Category Archives: Hiking

Yeti Hikes: Dragonfly Mountain

DragonflySCULPTURE

Distance: 8 km Time: 2 hours

Built in 2014 in an obscure part of the city, the trail that ascends Dragonfly Mountain (not its proper name, of course) wends past apartment buildings and Buddhist temples alike.

You discover it quite by mistake, first by ascending a long set of stairs that you had never noticed before and then by ascending more stairs. Suddenly you are above the city, looking out at the Han River and Namsan. A Korean woman will chat with you for a bit, explaining that when she was a child there was no smog and everything looked a lot closer.

There is major construction on one end of Dragonfly mountain. They’ve destroyed many old buildings and it looks like a new apartment building is going up. Less than 500 meters from that hole in the earth is a modest Buddhist temple (apart from the Golden Buddha statue of course), guarded by a dog and a friendly homeless man with a dog of his own who offers to share his makkoli with you.

There’s no stopping though and your feet carry you forward, past ceramic tiles painted with images of Deadpool and Totoro, Kakao and Pixar characters alike. You may pause at the workout equipment–do pull-ups or sit-ups or any of another dozen exercises. Should you continue, fear not–there will be plenty more stations along the way.

You walk through grass and through what feels like jungle and, later, a gloomy forest. There are side trails down to apartments on one side and the city on the other. This is part of the city you have never been to, and the lull to explore somewhere new is strong, but you continue along Dragonfly mountain.

You pass the trail to another Buddhist temple, this one half-hidden in dense verdant foliage. Now you see a dome that looks like an observatory. But it’s really an emergency services– 119. Just past here the trail forks, and you eschew the paved road and climb again, past what appears to be a deserted university and up a flight of stairs that keep climbing long after the novelty has worn off.

You reach a badminton court, skirt around it, and find a wooden platform with a view of the city stretching all around you. Below is a wooden swing and a rose garden.  There are no elves frolicking in the garden, but you think that there probably should be.

The trail splits again, and again, and you emerge by a subway station. It’s not a long walk back to your house, however, and thus you finish the trek amongst a myriad of people. Dragonfly Mountain, so close to you, is no longer visible; hidden behind rows of apartment buildings and smog.

It matters not. You know you will return. In the meantime…

Your memories look like this:

Yeti Hikes: Achasan

Mount Acha

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There are at least 43 mountains in Seoul, but surely none of them are as accessible and easy to ascend as Achasan. The highest peak on Achasan is only 287 meters, so it’s not exactly a trek through the Himalaya, but in addition to the requisite views of the city and Gyeonggido there are three elements that really make it stand out among Seoul’s myriad of mountains.

Easy as (RedBean Paste) Pie

These are for charging your phone and taking selfies, replete with instructions.

For me, no mountain in Seoul compares to the scope, beauty, and grandeur of Bukhansan. But it’s a real slog up to the peak(s) and there are always thousands of other hikers toiling their way up with  you. Achasan, on the other hand? From the subway to the peak it takes about 45 minutes (your times may very based on how turtley or roadrunnery you hike). Once up there, there are gentlemen selling socks and drinks, plus solar panels to charge your phone. All the amenities a person could hope for, really.

The hike to the top is short, yes, but from there you can continue along the ridgeline to Yongmasan, another 10 K. (I haven’t done this yet but hopefully will this summer.)

There very well could be a mountain in Seoul with a better effort-to-view ratio, but if so I haven’t found it.

 

The Path Rocks

rocks

There are staircases that go most of the way up, because that’s kind of how Korea rolls. But the funnest way to go up (and down) is by clambering up (and down) the sheets of rock. It’s never scary and the rock gives good grip. I haven’t seen another mountain with this texture and it makes Achasan a bit unique.

 

Historic Koguryeo Ruins

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Most people know about China’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but Korea had its own Three Kingdoms period. (BCE37~CE668) This war pit the Shilla, the Baekje, and the Koguryeo against each other. It was a pretty even fight until eventually the Shilla enlisted the help of China and the rest was history, but for some time the Koguryeo held on. Many of the forts they built were located here. They’ve found remnants of 20 forts from the Three Kingdoms era, and the ruins of one of them is still visible ll fort of the Goguryeo era.

There’s also the Daeseongam Hermitage, a Three Kingdoms Tomb, a Cremation Site, and a Beacon Signal there, so those with an interest in history or culture get more than mere mountain.

Getting There

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Start at Achasan Station, naturally. There are several ways up the mountain, but all them are accessed by leaving the station via Exit 2, then walking through some colorful old neighborhoods. Just keep the mountain in front of you and you’ll get there.

If you want to go via Hwayang Temple (pictured above), turn onto Yeonghwasa-ro and then keep going up.

Final Note

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You don’t need hiking boots for this hike, but sneakers are very helpful. Make sure you bring enough water as well. It’s better to hike in the spring and autumn, when temperatures are cooler and views are clearer, but this is nice hike any time of year.

Rambling Namsan

One of my favorite things about spending almost two months in the HBC area has been how close Namsan is. Namsan is a little hill in the middle of Seoul, where the Seoul Tower hangs out. There is a cable car to take those not interesting in walking up, but also many ways to climb up. (I actually seem to find a new way to the top each time I go up there.)

At the top are the usual convenience stories, overpriced restaurants, colored locks clinging to fences, and teddy bear museums.It’s high and shaded enough that snow lasts pretty much all year and on a rare clear day, the view of the city below is quite nice.

From HBC it takes a little less than half an hour to get up to the top. It’s not steep as other Korean mountains but you will see Koreans walking backwards or utilizing the exercise equipment. Anyway, here are some pictures taken from various parts of the surrounding areas.

The Best of 2014

I’ve been doing this for  2009, 2010, 2011,  2012 and 2013. How does 2014 stack up? While not without blips, it had some of the highest highs (literally).. When I look back on this year though, however, I will remember another amazing year on the road.

2014 will be characterized for me by the hospitality of so many people who took me in, cooked vegan dinners, showed me around their home towns, and just were genuinely nice. It’s a year that I’m very grateful to have had.

January 2014

Life of Pai

Life of Pai

Pai is one of my very very favorite places in the world. For me, it’s nearly a perfect town–filled with vegan cafes, surrounded by nature ( waterfalls, gorges, and hot springs) and moving at an easy pace of life. If I could move there tomorrow, I just might.

February 2014

Back to Kuala Lumpur

Back to Kuala Lumpur

February was a great month for me. I saw Ayutthaya and Sukkothai, spent some time on the resort island of Langkawi, and rediscovered Bangkok. The return to KL, where I stayed at my home away from home Agosto Inn, though, is what I’ll remember the most. KL is my favorite city in Asia and it remains a great place to wander for hours.

March 2014

The High Himalaya

The High Himalaya

The hardest hike of my life, but so incredible. 3 weeks in the Himalaya, with highlights including Everest Base Camp, Gokyo Ri, and thousands of Yak sightings.

April 2014

Kathmandu Tattoo Convention

Kathmandu Tattoo Convention

While not quite as low-tech as Burma, the Kathmandu convention does experience several power cuts a day.  It’s also great to walk out to the posh Yak & Yeti hotel, where international businessmen give the stink eye to the scroungy backpackers who trek in one weekend a year. I was lucky enough here to work with Nic Pretty Ink, who designed and delivered an Ent tattoo in less than ideal working conditions.

May 2014

The tea plantations of Bali

The tea plantations of Bali

Though I didn’t really enjoy Indonesia, there are a lot of beautiful places there. I didn’t really have a camera during this time, only a 1 megapixel phone camera. So this picture does not do the reality justice. Another thing I do love about Bali is the preponderance of Hindu temples everywhere. They’re beautiful and unlike other temples I’ve seen.

June 2014

The almighty Trolltunga

The almighty Trolltunga

My first weekend in Norway was close to midsummer. My friends and I drove to the west coast in one of the most beautiful road trips I’ve ever been on. After some stealth camping on the side of the road, we got up, mountain biked to a hiking trail, hiked to a cliff, climbed a via ferrata up the rock wall, and then made our way to the Troll tongue (long one of the places in the world I most wanted to see). Just an average weekend for the hardy Norwegians, but for me truly one of the best experiences of my life.

July 2014

Rocking at Roskilde

Rocking at Roskilde

I’ve raved about the festival already, but it was a chance conversation with a Canadian and a Dane at about 13,000 feet up in Nepal that brought me there. Not only did I see bands like the Rolling Stones, Jack White, Stevie Wonder, Outcast, and Les Claypool, but I made so many awesome new friends.

August 2014

The Streets of Stockholm

The Streets of Stockholm

Of course, I shouldn’t have even been there. My plan was to go to the UK, Ireland, and France. I even had flight tickets and places to stay.  UK Immigration had other plans though and to be honest more time in Denmark and a chance to meet with friends in Sweden was a pretty awesome backup plan.

September 2014

Autumn in Portland

Autumn in Portland

I had just been back in Portland last summer, but lacking a proper autumn for years made the pumpkin crazy time so nice. Portland is so walkable and always changing and though I don’t get to NE that much, I do enjoy that area quite a lot.

October 2014

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

A grand road trip has to culminate with the Grand Canyon right? Though I saw Zion and Vegas and the redwoods and Lassen and Shasta, the Grand Canyon was damn impressive. I wasn’t really expecting it to be so vast and incredible and I’m so lucky to have finally seen it.

November 2014

Hiking the kalmiopsis with Mom and Storm

Hiking the kalmiopsis with Mom and Storm


 
A good deal of my time in the States was spent at my mom’s place in Southern Oregon, where we cooked, baked, played games, and went on lots of walks. This day, a hike with Storm the Wonderdog, was one of the best as we had chickpea salad sandwiches and dill pickle chips plus the day was so clear and beautiful.

December 2014

Olympic Park in Winter

Olympic Park in Winter

December should have been my first month on a 9 month contract in China, but I had to call an audible and ended up back in Seoul. Catching up with old friends and realizing that Seoul is sort of a second home to me–plus finally getting a real winter after years in SE Asia–made December a great month.

A Quick and Dirty Guide to the City of Roses

I wrote this for a friend of mine who was visiting Portland, but I thought it was worth expanding on. And so here is a quick introduction to Portland, OR.

The 5 quadrants

The 5 quadrants

Portland is basically a four part grid, with the Willamette River and Burnside Street splitting it into 4 quadrants– Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, Southeast. (There’s a fifth part, called North Portland, but I haven’t been up there much and as it’s not walkable from everywhere else, it sort of doesn’t count.)

Each area has something to be said for it.

Brewery Sampler
Northwest is the home of the Pearl District–lots of outdoor stores, cafes, parks, etc. It’s a bit yuppy, a bit corporate but a nice place. Lots of the “big” stores in Portland are here. Powell’s Books is the largest bookstore in the world, and you could easily spend an entire day (or more) there. Deschutes and Rogue Brewhouses are both nearby, and both worth some sampling.  More breweries are opening all the time, or you could just go to Henrys and sample over 100 beers on draft.

 

Downtown

Southwest is basically downtown–which is not the highlight of portland. It’s worth walking around, visiting Pioneer Square as well as all the food carts. The waterfront is very nice in the summer but might be rainy and chilly in winter. You can get food from about anywhere in the world for not too much money.

NE

Northeast is a huge area, but streets like Mississippi and Alberta are some the best in Portland. Lots of cool places to eat, drink, shop, people watch, etc. The Bye&Bye is one of my favorite pubs, but you can’t really go wrong anywhere.

SE
And then Southeast is sort of the portlandiest part of Portland. Hawthorne, Belmont, Division, Clinton, are all close together and have more bookstores, pubs, microbrews, teashops, brew and views than you can shake a stick at. Apex Brewpub on Division has a lot of tasty beers and you can get cheap & tasty mexican food from the place next door.

That’s a pretty basic overview. Biking is easy–you can bike just about everywhere. There are a couple of bike only trails as well; these will be easy to find.

More importantly, hiking.

URBAN.

Washington Park

You can take the bus or max to WASHINGTON PARK, which connects you to more than 30 miles of trail in Forest Park. It’s nice up there, and there is a tree arboretum with redwoods and other cool stuff.

Mt. Tabor

In SOUTHEAST, it’s an easy climb up to MT. TABOR, but it’s one of the greatest places to view the city.

There are quite a few urban hikes available–the city is half forest and it can be quite easy to get out of civilization.

OUTSIDE THE CITY.

Portland has three great outdoors areas within an hour drive.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is beautiful and the town of Astoria (where Short Circuit, Goonies, etc were filmed) is great. There are tons of great hikes out there; some flat coastal, some mountain climbing, giant wandering elks, misty mountains.

Columbia Gorge

Even better than the Coast is the COLUMBIA GORGE. The famous destination here is the Multnomah Falls (which could very well be frozen over in the winter). But there are hundreds of hikes in the area. All of them are at low enough altitudes that you can hike them year round. Salmon Creek is nice, and Latroull falls is as well, to name a few.  Take the old highway and just stop at any hikes that look nice. A lot of them are pretty much the same–some climbing through forests, some waterfalls, and then loop back to the parking lot.

Mt. Hood

But the best place to hike in the Portland area, in my opinion, is MT. HOOD. The hikes here are out of the world. However it might be too snowy to get up in the winter. Nonetheless, a visit to TIMBERLINE LODGE (exterior shots for the Shining) would be a great day.

Everest Base Camp – Day 21, Nunthala to Salleri

It rained hard most of the night.  I slept well, and warm, from 8 until 6 am.  Feel better today but whole body is sore.  Pity that I’m out of tiger balm.  Today shouldn’t be too bad–about another 1.5 hours up the hill and the mostly down the rest of the day.

***

Well, it took me over 3 hours to get to the top of the pass.  The ground was still super muddy and covered with donkeys and their poo.  At the top of the pass, the rain from last night had turned to snow and it was quite pretty.

Despite the snow and the cold, I was sweating so much that I had to strip down to shorts and tshirt.  At one point, resting on a rock next to a porter coming down, he turned to me and asked “Player?”  I wasn’t sure what this meant, but he seemed to interested in my Cthulhu tattoo, so I showed it to him more closely.  He nodded, suspicions confirmed.  “Ah yes, wrestler,” he said and then walked off.

From the top of the pass, it was only 45 minutes down to Ringmo, where the trail split off to Salleri.  Stopped for peanut butter and coconut cookies and then onwards! … no rest for the wicked.

***

Dirty Feet!  (And to honest, dirty everything really.)

Dirty Feet! (And to honest, dirty everything really.)

It took me almost exactly 7 hours to Salleri, but I made it.  Phew.  After Ringmo the rail was up and down.  Too much up, in truth, but quite mild by yesterday’s standards.  Still lots of donkeys, but the trail grew more solid–fewer rocks, less mud, not even nearly as much poo.  The only annoying thing were these bugs that filled the air like spring blossoms.  Don’t think they actually bite, but I had to flick them off every couple seconds for about an hour.

For some reason, on this part of the trail kids go crazy when the see me.  They always run over, shouting Namaste!  Not quite used to trekkers I guess.  A few asked me for pens or chocolates but most were just smiling and excited.

My toes were painful on downhills yesterday, but I forgot about it by the time I stopped last night.  It happened again today, and I remembered the “trim your nails” advice.  Yikes!  I hadn’t looked at them in, what, over a month.  Stopped on a rock and cut off those bad boys with a little knife my mom had given me.  Luckily I was alone, as I imagine this would have attracted the attention of lots of Nepalis.

Saw a UN jeep just after that.  The airport at Phaplu is under major construction.  Someone thinks this will become a major entry point into the Khumbu region.

I’m back at Laxmi where this all began.  Feels weird to be here on my own.  The room is the most expensive of the whole trek–200 rupees!  But the food is cheap again AND there’s a charging point in my room.  It started raining within two minutes of me getting here.  I threw my shoes away too–jandals will get me back to Kathmandu.

I met two tibetans while eating some afternoon momos who escaped and now travel around Nepali monasteries telling their story.  The young guy is super smiley and tells great stories–a very nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

I’m getting up at 4 am tomorrow and taking the jeep back.  It’s 5 dollars less this way, but will it be anything close to the 12 hours they promise?

Day 21

From/To:  Nunthala to Salleri
Elevation: 2330 meters
Lodge: Laxmi Lodge
Budget: 730 rupees

 

Everest Base Camp – Day 20, Lukla to Nunthala

When I told the lodge owner in Lukla that I was thinking of walking to Nunthala, he nodded very seriously and considered it.  “Yes, if you go Nepali speed and leave at 6 am, you might be there by 6 pm.”  Which is when it gets dark, and so it sort of the cut off point for any trekking.

A 12 hour day over two passes. Sounded nigh impossible, but became moot once I went out and got utterly fitzshaced with the Germans.  Except.

Except….

For some reason, one that I’ll never be able to explain, I was up and packed and out the door by 6:45 am.  Said goodbye to Mads and Ashraf and asked for directions after I paid.  “Just go down,” they told me.  And so I did.  The moon loomed large in the sky, the trees were pink and white and rich red rhododendrons were everywhere.  I walked past the “world’s most dangerous airport” and marveled both at planes leaving and ones arriving too.  No one was out this early, not even porters.  And so I started off singing, at first “Rocking in the Free world,” and then “Menonoma” and then some sort of unholy mashup of both.  Kept thinking how happy I was not to be climbing up.

I basically just walked straight down the mountain, often with no trail at all.  I don’t have the faintest idea when I reached the actual trail, but at some point I met an Australian.  Upon my warning of the steep climb up to Lukla, he told me he was just going skip it (same as we had down 3 weeks ago.)

Within an hour or two, I reached a spot 600 meters below Lukla.  From here, the joke was on me, as I climbed over Chutuk La, which is actually higher than Lukla.  Had been enjoying Achtung Baby and I made this climb quite quickly, but it took a lot out of me.  At 9 am, the sun still hadn’t climbed over the mountains so it is still quite chilly but I am sweating (to the max) from the exertion of climbing 2000 feet in 45 minutes.  And from the top of this pass, I climb back down, lower than my previous low point, and then back over an even higher pass!

***

Blooming Trees

Blooming Trees

Egads.  When I wrote the above, I was feeling strong and still aiming for Jiri over the next 4 or 5 days.  Now I am broken and headed out via Salleri (where we came in) which I can reach tomorrow.

In addition to the two passes, today saw 3 rainstorms, miles of poo mud, more than 2000 meters up AND 2000 meters down.  By the time I stopped, I was shaking with exhaustion.

After last night, I was quite dehydrated today.  Drank 3 liters before noon, and was still making decent time despite having to wait for numerous donkey trains.  The climb up to Kari La took forever, but it wasn’t as steep as some of the other climbs.  I reached Khari Kola, a very cute town, by 1 or 2 and it began to rain quite hard.  Rather than stop here, like a smart person, I pressed on.  My shoes at this point were a joke and only counted as footwear by the merest of technicalities.  In addition to splitting, the grip on the souls is gone and I slid through the mud more times than I want to count.  On the other hand, after that first rainstorm, the sun came out, birds chirped and I had the trail all to myself.

I passed the village where Mads played with the little girl.  She screamed in happiness, jumped up and down, and ran to say hello.  I greeted her and her mom but pressed on for another hour or two.  The sound of someone spitting made me look behind.  A smiling woman “Namasted” me and asked if I was going to Nunthala.  How did she know?  I told her yes, and she indicated she was going to.  “3 hours,” she said.  I had been hiking for 8 hours now, so this sounded about right.  However, I had a secret plan.  I remembered the first town we had slept in, and thought I’d stop there instead of going all the way to Nunthala.

The woman walked very close behind me, like half-a-step, for the first hour.  I kept offering to let her go past me, but she would smile and shake her head no.  I slowly realized I hadn’t slipped at all since she’d found me.  Was she some kind of wizard?

After a little while it began raining again, and she indicated I should take refuge in a tea shop with her.  The roof was leaky and so we went inside and met the family.  She bought me a hot lemon (again: how did she know?).  The family were great, and one young guy told me he was a guide for Everest and going up for the 7th time with some Coloradans and the British army.

I was wet though and getting cold and so I left as the rain eased.  The lady followed me, as we climbed up the 3rd pass of the day.  (I wasn’t trying to cross this one today, but getting a bit up it would help tomorrow.)  I had to take little 30 second breaks every couple of minutes as the steepness just continued to defeat me.  The rain and donkeys and my poor shoes had combined into a marinade of poop mud that bathed my feet for hours.

It was quite dark now, and the lady was tired of my many breaks.  She pressed on ahead but would stop and wait for me to get into sight.  It was only now, 2 hours after I’d met her, that I realized the town I wanted to stop in and Nunthala were one and the same.  It began raining again, quite hard, but it was dark now too and the only choice was to keep climbing.  With every twist of the trail I was hoping to see Nunthala but it just kept climbing.  I didn’t know that, from the tea shop, Nunthala was a further 700 feet in elevation.  I had to get out my headlamp and slipped in the mud a few times.

Early Morning Light

Early Morning Light

And the we were there!  My room is 150, so perhaps I’m paying for the lady too, but who cares?  She’s rad.  The lodge owner was suitably impressed when I told her where I had come from, but a pyrrhic victory it was.  I talked to some british trekkers and ate some mushroom fried rice (with the spiciest chili sauce I’ve ever had in Nepal) and was deeply asleep by 8 pm.  Because I skipped breakfast and lunch, it was mercifully a pretty cheap day, even though I had to buy two bottles of water at 1.50 each.

Day 20

From/To:  Lukla to Nunthala
Elevation: 2330 meters
Lodge: Hotel Everest
Budget: 860 rupees