Lake of the Woods: Relaxation in the Cascades

All is quiet the day after Labor Day at a Lake of the Woods beach.

Mount McLoughlin dominates the Cascade Range during our kayak cruise. A bald eagle watched us at one end of the lake.

Lake of the Woods is the crown jewel of lakes in the southern Cascade Mountain Range within an hour or so drive of Ashland, Oregon.

At 4,949 feet elevation, the natural lake offers relief from summer heat with swimming, boating, fishing and other fun managed by the Lake of the Woods Resort.

We hitched up the trailer on Labor Day and headed for Aspen camp, one of two National Forest Campgrounds on the lake.

The resort was a short walk away from our quiet, deserted campground. We resisted the restaurant but found firewood at the camp store.

The lake's level fluctuates just two feet during a normal year and water temperatures warm to the 70s at the surface. Brook and rainbow trout as well as Kokanee salmon swim in its waters.

Fish Lake was our destination on a nearly seven-mile stroll from North Fork Campground, just a short drive away. We found a greasy spoon cafe that fit the bill perfectly.

Brown Mountain is a backdrop for Reg's stroll.

Fall was in the air as nighttime temperatures dropped into the 30s.

The trail from North Fork campground to Fish Lake follows the North Fork Little Butte Creek.

A boardwalk keeps Trekkers dry during the wet spring months.

 

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Agness, Oregon shines above the fog

We have found our most exhilarating travel experiences happen when least expected; crossing paths with people or places that set our imaginations on fire. Such was the case when, on a recent coastal camping trip, we headed inland to escape the fog.

On a whim and armed with travel literature collected from Turtle Rock RV resort, we headed east on Highway 33 outside of Gold Beach. Our destination? The village of Agness, described as a “quaint hideaway, isolated but accessible.” Hmmm….

The Old Agness Store welcomes all who venture up the road. Breakfast, lunch and a variety of refreshments are offered. The gift shop is filled with crafts and wares made in Oregon.

Present owners, Steve and Michele bought the store in 2013. Extensive renovations created a new life for both the store and its owners.

 

The drive was beautiful, winding along above the Rogue River, up into the sunshine.

A rich local history dates back to the Native Americans who inhabited the area long before white settlers arrived. The Agness Post Office remains one of only two rural mail boat routes still operating in the U.S.

The original store dates back to 1895 and supplied miners during the Gold Rush. Over the years the store has hosted a variety of owners, all of whom must have enjoyed a large dose of the pioneering spirit.

 

Steve encouraged us to wander through his vegetable garden. It was beautiful!

Sunflowers towered over our heads, standing out against the blue of the sky.

 

 

 

The Old Agness Store is home to the Agness Tomato Festival, a celebration of the tomato and the eat fresh and local philosophy.

We missed the festival by just a few days, but by all accounts, it was a smashing success. Watch for its return in 2017.

 

 

 

The festival may have come and gone, but tomatoes continue to ripen on the vine.

Much to our surprise, we discovered an airstrip in Agness. As the sign warns, it crosses the road, so be sure to look both ways!

 

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Oregon Coast: A cool summer getaway

 

Beautiful Eel Lake greeted us as we pulled into William M. Tugman State Park.

Smokey Bear made an appearance at the ranger program where kids of all ages enjoyed hearing his story.

When the temperatures skyrocketed a couple of weeks ago, we hitched up the trailer and headed for the fog and cooler temps that the Oregon Coast is famous for.

Having spent only two nights at one campground on our maiden voyage last June, we were eager to test our hookup skills on our second adventure – a seven night/three campground coastal tour.

Our first stop was a two-night stay at William M. Tugman State Park, located just south of the town of Reedsport and the Oregon Dunes Recreation area.

The campground was clean and neat, thanks to the friendly staff and many volunteers who keep the place running like clockwork. We were pleased to find that fires were allowed in the fire pits and wood was available. Eel Lake offered fishing, boating and swimming in addition to a well maintained 4-6 mile (depending on which source you choose to believe) shoreline hiking trail.

Lighthouse tours are available from April through October if you are able to climb to the top and don't have a fear of heights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day trip down the coast landed us at Cape Blanco State Park. The westernmost point of the 48 states, it is also home to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. This coastal beacon has been in use since 1870, longer than any other in Oregon.

We were fortunate to arrive on a crystal clear day. I poked my head out an open door at the top of the north side of the lighthouse for a quick shot of the coast.

If you look really hard you'll find me, feeling small, near the front of the turtle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could see the turtle more clearly from a distance.

We spent two nights at Turtle Rock RV Resort, aptly named for the massive grouping of rocks that resemble…you guessed it…a turtle.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Hour at our campsite. Life is good!

Sunset Bay has got to be one of the most beautiful spots along the Oregon Coast. Knowing there were hiking trails, seals and sea lions to see and the beautiful gardens of Shore Acres to explore, were looking forward to the three nights we scheduled here. However, as luck would have it, the fog rolled in early on day one and became our constant companion.

An interesting piece of trivia we found posted at the beach of Sunset Bay.

The sky finally cleared as we finished dinner on our last night so I grabbed the camera and we hurried out to the beach. Would Sunset Bay live up to its name? We watched in awe as Mother Nature put on a magical show for us!

Sunset Bay did not disappoint!

 
 
 
 
 

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Worth every step

The Alps (Mont Blanc on the right) rose like the sun each time we approached the top of the cols, or mountain passes.

Some accommodations required trekkers to stow shoes and boots downstairs.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is complete. As we sit in our Chamonix hotel lobby directly below western Europe's tallest peak, some reflections:

We knew the weather in the Alps was unpredictable, so we packed rain gear, a warm jacket and lightweight clothing designed for layering. We had two days of overcast and some rain at the beginning, then five days of brilliant sunshine with highs in the 60s, 70s and into the low 80s. Cool nights the entire time.

There was a snowstorm (yes, in mid-July) at one of the passes the day before we went through. Later, we had several days of clouds and some rain, but very little precipitation while we were walking. The last couple of days were clear until late afternoon, when rain, thunder and lightning entertained.

Bookings. We booked our tour through an Irish company (Follow the Camino) and asked for a mix of refuges (hostels) and hotels. We wanted to stay in some remote locations where refuges are the only option. We got private rooms, rather than shoulder-to-shoulder dorms, in the five refuges.

Refuges are rustic, noisier, and not as relaxing as the hotels. They also have shared baths. But, they are great places to meet people. We have met lots of people on this trek and often run into them for several days afterward. Generally, the refuges get quiet by 10 p.m. or so.

The hotels on the Tour are nicer and less expensive than chain hotels in the U.S. Both hotels and refuges have bars and restaurants. They are places to hang out after a long day on the trail. The hotels on the Tour du Mont Blanc have character and the staffs have been very welcoming. All our accommodations included breakfast and eight included dinner. The dinners have been very good, some superb.

The Mont Blanc refuge in Trient was packed with at least 70 trekkers, but we met some great people there.

Le Dahu Hotel in Argentiere had the best bathroom and a great breakfast.

What about clean clothes? We use moisture-wicking athletic wear that dries quickly. We often do some laundry in the bathroom sink, wring it out in a bath towel, and it is dry by morning. In Courmayeur, Italy, the hotel did our laundry for 2€!

What's for breakfast? Always bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea and juice. Wonderful fresh croissants almost everywhere. Most places had cereal, yogurt, meat and cheese. Two hotels had eggs and most had fruit.

Lunch was usually a picnic on the trail. The usual fare was fresh bread, cheese and fruit, capped with chocolate. We had lunch at some spectacular settings in the Alps. Hotels and refuges offer packed lunches, but we usually shopped for our own.

The cost of the Tour du Mont Blanc is much less than most other European travel, but far more expensive than the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Luggage transfer: the routine was to have our small orange-and-black bags at reception by 8 a.m. When we arrived at our next accommodation, we would check in and (voila!) the bags were waiting for us. We carried small Osprey day packs with water bladders during the day. One exception: our bags skipped ahead a day when we stayed at the very remote Refugio Elisabetta. We have carried our own packs on prior treks. We figured the elevation change would make it too tough and we were right.

We had climbed about 2,000 feet before having coffee at Refuge Elena, below. We were part of the way to the col when Sue took this photo. This was one of the toughest days, but led us to 360-degree views from the Swiss-Italian border.

We splurged for lunch at a ski lodge a few days ago. Skiing facilities were plentiful around the Tour.

We have not found language to be a major problem. French is dominant, but most of the time people know at least some English. Sue's study of French this past year has helped.

Many people are doing part of the Tour du Mont Blanc rather than the whole thing at one time. There are quite a few day hikers, especially when the weather is good.

Most go counterclockwise around Mont Blanc, but a significant number go the other way. Hikers usually start in Les Houches, but we met many who started in other places. We started in Chamonix, France, a beautiful and popular resort at the foot of Mont Blanc.

Trekkers readily engage strangers on the Tour. Friendships form quickly, much like the Camino.

Mont Blanc trekkers come from all over world. Europeans dominate, but there are some Americans, Canadians, Asians, and people from other parts of the world. Many travel in groups, some with guides. We are among the older trekkers here. Many seem to be experienced mountaineers and we have seen a number of people running (yes, running!) the trail. They are likely training for the annual Mont Blanc run in August, when some do the entire 110 miles in between 20-plus and thirty hours. There are also a fair number of mountain bikers. We have seen some who push and carry their bikes up several thousand steep feet and then ride down. There are a small number of campers as well.

Almost all refuges allow picnics, especially if you buy a beverage.

Champex, a quaint lakeside village at 5,000 feet, was one of our rest days. Like much of the Swiss part of our trek, places were strangely deserted. Our hotel owner told us the euro's decline has hurt Swiss tourism. It is much cheaper to travel in France, Italy and other countries, she said.

Most people use trekking poles. Sue and I can't imagine not having them, for many reasons. But, we have seen people doing the trek in running shoes and even sandals. Go figure! Few people on this trek wear hats.

Safety. If you are careful and have proper gear, this trek is safe. There are steep drop offs and the ascents and descents are steeper than we expected. Much of the time, each step must be measured on the often rocky and root-covered paths, which takes a lot of concentration and is exhausting. Some of the water crossings have been challenging, but doable. Some trekkers use crampons over snowy passings. Neither of us fell during the trek, but there were a few close calls.

Not much politics, but we have heard a strong dislike of Donald Trump here. Many have expressed concern and have talked about similar movements in their countries. A Danish high school student asked me during dinner about Trump. “Why do you ask?” I questioned. “Because the U.S. President is the most powerful person in the world and Trump scares me.”

Most of all, the astounding views and the chance to meet so many interesting people were worth every step.

As Reg looked up at the snow, he wondered if we had gotten into more adventure than we expected. This was near the beginning of our trek.

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Downhill all the way

What a treat it was to enjoy a leisurely breakfast this morning, knowing that we had only a short walk back to Chamonix, the starting and finishing point of our Tour du Mont Blanc. Plenty of time for a second cup of coffee!

We chose the path along the River L'Arve for our final 5 1/2 mile walk.

This looked like a tiny strawberry growing alongside the trail.

Clouds prevented us from seeing Mont Blanc in Chamonix when we began our trek. Clear skies today allowed the mountain to dominate. We have yet to tire of this view.

We arrived in Chamonix just in time for lunch, where we enjoyed a Mozza Salad at a little sidewalk cafe.

 

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: The final climb

The Auguilles Verte and Drus on the left help frame the dome of Mont Blanc in Sue's photo from Col de Balme.

 

It was our final ascent of the Tour du Mont Blanc, which we began July 13. The thick clouds and rain of Saturday afternoon had cleared Sunday when we completed nearly 33,000 feet of climbing and an equal amount of descent over 10 trekking days.

As we reached the Col de Balme, Mont Blanc's greeting was more powerful than any camera can capture. We looked at the peaks from the Switzerland-France border and were struck by the fact that our feet had carried us 110 miles around the Massif du Mont Blanc and through three countries.

“Every step was worth it,” I said to a Bay Area family we had gotten to know the past few days. We all gazed at the 15,770-foot peak that we had not seen since day six. Meanwhile, we had become acquainted with many other mountains in the Massif.

We had gotten much stronger as the trek progressed and will miss the feeling that we can climb like we have never before. Unfortunately, this will pass when we return to our less strenuous lives in Oregon.

As we complete the circuit tomorrow with a relatively short walk to Chamonix, we will be looking up at Mont Blanc. She and this experience will provide vivid memories forever.

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Up through the clouds

We peeked out our curtain this morning with fingers crossed. The sky was gray, but dry. Perfect! We dashed down to breakfast at 7:00 am, eager to get an early start. We walked through a mostly deserted Champex, guidebook in hand, searching for our trail.

We anticipated a bit of a climb today, as we've had every day, and wanted to beat any change of weather over the col. Our day began easily, meandering through meadows and along a wide track through the forest. That soon came to an end and we found ourselves steeply climbing up and sloshing across roaring streams of snowmelt.

We were contemplating whether to climb over or shimmy under the gate when Reg gave it a push...and we easily walked through.

The trail narrowed and began a steady climb up into the clouds.

We spent 6.00€ on two small cups of instant coffee for the privilege of picnicking at the tables at this Refugio. It was perfect!

Trekkers need to pay attention to signposts or risk wandering far off course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We passed fields of cows today. This one was happy to pose for me.

Wild flowers were just beginning to bloom at the top of today's trail.

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Weather threatens to halt trek

Our view from our hotel room in Champex, Switzerland. A four-course dinner in a grand old dining room capped the day Thursday.

Lac Champex is just a few steps from our hotel. It offers several bars, cafes and stores. Winter skiing is its big draw.

Our hotel in Champex has a commanding view in several directions.

The blue skies of the past five days have gone and there has been a bit of rain, thunder and lightening today, a rest day in Champex, Switzerland. We met trekkers who had to turn back this morning from the next day's col due to lightening. They faced a 200€ taxi to the next town around the mountains.

Our trek Thursday to this 5,000-foot elevation lake town was advertised as the easiest day of the Tour. It was all downhill from La Fouly to about 3,400 feet. We passed through several tiny Swiss villages that were strangely almost deserted. So far, so good.

The guidebook said there would be a bit of a climb to the lake. Well, 1,600 feet was much less than previous days, but the steep trail featured rocks, roots and steep drop offs. We have learned there is very little easy about the Tour du Mont Blanc, except how easy it is on the eyes.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union, but there has been no passport control, even when we checked into our hotel. The Swiss franc is the official currency, but the euro is accepted here. The cashiers all carry huge wallets with both francs and euros. We have been using credit cards to get the best exchange rate.

French is the main language in this part of the country, just as we had gotten used to our Italian greetings.

We are to walk to Trient Saturday, but the weather might make the high cols impassible, mainly due to the threat of lightening. Our plan B is a bus-train-bus combination. We are very much hoping to be able to walk…we want to complete the Tour! (And we are hoping to avoid buses, trains or 200€ for a taxi.)

Help us solve the mystery at the bottom of this post.

Several pallets of supplies await a helicopter delivery to a remote Alpine refuge or hut.

A helicopter picks up one of several loads in Champex.

The helicopter is off, soon to return for the next load.

Today's cloudy view of the Alps from Champex.

This contraption has eight arms and rotates, but we could not figure out what it was used for.

What is this? We saw this machine a few days ago in a remote Alpine refuge that looked like it had once been a horse facility. Do you know what it is? Let us know by clicking on “comment” at the bottom of this post.

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Switzerland awaits

 

Our starting point this morning was in the valley far below.

Today, our seventh day of walking and our eighth day on the Tour du Mont Blanc, the trail led us 8,300 feet up and over the Grand Col Ferret and down into Switzerland. It was quite a climb!

Our first two hours of walking delivered us to Refugio Elena, strategically nestled into the hillside and sporting a spectacular view of the Glacier de Pré de Bar. Coffee on the deck and then it was time to push ahead.

The original Refugio Elena was lost in an avalanche in the 1950s. The Refugios are only open for the short summer season.

We made it to the top in time to enjoy the view during lunch.

We pose for a quick photo at the top of the col.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is taking us to dizzying heights, testing us every step of the way. It hasn't been easy, but it continues to reward us.

We wish our new friends a safe journey as they continue their trek.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We've met some wonderful people on our journeys. It's one of the things we like most about trekking.

We met Dutch teachers Micah and Anna last night in La Vachey. This afternoon we walked to our destination of La Fouly together, the (mostly) gentle downhill allowing for easy conversation.

 

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Time to return to this amazing trail

 

Look to the left for a slice of Courmayeur on the left after our climb.

The TMB is clearly marked in Italy. It was not so well marked in France.

It was “ciao” to Courmayeur, Italy today after a day of rest in the Alps resort city. The Tour du Mont Blanc has been more than challenging for us, so we needed the break.

Walking into a new country was a new experience on Saturday. We heard “buon giorno” more often than “bonjour” almost immediately and by the time we walked into Courmayeur, it was clear we were no longer in France. We will leave the specific cultural differences for another time, but we noticed them in the city and most definitely along the trail.

Of course, today started with a steep, 2,500-foot climb, but after that it was the easiest hiking day of the Tour so far. We walked about ten miles at 6,500 feet overlooking a steep glacial valley. The Mont Blanc range on the other side seemed close enough to touch. It was stunningly beautiful.

After a steep descent, we found our hotel in another resort town, Levechy, next to a roaring river at the foot of the Alps. A shower and a beer on the deck made for a perfect cap to the day. Dinner tonight in the hotel, part of the package deal.

The warm weather is supposed to hold for at least another day and the guide book says we will have another amazing look at the Tour's namesake as we cross into Switzerland at 8,000 feet tomorrow. That means another steep climb and “ciao” to Italy for now. We will return!

At the bottom of the Italian side of the Alps, if you look closely, is the tunnel entrance. The road goes under Mont Blanc and comes out in Chamonix, France.

This is a closer look at the tunnel entrance.

Sue sits in our shady picnic spot next to the trail. The Mont Blanc range was in the perfect spot.

This was the TMB for much of the day. Few rocks, relatively flat. The first day we have seen such a path on this trek.

Is it the view or the beer that makes the trek worthwhile?

Thank you, Silvia, at Follow the Camino tour company, for finding us lodging here.

Refugios have been so welcoming, allowing us to have our picnic even though we only bought a coffee at their bar. Today, we found one with a most unwelcoming message in each table. We found a warmer place for lunch.

 

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