Family

Adventures in Nepal XXII: The Journey Home

On January 30, 2020, Emma and Elizabeth spent their last day in Nepal. They were both still a little under the weather, and that mysterious new coronavirus seemed to be turning into a Whole Thing, so they continued to wear their masks.

They began the day with some shopping, to pick up some requested items for Emma’s family.

They had lunch at their favorite Kathmandu restaurant.

And then, at 8:00 that night, they headed to the Kathmandu Airport.

Big boi!

The cheap seats were overbooked, so the girls got a free upgrade to a fancier section of the plane!

BUT NOT WINDOW SEATS. This was, of course a catastrophe.

One of Elizabeth’s pocket friends admiring the in-flight meal.

As with the flight from the US to Nepal, the return-flight layover was in Dubai rather than China, at the request of Emma, who had less-than-optimal past experience with Chinese airports. This was fortuitous, because just as the girls were flying out of Nepal, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a Global Public Health Emergency. A few hours later, the US also declared a Public Health Emergency and started screening passengers flying in from China for signs of illness. If the layover had been in China instead of Dubai, Emma and Elizabeth likely would have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

They landed safely in Dubai…

…settled in for a five-and-a-half hour layover…

…and then caught their 17-hour direct flight from Dubai to LAX.


They followed the sun west. Elizabeth said this was the closest they got to night the entire flight, up in the Arctic Circle:

Flying over the Grand Canyon…

…over the Western desert…

…and the California mountains.

There were no health screenings of any kind for passengers arriving from countries other than China. The girls breezed ashore with no problems. It was in fact an early example of the general poor response to the virus that would soon be named Covid-19. But at the time we were all as thankful as we were baffled by the lack of concern.

When Elizabeth had first booked the Nepal flights, she was a sweet summer child who knew nothing about the slow bureaucracy of international travel, so she assumed that a two-hour layover between landing at LAX and departing for Austin would be sufficient. Alas, the flight from Dubai arrived an hour late and she was still in line at LAX for Customs when her Austin flight was boarded. Under the stress of realizing that she was going to miss her flight, she mislaid her passport. Emma was already on the other side of the security gates, so Elizabeth had to navigate this new territory alone. Eventually the passport was found, and Elizabeth made her way outside to where Emma and her mom were waiting. They drove her to her next terminal, helped her rebook her Austin flight and after a four-hour layover she was on her way home.

The whole Nepal experience was so good for Elizabeth. At the time, we thought it was the first of many international expeditions for all of us. Now we’re a year and a half into this pandemic with no end in sight.

So many places we want to see, and there’s no knowing when or if we’ll ever get to them. But I’m so thankful that Elizabeth got to enjoy this one last big adventure before the world shut down.

Categories: Covid-19, Family, food, Friends, Health, Life, Nepal, Travel | Leave a comment

The GoPro explores the Denver Botanic Gardens

The Denver Botanic Gardens are awesome and I highly recommend visiting them if you’re in the area. That said, this post isn’t really about the Gardens. I gained a new appreciation for my GoPro while I was there and want to share what I learned.

I wasn’t expecting much from the GoPro. I had spent some time going through its settings to maximize image quality, and I wanted to see what it could do under various conditions. But I brought my “real camera,” my old Sony RX100, to make sure I got some decent shots.

The Sony is 2.5 years old now, and that’s about the age where my cameras usually need replacing. By then they’re full of dust and moisture and they’ve been dropped and banged into rocks and saddles to the point where the lenses struggle to focus properly. My Sony took glorious photos when it was new. Now they’re just okay. But I still had more faith in it than the GoPro.

Luckily, one of our first stops was the Tropical Conservatory. I hadn’t even taken the GoPro out of my purse yet at that point. I wish I had, because I think it would have taken a better pic of these poison dart frogs than the Sony did.

The Tropical Conservatory is pretty great. Winding ramps and staircases take you up through a lush jungle atrium. I brought the GoPro out for the first time when I wasn’t able to get all of a giant plant-tree-thing into the Sony’s frame. This is where the GoPro’s wide-angle lens really shines:

For those who can’t climb stairs, there’s an elevator disguised as a tree and overgrown with live plants. In the constrained space of the walkway, this is the pic the Sony took of the top of the elevator:

And the GoPro took this pic from the exact same spot:

The Sony did a marginally better job at shots like this, where the subject fit nicely into the frame:

Both cameras took lovely shots of the Monet Pool in their different ways.

Sony…

…Sony…

…and GoPro:

Japanese Garden, GoPro:

The Sony took this pic. I like it because it looks like alien space koi coming to visit a desert landscape.

Here are two shots of the same waterfall from the same vantage point, both cropped down to show roughly the same image. Top Sony, bottom GoPro. I think I like the top one better, but I could improve the bottom one in a photo processing app.

The Sony took the better pic of this tree’s unusual bark, but only because the GoPro’s fisheye lens warped the trunks into weird shapes.

Two pics of the same greenhouse from the same spot. Sony top, GoPro bottom. The GoPro image is actually cropped a bit.

Obligatory nude statue, Sony.

If you visit the Denver Botanic Gardens with kids, be sure not to miss the Children’s Garden, accessed via the roof of the parking garage. It’s got a great Old West theme with mountains to climb, bridges to cross, a stream to splash around in, and woodsy trails to explore. All pics taken with the Sony:

Conclusion: the GoPro is exceptionally useful in small spaces with large subjects. It actually can take decent-quality photos, but it’s crucial to go through the settings and personalize them for what you need. Also, the Denver Botanic Gardens are very cool.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, Gardening, Life, trees | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nepal XX: Boudhanath Stupa

I found the flash drive I misplaced during the last move! I can finally finish the Nepal saga!

When we left our heroes, they were spending their last full day in Nepal taking a guided tour of Kathmandu. After visiting the Monkey Temple and Patan Durbar Square, they continued on to Boudhanath Stupa.

This is one of the largest spherical stupas in the world.

It was festooned with marigold garlands for an upcoming festival.

The garlands are made with real marigolds, which signify passion and creativity.

The girls and their guide stopped for lunch in an airy rooftop restaurant overlooking the stupa.

I don’t have a lot of narrative input for this post. They visited a couple of temples, only one of which allowed interior photos.

Pigeons clustered by the thousands in the shady areas.

Scary Wheel of Life, and partial glimpse of the tour guide:

Lion and tiger, Nepali style:

Elephant-dragon looks like he’s about to gobble up an airplane.

On to the next destination!

To be continued!

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Celebrations, Family, Holidays, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Manitou Incline

Last weekend the kids and I set our sights on the Manitou Incline. It’s the remnants of what used to be a narrow-gauge railway tram up the side of a mountain, now just a long staircase of railroad ties. The Incline starts at an elevation of 6530 feet and tops out at 8550 feet, an elevation gain of 2020 feet in just under a mile.

When I told my coworkers that I planned to attempt the Incline, they earnestly assured me that there is no shame in failure.

The big day dawned sunny, cold and sparkling with a fresh layer of snow from the night before. We made the hour-and-a-half drive to Manitou Springs in a white winter landscape under intensely blue skies.

You can park right next to the Incline Base Camp for $10, but climbers are encouraged to use the free parking in town and ride the shuttle to the camp, so that’s what we did.

The Incline is free to climb, but for Covid safety they limit numbers by requiring reservations. We got our reserved QRcodes scanned and received bracelets. I told the kids not to wait for me, knowing I would take a lot longer than they would to reach the top. Luke took off up the stairs at an easy jog, and that was the last I saw of him for the rest of the climb. Elizabeth set a more relaxed pace; I could at least see where she was  most of the time.

The grade is nice and gradual at first. It’s a good warm-up. Every couple hundred feet there’s a marker that tells you how many steps you’ve climbed, which is nice.

Most of the snow had melted away in the sun and the foot traffic, but in the shady spots it had packed down to something like ice. We were lucky that better-prepared hikers with microspikes on their shoes had roughened up the ice on the steps, so we didn’t slip around much.

The grade got steeper as we climbed higher.

Pretty soon we were climbing for real.

About two-thirds of the way up, an “exit ramp” connects to Barr Trail.

We didn’t take it, but we do have future plans for Barr Trail. If you follow it up instead of down, it leads to the summit of Pikes Peak! That’s an adventure for another day.

Once past the exit ramp, the Incline gets quite steep.

This is where I really started to feel the altitude and started to take more rest breaks. It’s about where Elizabeth left me behind.

At this point I was managing about twenty steps in between stops to catch my breath. But the top was finally in sight!

The snow was deeper now in the shade.

Getting closer!

We were high enough now to get a nice view of the eastern plains.

Almost there!

We made it!

I took me about two hours to make it to the top. Luke had been waiting there for about 45 minutes. He hung out with us for a few minutes and then headed down the descent trail. Elizabeth and I ate the snacks we had brought and savored our accomplishment. I may have texted a smug summit photo to my coworkers.

The Incline is supposed to be a one-way ascent, although a few joggers ran it it both directions while we were there. Most of us took the descent trail down.

This is another connection to Barr Trail. From the top of the Incline to Base Camp via the trail is almost three miles, but you travel a lot faster going down than coming up. It’s a gorgeous trail even in midwinter.

I like this shot of Elizabeth below me on the trail.

I have two or three fourteeners on my summer to-do list, so the Incline was a good way to gauge what kind of shape I’m in for that. The verdict: my climbing muscles are in decent shape, but the altitude has me gasping for air and I could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s hard to get outside as much in the winter here; hopefully in the spring I can get back to hiking more. And maybe carry a bottle of oxygen with me into the higher altitudes.

The Incline is a great hike year-round, though. Highly recommended!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Covid-19, environment, Family, Life, Weather, Winter | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.