I’m back in the Himalayas …

and it’s an exhilarating feeling. Last year I spent five months volunteering with Quetzaltrekkers, an amazing organization in Guatemala. It turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience for me and a big motivator to spend some more time doing good work around the globe. That’s why I’m currently in Nepal, one of my favourite countries in the world. I’ll soon start working for a local NGO: Jhumlawang Village Foundation. But before embarking on that mission, I wanted to get some hiking done.
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After some research I decided to combine four different trails into one big loop: Tamang Heritage Trail – Langtang Valley – Gosainkunda – Helambu. I left Kathmandu on a long and arduous bus ride for what would turn out to be an 18 day hike and one of the best outdoors experiences of my life.

The first five days I hiked most of the Tamang Heritage trail. The lowest stretch of this hike brought me along some small remote communities, local hot-springs and a first viewpoint at Taaruche (3700 metres). When I was leaving Nagthaali, I ran into a crew of schoolteachers going up to start a small school picnic. I was invited and spent the next 24 hours with them; slaughtering a goat, drinking local wine, eating big amounts of food, singing and dancing.

Hereafter I walked up in the Langtang Valley towards he village of Kanjin Gompa, where I settled for a couple of days to explore the valley. I met some amazing other tourists who were also staying here (Inga, Marlene, Eliel, Eike and Chris) with whom I would share these adventures. After a first snow fall, we climbed up to Kanjin Ri (4774m) for some amazing views of Langtang Lirung. The following day we went up even higher and a long, hard climb took us up to the summit of Tsergo Ri (4984m). During my last day I went up to explore the far end of the valley, where I was only surrounded by yaks with huge horns.

View from Tsergo Ri

View from Tsergo Ri


The next days I tried making my way to Gosainkunda lake, but was severely hindered by three days of snow storms. When I finally made it to Laurebina (3950m) just below the lake, I met up again with Inga, Marlene and Eike who were waiting out the storm. It seemed like it would be impossible to cross the 4600 metre high pass to get into the Helambu valley. After three days of snow and minus 20 degrees, the weather finally improved. The four of us set out for a day-trip to Gosainku lake (4380m). It was an amazing adventure, we had to break trail through snow that was at times thigh high while hiking on a trail clinching to the face mountain with an endless drop-off on our side. But we did it and with rejuvenated hopes Eike and me returned to our guesthouse with the plan to cross the pass the following day.
High up in the Himalaya

High up in the Himalaya


After another glorious sunrise and saying goodbye to our two girls, we set out for a long day of hiking. If we had known up front how hard it would be, we probably would never have started. We could easily follow the trail we made the other day to Gosainkund, but once we got there we still had to make a new trail up till the Laurabina Yak pass (4620m). Wading through deep deep snow, with no trail to follow and trailmarkers deeply covered, took all our strength and persevearance. Furthermore we kept hearing avalanches break off around us, by far the scariest sound I have ever heard in my life. But in the end we safely make it down to the guesthouse in Phedi (3900m) after 9 hours of hard work. We get an incredibly refreshing coke, Dal Bhaat power food, lots of cups of tea, tibetan tea for breakfast and a bed for less than 10 euros.
Looking back at Laurabina Yak pass.

Looking back at Laurabina Yak pass.


The last couple of days we walk out through the Helambu trail and make our way back to Kathmandu where further adventures await us. It had been an amazing adventure and more await.

More pictures can be found here.

Namaste,
David

So this is where it ends for me…

… I’m on a water-less stretch 25 miles just South of Mount Whitney, the very bottom of the high part of the Sierra Nevada. I filled up my water-supply to full capacity a couple of hours ago at Chicken Spring Lake and had been in a long decent since reaching Cottonwood Pass. I had hiked long past sunset into the darkness last night and somehow lost my maps for this part of the trail. Since the PCT gets the most traffic around here, I stuck with following the main trail. But for the last hour had been doubting this strategy. I went with my gut-feeling, pulled out my smartphone and with the last 2% of my battery remaining checked my position … I had walked four miles of the trail. I dropped down my bag and started to process this last bit of bad news.

Ten days ago I had left the small town of Lee Vining where I holed up to weather out a storm. I was now getting on to one of the most beautiful as well as daunting stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail: the High Sierras. A long stretch over several high passes with little options for resupply along the way. The first four day stretch takes me through the back country of Yosemite National Park along two pack stations, Reds Meadow and Vermilion Valley Resort. I have got a resupply package waiting for me at VVR, so I only have to carry a light backpack. I get lucky at Reds Meadow when my neighbours on the camping invite me over to their fire-pit to feed me food and beers. They even show me the way to a hot-spring nearby where I go and soak for an hour after dinner. At VVR I get my last resupply, I plan on walking the next 186 miles / 300 kilometres with leaving the trail. All the food for this stretch has to fit in my bear canister. This means I have to fit all the food for the next seven days in this bucket and actually can’t take as much food as I would want to. But even now my backpack feels heavier than I have ever felt it before.
Sierra Nevada overview
The following days are amazing. Each day I walk to postcard-like sceneries, with impressive mountains surrounding me and deep-blue lakes that beg me to stop for a swim. I cross four big passes that are over 3000 metres / 10000 feet high: Mather, Pinchot, Glenn and Forester pass. Each time I have to conquer hundreds of switchbacks upwards to get to these points and each time and each time I get rewarded with amazing 360 degree views.

But at the same time, it becomes mentally harder to motivate myself to keep going every single day. It’s already mid October and there aren’t that much other hikers out there any more. The lack tof a sociable aspect is weighing hard on me. At the same time The days are becoming shorter which means I have to hike even faster and often past sunset into the dark. I’ve already been hit by snow twice and every day feels colder out there.

In the end all these aspects come together and over the last days at the end of the High Sierra I’ve decided that I will leave the trail at Southern Kennedy Meadows. I no longer felt that the joy I got out of hiking outweighed the harshness and isolation. So when, on that faithful morning, after taking a wrong turn coming down from Cotton Pass, I all of the sudden end up in Crabtree Meadows, I decide to finally finish my hike. I no longer have the energy in me to go further.

I might return some day. Give it another attempt to complete the whole trail. But for now, I’m satisfied. I’m proud of every step I took. I hiked 927 miles or 1493 kilometres through the amazing outdoors of the American West Coast.
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It’s been almost three months since that day I decided to get off the Pacific Crest Trail and it seems that I’m finally ready to write about my last days on the trail. I believe it is just as well a testament as to how hard it was to walk away from the trail as it is a testament to difficulty of keeping a blog up-to-date. I’m now spending my last days in Belgium before I set out for another adventure.

In the last weeks I’ve put together some videos about my life on the trail. Nothing fancy, but some might like it. First bit is in Dutch, rest is in English.


And you can find some pictures right here.

Le Tour De Taiwan – Day 18

I’m writing from Lanyu (Orchid Island), a small volcanic island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The plan was to spend 4 days on this little piece of paradise. However, because of the rough sea, yesterday’s boat was canceled. The perfect moment to write a short report about the last 9 days of cycling and traveling through the “Ilha Formosa”.

Heading From South to East

Heading From South to East

After having spent a day of exploring around Kenting, I got back on the road towards the east coast of Taiwan. Because of the strong wind, I was moving slow. Not that much of a problem considering the breathtaking scenery around me.

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

Breathtaking View Cycling Towards the East

I decided to give my legs some rest and my upper body some work in the relaxed surfer town Jialeshui where I crashed at Winson’s house. Two days later, after a late afternoon surf session I bumped into another (crazy) Belgian! Koen is a fellow Prince Albert Fund alumni that spent one year working in Taipei. As we were moving in the same direction, we decided to bike together the next morning.

Surfing is So Happy

Surfing is So Happy…

Sunset in Jialeshui

Jialeshui Sunset

We took off early for one of the toughest but most beautiful “stages” of Le Tour de Taiwan until now: Jialeshui to Taimali (to see the route click here).  It was great to have a companion during the 115 km long ride in the sweltering heat on a hilly route (1551 m of incline). For those wondering where I get the stats from: Koen is an electrical engineer interested in technology registering our every move with one of his many useful apps.

Jialeshui - Taimali

Jialeshui – Taimali

Quite remarkable are the many “police stations” along the road. The criminality must be close to zero in most of the east as the stations function as “bicycle service areas”, invariably staffed with policemen keen on providing food, water, a place to sleep or information about Taiwan.

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Police Station or Service Station for Cyclists?

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

Sleeping Spot in Taimali

After a short and rainy night, we got up at 4.30 am and drove 30 km towards the pretty harbor town of Fugang. We arrived around 7 only to find out that the ferry wasn’t leaving until 9.30. Luckily we found shelter in one of the nearly five thousand (!)  7-ELEVEN stores in Taiwan.

Fugang Port

Fugang Port

The last few days on Orchid Island were spent snorkeling, diving and hiking. In short: enjoying life. However, the desire to head towards the mountains is growing. Hopefully the sea will be quiet enough to catch the scheduled ferry on Tuesday so I can continue my journey!

Port of Lanyu

Port of Lanyu

Diving

Two Crazy Belgians and One Crazy Fish

Lanyu View

Lanyu View

Sunset over Lanyu

Lanyu sunset

This American Life …

Since starting the second leg of my PCT adventure, I have had one faithful companion: a podcast named This American Life. Hosted by the amicable Ira Glass it’s a story telling program on American Public Radio that each week touches upon a different, interesting subject. Before leaving San Francisco I downloaded about forty episodes and I’ve listened to almost all of them by now. They’ve been an amazing distraction when the hiking becomes harder or a good story at night during dinner. This weeks blogpost will be structured in a similar way. Stay with us.

Act 1: Hospitality

I’ve been incredibly fortunate with all the people I’ve met on and off the trail. I’d like to share a story about an amazing couple I met in South Lake Tahoe. After coming off the trail at Echo Lakes, the people running the shop out there were closing up because of the upcoming winter. However they gave me a free can of soda and showed me how to get to the highway. Once I got there, I did a small attempt at making myself look presentable and then put up my thumb. After about fifty cars had passed, a car came back from the opposite direction and made a U-turn. The driver jumped out and threw some of his gear in the backseat to make room for me. Whilst driving into South Lake Tahoe, Nicholas – the driver – and me got more acquainted. He’s 26, married and working as a waiter whilst getting ready to study for his medical exams.

Once we drove into town, he invited me to stay at his house instead of going into a more impersonal hotel, off course I agreed. We picked up some sandwiches for lunch and went to his home, where I got to meet his lovely wife Kadi. Afterwards we went out to play discgolf and swim in South Lake Tahoe. In the evening we got pizza and watched Death Proof. It felt like spending a day with friends I just had never met before. The only difference was that at night, Nicholas – who is a devout christian – spent a couple of moments praying for my health and success in this undertaking. A small but very moving gesture.

Hiking near Sonora Pass

Hiking near Sonora Pass

Act 2: A lonely hiker

I’ve been out on the trail for two weeks now and I can feel that the solitude of being out there by myself sometimes gets to me. There are some other long distance hikers out there around me, but I haven’t met up with them yet. Since the days are becoming shorter and the weather is getting colder, there are less day-hikers out there as well. So I’ve spent several days out there not meeting a single soul whilst I’m hiking the trail. Sometimes it becomes a bit hard on me, missing human contact or just a listening ear for all my plans for the future that run through my head. I guess that I’m not the hermit I once thought I was and that’s not a bad thing.

The lonely hiker

The lonely hiker

Act 3: A change in weather

Leaving Nothern Kennedy Meadows, the last weather forecast gave a 20% chance of a little snowfall for the next day. Hoping the prediction was only a false alert, I set out for the next stretch of hiking. Unfortunately it turned out to be true. The following afternoon started of with a drizzle and then some hail. After hiking for three hours in near freezing temperatures I decided to call it a day and put up my tent. It turned out to be a fortunate decision, the weather turned for the worse and when I woke up in the middle of the night I was surrounded by a nice 10 cm / 4 inch layer of snow. Breaking up my camp to go out again proved to be a long task with freezing cold fingers. However beautiful the snow might be, it also slowed me down for my hiking the next couple of days.

A snow covered scenery in the Sierra Nevadas

A snow covered scenery in the Sierra Nevadas

Fortunately I could bail out to Lee Vining, a small town on the East side of the Sierras, before I ran out of food. I got here yesterday (Tuesday) and will eventually spent two unplanned nights in this sleepy town. I hope that by tomorrow the early fall storms have passed through and a spell of dry, good weather will come in (at least that’s what the locals are predicting).

So tomorrow I’m heading out again for what should be one of the most beautiful stretches, up in the the high Sierras, straight through Yosemite National Park. It’s also the stretch that will take me over several passes above 3000 metres and some nights the temperature might drop till -10 Celsius.

I’m hoping for a lot of sunshine and other hikers to run in to.

Happy trails,
David

On the trail again …

although it is unclear for how much longer. Still plenty of doubts ahead, but we’ll get there soon enough. First let me get you up-to-date how the last couple of weeks have been.

After my two failed attempts to restart my hike in the first weeks of August, I have hitchhiked down the West Coast to continue my adventure. After going through Bend and Oregon; I went into Humboldt County, a beautiful coastal stretch in the very North of California. I had some amazing times: sleeping on the beach at College Cove and a transformed school bus in Orick, walking through giants in Redwoods National Park, people watching in the university town of Arcata, …

Around the 20th of August I made it back to San Francisco where I could count on the amazing hospitality of my friend Tom and his housemates. After a couple of days of preparation met up some old friends from Mexico City and headed out to Burning Man. For the third time in four years I was going home.

It turned out to be a very intense experience, more emotional than my previous two visits. I was strongly doubting about what I would be doing after the festival and what my future would look like. There were some old friends I’ve run into and memories to be relived.

After a short time back in San Francisco I decided to head out for the Pacific Crest Trail. Doubts where raging through my head. Most of all I was afraid to go out there and have my body fail on me once again. To start hiking and realize that the pain would just be too much. At the very last moment I headed out with Ila (Tom’s girlfriend) for a practice hike in San Francisco. Hiking with a full backpack through SFO seemed like a bit odd, but the feeling in my legs was good so I decided to go out for it.

Some amazing trees along the way


A busride took me out to Truckee and from there I made my way to the trail. I had a 66 mile (106 km) stretch ahead of me, all the way to Lake Tahoe.

The first two days were going very smooth. It felt great to be back on the track, as if I had found a purpose again. Walking on the trail felt like coming home to me. You can hear me talking about this in the following fragment.

However in the following two days, the pain in my shins returned and with it returned the doubts that were going through my head.

I made it all the way to Lake Tahoe and although my shins feel painful, I can manage. The feeling is still bearable. So for the moment I will continue on this trip that takes me further in to the Sierra Nevada. Step by step, day by day. Living in the moment.

Aloha Lakes

No news …

is good news, is what people sometimes say. In this case it’s just the fact that it sometimes takes a while to process bad news.

After my six day rest in Portland, I tried to get back on the trail in Cascade Locks. My venture back on the PCT only lasted for a short while. It soon became clear that I hadn’t healed up yet. My shin splints were still hurting and I quickly returned back to society.

I didn’t want to impose myself any longer on my amazing hosts in Portland or stay longer in the little town of Cascade Locks. Instead I moved further down to Bend, an amazing outdoors town in Central Oregon. Between kayaking, sampling local micro-brews and watching movies I hoped that another week of rest would suffice for my injury.

After seven days I hitch-hiked out to Crater Lake, a beautiful National Park right on the PCT. It was the first time I ran in to other hikers again. Their trail stories made me envious of their adventures.

The following morning I set out for a trial hike, trying to see how my legs would react. It didn’t take long before a familiar painful feeling would arise.

Not being able to go further, I had to consider a new plan. From here on I will hitch-hike further down to San Francisco where I can count on the hospitality of Tom, an amazing friend I met years ago in Patagonia. It’s also there I will meet up with some friends from Mexico City and go to Burning Man festival. After the burn I will try one last time to start hiking out of Northern California. I hope that the 3 weeks of rest will be sufficient to be completely ready again. It also should give me enough time to hike the Californian state before snow hits the Sierra Nevadas.

How do I feel about this? Dissapointed off course, my goal was to walk the entire PCT. And I felt comfortable I could do it. I never figured that an injury would hold me back. But I’ve also come to accept it. My body has it’s limits and I should respect those.

In the mean time I’m still enjoying the West Coast and seeing some amazing sites. I’m in the small city of Ashland for the moment, where I saw a memorable Shakespeare performance last night. And I’ll be going to the Pacific Coast from here on.

Happy trails,
David

As I am standing on the Bridge of the Gods …

1004479_10153092130860173_156614112_n… I look back to the state of Washington and slowly recap the roller-coaster of emotions I have been through: joy and fear, pain and laughter, amazement and confusion, new-found friends and helpful strangers, lonely nights and shared dinners, …

The Bridge of the Gods spans the mighty Columbia River, connecting the states of Washington and Oregon. Over the last 12 days I had hiked 321 miles / 517 kilometres going from Steven’s Pass over Snoqualmie and Chinook Pass all the way to the small town of Cascade Locks. An average of 26.5 miles / 43 kilometres or more than a full marathon every day, crossing some of rugged terrain of the Cascades.

After spending the first two weeks hiking alone, I had finally gotten company for this part of the hike. I spent a lot of time hiking together with Remy, who is a triple-crowner and just finished his degree in Economics-Mathematics, and Matt, like me a little bit less experienced and working on his Architecture degree.

I met them both while staying at the Dinsmore’s in Baring and we decided to try and match our hiking styles for the next stretch. I went fairly well and it was great to share dinner and stories in the camp after a day of hiking.

So what happened in these last two weeks
– I swam in a lot of lakes along the way
– I hiked up Old Snowy in the Goat Rock Wilderness during what was probably the best day in Washington
– We met our first North Bounders (people who start at the Mexican border and go up North)
– I have grown an almost unsatisfiable hiker hunger
– We got assaulted by bugs a couple of times
– We got some amazing gifts of random people we met on the trail
– Matt had to leave the trail because of a stress fracture
– I constantly raised my hiking distance up to doing even a 32 mile / 51 kilometres day
– All the snow has been melted away and I carried an ice-axe for this stretch which only helped when digging catholes
– I got injured myself on the last couple of days hiking in to Cascade Locks

That last one is probably the most important one. The last couple of days in Washington were pretty intense, long days with lots of up and down hill. At some point my left shin started hurting a lot. The only way out was just to go further, which only increased the pain.

I’ve been taking a lot of pain killers since then and actually bailed out to Portland for a couple of days of healing. It’s been great, Remy set me up with a couple of friends of him and I just spent the weekend here relaxing and gorging on great food.

I’m heading out this afternoon. Hitch-hike my way back to Cascade Locks and hope to be back on the trail again tomorrow.

You can find more pictures here!

Remy and me in Cascade Locks

Remy and me in Cascade Locks