Cycling Around Tasmania – Rest Day at Dove Lake & Cradle Mountain

Previous Post: Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain

cradle_mapA day off the saddle – a day to make use of the hiking boots that make up 1.2 of the 20 kg. load of “essential” stuff I decided to bring along for my ’round Tasmania bike ride.

From my Discovery Parks tent site I wandered over to the huge kitchen/dining building and made some breakfast. By 9:00 I was over at the Welcome Center/Transit Depot with my ticket and my park entry form – ready to catch the next bus into the park itself.

There are a number of stops along the way to Dove Lake, the end of the line. At some of these stops hikers got off for their choice of day hike.

My plan was to walk along the Dove Lake trail and then make my way up to the path going to the summit of Cradle Mountain. The image below sets the scene – it is what I saw after I left the bus and walked across the parking lot to the trailhead.

view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the trailhead

view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the trailhead

“You are here” the map reads. I would take the right hand trail and start my walk. I looked out over Dove Lake and beyond to the series of peaks in the distance. I’d be getting to know them much better from various angles as I walked around the lake!

view-of-dove-lake-and-cradle-mountain-from-the-trailhead

dove-lake-trail-map

Dove Lake Walks Sign

Dove Lake Walks Sign

The peaks at the other end of the lake may have been the ultimate objective but first up was the boatshed (built of pine and dating back to 1940) sitting on a gravel beach with the trail passing behind it.  I got one shot of it and then waited for some fellow hikers to walk into the image and give it a human element.

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed and Cradle Mountain

Dove Lake boat shed and Cradle Mountain

Some of the Dove Lake path is wood boardwalk and some – as the image below shows – is stone. Some stretches have a wire mesh nailed on top to provide better traction for walkers of the eight-kilometer Dove Lake Circuit, clearly the most popular of the walks in the park.

the Dove Lake trail with Cradle Mtn up ahead.jpg

the west side Dove Lake trail with Cradle Mountain to the south

Cradle Mtn reflection in Dove Lake

Cradle Mountain  reflection in Dove Lake

I left the Dove Lake Trail at the south end and started up on the rather steep path to Wilks Lake.  The trail got steeper and steeper and – after an initial section with mesh covered boardwalk to reduce erosion – it also got rougher.  In retrospect, I probably picked the wrong approach for my planned hike to Cradle Mtn.  summit. As the map below shows, there is a more gradual ascent hat starts shortly after the boathouse.

map-fo-trails-to-cradle-mountain-summit

Dove Lake trails

I didn’t even get as far as Wilks Lake before I decided to pass on the uphill scramble. No trekking poles, a bit of a kink in my left knee, and just not enough motivation to git ‘er dun!  I walked back down the track to Wilks Lake I had just gone part way up and was back down at lake level.

dove-lake-circuit-elevation-chart

Revised objective: do the walk around the lake!  I had already down the most difficult bit of the circuit – the steep up and down walk across the peninsula on my way to the south end of the lake.

boardwalk up from Dove lake

boardwalk up from Dove lake

rough path above Dove Lake

rough path above Dove Lake at the south west end

back down the boardwalk trail on the slopes above Dove Lake

back down the boardwalk trail on the slopes above Dove Lake

From different angles the peaks seemed to shrink or get higher relative to each other. The actual figures go like this:

  • Little Horn – 1355 meters
  • Wiendorfer’s Tower – 1459 meters
  • Smithie’s Peak – 1527 meters
  • Cradle Mountain – 1545 meters
a view of Cradle Mountain from the trail at the top end of Dove Lake

a view of Cradle Mountain from the trail at the top end of Dove Lake

a view of Cradle Mtn from the east side of Dove Lake .jpg

a view of Cradle Mtn.from the east side of Dove Lake

As I walked along the east side of the lake back to the starting point I looked back more than once to take a look at the series of iconic peaks that define the park.

trail on east side of Dove Lake

trail on east side of Dove Lake

east side Dove Lake gravel beach

east side Dove Lake gravel beach

The photo below looks over the lake toward the boathouse on the west side; the stretch of the shore with gravel is where it is.  I took this shot from Glacier Rock, a dramatic view-point that comes up near the end of the walk if, like me, you have done it counter-clockwise.

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a closer up view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

That is Glacier Rock that some fellow hikers I have left behind are standing on.

taking in the view from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

taking in the view from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

looking south from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

looking south from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

And here is Glacier Rock again for yet further away; it certainly provides a magnificent vantage point from which to enjoy the views.

looking back at Glacier Rock on Dove Lake's east side

looking back at Glacier Rock on Dove Lake’s east side

back to the north end trailhead of Dove Lake

back to the north end trailhead of Dove Lake

After a couple of hours I was back at the beginning. I was feeling somewhat guilty for having wimped out on the hike up to the top of Cradle Mountain – it would have doubled the eight kilometers I walked around the lake and more than doubled the views. However, the Dove Lake Circuit had been an enjoyable way to spend the morning. As i neared the car park and bus stop area my thoughts turned to lunch at the restaurant attached to the Visitor Center. I’d eventually get back there but I first hopped off the bus for a half-hour visit to the Park Museum.

the car park just behind the trailhead at Dove Lake

the car park just behind the trailhead at Dove Lake

The photo from the early 1900’s of a hiking party on Cradle Mountain summit – no trekking poles in evidence, no hiking boots, but clearly lots of motivation!

Cradle Mountain summiteers photo

Cradle Mountain summiteers photo

And then I saw the following recreation of wintertime Dove Lake.  Hanging on the wall was a pair of Algonquin-style snowshoes from the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield!  A few days earlier I had seen another object from back home in Canada in a shop in Bicheno – it was a dream catcher, an Ojibwe creation which has been embraced by New Agers the world over as an expression of spirituality.  It is fascinating how bits and pieces of cultures from far away pop up in new contexts – not stolen so much as embraced for their ingenuity or poetry.

recreation of a Dove Lake cabin and winter gear

recreation of a Dove Lake cabin and winter gear

That afternoon some rain would move in and I spent some time in the kitchen/ dining building reading and planning the next leg of my journey.  Strahan was the next major destination and I hoped that with morning some better weather would arrive!

Next Post: Cycling Around Tasmania – Cradle Mountain To Zeehan 

A Train Ride Across the Highlands of Sri Lanka

Previous Post: Sri Lanka’s Horton Plains & the Hike To World’s End

Sri Lanka’s ultimate train trip runs 290 kilometers from the capital all the way east to Badulla.  In his excellent blog The man in Seat 61,  train aficionado Mark Smith says that it is “a classic journey that’s easily the best train ride in Sri Lanka”.   As you make your way from one end to the other,  it is possible to interrupt your journey with connections to the old capital of Kandy and the hill station of  Nuwara Eliya. These towns are  two of Sri Lanka’s most attractive.

The best part of the ten-hour trip takes you from Nanu Oya, ten kilometers by road from Nuwara Eliya, to Ella across the hill country and past tea plantations that sometimes come up right to the rail tracks. Cloud forest and the highest altitude rail stations in the country – 1800 meters higher than Colombo –  await!  On the Google map below the green line indicates the route –

We had spent the previous evening in Nuwara Eliya and in the morning drove by bus to Horton Plains National Park  and the World’s End Trail.  Then, our easy-to-walk World’s End circuit done,  we returned to Ambewela and waited for our train.  The memorable ride would take us to Ella over a two-hour time span.

Ambewela Train Staion window

Ambewela Train Station window

Ambewela at 1828 meters a.s.l. and nearby Pattipola at 1892 meters, are the two highest train stations in Sri Lanka and among the top 20 in the world. The line was built by the British during colonial times to haul tea from the highlands down to Colombo; now it carries tourists!

Ambewela - Train Timetable

Ambewela – Train Timetable

Ambewela Train Station - passenger wait for the train east

Ambewela Train Station – passengers wait for the train east

As we waited a number of trains passed by; they were all heading north and west to Colombo. A train aficionado would be able to identify the engines and the carriages and their respective vintages; I had to content myself with noting their various colours!

train pulling into Ambewela Station

train pulling into Ambewela Station

While the Sri Lankan government owns the rail lines and runs most of the services, there are a couple that are privately run – the Exporail Car and The Rajadhani Express.  The cars below date back to 1970 and as the image below shows, they are looking a bit tired.  And, if getting photos of the views is your mission, it sounds like you’d be better off on a regular train like the blue one we were waiting for.  Here is what the man in seat 61 says about the Rajadhani –

The Rajadhani car dates from 1970, so externally it’s older and grubbier than their website suggests.  But it’s easy to book online, it’s very comfy, well air-conditioned, has effective WiFi  – if you correctly enter the world’s longest WiFi password, that is – and is very popular with tourists.  On the downside you are sealed in behind small and very grubby windows, making it a poor way to experience the journey.  Taking photographs of the scenery is almost impossible, so you are better off in regular 2nd class.  source: here

The Rajadhani Express pulls in to Ambewela

The Rajadhani Express pulls in to Ambewela

a train heading to Colombo

a train heading to Colombo

In the image below a tourist watches me as I include her in my photo of the observation car.

ambewela-train-stop

Ambewela train stop – a Chines tourist in the first-class observation car

More cars heading west, more colours …until finally our blue train, known as the Udurata Menike – a Sinhala translation of the original English “Highland Lass” – arrived.

The blue Chinese-built trains were the newest ones I saw; they were introduced in 2012. We had reserved second-class seats and, best of all, it was very easy to take pics.  I am almost certain that the windows open so dirty windows were not an issue.  I am not sure why I did not use my Sony DSLR for any of the pix in this post; all but the last were all taken with my with my point and shoot – a Canon Elph 330 (aka Ixus 255).

our train finally arrives at Ambewela

our train finally arrives at Ambewela

The car below looks like it might go back to pre-independence times!

old rail car sitting near Ambewela Station

old rail car sitting near Ambewela Station

And then we were on our way – taking in the fifty shades of green often covered in a shroud of mist. Every once in a while we would enter a rock face through one of the 44 tunnels of the route and views would be replaced by the sound of screeching wheels on the rails.

the blue train on its way to Ella -

the blue train on its way to Ella –

Going through Tunnel #26 at Km 233

Going through Tunnel #26 at Km 233

passing through the cloud forest of the Sri Lankan highlands.jpg

passing through the cloud forest of the Sri Lankan highlands.

cultivated fields in the Horton Plains cloud forest

cultivated fields in the Horton Plains cloud forest

Tamil women picking tea leaves - Sri Lankan highlands

Indian Tamil women picking tea leaves – Sri Lankan highlands

Historically there are two Tamil communities in Sri Lanka. There are the Tamils who were brought over to the island by the British in the 1840’s to work on the tea plantations; they are referred to as the Indian Tamils.  There is a much older group- the Sri Lankan Tamils – who have been a part of the history of the island going back 2000 years.  For some of those years they actually ruled parts of it. Tamils make up about 20% of the population of the country – and while they are more numerous to the north and along the east coast, they are also very much a part of the hill country that this post describes. (See here for a map indicating ethnic group distribution.)

One of these years I hope to return to Sri Lanka with my bicycle, take the train up to Jaffna, and then travel down the east coast of the island to Trincomalee and beyond to experience another aspect of a beautiful  island with a fascinating, if somewhat painful recent history. As I high school teacher in Toronto I came to know a number of students from Sri Lanka, some Sinhalese but mostly Tamil. Beginning in the early 1990’s many had arrived as refugees from the civil war going on.  Outside of Sri Lanka, Canada is the home of  the single-largest number of Tamils.

Sri Lanka tea country - flower bed on the side of the rail tracks

Sri Lanka tea country – flower bed on the side of the rail track

Common in Sri Lanka are trilingual signs like the one below at Haputale. The top row has Sinhala letters and the middle has Tamil.

Haputale - trilingual sign

Haputale – trilingual sign

passengers disembarking at Haputale

passengers disembarking at Haputale

more tea plantations east of Haputale.jpg

more tea plantations east of Haputale

flower bed - Diyathalawa station

flower bed – Diyathalawa station

a view of Diyathalawa from the train

a view of Diyathalawa from the train

Heel-oya Station platform

Heel-oya Station platform

As the photos of the various train stations and the countryside show, buildings and surroundings are mostly well-kept and tidy.  Garbage and litter are rarely seen and the smell of sewage – one of my overriding impressions of travelling the top half of  India – is thankfully absent.

Kithalella Station -

Kithalella Station

Ella Station - packpackers on the platform

Ella Station – backpackers on the platform

We got to Ella at about 5:30.  We had set off from Nuwara Eliya at 6:30 a.m. for Horton Park and had been rewarded by a nice ramble in Horton Plains Park and then this train ride.  After we checked into our Ella hotel, my roommate and I walked down to The Grand Hotel for supper. Behind the hotel is a garden with a fabulous view of Ella Rock and the Gap.  The next morning we would hike up to the Rock and look back at the hotel! Here is the Rough Guide reivew of Ella –

Sri Lanka’s most beautiful village, offering verdant walks amongst the surrounding tea plantations and a marvellous view through Ella Gap to the plains below.

Next Post: Hiking The Hills Above The Hill Station of Ella

the view of the Gap from the gardens of the Ella Grand Spa and Resprt

the view of the Gap from the gardens of the Ella Grand Spa and Resort

Related Links:

The Man In Seat 61‘s write-up on the Sri Lanka rail system is an essential source of information if you are planning to use the train to get round the island.  This site – not a commercial venture but the personal site of Mark Smith –  has everything you need in terms of timetables and reviews of the different trains. As well, it provides historical background on the various trains you would see pass by.  Click on the title  –

I did this tour – The Highlands of Sri Lanka – with Exodus Travels, a small-group travel country based in the U.K. there were 12 of us in the group, a mix of older Brits and a couple of Canadians. I’ve used Exodus at least a dozen times when the organized trip option makes the most sense.  I always come away impressed with the guides and the way that everything on the logistics side just falls into place.

A Fascinating Journey, a review of a book written by Hemasiri Fernando titled The Uva Railway: Railway To The Moon appeared in The Sunday Times Sri Lanka (May 1, 2016).  It gives a brief  summary of the author’s detailed treatment of the history of the line and may well lead train buffs to getting the book itself. A search for the book at Amazon.com unfortunately did not come up with it; a Colombo book shop may be the place to look.

Lou Wilson uploaded to Youtube some video of his 2012 train ride from Kandy to Ella.  He captures the spirit of the journey beautifully.

Sri Lanka’s Horton Plains & The View From World’s End

Previous Post: Hiking Sri Lanka’s Knuckles – To Meemure and Corbett Gap

a view of our hotel in Nuwara Eliya

an evening  view of our hotel in Nuwara Eliya

We were out of our hotel in Nuwara Eliya and on the road by 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  Our destination for the day: the hill station of Ella about 60 kilometers to the south-east with one major diversion – a short hike in Horton Plains National Park.

from-nuwara-eliya-to-ella-via-horton-plains

The early start would hopefully allow us to get to the viewpoint at World’s End in the park before the clouds started rolling in from the south and hid the spectacular views. We gained a bit of altitude as the switchback took us up to the plateau.  Down below the mist hung in the valley and created an enchanting scene.

on the road to Horton Plains National Park from Nuwara Eliya

on the road to Horton Plains National Park from Nuwara Eliya

Down in the valley I spotted the dozen windmills of the Ambewela Aitken Spence Wind Farm. It gave the scene an unexpected futuristic look.

a dozen windmills in the valley mist south of Nuwara Eliya

a dozen windmills in the valley mist south of Nuwara Eliya

Following regional highway B582 to Pattipola, we then continued on toward  Horton Plains National Park entrance. There was another surprise – looking west over the valley  I spotted Sri Pada‘s distinctive profile on the horizon.  Total distance – about 35 kilometers!  Sri Pada’s 2,243 m (7,359 ft) height and the lack of any other peaks of similar size nearby means it really stands out!

sri-pada-to-great-worlds-end-drop

Two evenings before we had climbed up the pilgrimage mountain with thousands of Sri Lankan Buddhists keen to get close to what believers say is a sacred footprint left by the Buddha on one of his three legendary visits to the island.  Sri Pada would also be given the name Adam’s Peak by visiting Arab traders to fit with their Muslim stories.

Well, there it was and here we were – looking at it from the Horton Plains!

a shot of Sri Padas from the moving bus on the way to Horton Plains

a shot of Sri Padas from the moving bus on the way to Horton Plains

On to the park, still named after a British governor of Ceylon from the 1830’s. (The Sinhala name for the area is Maha Eliya.) We would spend the next three hours on an easy circular hike that would take us past the three main attractions.  The sign below lists them.

trail sign at Horton Plains National Park.jpg

trail sign at Horton Plains National Park

There are other hiking trails in the park but this one is by far the most popular. The yellow line indicates the trail.  Beginning at the park entrance at the top right-hand side, we walked down to the World’s End at the bottom and then came back via Baker’s Falls. Total distance: about 9 kilometers with perhaps 90 meters (300′) in altitude gained or lost on the way.  The terrain is a mix of cloud forest and grassland and the trail is well-worn thanks to the many visitors.

Horton Plains Park's most popular walk

Horton Plains Park’s most popular walk

google-earth-image-of-hiking-trail-at-horton-plains

I found the above GPS track uploaded by  Miriup at wikiloc;  check it out here Using the slider on the elevation chart, you can walk the trail and get a feel for its ups and downs!  It really is an easy half-day walk.  We were definitely the exceptions with our hiking boots, trekking poles and, for some, even full gaiters!  Shorts and running shoes seem to be more typical!

hikers getting read at the Horton Trail Y

hikers getting read at the Horton Trail Y – pointing my camera into the sun was not a good idea!

In the above image we have come to the initial Y in the road and everyone is getting ready – sunscreen lotion, water bottle, camera, sun hat!  To the right the trail takes you to Baker’s Falls; to the left it goes to Mini World’s End and World’s End.  Given that views tend to be better earlier in the morning before clouds have moved in from the coast, a clockwise direction is advisable.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees!  We found the view clouded over as we passed by Mini World’s End.

a view from Mini World's End

a view from Mini World’s End

What the trail does is take you along the edge of a cliff that plummets 1000 meters from your 1800-or-so- meter vantage point to lowlands just below.  Supposedly on a clear day you can see all the way to the south coast of the island.  We would not be so lucky!

the-worlds-end-elevation

 

a bit of mist obscures the view at Mini World's End!

a bit of mist obscures the view at Mini World’s End!

Mini World's End - the-photographer-gets-photographed

Mini World’s End – the photographer gets photographed!

Mini World's End - mist, forest, and grass

Mini World’s End – mist, forest, and grass

A bit further on from Mini World’s End is World’s End itself. We arrived there to find the view even more clouded over than the one we had left.  W e walked into a group of walkers already sitting there on the platforms and gazed into the thick fog.  While it wasn’t what we were hoping for, it had a beauty of its own.

World's End view - Horton Plains

World’s End view – Horton Plains

panorama of World's End with mist down below

panorama of World’s End with mist down below

I thought of Mount Fuji and a Bonzi tree as I framed the shot below!

World's End view - mist below Horton Plains

World’s End view – mist below Horton Plains

And then it was back to the World’s End platform for one last look before taking the trail down to see the twenty-meter drop of Baker’s Falls.

the loookout at World's End in Horton Plains Park

the lookout at World’s End in Horton Plains Park

As the image below shows, we would lose some altitude as we went down to the river that flows by.

down to the foot of Baker's Falls in Horton Plains Park

down to the foot of Baker’s Falls in Horton Plains Park

It is the  Belihul Oya,  a tributary of the Walawe.  (The Walawe Oya is one of three rivers (along with the Mahaweli and Kelani) that have their headwaters on the Horton Plains plateau. See here for a map.)

walking to Baker's Falls from Wrold's End in Horton plains Park

walking to Baker’s Falls from World’s End in Horton Plains Park

We spent some time at the Falls, framing a few shots and inhaling the oxygen-enriched air.

viewers' platform at Baker's Falls

viewers’ platform at Baker’s Falls

Baker's Falls in Horton Palins Park

Baker’s Falls in Horton Plains Park

fellow traveller getting the shot just right

fellow traveller getting the shot just right

a view on the walk back from Baker's Falls

a view on the walk back from Baker’s Falls

We knew that our morning walk was done when we saw the trail marker down below. Its well-worn look gives the impression of something left behind from colonial times seventy years ago!

the trail sign at Horton Plains

the trail sign at Horton Plains with distances to the various attractions

On our menu for the rest of the day – lunch at a local rice and curry restaurant and then a train ride from Ambewela to Ella, where we would spend the next couple of days hiking in the hills above the town. The train ride is perhaps the most dramatic in Sri Lanka, taking you through cloud forest, tea plantations, and the highest-altitude trains station on the island. The next post will take a look at the scenery!

Ambewela Train Station/Horton Plains National Park

Ambewela Train Station/Horton Plains National Park

Next Post:  A Train Ride Across The Highlands of Sri Lanka (Ambewela To Ella)

January 2017: Prepping For Hikes In Argentina’s Lakes Region

Click on the More options prompt on the top left of the map for a full-screen view.

In a month from now I will be in Bariloche area of  Argentina for three weeks of hiking and volcano climbing.  It is located in northern Patagonia on the east side of the Andes in an area known for its volcanoes and sapphire-coloured alpine lakes. The Chilean side is just as spectacular!

After flying down from Toronto to Santiago de Chile and then on to Puerto Montt, I’ll spend the first three nights in Puerto Varas as I find my feet and my castellano! After an easy first day checking out Puerto Varas, I hope to bus over to the  Volcan Osorno (2,652-meters) for a walk to the top – it will make a nice warm-up hike. There is a cable lift which takes you up part way; I think I’ll get a lift ticket!

from-puerto-montt-to-san-carlos-de-bariloche

From Puerto Varas,  I cross the Andes into Argentina and the resort town of (San Carlos de) Bariloche. See here for the Cruce de Lagos website.

puerto-varas-bariloche-crossing

It promises to be a scenic bus/boat trip even if a bit pricy at $280. U.S.  The Google map above shows the much cheaper bus route but I think this splurge will be worth it!   It will take me past Volcan Osorno again as well as across Lago Totos Los Santos from Petrohue to Peulla.  It takes 12 hours to  get to Bariloche.

cruce-andino-mapa

A couple of years ago I spent $320. US for a spectacular 45-minute balloon ride over the Plains of Merit in Pagan, Burma so I have had practice in rationalizing  seemingly ridiculous expenditures.  See Ballooning Over The Plains Of Bagan for my thoughts on that extravagance!

four-refugios-hike-cerro-tronador

I’ll be spending two weeks in the area, a few days in town getting organized and one on a rented bicycle saddle doing the Circuito Chico, a 60 km ride along the lakeshore to the Hotel Llao Llao.  I’ve already booked a room for three nights at the Hostel 41 Below in the downtown area. A  selling point was the vegetarian meals served at lunch and dinner.  It can be difficult sticking to a vegan diet while travelling.  This should make my stay in Bariloche  somewhat easier!

Most of my time in the Bariloche area will be spent on the hiking trails to the west. I have two hikes planned:

  1. the five-day hike from Cerro Catedral to Refugios Frey, Jakob (San Martín), Laguna Negra (Italia), and Lopez before coming down to Colonia Suissa and a bus ride back to Bariloche.  I’ll have my tent – but if the weather is really bad a space in the refugio is an option.
  2. a hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling  from Pampa Linda.  Once there I hope to find a guide who can get me to the top of Cerro Tronador (a 3,470 meter high extinct volcano) – or at least to Pico Argentino. It is the peak accessible from the Argentinian side.  Glacier melt over the past decade or so means that the actual highest peak is a dangerous undertaking.  It would be a ten-hour slog starting around 3 a.m. to takre advantage of the  harder snow.   I will bring along my crampons and climbing harness; I may be able to rope in with a group that is already going. I did find a guide service which offered to do it for $650. for the day but have to believe that it can be had for much less. Time will tell!

After that things are a bit up in the air.  I know I’ll be heading to the north end of Lago Nahuel Huapi to Villa de Angostura and then up to San Martin de los Andes but have no goal in mind other than to arrange a hike to the top of Volcan Lanín with one of the many agencies based in San Martín. A three-day $650. excursion looks like the solution.

volcan-lanin-on-the-chileargentina-border-north-of-san-martin-de-los-andes

I then loop back to Chile through the town of Osorno and spend the last two nights in Puerto Montt – I’ve pre-booked a room at the Hotel Seminario on a street above the downtown area –  before flying back to Toronto near the end of February.

I now have the month of January to up my fitness level a bit so that I can do all the above and enjoy it!  A couple of Saturdays ago I slipped on some black ice on my street while walking my dog Viggo and badly bruised my hip. I was barely able to walk the 150 meters back home, thinking all the while about what this could mean for my upcoming trip! Well, it is two weeks later and the hurt is all but gone. However,  my training program was put aside while I healed.  Now to get back to where I was!

My  January 2 activity  so far has  included a 1 hour 15 minute walk with Viggo and a more intense  45-minute bicycle ride on the city streets, which were clear of ice and snow. One more 45-minute walk with V and that will be it for today.  Tomorrow’s +6ºC is nice but the rain  will make a longer bike ride unlikely.

weather-forecast-jan-3-jan-9

If I can keep riding the streets it means  I won’t have to resort to the boring treadmill at the gym or to my Nordic Trak machine in the basement.  I may earn some aerobics points by putting in a jog or two through my Riverdale/Cabbagetown neighbourhood instead of cycling.

 

 

Hiking Sri Lanka’s Knuckles – To Meemure and Corbett’s Gap

Previous Post: The Manigala Hike In Sri Lanka’s Dumbara Hills (The Knuckles Range) 

The next morning our campsite on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya near Illukumbura provided those keen on photography with some beautiful river views.  My roommate and I got up just after dawn – we were sure we were the first up –  and we carried our duffel bags up to the parking area. The kitchen staff was already at work and the breakfast table was set!

breakfast setting in the Knuckles Range

breakfast setting in the Knuckles Range

Knuckles Range sleeping tents and toiet:shower area

Knuckles Range sleeping tents and toilet/shower area

We headed back down past the toilet tent and the sleeping tents to the river and framed different views of the water and the shoreline and especially the small waterfall.  A slight mist hung over the river and made things even more atmospheric.

Knuckles Range - The Thelgamu Oya at dawn

Knuckles Range – The Thelgamu Oya at dawn

Knuckles Range - The Thelgamu Oya at dawn - take two

Knuckles Range – The Thelgamu Oya at dawn – take two

a dawn view looking upstream in the Knuckles Range

By the time we got back up to the breakfast underneath the covered porch some of our fellow travellers were already seated and looking at plates very much like the one in the photo below.  They were also being treated to a display of the morning’s photo shoot from down by the river.

breakfast fruit and juice at ourThelgamu Oya camp

breakfast fruit and juice at our Thelgamu Oya camp

sharing dawn pics of the Thelgamu Oya

sharing dawn pics of the Thelgamu Oya

We set off shortly after 8.  Up on the road was the  Mahoora Safari truck that had brought all the tenting and other gear as well as the staff to the camping site.  The Mahoora crew had done a fine job of creating a very livable temporary space for us on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya.

Day Two morning - ready for a walk in the Knuckles Range

Day Two morning – ready for a walk in the Knuckles Range

Now it was time to bus over to the day’s trailhead at Ranamuregama. (The village is the site of a temple called Narangamuwa.)  From there we would spend the morning and early afternoon walking to Meemure.

As we stood there the conversation turned to leeches.  A number of the walkers had pulled leeches from their legs during the previous day’s walk up to the Manigala ridge.  Now they were staring at the first of a new day’s batch.  I went the entire hike without seeing a bloodsucker on me until the last hour as we approached Meemure.  I had treated my long pants with permethrin and also sprayed a 30% Deet insect repellent on my boots and lower pant legs before we set off.  It seems to have done the job.

leech alert before our Knuckles Range hike continues

leech alert before our Knuckles Range hike continues

Knuckles Range Hiking Map

Knuckles Range Hiking Map

After a short drive from Illukumbura to the Narangamuwa Temple at Ranamuregama it was time to pull out the trekking poles and start our walk.  The trip notes describe the walk this way:

We pass rice paddies and coconut groves and enter a heavily forested area. The trail climbs gently for an hour and then levels out and undulates though this wonderful forest. The only sounds we can hear is the birdsong all around us. We emerge from the forest at Meemure village and looking back we get great views of the pointed peak of Lakegala.

(See here for the Exodus itinerary – this was Day Four.)

And here is a Google Earth view of the 12-kilomter walk – or, at least, my best guess as to the path we took to get to Meemure.

The hills north of Meemure-2

 

Knuckles education and Training Center Illukkumbura sign

Knuckles education and Training Center Illukkumbura sign

Knuckles Range hikers - setting off on Day Two

Knuckles Range hikers – the group  setting off on Day Two

rice field in the Knuckles Range

rice field in the Knuckles Range

After a very flat beginning, the path, parts of which had concrete or stone steps,  would take a decided uphill slant.  The series of photos below captures some of the beautiful lush cloud forest terrain we scrambled through.

stone path leading up in the Knuckles Range

stone path leading up in the Knuckles Range

stone path in Knuckles Range lush cloud forest

concrete steps on the way to Meemure

Knuckles Range cloud forest tree bark

Knuckles Range cloud forest tree bark

Knuckles Range stream trickling down

We had started our walk about 9 a.m.  By 12:30 we were scampering up the trail in the photo below.  We stopped more than once for a water break and munched on the day’s snacks.

scrambling up a rough path in the Knuckles Range

scrambling up a rough path in the Knuckles Range

Lunch would have to wait until we got to Meemure, where our guide had arranged for a box lunch for us. By 1:45 pm we were approaching Meemure, the end point of a little hike.  It is a fairly isolated village set in the Knuckles Range with the eye-catching mountain called Lakegala as a backdrop.  The Google Earth satellite view does not really capture the pointy nature of the peak. (i am assuming that it is the one on the left.)  Compare it to the photo immediately below to see what I mean.

mountain-scape-north-of-meemure-village-in-the-knuckles-range-2

a Google Earth view of the hills to the NW of Meemure and the road to Corbett’s Gap

a view of the pyramid-like Lakegala Mtn.

a view of the pyramid-like Lakegala Mtn.

the terraced fields of Meemure village

the terraced fields of Meemure village

Our great little hike for the day was almost done.  Just beyond the fields was the village of Meemure (also written Mimure),  a small fairly isolated community of 400 or so. Only a rough dirt track connects it to the road some ten kilometers to the south.

local farmers and hikers near Lakegala Mountain in the Knuckles Range

local farmers and hikers near Lakegala Mountain in the Knuckles Range

a farmer tends his fields under Lakegala

a farmer tends his fields under Lakegala

farm dog poses with Lakegala Mountain in the background

farm dog poses with Lakegala Mountain in the background

After our lunch in front of the tea shop in Meemure,  a couple of local jeeps took us to Corbett’s Gap (also spelled Corbet’s and Corbert’s) for some great views of the main peaks of the Knuckles Range.

Given the nature of the road up to Corbett’s Gap, our bus driver had not driven the bus up to the meeting point. While our jeeps returned to Meemure, there was another vehicle waiting to take us down the series of severe switchbacks where we met up with him. This was just one of the many instances on our two-week tour when the excellence of our guide’s and his team’s work shone through. He was often on his cell phone making arrangements and ensuring that people were where they were supposed to be.  Everything worked seamlessly and little time was wasted standing around waiting.  Very impressive.  Perhaps I could have done all of this on my own but it would have taken an extra week and involved much more stress!   In the end, you do get what you pay for!

Corbett’s Gap at 1127 meters (3698 feet) provides a fantastic vantage point from which to take in some of the peaks of Knuckles Range.  In the two photos below I am looking south at some peaks framed by a bit of cloud.

a view of the peaks from Corbet's Gap

a view of the peaks from Corbet’s Gap

Corbet Gap View - with road

Corbet Gap View – with road

The jeeps gone, now our red truck sat there while we turned in various directions and gobbled up the scene. Up there with us was a tuk-tuk who had brought up a visitor to check out the views.

Corbet Gap- photo time

Corbett’s Gap – photo time

I looked back to the north and spotted a bump on the horizon known as The Sphinx.  Also visible on the hillside was the ruins of what once may have been a lodge and just a bit down below was a small farm.

delapidated sign and building at Corbet Gap

dilapidated sign and building at Corbett’s Gap – the Sphinx in the background

local farm dog watches the proceedings at Corbet Gap

local farm dog watches the proceedings at Corbet Gap

tuk tuk driver waits for his client at Corbet's Gap

tuk-tuk driver waits for his client at Corbett’s Gap

looking back towards Meemure from Corbet's Gap

looking back towards Meemure from Corbett’s Gap

Eventually everyone had the photos they wanted and we hopped into the truck for our brief ride down to the waiting tour bus.  By 5:30 or so – the end of a busy day – we were approaching Orutota and our hotel for the night on a very scenic spot overlooking the Victoria Reservoir.

Corbett's Gap To Oruthota Chalets

Oruthota Chalets-2

We got to our rooms for the night just as the sun was disappearing for another day.  After unpacking and showering and all of that, we spent the evening at the outdoor covered restaurant, sampling some Sri Lankan beer and – for me as a vegetarian at least – more great rice and veg curry dishes.  My fellow travelers did ask if I didn’t get tired of rice and veg curry every day. My response – most of the dishes were excellent and, given the different cooks, were often quite different from each other.  So no – not boring at all.  Certainly no more boring than meat and potatoes!

Oruthota Chalet room near the Victoria Resevoir

our room at the Oruthota Chalets at the north end of the Victoria reservoir

I did get up early the next morning and, after checking the restaurant area to see if there was any coffee available,  wandered down to the banks of the reservoir.

Oruthota Chalets swimming pool with Victoria Resevoir in the distance

Oruthota Chalets swimming pool with Victoria reservoir in the distance

a view from the Oruthota Chalet dining area just after dawn

a view from the Oruthota Chalet dining area just after dawn

dawn view from the corner of the Oruthota Chalets dining area

dawn view from the corner of the Oruthota Chalets dining area

boatman at dawn on the Victoria Resevoir

boatman at dawn on the Victoria reservoir

dawn on Victoria Resevoir

dawn on Victoria reservoir

The Victoria Reservoir is the result of the Dam which was completed in 1984.  From our spot at Orutota to the dam itself at the other end of the reservoir is a straight line distance of ten kilometers.

Its dual purpose was to enhance irrigation and provided hydro-electric power but as a result of the project some 30,000 villagers and farmers had to be relocated. (See here for a Wikipedia article which provides the basic history.  You will also see where I found the image below – a photo by Rehman Abubakr shot in 2011.

Rehman Abubakr 2011 April ...from Wikipedia article on Victoria Dam

Later that morning we made the short ride into Kandy for a quick visit to the Temple of the Tooth and walk around the surrounding area.

Soon to come – Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth

Finding A Good Place To Pitch A Tent

When you’re on the move – hiking, mountaineering, canoeing – circumstances often dictate what small patch of the great outdoors you’ll be calling  home for the night. Sometimes the sheer beauty of the spot convinces you to stop moving for the day – even if it is a bit early. Sometimes you’re with an organized group and the decision is not yours to make.  Sometimes you have to stop because the weather is promising to turn nasty and going on would be foolish. And sometimes you stop because of what is on tap for the next day.

The last reason was certainly true of the spot below.  We had climbed up to a plateau about 800 meters below the peak of Nevado Tocllaraju in the Peruvian Andes, our objective for the next morning. It was late afternoon and we enjoyed the views and had supper at our high camp before crawling into our tents for some rest.  We would get up at 1:00 a.m. for our summit attempt.

Cordillera Blanca's Tocllaraju high camp

Cordillera Blanca’s Tocllaraju high camp

The tarps are up in the photo below because a storm had just come in, cutting short our progress in Ontario’s Temagami canoe country.  The next morning we would paddle the last 12 kilometers to our vehicle but at the moment the objective was to stay dry and warm!

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

Nothing like finding a sheltered spot, tucked away from the wind! We were half way across a glacier in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains.  It was  near the end of the afternoon when we found this spot, complete with a puddle of water at the bottom for our cooking needs. The next night – quite the contrast – we’d sleep in the cosy Olive Hut complete with a gas stove and dishes.

35-camp-site-day-2

Sometimes you have to accept the fact that your tent will not be the only one around, that you’ll be sharing your space with other hikers who are attracted to the same thing that brought you there. This was certainly true of the three days I spent in a tent on the Inca Trail as it makes its way to Machu Picchu.  Every day another 1200 or so hikers set off at the start of the trail and given the numbers it works remarkably well.  As in the Himalayas, I had to remind myself that I was on a pilgrimage and not a wilderness trek.

Machu Picchu Camp Spot!-2

Day Two campsite on the Inca Trail in southern Peru

Chee-Skon Lake is an out-of-the-way lake in the middle of a Temagami old-growth forest that you need to do some portaging to get to. It is also the site of the Conjuring Rock, a massive granite pillar that figures in the traditional mythology of the local Ojibwe. We considered ourselves lucky to have the lake to ourselves for one day in October.  We pitched our tent on the choice spot directly across from the Conjuring Rock.  It is on the spit you see on the far side of the lake with our green tarp barely visible.

view of east end of Chee-skon from the rock face

tent spot on Chee-skon – look for the green tarp!

In the case of our Namche Bazaar tent site in Nepal’s Khumbu valley – it sits at the end of the long diagonal road going up from the center to the top left of the image – our trekking company had arranged a stay in front of the lodge on whose property the tents were set up. In the photo, the tents are the small blue dots.  We camped there for two nights, allowing our bodies to acclimatize before continuing our walk up to Everest Base Camp.

Namche Bazaar overview

Namche Bazaar overview

Sometimes, as I said above, you come to a spot and you just have to stop because it is so beautiful.  That was certainly true of this tiny slice of the Canadian Shield on the Kopka River north of Thunder Bay in Ontario.  A windless sunny day that became a clear evening with a star-filled sky and we had front row seats.

class Canadian Shield scene -exposed bedrock and black spruce

class Canadian Shield scene – exposed bedrock and black spruce

A walk down Bolivia’s Cordillera Real is certainly not lacking in dramatic campsites. The one below was just one of the many we walked into.  Thanks to an incredible trekking crew our tents were usually up when we arrived in camp, as was the mess tent with the waiting tea and cookies!  Here I’ve fallen behind the rest of the group a bit, having stopped to take yet another photo or two.

our campsite between Lagunas Khotia and Khara

our campsite (4472 m a.s.l.) between Lagunas Khotia and Khara

The Ishinca valley in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has dozens of climbing objectives. My partner and I were biding our time at high camp in the tent below waiting for the early morning wake-up call for our own version of Maslow’s “peak experience”.

dsc03262-3

our Tocllaraju High Camp tent at 5300 m with a bit of snow

 

Tucked into the edge of a stand of trees, flat grassy terrain to push the pegs into, the River flowing by to a set of rapids just below the bottom right of the photo below – it was a perfect way to end another day on Manitoba’s Bloodvein River as it makes its way to Lake Winnipeg.

Day 12 Bloodvein Campsite just before W56 - gorge with swifts and CII

Day 12 Bloodvein Campsite just before W56 – gorge with swifts and CII

The Refugio Grey is a stop on the Torres del Paine circuit and has a camping area not far from the refuge, the restaurant, and the shower facilities. Having had a big day of walking the day before, I would make this day a short one.  I arrived at the beach below before noon and, after putting up my tent and showering, treated myself to lunch in the restaurant.

camp area at Refugio Grey in Chilean Patagonia

camp area at Refugio Grey in Chilean Patagonia

Sometimes a particular spot is so memorable that you talk about going back. My brother and I did just that when we canoed to Hobart Lake and one of our favourite campsites. A massive chunk of sloped granite leads up from the water to a flat area with twenty-meter high pine and spruce trees to tent under.   To the west is a great sunset view of Maple Mountain and the fire tower.  And the tent? It is barely visible – but is underneath the pine tree branches in the area behind the tripod! The site is large enough to host four or five tents but we had it to ourselves.

Hobarth Lake campsite overview

Hobart Lake campsite overview

We walked by the Applebee camp on our return from Bugaboo Spire and marvelled at the dramatic location of the camp, facing as it does some of the incredible granite spires that provide climbers with a range of challenging routes. However, we would not be staying!  We were on our way to the Conrad Kain Hut, a couple of hundred meters further down, where our food supplies and sleeping bags were waiting.  The views from the hut were not quite as dramatic as the one you see here!

B.C.'s Bugaboos Applebee Campsite

B.C.’s Bugaboos Applebee Campsite

I could only look on with envy from the ruins of the Chincana on Isla del Sol in Lago Titicaca as I saw the tent down below on the beach.  While I did have nice accommodation at the Ecolodge La Estancia in Yumani for the night, there is something about a tent and the freedom and flexibility it allows.  Those backpackers had the best room on the island!

Lake titicaca - Isla del Sol beach and campers

Lake Titicaca – Bolivia’s Isla del Sol beach and campers

Every once in a while, as I look at maps and surf the net for another place or two to pitch my tent, I think of Lao Tzu, the legendary writer of the Tao Te Ching. One poem in particular, # 47, comes to mind.  It reads like this –

Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.

The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.

The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.

“Hey, True North, where do you think you’re going?” he says to me. “Don’t you know that you’re already there?  All your travels are only taking you further away from this obvious truth.”

the legendary Lao Tzu on his water buffalo heading into the Himalayas

And then I think back to his own legendary life and the fact that the collection of poems only came to be because a border guard insisted that he write down the essence of  his wisdom before he left the Middle Kingdom and continued towards the Himalayas on his water buffalo.

I want to shout out to him – “Hey, Lao Tzu,  where do you think you’re going?”

After crossing the border he was never heard of again.  We can only imagine the stupendous camp sites he came upon in his travels!

my-tent-below-cerro-tronador-in-patagonia-on-the-chileargentina-border

my sheltered tent spot below Cerro Tronador in Patagonia – the Chile/Argentina border

 

The Manigala Hike In Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Range (Dumbara Hills)

Previous Post: Sri Lanka’s Dambulla Cave Temple – A Treasure Trove of Buddhist Art

To the south of Dambulla – and to the north-east of Kandy – is one of Sri Lanka’s least-visited areas, the highlands area called the Dumbara Hills or, more exactly in Sinhala, Dumbara Kanduvetiya which translates as  “The Misty Mountains”.   The name is appropriate given the cloud cover often found at the 1000 meter plus sections of the range. The British would give it yet another name, referring to it as the Knuckles Range because from the Kandy area the appearance of the dominant peaks brought to mind the knuckles of a clenched fist!

Knuckles Forest Reserve

Our visit to the  Knuckles Range had  three main objectives:

  • a hike up to the Manigala ridge above Pitawala and Etanwala
  •  a walk from Ranamuregama to Meemure
  • a jeep ride from Meemure to Corbett’s Gap

Day One: The Manigala Hike

We left Dambulla before 8:00 a.m. stopping on the way to pick up fresh fruit and some nibbles and juices for the morning ride.  There were ten of us and our guide, as well as the bus driver and his helper on the journey.  We were on the first leg of  a tour put together by the U.K. adventure travel company Exodus (see here for the brochure.)   It would be about 11:30 by the time we got out of our tour bus. Lunch was waiting for us at a Pitawala home and we would spend an hour there before setting out.

approaching the start of our Knuckles Range hike

approaching the start of our Knuckles Range hike

sign for nearby Wasgamuwa National Park

sign for nearby Wasgamuwa National Park

Here is a satellite overview of the  area with the lush fields of the Pitawala valley framed by low hills on either side.  The ten-kilometer hike would take us from the valley (about 600 meters a.s.l.)  up the slopes of Manigala Hill (1100 m) and back down to  Illikumbura on the right hand side.  The sketch is a very rough approximation of our walk!

manigala-hike-satellite-overview

Note: The above image was generated by a free satellite service available from Google. You do need to install the Google Earth app to access it.  You will find it worth the effort!

In the photo below – taken from Manigala later on that afternoon – our starting point would almost in the dead center of the image.  We would walk to the left side of the photo following a rough village trail before gaining some 500 meters in altitude.

the starting point of our walk - a house at the very center of the image

the starting point of our walk – a house at the very center of the image

Guiding us for the day was a villager who, in contrast to the visiting hikers with their hiking boots and trekking poles, did the walk in flip-flops! Luckily for all of us the ground was dry and that the forest cover meant we were rarely without shade in the afternoon sun.  There our guide sits in the photo below!

hiking group ready to set off

hiking group ready to set off

lush fields near Illukkumbura hike start

lush rice fields near Pitawala  hike start

village road alongisde the valley

village road in the valley

As we made our way up the valley there was lots of evidence of irrigation works to harness the water of the Thelgamu Oya (River).

simple irrigation works on the edge of the valley as we walk up

In the photo below the Thelgamu Oya tumbles down through rocks while a local woman does some washing.

small waterfalls in the valley

small waterfalls in the valley

Eventually we came to point where we crossed the river and started our gradual ascent on age-old village paths. Some stretches of the path were made with concrete or stone blocks as in the image below.  On a couple of occasions the path would come to a fork and we would take one and wonder where the other led. The most likely answer – to another village! These are clearly paths with a purpose and not wilderness trails.

our villager guide in motion up a stone path

our villager guide in motion up a stone path

Here is a Google Earth view of the bump that is Manigala Hill or Mountain.  We came up to it from the right hand side and would spend an hour walking the length of the ridge to the left.

another view of Manigala hill and the valley below

another view of Manigala hill and the valley below

Thanks to the five hundred meter height gain we had views  like the one you see in the photo below.  At the start of the plateau  I put the camera into panorama mode so that I could capture more of the scene before us.  Down below is the valley which we had walked; on the far side is another mountain spine. Visible on the ridge is the Riverstone SLT telecommunications tower!

panorama - looking back from the other side of the valley

panorama – looking back down the valley from a ridge on the other side

Not a lot of shade up on top of the ridge so the breeze was appreciated!  We walked along the ridge, took lots of breaks to sip on water and enjoy the views – it was about 3:30 and we had spent about two and a half not too strenuous hours getting up there.

looking further up the Knuckles Range

looking further up the Knuckles Range

50 shades of green - looking at the Knuckles Range forest cover

50 shades of green – looking at the Knuckles Range forest cover

rock face overlooking Knuckles Range valley

rock face overlooking Knuckles Range valley

Trip reports on the Manigala hike sometimes have images of tents inserted right about here.  It seems that some groups spend the night up there before heading back down on the other side the next morning.  I did see some evidence of tent spots not far from where our villager/guide is standing in the photo below.

our guide watches as his guests look for a private spot

our guide watches as his guests look for a private spot

We would stay well hydrated and make our way down to the Illikumbura side later that afternoon. On our way back down we would pass through areas that had been cultivated and/or turned into grazing grounds.

break time on a ridge in the Knuckles Range

break time on a ridge in the Knuckles Range

one of the Knuckles Range's many valleys

one of the Knuckles Range’s many valleys

a view of the valley floor we had walked up two hours previously

a view of the valley floor we had walked up two hours before from right to left

terraced rice fields down below in a Knuckles Range valley

terraced rice fields down below in a Knuckles Range valley

water buffalo chillin' in a plateau top stream

water buffalo chillin’ in a Knuckles Range plateau top stream

water buffalo chillin' in a plateau top stream

For some reason I did not take any photos of our descent to the Illikumbura Forest Office.  I do recall that the trail back down was much rougher than the path up to the ridge from the other side. Parts were quite steep with occasionally challenging footing.  I made major use of my trekking poles – now a dozen centimetres longer – for the descent. Some without poles had trouble negotiating the path and every once in a while those in front would wait until the rest caught up.  Making things easier was a dry as opposed to wet and muddy path.

After an hour of down the other side of the hill we finished the day with a  short walk to  our home for the night – a safari-style camp set up on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya  with a bungalow above serving as the kitchen and accommodation for the staff.  In front of the bungalow was  a covered porch which would become the dining area the next morning.

In the photo below you can see a couple of the tents as well as a shower and a toilet tent that have been set up. The river is to the left; the bungalow is on a flat area above.

our campsite on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya

When we got to the camp it was already getting late – about 6 p.m. Some of us went down to the river to wash away the day’s sweat.  It looked quite idyllic in the setting sun and I told myself that I’d have to get up early the next morning to get some dawn shots of the Thelgamu.

river running past our Knuckles Range camp spot

river running past our Knuckles Range camp spot

The tent itself – with room for two on separate camp beds  – was a few notches above the kind of camping I am used to – it was definitely quite plush! It would definitely qualify as a level of camping referred to as glamping!

I will admit to not being a big fan of bugs and insects, especially ones I have never seen before.  Black flies and mosquitos I know and can deal with.  I picked up the insect below from my roommate’s bed cover and put him outside the tent.  I also made sure that the bug net hanging over the bed was all tucked in before I fell asleep.

crawler in our Knuckles Range Tent!

crawler in our Knuckles Range Tent!

Without a doubt the Knuckles Range provides those who take the time to visit with many unforgettable walks through verdant forests with scenic hilltop views.  Unlike other places (like Nepal, let’s say) where a generation or two of hikers has helped the locals develop a trekking infrastructure, things in Sri Lanka are in their very infancy. A visit to the Range is best done through a hiking/trekking agency which knows the terrain and has the know-how and the contacts to make it all happen – from transportation to routes to accommodation to food to guides.

See the next post for some pix of the Thelgamu Oya at dawn, as well as other highlights like the pyramid-shaped Lakegala peak above the fields of Meemure and the view from Corbett’s Gap.

Next Post: Hiking Sri Lanka’s Knuckles – To Meemure and Corbett’s Gap


A  2012 trip report from a local group from Colombo describes a hike which started with a walk to the top of the hill on one side of the valley – the one with the communications tower.  Then they walked back down and followed the village trail  up to the Manigala ridge  where they camped for the night before walking back down on the Illukkumbura side –  see here for the write-up and pix.  _________________________________________________________________

Cordillera Real Trek Day 14: To Botijlaca / Return To La Paz

Previous Post: Day 13 – Chiar Khota To Campsite 2 Km. Above Botijlaca

distance: 2 kilometers

Day 14 - distance and elevation

Day 14 – distance and elevation

Since our shuttle vehicle was not expected at Botijlaca until about 9:30, there was little reason to be getting up at the usual 6:20 a.m.  We would get an extra hour to luxuriate in the warmth of our bags! Had it been a sunny morning it would also have been the first time the sun would have been up and visible as we crawled out of our tents.

A Point of Clarification –  Chakapampa or Botijlaca?

Some  trek itineraries use the name Chakapampa to indicate the end point; others use the name Botijlaca.  Both are correct. The place we ended the trek is called Chaka Pampa (literally “the flat place with a bridge”).  It was there  that the electric company built the hydroelectric plant called “Botijlaca”. Andean Summits is one of the agencies that uses the name Botijlaca in its itineraries.

By 8:45 our duffels were packed and  breakfast done and the tents were coming down for one last time.  We stood around as the duffels were put into their protective bags. It was entertaining to see the llamas loaded yet again. And then it was an easy stroll down the valley to the hydro facilities and workers’ houses at Botijlaca.  It is just off the road which would take us up the Zongo Valley and back across the Altiplano to El Alto and La Paz.

loaded llamas ready for the day's haul

loaded llamas ready for the day’s haul

inside each bag a trekker's duffel

inside each bag a trekker’s duffel

Day 14 - a 45-minute walk to Botijlaca

Day 14 – a 45-minute walk to Botijlaca

the llama version of single file!

the llama version of single file!

llamas in reasonable order here as Botijlaca nears

llamas in reasonable order here as Botijlaca nears

our trekking party just before Botijlaca

our trekking party just before Chakapampa/Botijlaca

botijlaca-chaka pampa-satellite-shot

 

Botijlaca - end of the trek

Botijlaca – end of the trek

Botijlaca is a “company town” that was built to serve the workers at the hydro station. We saw few “locals” after we arrived; I saw a couple of blue-collar workers at a warehouse and two well-dressed guys with shiny new hard hats and clip boards who looked to be engineers.  Do not expect to stock up on food or other supplies at Botijlaca; there are no stores!

what a difference 1500 meters makes - the flowers of Botijlaca

what a difference 1500 meters makes – the flowers of Botijlaca

a farewell to our cook team - Lucretia and her daughter Pati

a farewell to our cook team – Lucretia and her daughter Patricia

the arrieros - the muleteers

the arrieros – the muleteers

Ray delivered a gracious thank-you speech to Lucretia and Patricia, the cook team.  They had walked the entire distance with us as well as taking care of all the food.  From 4:30 a.m. to 10 at night, they were hard at work in their cook tent. The two propane stoves were all they had to make it all happen.

Also acknowledged were the arrieros and llameros; they had taken over from another crew at Juri Khota.  Now they had to get the animals back to their village.  El Largo and his helper took all the animals – the donkeys and the llamas – and headed back up the valley we had just come down.  They would retrace their steps all the way back to the starting point.  Meanwhile, the two arrieros pictured above would catch a ride with us to El Alto.

looking up the river running through the communidad

looking up the river running through the communidad

the river tumbles down through Botijlaca

the river tumbles down through Botijlaca

Our mini-bus arrived shortly after we did and all of the gear was loaded on board.  The map below indicates the road (we would call it a gravel road in North America – it was not paved)  that passes by Botijlaca and eventually joins a paved road before  El Alto. (You’ll find Botijlaca to the north of Nevado Huayna Potosi.)

Cordillera Real - southern section with roads

Cordillera Real – southern section with roads

Huayna Potosi and the refugio and dam

Nevado Huayna Potosi, the Refugio Huayna Potosi, and Zongo Dam

The ride back to La Paz would provide us with some great views of Huayna Potosi. At 6088 meters it is one of the six peaks in the Cordillera Real that is 6000 + meters.  The six 6000 + peaks are as follows:

  1. Illimani  6438
  2. Jankuma 6427
  3. Illampu  6368
  4. Chearucu   6127
  5. Huayna Potosi  6088
  6. Chachakumani   6074
the Southeast face of Huayna Potosi as seen from the Refugio and the dam

the Southeast face of Huayna Potosi as seen from the Refugio and the dam

Closer examination of the above photo revealed some details I did not notice at first! Visible on the original 6 mb file are three high camps above the Refugio Huayna Potosi pictured above on the edge of the dam. There is a small high camp belonging to the agency which owns the Refugio; there is the Campo Alto Rocas (5130); finally, there is the Campo Argentino (5430). Before 2006 it was just a tent site but in that year a building was put up. There is also at least one  other high camp on the other side of the mountain.

Huayna Potosi Peaks and High Camps

Huayna Potosi Peaks and High Camps – click on image to enlarge

See below for a satellite shot taken of the area in May 2014 with an additional refugio – Casa Blanca – indicated. Of those who try, some 1000 people summit the mountain each year.  It is considered the easiest of Bolivia’s 6000 meter plus peaks to do; it is not as easy as some make it out to be. An additional statistic – the success rate – would probably make that clear. Is it 30%? 40%? It certainly is a popular trip for the La Paz agencies to sell – and to misrepresent!  See this tripadvisor thread (“Climbing Huayna Potosi”) for the views of some who bought the trip.

Huayna Potosi Satellite shot May 2014

Nevado Huayna Potosi from a more southerly angle

Nevado Huayna Potosi from a more southerly angle

Leaving the Huayna Potosi massif behind us, we kept on the road towards El Alto.  On the side of the road we passed by the following miners’ gravesite near Milluni.

miners' graveyard on the side of the road near Milluni

the miners' graveyard near Milluni

the miners’ graveyard near Milluni

Three hours after leaving Botijlaca, we were approaching our hotel- the El Rey Palace –  in downtown La Paz.  Most of the UK trekkers were heading back  the very next day so they were keen to get some last minute shopping done.  I had booked a couple of extra nights at the Hotel Rosario on Avenida Illampu in the “Gringo Ghetto” just up from the Iglesia de San Francisco. I’d head up there the next morning after saying goodbye to the Brits  departing for the airport and their flights back to London.

“So long, it’s been good to know you, but I’ve got to be movin’ along…” goes a Woody Guthrie song and it sums up the transitory nature of vacation friendships. From the emails I received in the days afterwards it sounds like most went back to deal with work that had piled up in their absence. Incentive, I guess, to start planning another vacation!

downtown La Paz El Rey Palace

downtown La Paz El Rey Palace

Next Post (still in development!):  Up and Down the Streets of La Paz

Cordillera Real Trek Day 13: Chiar Khota To Campsite Above Botijlaca

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Previous Post: Day 12 – Juri Khota To Chiar Khota

  • time: 7:45 – 1:45 p.m.
  • distance:   12.1 kilometers
  • high point:  4995 meters
  • campsite: campesino field (3811 m) two kilometres above Botijlaca
Day 13 - Distance and Elevation

Day 13 – 12.5 km.  and a couple of passes in the 5000 m range

Our last full day of trekking!  I don’t know why it happens but as I approach the end of an extended trip – as enjoyable as it has been – I start looking forward for it to be over. Lately in the dining tent the conversation has been all about plane connections and shopping in La Paz and it is clear that everyone is shifting their focus as we near the end. One thing I looked forward to was a real hot-water shower.  The glacial streams near our daily campsites meant clean-ups were pretty quick and perfunctory!

Before we left camp we got to watch the donkeys and llamas as they got the day’s workload. The donkeys carry much heavier loads than the llamas and accept their fate with resignation. The arrieros load them with little fuss.  The llamas are a different story.  Instead of thirty kilograms, they take ten; instead of resignation, they squirm and move about and give you that delightfully haughty look as they stare you straight in the eye.  The llamero, a guy who goes by the nickname El Largo thanks to his 1.8 meter (6 feet) frame, loads his animals along with his helper. It takes a bit longer and, unlike the donkey team, there are spare llamas who are there to relieve those with loads later in the day. Our guide tells us that llameros and llamas who have been trained to do the job are increasingly scarce in Bolivia.

Day 13 - Chiar Khota to just before Botijlaca

Day 13 – Chiar Khota to just before Botijlaca

looking down Chiar Khota from the campsite

looking down Chiar Khota from the campsite

llamas coralled fand ready for a day's work

llamas corralled and ready for a day’s work

llamas at Chiar Khota before the loading begins

llamas at Chiar Khota before the loading begins

the donkeys - the real workhorses of the trek!

the donkeys – the real workhorses of the trek!

looking back at Pico Austria above Chiar Khota

looking back at Pico Austria above Chiar Khota

We left Chiar Khota and headed directly for the pass between Aguja Negra and Nevado Jallayco. It is a 350-meter climb and before we got there we stopped for a couple of breaks. Looking back at Chiar Khota we also got a splendid last view of Pico Austria and the pass. Cloud cover still prevented a full view of the Condoriri peaks however!  Conditions would deteriorate further as the morning progressed!

the day's first pass - above Chiar Khota

catching our breath near the day’s first pass – about 350 meters above Chiar Khota

the day's two passes as seen fron the north

the day’s two passes as seen from the north

A quick little dip down into the next valley and then it was “up” to the last pass of the trek, a landmark that I’ll admit celebrating.  Looking up towards the pass, significant cloud could be seen and as we get closer it got worse. By the time we got to the pass, it was obvious that some bad weather was on the way. The wind had picked up and the rain was not far behind.

the view from the top of the day's first pass

the view ahead from the top of the day’s first pass above Chiar Khota

a closer view of the next - and last - pass of the trek

a closer view of the  last  pass of the trek

Huayna Potosi wrapped in cloud - our best view

Huayna Potosi wrapped in cloud – our best view

dropping down to the next valley

dropping down to the next valley

cloud and mist over the last pass

cloud and mist over the last pass

cloud and mist at the top our our last pass of the trek

cloud and mist at the top our our last pass of the trek

the path ahead -some major altitude loss to come

panorama – some major altitude loss coming up!

At the pass the wind had also picked up so we did not linger long before heading down to a more sheltered spot where we could have a quick lunch break. Then it was on the move again. We were losing major altitude as the rain picked up and at the next rest stop most put on their rain gear – the first time in the trip that it was really necessary.

I foolishly decided to hold off, however, with the rain pants and only slipped them on a half-hour later as my pants were getting wet and I was starting to  feel the chill. “Isn’t it a bit late, Peter?” someone asked. “Well, better late than never,” was my cliché reply and the rain pants did indeed stop the chill. By the time we got to the end the body heat had dried the pants.

 

rain for the last three hours of the trek

rain for the last three hours of the trek

above Laguna Liviñosa -

above Laguna Liviñosa – 4244 m asl

We came upon Laguna Liviñosa and I just had to get out the camera in the rain to capture the beguiling scene – the lake, the mist, the folds of the mountain slopes.  The trail would take us by the right hand side of the lake and then continue down the valley for another three kilometers.  By the time we reached the camp spot seen in the pix below we had lost yet another four hundred meters in altitude and were getting to see vegetation we hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks!

 

you almost expect hobbits to appear - aged buildings at our last campsite above Botijlaca

you almost expect hobbits to appear – aged buildings at our last campsite above Botijlaca

We camped on the grounds of what was once a working farm. It was now owned by someone who did not live here full time. Stone fences rimmed the perimeter and at least one building, the small one you see in the photo below (bottom right of image) was open.  Already there when we arrived were Lucretia (the cook) and her daughter and helper Patricia.  They had caught up to us before the second pass – and left us feeling humbled by their energy and long days of work and walking.  –  Now they were drying out their clothes.  Not yet there were the donkeys and llamas.

campesino compound - and our last campsite

campesino compound – and our last campsite

I found a dry spot by the fire burning in the open add-on on the shack above.  Piled to the side of the fire pit was the “firewood”, actually cow dung patties that brought back memories of the Khumbu valley above Namche Bazaar where the Sherpas make use of the yak droppings in the same way.

The journey's end - sitting next to a cow dung fire

The journey’s end – sitting next to a cow dung fire

Soon the rain had stopped and we waited for the arrival of the arrieros and llameros. I walked back up the valley a bit to get a more interesting angle from which to photograph their arrival.  To no great surprise, the donkeys were first to come down the path and they did so in their typically orderly fashion. At least, orderly until they came up to  the bridge over the small creek.They headed for the creek to the left of the bridge and scampered over.

fellow trekkers - a lull before the donkeys and llamas arrive

fellow trekkers – a lull before the donkeys and llamas arrive

the donkey train approaches our campsite

the donkey train approaches our campsite

the other half of the arriero team

one of the two muleteers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pix above are of the Aymara couple who were the arriero team with the ten donkeys.

the donkeys make their way to the end point

the donkeys make their way to the end point

I may have waited about twenty minutes for the llameros to arrive.  There was little to look at except for the mist hanging over the valley.  Then I heard whistles and shouts and they came walking through the mist and down the path in front of me. The llamas were doing a great job of walking mostly in a line with only one or two a bit off-track!

Look up valley for the llams - no sign at all!

Look up valley for the llamas – no sign at all!

the llamas emerge from the mist - at their own pace!

the llamas emerge from the mist – at their own pace!

the llamas nearing the campsite

the llamas nearing the campsite

“El Largo” – el arriero

El Largo has his llamas walking smartly as they near the end

El Largo has his llamas walking smartly as they near the end

llama taking in the scene

llama taking in the scene

llamas being relieved of their baggage

llamas being relieved of their baggage

Meanwhile, the donkeys are grazing...

Meanwhile, the donkeys are grazing…

Once last time everyone pitched in and the tents got up in good time. For one last time the duffels got emptied and the sleeping bags and Thermarests set up.  It would be a much warmer evening at 3800 meters than it had been at the typical 4500 meters or so that we had been camping at.  There would be no worries at this campsite about the water bottle being frozen on waking up the next morning!

tents up at campsite above Botijlaca

tents up at campsite above Botijlaca

This dog from a  nearby farm came to visit our campsite a little later.  Curious and a bit wary, he watched as I got the camera lens down to his level for a shot or two.

farm dog checking things out

farm dog checking things out

another shot of a new friend

the Last Supper in our dining tent

the Last Supper in our dining tent

The dining tent that night saw a few toasts to the guides (Javier and Ricardo) and to a memorable – and yes, as the English say, “brilliant” –  trek down the Cordillera Real.  Someone pulled out a large bottle of liqueur that had been in his duffel since the trek’s start and it filled more of the small plastic cups. Cheers to two weeks well-spent!

Next Post: Day 14 – To The End of The Trek At Botijlaca/Return To La Paz

Cordillera Real Trek Day 12: Juri Khota To Chiar Khota

Previous Post: Day 11 – Alka Khota to Juri Khota

  • time: 7:45 – 1:45 p.m.
  • distance:  7.1 kilometers
  • high point: 5306 meters
  • campsite: Chiar Khota
Day 12 - distance and elevation

Day 12 – distance and elevation

Note the start of the day’s walk – a stretch of fairly flat trail along the shore of Juri Khota. We would have to gain some altitude to get up to the small glacial lake above Juri Khota and then even more as we walked to the col which would be the day’s  high point before we headed down to Chiar Khota. [Chiar or ch’iyara is the Aymara word for “black”.]

We were hoping the sky would be clear so we could get a good view of Condoriri and maybe even make out the supposed “condor in flight” pose created by the three peaks. We also had another potential trekking peak we could take on – Pico Austria just to the south of the col. Our guide left the potential summit up to us individually.  We would decide when we got close to the last 300-meter section to the top.

I did have the Mountain Kingdoms brochure with me and it sounded do-able.

Depending on time and conditions, it may be possible to deviate from the pass at the col and ascend Pico Austria (5,396m/17,698ft).   An easy path zigzags its way up this rocky mountain to its summit, from which the views north encompass most of the mountains you have passed on your journey to date. The path is distinct because it is often used by climbers who are looking to acclimatize before tackling the popular climbing peaks in the Condoriri group.

Transcordillera Real Day 12 - Juri Khota To Laguna Chiar Khota

Trans-Cordillera Real Day 12 – Juri Khota To Laguna Chiar Khota

The satellite image above shows our route along the west side of Juri Khota. (The first part of the marked route has us walking on water! Since the Spot Connect gps device only records a location every ten minutes, it gives you an idea of how much distance we covered in that time period. I really should have brought my Garmin Oregon with its second-by-second tracking capability!  I didn’t because while the Spot runs for 100 hours on two AA batteries, the Oregon lasts maybe 16.The much greater accuracy has a price.)

looking southwest down Juri Khota and our previous night's campsite

looking southwest down Juri Khota and our previous night’s campsite

a glacial lake above Juri Khota

the glacial lake above Juri Khota

glacial lake above Juri Khota with a view (?) of Condoriri

glacial lake above Juri Khota with a view  of some of the Condoriri Massif

panorama of the glacial lake and path above it

panorama of the glacial lake and path above it – click on image  to enlarge

caution on an exposed stretch above the glacial lake

extra caution on an exposed stretch of trail above the glacial lake

Leaving the glacial lake behind we made our way up.  Javier, our Andean Summits guide, was taking no chances on an exposed part of the trail.  He positioned himself with a rope above the worrisome part that required some class 4 hands-on-rock . We each took our turn on the rope as we walked through and up; the half-hour we spent on this came and went with no drama!  Then it was up higher on a usually visible trail that took us towards the col.

breaktime above the glacial lake

break time above the glacial lake

Finally – decision time!  Stay down at the col and wait for the others to summit Pico Austria and return or head on up for what could be some awesome views.  In the end, except for one of us, it was all in.

(One person was feeling weak from a bout of diarrhea that had hit a few of us at some time during the trip. I had mine on the very first day of the trip; the green leaf salad I had at what seemed like a safe La Paz restaurant just before I first met the group  is my best guess as to the cause.)

Condoriri Peaks and route from Suri Khota

Condoriri Peaks and route from Juri Khota

It took us about an hour to get to the top.

looking down at the path from the col to Pico Austria

looking down from  Pico Austria at the path to the col

final stretch to Pico Austria

final stretch to Pico Austria – Javier takes a photo of his guests

Before you get to the official summit, you walk along a stretch of the ridge.  At the beginning of this stretch is the metal plaque you can see affixed to the rocks in the photo below.  I am not sure what the story is – if I got the story right, t a trekker in his mid-sixties (my age exactly!) had a heart attack near this spot.  Those who knew him or trekked with him obviously felt that the plaque was the right way to recognize him.

I wonder if  this is the most appropriate way to honour him?   But then – I also wonder why the peak is named Pico Austria?  Here we are in the Aymara heartland and we have a Pico Austria?  If you know the story let me know via the comment section below!

climber's memorial (Keith Isherwood) near the top of Pico Austria

climber’s memorial (Keith Isherwood) near the top of Pico Austria

Looking south from the ridge you get an incredible view of Juri Khota and the trail you took to get up here from the previous night’s campsite.  Look around to the east and you can already see some of Chiar Khota and the next campsite.  Look straight into the Cordillera and on a clear day you can see the heart of Condoriri, the three peaks which together are said to make up the head (the Cabeza) and the two stretched-out wings (Alas)  of the Condor. We would not be so lucky!  Cloud cover hid the Cabeza and the Ala Derecha so we never did get to see the Condor stretched out in front of us.

view of Juri Khota from Pico Austria

view of Juri Khota from Pico Austria

a view of Chiar Khota from Pico Austria

a view of Chiar Khota from Pico Austria

a view of Cerro Jawaka behind (east of) Chiar Khota

a view of Cerro Jawaka and clouds behind (east of) Chiar Khota

Condoriri peaks from Pico Austria

Condoriri peaks from Pico Austria – web source of image here

I’ll admit that while our guide Javier was talking about the supposed condor shape in front of us, I had no idea of what I was looking for.  It was only after I returned home and did a bit of research that it became obvious.  And now, of course, that my brain has been trained to see “condor with out-stretched wings” when I see that particular peak formation, I’ll have no problem identifying the condor on my next visit!

Codoriri - La Cabeza con las Alas

Codoriri – La Cabeza con las Alas (the condor’s head and its stretched-out wings)

our trekking team atop Pico Austria

our trekking team atop Pico Austria – with me taking the photo

the Condoriri Massif - the left wing of the Condor

the Condoriri Massif – the left wing (ala isquierda) of the Condor

prayer flags on Pico Austria in the Cordillera Real in Bolivia

Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags on Pico Austria in the Cordillera Real in Bolivia

looking south to the Altiplano and a small lake

a Pico Austria view – looking south to the Altiplano and a small lake

And then it was a quick descent back to the col and on down to our campsite of the day on the north shore of Chiar Khota.

heading back down to the col from Pico Austria

heading back down to the col from Pico Austria

the pathway down to Chiar Khota

the pathway down to Chiar Khota

the path down from the Condoriri col

the path down from the Condoriri col – the first section

The photo above shows the first section of downhill from the col to Chiar Khota. The shot below was taken when we were much further down; you can see the part of the trail shown in the above photo and the much steeper part that followed.  Down at the bottom is another cairn.

a look back at Pico Austria, the col, and the path down to Chiar Khota

a look back at Pico Austria, the col, and the path down to Chiar Khota – Tony’s photo

We had a short break when we neared the bottom of the slope and everyone reached into their bags for stuff to munch on. Watching us nearby with great interest were a couple of mountain caracaras.  We had seen them throughout our trek. These caracaras behaved as if they were used to trekkers stopping and sharing food with them.  We did not disappoint them!

caracara watching us eat lunch

caracara watching us eat lunch -and waiting for his!   – Tony’s photo

the path to Chiar Khota and our campsite

the path to Chiar Khota and our campsite

entering Ch'iara Khota camp from Pico Austria

entering Ch’iar Khota camp from Pico Austria … shot taken by Tony

We arrived shortly after the donkeys and llamas did; I remember getting my tent up and then crawling inside and having an immediate short nap.  I was feeling the effects of 600 meters of altitude gain and then the same amount of drop to the door of my tent.  I crawled out a bit over an hour later and went off to the dining tent for a cup of tea and some biscuits.

Next Post: Day 13 – Chiar Khota To Campsite 2 km. Above Botijlaca