Stargaze like a Champ!

Stargaze like a Champ | The Backpack Almanac

Note: This is not a sponsored post and there are plenty of other astronomical apps out there, this is just the one I have been using for a while and really like certain features of it.

Growing up, my dad would wake us up in the middle of the night to watch meteor showers, and we always played the “planet or star?” game whenever we got the chance.  He is an enthusiastic astronomy nerd, and I am happily following in his footsteps.  I even learned more complex Italian by reading and taking notes in an astronomy textbook!  I find the night sky to be wholly overwhelming and entirely humbling, and I’ve realized that knowing exactly what I’m looking at makes me even more appreciative of the infinite universe surrounding us.

I use an app called Sky Map to track stars, planets, satellites, meteor showers; anything and everything to do with space.  I have used other astronomy apps in the past, but find Sky Map to be really simple and easy to use, and the red light night mode is essential to keeping my eyes from having to readjust every time I look at my phone.

Sky Map doesn’t need internet or cell reception; I use it while my phone is on airplane mode and it always works no matter where we are.

This is a really fun way to take full advantage of starry sky viewing.  Find the app that works for you, and enjoy learning about the mysteries of this fantastic universe from the view on our pale blue dot!

 

Blue Lake near Cascade Idaho at sunset

Even though I grew up here, Idaho continually knocks my metaphorical socks off with how pristine and beautiful it is, especially if you’re willing to travel a little off of the beaten track.  Blue Lake is one of those pristine beautiful places that is more well known but still manages to feel secluded and magical – and it’s only a two hour drive from Boise.

 

Getting there was so easy; directions are uncomplicated and the dirt road up to the trailhead only has one fork in it.  The drive up to the trail was spectacular, with a dirt road winding up a mountain until reaching the top and leveling out into an incredibly scenic vista of the valley below.  We got up to the trailhead around 10 am on Saturday, and the parking lot was nearly full as it only has the capacity for about ten cars; later we saw people parked along the side of the road as well, so a full lot doesn’t have to mean the end of your adventure!

Hiking down to Blue Lake, Cascade Idaho

At 0.8 miles, the hike down to Blue Lake is also incredibly easy, so we brought extra toys in the form of inflatable rafts that we wouldn’t have been able to carry on a longer or more strenuous backpacking trip.  We initially descended with our normal gear while we looked for and set up camp – a lovely shady site with ample space for us to spread out, and a well built fire pit to boot.  After getting settled, we hiked back up to the car and brought down our rafts and the extra cooler.  Hiking up and down the steep incline was a trip, but spending the afternoon floating on the lake more than made up for it!

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We brought fishing gear and saw fish jumping all over the place… but they must have learned better long before we got there because they showed Z-E-R-O interest in our bait.  Even after the large day hiking groups had left, when the fish were all out and trying to catch a delicious buggy dinner, we didn’t get anything more than a nibble. *Sigh* someday I will catch a fish and eat it for dinner on a backpacking trip, but alas, this time it just wasn’t meant to be.

Colin fishing on the lake while Charlie watches from shore Blue Lake Cascade Idaho

I will offer this word of caution: this is a very popular spot, not only for day hikers but also for weekend warriors such as ourselves.  If you’re looking for a secluded getaway, this may not be the best choice.  That being said, although there were several large groups around the lake, we never felt that there were too many people.  There was a fair amount of foot traffic right on the edge of our campsite, as we chose a spot near the water, but people were very respectful about our space and it never felt overwhelming.

Charlie standing in front of Blue Lake at sunset | The Backpack Almanac

If you’re new to backpacking, wanting to break in a new pair of boots, have kids or are even just looking for a quick weekend getaway, Blue Lake is the perfect hike for you.  It’s very accessible, has a toilet at the trailhead (always a plus), and is a short and sweet hike down to a beautiful lake.  Depending on the time of year you visit, wildflowers bloom all over the valley, and whatever the wind was doing kept the area around the lake from getting filled with smoke from the nearby wildfires; a huge plus for those of us who don’t like breathing it in while doing strenuous activity.

Blue Lake near Cascade, Idaho | The Backpack Almanac

Mountain Goats through binoculars harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

I don’t own a telephoto lens because:

  1. They’re expensive
  2. I’m a klutz
  3. My backpack is heavy enough without a whole bunch of camera equipment in it

Luckily for me there’s an easy way to get clear, close up pictures!  I learned this trick on my first trip to Alaska, when we visited Potter Marsh; we could see a young bull moose waaaaaay in the distance but I couldn’t get a clear picture of him.  Another woman on the boardwalk showed me how to position my phone camera lens against the binoculars in a way that gave me a much clearer shot of the moose, and I’ve been using this strategy ever since.

Here’s the difference, an example from our Harding Icefield Trail hike.

No Binoculars

mountain goats on the Harding Icefield Trail near Exit Glacier Kenai Fjords National Park

With Binoculars

Mountain Goats through binoculars harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

Results will vary depending on the power of your binoculars, but hopefully you’ll be able to get some amazing shots!

Use binoculars to Scope your phone

The Harding Icefield Trail is an 8.2 mile round trip trail in Kenai Fjords National Park outside of Seward, Alaska.  At only 4 miles to the end of the trail, hikers might assume that it is an easy hike; it’s not.  Travelers gain nearly 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile, putting this day hike firmly into the “strenuous” category.

I am putting this hike into our success bucket, because we kicked this trails butt and did it in 5 hours!  We were the most prepared people on the mountain, and I don’t regret a single piece of equipment we brought with us.

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The Harding Icefield Trail is difficult not only because of the elevation change (1,000 feet per mile is no joke), but also because of the terrain.  The first 1.4 miles consist of a dirt path with the occasional rocky scramble, which provides steep but solid footing.  Once we passed Marmot Meadows, snow began to cross the path, and once we reached the Top of the Cliff the path was completely covered by snow.  This was when I was pretty happy we brought our trekking poles, as the extra stabilization made for a much easier trudge through the slippery, melting snow.

Almost to the end of the Harding Icefield Trail Seward Alaska Kenai Fjords National Park

Conditions on the trail vary depending on the time of year and temperature on the mountain; we went on July 3rd, an especially busy day for Kenai Fjords National Park, and the combination of high temperatures (70 degrees Fahrenheit!) and lots of people made for a slippery slushy snow path.  On the way back down we used our poles to quite successfully “ski” down the mountain – this was more of us being goofy than an actual necessity, but it was a fun, fast way down regardless.

Starting the hike the Harding Icefield Trail Seward Alaska Kenai Fjords National Park

How to Prepare

 

Bring Plenty of Water!

We each brought 2 liters of water and by the end both of our packs were completely empty.  Watching other trailblazers eat snow because they didn’t bring enough water made me really happy we brought as much as we did!

waterfall stream harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

Wear Proper Footwear

I highly recommend hiking boots!  We saw every type of shoe on the mountain, from tennis shoes, hiking sandals, and even platform flip flops… but I can’t imagine the struggle of getting up and down the slippery snow covered trail in anything not secured to your feet.

harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

Trekking Poles?

Maybe I’ve gone soft since receiving trekking poles as a birthday present last year, but, oh my gosh, do they make hiking easier!  On the way up, use your arm muscles to pull yourself up the mountain and give your legs a rest.  On the way down, give your knees a break by stabilizing with the poles.  On the snowy bits, feel more secure in your footing choices and don’t worry so much about sliding down the mountain.  Although they aren’t necessary, if you have a way to bring trekking poles with you, I would definitely recommend it!

flag to mark the trail harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

Food for Fuel

We were pretty zealous with our hiking, by which I mean we rocketed up and down the mountain in 5 hours, and even stopped to enjoy the amazing scenery and wildlife along the way!  We always over-pack on food, and this trail was no exception, but I was totally fine with carrying a few extra Kind bars in my backpack because we needed all the fuel we could get.

hiking harding icefield trail hike seward alaska kenai fjords national park

 

Watch for Wildlife

Alaska is known for it’s abundance of critters, and this trail is no exception.  We saw a family of mountain goats munching on shrubs and enjoying the sun in a cool patch of snow, as well as a marmot attempting to cool down by laying itself flat over the snow.  These were close up and personal encounters, as the mountain goats were about 100 yards away, and the marmot was only 10 feet away from the trail.  Although we didn’t see any, bears have been known to hang out on the lower part of the trail, so keep an eye out for them!

Hiking harding icefield trail marmot alaska kenai fjords national park seward ak

Expect Company

The Harding Icefield Trail is exceptionally popular, and although it is classified as ‘strenuous’, thousands of people hike it every year.  Be prepared to see other people on your journey and be respectful towards them and the natural landscape around you.

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Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail was a really fun way to explore more of the Kenai Fjords National Park as well as gain access to some of the most stunning views we’ve experienced in Alaska.  The combined difficulty of the elevation and terrain changes made for a very interesting hike, and seeing wild animals so close added a thrilling element to the already breathtaking landscape.  If you’re looking for a fantastic way to spend a day near Seward, Alaska, consider this trail; I promise it will be worth the effort!

Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park | The Backpack Almanac

 

 

boise national forest, bogus basin, stack rock boise

I’ve lived in Boise for most of my life, and only just recently hiked Stack Rock for the first time.  I had no idea just how huge and imposing the actual rock is, and the hike to it is a perfect example of what hiking in the Boise National Forest is all about.

The Trailhead

The trail starts about 45 minutes up Bogus Basin Road, just after mile marker 13.  There is a dirt turnout on the left side of the road and a small trail sign leading down to the trail.  The first mile or so winds down through the forest and onto a dirt road, which is primarily used for logging but I’ve never seen any machines or anyone working up there.  Keep your eye out for trail markers as some of the turns to the rest of the trail can be confusing.

The Hike

This trail offers such a wide mix of terrain, foliage and landscape views; mossy green trees give way to a dry dirt road, which eventually leads you to another lush green forest before ending up on top of the mountain surrounded by dry grass, weather beaten trees and an amazing view of Boise.

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What I really love about this area is that it is open for tons on recreational activity at any given time of year.  Snowshoeing is popular in the winter, and even as early as April there were mountain bikers and other hikers willing to wade through the last remnants of snow dotting the trails.  Maybe that says more about Boise and the active, outdoorsy people who live here, but just having the land available and kept so pristine is really special.  That’s a blatant Boise brag, but hey, I’m proud of my city!

trail markers

There are several other trails that branch off of the path to Stack Rock, but the trail markers do a good job of pointing you in the right direction if you’re unsure of where to go.  The last half mile or so is a pretty steep incline, but getting to the rock is totally worth it!

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Stack Rock

It’s HUGE!  I had no idea Stack Rock was as large, imposing or climb-worthy as it turned out to be.  We climbed around on some of the smaller boulders and even started to find a path up to the top of Stack Rock… and then we realized that what goes up must come down and didn’t really feel like trying to scale a cliff face on our first hike of the season.  I am planning to go back someday and try to find a way up, but for that trip we decided to keep it safe and easy.

Stack Rock, Boise, Boise National Forest

There are a lot of nooks and crannies around the jumble of boulders that make up the base of Stack Rock, and we had a ton of fun crawling all over them and taking in the view of the city.  I loved watching the swallows and raven swoop around, and there is nothing like a good rock scramble to get your blood pumping!

Stack Rock, Charlie the Labradoodle, Boise, Boise National Forest

I was so happy to finally go on this wonderful hike – the location makes it an easily accessible day-hike destination from Boise, and the forest makes it cooler than other Boise hikes like Table Rock or Camel’s Back Park / Hull’s Gulch area.  If you’re willing to carry some extra weight on the trail, this would be a great place for a family picnic, or simply a good excuse to get out of the city and into the wild for a few hours!

Sleepy dogs after Stack Rock Hike, Boise National Forest

Hike to Stack Rock Boise National Forest, Boise Idaho | The Backpack Alamanac

“Ok Backpack” I said as I fastened the clips and tightened the straps on my 65 liter bag “I’ll see you on the other side.  Be safe”  With a final check and one last pull to tighten the straps, I kissed the tips of my fingers, rested them on the top of my bag and let out a deep breath before turning from the counter.  As I headed for security, I chanced one last look over my shoulder, and felt my stomach drop as I watched my backpack disappear into the great unknown.  Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but I could swear my backpack was frowning at me as it slipped behind the heavy rubber tassles.

….

Shifting my weight uneasily from side to side, I watched the monitors intently, waiting for the baggage crew to arrive with their piles of luggage.  I had never been in an airport that offered outside views of the baggage claim – this particular carousel had a live feed of the area behind it, so expectant travelers would know when their baggage was ready.  Even with visual confirmation, I was uneasy and nervous, sure that my bag had been sent not to my final destination, but probably lost in the ocean somewhere along the way.  As I tried and failed to connect to wifi, my frustration grew; Is it so much to ask for the sweet distraction of Instagram?  Some Pokemon GO would really take the edge off right now… where the heck is my backpack?!

Of course, my fears were unfounded.  My backpack arrived safe and sound just like all the other luggage, but as I lifted it off the carousel and hugged it close to my chest, all I could feel was relief.  Strapping it to my back and walking out into the humid Indonesian air, I breathed in, smiled, and headed off to find a taxi.

.  .  .  .  .

Until my recent trip to Indonesia, I thought I had a normal relationship with my backpack.  We’ve had some really great times together; climbed some mountains, crossed some rivers, the usual outdoor adventure stuff.  It wasn’t until I boarded a plane that I realized how much that bag means to me and how I would feel if I lost it.  After that nerve-wracking flight, I made a vow that I would keep my backpack with me on flights, to avoid the mental agony of worry I had just submitted myself to.

Airport travel isn’t always stressful, but it can be frustrating if you’re not prepared.  The following is how I pack my backpack to make getting through security and onto the plane as easy as possible.

how to pack your infographic

Important things to remember:

  • Liquids need to be in clear bags and small containers.  The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a great guide to liquids if you’re unsure of sizing.
  • Packing electronics, (including cords, headphones and extra batteries) into one bag is really helpful for keeping everything together and easily accessible.  I use a canvas drawstring bag for my tablet and keyboard, and keep my cords tidy with a smaller zippered bag.
  • International flights are long and exhausting!  Having things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, body wipes, deodorant, and a change of clothes handy on the plane can make all the difference in feeling semi-human when you’re on a 16-hour flight.
  • Bring an empty water bottle you can fill up once you’re through security.  Airplanes use recycled air throughout the flight, so it can be extremely dry on long flights; having your own water helps you stay hydrated even after the drink carts have stopped rolling.
  • Pay attention to bag weight!  I bought some beautiful souvenirs while on vacation, but the added weight put my bag over the airline weight limit and I ended up having to check it anyways.  If you are intent on bringing your backpack as a carry-on, make sure you know the size and weight restrictions before you get to the airport.
Pre-Filtration Method for Sediment Heavy Water | The Backpack Almanac

WARNING: This is NOT a substitute for proper filtration. This method is to be used in conjunction with a water filter in cases where water sources have a lot of sediment or large particles that would cause clogging or improper filtering with just a regular water filter.

I recently used this method on the trail when we backpacked The Honeycombs near the Owyhee Reservoir in Oregon.  I am happy to report that this worked wonderfully and I will absolutely be adding these materials to my backpacking essentials checklist.

When you’re backpacking or even going on a long day hike, making water safe for drinking is one of the most important parts of ensuring a fun and safe outdoor experience. Even with a proper filter, sometimes water sources are less than ideal for obtaining life-sustaining H2O – that’s where pre-filtration can come in handy!

Materials

materials for water pre-filtration device

Container for water: This can be anything that holds water, but I would recommend something with a small opening, as it makes keeping the cheesecloth on much easier. We used a 3-liter water jug and it worked perfectly.

Rope: This is optional, it’s for attaching the bottle to a pack.

Cheese Cloth: I cut this into strips prior to our backpacking trip, now that I’ve used this method a few times I would recommend cutting them into squares that completely cover the opening of the container you’re using. You’ll need several layers of cheese cloth, enough to make a small pad.

Rubber Band: Use this to attach the cheese cloth to the water container.

How-To Step by Step

tie the rope onto the water jug

Step 1 (Optional): Attach the rope to your water container

If you’re a knot person, have a blast with all of your fancy rope tying skills. If you’re like me and just want a knot that will hold your bottle to your backpack, a simple square knot will do just fine.

*This is optional as the rope is only used to attach the jug to your pack.

 

gross water

Step 2: Fill container with water

Pretty self-explanatory but do try to keep as much sediment out of the container as possible; the less there is in the original water, the less strain you put on your filter!

 

 

 

fit the cheese cloth over the top of your water jug

 

Step 3: Prepare your cheese cloth

As cheese cloth has large holes in it, you’ll need to layer several pieces. I cut mine into a long strip and just folded it over itself, making sure the square was big enough to completely cover the opening of the water container.

 

 

attach the cheese cloth to the water container using the rubber band

Step 4: Attach the cheese cloth to the water container using the rubber band

Again, not rocket science, but be sure that the rubber band is tight over the cheese cloth. It would be a shame to get the water collected and then have the rubber band slip while pouring the water into your filter!

 

 

 

pour water into your filter

Step 5: Pour water though cheese cloth into your filter

It should come out much cleaner than it goes in.

*If you have a pump filter, use another container to catch the water as it’s being poured through the cheese cloth. Then you can pump the water exactly as you normally would.

 

 

That’s it!  Now you can relax and rejoice in the fact that you saved your filter a lot of extra work.

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The Honeycombs, Owyhee Reservoir, Oregon

Let’s just get this out of the way: this is not an easy backpacking trip.  If you’re looking for a serene walk through a slot canyon ending in a nice beach with fishing access, look somewhere else.  If you’re looking to test your grit, your skill and muscles you didn’t even know existed, then welcome to the post you psycho.

 

I’ve written about the Owyhee Reservoir before, and still think of our trip to Echo Rock Hot Springs as one of the trails that shaped me as a backpacker.  Our unpreparedness for that trip led to an over-preparedness for this one, but I would much rather be ready for anything than stuck in the desert with fewer supplies than needed.

Getting to the trail head

Directions to the trail head are fairly easy to follow.  As the area is used for grazing, there are several cattle guards and barbed wire fences to get through on the way there, but most of those were already open for the season when we rolled through.  The trouble for us came when our tires got so covered with mud that we couldn’t get any traction on the road.  I am not a very experienced back country driver, but I learned a lot about sliding, shifting and gunning it on this road.

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Be careful if you make this drive in the rain (or consider saving it for a sunny day), it would be very easy to get stuck in the mud or even flip over in some spots.  We were lucky that the ground was just dry enough that we could make it through, but on more than one occasion I definitely thought we were stuck for good.  The road is hilly, rocky and treacherous in more than a few places, so proceed with caution.

The Trail

There is a small marker for the trail head right next to the parking area, and from there it is a slow descent to the top of Honeycombs basin.  If you’re familiar with the foothills around Boise, this terrain is similar, sporting lots of sagebrush, cheat grass and indian paintbrush flowers.  The trail can be a bit tricky, as it is relatively unmaintained and overgrown in a few places, but if you keep heading in a south-westerly direction and keep your eyes peeled,  you’ll find it again.  There are a few cairns to mark the way as well, so be on the lookout for those.

Cairn above The honeycombs, Owyhee Reservoir Oregon

You’ll know when you get to the tricky part of the hike, as the sloping hill becomes a steep drop into the dry basin below.  We lost the trail and ended up going left when we should have gone right, a detour that led us to an impassable cliff.  It was fun climbing around in the canyon for a bit and messing around with echos, but I would recommend taking your pack off and exploring, rather than carrying it around in the hopes of finding the way down.

Honeycombs getting into the canyon

On the trail map you might notice that there is a large gap in the line marking the trail – that’s because once you’re in the canyon it’s more of a slide down / scramble up
(depending on which way you’re coming from) and although we did find some cairns marking a semi-trail, the best way down is really whatever works best for you.  The terrain is sandy, with sparse vegetation and rocky outcroppings along the way, making footing a bit tricky.  We ended up descending an exceptionally steep part of the trail, but by cutting our own switchbacks and taking it really slowly, (with frequent rests to give our poor knees a break), we made it down without incident.

going into the Honeycombs, Owyhee Canyonlands, Oregon

Once you’re down the hill and back on the trail, the true beauty of the Honeycombs really starts to take shape.  The trail winds along / in a dry riverbed, taking you through the heart of towering golden and red canyon walls.  I am a bit of a geology nerd and couldn’t stop talking about the lava flows that created pockets of air and subsequent erosion that led to the honeycomb-esque holes dotting the canyon.  Even if rocks aren’t your thing, the natural beauty of the colorful formations create an unforgettable landscape to wander through.

Honeycombs, Owyhee Reservoir, Owyhee Lake, Oregon, Canyon

It’s a few miles from the foot of the canyon to Owyhee Lake, and in the desert heat it can seem like a long haul.  We were so happy to round a corner and finally see a patch of green trees and the twinkle of the reservoir ahead of us.

The Campsite

The trail led us right to a campsite on the beach, complete with several fire-pits and a nice grove of trees, perfect for hanging hammocks and water filters.

Honeycombs campsite, Owyhee Canyonlands, Owyhee Lake, Oregon

There was a lot of horse manure around the campsite but it was old and dry, nothing stinky to attract bugs.  Speaking of bugs, there were surprisingly few of them!  I put on bug repellent as a matter of habit, but didn’t get a single mosquito bite which has literally never happened to me before this trip.

WARNING: We did see two spiders that looked like black widows.  I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive as to whether or not they were real black widows or false black widows, but both are venomous so just be careful about closing your tent (because that’s where I found one of them, crawling across my sleeping bag) and keep an eye out for creepy crawlies!

Our campsite was perfect and the lake water was decent for drinking, although I was happy we packed extra filtration measures; when the wind picked up it stirred up the water and made it much cloudier.   I’m still going to have to replace the filter on my gravity bag, but pre-filtering our water  definitely helped keep it cleaner, longer.

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A 3-liter water jug, some cheese cloth and a rubber band are all it took to pre-filter water – Check out how we did it in our post Pre-Filtration Method of Sediment Heavy Water Sources!

After a tough hike and a quick dip in the lake, we were happy to just relax in our hammocks and enjoy the sounds of nature.  It was so exceptionally quiet there, although there are lots of fishing boats roaming around the lake.  We saw other people at a distance but the only ones we interacted with was a group of bird watchers who wandered along the beach following a golden eagle.  An owl took up his post in the trees over our hammocks, cocking his head from side to side and winning every staring contest we challenged him to.  A small bull snake found his way under a log near our campfire, and once the sun went down the crickets added their chorus to the sounds of water lapping at the beach and wind whispering through the trees.  It was serene and secluded, the perfect camp spot to remind us what being in the wilderness feels like.

sunset at Owyhee Lake, Honeycombs, Owyhee Canyonlands, Oregon

On our second day, we hiked back through the canyon to explore more of the rock formations, and in the afternoon hunkered down in our tents as a small thunderstorm rolled over us.  That evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset and I got to do the thing where I take a picture of the moon and a planet (Venus in this case) in one shot.

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See my post on Padar Island for my all time favorite picture of Jupiter and the moon!

We woke up early on our third day, knowing that the desert heat would pick up and make our trek miserable if we waited too long to get moving.  Thankfully some cloud cover showed up and seemed to follow us through the canyon, making the slightly uphill (barely noticeable on the way in, but we felt the incline going out) grind more tolerable.  The big challenge of climbing up that steep incline was definitely strenuous, but I felt going up was much easier than coming down.  After reaching the top, the hike back to the truck went pretty quickly.  We saw another thunderstorm rolling over the hills toward the canyon, but it stayed just to our right, providing cloud cover and deliciously refreshing bursts of cool wind.

backpacking, Owyhee Reservoir, Owyhee Canyonlands, Oregon Honeycombs

This trip was a solid reminder of everything that makes backpacking such an amazing experience.  The hike was physically and mentally challenging, the terrain was tough, but the views and the campsite were so worth the effort of getting to the trail head and making the trek in.  If you’re looking for a challenging hike in the Owyhee Reservoir region, this is the trail for it!

The Honeycombs Owyhee Reservoir Oregon | The Backpack Almanac

komodo national park, komodo dragon, Indonesia, Komodo Island

Komodo and Rinca are the two largest islands in Komodo National Park.  They are home to a plethora of wildlife, including komodo dragons, wild boars, monkeys, water buffalo, deer, flying foxes and hundreds of bird, lizard and snake species.

I’m going to preface this by saying that our experience was more of a nature walk than an actual hike.  In touristy places like Indonesia, there is a give and take – we took a leisurely 2-day boat tour of the islands, which allowed us to see a lot of the park, experience sunrise on Padar island, and snorkel with mantas in turquoise water.  The give was that we didn’t get as much time to explore Komodo and Rinca as I would have liked.

That being said, if you have more time and want to do a longer hike on Komodo, there are options for that!  My friend Ellie (author of yoginiwandering, a fabulous blog about her global adventures and time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Indonesia) was trying to figure out how we could stay longer on the island and still have time to do all the scuba diving we wanted… in the end scuba won out and we contented ourselves with quick tours of the dragon homesteads.

rinca Island, komodo dragons, komodo national park, Indonesia

Rinca Island

Our first stop on the 2-day tour was Rinca Island, the 2nd largest island in Komodo National Park.  My initial thought was that it was much more arid than I had envisioned; the short walk from the boat dock to the park employee housing basically took us through a large field of dry grass and dirt.  Around the raised houses (and under them, as they provided the most shade) there were monkeys, deer, water buffalo, aaaand – a komodo dragon!  The guide explained that she was a female and was “being lazy”, which I later realized meant “not moving because it’s hot out”.

female komodo dragon, rinca island, komodo national park, indonesia

Once everyone had gotten all their pictures, we continued our walk into a dry forest – komodo dragons tend to look exactly like logs on the ground, so about every five feet I would feel a surge of excitement, then disappointment, then excitement, then disappointment.  We came across some mounds of dirt with large holes in them, and the guide explained that komodo dragons lay their eggs in the holes and guard them until the rainy season.  Once the rain hits, it washes the smell away from the holes and komodo mommas can’t tell which nest is their, at which point they leave the eggs to hatch on their own.  Juvenile komodos live in the trees for the first few years of their lives, as they are the perfect snack for snakes, lizards, and other dragons.

As if to emphasize the point our guide was making, a young komodo wandered into the nests and began digging through the dirt, hoping to catch any late bloomers making their way out of the holes.

young komodo dragon searching for food, Rinca Island, Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The rest of the walk was uneventful, but it was nice to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery of the island.  We saw monkeys and fat little orange-footed pigeons, which ran around in the brush sounding very threatening until you saw their chubby black bodies streak through the dry grass.  Near the end of the walk I saw a wild boar and watched a water buffalo roll around in thick, sticky mud.  For a quick stop, Rinca was nice, and the guided tour was very informative!

Komodo Island

We got to Komodo about 2 hours before sunset, which ended up working in our favor.  The dragons are most active in the morning and evenings, and on this particular evening we found seven of them hanging out at the watering hole before they found a place to bed down for the evening.

komodo dragon, komodo island, komodo national park

The differences in sizes and physique were amazing!  The youngest was a 5 year old male, who seemed content to hang out on the edge of the clearing.  In the bushes, barely visible was an older male, who the guide said was around 50 years old.  The stars of the show were the two largest dragons who sat close to the water.  One was a 45 year old male and the other a 27 year old female.  I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise but the younger female looked so much stronger than the male; her skin was tight over her muscles, where as with the 45 year old you could see his skin was starting to sag.  The guide said that they are like humans – they start shrinking after middle age.

komodo dragons, komodo island, komodo national park, indonesia

We watched that group for nearly 45 mins before continuing down the trail.  Again, we didn’t have time for a longer hike, but if we had I would have done the cloud forest trail (dubbed “the adventure trail” on the guide maps)  as it takes you up some pretty intense elevation change before opening into a dense forest that is perpetually swathed in fog.  That sounded like an amazing adventure, but I was very happy just seeing the komodo dragons and walking through the forest, knowing that even though we couldn’t see them, there were thousands more on the island.

komodo national park, komodo island, indonesia

We departed Komodo Island at sunset and were treated to a full blood moon as we made our way to the mooring spot for the evening.  It was a spectacular day and I went to bed knowing I could finally check “See komodo dragons” off of my bucketlist!

Komodo and Rinca Islands | The Backpack Almanac

 

Pulau padar island komodo national park hiking indonesia

Pulau Padar (Padar Island) is the third-largest island in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, after Komodo and Rinca Islands.  It’s famous for the breathtaking views it provides of the Komodo archipelago.

For those willing to wake up early, the sunrise from the top of Padar Island turns the entire horizon into a fiery orange blaze.  As the sun rises, the mirrored water softens to reveal pristine turquoise bays and beaches with three distinct colors of sand.  I’d say the most famous insta-fabulous pictures of this island are taken later in the day, and show off the beautiful crystal clear water around it, but I was so happy we made the trek up before sunrise.  We had the chance to see some of the islands residents (fat field mice that didn’t seem too concerned about our presence),  a beautiful landscape of the moon and Jupiter setting over the island, and of course that unbelievably flame colored sunrise.

Pulau Padar, island, Komodo National Park, Indonesia, moon, Jupiter

To get to this point was a fun journey – we were on a 2-day 1-night sleep-aboard trip, where you spend a couple of days on a boat, touring the islands and getting off for various trekking or snorkeling adventures.  Our sunrise hike of Padar started when the boat captain woke us at 5 am, letting everyone know that the dingy would be making trips to shore for those who wanted to watch the sunrise form the top of the island.  As we stepped onto the pebbly beach and began climbing the wooden stairs I realized that in the space of 5 minutes the sky had gone from nearly black to a light lavender, and the horizon had started to glow with the first sunlight of the day.

Pulau Padar Island, sunrise, Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The trail is a stone staircase leading up the steep incline; parts of the stairs have crumbled away, leaving loose rocks and dirt to fly out under your feet if you’re not careful.  I was wearing sneakers and slipped a few times, but people hike in all sorts of footwear… my particular favorite was a group of young Chinese women sporting gold gladiator sandals, platform flip-flops and some sort of jelly flat.  I didn’t feel bad eavesdropping a little – they were complaining that no one told them the hike would be that difficult!

Pro Tip: Although the hike is not long and is paved with stairs, it is also rather steep at certain points.  If you don’t have hiking boots, I would recommend a close-toed sneaker or a sturdy hiking sandal.

From our docking point on the beach, it took us about 30 minutes to reach the top of the island.  Again, it’s not a long or particularly difficult hike, but the steep incline does get your heart pumping.  Once at the top of the island, the view is absolutely worth it.  Komodo Island stretches out to the west, while Rinca Island lies south east of Padar.  The sunrise was spectacular, and as the sun climbed higher we had the chance to watch the light change the landscape below us from a dark mystery island into a dry, hilly savannah.

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Our guide told us that there are still Komodo dragons living on the island, but I have since read that due to food scarcity there are no more on Padar.  I can believe that, as the only wildlife we saw were chubby mice and little snakes and lizards; hardly enough food to keep a population of dragons satisfied.  I was absolutely entranced by the island swallows as they swooped and floated on the morning ocean breezes, guided by the sharp incline of the island as it rises out of the water; they weren’t bothered by the tourists and their drones, they simply existed in that perfect space, and their freedom encouraged me to do the same.

Hiking Pulau Padar, Pdar Island, Komodo National Park, Indonesia
If you’re planning a trip to Indonesia, all of the islands in Komodo National Park are worth a visit; seeing komodo dragons has been on my bucket list since I was 10, and even though Padar wasn’t on my radar back then, I’m so happy it fit into our schedule.  The morning hike was invigorating, the sunrise was incredible, and the sense of peace I felt just being on top of the world and watching it come alive was indescribable.  Plus, getting there was half the fun; hanging out on a boat and enjoying the sunshine is a pretty nice way to enjoy a vacation!

Hiking Padar Island in Komodo National Park, Indonesia | The Backpack Almanac