Chile – Pt 3.

Daydreaming in the desert.

The third and final part of my holiday in Chile was a week in San Pedro de Atacama. This was the relaxing part of my vacation after 8 days on horseback. San Pedro is an oasis in the desert, and is a real tourist hotspot. As such it is well set up for those who want to take bus trips to see all the big attractions, and there are numerous companies all offering basically the same tours to the same places.

So I took a bus up to 4300 m to see the El Tatio geysers at sunrise (you have to see them at sunrise otherwise the steam doesn’t really show in the heat). These are nice, but not a patch on Yellowstone, and the circus of hundreds of buses is a little, well, offputting. On the way down all the buses stop at Machuca Village where you can get an overpriced lama kebab… or not.

I also took a bus tour of the valle de la luna (valley of the moon) and mars valley, to view the impressive rock and salt formations and the great dune. This one involved a fair bit of walking around so was quite enjoyable. A lot of people do rent bikes cycle up to the valle de la luna from town, but it was awfully hot, so I was actually really happy to pay for the air conditioned bus!

Finally I took a bus tour to Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques, which stopped to see the flamingos at Laguna Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama on the way back. IMG_3645 IMG_3665

I did manage a couple of things that weren’t bus tour based. A lovely couple I met in the hostel I was staying in invited me to join them on a day trip down to Laguna Tuyajto, a totally amazing place. Turned out to be a very eventful trip as their rental car blew a tire on the dirt road going down there, but we made it, and lived to tell the tale. Tuyajto is almost at (or above depending which website you believe) 4000 m in the Altiplano, so it was cold despite the clear skies and bright sunshine.


I also went mountain biking in the Quebrada del Diablo, which was pretty amazing (and the only active thing I did all week). Hot hot hot, and so short of breath exercising at altitude!

Something I don’t have a photo of is the night sky, I never saw so many stars!

San Pedro was a really easy place to be alone, because there were so many organized tours and also many other travelers around. That said, I was missing R by this point, and looking forward to being home. Some tense moments on the final day as a strike by airport workers threatened to ground me in Calama, but that was resolved and I was on my way home.

Chile – Pt 2.

Riding horses in Patagonia

Part Two of my holiday saw me join a tour of Torres del Paine national park and surrounding area on horse-back. I spent one night in Punta Arenas and had a very quick look around the town in the morning before catching the bus to Peurto Natales.

The bus winds its way through miles and miles of nothing, pampas grassland, with a huge sky arching overhead. I nodded off, warm in the sunshine steaming in the window, waking as we turned the corner into the town. I was met at the bus station and driven to the hostel, which was a welcome change from finding things myself!

That first evening I met the rest of the group: two French, one Swiss, one American, and our Chilean guide. We had a trail briefing and went to dinner together. Up early the next morning we spent several hours on a boat traveling up to Glacier Serrano, where, after a really quick look at the glacier itself, we met our horses and the adventure began.IMG_3194

The first day follows a narrow trail through the forest alongside the river Serrano, and past Lago Brush. The pace was very sedate due to the narrowness of the trail and some steep sections. Unfortunately I became violently ill shortly after lunch (stomach upset), so I couldn’t enjoy the afternoon, and missed the next days ride (apparently Glacier Grey is spectacular!). Fortunately the scenery from the campground gave some relief as I waited to feel better.

The next day I was back in the saddle for the ride from Rio Serrano to Estancia Laguna Amarga. Pitufo was a lovely horse, really solid & reliable feeling but easy to move into a gallop, and not too bouncy when doing that endless jog trot that Patagonia horses are trained to do – it covers a lot of ground but my god it can hurt!

This was a mixed day, some fast riding in open grassland just inside the national park administration station, some more calm sections up among the lakes, and then more hard galloping down to the estancia. The sun shone on us still, we had a lovely picnic, and some of the wildlife even deigned to pose for photos!

Again we were treated to a campsite with a wonderful view of the Torres, it was wonderful to lie with a cold beer after a long day in the saddle and look at this:

The next day was the beginning of the wild-camping part of the adventure, two nights in a gorgeous flower meadow at Lago Paine, with an excursion to view lake & glacier Dickson. The ride in was another very fast day and the famous Patagonian wind picked up as we galloped, blowing great clouds of dust into our eyes. Unfortunately the day of the excursion was wet and wild, especially at the lake Dickson end of the trail, so the glacier was only a grey blob in the clouds.

Emerging from the wilderness we changed horses to those owned by our next hosts, Estancia Tercera Barranca. The horse I got felt very tall and a bit fidgety after the completely solid Pitufo, ‘un poco loco’ as the guide said. But we navigated the river crossing and technical terrain up onto the pampas without incident. Another campsite with gorgeous views but very very exposed to the wind and the cooking shelter was very drafty.

The final two days riding took a slightly different format. We drove to meet horses at Estancia Las Chinas in the Sierra Baguales and took a ride high into the mountains, a crazy moonscape of rock and sand. This was the coldest day so far, I was in my down vest all day…

… But the next day topped that, we got SNOWED on while visiting the condor lookout at Laguna Sophia. Definitely all 4 seasons in one week given that I was riding in a t-shirt at the beginning of the trip!

All in all I had a wonderful time, there is something really special about seeing wild country from horseback, a connection to the way things might’ve been in years gone by, and a good balance between being able to see all the interesting plants and animals while covering more distance in a day than you would on foot.

Chile – Pt 1.

In which I ramble on about the holiday I took last year…
I left Norway as the first snows of winter finally arrived after a long, miserable, and very wet autumn, and oh boy, was I ever ready for a holiday. Landing in Santiago to dry heat in which the distant mountains shimmered was just the tonic my weary soul needed. Sunshine, warmth, all the hustle and bustle of a big city.
Now a confession: I don’t speak Spanish. Not one word. I took two years of Spanish in secondary school, umpteen years ago, no chance of remembering that now! Armed with only a phrase book, the city map on my phone (thanks openstreetmap!) and a really good line in meaningful gestures and miming stuff, I set out to find my hostel.

The hostel turned out to be gorgeous. Big backyard, pool, the works. It was too early to check in, so I left my luggage and went exploring. I just walked aimlessly that first day. I didn’t know where I was or what i should try to see, I just tried to get a feel for the place.

Confession nr 2: Of course I got a really bad sunburn, jet lagged me didn’t think to get the sunscreen out of my bag before I went walkabout. That was stupid. I know better!

I only had a couple of days in Santiago. One of them I booked onto an organised tour of a winery, which was really nice, we biked around in the sunshine between the vines & tried some very fine wine.
The other I tried to see some of the museums and a bit of the city. I also took the funicular railway up Cerro San Christobal to admire the view of the city and the distant mountains (and in the hope of finding some breeze to dispel the heat – no such luck!) then walked down through the forest.

Confession nr 3: I didn’t eat out at all in Santiago, I know, i know, terrible missed opportunity. But the shyness that stemmed from my total language useless got the better of me here. I also wasted a lot of mental energy worry about whether I would be able to buy a bus ticket to Pucon; of course that worked out fine, lots of nodding & smiling & pointing at the computer screen. At least bus-ticket-selling dude thought my lack of Spanish was hilarious rather than insulting!

The overnight bus was about as horrible as one might expect, but dawn came with the promise of a release from sweaty bus hell into fresh air, lush green landscape passing outside the windows. Pucon was nice and cool at 8am. Again I planned to leave my bag at the hostel and go walk around… slightly confused when the hostel owner greeted me with a huge hug… all becomes clear when it transpires that its his birthday & he’s already on the sauce! He decides that we must be cousins (both our surnames mean the same thing in our respective languages), I am plied with coffee (declining to have it adulterated with whiskey) and introduced to a revolving cast of guests, friends and employees. Somehow I am so happy to be among talkative people that I am still on the terrace there at lunch time, listening to the traveling tales of others who are on far greater adventures than my own, having taken years off to ‘do’ South America and what-not. Sometimes its the people that make a place, and Pucon was definitely like that for me, I walked right into a party that went on all week and it was just what I needed!
Pucon is also a totally gorgeous place, with a volcano visible from the main street, and every possible adventure sport on offer. I decided not to sign up to climb the volcano on this trip – he had his head in the clouds until my last day and reports from those who did sign up to go were of cancelled trips or turning back due to bad weather, so it just didn’t seem like the right time. I did visit the national park Huerquehue, and hike the peak San Sebastian, getting a wonderful view of the famous lakes and encountering only one other couple, despite how jam packed the bus was to get up there! I also went for an afternoons riding (thought I better remind myself how that felt before getting on a horse for 10 days!) which was lovely.

From Pucon I took the bus to Puerto Varas, another town where you can see volcanoes from the end of the street.
Again I took a small, overcrowded bus to a national park – Vicente Perez Rosales national park, the oldest in Chile. Here I took a hot hot walk from Petrohue through the sand to a viewpoint in the foothills of Volcan Osorno (if a volcano can be said to have foothills!). I met some more nice people on this hike, so had someone to have dinner with that evening, including my first Pisco Sours (the classic drink of Chile).IMG_2987

The next day saw me at the airport in Puerto Montt, waiting for my plane south to Punta Arenas and the next stage of my adventure…

So thats how that thing looks in winter…

IMG_3874 A couple of weekends ago we went on a mini-expedition. The goal? To see how Treriksröset looks in winter. Treriksröset is a giant lump of yellow concrete marking the place where the borders of Norway, Sweden and Finland meet. We previously visited it in summer ’14, when it stood proud in the middle of a lake, guarded by a ferocious army of midges, mosquitoes and those horrible stripy flies that bite really hard the second they land on you.

To visit in winter is actually easier than to visit in summer. To go in summer one must take a boat, or walk up and over a hill. In winter the lake freezes solid and one can ski across from Kilpisjärvi, a really flat, easy, 9km ski. So we did that. We were really lucky with the weather, it was calm and clear, sunny, minus 20 something degrees C. It didn’t feel that cold though, because its nice and dry inland. Dry cold does not get in your bones the way wet cold can.

IMG_3896We had intended to pass Treriksröset and stay the night at one of the DNT huts a couple of km further on. But when we passed Kuohkimajärvi autiotupa, an open hut on the Finnish side of the border, it was so cozy (still warm because the previous group only left that morning), that we decided to stop there instead. Husbeast has some problems with his ski boots destroying his feet so he was glad to cut a couple of km off each day!

They say man who must chop wood gets warm twice! Well we proved the truth of this one, as the previous people had written very proudly in the book about having burnt all the wood that was chopped small enough to fit in the stove, and sure enough, there were only giant lumps left in the shed. Fortunately having stopped early we had plenty of time to devote to wood chopping. Unfortunately the axe handle was broken in two, and it was horribly blunt, so the chopping process was quite frustrating!IMG_3865

There were lots of fat, fluffy, little birds around the hut that were very entertaining to watch, they didn’t seem to mind the cold at all. We got the fire lit, got the indoor temperature up to 15 degrees, melted some snow for the all important cup of tea, and had a very relaxing evening. Finnish huts are not as luxurious as the DNT ones (also not as expensive, being free, so that’s fair enough!) there are no beds/mattresses provided, but this was no problem because we had brought all the camping stuff along in case of I’m-not-sure what kind of disaster (can’t be too careful in winter?). Some hilarity ensured when we cooked dinner, because the one thing I hadn’t brought along was spoons (doh!) and the only spoon in the hut was a HUGE thing. So we took turns with that one! Romantic dinner for two?

We were a little surprised that no-one else showed up, as I would have expected such a place to be popular on a Saturday, but it was lovely and peaceful to have the place to ourselves. At nice the sky remained clear and we saw so many bright, sparkly, stars, & the milky way. There is no light pollution there.
IMG_3902We slept well, waking only to zip sleeping bags all the way up at the stove went out and the temperature crept downwards. By 7am the temperature indoors dropped just below zero, and outdoors was -25. Brrrrrrr. We lit the stove again to take the chill out of the air while we ate breakfast, but used a bare minimum of wood so as to leave some for the next people without doing any more chopping with the crappy axe, so it didn’t really get warm warm.

We first went to see Treriksröset, then turned for home. It was another clear day and we had an uneventful trip back to Kilpisjärvi. Must remember to pack emergency spoons next trip!

A tale of two summers…

Well, it seems I’ve not felt much like blogging recently! This is certainly not for lack of interesting things happening to me in the past year or so; f.ex, last spring I spent 3 months on fieldwork in the Arctic Ocean, during which time I had dinner with Norwegian royalty, was featured in a BBC documentary, and encountered a couple of Polar Bears rather more closely than I would like!
Actually, its not so much that I’ve not felt like blogging, but rather that I fell into a horrible rut of thinking that I should post things in chronological order. So I have a lot of half written blog posts and needing-to-be-edited photographs, and the more ‘old’ news piled up the more I felt paralysed by this feeling that I couldn’t skip over stuff and just start in with the most recent thing! A kind of extremely neurotic form of writers block. I get this in my working life too, that feeling that I can’t start writing until a long long list of other stuff is done, and then of course the urgent gets in the way of the important & I end up with no papers published. Which is bad.

So; a new beginning. I am going to try and post something on this blog every other day for a while. I’m hoping that regularly writing about something, anything, even complete drivel, will help me get into a writing mindset which in turn will help me make progress with writing those academic papers. I’ll let you know in a month or so if its helping!

Lets start with something easy: a tale of two summers in Tromsø. Summer in Tromsø is a shortish season, it can be snowy in the mountains well into June, and start freezing up or snowing again in late September. I see that my last post here was about Spring, on 8th June 2014. Shortly after that we had some lovely sunshine, deluding us into believing summer had arrived, all our things arrived from the UK in a giant packing crate, and my Aunt arrived for a weeks visit. Since the house was in chaos with boxes everywhere and no furniture; we took her to Senja.

Where it snowed sideways. Some summer holiday! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This was our first trip to Senja, which we found to be absolutely beautiful, if a little plagued by crazy weather! We stayed in Senjabu one night, then rented a cabin at Senja camping for two more nights because the rain put us off actually camping!
In July it was the turn of my folks to visit. They really lucked out with the weather, getting blue skies and over 20 °C for almost all of their 10 day stay. Since then I’ve had to endure endless jokes about the tropical Arctic paradise anytime I dare say anything negative about the weather here. We first took them on a 5 day hike from Kilpisjärvi around the place where the borders of 3 countries meet.

Then we rented a ‘luxury’ holiday apartment in Lyngen for a couple of nights (where we found the only foggy weather in the area) & did some day hiking there.IMG_0917
Then we had a couple of days around Tromsø, where Richard kept suggesting museums and my folks just wanted to go hiking! 

Now he has some idea why I am how I am with regards to wanting to be outdoors all the time! In the middle of all this our furniture delivery arrived from Ikea so we also put our guests to work assembling furniture.

The good weather continued well into August, allowing for mountain trips on weekends and after work in the evenings, a couple of the most noteworthy being Store Blåmann (1044m, a Kvaløya classic), Vengsøy traverse one Sunday with the gang from Fjellsportgruppa,
and Hamperokken (1404m, another classic) on a weekday evening, finishing in a rain storm at 1am.
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Summer 2015 was very different. It rained constantly in June and July, so I had plenty of opportunity to say negative things about the weather. We escaped to the south of France for a little sun as soon as I was done with fieldwork in late May, and I escaped again to join a riding tour on Sicily in mid June. Meanwhile in Tromsø it kept on raining, or being grey and windy. Daniel came to visit. It rained. We went to Senja. It was grey & windy to begin with but did eventually brighten up. Phew! I wouldn’t have wanted to send Daniel home not even having seen the fjords!

Richard wanted to do Tromsdalstinden and Hamperokken, (I’d done both previously) so we did that. Somehow ended up doing Hamperokken on a weekday evening again so I’ve had the dubious honour of being up there in the middle of the night twice! No rainstorm on the descent this time around thank goodness! IMG_2369IMG_2373

I took a week off mid August when it was forecast good weather and went to Senja to hike ‘Senja på langs’, solo, a really relaxing trip. The following week Richards parents arrived in Tromsø, fortunately the weather held for them to see the sights (and unlike my crazy lot Richards folks do like museums). We also took them to Senja for the spectacular scenery (2015 became a bit ‘the summer of Senja!’).

It’ll be interesting to see how summer 2016 turns out. We had a lot of plans to explore the climbing around here that never really came to fruition last year, so it would be nice to do that. We also had plans for a cycle tour in Lofoten that we called off due to the weather. We definitely need to visit Lofoten once before we leave Norway, having heard so much about it!

Spring has Sprung

Well, time has flown by, spring has sprung with an explosion of green & we are now into full on Tromsø summer (in that it is currently raining, but it was 20 degrees last week!). I had an extremely hectic spring:

Richard arrived in Tromsø for good the same week that I got back from Australia. This was a pretty big adjustment for him to some of the things I’d already had time to get used to – climate, language, Norwegian supermarkets etc etc; and for me to having him underfoot in the tiny tiny flat I’d got used to being alone in! We spent some time apartment hunting & eventually lucked out, finding a nice flat through word of mouth. Its it little ways out of town in a nice quite area with easy access to the mountains, but on the correct bus route for my work, perfect!

We had some fun in the snow together, visiting the ski hill at Målselv with a whole gang of my mates, where Richard rented a snowboard & we tried to lose him in the trees, and making a handful of local cross country ski trips on our fjellski before the snow at low levels all melted away.

At easter we took a ‘hyttetur’ with a couple of friends to Gaskashytte, reached by skiing across Altevatnet. We had some ‘interesting’ weather on the Saturday, necessitating a mostly indoor day, but glorious sunshine for the ski back on the Sunday.

When the snow started to melt we also had our first taste of climbing on Kvaløya granite, which was fantastic. Can’t wait for further climbing opportunities (& for the bulk of our climbing gear to catch up with us, we’re still waiting for our shipment of belongings from the UK to arrive).
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Richards belief that there was no real point him investing in randonee skis & skiing lessons because the snow was nearly done when he arrived was proved entirely wrong when I was still heading out on ‘topptur’ without him right up until the 1st June. I’ve been really lucky in meeting some really great people who are happy for me to participate in skiing trips despite still not understanding 90% of what is said to me. Three trips that really stick in mind are:

Durmålstind in perfect sunshine with FSG on April 13th:

Styrmannstind May 7th – an evening tour with some friends:

…and the king of them all: Jiehkkevarri (1834m) in the Lyngen alps, the highest mountain in Troms county. We made a traverse via Holmbukttind (1666m) and Kveita (1751m) ~25km, 14 hours, 2300m total height gain. This was a very long but utterly fantastic day out.

My ski season ended with Store Russetind on June 1st, in very grey weather. Very slushy skiing which was lovely actually as the slush is really forgiving and makes even the steeps easy, which I needed as my legs were still jelly from the Jiehkkevarri traverse!

Australia! March 2014

I was visiting Hobart for a conference, the IGS symposium on sea ice in a changing environment. This trip had a lot of firsts for me: first time in Australia, first visit to the southern hemisphere, longest flight I’ve even taken; so of course I took the opportunity to take a holiday while I was there.

I spent a day exploring Melbourne on the way out. The first shock was the heat, I’d not only come down from Tromsø where it was quite firmly still winter, but come straight off the back of a cruise in the Arctic Ocean where we experienced temperatures down to -28, so +28 was something of a surprise. The next shock was how large Melbourne is & how busy a large city can be, I’ve become very used to small town life! I had an enjoyable day walking around, I walked down to the beach and back admiring the wide tree lined streets and old style houses, then ambled along the river. Melbourne is full of sculpture, and on a saturday lots of street artists & musicians, so it felt very vibrant, very alive.
Hobart itself was lovely. Really hot, and it felt really humid (this may be another Tromsø effect – the air up here is super dry). I had a few days holiday either side of the conference to explore but I didn’t get so far out of the city. I had explored Mt Wellington quite throughly by the end of the week, walking, running & cycling. Mt Wellington is beautiful & the trails there are well set out & signposted. As a bonus there was a really tame platypus living near the conference centre!
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I also visited Mona, the museum of modern art, which was quite overwhelming – I think the end of an intense conference week might not have been the optimum timing for this! The ferry ride down to Mona & back is really refreshing.

The only out of town excursion I went on was an organized coach & boat tour to Bruny Island. I don’t often shell out for these things, but I found the public transport made doing anything independently pretty difficult – you probably can get to most places in Tasmania independently IF you have an infinite amount of time to allow for the fact that buses might only run twice a week or whatever but in the time I had available I couldn’t make anything work. Anyway I had a really good day & would totally recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to see a bunch of nice cliffs & lots of seals. We also encountered a huge flock of Albatross, & had pretty great weather, only a couple of showers.

I spent four days in Adelaide on the way back, catching up with a good friend from my Reading days who emigrated quite some time ago. Stuart & Katrina did an amazing job of showing me everything thats great about Adelaide & surrounds in three short days: we went to a wildlife park, we went for a great walk in the wilderness, we saw the town & the coast line & went wine tasting. I was even included in a family birthday party which was just lovely, they are such a nice clan to hang out with!
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The whirlwind life of a scientist…

Life is pretty hectic this month. I’m writing this on the second of 2 days in Tromsø in between two very different trips. I returned on Monday from a cruise to the Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard & head out again tomorrow to a conference in Hobart, Aus… no rest for the wicked eh?
The cruise was a test for a ‘freeze in’ study planned for next year. We basically took the ship as far north as we could get & froze her in next to large ice floe so we could test all sorts of equipment (some new equipment & some, including the ship, that was quite well known but not often used in really cold conditions) & routines prior to the real thing.

The major test project was the setting up of a remote camp on the ice ~200m from the ship. This camp comprised a small hut (towed out by skidoo) a tent in which there was a hole in the ice through which instruments & divers could be inserted into the sea, and various instruments installed on, within, & under the ice.

Our large floe began to break apart when the wind direction changed on the Wednesday so there was a very busy evening retrieving equipment from the ice. Somehow what had taken the best part of two days to set out took 2 hours to bring in! Thursday morning things had stabilised & we were able to do a bit more science before we left the site. The weather & visibility did improve on the final day & we saw the sun rolling along the horizon:IMG_3138

Prior to the cruise I went away to Lyngen with Fjellsportgruppa. Lyngen is beautiful (see below). We had a great ski on the Saturday & terrible weather Sunday morning sent us back to the mainland to look for shelter!

Pic spam from Gappohytta

Yup, I’ve been on another trip! Gappohytta is in inner Troms, its 11km ski from the trail-head at Rognli and it is GORGEOUS. It was also freezing, ~ -20C plus windchill. Brrrrrrrr! Hard to convey the sense of freezing cold emptiness up there with nothing but mountains & snow for miles… but here are some piccies:


Life in the Lap of Luxury!

So for something a little different a colleague & I rented the work ‘hytte’. Our employers have arranged subsidized rental of a very nice hut in Malangen, I mean a seriously luxury hut with a proper kitchen (inc dishwasher), hot tub, sauna, log fire, super cheap. We had a couple of days topptur in that part of the world, tackling Fugltinden and Kvannfjellet, and reaching the top of neither. Both days we opted to turn around at ~650m when the really wind sculpted ice began. Conditions havn’t been great for topptur for a while, we’ve not had any new snow snow since before Christmas & around Christmas we had a lot of warm weather melting & refreezing & turning everything to ice. The weather on this trip was absolutely beautiful tho, clear & cold. Because it’s been wonderfully cold, there was sea fog, so all of the trees along the coast wear this beautiful coat of ice crystals. At night those same icy trees sparkle in the headlights, like driving through a forest made of diamonds. Beautiful clear days (above the fog) so we could see mountains for miles, & all the sunset colours in the sky all day, yellow & orange & pink (the sun is still below the horizon at this time of year). It’s just stunning! The end of the descent on Saturday in the dark with headtorches was like skiing on a carpet of diamonds.