hiking

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

There are many ways in which travel can go wrong.

You may realize you’ve left your passport at home only when arriving at the airport. The accommodation you’ve booked is nothing similar to what you had expected. You got food poisoned the day before an 8 hour car ride across sunny Mexico. Maybe you were confident that your skin could do with sunshine in Buenos Aires… and yet you got seriously sun burned on your first day in the city. Or maybe your summer festival gets partly cancelled due to extreme wind conditions and a threatening fire.

True stories.

However, it might as well have been something much simpler: an unexpectedly long lasting rain shower in the middle of a full day hiking adventure.

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

That was the case of our hiking trip in Igmarsö.

We were warned a few days in advance. Even 5 days before the trip, my mobile weather widget announced showers on saturday afternoon.

Showers. – I thought – We’ll be hiking in fields and forests. I’m sure we can find shelter for those few rain drops.

After a two and a half hours boat ride, passing hundreds of islands, we reached Ingmarsö – one of the comparatively larger islands in the Stockholm archipelago. We were warmly greeted by our local guide, who patiently waited at the dock and offered us two very convenient rain jackets.

As we began our walk our walk, we quickly understood that we weren’t at an ordinary place – Ingmarsö, which is 10 kms long and only 1 km wide, is populated by not more than 150 people all year round. There is one grocery store, conveniently located at the docks. Locals walk or ride small 4×4 carts to get around and rarely take the ferry to Stockholm – our guide hadn’t been back for over a year’s time. It was clear to me that living in the Archipelago is something a few heart, independent and very hard-knocking souls can do.

It started raining more violently – so our guide kindly invited us to have lunch at her home, which wasn’t that far away from where we were.

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

When I think of the Stockholm Archipelago, I think of red-burgundy wood houses surrounded by high contrast green. As we approached our guide’s home, I couldn’t believe the authenticity of what we had in front of us. It was all I had imagined… and more. Piles of wood were stocked next to the house for the cold days (which were plenty). And from the porch, a plain view over the water and neighbor islands. From inside the house, emerged a man (our guide’s brother) who was kindly preparing an abundant hot lunch.

We chatted over food, coffees and deserts. About Sweden, Latin America, life choices and learning to listen to one’s heart. Our guide was, during the rest of her time, a life coach that helps people find their vocation. Who would have thought that our rainy hike through Ingmarsö would teach us such great life lessons!

Hiking in Ingmarsö, Sweden

After the lunch break, we continued our way east to reach the point in which we would have to row to Finnhamn. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all about adventure. But rowing in heavy rain was probably a bit too much. We arrived at the next island soaked wet and cold, and still had more than an hour walk until we reached the island’s hotel. I couldn’t be more thankful for that cup of hot tea.

It might have not been the most convenient time to hike weather wise (I do wonder how Igmarsö looks like with a shiny sun and people jumping in the sea) – but it was a great insight into rural life in the Archipelago. Plus, I’m quite sure I’m now one step closer to not noticing the rain any more, british style!

Practical Information

Route: Ingmarsö and Finnhamn (Sweden). I wish I knew the route, but it was partly trail-less!
Elevation gain uphill: practically none
Elevation gain downhill: practically none
Length: around 7 km
Duration: 2 hrs (a bit more if you count in the rowing!)
Difficulty: Super Easy, like – there’s no excuse, really.
Tour guide: Stockholm Adventures

Have you ever had a weather catastrophe during your travel plans? How did you get over it?

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There have been a few times in life when I looked around myself, admired how far I had gotten and then told myself:

Holy sh*t, you actually made it!
(yes, I occasionally talk to myself – specially when I’ve accomplished something good or am about to do something that my other me knows I will regret in a few seconds).

Those times when I’ve felt so proud of myself that I shook my hands in glory and accomplishment have been usually limited to academic stuff: you know, the day I picked up a diploma in my masters’ graduation or the day I arrived a my 14th floor hotel room in Hong Kong and admired the beginning of my career. Or the day my school maths teacher, who peeked into each of our calculators and pencil cases during an exam didn’t notice my super super secret crib. But occasionally, I feel proud after completing a more physical challenge.

This, was one of them.

Overview of the 9km Trail to Mirador las Torres

We started off the day leaving our hotel at 7am to drive to the start of the trail at Hotel Las Torres. The hike is a 9km walk to the Mirador, most of the being (considerable) uphill. At the initial stage, the walk wasn’t steep; but for a good part of it, you walk exposed to the wind (which is usually quite strong around that corner). After walking about 300m uphill, you’ll stay at that level for a while, and will already start appreciating a broad view over the valley.

Torres del Paine, ChileLooking back

Looking into the Valley, Torres del Paine, ChileLooking forward

After reaching the campamento Chileno, you hike for another few hours – first drawing the curves of river Ascensio (a rather comfortable after-lunch walk), and later entering the woods. At this point, the trail starts to become steeper until reaching an open space from where the crazy moraine climb begins.

The Final Stage: Rocky Moraine

This final climb reaches 890m height in only 0.8km distance. However, you need to account for 45min/1 hour to reach the top. This is when you put your hiking shoes into a test – the path is a rocky ramp!

All the way up the moraine, you won’t see more than the peaks of the towers. It’s only once you reach the top that you discover the majestic landscape in front of you.

Torres del Paine, Chile

View From the Mirador: All three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte; the Torres glacier and a lake formed of glacial water.

Practical Information

Route: From Hotel Las Torres to Mirador Las Torres (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 1.157m
Elevation gain downhill: 1.157m
Length: 19 km
Duration: 8 – 9 hrs trekking (12 hrs including breaks)
Difficulty: Challenging
Wikiloc: Mirador Las Torres, Chile

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Hiking aficionados will, sooner or later, come across The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park – one of the most popular treks in Chile. This 5 day trek covers most of the park’s highlights including, among others, the Valle del Francés, which is often rated as the best landscape in the park.

I’d like to say that I did the complete W Trek – but I didn’t.

Instead, we stayed at one of the few hotels in the area and took day excursion to explore the different branches of the Trek. Was I lazy? Maybe – but I couldn’t really consider it part of my annual vacation leave if I had to return to the office with a damaged back, right?

Valle del Francés (or Frenchman´s Valley) is the central spike of the W, starting at Lago Pehoe towards the north east. Soon after departing from the Refugio Paine Grande, which was conveniently located next to the lakeshore, we could already admire the majestic Cuernos del Paine in front of us.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

After an almost leisurely walk with easy paths and only minor ups and downs, we reached a suspension bridge over Río Francés. Even though this bridge was not as impressive in height and length as the one I crossed over the Massa River in Switzerland, the view over the raging river, the mountains and glacier definitely made up for that bit.

When crossing the bridge, we could get a 360º View over many of the park’s attractions: turquoise blue lakes to the right, the Cuernos del Paine to the front, Glaciar Francés to the left and Paine Grande to the back.

Waking up at 6:30am already became worth it!

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Once on the other side, we arrived at the Campamento Italiano, a simple (but therefore free of charge!) campsite in the park. From here on, day hikers are advised to continue up north as much as they want (there’s meant to be a beautiful viewpoint another 2 hours away from this point), always keeping in mind the departure of the last ferry back to the other side of Lake Pehoe.

Since our group was mixed in age and level of fitness, we all decided to continue up the river for another 20 minutes and find an exclusive spot to enjoy our lunch with a first class view of Glaciar Francés and take our time to explore the area.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

The view over the fast-flowing river and the Glaciar Francés.

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

A bumblebee next to the French River

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Cuernos del Paine in the background

We wanted to postpone our time to return as much as possible – It just felt too good to sit on a warm flat stone, getting some color on our skins while cooling down our feet in glacial water. However, when the time had come to catch the last ferry of the day, we were surprised by a breathtaking view of Lake Pehoe (no Photoshop for this one, I swear!).

Hiking Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

Practical Information

Route: From Refugio Paine Grande (Lake Pehoe) to some point before Refugio Británico (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 516m
Elevation gain downhill: 516m
Length: 19.6 km
Duration: 4 – 5 hrs
Difficulty: Easy
Wikiloc: Ok, so I didn’t find a wikiloc for this route exactly, but it might help to check out this guy who did the complete W circuit for reference.

A View over Wulaia Bay, Chile

Wulaia Bay used to be the region’s largest Yamana aboriginal settlements and is nowadays known for its incredible beauty. As we disembarked and hiked uphill, through a forest of Coihues and Lengas towards the look-out point from which I took the photograph, I realized how much I had been missing this – the peaceful sound of wind brushing the leaves and constant waves playing in the background.

I stood there for some time, in complete silence, sketching this panoramic view over the bay deep into my memory – right before rushing back down to avoid being drenched by the rain.

This is a continuation of my day hiking from Belalp to Riederalp, in the Bernese Alps. Don’t miss the first part of the 14 kms hike!

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At the time I placed my feet on the suspension bridge, adrenaline sarted to rush through my veins. I was walking on a gridded floor, and 80 meters beneath, the Massa river carried freezing meltwater coming straight from the glaciers.

As I approached the center of the bridge, I took a moment to admire the landscape. Impressive mountains on both sides, a furious river rushing below, and Europe’s largest glacier appearing in the back of the narrow valley.

20110823-094538.jpgMy view to the left.

20110823-095537.jpgMy view to the right.

After we had crossed the suspension bridge and climbed up a sandy path, we reached a small lake, the Gruensee (in english, Green lake).

It was surprising to read that, only 80 years ago, this area was still covered under the Aletsch glacier.

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What a difference has global warming made.

It’s scary to think that, in only one year (from 2005 to 2006), the Aletsch glacier lost 100 meters. According to scientists, the glaciers are retreating at an average rate of 3% per year – based on this rate, it is highly probable that our grand children won’t get to see Europe’s glaciers. Bloodcurdling, right?

When we entered the forest, we were greatful for the shadows its old trees were creating. Hiking at 2,000 meers altitude hadn’t been as refreshing as we had initially thought!

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The Aletschwald (in english, Aletsch Forest) stretches on the northern slope of the Hohfluh and Moosfluh mountains, beween 1,600 and 2,200 meters altitude and collects some of the oldest trees of Switzerland. Tests have shown that the swiss stone pines located in the forest are at least 600 to 700 years old!

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But it wasn’t only the flora that rewarded us for the (challenging) walk up to Riederfurka. Besides for enchanted trees and a variety of mushrooms, we were lucky to pass close to a pair of curious alpine ibex.

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After 3 hours of continuously walking uphill, we finally reached civilization – a pretty little hotel in Riederfurka, with breathtaking views over the forest, the glaciers and the path on which, one by one, exhaused but satisfied hikers emerged from the forest. A perfect place to rest ones feet, drink cold water and do some serious hikers watching.

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It took us 20 minutes to arrive to Riederalp, from were we took the cable car to Moerel – the closest train station. However, we couldn’t leave the swiss mountains without one last whim:

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A Valisian platter with local dried meat and cheese!

Practical Information

Route: From Belalp to Riederfurka (around the Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland)
Elevation gain uphill: 475m
Elevation gain downhill: 479m
Length: 14 km
Duration: 4 – 4.5 hrs (including admiration stops!)
Difficulty: Moderate
Wikiloc: Aletsch Glacier. Note that this loc goes past Riederfurka further to Bettmeralp.

Hiking in Aletsch, Switzerland

The weather forecast promised a sunny weekend with temperatures reaching over 30C and so we decided to escape into the Bernese Alps, in the swiss canton of Valais. Having our doubts about the cooling effect that 1,500 meters difference in altitude could produce, we thought it would be best to reach towards the source of all freshness – a glacier.

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Switzerland has more than 1,800 glaciers, starting at just a few meters up to 23 kms length. The Grosser Aletschgletscher (in english: Great Aletsch Glacier) is the longest glacier in Europe and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001. It covers more than 120 square kilometers of the Bernese Alps, which is considered to be the largest glaciated area in western Eurasia.

Some people would choose to jump into the lake – we chose to hike around the Great Aletsch Glacier.

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Our hike started at the Belalp Hotel, which is a 20 minute walk from the cable car station and rests right on the edge of the Aleschbord. From there, we hiked down a steep path down to Aletschji. During most of the 2.5 hours down, we had a breathtaking view over the glacier. Frankly, I could get tired of looking at it. At some point, I started to feel anxious, following an internal debate on whether I should or should not keep on taking pictures every 2 minutes and risk missing the last train to return home that day. I couldn’t resist myself, and decided that this risk was worth taking.

We came across some of Valais’ Blackneck goats. Their forequarters are black and their hindquarters white, and have long wavy hair. Aren’t they extremely cute?

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Every time we could, we drank and cooled our skin with glacier water – it taste so pure and refreshing!

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After descending 500 meters, we reached a 124 meters long suspension bridge that runs across a 80 meter deep ravine. Underneath, the Massa river flowed, charged with freezing water coming straight from the glaciers…

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As the title suggests, I’ve divided this post into two parts – one for each side of the Massa River. Please click here to move on to part II

Lavaux, Switzerland

Now that summer has officially arrived, I can no longer hold myself back from telling you about one of my favorite places in the World (and no, I do not mean that my number one swiss cheese shop in Switzerland) – The Vineyards of Lavaux.

Thinking of Switzerland as a wine producer might seem odd to you, but the fact is, Switzerland is one of the World’s top wine consumers (and I’m a proud contributor to these statistics). Living less than a 10 minutes train ride from this picturesque terraces, it’s no wonder that walking across its vineyards has become one of my favorite activities for a sunny sunday afternoon. And while I move along small paths between the family-owned vineyards, I dream about living in one of those beautiful mansions…

Someday I will.

The 2 and a half hours walk starts in Grandvaux, a small village of around 2,000 habitants at about 500m height above sea level. Directions are always easily recognizable – one only has to follow the yellow arrows (or, alternatively, a green sign that reads Terrasses de Lavaux).

Lavaux, Switzerland

Although most of the walk is through vineyards, you get the chance to walk through the tiny villages in the region – such as Riex, Epesses or Rivaz. All of them are loaded with cozy wine cellars offering a different local wine each week or month.

I made a quick stop in Riex to do some wine tasting. What would be a sunday without wine anyway?

I even spotted some premature grapes on the way! Harvesting will take place in September (I can’t believe I’ll miss it!).

Lavaux, Switzerland

Each village is special and unique. Each of them have their own wine production, which proudly differentiates them from their neighbors. Not to visit at least of of the many wine cellars that lie on the way would be a crime (or a lot of self-control).

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lavaux, Switzerland

Lavaux, Switzerland Lavaux, Switzerland

Isn’t this the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?

Practical Information

Route: From Grandvaux to St. Saphorin (Canton Vaud, Switzerland)
Elevation gain uphill: none, really – it only goes downhill
Elevation gain downhill: 180m
Length: approx. 10 km
Duration: 3.5 hrs (including a stop for a glass of white wine!)
Difficulty: Super Easy
Map: The closest I could find was this route From La Conversion to Vevey (I took a shorter walk in between these two points).

View Over Masca, Tenerife

I’m not afraid of flying, nor do I feel nauseous when I look down from the top of a skyscraper. But as I walked along the narrow uneven paths to Finca Guergues in Tenerife, I suddenly lost my confidence in equilibrium and felt an irrational fear of slipping and falling down the gorge.

I closely watched each step I took and balanced my body against the unpredictable wind that waited for us around each corner. I tried not to look down into the gorge. But I did – I was curious. I wondered how deep the gorge may be. I guessed 800 meters – with too any sharp-pointed rocks. I would never survive that fall, I thought. And at that moment, for a minute, I paralyzed.

Narrow Paths, Teno Mountains (Tenerife)

I had been there before – my heart beat accelerates, my breathing quickens and overall I feel tense.

The only thought that dominated my mind was falling. I continued walking, but with every step I felt insecure – I doubted each movement I made. Part of my fear was because of the rushing wind that pushed me towards the gorge. But another part was caused by myself – I just didn’t trust in my own feet.

Does this make any sense?

No. Not really.

My fear of falling is irrational, as are so many other fears and phobias. It only hits me some times – when I particularly feel unstable on the ground (because of the wrong footwear or strong winds, for example) and am standing on a narrow path next to a cliff or, in this case, a deep gorge with sharp-pointed rocks. And even then, I still manage to keep on walking.

Walking Teno Mountains, Tenerife

I know what you’re thinking: If I have a problem with narrow paths and am afraid of falling down – Why oh why do I keep on going to these places? Well, it’s two things: the spectacular views (when I dare to look) and the proud feeling of having accomplished a several hours hike with an additional challenge.

Do you have a phobia? How do you deal with it?

PS: If you think you can handle the path and height in the pictures above, then you might want to try out the scariest path I’ve ever seen – El Camino del Rey (Check out the video here!).

Practical Information

Route: From Casas Araza to Finca Guergues (Tenerife, Spain) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: not much, approx. 120m
Elevation gain downhill: 120m
Length: 7 km
Duration: 2 hrs
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (depending on the weather and how comfortable you are with nights!)
Wikiloc: If you feel like hiking a bit more, you can extend the route a bit more like this guy did:Finca Guergues.

A friend came to visit me in Tenerife and, to break the touristic routine, I planned to go on an easy hike – maybe 3 hours. After all, Tenerife has beautiful hidden paths with amazing views, and tiny villages that offer fresh fish for half the price as any bigger and more touristic town on the island. Following some basic research, we decided on hiking from Afur to Taganana – A hike that was signalized as being between 3 and 3 and a half hours – spot on with our dreamy idea of a walk in the green. Right.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

The hike trail starts by going down the Barranco de Tamadiste (a ravine). This was relatively easy. We even came across some fellow hikers who apparently did this every week. After approximately 3km descent, we arrived at a small beach – reaching our first waving point. As tempting as the water may seem on a hot day, I don’t recommend going for a swim. This part of Tenerife is known for having very strong currents.

The trail then continues to the right, on a strongly pronounced ascent until you reach 120m above the sea. The path goes along the edge of the coast, providing hikers with rewarding views of Anaga and Los Roques de Anaga. At some times, the trail was very narrow, and we had to literally grab ourselves to the rocks and not look down – the cliffs went straight down from around 140m height. Nothing suitable for anyone afraid of heights! This was also the reason for which I have rather few pictures of this trail (I was too busy not falling into the ocean!). But I did take one picture that may just sum up the whole trail along the coast side:

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After 7kms walking along the coast and small plantations and gardens, we finally arrived to upper part of Taganana. It was only another 20-30 minutes walk down to arrive at the beach, when a kind local woman came out of her home to greet us. We told her where we came from and our plans for the rest of the day which ended with an optimistic “… and then we get the bus back to Afur“. Turns out – There was no bus back to Afur, not even near Afur. “Well… then we’ll take a cab“, we hesitated. No cabs in Taganana either. Oh dear.

The local woman advised us that the quickest way back to Afur was walking back over the mountains. At this point, I wanted to cry (did I tell you it was way past lunch time?). If things weren’t bad enough already – it was also starting to get cold and suspiciously looking like it was going to start pouring down any minute.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

So… we walked back to Afur over the mountain. For another 2 hours. I was frustrated and desperately hungry, but as we reached the top of the mountain, I started to feel proud and excited about what we had achieved. The views paid back all the breathless, waterless and foodless moments along the way.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

After about 6 hours, we were back at the start – just in time to drive back home, get a shower and work ourselves through the entire menu of one of my favourite restaurants La Rosa di Bari.

Lessons learned during my first real hike experience?

  • You can’t always trust the estimated walking hours you find at the start of a trail (or on the internet). Unless you are an expert hiker, I would recommend to add up to one hour more.
  • Wear the right footwear. This does not include flip-flops and gym trainers. I didn’t wear hiking boots but simple gym trainers and thought this would be enough. However, the sole was too flat, which made it particularly slippery.
  • Take hiking sticks with you. You may think these sticks are unnecessary, but they really come handy when walking along steep paths.
  • Be prepared for anything. We just had 1 L of water with us, to be shared among 3. We managed to refill twice on the way, but it wasn’t enough (specially on the way back). We didn’t have food because we had planned to eat fish at the beach, and consequently spent 6 hours suspiciously eyeing wild life and ground mushrooms.
  • Prepare your return. It would have been wise to research the best way to go back from Taganana to Afur after walking the 4 hours.

Practical Information

Route: From Afur to Taganana (via Playa Tamadite) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 697m
Elevation gain downhill: 697m
Length: 12 km
Duration: 5.5 – 6.5 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate (steep ascent up to La Cumbrilla)
Wikiloc:From Afur to Taganana.