A Variety of Adventure: Kotor, Montenegro

The doors looked like the were ripped apart by a monstrous beast. Grey and splintered, they lay thrown apart, a gaping wound. Files and blueprints, mixed with rotting army jackets, gas masks, and mismatched boots, lay spilled out of the hole, like the wound was in mid clot. What had happened here, on this mountain top in Montenegro? – At the Vrmac Abandoned Fortress 

Vmrac Fortress outside Kotor
Vmrac Fortress outside Kotor

Kotor, compared to it’s Adriatic neighbor in the north, is still relatively unknown. Only two hours south of Dubrovnik, Kotor could not be more in feel from Croatia’s famous coastal town. There might be a cruise ship in the Bay almost every other day, but the crowds are relatively small, and limited to midday when the ship is in port. The walled Old Town, and surrounding complex of ruins clinging to the steep mountain backdrop are more than impressive, they are of the utmost calibre. It’s no wonder the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kotor’s quality can’t be understated, offering pristine, Adriatic coastline, infinite mountains, and some breathing room to enjoy it all. Kotor offers variety, and with variety, the seed of adventure has more chances to find purchase.

Adventures

•Vrmac Fortress Hike•

Take an ancient pedestrian and horse path up to a mountain plateau to explore an abandoned Austro-Hungarian fortress, and it’s outer structures. Within a fifteen minute walk from Kotor’s Old Town, walk around the shore of the bay to the VRMAC trailhead. The trail is steadily steep, switchbacking more times than you will count, to the top of the mountain. You can explore the innards of the fortress, but it is dark inside so bring some form of light. At some points there are gapes in the floor that can be spanned by walking across a wooden beam. There are also bats in the area, and any contact with them should be avoided at all costs. There are a few out buildings in the area as well that are pretty awesome to explore. Gas masks, army jackets, and official files lay scattered all over place. It’s a fun hike, with awesome views, and a unique reward at the end!

•Cycle the Bay of Kotor•

25 miles (41km) round trip of gently graded, and paved roads circumnavigating the Bay of Kotor. You don’t have to love cycling to enjoy yourself on this trip. For 10 euros, rent a bike in the Old Town (right next to the Old Town Hostel near the Southern Gate) and head off south first, keeping the bay on your right. Take the 2 euro Kamenari – Lepetane ferry over the neck of the Bay and continue onwards towards Strp and Risan. The Bay views never stop, and there are plenty of places to stop and jump into the clear water. Cheap little cafes dot the road, where decent food can be found. One of the main highlights is the small town of Perast. Not only is the two beautiful in and among itself, there are a few islets located off the coast. Locals will take you on a quick boat trip to the islets if you so desire.

•St. John’s Fortress•

Rising from the walls of the Old Town, straight up the side of the mountain, a massive network of ruins and fortifications lace the rock. The experience is very intuitive. If you are making your way up, you are going in the right direction. There are markers and some rudimentary signs pointing the way for the different routes you can take. Which ever way you go, you must explore St. John’s fortress, and if possible, at sunset. The views of Kotor and the Bay are spectacular, and there is just something kinetic and alive about sitting on a ruined castle and watching the sun set. There is a side trail you  can take that meets with a small families home. With some language barriers, this multigenerational family sells delicious homemade cheese, bread and spirits. You can go as high as you want, eventually reaching Mount Lovcen Park.

•The Old Town•

Spend time exploring the narrow streets and alleys of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stay at the Old Town Hostel for around $10 a night, in clean, renovated, air conditioned rooms, wifi, and a kitchen. There is a grocery store just outside the southern gate where you can buy cheap food and cook it in one of the two kitchens. Otherwise, the restaurants in the Old Town are going to be rather expensive.

The Trolltunga: Norway’s King of Hikes

It’s like a Scandinavian Pride Rock, or at least something out of a religious flick. Rocketing out of the sheer cliff face, sharp, grey, and just waiting to be walked on.

QUICK FACTS

Distance (round trip): 22km (14 miles)
Elevation gain: 900 meters (2956 ft)
Camping: Allowed
Difficulty: Medium

WHEN TO GO

The trail is generally accessible between mid June and Mid September, otherwise prepare for a lot of snow. However, this year (2015) turned out to unusual, with a blanket of snow covering about 90% of the trail.

GETTING THERE

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Coming from Bergen – There are busses that will take you from Bergen to Odda in different ways. The most efficient way to travel is on the 930 BUS from Bergen Busstajon to Odda Busstajon. Check here for schedules with Skyss, the main bus company.  There will be at least one ferry between Bergen and Odda. There also will be at least one bus transfer as well. Once the bus reaches Odda, you can TRANSFER (no need for another ticket) to Tyssedal on another bus. From here, there are a few options to reach the Skjeggedal area and the Trolltunga Trailhead. One would be to hoof it and walk. It’s about 7km (4.3 miles) in total, but you will be walking up hill. Another option is to hitchhike, which in Norway, and particularly that area, is VERY safe. We also heard about small buses, and taxi services that will take you up as well, just speak to a local in the store in Tyssedal.

Coming from Oslo – You can take a train to the town of Voss. Then a bus down to Odda. Once the bus reaches Odda, you can TRANSFER (no need for another ticket) to Tyssedal on another bus. From here, there are a few options to reach the Skjeggedal area and the Trolltunga Trailhead. One would be to hoof it and walk. It’s about 7km (4.3 miles) in total, but you will be walking up hill. Another option is to hitchhike, which in Norway, and particularly that area, is VERY safe. We also heard about small buses, and taxi services that will take you up as well, just speak to a local in the store in Tyssedal.

THE TRAIL

The trailhead is near a large parking lot, 7km (4.3 miles) from Tyssedal, Norway, and near a dam for the Ringedalsvatnet Lake. The trail is 11 km (7 miles) from the trailhead to the Trolltunga, about 22km (14 miles) in total. In the first 1.5km, the trail rises 410 meter through a thick forest, with a large cascading river to your right. Fixed ropes and some handy stone masonry help along the way, as the trail is quite steep, and can be slippery with mud and running snow melt.

At the top of the climb, the trail flattens out into the Måglitopp; A rolling, gentle bowl of land protected on three sides by high ground. Some locals have small to large cabins ranging from rustic little one room cabins, to full size houses located up here. The trail crosses a few brooks and streams, but you can rock hop most if not all of them. If there is still snow on the ground, your feet will get wet. At this point all the trees have fallen back, and you are quite exposed for the rest of the trail.

At the other end of the Måglitopp, the trail continues to the Gryteskaret, a steep mountain pass about 4km into the trail and at 1182 meters (3877ft) above sea level. The trail is steep in this section, but manageable unless snow covered. If snow covered, then just walk straight up the best way you think. Some hikers even had crampons or micro spikes, and carried ice axes, but Legs and I did it in trail runners and were fine (some slipping and sliding).

At the Gryteskaret, the trail starts to head down again. Gently sloping down like one of those pink, super slides you see at a carnival, it heads into the Store Floren. Here, the views really begin to open up, with the Folgefonna glacier to the west, and the precipitous drop to the lake in the distance, drawing nearer with each step. For us, the ‘trail’ for this entire part was nothing but a swathe of footprints in the snow. Other hikers have mentioned evidence of old architecture, and dry river beds when there isn’t snow covering the trail. Past the ’emergency shelter’ which is nothing more than a trashed, and gutted cabin, the trail rises steeply again, this time reaching the highest point on the trail at 1214m ( 3982ft). With the drop off to your right, the trail dips and crests a few times, the deepest of which, a dry river bed, and dam to your left. From here the trail travels in mostly one direction, a few hundred meters away from the drop off. It is very easy, and recommended to walk to the cliff edge, and look down at the glacial lake and features. Finally, when the cliff edge turns, the trail follows it for one more kilometer to the amazing Trolltunga. Enjoy!

AT THE TROLLS TONGUE

The Trolltunga really is an amazing rock formation, but it also probably the most known image of Norway in the world. Up to five hundred people can hike to the Trolltunga in a day, with some nightmarish stories about waiting hours for ten seconds on the rock before having to get off for the next person. That being said, there are ways to escape the crowds. Choosing what time of the year to go is pivotal. We went on the summer solstice, which had mixed results. Although unusual, the amount of snow was somewhat of a problem, slowing us down considerably, and limiting our ability to camp with our tarp tent (needs places for stakes). However, there were much fewer people on the trail as opposed to later in the summer. We got to the Trolltunga at about 8am, and although we were the first people there. We had ample time to hang out on the ledge, and take a ton of pictures. We were also able to post up at another (arguably better) spot, and hang out for five hours.

When on the Trolltunga ledge, BE VERY FREAKING CAREFUL! A 24-year-old women fell to her death trying to take a picture on the ledge. If you keep your head, and don’t take any big risks, you should be ok. Some people like to sit on the ledge with their legs dangling off. This makes a great picture, but is dangerous. The ledge is sloped up, so it’s not easy to just roll/fall of the edge, but I can’t stress enough to be careful. Especially then the area is crowded. At the end of our time on the ledge, a norwegian metal band began setting up for a performance/video and make things a bit trickier. Also, it was really annoying.

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(Disclaimer: The Trolltunga is an awesome spot to take a picture, and the hike to it is fun and not too crazy. It’s social media presence is also making it very popular and known. BUT! Only people who are physically up to the challenge, and comfortable at such heights, should attempt to go out to the ledge. There are guide services that will take you the entire way in both directions for added safety if needed.)

BETTER THAN THE TROLL’S TONGUE?

If you were looking in the same direction the Trolltunga is pointing toward, there is an incredible spot to hang out, and even camp if you’re daring enough. It’s much more stable, and easy to navigate than the Trolltunga, but has the same amazing view. We were able to hang out for five hours and no one disturbed us. After you get your Trolltunga shot, score a seat here and watch the day go by.

CAMPING ON THE TRAIL

Norway has the “Right to Roam” which means you can camp pretty much anywhere, as long as you are a few hundred meters away from the closest home, and not on private property. Even then, asking the land owner if you can camp on a corner of their land in not uncommon. At the top of the first climb, there are camping spots to the right of the trail, before the river. At the Måglitopp, where the locals have there cabins there are plenty of places to camp if there is no snow as flat ground, and great water sources are not hard to find. When we went, the snow was cause for concern because we use a tarp tent, and thus needed soft ground to use stakes. We found a bare patch, with the help of a local. Up the Gryteskaret, and over the pass was completely covered in snow for us, but had plenty of flat ground if not covered in snow. However, the better camping spot are along the cliff edge. Not only because of the amazing views, but because large boulders offer some protection from the wind. REMEMBER! There are no trees up there, so proper wind protection is a concern. Just behind the Trolltunga, there are spots to camp as well, giving you the opportunity to be one of the first people to see the ledge that day.

Room for Adventure: Iceland’s Southern Coast

Ironically, in a place where a stable government had been established by 930AD, the human footprint on Iceland feels so- temporary. Maybe it’s the lack of buildings over two stories tall, or that towns seem to be placed based off of good ideas two thousand years ago. In the relative youth of the land, Earth’s primordial state can be seen, where humans are still only renting their space on the land.

It would be cheap to call Iceland otherworldly. Sure, in the pitted, lava rock deserts, similarities to the moon and science fiction are easy to draw. However, I would argue that Iceland is one of the most pure, most untouched bits of this world, and its relative youth to the giants like North America is the reason. Iceland shows us what the world once was, in its infancy. A place that is both barren and beautiful, and buzzing with the kinetic energy of new life, and the potential for anything.

Icelandic people are as unique as the island they live on.The Icelanders are a quirky group of people. Many Still believe in faeries, and they smoke more weed per capita than any other European country. In the white nights of summer, people will party in Reykjavík until 8am, some of them passing out on the sidewalks for a nap on the way home. In my experience, it is not the Irish or Germans who can drink, but the Icelandic! There might only be around 320,000 of them, which is about a ten block radius of any NYC area on a Tuesday night, but for what they lack in numbers they make up with tenacity. Not uncommon to Scandinavia, the people have a deep connection with the Earth, and wish to conserve it as much as possible. Most of the their power comes from geothermal energy harvested underground. Sure, their hot water smells like farts, but the Icelandic people have made Iceland one of the cleanest, least polluting countries in the world.

In fact, Iceland boasts the ‘cleanest, clearest’ water on Earth. Within the Silfra Rift, otherwise known as the gap between the North American and European tectonic plates, glacial melt filtered through some of the clean soil on Earth ends a forty-year journey. The products of such a phenomenon are beautiful and delicious.

There is no shortage of adventure in Iceland. This post shows merely a snippet of the South Coast. We have yet to explore the entire ring road, and have barely scratched the surface of the island’s interior. We spent five full days in Iceland in June of 2015, and explored the South Coast. Below is the photo gallery with some information on how to get to these places and how best to enjoy them.

The Path of The Gods

“Il Sentiero Degli Dei”

Under the shadow of an ancient ruin, resting on a forgotten terrace, Positano, Italy burst into life. A million flickering lights, nestled into Italy’s famous coast, makes a lovely cinema. We climbed to the top of the ruin and sat on the roof ledge, a curved, stoned structure with holes leading 15 feet down to a stone floor. We drank deeply of our wine, and looked out with a steely gaze. A private movie, a perfect night. Thank the gods. 

Sitting on the Ruin looking down onto Positano!
Sitting on the Ruin looking down onto Positano!

Positano has gone the way of the tourist, with little authentic charm remaining in the town streets, with most restaurants share the same menu, and most shops sell the same concoction of tourist aimed wares. Still, the whole image is pretty spectacular, and worth some exploring. Most of the crowds are lost in the higher levels of the town. The twisting stairways and corridors and dramatic layering are like something out of The Lord of the Rings, a photographers playground.   Positano spills down the Amalfi Coast in cascading levels of mediterranean color, eventually culminating in a small, rocky beach and turquoise water. Warm, verdant peaks rise in the background, usually wrapped in a shroud of silky clouds.

GETTING THERE:

Coming from the North (Naples):

Take the commuter train from Napoli Centrale to Sorrento for less than 5 euros. The trip takes about an hour in total. From Sorrento, take the SITA bus to Amalfi (the Town). From Amalfi, take the SITA bus to Bomerano (you can ask bus drivers exactly which stop is best for “Il Sentiero Degli Dei”). Once you get off at Bomerano, it’s an easy walk to the main square, where signs will point you to the trail head. It is very intuitive, but if you get turned around, feel free to ask someone. Odds are they speak english, or know what you mean when you ask about Il Sentiero Degli Dei.

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Coming from the South (Salerno):

Where ever you are coming from south of the Amalfi Coast, you will most likely have a stop in Salerno. From Salerno, the SITA bus will take you anywhere on the Amalfi Coast. Take the SITA bus to Amalfi (the Town). From Amalfi, take the SITA bus to Bomerano (you can ask bus drivers exactly which stop is best for “Il Sentiero Degli Dei”). Once you get off at Bomerano, it’s an easy walk to the main square, where signs will point you to the trail head. It is very intuitive, but if you get turned around, feel free to ask someone. Odds are they speak english, or know what you mean when you ask about Il Sentiero Degli Dei.

WHEN TO GO:

Crowds in Amalfi
Crowds in Amalfi (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

We were there late May, where crowds in the town centers were pretty stifling.

The Path of the Gods is not the most famous trail in Italy, but it is definitely becoming more and more known.
That being said, we started the hike about an hour and a half before sunset, intent on finding a camp site somewhere on the trail. We had the entire trail to ourselves, and the weather was perfect for hiking. It did end raining in the middle of the night and into the next day, but that was part of the adventure.

THE TRAIL:

The path travels from the small, mountain town of Bomerano to Positano, traversing the steep peaks of the peninsula in a more or less gently route. There are some ups and downs, but I would still classify this as a walk rather than a hike. At points the entire Amalfi peninsula can be seen stretching into the sea. There are plenty of opportunities to explore ruins, and take short side trails to different vistas, though there are no shortages of vistas on this hike. The trail is about 4.5 miles (7 km) in total and can be done in less than two hours, even with the occasional photo break. At the end of the walk, you have an option of walking around 1,700 steps down into Positano, or you can take a cheap bus from Nocelle.

THE STEALTH CAMP:

I have no idea is this is legal or frowned upon, so take this information with a grain of salt. Just after passing a bunch of sheer rock faces on your right, when the view of Positano is in plain sight, there will be a side trail on your left side heading into a small patch of forrest. Immediately on the left of the trail is a circular, stone structure, and the trail to the final ruin is about 150 feet long. At the end of the trail, a large ruin with an intact roof (minus the holes) sits on top of a series of layered terraces. We set up our tent on one of the terraces and sat on top of the roof of the ruin, enjoying the amazing, private view. Wine and cheese. Remember to bring them!

The view from our stealth camp on The Path of The Gods.
The view from our stealth camp on The Path of The Gods.
Looking at the ruin from Positano. Tiny!
Looking at the ruin from Positano. Tiny!
Those are the 'sheer' cliffs mentioned in the Stealth Camp description. The side trail is after that.
Those are the ‘sheer’ cliffs mentioned in the Stealth Camp description. The side trail is after that.

PHOTO GALLERY: 

The Alpine Kingdom: Lesotho and the Northern Drakensberg

This is a part II of the Northern Drakensberg. Part I is found here! 

(Click on Images to Enlarge)

The Drakensberg Escarpment, the Wall of Spears, uKhahlamba. It has many names. From the grassy savannas of KwaZulu-Natal, to the undulating hills of the lower Drakensberg, the high Berg dominates the horizon. More often than not, the flickering strobe on a massive lightning storm shrouds the highest plateaus. It is Daunting, but the Drakensberg is a playground like no other. Lets go on an adventure!

The Rim of the Escarpment looks whole from below, like a castle wall you could walk easily from one end to another. Rather, the rim is gouged with deep ravines that can slice into the basalt rock over a deep, making the hike much more interesting than a simple straight line. The views from the rim are staggering. The face drops down over 4,000 feet, and makes the big walls of Yosemite look small in comparison. The biggest face of El Capitan could fit ten times into the Amphitheater’s face alone. Below the drop, the lower Berg, made of softer sandstone, ripples away in a blend of blues and greens.

Lesotho is the epitome of an alpine Kingdom. The lowest point in the entire country is 4,593.2 ft, which makes it the highest low point of any country in the world. To say the high Drakensberg region of Lesotho is underdeveloped, would be an understatement. You may find a stone and thatch hut tucked away among some rocks, or even a Basuto shepherd. Some consideration should be taken with drug smugglers, usually hauling marijuana on pack animals from Lesotho to South Africa. Stay away from them and they will likely stay away from you. Other precautions like not leaving anything outside of your tent at night should be taken. A few hikers have woken up to find their nice hiking boots had walked off into the night. Finally, there are a number of caves in the Drakensberg. Many of them are used by the Basuto people and should be avoided, mostly because they tend to have a lot of trash. There are plenty of regulated caves, where you can camp.

The Lower Drakensberg is made out of soft limestone, and thus has sharp, rippling edges, carved by the rivers coming off the High Berg. The colors are spectacular, with a spectrum of blue giving the mountains an underwater look. It is in these ridges and valleys that hikes like the Tugela River Gorge and Sentinel Peak can be found. The High Berg is like frosting on the cake, caused when the ground opened up and spewed out lava, which hardened into the hard, but brittle basalt that makes up the amazing wall.

World Class Adventure: On Top of the Drakensberg Amphitheater

(Click Images to Enlarge)

For an awesome guided adventure in the High Drakensberg, please contact my friend Gustav Greffrath here! He is an awesome guide and will make sure that your experience is exactly what you want it to be.

The City of The Mountain: Cape Town, South Africa

 (Click on images to enlarge!)

Epic Views, Little Hardship: The Tugela River Gorge

Within the Old Streets and the New: Madrid, Spain

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