Hiking to Greyrock Mountain, Colorado

One of the great aspects of living in Fort Collins, besides Tour de Fat, hosting stage 6 of the Pro Challenge, the New West Fest and the upcoming FORToberfest, (basically, Fort Collins festivals are all about bicycles, bands, and beers) is living close to some amazing hiking.  On Saturday, we hiked to Greyrock Mountain.

Ok, not all of the hike around Greyrock is this brown...
Ok, not all of the hike around Greyrock is this brown…

We arrived just before 9 am and the trail parking lot was already full, although you can still park on the street.  The trail starts with a bridge over the Poudre River.  We hiked up the Meadow trail first.  Unfortunately, a lot of the forest in this area is burned, which gave me some appreciation into the scale of these fires.

Entrance to Greyrock hiking is via this bridge.
Entrance to Greyrock hiking is via this bridge.

Continue reading “Hiking to Greyrock Mountain, Colorado”

The 2013 Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholars

One of my best memories from the Navy was travelling around the globe in a submarine.  On that one deployment I picked up several “unofficial” certificates, but it also qualified me to join the Circumnavigators Club.  It’s not a travel club; it’s a club of travelers and since travelers don’t sit put much, there’s not a whole lot of meetings.

We can only travel so much, so we also send people to travel for us.  We have a foundation that provides merit-based grants to undergraduates on an around the world research trip.  Ok, so the travel is really for their benefit but I like to think we send out scouts to go report back on the mysteries of the world.

One of the requirements is that the recipient keep a blog of their travels.  This year, there are four scholars all with amazing stories.  I particularly liked Julia’s who took especially nice pictures in Austria and Switzerland.

You can also look at last year’s scholars here.  You can also watch a testimonial from Meixi Ng, a 2010 scholar below. Continue reading “The 2013 Circumnavigators Club Foundation Scholars”

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: Mills Lake

After a winding 1.5 hour drive from Fort Collins through Estes Park, we arrived at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  By 8:30 AM the small parking lot at Glacier Gorge was already full, so we continued down the road and parked at the Bear lake parking, which had plenty of room.

Mills_lake
The hike from Bear Lake to Mills Lake and back again. That’s Long’s Peak in the top left.

Continue reading “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: Mills Lake”

Nemo found Central Park

Friday night, the blizzard “Nemo” hit the northeast portion of the United States. Mainly affecting areas north of NYC, it blanketed NYC in a few inches of snow. The serendipitous timing provided hours of entertainment for children and adults in Central Park. It seemed like all of the city was out enjoying the snow.  Including dogs in snow boots, which I think is a NYC thing.

Saturday morning I had breakfast at Cafe Sabarsky, which is one of my favorite, albeit infrequent, breakfast restaurants.  Although if you do visit the cafe, the breakfast hours on weekends are 9 – 11 am and they are quite strict on the timeliness of the cutoff.  So, my breakfast was more of a brunch 😉

Anyway, walking down from 86th street I passed many of my favorite landmarks now covered in snow. Sadly, the Strand kiosk was closed but the Waffles & Dinges stand was still going strong (having just had a Sachertorte, I skipped the cart this time…). For those of you who like amateur photos shot from a phone, enjoy the following collection. Continue reading “Nemo found Central Park”

Travel hacking

This NY Times article has outstanding cradle-to-grave travel advice.  Some of these recommendations are a little too George Cloonely ala “Up in the Air” (there is a great Zach Galifianakis cameo in that movie) for me, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Tripit. Every email confirmation you receive, forward it directly to trip it and they build a consolidated itinerary.  Sharing with multiple travelers is an option as well.  The iPhone app is great and stores your trip offline as well.
  • Wikitravel.  Great site, but wi-fi and cellular are not quite ubiquitous, so WikiTravel is good for pre-trip research, but I still like taking the guide-book (on the Kindle).
  • Pack light.  This is probably the best recommendation in the article.  Packing light makes the trip more enjoyable because you are less encumbered (unless you have a bag of holding +1).  With dry fit clothing, two pairs of under garments will last a long time, assuming they are regularly washed.
  • Netbooks.  Not only is a netbook probably smaller than your other computer, but you should travel with minimal data, since the US has consistently ruled in the favor of warrantless searches at the border.  Thank you HOPE#9.
  • Arrive at the airport five hours early.  The security lines are unpredictable and when I try to cut it too close, it’s stressful.  So lately, I’ve been going early (not 5 hours early) and I read and otherwise thoroughly enjoy the wait.
  • X-ray screening.  First of all, the back-scatter machines don’t increase security, are expensive and the screening procedure is invasive.  Anyway, there is an art to going through the screen efficiently.  The key is to grab all the bins that you need at once.  Three if you have a laptop, two if you don’t.  Shoes/belt/wallet in one, laptop/electronics/deadly 3 oz containers in two, everything else in three.  If you grab one tray at a time it makes it awkward for the traveler behind you.

If you are an over-packer like I used to be, buy smaller luggage 🙂

NYC Travel Tip: Governor’s Island

Open to the public since 2003, Governor’s Island is a great summer retreat when one wants to escape island life on Manhattan.  A repurposed Army base, this summer-only hideaway has been on my “to see” list for a while and I was glad to make a trek to the island, despite the simultaneous HOPE conference.

On Gov’s Island facing toward Lower Manhattan.

There is a short ferry from Manhattan’s Battery that takes about ten minutes or so of actual travel time.  Besides some great views of Brooklyn, the statue of liberty, Ellis Island and lower Manhattan, most of the northern part of the land is open to the public.  I was surprised to see a sand-filled beach beer garden and an abundance of table vendors from ice-cream trucks to recycling campaigns to political activists.  All of this in front of a backdrop of closed military barracks and parade grounds makes for a surreal sight.

Tall ship passing between Governor’s Island and Manhattan. There was a decent wind that day, which would make for a great day for sailing!

Renting bikes is popular here and so are collisions or near collisions among urban-dwellers who don’t get out of the city much. But, if one can manage to avoid a handshake with a bicycle, sitting and watching the water traffic is entertaining enough.  By the way, the island, the ferries and the walking is free (as in beer)!

Google Earth view of Governor’s Island, Brooklyn (with Bridge) and lower Manhattan. If I was properly prepared, I would have brought my GPS with me to record the trip…

I recommend visitors bring water and snacks with them as the on-island carts are very much aware that you are stuck on an island.  Also, when the military left apparently so did the sanitation system as most of the toilets are port-a-potties.  But, besides these realities of island-life, it really is worth the trip on a nice day and besides central park, it’s probably the closest open-air escape from the city.

NYC Water Taxi with Staten Island ferry. In the background, lower Manhattan. The water taxi was featured in AFAR‘s picture mash-up a few months ago which featured taxis from around the world.

Enter all ye, who in the Order of Magellan be!

I’m not sure why my pirate voice sounds like Yoda, but somehow that’s how it works in my head.  A few years ago, I was looking to obtain a copy of my Order of Magellan Certificate, since I wasn’t quite sure when my signed copy was going to arrive.  In doing so, I stumbled upon a great organization.  I sent an innocent inquiry email, met with a member and the next month I was renting a tux to see Michael Palin receive an award in NYC.

This international organization is the Circumnavigator’s Club, headquartered in NYC.  At events it’s ok to ask others “Which way do you go?” and not get raised eyebrows since the response is East/West in the Northern/Southern Hemisphere.  It’s not a travel-club, it’s a club of travelers.  And while trying to get travelers together in one place is like herding-cats, the meetings we do have are unforgettable, like the upcoming award presentation to two astronauts.

Berlin 2010 at the East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall). Corollary to the Circumnavigator’s Moto: (my attempt at translation) Whoever wants the world to stay as it is doesn’t want the world to stay (at all).

When I was deployed to Afghanistan, this group was one of the many organizations that supported me from the home-front.  Their motto is “Through friendship, to leave the world a little better than we found it” and among the many ways they do that, there is one way in particular that stands out.  Among most children-of-80s, or among those who like Indiana Jones (and died a little when the fourth one came out), or maybe just me, I wanted to have a room with artifacts collected from around the world.  And much to the chagrin of my wife, our small apartment had fake-samuri swords, beer steins, a rug from India and a poorly aged bottle of cream-sherry from south-west Spain.  Well, the Circumnavigators Club doesn’t collect artifacts (sorry, that’s just me 😉 ), but we do send people around the world, sponsored by our Foundation.

Kids on a Goa, India beach, November 2006. Buying a rug in India was an experience in itself, one that I wouldn’t rush into. It took a month or two for it to clear customs and I’m pretty sure I overpaid. There were probably cheaper artifacts…

In one of the most creative foundation projects, we sponsor college students on an around the world study program, in which they are able to conduct field research through this amazing experience.  In fact, you can follow three of the foundation scholars as they are making their trip, right now:

  1. Thomas Larson, Georgetown University.
  2. Leah Luben, Arizona State University.
  3. Harry Boulding, University of Liverpool.
  4. Kevin Short, Northwestern University.

So what’s the deal then?  Well, first I’m trying to get the word out about the Circumnavigator’s Club.  We don’t really advertise per se.  And honestly, we need some younger members.  The requirement to travel the globe is not waiverable, but can be done by plane, which is a bit easier these days than when the club was founded 100 years ago.  And when I say younger, I mean that most members are retired.  But, what this club stands for and supports is timeless and should equally appeal to those in Gen-X and later.  That and I would like some company when I’m older. 😛

In Japan, December 2006. There was hope back then (mainly by wife) that I would eventually like skiing / snowboarding. A hope that I faintly subscribed to, which is why I must have kept the lift ticket on my jacket, that was probably a year old at the time. That hope is officially dead now; I’m a lodge dweller.

The yearly dues are affordable to college students and no-one is without at least one interesting travel story.  Applications are here and ideally, you can sync up with a Circumnavigator at a local chapter (listed on website) who can help with the application process, or you can send an email to HQ.

Nach dem Urlaub ist vor dem Urlaub

Until I can land a job as a full-time Alpine hiker, I generally start planning (dreaming of) my next trip on the flight back from my existing trip.  Granted, the realist in me appreciates that wandering (it is very fitting that the german verb “to hike” is “wandern”) probably isn’t going to be my full-time career.  Besides, what would I do for a vacation then?  Most likely visit a metropolis and work as software engineer for two weeks. 😉

Me around Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland in September 2010. Did I mention I like the food…?

Before we get to the next trip, let’s wrap up this one.  First, I want to make some comments about the gear that I used:

  1. Handheld hiking GPS.  I know Garmin’s stock went down when Apple announced it’s maps initiative, but the iPhone can’t beat the battery life and sensitivity of a dedicated GPS (currently), especially one that can’t get connected to the Internet.  My Garmin eTrex 20 was fun on the trail, with constant moving averages and recorded the data to produce those great Google Earth maps.
  2. Camelback.  Absolutely essential in my opinion.  I had a backpack with a Camelback sleeve and it makes a huge difference having the water fit nicely in the mid of your back vice carrying water bottles.  Plus, it’s easy access to water.  I was drinking about 3 Liters of water each trip and honestly, I should have been drinking more in the 80+ degrees.
  3. Dry-fit clothing.  I sweat profusely.  After switching to all dry-fit clothing I adamantly avoid cotton on hikes.  When we stopped for breaks and I took my bag off, my shirts would dry.  The smell on the other hand…
What would now be called a geocache, around Lauterbrunnen, September 2010. It was a long way down…

Experience highlights:

  1. A lot of spoken German practice for me, which was fun.  After a few trips to Germany, I quickly became a fan of the German Trinkkultur, hiking and the language.  I mean, it’s a great language for Computer Scientists since it uses a stack; in some cases all the verbs pile up at the end of the sentence and once complete, one pops the stack of all the verbs!  I even was able to help hikers and tourist with directions in the area, in German!  So, you know… go me.
  2. Hotel-to-hotel-hiking is the way to go.  My previous hiking in Berchtesgaden and Lauterbrunnen were both amazing in their own rights, but having a luggage service really opens up the day to maximize time in the mountains.  This was also my first experience with a travel agency and Wanderweg Holidays really made this effortless.  They also specialize in this kind of trip.  I highly recommend you check them out if you are interested in a similar vacation!
On the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany, October 2009. Another visitor yelled to me: “Come on American! Get over here already!” Apparently, tort litigation is on the side of the tourist attractions in Germany…


So, what’s next?  Some possibilities:

  1. Another hiking trip.  I would love to go back to German speaking countries (mainly for point number 1 above).  But there’s a lot on this geoid where I haven’t been, mainly I’ve never been in the Southern Hemisphere!  Despite a circumnavigation through both major canals and visiting Singapore (1 degree away!!), I’m still a pollywog.  So, if it is a hiking trip, New Zealand is looking like the candidate.  Or New Hampshire if we’re driving 🙂
  2. Cruise.  Cruises are effortless vacations.  I get massive amounts of reading done on these while I’m sitting on a deck looking out onto the sea.  It’s great, relatively cheap and easy.  While great, we’ve done our share, so meh.
  3. The Alps in the winter.  My wife is a skier, I’m a faller-down-the-mountain-and-kill-myself-so-just-stay-in-the-lodge-and-read-guy, so it works out great!  Plus, point 1 again.
Sign on the Zugspitze for the path to climb to the cross (see above picture). They are not kidding…

So, probably back to Germany 😮 , but I’ll work on my plans some more.  Of course, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!  Well, I don’t have any more hiking adventures upcoming anytime soon, but I’m burning through a backlog of books and my database class is interesting (sounds of massive unsubscribing… 🙂 ), so feel free to stick around.

Bis bald!

Having a beer with Alan and John in Munich

Day 7 of 6.  Leaving the now familiar Salzburger Hof, we reversed the multi-hopped route back to Munich.  The 260 Bus from Lofer to Salzburg and Deutsche Bahn to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station).  For our last night in Europe, we treated ourselves to a more upscale place, Fleming’s Hotel.  Which, was also conveniently located near the train station, but not too near the train station, where an abundance of travelers hang out much like they did outside a famous publishing company’s headquarters on Ursa Minor Beta.

This was my third or fourth trip to Munich, so I had seen most of the major tourist attractions, including the 200th Oktoberfest.  Also, we really only had the afternoon and evening to enjoy in Munich since our flight left the next morning.  So, being the geek that I am, I went back to the Deutsches Museum.  This is one of the largest science and technology museums in the world and it is amazing.  It outshines my beloved Franklin Institute, the Smithsonian and the Exploratorium (from what I remember of it, I visited it a few years ago…)

Surfing in Munich: On a previous trip to Munich in 2008 I took this picture of river-surfers on the Eisbach, in the Englischer Garten.

Sure, all of these museums have interesting exhibits, but where the Deutsches Museum outperforms the competition, and makes it the best technological museum I have ever seen, is the detail of its technical descriptions.  Other museums really only scratch the surface, but the Deutsches Museum describes the science behind the exhibit with a depth of detail.  For example, in its Informatik (Computer Science) exhibit, one can find the following interactive exhibits:

  1. Logical operators, AND, OR, NOT, etc… implemented in both electronic and physical means!  One of which used capsules filled with mercury, where if the capsule was at a certain angle it would complete the circuit.
  2. A Turing machine simulator.
  3. A terminal explaining how the Von Neumann architecture works.
  4. An Enigma machine (not interactive, and I can’t remember if it was a four or three rotor version).

Also, fans of Gravity’s Rainbow will appreciate the V-2 Rocket on display.  One certainly gains more respect for the Raketemensch after seeing one of these up close…

Having our technological fill, we were now hungry and crossed the city to attend the famous Augustiner Brewery & Biergarten, Munich’s oldest brewery, founded in 1328.  It was Saturday night and the outside Biergarten was full, as well as the restaurant.  We awkwardly loitered outside the foyer trying to figure out how this was going to work.  Meanwhile, visibly incapacitated patrons, complete in Trachten Lederhosen, stumbled into the bathrooms of the opposite gender.  A table opened up in the Biergarten and we quickly sat down.

Enjoying a drink at the Augustiner Biergarten

Ordering “eine Maß” (one liter of beer) and our appetizer, a pretzel, that overflowed the 12” plate, we relaxed amongst the boisterous bachelor and bachelorette parties the occupied the shaded gravel that night.  But before our food arrived, a german couple about the age of our parents joined us at our small table.  While taboo in the USA, this behavior not uncommon from what I’ve experienced in Germany.  The couple was also visiting Munich and we had fun trying to communicate with each other.  So, in half-english-half-german, we talked about our trip to Austria, Euromeister 2012, and how revealing Drindl have become.

With our succesful Biergarten experience now complete,  we returned to the hotel.  The next day we fortunately had an uneventful return trip back to the U.S. and started plotting our next trip.  But, that will have to wait for another day…

Trip Metrics:

  • Total Distance: 105.1km over 6 days (65.3 miles)
  • Highest Elevation: 1457m on Loferer Alm, Day 2

Hiking in Austria Day 6: Weißbach to Lofer

Day 6 of 6.  Satisfied with a filling pre-hike breakfast, we set out north from Weißbach to the famous Lamprechtshöhle (Lamprecht’s cave).  The 700m of cave that is accessible to the public is just the foyer to the 51 km cave!  The cave has the medieval version of the Goonies story: a famous knight (Knight Lamprecht) hid all of his treasure in this mysterious cave.  The Knight’s two daughters, one blind, one greedy, inherited said treasure, but the greedy sister betrayed her kin and tried to take the treasure for herself. Somehow, the blind sister discovered this and cursed her sister with the treasure in the Frauenhöhle section of the cave.  Then there’s this thing about a Baby Ruth bar and a pirate’s ship, or something like that, I’m not fluent in German remember 🙂  Anyway, the tale convinced at least 198 adventurers to seek the treasure unsuccessfully, since that many human skeletons were found by more experienced spelunkers.

Knight Lamprecht’s treasure is here somewhere.

The entrance to the cave is marked with a wooden awning with a stone carving, which gives the cave a dwarven feel.  We were fortunate to even get to see the cave since it was initially closed due to “High Water” when we first arrived.  But, the attendant told us it would open in about ten minutes and we waited while she setup her kiosk and arranged all the plush bats by the cashier’s stand.  We proceeded into the cave with caution…

Being tall sometimes comes with disadvantages.

After the cave, we continued up the Saalach a bit and then veered west to detour to the Vorderkaserklamm.  Just one… more… gorge… I’ve mentioned before that it had rained after we returned to the hotels, each night in fact.  However, we carried our rain coats with us every day, just in case.  Well, at the base of this gorge, we shrugged off the sign that said something like “You will get wet on this ride.”  After 40m of a single-file-wooden-catwalk, we were soaked.  A deluge of water, all runoff from the mountain above, poured into the gorge.  We took momentary shelter under a hanging rock and put on our rain coats and the otherwise beautiful gorge became a blur as we raced up the hundred or so steps to the exit.  We were immediately greeted by two resting women who could do nothing but laugh at the sight of us, so we asked for a picture 😉

All gorged out.

Out of the gorge and through the woods, back to Lofer we go.  Stopping of course, for a snack at a well-timed snack-bar just north of St. Martin.  Another healthy snack: Nussschnecken and Pretzels!  Ending our day at the Salzburger Hof again, we completed our six days of hiking without luggage in the Saalachtal!  One last night in Austria before we set off for a travel day in Munich where we had one more adventure…

Day 6 map.

Metrics:

  • Date completed: 22.6.12
  • Distance: 19.4km
  • Start Time: 0947
  • Start Elevation: 664m
  • Highest Elevation: 883m @ 1228
  • End Time: 1551
Day 6 Elevation Plot