Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 2 (Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin/Laguna Jakob))

Previous Post – Day 1: Villa Catedral To Refugio Frey

Another sunny day in Patagonia! By 8:30 everybody was ready for their adventure of the day.  Outside of the refugio a couple of dozen people milled about, busy with their packs and water bottles and sun screen. Maps were out and being examined.

Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin:JLaguna akob

Day Two – Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin:JLaguna Jakob

On the menu for the day were a few different options:

  • Some would be staying and doing some rock climbing. The hut is at the centre of some excellent rock climbs as I could see by the number of people with the necessary gear.
  • Some would walk back down the trail to Villa Catedral (see 1 on the map above).
  • Some would return by route 2 to Villa Cathedral via Laguna Schmoll and the trail to the right of the cancha de futbol, which  is the at the junction where the trail splits in two – to the right back to Villa Catedral and to the left to Laguna Jakob.
  • Some like me would be walking route 8 to the Refugio San Martin on Laguna Jakob.

the eating area in the Refugio Frey’s cook shack

I boiled some water on the kitchen stove and prepared my oatmeal breakfast. I also had that essential cup of coffee – a no-frills Nescafé instant with some coffee creamer. Then it was out to join the others as we discussed our various plans for the day.

a busy Refugio Frey at 8 a.m.

Mine involved a walk along the shores of Laguna Toncek and then a scramble up the scree slopes to Laguna Schmoll. From there it was another bit of rough uphill to the split in the trail at the “Cancha de Futbol”.  The trail would eventually lead to a ridge at the top of the Rucaco Valley.  From there it was a clear view to the  west and Laguna Jakob and the refugio.

Before I left the refugio the first of perhaps four or five helicopter drops for the day began. Lowering down food and other supplies and taking out a load of waste or whatever, it kept the staff busy hauling stuff to and from the landing zone  for 45 minutes. I watched for a while and then headed along the shore of the laguna. Ahead of me were some other hikers, people I recognized from the previous day. Only one of them – Diego from Buenos Aires – would still be on the same trail with me the next morning.

helicopter dropping off supplies

a view of the helicopter drop from the side of Laguna Toncek

a view of the helicopter drop from the side of Laguna Toncek

looking down Laguna Toncek towards the Refugio Frey

Looking back at the Refugio I saw the last of the drops for the morning.  Twenty minutes later when I snapped the photo below I was at the other end of the lake. Next up was the ascent on a scree slope to Laguna Schmoll.  The “trail” markers – sometimes just a red circle, sometimes a red circle inside a black one, sometimes an arrow in red or black, sometimes a word! – are painted onto the rocks.  Looking for them becomes a part of journey; not seeing one for a while and you start worrying that maybe you are lost!

See if you can find any red dots in the three photos below!

above Laguna Toncek - scampering up the valley to the Laguna Schmoll

the trail up above Laguna Toncek – scampering up the slope to Laguna Schmoll

the top of the ridge between Laguna Toncek and Laguna Schmoll

the top of the ridge between Laguna Toncek and Laguna Schmoll

the real top of the ridge above Lagunas Toncek and Schmoll

looking back towards Laguna Toncek from the trail to Laguna Schmoll

At the top of the ridge I turned around to get one last shot of where I had come from; then I turned forward and faced Laguna Schmoll.  Since there was no wind, he glacial lake was ripple-free. I found a spot by the edge of the laguna and sat there for a while, taking in the scene. Forty meters away a hiker had put up his tripod and was taking in the scene.

Laguna Schmoll – stunning lake above Laguna Toncek

contemplating photo possibilities on Laguna Schmoll

Not far from where I was sitting was the plaque you see below; it explained the origin of the laguna’s name. It is a memorial for an Austrian climber – and perhaps member of the local alpine club – who lost his life on Cerro Paine in Chile’s Torres del Paine Park.

Herbert Schmoll memorial plaque

With my water bottle out, I also reached into my pack for a snack. Not too long afterward I got visitors! A couple of birds, tentative at first, but then hopping fairly close to where I was sitting were clearly wondering if I had anything for them!  Let me know if you can identify the kind of bird they are!

a view of my rest stop on the edge of Laguna Schmoll

Laguna Schmoll visitor

bird on the rock at Laguna Schmoll

the view from the trail above Laguna Schmoll

My rest spot had been on the shore just above that small point you see jutting out into the laguna. Now – thirty minutes later – I was looking down, having scrambled up that mess of rocks you see below.  Visible in the middle of the photo are a couple of fellow hikers coming up behind me.

hikers making their way up to the pass above Laguna Schmoll

In the photo below I am already looking back at the top of the ridge I had just climbed; Laguna Schmoll is behind and below that wall of rock you see.  I was now  standing in a fairly flat open area which has earned it the nickname “cancha de futbol”, a totally appropriate name for futbol-obsessed Argentina!

panorama – the top of the pass to the upper Rucaco valley and Laguna Jakob

On nearby rocks arrows pointed in the directions of both Catedral and Jakob. While the Catedral trails follows the ridge the right, the indistinct path to Jakob goes down a fairly  scree slope on the left.

the ‘Cancha de Futbol’ and the sign for Villa Catedral

the ‘Cancha de Futbol’ and the sign for Laguna Jakob

panorama – upper Rucaco Valley and Cerro Tres Reyes

Laguna Jakob is located below the ridge on the top left hand side of the photo above. To get down into the forest  from the cancha de futbol requires 45 minutes of  heavy-duty scrambling down a fairly steep scree slope.

Ahead of me on the down slope was a hiker – a guy in his early thirty’s  from India – who was having a rough time.  He was  slipping and sliding and losing his balance and facing in  to the slope as he made his descent.  One of his problems? He did not have trekking poles!  The extra points of contact provide more stability.  Years ago I had laughed when I saw Chamonix walkers using them; these days I know better and would never go hiking without them. Live and learn!

As I caught up to him we stopped for a brief chat on the challenge of the scree slope.  I offered him one of my poles but when he declined I told him to follow me.  He had been trying to go straight down;  we went down more gradually in switchback fashion and that seemed to help him.

the scree scramble down to the upper  Rucaco valley floor

In the photos above and below I have stopped and pointed my camera back up at the terrain I have just negotiated.  You can see my fellow hiker in the photo above.

looking back up at the scree trail

The reward for the scree slope scramble was a nice walk up the Rucaco Valley on a flat dirt trail.  I stopped for lunch in the cool of the forest; it was hot out there in the full sun and the shade was appreciated!  The Indian guy came walking down the path; he was keen to keep moving so did not stop for a break.  I’d catch up to him a bit later in the afternoon as we made our way downhill to the refugio.

the forest trail on the upper Rucaco valley floor

After lunch it was on to the end of the wooded area before the trail heads back up above the treeline to more scree and indistinct trails marked with the occasional red dot or stone cairn. Along the way I refilled my water bottle from one of the side streams coming down the slopes to the Rucaco valley.  While it is probably perfectly safe to drink the water in this area without treating it,  since I had brought my SteriPEN along, I did make a point of using it. It weighs about 100 grams and uses UV light to make the water safe to drink.

panorama of upper Rucaco Valley back to Cancha de Futbol Pass

a last look at the Rucaco Valley before Laguna Jakob

It had taken me three and half hours to descend from the Cancha de Futbol, walk the Rucaco Valley and ascent to the ridge above laguna Jakob. I looked back one last time and took the photo above, complete with the helpful arrow pointing hikers toward the Frey hut!  Then it was on and mostly down to my next tent spot, the bush behind the Refugio San Martin.

Laguna Jakob in view – and the next day’s route too – click on image to see the “trail”

approaching Laguna Jakob and Refugio San Martin from the east

San Martin Refugio and Laguna Jakob

As we neared the refugio, my Mumbai buddy and I crossed the bridge and walked what is apparently a new path for the final half-kilometer.  Oddly, when we got to the refugio  I just took off my pack and relaxed and chatted with a couple of other people who had just come in.  What I didn’t do is take some close-up photos of the refugio and surroundings! The one you see here  I “borrowed” from the Club Andino de Bariloche website.  See here.

Already on my mind was the next day’s hike, the one from Refugio San Martin to Laguna Negra via a steep climb above Laguna Témpano and Cerro Navidad.   It was the most complicated and poorly marked – and least used – section of the entire traverse. Since the guys who had just come in – a couple of German guys in their twenties, Moritz and Daniel – were planning to do it, I was keen to talk to them since I clearly was not going to be doing it by myself!   The fact that Moritz had the gps track for it was definitely a good sign!

my tent spot near the Refugio San Martin

Not far from the refugio I put up my tent on a bed of sand in the shade of some overhanging branches.  Then it was back to the refugio for supper – and more discussion and assessment of the next day’s possible adventure.  The Lonely Planet Trekking Guide-book had the following bit of advice about the next day’s section –

This section of the trek, following a high-level route, is harder and more hazardous than other stages. Ideally for very experienced trekkers, it should not be attempted unless the weather is very good. At any time – most commonly, early in the season (until about mid-December) – crampons and an ice axe may be needed to do the route safely. The hut warden at Refugio San Martín (who has photographs that clarify the route) can give further advice, and will ask you to fill in a form and hand it in on arrival at the other end.  

from Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes (2009)

Lots to think about and different options to consider.  As always, time – or maybe the title of the following day’s post! – would reveal all!

Next Post: Day 3 – Refugio San Martin to Refugio Italia (Laguna Negra)

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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 1 (Cerro Catedral to Refugio Frey)

Previous Post: Base Camp Bariloche and the Hiking Trails Of Northern Patagonia

And so the hike begins.  Step #1: get to the trailhead! There is a bus from downtown Bariloche that goes right to the Villa Catedral parking lot at the foot of the ski hill.  The night before I had topped up my SUBE card.  (If you bought one in Buenos Aires it will work in Bariloche too!  It takes the place of bus tickets – just swipe the card as you enter the bus and you’re done.)

Catedral bus Route from downtown Bariloche

I walked almost to the east end of Agenda Moreno to the correct bus stop.  Unlike the other route stops on Moreno and the buses themselves, which have numbers, the stop and the bus (officially #55) to the ski hill are indicated by the sign  Cerro Catedral or  Catedral.  A bus makes the trip  every hour during the summer.

We went west along Moreno and then turned south on to Morales and west on Neumeyer, where it stopped to pick up some backpackers.   We had come back to within 200 meters of my hostel! I remember thinking that I had done a lot of walking for nothing given that I too could have gotten on here .  I later asked the person at the CAB info desk why she had told me to catch the bus on Moreno and she explained that the bus route alternated between Avenidas Bustillo and Pioneros so the safest thing to do was to catch where I did.

The bus ended its run to Villa Catedral shortly after 11. As people got off the bus, some headed towards the trailhead to Frey.  Others backpackers  headed for the ski lift and the ride up to Piedra del Condor or Punta Nevada. The two maps below show the choices hikers have at the starting point at Catedral:

1. hiking above Lago Gutiérrez and up the Van Titter Valley to the Refugio Frey

2. riding the cable lifts to Piedra del Condor or Punta Nevada and then hiking the ridge to the Cancha de Futbol and then a scree slope  scramble down to Laguna Schmoll. From there it is down to Laguna Toncek and a walk to the refugio at the other end of the glacial lake.

Day 1 – Villa Catedral to Refugio Frey

And here is a section from the more detailed official park map.

Of the two ways of getting to Refugio Frey, #1 is the easier and #2 the more scenic. For someone just intending to go to Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek, #1 and #2 together would make a nice loop with a night at the refugio to break it up. If you’re planning on continuing on to Refugio San Martín (Laguna Jakob), then #1 makes more sense since you will only have to walk once the section from the Frey hut to the trail junction called  Cancha de Futbol.

The parking lot at Villa Catedral

I set off at about 11:15, having taken out my trekking poles and set up my Spot Connect GPS tracker so my wife could follow along as I did my walk in the park!  Keen to do some walking, I headed for choice #1 – the trail up the Van Titter Valley. In the image below the trailhead sign is barely visible on the far side of the parking lot.

Villa Catedral estacionamiento – and trailhead to Refugio Frey

Refugio Frey Trailhead sign

At the far end of the parking lot I found the small wooden statue of a hiker next to the sign board for Frey. I stepped back and got a shot of the hiker with my trekking poles and then continued.     For the first 100 meters or so the trail is actually a gravel road but soon enough I reached the point where a sign pointed to the off-road start of the trail.

the trail to Refugio Frey as it leaves the gravel road at Villa Catedral

Trail Map and Info at the start of the Trail to Refugio Frey

Since 2016 hikers need to book a space at the refugio if they plan on sleeping there overnight.  This is true even if you are going to tent. I had made my reservation at the Park Info Centre in Bariloche a couple of days before and had a voucher to show at the registration desk at the refugio when I arrived. Frey is the only hut which requires pre-book.  Given its easy accessibility, the hut, which sleeps 35,  is the busiest of the CAB mountain huts. See here for the 2017 price list.

Refugio Frey por Catedral sign

On the first section of the trail Lago Gutiérrez is on your left as you make your way to the point where a second lower trail from the lake joins the main trail.  There are a few bridges  – like the one on the photo below – that cross over small streams tumbling down to the lake.  A section of the hillside with charred tree trunks was a reminder of the fragility of the ecosystem. In the park wood fire are not permitted, campers being required to have their own butane or gas stoves.  I had left mine back in Bariloche, having decided to make use of the refugio kitchen instead. I figured it would also give me the right to sit in the comfort of a warm dining area if the weather was bad.

looking back at one of the bridges on the first section of the trail to Refugio Frey

hikers on the trail to Refugio Frey above Lago Gutiérrez

the trail to Frey above Lago Gutiérrez with a view of Bariloche

looking back at the junction of the Catedral and Gutierrez trails

When I came to the junction of the two trails, the second section of the walk began. It is a very pleasant walk up the Van Titter valley with its many mature trees and the arroyo or stream flowing down.

The following four images will give you an idea of what it looks like. It was about 1 p.m. on a very warm sunny day as I made my way up the valley; I was very happy about the leafy canopy which provided some shade.  While no one will rave about the stunning mountain views on this part of the trail, it clearly has its own soothing and quiet beauty. I stopped to fill my water bottle with some cold Arroyo Van Titter Nouveau and for a while listened to the stream as it trickled down to Gutierrez.

the trail to Frey as it heads up along the Aroyo Van Titter

the Frey Trail as it crosses the Aroyo Van Titter

walking up the Van Titter valley on the Frey Trail

easy walking up the Van Titter valley towards Refugio Piedritas

When I came to the clearing pictured in the panorama shot below I took off my pack and joined the dozen or so other hikers in the shade. Out came the water bottle and the energy bar.  There was just two kilometers to go but they would be the most work, given the altitude we needed to gain before we got to the refugio.

panorama – Refugio Piedritas – a rest stop one hour from the Refugio Frey

Built over the cavity in the corner of the rock pictured below is half of a hut! Inside the shelter I saw a wooden platform which would give hikers a dry floor for the night if needed.  There was also lots of space around to put up a tent or three, though given how close you are to the refugio from here it would really have to be an emergency to make you want to stop here. The views up top at the refugio are also far superior!

Refugio Piedritas – a bivy shelter built into the sloping rock face

Time to move on – and up!  I watched as a family with two young children – the boy was 6 and the girl  5 – made their way in front of me.  I would see them again in the refugio kitchen, impressed again at their cheerful, non-whiny attitudes. When I mentioned how impressed I was, the father  smiled and said they were experienced hikers who had done a few walks already.  They were going to overnight at the Frey and then head down the next morning.

two families start the final ascent to Refugio Frey

The Frey Trail above Refugio Piedritas

This last section of the trail above the Refugio Piedritas was the roughest of the day. It was also the most exposed as we lost that leafy canopy that had provided shade on our way up the valley.

a fellow hiker coming up the trail to Refugio Frey

As you spend time on a hiking trail you come to recognize people as you pass them by – only to have them do the same a while later! In the photo above I can see Diego, the guy from Buenos Aires, who I did not know yet.  We would end up walking together on Days 3, 4, and 5 of the Traverse.

Finally the refugio came into sight! Still a half hour to go but there it was. That red arrow in the photo below is actually pointing at the bathroom/shower building; the refugio itself is just to the left of it.

Refugio Frey comes into sight!

Refugio Frey – close but still a way to go!

Refugio Frey and Toilet:shower building

The first thing I did was check in at the desk, showing my permit to tent overnight. It was about 4:00 when I arrived and gathered outside was a crew of scruffy hardcore rock climbers sitting there with their collections of rock bolts, belays, carabiners, helmets, harnesses, ropes … I looked around and could see a dozen amazing climbing objectives that could keep these guys and gals amused for days.  I was quite happy just to be walking by!

the Refugio Frey with the add-on cook shack

I had decided to leave my cook stove and gas canister behind in Bariloche. Instead, I figured I would pay the nominal fee to use the kitchen facilities and also give myself a reason to be inside if the weather turned bad.  I spent no more than $10. US at any of the four refugios I stayed at on the traverse, tenting each night and preparing my food in the hut.

Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek from the helicopter pad

panorama: Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek from the helicopter landing area

The views from the refugio and from other vantage points were wow-inducing!  I had left my “better” dslr-quality cameras at home (my Sony A77 and my Sony A6000 with their various lenses) because of weight and security concerns. Instead, it was my Fuji X20 with its 28-112mm zoom lens that came along.  While its sensor is small compared to the one in the cameras left at home, it is still twice as large as the sensors most point and shoots and smart phones have.  The fact that it shoots raw image files meant that I was usually able to avoid the blown-out sky problem that smaller sensor cameras like my Canon Elph 330 have. I had it around my neck the entire hike and it was ready to go at a moment’s notice!

one of the many climbing peaks near Refugio Frey

an available tent spot near Laguna Toncek shore

I left the refugio, having checked in at the desk, and went looking for a tent spot. I considered the empty space you see in the photo above but decided that in spite of the attempt to create a wind break, it was still too exposed.  I walked past the helicopter landing area – no camping there! – and headed down the slope. As I did the wind disappeared. “Much better!” I thought.  That is my tent – the small sand coloured one behind the North Face  mountain tent.  It is a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL and weighs 2 pounds (1 kilo). I made sure I secured the tent so that it wouldn’t blow away and then headed back to the refugio.

Actually, I ran back!   As I was finishing with the tent I reached into my pocket for my wallet and –  it wasn’t there!  I had left it out on the counter in the refugio when I had taken it out to show the young woman my registration slip.  Various horrible scenarios came to mind as I rushed back to the hut. As I stepped into the refugio she said – “Your forgot something!”

a more sheltered – from the wind – spot on the other side of the ridge

I looked at the registration list. A few other hikers had checked since i had left to put up my tent. Most of the hikers were Argentinian with two from France and me the lone Canadian. I did also notice that I was a bit older than most of the others!

the Refugio Frey cook shack window decals

The cook shack is an add-on to the refugio itself.  It has a basic stove and pots and kettles, running water, and utensils and some plates and cups.  It can hold perhaps 12 people on the benches around the three tables.

the kitchen facilities in the Frey cook shack

the kitchen facilities in the Refugio Frey cook shack

One thing that caught my eye is the circular object you see below. It is a “dream catcher” and it comes from a world I am more familiar with, that of the indigenous people known as the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe who inhabit the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield. To see it hanging at the Refugio Frey, some twelve thousand kilometers from its place of origin, was to realize that it was one of those cultural creations which speak to something universal in the human spirit. In March of 2016 in the display window of a surfers’ shop on main street in Bicheno on the east coast of Tasmania I had also seen one. Small world!

a Ojibwe dream catcher at the Frey hut

another view of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

After my supper in the cook shack – I had one of my Backpacker’s Panty suppers – I scampered up above the laguna and the refugio for a slightly different perspective on things.  In the image below I am looking at my tent and the valley – the Van Titter – that I had walked up in the early afternoon.

an evening view of the Frey tenting area at the top of the van Titter valley

More conversation in the refugio with my fellow hikers, including that couple with the two amazing children.  The boy had spent the evening playing chess with anyone who was willing!  Also there was a Taiwanese couple currently living in Buenos Aires . They too also had their six-year old boy along for their overnight at the Frey. Both couples were going back down the next morning by the same trail we had all come up on. But first they had a night up on the second floor of the refugio; there were about thirty people booked.

My tent spot, had it been raining, would surely have had a stream of water running through it. But – I had perfect weather  – no rain, very little wind, and a temperature of about 10º.  So, no worries this night – in fact, not  on any of the four nights of my hike. It would have been a more messy and challenging and potentially dangerous trip with rain or strong winds or snow on the high trails.

My sleeping bag (good to -10ºC)  and my Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad with 5 cm (2 in.) of air to cushion me assured a restful sleep. The day’s exertion also made falling asleep very easy. In my dreams I wondered what the next day would bring!

Next Post soon to be uploaded – Refugio Frey To Refugio San Martín (Laguna Jakob)

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Base Camp Bariloche & The Hiking Trails of Northern Patagonia

Previous Post: Bariloche – Argentina’s Outdoors Playground Capital – Things To See

San Carlos de Bariloche is a city of some 113,000 located on the south shore of one of Argentina’s larger glacial lakes, Lago Nahuel Huapi. It is on the northern edge of an area known as Patagonia which stretches all the way down to the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego.

Also running south is the Andes mountain chain, next to the Himalayas the most impressive of the world’s mountain ranges. Its peaks and the flow of rivers from its slopes determine the border between Argentina and neighbouring Chile.

Bariloche is known for various reasons these days –

  • the cultural and architectural veneer left by its first European settlers -i.e. German and Swiss farming people
  • one of Argentina’s centers of atomic energy research and development since its late 1940’s start on the nearby island of Huemel
  • the number of stores on its main street selling chocolate in various forms
  • the field trip destination of choice of Argentinian high school students celebrating their graduation year,

However, the main draw is undoubtedly those mountains.  Since the 1930’s they have made nearby Cerro Catedral, 20 kilometers west of the city,  one of South America’s premier skiing destinations during the southern hemisphere winter from late June to early October.  And in the summer the focus changes to hiking and rock climbing as people arrive to walk the trails, many of them leading to one of a series of  refugios maintained by the Club Andino de Bariloche (CAB).

bariloche hiking area

The red oval on the map above indicates the general hiking area to the west of Bariloche.  You can easily fill up a couple of weeks with moderate to strenuous hiking that will usher you into some stunning mountainscape. Glacial lakes are surrounded by steep valley walls of scree and scraggy ridges and peaks.  Since the trails – and the peaks – are not super-high (with 2100 meters being the highest you’ll probably get), acclimatization is not an issue here.

Nevertheless, there is still an alpine look and feel. Sometimes trails will descend through lush canopied forest and meadow on their way to another scramble up an indistinct path on the scree slope. There will be some huffing and puffing – and on more than a few occasions you will stand on the top of yet another ridge and say  – “Wow!”

Laguna Jakob and Laguna Témpanos

i have just returned from Bariloche after a too-brief sampling of the hiking possibilities inside that red oval; what I found was much more than what I  expected  and I was left wishing I had allocated more time.  As it was, I was already committed to a climb of Volcan Lanín to the north of San Martín de los Andes so I off I went, leaving unwalked some great trails. Maybe reading this post will mean you don’t make the same mistake!

the view west from Cerro Negro ridge (Pico Turista)

I titled the post Base Camp Bariloche  because for hikers that is what Bariloche becomes as they plan and do their various trips.  Hikes start from and end up back in the city, as people leave their duffels behind at their hotel or hostel with the surplus stuff they don’t need to carry on the trail.  Transportation can be quite cheap -e.g. the city bus to Villa Catedral – or reasonably priced -e.g. the CAB (Club Andino de Bariloche) mini-bus to Pampa Linda. Other than registering for Refugio Frey, there is remarkably little paper work to do or fees to pay.

Numerous  camping stores have the supplies you may need to get before setting off – trekking poles, tents, sleeping bags, butane gas canisters, dehydrated foods, etc. though it really makes sense to arrive from home with the gear you need.  If you choose the refugio option – as opposed to tenting and cooking your own meals – then many of the above items will not even  be necessary.

Once I checked in to my hostel,  I started off by visiting the CAB info kiosk next to the main building for maps and guidance and recommendations; I followed that up with a walk across the street to the Park Information Center to register. Near the CAB office is a small grocery store for last-minute food purchases. My room at Hostel 41 Below was a two-minute walk away from all the above!

another view of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

When To Go:

Prime hiking season corresponds to the two-months that students have off for summer vacation – i.e. January and February.  By then whatever snow was covering some of the higher trails will have melted and the weather should be at its best. The additional hikers on the trail provide an additional element of safety in case of emergencies. However,  once you go beyond the more popular sections of the trail you will see almost no one!  The shoulder months of December and March also have less rain and warmer temperatures and the trails will be even quieter than during the peak months.

Refugio Frey is open all year; the other refugios are open from at least late November to April but see specific refugios for exact dates. Snow may still be an issue on some of the higher trails in December.  The CAB staff will be able to provide the latest information.

the view from the front porch – a lazy start to the day at Refugio Lopez

Useful Sources Of Information:

There are a number of excellent webpages – trip reports, blog posts, etc. –  that you can access on the web to help you get a handle of hiking possibilities out of Bariloche.  The following gave me an idea of what was available –

  1. The Lonely Planet‘s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes. hard copy and digital

Since it was published in 2009 some things have changed – for example, recommended bus routes and connections, prices, trekking-in-the-patagonian-andes.jpgsome refugio rules and regulations , etc.

However, the descriptions of the various trails and the information on flora and fauna remain useful and accurate.

The book can be difficult to find; the Toronto public library system has two copies.  A while ago Lonely Planet stopped offering the digital copy available for download. You may be able to find a pdf file of the book floating around.  The chapter on northern Patagonia treks includes the following in the Nahuel Huapi region-

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.47.14 PM

2. Trek Bariloche website

Trek Bariloche header

The Trek Bariloche home page header with its photo of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

The Trek Bariloche website has tons of accurate up-to-date information and advice. Each of the menu items in the header above opens up to a dozen more web pages. The site is maintained by someone who lives in Bariloche; he mentions that he has been hiking in the area since 1999. Thanks to his enduring passion,  other hikers can easily find the info to plan their own outings.

see the Trek Bariloche website for the best information I have found online for the various route possibilities

3. Club Andino de Bariloche

Club Andino de Bariloche header

The Club Andino de Bariloche is another essential source of information if you are planning to spend some time hiking in the area.  Already noted above is their information kiosk on Calle 20 de Febrero #30 just a street above from the Park Building.  I spent twenty minutes there getting briefed by one of the club members. (While I try to keep to Spanish, both of the people  at the desk spoke some English too.)  Their website also has a lot of info.  Since it is only in Spanish it will also provide you with a ready-made opportunity to learn some new vocabulary, words 100% related to the hiking you are about to do!

4. Hostel 41 Below

hostel 41 below

I found the staff at my hostel on Calle Jugamento to be very helpful.While they have undoubtedly heard all the questions I asked before, the staff pointed me in the right direction for bus tickets and hiking permits and last-minute food shopping! As a vegan, I had picked this hostel specifically for its vegetarian breakfasts and suppers; I was not disappointed with the all-you-can-eat portions of tasty food that staff prepared each day.  When I went on my various hikes they put away my duffel until my return to the hostel, which became a home away from home for my ten days in Bariloche.

wispy clouds in the valley below Cerro Negro

lunch time stop – wispy clouds in the valley below Cerro Negro

Where To Go – Some Hiking Options

I just realized that I keep using the term “hiking” while all the material I recommend uses the term “trekking”!  Perhaps there is no real difference between the two but to me a trek is an organized  multi-day journey with a guide where pack animals – yaks, llamas, mules – carry the bulk of the equipment – the food and sleeping and dining tents and fuel, as well as the personal gear of the paid clients – while I get to walk with a few things in my day pack. A hike (at least to me!) is a self-supported walk where I carry everything myself.  It can be a day hike; it can be multi-day… but when I hike I am also the pack animal!

Is that how you see it?  Maybe I am overthinking this!  Perhaps trekking just sounds more exotic than hiking? Let me know you take in the comments below!

If you just have a day or two: (1 and 2 on the Trek Bariloche map above)

The most popular hike is the one from Villa Catedral at the base of the famed ski resort to Refugio Frey.  With an early morning start you could walk up to the hut on the shore of Laguna Toncek, have some lunch and then walk back to Villa Catedral.  Another approach makes use of the ski resort cable up to the top of and then a walk down the scree slopes of Laguna Toncek and a walk along the shore to the refugio before descending the Von Titter valley on the trail back to Villa Catedral. You could break the hike into two parts by spending the night at the refugio. The Catedral bus from downtown Bariloche is all the transport you need.

Another popular day hike (5 on the map above) is the one up to Refugio Lopez and then back down. An overnight at the hut would give you time to hike up to Pico Turista with its fine 360º views including a great one of Cerro Tronador.

A third popular overnight hike is the one to the edge of the glacier below Cerro Tronador. A bus ride from the CAB office takes you to Pampa Linda where you start your hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling, a CAB hut with room for 60.  Tenting is also a possibility.

an available tent spot near Laguna Toncek shore

If you would like to add a second refugio to your hike: (1 + 8 + 3)

You could combine the walk to Refugio Frey with one to the next refugio (San Martin) before heading back down to the road and a bus back to Bariloche.

If you want something more challenging:  (1 + 8 + red trail 9 + 7  + 6  + 5 )

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is a five-day hike that takes you to a different refugio each day. After hiking to Frey and then San Martin on the first two days, you have a choice.  You can take on the demanding hike from Laguna Jakob to Laguna Negra on a poorly marked path after having signed a waver acknowledging that you understand the risks!

If that sounds a bit much, you can descend to the road and a hitch a ride to  Colonia Suiza where you can tent overnight. The next morning  you go up to Laguna Negra on an easy woodlands trail. From Laguna Negra the traverse goes to Refugio Lopez before coming down to the highway below. The reward for your effort: perhaps the best single multi-day hike in Patagonia!

Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy near El Chalten at the north end of Los Glaciares Park

Revisiting An Old Post!

Argentina’s Hiking Capital: El Chaltén And Monte Fitz

I wrote the above post on El Chaltén four years ago after a three-week visit to the area as well as to Torres del Paine on the Chilean side.  It had been a  good trip.  From my very limited Argentinian hiking experience, I created what I thought was an eye-catching title for my post. Well, I have learned that it is not true!

Since there is yet more of Argentina to explore, I won’t now go ahead and declare that actually Bariloche is  “Argentina’s Hiking Capital”!  BUT – When I compare the Nahuel Huapi Traverse and the other nearby trails to what I walked  in the Andes above El Chaltén, the hiking trials  west of Bariloche  are without a doubt more spectacular, more challenging, and much more extensive.

It is not that Fitz Roy is a waste of time; it is just that the Bariloche area gives you more “wow” for your time and effort.  Of course, if you are going to be in southern Patagonia you have to visit El Chalten and the trails around Fitz Roy!  However, to spend all that time (or money if you fly!) getting down there just to do Fitz Roy while not going to Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi – well, that does not make sense!

The map below shows the traverse and a number of different variations. I followed the solid blue line except for the Day 1 section where I took the broken line route to the Van Titter valley and then walked up to the Refugio Frey. The Lonely Planet Day 1 route makes use of the chairlift ride as shown in solid blue on the map.  My next post will have all the details!

Lonely Planet (2009). Nahuel Huapi Traverse and Variations

Nahuel Huapi Traverse map from the Lonely Planet guidebook

the view from the trail above Laguna Schmoll

Another multi-day option (10 +12)  – one that I did not do but got a rapturous review of from a couple of German hikers – is the one that would take you from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suiza over five days.  They combined it with a visit to the Otto Meiling hut.

a view of my rest stop on the edge of Laguna Schmoll

The Ultimate Multi-Day Adventure: On Day 2 of my Nahuel Huapi Traverse I met Moritz at Refugio San Martin. He had started off at Villa Catedral and was headed for Peulla on the eastern shore of Lago Todos Los Santos on the other side of the Andes in Chile! We did the steep climb above Laguna Témpanos together and then he was gone, travelling at a speed  beyond the one that Diego and I dialled into.

After he got to Laguna Negra he apparently headed west on the trail marked #12 on the map above. How he crossed the Andes is still unclear to me but his goal was Peulla on the east shore of Lago Todos Los Santos. (He may have walked the gravel road from Puerto Frias to Puella.) From there he planned to take the catamaran to Petrohue and continue on to Puerto Varas.  I really need to send him an email and get the full details!

Cerro Navidad with Cerro Tronador in the background

There are enough incredible trail combinations and possibilities to keep a keen hiker going for two or three weeks. Stunning views of craggy peaks and glacial lakes with be interspersed with difficult scree scrambles up and down steep valley walls.

Other than the beginning day of the hike you will probably see few people. You really need to be prepared for the worst in terms of weather and possible injury; having a hiking partner or knowing that there are other hikers coming up behind is always a good thing!

I had my Spot Connect, a GPS tracker and SOS device.  While I did start off  my hikes on my own, in all cases I ended up walking with another person or two and occasionally looked out for them on the trail when we got separated.

Refugio Italia and Laguna Negra

I used the refugios – and the tenting spots nearby  – as the end points for each day’s hike. Knowing that a foam mattress in a mountain hut is available in case the weather turns bad is always a comforting thought! Luckily the weather during the ten days I spent in the Bariloche area was a succession of sunny days with little wind and not a spot of rain. It isn’t always going to be that way!

My time in San Martin de los Andes, however, was marked by steady rain and high winds and much cooler temperatures. Up on the slopes of Volcan Lanín some ten to fifteen centimeters of snow fell. Needless to say, I did not do my Lanín  climb!  I did, however, get  to know San Martin very well during my four-day stay!

above Laguna Toncek – scampering up the valley to the Laguna Schmoll

a look back at the trail I have just walked from Refugio Italia (Manfredo Segre)

If you want to get more details on either the Nahuel Huapi Traverse or the hike up to the Refugio Otto Meiling, clicking on any of the titles below will take you to the specific post –

Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day by Day Posts

See also –

Tronador at dusk

Cerro Tronador at dusk from the edge of the glacier

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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!



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 that starts shortly after the boathouse.


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.


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. (Note: I had started on the right side of the chart and was making my way to the left side.)

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 

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Cycling Around Tasmania – Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain

Previous Post: From Deloraine To Gowrie Park Via Sheffield

Click on the More Options prompt to get the full screen view.


I got up to blue skies at Gowrie Park’s Wilderness Village and headed for the kitchen area for breakfast.  The sliced whole wheat bread and peanut butter and fruit juice from the previous day’s visit to the IGA in Sheffield were followed by a mug of instant coffee.  After I dropped off the key at the reception desk, it was time to get rolling.

As the elevation chart above shows, the gentle uphill on first setting out was followed by an exhilarating but short descent down to the River Forth. In the satellite view below you can see the switchback making its way down to the River Forth; you can also see the bridge that crosses the river.

What you can’t see is the amount of energy I expended moving myself and the loaded bike (36 kg. or 80 lbs. in total!) up a seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks! Definitely the most difficult climb – a sustained one hour – since I had left Hobart!


from Gowrie Park to the bridge over the River Forth

The one good thing was that there was very little traffic on the road. I had thought that given that Highway C136 goes right by Cradle Mountain it would be busier; perhaps the fact that it was a Tuesday morning in autumn with schools back in session explain the lack of traffic.

Hwy C132 switchback on the way to Cradle Mountain

Hwy C136 switchbacks on the way to Cradle Mountain

looking back at a bit of uphill on C136

looking back at a bit of  C136

When I got to the junction of C136 with C132 I stopped at the Cradle Forest Inn for my reward – a second cup of coffee. It would have made an alternative stop to Gowrie Park, albeit at $140. a night instead of the $10. for my unpowered tent site!  I enjoyed the ambiance and chilled for a bit before getting back to the job at hand – getting to Cradle Mountain and the Discovery Parks property.

approaching the junction of C136 and C132

approaching the junction of C136 and C132

looking out from the Cradle Forest Inn's restaurant area

looking out from the Cradle Forest Inn’s restaurant area

the view from the back porch of the Cradle Forest Inn

the view from the back porch of the Cradle Forest Inn

Tasmanian wines on display at the Cradle Forest Inn

Tasmanian wines on display at the Cradle Forest Inn

For some reason I thought the climbing was done when I got to the junction and had my little break.  Not quite!  Still another 300 meters to gain – and lose and then take back again.  Back on the road again here is what was on the menu for the next 1 1/2 hours –


For the last 12 km of the ride the terrain was basically flat and the road took me across a treeless plateau.  It looked like there had been a fire in the area in the past decade or so. Again, without really trying, I was getting lots of pics with no vehicles in them!

on Hwy C136 to Cradle Mountain

on Hwy C132 to Cradle Mountain

road sign on C136 on the way to Cradle Mountain

road sign on C132 on the way to Cradle Mountain

a flat stretch of road - the C136 to Cradle Mtn.

a flat stretch of road – the C132 to Cradle Mtn.

the Middlesex area on C136 - on the way to Cradle Mtn

the Middlesex area on C132 – on the way to Cradle Mtn.

desolate fields in the Middlesex area near Cradle Mountain

desolate fields in the Middlesex area near Cradle Mountain

I got to the side road that takes you from C132 up to Dove Lake at about 1 p.m. A last bit of uphill and I turned in at the Discovery Parks entrance for the reception office. (It is  3 kilometers in from the highway.) Dove lake is another 8 kilometers or so further along the road.)   I had pre-booked two nights’ accommodation months ago bacon Toronto.  The satellite view below sets the scene –

The road in from C132 to the Discovery Parks Cradle Mountain property - cabins, tenting, caravans

The road in from C132 to the Discovery Parks  property – cabins, tenting, caravans

I was quite impressed with the place – great facilities – showers, gigantic cooking and eating areas,washrooms – everything worked and was well-maintained.  The only thing that didn’t work was the wi-fi.  You realize what an addiction it has become when you sit there with fellow internet junkies in front of the reception office – the only hot spot on the property – and try to get a hit – um, that should read “try to get online”!  it is annoying when a place advertises wi-fi and then does not deliver!



Immediately across from the Discovery Park property is the Welcome Center where you’ll find  a Park store with maps and last minute supplies for hikers doing day and multi-day hikes in the park. You also buy your park pass here.  Connected to it is a restaurant.

Out back in the parking lot are shuttle buses that leave from here  for Dove Lake and other stops along the way.  The actual park boundary is two kilometers down the road from the Visitors Center.

The shuttle service is meant to encourage to park their vehicles – especially their campers – and make use of the buses and thus cut down on traffic congestion. It has apparently cut down traffic by about a third. At Dove Lake there is a parking lot that private vehicles can drive to but it is often full in the prime time summer season.


From Discovery Park on the right to Dove Lake on the left via Park bus

It was a bit late to be setting off for Dove Lake by the time I got myself set up at my tent spot so I decided to leave it for the next morning. I planned to the day off the saddle and in my hiking boots walking the trail around Dove lake and maybe to the top of Cradle Mountain itself.

The next morning I would get my own version of the iconic shot of the boat house on Dove Lake with Cradle Mountain in the background!

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed

Next Post: A Day Off The Saddle – Ramblin’ Around Dove Lake

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Cycling Around Tasmania – From Deloraine To Gowrie Park via Sheffield

Previous Post: Launceston To Deloraine – An Easy 50 km Sunday Morning Ride

Click on the More options prompt on the top left corner for a full screen view.

I left my Meander riverside campsite by 8:30  on Monday morning and found a restaurant on Emu Bay Road. A cup of coffee and a quick nibble and it was off for the morning’s ride.  The goal for the day was a tent spot at Gowrie Park but I would first cycle to Sheffield for lunch.  The elevation chart above shows the morning ride through genteel Tassie farm country. I saw very little traffic on the road, even on the A1 that I followed from Deloraine to just before Elizabethtown.  The B and C series roads were even quieter.

I wondered where all the other cyclists were!  My seventh day on the road from Hobart and I had only seen one solo American cyclist in Triabunna and a Canadian couple at St. Helens putting their bike on the bus. That was it – far fewer fellow cyclists than I figured I’d see!


Early morning scene on the road from Deloraine to Elizabethtown


a stretch of the B13 to Sheffield

The B13 took me on a long downhill to the Mersey River.  At the Mersey River I made a sharp left turn on to C156 (Bridle Track Road) which eventually runs into B14 perhaps 3 kilometers from Sheffield. Given I was in the middle of farm country it was no surprise to learn that Sheffield is a farm supply center for the region.

late summer fields near Sheffield Tasmania

late summer fields near Sheffield, Tasmania

fields, farm sheds, and pond near Sheffield in Tasmania

fields, farm sheds, and pond near Sheffield in Tasmania

approaching Sheffield - watch for equestrians!

approaching Sheffield – watch for equestrians!


Sheffield, Tasmania intersection Main and High Streets

Sheffield, Tasmania intersection Main and High Streets

I cycled down Main Street looking for a cup of coffee and a wi-fi connection so I could check my email. I found it at Fudge ‘n’ Good Coffee, a popular spot with a steady steam of tourists coming in.


Lunch and email done, I had to check out the wall murals for which the town has become famous.  On another bicycle tour on Vancouver Island back in 2001 I had cycled through Chemainus and been impressed with the murals scattered around the downtown area. It was part of an effort to revitalize the town and create a tourist attraction at the same time and it worked. Well, apparently Sheffield heard of the project and applied the idea to their own town. As the Lonely Planet Guide to Tasmania (2015) notes –

Sheffield is now a veritable outdoor art gallery, with more than 50 fantastic large-scale murals and an annual painting festival to produce more.

equestrian theme on Sheffield street mural

equestrian theme on Sheffield street mural

I spent about an hour walking around and framing shots of various murals that caught my eye – lots of nostalgia and creativity and a bit of whimsy were on display!



Sheffield Bible College Wall Mural – As you sow, so shall ye reap.


Sheffield Tasmania mural of Thylacine

Sheffield Tasmania mural -

Sheffield Tasmania mural – “Celebrating Community”

outdoors wall mural in Sheffield Tasmania

Sheffield mural - The Blacksmith Shop

Sheffield mural – The Blacksmith Shop

Main street Sheffield Tasmania

Main street Sheffield Tasmania

After a quick visit to the local IGA for some fresh fruits, nuts, and water it was time to finish off the day with the ride to Gowrie Park. It started with a slight climb on my way out of Sheffield and then after a nice ride downhill to the Dasher River was followed by a slight uphill all the way to the Wilderness Village and my tent spot.  Shower and laundry facilities, as well as a small kitchen/eating area  with microwave and kettle and dishes – all very well looked after – not a bad base camp if you wanted to stop and do some day hikes in the immediate area.

Sheffield-Gowrie Park elevation chart

Sheffield-Gowrie Park elevation chart

leaving Sheffield for Gowrie Park - a bit of a downhill

leaving Sheffield for Gowrie Park – a bit of a downhill to the Dasher River

a view from the road of farm fields near Gowrie Park

a view from the road of farm fields near Gowrie Park

That evening I wandered down the road from the Wilderness Park to a nearby restaurant,  Weindorfer’s. (It was up for sale when I was there in March 2016 and may be under new ownership.)  While there was nothing vegetarian indicated on the menu –  a common theme in Tasmania –  the kitchen did put together a simple pasta with vegetables dish that hit the spot.

abandoned farm house at Gowrie Park

abandoned farm-house at Gowrie Park

Below is a satellite view of Mount Roland (4045’/1233m), a part of the Great Western Tiers that I had first looked at from Deloraine the previous afternoon.  There is a hiking trail that takes you up to the ridge.


The total distance as an out-and-back from Gowrie Park is about 16km with an elevation difference of about 900 meters.  The  round trip time from the car park is about six hours, including breaks.  Apparently the face of Mount Roland even has rock climbing potential  – see here for some challenging route ideas that I googled my way into.

Mount Roland behind the Gowrie Park tent site

Mount Roland behind the Gowrie Park tent site

Tempting but not possible  –  I would not be hiking up to the top the next morning.  I had already prepaid a tent site at Cradle Mountain for the next two nights so I had to stay on schedule!  A good thing too since Cradle Mountain was completely booked when I arrived.

But, of course, the price of prearranged accommodation is that it does not allow sudden changes in plans if you come across worthwhile options that you could not have been aware of when you first made them.

Coming up – Cradle Mountain and a chance to slip on those hiking boots for a morning’s walk around Dove Lake. But first – I had to get there.


Next Post: From Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain 

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Cycling Around Tasmania – Launceston To Deloraine


Sunday morning is my favourite time to be on the road; the absence of traffic makes for a stress-free ride.  The week before I had left Tasmania’s largest city – Hobart – on a  Sunday morning; now I was doing it again but from Launceston, the second largest of the island’s towns. From my backpackers’ hostel I found my way to Westbury Road by 8:00 a.m. and followed it up to the top of a steep climb out of town – see the elevation chart above! – until it becomes B54. Thirty minutes on the road and I had done the day’s major climb!  For the rest of the three-hour ride, the terrain was pretty much flat and I found myself in Deloraine before noon.

an empty Sunday morning road on the way to Deloraine

an empty Sunday morning road on the way to Deloraine

B54 passes through a number of tiny hamlets and by expansive farm fields.  It was March so harvest time had come and gone. I framed the flat road and an occasional herd of dairy cattle in my camera viewfinder to capture the essence of the day’s ride.  Given that the A1 – a major thoroughfare – is nearby, the secondary roads I was cycling remained all but empty the whole way to Deloraine.

B54 route sign - Deloraine 39 km

B54 route sign – Deloraine 39 km

Meander Valley fields on an overcast Sunday morning in March

Meander Valley fields on an overcast Sunday morning in March

Meander Valley -flat road through farm country

Meander Valley – flat road through farm country

another B54 distance marker in the Meander Valley

another B54 distance marker in the Meander Valley

At 9:00 or so I cycled through Carrick and the Inn pictured below.  A cup of coffee – Down Under I’ve learned to order  a flat white with soy milk – would make a nice reward for the early start to the day!  Unfortunately,  the restaurant was not yet open for Sunday business; staff was still cleaning up the Saturday night mess!

The Carrick Inn on B54 - too early for Sunday morning eats

The Carrick Inn on B54 – too early for Sunday morning eats

Off to the next possibility just a minute or two down the road –  The Mill Inn.  The lines slashed through the food and beverage part of their offerings made it clear that there would be no flat white here either.

Carrick's The Mill Inn - closed!

Carrick’s The Mill Inn – closed!


Not far after Carrick The Meander Valley Road (B54) crosses over the Bass Highway (A1) and continues almost all the way to Deloraine. The satellite view below has B54 crossing above A1 in the middle of the image; the patchwork of farm fields captures the essential nature of the region.


B54 overpass - A1 underneath

B54 overpass – A1 (Bass Highway)  underneath

dairy herd in the fields before Deloraine

dairy herd in the fields before Deloraine

Just before The Meander Valley Road gets to Deloraine it merges with the A5, which then takes you right to the bridge crossing the Meander River and into downtown Deloraine.

Draped over hills beside the Meander River, DELORAINE is a pleasant spot on the route west. The area was settled by Europeans in the 1830s, but Deloraine was a late-starter, developing from 1846, and today it’s National Trust classified, its backstreets stuffed with historic houses. But don’t let that put you off – architecture is only a backdrop to this town’s quietly bohemian vibe. Numerous arts and crafts galleries line the streets – for a taster there’s Deloraine Creative Studios … the outlet for several local producers, and the largest of the many shops in town.  Rough Guides Snapshot. “Rough Guides Snapshot Tasmania. (2014)


I headed for the Deloraine Apex Caravan Park.  The main office for the Park is in a bungalow across the street from the caravan and tent site. I paid my $10. and got my key to access the various facilities – showers, toilets, cooking area – and then walked my loaded bicycle down to the Meander River.  I found a nice sheltered spot under the tree pictured in the image below.  Once the tent was up I unpacked the sleeping bag and inflated the Thermarest pad.  After rambling around the park for a while – there is a bridge that takes you to the other side for a different perspective – it was time to focus on essentials.  Coffee and food on main street!


The Deloraine Apex Caravan Park – campers along the Meander River

Deloraine Apex Caravan Park - my tent spot on the banks of the Meander River

Deloraine Apex Caravan Park – my tent spot on the banks of the Meander River

Meander River reeds and reflections

Meander River reeds and reflections

I left my bike at the tent site and made my way up the hill on West Goderich Street to the main drag – Emu  Bay Road.  The one thing Deloraine does have was nice views of  The Great Western Tiers, a set of hills in the hazy distance.  Okay, so it’s not the Himalayas but still – it does introduce a bit of drama in an otherwise fairly tame landscape. (I would be looking for other words  later in the journey at Cradle Mountain and then at Strahan on the West Coast – not tame!)

The next day I would be camping underneath Mount Roland, one of the bumps or ridges on the horizon that I viewed from the back porch of the Great Western Tiers Visitor Centre on Emu Bay Rd.;  the Centre is worth a visit thanks to informative displays and lots of tourist info and helpful staff.


Quamby Bluff – a view from Deloraine

The Gog Range and Mount Roland in the afternoon haze from Deloraine.jpg

The Gog Range and Mount Roland in the afternoon haze from Deloraine

In retrospect, Deloraine would have made a good spot to stop for lunch and take in the views I framed above but as for that “quietly bohemian vibe” mentioned in the Rough Guide review –  I wasn’t feeling it!  There is “laid back” and then there’s “dead”.

Perhaps the fact that it was a sleepy Sunday afternoon in autumn explains the nothing-happening feel of the place.  Another 40 kilometers – two and half hours – and I would have been in Sheffield by mid-afternoon in what seemed to me a  more interesting little town with more to look at and with more restaurants open past 5 p.m.

Next Post: Deloraine To Gowrie Park Via Sheffield

Posted in bicycle touring, Tasmania | Leave a comment

The Ojibwe Rock Paintings of Killarney’s Collins Inlet

Related Post:  Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

N.B. The post above is one of two on our mini canoe trip around Philip Edward Island. In it I devoted some space to the pictographs of the Collins Inlet site.  What you’ll see below is just the section on the pictographs, expanded and updated.  If you are interested in the logistics of the canoe trip, check out the post above – and Part One.


On the last day of the four we spent paddling around Killarney’s Philip Edward Island we paddled the western section of Collins Inlet from Mill Lake back to the Chikanishing parking lot. This “inside passage” from Beaverstone Bay all the way across the north side of Philip Edward Island was a favourite of the voyageurs of old, as it gave them a brief respite from the potentially turbulent waters of Georgian Bay.

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site

Just beyond Ambush Narrows, said to be the site of an Ojibwe ambush of invading Iroquois warriors during the Algonquian/Iroquoian War of the mid-1600’s, we paddled up to the Collins Inlet pictograph site.


On a twelve-meter (about 40′) stretch of the rock face pictured above and below are faded red ochre rock paintings left by Ojibwe shamans or vision quest-ers sometime in the last three or four hundred years. They are not easy to see and, in fact, we did not see all of them on our visit. The reason – we only learned about their existence afterward. We would have looked a bit harder had we known!

looking west the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

looking west  at the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

Indian Rock Paintings of the Great LakesTo understand the site and its images, I turned to two sources.  The first was Selwyn Dewdney and the 1962 first edition of his  Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes (Click on the title to access the text.) Dewdney visited the area in 1959.  The book has a sketch of the site and a brief description of the some of the pictographs.

discovering-rock-art-cover_300x454The other source was  Discovering Rock Art: A Personal Journey With Tribal Elders,  a study of a dozen Ontario Anishinaabe rock image sites by Thor Conway.  It was published in the fall of 2016 – i.e. after our trip.  Conway worked at the site on at least a couple of occasions in the 1980’s (1983 and 1989). I’ll use Conway’s organizational approach to examine the site more closely. He discusses the site in terms of four “panels” with each panel being a distinct collection of one or more rock paintings. Panel I is the furthest to the east and Panel IV is about twelve meters to the west.

As for Dewdney, of the more than 260 sites he would eventually visit,  the Collins Inlet site was #39.  He was there early in the summer in 1959, having been at Mazinaw Lake (#37, #38) in the days  just before. He would go from Collins Inlet up to Temagami to see the Diamond Lake site (#40) afterwards.

Here is Dewdney’s description of the site. He approached it from the west so the first panel he describes – one solitary image – is Panel IV in Conway’s analysis.

The Collins Bay site is in the conventional red again, on the rock-lined inner passage that the voyageurs used when Georgian Bay got too rough for comfort. Here is an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site. Here again is our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird, and tally marks, I should judge, rather than the alternative canoe.

He includes the following sketch in his book (See pp. 92-93 for the sketch and text.)


And that is it for his treatment of the site.  Missing from his sketch is what Conway identified as Panel I; also missing is any discussion of the other images in the vertical collection of Panel II.

On our visit to the site, the image below captures all of what we were able to see. We saw Panel II with its four levels of pictographs, one on top of the other.  About three feet to the left of this vertical panel is what Conway labels as Panel III, a lone thunderbird image, barely discernible.

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Panel I:

We did not see Panel I on our visit.  It is not in the above image, but to the right (i.e. east) and down closer to the waterline.  Conway’s sketch of the image is accompanied by a quote from Joe Wabegijig of Manitoulin Island,  who first saw the pictographs in 1901 when he was twelve.   We learn of the Panel I image  that “…there was a head with horns also marked in red.”  Conway notes that it is possibly a  large head or mask but does concede that it may be something else entirely.

Panel II:

the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

Panel II: the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

This is the largest of the site’s panels.  Dewdney comments only on the bottom image.  I count twelve lines in his sketch.  As he mentions, an alternative explanation is of a canoe with riders, indicated by the vertical lines.  I’d go with the canoe.  A calcite vein interrupts the canoe but you can see the continuation on the bottom right of the image above with four more riders indicated.

This canoe image is a common one in the Canadian Shield pictograph country and is often interpreted as a war canoe with a number of warriors and as a symbol of strength and power. This could be why it appears so close to Ambush Narrows, given its association with a bloody Anishinaabe encounter with Iroquois raiders from the south.  Conway labels it as a canoe in his discussion of the panel.

Above the canoe is an image which most will assume is that of the Christian cross.  If it is indeed a cross then the question arises – is it really the Christian cross?  Some have argued that it is an ancient symbol used by the Midewiwin, the exclusive society of Ojibwe “medicine men” to indicate the fourth degree of attainment.  Others argue that the Medewiwin itself was a post-contact nativist response to the incoming Europeans and that it repurposed the cross, an obvious power symbol to the Europeans, and gave it a Ojibwe-related meaning.   See here for further discussion of this contentious issue!

Of the Christian interpretation Thor Conway concludes –

This is unlikely. When you look for identical images at other Ojibwa rock art sites, you will find almost every example is painted above or below an animal image. This remains an intriguing and, as yet unexplained clue.

In looking at it I thought that it looked like a stylized and simple representation of a bird, an eagle (a totem symbol)  perhaps or even Animikii, the Thunderbird. As opposed to a simple “plus sign”,  the image bulges in the vertical middle and the top of the vertical line seems to have a beak point to the right.  Dewdney unfortunately does not comment on this image or the ones above it in this panel.

Update: here is a version of the image I played around with in Adobe Lightroom, hoping to simulate the DStretch effect.  I altered the saturation and emphasized the ochre hue.  The result?  The beak looking to the right that I thought I was seeing is not there!


Above the Animikii or cross image is what appears to be the rather rectangular and headless body of an animal.  At the rear is an upright tail . Conway identifies it as a dog.  I thought it could be a crude representation of Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx.  To the left of the raised tail of the animal is a remnant of what could be a canoe image.

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake picto at Diamond Lake

The zig zag lines at the very top of this small panel – well, again, who can say.  In Dewdney’s sketch they appear as indistinct smudges.  Of the jumble of lines Conway makes the following – a possible “shorebird track” and a canoe with paddler image. Bird footprints also  appear at the Diamond Lake site. They may be statements of clan affiliation. What also appears at the Temagami-area site is  the horned snake image. Perhaps the zig zag lines depicts a more horizontal version of  the two-horned snake (Mishiginebig  in Ojibwe) often depicted along with Mishipeshu.  Its head and horns would be at the right side – i.e. the part of the rock painting that Dewdney did capture. It is the horned snake image at Diamond Lake in Temagami that I thought of as I tried to make sense of the zig zag lines here.

N.B.  The analysis I provided above is likely off the mark! (Editor: Likely! Try 100%. While Animikii, Mishipeshu, and Mishiginebig are indeed figures from Ojibwe myth and were common subjects to be painted,  the human mind has a knack for finding , even  imposing,  meaning and connection even on events and markings that have nothing to do with what the viewer wills them to be!

Panel III:

To the left of the vertical panel is a lone painting seen in the image below described by Dewdney as “our ubiquitous—though somewhat battered thunderbird“.  Looking at Dewdney’s sketch of the image, he was not able to capture much of it the day he was there.  Perhaps the angle of the sun?   Animikii’s body is  a triangle shape; the beak on top faces to  the right.

Collins Inlet - lone Thunderbird pictograph

Collins Inlet – lone Thunderbird pictograph

Ojibwa shoulder bag - main panel

See here for image source.

As a point of comparison, here is an Ojibwa leather medicine bag from 1820 Ontario.  It features  the thunderbird in the middle of the panel, facing in the same direction as the one on the Collins rock.  It is flanked on the left by a turtle (a possible clan indication), a possible bird claw print,  and on the right a human figure.  As well, the two circles, signs of spiritual power, sit above Animikii, and bring to mind their use by Norval Morrisseau in many of his paintings.

Panel IV:

dewdney-quetico-lake-picto-site-animal-headA pictograph we did not see at all was the one Dewdney described as ” an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site“.  I looked through his sketches and found this one from the mentioned Quetico Lake site; it was of the head and antlers of a woodland caribou.

Quetico Lake caribou head

Quetico Lake caribou head

But – Woodland caribou in Killarney?  Conway includes interviews with a number of Ojibwe elders who have stories going back to the mid-1800’s when the caribou was in fact a part of the ecosystem of the area. A reader of this post was kind enough to send me a photo of the Panel IV caribou head.

Collins Inlet - Panel IV - caribou head

Collins Inlet – Panel IV – caribou head

He also sent a version of the image that had been processed using a pictograph enhancing application called DStretch.  Seeing what it does makes me realize that I need to get a copy of the app too!  What is really necessary are DStretch-ed versions of all the panels!

The antlers are not as dramatic as those on the Quetico Lake caribou head but other aspects of the representation correspond. Conway’s book also includes photos of the rice paper drawings he made on site of the caribou head – and of an almost vertical ocher slash located above the caribou head.  The bottom of this slash may appear in the image below.


And that is it for the Collins Inlet Pictograph Site.  Here is an overview shot I took of the rock face with the various markings indicated.  Missing from it are Panel I (somewhere to the bottom right) and Panel IV. ( It  is just to the left on the image I framed.)   Already knowing that they are there will hopefully make it that much more likely that you will see them!


As indicated above, there is some minor evidence of graffiti a few feet to the left of (or west of) the Panel III Thunderbird image. You can see the initials J.P. in the middle. Just above them is the year number 1939 and more initials.

Conclusion – Conway’s Four Panels: 

After looking over the photos we took at the site and taking into account information gleaned and received since our visit, I can now identify the four panels that Conway uses to discuss the site.  I’ve left in some of the tree growth in the rock face on either end to help as initial markers as you hone in on the various panels.


Collins Inlet Pictograph Site – enlarge with a click or two

These pictographs face south and are quite exposed. Given all the human activity in the Inlet since they were painted here with the mixture of ground hematite and fish oil some three to four hundred years ago or so, it is nice to see that their presence has been respected by almost all non-Anishinaabe passerby going all the way back to Samuel de Champlain in 1615 (though his trip down the Inlet may have pre-dated their painting).

Conway does record a brief statement by  one elder from Manitoulin Island about a supposed attempt by Jesuit priests living in the Wikwemikong community – when is not stated –  to erase one of the images –

And the priest kind of doubted that this thing could be washed off. They [the priests] tried to scrub it, and done everything else try to get it off. Never took anything off of it. It’s still there. (155)

In the end we just appreciate the fact that we can sit in our canoe in the same spot that an Ojibwe shaman sat or stood in as he dipped his fingers in the powdered hematite/fish oil mixture and reached out to the rock face intent on drawing specific images taken from his culture’s mythological image bank.


Dewdney’s “Astonishing Serpent” Image:

In his 1959 season Dewdney continued the search to the east of the Collins Inlet site.  He writes –

Farther east, I had no success in finding “an astonishing serpent” referred to in Harmon’s Journal, presumed to be in the vicinity of Grondines Point. In ’59 I flew over the area, a complex labyrinth of small islands and shoals, all seeming to shelve gently into the water.

It is likely that Dewdney was looking in the wrong place.  Daniel Harmon’s journal entries for May 26 to May 29, 1800 indicate that he was on the north shore of Lake Huron on May 26 near the Serpent River mouth.


Scratched into the lichen on a rock face near the mouth of the Serpent River was that “astonishing serpent” that Dewdney was looking for. See here for a brief article by Thor Conway in the March/April 1985 issue of the newsletter “Arch Notes”  of  the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Was J.J. Bigsby Referring To The Collins Inlet Site?

There is, however, another reference to a pictograph site in the Point Grondine area that Dewdney may have had in mind though it does not mention “an astonishing serpent”.  In 1850 J.J. Bigsby, an English physician and geologist, published a two-volume account of his travels in Canada in the 1820’s titled  Shoe And Canoe. Of his route up Lake Huron he  noted the following –


Source of quote here

A pictograph site in the immediate vicinity of Point Grondine  has yet to be found.  However, if  22 kilometers qualifies as “not far hence” then perhaps Bigsby was relaying an account he had heard about the Collins Inlet site. It is clear from the text that their route did not in fact take them through the inlet; he mentions the Fox Islands as their next landmark.


As for us, we were headed west!  As we paddled down the Inlet away from the pictographs our thoughts turned to something more mundane – fish and chips at the “World Famous” stand/restaurant in Killarney!   Now we were motivated to finish off our canoe trip and drive into town, a few kilometers from the Chikanishing Road parking lot.

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Related Posts:

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

Posted in Pictographs of the Canadian Shield, wilderness canoe tripping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 – 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 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.

Posted in Easy Travelling, hiking/trekking, Sri Lanka | Leave a comment

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.


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.  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

Then 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!


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 Pada 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


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!



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 Bonsai 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 viewpoint 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)

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