Thursday, January 5, 2017

Christmas in Cuenca

This year, we spent our two-week Christmas break in Cuenca, Spain and had an enjoyable time despite some problems with our flights. Although this part of Spain experiences true winter with occasional snow, we were lucky to have sunny weather for the majority of our stay. Daytime highs ranged from 8-18 degrees Celsius, and this proved to be good conditions for climbing and other outdoor activities. We chose to rent an apartment in a small country village, Valdecabras, about 15 minutes outside of Cuenca, and it was a peaceful spot from which to start our daily activities. We saw cats, ate lots of Spanish pastry and enjoyed touring the region between days on the rocks...

On the 11-km loop hike behind our village on Christmas Eve.

A sunny, roadside cliff we frequented on cold days.

Great climbing in the gorge near our village.

We saw lots of cats, but only one let Elise pet it. The village cats were skittish.

Elise on the castle wall in Albarracin, a gorgeous village near Cuenca.

Narrow streets in Albarracin.

Elise photographing pictographs in the rocks near Albarracin.

A local climber from Madrid.

Our village, Valdecabras, in evening light.

We rented an Opel. It had some very odd features.

The church in Valdecabras in late-day light.

Elise on Christmas morning. She got Lego!

Petting ponies on Christmas Eve. One put it's head on Elise's shoulder.

Strange rock formations on the same hike. Elise in view.

Above our village on a beautiful day.

Elise climbing well on a route in Cuenca.

Unknown Spanish climber in Cuenca.

Interesting sink hole formations south of Cuenca.

Monastery in Cuenca that doubles as a hotel.

The old village had many narrow streets.

Detail of cathedral in Cuenca.

Fountain in the old part of the city.

The Cuenca archaeological museum had many interesting local artifacts.

Falling climber.

The river gorges had wonderful hiking trails and pathways.

Kayaking was very popular in the rivers.

Spanish climber on "Puss in Boots", Cuenca.

These routes were on giant boulders.

Overview of the Jucar River gorge, the area we frequented when climbing.

No trip would be complete without a great pastry shop. "Marisol" in Cuenca.

Happy New Year to you all!
Marc, Pam and Elise

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hesquiat Penninsula

After a month of frustrating weather, we finally got a window of stable conditions to embark on our much anticipated summer trip to the Hesquiat Peninsula. This took us to a remote region of the outer coast on Vancouver Island, an area that's only accessible by boat or float plane. We chose the latter, and the flights turned out to be one of the highlights of the week. We spent six days and five nights on the 46-km trail and enjoyed excellent conditions throughout. We were lucky enough to see wolves, bears, sea lions, otters and dozens of bald eagles. It was a memorable experience.

We flew with Tofino Air leaving from the dock on First Street. Elise wanted to fly up front with the pilot so we happily obliged. None of us had flown in a float plane before and it was quite an experience taking off and landing on water. (Click on the pictures for larger images.)



We enjoyed fantastic views of the coastline as we flew north. The massive beach seen in the picture below was one we'd hike on our second-to-last day, a highlight of our trip.



The Hesquiat features many kilometres of sandstone shelves. In general, these are excellent for hiking when the tide is low, but you have to use caution on the slippery seaweed.


We landed in a sheltered cove behind Escalante Island. It was a "wet" landing, meaning we had to wade ashore.


As the plane took off, we were left utterly alone - just us and the animals. There were wolf tracks everywhere, along with bear, elk and deer. We didn't see any other people on the entire hike except the keepers of the Estevan Point light station.



Our first campsite was at Little Escalante River. It was a beautiful spot and Elise enjoyed the fine sand on the beach. In the evening, a bear wandered out of the forest beside the river and lumbered upstream near our camp. We watched with interest from our evening campfire.



Interesting formations on the sandstone shelves.




Elise thoroughly enjoyed all the tide pools and their opportunities to catch cool stuff. There were quite literally millions and millions of crabs. Every rock we lifted was hiding dozens and you could hear them constantly scuttling away us as we hiked along the coast.



Since the first half of the hike was on west facing shoreline, we enjoyed some gorgeous sunsets.



The sandstone featured amazing sculpted formations, along with what we believe were some fossilized impressions of various plants.


Some of our days involved less hiking than others, and we enjoyed taking off our packs and beach-combing. We're not sure what this skull is, but our best guess was bear or sea lion.



The coastal flowers were in full bloom. Fields of fireweed lined the beaches.



Our second night was spent at Barcester Bay, a gorgeous beach with rolling surf. The afternoon was windy so we elected to place our tent alongside the river in a more sheltered location. As usual, though, we were right on the "animal highway" since we were near fresh water. The tracks in the sand provided much evidence of their passing...


Barcester Bay.


Our third day of hiking saw us travelling over the most interesting sandstone formations of the trip, dome-shaped features that provided an excellent walking surface. It was early on this morning that we surprised a lone wolf on the beach. It came trotting around the corner doing its morning rounds, and was surprised to see us standing there. We all froze and after a minute or so the wolf turned away.


We found parts of a whale skeleton. This might be a rib.


Close to our next campsite was a small cabin in the woods, built for emergency purposes. We found out later that a large pack of wolves lives on this beach and their den is in the forest behind the cabin. Not surprising since we saw a great number of prints in the sand.


We saw an interesting set of sea stacks in this area and decided to investigate before continuing onward. However, while we were out exploring the tide started to rise and came rushing across the shelf where we'd left our backpacks. I literally had to run through knee-deep water to get them off the shelf before they were washed away. Apparently, Elise was extremely upset about the possibility of losing "B.K.", her beloved stuffed animal. Tent, sleeping bags and food? Not a problem. Losing B.K.? Big problem...


We crossed an Indian Reserve to reach our third camp spot. This lonely welcome figure greeted us as we started across the beach.


Homais Cove was another gorgeous location and Pam and I enjoyed swimming before dinner. During our evening campfire, I heard a loud cracking in the trees right beside our fire pit. Turns out, a bear was pretty interested in what we were doing and had climbed into the branches for a better view. Elise fled to the tent but Pam and I watched with interest as it slowly came down and moved onward.


The Estevan Point light station was a highlight of the fourth day. The couple who lives there gave us a thorough tour of the facility. Interestingly, this lighthouse was shelled by a Japanese submarine during World War II.


After touring the light station, we began our multi-kilometre march across "Billion Boulder Beach". The shelf in this area is covered in rocks and this slowed our progress significantly.


Elise took to wearing a "buff" around her neck and sometimes over her face entirely. Why, I don't really know...


After the rock beach, we rounded Matlahaw Point to reach our fourth campsite, a quirky surf camp on a point near Hesquiat Village. The next morning, we headed north into Hesquiat Harbour leaving the pounding surf of the outer coast far behind. Here, we were lucky enough to spot a second wolf and enjoyed kilometres of gorgeous white sand.


Elise dug vigorously for clams on the sandy tidal flats.



We dropped the packs and spent an hour or two enjoying this idyllic spot. The swimming was great fun!



When we continued on our way, we were somewhat horrified to see evidence of multiple, huge jellyfish washed up on shore. This would have been an unpleasant surprise while playing in the waves!


We found sand dollars on this beach. In fact, the entire hike provided great opportunities for shell collecting and we came home with a few treasures. No glass fishing floats, though.



Elise "guided" us on various parts of the trip. This kept her engaged and provided some entertainment for Pam and I as she navigated along the convoluted shoreline. She had a tendency to get a bit "distracted" at times, and would simply wander uphill into dead-end coves before realizing we might be going the wrong way! These detours provided some good laughs, but in general she did an excellent job!


Our final campsite near Le Claire Point was simply beautiful, but we had to rise early the next morning to ensure we made it to our float plane pick-up on time.


As luck would have it, we arrived with a couple of hours to spare and were able to tour "Cougar Annie's Garden", site of a famous West Coast homesteader. Cougar Annie carved an amazing garden out of five acres of coastal rain forest and raised eight of her eleven children here. She outlasted four husbands and was infamous for trapping numerous cougars that roamed the property.



The entrance to the garden.


Our pick-up spot was Hesquiat Lake, a sheltered valley at the back of Hesquiat Harbour. It felt odd not having any way of communicating with the airline and just hoping the plane would arrive. But, sure enough, it did and our pilot for the return journey turned out to be a young Scottish girl who could barely see over the dashboard! We had an uneventful flight back to Tofino on a gorgeous afternoon and enjoyed bakery treats in town before our journey back to Squamish.



Thanks for reading!