Hiking in Glacier National Park

Favorite things in and around Glacier National Park

  1. Alpine meadows filled with wildflowers
  2. View of the Grinnel Glacier from the Grinnel Glacier viewpoint
  3. Huckleberry Ice-cream at the east visitor center
  4. Barbecue in Kalispell
  5. Drive along ‘Going-to-the-sun’ road with views of Lake McDonald

Rightly called the Crown of the Continent, the Glacier National Park sits atop the country, capped in white, boasting of some of the largest and most magnificent glaciers in continental America, and with a landscape that is so varied that breathtaking in almost every trail one decides to hike.

Day 1 – Avalanche Trail (moderate, 5.6 miles length)

We reached the Glacier National Park early afternoon after a long drive from Seattle.. so we were looking to experience the park immediately, but with an easy trail. The Avalanche trail was the perfect way to start.

The Avalance trail starts out with an easy trail called the Trail of the Cedars, that is wheelchair accessible, and just a short distance east of the magnificent lake McDonald. (by the way, Lake McDonald, is such a central feature of the park – we literally drove past this beauty each morning and evening as we drove in and out of the park on the ‘Going-to-the sun’ road, which is another beauty and engineering marvel altogether). From the Trail of the Cedar, we continued to walk on the Avalanche trail, and at about 1.1 mile, we come upon the Avalanche creek. We walk along this creek for almost the entirety of the trail, and the creek gushes along with us. What a way to start exploring this beautiful park. The creek is a magnificent blue – a shade that I’ve never seen before in many spots where it collects into little pools. But for the most part, it crashes and gushes to make lovely white foams.

Along the Avalanche Creek, that runs for most of the trail

At 2.3 miles, we reach the foot of the Avalanche lake – which actually takes my breath away, simply because I was not expecting to see something so beautiful! The lake sits beneath the BearHat mountain, which is a commanding presence in that serene location. We just sit on the shore, overcome by the colors, the beauty, the serenity and the majesty of the mountains. A lot of other hikers are similarly mesmerized. After about 45 minutes of soaking it all in, we head back another 2.3 miles, along the creek, which has not stopped singing to us and telling us stories of the years gone by…

The Avalanche Lake – with e view of the BearHat Mountain
At the shore of the Avalance Lake

Day 2 – Highline Trail (difficult, 11.2 miles length)

We parked our car early at the Logan Pass car park. The Logan pass in a significant landmark in continental America – the great continental divide. As wikipedia describes it, it is the mountain range that divides the continent into two halves – geographically determining which way a drop of rain should flow. A drop of water falling a fist away could mean it is on its way either to the Hudson bay, the Pacific ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, via the various water streams that lead up to these great water bodies. How significant is that! And here we are, skirting this great divide, bumping along it for approximately 11 miles. The Logan Pass is an imaginary line along the Highland trail.

The Logan Pass and the trailhead to the Highline Trail

The trailhead begins just across the big Logan Pass sign, at an elevation of 6646 feet, and the first impression of the trail is one of pure terror. At about the first quarter of a mile, is the famous ledge that the Highline trail is known for – a narrow slippery section that is leaning over a steep cliff. Just the idea of what a fall means, makes my feet loose all their grip on the ground. Luckily, the thick rope lets me hang on it, and we start out. The narrow ledge lasts a short distance (maybe 3/10 of a mile) and I think the start sets the tone for what the trail needs – tenacity and an extreme love for nature that will make you endure the distance.

The scary start.. Steep cliff, with a rope to hang on to.

The entire trail after that is one of scenic wonder and spectacular views – every inch of the way. On the left, the entire valley sprawls and mountains patched with snow, and on the right, is the Garden Wall – rightly called so. Wildflowers abound! Yellow, purple, pink, red, blue, white, shades in-between. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and i find myself wishing for a garden as colorful as this one. All along, panoramic views of the glacial valley sprawls in front of us. Its amazing to think that all of this was a glacier at some point, and as the ice melted over millions of years, it carved this beautiful fertile valley. And even now, the landscape is changing. What a few generations later will behold is not what I am seeing today on the trail. That is a very humbling thought.

The Glacial Valley – view from the Highline Trail

At about 3.5 miles, after a few switchbacks, which leaves me dizzy from an unstoppable exhilaration of majestic views, we have a companion. A fuzzy, shaggy mountain goat that makes it his mission to lead us on the trail. I almost want to hug him, but I realize he is not my domestic german shepherd who loves a cuddle, although the same size. We usually surround ourselves with animals – dogs and cats. But to be in close proximity of an animals out in the wild, is something else. It is primitive, and it is humbling. He stays with us a little short of a quarter mile, before parting ways.

Just around this mileage is also the Haystack Pass – which has a thick layer of ice as we cross it, careful with our footing. This pass makes for a fantastic break in the scenery. At the 7 mile mark, we reach the Garden Wall trail, and at this point, we have the option to embark on an insanely steep climb to view the famous Grinnel Glacier and the Salamander Glacier. The climb is approximately 1000 feet, and covered in about 7/10 of a mile. Our legs scream, and our heart rates are flying off the guage on our apple watch. Yet, slowly but surely, we get on top. It is absolutely worth every labored breath. The view is stunning! We stand atop a peak and can see Salamander glacier directly below us, and Grinnel glacier on our right. Right below it, is a serene alpine lake, formed by melting ice from the glaciers. If the walk did not, the wind at the top beats the breath out of our noses and lungs – it whips us around. Despite all that, we sit and gaze… at the beauty that nothing else I’ve ever seen comes close to. It’s easy to sit there – on top of the world, and just melt away into the nothingness that I always feel, when I behold such intense beauty. The wind kept us in check though.

View of the Grinnel Glacier and the Salamander Glacier from the Viewpoint

We make our way back down, which in my opinion is a scarier feat, especially if one is afraid of heights. The small pieces of rock are racing with me and as I see them slide down way faster than me, my heart is constantly skipping beats. Back at the Garden Wall trailhead, we turn right, and continue on the Highline trail.

Just a little further, maybe about half mile from the trailhead junction, we reach the Granite Park trail junction. At this point, we find ourselves the first view of the famous Granite Park chalet, which is a small wooden cabin built in 1914 as a lodge inside the glacier. Now it just sells some snacks and has restrooms. For a 11 mile hike, 7.6 miles is still only a little over half-way there. But just the view is motivation to carry on. As we reach the chalet, we decide to use the restrooms and sit to catch our breaths as we bite into apples and protein bars. Squirrels are friendly and try to steal trail mix nuts instead of foraging from the trees. After allowing our feet to rest a bit, we continue on the trail towards ‘Going-to-the-sun-road’.

A view of the HighLine trail, looking back from the Chalet. The small run-off trail that is climbing up, is the steep climb to the Grinnel Glacier viewpoint.

The Highline trail, this section called the Granite Park trail continues on, and the view is now dominated by the Heavens Peak, amidst pine forests. Our legs are screaming for rest, and our feet have gone numb after much protest. But we continue to talk loudly and clap our hands, since the sings for ‘bear habitat’ is a constant reminder of where we are. At 11.2 miles, we spot the road, and at 11.4 miles, the shuttle stop. I run to it, and sit to wait for the next shuttle that will take us back to the Logan pass car park. Right in front of me, Heavens Peak looms, applauding and dominating. I am beat, humbled, exhausted, exhilarated… that amazing concoction of emotions only after a beautiful long hike. Nothing can take that away.

Day 3 – Iceberg Trail (difficult, 9.7 miles length)

The Iceberg Trail is on the east side of the park, which means we needed to enter through the St.Mary visitor entrance, and get on to the Going-to the sun road. This road goes across the entire park, and we could have done that from the west entrance which was closer to where we were staying (in kalispell). But it would have meant an extra hour of driving due to the restricted speed. So instead, we drove outside the park, to get to the East entrance.

The trailhead to the Iceberg trail is very close to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn near the St.Mary Visitor Center, which is where we parked. The trail starts out in the midst of a cedar forest (which is what covers most of the park). This trail is known for its grizzly presence, and so we either try to stay with a group of hikers, or make noise while walking. At about 2 miles, we come upon the famed Ptamirgan Falls, and the trail cuts across these falls in a switchback. The section that cuts across is smooth eroded rock and makes for a brief sit-down or just some pictures. Continuing on, at about 3 miles into the hike, the forest opens up and we get our first view of what could possible be our destination. The next couple of miles has some of the best views on the trail. The wildflowers are intense at this time of the year, and there are waterfalls just about everywhere I turn my head to look. It’s just stunningly beautiful.

Section of the trail that cuts through the Ptamirgan Falls
Glacial view from the Iceberg trail after crossing the Ptamirgan Falls

At about the 4 mile mark, as we get closer to our destination – which is the Iceberg Lake, we see peeks of the a serene blue, and chunks of ice on the wall of the lake. The remaining trail approaching the lake cuts through the most incredible alpine meadow full of wildflowers – of every color imaginable. It is just fantastic, and again, I find myself having an existential crisis. I find that I often get into this kind of wonderment when surrounded by such blissful nature. The flowers mesmerize me and I find myself unmoving for a while…

Garden of wildflowers along the trail, leading up to the Iceberg Lake, which can be seen in the distance

At 4.7 miles, we reach Iceberg Lake, and it has the capability of stopping you mid-sentence. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The Lake sits below Mt. Wilbur to the north, and Iceberg Peak and the Continental Divide on the left. The Lake receives little sunshine, therefore allowing for large chunks of iceberg to remain unmelted.. giving the lake its charm. We sit at the shore of the lake, nibbling on an apple, but mostly inhaling the beauty of the place. Shortly into our reverie, we hear a deep rumbling sound… I jump up thinking it may be an earthquake or something.. but no! It was a large chunk of ice, loosing up from the west wall of the lake, and crashing into the lake, with a pound thundering sound. The incident created intense water ripples across the lake.. what a simple, yet incredible event to witness! Again and again, I find myself extremely humbled by the powers that nature can have over me.

A view of the Iceberg Lake

This is a view that makes it very difficult to turn back to go.. But at some point we have to. So after a good hour of soaking all this beauty in, we head back on the same trail.

About halfway along the trail, we encounter a small group of hikers coming our way, warning us that they spotted 2 grizzly cubs, a few yards ahead. Oh my god! This is a dream come true, yet the scariest experience for a hiker. I’m trembling with fear and excitement at the same time as we cautiously walk the few yards ahead.. making noise with thumping feet and talking loudly. We also try to catch up to a couple of hikers ahead of us to make sure we were in a group. And sure enough, to our left, we saw 2 grizzly cubs!! About 30 feet away from us. With trembling hands, I positioned my iPhone camera while continuing to walk at the same time, not daring to stop walking. And just as a clicked, one cub looked directly at me! I wanted to scream ‘thank you!’ but my mind was trying to imagine what mama grizzly would do if she found out what I was doing.. So we continued to quickly walk. For the rest of the trail, we continued to talk loudly, but thanking our luck for having seen these lovely creatures so close to us. What a humbling experience!! Comes close to nothing else.

Two grizzly cubs along the Iceberg Trail!

Day 4 – Siyeh Pass Loop (difficult, 10.4 miles length)

This is not as popular as the Highline trail or the Iceberg trail, but in my opinion, this one has some of the best views and not as heavily trafficked as the other trails. It has an underestimated beauty about it, and frankly one of my favorite hikes of all time.

The trailhead is at the Siyeh Bend, which is 2.2 miles away from the Logan Pass visitor center. We park our car at the Logan pass car park, and take a shuttle to the Siyeh Bend trailhead on Going-to-the-sun road. The trail is supposed to be teeming with bear activity, and all the signs at the trailhead warn us to carry bear spray. Considering the previous day’s experience at the Iceberg trail, we will never take these signs lightly ever again!

The trail starts out along the Siyeh creek, and at about 1.1 miles, we arrive at the Piegan Pass Trail junction, at which point we keep left to continue on the Siyeh trail. At 2.7 miles from the trailhead, we reach the Siyeh Pass trail junction, after going through a dense cedar forest. A few yards ahead from the junction, it opens up to wonderful alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, called the Preston Park. The views are just fantastic here – the variety of wildflowers is unthinkable. However, this is the portion of the trail that is most frequented by bears.. so we are on the lookout with loud voices, thumping feet and some music as well. Till now, we haven’t seen any other hikers on this trail. So we are pretty much on our own. We pass by some purple poop on the trail, which is bear poop (after a hearty meal of huckleberry!).

Siyeh Pass Trail Junction opens up to Preston Park – an alpine meadow filled with wildflowers

As we walk along the trail cutting through Preston park, we were taken aback by the first friends we are seeing on the trail since we started. 4 horses with 1 rider!! They happened to be working on the trail up-keep and were returning from some trail repair work. Just one ranger on horseback, with 3 other horses trailing him with supplies. How fantastic!!

Continuing on, the meadows open up and we are dominated by views of the arresting Mt. Siyeh and Matahpi Peak. The Siyeh Pass is in between these two mountains. At about 3.5 miles on the trail, we cross the Siyeh creek again, and then shortly after, begin the ascent to Siyeh Pass. The final section consists of a series of switchbacks that climbs 700 feet in about 9/10ths of a mile, which is the toughest section of the entire hike. The views are breathtaking, but the climb takes away my breath even more. My Apple Watch tells me that my heart rate is at a whopping 164 bpm. I feel it ramming against my chest, yet I feel such thoughtlessness and intense serenity as we continue to climb. However, with still about half a mile to go from the top, I feel I cannot carry my bag anymore! I trudge on slowly, and the final switchbacks are dizzyingly beautiful, and roughly 4.5 miles into the trial, we reach the top of Siyeh Pass. As we get to the top, the wind beats against our ears. But the view is worth every sweat drop. The glacial valley – which is the Boulder Creek Vally, expands in front of us, and literally, every mountain peak in the valley is visible.

The view when I looked back at the way we had come through the meadows
Final switchbacks as get to the top
View of the glacial valley from the top of Siyeh Pass

From the top, we decided to continue on the Siyeh Pass Trail, making it a one-way trail along the Sunrift Gorge. As we begin the descent, it is steep and marked by a series of switchbacks. We cover approximately 1500 feet in about 2.5 miles, and at this point, I’m so grateful that we decided to make this our descent from Siyeh Pass, instead of going up this way, which also could have been an option. However, as we climb down these crazy sets of switchbacks, we are commanded by a view of the Sexton Glacier to our right. The huge 68-acre glacier becomes even more dramatic in views as proceed down the trail.

View of the Sexton Glacier as we begin our descent down the trail

At approximately 7.4 miles, the trail becomes a little more even, and find ourselves looking into St.Mary’s Lake. At about 8.8 miles, we climb down another short section of switchbacks, and just a little before w hit the 9 mile mark, we hear gushing water. We heard it well before we saw it. At 9.3 miles, we come upon the Baring Creek, which creates a beautiful waterfall in this section of the trail. The waterfall is so powerful that I feel little misty drops escaping from the waterfall and caressing my hot and flushed face. At 10,4 miles, we see the Going-to-the-sun road, and close enough is a shuttle stop. In humbled silence that always follows a long, difficult and beautiful hike, we wait for the shuttle, which then transports us back our parked car at the Logan Pass Visitor Center.

Day 5 evening – Hidden Lake Overlook Trail (easy, 2.7 miles length)

How could we not see the Hidden Lake in a visit to the Glacier National Park – which is the most photographed and featured landscape in this park?! so although our legs were screaming in defiance, we pushed them into obedience and into walking about 3 miles to witness the famed Hidden Lake.

After being dropped off at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, we allowed ourselves a brief rest, filled up our water bottles and stared out on the Hidden Lake trail, the trailhead is just adjacent to the visitor center. The trail is one of the most trafficked trail, and wheelchair friendly. The trail starts out with steps to a paved surface that then becomes a boardwalk for a short distance. Throughout the trail, we are surrounded by alpine meadows that about in wildflowers. Literally ever section of this trail is postcard worthy.

Mountain goats on the alpine meadows along the Hidden Lakes trail

At 1.35 miles, we reach the Hidden Lake Overview, which offers astonishing views of the Hidden Lake and surrounding mountains. The Hidden Lake sits beneath the Bearhat mountain.. and has a mystical quality about it. Despite being surrounded by the crowds, nothing can diminish the serenity of the moment.

View of the Hidden Lake, beneath Bearhat mountain, from the Hidden Lake Overlook

We walk back to our car, our legs numbed, but our souls more alive than ever.

Castle Crags and Mindfulness

The highlight of the Castle Dome trail is the fantastic views it allows you along the way of Mount Shasta.

I realized what mindfulness is. It’s a little bit of mindlessness, combined with a severe focus on the task at hand. So obviously when I tried to understand what that meant by reading up about it, I was confused as hell. But it dawned on me as I slowly walked up Castle Crags’ most difficult trail – the Castle Dome. The two hour long climb up 4800 feet, with the sun belting down at 38 degree Celsius, my heart pounding not just from the physical exertion of it, but from often loosing my breath at the breath-taking views I stumbled upon at every turn and a general exhilaration I experience every time I surround myself in nature.

We start the 3.6 mile hike to the top of Castle Dome, from the vista point of the Castle Crags State Park. The crags are an odd-looking outcrop of granite rocks that have formed themselves into spires that look like castle domes, due to water and weather erosion over a period of time. Amidst the sea of dark green pines that make up the Shasta-Trinity national forest area, this sudden intrusion of rock is a stunner.

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As we ascend the trail, Mt. Shasta surprises at every other turn. It stands majestically white against the blue sky, while demure Shastina stands, faithfully alongside.

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Along the way, water gurgles, and its as loud as the crickets that are loud with summer complaint. We let it lead us to the source, and a spring, as small as a kitchen faucet peeks at us from beneath a cliff.

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We continue upwards, the crags calling, Shasta cheering on and our legs fighting gravity.

And somewhere in between, it happened almost instinctively – like I’ve always known it. It felt like old knowledge, and so it was a relief to ‘remember’ it again. Like it’s been there, lurking just below the surface of consciousness, waiting to be recalled, waiting to be recognized. As my legs carried my body forward, my eyes set on the trail, ensuring I spot loose stones before my feet found them, my mind took on the rhythm of everything around me. The rhythm of the wind, the odd sounding cricket and other responding critters. My mind went blank. That was it – a perfect state of mindfulness.

Yosemite

It’s by far my favorite spot to go to, because my soul finds an odd peace that nothing else brings. Beautiful, majestic Yosemite. As John Muir said, there are temples that man built, and then there are temples that nature created. This is one such. This is my temple.
Last week was my fourth visit to Yosemite, and it still took my breath away. I discovered that staying close to the park makes most sense. I did this the last two times, and ended up having to spend just under 40 minutes to drive to a trailhead or a viewpoint. Yosemite View Lodge or the Cedar Lodge just outside the park are both great options. The Merced runs along both of these lodges, and a walk by the river at twilight is the perfect end to a day spent inside Yosemite.

Nothing comes close to the view of Yosemite from the Tunnel View. It’s a perfect postcard shot – if you will. I can stand there all day and just look at the valley sprawl out. It’s quite amazing to notice how different it is at each season. It’s a blanket of white in December, lush green in April and a mixture of yellow, orange and red in November. The BridalVeil falls is the showpiece here! Especially just after the rains, it’s full – and I’ve never seen it this prominent before.


I decided to walk up the Yosemite Falls trail this time, since I’ve never tried this one before. It’s a reasonably steep climb, but definitely not as intense as the climb up to Sentinal Dome (8 perfect things to do at Yosemite – all thanks to AirBnB – the thought bar: https://shak05.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/8-perfect-things-to-do-at-yosemite-all-thanks-to-airbnb/). The Lower Yosemite Falls trail allows us to walk past the actual falls, and at this time, the spray from the falls as we cross it feels like a new showerhead!

Continuing on level ground for a bit, the climb up to the Yosemite middle falls trail begins only a confusing one mile ahead. But I’m headed the right way. The way up is made up of steps that have been paved. The continuous walk up leaves me breathless and the view of the valley as I walk up adds to the breathlessness – it takes my breath away.

About forty five minutes later, I stop and then scramble onto the rocks, away from the trail to get closer to the falls. It calls me. It’s almost like going to a temple and wanting to touch the deity, to seek blessings. The majestic Yosemite falls chills my hand, delighting my tongue in its sweeetness. I thank everything in nature that allows such purity to exist.



I return home that night, feeling rejuvenated. In this world where it’s imperative to collect material things, it means a lot to step into nature and be a stranger there. Leaving nothing behind, taking nothing with me but memories.
To remain a friend and stranger to the land.

Chicago

I think any city has character. You have to just discover it. I find that the best way to introduce yourself to a city is by walking around a lot. The streets have things to say that you can easily miss when you’re driving from destination A to destination B. And the Chicago downtown has a lot of stories to tell, little secrets tucked away in the blackened side streets, sights that never make it to post cards or Facebook photographs, and smells that don’t quite reach the Yelp rated restaurants. 

It’s a 2 mile walk to the Millennium Park from Desplaines street, where we are staying. The green Milwaukee river sparkles in the bright chicago sun and little waves dance as the Windy City teases it. The buildings along the river sparkle too, as the glass that they are covered with, reflect the sun on each other, playing. The park is a sprawling few acres filled with intriguing structures and areas to sit and people-watch. We take dozens of photographs at the silver bean that reflects the city’s beautiful skyline. From there, we walk to the buckingham fountains that is a massive set of water spouts, and which can go up to 150 feet.

It seems only right to eat the famous Chicago deep dish pizza for lunch. A 2-mile walk along the stately Michigan avenue brings us to Pizzeria Uno – an old, pizza establishment, locally famous for its deep dish pizzas. Chilled beer along with a grand serving of the pizzeria uno special is just perfect.
In the evening, we decide to go to little India to be treated to some authentic Pakistani biriyani. Gandhi marg and Jinnah marg look exactly like another shopping street in Bangalore or Mumbai that for a minute I forget I’m a foreigner here. It’s nostalgic. The stores sell shiny shalwar kameez, jewelry, chaats, and just about envy thing else that’s Indian.

The view of the skyline is magnificent form the air, from millennium park or from Michigan avenue. But the view of the silver buildings is something else when you see it from the Milwaukee River. We rent kayaks near Kinzie street and row down the main stub of the river past State Street… It’s an unsettling experience, to kayak on a small insignificant boat and to be surrounded by massive glass buildings, that boast of the highest real estate prices in the city, house some of the most successful businesses and richest businessmen.

It’s not complete without a couple of strolls back and forth on the Magnificent Mile on Michigan avenue. This mile-stretch boasts of some of the biggest retail brands, the two tallest buildings in Chicago, many coffee shops and restaurants. The black John Hancock tower happily takes me back to the scene where batman jumps off it. The magnificent mile is the perfect spot in downtown Chicago to sit back, enjoy a sip of coffee and watch the world go by.

10 amazing things we did in Sydney!

1. A concert at the opera house – The Opera House is a spectacular piece of architecture and creates the most magnificent view for a photo. But sitting inside the Opera House for a music concert is an even more rewarding experience. The acoustics and stage view is unbelievable from almost any seat. I have the last row, yet, am not the least bit disappointed. The concert is a beautiful rendition of 30 famous Beatles songs by the ‘Strawberry fields rock’ orchestra.

2. A cricket match at Sydney Cricket Ground – For an Indian, cricket is almost religious. Witnessing a game at the Sydney cricket ground or the Melbourne cricket ground is a karmic experience. We buy tickets to the Big Bash T-20 match between Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Renegades that takes place at the Sydney cricket ground. The crowd sizzles with excitement and it rubs off on us.

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3. Royal National Park – For all nature lovers, this is sure  to be a fantastic day out. The Royal Coastal trail is about 28 KM long. You can decide to start at Garie’s beach or Wottemala, and end at Bundeena, which will halve the distance or make it even less. However we decide to do the whole thing. We take a train from the Sydney Central station up to Otford. This is a small, unassuming little station in the middle of the woods. The trail is steep in the beginning, for almost 4 km and then begins to level out. The distance from Otford to Bundeena is along the coast, with a view of the Pacific Ocean on our right. With four hills in between, it proves to be a difficult and challenging hike. We are however rewarded with magnificent view points along the way, as well as a chance to dip our tired feet in the chilled ocean water along the beaches that we cross. The view points at the Otford lookout, the cliff just before Marley beach and the Balconies is worth a mention. The steep cliff just before Marley beach stands with a thin slice of rock that overhangs over the raging waters. This makes it a thrilling view and an excellent spot for a photo shoot.

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At Bundeena, we walk to the ferry. The last couple of kilometers is a real stretch. We are delirious with fatigue that everything seems hilarious – even birds chirping! We make it on time to the catch the 5pm ferry that takes us across the bay to Cronulla, from where we take a train back to Sydney Central. It’s an unbelievable day. Our bodies cannot accept the shock yet, but we revel in the thrill and accomplishment of all that we saw and did.

4. The city walk – I call this a postcard walk, since it covers some of the most iconic spots of Sydney. We start at Elizabeth street near the City Centre and walk to St.Mary’s Cathedral. The twin spires stand majestically against the modern corporate buildings. A huge nativity scene is set up just outside the cathedral and attracts lots of tourists trying to capture a moment in a picture. Next we walk to the ‘New South Wales Art Gallery’. This gallery boasts of Australian and European art from the 19th and 20th century as well more contemporary and modern art. A particular depiction of the Ullswater hills in England was a beautiful capture from memory of an artist in the 18th century who was removed to Australia by the British regime.

The Royal botanical gardens of Sydney is just across the gallery and we walk across to it to be immediately transported into an oasis of greenery, flowers and birds right in the middle of the busy city. It’s approximately a km to walk through the gardens and we pass exotic oriental gardens, ferns, colorful flowers and a view of the bay.

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On the other side, we approach the Opera House. Probably Sydney’s most iconic spot. The first sight of the Opera house takes our breath away. It’s shiny white and magnificent against a clear blue sky. The angle of the opera house while approaching it from the botanical gardens is a side view of the shells.


We walk past the opera house and get lunch at Circular Quay in a cute open bar and restaurant on the road called Quay Bar.

After chilled beer and chicken sandwiches, we’re refreshed again to consider walking across the Harbor Bridge. We walk from circular quay to the harbor bridge footwalk. The walk is about 1 KM long, one way. It’s a wonderful view of the harbour and the bay from on top of the bridge. At the other end, we walk down to Kirribilli and a view point of the opera house again – but this time with a frontal view. This view really allows us to see the beauty of its construction and how the shells envelope each other. The Sydney skyline is also a wonderful sight from here. There is a little park just below the bridge and gives us a chance to rest.

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We walk back over the Harbour Bridge to Sydney central, to end a perfectly touristic day.

5. Coffee at Max Brenners  Even if you’re not a chocolate lover, it is worth it to stop by at Max Brenners for a coffee and a chocolate lick. The coffee is good (in fact I was never disappointed with the coffee at any cafe in Sydney), but the chocolate lick is divine! We get a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate lick (which is nothing but melted chocolate in a small urn with  a spoon). Enjoy this as you watch the big chocolate urns mixing liquid chocolate, which is truly spectacular.

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6. New Year’s Eve in Sydney – If you happen to be around in Sydney in December, then witnessing the New Year’s Eve fireworks HAS to be on your list. The same sequence of fireworks is launched from 5 different places, all around the city Centre. The harbour bridge is lit up and fireworks fall down from it to the bay below like a giant golden waterfall. The entire routine lasts about 12 minutes, and it’s quite surreal. The crowd is maddening! The city is flooded with people and every inch around the opera house, harbour bridge, darling harbour is filled with people. Yet, there’s an incredible atmosphere of festivity and good cheer. It’s a beautiful place to be in on New Year’s Eve.

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7. Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk– The walk from Bondi beach to Coogee beach is a tourist attraction. It’s an easy 6 KM walk with paved walkways, and continuously along the coast with the option to stop at every beach along the way. We start at the Bondi beach where one can get into the Icebergs pool that is literally on the beach. We miss it (it’s a Thursday and therefore under maintenance). A little more than a mile away, we arrive at the Bronte beach, which also has a beautiful pool just against the beach.

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We walk on to Waverly Cemetery, which has the distinction of being the most scenic cemetery in the world. It’s a sight to behold, and really has a calming effect to just stand and watch the ocean from up here.

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Walking on, we arrive at Clovelly beach where we stop and get some coffee. The Clovelly beach is a beautiful place for snorkeling. The walk continues on to Coogee beach which is crowded, but has a wonderful rockpool that we can swim in.

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I absolutely loved the concept of having pools just near the beach. The pools are filled with salt water and rise and fall with the tide. It’s a great option for people like me (afraid to swim out into the ocean, yet love to swim, and love the sea). We had our fill of jumping into rockpools at the Coogee beach.

8. Spit to Manly  Coastal Walk – Unlike the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, the Spit to Manly coastal walk is a little more rustic and closer to nature. The walk takes us through thick coastal vegetation where we come face to face to an iguana and two large lizards! There are portions of the walk that require us to walk along beaches on sand. It’s a 10km walk that takes us close to 4 hours in an easy-strolling pace and just in time to get some lunch at the Manly harbour.

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Along the way, we spot boat and yacht clubs, some of the most expensive houses in Sydney and some great rockpools. At Manly beach, we take a ferry back to Circular Quay. The ferry ride is great because it allows us to catch a beautiful frontal view of the Opera House. I just cannot get enough of this beauty!

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9. Brunch and coffee in Sydney – there are some great places for brunch, and the variety in cuisine available in Sydney is quite remarkable. What is fascinating is that every single local cafe or coffee house in Sydney always served stellar coffee – we were never disappointed.

10. Jenolan Caves and the Blue lake – The Jenolan caves is an hour’s driving distance from the Blue Mountains. These are naturally formed caves that is a result of water reacting with limestone over the years. There are many conducted tours that take you inside the caves, but we decide to do a little bit of exploring on our own. It’s remarkable how cool and musty the insides of the caves feel. There are man-made stairs that take you inside and around the caves, and it’s an almost eerie feeling to be in there.

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The most beautiful part of the Jenolan caves is the mesmerizing ‘Blue lake’ just near the caves. This has the distinction of being the first hydroelectric project installed by the British in all of Australia. The lake get’s it mystical blue color from the continuously dissolving natural limestone. The effect is just something else! We walk around the lake, take a breather at a little waterfall that it creates as it flows to lower levels, and then walk back up.

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Utah Adventures – remain a friend and a stranger to the land!

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Day 1: Reach Las Vegas 

Starts with an hours flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas. Virgin America lives it up with purple lights and a delightful, catchy song that takes you through seat belt and oxygen mask routines (an inflight Glee experience)! On route, we spot Half Dome on our left! So exciting to see it from the sky! It is massive, but not as imposing as it seems from within the Yosemite valley.

Might as well make the most of Vegas, stay on the strip for the night, indulge in a more than sufficient dinner, lose the proverbial dollar (10 actually) at a slot machine and hit the sack.

Day 2: Zion national park

“Remain a friend and a stranger to the land. Let the spirit find its peace.”

The early Mormon settlers quite rightly named this place Zion- a biblical reference to a state of spiritual peace.

We start the day nice and early from Vegas and stop for breakfast at a typical non-chain breakfast diner.

Breakfast enroute to Zion 

We have two options (among many others). Do the Angels Landing trail or the Observation Point trail. Between the two, the Observation Point trail seems more attractive based on all the reviews that we’ve read. We park our car near the visitors center, and take shuttle bus to Weeping Rock, from where the Observation Point trail begins.

Describe the Observation Point trail? Fabulously crazy! I can easily say that it’s one of the more difficult hikes I’ve done. Starting at an elevation of 3,500 feet, it is an incessant 4 mile climb that stops at the Observation Point, that stands majestically at a 6500 feet elevation. My heart beats like a drum that’s rolling down a cliff, the sun beats down with a tremendous force – and yet there is a zen like state of mind that I’m experiencing. Does that make sense? The views are breathtaking, and no picture captures the realness of the climb. Sheer cliff rock faces that gleam in the sun, red layers of sandstone, narrow passages of smooth rock that cause you to hear a hundred footsteps instead of just two…and the relentless ascent. It’s crazy!

An eternity later (2 hours 40 minutes in real time) we stand atop observation point, and the entire canyon sprawls below us. Angels Landing seems minuscule almost (one of the more daunting peaks from the canyon ground).

An eternity later, this is our view! Angels Landing is visible at the right bottom corner (the knife edge peak)


The native people say there is always music in the canyon. You should just listen for it.
I hear it in the wind gushing as we sit to rest on a couple of rocks on observation point. The pine trees rustle, and chipmunks scurry. That’s the music. We beging our 4 mile walk down, and of course it’s much easier. We complete it in 1.5 hours.

“Remain a friend and a stranger to the land”. That’s the key. Leave no trace of your existence but breathe deep and love nature. We return exhausted to our car using the shuttle service from the trail head. The shuttle drivers add some comic relief to the intenseness that surrounds.

Dinner is at Oscars – a famous local restaurant in the area. Crisp, cold Pilsner to cool down, and grilled chicken salad and shrimp tacos for dinner. I cannot exclude mentioning the view.

The view from Oscars – where we have dinner

We head to Kanab which is a 1.5 hour drive, where we spend the night in a beautiful, majestic house that we found through AirBnB.

Day 3: Bryce national park

“These are temples of God. We could worship amidst them or in the ones made by man”.

My first impression of Bryce is that of the beautiful and intricate temple structures of Tanjavoor in South India. Striking orange, with white tips that is actually sandstone and limestone formed over millions of years due to wind erosion and melting ice.

The view as we begin the Navajo trail from Sunset Point

We decide to do the Peekaboo trail, via the Navajo trail. Again, we park our car at the visitors center, and take a shuttle bus to the Sunset Point.

The Sunset Point is at an elevation of 8000 feet. The Navajo trail progresses into numerous steep hairpin bends that takes us down through the canyon and 0.7 miles later we join the Peekaboo trail. Spectacular at every single step of the way, the Peekaboo trail cuts across the canyon, in undulating ups and downs, confusing, inspiring, breath taking, breath laboring. At 1.6 miles on the Peekaboo trail, as it starts to loop back, we have the option to continue on it, or get onto the trail that will take us to Bryce Point. I’m glad we decide the latter. I highly recommend it. The views as we climb up to Bryce Point are some of the best!

The view from the trail towards Bryce Point

I’m having an existential crisis! What does it mean to live well I find myself thinking. “To be happy instead of trying to find happiness”. That’s it I guess. To remain a friend and a stranger to the land.

We spot what we think looks like Ganesh! I pay my respects.

The trail to Bryce Point is a steep climb of one mile. But worth it. The views are amazing on the way, and I think better than the view from Bryce Point itself. The journey is what matters right? We sit down to rest atop Bryce Point and munch on our protein bars. (Which is lunch)

The hike back to the Peekaboo trail loop and then onward to the Navajo trail is 3 miles and takes up an hour and forty minutes. This portion of the hike takes us through the belly of the canyon, the lowest sections of the hoodoos and vegetation is thick with lush green trees and water flowing through small creeks.  Somehow doesn’t seem like a desert anymore! Soon, we are back at the Sunset Point feeling very accomplished, but more humble than ever.

From the belly of the hoodoos

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It’s too soon to leave Bryce. We decide to catch the sunset from the Inspiration Point. Of course it’s named like that for a reason. Magnificence at its best. As the sun goes down, it casts fantastic colored shadows and the structures play peekaboo chasing them around.

We drive to Joseph, which is a few miles from Richfield to spend the night at our nex AirBnB spot (about an hour from Bryce).

Day 4: Canyonlands and the Dead Horse Point

“The power of a seemingly gentle flowing river, reducing rock to mighty canyons – puts life into perspective”

We start the day with sounds of a farmers market being set up at our Airbnb home in Joseph. How delightful! We stock up on apples, fresh carrots and an award-winning cinnamon roll! (This cinnamon roll has the distinction of holding a blue ribbon award at a dessert competition in Salt Lake city)



The drive from Joseph to Canyonlands takes us close to 3 hours. Just a reminder – do not drive faster than 88 mph* on the I-70 Utah interstate highway. You might not be so lucky as to be let go with just a warning as us. Of course, good vibes and a smile go a long way.

*by the way we were driving a Volvo. If it was a De Lorean, it might have been a different story altogether.

We stop at the Dead Horse Point state park first. This is a spectacular little portion of the Canyonlands that overlooks the gooseneck meander section of the Colorado river. There are really only a couple of choices in terms of hikes here. We start at the visitors center and take the west rim trail. Our initial view of the canyon is the amphitheater section and a small section of the Colorado river that appears green, which could easily lead to a mistaken identity (we thought it might be the Green River). The trail is 2.5 miles long up to the Dead Horse Point. The vegetation is different here – short shrubs that are widely spaced, twister juniper shrubs (the berries don’t smell like gin!). There are canyon overlook trails along the way that we decide to take. The rim overlook, shafer canyon overlook and the meander overlook take us to the rim of the cliff and the view of the canyon as well as the river is stunning. At Dead Horse Point, the view is expansive and we see the entire meander of the river.

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Think of the canyons as a tiramisu! Through millions of years, the river, permeating rainwater and wind has been eroding away portions of the rock, cutting through it and creating colorful layers. The lowest portion of the canyons is about 250 million years old and the upper layers is about 180 million years old – 180 million years ago is just the Jurassic period. Puts things into perspective. Crazy!

From the Dead Horse Point, we take the east rim trail which is a 1.5 mile hike back to the visitors center. This a good order to do the loop. West rim loop first and then the east rim trail. The east rim trail is easier, on more level ground.

We get back to the visitors center and leave for Canyonlands right away. This is just 4 miles away. Of course it’s the same canyon – just different parks. That works well – the Dead Horse Point doesn’t hold the fame of a national park, and therefore less crowded.

At Canyonlands, we are right on time to catch the sunset from the Grand River overlook point. It’s the first time we catch a glimpse of the Green river. Further south of the Canyonlands, the Colorado river and the Green river confluence to become the Colorado river, which then continues to the Grand Canyon. Of course we cannot see with the naked eye from here. The setting sun casts amazing shadows in the canyons and colors are plenty.

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Dinner is at Broken Oars in Moab. The briskets and steak salad are worth the wait! We then head to an Airbnb room we found in Moab, that is just 10 minutes away.

Day 5: Arches National Park

“All we see is through a window in time. Oftentimes eclipsed by the narrow thought that this fleeting life lasts forever.”

We start the day nice and early. From our room in Moab, the Arches national park is 15 minutes away – convenient. We reach Arches by 8.00 am, and are ready to start the Devils Garden trail by 8.30. This trail is 7.2 miles long (if you want to do the entire thing) and classified strenuous. Before I get into the details of what we see, let me say that this hike is difficult but very different from the Zion Observation Point Trail. There’s more rock, some climbing up and down – so more technique involved. I absolutely love this hike.

We see tunnel arch, pine tree arch, the landscape arch, the Navajo arch, the partition arch, the double O arch, black arch, dark angel and the private arch. The Devils Garden trail loops into a primitive trail. This is the ‘fun’ part of the hike. There’s absolutely no paved trail. It’s all rock, sand and the ‘find your way’ in between. The way the trail has been marked is interesting. Small pieces of rock are stacked at intervals. (Like playing lagori!)

The Partition Arch

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The Landscape Arch

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At the end of 7.2 miles and 4 hours, we are exhausted and back at our car. We decide to get buffalo meat at Moab Burger Co that’s close by, which turned out to be really good.

We head back to the Arches at around 4.30 and decide to do the Delicate Arch trail. How can we not see the Delicate Arch, and how can we not work hard to see it? So we start out the 3 mile hike. It’s incredibly hot and a steep walk up some slick rock. But it’s fun. 1.5 miles later, we are gazing at the beautiful Delicate Arch. It’s larger than I had expected it to be! We go through the mandatory under the arch photos and decide to wait fo sunset as well as the moon-rise.

The beautiful Delicate Arch

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What’s special about the moon-rise? Well, it’s a super moon today (when the moon is supposed to be closest to earth), full moon as well as a full lunar eclipse – all of which coincides. It’s an event and going to be a spectacle. And of course we are super lucky to be able to witness it from the Delicate Arch!

At 7:19 pm and precisely at 89 degree east, the moon rises -beautiful and larger than I’ve ever seen before. As it rises, we see the Earth’s shadow slowly start to cover it. As the shadow falls on the moon, it takes on a reddish glow. Soon, it’s a large faint red glow in the black sky. The Milky Way spans above me, and I see more stars than I have ever seen before. The whole scene takes my breath away. It’s more beautiful than I am ever capable of describing.

The moon-rise

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We end the night with Mediterranean food in Moab, and then drive on to Monticello for our next Airbnb stay. May I mention that as I finish dinner on the patio of the restaurant, I watch the shadow of the earth disappearing from the moon, and it’s brilliant white glow illuminates the night sky. Lucky me!

Day 6: Oljato – Monument Valley, and a really long drive

The drive from Monticello to the Oljato Monument Valley takes us about an hour. We stop for breakfast at a little bikers diner in a small town called Mexican Hat. It turns out to be really good.

As we approach the Monument Valley, the straight road and the rock monuments in the distance is exactly the same image we’ve seen in so many movies and posters. Quite incredible! We decide to do the Wildcat Trail – really the only trail one can do without a hiking license or being accompanied by a ranger. It’s a 3.8 mile loop around the west mitten butte, and a little difficult because of the fine desert sand. It’s hot, windy and the dust finds our hair, eyes and clothes.

The Oljato Monument Valley as we approach it

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Just after the 2 mile mark, we hear a loud nose in the sky. Turning upwards, we spot 6 Blue Angel jets flying overhead in the delta formation. So grand! They loop around and fly back just over our heads. I wave out frantically and Karthik videotapes the whole thing! What a piece of luck to be able to watch the Blue Angels practicing their routine.

3.8 miles later, we return to our cars exhausted. Now it’s a long drive to Las Vegas. 430 miles and 6.5 hours away!

We end the trip with a hearty dinner at Las Vegas, and the take a flight back to San Francisco.

What a trip!

My biggest lesson? “Remain a friend and a stranger to the land” Don’t leave any trace behind except your love.

8 perfect things to do at Yosemite – all thanks to AirBnB

  

Everyone’s been talking about how quickly AirBnB reached a 20B valuation, and just how successful crowd sharing has been as a business model. But this post is about how this site has transformed a traveler’s experience. Not just by making accommodation cheap and easily available. But by making a local person’s knowledge of the place so valuable.

My mom was visiting and my husband and I wanted to take her somewhere nice over the weekend and decided on Yosemite. Just over 3 hours to drive from where we live, it was the perfect destination for a 2 day weekend in the summer. My husband and I love the outdoors and our ideal vacation is a 10 mile long strenuous trek, and we’ve been to Yosemite before, but this time it was different. I’m a frequent user of AirBnB and booked a room for the 3 of us at a large farmhouse in Coarsegold. A charming couple, a dozen cats and 3 white horses owned the place. Ginger was a lovely host, and her suggestion on what we do at Yosemite truly transformed it for us.

We had one day, that’s it.

1. Mariposa grove – We drove up to the park, and took a shuttle to mariposa grove. This place boasts of some of the oldest giant sequoia trees and is located just at the entrance to the park. It’s worth a visit and with just a 1.6  mile walk, we were treated with sights of majestic sequoias. 

2. Washburn point – we drove up towards glacier point, but stopped on the way at Washburn point. From this point, we had the most amazing view of half dome, the north dome, vernal falls, Nevada falls. It’s worth a thousand pictures – the view is just breathtaking. What’s better is that this is not a well known tourist spot, and the crowd is smaller.

3. Glacier point – we continued the drive up to glacier point. This is a well known tourist spot and rightly so. The view is spectacular again, and the beautiful Yosemite falls is probably the star here.

4. Trek to sentinel Dome – this is not a widely popular trail, but if you know about it, you should definitely do it. The 1.5 mile one way trek is strenuous and is a constant climb. We completed it in about 45 minutes, with heartbeats louder than the wind. Atop the sentinel dome, it’s a 360 degree view of Yosemite. I’m not kidding. It’s simply spectacular, the wind is a roar, and it’s worth every sweat drop from that difficult climb up. It’s a zen moment. What can be better than to sit on top of the world, and eat a sandwich – nothing.

5. Tunnel view – we drove down into the valley. Highway 41 enters the Yosemite valley through a tunnel, and the view just as you exit the tunnel is the typical Yosemite view. You might have seen this in a million pictures, but the view in person is unmatchable. We pulled up into the parking lot and soak it in.

6. Bridalveil falls – we continue driving into the valley and stop for a few minutes at the bridal veil falls. I describe these falls as timid and shy – just like the veil of a bride. The falls are thin and if there is a wind, it dances around – much like a bridal veil. Beautiful!

7. Evening snack by the Merced river – we drive right into the valley and there’s el capitan in is most majestic glory. It immediately makes me wonder at how insignificant everything around seems. Further along, there’s the Yosemite falls which is the heighest waterfalls in the United States. We walk across the green meadow, find a spot near the river and munch on some cheese. It’s tranquil.

8. Visitors center – we make a quick stop at the visitors center along the highway 41 as it loops around Merced river. Souvenirs and the rest room is a necessity.

As we drive back to Coarsegold, the mighty granite continues to stand in an imposing manner, and we bid goodbye. The day could not have been better or more rewarding. I’m so thankful to our host for the wonderful tour she suggested we take. Not the typical itinerary I would find on a travel site, but it was the best I’ve ever had on my many outdoor adventures.

Crater Lake

Such serenity. It made me realize that we create our own mess and all it needs is a little quiet, a little reflecting, and a little crater lake to de-clutter and move on with life. It’s pretty simple, and stunning.
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Granite

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I stand tall, weathered by storm, water, sun,
Millions of years only kept me rising in stature.
Call me proud; call me mean; call me stone-hearted;
I continue to stand here, this is my land, and I will not leave.
I have nurtured so many lives, long before you even knew
Of my existence. Water runs slick, down my body
Creating the shiniest surface, and crashing at my feet
With a roaring sound, that repeats itself in the air around me.

You’re welcome, but don’t stay for long. Atleast don’t disrupt
What I’ve striven so hard to create – an eco-system.
You’re welcome, but stay within the boundaries. And if you
Step over, I will pull you down, your feet gasping for rock,
Your breath stopping short; one more body tumbling
Into the icy cascades, never again to return.
You call me many names – Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite.
You are right. We are killers.