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The spectacular ‘shiny’ granite peak of Cerro Torre in the Mt Fitzroy massif, taken on the long walk up through the Rio Blanca valley.

Well, it’s taking me a little while, but am getting there – the next big stop on our Patagonian adventure after Torres del Paine, was to head by bus from Puerto Natales, into Argentina’s tourist town of Calafate (quick day trip to the spectacular Perito Moreno glacier) and then across the border via the iconic Route 40 to the amazing walking in and around El Chalten.  Just a word on Patagonian buses: they are fast, clean, affordable, regular, on time, comfortable, and have free wi-fi!

We based ourselves for 5 days at the low key outdoors-focussed climbers town of El Chalten, set smack in the middle of the Los Glaciares National Park. With a very cool but unselfconscious frontier vibe, this was a spectacular part of an already spectacular trip – even the view from the bathroom of our little flat was of the beautiful peaks of the mountains (we stayed at Apart el Cabure and I’d recommend it – just 3 little low key local flats, around USD$50 per person per night for 4; warm and good hot water, and super lovely and helpful owners).

Somehow, the cloud gods were on holidays on the day we chose to hike up to the peak, and we were blessed with beyond perfect weather – mild, sunny and not a breath of wind. Apparently this is pretty rare – or so everyone told us. But as you can see from the pics, it really was impossible not to be gobsmacked every which way you looked.

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The canon-shot of falling ice cracking off this hanging glacier was deafening across the valley on the hike up.

Take a quick tip from me (which we took from the owners of our accommodation) – fork out for the bus which takes you up the valley from el Chalten early in the morning for about 40 minutes, so you can take the less trafficked, more gradual and absolutely beautiful walk beside and above the river through up to the  Poincenot campsite at the base of the massif. It’s an alternate walk-in instead of constant 4-hours of steep uphill direct from the township. Your knees and lungs will love you for it. This way takes you through mossy Antarctic Beech forests and above roaring rivers, and also has curious signs that basically say ‘run like hell if there is a fire’ (because apparently you have to be told!).

If you have it in you, when you get to the base of the Cerro Torres (Mt Fitzroy’s towers), on the other side of the campsite, where climbers camp overnight before tackling the towers, there is a hell of a final steep rocky switchback slog, gaining another 400m in altitude, up to the famous Laguna de Los Tres glacier lakes above. Worth every bit of blood, sweat and tears, according to my Duracel-bunny-like buddy, Deb and her loping son Tas, who made it look like a Sunday stroll.  I meantime sat at the now tiny Rio Blanca at the base, and just took it all, in blissful peace. The extraordinary shininess of the rock towers is apparently caused by the repeated frosts, sluicing off the surface of the rock over millenia.  Whatever it is, it’s spectacular.

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The final 400m altitude gain via switchback up to the Laguna de Los Tres from the Poincenot pack-in campsite

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Finally! Melbourne for Dogs is finished and off with my fabulous editor at Woodslane who will work her magic. Did you know it takes up to 5 months for a guidebook to go through the editorial/design/cartography/printing process once it leaves the author’s hands and before it hits the shelves? It’s somewhat akin to having a baby, though at least you get to sleep through the nights. Anyway, to celebrate, I have hauled off to Italy for some summer sunshine and a week of walking around Lake Como. The weather is perfect for walking just now: in the 20’s and cloudless skies. I only have a short time in between other commitments, so I have headed off on the 34km, 2 day ‘Dorsale’ walk, which goes along the spine of the mountains edging Lake Como, from Como in the south of the lake through to the tiny town of Bellagio, which is poised in the centre tip of the upside down Y of the lake.

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It’s a great solo walk: with a reasonable map and guide notes from the local alpine club, and the extensive (if somewhat confusing at times) array of signs, you basically keep the lake on your left and head north. The walk starts with a welcome leg up the first 900m of ascent, courtesy of a vertiginous funicular railway from Como up to the tiny alpine town of Brunate. From there there’s another 700 metres of ascent for the day, but it’s not all in one go, and the huge views give you plenty off excuse to stop and gape when you need to catch your breath. The walk takes you past mountain refuggios, tiny roadside chapels, grand old Italian villas, through beech forests and eventually up above the treeline into glorious mountain pastures, absolutely heaving with wildflowers, bumblebees, grasshoppers and butterflies. I expected Julie Andrews to appear, twirling around and singing ‘the Hills are alive…..’!

Cows puttering past the refuggio on their way to dinner!

Cows puttering past the refuggio on their way to dinner!

I passed only 8 other walkers the whole day which is remarkable when the lakeside towns are just heaving with people at this time of year. However, when I descended into the 1100m Pian del Tivano valley at the end of the first day to stay at the Alpetto del Torno mountain Refugio (for the best gnocchi I have eaten eaten in my whole life, thanks to Ugo the super chef/host), the valley was also heaving – not with people, but with dairy cows with bells around their neck, making music as they ambled around the pastures. Perhaps I’m not in a sound of music ad after all, but one for luxury milk chocolate! It is very close to the border with Switlzerland after all! More tomorrow in Day 2.

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Late afternoon scoparia by the boardwalk, Overland Track Day 1

Wow.  Have just returned from 6 glorious days walking the Overland Track, the classic Tasmanian, 6 day trek from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair – right through the middle of Tasmania’s World Heritage listed wilderness. We had unheard of perfect weather for the entire trip – blue skies and 23 degrees – when the previous week it had been snowing!!  It really is such an incredible walk.  While the track itself is just over 60km, the terrain is very challenging, with lots of tree roots, rocks, bogs and ancient rotting boards to stumble over, in between the more modern duckboards (AUD$150 a metre, and worth ever penny to protect the fragile line swamps and grasses).  There are wonderful sidetrips to be done, to freshwater lakes and various spectacular dolorite summits – I can really recommend the long detour from Mt Pelion to Mt Oakleigh – despite the thigh deep bogs!  There was also plenty of wildlife to get up close and personal with: pademelons, wallabies, echidnas, wombats and plenty of snakes! But the standout for me was probably the flora – such unique variety: alpine button grass and cushion plant meadows, myrtle beech rainforests, snowgums, King Billy and Pencil Pines, and glorious end of summer colour of the scoparia.

Alpine cushion plants in the 'Japanese Gardens', Mt Doris, Overland Track

I am going to let my photos speak for themselves and just say, if you ever, EVER get the chance to do this incredible walk, grab it with both hands and shake every last drop out of it.  If you want to find out more about walking the Overland Track, including permits, bookings and equipment, click here.  I did my trip with Cradle Huts, who I could not recommend more highly.

Snowgums on the Overland Track, Tasmania

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