Posts Tagged ‘nature’

 
The Loch of Butterstone just perfectly smooth with the foothills of the Cairngorms behind it on a still winter’s day in Scotland.

 

Waste by the Brooklyn BridgePassing by the Brooklyn Bridge just days after Hurricane Sandy struck New York. The rubbish of all the waste caused accumulating in the sidewalks.

Galapagos cliffs

Nazcar Boobies at the Galapagos, grooming each other by the cliffs in the midst of a massive amount of neighbouring wildlife . It is difficult to even walk without having be careful to put a foot on an iguana basking in the sunlight or a boobie nest in the middle of the path.

Galapagos - SantaFe001

The wildlife on the different islands of the Galapagos is fascinating and abundant, with each island having their own unique environments. The Land Iguana of Santa Fe island will be found nowhere else.

By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China - hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China – hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

Banff-Jasper011

 

Going on to the Columbia ice field feels like going to the moon, jumping on and off these fantastic buggies with huge wheels and on to this freezing cold, alien world on the glacier coming down from the plateau…

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

Hummingbird hovering

Joe Simpson - Touching the Void

Joe Simpson – Touching the Void

Finished off another book this time quite an old and pretty well-known book by Joe Simpson, Touching the Void. Since being published it was also made into a film-documentary, which I haven’t seen yet though definitely would like to after having read this work.

Siula Grande

Siula Grande (EdsOpinion) – for a good review of the DVD see EdOpinion.com

As I say, it is pretty well-known, but in case you haven’t read it, in summary Joe was climbing with his friend Simon in the Peruvian Andes up a remote mountain, Siula Grande, which hadn’t been climbed before along the particular route they chose – the west face. It hadn’t been climbed that way for good reason: it was incredibly dangerous! The mountain presented a whole range of problems rested: cornices – massive snow over-hangs that had nothing supporting them, so any extra weight on top of them could lead them to collapse; mazes of snow flutings (very steep snow channels in powder snow that lead up the side of the mountain, that occasionally get closed off at the top – something that is difficult to see from the bottom – and can lead to climbers getting trapped); high altitude; ice falls; crevasses; weather; avalanches… basically a dangerous place.

Touching the Void - Route

(C) Joe Simpson, Touch the Void – The route and the accident

They managed to make the summit but on the way back down Joe got injured – he fell and badly broke his leg. Something like that on such a remote mountain invariably leads to death because of the altitude, the cold and because there is no way to rescue the climber. The two, however, managed to keep going, in spite of the pain Joe was feeling and both with worsening frost-bite and becoming increasingly weaker and dehydrated; with Simon lowering Joe, down as quickly as possible in order to get to safety. Because of their dwindling supplies they kept going into the night and through a storm, meaning they couldn’t see where they going. As a result, Joe fell down another, much longer drop and wasn’t able to get any grip or strength to climb back up. Simon was in the impossible position – his strength was also running out and he wasn’t able to pull Joe back. The only choice that he had – a choice that Joe also recognized as being the only one – was to die or to cut the rope that would lead to Joe plummeting from the cliff… He did the only thing he could do.

Yet both survived, and the story shows Joe’s incredible journey back through immense pain to the camp when all thought he was dead. It is definitely worth taking the time to read it really see this and this struggle for survival.

Now Natalia and I have only limited mountaineering experience in Bolivia, and we firmly intend to go back to the Andes and other mountain ranges to build on this. The whole book leads to people questioning Simon’s decision – I personally think he made the right thing; as does Joe. Though the book also begs the question – what would we do in such a situation? What would I do if Natalia was badly injured and we were both struggling to get off the mountain? Would I be able to cut the rope? What would Natalia do if she was in that position if I had such an accident? How would we react in such an extreme situation?? Now these are not nice thoughts or questions, and ones that I really hope to God that I never have to face, or have to ever answer. At the moment I can say that I do not know! Joe admits that the two mountaineers were a bit headstrong and a few mistakes were made in the climb and even before the climb at base camp – mistakes that with experience probably would mean that such an accident wouldn’t happen again. So the more experience we build, the better, so we can hopefully avoid such a terrible situation.

A much higher profile destination this week, though the Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls are quite simply amazing and worth a long weekend to visit – something we did about a couple of years or so ago. Book far enough in advance (and in low-season or non-holiday weekends) and you can get reasonably priced direct return flights from São Paulo at around r$320 (more or less US$ 165) with TAM, though leave it to the last minute and you will be facing prices of r$1000 per journey (pricing of Brazilian air travel is worth another blog post in its own right). Gol operate the route as well. The alternative is a 15 hour bus-ride with Pluma or Expresso Kiaowa which will cost from r$70-r$160, depending which way you are going. They don’t have the ultra-luxury “leito” buses though…

When you get there, you will find that there are plenty of hotels and guest houses in the town of Iguaçu, and the town is a short bus-ride away from the falls – ask anyone around and they will be able to explain, as it isn’t worth getting a taxi unless you are going to Argentina (try and find others to split a cab with and it works out quite nicely. You will most likely be able to agree with the taxi driver that he will meet you to go back into Brazil – it is a good deal all round.

How many different ways can you see a waterfall without getting tired..?! Not sure, but we certainly did our best to find out when we were there – though it is worth noting that the Iguaçu falls are not just any old waterfalls and it is not without good reason that they have just been declared one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The falls are spectacular.

It is worth going to both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of the falls – both offer incredible views but in a different way. In Brazil, you get right up close to the front of the falls – you can feel the water being blown from the cascades into your face, and an anorak is pretty useful to have even on the sunniest of days. In Argentina you can go right over them, almost as if you are inside them – and is perhaps slightly more intimate with the falls than the Brazil side. However, I don’t think it is worth even arguing about which one is “best”: they are different.

Oh and then there are the dingey boat rides which take you just about into the falls and lets you feel just a little bit of the power of the water falling on you. We did this twice – from Brazil and Argentina – though the second time was this time pretty much the same as the first as they went to the same particular fall. Still a massive amount of fun (our Argentine pilot took us under the falls a couple more times than the Brazilian guy), but something that can be missed without too much regret.

With a bit of time on our hands we also got time to go on a short tour through the forest around the waterfalls – interesting, as you get to see and hear about the flora and fauna of the park (though we didn’t see too much wildlife – probably because of the large group and the loud vehicle that was used). Also there is a bird park just to the side of the waterfall entrance area, which was okay though, being a bird zoo, it meant that the birds are all kept in aviaries (think of this as you will).

Locals get the cheapest park entrance fees; then nationals of the Mercosul economic regions pay a bit more, and everybody else pays the most. Just the way it is, but still… worth it. If you have time (which we didn’t) try and make it to the Itaipu dam – a massive feat of engineering and I have been told that it is well worth a visit; missing that is a bit of a regret. The good point is that, when we are close to completing our circle, we will be entering back into Brazil at Iguaçu, so we will have a chance to see everything then!

We have just subscribed to a Brazilian outdoor adventure magazine Aventura & Ação, which provides articles which interviews explorers, adventurers and photographers, and provides information about different adventure or travel destinations which are a little out of the way than normal. One of the places that caught our eye in the magazine was the Chapada das Mesas in the state of Maranhão in the north-east of Brazil.

The national park in the region looks to be pretty spectacular, with scenery that wouldn’t look out of place in the southern states of the United States and large rock tables sticking out of the arid flat terrain, though at the same, more lush areas with waterfalls and clear pools to swim in. Though it is not the easiest of places to get to – from São Paulo you will need to get a flight to Imperatriz and then rent a car to a town called Carolina, a couple of hundred kilometres away – it looks like it would be worth the journey.

Plenty of hiking can be done in the region, though you will still need to drive some more to get to the main hikes.

  • The Cume do Morro do Chapeu hike is a brisk two hour walk (in the extreme heat, so remember to bring lots of water and start the walk quite early), though will reward the hiker with a view from one of the highest points in the Park, almost 400 metres high.
  • The São Romão and Prata hikes are walks near the Farinha River, where there are a couple of pretty impressive waterfalls and swimming spots as well as small caves behind the falls. It is about 56 km away from Carolina, so a bit of a drive.
  • At the Pedra Caida, you will find plenty of adventure sports from rappel to tree climbing as well as an ecological sanctuary and further walks to do.

Apparently you could spend a good couple of weeks at the Park and not get bored, which is a pretty reasonable period. If you can’t stay quite so long, try to spend at least five days or so – especially as it is quite tricky to get to.

We will see if it shall be possible to get here for training for the expedition – whilst much of the training will be conducted in relation to altitude, polar weather and climbing/mountaineering, acclimatising to difficult hot weather conditions will also be important.

Oh, and from a personal point of view, I associate these hot arid climates with snakes – there are normally plenty of Coral and Cascoval snakes in these regions (am not sure if I said this before, but am terrified of snakes… and am sure that there are plenty of snakes in hot moist environments as well…!) so I would try not to wander off the trails… but that’s just me!

<— The Canastra Mountains (Day 1)

The second day at the Serra da Canastra was slightly less tiring, though from standing up pretty much entirely at the back of an open-aired 4WD truck going 80km or so over some pretty tough roads, it was nonetheless tiring on the body.

We went with the Central de Turismo (+55 37 3433164) on the journey into the Serra da Canastra national park itself (the previous day, our hike had been outside the park boundaries) – a journey which itself is not able to be done by foot simply because of the distances and because camping is prohibited in the park (which is a shame – they say because campers can damage the park and, which I can imagine happening with fires, pollution and going away from established trails and disturbing the wildlife (this can be dangerous as there are snakes… coral snakes… tropical rattle snakes (cascavel)… not things I would particularly like to encounter… but they are there). At the same time, the park authorities do seem to let vehicles in which have no pollution standard requirements speed through the park (there is a limit of 40km per hour though…). But ah well.

So standing at the back of the vehicle for the distance was quite tough, being thrown from one side to another with my camera (with a canon 70-200mm F2.8 L II, and a 2x II extender) weighing quite heavily around me, trying to focus on things. Our guide, nicknamed “Boca” (literally: “Mouth”), was great though as it seemed like he had a radar for everything which we passed, and he pointed us towards the laughing Seriemas we had heard on the previous day, owls, caracaras (though these were hard to miss as there were so many of them) and also towards a group of ducks (Pato Mergulhão) which he saw swimming in one of the rivers – this is a duck which is almost extinct as they require pristine clean an unpolluted habitats, and the Serra da Canastra is one of the last remaining such places they can live. So it was pretty special being able to see a family of seven ducks swimming along even though they were about 400 metres away from us (can just about see them in the photo below but in no great detail unfortunately).

It was ultimately a good day in spite of the lack of walking – good to swim in the streams and go under the waterfalls; see some of the wildlife (we didn’t see Onças (Jaguars), ant-eaters, or the wolves in the mountains though which was a shame though these are slightly harder to come across).

In terms of comparing this mountain park to the Intervales Park, which distance-wise is closer to São Paulo, I would recommend the Serra da Canastra – there are many more trails that go to great parts of the mountain outside the park which you don’t need guides to see. Being more open, I think it is easier to get pictures and see the wildlife as well, in comparison to the closed-in forests of Intervales. Ultimately, though it is a good 7 hours or so bus ride away from São Paulo, being able to get a bus at 10pm and arrive early in the morning is great so the longer distance doesn’t matter so much. And, unlike Intervales, if you are dependent upon public transport, you won’t need to spend a fortune on a taxi to get you to and from the park areas.

 

So Easter has come and gone, and it is back to the five day working week. But the long weekend was quite welcome. We went to the Serra da Canastra mountains in Minas Gerais state on Friday night (we wanted to go Thursday but that didn’t quite work out – though it was fortunate in a way as we had a lot of work to do in terms of behind the scenes planning for the expedition). The bus ride ended up taking us about seven hours or so, and we got the small village of São Roque de Minas at around 7.30am. Again, the wonderful buses in Brazil meant that we were able to get some sleep in pretty comfortable seats (though as soon as one leaves the state of São Paulo into Minas Gerais, there is an instant change in the quality of the roads which can perturb even the heaviest of slumbers!), so when we got there, we were able to pretty much start hiking after having a quick shower and breakfast and have a full day of walking on the Saturday.

The mountains are wonderful for the hiker, casual drives and days out, and for wildlife admirers. We probably walked around 15 kilometres on the first day, and saw all sorts of bird life with the Caracara especially common, along with species of woodpeckers, parrots, and, though we didn’t see them… Seriemas. With these, we were walking along and heard a kind of laughing sound close by to us. We went to investigate, not knowing exactly what was making the sound, but just couldn’t see anything even though the “laughing” was right next to us. Then it stopped and while we investigated some more minutes, we just did not see anything. We were later told that they were Seriemas – a bird that generally stays on the ground though can fly small distances as it nests in trees. Fortunately we were able to see a couple on the Sunday.

And a quick note about ants… Always fascinating to watch and we saw some pretty big ones there, working away, cutting through leaves and carrying them away. It looked like the ground was moving. So efficient that whilst we were watching them, I had put my bag down and when I got back to it there were a few of them on it, and they actually cut a off a segment of some lighter mesh where we put the water bottle… Such endearing creatures…

I think that people in the area thought we were mad to be walking the distances we did – so many cars passed on the way there and on the way back, we were offered lifts by at least six or seven different groups. One guy called Venicius and his mother – nice people who shared a beer (I know, I know, terrible! though it was just the one!) with us when we reached waterfalls at mid-point of the trail – really did insist, but we were enjoying the walking (in spite of having to pass bulls, cows and calves in the middle of the road) and besides, the whole point of us walking the trail was (aside from to enjoy the wildlife!) to help us get used to good long distance hiking with heavy packs. So we politely turned them down and made our merry way back to São Roque. The meal at the end, though, was extremely welcome!

NOT what I've been doing at work.

Phew! Life has been hectic the past couple days! The rock gym has been booking a crazy amount of parties and staff belays which gives me more hours (a good thing) but it means I have to keep pushing kids and adults to their climbing limits for 10 hours or more a day! While its extremely rewarding and inspiring to see a child who could barely make it off the ground climb 40 feet into the air, it can be draining as well.

But as I think about it, it is good preparation for my first summer with Adventure Treks. Which in turn is going to be even better preparation for the 360 Extremes expedition. Let me explain…

I am truly excited about my summer months. As a co-trip leader, I will be working with 5 other leaders to lead teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 on adventure trips around the country. So for around 20 days at a time I’ll be out in the wilderness, living in my tent, pushing kids to their potential whether we’re backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, white water rafting or mountaineering.  They told me multiple times in my interviews that I would (a) have very little free time and (b) most likely be functioning on around 4 hours of sleep a night. That’s quite a challenge, especially when I’m used to a bed at home and at least 6-7 hours of sleep each night.

However, as with any pursuit, especially with the outdoors, the challenge is part of the adventure.

Taking teenagers and young adults out in the wilderness can be quite a test of willpower. As the summer months press on we (the leaders for Adventure Treks) without a doubt will face a number of issues, challenges and situations that must be smoothed out. I can’t imagine what will present itself during the trip, but what I hope to learn about is group management. Especially on a larger scale with 24 teens.

As leaders we have to take care of medical supplies, gear and equipment, water, food and general nutrition; as well as monitor the kids for their morale – mostly, are they having fun? In all this, we’ll be out in the wilderness where the ability to control situations greatly diminishes. On top of logistics we must be fully prepared for any situation that may arise: inclement weather, wildlife, impasses due to previous days weather and more.

In many ways this mirrors what we have in store for the actual journey with 360. While group management won’t exactly be at the forefront (although we’ll constantly be monitoring each others moral, strength reserves, food and water intake etc) the logistics of 360 will far surpass any other trip I’ve been on.

Besides pre-expedition logistics (working out finances, where to leave gear, where to pick up gear, what we will need for each leg of the trip) actually executing it will be even more hectic! One thing I learned from my instructors at my Wilderness First Responder course was this: If you have Plan A, you better have Plan B, C, D, E, F and G. Or more. And a basic rule of plans? They don’t ever work out.

Keeping that in mind, we’re going to have our hands even more full than we do now when we finally set off in 2014. Conditions will change drastically with each environment and so will the equipment we need as we progress. If we’re not logistics experts by the time we leave, we better will be! We have a lot of learning to do and it’s going to be a great journey. It’s already begun!

So yes, yesterday Natalia and I got ourselves some new mountain boots: Salomon Wings Sky GTX.

There were a fair few boots to choose from (strangely enough at a mountain store of all places… who would have thought..!?) though we ended up choosing these because they seem relatively very light, and are also waterproof and breathable as well as extremely comfortable. Natalia got the red ones whereas they had no orange in my size (BR 43; UK 10.5; US 11) so I had to be content with the black ones… not complaining though as they still look pretty nice!

The boots being lighter may have issues with durability – the really heavyweight ones will last forever – though these are also versatile and great for trekking not just through mountains but all sorts of terrain, from marshes to deserts to tropical forests… which is where we will also eventually be using them. We were pleased to see when we got back reviews of the boots which were nice and positive as well.

Spent the rest of the afternoon yesterday wandering around the house in them which was a bit bizarre, but should hopefully make life easier for us when we start hiking in them.