Lately I’ve been itching for a camping adventure but have been too busy to do anything too ambitious or far away. Since we live across the street from Mt. Crested Butte, yesterday I figured what the hell, I might as well just skin up the ski slopes and camp up there for a night! It wasn’t exactly a wilderness experience (I could actually see our condo down below), but it was still nice to spend a quiet evening under the moonlight gazing at the mountains.
At the end of October after our time around the Green River and Capitol Reef, we headed down past the north end of Lake Powell and over to Dark Canyon, where we spent two nights backpacking and hiking up and down the canyon. It’s been over 16 years since I’ve visited this canyon and it’s as spectacular as I remember, kind of like a mini Grand Canyon. Here’s a few of my favorite photos from the trip.
Forming a natural border between Montenegro and Albania is a jagged spine of mountains called the Prokletije in Montenegran and the Bjeshkët e Namuna in Albanian. Both names translate to “cursed mountains”, likely due to their foreboding vertical spires, deep winter snows, and inhospitable ruggedness. These are the biggest and burliest mountains in the Balkans, but despite their grandeur remain relatively unknown and surprisingly undeveloped. In late July we spent 5 days trekking a loop route through the heart of the range, mostly camping and sometimes staying in Albanian villages along the route.
After jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops at the police station in the nearby town of Plav in order to document our proposed border crossing into Albania, we started hiking from the village of Vusanje, near the town of Gusinje in a far southern corner of Montenegro.
The “cursed mountains” lived up to their name in one respect, which was the oftentimes oppressive heat during the day. This big cave entrance provided a brief respite, with a chilly breeze blowing out from its depths. During the hike up here we met a Serbian caver who has explored this cave numerous times in the past and was back again with a group of friends to explore and chart even further.
For our first night we camped up on Qafa e Prosllopit, a high pass right at the border between Montenegro and Albania. After an evening spent huddling in the tent with lightning and thunder booming around, my inner masochist convinced us to wake up in the middle of the night to hike up Zla Kolata before sunrise.
At 2534 m, Zla Kolata (aka Kollata e Keqe) is technically the tallest mountain in Montenegro; 12 meters taller than Bobotov Kuk, which is generally considered to be Montenegro’s tallest peak. Why does Bobotov get all the love, when it’s not even the highest? First of all, Bobotov Kuk is indeed the tallest Montenegrin peak that is completely within Montenegro territory; Zla Kolata is right on the border so shares its summit with Albania. But once we hiked up Zla Kolata, I realized perhaps the real unspoken reason why Zla Kolata gets no fame: while Bobotov Kuk is a beautiful, striking peak and the crown jewel of the beloved Durmitor National Park, Zla Kolata is actually just a fairly nondescript summit overshadowed by a plethora taller and more spectacular neighboring mountains just over the border in Albania. So it just wouldn’t be fitting for Montenegrins to pride themselves on such an unremarkable “bump” surrounded by taller giants!
Despite the obscurity of Zla Kolata itself, it’s part of a high plateau that offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains as well as a jaw-dropping overlook into the 1600+ meter (5,000+ feet) deep Valbona valley, where we would be hiking down to later this day. Continue reading “The Cursed Mountains”
Durmitor National Park is certainly the most famous and beloved mountain range in Montenegro. The mountains here aren’t the biggest or baddest ever, but they have an undeniably wonderful and unique character, like a combination of the rugged might of the Alps with the wild solitude of the Colorado Rockies. They seem to have a dash of everything I love most in mountains — jagged spires, sculpted peaks, vast green meadows, fields of wildflowers, misty forests, emerald lakes, and the freedom to explore it all in relative solitude. We spent four amazing days last week trekking through the heart of these fantastic mountains.
This was actually my second time visiting Durmitor; I was here by myself back in June of 2004. At that time it was the off season, the mountains were still covered in snowpack, and I was the only tourist in Zabljak, the little town situated at the base of the Durmitor mountains. There was only one restaurant open then, where I ate every evening with some Serbian army guys I met. It rained six days straight and when it finally stopped I used all my pent up energy to walk from town to the summit of Bobotov Kuk (the highest peak) and back in one day, with snowpack and all. Those army guys said it was impossible and didn’t believe me until I showed them the summit photos on my camera!
Eleven years later, in the height of summer season, the town of Zabljak is hopping. There’s people everywhere, lots of restaurants and bars, probably twice as many houses around here, and a general vibrant vibe that was completely absent during my previous visit. But despite the bustle in town, once we hiked past the popular Crno Jezero lake near the park entrance, the crowds quickly thinned. By the time we reached our first campsite we hadn’t seen anybody for hours. This range is small but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get away.
Lots more photos below! Continue reading “Durmitor Loop”
For the first mountain adventure of our Bosnia/Montenegro trip, Claudia and I went backpacking for two nights at Trnovacko Lake along the border of Bosnia and Montenegro. The lake itself is located on the Montenegro side of the border, but is only accessible via Sutjeska National Park on the Bosnian side. Sure enough, while we were camped there a warden came by to check our passports, which is kind of a novel thing to have happen while backpacking!
The heart-shaped, emerald-colored Trnovacko Lake provides a great base camp for hiking up Maglic (pronounced Mag-leech), the highest mountain of Bosnia — which we did, of course. From the summit we had a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and canyons, including the neighboring Durmitor mountains to the south (our next destination).
Last week we repeated a backpacking trip down into the Grand Canyon which we had done several years ago — a “lollipop” loop from the north rim down to Thunder River and Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, and up Deer Creek. When we hiked this route the first time back in November 2012, we did it in three days and it felt much too rushed and strenuous. But it was so impressive that we’ve been excited to return — this time with five days to relax and soak in the scenery.
See more photos from our trek below! Continue reading “Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon, Take 2”
Wetterhorn Peak stands above its surrounding basins like an ancient crumbling volcano. Rising to 14,015 feet, the pyramidal fourteener is not only one of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado, but its steep eastern face holds a classic ski descent that I’ve been wanting to snowboard for years. This last weekend I ventured out into the Uncompahgre Wilderness with a friend to hopefully ride and photograph this beautiful mountain. Continue reading “Wetterhorn Ski Mission”
In November after our 20-day trek in the Khumbu/Everest region, we headed to the town of Pokhara to embark on yet another trek in the Himalaya — this time a short but strenuous 7-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp, also referred to as the ABC Trek or Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. At 8091m / 26545 ft., Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world. The trek to its south base camp ascends the long and jungly Modi Khola gorge, finally reaching a high basin ringed by soaring peaks including, of course, Annapurna itself.
See lots more photos below! Continue reading “Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal”
In October and November of this last year, Claudia and I fulfilled lifelong dreams to trek in the mighty Himalaya of Nepal – the world’s biggest mountains. We spent 20 days trekking the so-called “Three Pass Trek” over three high passes and through the four major valleys of the Khumbu/Everest region. Of course everybody knows about Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, but often overlooked is the fact that Everest is just one of many other enormous, spectacular mountains in this range. It’s a dream destination for mountaineers and trekkers alike.
Join me here as I share some highlights and snapshots from our three week trek through these magnificent mountains! Continue reading “Khumbu Three Pass Trek, Nepal”
There are few things in life finer than soaking in natural hot springs, especially when those hot springs are situated at treeline in an alpine basin surrounded by high peaks and valley vistas! Such is the case at Conundrum Hot Springs, a remote but popular wild hot springs in the Elk Mountains between the towns of Aspen and Crested Butte in Colorado. Continue reading “Alpensoak”