Linna bought Chloe Wei and little ole me a tandem paragliding flight with our friend Yun Ling for our birthdays. Yun Ling has probably paraglided over 1,000 times in his four years of experience, so I felt completely safe.
We stayed in the Wuyuan County for a couple of days, known as the most beautiful countryside in China. Located northeast of Jiangxi Province and near Mount Huangshan that we just visited a couple of days ago.Â We were ending our China trip that started in Shanghai a week ago.Â My wife Linna Wei put together the perfect itinerary for twelve days.The beautiful drying racks in the ancient village of Wuyuan.
We stayed in the Hongcun village before and after hiking Mount Huangshan.Â The 900 year old village is located in the historical region of southern Anhui Province near the southwest slope of Mount Huangshan.
After a couple of days of playing around skyscrapers and dinning at fine restaurants in Shanghai we took a G series bullet train 417 miles southwest to Huangshan National Park. This was a relaxing 4 1/2 hour train ride. Also called the Yellow Mountains, not because they are yellow in color but the area renamed after the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in 747 AD.
Linna chose November to avoid the tourist crowds, but beware it’s colder and you just might be hiking in snow. We had a bit more clouds then we wanted on this two day mountain visit, so Linna and I already decided to come back. Next time we will probably take the cable car up for a head start.
By the way, on your way up the mountain, don’t ask how much farther….because you will receive inconsistency replies from one hour to three hours.Huangshan is most well known for its remarkable pines and probably has inspired most Chinese paintings and drawings. Matt Kerby took most of these remarkable pictures.
Huangshan is known for its 60,000 stone steps, carved in the mountain. We might have hiked up 30,000 to 35,000 steps our first day. We didn’t utilize any cable cars like most people, but we started hiking from the bottom.
After 35,000 steps we reached our Huangshan Baiyun Hotel, yes…there are hotels on top of Mt. Huangshan. I headed to the bar area and sipped on a cold beer as Linna checked us in. After climbing all those steps, the private cozy room with shower was the perfect way to end the day.
This is the first time I have played in the snow on Mt. Rainier with snowshoes.
Mt. Whitney Summit (one day)
Date: September 22, 2017
Difficulty:Â 9 out of 10
Distance:Â 23 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 6,500 Feet
Time:Â 13 toÂ 16Â hours
Location: Near Lone Pine, California
Users Group: HikersÂ 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 Mattâ€™s first journey on the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.
Mattâ€™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 tomorrowâ€™s summit bid, we stated that we just flew in from Seattle, he definitely had that â€œoh shitâ€ 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!
Our friend Catherine Howe is currently living in the flat state of Texas and she decided to come back to her previous living area of beautiful Seattle area to visit friends over a long weekend. She stayed with Linna and I in our recently new address of Fall City after living in Seattle proper for 21 years.
She asked if she could fly us from the Renton Airport to Friday Harbor for lunch in her Cessna 172 Skyhawk. The Cessna 172 is the most produced plane in the world with over 43,000 assembled and is still in production today. Her plane is hangered at the Renton Municipal Airport about 12 miles southeast of downtown Seattle near the south end of Lake Washington. The Renton airport is where all new Boeing 737â€™s take off for the very first time after assembly, the Boeing plant is right next to the runaway.
It was a perfect day for flying, it was sunny and warm with a light breeze. We flew off towards the North and headed in the general direction of our house, in ten minutes we were circling our Fall City compound of 4.5 acres. After a few photos, Catherine put the heading towards Friday Harbor.
Friday Harbor is part of the San Juan Islands and is the only island that is incorporated. There are over 400 islands that are part of the San Juan chain. Friday Harbor is a small town of 2,500 people and mainly caters to tourist people like us. Catherine smoothly landed the plane at the small Friday airport and taxied to a visitor parking lot for small planes. After securing the plane to the ground, we walked just 10 minutes to the quaint little town of restaurants and boutique shops.
We found a perfect spot for lunch over-looking the ferry boats coming in and the many tourists walking by. After lunch we departed and headed straight for the Renton airport…what a fabulous day.
Enchantment Thru Hike
Date: August 19, 2017
Difficulty: 9 out of 10
Distance: 20 miles / 32 Kilometers round-trip
Elevation Gain: 5,200 feet / 1,585 meters (total gain)
Time: 12 to 15 hours
Location: Near Leavenworth, Washington
Users Group: Hikers &
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry
Hiking With: Linna Freeman, Matt Kerby, Tao Song & Craig Schilling
I trekked this brutal 20 mile loop last year, so I have a full understanding of the physical requirements and mental determination to complete it. So…to do again this year makes me a glutton for punishment. Team Punishment consisted of my lovely wife Linna, Matt Kerby, Craig Schilling and Tao Song.
We dropped off Mattâ€™s vehicle at the Snow Lakes trailhead and the five of us drove Craigâ€™s vehicle to Colchuck trailhead where we started our torturous journey at 5:00 a.m. I was totally surprised how both parking lots were completely full. Of course we didnâ€™t see much in the dark, but by the time we got to Colchuck Lake it was all blue skies. We stopped at the first big slab of granite opening which was directly across the famous Aasgard Pass for the initial bombardment of photos and selfies. We also took this time to scarf down some energy food before heading up to the pass which was nearly Â½ mile away around the lake. You start to notice the cairns around the lake and soon you realize how important they are and become later in the hike. Somehow Tao didnâ€™t pay attention to the cairns and found herself lost for about 15 minutes before we started up the pass.
What can I say about Aasgard Pass that you donâ€™t already know…2,000 feet elevation gain in 0.75 miles is cruel and unusual punishment to your mind, body and soul. I am sure I was having Mailbox Peak flashbacks. Some sections you need to be careful you donâ€™t dislodge rocks…especially when your wife is below you! We took a long break at the summit in a low spot on large boulders to stretch out our tired legs. During lunch, Matt had a photo shoot with us and a few goats. Matt Kerby is a professional photographer so you will see a lot of his photos on my blog.
The trail continues through the Enchantment basin / Upper Enchantments with numerous lakes and photo opportunities everywhere. We stopped and soaked our feet in the icy cold Leprechaun Lake before heading down to the Snow Lakes. Once you see the lakes at a distance, you realize that you still have a brutal descent down. For me, this is the most grueling section…but once you get down to the upper Snow Lakes it’s back on a half-way normal trail. Once you see the parking lot, you might think you only have 15 minutes left, but it’s a full hour yet.
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 hasnâ€™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.
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.
We didnâ€™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 reasonsâ€¦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.
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 didnâ€™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 dinnerâ€¦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…itâ€™s personal, romantic, entertaining and makes site seeing stress-free.
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 wasnâ€™t enough time to see much, but we did make sure Jim and Ione went up the Eiffel tower to see the city. We didnâ€™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 CafÃ© 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 didnâ€™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.
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 Emelieâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 itâ€™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 donâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 wasnâ€™t a fan of Lake Como, but we really didnâ€™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 yearâ€™s visit for Linna and Iâ€¦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.
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.