Tag Archives: hiking

Conquering Camelback Mountain in Arizona

View from the top of Camelback Mountain

My twin sister decided to introduce me to Camelback, which is a famous mountain – or hill, depending on the mountains you’ve grown up with wherever you live – in Arizona because it resembles a camel lying down in the desert surroundings. It has also gained a reputation for being a rather difficult hike/trek with many people getting hurt and air-lifted off the mountain. As we drove to the trail, my sister told me a story of how ambulances were taking someone away the very first time she was going to hike it. YiKES!

Camelback is so popular that the parking lot fills up rather quickly, leaving many people to park farther down in the neighborhood streets. When we arrived the parking lot was packed and a line of cars were waiting for people to leave for their chance to get a spot. My sister and I opted for the other parking areas. We started driving and saw groups of people running and walking to the trailhead from the parking area, which also turned out to be filled. We had no choice but to park in the rocky landscape with other cars and make the walk to the trailhead. I jokingly told my sister that this could be our warm-up.

I learned from my sister that the hike can take up to 3-hours, so we took a deep breath and braved the porta-potties before starting the hike. According to my sister, there are two sides to climb to the top of Camelback. One is an easy hike with a flat path that only gets a bit dangerous – picture a high-wire, you walk on the edge of the mountain – before you reach the top. The other, which we took, is steep the entire way up and includes lots of boulder hopping.

Hiking Camelback Mountain!

After you climb up the stairs, you get a break on a flat path that winds along a fence that keeps you from falling off the edge before getting to the first of two real steep ascents. Both of these climbs have a steel handle-bar to assist you up the rock’s surface. It is amazing to see how people get up these areas of the hike. Some opt for no handle-bar and literally crawl up while others cling to the fence or bar, and others who are descending are walking backwards holding onto the bar. After each ascent, most hikers take a break to catch their breath and watch the other hikers before getting to the boulder areas.

This was probably my favorite part. You could either go up the boulder crevice or climb the surface of the red rocks next to it. The surface was so flat and had this texture that you could literally stand up straight and walk up it. It looked like you were walking side-ways up this rock, it was brilliant. I was so nervous though that for the first bit of it I clung with my face smashed up to the surface because I didn’t want to fall. With the assurance of my twin sister, I finally stood up half-way up and walked up, feeling the burning in my calves the entire way.

Helicopter hovering while searching for an injured hiker

We venture onward and saw a helicopter making multiple rounds of the mountain, at points hovering. The pilot used its speaker to call out to hikers to assist them in their rescue attempt. “If you are by the injured hiker, please wave your arms.” All the hikers began pointing in the direction of the hiker that they passed during their descent. My sister and I pointed upward after noticing the people helping. We eventually saw the injured girl being nursed by her hiking partners. It appeared as if it was her ankle, which was no surprise because climbing the boulders – and at times jumping from one to the next – could easily lead to your foot slipping.

Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain

My sister told me we were near the top and our speed grew faster during the last portion. Our legs were burning and our breaths were quick, but we reached the apex where a crowd of hikers were resting and eating while enjoying the view. The Christmas tree was still up there along with a few decorated bushes. One group decided to take their Christmas picture for next year. We only had a few minutes of rest before we started our descent. On the way down we saw a girl who had just sprained her ankle a minute prior. She was in tears and being comforted by her friends. We continued on and made sure our feet were firmly planted before pressing on to the next boulder and the next…and the next. It was much faster on the way down and when we reached the wooden stairs, smiles replaced the open mouths that gasped for air the entire way up and down.

Hikers resting and eating snacks on top of Camelback Mountain

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Chasing Waterfalls: La Ruta de Las Cascadas

You can rent a bike in Baños, Ecuador to cycle the route that takes you along the mountains and valleys where numerous waterfalls are located. A majority have tarabitas that you can ride for $1-1.50 USD to get really close to the falls, or to a bridge where you can walk to the waterfalls or even hike. Definitely worth a few hours of your time. Especially the end, where you can see the powerful Pailon del Diablo.

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Why hostels are a lot more all-inclusive than a hotel or resort

the secret garden hostel in the cotopaxi province of ecuador

In the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador is the Secret Garden. It takes a 30 minute taxi ride, then a 45 min bus ride and then another 30 minute truck ride to reach this remote, eden in the middle of vast plains coated in all shades of green and interspersed with rolling  mounds. The red paint of the hostel walls make it stand out vibrantly against its surroundings. Each building serves its own unique purpose: the dormitory for travelers, the camping awnings, the outhouse, the jacuzzi solitude, the stables, the greenhouse and the main building where most of the visitors spend their time. There is a fully-loaded kitchen where chefs are baking all day, the two dining rooms, living room with a fireplace, and the adjacent shower and toilet room, which is connected by a door.

hammocks for guests to relax and enjoy the breath-taking scenery

Why is this hostel loads better than your typical hotel or resort? Because The Secret Garden hostel offers top-notch service, breath-taking views, all meals and provides you with enough daily activities in one complete spot. What hotel or resort could give you a family-like feel the second you step onto the gravel driveway and close the door to the truck that picked you up at the bus stop? None that I can think of off the top of my head. The smiling hostel greeter came out and shook our hands, welcoming us inside while asking numerous questions to get to know us immediately.

We barely had time to set our bags down before she ushered us to the table for lunch: a delicious kale soup and plenty of home-made rolls with currents of steam emanating from their brown edges. As soon as we began slurping she let us know that one of the hostel volunteers would take us on a waterfall hike after we we got the chance to settle into our room. Once again I must ask, has any hotel or resort clerk done this for you? I didn’t think so.

the trekking boot collection at the hostel

The two volunteers took us to our dormitory room and figured out the beds that would be free that night and let us get organized. As soon as we walked back into the main house, we were told to go get our trekking boots. They had plenty to choose from and we each found our size. We were asked if they were comfortable and then set off down the path, over the hills and through an opening in the forest that only a guide would know of its location.

Our boots trekked through streams, over boulders, up hills, through mud, over trees, under trees, down hills, and along cliff sides to see two cascading waterfalls flow into clear ponds. The rushing water couldn’t be heard outside of this hideaway haven of nature that was only being captured by our eyes and lenses. As soon as we left the forest refuge, the candles were being lit and sparkled in the windows of the dining room where the table was being set for dinner. Were candles lit at the last dinner you ate at your resort? Did they even provide a free meal with dessert? Probably not.

one of the waterfalls we saw during the trekk

That evening, a wood-burning fire crackled in the living room where all the hostel guests sat on couches, in chairs and on the rug on the floor journaling, reading, listening to music, looking through pictures and conversing with one another. The hostel owners arrived with their children at that time and welcomed everybody like they were part of their family. The kids ran around playing for a bit before being told to get ready for bed. Last we saw of them was them in their pajamas and bare-feet running off to their bedroom. The hotel volunteers stood up and told us of the itinerary planned for tomorrow. If anyone was interested in  horseback riding they were asked to sign up. My friends and I did. Each only $30. One by one each traveler departed through the bathroom door to get ready for bed.

Soon, we did the same. By the time we got to the dormitory and opened the door we felt the heat embrace us from the burning coals in the heater that warmed our room. We climbed up and slid into our individual bunk beds and enveloped our bodies within the thick, down comforters before we let our heads hit the pillows. Once the last of our bedroom guests did the same, the candles in the windows were blown out and darkness folded over our eyelids.

horseback riding in the cotopaxi province of ecuador (photo: rachel tavel)

In the morning, we ate our breakfast, which was served earlier for those going horseback riding before the regular time. We brushed our teeth and all met at the stables where we selected our horses, were fitted for the stirrups and made sure we were comfortable before setting off on the six-hour ride. We were allowed to go at our own pace, which meant most of us were galloping away.

Once we reached the top of the Rumñahui Mountain, we got to see the Cotopaxi volcano from a closer distance. The guide served us tea and some sort of cake to warm us up because of the freezing and harsh, blowing winds we faced at such a high altitude. Did your hotel or resort hook you up with tours like this? Oh, right, they just passed you a bunch of brochures from other people in the area they most likely know nothing about.

cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world

We were met with fresh rolls and steaming soup once we returned to the hostel. After that, we got in the back of a truck that took us all the way back to Quito for the same price as the taxi and bus. We saved time and our bodies from more pain after six hours in the saddle. My final question is, did your hotel or resort have this much to offer in terms of service and value? Or simply, atmosphere and people?

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Waterfall Trekking & Horseback Riding

My friends and I spent the weekend in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador. It is home to the Cotopaxi volcano, which is the second highest summit in the country. We stayed at the gorgeous Secret Garden hostel, which had a guide take us trekking in the forest and along the streams to waterfalls. We also went horseback riding for six hours up to the top of a mountain for a closer look at the volcano. Here is the video:

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Above the clouds at 14,000+ feet

There’s a point during take-off when the flight attendant comes over the intercom and announces, “We’ve reached 10,000 feet. It is now safe to use all approved portable electronic devices.”

the teleferico ride up pichincha takes about 10 minutes

Well, on the 10 minute Teleferico ride up the Andes mountain range to the inactive Pichincha Rucu volcano (Rucu means “old” in the indigenous language of Quichua), my friends and I passed 10,000 feet and continued up to an altitude of more than 14,000 feet where we were free to roam about the cabin…I mean mountain. We were at a height where we could see planes taking off and flying below us over Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

For $8.50 USD ($4.50 for Ecuadorians), you can ride the cable car, which is located in the vicinity of the Vulcan Theme Park at the base of the mountain, up to the top of Pichincha Rucu and walk around to all the lookout points. If you live in Quito, which I currently do, you live in the Pichincha Province. Many of the provinces in Ecuador are named after the volcanoes located nearby (i.e.Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Imbabura).

the rucu pichincha peak

It is highly recommended to go on a clear day, with blue skies and no clouds because you will be able to see the Avenue of Volcanoes on the horizon. Some of the highest volcanoes in the world are located in Ecuador, most of them still active.

Note: Your ears will pop, and your head will feel the pressure from being up so high. Drinking a lot of water will help. The weather is also much colder at the top so dress appropriately.

I have to mention the danger involved in exploring Pichincha Rucu because it is known by many here and noted in most Ecuadorian guidebooks. Tourists are extremely vulnerable up on the top. There have been robberies and assaults, mainly from those who start hiking from Quito. It is best to hike it with a group of people (at least 3) and on the weekends when there are a lot more people up there. Just be careful and take precautions.

a glimpse of quito below

If you go early in the day, you’ll be able to take the easy 5 hour hike to the Rucu Pichincha peak, which is one of three that are on the Pichincha volcano. The others are: Guagua Pichincha (active volcano) and Padre Encantado.

Otherwise, an afternoon spent walking around and simply admiring the beauty of Quito from an elevation of more than 14,000 feet is just as enjoyable. Getting to see the magnitude of the capital as it stretches in-between the valley of the moutnains is mind-blowing.

Escorted tours are also available.

If you are brave, you can hook your mountain bike up to your Teleferico car and ride the routes down the mountain. There are also horses available for $5/hr, including a hat and poncho, to ride on the trails.

Here is a video of my Pichincha Rucu excursion:

Some more pictures from my excursion.

hats and ponchos for horseback riders

horses are $5/hr to ride on the mountain

breath-taking scenery at pichincha

the rucu pichincha peak in the distance

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In Indiana, Brown County is Very Green

brown county state park

There’s not much provided in the form of activities in the Johnson County area of Indiana. You could “just be” like my mother says they were back in the days growing up in the county. They would bowl with their leagues, go swimming and boating on the lake, and read. During the weekends they would drive up to Indianapolis to go dancing and follow the local bands from hotel lounge to hotel lounge. Of course there are local fairs and festivals, but a trip can’t really be planned around those. Fast-forward to the present and not much has changed, the same bowling alley Hi-Way Lanes still stands. There is Rascals, the local go-kart racetrack that is pretty popular, but my mom says that didn’t exist while she grew up. However, about 30 minutes away, depending on traffic, an active paradise can be found at Indiana’s largest state park in Brown County, which opened in 1929.

The park’s rugged hills and hollows are said to resemble the Smoky Mountains and gained the nickname “the little smokies”. There are two entrances into the nearly 16,000 acre park: the North Gatehouse and the West Gatehouse. I recommend the north entrance off highway IND 135 & 46 because you get to pass through a covered brige, which crosses over Salt Creek. A lot of covered bridges are hard to see these days, being torn down or replaced with modern bridges that are more structurally safe.

the covered bridge to the north entrance to the park

The park entrance fee is $5 for in-state visitors and $7 for those out-of-state. Visitors can find plenty of camping and picnic areas around the hills and among the trees that cover the park. For those just exploring the park for the day or afternoon, there are vistas that offer breath-taking views, playgrounds for children and the Nature Center.

The best activities one can do inside the Brown County State Park are hiking and mountain biking. The park offers eight different types of mountain biking trails (which are noted as alphabetical letters on the park map) that range from easy to more difficult, most difficult and extremely difficult. You can connect with the other trails in certain instances. Their length vary from 1.2 miles to 4.1 miles, such as the Schooner Trace. As for hiking, there are about 12 trails (represented by numbers on the park map) ranging from easy to moderate or rugged. None is longer than three miles, unless you combine them just like you can with the mountain bike trails. Some trails can connect with each other like the one my parents and I hiked around Ogle Lake in the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.

the giant trees that stand over you

The Preserve is home to a special species of tree. The Yellowwood are rare all across Indiana but seem to prosper in Ogle Hollow, which was dedicated in 1970 as a preserve. It is classified as a mesic upland forest because of its medium moisture of soil, which is drier on the slopes and wetter in the hollows.

We started on Trail 4, which is a moderate 1.25 mile path that descends through bush and a forest of all sorts of trees with thick and thin trunks. Their branches reach out at all angles interweaving with each other to create a green canopy overhead. This creates a cool atmosphere with plenty of shade. A haziness brought about by a mixture of humidity and patches of sunlight breaking through the clusters of leaves make you feel like your in a whole other realm.

The trail ends with a view of the lake but we continued forward and met the start of Trail 7, which is a 1.5 mile hike that loops around Ogle Lake at a moderate level. It takes you over slopes, across wooden plank bridges, and up and down wooden stairs over ravines.

ogle lake

People are allowed to fish in the designated areas off the trail. After you circle the lake, the trail re-connects with Trail 4, eventually turning into the rugged Trail 5. There are two steep climbs on stairs that will get your heart racing and lungs pumping, but should be expected to get you back up the hill you descended earlier. When you make your way out of the lush forest you’ll realize you made a complete 3.5 mile circle from your starting point.

the fire tower

We finished our visit to Brown County State Park with a climb to the top of one of the few remaining Fire Towers for a panoramic view of the park. The actual cabin at the top was locked and we were unable to get in, but the view from the highest point was still worth the scary climb up the steps that got smaller and smaller with each turn.

Overall, Brown County is a popular spot for tourists, especially the shopping village in Nashville, Indiana, but the vastness of the State Park will make you feel as if you are getting to see a remote and untouched part of Indiana.

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Wanderings Around the Valley Desert

Apologies for the lack of recent posts but I have been dealing with work and school. However, I have also made quite a few trips to the many mountains surrounding me. I wanted to do a photo post of some of my hikes.
These were from the WaterFall Trail hike I made to the White Tank Mountains.

Due to our incredibly wet winter this year the waterfall actually had water (if you lived here long enough you would know the rarity of such an event)!!

I found a Coontail Rattlesnake on the trail side and it made it’s way across the path.

The skeleton of a saguaro.
+++
The next hike was over at the Thunderbird Conservation Park.
View from atop the mountain. Classic blue, Arizona skies.
+++
I persuaded my family to head on down to the city to hike South Mountain in Phoenix.
Cacti on the side of the mountain.
A lovely bird resting on a rock.
Blooming flowers everywhere.
A gnarly looking saguaro cacti.
A fuzzy looking cacti.

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