2022 fall: Glacier & Waterton: Gunsight Pass, Akamina Ridge; Calgary skyscraper art

Returning to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in fall 2022 furthered my photographic fascination with abstract rock patterns. Shot on slide film in 2002, such an image was enlarged twice on a Calgary skyscraper in 2019, my biggest publication, now at last visited in person during this autumnal RV trip (September 16–October 8). In Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada), vast areas of burnt forest revealed fireweed groundcover blazing with red, orange, and yellow fall colors. Visiting 5 years after the devastating fire, I was cheered by the riot of pine seedlings promising forest regeneration.

Gallery highlights below are excerpted from “2022 Sep-Oct: Waterton-Glacier, Akamina, Calgary.

A rock image by Tom Dempsey is enlarged in two lightboxes at the base of a downtown skyscraper, at SODO Residences, 620 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The building was completed in June 2019 on the site of the historic Alberta Boot Company in the Beltline District. Tom photographed the stone pattern in 2002—“Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana, image #02GLA-04-38.” Made of 50 glass tiles, the larger lightbox wraps the building's southeast corner, 19.6 by 8.4 meters (64 feet wide x 27.5 feet high). Made of 30 glass tiles, the smaller lightbox wraps the southwest corner, 16.3 by 3.5 meters (53.6 feet wide by 11.6 ft high). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A rock image from Glacier National Park by Tom Dempsey is enlarged twice at the base of a downtown skyscraper (SODO Residences, 620 10 Ave SW, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada).

Glacier National Park, Montana

From Dragon's Tail ridge, see Hidden Lake & Bearhat Mountain in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: From Dragon’s Tail ridge, see Hidden Lake & Bearhat Mountain in Glacier National Park, in Montana.

The last two days of the Park Shuttle season in Glacier National Park (Montana) carried us to scenic hikes at Logan Pass, including the Garden Wall and Hidden Lake, where I ascended the airy Dragon’s Tail ridge. On Gunsight Pass Trail, I escaped into wilderness for a 3-day solo backpacking trip, culminating above Sperry Campground at wild Comeau Pass, a variegated vista of striated stone exposed by the rapidly-melting Sperry Glacier.

Rock pattern, seen on the hike to Dragon's Tail ridge, starting from Hidden Lake Traihead at Logan Pass, in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Rock patterns, seen along the hike to Dragon’s Tail ridge.

Sharp rock pattern, seen on the hike to Dragon's Tail ridge, starting from Hidden Lake Traihead at Logan Pass, in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Garden Wall hike at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
The Garden Wall hike traverses a sheer cliff above Going-to-the-Sun Road starting from Logan Pass, in Glacier National Park.

Gunsight Pass 3-day backpacking traverse

Back on January 10 of this year, I tried to arrange a pricy private room for two, for 2–4 nights in September in the backcountry Sperry Lodge (meals included). Sadly, 700+ people got ahead of us during the couple of minutes required to fill the online application, then weeks later came notification that we didn’t get in. This led to a second option: in a lottery on March 15 ($10 nonrefundable), Tom booked a solo backcountry trip on the 3-day traverse of Gunsight Pass. From September 19–21, I trekked for 29 miles, vertically ascending 9400 feet and descending 8000 feet.

Because RVs aren’t allowed on the Going-to-the-Sun Road between Avalanche Campground (on Lake McDonald) and the Rising Sun picnic area (on Saint Mary Lake, where Carol dropped me off), I hitchhiked to Jackson Glacier Overlook — the Gunsight Pass Trailhead. I backpacked to Gunsight Lake Campground and Sperry Campground, day hiked Comeau Pass, and finished at Lake McDonald Lodge, where Carol picked me up. Carol chose to stay at West Glacier RV Park (booked in advance) for sewing and walking. Carrying a 3.5-ounce Garmin InReach Mini 2 [Amazon] reassuringly tracked my progress for Carol and allowed Text communication via satellite — a great innovation!

A rainbow shines over the eastern entrance of Glacier National Park, seen from the Blackfeet Indian Memorial on Highway 89, near Saint Mary, Montana, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
A rainbow shines over the eastern entrance of Glacier National Park, seen from the Blackfeet Indian Memorial on Highway 89, near Saint Mary, Montana.

Deadwood Falls on Reynolds Creek, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Deadwood Falls on Reynolds Creek, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana.
Below: Florence Falls, seen later that day.
Florence Falls, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Borer beetle tracks, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Borer beetle tracks, Gunsight Pass Trail.

Snow dusting over Gunsight Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Snow dusts the mountains surrounding Gunsight Lake, in Glacier National Park.

Snow dusting over Gunsight Lake, on Gunsight Pass Trail, in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A stream descends strikingly striated rock layers above Gunsight Lake, in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A stream descends strikingly striated rock layers above Gunsight Lake.

Fresh snow on Gunsight Pass Trail above Gunsight Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Fresh snow on Gunsight Pass Trail above Gunsight Lake.
Below: wind-driven rime ice accumulates on pine needles at freezing Gunsight Pass.
Rime ice on pine needles Gunsight Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lake Ellen Wilson, seen from snowy Gunsight Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Lake Ellen Wilson, seen from snowy Gunsight Pass.
Below: Red rock pattern at Gunsight Pass.

Rock pattern, Gunsight Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Red & yellow autumn foliage color at Lake Ellen Wilson, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Gunsight Pass is the cloudy gap seen here above sunny Lake Ellen Wilson.

Comeau Pass panorama, Sperry Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A 4-hour day hike round trip from Sperry Campground reached this panorama from Comeau Pass, along the Sperry Glacier Trail.
Below: Rock pattern vista at Comeau Pass, Sperry Glacier Trail.
Rock pattern vista at Comeau Pass, Sperry Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ancient fossilized orange & purple seabed ripples at Comeau Pass, Sperry Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Ancient fossilized orange & purple seabed ripples at Comeau Pass, Sperry Glacier Trail.

Akaiyan Lake at sunset, Sperry Glacier Trail, a side trip from Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Akaiyan Lake seen at sunset, along Sperry Glacier Trail, a side trip from Gunsight Pass Trail.

On night 2 and day 3, a herd of mountain goats hovered around Sperry Campground waiting for people to pee — to lick their salts from the ground! National Park rangers in the Backcountry Permit Office had wisely forewarned backpackers to use the provided outhouse instead of peeing in the bushes.

The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus, or Rocky Mountain Goat) is a large-hoofed mammal found only in North America. This even-toed ungulate is in the family Bovidae, in subfamily Caprinae (goat-antelopes) in the Oreamnos genus (but is NOT a true "goat"–Capra genus). Sperry Campground, Gunsight Pass Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Local residents at Sperry Campground: The mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus, or Rocky Mountain Goat) is a large-hoofed mammal found only in North America. This even-toed ungulate is in the Oreamnos genus (but is NOT a true “goat,” which would be Capra genus).

Grinnell Glacier Trail, hiked from Many Glacier Campground, Montana

Since the Park Shuttle had stopped running, and our RV exceeded the size limits for Going-to-the-Sun Road, Carol and I drove around 2 hours from West Glacier to Many Glacier, via Highways 2 and 464. We spontaneously stayed 2 nights at Many Glacier Campground (first come, first served in late September). As Carol was fighting off a head cold, I hiked Grinnell Glacier Overlook Trail (11 miles, 2000 feet gain). No grizzlies this time, just 2 bighorn sheep. Still some glacier left, but melting fast.
Red, orange, & white rock pattern. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Red, orange, & white rock pattern on Grinnell Glacier Trail, in Glacier National Park.
Below: Sunburst over Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier Trail.
Sunburst over Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Orange and blue striped rock pattern. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Orange and blue striped rock pattern on Grinnell Glacier Trail.
Below: Another ancient rock pattern on Grinnell Glacier Trail.
Orange & blue rock pattern. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Orange rock pattern with yellow lichen. Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Orange rock pattern with yellow lichen on Grinnell Glacier Trail.

Akamina Ridge loop hike from Alberta to BC and back, in Canada

Great hikes in the spectacular Rockies continue in Canada, in Waterton Lakes National Park — just 1.4 hours by car from Many Glacier Campground or Saint Mary (Montana, USA). From Waterton Park village in Alberta, a newly paved road reaches Akamina Pass Trailhead, where I hiked the epic Akamina Ridge loop via Forum and Wall Lakes, in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia (12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent).

Red fireweed fall colors, Forum Lake Trail, Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Red fireweed fall colors, Forum Lake Trail, Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park.

From Akamina Ridge above Forum Lake (in shadow), see yellow larch needles and distant peaks of Waterton National Park in Canada (left) and Glacier National Park in the United States (right). Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
From Akamina Ridge above Forum Lake (in shadow), see yellow larch needles and distant peaks of Waterton National Park in Canada (left) and Glacier National Park in the United States (right).

Upper Kintla Lake, Agassiz Glacier, Kintla Peak, Kinnerly Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana seen from Akamina Ridge in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Upper Kintla Lake, Agassiz Glacier, Kintla Peak, Kinnerly Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana seen from Akamina Ridge in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, BC.

Upper Kintla Lake in Glacier National Park, seen from Akamina Ridge. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Upper Kintla Lake in Glacier National Park, seen from Akamina Ridge.

The white-tailed ptarmigan, Lagopus leucura, is a member of the grouse family. Akamina Ridge, Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Seen on Akamina Ridge, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) is a member of the grouse family.

Larch trees with yellow fall colors contrast with burnt forest, on the flanks of Akamina Ridge above Wall Lake, in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Larch trees with yellow fall colors contrast with burnt forest, on the flanks of Akamina Ridge above Wall Lake.

After a forest fire comes vibrant regrowth, starting with fireweed (red fall colors) and pine seedlings, along Wall Lake Trail, in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. The loop hike to Forum and Wall Lakes via Akamina Ridge is 12 miles with 3440 feet ascent & descent. The trailhead is in Alberta, accessible by road from Waterton Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Five years after the 2017 Kenow forest fire burnt much of the area, regrowth begins with fireweed (red fall colors) and pine seedlings, along Wall Lake Trail, in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, British Columbia.

A line of three Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) cruise the highway in Waterton Park townsite, Alberta, Canada. Wild sheep crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia during the Pleistocene (about 750,000 years ago) and spread across western North America as far south as Baja California and northwestern Mexico. Genetic divergence from their closest Asian ancestor (snow sheep) occurred about 600,000 years ago. Waterton Park, Alberta, Canada. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
A line of three Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) cruise the highway in Waterton Park townsite, in Alberta, Canada. Wild sheep crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia during the Pleistocene (about 750,000 years ago) and spread across western North America as far south as Baja California and northwestern Mexico. Genetic divergence from their closest Asian ancestor (snow sheep) occurred about 600,000 years ago.

T. Rex at Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana

Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur skeleton, 60% real bone (darker color), displayed at Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana, USA. It stands 12 feet high and 38 feet long. The skull mounted on the skeleton is a full replica with lighter color indicating reconstructed elements, and brown representing the real elements of the actual skull, which is displayed in an adjacent box at eye level. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur skeleton, 60% real bone (darker color), displayed at Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana. It stands 12 feet high and 38 feet long. The skull mounted on the skeleton is a full replica with lighter color indicating reconstructed elements, and brown representing the real elements of the actual skull, which is displayed in an adjacent box at eye level.

Tom’s jagged rock image on a skyscraper in Calgary

A rock image by Tom Dempsey is enlarged in two lightboxes at the base of a downtown skyscraper, at SODO Residences, 620 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The building was completed in June 2019 on the site of the historic Alberta Boot Company in the Beltline District. Tom photographed the stone pattern in 2002—“Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana, image #02GLA-04-38.” Made of 50 glass tiles, the larger lightbox wraps the building's southeast corner, 19.6 by 8.4 meters (64 feet wide x 27.5 feet high). Made of 30 glass tiles, the smaller lightbox wraps the southwest corner, 16.3 by 3.5 meters (53.6 feet wide by 11.6 ft high). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A rock image by Tom Dempsey is enlarged in lightboxes at the base of a downtown skyscraper, at SODO Residences, 620 10 Ave SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The building was completed in June 2019 on the site of the historic Alberta Boot Company in the Beltline District. Tom originally photographed the stone pattern on color slide film in 2002 — “Billion-year-old rock breaks into a jagged pattern in Glacier National Park, Montana, image #02GLA-04-38.” Made of 50 glass tiles, the larger lightbox shown here wraps the building’s southeast corner, 19.6 by 8.4 meters (64 feet wide x 27.5 feet high). Made of 30 glass tiles, the smaller lightbox wraps the southwest corner, 16.3 by 3.5 meters (53.6 feet wide by 11.6 ft high).

2022 Sept: Backpack Robin, Marmot, & Jade Lakes, Dip Top Gap

A tough, beautiful, and thrilling adventure took us to two strikingly turquoise lakes, fed by two of Washington’s receding glaciers. From September 6-9, two of us backpacked to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes. The trek climaxed atop Dip Top Gap with a stunning view of Pea Soup Lake nestled below icy Mount Daniel, the highest point in King and Kittitas counties. This four-day trek through Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area covered 28 miles with 7925 feet of cumulative vertical gain and loss.

Sunrise on Mt. Daniel, Robin Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise spotlights Mt. Daniel, seen from Robin Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington. The Cle Elum River originates in this watershed.

With new backcountry gear lighter than ever, I couldn’t resist returning to Tuck and Robin Lakes, last visited 34 years ago. Decades later, rapid glacial melting has eased the route to scenic Dip Top Gap, I learned recently. Attaching micro spikes to our hiking shoes secured an exposed, scary ascent of the remnant glacier that feeds the intensely aqua-colored Jade Lake. Carrying a 3.5-ounce Garmin InReach Mini 2 [Amazon] reassuringly tracked my progress for Carol and allowed Text communication via satellite — a great innovation!

Joining me on this trek north of Interstate 90 was my sister-in-law Rebecca, who planned to add two more days northwards via Surprise Creek to finish on Highway 2. However, on our Day 4, thick smoke rolled in and sadly nixed her extension, so she joined me hoofing it back through the brown air to her car. Good decision, because a new fire closed U.S. Highway 2 on the day that she had planned to exit!

Photo highlights here are excerpted from my trip gallery “2022 Sept: Backpack Robin, Marmot…”

Directions

Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (Google Maps 47.5443, -121.0973) is about a 3-hour drive from Seattle. From I-90, take Exit 80. Drive north on SR-903 to Salmon La Sac. Fork right and continue up Cle Elum Valley Road (FR-4330) for 12 usually-rough miles. Any vehicle can carefully handle the road’s usual potholes, although a high clearance vehicle may be faster. This fall 2022, the gravel road was thankfully newly graded, a northwest rarity! Display your Northwest Forest Pass / Federal Lands Pass. Free self-issuing Wilderness Permits (USFS) are at the trailhead.

Backpacking details

We hefted backpacking gear for 22.1 miles, with 5600 feet of cumulative vertical gain and loss (to Robin Lake 1 night and Marmot Lake 2 nights). Day hiking to Dip Top Gap via Jade Lake added 5.9 miles, with 2325 feet ascent and descent, round trip from the Marmot Lake outlet campsite.

Day 1: Tucquala Meadows Trailhead > Robin Lake

(6.4 miles 3100 ft up, 470 down)

Mt. Daniel, Tuck Lake side trip from Deception Pass Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: a vista of Mt. Daniel and Tuck Lake seen while clambering to Robin Lake.

From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead, we walked along Hyas Lake on a well-made trail. After climbing about 800 feet (before reaching Deception Pass), turn right (east) on the side trail to Tuck and Robin Lakes. The good trail becomes very steep and a little slippery to Tuck, but rarely requires using hands. Next, don’t underestimate the tortuous 900-foot ascent in 0.7 miles from Tuck to Robin Lake when carrying full packs — it was a 2-hour grunt! Thin air at 6,000 feet elevation exacerbates the difficulty of this vertical scramble up rocks and roots. Reaching Robin Lake was surprisingly hard, despite our previous conditioning from 5.5 weeks of intensive trekking in the Alps and follow-up hikes.

Our campsite at Robin Lake, a steep side trip from Deception Pass Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: our campsite at Robin Lake.
My tent with a view of Mt. Daniel and Robin Lake, a steep side trip from Deception Pass Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Two of us backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we began with the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Rainier seen at sunrise from Robin Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake and turned east on a steep trail to Tuck & Robin Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Seen from our campsite at Robin Lake, sunrise spotlights the distant Mount Rainier. Eight minutes later, the rising sun floods Mt. Daniel with golden light (below):
Sunrise on Mt. Daniel, Robin Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Cascade Blueberries (Vaccinium deliciosum) harvested at Robin Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cascade Blueberries (Vaccinium deliciosum) harvested at Robin Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

Day 2: Robin Lake > Marmot Lake

(6.9 miles, 1700ft up, 2880ft down)

Mount Daniel seen from Tuck's Pot near Tuck Lake, a side trip from Deception Pass Trail, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mount Daniel seen from Tuck’s Pot near Tuck Lake.

Descending from Robin Lake to Tuck Lake was much quicker than going up, since we now knew the vaguely cairned route, and gravity was in our favor. After descending from Tuck Lake, we turned right on Deception Pass Trail to ascend to Deception Pass (4500 ft elev). At this forested col, we turned right onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After just 50 feet, we turned left on the comfortably-graded Marmot Lake Trail, which descends 700 feet into Hozbizz Basin, then gains 900 feet to Marmot Lake (4 miles from Deception Pass). (Along the way, Clarice Lake trail turns right, but we kept left.)

At Marmot Lake we camped 2 nights at the outlet stream. Alternative: If you have energy to backpack 2 more hours on a rougher trail (which is more difficult than its 900-foot cumulative gain would suggest), proceed upwards to camp in greater beauty at Jade Lake. If Jade’s few sites are full, neighboring No Name Lake is a good option (which doesn’t require carrying packs another 150 feet vertically down then up round trip). Returning from Jade to Marmot Lake takes about 1.5 hours with a full backpack or 1 hour with day pack.

Logs pile at Marmot Lake outlet, in Washington, USA. We backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Logs accumulate at Marmot Lake’s outlet, seen at sunrise, below our campsite.

Day 3: Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap

(5.9 miles, 2325 ft up and down)
We day hiked from Marmot Lake outlet camp to Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap (6700 ft elevation) round trip. Follow the cairns and established boot paths, and avoid paths marked closed with a sign for foliage regeneration. Attaching micro spikes to our hiking shoes let us safely ascend the remnant glacier in the jumbled rocky gulch below Dip Top Gap. Hiking poles were also very helpful.

Glacier Peak seen from between Marmot & Jade Lakes, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Along the steep chute between Marmot and Jade Lake, we noticed that Glacier Peak in the distance was gradually being covered from the bottom up by westward-drifting smoke.

Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap in Washington, USA. We backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: turquoise Jade Lake. In the center of the image is Dip Top Gap and its remnant glacier, which we climbed using micro spikes on our hiking shoes as shown:

Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On the precipitous glacier crusted with rocks, seen here melting fast into rivulets above the more uniform snow slope, I felt more secure walking on the left where rocks frozen onto the glacier’s surface acted as foot backstops. The separate sections of white snow became safer after softening in the afternoon sun, as seen here during our descent. But all day, the steeper clear ice remained a threat to hikers who failed to bring micro spikes. Beware of loose and falling rocks. Wearing a helmet and using an ice axe in case of self arrest would be safer on the exposed ice sheet.

Below: In a steep section just below Dip Top Gap, walking on the hard, steep snow felt secure using micro spikes. I found that circumventing the snow and ice required scrambling through boulders and unsettling scree. Notice Glacier Peak rising above a line of smoke on the distant horizon.
Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mt. Daniel and Pea Soup Lake seen from Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we started on the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The payoff for achieving Dip Top Gap is an impressive vista of Mt. Daniel, Lynch Glacier, and Pea Soup Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington.

Marmot Lake. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We return to camp at Marmot Lake to sleep for a second night.
Below: Forest fire smoke rolling in overnight caused an amber-colored sunrise at Marmot Lake:

Forest fire smoke invades Marmot Lake. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 4: Marmot Lake > Tucquala Meadows

(8.8 miles, 800ft up 2250 down)
The route out is relatively easy, with packs lighter at the end due to food already eaten.

If time allows, consider returning (or starting) via a high circuit, the Deception Pass Loop via Cathedral Pass, adding 9+ miles. Beware of stream-crossing challenges during meltwater season or after heavy rains (a problem that’s avoided by hiking in late summer). Great side trips include Peggy’s Pond (2 mi RT/300 ft), Circle Lake Trail (unmaintained), and the spectacular ridge following Mount Daniel Climbers Trail.

Forest fire smoke invades Marmot Lake Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: smoke thickened to unhealthy levels as we descended to lower elevations. The sun was nearly obscured by yellow-orange haze over Deception Pass.
Forest fire smoke invades Deception Pass and Marmot Lake Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Orange mushroom. Marmot Lake Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: An orange fungi clings to a tree trunk.

Below: Forest fire smoke from distant blazes obscured Hyas Lake, as we exited along Deception Pass Trail towards Tucquala Meadows Trailhead.
Forest fire smoke invades Hyas Lake on Deception Pass Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

After the car started (yay) for the drive back to Seattle, we breathed easier inside, thanks to air conditioning filtration.

Before reaching I-90, we stopped in Roslyn for a delicious burger at the legendary Brick Saloon (“The Brick”), Washington’s oldest continuously operating bar (since 1889). I fondly remember the television series “Northern Exposure” (1990–1995) which was set in fictional Cicely, Alaska and filmed in Roslyn.

2022 July: Swiss Via Alpina trek (National Route 1)

From July 19–August 4 in 2022, our group of five trekked ten stages of the beguiling Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) plus nearby hikes. Surprising wonders were revealed along the journey: the valley that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein’s magical Rivendell in “The Hobbit”; the striking waterfall where fictional Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty tumbled to their deaths; the proud hometown of legendary William Tell; and more. We traversed the Glarus, Uri, and Bernese Alps, ending in Grindelwald under the Eiger’s North Face and beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley at the base of icy Jungfrau.

From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent) in Switzerland, Europe. Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our group jumps for joy in the Bernese Alps, during a hike from Berghotel Faulhorn to Schynige Platte (see Via Alpina alternative Stage 10b further below).

Below: On Via Alpina Day 1, rays of morning sun spotlighted the vista of Mels, Sargans, and the Rhone Valley as we walked along manicured grape vineyards. As we ascended the pastoral Wiesstannen Valley, the urban outlook transitioned into rural farms alternating with lowland forest.
On the first day of our Swiss Via Alpina 1 route, we walked through grape vineyards above Mels (near Sargans) in Switzerland, Europe. We hiked from Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen (6.5 miles, 2200 feet up, 600 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Our itinerary of 5.5 weeks in the Alps included trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc, recharging in Saas-Fee, then hiking the Via Alpina. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided packages. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

In our 17-day Via Alpina itinerary across central Switzerland, we hiked a total of 90 miles, ascending 22,000 vertical feet and descending 20,000 feet. Aided by lifts and rides, this modified Via Alpina sweated uphill about 40% easier per day than our Tour du Mont Blanc.

Upon afternoon arrival in Sargans in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, record heat reached up to 96 degrees Fahrenheit! Stifling air in the high 80s F. made sleeping uncomfortable in rooms without air-conditioning at Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels. The next day, rising heat caused a very sweaty hike on Stage 1 of the Via Alpina. Fortunately, most ensuing days at higher elevations were more temperate for hiking, in the 50s through 70s F.

Day 1 (Stage 1): We hiked from Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen in Switzerland (6.5 miles, 2200 feet up, 600 ft down).

The Counts of Montfort-Werdenberg-Sargans built Sargans Castle in the 1100s (Schloss Sargans / Château de Sargans) in the village of Sargans, in the Canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Europe. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Counts of Montfort-Werdenberg-Sargans built Sargans Castle in the 1100s (Schloss Sargans / Château de Sargans) in the village of Sargans. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum.

Below: Watch out for gnomes!
A gnome enlightens the route. Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 1: hike from Mels (near Sargans) to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen. Switzerland, Europe. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 2 (Stage 2): From Hotel Gemse in Wiesstannen, we arranged a taxi to save 4.2 miles of walking to Alp Walabutz, from where we hiked over Foopass to Elm (9.1 miles, 2840 feet up, 4100 ft down). Upon arrival in Elm in mid afternoon, we bought groceries then skipped around Stage 3 via PostBus to Schwanden and train to Linthal Braunwaldbahn Talstation, to catch the funicular to Braunwald, where we walked 0.6 mile with 340 feet ascent to Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel. Below: we ascend foggy Foopass from Wiesstannen:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 2: ascending foggy Foopass from Wiesstannen in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 2: From Hotel Gemse in Wiesstannen, we arranged a taxi to save 4.2 miles of walking to Alp Walabutz, from where we hiked over Foopass to Elm (9.1 miles, 2840 feet up, 4100 ft down). From Elm, we rode a PostBus to Schwanden then train to Linthal Braunwaldbahn Talstation, to catch the funicular to Braunwald, where we walked 0.6 mile with 340 ft ascent to Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Skipping Stage 3 of the Via Alpina avoided a strenuous hike of 15 miles from Elm via Richetlipass to Linthal, which would have required a punishing 4900-foot ascent and 6000-foot descent.

Day 3 (Stage 4): From Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking).

Below: See the snow-capped Tödi massif (11,854 ft) and Ortstock peak (8,914 ft on right) from Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald.
See the snow-capped Tödi massif (11,854 ft) and Ortstock peak (8,914 ft on right) from Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Blue ridges in upper Linth Valley, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Blue ridges in upper Linth Valley on Day 3 (Via Alpina Stage 4).

Below: Seen from near Braunwal, the snow-capped peak of Bifertenstock rises at the head of the Linth River Valley, carved into a deep U shape by past glaciers.
The snow-capped peak of Bifertenstock rises at the head of the Linth River Valley, seen from near Braunwald. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Urnerboden and Klausenpass seen from upper Linth Valley in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the Postbus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we hike towards Urnerboden and Klausenpass in upper Linth Valley.

Below: Hotel Klausenpass provided comfortable, modern rooms and good meals.
Hotel Klausenpass in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 4 (Stage 5): From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschächen, in Uri canton (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschächen, a PostBus spirited us to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down).

Below: we descend steeply from Klausenpass:
Descending from Klausenpass. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) at the hamlet of Äsch, near Unterschachen village, in Uri canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) punctuates the idyllic hamlet of Äsch, on the way to Unterschächen.

Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) at the hamlet of Äsch, near Unterschachen village, in Uri canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss history and the myth of William Tell

William Tell Museum, in Bürglen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down) in Switzerland. From Unterschachen, we rode the Postbus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The William Tell Museum in Bürglen is worth visiting to contemplate popular myths and moral dilemmas.

Tales of William Tell speak of a Swiss hero who defied a tyrannical Austrian overlord and inspired the creation of Switzerland more than 700 years ago. Despite no evidence for his existence, Tell’s stirring story spread widely in folklore. You may recall the story of him shooting an apple from the head of his son, and also Rossini’s William Tell Overture (popularized as the “The Lone Ranger” theme tune of a US television and radio series). In the early Romantic era of nationalist revolutions, the legend of Tell depicted as a national hero spread worldwide through the evocative 1804 play “Wilhelm Tell” by the German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller.

According to legend, William Tell was a proudly accomplished crossbow marksman who lived under a tyrannical bailiff named Albrecht Gessler, an agent of the Hapsburg duke of Austria, based in Altdorf. One day, risking a penalty of imprisonment, Tell proudly refused to bow to foreign Hapsburg authority represented by Gessler’s hat perched symbolically on a tall pole. After Tell’s arrest, Gessler slyly proposed that William could win freedom by shooting an apple from atop his son’s head in one arrow shot. After doing so and being released, Tell admitted that a second arrow was reserved to kill Gessler if his son had been hurt. Enraged, Gessler rearrested Tell. On the way to prison by boat across Lake Lucerne, Tell escaped and later assassinated Gessler from a sniper position.

Up to this point, the apple story is remarkably close to an earlier tale from Denmark involving the historic figure King Harald Bluetooth in the 900s. But Tell’s legend goes a step further, claiming that Tell incited rebellion and conspired on Rütli meadow with three other men to form a defensive alliance of their three rural communes against foreign influence.

Tell’s story wasn’t recorded on paper until 1569–70 (250 years after the events) by historian Aegidius Tschudi, who among other mistakes gave the wrong year of 1307 for Tell’s rebellion and meeting on Rütli meadow. Much later, in 1758, the original Oath of Rütli was rediscovered on paper, documenting the representatives at Rütli meadow, but none were named Tell! Now corrected to “the beginning of August 1291,” events in the old legend had to be moved 16 years earlier. Today, Uri (where Tell was ostensibly born) remains the only Swiss canton which stubbornly clings to the discounted date of 1307, which they proudly inscribed on the Tell Monument in Altdorf back in 1895 (photo below).

The Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848 established the country of Switzerland as we know it today. Established officially in 1891, Swiss National Day is now celebrated with bonfires and flags every August 1, honoring the famous meeting at Rütli meadow in 1291. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the cantons Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden is now considered the Swiss Confederacy’s founding document (although similar alliances probably existed decades earlier).

Below: Altdorf proudly displays Swiss national flags (with a white cross on red background) around the William Tell Monument. The Uri canton flags display not a bull, but an aurochs, a now extinct European bison, thought to have been plentiful in Uri and domesticated by the locals, hence the nose ring.
William Tell Monument in Altdorf, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss national flags (white cross) & Uri canton flags (where the bull is actually an aurochs, a now extinct European bison, thought to have been plentiful in Uri and domesticated by the locals, hence the nose ring). Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 5 (Stage 6): From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down) which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg.

Below: we ascend high above Lake Lucerne:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 5: Lake Lucerne, on hike up Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down) which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ascending towards Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: We climb towards Surenenpass.

Ascending towards Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mt. Titlis seen below Surenenpass, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Mt. Titlis seen from the trail below Surenenpass.

Mt. Titlis (far right) seen below Surenenpass, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Hikers walk by cows below Mt Titlis (10,623 ft), near Fürenalp, Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we walk through a herd of cows in view of Mt Titlis (10,623 ft), near Fürenalp, above Engelberg.

Engelberg

Swiss Via Alpina 1: Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: for a rest break, we enjoyed three nights at comfortable Hotel Sonnwendhof in beautiful Engelberg (seen here at sunrise), in the Swiss Canton of Obwalden.

In Engelberg, Switzerland, we rode the Titlis Rotair, the world's first rotating cable car (completed in 2014). The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We rode the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first rotating cable car (completed in 2014). The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft elevation) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave (shown below) and Titlis Cliff Walk, giving impressive views across the Alps. We then descended to enjoy walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee.
In Engelberg, Switzerland, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss Via Alpina 1: sharp blue ridges of the Alps seen from atop Mt. Titlis, near Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: sharp blue ridges of the Alps came into broad perspective from atop Mt. Titlis.

Below: Opened in 2012, Titlis Cliff Walk is the highest-elevation suspension bridge in Europe.
Swiss Via Alpina 1: Titlis Cliff Walk, above Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss Via Alpina 1: Mt Titlis rises above Trübsee, near Engelberg, in Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers.

Below: Dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, Engelberg Abbey (Kloster Engelberg in German) is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1120 in Engelberg at the head of the Nidwalden Valley.
Engelberg Abbey (Kloster Engelberg in German) is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1120 in Engelberg, at the head of the Nidwalden Valley, in Canton of Obwalden, Switzerland, Europe. It is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 6 (Stage 7): From Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, we again rode the Titlis gondola lift to Trübsee, where a 0.7-mile walk reached a chairlift which whisked us through heavy fog to Jochpass, where we walked down to Hotel Engstlenalp, nestled in mountain pastures high above Innertkirchen, in Bern canton (2.3 miles with 1250 feet of descent, our shortest Stage on Via Alpina).
Pretty purple and pink flower pots greet visitors at Hotel Engstlenalp, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 6: From Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, we rode the Titlis gondola lift to Trübsee, where we walked 0.7 mile to take the Jochpass chairlift to the top, where we walked down to Hotel Engstlenalp (2.3 miles with 1250 feet of descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Colorful flowers greet visitors at Hotel Engstlenalp.

Below: The Bernese Alps are lit by sunrise seen from Hotel Engstlenalp.
The Bernese Alps are lit by sunrise seen from Hotel Engstlenalp, Innertkirchen, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 7 (Stage 8): From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles), in the valley of Haslital, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland.

Below: Rays of sunrise highlight the peak of Titlis over Engstlenalp:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 7: Titlis mountain seen at sunrise over Engstlenalp in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On our way to Planplatten lift, walking the airy Erzegg Ridge hogsback was one of the highlights of the Via Alpina.

As the last ice age melted 10,000 years ago, the impressive Aare Gorge (German: Aareschlucht) was carved by the river Aare through a limestone ridge, near the present town of Meiringen, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. A reasonable fee is charged to access this elaborate walkway, a series of tunnels and cantilevered boardwalks open to the public since 1889. The Entrances (aboveground West and underground East) are each linked to stations on the Meiringen-Innertkirchen railway. Walking to Aareschlucht from our Hotel Victoria was worthwhile as a 3-mile addition from 3-5:00pm on our Day 7 of hiking on the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). Day 7 began with hiking from Hotel Engstlenalp along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: As the last ice age melted 10,000 years ago, the impressive Aare Gorge was carved by the river Aare through a limestone ridge, near the present town of Meiringen. Walking to Aareschlucht (its German name) from our Hotel Victoria was worthwhile as a 3-mile addition from 3-5:00pm on Day 7. A reasonable fee is charged to access this elaborate walkway, a series of tunnels and cantilevered boardwalks open to the public since 1889. The Entrances (aboveground West and underground East) are each linked to stations on the Meiringen-Innertkirchen railway.

Day 8 (Stage 9): From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls, a striking series of cascades. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald.

The death of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls

Reichenbach Falls, in Meiringen, Haslital, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper Reichenbach Falls, shown here. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. Below: Rychenbach stream cascades in the upper steps of Reichenbach Falls:
Reichenbach Falls, in Meiringen, Haslital, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rosenlaui Glacier and Klein Wellhorn, Meiringen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: From Reichenbach Falls, we followed Rychenbach stream upwards via roadway and paths to views of Rosenlaui Glacier and Klein Wellhorn, heading towards Schwartzwaldalp Postbus stop.

Below: We enjoyed apricot kuchen dessert served with coffee at Hotel Rosenlaui during our 6-mile hike to Schwartzwaldalp.
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 8: apricot kuchen dessert & coffee at Hotel Rosenlaui, Meiringen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after they fell while fighting from a ledge by the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Grindelwald

The Eiger at sunset seen from Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Admire the Eiger at sunset from Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald.

Staying two nights in Grindelwald allowed options for rest or more hiking.

Rebecca and I chose a steep hike to Gleckstein Hut (Glecksteinhütte), a steep hike high above Grindelwald (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet up and down). Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 7600 feet elevation, with great views of the Upper Grindelwald Glacier. Climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. It makes a wonderful goal for hardy hikers or overnight trekkers. A couple of adventurous families brought their children, with everyone roped and harnessed. Beware of cliff exposure which may frighten those who are afraid of heights. What was exciting for me was scary for others. Cables are provided to hang onto for security. A fun feature was walking behind a small waterfall, where metal gratings provided secure steps. Directions: From Grindelwald, take the PostBus towards Grosse Scheidegg and stop at Abzweigung Gleckstein at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Note: hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.)

The Schreckhorn and Upper Grindelwald Glacier seen from Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald, in Switzerland, Europe. Gleckstein Hut (German: Glecksteinhütte) is a steep hike (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet gain and loss) high above Grindelwald in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 2,317 meters elevation, above the Upper Grindelwald Glacier in the Bernese Alps. It's a popular goal for hikers, and climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. From Grindelwald, take the PostBus to Abzweigung Gleckstein stop at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Admire the Schreckhorn and Upper Grindelwald Glacier from Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald.

Below: Gleckstein Hut is a good place to spot ibex (Capra ibex, steinbock, or bouquetin), a species of wild goat native to the European Alps. Ibex were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s but were successfully reintroduced and protected.
Capra ibex / steinbock / bouquetin at Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald, in Switzerland, Europe. The ibex, a species of wild goat in the European Alps, was hunted to near extinction in the 1800s but was successfully reintroduced and protected. Gleckstein Hut (German: Glecksteinhütte) is a steep hike (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet gain and loss) high above Grindelwald in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 2,317 meters elevation, above the Upper Grindelwald Glacier in the Bernese Alps. It's a popular goal for hikers, and climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. From Grindelwald, take the PostBus to Abzweigung Gleckstein stop at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Stage 10, the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald portion, was hiked downhill by Tom in 2016. However, he instead recommends replacing Stage 10 with two superior hikes: 1) from First to Schynige Platte (optionally via Faulhorn overnight) and 2) from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg (further below).

Overnight stay at Berghotel Faulhorn

Day 9 (alternative Stage 10a) from Bort to Faulhorn: The fantastic hike from First to Schynige Platte makes a spectacular alternative to Via Alpina Stage 10 (to get from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen). We enhanced further by stay overnight at Berghotel Faulhorn to experience the impressive vistas in magical light at sunset and sunrise. Directions: From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent). (Or you can save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.)

Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers’ tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut’s roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter failed to remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls.

Hiking near First gondola, Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise.. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Easy, wide paths atop First gondola give sublime panoramas of the Bernese Alps.

Below: Escape crowds at Bachalpsee and find good mountain reflections (if no wind) by proceeding to the lake’s northwest end, where I found purple flowers of Aconitum genus blooming (also known as aconite, monkshood, wolf’s-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae.
A purple flower of Aconitum genus (aka aconite, monkshood, wolf's-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae) at Bachalpsee. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise, in Switzerland, Europe. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset seen from Berghotel Faulhorn, in Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Berghotel Faulhorn provides a scenic platform for photographing sunset (above photo) and sunrise (below with purple monkshood flowers):
A purple flower of Aconitum genus (aka aconite, monkshood, wolf's-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae) at sunrise, seen from Berghotel Faulhorn, in Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, making it one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 10 (alternative Stage 10b): From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked a spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Below: A delightful cliff walk near Schynige Platte affords impressive views over Lake Thun, Interlaken, and Lake Brienz (Brienzersee).
Lake Thun, Interlaken, and Lake Brienz (German: Brienzersee) seen from a ridge near Schynige Platte, Switzerland, Europe. From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lauterbrunnen

We stayed three nights at comfy Hotel Silberhorn in gorgeous Lauterbrunnen, the valley which may have inspired the invention of fictional Rivendell, a magical elvish sanctuary featured in “The Hobbit” (1937) by J.R.R. Tolkein, who visited Switzerland in 1911.

Swiss Rösti or rööschti is a dish made mainly of potatoes sautéed in a pan. It was originally a breakfast dish, commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now eaten all over Switzerland and around the world. The French call it röstis bernois, which refers to the dish's origins. Many Swiss people consider rösti to be a national dish. This Rösti (Swiss potato cake) dinner at the Hotel Silberhorn in Lauterbrunnen village, in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
In Lauterbrunnen, Hotel Silberhorn features a great breakfast and superb restaurant. For dinner, one of us ordered a delicious Swiss Rösti (above photo), the national dish, made mainly of potatoes sautéed in a pan. Rösti was originally a breakfast dish, commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now eaten all over Switzerland and around the world, for any meal of the day. It’s also known as rööschti, or röstis bernois in French.

Below: My “Fitness Trout” dinner was exquisite!
Fitness trout dinner at Hotel Silberhorn, Lauterbrunnen village, in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

From Kleine Scheidegg we took the Wengernalpbahn train to Lauterbrunnen in the Berner Oberland of Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. Wengernalpbahn is the world's longest continuous rack and pinion railway; runs from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: After a favorite walk from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, we rode the Wengernalpbahn down to Lauterbrunnen (2,631 feet elevation), shown nestled between cliffs under the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn (12,402 feet). Wengernalpbahn is the world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway — running from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen.

Below: In Lauterbrunnen Valley, don’t miss seeing Trümmelbach Falls (German: Trümmelbachfälle), a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls plunging inside the mountain, ingeniously made accessible by stairs, illumination, and a tunnel-funicular built in 1913. The creek called Trümmelbach drains the northerly glaciers of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks. To avoid crowds, arrive in the morning a few minutes before first opening. Walking the stairs both up and down avoids lines of people waiting for the optional lift.
Trümmelbach Falls (German: Trümmelbachfälle) are a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls inside the mountain made accessible by a tunnel-funicular (built in 1913), stairs, and illumination, in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, Europe. In the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the creek called Trümmelbach drains the northerly glaciers of the Eiger (3967 m), Mönch (4099 m), and Jungfrau (4158 m) peaks. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Views of Sefinenfurgge Pass (or Sefinafurgga) from the Schilthorn, in Berner Oberland, Switzerland, Europe. We rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (2,970 metres or 9,744 ft), which overlooks Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Bernese Alps. The panoramic revolving restaurant at the summit, Piz Gloria, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," the first and only Bond film starring George Lazenby. After considering a number of locations, the stalled construction of the sports bar atop the Schilthorn was adopted when the film's producer financed the completion of the now-famous revolving platform for the right to use it for his film. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On a clear day, the Schilthorn offers fine views of Sefinenfurgge Pass (aka Sefinenfurke or Sefinafurgga), seen on the upper right. Hikers labored on steep slopes far below. Stage 11 of the Via Alpina goes from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren then over Sefinenfurgge Pass and very steeply down to tiny Griesalp village.

Below: Looking the other direction, southeast from Birg station of Schilthornbahn cable car, we contemplated the stunning array of Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and other peaks framing the entire Lauterbrunnen Valley.
View Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and other peaks of the Bernese Alps above Lauterbrunnen Valley from Birg station of the Schilthornbahn cable car, in Switzerland, Europe. We rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (2,970 metres or 9,744 ft). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 11 (Stage 11 softened): Taking the easy way up in summer 2022, we rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (9,744 ft / 2,970 m), which offer grand views over Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Bernese Alps.

Back in 2005, Carol and I day hiked part of the spectacular Stage 11 area, from Mürren via Wasenegg Ridge to Birg (3500 ft gain in 4 or 5 miles), and descended on the Schilthornbahn (avoiding the Schilthorn top due to obscuring clouds). This time in 2022 the clouds partially cleared atop the Schilthorn, making the pricey ride round trip worthwhile.

Piz Gloria, the panoramic revolving restaurant at Schilthorn summit, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” After considering a number of locations, the stalled construction of the sports bar atop the Schilthorn was chosen when the film’s producer financed the completion of the now-famous revolving platform for the right to use it for his film. In 2022, the James Bond exhibits at Piz Gloria were mostly hokey and passé, but the short video about making the 1969 Bond film was fascinating, albeit cringe-worthy for its sexist 1960s sensibilities.

Panorama of the Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet on the left), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin 13,600 feet on right) above Lauterbrunnen Valley, seen from atop Männlichen gondola station, Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Since 1981, one of my favorite viewpoints in the Alps is the area around Männlichen gondola station, featuring a superb panorama of the Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin or Maiden 13,600) above Lauterbrunnen Valley.

With world-class wonders around every bend, a delightful path goes from Männlichen Gipfel to Kleine Scheidegg under the looming Eiger North Wall (Nordwand). Grindelwald Valley drops to the left and Lauterbrunnen Valley to the right. The world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway (Wengernalpbahn) serves the area from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. A gondola (gondelbahn) connects Grindelwald with Männlichen, where a cable car goes down to Wengen (Luftseilbahn Wengen-Männlichen). From Männlichen station, first walk northwards uphill to Männlichen Gipfel (0.4 miles, 335 ft gain) for a stunning summit view, then walk to Kleine Scheidegg (for a total of 4.6 miles, 400 feet ascent, 900 ft descent). This is a spectacular side trip from the Via AlpinaStage 10, or worthy replacement.

Stage 12 of the Via Alpina was day hiked by Carol and I in the direction from Kandersteg to Griesalp in 2016. Starting with a lift from Kandersteg, we followed cliff trails above the beautiful turquoise lake of Oeschinensee, then traversed steeply over Hohtürli Pass (highest point of the Via Alpina 9,114 feet) and down to Griesalp in the remote valley of Kiental, Switzerland. The ascent of 3670 feet (1120 m) and descent of 4500 feet (1380 m) over 8 miles (13 km) was challenging due to steep, exposed scree slopes, assisted by stairs and ladders. It was an epic adventure! (You can optionally stay overnight at Hohtürli Pass in Blüemlisalp Hut to spread the effort over two days instead of one.)

Stages mentioned in this article are from the excellent book by Kev Reynolds (Third Edition 2017):
Swiss Alpine Pass Route — Via Alpina 1: East to West across Switzerland [Amazon]

Created in 2000, Europe’s Via Alpina covers five international trails through eight countries (Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monaco) over 3100 miles and 342 stages. The National Route 1 Via Alpina spans Switzerland from East to West, from Liechtenstein and the Rhine Valley to Montreux and the shores of Lake Geneva, covering 230 miles in 19 stages, of which Carol and I have walked eleven stages.

Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz

An excellent cultural side trip from Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, or Interlaken is the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz (1.5 hours one way via train and bus, seen on our way to Zurich Airport). Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking.

This 1797 farmhouse, originally from Ostermundigen, is now building #331 in Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: This 1797 farmhouse, originally from Ostermundigen, is now building #331 in Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.

Below: Back in poorer times in rural Switzerland, this 1800s bridal wagon publicly paraded the proud newlywed couple’s cherished wealth of bedding and furniture.
1800s bridal wagon at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Canton of Bern, Switzerland, Europe. Back in poorer times in rural Switzerland, this 1800s bridal wagon publicly paraded the proud newlywed couple's wealth in bedding and furniture.  Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Half-timbered walls are filled with wattle and daub in this 1750-1800 public laundry structure (originally from Ruschlikon, Zurich canton), building #612 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Half-timbered walls are filled with wattle and daub in this 1750-1800 public laundry structure (originally from Ruschlikon, Zurich canton), building #612 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.

Below: This 1780 vintner’s house with half-timbered walls was originally from Richterswil in Zurich canton and is now building #611 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.
This 1780 vintner's house with half-timbered walls filled with wattle & daub, was originally from Richterswil in Zurich canton and is now building #611 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “SWITZERLAND: Via Alpina“. Click any image to load into my Portfolio where images can be added to your cart for licensing.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK).
I previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan your next trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

2022 July: hiking Saas-Fee resort, Switzerland

Five refreshing nights were well spent visiting the beautiful car-free resort of Saas-Fee, the main village in Saastal (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, Switzerland. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) elevation, surrounded by thirteen peaks above 13,123 feet (4,000 meters). This year-round, classic ski resort has a heart of well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (Bustling Zermatt and the Matterhorn lie in the adjacent valley branching west.)

Riding the lifts of Saas-Fee (July 15–18) provided a well-needed break between two strenuous treks: the Tour du Mont Blanc and Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), during 5.5 weeks in the Alps. From June 28–August 5 in 2022, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided packages. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

Alphubel peak. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Alphubel peak rises above Saas-Fee village.

Alphubel peak at sunrise seen from Hotel Allalin, Saas-Fee village, Switzerland, Europe. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our room’s deck in the luxurious Hotel Allalin afforded a great view of Alphubel peak, seen here at sunrise in Saas-Fee.

Allalinhorn at sunrise. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Allalinhorn during sunrise.

The scenic Gspon Hohenweg day hike was tougher than an internet article said (adding 800 feet of gain), forcing us to speed walk to finish before the last lift down. Gspon Hohenweg was actually 9 miles with 2650 feet cumulative ascent, 1063 ft descent (measured on Gaia GPS and Suunto altimeter). A sunny weather forecast had tempted us to walk too soon, with bodies still exhausted from the strenuous TMB finished just two days previously. TIPS: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). At the end of the hike, take Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. (Be sure to examine hiking descriptions closely, as some only report net altitude gain, instead of cumulative vertical ascent, which more accurately represents the actual work required, as I always report here on PhotoSeek.com.)

Below: the Hohenweg starts in the charming village of Gspon:

Scenes from the Gspon Hohenweg (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A butterfly and bumblebee share a magenta pink Knapweed (Centaurea genus) flower. Scenes from the Gspon Hohenweg (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A butterfly and bumblebee share a magenta pink Knapweed (Centaurea genus) flower.

Saas-Fee village, seen from hiking the Gspon Hohenweg in Switzerland (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). From left to right are: Allalinhorn; Alphubel peak; and Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: along the Gspon Hohenweg, admire peaks rising above Saas-Fee village: from left to right are the Allalinhorn, Alphubel, and Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Behind Dom lies busier Zermatt, hidden to the west.

In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift.
Below: A short stroll from the lift reaches this turquoise pond; on the right is Dom, the seventh highest summit in the Alps.

On the right is Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Dom is the seventh highest summit in the Alps, overall. This pond is reached via the Spielboden-Längfluh lift from Saas-Fee, the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau in the Pennine Alps at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Roped climbers descend a glacier above Längfluh.
Climbers descend a glacier above Längfluh, Saas-Fee, Valais canton, Switzerland, Europe. In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley) in the district of Visp. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Traditional rodent-proof granary in Saas-Fee village. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: one of the many historic rodent-proof granaries preserved in Saas-Fee village.

For a rewarding walk above Saas-Fee village, we rode the Hannig gondola round trip for a hike to the peak of Mallig (2.6 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain). Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: For a rewarding outing directly above Saas-Fee, we rode the Hannig gondola round trip for a hike to the peak of Mallig (2.6 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain).

Carved wooden face. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: a carved wooden face in Saas-Fee.

In four days based in Saas-Fee, we walked 16 miles, accumulating 3800 feet of vertical ascent and 2200 feet descent.

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “SWITZERLAND: Saas Fee“.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK). We previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan a trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

2022 July: trek Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) in Europe

After years of anticipation, our group of three completed the magnificent Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Twelve days of strenuous walking up and down covered 30,000 vertical feet over 100 miles. This 16-day TMB itinerary started with afternoon arrival in Geneva (Switzerland) and included 5 nights in Chamonix (France) and 3 nights in Courmayeur (Italy), in 2022 June 29–July 14.

Our Tour du Mont Blanc was part of 5.5 weeks of glorious trekking in the Alps, including 10 stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) and 4 days at Saas-Fee resort. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided package. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

Seen from Le Signal Forbes trail, the Mer de Glace ("Sea of Ice") glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix. We hiked the Grand North Balcony from Plan de l'Aiguille to Montenvers (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 ft descent), above Chamonix, in France, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: seen from Le Signal Forbes Trail, the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix, in France.

TIP: The eleven TMB “Stages” are well documented in the excellent book “The Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guide [Amazon]” by Kev Reynolds (2020, Cicerone Trekking Guides). Taxi Besson provided luggage transfers. Since lynchpin lodgings on the popular Tour du Mont Blanc requires booking about 9 months in advance, consider instead trekking its highlights more spontaneously as day hikes done in good weather (assisted by weather forecasts 1–2 days in advance), based comfortably in Chamonix and Courmayeur for Stages 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, & 11 as described in my Alps Guide.

For a warmup hike, we walked the Grand North Balcony, from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers via Le Signal Forbes Trail (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 feet descent), which was harder than expected due to jet-lagged bodies unaccustomed to exercising in thin air at 7500 feet above sea level. This scenic saunter isn’t an official Stage, or Étape, of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but our subsequent 11 hiking days covered all eleven TMB Stages, numbered as Days 0 through 10 as follows:

TMB Day 0 (Stage 10): For a second superlative warmup hike above Chamonix, we looped to Lac Blanc (shown below) and Lac de Chéserys, starting atop the lift, “Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz” (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent). TIP: This rewarding lake circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but with much less effort than the standard one-way version that starts from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets.
Lac Blanc. We hiked a loop to Lac Blanc and Lac de Chéserys, starting from atop the lift, "Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz" (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent) above Chamonix, in France, Europe. This rewarding circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), but with less effort than starting from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets. This hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 1 (Alternative Stage 1) : The majority of hikers do the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counterclockwise direction, as we did. After taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked the more dramatic option of Stage 1 via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village in France (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent). Below: Refuge de Miage provided a welcome lunch break at the foot of Mont Blanc (which looks remarkably like Mount Rainier from this angle):
Refuge de Miage, at the foot of Mont Blanc in the Alps, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 1: after taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent) in France, Europe. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 2 (Stage 2): hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme (photo below) to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent):
Looking southwest from Col du Bonhomme. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 2: hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France, Europe (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 3 (Stage 3): hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Elisabetta Refuge doesn’t support luggage transfers. Although the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge valiantly provided a good dinner, we were underwhelmed by slow check-in, long lines waiting for delayed flooded showers, a cubbyhole bunkroom for three, and very rudimentary breakfast. In retrospect, we appreciate the showers being hot and the tiny room being private (versus the densely stacked dormitory). The post-pandemic staffing problems will hopefully be corrected in the future.
Below: Aiguille Noire de Peuterey rises above us in the Mont Blanc massif near La Casermetta in Val Veny, Italy:
Aiguille Noire de Peuterey in the Mont Blanc massif, seen between La Casermetta & Elisabetta Refuges, Val Veny, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 3: hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 4 (Stage 4): hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (Italy) to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne).
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A beautiful sunrise experience compensated for understaffed services at Elisabetta Refuge.
Below: Sunrise highlights pink alpenrose flowers (Rhododendron ferrugineum) near Elisabetta Refuge:
Pink alpenrose flowers / Rhododendron ferrugineum at sunrise near Elisabetta Refuge, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny during sunrise seen from the deck of Elisabetta Refuge:
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: One of the highlights of the TMB is traversing this scenic ridge on the way to Col Chécrouit, high above La Visaille in Val Veny (a branch of Aosta Valley):
TMB trek Day 4: the Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny, above La Visaille, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Dolonne, an historic neighborhood of Courmayeur, in Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Tour du Mont Blanc passes through historic Dolonne, a charming neighborhood of Courmayeur (where we recommend staying for at least 3 nights).

From Courmayeur, don’t miss breathtaking vistas from Skyway Monte Bianco cable car system:
View Mont Blanc from Pointe Helbronner station of Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. The Skyway Monte Bianco opened in 2015 in the Italian Alps, linking the town of Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Pointe Helbronner station at the top of Skyway Monte Bianco reveals stunning perspectives on the Mont Blanc massif.
Below: My peak experience of the month was the 5-kilometer ride on “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc,” an incredible system of triplet cabins strung between Pointe Helbronner (Italy) across France to Aiguille du Midi (which is alternatively reachable by lift from Chamonix):

The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: climbers rise to the challenge on Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft), in the Mont Blanc massif, France:
Mont Blanc Massif seen from atop Aiguille du Midi, France, Europe. We reached Aiguille du Midi via the "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car, which crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rise above the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) Glacier. The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: While dangling from the spine-tingling “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc” cable car in France, admire the Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rising high above the Sea of Ice Glacier (Mer de Glace).

TMB Day 5 (Stage 5): Rebecca and I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option of TMB, to Walter Bonatti Refuge (10 miles with vigorous 5200 feet ascent, 2700 feet descent). Carol separately hiked the standard TMB Stage 5 (8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). Each route rewards you with beautiful vistas proportionate to the effort. Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Rifugio Bonatti doesn’t support luggage transfers. After the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge had disappointed us on Stage 3, the elegant Rifugio Bonatti surprised us with a spacious private quad bunkroom for our group of three, excellent bathrooms & showers, and tasty generous meals served promptly by lots of happy staff! Both refuges offer impressive mountain settings, but Bonatti has a newer, superior design.
Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae, a black insect with 6 red wing spots, in the Zygaenidae family) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower.

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mont Blanc seen from Mont de la Saxe ridge (a harder option for Stage 5 of the counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc).

TMB Day 6 (Stage 6): hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent).
Helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 6: hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Large white helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy. In the background, a golden sunrise spotlights Mont Blanc.

TMB Day 7 (Stage 7): hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent).
TMB trek Day 7: sunrise seen around Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise at Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland.
Below: Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, before ascending to Champex-Lac.
Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac, Switzerland, Europe (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 8 (Stage 8): continuing within Switzerland, Carol and I hiked from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac via Alp Bovine to Hotel Col de la Forclaz (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). Rebecca chose the more difficult Alternative Stage 8, via the daunting Fenêtre d’Arpette pass (8.5 miles with 3900 ft gain & loss, which Carol and I had already done in the opposite direction during our Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route trek in 2005). Below: trekkers take a lunch break at Alp Bovine, which overlooks Martigny and the Rhone Valley of Switzerland.
Alp Bovine. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 8: hike from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac to Hotel Col de la Forclaz, in Switzerland, Europe (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 9 (Stage 9): hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent).
Below: Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland.
Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte & Mont Blanc seen from L' Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we celebrate a vista of Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, and Mont Blanc from the side of L’ Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France.

Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we fell in love with our room with a view at Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France.

Picnic dinner. Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
TIP: In Northern Europe, shopping at local groceries for delicious gourmet picnic dinners & lunches saves lots of money and time! In comparison, when dining at hotels or restaurants in the Alps, we were frequently frustrated by slow multi-course service and meal times which often started later than desired. Instead of using hotels’ Half or Full Board meal plans, we prefer Breakfast Only (or no meal plan) for greater flexibility.

TMB Day 10 (Stage 11): Today, we walked a modified TMB Stage 11, instead of repeating Lac Blanc (TMB Stage 10, already done for initial training on a sunny day forecast). I chose a route that covered the main highlights of Stage 11 but was much easier. Starting from atop Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent). From Planpraz, we rode Le Brévent cable car round trip for sightseeing on high, then caught the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix.

Below: don’t miss the impressive panorama atop Le Brévent cable car station above Chamonix. (Multiple images were stitched to make this picture, which shows the same cable car twice, a few seconds apart.)
Views atop Le Brévent lift. Chamonix, France, Europe. Our Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 10: starting from atop the Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent) to catch Le Brévent cable car for sightseeing above, then took the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix. This routing covers the main highlights of "Stage 11" (Étape 11) of the standard counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) but with much less effort. Multiple images were stitched to make this panorama picture, showing the same cable car in two different positions. This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “TMB | Tour du Mont Blanc (FRANCE, ITALY, SWITZERLAND)“.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK). We previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan your trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

There you have it, our first 16 days in the Alps in summer 2022, trekking all 11 stages of the Tour du Mont Blanc, with some options done harder, some easier. The next phase began by train from Chamonix (France) to reach Saas-Fee resort in Switzerland, covered in the next article.

2022 March: CA: Pinnacles NP & Redwoods. OR: south coast.

From March 4-15, we enjoyed visiting California’s Pinnacles National Park and redwood coast plus Oregon’s southern coast via RV camping. Highlights from the trip are described below. (Click here to view a more extensive gallery “2022 Mar 4-15: CA Pinnacles NP, redwoods; OR coast“)

Pinnacles National Park, California

Jumbled rocks atop the High Peaks loop (hike 5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain). Pinnacles National Park, California, USA. This panorama was stitched from multiple images. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jumbled rocks atop Pinnacles National Park along the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain).

Turkey feathers reflect a rainbow of colors. Pinnacles Campground, Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Turkey feathers reflect a rainbow of colors in Pinnacles Campground.

Sunset in Pinnacles Campground in Bear Valley. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset in Pinnacles Campground in Bear Valley.

Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

Suspended boulder. Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: One of many boulders suspended over Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

Bear Gulch Reservoir. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Park.

Atop Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain). California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jumbled rocks atop Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain).

Estero Bluffs State Park, near Cayucos, California

2017 shipwreck, Estero Bluffs State Park, Cayucos, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: 2017 shipwreck, Estero Bluffs State Park.

Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California

Invasive iceplant at Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA. Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. Iceplant is ecologically bad for a number of reasons. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: Invasive iceplant at Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. Iceplant is bad for a number of reasons. It’s invasive and releases salt into the soil, raising the salt level high enough to inhibit other plant seeds, especially grasses.  It doesn’t serve as a food source for animals and can out-compete the native plants for water, light, and space. It’s actually bad for erosion control. Having weak root systems, these heavy plants can cause the hill to start sliding, taking existing topsoil from the slope. Although the soft succulent new growth has a high water content which doesn’t burn, the slow-to-decompose dead leaves layered underneath create a fire hazard.

Cormorants. Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cormorants at Leffingwell Landing Park.

California ground squirrel. Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: California ground squirrel at Leffingwell Landing Park.

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae). Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) at Leffingwell Landing Park.

San Simeon Pier, William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, California

San Simeon Pier, William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Historic San Simeon Village Schoolhouse (1881 to 1950), below Hearst Castle on the hill. California, USA. The one-room Pacific Schoolhouse saw generations of ranching children — including George and Phoebe Hearst’s son, William Randolph Hearst. Other students included Pete Sebastian, the last Sebastian to own Sebastian’s General Store, as well as Hearst’s grandson, John Hearst Jr. William Randolph Hearst started to build a fabulous estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" - Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Historic San Simeon Village Schoolhouse (1881 to 1950), below Hearst Castle on the hill. The one-room Pacific Schoolhouse saw generations of ranching children — including George and Phoebe Hearst’s son, William Randolph Hearst. Other students included Pete Sebastian, the last Sebastian to own Sebastian’s General Store, as well as Hearst’s grandson, John Hearst Jr. William Randolph Hearst started to build a fabulous estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” – Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.

Big Sur coast, California

McWay Falls at sunset, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur coast, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: McWay Falls at sunset, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Big Creek Bridge silhouette at sunset, Big Sur coast, State Route 1, near Lucia, California, USA. The Big Creek Bridge is an open spandrel, concrete deck arch bridge (589 feet long) on the Big Sur coast of California, along State Route 1 near Lucia. Opened for traffic in 1938, it crosses Big Creek Canyon. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Big Creek Bridge silhouette at sunset, on State Route 1, near Lucia on the Big Sur coast of California. Opened for traffic in 1938, it crosses Big Creek Canyon.

Bixby Creek Bridge (1932), Big Sur coast, California, USA. 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1. Completed in 1932 for just over $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Iceplant blooms near Bixby Creek Bridge. Completed in 1932 for just over $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. Bixby Bridge is 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1.

Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California, USA. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa.

Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California, USA. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek.

Redwood National and State Parks, Northern California coast

Light rays in foggy redwood forest in Murrelet State Wilderness, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Light rays brighten a foggy redwood forest in Murrelet State Wilderness, California.

Coastal redwoods are the world's tallest lifeform. Stout Memorial Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Coastal redwoods are the world’s tallest lifeform. Stout Memorial Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Southern Oregon coast

Secret Beach, Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon coast, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Secret Beach, Oregon.

Natural Bridges Viewpoint, Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon Coast Trail, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Natural Bridges Viewpoint, Oregon Coast Trail

Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon

Wild male turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Wild male turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in the Campground at Bullards Beach State Park.

Related pages: California | Oregon

A Mammoth summer 2021: hiking Olympics, Sierras, Rockies; Nebraska

Our summer 2021 went from Mammoth Lakes to woolly mammoths!

Hiking mostly new trails for training in Washington kept us motivated and fit, climaxing with superb backpacking for 9 days in California’s High Sierra. That breathtaking acclimatization helped tackle Chasm Lake Trail, an impressive alpine cirque on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Colorado.

Continuing by RV to Indiana, we visited family then returned to Seattle via hypnotic Midwest cornfields. Along the way, Nebraska revealed some hidden gems: the SAC & Aerospace Museum, International Quilt Museum, Chimney Rock NHS, Agate Fossil Beds NM, and Fort Robinson SP. Sightseeing finished on a high note in South Dakota’s Black Hills region at “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” — an active paleontological site containing the world’s largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains!

Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra.

This blog page describes summer highlights in 2021, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site (where you can view a more extensive gallery, “2021 Aug 1-Sep 12: CA Sierras, CO, NE, SD“).

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

California: hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Backpack 4 days from Pine Creek to Granite Park, near Bishop

From August 16-19 in 2021, we backpacked to Honeymoon Lake, Granite Park, and Pine Creek Pass in John Muir Wilderness, in Inyo National Forest. Six months in advance, I was lucky to reserve the “Pine Creek JM11” entry near Bishop for a group of three.

  • Day 1: Backpack from Pine Creek Pass Trailhead to Honeymoon Lake (6.2 miles with 2900 feet gain). We ascended a spectacular gorge overlooking the former Pine Creek Mine (1918-1990). Opened in 1918, Union Carbide’s Pine Creek Mine was once the largest tungsten producer in the United States, also yielding much molybdenum and silver. During World War II, the mine supplied tanks with tungsten armor plating and armor-piercing projectiles. Proceeding upwards, monumental scenery drew us ever upwards, with sparkling drinking water (sterilized with Steripen) regularly available from tributary streams, Pine Creek, Pine Lake, Upper Pine Lake, and camping at Honeymoon Lake.
  • Day 2: Backpack 3.1 miles with 1300 ft gain to Granite Park, a rocky alpine route which felt tiring due to the high altitude and effort yesterday. A GPS map was helpful to find the cairns and boot track.
  • Day 3: The golden sunrise on granite spires took our breath away, truly awesome. Then we descended 1300 feet with backpacks for 2.7 miles to Honeymoon Lake to set up tents; then day hiked 4.4 miles round trip with 900 ft gain to Pine Creek Pass, overlooking the broad head of French Canyon capped by Mount Humphreys.
  • Day 4: Backpack 6.2 miles with 2900 ft descent to the trailhead.

Backstory: Captured in Granite Park in summer 1983, “Flourishing photographers” became my first published photo, appearing in February 1987 Modern Photography magazine. 38 years have passed since our group of seven family and friends backpacked to Royce Lakes, Royce Peak, Granite Park, and Italy Pass. Revisiting in 2021 enhanced the significance of both trips.

Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

Day hike Devils Postpile to Rainbow Falls as a loop, near Mammoth Lakes

Hexagonal tops of basaltic columns in Devils Postpile National Monument, near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Devils Postpile National Monument, in Ansel Adams Wilderness. These basaltic columns formed underground about 90,000 years ago when hot lava dammed behind a moraine. As the lava lake cooled and shrank, cracks extending from the top and bottom merged to form vertical columns which were hidden underground. Then 20,000 years ago, grinding glaciers scalped and polished the hexagonal tops.

A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth’s complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile’s limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip’s exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be hiked with less effort from their separate parking lots connected by the Shuttle bus.

Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut, forcing the falls to move 500 feet upstream from its original location. A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth's complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile's limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip's exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be seen quicker from their separate parking lots connected by Reds Meadow Shuttle bus. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut and moved the falls 500 feet upstream from its original location.

5-day traverse: High Trail to Thousand Island, Garnet, Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, & Minaret Lakes

For many years I’ve wanted to return to Thousand Island Lake, where as a child in 1967 and 1968, I horse packed with family, friends, and a folding double kayak. This year, six months in advance, I luckily reserved the “High Trail / PCT AA09” entry point for our backpacking group of three in Ansel Adams Wilderness. In this popular area, Inyo National Forest requires securing food in an approved bear canister (2.5 pounds). More spectacular than we had imagined, the trip gave us majestic mountains and perfect golden sunrises every day. (Direct sunset light tended to be blocked by high mountains to the west.) Trip log for August 22-26, 2021:

  • Day 1: Starting with the earliest reserved ride on Reds Meadow Shuttle bus from Mammoth Adventure Center to Agnew Meadows Trailhead, we backpacked the High Trail for 9 long miles with 2000 feet gain to Thousand Island Lake, on probably the dustiest trail I’ve ever hiked, albeit scenic. Hikers should use the Shuttle, otherwise trailhead parking is quite limited and most vehicle entries are blocked from 7am to 7pm. Multi-night parking is allowed in the Shuttle lot at Mammoth Adventure Center.
  • Day 2: Backpack from Thousand Island Lake to Garnet Lake (3.1 miles, 650 ft down, 500 ft up).
  • Day 3: Backpack from Garnet Lake to Ediza Lake (7 miles / 1400 ft down / 1000 ft up).
  • Day 4: Tom and Rebecca backpacked an exciting use-trail via Iceberg and Cecile Lakes to Minaret Lake (3.1 miles, 1130 ft up, 630 feet down) on steep scree and boulder rock-hopping, where a GPS trail map helped find the safest path to avoid cliffs. Older paper maps don’t mark this use-trail (a beaten boot track). (Earlier in the season, steep snow and ice can make the route unsafe for the unprepared; but our intentional pick of late August was snow-free.) To regain RV comforts, as planned, Carol returned on the attractive and familiar Shadow Creek (day hiked last year) to Agnew Meadows shuttle bus (8 miles, 400 ft up, 2700 ft down), back to Mammoth Lakes.
  • Day 5: Exit with backpacks from Minaret Lake to Devils Postpile Ranger Station (7.1 miles, 135 ft up, 2240 ft down), where we caught the frequent Shuttle (backpackers can return using Day 1’s round trip ticket).

Below: departing from Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
Above Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules  on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake.
At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Under the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak, we cross one of Ediza Lake’s inlet streams on Day 4.
Under the Ritter Range, hikers cross an inlet stream at Ediza Lake, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Clyde Minaret is at center. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range.
Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and below: At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake.

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Comfortable yet lightweight overnight backpacking gear
  • 1.8-pound TarpTent Stratospire Li double-wall tent for two: saves weight by using two hiking poles for support.
  • 2.5-pound Enlightened Equipment “Accomplice” Quilt covers two people, rated 10 degrees F, includes pad straps.
  • Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX sleeping pads 20×66″, 3.5″ thick, comfy, 18 oz each
  • Food: freeze-dried dinners. Calorie-dense lunches and breakfasts. For the Pine Creek Trail, tying bear bags onto tree trunks away from camp at night protected our food (and protected bears from the falling risks of pursuing a higher-hung cache). We encountered no bears this summer, as most hikers seem now better-trained to protect food. In Mammoth Lakes area, we stored food in mandatory hard canisters.
  • Luxury items: one Helinox 1.1-pound chair, carried by “chairpa” Tom; Kindle E-reader; Samsung Note9 Smartphone for GPS maps; battery bank charger 10,000 mAh
  • Carrying the pocket-sized Sony RX100M6 camera saved several pounds compared to my RX10M4 system.
Sierra acclimatization day hikes done August 7-19, 2021

Off of Highway 50, popular Wrights Lake Campground was full, so we found free dispersed camping nearby in Eldorado National Forest. Sadly, heavy smoke crept in that night, aborting the next day’s hike on Grouse Lake Trail into Desolation Wilderness. Acclimatizing our lungs would have to start higher than at the locally moderate elevation of 7000 feet. Darn. We had to drive 4 hours southwards to find healthier smoke conditions. Turning west of Highway 395 at Toms Place reached the wonderful retreat of Little Lakes Valley.

On August 7, from Rock Creek Lake (at a gasping 9700 feet elevation) we puffed upwards to reach Dorothy Lake at 10,560 feet elevation (6 miles round trip with 960 feet total cumulative gain and loss). Despite our destination lake being a little smoky and 80% shriveled by drought, the quiet trail and surrounding scenery refreshed us. Whew, not bad. Little did we know — the following day’s popular hike to Gem Lakes featured stunning pyramidal peaks reflected in multiple lakes and streams, with beauty around every corner (7.9 miles round trip with 1040 ft gain). Having been here once 6 years ago, we knew to avoid the extra grunt to humdrum Morgan Pass.

For the next three nights, we car camped at Willows Campground, out of Bishop. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we day hiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. Wow, it’s another impressive hike surrounded by pyramidal granite peaks reflected in pristine alpine lakes.

On August 10, we walked Tyee Lakes Trail, next to Willows Campground (6.4 miles, 2000 feet gain). Rebecca continued upwards from Tyee Lakes on a traverse over to Sabrina Lake (8.6 miles with 2530 ft gain), where we drove to pick her up, then return to Willows Campground.

Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, Bishop, California, USA. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we dayhiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. In the evening, we car-camped at Willows Campground. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, near Bishop, California.

On August 15 we tackled a harder hike, from Big Pine Creek South Fork to Brainerd Lake (aka Brainard Lake), 9.2 miles round trip with 2800 feet gain from the day hikers parking lot (which would have been 10.7 miles round trip from the overnight hikers lot).

Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

The Brainerd Lake Trail affords striking views of the Palisades, along Big Pine Creek South Fork, in John Muir Wilderness within Inyo National Forest, west of Big Pine, in California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Brainerd Lake Trail gives striking views of the Palisades around Mile 3.6, in John Muir Wilderness. From left to right are Middle Palisade Peak and Glacier, Norman Clyde Peak, Firebird Peak (aka “Peak 3862,” rising most prominently in the center foreground), Palisade Crest, and Mount Sill (14,153 ft). The Palisades group runs for 6 miles along the Sierra Crest, dividing the Owens Valley watershed (here) from the Central Valley, on the boundary between John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park on the other side.

For final acclimatization before the two backpacking trips (described at top), we drove high into the White Mountains to find free dispersed camping in Inyo National Forest east of Bishop. Since last visiting six years ago, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was well worth repeating, for the Methuselah Walk (4.1-mile loop with 705 feet gain) amongst the world’s oldest living trees, more than 4000 years old. Nice Visitor Center!

Colorado: Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

We hiked 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake, nestled under a majestic cirque of Longs Peak, in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Estes Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake's outlet, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, near Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake’s outlet.

Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness.

Nebraska

After a family visit in Indiana, we pointed our RV back to Seattle. Bonus sights in Nebraska included the following:

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, NE

Well worth a visit, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum’s ominous aircraft and missiles are a sobering reminder of the Cold War, when the SAC served from 1965–1992 as nuclear air defense. In 1992, SAC was disbanded and reorganized into other units.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (USAF s/n 61-7964) inside the entrance of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021 the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 mph or Mach 3.3. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021, the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 miles per hour or Mach 3.3.

Below: A Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters. Its round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even wipers to clear condensation! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply in an attached compression tank and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight.

Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters displayed at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even condensation wipers! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply (in an attached compression tank) and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. Also included are space exhibits. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

International Quilt Museum, Lincoln, NE

Although the International Quilt Museum has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection, our timing was off, arriving between shifting exhibits. In a later year we’ll return to this attractive building, operated by the University of Nebraska.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE

Acclaimed in the mid-1800s diaries of pioneer emigrants, Chimney Rock is worth a stop. Its Museum concisely reveals the travails of westward prairie emigrants who passed this 325-foot-high natural rock landmark along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago).

Below: Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (instead of heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), displayed at Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (but not heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), on display at Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska,  USA. At Chimney Rock, a slender rock spire rises 325 feet from a conical base, serving as an impressive natural landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail during the mid-1800s. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, NE

Agate Fossil Beds boasts the most well-preserved Miocene fossils in the world. Exhibits also elucidated local native American history and culture.

Below, a skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole of 20 million years ago (Miocene epoch) shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino). The entelodont (Dinohyus hollandi) was a hoofed mammal 6-8 feet tall at the shoulder, with powerful jaws and teeth for eating both carrion and plants. The smaller skeleton in the foreground is a beardog (Daphoenodon superbus, the most common carnivore at the Agate waterhole site), which preyed upon juvenile rhinos, camels, and oreodonts. Notice that someone with a sense of humor put a blue mask on the beardog during the pandemic! The chalicothere (Moropus elatus) was related to the horse and rhino, standing 6 feet tall at the shoulder and having 3-toed, claw-like hooves.

A full-sized skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole 20 million years ago shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino), at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Harrison, Nebraska, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Fort Robinson State Park, NE

Continuing north towards Crawford on the edge of the High Plains, Fort Robinson State Park provides large campgrounds with attractive bluff scenery in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska (resembling the Black Hills 50 miles to the north). Fort Robinson was a US Army base (1874-1947) which played a major role in the Sioux Wars from 1876 to 1890.

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Here is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Although the Black Hills of South Dakota offer many other great sights, don’t miss this fascinating museum and active paleontological site. Sheltered under the Mammoth Site’s roof is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial around 140,000 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago.

The Mammoth Site is a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. It is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” in the Black Hills.

Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Mammoth Site is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). Due to geological conditions after the animals were trapped around 140,000 years ago, the excavated "fossil" bones are not petrified or turned to stone, so are very brittle, requiring professional handling. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, featured at The Mammoth Site.

The giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus) was the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age. See this full-scale skeleton in the the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Skeleton of an extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus), the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age.

A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original's appearance at the time of discovery. See the Dima replica at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original’s appearance at the time of discovery.

Above are highlights. For a more extensive gallery of The Mammoth Site, see Tom’s Portfolio site.

Washington hikes in summer 2021

Before going to California’s Sierra Nevada, we trained on the following trails that were mostly new to us and easily drivable as day trips from Seattle:

  1. June 16: Soaring Eagle Regional Park (Sammamish): pleasing loops
  2. June 18 & 29: Oyster Dome Trail, and North Butte Loop, in Blanchard State Forest: impressive forest and views
  3. Redmond Watershed Preserve: several nice loops on non-muddy trail
  4. July 1: Chuckanut Mountain: good exercise through forest, if you’re passing through the area
  5. Issaquah Alps: Margaret’s Way in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park; and Wilderness Peak on Squak Mountain
  6. July 12-13: Mount Rainier National Park: Sunrise: Skyscraper Pass on the Wonderland Trail; and the Palisades Trail to Hidden Lake
  7. Little Si including Boulder Loop (North Bend): a rewarding loop, familiar
  8. Lord Hill Regional Park (Snohomish): walk a multi-use loop through disturbed land (slowly rewilding)
  9. July 19: Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake (I-90): steep and rewarding, hiked regularly in past years; avoid doing on weekends due to crowds
  10. July 21: Pratt Lake Trail (I-90): nicely graded and forested, crossing pretty streams
  11. and the following adventurous loop hike to Grand Valley on July 27…
Olympic National Park: loop hike from Obstruction Point to Grand and Badger Valleys

Reached by turning left just before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Obstruction Point Road provides Olympic National Park’s best views of shy Mount Olympus from a vehicle (open from about July 4 through October 15 depending on weather and snow on the steep, narrow gravel surface).

July 27, 2021 hiking report: Starting from Obstruction Point Trailhead, we day hiked a vigorous loop over Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, with short side trip to Moose Lake, then returned the longer way along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail (9 miles with 2740 feet gain). Despite numerous backpackers and fellow day hikers along this popular National Park entry point, the wilderness feels refreshingly remote. For relaxation, allow two or more days round trip from Seattle to explore the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) seen from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, hike 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See majestic Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park. I fondly recall climbing to the False Summit on May 30, 1982, just 80 feet short of the highest peak of Mount Olympus (45 miles round trip over 3 days with 7400 ft total gain and loss).

A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, we hiked 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail in Olympic National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley.

Hiking Chain Lakes loop, Mount Baker Wilderness in autumn

Our summer’s mammoth momentum continued through fall. On October 19, we enjoyed one of our favorite hikes in Washington:

  • Galena Chain Lakes loop, for 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). Start early in the morning and hike counterclockwise for better photographic lighting on the peaks.
  • When the road to Artist Point is open (from July until the first snowfall, by early October), the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Dew drops on leaves (2021 October 19) in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Dew drops on leaves in Heather Meadows.

Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mount Baker & Iceberg Lake seen from Herman Saddle in Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See Mount Baker and Iceberg Lake on the descent from Herman Saddle into Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail.

Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness, a part of Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, in Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness.

Below: Mount Shuksan, seen from Kulshan Ridge in Heather Meadows.
Mount Shuksan seen from Kulshan Ridge, along the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie NF, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above are the day’s highlights, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site, showing a more extensive gallery, “2021 Oct 19: Chain Lakes loop, Mt Baker Wilderness”.

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks

In Nevada, revisiting Valley of Fire State Park stunned us with rainbow rock patterns. Driving 3 hours north reaches Cathedral Gorge State Park, whose subtle mauve-colored formations shone best at golden sunset.

Below is Kaolin Wash. Starting 150+ million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the colorful sandstone formations in Valley of Fire State Park.
Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Clicking single images on this page launches them into Tom’s Portfolio site, where you can add to your shopping Cart.

2021 April 19-20: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The park adjoins Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the Virgin River confluence, at an elevation of 2000 to 2600 feet, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Park entry from Interstate 15 passes through the Moapa Indian Reservation.

Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: View from Rainbow Vista, in Valley of Fire State Park.

Fire Wave + Kaolin Wash + White Domes Trail loop hike

A delightful 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3.

Below, we explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park:
Hikers explore the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and next seven images below: Kaolin Wash

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sandstone rock patterns in Kaolin Wash, Valley of Fire State Park, near Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Hikers on the White Domes Loop Trail.
Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rock patterns along the White Domes Loop Trail in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, proceeds along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Orange pattern on white sandstone on the White Domes Loop Trail

Thunderstorm Arch in Valley of Fire State Park, near the town of Moapa Valley, Nevada, USA. A great 3.5-mile "spectacle loop" (with 450 feet of gain and loss) starts at Park Turnout #3, goes to the Fire Wave, takes the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash westwards, completes the White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, repeats a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash eastwards, turns north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and returns to Park Turnout #3. Starting more than 150 million years ago, great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs were compressed, uplifting, faulted, and eroded to form the park's fiery red sandstone formations. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Thunderstorm Arch is a short side trip from Seven Wonders Trail.

Gallery show: “Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park” all images from 2021, 2011, 1999, 1995


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park” in Tom’s Portfolio.

2021 April 20-21: Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, near Panaca, Nevada.

Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A mud castle traps a tumbleweed in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Inside a slot canyon at the Moon Caves in Cathedral Gorge State Park. This image was HDR-stitched from two photos to increase the dynamic range from light to dark with low noise.

1930s CCC stone water tower at Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
The stone water tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s but is no longer in use, in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park, Panaca, Nevada, USA. Million-year-old lake sediments have eroded into fantastic mud castles at Cathedral Gorge State Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunset colors clouds above mud towers in Cathedral Gorge State Park.

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Gallery show: “Nevada: Cathedral Gorge State Park; Hickison Petroglyphs” all images from 2021, 2019, 1999


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Check out Tom’s Southwest USA articles: UtahArizona, ColoradoNew Mexico, and Nevada.

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

In brief: Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

In more detail:

  • Mar 21 Sun: depart Seattle.
  • Mar 22 Mon: visit family in Chico.
  • Mar 23 Tues: On Highway 32, we tour the Big Chico Creek Environmental Reserve (BCCER) to adopt acres for the Dempsey Endowment in Memory of David P. Dempsey. Our group includes family members, CSUC president Gayle Hutchinson, and BCCER staff.
  • Mar 24 Wed: Finally, my first visit to Dad & Mom’s senior living apartment since 15 months ago, isolated by the pandemic!
  • Mar 25 Thurs: drive from California’s Central Valley via Tahoe and snowy Mono Lake to a friend’s house at Round Valley, near Bishop.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons.”]

  • Mar 26 Fri: spectacular snowy Sierra peaks and warm Death Valley on drive to Kelso Dunes Trailhead Campground in Mojave National Preserve, to meet with nephew Griff & friend Marianna.
  • Mar 27 Sat: Kelso Dunes was a fun hike in Mojave National Preserve. Drive to Joshua Tree NP. Check in spontaneously at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (which had many available sites despite the big weekend traffic), a refreshing oasis with delightful duck pond. We drove the Park Boulevard loop counterclockwise, which was crowded on this spring weekend. We weren’t expecting the long lines of cars backing up the Park’s entrance and every available parking lot, until we remembered that this was the weekend of Palm Sunday and accessible as a day trip from the populous Los Angeles area. We admired a huge Parry’s nolina, Mojave mound cacti with red buds, and other natural botanical wonders. We walked to the dry Barker Dam on a warm afternoon (2.6 mi round trip lollipop-shaped loop, 110 ft gain.
  • Mar 28 Sun: 49 Palms Canyon Trail. The dense Cholla Garden is vibrant yellow. Drive south to camp overnight in BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, albeit somewhat scarred by ORVs and litter.
  • Mar 29 Mon: Mecca Wilderness Area: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail. Drive to Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 1 of 2.
  • Mar 30 Tues: Hike the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and loop back via Victor Trail. We do laundry in La Quinta. Stay at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 2 of 2.
  • Mar 31: drive 4 hrs to the nice Hualapai Mountain Park Campground, on a paved road 14 miles south of Kingman. The 42 degrees F low overnight was warmer than expected at this 6300-foot altitude.
  • April 1: In Hualapai Mountain Park, we hiked East Potato Patch Loop Trail for 2.6 miles with 700 feet gain to pleasant views of surrounding desert, but ice on a cliff ledge turned us back. In Flagstaff, we stayed at Woody Mountain Campground for 2 nights.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.”]

  • April 2: Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterize our RV. We attend the Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) meeting at 7pm in preparation for boating 16 days.
  • April 3-18: With Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA), we boated for 16 days covering 226 miles by raft and dory down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park!

[You are currently reading the article that covers “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks.”]

  • April 19: Drive to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, where we claim the last campsite in Arch Rock Campground around 4:00pm (first come, first served).
  • April 20: Starting just after sunrise at Valley of Fire State Park Turnout #3, we walked a great 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss): first to the Fire Wave, then along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, then around the complete White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, then repeat a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, then turn north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and then return to the parking lot at Park Turnout #3. Drive to Cathedral Gorge State Park Campground. Sunset walk 2.5 mi to Moon Caves, etc.
  • April 21: Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2.75 mile loop walk in morning, mauve formations. Stay at Farewell Bend SP Campground, Oregon.
  • April 22: Drive to Seattle.