Unlike most thru-hikes the LST, at just under 100 miles, can be done in one 5-6 day section so I don’t have to worry about resupplies.
The western terminus (LST Trail Head #1) is about 75 miles (90 minutes) from downtown Houston. Roberta will drive me early Sunday morning so I can get a full day of hiking in on the first day.
Camp at Lake Conroe
Eastern Trail Terminus
It’s always about the water! The LST trail organization uses a “drop” system. Each water source is assigned a drop number (1-5). Then entire trail is assigned a drop number (currently 1.5) so any source with a drop number larger than that should have water. Water seems to be fairly plentiful (though there are a couple of ~15 mile dry sections) so I will not be caching water.
The weather forecast for the Conroe area looks pretty good, with one exception, Monday. Possibly heavy rain is forecast. On the plus side that should mean plenty of water to drink. On the down side, besides getting wet, this could make the East Fork of the San Jacinto ford more difficult (the old bridge washed out in Harvey).
Even though this is a winter hike I won’t be needing micro-spikes or heavy winter clothes. Fully loaded with 6 days of food and 2 L of water my pack weighs in a just under 30 lbs.
The complete TMB, walking every mile, is about 110 miles (though this can vary a bit because there are alternate routes). With our guiding company (MT Sobek) we are doing roughly 90 miles. Most of the difference is short road walks that we van around. But the MT Sobek itinerary eliminates one “stage” of the traditional TMB, from La Fouly to Champex, a roughly 10 mile stretch. We were told this day has only so-so views and no good views of Mt Blanc.
Day 7: Champex to Trient (Martigny)
Another relatively easy day. Of course, this is the alps so there was still a relatively steep, 2500′ climb up to the ridge overlooking Martigny.
Near the top of the climb we stopped at the Alpage de Bovine, a small restaurant, for lunch. Julien ordered several plates of Rosti for us to share and it was delicious. Basically potatoes and cheese so you can’t go wrong. And this was also one of our first stops on the Haute Route back in 2017.
From here it was a relatively gentle (by Alp standards) descent to the Col de Forclaz where Fabrizio was waiting to take us to our hotel in Martigny. We had an early day (at the hotel by 4:00) so some of us elected to go into town to see the Caillebotte exhibit.
Then we walked to a recommended italian restaurant, crossing over the Rhone river (it’s a lot smaller here!) on the way.
Day 8: Trient to Argentiere
A big climb day but we are finally adapted to the altitude and feeling fit so this was a great day of hiking.
The day started along a steep, old smugglers path through the forest up to the Col du Balme (7,200′) and the border with France. Back in France!
From the Col de Balme we hiked up another couple hundred feet to the Tete de Balme.
Then another three miles along the ridge to the Aiguilliette des Posettes (7,100′) for more stunning views of the Chamonix valley and Mt Blanc.
Then….. down, down, down 2,500′ to the Vallorcine Valley east of Chamonix and Argentière (4,100′) and our last hotel before Chamonix. And as we wind our way down we can see tomorrow’s start across the valley.
Day 9: Argentière to Chamonix
Last day! And we are feeling great! Beautiful weather and feeling a little sad that it will all soon be over. A very short, 6 mile day but… still 3,000′ of ascent over the first three mile. Ahhh…. Les Alpes.
After a short transfer from our hotel to Le Col De Montets (4,800′) we began our hike…
2,500 feet up to Les Cheserys (7,130′) hiking past several alpine lakes in the last mile.
It was very pretty but… it being Saturday and close to Chamonix, was very crowded compared to the other days on the trail. We stopped at one of the first lakes for lunch to avoid the crowd.
The climb to the final lakes involved ladders….
….. up to the last lake, Lac Blanc.
Because of the number of people we did not stay long and headed down toward the gondola that would take us back to Chamonix.
Back to the hotel we started at nine days ago, Grand Hôtel des Alpes.
Our hiking day typically started with an early breakfast (usually around 7:00 AM) followed by a trip to the lunch spread where we picked our snack and lunch food for the day. Danny and Julien did a nice job selecting local fresh food and we never had problems sticking to our pescatarian diet.
Day 4: Vallée des Glaciers to Courmayeur
Day 4 started with a van ride to the tiny Ville des Glaciers up the Vallée des Glaciers which eliminated a ~2 mile road walk.
Julien led us from the van to a small farm that makes Beaufort cheese. Beaufort is “produced in the Savoie region of France. The cheese is prepared using 11 liters (2.9 U.S. gal) of milk for every 1 kg (2.2 lb) of cheese desired. The milk used in one variety comes from the Tarine or Abondance cows that graze in the Alps.” And it tastes really good. The ~80 lb cheese wheels are wiped with brine and turned every few days, for at least 6 months.
Today was supposed to be a “relatively easy hike over the Col de la Seigne (8,245′)” but, of course, we were with “A” team so did a much harder (though very pretty) route that turned this into another 4,000′ plus day.
From Ville des Glaciers we hiked to the Refuge de Rocher where we started a steep climb out of the Vallée des Glaciers.
After about 4 miles and 2400′ we reached the Col de la Seigne at 8200′ and the border with Italy. At this point we could have headed down the valley into Italy but….. being the “A” team we elected to go up the ridge on our right, eventually getting to just over 9,000′.
The weather turned briefly stormy and we got our rain gear on for one of the few times.
This was definitely our longest day and by the time we started the steep, 3,000 foot down climb we were all pretty tired.
The day ended with a mile road walk to where Fabrizio could pick us up and then to our hotel in Courmayeur. We will stay here for two nights – we reverse the direction of the next day’s hike to finish again in Courmayeur.
Day 5: La Vachey to Courmayeur
After two really tough days this was a relatively easy day (still close to 3,000′ of climbing but only 9 miles long). We did this section in the reverse direction to be able to finish in Courmayeur.
Fabrizio dropped us off up the Aosta Valley, Italy for the nine mile walk back to Courmayeur
And, as usual, we ended the day with a 2500 foot descent, walking back to town and the hotel.
Day 6: La Vachey to La Fouly
Another relatively easy day …… only 3,000 feet of ascent! Which I really needed after eating too much pizza and drinking too much wine at dinner last night. And today we hike into Switzerland!
But, this being the Alps, we start the day with a steep 3 mile, 2500′ climb up to the Col de Ferret, the high point of the day at 8,300′ and the border between Italy and Switzerland. Mount Dolent (on the border between France, Switzerland and Italy) is visible to the Northwest.
We dropped down the far side of the col to get out of the wind for lunch before heading down the Val Ferret toward La Fouly.
Then down, down, down the Val Ferret toward La Fouly, where dependable Fabrizio and his van were waiting to take us the short ride to our hotel in Chapex. But we had time to stop at Gîte Alpage de La Peule for a quick beer on the way down.
At the hotel, this being Wednesday I attempted to explain what a Martini was to the nice lady bartender. We basically ended up with glasses of vodka and ice with a few olives. Good enough!
We joined part of our Tour du Mount Blanc (TMB) trekking group Wednesday, Aug 11 at the Geneva airport for the ~30 minute van ride to Chamonix. Everyone else is jet-lagged but, since we have been in France for the past week, we are feeling pretty good. Met the rest of our group and our two guides for dinner. Tomorrow is a short training hike above Chamonix.
Day 0: Chamonix
We took the cog railway up to the Mer de Glace glacier. Bert and I have done this before (when we did The Haute Route back in 2017) but it is a new experience for everyone else. We spent the day hiking up above Chamonix with amazing views.
Some folks did the 1,000 foot hike down to the glacier to see the ice cave but we elected to sit at the terrace cafe and enjoy a drink since we had already done this. Unfortunately we had our first casualty of the hike when John, a doctor from Denver, fell on some stairs and cut his shin badly enough to require stitches.
We ended up on the Grand Balcon trail descending to the rustic Chalet Caillet where we had a lovely dinner with more views. Unfortunately what was supposed to be a leisurely hike back to town turned exciting when a thunderstorm moved in suddenly. We ended up walking down, in the dark (using our cell phone lights), in the pouring rain. A great bonding experience!
Day 1: Chamonix to Les Houches
Our first day of hiking the TMB was relatively easy – we split into two groups – the “fast” hikers and the “slow” hikers. Somehow Bert and I got in with the faster hikers which meant a longer hike. We did not do the traditional TMB route for this stage but did a higher alternate that had great views of the Chamonix valley and Les Houches.
We ate lunch at the Aquillete de Les Houches.
For those of us on the “A” team, today was a ~10 mile, 3500 foot ascent day. We arrived at our hotel in Les Houches around 4:00 so had time to rinse out clothes and take a quick nap before dinner.
And this was the day that Danny (our guide) convinced me to put me hand in and ant hill, collect some ants and then lick an ant’s butt. To taste the formic acid. Tasted just like vinegar.
Day 2: Les Houches to Les Contamines
Another tough day in the alps – very warm. I had some problems on the last climb of the day, a steep 700 foot ascent. I just could not catch my breath near the top of the climb and had to stop for a bit. Think it might’ve been the altitude. But…. after a rest and a drink felt better for the hike into town (Les Contamines).
Had beautiful views all day and lunch on a glacier stream we could rest our feet in was pretty sweet. Another 3,000 foot day!
Day 3: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
A very tough day, over 4,000 feet of ascent today. Hike started along an old Roman road that rises to the Plan des Dames. From there we climbed up to the Col du Bonhomme (7,641′) and Croix du Bonhomme (8,100′).
We had lunch at the high point today – the Croix du Bonhomme.
After a long hike down to the valley to Les Chapieux, Fabrizio (our van driver) took us to a much needed shower and bed in Bourg Saint Maurice.
After almost two years we finally made it back to France last week. Very strange flying again….. and this time with masks the entire way! We almost missed our connection at Dulles but United held our flight so we arrived bright and early at Charles de Gaulle last Wednesday to begin a four hour train journey to St-Jean-de-Losne. 26 hours after leaving the house we stepped off the train in St Jean to an empty station and no taxis.
After walking about half a mile in a mild drizzle (not complaining – temperature is a wonderful 65 degrees!) a nice lady on vacation from Morocco offered us a ride to our B&B, Les Charmilles. Beatrice, the owner, said we were the first Americans she has had since the pandemic started.
We hooked up with the shipyard manager on Friday and he took us to the drydock where they were working on Decize. She still needs a lot of fiberglass repair before the painting starts. Phillippe says it should all be done well before next year’s cruising season starts in the spring. Fingers crossed!
After meeting with Phillippe we met with the marina manager, Vasily, to discuss where our slip would be. H2O has two marinas on the Saone, here at St-Jean and about 30 kms north in Auxonne. We prefer St-Jean since it has more facilities and Vasily said that would not be a problem.
And then we spent the next few days exploring St-Jean and checking out the restaurants on the quai. St-Jean is a lovely French town of maybe 5,000 people located on the Saône river.
After a short, 10 day visit with Emilie and Francis in Colorado Springs mostly playing board games and day-drinking… we began the last leg of the trip ….
… to Palo Duro Canyon! We had planned to camp in the Canyon but decided to grab a hotel in Canyon which is only 15 minutes from the park.
We decided to do the Lighthouse Trail Loop as it includes the most iconic peak in the park. So…. up early and headed for the Canyon.
The trail starts on the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail and joins the Lighthouse Trail after about 3 miles. The trail skirts the bottom edge of the canyon and is reasonably flat most of the way.
We were very fortunate because the normal temperature in the canyon in late June is in the low 90’s but we had overcast skies, a light drizzle and mid-70’s. Not so good for pictures but much better for hiking.
It started to drizzle when we hit the top and the scramble to the top is very steep so we did not spend a lot of time on the top but the views were great.
And…. that pretty much finished off our grand tour of the northwest…. 5600 miles, lots of great hikes and some stunning scenery. All that remained was a 9 hour drive to Houston and…. Martini Night!
Up early (June 15) to beat the heat and headed to the Spiral Jetty and the Great Salt Lake.
Then we walked the mile or so out to the current shoreline (the water has been high enough in the past to completely cover the jetty).
We left the Great Salt Lake just as it was starting to get uncomfortably warm (about 8:30) and drove to our campsite just east of Salt Lake City (near the Alta Ski Resort in the Wasatch Mountains).
We were a bit worried because the temperatures kept rising through the afternoon, reaching the upper 90’s in town. But our campsite is 2,000 feet above SLC and the temperature was consistently 20-25 degrees cooler.
After setting up camp, doing a short hike and getting cleaned up we put on our best campwear and headed back down the mountains. A high school friend of mine (Linda Burr) who I had not seen since high school contacted me via facebook and invited us to dinner – their place is only 30 minutes from our camp.
We had a lovely time and drank too much of course. Next morning we were up bright and early for a little 8 mile, 3,000 foot hike up into the Wasatch Mountains.
And, as luck would have it, Clifford Pugh and his husband John were staying the next canyon over in Park City (though not in a tent) and invited us over for dinner.
So, after two nights of lovely camping and wonderful dinners with friends we left Utah heading toward Colorado.
After three mostly lovely days in Neskowin we headed back south and east on June 12. Neskowin, after nearly 3,000 miles, was the end of our outbound journey. Next stop is the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon.
Had another lovely campsite next to a mountain stream. Nice cool night in the 40’s, perfect for sleeping but Bert’s back is giving her problems so we elect to get a room for the following night. Found a little 4-room lodge along the Payette River in the Boise National Forest. Management of the hotel is a bit iffy but we have our own private hot-springs fed tub out the back!
Except for the folks in one of the other rooms celebrating a 50th birthday accidently walking into our room in the middle of the night we had a nice stay. Walked to the river where the hot springs run down the side of the hill to merge with the cold river water. But it is very hot so we cut the hike short.
Up early the next morning to get a short hike in before the heat kicks up. Rode our bikes a couple miles to the Kirkham Ridge trailhead and started up! The Trail climbs the mountains on the north side of the Payette River valley.
After the hike we packed up and headed towards Utah. We realized last night (after pizza and beer) that we actually have an extra day before our campsite reservations near Salt Lake so we have two easy days of travel and, at Bert’s urging, we added the Spiral Jetty to the itinerary.
We also decided to ignore Google and headed west on the river road (Ponderosa Pine Scenic Route) hoping it would be more scenic and we were not disappointed.
After a short stop in Ketchum (Sun Valley) for lunch and to pay our respects to Ernest….
… we headed on to the Western Inn in Tremonton, Utah.
We had two days of lovely weather and one rainy day but all of them were cool (compared to Houston!).
And we did one non-beach hike that was wet and muddy with almost no views. We had wanted to repeat the Cascade Head hike we did in 2019 but the trail was closed (Covid?) so we switched to another trail (the Rainforest Trail).
We did not finish the hike as the trail became more and more overgrown as we progressed.
After three days of beach walks and wine on our balcony overlooking the Pacific we headed back east…. Houston is calling!
We arrived in Whitefish, Montana on June 3. With the wedding planned for the afternoon of the 5th we have a day to hike in Glacier National Park (GNP), which is only 30 minutes from downtown Whitefish. The wedding (Karyn Mathison and Samir Jerij) will be outside on the shores of Whitefish Lake. Karyn is my old buddy Dave’s only daughter. The wedding had been planned for 2020 but the pandemic caused a one year shift.
Snyder Lake Hike
Up early and heading to the park which turned out to be a good thing. You have to have a “Entry Ticket” which is valid for 7 days. I think they are trying to control the number of people coming to the park since it is one of the most popular national parks in the country. Fortunately Dave told us about this so we got our ticket months ago.
At Dave’s suggestion we decided to do the Snyder Lake hike (9 miles and about 2400 feet of ascent). It’s an out-and-back hike.
After our hike as we drove through the park we saw a bear. Most of the bears I’ve seen in national parks have been from a road. I think they like stuff that grows near roads.
After a morning bike ride around Whitefish we put on the fancy duds we brought just for the wedding and caught a shuttle to the lodge on the lake.
We caught the shuttle back to town (and accidently ended up at the after party with the youngsters but pretty quickly realized we were out of our league and headed back to the hotel).
Last Hike in GNP
On our last day in Whitefish we hooked up with Emerson and Linda for a last (hangover) hike in GNP. We did one of the prettiest (and most popular) hikes in the park, the Avalanche Lake Trail
After three days of fun in Montana we head west on June 7.