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Wild 127 – In the Footsteps of the Father of National Parks

The new edition of Wild magazine (issue 127) has just arrived on the shelves and features one of Glenn’s images that he took while walking the 24-day John Muir Trail a few months ago. Glenn also wrote a six page article on the walk called In the Footsteps of the Father of National Parks.

Wild have a short teaser on their website here. If you are keen to check out Glenn’s photos of the John Muir Trail you can see them here and here.

And don’t forget, if you like what we are doing here at Open Spaces, please visit our Open Spaces Facebook page and like us.

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Jetboil Sol Ti Stove Review

Cooking with gas. Jetboil Sol Ti.

For the last six years or so I’ve been using the Jetboil cooking system and I have to say it has performed flawlessly (except for the piezoelectric push-button igniter, which has never really worked for me). Lately though I’ve been shaving the weight I carry and when I heard about the Jetboil Sol Ti I decided to upgrade. First issue was that it wasn’t available for sale in Australia. I always try to buy local (even if it works our a few dollars more), mainly for peace of mind when it comes to warranties. In this case it simply wasn’t available and even as I write this review (three months after purchasing it) I’m still amazed that I can’t find it for sale in Australia. I ended up buying mine from the REI store in Fresno, California, for about $120. The Aussie dollar was pretty strong at the time and I considered this a bargain.

So how does the Sol Ti differ to the original Jetboil. Well for starters the Sol Ti’s cup is made of titanium. The original weighed 200g and the new Ti weighs in at 115g. A substantial saving but you have to take into consideration that the Sol Ti cup is also a tad smaller (by about 200ml). I didn’t find this a big deal and ended up preferring the smaller size. The Sol Ti also comes with a thinner (some might say ‘flimsier’) neoprene cozy. There has been some criticism about this cozy but I found it worked really well in the field and I never felt the heat through it as some people claim. As for the piezoelectric push-button igniter, well lets just say it has its good and bad days. I simply don’t use it any more and wish that Jetboil would just get rid of this ‘feature’ and save a few extra grams. The stove unit itself is also lighter and has what I think a more refined heat control and a better wire flame control handle. Definitely easier to use.

In a practical sense the Jetboil was designed to mainly boil water or other liquid foods (such as soup). It was never designed to cook thick stodgy meals (such as risotto) as the heat control doesn’t allow for effective simmering. The pot is also completely the wrong shape, although the addition of a pot support means that you can buy the larger group-sized cooking pot. For me the Jetboil works great since I almost entirely use the Jetboil to boil water to reconstitute pre-cooked dried meals. Overall the Sol Ti is fast and more importantly it’s reliable.

Original Jetboil weight (cup, lid, cozy, pot support and stove unit): 495g

Jetboil Sol Ti (cup, lid, cozy, pot support and stove unit): 340g

The difference in price between the Original Jetboil (or the current Jetboil Sol Advanced) and the Jetboil Sol Ti is about $30 – $40. That translates as about $10 for ever 40g in weight saved. Pretty expensive when you think about it but shaving those vital grams comes at a premium. All up the Jetboil Sol Ti gets a two-thumbs-up from me.

Visit Jetboil

• Jetboil Thermo-Regulate™ technology – consistent heat down to -6?C
• 0.8 Liter Titanium FluxRing® cup
• Insulating Cozy
• Convenient, reliable push-button igniter
• Pot support and Stabiliser tripod included
• Drink-through lid with pour spout & strainer
• Bottom cover doubles as a bowl and measuring cup
• Compatible with all Jetboil accessories

 

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Food For Thought

 

One of the things that surprised me during our recent 24-day walk along California’s John Muir Trail was how popular the instant (dehydrated or freeze-dried) food pouches are in the United States. We saw a lot of people at various campsites along the way and I can’t think of seeing anyone cooking in a billy or lightweight frying pan. Even those out in the mountains for just a couple of days all seemed to be going down the dehydrated path. Considering how cheap these dehydrated foods are, and the fact that they taste pretty damn good, you can understand their popularity. Add to this the convenience of not having to carry a bowl or billy. You simply pour a cup or two of boiling water into the pouch, let it sit for five minutes and then eat. No more washing up. I like it.

 

Normally Karen and I dry our own meals. Unfortunately bringing our own dried food through US customs was not going to be straightforward. Buying the food pouches in Australia was also not an option as the variety is very limited and the prices the outdoor retailers charge here are well over double that in the United States. In the end Karen ordered the bulk of our main meals from a place called Mary Janes Farm, a sort of hippyish organic farm produce place in Moscow, Idaho. We also bought a bunch of Enertia breakfast and desert food pouches from Wilderness Dining. The guys at both Mary Janes Farm and Wilderness Dining were really helpful and organised to post our order directly to our hotel in Yosemite Valley. This worked out really well.

So how did it taste? Considering we usually dry our own foods (which are cooked exactly to how we like them) I was pleasantly surprised. Just about all of these commercial dehydrated meals were delicious. Perhaps the only minor point is that some of the Mary Janes Farm main meals were a tad bland, but we carried a bunch of small hot chilli packets which we used to fire them up a bit. The Mary Janes Farm products were organic (a good selling point to us) and the packaging had the added advantage of being burnable (a major consideration on long walks). Perhaps my only regret in having experienced these newer dehydrated pouch foods is that I’m now wishing we had these or similar brands available (at a reasonable price) here in Australia.

 

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John Muir Trail

I’ve finally uploaded some of my images from our recent walk across California’s John Muir Trail. The walk links Yosemite Valley and Mt Whitney and took us 24 days to complete. I’ve started captioning the images but it will be a few weeks before they are all completed.

A couple of chipmunks come out to play.

 

View photos at SmugMug

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The John Muir Trail

Karen and I just got back from walking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, USA. The John Muir Trail is one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world and is regarded as the most scenic in the United States. The trail begins in Yosemite National Park and continues 211 miles (340km) through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park. The trail ends on the summit of Mt Whitney (14,496ft or 4418m), the highest peak in continental United States. Of course this means you still have to descend off the top of Mt Whitney to the trail-head at Whitney Portal, which adds up to about 355km in total (not including any side trips). We spent 24 continuous days on the trail, which is a little more than the average walker takes to complete it. Most hikers we met were doing the walk in about 21 days but some were planning on ticking it in as little as 15 days. We had a rest day at Vermillion Valley Resort on day 10 so we averaged about 15.5km per day, which we found comfortable. Most days we were on the trail at 7.30am and were finished walking by around 1 to 2pm. This meant we avoided the worst heat of the day and had plenty of time to explore the area surrounding our campsite.

There are six passes over 11,000ft (3,400m), the highest of which is Forester Pass at 13,153ft (4009m). Most walkers walk north to south as this will allow you to gain altitude slowly and prepare you physically for the most difficult section of the walk which occurs at the far southern end of the trail. Karen and I climbed a total of 46,000ft (14,000m) and descended a total of 38,000ft (12,000m). All walkers on the John Muir Trail require a permit. Obtaining a permit is not straightforward and trail-heads at Yosemite, Tuolomne Meadows and Whitney Portal are subject to a lottery system. You’ll also need to carry a bear cannister. All of your food and toiletries must be carried inside a cannister to prevent bears from having a free picnic.

The John Muir Trail was everything we had hoped. Fabulous mountain views, wonderful campsites and loads of furry animal life along the way. Even the weather stayed perfect, day after day. Over the next month or so I’ll be uploading hi-res images of the walk to our SmugMug site. I’ll let you know when they are up. I’ll also create a few more posts about the John Muir Trail and the adventures we had along the way.

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Banteay Srei – Cambodia

It is hard to choose which temples were my favourite when I visited Cambodia recently. Especially as I am such a temple freak. I love them all! Each one has something special about it. Some tend to be more the structures that attract, whereas others – it is because of the detail of the stonework. Banteay Srei would definitely be one of those temples that amazes you with the detail that has gone into the stonework design. I seriously, cannot comprehend the minute work that it involved and the time it must have taken. On many of the panels, within the block of stone, there are layers or levels of detailed carving that defy belief. The name Banteay Srei – citadel of women could relate to a number of aspects of the temple. The delicacy of the ornate decorations, the diminutive size of the temple compared to others or the many carvings of the devatas. Our friend and guide Mickey’s explanation was that it was named so because the delicate work required the tiny hands of women to create it. I quite like that story. Whatever the lost story is, citadel of women is a very apt title. Of all the temples, it has an overwhelming sense of femininity about it. Like all the temples though it would have been lovely to wander through on ones own. The fact that the temple is so small makes it feel even more busy than it is. While you could certainly find an outside corner to yourself, the most interesting sections and carvings, were, as you would imagine, the busiest. Even to the point of squeezing past to get through. Can’t imagine what it would have been like in peak season.

I’m sure I am like many people who visit these places – I love a moment, or two, or three of solitude to just stand there and soak it all in. Close my eyes if need be and try to imagine when it was alive with people of the era. In the larger temples, I was able to do this but found the bustling of tourists a little too distracting in Banteay Srei to vague off into my own little world.

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Sapa

Sapa is a beautiful, misty mountainous region of Vietnam close to the border of China. Not managing to get there on my first visit to Vietnam it was an absolute definite this time around. Catching the late overnight train was the perfect way to travel there without wasting too much time. While not luxurious, the sleeper cabins were perfectly agreeable and being very tired, I was out like a light waking up only an hour or so before Lao Cai station.  Upon arrival we had another bus ride of about 40 minutes up the mountains to reach the town of Sapa.

The indigenous hill tribes of the area mix in the town with Sapa locals and indeed, their presence is a very visual one.  Sapa is probably the most well known area of Vietnam to produce beautiful hand-crafted textiles and it is here that  a textile lover could quickly empty her purse. (And I nearly did!) A variety of hill tribes live in villages near each other and all have a particular style to the work that they do.  Prominently, the Black Hmoung.

With only two days to see what we could of Sapa, we spent the first day doing a trek to Cat Cat Village which is one of the closest villages and consists of a lovely 6km round trek from the Sapa township.  Mostly downhill into the valley stepping amongst the mud ruts and moving through the mist which would settle and lift, it was a great introduction to the area.  The views were as expected – magnificent.  A mix of terraced agricultural fields, valleys and hills and random pockets of huts and small collections of animals. The steep descent into the main part of the village landed us at the base of a waterfall and, what I would imagine, the town square. And as would make sense, it was then a steep ascent back out of the valley.  Granted Cat Cat now caters for the tourist walker but if you had more time to spare you could spend a little more time heading off the main track into other areas of the village. What I found disappointing/upsetting/frustrating was the buildup of rubbish that seemed to frequent the roadside.  This is not limited to the Sapa region though – it is found throughout Vietnam. Packaged goods and water might be great for convenience and necessary(in the case of water) but the huge price the environment pays for the extra dollars that tourism brings in will reach overload at some point.  The huge issue of education around waste management is something that Vietnam will have to deal with effectively at some point. And with a growing population, growing tourist market and limited land mass to make it all a bit more difficult. But with a huge amount of the population still struggling to pay their way and feed themselves, I suppose this is probably not of the highest priority. Travellers themselves need to be aware of their own responsibilities when it comes to waste and its disposal.  I would imagine that I am not the only one that feels uncomfortable when I see the mounting rubbish piles that threaten to destroy the beauty of Vietnam and knowing that the industry called Tourism, of which every visitor is a part of, has contributed immensely to this.

The second day took us on another trek – this time a 16km one through a number of villages.  Once again, gorgeous scenery and the Black Hmoung ladies kept us entertained with their humour inbetween the bouts of selling frenzy.  Cho our guide, was a lovely, sweet lady who told me little tales of her domestic life in a village 15km from Sapa.. As she was doing an all day tour, she bought her 8 month baby along so she could feed and care for her.  As with all the babies carried tightly to their mothers, they always look so contented and cry very little.  As the mist was starting to settle heavy, we reached the final village where a bus took us back up the steep track in order to catch our night train back to Hanoi.  And yes, I was out like a light once again.

Cat Cat Falls with Cho
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Ta Prohm – Cambodia

Ta Prohm, I would have to say, was one of my favourite temples to visit at Siem Reip.   Although all of the temples have undergone some sort of rebuilding, Ta Prohm  has been allowed to stay in a similar state to how it was found  – in that the jungle that has grown in and around it and has continued to do so. Having said this though, there was quite a lot of scaffolded work going on.  The problem with the jungle doing what it does is that as it grows it causes more and more instability in the ground underneath the structures and growing branches putting more and more pressure on already collapsing blocks.  So that these areas can still be visited and viewed by tourists, support poles have been erected underneath various window and door openings. To be honest I don’t know how else they can do it –  it’s certainly not appealing to the eye but would imagine it’s either that or let it collapse and close it to the public.  Fig, Banyon and Kapok trees grow in around and amongst the ruins and if you are lucky to visit when there aren’t too many people around there is a magical feeling to it. It was built about mid-12th century to early 13th century (1186) by the King Jayavarman VII, dedicated to the mother of the king (Buddhist) .  It is carved and decorated in the Bayon style.

 

Rather than visit Angor Wat first to see the sunrise and therefore travel around with the bulk of the tourists throughout the day, we visited Ta Prohm first which besides it being a lot quieter, chronologically fitted in better. Normally when we travel, we tend to get to places on our own steam by organizing various modes of transport and then visit without a guide. As we had a very limited time in Cambodia, a huge list of temples that I wanted to visit (to feed my archeological lust) and two teenage boys travelling like this for the first time, we decided to use a taxi guide. Basically Mickey would drive us from temple to temple giving us a run down of each temples history and leave us there to spend as long as we wanted and would wait for us in order to take us to the next. He had a rough idea of how long long each temple took and he was pretty much right on the ball. While we still had the freedom to visit at our own pace, it was great to get the rundown on each temple. I am positive that I would have needed to give in to tired and slightly templed out sons much, much earlier had we not enlisted the taxi guide. Beside the history lessons we received, Mickey was always full of local news, Cambodian lifestyle information and the latest on what was going on in the rest of the world. $30 for the day was money well spent and Mickey was a gem of a guide.

 

 

 

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Vietnam and Cambodia

Having just returned from Vietnam and Cambodia with my two sons and boyfriend Cam, I thought I would put up a couple of pics.  I will be adding posts about my travels in the ensuing weeks.  This was the first time I travelled to Cambodia – Siem Riep and the second time I have been to Vietnam.  Whilst my travels the first time in Vietnam was from North down to the South from Hanoi to Saigon, this time I headed further up to the border of China, to Sapa and then travelled to Halong Bay, Monkey Island and back to Hanoi for a bit of crazy hectic life.

ta prohm

 

colours of ta prohm
My two sons and I at Halong Bay - very mystical and otherwordly
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Argentina and Chile 2006

A selection of pics from my trip to Patagonia

Argentina and Chile 2006