- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
- 1 pinch of dried basil
- 1 pinch of dried oregano
- 1/4 cup dry rice
recipe taken from www.trail.recipes
Wow, what a spectacular place! It blew my mind away to stand within the ruins and feel the energy. My mind struggled to imagine what it would have taken to build these magnificent structures; the amount of sweat, strength, and cooperation required. Intricate carvings covered the walls, pillars, and pretty much any exposed rock surface. I can’t begin to fathom the number of hours and the dedication that went into creating this place, wow!!!
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the Angkor Wat. Some of the other temples include, but not limited to, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Srei.
Unaccustomed to the 35deg temperatures, our patience dwindled as we worked our way through the hordes of tourists. That’s when the creative juices started flowing!
With the help of some locals we created our own tour! Was it ever worth it!
Renting bikes for 7$/day we set out from our hostel to make the 6km journey to Angkor Wat. Cruising along, enjoying the coolness of the self-created breeze, we were stopped at the checkpoint. We had assumed we could buy our tickets at the checkpoint. We were incorrect. In fact, to buy the tickets we had to backtrack 5km…oops! It’s good we were enjoying the cool breeze that came from cycling! HA!!
Okay, take two!
We successfully found the ticket office and reached the west gate of Angkor Wat. Locking the bikes up we crossed the 7m deep moat that is guarded by 7 snakes with 7 heads…do you see a theme? (no, we can’t walk on water, there is a floating dock). Here we hired a tour guide ($20USD) and learned a ton from him, he also took awesome photos, but I swear it was his knowledge that I appreciated.
Recognizing, that we had reached our limit we retreated from the heat of the day with the goal of setting out to see the rest of the temples the following day.
Waking at 5am. We set out on our bikes, darkness surrounding us, cars and scooters flying by. Who doesn’t love a sun rise? OK, yes, there are many people who would rather be tucked in bed rather than watch the sun come up, but I am not one of those people. Watching the sun rise gives me such energy, such optimism, I simply love it. What a better way to witness this daily ritual than to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat? Thousands of people also had the same intention. Crowded around the pond, everyone was trying to get the most spectacular photo reflecting on the water’s surface. But, I had a secret weapon hidden up my sleeve…or, standing next to me. My partner, happens to be 6’3”. No better place to take a photo than perched on his shoulders! HA!
Craving some quiet, we hopped back on our bikes and started our adventure! Biking towards Bayon, the home of the smiling stone faces, we left the crowds behind. Immediately crossing the moat and passing underneath the arch we turned left following a sandy trail. What a surprise! This trail took us up onto the wall surrounding Bayon and Angkor Thom. Looking down at the moat we took in the calmness, trying to remember it all as we cruised along. Seeing only the occasional local we had the place to ourselves! Following the wall, we eventually popped out at the west entrance to Angkor Thom. It was so cool to see the crumbling smiling faces. Away from the crowds, less restorative work had been completed, leaving more of reality stared back at us. I can’t express how cool it was to see this.
We worked our way through the various structures. Stopping along the way we took time to rub noses with the smiling faces, get sketched out on very steep stairs, and meditate in the cool shade. We eventually left Angkor Thom through the north gate, following the main road towards Preah Khan. This is where my spirit soared! Before Preah Khan there is a 90deg left hand turn. At the apex of this turn is a random trail that heads off into the jungle. After checking out the sights at the temple we doubled back to see where this trail would take us. My heart loved the excitement as we rushed through the jungle! Random, pure fun! Eventually we popped out at a southern view point for Neak Pean. It was worth stopping here as we took in the impressive vastness.
From here we headed south, taking us across a random suspension bridge, and popping out at Ta Nei, a small stone temple that is often overlooked by most tourists. It was a great place to explore, with limited restoration.
Our ‘off the beaten path’ tour had come to an end. Back on the main road we made our final stop at Ta Prohm, also known as Tomb Raider Temple. This was by far the most crowded temple, attracting those who wanted a glimpse of trees that grew out of the stone. If you are excited to see this particular temple I highly recommend seeing it earlier in your day. I struggled to appreciate it as I wrestled with fatigue and being surrounded by people.
Taking in all that we witnessed we hopped back on our bikes and made the 12km bike ride home. All in all, our ‘tour’ was approximately 35km and took us all day! It was a great way to see the sights, experience our own adventure, and leave the crowds behind. We valued the freedom that came from creating our own adventure, but hey, biking 35km in 35deg temps isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you fall into this category you can always hire a tuk tuk for the day and enjoy the breeze as you get driven around. Get Outside and explore! Love to move!
Living in China for three months I took the opportunity to explore this huge country and see some of the sites.
Tiger Leaping Gorge offers one of China’s most spectacular treks. With scenery that will catch your breath, paired with the ease of hiking to guesthouses, this trek is one to add to your list.
The trail follows the north side of the gorge offering spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and frothing white rapids. Covering 26km and reaching an elevation of 2650m, you will find yourself climbing 750m. Extensions to the trail are already being built, I’d expect the length of the trail to continue to grow. As of 2017, the map showed that it was possible to continue on to Walnut Guesthouse, however, we did not see evidence of the trail continuing on.
Dates: Jan 7-8th, 2017
Starting Location: Qiaotou, also called Hutiaoxia Zhen, is the small city at the South-West entrance of the Gorge.
Finishing Location: Tina’s Guesthouse, 22km along a paved road from Qiaotou
Lijiang to Qiaotou – We took a charter bus and were able to purchase the bus ticket at our hostel, International Youth Hostel Lijiang. The bus picked us up at 7:45am just 2’ down the street from the hostel, super easy and super simple. The fee was 50 yuan. 2 hours
Tina’s to Lijiang – We took a charter bus back to Lijiang. This was arranged at Tina’s Guesthouse and cost 55 yuan. The bus left at 3:30pm. 2.5 hours. There was also another bus that went to Shangri-la.
The trail starts off on a road as it starts to gain elevation and then transitions into a wide dirt trail. Signs along the way point you in the right direction, making it easy for those even directionally challenged. There are many guesthouses along the way helping to keep your pack super light as you only need to carry clothing layers, snacks and water. Along the way you’ll see raging rapids, cascading waterfalls, quaint villages, and pass along bamboo and pine forests.
Numerous guesthouses exist along the trail. We stayed at Halfway Guesthouse (it’s not halfway!!) and ate lunch at Naxi Guesthouse. The food was delicious at both places and the meals cost around 35 yuan per person. The accommodations were 40 yuan for a 6 bed in a co-ed dorm room, 150 for a private room with a heated blanket, and 200 for a private room with heat. We stayed in the dorm room and found the beds quite comfortable and it had a spectacular picture window. The guesthouse provided sheets and a warm blanket. Although we didn’t have heat, with 0 deg temperatures, I slept quite well on an upper bunk. They did have warm water for showering.
Wiki Travel provides a more detailed account on the various guesthouses. Check it out here
We took two days to hike the trail. Caching the bus in Lijiang at 7:45am, we arrived at Qiaotou around 9:45am. After milling about for a couple minutes, trying to regain our bearings we set off around 10am. Taking our time we appreciated the surrounding terraced views. Around 12pm we reached Naxi Guesthouse, it was the perfect spot to stop for lunch! We soaked up the heat as we sat in the sun waiting for our meal. The 28-bends greeted us shortly after stopping for lunch. Through the bends the trail gains 450m in 2.5km bringing us to the highest point on the trail, 2650m. From here you will pass along various guesthouses. We had hoped to spend the night at Come Inn Guesthouse; but, where it was low season no one was around. So, we opted to follow the rest of the hikers and stay at Halfway.
The next morning, we started on the trail around 9 am in sub-zero temperatures. This created a bit of a dicey experience as we had to hike under a cascading waterfall. The normally easily navigated trail became a skating rink. It was certainly beautiful, but man, it was slippery! Make sure to take the time to appreciate the amazing views of the gorge!
We made it to Tina’s Guesthouse by 11:30am. Here, we bought tickets for the bus ride home and continued hiking to the bottom of the gorge. Following a twisting and turning trail down to the bottom we enjoyed the place to ourselves. I love hiking during the off season exactly for this reason! Taking lots of time to explore and take pictures we returned to Tina’s by way of the sky ladder. Arriving by 1:30 we enjoyed a delicious lunch and too the opportunity to start planning the next part of our trip!
Have questions swirling around in your head? Send an email to info@GetOutsideAdventures.ca, I’d be more than happy to help you out!
So you're thinking of travelling to China? Super exciting!!! I'm stoked to be able to pass on the tips and tricks I accumulated over my three months living there. Let's do this!
How to get around?
Chinese version of Uber – DiDi – no exchange of cash, haggling of the price, or giving directions. The price is set based on distance and the type of car you choose. The driver knows where to go based on the address you provided when booking the car. The payment is all done electronically (the app needs to be linked to a bank account). Easy!
Subway – in rural China the computers that print your ticket are either before or after security. The catch is that they are typically in Chinese; however, if you simply show the station on your phone to the security guard, or a bystander, they will select the station for you. The machines take bills smaller than 100. If you only have a hundred, simply go up to the counter and the person will change it for you, allowing you to go back to the computer, and finish buying your ticket. Once you have your ticket you need to go through security. There will be an xray machine that you have to place your bag through and a guard will wave a metal detector over you. Once through, make your way to the turnstiles. Here you need to wave your ticket over the designated circle and the turnstile will let you pass. KEEP YOUR TICKET, you will need it to exit the subway system. To exit the system, you will need to put your ticket in the slot on the turnstile and it will let you pass. Wala, nothing to it!
Metro Man is an excellent app for navigating all subway lines in China
Flights – Local flights with China are very affordable. I have found the best prices to be on the app CTrip. I highly recommend checking this app out.
Trains – Trains can also be booked through the app CTrip
Bikes - A lot of the Chinese cities now have OFO bikes. They are yellow bikes that people can use to get around the city. They don't need to be left at a docking station so it's a bit of hide a seek trying to find one, but they are awesome if you can! There is a English and a Chinese version of the app. If you use the Chinese app the cost is 1 yuan for the month. The English app is 1 yuan per ride.
Show me the MONEY!!!
Bank of China is one of the larger Banks. As a result, they will be able to exchange Canadian funds and their ATM’s have an English option (Yippee!!!) and take Canadian Bank cards. My bank, charged me $5 with every withdrawal.
To give you an idea of how much things cost. At the time of my trip (Oct 2017) $1 CAD = 6 yuan
- Coffee - 30-40 yuan
- Tea - 20-30 yuan
- Dinner for two - 100 yuan
- Local beer - 25 yuan
- Import beer - 45 yuan
- Bus - 1 yuan
- Subway - 1-3 yuan
- International stamps - 4.80 yuan (people look at you like you have three heads when you want to post a letter)
- Ice cream - 12 yuan (can you tell what my vice is?)
Okay...after spending sometime in Beijing I have come to the realization that rural china is MUCH cheaper than Beijing. Here are some cost updates:
- Dinner - 100 yuan for one
- Subway - 5 yuan
Finding your way
Maps Me – I can’t say enough about this map. It doesn’t require data which makes it very handy navigating in foreign countries. There are two down side, 1 – it does track your position, and this information is used for advertising. Once I downloaded the app I started receiving random text messages. I just simply delete them. I can’t read them anyway as they are in Chinese. 2 – the search function doesn’t work that well, so instead I simply scroll on the map to find various things. Once I find them I ‘pin’ them and use that for navigation. This app is also handy for using the subway systems, it shows all of the stops, and the GPS function still works in the subway, showing you when you're getting close to your stop.
Staying connected to the outside world!
A lot of things are blocked in China…A LOT of things! Having a good VPN is key! The one I chose to use was betternet; however, I would choose ExpressVPN in the future. Speaking with others it is more reliable and you can still access Netflix!!!
Google Translate – even though every other google product is blocked in China, google translate still works and it has been a life saver. Having multiple functions, you can type in a word and it will translate it for you, or speak, or hold the camera up to a sign…or restaurant menu. It really does make things too easy!
WeChat – This app is like gold in China. The Chinese do everything through this app. They communicate with their friends, pay for products at the store, order a taxi, or even order food. It is an instant messenger that has various functions built in behind it. Undenounced to me, it is actually larger than Facebook!!! The handiest part, it also works as a translator. If someone send you a message you can translate it into English within the app, showing both the original and the translated version on the screen. This has proven to be invaluable when trying to ask the athletes questions.
SIM cards – if you have a local friend get them to come with you. The Chinese are able to access SIM cards that give them 500mb of data a day for only 50 yuan a month.
Cougar Creek to Exshaw
37km point to point
1100m elevation gain
September 2-3, 2017
What a treat we had! How often can one say they literally walked out their front door and started an adventure? That is exactly what fellow guide and friend, Nathan Dhal, and I did. Committed to working Saturday morning at Ascent Physical Therapy I headed to Nathan’s place as soon as I was done. We made the final adjustments to our packs, threw in 2.5 days’ worth of food, and started walking. Neither one of us had hiked this route before, with no trail to follow, we set off with the mentality of, we will walk until we were tired. 6-7 hours later our grumbling stomachs and trembling legs told us it was time to stop. We hiked ~15 km and ~1100m of elevation from Cougar Creek past the Canadian Forks, up a drainage to Cougar and Carrot Creek Col, along a most spectacular Ridgeline, and descended to our campsite for the night.
All I have to say is WOW! What a beautiful day. We found ourselves camping next to a gorgeous alpine lake. No one else in sight, a light breeze, blue skies, and great conversation; I couldn’t have asked for a better place to lay my head for the night. Getting there was absolutely beautiful; vast alpine meadows, waterfalls, and blazing fall colours. Nothing helps bring out the sensation of freedom like wandering through the mountain side, no trail insight, and choosing your own path! There is so much out there to discover!!
Where Alberta was having such a dry season, we were a touch nervous about accessing water; however, we were able to find a flowing stream at a horse camp at GR192 676. This however, was our last water source until we reached the lake.
The next day we left our campsite, ensuring there was no evidence of us left behind, and headed down the drainage. Originally sticking to skiers right we soon realized this was not the right route, before us was a massive drop off. The views were great however for scouting the upcoming section. Backtracking, and gaining skiers left side of the drainage we were able to follow a small game trail until it crossed another drainage. Here the trail disappeared. Deciding to go with gravity we headed downwards, hoping to find the game trail again. Sadly, this resulted in an hour detour as we had to regain the lost elevation and head up another 300m. As a word of advice, once you cross over the drainage, suck it up and just head up!! Working up a sweat, we coaxed our bodies up the hill. Our efforts were rewarded, we found a well-established horse trail, wahoo!!!!!
The horse trail was in amazing condition! We skipped along at a rocket pace, soon finding ourselves at a small horse camp. Some concern started to rise as we had yet to find water since leaving the lake. We had expected to find water soon, but we were disappointed. Recognizing we had yet to reach the main horse camp, we followed the dry river bed looking for Guinn’s Camp GR227 727. Luck was on our side and the South Ghost River had WATER!!! Feeling the heat of the day, I took full advantage, rinsing the salt from my face. Refreshed and our water bottles filled to the brim Nathan and I continued our plod.
The question was raised, could we make it out today? Nathan might not have known it, but I already had my answer!!
Prior to leaving we were told there would be another well-established horse trail showing us the way to Exshaw Col. There was certainly a trail, well-established…well…. I’ll leave that one up to you to decide. Wandering through the mountains we finally came to the drainage leading down from Exshaw Col. It was a little intimidating looking up at the slope. It seemed like a lot of elevation to gain. Satisfied that we were in the right spot, we started up. The terrain was too steep on either side of the drainage so we elected to head straight up it! A late lunch was enjoyed as we sat at the top of the Col admiring Exshaw off in the distance (~15km away).
Luck was on our side and we were able to find another animal trail leading us away from the Col towards the valley bottom. A bit of gymnastics was required as we worked our way through the mayhem of deadfall. Finally, we reached the point where the river widened and now we were faced with a 10km hike along a dry riverbed.
As the day continued I was reminded that I we had not crossed any water since leaving the horse camp. Would we find any? Or would we be forced to hike out tonight? As I eluded to earlier…I already knew what I wanted. With the sun beaming down on us and limited water grumpy Jenna started to make her debut. Wisely we chose shelter in the shade and a most delicious Nutella and peanut butter bagel was consumed.
We were both relieved to reach the junction with Fable creek and find out that the information we gathered before the trip was indeed correct. Just a short distance past the creek we found running water! Oh, how delicious fresh mountain water is!! Taking advantage of the freshness, we sat here for quite a while. The decision needed to be made, continue or stay put? We had been hiking for 8 hours by this point, but the idea of a fresh meal and a warm shower spoke to us like the sirens. Tying up our laces and putting our packs back on, we were up and on our way.
After many pointless jokes, and silly stories, it seemed like an eternity went by, finally we reached the damn and knew HWY 1a was just around the corner. Having arranged for a ride to pick us up the following evening we stood alongside the HWY and stuck out our thumbs. Not 10min later we were happily climbing into a vehicle that would shuttle us back to Canmore.
This trip was absolutely spectacular, amazingly beautiful scenery, awesome route finding, simplicity of just walking out ones’ front door, and great company. I can’t wait to get out and explore this area again!
It is hard to believe I have been in Harbin, China for a month already! It seems like yesterday I went through security at the Calgary airport with tears streaming down my face. Man, that was an emotionally charged experience!
Considering this is only my second time outside of Canada and the US, I find international travel fascinating. You sit in a metal box, sleep, eat, watch a movie, meditate, and poof, you wake up and you’re on the other side of the world. You stand up, work out the stiffness in your knees, laugh as you look at your swollen ankles, and step out of said metal box. Suddenly, no one speaks your language, not a single face looks familiar, and you can no longer read the signs. I wonder if this is what it is like to have some form of a brain injury. In a single instance, you go from being able to carry on a functional conversation, to feeling like an infant, unable to use words to communicate what it is you’re needing.
Leaving Calgary at 7:30am on Oct 1st I arrived in Harbin, China at 11:00pm on Oct 2nd! Originally, I was told we would be living here for 2 weeks, that was changed to three, and then four. Now, as I write this we are supposed to be moving to a different training facility in three days and I have yet to find out if we are going to Beijing, Changchun, or staying put. Being here has been a great exercise in letting go of expectations, or at least being more aware of my expectations :)
The athletes are a lot of fun. There are 25 on the team. Some of them speak minimal English. We have become the master of charades. Slowly, very slowly, I am picking up some mandarin, but man, it is hard! Variable tones is not something I easily pick up on. Often the athletes are keeled over laughing as I try to speak. Unbeknownst to me, the one day I kept saying F@#! instead of hot water! BIG OOPS!! Everyone in the therapy room was rolling on the floor in stitches. It was the next day before anyone told me what I was saying!!!
I haven’t had a lot of time to explore, but Steve, the strength and conditioning coach from England, and I go off on adventures whenever we can. Having been with the team for one month before I arrived he was excited to have an English-speaking companion. I don’t feel isolated or crave to speak English as Steve LOVES to talk. We joke that my Canadian optimism evens out his British moaning.
Day to day I am less active than my usual so during free time I often go in search of parks and ways to burn off energy. The team thinks I am nuts as I’ll often walk downtown and back; approximately ~15km round trip, run the 4 flights of stairs in our accommodations, or run circles around the parking lot. Yes, I am the crazy blonde running around China!
Cool experiences I’ve had:
We’ve only had three smoggy days. Two of them we could see the smog in the hallway of the building. The air quality index stops at 500 (hazardous) and our reading was literally off the charts. But no need to fret, I had a lovely pink face mask with flowers!!! Oh, how one needs to love China!
The food is quite delicious, served in cafeteria style, we get three meals a day. Wanting to be open and try everything I quickly learned NOT to ask what I was eating. Just an FYI, ligaments are pretty tasty, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat them again now knowing what they are!!!
Crossing roads is the biggest adrenalin rush I get over here. The main road outside of the training facility is 8 lanes wide…and there is no crosswalk!!! You literally just start walking at a constant pace and the cars move around you!!! It is intimidating when two buses come by and you’re in-between them!!!
I take every opportunity I can to sneak away and explore the city. Some of the cool places I been able to see are:
Sun Island – A little oasis in the city of 10million. Lots of trees, sculptures, and a relaxed feel. In the winter it is the host of the famous Harbin ice festival.
Binzhou Railway Bridge – To get to Sun Island you can walk from downtown across this bridge. It is regarded as one of the masterpieces in modern China bridge history. Exceeding 1000meters, it is the longest bridge of the Chinese Eastern Railway and was completed in 1901. Steel beams needed to be replaced at two different times!
Zhongyang Street – the pedestrian street in Harbin. It’s a neat place to stroll, a cobbled street surrounded by Russian architecture. I’d recommend checking it out at night.
Flood Memorial – found at the north end of the pedestrian street it shows the water levels for three different floods. It is also on a path system that follows the water’s edge
Whipping the spinning top – This was sooo cool! Having the morning free Steve and I wandered through the city street in search of another park. On the way, we came across a group of people with three foot whips and 8-inch spinning tops. After watching for a few seconds, the one lady used hand gestures to invite me to try. She showed me how it was done and then handed me the whip. When you hit it right a giant crack would echo out. It didn’t take me long to warm up doing this. What a cool, once in a life time, experience!
One of the biggest challenges being here is communication. Yes, communicating with the team is a challenge, but so is communicating with home. Google products are blocked which means I can’t check my gmail. Facebook, whatsapp, and Instagram are also blocked. Some get around this by using a VPN which changes your IP address so it looks like you are in another country. But China is ever so smart and has been cracking down on these. BUT the cool part….for only $10 a month I was able to get a SIM card that has 600mb of data A DAY!!!! Hello skype!!! Thank the goodness for this! I never thought I would be willing to have a skype call on data :) Oh, and just incase you find yourself in China with a broken phone...you know...hypothetical of course, a new iPhone will arrive in only 3 days :)
If you want to reach me the best way is firstname.lastname@example.org or download the app wechat. My id is JNodding. Hope to hear from you all SOON!!! I love getting photos from back home. Giant hugs and smiles to everyone back home!
recipe taken from www.trail.recipes
Johnston Canyon (Moose Meadows) to Ink Pots and Larry's Camp (Jo9)
Women's Intro to Backpacking
9km one way
350m elevation gain
June 24-25, 2017
The late snowpack left us changing our plans at the last minute. Originally we planned to explore a campground in Yoho National Park, but the road had yet to open. Sometimes the hardest thing with planning a trip is having the flexibility to change plans and let go of expectations.
Wanting to stay at a lower elevation we strapped on our backpacks and headed for Larry's camp (Jo9). At first glance Larry's Camp looks like it would be a zoo to get to, taking you through the throngs of tourists discovering the beauty of the Johnston Canyon. We however, were able to avoid the masses and take a side trail avoiding the canyon all together! Based on the number of cars parked alongside the road we were grateful for this opportunity.
The side trail, Moose Meadows, is a mixture of an old road bed and a hiking trail. We were grateful that it was not raining as a various sections of the trail were muddy and swampy. Bug spray was needed!
Arriving at the Ink Pots we were spoiled with all the colour. It was too beautiful to simply pass by so we took the time to enjoyed it and explore.
Continuing through the meadows past the Ink Pots and across the river. The trail ducts back into the forest. Some elevation remained to be gained, but only 3km further we came across our home for the night. Many of the ladies in the group hadn't camped in 10+ years and I was stoked to provide an opportunity for them to learn and re-experience it. After setting up camp we came together for a map and compass lesson and then it was their turn to lead the way. Heading off on an adventure the ladies were awesome, they found the right trail, identified various mountains around us, and even predicted how long it would take us to hike a short section! I was impressed!
After some laughter, games where we tried to identify a tree by touch only, and many photo opportunities our stomachs started to rumble. Armed with two different types of stoves the ladies stepped up to learn how they functioned. We ate like Kings...or should I say Queens. Soup for an appetizer, vegetable curry for the main, and vanilla pudding over cookies for desert. We did not go to bed hungry!
That night some of us found out that the temperature rating on a sleeping bag is not always accurate. The desire to get up and perform pushups to stay warm was ignored and instead all the positive things were focused on..."there are no spiders on me". Despite the lack of sleep, in the morning everyone had a smile upon their face with a coffee in hand. Some sleepy heads even had coffee in "bed".
With caffeine surging through our veins we headed off in search of a Warden's Cabin. After hiking for 45min towards Luellen Lake we decided it was time to turn around, pack up our stuff, and head back to reality. The sun was bright and the skies were blue. We really couldn't have asked for a better weekend! Thanks so much, Ladies for joining me on this awesome trip. For those continuing on to the West Coast Trail, I know you will rock it! I can't wait to get out with you all again!
Cars flying around me on 'the wrong side of the road', darkness covering the city streets, dust collecting in my lungs, my bed calling my name; my sleep deprived brain raced as it tried to process everything. 27 hours ago I stepped on a plane in Calgary, AB, now I found myself, on the opposite side of the world, in Kathmandu, Nepal.
This was my first trip outside of North America and I must admit, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Actually, "little" is an understatement. A LOT overwhelmed. In the past I've taken pride in my ability to throw myself into something new and flourish. This was the first time I admitted to myself, and others around me, that I was struggling. Wow! That was hard to do! With this admission came a freedom to experience my surroundings and not slog through it. I was in Nepal and I wanted to remember it, not just get through it.
My friend, Jo, had been in Nepal for the past 7 weeks conducting a study for her Masters in Public Health. She was a gem, picking me up at the airport and being patient with me as I adjusted to the new time zone. After spending a day exploring the labyrinth of Kathmandu we met our guide, Jay, and set out on a 6 hour (125km) jeep ride to Arughat. The Jeep was the most expensive part of the trip, costing $165USD. There is also a local bus. With our tight schedule we chose reliability and convenience over saving money. Arriving in Soti Khola the local buses were not running. A government strike was on and no one could get petrol. Our jeep couldn't take us the final leg so we chartered a vehicle for 4000ru. What we didn't realize was that this "vehicle" WAS the local bus. WE CHARTERED THE LOCAL BUS! I have never been so embarrassed of my privilege (and my poor decision making). The locals were waving, trying to flag it down, and we drove right by them. Their faces covered with confusion; why was the bus was not stopping? I wanted to hide! It was not fun in the least, but it was a good learning experience. Getting off the bus Jo and I both looked at Jay and said...we are never doing that again!
Eight hours in, our first day was complete. My bum was sore even though I had yet to take a single step on a trail. For those familiar with the Canmore area, the roads were like driving into the Ghost Wilderness Area, an amusement park ride of it's own!
That night the heavens opened and it POURED! Rain here meant more snow up high. Before I hopped on the plane I checked the weather forecast for Manaslu and it showed a massive low pressure system moving in, it was here!
In the morning the trail was impressively dry. Hiking along a road for an hour we were finally on the "trail". Going into this trip I imagined the trail to be similar to the ones here in Canada, surrounded by wilderness, no people, and having a feeling of being cut off from the world. I was a bit off. The Manaslu trek follows the Buri Gandaki River passing through many villages along the way. This trail is essentially like the Trans Canada highway, connecting communities and people together, except the semi trucks are mules and everyone is hiking. The villages varied in size, from one family to the largest being Samagaon, with a population of ~700 people. Along the way we witnessed an odd paradox; a lot of the villages have power, wifi, cell service, and some have satellite TV, but they don't have clean drinking water and their houses are not sealed to the elements. My brain really struggled with this. The trek has yet to become popular and therefore has kept some of it's pristine feel. We were all surprised with the amount of new infrastructure being built. My recommendation is...if you want to complete this trek, do it sooner than later. It is gaining momentum
Right off the start we realized, in true Jenna fashion, we were travelling faster than we planned. It was also when our guide started to question what he got himself into. We hiked past Khorlabeshi, opting to continue on to Tatopani. We quickly discovered why it is called Tatopani. In nepalese tato = hot, pani = water. There is a hot springs here!!! Jo swore she would not hike in shorts to respect local customs; later we found ourselves in our underwear, bathing in the hot springs. I highly recommend spending the night here! There were three different buildings to choose from. It seems that more and more accommodations are being built.
I love waking up to the birds singing, it brings me such joy. Sleeping in buildings that were open to the air made it easier to hear their beautiful song. Meeting an American couple, Kit and Frankie, in Tatopani we continued on as a group. Today we we had a surprise! We met Jay's brother! Jay is from the Village of Uhiya and his brother has wonderful accommodations in Dobhan. It was fascinating to watch them interact. 4 years had past since they last saw one another. Excitement radiated from them as they embraced in a hug. Minutes passed and Jay wanted to keep the group moving. They said their goodbyes.
The trail is very rocky and has A LOT of "stairs." Meeting strings of 10+ mules was common place. And you did not want intersect them in a section of stairs! When the mules passed, stepping to the inside of the trail was a must. There've been accounts of mules pushing people off the trail and down the cliff to the river. Needless to say that particular tourist didn't make it home.
With the trail being along a cliff it was vulnerable to damage during the 2015 earthquake. Parts of it were destroyed cutting off the upstream villages for up to 6months. Using international funds, a 93m bridge was constructed, bolting it to the side of the cliff, re-establishing the connection.
Arriving in Jagat we officially entered the Manaslu Conservation Area. Jay wandered off to find the check point and show our permits. To hike this route we needed three different permits: Manaslu Conservation Area permit (you need a guide to attain this), TIMS card (Trekker Information Management System), and finally the Annapurna Conservation Area permit. All said, the permits cost around $150USD. The MCAP is $50USD for the first week and $7 USD/day afterwards. TIMS is $25USD for 15days. ACAP is also $25 USD.
Continuing on we met more and more people retreating; unable to cross Larkya La pass. We had yet to hit snow and hoped the good weather would hold out. That night we decided to crash in the village of Philim. It was a busy place, a common stopping point for those making their way back down. If you want a quieter experience, there are accommodations just before town. Another quiet option is on the way out of town, you'll find little cabins on the left.
Today was our longest day, taking over 9hrs from Philim to Ghap. As we gained elevation the landscape morphed. We found ourselves in a lush jungle. Continuing onwards we past the trail for the Tsum Valley. If I go back to this region, I want to explore this area further. Not one person spoke poorly of the area and those who ventured there were glad they took the time to do so. Just past the fork in the trail we came across an area called Nyak Phedi. If it fits into your itinerary stay here! It was a solitary building with excellent views of Tsum Valley. Beautiful!
Stopping for lunch in Deng our group voted their dal bhat the best on the trail. Dal bhat is all you can eat and thus a trekkers go to...for the first 3 days at least. The great part is that it only costs around 500ru (350ru at lower elevations and 600ru at Samagaon). Arriving in Ghap I was feeling tired, my legs were sore, and the horizontal realm was calling my name. Since arriving in Kathmandu I had been sleeping 10hrs a night. Tonight was no different. The accommodations in Ghap were newly built and we were the only ones there! Silence...bliss!
The jungle gave way to snow covered hills. We reached the freezing line at a whopping 2600m (Our destination, Larkya La pass is 5200m). This was not a good sign! After only 2 hours of hiking we reached Namrung. A full day ahead of our itinerary, and feeling tired, both Jo and I decided that we would stay here. After soaking up some sun, and contemplating all that I had experienced so far, we went off exploring. Jay took us to a Gumba. A times it is open to the public; this was not the case for us. The monks were meditating for the next year and; therefore, closed. Regardless, the energy surrounding the area was impressive, giving me goose bumps.
Here we were able to access wifi and with this luxury I had one thing on my mind...no, not that...the weather forecast. Our nice weather would soon be that of the past. They were calling for +30cm of snow!
Leading up to this trip, I read various blog post and itineraries. Some seemed aggressive, gaining over 1000m in a single day. Having only been at 3500m I was nervous about how my body would tolerate higher elevations. Therefore, Jo and I elected a more conservative plan. With the new weather report that plan was officially thrown out the window!
Nervous that we may miss our opportunity to see Manaslu; we chose to hike the same itinerary mentioned in the blogs I scoffed at. Asking Jay to see if we could have breakfast at 6:30am he looked at me in disbelief and replied with, 7am. Settling on the compromised Jo and I headed to bed. Tonight our accommodations were completely booked. The bottle neck of hikers were increasing the demand.
We reached Lho in only 3 hours. To our surprise, Lho had an amazing amount of stuff to buy; hats, gloves, microspikes, gators, they had it all...at a price. Jay asked if we wanted to stop for lunch. There was no doubt in either of our minds. We were continuing on without lunch (lunch usually took 1.5hrs). Jo and I both packed bars to eat along the way, Jay had none. The kitchen whipped up tibetan bread, he swallowed it hole, and we continued onwards.
By this time the sun was beating down on us. The snow had softened and we were post holing...or should I say, Jay was post holing...up to his mid thigh. Jo and I had the luxury of following his steps. They told us in Lho that the village of Shyala remained closed for the season. Jay was so excited when we found people there upon our arrival. "Stay here?" He asked. Nope...while the views were amazing in Shyala; Samagaon was our goal. Based on views alone I recommend staying at Shyala over Lho.
Finally, Samagaon comes into view. It stays in view...and seems to get further away. The final 45min into Samagaon were the longest of the entire trip! Arriving at the hotel we devoured a very late lunch.
The next day was a true rest day. We accomplished our goal and saw spectacular views of Manaslu. Now we could sit back and enjoy the view. That's what Jo did. With energy to burn, I couldn't sit still, and proceeded to shovel off the deck and help locals clear out their quad. A row of old men formed across the way as they watched me work. At least I provided them with ample entertainment. Some of the other trekkers ventured up to the Gompa. We attempted to make our way to Manaslu Basecamp but no one had been there yet this season and there was too much snow. After spending 2 hours post holing I was frustrated and started heading back.
That night everyone was in planning mode, discussing various options! Everyone was trying to decide if it was worth hiking further north to Samdo and attempting the pass as a group. Jo and I decided that it the weather was good in the morning we would continue on to Samdo, if it was snowing, we'd go down.
Waking at 5am, the skies were grey. It wasn't snowing so we stuck to our previous decision and started hiking. An hour in the snow started to fly. Both Jo and I had surpassed our comfort zones and elected to return to Samagaon. On the way back we expected to meet some of the other groups, but we saw no one! Returning to our hotel everyone was gathered outside debating if they would continue. Jo and I voiced that we were heading down.
It was interesting to witness the change in my demeanour once we turned around. For the entire trip we were heading into the unknown. Would we make it through the pass? That was a question we could not answer. As a person who likes to plan I found it hard to give in to that unknown and enjoy where I was. Once we turned around I felt a breath of fresh air. The condition of the pass was no longer a concern, I felt my body and my mind relax. I was finally present on the trail, no longer stuck in 'what if'. The next couples days were my most favourite as I found joy being more playful. Jay, no longer able to keep up, gave up on staying ahead of us. I skipped along, raising my arms into the wind, and enjoyed going at the pace that my body wanted. Many songs were sung and sceneries admired, but mostly, I was looking forward to coming home. Never have I felt so grateful to have my friends and family in my life, and to live in the beautiful wilderness of Canada.
To get to these communities, we had the privilege of visiting, the locals would hike 4 days! Yet, I have the luxury of walking out my back door and be at the base of the mountain. If I don't have the energy to hike the mountain in its entirety, I can drive half way up it. If I am hungry, or thirsty, I can walk 15 minutes from my house to the grocery store and make the overwhelming choice between 50 different types of drinks. If I am craving solitude, I can walk 5 minutes out my door and be surrounded by the calming forest. We are so very blessed and I didn't appreciate how amazing my home country is. I am sad to say that I took it for granted. It felt amazing to drive home to Canmore and see the wide openness and breathe in the pristine mountain air; I plan to constantly remind myself of this feeling!
I am VERY grateful that I was born in Canada!
We returned to Namrung the same day we turned around on route to Samdo. From Namrung we were able to make it back to Philim; this time staying at a quieter location. The next day we stopped in Dobhan for lunch allowing Jay to visit his brother. That night we decided to rest in Machha Khola. This left us with only a 2 hour hike back to Soti Khola where our jeep would be waiting for us.
All in all I am very glad I went on this trip. Many insights were gained. Thank you to Lok, our travel agent, for organizing everything. Jay for your amazing sense of humour and for not killing us when we took off running down the trail. And Jo, for being the amazing person you are. I am so glad we are friends!
For not falling asleep and for sticking with the entire post... You. Are. Rewarded. With...
...more info...just what you wanted, right? You were probably expecting something free...jokes on you! :)
Below is our itinerary including: morning temperatures, elevation changes, and villages we stayed in. If you have any questions please reach out. I'd be more than happy to help you out! That's what travelling is all about, right?
If you are looking for more information on the cost of the trip or other itinerary options you can check out these two blog posts by NEST adventures.
Get in touch!