The day we came face-to-face with a Grizzly

My heart stopped. ¬†Just moments before, we had been happily enjoying the down-hill momentum and views into Glacier’s central valley, that was until company round a bend ahead. ¬†We froze in our tracks. ¬†A giant male grizzly dominated the trail just 20 meters beyond.

Of course, I’m well-aware that Glacier National Park is home to a grizzly bear population – warning signs are everywhere – but I never really expected to get THIS close to one. ¬†I had hoped to catch a sight of one form the car window. ¬†That would have been nice. ¬†Nice and safe. ¬†If anything, I had been on higher alert earlier that morning as we set out, completely alone, from the Siyeh Bend trailhead. ¬†Crossing through Preston Park meadows still enveloped in mist, I made sure to make our presence known, and scouted the area for any sign of movement. ¬†Nothing.

 

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Entering Preston Park ahead of the sun

 

Leaving the timberline far below, we wound up a shingle trail to summit Siyeh Pass. ¬†There we found a plump lonely marmot, hair blowing in the breeze, admiring the view. ¬†He didn’t seem bothered by us, so we let each other be, taking in the same view of a previously hidden eastern valley with tiny glaciers dotted high above.

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Capturing the views from Siyeh Pass

 

From Siyeh pass the views really exploded.  No longer sheltered by trees, the trail begins a tight descent, switch-backing 3220 feet alongside the stunning Sexton Glacier.  Both Conrad and I became so preoccupied with trying to capture the splendor on our cameras Рfailing completely Рthat concerns of bears left our minds.

Our cameras had just returned to bags as the trail began evening out, hugging the edge of Goat Mountain. ¬†That’s when the creature appeared, completely startling us. ¬†Conrad was in the lead (thank God), as we simultaneously¬†stopped dead in our tracks. ¬†He had seen us too. ¬†Definitely a grizzly. ¬†His dark coat hung over huge¬†hunched shoulders, with the tell-tale long snout that identified his bread. ¬†I suddenly felt very vulnerable. ¬†We hadn’t seen another human-being all day. ¬†And here we were carrying a bag full of trail snacks. ¬†What idiots! ¬†I bet we smelt good enough to eat too.

 

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If only we’d seen this BEFORE the bear!

 

My mind rapidly began processing every bit of advice I’d ever consumed about bears. ¬†I knew enough not to run. ¬†Even though instinct kind of made me want to. ¬†Now, what was the difference between dealing with¬†grizzly verses black bears again? ¬†The bear was holding our gaze. ¬†It felt like a Mexican stand-off. ¬†He seemed unsure too. ¬†Then, slowly, he resumed his stride, edging even closer. ¬†Shit! ¬†I’m going to die! ¬†I immediately began clapping my hands and shouting loud, incoherent¬†nonsense – anything that sprung to mind that identified us as people. ¬†Meanwhile, Conrad frantically released the can of bear pepper spray from its holster, the can we had debated paying $50 for just days before. ¬†He pulled the safety tab out ready. ¬†I cowed behind him.

I’m so grateful we never had to dispense the noxious mace. ¬†For one thing, a strong wind was blowing in our direction so we would have probably blinded ourselves! ¬†And for another, by the bear choosing to have a change of heart and divert off of the trail instead of confronting us, he kept himself safe. ¬†Not that we could have defeated him, but National Park policy often dictates that ‘troublesome’ bears – those deemed a threat to humans – are killed. ¬†So we both happily got to live another day! ¬†We watched as he leisurely passed us further down the slope, eventually stopping to inspect some fallen timber, to no doubt on the hunt for food.

 

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The only photo of the bear – taken once our safety seemed fairly certain & my pounding heart recovered

 

I spent the remainder of the descent along the gushing Baring Creeks constantly looking over my shoulder, rattled. ¬†I didn’t dare get any food out. ¬†But wow! ¬†What an encounter. ¬†My respect for nature increases every day.

 

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Baring Falls. Sunrift Gorge.

 

 

We hiked the Siyeh Pass Trail from Siyeh Bend, ending at Sunset Gorge. The trail is just over 10 miles long and gains 2240 feet.  There is a further option to extend the hike up to Piegan Pass and view Piegan glacier, but you will have to back-track from the pass to re-join this circuit.

Photographed in early August 2018.

Gem of the Eastern Sierra

Tucked 10 miles into Rock Creek Canyon lies Little Lakes trailhead and my favourite hike in the Sierra.  So far at least.  From the very beginning of the 7.5-mile walk, the rewards felt endless.

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Keep left on the first fork towards Mack Lake/ Barton Pass

The trail departs from a peaceful campground sat beside the babbling creek and slowly ascends 994 feet through the valley.  As it does a handful of alpine lakes appear, happily nestled below rapidly melting snow-capped peaks.

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We managed to keep our feet dry!
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Long Lake – far too big and deep for a dip this time of year

The path that eventually ends at Gem Lake isn’t overly difficult and contains all the drama and beauty you could possibly want from a hike in the Sierra.

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For some, the path to a closer Lake such as Long or Chicken Foot is enough.  We pass by the odd angler peacefully fishing in crystal-clear waters.  And here lies the charm of this trail Рyou don’t have to make it to the end to feel rewarded. You could spend 4 hours hiking all the way to Gem Lake like we did, or find yourselves happily lost in the views almost anywhere in between.

 

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Aquamarine Gem Lake

 

 

 

Not that you will get lost Рvery little navigation is required.  The trailhead contained a map detailing the various lakes and 2 passes further along different splinter trails.  Some brave people trek all the way to Mono Lake more than 50 miles north, but for those with little time to spare, this trail is still well worth the drive.

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The last lingering signs of winter
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Verdant meadows

A frigidly cold breeze sometimes whipped us as we rambled the rocky path, hopping across stone water crossings.  Yet at this elevation, the sun certainly left its mark.  Bring mosquito spray, and even better Рif you have the time Рpack a tent and s’mores to spend the night under the endless sky.  Happy trails.

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Returning along Rock Creek

 

Becoming an unwitting Mountaineer in Snowdonia National Park

Last week Conrad and I shattered a personal record. ¬†Having made it across the border to Wales for the first time ever – yes we only live in London – we somehow managed to take a ridiculous 7 hours to complete a 6-mile walk. ¬†I use the word ‘walk’ loosely here. ¬†What followed involved some seriously sketchy scrabbling as our hiking poles got stowed away to grip onto wet rocks for dear life. ¬†Please don’t make me another tragic face on the news following a failed mountain rescue attempt I prayed. ¬†On the plus side, the views were exceptional. Continue reading Becoming an unwitting Mountaineer in Snowdonia National Park

Colorado’s [not quite] Four Pass Loop Trail

Road-tripping Colorado last September our entire journey centred around completing the Four Pass Loop trail. ¬†Situated close to Aspen in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, I first learnt about the hike from an Instagram photo. ¬†The image of an impossibly steep mountain pass covered¬†in wildflowers caught my imagination. ¬†Eager to find out more, I searched YouTube where after a few hours my excitement had been fuelled by the epic mountain scenery and numerous ‘awesome’ references. ¬†I knew the hike would be challenging – twenty-eight miles of rocky terrain, ascending four 12,000-foot passes, at an altitude we were not acclimatised to – but since our PCT hike ended the previous year I longed for adventure. ¬†After convincing a reluctant husband that sleeping outdoors wouldn’t be too bad, we packed the camp set-up we vowed never to use again for 3 days in the wild. Continue reading Colorado’s [not quite] Four Pass Loop Trail

A week in Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons

In my previous post, I outlined my child-like desire to visit America’s first National Park and introduced the 3-week trip that finally made my dream a reality. ¬†After years of sitting on the bucket list, we finally witnessed Yellowstone’s geological wonderland in September of 2015. ¬†It didn’t disappoint. ¬†The place has it all: Mountains, geysers, canyons, waterfalls, animals, hikes… tick, tick, tick. ¬†With merely a week and an SUV, we attempted to cover as many park highlights as possible before travelling south to the Grand Tetons en route to Salt Lake City. ¬†Here’s a flavour of our days and some tips I’ve taken away. Continue reading A week in Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons

Road-tripping USA: Yellowstone to Vegas in 21 Days

I first became captivated by Yellowstone watching a BBC documentary. ¬†It charted the dramatic seasonal changes to the park’s ecosystem, including majestic elk migrations, ¬†hibernating bears, and the ever-changing foliage. ¬†Animals fought the harsh perils of winter. ¬†Not all survived. ¬†The geothermal landscape struck me as hostile and wild. ¬†With a land mass larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and sitting on top of a super-volcano thought powerful enough to cover the continental US in ash, Yellowstone sky-rocketed to the top of my bucket list. ¬†But America’s first National Park is not the most convenient place to reach from the UK, so we put it on hold until we had the time to take a big trip.

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The rainbow-hued Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot springs

Our chance finally arrived in September 2015.  In-between jobs we took 21 days to explore a chunk of the wild west, flying into the mountain town of Bozeman Montana via Denver.

Our plan was long but simple. ¬†Hiring a car and beginning with Yellowstone, our route to Vegas would transport us south through 5 National Parks, 3 State Parks, and a National Monument. ¬†It would span 4 states – technically 5 but I’m not counting Idaho’s 44 miles – with most of the driving distance concentrated in Utah. ¬†We would stick to the scenic, off-beat roads wherever possible, aiming to avoid the dreaded interstates at all costs. ¬†Thanks to the ever-changing scenery and epic natural wonders dotted along almost the entirety of the drive, I can truly say this trip was the most memorable, completely awesome¬†of all time. ¬†I only wish we had longer. ¬†I thought I’d share our itinerary along with some highlights for anyone hoping to visit this part of the US.

The High-level Itinerary

Day(s) Key Locations Rough Driving Route
1 Bozeman to Gardiner – Yellowstone North Entrance I-90 & US‚Äď89
2-4 Yellowstone N. Park Mainly Grand Loop Rd
5-6 Grand Teton N. Park US-20, US‚Äď191/ US‚Äď287, Teton Park Rd
7 Jackson, WY [via Mormon Row] Teton Park Rd, Moose Wilson Rd, US-26, Antelope Flats Rd, Mormon Row, Gros Ventre Rd
8 Logan, UT US-26 & US-89
9-10 Salt Lake City [+ side-trip to Cottonwood Canyon] US-89
11 Richfield, UT [Via Park City] UT-224 [Guardsmen Pass Scenic Byway], US-189 and US-89, UT-24 & UT-118
12-13 Bryce Canyon N. Park [Via Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & Capital Reef N. Park] UT-119, UT-24 [short detour], UT-12 [Scenic Byway 12]
14-17 Springdale, UT – Zion N. Park UT-12, US-89 S & UT-9
18-21 Vegas [Via Valley of Fire S. Park] UT-9, I-15, NV‚Äď169 & I-15S
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Map created on Roadtrippers
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Catching views of the mighty Yellowstone Canyon from North & South rims
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The view from the Fairy Falls trail – after a brief scramble up an adjacent hill
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Staying for 2 nights in the historic Yellowstone Lake Lodge the animals came to us
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Making it to Yellowstone sights early and having them to ourselves: West Thumb Geyser
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The Colter Bay Nature trail, giving us this screen-saver worthy view of the Tetons
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When a lone elk crossed our path on the String & Leigh Lakes trail releasing an echoing cry
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Watching the sun go down from the bar of Jackson lake Lodge

 

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Catching these frisky moose at it whilst driving near Jackson Hole
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White Water rafting on the Snake River: FREEZING but beautiful

 

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Taking a bike tour of Sat Lake City and learning all about this quirky place

 

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Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon outside SLC where we saw even more moose

 

 

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The scenic overlooks of Bryce Canyon

 

 

 

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Attempting to reach the top of Angels Landing in Zion [before loosing my nerve!]
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Meeting friends in Vegas

 

A parting word of advice: ¬†A week before our trip commenced I was glancing over the Yellowstone N.P website and discovered – to my horror – that a section of the grand loop road (the only road through the park) would be closed for construction works during our visit. ¬†This changed some of our plans and might be the reason why our route looks a little disjointed. ¬†I would recommend checking out this kind of information on the park’s website¬†long in advance – ops!

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Regional View of Yellowstone & Grand Teton Parks. [Click on map for detailed park maps]
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Channeling my inner park ranger

 

 I hope to write some separate posts containing more details once I get around to sorting out the hundreds of photos!

Venice for the crowd-adverse

As we flew into Venice in September 2013, crowds of protestors gathered. ¬† Thankfully they were not there for us. ¬†The angry rally was directed towards the record-breaking 12 cruise ships expected to pass through the lagoon that day. ¬†Italian passions extended to some individuals donning wetsuits and jumping into the¬†Giudecca canal in an attempt to block the passage of the enormous liners. ¬†It was a shocking spectacle, but during our time in the city I could see the logic behind their concerns. ¬†Not only are the¬†giant ships causing environmental and cultural damage, but more generally Venice is chock-a-block with tourists which has pushed prices up for those who live there. ¬†To put a number on it – according to the press – 35,000 tourists arrived by ship that day. ¬†That’s the equivalent to half the city’s regular population.

Boat number 5 dwarfing the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

I had longed to visit Venice. ¬†I’d seen it in films and on TV, oozing glamour and romance. ¬†I wanted to see how an entire city can just float. ¬†But not overly comfortable in crowds I found myself a little disheartened. ¬†Was this one big – and INCREDIBLY expensive – mistake? ¬†For a place that relies on tourism, the numbers seemed excessive and I could barely move without inadvertently photobombing randoms. ¬†I can’t imagine how crazy numbers swell during the summer months. ¬†So with this in mind here are some of the things we got up to whilst trying our best to avoid the crowds.

Looking onto the crowds near St Marks square from a water taxi

Private speed boat lagoon tour

Through Trip Advisor I found Il Bragozzo, a small local company who offer an alternative way to visit the lagoon – aboard a classic wooden speedboat. ¬†Our 3-hour tour covered a handful of the more than 100 small islands that make up Venice’s lagoon, including our first stop, the old convent of San Francesco del Deserto still inhabited by the Friars Minori, and not accessible by public transport.

 

Our guide Tommaso with his 1950s motorboat

The further north we pass, the more the landscape changes into narrow channels, salt marsh and swamp, providing an area of what Venice would have looked like hundreds of years ago. ¬†Our next stop is a delight for the eyes – the picturesque fisherman‚Äôs island of Burano. ¬†Lined with colourful fishermen’s houses, the place is recommended for casual seafood eateries (shame we can’t stick around for lunch), and is celebrated for lace making.

Entering a quiet channel into Burano

Next up is the island of Murano, world-renowned for it’s historic glass factories. ¬†Every other shop displays ornate (some may say OTT) glasswork and locally-crafted souvenirs. ¬†Some workshops provide live glass-blowing demonstrations so you can watch artisans at work. ¬†It is mesmerising. ¬†This is the place to come if you want to buy a chandelier to rival Tiffany… and to break the bank!

Vaporetto to San Michele

The cemetery island of San Michele is a short ride north-east of Venice by public water taxi (Vaporetto).  It is a tranquil place, both somber and celebratory, honouring those passed through colourful, well-manicured displays and moving effigies.  We take a quiet stroll and find the graves of 7 British casualties from WW1 in the Protestant section of the east corner.

Photo Tour

On my birthday we take a private tour with photo journalist Marco Secchi.  At this point neither one of us had ever used anything but a point-and-shoot camera (probably obvious from our photos here), so I looked forward to learning some technical stuff whilst seeing some quieter areas.  Marco was very patient, and the resulting pictures made an improvement on our usual snaps.  He took us along the west-side of the Grand Canal, ending at the world-famous Rialto Bridge just before sunset.  He also took us to possibly the best gelato shop: Gelateria il Doge on Calle Traghetto Vecchio.

Using the walls to navigate narrow waterways!
Looking down the Grand Canal towards Rialto Bridge
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Saint Marks Square

OK, so i’ll concede that no trip to Venice is complete without seeing the central piazza San Marco. ¬†Home to the iconic basilica, Doge’s Palace, mechanical clocktower, and a host of over-priced eateries, it is a central-hub that draws HUGE crowds. ¬†The below picture was taken at around 8am, before many of the restaurants had opened in an attempt to see it before the place became mobbed. ¬†I recommend visiting early or late – basically whenever the cruisers are back on their ships..

 

The columns of the city’s patron saints: San Marco – symbolised by the winged lion – and San Todaro – the Byzantine Saint Theodore of Amasea, the city‚Äôs first protector

Alternatively, you can get a great view into the square from the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore across the bay.

San Giorgio Maggiore

I would have loved to have seen inside the clocktower.  There are some limited tours that need to be booked well in advance that allow a glimpse of the intricate workings of this historic technology.

St Mark’s clocktower dates back to 1499. The gold and blue watch face indicate the time, day, moon phases and the zodiac. Each hour the two bronze figures move to ring the very loud bell.

Doge’s Palace secret itineraries tour

Part of the reason we made it to Saint Mark’s square so early – I’m really not a morning person – was a reservation we held for the first tour of the day of the Doge’s Palace. ¬†Hailed as a gothic masterpiece, the structure is regarded as a symbol of the city. ¬†It was formerly home not only to the Doge (the ruler of Venice) but also to the entire state administration. ¬†The ‘secret’ tour promised a glimpse of areas usually inaccessable to the public, which included the prison cell where Casanova was held, as well as a few extra passageways and the Inquisitor’s room. ¬†In total it lasted around 75 minutes. ¬†I found it interesting, but honestly, I think it would have been much better if our guide had been more engaging and if the group was smaller.

Palazzo Ducale from Saint Mark’s Square
Palazzo Ducale overlooking the lagoon

 

As the tour didn’t cover any of the main rooms of the palace – which is enormous – we sprung for an audio guide and spent perhaps another 2 hours wandering through rich interiors. ¬†Ornate architecture and elaborate decoration adorn every corner, with works by artists such as Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. ¬†We also got to walk across the Bridge of Sighs, which I [shamefully] first heard about from Dan Brown’s novel Inferno!

Via Garibaldi neighbourhood

To the east of Saint Marco is the relatively quiet neighbourhood of Via Garibaldi. ¬†Less than a mile from Saint Mark’s square, it is a great place to stroll away a few hours and feel as though you have seen a more residential/ ‘real’ side of the city. ¬†We enjoyed simple but tasty cichetti (Italian tapas) and drunk Campari outside one of the many small street bars filled with locals.

The nearby Maritime Museum – Padiglione delle Navi – leading to the city Arsenal

Beyond Venice

Despite Venice being car-free, it was relatively straight-forward to pick up a rental car from Marco Polo airport (across the lagoon), and embark on a road-trip.  We drove north via the pretty city of Verona, into the mountainous lake region.  In less than 3 hours we arrived at Lake Garda, where for 5 days we enjoyed some off-season R&R.  Oh and more than a few gelatos!

Limone Sul Garda on a very hazy day

Riva del Garda