New York

Back in August, we utilized frequent flyer miles and hotel points to take a 7th anniversary trip to New York. I had saved hotel points from previous jobs, and we finally made use of them! We stayed in the Tribeca neighborhood and really enjoyed our time in a more “normal,” not-so-touristy neighborhood. Here is a run-down of the things we did:

-Ate in Little Italy (I could do without Little Italy)
-Took the ferry by the Statue of Liberty and on to tour Ellis Island (it was freezing inside but so interesting)
-Visited the Irish Hunger Memorial
-Visited the 9/11 Memorial (Would not do it again – wait until it’s finished and you don’t have to go through five thousand security checkpoints)
-Ate at L’Ecole French Culinary School restaurant (during restaurant week! made it affordable)
-Went to see Wicked on Broadway
-Toured the Tenement Museum (so great!)
-Met up with our old friend Jelmore and walked around Brooklyn
-Visited Chelsea Market (neat) and the High Line park (way too crowded)
-Spent time in Central Park
-Visited the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center
-Ate pizza, sushi, doughnuts, pretzels, cupcakes, etc, etc…
-Spent our last morning walking around the Tribeca neighborhood

We had a great trip but each agreed that NYC for us is a place to visit only!

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

L'Ecole

At L’Ecole French Culinary School’s restaurant

At L'Ecole

At L’Ecole French Culinary School’s restaurant

Brooklyn w/ Jelmore

With Jelmore in Brooklyn

High Line park

At High Line Park

Pizza time

Eating pizza at Lombardi’s

Central Park

At Central Park

Top of the Rock

 At the Top of the Rock Observation Deck

A Grand 30th Birthday Present

If you’ve spent much time with me, you may know that Grand Teton National Park is one of my favorite places on earth. My parents got me hooked on a summer road-trip in 1994. I’ve climbed and hiked some in the Tetons, and I’ve always talked about wanting to climb “the Grand”. Without technical alpine climbing experience,  the Grand always felt a bit out of reach. The easiest route up the mountain is still a technical rock climb.

In April of this year, I turned thirty. I didn’t feel much different (I still mostly act like a kid), but Lauren decided turning thirty was special. She threw me a big fiesta birthday party. At the end of the night, after everyone left, she told me that she had arranged for me to climb the Grand Teton with my friend Kyle! If you didn’t know already, I have the best wife ever!

I immediately started planning. We landed on using Exum Guides to safely get us up the mountain on a four day trip (2 training, 2 climbing).  I thought July would never arrive, but finally it did. I’ll quickly break down each day:

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Day 1 – We learned how to get the most out of our approach shoes (a hiking shoe specifically created for easier climbing). We learned/reviewed several climbing knots (figure 8 & bowline) and some rope management skills. By the end of the day, we were moving as a roped team up some easy terrain at Hidden Falls. The day ended with learning how to safely rappel.

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Kyle & our guide Mark.

Day 2 – After day 1, our guide Mark suggested that Kyle and I do something a bit more challenging. Day two is typically more hands-on practice of day one’s skills. We were stoked when Mark suggested we do a route on the north end of Jenny Lake called Baxter’s Pinnacle. It was a moderate six pitch climb that ended with a very challenging 5.9 move at the beginning of the last pitch. Kyle and I agreed that this was almost as much fun as climbing the Grand.

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Climbing Baxter’s Pinnacle with Jenny Lake in the background.

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Climb Baxter’s Pinnacle with Teewinot and Middle Teton (I think) in the background.

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Kyle on one of the last pitches of Baxter’s Pinnacle.

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Cam & nut placed for protection on Baxter’s Pinnacle.

Day 3 – We met Mark, our guide, and the rest of our team to start the trek to the lower saddle, where we would camp before climbing the Grand. We had very warm/hot weather for the seven miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain. Mark kept a good pace, and we felt great the whole way up. After dinner, we bedded down with our closest twenty friends in the Exum hut. Between the old man that kept elbowing me, and some dude snoring, I got almost no sleep.

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Hiking up Garnet Canyon approaching the Lower Saddle.

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Relaxing after arriving at the Lower Saddle.

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Outside our tent/hut at the Lower Saddle below the Grand.

Day 4 – At 2 AM, our alarms went off. After a quick breakfast, our team was off. Our team of 5 made great time up the mountain. Kyle and I pushed Suzzane & Pam really hard (50th birthday trip for them!), as we were determined to summit. Please forgive us. You guys were rock stars! By 6 AM, we had made it safely to the summit! The trip down was pretty laid back besides a section that is best rappelled. The rappel is in a dangerous rock-fall area, so it was important to move quickly through this section. After packing up camp and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed back down the trail. Once we were through the dangerous parts, Kyle and I broke off from the group and raced back. We had to be back to work the next day and had 8 hours in the car still ahead! Sheesh!

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First sunlight hitting the Enclosure (a side peak of the Grand) and an awesome shadow of the Grand in the background.

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Kyle working the traverse…definitely the most exposure of the route.

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Our awesome team on the summit.

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Kyle rappelling on the descent.

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A nice view from the top!

The whole experience was really amazing! We learned a lot from the guides, and feel like we could easily enough do it on our own now. Thanks to our wives for letting us do this, and a big thanks to Kyle’s wife Stephanie for driving us home!

Fun Fact: Many people think the Grand Teton is the highest point in Wyoming. It’s not, but what mountain is?

P.S. Our wives had a lovely time exploring the park, the town of Jackson, and Jackson Hole ski resort, where we rented a condo.

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Stephanie & Lauren in front of Hidden Falls.

 

Capitol Charmer

Capitol Peak is one of the most beautiful and challenging of Colorado’s Fourteeners. In September 2010, I blogged about my second and Lauren’s first failed attempt on the mountain. This summer was getting away from us, and we decided to give it “one” more try. The drive to the Capitol Peak trailhead is worth the trip alone.

Capitol Peak in Numbers

  • 3 attempts
  • 51 miles hiked
  • 12,000 ft of elevation gained
  • ∞ days of rain in the Elk Mountains
  • 14,130 feet tall

We arrived at the trailhead in the afternoon the start the six-mile backpack to our camp. We were greeted by one of the loudest thunder claps we’ve ever heard…a warning sign? The weather quickly cleared up and we hiked in. After setting up camp, it was deja vu. It started raining and raining. Luckily we got a quick break and were able to eat dinner and get ready for bed. It rained steadily through the night. When the alarm went off at 4ish, it wasn’t raining and we decided to go for it. Quickly, we were greeted by the moon and stars, and then a lovely sunrise.

Northeast Ridge

The climb took us around nine hours round trip. Capitol’s northeast ridge is ranked Class 4, which is right below technical climbing (needing ropes). Lauren and I were both thankful for our rock climbing backgrounds as we felt comfortable most of the time. There is one section of the climb called the “Knife Edge”, which has a lot of exposure (big drops on either side). This part usually bothers people the most, but I actually thought the east side of the route after coming over the saddle between Mt. Daly and Capitol was the scariest part. The “cairned” trail was hard for us to follow, and there was a good bit of loose scary terrain.

On the summit!

The third time was the charm! This trip was another good reminder that the mountain will always be there, so be safe and don’t push your luck when weather is bad. Capitol Peak was a lot of fun, and I’m so happy that Lauren was willing to try it again. After a good night’s rest, Lauren and I packed up and headed back to the car. On the way out, we talked to a couple who recommended a restaurant in Glenwood Springs called The Pullman. Definitely check it out next time you’re in the area.

Happy Campers!

Lima, Peru – Part 2

Finally, this post concludes our wonderful trip to South America!

We spent our last few days in the non-touristy but interesting capital of Peru: Lima. First things first…it was HOT there! I had to go to the store to buy shorts and a tank top (remember this is January). Second, since Lima is not a big tourist destination, we stood out, especially Joel. Some kids openly gawked at big blond Joel with his huge beard!

We took a highly-recommended private tour of the city, where we stopped at San Martin Square in the historic City Center.

In the middle of the plaza is the monument to San Martin, the liberator of Peru.

This is the front of the monument. Our guide told us a funny story: When the monument was being constructed, the sculptor was told to add a “llama” or flame to the top of the lady’s  head. The sculptor thought they meant llama, like the animal (which is very important in Peru), so he put the animal on her head (look closely). I’m glad they kept it.

We  saw the Lima Cathedral:

We toured the church of San Francisco and its catacombs, but you can’t take pictures inside:

This is Love Park in Miraflores, where there are lovely mosaic benches, reminiscent of Park Guell in Barcelona. The sculpture behind us (“The Kiss”) was done by Victor Delfin, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we stayed. Also right after we took this picture, some guys jumped out of a van, ran up and painted some white paint on the black part of the sculpture then ran away. We had no idea what that was about…unfortunately it seemed like vandalism.

Lima is not known for its beaches by any means, but we spent a little time at the one down below where we were staying (upper left corner). At one point, we started counting the unbelievable number of items vendors tried to sell us while we sat there. It was quite the variety.

Joel took some time and did a little mountain biking (kind of funny since we live in CO, but he loved it). Side note: Notice that Joel has no beard in this picture. He couldn’t handle the beard in the heat, so we bought clippers at a store, and he shaved it. At least we own clippers now.

We visited the Larco Museum, where we saw a large collection of Pre-Colombian art and had a lovely lunch at their cafe.

On our last night, we ventured to the very popular, almost locals-only Magic Water Circuit. This is an extremely cheap activity where you see maybe 20 large fountains lit up with different lights.  This was a fun night – a couple of girls asked to have their picture taken with us (you know, the gringos), and then later when we were looking at different areas, I found another girl getting her picture made with Joel. So funny…we figure we’re on someone’s facebook.

And thus concludes the amazing South American adventure. Special thanks to American Airlines for the free (plus taxes) flights and to Trip Advisor and random peoples’ blogs for helping us research. 🙂

Lima, Peru – Part 1

After spending New Years’ Eve in Cusco, we headed back to Lima for the duration of our trip. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Second Home Peru. Lima is neither beautiful nor touristy, and one of our taxi drivers told us this was the best place to stay in Lima. The back of the home is on the cliff overlooking the ocean, so it was lovely to sit out on the deck or in the yard to see the sunset.

Second Home is the former home of artist Victor Delfin, so the home is full of paintings and sculptures by Delfin. It is run by his daughters, but I believe his quarters are adjacent to the b&b. Following are many pictures of the home, inside and out.

And finally, the view from the beach back up at the house (center):

Machu Picchu, Peru

History lesson: Why is Machu Picchu such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it was basically the only Inca site that wasn’t ever found/damaged by the Spanish and is therefore much more intact. It was “discovered” by non-locals in 1911, so they were wrapping up the 100 year anniversary while we were there.

We knew we’d get the best pictures if we took the first bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in the morning, so we lined up in the rain at 5:30 to ride the 3.7 switchbacked miles up. Along the way, we passed several extremely miserable-looking people walking up. Although the walk is strenuous, it looked horrible in the rain. Several people tried in vain to flag down the bus, which seems to stop for no one.

When we arrived, hoping to grab that iconic postcard photo before the throngs of tourists descended into the ruins, we were disappointed to be able to see only part of the clouded site.

As we proceeded through the day, the fog gradually lifted, revealing the unbelievable sight before us.

Temple of the Sun – look at that construction!:

Several llamas make their homes at Machu Picchu.

How did they move that huge rock??

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes the day before, we went immediately to the ticket office to pay for our Machu Picchu reservations. Somehow, the man couldn’t find our reservations, which had included a hike up Huayna Picchu. We were SO thankful we weren’t there in the high season, because there is no way we would have gotten tickets. When we got a new reservation, we were unable to hike Huayna Picchu, but we did get tickets to hike up Cerro Machu Picchu, which has a view of Huayna Picchu. Cerro Machu Picchu is a hike straight up about a million stairs, which are actual stairs the Incas used to gain the top of the mountain. The bronchitis I mentioned in an earlier post made this hike very uncomfortable for me, but I finally finished.

From the top, after I recovered enough to muster a smile. Look for tiny Machu Picchu down below.

And finally, our most grand view of Machu Picchu:

 

 

Aguas Calientes, Peru

Augas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, an expensive train/bus ride away from Cusco. We took a car that had windows in the roof so you can get a better view of the surrounding terrain, including some ruins and terraces.

While in Aguas, we attempted a hike up Putucusi, but were turned away because the crucial ladders near the beginning had been washed out.  However, we were able to pick up an unfortunate amount of trash along the way and gain this nice view of the town and the raging Urubamba River. We were also reminded of the misery of hiking in extreme humidity, which I made sure to complain about during the 20 minutes or so we actually got to hike.

Because we wanted to get to Machu Picchu early in the morning, we needed to spend a night in Aguas. We stayed at Gringo Bill’s and enjoyed a nice meal in the surprisingly deserted Tree House restaurant. At the Tree House, we decided to go for it: trying the traditional Peruvian delicacy of “cuy” (prounounced ‘quee’). It’s guinea pig if you didn’t know. We found it a bit greasy but were glad we tried it, despite the obviously non-traditional presentation.

Sacred Valley, Peru

While in Cusco, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley to see more Inca sites. Unfortunately our tour guide was absolutely horrible, making the day long and miserable. Luckily the price was worth the bus trip alone, as it would be extremely difficult to see all these sites without an organized tour.

We began the day at a tourist-trap handicraft market featuring fake alpaca items among other things. We then moved to the Pisaq ruins, which featured terraces formerly used for farming, hillside tombs that had been unfortunately raided, and village ruins.

Below the ruins is the current village of Pisaq which has a regionally famous market (especially with tourists from Cusco). It was raining the day we went, but we were able to see most of it anyway. The picture below is an example of the ubiquitous handicraft stall, found literally everywhere in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Aguas Calientes.

This lady is in her regular clothes, as far as we know. This isn’t the pay for picture costume!

We then went to lunch at a place that had a buffet, tons of tourists, and the animals below. It was a strange and beautiful place, but it provided a much-needed break from our tour guide.

After lunch, we traveled on to Ollantaytambo, another Inca town, where our guide proceeded to over-pronounce the name dozens of times, just to make sure we knew what it was called. To add insult to injury, at this site we couldn’t help our longing as we were near the great tour guide we had the day before while he led a Spanish-speaking group this day. I do think the ruins at Ollantaytambo were the most interesting on on the tour.

We finished our tour in Chinchero, where we watched a demonstration by girls in traditional costume about how to dye wool. I bought a scarf at their dimly lit market after they made such a big deal about everything being alpaca. When I got it out later, in full light, I noticed the telltale shiny threads of acrylic. At least I wondered how they could sell it for a good price if it was really alpaca!

 

 

Cusco, Peru

Oh Cusco, the land of handicrafts. By the time we left, I thought I’d die if I was offered another handicraft (I’ll have a picture of handicrafts in the next post).

We stayed at the Hotel Rumi Punku, which had nice rooms and a beautiful courtyard. With the exception of one weird interaction with a staff member regarding a dinner reservation, our stay there was great. We stayed before and after our visit to Machu Picchu, and they let us keep extra luggage there as well as pay for both stays at the end.

While in Cusco, we inquired about a city tour and took the one our hotel recommended. We had a fabulous tour guide and really enjoyed it. The tour was a great way to get slightly outside the city easily to see sites such as Sacsayhuamán.

We started in the city center at the Cusco Cathedral (you can’t take pictures inside):

Next, we walked to the Qorikancha, a temple from the Inca Empire. Inca construction is full of super smooth, perfectly interlocking stones, as seen below at the Temple of the Sun, the most important place in the Qorikancha.

We then moved to the outskirts of the city to see Sacsayhuamán, the former capital of the Inca empire, which featured more amazing stone work.

There was a beautiful overlook of Cusco at Sacsayhuaman:

At Sacsayhuaman was a common site – woman with llama dressed in traditional costume who asks you for $5 after you take your picture with her. We knew this and captured this picture from far away. I fully intended to go for it and pay for a picture at some point, but we somehow never got around to it.

We continued on to Qenqo, Tambomachay, and Pukapukara. While at Pukapukara, I snagged some “cholo con queso” which is an ear of huge-kerneled corn with a piece of cheese. It seems to be a popular street food, so we went for it. Mmm…

Finally we ended the tour at an expensive shop featuring alpaca fur items.

 

Peru

After a money-saving but sleepless night in the Punta Arenas airport, we began our journey to Peru. We flew from P.A. to Santiago, touching down in Puerto Montt along the way. As we flew, we saw many volcanoes out the plane window! We then flew from Santiago to Lima. The flight arrives too late in Lima to fly to Cusco, so we had to wait a night.

We were swindled into a rip-off taxi and made our way to the only reasonable hotel we could find that wasn’t an hour away from the airport. The taxi driver made the trip take much longer than necessary, with his “value-added” site-seeing. As we drove, I was alarmed at the fumes coming in the car. Apparently Lima has the worst pollution of the South American capitals, and I developed a lovely case of bronchitis that day that would linger through the rest of our trip.

We finally arrived at a special place, the Hotel Gran Mundo. Through an adjoining door to the right was a casino. Through an adjoining door to the left was a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant. We ate there, as it was the only place around, but the experience was much more memorable than the food. I found out later that “chifa” is a style of food that is a mix of Chinese and Peruvian, a relic of immigration from 100 years ago resulting from the lack of availability of Chinese ingredients in Peru.

Thus began our time in Peru, followed by a flight the next morning to Cusco.

Here’s the lobby of the Hotel Gran Mundo. From left to right: Chinese calendar (?) and urn, stuffed deer with fake tree, casino games. Awesome.