Posted by: danaweston | April 28, 2012

Ecuador – Part 4 – Midnight Moon on Chimborazo

Midnight Moon on 20,730′ Chimborazo

June 2011

Running short on time and seeing a weather window we quickly grabbed a cab and took the first hostel we could find after our bus ride from Banos.  With Jordan under the weather and constantly in the Bano from a meal in Banos (go figure) Ben and I pushed on heading up to the hut on Chimborazo.  We found ourselves rapidly rummaging through our packs double checking our gear list before our hired cab would arrive at 2pm.  Of course the very first time in the history of foreign cab rides our taxi was early, the one day we probably could have used an extra 15 minutes to get our gear in order.

Route we climbed on Chimborazo

Route we climbed on Chimborazo

The ride up the winding dusty road to the lower hut was masked in cold dark fog, leaving Ecuador’s highest peak shrouded in secrecy.  At the old wooden gate a bundled up man signaled for us to get out.  The wind ripped the door open as we scurried over to the little hut.  Inside a single light bulb and the sound of a statickey old radio filled the room. We filled out our paperwork for climbing and paid the gentlemen the park entrance fees totally a mere $2 per person!  Our cab continued to rattle along the dusty road as our incredibly knowledgable driver pointed at everything he could see through the fog.  He even drew us a map of the route we should take on the back of a napkin, if that doesn’t instill a thought of confidence I don’t know what does.  I mentally kept imagining Ben and I standing on a ridge at twenty-thousand feet arguing over who was holding the napkin map and which pocket we had put it in.

Photo title "Burro Battle" Local man trying to tame the stubborn burro

Photo title "Burro Battle" Local man trying to tame the stubborn burro

A sheep herder watches after her flock on the flanks of Chimborazo

A sheep herder watches after her flock on the flanks of Chimborazo

The dust swirled amongst the fog working itself deep into our pile of gear that had just been left in a foreign looking moonscape.  We decided to spend the first night at the lower hut to give our bodies one more day of rest and acclimatization.  Ben and I spent the evening sipping tea around an old fireplace chatting to a man from Switzerland who had spent some time working in Wisconsin and Minnesota for a farm equipment company.  The long day of bus transfers, cabs & frantic gear sorting would have sent most people to bed early.  Yet for me when you know that you are in place you may never return to and it seems so spectacular I can’t help but want to explore as much as I can.  So I grabbed my camera and headed out around 11pm to head up the ridge.  As the rock on the rope that weighted the door rose the moon light spilled across the old wooden floor of the hut.  The sky had cleared and the moon was casting shadows across the desolate landscape.  I spent several hours exploring the ridge and taking in the size of Chimborazo in the glowing moonlight knowing that the following night I would have my shadow cast upon her great ridge of volcanic red rock.

Star Trails behind Chimborazo with a full moon rising on the right

Star Trails behind Chimborazo with a full moon rising on the right

Night exposure of Chimborazo with clouds racing over the summit

Night exposure of Chimborazo with clouds racing over the summit

That morning we took our time gathering our gear and making our way to the upper hut, which would become our launching point later that evening.  Upon arrival around lunch time we began hydrating ourselves until we ran clear.  We also ramped up our calorie intake in anticipation of the climb.  With our last minute gear checks complete we lounged in the warm sun inspecting what we could of our route.  After awhile I began to wander from camp looking for the wildlife that was making the interesting calls we could hear from camp.  With some patience and crawling behind rocks I managed to get close enough to the pack of Vicuna.  They are basically a smaller alpaca that lives at altitudes as high as 17,000′ feet.  These particular ones that I photographed were located on the ridge to the east of camp at about 16,500′.

Vicuna at 16,500' on Chimborazo

Vicuna at 16,500' on Chimborazo

Ben boiled some water and we made another bag of freeze dried food for an early dinner as we awaited nightfall.  From camp we could here the rocks crashing down the section known as “El Corridor”.  Neither of us actually slept that afternoon.  It was more of a kindergarten nap time where no one really sleeps because as soon as you get comfortable you need to use the bathroom which in our case was outside.  Then when you finally get comfortable you are all of a sudden hungry.  As soon as you eat something you wake up thirsty and worry that you are getting dehydrated before the climb.  Next thing you know you are standing outside using the bathroom again.  This vicious cycle works its way over and over until it’s time to actually climb.  For us that time was 11pm.

With the moon high above our heads we left our headlamps off chasing our shadows that the full moon cast on the eerie red volcanic rock of Chimborazo.  The first mile was pretty easy following a dried creek bed to the base of the steep slopes and saddle we needed to gain.  As we began lifting our legs higher we both know that we were entering the “El Corridor” section.  Our boots had difficulty getting purchase on the frozen scree.  Despite the cold and seemingly frozen slope, the golfball to bowling ball sized rocks kept whizzing past making a distinct zipping noise as they attempted to reach terminal velocity.  At this point we decided to spread apart in the most active areas and go one at a time while the other watched the slope above.  Sure enough a baseball came sailing down buzzing Ben like fighter pilot showing off his skills.  Gaining the ridge at the toe of the glacier was a big relief.  It was here that the only other two climbers on the mountain caught up to us as I shot some photos on the ridge.

Ice falls in "El Corridor"

Ice falls in "El Corridor"

A 60 second exposure on the saddle between the glacier and "El Corridor"

A 60 second exposure on the saddle between the glacier and "El Corridor"

The wind ripped across the saddle blinding our eyes with tiny bits of volcanic dust.  We continued with our hand held covering our right temple to try and shelter the wind.  Reaching the toe of the glacier was a huge relief for our eyes.  With our harnesses already on we quickly tied a New Zealand coil between us and began to make progress up the glacier.  The moonlight was reflected even brighter on the snow of the glacier.  Navigating through the maze of small cracks and crevasses was a far easier task in the clear moonlight than it had been on Cotopaxi during the ice storm.  We climbed for several hours taking mandatory breaks to drink, eat and swing leads.  We ran into the group ahead of us again just as they were descending the first lower summit, Cumbre Veintimilla, which was their groups high point.  After a brief exchange and clouds beginning to roll in we decided to make a push for the true summit, Cumbre Whympher.  An additional 40 minutes of climbing led us to the final wall of the Whympher summit.  Every couple of steps at nearly 21,000′ feet required a pause and breath.  We felt good at this altitude with no signs of any altitude related sickness.  We watched the sun rise just as we topped out on Cumbre Whympher.  Unfortunately it was one of the most lack luster sun rises of the trip.  Regardless the view and feeling of standing atop Ecuador’s highest peak was phenomenal and an experience I will never forget.

Ben picking his way through the penitentes on Chimborazo

Ben picking his way through the penitentes on Chimborazo

Ben Standing atop the El Cumbre Whympher aka the true summit

Ben Standing atop the El Cumbre Whympher aka the true summit

In fitting style the short video of me on the summit turned out blurry.  Lets just say that our brains are not exactly 100% at this altitude.

Weston high on the glacial ridge of Chimborazo

Weston high on the glacial ridge of Chimborazo

After summiting the sun became intensified lending to our concerns of recrossing the “El Corridor” area any later than we absolutely had to.  Despite going down hill it seemed to be nearly as much work as going up hill with our tired legs and softening snow.  We swung leads increasing the our mandatory stops to 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of descending in order to ensure that we stayed hydrated and kept our stomachs happy.  Even with this their is only so many clif bars and goo shots with caffeine one man can consume in a day.  As we removed the rope at the toe of the glacier we could already hear the rocks hurling through “El Corridor”.  In the best interest of our noggins we both agreed to neglect our stomachs for the hour as we navigated the final pitches.  Watching out for one another we nearly jogged some sections of the corridor.  Our boots sank deep in the reddish mud that had been solid ice only hours before.  As the ground began to level we smiled and knew that we had made it, although we held off on a celebratory photo until our packs lay on the ground at the hut.  Upon arrival at the hut is was high fives and congratulatory hug.  We both deeply wished that Jordan could have joined us on our final peak in Ecuador.  Although both Ben and I had a very similar experience when in Peru, it was in Peru in which I did not make it to bathroom in time for number 2…. something I hoped wouldn’t happen until sometime after age 80.  Either way we will be back for more in this beautiful country filled with generous people whose smile was infectious.

Ben and Weston after climbing 20,730' Chimborazo of Ecuador

Ben and Weston after climbing 20,730' Chimborazo of Ecuador

Looking back at Chimborazo

Looking back at Chimborazo

We shouldered our packs for one more time to hike back down the trail.  Thankfully our cab driver we had arranged for was sitting there waiting for us.  He crammed our packs into the trunk.  The engine sputtered and was soon rattling its way back down the mountain side.  Back in town the three of us went out for dinner and celebrated our incredible trip over a few beers.  Upon our return to our hostel we watched a fiery sunset set behind Chimborazo.  It was a bitter sweet ending to our trip.  South America remains my favorite place to travel and is one of the few places I could move to and spend several years exploring.  Ecuador was a great country filled with some of the most generous people I have ever met.

Fiery sunset on Chimborazo as seen from Riobamba

Fiery sunset on Chimborazo as seen from Riobamba

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Posted by: danaweston | December 26, 2011

Ecuador Part 3.5 of 4 – A Bano Break in Banos

Photo Essay &  a short break from Climbing Trip Reports

With some time to burn and the weather outlook being 50/50 for our final peak, Chimbarazo, it was time to hit the hot springs of Banos.  The photos will tell the rest with the exception of a short paragraph on letting 3 gringos loose in rural Ecuador driving rented mini dune buggies.

To celebrate the success of our first 3 peaks we took a break in Banos & went out for dinner and drinks.  Unfortunately Jordan got a bad taco and ended up on the Bano in Banos.  For the next three days Jordan would battle a stomach bug with full courses of medication and some disgusting rehydration salts to try and get back on course for our final peak.

Nothing like a 2 hour bus ride turning into 5 hours courtesy of a land slide only a couple miles from our final destination

Nothing like a 2 hour bus ride turning into 5 hours courtesy of a land slide only a couple miles from our final destination

Jordan riding with the gear on our way to Banos

Jordan riding with the gear on our way to Banos

Banos sits on the shoulder of the active volcano Tungurahua 16,480'

Banos sits on the shoulder of the active volcano Tungurahua 16,480'

This is what we came for, climbing these smoking mountains

This is what we came for, climbing these smoking mountains

Ben sipping on a fresh cracked coconut

Ben sipping on a fresh cracked coconut

Interesting plants that grow in massive clusters

Interesting plants that grow in massive clusters

The city of Banos

The city of Banos

An old Land Rover that has seen better days on the streets of Banos Ecuador

An old Land Rover that has seen better days on the streets of Banos Ecuador

 What happens when you give a couple cowboys from Colorado more than one horse?  

During our down time in Banos we decided to rent some of these “street legal” dune buggies.  For around $5 an hour including gas we found ourselves tearing around the rural Ecuadorian hillsides.  These dune buggies were a bit slow for our liking going up hill, but on the flats or going down hill we could go around 40-45 miles per hour.  In the open cockpit it was a frenzy of flying dirt and splashing puddles from who ever was in front.  Jordan seemed to have a slightly higher performance machine which he took full advantage of whipping huge donuts and blasting down the rocky slopes.

Our tour took us high up the hillsides through green pastures and waterfalls around every corner pouring through the soupy mix of clouds.  As cowboys will be cowboys on the open road,  a bit of friendly racing soon ensued.  Our buggies suspension rattled and strained as we forced it to its limit around the tight corners.  Our faces covered in mud from spraying one another and avoiding the dry sections.  The motor roared to life in my buggy inching me closer as I buzzed the back of Jordan’s Blue Beast.  I dipped right and snuck past on the inside corner briefly exchanging a glance with Jordan.  He stayed hot on my tail buzzing me through the next corner and probably would have reclaimed his position in front except for the narrowing rough pathway we were on.  The next corner came as a surprise for both of us.

Taking up 110% of our already narrow road way was a beat up blue pickup truck filled with farming equipment.  The sound of the motor was immediately drowned out by the sound of gravel being thrown everywhere as the buggy’s locked up brakes skidded right into the home-made solid steel brush guard.  A split second later Jordan came skidding into my buggy sideways.  Ben managed to avoid the three car pileup by locking up the brakes and mowing a little bit of the brush alongside the road.  To our surprise our buggy’s motors were still running and the driver of the farm truck seemed just as surprised.  After a brief exchange of seeing if everyone was all right we got out of their faster than we had come in. We wanted to limit the opportunity for the police or anyone else for that matter, in extorting us for some gringo cash.

We returned our buggy’s hardly raising an eyebrow as they already had plenty of cosmetic problems before.  We figured from here on out we would stick with the climbing.

Team Photo - Ben and Weston standing, Jordan in the drivers seat

Team Photo - Ben and Weston standing, Jordan in the drivers seat

Racing along the back roads of Ecuador

Racing along the back roads of Ecuador

Rural back roads near Banos Ecuador

Rural back roads near Banos Ecuador

Huge waterfalls in rural Ecuador

Huge waterfalls in rural Ecuador

Jordan ripping donuts in the Blue Beast Buggy

Jordan ripping donuts in the Blue Beast Buggy

Posted by: danaweston | December 19, 2011

Ecuador – Part Three – Ice Storm on Cotopaxi

With the weather seemingly in our favor we wasted no time in our return from Illiniza.  To warm up from our cold showers we celebrated with a couple bottles of ice cold beer.  Every piece of gear was removed from our packs and inspected, inventoried, and separated into piles.  Each pile represented a meal or equipment for a specific portion of our next climb and was divided equally by weight amongst our packs.  The remainder of the evening was spent looking at maps discussing strategy and possible scenarios we might encounter over the following days.  Part of our adventure in Ecuador was being our own guides, porters and translators. Every minor detail is left up to us which in turn can make transporting 500lbs of gear from climb to climb without incident a successful and rewarding day.

After asking around we caught wind that the large hut located on the northern flank of Cotopaxi was pretty full.  We opted to bring our tent instead and hike above the hut closer to the start of the glacier.  Turns out we made the right call as the hut was over flowing with other climbers as we passed it, although the three of us in our tent is also technically over flowing.  At least in our tent you know who to yell at when you get a foot in the face.  As to be expected in South America our ride to the mountain was late.  With the late ride we were just barely able to establish camp in the fierce winds in time for dark further.  The winds wrecked havoc on our tents guylines because we couldn’t find rocks heavy enough to secure the load.  We were surrounded by basketball sized chunks of lava rock weighing almost nothing.  It was more akin to a Hollywood movie set.  We could throw a basketball sized “heavy” rock for thirty feet.  It took nearly 100′ of guyline to secure our tent to the side of Cotopaxi.

Ben on the approach to camp

Ben on the approach to camp

100' of guyline and our tent was secured to the side of Cotopaxi

100' of guyline and our tent was secured to the side of Cotopaxi

The tent shuttered violently with the sound of small rocks and accelerated dust particles slamming into us.  The three of use crammed into the tent in an attempt to get comfortable and catch a few hours of sleep before our midnight start time.  Soon we realized that sleep would only be something we dreamed of.  I gave up first grabbing my camera to try and capture a few night shots despite the wind.  Jordan seemed the most comfortable and quite, if you could even call it that.  Ben seemed right at home as he always seems to be on big mountains.  Either that or he had snuck a bag of beef jerky into his sleeping bag again.  He usually avoids eating the loud and crunchy pub mix as not to attract the attention of the others in the tent who might be looking to infringe on his share.

Our tent holding steady as clouds rip across the summit of Cotopaxi

Our tent holding steady as clouds rip across the summit of Cotopaxi

The lights of Quito reflected in the low clouds as seen from camp on Cotopaxi

The lights of Quito reflected in the low clouds as seen from camp on Cotopaxi

Their was no need for an alarm clock for our midnight start.  Sleep never came, only a brief chance to lay down. This was made more uncomfortable either because of the altitude or the fact that I might have been laying slightly down hill.  The stove roared to life turning the dirty unleaded gasoline from Quito into piping hot cups of tea and meals in a bag.  We tucked our hot bags of food into our jackets to let them “cook”.  The warmth radiated against our stomach as we did our final double checks on equipment.  The stars would come and go overhead as our equipment clanged loudly on our harnesses in the wind.  We climbed with our heads hung low avoiding as much of the dust laden wind as possible.  The visibility worsened at toe of the glacier as we stopped to don crampons and rope up.

Weston and Jordan Winters part way up Cotopaxi at 2 am, the weather would get worse before it got better

Weston and Jordan Winters part way up Cotopaxi at 2 am, the weather would get worse before it got better

The bottom portion of the glacier was a rat race with the other climbing teams.  Our objective was to be ahead of most of the 80 or so other people (we found out how many started at the hut the following day) before the route narrowed into the labyrinth of crevasses towering glaciers and seracs.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to shoot nearly as many photos as I had hoped in the more exciting parts of the route due to the weather.  The weather had turned into a wind hammering ice storm.  The ice would cling to anything in sight, building up to an inch thick on much of our equipment rendering some of it useless.  Our jackets, packs and faces became weighted with the heavy ice buildup.  Each time we stopped for a snack and water we would crack off as much ice as possible from each others equipment to lessen our work load at nearly 19,000′.

Route finding in the labyrinth of glaciers on Cotopaxi

Route finding in the labyrinth of glaciers on Cotopaxi

Worthless gear from an ice storm on Cotopaxi

Worthless gear from an ice storm on Cotopaxi

The sun rose but we never actually saw it.  The clouds engulfed us in a pink hue as the wind kept up its relentless push.  With first light we soon realized that only one set of tracks was ahead of us, a team of two just beyond our sight.  Our efforts down low had paid off giving us quick passage through the bottleneck areas of the route.  We climbed higher above the clouds giving us a surreal feeling of being high above everything else around us.

Jordan catching the first rays of sunlight at nearly 19,000' on Cotopaxi

Jordan catching the first rays of sunlight at nearly 19,000' on Cotopaxi

Ben high above the clouds

Ben high above the clouds

Just below the summit of Cotopaxi

Just below the summit of Cotopaxi

Ben covered in ice on cotopaxi

Ben covered in ice on cotopaxi

The summit had been much anticipated by all of us as it sits on the rim of a smoking volcano.  Unfortunately the clouds obscured our view but the excitement of making the summit overshadowed the weather on this day.  We spent about twenty minutes on top exchanging photos and had shakes before preparing ourselves for our descent.

Team Cabelleros de Colorado on the summit of 19,347' Cotopaxi

Team Cabelleros de Colorado on the summit of 19,347' Cotopaxi

Weston celebrating on the summit of Cotopaxi

Weston celebrating on the summit of Cotopaxi

Our descent was tiring and complicated by heavy cloud cover.  At times we had to rely on finding our next bamboo wand with neon orange tape to safely navigate through the heavily crevassed areas.  Our somewhat slow descent was then compounded by the lower slopes becoming soft.  The final pitches felt like we were hiking on sand.  The only upside of the softened snow, a mile long glissade on the apron until we hit the dirt path leading back to our camp.  The only casualty was Ben’s rear end that seems to always be a magnet for hidden rocks during glissades.

Upon return to camp I was overwhelmed with contradicting feelings.  I was starving yet felt like I wanted to vomit.  I wanted to sleep yet I could not get comfortable until the my starvation/vomit feelings had been resolved.  Everything was also complicated by the fact that we still had to pack up camp, hike out & find a ride all before the park gates closed.  In the end food & water seemed to be the cure all.  I laid in my sleeping bag on a rock eating snickers bars & pub mix until my belly could handle no more.  As my jaw grew sore from my feverish pace of consumption sleep finally won out.  A short 30 minute snooze and it was time to finish what we had started.  We packed up camp and hustled down the trail back to the end of the road in search of a ride.  Lucky for us a man in a white pickup had room in the back.  A true adventure always incorporates riding the back of a vehicle off-road and following local driving customs rather than laws.

Weston and Ben hitching a 2 hour ride back to our hostel (Photo Jordan Winters)

Weston and Ben hitching a 2 hour ride back to our hostel (Photo Jordan Winters)

Still starving I asked our driver if he had a favorite restaurant along the Pan American Highway.  He replied that his favorite was the Illiniza Restaurant.  I then asked him if he would take us there, in exchange we would buy him dinner.  He could hardly believe what he was hearing.  Before we knew it we were walking into the equivalent of a Wisconsin supper club packed to the brim with locals for Sunday dinner.  Needless to say we got some looks.  Three haggard looking gringo climbers still wearing our outerwear accompanied by our taxi driver.  We enjoyed a local three course meal including a fantastic appetizer of corn and cheese, both of which came from the land behind the restaurant.  By the time we returned to our hostel we had been up for about 42 hours staright and had successfully climbed Cotopaxi at 19,347′, needless to say celebration would have to wait.

With 3 of 4 objectives completed and not a single weather day used we had some extra time to explore and give Ben’s rump a rest.  It was time to hit the hot springs of Banos along with an unexpected adventure of three competitive guys driving rental buggies at high speeds on Ecuadors rural mountain roads.

Posted by: danaweston | November 23, 2011

Ecuador – Part Two – Illiniza Sur

Ecuador – Part Two – Illiniza Sur

Our first real test of the trip… was figuring out how to fit all of our bags into the taxi cab over to the bus terminal.  Much to the delight of the hostel owners and cab driver they watched as we played tetris with bags, including Ben and Weston in the backseat.  Based on a series of sounds while going over large bumps I deducted that the rear wheels of the vehicle were rubbing against the wheel well somewhere very close to my lower back.  Jordan got shotgun and took the liberty of narrating anything interesting that we passed by.  We hopped an 80 cent bus ride headed towards Latacunga and El Chaupi.  After some confusion the driver dropped us off alongside the Pan American Highway in what seemed like the middle of nowhere.  Before we could even get the map out, a rusted out diesel fuming bus came to a screeching stop just long enough for us to get one foot in the door.  The driver took us the remaining way to El Chaupi which would become our gear storage and home for the next week as we set out to climb Illiniza Sur and Cotopaxi.

El Chaupi - the front yard across from the Hostel

El Chaupi - the front yard across from the Hostel

El Chaupi is a quiet little town known for it’s milk cows and farms.  This one- road- town took little more than a scan with the eyes to explore the entire town.  The school was across the street, the general store two doors down, and the police station just beyond that.  We were the only ones at the hostel which was nice as we could sort gear and spread out for the evening.  The following morning I can’t remember if it was the rooster that I awoke to or the sound of Ben threatening to kill the rooster.  Either way we were off to gain the hut for our attempt at Illiniza Sur.

Clouds literally rolling over the hills

Clouds literally rolling over the hills

We hired a four wheel drive truck to take us to the trailhead for the hut.  After much discussion with the driver we arranged for him to come pick us up the following afternoon.  The hiking was a sandy and dusty affair with low clouds engulfing us at times then disappearing to clear skies moments later.  At one point we looked down to the green valley below and a small rainbow appeared.  It was an odd sight to view a rainbow from above.

Looking down at the valley.

Looking down valley at the rainbow.

Jordan hiking past a rock carving along the trail up to the hut.

Jordan hiking past a rock carving along the trail up to the hut.

The hut was nestled up against the wall of Illiniza Norte helping to disperse the prevailing winds.  Freddie the hut keeper greeted us and showed us around his humble abode.  He told us the weather had been in an excellent pattern, clear mornings and stormy afternoons till sunset and that we should be set for our ascent.  Right on cue as the sun disappeared below the horizon the clouds began to part.

Sunset and clearing skis from the hut on Illiniza.

Sunset and clearing skis from the hut on Illiniza.

We laid in our bunks listening to the wind howl outside making mixed conversation with the Swiss climbers and Freddie.  One of the Swiss knew German and English.  Ben and I knew Spanish and English.  So every time the Swiss had a question it would start in German then one of them would ask us in English to ask Freddie in Spanish.  It was a round robin of international phone tag.  Freddie was eager to learn English.  He had a heavy bound book filled with blank sheets that other climbers would write down some sort of translation, for example writing one through ten in English so he could practice.  We taught Freddie and Freddie taught us.  We laid in our bunks listening to the wind howl outside making mixed conversation with the Swiss climbers and Freddie. Just as the hut became quiet and we said, “guten nacht”, “buenos noches” and “goodnight” I said something very humorous to Ben in Spanish.  We all laughed and Freddie could hardly contain himself.  The mood was light, spirits were high, and the sleep was deep despite the wind rattling the tin roof inches above some of the bunks.

Cotopaxi - Our next objective as seen from Illiniza Sur

Cotopaxi - Our next objective as seen from Illiniza Sur

The Cabelleros de Colorado (Cowboys of Colorado) were the first to begin climbing just after dawn.  The sky was deep blue and Cotopaxi slowly came into view like a full moon rising from the horizon.  As a team we felt great keeping a steady pace as the sun climbed above us.  We soon spotted the other teams making their way up the shoulder towards the more sustained face of the summit.

Ben taking a break on a shelf below the final face

Ben taking a break on a shelf below the final face

Making quick work of the shoulder the hike soon began to turn into a scramble and some low grade rock climbing maneuvers.  In spots we watched as the loose rock would tumble down the side, careening off cliffs finally coming to rest in the heap of talus far below.  The route became slower and more difficult the higher we got on the face.  To our surprise, what we thought was a false summit soon revealed otherwise, as we realized we were standing on the highest point around.

Jordan and Ben making it across the shoulder with the summit in view

Jordan and Ben making it across the shoulder with the summit in view

Jordan inspecting the next task, el cumbre the summit

Jordan inspecting the next task

Making the final push to the summit with Illiniza Norte and Cotopaxi in the background

Making the final push to the summit with Illiniza Norte and Cotopaxi in the background

Cabelloros de Colorado - Ben, Weston & Jordan sitting atop the summit of Illiniza Sur

Cabelloros de Colorado - Ben, Weston & Jordan sitting atop the summit of Illiniza Sur

The wind ripped across us as we snacked on crushed crackers and snicker bars, behind some of the summit blocks for protection.  Gazing out from our cinched hoods we enjoyed spectacular views of Cotopaxi and Illiniza Norte.  The clouds had filled in between us and Cotopaxi and it appeared as though we could walk across the cloud tops from peak to peak.  The Swiss soon joined us on the summit and we shook hands and exchanged photos enjoying the good weather and the first test of the trip.  Heading down we made far faster time than we had imagined, giving us a nice hot lunch break back at the hut before gathering our items and heading back to town.

Our next objective... Cotopaxi

Our next objective... Cotopaxi

Back down at trailhead we waited for our ride.  Nearly four hours passed before a man in a white truck pulled up.  He said he was part of the other driver’s family and that our original driver couldn’t make it, so he would give us a ride back to town.  Either way we were happy to be heading back for a hot shower and a home cooked meal.  The only problem was that the shower did not produce any hot water.  Instead it more closely resembled a torture device.  Seeing as I have a poor record of being electrocuted while abroad we all drew straws for who would go first.  Jordan ponied up and suffered through the cold shower like a champ avoiding both hypothermia and electrocution.   It was Ben who had the hardest go of it, sounding more like the rooster he had threatened to kill the morning before.

Waiting and waiting some more at the trailhead.

Waiting and waiting some more at the trailhead.

"The Shower"  AKA the Hypothermic Electrocution Chamber

"The Shower" AKA the Hypothermic Electrocution Chamber

Posted by: danaweston | November 22, 2011

Ecuador – Part One – Sprawl and Space

Ecuador

June 2011

El Caballeros de Colorado – Jordan Winters, Ben Lysdahl & Weston Bierma

With plane tickets fluctuating in price like the Dow Jones Industrial I took a flight down one night earlier than Jordan and Ben to save a couple hundred bucks.  A good friend of mine gave me and my nearly 200 pounds of equipment and food a lift to the Denver airport (thanks again Johnny Wisco).

Double checking my gear in the garage.

Double checking my gear in the garage.

The flights were less than memorable nearly having to beg for a full can of Coke to keep my self semi coherent through my layover in Panama.  Thanks to the Coke I was able enjoy one of my favorite landings to this day.  Just moments after sunset our plane made a huge banking turn over the ocean revealing the hundreds of boats sitting in the bay awaiting their call to ascend the fish ladder through the Panama canal.  Silently adrift it was a city of lights on the bay.

Immediately upon exiting the plane my brow became heavy with sweat.  The sweat began to drip, possibly from the humidity or possibly from me frantically searching for my spanish.  At first I spoke slowly, drip by drip word by word, but quickly it all came back and before I knew it my spanish and the sweat was flowing simultaneously in Panama.

I found my connecting gate and settled into a seat before my short flight south to Quito.  My mind was well aware of the next the challenge, finding a cab in Quito at midnight.  The fog had become dense drifting right into the airport as gates opened and planes unloaded in Panama.  The fog left little to view upon take off.  The flight to Quito was short, landing in a sea of city lights. With my sunglasses on it was time to set foot outside the safety of the metal detectors.  Sunglasses on at nearly all times has become a travel staple for me.  It keeps cab drives on edge and pick pockets wondering where you are looking and best of all you feel like a rock star rather than a nervous gringo.

I grabbed my three bags of gear as if I was getting intimate with them, as I was determined not to loose any gear on day one, and flagged the first cab I saw.  The driver popped the trunk but I shut it and loaded up the back seat staying close to my packs filled with climbing gear, camera equipment, and spicy hot sauce to flavor the meals in the other bags.  Either I got lucky or the sunglasses worked, either way I ended up exactly where I asked to go at 1am in Quito.

Palm trees and white churches fill Quito's old town.

Palm trees and white churches fill Quito's old town.

A couple sings and plays accordion in the Old Town streets of Quito

A couple sings and plays accordion in the Old Town streets of Quito

Sitting high above Quito on Panecillo hill is a 150 foot tall statue "Virgen de Quito"

Sitting high above Quito on Panecillo hill is a 150 foot tall statue "Virgen de Quito"

Amor - Many local couples would climb the bell tower and gaze upon the "Virgen de Quito" together

Amor - Many local couples would climb the bell tower and gaze upon the "Virgen de Quito" together

Atop the bell tower downtown Quito

Atop the bell tower downtown Quito

My head hit the pillow hard, but not for long.  Even a free breakfast in a country where breakfast is less than one US dollar will get me out of bed.  I filled my stomach and hit the road with my glasses on.  I explored Quito on foot from old town church’s to local ceviche joints I was enjoying picking up from where I had left off on my last trip, feeling oddly at home.  With a big soccer match for Ecuador that evening I decided to seek out a very local pub to enjoy the game.  I found myself sitting at the bar surrounded by locals cheering on every touch of the ball.

It was well after midnight when I made my way back to the hotel hoping to meet up with Ben and Jordan who had left the states earlier that morning.  Delayed.  In that case, time to call it a night and head to bed.  I awoke to the bed shaking as Ben and Jordan were yelling and shouting… the trip was under way.  We sat around eating some American snacks discussing each others flights and the local weather forecast.  We soon realized the time and hit the sack as we had planned a warm up peak for the next morning just outside of Quito.

Rucu Pichincha

Do I take pleasure in other peoples misery? Sometimes… when it is humorous and warranted.  In this case it was a younger American girl during breakfast at our hostel.  She wanted a bag lunch from our waitress, except she did not speak a single word of Spanish.  She become increasingly frustrated that no one understood her, complicated by the fact that the hostel did not have lunch, only breakfast.  We left our waitress a generous tip for our complimentary breakfast and could not believe the arrogance of our fellow citizen.

Off we went to our first mini adventure of the trip.  Quito’s urban sprawl creeps up the shoulder towards Rucu Pichincha leaving you with a helicopter view from the summit of the capital 6,000 feet below.  This was a perfect warm up getting our legs stretched and our lungs accustomed to the thin air.  We made quick work of the peak spending an hour on the summit gazing out at Cotopaxi, Illiniza, and Chimborazo… our objectives and adventures for the following week.

Ben in Quito with Cotopaxi in the window reflection

Ben in Quito with Cotopaxi in the window reflection

Jordan hiking towards the summit of Rucu Pichincha 15,407'

Jordan Winters hiking towards the summit of Rucu Pichincha 15,407'

Sitting high above Quito with Cotopaxi dominating the backdrop

Sitting high above Quito with Cotopaxi dominating the backdrop

All the way down I had one thing on my mind, ceviche.  We took a quick shower, dropped off some gear and picked up our fuel bottles before heading out for dinner.  We sat looking out on a square filled with great people watching sipping cerveza and devouring our first round of ceviche.  Afterwards we walked the downtown streets feeling refreshed and ready for the challenges ahead.  Our final objective was to get fuel for our stove.  A local filled me in that our fuel of choice, white gas, was illegal in much of the country as it is somehow boiled down and made into some sort of addictive drug concoction.  After much discussion we settled on unleaded gasoline with some particles floating around in it.  It’s all part of the adventure and now it’s time to come along on the ride to Latacunga and our first major peak, Illiniza Sur.

A typical central highlands ceviche with a tomato base

A typical central highlands ceviche with a tomato base

Ben helping fill up our fuel bottles with some dirty unleaded gasoline.

Ben helping fill up our fuel bottles with some dirty unleaded gasoline.

Ben sticking his head out of the bus window above one of my favorite city names in the world "Latacunga"

Ben sticking his head out of the bus window above one of my favorite city names in the world "Latacunga"

Posted by: danaweston | July 9, 2011

Closing thoughts from the Cottage & Colorado

A few words (Top section) if you can’t wait like me the photos are on the bottom and you can read the top later.

We can hardly believe it’s over…. at least this trip.  As always we spent some time at one of our favorite places in the world, the cottage (yes now we can actually say that), with family and friends before heading back to our home in Colorado.  You can now follow our Colorado adventures here…

www.climbcolorado.wordpress.com

Dana enjoying some Colorado rock.  Check out www.climbcolorado.wordpress.com to follow our adventures

Dana enjoying some Colorado rock. Check out http://www.climbcolorado.wordpress.com to follow our adventures

A few words…

Thanks to all of our family and friends for supporting us and following along.  We know many of you were following along, even if you were just milking the clock on Friday afternoon before the weekend.  Yes we actually know this because the busiest days in terms of traffic are Thursday and Friday afternoon, don’t worry we won’t tell your boss.  When we started this web page about 18 months ago we had just gotten married and were leaving for a trip around the world.  Our original plan was to post a couple photos at the end of each month so friends and family could get a taste of where we were and what we had seen.  Little did we know that it would turn into so much more.  Since that day in October of 2009 when we left the United States our website has been viewed over 17,029 times as of writing.  Neither of us ever imagined such a following.  So what began as just a couple photos turned into us posting 47 different pieces with hundreds of photos.  We hope we have inspired others to see the world, just remember it’s never to late!  We will continue to use this page to update future travels, as it stands now Dana is planning on going to Borneo, Singapore, and Malaysia with some friends and Weston will be heading south to Ecuador on a climbing trip.

Dana and Weston atop the world on the New Zealand coast

Dana and Weston atop the world on the New Zealand coast

Many people have asked us what our favorite place was… how could we possibly choose?  So if you must know we could not decide so here is a list where the country is the answer (Jeopardy style)

Peru… Fluted snow covered peaks, Jungles, deserts and ancient ruins of Machu Pichu  balanced on cliff sides.  If only they could cook something other than good “Cuy” (guinea pig) we would have stayed much longer. 

Argentina…The place we would love to live (excluding europe) great food, amazing wine, fun people, and spectacular mountains,  the only downside, 2 years later Weston is still singing the “Vino Argentino” tag line from a popular Argentinian commercial.

Chile… This tall and skinny model of a country seems far ahead many of its South America neighbors.  Best hike of the trip, biggest wave ever encountered on a boat, and too many penguins to count.  This country is “chilly” in most parts, good thing the wine warms you up.

New Zealand…Towering peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, exotic wildlife, ohh and did I mention that we can see all of this from the golden beach that we have parked our camper van on?

Thailand…We could retire here, and probably at 45 instead of 65,  plus the food here is the best cuisine in the world. Much better than the mystery meat and potatoes that you get in a  retirement home in the states.

Cambodia…  Where elephants roam the streets and a family of five doesn’t need two sliding doors because they are all riding on the back of a scooter.

Vietnam… Terrifying tunnels and an eye in the sky.  To crowded for us except for the Hmong in the North that were some of the most friendly people we met on our journey.

Laos… Kingdom of Elephants no more.  A distinctly different type of communism compared to Vietnam.  Quiet meandering river towns with saffron robed monks going to an early morning call to prayer, reminds one of simpler times.

Malaysia… Head scarf and jeans?  Perfect for a day out in uber modern Kuala Lumpur.  Take an elevator ride up the towers for a glimpse into the the future of modern city scapes.

India… The most interesting and overwhelming to your senses.  Chai, exhaust, masala, and sweat all in the same whiff of Calcutta’s bustling streets.  Tea, Elephants, the world’s third highest peak, and Himalayan prayer flags snapping wildly in the stiff breeze all within eye sight of Darjeeling in the North.  The hottest day of the trip, the Taj Mahal, and smoking Ghats make up the northern central corridor starting in Delhi.

Turkey… Where east truly meets west.  This is still the center of the world in some strange way.  Where mini skirts haggle  with burqas over the price of a spice in the central bazaar and all items of business are settled over a fine tobacco at a hookah bar.  Culture, music, architecture, food, religion, and nearly everything else is an eclectic blend of far east, mid east, and west.

Germany… Our home away from home.  Eerily similar to where we grew up in southeastern Wisconsin.  If we had to move to a city it would be Munich, something about listening to a classic piece by Bach while sipping beer in a square that could fill a history book.

France… A 17 mile walking tour from the Cathedral of Notre Dame (yes we rank this higher than the Taj, so go!) to the famous Louvre Art museum containing the tiny piece (size not fame) called The Mona Lisa, the Eiffel tower and lots of great little cafes and wine in between.

Luxemburg… Smaller than the county we grew up in and a castle fit for Dracula.

Belgium… Beer, chocolate, waffles is a description of Weston’s diet.  As for Belgium it is a beautiful soccer crazed neutral country that we love because we spell Brussels with SS and they spell it with X, Bruxells.

Netherlands…  Everything you have heard is true.

Canada… Our big brother to the North.  We used to make fun of their currency the, “Loonie’s & Toonie’s”, until it began being worth more than ours.

United States of America… Will never look the same to us, our country is just as fascinating if not more after seeing fraction of the world.

Here are a couple pictures from our cottage to the north (see Canada post for joke).  Located on Lake Winnebago the cottage was built by Dana’s Grandpa after returning from WWII.  The cottage is where we come to play, relax and spend time with friends and family.  For many years now Dana and I have sat on the end of the pier talking about places we wanted to visit.  This year was different when we sat down in the cool evening to dangle our toes in the warm summer water.  Something changed from the last visit to the end of the pier.  This time the most intriguing thoughts arose tingling our senses with the smells and sounds places half way around the world.  With the rythmic patter of waves lapping the underside of the pier thoughts raced through our heads.  Right at this very moment someone is buzzing through the dense traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam narrowly avoiding a collision.  Someone else is cooking chai and serving it in a clay pot cup in the Calcutta, India streets.  In Thailand a monkey has just made off with someones leftovers and in Peru a little old lady is carrying a huge bag of potatoes to market.  Little did we know that the best part of the trip was right there on the end of pier, knowing precisely what was going on on the other side of the world.

Many asked us before we left why we would want to submit ourselves to painstaking bus rides of traveling far and wide across this planet when you can watch a National geographic special on your 60″ tv while sitting in your plush leather couch.

Let India stir your travel senses

Let India stir your travel senses

IF YOU READ ANYTHING ON THIS PAGE START HERE…

Our advice after traveling: travel when you are young.  Even if it is only a little bit, then never quit.  Why you might ask? Simple, for the rest of my life news, movies, food, people, and everything around me becomes so much more interesting.  Now when I see a news story that the rural people of Puno, Peru have gone on strike because of water shortages and high taxes I get sense of being there, even if for only a split second.  I understand the long leathery wrinkles in the faces in the photo below the headline.  You can taste the dusty soil and smell the day old meat hanging on a hook in the market.  Your mind drifts back to place you once stood, then it passes, sometimes in an instant.  In that instant you have felt more and understood more about that story than most people ever will in their lifetime.  So travel, explore, and never quit.

Dana and Weston flying a hull on the hobie cat (Photo - Kayla)

Dana and Weston flying a hull on the hobie cat (Photo - Kayla)

Weston nearly dumping the hobie cat

Weston nearly dumping the hobie cat

Family around the fire while watching the approaching storm

Family around the fire while watching the approaching storm

Lighting off the end of the pier

Lighting off the end of the pier

Dana's cousin Ivar racing around the local track near the cottage in Oshkosh

Dana's cousin Ivar racing around the local track near the cottage in Oshkosh

Behind the boat…

Aaron and Weston getting some extreme tubing hang time

Aaron and Weston getting some extreme tubing hang time

Eric getting tossed by my brother Jordan

Eric getting tossed by my brother Jordan

Dana splitting the lake in half on the slalom ski

Dana splitting the lake in half on the slalom ski

Sunset on Lake Winnebago from the end of the pier.

Sunset on Lake Winnebago from the end of the pier.

From the end of the pier we say thank you for following along and see you next trip!

Posted by: danaweston | May 29, 2011

Our Final Stop: Canada Part 1

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario Canada

July 30th – August 3rd 2010

Canada, why not?  It had been 4 years since our last trip to visit our friendly neighbors to the north.  I have snowboarded, mt. biked, hiked, and gone whitewater rafting in Canada yet my most memorable trip is probably this one, canoeing through the silent waterways of Quetico.

Quetico Provincial Park is located on the western side of lake Superior and just to the north of the Boundry Waters of the United States.  Filled with hundreds of miles of silent waterways once used by the Ojibway for hunting and fishing it is truly a spectacular place left unchanged and untraveled in many areas to this day.

We met up with my long time friend Ryan Mallek of Duluth, MN at his place over looking the tall ships sailing Lake Superior.  Wasting little time we packed up the trucks and headed north to “Uncle’s cabin”.  Yes it’s true everyone heads north a couple of hours in the Midwest to their cabin or cottage, no matter how far north they live ( I feel bad for those that live at the arctic circle and have to go North to their cabin!).  At “Uncle’s Cabin” we prepped the fishing gear and loaded the canoes two high with a complex maze of straps.

Loading the Mallek Mobile at Uncle's Cabin for some epic

Loading the Mallek Mobile at Uncle's Cabin for some epic

Day 1

Hot flapjacks and real maple syrup got us going early so we could have our paddles dripping by 9am via Moose lake in the Boundary waters of northern Minnesota.  For the first time in my life I would be crossing into Canada without waiting in traffic, and even if we did end up stuck in a line of canoes crossing we could always fish while waiting.  As we rounded a horseshoe inlet less than an hour into the trip we spotted a bald eagle in a nest with two young.  We drifted past silently watching the adult soar in place on the light breeze looking for fish in the inlet, welcome to Quetico.

Billboard in the middle of the woods

Billboard in the middle of the woods

As we portaged across the boarder we practically signed the paperwork in stride. We were miles from anywhere yet they were selling t-shirts and pins at the ranger station, they even accepted credit cards!  Heading west across Basswood lake  towards Sunday lake we planned on crossing some of the larger bodies of water while the wind was in our favor.  Our first big portage was out of Sunday Bay into Sunday lake.  Snacking on the sandy shore Ryan told me this was an easy 65 rod portage.  Rod?  What kind of metric measurement was this?  Apparently a “Rod” is a unit of canoe measurement equaling 5.0292 meters or 16.5 feet.  Turns out the measurement isn’t metric at all.  It’s an old way of measuring the lengths of how far oxen had plowed a field, based on the length of a standardized plow at the time.  In that regard I to this day still can’t figure out why canoes measure portages in rods, why not just say 1/4 of a mile or half a kilometer?  With canoe’s slung over head I began counting my rods, as the view wasn’t that great from inside the canoe.

Sunday Lake Portage

Sunday Lake Portage

Ryan putting on his best paddle for Sunday Lake

Ryan putting on his best paddle for Sunday Lake

The gloomy sky kept the summer heat and winds to a minimum.  Paddling through narrow streams and small lilly ponds we approached Sunday Lake.  Lucky for us the gloom would turn into a spectacular north woods sunset.  After dinner we took the fishing poles out hoping to catch a couple of nice fish, instead we caught a good view from mother nature.

Dana paddling out for sunset cruise

Dana paddling out for sunset cruise

Dana and Weston paddling during sunset (Photo - Ryan Mallek)

Dana and Weston paddling during sunset (Photo - Ryan Mallek)

Ryan fishing into the evening

Ryan fishing into the evening

Pure Quetico

Pure Quetico

Weston walking on water

Weston walking on water

“Weston walking on water” is a real photo, I really did stand on the water.  This photo was actually a nice accident.  We were coasting along and our canoes came to a screeching halt.  Upon further observation we realized that we had some how run into a small tip of a huge boulder just below the surface.  Gingerly I stepped out of the canoe onto the tip surrounded by water 10-20 feet deep except for this small point.  Dana pushed off and snapped the photo.  It was actually a really cool feeling to be standing in the middle of a lake like that, probably the closest I have come to walking on water… except for that wreck on the slalom ski on lake Winnebago, but that was only a brief couple of seconds.

Day 2

Ryan and I woke up around 6am to practice our man skills by getting a little fishing in.  Silently back tracking to a spot we had seen on the way in we began drifting and casting into silent morning mist sitting on the lake.  Not a single hit at our first stop, so we moved to the next little inlet around the corner.  Two casts later Weston had hooked a battle.  Thrashing below was a 27″ northern pike.  Reeling vigorously would bring him a couple feet closer then he would drag the line back out.  It wasn’t looking good for a little while, until Ryan made a great snag with the net and landed him in the canoe.

Trophy shot first thing in the morning

Trophy shot first thing in the morning

The slippery guy made a move for it seconds later and popped right out of my hands flopping around violently on the canoe floor.  We corralled him, and Ryan made fun of me for the next couple of days.  Although payback was twice as good when he caught an even larger one at Uncles Cabin a few days later and he not only dropped it but could hardly corral it in the boat!

The rest of the day would be a leisure paddle fit for Tom Sawyer.  In classic summer fashion we went fishing, hunting for blue berries, and swimming until our bellies were full and we were drying off in the hot summer sun while napping on the shoreline.

Ryan looking for wildlife in the lily pads

Ryan looking for wildlife in the lily pads

Baby Eagle along the shoreline

Baby Eagle along the shoreline

Turtle sunning himself on a log

Turtle sunning himself on a log

Careless summer fun deep in Canada's Quetico Provincial Park

Careless summer fun deep in Canada's Quetico Provincial Park

Why keep moving when you’re having this much fun?  We set up camp just one lake to the north to enjoy the hot summer evening.  Fishing poles in hand we set out on Bass lake to catch some dinner.  Turns out the lake lived up to its name.  Before we knew it we throwing fish back into the water left and right.  Dana caught the largest fish, a several pound bass 23” in length!  Ryan cooked up the fish dinner for an perfect summer dinner while I plotted out our next day of travel.

Dinner time on Bass Lake

Dinner time on Bass Lake

Plotting the course for tomorrow

Plotting the course for tomorrow

See the next post for the remainder of our trip…

Posted by: danaweston | May 28, 2011

Canada Part 2

Canada Part 2

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario Canada

Day 3

With such great luck fishing the night before Ryan and I decided to get after it early again.  We weren’t as hot as the night before but we still caught a ton of fish, this time it took us two casts rather than one, but sometimes we got two fish on one hook.

The law of averages... two fish on one hook

The law of averages... two fish on one hook

The one that got away.... the law of averages

The one that got away.... the law of averages

Swift and silent through the granite walls and loon calls

Swift and silent through the granite walls and loon calls

The call of the loon is one of the best sounds out here, especially when they pop up from below right next to your canoe.

Loons abound here

Loons abound here

After a perfect morning, storms came rolling through forcing us to take shelter on a small island until the waves and lightning calmed.  The day began with shirtless sweaty paddling and mandatory swim breaks for the whole crew.  By the late afternoon we found ourselves in full rain gear sipping hot beverages next to a fire waiting for the storm to pass.  The storm did pass nearly as quickly as the thunderstorm that comes on in the fruits and vegetable section.  The only difference was that our fruit was freshly washed, still on the bush, and just needed to be found.  What we found was blueberries by the bucket loads.  We were filling up 2 litre pots to brim no problem, even with Dana eating every other berry she picked.

Real blueberries

Real blueberries

Blueberries by the bucket load!

Blueberries by the bucket load!

Day 4

For those of you who have ever wondered what happens when you eat a ton of blueberries for four days straight, the answer is yes it’s true… you begin to poop blue by day four.  It didn’t stop us, we still had more blueberry oatmeal for breakfast.  Agnes lake had slowed our progress the day prior with it’s long open banks, the wind and weather was to much to make meaningful progress.  Today was different, matter of fact it was another gorgeous day in Canada.  Weaving through the granite corridors we would pass over the deepest point of the trip at just over 300 feet deep despite the walls being only a quarter of a mile apart.

Amongst the depths and granite walls of Agnes lake

Amongst the depths and granite walls of Agnes lake

What became a norm by the end of the trip was mandatory swim breaks from the heat of paddling.  One of our final stops at Louis Falls was one of the very best.

Dana in the cool tub with waterfall jets

Dana in the cool tub with waterfall jets

 

Fallen birch deep in the north woods

Fallen birch deep in the north woods

It was so hot that evening that we literally swam until the sunset and into the dark.  Ryan watches on as I make a less than perfect entrance into the sunset over the north woods.

Part one of the entrance

Part one of the entrance

Grand finale in Quetico

Grand finale in Quetico

Our final sunset of the trip

Our final sunset of the trip

The milky way with lighting off in the distance (lower right corner in the clouds)

The milky way with lighting off in the distance (lower right corner in the clouds)

Day 5

What we thought would be a nice paddle out turned out to be an all day affair paddling into the wind.  Despite our slow progress and a couple of waves making it into the boat we found ourselves back at Uncles Cabin working on our man skills and getting the cabin ready for winter.  Stacks of blueberry pancakes and some good laughs and we were on our way back towards Colorado.  Thanks for a great trip Ryan “Man” Mallek, see you soon.

Ryan showing off his man skills

Ryan showing off his man skills

Posted by: danaweston | May 28, 2011

Europe Road Trip

June 8th – 21st

Germany, France, Luxemburg, Belgium, and the Netherlands

From Munich we headed North to Kaiserslautern to see Westons family.  We enjoyed having a home and eat a fresh cooked German meal.  My Aunt Dagmar whipped up a family reciepe for us which we loved and my Uncle threw a great graduation party,  my younger cousin Chris beat up on Weston in a two day tennis match, and Katarina took us out and showed us a great night out on the town… needless to say we enjoyed, no…loved our stay with our family in Kaiserslautern, Thanks for having us and come visit in the mountains anytime!  We would have stayed longer but my mom and her brother the famed Jaime Jastrab were flying in for our final week and wanted to see some of Europe before heading back home.  Before we get started here a couple photos with the family from just around the house.

I can now say I have been to Frankenstein, from L to R Uncle Jaime, Dana, Weston, Westons Mom Judy, and my Aunt Dagmar

Looking down on the castle right near my Aunt and Uncle's house

The Metzgerei or local butcher shop

Weston's cousin Chris knocking in a run

We headed to the Enterprise Rental car with a GPS unit from my uncle and no idea where we would be going for the week.  Good thing the car we resereved wasn’t available yet it bought us an extra 20 minutes to render a game plan.  By the time our cheapest car available, 2010 BMW 1 series wagon, rolled up we had picked Paris as stop number one.

Our cheapest rental car option 2010 BMW 1 Series

Paris, France

Four hours later, a top speed of 120 mph, one missed toll, and only one guy giving Weston the Europen hand gesture for asshole,  we were cruising through traffic in Paris and excited at the success of driving leg number one.  My mom was excited as it was her first trip to Europe so we let her pick our first sight,  the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  As we entered we were in awe of the hundred foot tall vaulted ceilings and rather large confessions booth.  Weston asked Uncle Jaime if he would like to make a stop and he replied “their isn’t enough time left in our trip”.  Although we were treated to some classic Catholic school stories that had some gone untold by my mom and uncle.

Rainy afternoon out front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame

The largest stained glass window we have ever seen

Vaulted archways in Notre Dame

Inside craning our necks up

With the rain still coming down we made quick work of the walk over to our next stop, the Louvre, possible the world’s single most famous art museum.  Inside sits the Mona Lisa alongside about 10,000 other priceless works of art.  It is the kind of place that you could spend a month walking through and not see everything.

Dana, Westons Mom Judy, and Uncle Jaime

The building itself is a work of art and would be a national treasure by itself.  Weston really enjoyed the traveling exhibt, Gladiator helmets, armour, and swords.

An old gladiator helmet

Next was the famed Mona Lisa.  It was neat to see but is was alot smaller than we had expected.  Almost more fun to see was the mob of a crowd looking at this little painting behind 6 inch bomb proof glass with armed gaurds walking throughout.

Smaller than we imagined, the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa Mob

The giant halls filled with gian paintings was really cool and almost more fit for a Willy Wonka movie.  Decorating castles must have been big business, can you imagine getting a quote for blinds in this hallway?

Giant paintings hall

My mom could have spent the night in the museum,  but the security guards closing down the place thought otherwise.  Atleast the rain had let up by the time we left so we walked back looking for a meal.  My uncle was feeling adventurous and went with the escargo and crem brule.  Either way the meal was excellent and gave us the energy for our unexpected 8 mile roundtrip to the Eiffel Tower.

Refueling

Despite our late start over to the tower places like Paris on a Friday night don’t come alive until midnight.  We wandered the streets enjoying the smell of crepes and lingering cigarettes mixed with bad perfume.  Many small side streets provided great walking and even better deserts.

It's the side streets and people who make Paris Paris

Around midnight we reached the outer area of the Eiffel Tower.  We were met with key chain sales men and an impressive sight that most of us have seen since being a young child one way or another.  Heads back to a now clear night sky we enjoyed one of the world’s most famed spots.  Sitting looking up and thinking of the food, museums, buildings, and history of Paris reminded us of just how special Paris is.  We have been to a ton of big cities in over 20 different countries and Paris is one of the best hands down (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really care for the city).

Non other... the Eiffel Tower

Classic

One our way out we drove to the French archway.  It turned into a driving feat more fit for a Chevy Chase National Lampoon European vacation.  It was one of the true accomplishments to be logged under Westons international driving liscense, right up there with driving on the other side in New Zealand, making a foriegn country airport pickup, parallel parking on the other side of the road with steering on the right, and the French 8 lane round about around the arch.

8 Lane round about driving feat

Only 8 lanes seperate us from a picture with the Arch

The arch marked the end of our short but awesome Paris stop.  Next up was an afternoon stop in Reims, France then back to Germany to drop off my Uncle for his flight home home and pick up my Cousin Chris who had just finished up classes and was ready to start off his summer break.

Luxemburg

For those from Wisconsin you will understand this next little fact.  The entire country of Luxemburg is smaller in land area than the county that we grew up in, Ozaukee.  Measuring only 990 square miles, we have had larger icebergs crack off Antarctica as of late, so we made it a one day stop.  We chose to explore the more quaint Vianden.  Vianden is home to an incredible castle that played host to the original Dracula movie.  Tight cobblestone streets and meandering rivers surrounded by grassy hillsides seemed peaceful, until we read about how the Americans liberated the city from the Germans in a bloddy battle in 1945.  It was hard to imagine the tanks and anti-aircraft guns sitting right where we read the memorial sign.  European history is filled with excitement from knights trotting on horses through the same woods that would later become a night air drop for American troops.  Having an imagination helps  and makes Europe more exciting but sometimes its just hard to imagine all the things that the tree next to you has witnessed over the past couple hundred years.

Viandin Castle as seen in the original Dracula movie

Viandin Castle today

Display with castle in the background of USA anti aircraft guns in 1945

If you were king of the castle this would be your view

Brussels, Brugge, and Belgian Waffles in Belgium

The main square in Bruxxels

Flower vendor in the main square

This post has unexpectedly decided that it will no longer accept any additional photos so I am going to call it here.  More to follow.

Posted by: danaweston | September 14, 2010

Munich, Germany

June 4th – 7th, 2010

Munich, Germany and the BMW factory

Welcome to Germany! Our first sight in the Munich airport.

 With India as our previous stop for the most part, the sight of a BMW front grill was like the holy grail to the modern world.  In just minutes we had gone through customs, collected our bags, and boarded a train to take us into town.  With the airport about 20 miles outside of town in most other places we had traveled the customs to hotel check-in would be a several hour ordeal, in Germany try under an hour.  Matter of fact within 2 hours of landing Weston had already given himself a stomach ache from eating to many very fresh Haribo gummy bears, mmmmm…modern world (I am refering to the fact that the candy was NOT expired, what a treat!)

Dana in front of the BMW factory

Before leaving the United States last October the BMW factory tour was on our list of things to see.  No photos were allowed on the tour but I can say that it was one of the most incredible sights of the trip.  To watch robots put more than 5,500 welds in each car, and other robots laying down perfect paint jobs you don’t even need to be into cars to appreciate the modern marvel of the BMW factory.  An absolute must do for anyone traveling to Munich.  The factory is located in an incredible building with a small track in the upstairs that motorcycles rally around, and off.  One of the riders was riding up and down the staircases with guys in suits walking past back to their offices.

Riding around inside the BMW factory and offices while some suits look on from the top

 Munich quickly became one of our favorite cities of the trip, especially because Dana had already been here so it was like having a guide along (a nice change from the rest of our trip), plus it was now Dana’s turn to translate the German as Weston had handled the Spanish in South America.  With both of us claiming a serious amount of German ancestors it was really neat to see where our families had come from, and finally blend back in with the crowd.  We had several people just walk up to us and ask you something in German thinking you where from there compared with India where we sometimes had a line of people wanting a picture with us at the Taj.  Besides our German ancestors we also have a lot of WWII history in our families with all 4 of our Grandfathers fighting in WWII, Dana’s were in the Army and Navy, Weston’s were Air Force and Navy, this just added to our excitement to see some new areas in Europe.  Our European tour started in Munich which sits at the foothills of the Alps, similar to Denver in proximity to the mountains.  Great views of the mountains, a plethara of historic churches and statues, and massive beer halls… what else could you want in a city.  We started with a day trip to a slightly different  kind of place, the Dachau concentration camp. 

Barb wire surrounding Dachau

Dachau is a name that will never be erased from history.  Dachau was the very first concentration camp in Germany in 1933 and soon became a prototype for others to follow.  Until the liberation of Dachau by the Americans in 1945 the concentration camp had processed 229,000 prisoners of which 32,000 either died while imprisoned or were killed.  The grounds are still a rather eerie place to walk around and imagine what it used to be.  A couple buildings have been rebuilt and turned into fantastic museums.  Weston was never a scholar in school but he did manage one AP class, European History, so it was rather neat to see many of the WWII sites  and put a name to all the pictures in the books.  

Arbeit Macht Frei translation "Work makes you free", the entrance gate to Dachau

The barracks that were often used for torture

The crematorium at Dachau

The gas chamber and crematorium were incredibly strange places to walk through giving you that chill down your spine similar to that of crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam (see our Vietnam section for that post).  We had originally only planned for a couple hours at Dachau but ended up spending 6 hours between the incredibly detailed museum and walking the grounds. 

Beer and Pretzels

Like Weston always says stereotypes happen for a reason, and in this case you now only need one reason to visit germany beer and pretzels.  You can buy beer nearly everwhere in Germany, even McDonald’s… and yes it is actually called a McBeer and it will run you 2.50 euro and cannot be combined with the Happy Meal just trust me.  Our favorite two beer halls were the Paulaner and Hofbrauhaus.  Dana got her raw beef and onion, her saurerkraut and sausage and Weston got his own room, but the beer was great!  We couldn’t resist a fresh pint, scratch that I mean liter because that’s the only way they sell it.

Enjoying a liter at the Hofbrauhaus

After quenching our thirst we took to the streets wandering aimlessly amongst building that were hundreds of years older than the oldest buildings in the States.  With street performers equipped like a mini symphony we wandered with a souldtrack of classic compositions, one group had even rolled a baby grand out.  It soon felt more like a movie set with a live soundtrack.

Live music in Munich

Gothic style cathedral

Looking down on the square

Spires

The neatest part of all the old churches is how they are still in use today.  Most of the churches still hold weekly mass, some even every night.  We stuck our heads inside one and were greeted with a fantastic sound of old bells and a bellowing organ.  Then right in front of me the setting sun crept through the upper window the mass was asked to rise and it was another movie like scene with live background music.

Afternoon mass with the setting sun

Munich was one of the best cities of the trip one that we can’t wait to return to, some of us are just hungry for a pretzel and fresh liter of beer.

Ending just like we started with a pretzel and beer.

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