Tag Archives: adventures

Lessons from Trekking

14 Oct

During my recent trekking adventure in Oregon that was nothing like I thought it was going to be, I realized that there are some important life lessons that I could take from the experience.  Here are my 5 lessons from trekking:

1.  Roll with it.

My Oregon trip was suppose to be a 4-night adventure in the Sisters area with beautiful fall weather – you know, crisp sunny days, blue skies, cool nights.  Not rain, snow, or alternate plans because where we planned to go was getting dumped on.  Not two in-town days because it would have been suffer-fest otherwise.  But, so far, I do not control the weather.  In fact, the more time passes in my life, the more I realize I simply have control over just about nothing.  Not one thing.

Except myself.  I have control of myself and how I respond to things when they change.  So, in this moment, even though I had spent time (and money) envisioning what this vacation was going to be life, I had to accept that things were going to be different.  They were not going to play out they way I wanted them to.  They were going to play out just the way they were. with rain and snow and wind.  In the past, I have had a tendency to be frustrated in these situations – unable to move past what I wanted and what I had hoped for.  Which, surprisingly, did not change my situation and just made me, and anyone who was around me, miserable.

And so, the rain and snow came down in the mountains… I drank tasty Oregon IPAs and laughed with my friend while we sat around her fire and made plans for a different hike.

Taking a walk in Bend - where, pleasantly enough, it was sunny!

Taking a walk in Bend – where, pleasantly enough, it was sunny!

Sometimes it’s hard, we want things to work out one way so badly, which I am wildly guilty of.  But, often enough, if I just roll with things, and let it all play out, everything is just fine.   I guess this lesson could also be known as:  trust.

2.  It hurts now, but it’ll pass.

Our trek up into the mountains in the Diamond Peak wilderness started with a light drizzle, that turned into a heavier rain, transitioning into wet snow.  And the higher we went, the more snow that was on the ground, until eventually we were walking through several inches of snow.  By the time we reached the site where we planned to bed down for the night, our feet were soaking wet and the temperatures were dropping.  We spent the afternoon and night in the tent, eating tasty warm food and burrowing deep into our bags.  In the morning, our thermometer read 26 degrees.  In the tent.  Yep, it was a cold one.

Cold enough that our shoes froze.  Solid.  Putting those puppies on was not one of the more fun things I have done.  The first hour was excruciatingly painful.  Even though the sun came out and we had to walk uphill which warmed up my body, my feet were still damn cold and painful.  I have over-exposed my feet to cold temps so many times that doing so now causes me to hobble in pain, which is where K found me at the top of the hill — hobbling, gasping in pain, on the verge of tears.  She looked at me and calmly said – it’ll pass.  It wasn’t magic, my feet didn’t stop hurting at that moment – but it was a good reminder that this was temporary.  They have hurt before, but they would stop hurting eventually.

First night of camping, snow, fog, rain, cold temps

First night of camping, snow, fog, rain, cold temps

And…. the same with other times I have been in pain, emotional or physical.  It passes.  The heartbreak over that man? It passed.  That shoulder surgery?  It healed.  Those things that feel so big, that hurt so much….  eventually that pain pass.  Eventually that hurt heals.

3.  The signs are everywhere, we just have to look for them.

Because the ground was covered in several inches of snow, it made it hard to navigate the trail.  In the beginning, we made many wrong turns (or rather, missed the turns we should have taken).  We followed routes that seemed right, but weren’t.  We spent time searching for the trail.  But, as time passed, we got better and better at it.  Over time, we started to notice where the snow lay in the trough of the trail.  We started to notice trees that had been cut to clear the trail.  We started to see the signs that had been there all along, we just had to look for them.

Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak

And this, seems to me, to be not far off from the way things really are.  That relationship that you keep going, in hopes that it will get better?  The signs have been there all along that it wasn’t right.  That job, that apartment, that friendship, that guy you’ve been on a few dates with?  The signs are there, telling you if it is right or wrong, there to stay or time to move along.  But, so often, we don’t want to see those signs when they don’t jive with what we want or hope for.  So, instead of seeing the signs that are there, we keep moving in the direction we think is right, hoping for something that is different from the reality in front of us.  If only we’d slow down, start looking and listening at what is actually in front of us, versus the story we have made up in our minds, it seems that a lot more would be clear.

4.  When you think you’re lost, trust your gut.

K and I got to a section where we just couldn’t find the trail.  We searched for at least an hour.  We contemplated turning around (and we loathe to go back the way we have come).  We circled around, following false starts and elk paths.  We even got to the point where we thought that we would just go over land and bushwack our way back to the car.  We consulted our map, took bearings on our compass and we searched.  We saw a trail, but it appeared to just circle back to the trail we had been on.  So, we searched some more.  It was frustrating.  It started to snow.  We took a bearing, headed out, going NE planning to go until it was dark and we found a suitable place to bed down.  As we climbed uphill, skirting around rocks, not knowing what was in front of us, I stopped us – feeling like we needed to go back to that trail.  I just had a feeling….

And sure enough, we followed it, and as the sun started to go down, we came to where we had planned to camp all along.

Sun shining through the moss, pines and snow.

Sun shining through the moss, pines and snow.

If, in that moment, we had slowed down and trusted our gut and actually tried that trail, we would have avoided several hours of messing around.  I didn’t know that was the right way, but I had a feeling that it was.  Instead, I talked myself out of it.  What would happen, when faced with a decision, if we always listened to our gut?  If we took the time to slow down and actually listen to ourselves?  Listened to what we were feeling to find out what was the right answer?  I imagine our choices might be different.  And even if the results weren’t actually different, would we feel different about them because we had made the choice ourselves?  My guess is yes, yes it would feel different.

5.  Laugh in the face of it all.  

We got lost.  It snowed.  It was freezing.  It wasn’t the trek we planned on doing.  We spent more hours in our tent than we ever planned on (which is what happens when you get into your sleeping bag at 4:30 in the afternoon).  But through it all, we laughed.  We supported each other.  We saw beauty in our surroundings and we celebrated our good fortune.

thanks buddy!

thanks buddy!

There is so much to celebrate in this world of ours, it just seems that we should make the time to laugh each and every day.  In the face of all that seems unfair and unjust and wrong and painful, there is so much to laugh at and celebrate.  Be thankful when you have a buddy with you to laugh at jokes that never get old.  And when you’re alone?  Laugh at the absurdity and make sure not to take yourself too seriously.  ‘Cause there’s just too much joy with out there!

IMG_0469

I guess when I think about these 5 lessons — they are really just come down to trust.

To be here now and trust that everything will fall into place.  ‘Cause it does.  It just does.

And in the mean time, drink a hoppy cascade-hopped ipa and laugh with an old friend!

IMG_0467

My limited wardrobe

9 Oct

I will never be a fashion icon. And if you scan through the pictures of my travels, you will see that I also have a pretty limited wardrobe. I wear the same things…. a lot. I mean, sure, I lived out of a backpack for a year.

But, it is also true that when I find something I like, I wear it a lot. Like – a lot a lot. And now you can read about one of those items here.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69

In the purple hoody….  in Peru.

 

though — perhaps it just means that I wear too much patagucci… 🙂

Autumn in NYC

22 Sep

This weekend was one of those ones that make you glad you live in the Northeast…  I love the fall!  Instead of blabbering on about my weekend, I am going to tell the story with a photo-essay

Sunset over NYC skyline

Sunset over NYC skyline

Celebrating a friend's 30th birthday with a full moon birthday ride

Celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday with a full moon birthday ride

salsa and chips on pier 66 with a full moon rising

salsa and chips on pier 66 with a full moon rising

new work at 5ptz

new work at 5ptz

love warrior

love warrior

more love

more love

IMG_0385

pipe dreams

pipe dreams

take a bite out of the apple

take a bite out of the apple

IMG_0373

Sunday morning bike ride up through Brooklyn to Roosevelt Island

Sunday morning bike ride up through Brooklyn to Roosevelt Island

UN

UN

Not pictured….

  • An amazing photo exhibit on the water front, all in shipping containers featuring photographers from all over.  Some of the images brought tears to my eyes.
  • A block party with the neighbors.
  • Farmer’s market with apples, swiss chard, delicata squash and cider donuts.
  • Some good walks in the sun, through the park, smiling at strangers – all of us rejoicing in the blue skies and beautiful weather.
  • Papusas from the Red Hook El Salvadorian food truck.

It was a good weekend.  

Have I mentioned how much fun this life is?

One year here

6 Sep

All of a sudden it was July 31st.

Which meant that I had been here for a year.  Which meant that i made it through my first year of my new job.  And my first year in NYC.  And not just made it through, I had a ton of fun!  I never would have guessed that I would like it this much.

Here are some of the things I did this past year:

Long Island City

Long Island City

  • Found routines – like morning walks by the public housing building near my house and seeing all the Vietnamese residents doing exercises in the backyard – just like I saw in the mornings in vietnam
  • Roller derby in coney island
Coney Island Roller Derby.  We rooted for Brooklyn.  Naturally.

Coney Island Roller Derby. We rooted for Brooklyn. Naturally.

  • Learned the subway system (after some disastrous starts)
  • Biked out to Coney Island
Coney Island's kind of scary

Coney Island’s kind of scary

not sure what this ride was... well, I could imagine, but I don't want to ride it

not sure what this ride was… well, I could imagine, but I don’t want to ride it

  • Ate lots of good food — kind of like when I traveled.  Legit South India, Vietnamese, papusas (my new favorite!), tacos
  • Took a spanish class – and then forgetting a whole lot of it – but making some good friends in the class!
  • Put myself out there to make new friends and try new things (checking out live music, going dancing, joining groups) – which sounds like a small thing – but not being a joiner makes it hard!  But – happy to say, I have a group-ish of friends now, people I can call up to go out with, people I can go ride bikes with, people who will go drink mezcal with me (to read more about my new obsession, see below), people will want to go hiking
  • Discovered the craft beer scene in Brooklyn (luckily one of the really good bars is right near my house)
  • Also discovered that I am a big fan of tequila and mezcal drinks (NYC has no shortage of fancy cocktails — like the night I went to a bar focused on experimental cocktails and had some crazy tequila and mezcal drinks — all for the low low price of $16 each!)
  • Survived my second year of being car-free (last year probably doesn’t fully count) – though I do miss escaping out to the mountains.
  • Found places to get fresh veggies and good bagels and awesome coffee – and all those other things that make routine a good thing

And so much more….

 

So much fun to be had!

So much fun to be had!

 

When I was traveling, I was limited by time, but was free without a plan – so I would move on when I felt I was ready, when I wanted a new adventure.  Though there is still a fire inside of me, wanting to see the world, wanting to climb mountains and trek through foreign lands, there is still so much here for me to explore –  I feel like I barely touched the surface.  How fun – to know that I still have so much more to do here?

I am still grounded in knowing I am in the right place, at the right time.

Here is my ‘Dear Life’

28 Aug

This is a reprint from my friend Kim’s blog.  

Tuesday, 7:30 pm

Dear Life –

I’ve been hesitant to write you because I wasn’t sure how I felt about you.  I knew believed you were giving me “gifts” – but they sure didn’t feel like gifts – all that struggle and messiness?!  Come on now – what kind of gifts are those?!

But now… now I think I’m getting it.  And I think that I’m ready to say thank you.

Thank you for travel – a solo journey that I thought would be the answer – but instead was only the opening of the door.  And that door being my heart, naturally.  And the opening of that door just prepared me to do the really hard work of this past year – which meant more opening and naming all that I want and all that I am worth.

And thank you for courage.  The courage to be vulnerable.  The courage to believe I’m worthy of everything I want.  The courage to push open the door to my heart even further.  And what hard work it is – so thank you again for the courage to take it on.

Finding the beauty in each day

Finding the beauty in each day

But life, I know that you are pragmatic (since you’re my life – of course you’re pragmatic!) – so thank you for deep lungs and big strong muscular thighs.  So, I can’t find pants to fit right (it’s way more fun to wear cute dresses anyway), but I can climb mountains and pedal my bike for hours and be active and outside, which feeds my soul and heart in countless ways.

And thank you for watermelon and hoppy ipas.  And bachata and cumbia.  And friends new and old to keep me laughing and celebrating and exploring and pushing myself.

And thank you life – for filling me with more dreams than I will ever accomplish in this life time and filling me with the dissonance of loving my work and loving this world – what a great dilemma to have!

And just…. Thank you.  With all my heart.

Live it like you mean it.

3 Jun

‘Wow, that’s so brave’, she remarked to me, after I told her I moved here only knowing one or two people.  I chuckled to myself, thinking – ‘oh, if only you knew!’  I decided to not share all those times that I felt scared, felt less than courageous, in the last 10 months.

But what happened?  Was I the same person who arrived at a bus station in India and picked where I was going next by getting on the next departing bus?  Was I the same person who learned to venture out and trust myself?  It was hard to believe, sitting at home, on my couch, feeling…. well, frankly, pretty far from brave.

For some reason, things feel different here.  Perhaps, it is that I am not a traveler anymore.  This is my country, and now, my home.  Perhaps it is that NYC is not known as one of the friendlier places in the world (though, full disclosure, I don’t find it that rough either – people have the capacity to be friendly.  They just choose not to be most of the time).

But, whatever that difference is, the fact remains that I don’t feel as brave as I did when I was traveling the world.  And when you don’t have friends in a new place, getting yourself out there is very effortful.  Tiring, even.  And so, I found, over the months since I moved here – I lost that courage.  It was sometimes easier to stay in with a good book, watch House of Cards on netflix.

Yet, I remember what it felt like to be out there, to explore, and have that freedom.  So, I am going to dedicate the next few months/time to making that effort.  To re-aquatinting myself with that freedom and joy and exploration.  To being the traveler – but this time with a home (that no one is puking in) and way more clothes and shoes.

more than just a pair of hiking boots and chacos

more than just a pair of hiking boots and chacos

So, here is to learning to be a travler in my own home, wherever that home is – and finding courage.

chinese new year in flushing

chinese new year in flushing

Gratitude. part dos

27 Jan

Last week when I wrote about making a list of what I am grateful for in this past year, a few folks asked about that list.  So — here is a portion of that list, in no particular order (the numbers are there just because I like lists, not because of priority).

38 things I am grateful for:

1.  My mom and dad for encouraging me and supporting me to follow my dreams, accepting that my path is not as straight as others.  Though it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, I am ever so thankful for their inspiration, acceptance and support.

2.  Katherine – my buddy in adventures.  We have skied the Chic Chocs, bed down in the whites, climbed some pretty high mountains and have hiked countless number of miles together.  I feel lucky to have a friend who will go on such adventures with me – and cannot wait to plan the next one!

katherine and I on top of mt. whitney

katherine and I on top of mt. whitney

3.  My job.  I do work that I care about, work that I believe makes the world a better place.  Work that makes me think and pushes me to be my best self.

4.  My mentors.  I am lucky to have some pretty great mentors, people who are looking out for me, who have given me guidance along the way and have inspired me in my work.  Thanks Steve, Julie H., Sue, Lily and Meg (among others).

5.  India – for reminding me of the goodness of people and the beauty of humanity and that, ultimately, the world is a good place full of good people.

Couldn't speak any common language, but we could understand enough

Couldn’t speak any common language, but we could understand enough

6.  Hope.  Ultimately, I am full of hope, even when I try to hide that hope.  Hope makes us vulnerable.  It makes us trust.  It opens us up.  Sometimes all that is scary – but as much as it scares me, I cannot deny that is who I am.

7.  Climbing, trekking, skiing, backpacking, hiking, walking – being outside and active (and not hurt – unlike right now…..  which I hate.  I hate being hurt.  oh, wait – wrong list).

8.  Mountains – for keeping me dreaming.

one of the many, many mountains i dream of climbing

one of the many, many mountains i dream of climbing

9.  My brother.  We’re just under two years apart, went to the same school — all the way to college – together.  Now we live on different sides of the country, but every time we get together we laugh and have fun.  But, can’t leave out my other brother who is much younger, but is well on his way to leading an interesting life himself.

10. My bestest girlfriends.  I am beyond lucky that I have an amazing group of girl friends.  Yogatara, Jessica, heather, susan, cynthia, tracy, smak, cara, meggy, jessica.  These women make me laugh, feed my soul, listen to me complain, let me cry on their shoulders and tell me to shut up when I need to hear that.

weekend in the berkshires

weekend in the berkshires – look how much we love hanging out with each other!

11.  Bucket lists.  Biking around the world?  Climbing a mountain over 20,000 feet?  Living in another country?  Becoming fluent in spanish?  Being in Thailand for a sky lantern festival?  Trekking in remote Nepal?  Yes, don’t mind if I do.

12.  Laughter.  The world keeps me endlessly amused.  I like to laugh – often and loud.  In fact, one of my students use to make fun of my laugh because it was so loud.  awesome.  keep it coming.

13.  Books.  Fiction, specifically.  And lots of it.

14.  Patagonia – for make me yearn for wild places.  Patagonia – will you marry me?

i am in love….

15.  Peru – for offering me lessons when I needed them.  For its beautiful people, its passion, its landscape, its rich history.  I might cheat on patagonia for peru.

16.  The universe – what a grand, amazing world this is conspiring each and every day to remind me how great it is.

17.  My journey.  As unpredictable as it has been, as winding, and messy and twisty it is, what a great journey it has been.

18.  Surprises and magic.  Last year when I was traveling – each thing that happened, that seemed wrong and bad — ultimately it would all turn out to be ok, even great.

yahoooooo

19.  Open heart.  See #6.  Open heart and hope and vulnerability — all tied up.  And I am ever thankful that I am on this journey to keep my heart open (with varying success along the way).

20.  Wisdom.  As I get older, the more wisdom I get.  I have a long way to go, but it is one thing about getting older that I love.

There’s more.  Another 18 on the list (whoa, that makes me feel old), but you get the idea…..

Thanks world.

Precious Life

5 Aug

As most of you know, I have taken a job in New York City as an School Designer, working for NYC Outward Bound Schools.  Which basically means that I will be supporting schools in NYC that are implementing the Expeditionary Learning Schools model.  Does it sound like the dream job for me?  Yep, pretty much.

But, 4 months ago — if you had asked me if I was gong to move to NYC – I would have told you a resounding ‘hell no‘ and told you about opportunities in India.  Or even 3 months ago, I would have told you about how I needed to be in Peru.

In fact, those who have known me longest have laughed – OUT LOUD (usually followed by a ‘no fucking way!?’) – when I tell them I am moving to NYC.

So – what happened and how did I end up here?

sunset in Southern India

During my last month of travel, in Peru, I kept coming back to the Mary Oliver quote:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?

So much had happened during my travels — so much in my thoughts and outlook on life.  I knew I wasn’t going to go back to Renaissance, but what was the next step?  Where to go next?

During my travels, I sat and thought a lot.  I mean, to the point of it being a little ridiculous.  What did you do while traveling?  Um, I thought.  I wrote.  I thought some more.  And of course, I went out and lived.  I climbed, I trekked, I sat in plazas, I tried new food.  I practiced my spanish, I got stared at a lot.  I met some amazing people.  I rode trains and buses and rickshaws.  I was scared and lonely.  I smiled at strangers.  I gradually let down my walls and opened up to the world.

And as time went on, I could feel myself change.  I could sense the openness and courage – when I wasn’t so scared to try new things.  When I became comfortable in my own skin and started to love traveling by myself.  When I loved sharing a laugh with a stranger.  When I was so authentically and truly myself with other people.  And it was beautiful and wonderful and made me laugh and smile at the world.

As I sensed this change, I cherished it.  And became terrified to loose it.  So, I started to name the kind of life I wanted to live.  Like a sculptor working with clay, I took the amorphous blob of stuff and started to give it form and shape, dimensions and depth.  And slowly, out of the jumble of ideas, I started to give shape to the exact life I wanted to live.  And on of the biggest ideas that I kept coming back to was this:  I do not want to live a mediocre life.  I do not want to sacrifice my happiness.

In this one ‘wild and precious life’, I want greatness and beauty and adventure and love.

Adventure.  It kept coming back to that – how alive I felt staring out to the train as I traveled down the Indian coast.  How alive I felt trekking through Patagonia.  How alive I felt sitting in the plaza at sunset in Cusco.  And so I knew, there was no other way for me to live my life from now on – adventure had to be part of it.

So, when the opportunity for New York City came up – though it not the wilderness I crave – it is certainly the wildnessI crave.  As I started to think about it, I realized that this, too, would be an adventure.

Ho Chi Minh City at night

And so, having a new-found courage in my ability to take on adventures and figure out how to navigate the world — I am ready to try this new adventure.  So, here I am – figuring it out, learning how to get around.

My travels will be limited from now on — getting from Brooklyn to Staten Island.  Manhattan to Queens.  But, I think that the adventures will be just as rich and just as important in my journey.

Gettin’ my climb on

21 Mar

As I have told you all, Bolivia is the land of amazing geography — from salt flats, to one of the highest plateaus in the world to amazing mountain ranges, Bolivia seems to have it all.  Among mountaineers, Bolivia is well known for the Cordillera Real (the Royal Range) – home of some of the highest mountains in Bolivia, many of them over 6,000m.

the view up the glacier and the mountain

[side note for all my American readers — I know that we are still stuck in the world of feet and inches and pounds and gallons, alone in the world, sticking to our guns… er, measurements.  But, as you probably also know — the rest of the world has agreed to all use the same measurements, making it easy for everyone else to understand meters and celsius without needing to do quick math in their heads.  My tactic?  Just go with the crowd….]

 

In any case, if you know me, you know that I have a thing for mountains.  Especially the big snow covered variety.  And since every tour agency in La Paz offers a climb to Huayna Potosi, I decided to investigate.  Turns out that I could take a guided climb for 3 days and try for the summit, 6,088m.  I spent a while talking to one tour agency run by a Bolivian doctor who is also a climber (and starting some studies on high altitude health).  We had some fun talks about mountains and though he was quirky (to put it mildly), I felt pretty good about the agency and decided to sign on.  It took a few days for their to be a group for the day(s) I wanted, but finally it looked like it was a go as one other person signed up for the day I wanted to go!

Now, I have never done a guided climb before, being the guide myself or going with friends.  But, not having any firends here to go with, it makes it a whole lot harder to go climbing.  I tend to not love guided trips – as I do not like people waiting on me and I always want to help – which makes them uncomfortable (as that is not how it is done).  But, as one friend pointed out, how nice would it be to show up and have all the food already taken care of?  Good point.

on the way up the mountain (which is behind me in the clouds)

In any case, our group of 3 — Feliciano — our guide, Elad — an Israeli navy lieutenant traveling in South America for 4 months after his 7 years of service, and myself, headed up to the mountain.  Feliciano, who is 40, has been spending time in the mountains since he was 14 and has been a guide for 16 years.  He has climbed all the mountains in Bolivia, and most major peaks in Peru, Argentina and some in Ecuador.  We had fun talking about Aconcagua (he has climbed all the routes there — which is super impressive!)

Feliciano, Elad and I on the way down

The refugio we were staying at the first night was pretty close to La Paz — just 14 or so km from the city boundary.  After arriving and eating lunch, we headed up to the glacier for snow school — which was pretty much just learning how to use an ice axe, walk with crampons and play on the snow.  Technically, I probably did not need this day as walking in crampons is something I feel pretty confident with — but at the same time, it was nice to go out their with the guide and feel confident about their skills and their method of teaching.  And, I will always take a day to go play in the snow!

Elad and I after climbing school — don’t mind the krusty the clown look…..

In any case, before I bore you non-mountaineering-types with stories of snow and ice, the schedule was to get as much sleep as possible the first day and then to head up to the high camp the next day (which can take our guide close to 40-50 minutes, but took us about 3 hours – but more on that later), eat dinner there and then try and get a few hours of sleep before waking at midnight to head up to the summit (anywhere from 4-8 hours).

The walk to high camp was beautiful — though cloudy.  But we got some great views of the glacier, distant peaks and the valley below.  Plus Huayna Potosi is a beautiful mountain (see for yourself).

the summit is the peak on the right

I would not say that I am in the best shape of my life — exercise has been intermittent, coffee and brownies are indulged in on a regular basis (‘oh, just a little treat for myself’), Bolivia hasn’t been super kind to my digestive system and every hostel I stay in seems to have a gazillion smokers.  But, I tend to do well at altitude and my strength has always been in my ability to walk up hills for hours, albeit slowly.  This trip proved to be the same, and though I don’t feel like I am in the best shape ever, I am definitely more in shape in comparison to other tourists.  And when you are in a group, you know who’s speed you walk at……

front pointing…. up a very small hill. fun none-the-less

The high camp refugio was small, basically a shack with a kitchen — an upper and lower bunk where at least 12-18 could sleep (if you were really crowded in).  Us 3 showed up early, but then a group of 5 Israelis, 1 Dutch girl (the only other girl around), and their 3 guides showed up — making it a home for 12.  After an early dinner of ramen noodles and hot dogs ((I know you are jealous), we tried to go to sleep at 6:30 for our midnight wake-up call.  Between nerves (I am always nervous before a climb — just ask my climbing partner how I did the afternoon we spent staring at the west face of shasta before we climbed it!), listening to a roomful of snoring boys, and how hot a tiny shack can get with 12 bodies crammed into it — all I could do was rest my body as my watch registered the hours (and yes — I heard them all from 7 until 11, at which point I resigned myself to pulling an all-nighter – which of course lead me to try and remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter… but I digress).

Alpine starts are one of my favorite things about mountaineering.  I don’t know why, there is just something so cool about waking up before everyone else and heading up the mountain.  I love climbing in the dark – seeing the stars, faint outlines of the mountain before me and the sight of headlamps making their way up the mountain.  And the reward for that?  Seeing the sunrise from high up on the mountain.

sunrise on Huayna Potosi

This time was no different.    We started off at 1:40 (following a cluster in the refugio as tired folks struggled to put on harnesses, plastic boots, and crampons — new for most of them) with Feliciano leading us up the mountain, followed by Elad  and then myself.  Though the climb was really hard for Elad, I was really impressed with his ability to steadily keep moving.  Others (the other climbing party) were struggling — frequently throwing themselves to the ground desperately needing a break.  But Elad really pushed himself and kept moving.  Though we started at least half an hour after the other climbing teams (each rope team had two clients and one guide), we quickly caught up with them and leap-frogged with them for the rest of the climb.

It was a beautiful night, not a cloud in sight, fairly warm and no winds.  In other words, a perfect climbing night.  The snow was crisp, if just a bit sugary, and the climb was fairly straight forward.  We snaked past some gaping crevasses and climbed a pretty awesome 45 degree slope over a crevasse (front pointing is ALWAYS fun!).  The approach to the summit was steep and exposed, with the finally approach along the ridge to the small summit (that dropped off to the extremely steep west face).  It was probably one of the more exposed climbs I have done, which was fine on the ascent, a bit spookier on the descent (requiring full attention which is why I unfortunately do not have any pictures of it).

Cheesy grin after summitting

We arrived at the summit just in time for the sunrise, which did not fail to impress.  Mountains in all directions glowing from the rising sun and the pink clouds below us.  But, in mountaineering, the summit is just a small part of the journey, so we took some pictures (weak shots as there was not enough light) and then headed down in increasing day light.  I was astounded as we descended at how beautiful it was — Bolivia at that moment owning my heart (sorry Patagonia, India and Nepal).

horrible shot, but that is us on the summit

Our descent was fairly quick and involved some fun ‘skiing’ down some slopes (once we were past the glaciers) and we arrived back at the lower refugio in time for an early lunch and our ride back to La Paz.  My second highlight of the day?  Playing with the concinera (cook’s) daughter.  She was adorable, I only understood about a third of what she said (ok, make that 1/8th, so I just said ‘no se’ a lot), but we had so much fun playing outside!

was the summit the highlight of my day or playing with senorita?!

Feliciano, seeing my skills and knowing that I had climbed before, offered to guide me up other mountains if I wished.  We spoke last night (my first spanish conversation on the phone!) and then texted today and I decided to try for Illimani later this week.  It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision as he texted me saying I needed to decide quickly as he was headed back up the mountain with another group today.  There were plenty of reasons to say no (money, spending more time in La Paz since we cannot go until Friday, money and more money), but then again  — when will I get a chance to climb the second highest peak in Bolivia with a private guide?!

I’m a little nervous (when am I not?) as this peak is higher, a bit more technical and potentially longer.  But, I guess that is why I have a guide!  And, I’ll tell you what, it felt damn good to be up on a mountain again.   I remembered that my goal on this adventure was to climb and trek as much as possible — and so this seems to be a good way to achieve my goals!  So now, I am going to try and figure out how to entertain myself and not spend a lot of money for the next few days!

I took this picture 3 times trying to get myself pointing at the summit….

Southwest Bolivia – Land of the Incredible

4 Mar

Southwest Bolivia – volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, salt flats, cactus, geysers.  It is hard to believe that it is all here.

I have spent the past week or so exploring SW Bolivia – including taking a 4 day jeep tour that allowed us to get into the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.  It also took us past geysers, volcanoes, flamingos and lots and lots of open countryside.

yoga in the salar

sunrise yoga on the salar

Before the tour, I first spent a few days exploring Tupiza with its red rocks, cactus and high desert mountains.  It was great to get out and explore the landscape – I went for a few hikes, walked around town, bought the paper and tried to translate stories, went to the market for breakfast (cafe con leche and pasteles – basically fried dough) and ate saltenas (like empanadas but better — filled with meat, eggs, olives and other goodies!).

one of the canyons near tupiza

flowering cactus near tupiza

one of many cactus i took pictures of

cross at a mirador in tupiza

cross on top of a mirador overlooking Tupiza, we climbed up there for the sunset (which was not epic)

The tour, though very expensive, allowed me to see parts of the southwest that would have been difficult to see otherwise.  I was in a group with 2 Italians, 1 French and myself.  Plus our driver and our cook.  It ended up being great.  The four of us got along great and the views were extraordinary, even with not great weather.

our group in the salar - me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevinour group – me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevin

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Basically, we spent  the better part of 4 days in the jeep and we would get out and look at the ‘main’ sites.  Ed Abbey would hate it.  But, as I mentioned, it would be hard to get into these areas on my own unless I had own vehicle (note to self, next time I visit South America, it should be by bike or by vehicle!).   But, the sites are tourist sites because of how beautiful they are!

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

Our day would start with breakfast (mate or coffee and bread) and then we would pile into the jeep and head off.  Half way through the morning, Clemencia would pass back a snack (yogurt in a plastic sleeve or oreos), we would stop at various sites until it was time for lunch.  Then Clemencia would prepare lunch on the back of the jeep and we would eat more, pile into the jeep and head off for more sites.  We saw many many lagunas, llamas, flamingos and mountains.

llamas!

llamas!

Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

During the afternoon, our jeep was pretty funny.  Chewing cocoa leaves is very common in Bolivia (in fact the president wants to export it).  Our driver and cook chewed it like it was going out of style – popping leaves into their mouths at a constant rate.  We all (Elisa, Tommy, Kevin and I) also had a bag and would ‘chew’ it as well.  Basically, you take a wad of leaves – chew them just slightly and then stuff them into your cheek.  So, there were times when none of us spoke and we all had big wads of coca in our mouths.  The cocoa leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are used medicinally here – good for altitude.  But they are used in teas and for chewing and you can buy them at every market.  The real connoisseurs  (which is every Bolivian) take something alkaline with it to enhance the effects.  Clemencia shared some with us and you can tell a difference.

Besides never seeing cactus and llamas and flamingos in the wild before, I had never seen geysers.  They weren’t epic like I have heard they are in Yellowstone, but they were still pretty amazing.  We got out of the jeep and were able to walk around — some were shooting steam into the air, others were piles of bubbling mud.  It was all pretty amazing!

geysers

geysers and bubbling mud

But the part that we were all waiting for was the salar — one of the largest and highest salt flats in the world.  I was pretty excited because we were there during the rainy season – which meant that the water on the salt flat would reflect the sky.  The pictures I had seen were pretty epic.  We went out there early in the morning hoping to see the sun rise, though it was a cloudy morning – though, I am not sure there is a bad day on the salar.

sunrise on the salar

sunrise on the salar

salar de uyuni

salar de uyuni

Following the tour, I took a bus to Potosi – a town that sits at just under 4000m (close to 13,000 feet) and is well known for the silver mining operations.  One of the big tourist things to do here is to take a tour of the mines (and you can bring the miners gifts like dynamite, cigarettes, beer and cocoa leaves).  I am not sure if I will do it, but the town is quite beautiful (stay tuned for another titillating post!)

Take care friends — hope you enjoy the pictures!