Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 3: 2nd Day Hiking

Les Contamines to Refuge Du Bonhomme

Camping Le Pontet offers a nice small breakfast for hikers with plenty of coffee to fuel up before the 2nd day of hiking Tour du Mont Blanc. I set out before 8 am, with hikers in front of me and behind me. All headed in the same direction.

Leaving Camp Pontet
Leaving Camp Le Pontet

The beginning is mostly flat and tree lined. A mixture of gravel trail and roads with small outcroppings of various buildings littering the first 1-2 miles of hiking. The crisp morning air was refreshing and the tree covered section should be relished before the upcoming elevation gain and rising sun (another day in the European heat wave).

A small stream/river runs along this flat section of trail, and you will spot a beautiful small church across a bridge on your right. This is named Church of Notre Dame de la Gorge and is a known tourist attraction in the area. I wish I could have viewed the interior; I heard it is beautiful.

Chuch
Church of Notre-Dame de la Gorge

Immediately after I passed the Church, the trail turns to slick stone and begins heading steadily uphill. Another hiker had mentioned that this section could be very slippery in the rain, but luckily we had dry conditions this morning. During this uphill section, I got trapped behind a slower moving American tour group who had hired a guide for their own personal Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Their large guided group hike was in stark contrast to my personal solo adventure. If I was traversing with a 10-15 person group, it might have been beneficial to choose a guided trek; it was nice to hear their guide explaining various facts about the Tour and offering different advice on hiking.

First uphill behind group
Beginning Uphill Climb πŸ™‚

The smooth rock uphill climb is pretty enjoyable, with trees on both sides. The coffee was still pushing me forward at a quick pace and I made it past the American tour group and flew upwards — for the mountains were calling….and I needed to find them.

Continuing to gain elevation, the trail winds through the forest and offers some waterfall views along the way. Both of which were cascading with large amount of snow melt and supply a good excuse to take a break.

Trees and Stream
Trees and streams πŸ™‚

After tree surrounded trekking all morning, you eventually break away from the forest and immediately are presented with mountains on all sides. Of course the ones in front are upwards, and I knew that the elevation gain was not going to stop. However, the next 2 miles of trail was extremely pleasant and relatively flat. Several small mountain hostels are located on each side of the trail. Around 10:30 am I arrived at a very well kept public restroom area high up in the mountains. Immediately following this is a very cute hostel/restaurant with an outdoor patio. Many of the hikers who were at the same hostel as me the night before were stopping here to rest and refuel.

Leaving Forest into mountains
Leaving the forest, for mountains

 

 

After the long morning climb, I was happy to arrive at this small refugee (La Balme) and sit at one of the umbrella covered tables. Here I ordered a coffee and small breakfast while enjoying nearly 360 degree views of green fields and jagged mountain peaks. The owner here spoke excellent English and for $4.00 — I had the most beautiful location for a small breakfast.

Lunch Cafe

After leaving the cafe, I hiked onward with beautiful cow pastures on both sides. Refueled by brunch and coffee, I sped forward towards the approaching elevation gain, which i could see several miles in front of me. This entire section of hike honestly seems like something out of a postcard — almost like it is not real.

After breaking away from the cow fields, the trail begins heading steeply upwards towards today’s summit. Elevation is again difficult but not without great rewards. The view I stumbled into, was nothing short of the quintessential sights I have always imagined the Alps would offer. It is a beautiful section for hiking upwards.

View backwards to lunch cafe
The view backwards, the lunch cafe is down on the right

Rolling stone covered fields behind, and jagged mountain peaks ahead. This section of trail should be relished by all. If the steep incline didn’t slow me down, the constant looking around definitely lowered my pace.

Luke hiking up.jpg

I was lucky enough to have some fellow hikers snap a picture of me on this climb. Again you can see the distant trail that I’ve already covered, and the extent of the elevation gain that I would assume is only about 1/3 complete by this point.

I met some fellow American hikers here. They were from New York and we talked briefly about their plans to do the Tour du Mont blanc, as well as home. It’s interesting to run into American’s on European treks. You get so used to talking with locals and visitors from other European countries — you sometimes get very excited to talk about anything from home.

I would end up leap frogging with this group several times today; them passing me and me passing them. The trail onward is slow progress. Speed is hindered by by elevation as well as my first encounter with snow!

Heading up to Col Bron1
Beautiful Hike!
First snow
First snow!

The summit becomes more apparent in the distance, and now the hike is more perseverance than anything else.

Rocky and snowy switchbacks will become your new best friend while hiking the final stretch towards Col du Bonhomme (the first summit for today).

Reaching the Col is somewhat of a mixture between trying to catch your breath while simultaneously having your breath taken away from this 360 degree Alpine view. The summit was filled with 30-50 other hikers relaxing, enjoying the views, and snacking. I stopped to chat with my American friends, and met a group of cousins from Australia as well. **Travel Tip: Talking to strangers while hiking helps me feel more cemented into the fabric of the trail, while also providing someone to take pictures of me πŸ™‚

Top of Col Bron
Finally reaching today’s first summit! AMAZING 360 views

After taking a needed break, I left Col Du Bonhomme and steered myself towards the next summit for today. Trekking through the now often snow covered trail and climbing over boulders and rock outcroppings protruding through the ice.

After Col Bron1
View between the Cols

The area between Col Du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix is amazing. There is not aΒ  structure in site — and you are graced with mountain views at every turn. After Col Bron2

Through my conversations with my fellow hikers, I learned that habitations headed forward could be very sparse….and many had booked ahead in Les Chapieux (the small village where I had planned to stay) However, I had heard of a beautiful mountaintop hostel just over the next Col. It was a little shorter than I planned on stopping, but I figured they would have a phone to call ahead and check on accommodations further down the mountain.

Immediately after crossing Col de la Croix, I saw the amazing Refuge Col de la Croix du Bonhomme — perfectly named for the two amazing peaks I had just traversed.

Refuge Col Bronhomme
The most amazing views you could ever want from a hostel

I entered the hostel, and asked the front clerk to check ahead for accommodations. It was still pretty early in the day (2 pm), and my plan was to continue onward. After a few minutes of him speaking french to the other hostel, he hung up, smiled at me, and said — “It looks like you will be staying here tonight.” — apparently there was no room for me at the next Inn πŸ™‚

I was happy to oblige, as the front porch of this refuge had the most beautiful mountain views, without another building in site. Also….they had food, beer, and a roof to put over my head.

Guitar Refuge
Thanks for the music!

The 4 American’s I had previously met today walked in not long after and we all shared a beer together. The hostel provided a guitar which one of them was happy to play and provide music for our small group. I actually found out their names! (Emily, Brian, Tyler, & Nancy). They would end up hiking on to the next village, but the music and laughs were greatly appreciated.

 

I also ran into the Australian cousins and a girl named Julia who I recognized from the trail today. We all ended up having hiker family dinner at the hostel together and I even got to play a game of scrabble.

Refuge Col Bron View
Hard to beat this view from your front porch

Overall, today was difficult, rewarding, and gave me my first taste of the ‘real’ alpine spirit. Surrounded by nothing but fellow hikers, nature, and mountains.

Thanks for reading!

Luke Langhals

 


Extra Pictures from Today!

Extra Pics1
Green pastures surrounded by snow covered mountains
Extra Pics2
View from the Refuge
Extra Pics3
Ice and Rocks
Extra Pics4
View from Refuge Outhouse window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 2: First Day Hiking

Les Houches to Les Contamines

My morning began with a quick breakfast in Chamonix and a trip to the local train station. From here it is an inexpensive 15 minute ride to a smaller village named Les Houches (Pronounced Lay Joose for my fellow American friends). A very nice semi-english speaking attendant was able to get me a ticket and show me where to board the train. This was my first train ride in Europe, and the step by step tutorial this woman provided would prove to be invaluable throughout the trip.

Upon arriving in Les Houches, you can begin searching for signs that say TMB. There was luckily a group of Brits headed to hike the TMB as well, so I asked them which direction I should be headed. The confident male responded “Just follow us, I think this is the way.”Β  His wife turned back to me and said “He has no idea….the blind leading the blind.” An expression that I ended up hearing multiple times during this trip πŸ™‚

Les Houches Hikers from train
Following my fellow backpackers off the train

There are a couple ways to start the first day on the TMB hike — 1. you can take the cable car and eliminate several uphill miles or 2. you can begin at the roadside trailhead and climb your way up.

Les Houches Village
Walking into Les Houches to find the trail head

It is about a 15 minute walk from the train to the hiking trailhead, although I will point out that I passed through the town 3 times before actually finding the location to begin….. (It is through town, pass the visitor station & cable car, then under an overpass on your left)

Les Houches Trail Head
Here is the TMB trail head in Les Houches

I was here to hike, so I chose option 2 deciding to get a solid day of elevation gain. The trail starts with several hundred wooden stairs. The wooden steps and dirt trail gains elevation quickly before transferring back to a mixture of steep paved/gravel streets. Leaving the town, you will get a great view of the village and it’s surrounding mountains. This was the last point, I had phone service for the majority of today — the trailhead was a good spot to touch base with family before disembarking.

TMB Just Beginning
About 500 yards up the trail, climbing quickly

I happened to be in Europe during a complete and unforgiving heat wave. It was easily 90F outside and the sun was beating down upon the roadways. About 1/4 way into the climb, i regretted not taking the cable car and avoiding this part πŸ™‚

The views though……do continue to expand as you climb through the first 5 miles of your TMB hike. Its steep and unforgiving, but it’s a beautiful beginning to this trip. Much like leaving civilization behind as you head into the great unknown escape of the Alps.

After much climbing, huffing, and puffing — you reach the first summit location (Col) known as Col de Voza; on top of which there is a large hotel that was serving a buffet style lunch for guests and hikers. $20 Euros for all I could eat, coffee, and drinks? Sounds great after climbing for several miles! Hotel name is: Village Vacances Col de Voza

I had lunch with some Irish friends while on top of the Col. We had met previously several times today; once while trying to find the trailhead and again while leap frogging during today’s grueling paved incline. Me passing them taking a break, to only be passed by them later on. They were a interesting bunch and I enjoyed the comradeship that comes so easily to hikers trekking in similar directions. I’ve hiked many different places, and there is no easier way to strike up a conversation than sweat stained eyes viewing uphill together at upcoming hardship. It breeds conversation.

Leaving Col de Voza; the trail immediately begins to descend steeply. Downhill was a nice break from the constant uphill I had just traversed. On the other side of the Col, views immediately begin to open in front of you…and they did not disappoint.

Decending View

After entering another valley and crossing a river, the trail switches back in an upwards direction until you reach the small village of Bionnassay. From here, the hike continues with extraordinary views, quaint small mountain villages, and a mixture of trail/road walking.

Small Village Day 1
Cute little towns

The journey after Col de Voza is significantly easier, and my pace was greatly accelerated. I was gaining Kilometers far quicker than the original uphill climb.I even had time to stop and chat with some fellow hikers utilizing one of the many public fountain areas located in a small town.

Fountain Bath
Public Fountains in town

 

 

 

 

 

The next stop was arriving in Les Contamines and finding a place to rest my head for the evening. Having booked no accommodations ahead — I chose to stop by the local tourism office. An action that I would do throughout my European adventure, as these offices are HUGELY useful in Europe and the workers are always quick to offer assistance/advice.

The nice gentlemen working here (seeing I could not speak French) called around to every hostel/inexpensive hotel seeing if they had a vacancy….sadly they did not. Good planning Luke with his ‘no booking ahead’ clause 😦

Luckily there was a campground with a hostel building that had a bed for me. I just had to trek another 2 KM outside of town to reach it. Not thrilled with the extra walking for today, I decided to have a quick beer on a patio in Les Contamines. My Irish friends from lunch arrived shortly after and we spoke briefly before I needed to set off and find my campground hostel. Those lucky bastards were smart enough to book a hotel ahead of time within town — cheers to planning ahead I guess.

I continued down the highway searching for Camping le Pontet, and a needed nights rest in the hostel.

The campground itself was very clean and the dormitory area was full of fellow TMB hikers. I received a top bunk and had opted for the communal hiker dinner. This was served family style with tables of 6-8 people all sharing communal dishes. My particular table did not include any English speakers, but I was happy to sit there eating dinner and enjoying a nice local beer while listening to stories that I couldn’t understand. Overall, it was an inexpensive place to stay and the dormitory area had partition walls between many of the beds for privacy, a shared common area for boots/relaxing, and a massive shared shower/bathroom area to clean today’s sweat off of me.

Communal Dinner
Community “Family Style” hiker dinner — very common scene on the TMB

In summary, this was a very good start to my European hiking adventure. I felt good about my pace, hiking ability, and was not overwhelmed at any point. Onwards to tomorrow; where I knew my journey would become more secluded from towns and further dive me into the mountain wilderness.

Hike Map
Hiking route for Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines

 

Tour Du Mont Blanc (French Side) Part 1: Getting to Chamonix, France

Part 1 = Getting to the start of Tour Du Mont Blanc

I decided it was time for me to do some backpacking in Europe; However, I could NOT decide if I wanted to do the Camino de Santiago or Tour Du Mont Blanc…..so I decided to try and do sections of both in June/July of 2019 πŸ™‚

My plan was to do 3-4 days on the Tour Du Mont Blanc, visit Avignon to scratch my history itch, move across France to begin the Camino, Run with the bulls in Pamplona, and continue walking across northern Spain for as long as possible — easy enough right?

I chose the French side of the tour because most other hikers move counterclockwise and I wanted to start with the “herd.” The TMD crosses through the corners of Switzerland, France, and Italy. I thought one country at a time made the most sense for a partial trip on this amazing hike.

Tour-du-mont-blanc-map
Map of Tour Du Mont Blanc route

I began my journey by flying into Geneva.


Funny Travel Note:

My planned flight left Columbus, stopped briefly in Toronto, landed in Montreal to refuel, and then off to Geneva, Switzerland.

My flight between Toronto and Montreal was slightly delayed, but from my understanding — I would be staying on the airplane which would continue onwards to Geneva. However, upon landing I was notified that the plan had changed and I would need to disembark the aircraft and go to a different gate to make my international flight.

I went to the desk after hustling off the airplane and asked which gate my next flight was leaving from. The women typed some details into her computer, looked up and said “The Geneva flight is going to be leaving from Gate 56 in 5 minutes, and we are currently at Gate 1.” I stared at her trying to grasp the small window I was being provided, and she looked back to say “I don’t need you to walk fast….I need you to run!”

This was my first time ever sprinting through an airport. And oh boy did I sprint. I would be damned if I would miss my flight to Europe and postpone my trip. I dodged, and shoved, and ducked between confused fellow airport travelers. The intercom spurred me faster — “THE GENEVA GATE WILL BE CLOSING IN 2 MINUTES — ALL PASSENGERS MUST BOARD IMMEDIATELY.”

During my stampede through the crowded airport, I thought that this was ironic that I would be running with the bulls in Pamplona within the next 2 weeks. For in this airport in Montreal, I was the bull. Parting the crowed and slamming through with no consideration other making my connecting flight.

I arrived at the Gate with a few other sweating and frazzled passengers. The shut and locked the gate behind me as we boarded and took our seats. I made it πŸ™‚


Upon arriving in the Geneva airport, I had planned to explore the city and begin my European adventure with a day walking the streets of Switzerland. However, upon landing, I could feel the mountains pulling me and the hustle bustle of the city immediately disenchant me.

I had discovered the OMNI app before heading to Europe. This amazing little phone application will show you the time & costs for buses, trains, and flights between any two locations in Europe on any given day. Pretty nifty for getting last minute connections around the continent.

OMNI was nice enough to find me a bus from Geneva to Chamonix, France — leaving the airport within 2 hours. The bus pickup location is a little difficult to locate; it is directly across from the main terminal exit, but you need to cross the taxi/pickup lanes to get to the bus pickup area.


Phone Apps for Traversing Europe:

OMNI (Bus, Train, Ride Share, Plane)

Hotels.com (Private Rooms and Some Hostels) *Free night every 10 nights booked

Hostel World (Hostel booking)

Hiking Project (Trail Maps and Topo maps with GPS location tracking)


After a couple hours on the bus, I finally arrived in Chamonix and was soooo happy to finally see mountains surrounding me. Mountains and raw nature always provide a calming effect on my soul.

Chamonix 1
The town of Chamonix, France

Using the Hotels.com App, I found an adorable little hotel with a private balcony in downtown Chamonix within a 10 minute walk from the bus stop. I decided against a hostel knowing that I would be staying in hostels for the foreseeable future and wanting some luxury for my first night in Europe.

After checking in and assembling my pack in preparation for beginning the hike the next day; I ventured out to explore this quaint mountain town. Chamonix France is an outdoor lovers paradise. A ski town in the winter and a mountain adventure in the summer. I passed many shops selling ski/snowboard equipment, hiking gear, and mountain bikes. The streets were a hodgepodge of unique French countryside architecture, small cafes with outdoor patios, and restaurants. I was reminded closely of another town in the United States that I like to visit — Chamonix is comparable to Steamboat Springs in Colorado.

Chamonix Luke
Having a beer in Chamonix — getting ready to begin hiking

Overall, I’m glad that I made it to Chamonix and spent a day exploring the town and preparing to begin this section of the Tour Du Mont blanc. The following morning I would need to find my way to the trail head.

Chamonix 2
Chamonix Fance 2019

 

McAfee Knob: 1 Day Backpacking Trip

Driving from Columbus, OH to Myrtle Beach takes roughly 10 hours. About halfway through this drive, you cross the Appalachian Trail, and I never like to miss an opportunity to hike on the AT!

The McAfee Knob view point is one of the most famous sights on the AT. It has graced book covers, movie screens, and countless social media sites. It is a true gem in the Appalachian mountains and a pretty easy hike.

Parking access is simple to find at VA 311 (you can literally type McAfee Knob into google maps). The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking lot here and although the parking is often crowded — I didn’t have any trouble finding a spot on a Thursday in April 2019.

Parking lot
Parking area

The hike is about 8.5 miles from parking to summit and back to parking. Out and back.

We didn’t arrive at the parking lot until 6 pm; our plan was to reach the second shelter and camp for the evening. Saving the majority of this out-and-back hike for the morning and enjoying the sunrise on McAfee’s Knob.

We parked our car and headed across the road where the elevation immediately starts to rise. Being as this is on the AT — you can follow the white blazes for this hike, which makes for easy navigation.

Within 1/4 of a mile, you will reach a information kiosk that directs you towards McAfee’s Knob — bear right of the kiosk and continue following the white blazes.

Along the trail you will pass two shelter locations with ample camping sites nearby. Both shelters have a well maintained privy and several established fire pits. The first shelter is within a mile of parking and is named John’s Spring. We met two through hikers here and I was able to hear about the exciting life on the trail….the comradery of long distance hiking is something I miss very much, and I always enjoy talking with people who are making the long trek.

Dave in a shelter
A standard Appalachian Trail Shelter

After leaving John’s Spring shelter, we continued for another mile and found ourselves at Catawba Shelter while dusk was quickly approaching. The shelter itself was crowded with eager backpackers and we set up camp roughly 100 yards away at a designated camping area.

I had my friend David with me as a first time backpacker, which I always enjoy. We made camp and settled in for some campfire stories and an early bedtime. I used my old faithful backpacking tent and David slept in a hammock. There were various semi-flat tent sites near Catawba Shelter and many well spaced trees for hammocks. In April, I was toasty warm in my tent, but David said he was pretty cold in the hammock. Insure you check the temperature before your hike and more importantly the wind speed. Hammock’s can get cold pretty fast when the wind picks up….especially at elevation.

Tenting at McAfee.jpg
My old faithful friend. Over 1000 backpacking miles together

We awoke at 5 am and used headlamps in the darkness to get back on the trail. We wanted to reach the famous McAfee knob sunrise and we flew up the trail for the remaining 2+ miles of this hike.

As dawn began to approach, so did massive amounts of fog. The trail was coated in a beautiful white cloud that made hiking spooky and beautiful. I knew we were growing close to the viewpoint, which is about 30 yards off to the left of the trail. However, the fog made us miss the McAfee Knob sign and we accidentally traveled too far. The trail started to descend quickly which was our clue that we were leaving the summit. Luckily, we were able to notice this mistake and turn around to find the correct viewing location. If you make the same mistake, you will eventually reach the Pig Farm Campsite or Campbell Shelter — Turn around and retrace your steps back to the summit.

The sign for McAfee’s Knob is mounted on the side of a boulder to the left of the trail. Keep your eyes open and you shouldn’t have a problem finding it.

Walking up to the summit; I was hoping for a viewpoint that spanned across miles. I was planning to be stunned by the rolling landscape and beautiful sunrise…..

Stock Photo of Knob
I was expecting to see this!

However, mother nature disagreed with my plans. She chose to give us a slightly different view on this fine morning. We approached the jutting stone ledge and found ourselves fully encompassed within a foggy cloud. No distant view points for us this morning — but I still was not disappointed in the summit. The stone outcropping is beautiful and continues down for 100 yards. Obviously, the biggest photo opportunity is on the ledge/knob, but there are several different stone ridges that awarded us some fun while meandering around the summit.


Below are some pictures from on top of McAfee’s Knob

Luke on the edge

Me on McAfee’s knob in the fog

Dave near edge
David viewing into the fog
McCafee Knob FOOL AT 2019
Seeing if I can give my parents a heart attack (Not nearly as dangerous as it looks!)

After playing in the fog for awhile, we returned to the trail and had a pleasant downhill trek back to the car. A very enjoyable 1 day backpacking trip!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

 

 

 

Colorado: 2 Day Backpacking Trip 2018

This September 2018, me and my father wanted a nice 2 day backpacking trip while I was visiting Colorado. I wanted to get my boots on the famous CDT as well as see some amazing viewpoints.

Trip Summary: Our chosen route involved traveling 6 miles up the North Lake Trail until it meets the Wyoming Trail and Continental Divide. Next we hiked north along the Wyoming trail and camped on the ridge line. Finally, the second day we completed the Gilpin Trail section of the popular Zirkel Circle hike. Luckily we had a driver for this trip and therefore our loop did not begin and end at the same location. The total hike was about 19 miles.

Colorado Backpack Loop 2018.PNG
Hike route overview

To begin, you must find the trail head at the end of forest road 443. This road is a mix of gravel, dirt, and large rocks. High clearance vehicles are highly recommended. We actually left our ride a mile before the trail head due to rough driving conditions. The Subaru did great, but I would recommend you have a spare tire and drive slowly!

Colorado North Lake Parking 2018.jpg
North Lake Trail parking area

The trail head is marked with a CDT badge. This is where through hikers get down off the official continental divide. There is also a log book for checking in/off the trail. The North Lake trail is well marked and hard to miss.

Colorado North Lake trail head CDT 2018
My first time on the CDT

We began by gaining elevation quickly. This section of trail is heavily covered in trees and offers some great natural environments. Be ready for switchbacks and elevation gain. After climbing for 4 miles you will reach a very interesting section of trail. There is a dead expanse of trees that is eerily beautiful and slightly foreboding. I have never before witnessed a burned area with this many standing trees left intact. The wind literally whistles between the trunks and adds something special to the North Lake trail.

Colorado North Lake trail 2018
Standing section of dead trees

The trail levels out for the next mile but is still heading upwards at a slower pace. We trudged onward until reaching this trails namesake — North Lake.

Colorado North Lake 2018
North Lake: A perfect place for wildlife views and lunch

After leaving North Lake, you do not have far to travel before reaching the ridge line and continental divide. Again the junction is well marked and the Wyoming Trail leads you either North or South. For our purposes, we headed North (left) towards Zirkel Circle.

Colorado Wyoming Trail Head 2018
North Lake Trail meets Wyoming Trail

After reaching the Wyoming Trail, you will officially be out of the forest an on top of the ridge line. Be ready for high winds and expansive 360 degree views. The ground is covered with long grass and it makes the trail difficult to see. Keep your eyes open for the wooden pylons that will keep you on the trail.

Colorado Hank Backpacking 2018
My Dad making backpacking look too easy

We hiked along this section for 2 miles while looking for a camping destination. My dad knew of a spring he had utilized in the past and eventually we did find a trickle of water coming from some rocks. In September, the spring was not flowing much, but it did allow us enough moving water to fill our bottles and camp nearby. The views are quite amazing in this section and the swaying grass is peaceful. However, beware that conditions were VERY windy for us and that made sleeping a tad difficult on the ridge line. Most experienced backpackers would have foregone this section, as ridge camping is never recommended πŸ™‚

Our campsite was after passing the Three Island Trail junction and before reaching the Long Pine Trail junction. I suggest you use a mapping service like HikingProject to determine your GPS location and help follow the journey.

Colorado Wyoming Camping 2018
My camping spot for the night. Windy but beautiful

If you trek off-trail to the east for about 1/4 mile, you will find the viewpoint overlooking Bighorn lake. Try to keep your bearings when hiking off trail. The view from this location is well worth the added effort.

Colorado Bighorn lake 2018
Bighorn Lake ridge viewpoint

In September the continental divide dropped in temperature dramatically after sunset. I was fully insulated with base layers and using a 20F rated sleeping bag. This seemed like a comfortable sleeping combination but expect a cold morning whenever backpacking at elevation.

After awakening to a cold morning, we spotted a huge Coyote staring at us from the tall grass. It quickly loped away after noticing we had spotted it watching, but it did provide some needed distraction from the frozen air. Next, some coffee and breakfast, then we broke camp quickly. Hiking is the only way to alleviate your bones and muscles on a freezing cold morning. Again, this section of trail is tricky to follow and involves keeping an eye on the wooden pylons for guidance. You will pass the junction of Long Pine Trail and begin dropping in elevation towards the Gold Creek Lake Trail.

Colorado Morning Hike 2018
Morning hike to warm up

After traveling about 1.5 miles and quickly dropping into the valley below; there are several nice camping spots near running water. The view might not be as nice, but the wind conditions were almost assuredly better. If you choose to follow our hike here, I would recommend camping in this location. This is almost immediately before encountering the Cold Creek Lake Trail (AKA Zirkel Circle).

After reaching the trail junction, you could choose to quickly exit the hike by heading west on the Cold Creek Lake Trail for 3 miles to the Slavonia Trail Head. However, we wanted to see the beautiful Gilpin Lake and therefore headed Northeast on this loop and took the roughly 8 mile route around the Zirkel Circle.

There is a river crossing on the trail that might require some tactful maneuvering. It was easy during September, but my Father said it generally has high water during summer months.

The next major obstacle is a series of switchbacks to get up and over the rocky ridge and into Gilpin lake.

Colorado Back Before Gilpen 2018
Looking backwards after the switchbacks

Next, we capped the rocky peak and stood in amazement — the viewpoint is fantastic. One second I was huffing and puffing….next second I was staring at a bowl of stone, filled with magic.

Colorado Cresting Gilpen 2018
First look upon Gilpin Lake.

After cresting the ridge and enjoying this moment of glory; It is time to head down into the valley, circle the lake, and head home.

Throughout the duration of this hike we had yet to encounter another soul.Β  I knew that North Lake trail and Wyoming trail were infrequently traveled this time of year, but I never expected to have a completely deserted hike.

Reaching the Zirkel Circle meant also reaching popular Colorado hiking trails. While circling the lake, we passed an amazing sheer rock climbing wall. I had a little fun myself by scaling up to a safe level (without a harness).

Colorado Rock Climb 2018
Scaling some rock

We continued circling the lake and enjoying the surrounding mountains. Hikers were numerous but the conversations were good. It was fun running into fellow trekkers after a full day of seclusion.

Eventually we reached the opposite side of the lake. From here you can look backwards and view the ridge crossing that originally dropped you into the Valley.

Colorado other side of Gilpen 2018
View from the opposite side of Gilpin Lake

Finally, we exited the Gilpin area and hiked the final few miles towards Slavonia trail-head and our waiting car. My Stepmom Beth was nice enough to provide transportation for this semi-loop hike. Or else we would have had to get creative to enter and exit this two day backpacking trip.

Colorado after Gilpen 2018
Nearing the end of Zirkel Circle

We were lucky enough to visit while the Aspen trees were turning a miraculous yellow/orange. This natural colorful landscape made the final section enjoyable and it was also nice to be hiking downhill for a change!

Overall, this backpacking loop took us two full days. It totaled about 19 miles of hiking and will go down as one of my favorite treks in the United States.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Written By:

Luke Langhals

 

 

Red River Gorge: Kentucky Backpacking

This past labor day weekend, I decided to take a little jaunt down to Kentucky to do some backpacking. Red River Gorge is located in the Daniel Boone National forest and has some great hiking trails, stone arches, and natural rock climbing sites.

There are several options for “out and back” style backpacking trips. However, I was looking to do a loop hike and this required combining multiple different trails into a continuous loop back to my car.

After doing some research, I realized the Red River Gorge backpacking loops require some creative trail combinations. I managed to craft together a 12 mile loop through the central part of the park. My plan was to sleep on an unmarked viewpoint located off an unmarked spur trail. The camping spot is roughly 7-8 miles into the loop and the area is called Hanson’s Point.

Red River Backpacking Loop 2018
12 Mile Loop through Red River Gorge

To begin the loop; I parked at the Koomer’s Ridge backing area. There is also a campground in this location if you want to stay here the night before. I believe they charge about $25.00 per site. They looked very nice and perfect for car camping!

After parking; I began hiking up the Koomer Ridge trail heading north. There is a side trail to the “Hidden Arch” that is well marked. Its not exactly worth it, but it adds an extra half mile to your day, so decide if you want/need the added portion. Splitting off from Koomers Ridge to Hidden Arch on the first day will slightly limit the amount of repeat trail on the second day.

After this side trail, I continued until I reached the intersection with the Buck Trail. The offshoot onto Buck is well marked and should be 1 mile from the parking. This area begins to rise in elevation after dropping quickly to a small river. Its a very pretty section of this loop and I encourage you to enjoy.

After a fair amount of uphill and ridge line hiking, you will reach the Gray’s Arch parking area. The trail crosses this section and you can easily tell where to get to the Arch trail. Also, this location has some limited facilities and pit toilets. You should be roughly 3 miles into your hike now.

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Underneath Gray’s Arch

The Gray’s Arch trail is popular and therefore this was the most crowded area of my hike. The arch is roughly .5 miles from the Gray’s Arch parking area. There are several stone overhangs that are cool to look at on the way.Β  A small offshoot trail will get you underneath the Arch itself. Leave your pack when the trail splits and head downhill and then uphill to get underneath the archway itself. Definitely take this trail and enjoy some rock scrambling and picture taking in this location.

After viewing the arch you will continue on the trail until you reach the Rough Trail and head southeast. The Rough Trail is very beautiful and involves several ups and downs. This areaΒ  isn’t as well traveled and therefore you should have seclusion. There is a variety of stone overhangs, rock ledges, and great natural areas. You will cross two small streams. The second one is named Rush Branch creek and this puts you less than a mile from the offshoot to Hanson’s Point.

Getting to Hanson’s Point is not difficult. The trail is unmarked and has no signs; however, it is an obvious offshoot from the main trail. The spur trail narrows quickly and it is obviously well traveled but also not maintained. There are several sections where you need to cross downed trees or squeeze through tight pathways. After walking for a half mile, you will cross several large flat camping areas. These had many fellow backpackers; about 20 other people were camping near Hanson’s Point. This might have been higher than normal because there was a large youth group. We managed to get the closest (albeit smallest) camping spot to the actual viewpoint. This location equated to many people passing by our tent to view the sunset/sunrise….but it was totally worth the views!

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The top of Hanson’s point during the day
RedRiver Sunset Hansons Luke
Sunset view Hanson’s Point

Make sure to see both the sunrise and sunset from the flat rock outcropping on the point. The fog fills the valley and creates the feeling that you are actually sitting on top of clouds. It’s breathtaking. Also, if you look across the valley you will see other hikers on Chimney Top Rock; enjoy waiving and hollering at your fellow distant hikers.

Red River Hansons Sunrise 2018
Sunrise on top of the clouds from Hanson’s Point

In the morning, make your way down the spur trail and return to the Rough Trail. Turn the opposite direction from where you came yesterday and continue on the backpacking loop route.

After a couple of miles, the rough trail combines with the Sheltowee. Keep plugging along until the Koomer Ridge Trail juts off southward. Follow this all the way back to the parking area. There is a steep elevation gain on day two but mostly the trail is easy and pretty. It crosses a couple of streams and gives adequate areas to resupply water.

If you are here to only backpack a single night….congratulations you have finished this 12 mile backpacking loop in Red River Gorge!

If you would like to camp a second night, you have now completed your loop and need to choose a different camping area. We took a quick drive down to the Swift Camp Creek trail’s southern terminus off the Rock Bridge loop. This is a popular out and back backpacking trail and includes several good back country camping spots along the river. After viewing the Rock Bridge and nearby waterfall on the way to Swift Camp’s trail-head; continue North along the river. Understanding that we had already hiked 6 miles this morning, I began searching for a site about 2 miles down Swift Camp.

This section of the trail is pretty high off the river and its hard to get down to a flat spot for camping by the river. We came upon a small waterfall surrounded by a flat section. There is no way to walk down to this spot and it required about 10 ft of rock climbing. I would not recommend this for anyone uncomfortable with climbing…especially with a 40 pound pack on your back. The only way this was possible was with a partner to pass the backpacks up/down.

Red River Waterfall shower 2018
Showering underneath a VERY cold waterfall off Swift Creek Camp trail

Sleeping to the sound of the small waterfall and rippling river was beautiful. This spot was the exact opposite from the high viewpoint offered from the night before. I feel as if I got both extremes Red River Gorge has to offer.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this hike. I am happy to provide more route details or trail information.

Written by:

Luke Langhals

Iceland: Hiking Glymur Falls

Before heading to Iceland, i did a lot of research on epic local hiking trails. My travel companions had very limited hiking experience but they were all athletic. I needed a trip that was strenuous but also safe for novice trekkers.

Glymur Falls continuously came up in my research and its location, within 1.5 hours of Reykjavik, made this a perfect day trip from our hostel. The Glymur Falls hike is a 3-4 miles loop. Taking hikers up one side of the falls, crossing over at the top, and bringing them down the opposite side.

The parking area provides ample spaces as well as good signage to direct you towards the trail. After a gentle stroll through the woods and passing inside a small cave, we came to a raging river crossing. The trail has a roughly 50 ft wire stretched from one side of the river to the other. This provides a handhold for hikers while stepping between slightly submerged rocks and a well placed log. There is some chance of getting wet during this crossing but a slow pace should see you to the other side safely.

Following the river crossing — the trail begins to ascend quickly, gaining elevation towards the waterfall that we began to see in the distance. There are several areas where anchored ropes have been installed to assist with steep/rocky uphill climbs and descents.

GlymurRope Climbing 2018

After continuing upwards we began to see the falls. The view is absolutely stunning as you continue. The trail itself was crowded, but not overly so. We never had problem getting around other hikers or having to stop for large crowds. Most of the other visitors were spread out evenly and moving at a good pace.

GlymurFallsView 2018
The view of the falls from a distance

There are several flat sections to offer spectacular views. Many of these locations would be good for a lunch break to regain some of the energy used during the climb. In the above picture you can see other hikers farther up the trail in the distance. It seems very far away, but in reality the hike goes very quickly.

The hike will track along the right rocky ridge and you will rarely lose sight of the magnificent waterfall. The valley’s scale is something of an epic experience in real life. It cuts through the stone and is covered with vegetation during summer months. Sea gulls constantly fly within the valley, and there swooping presence serves as a way for the eye to better understand the depth and scale of this place.

GlymurFalls Higher View 2018
Eventually you reach the top of the falls; It is a LONG way down when looking over the edge!

Take your time viewing the waterfall as you approach. You will not regret spending an extra few minutes here!

Upon reaching the “peak” you will see a vast field and winding river in front of you. This river eventually caps the stony rocks into the valley and forms Glymur Falls. Looking backwards over the top of the falls; there are some expansive views of the Icelandic countryside.

GlymurView topoffalls 2018
Looking backwards after reaching the top of Glymur Falls

Now, if you want to complete the loop and trek down the opposite side….you need to cross the river somewhere. I could not see a place to do this without getting a little bit of cold feet (literally). We walked about 500 yards from the cliff edge, stripped off our boots, rolled up our pants, and began inching across. I say inching because the water is FREEZING cold! Also, the rocky bottom does not feel like a foot massage on your exposed feet. The deepest section came up just below our knees and the current is a little deceiving, just be careful here

We met a family on the opposite side who brought flip flops for this purpose. I wish we would’ve been that well prepared πŸ™‚ .

GlymurUpper River Cross 2018
Crossing the river above Glymur Falls

The next stage is an easy, but rocky pathway descending back to the car. The views become a little less dramatic, but I found it to be a very rewarding loop. We were lucky enough to snap a few pictures on the other side and see some close up Icelandic wildlife.

Glymur Sheet pic 2018
They let us get surprisingly close…

To summarize: This was an AMAZING hike to conquer during our trip to Iceland. It was challenging enough to make it enjoyable; but easy enough that my inexperienced companions did not fall to their deaths. I would highly recommend this as a must do while visiting this fantasy island.

Enjoy!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Mother Earth News Fair: Biomass Cogeneration

Two weeks ago, I assisted with exhibiting a new technology at The Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina.

I was consulting for the Combined Energy Technology (CET) team based in Athens, OH. They are an engineering and R&D firm working on developing biomass fueled cogeneration systems.

CET was publicly presenting the Bio-Gen 1000 technology for the first time at The Mother Earth News Fair. I recommended this venue because the attendees are forward thinking, sustainable minded, and environmentally conscious.

The Bio-Gen 1000 unit is revolutionary for its ability to gasify biomass into fuel for operation. The system itself generates 1kw of electricity, 5.5kw of heat energy, and 1 lb of biochar per hour. The combination of these features is perfect for off-grid, agricultural operations, and sustainable power sites.

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Personally, I view some amazing possibilities for CET in the future. This technology has the ability to be powered by a wide range of locally sourced fuels. I envision transporting this system to remote third world locations and having the locals bring agricultural waste to fuel the Bio-Gen. When operating in this format, the system could potentially provide electricity, sterilize water, and produce bio-char to be used for soil regeneration. As you can imagine, localized power plants could be very useful to locations without a ready supply of electricity and sterile water. Further, unlike standard gas powered generators – there will be no need to supply expensive fuel to the location.

We can consider the Bio-Gen 1000 to be the world’s third form of Renewable Energy and I am very excited that it will soon be available to the wider public.

More information available at CombinedEnergyTechnology.com


Other Fantastic Exhibitors I ran into while at the Mother Earth News Fair:

Air Head Composting Toilets

The Air Head composting toilet is one of the most compact composting toilets in the world. It’s the original mobile diversion system, since 2001: simple, odorless, better!

Buffalo Girl Soaps

Buffalo Girl Soaps sells all-natural bath and body products made with pure essential oils. Since 2000, they’ve specialized in “pure products, wild by nature.”

EIS Solar

EIS is western Pennsylvania’s leading solar integrator.


Written By:

Luke Langhals

 

Death Valley 2018: Backpacking Cottonwood Marble Canyon Loop

Famous among backpackers — the Cottonwood Marble Canyon loop in Death Valley is a very taxing and difficult trail. The hike itself does not offer large elevation changes but it does present unique scenery. I went in the first week of April and was hoping to avoid the harsh summer temperatures and sun. This was not the case!

I started the trail by driving roughly 8.1 miles down a dirt “high clearance” road from Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. I was driving a rental sedan and it was a rough ride down the road. If I had an SUV or 4×4 vehicle, I could have driven another 2-3 miles to the trail head. Having a low clearance rental car added these extra miles to my backpacking loop.

CottMarb Parking 2018
Made it 8.3 miles down the dirt road before parking. Sorry rental car!

Upon entering the death valley back country, I was immediately met with jagged stone formations, distant mountains, and pulsing 94F heat + sun. The experience can be daunting even for an experienced backpacker. I had packed 3 days worth of food and 4 liters of water. I knew that my next water source was 12-14 miles away and the spring has been known to be…finicky.

The first 8 miles were on a 4×4 track and surrounded by sprawling canyons. The trail winds its way through the ragged rocks and slowly gains elevation. The experience was one of complete remoteness. Much like being on Mars!

After about 9 beautiful miles, I managed to strain a leg muscle. The 34 pounds on my back added to the pain that was now growing with every step. I attribute this injury to the shifting loose dirt/sand and knew I was roughly 5 miles from the closest oasis containing water. I would limp into Cottonwood springs or I would collapse and become a sun dried tomato. Only two options πŸ™‚

After many house of hiking through the desert, cottonwood springs is a little bit of a shock. Hours of reds, browns, and grays turn into green trees. All of a sudden you are walking among leaves and a very shallow babbling crick.

Death Valley 2018 Oasis
A picture of Cottonwood Spring from above; An ecosystem surrounded by desert mountains

Camping at Cottonwood is a very nice experience. The trees are rustling, the water is nearby, and there are dozens of level campsites for backpackers. Backpackers are required to camp 100 ft from water, as well as leave no trace principles. On this particular early April day….I was the only human camping in the vicinity.

Death Valley 2018 Campsite
Campsite View: Oasis on my left, elevation on my right, canyon in front

After a very sore morning, I set out to leave cottonwood and make the “turn” to the back side of this backpacking loop. The canyon spits hikers out into a large expanse of open area. With mountains on the right and left; I was now staring down 5.5 miles of open prairie. There seemed to be a dip between to the distant ridge line and this was where I would be crossing over into dead horse canyon. The hike going forward would be primarily off trail. A GPS and TOPO map is highly recommended.

Death Valley Prarie to Deadhorse edited
No trail in this section but you can see the ridge line cross in the distance

After going up and over the ridge, I believed myself to be in Deadhorse canyon. However, that is actually in another 2 miles and it involves another small ridge crossing….I missed this an continued down the wrong canyon. I’ve read other blogs about the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop and this is a common issue. Luckily, I checked by GPS and saw that I was now headed the wrong way. I could either backtrack and try to find the cross into Deadhorse….or I could cross through uncharted territory over the mountain range and try to find the next Oasis water supply (I was running low again).

Death Valley Lost
Oops! This was an unsafe and off-trail route; Check your GPS more often!

Being the adventurous type, i decided to leave the unnamed canyon and traverse my way over the mountain to my left. I had to literally crawl up the steep side as loose rocks slipped from beneath my hands and feet. Upon getting about 50 ft up the incline, I began rethinking this crossing decision. However, I refused to turn back and continued the tedious accent. I don’t recommend following my path here but I will say the top of this ridge gave some STUNNING 360 views. It also gave me a strong sense of adventurism through uncharted trails.

Death Valley View from Lost
This is the view from atop my lost excursion; Dead Horse water supply is just around the corner

After a very steep and sliding decent into the canyon, I began to see the trees of my next oasis in Dead Horse canyon. There is a dry river bed running off to the west ending in a cluster of trees that is the next water supply. I walked into the forest and again the contrast between desert hills and green trees was breathtaking. There is a small footpath routed along the oasis…this is the first actual trail I’ve seen in 7 miles. Coming off my ridge scrambling off-trail adventure — I was excited for a water break and my pace was faster than normal. All of a sudden; I heard a very loud hissing noise to my right and immediately halted in my tracks. 5 ft in front of me was a huge rattlesnake blending into the sand walking path. I took a few steps back and watched his accent up the steep canyon wall to my left. If I had been less attentive, unaware, or listening to headphones…. I probably would have stepped right into his coiled body. A potential tragedy avoided!

The Dead Horse canyon water supply was a very small trickle of water. I managed to collect and filter enough for 3 fresh liters but it was a slow collection process. The area around Dead Horse gives multiples locations for flat camp sites on semi-soft sandy ground. This is a perfect place for back country camping.

I recommend backpackers be careful when continuing onward from Dead Horse towards Marble Canyon. There is an 10ft vertical drop that cannot be avoided. I threw my pack down and climbed/rolled/fell down after. It was not a graceful decent πŸ™‚

Death Valley 2018 Marble entrace
A few miles after leaving the Oasis, you will see the entrance to the Marble Canyon

After a few more miles of trekking you will reach Marble Canyon. The next couple miles were the only shaded hiking i did in Death Valley. Surrounded by massive 100ft slot canyon walls — this is an absolutely breathtaking experience after days of hot sun and strenuous trail. I recommend you proceed through this section slowly and take in the beautifully unique environment.

Death Valley 2018 Marble canyon
Beautiful walls within Marble Canyon. Towering above and leaning precariously overhead

You will be within this canyon up until the dead end point of a 4×4 dirt road. Upon reaching the end, I ran into a group of day hikers who nicely offered a ride in their Ford 4×4. It was a bumpy ride in the bed of the truck but at least it eliminated 5 miles of road hiking off my plan…3 of which I already hiked when arriving.

To sum up; this is a very unique backpacking loop. It presents challenges and views that are not entirely common in many locations. The secluded nature of the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon loop is perfect for people wishing to escape the confines of busy trails and society.

A few more pictures are below. Feel free to reach out with questions about this hike. Enjoy!

Written By:

Luke Langhals

Death Valley 2018 tent
My REI Passage 2 has been a rigorous ally on over 1000 miles of backpacking trails. It is a 2 person tent — but I love the extra space and easy set up.
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A selfie water break in front of the entrance to Marble Canyon