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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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