The Loyalsock Trail, Mile by Mile

In this post, I break down the Loyalsock Trail into 25ths, providing a description of what your in for at each part of the trail. Check out my first Loyalsock Trail post for more general info about the hike.

This list was derived by memory, and also by reviewing the Alpine Club’s Guidebook, which my boyfriend’s dad purchased. You can order your own by downloading the order form here (they’re $4 each).

Guide to The Loyalsock Trail

Please note, we do the trail backwards. So this guide starts at mile 59.2 and works toward mile 1.

  • Mile 57.23, The Haystacks: Park your car at the trail head and then you got a 2-mile hike to get to the haystacks, an interesting rock formation in the Loyalsock creek. This section of the trail is relatively easy. It has a few slight downhills, but is mostly flat.
  • Mile 55.32, Iron Bridge: from the Haystacks, you’ll cross the Loyalsock creek on an old iron bridge.
  • Mile 53.47, Sones Pond: Nice Uphill until it levels out and you get to Sones Pond, which is a nice place to camp, if you’re ready to stop for the day.
  • From here, it’s a leisurely 7-8 miles of moderate hiking (not much uphill) leaving Sones Pond and going forward, you’re at the top of a high plateau, so it’s flat.
  • Mile 47.61: You start to descend into Worlds’ End State Park.
  • Mile 45.98, World’s End State Park: At mile 45.98, you’ll find the park office for Worlds End State Park. This is a great time to go to the park office and fill up on water, before you cross over the Loayalsock creek again by way of a large concrete bridge, which supports a paved road where cars are driving.
  • Leaving worlds end, cross route 154 and then you’re going to take a series of switchbacks and uphills for the next 2.5 miles, pretty steep uphill, series of switchbacks and uphill.
  • Mile 43.27, Loyalsock Canyon Vista: Very nice view. Stop for a break! After that, you’ll have 6.5 miles of leisurely hiking, just a bit of up and down, but fairly easy
  • Mile 36.45, Alpine View: A nice vista. From here, you’ll have a very steep downhill section into a stretch of the next 2-3 miles. This is tough hiking, rugged terrain with lots of up and down.
  • Mile 35.17, Rode Falls: Pretty waterfall, good place to break, good campsite, you’ll have to climb a ladder to get over the falls. It’s on the left! Leaving the falls, you have a 2 mile stretch that is uphill and rigorous. As you make your way out of the ravine, you’ll come up to split rock.
  • Mile 32.48, Split Rock: Another interesting rock formation. You’ll walk through two rocks that look like they’re split in half. Hiking difficulty is moderate, a little up and down, but nothing too crazy.
  • Mile 29.95, High Knob Road: Cross the road on top of the mountain. If you followed our advice about parking a third car at the midway point, this is where it is! From here on, keep your eye’s peeled for timber rattlers! In the past, every time I’ve seen rattlesnakes, it’s been between here and mile 1. Leaving high knob, is a steep downhill, no switchbacks. Once you reach the bottom, it’s fairly level hiking for the next 4 miles.
  • Mile 26.66, Cross a Road: and begin a descent until you bottom out at
  • Mile 25.24, Kettle Creek: No camping here. Very low elevation. From here, you’ll be climbing for the next mile, it’s a pretty steep uphill to get out of Kettle Creek. This is followed by a long, steady downhill until you reach
  • Mile 22.08, Good Break Spot: Next to a road. Altitude is 1,270.  Your feet are probably tired, and you have a long uphill coming up, to the highest point on the trail at mile 19.92. You’re going to be going up a long, steep, never-ending uphill.
  • Mile 21.14, Private Land Begins.
  • Mile 19.92, Highest Point on the Trail: 2,140 feet. Trail turns to the right, and you reach a long, beautiful meadow, trail is now a dirt road. Follow for about a half mile until it takes you back into the woods. At this point, you’ve passed mile 21.14, which begins an area that is privately owned, so no camping between there and 14.82.
  • Mile 18.85, Return to the Woods: The long meadow ends here. Go back into the woods until the woods clear out again, and you’ll see a bar/restaurant at the top of a hill.
  • Mile 18.25, Highland House Club: You can’t get a beer! It sound delicious right now, I know. But this is a private club, and only members can eat at this place. Bart says that he and his dad tried to get a beer twice. The first time, they were turned away. The second time, someone was kind enough to sign them in. Last time I did this hike, two guys drove by in a car and gave us each a cold blue gatorade and a room temperature can of Busch Lite. Awesome!  Anyway, at this point, you’re on a long gravel road that’s going downhill. Follow this road until mile 16.1.
  • Mile 16.1, Gravel Road Ends: Turn right off of the road, back into the woods and onto the trail. Be careful, this is easy to miss! The next 2 miles will be gradual uphill until you reach mile 14.82.
  • Mile 14.82, Private Land Ends: You can start looking for a spot to camp for the night. At this point, you’re on the last leg of your journey. For the next 4 miles, it’s relatively flat and slightly downhill at some points.
  • Mile 10, Gentle Ups and Downs: Starts some gentle climbing and descending.
  • Mile 6.65, Smith’s Knob: Smith’s Knob is rough. It’s a very steep hike up to the overlook, and then a very steep hike down after that. From the top of Smith’s Knob down, you’ll lose 12,000 feet of elevation.
  • Mile 4.81, Ranger Headquarters at Little Bear Creek: No camping here.
  • Mile 4.6, Peter’s Pathway: Steep, narrow, rocky uphill path. From here, you’re gaining back the 12,000 feet back until you reach mile 3.38.
  • Mile 3.38, Crest of Alleghany Ridge: The home stretch! Traverse over Alleghany Ridge (about 3 miles). Hang in there!
  • Mile .58, Steep Downhill to Victory: a very steep downhill until you reach highway 87.

How to Thru-Hike the Loyalsock Trail

There’s nothing like the sense of pride that comes with finishing all of something, and hiking a trail in its entirety is really something special. But it’s hard to do.

If you’re anything like me, you dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, but walking away from society for three+ months is difficult to pull off. And that’s putting it lightly. Fortunately, there are a lot of eventful trails that are shorter. The Loyalsock Trail connects Mountoursville and Laport, two small towns in north-central Pennsylvania. The trail spans along the Loyalsock Creek for 59.2 miles. Hiking the whole thing in 4 days is certainly no easy feat, but it’s entirely doable.

Mile 1 of the trail is at the Northwest end, in Williamsport, but I’ve always done this trail backwards, starting at mile 59.2 and ending at mile 1. Mile 1 is a treacherous rocky hill, so starting it backwards helps you ease in on a more gradual start. Plus, then you have a nice steep downhill to look forward to as your last mile. 🙂

About the Loyalsock Trail

The LT is maintained by The Alpine Club of Williamsport. It follows the mountain ridges and streams along the Loyalsock Watershed. On abandoned railroad grades, footpaths, and old logging roads, the trail makes its way through the Loyalsock State Forrest.

The trail is marked with yellow blazes with red lettering.

Click here for a detailed, mile-by-mile breakdown of the hike.

A Note About Water

On this hike, we carry 2 Nalgene bottles and collect water from streams along the trail. I recommend packing 2 1-liter water bottles and something to use to treat your water. Check out my guide for techniques to purify your water.

The Best Time of Year to Hike the Loyalsock

If you’re from PA, you know the 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, & construction. What I mean is, things are hit or miss and vary from year to year. Obviously it’s better to go during a clear forecast, but that can be difficult to predict. It’s also more enjoyable to hike during mild weather, and that’s something you can predict, within reason.

I’d say the best time to do this hike is in September or May. That will save you from extreme heat during the day and extreme cold and night. If you can, check the forecast and choose a weekend that isn’t so rainy. But if you have a rain fly for your tent and a rain jacket for your person, a little rain isn’t a deal-breaker. At least not for me!

Of course, you can hike the trail any time of year. Heaven knows that Bart has! Personally, I’ve done the hike twice: once in May and once in July. The July time was a bit miserable–so hot! Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re doing it in the summer, is the bugs. Oh, the bugs! I didn’t have any issues with ticks, but there were gnats buzzing in my ear for much of the trip. So much so that I got into a rhythm of step, swipe bugs out of my eye, step, swipe bugs out of my ear. Rinse and repeat.

But if you’re an experienced hiker and you like a challenge, you can definitely do it in the heat, if that’s your jam. Just bring extra socks.

Camping/Hiking Permits for the Loyalsock Trail

If you’re hiking the entire Loyalsock Trail, you don’t need a permit. Just find a good-looking spot on the edges of the trail. The world is your oyster. Just don’t camp on any private property, and there is no camping between miles 14.82 and mile 21.14. That’s all private property.

Some people prefer to just do part of the trail or have a more laid-back camping trip, & that can be fun! Depending on where you stay, you’ll need to get a permit. I would recommend World’s End State Park, which has beautiful overlooks. That campground opens the second Friday in April and closes at the end of regular deer season (early December).

Trail Transportation

Though I’ve never used it a shuttle service exists for hikers on the LT. You will need to pay a fee and schedule ahead of time.

Another option is to park a car at either end, and one in the center can add an extra layer of security, in case someone gets injured or has a change of heart. Plus, you can store some supplies and food in there!

Here’s where we park our 3 cars.

  • 1 in the parking area along route 87, at mile 1, which is the northwest end of the trail
  • 1 in the parking area off of 220, at mile 59.2, which is the southeast end of the trail
  • 1 at High Knob Overlook, which is mile 29.95, roughly the center of the trail

If you’re parking a third car at High Knob Overlook, be sure to stash a feast in there. Goldfish, gatorade, honey mustard pretzels, jerky. The works.

 

3 Steps to a Great Picnic

Picnics are so underrated.

The simplicity is beautiful. Packing a lunch and a blanket and going to the park is cheap, low-maintenance, and has incredible pay-off. They are a great way to spend time outside with your SO, family, friends, or solo.

But just as with most other things, preparation is key. The way I see it, there are 3 important steps to preparing for a great picnic.

Step 1: Choose a Venue

First things first, you’ll need to choose a place to have a picnic. I like to go to a park with lots of grassy knolls, bonus points for lakes or ponds. For our example picnic, we headed to FDR Park, located in South Philadelphia right across from the city’s sports stadiums. I like this park a lot because it’s huge and has lots of parking spaces.

I highly recommend having a few picnic venues up your sleeves. If you’re new to a city, this may take some time. Check out the public parks in your area and see what you can find. But, depending on where you live, you could also have a picnic in your backyard! And if it’s winter, you could even spread out a blanket on your living room floor.

That reminds me, make sure you check the weather before you go!

Step 2: Choose Your Menu

Depending on your venue, you could have so many different vibes for your picnic! If the park as grills and picnic tables, you might want to bring burgers to cook. Most of my picnics are more low-key. Some of my favorite things to pack are:

  • Fresh fruit (easy to eat, nothing too juicy)
  • Cheese & Crackers
  • Chips & Dip
  • Cookies, Chocolate, or Another Treat
  • Wine

Now, if you do bring wine, you may want to first check and see if the park you’re going to is strict about drinking (if you live in a major city, Reddit can be a great source for this). Obviously, you’re not having a frat party. Keep it chill.

For this picnic, I got most of our rations at Trader Joes (I’m not sponsored. As if). We packed:

  • Fresh Figs
  • 1000 Day Gouda Cheese
  • Pumpkin Tortilla Chips to Scoop Up Our
  • Leftover Red Beans & Rice (Packed in a Rinsed-Out Yogurt Container!)
  • Maple Leaf Cookies
  • Red Wine (Couldn’t buy at TJ’s Because PA Liquor Laws)

Step 3: Pack

wine packed for a picnicThis is important! You’ll want to make sure you pack everything you need. It will be sad if you forget a spoon to scoop your bruschetta or an opener for your wine. Doing a run-through in your head will help you remember each of the items you need. How are you going to divvy up your dip? You could scoop it out of the container, or you might want to bring a spoon and plates. If you’re packing cheese, you’ll need a knife and a cutting board (or, you could probably make do with a plate).

Consider a Picnic Kit

A few Christmases ago, my sister gifted us a picnic kit, featuring a cooler, Tupperware containers, mini cutting board, and knives that came with their own sheaths. She also gave us a water-resistant picnic blanket that folds up nicely and has a carrying handle. I would recommend investing in a similar kit, if you want to get seriously into picnicking. It also makes a great gift! Of course, if you’re a minimalist, you can totally get away with just packing what you have in your kitchen already. You can just use a regular blanket and throw it in the wash when you’re done.

You may also want to bring a card game, book, or other activity. I usually do, but end up chatting and napping instead.

Enjoy your picnic!

Site-Seeing in Kathmandu

In Orange is the New Black, when Piper first arrives in prison, Yogi Jones approaches her and asks if she’s ever heard of a mandala. When Piper says she has, they are “those round Buddhist art things,” Yogi Jones elaborates:

The Tibetan monks make them out of dark sand laid out into big beautiful designs. And when they’re done, after days or weeks of work, they wipe them away…try to look at your experience here as a mandala, Chapman.

Touring a Mandala Painters’ School in Ancient Bhaktapur

Tibetan culture is quite alive in Nepal, including mandala paintings. While some mandalas are indeed made of sand and wipe away when they’re finished, others are preserved on canvass. Along the streets of Pokhara, many shops sell paintings of mandalas, called ‘thangka.’ They range in size, quality, & price. The most expensive are large and incredibly detailed, painted by masters. The cheaper versions are made by lesser trained painters who quickly copy off of one of higher quality.

The day after our trek, we visit ancient Bhaktapur and we tour a school for mandala painters. A teacher at the school brings us through a building full of painters in training, focusing hard on their canvases, and he brings us to an upstairs room. It’s full of rolled up mandalas, which he unrolls for us and allows us to look with a magnified glass at the intricate details. On the wall is a large Mandala that takes up the entire wall.

He explains that the largest and most detailed paintings actually take months to years of full 8-hour days of painting. For the smallest detailing, artists use paintbrushes with a single hair on them.

The paintings are not only beautiful, but hold significance for Buddhists, who use the mandalas as a tools for practicing tantric meditation. Bart and I purchase a beautiful mandala painting at the school for approximately $250. It currently hangs in our living room. As we were informed, the black portion at the edge of the circle faces the floor. Hanging it the other way is bad karma, we’re informed.

A Living Medieval Museum

In addition to the mandala school, Bhaktapur, a living museum of what the Kathmandu Valley looked like in the medieval times, is home to pagoda-style Buddhist temples and ancient buildings. Many of the buildings were destroyed during a recent earthquake. There are carvers working to restore the structures, and they let me take a turn with the chisel. After giving it a whirl, I’m amazed at their precision in carving such intricate patterns into the wood.

We pass pottery drying in the sun and eventually, a man working on a potter’s wheel. He’s impressed when Bart asks for a turn and creates a good-quality pot on the spot.

Hey Hey, We’re the Monkeys

We also tour Swayambhunah Stupa, also known as the monkey temple. The experience has forever changed my opinion of monkeys, which turn out to be deplorable creatures. When I see one masturbate in public and splooge into a bush, Bart catches my reaction on camera.

Some of the monkeys are cool, though, and the views from the temple are beautiful and adorned with Nepalese prayer flags. Prayer wheels are everywhere, which people turn clockwise as they walk past.

A woman beckons to us and anoints us with a red and yellow urnas on our foreheads. A language barrier gets in the way, and we don’t have the right amount of money to pay her. We give her what we have, but it’s short. I feel guilty, but appreciate the experience.

Mardi Himal Base Camp Trek: Part 2

I’m breaking up my trek to Mardi Himal Basecamp into 2 parts (here’s part 1). To read about how we set the hike up & basics about the trek, check out this post.

Day 3: Trek from Low Camp to High Camp

In the morning, after another breakfast of eggs, bread, and porridge. we set off on our journey, and surprise! Sesame tags along! You may remember him from Part 1 of our journey. He follows us along the trail for sometime before running off the trail and into the woods.

 

We hike for the better part of the day. In the late afternoon, we come to a clearing where we meet a flock of goats sunbathing on rocks.

 

As we climb higher, we come across some grazing yaks. I approach one and think about petting him. Now, I don’t know much about yaks, but I did pet cows often as a child. That gives me the confidence to approach him, & I decide to mix in some of my best dog/cat etiquette. I let the yak sniff my hand before I stroke him on the nose. When I take my hand away, the yak wants to sniff some more, so I oblige, and he starts to lick my hand.

Just when I’m thinking: wow, this yak loves me! I have a furry Himalayan friend who I’ll always remember–the yak lowers it’s head, as if to ram its horns into me and I get the fuck out of there.

 

We arrive at high camp. The photos below are the view we have from outside of our room in the teahouse.

I start to feel the effects of the altitude when I walk up a small hill on the way back from the bathroom and feel out of breath. At a store near the teahouse, Bart and I buy sweatshirts that say “I <3 Mardi Trek.”

We spend the evening huddled under comforters and keeping warm by the fire in the dining area. This camp is much colder than the previous two. We’re at 11,745 feet (3580 m) now!

During the night, I steal away to the space in front of the mountains, and look up at the stars, which are beautifully visible from way up here.

 

 

Day 4: High Camp to Mardi Himal Basecamp

Finally, it’s time for our push to the summit. In this case, our summit is Mardi Himal Basecamp. We eat breakfast at 6 AM and our on the trail by 6:30.

The first part of the hike is very, very steep. Another portion brings us to a knife-edge spine, looking down 10,000 feet on either side. I don’t feel scared, but maybe that’s because I’m starting to feel loopy from the altitude and the exhaustion.

At the summit, there is a beautiful shrine, and a striking marker adorned with Nepalese prayer flags. There is also a tea house there. According to our guide, the people who run the tea house live there year-round. They give us french fries, noodles, burritos, and mango juice. I manage to stomach the juice, but little else. The altitude seams to take away my appetite.

The trek back down is just as hard as the trek up, maybe even more so, since I’m so tired at that point. At 6:45 PM, we are back in bed.

 

Day 5: Trek from High Camp to Sidhing

The way up to Basecamp takes us 4 days, but we go almost the whole way down in 1. At 4:30, we arrive at the last teahouse. It has 4 rooms and a small, cozy dining room. The family that owns the teahouse has two little girls, ages 2 & 12, and a boy cousin is hanging out, he’s 11.

The 2-year-old girl runs around laughing and clapping, and the older kids, who study English in school, delight in writing down a list of English words and their corresponding Nepali word. We draw together.

From this teahouse, you can see the layers of green gardens terraced into the hillside. Along the way, I spot a donkey who is contently carrying propane tanks up the mountain.

Day 6: Jeep ride from Sidhing back to Pokhara

The next day, we pile into a jeep. 2 in the front by the driver, 4 in the backseat, 2 in the trunk, and 2 on the roof. We travel down the side of the mountain, picking up passengers along the way. The new passengers climb on top.

The views on the way down are beautiful, but this trip was terrifying. We drive on a narrow road on the side of steep drop-offs. The driver doesn’t speak much English, but at the most frightening parts of the road he remarks “no problem,” and takes several cell phone calls during the journey.

Near the bottom of the hill, we arrive at a beautfiul waterfall, and we all get the chance to jump in. I roll up my yoga pants and wade around. The water is chilly, but clean and beautiful.

And before climbing into a cab to head back to Pokhara, you’ll never guess who we bumped into 🙂

Sesame!

Mardi Himal Base Camp Trek: Part 1

View from the Balcony at scared valley inn

Trekking to Mardi Himal Base Camp from Pokhara

The Mardi Himal Basecamp trek winds through lush forrest, fragrant with rhododendrons. There are plenty of opportunities to gaze at the mountains from windows between the trees. Each day, the mountains grow closer and closer, but they’re always visible. By the time you’re right below them, it feels like greeting an old friend.

After a 12 hour flight from Philadelphia to Doha, Quatar, a 12 hour layover in the Doha airport, a 5 hour flight from Doha to Kathmandu, Nepal, and a 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, Nepal, it felt good to arrive at the Sacred Valley Inn in Pokhara.

Through the hotel, we booked a trek to Mardi Himal Base Camp, hiring a guide and 3 porters for the journey. We store some of our suitcases at the Sacred Valley Inn during out trek, so we only need to bring what we need for our trek.

(check out this other post about what you should know before trekking in Nepal).

Day 1: Car Ride to Kande & Hike to Pitam-Deurali

Our van drops us off at the end of a paved road, high in what, to me, is a mountain, but to the Nepalese is a hill. The very start of the trail has stone steps climbing through villages. We see a bit of the forrest, but our guide, Krishna, informs us that we’ll enter the most beautiful parts of the woods on day 2. The marigolds in Nepal are absolutely stunning. Wild ones line the trail throughout the first day of our trek.

We stop at Australian Camp for lunch, which is my first time having dal bhat, a traditional Nepalese dish. It consists of rice, sautéed greens, curry, pickled veggies, bread, and something that I can only describe as a cracker. I eat mine with a fork. however, at the end of the trek, I notice how the Nepalese eat it. They mix it all together and use their hands to eat. I wish I would have noticed this earlier, I would have eaten it that way from the start!

At the tea house where we eat lunch, I get the chance to do something I saw local children doing the day before: swing on a swing! These swings hang from groups of trees that have been bowed together.

We spend the night at Forest Camp, which has a large stone patio. It’s here that we meet our friend, Sesame the dog, who will end up being a faithful companion during our trip.

In November, the weather in Nepal is warm and sunny, but the higher you go up, the colder it gets. At around 4 PM, chilly winds set in on the mountains.

Day 2: Trek from Nice View Hotel in Pitam Deurali to Low Camp

When we wake up, we see a spectacular sunrise. We have a breakfast of eggs, porridge, potatoes, bread, and masala tea before hitting the trail.

Forrest camp panoramic sunrise

The next portion of our trek takes us through a surprisingly lush forrest. Moss drips from the branches, and huge rhododendron trees line the path. Streams flow around us, occasionally crossing underneath the trail.

We take plenty of breaks but keep trekking on at a steady pace. As the sun rises, so do the temperatures.

At night, we arrive at Kokar Forest Camp, which features a large, lush meadow where we sit and rest up until the sun sets. There are also chickens running freely among large cannabis plants growing wildly. It is here that we once again run into Sesame. The owners of the teahouse feed him some prized scraps: a water-buffalo head (I spared you the photo in case you’re squeamish).

Continue reading with part 2 of my journey!

Nepal Etiquette & What to Know Before Trekking

Before I found out that I had the chance to travel to Nepal, I had never heard of it. I had heard of the Himalayas, and I had always wanted to see them. Nepal is almost entirely in the Himalayas. 8 out of the world’s 10 tallest mountains are in Nepal, including Mount Everest. It’s a small country in South Asia, on the Northwest edge of India, boarding Tibet to the East.

After I arrived there, I found the country to be unlike any place I’ve ever been, or even seen a picture of. The mountains were always visible, no matter where I traveled in the country. The clothes, building, and flowers were the most vibrant as I’d ever seen, and the people were kind, friendly, and welcoming.

 

Nepalese Basic Etiquette

Before I began my 24-hour long journey to Pokhara, I made sure to familiarize myself with some of the country’s basic etiquette:

  • PDA between men and women is scandalous to the Nepalese. However, platonic touches from men to other men and women to other women are common.
  • Namaste is their standard greeting. To show extra respect, fold your hands in front of your chest and bow your head when you say it.
  • Nepalese avoid touching things with their feet & left hands.
  • Many Nepalese do not like having their pictures taken, so be sure to ask permission first.
  • For females, modest clothing is a must. In South Asia, that means cover up your shoulders, and don’t show skin above the knee. Plain t-shirts are ideal. They’re easy, breath well and cover the important parts. However, I highly recommend bringing a scarf. While I was fine wearing just a t-shirt in touristy Pokhara, in Kathmandu, I noticed a Nepalese man ogling my chest. After that, I stayed covered up with a scarf for the rest of the trip.
  • A nod of the head means yes, and a shake of the head means no (the same as in the West). A light bobbing of the head from side to side means OK, or agreement.
  • Haggling is the norm! If you go shopping, the merchandise isn’t marked with a price. If you ask for the price, the person working at the shop will tell you. That’s the starting point. In most cases, you can get them to greatly reduce the price.

How Many Days Do You Need Off for Nepal?

You will need at least 1 day to travel to Nepal, and 1 day to travel back. The time difference is 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Eastern Standard (NYC) Time, so the jet lag can get pretty intense. I took 8 days off of work, which with weekends, equated to an 11 day trip, including travel time. I found it to be the perfect length for an awesome trek, travel to and from, and some site-seeing.

Mardi Himal Base Camp Trek, Near Machapuchare

 

A large portion of the time I spent in Nepal was in the Annapurna Himalayas, doing a trek to Mardi Himal Basecamp. The trip was magical. It began with a hike through lush forests with steep hills, finishing in the barren, dry, and mystical top of the Earth.

Along the way, we saw buddhist temples, wild monkeys, goats, and yaks. You could smell rhododendrons in the fresh mountain air, and the snowy mountain peaks were always visible between the trees, until they were right before us.

You’re hiking to the bottom of Mardi Himal, which is right next to Machapuchare, which translates to “Fish’s Tail.” If you look closely, you’ll see how the mountain resembles the forked tale of a fish.

What are the Accommodations Like?

Sleeping: At night, you’ll stay in tea houses, basic structures located along the trail. They each have a building with a kitchen and dining area, and small hotel rooms with twin-bed-sized wooden platforms with foam pads on top. Putting your sleeping bags on top of the pad. It makes for a comfy bed. Most provide a pillow and comforter, but you will be cold with just that. Definitely bring a sleeping bag.

Food: The tea houses offer a surprisingly large menu with traditional Nepalese foods and even some Western options, like pizza! The pizza is actually pretty good, better than I expect. Breakfast is traditional tibetan bread that reminds me a little of pita bread, eggs, porridge, and potatoes. As you might guess, there are also plenty of tasty teas available. My favorites during the trip are lemon ginger tea and masala tea, which is very similar to chia.

Bathroom Situation: The tea houses have shared bathrooms, and two of them have hot showers. Taking a shower costs 200 rupees ($1.76). The bathrooms have squatting toilets. These are basically toilet bowls sunk into the ground with two textured spaces on either side for your feet. They take some getting used to, but they aren’t so bad. Bring your own toilet paper!

Sleeping at Altitude: As a rule of thumb, altitude typically starts to effect you at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level, especially if you sleep there. So altitude wise, the only rough parts of the Mardi Himal Basecamp trek come on day 3, when you arrive at High Camp, and peaks on day 4, when you wake up at high camp and do your summit push.

What’s the Weather Like?

Like most high-altitude climates, the weather warms up and cools off very quickly. I was comfortable in a t-shirt and long pants during the day, but at about 4 PM, a chilly wind would set in. I would put on a fleece jacket, fleece vest, down jacket, hat, and scarf, and still be a bit chilly.

The higher up you go, the colder it gets. By the time we arrived at high camp, the weather stayed pretty cold all day long.

Itinerary for the Mardi Himal Basecamp Trek

The itinerary for the trek looks like this:

  • Day 1: Car Ride to Deurali & Hike to Pitam-Deurali-6,890 feet (2,100 meters)
  • Day 2: Trek from Pitam-Deurali to Kokar Forest Camp-10,007 feet (3,050 meters)
  • Day 3: Trek from Kokar Forrest Camp to High Camp-12,795 feet (3,900 m)
  • Day 4: Summit to Mardi Himal Base Camp-14,764 feet (4,500 m) and back to High Camp
  • Day 5: Trek from High Camp to Sidhing-5,877 feet (1,700 m)
  • Day 6: Jeep ride from Sidhing back to Pokhara

Follow My Trek to Mardi Himal Basecamp

 

Canoe Camping Gear: What to Pack

I recently went on a canoe camping trip on the Potomac River between West Virginia and Maryland. I had a great time, and you can learn more about it on my other post!

If you’re planning your own trip, keep reading for a list of essential gear to pack with you.

The links on this page are affiliate links, that means that, should you purchase any of these items after following a link, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you).

1. Canoe Gear

Typically, canoes and basic necessities are provided by the outfitter from whom you rent the boats.

Canoe outfitters typically provide:

  • Canoes (duh)
  • 1 Paddle for Each Person 
  • Life Preservers-In most states, adults over 18 aren’t required to wear the vests, but the law does require you to have them in the boat with you.

Other things that you may want to bring with you in the canoe are:

  • Sponges: Look for heavy-duty, car detailing style sponges. These will come in handy if your boat starts to fill with water!
  • Sham Wow Towel: They’re also great for absorbing excess water that sneaks into your boat.
  • Sun Protection: Don’t forget sunscreen! It’s also a good idea to bring sunglasses & a hat.
  • Bug Spray
  • Dry BagWhen camping, it’s always a best practice to store essentials like your cell phone, stove, headlamps, and toilet paper in a dry bag. You’ll have much more fun if those stay dry!

2. Camping Gear

canoe-gear

  • Tent
  • Tarp or Sheet of Plastic: to put under the tent. Most tents aren’t waterproof on the bottom, so without an extra layer, the water seeps through from underneath. Some tents come with a piece called a footprint that does the same job, but a sheet of plastic or tarp works just as well and costs a lot less!
  • Sleeping Bag: Look for one that’s lightweight and quick-drying. That will come in handy, especially if it rains. As an extra precaution, I always also put my bag in a garbage bag before I pack it.
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Camping Stove & Fuel: Make sure the fuel you pick up is compatible with your stove! If you’ve seen the movie Wild or read the book, you know what can happen if not.
  • Pot to Cook Food in
  • Towel: I like these pack towels because they dry quickly and fold up super small.
  • Lighter &/or Waterproof Matches: It can’t hurt to pack a few extra. If you’re using a lighter, it’s hard to gauge how much life is left in it.
  • Cup, Fork, & Plate: If you’re camping with friends, it’s helpful to ask everyone to pack their own.
  • Coffee Funnel: It’s easy to make coffee in this. Just scoop some coffee grounds into the funnel and position it over your cup. Meanwhile, heat water in your pot, and pour it over the funneled coffee beans and into the cup. Voila!
  • Head Lamp & Extra Batteries
  • Toilet Paper
  • Rope: You’ll need some strong multi-purpose rope for tying up canoes, making clotheslines, and creating hand rails for carrying gear up muddy slopes.
  • Pocket Knife
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste

3. In Case of Emergency

  • System for Filtering Water: I usually use either iodine tablets or a Steri Pen. We usually pack bottled water & gallons of purified water for our canoe trip, but these are good to have in case an emergency arises. If you’re looking to save weight, purifying your water instead of packing it with you is a good way to do it.
  • First Aid Kit: Pack a few essentials to treat minor injuries. I like to bring: band-aides, gauze, alcohol prep swabs, medical tape, triple antibiotic ointment (Neosporin), tweezers, and an ace bandage. It doesn’t hurt to pack Advil or Tylenol.

4. Clothing

  • Water Shoes: I personally prefer crocs! They may not be stylish, but they provide decent traction in the boat, and are waterproof. You can secure them to your feet with the ankle strap, but they still slip on and off easily, which is a great feature when you need to leave the tent to go pee in the middle of the night.
  • Quick Dry Shorts & T Shirts: I usually just bring 1 change of clothes, but of course, bring as many as you think you’ll need to stay comfortable!
  • Rain Jacket: I believe in packing a rain coat no matter the forecast. It doesn’t weigh much, and it’s better to be prepared. Getting wet will ruin your trip.
  • Swimsuit: If you want to go swimming in the river. I usually wear mine under my clothes in case.
  • Fleece or Hoodie: Check the temperature at night. You may not need it.

5. What to Eat While Canoe Camping

We reached my favorite part in gear-planning: what to pack for food!

Typically, we freeze bottles of water and use that to insulate our coolers. As the water melts, you get cold drinking water!

Things to keep in mind:

  • Your cooler will keep food really cold, but only for so long. The food is usually still relatively cold on day 3, but we usually try and schedule meals that involve cooking meat for early on in the trip.
  • Every time you open your cooler, some cool air escapes. Try and limit the number of times you open the cooler per day, and when you do open it, try to be efficient and grab what you’re looking for quickly. We like to keep our drinks and lunch foods that we access during the day in a separate cooler from the food we plan on cooking over the fire for dinner.
  • Bring enough water! The standard advice is to drink 1 liter per hour you spend exerting yourself, so keep that in mind when you’re planning how to hydrate while you spend the day on the river.

Now here’s what to pack for food!

You can bring whatever food you like to eat. These are just some ideas to get you started.

Breakfast

If you’re up for it, you could cook eggs, bacon, or even pancakes. I usually like to keep it simple and bring something like:

  • Oatmeal: Just empty the packet into your bowl, heat water in your pot, and pour that over top. Easy as can be!
  • Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Homemade Breakfast Bars: You can bake them ahead of time, then wrap them up and pack ’em to go!

Lunch

We usually don’t pull out the stove for lunch, but save our energy for cooking hot breakfasts and dinners.

Some lunch foods I like to pack:

  • Salami
  • Trail Mix
  • Sandwiches (PB & J or lunchmeat)
  • Jerky
  • Dried Fruit
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Cheese
  • Potato Chips
  • Tortilla Chips and Guacamole
  • Granola Bars
  • Hummus With Baby Carrots or Crackers

 

Dinner

I find these 3 methods the easiest for cooking outdoors while camping:

  1. smoreCook Over the Fire: For this, you’ll need additional tools. I like to use Pie Irons or sometimes a collapsible grill. Plus, you will need some sort of spatula or tongs. You can use these to cook hamburgers, corn on the cob, mini pizzas. The possibilities are truly endless, but I find it better to pack things that aren’t too fussy. And of course, there’s always the old standby of hotdogs on a stick, which I happen to despise, and s’mores, which I happen to adore.
  2. Add Hot Water: Cook foods that just require adding hot water: dehydrated rice or pasta meals, noodles with sauce, oatmeal
  3. Freeze & Reheat: Cook food ahead of time at home and freeze it in a baggie. Then, heat it up in the pot before serving. Foods like chili, soups, stews, and meatballs are good for this.

6. Fishing Gear

If you’re fishing the Potomac, you’re probably going to catch small mouth bass, panfish like sunfish, walleye if you’re lucky, and a muskie if you’re very lucky. The river also has largemouth bass, shiner, pike, and catfish.

If you’re going to fish, be sure to get a fishing license before your trip. The Potomac is the border of Maryland and West Virginia, but our canoe outfitter told us we only needed Maryland licenses, so be sure to ask your outfitter which license you need. You can buy them at Wal Mart, and some hunting and fishing stores.

For our trip, we brought:

Bring a mix of whatever works for you. I do recommend bring extras of all your lures, you will probably lose a few in the grass on the bottom of the river, in tree branches, etc.

7. Bonus Items

These things aren’t 100% necessary, but they’re nice to have. Some items on this list can make or break a trip for your friend who is borderline not into camping. Most canoes can hold 2 adults along with 1,000 pounds of gear. However, you are going to have to carry all the stuff and the heavier the canoe, the more effort it will take to paddle.

With that in mind, here is our luxury list.

  1. A Solar Charger: Keep a charge on your phone as the trip goes on. If not, I’d recommend putting your phone in airplane mode when you’re not using it. You’d be amazed at how that saves the battery, plus, you can still use your phone’s camera while it’s in airplane mode.
  2. Pillow
  3. Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker
  4. Camping Chairs
  5. Hatchet: You don’t need it, but if you want to light a fire, this will make it easier to get those elusive big logs that keep the fire burning.
  6. Wet Wipes
  7. Soap
  8. Air Mattress: I’ve camped with a legit air mattress before! When you’re car camping, you can use your car’s auxiliary power outlet, but you can also get a battery operated air pump.

Puerto Rico: An Outside Itinerary

I’ve been home from Puerto Rico for 2 days. In Philadelphia, the air is starting to get crisp, with just a few crunchy leaves sprinkling the ground. It’s one of my favorite times of year, but still I wish I was in Puerto Rico!

It was too easy to get used to these views from our morning coffee spot in El Yunque National Forrest.

Traveling to Puerto Rico from the US Mainland

Especially for US citizens, Puerto Rico makes a easy & affordable trip. Here are some reasons why:

  • Puerto Rico is a US territory, so you don’t need to bring a passport or deal with customs.
  • Everyone in the tourism industry speaks English.
  • The currency is the US dollar.
  • There are plenty of direct flights–especially on the East Coast.
  • The flight isn’t long. It took us 4.5 hours from Philadelphia.
  • Rent a car with your US car insurance.
  • It takes 4 hours to drive across the entire island. During our trip, everything we wanted to see was within an hour from our Airbnb in El Yunque Forrest.

We arrived in Puerto Rico on Saturday in the late afternoon and flew home early Wednesday morning. Despite this being a shorter trip, we were really able to pack a lot in!

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

panoramic photo of elemental eco retreat in el yunque forrest

Many people prefer to stay in Old San Juan, which is a fun city in a good location for accessing other destinations on the island.

We opted to stay in El Yunque National Forrest, which was more our scene. The forrest is another great, centralized location. Plus, you get to experience the beauty of the only rain forrest located within the United Sates National Forrest System.

We found the place we stayed by searching for lodging in El Yunque National Forrest using the app, Airbnb. Our Airbnb was called Elemental Ecoretreat, and was a house with awesome views run by a lovely couple and from Minnesota and their son. On our first night, we stop for dinner in Old San Juan on the way home from the airport.

Next, we attempted a run through the rain forrest behind our airbnb, but discovered it was far too thick. Sharon and Doug, the owners of our Elemental Ecoretreat, say they have machetes we can borrow, and they aren’t kidding. Their son, Parrish, is away during the time we’re in PR. Sharon and Doug tell us that at one point, he had the trail bush wacked, but it has grown over.

We decide to stick to the trails for our hikes during the trip. During the trip, Bart expresses interest in re-clearing the trail for them, but we don’t end up getting the chance to do it.

A Hike in El Toro Wilderness

After waking up and having our coffee in our magical coffee spot, we set out for the El Toro trail head, which is located very close to where we’re staying. When we drive up, we are heartily greeted by no fewer than 5 dogs, 3 of whom will accompany us on our journey.

At the trail head, there is a collection of walking sticks. I grab one, and thank myself for it later. This trail is muddy, and requires a great deal of hopping on rocks and steep banks. On the way, we pick a fresh lime from a lime tree and visit with a tadpole.

When we reach the top of El Toro Mountain, the 5 of us take a rest near the Puerto Rican flag and take in the beautiful view.

The hike is fun and invigorating, but makes me wish I would have brought a pair of hiking pants. The plants along the side of the trail brush against my legs and leave lots of tiny cuts, which look and feel like paper cuts.

Waterfalls of Juan Diego Creek

When we first booked our trip to Puerto Rico, one of the things I most looked forward to was swimming in a waterfall. Juan Diego Creek did not disappoint! The trail to the falls was located along a paved road. Later in our trip, we will travel further to access the trail head to Mt Britton & El Yunque Peak, but today, we stop at the creek.

The falls are crowded, but we notice a cliff toward the edge with a rope tied to it. Climbing this way, we are able to access several more levels of falls. On our way up, we are fortunate enough to bump into a young Puerto Rican woman who lets us know that the trail to the best waterfalls has been blocked by fallen trees during hurricane Maria.

She advises us that if we’re willing to endure a 45 minute climb, we have the chance to get off the beaten path.

The trail is challenging and a little confusing, but so worth it, for we discover a pool under a waterfall that we get all to ourselves.

wide angel shot of the pool

We end up climbing above this pool to discover yet another waterfall!

After a lunch of 1/2 a barbecued chicken, rice and peas, french fries, and a beer each (all for $15!) we head to the beach.

Seven Seas Beach in Fajardo

After our action-packed morning of hiking in the forrest, we head to the beach to check out 7 Seas. Though Bart has seen the Caribbean Sea before, it’s my first time, and my mind is blown away by the soft sand and crystal clear water.

The mountains and rain forrest in the background delight us both, as do the shady trees on the back edge of the sand.

On our way back to the car, we spot a local man selling fresh fruit. We pick up a papaya and a bag of fruits we’ve never seen.

These fruits are called quenépas, the vender informs us. He also teaches us how to eat them. You bite a hole in the skin, then suck the fruit out, which has a simultaneously sweet and sour flavor and is stuck to a large pit.

We finish most of the bag of quenépas the car on our way home.

Back at our Airbnb , we cook a dinner of cut up papaya, rice and beans, and avocado. We sprinkle the avocado with salt, and squeeze on some of the juice from the lime we picked on the El Toro Trail. The flavor is more intense than any lime I’ve ever had–delicious.

Before bed, we spot this little guy hanging out on the wall. This is one of Puerto Rico’s iconic Coo-qui frogs, named for their distinct croaking.

Having both grown up in the woods, we sleep peacefully to a chorus of frogs ribbiting their hearts out.

A Snorkeling Trip to the Island of Culebra

Before our trip, I booked a snorkeling trip to Vieques Island with a company called Pure Adventure Corp. The trip was cancelled due to not enough people signing up, but Pure Adventure Corp was kind enough to rebook us for a different snorkeling trip to Culebra.

The cruise included a stop at Flamenco Beach, which is considered to be one of the world’s best beaches.

panorama of flamenco beach

At Flamenco beach, we get a chance to practice snorkeling with the equipment. I catch on quickly, even though it’s my first time. We see some cute, tropical fish swimming in and out of the edge of the coral reef.

Juan Morales, a marine biologist who works for Pure Adventure, lets Bart cast his fishing rode a few times over the side of the boat. He also gives Bart some local fishing tips, which we put to good use later in the trip.

Pure Adventure provides us with sandwiches, fruit, chips and salsa, and a cooler of water. There’s also a cooler with sodas and local beer–but we are under strict orders to not touch the beer until we’re on our way home. One of the other people on the boat with us gets scolded for cracking one open early.

coconuts in shopping cart at restaurant We all get back aboard the boat and travel to a more isolated location, where the water is deep enough for us to swim over the reef without damaging it. Here, we see two sea turtles, more tropical fish, and a sting ray.

After snorkeling for the day, we head to Luquillo Beach. This beach has a strip of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. After watching the sunset on the beach, we pick up some magnets for our fridge and split a plate of grilled shrimp and chicken. The restaurant where we eat has a shopping cart filled with coconuts in the corner, which I find charming.

Mt Britton and El Yunque Peak

On our last day, we head back to El Yunque National Park to Mt Britton Trail. We access the trail head through the same road where we found Juan Diego Creek, PR 191.

The path is paved nicely and winds through beautiful stretches of forrest. Along the way, we catch glimpses off of the side of the mountain, and can spot the observation tower that awaits us at the top.

We get the chance to say “hello” to some more of the local flora and fauna.

When we reach the top of Mt. Britton, we climb up the observation tower, which gives us a boost on an already impressive view.

Observation tower panorama

We travel .6 more miles past Mt. Britton to reach El Yunque Peak, and on the way back, we hike .2 miles off the trail to check out the overlook on Los Picachos Spur.

mt britton panorama view

Fishing for Sabalos

Bart wants to try out some of Juan’s tips for fishing for Sabalos (Tarpons). We head to the beach Juan suggested, located on the old military base near Fajardo. While Bart fishes, I explore the beach, where the water is more rough than the beaches we’ve visited so far.

I pick up some broken pieces of coral. These cause my bag to get pulled aside when going through security at the airport the next day, but the TSA agent lets me keep them.

After an hour or so, we head back to the beach at 7 Seas to say goodbye to the sea before our last event: a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour!

Kayaking at Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo

Through Kayaking Puerto Rico, we book a kayaking tour. We opt for the 8:45 pm departure time, since we hear the darker, the better.

Bioluminescence refers to a process carried out by a type of plankton. When agitated, these plankton give off bright blue light (don’t worry, stirring up the water doesn’t harm them!).

We began our tour with a thorough application of bug spray, which was provided by the kayaking outfitter. After kayaking through the mangrove trees, we had a free 20 minutes to paddle around the bay, stirring up the water and seeing the ethereal blue sparkles.

Saying Goodbye to PR

After a farewell to a weekend of relaxed adventure, we are reluctant to go back to our urban, corporate lives, but feel we’ve experienced a full trip.

We hope to return some day!

Canoe Camping in the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River

The first time I ever camped, it was in a canoe.

Since, I’ve camped from a car and from a backpack, and thoroughly enjoyed both, but canoe camping might be my favorite.

Traveling by canoe offers advantages. You can pack much heavier than you would backpacking, but unlike with car camping, you can enjoy the feeling of being away from the rest of the world.

Canoeing is fun and good exercise, but much less physically demanding than hiking. It’s even more fun if you love fishing, birdwatching, or swimming.

This particular trip was in the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River. 

The Paw Paw Bends

The Potomac River flows through Washington, D.C., though the Paw Paw Bends are about 150 miles upriver from our nation’s capital. This windy stretch of water meanders back and forth in lazy loops, forming a strange shape in the Maryland/West Virginia border.

Potomac River Canoeing Map:

The Paw Paw Bends are locally known for the Paw Paw Tunnel, which you can learn more about here. We didn’t have time to visit this time, but I gotta get there one day!

The Trip

We complete our trip over the course of 3 days & 2 nights on the river, though we stay overnight at Happy Hills Campground the day before our journey begins.

Day 1

How Canoe Camping Works

Our journey begins at 8:30 am on Friday. Mike Sweeny of Tom’s Run Outfitters meets us at our pickup location in Hancock Maryland. That’s where we’ll end up on the last day of our trip. 

Mike meets us at a boat ramp in his truck pulling a trailer full of canoes. He then shuttles us upriver, where we canoe back to where we started from. For 3 days, we’ll paddle with the current.

Our canoe team opted for a 3 day journey, but most canoe outfitters also offer 2 and single-day trips.

Bracing for the Rain

Mike and his wife, Becky, are retired school teachers. I find out when Mike describes the Potomac’s smallmouth bass as pugnacious, which is a good word. Our SAT word for the day, Mike tells us.

We’re prepared for rain, which began at 3 am, to continue through mid-morning. However, Mike informs us that the rain is supposed to last until 4. We check the weather one more time, and realize that the forecast has changed since we last checked it–as forecasts are wont to do–and we settle in for a damp, cold day.

We’re wet, miserable, and cold, until two things happen. We realize the water is about 85 degrees, so we jump in. We also break into our supply of beer & orange flavored Burnet’s vodka. It helps, but it was supposed to last for the whole trip!

Nighttime 

At approximately 5:30 PM, we arrive at our first campsite,  Bond’s Landing. Before bed, we cook noodles and spaghetti sauce on the camping stove. Robyn and I are desperate for s’mores. Bart and I have an argument which, in retrospect, is very embarrassing, about whether it’s possible to light a fire with wood that’s been soaked through with an entire day of rain.

The day is far from perfect, but we make the best of it. Robyn said she likes camping specifically for these small struggles. They can help to put things into perspective when we go back to our indoor lives. And despite how tough things get, we are able to overcome them.  

The sentiment doesn’t lessen the hollow sting of unactualized s’more desires, but it’s good food for thought.

Day 2

We begin the next day in much better spirits. After a good night’s sleep followed by a breakfast of fresh black coffee, s’more flavored pop-tarts (not as good as regular s’mores, but I take what I can get), and oatmeal, we hit the river.

On this day, our competition heats up. It’s a fishing tournament. We all agree to contribute $20. The one who catches the biggest fish wins the pot, minus $20, because second place, most fish, wins back their money.

This is Bart and my third year doing this trip, and each time we are unable to locate the campsite Mike recommends for our second night, called Cacapon Junction. So instead, we spend the night on top of a bank beside the river that Bart found the previous year.

On this night, we are able to light a fire, on which we cook hamburgers in pie irons. And afterward, blessed s’mores!!

When we first gather round, I intend to stay up all night roasting s’mores and telling scary stories, but after I realize how tired everyone, including myself, is, we turn in early after Robyn, Bart, and I roast 1 s’more each.

Day 3

This is a sad day for Bart, as he comes very close to catching a muskie, an ambition he’s held for much of his life.

As we a traveling a stretch of the river where muskies are rumored to have been spotted, a giant fin flashes in the water. From the canoe behind us, Aaron shouts about a monster fish.

The muskie bites, and we start to paddle the canoe quickly toward the shore so Bart can jump out of the boat and stand in shallow waters to angle the fish. But as Bart reels him (or her) into the boat, the canoe and the fish move quickly in opposite directions, and the line snaps.

Though it’s hardly any consolation, Bart had in fact, caught the record fish earlier that morning: a 15-inch catfish. 

Better luck next year!