Mountains

Getting to know Japan’s tallest peak: Mount Fuji

While we are definitely not traveling and not making travel plans since we don’t know exactly what the next few months will have in store, I’ve found comfort looking back at some of my favorite memories. While you may not be planning trips now, I hope this gives you inspiration for the future.

I keep going back to Japan in my mind, so I wanted to reflect on one of the many highlights: hiking Japan’s tallest mountain and enjoying a couple comfy nights in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) style hotel.

There is something so captivating about Mt. Fuji. Perhaps it’s how its reputation precedes itself. I’ve seen various artwork featuring Fuji before I ever saw a photograph, and then finally, the real thing. It’s the picture-book mountain – one lone peak with a perfectly sloped outline high into the sky. When I found out the trek to the top wasn’t technical and could be done in one day, I knew I wanted to experience the top of Japan!

I spent quite a bit of time researching how to get there and what to plan for, so wanted to share my experience!

Timing: We climbed Fuji via Yoshida trail at the very end of September. We chose this timing because it was off-season, so less crowded, but well before the first snow fall. The season is July 1-Sept. 10, so huts were closed but we still felt very safe on the mountain and saw a few other hikers. We completed this as a day hike over nine hours, though many chose to stay in one of the huts and complete the trek over two days.

Travel from Tokyo to Fuji: We flew into Tokyo from the U.S. and then immediately began the journey to a town called Fujikawaguchiko at the base of Fuji. We purchased Japan Rail passes in advance and found them to be well worth it throughout our travels in Japan. Here you can find details on getting to the Fuji area from Tokyo. For me, this journey was a jet-lagged blur! I was so grateful that our hotel picked us up from the Kawaguchiko train station even though we arrived after the usual shuttle time.

To get to the trail head (5th Station) of Fuji, our hotel helped us schedule a taxi, and it was about an hour ride. There is also a bus available which is more cost effective, but we wanted to leave early for a head start on the trail. We chose to do this during our first full day in Japan, so we were completely jet-lagged with a strange eating schedule. I would definitely not recommend doing that, but we were trying to squeeze the most out of the time we had in Japan.

The hike

As you can see above, this hike from 5th Station to the peak via Yoshida trail is quite the elevation gain over almost nine miles. In fact, this was the steepest hike in terms of elevation gain per mile that I’ve ever done. This hike was no joke.

The trails are nicely maintained and very clear. Yet, somehow we did manage to hike up the trail meant for vehicles which was incredibly steep. I’m blaming it on the jet lag and lack of breakfast. So please pay attention to the trail. If you are an experienced hiker in good shape and start early, you can definitely get this done in a one day without staying in the hut. The attitude got to me as we got closer to the peak, so please take your time, breath, eat and stay hydrated! I’ve been fine in higher altitudes, so I keep wondering if it’s related to how I was treating my body that day (jet-lagged, tired, eating snacks and not meals). Don’t do what i did!

It was a long day, but we made it to the peak and had enough energy left for a smiling photo opp!

We were lucky to hike on a clear day with amazing views of the blue sky and surrounding terrain. I’m glad we started early because clouds rolled in and erased that view on the descent. There is a separate ascending trail and descending trail which is great for hiker traffic (though the trail was not crowded at this time).

When we returned to the 5th Station, the shops and restaurants were now open and it was quite busy with tourists waiting for the clouds to show the view of Fuji’s perfect flat peak. We grabbed a bus ticket to return to Kawaguchiko station and then a shuttle back to our comfy hotel!

Matcha and strawberry soft serve at 5th Station

What to bring on the hike:

  • Day pack (mine is 30L, perfect size)
  • Hiking poles (these were SO helpful coming down the steep descent trail)
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of water, I had three liters
  • Snacks for energy (trail mix, protein bars, packed lunch, etc.)
  • Rain jacket, rain cover for pack
  • Warm gear (jacket, gloves, hat)
  • Good hiking boots and hiking socks

Mizno Hotel: Knowing we’d go for affordable Airbnbs or hotels the rest of our trip, I really wanted to splurge for a nice, but reasonable, place with a view of Fuji, and I was so thrilled by Mizno Hotel. The hotel itself is beautiful, service was lovely and we had so much fun trying fancy Japanese food at their restaurant for both dinner and breakfast. The Japanese breakfast with views of Fuji on the patio were extra special. We also took advantage of the private onsen (hot bath) which came with a bottle of sparkling wine. A very special treat!

Germany Road Trip: Munich to Berlin and everywhere in between

After Spain, the next European country I had my eye on was Germany. I had dreams of biergartens, pretzels as big as my face and friendly locals. Last fall, that all came true, and then some, including moments of learning and self reflection about our world’s past and my first view of the Alps – stoic, icy mountains warmed by September’s fall foliage. I got some stormy and dreamy photographs that I wasn’t expecting – see below!

We traveled in planes, trains and automobiles from Munich to Berlin and back through charming Bavaria. For once, I wasn’t involved much in the planning and went along for the ride. I’ll briefly list our stops and share some photos in hopes of inspiring your adventure to Deutschland.

Munich

We purposely planned our trip around Oktoberfest (usually the last two weeks of September). If you’re into German beer and don’t mind a crowd – I highly recommend this experience. We came on a Thursday and started early so we a chance to walk through all the tents and sit down in a few to enjoy steins of beer. By 4-5 p.m. the tents were filled and it was hard to find a seat. While more than 7 million people visit Oktoberfest every year, this was hands down the best and quickest service we had in Germany. We ate the 1/2 roasted chicken and apple strudel which was fantastic, not to mention the liters and liters of German beer (Augustine was our favorite)!

The next day, we locked up our luggage at the train station as we enjoyed our last day in Munich. We stopped by the park where you can watch surfers. That’s right. There’s no beaches in Munich, but stop by the Englischer Garten where you can watch people expertly surf on the Eisbach river below the bridge!

Then, we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. While the sobering experience is difficult to communicate here, it’s important to see and learn. Maintaining memorials and museums like this will help humankind avoid making the same terrible mistakes in the future.

Berlin

We rode the ICE (high speed train), a long but comfortable ride, from Munich to Berlin. I have family in Berlin that were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple nights. With one full day in Berlin, it was a whirlwind of walking around the city, taking in the sights, history, people, and of course, stopping by a biergarten. I wish I had more time here to experience the city and really take in the sights.

Learning about the history of Berlin and experiencing what it is today had my head spinning with thoughts of what it must have been like. We visited the Topography of Terror (free museum on the former site of the SS Reich Main Security Office) where we read about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Additionally, we saw buildings damaged by bullet and bombs during WWII and walked along parts of the Berlin Wall. Our host lived in West Berlin before, during and after the wall came down. It was fascinating to hear her stories at breakfast and then walk along traces of the wall and the East Side Gallery that same afternoon.

Rothenberg

After a night of rest, we picked up a rental car and headed south for a Bavarian road trip on the autobahn. Our first stop was Rothenberg, a charming town that looks right out of a fairy tale. We walked along the ancient wall and towers that protected the town during medieval times. It almost didn’t seem real, like I was in a fabricated village of Disneyland. You’ll see the Disneyland theme return a few times while in Bavaria.

We spent a quiet morning walking around the town, admiring the adorable architecture and enjoying cappuccinos and schneeballen (snowballs in English). Schneeballen are a local treat of shortbread and covered with powered sugar, chocolate, coconut and various other combinations! Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of shortbread, and think they look better than they taste.

Hohenschwangau (specifically, Nuestchwanstein castle)

Here’s where the magic of Disney returns, but in real life. We drove to Hohenschwangau and hiked up to see Neuschwanstein castle twice – this is said to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s fictional home. I’ll let you read about the history from a different source. It’s a short, up-hill hike to see a view of the castle, and we kept going past the trail as far as we could until the clouds and rain rolled in an we could no longer see beyond the trees. The next morning, we hiked up in the dark to watch the sunrise over the castle. There were only a couple others out there, so I highly recommend going at this time to beat the crowd and take in the magical views.

After watching the sunrise, we strolled over to Alpsee lake where I became fascinated with photographing the reflective water and its feathered inhabitants.

We stayed at the Hotel Muller where we had a lovely suite with views of the castle. I also enjoyed a wine tasting here – I believe it was 30 something Euros for the basic tasting of 4-5 wines.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Hoellentalklamm or Hell Valley Gorge)

If the Neuschwanstein was Cinderella’s Castle, then Hoellentalklamm (Hell Valley Gorge) was Splash Mountain. For a small entrance fee, you can hike through this beautiful gorge, ducking through tunnels in the rock, watching your step over slippery surfaces and getting totally wet! The gorge-ous (get it?) hike was all worth it to be so close to nature. The trail ends at a hostel with views of the Alps.

We were starving after a full day of hiking and made our way to Gasthof Fraundorfer for Bavarian cuisine and what ended up to be our favorite beer of the trip, Konig Ludwig Weiss. 

Kehlsteinhause (The Eagle’s Nest)

View of the Eagle’s Nest from about 1/2 through our hike. See what I mean by a long, uphill walk?

One of our last adventures in Germany was the hike to The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat which still stands on a peak in the Bavarian Alps. It is now a restaurant, and a tourist destination to take in beautiful views of the mountains. Weather was not great when we went, so I’m afraid I missed out on the view. However, I did not miss out on some exercise. There is a bus that will take you a majority of the way up the hill, and then an elevator that a bus ticket will get you a ride on. We skipped the bus and made the hike from the parking lot. It was a steep, uphill walk, but the path was paved and well maintained. If you like walking/hiking, I would recommend this to really take in the experience (and get it for free!). Just don’t be like me, as I wasn’t expecting a 4 hour hike like this and did not pack any water or snacks. 

Overall

I really enjoyed my time in Germany, and was surprised by all the hiking and views we squeezed in. It was also a great lesson in history regarding the Holocaust, WWII and Cold War.

I would come back for a few days at Oktoberfest for sure! I wish I had more time in the Alps, too, so I suppose I’ll have to return another time. We moved through town to town pretty quickly when I wish I could have slowed down a bit to explore deeper. I didn’t even mention the time we drove over the border to get coffee in Austria or stopped to visit Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown! The only downside was that this wasn’t a foodie destination for me, as I got tired of Bavarian food pretty quickly.

Have you ever been to Germany? What sights would you recommenced? Let me know in the comments!

 

Hiking The W in Torres Del Paine (Patagonia/Chile)

Over New Year’s, I trekked through Patagonia over seven days with my boyfriend and his family, and it was a dream-I-never-knew-I-had-come-true. I didn’t know much about Patagonia (honestly, I thought it was just the clothing brand) before I went on this trip, so every new sight was a breathtaking surprise. If you want that experience, stop reading. 🙂 Or, if you’re curious, here’s my take on the trek.

The W circuit is a trek through Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side of Patagonia. It actually traces a “W” on the map and is a popular trek for backpackers around the world. Now I know why.

CLICK HERE FOR MY FULL TORRES DEL PAINE PACKING LIST!

Day 1 (~13.3 miles): Puerto Natales > Refugio Chileno  > Mirador Torres del Paine

The very beginning of our seven day trek through Torres Del Paine Patagonia

We departed Puerto Natales, Chile and made it to the park after about a 5 hour van ride. From the parking lot, we put on our backpacks and kicked off our trek. We had gorgeous weather (look at that crazy cloud below!) hiking up (yes, up) to Refugio Chileno where we dropped off our stuff and continued on to the Mirador Torres del Paine with our day packs. As we were approaching the viewpoint, the weather changed and we got some snow and rain. Once we got to the towers all we could see was a big white cloud. Womp womp. It was chilly, so we turned around and headed back to the refugio for a hot meal and some much needed sleep in our tents!

The towers are THE iconic photograph I’ve seen of Patagonia, so I was disappointed at the time I couldn’t see them in person. Come to find out, we had such gorgeous views in the coming days, that looking back, it didn’t matter. It’s all part of the experience.

Day 2 – New Year’s Eve! – (~14.2 miles): Refugio Chileno > Japones Camp > Refugio Torre Central

This was another rainy and cold hike through the Silence Valley up to Japones Camp (a shelter covered in tarps) where we ate lunch. Though the weather wasn’t perfect, this was a fun hike through forest, along a stream and scrambling over boulders. We also spotted a male and female South Andean deer.

At the next Refugio we had a special holiday dinner and dessert buffet (it was delicious!) and lots of pisco sour to ring in the New Year. As our group waited to count down to 2018, the clouds started to blow away and we got a gorgeous glimpse of the towers from afar at dusk. This is my favorite picture of the entire trip and it was captured on my Google Pixel 2 XL smart phone!

Daises and Torres del Paine at dusk in Patagonia, Chile

Day 3 (~9.6 miles): Refugio Torre Central > Refugio Los Cuernos

After maybe one (or three) too many pisco sours, we were fortunate our shortest day fell on the first of 2018. The main goal was to get from one refugio to the next: Refugio Los Cuernos, at the base of one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen.

This hike still had plenty of eye candy. This day was when the bright blue Lago Nordenskjöld and Los Cuernos mountains first came into view – two of my favorite sites of the entire trip. We enjoyed a nice long lunch gazing at the lake!

When we arrived to the refugio, it was time for a beer (we loved the local Austral Calafate beer!) some hot food and plenty of rest as the two biggest days lay ahead of us!

Day 4 (~14.1 miles): Valle Bader

This hike was absolutely my favorite day of the trip and a reminder of the sweet rewards of exploring such beautiful and natural places. Did I mention we had perfect weather, too? We were staying at the same refugio this night so we packed our day packs and headed towards Valle Badar. Of course, we stopped for these picture perfect views of Los Cuernos and Lago Nordenskjöld again!

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You need a special permit to get into Valle Bader (Forgotten Valley) so our group didn’t see another single hiker there. We scrambled over boulders and mossy streams into what looked like another planet. While drinking water straight from the stream and enjoying our lunch, a condor swooped down to check us out.

Day 5 (~19.5 miles): Refugio Los Cuernos > Valle Frances > Refugio Paine Grande

First, I want you to know that it’s true that you’ll get four seasons in a day in Patagonia. Here was the very beginning of our hike – cold and rainy at the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld, then we were in T-shirts shortly after on the way to the French Valley.

At almost 20 miles, this was definitely a long and tiring day. We packed up our gear and headed to Camp Italiano where we were able to leave our big bags and switch to day packs. Then, it was a long but worthwhile hike into the French Valley. We had gorgeous views of mountains, glaciers and even saw a few avalanches in action. Definitely a few firsts for me!

Then, we picked up our bags and still had a long way to go to our next refugio, Paine Grande. It was towards the end of the day so we had the most beautiful light upon Paine Grande and Los Cuernos mountains. And on the other side, the mountain range looked purple. Though I was exhausted, it was a magical experience! Now, it’s dinner time!

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Day 6 (~10.6 miles): Refugio Paine Grande > Refugio Grey > Glaciar Grey Viewpoint

Nearing the end of our adventure, this was the most laid back day. Or maybe I was just worn out from the past two days! We ventured on from Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey where we spotted our first views of Glaciar Grey.

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When we made to the refugio, we got settled and checked out a few view points nearby.

Day 7 (~14.4 miles): Bridges and Glaciar Grey 

We spent the morning taking a trail with two long bridges, one that was one kilometer long, and fabulous views of the glacier. And if it couldn’t be more perfect, there was a rainbow, too! This was a quick hike and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re at Refugio Grey!

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And if that wasn’t enough, we went on a hike on Glaciar Grey, too! We booked through a company called Big Foot Patagonia. We met at the office, signed some waivers and picked up our gear. Then it was a short boat ride to our destination where we started hiking over some interesting rock formations. Once we got to the ice, we put on our crampons, got a demo and then explored the glacier!

I wasn’t originally excited about this, but once we finished, I was SO happy I decided to go on the ice hike. It was an up close and personal experience with the glacier. Our guide showed us some awesome caverns and holes within the ice. Looking down was definitely enough to get your heart racing.

Day seven was our last day of adventure. The next day we hung around and waited for the boat to take us back to town.

This was a life changing experience that I am so glad I had. I would not change a single minute of it! Have you been to Torres del Paine before? Or are you thinking about it? Let me know in the comments!

More blog posts on Torres del Paine, Patagonia: