that Into the Wild was one of my biggest inspirations for going to Alaska myself, and before that, Kingbird Highway fueled my teenage obsession with birdwatching and hitchhiking.

In my early naïveté, I wanted so badly to have the adventures that Chris McCandless and Kenn Kaufman had in their solo treks across the US, following in the legacies of even earlier explorers like Lewis & Clark and John Muir. But I was always torn between the dichotomy of being told I can accomplish anything I want, and that I am more limited because I am a woman, vulnerable by default.

Inspiration 2

Oddly enough, I never actually experienced the gender bias myself until I moved to Alaska. Growing up in a family of strong women and graduating near the top of my class in college, nothing ever held me back, though I was aware that my privilege was unique. Yet suddenly when I embarked on my own life of adventure, everyone seemed concerned for my safety and success, probably more so than they would have if I was a big, burly dude. And for good reason.

In rural Alaska, I found myself in a man’s world. For the first time in my life, I was being called at in the streets, followed occasionally when I went out for a walk, offered drinks, sex, and even marriage, and told I was “beautiful” or “cute” by complete strangers. Most of these things are easy to avoid or ignore, but it brought to light the unique challenges faced by female travelers — challenges that possibly make their stories all the more compelling, because they are being dealt with in addition to the usual adversities of any other adventurer.

“A man on the road is solitary. A woman on the road is alone,” writes Vanessa Veselka in her essay Green Screen: The Lack of Female Road Narratives and Why it Matters, in The American Reader. She continues, “This is not cute wordplay, but a radically different social experience. Often, I was asked why was I travelling. But over time, I came to understand that the question was not ‘why,’ but ‘how.’”

My experience has been similar. When I’m in uniform as a park ranger, I’m occasionally met with surprise when people find out I’m from so far away, or that I travel just for the experience of it. “Why would you want to come all the way up to Alaska?” or “Why did you leave?” or “You’re so brave to do this by yourself.” One older lady even said to me (I kid you not), “It’s so interesting they’re letting women do this now. I met another young female park ranger this year, and I just couldn’t believe it!” A lot of people still have an antiquated view of the mustached man with pith helmet, so the idea that travelers today can be any one of us is quite a different pill to swallow.

Are female adventurers less common than their male counterparts, or simply less noticed? Sometimes I think the latter may be true, which is perhaps why I’m so intrigued by their stories when I do hear them. If you are too, check out some the following and feel free to share some of your own favorite heroine books and movies in the comments.

 

Book and Film | Wild

Inspiration 3“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves…” ― Cheryl Strayed

I first heard about this book in the summer of 2013, being criticized for similar reasons that Chris McCandless was criticized for in Into the Wild. In many ways, the story is the same, only this time it’s a woman who goes into the wilderness to escape demons of her past, ill-prepared and misguided in her efforts and judgment. It’s great! It’s raw and honest and lays everything out in the open. Unlike McCandless though (spoiler ahead!), author Cheryl Strayed does not succumb to the deadly forces of nature, and instead lives on to write this memoir. It’s exciting, yet a realistic look at the challenges and torture of hiking over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with no prior experience. The movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon came out in 2014, and did a surprisingly good job of capturing the spirit of the book. My one qualm with it was that it focused more on Strayed’s emotional grappling with her past and less with her experiences on the trail than did the book.  I would have liked to see more of her trail stories depicted, but perhaps that’s a good argument for both reading the book and seeing the movie – you can get a good taste of both that way.

 

Book | The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

Inspiration 4This book far exceeded my expectations, capturing the very essence of the coming of age journey that so many young woman travelers experience. I wish I had read it about 7 years ago, when I first traveled abroad. It is the story of Rachel Friedman, a college student who finds her love of travel after spontaneously spending a summer waitressing in Ireland. There, she meets a free-spirited Australian woman who inspires Rachel to spend the next year traveling for the sake of the experience, and together they encounter wild adventurers across three continents, as the title suggests.

It’s a fun read, relatable for anyone who has ever fantasized about traveling the world with their best friend but has absolutely no idea where to start or how to do it. Instead of worrying about that though, Rachel learns to just go for it, inspiring the reader that anyone can do the same.

 

Inspiration 5Book | Life List 

Life List is particularly interesting because it is the true story of a woman who finds her adventurous side after raising a family and spending some 30 years as a humble housewife. At the age of 50, after being misdiagnosed with only a year left to live, Phoebe Snetsinger sets out to turn her hobby of birdwatching into the most exciting quest of her life. She ends up spending the next 18 years traveling the world in search of rarer and rarer bird species. Although she often takes guided birding tours in each place she goes, her journey is far from sheltered, as she encounters accidents, a kidnapping, and malaria among other misfortunes. But despite all this, Phoebe is never deterred and it is truly her enthusiasm, commitment, and perseverance that makes this such a compelling read.

 

Inspiration 6Film | Open Road

This fascinating little film tells the story of a young Brazilian artist who lives a solitary and nomadic lifestyle, on a journey of self-discovery. It has a definite independent film-vibe, excellent character development, and a dash of mystery as the story unfolds and the heroine struggles with the desire for human connections while also holding herself at a distance from others. I think it’s a common struggle for many young people who take off on their own, and this film does a good job of taking you along on the journey without revealing it all too fast. It’s a bit slow-paced and the scenes are acted out so naturally you could almost forget you’re watching a film.

 

Film and Book | Tracks:

Inspiration 7“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.” ― Robyn Davidson

Literally, it’s a true story about a girl in the 1970s who decides to walk 1,700 miles across the Australian desert with 4 camels and her dog. What’s not to love about that? The book has been out for a long time, but I’ve only seen the movie so far and it immediately became one of my favorite movies I’ve ever seen. Like so many other stories of this caliber, it has a number of flashback scenes alluding to Robyn Davidson’s troubled past, but unlike some of the other stories, these don’t seem to completely dominate her motivation for her journey. Ultimately, she is simply on a quest to prove to herself that she can do it. As a character, Robyn is fascinating and you can’t help but empathize with her: she does what she needs to get what she wants, but rejects offers from others to accompany her on her trip because she wants to have the experience alone. Without giving too much away (because you really HAVE to watch this film), she finds that in some sense, shared experiences are what make life worthwhile — and survivable.

 

While I am continuously building up my personal library of strong heroine stories, I will leave you with these for now. I invite others to share their favorite heroine stories as well — and most of all, I hope you will be inspired to go out and live your own. Adventure on!

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Enjoyed this article by Andrea?  You can see more of her work on her website.

 

The Appalachian Trail – What to Expect and How to Prepare

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The infamous 2000 mile marker has probably moved due to rerouting of the AT since 2003, but hitting this milestone is a huge accomplishment for every thru hiker. Lucky for us this road doesn’t have much traffic!

By Mary Lyons

How did I get this crazy idea?

Appalachian Trail 2In 1996 I met an author who would change my life and never even know it. His name is David Brill, and he is a freelance writer for men’s magazines. He spoke to a writer’s group I was in about his thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in the 1970’s because he had just written a book about it 20 years later. The title of the book is As Far as the Eye Can See and it includes excerpts from his journal as well as his thoughts looking back on his experience.

The day he came to speak to my writer’s group about this book, I had the worst hangover. I had never hiked a day in my life and I had never even heard of the Appalachian Trail, even though I grew up in Kentucky only three hours away. I had decided that if “this guy” wasn’t interesting, I was going to leave and go back to bed. David Brill spoke for about 5 minutes before I realized the magnitude of what he had accomplished, and I was hooked. My hangover was gone. I had to do this.

I bought his book for a whopping ten dollars, got him to sign it, and when everyone else left, he and I were left. He took time to answer my questions. He also asked me if I preferred bourbon or whiskey. I wreaked of alcohol, but no longer felt my hangover. I was excited! I had a goal!

Appalachian Trail 3It was seven years later, in 2003, before I actually completed my thru hike. I never even set foot on a trail until 2000, and never carried a backpack until 2001! But I never lost sight of my goal, and on March 25, 2003, I began a journey that would instill an insatiable wanderlust in me that I still haven’t satisfied. On September 3rd, I summited Katahdin in Maine. This day is more important to me than my birthday, especially now that I’m over (cough, cough), uhh, let’s say 40 and leave it at that.

I had a lot to learn before hiking 2,172 miles with what would eventually be whittled down to a 20-pound pack. Here’s what I did to get ready, including some mistakes I made. My dog, Oscar, even got in the action, although he was not exactly an outdoorsman. He made sure to sample the beef jerky though.

Let’s Get Started!

Appalachian Trail 10My first consideration when preparing for the Appalachian Trail was about experience. I had never hiked or backpacked or even camped really. There was a lot to learn and that meant getting prepared and getting out in the wilderness to learn how to use my gear. I joined a hiking club and met a lot of people who knew a lot more than I did about backpacking, sleeping, and eating in the wilderness. I went on many weekend trips with them in southern Arizona and western New Mexico. It rained on almost all of those trips, and my friend Steve said I was cursed. Here we were in the Southern Arizona desert, and it rained every damn time I went on a camping trip with The Ramblers, and never when I didn’t. I felt pretty prepared for rain when I started the AT.

Boy, was I wrong! Nothing could have prepared me for that much rain! 2003 is still the wettest year on record for an AT hike. Lucky me. My big toes looked like white prunes for three months. But that’s not what this post is about! If you’re planning a long-distance hike, or just curious how to prepare for one, read on.

Prepare Physically

Appalachian Trail 9A lot of people think they need to be in great shape physically before starting the Appalachian Trail, but that’s not necessarily the case. The trail conditions you, no matter what shape you’re in when you start. But your chances of a successful thru-hike will improve if you aren’t struggling physically at the beginning. One of the best ways to get in good physical condition for hiking is by going hiking. Surprise! Carry your pack, wear your shoes, and get out in the wilderness to walk over roots and climb over boulders. Then go out the next weekend and do the same thing.

Practice

Appalachian Trail 7I did day hikes with a fully loaded backpack even when I had no intention of camping. As I walked, I took a mental inventory of everything in my pack and how I could make it lighter. My first pack was an Osprey I found on sale at the local outfitter in Tucson. Great pack, but heavy! It weighed 7 pounds! A pack for the AT shouldn’t weigh more than 3 pounds, but it took experience and trial and error – and money – for me to figure that out.

Prepare Mentally

There I go, talking about gear. I love gear. Gear is an important part of preparing for the Appalachian Trail, but preparing mentally is just as important. Even avid backpackers and campers can struggle mentally to keep going, to take that next step over that next rock or climb that next boulder. Even the most experienced might weep at the sight of yet another false summit. I was far from experienced, so I expected some mentally tough days, and I was right.

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My longest backpacking and camping trip before I hit the AT was four days and four nights in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico (yes, it rained!), and I planned and completed those four nights and days on purpose. I read somewhere that if you could hike and camp four days and nights in a row, you could complete a successful thru-hike. My friend Steve, a fellow Rambler, and I planned a trip. He said he expected it would rain since I was going. He was right. It was just the two of us. The nights were below freezing. My shoes were wet from trekking in the snow (and rain!) and frozen hard as a rock every morning. I slept with my bladder of water inside my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing. Can’t say I loved hiking and camping on this trip. Love of hiking and camping came later, on the AT.

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Preparing physically, whether by hiking, running, weight lifting, yoga, whatever you like to do, can help to prepare you mentally. Just keep going. Most of the time, hiking on the AT really is what you will want to do that day. Hey, beats working, right?

Plan Financially

Money. A huge consideration. During a thru-hike, you most likely won’t be earning any unless your stocks are doing better than mine were. Fortunately, lodging along the AT for the entire 2100+ miles is free if you want it to be. I met two Canadians in 2003 who I don’t think spent even one night in town. They each finished their thru-hike spending less than $1000 each. It can be done, but not by me. I enjoy a night in town occasionally, to sleep in a bed, eat restaurant food, and restock at a blindingly bright grocery store filled with temptations I couldn’t carry and people who smelled like soap, which I did not.

Appalachian Trail 8As you research town stops along the way, you’ll start to get an idea of how much money you might need to get you through your hike from start to finish. Your biggest expense will be food. You will eat a lot, even while you’re hiking! You will walk or hitchhike out of your way, off the trail, just to get a restaurant meal of fat, cheese, grease, carbs, protein, and quite possibly other things that you would never consider eating if you had not just walked 20 miles with all of your belongings on your back. That said, you won’t spend much money on anything else if you purchased your gear and shoes before you started walking.

Plan to Eat!

Appalachian Trail 5There are two theories on resupplying food. The most popular is just to resupply along the way in town stops and buy enough to get you through to the next town stop. In my opinion, this is the least expensive and least troublesome way to resupply. I, however, didn’t figure that out until I’d completed about half the trail. I resupplied along the way, but I also used resupply boxes I packed before I started – a lot of them – and got them weighed and paid postage, and then left them with my sister to mail to me along the way. The problem with this is I probably spent more money doing it this way and, well, plans change. I didn’t even use all the boxes.

Appalachian Trail 5Packing these boxes after a trip to Costco was an adventure in itself. I had a small kitchen and no dining room table, so these boxes were everywhere. I came home one day to find a couple of them on the floor and the beef jerky packages torn open! Guess who worked really hard to knock those boxes off the counter? Yeah, my little 20-pound Oscar! He was fat and happy on the sofa when I got home, and I found beef jerky all over the apartment for the next two weeks. He’d hidden it away for later! Lesson learned. Keep your resupply boxes in a room with a door that closes! I had to forgive him though. He stayed with my sister (another sister) during my trek, and had to be neutered at age 13 while I was out having the time of my life.

Even with resupply boxes, I still had to buy certain items along the way. One advantage to having resupply boxes sent to post offices along the way is that if there are certain things you really like, or if someone wants to send you homemade goods, as my family did, then they can put them in the boxes. My sister sent me two dozen chocolate chip cookies, an entire pineapple upside down cake, and a loaf of sourdough bread in one box. Between me and two other thru-hikers, none of it made it past the post office porch.

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Resupply boxes add another element of planning that, in my opinion, is unnecessary. There are plenty of opportunities to resupply and vary your diet along the way. Some things you will never get tired of are easily found in towns, like Hershey bars. They travel well in a backpack and no matter how many times they melt in that foil wrapper, they’ll still be good at the end the of a 20-mile day.

Plan to Sleep

Hotels and some hostels are another expense you’re likely to be tempted with. An actual bed, a shower, and a place to dry out your stuff is a welcome change for most hikers. Most hostels are either work-for-stay or very cheap. Hotels can range from $30 a night to very expensive in larger towns if you want to go that route. This is where having a guidebook comes in really handy for planning. I have another post about AT Guidebooks. Town stops are important for several reasons, but you can decide how many of them you want to make and how much time you want to spend in town. Keep in mind, the more time in town, the more temptation to spend money, and eat two pints of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. I don’t recommend that.

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I saved $3500 to get me through my hike and the next month after it since I wasn’t going back to work right away. I had plenty of town stops and luxuries, including beer and restaurant food, along the way, and still had money to get me through the month of September before going back to work as a teacher. Even though that was 13 years ago, I still think $3500 is more than most thru-hikers start out with.

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It’s Time. You’re Ready. Do It.

One last comment on preparing for the Appalachian Trail. Learn from others. Check out www.trailjournals.com and learn from others. Read their accounts. Read your guidebooks. You can read more about guidebooks in my post Appalachian Trail Guidebooks. Buy your gear and use it, especially in the rain. Then get dropped off at Springer Mountain and hike your hike. It’ll be the greatest experience of your life.

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