9 Climbers Killed In Nepal

Nepal
Nine climbers are dead after an avalanche on one of Nepal’s tallest mountains, the Guardian reports. At least five climbers were injured and have been evacuated to Kathmandu.

The avalanche hit the climbers’ camps at 7,000 meters (22,966 feet) on Mount Manaslu, a 8,163-meter (26,781-foot) peak and the eighth tallest in the world. More than 200 climbers and guides were on the mountain, but not all were in the area of the avalanche. The nationalities of only three of the dead are known at this time – German Spanish, and Nepali. The Toronto Star reports that seven climbers are missing – five French, a Canadian, and an Italian climber.

Mountain rescue crews, assisted by helicopters, are searching the area for bodies and survivors.

This is the beginning of the autumn mountaineering season in Nepal, a time right after the monsoon season when unstable weather makes avalanches more common.

This sobering news reminds me of my own trip to the Annapurna Base Camp, when a Japanese team lost some men in an avalanche on a nearby peak. It’s good to remember that adventure travel carries with it certain inherent risks.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Video: Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal


In 1994, I hiked to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was one of the high points of a yearlong trip across the Middle East and Asia and my memories of that trek are still vivid today.

The Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp treks were popular even back then and although I walked alone, I met several other hikers along the way. There were few guesthouses though, and mostly I stayed in spare rooms in local villages. Now I’ve heard that there are Internet cafes along the way. I haven’t confirmed this; I don’t want to know. I love adventure travel because it takes me away from my day-to-day life. The last thing I want to do while trekking in the Himalayas is to check Facebook.

Two memories stick out the strongest. The first happened three or four days into the hike. I was at a high altitude, puffing along with a forty-pound pack and all bundled up to stave of the bitter cold. I made steady but rather slow progress thanks to the high altitude. Then a Sherpa passes me wearing only thin trousers, a shirt and flip-flops. He was carrying a roof beam over his back, secured into place with a harness and forehead strap. The Nepalese are a tough people!

I got to the base camp and stayed in a stone hut that night. The next morning I went exploring. Pretty soon I came across some mysterious tracks in the snow. They looked for all the world like the footprints of a barefoot man, except very large and strangely rounded. I followed them for a few hundred feet until I reached a part of the slope shielded from the sun by an outcropping of rock. This part of the slope hadn’t received any sunlight, and so the snow hadn’t melted at all. The tracks suddenly became much smaller and were obviously animal in origin. To me they looked like a fox’s, although I can’t say for sure.

The explanation is simple: the sun warmed the snow on the exposed part of the trail and the tracks partially melted, becoming wider and rounder. The claws became “toes” and the pads of the feet joined into one oval mass. So. . .no yeti sighting for me!

Still, that did not dampen my excitement and awe of being at the breathtaking location surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Put this video on full screen, sit back, and enjoy.

The Way: Martin Sheen treks the Camino de Santiago

I’m often skeptical when Hollywood forays into the realm of ‘travel films’.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been some wonderful movies in recent years that capture the true essence of the world of travel & the beauty of venturing on a grand journey: Lost in Translation, Into the Wild, L’Auberge Espagnole, Before Sunrise, Up in the Air, and The Beach (did you really think I wouldn’t mention it?) are just a few examples of travel narratives done right.

But those successes aren’t enough to stop the certain feeling of dread I get whenever I learn that Hollywood has again attempted to tackle the travel theme. Perhaps certain blasphemies like Sex & the City 2 or the recent rendition of Gulliver’s Travels keep this fear alive every time I shell out $11 to go on a two-hour cinematic adventure.

That being so, when I first heard about The Way; a film directed and developed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, I expected the worst. An adventure film produced on the magical wings of nepotism? Sounded like the perfect storm.

But Wednesday night’s New York City premiere in partnership with the Walkabout Foundation promised a dazzling list of A-listers (Former President Bill Clinton, Ivanka Trump, Dhani Jones, Wyclef Jean, & the Sheens, among others) and promised to benefit a good cause, so I packed my cynicism away for a few hours and decided to see the film.

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So, is it worth the trek to the theater? Click on through to find out.

The Way is the story of a Tom (Martin Sheen), a father that loses his intrepid son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) as Daniel sets out in the French Pyrenees on a solo journey along the historic Camino De Santiago. Devastated by the loss and desperate for a way to reconcile their distanced relationship, Sheen’s character decides to embark on the Camino himself, carrying his son’s ashes every step of the way.

In brief, the Camino De Santiago (or the Way of St. James) is a 500-mile trail that starts in France and ends near the Northwest tip of Spain. It was first trekked in the 9th Century by pilgrims hoping to visit the remains of the Apostle St. James upon their initial discovery. In the early days, it was an arduous undertaking; weather, meager provisions, and difficult terrain all took their toll on the dedicated peregrinos. But by the 14th Century, it’s estimated that 25% of all Europeans walked the Camino and today, over 200,000 hikers complete the pilgrimage every year; for many different reasons.



Through Tom’s journey and the friends he makes on the trail, a very poignant illustration of the Camino De Santiago is presented; the beauty of the environment is vivid, the community among pilgrims is familiar to anyone that’s bonded with strangers on the road, and over the course of the film, the mood of sun drenched afternoons walking, eating, and drinking through the Spanish countryside is tangible. The characters all feel genuine and there’s enough clever humor throughout to make the film a fun adventure to be a part of.

One of the best parts of the film is that the story feels real; from a traveler’s perspective, it’s relatable and stays true to its roots of telling the story of the Camino. It strays from the typical over-dramatized treatment that Hollywood loves and instead tells a very real story that will resonate with many people who have trekked the Camino & anyone that’s ever ventured on a journey to cope with a personal battle. For this reason, I think it joins some of the other great travel narratives as a movie that’s definitely worth seeing for those interested in adventure.

The Way succeeds in staying true as a travel story partially because of how it was produced; Estevez insisted that the crew was never larger than 50 people (including actors), a large part of the film was shot on the go using a versatile Super 16mm setup, and the actors actually hiked a good portion of the Camino throughout the course of production.

In all, I give The Way 4 out of 5 St. James’s Shells. It opens for a limited release in theaters today and a wide release on October 21st. So long as you don’t have to make a pilgrimage of your own to go see it, give The Way a second look this weekend.

Montreal man nears end of 11-year walk around the world

After nearly 4,000 days, 53 pairs of shoes and over 46,600 miles across 64 countries on 6 continents, Jean Béliveau is nearing the end of an 11-year trek around the world.

What started as a journey of self-discovery during a mid-life crisis, eventually became a mission to call attention to peace & nonviolence, especially for children around the world.

Setting off with a three-wheeled stroller that carried a “few fundamentals”, Béliveau began by walking through America, Mexico, Latin America, before venturing to Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and finishing by crossing Canada; from Vancouver to Montreal. Starting with just $4,000, he survived by receiving yearly installments of about the same sum from his wife and depended greatly on the kindness of strangers. The trip will officially come to a close when Béliveau is expected to arrive in Montreal on October 16th, where his wife & two grown sons will be awaiting his return.

Looking ahead, Béliveau says that he plans to write a book with the help of his wife although he will look back on this experience with nostalgia, is excited to have a bed forever. To learn more about his journey, visit Jean’s website.

The East Highland Way day six: strange sculptures and cursed castles


It’s the last day of my hike along the East Highland Way and the trail has given me a special wake-up treat, namely this view of Loch Insh in the early morning. I love this photo because it captures the most alluring aspect of Scottish lochs–the way their placid waters reflect and soften the light. Lochs are the magic mirrors of the Highlands, capturing the surrounding trees and hills and turning them into something ethereal.

Like all the villages I’ve stayed in, Kincraig vanishes within minutes of me setting out. I’m soon back in the countryside. Well, almost. First I have to negotiate a farmer’s field made squishy from yesterday’s rain and then stop to admire the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. This local artist, who sadly died last year, carved eerie human images out of trees. He left much of the tree in its original shape, so it looks like the people are growing naturally out of the wood. Sorrowful faces, giant hands, and struggling bodies rise out of the ground between living trees in a quiet woodland. It feels like I’m in the middle of a forest in which some of the trees have suddenly come to life. Bruce’s work is social commentary too. A grieving Third World mother holds her starving baby in front of some fat rich men, while nearby two patriots are locked in a life-or-death struggle.

It’s effective and more than a little creepy. The images stay in my mind until something more troubling occupies my thoughts. The route is taking me through an undulating, forested valley between several hills. Trails crisscross the area and I have to be careful to take the correct one. Soon I run into trouble. I come across a paved road where none appears on the map. I know I’m on the right spot judging from the relative position of the surrounding hills, so this road is a bit of a mystery. Next a few houses appear, also not on the map. For the past five days the Ordnance Survey maps have been meticulously accurate, yet now they show glaring lapses. The explanation is simple–this particular section hasn’t been fully updated since 1998. I was aware of this beforehand, but what could I do? The land has changed drastically. New trails are everywhere, curving away out of sight into the woods going who-knows-where.

%Gallery-100361%Time for a compass reading. I know where I’m headed–a small loch called Loch Gamhna and a bigger one just north of it called Loch an Eilein. From there I head pretty much due north to Aviemore, the final stop on the East Highland Way. Studying the topography (with the reasonable assumption that the shape of the hills hasn’t changed!) I see my route will take me through the gap between two hills ENE of my position. If I follow my compass reading I can get there even if the hills are out of view behind trees.

Just as I finish my reading a middle-aged man appears along the trail with his young daughter.

“Are you lost?” he asks.

“No, thanks. I just needed to take a reading because these maps are outdated.”

“Well,” he says in a haughty voice, “You should spend a little extra for the most up-to-date version.”

“I did, but–“

“Nature is a work in progress, you know,” he interrupts.

“Yeah. I was wondering which of these new trails can take me to–“

“Don’t you have a compass?”

It’s still in my hand. I hold it up.

“I’ve taken a reading, what I’m wondering is–“

“If you’re having trouble reading it I’ll check my GPS for you.”

“Never mind, have a nice day,” I say as I turn and leave.

It’s obvious this guy isn’t going to be any help. He’s playing a game of one-upmanship to impress me and his little girl. She doesn’t look impressed, only bored. I know how she feels.

So off I go following my compass readings. Now and then I get glimpses of the two hills I’m shooting for and I see I’m on track. It would be nice to have confidence in the trail I’m on, though. So far it’s been heading in the right direction, but if it veers off on another course I’ll have to slog through the woods. As I’m taking another reading an elderly man on a mountain bike appears. His face looks about seventy but his body appears half that age.

“Do you need any help?” he asks as he pulls up beside me.

“I’m headed to Loch Gamhna. I’ve taken a reading so I know where I’m going but I was wondering if this trail actually leads there.”

I feel grateful he lets me finish my sentence, unlike the previous guy.

“Yes, the OS maps are all wrong for this area nowadays. I’ve spent many an hour lost around here. If you follow this trail for another mile you’ll come to a cairn at a fork on the trail. Take the righthand path downhill and over a stream. Keep following it and you’ll get there. I see the route on your map has you going on the eastern shore of Loch an Eilein. I suggest following the western shore. There’s a good trail and you’ll get a better view of the castle.”

I thank him and he pedals off. That’s how people should treat one another out in the wilderness. Helpful and no attitude. The first guy was useless. If I had truly been lost, Mr. Superiority could have been downright dangerous.

I follow my friend’s directions and they’re right on target. Over the river and through the woods to Loch Gamhna I go. It’s a marshy little loch with tall grass growing in its shallows. The stalks wave in the increasing wind. Just past it is the large Loch an Eilein. As it comes into view its sparkling waters turn dull. The sky has clouded over. Great gray clouds swoop in from the north. I take the mountainbiker’s advice and head along the western shore to a spot across from a small island. Taking up almost the entire island is a low castle built in the 14th century by Alexander Stewart, the infamous Wolf of Badenoch.

During the Middle Ages he was the terror of Scotland, ruthlessly destroying the opposition in order to assert his authority over much of the Highlands. When the Church opposed him, he even sacked the cathedral at Elgin. This devil in armor is said to still haunt his island stronghold. A local woman tells me that as a child she used to row out to the castle with her family and it always felt uncomfortable there. Someone else tells me the castle gives off a strange echo. I try it, standing directly opposite the gate and giving a short, sharp shout. The shout comes back to me a second later, too slow for it to have bounced off the castle. It must have bounced off the opposite shore, but it sounds like it’s coming from within the battlements. Even stranger, the echo sounds louder than my original shout. I shout again and the echo comes back even louder.

Just then the sky opens up in a torrential downpour. I’ve woken the Wolf of Badenoch in his lair and he’s seriously pissed! I hurriedly don my rain gear and slosh on to Aviemore.

And there my hike ends, at a friendly little village at the heart of Scotland’s hiking culture. People with backpacks are everywhere, converging on this spot from a dozen different trails. Yet I have seen none of them on Scotland’s newest trail–the East Highland Way.

I always feel a tug of regret when finishing a good hike, especially one that has given me six days of serene nature, historic wonders, and insights into my own past. I enjoyed it even more than last year’s journey along the Hadrian’s Wall Path. I always treat myself to a long-distance hike around my birthday to cheer myself up, and when I turn 42 (ugh!) next year you can bet I’ll be back in the Scottish Highlands.

Coming up next: Hiking the East Highland Way, the practicalities.

Don’t miss the rest of my series on the East Highland Way!