NY-Mount Marcy

Summit Date

August 12, 2017 (around 11:00 am)

Party

Ryan Cragun, Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett

Trip Report

In my big swing across the US that allowed me to complete most of the highpoints in the Northeast in 2013, I didn’t manage to fit in Mount Marcy. It’s a solid day hike, and I just didn’t have the time. I ended up arranging a trip to Lake Placid, NY specifically to hike Mount Marcy, with my two hiking buddies.

We all flew into Newark on Friday, August 11th, picked up a rental car, then headed to Lake Placid, stopping in Albany for dinner and food to take up on our hike the next day. We arrived kind of late (close to 11:00 pm) and planned an early start the next morning (on the mountain at 7:00) in order to hopefully avoid the impending rain storm that was forecast for the next day.

The trip reports we read about the hike varied quite a bit. Some suggested it was really challenging, with a lot of uphill and rugged terrain. Others suggested it wasn’t that challenging and was a pleasant hike. We also got variable times and distances for the hike. Some trip reports suggested it would take as short as 4 hours while others suggested as many as 15 (that’s a pretty big range). Mileage estimates were also varied, though with a smaller range, hovering between 12 and 17 miles. Because of all the varied estimates, we planned for a 10 to 12 hour, 17-mile hike, just to be safe. As it turns out, using my GPS enabled watch, I now have much more accurate information on the hike.

We stayed at a B&B in Lake Placid, got up at 6:00 am, and drove straight to the Adirondack Loj. There is a parking fee there ($5.00), and by the time we arrived just before 7:00 am, the lot was getting pretty full. This is obviously a popular destination for hikers. We got our boots and gear on, did some stretching (a requirement once you hit 40), signed the register, and hit the trail.

We made good time for the first three miles or so, covering them in about an hour. The first three miles of the trail are fairly level and it is mostly a well-maintained dirt trail, with a few roots, rocks, and other small objects in the way. But around the 3-mile mark, there was a noticeable shift in the trail and terrain. Not only was there substantially more uphill terrain, but it became rocky to the point that at times you are literally boulder hopping.

Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.
Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.

I’ve climbed a lot of mountains and was impressed with how rugged this trail got. This is not a trail you’d want to attempt in light tennis shoes (unless you’re an experienced trail runner); sturdy boots are a very good idea for this hike, ideally with good ankle support. We didn’t make as good of time on the remaining 4 miles to the summit but still did fairly well.

We arrived at the summit at just under 4 hours. When we arrived, the summit was completely enshrouded with clouds. We had no view whatsoever. We spent about 40 minutes on the summit, eating a little food and chatting with the forest ranger on the top who was reminding people to avoid the vegetation, which they are trying to get to grow back.

The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.
The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.

Alas, about 20 minutes after we dropped off the summit, the clouds broke and we finally had some nice views. It was at this point I took a photosphere:

We got better photos at this point, but we were still worried about the impending rain storm. The top of the mountain is largely exposed rock that wouldn’t be all that fun to ascend or descend in the rain. As a result, we opted not to return to the summit and instead to continue our descent. We stopped a few times on the way down to take advantage of some of the toilets that are along the trail and took a quick detour to the waterfall that is also fairly close to the trail. With our detours and stops, we returned to the parking lot in just under 8 hours. The distance on my watch indicated exactly 15 miles. So, there you have it – it is a 15-mile hike. Our average moving pace was 26 minutes per mile. If you know how quickly you can move on fairly rugged terrain, you should be able to estimate how long the hike will take you. We were passed by a couple who were clearly trail runners. They were the only ones moving more quickly than we were and they probably did the entire hike in 6 1/2 hours. I can see how this hike would easily take 12 hours if you’re not an avid hiker and in good shape. It is genuinely rugged terrain, particularly after the 3-mile mark, and you should be prepared for it.

Obviously, if you can, try to go on a nice day. The views from the top are supposed to be quite nice. But even hiking in cloudy conditions, the terrain was pretty. We passed through multiple types of forest – pine and maple – and really enjoyed ourselves.

Panorama

Directions

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Triple Falls Trail – Dupont Forest, North Carolina

I was attending a conference in Asheville, NC, and had half of a day free.  Rather than stay cooped up in my hotel, and knowing there were hills in the area, myself and my colleagues, took a trip out to Dupont Forest to hike Triple Falls.

We didn’t have a lot of time – just about an hour and a half.  That worked well for the hike as it isn’t particularly long.  Also, there was a risk of rain.  There was a light drizzle in the surrounding area as we approached the hike, and a light mist at times for parts of the hike.  The light mist was nice as it cooled us down while we climbed the hilly sections.

Here are a few videos from the hike:

We made it to the top of the falls fairly quickly. Here are a couple of videos of the scenic view from the covered bridge that crosses the river just above the top fall:

Just as we were headed out of the covered bridge, which provided some protection from any possible rain, the rain really picked up.  It lasted for about 20 minutes and got us pretty wet. Despite getting soaked, it was a fun hike and I’m sure even more delightful on a bright, sunny day.

Here’s the GPS track:

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Hiking in Silver Springs State Park

I was invited to give a presentation to a freethought group in Ocala and thought it might be a good opportunity to explore a little more of Florida.  I looked up hikes near Ocala and found Silver Springs State Park.  From what we were told by some of the people where I gave my presentation, Silver Springs used to be a privately owned amusement park and Florida’s first tourist attraction. Apparently, the park fell on hard times and eventually was taken over by the state.  Now it’s a state park with boat rides on the springs and some hiking trails.

My presentation was supposed to be in the early afternoon, so we decided to go to Silver Springs State Park in the morning, try to get a hike in, go to my presentation, and then come back for another hike afterward.

We got a bit later start than we had hoped as we had to pick up a few supplies before we left Tampa.  We got to the park around 11:30 and walked through the main area where they sell boat rides and have a restaurant.

Toren and Ryan at Silver Spring State Park
Toren and Ryan at Silver Spring State Park

We managed to get in a short hike in the primary part of the park before we had to leave for my presentation. We did a newly created hike called Creek Trail, which wasn’t much of a hike.  It looped around in a circle, with Silver Springs Blvd. on one side and Silver River on the other side.  It did give a bit of a sample of what Florida’s natural land looks like, but it was a very quick taste.  Here’s the route:

We had to leave after the hike to get to my presentation on time.  The presentation went well and then we went to a late lunch with some of the people who were at the presentation.  After lunch, we headed back into the park to do another hike.  This one was a bit longer.  It took us through some Florida wilderness and eventually to the Silver River, as seen in this photo.

Debi and Toren by Silver River
Debi and Toren by Silver River

The trail then looped back around.  This was called the Swamp Trail; here’s the route:

After that hike it was getting dark, so we headed out for a bite to eat and headed home.  It was a fun little outing.  No elevation gain, of course, but a good chance to stretch our legs in Florida wilderness.

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Half Dome – Yosemite National Park

I was in Northern California on a speaking tour but had a couple of days while I was there that I didn’t have any speaking engagements.  I had combined the speaking tour with a conference I was attending in Seattle, the plan being that I would travel to several locations in California to talk about my books then fly to Seattle for the conference before heading home.

The day before I was to fly to Seattle ended up being free with no speaking engagements.  I knew that a few days in advance, so I decided to put in for a permit to climb Half Dome in Yosemite.  Whenever I tell someone from California that I like to hike, they invariably ask me if I have hiked Half Dome.  They all seem to think it is the greatest hike in the world.  In order to be able to tell them that I had hiked Half Dome, I figured I’d put in for the permit and, if I was lucky enough to get it, I’d make a quick trip out to Yosemite, hike Half Dome, then head back to Sacramento to catch my flight the next morning.

I had a speaking engagement on the 17th in San Jose in the evening.  I also found out I got my permit on the 17th, so I had to inform the people who were going to host me that night that I was going to drive out to Yosemite instead.  The presentation went well.  After signing books and chatting for a bit, I took off for Yosemite around 9 pm.  It was about a 4-hour drive.

I asked my wife to help me out by trying to find me a place to stay near or in the park so I could drive straight there, crash for a few hours, then start my hike.  She ended up finding me a cabin in the park.  Luckily, the office for the campground is open all night, so when I pulled in around 1:30, they were open, handed me my key, and gave me a map to show me where to catch the shuttle to the trailhead for Half Dome.  I headed to the cabin and went straight to bed – around 2 am.

I got up around 6:30, packed up, checked out of the cabin, then geared up and caught the shuttle to the trailhead.  There were quite a few people on the bus and most were getting off at the Half Dome trailhead.  After I got off the bus, I made a quick decision to take the steeper trail to get away from the herd of people.  It was a good decision.  After I reached the first waterfall (Vernal Fall) and first set of stairs, the crowds started to thin.

By the time I reached the top of Nevada Falls, there were very few people hiking on the trail.

I continued to push my pace as I still had to summit, hike back out, and then drive to Sacramento that night.  I passed a few people who asked me if I had a permit, as they didn’t and weren’t sure if someone was going to check for permits.  Sure enough, about a mile and a half below the cables, there were rangers checking for permits.  I had mine and showed it to them, but they were turning others away.

I made it to the cables after about 2 1/2 hours, where there was, unfortunately, a massive group of very slow climbers.  I ended up helping a woman who was afraid of heights make it up the cables, but it took me almost 45 minutes with her and her slow-moving friends in front of me.  I was happy to help and it made for interesting conversation.

After I got to the top, I took about 20 minutes to grab a bite to eat and air out my feet, changing my socks in the process.  It was still fairly early, but the heat was starting to rise and my sweaty feet need to breathe.

Wary that I would get caught behind other rather slow hikers on the way down, I didn’t want to stay long.  As it turns out, I did get stuck behind a very slow couple, but they eventually let me pass them.  It is definitely true that you can make good time getting to the cables, but the cables are a traffic jam just waiting to happen.

Here I am just below the cables with Half Dome in the background.

After getting past the cables, I tried to move pretty fast on the way down.  I did, however, stop just above Nevada Fall to let my feet cool off.  I pulled my boots and socks off and soaked them in the river for about 10 minutes as they were getting really hot.  It felt amazing.

From there, it was a quick trip back to the bottom.

Here’s my route:

Total hiking time was 6 hours and 45 minutes to cover 15.1 miles with 6,216 feet of elevation gain across the hike.

Half Dome was a cool hike.  Is it the most amazing hike I’ve ever done?  No.  It was beautiful in spots, and the waterfalls were really pretty.  But it has a serious competitor with Zion National Park, where the cliffs are equally amazing and the slot canyons are other-worldly.  I have been to lots of places that are stunningly beautiful.  I’d definitely do this hike again, but I think it might be more fun to hike half way and camp, summit, then hike out, giving yourself plenty of time to get stuck on the cables and to enjoy the river and scenery.  Sorry, Californians, Half Dome is cool, but it’s not the best hike I’ve done.

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Point Lobos, California Hike

While on a book speaking tour in California, I had a few days where I didn’t have any talks.  One one of those days, while I was staying in Santa Cruz, I drove down the coast to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  I was using my down time to get some work done but also needed some exercise.

I had to park along the freeway, as the parking lot was full.  As I walked in, I asked the woman in the booth what trails she would recommend for someone who wanted a good workout.  She suggested climbing to the highest point in the park, Whaler’s Knoll.  I made a note of that, then headed out.

Based on the map I had, I thought it made the most sense to try to do a big loop, with a side trip up to the highpoint for some elevation gain.  I headed mostly northwest, to begin with, worked my way around the edge of the Reserve, took a detour up to the top of the Reserve, then returned to finish my loop around the edge.  I ended up back where I started, doing about 5 miles of hiking and seeing most of the Reserve.

Sea lions nest on part of the Reserve.  While I was there, that spot was blocked off as there were babies and they didn’t want people disturbing them.  However, it was possible to still see the sea lions from a distance.  There were also a lot of birds in the area and some really pretty beaches.

I didn’t get the impression that there were a lot of good places to stop for a picnic, but if you’re interested in nature and wildlife, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve has a lot to offer.

My GPS route:

 110 total views

OR-Mt. Hood

Summit Date

May 25th, 2016, around 7:00 am

Party

Ryan Cragun & Tom Triplett

Trip Report

For the previous 45 highpoints I had done, my wife had expressed some concerns, but had never insisted that I hire a guide.  With Mt. Hood, given that people die on the mountain regularly and that it is snow-covered year round and that I had no prior experience climbing in such conditions, she insisted I hire a guide.  And, frankly, since I climb mountains as a hobby and would rather not die, I found her logic compelling.  My hiking buddy, Tom, and I located the Timberline Mountain Guides online and made a reservation for late May.

The way the guiding service worked was that we paid for a package.  We were supposed to arrive at the Timberline Lodge (which is a ski resort on Mt. Hood) two days before we would try our ascent.  I had a nightmarish experience with Spirit Airlines that almost killed the trip before it started.  Their flight into Tampa that would then take me to Dallas before heading to Oregon was delayed, and the only way they could get me to Portland that day was without my checked bag with all my gear.  I ended up canceling my flight with Spirit and re-booking on Delta last minute (which wasn’t cheap) but was able to get to Portland to meet up with Tom on the night of the 23rd.  We picked up our rental car and some supplies, then headed to the Timberline Lodge where we had booked the cheapest room they had (with bunk beds).

Bright and early on the morning of the 24th we headed to the offices of the Timberline Mountain Guides and met the guides and the other hikers who would be headed up the mountain with us.  There were nine hikers with three guides, for a 3 to 1 ratio.  Of the nine hikers, 8 of us had a fair amount of experience; 1, Terence (not his real name), did not (we’ll come back to him).  We first went through the gear we brought and then were outfitted with any gear we were missing.  I don’t have an ice ax, mountaineering boots, or crampons.  I also didn’t have a puffy jacket at the time (though I do now).  I ended up renting all of those.

After we were all geared up, we headed out of the office and to a nearby slope where we spent about 4 hours going over snow climbing techniques.  We covered all sorts of topics: hiking in the snow without crampons, hiking with crampons, how to use ice axes for balance and for self-arrests, and how to hike short-roped in groups of four.  It was a pretty good crash course on snow and ice mountaineering.  We also got a pretty good sense of which of the 7 other hikers could be trusted, and who was not as skilled on the mountain (ahem, Terence).  Tom and I ended up working with a guy named Jim who was the oldest in our group, but he was a solid hiker, even if he was a little slower than the rest of us.  His reliability on the ropes (we could be tied to him the next day) made us want to have him on our team, but the guides ultimately got to choose the rope teams.

After our morning of training, the guides gave us some final instructions about when we would meet and what we should bring, then let us go.  We had a few things we needed to do.  The guides mentioned the possibility of taking skis or snowboards up on the snowcats to the top of the resort, which is where we’d start our hike the next morning, so we could ski or snowboard down from there after we had summitted.  Tom and I decided to rent snowboards so we could take advantage of that opportunity.  I also realized that my thick gloves I bought in the early 1990s for snowboarding had lost their ability to keep water out.  They were completely waterlogged after the 4 hours of training.  I needed new gloves.  Luckily, we found a ski shop in the nearby town that had some really nice gloves (that cost a small fortune).  I would have been miserable if it were not for those gloves.  We also picked up some last minute supplies and had a big dinner before heading to bed early to try to get some sleep.

We didn’t sleep all that much, maybe three hours, before we got up around 12:45 so we could meet at 1:30 to catch the snowcat to the top of the resort.

boarding the snowcat
boarding the snowcat

The snowcat took about 30 minutes to get to the top of the resort.  We then had to gear up, and Tom and I had to stow our snowboards and boots.  That meant we were a little later getting ready than everyone else, which drew the attention of our third guide who had not helped with the training the day before and we were just now meeting for the first time.  He was probably in his 50s, European, and very professional. He also was completely no nonsense on the mountain.  He started out eyeing Tom and I as we took a little longer than everyone else to get geared up because we had to ditch our snowboards.  As a result, we were at the end of the pack when we started out.

We hiked for about twenty or thirty minutes to get us warmed up, then stopped for about 5 minutes so we could adjust our layers.  At that point, Tom and I snuck up to the front of the pack as we didn’t like being slowed down by the hikers who weren’t moving as fast as we wanted to.  That was a good move.  We stopped a couple more times between that first stop and the Hogsback, which was the staging zone for our final ascent and the place where we would get our harnesses on and be divided into rope teams.  Every time we stopped, it seemed like the group was getting more and more spread out; some of the hikers were much slower than others.  Tom and I were nipping at the heels of the guide who was breaking the trail for us, but only because we do a lot of hiking and are in pretty good shape.

When we finally made it to the Hogsback, it was just beginning to get light (the sun wouldn’t come up for about another hour).

At the Hogsback on the way up
At the Hogsback on the way up

It took almost 20 minutes from when Tom and I arrived at the Hogsback with the lead guide before Terence showed up with the last guide.  The guides told us to get our harnesses on, then snuck off to the side to have a conversation.  They came back a few minutes later and announced to the group that Terence would not be going any further as he was not physically fit or skilled enough to continue.  Unbeknownst to Tom and me, who were at the front of the group, Terence had been struggling since our first stop.  He was asking other people to carry stuff for him, was trying to walk up the mountain backward in crampons because he was tired, and was generally causing problems.  There was no way the guides were going to let him continue up the mountain – it was way too dangerous.

All the hikers in our group had signed forms saying that the guides had final authority on the mountain and that we would do whatever they said.  We had also signed a form saying that we would maintain a 3 to 1 ratio with the guides, and if that meant that one person had to turn around, two others would go with them.  Now, in this situation, the guides gave Terence an option.  He could stay on the Hogsback and wait for us to summit and then come back down, after which we would all descend together.  Or he could hike back down with a guide.  Terence chose option 3: He would pretend to wait at the Hogsback, but as soon as the rest of us left, he said he was going to try to summit without the guides.  Considering the liability issues associated with what Terence was saying, the guides had no choice but to insist that Terence went down the mountain tied to a guide.  And that meant that two of us had to go with him.

No one volunteered.

We were all pissed.  This also delayed us on the Hogsback for about 30 minutes while we tried to work things out.  The guides made a number of calls, to their bosses, to Terence’s emergency contacts, etc.  Nothing would change Terence’s mind about waiting.  Eventually, the guides came up with an alternate plan.  There were a father and son doing a private hike up the mountain with another guide from Timberline Mountain Guides.  When they got to the Hogsback, our guides asked them and their guide if he would take one of our hikers in light of our situation and they agreed.  That meant just one person would have to go down with Terence.  Again, with no one volunteering, we were kind of stuck, until one of our guides decided that, if we didn’t tell anyone, he would take four of us.  He put Tom, Jim, and I together with another hiker (basically, four of the more reliable in our group).  Terence was then short-roped to the new guide who wasn’t putting up with his nonsense at all and pulled off the mountain.

With Terence out of the picture, we then started our ascent.  We skirted around the Bergschrund and the primary chute that most people climb and instead went up the Old Chimney route, which wasn’t as busy.  Even so, there must have been close to 50 or so people climbing the mountain the same time we were.

I should note at this point that we had absolutely perfect weather on our climb.  Once we broke through the clouds, we had an amazing view.  We basically climbed Mt. Hood above the clouds, as you can see in this photo:

The Hogsback
The Hogsback

We made slow and steady progress up our route.  About 100 feet below the ridge, our guide anchored us to the mountain, climbed that last really steep section, set another anchor, then belayed us to the top.  It isn’t quite a 90 degree, vertical slope there, but it’s close.  I’m sure that is the most dangerous spot on the mountain.  Just to be extra cautious, our guides made sure we couldn’t fall there.

We made it to the summit around 7:00 am.  There were a few other people up there, but not many.  Our guides gave us 20 minutes or so to grab a bite to eat and take some pictures before we headed back down.

Tom and Ryan on the summit
Tom and Ryan on the summit

The reason they climb Mt. Hood at night is because the sun can heat up the ice at the top of the mountain.  When the ice warms up, it’s more likely to break and fall on hikers and is generally just less stable.  The idea, then, is to summit as early as possible and then get off the mountain before any ice starts falling.  I did, actually, get hit in the leg with a piece of that very dense ice that was dislodged by a hiker above me and can attest to the fact that it is insanely dense.  It left a good bruise where it hit me on my thigh.  Also, on the way down, we did hear a lot more cracking than we did on the way up.

In the Old Chimney on the way down
In the Old Chimney on the way down

Our descent was much quicker than our ascent.  Once we got back to the Hogsback, we took off our harnesses and stowed our ice axes.  We then made very good time down the mountain.  At the top of the resort, Tom and I had our snowboards waiting for us, and one of the guides had brought up his skis so he could make sure we made it off the mountain alright.  We switched out our boots, packed everything into our packs and then headed down the resort on our snowboards, capping off an amazing hike.

snowboarding off Mt. Hood
snowboarding off Mt. Hood

Panorama (well, full-fledged video this time)

Directions to Timberline Lodge

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Kolob Canyon and Taylor Creek Trail

After spending the night at America’s Most Wanted Bed and Breakfast in Colorado City, we were headed home.  But we wanted to do a little more sightseeing on the way.  I have done a lot of hiking in Zion National Park, but primarily in the main entrance (southern side of the park), and didn’t realize that there was a Western entrance that is right off of I-15. My brother-in-law mentioned it to me and I thought it might be fun to check it out on the way home.

I had scoped out the hikes in advance and had discussed the possibility of doing a hike with Toren.  Given his age, we weren’t sure if he was going to be up for too much hiking, but he agreed to try a 5-mile hike.  The hike in this part of Zion National Park that seemed best suited for his skill level was Taylor Creek Trail.

We pulled into Kolob Canyon around 10:00 and drove around to check out the sights for a bit.  Here’s a panoramic shot of Kolob Canyon:

Kolob Canyon panorama

And a shot of Debi and Toren at the lookout:

Debi and Toren at the lookout

After checking out the sites we then headed to the parking lot for the trailhead of Taylor Creek Trail.  Toren was actually pretty excited about the hike initially and did pretty well going down into the canyon and for a while when the trail was flat.  But it did get hot and he started to get a little tired. After a while, he started to say that he didn’t think he could go any further and he kept asking to stop for breaks.  That was probably close to the 1.75-mile mark.  We told him we were close to the end and tried playing games to keep him distracted.  Eventually, we made it to the grotto at the end of the hike and he suddenly had all of his energy back as he wanted to go explore.

Here’s a photosphere I took at the grotto:

And a picture of the three of us at the grotto:

the three of us at the grotto at the end of Taylor Creek Trail
the three of us at the grotto at the end of Taylor Creek Trail

We stayed at the grotto for at least 30 to 45 minutes as Toren was having fun and we thought we’d enjoy the place.  However, a group of young boys showed up eventually and they ruined the ambiance as they were yelling, screaming, and generally being annoying.  We left at that point so we wouldn’t have to deal with them on the way out.

Toren did well for a while on the way out but eventually started getting tired again.  To keep him entertained, we tried to find lizards, insects, and other animals and kept trying to draw his attention to cool plants, fungi, and other cool stuff.  It worked for a while but he eventually lost interest.  At one point he said, “Let’s not pay attention to nature, let’s just get out of here.”

So, we did.  Here’s our trail map:

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Alaska Cruise – Juneau (Mendenhall Glacier)

As with my adventure with Debi in Skagway, when my mother-in-law asked what excursion I wanted to go on, I looked for the one that seemed the most physically demanding in Juneau as well. That one turned out to be a helicopter ride to a glacier followed by ice climbing and hiking on the glacier (see here; it’s called the Extended Helicopter Glacier Trek).  With this excursion, I was supposed to get an hour ice climbing with axes and ropes, followed by a couple hours hiking around a glacier, into caves, tunnels, etc.

Well… There was a hiccup.  The day before my glacier adventure I got a call in my room on the ship from the people who manage the excursions.  They said that there were not enough people who signed up for my excursion.  However, they then said that there were enough people signed up for the same excursion about 30 minutes after mine, so I’d still get to go on the excursion, just 30 minutes later.  That was fine with me.

The next day I got off the cruise ship with the rest of the family (they were going on a seaplane ride) and found the people who run the excursions.  That’s when they broke the real news to me.  Of all the people who were on the three ships in Juneau that day, I was the only one who signed up for that excursion.  No one else wanted to go ice climbing.  However, there were enough individuals signed up to do the glacier trek (not the extended glacier trek), that I could do that.  Basically what that meant is that I wouldn’t get to do any ice climbing with ropes and axes, but would get to hike around on the glacier for a couple of hours.  And they would refund the difference (it’s an expensive excursion).  I didn’t really have an option, so I agreed and waited around until the van from the tour company showed up.

The van drove me to the Juneau airport and into a commercial area where the tours were based. There I met the other people who were going on the trek with me: two men from Belgium who were not on one of the cruise ships and a guy from California who was working as a tour guide on one of the whale watching boats.  In other words, of the ~7,500 people in port that day on cruise ships, none of them wanted to do the extended glacier trek but me.  Their loss!

At the tour headquarters, they geared us up for the hike – red or orange waterproof jackets, waterproof pants, hard shell boots, gaiters, gloves, harnesses, and helmets.  Then they loaded us into a helicopter to fly up to Mendenhall Glacier.  Here’s a view of the glacier from the airport (just after we took off):

Mendenhall Glacier from the airport
Mendenhall Glacier from the airport

This was part of the flight up to the glacier:

And here was our helicopter leaving after it dropped us off:

Once on the glacier, we met up with our guide who helped us get crampons on and then outfitted us with ice axes.  She then proceeded to walk us around on the glacier and teach us about glacier hiking at the same time.  It was actually really, really informative.  I learned that crevasses can only be 150 feet deep (still plenty deep) because there are two types of ice in glaciers.  The top 150 feet are brittle; whatever is below that flows like molten glass or plastic.  I also realized that crevasses are really only dangerous when you can’t see them (e.g., after a fresh snowfall).  If you can see them, you can easily avoid them.  The other danger on a glacier is a moulin, or hole carved by water that can go all the way to the bottom of the glacier.  Where we were hiking, the glacier was 1,000 feet thick.  So, a moulin at that point could be 1,000 feet deep.  Moulins are far more dangerous, though we walked by some that were full of water, since those were plugged at some point and you wouldn’t fall to the bottom – you’d just get wet if you fell into one of those.  Finally, just getting around can be a little dangerous, but once you get the hang of the crampons and how to maneuver with them and the ice ax, it was pretty straightforward and not at all dangerous IMO.

We saw some waterfalls:

And hiked into some canyons:

me in an ice canyon
me in an ice canyon

Climbed into an ice overhang (not exactly a cave):

me in an ice overhang (not exactly a cave)
me in an ice overhang (not exactly a cave)

And stood abreast of a crevasse (that opened into a big crevasse, but was pretty small here):

me standing over a crevasse
me standing over a crevasse

Here’s a panosphere of what the glacier looked like:

We probably spent about an hour and a half walking and climbing around.  I would have enjoyed the ice climbing, too, but even what I got to do was awesome.  And having done it, I would definitely recommend that anyone in mediocre shape consider doing it.  It wasn’t strenuous and was an amazing experience.  I felt very comfortable after about 30 minutes and was ready to try something more extreme after that point.  I didn’t, but I would have!

Anyway, here’s a clip of us flying back off the glacier:

After I got back, I headed back into town.  There was a hike near the cruise ship, that sounded fun, but the distance of the hike meant I would get back just as the ship was supposed to leave, so I ended up just getting back on the ship.

Later that day in the hot tub I ran into a family from Tampa who had gone on a similar helicopter ride, but they didn’t get to do the “extreme” hiking.  They just walked in a big circle around the base camp on the glacier.  But they really enjoyed that, too.

The seaplane ride was, according to the rest of the family, pretty fun.  However, most of the kids fell asleep (too much fun I guess).

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Alaska Cruise – Skagway and Laughton Glacier

Just after my mother-in-law booked the cruise to Alaska, she then emailed all of her children and their spouses and asked what excursions they wanted to go on.  My general approach to excursions these days, since I’m starting to get older, but am still active enough to do lots of things, is to try to do the most extreme, active things I can.  When I’m 90, maybe I’ll slow down.  But, for now, I ask, “What’s the most physically extreme excursion available?”

In Skagway, the most physically demanding one I found was a 5 mile round trip hike to the Laughton Glacier.  I convinced Debi to do it with me and the rest of the family would watch Toren as they went on a train ride.  The description of the hike sounded cool, but the part I loved was in the Notes concerning the hike:

Guests should be in good physical condition, able to walk over uneven and sometimes challenging terrain including rocks and tree roots, and hike in all weather conditions. The hike typically covers 5 to 7 miles.

I read this to mean that it was going to be physically demanding.  Um, yeah.  Not so much.

We met in one of the theaters for the excursion and I tried to size up those who were going on the hike with us.  It was only about 8 of us, and they mostly seemed to be active adults, though most were clearly not serious athletes.  As we got off the boat, we found a guide for our hike, who walked us about 3/4 of a mile to where we got on the train.  Everyone seemed to make that walk fine.  😉

At the train, we met up with some passengers on another cruise ship, increasing our party to about 15 total, with 3 guides.  On the train ride up to the trailhead, they had us make our lunches and provided everyone with tons of snacks, water, and fanny packs.  Since I had my own backpack and bladder, we opted not to take the fanny packs or water, but we did take the snacks (multiple candy bars, trail mix, nuts, etc.)

The train stopped about half way up the track and we got off, then geared up.  It was at this point that I started to feel a little bad for the guides.  There were three guides, all women who were a lot smaller than I am (though they were all very tough and solid hikers; no doubt about that).  All of the guests on the hike had tiny packs that weighed maybe 5 to 10 pounds, at most.  Each of the guides had monstrous packs that weighed 40+ pounds.  I felt bad for them because I knew they were carrying those packs for me, not for them (I felt that way even though I knew they were getting paid to do it). I was tempted to offer to carry one.  I was sure they wouldn’t let me, but I would not have minded.

Once we were all geared up, we headed out.  The trail was very well-maintained.  The elevation gain was minimal.  And the pace was… very… slow.  Plus, we stopped every twenty minutes or so for the guides to ask if anyone needed anything, another candy bar, water, bug spray, sunscreen, to be carried, etc.  The pace was so slow, I couldn’t help but hike right on the heels of the guide leading the group.

We stopped about half way up (1 1/4 miles) at an outhouse for a bathroom break.  At that point, the guides realized that there were some faster and some slower hikers, so they suggested we split into two groups and the faster hikers could take the more “rugged” trail.  I was all over that!  Debi was too.  She’s not as into hiking as I am, and she was wearing borrowed shoes that were rubbing her heels a bit, but she still felt the pace was too slow.  The group split up and Debi and I stayed right on the heels of the guide as she took us up the rugged path.  It was a bit more rugged, but it was definitely not 3 hours of boulder hopping on Granite Mountain.  We did go faster, which was nice.

We stopped once on the rugged path just as we were able to make out the top of the glacier:

Just below the glacier
Just below the glacier (it got washed out in this photo)

Then we hit the glacier.  Since this one doesn’t end in the ocean, you get a very different perspective.  The bottom part of the glacier is largely covered with rocks and sand, though you can see ice through the rocks and sand.

The Laughton Glacier when you first see it on the hike.
The Laughton Glacier when you first see it on the hike  It actually starts just below the icy part in the photo; the two rock/dirt covered hills in the center are part of the glacier.

We carefully hiked up onto the glacier a few hundred feet, found a nice scenic place to sit, and broke out our lunch.  Here was our view:

Where we had lunch on the Laughton Glacier.
Where we had lunch on the Laughton Glacier.
Panorama of the glacier from our lunch spot (click for full size)
Panorama of the glacier from our lunch spot (click for full size)

And if you want the immersive experience, here’s the view as a photosphere:

The guides, in their massive packs, carried up huge thermoses of hot water, so we could have apple cider or hot chocolate for lunch.  As bad as I felt that they had to carry those packs, the hot drink did taste great on the cold glacier.

We spent about 45 minutes on the glacier, then headed back out.  We continued to stop every 20 minutes or so, and made another bathroom stop on the way down, until the last 1/4 mile or so.  Then the guides got word that our train was coming and suddenly we were moving!

We made it out to the railroad track with about 2 minutes to spare:

We hopped back on the train, rode it back to Skagway, then walked through Skagway, and headed back to the cruise ship, where we met back up with the rest of the family.

Here’s the hiking route:

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t pay to do that hike again.  I’d pay for the train ride to get up to the trailhead, then do the hike without guides, as a few people did when we were there.  It’s an awesome hike, but if you are at all fit and a competent hiker, there is no reason to have a guide on this hike.

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Ireland – Carrauntoohil

I’m always up for a good hike, and it often turns out to be a great way to see places most people don’t see.  One of the places people recommended I visit in Ireland was the Ring of Kerry.  As luck would have it, the tallest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, is within the Ring of Kerry.  I did a bit of searching and learned about an alternate route, the Coomloughra Horseshoe, which starts from a different place than most people who hike Carrauntoohil and makes a loop that tops the three tallest mountains in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, Caher, and Beenkeragh.  I was hoping to do the complete Horseshoe, but was also paying very close attention to the weather.  The route between Carrauntoohil and Beenkeragh involves a climb over a razor back ridge that seemed like a bad idea if it was raining or cloud covered.

I got up early, had a hearty breakfast of sausage and eggs at my B&B, then headed to the trailhead.  No one else was parked at the trailhead, but I assumed some others would be coming along later.

I had okay directions from several websites, but knew I had to do some route finding along the way.  Alas, the clouds were still hanging quite low when I started the hike and, by the time I reached Cottoners River dam, I was in the clouds and could only see about 50 feet in front of me.  I knew roughly which way I was supposed to go, so I headed that way and tried my best to track my route on my GPS.  Here’s a short video of what it was like hiking on the lower part of Caher before I crossed the vegetation line and was hiking just on rocks:

I eventually made it to the top of the first mountain, Caher, and was quite impressed with the elevation gain and ruggedness of the mountain.  It was turning out to be a fairly challenging hike. Plus, the humidity in the clouds led to condensation all over me:

Me at the Caher summit with condensation on my hat.
Me at the Caher summit with condensation on my hat.

Unfortunately, at this point, I had the crazy notion that the trail turned slightly on its way to Carrauntoohil.  Not sure why I thought that, but I got off the actual trail and spent about 30 minutes wandering off the horseshoe before I realized I was off the trail.  Thanks to Google Maps and my GPS, I got back on track and headed toward Carrauntoohil.

Just as I reached the summit of Carrauntoohil, about 30 minutes after I regained the trail, I noticed two individuals on the summit – two Russian-speaking priests in full priestly garb performing a ceremony that included chanting, praying, reciting, reading from books, and so on.  No one else was on the summit, and I’ve never experienced that on the top of a summit.  It went on for about 10 minutes after I arrived and I didn’t really know what to do, so I just kind of sat there, waiting:

After they finished up, I confirmed that they were priests, then took a few pictures as the sun had finally broken through the clouds.

On the summit of Carrauntoohil.
On the summit of Carrauntoohil.

I spent about 20 minutes on the summit, then, because it was still very cloudy, I opted to go back the way I came rather than try the razorback.  It was so cloudy I immediately took a slightly wrong turn and headed down the standard route.  I hiked for about 30 minutes before I realized my error and had to hike back to the route I had taken, which added another 30 minutes or so to my hike.  Once I made it back to the trail, the clouds started to break and I finally started to get some nice views of the area.

Near the summit of Caher once the clouds broke.
Near the summit of Caher once the clouds broke.
The valley below Carrauntoohil once the clouds clear.
The valley below Carrauntoohil once the clouds cleared.
A panorama of the three peaks.
A panorama of the three peaks.

The rest of the hike was quite pleasant and I finally passed a few other people on the trail.

After the hike, I headed back to the B&B, showered, rested a bit, then went to the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club for a delightful dinner of fish and chips:

Fish and chips at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.
Fish and chips at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.

Here’s my route from the hike:

 

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