Category: Trip Report

Haute Route Trip Report

After an exhilarating week in Iceland, where we explored Reykjavik and hiked the Laugavegur trail, we set off for our second country of many on our extended travel adventure. While…

After an exhilarating week in Iceland, where we explored Reykjavik and hiked the Laugavegur trail, we set off for our second country of many on our extended travel adventure. While visiting new places is obviously one of our favorite things in life, there is something incredibly wonderful about returning to a well-loved and familiar spot. For us, it was all happy memories and good vibes as we made our way towards the Chamonix Valley in France, where we’d spend a couple days before hiking the Haute Route. This was our first “repeat” travel destination together, and we made an effort to revisit special experiences while also creating opportunities for new ones. Instead of staying in Chamonix this time, we spent a few nights in nearby Les Houches. We enjoyed the low key atmosphere of this smaller town as opposed to the hustle and bustle of Chamonix. Our days in Les Houches were largely spent fueling up for the Haute Route with fresh pastries and 3 euro wine, stocking up on various hiking items, and making several trips to multiple post offices in order to figure out how to ship some items to Zermatt (and thereby lighten our packs for this challenging trek). Finally, we dropped our parcel off with a “here goes nothing!” kind of mentality, packed up our backpacks, and got ready to hit the trail.

Breakfast of champions at our Airbnb in Les Houches.

 

Ever since hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017, we knew we wanted to get back to these mountains. If asked, neither of us would be able to choose which one of the five treks we’ve planned for this summer that we’re most excited about, but the Haute Route was definitely a strong contender for both of us. I’d imagine this is how parents feel when asked to choose their favorite child; of course they don’t actually have a favorite, but there is always one they sort of like better… Anyways, suffice it to say we were pretty darn excited. Words (at least my novice words) can’t begin to capture the feeling of taking in the panorama of snowy peaks on a high mountain pass, crossing a narrow section of trail with hundreds of feet of open air below you, or simply taking your boots off after eight hours of trekking, but I’m going to give it a shot anyways. In the following trip report, I’ve attempted to sum up this most incredible adventure to my best ability, but trust me when I say there aren’t enough superlatives in the world to do it justice.

Day One: Chamonix to Le Peuty

Since we stayed in Les Houches, we needed to hop on the train to get to the Chamonix Station and the official start of the Haute Route. After a lovely train ride accompanied by chocolate croissants, we were ready to hit the trail. Despite the cool morning air, the sun was already warm as we wound our way out of town. If you plan on starting the Haute Route in Chamonix, be warned that the beginning of the trail is a bit hard to follow. The route takes you along busy roads, through a golf course, and past many confusing trail junctions. Keep your map handy! After passing through a festive market in the town of Argentiere, we began to climb up our first col. We felt strong and the conversation flowed as we worked our way up the many switchbacks to Col de Balme. At the top, we tucked out of the wind, pulled out the gallon bag full of peanuts that we call “lunch,” and savored the views. Our fresh legs handled the descent like champs (shocking foreshadowing: they wouldn’t feel as great ten days from now), and we made it to camp early enough to enjoy a relaxing afternoon. After setting up our tent at the Le Peuty camping area, we strolled over to the nearby town of Trient. We enjoyed a nutritious dinner of ramen and cookies in the company of some other campers (most were TMB hikers) and got to bed early in anticipation of a big day tomorrow.

Nice views from the tent at Le Peuty.

 

Day Two: Le Peuty to Champex

We got an early start on Day Two, as we were excited to tackle the infamous Fenêtre d’Arpette. Literally translating to “window to Arpette,” this stage involves a long, steep climb (with some scrambling) up to a keyhole-like pass that looks down into the Val d’Arpette. The ascent to the pass was nothing short of spectacular. As we gained height, the Glacier du Trient came more clearly into view, until we felt like we were right next to it. Studying the blues and grays, the cracks and contours, and the overall dynamic nature of the glacier was an unforgettable experience. It was bittersweet, as the glacier is receding rapidly due to a changing climate. It was a privilege to get to experience the glacier before it’s gone and a sobering reminder of the impacts of our human choices, both collectively and as individuals. That’s the beauty of travel and trekking; you never know when you’ll be struck with a moment that changes your perspective and increases empathy. Anyways, after mostly-fun scramble over large boulders to reach the pass, we began our descent down. I don’t have as many sentimental or poetic things to say about the descent. Basically, it started with falling on our butts on loose scree, then transitioned to falling on our butts on steep snow crossings, then to slowing picking our way through large boulders, and finally to a long, rocky descent towards Champex. With enough snacks and some well-timed jokes, we managed to keep our spirits high. Upon reaching Champex, we set up camp and then feasted on bananas, baguettes, and local cheese by the lake. It was a long and challenging day, but so beautiful and rewarding. Afterwards, we felt strong, happy, and ready to take on the rest of the Haute Route.

Getting up close and personal to the magnificent Trient Glacier.

 

Day Three: Champex to Champsec (Le Chable)

When you think of camping, you probably picture a solitary tent peacefully nestled in a remote, wilderness setting. Most of the camping we’ve been doing on this trip is not like that at all. Picture instead a large campground with the tents close enough to hear the Frenchmen next you sawing them off in vivid clarity, and perhaps some noise from trucks barreling down a nearby road. Experience has taught us a few things about how to enjoy these types of campgrounds, and arguably the most important wisdom we’ve gained is that earplugs are truly a game-changer. Which is how we found ourselves sleeping ever-so-soundly through our alarm on the morning of Day Three. We are not sponsored by any earplug manufacturers, but we can tell you firsthand that those things really do work! Fortunately, the walk to Le Chable, our destination for the day, was relatively quick and easy. We passed so many quaint villages! We had planned on restocking on food at the grocery store in Le Chable, but it was a Sunday and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open grocery store on a Sunday in this part of the world. We ended up deciding to combine a fun day-trip detour to see the uber posh ski area of Verbier with a visit to its grocery store (which was miraculously open on Sundays). After a shockingly expensive bus ride and a trip to the very well-appointed CoOp store, we struggled to define “worth it” for this particular context. After heading back down to the valley, we made our way to the little town on Champsec, where our campground was located. Although it was a funky place, it was well-appointed and the friendly host welcomed us with fresh local apricots and strawberry wine. After reading the cloud patterns (okay, actually after checking the weather.com app) we tightened our rain fly and prepared for a soggy night.

Passing through the lovely town of Sembrancher on our way to Le Chable.

 

Day Four: Champsec to Cabane du Mont Fort

We awoke on Day Four to a very wet and rainy morning. We were so focused on keeping everything as dry as possible while packing up camp that it wasn’t until we were nearly finished with our coffee that we took a good look up at the surrounding mountains. Peaks that had been clear and rocky the previous day were now totally blanketed with a fresh layer of pillowy, white snow. All that rain we’d gotten down in the valley transpired to make for a heck of a July snowstorm at the higher elevations! Better yet, it was those very same high elevations that we were set to hike across for the next three days. Feeling mildly daunted but still optimistic, we caught the bus to Le Chable, where we phoned the Cabane du Mont Fort hut. The warden assured us that it would still be possible to hike up to the hut, but traversing the trail beyond that point would be “very difficult.” We were already booked to spend the night at Mont Fort, so we decided to continue the hike as planned and figure out our next move once we got there. This was one of our favorite days of hiking along the Haute Route. The trail wound up and up through picturesque meadows, misty, enchanting pine forests, and finally to the high alpine world. Best of all, the day involved nearly five hours of uphill walking and absolutely no long descents to speak of! Our knees were so happy. Upon arriving at the insanely cozy Cabane du Mont Fort, we were met with the wonderful surprise of receiving a private room. We spent the afternoon deliberating (first over coffee, then over beers) about tomorrow’s hike. We had originally planned to continue past the typical stopping point at Cabane de Prafleuri and wild camp near Refuge de La Barma. With the weather and trail conditions as they were, a very long day on sketchy, snowy trails followed by a night in our tent at high elevation sounded irresponsible at best. Even though we knew that the safest, best choice was to detour from the trail, the decision was still somewhat agonizing. Our sense of adventure beckoned us to take on the challenge, while a little voice in our heads warned that we’d be “cheating” if we didn’t do the whole thing. Ultimately, however, our sensible sides won out and we made a plan to detour around the unsafe sections. We have enough hiking experience to know that it’s always better to give mother nature the respect she deserves, rather than put ourselves in a situation that isn’t safe and certainly isn’t fun. After some great conversation with some cool hikers we met at the hut, we finally tucked into our first real beds in few days.

Cabane du Mont Fort is a classic mountain hut, well worth a visit!

 

Day Five: Mont Fort to Arolla

The section of trail between Cabane du Mont Fort and Pas de Chèvres stays at high elevations and is frequently impassable due to snow, rockfalls, or adverse weather conditions. Unfortunately, there are no lower-elevation trail options for connecting these two points, so it’s kind of a whole thing if you need to avoid these sections. If you can’t get as far as Prafleuri, your best bet is to go back to Le Chable and then use transit to get to Arolla (the next town the Haute Route passes through). This is what we ended up doing. It was a long day of riding gondolas, trains, and buses, but it was relatively easy to navigate and fun to see some different parts of the region. When we finally arrived at the campground in Arolla, we were delighted to learn that there were showers available (it had been a few days since we’d had one). The showers promised four minutes of hot water for 1 Euro, but as we waited in the shower line, word spread amongst campers that the hot water in the men’s room wasn’t working. Rather than risk squandering a euro on a disappointing four minutes or tepid showering, Ian decided instead to just take a fully cold shower. His report: “It was good…Kind of. It was kind of good.” What a champ.

Beautiful wildflowers on the trail near Arolla.

 

Day Six: Arolla to Pas de Chèvres

Although we weren’t able to cross the Pas de Chèvres (the pass leading into the valley towards Arolla), we decided we could still cover as much of the trail as possible from the other direction. On Day Six, we enjoyed the ultimate luxury of leaving our tent set up (we would camp another night at Arolla before continuing along our hike) and our heavy bags behind as we set off for our day on the trail. The hike up to the pass felt effortless without a 25-pound pack on! Pas de Chèvres is infamous for its series of long ladders and catwalks that traverse the steep rock wall up to the pass. In reality, the ladders are the easy part. They are sturdily secured to the mountain and quite easy to navigate. If you get a little antsy around heights (like I sometimes do), just take your time, maintain three points of contact, and they really aren’t so bad. The scramble through the boulderfield on the approach to the pass is another story, though. It is steep, difficult, and there have been several close calls recently with falling rocks. We didn’t have to cross this section since we approached the pass from the other direction, but we got a good look and can confirm that it is challenging. Definitely use caution when completing this part of the trail. Since we had the freedom of light loads and lots of time, we diverted from the Haute Route to check out some other trails in the surrounding area before descending back towards Arolla. After picking up some fresh apricots and dinner items at the shop in town, we made our way back to camp. We spent the evening enjoying some beers and some people watching, but decided to skip the cold showers this time.

Emily conquering the ladders at Pas des Chevres- thankfully without a heavy pack!

 

Day Seven: Arolla to Les Haudères

Day Seven promised to be a short, easy day of walking so we allowed ourselves a nice slow morning. After a lazy breakfast and an hour of drying out the tent in the sun, we made our way towards Les Haudères . We were excited to get there since this is where we’d scheduled our rest day and had splurged on an Airbnb for the occasion. The trail was a little less straightforward than we’d expected, as it undulated through dense forest and crossed narrow, exposed sections. However, it wasn’t too demanding, and we reached Lac Bleu before lunchtime. While this lake is a bit overrun by visitors, the vivid color is stunning(as implied by the name). Upon our arrival in Les Haudères , Emily’s high school French was put to the test when we needed to phone our Airbnb hosts to figure out how to get to our place. It’s one thing to fumble through speaking a foreign language in person (at least you can pantomime), but it’s a whole new world of challenge to do it over the phone without any context clues! Somehow, after some really pathetic French communication, we found ourselves getting into the car of a nice elderly man who claimed to be our host. This sounds like it could be the beginning of a cheesy horror movie, but fortunately it all worked out. The hosts and our flat were both downright lovely. For days, we’d been wanting to try a rosti, a regional dish that is essentially a giant hash brown pancake, and Ian cooked one up for dinner. It was a delicious start to our days off in Les Haudères.

The aptly-named Lac Bleu.

 

Day Eight: Les Haudères Rest Day

Today consisted of all of our favorite rest day pastimes: sink laundry, eating pastries, sitting at sunny cafes, strolling through quaint streets, and lots of, well, rest. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the town of Les Haudères , practicing our French, and soaking up the local culture. We went to bed ready and excited to get back on the trail for the second half of our Haute Route adventure.

Soaking up the village charm in Les Hauderes.

 

Day Nine: Les Haudères to Cabane de Moiry

We rose early on Day Nine and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast before beginning the steady climb through pretty alpine meadows towards Col du Tsaté. We enjoyed winding our way up through the lovely town of La Sage, and we didn’t see any other hikers on the trail until we were over the pass. It was pretty awesome to have the top to ourselves and we soaked in the breathtakingly rugged mountain views for a good while. It was one of our biggest days in terms of elevation gain (over 6,000 feet), but we both felt great after our rest day and made it to the hut before the forecasted afternoon rain moved in. Cabane de Moiry is a fantastic mountain hut that is perched impossibly high on a mountain ledge and jaw-droppingly close to the Moiry Glacier. The final ascent to the hut is quite steep and definitely presents a final challenge before reaching the beautifully renovated Cabane de Moiry. Upon reaching the hut, we shared an excellent blueberry tart and complimentary afternoon coffee in the all-glass dining room while studying the glacier for hours. This was our second and final stay in a mountain hut of our entire trip, so we decided to make the most of it! We still opted to self-cater on our camp stove outside instead of paying for the exorbitantly expensive dinner though, and we were rewarded with having the entire terrace to ourselves for most of the sunset hours. We were even lucky enough to see some Ibex poking around below the hut. We stayed up later than usual, enjoying good conversations with fellow hikers and playing board games well into the evening. We’ve noticed that the Haute Route definitely attracts a more experienced set of hikers, and it was cool to hear about people’s various treks and adventures. If you’re considering a stay at Cabane de Moiry, we highly recommend it! It’s an unforgettable experience.

Enjoying a wonderful stay at Cabane de Moiry!

 

Day Ten: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal

Cabane de Moiry really does have a spectacular location high on the mountainside, but those views come with a cost. While the hike up to the hut on the previous day was tiring but manageable, the steep hike down from it the next morning definitely felt a lot tougher. Maybe it was our cold legs or maybe it’s because there wasn’t a homemade blueberry tart waiting at the end this time, but whatever it was it made Emily very cranky. As the trail started to veer upwards again, so did our moods, and we enjoyed the lovely long traverse of the green hillside on a stunning balcony trail. The hike over Col de Sorebois was relatively easy (as far as Haute Route passes go at least), and we found ourselves making our way down towards Zinal in no time. We stopped for lunch at the gondola station where we found some very comfy lawn chairs to kick back in for awhile. After consuming way too many peanuts, we began the seemingly endless (yet thankfully mellow) switchbacks to get down to the valley floor. When we arrived at our campground, the adjacent restaurant was positively swarming with day-trippers eating ice cream and drinking beer. Despite the crowds and the strangeness of the place (think petting zoo meets mini-golf course meets campground), we happily settled in and enjoyed a lovely evening watching the sunset over the beautiful surrounding mountains.

Breathtaking views from the Col de Sorebois.

 

Day Eleven: Zinal to Gruben

Today’s destination, the tiny hamlet of Gruben, was slated to be our first wild camping of the trip. Since we wouldn’t be able to pitch our tent until after dark, we figured there was no point in rushing to leave our campsite and get on the trail early. It was nice to sleep in and take our time, but by the time we started the long ascent towards the Forcletta Pass it was very, very hot. Although we were spared the worst of the heat wave that was currently plaguing much of the rest of the continent (temps were reaching over 100 degrees in Paris!), the sun was still beating mercilessly down on us as we trudged uphill. After a difficult start, we found our rhythm, and enjoyed some beautiful scenery at the top of the pass (which we had to ourselves once again). In reading about today’s hike and the linguistic regions of Switzerland, we learned that we’d be crossing into the German-speaking side of Switzerland once we got across the pass. In fact, many people refer to this divide as the “rosti line,” as the potato dish is more commonly eaten in the German parts of the country. As we climbed our way up to the pass, we imagined a rosti stand at the top, serving up hot, salty rostis to all of the weary hikers who reached it. Alas, all we found at the top were a couple of cairns, some baby marmots, and some pretty incredible views. Oh well, maybe that’s better anyways. After a long and tiring descent, we finally reached Gruben in the early evening. The idea of another hour of hiking with our heavy packs in search of a suitable camping spot was totally daunting. We decided to take our shoes off and kick back for awhile in the shade of the town’s church before making any big moves. Feeling restored, we began by scouting along the river for a good campsite. We found a few spots that would work if they had to, but nothing great. Then we headed uphill along the trail, where we found a spot we were happy with. It was still too early to pitch our tent, so we hiked back down to Gruben and ordered some large beers at the hotel. This seems to be the thing to do; campers hang out at the hotel, drink a beer, wash up in the bathroom, and then head up the trail as inconspicuously as possible. It’s hard to tell if the hotel loves it or hates it, but at least they tolerated us and served us cold beers. At the hotel, we saw another group of hikers with the same plans as us. When they started putting their boots on after dinner, it became obvious to us that they must be wild camping. Who puts their stinky boots back on after a long day of hiking and a relaxing dinner unless they absolutely have to? Anyhow, after cooking our ramen on a bench in front of the church (we felt like total weirdos, but one local gentleman was very amused and bid us a hearty “Bon Appetit”) we made our way up the hillside. We set up camp quickly as the last of the light receded behind the high peaks and were asleep in no time.

Alpine lakes and glaciers made for a beautiful hike to Gruben.

 

Day Twelve: Gruben to Täsch

Wanting to be as discreet as possible, we woke up very early and packed up camp as the sun came up. We hiked up the trail for a bit before finding a pretty spot to have breakfast and make some coffee. It was nice to have a head start on the trail and enjoy the cool, fresh early morning air. I know I’ve said something along the lines of “amazing views” in nearly every post of this trip report, but believe me when I say that today’s views were really, really good. The trail climbed through a peaceful meadow, crossed the majestic Augustabord Pass, and wound its way through a large boulder field before rounding a shoulder to reveal the final valley of the hike. The snowy peaks, huge glaciers, and the deep, narrow green valley so far below came together to truly take our breath away. We were feeling good and savoring every moment until about halfway through the looooong descent into St. Niklaus. We had the option to take a gondola from Jungen to St. Niklaus to cut out a lot of the downhill slog, but we knew we needed to get several miles further along the valley to the town of Täsch (in order to camp and to be well-positioned to rejoin the Europaweg trail tomorrow), so we decided to use our “cheat” transportation to take a train from St. Niklaus to Täsch and cut out a couple hours of road walking in the valley instead. By the time we made it down to St. Niklaus, we were pretty wrecked. We were dehydrated (it was another very hot day), and each of us had a cacophony of aches and pains from so much steep downhill with a big pack. We finally stumbled into the campground in Täsch feeling totally spent. However, after some lukewarm beers, a loaf of bread, and copious amounts of hummus and bananas, we started to feel like ourselves again. Even though we were exhausted, it was more than a little sad and totally hard to believe that tomorrow was our final day on the Haute Route.

The peeking into the Mattertal Valley from Jungen…and realizing we still had a long downhill hike to get there!

 

Day Thirteen: Täsch to Zermatt

We awoke in Täsch feeling better than expected. We packed up camp and began an uphill hike through the trees towards the Europaweg trail. Originally, we thought we would need to do the entire valley trail in order to avoid staying at the Europa Hut, but after a little research we realized we could still hike the second half of the Europaweg Trail, the infamous high-level traverse at the finish of the Walker’s Haute Route. We were so glad we chose this option! For the first hour or so we hiked on switchbacks through dense forest until suddenly the Matterhorn revealed itself through the trees. Wow! What a stunning mountain! From there, the views only got better. Once we joined the Europaweg, we were spoiled with wide open views of the Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks, and then down towards Zermatt, tucked in at the edge of the valley. The hiking was pretty easy, which was very appreciated on our tired bodies and allowed us to really take our time and savor the scenery. When we finally made our way into Zermatt, it was a bit of a shock to the system. There were more people and shops just in the town center than we’d seen on the rest of the hike combined! Also, for claiming to be a “car-free” town, there are a heck of a lot of electric taxis whizzing through the crowded pedestrian streets, making the whole atmosphere a bit chaotic. We struggled to find someplace casual enough to permit two very dirty backpackers to grab a celebratory finish beer, and eventually ended up on the patio of a surprisingly upscale Italian restaurant. We continued to struggle by accidentally ordering some sort of fancy syrup beer, which was not exactly the refreshing beverage we’d hoped for, but made for a funny experience nonetheless. After some showers and strolling around the town, we settled into the Zermatt campground with a bottle of wine and a picnic and reflected on our trip. The Haute Route was a unique and beautiful hike. We loved the variability of the landscape, as well as the many options for routes and variants along the way. It was a rewarding and unforgettable challenge, one that left us feeling like stronger, more experienced hikers and even more in love with these mountains than before.

All smiles heading into Zermatt!

Keep Reading

Be sure to read our entire series on the Haute Route to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

 

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Laugavegur Trip Report

The Laugavegur Trail was our first of the five treks we’ll complete as part of our “trip of a lifetime” adventure. By booking our flights to Geneva (where we’ll start…

The Laugavegur Trail was our first of the five treks we’ll complete as part of our “trip of a lifetime” adventure. By booking our flights to Geneva (where we’ll start the Haute Route) through Iceland Air, we were able to get a free week-long stopover in Iceland on the way. We’d seen pictures of the otherworldly landscapes and colorful vistas, and couldn’t pass up a chance to experience Iceland’s wilderness firsthand. Due to its proximity to Reykjavik, relatively short distance, and exceptional beauty, we thought  hiking the Laugavegur Trial would be a perfect way to spend our week in Iceland.

The Laugavegur Trail is Iceland’s most popular and iconic long-distance trek. It is divided into four segments, each marked by a mountain hut and camping area at the finish. At the official end of the trail, there is the option to add on another day’s hike on the Fimmvorduhals Trail, which climbs up to pass between two glaciers and then descends into the small town of Skogar. Our plan was to combine the first two segments of the Laugavegur Trail on our first day to complete the entire thing and make it to Skogar in a total of four days. Keep reading for a summary of each of our days on the trail:

Views from Landmannalaugar and one of many amazing landscapes you’ll encounter on this hike.

 

Day Zero: Landmannalaugar

We arrived in Landmannalaugar in the afternoon with plans to camp there for the evening and then set off for our hike early(ish) the next morning.  Landmannalaugar is known for it’s amazing geothermal landscape, which is punctuated by otherworldly colors, random steam-spewing crevices, and some truly lovely hot springs. We almost talked ourselves into skipping the hot springs, considering the fact that we hadn’t brought swimsuits and didn’t want to haul around wet clothes in our packs for the next few days. Fortunately, Ian pulled the whole “It’s not everyday that you find yourself at some dope geothermal hot springs” card and I was quickly convinced. Us Coloradans would have preferred to soak in nude, but after a quick survey of the scene we determined that Iceland wasn’t ready for all that and opted to sacrifice one of our precious few pairs of underwear for the cause. Soaking in the hot springs, surrounded by dramatic mountains and dynamic colors in every direction was truly an unparalleled way to kick off our trek. We returned to a very chilly night in our tent before hitting the trail the next morning.

The lovely hot springs at Landmannalaugar.

 

Day One: Landmannalaugar to Hvangill

We began Day One in good spirits. The initial uphill climb helped us thaw out a bit (did I mention that Iceland is a cold place for camping?) and the views blew us away from the start. Iceland is like no other place on Earth that we’ve ever been. The geothermal activity, volcanic landforms, vibrantly colored mountains, wide rivers, black sand deserts, and powerful waterfalls all come together to give this place a character that is completely unique and totally spectacular. The first day of hiking on a long-distance trek is always a bit of a euphoria-filled blur.  For example, we were so blissed out on our first day of the Tour du Mont Blanc that we missed an obvious turn and walked in the wrong direction for an hour before realizing it. On our first day of the West Highland Way, we stopped for a very long lunch (whisky included) thinking we were much closer to our stopping point than we actually were. On the Laugavegur, the trail really gave new meaning to the expression, “a surprise around every corner.” It seemed like every hill we crested or bend we rounded presented a completely new and wondrous landscape. Despite hiking for over eight hours, we finished feeling energized and totally stokey about the next day. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we decided to combine the next two segments into another big day the following day. Why sit around and be cold at the campsite when we could spend the entire day exploring the trail?

Crossing snow on day one!

 

Day Two: Hvangill to Basar

On Day Two, we packed up camp in damp conditions and a literally bone-chilling wind. One plus side of this weather is that it makes instant coffee taste like the elixir of life. Another positive was that although we had nearly perfect weather throughout the hike, we did at least get a little taste of Iceland’s moody dark side. We set off towards the next hut feeling a little stiff after the previous day’s efforts but totally excited for what the trail would bring. We did have some trepidation however, as we’d read that the biggest of our river crossings would occur on this stage of the hike.  For such an expensive country with otherwise impeccable infrastructure, Iceland seems curiously reluctant to build bridges over rivers. Both people and vehicles are routinely expected to ford sizable rivers if they would like to carry on towards their destination. The warden’s notes at the previous huts warned hikers to take caution crossing the Emstur River, and recent reports suggested the water could reach mid-thigh depths. We’d hoped we’d get an hour or two of walking behind us to warm up before crossing the icy water, but lo and behold, we met it within a few minutes of starting the day. For the second time this week in Iceland, we found ourselves stripping down to our underwear and stepping into the steely glacial waters. This time, however, there was no geothermal action to soften the blow. We forged into the icy, fast-moving currents, carefully choosing every step even though we just wanted to run to the other side and get out as fast as possible. Well, that was one wickedly efficient way to wake up in the morning.

Nothing like crossing an ice cold river to wake you up in the morning.

 

The rest of Day Two was tremendously beautiful, but definitely more of a slog than Day One, due to very long stretches through rocky desert and the fact that our bodies were starting to feel the miles a bit more. Still, we saw so many amazing sights, like the enormous canyon where two rivers-one slate gray and the other sepia toned-together hundreds of feet below us. Finally, we reached Þórsmörk, the technical end of the Laugavegur. We bought a ridiculously overpriced, but yet so necessary, Twix bar at the Þórsmörk campsite shop and then continued on another mile to the campsite at Basar where we’d be better positioned to start the next day’s big hike. Upon reaching camp, the sun had fully made an appearance and we enjoyed some very relaxing evening hours soaking up the endless daylight before putting on our sleeping masks and turning in for the night.

End of the Laugavegur Trail at Þórsmörk.

 

Day Three: Basar to Skogar

Day Three brought more excellent sunny weather, and we knew we had to take advantage of it and bust out the last big day of walking before allowing ourselves a rest day. Today we would complete the Fimmvorduhals Trail.  Have you ever wanted to climb between two glaciers, see the youngest mountains on earth, witness recent volcanic eruptions where black ash meets white snow, crest a mountain pass to see the ocean in the distance, or gaze at 20 waterfalls all in one day? Well we never knew we wanted all those things either until we hiked this trail, but it turns out that it definitely doesn’t suck. You’ve got to work for your views though.  The trail included some ridiculously steep climbs, a mildly sketchy exposed section, and lots of hiking through slushy snow fields. Technically, today was supposed to be way harder in terms of challenge than the previous day, but we both felt significantly better. It was one of those all-around perfect days in nature.

The second half of the Fimmvörðuháls Trail passes no less than 17 waterfalls!

 

Reaching the end of the hike was an interesting experience. Skogar, where the Fimmvorduhals terminates, is a huge draw for tourists due to its proximity to the main highway and its very impressive waterfall, known as Skogafoss.  To us, after being on the lightly trafficked trail for the past few days, it felt like a total zoo. Giant buses dropped off camera-wielding tourists who aggressively fought their way into position for the perfect Instagram shot.  It was such an entertaining spectacle that we had no other choice to embrace it and relish the experience. The campground was smack dab in the center of the action, so we enjoyed an endless stream of premium people-watching from the comfort of our tent. The waterfall views were pretty sweet too. Although we appreciated Skogar for what it was worth, we realized pretty quickly that we would struggle hang around at the campground for the nearly 48 hours until our bus was scheduled to pick us up (since we finished a day early). Fortunately, we were able to change our tickets and decided to make the most of our extra time by heading back to Reykjavik, where we spent the night at the lovely Reykjavik Campground.

The Laugavegur Trail completely blew us away. Every day brought dramatic beauty, dynamic challenges, and huge, wild spaces.  It was an unforgettable experience and the most incredible way to kick off our round-the-world adventure. Iceland’s rugged landscape is bound to carve a special place in the heart of anyone who is lucky enough to explore it.

Crowds gathered at the Skogafoss Waterfall.

 

What’s Next?

Ready to keep planning your Laugavegur trek? Be sure to read our entire series on the Laugavegur Trail to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for this incredible adventure!

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West Highland Way Trip Report

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to…

We completed Scotland’s iconic West Highland Way with a couple of friends in July of 2018.  The trail is 96 miles (154 km) long and took us eight days to complete. The West Highland Way is an ideal trek for campers, as there’s a wealth of lovely places to pitch a tent along the route. Be sure to check out our Camping Guide for detailed maps, facility descriptions, booking information and more. In the meantime, we wrote this post to share about the less technical and more personal aspects of our journey in hopes that it will get you excited to embark your own WHW adventure. Read on for inspiration, advice, photos, and insider’s tips.

Day One: Milngavie to Drymen (5 hours)

As mentioned above, we hiked the West Highland Way with another couple.  Since we were each traveling separately prior to starting the hike, we had made a plan in advance to meet at the official WHW starting point on the morning of Day One.  Seeing our friends (who we hadn’t seen in nearly a year) in another country at the trailhead was about as good as it gets. Feeling totally jazzed, we set off on the flat and shady path towards Drymen.  We enjoyed warm, sunny weather the entire day as we walked through rolling hills and bucolic farmland.

Easy walking from Milngavie to Drymen.

Having read our Trailblazer guidebook (highly recommended, by the way), we knew to look for the Glengoyne Distillery as we neared Drymen. Without hesitation, we took the slight detour from the trail to check it out. We were expecting a quaint, hiker-friendly tasting room in which we could unload our dusty packs for a wee dram before continuing on our way.  Instead, we found ourselves in something that felt a little more Disneyland than Scotland.  The woman at the visitor’s center informed us that there was in fact no tasting room, and we would have to pay royally for an hour-long tour if we wanted to taste their whisky.  Perhaps she saw the disappointment on our sweaty faces or maybe she just wanted to find a way to keep us from going on the tour, because she then proceeded to offer another option.  She suggested that we buy some shooter bottles in the gift shop as an alternative.

Glengoyne Distillery is just off The Way.

So a few minutes later we found ourselves back along the trail, picnicking in the sunshine while sipping on some fine whisky.  Not a bad lunch break! The final hours of the day were challenging due to the long, hot stretches of road walking and the newness of having a heavy pack on our backs. We arrived at Drymen Camping early enough to secure a nice pitch, grab a hot shower, and savor some slow hours spent looking out across the green hills.

Day Two: Drymen to Sallochy (7 hours)

We awoke to gray skies, but the rain was kind enough to hold off until we’d packed up camp. After a relaxed breakfast of coffee and muesli, we hit the road.  Knowing that we needed to stock up on provisions, we made an early detour into the town of Drymen.  As we were picking up the customary instant noodles and granola bars, we made an important discovery in the bakery aisle: fresh, warm chocolate croissants! If there’s something better than a hot pastry on a damp and chilly morning, we haven’t found it yet.

Back on the trail, we headed towards Conic Hill, the first real ascent of the trek. As we climbed upwards, the rain grew steadier and the landscape became more rugged.  The steely weather made the scenery even more beautiful.  After cresting Conic Hill, we descended steeply towards Balmaha and caught our first glimpses of Loch Lomond.

Approaching the top of Conic Hill.

Shoreline walking on Day Two.

We made a quick, impulsive stop in Balmaha to pick up a bottle of wine for the evening (it was vacation after all), and then continued along the shores of the loch towards our campsite. Arriving at Sallochy, we had our pick of gorgeous lochside campsites, each with private beach access. We quickly made camp as the rain picked up again. Once it let up, we enjoyed a damp but fabulous dinner while watching the evening light play across the expansive loch.

A lovely lochside pitch at Sallochy Campground.

Day Three: Sallochy to Beinglas Farm (9 hours)

We’re still scratching our heads as to how this happened, but on Day Three we didn’t start walking until about 10:00am.  Knowing this was our longest and most difficult day, this was especially idiotic. The first part of the hike started innocently enough, ambling along gentle dirt roads.  A few hours in, we stopped at the adorable Cherry Tree Cafe for a slice of lemon cake and some fresh fruit, patting ourselves on the back for making it to the “halfway point.” Little did we know, we really had another five hours of hiking ahead of us!

The Cherry Tree Cafe makes for a great lunch break along Loch Lomond.

As we continued along the trail, it grew more and more challenging.  Hugging the shoreline, the path afforded some spectacular views of the lake, but also presented us with steep, undulating hills, technical rocky sections, and lots of ducking over and around tree branches. It was slow going, especially with heavy packs on.  Bearing in mind that we had to get past the end of the loch, it was a bit torturous to keep looking out at the long lake and viewing just how far we still had to go.

Leaving Inversnaid, the trail continues to follow Loch Lomond for a few more miles.

The steep ascent away from Loch Lomond.

When we finally reached the end of Loch Lomond, we still had a long climb and another hour or so of walking before we reached Beinglas Farm campground.  Learn from our mistake and don’t underestimate this stage of the hike! We finally arrived at Beinglas weary but very happy.  After a hot shower in the luxurious facilities, we opted to forgo stove cooking and treat ourselves to curry and beer in the restaurant. It was a splurge, but totally worth it. As we wandered back to our tent rather delirious from the exhaustion and a few pints, we didn’t realize that the campsite had transformed into a full blown midge-fest once the sun had set. Before we knew it, we were absolutely covered in the little buggers.  Up until this point, we’d experienced a few midges, but we now understood what all the hype was about. Luckily, we escaped into the shelter of our tent and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

Beinglas Farm camping.

Day Four: Beinglas Farm to Strathfillan (6 hours)

Day Four brought a much easier day of walking, and we didn’t mind at all. About halfway into the day, we took the twenty-minute detour into Crianlarich.  There, we stopped at the supermarket for a lunchtime feast of cheese sandwiches, bananas, and cookies- a real upgrade to our typical backpacking lunch which consists of handfuls of peanuts and not much else. Throughout the day, we did a lot of gentle climbing and passed several sheep farms.

Gentle walking through beautiful scenery.

Highland cattle grazing at Strathfillan.

Our day ended in a gorgeous valley, surrounded by green hills in every direction.  We arrived at the quirky Strathfillan Wigwams just as the sun began to peek through the clouds.  Although the place was a little strange (think Native American motifs and a slightly sad petting zoo), the actual campsite was downright stunning.  The valley offered peaceful, wide open views punctuated only by the occasional sound of sheep bleating. We forked over the extra fees for hot showers and laundry, and then we enjoyed a fabulous (midge-free) dinner at a picnic table near our tents. It was one of those perfect evenings: great weather, good times with friends, and a totally relaxed atmosphere.

Beautiful sunset at the Strathfillan Wigwams.

Day Five: Strathfillan to Bridge of Orchy (4 hours)

Due to the great conversation, easy walking, and gorgeous weather, this day flew by and we were at Bridge of Orchy before we knew it! The path followed the highway for quite a long stretch which didn’t make for the most ideal walking conditions, but the scenery was still pretty fabulous. Upon reaching Bridge of Orchy, we set up camp, soaked our feet in the river, and then headed up to the hotel for some afternoon beers. Expert tip: the stout at the hotel bar is really excellent.  The evening proved to be relatively midge-free, so we were able to enjoy our time outside long into the evening.

Beinn Dorain dominates the walk to Bridge of Orchy.

Lovely camping at Bridge of Orchy.

Bridge of Orchy frames the Highlands beyond.

Day Six: Bridge of Orchy to Glencoe Mountain Resort (4 3/4 hours)

We awoke  at Bridge of Orchy to another spectacularly sunny day. This stage of the trail was the most remote of the entire trek, winding through wide open moors and breathtaking highlands scenery. As we skirted past Rannoch Moor, fifty square miles of uninhabited wilderness, we remarked on the goodness of such wild land in an increasingly developed world.

Rannoch Moor, 50 square miles of uninhabited wilderness.

We tackled a few good climbs on this section, which was a nice change of pace from the mostly flat walking of the previous few days. After another short day, we arrived at the campground at Glencoe Mountain Resort. We’d heard that there was free camping further along the trail at Kingshouse Hotel, but since it was under construction we didn’t know what the conditions would be like.  Deciding to play it safe, we opted to stop at Glencoe instead.  Embracing the developed, ski-resorty vibe, we enjoyed a few pints in the lodge.

Buachaille Etive Mòr comes into view approaching Glencoe Moutain Resort.

Despite its location next to a large car park, our campsite had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Upon retiring to our tents after hanging out at the lodge, we discovered that the campground was being used by some enterprising kids as a mountain biking course.  We watched as they repeatedly caught air, landing within a foot or two of the surrounding tents.  It was pretty impressive and rather funny, but didn’t lend itself well to an early bedtime.  Eventually, as the sun set and the rain began, the kids packed it up for the evening and we did the same.

Great views from our campsite at Glencoe Mountain Resort.

Day Seven: Glencoe Mountain Resort to Kinlochleven (5 hours)

We started Day Seven in very wet, cold conditions.  After cooking breakfast under the covered porch of the lodge building, we forced ourselves to step out into the rain.  As is typical of these types of things, the rain wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Even better, it soon eased up into a more gentle mist.  As we walked towards the infamous “Devil’s Staircase,” we spotted several red deer set amidst the breathtaking valley views.

The walk towards the Devil’s Staircase.

Hiking into the clouds on the Devil’s Staircase.

Views from the top.

As for the dreaded staircase, it was a steep ascent, but nothing too terrible.  Plus, the views just kept getting better as we climbed! After a lunch break at the top, we began the winding descent to Kinlochleven.  If your knees are anything like mine, you’ll agree that the downhill portion of this day is way harder than the climb up Devil’s Staircase! In any case, we eventually made it down to our final campground of the trip. The Trailblazer guide describes Kinlochleven as “an ugly, modern village,” but we found it to be quite charming. It has an industrial vibe, but one that’s balanced out by friendly people, quaint pubs, and a beautiful natural setting.

Picnicking at the MacDonald Hotel.

We camped at the MacDonald Hotel, which was situated in a quiet location right on the edge of Loch Leven. Since the rain had cleared up, we decided to have one final picnic in this lovely setting.  After picking up wine, cheese, olives, and an assortment of other goodies in town, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner on the banks of the loch.

Day Eight: Kinlochleven to Fort William (7 hours)

Knowing we had another long day ahead, we applied the lessons learned on Day Three and made sure we were up and out a bit earlier this time. The day began with a fairly steep climb out of Kinlochleven, then passed through the wild expanse of the Lairigmor. We took our time on this final day, savoring our last hours of fresh air, simpler routines, and great companionship.

The winding path through the Larigmor.

As we neared Fort William, Ben Nevis came into view. This massive mountain is completely captivating, and we made frequent stops to admire it and snap more photos than were probably necessary. For the final stretch into Fort William, we took an alternate route in order to avoid another long stretch of road walking.  We followed the Cow Hill trail, which involved one last climb up to some great views of the town below.  Upon arriving in Fort William, walkers are required to traverse the entire length of the main commercial district before arriving at the official end of the Way. While it was a bit of a shock to the system to be back in the hustle and bustle of the town, the final stretch was fun and festive.

Catching a glimpse of Ben Nevis on our final day of walking!

We celebrated our achievement with  a delicious pub dinner at the Grog and Gruel, followed by an ice cream cone and a stroll through town. In the morning, we rode the train back to Glasgow.  As we sipped coffee, we gazed out at the green wilderness, recounting stories from the previous week, and soaking in the lifelong memories we had made on this amazing experience.

What’s Next?

Enjoyed reading our trip report and ready to get to work planning your own West Highland Way adventure? Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Milford Track Trip Report

For many, walking the four-day Milford Track is a once in a lifetime experience. Known as the ‘finest walk in the world’ the Milford Track traverses a remote section of…

For many, walking the four-day Milford Track is a once in a lifetime experience. Known as the ‘finest walk in the world’ the Milford Track traverses a remote section of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park and includes such incredible sights as Sutherland Falls, Mackinnon Pass, Mackay Falls and the stunning beauty of Milford Sound. I walked the Milford Track in late October, at the very beginning of the tramping season in Fiordland. This Milford Track trip report will help prepare those interested in walking this incredible route for this 53.5 km hike.

Arthur River

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Tour du Mont Blanc- Our Trip Report

We hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017 over 11 days, including one rest day. We camped the majority of the nights (see our guide to camping the…

We hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2017 over 11 days, including one rest day. We camped the majority of the nights (see our guide to camping the Tour du Mont Blanc here) and stayed in a few fantastic Refuges and hotels along the way. You can find a plethora of information about the route on the internet and available through the recommended Cicerone guidebook, but the goal of this photo-filled trip report is to provide inspiration and motivation for folks considering embarking on this great adventure! We’ve included some basic information and reflections on each stage, but our main focus of this post is showing off some of the amazing scenery you will encounter on the Tour du Mont Blanc!

If you’re wondering what we packed for this adventure be sure to check out our packing list here!

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