Monteverde

6 . November
We got picked up to cross Lago Arenal over to Monteverde. It wasn’t a long drive, and the boat ride was fairly short as well. It was a very nice ride, even though the volcano was still hidden from sight. The clouds hung low over lush mountains, and here and there small strips of clouds would rise like smoke from the woods. The ride to Monteverde was a lot longer, and went on bad roads. It was very hilly, we were going up a fair bit, and the engine was pushing hard at times. We arrived at our hostel at 12:30. By 13:00 we had decided to do a bungee jump and canopy tour, and to do white water river rafing the day after tomorrow and therefore head to San Jose tomorrow night.

We ordered a quick bite to eat, and just as I was finishing that up the bus picked us up to go to the zipline park. As the bus drove around Monteverde they picked up the German girls, and then Marko and Olivier and a new Canadian friend, Anna. We were all together again. At the park we got strapped into our gear. Marko, Olivier and Anna were only bungee jumping, so they went to do that, while the rest of us did the canopy. It was pretty fun. The first few cables were nothing special, but once they started getting longer and zoom over the open grounds it was amazing. We had come on a beautiful, sunny day to a place that was usually shrouded in clouds, hence the name Cloud forest. We’d start out in the trees, and the zipline would bring us out over a small valley and below were green trees and fields.

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The guys working with us were goofing around, messing around, and they were so funny. We did a few regular ziplines, then there was a drop where the guys controlled everything, and we just sat down outside of the platform and they dropped us almost 10m. At this one I went first, not really knowing what to expect, and I felt it surge through me when I suddenly rushed to the floor. But it was exhilarating, and I felt even more excited for bungee jumping later. Then was a tarzan swing, and this was perhaps my favourite, even more, perhaps, than the bungee in a way, because it lasted for longer. We also did two superman zip-lines, where we were facing down. The first was over open ground, and I felt as if I was a bird, flying high searching the ground for prey. The second one was subterranean and as I flew into the dark tunnel it felt like the opening on the other side was getting father and farther away. I mused over whether this is what it felt like to be brought back from the brink of death.

Then came time for the bungee jump. It was just me and Tommy, and they took us out on a little platform they drove out on wires so we were standing in the middle of the valley. The drop was almost 150m. They strapped us in without much further ado, and Tommy went first. He screamed the whole way down, and what was probably a bit of a I-can’t-believe-I-jumped-scream to begin with became a this-is-so-amazing-scream. As they dragged him back up he was yelling ‘oh sunni just wait, oh my god’. Then it was my turn. They hooked me up, said step up here please, so I stepped up there. One more step, they told me, so I stepped one more step. Another one, and I took another one. I was standing on the very edge now, and despite my resolution to not look down I had to look down so I wouldn’t fall off the edge. One more step they said, and I looked up. Can I jump now? I was ready to go, ready to just do it without thinking about it any longer. They started to count down from 5, and I halted. I jumped on three.

I remember thinking oh god as I fell. The ground was far away but it was rushing through me. I screamed it too, oh my god. Then I bounced, and bounced, and bounced. And the yellow rope dropped, and I attacked it to my harness and they pulled me up. It was over so fast, but my heart was thundering and my body was shaking from the adrenaline. We bought the video, and were dropped off at the hotel. Then we had to find the hostel for tomorrow in San José, and some food cause we were starving. After dinner we went to this beer house where Olivier, Marko and Anna were eating. I got a mint tea because I wasn’t feeling the drink, and a chocolate ball with coconut shreddings, which was pretty good.

7 . November
In the morning we took the bus to Monteverde nature reserve, with Anna, Olivier and Marko. First we went to the hummingbird garden where lots of hummingbirds flew around us. They are so fast! I did my best trying to get a picture of them, but I wasn’t able to focus on the birds before they flew away. I guessed with the focus at some points, and some of the pictures were alright I think, but I can’t say before I see them on my computer. I didn’t get the one I wanted, however, sharp bird – in flight – blurry wings.

We went for a nice hike in the rainforest. It was still sunny outside, and the light shone through the thick overhang of leaves in rays of golden light. It was stunning. It was quiet. We hiked over a hanging bridge and it was as majestic as the Golden Gate bridge in it’s secludedness. We came to a view point and I thought seriously about just staying there and become Tarzan. But, instead we hiked back and to a waterfall. On the way Olivier hid and scared Tommy, and while it was like breaking the fourth wall of our nice jungle hike, Tommy screamed real good. The waterfall was also very nice, secluded and shy, nothing roaring, but still elegant.

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We had to leave at 11, because Tommy and I were going back to San José. We packed our things and went to eat. I ordered the best smoothie I have ever had: mango, pineapple and passion fruit. It’s like the chef knew my soul. I also had this english muffin with garlic butter, and it was great. And a traditional coffee that they made by pouring water though a cloth bag with coffee inside it. It was also good. I have been chasing the great Costa Rican coffee. (I promised to leave them a great review, but didn’t find them on Tripadvisor. If ever in Monteverde, the Orchid’s Tea and Coffee shop, right next to the beerhouse, is delicious.)

Then it was time to get on the bus, and I slept a little. We arrived to San Jose way after dark, and walked a couple of blocks to the hostel. It was all pavements and closed doors at the time, past the hour when most placed had closed, and I felt glad not to be walking there on my own.

Arriving in Costa Rica and Arenal

3. November
As I stepped off the plane in Panama City and into the hallway-chute I felt the humidity so strongly. My immediate thought was: what have I done to myself? I found the gate to Liberia, CR, and read until I boarded. The Cubs won the baseball game, so I can wear my hat with pride. I slept/read my way to Liberia. There I picked up my massive backpack, walked around for five minutes before I found the bus to Liberia, paid $1 and  in 30 minutes I was there.

Liberia was undoubtedly a stop over town. There was nothing to see. I walked around, but there were no cool buildings, no statues, it didn’t even seem like a city to me. It was just blocks, squared blocks, with sodas and fruit vendures etc. I felt the eyes of the men on me, staring, just like they do in presumably all of Central America. I felt exposed, regretting the shorts despite the heat. I missed people, I missed everyone that I know and trust. I missed Clara, who had been through this with me in the Dominican Republic. I missed a companion and the comfort of numbers.

After learning about a bus to a beach I went there. I arrived just in time for sunset. I went for a swim and the ocean was a warm embrace. I drank the biggest margarita and wrote in my journal. I waited for the final bus for almost an hour, feeling once more my solitude as a burden and not a blessing. It always goes in waves like this. But then Adrien from Cananda that I had met in the hostel came along, he had also come to the beach, and now he was going back. I instantly felt more relaxed. It is a beautiful thing to feel how the closeness of a stranger can make such an impression of your state of mind. Just to know that we were in the same boat made us instantly friends, and my stomach unclenched. It also helped a lot when the bus came.

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4 . November
I briefly entertained the idea of Nicaragua: there was a volcano that was active, you could see lava, and another that you could volcano-board off. But I decided that I was in Costa Rica to see Costa Rica, and got on the bus to Arenal. There I met Tommy, another Canadian, and my company for the next seven weeks. He leaned over to ask if I knew where I was going. I said I hoped so, and then we figured it out together. We navigated from bus to bus: Liberia to Cañas to Tiláran and made the one and only bus to La Fortuna at 12:30. The road there was gorgeous, all green rain forests and a beautiful view of the lake. The sky was semi-cloudy, and in the distance we could see most of the Arenal Volcano towering, it’s summit crowned in clouds. This was the only view we got of the volcano, and if I had known then I would have taken pictures, but I was convinced we would get some great views.

In La Fortuna Tommy booked into the same hostel as me, and we grabbed some food at a Soda. I ate my first Casado, a typical Costa Rican dish consisting of rice, fried beans, salad, fried plantains. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was cheap and filled me up. We also booked a trip to hike Cerro Chato, a smaller, dormant volcano with a lake at it’s crater that we could swim in and a nice view of Arenal Volcano, the next day. We also went to these natural hot springs that the hostel offered free transportation to. It was more a river than spring, but it was so nice to just lay there and soak in the hot water for a while.

5 . November
The hostel practically boiled during the night. We only had two fans in the room where 12 people slept, and I was sweating so bad. I eventually fell asleep, and when I got up to have breakfast at 8AM I was the only one eating breakfast –everyone else had already left.

We got picked up for our hike at 10:30, and drove to the trailhead. There we signed a waiver etc. and Tommy made 5 new friends in the space of a smoke. Our group actually turned out to be really cool, and we made a lot of new travel friends. The hike was also really cool. It was cloudy still, so the rainforest was shrouded in fog, and now and then a rainfall would catch us. The trail was quite steep, and the dirt turned to mud from the water. We often had to climb using both hands and knees, and the underside of my backpack was entirely covered in mud. The rainforest was lush, green, and humming with life.

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At the summit we saw nothing. No Arenal Volcano, no crater at the bottom of Cerro Chato. We hiked down to the crater, and the trail was almost vertical at times. Ergo, more mud. I had my legs thoroughly smeared in mud by the end of the trail. We reached the crater and it was so foggy we didn’t see the other side (apparently you should be able to swim across). Although we didn’t see the green water, the massive volcano, it was beautiful in it’s own way. All hues of grey, and we did still swim. It was a little cold, but how many times can you swim in a volcano crater

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Then we hiked through some hanging bridges, to a waterfall, and did a small trip to a frog pond to see some frogs. It was dark by then and we were going by flashlights. We saw the red eyed frog. Suddenly this guy from England shouted and jumped, and on the snake in front of him was a small snake. It had fallen from a tree onto him. This made me very jumpy, so I was quite happy to get out of there. The bus took us the hot spring we had been at yesterday, but they also provided us with a mixed drink and some mud for a facial mask. It was really nice to end the day off like that, we all felt really relaxed afterwards.

A lot of us went together for food, and two of the guys, Olivier and Marko from Quebec, as well as four girls from Germany, were going to be on the same boat as Tommy and I heading to Monteverde tomorrow. Back in the hostel we got the AC going, thankfully, so it was almost cold to sleep. I’m getting to realise how much of this trip is ruled by too hot or too cold sleeps.

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This is the view we were supposed to have.

Death Valley pt 2

19. October 2016
Today was a big one. We woke up again for sunrise and this time we drove to Dante’s View. It was up in one of the mountains and we made it just in time. It was very cold, but the views were stunning; on one side we saw the sun slowly rise up over the mountains, and on the other side was the view over the Badwater Basin. It was all white and blue and pink, just like yesterday, but almost softer this time because of our hight and because there was a small haze this morning. Maybe because the winds were so strong that night and it swirled up the dust?

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As the sun came a little higher we went for a small hike through the Golden Canyons. It was more like the sand-coloured canyon, because the walls were lightly coloured dirt the colour of sand. But it was still pretty nice, and at the end was a red-ish coloured rock formations with tiny spirals sticking out from it like the Capitol Reefs in Utah, just smaller. It was cool, but the hills around made it hard to get a good vantage point and all over there were signs saying ‘stay off the path’ and this wasn’t a picture I wanted so much as to break the rules, because I know how important it is to preserve these places and how little most people care. We did the Artist’s Drive again, and this time we stopped in the right spot.

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Then we drove to Nevada. There are all these abandoned cities around the park, where there had been mining operations. I don’t remember why they all were abandoned, but I know one of them simpy went bankrupt. But the one we went to see just across the border to Nevada was called Rhyolite (sounds very industrial) and was the biggest ghost town. It had had a population of over 10.000 people, and they even had an opera back in the days. But what we saw was just a few shaken down buildings, and it looked more like a scattering of houses than an abandoned city. We didn’t even bother to get out of the car. The only cool house was fenced in and it was nothing to photograph with the fence there, so we just drove off again.

The real purpose of the Nevada visit was a off road track through a canyon (the Titus canyon) that the ranger had recommended to us. She said it was awesome, so we went to do it. She was right. First we just drove on a dirt track, and I tried to get some shots of the car kicking up dust but we didn’t get it going fast enough for the photo to look anything like what I had in mind so we gave it up. For a long time the road was just flat through the desert, but then slowly we started driving upwards. We went through red-ish mountains with the dotted shrubbery, and then we went down into a little valley, then up again. It was cool. The road was uneven and it threw us around in the car a little bit.

Then suddenly came the real cool part, and we were totally unprepared for it. We came over another hill, and drove down again into another valley, and around the mountains were all kinds of colours. Not like in the Artist’s drive, because they weren’t quite like the splashing of colours, but it was red and blue and green and purple all the same. It was rugged and the sky was blue and we decided this was a highlight.

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The drive took us out of the canyon around three, which meant we were doing really well with time. Too well, actually. The paved road felt incredibly smooth after two hours of shaking around in our seats. We drove to the Mosaic Canyon and ate bagels. Then we hiked a little bit, and it was quite nice because the canon walls were at some parts smooth, sandy marble. But it was hot, and then the marble disappeared and we were also a little tired, perhaps, so we just went back to the car. In the car park we saw the license plates of Idaho (Famous Potatoes) and of Georgia (Peach State) so I could add those to my list.

Next we went to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. This I had been excited for, because I have never seen sand dunes before. It was not a very big area, but large enough to walk through for a while so we slowly walked around it waiting for the sun to set. The sand flowed into my shoes and made my steps heavy, and it was weird to feel the tips of my feet dragging me down and my heels sink as the ground gave out under them. It was strange too see the smooth curves of the dunes, and to think that all this (semi) solid stuff was just massive piles of finely ground sand. It was hard against my feet when I ran down the dunes, and it surprised me because sand is so soft but there it was hard. It was nice to get there late, even if there were lot of footprints everywhere, but the shadows were long so they emphasised the curves of the dune ridges. We took photographs and slowly the sun was setting.

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After sunset we went to make soup and wait for the darkness. I was going to shoot some star pictures, because the nights get so dark there. I used my toiletry bag as a tripod, and it actually worked pretty well. The only thing was I couldn’t see the stars from through the camera so I had to guess at the focus point. But eventually I got some that looked nice, and the milky way was clear in it. It was quite exciting, I’ve never shot the night sky before, and I hadn’t expected it to turn out this well.

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20. december 2016
We woke up, packed the tent and we drove to Zabriskie point. It was full of people with tripods. My camera died just after we arrived, which was kind of frustrating since we’d gotten up early to see it. But since we had already been there for sunset I didn’t really mind it too much, and my phone takes pretty nice photographs. It was really beautiful and a nice way to end our Death Valley stay, and indeed our road trip. Most of the day went to driving back; some parts through the mountains, some through desertlike, industrial places that looked disheartening to live. We stopped at In-N-Out for food, and I ordered a milkshake which tasted great after 10 weeks on the road. Even though we drove for 7 – 8 hours it felt like it didn’t take so long, because we started so early.

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Death Valley pt 1

17. October 2016
I put all the wood on the fire the next morning. It was by far the coldest, and it was a silver lining to know we were headed south and to lower elevations. While taking the tent down we discovered a nasty insect. It looked like an enlarged ant mixed with a wasp, and it was all pale in colour. It also made us glad we were evacuating the site after some oatmeal and tea. (We later found out it was called a potato bug – it was really nasty).

The drive took us to Death Valley just in time for sunset. We happened upon Zabriskie point at just the right time, and we stood gasping at the weirdness that is Death Valley. The hills were not unlike those on the drive down to King’s Canyon in shape; all soft curves, all triangular. But these were strange mixtures of beige and darker brown. It looked almost like chocolate vanilla swirly cake, and nothing I’ve ever seen remotely reminded me of this. The whole ride into the park we had stared at the side of the road saying: what is this, where did we take a wrong turn and why are we on Venus? Zabriskie point enhanced this my far, and the crowd that gathered for sunset echoed our own thoughts.

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The dark descended in a slow but steady pace, and the final light was out before we found a campsite. We opted with one that came with pool access and wifi. It was great: the campground was located maybe a 300 metre from the registration office, yet the wifi worked on the campsite. We were amazed, and for some time deeply distracted. Perhaps me more so than Kelsey. We had bought chicken to cook fajitas on the stove – we needed no fires in Death Valley. It was nice to make a proper meal, instead of following up with soups and noodles. I think our three neighbours from Seqouia inspired us to do something a little more sophisticated, even if that stretched no further than to cook meat. It tasted nice, however, and prepared us for a good night’s sleep.

We had set the tent up without the canvas, so it was nice and breezy while also keeping potential visitors such as rattlesnakes, black widows and scorpions outside. I went to bed wearing short and a t-shirt, and left my sleeping bag unzipped. The ground was gravel, which felt a little uncomfortable, but compared to freezing at night we did not complain about it for long. Even the winds that came later were welcomed. Above us an almost full moon shone plenty of light, and nothing dangerous seemed to lurch in the shadows – it was a good night for sleeping.

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18. October 2016
We woke bright and really, really early. We decided, or rather I decided, to be real explorers, real livsnytere (this is a great Norwegian word, means ‘enjoyers of life’) and, more importantly, get those sunrise shots. So we were up and driving to the lowest point in the USA for sunrise at 7. Not that early, really, since it was sunrise, but anything before 9AM is early enough.

We arrived as one of three cars. Badwater Basin is 86 metres below sea level, and is aptly named for a lake with salty and bad water. In fall it dries up almost completely, leaving a salt plane that we walked onto. What’s fascinating about Badwater Basin is that on both sides there are towering mountains, and some of the mountains to the west reach over 3000m. It didn’t look that high at all, but it was strange to think that these massive mountains lay so close to the lowest point in the US. The salt itself was almost like walking on very fine sand right after a cold winter morning. It crackled here and there into little shapes that once used to be hexagonal, but now seemed arbitrary. This disappointed me a little, since I had looked forward to the hexagons, but the sunrise was so nice I didn’t mind all that much. The sunrise was more about watching the light slowly colour the sky pink, and then eventually the first light on the mountains, more than it was watching the sun actually come out. It offered an exquisite colour palette of pastel pink, blue and a white with a touch of silver. The sun rose beyond the eastern mountains, and it took a great deal of time for the sun to actually dip over the peaks. By then the sky was solid blue and the mountains all lit up. The moon also hung high in the sky still.

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Satisfied with the experience, and still not to the point where we felt tired yet, we decided to get some of the stuff out of the way. On our way back to camp and breakfast we checked off ‘Devil’s Golf Court’, which usually is this weird crystallised salt pinnacles that covers the ground, but now was just a crumbled mud, and ‘Nature bridge’, a spot in one of the park’s many canyons where a sort of bridge structure has formed naturally into a bridge over the canyon. It took us through a short hike, so it was close to 9AM by the time we were back on camp to cook pancakes for breakfast. By then I was significantly hungry, and the temperature was significantly higher. I began to feel really, really warm.

We went to the Visitor Centre and made a plan for the next few days. We realised we were in no rush, so we had time to go to the pool. And (and this is an important side note) we had time to shower. So we brought our books and went to the pool. Already we were feeling that the campground of our choice was the best option, and two hours by the pool confirmed that. The water was warm, but refreshing. There were beach beds there which felt amazingly comfortable after a night on gravel. I read two chapters and had a nap. After some relaxation and a wash, we felt much better, even though the temperature was still way too warm for my comfort level.

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We cooked veggie burgers for dinner, and made it real nice with toasted buns, spinach, tomatoes, caramelised onion and sauces we had brought from Jack in the Box.

As sunrise approached we drove to the Artist’s Drive, a paved road that takes you through a few kilometres of mountains and canyons where the dirt is coloured purple and green and blue and scarlet. This is caused by volcanic eruptions a really long time ago, and different minerals left in the dirt that gives them this colour palette. There is one specific point on this drive called the Artist’s palette, due to all the different hues. Almost at the very beginning of the drive we found a point where a lot of people were hanging around, and we assumed that was it. We got out of the car and took our pictures as the sun set. It was recommended to see in the afternoon light, because of how the sun reflects the colouring. And it was pretty amazing. To me it looked like a toddler’s drawing, a combination of different coloured splashed onto these weird hills of Death Valley. When the sun dipped beyond the mountains we drove onwards, and came to another point where the colours were even more varied and even more strange. We realised this was the real Artist’s Palette, and the sun had already gone down. I grumbled a bit, took some pictures but felt unsatisfied by our experience. We decided to come back again the next day.

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As we’d already eaten our dinner, we had some bagels with cream cheese and I sat down to write my journal. As the dark fully descended on us little nats came swarming towards the light and we gave up and went to bed.

Sequoia National Park

15. october 2016
We moved an hour’s drive south to Sequoia national park. When we entered the campsite we realised it was Saturday, because the campsite was almost full. We were able to find a nice spot in the sunlight, and had our tent set up by 11AM. We drove to the Giant Forest, where the General Sherman Tree is – the largest tree in the world. Gazing up at it I had almost already forgotten how big the Grant tree was, or I was still unable to comprehend that trees could grow this tall, this wide. That trees could grow that large at such a high altitude. Our camp lay around 2000m, the hight of most of the mountains I hiked back in Norway the past two months. Those mountains were barren piles of rocks, while here were trees taller than most buildings in Oslo, thriving in the thinner air.

We walked around the Giant Forest, and I was chasing a photograph. Since I first heard about the Sequoia trees I have this photograph in my head, of a tiny person walking amongst gigantic trees. But they were too widely spaced, and other trees grew between. I made Kelsey run around, I ran around, I swapped angles, I tried to cheat. I finally got one that kind of almost worked and I decided it was good enough. It was nice with some green grass, a trodden trail instead of the paved path. So we left, and we drove on. We drove under a tunnel made through a fallen Sequoia. We turned a bend and there was my perfect group of Sequoias. They were big, just far enough apart to not block each other in a frame, yet close enough to all fit in. We stopped the car and I took the picture with Kelsey looking tiny next to the massive trees. (The trees were the Parker Group, on the road to Moro Rock). I felt an anxiety let go of me now that I had my shot.

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We climbed 600 steps up Moro Rock for a closer view of the High Sierras. I studied a map of the park and concluded that we didn’t see Mt. Whitney, nor did we see Alta Peak. Alta Peak was my chosen destination for the morrow; a hike that ended at a summit 1000m higher than I had ever hiked before; a hike that would bring me into the Sierras, up into the clouds. We gathered fire wood by the road side and made our way back to the camp site, still early. We watched the ranger sort out squabbles where people had double booked campsites, we watched them roam through bear lockers to make sure rules on food storage was upheld, we watched them clean out a picnic table and put out a fire and leave a green note that made the campers look anxious and frustrated when they returned.

Our neighbours, three men on their annual camping retreat, invited us over for salmon cooked on the fire and cocktails. We were going to eat pasta, and they laughed and said they had 1.5 pounds of fish so we’d do them a favour. We brought some fire wood over, and we spent the night speaking about the parks, of books, of politics, and more. The Manhattan was perfectly strong, but it went down smoothly and warmed my throat in a nice way. The salmon tasted a million times better than pasta. There is also something special about the brief friendship with kind strangers. The simplicity of asking two young girls to share a meal, the warmth and thankfulness of being served a full, satisfying meal, and the reminder that it only takes a moment to say hello. We went to bed full of food, warm from drinks, with an invitation for eggs and bacon and coffee in the morning.

16. october 2016
They served us scrambled eggs with wild chantarell and peppers, bacon and my first cup of coffee in a week. By this point my shell jacket was blackened around the sleeves from poking in the fire, and I felt a strong odour of campfire from my clothes, my skin, my hair. I almost wondered if I was experiencing a slight Co2 poisoning, because it made me feel weirdly lightheaded when I caught a strong whiff. Regardless, no breakfast is better than one cooked on a camp fire. I ate a lot more than I should have, and for a lot longer than I should have. My goal of hitting the trail at 9 withered at the prospect of this breakfast we so kindly had been offered. It also felt like a tiny loss to leave while they were still there; they would drive home that afternoon, and once I hit the trail we would never meet again. I always feel these losses so strongly, although breifly, perhaps because these moments of interaction with strangers are my favourite parts of travelling. Always I decide to be more open, more inviting, to be on the giving end of these exchanges next time, not the receiving. But I always regress to shyness and timidity.

I hit the trail an hour late, but with a full belly. The hike was amazing. I walked through a thick forest almost the entire way up, but it was not the enclosing thickness, it was still open and spacious, it was simply thick enough to feel the depth of it. It was all so green, that deep green of trees that large, except for the occasional autumn yellow on leaves growing along the side of the trail. It went steadily upwards, and it was good to know that I wouldn’t get the whole elevation at the end of my hike. For most of it I walked alone. For the first part I imagined mountain lions watching me from boulders above me, getting into that crouch that meant they were ready to pounce. I tried not to think about that. I told myself that I was going to do this hike regardless, so I might as well enjoy it rather than worry. At first it didn’t help, but then my thoughts drifted off and I forgot about animals that could easily kill me.

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I walked along a ridge with amazing views, and I thought I’m already so high up and I’m going even higher. I walked back into the woods again, and as I put kilometres behind me and land below me they were still so big and tall, and I was definitely approaching 3000m. There were also meadows, all orange and yellow from the fall, but they were still meadows at 3000m. And then, the mountain, I didn’t see it until I was almost there. It was just like the other Sierras, rugged and sharp. Amazingly, as I followed the trail I went back into the woods and walked through trees for at least another half hour. Then, finally, came the familiar tree-line of the alpine and the cool winds of the approaching summit. I was breathing hard. I felt the altitude in my head, but I couldn’t really tell if it was placebo or not. I could still breath, and I did. I took deep breaths and slowed my heart rate, and then I kept going.

It is always the case that the mountain is higher than you first think, and Alta Peak was no exception. When I finally accepted that I did not know how far I had left to hike I seemed to lose the trail. I looked around, the fog thick so I couldn’t see if there was more mountain above. I stood at an edge to my left, and to my right were solid rock rather than the gravel I had been hiking on for the past hour. I went up the rocks, and that was it. Only a few steps and I met a cliff and a tin box with a notebook where I could write my name and the date. I was 3415 metre above sea level, and while I felt very small I also felt like Mount Everest wasn’t all that far above me anymore. There were no views, and it was cold, so I quickly turned around to go back. While I had been at the summit the fog had rolled all the way in, and the whole way back I walked in this small bubble of fresh colours and ghostly outlines of trees. It was beautiful, but it was cold. We made a large fire that night, and when we woke up the next morning rain had fallen on the tent during the night and frozen to the tent canvas.

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King’s Canyon National Park

Day 5 – 13. october 2016
Yosemite delivered yet another cold morning. I made a fire, and as we packed away the tent, every now and then I would go to it to heat my fingers up. They would burn for a moment, so cold that the fire felt alien to them. It was a relief to get into the car. We have added another layer every night, and I was wearing a t-shirt, a wool layer, a fleece layer, a cotton layer and eventually my shell jacket. I felt big and bulky and clumsy as I began to take them off in the car. But at least we stayed somewhat warm during the night.

On the little drive from the campsite to the road (3 miles/5km) we saw a deer, stopped for some car pictures, and I took a time-lapse of the drive there. It is such a beautiful drive, with the big, green trees spaced out to let the sunlight through. It’s such a chaos with the fallen trunks and the dry twigs, but it looks so warm and open and lovely. A cayote watches us for a second from a little boulder by the road, but just as we see it it flees. I never saw a cayote before, and it was gone so quickly I hardly remember what it looked like. I remember it was small, and looked almost like a fox-sized woolf.

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Then we drove, down to the valley, out of the valley. It was strange how quickly the landscape went from impressive mountains walls to desertlike flats. We stopped for pizza and gas at Costco, and Target for food. We arrived in King’s Canyon a few hours before sunset, which gave us time to set up camp and do a little bit of hiking before dark. The campsite was nice and big; each site had a picnic table and a fire pit; each campsite had a large area for themselves. We found one next to the edge of the site, and we could sit and watch down a little hill of trees much taller than pine trees should be. The grown was covered in needles and it smelled faintly of pines until the odor of campfires took over.

We walked along road with occational views to the canyon and the Sierra on one side, and the descending mountains on the other side. The trail was called the panoramic trail, but most of it went through trees and we didn’t see much. But it was quiet, and looked like it could be the site of a fairytale. The whole park, both King’s and Sequoia, looked like fairytales. The High Sierra took my breath away. It was so unexpected to see them there in the distance, and they were so rugged and sharp. Like the type of rocks the Indians used for their spearheads, that sort of rugged edge. And they are all so tall, so much taller than is possible to comprehend from such a distance.

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After the walk we went to see the General Grant tree, which is the 3rd largest tree in the world, and I saw my first Sequoias. Now that is a tree. It is impossible to understand just how small you are, or maybe how big they are, because you cannot see it all in one glance. First you have to take in the width of the trunk, which is also a little hard since you only see it from one side. You can walk around it and count how many steps it will take you to circle it, and then think about how long that would be if you walked in a straight line. Then you must bend your neck and look up, and it hurts a little while you stare at the crown of it because it takes a while to really, really look. We learned about how the Sequoias are dependent on fire; how they are fire resistant due to chemicals in their bark; how the fires open up little pockets of seed to let the saplings begin to grown; how the fires clean the undergrowth so the saplings have space to grow; how it takes hundreds of years for a Sequoia to become one of the biggest trees in the world. General Grant was around 1.700 years old.

Day 6 – 14. october 2016
I woke up and realised that I had been warm the whole night. That I had had a good night’s sleep. It is easy to take warmth and comfort for granted, and it is something precious to find when camping. I still love to camp, there is something about the fire going late into night, about eating canned soup and about waking up to the bird chatter (or squirrel chatter) and smell the forest. But it is easy to forget all of that when your toes fell like they’re falling off and the air freezes in your nose.

We were hiking to Mist Falls, an easy but moderately long hike that would give us the faintest of tastes of the High Sierra. We drove to where the road ended, and it was like we had suddenly ended up in a different planet. As we drove down into the canyon the land went dry and yellow, and small shrubbery dotted the hills like polkas. The mountains were all smooth curves and triangular shapes, but it was so dry and the backdrop was the rugged Sierra. It looked menacing, like the landscape was daring the car to fail us and we’d have to walk to Mordor and destroy the ring before we would be able to return to our homes. And as suddenly it changed again, and we entered a flourished valley filled with green and a river running parallel to the road. As our hike began it looked more and more like Yosemite, with granite grey mountains on each side – yet they were more rugged.

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The canyon floor turned into a lush landscape that bustled with squirrels and chipmunks. I spent five minutes jumping at all sounds, expecting bears and mountain lions and rattlesnakes to plunge for us. But it was always a chipmunk; always a squirrel. The forest closed around us, but always it felt open, always it felt warming, always it felt like taken out of a book about faeries. We met no bears, no mountain lions, no snakes. No faeries either. We returned to the campsite before dark and cooked smores on the fire as the last light shone golden rays on the tree crowns.

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Yosemite National Park

I’m two weeks into my trip now, and so far it’s been incredible. I flew to San Fransisco, where I met one of my amazing friends, Kelsey. We have spent ten days road-tripping through the Californian national parks. Now we are back at her house, freshly showered, laundered, rested and with steady wifi connection. So here it is, section one: Yosemite.

10. October 2016
We woke up at 4AM to drive to Yosemite. Most of the drive was in total darkness, and it took us about four hours to get there. I thought we would come through the tunnel and get our first view of the park from tunnel view, seeing the classic Yosemite shot, but we came in a different road. We turned a bend and suddenly it was there, as majestic as I thought it would be. The half-dome, El Capitan, and the soft light of a sun just risen over the mountains making it all a little hazy, making it all look slightly unreal. We had hoped to get a camp spot at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley, but we got there at 8:20, and by that time the ranger was already handing out spots so we were three spots short of getting something. We decided to drive up to another campground rather than wait and see if something would open up. It was around 30 minutes from the park, and I was bummed out and trying to talk myself into a better mood by looking for advantages. Then, as we were just about to take a right into the camp site we see people and cars looking towards something on the side of the road, and it was a black bear. I still can’t believe that we saw a black bear (which, by the way, is the mascot of the University of Maine, where I studied abroad. I realised I have been walking around in this bear infested landscape with a t-shirt from UMaine saying: black bears attack!) Yet, there it was there, idly sniffing the ground for food, not caring at all that 10 people were standing around taking it’s picture. It was smaller than what I thought bears would, and it didn’t at all look very ferocious. When the rangers (after ten minutes) went to chase it off it simply looked up at them, and then ran off into the hills. While it was a bit unsettling to see it so close to our camp, it also soothed me to see how uninterested it was in us.

edit-8186-2After setting up camp we drove back down to the valley, and spent the day checking out the views from the valley floor. We did a short hike to mirror lake, which was completely dry, and we walked around the meadows under El Capitan looking at all the rock climbers through my binoculars. For sunset we drove up to Glacier point, and it was perfect: the sky was almost entirely free of clouds, and the last light of the sun cast first a glowing orange and then a soft pink onto the half-dome. It was like looking at the MacBook screensavers, just crisper and bigger and entirely breathtaking. When we drove back to our camp, we passed El Capitan, and small points of light everywhere marked climbers settling down for the night. I wondered how they slept up there, if they all had tents, because when we looked at them earlier in the day it hadn’t looked like they carried a lot with them.

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11. october 2016
Despite the fact that autumn dries out most of the waterfalls, we decided to climb up to the Yosemite fall for the views. It was hot and long, and I was very thankful that I had spent a lot of time in the mountains the past two months. We kept passing and getting passed by three guys from Britain as we (or they) took rests and drank water, calling ‘see you soon’, which we would in only few minutes. The path was well maintained, but it was long, and it felt extremely good to finally be on top, to sit down and just enjoy the view. Yosemite is a really good one for views. All in all, up and down, the hike took us around 6 hours and it was hard, rewarding, and left us happy to be back down in the valley and able to rest our feet.

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We drove to Taft point for sunset, and the sky went ablaze with pink. I ran around getting pictures, which turned out quite good despite the sun setting behind the edge of the cliff where iconic Taft point shots are taken. It has felt, a little bit, like I’ve walked in the footsteps of the photographers that inspire me to come here and see the places they have seen, and take photographs in the same locations as they have photographed in before.

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The first night on our campsite we were cold from the moment we left the car, until three minutes after we sat back into the car the following morning. Therefore, we gathered fire-wood for our second night. Somehow, I don’t know how exactly, I managed to get a fire going (I think it is the first time ever), and the heat from the fire made for an entirely different night than the one a day before. We ate soup and I boiled water to put in a bottle by my feet during the night. When we ran out of wood and the fire went out we went to warm to bed.

12. october 2016
I didn’t sleep so well this night either, despite being warm – but I never sleep well when camping. I still love it though, and one day I will figure out how to stay warm. We brought pancake mix with us, so we ate pancakes with sirup and banana for breakfast, and vowed to gather enough firewood for a fire tomorrow morning too.

I hiked Nevada Falls, while Kelsey stayed in the valley. It is a popular hike, especially this time of the year since Vernal and Nevada falls are the only one still going, if not as powerfully. The trailhead was really crowded, packs of kids were blocking the way. There was an entire school on a fieldtrip hiking the falls, and I started just after them. I managed to pass most of them while the trail was still wide enough, and it wasn’t long before the crowds diminished. The trail to Nevada falls had three different sections: first a bridge with a view of Vernal falls, then the Vernal falls, and finally the Nevada falls. The last sections was not very busy, and I managed to keep my pace, making really good time up. The summit itself was almost as nice as the falls and the view, with a small pool before the waterfall, light granite floors and here and there a strong, green pine tree. I ate some pancakes left from breakfast and some chocolate. I hiked down on the John Muir trail, making it a loop and getting a different perspective of the fall on my way down.

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Back in the valley I found Kelsey, and then a shower (felt amazing). We went to a lounge where we could charge my batteries and check up on the outside world (wifi). We also made plans for the evening: sunset at tunnel view, smores on the fire and a well-deserved glass or two of wine. Tomorrow we head out of Yosemite to King’s Canyon and Sequoia. I always struggle with leaving places like this, with views that would keep you content even if you looked at them for a lifetime. But there are massive tree trunks waiting, and I do want to see that.