Stories from New Zealand #6 Hiking the Copland track

“At 11.30am we reached the Copland Hot springs, which are hidden away in the bush, and only to be traced by the continuous cloud of stream that hovers round the tree-tops. To our disgust the water was too hot to bathe in, as we had been looking forward to doing the whole morning. This was my very first experience of a hot spring, and I examined it with great interest. (…) The ground between the pools was hot to the feet and crusty, forming into terraces which shaded from yellow to chocolate brown. The air was pervaded with a saline sulphury smell, that requires a week’s residence before it can be assimilated with tolerance”

Freda Du Faur, The conquest of Mount Cook, 1915

Have you heard of Freda Du Faur before? She was a keen mountaineer from Australia who spent a few seasons in New Zealand climbing peaks that had never been climbed before around Mount Cook. She was also the very first woman to summit Mount Cook (3754masl, slightly less today) in 1910 together with her two guides, Peter and Alec Graham. She then wrote that delightful book that I’m reading at the moment which is incredibly well written and very informative about what mountaineering was like back in the days. For instance, what does a lady wear to go climbing? Forget about goretex and crampons…

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Freda Du Faur in her self-designed climbing outfit (Photo of a photo at the DOC office Aoraki/Mt Cook)

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Freda Du Faur with her climbing partners (photo of a photo from her book)

Obviously times have changed since Freda du Faur’s visit of the Copland track at the beginning of the 20th century. After years and years of struggle the track was to become one of the most popular traverse from Aoraki/Mount Cook to the West coast.

From Arthur’s pass  where we stopped in the last post, follow the road to the west. The landscape quickly changes to a flatter sea side road. Drive a couple of hours south on the SH6 and you will get to the extremely popular (also extremely overrated in my opinion) townships of Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers. There was a time when you could hike to the lowest part of the glaciers, which probably was much nicer than the boring hikes that lead to a distant viewpoint over a worn out glacier. But glaciers are melting and accident happened so it has become too dangerous to do so. Instead, it’s a constant buzz of helicopters flying people up for a quick glacier stroll in exchange for a few hundred dollars. Unless you don’t mind spending that kind of money, what I’m trying to say is don’t waste your time when a myriad of other wonderful glaciers can be admired further along. But we’ll talk about that later.

Drive 26km south of Fox Glacier to the Karangarua bridge and you will find yourself at the beginning of one very fine tramp (in New Zealand people don’t hike, they tramp!); the Copland track. Looking at a map of the southern Alps, I always find it incredible that this mountain range creates such a barrier from one side of the country to the other. There is indeed no road crossing over the mountains for more than 200km! This is a major information to understand the importance of the Copland track despite difficult beginnings.

Following the Karangarua river for a while, the track swings around to carry on along the Copland river in the Tai Poutini national park.

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The gorgeous glacier waters of the Copland river

After a couple of hours of walking through the  forest, I hear something foraging around in the bush. Wondering what it could possibly be, I freeze to lure it out of the bush. A few seconds later, that big bird jumps on to the middle of the path. It has a longer than usual beak and wide spread claws. My lack of knowledge of New Zealand bird never fails me and I immediately recognize a kiwi, the (legendary I suppose) native bird that very few people have actually ever seen.  No need to extend on how disappointed I got when admitting my mistake, looking at a bird encyclopedia at the hut. Ah well, wekas may not be that rare but pretty funny inquisitive bird nonetheless. They are endemic and flightless, like all birds used to be in New Zealand as they had no predators.

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A Weka, native New Zealand bird

Walk about 3 hours and here comes the first hut on the track called Architect Creek hut, a very cute one with just a bed bunk, a table and a fire stove.

It’s a rather long (18km) but also rather flat hike to Welcome Flat hut and a lot of fun with a bunch of high and long swing bridges suspended over powerful creeks.

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One of the many swing bridges along the path

Due to the weather and a certain lack of labor, it took about 10 years for the track to officially open in 1913. It was a big deal though as it quickly became the busiest route to link the West coast to the Mount Cook area through the Copland pass.

Nowadays it has become much trickier. Several reasons for that, the area is geologically dynamic, which make the southern alps some of the fastest growing mountains in the world (although erosion makes up for it). Weather conditions in the glacial valley and alpine environment can also be quite extreme and severe. But the Copland valley has always been of interest for the tourist industry. A road up the valley or even a tunnel straight to the Hermitage in Mt Cook village were suggested but thankfully never happened. The realization that even huge amounts of money would not help much to fix the damages that the dynamic nature of the geology would cause. Nature 1, people 0.

As much as I would have loved to spend several days on the track to go all the way further along the valley, I only spent one night in busy Welcome Flat hut. I did take my time to enjoy the wonderful natural thermal springs, which contrary to Freda’s experience didn’t smell bad at all and were definitely not too hot when I was there at the end of summer!

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I found this quite welcoming after a 18km hike!

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All in all a very easy tramp through a gorgeous valley filled with history. A few people around but absolutely worth it. I already look forward to going back!

A few years later, Freda Du Faur is back on the Copland track and beautifully describes the beauty of the area:

“On the right hand bank the ribbon woods overhung the water and showered their sweet-scented white blossoms into the swift current. On the left they were interspaced with the dark green rata-trees, whose glossy foliage was crowned with a wealth of crimson blossom. Soft puffs of white cloud hung half-way up the mountains sides, and the distant hills in the west were deeply blue. Such a soul-satisfying colour I have seldom seen, and tired though we were with our long tramp, we all appreciated its restful beauty, so different from the ice-world from which we had just come, or the yellows and blues which make the dominant note of colour on the east of the mountains.”

It seems that Freda was thinking a fair bit about the future as in her book she often speculates about possible scenarios concerning the touristic development of the areas she loves so much. Her concerns are usually expressed towards the development of mass tourism making of the mountains more accessible to novices. She was somewhat right to worry as on one side mountain climbing has definitely been made more accessible since her time, involving some (often silly) rescue missions that would not have happened back then (wrong gear, too late a start, lack of knowledge and so on) but also as the big hotel in Mount Cook village actually exists and paradoxically is a bigger and fancier version of the hotel mountaineers used to stay at, The Hermitage. Today it has nothing left from the original one though, mostly because the old one was destroyed after a big flood.

“The hut is only a few yards away from the Copland Hot Springs, so we were all able to enjoy the luxury of a hot bath; if a kindly Government some day provides a cold pool next door, into which one may take a refreshing plunge after being par-boiled, and endeavours to remove the sandflies which are all too active for comfort, these springs should prove a most popular resort. The view from them is superb, and the forest by which they are surrounded a veritable fairyland, in which one may wander for hours. I have no doubt that some day a large hotel will occupy the site of the present hut, and prove a very popular tourist resort, for many charming excursions can be made from this spot. For those on mountaineering it will also be a good base, as there are many fine peaks in the vicinity and much unexplored country.”

Story from New Zealand #5 Hiking up Avalanche Peak, 1833 m.

One of my favorite day hike in New Zealand is  Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass national park. It has everything one could ask for : it’s easy to get to as it starts in the village, it’s challenging enough (pretty steep) but not technically difficult, and it’s a loop which makes it less boring than coming down the same way.
Most people climb up to the summit via Avalanche Peak track and down Scotts track for a reason. Scotts track is a bit longer but not as steep so a bit easier on the knees while walking down.
We got up reasonably early that morning, ready to head off but got a bit delayed by the low temperatures and the thick fog that was covering the village. We double checked the weather forecast and as it was still good we decided to hike up and see what happens past the tree line. After a long while, we got there and found the sun.

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Once above the clouds the sun always shines!

Going up is long (about 1000m ascent) but pretty straight forward and the views gradually become more and more stunning as numerous snowy peaks and glaciers start to make an appearance.

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Looking back down the valley

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Going up through tussock ans subalpine vegetation

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Looking back across the valley

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Last ridge to the summit, 80m bluff on both side!

After about 4 hours of steady uphill climbing, there comes the summit that actually can’t be seen from the village. The views are amazing. Mount Rolleston (2271m) stands proudly with Crow glacier snuggled by its side.

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Admiring Mount Rolleston from the Avalanche Peak summit…Wondering how the views are from there…

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Close up on Mount Rolleston and Crow glacier

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And going back down again

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Beautiful valley!

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Flowers on rocks

Going down took a couple of hours and wasn’t that fun as the track is pretty long. Walking down through the forest was awesome though with birds flying around.

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Beautiful walk down through beech forest

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Cute little bird

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Beautiful New Zealand fantail bird

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New Zealand fantail bird from above

Stories from New Zealand #4 – Arthur’s Pass via Lake Pearson

What comes into your mind when you think about New Zealand?

Lord of the Rings? Yes ok fair enough.

Sheep? Yep, that too, they are absolutely everywhere.

Funny ‘acceent’? Yes, that’s pretty cute.

Mountains? Yes! Nature which as you already know is pretty unbelievable here.

I spent a lot of time day dreaming about New Zealand mountains before coming down here. It is when I first drive from Christchurch towards the West coast on my way to Arthur’s Pass that I really experience those jaw dropping kind of landscape.

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Railway linking the west to the east coast

Arthur’s Pass became the first national park of the south island in 1929 but has been a key route a long time before Europeans got there. Maori used to travel west that way in search of the valued pounamu (green stone used for many things such as weapons or jewellery).  In 1864, Europeans discovered gold hidden around there so it suddenly became an emergency to build a road for coaches to cross over (one of those old coach can be seen at the DOC office there). the First European to go through the pass with his brother was called Arthur, thus the name of the village.

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Arthur’s Pass from above

Camping around or just stopping for coffee, you will eventually meet an inquisitive visitor.

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kea, a native parrot

Keas are one the ten endemic parrot species in the south island and are not to be found anywhere else in the world. They are considered very smart and their curiosity will encourage them to approach people which ironically represent a threat. What do people do when an animal comes to them? They look for things to feed then, which is pretty much the worst you could do. As a matter of fact, baby keas are taught to look for food by older experienced keas. Obviously that is very important for them to know where and how to find food in their rough alpine home otherwise they will die.

Their sometimes intrusive behaviors have led to a certain unpopularity as people happened to get their keys stolen, unattended backpack or tent inspected or even their car a tiny bit  damaged. Nothing ever happened to me except for a tent lightly shaken one morning. I like knowing they are around and listening to their peculiar sound while hiking.

There are numerous day trips directly from the village and even more in the area. There are also a few really nice DOC campsites (standard and basic). My favorite was about half an hour from Arthur’s pass, a free campsite on lake Pearson, gorgeous little spot.

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Admiring the scenery and enjoying the hot weather

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Lake Pearson on a fine day

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A rather fine campsite!

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Reflection on lake Pearson

Here are a few photos of my favorite day hikes before a longer story about the one that should not be missed.

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Hut at the end of the Temple Basin track

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Amazing views over Mount Rolleston (2275m) from the hut

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Beautiful Devils punchbowl 131m high waterfall

All cosy on Kosie!

Where do mountains get their names? You’d think from people who have been around for years and years right? Well it’s rarely the case. Pretty much half way between Sydney and Melbourne, about 3 hours away from Canberra, are the Snowy Mountains. It’s the only place in Australia where you can go skiing in winter and escape the worst of the heat in the summer. For thousands of years, the Snowy Mountains were visited by Aboriginal people. They call its highest ‘peak’ Jagungal, meaning ‘table top mountain’, which describes the area quite well. But on the 15th of February 1840, Paul Edmond Strzelecki, a Polish explorer, made it to the summit and decided to call this mountain Kosciuszko as it reminded him of a hill in Krakow where another Polish man named Kosciuszko was buried. The name got adopted and Mount Kosciuszko actually is the highest ‘peak’ of Australia, despite its modest 2228 masl. As you may know, Australians love to shorten words. You won’t hear ‘Tasmania’ but ‘Tassie’, ‘Australian’ but ‘aussie’, ‘barbecue’ but ‘barbie’, thus Kosciuszko is usually refered to as ‘Kosie’ by locals.

A few years ago, I decided to boycott new year’s eve parties as they usually suck and I rarely get to be around my loved ones anyway. I then decided to dedicate the last and first day of each year doing what I actually love doing (better late then never) and that makes me feel good about myself: climbing whatever peak is around me. After Costa Rica and France, Australia was a natural choice since I just spent 2014 in Sydney.

Being the highest summit in Australia, Kosciuszko is considered part of the 7 summits. But as it looks more like a gentle hill and is by far the easiest of the 7 summits to get to, Puncak Jaya in the Papua province of Indonesia steals its fame with its proper 4884masl.

We took a bus to Canberra (a strange deserted city at that time of the year) then hitchhiked to Charlotte’s pass where we camped the first night. I’ll be honest, we took it super easy and we did in 3 days the walk people usually do in a day so we spent more time relaxing and reading than challenging ourselves. I think that’s the good thing about the Snowy Mountains. The day after, we took our time, made coffee and walked to the Blue Lake, hiked towards Kosciuszko, slept at its foot, had wine and cheese for dinner on New year’s eve. We went to sleep way before midnight so we could get up early enough (4.30 am, you read it right) to walk up to admire the first sunrise of the year on top of Australia. It was truly magical…

Happy New Year 2015! I hope you get whatever makes you happy.

We are now about to leave for new adventures in New Zealand and I’m overexcited to visit those landscapes I’ve been dreaming of visiting as long as I can remember…

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Surrounding landscape, large valley and gentle hills

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Ages ago, those mountains were shaped by glaciers

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My favorite part of camping, waking completely alone in the middle of nowhere…

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…and have a delicious coffee!

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4.30 am, leaving the tent…

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Here comes the sun on Mount Kosciuszko

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At that precise moment I was the highest person in Australia! You can’t see but I always get very emotional…

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Matt and me in the sunrise light…It wasn’t really cold but super windy up there.

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The summit of Kosciuszko is so unimpressive you need a sign to make sure it’s the right hill…

Tasmanian adventures #2 – Cradle Mountain

The original idea of travelling to Tasmania was to hike the Overland Track, one the nicest week-long trek in the world. We had to postpone that as we didn’t have much time and wanted to see more of Tasmania, but we did spend a few days hiking up and down around there:

Cradle Mountain, from Dove lake

This part of Tasmania regularly gets covered by snow in the wintertime and the surrounding summits are usually comfortably snuggled in layers of clouds. But 52 days a year, the sky clears up totally allowing you to get a full view around the park. Randomly enough, that happened when we were there. Make sure to get maps from the Ranger Station, they’re cheap and very good.

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Listed trails around Cradle Mountain

Living the campsite, we followed Lake Rodway up and around Little Horn to meet the Overland Track that we left straight away to hike up Cradle Mountain summit. It’s a really nice hike with diverse landscapes and varied trails.

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Root trail

There are some huts along the way that serve as emergency shelters. If you are hiking with all you gear you can leave them there while you do the summit hike. They often have (amazingly clean) pit toilets and some of them have huge (rain) water tanks, don’t forget to refill your bottles, it will be needed.

The Kitchen hut, by the junction of the Overland track and the Cradle Mountain summit.

The first part of the trail up the summit is quite pleasant, an easy trail going more and more uphill.

Almost there!

The trail disappear for the last bit (an long hour or so). Then it is basically hopping from one stone to anotheron the dolerite narrow ridge which is fun at the beginning but gets a bit tiring after a while. The closer the summit the more it becomes scrambling on boulders with some rock climbing parts. If you have vertigo you’re likely to have given up at this point. It was challenging but definitely worth it, as always:

Summit view towards the Barn Bluff

Summit view from Cradle Mountain, 1545m.

Going back to the campsite is mostly downhill, which doesn’t mean easier. The heat made the hike more difficult than expected on my side as I really don’t like hiking when it’s 25°-30°. The sun in that part of the world is different from Europe and I get sunburn even faster here, or so it seems.

Going around the mountain, that vegetation!

We follow the overland track south, which is a nice walk with stunning vistas of the side of Cradle Mountain with an ever-changing vegetation. The sun is setting while we’re walking down the other side of the mountain back to lake Rodway:

Sunset over birch trees

Back to the tent, a group of French people desperately try to connect with an Australian lady, as far as their English can go, that is to say not very far and understanding both sides of their conversations makes the whole scene pretty pathetic but anyway, I fall asleep quickly enough.

The next day, the temperature reaches 30° and above, so we decide to wait for the late afternoon to go for a sunset hike. It’s one of my favourite part of hiking, being able to read or write or do nothing in the middle of nowhere with no one around.

Last sunset in Cradle Mountain national park

We decide to leave the morning after for new adventures.

 

Happy new year’s hike, Puig Neulós!

Without knowing it last year, I started a new tradition to begin a new year in the best possible way. On the 1st of January 2013, I went on my own to climb Mount Chirripo (3800m) the highest mountain in Costa Rica (https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/getting-high-in-costa-rica/). 2013 has been a fantastic year, full of surprises, mostly good ones. Starting the year by doing something that makes me happy and proud definitely was a good thing and I decided every year should start this way.

This year, I went to spend a week at my parents’ place before leaving to ‘the other side’. Luckily enough, they live in a beautiful little village, Laroque des Albères, conveniently located in Catalonia, a few kilometres away from the Mediterranean sea, in the beginning of the eastern Pyrenees.

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Laroque des Albères

‘Albères’ is the name of the mountain range it is on. Pass it and you’re in Spain. Unfortunately this isn’t the place where I grew up, but I’ve spent lots of time there ever since I can remember. But for some reasons, I had never explored the mountains very much around here. I can see the summit of the range from my window though, and it’s always been teasing me. When I saw the weather forecast for this first day of the year would be no wind, mostly sunny and 14°C, I didn’t much time to figure out what to do today. The highest mountain of the Albères range  is called ‘Puig Neulos’ is in Catalan. It means ‘cloudy round summit’ (and it actually was today). But the hike is nonetheless really nice, quite tough (from 200m above sea level to 1256 in 2,5 hours…and then walking down!). It’s in the South so no need to say the weather is particularly nice in the winter, even if it can get quite windy.

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The beginning of the trail is located right next to the village church (here on the left), turn right.

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Pass the old water-mill

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50m away from the main trail, about an hour after the start is the dolmen (La balma del Moro)

The higher you get the more you see glimpses of the surrounding villages with the sea in the background

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The beautiful Pic du Canigou, 2784m, my next step!

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A group of goats near the summit

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A cloudy and windy summit

Last but not least, I wish you all a beautiful new year, may whatever you wish for come true, but don’t forget to also do your best to make it come true 🙂

Where to not go in Monteverde

When a discussion comes to hiking in Costa Rica, it’s always the same question : “Have you been to Monteverde?” Finally, the answer is yes! But people have been bragging so much about this place that it was not quite what I had imagined it would be. Don’t take it wrong, it is beautiful. It is also convenient if you’re not planning on spending that much time in Costa Rica, since it is close to the beaches of Guanacaste and not too far from San José either.

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So why am I complaining?

Well, first of all, don’t expect to spend time in a remote village and get a chance to practice your Spanish. I mean, of course, if you really want to, you can. But I had the impression that the area is mostly populated by foreigners attracted by “eco-lodges” (I won’t get into details here to try to define what that is, but it is a well-spread concept in Costa Rica and it’d be interesting to see what’s behind it) and tourists who come to visit.

Then, it is even more expensive than the rest of the country. I come from Europe, where I lived in Norway for a long while, and the idea to charge people to have access to nature is rather unthinkable there. I am aware that I am in a different culture now, and even though it bothers me to pay 10$ to spend a few hours in any national park in the rest of the country (the regular entrance fee), I do it because I do enjoy it and because I somehow understand why tourists would be charged that much money (it is usually 1 or 2$ for locals) and do hope this money is used wisely to contribute to the preservation of the area. But the entrance fee for the Monteverde Cloudforest reserve is 17$. 17$! I hesitated, but then thought it must really be special and worth it if so many people do it. I honestly don’t think that it is. Again, it is a beautiful cloud forest,  but nothing unique or with anything justifying that price. Yes, it is big, you can easily spend the whole day hiking there. The trails are well-maintained and easy. They tried to convince us to hire a guide for another 17$, which could be great to learn more about the surrounding nature, but a 34$ day hike? Sorry…

And we did spot some animals though :

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A coati, foraging for food

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Probably the most ugly looking creature I’ve ever seen, an armadillo.

There was not a single shelter to escape the rain, but we really needed a coffee break so it was about time to take the aeropress out :

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Coffee break

Free alternative in Monteverde

The day after, my friend and I decided to hike up the Cerro Amigos trail, which is the highest peak around (not very high though, about 1800m). Besides the Morpho butterflies flying around us on the way up, it is everything but a nice trail. You need to get to hotel Belmar where the beginning of the trail is hidden on the right hand side (not very well hidden though). But! It is definitely worth going up there. After an hour or so of tough climbing, you arrive at the top to discover a weird area with antennas and other not too pretty things. It wasn’t the case when we were there but people say that you can see the Arenal Volcano when the sky is clear enough. When we arrived there, we walked past the house on the left hand side and decided to follow a cool wild-looking trail down. In a minute, we were in the middle of nowhere, hiking through beautiful dense cloud forest. The compass confirmed that we were on the edge of the Monteverde reserve. We didn’t quite know where we would end up, but the trail was obviously leading somewhere. After an hour or two, we met some people who confirmed we would arrive to another reserve if we keep following the trail. And we did eventually. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, right next to Monteverde so you can easily walk back to wherever you’re staying.

The best part was probably the unexpected presence of a kiosk right before the end of the trail (there is not a single shelter in the Monteverde reserve), where we had what seemed to be the nicest lunch ever…and some locally grown and roasted coffee, por su puesto.

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A hut with a view

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Coffee grown around Monteverde by thr!ve coffee farmers, roasted at the Common Cup, Monteverde.

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Beautiful encounter in the forest

Where else to go to hike through cloud forests in Costa Rica?

Good news, wherever you decide to go in Costa Rica, cloud forests will most likely never be very far. One easy option is the Braulio Carrillo national park, which can be reached from San José in either a 30 minutes bus ride or a slightly longer but more scenic one if you’re going on the other side to the Barva volcano.

More info here: https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/do-you-know-what-braulio-carrillo-is/

My absolute favourite is around Chirripo, but if you don’t feel like climbing the moutain, just stay in San Gerardo de Rivas (1 and a half hour east of San Isidro del General) and there you’ll have options, my favorite one being the Cloudbridge reserve.

More info here : http://www.cloudbridge.org/

and here: https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/getting-high-in-costa-rica/

Enjoy!

Do you know what Braulio Carrillo is?

A few kilometers north of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica, there is a big national park called Braulio Carrillo, from the name of a former president, not a very romantic story I concur. Every year  people get lost in those mountains covered by a dense primary forest. There are several volcanoes there that haven’t been awake for thousands of years. The more accessible one is called Barva, and offers nice hikes from a crater lake to another at about 3000 meters above sea level. I first went hiking through an area close to San Isidro de Heredia (1500m high), and went back to hike to the Barva volcano.

What really strikes me anywhere I go in Costa Rica is how fast the climate and thus the landscape vary. I am unfortunately not a forest specialist but from what I understood, when hiking at lower altitude like, you walk through a rainforest, so thick that sometimes you can’t see much through the dense foliage. You see all sorts of plants; kind of like those you buy at ikea to fill in the living room corners but which die after a few months for “some reasons”. Here in their natural habitat they are several meters high. Most animals are nocturnal so you don’t meet them very often but you do hear sounds of life and I always feel that even though I don’t see them, they are watching me penetrating their home.

At higher altitude though, it’s a different story. You go from steep trails through the cloudforest to flatter areas covered by grass, cedar and pine trees. You might as well be hiking in the Alps! Even the houses look different and the cows are fatter and look happier to chew high quality grass (it’s very wet there). Just the journey to the ranger station is worth the trip. If you’re lucky enough, the whole Central Valley is at your feet, you can even have glimpses at the Pacific Ocean. I was there at 6.30am (yes I was!) and the weather was very nice. (By the way, another thing that surprised me here is that all year round, the sun set around 5.30pm and rise around 5.30am, so weird when you’re used to French or, even worse, Norwegian seasons!). But as expected in this area, it didn’t last very long and clouds quickly surrounded the summit of the volcano.  Despite his high level of biodiversity, it is one of the least visited park in the country, which makes it even nicer to visit!

What you see while hiking through the rainforest :

Those leaves are much bigger than it seems

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Trail in the rainforest

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Leaves developping

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View over the mountain range

What you see while hiking through the cloudforest :

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Cloudforest!

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Crooked trees in the cloudforest

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Beautiful tree fern

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Leaf developping in the cloudforest

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More crooked trees in the cloudforest

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And a bit higher, it’s all flat and green, with cedar and pine trees.

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Hummingbird

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View over the Central Valley