Tag Archives: hiking

In search of the world’s largest bird

When you think of birds, what usually comes to mind?  For me, it’s cute little feathered things like hummingbirds, cardinals, or wrens.  Rarely do I think of owls as birds although I guess technically they are.  Then there are large birds like eagles and vultures, but I rarely see them.  Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

When I heard that the world’s largest bird was in Colca Canyon, I made it my mission to not only see it, but also find out all I could about this magnificent bird.

It’s often hit or miss to see these birds, but there is a stop on most tours to the Colca Canyon at the Cruz del Condor.  It’s often the best place to get a glimpse of the bird in flight.

Fast facts about the Condor

  • The condor has a wingspan of 10 feet.
  • It can live to to be 70 years old, but the average lifespan in the wild is about 50 years.
  • The bird can weigh up to 30 pounds and is nearly 4 feet tall!
  • Due to its size, it prefers an environment where loft can assist its flight. Under the right conditions, the bird can fly to a height of 18,000 feet.
  • Both parents care for the babies and baby condors stay with their parents for 2 years.
  • They reach adulthood around 7 years old.
  • The condor mates every other year and only lays one egg at a time.
  • The condor eats carrion and eggs; it is not a threat to any type of wildlife.
  • Condors are currently on the endangered species list due to over-hunting.
  • The condors, are more specifically, the Andean Condor, is the national symbol of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

and my favorite fact about these massive birds…

  • Condors mate for life.

In fact, the remaining partner often commits suicide when its partner dies.  The bird just refuses to flap its massive wings and plummets to its death. Tragic, but also somewhat romantic.

US National Parks | Chaos at Ninety Six

2018 Michelle here:

I am a #historynerd.  There;  I said it.  I often choose destinations based on history and in destinations I don’t choose, I seek out history.   Y’all can bet the farm that I’ll be exploring Rwanda’s [and its neighbor’s] history while I’m there.  As of now, I know exactly one thing about Rwandan history:  the 1994 genocide.  Not the best impression is it.  I’m determined to discover more about this progressive, modern country in the middle of Africa.


History and a [short] hike

I have begun to expect the unexpected whenever I decide to go for a hike.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a long, planned months in advance hike or a spur-of-the-moment trip 30 minutes from my house. Something unexpected is going to happen.  Such was the case when I tottled down to Ninety Six, South Carolina to wander around the Ninety Six Historical Site.

Ninety Six is an easy day trip from midlands or upstate South Carolina. Piedmont or low mountains North Carolina, and upper Georgia.  Ninety Six is also an important historical part of the Revolutionary War.

The History:

Ninety Six began as a crossroads between the English/Scottish Irish/German settlers that left Charles Town in search of a more prosperous way of life and the Cherokee that already lived in the area.  Ninety Six was the only town [early 1700’s] in the Carolina back country and Cherokee Indians traded deer skin for guns and metal with the settlers who then took the deer skins back to Charles Town and sold it to merchants who then shipped it to England.  Ninety Six was an important strategical location as nearly all Indian tribes west of the Cherokee traded with the French and all tribes east of Ninety Six traded with the English. Over time the Cherokee began to distrust the English [and French] which lead to the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760.  The Cherokee reclaimed almost all of the back country but Ninety Six remained under British control.

The lingering tensions from the Cherokee-Anglo War contributed to the backcountry’s division.  Feeling neglected by the government in Charleston, facing high taxes, crime, and Indian raids, settlers on the frontier demanded more law and order in the back country.  Vigilantes took justice into their own hands: patrolling roads, hunting criminals, and whipping offenders.  Eventually the crisis ended without much violence, but unrest among settlers lingered.

By the early 1770s, Ninety Six contained approximately twelve houses, public buildings, and a few businesses.  The town boasted an imposing two story brick jail and a courthouse.  An observer noted: “Ninety Six is situated on an eminence in a flourishing part of the country, the land round about it is generally good.  Natural growth is Oaks, Black Walnut, Hickery, etc., which are very large and thrifty.  The land is cleared for a mile round the Town.  It produces wheat, Indian Corn, oats, Hemp, Flax, Cotton, and Indigo.”

There happened to be some re-enacting going on…and demonstration of weapon firing.

Twenty years later:

The fledgling American colonies have declared its independence from Great Britain.  The war has been on-going for 5 years.  Great Britain’s latest strategy is to retain control of the Southern Colonies while admitting defeat in the Northern ones.  The Siege of Ninety Six in 1781 was the longest siege of the American Revolution and pitted American vs American in the form of Patriots vs Loyalists.  It was as if the truce agreed upon a mere six years earlier had never happened.

The STAR FORT and THE MINE [from the National Parks Service website]

When you walk out to the Historic battlefield, you’re walking on hallowed ground. The siege trenches are partially reconstructed, but the Star Fort is original.   Construction of the Star Fort started in December 1780 and finished in early 1781. It was built by Loyalist soldiers (loyal to the King of England) & slaves from nearby farms and plantations. It wasn’t a very popular design because it was hard to build, and couldn’t hold many troops, but Loyalist engineer Lt. Henry Haldane decided that an eight-point star fort would be better for the site than a tradition square fort. The star shape allowed musket and cannon fire in all directions.   The Start Fort had a gun battery which was located near the bottom center point in the picture. The long mound of dirt in the center of the picture is called a Traverse and was built during the Patriot siege of Star Fort (May 22- June 18, 1781). It was to be used as a second line of defense in case the Patriots breached the Star Fort walls. The Start Fort was an earthen fort. As you see it today is pretty much how it looked in 1781. The Star Fort walls were originally about 14 feet high with sand bags around the top giving it a height of about 17 feet during the battle. The walls are a little weather worn in places, but are original. No major reconstruction has been done to the fort.

The Mine has nothing to do with traditional mining, instead it was used by the Patriots (those fighting for independence from England) during the Siege of Star Fort at Ninety Six, May 22- June 18, 1781. The Loyalists (those living in the Colonies that were fighting for the King of England) held the Star Fort and General Nathanael Greene and his Patriot Army tried to take the Star Fort away from the Loyalists. Under the direction of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Chief Engineer of the Patriot Army, the Patriots dug a mine gallery out from the 3rd parallel. The idea was for the Patriots to dig the Mine underneath the Star Fort, pack it with gunpowder, and then blow it up, thus allowing the Patriots to storm the Loyalist held Star Fort. Patriot Sappers (trench diggers) and slaves borrowed from nearby plantations dug into the hard red clay to dig the mine. They had to suffer from the heat, bugs, broken shovels, Loyalist cannon fire, and Loyalist sorties (attacks made from a place surrounded by the enemy). After dark on June 9, 1781, a small group of Loyalists, under Lt. Colonel John Harris Cruger, attacked the Patriot sappers digging the mine. A British account stated that the Loyalists “discovered a subterraneous passage in which. . . miners were at work, every man of whom was put to death, and their tools brought into the garrison.” (The Royal Gazette,August 25-29, 1781) It was during this sortie that Colonel Kosciuszko was wounded in “his seat of honor” with a Loyalist bayonet, but was able to make it back to safety within Patriot lines.

In the 1973, archeologists actually found a bayonet blade near where Kosciuszko was wounded. The Mine was never used for its intended purpose because the siege was lifted before it could be used. In the 1920s, the entrance to the Mine was stabilized with brick. During the 1940-60s, local children used the Mine as a playhouse before the National Park Service took over its care. In the 1970s, archeologists wrote that the Mine was still intact except. Only 35 feet of the right gallery had collapsed. The Mine was re-opened again in April 2004. Today we know that the Mine starts with a 6 foot vertical shaft from the 3rd parallel then 2 galleries (or branches) go to toward the Star Fort. On average the Mine is 3 feet tall in most places. As the above picture indicates shovel and pick marks can still be seen in the walls along with niches that were carved out for candles for the Patriots to work by. The Mine at Ninety Six National Historic Site is the only mine that was used during the American Revolution.

One of the log cabins on site at Ninety Six Historical Site

The Hike:

The hike is a moderate hike using parts of the Cherokee Trail, Charlestown Road, and the Goucey Trail.  Parts of the trail allow for horses while parts are fairly rustic. An unidentified cemetery lies just off the marked trail that leads to Ninety Six Lake.  The entire loop was just over 6 miles. It took 3 hours including stopping for lunch at the lake, searching for the unidentified cemetery, and reading historical markers.

daffodils along the trail


1780’s men weren’t very big.

The Unexpected:

The unexpected isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes it is serendipity and my hike through the trails at Ninety Six certainly paid off.  At the beginning of the hike the temperatures was around 50F, and by the end there were snowflakes.

 

**image credit of the skeleton from nps.gov**

South Carolina State Parks | Jones Gap State Park

Well, that was unexpected

‘Oh thank God, I made it’ was my first thought when I reached the top of Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap State Park two hours after I started.  To be fair, I stopped a lot, took a lot of snaps, and played with all the friendly puppies that crossed my path.

upper rainbow falls

It isn’t the highest peak in South Carolina nor the most strenuous, but with 1200 ft elevation gain over a fairly short distance, it was hard enough.  Especially with humidity in the 90% range and temps in the upper 80’s.  I checked the weather forecast before I left and with only a 15% chance of rain, I threw a lightweight rain jacket in my backpack, packed myself a decent, trail-worthy lunch, filled up my Camelback with water and set off.

Walking the trail

And that was the last time my day went according to plan.  The main road to Jones Gap was washed out resulting in a 30-ish minute detour.  There was a yellow jacket advisory [which I should have paid more attention to].  The sky was overcast, but not threatening, and so I was off.  I hiked through rock beds.  I criss-crossed streams.  I crossed bridges. I navigated tree roots. I walked across a narrow board.  I went through boulders.

trail-to-rainbow-falls

Not 5 stinkin’ minutes after I reached my glorious summit, I heard a low rumble.  At first, I ignored it.  After all, I had a lunch of a deluxe turkey sandwich, trail mix, granola, grapes, and water to enjoy. I heard the low rumble again; this time is was just a little bit louder. I looked up.

storm clouds

And then I started to curse…loudly. As in F-bombs flying The last thing a novice/intermediate hiker wants is to be stuck on the top of a mountain when a thunderstorm comes rolling in. The very last thing I wanted was to get struck by lightening. Rain I could deal with; thunder and lightening, not so much. Not even two bites into my sandwich, I had to pack up. I barely broke into my granola, and I didn’t even get to eat one little grape! I was pissed at Mother Nature, but I didn’t want to inspire her wrath. As if I needed prodding, the low rumble rumbled again…this time a lot louder. I packed up my sandwich, pulled out my rain shell, and set off back down the trail I’d just made my way up. I hadn’t even rested good, yet! I practically ran down the trail, or at least as safely as I could manage, considering the rocks and roots. I didn’t even get to enjoy the small waterfalls that appeared sporadically on the trail.

Small falls

Trouble…just ahead

About 1/3 of the way down, I hit trouble. Raindrops so big and hard they stung as they hit my exposed skin. I also inadvertently disturbed a yellow jacket nest. I never saw it, but my God, they saw me. A small army flew after me, and at least a couple managed to find their way under my clothes. And that’s when the real fun began. Off came the backpack. Off came the rain shell.  And off came my t-shirt. The bees were still swarming. Off came my shorts. Luckily I was near one of the many creek crossings, and general safety and common sense be damned, I jumped into the creek. It was a part where there was a small plunge waterfall and a shallow pool. I screamed like a little girl getting her ponytail pulled on the playground. The water was icy cold. Icy may be a tiny bit of exaggeration, but 55 degrees still feels like the frozen tundra. Sports bra, socks, hiking boots were all that I had on as I submerged my head! and body! in this shallow pool. Might I remind you, it is 1) still pouring 2) thundering and lightening and 3) I’m still about 1.5 miles or so from my car.

small falls at jones gap

Bees stung me 5 times; once on the neck, once on the leg, and 3 times higher up the leg in a slightly more delicate area.

yellow jacket sting

After drowning the bees and freezing my ass off in the water, I resumed my descent still faster than I’m comfortable with because now, as a soaking wet thing, being struck by lightening was still a very real possibility. I successfully navigated the boulders, the steep decline, and the roots. My God, the roots. They always seem to be out to get me. I have a fear of falling. This is a real fear, not just one that COULD happen.  I HAVE actually broken bones while trail raining:  two to be exact [a wrist and an ankle], sprained an ankle multiple times, required stitches, and have cut, scraped, and bruised myself way  too much.

DSCF1176

But I keep coming back. Because there is beauty in nature. I find answers to the questions of the universe when I am in nature.  There is peace in nature. Even when Mother Nature shows her ass and reminds us mortals who’s boss, a day in the woods is better than a day cooped up in a building any day.

rainbow falls

Scaling the highest peak in Wales

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35mm film.  Now it’s all digital.  Back in 1997, I spent a summer living in the UK…actually, I had a place but nothing to do… so I wandered…and wandered, and one weekend I ended up at Snowdonia National Park in Wales–where I spent more than a couple of weekends while I was in the UK.

Taking on Wales’ tallest peak

My first weekend away landed me in the charming village of Betws-y-coed, North Wales, a village of about 500.  Bewts-y-Coed is located in the heart of Snowdonia. Wales may not be home to the tallest mountain peak, but it still has some challenging hiking.

It has charming waterfalls.

But really what I came to Snowdonia National Park to see was Mt. Snowdon, and it did not disappoint. You see, I like to think that I’m a bad-ass hiker chic. I have visions of hiking the Appalachian Trail or some other multi-week trek. Or climbing Aconcagua. Or Denali. In reality, I’ve rarely done much more than overnight camping and nothing more than a day hike on my on. Certainly not scaling any peaks anywhere. But back when I spent an entire summer in Great Britain, I was a 19 year old college athlete who thought I could do anything, and anything included climbing mountains without any preparation and only minimal supplies.

You see those little squiggles… that’s the hiking path… It’s none too wide, and a bit scary the higher up you get. I didn’t know that these peaks were also ski paths in the winter.

If I’d known what I was in for, I might have been content to hang around the lake all day.

Tips for Climbing Mount Snowdon

  • Entrance to the park is 100% free.  It costs to park, but some B&Bs offer shuttles to the park so if you can snag one of those, total cost is F-R-E-E.
  • Bring lots of layers! It was quite chilly on the summit and this was in June! — bring a water-resistant parka, gloves,  and a hat.  All I had with me was a light windbreaker, a long- sleeved shirt, and a baseball hat.  Clearly, I was expecting better weather from June.
  • Try to climb on a clear day. Your photos will be so much better.  I got lucky.  With minimal planning or prior knowledge of Welsh weather, I had a great day.  As I have since learned, weather at the bottom of a mountain is no prediction of weather at the top of a mountain.
  • Snacks, water, and for me ibuprofen are crucial.  I only had 1L of water, a few power bars and fruit, and zero painkillers.  I crawled up into a ball when I got back to my room, and finally, after a hot shower or two, I could walk normally again.
  • Believe in yourself.  Before I started, I NEVER thought that I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t research it.  I just heard about it and it sounded like a cool thing to do.  Once I got started, I didn’t think I’d make it.  But I’m too stubborn to quit.

This is Wales’ tallest peak; had I known I’d be hiking a ridge, I probably would not have done it. Balance has never been my strong point.

  • Climbing Snowdon is absolutely worth it. This is one of Wales’s best adventures, and one that you’ll always remember.

Be prepared for anything when you are hiking in the Welsh mountains.  The weather can change in an instant.

The view from the highest peak in Wales–simply breath taking.

Finally getting to Machu Picchu

I arrived in Peru at the tail end of February 2010 in preparation for my awesome Machu Picchu trek leaving the first of March.  That didn’t happen.  I was a little bummed about not getting to see Machu Picchu, but in true adventurous spirit said to myself “I’ll be in South America for a while… we’ll see what happens.”  I explored Cusco and Arequipa.  I went on a tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca.  And went sand-boarding on the dunes in Huacachina.  I flew over the Nasca lines and marveled at the shapes.  And then I put Peru out of my mind.  I started on my first volunteer project in Cartegna and promptly put my missed opportunity at hiking the Inca Trail out of my mind.

But when meeting other travelers the conversation always seems to go somethitng like this:

Random Traveler:  How long have you been traveling for?  Where have you been?

Upon hearing that I have already been to Peru but did not get to see Machu Picchu, it inevitably goes like this:

Random Traveler:  Dude!  You have GOT to go to Machu Picchu.  It’s EPIC.  Your trip will be nothing if you don’t get to Machu Picchu.

At this point I don’t even bother trying to explain that a natural disaster occurred not long before I was to hike Machu Picchu and that I am grateful that said natural disaster did not occur while I was hiking Machu Picchu.

More time passed and I helped build eco-friendly hiking trails and count howler monkeys in the dry forest [which is a total misnomer since it’s soaking wet 6 months out of the year]. I catalogued orchids in a cloud forest.  I tagged turtles on the Galapagos Islands.  I climbed volcanoes in Ecuador. I caught malaria in the Amazon Rainforest.  I volunteered in a health clinic and taught classes on respiratory infections, influenza, and tuberculosis. I chilled out and took surfing lessons on the coast.  I went hiking in Keulap and Chachapoyas.  I met up with friends in Cajamarca.  I rented an apartment and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with and for travelers.

Kuelap view
Kuelap view

And then my roommate asked me this question. In Novemeber.

 “Someone just cancelled in my tour group to hike Machu Picchu.  Do you want to take their place? It’s the first week of December.”

Did I?  After all, 8 months earlier I came to Peru a month earlier than my first volunteer assignment required for the sole purpose of hiking Machu Picchu.  But was that still a goal?  At the risk of sounding extremely pretentious, Machu Picchu was becoming just another box to tick… just a way to impress my fellow travelers. I wasn’t helping anyone by climbing it. I wasn’t learning Inca culture and this wouldn’t be a culmination of assimilating all that knowledge. I had done so much more than I had originally intended to do, and I still had a half of a continent to explore.

“Oh and this isn’t the standard 4day/3night trek This is a 9day/8night 100km hike”

holyfuckingshit…. that’s a long ass hike I thought. And my roommate… she used to climb mountains. For fun.  And for fun I like to sleep. And then before I realized the words were out of my mouth “I’m in,” and I had a paltry 6 weeks to get my ass into shape. There was no turning back after that.  My previous longest hike was a measly 2 day 16 miler in Chachapoyas.

Kuelap 1

Did I go?  Oh hell yeah.  Was it amazing?  Incredibly so.  Was it the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my life?  Without a doubt.  Was it worth it? 

inca trail 3

machu_picchu_07

peru
Abso-fucking-lutely.