Category Archives: Hiking

Scotland #13: Rubha Hunish, AKA The Hike From Hell

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat
Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument
Scotland #4: Going Forth to Forth
Scotland #5: The Beauty of Fife
Scotland #6: Whisky Fail
Scotland #7: Defeat at Culloden
Scotland #8: Cawdor’s Not-So-Secret Garden
Scotland #9: The Loch Ness Loop
Scotland #10: The Road to Skye
Scotland #11: Old Man of Storr
Scotland #12: Pieces of Skye

Rubha Hunish

The hike along Rubha Hunish (literally the head of Hunish) is located at the tippy top of the Isle of Skye.

Ironically, we chose to hike Rubha Hunish because it was billed as an easy, flat stroll to Skye’s northernmost point. I was still feeling under the weather and didn’t have the energy to huff and puff up a mountain.

That was our first mistake.

The hike started out fine enough, but grew a little treacherous as the “path” became increasingly muddy and wet thanks to Skye’s persistent wet weather. Every couple of minutes, one of us would screech when we accidently stepped in a pool of muddy water. The hike instructions were the opposite of clear, but we followed the stream of people in front of us and what looked like a reasonable path.

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This is a path. So far so good.

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Pretty views. No complaint here.

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Ditto.

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The aforementioned muddy puddles. You see how the “path” is a little more mysterious here?

It all seemed worth it when we got to this stunning view.

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And took these pictures.

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After taking way too many pictures (of course), we decided to follow the book’s instructions for a loop back to the starting point instead of heading down the same path we had started on.

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Heading back

That was our second mistake.

We hiked down to low land, walking along the beach. By this point, Skye’s infamous wind picked up, and it began to mist. The guidebook instructed us “follow a faint path diagonally inland, aiming for a corner of the [stone] wall to where it becomes a wire fence.”

UH…IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE CLEAR???

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Walking along the beach…

Those would have been fine instructions if we could make out either the stone wall or the wire fence. Failing to see either of those things, we decided to move inland anyways.

That was our third mistake.

As we moved inland, the weedy grass grew taller – sometimes as tall as our waists – making it difficult to walk and impossible to see the mud puddles lurking throughout. By this point, our feet were soaked through and through. Our socks were black, and our pants weren’t much better. Every step we took made a sad squish sound. And, we had no idea where we were going.

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My poor sneakers…

I reread the instructions in our hiking path, finding little amusement in the authors insistence that the path may be faint, but still there. Faint my ass. If there was a path, it was long, long gone.

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This looks like a stone wall, but where the hell does it meet a wire fence?

We finally reached what appeared to be the aforementioned stone wall and wire fence. But there was no obvious door or path toward the “row of houses which were once the home of the coastguards.” We climbed over the wall and wandered for 10 minutes until we decided on a new plan: Make for the hotel in the distance in the hopes that someone – anyone – could point us back to our car. We turned around, climbed over the fence, and wandered in the opposite direction. Guess what? The elusive hotel was unreachable, barricaded by a wall meant to keep away nomads like ourselves.

So… we turned around, climbed over the fence and walked in the opposite direction. Again. At this point, we decided to simply keep going. I suspected we were headed in the general right direction, even if we had no idea where our car was.

After some period of time we came across a man herding sheep on the side of the road. He was very nice and accommodating even though we sounded a bit desperate. Okay, a lot desperate. He pointed us in the right direction, and a few minutes later we saw…

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…The red phone booth right near the parking lot. Lisa was so overjoyed, she gave the phone booth a hug.

Tired, cold, and wet, we made our way back to the hotel and promptly declared our socks unsalvageable.

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Our disgusting socks

And then I blow dried my sneakers, which is a) a bad idea if you’re trying to avoid a fire and b) not good for the sneakers, but desperate times… (Side note: When I got back to the U.S., Saucony was kind enough to send me a new pair of sneaker inserts after my original inserts mysteriously shrunk on my trip to Scotland.)

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a pleasant Scottish stroll turned into the hike from hell.

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Scotland #11: Old Man of Storr

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat
Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument
Scotland #4: Going Forth to Forth
Scotland #5: The Beauty of Fife
Scotland #6: Whisky Fail
Scotland #7: Defeat at Culloden
Scotland #8: Cawdor’s Not-So-Secret Garden
Scotland #9: The Loch Ness Loop
Scotland #10: The Road to Skye

We chose the Isle of Skye because of it’s known for its uniquely, stunning scenery. Don’t get me wrong. All of Scotland is beautiful. But Skye is weirdly beautiful. Everything about Scotland is exaggerated on the Isle of Skye – the erratic weather, the fog, the intense beauty, the solitude, the oddly shaped mountains and cliffs. I love seeing beautiful things. But I love seeing weird and beautiful things even more.

We started the morning with a hike up to the Old Man of Storr, a short drive from our hotel in Portree. The forecast called for no rain, but the Scottish weather gods had other ideas. Even as the rain fell on us, my weather app continued to say zero percent precipitation. We started the hike with a light drizzle, and proceeded to meet a range of fog, rain, and even a short dalliance with some blue skies.

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The Old Man of Storr refers to one of the rocky pinnacles poking into the sky. Which one? Good question. I think it’s the isolated rock standing aloof in the pictures below, but I’m not entirely sure. The important thing is that the Old Man and his friends are freaking awesome looking.

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The hiking path used to be filled with trees, but they were cut down. Personally, I think it adds to the desolated beauty.

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A parade of cows burst onto the scene, running across the hiking path.

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I went a little photo crazy when I saw the sheep. I know, I know. We have sheep in the U.S. But taking pictures of sheep in Scotland seemed like a necessity and they had been dodging me all trip.

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The clouds began to part…

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Oh hello there blue skies (sort of).

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Did I mention I’m obsessed with sheep?

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Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

The Great Wall is truly great. I mean it’s fucking great. Like mind-blowing, ass-kicking, I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this-in-person great. It is one of the main reasons my sister and I decided to go China. It’s been on my bucket list for years. And it lived up to my expectations.

Scratch that. It exceeded my expectations.

Great Wall Map

The Great Wall of China is huge. It stretches for hundreds of miles and there are many different places you can see the Great Wall. The most popular tourist area is Badaling – it’s closest to Beijing and most accessible by public transportation. But it’s also crawling with tourists.

From the get go, I know I wanted to do an actual hike (not a walk) and visit a less touristy part of the wall.

As we began our research, it seemed like there were hundreds of guides to choose from, and we had no idea how to choose one from the other, or even which location to choose. Somehow, we stumbled on Dandelion Hiking, which does group hikes for a fraction of the cost of other companies and received good reviews on Trip Advisor. The owner was very responsive and spoke excellent English. And so even though no one else signed up for the hike (it was late November after all), we decided to stick with them and do a private hike. It cost us $150 per person which is comparable to all the other companies out there.

Our guide was a Belgian fellow named Jan who was just perfect. He and his driver picked us up from our hotel at 9:30 a.m. on the dot. His English was great; he answered all of our questions (even the stupid ones); and he took a ton of pictures of us, even when we insisted on doing silly poses that would try any normal person’s patience. Sadly, Jan informed us that he was going back to Europe in a couple of days, but I’d still recommend Dandelion Hiking. They were phenomenal.

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Our trusty guide, Jan, taking pictures of us.

Jan recommended a hike called Chen Castle, slightly northeast of Badaling. It was perfect. It started with a steep hike up to reach the wall which tested our lungs and legs. But when we got to the top after much huffing and puffing, it was all awe and amazement and me shrieking, “We’re at the Great Wall of China!”

Starting out. You can see the Great Wall all the way at the tippy top.

Starting out. You can see the Great Wall all the way at the tippy top.

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Reaching the Great Wall after 1,300 feet of climbing.

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Showing off my yoga skills. Or skill. That is the only cool yoga pose I can do.

It helped that we literally had the Great Wall of China to ourselves. There was not another person or vehicle in sight for miles and miles.

The steep climb up was the hardest part. After that, there were a few hills, but we mostly walked along the Great Wall admiring the view and snapping hundreds of pictures. And I do mean hundreds.

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And of course, here is my requisite cartwheel pose. It’s not the most graceful cartwheel, but I’m about twenty years out of practice.

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Let me conclude by saying, the Great Wall of China is amazing, and worth a trip to Asia. I’d recommend going in the spring or fall, though we managed just fine with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees. Dandelion Hiking does a variety of trips you can choose from, some which include camping out overnight on the Great Wall.

 

 

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Hiking Havasu Falls: Part 4

If you missed previous installments, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

We woke up the next morning around dawn, which was felt like 8:30 a.m. for the east coasters among us so it wasn’t so bad. Packing up all of our gear was time consuming and yet another reason to sleep in the lodge. By the time we left the camp grounds it was 7:00 a.m. It was an hour’s hike to the village with all of our gear and me stopping to take pictures. Yes, it’s a sickness.

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Now, I have to pause to tell you how brilliant I am. The Havasupai people fly people and supplies in and an out of the canyon everyday via helicopter. After I purchased a much needed and obscenely expensive diet coke, I took all of our rented gear — our sleeping bags, sleeping pads and tent — and hooked them together with some cheap climbing hooks. I handed them to the kind village man at the helicopter pad along with a $10 bill. For a mere $10, he flew our gear up in the helicopter and we picked it up at the top of the canyon. It was one of the smartest things I have ever done in my life. If you ever hike Havasu Falls and choose to camp out, I highly recommend it.

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After eating breakfast and dropping our gear off at the helicopter pad, it was already 9:00 a.m. We were off. It was a beautiful day as we made our way through the canyon floor.

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What The Boyfriend does while I take pictures…check for service.

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It didn’t occur to me until we reached the start of the grueling hike up the last 1.5 miles that there was a price to pay for our dilly-dallying. It was 1:00 p.m. and about 90 degrees with a hot and heavy sun beating down on us. I was also low on water, exhausted, and close to full-on panic mode. 1.5 miles does not seem like a lot of miles. But when it’s straight up hill, it quickly becomes an eternity. And when your brain starts saying things like: “I”m going to die here of dehydration and never get to brag about hiking the Grand Canyon,” you start to believe it.

In the end, I did not die of hydration. The Boyfriend gave me plenty of his water  and even carried my backpack for me (he’s a keeper). As we neared the top, the weather cooled thanks to the increased elevation, and when I finally collapsed on a log in the parking lot, i felt a mixture of extreme euphoria, exhaustion and pain. It was a thrilling experience, but also a grueling one. While the elevation is not that great compared to other hikes we’ve done, the heat, the lack of water, and the 17.5 miles we had hiked in order to reach that point all played a role in pushing me toward my limit.

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A map of the elevation by distance

But all the exhaustion and pain is worth it when you get to set your eyes on this awesome sight:

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One day, I’d like to return to Havasu Falls and see the beautiful blue-green waters the Havasupai people are famous for. When I do, I will be mindful of these lessons I learned.

1) Book a room at the lodge in the village months in advance.

2) Bring plenty of water – even if you think it’s too much.

3) Wear super thick hiking socks that will (hopefully) prevent blisters.

4) Bring less food.

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Hiking Havasu Falls: Part 3

If you missed previous installments, check them out here: Part 1, Part 2

When we arrived at the campgrounds, we continued walking until we found an empty spot on high ground to pitch our tents. I happily dumped my backpack on a picnic table and emptied out all of our gear. Then came the obvious problem: I had no idea what to do with it.

I’ve slept in a tent once in my life. I was 11, maybe 12, and it was an overnight  summer camp trip. I’m fairly positive I did not pitch my own tent. Needless to say, I was useless. So I stood around taking pictures while the rest of the gang got to work.

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I did manage to help a little bit. Here is me using a rock to drive a stake into the ground.

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Here are my thoughts on sleeping in a tent: It’s not that special. Given the fact that we had to rent the equipment, we didn’t actually save any money over the ramshackle lodge in the village. And the lodge has a shower — which I badly needed — and AC — which I badly wanted. Plus we had to carry all the equipment, which weighed a ton. The thing that bothered me most about the tent was not the hard floor and the occasional bug, but the suffocating heat. I didn’t use my sleeping bag, except as another layer between my back and the floor, and still, I woke up the next morning drenched in sweat.

Finally, stumbling around in the dark with a headlamp, looking for the outhouse is not the most fun activity in the world.

I’ll confess, despite all my grumbling, camping in the Grand Canyon is one of those off-the-beaten-track experiences I’m glad I have under my belt. It’s a story to tell at cocktail parties (if I went to cocktail parties). But it’s not something I will make a habit out of doing.

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Hiking Havasu Falls: Part 2

If you missed part 1, check it out here.

There is a major reason people hike 10 miles to Havasu Fall: The stunning blue green water unique to the Havasupai reservation. This is what Havasu Falls normally looks like:

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Breathtaking, right? Well, this is what the falls looked like when we got there:

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WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?! That was my reaction plus or minus a few blasphemous words. I quickly learned that we were hiking in monsoon season and the massive amount of rain the night before pushed the red canyon mud into the river, turning the water a lovely red/brown color. I was disappointed, but still managed to take a bunch of pictures.

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And here’s the crazy thing. As we were hiking out the next morning, I was stunned by the color of the water. It was starting to normalize!

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A hiker standing next to me pointed out that if we stayed one more night, we’d probably get to see the stunning blue-green waters Havasu is famous for. Alas, it was not in the stars. We were off.

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Hiking Havasu Falls: Part 1

After we parked the car and I oohed and ahhed over the sprawling Grand Canyon before us, I lugged my massive backpack out of the car and managed to hoist it on my back.

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My massive backpack

That moment was a rude awakening. We had rented our camping equipment from REI and divided up the tent, two sleeping bags and two sleeping pads between the The Boyfriend and myself, and despite all the advice about how “you’ll get used to the weight,” let me tell you – you don’t.

It hurt. A lot.

Our hiking companions assured us that we weren’t wearing out backpacks right. Well, there are only so many ways you can wear a backpack. And they all hurt.

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The aforementioned hiking companions. The Boyfriend is the cutie on the left.

But we were at the point of no return. So I groaned and moaned and set out into the canyon. It is an 8 mile hike from the trail head at Hualapai Hilltop to the Indian village of Supai, where you have the luxury of a bathroom, a water fountain, a small cafeteria and a general store. If you are smart, you will have booked a room in the humble lodge in the village. If you are pretending to be adventurous, like myself, you will continue another 2 miles to the campground, passing three beautiful falls along the way.

The first mile and a half is a series of switchbacks that take you down 1,000 feet in elevation – which isn’t so bad, until you remember that you will have to do the reverse on the way back. But we quickly banished that thought from our head and enjoyed the gorgeous views. And they are truly gorgeous.

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After 1.5 miles, the trail flattens and we walked for 6.5 miles through Havasupai canyon along a rock-filled bed. While this is relatively relaxing in comparison, the path is filled with rocks and they did a number on my toes and feet. I had some lovely souveneirs the next morning in the form of several blisters.

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Only 6.5 miles to the Diet Coke I so desperately want…

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The Boyfriend hiking through the canyon

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The church in the village of Supai

Next up: The waterfalls and how not to pitch a tent…Stay tuned.

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Hiking Raven Rocks

After I barely made it out of the Grand Canyon (more on that later), The Boyfriend and I decided we need to work on our hiking abilities. So we went hiking. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I got to do something I’ve never done before: Hike across the Virginia-West Virginia border.

The hike up Raven Rocks is moderate one — 5.5 miles with a 1,500-foot elevation gain. Here’s a map.

Raven Rocks Hike map

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BUMPER STICKER OF THE DAY

This is a Nam original, inspired by my hike yesterday in Maryland. As I was scrambling over rocks, I passed a couple. The guy was wearing legit hiking shoes; the girl was wearing… sandals. Sandals! Really? Really? It’s a hike. With rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. And twigs and dirt. Oh yeah, and more rocks. Why in the world would you wear sandals? And boyfriend/husband/friend wearing hiking shoes, why would you let your hiking partner leave the house in sandals? Thus, a bumper sticker was born. Friends don’t let friends hike in sandals.

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10 Pictures From My Very Sweaty Hike

Hiking in 75 percent humidity is… wet. But sweat aside, the Billy Goat Trail in Potomac, Maryland is one of my favorite hikes because it is primarily a rock scramble, and I will take a rock scramble over a monotonous trudge up an endless series of switchbacks every day. Ah, I wish I could spend every Monday hiking.

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The view of Great Falls at the beginning is a nice bonus. I was already drenched.

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No idea what this boat does or is supposed to do, but it looks cool.

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Yeah, I climbed this. I’m awesome.

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Any ideas on what this is supposed to be? A prison?

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This bird almost pooped on my head.

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Pretty…

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Weird stuff in the water. If you squint, it looks like art.

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More weird green stuff in the water.

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I had to work extra hard to read this sign.

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Yeah, you probably don’t want to see a picture of my dirty leg, but I’m going to show it to you anyways.

 

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