Adventure (Responsibly) Like You Give A Damn

The Importance of Socially Responsible Outdoor Adventure Companies and Tours

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“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”.

-G. K. Chesterton

Mambo from Tanzania,

Before I dive deep into a very important subject that is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would give you a glimpse into my past week here in East Africa. I have not returned most of my personal emails, text messages or social media messages, simply because it is too much work (I am truly taking a major break from back home) so I figured I can give a quick wrap up of my past week on this blog post!

  • I have over 60 mosquito bites ( I stopped counting after 60).

  • People watching at an African dance club is literally the BEST!

  • I already ruined a pair of shoes by walking through wet tar.

  • My Swahili is actually getting a little better each day.

  • I had one really shitty day ( I literally went home and cried) and seven really good days, thus far.

  • I saw my African mama and the rest of the family, after 10 years, and I cried! A lot!

  • I have been on two safaris in one week ( I am addicted).

  • I have already had diarrhea (yeah, it was bound to happen).

  • I have eaten my favorite African food, chipsi mayaii, three times in one week (I actually ate it twice in one day).

  • I am obsessed with the two girls who run the house I am living in. Their names are Jenny and Monica.

  • I saw a fight break out on the dala dala (local bus) and it made me laugh.

  • I unfortunately, already experienced corruption, and it infuriated me to my core.

  • It is supposed to be the “cool” season here but I am constantly sweating. It is so HOT!

  • I am actually planning to travel a lot more than I initially planned!

  • I miss my dogs LIKE CRAZY( I wish I can teleport them here)

  • I am super happy to be disconnected from the United States and everyone at home ( I seriously needed a break).

  • The currency exchanges are STILL closed ( due to some corruption government scandal) so I am getting really excited to shortly be paying international ATM fees (NOT).

  • Wells Fargo Bank does not have a Tanzanian country code for free bank calling ( apparently this country does not exist to Wells Fargo).

  • Yes, I have to answer emails between 1-3AM Tanzanian time ( there is an 11 hour time difference between here and California) in order to accommodate my work schedule in the U.S….. so yes, my sleep schedule is crazy but I love the company I work for!

  • There is this HUGE raven who taps loudly on my window with his beak. Considering I am terrified of birds, this is extremely disturbing and is the main reason why I will never open my bedroom window.

  • Everyone here talks about my hair (white girl hair is a novelty here).

  • I have learned not to allow a 4-year-old to drink hot chocolate (regardless of what his crazy dad says) as it ended up all over my pants, his face, the table and the floor at a swanky hotel. (Yep, super embarrassing).

    Feel free to read my recent detailed blog post about my first 24 hours in Tanzania.

    An open letter to anyone who has yet to visit East Africa

 My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

Socially responsible companies

Socially responsible companies are those that provide products and services that minimize negative impacts to the local community and environment by preserving the cultural and natural resources of the particular host community and also bring economic benefit to the local communities. According to research 46% of consumers are wiling to pay extra for products and services from socially responsible companies. 46%.... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This number not only baffles me but also bothers me to my core. Traveling and seeing the world is a privilege. It costs money, requires a passport and in some cases, a visa, and requires time off of work; a privilege that many individuals are not granted, however for those who are privileged enough to travel, particularly internationally, it is pathetic that only 46% of us truly care enough about the culture and the environment to engage in socially responsible travel. I also believe a large portion of international tourists are ignorant, in a sense they do not know any better. I was 19 years old when I ventured out on my first international solo trip and to be honest, it took me a few years before I learned the ethics and the importance of socially responsible tourism. I am now 33 years of age, and have been fortunate to have traveled to more countries than I can count and have lived and worked abroad on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). After a solid decade of international travel under my belt, I finally feel confident enough to speak on this important issue.

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The tourism industry in developing countries is saturated and corrupt and it can be extremely overwhelming to decipher which company is the best fit for your tour. Whether you plan to head out on an African safari, climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, take a cruise on the Nile River or take a tour of a local coffee farm, there are many factors that play into which tour company you choose to hire for your next adventure…and the number one factor for many individuals is usually money.

I get it, we are all on a budget and we are constantly looking to save a dollar or two; however there is a fine line between saving money and exploitation and oftentimes they both go hand in hand. The outdoor industry in the U.S. is no different as there are many outdoor retailer and adventure companies in the United States who are ethical and practice social responsibility however there are also many of which who are not. Whether you are buying a piece of clothing from REI or planning an epic safari in Africa, as a consumer, it is your job to ask questions, to do the research and to thoroughly understand why saving a dollar here and there may actually be more harmful to the local culture and the environment than you may think.

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Always book your adventure from local companies

Personally, I am very picky on which products I buy and which companies I hire when I choose to go on an adventure. I want to know where the company is based, how the employees are treated and if the environment is harmed in the process. For example, when choosing a safari company or an international trekking company, it is EXTREMELY important that the company is locally owned. Why on earth would I ever book an AFRICAN safari with an AMERICAN company? For starters, the American owners are profiting more than you can imagine which takes away profit from the local people in Africa. Also, the safari industry in Africa is huge, for example the safari industry just in Tanzania alone is a multi-million dollar industry, and let me tell you a secret, the people of Tanzania know more about safaris than any American tour company. After all, the animals you see on an African safari are indigenous to the land. By booking with an American company for an activity overseas, I can guarantee you that you will pay more money and somewhere down the line, you are exploiting the local people. Cut the middle man out and book right from the local source.

Do a quick Internet search for what you are looking for and email each company that you are interested in and ask them specific questions. Ask them if the company is local, ask about fair wages, and ask about tipping procedures. If you do not hear a detailed response within a week, then something is wrong. A reputable tour company will be honest and upfront and if it seems they are hiding something, then they probably are. I have learned this lesson the hard way and if you are not willing to put in the work, then it is only your fault that you are compromising your dream adventure. 

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Side note: I recently was engaging with an American owned Kilimanjaro trekking and safari company through social media, (I have had many offers to climb Kilimanjaro for free in exchange for photos or a blog post, all of which I have politely declined) and I asked if they were supported by KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). The owner politely responded “no” along with many ridiculous excuses and I quickly lost interest in doing any sort of business with his company. Every single Kilimanjaro trekking company that you hire should be supported by KPAP, if not, you are doing yourself and the Tanzanian culture a disservice. For more information on KPAP, visit their website.

Second side note: I am currently planning a trip to Nepal to climb Everest Base Camp November 2019 and I have spent hours emailing back and forth with the trekking company I chose to hire (If I couldn’t afford to put in the time to research the specifics then I should not be venturing to Nepal).  

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The Tanzanian safari and trekking industry

Let’s be honest, the majority of foreign tourists who visit Tanzania are coming for the sole purpose of going on a safari and/or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both of these experiences are life changing and although I have lost count of how many safaris I have gone on, a day on safari never gets old for me. Unfortunately many of the international tourists who venture into Africa sit idle for 20 hours on a plane each away to spend 5-10 days sitting in a safari jeep without taking any time to venture out into the towns and experience the local culture (I think this is crazy but it is also quite comical to witness). 

An African safari in Tanzania costs $150 to $1,500 per person per night (unless you are a local or have your resident permit) and this rate depends on your accommodations, which National Parks you are visiting, which tour company you hire, or whether you book a private safari or a group safari. I personally will not pay more than $400 per day to go on a private safari if I am using a safari jeep or more than $150 per day for a private safari if I am using someone’s private vehicle. The average safari-goer will choose to go on a 3-5 day safari totaling anywhere from $450-$6,500 per person, and much more for a 7-10 day trip. A safari company will profit on average, $8,000-$10,000, per group for a week safari and the safari guide will take home on average, $1,000 (the safari guides work super hard and do all the real work). 

The average price per person for a 6 day Kilimanjaro trek is anywhere from $1200 to $4000 and again these prices depend on which company you hire and whether you are looking for a budget climb or a fancy climb. You can only imagine how much the company makes off of each climber compared to how much the trekking guides and porters make.

If you are interested about the specifics on porters and guides on Mt. Kilimanjaro, please read my recent post entitled, Giving Back, Porters’ Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

Also if you are the asshole who goes on hunting safaris, I hope I never have the dissatisfaction of interacting with you.

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Tipping IS protocol

Personally, the cost margins between safari companies and the worker’s wages are super important because there is not only a huge discrepancy in price, but also this brings up the importance of tipping. I do not care if tipping is protocol or not in your home country but tipping on a safari, a trek or any type of adventure or experience around the world IS PROTOCOL. If you hire a guide to take you hiking through the Amazon, you tip him, if you hire a driver to take you on a tour of the ruins in Southeast Asia, you tip him and if you go on an African safari or climb Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) you better damn well tip your guide, cooks and porters and tip them properly. If you are too cheap to tip the proper amount or simply cannot afford to tip, then take some time to save your money until you can afford to tip properly. If you do not know how much to tip, then search the Internet, ask your guides and ask the company you hired. A proper company and good guide will be honest with you about tipping. For a quick and dirty on tipping for Kilimanjaro trek or a Tanzania safari, please read below:

Kilimanjaro tipping guidelines

Per each climber per day:

  • Per Chief Guide: $20- 25 per day

  • Per Assistant guide:  $15- 20 per day

  • Per Cook: $10- 15 per day

  • Per Porter: $8-10 per day

Each client should expect to tip between $250-$350, for the entire climb in addition to the cost of the climb.

Tip at the end of your trek and personally hand the tips in an envelope to each guide, porter and cook. Do not give your tips to the trekking company!

If you cannot find your porters because they are always WAY ahead of you, then ask your guides to meet with them or give the porters your tips at camp on the last night of your trek. If you cannot, in anyway, hunt down your porters, then you most likely hired a corrupt trekking company. I met every single one of my porters (and saw them every single day) on both of my Kilimanjaro treks and my Machu Picchu trek.

Tanzania safari tipping guidelines

Per client per day:

For a day safari, there is usually a guide and a tracker. For overnight safaris the tracker may double as the assistant guide and cook.

  • Per Chief Guide: $15-$20 per day

  • Per Assistant guide/tracker $10-15 per day (if they double as your chef then tip on the higher end)

  • Per Chef: $10-$15 per day

For a seven-day camping safari, each client should budget approximately $250, in addition to the cost of the safari. Personally hand your tips in an envelope to your guide and assistant guide at the end of your safari (not at the end of each day).

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Outdoor ethics while adventuring in Africa

Regardless if you are hiking on a local trail in Southern California or adventuring on an African safari in a Tanzania National Park, there are rules and regulations you should follow. Yes, some corrupt safari companies (and guides) will allow you to break the rules in hope they will receive a bigger tip so it is YOUR responsibility to respect the environment and the animals

Keep wildlife wild: Do not disturb the animals you see on a safari. I get it, us photographers want the best photos possible but yelling, harassing or feeding a wild animal is stupid, reckless and dangerous. Do not get out of your safari jeep at anytime and please do not try to bribe your guide in hopes he will allow you to break the rules. Do not put your guide in that type of situation and a respectable guide will be very clear about communicating the rules to you (in case you are inept).

In regards to photography, keep your noisy drones at home (they are forbidden in National Parks) and if you want to take a photo of an individual, ask them first. It is exceptionally rude and culturally unacceptable to go up to people and take their photos as if they are objects. If you cannot speak their language then wait until you have a translator with you to ask them for permission. I always ask for permission, and then show them the photo afterwards, which usually sparks some form of human connection. If the individual does not want his/her picture taken then you must respect their wishes.

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For additional trips on traveling, check out a previous blog post I authored about why I LOVE traveling solo.

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

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Thanks for reading and I wish you a happy and safe adventure (whether it’s in your own backyard or overseas).

Xx

Kristen

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Yet to Visit East Africa

Musings on my first 24 hours in Tanzania and why ignorance is not always bliss.

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“A hasty person misses the sweet things: Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu”

- A famous Swahili proverb

  • “Why would you go to Africa?”

  • “You must be going to South Africa”.

  • “Be careful”.

  • “Watch out for Ebola”.

  • “Where is Tanzania?”

  • “Did you get the malaria vaccine?”

  • “ Come back in one piece”

These are some of the questions and comments directed at me as I recently prepared for my temporary move to my favorite country in the world, Tanzania. In 2006, I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and I eagerly returned in 2008 (for the long-haul). Leaving Tanzania in the beginning of 2009 was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I love the people, the smells, the rains, falling asleep to the loud chirping sounds of bugs and animals at night, the simplicity, the hardships, the beauty and the generosity of this fine culture. Sure, Tanzania has it’s own set of problems, but let’s be honest the United States is in shambles. People in the U.S. are angry, bitter, competitive, and can no longer consume iceberg lettuce. For the past few months I was so busy wrapping up things in the States that I did not let any of these comments or questions about my journey to East Africa bother me. I get it; a white girl departing to Tanzania for her third time is not normal (to many Americans), especially when our fine President declares this part of the world a “shithole country”. But after my plane touched down at Kilimanjaro airport and I planted my feet on African soil, the first thing that hit me was the smell…the smell of dampness in the air, the sweet memories of people I adore, trees, and burning trash (which is apparently illegal now); a smell that only Africa has and to me in that moment, I was SO happy to be back. I took a long inhale, savored the smell and thought to myself, “I am finally here and I wish others knew the truth about this part of the world”. While standing on the tarmac with my carry-on bags and passport in hand, I reflected on all the comments and questions and I became upset. Upset because these questions and remarks were stated in way that made Tanzania look dangerous and dirty. Of course, many of these comments and questions came from dear friends and family members who in no way had any ill or malicious intent but for some reason, I was and still am deeply bothered by these words. Instead of taking a defensive stance against these questions or correcting these false statements, I want to share snapshot moments of my first 24 hours upon arriving in Tanzania.

 Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

The awkward name card

 Upon arrival at the airport, my good friend Erick (who was supposed to meet me at the airport) informed me he was on a business trip to Dar es Salaam but has arranged his good friend Raymond to collect me at the airport. I trust Erick with pretty much every fiber in my body and thought it was very kind to arrange my airport pickup, when in reality I could have easily taken a taxi to my house. After I collected my 80 pounds of luggage, dragged one of my 50 pound broken suitcases off the conveyer belt and did a quick currency exchange; I walked outside holding my breath to a sea of taxi drivers and random people holding name signs in hopes of quickly finding a sign with “Kristen Fuller” written on it. I did not have my glasses on, so there I am walking up (in way too close of proximity) to random strangers just so I could read the names on their sign (this is always such an awkward experience for me and I dread it upon every international arrival). Within minutes I found my name and I quickly introduced myself to Raymond and within seconds I recognized him. I met him a few times on my past visit to Tanzania and we picked up our conversation where we left off 10 years ago. In the car we called Erick on speakerphone and we all laughed because lo and behold, we were all old friends.  Raymond told me that he drove to the house where I was staying earlier during the day to make sure he knew where to go and that he was tracking my plane throughout the day in case there were any delays (my parents won’t even drive me to the airport, let alone check my flight status). My heart silently exploded and then I realized, “Ahh yes, THIS IS Tanzania”. He offered to take me into town the next day in case I needed anything and told me to contact him with any questions. I am pretty savvy with the public transport in Arusha (old school VW minibuses called dala dalas that cost equivalent to 25 cents per ride) and planned on spending my first day re-acclimating to my old stomping grounds. My plan was to take a dala dala into town, go to the central market to buy food, purchase malaria prophylaxis pills (there is NO malaria vaccine) and take in all the sights and sounds.

 A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

Kitchens are where friendships form

 I awoke the next morning at 5am to the sound of a very confused rooster, checked my work email and realized work was piling up faster than I can say, “mambo”. I wandered downstairs to the kitchen to make myself 12 cups of coffee (jet lag is real) so I can tackle my work and catch a bus into town. Within minutes I was in full conversation with a sweet Tanzanian girl in the kitchen talking about all the words I do and do not (mostly do not) know in Swahili. She instantly reminded me of my Tanzanian dada (sister), Jackie (who I insanely adore and who just got married). An hour quickly passed, I was on my 5th cup of coffee and we both realized we never even introduced ourselves. She told me her name is Monica, she is in her early 20’s and bless her heart, she thought I was 26. She made me breakfast after a long confusing conversation of whether I should pay for meals or make my own food (I decided on both but we will see how that goes). She asked me about all the Tanzanian foods I do like and the very few Tanzanian foods I won’t eat and before I knew it, I had spent half of my morning standing over an entire pot of coffee and chatting with Monica while sending messages to my Tanzanian family informing them that I am back in town…a morning that will never be forgotten because within those few hours, standing in an African kitchen, a new friendship was formed. Within minutes, my entire African family, (Jackie, her younger brother Joshua, Mama and Baba) were all texting via WhatsApp arranging plans for me to visit (I now have full-fledged Christmas plans and standing dinner plans any night of the week).

Long story short, I didn’t leave the house until nightfall. I sat upstairs working away on my computer while listening to the rain. I made plans to go on safari to Terengeru National Park the following day (Thanksgiving) with Raymond, as he is a safari driver (I made sure we can purchase beer before entering the National Park) and around 6pm in the evening I ventured out for a walk (I needed water and beer).

 Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

“I will bring back your bottle, kesho”

I found two shops within minutes of walking on the road (yes, I walked alone at night in a very safe city). Side note: the shops in Africa are amazing, they are basically tiny little buildings where you can buy anything from cooking oil, toilet paper, beer, water, pasta, a plethora of meats in a freezer box, matches and literally any random thing you can think of. If you can’t find what you are looking for at one shop, do not worry (hakuna matata), because there are 10 other shops within the next two blocks. I purchased two large bottles of water at the first shop with my broken Swahili (there is Typhoid in the tap water so I either boil my water or buy bottled water) and asked for a cold beer (bia baridi) at the next shop. The shop owners will hound you for a bottle deposit unless you swear to them you will bring the empty bottle back. I told the guy I will bring back the empty bottle tomorrow (kesho) and he asked me what time. I couldn’t help but laugh because I know how serious these guys are about their glass bottles. I told him he could collect a deposit from me if he wished but I am staying just a block down and will most likely be his favorite customer within a week. He was hesitant, pulled out two small cold beers and reminded me “kesho”.  I ended up returning the empty bottles back later that night and he then knew I meant business (and yes, he is now my go-to beer guy).

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Setting the facts straight

Within 24 hours of landing in East Africa, I met five people (this post is becoming too long to introduce you to the other 2 people) who showed me kindness and generosity because it is in their blood. These may be pointless encounters or simple conversations to many, but to me, these encounters are proof of the kindness that represents Tanzania. So before you wonder about safety, racism, crime, diseases, or anything else that is heavily portrayed by the media in these “shithole countries”, listen to the stories and experiences from people who have set foot within these countries, who have formed relationships with the people or better yet travel to some of these places yourself because I promise you one thing, your life will be changed forever. I am not “brave”, nor am I here to “help” people, but I am simply an individual who was stuck in an American box for 19 years of her life and consciously decided to spend everyday possible forming memories and relationships with people (and animals) around the world.

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Happy hiking and hope to see you on the trails upon my arrival in 2019

Xx

Kristen

Photography in the Outdoors

Falling in Love with the Outdoors All Over Again Through the Camera Lens

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“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams

 I have zero artistic ability but I have always had a keen eye for angles, colors, patterns and textures. My favorite era of art is Post-Impressionism, Vincent Van Gogh is my hero, I have seen The Lion King on Broadway 12 times, I spend way too much money collecting antique furniture and I am obsessed with Sunflowers (the painting and the real live flowers). I often design my own bags and jewelry when I travel abroad and I can spend hours and hours perusing art museums and antique stores. I strongly believe I have a natural artistic vision but when it comes to putting my vision into reality, it often ends in disaster (I cannot even draw a straight line, or throw a stitch in any type of fabric). I have always been interested in photography but the competitiveness of the industry, the financial investment in lenses and the confusing technology deterred me from going anywhere near a camera. I was convinced I would get by just fine with taking pretty iPhone photos, and to be honest, it worked for awhile but after making the decision to spend the next three months in Africa, I knew I needed a proper camera to document my life among the zebras. I recently took the plunge and bought myself a big girl camera and I am IN LOVE. Before making my big purchase, I spent weeks researching cameras, talking with outdoor photographers and looking at all the fancy camera accessories because I wanted to be 100% happy with my decision. After I clicked the “complete purchase” button on the Amazon website I knew I had my work cut out for me. I dove right in, headfirst. I watched hours of YouTube photography videos, bought a couple of books and took a few private lessons with well-known local photographers in Orange County. If I was going to spend a decent amount of money on a camera, lenses and accessories, I better know what I’m doing right?

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Photography in the outdoors is a steep learning curve. I struggle with lighting, become overly annoyed when a strange person stands in the middle of my photo, and will take 300 shots before I am happy with one image but documenting Mother Nature through the lens of my camera has been one of my favorite learning experiences thus far. If you have a camera, I will most likely ask you a million questions about your settings with the hope I can learn one new tiny trick or tip. If you do not have a camera and you are hiking with me, I apologize in advance for making you wait on the trails while I take 58 photos of the same leaf.

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 I am not in anyway an experienced photographer and every time I pick up my camera, I struggle with finding the right angle, the right settings and the right lighting but I also find myself completely engulfed in the task at hand and to be honest, very few things in life receive my undivided attention. I have honestly fallen in love with nature all over again through the lens of my camera (my Sony alpha 600 to be exact).

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If you are on the fence about picking up a camera, learning a new hobby or stepping out of your comfort zone, I strongly urge you to do it. Take the leap of faith and invest in your happiness because you will not only find more joy in life but you may inspire others during your journey. Below are some of my favorite photos I have shot within the first month of owning my new camera and I cannot believe the next time I share photos I will be writing to you from Africa (I am currently en route on a 22 hour flight).

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 Thanks for reading and following along in my journey.

 See you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Girls Who Glamp: Big Sur Style

A summary of camping in style in one of the most coveted destinations on the West Coast

 Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

Pfeiffer Beach: I could sit here all day and photograph this beautiful spot.

In case you haven’t heard, a glamorous camping trip is also known as GLAMPING!

Cruising down PCH, jaw dropping ocean vistas, elephant seals barking on the beach, waterfalls, winding roads, redwood trees, lighthouses, boardwalks and stunning sunsets are some of the many reasons why Big Sur is one of the most popular road trip destinations in the entire United States and is a perfect spot for a girls glamping trip. I recently organized a fabulous camping trip to Big Sur for 15 ladies so I thought it would be fun to class it up a little bit; think string lights, real food, campfire desserts, mimosas, fancy plate settings and centerpieces (we even had a toaster AND an oven).

Tent camping at popular destinations has never been my jam because there are tons of people, it can be very noisy (we were woken up in the middle of the night to police sirens pulling over a drunk driver in our campsite) and the campsites can be littered with trash (my pup was chewing on a used tampon from a previous camping group). I have always been a fan of backpacking out into the middle of nowhere and surviving on lightweight gear, vodka, a good book and freeze dried food without being disrupted by screaming babies, drunk people and tourists but Big Sur was a special trip because it was my last official Girl Who Hike camping event so I decided to glam it up, because who doesn’t want yummy mimosas and a campfire at 9am??

 Burgers and champagne for dinner.

Burgers and champagne for dinner.

 Its all about the details…

Its all about the details…

 I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

I am clearly trying to get the best angle =)

Important lessons from “Girls Who Glamp” Big Sur Style

  • Do not plan to hike on closed trails as trails are closed for a reason ( I about lost my mind regarding this issue).

  • Champagne makes everything better.

  • Always bring extra cash for parking.

  • Don’t get an intense chemical peel with a booster two days before a camping trip.

  • When the women’s bathroom is out of toilet paper, there are probably 10 rolls in the men’s bathroom.

  • There is poison oak EVERYWHERE so mind your footing and keep your dogs on a leash.

  • Don’t rent a car with an overly sensitive alarm ( our car alarm went off 100 times with Moo sitting in the car by herself and I about lost my mind every single time).

  • Plan out when you stop at photogenic locations because midday light is awful for photos.

  • If you are camping with a group, be a nice person and offer to buy firewood.

  • Don’t leave your used tampons in your campsite for the next camper (or dog) to cleanup.

  • Bring extra lens caps for your camera.

  • Don’t ever leave home without a wine or bottle opener.

  • Keep in mind that camping gear takes up a lot of car space so be mindful of storage space versus people space. My rule of thumb is #passengers = total number of car seats minus 2 and limit one duffle bag and one small daypack per passenger.

 Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

Forget kissing the chef, how about filling her champagne glass?

 Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Practicing my aperture settings on my big daddy lens

Camping and hiking in Big Sur

Big Sur is a popular destination for EVERYONE (literally everyone and their mom are pulled over on every turnout snapping photos) and as a result it is difficult to obtain a camping reservation. Most reservations become booked up at least 6 months in advance so if you are planning a camping (or glamping) trip to this beautiful destination, start your planning early.  There are three State Parks with camping in Big Sur (Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP, Limekiln SP and Pfeiffer Big Sur SP) and all can be reserved online through ReserveCalifornia.  I have had the pleasure of camping at all three locations and I think all three are equally spectacular. There are also tons of private campsites that can be reserved through Hipcamp and some hotels and lodges also offer camping spots. Most of the hiking trails are located within the State Parks so if you do not have a campsite reservation, be ready to pay the daily State Park entrance fee (for those with a camping reservation, the daily hiker fee is waived at all State Parks). From waterfalls, ocean views and redwood trees the hiking in Big Sur is outstanding however many of the trails are still closed so be sure to check before you go and respect the rules and regulations of all hiking trails (do not try to hike on closed trails).

 How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

How many tents can you fit into one campsite? Apparently 10!

 Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Road tripping up the coast

One of the most magical parts about visiting Big Sur is the actual road trip along PCH (they didn’t name it highway #1 for no reason). This particular stretch (from Santa Barbara to Monterey) of PCH is rated one of the best road trips in the United States. There are so many great places to stop, take in the sights, taste some delicious wine and snap some beautiful photos.

  • Santa Barbara

  • Solvang (Danish style town with some great wineries)

  • Bubblegum Alley San Luis Obispo

  • Morro Bay: Check out the sea otters, sea lions and blue herons onboard Captain Stew’s Bay Cruise. Daily cruise times are 11am, 1pm and 3pm. The cost is $10 per person and it is the best 45 minutes you will spend on this trip. Morro Bay also has some great wine tasting rooms that grow and harvest their grapes in Paso Robles.

  • Paso Robles Wine Tasting:  Paso is famous for many great wineries.

  • Moonstone Beach in Cambria: Walk along the beautiful wooden boardwalk and collect colored moonstones off the beach (please don’t bring any home).

  • Hearst Castle: Schedule a half-day and be ready to shell out $100 for the full tour of this beautiful famous castle.

  • San Simon Elephant Seal Sanctuary: Watch the elephant seals play, swim and nap along this protected coastline.

  • Ragged Point: A great lunch and coffee spot.

 Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

Moo in the middle of Bubblegum Alley in SLO

 Morro Bay with terrific lighting

Morro Bay with terrific lighting

 Places to visit in Big Sur

  • Bixby Bridge: Photo-op and viewpoint

  • River Inn: Enjoy a drink or a bite to eat while lounging on a Adirondack chair and soaking your feet in the river (dog friendly).

  • McWay Falls: One of two waterfalls that empties into the ocean in North America (Alamere Falls is the other one) and is a must-see in Big Sur. It can be accessed from the side of the road as a viewpoint and is a great photo spot in the early morning or late afternoon.

  • Pfeiffer Beach: Great for a sunset photo-op and a picnic. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

  • Point Sur lighthouse: Advanced reservations are required for the four hour tour.

  • Sand dollar beach

  • Andrew Molera State Beach: Great day hiking

  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Some of the best hiking and wildlife viewing in the area

  • Carmel and Monterey: These are great towns but should be explored on their own as an entire day-trip as they are an hour drive from Big Sur and there are tons of great sights to check out in both of these quaint coastal towns.

 These cattails were everywhere!

These cattails were everywhere!

 McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

McWay Falls in overexposed, noon lighting. I highly recommend shooting these falls in the early morning or before sunset.

 Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

Bixby bridge in not so great lighting.

 Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

Relaxing in the creek at River Inn.

 The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

The gardens at River Inn were gorgeous.

Food, champs and more food

Glamping requires a lot of prep work (and a lot of champagne). From meal planning, grocery shopping and food prepping to making sure all the serving utensils, cooking supplies, and decorations are accounted for, I usually spend an entire day getting ready for a big glamping trip. The more time and effort you put into the planning process the less time and effort is required during the actual trip (which means more time for sipping champs and hanging out).

 Setting up our glamping site!

Setting up our glamping site!

 My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

My mom made these adorable center pieces. Succulents in blue mason jars! Go Mom!

 Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Cooking over a fire and keeping the rest of our food warm. I highly recommend these aluminum containers for warming and cooking food over a campfire.

Meal prepping tips before you hit the campground

Prep EVERYTHING before you go!

  • Slice, marinate, season and individually package all meats and veggies.

  • Crack, scramble, season and place egg mixture in plastic sealed bags for breakfast.

  • Purchase individual ketchup, mustard and relish packets (or take a few here and there from fast food chains) to save room in the ice chest or storage bins.

  • Slice and dice potatoes with seasoning and wrap them in foil (to place over the campfire stove).

  • Pour olive oil and camp soap in small re-usable containers for easy access and storage.

  • Bring tin trays to keep food warm when cooking for large groups (I covered these with tin foil and placed them over the campfire while cooking the rest of the food).

  • Bring dishtowels, scrub brushes and a large bucket to wash dishes throughout the trip.

  • Bring extra seasonings and spices in small ziplock bags.

  • A large teakettle is always helpful to boil hot water in the morning for your camp crew.

  • Don’t forget your camp stove, extra propane, camp pots and pans, cooking utensils, wine opener, cooking mittens, lighter, coffee, avocados, hot sauce, apron, tablecloth, serving utensils, knives, napkins, cutting board, or trash bags. I store all of my kitchen camping gear in a large plastic bin.

  • Don’t forget your champagne, wine and beer.

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 String lights are SO extra.

String lights are SO extra.

 Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

Camp toaster because buns are better toasted.

We are SO extra

We had everything from plastic semi re-usable champagne glasses, string lights, mimosas, centerpieces, homemade desserts, tablecloths, and fancy semi re-usable dishes to a hand washing station, a camp toaster and a camp oven.

  • Don’t forget your Bluetooth speakers.

  • Remember that most string lights are battery operated and require extra rope to hang from trees (nails are not allowed in the trees).

  • Purchase plastic semi re-usable dishware so you can wash and re-use during the camping trip and toss out at the end of the weekend/week.

  • Plastic semi re-usable champagne or wine glasses make drinking SO much better. You can toss these out at the end of the trip.

  • Encourage each individual to bring his or her own eating re-usable eating utensils.

 Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

Elephant seals playing in San Simeon

 Everyone needs a hug.

Everyone needs a hug.

 Hey buddy!

Hey buddy!

 That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

That one day when I hijacked the captain’s seat.

 Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

Sea otter and her pup floating in Morro Bay.

 Sea lions in Morro Bay.

Sea lions in Morro Bay.

 There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

There were lots of birds in Morro Bay.

 Blue Heron in Morro Bay.

Blue Heron in Morro Bay.

Social Media and the Outdoors: The Third World War

Dear Girls Across the Globe,
Let's stop body-shaming each other with hurtful comments about how another girl looks or doesn't look. We are all beautiful in our own unique way; so let's speak about each other with the dignity that we would want others to have when they speak about us.
” 
― Miya Yamanouchi, Embrace Your Sexual Self: A Practical Guide for Women

 Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Trying to get that perfect shot for the ‘gram =) But more importantly, I finally bought a real CAMERA. The Sony alpha 6000 is my new child. I cannot wait to share some of the photos I have taken with this camera! I plan on using this as my everyday camera in Africa and hoping to take some stellar safari shots.

Most of us can probably agree that social media is CRAZY. Filters, poses, rose colored glasses, the perfect outfits, hair and makeup just to post that perfect photo on the ‘gram and potentially risk falling off a cliff (too soon?) is a just a bit over the edge (no pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good photo, a funny caption and an inspiring story and I have met some great people through social media but the amount of back and forth on whether or not social media is good for the outdoors seems to be a hot debate (just Googling “social media and the outdoors” brings up a plethora of well-written blogs and articles by some very well known magazines and outdoor authors). I have seen people get in fights on social media over this topic (keyboard warriors who fight behind screens) and I have read a lot of great and not so great articles on this topic and yes overcrowded trails do lead to destruction but I truly believe there is an underlying issue here that goes beyond the outdoors.

 One camp argues that social media is ruining the outdoors by overcrowding the trails, creating more human impact on Mother Nature, and advertising all the earth’s “secret spots” to the general public, thanks to geotagging (just the debate over geotagging makes my head spin). They also argue that SAR missions have drastically increased in the recent years due to social media (I believe there are many more factors involved other than social media).  The opposing camp argues that social media is a great way to bring the outdoor community together and there is a lot more encouragement to get outside (especially for the younger generations). Also, most people did not grow up hiking and camping so they use social media as a way to gain education and insight on how to prepare for the outdoors (guilty as charged, if you are reading this blog).

 This one is for the mean girls

I personally have witnessed a surge in crowds in the outdoors, especially in National Parks over the years and yes, I believe outdoor adventuring has become a marketing fad but I also believe in the healing power of Mother Nature and if more people are experiencing serenity in the outdoors instead of the hustle and bustle in urban everyday life, isn’t that a good thing? Are people getting outdoors to enjoy the healing power of nature or are people getting outside just for the ‘gram? To be honest, I really don’t care because there are much bigger issues at hand.

Social media has a disturbing impact on everyday life and it is affecting female self-esteem in a negative manner.

I still wonder to myself, “does the general public understand that social media accounts are curated profiles?” THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE PEOPLE!

 Haha told you these photos are curated!

Haha told you these photos are curated!

 And reviewed and edited…

And reviewed and edited…

I have had many girlfriends tell me they have become depressed by looking at social media accounts because they feel as though their lives are not worthy, they are not good enough, not pretty enough, not adventurous enough and they are missing out on all the fun. I know people who are so obsessed with Instagram to the point they only hike with people who have a certain number of followers (umm exclusive much?) Instagram is no longer “instant” posts but curated photos that could be days, months and years old that people are most likely posting while lying in bed at home. Let’s not forget the hair, makeup and fake poses that are often depicted on top of Half Dome. I was in Yosemite last summer camping with a group of gals who would take an hour to get ready because they had to put on fake eye lashes so they could look good in photos they were posting on social media (I ended up spending most of the weekend by myself because I do not want to be around anyone who wears fake eyelashes in the outdoors).

What happened to real women in the outdoors getting dirty on the trails, climbing rocks and not giving a damn if their hair is messy and they have sweat stains under their arms? As women, shouldn’t we be bonding on the trails, posing for silly photos, sharing stories and drinking wine? Or are we seriously getting into nature to just have a library of beautiful photos on Instagram so we can judge each other and compare our lives to a complete stranger?

I truly believe instead of debating whether social media is ruining the outdoors, we need to focus on what social media is doing to women and our society. We are tearing each other down, fat shaming girls we don’t even know, comparing ourselves to women who spent an hour putting on fake eyelashes and attacking each other for taking topless photos (do not even get me started on what I see in the mental health and eating disorder world of social media).

 Let’s get real on social, shall we?

Let’s talk about our mishaps in the outdoors, our embarrassing moments, why we have found healing in nature and let’s educate the general public (in a positive manner) why we choose to get outside.

No matter what you see on social media, remember you are beautiful, stop comparing yourself to another individual’s highlight reel, post that photo of you with boob sweat on the summit, and please do not allow other people to tear you down.

 Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

Real life versus Instagram. I carry sheet masks with me when I camp, backpack and travel and I may or may not wear them in my tent, at camp or in the car.

 A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

A super dirty, sweaty and happy selfie…

 Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

Ehh… I am mildly obsessed with Smokey the Bear and I may have already been a bottle of Champagne in deep. Are my eyes open?

 **For those of you wondering (and maybe even judging), YES I am on social media. I love using social media to connect with friends and family members and I find it incredibly useful for travel information, photography tips and it is a great way to stay in contact with people who I meet on the trails.  I also use social media as an avenue to share this blog as well as my Psychology Today Blog. Writing has been one of my passions since I was in grade school and I have learned to use my electronic pen and paper to share my thoughts, experiences, mistakes and lessons with others in hopes they can gain knowledge, self-esteem and maybe have a laugh or two. Do I deal with trolls and crazy people on social media? Yep, every damn day!**

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Ridiculous Trail Lingo That Every Hiker (and non-hiker) Should Know

“She wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee's knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else” 
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

 Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word  cauldron  but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

Summit of South Sister in Bend, Oregon. A snow filled caldera. A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms following the evacuation of a magma. So I am terrible at remembering the word cauldron but I always think of a witches pot to refresh my memory.

The other week I was perusing a hiking Facebook group and I literally laughed out loud when I saw a post on trail lingo, common words or phrases used on the trail that common folk would never understand. I have had so many conversations with friends, strangers and my MOM in regards to the outdoors and when I start dropping words like “trail magic”, “cathole”, “alpine start” and “sweep” I tend to get some pretty ridiculous looks. Usually I just ignore the looks and go about my conversation regarding my most recent adventure. But seriously, how ridiculous are some of these terms?  I think this would make the BEST drinking game around a campfire; whoever shouts out the wrong description to a term has to drink. I thought I would drop some knowledge by sharing the meaning of some trail terms I often hear from others and use myself. Do you know the meaning to all these terms? I really hope my mom reads this!

Cat Hole: A small hole (6-8 inches deep) a hiker digs to bury their poop in the wild.

Alpine start: Getting an early mountain ascent start (midnight-3AM) to avoid lightning or rock falls.

 Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Alpine Start (1AM) to summit Mt. Langley, a Fourteener located in the Eastern Sierras.

Gogirl: A device women can use to allow them to urinate standing up aka pee like a man

Sweep: The last hiker that takes up the rear in a group to ensure the entire group makes it safely to their final destination (I love my sweeps on group hikes!)

Trowel: A shovel to dig a cat hole.

Summit fever: When a hiker will do anything in his or her power to reach the summit, even if they put themselves or others at risk of injury or illness (we have all been there).

GORP: Good old raisins and peanuts aka trail mix.

SOBO/NOBO: Southbound or Northbound in reference to the direction a hiker is traveling on a trail, usually on a thru-hike. FYI I am hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO next summer =)

SAR: Search and Rescue volunteers that are trained in backcountry wilderness and give up their time to rescue lost or injured hikers.

Widowmaker: Trees that have already lost limbs or have a potential to fall; don’t set up camp or sit under one of these!

 Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Glacier Lake National Park. Another trail term is NPS which stands for National Park Service, the organization in charge of running and maintaining all the beautiful National Parks.

Wag bag: A bag you carry your poop in when you are forbidden to dig a cat hole aka one of the many reasons why I do not enjoy Mt. Whitney.

Scree ski: That shitty loose tiny gravel that is difficult to walk on but would be more fun to ski on.

Switchback: Oh Lord no! The never-ending zig-zag pathways that lead to the summit (top of the mountain). These apparently make the climb easier and prevent erosion. Do people actually enjoy switchbacks?

Cairn: Those ridiculous looking man made rock towers made to direct hikers in the correct direction on the trail (trail markers). They should be close enough to see the next one in heavy fog and high enough to see above fallen snow. Unfortunately the general public likes to build these for “fun” or as a form of expression, without understanding the actual meaning behind them. This confuses hikers and breaks the rules of LNT.

Dirty Girls: The most colorful and best hiking gaiters on the market!

Shuttle hike: When you have to drop one car off at the end of the trail and leave one car at the beginning of the trail when you plan on going on a one-way hike. If you do not shuttle then you will have to hitch a ride back to the trailhead!

 My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

My mom met me on the PCT, a true definition of a Trail Angel.

Cowboy camping: Sleeping under the stars without any form of shelter. Just a sleeping bag and mat does the trick in warm weather (watch out for bugs).

Scat: Animal poop

Scrambling: This term does not just apply to eggs but it also applies to using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and boulders. (I despise scrambling).

Crampons: Yes this term sounds like menstruation but it actually refers to a spike like traction device you put on your hiking boots in order to hike through snow and ice.

Bear canister: A container that you store food and scented items in that is bear proof (if you use it correctly).

Blaze: A colored mark, usually painted or nailed to a tree, about 4 inches tall by 2 inches wide. These are used to help guide hikers if the trail gets hard to follow or makes an abrupt turn. White blazers refer to the trail markers on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Pink blazers refer to guys chasing attractive women on the trail.

Bonus miles: Extra miles you end up hiking to re-supply or when you made the wrong turn. Nobody likes these! (Shannon this is YOUR term).

LNT: Leave No Trace, a set of 7 guidelines hikers must follow that prevents trail and outdoor destruction. Don’t pee in a river, please bury your poop, don’t camp on new green growth and please carry out all of your trash (including toilet paper).

Posthole: Hiking in deep slushy snow usually without snowshoes or skis where you leave large holes behind, a sloppy way to hike but sometimes unavoidable. When I was hiking Mt. Bierdstat (A Colorado Fourtneener) last spring in the snow, I was postholing to my waist the last 3 miles WITH snowshoes and it was the longest and most painful 3 miles of my life. At one point I became stuck and had to dig myself out.

Single track: A trail made for one-way traffic, think follow the leader and pull over for other hikers trying to pass you.

Slackpacking: Lazy backpacking aka only carrying your daypack while porters, mules or vehicles, haul your gear.

Trail candy: Eye candy but on the trail aka an attractive hiker.

 Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Sleep tight, Moo! Dirt bag dog!

Triple crown: No, not a horse race! A true badass bucket list item: to hike all three major National Scenic Trails, Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. I am guessing this is just less than 8,000 miles.

Ultralight: Carrying the lightest backpacking gear possible. Usually base weight (sleeping bag, mat, tent, clothing) is less than 10 pounds.

Fun Factor: The amount of fun you are actually having on the trail. I always say if there is no fun factor, it is not worth the hike and it is time to turn around and go home.

Zero: The best term ever when you are on a long trip/thru-hike, taking a day to rest at camp or stay in town to eat, shower, drink or do whatever you want that does not involve hiking.

Wetted out: When all your waterproof gear is no longer waterproof. Hope you have a trash bag handy!

Alpine zone: The zone above the tree line at the top of a mountain that is characterized by rocks and soil, which resembles the moon. This can range in elevation, usually between 9,000-11,000 feet above sea level.

 Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Alpine Zone landscape characterized by some scree. Doesn’t this landscape resemble the moon? This summit required Class 3 scrambling.

Dirt bag: A dirty hiker. I was walking into El Pollo Loco to get my burrito fix after finishing a 4 day hike on the Lost Coast Trail, I camped 2 nights beforehand, so I did not shower in 6 days, my clothes were dirty and my hair was a wreck. I basically resembled a homeless person wearing expensive brand-named hiking clothes ordering a burrito without a care in the world. This is the ultimate description of a dirt bag.

Glissade: An incredibly fun way to descend a snow capped mountain slope, sitting and sliding down, usually holding an ice axe to be used to slow or stop the slide.

Woofer: WFR or Wilderness First-Responder, which requires a weeklong course of moderate outdoor training on rescue scenarios and backcountry emergencies.

Death March: A long boring hike with no views in 90-degree weather or an uninteresting trail you must take in order to reach the desired trail. I consider fire roads a death march but yet we must take them in order to get to the beautiful trail.

Fourteener: A mountain that stands above 14,000 feet in elevation. My mom still thinks this refers to a hike that is 14 miles long, no matter how many times I explain this concept to her.

Bear burrito: Hammock. I have an obsession with burritos so this is my favorite term.

Blowout: No, not a diaper blowout. When your hiking boots take a beating and you need to repair them with duct tape or string to hold the sole and shoe together. It is now time for a pair of new shoes!

Dry Camp: A waterless camping spot. In other words, you have to carry all of your water in aka backpacking in the desert. I have had my fair share of dry camping trips, some were fun, others were just plain aggravating.

Trail magic: When something spontaneously wonderful happens on the trail; you meet a fantastic person, someone gives you food or supplies (in my case beer), or you are offered a ride from a passing stranger. Trail angels are often people who give out trail magic and let me tell you; trail magic goes around and comes back around to you.

 Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

Moo, my definition of Trail Magic.

What are some of your favorite hiking terms? I would love to know!

Thanks for reading and hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen

Trail Talk: Life Lessons and Hiking Bloopers From the John Muir Trail

Because nobody is #sweatydirtyhappy all the time

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet”.

-Roger Miller

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People are fascinating! I use the term, “fascinating” in the most colorful way possible because humans are the only living species on this earth that can make you laugh, cry, scream and feel as though your life maybe ending all within one short backpacking trip in the wilderness. Nature is by far, the least of any hiker’s concerns. I have learned over the years through some hilarious and challenging hiker bloopers that we must be extremely cautious of our fellow nature human travelers because nobody is #sweatydirty happy all the time and REI sadly does not sell Cranky People Spray.

But seriously, I have hiked and backpacked with some pretty nutty people so I have gotten pretty good at taking punches in the outdoors. I had a guy I was backpacking with race to try to catch up with me on the trail even though I was behind him the entire hike ( he didn’t realize he was in front of me until I found him waiting at the trailhead), I had a gal scream at me in the middle of our campsite after hours of meeting her because she felt like she was the fifth wheel in our group (this was the very first time ever we all actually met each other), and I recently had a camp neighbor scream at me and call me “trash” for stepping too close to her cabin while I was searching for a cell signal so I could send a work email.

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Some trail names should always be left unsaid

I knew we were in for a treat when I had to unexpectantly jam pack five people, five 65-liter backpacks and my dog into my Honda Accord for a six-hour drive up to the Eastern Sierras (our carpooling plans got a little jumbled last minute so we had to play Tetris with our bodies and gear). We were off on another adventure to backpack 26 miles on the John Muir Trail over 3 days and within an hour into the drive I knew we were in for a “treat”.

One of the gals in a sheer panic (after jokingly stating that two of my friends in the backseat, who are moms to a gaggle of kids, were child abusers because they were on a trip without their kiddos) exclaimed that she forgot her headlamp and her solar lantern. Easy fix: just buy another headlamp when we get into Mammoth and forget about the lantern (an unnecessary backpacking item).  As soon as we arrived (after another grueling five hours in the car) to my favorite mountain town, we picked up our wilderness permit from the visitor center and grabbed food and beer from Mammoth Mountain Brewing Company. At lunch, the topic of trail names came up. A trail name is a nickname that is given to you on the trail usually by someone who has hiked with you before. One of my friends in Colorado gave me the trail name, Trail Goddess and with a mischievous grin on her face, “Ms. I forgot my headlamp” quickly exclaimed that her trail name was Problem Child. 

Something always happens to me on the trail or I am always forgetting my gear,” she stated.

During our 6-hour car ride, she was constantly telling us how experienced she was as a backpacker, but I have learned over the years that backpacking is like scuba diving…you never really know someone’s experience level until you actually see them in action.

 The words “You are so SCREWED, Kristen” kept circling around in my mind.

I made a mental note to myself that I would just need more vodka for this special trip and I could handle anything for four days…its four days, what could go wrong?

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That one time when my car alarm was actually helpful

We made our way to our campsite (after stopping by an outdoor gear store so Problem Child could purchase her headlamp) since we decided to spend a night tent camping in Mammoth so we could get an early start on the trail in the morning. Upon arriving to our gorgeous campsite and meeting up with two other friends who were adventuring with us, we all quickly learned that Problem Child was overly terrified of bears, did not know how to set up any of her gear, and didn’t bother reading any of the detailed pre-trip emails I sent out. I quickly opened another beer and said a few positive mantras to myself because I knew I was in for a challenging adventure. We helped her set up her tent and spent at least 45 minutes going through all of her gear and teaching her about “bear safety” in the outdoors. After a couple of hours of explaining that scented lotions and baby wipes are in fact, “scented”, and needed to be kept in her bear canister, it was clear our group needed a break and I needed another beer. Most of the gals went to find the bathroom and the camp store and a couple of us stayed behind to watch a California black bear meander into the forest only a few feet from our campsite.

“At least all this scented vs. non-scented talk was not a waste of time”, I jokingly said to my friend standing next to me as I watched my 14-pound dog bark excessively at this bear.

Problem Child missed the bear sighting because she was in her tent and somehow didn’t hear the loud commotion of people screaming (people go NUTS over bears and it’s quite entertaining to witness). When she finally appeared from her tent and heard about the bear sighting she freaked out, said some overly ridiculous comments about bear spray and bear bells and stated that she better not see a bear on the trail (of course I was quietly hoping we would run into lots of bears).

You know a bear is looking for food in the campground when you wake up in the middle of the night to loud banging noises. That same night, I awoke to our camp neighbors banging tin plates and cups together to scare away the bear from their campsite at 2AM and all I could think of was,

“I hope Mr. Bear leaves soon so I can get out and go pee”

After 10 minutes of impatiently holding my bladder, my car alarm was set off and of course my keys were locked in the bear box. I looked outside of my tent and all I could say was

“Holy Fu$K, there is a bear on my car”.

His front paws were on my driver’s window and he was peering into my car looking for food. Problem Child started yelling loudly from her tent and I told her to be quiet since she had nothing to worry about since the bear was clearly looking for food IN MY CAR. I thanked the car alarm gods for quickly scaring the bear off my car after a 90 second ETERNITY.

I was on my feet, tearing my car apart at the crack of dawn the next morning to discover that chocolate candies and lots of food wrappers were left inside Problem Child’s backpack in the trunk of my car. Bear safety lesson #1 was clearly a fail.

Now I am that neurotic person who makes you search your backpack in front of me if you are storing your gear in my car in bear territory.

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Raise your hand if you peed today

We arrived at the trailhead and after ensuring my car was 100% bear proof, we gathered our packs and started off on our adventure; two nights, three days and 26-ish miles in the some of the most beautiful backcountry in the United States. We we were so excited to be section-hiking the John Muir Trail! We were planning to camp at Ediza Lake on night one in the backcountry and to camp at Thousand Island Lake on night two but when we were only two miles from our night one camping destination and we found out (thanks to a very nice hiking fellow we came across on the trail) that there was no bridge to cross over to get to Ediza Lake. The bridge to Ediza Lake was out which put a huge wrench in our plans. The water was swift and high, we had a very difficult scramble in front of us and I was already dragged through so much drama that I knew making a dangerous attempt to either boulder over rocks or cross fast moving deep water was not going to happen. I already had a backup plan but I stayed quiet and listened to my friends talk about options as I apologized to my pup, Moo, for an unexpectedly long (and very hot) hiking day. My friends asked for my opinion of what we should do and I quickly stated we should definitely hike to Garnett Lake where we will camp for the night. Ediza Lake was completely out of the question!

“Yes, it is going to make for a longer day, yes it is super hot right now and yes we have to cross another 10,000 foot ridge but not everyone in our group is prepared to scramble over rocks or wade through swift moving water with 40-pound packs and I do not feel comfortable putting Moo through that”, was my game plan and explanation and everyone agreed (we really did not have another option).

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We had six more miles in the very exposed heat to go so everyone filtered more water, put on their big girl pants and made their way to Garnett Lake. Problem Child was extremely irritated about our game plan but we were shit out of options and we were all in the same boat so I tried to explain we have to just roll with the punches because backpacking trips never go as planned. I decided to hike with Problem Child because it was clear she was irritated and it didn’t seem she was doing well. We were about 45 minutes behind the rest of the group, keeping a very slow 0.8 mile per hour pace and within one mile of starting out toward Garnett Lake; she exclaimed,

“ I think I am out of water”

 Now how can that even be possible? We all each filtered 3-4 liters of water when we decided to head towards Garnet Lake because we knew there would be no more water crossings for another six miles. I was very confused and beginning to get very annoyed. I literally asked if everyone had at least 3 liters of water for this next leg of our hike before we made our way to Garnett Lake.

“What? When was the last time you filtered water?” was all I could ask her.

“At lunch”, she replied.

I was repeating about every swear word in the English dictionary in my head because lunch was approximately 6 miles back, 3.5 hours ago. She never filtered water before taking off for Garnet Lake. She just sat back and watched everyone.

We had 6 miles to go and 3.5 liters of water between the three of us including my dog. I knew I could spare at least a liter for Problem Child but I wanted her to understand the importance of hydration on the trail. I was officially pissed. She complained, moaned, bitched and groaned for another two miles and finally exclaimed,

“This is the worst trip ever, and I hate this”.

I kept asking her if she was feeling okay and she adamantly stated that she felt fine and she had already drank plenty of water for the day. She said she knew she was hydrated because she was “sweating a lot”. We started going back and forth about this, I told her she was dehydrated and she was adamant she was not. We were going in circles and I knew if I tried to explain the physiological process of sweating aka perspiration, it was going to go in one ear and out the other.

I started asking her more specific questions about her fluid intake and output for the day. I didn’t care that she was having a horrible time or that she hated me because I was too concerned that she was now putting herself and our group at risk. I quickly rushed into my doctor mode, calculated her fluid ins and outs and decided this girl is getting evacuated off the trail as soon as we catch up to our group. 

 I was about to give her a liter of my water when we came across a stream.

“Halleluiah”, I thought to myself.

 We walked PAST the stream and I almost lost my mind.

“This chick is not going to filter water. She is just going to keep on walking in her damn dehydrated state”, I thought to myself.

I asked her if she was going to filter any of this water and it dawned on her that she probably should. As I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes waiting for her to filter water, she loudly demanded that I help her because she could not manage her water filter on her own. I held her Smart water bottle and the clean end of the filter as she pumped water through her MSR filtration system. After we were finished pumping water and 38 mosquito bites later, I told myself she would of course thank me when we got to camp for helping her filter water and making sure she was safe on the trail (she did not have a map or a navigation device). Let’s just say that was wishful thinking.

Four miles to go at a 0.8 mile per hour pace in 90-degree temperatures up a 10,000-foot ridge behind a woman who literally hates my guts and is a dangerous hiker… “It’s a beautiful day to be alive”.

“Who has cell phone service right now”?!

That was all I could muster out of my mouth when we finally reached the top of that 10,000-foot ridge and I saw all my friends waiting. Each one of my friends looked at me without saying a word. They knew I had steam coming out of my ears and I had to take quite a few deep exhales to prevent myself from crying out of frustration. Two gals had cell phone service and I quickly asked them to call the two mule companies we saw at the trailhead to get Problem Child off this trail. That quickly opened up a tall can of worms but I was 100% done hiking with her.

“Raise your hand if you have peed on the trail today” I asked our entire group, as if I was a third grade teacher.

Everyone raised their hand and began saying how many times they peed on the trail over our 9-hour hiking day, except for Problem Child. I knew she didn’t pee all day and I wanted the group to clearly understand the situation we were in. We were a group of seven women backpacking together in the wild and we all needed to understand what was unfolding in front of us. I then explained to Problem Child that I was extremely concerned for her hydration status and also very concerned about the decisions she was making on the trail and if she came into my ER I would stick a needle in her arm and give her a 1 liter bag of normal saline. Right then and there, the rest of the group understood the gravity of the situation. Every gal in the group searched for a way to safely get Problem Child off the trail but the quickest way was to finish our loop through Thousand Island Lakes, and this was only day one. We had two more days to go.

I was done sweeping for the day and I needed a beer. I picked up my pace and hiked next to one of my girlfriends while another gal stayed behind Problem Child to make sure she didn’t jump off a cliff or do something else completely off the wall. We all came to the beginning of Garnett Lake and quickly chatted about filtering water. We all asked how much water Problem Child had left and her response was “I don’t know” and she kept walking. One of the gals told her to stop and check because we were at a water crossing. I guess my trail hydration lesson didn’t sink in. Throughout the next two days we made Problem Child take out her bladder from her backpack at every water crossing and visually show us how much water she had left.

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Does anyone have an extra spoon?

Problem child continued to ruffle everyone’s feathers when we got to camp and for the duration of our trip. She refused to keep her scented items in her bear canister at night, she still could not figure out how to set up her tent and she slept with her bear canister next to her tent (after watching every single one of us find places to store our bear canisters away from our campsite). The next morning she realized she was out of camp stove fuel and convinced someone in our group to boil her water for every single meal from here on out. She continued to complain about the tremendous chore of filtering water and although I kept my distance, every single gal in our group would tell me some ridiculousness Problem Child was getting into. I started to respond, “I don’t care anymore”.

Day two was glorious because I refused to hike next to Problem Child, I met my trail Jesus, a very kind thru-hiker from Eastern Tennessee, (I should write a blog post entitled “Trail Magic” about this amazing man) and our group spent most of the day swimming in crystal clear water and basking in the sun at Thousand Island Lake. As we were getting ready to cook our food before sunset on night two, Problem Child asked the group if any of us had an extra spoon. She forgot her headlamp, did not bring enough camp stove fuel and forgot her spoon. We all blurted out in unison,

“No!”

We were all officially done with her nonsense.

 Of course I asked myself, “How is this girl eating her food without a utensil? “

I quickly thought to myself “she could use her bathroom shovel if she really wanted to”.  

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Always bring an extra pair of pants

The morning of day three, Problem Child could not figure out how to get all of her gear in her pack, I managed to completely break a BearVault bear canister that I borrowed from a friend and we were hiking out of camp before sunrise in order to make it home at a decent hour (I hate tearing down my tent in the dark). My friend helped Problem Child pack her backpack and within a few hours we were safe and sound back at my car. Problem Child was staying in Mammoth to visit friends so I dropped her off at the Starbucks, wished her good riddance and the rest of us drove to Bishop (much more comfortably in my car compared to the drive up) to grab lunch. Of course, we just could not stop talking about the sheer ridiculousness we endured on the trail. It was straight out of a movie! After finishing lunch, I checked my phone and noticed I had about a dozen text messages from Problem Child regarding her iPad that she left in my car. She insisted on bringing her iPad on the trip (even though there was no service) because she couldn’t live without it. I explained that I am not responsible if something happens to this iPad and if I were she, I would leave it at home. I knew her iPad was not in my car but I needed witnesses in case she tried to report me for theft. All four of us tore apart my car, looking for this iPad and I texted her back explaining that it was nowhere to be found, told her to use the app “find my Ipad” and wished her good luck, once again. She insisted that I must have taken her iPad when I rummaged through her backpack after the bear set off my car alarm and at that point I gave my cell phone to my friend sitting in my passenger seat and asked her to handle the rest of this texting conversation because I was done.  We were all dumbfounded once again and shaking our heads in disbelief but I knew I had witnesses and these gals would back me up in case Problem Child took this any further.

“Kristen, did you know that she tore her pants on the first day getting out of the car at the trailhead”

 I just about swerved my car into oncoming traffic because I could not control my laughter.

 “She did what?”, I exclaimed

“Yes, when she was stepping out of your car at the trailhead on the first day, she split the back of her pants right down the middle and did not bring an extra pair of clothes so every time she bent down I got to see her rear end. She had to backpack in split pants for three days”

“Well karma is a bitch, isn’t it?!”

 Problem Child found her iPad a few days later; it was in her backpack after all. No apologies or words of gratitude were ever expressed.

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Take home lessons

  • Always bring an extra set of clothes

  • Write a packing list and follow it, then double and triple checked that you brought everything

  • Don’t brag about your trail experience

  • When everyone in the group is filtering water, taking a bathroom break, eating a snack or setting up camp; you should be doing that too

  • When someone sends out a pre-trip detailed email, read it.

  • Learn the name of the trail you are hiking on and the campsites you are staying at before you set foot on the trail.

  • If you have never used your gear before, set it up at home and watch a You Tube video if you need help.

  • If you don’t enjoy backpacking, that’s okay, don’t partake.

  • Don’t throw your food waste in the bushes.

  • California black bears want to eat your food; they have no desire to eat you.

  • If you did forget something, make a mistake, or have a question; use your manners and be nice about it.

  • You are responsible for your own safety on the trail, no matter what.

  • Always bring more alcohol than you think you actually need.

This was definitely a memorable and beautiful trip however this was by far the most challenging backpacking trip I have ever endured. I arrived at my mom’s house to pick up by grumpy Shitzu (my saint of a mom watches my older dog when I travel) and I shared every detail with her over a couple of bottles of wine. I was sun burned to a crisped and had over 200 mosquito bites on me, but my mom and I still laughed so hard that we cried. This trip has officially gone down in history and it is just too good not to write about (in stride of course).

Thanks for reading and see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail: The Quick and Dirty

"There's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away."
-Sarah Kay

 Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Seals and sea lions on the trail across from Punta Gorda Lighthouse

The Lost Coast Trail is a force to be reckoned with. From hiking with sea lions and elephant seals, talking sweet nothings to the resident sea otters in Cooksie Creek, staring at the Milky Way in the night sky and observing all the washed up sea life to watching the deer and bear meander down from the mountains to visit the campground creek, the wildlife, night sky, washed up sea stars, sea urchins, whale bones and fish vertebrae are just a taste of the beautiful uninhibited terrain that is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is mostly a natural and development-free area in Humboldt County California, specifically in the King Range wilderness. In the 1930s this area experienced depopulation and as a result, it was named the “The Lost Coast”. In addition, the steepness and related geotechnical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast. This trip has been on my bucket list for some time and when I saw permits were available for early September, I snagged a solo permit and dove deep into the planning process. From scheduling a shuttle service, understanding the tide tables and mapping the impassible zones on my Gaia GPS, I had my work cut out for me. I decided to do this trip solo since the planning process was a bit intense and frankly, I wanted some time alone to unwind and fall off the grid. From Mattole beach to Black Sands beach this hike is just over 25 miles and I wanted to take my time on the trail, sleep in, make breakfast, have plenty of time to cross the high tidal zones, take in the salty air, watch the waves, and be lost in my own thoughts so I decided to do this trek over 4 days and 3 nights however this can easily be completed in 2 nights and 3 days.

 Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

Clear blue skies on an overland trail, day 1.

 Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Bearikade bear canister, Goal Zero solar panel and battery back and an incredible memoir written by Trevor Noah; all must-haves for backpacking trips. Big Flat campground, night 2.

Obtaining that coveted permit

A permit is required to camp overnight in the King Range Wilderness and permits can be obtained at Recreation.gov You can print your permit a week in advance of your start date.

 Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

Night 3 at Gitchell Creek

 Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

Washed up sea urchin on the trail.

 Washed up sea star on the trail.

Washed up sea star on the trail.

 Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

Love is truly everywhere, if you look hard enough…

 Shuttle service, please?

Since this is a one-way hike, you must book a shuttle that will drive you from Black Sands beach to Mattole Beach. Starting from Matthole Beach and hiking the 25-mile stretch back to your car at Black Sands Beach is the way to go because you are hiking in the same direction as the wind and the road to Black Sands Beach is paved and maintained unlike the road to Matthole Beach (an unpaved mess). The shuttle will pick you up at Black Sands Beach parking lot and the driver will give you a 10 minute orientation on proper trail etiquette and the quick and dirty on the tides. He will also give you a tide table book, which is golden for when you are on the trail. The road to Black Sands Beach is windy and narrow and can make you nervous especially if you decide to do this drive at night. I arrived at the parking lot around 11:00PM the night before and quickly discovered that all campgrounds in the area close at 9 PM so I slept in my car since I had a 7am shuttle departure the next morning (not the most ideal situation but sometimes you have to roll with the punches). I booked a shuttle with Lost Coast Adventure Tours (cost about $70) but keep in mind that if they do not have at least 4 people booked for that shuttle time, they will cancel your shuttle or place you in the next shuttle that is full. I was moved from the 7AM shuttle to the 8AM shuttle which meant I was going to start an hour later than scheduled but again, you always have to roll with the punches. Make sure you call them 48 hours before your departure to confirm that your shuttle is full.

 Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Mamma and baby deer crossing Cooksie Creek, night 1.

Tide tables and impassible zones

So this is the part where it gets tricky. There are two, 4-mile and one, 0.25 miles stretch of coastal zones that cannot be passed during high tide, and there is one totally impassible zone that cannot be crossed period, regardless of the tide. It is important to study the tide table and understand your hiking windows. The impassible zone is about 0.5 miles from Sea Lion Gulch and there is a small flat rock sitting on top a large boulder referred to as “hat rock”. This “hat rock” is a sign that you must look for the overhead trail that takes you up and over this impassible zone. If you come to the impassible zone like I did, and discover huge boulders that are impossible to climb, retrace your steps and look above for that overhead trail. Once you are about half way up the overhead trail you will notice a trail sign that points you in the correct direction. Remember the ocean is always on your right and the mountains are always on your left (if you are hiking from Matthole to Black Sands).

Now for the 2-mile impassible zones at high tides, the rule of the thumb is to stop hiking 2 hours before high tide and to begin hiking 2 hours after high tide. There is an AM and a PM high tide so you will begin your hike 2 hours after the high tide in the morning and will make sure you are through the impassible zones 2 hours before the PM high tide begins. Here is where it gets tricky; you must deduct 52 minutes from the high tides for the Shelter Cover area and keep in mind the tidal heights. My high tides were all within the 4-foot range so the 2-hour windows were safe for me (for the most part). However if your high tide is within the 6-7 foot range then you may need to give yourself a larger window (most likely 3-3.5 hours before and after high tide). I would suggest going over your hiking schedule with the rangers beforehand if you find this confusing but once you start hiking, you will get the hang of it. I would recommend setting up camp at the beginning of these tidal zones so you can hike through them in the morning after the first high tide so you do not have to worry about getting stuck or waiting out the tide. There are also camping sites within the impassable tidal zones, which are great places to camp as well.

 Tide table book.

Tide table book.

Tide table example:

AM high tide 4AM 4.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

PM high tide 7PM 6.5 tidal height (minus 52 minutes)

Start hiking through the “high tide impassible zone” after 5AM and make sure you are through this 4 mile impassible zone by 3PM (see how there was a 3 hour window in the evening because the tidal height is much higher).

 One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

One of the “impassible zones at high tide”. Day 2-4 were overcast and gloomy.

Backcountry campsites on the Lost Coast

The “campsites” are basically the creek areas where you are able to filter water. Even if the area is not marked as a campsite on your map, you are still able to camp there as this whole area is considered BLM land.  

Getting stuck in the impassible zone

The first night, I decided to camp at Cooksie Creek, an adorable little area where sea otters play in the river and deer roam around in search of a drink from the stream. I met two super nice guys and hiked with them the first day, sharing stories about India along the trail. Cooksie Creek is about 2 miles into the first impassible tidal zone and we had about 2 hours to clear these two miles before we had to worry about the high tides. Seems easy right? Well, hiking over boulders and sand can slow you down, more than you think. Unfortunately we ran out of time and we had 0.2 miles left until we reached camp but we were stuck on a jagged boulder hanging on for dear life as the waves crashed around us, soaking us from the waist down. One of the guys I was with decided to check around the corner to see how far we had to go. When he realized we had less than 0.2 miles to go, we waited for the next set of waves to crash into us then made a run for it. We made it to camp safe and soaked but my heart was filled with pure joy when I came across a family of three sea otters playing at our campsite. I was in animal kingdom heaven! We quickly learned our lesson about the impassible tidal zones and I gave myself plenty of time the next day.

Day 2-4

On the second day, I solo hiked 10 miles to Big Flat where I set up camp for the night. Big Flat is about 1 mile from the second impassible tidal zone, a very quiet campsite with gorgeous ocean views and a large flowing creek for filtering water. The next morning, I was at the beginning of the second high tide impassible zone so I started my hike with fresh legs and with plenty of time to spare in between the high tides. After hiking a quick and easy 4.5 miles on day 3, I set up my camp at Gitchell Creek, which is right after the second tidal zone. I was the only person camping at Gitchell Creek which was magical (this was most likely because it was only 3 miles from the end of the trail). Day 4 made for an easy 3 miles back to my car at Black Sands Beach. I arrived at my car around 10:30AM and drove to San Jose, checked into a hotel and took a nice long shower before meeting a friend for drinks.

 Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

Punta Gorda lighthouse, day 1.

 Sunset on our only clear evening.

Sunset on our only clear evening.

 Answers to commonly asked questions

  • This is bear country so make sure you store all of your scented items in an approved bear canister.

  • There are streams about every 2-3 miles along the trail to filter enough water for that distance.

  • Camp at a stream (they are called “creeks” on the trail maps).

  • My starting pack weight all in with 3 liters of water was 32 pounds.

  • It was very sunny the first day and very windy and overcast the next 3 days…the weather changes on a dime.

  • I did not use my tent fly once. If there is no rain in the forecast, I would recommend leaving this at home as it did not drop below 50 degrees at night.

  • Most of the trail is on sand and boulders which will slow you down. I recommend very sturdy and high ankle hiking boots. I wore my LOWA Renegades and my feet felt great the whole trip.

  • There are tons of poison oak and ticks on the trail. Be mindful where you step and check your body for ticks when you get to camp.

  • Although this was a relatively easy trip in terms of physical endurance, the planning and logistics were quite tricky so I would not recommend this as a first-time backpacking trip.

  • No I did not bring any alcohol and yes I started and finished an entire book, “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

 Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

Wet sea otters in our first campsite.

 After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

After he dried out… hehe. They were SO cute!

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to reach out with any questions.

Hope to see you on the trails,

Xx

Kristen

My Favorite Trails in Southern California: From Summits to Coastal Views

"As one went to Europe to see the living past, so one must visit Southern California to observe the future."

-Alison Lurie

 Getting blown away on the Lost Coast Trail. Post coming soon about my incredible solo backpacking trip through this uninhabited coastline.

Getting blown away on the Lost Coast Trail. Post coming soon about my incredible solo backpacking trip through this uninhabited coastline.

Although I have lived and traveled around the globe, I am fortunate enough to call Southern California home.  I have camped, backpacked, ran and hiked my way through Southern California and over the years I have learned which trails to avoid (Peters Canyon) and which parts of Southern California are worth returning to time and time again. I have included hyperlinks to each trail for quick and easy access to trail statistics such as mileage, difficulty, route descriptions and elevation gain. 

 Climb For Heroes 2018

Climb For Heroes 2018

Favorite trail for a snow hike: San Jacinto via Ariel Tramway to Wellman’s Divide

This is my favorite trail to snowshoe hands down and here is why; you do not need to worry about snow on the roads since you drive into Palm Springs and take the Ariel Tramway up to a winter wonderland. I can comfortably drive my 4-door sedan and I do not have to worry about snow chains (they are a major pain in the rear). I usually bring my trail crampons and my snowshoes after a snowstorm since I am never too sure how deep the snowpack will be at certain elevations. Since I know many of you are wondering, “what is the difference between snowshoes and crampons”? Here is the quick and dirty between the two:

Are you traveling over ice or hard-packed snow that your boots can’t penetrate? Is the terrain steep and slippery? Time to put on some crampons to dig into the snow and ice and provide maximum traction underfoot. For moderate terrain, you can get away with a lighter-weight pair of crampons (such as Hillsound Trail Crampons).

Are you dealing with unbroken (or mostly unbroken) snow-covered terrain where your boots are sinking in over the ankle tops? You are now in snowshoe and gaiter country, the snowshoes to reduce the amount you sink, the gaiters to keep snow out of your boots. (I own the Redfeather Hike 25 Women's Snowshoes)

Get there early and take the first tram up so you have fresh snow and no crowds. If you are unsure about the snowpack, there is a live camera on the website where you can check to see how much snow is on the ground! Make sure to fill out a permit at the Ranger station and check in with them to get a summit weather report (if you plan on summiting). I prefer to hike to Wellman’s Divide (about 4 miles from the tram) as the trail is fairly safe, moderate in elevation gain and the views are stunning. The weather can change quickly after Wellman’s Divide in the winter and oftentimes you will be required to carry an ice ax (and know how to use it) if you plan on summiting. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the tram, so Moo has not experienced this hike.

 Winter Wonderland in San Jacinto

Winter Wonderland in San Jacinto

Favorite trail for sunsets and ocean views: Boat Canyon

If you know me, then you know how much I love this trail (I most likely have dragged you along with me). Boat Canyon trail is a 4-mile out and back, moderately rated trail in Laguna Beach with the most stunning ocean views THE ENTIRE TRAIL. No matter where you are on this trail, you can see the ocean! Since I have spent the past 3 years living in Laguna Beach, this trail is very near and dear to my heart. You can usually find me trail running this trail in time to catch the sunset on the way down while listening to Justin Bieber. I also love this trail because you can hike (or trail run) as far as your little legs desire as this trail connects to Bommer Ridge, which goes all the way through Newport Coast and into Irvine! In the spring, be sure to look for the “lawnmowers” aka the cute giant herd of goats that trim the brush to prevent fires. This trail is also good for sunrise hikes (I may or may not have sipped champagne at the top before 7 AM). Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail, so Moo has not experienced this hike.

 A little bubbly in the morning never hurt, right?

A little bubbly in the morning never hurt, right?

 My "backyard" trail

My "backyard" trail

Favorite mountain trail for a sunset: Sitton Peak

This short hike off of Ortega Highway has the most incredible sunset views with layers and layers of mountains. The last ¼ of a mile is pretty brutal but just suck it up because the views are worth it. Bring a headlamp, a noisemaker, and hike in a group because there are lots of wild animals (including mountain lions). I solo hiked this at sunset with Moo, and although she was in my pack; we were being stalked by a mountain lion. To be honest, I would only recommend this hike to watch the sunset at the summit since there is nothing special about this trail (except for the view at the top). This trail (along with all the trails off of Ortega Highway) is dog-friendly! Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Mountain layers, sunsets and sweet moments with my pup.

Mountain layers, sunsets and sweet moments with my pup.

Favorite trail for sunrise: Mt. Baldy

If you want to see one of the most spectacular sunrises you have ever seen, Mt. Baldy is your next destination. You can choose to set off for the summit in the middle of the night to make breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee at the summit for sunrise or you can backpack this magical mountain and wake up for sunrise on the summit (I have done both). My preferred route is up AND down Devil’s Backbone and here is why; you can refill your water at the lodge, grab food, drink a beer and take the ski lift down to save your knees (and cut off 2.5 miles from that boring fire road). Let’s be honest though, Mt. Baldy is my absolute favorite mountain in SoCal and I can guarantee you I am hiking it in the snow, in the summer heat, in the fall and in the middle of the night. I have hiked from Bear canyon trail, Ski hut trail, Backbone trail and I am leading a group hike up Register ridge in October. Moo also thoroughly enjoys this mountain (hint: it is dog-friendly). If you haven’t figured this out yet, Moo is my dog. Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Sunrise on the Baldy summit.

Sunrise on the Baldy summit.

 Wine a summits go well together.

Wine a summits go well together.

Favorite trail for a quick overnight backpacking trip: Lower Moro Campground

I lead an overnight backpacking trip to this local campsite every year for gals who have never backpacked before or for gals who want to test out new gear. Although there is no water available at this campsite or along the trail (I recommend at least 5 liters and lots of wine for one night) there are pit toilets with toilet paper and cell phone service. Although you must make reservations for Lower Moro Campground on Reserve California, the specific sites are first come first serve so get there early, as there are only a couple sites with ocean views. This trail is 3.5 miles each way (I choose to hike the steepest way up and the route with stunning ocean views on the way back). Do not let this 3.5 miles fool you, with a overnight pack and the steep inclines it is a booty killer. I like this trail for first-time backpackers because if you have an emergency or are just plain OVER IT, it is relatively easy to evacuate someone off the trail.

 Love these views from our campsite.

Love these views from our campsite.

Favorite trail for the butt and thighs: Mt. Baden Powell

With over 40 switchbacks, stunning views, the infamous Wally Waldron tree and the experience of hiking on the PCT, there is nothing to dislike about this trail (well except for the disgusting bathrooms). To be honest, I have seen a lot of trail destruction within the last year after this became an alternate peak for the popular “six-pack” but this trail (despite the crowds and trail destruction) remains one of my favorite trails in SoCal. It is relatively short, Moo can come along, it has some decent elevation gains for training and the views at the top are stunning. Bring your Adventure Pass.

 Giving some love to Wally Waldron!

Giving some love to Wally Waldron!

 Girls Who Hike OC group hike to the Baden Powell Summit.

Girls Who Hike OC group hike to the Baden Powell Summit.

Favorite trail to watch the stars while camping: Joshua Tree National Park

Although this is not a trail per say, Joshua Tree is the only National Park in Southern California and it is one of my favorite places to escape to for a night or two. The galaxies and constellations are jaw dropping and my neck hurts after every single trip because I spend hours just staring at the stars. There are lots of car camping sites (summer is first-come-first serve and Fall-Spring is by reservation) but I prefer to backpack out into the desert and set up a tent where no soul can find me. There are a few backpacking trails where you can fill out a permit at the trailhead and hike as far into the backcountry as your desert soul desires. Remember to always have a GPS device and drop a pin of your trailhead and backcountry campsite as many people go missing each year because it is SO easy to become disoriented in the desert. You must hike in all of your own water and like true backcountry sites, please remember to dig you cathole and always practice Leave No Trace.

 Star gazing until our necks hurt.

Star gazing until our necks hurt.

 Tents, Joshua Trees and Moo.

Tents, Joshua Trees and Moo.

Favorite long distance trail: San Jacinto via Deer Springs Trail

Just under 20 miles round-trip, this hike has it all; views, elevation, trees, wildlife, and campsites. I was completely taken aback when I hiked this trail in early summer of 2018 because it is just breathtaking. We chose to hike the Strawberry junction loop so we could experience new views and add some mileage and were not disappointed. There are a couple of streams to filter water but remember to start EARLY and bring a headlamp because this hike is long. Fill out your day permit at the Ranger Station up the road and don’t forget your Adventure Pass.

 They named this ridge after me...

They named this ridge after me...

 Views from the San Jacinto Summit.

Views from the San Jacinto Summit.

Favorite Thru-hike: Trans Catalina Trail

Hands down, this is a MUST do! From killer inclines, intimate beaches, jaw-dropping ocean views, bison on the trail to the yummy beer at Airport in the Sky. I had the ultimate pleasure of leading six other fabulous ladies on this 54-mile trail over 3 nights and 4 days in the fall of 2017 and I still get goosebumps thinking about our amazing experience. Make sure to book your campsites way in advance, grab your hiking permit online and book your boat ticket into Avalon and out of Two Harbors to make sure you get the first boat in and the last boat out. Also make sure that you order water and wood at Parson’s landing, visit Starlight beach at sunset and have wood delivered to your campsite at Two Harbors. If you want any further details about this dream trip, please reach out to me as I spent at least 20 hours making sure this trip went off without a hitch (okay so we dropped a few F-bombs and may have shed some tears along the way because this trek is HARD).

 Loved this multi-day backpacking trip!

Loved this multi-day backpacking trip!

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

#Adventurelikeagirl

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

 “I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

For those of you that know me, I LOVE traveling alone. It may sound weird at first and a little bit ‘loner-ish” but hear me out. I love making my own schedule, waking up and going to sleep whenever and wherever I want, having the option of meeting new people or not talking to anyone, being able to change my plans last minute, listening to audiobooks in the car or on the airplane and having the option to stay in lavish hotels or pitching a tent at a free campsite. Whenever I travel solo, I get to know myself a little bit more, become a bit more comfortable with being alone and feel so rejuvenated when I return home. I usually end up meeting a few rad people along the way too!

Is it safe?

I am often asked if adventuring solo is safe and my snarky response is usually along the lines of something like “it is safer than driving down the 405 freeway”, which in my opinion is true. I have traveled to other countries solo, camped solo, backpacked solo and road tripped across the country solo and I have definitely learned a thing or two about how to stay safe while traveling solo and making the most of my trip. In reality, no matter where you are in the world, you are never 100% safe. True, some cities and countries are safer than others but I truly believe that if you practice good judgment and have some street smarts (Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road, it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you), you will be just fine.  

I have many girlfriends tell me they are fearful of traveling solo because they may be unprepared or may find themselves in an unsafe situation, however, living in fear is scary in itself. You will not know if traveling solo will fill your soul until you step out of your comfort zone and try it. I promised myself after I graduated college that once a year I will travel internationally and travel somewhere within the United States where I have never been before. It has been 10 years since I have made this pact to myself, and I am still going strong.

 “If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

 “Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

How do you afford to travel so often?

I am often asked, “How do I afford to travel so often”. To be honest, I have an amazing career that I love that pays me well and gives me the freedom to work remote the majority of the time. I save a lot of my money because I do not go out to eat frequently, I rarely buy coffee out and I rarely shop for clothes. I literally spend most of my money on travel, sparkling water, wine, and skincare. I consider myself a minimalist as I do not like owning a bunch of things and I am that person that always has the same outfit on in every photo. I buy most of my clothes from consignment stores and will wear them until they have holes in them and I never buy processed snacks from grocery stores because they are overpriced and unhealthy. In other words, I have learned to spend my money on things that are important to me.

 “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

 Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Tips and tricks for the most epic solo adventure

  • Have an itinerary printed out that includes your reservations, distance to each destination, stops along the way, and any other details you do not want to forget. I also email this agenda to myself and take screen captures on my phone.
  • If you are road-tripping solo make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a detailed description of your final destination and stops along the way as it is very possible you may lose cell signal. I am preparing for a 10 day solo road trip in Northern California where I will be backpacking The Lost Coast Trail and will stop at a few National Parks within the general area so I have a word doc with all my stops, campground reservations, hiking details, trail recommendations and of course a tide chart (since backpacking along the Lost Coast solely depends on the tides).
  • Always check the weather and plan accordingly. My parents recently canceled their trip to Hawaii a day before their flight because of the hurricane. So sad.
  • Make sure you always have at least 1/3 tank of gas as oftentimes you can drive for 40-60 miles without any service stations and running our of gas does not sound like a good time.
  • Carry essentials in case you run into car trouble. This includes an emergency first aid car kit, a flashlight, a warm jacket (in case you get stranded in the cold), a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), a spare tire, jumper cables and your roadside assistance card. Make sure you know how to use your jumper cables as you can do some serious damage if you do not use them correctly.
  • Always make sure you have plenty of snacks, water, caffeine and good music (or in my case, audiobooks). I usually order 3-5 audiobooks at the library before an upcoming trip so I have plenty of entertainment while I am driving. My rule of thumb at every gas station stop is I purchase two bottles of sparkling water, a coffee and a couple of bags of trail mix and gummy bears. I am a creature of habit and for many of my friends, who have been on road trips with me, know that I buy the exact same thing at every gas station.
  • Bring ear buds and a battery pack to charge your electronics. Ear buds come in handy especially on trains, airplanes and in long lines.
  • Always have a book… or three. For great book recommendations, check out this list of the top adventure books for women
  • Remember you can do laundry anywhere in the world so pack light. Whether you are hiking the John Muir Trail or you are adventuring to Africa, you can always wash your own clothes (in the case of the JMT) or pay a small fee to have your clothes washed. I have lived in India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy and I always was able to have my laundry done. Everyone around the world does laundry so there is no need to pack a new pair of clothes for each day you are adventuring. Contrary to the fashion magazines, it is totally okay to wear the same outfit two (or even three days) in a row.
  • If you go out to eat, grab a seat at the bar instead of a table (it is less awkward and you will meet lots of people eating at the bar).
  • If you get lost, take a deep breath, look at your map and center yourself. Everything is going to be okay and yes, you will make the wrong turn at least once. It happens to everyone.
  • Keep an open mind. Not every plan is going to work out and not every detail is going to go your way. There may be a wrench in your plans but the only thing you can control is your mindset and attitude. Keep an open mind and always be willing to make a new move.
  • Skip washing your hair, seriously, I never wash my hair when I am camping or backpacking no matter how many days I am out on the trails. When I am staying at a hotel or a rented apartment, I wash my hair once a week (my usual routine).
  • Do not ever forget your sunscreen (I actually carry most of my skincare regimen in travel size containers even when I am backpacking).
  • Always send a loved one at home your itinerary and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
  • Baby wipes and face wipes are a must. I use Philosophy cleansing cloths for my face
  • If you plan on flying, always carry on, unless you are bringing camping gear or traveling internationally for more than 10 days. I use stuff sacks in my carry on bag and can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes in my carry-on without having to do laundry. Nobody likes waiting for luggage to come off the plane, paying for luggage or losing his or her luggage.
  • Do not venture out alone at night, always be diligent when you are pulling money out of the ATM, never carry too much cash or your passport on you, keep your valuable items in a safe at the hotel, and always trust your gut if you feel you are being watched or followed. I have been chased down twice in foreign countries and both incidences were at night and I saw the individual follow me out of my peripheral vision. I do not carry a weapon or pepper spray and I hope I will never need to.
  • Wear minimal or no jewelry and do not wear revealing clothing. 
  • Talk to people. It is amazing how many people you will meet whether you are backpacking alone or traveling internationally alone. People are usually very intrigued by solo female travelers and it is a great way to engage socially and learn some great tips about the trail or the city. 
  • If you are in a country where toilet paper is uncommon, always have a stash in your purse.
  • Charge all electronics before you hit the road and bring a backup battery pack (with an adapter for foreign countries if needed).
  • Take public transportation whenever possible to save money, save the environment, meet people and be adventurous. Taking public transportation helps you sharpen your navigational skills and many metro systems have apps you can download or you can always use Google maps offline to navigate the public transit system.
  • Buy a memento from your trip. I personally collect magnets for my fridge so I can save wedding invitations, printed photos and hand-written cards I receive in the mail. Some of my friends buy a patch, a pin or a t-shirt. If I am in a place that is known for their art or jewelry, you can bet I will be doing some damage on my credit card.
  • Always make a packing list so you do not forget anything.
  • Take lots of photos. Instead of taking selfies (I despise selfies) use your amazing people skills and ask someone to take a photo of you or instead of having to be in every photo, take a photo of your surroundings. 

A complete guide on planning a successful backpacking/camping trip

A complete packing list for any backpacking adventure

 “An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

 “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

 You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

If you ever have any questions about preparing for a solo trip or would like to see one of my itineraries, feel free to reach out to me!

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen 

 “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott