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Hiking

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My Top 5 Adventures in 2009, Climbing Masada, Israel

This past January, almost exactly a year ago, my family spent several weeks in Israel. On our final day, we drove south of Jerusalem past Bedouin villages into the rolling hills of the Judean desert. This is where you find the mountain fortress, Masada, known as the site where the Israelites committed mass suicide rather than serve as slaves to the Romans in 73 A.D. Climbing Masada is a rite of passage for most people heading to the country. Fortunately it was January, so the heat wasn’t too bad as my daughter Melanie counted all 865 steps to the summit. As a reward for the hike, we brought the kids for a swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. It was late in the day, the waters were rough, and we forgot our towels. No one seemed to care as we floated in the salty sea, staring at the mountainous ridges of Jordan on the opposite shores. See the full story in The Boston Globe.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/05/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Dream Trips 2010, Hiking the Milford Track, South Island, New Zealand

It’s 2010, my friends. A fresh new decade to achieve those goals and check off the places you’ve been yearning to see. You can cower in a corner fearful of the next Al Qaeda operative, count your remaining pennies in the piggy bank, or leave the world’s worries behind and go on that dream trip. I prefer the latter. This week, I delve into the adventures I’m trying to fit into my calendar this year.

When I visited New Zealand on my last trip, I made the mistake of not booking the 4-day Milford Track. The country limits the number of hikers to 10,000. So this July, I’ll be the first on line to get my permit and hike this glorious route later in the year. The hiking season stems from late October to late April. Avoid the rush of Christmas school holidays from the last week of December through January. Set in the South Island’s Fjordland National Park, the Milford Track is a rite of passage for Kiwis. The 33-mile trail weaves through rainforest and alpine meadows, passing the country’s tallest waterfall, and dumping you off at the striking fjords of Milford Sound. I've cruised through these fhords before and they're spectacular, an amazing spot to end a hike.


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/11/10 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wild China

I had the good fortune to have lunch last week in Boston with Mei Zhang, founder of Wild China. For more than a decade, the Harvard MBA grad has brought visitors to the remote parts of China, telling me that “over 80 percent of travelers to the country see less than 20 percent of the land mass.” More than likely they get a glimpse of the Great Wall in Beijing, go on a Yangtze River cruise, and, if they have time, see the Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China in Xi’an. But what about that impressive mountain and river scenery found in the backdrop of Zhang Yimou films? To immerse yourself in that otherworldly beauty, you’re going to have to sign up for one of Wild China’s trips. Zhang is keen on taking people to her native Yunnan Province, north of Laos and Burma. Here you’ll find centuries-old Hill Tribes making bricks of tea high up in the mountains and the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail, a southern Silk Route still being used that links southwestern China with Tibet. The trade route will be featured in the May issue of National Geographic, a perfect time to take the weeklong jaunt with Wild China, according to Zhang. She also offers hiking trips on the 19th-centruy French Explorers’ Route, along the Mekong and Salween Rivers, and trekking in the heart of Shangri-La.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/16/10 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventures in Madeira

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I like to promote small outfitters from each of their respective countries. After all, who knows their region of the world better than a local? That said, I just received an email from Jhonathan Rodrigues, owner of Adventure Kingdom on the island of Madeira. 35 miles long and 13 miles wide, Madeira is best known for its mountainous interior, with Pico Ruivo rising 6100 feet in the center. Cliffs plummet to the sea from towering heights, ravines are cut into rough and hewn terrain to form more than 40 canyons. Indeed, it’s one of the best locales on Earth to go canyoneering. Adventure Kingdom leads guided jaunts to do just that, along with trekking deep into the heart of the island, and, for the less intrepid, walking along the “Levadas,” irrigation channels built hundreds of years ago, now laced with footpaths.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/18/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Explore the Canadian Wilderness with Several of Canada’s Best-Known Explorers

It’s not enough that Canadian Mountain Holidays runs two lodges in some of the most glorious British Columbia mountain ranges, the Bugaboos and Selkirk, where granite peaks and spires pierce the peak over 7,000 feet high. No, it’s not enough that this well-known heli-ski company uses those same helicopters in the summer time to take hikers to trails traversed by far more bear, elk, and caribou than humans. Now you’ll get to explore those same trails in the company of Dr. Joe MacInnis and Dr. Roberta Bondar. MacInnis led the first team of divers under the North Pole and was one of the first to dive the Titanic. Bondar is Canada’s first woman astronaut and a neurologist to boot. Dates are July 24-27 with MacInnis and August 17-20 with Bondar.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/13/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Veteran Travel Writer Everett Potter Leads UK Walking Tour

What do you get when you combine one of the most majestic locales in the UK with a gifted travel writer known for his insatiable curiosity and an outfitter keen on guiding visitors away from the typical tourist fare? A truly memorable trip! Everett Potter has teamed with Wayfarers to lead an 8-day hike through the English countryside in Devon County. You’ll explore the farms and historic hamlets of Dartmoor and Exmoor, the backdrop for Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” grab a boat up the River Dart to Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home, and visit Castle Drogo, said to be the last castle built in the country. You’ll also walk some 12 to 14 miles a day, stay at country inns, and grab lunch at pubs that have been serving bitter since the times of Shakespeare. Dates are September 26-October 3 and the price is $3795 per person, including all accommodations, meals, and transport in the UK.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/27/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

You Don’t Have to Travel Halfway Around the World to Be Active

I’m a travel writer, so it’s my job to turn you on to places around the globe I think you should definitely check out. But after spending a glorious weekend at home in the Boston area, I’m just as happy to see you venture outdoors in your own backyard and remain active. I spent Saturday at my favorite oasis, Broadmoor, a Mass Audubon retreat, staring at numerous turtles sunbathing on upturned logs in the Charles River, found three snakes, and watched Canadian Geese and their cute furry goslings go for a dip. On Sunday, I went biking in Dover and Millis past horse farms, pasture, and absurdly large homes. Spring is finally here, so make sure to take advantage and Go Play!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/04/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mount Monadnock, New Hampshire

May and June are my favorite times to climb the peaks in New England and upstate New York before the mosquitoes and masses start to arrive in the high peak months of summer. This week, I’m going to divulge my top five mountain climbs. First up, Mount Monadnock.

For many New England children, their first mountain climb is up that broad-shouldered peak Henry David Thoreau called a “sublime mass.” Just over the border of Massachusetts in southern New Hampshire, Monadnock is less than a two-hour drive from Boston. Its accessibility and locale, smack dab in the center of New England, has made it the second most popular mountain ascent in the world (averaging about 130,000 climbers a year). Only Mt. Fuji in Japan has more foot traffic.

Head up the White Dot trail, one of the steepest ascents to the peak, but also one that rewards with you with incredible vistas in a very short time. Above tree-line, the forest recedes to form open ledges covered with low-lying shrubs like mountain cranberry bushes. This gives you ample opportunity to rest and peer down at the Currier and Ives setting below—a soft blanket of treetops, small towns with their requisite white steeples, a smattering of lakes and ponds, and farms that fan out to anonymous ridges. 

Soon you’ll reach the 3,165-foot summit, where Thoreau watched in dismay as his fellow mid-19th century trampers inscribed their names in rock. This didn’t stop him from writing in large letters atop the biggest boulder “H.D.T. Ate Gorp Here, 1860.”  I’m joking, but you can see many other names clearly marked like “T.S. Spaulding, 1853.”

Spend the night at the Monadnock Inn, whose century-old porch is the perfect place to rest those weary legs. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/10/10 at 12:59 PM
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mount Mansfield, Vermont

Bagging Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, is a formidable challenge but certainly no strenuous climb like mighty Katahdin in Maine or the highest ascent in New England, Mt. Washington. It’s a steady ascent that rewards you with views of Lake Champlain in its entirety, Burlington, a 45-minute drive to the East, and the highest peak in New York, Mount Marcy. 

There are many ways up Mansfield. Families should opt for the Long Trail south from Route 108. A little steeper is the Laura Cowles and Sunset Ridge Trails from the backside at Underhill State Park. If you really want to test your mettle, go on the Hell Brook trail.  The unrelenting path starts from Route 108 at about 1900 feet and 1.3 miles later, you’ve hit the 4,000-foot mark. It’s a favorite of locals as evidenced by the number of Vermonters listed in the logbook at the trailhead. About 2 hours into the climb or the 1.3 mile mark, you’ll reach the so-called Adam’s Apple of the mountain. There’s also the Forehead and Nose of Mansfield, but for some reason The Chin, at 4,393 feet, is the highest point.  It must be one of those Yankee chins. 

See the story I wrote on hiking Mount Mansfield for The Boston Globe.

(Painting by Barbara Hamm)
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/11/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mount Willard, New Hampshire

If the thought of climbing a mountain makes you sweat long before leaving your car, wipe your brow and give 2,804-foot Willard a try. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your slight efforts. Not surprisingly, this easy climb is a favorite for families. 
   
The hike begins behind the Crawford Notch Visitor Center, former site of the Crawford railroad station. The trail starts off sharply but becomes more gradual as you criss-cross through a forest of dense pines. Eventually, sunshine seeps into the woods and you’ll reach a large opening, the light at the end of the tunnel. Look down from the rocky ledge at the old railroad line, carved into the mountainside, and the onslaught of cars that snake through Crawford Notch on Route 302. Then pat yourself on the back for climbing a White Mountain.
 

(Photo by Clyde Sisler)


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/12/10 at 01:00 PM
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Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mt. Lafayette, New Hampshire

The strenuous climb up Mt. Lafayette is worthy of all accolades hikers bestow upon it.  With tumbling waterfalls, a steep ascent to three of the highest peaks in New England, and a 1.7-mile ridge walk where the spruce-studded White Mountains stand below you in a dizzying display of green, this very well could be the finest day hike in New England. 
   
Turn into the woods from the parking lot and I-93’s traffic is quickly replaced by the sounds of rushing water, compliments of a stream that accompanies you for a good mile and a half.  Three perfect falls swirl over smooth boulders to pools of water the color of gin, the ideal stop for a breather.  You’ll need your energy to get to the top of Little Haystack Mountain and the start of the Franconia Ridge Trail.  Part of the Appalachian Trail, this above-tree-line path offers a stunning panorama of New England’s highest summits, including Mount Washington.  Bag 5,108-foot Mount Lincoln and 5,249-foot Mount Lafayette before taking the Greenleaf Trail down the boulder littered slopes to AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. This deep-woods convenience store is great for lemonade refills before the trek back down. Or, better yet, grab a bunk and spend the night.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/12/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Top 5 Mountain Climbs in the Northeast, Mt. Katahdin, Maine

Katahdin is a fitting end to the Appalachian Trail in the north. Reaching the mass of rock atop the 5,267 foot summit is a challenge to the most experienced climber, even the AT thru-hiker who spent the last six months racking up more than 2,100 miles. Yet, it's somewhat of a disappointment that the AT ascends Katahdin from the Hunt Trail, the easiest (if there’s such a thing) and least spectacular path to the peak. For an unparalleled mountainous ascent in the northeast, you should opt for the Knife Edge. Like the name implies, this three to foot wide granite sidewalk sharply drops off more than 1,500 feet on either side. 

The best way to reach the Knife Edge is the Helen Taylor Trail from the Roaring Brook Campground.  All the ascents are a struggle. You start at about 1,500 feet and don't stop climbing until you run out of mountain. When the Helen Taylor trail hits Pamola Peak, a little over three miles into the climb, bear left to find the Knife Edge.  First you’ll ascend South Peak, then Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin. Rest those spaghetti legs and take in the exquisite vistas of northern Maine—Chesuncook Lake, the West Branch of the Penobscot River, Big and Little Spencer Mountains, and all the peaks that form massive Katahdin.

As you gloat, proud of your grand accomplishment, just remember that Henry David Thoreau climbed Katahdin without a trail. “It was vast, Titanic, such as man never inhabits. Some part of the beholder, even some vital part, seems to escape through the loose grating of his ribs as he ascends,” Thoreau noted in The Maine Woods.   No doubt, you’ll agree.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/14/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Long Trail Turns 100

On March 21, 1910, 23 avid hikers (or trampers as they were called at the time) sat in a room in Burlington, Vermont, and had the wacky idea to create the first long-distance hiking trail in America. The Green Mountains had been largely unappreciated, so James P. Taylor (1872-1949) made a promise that his group would “make the Vermont mountains play a larger part in the life of the people.” They called their organization the Green Mountain Club and remarkably finished a 273-mile long route that snakes through the Green Mountains the entire length of the state. The high-country trail is a narrow, unforgiving footpath in the wilderness that winds through the finest greenery of this sylvan state. A century later, as our leisure time becomes more and more diminished through overwork and lack of vacation time, the Long Trail seems too long for most of us.  Only 120 hikers took a month out of their life in 2009 to complete the entire route and become certified “end-to-enders” by the Green Mountain Club. If you ever wanted to take advantage of James P. Taylor’s dream, the centennial celebration would be a good time.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/18/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, June 07, 2010

Maine Huts & Trails Begins Construction on Third Hut

Maine Huts & Trails, the nonprofit organization hoping to build 12 backcountry huts over 180 miles of trails in the remote western mountains of the state, has just announced the creation of their third lodging. Slated to be completed by the end of 2010, the hut will be built on the banks of the Dead River, two miles below the cascading waters of Grand Falls. Each of the three huts, including the Poplar Stream Falls and the Flagstaff Lake hut, are spaced about 11 miles apart, so people can reach it within one day of hiking. For less than $100 per person per adult and under $50 per children, each hiker gets a night’s sleep on a bed, hot showers, dinner, and breakfast. Not a bad way to be lost in this vast tract of wilderness, treasured for its mountains, large lakes, sinuous rivers, and waterfalls.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 06/07/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, August 23, 2010

One Helluva Climb

39 year-old Dan Nevins lost both his legs in Iraq. Neil Duncan, 26, had both his legs blown off in Afghanistan driving over a buried explosive in 2005. Kirk Bauer, 62, lost one of his legs in Vietnam. Together, the trio just finished climbing to the peak of 19,334-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. If you’re doing the math at home, that’s three men with a combined one leg they were born with. The six-day climb was part of Wounded Warrior Sports Challenge, a series of extreme adventures aimed at permanently disabled veterans. Designed by Disabled Sports USA, out of Rockville, Maryland, the company holds the same belief as me that adventure is the best form of therapy. Along with mountain climbs, they also feature a 26-mile run in the desert of New Mexico, scuba, sailing, and a 100-mile bike trek. Kudos to Dan, Neil, and Kirk for not only attempting but making it to the top!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 08/23/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Top 5 Fall Foliage Picks in New England, Hiking a White Mountain, New Hampshire

The bugs are gone, the threat of a late spring snow washed away, and the leaves are already starting to change color. Not to mention, you don’t have to face the summer crowds on the trails. These reasons alone should make you want to fill up your water bottle, bag a lunch with requisite mackintosh apples and hit the Whites. Start with the Falling Waters trail up to the peak of 5,228-foot Mt. Lafayette. Strolling alongside a series of spectacular waterfalls, and then making the climb to a 1.7-mile ridge walk between two of the White Mountains' loftiest peaks, it’s no wonder this is one of the finest day hikes in New England. Grab some lemonade at the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut, or if you were wise, you booked a bunk for the night to savor the spectacular mountain panorama without rushing down. If you prefer a less strenuous hike, try Mt. Willard. In less than an hour, you’ll make it to the peak where jaw-dropping views of Crawford Notch stand below you, a reward for your accomplishment.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/01/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Now’s the Time to Visit Zion National Park

With winter daytime temperatures in the mid-50s, Utah's Zion National Park is a coveted off-season secret with hikers. The red and amber canyon walls that form a tower of massive rock is usually blanketed by snow at higher elevations (7,000 to 9,000 feet). Down at the 4,000-foot high Park Headquarters, however, all you’ll need is a decent pair of boots. Flurries rarely make it to these lower heights. A good warm-up near headquarters is the 2-mile round-trip Watchman Trail. Climbing to a plateau near the base of a twisted monolith, the trail offers views of lower Zion Canyon, the Towers of the Virgin, and West Temple formations. Far more impressive is a hike in the Narrows where you walk in the Virgin River through a 1,000-foot-deep-chasm that’s a mere 20 feet wide. You’ll need a wet suit and booties because of the cool water temperatures, but that’s a small price to pay to have this monster slot to yourself. If you have your heart set on cross-country skiing, head to the rarely visited Kolob section of Zion. Pinnacles project out of the high mesa floor that, at 7,000 feet, is covered with snow.  


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/22/10 at 02:00 PM
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Monday, February 28, 2011

Hiking Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica

“Follow me closely,” says our guide Kent Augiste as we make our final steps down the steep flanks of Morne Watt into the so-called Valley of Desolation. The landscape is a study of contrasts, from the rock slides that create the barren brown slopes to our right to the green mountain ridges straight ahead that rise dramatically from almost every viewpoint in Dominica. At the moment, however, it is the white smoke billowing up from the scorching stream at our feet that holds my interest. The smell of sulfur is overwhelming and the sounds of foamy, gurgling water doesn’t exactly instill confidence in my footing. I’m on Kent like an avocado clings to its branch on this nature isle. 

People flock to the Caribbean to sift their toes in the pearly white sands. But in Dominica, the attraction is not the relatively few beaches, but a lush mountainous interior ripe with every tropical fruit and vegetable imaginable, and inundated with so much water that around every bend is another raging waterfall, a serene swimming hole nestled in the thick bush, or a hidden hot spring to rest your weary body after a day in the outdoors.  Indeed, this island closest to Martinique, has become an affordable haven for the active traveler who yearns to hike through a jungle-like forest, scuba dive and snorkel on living reefs, and sea kayak in sheltered coves with little if any boat traffic. Sure, you can still lounge with a good book, but it won’t be on an overdeveloped strip of sand. You’ll be high up in the hills on some small eco-resort balcony sipping fresh passionfruit juice and listening to the waves of the Atlantic crash onto the rocky shores below.

Dominica’s volcanoes might be dormant yet there’s still fire in the belly of this island. The Valley of Desolation was just one of the highlights on a 7-hour round-trip hike inside Morne Trois Pitons National Park. Kent led my climbing partner and me over muddy trails through a dense forest of tall gommier trees, used to make dugout canoes for 20 to 30 paddlers, and past the massive trunks and aerial roots of the banyan-like chatagnier trees, some more than 300 years old. As we made our ascent out of the darkness of the rainforest canopy, iridescent purple-throated hummingbirds kept us company as they stuck their heads into the tubular orange and red heliconia flowers.

At the far end of the Valley of Desolation, we climbed through chest-high vegetation along a river, then up and down a series of hills to finally arrive at the rim of the crater known as Boiling Lake. The second largest lake of its kind in the world, steam emanates from this cauldron of bubbling water where temperatures top out at 198 degrees Fahrenheit. “Don’t get too close to the edge,” said Kent as I peered down, wondering how many people met their demise in this unforgiving witch’s brew. 

Kent Augiste works for Ken’s Hinterland Tours, an outfitter that specializes in guided hikes all over the island. Hiking boots and an experienced pair of legs are advised for the somewhat strenuous Boiling Lake trek.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/11 at 02:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Trekking in New Zealand

In the wake of the devastating February 22nd earthquake in the South Island of New Zealand, travel writers around the world are blogging about the country this week in hopes of convincing folks that, outside of Christchurch, the vast majority of New Zealand is intact and ready to welcome visitors. In fact, I’ll be heading there later this year for the annual Society of American Travel Writers Conference. To do my share, I’m going to reprint this list of pointers I wrote for Backpacker Magazine on trekking in New Zealand.

Plan: Book as early as July for the most renowned of all hikes, the 4-day Milford Track in South Island’s Fjordland National Park. Number of hikers are limited to 10,000. 

Inspiration: A rite of passage for Kiwis, the 33-mile trek weaves through rainforest and alpine meadows, passing the country’s tallest waterfall in the (Sutherland), and dumping you off at the striking fjords of Milford Sound. 

Season: The hiking season is late October to late April. Avoid the rush of Christmas school holidays from the last week of December through January.

Pack: With huts built along many of these trails, like Milford, tents and mats are often unnecessary, lightening packs. 

Clothes: The uniform of choice is usually a layer of polypro under shorts. This deters bugs, especially the nasty sand fly, and keeps you cozy in mist and fog.

Weather: Expect a mix of clouds and sun, with frequent changes in weather. Average daytime temps are in the high 50s to mid-60s, Fahrenheit, but often dip to just above freezing at night. 

Food: Granola, fresh bread and cheese, dried fruit, even freeze-dried meals are easy to find once you get to New Zealand.

Extras: Kiwis love their tea, so have extra bags on hand and you’ll win friends easily.

Caveat:
Serious backpackers who might find the Milford Track overly regulated (you’re required to overnight at the Clinton Hut, a mere hour’s hike from the trailhead) should opt for Fjordland’s less visited and far more rigorous Dusty Track. It has much of the same scenery Milford features, without the foot traffic.

Wildlife: Watch for the luminous glowworm, hidden under ferns at night, and listen for the call of the elusive Kiwi bird. 

Guides:
Kiwi Wilderness Walks in Queenstown is a respected authority on South Island tracks.

Book:
Tramping in New Zealand (published by Australian-based Lonely Planet), by Jim DuFresne.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/22/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Backpacking the Fundy Footpath in New Brunswick

One of my favorite Canadian adventures was an assignment I had for Backpacker magazine and later, The Boston Globe, to backpack the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Led by Bob Hicks, owner of Gros Morne Adventures, the 4-day trek took us to spine-tingling vistas of landlocked fjords and atop snowcapped peaks where the caribou and moose far outnumber other backpackers. An equally impressive backpacking excursion is along one of the last stretches of wilderness on the Atlantic Seaboard in New Brunswick. Overlooking the Bay of Fundy, the Fundy Footpath is a moderate to strenuous 24-mile trek that crosses a river, skirts the beach, and goes up and down a dozen or so ravines, rewarding backpackers with breathtaking views of the rugged shoreline. Camping at primitive sites, moose, caribou, and bald eagle are common sightings. 
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/19/11 at 01:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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