Summit: Cadair Idris

Nothing like a sore body to keep me planted on the sofa in front of the telly, laptop available without much physical work. As mentioned earlier, I’ve been good about making a summit hike a year, at least. This is my second of the year.

For hikes, I rarely prepare other than to check weather and camera battery life. But advance research of the path is a rare thing. Yet, I did this time around. I dunno why. In reading other hikers’ notes, though, it sounded like a foreign language to me. It was. The names were all Welsh. A part of me felt like raising a hand and saying, “Vanna, I would like to buy several vowels, please!”

Yet, all that said, I made the biggest goof of all. I woke up, at the B&B and found, with that dreadful sinking feeling in the pit of my belly, I forgot my hiking shoes. I didn’t even have trainers. So I wasted a whole day driving back home to get the shoes and hiking pants that I also realized I forgot, and back to Wales.

I can see why Cadair Idris is one of the most popular hikes in Wales. Take a look at the beautiful sights. The ridgeline rose above and circled a lake tucked in the valley. A lot of literature about glaciers and whatnot. To me, it was just stunning to see the wall of cliffs create a semi-circle around the water.

Despite all my reading, I somehow managed to go a different route. Probably because I got distracted. I ended up coming up to the lake, Llyn Cau, from the shallow end. When the path should have veered left and up to circle the ridge clockwise, I ended up watching a team of shepherds and their sheepdogs steering their grazing herd from the inner crater area to the outer rim. I found myself following another path around the lake, until I was just at the base of the wall leading to one of the lower peaks, Craig Cau.

I don’t think I realized how steep the climb up was until half way, when I thought to myself how my little scrambling experience was being put to good use. And that I should have put my camera in the bag instead of slung across my body but that it was too steep for me to stop and sit to adjust that. To give you an idea, in that length, I went .4 miles in distance, and gained 703 ft in altitude.

[Blue: Route I walked.
Yellow: What most people walk]

I would not have traded that climb for anything. I love a good challenge. Not recommended for the faint of heart or those with no hiking nor climbing experience, but otherwise manageable.

The hiking down to the summit of Mynydd Moel was rather uneventful, a large grassy route that made me actually bust out into the tunes of “The Sound of Music.” After the nth iteration of “Doe, a deer, a female deer; ray, a drop of golden sunnnn; me, a name I call myself.. ” Has anyone ever realized how that song can get stuck on an endless loop?? “And that brings us back to Doe. Doe, a deer.. ” Good thing I was the only walker for a long stretch. How well does sound travel cross those ridges, do you think?

The descent is absolutely horrific, a loose and extremely steep death trap of boulders of all sizes and shapes. I found myself resolving to purchase a pair of walking poles. For others, I recommend taking the climb I made from the lake, then walking the counter clockwise route after reaching the summit. The view is to be much more stunning and the experience more enjoyable. Your legs will thank you… as mine are cursing me today.

Nikon D5100, f/8, 1/320s

Nikon D3100, f/8, 1/250s


Waitomo Caving

It ruined my vacation. I had planned 18 days of hiking, at least. I had an aggressive schedule, an ambitious plan to breathe in, soak in as much of the clean fresh air New Zealand offers in their massive amounts of national park land. And I ended it all before I started, with a huge tumble and a splash that sprained my ankle. Wordy, was it a bad sprain. I have a history of frequent ankle sprains, almost yearly; this is one of the worse ones and I almost went into a clinic for it.

For what it’s worth, it was a cool ice breaker. “I almost broke my ankle when climbing up a waterfall to get out of a cave.” Truth.

But it’s about perception. I suspect a lot of people imagine vertical drop of a rock wall with huge Niagara-like foaming water gushing in. So I’ll come clean. We were already inside the cave, so imagine a small rocky cave interior, shaped like a vertical tunnel, where instead of a ceiling the tunnel narrows into an upside-down funnel and that penning curves a little to the side. Water was coming from that opening. The ground was really a shallow pool of flowing water about waist deep. The amount of water pouring in is probably equal to five to ten shower nozzles at full blast, the variation of the strength and volume of water coming and going.  I was climbing up the part where the walls start to close in, about 15 feet above the water, so my fall was straight down with the water, no rolling and tumblings down the entire length of rock walls on the way down. I was so close to clearing the wall.  Technically a waterfall, yes. Technically rock climbing, yes. Technically a fall, yes. As dramatic as the unembellished statement sounds, probably not.

It was an ugly enough landing, though, for my ankle to take the brunt of the fall. Fortunately, it was at the very tail end of the whole caving expedition, so I had enough in me to get back, shower and drive back to the B&B before I really felt the pain of the ankle.

What an ignominious end to an exciting day. The adventure, though it did take the advertised five hours, the action really lasted about three. It took us about 75 minutes just to get started, getting suited up, getting shuttled over to the cave, lectured on safety, and being given a tutorial and practice time on rappelling. All the exciting parts were smartly packed into a condensed version, also utilizing smart wordsmithing in their brochures to make it feel like long winding non-stop heart-beating activity cascading one after another.

The glowworms, the biggest attraction in the caves, are not worms. To quote our guide, we have all spent big money to see “cannibalistic larvae shit.” The condensed summary is a lot closer to truth than the name itself. I’ll leave it for you to look it up yourself.

Summit 2: Mount Fuji

Dad and I scaled Mount Fuji in July.

This is our first father-daughter trip. And nearly our last. No, no close deaths, even though it may have felt like it many many many times. I’ve been looking for a climbing partner to join me on Fuji when Dad came to mind. He was already in Asia for business and was going back to the States, transiting through Tokyo the weekend I mean to climb. I shot him an email invitation, and regretted immediately after I sent it. You see, Dad has back problems that resulted with a surgery several years ago. While he is hale and hearty, he lost a lot of range of motion and will forever have weak balance.

With all that in mind, I opted for the most commonly used route, the Yoshida Trail. We stayed near the bus station in Tokyo, allowing for a direct commute to the Fifth Station.

The climb was as barren as it was dull. The bloudery climb between Stations 6 and 7 was green, lush, and beautiful, albeit treacherous for Dad. The huts were adorable, perched almost precariously on the rocks. The huts were largely a single common space with a couple of rooms used by the people working there during the peak season. Somewhere near the entrance or in the middle of the common room would be a fire pit where they kept the irons for stamping our sticks. The climb to the top, though, was otherwise rocky and bare, with nothing to keep us visually stimulated. Fuji is beautiful to look at from afar, but not the least bit up close.

Oh yea, I definitely collected my stamps. 200 yen, each costs me. Some huts offered more than one at a discount. I asked for ALL of them. No way I’m climbing Mount Fuji without collecting my stamps on the walking stick. The stick itself is nothing special, a long piece of pine wood cut as an octagon when looking down at it. It certainly doesn’t really function as a good walking stick, just a really long souvenir.

Dad’s challenge ended up being something completely different. Dad struggled majestically with altitude sickness. We slowed to a crawl, literally. Stopping every ten to twenty minutes for Dad to catch his breath. I found myself watching him closely for blue lips. And debating ever since stop whether or not to turn back.

Somehow, despite our own lack of expectations, we both made it to the top and back down. We missed the sunrise. Well, we would have since we were late. But seeing that there was no sun that morning, we didn’t miss it. The view of the surrounding lakes, though, was beautiful, more so than the mountain we were actually standing on.

From mountaintops…

I celebrated my 30th birthday in grand style.. by rewarding myself with a ten-day vacation in a whole other continent with a girlfriend. And reminded myself that I’m still young, healthy, strong, and loving life by climbing up Egypt’s highest peak, Mount Katherine.

And, boy, was I hurting up there! By the last bit of the ascent, I could barely keep up with my 61 year-old guide who probably weighed 95 pounds soaking wet and whose soles were about to fall off his ancient shoes.

The view was absolutely gorgeous. No green, but the variation of stone, terrain colors, lava rock, made it all awesome when looking from the top. This self-pic is just beyond cool. I didn’t expect to capture so much detail.