Six Pack of Peaks – Arizona

Oh, hey internet.

So, as I’ve mentioned I’m an ambassador for the Six Pack of Peaks, a hiking challenge created by Jeff from Social Hiker. The challenge started with six progressively higher peaks in Southern California and has grown to include multiple regions throughout the US because apparently, Jeff doesn’t want me doing anything but hiking as I try to complete each challenge.

This year Jeff added a “winter series” based out of Arizona. This series, created by Richard Oppelaar a.k.a. FoxTrax on Instagram, is a series of  hikes make you want to die in a different way than the Socal Six Pack in that they are short but so steep you feel like you’re perpetually on a stair master.

I had a few days off around the holidays and I asked Richard if he thought this was possible to do in three days. He suggested a plan (he was probably laughing manically while doing so) and I suckered… I mean invited my friend Sheri (a.k.a. Wheelzabub, the talented artist behind the ye olde Hike Inland Empire logo) to join me in my quest to complete the series. She texted back, and I quote “it looks like fun.”

LOL, what fools we were.

Below is the the itinerary of the trip we took. Richard did an excellent job on the trail guides for the main Six Pack of Peaks site and I’m super lazy, so rather than writing my own versions, I’ve linked his posts below. I have added a few tips and commentary to let you know the real deal about what to expect.

 

General Advice:

Three day plan: So the first piece of advice I will give you if you’re looking at doing this in three days is: DON’T.

Do it in four days, guys. Seriously. You should do it in four days. Don’t drive 5.5 hours back after doing Flat iron. Stay another night. Have some beers at Four Peaks. Get a good night’s sleep so you’re not dozing off while driving home and you have to pry your eyes open Clockwork Orange style.

Really.

Truly.

Do it in four days.

Timing: Now that I still haven’t talked you out of doing it in three days, my next word of advice is that it’s going to take you longer than you think it is. You’re going to be looking at a 6 mile hike and think “Yeah so that’ll be three hours.” But it’s not going to be. It’s going to be 4.5-5 hours. Because these trails are difficult.

Lodging: Don’t ask me about where to camp. Because we, my friends, stayed in hotels. Hotels with marginally comfy beds and showers. Did it cost more? Yes. But for $90 each for two nights WE LIVED LIKE KINGS!

Temperature: Newsflash: the desert is cold in the winter. It never got over 50 degrees, and most mornings it was in the 20’s. IT WAS COLD, Y’ALL. Bring layers.

Okay,  now that those items are covered, onto the schedule. This is based out of my condo in Riverside, so don’t be mad at me if you live in San Diego and it takes you longer to get there because contrary to what you might think, I don’t know where every single one of you lives.

 

Day 1
Leave Riverside 6:00 a.m.
4 hrs 49 min 

 

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Piestewa:
Distance: 2.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,126 ft.

2701 East Squaw Peak Lane, Phoenix, AZ 85016

This was one of my least favorite of the peaks. It was super crowded and I felt like I was a Hollywood wannabe startlet looking to get discovered while hiking (that’s a Runyon Canyon joke, people).

The parking for this one is fairly challenging if you get there later in the day. As we made our way down the road we began to see a long line of cars parked on the side, which is never a good sign. Luckily we sharked the small parking area for awhile and we snagged a spot.

Fun tip: the trail head is on the left, just after the gate next to the parking lot. It was also under mega construction so a lot of it was fenced off.

(14 min drive to)


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Camelback:
Distance: 3.1 miles
Elevation: 1,246 ft.
6131 E Cholla Ln, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253


Soooo you can’t park at the trail head–you have to park on 64th street and walk up. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a spot near East Cholla Lane and you’ll have a 0.3 walk to the trail. If you’re Sheri and me, you’ll be .7 miles a way and you’ll have a mile walk to and from the trail head. On the plus side, there were quite a few Lime and Bird scooters laying around so you can use one if you’d like to take a scooter to your hike. Sheri kept suggesting Lyft, but ride sharing less than a mile to a 3 mile hike was beyond my capacity of acceptance. 

Of the two urban hikes, this was my favorite. It was, what I thought at the time, a challenging hike. But I was young and naive then, and had no idea what challenging was.

 

Stay night in Tucson (2 hr drive)

 


Day 2
Leave 6:00 a.m.
(26 min drive to)
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Wasson Peak:
Distance: 7.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,886 ft.
King Canyon Trailhead, Arizona 85745

 

Wasson Peak was a nice reprieve from the crowds and steepness of the day before. The peak is located in Saguaro National Park. When we went it was during the #TrumpShutDown and when we went to turn off to the trail head the road was closed.

Determined not to let Trump ruin our hiking, Sheri and I basically became Galileo and navigated ourselves to the Sendero Esperanza trail head. While it added on about another mile (rt), we were able to take this easy going, meandering trail to the peak which lulled us into a false sense of security that “maybe this challenge won’t be so bad after all!’

LOL, dummies.

Pro tip: the drive to the next peak has… not a whole lot of eating options. Unless you want to stop at the one McDonalds on the way or have gas station Subway, you should probably bring your lunch.


(1 hr 21 min drive to)

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Picacho Peak:
Distance: 2.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,986 ft. 

Hunter Trailhead, Picacho Peak, Arizona 85141 

Imma be straight up with you when I say I’m not sure how this is a hike sanctioned by a state park. This is the most cuckoo bananas hike I’ve ever been on and I hiked Cactus to Clouds which is supreme cuckoo bananas. Sheri accompanied me about half way up before she tapped out due to height-a-phobia, so I completed it by myself.

She was the smart one here.

This hike involves vertical climbs where you cling to cables and regret every decision that you made that led to that moment in time. I felt like I was at the climbing gym but I didn’t have a harness or mats to save me from my inevitable plummet down the side of a cliff. This video does not really do it justice.

This was just one of the very many obstacles I had to climb solo. The only people nearby was the weird family that was ahead of me that gave me the creeps, and I was gonna be super bummed if they were the ones that found my body.

Once I made it up, I sat for a good 20 minutes knowing that the way down was going to be 1,000 times more terrifying than the way up. After a few deep breaths, I stood on my wobbly legs to make my way down. As I left the sanctity of the only flat part of that trail, was confronted by a family that had three women in BONNETS AND DRESSES huffing and puffing on their way up who looked at me as if to say “Suck it up, pant lady.”

I somehow made it down the trail without dying.

Pro tip: While I’d brought gloves, they were the thin kind you’d wear hiking in marginally cold weather. I highly recommend wearing work gloves as mine kept slipping down the cables I was desperately gripping to avoid my death.

(1 hr. 15 min drive to)

Stay night in Tempe

 

Day 3
Leave 6:00 a.m.
(1 hr. drive to)
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Fremont Saddle:
Distance: 4.8 miles
Elevation: 1,496 ft.

Peralta Trailhead, Peralta Rd, Gold Canyon, AZ 85118 
*Get there early to get parking

The day before we were to finish the challenge, my friends Tom and Kristal messaged me and told me they were planning on completing it, too. Tom offered to drive to the trail head, which I was stoked about because I was garsh darn tired of driving. I was less stoked that I ended up forgetting my hat in my car and had to buy a black sequined hat from a gas station. Why did I choose that hat? Because it was the best option.

Despite that, this hike ruled. It was nice, and gentle, and had a cave, and cool stories about the Lost Dutchman‘s treasure buried in them thar hills and it didn’t demand I stair step at all!

Unfortunately, Sheri’s knee became injured and this was the last hike she was able to complete. Although now that I think about it, maybe she knew what was coming…

 

(42 minute drive to)

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Flatiron:
Distance: 6.6 miles
Elevation gain: 3,147 ft.

Siphon Draw Trailhead 6109 E Apache Trail, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 

Oh, Flat Iron. Flat Iron, Flat Iron, Flat Iron.

Flat Iron goes like this: an almost flat trail for a mile that then leads to a super steep slip and slide section and then class 2 scrambling for an hour and a half. The route up is both physically and mentally exhausting as it’s not so much a trail as you trying to figure out which rocks you might actually be able to climb if you can angle yourself a certain way and hold on for dear life. I recommend you use gloves for this hike as you will use your hands almost as often as your feet as you scowl at some brightly dressed trail runner hopping boulders and passing you with ease.

The “scary” part is known as the wall, a 10 ft vertical climb that is scarier going down than coming up. There is an alternative route off to the left that is marginally better and you can use it if you’re stuck behind a never ending stream of 10 year olds wearing Keds, or whatever version it is that kids wear these days that are inappropriate for such an excursion.

While Tom, Kristal and I were crab walking up and down rock slide city, Sheri lounged around ghost town that was a little bit down the road, drank a beer, watched a fake gun fight, and pursued the mineral shop for overpriced gems. We kind of hated her. We took solace in the fact that our view was probably better than hers.

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We finished with the hike around 4:45 for a total of about 5 hours for the climb. Sheri and I left Tom and Kristal who would continue the challenge with Wasson and Picacho the next day. I definitely think that getting Flat Iron out of the way on day one and finishing with the two urban hikes before heading home was the smart decision, and it’s one I would recommend if you can stay three nights instead of two.

So there you have it. The AZ Six Pack of Peaks. I was happy to crawl into my bed after 5 hr. 32 min. drive home and the next day I didn’t get out of bed until 4:30 p.m. 

One might say I was tired.

Total climb for 3 days: 27 miles/11k ft. vertical gain.

If you’d like to sign up for the Arizona Six Pack of Peaks you can do so here. The challenge runs until April. 

 

 

 

 

 

Havasupai

Trailhead: Supai, AZ 
Length: 8 miles to the tourist office; 2 miles from tourist office to campsite
Elevation Gain: 2400 ft.
Difficulty: Strenuous due to the heat
Total time: 3-4 hrs
Dogs: No
Parking: There is a dirt lot at the trailhead, but do know that it’s packed and you may have to park fairly far down the highway. Also be aware of people double parking and blocking you in–that happened to one of our group members the first time she did it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You NEED a permit to hike Havasupai. There is no day hiking allowed. I keep getting messages from people saying “I’m gonna try to go next week!” and I’m like, “aww buddy… that’s not gonna happen.”

Permits open up on Feb 1 for each year and sell out within hours. You can get a permit by going to the website or calling in.  We were only able to get a permit for one night which meant we really had to work to make the most of our trip.

Here’s how it went.

We left Riverside after work on Wednesday and arrived at Hilltop at 2:30 a.m., ready to go. We stopped several times for bathroom breaks and made the unfortunate decision to stop in the McDonald’s in Needles for food, which was apparently overrun because the Jack in the Box had flooded.

As a result, McDonald’s was out of just about everything and my egg McMuffin came out cold.

Don’t do that. Take an extra hour and stop in Kingman instead. So many more options there. So many, many more.

Anyway, Needles is about 2 hours from the reservation. One thing I don’t remember anyone preparing me for was the drive in on the reservation in the dark. Animals roam free there and so the entire time we were dodging elk, deer, cows, coyotes, and bunnies that would dart in front of the car. It was like “Where’s Waldo” for spotting animals that would kill you if you didn’t find them before they ran into your vehicle.

After being terrorized by suicidal animals for an hour and a half, we were very happy to get out of the car and start hiking. Unfortunately we were told “Nah, bro” by the ranger and told we’d have to come back at 4 a.m. before we could go down.

Exhausted from the drive, we took a quick, uncomfortable nap and then started the 8 mile trek to the village.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

 

The hike is relatively flat with the exception of the first mile, which steadily declines and tries to murder you with sand and gravel (danger was a running theme this trip). On the way we saw a giant scorpion (more danger), the moon set, and the sun rise.

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We made it to the village at 6:45 a.m. and picked up the permits. This is where I noticed that my shoe had ripped. At the beginning of the trip. Awesome.

 

 

After buying a $10 roll of duct tape to fix the shoe which did not work AT ALL, we began the descent to the campsite which was another 2 miles down. On the way to the site we passed both Navajo Falls and Havasu falls but my back hurt from the pack, and the heat began to climb, and the lack of sleep made it hard for me to care much about any “dumb miracles of nature” because I just wanted to take my bag off.

We finally made it to the camp and set up our hammocks, and took a quick nap in the 105 degree heat. It was glorious.

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We chose to camp next to the river which felt great to dip the feet in due to the heat, which I am sure was sent from Satan himself. In the afternoon we decided to head over to Mooney Falls to cool down.

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Because I wanted to save my hiking shoes now that they had a hole, I decided to hike in my new Salomon water shoes which turned out to be a pretty solid plan because they were comfy and grippy.

The hike to Mooney isn’t far from the campsite, but the hike into the waterfall area is one of the sketchiest of sketch descents in the history of sketch. It’s like something out of the Goonies only you don’t have any of Data’s gadgets to save you, and you spend every moment envisioning your inevitable plummet to death.

To make matters better, there’s only one path up and one path down which is the perfect recipe for a traffic jam.

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The amount of people who could SEE us waiting at the middle trying to get down who then decided to go up so we couldn’t move was astounding. To those people, I would like to say: you suck.

We waited at the sketch part for 10 min before we decided to stop being polite and start getting real and elbow our way down.

While we were waiting at the crossroads I looked at @katierm1821 and said “NEVER AGAIN”

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Once we got there we went exploring, jumped off the rope swing and swam into a cave. I then looked at Katie and said “Ok, totally doing this again.”

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After a couple of hours we made our way back up sketchville and to the camp. We would have liked to hit Beaver Falls, since to get there you have to go through Mooney, but we were too tired and decided that needed to be saved for another trip.

While eating dinner the mosquitoes came out and were like “Oh, heyyyyy” so I pulled out the 98% DEET and still got four bites, one of which has turned into some weird red rash on my leg, so I’m not really sure what that’s about.

Even at 9:30 it was still hot as I lay in my hammock but I mananged to crash hard until I woke up two hours later FREEZING. Supai weather, make up your mind already.

Despite this, I woke up after an awesome night’s sleep in the hammock. I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m not being sarcastic. It’s true. Sometimes I AM sincere. Like only sometimes though. Anyway, it was actually great night’s sleep, and much needed if I was going to backpack 30 lbs through the canyon.

We decided to break up the trip back to the village by stopping at Havasu, Navajo, and 50ft falls.

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Havasu falls was super pretty with lots of fun pools where I managed to almost drown myself with the use of a floatie (danger!) because I really am just that special. We saw some guys taking some heavy duty tubes into the river leading away from the falls and found out that you can ride about 20 minutes down the river and get to camp. This was noted for our next trip.

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When then headed up to Navajo falls where we passed the frybread stand we tried to visit the night before only to find the packing up because it closed an hour early. This time they we found them unpacking their goods and were informed it would be an hour before they would open.

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Why do you hate us, frybread lady?!?

Next to Navajo Falls is 50ft falls. Most miss this place because it’s a little difficult to get to; it requires swimming through the reeds and waters unknown that probably have alligators or boa constrictors or the Lochness Monster waiting to kill you. Because of that there’s no one there and you have it all to yourself.

 

 

Uh… so definitely don’t go here, it’s too scary, and we didn’t go exploring and find a cool cave or anything like that at all. Just look at my pics instead of going yourself or telling anyone about it.

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From 50 Ft. Falls, we went to the lower part of Navajo where Katie played with rocks and found some cool fossils and I almost got swept downstream by a current I clearly underestimated (danger!).

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After a couple of hours there we made our way back to the village where we FINALLY got frybread because Keto diet be damned, am I right?!? I had a cell signal and was informed our AirBnB was canceled and we watched, bitterly, at the lucky bastards taking heli rides out of the canyon, knowing we’d be carrying our packs up the hill of death at the end.

I slipped my hole-y shoes on and we left the village around 6:20 and made our way back to Hilltop.

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Two of us arrived at Hilltop just after 9 p.m. We had the full intention of sleeping in the car, but when the other two arrived later we all laughed at that idea and at midnight drove an hour and a half through the reservation, dodging animals (danger!) and to a Motel 6 (danger!) full of tweakers (danger!) and someone else’s hair in the beds (oh, dear God, danger!)

The next morning we did as all travelers do after a long, arduous 48 hours… treated ourselves to #IHOB (Danger!)

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And that was it. Our whirlwind trip was over.

Here are some tips to prepare you if you’re planning on going:

Gear:
Water shoes:
I used these. They were light and I was able to walk from waterfall to waterfall without having to change. My only complaint is that they did allow sand to get into them so I had to rinse them out several times. Don’t cheap out on the water shoes. I know you can get a pair for $15 on Amazon, but you’ll be more comfortable if you make the investment, and it’ll give you incentives to go on more water hikes. Also, Solomon please feel free to sponsor me at any time.

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Backpack:
I used this one which was given to me by my roommate who is downsizing her backpacking gear. It served me well, but she’s about 6 inches shorter than I am, and the pack is an XS and about an inch too short for me. The first day was agony, but the second day I seemed to have it adjusted to where it was pretty comfortable and I was finally balanced.

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The best thing about this is that the water pouch is removable with straps and you can use it as a day pack. If you don’t have this option, I highly recommend bringing a smaller bag as a day pack so you don’t have to lug your giant backpack around.

 

Sleeping:
Three of us used a hammock and it was a good call due to the heat. I don’t think you need a specific hammock–any one will do. The campsite has tons of trees for hammocking. Don’t forget a mosquito net as well, otherwise you’ll be spending the night swatting bugs away from your face.

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I also used that down blanket from Costco everyone is in love with (and rightfully so) and borrowed my roommate’s Thermarest pillow which was so awesome I bought my own as soon as we got back.

Food:
I’m not much of an eater when hiking. I’ve actually trained myself to do long distance hikes without any food. I always bring food, but very rarely do I need it.

I had to eat on this trip. A lot. The heat just sucked out all the energy to function on the most basic level. Being on a ketogenic diet and vegetarian, my main staples were Joseph’s low carb pita bread with single servings of peanut butter and sugar free jelly, vegetarian beef jerky, and One Bars. Also, this coffee is awesome but super not low carb.

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I slightly over packed on food, but I cannot stress this enough: bring enough food. There is also a spigot at the campsite and the tourist office to fill up on water, and a store and cafe at the village for extra supplies.

Clothes:
I wore a wicking t-shirt and leggings on the way down and brought another t-shirt for the way up. I also brought a swimsuit, a pair of shorts, several pairs of socks/underwear. There isn’t much privacy to change into other clothing, especially if you don’t have a tent, so normal rules of hygiene don’t really apply.

Man, camping is seriously gross.

Also, after my recent trip to Mammoth where bugs were biting me through my clothes, I treated my clothing with this spray to avoid that happening gain and I *think* it worked, as everywhere I was bitten was exposed skin.

 

Also bring:
-Electrolytes (I had both salt tabs and Nuun tabs)
-Container for water besides your water bladder
-Cup for coffee (can also double as a bowl)
-Spork and knife
-Burner to heat water/food or two friends with burners (score)
Smell proof bag and to hang your food so the critters don’t get it.
-Towel
Cooling towel (don’t get the iCool ones from Walmart, they suck)
-Bug spray
-Sunscreen
-Sunglasses
-Hat
-Rope/paracords for hanging food and mosquito nets
-Grocery bags for trash

 

Some other notes:

Trash:
I read quite a bit of reviews talking about the trash in the village, and yes, there was some trash. But you know where the trashiest part was? The campsite. The campsite full of tourists. That trash was ours, not theirs. If you don’t want a trashy campsite, PACK IN PACK OUT. And if you see trash, pick it up and take it out. The previous campers left their trash at our site. Did we leave it and say not our problem? Nope, we took it out. Stop complaining and then doing nothing to solve the problem.

Pack Mules/Horses:
I’ve seen many posts on the state of the pack animals that the villagers use to charge tourists to carry up backpacks. Many have said that they are mistreated. Although I saw a few horses that looked awfully thin (they were not being ridden but were grazing at their stables), most of the animals I saw (with the exception of one that was bleeding from its pack) looked healthy and cared for. Two of the people on the trip that had been before also said that they looked much better than what they’d seen the year prior as well, so perhaps they’ve taken action on this.

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I don’t know enough about the issue to preach to anyone, either way. I’m not a vet and I’m not saying they’re in perfect health, and things may be happening that I haven’t seen. But maybe they’ve made progress. Regardless, I felt better carrying out my own pack.  But that’s me. Do your research, use your best judgement, and go with what your conscious allows.

 

That Hill: I’d heard everyone talk about how horrendous the last mile was on the way out and had been dreading it the entire time, but to be honest I’ve been up worse hills backpacking, like the first mile of San G, or Whitney. Going late in the day was a good plan–we were able to relax and enjoy the waterfalls on our second day there, eat at the cafe, and then go through the canyon as it got cooler. Most people you see will leave early in the morning, but you miss an entire day of waterfalls. It depends on how many nights you get and how much time you want to spend there. But the one thing I can say is don’t go during the middle of the day, because you’ll probably die. Probably. (Danger!)

 

Their Land: And finally, this should go without saying but apparently it needs to be said. This land belongs to the indigenous people of the Havasupai tribe.

ALL of the land in the US is land of indigenous people.

We are guests on their land. We need to respect them and be grateful they’ve given us the opportunity to see this place.

The night we were in Havasupai, a group of campers making the ah ah ah “Indian call” sound that even I, shamefully, made as a kid before I grew up and realized that it’s racist. Other tourists shouted at them to be quiet and one person shouted back “You’re not my dad!”

Ugh.

Stop being disrespectful. Treat people with kindness. Be respectful. BE GRATEFUL.

Really, why do I even have to type this out?

 

All in all Havasupai was an amazing time, even with the heat, the exhaustion, and the numerous, unidentifiable bug bites all over my legs. I am hoping I’ll be fortunate enough to do it again next year and perhaps make it to the confluence, which is now on my bucket list.

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Most importantly, the trip was with good people who supported one another down scary cliffs, monster infested waters, and tweaker motels. It was definitely a memorable time and despite my hesitation (see: terror) over the heat situation leading up to the trip, I am so, so glad I went. XOXO hike fam.

Iceland

Oh, hey, Inland Empire.

I’m gonna do that thing where I write about something that’s not in the IE and you’re not going to leave me annoying, snarky replies, or as I call them the “Actually comments.”

“Aaaaaaaaactuallllllly, that’s not in the Inland Empire. It’s in Iceland.”

Yeah. I know. That’s why I titled it Iceland.

So, I went to Iceland in March, and it was awesome. I spent only 5 days there because work ruined my life and made me come home because I had to do my job. I hate it when I have to do my job. It is very much rude.

Anywho, here’s a summary of the ins and outs.

I mean ins and outs of Iceland. Not my work event. Nobody cares about that.

First, we’ll start with the stuff we saw. At the bottom of the post is more logistical information.

 

The Golden Circle:
The Golden Circle has several spots to see in in southwest Iceland including: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall.

Here’s what happened for us: We landed in Iceland at 5 a.m., spent a good deal of time at the rental car place, and then began driving to the southwest part of the country. We stopped by the National Park which was closed which resulted in us getting yelled at by a park ranger for taking pictures on a bridge. We also visited the Geysir Geothermal area, where I got an itty bitty coffee–the only size they sell in Iceland–and stayed in the car because it was cold and I was wimpy and tired and you can see some dumb geyser in Icleand ANY TIME anyway!

Then… we went to the waterfalls.

First up was Gullfoss, a sight to be seen:

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pic by @trailbot

Then there was Seljalandsfoss

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@notyournatalie at Seljalandsfoss by @nursiechris

 

And then Skogafoss

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pic by @dulcefarts

Plus tons more you see while you’re driving. If you couldn’t tell, “foss” means waterfall. Skogafoss was the most powerful one that you could walk right up to. The water from the fall combined with perpetual rain made me soggy. I was starting to get fossed out, man.

Black Sands Beach:

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pic by @nursiechris

After all the fossing, we stopped by Black Sands Beach where Rouge One was filmed. I don’t really care about Star Wars (that’s right, I said it!), but the beach was very cool, and didn’t have any waterfalls. Definitely worth the trip out.

 

Diamond Beach:

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pic by @sdhiker

On our way to the Glacier Climb on Day 2, we stopped by Diamond Beach, which has black sand and is covered in ice “Diamonds” that wash up on shore. It’s one of those surreal experiences that make you think you’re on some other planet. Definitely a unique place that I highly recommend.

 

That was basically all of the “Free” stuff we did on days 1 & 2. Here are some of the paid tours:

 

Glacier Climb:

What: you hike Sólheimajokull glacier and do an Ice Climb
Cost: $200
Includes: Tour guide and belay; bus travel from Reykjavik (or you can meet on site like we did), climbing gear
Website

This was an awesome trip, and probably my favorite thing we did. Sólheimajokull glacier is actually featured in Chasing Ice and is rapidly melting due to climate change.  Our guide gave us the stats and pointed out a sign where the glacier was in 2010, which, in comparison to where it is now, is staggering.

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pic by @notyournatalie

The day we went we had the pleasure of seeing the sky for the first time we were there, but it was still snowy and rainy, which made for some fabulous rainbows.

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On our way through, our guide showed us how to put on our crampons and ice climb. The crampon part went well. The practicing ice climbing did not go as well.

After a brief orientation, we continued up to the wall we would climb and the guide belayed us down.

I’d been going to the rock climbing gym for months, trying to get my strength up so I wouldn’t fail at this. I thought I was super smart.

The thing about ice climbing though… it’s not like rock climbing AT ALL. You have to basically climb a wall of ice using the equivalent of butter knives attached to your shoes and ice picks in each hand. It’s super cool because you keep hitting your knees on the wall and your hands are in an upward position so it’s cold and they’re also not getting any blood. This might be fine if you’re coordinated, but I am like a turtle turned on its back 95% of the time.

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pic by @trailbot

After about 10 min this was as far as I’d gotten, and my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel anything. Our guide lowered me down and came to get me, but I started feeling strange. By the time we got to where the others were I was disoriented, my breathing was shallow, and I felt nauseous. It took me a second to realize I was having my very first panic attack.

After sitting down, and having four nurses that had taken the trip up with us buzzing around and shouting “GET HER ATIVAN, STAT” over and over and me repeating “Nah, bro, I’m good,” I was fine. I knew just needed to get my hands warm again to have my body calm down and I was right.

While I’m bummed I didn’t make it up, I have no trouble in admitting that I wasn’t successful and no regrets about the excursion other than I did not have proper gloves. Have proper gloves. It will help. And maybe you won’t have a panic attack.

 

Blue Lagoon:

What: geothermal water bath and spa
Cost: $90-$400 depending on the package
Includes: Access to the spa, mud mask and some other stuff depending on what you buy
Website

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I don’t think I can say it any better than how I said it on Instagram.

Let’s talk about the Blue Lagoon.

It’s man made

It messes up your hair. Bad

It feels relaxing at first

But after you look around for a bit you notice people. Lots of people

People with beers and smoothies dripping into the murky water filled with dead skin cells

It’s soup

It’s beer smoothie soup

It’s people soup

It’s beer smoothie people soup you have to use to wash your face off because you paid for that silica mud mask and you’ll be damned if you don’t get your money’s worth

You spent 90 bucks to float around in beer smoothie people soup

But hey, at least your skin feels nice afterward even if your hair is like Medusa.

…Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.

Lava Tube Tour
What: lava tunnel Raufarhólshellir, one of the longest lava tubes in Iceland.
Cost:
Varies depending on the length of the tour. Ours was around $70.
Includes:
“microspikes” that are actually yak traks (a.k.a. useless), headlamps, tour.
Website

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Our tour was about an hour and just for the first portion of the tunnel. It was cool with stalactites and mites. Because I was leaving for the airport right after the tour, I made the mistake of wearing regular boots and thin socks and my feet froze to the point that I was incredibly uncomfortable so, if you happen to go during cold weather, don’t, y’know, do that. Also, my headlamp barely worked so in addition to bringing microspikes, you may want to bring your own headlamp.

 

Snorkeling:
What: 
Guided snorkeling tour in Silfra Fissure
Cost: 
$150
Includes: 
Drysuit and tour
Website

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pic by @sdhiker

The group did this tour the day I had to leave to get back to work, so I can’t say from personal experience, but it looked awesome and I will forever shake my fist the god of working for me having to miss this. You get snorkel through the continental divide in glacier water and OMG I am never going to get over not getting to do this.


Kerid Crater

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pic by @nursiechris

Another cool thing that these bastards did without me was visit Kerid Crater which is believed to be a collapsed magma chamber from 6,000 years ago.

The Northern Lights

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Northern Lights by @trailbot

The thing I was most excited about on this trip was seeing the Northern lights. I dreamed of snowy scenes with cabins and green and purple wisps in the sky. I downloaded the Northern Lights app to tell me when to look up.

But here’s the problem… to see the Northern Lights you need to see the sky. Remember mentioning the rain? Well, with rain comes clouds that cover everything. And that app? It basically tells you that if you could see the sky, then you’d see the lights, which isn’t super helpful.

The first night in the city we caught a glimpse of them. Jae took the picture above but it took some heavy saturation to get any colors to pop. The picture is better than what we actually saw.

We had planned to go out the second night in the city, but unfortunately a pub called the Drunk Rabbit got in the way.

Night three we looked at weather reports and drove two hours each way, being chased storms. No lights.

The crew repeated the drive and pray method the final night, when I had left. Still no lights. Le sigh.

 

And there, my friends, is the summary of our trip.

Some other things we did not see on the trip but I wish we had:
Ice Cave
Hobbit Houses
Airplane

…Plus hiking, any hiking at all.

 

Other Helpful Thingies

Plane Tickets: we used WOW Air, which despite what you’re thinking right now, IS TOO an actual airline. And it’s not a bad airline. It’s just that it’s a cheap airline where you have to pay numerous fees.

Like $70 each way for checked baggage.
Or $50 for carry on.
All the food costs money.
If you want to pick your seat, that costs money.
If you accidentally pick a super luxury seat and want to unselect it, you have to call the airline to have it taken off because it “conveniently” gets an error when you try to remove it on the website no matter how many times you try. And you can’t get ahold of anyone when they call, so you decide to @ them on the Twitter. And finally they remove the seat selection, and you’re like “cool” and then you go to pick a seat and accidentally pick one that’s even MORE expensive than the first one you accidentally picked because gold is the $12.99 one, but slightly greenish gold is the $70 one and you just give up and end up paying $70 which results in you sitting next to some dude with the plague.

Where was I?

Oh, yes, WOW Air.

Here’s a tip: Just spring for the upgraded package. By the time you add luggage, and food, and a seat, you’re saving money. And hassle. So just buy the fancy one from the get go. Do it.

Lodging: We stayed at a Hostel in them middle of nowhere, which wasn’t as murdery as it sounds, and a really great Airbnb right in the middle of town. Between the 10 of us lodging cost $230 which isn’t bad at all. You know what was bad, though…?

Food: Dear God almighty food was expensive. People kept telling me food was expensive in Iceland and I was like “Yeah, yeah, I get it” but no, bro, FOOD IS EXPENSIVE. I paid $14 for a quesadilla. From Taco Bell. And don’t ask me why everyone wanted Taco Bell so bad. We’d been in Iceland for three days and they were like OMG TACO BELL! Like they’d been stranded on an island for 10 years with no food and only a volley ball named Wilson to keep them company.

Anyway, food is expensive. It was much more manageable to go grocery shopping and make food in the Airbnb. I lived off of PB&J for days. And the coffee is all thimble sized servings. You’re in Iceland. Things are expensive. Just get used to it.

Rental Cars: We had three cars to hold the ten of us. Jae secured the cars from a budget rental place (sorry, I don’t know the name of it) and they were all, shall we say, unique.

Picasso

Picasso, the car Chris, Jen, and I were in was a masterpiece with airline tray tables in the back, sunshades, and a front with side windows that went to the dash, making it look like an aquarium on wheels.  It was hands down the best car of the bunch even if the driver’s side window was continually getting stuck and wouldn’t go up in temperatures and wind chill below zero.

Gas is mighty expensive in Iceland and if you’re driving a clown car like Ervin was, you get to stop three or four times a day to get gas because the tank only holds about five gallons. Also, take note that on the 1 Highway, stations are few and far between. We noticed numerous vehicles that were abandoned on the side of the road; there are only two reasonable explanations for this: running out of gas or alien abduction.

 

Phone coverage: Everyone in the group contacted their own carrier to get an international plan. I have Google Fi, so I’m covered internationally.

Now, you may notice that I have almost no photos of the first day we were traveling.

Gather ’round yee children, for I have a story to tell.

It was the first day. It was dark. We had been driving, and driving, and driving. We hadn’t slept in 36 hours. I had to pee.

Chris pulled off to the side of the road I hopped out into the rain and wind and did my business.

Oh, stop judging me. It was dark. There was a monument to pee behind. I’m a hiker and I don’t care. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Chris had pulled the car closer so I could run back in quickly, and off we went.

About 15 minutes later, I noticed I couldn’t find my phone. I couldn’t find it, because, you see, it’d fallen out of the car during the break and I didn’t see it on the ground because the car had moved.

Did I mention that my phone case is also my wallet?

Chris did a U-Turn and we drove 15 minutes back to the turnout. He quickly spotted the phone, still there, on the side of the road. Grateful, I snatched it up, but it would not turn on. “It’s just cold,” I thought. But even after it warmed it, I snuggled it, it was plugged in, it was hard reset, it was shouted at, it was given the cold shoulder, and it was apologized to, it would only give me a green screen flicker before dying again.

RIP
Pixel “Pixie” II
January 2018-March 2018.

Not only was I unable to retrieve the photos I’d taken (no sim or memory card!), but I also had no means by which to take new ones. I was sad. Luckily, Chris had an extra iPhone that was older but did the trick as far as taking photos and getting me access to the internet. I also learned some important lessons about traveling including:

a) carry an extra phone–my old Samsung would have been a great backup
b) ensure your phone is in a secure location during pee breaks
c) set up your Gmail on your tablet before leaving the country because it’s going to ask you to verify your identity on your phone, which you can’t, because you don’t have a phone, and then it’ll say “cool, verify it by checking your email on a computer that already has access,” and you’ll be like, but “I can’t” and then it’ll say, “cool, verify it by getting the text on your phone” and then you’ll be like “ARG I ALREADY TOLD YOU I CAN’T DO THAT!” and it’ll give you the shrug lol emoji, and then you can’t order your replacement phone and have it waiting for you when you get back.

iceland
Dead phone, panic attack, and weird people soup aside, Iceland was one of my favorite experiences, ever.  The country has a unique, unparalleled beauty, even when it’s cold and rainy and destroys your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. It’s definitely a must return for me. A huge thanks goes to Jae for planning the trip with assistance from Chris and Ervin. This trip reminded me why I love traveling so very much, especially when it’s with good people.

You can see other pics of our adventures by following my co-travelers on Instagram
@trailbot
@Dulcefarts
@SDhiker
@kylojenhikes
@nursiechris
@notyournatalie
@swervin84
@_.karinao
@ashleytayfields

 

Oh, and here’s a pic of me impersonating a polar bear. Just because.

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