Hiking and Camping adventures

Good for a day hike: Shadow Lake via Redearth

We would probably never run out of places to visit in Canada as there are so many places to discover and explore in Banff Canada alone, with too little time. We visited these places on our vacation to Canada back when we were based in Singapore. Hence, our trips always seemed rushed. Now that we are based in Canada, we aren’t located near the Canadian Rockies.

We were there around the shoulder season in mid-October. We did not think that it would start snowing that soon on the trails. We went on a short hike initially without snowshoes through Healy Pass from Sunshine Village. We stayed a night at a campsite and hiked out the next day due to snow and we were not prepared with snowshoes. We had a whole lot of photos taken with the Snap Ion camera and lost all of our files.

This is a fun little gadget that clips onto your jacket or bag.

So that’s unfortunate as we now have no photos from that trip and we almost forgot about that hike on Healy Pass from Sunshine Village. The beginning of that hike involved some hiking up a road from the Sunshine Village carpark and I recall that it was somewhat meh.

On our return, we rented snowshoes from a shop in Banff called Snowtips in Banff and headed off for another hike on Redearth to Shadow Lake. This trail is linked to the earlier trail on Healy Pass through Pharaoh Creek. We were thinking to attempt to hike around the area from another place and Redearth seemed like the next best access point.

The Redearth – Shadow Lake hike is about 14km one-day and a 440m elevation gain. Most of the gain is closer to Shadow Lake. It was already snowing for sometime when we got there but it gradually got heavier as we progressed into the hike. The snowshoes we’d rented came in handy and I got to try on snowshoes for the first time in my life – as you know, I grew up in a tropical country, Singapore and even with my time overseas where there were four seasons, there was no need for me to be wearing snowshoes at all. I’ve worn Yaktrax before, but that’s different, and it wasn’t as good as I’d expected it to be.

Getting around in snowshoes for the first time in my life!

We got to the Shadow Lake campsite close to sunset and it was dark by the time we’ve set up our tent and had our romantic dinner by headlights and falling snow at the ‘dining’ area. The dining area is a few meters away from the tent to avoid attracting bears. Bears are constantly on our minds when we are in backcountry and a benefit of hiking in the snow is being about to spot tracks. We’ve seen tracks of smaller animals but were fortunate not to have seen bear tracks. We’ve come across bear scat on a couple of our hikes before but glad not to have seen any bears while hiking. Apparently, bear tracks in deep snow wouldn’t look like the usual bear print as they often use a direct-register walk in deep snow, which looks like this.

It snowed almost the entire night and we spent the night knocking off snow from the tent. Sourcing for water was difficult I recall, as there wasn’t a nearby stream and to get water, we would have to walk a few meters to where the Shadow Lodge is as there’s a stream nearby. We trudged around the area looking for a spot to have breakfast and didn’t find anywhere we could eat.

We brought our gas burner and some food with us on the walk to the lake, to explore the area, thinking of having a picnic at the lake….
We got to the lake and realized that there wasn’t anywhere for us to sit or anywhere for us to cook our breakfast. 🙂
Getting our food bag from the bear pole… the snow has blanketed the area, including the dining bench.

We ended up having our breakfast on the porch of the Lodge which was empty and locked (of course) at that time, as it was in the shoulder season.

That’s the view from our breakfast at Shadow Lake Lodge back in October 2017. Wonderful and yes, ‘Nobody here, but us!’

We love winter camping or shoulder season just because there are fewer people, no bugs but we do miss the beautiful and vibrant spring and summer landscapes.

Note: Don’t go camping without your Z lite Thermarest pads! This is one of the best weight and bulk investments for camping, for better sleep. I’m quite a fussy sleeper (and this is one of the ways I deal with camping in the backcountry) and this sleeping pad makes a difference. I’ve had one of those manual inflatable pads and they just make you colder since the cold air from the ground still hits your back or body through the air around the inflated pads. I do bring a lot of sleeping equipment: Z lite, self-inflating pads (which still require a little bit of help), sleeping bag and two different sleeping bag liners for winter camping, which provide a layering sleeping system. You probably won’t need the outer sleeping bag shell for summer camping or warmer weather.

Hiking and Camping adventures

Day hike at Gaustatoppen in Norway

We discovered day hikes around Norway by chance due to a failed attempt at hiking in Jotunheimen. Gaustatoppen, was one of the more memorable hikes of the trip after an easier hike – the Solstien walk. We’ve also gone to FannarĂ„ki, but aborted half way as well due to the weather. At FannarĂ„ki, the winds were too strong and cold as we proceed higher on the mountain. We turned back as we didn’t have proper gear on us to continue into the cold and snow. We’d packed for summer considering we were there in August and that weather was abysmal for August.

The walk at FannarÄki.
Navigating the mud. The walk to FannarĂ„ki was mostly marsh and we think we may have walked on private land part of the way while avoiding the marsh.
There were some cows we passed along the way at FannarÄki

What to expect at Gaustatoppen in summer

The hike at Gaustatoppen provided us with a compromise of the views we wanted to see on the Besseggen hike, per the original plan. The hike started easy enough and it was a busy trail when we were there. As we got higher, the trail got icy, snowy and slippery. I’m sure that’s not very common for summer. Having good shoes with deeper treads make a whole lot of difference. Our Keens were doing fine but I’ve noticed many other locals who were trekking past us rapidly in Salomons.

The elevation at Gaustatoppen is about 710m and about 4.3km one way. It felt longer than that closer to the top as the path got slippery and steeper. We ended up walking on the side of the trail, on the rocks, for better traction.

Heading up Gaustatoppen.

According to the DNT website, Gaustatoppen at 1883 meters, is claimed to be the most beautiful mountain in Norway and on a clear day you would be able to see 1/6 of Norway from the top…..  (hmm.) It’s a great view that’s for sure, but I’m not sure about its possibility of seeing up to 1/6 of Norway.
The icy climb.
Our descend and poor weather was starting to set in on the way down and it was hailing a little.

It was crowded at the DNT hut on the top and we found out that there is a secret railway which you can take up and down the mountain for a fee, if you do not feel like taking that walk.

It was a good trip and I’m glad we got to experience Telemark county, even though that wasn’t planned. We saw some spectacular sunsets there too, in our beautiful rented cabin.

Hiking and Camping adventures

Failed hike to the Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen

Back in 2016 August Summer, we attempted to hike to the Besseggen Ridge. We made it to the first campsite but did not continue. There were so many factors which contributed to the overall mood for the trip.

Our delay in Oslo

The first was probably because of our delay in setting off for the hike. We were 4 days behind schedule as we spent the time trying to intercept M’s driver’s licence which was couriered from Singapore to Norway. We discovered DHL doesn’t receive packages at their logistics centre for pickup. We initially had it delivered to Lillehammer where we were intending to be and it kept getting rejected there. So we called them a few times to arrange for a pick up eventually at the Oslo Airport DHL logistics centre. We spent the two days after driving from Denmark to Norway, just enjoying Oslo and waiting for the delivery.

So although we never flew from Oslo Airport, we spent a good six-hour on the ground at the airport waiting for the package to return from wherever it was. On hindsight, of course, we should have just arranged for it to be delivered to the place we were at in Oslo, but we didn’t know we were going to be there for that long.

Oslo accommodation with all the pretty Summer flowers
A pretty hotel we stayed at in Oslo

Taking the wrong turn on the trail

The whole purpose of the trip to Norway was to hike the Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen Norway and only realized that we’d probably taken the wrong route when we were too far into it. We did get to the next pitstop, which is Memurubu and could have hiked the Besseggen back the other way, which would have been better for vertigo.

Bad weather condition

We were informed by some people at the shop earlier while getting the parking ticket, that weather has not been good and that they’ve been getting wet and cold weather in the middle of summer. Right on cue, it started raining just when we were getting ready for our hike. We deliberated for a long time while sitting in the car thinking about whether we should just check-in to a hotel that day. We ended up walking when it subsided to a drizzle.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

Get your long-term parking slip at the shop near the jetty. Thereafter, you’ll need to drive to the Gjendesheim carpark and call for the pickup shuttle service which would take you from the carpark back to where the jetty is (where you would have bought the long-term parking). You start your hike from there.

Checking out the weather before the hike
View from our hike
Beginning our hike
Starting the hike
On the trail. This was probably the last hike we’ve used our trekking poles. We came across a family of three with a young child, who was moving along the trail at rapid pace. They told us to lose the trekking pole if we wanted to move quicker and just rely on our natural balance and centre of gravity. Since then, we’ve not used trekking poles.

The trail

We were walking on the trail which was relatively flat with some ups and downs but nothing as what we were expecting. As we read that we should have quite an elevation gain on this hike. We realized that we have been walking on the wrong path after we’ve gone too far in. For the beautiful Besseggen Ridge trail, we should have taken the path heading up but we’d taken the route straight from the shop, near the jetty.

However, I thought the flatter and longer route we’d taken still has some excitement and was quite precarious in some areas, especially with the wet weather. There’s an exposed area which will require you to cross a large rock surface which is sloping downwards towards the water and there’s a metal chain which separates you from the drop. I thought it would have been better to also have the chain on the other side of the mountain instead of towards the water or both sides. As you’ll end up leaning on the side of the drop instead of holding on to the side of the mountain which seems safer.

The campsite at Memurubu

Memurubu campsite
We got to Memurubu close to sunset, which was about 9pm or 10pm.

You’ll need to register your campsite at the DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) hut and that’s also where you’ll get some amenities for shower, food and even games as we’ve learnt the next day. You’ll need to pay to use the shower which is shared and I was lucky that everyone’s done with their showers by the time I got there. I didn’t really fancy having to shower naked with everyone else.

We opted to sleep outside in a tent instead of paying to sleep with others in the same room. Everything was wet outside given the wet weather they’ve been getting. Nevertheless, it was still nice having dinner outside, after a warm shower. Everything seems better with a warm shower and dry clothes.

The area near our tent
Exploring the area near to our campsite.
The walk up to the lodge
The walk up to the lodge.

We stayed at the campsite for two nights, deliberating on whether we should continue our hike or should we turn back as it was raining and there was only a brief period of sunshine. We spent the day at the lodge playing some card and board games or just reading. It was probably the first time in our relationship playing board games with each other. And of course, trying the very popular waffles. Waffles seem to be very popular at the DNT huts we’ve been to.

Aborted hike

We decided to head back to the car after staying two nights as we decided that we didn’t want to climb a ridge in bad weather considering how we’ve slipped a few times on the trail which wasn’t too difficult. The weather remained wet and bad on the day we’ve decided to return so we got ourselves tickets to return on a ferry from the jetty instead. It was a subdued ride back to the car as we left with our tails between our legs.

This was the weather on the day we left.
Driving away from Gjendesheim after getting a refund for balance on the long-term parking.

I guess it was a good thing that we returned on that day as the weather took a turn for the worse. The roads were slippery and it started to look like fall instead of summer. We had the heaters on in the car while driving through the tiny mountain roads. We drove around the mountains towards Turtago and enjoyed a road tour of the mountains where we would have been hiking.

We stopped in Luster and stayed at Skjolden Hotel, which was a cozy looking place overlooking the mountains and a lake. The rooms were clean and food was simple. The buffet style breakfast included lots of cheese, crackers, rye crackers, bread, hard boiled eggs and cold cuts, which are rather common for Norweigian breakfasts, so we’ve discovered.

Hence, we began our cabin holiday and went on a couple of day hikes, one of which was to Gaustatoppen. We booked a cabin in the mountains near Hardangervidda, which is another popular National Park in Norway. We stayed around Telemark for the next three days before our drive back to Copenhagen.

We did some sightseeing and discovered the the town Rjukan, which was home to where heavy water was produced in WWII and also home of where one of the most daring sabotage operations of WWII was.

Hiking and Camping adventures

Greenstone and Caples tracks in New Zealand

Speaking in local New Zealand lingo, we went tramping at Greenstone and Caples back in September 2015, which was in early Spring. Greenstone and Caples track was not our first choice, and in fact, we didn’t hear of it until someone at the Department of Conservation (DOC) recommended it as an alternative to Routeburn, which was what we wanted to do at first until we learnt of a few places on the trail which have been washed out.

Where to stay

The closest town to the track is Glenorchy but we stayed at Wanaka before hitting the trail. Wanaka is just beautiful and it was also where we stayed after our hike. It is a small town close to Queenstown which can be quite touristy and crowded. You’ll find some beautiful places to stay on Airbnb around Wanaka.

We had a late start, again, on the day of the hike and checked out of the Airbnb apartment only about midday for brunch at a cafe called Kai Whakapai, on the corner of the street along Ardmore and Helwick St, which later became our favourite cafe to dine at on our return to Wanaka. I highly recommend that cafe should you be in Wanaka. Hopefully they are still there.

Wanaka to Kinloch

The drive from Wanaka to Kinloch, close to the trail, was beautiful. We arrived at Kinloch close to sunset and our intention was to set up camp at Kinloch Campgrounds, but the winds were too strong and chilly when we arrived and it was close to Kinloch Lodge which looked really inviting. We ended up staying at the lodge in the ‘master bedroom’ and had a fabulous homestyle dinner at the lodge.

Drive from Wanaka to Greenstone and Caples
The drive from Wanaka…
Lake near Kinloch Campgrounds and Kinloch Lodge, en route to Greenstone and Caples
The lake near Kinloch Campgrounds/Kinloch Lodge

Getting to Greenstone and Caples from Kinloch

We set out right away in the morning and drove towards the carpark of Greenstone and Caples from the lodge. Do note that there may be some flooding on the road during early Spring. Parts of the road was flooded due to both rain and melting snow when we were there.

Beginning our hike: Taking a wrong turn

Our hike first went wrong just at the beginning of the hike – we took a wrong turn after the carpark. We followed a runner up the road into a farm instead of heading straight to Greenstone.

That took us on a detour around Lake Rere, which is estimated to take about 4 to 6 hours for a loop. As a result, it set us back about 1.5 days on the hike. We were ready for the hike to be over by day 4.

The total distance for the hike is about 60km and the trail can be attempted from either Greenstone or the Caples side. However, do check the conditions and alerts before heading there as there may be changes. We did come across a few hikers who looked like they were hiking ultralight from the other side on Caples. After going around the track, we found that the Greenstone route towards Caples may be easier as you start gradually and gently and end off climbing and descending down Caples towards the end.

At the beginning of the hike.

We camped at a good spot by the river on our first night on the trail (photo below). That was probably one of the best camping spots throughout our hike. There weren’t too many sandflies on that first night at that spot somehow, but the sandflies were bad throughout the trip as the weather warmed up. We were informed by someone at the DOC that insect repellent won’t be required for early Spring weather. Note: No matter who tells you about not needing insect repellent, JUST BRING IT! We learnt it the hard way.

The view from our camping spot, on day 1.
I could camp out there or somewhere which looks like that any day!
This is why it is called ‘Greenstone’…. You’ll feel like you’re walking through some elven territory in Lord of the Rings.
The inanimate guide.

We had to double back on a particular stretch as we did not know how much longer before the next campsite or hut. Trail markings or lack of thereof was a pain. However, we’ve already crossed a very rickety suspension bridge and to double back, it means losing some ground and also crossing that bridge, again. I’m glad the bridge took our weight with the packs multiple times. We camped near to a hut that evening and the taps there didn’t work as it was pre-hiking season and also because it was a private lodge, not managed by the DOC. If I recall, it was near to Rats Nest Hut. Water was not very accessible and we had to trek down the hill from the hut to get water.

Speaking of water, I need to talk about showers or more particularly, OUR shower experience

Mini showers are very important for us on hikes and we have our showers after each hike every day, after setting up our tent. I do have a love-hate relationship with these showers. The showers make a huge difference to helping you feel a little more relaxed after each day. We bring a portable shower bag with us on hikes, which just looks like a dry bag with a round shower head you twist to open at the end. You fill it up with water and secure the bag around a tree branch or something where you can have a refreshing, and cold, shower. Showering with sand flies sticking to your body at every chance was not pleasant and to add on, the sun is usually down or setting by then and the water is freezing.

Planning the shower is a big operation - finding a secluded spot away from people, getting water, getting the bag secured, having your thermal clothes or camp wear close on hand while having them remain dry from the splashing water, and then getting them on quickly in the cold and while your skin is still damp (if you've tried putting on thermal tights while your skin is damp, you'll know what I mean). Oh, and while looking out for other hikers. That sums up our shower experiences while hiking. Still, the benefits of having that shower, outweighs the obstacles. The only times when we haven't had a shower were when the campsite or huts are filled with too many other campers.

Stay at the huts on the route

One tip to reduce your pack size and weight is to stay at the huts instead of pitching your tent. The huts are well-maintained although you would need to share the space with many other hikers. If you are there in the shoulder seasons, there should be fewer hikers. However, it may be the hunting season like it was when we were there.

We stayed at a couple of huts on the trail and one of them was McKellar Hut. This is a big and well-maintained hut. As it wasn’t peak season, we had only one room mate in the same hut. There are bunks in these huts and mattresses you can use as a base for your sleeping bag.

Another thing which is important for hikes are eye covers and ear plugs. They just help you sleep better and ear plugs came in especially handy since our room mate was a big snorer.

The McKellar Hut

The hike from McKellar takes you up to the McKellar Saddle which has a boardwalk to protect the fragile vegetation. I wish they had more of the boardwalks around the trail where they were the muddiest….

Through the Saddle and onto Caples

We picked up pace after passing through the Saddle and went through the Caples section of the track within the day to Mid Caples Hut. It was Day 5 by then and we were motivated by our resolve that we will finish the hike by Day 6, after staying overnight at the Hut.

Again with the trick eye distance. We saw the hut from a distance away and it seemed so close. We walked and we walked some more before we got there. I’m sure someone moved the hut while we were walking.

We came across some animal traps on the way and some hunters. We did not know that it was at the end of the hunting season then. It would have been good to know that earlier just to avoid being prey. In fact, we ended our hike the same day as the last day of hunting season.

The sight of the bloody deer antlers when we arrived at Mid Caples Hut was quite the welcome. It was also the busiest hut for the entire hike. The Mid Caples Hut was quite full that night with hikers and mostly hunters.

We got drawn into a conversation with a guy who doesn’t have a home, no assets and liabilities and just lives in huts, while growing his ‘sprouts’ in his bag and consuming food left behind by hikes at the huts. We shared the room with some other men that night and by morning, we were eager to start our hike early, for the first time, and finish the last leg of the hike.

Except, it was pouring the next morning. We waited for a few minutes and decided to go for it as we’ve had enough of hiking and wanted to get back to the car.

I don’t know what is worse – having raincoats or not having raincoats. We got really drenched outside and inside our raincoats due to perspiration and heat on the inside and it was just wet on the outside. The hike back to the car park was a blur. We didn’t stop for meals and just stopped briefly to rest while we munched on our trail mix, and reached the car park by about 1pm. Getting out of the wet clothes was heavenly. We were tired, smelly (but dry) and hungry.

The Wanaka Tree
The famous Wanaka Tree

So, day 1 on the track was good. The days after, not so much. Why?

  • Sand flies: Do bring insect repellent. We were advised that it was probably too early in the season for flies…boy, were we wrong. They come in swarms the moment you stop for a rest.
  • Mud: You’ll find that a large part of the hike would be along river flats and there large sections of marshlands which you’ll need to cross. Be prepared for mud covered shoes and wet shoes for days. Daily change of socks is important.
  • Distance: The distance on the map and signages don’t match up to distance when you’re walking. They are definitely longer in real life. You would think that you’re approaching the hut but it takes a lot longer to get there. We had to double back on a section as we had to set up camp before it gets too dark and we didn’t know how much farther before the next place when we are able to set up camp. There weren’t many good places to camp on the way in between campsites and huts as the trails were too narrow or just had too much bush around the sides, near the river flats.
  • Trail markings: We thought that the markings on this trail wasn’t as good as the ones at Berg Lake in Canada. We conditioned our eyes to look out for the ‘orange sticks’ around the trail which would let us know that we’re still on the correct path.