Tag Archives: hiking

Cascada Condor Machay – Quito – Ecuador

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks before and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less than spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the falls (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Taxi to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful walk along a very well maintained track that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

The path is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Amazing sheer walls covered in plants

Wall of plants on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Waterfalls on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Waterfall on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to walk out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school children out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started the walk back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito

 

How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.

 

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São Miguel Island – Part 2 – Azores – Portugal

Continuing on from my first 3 days of exploring São Miguel Island…

On Day 4 it was time to explore one of the two tea plantations on the island.  We were going to visit the Porto Formoso tea factory for a change of scenery for Pedro (he’d visited the other one previously), but it was closed on Sundays.   So we went to the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana (the oldest tea plantation in Europe) instead.

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

They started growing tea in the Azores after the orange orchards were decimated by a disease in the late 1800’s.  The tea industry was of great commercial importance in the Azores up until WWI, when many of the tea factories closed.  Then, with the emergence of African teas, all the remaining factories – with the exception of the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana – folded.

We started out by walking through the display of machinery they have (unfortunately not a lot of explanation)

Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

and discovered the difference between the 3 types of black tea they produce here.  Turns out that Orange Pekoe has the strongest flavour and is made with only the first leaf of the plant, Pekoe is made with the second leaf, and Broken Leaf (mildest flavour) is made with the third leaf.

Buying tea at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

I bought the green tea and the Orange Pekoe. Photo: Pedro Torres

There is free tea tasting at the factory (you can also try the green tea they produce) and they made the best queijada I ate during my whole visit.  If you are there – do try the orange queijada – it is incredible!

After our little snack (and trying to avoid buying more of the orange queijadas “to go”), we went for a stroll through the tea plantation itself.  You really could be in Asia right?  Would have been great to have a tour actually – to learn more about the how the leaves are processed into tea.

Tea plantation at Chá Gorreana - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

From there we continued our drive around the Eastern side of the island, which had some beautiful towns with very typical architecture – black volcanic rock used as decoration on whitewashed buildings,

Typical architecture - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

amazing views

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego viewpoint - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

More hydrangeas! They are everywhere on São Miguel

and delicious food!

Chicharros - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

My favourite dish of the whole trip – Chicharros at Restaurante Costaneira in Ribeira Quente. Photo: Pedro Torres

We ended the day again at another swimming spot – this time the Ponta da Ferraria.  The fascinating thing about this spot is that the water is actually geothermally heated!  On hearing this, I have to admit I was expecting temperatures akin to those found in the hot springs, so you can imagine my shock when it turned out to be only slightly warmer than the temperature of the ocean normally.  OK, admittedly it was high tide so the warm water was being overwhelmed by the cold ocean water (they tell me that at low tide it is so hot that sometimes you can’t enter at all).  And I did manage to find some “mostly warm spots” to hang out in.  Interesting experience!

Ponta da Ferraria - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 5 we headed out again into the classic vistas of São Miguel – happy cows, hydrangeas delineating fields and lining the side of the road, and verdant green hills. 

Typical vistas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We got a more moody vista this time of Lagoa do Fogo on our way to the Caldeira Velha hot springs.

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Lagoa do Fogo in the fog

We didn’t actually go in for a dip at the hot springs here, but just checked out the nature surrounding them.   Essentially – Australian Tree Ferns, Australian Blackwood and Australian Cheesewood trees!  I felt right at home 🙂

Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And I have to put this photo in because I love it so much.  Me trying to take a decent selfie of myself (I still don’t have the knack!)

Selfie time at Caldeira Velha - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Thanks for the photo Pedro!

Our plan was to do the 7.5km Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hike, but we ended up not finding the start point and just ending up at Salto do Cabrito itself.   Oh well.

We walked down an enormously steep hill to arrive at the river below the falls and followed the sign to a mineral water spring.  It was a beautiful spot.

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We refilled our bottles from what I assumed was a still-water spring, so imagine my surprise when I took the first sip and realised that it was sparkling water!   Yes – fizzy water straight out of the ground!  How does that even happen naturally?   And it was different to the normal carbonated water that you buy, somehow it was “softer” – kind of like the sensation you get with sherbet on your tongue.  It was strange but awesome!

Mineral Water Spring at Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We checked out the “Little Goat Waterfall”, which was in itself quite pretty, but unfortunately located right beside a rather noisy hydroelectric plant … “Ah the serenity”!

Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

And then hiked to the top of the waterfall up a lot of stairs and along a metal walkway which would definitely not meet OH&S requirements in Australia.  Note in the picture below that there is no handrail on the right hand side of the walkway.  While this is fine in this part where it is pretty much flush against a rock wall, there were other (quite elevated) parts where it was just a sheer drop into the abyss!

Walkway above the falls Salto do Cabrito - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

We finished the day at my favourite of all the beaches we visited – Praia do Moinhos (it is also Pedro’s favourite).  This beach had waves, wasn’t too crowded and, I don’t know, just was very relaxing and nice.

Praia do Moinhos - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photo: Pedro Torres

Day 6 was our to return to Porto.  We had just enough time for a short walk in front of Conceição’s amazing home

Conceição's house - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição’s amazing home where we stayed. Middle image is the view from my bedroom window!

before boarding our Ryanair flight at lunchtime.

Flying over São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Million thanks to Conceição and Laguita (her gorgeous puppy)!  I had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to get to know you both 🙂

Conceição, me, Pedro - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Conceição, me, Pedro and Laguita. Photo: Pedro Torres

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São Miguel Island – Part 1 – Azores – Portugal

Given that I’d spent several days in Porto on my last trip to Portugal earlier in the year, Pedro decided that we should head further afield and spend some time with a friend of his on São Miguel Island in the Azores. Located between Europe and North America, São Miguel is the largest of the 9 volcanic islands making up the Azores, one of the Portuguese autonomous territories.

When you think of an Island holiday – you expect amazing beaches and incredible weather.   Well, the beaches were amazing, but we were greeted on our first evening with fog and rain.

Great weather - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Of course this didn’t stop us from heading out to visit the first of many hot springs on the island.  The Poça da Dona Beija has 4 hot pools (~38 degrees – heaven!) and one colder (but still not cold) plunge pool set within in a beautifully landscaped area.   Wonderful way to spend the evening!

Poça da Dona Beija - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

On Day 2, our first stop was the Reserva Natural do Ilhéu – a mostly submerged volcanic crater just off the coast from Vila Franco do Campo.  

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu as seen from Vila Franco do Campo

We had originally planned to kayak out, but the wind had picked up and it was going to be very tough going, so we caught the boat instead.  Beautiful place to swim and relax with amazing views!

Reserva Natural do Ilhéu - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We then headed to Furnas so that I could try one of São Miguel’s most typical dishes – the Cozido – and then onto the gardens and thermal pool (yay for hot water!) of Parque Terra Nostra.  Unfortunately, given how late we arrived, we had very little time to explore the gardens, and yes, the water really is the colour of rust due to the high iron content!

Parque Terra Nostra - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Photos: Pedro Torres

Like Melbourne, São Miguel suffers from 4 seasons in 1 day, though it is generally said that if there is cloudy/crap weather on one side of the island, just drive to the other side (~12km away) and it will be fine.   Quite often though in the late afternoon, all the peaks are covered in cloud.  On this day, it was beautifully clear, so we drove home via the high road for some awesome views over the crater lake: Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

A few minutes after this, the fog started rolling in over the hills

Day 3 on São Miguel saw us doing the wonderful ~12km Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades hike.  But first of all we stopped off at the very famous Vista do Rei viewpoint for the classic view of the island that you see on every postcard.

Vista do Rei - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

The hike we were about to embark on started off to the right of the above image and basically followed the rim of the crater all the way around to Sete Cidades, the town that you can see on the left.

I was extra-excited because one of the first things we saw along the route was an old aqueduct.  Yes another of the things in this world that enchant me for no obvious reason are aqueducts.  I find them fascinating and beautiful, and this one was no exception!

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Oh how I love aqueducts! This one is called the “Nine windows wall” for obvious reasons

The views all the way around the hike were absolutely gorgeous, and really showcase just how green and blue the colour palate of the island is when the sun is out (quite the contrast to Greenland, where I’d spent the previous 5 weeks!).

Mata do Canário - Sete Cidades hike - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

We arrived in Sete Cidades after a very enjoyable few hours of walking, and sat down for a coffee before trying to figure out how we were going to get back to the car.  Yes, the only problem with this hike is that it is a linear one – which means you end up a looooooong way from where you started, and to get back to your car, it is all up a very, very steep hill.

Our plan was to hitchhike (something I’d never done before), and it was beginning to look a little grim, as the first 1/2-dozen people drove right past us as we walked along the road.   We’d just gotten to the last of the flat bit when, fortunately, a local lady and her daughter pulled over and gave us a lift all the way back to our car.  A million thank yous to these lovely ladies!!

We drove a little further along the road so I could gawk at another part of the aqueduct

Aqueduct - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Did I mention how much I love aqueducts?

and to visit a place Conceição (Pedro’s friend who we were staying with) recommended to us –  Lagoas das Empadadas

Lagoas das Empadadas - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

This area has two lovely, peaceful lakes surrounded by a forest of Criptoméria  (Japanese Cedar) trees, and the the Miradouro do Pico do Paul for some of the best views of the island. 

Miradouro do Pico do Paul - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Amazing view of the island

We finished off the day at the Praia do Pópulo beach.  Yes – I did go in the water (it happens occasionally), but not for long … while it may not be as cold as the water in Porto, I wouldn’t say it was warm!   We also figured out that the last time I was at a beach was last March! Poneloya in Nicaragua … with Pedro!

Praia do Pópulo - São Miguel - Azores - Portugal

Yes, I do occasionally go to the beach! Mostly with Pedro it would seem… Photo: Pedro Torres

Continued in Part 2.

 

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Why I love long-distance trekking

Karale Glacier - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

This is my favourite image from my trip to Greenland this year.   

Taken on Day 3 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, it (almost) perfectly captures everything I loved about the trek and the reasons why the experience was so special to me.

Many people have asked me about why I love long-distance trekking, given that the thought of trekking for 8 or 10 or 12 days without a shower or many creature comforts is quite a stretch for most.  But for me it’s absolute heaven for the following reasons:

The beauty

Just look at the image.

Those who have been following my travels through the blog have probably figured out that I love mountains, despite the fact that I come from a country that doesn’t really have any “proper” ones.  I’m not a beach girl at all (very un-Australian of me) and am not fond of heat and humidity, though I do love deserts! 

But for me, it is the mountains that really give a sense of the grandeur of the World, whether it be looking up at them towering above you, or looking down from a bird’s eye view.  And although there are plenty of mountains that are easily accessible, if you trek for 10 or 12 days, you end up a long way from anyone or anything, and can really experience nature in all its glory.  It doesn’t get any better!

The silence

There is silence in nature – which in turn quietens my own thoughts.

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash

Enjoying the silence of Huayhuash

Hiking and high intensity exercise are the only things I’ve found that switch my brain off from its constant chatter about what is happening in my life or what I would like to happen in my life.  The advantage that hiking has over high intensity exercise is that it is relatively easy to sustain for long periods of time, if you go in with a good level of fitness to begin with. 

For example, I love boxing!  It is my favourite type of exercise (apart from hiking).  But even at my fittest (just before I left Australia 18 months ago), an intense 30 minute training session with Charles would wipe me out for the rest of the day!     Another example, one of the things I try to do most mornings while traveling is High Intensity Interval Training.  I use the 12 Minute Athlete App and, if you really commit to the idea and put everything you’ve got into it, 12 minutes is more than enough time to destroy you.  If you don’t believe me – I encourage you to give it a go 🙂

And so back to long-distance trekking.  To me, it is a luxury and the best gift I can give myself to have 12 days of peace and serenity and freedom from thinking about life.  To be completely “in the moment” and disconnected from “real life” allows me to reset my thought patterns and eject things that I may have been obsessing over prior to setting off.  I always come back from a long-distance trek with a much clearer mind.

And for those of you who need a break from technology – we had no phone reception from the moment we left Kulusuk to the moment we returned.  Going cold-turkey for 11 days is a good way to break the cycle!

The simplicity

I’ve always lived a fairly minimalist lifestyle, preferring to spend my money on experiences rather than things.  However, since leaving Australia in February 2016, I’ve taken that a step further and have been traveling with just a 60L bag for the most part (OK, this has extended a little this year because I had to bring all my camping gear with me).  Trust me – you can’t fit much in a 60L bag!  For example, I have 2 pairs of trekking pants and 5 quick-dry shirts, so my daily decision about what to wear comes down to: “does it smell, or can I get away with wearing it for another day?“.   After all – you don’t want to be doing washing every 3rd day!

Trekking for 12 days takes this to an even more extreme – after all, you actually have to carry this stuff!  Decisions about what to eat are minimised – you eat what you have with you.  Decisions about where to sleep are minimised – you pitch your tent wherever you find yourself when you stop hiking.   And decisions about what to do are minimised – you are either hiking, or you entertain yourself with whatever you have with you.   Your options are severely limited when you are in the middle of nowhere, but that makes it all the more special, as you can really appreciate where you are and the people you are with.

Keeping ourselves entertained

Entertaining ourselves on a rainy day in the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. Reading, sleeping, talking, drinking tea, and innumerable games of UNO.

The challenge

For some people, the thought of walking 6 blocks in the middle of a city is too much.   For others, a day hike is more than enough to last them for the next week or month.  But when you walk (and engage in other exercise) as much as I do, these shorter hikes are great, but often don’t provide much of a challenge.   

The exceptions I can think of off the top of my head since I started traveling in 2016 are Volcán Maderas in Nicaragua, Rucu Pichincha in Ecuador, and Laguna 69 in Peru.  These were tough day hikes – Maderas because of the heat, the others because of the altitude.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru is a tough day hike, mostly because of the altitude

The first long-distance trek I did was the Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile in 2015.  I remember when I signed up that I was a little nervous about walking for 8 days, especially with the osteoarthritis in my toes.  But it was an incredible experience (for all the reasons I’m talking about here), and while there were challenging parts to it, on the whole, it really wasn’t that difficult.

Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

The Torres del Paine Circuit was the first long-distance trek I did. We had pretty ordinary weather but it was an amazing experience

Then, last year, I hiked the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, 95% of which is over 4,200m, with several passes over 5,000m.   Having spent quite a lot of time at altitude, I knew I wouldn’t have any problems with altitude sickness, but if you’ve ever been above about 3,000m, you know that doing anything at these altitudes gets very difficult very quickly. 

Highest point on the Huayhuash Trek

The highest point on the Huayhuash Trek at 5,200m.

However, with the slow walking pace set by Eliceo, the  altitude challenge was entirely surmountable (though there were some tough climbs), and the sense of achievement I felt at the end of the 10-days was a kind of euphoria.  It took me several days to come down off the high of that incredible experience.

The 12-day Unplugged Wilderness trek in East Greenland was this year’s challenge.  And although altitude wasn’t a concern, I hadn’t actually done much exercise for the previous 2 months while traveling the Silk Road (I’d also been a bit slack on the High Intensity Interval Training 🙁 ) so wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be.  My other concern was the cold (this is Greenland after all, even if in Summer), something that I feel very keenly, and one of my biggest challenges on the Huayhuash Circuit.  It turned out that this actually wasn’t an issue at all (except for Day 4) and I think this trek is the easiest of the 3 I’ve done so far.  No less spectacular for it though, and 3 months after the fact, my head and heart are still in Greenland!

Sunset Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Sunset at the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut in East Greenland

So what is my next challenge?

Well, all the treks I’ve done so far have been supported – in other words, I’ve only had to carry a day pack while hiking.  And although my day pack tends to be heavier than most because of my camera gear, it’s still a lot lighter than carrying a full pack.

However, in February 2018, I will be leveling up in my challenges and undertaking the 10-day Patagonian Icecap Expedition from El Chaltén in Argentina.  On this hike, I have to carry a full pack, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very, very nervous about the cold.   Check back in March to see if I survive!

The new friends

Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.  But I’ve found that the types of people who undertake long-distance treks and actually stick it out, tend to be easy-going, fun, and interesting companions. 

Because you spend so much time together – hiking, eating meals, hanging out – you have tons of time to chat and get to know one another.  And if you really click, it very quickly and easily turns into an ongoing friendship.  I’m still in touch with Max and Nico from the Huayhuash Circuit last year (and am working on convincing them to come to Greenland next year), and I’ll catch up with several of my companions from Unplugged Wilderness again in 2018.   I’m really looking forward to this!

Max and Nico from Huayhuash (top), and the crew from Unplugged Wilderness (bottom)

So there you have it.  If you’ve been curious (or have asked me previously) about why I keep doing these crazy-long treks, I hope that gives a bit more of an idea why I’m so attracted to them.  I really wish I’d discovered this passion earlier in my life, but am making the most of it now that I’ve seen the light 🙂

So who’s in for the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland in August in 2018?

 

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Unplugged Wilderness Trek – Video Slideshow

 

I am a photographer.  One who rarely remembers to take video (even though some of my blog posts include short clips).

And even though I spent almost 10 years working on the periphery of the film industry in Australia (in particular, I was one of the main time-lapse photographers for the IMAX Movie: Hidden Universe 3D), I haven’t personally played around much with video.

So imagine my surprise when, after my experiences in East Greenland on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, I had a real (and unabating) desire to create a video slideshow with some of my favourite images from the trek.  

The idea first surfaced when I heard the song Vor í Vaglaskógi by the Icelandic band Kaleo – one of the many music recommendations I took on board while we were hiking.  I love all their music (give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them), but this song reached out and grabbed me, as it perfectly captures the grandeur of East Greenland and also my melancholia for having to leave.

I’m really looking forward to returning in 2018!

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
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Unplugged Wilderness Trek Day 12 – East Greenland

Day 12 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek was very relaxed.  Well, at least it was for me given I’d already spent a few days in Kulusuk before the trek.  Long breakfast followed by just hanging out chatting, followed by a guided tour of the Kulusuk Museum.

This is a really cool museum that shows a variety of aspects relating to the Tunumiit Inuit way of life on the remote east coast of Greenland.  

Kulusuk Museum - East Greenland

Most of the items belong to previous generations of the family who established and currently run the museum – Justine and Frederick Boassen.  Frederick (who showed us around) was great at explaining not only what each of the items were and how they were used, but the family stories behind them as well.   

For example, this display of feet and other animal parts showcases several of the “kills” their son had made growing up.  His grandmother was so proud of him, she saved everything and put this together.

Kulusuk Museum - East Greenland

There is also a recreation of the interior of a winter house

Kulusuk Museum - East Greenland

and skulls of Polar Bears!

Kulusuk Museum - East Greenland

They also had Tupilaks and other locally handmade items for sale, but I still had my heart set on the Tupilak I’d seen in Kulusuk airport.

Maxime ferried our luggage out to the airport while we made the ~2km hike against a biting wind.  

Walking to Kulusuk Airport - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Approaching Kulusuk Airport. The Air Iceland Connect plane awaits us. Photo: Dusan Číčel

Checked in and then got chatting with Jóhannaso by the time I went through customs to the departure gate – they were already boarding the plane!   But my Tupilak??!!  My passport stamp from Greenland??!!

Clearly, I’m just going to have to return…

Seriously cool idea by Air Iceland Connect on the flight back to Reykjavik!  They’d only just started this program of a communal diary so I was the first to put an entry in the one that was in the seat pocket in front of me.  Yet another reason to return … to see what stories others have added.  Love, love, love this idea!

Awesome idea by Air Iceland Connect

Arrived in Reykjavik and it was time to say goodbye to this awesome group of people who I have really enjoyed spending the last 12 days with.  Always a sad moment, given how much you share with each other over the course of the trek.

 

Summary

In short, if you love long-distance treks in remote places, the Unplugged Wilderness Trek is absolutely brilliant.  It’s not a difficult hike if you are relatively fit and used to trekking (at least not with the conditions we had), and you pass through some truly spectacular scenery.  

The equipment and support provided by Greenland Adventures is fantastic, the camping arrangements are really comfortable, the food ranges from fantastic through to OK (sorry Maxime, I really don’t like porridge 🙁 even Nutella can’t save it), and the chance to see this seldom-visited part of Greenland is incredible.  Yes it is expensive.  But absolutely worth it!  

Special thanks to our guide, Maxime Poncet, who turned the trip into something much more than I could ever have expected.  Your ability to get everyone talking, interesting stories, and never-ending patience and good cheer (even in the face of freezing rivers) set us up to have a really wonderful time together as a group – something appreciated by us all.

 

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
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Unplugged Wilderness Trek Day 11 – East Greenland

Day 11 started early and we were happily greeted with brilliant blue skies again.  

View from Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

The early start was because we had asked Maxime the evening before if we could add in the climb to the summit behind the hut (which we were meant to do yesterday) before heading back to the campsite.   He’d agreed, but it meant getting up early so we could have breakfast, clean and arrange the hut and get everything sorted to leave, get up and down the mountain and then all the way back to the campsite, while still making it in time to catch the boats that were coming to collect us and take us back to Kulusuk.  Done!

Although the sky was perfectly clear, the Tasilap Kua Valley below us was blanketed in cloud – very reminiscent of what I saw so many times while observing at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile.  

Tasilap Kua Valley blanketed in cloud - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

This scenario – where I’m up on a mountain looking down into a sea of clouds always reminds me of my time at the Observatories in Chile, and I wrote a rare personal post about this last year.

The climb up to the summit starts off pretty steep but is not too difficult.  And, if you turn around, there are amazing views back down over the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut and its surroundings.  It really is in the most incredible location!

Tasiilaq Mountain Hut and surroundings from above - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

You can see the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut on the small rise at bottom left of the image

We climbed as a group up until a certain point, but then Maxime split us into 2 smaller parties to make the final climb to the top.  I waited in the second group soaking up the sunshine until he returned to collect us.

waiting for the final push to the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Filip, Dusan and Mathilde soaking up the sun waiting for our turn to head to the summit

As we began to climb, we understood his caution – both in splitting us into two groups now, and also in recommending we didn’t climb yesterday in the rain.  It became an almost vertical scramble, where it was very easy to dislodge rocks and stones onto others coming up from below.  Fewer people in the group, less likelihood this would happen, or that someone would get injured if it did.

To the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

The summit we climbed to is the middle peak

So glad we got up early to do this though, because the views from the top were absolutely spectacular!  And thanks to the cloud for clearing off! 😉

View from the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Very wide parorama trying to encapsulate the entire vista. It was incredible!

View from the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

View to the West of the summit and ridge

View from the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

View to the East of the summit and ridge

We spent quite a bit of time up the top with Maxime pointing out some of the different features of the area, as well as the route we’d taken over the past 11 days.

Maxime showing us peaks - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Oh, and we finally took the group photo!

Group Photo - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Group Photo (clockwise from me at bottom right): me, Rebecca, Olivier, Mathilde, Maxime, Anna, Filip, Dusan, Damien, Stephane, Andrew, Francesco, Laurent

Unfortunately, we had to leave eventually and pick our way back down the mountain.  Well, except for the last part where Filip started a snowball fight with Mathilde, Maxime and I, and we ended up running down the majority of the final snowfield.

From the summit Day 10/11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

The view of the glacier from above was amazing

Glacier from above - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

and I love realising how small I am in front of such grandeur.

Day 10/11 Grandeur - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Those who have read through my other posts about this Unplugged Wilderness Trek, or have read about my trek in Huayhuash, Peru last year (or any of my hiking posts really, where I’m hiking with others), will have noticed that many of the photos include my fellow hikers.  I didn’t always do this.  In fact, I used to wait for people to get out of the way before I would take a photo.  One of the reasons I changed in the past few years is for precisely this reason – people give a sense of scale to where I am – and in the mountains, scale is fundamental to the awe-inspiring experience.

We had a quick lunch at the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut,  then headed back down the vertical cliff

Down from the hut Day 11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

back down the moraine

Down from the hut Day 11 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

and back along the river to where we had left our gear at the campsite.  

Tasilap Kua Valley - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

This last part seemed to take forever, and Filip and I (who were out in front of Maxime and the rest of the group) were really starting to wonder whether we had somehow missed spotting the tent!  But no – it was just a lot further than we expected.

As we were approaching camp, we saw 2 speedboats leave the campsite and head back up the fjord … we were running a little late … oops!  Fortunately they did come back for us and we made the journey back to Kulusuk and the Kulusuk Hostel.

Boat to Kulusuk - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Filip enjoying the sun on the way up the Tasiilaq Fjord back to Kulusuk. Photo: Mathilde Bousson

There, we each took turns at our first hot shower for 12 days.  I had just finished lathering up my hair with the most shampoo I think I’ve ever used in my life, when suddenly – the water cut out!  Completely!  Fortunately I had already washed the rest of myself, so I got dressed in clean clothes (heaven – you really appreciate the basic luxuries after 12 days), tied my towel around my incredibly soapy head, and went to find out what was going on.  Jóhanna ended up coming and rescuing me about half-hour later and I finally washed the soap out of my hair.

Massive meal of fish for our last dinner together – really not wanting the whole thing to end 🙁

 

Trekking Time:  approximately 10 hours

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
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Unplugged Wilderness Trek Day 10 – East Greenland

Day 10 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek was to see us scaling the almost vertical, boulder-strewn mountain behind the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut.  However, we woke up to rain and Maxime decided it would be too dangerous to attempt with the weather as it was.  Plus we wouldn’t actually see anything.

Crap weather - Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

He didn’t have to work too hard to convince us, and we all spent the day relaxing in the comfort of the hut.  Mostly this involved a lot of talking, and drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee.

Relaxing Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Hanging out in Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. Photo: Mathilde Bousson

Eating more Travellunch dried food.

Dinner Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Reading, and playing innumerable games of UNO.  I have to admit, I learned some new, country-specific rules to what I thought was a universal game in this hut!  I still think some of them were made up on the spot…

UNO Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

I also ducked in to have the best nanna-nap ever during the afternoon, having not slept much the night before!

Sleeping area at Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Tasiilaq Mountain Hut sleeps 8 people in the main dormitory (we had a few in the kitchen as well). Throw your sleeping bag down and get cosy! Photo: Dusan Číčel

The rain did stop eventually so it was nice to get outside for a bit of fresh air

Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

and to watch the sun fade over the Tasilap Kua Valley below.

Sunset over the valley - Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

There was also a pretty spectacular golden light show on the tips of the peaks above the hut.

Sunset Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Hopefully a sign of better weather for tomorrow!

Trekking Time:  0 hours

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
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Unplugged Wilderness Trek Day 9 – East Greenland

Today I had to confront the logistical challenge that I’d been putting off addressing ever since I signed up for the Unplugged Wilderness Trek.  We were going to spend the next 2 nights at the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut and would need to take whatever personal items we needed for 2 nights, plus our sleeping bags and our share of communal food for 2 days.  

Now as much as I LOVE my Lowepro Fastpack 250 camera bag (I’m currently on my 3rd one in 10 years – they get a lot of use!), it is designed for day hikes, not overnights.  And while I can fit my Fujifilm XT-1 (seriously awesome camera for travel photography) + 4 lenses + flash + food for a day + warm clothing + rainjacket (which tends to hang off the side), it most certainly cannot fit my -12 degree rated sleeping bag!

So Day 9 started with me figuring out how to attach everything to the outside of the bag.  In the end, and thanks to a loan of the rope that usually tied our cooking pots and pans up, I managed to cobble something together that worked – my sleeping bag and warm clothes jammed into a dry-bag which was strapped to the top of the bag.

The conversation at breakfast started off with a discussion of what each person would choose as their superpower.  The only rule was it had to be a self-contained superpower – ie it could not involve influencing another person’s decisions.  This was a no-brainer for me and I (and Mathilde) immediately came up with teleportation.   Soaking wet and freezing cold after Day 4‘s hike?  No worries at all!  Teleport home to mum and dad, say a quick g’day, have a hot shower, change clothes, and teleport back to camp nice and warm and dry and ready for hot chocolate (actually, we’d run out of hot chocolate by this point, I would have bought some more back with me) and more great conversation.  Done!

Given this discussion, I have absolutely no idea at all how we ended up forgetting to brew the Iceland Moss (Cetraria Islandica) that Maxime collected yesterday into the tea that would actually grant us these superpowers … but somehow we did!  Perhaps it was due to the evolution of the discussion into the joys of Australian music and the the dulcet tones of 1990s Kylie Minogue (I hate “The Locomotion“!) emanating from Stephane’s extremely eclectic mix of music on his phone!

After breakfast, we packed everything into the cook/dining tent, took on board our share of the food for the next 2 days (laptop compartments in camera bags have multiple uses.  Thank goodness dry trekking food is flat!), and set out up Tasilap Kua Valley towards the “The Triplets“.

Tasilap Kua Valley and "The Triplets" - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

We stopped for lunch in an area that was gorgeous and green and had spectacular views to the other side of the valley

Lunch spot Day 9 - Tasilap Kua Valley - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

as well as boulders for Maxime and Filip to play with (both are boulderers).  Actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s precisely why we stopped here … 😉

Lunch spot bouldering - Tasilap Kua Valley - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

It also had a great view of where we were heading.  The Tasiilaq Mountain Hut is located up the ridge that borders the glacier on the left hand side (viewed in the image below) and around the back of the “small” hills.

Glacier leading to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

After lunch, we started climbing, picking our way over the boulders in the moraine.

Glacial Morraine to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

It is a spectacular hike beside the glacier 

Glacial Morraine to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Maxime and I leading the charge up the glacial moraine to the Tasiilaq Mountain hut. Photo: Mathilde Bousson

With amazing views back down into the valley.

Rest Stop on Glacial Morraine to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Rest stop half-way up the moraine.

At the top of this, we were met by an even bigger challenge.  Maxime had described it along the lines of the following:  “We walk up the moraine until we hit what looks like a vertical wall, then we climb that, and the hut is at the top”.   Riiiiiiiiiight!

And while it wasn’t quite a vertical wall to begin with, it wasn’t far off!

Approach to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

And in the end, his description turned out to be pretty accurate, but at least there were ropes attached to help in the endeavour!

Approach to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

It was all totally worth it in the end!  The Tasiilaq Mountain Hut is in an absolutely spectacular location 

Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Maxime waiting patiently while Filip and I bring up the rear in reaching the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. Photo: Mathilde Bousson

with incredible views further into the mountains

Views from Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

An Icelandic Mountain Guide in East Greenland

and also back down onto the glacier and the valley below.

Views from Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

The guys went to collect water for the next couple of days (always one of the first chores when arriving at a camp)

Collecting water Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

and we settled in around the dining table drinking tea (oh the variety that was at the hut – even English Breakfast tea!), chatting, and finishing off the day with our surprisingly good Travellunch re-hydrated dried trekking food for dinner.  We ate a lot of this stuff in the final days 🙂 

Dinner at Tasiilaq Mountain Hut - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

 

Trekking Time:  approximately 8 hours

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
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Unplugged Wilderness Trek Day 8 – East Greenland

More beauty during my regular 2am wake-up call of nature!

Sunrise Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

And although the clouds made for a gorgeous sunrise, it did mean that Day 8 was yet another overcast one for the most part.   This was a fairly short day in comparison to all the rest, where we essentially hiked along the Tasiilaq Fjord to its end.  

Tasiilaq Fjord and The Triplets - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

However, to make it a little more interesting, Maxime took us on a more scenic route that ascended into the mountains again.  

Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

Unfortunately I seem to have been too busy talking to take many photos (it always depends on who I’m hiking with and whether they are on for a chat too) … but after lunch near a special waterfall

Lunch spot Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

we ended up at a small lake surrounded by peaks.

Lake on Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

We hung out up there for a while before heading back down towards the Fjord.

Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

At a rest stop where, for a change of pace from sweet biscuits, we cracked open packets of dried fish and remoulade (given my loathing of mayonnaise, I was highly skeptical of the remoulade… but was very quickly converted!), Maxime set about collecting some Iceland Moss (Cetraria Islandica)  a lichen he’s told us about earlier that was supposed to give us superpowers if brewed into a tea.  Guess what is for breakfast tomorrow morning?!  

The sun came out again as we descended towards the fjord

Day 8 - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

and our route took us past a small Inuit ruin

Inuit ruin - Unplugged Wilderness - East Greenland

before arriving at our final campsite.

Trekking Time:  approximately 6 hours

Read more:  links to my other blog posts about the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images
Like what you have read? Please follow and like me: