Appalachian Trail Girl is a how-to blog for hiker girls. Megan created this blog with the hopes that she can inspire other women to hit the trail and have confidence in their hiking and camping abilities.
First of all, my favorite thing about these meals is that they are quick and easy. Literally all you do is boil water, stir it in the package, and wait eight minutes. If you’re not much of a cook or you like to keep camp chores at a minimum, this would be a good option for you.
Additionally, each meal will feed two people with normal appetites. A ridiculously hungry thru-hiker could probably devour a package on their own, but most people wouldn’t be able to.
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce: My first thought was that this package is loaded with beef. It’s definitely not lacking in that department. The flavor was fantastic too.
Breakfast Skillet: The breakfast skillet is my favorite out of all the Mountain House products. I’ll eat breakfast any time of day. I loved the ratios in this. It was a solid mix of eggs, sausage, hash browns, and veggies. Once again, it gets points for great flavor.
Chicken and Rice: I wasn’t so enthusiastic about this one. It was a little more bland than I would have liked. However, it is a well balanced meal.
The meals run from $8-12. If two people are eating it, that’s a good value. However, if you’re all on your own then it would be pricey for one meal.
Also great for camping trips.
Mountain House Freeze-Dried Meats
I love to cook, and getting creative with backcountry meals is fun for me. During my thru-hike in Nepal, I brought Mountain House’s freeze dried chicken and beef. Usually I would cook a meal of dehydrated veggies, a Pasta Side, and a handful of Mountain House beef or chicken. They ended up being such nourishing, well rounded, and delicious meals.
There was quite a combination of veggie, meat, and Pasta Side flavors I could do. It didn’t get boring, and we didn’t have to eat the same meal continually. Additionally, having meat in our meals at night was a huge game changer for us during our thru-hike.
If you’re looking for an easy and quick meal, the Mountain House entrees and breakfasts are the way to go. For all of you backcountry cooks out there, the freeze dried meats will add substance to your meals and are a good price value.
These past few weeks, toxic masculinity has been a hot topic within the long-distance hiking community. There’s been a few blog posts on the matter, which have generated social media chatter.
Some women say, “Yes, the trail is rife with toxic masculinity.”
Others say, “I’ve never experienced anything like this from male hikers.”
Everyone has their own experiences, and both groups of people are right.
Some have found bro-hikers (I’m going to use this term to describe the overly competitive and condescending people you meet on the trail) to drain the fun out of their hike. Others have found mostly kindness and support from strangers met during their thru-hike.
What’s the Problem with Toxic Masculinity in Long-Distance Hiking?
In a recent article, Why I Got Off the Pacific Crest Trail After 454 Miles, the author Vanessa talks about her interactions with bro-hikers (I recommend reading it for reference). She experienced constant competitiveness of men questioning how far she’s hiked, what day she started, and giving unsolicited advice about her gear.
While these sound like minor things and could just be conversation starters, I understand where she’s coming from. In the early phases of a thru-hike, there are an abundance of bro-hikers who want to compare themselves to others and feel like they’re better. If you’re female, a slow hiker, over-weight, older, or a combination of these things, you’re an easy target for bros who want to inflate their egos.
I’ve had men assume I don’t know what I’m doing and explain basic concepts of hiking to me. I’ve had guys ask me where I’m headed before telling me that there’s no way I’ll make it (I always do). I’ve been the only girl at a campsite, while a big group of bro-hikers take turns trying to hit on me.
The last thing was not flattering. I did not feel special because random men I didn’t know deemed me cute enough to try to claim me (or probably just try to hook up with me).
(Outside Magazine has ran a few articles recently about sexual harassment in the outdoors. Here’s one that’s pretty in depth.)
More than once, men have straight up yelled at me for being solo because “it’s dangerous for a woman”. It’s unsettling to have a man I’ve never met get in my face and yell at me. They might claim it’s dangerous for me to be alone, but them yelling at me is the most danger I’ve felt in the wilderness.
Trying to express my discomfort later in regards to these situations, I’ve had trustworthy male friends and even my ex-boyfriend (emphasis on ex) tell me to take it as a compliment or ignore it or say I’m taking it too seriously.
People always want to question women on why we don’t speak up in the moment. Would you want to speak up in the moment if you’re alone with an aggressive stranger who’s yelling? Or if you’re the only female around and feeling intimidated? No, my physical safety and personal well-being is my primary focus. Not educating creeps.
However, for every negative experience I’ve had with a bro-hiker, I’ve had dozens of positive experiences from regular guys.
No sign of toxic masculinity here…
I created this blog with the intention of inspiring and giving guidance to women. However, my Google Analytics stats show me that 60% of my readers are men.
Guys message me all the time asking for beta on specific trails or just to let me know that my blog is helpful to them. Why? Because I know what I’m talking about and they trust my opinion. Me being a female does not get in the way of my experience where most people are concerned.
In 2015 in Nepal’s Everest region, I was going to base camp with an old friend. I had already done the more challenging Three Passes trek a couple months before, and a group of guys at the guest house heard about it. All day long they asked me for information about the passes, navigational tips, and my suggestions for stops along the way. They treated me as a person who had already done the trail and had insight for them.
I’ve hiked with plenty of dudes who see me as an equal and value my opinion just as much as anyone else in the group. My second trip to Nepal with my hiking partner Buckey was a good experience for me of male and female equality. We each had our own strengths, and we relied upon one another’s expertise when necessary. He was far more athletic than me, and I was more familiar with Nepal. We worked together without competition, which is how I like it.
What I’m trying to get at is that yes, bro-hikers exist and they suck. And also, most hiker guys do not fit into the bro-hiker category.
I’m not saying this to make a “not all men” argument, but to let future hikers know that there will be more grown-ass, respectful men on the trail than not.
The pure joy that comes with no one mansplaining to us.
The Inner Workings of a Bro-Hiker
For all you men and women out there who have been on the receiving end of condescending comments and intimidation, here’s something I think will make you feel better.
Those hiker-bros? They are just your average playground bullies. They act competitive because they are the ones who are insecure. They are so aware that there’s other people who are faster and stronger than them, that they have to put down the underdog to feel good about themselves.
They are amateurs. I’ve never met a proficient long-distance hiker who inflates their ego this way. A thru-hike is a major accomplishment that speaks for itself. There’s no need to step on others to feel good.
(I’d like to note that there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. We all have to start somewhere. If you’re an amateur, that’s cool. At least you’re not an asshole.)
Times Are a-Changing
Yes, it sucks that you are the person on the receiving end of this behavior. Keep hiking knowing that the following is true.
Bro culture doesn’t usually last after the beginning stages of a thru-hike. These bros drop off the trail because, like I said, they are amateurs. They don’t have what it takes to rise above.
Those who do remain on the trail don’t continue being bros. Doing a long hike is humbling. The wilderness offers enough competition, and everyone soon realizes there’s no need to squabble amongst each other. A few hundred miles of trail squashes bro culture, and the people who remain create the community that is revered as a true trail family of support and consideration.
Keep pushing through the BS, and you too will find your trail family.
What do you guys think? Have you experienced bro culture in the hiking community first-hand?
I’ve blogged before about how much I like using dehydrated vegetables to enhance my trail meals. My dehydrated vegetable provider of choice is Harmony House, and they were nice enough to send a Backpacking Kit along to Nepal with Buckey and I while we thru-hiked the Great Himalaya Trail. While we added meat to many of our meals, I also have quite a few vegetarian backpacking recipes up my sleeve.
Let me just say that having access to healthy food during a thru-hike, or really any backpacking trip, is a total game changer. It’s so difficult to eat enough vegetables on any hike, let alone on a hike through remote Himalaya mountains. The local Nepali cuisine does usually have a curried vegetable portion. However, most of the time it’s potatoes, and maybe one other type of vegetable if I’m lucky.
Buckey and I were stoked to have a stock pile of dehydrated vegetables in our Kathmandu resupply bags that we could bring along on the Great Himalaya Trail with us. Since I’ve written reviews about Harmony House before, this time around I’ve decided to share a few of my favorite trail recipes.
While I’m no longer a vegetarian (I had a good 11 year run), I still like to show love to all the hiker vegetarians out there. I’ve decided to make a list of a few vegetarian backpacking recipes.
I loved having my Harmony House veggies along in Nepal.
Boil some water and toss in the Harmony House chili packet. Put a little extra water in the pot, because the beans will go in later. Cook the chili all the way through, then take the pot off the heat. Stir in some dehydrated bean flakes or TVP taco bits and cheddar cheese. Give it a minute to absorb the water; it doesn’t take long. The chili mix is flavorful enough that you won’t need any additional seasoning.
Once everything is all gooey and cheesy, scoop a few giant spoonfuls onto your tortilla. Add a little hot sauce. If you have to ability to get your hands on some sour cream, it would be a great addition to this recipe as well. Tex-Mex is basically my favorite category of food ever, so I’m always happy to have this meal on the trail.
This recipe can also be vegan if you leave out the cheese.
“Chicken” noodle soup and mashed potatoes really warms the bones on a chilly afternoon.
Once again, start cooking the Harmony House soup packet first. When the vegetables are about halfway done, add in the Ramen noodles. Let them all cook together in the pot until everything is soft.
Now comes the potatoes. I personally like to stir the instant mashed potatoes in with everything else. It comes out as a thick, soup-flavored, noodle concoction. However, you can also boil some water separately for the potatoes and eat them out of a different bowl. Your call. Either way, this recipe is delicious comfort food that makes me feel cosy on chilly afternoons.
I know the soup is called “chickenish”, but there’s no actual meat in it.
Good food and good views. What more could a girl ask for?
Veggie Fettucine Alfredo
Harmony House vegetables: peas, broccoli, minced garlic, and carrots
Lipton Sides Fettucine Alfredo
A few spoonfuls of powdered milk
A few squirts of olive oil
Cheese (parmesan is ideal, but this is the backcountry so do what you can)
Salt and pepper
Get the vegetables going first. The peas especially take a little longer to cook than everything else. Once things are about halfway done, add in the Fettucine Alfredo Lipton Side. If you’re not sure what these are, they cost $1 and are in the pasta section of pretty much every grocery store in the US.
Once everything is cooked, slowly stir in a few spoonfuls of powdered milk. It clumps together if you try to add it all at once. Stir in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then top everything with cheese.
If you’re feeling really fancy, you can opt out of the Lipton side and instead get regular fettucine noodles and butter. Follow the same basic recipe.
These are just a few suggestions I have for incorporating dehydrated vegetables into your backpacking meals. Really though, the options are endless. Harmony Houses vegetables make a good addition to Ramen or Lipton Sides. The soup packets are a fantastic flavor base to get creative with other meals.
What are your favorite backcountry dinner meals? Leave your recommendations in the comments.
*Opinions about Harmony House are my own. I’ve been using their products for years and love it.
With the new year here, I’ve been tying up all of my loose ends from 2017. Me being the total nerd that I am, part of this process has been reviewing my finances from over seven months of travel that took me through nine countries. I had a loose idea of how much money I spent on my trip, but this is the first time I took a hard look at my travel budget.
Plus, people in my family and circle of friends like to ask the standard questions, “How do you afford to travel?” “Did your parents pay for your trip?”
Guys, I’m almost 28. Is it really so hard to believe that I’m capable of financially supporting myself?
To let you in on my travel money goals, my holy grail is $30 a day and $1000 a month. I give myself an extra $100 monthly cushion for whatever may come up. While I certainly went over those goals on this trip, having something to strive for kept me accountable with my money while traveling and prevented me from overspending.
Settle in, this is going to be a long one. I’m going to let you in on what I spent and how I saved enough money to extensively travel through Asia and Eastern Europe.
Where I Traveled
Nepal: 4 and a half months
Thailand: 2 months
United Arab Emirates: 20-hour layover
Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia (just for a bus ride through), Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia: 5 weeks
Travel Budget for 7 Months
Grand Total including flights: $9719
Total without flights: $8355
Flights only: $1364
I rode on a lot of airplanes this year. In hindsight, $1364 does not seem like much for how many times I actually went to the airport.
This included a flight from Los Angeles to Kathmandu, Nepal; Kathmandu to Bangkok, Thailand; a domestic flight from Krabi, Thailand to Chiang Mai, Thailand; Bangkok to Bucharest, Romania; and finally Zagreb, Croatia back to good old Columbus, Ohio.
All of these flights were booked a couple months in advance with the exception of Nepal to Thailand and my domestic flight within Thailand. Those two flights were booked within a week of departure.
Eastern Nepal was a cost efficient destination.
Nepal Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Nepal: $4897
Monthly Average in Nepal: $1088
For those of you who are new here, I went to Nepal this year with my friend Buckey to hike 800 miles across the Himalaya Mountains. It sounds crazy, and it is. You can read all about it in my Nepal section of the blog.
I made it pretty close to my travel holy grail of $1000 a month while in Nepal. For the most part, my daily expenses were well under $30 a day. In Eastern Nepal, costs were so low that I had a two-week period where I only spent $100.
So how did I end up over budget in Nepal?
First of all, I had to replace a few pieces of gear. Between a new rain jacket and a new inflatable sleeping pad, I spent about $250. Then I spent $70 on a mountaineering tool that I didn’t end up needing.
The Manaslu region was restricted and a guide was mandatory. Additionally, I needed a trekking agency to handle all of my permits for me. I used the same agency for both services (Adventure Mountain Club, I recommend them) and split the cost with my hiking partner. The total for all of this came out to $300 on my end.
There were multiple times during our hike when we had to return to the city to resupply and take rest days. The Himalaya are brutal, so we always maximized our rest days and stuck around the city for a week at a time.
While it’s certainly possible and reasonable to get by in Kathmandu or Pokhara for $30 a day, we did not do this. We splurged and went to Western restaurants for every meal, drank alcohol and fancy cappuccinos whenever we felt like it, and basically indulged every whim. I would say my daily expenses in the city were closer to $40-45 a day, which adds up quickly.
I could have probably shaved $1000 off my Nepal portion of the trip had I brought more reliable gear from home, skipped the section of trail that required a guide, and stayed on a budget in the city. However, I’m pretty happy with my experience in Nepal, so I would likely repeat the same choices again.
Bottom line, $4900 for a four and a half month travel budget is a good deal.
Arriving in a Thailand beach town where I spent 2 weeks.
Thailand Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Thailand: $2241
Monthly Average in Thailand: $1120.5
Thailand is one of those places where you can really spend as much or as little as you want. For some periods of time, I got my costs as low as $15 a day. This usually happened when I had been in a town or city for a while, knew the cheap and delicious places to eat, didn’t drink alcohol, and occupied myself with groups of cool friends instead of pricey activities.
On the flip side of things if you like drinking, going to Western restaurants, and/or regularly indulging in tours and organized activities, you could easily spend $50 or more a day in Thailand.
I spent a lot of my time in Thailand rock climbing. This involved an initial investment of $150 to get a harness, shoes, chalk bag, and belay device. When I climbed outdoors, it was free. During my time in Chiang Mai I paid the fee to use the climbing gym. Before going to Europe, I was able to resell my climbing gear to one of my travel buddies. This was an activity I loved doing, so it was worth it for me to spend the money on it.
Honestly, I think $1120 a month is a good travel budget to plan on spending in Thailand. With this amount, I was able do about two organized activities a month (like the Elephant Sanctuary and the White Temple day tour), go out drinking with friends once a week, occasionally eat at a Western restaurant, stay in nicer hostels, buy bus tickets when I needed to, and do a small amount of shopping.
Romania was my first stop in Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Eastern Europe: $1017
Monthly Average in Eastern Europe: $814
Let me start by saying that I’m shocked my budget was so low in Eastern Europe. This was the very end of my trip and I was trying hard not to overspend. I could have easily blown my $30 a day budget here. Meals in sit down restaurants were out of the question. I did a bit of hitch-hiking to avoid high bus ticket prices in Montenegro and Croatia. I avoided most organized tours.
Before I get too into Eastern Europe, I’ll talk about my layover in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Since I had a 20-hour layover, I took a bus into the city so I could do some sight-seeing and eat. I withdrew $35 to get me through my time there, and that was enough to ride local transportation and have a meal.
It was fun to wander around the cities by foot and go to walk-up food stalls. I took local buses to get to hiking trails. However, if you’re the type of person who wants to do all of the sight-seeing and travel in comfort, give yourself an extra money cushion in Eastern Europe.
There were a few affordable and memorable activities I did in Eastern Europe that didn’t blow my travel budget.
First of all, most of the major cities provide a free walking tour. The free tour in Bucharest, Romania was my favorite mostly because the guide was so charismatic. If you do the free walking tour, they will using give you discount tickets to the walking tours that cost money.
Dubrovnik, Croatia was one of the more expensive destinations.
I’ve never been too interested in history, but I became fascinated by the personal stories about communism. I paid to go on the communist tour in Sofia, Bulgaria, which was certainly worthwhile.
Among my other favorite activities, I spent a few days in the Accursed Mountains in Albania. Most guest houses are priced around $22 a day, which includes staying overnight and three meals. Additionally, I got to experience staying with local families, eating typical Albanian meals, and even learning how to cook local dishes.
In Montenegro I rented a car with a fellow American I met at my hostel in Kotor. For about $100 total (cost of the rental and gas), the car was ours for four days. We also slept in it at night to help us stick to our travel budget. Even though the car was tiny, we reclined the seats back and it was pretty comfortable. We went to Durmitor National Park in northern Montenegro. It was nice being able to get around on our own time without having to take buses or taxis.
In Zagreb, Croatia I spent a few days in an AirBNB with a local family. The price was low, and I was able to use their kitchen to cook my meals. Additionally, I liked getting to know them and learning all about Croatian culture.
Even though many activities and bus tickets in Eastern Europe come with a high price tag, there’s still plenty of options for memorable experiences. The locals are so welcoming and it’s easy to make friends. My biggest recommendation for this region is to put in the extra effort to meet locals.
That mountaineering tool I didn’t end up needing.
How I Saved Money for 7 Months of Travel
I worked in wilderness therapy for over a year, and I typically earned over $2000 a month. My expenses were minimal. I lived in my car for about nine months, during which time I paid for a storage unit and a gym membership (for showering and working out). After my car became too unreliable to live in, I moved into a house with some coworkers where rent and bills were typically $300 a month.
Utah is an inexpensive place to live. When I did want to go to restaurants or the bar, I didn’t have to spend much. Additionally, I don’t really buy new clothes or unnecessary stuff. I did have to buy new gear for my Great Himalaya Trail hike, but each purchase was well thought out. I’m definitely not an impulse spender.
During my year in Utah, I did make two international trips to Nicaragua and Peru. This certainly cut into my savings, but was also lots of fun. I made various trips around the Western United States to California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona. I saved money on these travels by buying my food from supermarkets and either sleeping in my car, backpacking in the wilderness, or staying with friends.
During my year in Utah, I was usually able to save anywhere from $800 to $1000 a month. The only months I was unable to do this was when I was taking time off work or making a major gear purchase.
I do have student loans I’m still paying off. From this blog, I usually earn a few hundred dollars a month. This really helps me out while I’m traveling because I can continue making my student loan payments without having to dip into my travel fund.
In short, my bills are minimal and I’m frugal with my money. While living in Utah, my only regular bills were my student loan, cell phone, and car insurance. While living in my car I had my gym membership and storage unit bills. After I moved into a house, I canceled both of those services so I had more money to cover rent and utilities.
I splurged on spending a day at the elephant sanctuary while in Thailand.
Money Saving While Traveling
For long-term travel, staying accountable with the budget is critical. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m on a short trip I’m definitely more apt to over-spend. If I have..
My week in Montenegro consisted of exploring Kotor, going on a day tour, hiking in Durmitor National Park, and renting a car which I also slept in.
I kept meeting travelers who told me that they got around by hitch-hiking. It’s something I used to enjoy doing back on the Appalachian Trail to get into town to resupply, and I hadn’t done it in a few years. Additionally, bus ticket prices were increasing the further west into Europe I traveled. I wanted to save some money.
Myself and a hostel buddy hitched from Shkoder, Albania over to Budva, Montenegro. It took most of the day, but we arrived by nightfall. Then we took a bus for the last 30 minutes into Kotor.
The path down Kotor’s city walls.
Hikes of Kotor
The main part of Kotor is located inside of a fortress. The city is surrounded by walls and built into the side of a mountain. Kotor sits on a bay full of boats and the landscape is mountainous. So naturally, there are plenty of hikes in the area.
Hiking Kotor’s City Walls
After a morning of aimlessly wandering around Kotor, I followed some narrow steps that looked appealing. Eventually, they led me to a dirt path going above the city. I decided to follow along to see where it would go.
The dirt path switch-backed higher and higher, through tall grass and past delapitated ruins of the city walls. There was no one else on the trail, and I thought I had really discovered something cool.
Eventually, upon almost reaching the top of the mountain, the path came out amongst the ruins of a building where there were several other tourists hanging out. There was a stone path a short way off to the left, and a steady stream of people were hiking up the mountain. That’s when I figured out that I was on the city walls hike which is not a secret at all.
I continued down the main path back into the city. I was pleased that I got a dirt path to myself for the hike up and missed out on paying the entrance fee.
You’re going to have to do a bit of exploring to find the trailhead. Kotor is such a cluster of streets I’m not entirely sure where I found the trail and even if I did it would be hard to describe.
The most useful info I can offer is that you can start your search from the South entrance gate. You’re looking for a steep staircase with a park bench at the top and to the left. At the start of the trail, there are two dogs who viciously bark from behind their fence.
Additionally, I know that there is another dirt trail you can find from the North entrance gate of the city. I’m not sure if entrance fees are collected at either of these places during peak season, but during off-season they are free.
The closest mountain on the left is where I hiked to.
Hiking Across the Bay of Kotor
I was asking the staff of my hostel for recommendations on where to hike in the area. One of the guys simply pointed at the mountain across the bay and suggested I go there.
I walked through town to the trailhead. There was a series of staircases and then the trail switch-backed to the top. There was an abandoned military building on the ridge. We walked inside and looked around, then got creeped out when a bat flew overhead.
Follow the main road in Kotor around the bay, towards the village of Muo. Before actually arriving in Muo, you’ll see a sign for the trail and red and white markers. Follow them upward.
Enjoying my boat ride.
On Lovcen Mountain
Not Horseshoe Bend, but close.
360 Monte Tour
It seemed like there was a lot of historical sights to see and cool stuff to do in Montenegro. I decided to go on a tour because I like hearing about places from local guides. I remember more about the history of a country when the dry facts are also accompanied by personal stories.
I did the Great Montenegro Tour with 360 Monte Tour. We started the day with a visit to the oldest restaurant in Montenegro where they make prosciutto and liquor. Before breakfast, our guide explained the process of making rakia (a liquor that sounds comparable to moonshine) and gave us each a pre-breakfast shot. Then we had prosciutto sandwiches.
Another of the more memorable stops along the way was Lovcen Mountain and a mausoleum. Lovcen Mountain is the second highest mountain in Montenegro, and the mausoleum in the highest in the world. It’s the resting place of a former ruler of Montenegro who was also a poet.
One of the cool things about the tour was how often they pulled the van over for photo ops. The best photo op by far was of Skadar Lake where it curves around a mountain. It reminded me of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona (I know, I’m constantly pining for the American Southwest).
By far my favorite activity of the day was the boat ride. It was mellow and relaxing and we all sipped on wine while Despacito played on the speaker, which I really got a kick out of. On the way back, the boatman let us take turns driving. It was easier than steering a car and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Finally, we had one last stop in Budva. My highlight of that stop was our guide taking us to her favorite ice cream shop, which she also said was half the price of everywhere else.
My co-pilot Abby and I stuck in traffic.
Renting a Car in Montenegro
Hiking around Kotor was fun, but I wanted to get into the big mountains further north. Durmitor National Park sounded like the ideal destination for hiking in Montenegro.
However, it seemed like the trails were pretty spread out and it would be difficult to get around the region. I looked into renting a car, and the off-season prices were much lower than I expected them to be.
I had befriended Abby, another American girl, at my hostel. We decided to rent a car together, and we planned on camping in it to keep our budgets in check. I found a good deal online. Our rental would be $55 for three nights and four days, plus the cost of gas. We had to go a few miles to the Tivat airport because the cost to pick it up in Kotor would have been double.
Finally, we had our car and were ready for the roadtrip. We drove north to the town of Zabljak, the main town near Durmitor National Park. We even picked up a few hitch-hikers along the way.
After departing from Romania, the next destination I planned to visit was Albania’s Accursed Mountains.
Of course, Romania and Albania are far apart. I decided to break the trip up by staying in Sofia, Bulgaria for a few days. Well, actually I only wanted to stay one day, but it turned out that buses to Albania only happened a few times a week. I did sight-seeing around Sofia, and my favorite activity was the Communist Tour.
The main walking strip in Shkoder.
Tirana and Shkoder
I moved through Tirana and Shkoder pretty quickly. I was eager to see the Accursed Mountains, and I’m not much of a city person anyway.
In Shkoder, I stayed at Mi Casa Es Tu Casa. They knew pretty much everything about getting to the mountains. They set me up on the shuttle to Theth for the next morning and even packed me a sandwich to take along.
A road in Theth.
Theth is essentially a small village in the Accursed Mountains. It has a few homes and a few options for guest houses. I ended up choosing the guest house where the shuttle stopped to drop off a German couple. The couple invited me to go hiking with them for the afternoon, my first experience in the Accursed Mountains.
Our hosts gave up packed lunches and sent us on our way. The lunch was half a loaf of fresh bread, cured meat, cheese, a whole tomato, a hard boiled egg, and grapes.
The Blue Eye lake, my first hike in Albania.
The Blue Eye
Since we only had a half day to do a hike, we walked to a lake called the Blue Eye. It’s a popular destination for tourists in the Theth area.
On the way out of town, we bumped into yet another group of Germans, one of who was German-Albanian and could speak the language. Together the six of us continued on our way.
The hike itself was not difficult. It was just long.
Soon an old Albanian woman joined us, offering to show the way. The German-Albanian translated for us. I had a feeling she was showing us the way with the hopes of getting money afterwards. She was sweet though and the rest of the group liked having her along, so I didn’t say anything.
We arrived at Blue Eye, which was a pretty destination. I noticed that there’s already trash starting to collect around the area, an unfortunate result of the increase in tourism.
On the way back, the old lady insisted that we stop at her home for coffee. She brought us little espresso shots in dainty tea cups. The espresso was immediately followed by an Albanian tradition, rakia.
Rakia is a liquor made from fruit in a process that sounds similar to making moonshine. You don’t take rakia as a shot. It’s far too strong. You’re supposed to sip it.
Apparently a coffee followed by a rakia is a morning ritual for many older generation Albanians. The younger Albanians I spoke to often told me their parents drank a daily coffee and rakia, but they themselves did not.
Having a little bit of a buzz from one drink, we began the long walk back to Theth. A few members of our group did end up giving the lady some money for her trouble, but she didn’t ask for it.
Got to catch sunset on the road walk back from Blue Eye.
Theth to Blue Eye Stats:
12.5 miles round trip (20 km)
not much elevation change, just some small hills
As always, I recommend using the maps.me app. All of the Theth trails are on it, and the Blue Eye is specifically marked.
Walk out of Theth towards the village of Nderlysaj (good luck pronouncing it). Stay on the path and don’t cross the river until you are almost to Nderlysaj. Eventually, you will cross over a bridge.
After the village, follow the road until it breaks off into a trail. It’s a well-trodden path and will be obvious. When you reach a ladder going down to a stream, you’re almost to Blue Eye.
If you’re doing this hike as a half day, take the road back to Theth. This way you won’t get lost if it gets dark before you get back. The road is on the opposite side of the river from where you came in. You can cross over to Theth either by walking across a pipe over the river or taking the bridge a half mile further.
The entire journey will take 5 or 6 hours.
Fully embracing the autumn colors.
Hiking into the Accursed Mountains
Like I said, Blue Eye was a nice stop but it wasn’t hard. Being surrounded by peaks made me want to gain some elevation and get into the Accursed Mountains. By the recommendation of a French hiking guide I met, I planned to hike to Peja Lake.
Once again, my host gave me a packed lunch and sent me on my way. I hiked alone for a couple of hours until I ran into another American girl. It turned out that she was a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker, so we had lots to talk about as we continued up to the pass. At the top, we met a third girl who was hiking solo. The three of us sat together eating our packed lunches and talking about our travels and hikes.
Finally, I said goodbye to my new friends and finished the walk to the lake.
Having spent so much time hanging out with the two girls I had met, it was almost dark by the time I returned. My hosts seemed happy that I was safely back. I was told that Albanians wouldn’t hesitate to send half the village out looking for someone who hadn’t returned.
If you’re hiking solo (like me), it’s probably polite to return well before dark so you don’t cause too much worry.
Theth to Peja Lake Stats:
10 miles round trip (16 km)
3200 feet elevation gain (950 m)
Follow the road along the river to the village of Nikgjonaj. From there, veer right from the river and start the climb up. The trail is obvious the entire way. Peja Lake is marked on the maps.me app if you need additional guidance.
If you need a water source, there’s a spring just after the last cafe out of Nikgjonaj. It will be to the right of the path.
I got a little bit of a view on Valbona Pass before the rain clouds arrived.
Theth to Valbona
I really got a kick out of this day. There was such a variety of scenery: quiet woods, open fields, jagged peaks, with an occasional smattering of rain. Plus, I’ve been doing day hikes for my entire time in the Balkans and this was the first time I set out with all of my belongings in my pack. It was a good feeling.
The hike was a steady uphill for a few hours followed by a steady downhill. There were a few cafes along the way, so I kept my energy and spirit up through the rain by drinking coffee. I also passed more hikers on this path than I had the previous two days combined. (There still wasn’t a lot; this is off season, after all)
I was told that the last 2.5 miles were a paved road walk and not worth it. As soon as I hit the pavement a taxi pulled me up offering me a ride… for 5000 lek ($44). I should know by now to not be offended by taxi drivers. They are scammers everywhere in the world.
It was only 2 pm and I wasn’t tired, so I walked away without attempting to haggle and started down the road. My French hiking guide friend had recommended a guest house to me, and that was where I was headed. I happily listened to my Game of Thrones audiobook (I’m on book 5 finally!) and meandered along.
Halfway to my destination, the taxi driver pulled over to talk to me again. He was headed to town anyway and I think was offering me a free ride, but after his exorbitant original offer I was mistrustful and declined the ride.
Look for the white and red trail markers.
The Best Guesthouse Ever
An hour into my road walk, yet another van pulled over. The driver was a young guy, and after a brief conversation I found out it was his family’s guest house I was headed to. My French guide friend had called ahead to tell them I was coming and that they should send someone to pick me up.
Upon arrival, the matriarch of the family showed me to my room and then to the dining room. She told me that I must be hungry, and piled plates of food in front of me. Then I went a took a hot shower, a perfect remedy to the chill in my bones from the dreary day.
I was the only guest there (once again, off season), so I hung out with my host and played with the kittens. She talked me how to make burec, a traditional Balkans dish. I helped make the salad too.
In the morning, I needed to get back to Skhoder. This sounded like a complicated process because I would need to catch a shuttle to the ferry, take a ferry ride, then catch another shuttle into Skhoder. No worries though, because my guest house was a one stop shop. They gave me a ride to the ferry and arrange my tickets for the ferry and shuttle.
Theth to Valbona Stats:
11 miles (18 km), 8.5 miles (14 km) if you catch a ride from the paved road
3600 feet elevation gain (1100 m)
Follow the road out of Theth along the river. Don’t cross the river though. Eventually you will see a sign that points you in the direction of Valbona. There will be a few cafes along the way and a small stream of hikers headed to Theth.
If you want to stay at my favorite guest house, ask for the one with “the red van.” That’s what everyone knows them as anyway.
Albania’s Accursed Mountains are definitely something special. And they’re getting more popular every year. If you want to see it before the boom in tourism, now is the time. It won’t be long until Theth and Valbona are standard stops on the Balkans tourist track.
I had never considered Romania as a travel destination until I was searching for a cheap flight to Eastern Europe. My plan was to visit a few Balkan countries that are known to have particularly good mountains (I’m so predictable, I know). Flying into the capital city of Bucharest was the best deal I could find, so I went ahead and booked it.
My expectations for Romania were almost non-existent. The only images that came to mind were of Dracula and gypsies. I figured that since I was flying into this country, I might as well spend a few days exploring.
Bucharest charmed me, for sure.
From Bangkok, I flew to Dubai and then to Bucharest. Customs was easy to get through. I didn’t even have to fill out an arrival card. They just took my passport, typed in the computer for a few seconds, then stamped it and sent me on my way. I bought a bus ticket and got on the 783 line to the city center.
During my time in Bucharest, I stayed at Bucur’s Shelter which I highly recommend. It had a social yet relaxed atmosphere. By that I mean it was easy to meet people, but it wasn’t a party hostel. My favorite part was that the complimentary breakfast involved cooking my own eggs and real coffee (a rarity in hostels).
Some fresco paintings in the Bucharest art museum.
I went to the National Museum of Art of Romania. The entrance fee was 15 lei ($3.80) for the main exhibit. The museum had a wide variety of art. There were relics from churches and from the royal and high society families. Some of the paintings dated back to the 1500s.
My favorite was the preserved pieces of frescos. Frescos are paintings that are made directly onto the plaster of walls or ceilings (think Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel).
Another stand out activity was the free walking tour. It happens every day (twice a day on weekends) and lasts for two hours. The tour guide was full of information on the recent history of Romania.
I found it interesting to learn about how Romania was under communist rule until the revolution in 1989. She told us that previous to the revolution it was a time of secrecy in Romania. Roughly 15% of citizens worked for the secret police, so people were always worried about if their neighbors or co-workers were spying on them. There was no heat in the winter, and there was only two hours of TV a day. 10 minutes were for cartoons, and the rest was government propaganda.
Happy to be in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Romania.
Brasov and the Mountains
I initially wanted to go to Brasov (pronounced “Brashov”) because of Dracula’s Castle, which is actually called Bran’s Castle. However, after a bit of research I found out that Brasov is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. What luck!
I booked Mara’s Hostel for two nights, and took the train from Bucharest to Brasov. Brasov is a small city (or large town, depending on your definition). The Old Town area fits the picturesque European image of cobblestone walkways and vine-covered houses. The rest of Brasov seems like any other small city/ large town.
It was worthwhile to learn how to take the public buses because I ended up using them every day. Tickets are 4 lei ($1) and are good for two bus rides.
A bridge through 7 Ladders Canyon.
Seven Ladders Canyon and Piatra Mare
By far my favorite Brasov hike was Piatra Mare. The lower section of trail is through Seven Ladders Canyon (10 lei entrance fee). As a person who used to live in the American Southwest, I think it’s generous to call this park a “canyon”. It’s more like a stream bed that’s carved into the rock a bit.
However, they did an awesome job making bridges and ladders through this “canyon”, and it was lots of fun to walk through and climb around. The scariest part was a ladder that was about 30 feet high and right beside a waterfall. The ladder was cold and wet, and I had to stop myself from looking down until I reached the top.
After Seven Ladders Canyon, I continued up the mountain. There were signs and trail markers all the way up. Granted, the signs weren’t in English, but I could pick out the words “Piatra Mare” when necessary. It was actually a much steeper hike than I had anticipated, but finally I broke through the tree line and had views all around.
The Carpathian Mountains are gorgeous, and many of the biggest mountains hover around 6000 feet (1800 meters). This means that it’s accessible to reach peaks by doing day hikes, but it’s also not easy. A trip to Romania’s mountains would be perfect for someone who wants to be immersed in nature and be active while traveling, but also doesn’t want to lug around a bunch of outdoor gear.
Spectacular hiking in Romania.
If you want to do this hike from Brasov, take a bus to the train station. Assuming you’re staying in Old Town, you can take either the 4 or 51 line. From the train station, take 17B all the way to Dambu Morii village. From there, just walk through town to the park entrance. When the hike is over, you will end up in the same spot. Return the way you came.
Allow 2-3 hours for the 7 Ladders Canyon hike. For the canyon and Piatra Mare, give yourself at least 6 hours. Don’t forget to bring water and lunch for the day.
Bran’s Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle, in Transylvania.
I had a cold for the entire time I was in Romania. This was most likely because of the sudden transition from hot and humid Thailand weather to brisk autumn in Romania. It hit me the hardest during my second day in Brasov.
Bran Castle was the final destination of the day, but I also wanted to get some hiking in. I looked at the Brasov public transportation map, and found a little ski town called Poiana Brasov. I took the bus there, with the intention of making the 5 mile walk to Rasnov where I could then grab a bus the rest of the way to the castle.
The trail was through the forest, and was peaceful. There were no other people around. It wasn’t too exciting though and eventually led me back to the road. I would only recommend this hike for someone who is just looking for a mellow stroll through the woods.
Upon arrival in Rasnov, I located a bus stop and waited for the one to Bran. By this time, my nose was running constantly and I was almost out of tissues. I debated taking a bus back to Brasov and returning to my hostel to rest, but I had already come so far.
After a long wait, the bus arrived and I was on my way to Bran. The entrance fee was 35 lei ($9). The castle was full of other visitors. It was cool to see the castle, but because of my cold I didn’t have much patience for the crowd or to read all the information boards.
I’m still not entirely sure what the connection between Bran Castle and Dracula is. I know that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler. Vlad never lived in Bran Castle, but apparently he spent the night one time. The author of Dracula never traveled to Eastern Europe, let alone visited Bran Castle. So it’s hard to say why exactly this castle is known as “Dracula’s Castle”.
Hike up the mountain then take the gondola down.
I was going to leave Brasov sooner, but was enjoying the mountains so much I decided to squeeze in one last hike. I befriended a fellow American from my hostel, and we took a bus up to the ski town of Poiana Brasov once again.
This time we followed a trail that intersected with ski runs and gondola routes. It took about two hours to reach the top, and we spotted a fox along the way. After some snacks and soaking up the view from the peak called Postavaru, we joined a group of fellow tourists to ride the gondola down. I was surprised by how high the gondola hovered in some parts. The cable was connected to two peaks, and the valley was deep below.
From Old Town, go to the Livada Postei bus stop and take the number 20 all the way to Poiana Brasov. From there, locate the bottom of the gondola and follow the trail up. The hike will take about 2 hours.
As I said previously, I went into this Romania visit free of expectations. However, I’ve enjoyed it so much. I originally only planned to stay in Romania for 4 days, but I ended up traveling here for 7 days.
Bucharest is such a cool city, and it’s worthwhile to spend a day or two exploring here. Transylvania had so much to offer, I could have easily committed a few weeks to hiking there. The trails are maintained and marked by signs. I didn’t stay in any of the mountain huts, but it seems like that would be a cool way to do a multi-day hike.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been in Northern Thailand.
I haven’t been fully utilizing my travel time during this segment of my trip. I have done a lot of putting in long hours doing work on my laptop, hanging out with the friends I’ve made, and going to the rock climbing gym often. I have enjoyed decompressing after months of hiking across Nepal.
However, six weeks is a long time to do nothing, so naturally I have accomplished a few things. Here are my favorite Northern Thailand activities.
Getting to know Chiang Mai by walking everywhere.
Getting to Know Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a small city in Northern Thailand, and I have spent about a month here in total. My first impression was that it was too busy, had too much traffic, and was a tourist hotspot. However, the more time I’ve spent here the more Chiang Mai has grown on me.
The city is actually pretty small, and I have figured out how to get around and where everything is. I love to walk everywhere in an effort to stay healthy. In Chaing Mai, it’s easy to get my three to five miles of daily walking in.
There are so many people who are staying in Chiang Mai long term. I like that I’ve been able to make travel friends who I can hang out with consistently for weeks, instead of getting to know each other for a few days before saying goodbye.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
I got to hang out with elephants for an afternoon. It was a cool experience seeing how elephants interact with each other and with humans, watching them use their trunks to eat, and generally observing their mannerisms.
The sanctuary provided baskets full of bananas, as well as cool shirts with oversized pockets to put the bananas in. I was giving bananas to one older elephant. After he ate them all, he shoved his trunk in my pocket to look for more. Then he patted me down to check if I was hiding any. He seemed to know the game.
The staff seemed to love hanging out with the elephants, and the animals seemed happy. The elephants were not fenced in, and they were free to wander. When myself and the other visitors first arrived, the elephants were behind a fence so we could feed them and get to know each other. But they just knew to stand there to get bananas and were not actually caged in.
If you want to see elephants in Thailand, make sure you’re going to a sanctuary and not anywhere that does riding. Elephants at riding places are often abused as part of their training and isolated from other elephants. In Pai, I drove by a place that had two elephants chained to poles and were there for people to photograph. It was sad to see, but it wouldn’t happen if people weren’t paying for it. Use your common sense and ethics when visiting elephants in Thailand.
No regard whatsoever for the well being of my iPhone.
Crazy Horse Rock Climbing
Crazy Horse is legit. I spent four days rock climbing here, and I stayed at Jira Home Stay every night (get ahold of her via Facebook message). It was such a quiet and peaceful place, and the food was delicious. I met my climbing partner Kevin by posting my info on Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures’ climbing partner bulletin board.
There are lots of options for different cliffs to climb, but it’s all compact within 15 minutes of walking from each other. After four days, Kevin and I still hadn’t visited all the different spots. It was a laid back experience as well. We usually bumped into one other group a day, and had the place to ourselves other than that.
Crazy Horse was the perfect escape from the city and a pleasant outdoor experience. It’s the Northern Thailand rock climbing alternative to Southern Thailand’s Railay.
Pai is so peaceful in the morning when everyone is hungover.
Pai is another place that took a few days to grow on me. At first glance, it seemed like a tourist party town. It is a party town, but it also has more to offer than just that.
My favorite thing about Pai was staying at a hostel called Spicy Pai. It was not too crowded, but there were also enough people around that it was easy to make friends. It was situated on the outskirts of town, so it was quiet and scenic.
Probably the best Pai activity is riding around the countryside on motorbikes. It seemed like there were always people from my hostel going out for a few hours. I don’t drive motorbikes myself, but often tagged along with others. Pai canyon was my favorite destination because it reminded me of Utah.
There’s a joke that the motto for Pai visitors is, “One more night,” because people always stay way longer than expected. I meant to stay four days and was there for eleven days.
I’m not even that into temples, but I liked this one.
White Temple Day Trip
The White Temple is in Chiang Rai, which is three hours from Chiang Mai. I went with a tour company because that seemed to be the best value for my money. As a person who is not even particularly interested in temples, I think it was worth the visit. It was cool to see how thoroughly detailed the entire structure was.
Buckey and I have been on the low route of our Great Himalaya Trail thru-hike until now. Tired of the jungle, we decided to make a side trip to Makalu Base Camp in order to get to cooler temperatures and see white peaks.
From Khadbari, we took a Jeep up to the village of Num. It was a bumpy, three hour drive. We were packed onto benches in the bed of vehicle with seven other people. I ended up trading seats with the little girl next to me so she could throw up out of the back, nauseous from the ride.
In Num we met a group of American climbers who planned to summit Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. They were planning on taking a helicopter to base camp. Their Sherpas had to turn back on the trek up because the snow on the passes was chest deep. We hoped it would be packed down by the time we reached that section of trail.
Gorgeous mountains all to ourselves headed toward Makalu Base Camp
We hiked out of Num the same day with the goal of reaching Seduwa, the first day of the Makalu Base Camp trek. It would be a steep walk down to the river, then back up the other side. As is typical of Buckey and I, we got lost for the first three hours of the walk. Once again, this was due to lack of common sense. We’re hoping in the future when we feel lost we’ll stop and reassess instead of aimlessly wandering. We got back on course and finally made it to Seduwa. We saw two different bands of monkeys along the way.
Our Seduwa guest house was ran by a woman in her mid-twenties. She had three daughters running around who looked to be two, three, and four. They let us play with their toys and were delighted when Buckey tried on a purple tiara. The next morning, our Seduwa guest house owner directed us to continue onto Tashigion and stay at her husband’s sister’s guest house.
It was an easy four hour walk. Upon arrival, Buckey had an equally long afternoon nap while I collected beta for the rest of our route. I learned that there would be rooms available for our whole walk to base camp and no need for a tent. The lady at this guest house offered to store our extra gear, which we gladly accepted in order to continue on with lighter packs.
Hiking through the snow and over passes
The next day’s hike to Kongma was much steeper. Finally out of the jungle, the temperatures dropped and we hit several patches of snow. We still made good time to the village. My guidebook suggested taking a rest day here. However, there was a group of about fifteen people planning on taking a day off. Not wanting to be on the same schedule as such a big group in an area with limited accommodations, we decided to move on.
This was the day of the two passes, Tutu La and Keke La, both at about 14,000 feet. We walked through snow for the entire day. Luckily it was packed down by all the Nepalis who had trekked it before us. We were able to do the route just fine in our boots. Occasionally our feet would break through the snow. At one point Buckey sunk down to his hip. After a long and wet day, we made it to the lone building in Dobate. We were the only guests that night staying in the two-room structure.
At our guest house in Dobate with the owner
We continued on towards Yangri Karka. There was an anxiety inducing, two hour stretch through a landslide area. We trotted along over loose rocks that had fallen from the hill above. It was cloudy when we crossed over the Barun Nadi river via a wooden bridge. Snow covered mountains were barely visible through the fog, and I hoped for clear skies in the morning.
The next mornings hike from Yangri Karka to Langmale Karka was the most beautiful section. The trail followed the river, through forests and meadows. There were vertical cliffs with dozens of cascading waterfalls flowing. We regularly heard and saw chunks of ice breaking off and falling from rock walls. We were surrounded by white peaks.
The final day of ascent brought us to Makalu Base Camp. At 16,000 feet we both got small headaches and had trouble sleeping that night. Our intention was to take a rest day at base camp. However there wasn’t much to do there. By 10:30 am we were so bored that we packed up and went back to Langmale Karka.
Makalu, the world’s fifth highest mountain
Starting the Descent
Eager for a few rest days in Khadbari, where we would have wifi and the ability to shower, we decided to hike back down from Makalu Base Camp as fast as possible. Following the same route, night two of the descent was spent in Dobate. This time the guest house was packed. There was a group of German climbers and their guides and porters.
The next day we woke up early, scarfed down a breakfast of eggs and chapati (it’s like a fried flat bread), and started over the passes once more. We were greeted with thick fog, poor visibility, and fat snowflakes. The thick layer of snow muffled sound, and the morning was eerily silent.
We had a quick tea stop in Kongma before continuing to Tashigion. Having skipped lunch, I was grumpy for much of the afternoon. By the time we arrived in Tashigion, Buckey’s feet were raw from his soaking wet boots and my knees ached from a total of 8,000 feet elevation loss in one day.
We returned to the guest house where we had stored our extra gear. The owner said I had the same smile as her younger sister, and she showed me a family photo album. She asked our ages and when Buckey said 26 she replied, “Are you sure?” She thought his beard made him look older.
Our last day brought us back through Seduwa, where we stopped for a Red Bull and to see the three adorable little girls we had met on the way up. We both had sore feet with every step down to the river. We stood aside twice for mule trains hauling rice bags to pass.
Buckey getting in some bouldering time
Poisonous Jungle Plants
Almost to the river, the path was made of steep stone steps. I misstepped, and suddenly I was falling and rolling down the path. I stopped myself by grabbing a root, right on the edge of an abrupt and bushy hill that lead to the river. I yelled for Buckey, and he grabbed me and pulled me back on the path. My body was mostly OK, but my skin was burning and stinging from a plant I had rolled into.
Buckey rushed me across the suspension bridge to sit in the shade. He helped me wash my skin with a water bottle. It felt like tiny needles were poking all over my arms, hands, legs, and patches on my face. Within minutes, hives were forming on my skin everywhere the plant had touched. The hives soon went away, but the stinging remained all through that evening.
We started the long walk uphill into Num with the sun beating down and the humidity tiring us. It seemed like the climb would never end. We stopped in patches of shade when we came across them. Finally we got to the ridge where the village of Num resides, thus ending our Makalu Base Camp trek. As soon as we walked into town, a Jeep driver asked us if we needed a ride to Khadbari. His price for the trip was clearly an overcharge, but we were too tired to care and too eager to get to a big town.
We’re taking a few days in Khadbari to rest our aching bodies. From here, we will take the low route to Jiri, which should be a twelve day walk.
Taking a break on the way to Langmale Karka up to Makalu Base Camp
3 Things from Buckey:
One of more memorable things for me was waking up at 3:30 am during our one night at Makalu Base Camp. I was having trouble sleeping so I went outside to check things out. There was a full moon and dimmed stars shinning brightly on the craggy cliff side of Mt. Makalu.
The hike from Yangri Karka to Yangmale Karka was probably the most stunning stretch of trail we have hiked in Nepal. The cliffs were sheer and the river flowing. The Barun Nadi, the sacred river that runs from the base of Makalu down the valley we trekked, flowed Carolina blue. Makalu-Barun National Park is vast and beautiful and I’m lucky to have trekked there.
We ran into a trekker in Dobate who was in the valley to set camera traps in hopes getting pictures of a bear. Before this conversation I was fully aware that there were in Asian black bears throughout Nepal. What I learned was that there are also brown bears in Nepal, which is the species he hoped to photograph. I had a long conversation about all the different types wildlife in Nepal. It was refreshing to chat with someone as enthusiastic as me about animals.
After departing Pokhara, we headed back to the mountains to begin our treks of the Manaslu and Annapurna Circuits. Buckey and I decided to be easy on ourselves and split the bus ride up into two days. First we took a five-hour bus ride to the town of Gorkha. There’s a palace there and we had hoped to go exploring. Alas, we were hungover and didn’t make the morning bus so we didn’t have time for sight-seeing upon arrival. The next day brought another long bus journey to Soti Khola, the start of the Manaslu Circuit.
Manaslu is a restricted area, and a guide is required. We worked with Adventure Mountain Club to get a guide and organize our Dolpa permits (our next section). Our guide Bashu was waiting for us in Soti Khola. After having some momos for a late lunch, we decided to get a few hours of evening hiking in since the temperatures were cooler.
Easy to follow trails.
Pleasant hiking days
I didn’t know what to expect from the Manaslu section because it’s not a region I’ve done much research on and I don’t know anyone who has hiked it. Most of the trek follows the Budhi Gandaki river up the valley, gradually gaining in elevation over nearly a week of walking. The valley is compact for the first few days, with cliffs and mountains towering over the river on both sides. Finally, around the village of Samagon the valley opened up to views of the white-peaked Manaslu range.
One thing I absolutely loved about this section was that the road did not extend beyond the starting point of Soti Khola. The lack of motor vehicles made for a peaceful experience. The trail itself was one of the best and well-maintained we’ve experienced yet. For the first time on the Great Himalaya Trail, there were signs directing us to where we needed to go.
If you read my last post, part 6, you know that Buckey and I were getting wrecked for a month by bad weather brought on by monsoon season. It seems that our luck changed for Manaslu. We had clear skies nearly everyday, allowing us to actually appreciate the views we were working for.
Megan and Buckey: 2, Monsoon season: 1
On Larke Pass, the high point on the Manaslu Circuit.
Thorang La, the Annapurna Circuit’s high point.
The slow elevation gain along the Manaslu Circuit was all building up to Larke Pass, at 16,850 feet.
The evening before hiking the pass, we slept in Dharamasala. It wasn’t really a village; it was just one guest house. I was annoyed because the prices there were unnecessarily high. Like, the guest house owner wanted to charge $2 to use a blanket. In all the places I’ve hiked in Nepal, no one has ever charged for blanket use before.
After a night of lack of sleep due to the high elevation, we awoke at 5 am to start our big day. Bashu said it would be a three-hour walk to the top of the pass. It was lucky that we woke up so early because we had views first thing in the morning. However, the clouds quickly rolled in and didn’t go away all day.
We are acclimatized pretty well, so the hike over Larke Pass was easy. However, we caught a couple hours of rain during the hike down which made the walk chilly and unpleasant. Finally, we reached our destination, the village of Bimtang, by noon and were able to put on dry clothes and have a hot meal.
For the final day of the Manaslu Circuit we had a mellow, downhill walk to Dharapani. Dharapani is located on the Annapurna Circuit, so it was convenient for us to start the next segment of our hike.
A 5 am start up Larke brought early morning views.
The Manaslu Circuit would be great for a first time trekker.
Between the valley, river, cliffs, and white-peaks, the Manaslu Circuit offered a lot in the way of scenery. As I’ve said before, the trail itself was easy in comparison to other hikes in Nepal. Being able to leave our camping gear in Pokhara and eat and sleep in guest houses along the way allowed us to have lighter packs than what we’re used to.
With all of these factors combined, I would say the Manaslu Circuit would be ideal for a beginner trekker or someone who is traveling to Nepal for the first time. It’s far less crowded than the Everest region, and there are no roads like in the Annapurnas.
Our first few days were slow. The afternoon rain compelled us stop early at guest houses. We could have kept going, but we are tired of dealing with monsoon season. Finally, from Upper Pisang we had a big day into Manang. The mountains turned barren, and reminded me of Colorado and Utah.
When I did the Annapurnas two years ago, the journey from Manang over Thorang La pass into Muktinath took five days, including a rest day in Manang. This time, Buckey and I skipped the rest day and did the hike in two days.
Thankfully, I didn’t get any symptoms of altitude sickness on the walk over the 17,700 feet pass. It was however a tough hike to get to the top. I couldn’t hike fast without getting winded. Once we made it over, we ran into a family with two kids who looked about five and seven. I thought it was pretty cool that the whole family was out hiking the Annapurna Circuit together.
The Annapurna Circuit hasn’t changed much since I hiked it two years ago. It did seem like there were more vehicles out on the road during the lower part of the circuit. I forgot about the variety of food available along this route. Mostly Buckey and I just eat dal bhat when we’re staying in guest houses. On this hike we got to have pizza, chicken enchiladas, cinnamon buns, and yak steak.
Barren mountains remind me of home.
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