Saturday, 7 October 2017

Wyoming, US, #2: Jedediah Smith Wilderness - Grand Tetons

After the eclipse we drove via Jackson to the west side of the Grand Teton national park. This is a stunning area with fantastic views of the Grand Tetons, but without the crowds. We camped at one of the simple but nice forestry campsites at the end of the road and did 2 long day hikes. The first hike was up to Table mountain, which has a fantastic view of the Grand Tetons. Afternoon thunder storms were threatening to spoil our hike; the last part is quite exposed so we stopped and waited to see how the storm developed. Fortunately, the storm stayed in the valley north from us and eventually dissipated so we decided it was safe to continue to the top, which we now had all for ourselves. Amazing views all around, fascinating landscapes and geology! The second hike was a long round trip to the beautiful Alaska basin. We didn't see any bears, moose or bighorn sheep, but we did see quite a few yellow-belllied marmots, pikas and chipmunks. And lots and lots of flowers!

First view of the Grand Tetons

Table Mountain trail - view towards Alaska Basin

Waiting for the thunderstorm to move on

Our destination - Table Mountain

The amazing view of the Grand Tetons from Table Mountain

Tony on the top of Table Mountain

View from Table Mountain toward Alaska Basin

So many flowers (and marmots, pikas and chipmunks)

Alaska Basin

Alaska Basin trail

Alaska Basin trail - lots of flowers here too

Alaska Basin trail

Bison near Jackson

Horned owl

Dinosaur quarry

Dinosaur quarry

Glenwood canyon along the main highway back to Denver

Friday, 6 October 2017

Wyoming, US, #1: Wind River Range and solar eclipse

I haven't posted for more than 3 months, work and life have been quite busy. I will try to do a quick catch up here and in the next posts. We are currently in Boulder, Colorado, US, for 5-6 months as part of a sabbatical and research exchange. As soon as we had purchased a car, about a week after I arrived in Boulder in mid August, we set off to Wyoming to get ready to watch the total solar eclipse on 21st August. We considered a couple of locations, including the Grand Tetons national park and the area west of the park, but we thought (which turned out to be correct) that these areas would get swamped with visitors. In the end we decided on the northeastern side of the Wind River Range, and to go hiking and camping along the Glacier trail. Even here it was, of course, unusually busy, with many people having the same idea. But people spread out along the trail and everyone was very considerate of others when choosing campsites. We found a nice campsite near the tree line around 3200 m altitude, about a day's hiking from the trailhead. On the eclipse day itself, we climbed the local peak of around 3550 m altitude and this turned out to be an excellent spot with fantastic views in all directions. I had decided to just watch and enjoy this one instead of spending the time fiddling with camera settings and carrying a tripod around, so I have very few photos of the eclipse itself. There will be hundreds or thousands of photos of the eclipse floating around the internet, much better than I could take with my equipment, so I am sure everyone now knows what it looks like. I found this the most spectacular total eclipse I have seen so far, maybe because I hardly took any photos and could therefore spend the time to look around and enjoy it, or maybe because of the fantastic location where we could see the shadow approach and leave for a long time. We spent 4 days in this beautiful area before continuing our trip towards the area west of the Grand Teton national park for some more hiking; the latter will be in the next post. Enjoy the photos!

Busy trailhead parking

Start of the Glacier trail

Climbing out of the forest

One of our campsites

Tony following the progress of the eclipse

The shadow is approaching, it is getting dark and cold


The sun is coming back, the shadow moves east

Exploring the lakes near our campsite after the eclipse

Lots of flowers...

...and chipmunks

Hiking back to the car

Monday, 26 June 2017

June in Tromsø - start of hiking season

Spring started late this year in northern Norway and in the first weeks of June it was still possible to go skiing without having to carry your skis far. But when the nights don't get dark anymore, it feels like it should be summer and I get more interested in hiking. The snow disappears first along the west coast and on the coastal mountains, so these early trips were on mountains along the west coast of Kvaløya and Senja. Even now at the end of June there is still a lot of snow higher up, but the snow is melting fast and the greening is spreading up and inland. The photos are in chronological order, so you can see the changes in snow cover and greenness during the last couple of weeks.

Map of Kvaløya, Tromsø and northern Senja with locations of the photos below.

View to the village Tromvik and Grøtfjorden from Tromtinden, 3. June.

Ptarmigan changing into summer plumage, Tromtinden 3. June.

Tony on Vasstinden, view to the northwest, 8. June.

View from Vasstinden towards Sommarøya, with Senja in the background, 8. June.

The village Skulsfjord, start of walk to Nordtinden, 11. June. It is starting to get green along the coast.

View from Nordtinden to Kaldfjorden. The mountain Store Blåmann on the right, 11. June.

Late evening light over Tromsøya, from Fjellheisen, 14. June.

Alpine flowers are coming out on Smørstabben, 17. June.

Alpine flowers are coming out on Smørstabben, 17. June.

Late evening light near the top of Segla on Senja, 23. June.

View from Gryttetippen with Segla and the township Fjordgård in the centre, Senja 24. June.

View from Gryttetippen to Breidtinden, Senja 24. June.

Tony reaching the top of Keipen, Senja 24. June. You can see Tromsdalstinden in the far distance on the left, Tromsø itself is hidden the mountains of Kvaløya.

Husøy, Senja.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Bhutan #2: trekking in Bhutan: Lunana Snowman trek

Trekking in Bhutan is luxury, similar as in Nepal: you are hiking with just a day pack, all food is prepared by the kitchen staff, and the tents are set up and taken down by the crew. All travel in Bhutan has to be arranged through a Bhutanese travel company and for trekking this means that you will always have at least a guide, a cook, a horse/yak driver and a couple of horses/yaks even if you travel by yourself. We had joined an organised group tour and were part of a group of 10 clients. Our group had a tour leader, 3 Bhutanese guides, a cook and 5 assistants, 3-4 horsedrivers, and 30-35 horses.

A standard day went as follows: in the morning we were woken up at around 06:30h by 2 cheerful kitchen assistants offering a cup of tea/coffee, and 10-15 minutes later they came around again with bowls with hot water for washing. We then packed our bags and cleaned the tent before meeting up in the dining tent for breakfast around 07:30h. While we had breakfast, the guides and some of the kitchen crew started packing up the tents and the horsedrivers were looking for their horses and driving them back to the camp. We usually started walking around 08:30 together with the guides and tour leader. The crew would spend another hour or 2 packing up the camp, packing our bags and the tents in solid canvas bags and loading the horses. 

Food is transported in these baskets. Here, in Laya, the crew is reorganising and packing the new food supplies.

Packing up camp.

Packing up camp.

Fortunately, everyone could hike at their own pace during the day; our group usually spread out over a few hours, with some fast people in the front, a group in the middle that would take it easy, enjoy the views and take lots of photos, and some at the end who struggled more with climbs. Sometime between 12:00h and 13:00h, depending on a suitable location, lunch was served. The kitchen crew prepared a hot lunch and hot water for tea/coffee and this is carried in thermoses by the 'lunch man' and his horse. This is the only horse that is led on a rope to stop it joining its friends, all other horses are loose. The horses, horsemen and kitchen crew usually passed us around lunch time. 

The 'lunch man' and his horse



Some of our horses

Some of our horses

Letting horses pass

We usually arrived in camp between 15:00 and 18:00. Some days the crew was faster and we arrive at a fully prepared camp where tea and biscuits are waiting for us, other days we got to the campsite first and have to wait for the horses and luggage. Dinner was usually around 19:00 and most people were in bed before 21:00. The food was generally good and varied, and it was impressive what the cook and his crew managed to make.

Enjoying the first good weather after a week of rain and mist. Time for drying clothes and sleeping bags and having a relaxed afternoon.

Highest camp at Tshorim lake, at ca 5200m.

Camp in the forest next to the Dur hot springs.

There are several variations of the Lunana Snowman trek, most start with the trek from Paro to Laya as acclimatisation for the main part of the trek to the remote Lunana valley. There are 2 main routes exiting the valley: most tours take the route to Nikka Chhu/Sephu, but we took the longer route past the beautiful Tsorim lake and the Dur hot springs to the Bumthang valley. The map below shows our route as a blue line and the altitude profile underneath shows the passes that we crossed. Our Snowman trek was 28 days, including 1 acclimatisation day at Chomolhari basecamp, 1 rest day in Laya and 1 rest day at the Dur hot springs. The total length of the trek was 245 km, we crossed 9 passes, the highest pass was at ca 5450 m, and the total elevation difference was ca 12600 m.