Author Archives: Nikhil Navali

About Nikhil Navali

I’m Nikhil Navali, pursuing my masters in Computer Science at Cornell University. I love to be outdoors enjoying the fresh air and indulge in various physical activities. That said, I dont shy to sit days together with just my laptop and internet. I am basically a “Neophiliac” who wants to try many things in the world ranging from testing my taste buds to trying out adventurous activities. My favorite passtime includes reading books, watching historical documentaries on youtube and updating my bucket list which is always fresh and full.

Hike to Goat Lake and Big Four Ice Caves

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A last minute decision to visit Goat lake turned out to be a fantastic one. Along with visiting a beautiful lake, we also got to explore ice caves. Sai and I planned to visit San Juan islands initially but on the morning of the trip, Sai told me that he hadn’t booked the ferry and we were left with ferry availability on odd schedules. So Sai decided on Goat Lake instead and I agreed since I hadn’t visited it. Sai, his friend and I drove to Goat Lake trailhead via Mountain Loop Highway. It was a clear day and we enjoyed the views en-route. We parked at the crowded trailhead and started our hike at 10 AM.

The 5 mile trail to the lake goes beside gushing Elliot Creek, through lush green forest and some amazing waterfalls. The trail has most of the steep sections only in the end but other than that it was gentle and easy with most of it in shade. I wasn’t exactly in my hiking attire which caused a little discomfort. Snohomish County Hiking Meetup group organizer, Mathew was leading a group and I was surprised that he remembered seeing me somewhere. I had been on his Mt Pilchuk hike last year. We reached lake to witness some spectacular beauty and spent some time snacking and exploring. Many had camped the previous night yet it didn’t feel crowded. It was a very pleasant atmosphere under the shade overlooking snow covered mountain. Some jumped in the cold waters too but I didn’t even wet my feet. We took some pictures and left the lake. We covered the return journey with a much faster pace and lesser breaks.

Goat Lake Route Overview

Morning, I had seen Big Four Mountain en-route and I wanted to have a clearer view of it. So I stopped at a picnic spot near the mountain. Apparently, it was trailhead for Big Four Ice caves which was only a mile away. I had forgotten about these caves after researching about it months back. We asked people who were coming back and they shared the exact location of big caves which encouraged us to go visit even though we had just returned from a 10.4 mile hike. The trail had gentle slope and the views got better as we approached the base of the mountain. The melting snow on the huge mountain created multiple cascades of waterfalls – I counted 10 – which looked breathtaking.

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There were many signs on the trail depicting of avalanche and falling ice risks. Some people have died in the caves too. The trail ended and we could see some caves around. We continued further looking for bigger ones. The 2 big caves was formed below waterfalls and there were less people. We started with the first one which was around 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide. I went inside the cold dripping cave and was very excited to have been there. I went only a bit further since I was scared of falling ice. The suns rays pierced through ice and some part of the inside was bluish green. It was an awesome experience, outside it was quite hot, but inside, the cold air and dripping water created a refrigerator like atmosphere. Also a fun incident happened. Sai’s friend and I had come early and we were in the cave. He was searching for us but we could see him clearly from inside the cave. The confused look on his face when I shouted for him was funny to see.

Best viewed in 480p and above

We went to the next cave and it was much taller and wider. I hesitated to go inside as it was formed under a thick sheet of ice. We returned to the trailhead recalling the experience. Washington has so much stuff to keep me hooked to nature and I only crave for more. We drove back to Seattle and had dinner at an Indian restaurant before making it to home. It was a fun day with Sai and his friend.

Big Four Ice Caves Route Overview

Nikhil Navali

Categories: Adventure, Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Hike to Rattlesnake Ledge

Three times:

  1. With graduate classmates
  2. During Perseid Meteor shower
  3. Office team hike

Rattlesnake ledge blows me away with its views. A perfect setting with mountains on three sides and plains in between with lake right below the ledge. For such a short hike, the views are spectacular.

Photos

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Categories: Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: | 1 Comment

Rugged Maniac 2017 – My first OCR

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This was my first sweet and short obstacle course race. I had witnessed such action only in the tv and since I love adventures and rugged paths, I dreamt of taking part in it someday. I had somehow missed these races last 2 years in Seattle. I came to know about Rugged Maniac event and since I thought going alone wouldn’t be great, I chose to volunteer and then decide if I wanted to race. I kept checking for open volunteer spots and finally signed up the day before the event.

The race was staged at Remlinger Farms, 1 hour drive from Seattle and I reached there by 8 AM. I checked in at the volunteer section and two others and I were assigned to man the Water Station 1 at Mile 1. We reached the water station and waited for more than an hour before the first wave of people came in. Meanwhile we were getting to know each other and exploring the surrounding obstacles. I tried to power the generator for speaker and ended up pulling the generator on my leg hurting myself. Funny thing was that was one of the biggest injury of my day. It got interesting once the runners started passing by our tent. We were very efficient in filling the cups and handing them. There was a girl in our team and she was very proactive in handing the cups – she danced and made expressions – which I think pulled in more people towards water. I was standing behind her and very few people came to me. The loud music was energetic and I too added some dance moves. It was fun watching the racers and comments regarding them wanting beer instead. We spent 3 hours volunteering and then headed to volunteer section. By then I had decided that I would take part in the race later in the day. All volunteers got free passes to run and we chose to run on 1:30 PM slot.

I changed and got ready with my old shoes for the run. Very excited, I stood behind the Start position and waited for the signal. It was finally time and we started with the 5km obstacle race. I initially chose to run with my volunteer-mates, but later decided to take off. The first mile and half was pretty basic with water crossing, ladders and sling shot. Then some really rugged stuff started. For the barbed wire, I copied a guy’s technique and rolled under it which looked like ಉರುಳು ಸೇವೆ. I was actually following two people ahead of me and kinda kept them as my reference. Then there was one of my favorite obstacle called Tipping Point which basically was a see saw plank and we had to walk from one side to other. Few of the obstacles including Ringer was closed. The next set of obstacles included crossing pool of water on floating boards, jumping on fire and then crossing the messy puddle under the barbed wire. By then I was almost completely drenched in slushy mud.

The obstacles are summarized in the video:

The last part was getting on top of warped wall and then coming down on a water slide. There were people helping to get on the warped wall and I started with my run up to get on the wall. I was careful not to slide on the wall and just caught a person’s hand. Then he helped climbed the wall and I returned the favor by pulling the next racer. This was very beautiful – though we were in the race, we helped each other finish it. Water slide was adrenaline filled fantastic experience which reminded me of the slides I enjoyed during childhood. I crossed the finish line after that and checked the timings. I had taken 46 minutes to complete the 5km course with around 20 obstacles. I was pretty happy with my timing. Here is the official winners timings. It was a fantastic first run which gave me a taste of OCRs. I will definitely look for future events and take part in them actively. Elated with the finishers medal, I spent some more at the area before driving back home.

More Photos and Videos here

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Hike to Eldorado Peak and Knife Edge

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This was a hardcore adventurous 18 hours, 6700 ft, 10 mile roundtrip hike which also included walking over something called knife edge. I was waitlisted for the event and Michael – meetup organizer – messaged me saying that he would move me to confirmed list since he believed that I could make this hike. Almost the entire team got together for training at Silver Bowl and I eventually got ready with all the required gear before the hike. 2 others and I started from Seattle the Friday evening and reached a campground near to trailhead by 8 PM. Most had set up their tent and I slept in the car. I think I slept only for 2 hours and by 2 AM we were awake and getting ready.

It was around 30 people group and we were broken into 3 teams and then again into rope teams. I had named by rope team Chaku (Knife in kannada) due to the knife edge. We started hiking at 3 AM and after initial creek crossing over logs it was a steep traverse till Boulder field. It was daylight by then and snow started appearing soon after. The view towards Cascade pass was amazing. I took the responsibility to carry the rope which was very heavy and I struggled a lot for that hour before I handed to other person. We wore crampons after the boulder field and then roped up soon after with me being in the 3rd position in a 4 member team. We were getting into the clouds and within no time we were in whiteout conditions. I met Gaurav and asked him ‘Yeh sab kyun kar rahe hai hum’ (Why are we doing all this?), I was unhappy that I couldn’t see any views. We reached high camp and by then I could see patches of sky which gave me some hope. Soon clouds started clearing slowly and I could see more and more views which encouraged me a lot. From there on, we went to the base of most-awaited knife edge.

Knife edge is an extremely narrow path with sheer drop on either sides. Actually, the narrowness depends on the snow levels and season. For us, it was pretty narrow with only enough space to keep both the feet beside each other. The summit block is located right above the knife edge. It looked pretty scary to me and I was not wrong. We waited for an hour till the knife edge was clear and started our adventure. I was confident about my balance but not my ability to manage so many gears and ropes attached to me. For safety, there were pickets placed in between and we had to clip/unclip from them. I kept looking at either side since I wanted the adrenaline rush looking at the deadly cliffs below. It was scary, but a lifetime experience walking on the edge. We spent sometime on the summit and got down with utmost care.

The sky started getting clearer and I was treated with more magnificent views. The partly frozen lake below, passes, valleys, mountains, everything looked majestic and I was so glad to be witnessing that. I volunteered to carry the ropes again and coming down the boulder field was pretty hard. Also the increased weight got hard on my knees and I was damn slow while coming down the last steep section. It was around 8 PM by the time we reached trailhead. I had spent 18 hours on the trail. I slept in the car waiting for another hiker to finish. Then drove to Seattle to reach home around 2 AM.

It was a fantastic team effort with various people helping each other. SOA meetup group is simply awesome and I love hiking with them. Its been 4 years since I did my first snow trek in Himalayas and I am glad I have continued hiking since which has been one of my biggest passions in life.

More Photos and Videos

Activity Overview

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The symphony of the classical elements at Hawaii

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The symphony of the four classical elements – Fire, Air, Earth and Water at Hawaii felt surreal. I had always pictured Hawaii as something very calm, peaceful with beautiful green hills and beaches but my experiences were something more than that. It was like any other adventure trip for me. I chose to visit Big Island mainly because it gave the opportunity to see the lava and 3 others joined me. It was a crazy trip – we went from sea level to 13.5k+ feet in a single day, got close to hot lava, snorkeled above the beautiful reefs and sea life and a sensational encounter with whale shark which swam right below our boat. The rest of it was the usual Hawaii stuff which I had always imagined and heard of – beautiful green hills, beaches and sea side high mountains. So I didn’t feel that bad about not visiting Hawaii with a partner and kinda smiled away whenever asked why I chose to visit with friends.

After browsing through our calendars and based on the availability, we chose to make the trip on the Memorial day long weekend and bore the high expenses for flights and stay. We came up with a rough 4 day itinerary and it wasn’t until the last 5 days, things were finalized. I started making the bookings and at the same time was introduced to a common Hawaiian word, Aloha which is frequently used to greet people. I gave one final touch to the itinerary a day before leaving Seattle and was excited for the trip.I wanted to book a convertible car, but others felt it was too small for 4. So I ended up booking a standard SUV from Costco Rentals – apparently, Costco gave me the best rental prices. Ramanan and I flew from Seattle and Sai and Smitha from San Francisco. I would have loved if we had a day time ariel view, but it was dark by the time we reached Hawaii. The airport’s open roof architecture was quite interesting and I had already started loving the tropical weather. Also, I saw a guy wearing a cap reading ‘Make America Native Again’  which was quite funny but deep. Since we didn’t have car rental for the night, we took a taxi to the hotel and slept for the night. We stayed at Uncle Billy’s at Kona which was a decent place.

Day 1: Sea level to 13.5k+ feet

Due to jet lag, our body woke us up quite early in the morning and we got out for the day pretty early after having a basic breakfast at the hotel. Only rental cars from Harper were allowed to be taken on Mauna Kea summit, so we had booked a 4WD for first day from them. It was Toyota 4 Runner and an employee made a complete video of the car for proof before handing it over. The coverage had a deductible of $2500. So I ended up declining coverage for the very first time that too when I was supposed to take it on a gravel road at 10k+ feet altitude. The car itself was huge and it felt like sitting in a cockpit with many knobs. After shopping for essentials from Walmart, we started with our drive and saw volcanic rocks beside the road. Our first stop was at Hapuna beach – which lived upto its name of being one of the best beaches in Big Island. Clear waters, clean sand, green hills in the backdrop and subtle waves made the beach perfect for playing. Since it was morning and the beach was facing west we didn’t have Sun hitting our eyes. There was less crowd too. I wasn’t exactly prepared for getting into the water. So I came out after some time and started exploring the beach from the cliffs on the side. The whole beach looked stunning from the cliff and waves looked like curling jewels. We also flaunted our Hawaiian shirts for the entire day which we had bough from Walmart.

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We then drove along the serene coast with green tall hills on one side and turquoise waters on the other to reach Polulu Valley Lookout. En route we had our lunch at a small town and got a taste of local food. I didn’t enjoy much mine since it was just sticky rice, Tofu and Coconut sauce. From the lookout, we took a short hike to the beach. I was extremely happy at the sight of high cliffs rising from the shore since that was what a typical Hawaii was for me. More cliffs were visible as we descended and the view kept getting better. The beach was filled with stones and it was dangerous to get in but the surrounding was a tranquil site. There were ropes tied on trees for swings and we had some fun playing.

It was time for the adventure part of the day and we first drove to Mauna Kea visitor center which was located at an altitude of 9k. We also encountered rains for a very short time. It was quite misty and there was a ranger guarding the route to the summit and he kinda looked serious about letting people through. On asking he mentioned that he would allow only AWDs and he gave a glance at the mountain and asked us to be safe. I had initially planned to stay for an hour acclimatizing, but wanted to get pass the ranger before he changed his mind. So we added layers quickly and left for the summit. I had forgotten the steps to engage 4WD and did it once Sai pulled the information from the net. The drive was much safer than expected with wide roads and also it was a very short drive. We reached the summit very quickly. It was a barren terrain without snow and there were huge telescopes all over the place. We had literally gone from sea level to 13.5k+ feet in few hours. The summit is considered to be one of the best place for space observatory. I had prepared for the cold and was quite comfortable. We roamed around the place and decided to wait for the sunset. As the Sun started painting the sky orange more vehicles poured in and the sky got clearer too. We chose a good spot for the car and waited to see the Sun getting drowned in the clouds. It looked like a red bowl was kept in the sea of clouds, somehow Sun didn’t appear to be in the edge of the horizon but amidst the clouds. It was the most surreal sunset I had ever seen. It was well worth the wait.

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We then drove to visitor center for Stargazing. There were smaller telescopes setup which were pointed at Jupiter and its moons. I recognized it from the red rings around it – had seen it earlier from the observatory at Cornell University. Then there was Laser guided star tour which was ok wherein I got to know few interesting facts. After drinking hot chocolate at the visitor centre we left for Kona and had dinner at Denny’s.

Day 2: Black Sand Beach and Lava tour

We returned the heavy duty 4WD car and got an AWD car from Alamo. It got quite late by the time we got ready and had breakfast at Ihop. We reached Black Sand Beach and got ready for getting into the water. The beach had black shiny sand and big rocks in the water was making it difficult to move around. There was a turtle close to the shore and unknowingly I got in contact with it once which was scary. We spent some time playing in the water by crawling over the rocks and reaching the deep beach. We saw some turtles on the land while heading back. We then left for Hawaii National Park. We had to get to the lava tour by 3:30 PM so we had time to visit only 1 attraction. I chose crater and glad I did. It was a huge crater and there was a smaller crater inside with fumes coming out of it. It looked like Crater lake without the water. We then left for lava tour.

I had contacted Cheryl, the co-organizer of pokeastick lava tour few days back and initially she said she is not doing the evening tour. Only after asking for the second time, she arranged her friend as a guide for the tour. I am so glad I asked her second time as this tour was the highlight of the trip for me. We got ready with the gear for the tour and the first part was a ride on the back of a pickup truck. The whole area is near a town named Kalapana. Lava has been flowing since 30 years around the area and enters the sea in the form of small falls from a short cliff. There is a access road to the beach and the public can either walk or bike the 4 mile stretch. We didn’t go to the beach but we headed for the hills in the west. We got down from the truck and starting walking. It was funny to see while one of the guy in the tour was all ready with bag with locks, torch holder, knife etc but Ramanan just had a plastic cover. We were making fun of this the entire trip. Our guide, Christine told Ramanan that gear didn’t look realistic and asked to hand over the belongings to others. We were surrounded with solid lava which had flattened the area since 1987. It was basically a combination of sand and glass and we were very careful to avoid rough contact. The previous week I was in the snowfield at Silver peak and here I was at lavafield. The vast expanse and fumes blowing looked otherwordly. Steadily we reached closer to the hills where lava was flowing. It was first time for me and I was psyched at the view of looking at red lava. Christine took us away from the crowd to a different flow location. Not sure if this was good idea since we saw more of surface flow here opposed to vertical flow on the hills. Nonetheless I got high looking at the lava and was jumping all around. We walked over the cracks, got close to the oozing lava and walked on hot surface. Even with the hiking shoes, I could feel the hear in my feet. The lava was close to 700 deg C and we got close to it in bursts to avoid getting roasted. As it got darker, we saw more red lava below and around us which was fantastic. This was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life.

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We started the return hike before it got too dark but we kept seeing people reaching the hills even in the dark. As it got more dark, we saw the Crescent moon in the sky and more red lava on the mountains. It was a great sight. The hike was around 9+ miles and it took quite some time to reach the truck. We took our car and then drove back to Kona. En route we were hit with heavy rains at Hilo – the wettest place in US (not Seattle you see) and drove in the mist on the saddle road. We had dinner at Denny’s and had a short sleep.

Day 3: Snorkeling, rugged coast ride and whale shark sighting

After a light breakfast, we left early for the snorkeling tour. We got in a small raft boat around 9 AM and started with the ride for snorkel locations. We were around 13 of us and I was surprised to see Jessmine on the boat. I had hiked with her the previous week in PNW and we were on a big hike the coming week. There were few others from Washington too. I didn’t expect this trip to include anything be more than snorkeling but I was so so wrong. The ride to snorkel locations was a rough bumpy ride along the coast. We snorkeled at 3 different spots. At the first one, we were given the basic training and the gear was pretty solid and good. I chose to get into the water with just mask and fins. I was quite comfortable navigating and found some amazing spots where sea-life thrived. I could spot more animals on the reefs at lower depths and yellow fish was abundant. After 45 mins we got back to the boat and I started feeling nauseous. I am unsure if it was due to the bumpy ride or due to elongated mouth breathing. We were taken to sea caves and lava tubes before reaching the remote second spot. I couldn’t enjoy much due to the sickness. I forced burped myself and almost puked once. We rode close to rugged coast and saw amazing arches and beautiful rock formations. I slowly got better but the whale shark incident changed me a lot I guess. While going to the third location, someone radioed saying that there was a whale shark sighting at the bay close to us. Our organizer got very excited with the news and chose to chase it. We couldn’t see it even after minutes of scouting and waiting. Later the organizer decided to take us 3rd spot before the time ran out since it was considered the most beautiful snorkel location in the whole state. This was near Captain Cook monument and I should agree, it was the best spot. I saw more variety of sealife here and it was sensational. I was feeling much better by then and explored the area. On all the three spots, turtles surfaced right after people were done with the snorkel. We were treated with food and Hawaiian stories by the guides once on the boat. The climax awaited us. We were returning to the base while we saw a small boat with people who pointed to us that a whale shark was right near us. We fervently searched for it and something unexpected happened. The 20 foot shark swam right below our boat and I got goosegumps even while writing this. It slowly moved from one side to the other and people started jumping into the water to get a better sight. Its a vegetarian and known not to hurt people. But no one could see from the water as the shark swam away quickly. I couldn’t get into the water since I was not ready with my gear but I saw the shark with its white spotted dots from the boat and was taken aback. The whole thing looked so scripted and we were so fortunate as the guide mentioned that in her 11 years of the job, this was the first time she saw a whale shark. We had to get back as there was another tour scheduled.

We returned to the room and slept the entire evening. It was a much needed sleep after 2 and half days of adventure. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant and walked the downtown area and retired for the day.

Day 4: Waterfalls and high valley

Day 4 was typical Hawaii stuff with visits to waterfalls, valley lookout and beach. Akoka waterfalls looked stunning in the green forest and Waipio valley was breathtaking too. Waipio valley also has the highest waterfalls in the Unites Stated which can be reached after a days hike or through helicopter ride.

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We drank coconut water nearby and saw peacock from very close and it shook its feathers frequently in an effort to impress the hens. We drove to Hapuna beach again and I couldn’t comfortably enjoy the beach since Sun was directly hitting the eye. I played with sand for sometime and then left for airport. The evening Sun transformed into Red Circle and it was a soothing end for the trip.

 

It was a fantastic experience which included adventures and beauty. We experienced hot lava, green hills, turquoise waters and an amazong sunset I would recommend visiting Big Island if you want to avoid crowd and have a diverse trip.

More Photos and videos here

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