Thursday, December 17, 2015

Backpacking Yellowstone's Bechler Region

This October I made it down to Bechler, the remotest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Bechler is a wild and expansive landscape of meadows, waterfalls and hot springs that really only lends itself to overnight or multi-day backpacking trips. The four-day itinerary took in over 25 waterfalls and two of the best hot springs soaks in the Rockies. The only disappointment was the lack of wildlife and that fact that is was surprisingly busy (full moon weekend in high season). Still it was recommended. 

My itinerary took me from Bechler Ranger Station up to Ferris Fork, then back down the valley in order to detour to stunning Dunanda Falls. If you can arrange a vehicle shuttle it's well worth combining Bechler, Dunanda, Ferris Fork and Shoshone Lake into one of Yellowstone's great backpacking trips.

Bechler Meadows

Bechler is all about its waterfalls.

Collonade Fall

Dunanda Falls

Iris Falls

Ferris Fork is one of the highlights, a junction of four rivers that has some great thermal features, a near-legendary soaking hot spring called Mr Bubbles and plenty of options for off-trail waterfall exploration. It's a two-day walk north from Bechler Ranger Station or south from Lone Geyser (near Old Faithful).

Soaking in Mr Bubbles

Dunanda Falls is the other great highlight, with several soaking hotpots at a perfect temperature right at the base of the towering waterfall.

Dunanda Falls
Practicalities: I managed to pick up a backpacking permit the day before starting, which was lucky because most people book their permits six months in advance. September and October are the best months here; before September come prepared for boggy conditions and fearsome clouds of mosquitoes. Be prepared to wade thigh-deep across half a dozen rivers.

A rare Bechler bridge; be prepared to wade elsewhere

The back side of Grand Teton from Bechler

Backcountry Luxuries

The Best Detours off the Everest Base Camp Trek

If you are thinking of trekking in the Everest region, then I suggest you check out this photo article I just wrote for Lonely Planet. Included are ten of my favourite detours off the main Everest trekking trail, places that you'll likely have completely to yourself, if you don't mind putting in a bit of leg work to get there. Most are just an hour or two's walk off the main trail, while some involve a full day trip.

My advice is to budget three or four extra days to your trek to include these babies. They may end up being the highlights of your trek. Just make sure you are fit and acclimatised and that your lodge owner or guide knows where you are going. Be safe.

Top Ten Detours off the Everest Trek


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Wanderlust Ireland & Austria

Here are some final slideshows from the Ireland and Austria Wanderlust films. Thanks for watching! Click on them for larger images.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

Andalucia: GR7 Tarifa to Ronda

The second of this series of Wanderlust hiking films was in Spain (the only country to get two films during this series). Starting from view of Africa at Tarifa (the first picture), the trail heads through the cork forests of the Alcornocales National Park to the walled towns of Castellar de la Frontera and Jimena de la Frontera. Then over the Sierra de Grazalema to end up at the stunning Easter parades at Ronda. Cork harvesters, flamenco guitarists, whale watching and bullfighting, all in the company of the fabulous Quico. Some pictures from the trip:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wanderlust Norway

Hi all,
Here are a few photos from the Wanderlust Norway film. The hike follows the St Olav's Way from Lillehammer to Trondheim (with a quick detour to the western fjords), passing through the Jotenheimen and Dovrefjell national parks. Some really spectacular landscapes.
Click on the photos to see them larger.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Second Series of Wanderlust

Hi all,
To accompany the second series of Wanderlust, starting 3 August on Arte at 7.40pm, I will be attaching a few photos here on the blog from each of the five long-distance hikes featured during the week.

First up is the Amalfi Coast, one of the most spectacular coastal hikes in Europe but also one of the hardest with thousands of steps and plenty of elevation gain most days. The rewards were plenty: fantastic food and drink, characterful people and some of the most beautiful terraced scenery I've ever seen. A truly enjoyable hike.

Click on the pictures to see them on a larger scale and watch the program live on Arte, or stream it on the Arte website, either in French or German.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Earthquake in Nepal

In the wake of the the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal, several people have asked me for suggestions on how they can help. There are lots of big organisations working in Nepal, including the Red Cross, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Care and others. All are worthy of your donations.

There are also several websites that host funding drives and make donating money easy. Global Giving is a good one; click here for details.

If you'd rather donate to a smaller scale, local, grass-roots organisation that have a proven track record in Nepal, consider the following organisations, several of which I know personally:

The Mountain Fund - A locally-based organisation run by the experienced American Scott Maclennan from a base in Mankhu, between Kathmandu and Pokhara. Excellent local contacts and deep roots in Nepal mean that your donation will go directly to help people in the village. Donate here.

Education Restoration Nepal  - A new organisation established in reaction to the earthquake. ERN focuses on rebuilding schools, combining short-term assistance with the long-term picture; investing in education for the future.

Helambu Relief Distribution Centre - Focuses on the Helambu region, a popular trekking area and one of the worst hit regions of Nepal. Donate here.

PHASE - Works in Sindupulchowk and Gorkha districts, two of the worst-hit regions. Donate here.

American Himalayan Foundation - Has been doing excellent work in Nepal for years.

Sunsar Maya - Does good work with Nepal's orphans, of whom there are now many more in Nepal

If none of those fit, check other grass-roots organisation on this list from Outside Magazine.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Off the Beaten Track in Tibet

After a busy Christmas writing up Lonely Planet's new Nepal guide, I've finally starting to look back over 2014's travels. My big Asian trip was to Tibet, researching Lhasa and central Tibet for the Lonely Planet guide. I always try to visit a few new places every time I go back to Tibet and there were a few crackers this trip.

Drak Yangzom & Dzong Kumbum
The cave complex of Drak Yangdzom has long been a favourite of mine because there's just nothing else like it in Tibet. Getting into the caves involves climbing a wood and yak hide ladder high up into the mouth of a cliff and then hauling yourself up a narrow, slippery shute into a sacred cave complex before a nun finally drags you by the feet through a tiny opening in the rock wall into the inner sanctum, the sacred cave of a Himalayan saint. It's the craziest excursion in Tibet.

On the other side of the valley is Dzong Kumbum, a less narrow but much longer cave complex of several branches. We joined a group of Tibetan pilgrims for a tour of the sacred marks, stalactites and pools. With a mixture of barely suppressed giggles and hushed reverence, like school kids on a sacred school trip, it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  (Click on the photos for the bigger picture).

Pilgrims in Dzong Kumbum Cave

Exploring Drak Yangdzong Cave
Pilgrims posing for a souvenir photo at the entrance to Drak Yangdzong cave

On Valley
New for the guidebook this edition is this little-visited but surprisingly accessible valley. The main Keru Lhakhang dates back 1250 years and holds some of the oldest statues left in Tibet, revealing an early Central Asian influence. For a bit of adventure, make the 90-minute hike up to the ruins of Samtenling Nunnery and Chodung Monastery

Ruins of Samtenling Nunnery, On Valley

Samding Nunnery
I'd been to this nunnery before but this was the first time I stayed at the on site guesthouse. An overnight gives you time to head up the ridge behind the monastery for epic views over surrounding lakes, all the way to the Bhutan border.

Samding and Yamdrok-tso

Here are some more of my favourite places off the beaten track in central Tibet. For details of all these places see the new Lonely Planet Tibet guide.

View of Yarlung Tsangpo from Shedruling Monastery, near Gongkar airport
Samtenling Nunnery, near Reting Monastery
Reting Valley, en route to Samtenling

Chortens between Nyima Jiangre and Phondo
Sand mandala, Tsurphu Monastery
This toe is the only part left of a giant Maitreya statue that once stood at Jampaling

Painting murals inside a giant stupa, Rabse Nunnery, near Gyantse
Sili Gotsang Hermitage
View from Milarepa's Cave, near Nyalam

Chortens of the Dza Rongphu Retreat, with Mt Everest behind

Little-known hiking trail from Khamba-la pass overlooking Yamdrok-tso lake.


Classic Pamiri Scenery of Gorno Badakhshan

Current Favourite Track