Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Dream Hikes

If time, responsibilities and resources weren’t a factor, what would you spend your life doing?  What would make you most happy, give you the most peace and contentment?  My husband and I were thinking about this a few weeks ago, and our answers were identical.  If nothing else mattered, we would spend our days exploring the world’s most majestic hiking destinations.

This Top Ten list is my favorite one to write, but also the most challenging because it’s difficult to choose just ten.  To create my Top Ten, I scoured the internet and researched many lists by the authorities on all things outdoors, nature and hiking: National Geographic, Backpacker and Discovery just to name a few.

My brainstorming process started big and got smaller, I began with the geographic destinations with the most splendid and scenic destinations (Everywhere from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Washington, Peru, Japan).  Then I thought about mountain regions known for the best hiking (The Andes, Appalachians, Sierra Nevada) and I finally narrowed my list down to what I thought were dream hikes, but I also added “bucket list” hikes that are totally doable.  Here are my Top Ten!

10.  Kalalau Trail – The Kalalau Trail winds along the Na Pali Coast located on the island of Kauai.  It’s a strenuous 11 mile hike (22 miles round trip) that begins at Ke’e Beach.  The Na Pali (Cliffs) Coast is described as a very special place because the rugged and narrow cliffs provide the only land access to the remote and legendary Kalalau Valley.  Most people think of tropical beaches when they think of Hawaii, but it’s so diverse in landscape that there’s much more to do than just swim or sunbathe.  This trail is considered one of the best in Hawaii and an absolute must.  Learn more about the trail here.

9.  Half Dome Hike – According to Yosemite’s website, the Half Dome hike is considered the ultimate day hike in Yosemite, “the one you must do before you die, but one you might also die while doing.”  Well of course if they put it that way, it has to be on my list. Honestly though, this is one I could only do in  my dreams due to my fear of heights and fear of falling.  Half Dome is 14-16 miles depending on where you start from, there’s about 5000 feet in elevation gain from the valley, and the most arduous part is the famous -or infamous- Half Dome Cables.  This a section that hikers must climb (without climbing gear) using metal cables, it’s a 400 foot ascent to the summit.

8.  Grand Canyon Rim to Rim – They don’t call it the “Grand” canyon for nothing.  I’ve visited the Grand Canyon before as millions of people have, but according to the National Park’s website, less than 1% of visitors experience the real grandeur, which lies below the Rim.  Just visiting the Grand Canyon and taking in the scenery is like seeing art come to life, or like being on another planet.  I imagine hiking Rim to Rim would be an absolutely unforgettable experience.

7.  Inca Trail – Part of the Andes Mountains, located in Peru, the Inca Trail is undoubtedly the most well known trail in South America, and considered one of the greatest treks in the world.  The trail covers diverse landscape in just 26 miles, from beautiful mountainside to subtropical jungle, and archaeological wonders like the Inca ruins.  The trail ends in the breathtakingly mystical Machu Picchu.

6.  Wonderland Trail – This is one of the most amazing, yet serious hikes in Washington. The WT is 93 miles of splendor circumnavigating Mount Rainier.  With varying degrees of elevation gains and losses daily, and every mile promising different awe-inspiring terrain such as lakes, waterfalls, glacial valleys, alpine and sub-alpine meadows and lush forests, no part of the journey will be identical.  It’s like 9-10 different hikes in one. Experience and skill is recommended  if venturing to hike the WT, and only lucky people that win the annual lottery are given permits for it.  This is a bucket list hike for sure!

5.  Everest Base Camp – There’s just something about accomplishing something that ordinary people don’t get to do.  Towering at 29,029 feet, Mt. Everest is the highest peak in the world.  About 1,000 people a year climb Mt. Everest but probably less than half reach the summit.  It cost something like $30,000 or more to attempt this feat without a guarantee of reaching the top,  not to mention the price one’s body pays at those extreme altitudes.  That being said, the 38 mile trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp is a demanding expedition in itself.  People can do this for a fraction of the cost (about $6000), it’s no stroll in the park, but just to be able to discover the history and culture of Nepal, would be the adventure of a lifetime.

4.  Mt. Fuji – Speaking of summiting peaks, there’s a special feeling of accomplishment and pride after reaching the highest point of something.  Mt. Fuji, or “Fuji-san” is Japan’s highest peak, rising at 12,389 feet.  It’s no Everest, Denali or K2 but it’s a summit that I believe I could take on, because I know people who have.  My brother, my husband and some of friends have climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji, and they’ve described it as a unique and memorable experience.  Despite steep slopes and challenging sections, Mt. Fuji is not limited to experts, people young and old of all shapes and sizes climb this beauty every year.

4.  Anything in Utah – Bryce Canyon. Moab. Zion.  Anything in Utah.  We’ve hiked mountains, forests, and volcanoes, but to hike in a desert like area where you can sleep under the clearest skies and a billion stars would be so awesome.  Utah has the most unique rock formations, and is considered canyon country in the US.

4.  John Muir Trail“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir.  John Muir is known as the “Father of National Parks, his strong influence helped to create the parks we’re able to enjoy today: Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and others.  There are trails, parks and even colleges are named after this man, who as a naturalist and conservationist, taught us the importance of protecting our natural heritage.  The John Muir Trail is an ultimate hiking destination in the US.  The 211 mile hike winds through the Sierra Nevada, beginning in Yosemite and ends at Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental US.  To hike the John Muir Trail would be an homage not just to John Muir, and what he stood for but for my personal love for our natural world.

2.  Pacific Crest Trail – The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is something I could only do if it were possible to take a 6 month break from life, and have all my affairs and responsibilities (my bills, my children, my home) taken care of.  All things considered, and if I was physically able, the PCT would be a dream come true.  The PCT isn’t just a hike, but a journey of 2600+ miles that starts in Mexico, traveling through California, Oregon, Washington, to the Canadian border.  Notable sights include the picturesque Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountain Ranges.  When I think of what completing the PCT would demand of my body, mind and spirit, I admit it’s a pipe dream, but I’ve always been a dreamer. Dreaming is free, so dream big right?

1.  Appalachian Trail –  Everything I said about the PCT, ditto for the AT.  Another pipe dream but this is a “Dream Hikes” list after all, and sometimes dreams do come true! We’ve hiked a small section of the AT, and seeing and meeting people along the trail makes me believe it’s not just possible but totally doable if we had nothing but time, and can take a break from life.  Now that is living the dream!  The AT is approximately 2,190 miles starting from Springer Mountain in Georgia, ending in Mount Katahdin, in Maine.  The AT crosses 14 states and numerous national forests, national parks and state parks.  Notable sights include the Great Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Alleghenies, Catskills, and more.

Have you hiked any of these famous trails?  With so many hikes out there, it was hard to choose a “Top Ten Dream List”.  Is there a hike you’ve done that rivals one on my list?  Share your thoughts!

Tales from the Trail: Fiery Gizzard

On our last backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we met a couple of experienced backpackers.  I followed one of them on Instagram, and was in awe of the many different backpacking destinations they have hiked.  Backpackers love sharing experiences.  When we were planning our first trip for the year, I knew right away which one I wanted to do.

The Fiery Gizzard Trail is part of South Cumberland State Park in Tennessee.  It’s considered to be one of the most diverse and beautiful in the whole state.  It’s also rated one of the Top 25 in the country by Backpacker Magazine.  This trail is my favorite so far.

Fiery Gizzard had everything: waterfalls, easy gentle terrain, steep arduous gorges, and boulder fields.  Because it’s 13 miles long, we thru-hiked, staging our car at the end of the trail and got a ride from a nice local to the start of it.  We did a lot of research prior to the trip, we talked to a lady that worked at the Park’s Visitor Center who we actually met when we picked up our permit.  She gave us some good information about a reroute on the trail due to a land dispute, and told us about the Dog Hole Trail junction that was easier than hiking Fiery Gizzard the entire time.  Her description of the different parts of the trail were spot on and it’s always wonderful to talk with someone who doesn’t just work for the Park Service but knows the trails because they’ve hiked them.  There is apparently a boulder field on the trail that is nicknamed “the trail of broken ankles” where many rescues were called to, so we took the Dog Hole junction to avoid added aggravation and risk injury.

Follow me as I relive the best backpacking trip yet!

It was a 7 hour drive to Tennessee and we would normally pack our backpacks when we get to the hotel, but we packed early to save time.

Once in Monteagle, we stayed at Jim Oliver’s Smokehouse Lodge for the night, and headed out the next morning.  This place was nice, fairly priced and conveniently located near the trailhead.  Maybe next time we’ll stay in one of their cabins for a more rustic experience.

The trailhead was only 15 minutes away, this is the first time we hiked anywhere so close to town, which is awesome because we didn’t have to drive far afterwards to civilization, to use a real restroom, get a hot meal and get back on the road.

Here we are, ready to hit the trail!

Within just a just a few minutes, we saw the first of many beautiful waterfalls.

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There were also several of these man made bridges along the trail:

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Here’s a bridge made by a fallen tree (not for our use):

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More waterfalls!  Just beautiful…

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Another beautiful sight were these interesting stone walls that I thought looked like a huge stack of crepes:

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At about 2.5 miles, we reached Flat Rock Lookout:

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Flat Rock Lookout

At the 4.5 mile marker, we made it to Raven Point where we took time for lunch and to admire the view:

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Raven Point

The trail seemed to go for miles and miles, I run half marathons but this trail made me question if I really know how long a mile is!  With daylight fading, we knew that we had to reach Laurel Gorge because navigating over boulders in the dark would be dangerous.  This was the arduous point during the hike where I put on some tunes and get to moving!  Thank goodness for motivating music and the second wind 🙂

Finally seeing Laurel Gorge was like seeing the finish line of a race; spirits immediately lifted and we felt relieved, it was a long trek, and we were almost to the end!

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Descent into Laurel Gorge

Anderson Falls was a breathtaking sight to behold once we climbed to the top of the Gorge:

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We had hiked a total of about 11 miles to Small Wild campsite where we’d make camp.  The next morning, we would only have to hike 3 miles out to Foster Falls where our car was parked.

Yay for setting up the tent before dark!

Our campsite was huge!!  It could accommodate 6-8 tents.  There were others in the site but they were a good 100 feet away, so we felt alone but not completely isolated.  The thing I loved most about this trip was that we were able to make a fire, something we usually don’t get to do in Washington in higher elevation.  There’s just something about a fire that is comforting, and makes us feel safe.  Instead of having dinner right away and going into our tent, we were able to sit by the fire, eat, drink our tiny plastic bottles of wine and listen to music out in the open.

Pad Thai and Rice for dinner!

We really enjoyed this trip, we can’t wait to explore more of beautiful Tennessee.  There’s nothing like escaping civilization and getting out into nature and the wilderness.

 

Stay tuned for future Tales from the Trail!

Jaye’s Anatomy: Backpacker

If you’ve followed this blog in its short existence (not that I expect you to), you’ve read that I’m from Washington, and the things that top my list of what I miss most about the Evergreen State are the mountains, hiking and backpacking opportunities that we don’t get in Florida or anywhere in the South.

I can’t remember when I fell in love with hiking and backpacking.  I’ve always loved nature and the outdoors, so when I started leading a more active and fit lifestyle, hiking naturally became a favorite activity, and from that came the love for backpacking.  What I love about hiking compared to organized activities is that anyone who wants to can hike, no experience needed, all you have to do is take the first step.  Hiking has given me a deeper appreciation for the simpler things in life that we take for granted: clean air, our environment, nature, being disconnected and unplugged from electronics.

For this episode of Jaye’s Anatomy, I’m sharing how I discovered my inner outdoorsman, how we started backpacking, as well as my favorite hikes and backpacking trips.

If I had to credit the one hike that really piqued my interest and led me to pursue hiking as a hobby, it would have to be Hawaii’s Koko Head.  Truth be told, it’s not much of a hike but a strenuous workout, with a gorgeous view at the end.  It’s not even a mile long (0.7 mile) or 1,048 steps, but it rises 1200 feet in elevation, making for a super steep vertical climb.  The reward is a beautiful, breathtaking view of Hanauma Bay!  Here are a few pics of our hike up Koko Head in 2012.

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1,048 steps rising 1200 feet in elevation in less than 1 mile.

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Koko Head led my husband and I to pursue hiking in Washington.  The first of these were day hikes in our area, one memorable one was Oyster Dome, a very popular hike in Bellingham, WA.  Oyster Dome is a nice 6.5 mile out and back trail with switchbacks and a 1,900 feet ascent that leads to the Bat Caves and gorgeous views of the San Juan Islands.  This is the first hike that really took us high above the treeline and gave us a real sense of the phrase “The world is your oyster!”  This hike is kid and dog friendly too 🙂  Check out these views from the top:

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After Oyster Dome, we started to take on more challenging hikes in our area, more mileage and higher elevation, here are a couple favorites:

Mount Constitution, highest point in the San Juan Islands, WA.
Dean, almost to the top of Mount Pilchuck.
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Mount Pilchuck

Miles of hiking later, Jeremy wanted to do an overnight backpacking trip.  Initially, the thought of being isolated in the woods, far from our vehicle, exposed to the elements and wild animals with just the gear on our backs scared me, what if we freeze to death? or encounter bears?  I agreed to go camping instead, but what does my husband do to warm me up to the idea of backpacking?  He tells me to research the best backpacking gear so we can go shopping!  How can I resist shopping? Many trips to REI and Cabela’s, and hundreds of dollars later, we were fully equipped.  We had everything we needed, all that was left was to pick a place!  For our first backpacking adventure, Jeremy didn’t pick one for lightweights.

Marmot Pass in the Olympic National Forest was 12 miles round trip with 3,000 feet elevation gain for some of the most majestic views in the Pacific Northwest.

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More trips followed after this, and there will be many more to come.  Here are a few pictures of our most recent backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia:

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We meet some interesting people on the trail!  On our last trip, we met a family from Germany,  a guy who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and will soon hike the Continental Divide Trail, that’s nearly 8,000 miles!!  He even has a trail name!  “Smokes” and his sweet friend Carolina, were fellow veterans who love backpacking as much as we do, Carolina’s Instagram page features some really impressive destinations (that have me drooling)!

So many hikes, so little time!  We can’t wait until we get back out West where hikes are closer and more plentiful.  I’d really love to hike Mt. Rainier, Machu Picchu and anything in Utah someday!  Are you a hiker or backpacker?  What are some of your favorite destinations?  What’s on your bucket list?