Four Volcanoes, Five Days, and Endless Tacos: Climbing Mexico’s Highest Peaks

Last week I had the privilege and pleasure of joining a group of mountaineering friends in Mexico on one of the toughest climbing programs I’ve ever participated in. What I expected to be a typical acclimatization-then-climb schedule turned out to be anything but that. Our international team sought to summit a series of 15k, 14k, 17k, and 18k foot volcanoes over the course of a working week. Crazy? Yes. Doable? Surprisingly, yes.

The 13 of us came from every corner of the world: Norway and England, Canada and the United States, even India. We had varying levels of mountaineering experience under our belts, from seasoned Everest-summiters to first-time climbers. But most importantly, we all shared a positive attitude and were bursting at the seams with excitement over this incredible adventure.

Here’s a walk through our high-intensity, high-altitude itinerary of four volcano climbs in five days.

  1. Nevado de Toluca (15,354’)

Overview: 6 miles + 1900 feet elevation gain


The Nevado de Toluca National Park is touted as a family-friendly, crowded weekend getaway for local Mexicans – which, by all means, it is. But the imposing summit of Toluca casting down on the sibling lakes of Laguna de la Luna and Laguna de la Sol draws in a different crowd… the type that like to get their hands dirty and fingernails gritty on sharp, steep granite and climb their ways to the top.

We moved fast, spending about an hour on the park’s designated trails before reaching a class 2 or 3 scramble (American grade) that led us up another hour to the summit. Being mid-March, we were just weeks away from Mexico’s wet season and saw the weather changes full force on each of our climbs. Afternoon snowstorms were to be expected.

At the end of our first day, we were all feeling a little more sore than expected, but still stoked for the days to come. We heeded our leader’s warning: It’ll only get tougher.

  1. Malinche (14,636’)

Overview: 7 miles + 3700 feet elevation gain


Our climb in La Malinche National Park reminded me of everything I learned about mountaineering on Central Oregon’s volcanoes – including insane amounts of scree.

But far before we hit scree, we enjoyed hiking through a classic Mexican jungle scenery, with thick wooded forests that had tropical canopy tops. We followed a trail for what felt like endless miles until we breached the tree line and set our sights on the summit of Malinche. Everyone appreciated today’s straightforward climb, as there was no guessing which way to go: All slopes point to up.

After everyone celebrated a teammate’s birthday on top with a gigantic Mexican cake and candles (you can’t make this up), we began the long, slow journey down. It was during this relentless descent of our second day that the group began to understand that our weeklong program wasn’t a typical guided itinerary.

My best piece of advice for Malinche hikers: Stick around after your climb to visit the restaurant at base camp / parking lot area, and trust the hostess to tell you what’s good that day.

  1. Iztaccihuatl (17,159)

Overview: 6 miles + 4200-5500 feet elevation gain


In the car on the way to the Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl National Park, our local guide told me that he was especially excited for today’s climb because he’d never before had clients who had wanted to do it in a single day. This was not a good sign.

Truthfully, the opposing Izta and Popo volcanoes were some of the most breathtaking and scenic mountains I’d ever seen before, but I was having a tough time enjoying their beauty while agonizing over the day’s climb. This route isn’t quite as straightforward as point A to point B. Izta has as many as seven official summits, but our course demanded we ascend and descend three of these, with as much as 300 feet of elevation gain and loss in between. That number may not sound so intimidating at sea level, but after 4 hours and 4k of scree at 17,000 feet – it’s a little more daunting.

Weather again turned on us this day, leaving those who made the summit suffer through a windy whiteout on the way back down. At the end of the day, we did all but crawl back to the car, grateful beyond our years that the following day would be full of rest (and more tacos).

  1. Pico de Orizaba (18,491’)

Overview: 4 miles + 5000 feet elevation gain



This is what we all came here for: The chance to stand on top of Mexico’s highest peak, and the 3rd highest peak on the North American continent: Pico de Orizaba. Out tough acclimatization days, and rigorous itinerary, had all been designed so we could reach this one goal.

Today was where most of us finally got within our comfort zone, with crampons strapped to our boots and ice axes leashed to our hands. Since we’d been acclimatized, we slept in the town of Tlachichuca and took off towards the mountain in a 4×4 to start hiking at 5am. Fresh snow caked the ground and warmed us up, and we all shared a spectacular sunrise on the North Face’s infamous Labyrinth, just an hour away from the glacier.

After spending hours with our heads down, focused on the tedious task of navigating across snowy rock fields, the landscape suddenly opened up and we found ourselves at the base of the glacier. Finally, we could see our end goal: the summit of Orizaba. But just as soon as we began celebrating, we were greeted by a harsh warning from a local guide… the top was much farther off than we thought.

And so we began the long, arduous slog up the 45-degree snowfield laden with blue ice and hidden crevasses. A few in our group darted up quickly, without seeming to feel a single effect of the high-altitude atmosphere. Others took their time, carefully following the 2-point rule, anchoring their axe or boot with every step. But eventually each of us made our way up the mountain in splendid time, with the last summiters topping out just 6 hours after we hit the trail. It was a breathtaking, head-splitting moment for many, and an incredible achievement for all.

Orizaba provided all of us with an awesome mountaineering challenge, for both the seasoned and beginner climbers in our group. We got lucky with crystalline snow conditions and a bluebird sky morning. Everyone successfully avoided crevasses, as well as falls or other injuries. It was by all means a perfect day, on the perfect mountain, with the perfect group of people.


At the end of the day, we hiked over a marathon’s worth of miles, climbed over 16,000 vertical feet, and ate no fewer than ten million tacos.

We shouldered our way through uncomfortable cold and slight injury setbacks and we ended nearly every day with a smile and hearty cheers. And most importantly, we did it all without killing each other.

If it’s possible to do something, it’s possible to do it bigger and better – which is just what we’re planning for next year! Here we come, Ecuador 2018!

Never Too Late to Learn

One month after my father’s 67th birthday this year, he will embark on a weeklong Introduction to Mountaineering Course in the North Cascades.

I am absolutely psyched for Dad’s decision. He and I got into climbing together, we were each other’s inspiration and only experience with the sport. Then a few years ago I signed up for the same mountaineering class that he will take, and my obsession with alpine climbing took off. I started to travel to climb, and I’ve been dedicating a lot more time to local peaks in the last few years. I’m stoked to hear that Dad is catching up to me, and I’m already mentally mapping out the rest of a summer full of tougher (and higher) peaks together.

My father is a practical man. He has tangible, measurable motives he wants to achieve in this class: Learn the navigational and compass skills we never studied before, practice rope techniques on mixed ice and rock, and most importantly – prepare for a late summer climb of Mont Blanc in France, the tallest peak in Western Europe.

But there are even more equivocal reasons why Dad is taking on this impressive objective. Here are a few.


Dad and I on our 2012 climb of Mt. Whitney.

There’s only so much you can learn from an armchair

Dad and I are avid nonfiction readers. Over the years, we’ve collected no less than three dozen mountaineering books telling of feats and tragedies across the world. Invariably each holiday season, our Christmas tree is littered with new stories from either famed climbers or first-time writers. We’ve also managed to devour every single climbing movie and documentary that we could stream on Netflix. We absorb these facts, and learn these lessons second-hand, and he’s ready to put them into practice.

Plus: it feels great to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Pushing your boundaries, both mentally and physically, is part of the drive that keeps us human. Through his experience with mountaineering so far, my dad has learned how to find comfort in the uncomfortable, and be okay with getting a little sweaty and dirty from time to time.


Our first glaciated peak climb, Mt. Adams.

Learn new skills and brush up on old

My father and I have been mountaineering for eight years now. We started with an annual hike every summer after I graduated high school and moved out of my childhood home – it was our “us” time.

Our first big feat was South Sister, the 3rd-tallest mountain in Oregon, the first hike we’d ever needed trekking poles on. The next year we attempted Middle Sister, 5th-tallest in the state, and were turned around for our own poor navigational skills. That third summer we picked up two pairs of crampons and ice axes for our first real climb of Mt. Adams. Helmets and harnesses came shortly thereafter, on ascents of Mt. Shasta and Mt. Hood, respectively.

We sort of just fell into the sport, without any deliberate planning for our future as climbers. Which is why it makes sense to me why my dad wants to backtrack and take a course to cover the fundamentals of mountaineering and backcountry safety. He’ll get to fine-tune the glacier travel and step techniques we’ve been practicing for years. He’ll learn how to read a slope for avalanche danger, and follow a ridgeline like a handrail to descend safely in whiteout conditions. He’ll get to learn the basics, and so much more.

“I’ve got to get smart about this stuff if I’m going to keep doing it,” he told me.


Trekking to Everest Base Camp, with Mt. Everest visible behind us.

He’s just getting started

I haven’t yet touched on what some people will see as the biggest wow-factor to my dad’s decision to further his mountaineering education: His age.

My dad is strong. He was raised a farmer, and carries that hard workmanship mentality through all of his professional and recreational projects. When he sets a goal, he works towards it. When we plan a climb, he trains hard.

On all of our previous climbs, he has been by far the oldest climber on the mountain. Those first few years he and I together made two of the least experienced people attempting whatever mountain. But over the last near-decade of climbing, we’ve been getting stronger, and smarter, and tougher when it comes to the goals we set and climbs we chase. My father in particular has a never-ending curiosity as to how far he can push his limits, and he’s always willing to “give it a shot” without holding himself to too high of expectations. He has many great qualities, and one of them is in fact his age.


Dad trekking in the Nepal Himalayas.

I have no doubt that my dad will enjoy his weeklong alpine education course, that he’ll kick ass on Mont Blanc, and that he won’t let anything stand in the way of living the life he wants to lead.

Finding Patience and Pride at 22,841 feet on the Summit of Aconcagua

“I feel drunk right now,” Nina groaned. She was wobbling, her balance impacted by the increasing elevation, though each teetering step continued to propel her up towards the summit at the rapid speed of 250 vertical feet an hour.

Hanne hiked quietly, deliberately placing one step in front of the other, occasionally looking up towards the summit with a glowing grin plastered across bright red cheeks. I kept meaning to remind her to cover her face with her buff as the sun gradually showed its strength on her fair Norwegian skin, but then my thoughts would float skyward.

We’d been hiking up the same gully for (seemingly endless) hours. The summit was so close we could practically reach out and touch it, and I knew that Nina – one of the strongest women I know, an ultra marathoner and mountain runner – was no doubt dreaming of jogging on up as she did her local LA peaks. However, our hands were tied by the high altitude’s oppressive demands. Even if we could move any faster, it wouldn’t be smart or healthy for our body’s acclimatization. Just as on the rest of this entire trip, we were forced to move at a snail’s pace.

This was a real test of patience for all of us.


Neighboring peaks of Aconcagua shot at sunset from our first high camp.


For the first time in my life, I experienced what high-altitude mountaineers describe in books, speeches, and tales from higher places. My breath lagged, my legs adopting the weight of concrete blocks. Every step strained my muscles, every sharp inhale seemed to do the job of half. I moved the slowest I ever have on a hike or climb, and somehow my spirit still soared.

I was functioning very well for such a high altitude. I’ve summited three other peaks near the 20,000 foot mark and always felt fine and strong, but this was new territory. The extra 2,800 feet on Aconcagua was significant enough to demand my full attention, and every foot I moved higher on summit day, I felt my strength challenged.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into the physical challenge that mountaineering inflicts on your body. A lot of it is unseen.


The shadow of Aconcagua stretches over the horizon at sunrise.

Summit morning

It’s 4am when we hear the familiar clank of stoves and shovels as our guides wake up to begin melting snow for breakfast. The three of us clients lay stiff in our sleeping bags, afraid to move just an inch in case the chilled air could leak into our perfectly warmed cocoons, while Miki, Charlie, and Ulises brave the cold. Our valiant guides had already melted 60 liters the night before, to ensure every climber would have enough liquids to get them through the night and the entire summit day. Each of them were strong, selfless, and big reasons as to how each of us remained healthy and happy throughout our expedition.

As to be expected, not one of the three of us really slept that night. Our high camp Colera was at 19,586 feet, two hundred feet higher than the summit of Kilimanjaro. Miki was right about one thing; it was a lot more comfortable squeezing three women into our two-person tent, the body warmth at least made our last evening more bearable.

But that’s not why we had tripled-up. We were warned that a solo inhabitant wouldn’t have the body weight to hold the shelter down in case of high winds. Our guides had dealt with a similar situation before: Chasing a willowy female client down the mountain as her tent catapulted her, body and all, past camp and towards a steep drop-off.

Besides, we were teeming with excitement, eagerness, and just a little bit of anxiousness for what the morning would bring. None of us quite wanted to get our hopes up.


Killing time in the dining tent at 18,200 feet, where we were camped for three nights.

Two days before

The wind is too strong to entirely stand up, so we half walk, half bear crawl from sleeping tent to dining tent.

A howling 70 mph gust goes by, and we scramble to reinforce our shelters with 20, 30, and 40 pound rocks. Each of us is slowly, numbingly losing feeling in the tips of our fingers, toes, and nose as the temperature plummets with the lowering barometric pressure. We try to resist calls from Mother Nature, dreading the contact of wind on delicate skin, leaning against a small frozen rock more for the emotional comfort rather than any real wind block.

We’ve already spent two nights at Nido de Condores, our intermediate high camp at 18,241 feet. We’re behind schedule, using up our extra weather days for their very intent. Every day we see bluebird skies: The forecast doesn’t predict any precipitation; this is a dry, clear, yet deadly windy storm. With gusts reaching 100km at our current elevation, we can’t imagine what climbers up high were experiencing.


Nina looks out over Argentina’s Andes mountain range on an acclimatization hike.


A few of the friends we’d made at base camp are turned around from their summit attempt, and we feel for them, in part because we’re all thinking the same thing: The longer we spend here, expelling energy at such a high elevation, eating our food reserves, and waiting for a last ditch chance for the weather, the lower our chances are for our own summit attempt.

We’d accepted this possibility, our most probable outcome at the moment, getting ready to spend our third night at Nido when Miki asks to meet with us.

“There’s been a change in the weather forecast. There’s a small summit window opening up in 36 hours,” he tells us. “Do we want to try our luck?”


Photo courtesy of Hanne Lund Danielsen.


We’d been walking about an hour – or was it two? My watch was bundled underneath layers of jackets and gloves, and I was using the slow onset of dawn to measure time, as well as our progress.

It had been a beautiful morning so far, with a gentle wind (or “kiss from the mountain” as Miki insisted), and everyone seemed strong. We reached the broken down Refugio Independencia (20,930 ft.) just as the sun was making its final rise over the horizon, brightening up everyone’s faces and spirits. There had to be a dozen teams at this pivotal point in the climb, more climbers than any of us expected. We soaked up the rays, forced down some food, and lathered on sunscreen before strapping on our crampons and setting up the slope again.

We breached the ridge above Independencia and got a full view of our next few hours across the Great Traverse. Some of us thought it looked simple, some said it seemed like it stretched on forever. I stared out at this section draped in shadow as a gust of westward wind blasted us and had one thought only: Looks cold.


The impressive South Face of Aconcagua looms down at us from Plaza Francia (13,300 ft).

Two weeks before

“I’m boiling alive,” Hanne complained, fanning herself with a baseball hat. She was wearing shorts and a thin t-shirt and looked more comfortable than I felt in my long pants and long sleeves. I hate coating my body in sunscreen even more than I hate the heat.

The Argentinian summer heat was oppressive at our Confluencia Camp (11,300 ft). We’d come up from the trailhead the day before at the mouth of the Horcones Valley (9,678 ft.), and we were already feeling like we’d never cool off from the desert climate’s wrath. Our bodies sticky from sweat, we lamented that we still had two and a half weeks before our next shower.

Our journey was just beginning. We had just started the ritual of massive hydration, not-so-secretly competing with one another to see who was drinking the most liquids throughout the day. Even so far away from our summit attempt, we were still counting down the days to the top and maximizing our chances of success down to every minute detail.

Even though we’d seen the mountain from a distance at the very entrance to Aconcagua Provincial Park, it wasn’t until that second day at Confluencia when we really got to understand what we’d signed up for. An acclimatization hike to Plaza Francia (13,287 ft.) brought us to an absolutely breathtaking view of the south face of the mountain, peering up nearly 10,000 feet – almost two vertical miles – to the summit we’d all flown across the world for.

I think we joked to each other about the heat, and the hydration, because all along we all really knew that things would get a lot less comfortable up high. But we still had a long way to go.


Our descent on summit day, racing the sunset back to camp after 7pm.

The final slog

The long, undulating and gradual traverse led us to La Cueva (21,817 ft.), or The Cave, at the base of a large rock wall. Here, climbers gather strength and enjoy their last break before the final summit push, all while facing the objectively most difficult – and most dangerous – part of our day.

The Canaleta is the steepest section of the entire climb, beginning from the base of La Cueva and stretching up just a few hundred feet short of the summit. When dry, the Canaleta is plagued with deep scree that backtracks climber’s progress nearly two-fold. Sections reminded me of the volcanic ash I was so familiar with climbing back home on Mt. St. Helens, South Sister, Mt. Adams: One step up, two slides down.

We were lucky. Because of the last week’s storm, we greeted the hard-packed snow and ice that covered the Canaleta with gratefulness.

So here we were, with Nina’s restiveness, Hanne’s stoic march, and my haggard breaths slowly inching us towards our goal. Our guides Miki and Charlie coached us mentally just as much physically, as the impatience of the preceding two weeks crept up on us and I fought the urge to race ahead.

Finally, minutes blended into moments, and we were greeted with flashes of brightly colored parkas, national flags, and a decorations adorning the summit cross. We’d made it to the top.


Nina, Hanne, and myself on the summit of Aconcagua (22,841 ft).

It’d be easy to say that our hard work and perseverance paid off. From the months spent training at home, to the days of load-carrying to camps. But I think that we owe the real credit to the mental battles each of us faced. Fighting through the internal protests of: “I’m too cold,” “I’m too tired,” “I’m not cut out for this.” Breaking the opposing mental walls of agony and boredom, seeing past the easy way off the mountain and silently suffering through the discomfort. I credit our success to our patience on acclimatization days, bad weather days, and mornings we were too cold to leave our tent.

We wouldn’t have shown up if we weren’t physically fit enough for the task at hand, but we wouldn’t have succeeded if our mental and emotional strength didn’t stand up to the challenge. Patience is similar to pride, gratefulness, and joy in that it can be invisible… but they’re the most valuable things we carried with us once we left that summit.


Photo taken from a load-carry acclimatization hike. Aconcagua marks the third continent, and fifth summit, that Nina and I have tackled together.

2017 Goals! My New Year’s Resolutions to Adventure More

The last year has been a whirlwind of international travel, more than a few successful summits, and weeks-long treks through some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. I saw and did way more in 2016 than I’d ever expected, so my goals looking towards the New Year are more focused – and more local.

One huge difference in 2017 is my focus towards running. The six months I spent hiking and climbing last year left my legs stronger than they’d ever been before, and completely unfit for running. The adjustment back to a quick pace has been a long and gradual one, but the first adventure goal on my list (first full marathon) is sure to kick my butt into gear.

Things I WILL do:

Things I’d like to do:

  • Mt. Hood Winter Ascent: This goal depends on how long winter lasts, and whether I can rally a climbing partner to join me. Any takers?
  • Take a ski mountaineering course, ice climbing course, and more ropes courses at an indoor gym. Ski touring and ice climbing is something I’m totally unfamiliar with, and I’d like to learn more about avalanche safety and crevasse navigation before setting off on a winter ascent of Adams, St. Helens, and other more remote volcanoes.
  • Run the Zion Traverse (50 miles, 6500 ft. elevation)
  • Run the 8000 meter challenge (40 miles, 12000 feet elevation), also known as the SoCal Triple Crown
  • Ragnar Trail Run Relay: Mt. Rainier
  • Explore the Tetons National Park, climb Grand Teton (13,770 ft.)
  • Explore Yellowstone National Park, run the Yellowstone Half Marathon
  • Explore the Colorado 14ers and backpack, climb, or run

Things I’ll table for 2018 or beyond:

… and I’m sure that as the year goes on, so will my list 🙂

Comment below if you’re interested in joining me on any of these adventures!

Sea Level Training for High-Altitude Endeavors: My Regimen for Aconcagua

Just two weeks ago I made the plunge and decided to join one of my most fearless friends on another high-altitude excursion across the world: Aconcagua in Argentina. At 22,841 ft., this mountain will be the highest (and hardest) summit we’ve ever pursued, and I couldn’t be happier to be embarking on this expedition with one of my bravest, most driven and adventurous friends.

When I tell people I’m leaving in a week to climb the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, the highest point in the Western hemisphere, and the Seventh Summit of South America – the first question I get is inevitably: How are you training for high altitude while you’re here at sea level?

The easiest (and only) answer: You simply can’t prepare for altitude. But you can condition your muscles and mind to be ready once you arrive.

Here are the main ways I’ve been amping up my cardio, strength, and endurance training for Aconcagua the last three weeks…


Viewpoint from Pittock Mansion in downtown Portland

(1) Trail Running

Despite its notorious rain, Portland is one of the top destinations for runners in the country, partly due to the trails it has right within its city blocks.

Hands down, my new favorite running trail has been Leif Erikson Drive. Super accessible from anywhere in NW Portland as well as right off of the freeway, this wide, gradual, and feet-friendly trail is over 11 miles long. Plus: this route features distance markers every 1/4 mile, which make it super easy to track your progress. I started out at 10 miles, then onto 12, and on my latest trip I reached 15 miles round-trip. It’s definitely my go-to spot for upping my mileage week after week as my climb approaches.

This has been my first winter back in Oregon since high school, and the adjustment from a California climate to the snowy season we’ve been having has been a learning lesson for my layering system. I’d read some time ago that cold air makes your lungs work harder to metabolize oxygen, so frigid temperatures should get you used to these same effects at high-altitude and help enhance your ability to acclimatize. So in a way, the winter weather is really doing me a favor.


Hike Lower Macleay Park in downtown Portland

(2) Strength Training

Because I already love running, the first to-do of my training list was a cinch. I knew that my biggest challenges would come in strength training, which I hadn’t done since before I left on my worldwide trip in February (nearly a year ago). So I got to dust off my weights, and I now dedicate 3-5 days per week on different arm, abdominal, and leg muscles during 20-40 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) sessions.

My strength training regimen also includes weighted walking, which is when the photo above was taken. On this brisk Friday afternoon I loaded my backpack up with 40 lbs of Nalgene water bottles, handheld weights, and heavy books to hike out of Lower MacLeay Park. I was not paying attention to how far I could go; I knew that distance and pace mattered little to me today. I simply set out with a goal of spending at least 2.5 hours without dropping my pack, continually moving, to get my entire body used to the strain that would be put on it on the slopes of Aconcagua.

At altitude, every little detail is over-exaggerated. Weight feels heavier, breathing feels harder, muscles are more sore and headaches are more severe. The more I can get my body used to this agony  while stuck in the city, the better I’ll perform in the mountains.

(3) Duration Over Distance

Throughout all of my training, no matter where, when, or what; my main focus has been on endurance. Endurance Athletics is all about how long you can last under extreme physical strain – and that all comes to how well you are prepared for it.

That’s why when you’re training to do a seriously intense athletic feat, it’s important to place a huge emphasis on duration over distance. Even if you find yourself trotting downhill and hiking slowly uphill (as I did on the day that this photo was taken), the most important part of training is to work through the hurt. And trust me, your training should hurt. After all…

Progress doesn’t happen within your comfort zone.

Like I mentioned, this mountain is close to 7,000 meters and poses all types of objective climbing hazards, and because of this – our #1 goal is getting down safely. Aconcagua has a 30% success rate, mostly for its subzero temperatures, unpredictable weather, and seriously high altitude. Because of all of these factors, this peak demands humility from those who attempt to climb it. I feel no pressure, I only have hope that all works in our favor and we can reach this incredible summit in the heart of the Andes.

I am excited, I am anxious, and I am ready to chase this dream with such a kickass friend by my side. Keep an eye out for my wrap-up post at the end of January!

Touring Around Lake Baikal in the Heart of Siberia

Most tourists who visit Russia spend their time in the Eastern European region, staying far west in a country whose width spans over 6,000 miles. But when you venture to its center, the Russian region of Siberia will open your mind, eyes, and heart to an authentic and ancient culture that is unlike any other in the world.

Lake Baikal is both the oldest and deepest, and one of the clearest lakes in the entire world. It is also the largest freshwater lake in world, containing about 20% of the earth’s unfrozen, unsalted water. It’s surrounded by The Great Baikal Trail, a popular route for thru-hikers, and also by the now-defunct Circumbaikal Railway, part of the original Trans-Siberia Railway. Its fascinating history, and totally isolated location, make it one of the best places to visit in Russia outside of Europe.


The most reasonable way to get there is through Irkutsk; a large town just north of the Mongolian border. Irkutsk has an international airport and is also one of the bigger stops on the Trans-Siberian Railway. From there, you can take a bus or private car to the popular village of Listvyanka, where you’ll find most tours, restaurants, and accommodations.

Once in Listvyanka, finding a boating tour operator won’t be a problem. There are dozens of options as you walk up and down the main village street, and you should be able to haggle prices depending on what activity you’d like. Some ideas:

  • Cruise Boat Charters: Spend 2-8 days boating around the lake with a personal cook and English-speaking tour guide.
  • Diving Safari: Diving in Baikal will be unlike any other dive you’ve experienced, especially because of the lake’s reputation for being so clear.
  • Fishing Tours: A rewarding way to spend your time on the lake, this option gives you the chance to try to catch and eat the famous Baikal omul white fish.
  • Day Trip: Take as long as a day or as short as 2 hours to visit some of the must-see attractions of the lake, like the remains of the Circumbaikal Railway.


Here are a few of the more established companies (with higher safety standards) who operate on the lake:

Read more on Trip Advisor.

On your boat tour you’ll learn all of the wild and bewildering facts about the lake that make it such a popular spot for both Russian and international tourists. You’ll learn that Lake Baikal is approximately 25 million years old, and that it’s maximum depth is over a mile. You’ll also learn that it’s nearly 50 miles across at its widest point, and that it actually keeps widening about 2 centimeters a year. You’ll learn so much more.


Lake Baikal is a completely different experience in the winter, as the entire lake completely freezes over and allows activities like ice-skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and even hovercraft rides over a frozen tundra.

Regardless of when you go, you’ll be blown away at the lake’s sheer massiveness and fascinating history. So find a (safe) tour operator, and be prepared to be amazed.

Exploring Terelj National Park in Mongolia

I’ve been back in the states for a few months, and I’m still wrapping my head around my thoughts, feelings, and stories from my time abroad. One of the most memorable evenings of my entire trip was spent in Terelj National Park, as part of our train trip on the Trans-Siberia Railway. Terelj was far from my radar, but once we heard about the horseback riding, hiking, archery, and other activities people embark on in this truly authentic Mongolian nomadic experience – I knew we had to see it for ourselves.


Terelj National Park is the third largest protected area in Mongolia, and it may be the most popular tourist attraction in the entire nation. If you find yourself in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, spending a day (and night) in this neighboring national park is a must.

The park is about 80 km (50 miles) outside of Ulaanbaatar, and it’s easy to arrange cheap transportation there and back. Before going, talk to people around the city – your hostel manager, the tourism center, or a neighborhood restaurant owner will be able to give you advice on what to do in the park.

Here’s a breakdown of the different activities offered within Terelj:


Visit Turtle Rock. “Melkhii Khad” is a 80 ft. tall granite formation you’ll pass on your way into Terelj Park, where most people stop for a photo opp with this rock that bears striking resemblance to a turtle.


Overnight in a traditional Mongolian ger. There are dozens of camps hosted by local families who take in tourists for the night and provide freshly cooked food, plenty of tea, in the comfort of a mountainside ger (known to Westerners as a yurt). Your hosts may play traditional Mongolian music for you, or invite you to sing karaoke. Oddly enough, most of these gers feature karaoke.


Go horseback riding. The family we stayed with included horseback riding in our entire sleepover + meal package. We had to read a number of rules before mounting our horses, most of which hammered in the fact that “these are wild Mongolian horses” who don’t always listen to human instruction.

Try archery. What better place to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow than in wild Mongolia? These aren’t so much archery “lessons” as they are, “take these tools and teach yourself.” Unclear whether this could be combined with horseback riding, though that would be pretty sweet.


Take the challenging trek to Aryapala. This impossibly tiny and out-of-reach Buddhist temple is tucked between a rocky mountainside and looking out at the entire park. Getting there is the real test – you’ll cross the “Bridge to Heaven,” a long, swinging suspension bridge, and trek up 108 impossibly steep steps to the temple itself. Enjoy the views, and (do) look down.

Hold an eagle on your arm. Another popular point of interest for first-time visitors, you’ll see eagles and their owners all along the main road encouraging tourists to stop and take a photo with an eagle on their arm.


Hike. Probably the easiest and best thing to do in the park is to hike around and truly reconnoiter the area. There are no trails in the park, which makes exploring all the more fun. We visited towards the end of June and the sun didn’t set until after 11pm, so we embarked on an after-dinner mission up the highest peak we could find. At 10pm we stood on the summit with the sun barely hitting golden hour. It was a truly unforgettable experience.



Overall, my experience in the park was something out of a fairytale. I don’t think I ever imagined myself visiting this part of the world before these plans fell into place, and so seeing this remote culture was all the more inspiring and enchanting.

If you’re one of the unique, brave souls who has added Mongolia to their travel itinerary – Terelj National Park is an absolute requirement to add to your plans.


Hike Sunday Peak (8,295′)

Bag the tallest peak of the Greenhorn Mountains at 8,295 ft. and enjoy dizzying mountain views, tucked away in the Sequoia National Forest.

Overview: 3.4 miles, 1100 feet elevation gain


This short and easy summit is located just outside of Kernville, California. To get there, follow Highway 178 towards Kernville and turn left on Highway 155 towards Wofford Heights. After a long, steep incline you’ll reach the top of Greenhorn Summit, marked by large parking areas on either side. Turn right onto 24S15 (Forest Road 90) and you’ll see a sign for a number of trailheads – including Sunday Peak. Follow this dirt road for 6 miles to the Sunday Peak Trailhead.

This is a nice, wide, friendly road for any type of passenger vehicle (no 4×4 or high-clearance required). The parking area is large enough to accommodate half a dozen cars, so don’t stop early if the trail isn’t obvious. A trail marker shows you the way up a steep start to your route.


In Fall 2016 a huge forest fire burned this whole area, leaving a bunch of fallen trees and ash in its wake. The trail was in pretty bad shape when I visited and relatively difficult to follow – probably a combination of fire damage and wet conditions. Use your best judgment and carry a compass or follow landmarks for navigation.

At mile 1.3 there will be a faint fork in the road you’ll want to stay left on to continue up to Sunday Peak. You’ll traverse the lower portion of Bohna Peak as you keep left to reach your destination. Adding on Bohna Peak summit will be quick, easy, and add relatively little time or distance to your overall hike.


From the top of Sunday Peak (8,295 ft.), you’ll have an incredible 360-panorama of the Greenhorn Mountain Range, Sequoia National Forest, and beyond. Soak up the views and snap a few pictures before you head back down.

Hike to Steelhead Lake (10,350’) Through McGee Creek Canyon

Explore one of the most beautiful high-altitude lakes in the John Muir Wilderness, Steelhead Lake (10,350’), while trekking through an awe-inspiring High Sierra canyon.

Overview: 11.5 miles, 2,510 ft. elevation gain


Whether you’re looking for a dayhike near Mammoth Lakes, planning a backpacking trip along the JMT, or have a few extra hours to spare on a cross-California road trip, this is an easy and popular trail choice for killer mountain views.

I was delighted to discover that this is one of the most easily accessible trailheads in the Eastern Sierras. You’ll be looking for the McGee Creek Road exit off of Highway 395, 8 miles south of Mammoth Lakes exit 203, or 30 miles north of Bishop. Drive straight pass the RV Park and Campground for about 4 miles, passing a horse camp, where the road will turn to gravel that’s easily drivable for any vehicle. The end of the road reaches a large paved parking area and trailhead for McGee Creek Canyon.


From the parking lot there are a few trails that branch left and right and eventually converge a short distance up ahead. The entire McGee Creek Canyon trail is smooth, wide, and easy to follow even with some snow. You’ll start out close to 8,000 ft. and its first mile takes you through a high alpine desert until you reach an aspen forest where you’ll find Buzztail Spring.

At 2.5 miles you’ll reach your first creek crossing over two large, lopsided logs armed with hand ropes for extra support. This is your first of three crossings – and in high water periods (Spring, after a storm) – these sections can be tricky. Another half mile ahead the trail slopes flat around a large pond with Mt. Crocker looming ahead.


The trail continues flat to mile 3.5 where you’ll cross the creek again over two much sketchier logs where you’ll want to exercise extreme caution – these were crooked and awkward when I crossed them in November of 2016. From the other side, you’ll slog upwards through a forest and farther away from McGee Creek. A mile later, around 4.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll hit a fork in the trail and want to veer left (east) where you’ll hit your final log crossing. From here you’ll follow the steep switchbacking trail all the way up to your destination.

After 5.75 miles you’ll reach Steelhead Lake at 10,350 feet, tucked away beneath stunning walls of granite. There are plenty of camping spots along the shore, and even better places to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch before either continuing on up the trail or returning back through the canyon.



If you’re feeling up to a bigger challenge, you can continue on up the trail all the way to McGee Pass at 11,895 ft. for a total length of 20 miles roundtrip and almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Cell service ends almost as soon as you get off of 395, so be sure to pack a map and other navigational tools. Check out the Mammoth Trail site to download a map before you go.

7 Tips for High Altitude Hiking

As seen on The Outbound Collective.

High altitude hiking is one of the most challenging and rewarding outdoor activities that you need to add to your summer adventure list right now. From the Rocky Mountains to the Sierras, to international treks up Kilimanjaro and in Nepal, hiking at high altitude gives you a unique and unforgettable look at some of the most desolate places in the world.

Like any extreme adventure, while you’re picking out the perfect camera to bring and dreaming of your quintessential summit sunrise, you’ll need to prepare accordingly and remember these tips for a successful high altitude hike.

The truth is, there’s no real way to train for high altitude other than being there yourself. So above all else, make sure you have the chance to acclimate, hydrate, and prepare for the time of your life.


1) Understand the risks of high-altitude hiking

Do some general research on the differences between Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Understand what a “sick person” at altitude looks like, and be prepared to take action if you or members of your team experience these symptoms.

  • AMS is the most mild form of altitude sickness and unfortunately feels very similar to a hangover. You may experience a headache, nausea, or feel exhausted… If you notice any of these symptoms, heed warning that they could predict a larger risk to HAPE or HACE.
  • HAPE occurs when liquid seeps into your lungs, and feels like you just had the wind knocked out of you. You may also cough up a frothy foam, which means it’s time to turn around and descend as quickly as possible.
  • HACE causes confusion and incoordination. If your speech is slurring and you find yourself stumbling, you are close to death and an immediate descent is imperative.


2) Fitness is key

Do your training hikes with a weighted pack. 40 lbs. at sea level is going to feel a lot heavier (try double) once you venture above 10,000 feet. You’ll be giving yourself a break in the long run if you stuff your backpack with water, weights, or other heavy objects when you train at home.

Run stairs and hills. The calf-burners and glute-tearers you feel when hiking and running work completely different muscle groups. Switch up your workouts by adding as much elevation as you can. Training in San Francisco? Do sprints up steep hills or staircases. Stuck in a flat desert with no uphill training ground? Hit the gym and spend some time on the stairmaster. No matter where you are, there’s no excuse to not having the right physical preparation.

Get as high as possible beforehand. If you have easy access to a mountain range, slowly build your body up to higher elevations, gaining 1,000 ft. each training weekend. Starting small is also fine, too – doing aerobic exercises above 3,000 ft. will still adjust your body to working with less oxygen in your blood.


3) Fuel yourself

It may be difficult to remind yourself, but you’ll need to be prepared to eat and drink more than usual at high altitude. Your muscles are burning energy more quickly, and your body will need more calories and H2O to properly function. This is no environment for diets: Load your pack up with sugar and carbohydrate-loaded snacks like jerky, chocolate, hard candies, and other high-calorie treats.

4) Prepare to brave the elements

Naturally prone to sunburns? Then don’t skimp on the SPF when you’re at high altitude. Sunshine, wind, and temperature reach their extremes up high. Bring the right gear and prepare to pack total face protection from the sun, wind-resistant and waterproof clothing, and extra hand warmers, thermal gloves, and wool socks to guard your body against the inhospitable mountain environment.

5) Bring first aid backups

It’s impossible to predict how your body will be affected by high altitude before you go. If it’s your first time ascending thousands of vertical feet, play it safe and carry along an altitude aid. One of the most popular altitude medications, Diamox, is commonly prescribed for treks above 8,000 ft. Be sure to also pack ibuprofen, cough drops, and over-the-counter indigestion pills in case things get less than pleasant.


6) Know your limits

Visit your doctor before embarking on a trek in the mountains. Make sure you don’t have any lingering illnesses or undiscovered ailments that may hinder your success up high. Most importantly, be prepared to turn around if you’re not feeling well. An annoying headache or minor chest pain could be the symptom of something much worse, and you don’t want to test your body’s ability to self-preserve when you’re miles far and meters high away from safety.

7) Take it slow

Don’t rush your way out of a successful trip. Your body will naturally feel slower at high altitude, so go along with it. Nothing can truly prepare your body for the thin mountain air other than actually being there – so when you do get your chance – take your time and enjoy the adventure.