The Zion in Winter

The boys and I just returned from a much needed road trip and raw nature fix. It was fantastic!! At times the freezing cold was brutal, the climbing icy and dangerous, the winds savage, but we were stimulated by the elements and loved every moment.

Our 5 day pass  brought us to the Cameron Trading Post on the Navajo Reservation the first night where we pigged out on Navajo Tacos  at the post’s fabulous restaurant. 

The next morning we drove 18 miles south of Tuba City and on to a dirt road to Coalmine Canyon. Very few people know about Coalmine, it is quite isolated. You need a Navajo permit to hike around the rim and a Hopi permit to hike in the canyon. 
Coalmine is nothing less than astounding! It rivals Bryce. The winds were close to 60 mph and the wind chill well below zero.

We then drove to Page and hiked to Horseshoe Bend and then on to Grand Staircase Escalante and hiked the Hoodoo trail in wind that pelted us with stinging sand. 

Then on to Zion where we spent three glorious days hiking to Inspiration Point (8 miles) Emerald Pools and then up to Angels Landing. Angels Landing was a bit nerve wracking for the boys, ELG had done it several times with clients but not in these weather conditions. 
The Park was practically empty and simply a fabulous time to be there. We enjoyed several nice restaurants and Polygamy Porter brews.
Dingo for being macho macho man and admonishing  ELG because the wolf did not want to hike down Coalmine Canyon when there were 60mph winds and below zero wind chill.
-ELG who let a Thunder-blast in the middle of the night that woke everyone up, and then started choking and coughing in an attempt to suppress his giggles.
-Dingo, Jake, and ELG for being so cheap they only rented one room at the Holiday Inn where all 4 guys slept in 2 double beds.
-Lobo and Dingo for smuggling in Tequila in a Starbucks cup to the restaurant at Cameron, and then mixing it with lemonade when no one was looking.
-Lobo for saying “Howaya, where ya from?" to everybody he met on and off the trails.
-Jake for a vicious silent but deadly on the trail causing a hiker down the trail to yell, “I got wind of that!!”
-Cole for not leaning into the shower.

Thats it!! Still running against da wind!! Happy Holidays!!


Tour Du Mont Blanc

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me
See me, feel me, touch me, heal me
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet

Six days after trekking in the palaces of nature, and completing the “Tour Du Mont Blanc,  young Peter Hayes and ELG celebrated at a WHO concert in Vienna. Our other two hiking buddies, Dan and Brandon, had returned to the states and their jobs.  It was hard to believe that our “Tour du Mont Blanc was over,  following  7 months of training, planning and preparation.

My hiking comrades were all former Marine officers and served in Desert Storm.   Camaraderie and teamwork were excellent during this tour of duty. The scenery was spectacular. The food and drink to die for. The refuges and hotels were charming and alluring. We met and befriended several people from different parts of the planet.

We all flew into Geneva and took  a private shuttle to Chamonix, France, a celebrated resort spotted at the foot of Mont Blanc. Chamonix is viewed as the origination and one of the capitals of mountaineering. Chamonix would be our start and finish points for our Tour. We elected to hike counter-clockwise. The weather was warm. 

The “TMB” is a circuit of a mountain block, covering  France, Italy and Switzerland, a journey of around 170km, depending on the precise route taken, with an accumulated altitude gain and loss of about 33,000 feet.  There are 11 passes to cross as the tour progresses from valley to valley. The trails are steep, often times w/o switchbacks. Our backpacks weighed about 20 pounds each.  We elected not to pay a service to transport them from refuge to refuge (hostel) like all the guided tour groups and many others we met on the trail. We did not make our reservations past the second day and had to combine stages a couple of times because the refuges were full. 

There is far too much to detail, so this will be an abbreviated report. After the TMB I spent five marvelous days in Vienna with Pete in his fabulous bungalow in the City Center, with a side trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. 

 I will, however, provide the ever popular “Men Behaving Badly” after the photos below.


North to Alaska

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world. John Muir

OK back in Arizona to the monsoon and a leaking roof. Gee its great to be back home!! More climbing Camelback and cross training in prep for the Tour Du Mont Blanc in early September.
We enjoyed this getaway from the heat trip, particularly the visitation with my brother Tom and his lovely wife Brandy in Seattle, and the  company of our great Reno friends Doug DamonDiana DamonLew Carnahan, and Bunny Carnahan However, we simply are NOT "cruise people", and  will probably NOT cruise again. 
Our ship, the  Solstice was ulta modern, and the food was fantastic! Rating of 10. The gym was excellent...rating of a 10. We purchased the select dining and  premium drink packages and the goal became "Beat Da Ship" We did! ...with over $900 (ship cost) of cocktails and not eating in the buffet, nor getting suckered into buying all the expensive extras.
The customer service was excellent. Rating of a 10.  
The views were nice. Rating of an 8, particularly our view of Russia.  The wildlife was just OK, we did see some whales, a few sea lions and eagles-rating 5, nothing like the land trip we took a few years ago where we saw a large variety of animals. … .griz, black bears, moose, large pods of whales, caribou and many others. 
The ship’s excursions were over priced and totally without character or adventure. Rating of a 2. On one excursion we had to wait 1 1/2 hours on the ship to depart to Juneau and our excursion left without us. We ended up booking another that only included whale watching and not a hike to the glacier. It was mediocre at best.  
 The Skagway train was a total ripoff. 
We did enjoy seeing the totems on Ketchikan that we engineered on our own,  taking a city bus to a state park. ELG and Lew Carnahan and Bunny Carnahan scored hand carved totems. The Carnahan's bought a large one, perfect for their Truckee house.
Overall it was a good, DIFFERENT experience for us...... visiting my brother and wife in Seattle   our travel companions, and BEATING the ship were the highlights.

Planned: Next week… a trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Men Behaving BadlyELG for setting the goal of “beating the ship of booze" (coined by Doug Damon) 
Bloody Mary's with breakfast, Alaskan Ambers with lunch, old fashions, wine and Baileys with dinner. Doug proclaimed this achievement-EPIC!!
Doug: For purchasing the soft drink package for $300 bucks and then objecting to his lovely wife Diana indulging in a spa massage because the ship was ripping us off!!
Lew: for violating the “no politics” treaty


The Kingdom of Bhutan-Time Warp

“Bhutan all but bases its identity upon its loneliness, and its refusal to be assimilated into India, or Tibet or Nepal"

Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Gangtey, Paro Bhutan -8 days in Shangri-La

The Kingdom of Bhutan was a much needed peaceful retreat from 15 intense, chaotic days in India.  Bhutan is a remarkable throw back to centuries past with a unique outlook on progress.  There are few that have ventured here and experienced the natural charm of a country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. By law, at least 60 per cent of the country must remain forested for future generations. It is also a deeply Buddhist land, where monasteries are part of its fabric. We found the country mysterious and magical. Every sign of human settlement repeated the mantra of contentment: “This is just enough.” 

We enjoyed many pleasant surprises.  The Bhutanese are very well educated, fun loving and vibrant. Our guide Tashi is one of the smartest and  most spiritual human beings that we have ever met.   His reverence and respect for nature constantly lifted our spirits. When we returned we brought home a new schnauzer…. a  2 month old puppy and we named her Tashi.  However, Tashi, the puppy is rarely peaceful, but also very smart.

Similar to the Navajo Nation here in Arizona where basketball is an important piece of their culture, the same passion for hoops exists in Bhutan. Every school we saw had basketball courts. Tashi told us that the local high school team warmed up to  Survivor's smash hit.. “Eye of the Tiger”  And yes, there are Tigers in Bhutan as well as Snow Leopards and an amazing diversity of plants and other creatures. 
Archery is their National Sport (see photo) below and the Bhutanese always bring home Olympic medals.

The Bhutanese pride themselves on a sustainable approach to Tourism. Visitors must apply for a visa and pay a minimum tariff of $250 (US) per day which sounds pricey, however this fee is all inclusive- accommodations, food, transport and an official guide.(Tashi)

Bhutan is a picture-book landscape that rivals Patagonia South America.  If I could choose one word that separates Bhutan from the rest of the world it would be “civility”

So where is Bhutan? Look at your globe or world atlas.  No one we know has been there. Hardly anybody in the U.S. knows where it is. It is NOT part of India. However there are very close ties to India and India serves as protection from a Chinese invasion. 

The King and Queen of Bhutan are beloved. They are both quite physically attractive people. 

Health care is free for all Bhutanese AND all foreign visitors.  A gentleman in our group of 6  became very ill with urinary issues and he was taken to a hospital twice, treated, hooked up with a catheter and was able to continue with the trip, all at no charge!

There were so many  but our biggest highlight was a demanding climb to a monastery called the “Tigers Nest” described below. 
Gerry was suffering from a throat infection but being the warrior that she is, she nailed it!!

I would love to return and do the “Snowman Trek” one of the most difficult in the world. It takes 24 days at elevations between 4500 and 5320 meters. 

There were so many cultural discoveries and drop dead scenic beautiful locations that we experienced  in our short visit that took us  over narrow, winding, white knuckle, dirt mountain roads in the Himalayas to remote locations.  I wish I had the time to tell you about all of them. The pictures below tell a better story.

In closing, Bhutan is simply unreal, the landscape gives the impression of vast space and intimacy at the same time.  If there is one location to pick on this planet that is truly unforgettable, and a dream come true it is the Kingdom of Bhutan.  You can make it happen!! 
Tough Steep Climb in altitude to the legendary Tiger's Nest Monastery -Spectacular Views ....Paro Bhutan
The trail climbs thru blue pines to 3 water powered prayer wheels then switchbacks steeply up the ridge where a sign exhorts you to "Walk to guru's glory. After about 300m you reach a small chorten and some prayer flags on the ridge. The trail crosses an archery ground-(we dodged one arrow), there is a small cafeteria where you can get a cup of tea, then the trail continues to a spring, and the basic monastery guesthouse. A bit further there is a viewpoint that puts you eyeball to eyeball with the monastery that looks like it is growing out of the rocks. It seems close however its on the far side of a valley about 300 m away. The trail curves past an awesome chapel of butter lamps and descends to a waterfall by the Snow Lion Cave, a meditation retreat jammed into a rock crevice, now you have to climb steeply back up to the monastery entrance.  We  then climbed to higher chapels that included a couple of perilous log ladders... from here the trail descends past a charming Holy Spring and down to the monastery guest house.
On the way back we climbed up to one of the temples. Then the steep climb down and up and back down.  A long journey but we had a great picnic lunch below.


Cosmic India

“India has always had a strange way with her conquerors. In defeat, she beckons them in, then slowly seduces, assimilates and transforms them.” 
― William DalrympleWhite Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India

India….Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambhore (Tiger Reserve), Agra, Khajuraho and Varanasi
Bhutan…..Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Gangtey, Paro

We have just returned from a grueling 23 day trip to India and the Kingdom of Bhutan.  Our return flight(s) took us from Paro (Bhutan) to Delhi  Bangkok, Beijing, Los Angeles and finally after 49 hours home to Phoenix.  Now we are digging ourselves out, trying to catch up on business at home. 

This was NOT a vacation, it was an education, a test of endurance, a sensory overload!  What an astounding diversity of religions, languages, and cultures we found brimming in India. The history, art and mythology was off the charts. Trying to understand the many elements of Hinduism was overwhelming. The food was savory,  however the first meal I had back in the states was a whopper!! We were very careful to drink only bottled water and eat cooked food at the hotels and dodged the infamous “Delhi Belly” intestinal infection. 

  Traveling in India is chaotic and intense…..by bus, train, taxi, rickshaw, “ tuktuk" or airplane, it does not matter, it is an adventure!

The horrible  pollution gave us both respiratory issues. Gerry is still recovering. The poverty was disturbing. The dense population was mind boggling. There are 1.3 billion people living in half the land mass of the United States.

 However....It also was exciting, enchanting, enlightening and memorable, worth every bit of discomfort, stress and terror on the roads. 

The history of India is truly incredible . We visited the home of Ghandi and retraced his final footsteps to the location he was assassinated, at the Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) in New Delhi.  What a remarkable human being that had a tremendous impact on India and continues to generate positive vibrations throughout the planet.

There is a huge contrast between India and Bhutan.  We spent the last week in Bhutan, and it was relaxing! Bhutan is so calm and peaceful. Therefore I will do a separate trip report on that Kingdom and just cover India in this report. 

One of the reasons we chose to travel to India was to try to see Bengal Tigers in their natural environment.  We had our eyes wide open to the possibility of disappointment.  After all, several years back we had traveled all the way to Borneo to see Orangutans and were shut out. They were too deep in the jungle at that time of season, where the food was plentiful. 
So, we optimistically went to Ranthambhore (Tiger Reserve) optimistic, with our eyes wide open. We went on 2 safaris (morning and afternoon) and saw a lot of cool animals but NOT a tiger. But……at one location our guide stopped and we could hear 2 mating tigers roar in the tall grass not more than 50 feet away. We waited and waited but time was not on our side and the sun set without them coming out.  It was frustrating but also very cool!

Of course a highlight of the trip was visiting one of the seven man-made wonders of the world…”THE” Taj Mahal at Agra.  It is the most beautiful structure that we have ever seen. The Red Fort at Agra is almost as impressive and a World Heritage Site.

There is such a contrast between Old and New Delhi  We walked through the bustling streets in the old quarter,  and visited Humayan’s Tomb an elaborate complex of tombs constructed in the 16th century and was a key influence for the Taj Mahal. 

In Jaipur we went to the Amber Fort and of course had to take an elephant ride to the top of this strategically positioned fort built in 1592. Jaipur was carefully planned on a grid system and we visited the impressive City Palace at its center.

We took a train to Khajuraho famous for its temples and to Orchha a medieval city. 

Our last stop before flying back to Delhi was Varanasi  See photos and description of key sites along the Holy Ganges River below. The pictures tell a better story.                        
       We received quite an amazing educational experience on Hinduism in India, particularly on a boat in Varanasi... funerals/cremations on the banks of the sacred Ganges River 
The dead body is bathed with Ganga water, perfumed, wrapped in a white cloth
(red for women) and carried to the cremation site - (a pile of wooden logs)on a wooden stretcher like structure to the accompaniment of the chanting 
"Ram Nam Satya Hai" (Rama is truth) 
The nearest relation, normally the eldest son lights the funeral pyre. Whoever lights is considered the legal heir. Verdic verses are chanted during the cremation by the priest and the next day the ashes are collected and taken to Hardiwar, the headwaters of the Ganges and immersed in the holy water there.
A mourning period of 12 days is observed during which time the sitting room is cleared of furniture and relatives and visitors have to sit on the floor..a condolence visit.
Every year certain days are set aside during which the family members must remember their dead ancestors and relatives and say prayers for the peace of their souls. This is called shraaadh.                        

 We did a boat trip down at the Ganges Holy River while in India. This is the house the Beatles stayed at in February of 1968. Here they attended an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Surely, you must remember the widespread media attention, their visit received and it was one of the band's most productive periods. Led by George Harrison this visit changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality and encouraged the study of Transcendental Meditation.
The boys brought wives and girlfriends and others that attended
included musicians Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and flautist Paul Horn. While there, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs and Ringo Starr finished writing his first. Eighteen of those songs were recorded for The Beatles ("the White Album"), two songs appeared on the Abbey Road album, and others were used for various solo projects.


To the East NYC and Africa

We always spend some time in New York when traveling east.  This time we took a “walk on the wild side” to Harlem and the next day attended “Something Beautiful” the Carol King story a smash broadway hit. We loved the music and she had a great story to tell. We shamelessly have become foodies and enjoyed Italian food at Eataly, a reasonably new block long complex of small restaurants.

This African trip was visually astonishing, culturally rich and  educationally sobering. The 22 hours of dreadful flight time home was worth every minute of misery. 

We saw many sides of life, including a visit to Soweto and spending a sad day at the former residence of Nobel Peace prize winner  Nelson Mandella, and the Hector Peterson memorial for the victims of civil unrest of the 70s. We also visited the Apartheid Museum and had an in depth historical look at the system of extreme racial segregation from 1948 until 1994. 
We took the time to visit a local children’s home that provides shelter for abandoned babies, many of them HIV positive. It was heartbreaking!
We met Martha…one of the saints that provides care for these underprivileged kids. 

Our time in Africa included 4 days in Cape-town, where we visited the historic Malay quarter, Table Mountain… a striking landmark recently announced as one of the world’s new Seven Wonders of nature.  We dined at some really fine restaurants and shopped at the Cape Town Waterfront and enjoyed an excursion to beautiful Stellenosch located in the heart of the Cape Wine-lands.

From here we flew to Johannesburg and drove to Hazyview located just a few miles fro Kruger National Park where we went of a safari and viewed many animals. From here we went to Blyde River Canyon for some hiking  and then on to our lodge in the Karongwe Private Game Preserve. We did three safaris here and a “bush walk” Our guides carried rifles. 
We had many nice sightings….that included the “Big Five” …  elephants, cape buffalos, leopards  lions and the extremely endangered white rhinos.
For dinner, one evening, I feasted on crocodile, warthog, kudu, and worms. Delicious!! Gerry loved the warthog. (for no good reason)

Back to “Jo-Berg” where we stayed in an elegant 5 star hotel for three days and shopped till we dropped at the incredible Nelson Mandella Plaza.

Next… we flew to Victoria Falls  and checked into a fabulous safari lodge, where we stayed for four days and visited the falls on the Zimbabwe and Zambezi sides. We had great views from our room of a watering hole on a plateau of Zambezi National Park. The animals would come down for water at dusk and in the evening.

We crossed the border without much delay into Botswana and did a land and water safari. In Chobe National Park we must have seen over 200 elephants. There are 50,000 elephants in Chobe and the rangers “shoot to kill” all poachers. 

We flew back to Jo-burg for our torturous flights back home. The atmosphere in the airport was tense, there was a high level of security and the police would check and recheck passports, and carry ons. They continuously searched through trash cans. 

We arrived in New York at 6 A.M. and In Phoenix early afternoon Thanksgiving day, in time for Thanksgiving dinner….. Chinese take-out - Perfect!!