Parque Andino Juncal, Chile

A Magical Hike in Chile’s Parque Andino Juncal

“Frigid winds blow as we turn into the glacier’s gorge. Without foreseeing we begin to step on ice that shines in between the fallen rocks of surrounding towering mountains” – Nicolás Echenique, our guide and the founder of Coigüe Expeditions. 

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to hike and there is no one I’d rather hike with than my dad. Growing up, my dad instilled a deep love of hiking and being outdoors. Over the years, we have continued to hike together as much as possible when I visit my parents in Arizona or on one of our annual trips. Together, we have hiked the Andes of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, and there was no way we were going to Chile without doing some hiking on our trip.

I was thrilled to discover that many amazing day hikes are reachable right outside of Santiago. On our first full day in Chile, we did an incredible “warm-up” hike to El Morado Hanging Glacier with our own private guide, Nicolás Echenique (Nico) of Coigüe Expeditions and it was a wonderful adventure. We knew we were in for a special treat when we signed up to hike with Nico again in the pristine Parque Andino Juncal, home of the largest glacier in Central Chile.

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Vanoise National Park, France

Dinner in the Alps

A few years ago, my father and I did a seven day hike in the French Alps of Savoie at Vanoise National Park. Each day, we rose to the fresh, pure air of the mountains and hiked through breathtaking alpine scenery. As much as I love hiking, the best part of the day was when we arrived at our refuge for the night and sipped glass after glass of earthy Vin de Savoie as the sun set over the Alps and indulged in a delicious meal of local french cheese, meats, baguette and homemade root vegetable soup. Chicken or fish with savory rice or potatoes and pasta was next, followed by homemade dessert every night. There is nothing better than being rewarded with an enormous meal after a day hiking.

Vanoise National Park, France

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Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Why Using Local Guides Matters

Over the past twenty years, the world has truly become a smaller place. Once hard to reach, remote parts of the planet that used to be only for the most adventurous of tourists, have become more accessible. Places like the Himalayas of Nepal, the tiny fishing villages of Southeast Asia and the bushland of the Maasai have opened their doors for travelers,  allowing us to see their beautiful unique cultures as never before.

Although it is wonderful that more of the remote corners of the world are now accessible, it comes with a price. The negative impact of tourism on the environment, culture and people of a place, threatens it’s very own authenticity and landscape. This is why choosing sustainable travel is critical if we want to preserve and protect these destinations for the future.

My father and I have been trekking in remote places for decades and every place we go we use local trekking guides and companies. I honestly admit that the initial reasons behind our choice were purely convenience and economical.  However, the more we began using local guides, it became clear how incredibly rewarding and important it is to hire locally. Not only do you get a more intimate cultural experience by getting to see a country through their eyes, your investment also greatly supports the local community in which you are visiting. By hiring local, all money you spend on your trip is directly reinvested back in that very place that is so special instead of profiting an international corporation who only has financial interests to gain.

Furthermore, the cross-cultural friendships and understanding that are made and shared by hiring local are priceless. Not only does it create goodwill, it brings a new perspective and understanding on both sides of the relationship. As a client, you get to learn as much as possible about a culture, history, society, life, flora and fauna and environment. As a guide, you gain a better understanding of people who are so different from those portrayed in the media. Together, you can create life-long friendships that promote cultural understanding and peace.

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Our group heading down the trail on Kilimanjaro.

Here are three examples of why supporting local guides matters.

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Descending Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro: The Long Walk Down Continues

“I prefer physical exhaustion over mental fatigue any day”. – Clotilde Hesme

After a three-hour sleep, it was time to get up, eat and continue down to the final base camp of the trip. The last thing I felt like doing was walking more yet I wanted to get down to a warmer place and closer to the end. My left leg were quite swollen which would eventually make my left knee throb the entire four hours down and for days after the hike.  But I was determined to go. The thought of getting back to our hotel with a hot shower, a normal bed and alas a glass or two of wine kept me moving.

Descending Kilimanjaro

We had been incredibly fortunate to have had amazing weather the entire seven days on the hike. We never faced rain, the sky was clear affording us spectacular views of the peak and the valley below, and most important of all, it wasn’t too cold on our ascent to the summit. The only cloudy weather we had occurred during our descent down. It was gray and overcast but really it wasn’t bad at all compared to what it could be.

Descending Kilimanjaro

Descending Kilimanjaro

Descending Kilimanjaro

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Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Kilimanjaro: Day 1 Climb to Machame Camp

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” -Barry Finlay

The first day of the climb following the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro is a relatively easy 4-6 hour walk (depending on speed) ascending through lush tropical rainforest filled with Podocarpus trees, vine-like lianas, tree ferns and nettles. The trail is well-maintained yet can be muddy given the high levels of rain this part of the mountain receives. The thick foliage provides a verdant canopy letting in little light except tree-filtered rays of the sun. It is absolutely serene.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Our group of Solar Sisters setting off from the Machame Gate.

The weather was absolutely perfect. It was no too hot or too cold and it wasn’t raining which is always a relief. Until you are above the clouds, it can pour down rain making the journey up to Machame Camp a slippery, muddy, uncomfortable mess. Thankfully, we never experienced any bad weather the entire week of our climb which was rather remarkable and very fortunate. You never know what kind of extreme weather you may find on Kilimanjaro and just the week before the summit was unbearably windy and cold. The general rule of thumb is to always be prepared for everything and dress in layers.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Caroline giving me a smile

We left along with several other large groups of climbers and their teams. Our group of nine climbers had four guides, and about 25 others as our support staff, all local Tanzanians who were being paid as either porters, cooks or waiters. Since the entire Machame Route is camping only, everything we needed for the entire week had to be carried which required a large support team. Tents for us as well as the support staff, a cooking tent, a “kitchen” tent, two “toilet” tents and all our food and cooking supplies had to be carried up and down Kilimanjaro.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Porters heading up to the first camp

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Leaving the Andes

Saying goodbye to a trip is always hard. Over four months later I am still writing about Bolivia and today is the very last post. Life has been so busy that it all feels sometimes like a blur. That is what has been so rewarding about having this blog. It has been a way to remember special moments in time and relive that experience through pictures and words.

As we left the Condoriri Valley after two wonderful successful hikes, I felt a sense of pride. I made it and wasn’t so sure I would given a hip injury that had kept me from running. But I did make it and I felt great, physically and mentally. Even more important is I made it with my dad.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Packing up our gear

Cerro Austria Bolivia

The Grand Finale: Climbing Austria Peak

After a hard night’s sleep at base camp, we rose early for our second and last hike in Condoriri Valley. I was relieved that physical exhaustion had finally gotten the best of me and I was finally able to sleep in my iceberg tent at the foot of the glacier. It wasn’t as bitterly cold as the night before and I had finally acclimatized to our base camp elevation of 15,500 feet.

Cerro Austria, Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

The sun was rising and the only sounds we heard were of the wind and of our cook Eugenia, preparing our morning meal. Today’s hike was going to be a big one. We would climb about three to four hours up to the top of Cerro Austria also known as “Cerro Negro” to an altitude of 17,698 feet/5,396 meters. It would take us another 3 hours or so to descend depending on our speed.

I was a little bit weary of the hike because once again our guide Javier called it an “easy trekking peak that can be reached via moraines and rock slopes with no technical difficulty” in our itinerary. After a day of trekking with Javier, a serious mountaineer, I realized that “easy” for him meant something entirely different for my dad and me. But of course I was determined to make it.

The only concern for the day was the weather. A storm was coming in so we had to leave as soon as possible so we wouldn’t get caught in it. The thought of being caught in an electrical storm made me uneasy but I trusted Javier’s experience and knowledge of the high Andes. He had been climbing for over 30 years. If he didn’t know these mountains, no one did.

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Condoriri Vally, Bolivia

Climbing Mount Jaillaico in Bolivia’s Condoriri Valley

Rising up from the Pacific coast, the Andes mountain range is the longest and the youngest mountain range on the planet. After the Himalayas, it is the second highest range and is still growing. The Condoriri Valley lies within the 100 kilometer-long Cordillera Real mountain range northeast of La Paz, that separates the lowlands of the Amazon River basin to the east from the high plateaus of the Altiplano (highlands) to the west. The Cordillera Real is the most accessible and spectacular mountain range in the entire country and I could hardly wait to experience it on foot.

Our first big climb in Condoriri Valley was to Mount Jaillaico at 16,899 feet (5,152 m). Known as the “Mirador”, our trekking guide called it a relatively “easy” trekking peak that can be reached through grassy hills, glacial moraines and rocky slopes with no technical ability. Basically it is a warm-up climb for those serious mountaineers who are hoping to climb some of the bigger beasts in the area like the mighty Huayna Potosí (at 19,974 feet/6,088 m) or Illimani the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real at 21,122 feet/6,438 meters.

I wasn’t sure what Javier meant by “easy”  but starting out from our base camp at 15,500 feet on only a few hours of restless sleep did not make this a walk in the park. In fact, the first hour into our trek I wasn’t exactly sure that I would be able to make it, I felt so light-headed and fatigued. Every step was an effort and I felt out of breath. But thankfully, as I focused more and more on my breathing I felt better.

Condoriri Vally, Bolivia

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Sleeping at the Foot of a Bolivian Glacier

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post series The Drive to Condoriri Valley. To read post click on link. 

“I think it’s my adventure, my trip, my journey, and I guess my attitude is, let the chips fall where they may”. – Leonard Nimoy

Within an hour our entire campsite was set up and our home for the next few days was ready. It had been awhile since I had camped outdoors, and I had never camped at 15,500 feet before. Although it was nearing summer, I knew that it would get cold once the sun went down and the winds picked up speed, sweeping cold air off the ice of the glacier.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

A view from the dining tent. My tent is the small white one in the background with the glacial tongue shortly behind it.

Since we had an hour or two before dinner, we decided to explore our surroundings by taking a short hike to the mouth of the glacier. The rain had stopped but the wind was fierce. We had heard that this time of year can be rather temperamental in the Andes which explained why we were the only ones there at the camp site. In another month or two, it would be filled with tents and trekkers. Yet despite the questionable weather I felt lucky to have the entire view to ourselves.

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Base Camp: Condoriri Valley

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru

Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post The Drive to Condoriri Valley. To read post click on link. 

We had reached our first test of adventure getting to the base camp at Condoriri Valley when we arrived at a collapsed bridge. Heavy rains that are common during the early summer season of November had washed it away and Javier, our guide, informed us that in rural Bolivia, infrastructure like roads and bridges are the responsibility of the village. Therefore, everyone in the neighboring community was required to spend the day repairing the bridge.  No one in the community was excluded from helping out, even the women and children had a role.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Thankfully we had a land rover that enabled us to drive off road otherwise we would have been stuck. The bridge is essential for the community as is the gravel road that is a five-hour walk from the base of Condoriri Valley to the main highway. For those without cars, it is a long commute to civilization either on foot or bicycle. I learned that rural Bolivians are hardy people.

As we drove further and further away from the main road, the dramatic scenery became even more breathtaking. We passed traditional rural homes made of mud bricks layered tightly one on top of the other, covered with thatched roofs, and the brownish-green rolling hills of the glacier moraine that rest below the mighty Andes.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Back on the gravel road headed toward Base Camp

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Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

The Drive to Condoriri Valley, the foot of the Bolivan Andes

“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” – Anatoli Boukreev

There is something about leaving a big city and heading out to the countryside that truly shows the meaning of a place. Whenever I travel, I try my best to see both urban and rural parts of a country. While I enjoy the adventure and activity of a big urban city, for me getting out of it is the best part of all. I love the mountains, hills, and countryside. For it is within nature that I often feel the most alive.

Condoriri Valley, Bolivia

Clouds thicken with rain at the foot of the Condoriri Valley in Bolivia.

Back in November, my father and I spent three days in La Paz, Bolivia acclimatizing to the high altitude and gearing up for our base camp at the foot of the Bolivian Andes in the Condoriri Valley at 15,500 feet. Landing in El Alto, the highest international airport in the world at a dizzying altitude of 13,323 feet (4,061 m), is not for the lighthearted nor is spending three days exploring the hilly, high altitude urban jungle of La Paz (which happens to be only slightly lower in elevation than her neighbor El Alto).

By the third morning, I was ready to leave the craziness of La Paz behind for a few days and go find myself in the beloved mountains. I’ve always loved the mountains as it is the one place in the world that I can truly find peace and reflection. Furthermore, I truly enjoy a good physical and mental challenge and that was just was I was about to get over the next few days hiking in Condoriri Valley.

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Condoriri trailhead Bolivia

Gone but not forgotten in the Bolivian Andes

Over the past week, I’ve been off the grid so to speak, in the high Andes of Bolivia. My blog has been quiet while I spent four days sleeping at 15,400 feet at the foot of Condoriri Mountain (5648 m) in the Cordillera Real Range of Bolivia.

It was quite an adventure to say the least. One that I will never forget and one that I am still recovering from. My dad and I managed to climb two mountains in two days, the first at 16,899 feet (5152 m) and the second at a whopping 17,698 feet (5396 m). I still am in awe at the beauty of it all.

In honor of today’s photo challenge here are some photos of where I was. Many more will be coming soon as I play catch up and sort through all my colorful photos from Bolivia. Here is a sneak peak of a few unedited ones that capture the imagination of such a remote, spectacular place.

Condoriri Mountain Bolivia

Setting out to our destination: The foot of the Condoriri

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