Mailbox Peak Hike, January 2018

Mailbox Peak
Date: January 1, 2018
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 5.3 miles / 8.4 Kilometers round-trip
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet / 1,219 meters
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Near North Bend, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: Linna Freeman, Matt Kerby, Craig Schilling, Tao Song and my Wonder Dog Macho

Another new year and another Mailbox Peak on New Year’s Day.

China Trip, October 2017

A short trip to China.

Mt. Whitney Summit, September 2017

Mt. Whitney Summit (one day)
Date:
September 22, 2017
Difficulty:  9 out of 10
Distance: 23 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 6,500 Feet
Time: 13 to 16 hours
Location: Near Lone Pine, California
Users Group: Hikers Only
Permits: Day Permit Required
Hiking with: Matt Kerby

This will be my fourth time to summit Mt. Whitney in one day. Matt Kerby from Bellevue, Washington joined me for this ever so long 22 mile merciless one day trek. This will be Matt’s first journey on the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Matt’s wife Shelly and my wife Linna flew down with us from Seattle to Las Vegas on a direct Delta flight. After we landed we dropped the ladies off at the Vegas hotel so they could wine/dine and shop while Matt and I brutality abused our bodies for over 15 hours. The drive from Vegas to the Whitney Portal is 4 hours and you have to drive right through Death Valley National Park. In one day you can be at the lowest elevation of 279 feet below sea-level to the highest elevation of 14,505 feet above sea-level in the lower 48 states. But to reach that 14,505 altitude you will need summit Mt. Whitney by foot.

We got to Lone Pine, California around 5:00 p.m. and picked up our day only permits (yellow tag) to summit Whitney the next day. When the Park Ranger asked if we are acclimated for tomorrow’s summit bid, we stated that we just flew in from Seattle, he definitely had that “oh shit” look. I assured him we would be fine and went on to tell him I have done this three times already.

Before heading up to the Whitney Portal (trailhead) we scarfed down a pasta dish and a few beers at the local Lone Pine Restaurant. I rented a Suburban so we just put the back seats down and slept in the back, legally we were supposed to pay for a campsite at the Whitney Portal which is at 8,500 feet.

After a restless night of tossing and turning, we woke up at 2:00 a.m. and started hiking around 2:45 a.m. The first mile I was already yawning, which told me we should have acclimated a day or two before we started this monstrous hike…I was already seeking more oxygen. Our bodies literally started from sea level because we flew from Seattle on Thursday and started hiking early Friday which is almost irresponsible and unwise (did I just say that).

After hiking up 6,500 feet elevation gain we finally made the summit. We were a bit slow, but we accomplished something enormous in one day and we have our yellow tag to show for it!

Pratt Lake Trail to Denny Creek Trail Hike, August 2017

Pratt Lake Trailhead to Denny Creek Trailhead
Date: August 12, 2017
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 13.5 miles / 21.7 Kilometers round-trip
Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet / 1,097 meters (total gain)
Time: 6 to 8 hours
Location: Exit 47, Off I-90 in Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: , Matt Kerby, Craig Schilling & the Wonder Dog Macho

I haven’t hiked the Pratt Lake trailhead to Denny Creek trailhead for about 13 years and guess what…it hasn’t gotten any easier. Craig Schilling and Matt Kerby joined me on this beautiful tough 13.5 mile loop.

I took off from my Fall City house at 4:30 a.m. heading down the hill to get on I-90 near exit 17…but before I got to the bottom I was picked-up for driving 65 mph in a 40 mph zone by the Washington State Patrol. I told him the truth, I was speeding damn fast, but explained the gravitational pull on a heavy S6 Audi especially downhill. Officer Steele gave me a break…a verbal warning! I was still able to pick up Matt Kerby at the Denny Creek trailhead at the predetermined time of 5:15 a.m. He left his car at the trailhead and loaded up in my Audi and then met Craig at the Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain trailhead and started hiking at 5:42 a.m.

Right before the split heading down to Pratt Lake we stopped for a much needed snack at the open area over looking Olallie Lake. We didn’t see any other hikers until the Pratt Lake Basin, some backpackers heading home. The trail from Pratt Lake to the Lower Tuscohatchie was pretty good shape considering the lack of foot traffic. The trail seems to get a bit rougher after Lower Tuscohatchie Lake with over-grown vegetation, large rocks and at times a very narrow trail. All three of us fell in this area with Matt probably getting bruised the worst with his knee hitting a rock when he fell. I went over a steep hillside in a thorny area….legs got scuffed up some.

Once we hit Melakwa Lake it was sprinkling pretty good so we decided not to go for a swim, but enjoyed our lunch instead. Our descent from Melakwa to Denny Creek Trail head was busy with hikers coming up. We spent a total of 7 hours of hiking, snacking, falling, resting and bullshitting.

Mailbox Peak Sunrise Hike, July 2017

Mailbox Peak
Date: July 30, 2017
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 5.3 miles / 8.4 Kilometers round-trip
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet / 1,219 meters
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Near North Bend, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: Linna Freeman, Matt Kerby, Craig Schilling and my Wonderdog Macho

My third trip to the famous Mailbox Peak and my fourth sunrise hike this year. Linna and I woke up at 1:15 a.m. this morning to meet Matt Kerby and Craig Schilling at the Mailbox Peak lower parking lot at 2:45 a.m. and started hiking the old trail at 3:04 a.m.

If you think it’s tough staying on the trail during the day, it’s worse in middle of night. Craig got a little behind in the group and found himself off-trail so he started hiking straight up to our lights that was illuminating from our headlamps. The white diamonds sporadically located in the trees came in useful…they would shine like stars once your headlamp hit them.

We made it up in 2 1/2 hours and even had to wait for the sun to show it’s face. We had the summit, sunrise and the mailbox to ourselves until we had our fill. We headed back the same way as we came up…old trail baby. I have descended the new longer trail and it just feels forever and I rather get the pain over with on the shorter steep old trail.

Mt. Dickerman Sunrise Hike, July 2017

Mount Dickerman
Date:
July 22, 2013
Difficulty: 7 out of 10
Distance: 8.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,875 Feet
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Near Verlot, Washington (Mountain Loop Highway)
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry To One Patch Of Snow
Hiking with: Linna Freeman, Matt Kerby, Craig Schilling & Macho the Wonderdog

This was supposed to be our third sunrise hike, but the low clouds made it impossible to see the sunrise. The last time I was on top of Mt. Dickerman was early June 4 years ago with a lot of snow, today’s hike was snow free. We made the summit in 2 1/2 hours with a couple of tents perched on top….our group woke them.

We hung on top for 45 minutes to take all of those non-sunrise pictures, but even without the sunrise you have a 360 view of sheer beauty. On the way down we started to run into those Saturday morning hikers and the lot was full by the time we got back to our car at 8:30 a.m.

Camp Muir/Birthday Hike, July 2017

Camp Muir
Date: July 12, 2017
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 9 Miles / 14.5 Kilometers Round-trip
Elevation Gain: 4,700 Feet / 1,433 Meters
Time: 6 to 7 hours
Location: Near Ashford, Washington
Users Group: Hikers / Climbers Only
Permits: National Park Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry to Snowpack
Hiking With: Matt Kerby

The last time I hiked up to Camp Muir was 4 years ago so it was time to knock it off again. Plus…I was looking for something big to do locally for my 57th birthday. I asked my good friend Matt Kerby to join me on my birthday hike. I picked up Matt in Bellevue at 4:00 a.m. and we made it to the Paradise Parking lot by 6:15 a.m. There was only maybe 12 to 15 vehicles in the upper parking lot…good timing on our part.

We started at 6:50 on Skyline Trail and finally hit constant snow near Glacier Vista where we ended up putting on our hiking spikes. I have been using these mini-crampons for most of my winter hiking, but I will probably bring my full size crampons next time for extra grip on the Camp Muir snowfield.

This was maybe my 10th time on Muir and it’s always the same…tough and real tough. I always pick sunny days for the photos and safety factor, but with sun brings heat and sunburns. I was wearing full length pants and a long sleeve shirt to reduce the need to lather up on sunscreen all over except for my face.

Matt and I are both strong hikers but it still took us 3 hours and 45 minutes to reach Camp Muir, we wasn’t in a hurry and we took many water/snack breaks along the way. We took our time on top…lunching, bullshitting and taking random photos. The climbing teams must have hired a helicopter to haul trash/empty fuel canisters…it was cool to see a copter up a 10,000 foot mountain.

We got back to the car in 2 ½ hours and left the parking lot around 2:30 p.m. We skipped the Paradise Inn beer because I told Matt that Linna wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t get back home by 5:30 p.m. She was having my birthday dinner at the house with 2 other couples. Well…I had no idea that she was throwing me a surprise birthday party and Matt was in on it. Matt made sure he was keeping me on track for time…there was a bunch of people at the house waiting for us.

Spain Trip, May 2017

The last time I was in Spain was maybe 16 years ago….when camera’s were still using film and where my camera was stolen along with my film. We invited John Biltucci and his wife XiuYun Jiang for this short 8 day trip visiting Barcelona, Madrid and Segovia. This was their first trip to Spain…and Linna’s too.

Mailbox Peak Hike, October 2016

Mailbox Peak
Date: October 30, 2016
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 5 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Near North Bend, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: My Wife Linna Wei & our Wonder Dog Macho

Linna and I decided to get Macho out for some fall weather hiking.

Yellow Aster Hike, September 2016

Yellow Aster Butte
Date: September 30, 2016
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Distance: 7.5 miles / 12.07 Kilometers round-trip
Elevation Gain: 2,600 feet / 792 meters
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Near Glacier, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: My wife Linna, Jim & Ione Darmiento, Erik & Emelie Espling, John Biltucci

My wife Linna chose this hike months before our Mt. Baker weekend and she happened to picked the perfect date for beautiful fall colors. Our group rented a beautiful house near Glacier, Washington for the weekend.

Shanghai Trip, September 2016

This was a short trip to beautiful Shanghai mainly consisted of visiting good friends and dinner out.

Gothic Basin Backpack, August 2016

Gothic Basin
Date: August 6, 2016
Difficulty: 8 out of 10
Distance: 9 miles / 14.5 Kilometers roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,840 feet / 866 meters
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass Required
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: Linna Freeman, Rick Freeman, Jim Darmiento, AJ Soule and Macho

This was the first backpacking trip for Linna and I together and it turned out to be a beautiful weekend. Our friends AJ Soule and Jim Darmiento joined us for this mid-summer overnight trip up to the amazing Gothic Basin. I hiked Gothic Basin a couple of years ago and envy came over me when I saw people camping, so I had to come back with a tent this time.

We left our house in Seattle at 6:00 a.m. on Friday to assure a spot in the tiny parking lot at Barlow Pass…we also wanted to make sure we had first come to campsites. The first mile is a nice warm-up especially with a loaded backpack, it’s pretty much a flat gravel road that follows the Sauk River. After you pass the Weeden Creek sign you start to gain elevation. The trail becomes steep in areas with many boulders to cross…not a fan of scrambling with something heavy on my back! This is a tough hike but it’s all worth it when you have huge beautiful views around you.

Once we hit Gothic Basin we decided to hike up Foggy Lake which was another ½ mile and 500 feet gain pass Gothic Lake. We asked a few backpackers who were on their way down about camping spots and they recommended a secret sweet spot. This was another 15 minute trek on rock at the end of Foggy Lake but well worth it, because it was a magical place for three tents.

We were exhausted by the time we unloaded the backpacks and secured the tents in our new enchanted kingdom. I jumped in the cold water with my clothes on so I could rinse the sweat and dirt off my body and clothes. We heated up water to cook up our Mountain House bag meal, Linna and I shared spaghetti and meat-sauce. It was delicious…probably because it was loaded with salt and we were really hungry.

The next day we had rice/chicken from Mountain House for breakfast and I must have been hungry again because it was delicious. After a hearty breakfast we started to descend through the hordes of hikers coming up on this Saturday morning. When we got back to our car in the early afternoon there were cars parked everywhere along the roadside…must have been over 50 cars.

Enchantment Thru Hike, July 2016

Enchantments
Date: July 16, 2016
Difficulty: 9.5 out of 10
Distance: 19 miles / 30.6 Kilometers roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet / 1,371 meters
Time: 10 to 13 hours
Location: Near Leavenworth, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry to Packed Snow
Hiking With: Linna Freeman & Yun Ling

This year my wife and I hiked Colchuck Lake and two weeks later hiked Snow Lakes…both of these hikes will lead you into the magical place called the Enchantments near Leavenworth, Washington. A bunch of our friends applied for a summer camping permit to the Enchantment Basin back in February but all of us were denied.

So my wife and I did the next best thing…a very long day hike through the Enchantments. You have three choices to experience the Enchantment basin in one day, hike there from Colchuck Lake which is probably the easiest, but you will have to ascend and descend the very steep Aasgard Pass. Or the ever long grueling Snow Lakes trail with 6,500 feet gain and over 15 miles of hiking. Since Linna and I already completed both hikes, we decided to start from Colchuck Lake trailhead and end our day at the Snow Lakes trailhead…a grueling 19 miles thru hike in one day.

We were joined by Yun Ling, he was looking for something bold for his 48th birthday (he found it). We dropped my Audi at the Snow Lakes trailhead and Yun Ling’s wife dropped us off at the Stuart Lake trailhead. We started around 7:00 a.m., a much later start time than I wanted and totally recommend starting at day break or earlier.

Hiking to Colchuck Lake was a breeze, we made it to the lake in 1 hour 45 minutes. When we were taking a photo break and chatting with fellow hikers we heard some thunderstorm type noise and when we looked up we witnessed our first avalanche experience. A river of snow aggressively running down from the top of the Colchuck peak wiping away huge boulders and finally stopping before it reached the lake.

The easy part was over and the toughest part of our journey was just beginning. Hiking up Aasgard peak is a steep lung busting scramble with loose rocks. This short ascent is less than a mile but you gain over 2,200 feet topping at the summit at 7,800 feet. We ended up stopping so many times for photo ops that we ended up coming down in the dark, it was 9:30 p.m. by the time we got back to our car.

3 Peaks, United Kingdom, June 2016

Like any major group event or accomplishment, it starts off with someone throwing out the idea in the first place and the 3 Peak conversation actually started 3 years ago over dinner in Germany. The 3 Peak Challenge is a major hiking event in United Kingdom where you attempt to summit the highest mountain of Scotland, England and Wales within 24 hours. The total distance walked is estimated at 26 miles with a total ascent of 3,000m or 9,800 ft.
Ben Nevis (1,344m or 4,409ft.), the highest mountain in Scotland
Scafell Pike (978m or 3,209ft.), the highest mountain in England
Snowdon (1,085m or 3,560ft.), the highest mountain in Wales

I had a direct flight from Seattle to London where I picked up our 9 passenger Volkswagen van that we would end up sleeping, dressing and eating in for nearly two days. I drove up to Glasgow where I would meet up with the rest of the “Fantastic Four” squad. First team member and most important was Cyril Hodgson from England, UK. His role was crucial and most demanding…he was our driver and mountain guide. Second team member was Jeremy Davis from Wales, UK. He coordinated the dates, times and brought the “Fantastic Four” together. Third team member was Ilka Plöhn from Germany. She made sure the men remained humble, she made Germany proud. Last but not least, I was the Fourth team member representing United States.

There is a reason why they call this a “Challenge” because summiting 3 main peaks in 24 hours with inclement weather and driving 10 hours in heavy traffic is very demanding mentally and physically. Our Fantastic Four squad was successful because our transport driver Cyril Hodgson was dynamic and steadfast on his driving….a professional rally driver for sure!

I completed the 3 Peak Challenge in 23 hours and 40 minutes with only 20 minutes left-over! Even though United Kingdom (Jeremy Davis) and Germany (Ilka Plöhn) reached the finish-line before me…my mind, body and soul was overwhelmed with happiness. We were successful on our first attempt because our team was essentially equivalent in physical stamina and determination, there was a large percentage of teams that came up short.

Mount Teneriffe Hike, June 2016

Mount Teneriffe
Date: June 8, 2016
Difficulty: 8 out of 10
Distance: 11 miles / 17.7 Kilometers roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,840 feet / 1170 meters
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Location: Exit 32, I-90 Near North Bend, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: Matt Kerby and my wonderdog Macho

I wasted a day of vacation so I could wake up at 3:45 a.m. on a Wednesday and purposely trash my legs and pound my heart into submission while hiking Mount Teneriffe. This hike will kick your ass every time and maybe it’s the reason I only do it once a year. But if you are looking for a colossal work-out 30 minutes from Seattle with 360 views…then Mount Teneriffe is it.

My friend Matt Kerby joined me on this thigh burner hike, this was his first time and Mr. Teneriffe showed him what trails are made of. We took the short route up via the Kamikaze Falls then followed the ridgeline to the summit. To save on the knees we descended the long “old” logging road down. I guess I will have to quit calling it a logging road as of last year Department of Natural Resources actually created a trail by bringing the edges in with an excavator. They have done an exceptional job of creating a real trail from the 7 mile logging road.

We made good time to the summit and we didn’t have to share it either. In fact I was telling Matt that I never had to share this summit with anyone in the 10 years of hiking this mountain. You might see 1 or 2 people on Mt. Tenerife on a weekday, but one mile away you will see 20 to 30 on Mt. Si.

Sauer’s Mountain Hike, May 2016

Sauer’s Mountain
Date: May 14, 2016
Difficulty: 5 out of 10
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: Near Leavenworth, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: None
Trail Conditions: Dry To The Summit
Hiking With: Emelie and Eric Espling, Craig, Tao, Bill and Mae Yoke, Linna and Rick Freeman & my wonder dog Macho

My wife Linna and I have been doing a lot hikes that either start in snow or at least have some snow on the trail this year and we were due for an arid type hike. Usually the hikes on the Eastside of the Cascade Mountains provide a whole different environment…more pine like trees and no snow in the late spring. I found Sauer’s Mountain goo.gl/fzh3xz on Washington Trails Association and after reading a couple of trip reports it was exactly what I was looking for. No snow, dry with spring green and tons of flowers for Linna to photograph. We also invited a group friends to come along…Emelie and Eric Espling, Craig, Tao, Bill and Mae.

I had a funny feeling that we would see old man Sauer and when we pulled up to the trailhead there he was out in the open ready to direct us where to park. Old man Sauer is in his eighties and you can tell he loves people. This hike actually starts on his land and according to Sauer he built the trail…so I guess you can name the hike and mountain after yourself.

The hike is filled with carved totems, groovy art things and tons of flowers all the way to the summit. There was steepness to this hike but it’s short so it’s relatively easy. The old man will try to sell you some wine when you come back down to the trailhead. This wine is actually comes from his son Steve Sauer winery, Farmhand Winery. I think the old man built the trail so he could push wine sales, I bought one…small price to pay for a beautiful hike.

Europe Trip, May 2016

We didn’t have great weather on this five country European adventure, but we did have eleven rewarding days of wining, dining and some culture gathering. This was a true plane, train and automobiles adventure with four planes, five trains and three rented automobiles to conquer five countries in a very short period. Our Seattle group consisted of Jim & Ione Darmiento, Emelie & Erik Espling and my lovely wife Linna Freeman. This trip came together for various reasons…Emelie wanted to spend her 50th birthday in Nice or Monaco and Jim and Ione wanted to explore Europe for their first time and Linna and I just love to travel.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Our vacation excursion started and ended in Amsterdam mainly because of the direct flight from Seattle. We all had the same Delta flight into Schiphol except for Emelie, she skipped Amsterdam and flew to London to run the renowned London Marathon for her first time and would meet us in Paris later.

We rented a 3 series BMW for the five of us (tight) and headed to our first Airbnb two day rental. Our home away from home was a cute farmhouse few minutes from the airport in the countryside. The ride should have only took us ten minutes, but we managed to double it because of the challenging navigation system we had.

After a speedy luggage dump and fresh jet-lag bodies we drove through heavy Amsterdam traffic to walk around in a daze and stupor among the other tourists for a couple of hours. One needs to be mindful of all the bike riders that goes zooming by you in this concentrated bike filled city, one wrong misstep and you are damaged goods. It didn’t take too long until the nap syndrome came on, so we headed back for a siesta. The problem with naps during the jet-lag stage…you tend to sleep much longer then you should. I was able to pull myself from a death sleep to wake everyone else for a much needed dinner…especially before everything closed for the evening. We found this great Italian restaurant very close to our farm house, the Bistro Nice bistronice.com.

Our second day in Amsterdam we explored the Red Light district (of course) and spent the evening on a private boat ride rentaboatamsterdam.com cruising the numerous canals with Captain Mark aboard the Admiral Heijin. I did this same boat tour three years ago with some highschool buddies and we had identical weather…damp and cold. I totally recommend a private boat tour…it’s personal, romantic, entertaining and makes site seeing stress-free.

PARIS, FRANCE
We had first class train seats from Amsterdam to Paris…speedy, peaceful and quiet. We met up with Emelie, she just ran the London marathon and her train came in 5 minutes after ours. Our Paris apartment rental was close enough to walk from the Gare du Nord train station, we had a great location but a shitty apartment. This Airbnb was probably the worst vacation rental I have stayed in with all my travels, only one bath, sluggish internet and beds sized for children.

We only spent one full day in Paris and of course it wasn’t enough time to see much, but we did make sure Jim and Ione went up the Eiffel tower to see the city. We didn’t have rental cars with us in Paris, but shuffled ourselves around using Uber Van, this became an economical way of transport…averaging 4 to 5 euros per person.

Paris was mainly cold and wet but we succeeded to find a warm spot to spend a couple of entertaining nights. Our first night we met Nicholas Darde, the owner of Café Bar 21, he was just closing his establishment when we walked by after dinner out and he invited our group in for a personal festivity. We might have had a little too much celebration, we didn’t leave our dreadful apartment until the afternoon the next day. For an encore, Nicholas invited us back for a personal chef fixed menu feast. We were totally overwhelmed with his creativity and presentation of dishes coming from his petite kitchen.

NICE, FRANCE
From Paris we all booked the same Air France flight down to Nice and took Uber to our hotel for only one night stay. For being the fifth largest city in France, it seemed really small to me, but we only walked around our neighborhood and down to beautiful Mediterranean coast. I fell in love with a pair of eye glass frames along our walk to the water and became the only large purchase I made for the entire journey.

Erik booked a Michelin restaurant for Emelie’s 50th birthday, it was fantastic food and presentation but the tone was more on the stuffy side compared to the night before in Paris where the venue was more stimulating and buzzing. It became a leisurely night especially after two late nights in Paris and flying during the day, I suppose our minds, bodies and souls were exhausted. We rented two cars the next day and headed for the most densely populated country in the world…Monaco.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO
Driving twenty minutes to get to Monto Carlo, Monaco was easy, but driving around one way streets, tight turns and finding parking the next twenty minutes wasn’t easy. At this time, Jim opted out of the fun and headed for our next destination…Cinque Terre, Italy. Too bad for him and Ione though, they missed out on one of best lunches we had on this European journey…the Beefbar monaco.beefbar.com.

CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
It’s not recommended to drive to or within Cinque Terre, but our group did anyway and it’s probably a good thing our Airbnb house was located at the westernmost village Monterosso al Mare because some of the roads to the other villages were closed to rock slides. We found out the hard way, we drove over thirty minutes on our third day heading to Riomaggiore when we came to a closed road and had to turn around. We decided to take the train instead which was dirt cheap anyway…in fact free if you don’t buy any tickets and just hop on.

We spent three nights in Monterosso and was able to catch up on our laundry, our house was located on the old side of town away from the noisy tourist area. We hiked over to the next village of Vernazza on our first full day and I was surprised by the steepness in some areas, but totally worth the sweat and highly recommended the hike for the views and photo ops. After a few cold beers and a pizza we took a 30 euro personal water taxi back, I wouldn’t recommend this especially when you could train back for free.

We ended our last night stay with a two hour boat tour of all five Cinque Terre villages. I truly enjoyed this and highly recommend this to get a full perspective from the water and provides abundant photo ops too.

LAKE COMO, ITALY
We had a three hour drive to our next destination, Lake Como for two nights. Like Paris our Airbnb in Como was in a wonderful location, we had shopping, restaurants and the lake within walking distance. Unlike the Paris apartment, this apartment was magnificent with large comfortable bedrooms with your own balcony, two bathrooms, new appliances and fast internet. Linna and I wasn’t a fan of Lake Como, but we really didn’t adventure out much either. We did have a splendid dinner our first night at Osteria, just a ten minute walk from our apartment.

We dropped Eric and Emelie at the Milan airport and the rest of us headed towards Chamonix, France hoping to take the tram up to view Mont Blanc up close, but just like last year’s visit for Linna and I…it was covered in dense cloud cover. No worries though, we had an enjoyable lunch along with some shopping in the quaint ski town of Chamonix.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
We continued onto Geneva, Switzerland to catch our flight to Amsterdam. We spent the night at the Hilton airport and flew direct to Seattle the next day.

Overall it was an exceptional trip with good friends, lovely dinners and cool cities.

Mount Ellinor Hike, April 2016

Mount Ellinor
Date: April 17, 2016
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: Near Hoodsport, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass Required
Trail Conditions: Dry to Snow-Pack
Hiking With: Jim Darmiento, Ione Darmiento, Linna Freeman & my wonder dog Macho

My Audi S6 was in the shop and I had a Q5 SUV loaner car so I thought I had better use this vehicle to the fullest…so I decided on hiking Mount Ellinor goo.gl/w0nY6Z in the beautiful Olympic Mountains. To get to this beautiful hike you need to travel on gravel forest roads with a shit load of deep pot-holes…perfect for a loaner SUV. I called my good friend Jim Darmiento and his wife Ione to join my wife Linna and me on this Olympic mountain hike. Linna and I drove over to Jim’s cabin the night before so the drive to the trailhead the next day was only 45 minutes from Jim’s cabin on Panther Lake, Washington.

Just what I had suspected…the forest road to the trailhead was filled with bottomless pot-holes, but my loaner Q5 Audi took them like a champ and I didn’t go around them either the suspension took each foot deep hole like it was nothing.

We had to start at the lower trailhead because the road to the upper trailhead was snow filled. The hike started steep and eventually got into snow. I love hiking in the snow because it’s actually easier to step straight up than hiking in loose gravel.

We didn’t make the summit, but decided on a lunch spot with a huge view of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helen’s and Puget Sound. We ended up back at Jim’s cabin for a swim and a cold beer.

Germany Trip, April 2016

This trip started with an upgrade to business class on my Delta flight from Seattle direct to Amsterdam. I rented a car from Sixt at the Europe’s fifth busiest airport (Schiphol) and headed for Cologne, Germany for my first night. My hotel was a minute walk from the famous Cologne Cathedral…a very cool Gothic twin spires medieval church. This church averages 20,000 visits a day and I was part of that crowd.

Being in Germany one needs to take advantage of the autobahn and the proficient drivers that drive it. Living in Seattle for the past 20 years I have experienced the slowest and incompetent drivers than any other city I know. So when I have a chance to drive legally at a high-rate of speed…I do. I tried with my Kia Sportage rental on my way to Grenoble, France with the pedal to the metal I was able to reach 114 mph / 184 kph and I didn’t let up until I hit traffic. What a pleasure it is to drive fast in an organized manner and at the same time it’s actually safer than weaving in and out among the lethargic Seattle drivers.

After a visit in the beautiful town of Grenoble, France I was off to the most stunning city in the world where my good friends Benoît Clerc and his soon to be wife Audrey live…Annecy, France. Not only did they prepare a home cooked meal, Benoît opened up a 1999 Chateau de Puligny Montrachet Monthelie wine to go with it. Benoît and Audrey are climbers and adventures and understand the importance of travel…my kind of people.

After another long day of driving I was in Munich meeting up with my good friends Michael Williams and Andre Nevell. Due to an enormous event in town we ended up staying in a hostel, this was my first stay in a hostel so I was a little apprehensive at first. Even this hostel was charging 400 Euros per night per room.

Mailbox Peak Hike, April 2016

Mailbox Peak
Date: April 1, 2016
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 7.5 Miles / 12 Kilometers Roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet / 1,219 Meters
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Location: Near North Bend, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry to Snow Packed On Top
Hiking With: My wonder dog Macho

I am not sure what draws me back to the Mailbox goo.gl/g3sZMt …is it the pain and torture that this hike brings upon me or is it the feeling of complete accomplishment when I finally reach the summit. This is my second time this year that I had my picture taken with the famous Mailbox and I am sure I will see this peak a few more times before the year is up.

My wonderdog Macho accompanied on this ruthless march to the top via the old route and then took advantage of the longer trail down…a little easier on my old knees. I made it to the Mailbox in 1 hour and 41 minutes, but took my time descending the long route in 2 hours and 41 minutes.

I am always dumbfounded how many new people attempt to reach the mailbox now because of the new easier (longer) route. On my descent the only people I met was first-timers to Mailbox Peak, I bet most of these people have no clue about the old route. The new route is mind-numbing and tiresome, no way would I utilize this new trail hiking up.