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

 

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

Escaping London: Day-hiking Hastings to Rye

With a hint of early spring in the air it seemed like a good idea to escape London. ¬†In an hour-and-a-half we arrived in Hastings, one of England’s oldest seaside towns. ¬†It’s a place that will sound familiar to anyone ever taught in the British school system. ¬†Home to the infamous 1066 Battle of Hastings – the one where William, Duke of Normandy became the Conquerer¬†and King Harold met his end with an arrow through the eye, as illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. ¬†Despite the grisly past, today’s seaside ports of Hastings, Rye, (and nearby Battle where the war was actually fought), are all charming destinations in¬†East Sussex worth a visit.

Setting out beneath a clear-blue sky the plan was simple: to walk 13.2 miles from Hastings to Rye, then catch the train back again.  But as we all know, not everything always goes to plan.  Still, our walk began as expected, joining the Saxon Shore way above Rock-a-Nore beach.  In sunnier seasons, a Victorian funicular railway operates, carrying people up the 300-foot vertical cliff face to Hasting Country Park.  But it was February, so we contend with the stairs.

The East Hill Lift, built in 1902
Distinctive tall Net Sheds stand next to the Fishermens Museum
Looking down into Hastings Old Town from the top of East Hill Lift
Stairway to the Saxon Way – the top of the Lift looks like a minature castle

From the map, our intended path roughly traces the coastline. ¬†But from the outset, signs warn of an up-coming area of coastal erosion. ¬†Less than a quarter of a mile into the walk we traipse inland, across boggy fields making very slow progress. ¬†Eager to re-join the Saxon Way, we end up bush-whacking through Ecclesbourne Glen, something I wouldn’t recommend. ¬†Once back on the trail, the undulating path provides views out across the English Channel towards France. ¬†The odd ship appears on the horizon.

Not sure who Hughie Pringle is/ was, but loving his bench!

The Saxon Shore Way has another unfortunate break further along the trail.  Not shown on our GPS, we come to a dead-end in Fairlight Cove where the road has literally fallen into the sea far below.  A local, out tending his lawn informs us the road has been like it for years.  So we follow a series of quiet residential roads without sea views, until the trail returns in Cliff End.  From our vantage point we see Pett Level Beach stretching out in the sun below.  We opt to get closer to the beach, so we descend down and depart the trail to walk along the raised sea wall.  Only once we join the long, straight beach, do I realise its made of shingle, not sand.  I spot the odd tree root poking up from the surf, remnants of the ancient forest that once grew here before rising sea-levels buried it.  On the opposite side of Pett Level Road, expansive wetlands attract bird-watchers, who sit in their cars with binoculars and probably flasks of tea milling away the hours.

Rye Bay and Pett Level beach
A virtually deserted beach
Panel Valley Nature Reserve
Cunning seagulls stalking us

It’s taken us longer than it should have to reach the end of the beach, so we sit outside the beach cafe with a drink to decide what to do. ¬†We want to return to Hastings before it gets dark so we can explore it today. ¬†I’m also really hungry! ¬†So at that point, based on the train and bus timetables, we elect to shorten our route by around 1.5 miles to end at Winchelsea instead of Rye. ¬†This involves cutting across the nature reserve – completely soaking my feet – to enter the small town through the imposing 13th century New Gate. ¬†Winchelsea is an attractive little place. ¬†It centres around the very grand, gothic St Thomas‚Äô Church. ¬†Unfortunately we don’t have time to visit the local pub, due to the expected bus, so instead we take a quick stroll through the churches graveyard. ¬†Within it lies the final resting place of the much-loved British-Irish comedian Spike Milligan.

 

St Thomas’ Church was built in approx 1290

R.I.P Spike Milligan

Whilst today wasn’t the prettiest coastal walk I’ve ever done in England, this may partly be due to the time of year and various diversions. ¬†But it’s accessibility from London, and the attractive towns on route make it a great choice for an easy day-trip. ¬†It’s possible to¬†travel to Hastings by train from various London stations. ¬†I believe the quickest route is from¬†Cannon Street in 1 hour 29 minutes. ¬†The return from Rye station (into St Pancras) can be done in little over an hour.

Part of Winchelsea town’s original fortification

On a side-note I really should invest in some hi-top waterproof shoes. ¬†The number of water-logged fields we crossed during this hike definitely slowed us down. ¬†I just need to find a comfortable pair so I don’t end the day in one big squelching, wrinkled-footed mess!

Mud bath

 

Snapshots from Winter in the British Lakes

Amidst a fresh sprinkling of mid-December snow, with piles of warm clothes, we braced ourselves for a long drive. Nearly six hours north of London, nestled close to the Scottish border, and the Irish Sea, lies the English Lake District. ¬†Lakeland¬†as it’s been coined, has provided the inspirational landscape for centuries of literary greats, with the Romantic poet¬†William Wordsworth, and the children’s writer and creator of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter being some of the most famous.

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As one of a limited number of UK National Parks, I had wanted to visit the lakes for years, but as British roads are not the best I just couldn’t face the drive. And every time it came to the crunch of booking a trip I faced the sad dilemma that in same travel time – and with the help of a plane – I could instead reach the sunnier climes of Europe, and a small stretch further the Caribbean! Oh and the weather ‘Up North’ (what Londoners call anywhere north of the M25) is noturiously iffy.

December is certainly not a peak period in the Lakes as it’s not a ski destination. But I love visiting places when they are considered out-of-season, because sharing wild adventures with hoards of other tourists dampens the appeal. So our photos may look a little bleak, but they show a snap-shot of one of Britain’s most rugged protected lands in the middle fo winter. Unfortunately I was experiencing a nasty cold that annoyingly hit just the day before we left London, so what we expected to be 5 days of hiking, turned out a little more chilled. I thought I’d share a few snapshots from the trip to give people a taste of a part of Britain less often seen in Instagram.

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Castlerigg Stone Circle, just outside of Keswick, shares the same mysterious origins as Stonehenge. It is thought to be over 4500 years old
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The north shore of Derwent Lake as the mid-afternoon sun slowly recedes. A very calm place.
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Looking down on Tarn Hows, most of which was frozen. I didn’t know before this trip that a ‘tarn’ is a glacier-made mountain lake or pool – I guess I missed that lesson in geography class! You can just see the 1.6-mile trail that encircles the water with no one on it to the right.
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There are around 3 million sheep living in Cumbria, so herds are a common sight throughout the park. We saw this loner up high on Kirkstone Pass. He stood in a small patch of grass chewing away happily, completely unfazed by the falling snow and biting wind.
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We named him ‘Eddy’

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The ferocious (and very loud) Aira Force waterfall – seen from the bottom (here), and top (right). Packing waterproofs was essential!

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Completely alone on the short trail to witness this impressive falls in the North-Eastern Ullswater area of the park. Thundering rain is probably why.

Most people tend to visit and stay in the main areas of the park – namely Lake Windermere, Grasmere, and the northern town of Keswick. Whilst we drove through these areas and found them beautiful, we wanted to experience a retreat, so based ourselves in the Great Langdale Valley further west. In reality though with a car, nothing feels that far away!

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A Winter Wonderland for two. There are so many hiking trails throughout the Lake District, from gentle grades encircling lakes like this one at Tarn Hows, to difficult technical mountaineering. You can find more information here.
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The Lake District is a National Park, but unlike in many other countries there is no physical border with entrance stations, so the park gets funded partly by charging for car parking. After making a quick calculation, we opted to become members of The National Trust (£65 per year). This made all National Trust carparks free, and includes access to hundreds of other properties and sites across the UK. Alternatively there is a decent public transport system of buses to get around the park, which is useful for hikers.
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Slater Bridge in the tranquil Little Langdale Valley area of the park.
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Leaving the bridge we follow miles of meandering Cumbrian stone walls as they disappear up and over the hilltops.
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One very happy-looking hiker – probably because he isn’t carrying the backpack!
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Colwith Force, a pretty multi-tier waterfall system on the River Brathay, which we stumbled upon after traipsing through ancient moss-coated oak woodlands.
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Another tier of Colwith Force. I was surprised to see a light on and movement in that tiny stone building (not sure who occupies it?)
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Elterwater village green in the Great Landgale Valley. The Lake District is full of picture-postcard worthy tiny villages and hamlets made from local stone, and of course brilliant pubs!
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Little Langdale Tarn sits nearly hidden away at the foot of Wrynose Pass. Seen here from the public bridleway on the south shore – there is no public access to the water, as it sits within private farm land.
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The Great Langdale Valley, the day it rained and rained and rained… somehow we managed to get wet even with full waterproofs on!

Car journey aside, I found myself captivated by the Lake District. I couldn’t quite believe that the lofty peaks, so perfectly framing the lakes beneath were English. I definitely hope this to be the first of many return trips – maybe the next one at Easter-time, or early summer. And much to my surprise I learnt from a local down the village pub, that next time I could take a fast-track Virgin train from London Euston to Oxenholme in little under 3-hours! Well who knew?!

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Off to the pub.