Packing for five weeks on an overland truck (in under 8kg)

I am heading off on a trip with Overland West Africa from Sierra Leone to Ghana (via Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire), and then I am heading solo onwards to Nigeria (through Benin and Togo).   This is my first time ever on an organised group trip, and a lot of my friends are taking bets on how long I will last travelling with other people.   I will, of course, be blogging as I go, but given my packing posts are some of the most popular, here is the list…….. brace yourself it is more than I have ever packed.

Everything packed into their respective organising bags
the pack

So, this time, I need a slightly bigger pack than my standard, and much beloved, travel companion – the 30L Tortuga Air, as I have to take a sleeping bag and Thermarest.  However, that doesn’t mean I need a huge bag!  And in fact, I don’t want a big bag.  More stuff is more to carry, and more to organise.  I can easily fit everything into a carry on bag, so am trialing a new bag on this trip – the Lowe Alpine Flightlight 45 litre. This pack weighs in at 800 grams and doesn’t look too dorky!.

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I have hacked it mildly to keep my stuff in place where I want it to be  – by adding some velcro patches to my cable and toiletries bags to hold them on the bag lid.

the bag packed

 

I will also carry a little north face pack for when I need a day pack.   I have used the sea to summit ones before but I keep putting holes in them.  This flyweight one is a big heavier, but more robust and still lightweight (200g)

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*note I considered buying two other cool bags for this trip, but while both of the alternatives were pretty groovy – the tom bihn hero’s journey (a 45l backpack/duffel with a 15l convertible backpack/shoulder bag that attaches and is configurable in multiple ways) and the Alchemy Workshops very beautiful AEL008 carry on – both of these two options were too heavy and expensive and over-engineered for West Africa

sleeping arrangements

Most of the time we will be camping, so i will be packing for a variety of temperatures, taking

  • Silk sleeping inner for hot nights – this Rab one weighs 130g
  • a 30 degree short Z packs sleeping bag which I love and will keep me warm if I need it (350 grams and compresses down to nothing)
  • my thermarest  – indispensable mattress, but will be taking tape in case of punctures 330G
  • a big luxury – rather than my blow up sea to summit pillow, which is terrific for 3-4 nights camping, I am taking a more luxurious thermarest compressible pillow which is more like an actual pillow 58cmx41cmx10cm (340g).  I will see if it is worth the additional 280grams but I suspect it will be worth it for 5 weeks of a happier neck.  If it is not worth it, it will get discarded en route
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the big luxury experiment – a new pillow

All my sleeping gear is packed together into a granite gear air zipsack so i can pull it all out together when i need it, except the pillow

CLOTHING

Here is where most people overpack….. I am taking more than usual as want to make sure I don’t have to run in really stinking running gear and we won’t have access to running hot water that often to wash clothes.  I could make do with one less of everything (I have before).  I always swear by icebreaker as you can wear it for days and it won’t stink!  The following is more than enough for all temperatures and all occasions

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i love these t-shirts. I have worn one of these shirts for at least 60 days this year – on the GR5 and the kungsleden for over 10 days in a row on each, and they are still holding up great
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Clothes are packed in three small compressible eagle creek packing cells.

toiletries

The biggest difference with overlanding is I won’t be able to rely as frequently on hotels for shampoo and soap, and chemists for when I need anything.  So I am packing slightly more than normal (but still not much)

all my toiletries!

Wet toiletries 

  • Moisturiser, 25 g decanted in a pot
  • Sunscreen (10 hour), – Riemann’s once per day P20 ( lotion), 50mls is plenty for 5 weeks as I only do my face
  • Lipgloss, I use blistex– both the lip balm and the medplus conditioner
  • Antiseptic savlon – 15 ml
  • 100ml of hand sanitiser (normally I don’t bother, but this will be useful for 5 weeks on a truck)
All packed in airport security compliant Muji bag so I don’t have to use a ziplock bag
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this soap will clean anything!

Dry toiletries (no airline limits on size)

  • Salt deodorant stick – it works and weighs little
  • Insect repellant – in block form, lasts longer
  • Toothpowder – less than 20g is enough for five weeks
  • Multipurpose soap – Dr Bronners will clean me, my clothes and my hair, and this is more than enough for 2 months
  • Drugs – Sleeping pills/stilnocht (for overnight flights and snoring tentmates), painkillers/nurofen, anti diarrhoea/immodium, dicloflenac, and doxycycline for malaria, 2 packs of rehydration mix
  • Compeed and a couple of plasters for cuts and blisters
  • Earplugs (most important thing in the pack)
  • Razor blade (just one replacement blade, don’t bother carrying the handle)
  • Toothbrush
  • Nail clippers (tiny)
  • Tweezerman tweezers (tiny)
  • Some cotton buds
  • Hair ties
  • Safety pins –  always indispensable
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huge weight saving in toothpaste 🙂
all the toiletries in ‘wet’ (airport security compliant) and ‘dry’ bags
other
  • Garmin watch and  charger
  • iPhone and charger
  • flip belt for runs
  • platypus 1l soft bottle
  • standard money belt, leg money belt, bra money stash
  • macbook (under 1kg) (not shown in pictures)
  • solar charger (helpful to not have to fight for the plug space on the truck), 280g
  • petzl head torch and a few spare batteries
  • an ultra light spoon – always helpful for when i want yogurt or baked beans
  • large quick drying towel ( i have taken the handkerchief size one on trips in the past, this time I have space and desire for a bigger one that will actually cover me up coming and going from communal showers) (135g)
Fully loaded, excluding what I am wearing (shorts, sneakers, t-shirt, hoody), it weighs in at 7.9 kg – easily a weight I can wander around town with for a few hours if I need to, and I have more stuff than I need.  My standard weight is about 6kg, so an extra 2kg of sleeping gear, additional toiletries and a few extra clothes isn’t terrible.
Side note on carry-on weight limits – in the event that the check in staff want to weigh your luggage and have a limit of 6-7kg, my standard tactic is to put a few extra items of clothing on (down jacket and waterproof  – even if just tied around my waist), stick my cables and toiletry bags in my pockets (i have big pockets in the icebreaker hoody), and then put my laptop down the back of my trousers.  Without fail this reduces the pack weight by 2 kg and gets me past any checks.
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Everything I am taking with me, except my computer, running shoes and hoody which I forgot to put in the picture
post trip review

So, I am now done with the trip, and a couple of thoughts on the packing.

I wouldn’t take these things again

  • Sleeping bag – I used it three times, but two times were because we couldn’t figure out how to turn the aircon down.  I would have been fine using my down jacket with the sleeping silk liner those few nights it was a bit brisk (and I needed the down jacket and warm hoody for returning to London, so while I didn’t use them, I would still take them)
  • Sunscreen and sunhat – I was too lazy to put the sunscreen on, and it was too hot to wear a hat
  • Waterproof jacket – when it pisses down here, it is still warm, so you can use the rain as a free clean water shower, and you will dry quickly afterwards

I didn’t use any of the drugs or first aid stuff, but would take them again.  I also picked up a cheap course of ciproflaxin for $2 in Liberia as a back up, but didn’t use them.

Next time I would take an umbrella – good for wandering around in the sun and for the torrential rainfall, and take or buy a fan – helpful in the sweltering days.

Apart from that I probably could have done with one less top and one less pair of shorts, but it was nice to have some redundancy.

Off the Beaten Track – Tuvalu

Tourism development

So, if you thought Kiribati had not many tourists, Welcome to Tuvalu.  Apparently there are less than 1000 tourists per year!  Actually Tuvalu is delightful, and I did meet an American aid worker there who was in charge of building the tourist industry.   His challenges will be numerous

  1. Air Fiji flies only twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday) and only from the secondary airport of Suva (not Nadi).  And it would be a bit of a stretch to say they fly twice a week as the flight is regularly cancelled for weeks at a time……  I flew up and back with one of the Air Fiji staff and they hate flying to Tuvalu as the runway is not maintained properly – his job was to come up and check it periodically.  On the bright side the airport code for Funafuti is FUN
  2. Food shortages are rife on the island.  I went everywhere trying to buy cake, ice-cream or chocolate.  There was no cake!  There was no cake because there had been no eggs on the island for a few weeks.   There were no eggs because the ship hadn’t come and there was never room on the plane for food.   A whole country with no cake – my definition of a bad day.   I did manage to track down ice-cream and chocolate at the ‘chinese supermarket’ (how the locals describe it), after visiting the other ten shops that were closer to my hotel.  It is always amusing in almost all the countries I visit to hear the locals complain about ‘the chinese’ stealing their jobs and customers.  Well, hard not to be stolen as a customer by the only shop in town that has ice-cream and chocolate (albeit out of date)
  3. The hotels need a little development – I stayed at Filamona’s moonlight lodge.  I think the cleaning and design staff were moonlighting somewhere else.  The bathroom suite was salmon pink.  The mattress was new, and came complete with the plastic still wrapped around it – it made for a slippery night’s sleep.  And the window looked out over the living room, with a sheet for a curtain so everyone could see in.  (the pictures on the website aren’t doctored but are definitely misleading)
  4. The only tourist operation in town – the town boat that takes you to marine zone is a tin dingy with no chairs or shade.  It was fun, but can’t imagine any posh tourists using it

That said, I found Tuvalu perfectly touristy enough for me.  The locals were friendly, the beaches were beautiful, and you could swim!  I had a blast and I would go back, but I would make sure to take more food with me

So, what are the tourist highlights?

Meet the locals at the bar

The main bar in town was at Filamona’s so I pretty much met everybody.  Well by everybody, I mean all the men, as all the women were probably off doing more productive things like working or feeding their kids.   My favourite interaction was with an 80 year old Tuvalan who had come home for a month for christmas.  He gave me a long lecture on why I would never find a husband (I didn’t bother to correct his assumption that I didn’t have one).  Apparently I looked too bony and therefore I must come from a poor family that didn’t feed me enough.   I was also not going to be any good as a wife as I wouldn’t be able to dance given I didn’t have hips.  Bummer for me!

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The view from Filamona’s balcony of the airport…. We landed, and I was at the hotel 4 minutes later (including clearing immigration)
I was also very entertained for an hour by a french tuna boat captain and has alcoholic alaskan helicopter pilot.  I only learned this when I was in the pacific, but all Tuna boats have helicopters that they send out to look for the fish.  This pilot had clearly had enough of the job and was desperate to get off the boat and out of the islands.  Six packets of cigarettes and countless beers later, the French boat captain abandoned him and the pilot spent the night in the hammock as he couldnt figure out what to do next.  I am still mildly curious as to whether he went back to the boat, I am assuming he did as he wasn’t on our flight, and it was the only flight for the next week

Tuna boat - if you look closely you can see the helicopter
Tuna boat – if you look closely you can see the helicopter
head out on a boat to the marine reserve

You rent a boat from the town ‘hall’, anyone can drop you off there.  It was AUD 150 including the gas.  For that I got two personal guides and we went to 3 different islands.  They didn’t bring any lunch, but I had packed enough over processed carbs for us all (its pretty much all you can buy to eat in Tuvalu).  The islands were divine, the water the clearest I had ever seen.    The snorkelling would be terrific if you weren’t terrified of fish.  I don’t know why, but I don’t like it when scaly fishy things swim towards me, so I am a bit of a snorkelling failure.  Even without the snorkelling, it was a magical day

The guys trying to start the boat....
The guys trying to start the boat….
Marine reserve
Marine reserve
Marine Reserve - storm coming in
Marine Reserve – storm coming in

Hang out on the run way

The runway, which only gets used twice per week for a plane, is the central hub of social life in Funafuti.  When the sun starts to go down, and it gets a bit cooler, it is the location for speed walking, rugby and quite a bit of volleyball.

 

Boys on the runway
Boys on the runway
go for a run

As well as the runway which is a pleasant run, you can also run from one end of Funafuti atoll to the other – well almost all the way to the end as you have to stop at the rubbish dump – it is a nice round 10k ish.  At some points the atoll is only about 4 metres wide so you have the waves crashing on one side and the lagoon on the other.   The highlight of the run will almost certainly be the kids yelling “Palagi, Palagi”, to warn everyone that there is some weirdo foreigner running past.  For those of you who didn’t grow up in the Pacific, Palagi means white person.  (well literally it means a bang from the sky, and thats what Europeans were called as they came with guns and wiped us all out, but now they use it to mean white person).   I am sure I amused some of the adults at least as I ran by and corrected them that I wasn’t a Palagi, but a Maori.

The 'highway' to the edge of the atoll
The ‘highway’ to the edge of the atoll
Additional tips
  • There is a tasty, albeit greasy, cafe in the airport.  Good fried random things.   After my cake disappointment I needed some fried stuff and this did the trick
  • Ask for fish for dinner – no-one local actually likes the tuna as it is the food of last resort.  Everyone eats ramen noodles, fried rice and chicken that was rejected from Australia.  I preordered fish and it was always amazingly fresh tuna!
  • Take food with you if you are coming from anywhere with good fresh fruit and veg
  • There are no ATMs in Tuvalu and no-one takes cards.  Bring boatloads of Australian dollars!  The National Bank can’t help you
  • You can rent a moped for $10 a day, but you can walk everywhere in five minutes.  Also if you are walking everyone will think you are nuts and stop and try to drive you wherever you want to go.
  • Learn a bit of Samoan, it helped break the ice.  Hello (Malo) and thank you (Fa’afetai) would be a good start.

Recommended Hikes in NZ

I have met many wonderful people on my travels who want to come to NZ, and have asked for my top tips on where to hike.  Apologies for the tardiness, but here are my favourite places to run and hike in the worlds best hiking country

The Great Walks

There are nine great walks in NZ, and they are justly named as they are some beautiful tracks (what we call trails in NZ) – including the Routeburn, Kepler, Milford, Abel Tasman and Tongariro.   I would no longer do any of these walks as hikes, as there are too many people on them and you have to prebook the huts.   However, if you are new to hiking, and/or want to be sure of company, then you will be happy walking any of these Great Walks.

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the Heaphy Track

If you are a trail runner, I can highly recommend running some of the Great Walks as the trails are all beautifully groomed, my fave runs are:

  • Routeburn from the Glenorchy carpark end up to the Harris Saddle or onward to Conical Hill, and back down to the carpark
  • Abel Tasman from  Awaroa back to Marahau or vice versa using the water taxis to transport you one way – about 4-5 hours (tide dependent and with some paddling stops), 30k and pretty easy
  • Heaphy as a two day run, with an ultra light pack as you only need a bit of food and a sleeping bag
  • Rakiura is an easy 4-5 hour day run around Stewart Island
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Running up to the Harris Saddle on the Routeburn
Terrific multi day hikes which are not ‘great walks’

New Zealand is a land blessed with wonderful hikes, and ones I would highly recommend are (* means trails are extremely runnable)

Near Auckland 

  • Hilary trail which is a lovely stroll along the west coast of Auckland

Near Nelson/St Arnaud

Near Wanaka

  • Wilkins Gillespie Circuit near Makarora with a side trip up to Lake Crucible
  • Matukituki valley tracks near Wanaka with some wonderful shorter walks based out of Aspiring Hut
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Fording the Rees river heading up the Rees valley

Near Glenorchy

  • Rees Dart circuit * – one of my absolute favourites, simply a stunning run/hike up the rees valley and down the dart.  This can be joined up with the Matukituki valley tracks in good weather with a traverse over the Cascade Saddle into the Aspiring national park.  Note the Dart part of the track is currently closed
  • Greenstone/Caples track *- two good day runs, or a nice 2-3 day round trip, much less crowded than its popular neighbour the Routeburn
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Tuatapere Humpridge Track

If you are feeling super energetic you can join up the Wanaka/Glenorchy trails in a big long loop – hiking from Arrowtown to Wanaka on the Motatapu Trail, hitching a ride from Wanaka to Makarora to walk the Wilkins Gillespie, and if you have alpine experience traversing the Rabbit pass directly from the Wilkins to the Aspiring Hut (near Wanaka), and then taking the Cascade Saddle over to the Rees track to come out at Glenorchy.   This is a pretty epic route and I am looking forward to seeing if I can make it work this summer

Near Te Anau

  • Hollyford track – a wonderful walk and you get to see the seals at Martins Bay.  This can be a bit tricky, as the ‘demon trail’ is aptly named.  If you want to go a bit upmarket and take a boat around the tough bits you can pay for a guided tour and they also chopper you out from the end
  • Tuatapere Humpridge*  – a very good track, privately run, which means you can upgrade to a private room if you don’t want a dorm.  You can also buy food in the hut, so you really don’t need to carry anything.  And they have hot showers!!!
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Hollyford Track

If you are looking for somewhere to base yourself for these hikes, I would recommend the quieter bases of St Arnaud, Motueka, Wanaka and Glenorchy.  I tend to avoid Queenstown these days as it is too busy!

There are hundreds of other hiking opportunities in NZ, including considering embarking to Te Araroa – the long pathway which runs for 3000km from the top of the country to the very bottom, I have only picked my favourites, and I am sure others would prioritise different hikes

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Rakiura on a Rainy Day
Accommodation/Transport
  • If hiking, you can get a great value pass from Doc for $122 which will allow you unlimited nights in back country huts for a year (excluding Great Walk Huts)
  • There is lots of good free camping in NZ, and I use the camping NZ app to find free campsites – many of these are pretty basic and administered by DOC.
  • I highly recommend that you DO NOT rent an RV and drive around the south island – our roads are not terrifically well designed for big slow vehicles and it is much more sensible (cheaper and easier) to rent a small car and stay in hostels or camp
additional information
  • Doc – the department of conservation is a wonderful source of info with track maps and the local office can advise you of trail conditions
  • Good too maps are free to download from http://www.topomap.co.nz

 

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West Sabine River

Weird and Wonderful Modern Art

I have long believed that when travelling you should only do those things that you enjoy when you are at home.  As such, I feel entirely liberated from visiting fine art galleries, places of historical import and museums – all of which I will find boring.   Instead I do things in new countries that I love doing at home – eating good food, hiking, running, and enjoying modern art.  So this week I wanted to share some of the more weird and wonderful art sites I have found in my travels…

Hakone sculpture park, Hakone, Japan

You arrive at Hakone via a complicated set of small trains up into the hills from the coast between Tokyo and Kyoto.  It appears complicated as you have to transfer from Japan Rail to a private rail line, but you can find out more here.  We combined visiting the sculpture park with a stay at the very traditional Hakone-Ginyu Ryokan with a traditional hot onsen on the terrace and they served us an amazing 20 course dinner in our suite.

The sculpture park was one of my favourite places in Japan, and particularly seeing the kids clamber on some of the kid friendly sculptures.

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Hakone
Hakone
Danubiana, Bratislava, Slovakia

Few people know about this museum, which is situated on an island about 15k downriver from Bratislava.  It is a reason to visit Slovakia!  You can cycle there, take a boat, or take a bus and walk a few km (which I did).  More details here.   Bratislava is also a lovely town to visit for a couple of days, but Danubiana was absolutely the highlight

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Europas Park Lithuania

The highlight here is the worlds largest sculpture made of television sets – 3000 of them.  It is a bit tricky to get here without a car, so I took two buses.   Vilnius is also a lovely town for a wander around so worth spending the weekend if coming from London.

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Other recommendations

Other places worth the effort to get to…..

Teton Crest Loop Day 4 – Fords, rain and fried chicken

I am pretty sure a horse was either dying or giving birth somewhere in the vicinity of my tent last night!  A truly weird noise, moreso when you are alone in your tent with no humans in a five km radius.   I have adopted a childlike approach to wildlife – I close the flaps on the tent and assume if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.  A bit like the magic elf cloak in the Lord of the rings, I hope the animals will assume my grey tent is just a boulder.

bradley lake

In the end I had no animal encounters last night, and as this is my last night camping I am all good to cook breakfast in bed and have my tent smell like food, so I retrieved my bear canister and cooked while I waited for the sun to come up.  The sun didn’t really arrive, but the rain did.

Job one for the day was fording the inlet, which was a piece of cake…. Hilarious that the path is labelled as closed.

bradley inlet ford

Then I saw no humans for 15km as I wandered passed taggart lake and through the white meadows to phelps lake.

taggart lake

The trail was lovely but a bit boring after a while, there are only so many lovely trees you need to see

valley trail

Lake Phelps was delightful and I finally saw some people and then a whole lot of people.   Amusingly this is one of the few places in the world where you are advised to sing on the trail – it stops you surprising bears, wish I had that excuse everywhere!   I surprised a few humans this morning with my off key melodies!

phelps lake

And that was it, an easy 21km stroll down the valley with a few lakes for the final day to arrive back at the Granite Canyon trailhead.  Most people don’t do this valley section, instead they get a shuttle back to their cars from Jenny Lake, but I think the extra miles were worth it to see Surprise/Ampitheatre lakes, though these could be done as an easy day hike.

Am now in Jackson hole where I have ordered the ‘breakfast special’ of fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup – yes it was on the breakfast menu!  In my defence I have tried to make it healthier by ordering berries on the side.  It was delicious and I could have eaten two.

waffles and fried chicken at cafe genevieve

I would wholeheartedly recommend this trip as an easy couple of days hiking/camping.   The itinerary hit all of the highlights of the park and then some. The trails are well groomed and the Rangers gave great advice – Tripp at the office in Moose was fabulous, ask for him by name

Bradley Lake to Granite Canyon 21km covered.

Additional Info
  • Backcountry campsite permits can be booked in advance on line, or the day before – see the nps website , and you can figure out where you want to camp using the backcountry camping guide. Note that bear canisters are available to borrow for free, but you will need to buy bear spray ($45)
  • Jackson and Teton Village are wildly  overpriced for accommodation.   I stayed in a dorm at the hostel in Teton village which was fine for $40 a night.    Alternatively you can camp at Jenny Lake, Gros Ventre or Colter Bay, for $20-25 per night but there are no advanced reservations.  Details here .  there is some free camping en route to Jackson in the national forest but it is at least an hours drive away
  • Food and supplies are expensive here, stock up before you arrive at the REI in Salt Lake or the Walmart in Idaho Falls or elsewhere en route

Teton Crest Loop Day 3 – Dodging rocks

It is damn disconcerting to be woken up at 10pm, and then midnight, and then 3am to the sound of huge rockslides tumbling down the cliffs when you are sleeping in a flimsy tent in a rocky canyon.   I contemplated getting up and hiking out but the fear of meeting the Bears was enough to keep me in my tent.  I crossed my fingers that Eric’s tent next door would slow the rocks down if they came our way.

the rocky paintbrush canyon

When light finally came it was another sunny morning, and I got up when it was warm enough to leave the tent to unbury my food and cook breakfast (I miss non bear country where you can cook breakfast in bed).

jenny lake

And then I wandered down the canyon to the valley and the String and Jenny Lakes.  Both are lovely, but are on flat paths full of unfit day trippers many who asked how much further they had to walk to the viewpoint (not far!)

jenny lake trail

After a few miles of flatness I headed up the steep slope from the Lupine trail head to Surprise and Ampitheatre lakes at 3000m to get some stunning views of the Tetons from the east side.  The highlight of the day was overtaking several groups of twenty something day hikers with small packs, while I am lugging a full 12kg (damn bear canister).

surprise lake

The lakes were lovely so I had a late lunch and chatted with some locals.  This was my official destination for tonight but it was too early to stop so I decided to risk getting in trouble with the Rangers and hike onwards a to Bradley lake to chop off some mileage from tomorrow and to sleep at a lower altitude.

ampitheatre lake

I was stopped in my tracks by this sign…..


After I while I realised that the English translation was “path open provided you are willing and able to ford a river”.  Ok then.  But I will save the river to the morning as the camp site is just before the river.

Have chowed down on a big dinner, eating most of the food I have left as am hungry and feeling a bit crap.  Partly from the altitude and partly from too much sun (managed to leave hat and sunscreen behind as thought it would be cold, not so!)

bradley lake with the sun setting behind the mountains

6.40 pm and in my tent ready to snore, hoping no one shows up to kick me off the site given I don’t have a reservation

Last day tomorrow, which is probably just as well as my armpits are offending me, and what I thought was gas leaking from my cooking canister was actually my socks!  Thank goodness I hike solo!

From Holly Lake to Bradley Lake via Surprise and Ampitheatre Lakes

Total distance = 36km; Ascent = 1100m