Milford Sound and the Hollyford Track: Bush Men, Brush, and Bullish Seals.

Fiordlands National park is home to the famous Milford Sound. The drive through the park it worth your time alone as the road coming in serpentine through lush forest, snow-capped mountains and endless cliff faces gushing huge waterfalls as if the rocks themselves were sobbing. All this can be seen simply from the road but for a trip that requires a bit more work head toward the Hollyford Track located at the northern part of the park. We set about our 6 day 140k loop trek in good weather but forgetting a few essential items… most notably a pot to cook all of our delicious ramen in. The first stretch of the hike is easy and straight forward as it takes you through neutral terrain dipping through forests giving you a chance to spot hidden waterfalls and many of NZ’s bountiful bird species. Our first day ended at the DOC managed Alabaster hut which was beyond fancy. It was there that we realized we had forgotten our pot and decided to go for a swim in lake Alabaster to hopefully get some creative juices flowing to try to remedy our cooking problem. We swam till we could no longer take the horrible sand fly menace (10 minutes) and returned to the hut with an idea. use our empty tin cans on the burner hobo style to cook the food. While it was not the most efficient way to do things it was certainly effective. Upon chowing down on dinner we flipped through the hut sign in book and saw lists of comments about a fabled bush man. “Go with the Bush Man” “Fishing with Bruce the Bush Man, go if you can”. Not sure what to make of the comments we hit the hay in hopes of another day with equally good weather. We awoke the next day to stomping outside the hut. An older German man looked up at me and said “The Bush Man is here”. In walked Bruce, the most Kiwi looking Bush Man I have ever seen. Gummie boots, short so short he looked naked with his coat on and a big scraggly beard almost as big as his smile and sense of humor.

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For our loop hike we opted to start with the Big Bay loop track from Alabaster. Signs at Alabaster said that the track was overgrown and suitable to experienced hikers only. We figured this was nothing but overly cautious smoke and mirrors and went for it anyway. We mentioned to Bruce that we were headed up the Big Bay track and he offered us a ride in his rubber boat which we gladly accepted. The trip even included a brief stop at his hut. It was a slow boat ride as we were at capacity with our bags but the slowness was no problem as the trip across the crystal clear water and multiple waterfalls was a joy to experience.

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Bruce was a hard-core character. He spent the winters out in the Fiordlands as a possum trapper and regaled us with trapper tales. At the entrance of his hut he comically displayed a sign saying “no junk mail” and something about “Sax Country”. Now Bruce told us the tales of Sax. In my mind he was like a non environmentalist Ed Abbey of the Fiordlands. We hear stories of incredible helicopter hunting trips that ended with 100s of invasive deer being killed.  While I did not fully understand the significance of this Sax charactor it was clear that he embodied a kind of wild west attitude to the trapping out in the Fiordlands. eternally grateful and after some more chit-chat we parted ways and started walking towards our next hut. Despite having a good chunk of the days walking knocked out by Bruce’s boat ride we moved very slowly. The track was indeed overgrown and we spent a lot of time engaged in some serious route finding as hiking through the bush allowed for little to know visibility. Just before sundown we arrived at our hut for the night and goofed around on the old mining trolley cart used to cross the river. It was rust but a whole lot of fun.

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We started the next day early as we had been told we would have to traverse the black marsh. However, keeping with out boat luck from the previous day some kind jet boaters gave us a ride past the Marsh. This was a god send because despite leave early and having a boat ride past the hardest part it to us the entire day to reach the Ocean and the Big Bay hut. The views were beautiful and crossing the river was good fun but I can see how the trail could be especially hazardous if conditions were rainy. In fact knowing what I know now I would not attempt to take the track if it had recently rained as the river level and swamp sections could lead to some seriously sketchy situations. We reached Big Bay just in time to enjoy the sunset and a heaping bowl of hot ramen.

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Ecstatic that we had finally left the bush we enjoyed a slow morning as the hike from Big Bay to Martins bay was along the beach for the whole day so route finding would be simple. At first we were happy to have left the bush but as we continued along the beach the path became more and more rocky and even included some reasonable sea cliff scrambling due to the tide. It hurt our ankles but it was good fun seeing the crash of the waves and yellow eyed penguins hopping ashore. The beauty quickly turned to fear as we stumbled into a seal colony but made it out safe and sound with a bit of beach side boulder navigation.  The following three days of hiking were beautiful but less than interesting in terms of adventure. Simple trail, lakes, waterfalls, and gorgeous peaks. The standard NZ affair. Attached are a few photos.

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Utah: Final Dispatches

When out traveling it is easy to rationalize that while you miss home you are likely putting it on a pedestal and the feelings of comfort, joy, and excitement you get from the thought will slowly fade after the first week of being home. Much like the scene from 500 Days of Summer where expectations and realities are juxtaposed next to one another and the realities are lack luster at best, coming home can feel the same. I however, am a lucky man… The luckiest man on earth I would even say. I have been back home in Utah for two months now and leave for New Zealand tomorrow and I am still excited and amazed by Utah’s beauty each and everyday.  I had the good fortune to finally climb the 22 pitch 5.11 monster that is Squaw Struck with my climbing partner Michael (A goal of mine that has been on the table for years), trips to Joes Valley, and endless amounts of fun during a tour of Utah’s National parks with a former guide buddy of mine.

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City of Rocks – Idaho

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Joes Valley – Utah

Having lived in Utah nearly all my life I like to think I have a reasonable grasp on the opportunities and cool activities in the area. Theoretically this is true but I did not really believe it till I went on my road trip through Goblin Valley, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion. We started our trip in Goblin near the Swell where we did some rappelling and Canyoning before moving on to the Cottonwood Wash outside Capitol Reef. Most people when they visit Utah look only at the National Parks and miss out on much of what makes Utah truly amazing… its National Forrests and  State Parks. On the incredible drive from Capitol reef to Bryce through Escalante you will encounter incredible views and months worth of Canyoning and hiking opportunities all with virtually none of the crowds common in the National Parks (cough Zion cough).

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Ding and Dang – The Swell

There is not much more to say other than I love this state and I love my home and while I am excited to head to New Zealand. This will not be the last you hear about Utah.

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190ft Arch Rap

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Angels Landing – Zion

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Boulder Mountain

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Potentially a California Condor (someone correct me) atop Angels Landing

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Kolob Canyon – Zion

Las Moyas: Boulders Behind Bogotá 

Last weekend I was looking for the easiest way to get to the La Calera boulders in hopes that I could do some pebble wrestling. During my search I encountered some videos of people boulder in a place called Las Moyas located behind Bogota with trail access from Rosales.


Trail map


The hike was steep and maybe not the best approach for people trying to get a quick bouldering session in but from what I could tell there is a much easier approach from the La Calera side. I was excpecting there to be other boulders up there but when I arrived there was nobody. I asked the police if it was ok if I climbed the rocks and used chalk and they said it was all good and enjoyed watching me boulder for an hour or so. 


Despite having seen videos of people climbing in Las Moyas I saw no sign of bouldering routes, chalk or otherwise. Which is strange because with a little bit of work this could be a fun little bouldering spot as the holds are great allowing for countless V0-V3 opportunities. That being said the holds need to be cleaned a bit but with time and work it could be something special. I worked a couple of routes all with sit starts with two of them being reasonably fun. I will upload the boulder problems to MTN Project sooner than later. Until then here are some fotos of the bounding possibilities.


Additionally information about hiking in he area can be found at the Amigos Del Montaña website 

Macheta: It Starts at 11 (video and photos)

I finally snapped. The endless pressure and bubbling anxiety from my CELTA course had reached its peak. It was time to climb. 

My friend Sergio invited me to climb in a small pueblo about two hours out from Bogota and promised big overhangs, guacas (jugs), and hard as hell climbs. He delivered on all three. 


Machete is the Spinal Tap of climbing crags in Colombia. Where Spinal Tap’s amps go to 11 Macheta starts there. There are more than 50 routes in the zone where the lowest grade I saw was a 10c that was as hard as an 11a. In Macheta even the 10’s are 11’s. The rock is steap and overhung and perfect for people who want to warm up on a 12 and project 13’s. AKA not for people like me. That being said if you are a climber looking to push grade this is the place for you. 


At the bottom of the crag is a small hostel where you can get a cheap bed and you might even be fed some delicious sancocho soup after a long hard day. If you have the time to stop by and are a reasonably strong climbing you will have a blast on the rock and with the locals!


I will update the website soon with info on getting there and a list of routes. Till then, choa.

Review: Osprey Farpoint, the best travel bag money can buy

I have spent 10 months with my crimson colored backpackbuddy and the love is as strong as ever. I purchased my Farpoint for my trip from Mexico to Colombia because of its ability to be stored as carry on and because of my experience with other Osprey bags. Little did I know I got far more than what I paid for.

The Bag

The Farpoint is a 40 liter bag which allows you to stow it as carry on most flights. The material is strong, zippers tough and have holes to allow owners to lock pockets with padlocks when you arrive at the hostel or leave the bag at the beach. It’s been 10 months now and I feel that I can carry more than most people do with their 60liter bags. People are always amazed the Farpoint has brought me from Mexico to Colombia. The bag has the best of both worlds as it can be opened like a suitcase making access to cloths and toiletries easy unlike top loaded bags. As you can see from the featured image I was able to fit a harness, 2 pairs of climbing shoes, chacos, pants, puffy, 3 pairs of shorts, jacket, shirts, journal, and other essentials no problems. I can not stress how strong this bag is. It survived countless chicken bus rides, 3 months of use while I was a hiking and climbing guide in Guatemala, endless rain and motorcycle rides in Colombia and even a visit to a glacier. In all this time there are only very small tears in the bag but it has not compromised the integrity yet.


Subtle Beauties

When I see packpakers lugging around 80liter bags filled with garbage they never use I feel grateful that I have such a tiny bag. It forces you to only take the essentials with you (though I have still managed to fit plenty of gifts for friends inside). Like I said, 40liters is more than enough for the typical backpacker. Additionally the bag is small and makes you look less like a tourist trudging through town with a bag on your back bigger than you are and a bag on your front that screams “please rob me”.

Though the shoulder straps can be a bit uncomfortable if you walk with it for multiple day camping trips (which the bag is NOT designed for but I did anyway while guiding) this is the best bag I have ever owned and can’t recommend it enough.

Macoa: Beauty Amongst Tragedy

To many Macoa exists soley as a small blurb towards the end of their Lonely Planet Colombia guide. Though it occupys a small space in the guide books Macoa has a big heart that is more than worth your time should you choose to visit Colombia. Earlier this year Macoa suffered a catostrophic mud slide that killed more than 300 people. This tragedy unfortunately has repelled tourists in a time where tourism stands to benefit a community in need most. One can see from bridges the destruction wrot by the mighty mudslide. Cloths and parts of houses still sit along the rivers shore. A grim reminder of the power of mother nature. Many are saying the intense rains that triggered the mudslide are further proof of climate changes ability to intensify natural disasters. I am inclined to agree with this point of view and there are even some who say that local mining in the area has weekend the soil leading to the slide. That however, I will leave to real journalists.

 

Despite the horror of such a disaster life goes on. People are happy and welcoming and the nature is as beautiful as ever. I stayed at Hostel Dantayaco just outside of town next to El Fin Del Mundo. For starters the hostel was beautiful, hospitable, and attracted a good group of people. Both staff and guests were exceedling kind and you will have a great day adventuring or spending the day chilling in hammocks. Many tourists of all types visit the area. There are adventurers, bird watchers, and spiritualists all of which will expose you to knew ideas and a great time. Personally, my favorite part was venturing into El Fin Del Mundo. El Fin Del Mundo will cost  you only 3,000 pesos to enter and will lead you to 3 separate waterfalls where you can cliff jump and swim to your jungle hearts content. To top it all off is the final waterfall which is incredibly high and has a spectacular view of the city of Macoa. Fin Del Mundo is far from the only hike in the area but was certainly the most memorable for me.

 

Dont skip Macoa. You wont regret it.

Los Nevados National Park: Palms and Peaks

Los Nevados is a gigantic park located West of Bogota and is accesible from Salento, Manizales, and a few other small towns. It is a park of amazing natural beauty and kind hearted farmers.

 

My journey begins in Salento where I met up with my buddy Kurt who I used to volunteer guide with in Guatemala. Salento is a touristy cozy town located next to the park that boasts plenty of accomodating hostels. While relaxing in Salento make sure to go for a hike to the surrounding rivers, eat some of the deliciously cheap trout (trucha), and kick back with a beer at the main square. While Salento is deserving of a post all its own the true meat of Salento comes from the park Los Nevados.

 

The park is unique in my experience of Colombia because it is one of the few parks where no guide is needed (though they are very helpful). Kurt and I began our day early and left for Cocora Valley (the entrance to the park) from the main square at 8am. Transport was on the back of a jeep and cost about 3,000 COP (1$). There is a standard loop that many tourists do from the hummingbird area to the palm trees. Kurt and I opted for a more intense route.

 


We began by visiting the iconic palm trees first where we then proceeded to cross a few rivers and climb for what seemed like forever to Finca Primavera. It took us 7 hours to arrive at the finca where we were greated with amazing home cooked food and a cozy bed. The next day we explored the incredible vistas and waterfalls and ran into a guide at Finca La Playa who said he could guide us up the Tolima Glaciar.

 

Usually I am not one for guides but this was well worth the money because much of the route we made was done in the middle of the night. We left to scale Tolima at 1am in total darkness and rain. Tolima is the tallest volcano in the park at 5215m (around 17,000ft). After scrambling up light snow and a rock section we reached the Tolima glaciar where we put on our crampons, rope, and ice axes. The rain was clearing and the sun rising. We had an incredible view from the top and even were able to see one of the other volcanos in the park erupting. The weather window was perfect as it started to rain once we began our decent.

 

The downclimb was great because we could finally see the trail we had been hiking the entire time. We even past a point of great interest where we could see the left over tail from a plane that had crashed years ago. We returned to Finca La Playa around noon and took a nap and awoke just in time for dinner.

 

Our original plan was to hike the following day to Termales Cañon, camp, then hike out at Ibague the day after. However, it was raining so hard we decided to head back to salento. If you would like a detailed map for the trail all the way to Ibague I recommend this website. The trail down was absolutely soping wet and was more like skiing than hiking. The river was running so high that we used some folks passing buy on horse to help us get accross. All in all Los Nevados is an incredible park that we only scratched the surface of, as there are many hikes and trails in the area and one can spend weeks exploring these areas. If you would like to see a video of the adventure click here.