Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Itinerary: Colorado | October 12-16, 2017

Only a few short days until I board a red-eye flight to Denver and spend a wonderful four days in Colorado.

The plan is to get into CO late on a Thursday night and dart up to the Fraser Valley. Friday will be spent acclimating to the altitude and excitedly catching up with best, close friends in Winter Park and Granby where I used to live. To break in the boots with Colorado soil again, I'll probably hike up a few of the Snow Mountain peaks at YMCA of the Rockies (where I used to work), and of course visit my old stomping grounds. Come Saturday I'll be in Rocky Mountain National Park at sunrise to depart from the Bowen-Baker Trailhead. From there it's upwards in elevation through the Never Summer Wilderness in the Arapaho National Forest for about seven miles to Parika Lake, at the base of 12,394ft Parika Peak, where I'll camp for a night above treeline and depending on conditions, hike up to the top. Day two, I'll hike north up to Baker Pass and camp within the gulch at dusk. The morning of day three I'll trek back to the trailhead, hop in the car and drive down to the front range (Denver area) to catch a late flight back home. Depending on the trails and if I can summit Parika Peak if weather allows, the total hike should be close to 18-20 miles. I'll be mirroring this route I found.

What I've come to realize will  be the most challenging and cautionary consideration about this particular trip into the backcountry, is the weather. Conditions at that level of elevation, at that time frame in Colorado vary drastically. I did a few miles of this hike years ago at the same time, middle of October, and it was in the upper 60s. The past weeks, there've been inches upon inches of snow dumped in Rocky Mountain National Park, followed by day temperatures in the 50s. I've been monitoring weather reports daily to see the trends. I'm packing and preparing for it as if it were a fall backpacking trip and winter. Much of the initial approach hike to Parika Lake could be warm, fall-like and snow-less but once I get above 11,000 feet, it could be white everywhere and even more wintery up at the top of Baker Pass or Parika Peak. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so eager to go on a trip. Earlier this past summer I went through a ruse that's since left some unexpectedly strong damage and discouragement. It's seriously thrown me off and something I've been battling for months now. I've been craving just an escape to recollect, refocus and recharge. Mountains are clearly the best for that. There are trips I want to go on...but then there are trips that I need to go on for my own bettering sake. This particular trip falls under the needs facet

Since the beginning of August I've been researching the route, mapping things out and buying new gear (which I'll blog about the fun new stuff I bought later). When I haven't been sick, which has obnoxiously been the case almost the past three weeks on-and-off, I've been hitting the gym daily to swim, lift or get acquainted with the stair masters so I can be in top physical shape come October 14.

Well I'm off to go dehydrate some more veggies and fruit. I'll be checking-in/keeping track of the trip through my GPS beacon here if you want to follow along. PS- you should try dehydrated strawberries, oh they're so delicious!

P.S.-Check out my latest freelance piece up on Hooniverse.com
P.P.S-I'm heading to Pinnacles National Park in California this coming January!

Cheers and stay tuned,

On the iPod...


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Rocky Arbor State Park, WI

Here's another smaller state park property you should make the effort to stop by and explore at some point, especially with its close proximity to the bustling Wisconsin Dells area, aka the Las Vegas of the Midwest. There are two state parks in the Wisconsin Dells proximity- Mirror Lake (which is gorgeous) and the one this blog post is dedicated to, Rocky Arbor.

At 244 acres, Rocky Arbor State Park is definently one of the tinier state parks in the system but its definently got its own unique charm and doesn't disappoint. The main draw is the campground, with 89 sites in a wooded setting, about 18 of which offer electrical hookups. It's close enough to the interstate and the main Wisconsin Dells attraction areas to provide an outdoor escape for those looking to soak up a bit of nature while on vacation. And a brief escape into solitude it was for me it was on my drive back to Milwaukee from an epic weekend up at Roche-A-Cri State Park.

This is a park you'll only need an hour or so at to take it all in. There's only one main hiking trail about a mile or so long, but it's a great trail that takes you past some very, very, very wild-looking, intriguing, stellar rock formations caked in all sorts of vegetation. The trail starts at the west end of the parking lot and heads into the woods. Take your time and slowly trek your way down the trail, pausing every so often to look at the waves and jagged rock ledges. The shapes, textures and colors are crazy cool. A lot of these formations were just mind-boggling to look at and try to comprehend. The trail carves its way parallel along the rock ledges and on the left side is a serene marsh. At one point along the hike, a towering huge rock juts out of the marsh between you and the rock ledge. Clearly if you're a tree geek like I am, this park is loaded with a perfect swath of trees darting upwards from all the rock. You'll eventually scale some creaky wooden steps to reach the remainder of the looped trail that follows the ridge of the rock ledge. You're in hardwood forest now until you get back down again to the fork, which takes you back to your car. It's a short, simple and fun little hike.

The main gate into the park closes during its off-season (Labor day to Memorial Day), but you're still welcome to park in front of the gate and hike in. And you should! Cross another park off my list? Check. Enjoy the photos below.


On the iPod...


Saturday, September 30, 2017

In Defense of Iceland

I keep reading stories floating across social media platforms and on a few outdoor blogs I follow about masses and masses of tourists flooding to this remote island in the North Atlantic. This topic even came up when I was out to dinner last night, resulting in a quality debate over the trending question, is Iceland overcrowded? I think the answer is yes, it absolutely is.

When I was in Iceland less than a year ago, I was too was surprised and a bit shocked at the level of tourism. Almost overwhelming at times. And I went for 14 days during the off season (late October into November).

The past six or so years, Iceland's tourism boom has skyrocketed to peak levels. Peak, peak, overflowing levels. More and more people are flocking here to experience the raw beauty and unique Nordic culture of this country of just over 335,000 people. The surge in tourism has helped the country's economy tremendously. A 2017 study done by the Icelandic Tourist Board called out some 466,287 billion ISK (Icelandic Krona) in spending by foreign visitors and nearly 30,000 tourism-related jobs being created. Those numbers are anticipated to rise year after year. Per an article in Iceland Magazine, tourism's share of the country's GDP rose to 6.7% in 2015 (with that number expecting to jump to 8.2% for 2016). The total number of foreign visitors to Iceland also rose 39% in 2016 alone compared to 2015, contributing to a grand total of some 1,792,200 tourists. To put that into perspective, six years ago in 2010, Iceland had just 488,600. Wow. The top four countries with incoming visitors? The USA, UK, Germany, France and China. Now there estimating that number will reach 2.3 million tourists by the end of 2017. 2.3 million! Enough number spitting. 

But it's starting to get out of hand, a quick Google News search pulls up stories with headlines "Tourist risks Her Life For a Selfie at Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland"... or ... "Iceland’s Tourism Boom — and Backlash"...or "Iceland Is Sick of Tourists' Bad Behavior"...and "Iceland Residents Aren’t Embracing Chinese Tourism Investment." You get the point. Yet surprisingly, some 64% of Icelanders have somewhat of a positive view of foreign travelers. In 2017 however, 71% of Icelanders though there were too many tourists during the peak season, with 79% voicing concerns that the "tourist pressure on Icelandic nature is too high." I can vouch for some those headliners, as while driving around the country in a rented Suzuki Jimny 4x4, I had my fair share of frustrated head shaking moments. I saw loads of tourists littering, defacating on the sides of roads or along hiking paths, driving dangerously erratic, yelling and rushing around with selfie sticks, throwing coins into hot springs, people climbing over "CLOSED" barriers near cliffs in tennis shoes to get photos with their iPads or cell phones, smoking cigarettes then throwing the butts on the ground in places that easily would appear on the cover of National Geographic...just obnoxious, disrespectful shit (sorry but not sorry about the profanity). It was as if there was no regard for the surroundings or land these tourists were visiting.

Iceland is overrun and overused. Something needs to get done pronto in order to accommodate the yearly wave of tourism. Many of the popular destinations scattered throughout the country have accommodating infrastructure that's falling apart and over-trampled. The current pathways, railings, rest areas, stairs, observations platforms, and so forth- are great for steady flows of visitors but not millions and millions. There aren't many bathrooms at some spots nor enough parking or trash cans to keep pace with these rushes of curious tourists. These aren't complaints, trust me, rather observations and areas that need improvement if Iceland isn't going to scale-back on the number of visitors coming into its doors from abroad. The already built infrastructure at these attractions (both historical and natural) are simple and solid, but many were constructed years ago before visitation numbers jumped past the seven figure mark. Take Sk√≥gafoss, a gorgeous waterfall in the southern part of the country. It's along the Route 1 Ring Road and gets its hefty share of foot traffic from visitors. There's a narrow metal stairway to the right of the falls that takes you up to the top of the waterfall. At peak visitation times, I saw tons of people hopping the knee-high rope barrier and trudging alongside the stairwell, leaving heavy muddy footprints in the ground. People even strayed farther away from the designated trail, to inch precariously close to drop-offs for a better view. That amount of foot traffic has and will continue to cause damaging erosion. The same goes for Seljalandsfoss, another uber popular waterfall everyone lusts to visit. There's only a sole, narrow path that meanders its way around and behind the waterfall. When I went, there were probably 150 people standing in line, slowly crawling their way around the back of the waterfall. Impatient folks again, trekked off the trail, slipping around and causing damage to the surrounding landscapes...and of course dropping snack wrappers on the ground. Where's the respect?

What Iceland needs is a program similar to civilian conservation corps organizations here in the U.S.A.. If you've traveled to a state park or national park, chances are you've walked on trails, stood on observation platforms and climbed stairs that were built by groups of high school, college and young adults, looking to give back and help make our public lands better, cleaner and more accessible. When I was at Perrot State Park last fall, on the other side of Wisconsin, a towering staircase made of solid wood was recently being finished as part of a conservation corps work project, to replace a rickety aging one that had started to fall apart. Maybe Iceland has something like this in the works or planning stages, but I hope it happens soon before more damage happens.

Perhaps Iceland needs to take a stronghold approach to cutting the number of visitors into its country for a while, to allow time for these constantly trekked places to just pause, heal and recover. Maybe drastically curtail visitors for a season or month, so crews can get out to these natural and historical attractions to make repairs, cleanup and start tourist infrastructure projects. At the moment you need nothing more than a passport and a plane ticket to arrive into Iceland. Perhaps charging for a tourist visa will thwart off the hordes of incoming tourists for awhile or then put a limit on the number of tourists visas given out...just for a short time period until the country can recover and be confidently ready to give the green-light again to a full-on 2.3 million visitors. But even that idea...draws controversy. Do you ban or limit people from enjoying public lands? Hell no, but if a country's historical and natural landmarks are at risk of falling apart, than maybe that needs to happen for a brief span.

If you're going to go visit Iceland (and I strongly encourage you to), be a traveler, not a tourist.

Be respectful, please, of this small country- its patient, calm hospitable people and its surreal, clean, untouched, mind-blowing landscapes. Venture onward and far beyond the common, cliche 'Golden Circle' itinerary, get out of Reykjavik and explore beyond the city of all the island has to offer. The same aforementioned study done by the tourism board shows that the vast majority of people visiting Iceland, only go an hour or so outside of the city to nearby attractions- you're missing the absolutely incredible places scattered throughout the rest of the country. It's like someone drew a red border on the map and people just won't go past it. You will instantly regret once you board that plane back home at the Keflavik airport that you didn't get to see this place or that because you didn't want to drive an extra few hours or spend the money on another tank of gasoline. However and whenever you do visit Iceland, make sure you leave the smallest footprint possible so we can preserve this pristine place for others to experience too.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Roche-A-Cri State Park, WI

Finally I've been able to sneak away for a weekend and go explore this state park, that for the longest time has been crazy intriguing to me. Following suit with a lot of the recent other trips I've taken around Wisconsin, I'm convinced the smaller, lesser-known parks are easily the best. Visiting tremendously surprising, obscure state park properties like Tower Hill, Perrot, Newport, Aztalan, Natural Bridge have left me everlasting cravings to return.

I clocked out of work at the magazine around 3pm, hopped in the adventure mobile and headed west out to Roche-A-Cri State Park. The second I got on the highway it started storming like mad. Thank the car Gods for all-wheel-drive which kept me sound at 75mph in torrential rain. I arrived in the town of Friendship, about three-hours from Milwaukee just before 6pm with a decent amount of daylight left. Pulling into the park, I was immediately floored at just how pristine everything was... and silent. I was so looking forward to a weekend to unplug from the daily grind and Roche-A-Cri seemed like the perfect place to make it all happen. On this Friday night, the 41-site campground was only about half-full and it was cool to see people camping from states near and far. License plates on the back of RVs, campervans and Jeeps reading Texas, Florida, Iowa, New York, Colorado, Illinois. I kept looking up, smiling,  because this park is dotted with masses of strong red oaks and white pines. With a much welcomed gap in the rain, I threw my tent up in a few minutes and cooked dinner. Two of my best friends, Mark and Amie, own land about twenty-minutes west of the park and invited me over for a bonfire and pizza. I couldn't dare pass up that hospitality.

The next morning I woke up around 9am to the chorus above birds singing above in the treetops. I could also hear slow drops of rain falling on the outside of my tent. Thankfully the storms that were originally called for last night, dissipated and I slept uninterrupted. I spent a few minutes inside the tent scribbling away in my pocket-sized travel journal (that's literally been with me on every trip I've ever done), and laying their snug in my sleeping bag quietly relaxing. Mmmmmhmmm, now I just need to master the art of camping coffee and it'd be even more blissful. Clearly a trip to REI is in order for when I get home.

It was a complete relief to not have to wake to an alarm or the honking of horns. I could take my time and not have to throw on whatever dressy clothes were the least wrinkly, polish up, pack a lunch and dart off to the office. What's the biggest downfall to this trip thus far? The mosquitoes....yep they're aplenty and clearly the 'backwoods' term on my bug spray can is just a marketing sham, because I was applying a thick slobbery coat almost every half-hour. Oh well. I cooked up cheesy eggs over my camping stove for breakfast then strung my hammock between two trees, where I stayed for awhile reading and staring up at the tree canopy above. Around noon, I laced my boots and set out on the trails for the day.

Roche-A-Cri has a network of scenic trails that take you through hardwoods, between rocky outcroppings, and beautiful prairies alive with wildflowers and buzzing bumble bees. What kept catching my eye throughout my hours and miles of hiking was just how rich and glowing green everything was. Tall trees and a ferny floor. And after a little morning rain, this hike was dreamy. The adjective that just kept playing on repeat in head was lush. Lush, lush, lush. It was as if Mother Nature had swiped left on the most-enhancing, polzarizing Instagram filter and clicked save.

The park's Acorn Trail takes you a few miles looping around the tall Roche-A-Cri mound. I deviated off the trail to check out Chickadee Rock, a rock mound in the middle of the woods composed of granite (and I think some sandstone) that rises 30-40ft above the trail. Being obsessed with all things rock climbing, I of course had to scale to the top of it. Views from the top were pretty cool and I could hear thunder continuing to drum off in the distance, but those bright blue skies directly above me were hushing it away. The southwest part of the Acorn Trail gives way to unique views of the larger Roche-A-Cri mound, then crosses over a muddy rover to connect to the Turkey Vulture Trail. Yep, these sweet birds fly over head here. Don't be scared, they're harmlesss.

The 605-acre park itself is designated to protect the aforementioned Roche-A-Cri mound, which is actually a state natural area. Before climbing to the top, you have to stop and admire the collection of preserved pictographs and petroglyphs both from Native Americans and some of Wisco's earliest settlers. It's super interesting! I climbed up the 300+ stairs to reach the top of the mound which towers above everything else in the area. While it's a wee bit smaller, well, a ton smaller, Roche-A-Cri strikes similar resemblance to our country's first national monument: Devil's Tower out in Wyoming. Please, if you have the time make the road trip there, it's mind-blowing. I'm going back this December with a few friends and can't wait to see it in the snow.

The views at the top are killer you can see forever across this part of the state, down onto other tall rock outcroppings jutting upwards from the ground with names storytelling like "Minnie", "Ship", "Doro Couche" and "Rabbit." It's crazy surreal up there and after cooking dinner back at the campsite, I hiked again up to the mound top at sunset to spend an hour watching this masterpiece of explosive colors take over the sky. It was one of those ideal moments where time just feels like it slows down and stops. If you live in Wisconsin, seeing the sunset from the top of Roche-A-Cri needs to be on your bucket list. It will give you the chills.

Thanks Roche-A-Cri for jumping to my top five favorite Wisconsin state parks list. Onward to Rocky Arbor State Park.