“This has got to be the craziest sport I’ve ever done,” my friend George said to me as we rested on our mountain bikes gazing down a precipitous slope toward pine forest and spiky mountains in the distance. “Here we are in one of the most beautiful places on earth and when we’re on our bikes we can’t even look at the scenery!”
The mountain bike trails from the top of Sun Valley’s fabled Bald Mountain (9150 feet elevation) wind through meadows, switchback down sheer slopes, weave through pine forests, and really get the adrenaline flowing. We were cruising (or rather, braking) down eight-mile-long Warm Springs Trail because the friendly fellow who sold us tickets for the gondola to take us to the top sized us up and said, “Take Warm Springs Trail. You’ll see when you get up there that you have two choices, Cold Springs and Warm Springs. You folks want Warm Springs. It’ll be a lot better for you.” Then he grinned and said, as if questioning our resolve, “Cold Springs is not for the faint of heart.” Continue reading »
Cue the Deliverance Music.
It was July 4th weekend so we were expecting crowds, and save for a few kayakers and boat enthusiasts, we pretty much had the river to ourselves. We had planned a moderate backpacking trip but when one in our party had abrupt knee surgery in April, we opted to paddle to our campsite instead of forcing the kids to hike with packs a la the Bataan Death March. The preparations were similar to a backpacking trip, but we could bring comfy pads and a cooler. I was concerned about tipping the canoe, but my friend hails from Minnesota and has done this sort of thing before.
“That’s a big-fish cast,” guide Jim Santa said as my fly landed on the far side of the creek just shy of the willows lining the bank. The fly caught the current, drifted through the ripples into the shade, swirled once and flowed under the overhanging bush in the deep water. “Whoa. There’s gotta be a fish there. Put it back there again.”
I recast and landed the fly in the same spot, watched it run with the current in the shade, under the willows and through the deep water again. But no strike.
“People say they catch fish but only small ones, and I tell them they’ve got to put the fly where the big fish are. That cast was right where the big fish are,” Jim mused, as I couldn’t tempt a trout to rise to the fly.
“I’m pretty good,” he continued, “but I couldn’t make a better cast than that.”
That, of course, was music to my ears, even though I suspected that he said the same thing to everyone.
We were fishing Wild Horse Creek, a quintessential Idaho trout stream in Copper Basin in Challis National Forest 26 miles north of Sun Valley. Jim was leading me and three of my best friends through a morning of fly-fishing that promised lots of contemplation and — we hoped — a few fish. Continue reading »
As the snowmelt begins to pour off the Alps and wildflowers emerge in the meadows, I find it hard to banish thoughts of hiking in Switzerland. My plans for this year will focus on California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, but my heart will be in Switzerland.
A few years ago I tromped around the Jungfrau region with friends, basing ourselves in the tidy village of Mürren that clings to a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a front-row view of the legendary peaks the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. A year before that, with young children in tow, my father-in-law, wife, and I trekked the trails out of Grindelwald in the shadow of the Eiger. Both experiences left me wondering if it could get any better.
As everyone knows, it can always get better. These days I’m dreaming of hiking through the terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region between Lausanne and Vevey. No, this isn’t alpine hiking, and the trail I have in mind will take only half a day to complete, but the area is near the top of my list of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful places. Continue reading »
The powerful earthquake that struck near Concepcion Feb. 27 will affect Chile for years. While much of the country’s tourist infrastructure was undamaged and tourism officials are urging travelers not to cancel their plans to visit, the impact on Chile’s citizens could last a long time.
The New York Times reported that many buildings in Santiago appeared unscathed from the outside, but inside, they were heavily damaged. Other reports suggest that rebuilding will take three to four years. And the quake created little curiosities, such as moving Concepcion 10 feet closer to the sea, and Buenos Aires an inch closer. The temblor could even spike the cost of paper 5 percent and take a huge bite out of the supply of Chilean wine.
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are coming to a close and I must say I have an Olympic sized hangover. I have stayed up way too late, too many nights, watching even preliminary runs and way too much commentary.
The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics was also a Canadian affair. It was the last Olympics where Cold War rivalries played out on the world sporting stage. It was the year of the Jamaican Bobsled team and Eddie the Eagle, the courageous Scottish everyman who soared in the ski jump, or at least gave it his best.
For Olympic nerds, like me, it was the year of the Battle of the Brians in figure skating where the American Brian Boitano won the gold. I remember most of all the amazing scenery, Lake Louise and the stunning aerial photography of the Canadian Rockies. A two-hour drive from Calgary, Banff is to Calgary what Whistler is to Vancouver. Continue reading »
My grandparents golfed, cruised and often traveled in tour groups. They would bring things home for me from their travels, such as a Norwegian sweater, a Scottish blanket (I still use it after all these years) and a turquoise ring from a Native America Reservation they loved to visit in Arizona — wonderfully traditional stuff.
My parents are way more adventurous, but it still would probably stress them out to travel the way I often do: informed, well read, but ready to alter my plans at any moment. I have to hand it to them though, for folks in their 70s, they are pretty inspirational.
Just like a concerned parent, I fretted when my father traveled to Myanmar on his own and when my mom and her best friend took a whirlwind trip to Greece and Turkey. They are young at heart and never wanted to follow a travel formula, which is in part why I love to travel so much. Continue reading »
Spud Hilton reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day a new spin on the top 10 lists we always see at this time of year. Not the best beaches or golf courses or hot cities for the new year, but the Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations.
The list was compiled by Jeff Greenwald and Christy Hoover at EthicalTraveler.org, a nonprofit organization (part of the Earth Island Institute) that urges travelers to spend their travel dollars in ways that protect human rights and minimize impacts on the environment. They acknowledge that no country on the list is perfect (what country off the list is?) but they found lots of hope and inspiration in many places. Continue reading »
Can you imagine having the Grand Canyon to yourself? No traffic to the South Rim, no hordes at the visitor center? Henry Shukman in The New York Times takes us on a long hike below the rim during the best time of year for exploration: now.
Why now? Because nobody’s there in winter, and because the sun is your friend, not your foe, when the temperatures drop.
But no matter the season, a hike to the bottom of the canyon is a challenge even for fit hikers. The relentless downhill (a full mile in elevation) takes its toll on the knees, only to force you to turn around and climb back up a mile to get out. But it’s the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape, with layers of rock chronicling the earth’s development, the oldest being almost two billion years old. And challenging as it may be, even an eight-year-old can do it, as Henry’s traveling companion, his son Saul, proves.
One October a few years ago I spent a couple of days in Churchill, Manitoba looking for polar bears. Churchill is famously the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” because so many bears come in to den when the pack ice breaks up on Hudson Bay. In the fall, when Hudson Bay begins to freeze, ice forms first around the spit of land where Churchill sits, and the bears know it. That’s why they gang up here, why thousands of tourists like me come to gawk.
But now there’s a new game in town: snorkeling with belugas. Yep, you can don a dry suit and slip into water that was frozen solid last week and come nose to nose with beluga whales. John Flinn took the plunge and conveyed his experience in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Continue reading »