We spent our final day in Anchorage during our vacation to Alaska last summer doing the hike to Eagle & Symphony Lakes. One of the great things about Anchorage is that there are several great hikes that begin very close to the city, some from literally within the city limits. This was a flat, easy hike (relative to the other hikes we had done during our vacation) through a valley which ended at the above mentioned lakes. While the lakes were a bit of a disappointment, the hike itself was very nice, though the trail was a little rustic in spots, like in the photo below.
Does this look like the Grand Canyon? If I didn’t know better, I would say no. When most people think of the Grand Canyon, walking along a sandy trail is probably not their first thought. But the first section of the hike from the Colorado River back up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon is along a wide, relatively flat, sand covered trail. It’s a nice way to start what is a relatively challenging, but rewarding, hike.
If you explore rural Switzerland, you’re bound to hear the sound of ringing cowbells. The cows in Switzerland seem to live a good life, at least from what we saw, with plenty of space to roam in the Swiss countryside and each with their own cowbell. If you hike, you are likely to see cows along the trail, just enjoying some grass, as the cows seem to get plenty of freedom. This cow was along a trail near the town of Grindelwald, busy having lunch, and paying no attention to us as we walked by.
This photo was taken while on a hike in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland, from Männlichen to Wengen. A hike that was never meant to happen. We had taken the train to Jungfrau, the “Top of Europe” during the morning, hiked from Kleine Scheidegg to Männlichen, and planned to take the cable car down to Wengen. However, when we arrived in Männlichen at a little after 5 p.m. we realized that the cable car had already stopped for the day and the only way to get down to Wengen was to hike. We found the trail, a narrow, steep trail that wound back and forth between the avalanche barriers and began our hike down with rain clouds in the distance. While the hike was not part of our plans and the weather did not look ideal for starting a long, difficult hike, the views were absolutely stunning. Fortunately, it did not rain, as this was not a trail to be on in wet conditions. We hiked down and down until we emerged from the barriers and were rewarded by a slightly less steep trail which disappeared into the forest before finally emerging into town.
Hiking the Grand Canyon
Hiking through the Grand Canyon is an epic experience. Hiking from the north rim of the Grand Canyon down to the river requires a hike of 14 miles with nearly a mile of elevation loss and the hike up from the river to the south rim requires hiking another 9 miles and gaining most of that mile of elevation back. It is an intense hike that requires a lot of preparation but is well worth the effort. While the most stunning views of the Grand Canyon are from the rim, there is something special about being down deep inside the canyon, completely secluded from the outside world. It is serene and peaceful, surprisingly green with an environment that changes drastically throughout the hike. It is a little hard to put into words but it is unlike any other hike I have other done.
The heat of the canyon
The temperature outside is currently -20ºF. This is a stark contrast to the heat down in the Grand Canyon. During the summer, the temperatures get dangerously hot. The day in early June that we hiked down, the heat was not *that* bad, only a high of 104ºF. But it was enough that we started our hike down at just after 4 a.m. so that we could make it to the bottom of the canyon before the worst heat of the day arrived. The last section of hike down into the Grand Canyon from the north rim is called “The Box” because there are steep canyon walls on either side of the trail. As the sun beats down during the morning and early afternoon, the canyon walls absorb the heat and walking through “The Box” feels like walking through an oven. This is why we started our hike so early, so that we would be finished before the oven had fully pre-heated. While “The Box” can be hellishly hot, it is also a beautiful area of the canyon.
Rocky Mountain National Park is full of great hikes. As you might expect from a park with the word “mountain” in the name, many of the trails include pretty significant elevation gain. The hike up to Chasm Lake is one such hike. The trail is also one of the few in the park with a “bathroom” along the trail. While the “bathroom” may be pretty rustic, I doubt there are many bathrooms in the country with such an amazing view.
The drive from Anchorage, Alaska down to Seward, Alaska is a beautiful drive with views of water, mountains, and glaciers and regular sightings of whales and goats along the way. While the drive can be done in under two hours, we took the better part of a day, making several stops along the way. One of those stops was to hike the Bird Ridge Trail. The trail is a challenging, steep climb but the views are well worth it. Our timing was fortunate in that we got nice views from the top before the clouds rolled in. As we hiked down, I was busy taking photos and my wife was leading the way. I did not notice when we accidentally veered off the trail and started following a trail frequented more often by mountain goats than hikers, as it was quite steep and narrow. However, we eventually found our way back to the main trail and it made for an interesting adventure.
This photo was taken in Rocky Mountain National Park along the trail which climbs up to the peak of Mount Ida. The trail is moderately challenging at almost 10 miles in length with about 2500 feet in elevation gain along a narrow, relatively rustic trail. There are panoramic views in almost every direction for the entire hike as the trail climbs above the tree line not far from the trailhead. This also means that there is no protection from storms, which often roll in during the afternoons in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is recommended that hikers not attempt the hike if there are dark clouds nearby since lightning strikes are not uncommon. Luckily, on the day we hiked the trail the only clouds in the sky were of the puffy, non-threatening variety. This photo was taken during our descent from the peak.