Tag Archives: USA

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


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



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

No Rest Out West: a 3,500-mile summer bike tour around West U.S.

This summer I’m setting off to cycle around the mountainous West of the U.S. with my brother. We have two months and our rough plan is to cycle a big horseshoe route, heading north out of San Francisco late June, up the Pacific Coast of California, then riding up the Sierra Cascades through Oregon and into Washington. From there, we’ll turn right and ride east across Idaho and into Montana until we intersect the Great Divide Mountain Bike route. There, we’ll turn south, pedalling across Montana and Wyoming until we reach the vicinity of Denver, Colorado, where we’ll catch flights home.

Less than two weeks to go and I’m more than a little excited. I’m looking forward to a new adventure with my brother and a chance to hang out together (we live on opposite sides of the world, you see). The scenery promises to be spectacular on every level, from the remote Northern coastline of California, to the volcanoes of Oregon and Washington states, through to the drama and majesty of the Rockies. I’ve never visited the West coast or the West mountains of the U.S., so every day, every mile, will be a new experience. I’m looking forward to sleeping out in a tent again, living the simple life out on the road. I’m looking forward to it all.


I’ve used the maps of the excellent Adventure Cycling Association to create our route, combining their separate routes to create our own Frankenstein version, which consists of five distinct stages:

Stage Start End Adventure Cycling Route Terrain Distance (miles)
1 San Fransisco Crescent City Pacific Coast Route Road 420
2 Crescent City Medford Highways US 199 & US 99 Road 130
3 Medford Twisp Sierra Cascades Road 900
4 Twisp Eureka Northern Tier Road 550
5 Eureka Denver Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Off-road 1,500

This gives a route that looks something like this:

Approximate route of our tour around the mountainous W of the US

Approximate route of our tour

The plan is to spend our first month on the road section up to Eureka in Montana. That leaves our second month to spend on the Great Divide route, to cover approximately 1,500 miles. This should be achievable and leave us some time for side trips or hopefully some summit hikes. We’ll see!

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. – Winston Churchill

How did this route evolve? For years my brother and I have dreamt of riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike route together. Separately, I’d been dreaming of seeing the Sierra Cascade mountains and the Pacific Northwest, so we put the two together to come up with this hybrid route. Another factor in our planning is the unbearable heat of the desert in New Mexico mid-August, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to omit this part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and save it for another trip.

The riders:

Well, there’s me. And my brother.

Some kit notes:

I may do a geeky blog post further down the line detailing all the kit and decisions that went into it, but for now, this little snippet will have to do.

Suffice to say we’re going lightweight on this tour, inspired in no small part by the adventures of the Crane cousins and their ride across the Himalayas to the Centre of the Earth. (Any bike tourers out there – I fully recommend reading their book: it’s a fantastic account of a wild bike adventure, written in that self-deprecating style, favoured by the eccentric, slightly crazy English explorers through the ages.)

As for us, we’re both riding cyclocross bikes with rear panniers only, which should be a good compromise for riding on and off-road. The bikes and gear should be pretty light for this tour, which should translate into more fun on the road.

Cyclocross bike for tour

Cannondale cyclocross bike in touring mode

Regarding photography, this will be the first long trip that I don’t carry an SLR camera. I ummm’d and ahhh’d for ages on this, going round and round in circles weighing the pros and cons of taking or leaving the big camera kit. However, I couldn’t get past the weight of it all, the camera, then lenses, filters etc., it all added up to one big, heavy pile. So, it’s being left at home. I’m taking a compact camera (Canon G16) and my iPhone, both very capable cameras in their own rights, and best of all, light and easily carried so as to be accessible. I’ll be posting photos throughout the trip on my instagram account.

Whoop, whoop! See you on the road.

To Sugarloaf Mountain – a Sunday adventure by bike

“We need the tonic of wildness…” – Henry David Thoreau

Biking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Biking along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park

A great day out on the bike – 92 miles and approx 3,600ft of climbing. I followed the C & O Canal National Historic Park out of Georgetown (Washington, DC) with a couple of energy bars and hard boiled eggs in my cycling jersey. I had no fixed destination, only a vague notion of riding for about 40 miles along the canal towpath before heading home via whatever gravel roads I could find.

Potomac river

By the Potomac river

The region suffered a huge rainstorm at the end of last week – a solid 24 hours of torrential rain – so the Potomac was running higher than I’ve ever seen it. Both banks were flooded where there is normally woodland. Great trunks and all manner of other debris were barreling down the river. The river was a chocolate brown colour, displaying an angry, menacing power.

The flooded Potomac River

The flooded Potomac River

Contrast with the view from the same spot last year, when the river was at its “normal” level – amazing!

Potomac Chain Bridge view

Potomac Chain Bridge view

The riding was fantastic. The trail was flooded in a couple of places, including one section almost up to my bottom bracket that was around 200 metres long, but the water was only stationary so not in the slightest dangerous. I was forewarned of the flooding by a group of four young cycle tourers at one of the campsites. They were headed in the opposite direction and wondering if the trail was passable into Georgetown. In places the river was actually flowing through the woodland on my left side. Had it been like that across the trail then I would have thought twice about continuing.

Too big to bunnyhop

Downed tree across the trail – too big to bunnyhop!

Feeling good at mile 42 when I turned off the canal trail, I decided to make an ascent of Sugarloaf Mountain, on account of being so close. This was the third time I’ve ridden up this mountain and back to DC in a day, and it’s still a draw, a prominent objective that’s far enough to make for a challenging ride. It’s a fun climb, about 400 – 500ft climbing over a mile and a half.

Sugarloaf mountain

Sugarloaf mountain

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

From Sugarloaf I turned for home and was able to ride mostly gravel roads for another 15 miles or so. By then, tired legs were starting to make themselves known, but the scarcity of traffic and picturesque scenery meant I was enjoying myself too much to care. The past few months have been pretty hectic and at times stressful, so this day was a much needed reminder that adventure is always there, just outside the front door.

Two cereal bars and two boiled eggs do not fill the stomach of a cyclist with 75 miles in the legs, so in a moment of weakness I succumbed to the wafting smells of greasy food and this was the result:

Mid-ride refuelling stop at Domino's Pizza

Mid-ride refuelling stop at Domino’s Pizza – it didn’t last long

The final 17 miles of the ride were on familiar stomping grounds so I used up whatever reserves of energy I had left and raced for home. All in all a superb day in the saddle, with all the right ingredients – time immersed in nature, a mountain climb, quiet country roads, fine scenery and a decent physical challenge.

Here is the Strava screen grab of my route – sadly it doesn’t appear to be possible to embed the actual Strava widget in a wordpress.com website, so this will have to suffice unless I can find a workaround.

Strava route details

Strava route details

Southern Shenandoah National Park Photos

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods


After a busy summer dominated by work it was high time for a weekend getaway to the woods. I’ve come to love the subtle beauty and rich woodland experiences that characterize any trip to Shenandoah. We had booked a wonderful cabin – High Laurel Inn – for the weekend. Situated on the edge of the National Park (the back fence of the property is the Park boundary!), it was the perfect spot. We could hike from our doorstep.


Our home for the weekend


The front of the cabin

Day 1: 14 September 2013 / Paine Run Trail and Trayfoot Mountain Trail Loop / 10 miles


The leaves are turning; fall is on the way


On the Appalachian Trail

The halfway point of the day’s walk was also the most spectacular viewpoint, the summit of Blackrock mountain:


A contender for the best vantage point in the Shenandoah National Park perhaps?


Me and Lexi on the summit of Blackrock


Blackrock mountain summit panorama


Onwards to our next summit, Trayfoot Mountain




Yogini Lexi showing good form on the shoulder of Blackrock Mountain


My own attempt


Hairy caterpillar


Beware of the Yellow Jacket Wasps on Trayfoot Mountain – I was stung 4 times after stepping on a ground nest on the trail. I can tell you they HURT!


Wooded mountains


Sunset from the balcony of the cabin


Meet the locals

Day 2: 15 September 2013 / South River Falls / 8 mile out and back


On the Appalachian trail


Spot the caterpillar


Looking down to South River Falls


Humbled by the scale of it all


South River


Trail through the woods


Lexi finds the clearing


Wild flowers