Villarrica Traverse, Pucon, Chile

A hike of challenges

With only 10 days remaining before having to be in Santiago for a flight to Ecuador, we were met with a dilemma; to remain in the Argentinian lakes district or cross the border to Chile to wander among her volcanoes. Somewhat frozen by indecision we squandered two days in the pretty but very commercial towns of Bariloche and San Martin in Argentina. We soon realised that one achieves very little in our allocated timeframe without a car in this area.

Our view from the Chili Kiwi Hostel in Pucon

So, filing it in 'places to return to' we decided to push on to Pucon just over the border in Chile where THE thing to do is climb to the top of the Villarrica volcano, which silhouettes the town. It sounded interesting but what we really wanted was a multiday hike with not too many people. A bit of last minute research turned up the Villarrica traverse, a 3-6 day hike, depending on starting point, through the volcanoes of the Chilean Andes. We decided on the 6 days and set about working out logistics. 

Day One

Villarricca Volcano, this way.

The hike begins at the same location as the volcano climb, so our hostel arranged transport there with a rowdy tour group of day trekkers, leaving at the dark and cold hour of 6.30am.  A miscalculation of people meant we were lucky enough to be shunted off to a ute of one of the mountain guides who happily offered advice and last minute safety tips for watching the weather and navigating in the area. Armed with a excerpt from a hiking guide, the CONAF map and a few images of elevation profiles on the iPhone, we thought we knew what lay ahead. The hike would soon show us otherwise.

The path started at 1550m crossing undulating lava fields, a novel experience for us. It was early still and the sun was just beginning to bite. After several km we were relieved when the path lead us into a forest of wuilllyumbtumumum pines which we shall refer to as dinosaur trees (see picture). Here little green lizards zipped everywhere around us and Magellenic Woodpeckers made their characteristic knocking sounds as they burrowed for insects meters above us. After lunch the path became a little more challenging with many steep undulations into dry river beds. While crossing one of these river beds we noticed water coming downhill, this grew quickly into a stream of water while watched, glad to be on the other side.  Then a final accent through more forest to open out onto a recent lava flow area referred to as the Valle del Fuego. Here the guidebook assured us we would find a glacial melt stream and sheltered campsites.

A PhD and an engineer, we devised a 'gravity filtration system' to convert our solid-grey water into the more drinkable kind of grey water.

You might imagine our slight shock to find our water source was actually a rushing river of grey silt. It seems the heat of the day and the late hour had combined to provide us with perfectly undrinkable water. Nevertheless, a bit of engineering and scientific analysis determined a successful method of water purifying. Thusly done by collecting the least silty water from the slow parts of the river using one of the water proof sacks we thankfully had and letting it hang from a tree. An hour or so later the top water could be scooped off, a drinkable shade of grey. Water crisis averted we settled into our camp among great black rolls of hardened lava and a clear view of their source,puffing away high above us. Having previously been assured that it was very unlikely to erupt any time soon, we still felt compelled to keep a watchful eye, anxious of any apparent change in its plume.

Day Two

The elevation profile seemed harmless enough, what appeared to be small undulations with only a few bigger climbs and a final long decent into a river valley to our next camp, 16.5km away. The guidebook promised great views and many different types of lava flows. After a slow start, we continued our journey through the Valle del Fuego. It soon became apparent that lava fields are not all created equal, however for the most part, lava fields are bloody hard to walk through. For a start there are no trees, the burny liquid rock took care of that long ago, so it's full sun all day. Also, lava does not flow in nice flat and uniform patterns but rather creates great obstacle courses to wind your way through. Sometimes the lava flows are scoria, which is essentially like walking through a pile of discarded pumice stones, other times these rocks are mixed with ash and sand so it's like crossing a rocky desert. Being so porous and loosely packed, these desert areas are prone to erosion which means as water from the snow and glaciers above makes its way down, hundreds of creeks and rivers are created. For hikers traversing the mountain, this means the amazing views of far off valleys and mountains were paid for bitterly with continual crossings of deep, sandy, valleys. Pleasant ridge top traverses were too often rudely interrupted. By the 6km mark we were already exhausted. Hot from the lack of shade and beating sun and low on water we decided to stop for an early lunch at a cool, but grey, river. Employing our filtering technique we dipped our feet into the cooling water and waded across while we waited. Reluctant to leave the cool of the river but wary of the time and our lack of progress we pushed on through similar terrain. All the while looking longingly down at the tree line wishing for their cooling shade. After several km we approached yet another river valley but this time flowing with clear water. After a day of grey and brown rivers of silt  we excitedly rushed down and emptied our water bottle to exchange for this vastly superior option, taking on a bit more than usual, just incase.  [Andrew: I remember Shannan exclaiming in an accusatory tone, 'that water's clear!'] Further excitement was had when we approached the first trees of the day. A small group of dinosaur trees above the usual tree line. We savoured their shade for as long as we dared before begrudgingly returning to the sun drenched path.

A bit shell shocked by the difficulty and heat of the day and with the glorious views gone, the final few km looping around deep valleys seemed torturous. The black gravel reflected shimmering heat waves and intercepted what little breeze there was, corrupting it with its heat. Finally we reached the forested decent, and although Chilean style (an impossibly steep path, causing several slips and one fall) we were relieved for the day to end. Approaching the river we were disappointed to find grey silty water again but the prettiness of the river valley and promise of soup, curry and chocolate heartened us. [Andrew: To our surprise and delight, this stream was clear in the morning. We think it's related to the afternoon melt water flowing through underground, porous rock sections and picking up the silt along the way.]

Day Three

My tree disguise fails me at this altitude.

We knew before we started the hike that this would be the most difficult day. In total we were faced with 1100m (vertical) accent and 700m descent over 16.5 km, tough by anyone's standards. We started the day early and actually rather enjoyed the first few km, on the practice hill 200m up and 250m down along a rough 4WD track in the shade of tall trees. The more popular route for the Villarrica hike is a shorter three day option which starts 5km from our campsite at a ranger hut. Once we reached this outpost we knew our task; Sitting at the bottom of a deep valley the only way was up. I'm too embarrassed to admit how long it took us to up climb those 900m. It was hot, so very, very hot. With little breeze and often full sun we were drenched in sweat and totally sapped of energy. Nevertheless using the the great hikers tricks of counting, humming a well paced song, taking timed breaks and swearing at the hill we got there and Wowzers what a view. We had been warned that clouds often interrupt the vista but it was our one compensation for such a warm day that we had a cloudless sky. Volcanoes surrounded us and lush green valleys rolled down their sides. Several condors flew overhead and a whiff of breeze gave us welcome relief. The next few hours sent us over a steeply undulating ridge. Tired from the day and out of water, we were a tad concerned when it reached 7pm and we were still not at our planned campsite. After spotting a landmark about 2.5km from the camp we picked up the pace and made it there by 7.30pm but our woes were not over. As we approached I became concerned that I could not hear the familiar sound of running water that one is usually greeted by at the end of the day. Our hearts sunk when we spotted the rocky bed and stagnant pools of our promised water source. Faced with a setting sun we decided that I would stay to make camp and begin boiling the water from these pools while Andy, armed with containers would scout ahead 15 minutes to see if water was to be found. In our first bit of luck for the day, he found a clear flowing creek right on the edge of the time limit, we were saved. That night the stars came out for us. Totally isolated and in perfect darkness we were spoilt with amazing clarity of galaxies, gas clouds and meteors. As we finally climbed into bed after over 11 hours of hiking not even an erupting volcano could have woken us. [Andrew: An absolutely amazing night sky. I have never seen it so impressive before!]

Day Four

I assume someone else wanted a rest from the descent too.

Allowing ourselves a sleep in, we packed up and moved to the creek found the previous day to cook breakfast and refresh our water supplies. Relaxed by the prospect of an easier day we fairly strolled up the second mountain. Spotting a few remnant patches of snow Andy had the genius idea of making snow cones with the ice and some powdered cordial. We were so pleased with ourselves as we wandered back down the pass that we failed to notice the weather closing in. Looking back at the view we had just been admiring we saw a wave of cloud coming for us. As we descended we caught fleeting glimpses of the Lago Azure below. By the time we reached the lake for lunch the weather had arrived. Huddled in a group of trees protecting us from the freezing wind we laughed at the memory of how hot we had felt the day before.

Marching on after lunch through lava fields our visibility was reduced to a few metres. I gave a start as, through the fog, a caravan of horses appeared in front of me, the first people we had seen in 4 days. Pushing on through the now horizontal rain and the less than cheery afternoon, I had to laugh at poor Andy as he suffered a blow out of one of his thongs trying to fjord a swollen creek. After a few hours we began to look for our campsite. The guide book promised a small lagoon just off the path, assuring us that we would spot it from a viewpoint before descending to it. Well that proved to be impossible! When we arrived at the area we thought it might be there was no sign. Reluctant to stray too far off path in such low visibility we slowly marched on looking for clues of a side trail. After some time Andy remembered the offline GPS maps on his phone he had downloaded. Our campsite, it seemed, was a few km behind us. Here we made the fateful decision to keep trekking ahead until we found somewhere suitable, neglecting to fully comprehend that we would have to climb two mountain passes, one of which was the highest point of the trek at 1900m.

Cooking some soup to warm us up. Our initial concerns about cooking inside the tent from the very start of the holiday are now long gone.

Needless to say we didn't find a suitable campsite there! Walking at full speed we pushed on, racing the setting sun. My poor backside was numb from the wind and rain, our shoes sodden. We reached the second pass just before 7pm and the clouds parted to show a fabulous view of small lakes, lush green plants and dozens of waterfalls. We were now but 4km from the next days camp, having walked most of day 5 in our haste. As we descended further, a condor wove its way through the wind and landed on a cliff nearby. Still anxious of the time and not having found a campsite we charged on through swampy marsh. There was much relief when we arrived at a group of trees next to a small river with space enough for our tent. Freezing, we hastily erected the tent and jumped inside. It took most of an hour and a good serve of pumpkin soup to stop the shivering. We had to laugh though and wonder what else this trek could throw at us...

Day Five

Cows. That' s what.  

After 30 minutes walking from our makeshift camp we reached the lake we had failed to reach the day before. As we entered the clearing we spotted the cows. My heart sunk once again when I noticed the large bull standing directly on the path. He had his harem of cows and calves and was prepared to protect them. He spotted us early on and sent out the warning moo. As we crept closer he put his head down and stomped his foot. At this point I made a hasty retreat begging Andrew to follow me back to a safe distance to assess the situation. There was a small stream we had to cross with steep sides, thick spiky bushes all around and cows scattered far and wide. Mr. Bull continued to stare us down, stomping every now and then for good measure. We decided that a side berth might allow is to rejoin the path a little further on. As we started to traverse sideways a group of curious calves trotted towards us. This induced the ire of our bovine nemesis, at which point he ran towards us and the calves. Letting out a little whine I hid in the thick bush begging the calves to go away. We pushed further through the dense bush and arrived at the lake front. Assessing the situation we realised there was only one safe option; hike through the lake. We knew from the guide book that the campsite had paths to the sandy beach on the far side and we could rejoin it there. Mercifully it was warm and crystal clear though a little rocky. Free from danger and bemused by our situation we regrouped on the other side. Andrew vowed to eat a hamburger upon our return to civilization. The rest of the day was easy after that! Because it was the last day we had one final hurdle to jump, hitching a ride back to Pucon.

The hike ends at a gravel highway a few km from the Argentine border. We had been assured by locals that we could hitch a ride no problems. I think Andy's thumb must be broken because no one stopped for us...though the way we looked (and smelt) after 5 days hiking I can't say I blame them! We did eventually arrive at a ranger outpost where we were told to wait for a bus that may or may not come in two hours. Two and a half hours later we were very relieved when a clapped out little mini bus pulled up. A change of bus an hour later and we were back in Pukon and boy did that hamburger taste extra good.

Inca Trail

Andy in the Andes

We chose to take a 5 day hike to get to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail (Camino Inca). This would allow us to explore a few of the sites which are passed over if you take the classic 4 day hike as well as being a bit less taxing on our legs and lungs.

Day Zero

We have an orientation meeting with our tour guide. Nothing is out of the ordinary except he suggests 3 rolls of toilet paper, per person, for the five day hike. A great way to lend a sense of ominous foreboding.

Day 1 - Start to Patallacta, Day 2 - Patallacta to Llulluchapampa, Day 3 - Llulluchapampa to Pacaymayu, Day 4 - Pacaymayu to Machu Picchu (arrive late), Day 5 - Machu Picchu

Day One

We are collected from our hotel in Cusco at 6am by our tour guide. It's a minibus and we take the three remaining seats. The three of us appear to command what feels like an Imperial British Expeditionary Force with seven porters, a chef and our guide, Javier. We drive out to Kilometer 82, the start point of our hike.

One of my last minute purchases comes in handy, a red poncho. It appears to have magical properties, when I wear it the rain stops, when I put it away the rain starts again. I am implored to withstand the discomfort and keep wearing it for the benefit of the others.

We stop for lunch, our expeditionary force has already set up a lunch tent and the smell of lovely food wafts towards us. 

We hike on (or roll on) after lunch. There is so much water up here. We pass a number of streams and rivers, all tributaries to the Urubamba River, the sacred river of the Incas. This water will eventually join the Amazon River bound for the Atlantic Ocean.

We arrive at the camp site (tents already constructed) and go to Andean Happy Hour, tea and nibbles before dinner. Amazingly we are hungry from the hike even after such a decadent lunch and enjoy the courses as they are delivered with a sense of anticipation.

Day Two

Vamos y vamos y vamos

Up before 6am with the glare of the sun through the tent. A porter offers a cup of hot coca tea before we are out of our tent. It is a mild stimulant and also helps to cope with the altitude. We will be reaching our highest point of the hike today, Dead Woman's Pass. We are still taking Diamox to prevent any symptoms of altitude sickness.

A communal fish farm providing subsistence living to the villagers along the Inca Trail.

A hearty breakfast later (including grapes the Peruano way, peeled) and we are ready to hit the road. We start up, passing villages along the way. Many of the inhabitants were displaced when Machu Picchu was made a National Park. They receive support from the government for this inconvenience, we pass a fish farm which was constructed from government funds. It is maintained communally by the villagers who grow mostly subsistence crops. The more entrepreneurial offering bottles of water and Gatorade to the weary hikers.

I pass a mule. It ignores me, standing stoically facing the path but I am left with a feeling they know more than they let on.

We are overtaken by our porters. They carry 20-25kg each (controlled, there are weigh stations to ensure there is no porter abuse). They power past us in a group hardly breaking a sweat. Other porters charge past us as well. With the rush over we feel alone on the trail.

As we walk through the Cloud Forest it feels like we walk above Eden. The trees are covered in moss and there is a river beneath us that occasionally breaks out into a waterfall.

Leaving the Cloud Forest we continue our upwards climb. The air is thin and we seem to have no endurance. It's a strange feeling, my legs are not tired (we are climbing quite slowly) however each step leaves me breathless. If I wait to catch my breath I feel fine, but the next step leaves me breathless again anyway. 

Another delicious lunch stop. It starts raining as we continue up the mountain. My Poncho is earning my admiration. I am able to prepare my camera under it and whip it out quickly for a couple photos before putting it back under protection from the rain.

We find our first Llamas on the hike. They are being farmed by the last family before Dead Woman's Pass. Beyond them no one is allowed to farm the land. The incline increases as approach Dead Woman's Pass, so named for the rock formations visible on the approach looking like a woman. If you use your imagination. About 15 minutes from the peak my left hand begins to tingle, a sign of oxygen depravation and altitude sickness. After resting it lessens and eventually goes away before reaching the pass. Uneventful but certainly attracting my attention at the time.

We reach Dead Woman's Pass, at an altitude of 4,200m (13,780ft). The clouds move quickly here, the scenery changes as the valley below becomes covered in cloud, then clears, then a cloud is pushed up the pass and we are surrounded in a white haze. Out of this haze a dog seems to materialise. It follows us down to our campsite, keeping it's distance. We camp near a waterfall and are treated to a spectacular sunset down the valley, clouds moving at such a speed that the view is changing constantly. I need to keep my eye out for an iPhone tripod so I can take timelapse videos. My attempts so far have not been very successful, somewhat limited by the need to find an appropriately shaped rock.

We begin the descent from Dead Woman's Pass. There is substantially less rainfall on this side of the mountain. Vegetation is mostly the highland grass visible here, food for deer and roofing material for Incas.

At the campsite I accidentally find myself in the right place at the right time to get some close photos of hummingbirds, elusive due to the speed they zip between different flowers.

Dinner finishes with stories from our guide of previous customers. We feel relieved that any amount of complaining on the way up the mountain today pales in comparison to what some people have put him through.

Day Three

We are woken at 6am by a hot cup of coca tea and warm water to wash our hands before breakfast. A quick photo at last nights sunset spot and we're off to explore the trail.

There are often good incentives to stay on the path. Occasionally, when straying onto some of the less official trails, I am warded off by toilet paper stuck to bushes. Best to leave the rest of the trail alone I think. We stumble across a pair of deer grazing amongst the highland grass, luckily I had the right lens on to get a quick shot off before they were over the hill.

The weather alternates between overcast and sunny, it works well as it allows for a variety of views without us overheating on uphill sections of the hike. Before lunch we find ourselves in a cloud, the view off the mountain is pure light. Sometimes the overhead cloud clears and the direct sunlight makes the cloud we walk in glow intensely. The sound of thunder hastens us to the lunch tent.

Javier tells us of the beep beep frogs which live under the bright orange moss along the the rock face. The 3cm long frogs can change colour to blend with their surroundings and have a 'beep beep beep beep' call they make. They are also poisonous and can jump about 4 metres. As the rain that held out since lunch resumes I find myself left alone hunting the beep beep frog to no avail. I can hear them but they are safe behind the moss.

Landscapes and buildings of the Inca Trail:

We reach the campsite, it is on a fantastic overlook with an Inca ruin below that will be explored the following day, the still functioning aqueduct is our water source for the night. Clouds lead cavalry charges down the mountain as we wait for sunset to approach. We walk out to the a view point beyond the campsite and see Machu Picchu mountain for the first time, the city is on the other side. We can also see Agua Caliente and a hydro power station which has a tunnel right through Machu Picchu mountain providing enough power for the whole region.

The porters have set up a portable toilet, carried all the way from Kilometer 82 just for tonight. Talk about a loo with a view!

Four llamas wander in around dusk including a 3 week old baby, incredibly cute. 

Even we didn't manage a cake while camping around the US. Very impressed with Balbino's cooking skills.

We are surprised yet again by the resourcefulness of our chef, there is a cake waiting for us for Andean Happy Hour. I secretly wonder if they have also carried an oven up just for tonight.

I am inspired by Shannan to try some night photos as the clouds have thinned.

Day Four

Up at 5am to catch some sunrise colours but it was too cloudy. I catch the porters, who last night seemed oblivious to the baby llama, posing for photos with it. I think they're not used to people being up earlier than they have to be. They have attracted the attention of the head llama, he is standing and starting to stomp his back foot a bit. He's also starting to chew nothing, we have been warned this is the llama preparing to spit. Apparently they can spit a greenish, glue like substance up to 4m.

The serenity of the last few days is shattered by the horn of the PeruRail trains as they ferry tourists to Machu Picchu. The air is humid and sunny. Everyone seems a bit lethargic today.

We lunch near some impressive Inca ruins, nicknamed the Little Machu Picchu before continuing on to the Sun Gate. We have our first view of Machu Picchu in the afternoon light, it lends a golden tint to the city. We continue down to the city and get to 'photo rock' 15 minutes before closing time. The rain is falling in the valley below and one of the strongest rainbows I've ever seen is off to the right of Machu Picchu. I feel we are very lucky to have seen the city under these conditions.

We are hustled out of the ruins by the rangers. A real toilet, with a seat, is available outside the gates for 1 soles. This is right up there with the $2 shower at Grand Canyon.

We walk to our campsite, a 400m descent to the Urubamba river. At the campsite we have our final meal and say goodbye to our Porters and Chef. It's an early start tomorrow where we will be exploring Machu Picchu in detail.

Animals and Plants of the Inca Trail:

Grand Canyon National Park

Arriving at Grand Canyon we beelined for the Backcountry Permit office to see if there were any hikes available. Shannan had done some internet research so we had an idea of what was available and pounced on the opportunity for a 3 day hike, 1 day to get down to the river and stay at Bright Angel campground, 2 days to make the return hike back out of the canyon.

Sunset at Grand Canyon

Day 1

The vertical mile

The day begins earlier than planned, camping 'rim side' we find it cold and awake early enough to catch the 7am bus that will take us out to the start of our hike, the South Kaibab trailhead. This is to be the 11.3km path that takes us down almost 1.5km to the river below. We begin with a few switchbacks...

Switchbacks down the South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon

The trail then rapidly descends into a series of switchbacks before easing off with some switchbacks. Elevation profile. This is a steep trail with very little cover as it follows a ridge down the canyon, the benefit of this is that it offers spectacular views of the canyon as you travel down and we were doing it in perfect weather so it was quite enjoyable. Mules are used to carry supplies and people down to Phantom Ranch, down at the river. They passed us a few times each day. While you are likely to find evidence of their passing anywhere along the track I swear the intensity of the evidence picked up before particularly harrowing corners.

We are plodding down the canyon with our heavy 3-day packs jarring our knees with each step, occasionally finding ourselves being passed by runners carrying just the water they need to reach their destination. We continue plodding on. We will have somewhere to stay when we arrive, they will have to run back up the canyon tonight or be planning to stay in Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch increases with appeal with each passing runner. We continue our plod, committed.

Our plod takes on a special significance with our first glimpse of the river around Skeleton Point. Hiking down the canyon provides a connection that simply viewing from the lookout points above didn't. One mile down over a 7 mile walk also provides some sore knees and jelly legs. 

One ton, 550 foot long cables used in the suspension bridge spanning the Colorado River.   GRCA Museum and Archives #10111

One ton, 550 foot long cables used in the suspension bridge spanning the Colorado River.

GRCA Museum and Archives #10111

Near the Bright Angel campsite by the Colorado River, our stop for the night, we crossed a bridge spanning the river, idly wondering how it had been constructed. Later the Ranger told us every piece was brought down either by man or mule in the 30's during the civil construction (the Great Depression was a real boon for the National Parks!). The 550 foot suspension cables being carried down the switchbacks on a long line of mens shoulders.

Which brings us to the Ranger Lectures! This was a particular treat for us as we are travelling outside the peak season that most visit the National Parks. Ranger Emily provided us with a lecture on the unique geology of the Colorado Plateau that has led to the formation of the Grand Canyon. SURE - Sedimentation, Uplift, River, Erosion (see, I was listening!). This was followed up by a lecture on the Kolb Brothers, photographers who played a large role in increasing the public awareness of the Grand Canyon. It was great to sit by the lantern light and hear stories of their daring exploits.

Between arriving at camp and the lectures we visited the canteen at Phantom Ranch. Even with the mild weather we had hiked in we downed our iced tea with vigour and even posted a postcard from the bottom of the Grand Canyon itself, to be carried up by Mule the next day.

Day 2

The steeper the trail, the prettier the view

We start our ascent along Bright Angel trail. This trail has more shelter from the sun as it follows a valley up to the rim but less opportunity for the impressive view onslaught we had descending along South Kaibab. Elevation profile - we took two days to climb, stopping at Indian Garden overnight.

More switchbacks, but they're going up this time which gives our poor knees and quads a bit of a rest and gets us started on a cardio workout. A nice breeze accompanies us. The clouds are fluffy and look like they belong in a painting. Before lunch the sound of a train departing, well above on the rim, can be hear echoing throughout the canyons.

We arrived at Indian Garden around lunch time and settled in for chow. 12.30: Squirrel Attack! Upon entry to the campsite we see signs warning about viscious, plague bearing squirrels (note their charm and appeal from earlier posts rapidly wearing off). We were greeted by one such squirrel who had either been fed by people or was used to claiming unguarded food from picnic benches. He was not going to take no for an answer and had Shan and I both scrambling to protect our lunch and shoo him away with plumes of dust and squealing. He retreats to a nearby unoccupied campsite to bide his time, keeping me on edge. 

A rare Condor, taken with my 'Bigfoot' blurry lens at Plateau Point, Grand Canyon.

A rare Condor, taken with my 'Bigfoot' blurry lens at Plateau Point, Grand Canyon.

Having arrived at Indian Garden around lunch, and surviving the squirrel attack, I was able to take the side trek from Indian Garden to Plateau Point which is about 45mins each way plus however much time you can spare to enjoy the view. You can get an idea of it from this Photosynth (what is this?) I took while I was there: Plateau Point, Grand Canyon. I sat and watched as a rafter navigated down the river towards the rapids on the left. He approached quite slowly but made it look easy once in the rapids and emerged safely to the other side. Plateau Point was also the only place I saw a Condor (and only then because it was pointed out to me). Swinging my trusty 'bigfoot' blurred lens onto the sight I was able to capture a condor shaped blur in the distance. Mission Accomplished.

Day 3

The best two dollars

We continue the hike to the rim, passing under precipitous overhangs having me daydreaming about an Indiana Jones style escape from large rolling boulders.

Also flies. Small little annoying flies.

And switchbacks. I notice in my notes there seems to be a theme about these. They obviously seemed quite pertinent to the narrative on a number of occasions.

At 3 mile hut we stop for a snack and observe the stop motion squirrel warily. Perhaps they feel such unnatural looking movement makes them less conspicuous? This one is less aggressive than the crazed campsite squirrel of last night. Though he does scratch a lot, plague bearing fleas perhaps? We move on.

Another stop at the one and a half mile hut, this time for fresh popcorn, breaking out the camp stove and popping away. We have been enjoying the novelties of American supermarkets, camping popcorn just one of the many. Having been lugged down a vertical mile and almost all the way back up again I am determined this is going to be eaten on the hike. We begin our social experiment, offering fresh popcorn to hikers passing by and observing their reactions. We didn't even get a chance to offer it to GoPro Guy as he ran down the canyon - if it was me I'd take it leisurely and just speed up the video afterwards.

We arrive around 1pm at the rim. The last few dozen meters the wind, which we had been cautioned could reach 40mph while we were in the canyon, materialises and freezes our sweat to our backs. We have descended a mile to the canyon floor and worked our way back out again. We have not had a shower in four days. The $2 shower at the Grand Canyon campsite is quite possibly the best two dollars I've ever spent.

New Zealand

Hiking in New Zealand is what inspired my interest in photography. You can spot a newly arrived Australian, they will be parked near the first little waterfall that's within sight of the road. We just don't have water like that. It's completely foreign. 

This is the photo that started my photographic adventure, it's taken with a Dick Smith Electronics point and shoot. It drowned on a subsequent hike in NZ, the Routeburn.  This was a lunch stop on the Milford Track. This holiday also begins my love of hiking.