Hike to Yellow Aster Butte

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Yellow Aster Butte was a long pending one and I was waiting for fall colors to do this hike. I met the meetup group at the Park and Ride and started the 2:30 hr drive. Highway 542 was windy and the road near trail head was a bit sketchy. I enjoyed driving my Crosstrek at both the places. It was around 10:15 AM by the time we started our hike. It was cloudy but a pleasant day. The interesting part about the trail was that after half the hike, you can see almost the entire route up-to false summit. Around 2/3 of the hike was above tree line and the surrounding views were beautiful and it only got better. We reached the base of the false summit where I could see numerous campsites facing Mt Shuksan and Baker. I wondered how awesome camping there would be. We had lunch at the false summit and then I hiked to true summit where I could see more awesome mountains and Tomyhoi lake. En route, I could see campsites surrounded with patches of lakes and grey rocks. It felt so nice, that I just sat there until my meetup buddies came back from the summit. There were numerous people with their pets and kids. They were having their sweet little time with nature. I somehow felt this was like mini Enchantments. The place had a near 360 deg view and I felt so good that I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world at that time. I feel so privileged that I could experience such beauty with only hours drive from home. I was chatting with a young forest ranger girl while descending and it was interesting to know about her. I didn’t have much trouble with the neck this time and thoroughly enjoyed the hike.

Activity Overview

Photos and Videos here

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Zion and Bryce National Park – 2017

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After scratching the surface in Utah during my last trip, I had always thought of going back and covering depths of National Parks. Narrows and Angel’s landing were long pending hikes, so I chose to visit Zion and Bryce National Park during the Labor Day weekend. As my geeky friend Alok mentioned, it was DFS than BFS this time. We ventured into the Zion narrows walking in the Virgin river, braved heights to reach Angel’s landing, did mountain biking at 11,000 feet, experienced amazing hoodoos at Bryce and stayed at an awesome Airbnb house at Brain Head.

Unexpectedly, 9 people were ready for the trip and all the bookings were made comparatively late this time. I booked a 15 seater Van through Costco Travels which worked out to be extremely economical ($587 for 4 days with full insurance and 2 additional drivers). 6 of us flew from Bay Area and 3 from Seattle. We had an early morning flight to Las Vegas and it was 9:30 AM by the time we met everyone at a Las Vegas hotel. We spent some time shopping and having breakfast and hit the road to Zion National Park with 9 people in Ford Transit Van. I was scared at times driving the van since it wobbled at high speeds.

Day 1 – Crowded Zion National Park

We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant at SpringDale and entered Zion National park. It was very hot with temperatures rising upto 37 C. Vehicles were parked on the streets miles ahead of the visitor center and slowly we started to realize how crowded the park was. We found a paid parking spot and got onto the shuttle for Emerald pool hike. Due to the narrow canyon, popularity and high number of visitors, Zion NP mandates the usage of shuttles for getting to places in the park. I was quite impressed at the frequency and efficiency of the shuttles. We got down at our stop and started the hike to lower Emerald pools. The weather was quite pleasant in the canyon and it was a short walk to the pools. I didn’t find the place anything great but it was a decent start for the trip walking in the canyon. Somehow Zion didn’t feel quite as magical as last time – maybe due to the crowd and heat. We then went to Zion Adventure Co. to collect gears for Narrows hike. We had a short orientation, collected Neoprene socks, Canyoneering shoes and a walking stick. A guy there expected next day to be the busiest day of the year at the park. Narrows hike was my main agenda for the trip, so I had left no stone unturned to make that happen. Knowing the crowds, heat and the length of the hike, I had planned to leave very early for the hike. We packed for the morning breakfast and lunch and started with 1.5 hr drive to Airbnb place.

People were getting restless with the drive since it was far from the park. The AirBnb house was located at a ski-town named Brian Head which is at an elevation of 9800 ft. It was late night and at first we went to some other house and started entering the key at the door. My friend Karthik explains this better – “This place looked straight out of late 90’s horror movies. We walked through the creaking wooden platform towards the cob webbed building entrance. The lobby even had abandoned toys and dusty piano. The night was eerily silent. The fact that Akhil and I mentioned seeing a black shadow flying on the road on the way to this place still weighed heavily on our minds. And then we saw our room: a dark brown heavy wooden door with an omnious sign which read, “Garcia’s head out” written in Gypsy Curse font! Akhil and Nikhil took a couple of steps back while I confidentally went ahead and entered the access code! Nothing! The door did not open. Partly relived and partly worried, we headed out to the van, not knowing what to do now. And then it hit us! We were in the wrong building”. The actual Airbnb house was fantastic with 3 bed and 3 baths where 11 people could sleep. The house had all the essentials for living and most of the walls were adorned with various things. Akhil was very curious and started exploring the place. I really loved the feel of it and was glad that we chose to stay there. We retired for sleep soon since we had to get up early.

Day 2 – Zion Narrows hike

In the morning, Alok mistakenly had started eating my sub and I resorted to bread-jam. We packed the essentials – food, water, layers, gears for the hike and left the place at 5:30 AM. We reached Zion NP and we parked the van in oversized parking where only 1 spot was filled. There was already a huge line for the shuttles and it was around 8:45 AM by the time we reached the trailhead at Temple of Sinawava. Zion Narrows hike is a walk in the Virgin river which traverses in the canyon it cut through from millions of years. There are 2 approaches top-down which requires permit and bottom up which doesn’t require permit upto a certain distance. We were doing the most common bottom-up hike and I wanted to all of us to finish the Wall Street section atleast which was around 8 miles round trip. We started with the paved riverwalk first which was already quite crowded. Akhil was carrying a can of water by itself and although he was confident to carry during the hike, it fell and broke within 200 meters on the trail. Soon we reached the river and started walking in it. We instantly realized the importance of the waterproof socks and even though we were in the water with slippery stones, the socks and shoes gave enough support for the walk. Water was just knee level deep for most of the section and we enjoyed this unique experience. We encountered a waterfall, numerous bends, canyon walls on the side and many people. The weather was quite pleasant and we made good progress. I ensured we all took breaks and were appropriately nutritioned. I was enjoying the beauty all around and especially liked the combination of still huge canyon walls and flowing water. It was amazing to stand in the Virgin river with different shades of red all around.

Slowly the river got narrow and we were in the famous Wall Street section where the river was just 30 feet wide at some places. From there on I decided to split the group and I joined the fast walkers to make it to as far as possible. We reached a spot where the water was over 5 feet high and we carried our bags on shoulder to cross. Deepak didn’t know swimming and went into deeper section where he started to drown. He threw the bag in action which had camera but fortunately in a waterproof cover. Even my bag went into the water while saving him. We decided to leave our bags there and continued. We asked oncoming people about the route ahead and they told that it was quite an easy walk and no place had chest deep water. So I decided to turn back since there were no major adventures ahead. We came back to the deep section and I started swimming there. I was just happy with the fact that I was swimming the narrow Virgin river. Some of us explored the Orderville canyon for little distance. Return walk was much quicker than expected. The crowd started getting thicker and at places we could see only people and no natural beauty. It also was quite hot in the afternoon Sun. I quickly marched the rest of the walk falling at few places and decided to take a nap on the riverwalk until everyone had done. I got up and I thought I overslept but few had yet to complete. I then went to Natural Museum for a talk before heading to the van. We had taken 9 hours for 8 mile roundtrip walk in the virgin river. But we spent ample time for photos, breaks and fun. It started raining when we were in parking lot which brought down the temperatures. Everyone were quite tired and we drove to Brain Head for dinner. We watched a movie after the dinner and retired to sleep. People were happy that they didn’t have to get up early in the morning.

Day 3 – Mountain Biking, ATV and Bryce National Park

We slept to our content, spent quality morning time sipping coffee and left to explore outdoor activities. After roaming around multiple offices, we decided to split between ATV and Mountain Biking. MB was long pending and I was interested in it especially due to the availability of ski lift. Deepak and I chose mountain biking and I was ready with gloves, jeans and a jacket. I was quite sure that I would fall and wanted to minimize the bruises. We took the bikes, went on the ski lift which took us to 11k feet and started with the most easiest trail named Color Country. After an easy first few meters, there came a steep section and climb. I was quite fast and I was so imbalanced that I was deciding how to fall easily. But fortunately somehow I was still safe on the bike. The rest of the trail had little difficulties and I thoroughly enjoyed the adrenaline, speed, balance and jerks. The trail was quite rocky which made it little difficult. The last section was in the forest with steep turns which was fun too. Overall, I really enjoyed the biking and I was glad to be safe. But being me, I chose to try the difficult trail next. The ski lift was closed for few minutes due to lighting hazard. A fellow biker told us about the next difficult trail and we chose to do that. The trail was ok for some time and then it kept getting steeper and rockier. Deepak fell and injured himself quite a bit after which we were quite cautious. We walked the bike at very steep sections and avoided jumps. Not sure how, I fell sideways on a flat surface and lightly injured myself too. There was one last jump which I was hesitant given all the injuries but nonetheless made it. It was quite an adventure at the end of it.

Activity Overview

My other friends said they loved their ATV experience. After Pizza lunch, we left for Bryce NP. We chose to do navajo loop trail which starts and ends at Sunset point. This short 1.3 miles hike was extremely beautiful which took us close to Orange hoodoos. Almost entire trail was surrounded with various formations and I enjoyed the entire journey. There was especially on spot close to Sunset point where the closer hoodoos and father hoodoos looked like they belonged two different screens in-front of me. The panoramic views kept getting better as we rose higher and the evening colors were in play. The Sun was behind the clouds, so it was not so bright. We left for Brain Head after dinner and retired for the day.

Day 4 – Angel’s Landing 

My friends had understood the importance of starting early for the hike so this time they themselves were ready before me pushing for it. We checked out the place at around 5:15 AM and left for Zion NP. There weren’t much crowds this day since the long weekend was over. We took the shuttle and reached the trailhead for Angel’s Landing. Angel’s landing is rated as strenuous hike due to the elevation gain and exposed cliffs in the final section. We started with our hike and soon the group got dispersed. First 2 miles was paved but steep hike with decent views around. Actual fun started from the Scout’s lookout. There were chains from there on to help hikers traverse the narrow trail with 1000 ft drop on either sides. I should say that chains really helped and made the hike less terrifying.

There were many people and there were bottlenecks at places which delayed the ascent. I dropped my phone which cracked the screen. Instead of feeling bad, I concentrated on the unique exciting hike and the beauty all around. Slowly and steadily we made it to the summit and spent ample of time clicking photos. There was sheer drop at many of the places and the canyons, red mountains looked fantastic from the summit. We returned after spending around an hour. It had gotten very hot while we were returning. Alok and I washed ourselves in the river and relaxed our feet. After spending enough time at the park and finishing 2 of the most beautiful hikes, my love for Zion had returned. Somehow my watch acted weirdly on all the hikes and gave me wrong stats for the hike. So I wont be posting the activity overview for the hikes.

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We left for Las Vegas and boarded our respective flights. I was supposed to reach Seattle by 12:30 AM but I experienced a delay again due to a stupid reason. Apparently, the airlines had over-fueled the flight and were waiting for someone to come and defuel. Even after 2 hours, no one came, so they switched the flights. I was ok this time since I was extremely sleepy and I just slept through the delay. Before landing, I had a dream where in the flight attendants were bracing us for impact by shouting “head, head”. I was surprised that I wasn’t following the orders but realized that it was a dream. Anyways, we landed safely and it was 4 AM by the time I reached home. I have had issues with 4 of my last 6 flights.

Tips:

  • Narrows hike is an endurance hike and very doable. Make sure that you have waterproof socks and right shoes.
  • Start early for any hike in Zion during summer. The heat makes the hike double difficult.

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Hike to Mt Sparrowhawk

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I was in Calgary on the weekend of 26th August to meet a friend and didn’t want to miss the chance of hiking in the Canadian rockies. I searched online for a challenging – beautiful hike within a 2 hour drive from Calgary and finalized Mt Sparrowhawk in Kananaskis region. I didn’t expect much crowd on the hike and due to the bear season, we planned to carry bear spray. We started from Calgary at 07:30 AM and stopped at Canmore for breakfast. We bought the bear spray from CanadianTire shop at Canmore and left for the trailhead. I was unaware that last 25kms of the drive was unpaved but it was not so bad that a front wheel drive couldn’t make. We reached the trailhead where I did my first major blunder of the day. I had never used a bear spray before and wanted to test it. I moved away from the car and sprayed but the wind took the chemicals to my friend which caused her eyes and face to burn. I was really scared that it would be something worse than burning. We waited for her to get better and eventually she did, at-least thats what she told. We started the hike at 10:45 AM.

The first part of the hike for 1 km was quite easy with wide trail and gradual ascent. From then on, it was quite steep all the way till the summit. I had loaded the route on my watch and kept checking every now and then. We started to see part of Spray lakes which looked magnificent. Eventually we were above the tree line and we were in a position to see almost entire Spray Lake. The turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and green trees provided for an excellent panoramic view and I realized why everyone had rated this hike so high. We could see the summit of Mt Sparrowhawk in distance and I wondered if we could make it well before evening. We saw few hikers on Reed’s tower which looked impressive as well. An helicopter was making rounds throughout the day. The next part of the hike was a light scramble and then the last part was on the loose rocks. I realized that we won’t be able to make it to the true summit given the time and just aimed to get as high as possible. There were few people on the trail and most of then were returning by the time we neared the summit. A hiker told me that we could get to a point below the summit section from where we could see the other side. My friend chose to wait while I went to the pass where I could see the mountains and lake on the other side. I had gained 4000 ft in 3.3 miles to reach an elevation of 9826 ft. There was snow and it was quite windy with a weather station on the pass. I then hurried down to meet my friend and we sat for lunch on a green flat patch overlooking Spray lake, Reed’s tower and surrounding mountains.

We then started with our hike back to the trailhead. We spent quite some time getting down the scrambling section. We were facing the lake for the next part of the hike and it was lovely scenery on both ends of the lake. I was actually more scared of the last part of the hike due to bears since it was covered in trees and it would be difficult to spot one. I kept making noise and my friend clapped and fortunately we didn’t spot any bear for the day. It was around 7 PM by the time we reached the trailhead which marked the end of an awesome hike. While returning to Seattle next day, I spotted the same Spray lake from the flight.

More photos and videos here

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Scramble to Little Si

I joined meetup people on a scramble to Little Si to watch fireworks from the summit. We started the hike at 6:30 PM and reached the scramble spot. Most of us forked and started with the scramble route. It was nice beginner scramble with not so much exposure. We secured a spot below the summit and waited for fireworks while all of us set up a potluck-buffet. I carried just the dates but few had got a lot of stuff. Fireworks was organized by city of North Bend as part of festival at Mt Si. It started at 9:50 PM and I was surprised that it went on for 30 mins. The most unique experience was listening to the echoes shooting off the surrounding mountains. Then we chose to scramble down and it was more exciting because it was dark. It felt very rugged to see the sights of scramblers on the small cliffs with their headlights on. It was a nice short evening outing.

Activity Overview

GPS video

Photos and Video

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Hike to Hidden Lake Lookout

It had been a while since I last hiked and I wanted to do one even though there was widespread smoke from Canadian fires. The destination being Hidden Lake Lookout was one other reason. We started at 6:05 AM from Park and Ride and reached trailhead around 8:30 AM. Last few miles trailhead was not paved had many potholes. The organizer didn’t make it to trailhead even after 30 mins, so we left a note and started with the hike. After a mile of shade, the trail is exposed the entire way. Snow made a lot of difference wrt views and we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains much. Bugs troubled us a lot for the first couple of miles. I kept a good pace and hiked conversing with a fellow hiker. We made it the base of the lookout and then something unexpected happened.

A fellow hiker had made it to the lookout and we saw him from the base. We thought he said come straight up scrambling and we started with the scramble. I had heard that there was another route around but I chose scrambling. After few distance everyone except a girl and I chose to take the trail around. I still chose to scramble as I was already half way up. The last 100 feet of the scramble looked doable and I started with it. I got to know the difficulty only when I got close to it. I was climbing on near vertical sections. I was not wearing my usual hiking pants, so that too troubled me a bit. Also, the rocks didn’t look that stable, so I was constantly worried. The girl chose to follow me and I ensured I didn’t launch any rocks over her. I dislodged one huge rock but fortunately, it didn’t start rolling down. I was so glad I made it to the top in one piece. It was extremely scary and stupid of me.

The views from the top was much better than expected with Hidden lake, rocky and snow covered mountains around. The lookout was interesting too. It had a nice bed, books, cards, games and many other stuff. It’s first come first serve and a couple had already claimed it. We spent ample time at the summit and started the descent. I took off and ran most of the switchbacks since I was getting uncomfortable from the heat. Due to a variety of exercises over last few weeks I didn’t get knee pain this time. We then drove to Cascadian farm for ice cream. I chose to Espresso flavor hoping that it would keep me awake for the rest of the drive. But fellow passengers and I had healthy conversations throughout which made it a lot easier to stay awake.

Activity Overview

Photos Here

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