Test drive

For our trip to Colorado, which will include at least a night or two camping in the backcountry, we bought new packs. A little larger than we might need for an overnighter, they should see us through the longer treks we are planning for/dreaming about.
We were eager to test them out. (David packed his – adding a pillow to take the room of items it didn’t really make sense to store there – the day after we bought it.)
Last weekend, we headed to Algonquin Park’s Western Uplands Trail for a whirlwind overnighter.

We left the trailhead around 11 a.m. Saturday with our destination one of several backcountry sites on the west side of Maggie Lake. The 16.5K hike took as by several smaller lakes, Hardy, Steeprise and Maple, and around the east side of Maggie. It wasn’t all easy going — lots of ups and downs, a few creeks to cross, several muddy sections and, once we left the main trail to circle Maggie Lake, lots of overgrowth and several large trees that had fallen down and were blocking our path.

The site we chose had a lovely view of the lake (which, at least at the west end, was uninhabited but for us). Except for the dead of night, we were continually serenaded by a chorus of frogs, a few loons and a happily tweeting bird we could not identify.

After the necessary chores (filtering water, hanging the rope for the bear bag, pitching the tent), we waded out on a large sloping rock to cool off, although it was still a little cold for an actual swim.
We ate an unremarkable (but sustaining and easy to transport and prepare) dinner of ramen, Babybel cheese, crackers and trail mix, checked the map and GPS to review our route for the next day and went to bed early.

Sunday, we were up by 6:30 a.m. and, after a quick breakfast of homemade instant oatmeal and tea and breaking camp, we hit the trail around 8:30 a.m.
A steady 15K hike with minimal breaks brought us back to trailhead by about 1 p.m.

The packs passed the test. We both felt they were more comfortable on Sunday than Saturday – despite sore muscles.

David’s newly purchased bear bell must have done its job as well. Despite spotting moose, deer and bear scat, as well as fairly fresh bear tracks on a muddy section of the trail, wildlife sightings were limited to two partridges, who flapped noisily across the path, two garter snakes and lots of toads. Oh, and about eleventy billion biting insects. (Must remember to pack the good high-DEET repellant next time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A detour

The Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Wikipedia photograph

I had carefully mapped out a schedule that would take us from Holland Landing to the Badlands of South Dakota, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Massive Wilderness Area, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Denver and back again in just two weeks.
Then, during a casual discussion of our trip with friends, David revealed his plans for a side trip to Wyoming.
Seems he cannot fathom being that close to the Devil’s Tower without seeing it up close. The Devil’s Tower, you may recall, was where the aliens landed in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
At first, I balked.
But a little Google-mapping later, I discovered it would only take us a few hours out of our way and added it to the itinerary.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Longs Peak: Yay or nay?

Rocky Mountain National Park is a must see on our summer trip to Colorado.
Its 107,000 hectares of mountains, forests and lakes offer up hundreds of hikes — making it hard to narrow our choices for the few days we will be in the park.
Longs Peak, the only 14-er in the park, seems a natural pick. A long, strenuous hike that includes a narrow ledge and a few scrambles, it requires an early start (between 1 and 3 a.m. is recommended) to summit and be well down the mountain before the afternoon thunderstorms settle in. Just the kind of challenge we’d love to tackle.
But, Longs Peak is extremely popular. On a busy summer’s day, it’s not uncommon to have more than 100 climbers on the summit at a time. Anyone who has hiked with me (particularly on a steep downward stretch) knows I find nothing more annoying than having someone close on my heels. The idea of being part of a long line of hikers doesn’t appeal to me.
So what’s the alternative?
We’re considering the CCY, a route that summits three peaks, Chapin, Chaquita and Ypsilon, rises to 4,119 metres (13,514 feet) and offers some spectacular views of the entire park.
We’re also planning and overnight hike while we’re in the park, ideally to one of its dozens of alpine lakes.
Anyone out there hiked Longs Peak on a recent summer day? Would you recommend it or another hike?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Destination: Colorado

Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 14ers.com photograph

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of our summit of Kilimanjaro.
It seemed like a good time to revisit this blog and talk about our next mountain adventure.
But, of course, I procrastinated. So on the one-year-plus-three-days anniversary, here’s our first post in almost 10 months.

David and I love a road trip. We’ve driven around every province in eastern Canada (except PEI) at least once. On our second trip to Newfoundland, we took a ferry from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon and drove on the lonely roads of The Big Land. We’ve camped on the north shore of Lake Superior (below zero temperatures in early July), in the Adirondacks and the White and Blue Mountains. We’ve also hit most of the major cities on the east coast: Montreal, Quebec City, St. John’s, Halifax, Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C.
A couple years ago, David said to me, “Let’s drive to Denver.” I said, “No.” Well, I went into more detail than that, but I thought it was too far and would mean too much time in the car and not enough time doing stuff.
So what are we doing this summer? Driving to Denver … and The Badlands of South Dakota, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Massive Wilderness Area, Westcliffe (Crestone Needle) and Great Sand Dunes National Park.
At least that’s our tentative plan. Details, of course, to follow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment


I finally got around to shrinking and cropping a few photos from our trip… I’ve posted them to Picasa in a public album:


If Facebook’s more your thing, try these:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Food for thought

First, the good and the bad of eating in Tanzania:

Jack fruit at the Stone Town market.

The fruit (good): Fresh mangoes, papayas, bananas (often only eight or 10 centimetres long — the perfect size for snacking), pineapples, oranges (although greener and more sour than we’re used to) were available at nearly every meal on and off the mountain in Tanzania. Zanzibar also offered Jack fruit (mild, fragrant and tasty), passion fruit, lychee, durian and coconut. All delicious.

Fish at the Stone Town market.

The fish (good): We ate fresh fish at nearly every meal in Zanzibar (as well as several times in Moshi): sashimi, ceviche, smoked red snapper, king fish in green curry, tuna with coconut sauce.

The pancakes (good):  A regular for breakfast in Moshi and on Kilimanjaro, these were thin, slightly sweet and usually rolled or folded in quarters. The Tanzanians often eat them with honey (maple syrup not being available) but we happily ate them plain.

Beef sausages (bad): These were actually skinny little beef wieners that were often served for breakfast at Springlands and once mixed with onions and peppers and served on pasta during the climb.

Sorghum porridge (bad): Sorghum, FYI, is a heat and drought tolerant grain commonly grown in developing countries in Africa, Central America and South Asia and used for food, fodder and the production of alcoholic beverages. The porridge, at least as we “enjoyed” it, was rather thin, tasted slightly nutty and sweet and has a grayish purple colour. It was warm and full of carbs (which we needed for the climb), but really don’t care to see another bowl of the stuff, ever.

On our first afternoon at the Moivaro Lodge, we happened into conversation with two “local” chefs. Jerome, an Italian chef who has worked around the world, runs the kitchen at Moivaro. Axel, a Belgian man who came to Tanzania for a three-week visit five years previously (and stayed), operates a high-end restaurant and guesthouse in Arusha. We were all sitting on the verandah at the lodge sipping beer, David and I considering plans for the next couple of days and Jerome and Axel discussing the possibility of opening a deli and food shop in Arusha. Soon, Jerome apologized for speaking French in front of us and made some introductions.
They shared the challenges of learning to cook in Africa: working around the absence of ingredients that would be commonplace almost anywhere else in the world; convincing a Muslim expert in barbecue to prepare suckling pig during Ramadan; realizing that when you order beef it will be fresh (and therefore unfit for consumption for a couple of weeks). And the benefits: amazing fruit; tomatoes that taste like tomatoes; going out with a local fisherman to catch tuna; witnessing a country come around to new foods and flavours.

Banana trees and corn growing in Moivaro village.

Also during our stay at Moivaro, we had chance to see a method of farming common in Tanzania but unheard of in most places of the world. To protect more fragile crops from the intense sun, they plant things like coffee, tomatoes, greens, cassava and squash under banana trees. This means soil preparation, planting and harvesting must be done by hand — which it is by the vast majority of farmers in Tanzania.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tanzanian politics, Part 2

Just days before we left for Africa, there was a public demonstration in Arusha, the larger of two towns in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Several thousand supporters of the Chadema party had gathered in the town centre to protest what they say is the fraudulent re-election of President Jakaya Kikwete at the end of October. Two protesters were killed by the police and several officers and more protesters were injured.

On our final day of hiking, Sylvester asks us how many political parties there are in Canada. This leads to a long discussion about the structure of Canadian and Tanzanian governments. In Tanzania, he explains there are seven political parties, but the same one is always elected. The implication is that the fight is not always a fair one — hence the frustration that leads to protest. In his opinion, what Tanzanians want from their government is to “build the country”: update the roads, improve access to services like health care and education and manage its resources. The people are most angered by government corruption. He describes what he considers “big government” and how the old school politicians readily use taxpayer dollars to feather their own nests. Because education has traditionally been very expensive in Tanzania, only the rich could afford it and only the educated could become politicians, so comparatively wealthy men have been making themselves wealthier on the backs of their poorer countrypeople. But the younger generation, Sylvester says, is starting to speak up and he thinks change will come — although polepole.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Body and mind

While we (particularly I) got off pretty lightly when it came to adverse health effects climbing Kilimanjaro, we did suffer a little bit.

Our noses: Mine bled more or less from Day 2 onward. The extremely dry air gave both of us chapped, sore and peeling nostrils.

Our lips: Even the 30 SPF Blistex was no match for the combination of blazing sun, wind and cold. Chapped, sore and peeling lips to match our noses.

Our heads: David suffered more here with that back-of-the-head ache characteristic of altitude sickness, but I was not completely immune. We took the occasional ibuprophen and followed the advice of Sylvester to continue drinking water and wait for rest and food to do their job before turning to meds.

Our necks: Looking down to mark my steps in the dark on the summit combined with carrying a pack for days on end gave me a pretty stiff neck by the middle of Day 7. Our final night, David felt a twinge while washing his face; it resulted in intense pain that travelled from his neck to his temple. It came and went for several days, but he bravely self-medicated with ibuprophen, beer and lying in the sun in Zanzibar.

Our bladders: Drinking water is one of the ways to prevent altitude sickness. One of the mild symptoms of altitude sickness is frequent urination. Looking for suitable rocks and bushes behind which to relieve myself occupied more of my time on hikes than I care to mention.

Our feet: Eight days sans shower resulted in predictably stinky tootsies. I also found the rapid descent hard on my toes – although not as hard as a half-marathon in soaking wet shoes and socks…

Our balance: David complained of mild dizziness early on and was downright stumbling on the last day. I managed to seem almost coordinated (which most of you know I am not) in comparison.

Our minds: As a wise mountain-climbing woman once quoted to me: Your head quits before your body does. For the most part, we met this challenge with nary a negative thought. There is a lot of satisfaction in learning what your mind can lead your body to do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Out of Africa

…And back into the land of McDonald’s and free WiFi. And winter. All good things must come to an end, I guess.

We’re in Amsterdam now. Funny thing is, that you can actually get a Quarter Pounder here. I wonder if it’s just an airport thing. (This from David…)

We had a 3 a.m. Tanzania time wake-up call (Well, actually knock on the door.) and have been slowly working our way back home since. We still have another 11-1/2 hours before we’re scheduled to land at Pearson.

Our last couple of days in Tanzania were wonderfully relaxing — will post further details and lots of photos when we’re back in the Landing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Stone Town

“Let me tell you something about people from Zanzibar,” the guide for our walking tour of Stone Town says. “They are lazy. To walk more than 100 metres to buy something is too far.”
The capital of the island is home to about 13,000 people and it seems about half of them are in the business of selling something to their neighbours. Every third door in the buildings, all made of older stone and pulverized stone mortar or newer bricks and cement and covered with plaster, he explains, is a shop. Many more people sell their wares on the street to passersby (locals and tourists) or door-to-door to the homes: milk, roasted corn-on-the-cob, bread, ice cream. We see one man with a hand-operated machine making sugarcane juice. He rotates a wheel, pulverizing the canes, along with lime and ginger root, to make a drink.
People buy the remainder of their food items at a large central market. We see every manner of fresh fruit and vegetable, large and small fish, cleaned as you wait, and the spices — cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg — for which the island of Zanzibar is famous.
In addition to the food vendors, we see people at work in other traditional occupations: carving doors and chests and building dhows (small boats used to transport poorer people and goods to the mainland).

Zanzibar has a rich and varied history. It’s location as a central point for both the spice and slave trade brought conquerors of various nationalities to the island from the 16th to 20th centuries. The culture has taken something from each one: the Portuguese, the Indians, the Arabs, the English, the Germans. Stone Town’s famous doors — intricately carved from heavy wood and decorated with brass or iron accents — follow either the Indian or Arabic tradition. An old fort was built by the Portuguese. The only Anglican church in the town, whose inhabitants are primarily Muslim, was built by the English following the abolition of slavery. It location is the site of the former slave market. We go underground to the cramped, unlit, poorly ventilated hovels where the slaves were kept before sale — 75 women and children in one small room and  50 men in another. Some, our guide tells us, died of suffocation there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment