Author Archives: benlcollins

Mountain Climbing in Tasmania, 2018

Frenchman’s Cap

2nd – 4th January 2018

An account of a week in Tasmania with my brother, in early 2018.

Day 1: Trailhead to Lodden River Camp (6.5km)

The rain that had threatened all day finally arrived, just as we pulled into Frenchman’s Cap trailhead car park, in the heart of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. We packed our gear between rain showers, taking three days of food with us.

Ahead lay 23km to the summit of Frenchman’s Cap, and another 23km return to the car.

The weather was kind enough to briefly grant us several minutes of sunshine as we took our first steps on the trail (who likes setting off in the rain?). To say we were giddy with excitement would be an understatement.

Frenchman's Cap trailhead

The initial km of trail passed easily beneath our feet as we conversed, chewing the fat like long-lost friends. Rain showers came and went. Jackets were donned. The mist obscured any long distance views but the atmosphere lent an air of mystery and suspense to our project.

Above all, it was terrific to simply spend time with my brother out in the wilds again.

Frenchman's Cap trail near Franklin River

Still all smiles about an hour into the hike. The packs were not too heavy and the trail was easy on day 1.

Happy hikers

Camp was established alongside the Lodden River, amongst the trees. There was no-one else around and the only sounds were the occasional bird song. The river was wide, slow and meandering, and made no audible sound at camp.

Campsite at Lodden River

We turned in after a couple of welcome brews and a surprisingly good hot meal. (We always have an interesting debate after these trips with friends and spouses about the actual quality of camp food. Is it only good because of the setting and one’s hunger? Or is the food half decent in its own right? My brother and I are probably of the latter opinion: I think we’d both still enjoy a camp dinner at home!)

That night I found a leech gorging itself on my leg, which caused a ripple of alarm between us. He was easily burned off with the lighter, but we were more careful to check for them at day’s end during the rest of the trip.

Day 2: Lodden River Camp to summit of Frenchman’s Cap and camp at Lake Tahune

We struck camp by 8am after a morning brew. Joints were stiff. Eyes were puffy. I was plainly not used to this camping malarky anymore. It had been almost 3.5 years since I last slept in a tent. (Just the way the cookie crumbles. I still see lots more hiking, camping and mountains in my future.)

Wild Tasmanian Forest

It was still misty as we traversed above the Lodden plains on the new trail (avoiding the infamous and suitably named ‘Sodden Loddens’, of old). Our path was wet enough thank you very much!

We stopped at the Lake Vera hut for a hearty cheese and ham lunch. Then it was back into the thick forest and shortly after, the steep climb up to Barron Pass. It was tiring work with the packs and general lack of mountain fitness.

The climb is relentless and, just when one is getting utterly tired from the exertion of it, one emerges onto the chilly pass and a sweeping new panorama of lakes and mountain summits.

Frenchman’s Cap summit was still slumbering under a cloud when we passed through Barron Pass.

Barron Pass lookout

An open path traversed across the shoulder of Sharlands Peak and onto the ridgeline adjoining F.C. It was a superb section of walking that we romped across. Some more ups and downs before the path deposited us at a misty, atmospheric Lake Tahune:

Mist at Lake Tahune

The situation was wild!

The Lake Tahune hut was in the process of being rebuilt, so it was a construction site up there, but we found a tent platform and pitched our tent as the rain fell. The trees provided some welcome cover. The wooden tent platform had an innovative chain & nail system in place of using pegs. It took a little while to figure out but we soon had the tent pitched taught.

After a brief rest and refuel, we decided to go for the summit that same afternoon, given the weather was relatively good (only cloudy and showers, but little wind). Who knows what the next morning would be like?

On the shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Best of all, we could leave the bags at camp and travel light, just taking a water bottle and snack in our jacket pockets. The climb began up a steep gully from the opposite shore of Lake Tahune, with a few scrambly sections. Beyond it was an airy, zig-zagging path over rocky terraces, which reminded us of days in the Dolomites, with the swirling mist.

Summit signpost

Sadly there were no views at the summit. We were still elated though. It was the first summit we’d climbed together in years and it’d been quite a journey to reach the top.

It had all the classic elements of a good backcountry adventure: enough hardship that we felt like we earned the summit, enough beautiful scenery to remember for years to come and, of course, the (literal in our case) brotherhood of the shared journey.

Summit of Frenchman's Cap

On the way down off Frenchman’s Cap we dipped beneath the clouds and enjoyed the most spectacular views of the trip thus far. Just stunning!

View from shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Looking down on Lake Tahune. Our camp was at the L edge of the lake, hidden amongst the trees.

View from shoulder of Frenchman's Cap

Day 3: Lake Tahune camp back to Trailhead (camp at Franklin River)

Not many photos from this day on account of the heavy rain that persisted until lunchtime.

I did not have such a good day. My left knee gave me pain on any downhill section (overexertion, given my lack of backpacking in the last few years) and I had an annoying headache all morning. No choice but to trundle on though.

The dreary day matched my mood. Soon though, one emerges from the other side of such a mood and takes a perverse pleasure in just putting one foot in front of the other and making progress, despite the discomfort.

A hearty lunch and a lie down at Lake Vera hut restored me and I very much enjoyed the easier afternoon walk out to the trailhead. The sun shone on us and mostly dried us off. That night we camped next to the Franklin River, just a few hundred metres from the trailhead.

Franklin River suspension bridge

(Day 4 transfer south, including stop for fish & chips in Hobart.)

Mt Anne

6th January 2018

Our initial plan of trying the whole circuit had been scaled back to just a day hike of Mt Anne. The weather had other ideas.

We sat in the car at the trailhead, listened to the rain falling, and willed ourselves to just get on with it. After some deliberation, with the rain easing, we set off and headed up the mountain.

My knee gave me no problems thankfully. The wind nearly knocked us off our feet in places however!

Mt Anne trail head

There is a small hut on the shoulder of Mt Eliza, which is a satellite peak to the south of Mt Anne. We stopped and enjoyed this convivial, little shelter, chatting with other hikers over lunch. Some had been camped up high last night and told of a wild night.

We set off into the roaring wind once again, getting blown up the ridge in places, but never in any danger. It was enjoyable and refreshing, but we were doubtful of summiting Mt Anne in this weather.

Windy!

One enjoys tremendous views out over Lake Pedder the whole way up Mt Eliza:

View from shoulder of Mt Eliza

Hunkered down on the summit of Mt Eliza, behind a boulder to get out of the wind. It was actually a little less windy on the summit compared to the ridge line, so we spent a little time up on the plateau, exploring the next bump and enjoying the incredible views.

Summit of Mt Eliza

The scenery was simply magnificent (click to see larger):

Panoramic view from the shoulder of Mt Eliza

Prudence is the better part of valor, so we abandoned Mt Anne for another day. It gives us reason to come back to the magnificent mountain region.

Mt Field West

7th January 2018

Our final mountain day was a long walk over the high plateau of the Mount Field National Park, to the summit of Mount Field West.

It was a gloriously sunny day, quite the contrast to the weather so far. Buoyed by the sunshine, we set off in high spirits and travelled light, with the minimum of kit.

Sadly this didn’t include any painkillers and I soon developed a headache again. Nevermind, the scenery was stunning. This was mountain walking at its finest.

Lake Seal, Mt Field National Park

Navigation was easy with Mt Field West visible most of the day. It was deceptively far away though, so we were both pretty tired by the time we reached the summit plateau, dotted as it was with many tiny ponds and scenic tarns.

Tarn near summit of Mt Field West

I had a little nap on the summit (it was that kind of mountain day) and we enjoyed the 360 degree panorama of mountains, forests and lakes. It was the sort of day we live for, and reminded me of our climb up Black Peak in NZ, and also closer to home, of Munro summits.

Summit of Mt Field West

I’m not going to lie, the last few hours of the day were tough for me. My headache worsened and made the walking rather grueling. This selfie just about captures my feeling at the time:

Selfie with a headache

Despite the headache, which faded upon taking painkillers back at the car and descending to lower altitudes, it was still a top-notch mountain day with my brother.

I have extremely fond memories of the entire trip, of all the high and low points. Memories I’ll cherish for life.

Links

Frenchman’s Cap Trail Notes

Mt Anne Circuit Trail Notes

Mt Field National Park Notes

Honeymoon Trek in La Gomera, Canary Islands

A photo essay from the trek my wife and I took for our honeymoon, on the beautiful island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands. We did this trip in late 2014, and we’ve had two baby boys since then, so forgive my slow progress on this blog…! 😉

We travelled with Macs Adventure, a self-guided walking tour company, who did a brilliant job of organising our accommodation, transport and route logistics, as well as moving our overnight bags from rustic hotel to rustic hotel. This meant we could just enjoy the walking, the scenery and great food. It was our honeymoon after all 😉

Looking back to Tenerife from the ferry to La Gomera. It would be the last time we’d see high-rises, bars and tourists:

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Our first night was in San Sebastian, the capital of the island, with a population of around 8,500. It’s a tiny place, but of course, that’s the charm. Here’s San Sebastian seen from the mountains above, to give you an idea of the scale and setting:

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The Hiking

Day 1: El Cerdo –> Chipudé

Our first day of trekking dawned grey and drizzly, but it was perfect weather to be trekking through tropical forest and I believe it’s pretty typical for the central mountainous area of La Gomera.

Shortly after being dropped off at the village of El Cerdo to start the walk, we entered the island’s National Park:

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The hiking was other-wordly, on excellent paths through the misty trees:

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One of my favourite aspects of the hiking in La Gomera was the surprises one encounters around every bend. Buried deep in the middle of the National Park forest is this little gem, the church Ermita de Lourdes:

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We continued through the misty forests all morning, gradually gaining height as we climbed upwards through the mountains, towards the highest point of the island:

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Plaque near the summit of Alto de Garajonay, which, at 1407m, is the highest point on the island. It was pretty wet, windy and wild on top, so we didn’t get any views (or photos). A reason to return!

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We passed some stupendously scenic pine groves on the descent off the mountain:

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The day concluded with us hiking through terraced farmland, past herds of goats, into the tiny village of Chipudé, where we stayed the night in a cozy hotel.

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The church off the central square in Chipudé:

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Sunset from the hotel room in Chipudé:

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Day 2: Chipudé –> Vallehermoso

Again, the day began with wet weather so we set off in full waterproofs. It felt like a typical Scottish hike!

The hiking was along scenic terraced fields, past tiny villages:

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The island is like a time capsule, with original homes and features everywhere. This particular doorway was in the village of El Cercado, which also had a few craft shops selling local pottery that we checked out, before walking on:

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Beyond the village of El Cercado, we traversed across the head of a huge, steep valley, which had been ingeniously terraced. Our path weaved along the terraces:

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Excellent walking, despite the light rain:

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Beyond the terraces we plunged back into the misty, tropical forest:

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We began our descent down towards Vallehermoso, along a wild path descending through the mountains:

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Every so often, we’d see a building and some terraces far off, nestled deep in the mountains, amongst the palm trees and cacti:

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As we approached Vallehermoso, we dropped beneath the heavy blanket of clouds to see the brilliant blue sea in the distance. This photo doesn’t really do it justice but it was a beautiful view. That’s Vallehermoso in the valley floor:

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Approaching Vallehermoso, can you spot my wife in this photo (blue top)?

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Day 3: Circular walk from Vallehermoso

A superb circular hike up the mountains behind Vallehermoso and along their tops, where we enjoyed the wide open sea views:

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The small chapel of Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Coromoto is at the top:

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Stupendous views along the rugged coastline, with the beach, Playa de Vallehermoso and it’s outdoor pool, just visible bottom right:

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Day 4: Vallehermoso –> Hermigua

Bright sunshine and not a cloud in sight! This is more like the weather we expected. Our bags were collected from the hotel in Vallehermoso and we set off to hike to the next town of Hermigua.

We went straight up into the mountains and had wonderful views back across the valley to Vallehermoso:

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This section of the hike along the coastline was spectacular, being so open and expansive:

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Mountain reflection:

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The village of Agulo that we passed on the hike to Hermigua. The village was a maze of narrow little lanes, nestled into the mountainside:

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View of Hermigua from our hotel window. Fabulous, long day of walking! It was glorious to arrive and relax with a view like this. You can just see Tenerife and the peak of Mt. Teide poking up behind the ridgeline:

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The fish dinners in Hermigua were superb:

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Day 5: Circular walk from Hermigua

Another beautiful, sunny day, perfect for more coastal walking:

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Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves?

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Looking up the valley from Hermigua towards the mountains, in the direction we’d be heading the following morning:

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Day 6: Hermigua –> San Sebastian

Today was a shorter hike, but the views were some of the best.

We were back on the east coast of the island again, looking out towards Tenerife and El Teide:

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The hiking was so, so good:

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The view as we approached San Sebastian:

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Day 7: San Sebastian

Back in San Sebastian, we had one more day to relax and look around.

This is the old fort:

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A typical street at rush hour, as you can see San Sebastian is a pretty busy place:

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The main square and church of San Sebastian:

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All in all, one of the best holidays we’ve taken. My wife and I still talk about this trip often and we’ll return one day, of that I’m sure.

Wonderful memories 🙂

Logistics:

There are no direct flights into San Sebastian, so you’re required to fly into neighbouring Tenerife and catch one of the frequent ferries across to La Gomera (takes about 1 – 3 hours).

We travelled with Macs Adventure on this itinerary. They arranged all the logistics for us and transported our bags between hotels, so we could really relax and enjoy the walking.

Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Essay

Archives: Trip from September 2014

It was well over a year ago that I spent two fantastic weeks hiking and climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park with my great buddy Steven.

The highlight of the trip was our alpine ascent of Mt Ypsilon, a marvellous 10 pitches of rock climbing up a wild ridgeline to a high, remote summit. However, that was by no means the only fantastic day we had. We had several days of premier crack climbing around Estes Park, climbed several other massive alpine mountains on the Dividing Range and saw some spectacular wildlife. All in all, it was a fantastic trip.

Photos from the trip, hiking and climbing amongst the stunning Rockies:

Steven looking out towards Longs Peak

Steven looking out towards Longs Peak

Rockies Sunset

Sunset

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Off to go climbing near Estes Park, CO

Off to go climbing near Estes Park, CO

Pear Buttress route, Book Crag, Lumpy Ridge

Pear Buttress route, Book Crag, Lumpy Ridge

Steven leading the 1st pitch of Pear Buttress route, Book Crag, Lumpy Ridge

Steven leading the 1st pitch of Pear Buttress route, Book Crag, Lumpy Ridge

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing on Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park

Climbing Batman and Robin, Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park

Climbing Batman and Robin, Lumpy Ridge, Estes Park

Evening light over the mountains near Estes Park

Evening light over the mountains near Estes Park

Hiking near Estes Park

Hiking near Estes Park

Mountain Days

Flattop and Hallett Mountains

Flattop and Hallett Mountains

Descending Andrews glacier off Otis Peak

Descending Andrews glacier off Otis Peak after a fantastic day walk along the Dividing ridge taking in Flattop and Hallett mountains

Alpine tarn

Alpine tarn

Chipmunk

Chipmunk

Huge Elk

Huge Elk

Steven pondering our climb of Mount Alice, Wild Basin area

Steven pondering our climb of Mount Alice, Wild Basin area – an epic day out

Scrambling up the summit ridge of Mount Alice, Wild Basin Area

Scrambling up the summit ridge of Mount Alice, Wild Basin Area (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

On the summit of Mount Alice

On the summit of Mount Alice, feeling really tired! Big day out – 20 miles and 4500ft ascent

Aces high: an alpine climb of Mount Ypsilon, Rocky Mountain National Park

A photo essay from an alpine rock climb of Blitzen Ridge on Mount Ypsilon, 4,119m, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

September 2014

Mount Ypsilon

Mount Ypsilon, our route was the right skyline ridge

It had been over two years since I’d last climbed. I was out of practise and a good deal more uncomfortable with exposure than I remembered. Two days previously, we’d been repulsed by this route, grossly underestimating its length and deciding to bail relatively low on the ridge before getting stuck. Privately, an uneasy feeling had settled over me in the few days since, and I was not psyched about returning.

My climbing buddy Steven, with whom I’ve shared many great trips, was undaunted. A regular climber still, he was, without a shadow of doubt, the stronger climber of the two of us. He made a convincing case for going back for a second go at Mount Ypsilon, saying we owed it to ourselves to have another crack. I was still uneasy but agreed, knowing I would regret it if we didn’t but also that I would have to overcome my fears if we were to reach the summit.

Steven on lower reaches of Ypsilon

Steven on lower reaches of Ypsilon

Learning from our first attempt, we set off a full two hours earlier, before dawn. We hiked stealthily upwards in the cool morning air, zig-zagging up the steep trail to the base of the mountain, each lost in our own private thoughts. The forest felt more oppressive, as if my anxiety was manifesting itself physically. I did all I could to hang onto Steven’s coattails on the walk in, arriving at the mountain lake not far behind. The lake was nestled in the Mount Ypsilon’s alpine cirque, with the bulk of mountain in full view. From here, a steep gully took us straight up and on to the shoulder of the mountain and the beginning of the ridge to the summit.

Gearing up

Getting ready to climb at the start of the ridge proper

Already we had gained considerable height from the car park. But we were only just beginning and had a long climb ahead. At first, progress was easy, measured, as we walked up the broad ridge, scrambling over and between boulder fields. Gradually the ridge narrowed and became more defined, more intimidating. Ahead lay the climb proper and the four aces the route was known for. Four huge dorsal fins of rock on the lower half of the ridge that constituted the bulk of the technical climbing. As we scrambled to the base of the first ace, the exposure ramped up very suddenly.

The technical climbing began in earnest.

Steven leads up the first pitch

Steven leads up the first pitch

Doubt and anxiety swirled around my head, a constant presence over the hours of climbing along the ridgeline. Gradually, as I became more comfortable with the exposure, I began to enjoy the splendid position we were in. High up on a monstrous alpine ridge, alone and totally committed, surrounded in every direction by beautiful mountain architecture.

The traversing fun begins

The traversing fun begins

Me on top of the first Ace

Me on top of the first Ace (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

Steve led each pitch since I long ago relinquished any claim over the sharp end of the rope. The route led up steep faces and corners, across knife-edge crests with several abseils to drop off the back side of the ridge’s jagged teeth. In all, it was 8 varied pitches of exposed climbing up to 5.6 grade.

Exposed middle pitches of the climb

Exposed middle pitches of the climb (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

View back down the ridge from near the summit

View back down the ridge from near the summit

The final section of the ridge, past the technical climbing, was the most arduous of the day, both physically and mentally. Having been on the go for around 10 hours, we were both dog tired. The route beta had given us the false impression that it was a short, easy stroll to the summit beyond the final pitch of climbing. However, it turned into several hours of scrambling over loose rock, with continual focus required because of the big drops. It was stressful and only became harder as we climbed above the 4,000m line, as the altitude made our breathing ever more laboured. Still, we had no choice. Our only way out was to go up and over the top of the mountain.

Me on the start of the summit ridge

Near the top of the summit ridge (photo credit: Steven Cunnane)

We summited around 6pm, rather later than we planned, but elated to be on flat, safe ground again. (Or at least I was.) Relieved to just sit, to walk around and enjoy the magnificent scenery.

On the summit of Mount Ypsilon

On the summit of Mount Ypsilon

We couldn’t hang around for long though as the daylight was quickly fading and we needed to get as far down the mountain as we could before darkness set in.

The descent was over new ground; in fact, we had decided to take a different descent from the recommended one, based on what we had seen of the terrain. We opted to climb over the satellite peak of Mount Chiquita and down its broad shoulder. Despite being slightly further than the “standard” descent route (a heinous-looking steep gully), it appeared to be much more benign terrain with a gentle gradient, which was important as we knew we’d soon be descending in the dark.

Descending at dusk

Descending at dusk, in spectacular evening light

Our goal was to reach the bottom of the shoulder of Chiquita, where the tree line began, before dark. So we hotfooted along the ridge, hopping over the boulder fields, only pausing to catch our breath and witness the beautiful sunset. We managed it, only needing to get the headtorches out as we plunged into the forest.

Sunset from Mount Chiquita

Sunset on the descent over Mount Chiquita, after summiting Mount Ypsilon

Although I was mightily relieved to be off the mountain proper, and below the technical terrain, the forest presented its own set of challenges. The darkness was complete and our tired minds began to play tricks, imagining that behind every tree was a hungry bear, or rock crevice to tumble into. We stumbled onwards in the dark, knowing that as long as we kept going downhill we must eventually intersect the path we’d trekked in on that morning.

Stumbling around the forest in the darkness

Stumbling around the forest in the darkness

So it was that we slipped and slithered our way downhill, swearing profusely at the rather absurd situation we were in, convinced we were lost and likely benighted in the forest. I managed to get a signal on my phone and pull up Google maps which showed that we were closing in on that path however. Finally, after a harder struggle than we expected, we emerged into a clear corridor between the trees. Hurrah! The path! Salvation! A veritable highway to carry us home. We still had several miles to go, but compared to all that we had encountered thus far, this final section of the day was a breeze. We reached the car, tired, hungry but elated at about 10.30pm. Definitely one of the best mountain days I’ve ever had.

At camp that night

At camp that night

Bikepacking around the North East of the United States

I’ve finally got round to editing the photos from this year’s tour and want to share them here along with some of the stories from this trip.

Originally, my brother and I had planned a summer of bike touring around the Western US. We began in San Francisco with an ambitious plan to follow a huge horseshoe route around the mountains of the West. This went awry when I crashed heavily on day 9, forcing me to return home, rest and re-assess plans. We changed our strategy, planned a new route and set off from DC, finally riding a 2,300 mile loop around the North East of the US, over 25 days.

1. The trusty steed
A standard Cannondale cyclocross bike with Revelate bikepacking gear was the perfect setup for this tour. Fast enough to cover long distances on the road, light enough to climb any hill with only a compact double, agile enough to lift easily over obstacles we encountered and tough enough to ride off road for several days at the beginning of the tour. By the end, the bikes felt more like friends than mere mechanical objects.

Cannondale setup in bikepacking mode

Cannondale setup in bikepacking mode

2. C & O Canal
The first two and a half days were spent riding along the C & O canal: 185 miles of off-road, traffic free riding from Washington, DC to Cumberland. My back was still hurting like crazy from the crash earlier in the year, so I had to take strong pain killers to help me sleep in the tent at night. The canal towpath was scenic, quiet and full of historic interest. Highly recommended for bike touring.

Cycling past an historic canal aqueduct

Cycling past an historic canal aqueduct

3. Night riding along the C & O canal
We were slower than anticipated along the C & O canal as a result of my bad back and a poor riding surface (in places) so we didn’t make it to our chosen campsites before darkness fell. As we only had head torches, it made for some interesting night-time riding.

Pete cruising along the C&O at night

Pete cruising along the C&O at night

4. Stretching on the GAP trail
From the end of the C & O canal in Cumberland, we picked up the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail to Pittsburgh, a further 150 miles of off-road riding. The GAP trail gives superb riding through miles and miles of forests, with hardly a soul out there.

Stretching on the GAP trail

Stretching on the GAP trail

5. Pittsburgh
The end of the GAP trail and the end of the signed, off-road bike paths. Personally I was relieved to have made it this far, but still felt there was only a 50-50 chance of being able to continue the tour from here because of my back pain. We stopped overnight in a hotel in Pittsburgh, ate in a dingy, cheap restaurant, gorged on fantastic chocolate from The Milk Shake Factory and slept a deep sleep. A real bed did wonders for my back and the bike tour was still on!

Fountain in Pittsburgh

Fountain in Pittsburgh

6. Changing brake pads in Meadville, PA
Pete’s bike did not have a particularly happy tour! It began with a scraping sound from his rear disc brake, which we were able to fix ourselves relatively easily in Meadville, as we waited out a passing storm. Several days later his rear sprocket and free wheel began making all sorts of horrible noises, which continued on and off for the duration of the tour. We had two bike shops take a look along the way and replace various bits, which helped keep us going….for a while.

Replacing brake pads in Meadville, PA

Replacing brake pads in Meadville, PA

7. Sunset on Lake Erie
From Pittsburgh, we cycled through Amish country for two days to Lake Erie, where we raced the setting sun to the PA/NY state line and camped right on the lake shore. This was our longest day so far, 114 miles. We arrived just in time to pitch the tent and take a sunset photo. Lake Erie is so vast it felt like we were camping along the ocean. The campground hosts made us feel very welcome, offering us a prime pitch looking out over the water, bottled water, use of a charging point for our cellphones and not charging us full price when we didn’t have the available change. The generosity of the strangers we met on the bikes was something refreshing and wonderful, something one doesn’t encounter too often in day-to-day life.

Sunset over Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie

8. Niagara Falls
An amazing sight. Spectacular. Superb. Deafening. Monumental. Be warned though, the statistics are not good if you decide to go swimming.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls — Bridal Veil falls

9. A pain in the ass
Literally. Beyond Niagara we picked up the Erie Canal towpath for around 60 miles until just beyond Rochester. For me, this was some of the most difficult riding of the tour as saddle sores were causing me all sorts of discomfort in the afternoons. Aside from this issue, the canal made for lovely, relaxed riding (it was flat and traffic free!).

Sunset over the Erie Canal

Sunset over the Erie Canal

10. Lake Ontario
We reached Lake Ontario, our second Great Lake, on day 9, at a pretty little hamlet on the lake shore by Salmon Creek, called Pultneyville, scene of a battle between British invaders and American locals in 1814.

Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario

11. Sunset from our camp on the shores of Lake Neatahwanta, near Fulton, upstate New York
We arrived into camp and pitched the tent just before dusk, a common theme on this tour. That evening, we walked through the woods (and the worst swarm of bugs I’ve ever encountered) to have an excellent dinner and beers at the Red Brick Pub in Fulton. We caught a taxi back to the campsite that night (we decided unlit roads with no sidewalk was too risky). The cab driver was a character — as he drove through the campsite in the dark, a fellow camper said “Hey, the speed limit is 5mph” to which he replied, in thick New York accent, “Whaddya think I’m doing, huh, you wanna drive?”. For some reason this amused us greatly, and my brother and I laughed about it for days.

Sunset over Lake Neatahwanta

Sunset over Lake Neatahwanta

12. Into the Adirondacks
Beautiful scenery, brilliant, quiet roads and fantastic riding. This is what we came for.

Pete cycling

Pete cycling

13. Lake in the Adirondacks
The numerous lakes through eastern New York (and Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) were beautiful. Scenic roads hugged their shores, giving us cyclists the perfect backdrop as we pushed the pedals.

Lake in the Adirondacks

Lake in the Adirondacks

14. Camp at Paradox Lake, New York, on night 11 of the tour
I liked this campsite, mainly because of the misty, atmospheric conditions we had. It felt like we were the only ones around for miles and miles.

Camp at Lake Paradox

Camp at Lake Paradox

15. Covered bridge in Vermont
Old, wooden, covered bridges were few and far between on this tour so I was particularly excited by this one and insisted that Pete get a photo of me riding into it. Having seen hardly any cars in the previous hour, one arrived barely a moment after this photo was taken, requiring a hasty retreat to the right side of the bridge.

Covered bridge in Vermont

Covered bridge in Vermont

16. Thirsty work under a blazing sun

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

17. Cresting Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire
Our high point of the trip, and some of the best cycling too. An earlier sign titled “No Gas – 32 miles” made us chuckle as we joked we shouldn’t have eaten such a heavy lunch. By this stage of a long outdoors trip, toilet humour takes over as the main relief for weary minds.

Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire

18. White Mountains of New Hampshire
Arguably the best scenery of the trip, although one might argue the same for the day we cycled through the Adirondacks past Mt Marcy. Certainly some of the best cycling. I enjoyed the long climbs up and over passes in the White Mountains. They afforded plenty of time for day-dreaming, time to enjoy the splendid scenery, time to embrace the exhaustion emanating from one’s legs. One is able to use the excuse of a photo opportunity at various scenic overlooks to cover up one’s suffering, and give those tired legs a little time to recover.

White Mountains of New Hampshire

White Mountains of New Hampshire

19. Panorama from the Kancamagus Pass road, New Hampshire

Mountain Panorama

Mountain Panorama

20. Maine, where roadworks were never far away
Before the tour, I thought Maine would provide some of the best riding of the tour, and, though it was stunningly beautiful, it was less suited to bike touring than the previous few days through Vermont and New Hampshire. Partly that was attributable to us being there over a weekend, so we had to contend with holiday traffic on the busy coastal roads of Maine. This did not make for relaxing riding at times. The other factor we noticed in Maine more than any other state, and this is understandable given how far North Maine is, was the poor quality of the road surfaces. Frost heaves, huge potholes and unlaid roads meant we had to keep our wits about us at all times.

New road in Maine

New road in Maine

21. Feeling remote in Maine
We relished getting away from the traffic and off the beaten track, although these unsealed roads were precarious at times. Small rocks were everywhere, ready to flick a wheel off its natural course and tip you over, so speeds were necessarily low. Absolute concentration was required so they were tiring miles, but experiences like this were always preferable to clogged up highways.

Dirt road, Maine

Dirt road, Maine

22. Victory!
We ate lobster on the Atlantic coast of Maine, thereby achieving the goal we had set ourselves several weeks earlier. A steadfast determination had gotten us here. The reward was a deep sense of satisfaction as we munched through these delicious lobster rolls. It was with some degree of relief too, at least on my part, to be here in Maine, as I had been worried the crash on the west coast had laid waste to any further biking this summer. The tour felt like a redemption of sorts, salvaging a great adventure from the pieces of our earlier summer tour.

Eating lobster

Eating lobster

23. Feeling fresh as a peppermint
Taking a break in Stafford, Connecticut. By this stage a cumulative fatigue had set in, so that each day the legs felt a little heavier, with a little less pop. We frequently reminded ourselves that it was a marathon, not a sprint. Keep turning those pedals, our mantra went, and so we did, from morning to evening, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from covering long distances each day.

Weary legs

Weary legs

24. In the hurt locker as we near home
We could smell the finish line as we raced through Maryland during the last couple of days to home, in Arlington, Virginia.

Pete at speed

Pete at speed

25. Finish line photo
We made it! This photo was taken by my wife as we cycled back along the road where it all began, three and a half weeks earlier. It was particularly memorable to simply ride back to my front door at the end of such a long trip, prop the bikes up in the garage, take a shower and then sit in the living room with a cup of tea, as if we had just returned from a two hour training ride.

Finish line

Finish line

26. Mileage chart from the Eastern Tour
We ended up covering just over 2,300 miles in 25 days, of which 24 were riding days. We took one rest day in Burlington, Vermont. Our average daily mileage ended up being around 96 miles for the riding days. We were pretty tired by the end.

Mileage chart

Mileage chart