Tag Archives: hiking

The Castle Mountain Conundrum

27 Jul

The city of Aspen is surrounded by gorgeous mountains as far as the eye can see. The people who live here are nature lovers, explorers of the outdoors, and athletes who come here to train (Lance Armstrong has a home next to our concert hall). When mountains surround you, it only makes sense to climb them! At the Aspen Music Festival, we musicians get Mondays off specifically to go hiking. We lock ourselves in practice rooms for hours every day, but sometimes the best inspiration comes from putting your instrument down and taking in your surroundings. The Rockies have inspired so many artists and thinkers, so it’s no wonder musicians come back to Aspen year after year.

The hiking party!

This past Monday, 5 ladies and I decided to climb Mount Conundrum, which sits next to Castle Mountain and has hot springs at the summit. We knew it would be a tough hike as it was 14 miles long and 14,000 feet high, so we set off at 5:30 in the morning with the hopes that we’d be back before the afternoon rain. Hiking here is a completely different experience. Because Aspen sits at 9,000 feet, there is far less oxygen in the air, which makes everything dry. Your body has to work harder to distribute oxygen and maintain normal levels, so working out pumps your heart about twice as much.

There were waterfalls all around us as we climbed the base of the mountain

Before the trail actually started, there was a steep 2 mile rock/dirt road that only 4-wheelers could drive on. Not having the appropriate vehicle, we parked at the bottom of the road and walked up. After what felt like an hour of climbing, we reached the trail! Now begins the fun: we hiked up hill and zigzagged for about three hours, passing stunning waterfalls and smaller mountain peaks. Eventually, about halfway into the hike, the trail just stopped. We hit a valley covered with snow that sat at the bottom of a steep, rock covered mountain. Albeit far away, we could finally see the summit of Conundrum!


We trekked through the snow until we got to the base of the rocks, which is when things really got sticky… With no trail, we literally got on all fours and scaled the rocks up the side of the mountain. This took forever, as we had no equipment and had to be weary of loose or falling rocks, and we could hear rock slides echoing through from across the valley. A million years later we finally get to another valley, this time covered in ice ponds and beautiful scenery.

Trail blazing on steep rock (we were all balancing pretty hard for this photo)

Since the mountainside was essentially vertical at this point, it took a long time to climb simply because of all the switch-backs (the zigzag trails instead of straight up ones). After another long stretch we made it to the top of the ridge. When I looked up, I saw the most stunning, jaw-dropping view. We could see the Rockies span endlessly in every direction, mountain after mountain.

A view from halfway up the mountain, you can see the rocks we scaled!

The rocks were no longer loose, just large and jagged; it was essentially like climbing a rock wall. About 10 minutes in we hit an impossible cliff, and although we could see people on the summit, we couldn’t find a way to get there! Not to mention if we slipped and fell, we would land about 100 feet down on rocks or ledges. On closer inspection, those on the summit had helmets, harnesses and hooks. Sadly, we decided to play it safe and turn back, rather than risk the climb when we were obviously unprepared. At this point, too, we were simply exhausted. The climb up had worn out our muscles, and the thought of descending was so daunting! We had to shimmy and crabwalk down at first, as it was so steep. When we reached the loose rocks, it was back on all fours, which was nothing compared to the snowy section… The combination of tired limbs plus the sun heating up the snow made for some hilarious face planting. As we were getting off of the snowy path, the guys who were on the summit passed us and said they were so happy we didn’t climb the rest, and that they were anxiously watching at our attempts to find a way without equipment.

Breathtaking views

As we approached the end of our descent, the sky went from being clear blue to Mordor in a matter of minutes. Rain on the mountains is insane. Since you’re already in the clouds, the raindrops are enormous and somewhat painful. As soon as I thought they hurt, it started to hail!! I might still have some bruises. We walked another mile in the hail storm until we reached a campsite, and one of the girls begged a camper to give us a lift in the back of his pickup. We looked like a hilarious and kind of pathetic group: 6 girls, drenched and dirty, piled into the back of a truck. We finally made it to our cars and back home around 4:30pm, where I took what felt like a 3 hour boiling hot shower – it was glorious.

The the next day, one of the girls figured out that we didn’t actually climb Conundrum, but Castle Mountain. Apparently the trails start at the same place and there’s a fork that we missed, a storm probably knocked down the sign. Conundrum was level 2 intermediate, but Castle is a black belt, equipment and experienced only hike. All in all, we were complete badasses, and while my legs are still sore days later, it was SO worth it. The views were out of this world, and the sense of achievement from climbing a mountain is unparalleled. Maybe next Monday we’ll take it down a notch… Then again I still want to find those hot springs!


Island Hopping in Brazil

18 Jul

*Coming soon: tales of a life in Shanghai. For now I am relaxing back home enjoying family, familiar places, old friends, and yummy foods.

Last week I had an unexpected but very pleasant visitor who had never been to Brazil before, so I decided to show him as many “off the beaten path” essentials so that he could have a small taste of what makes Brazil so great.

We picked Auf (nickname credits to my parents) up from the airport at about 6am and started driving down towards the coast. The final destination that day was Ilha Grande, but first we made pit stop in Paraty to show Auf one of the cities in Brazil that has preserved Portuguese colonial-style architecture. Paraty is nice to spend an hour or two and eat some quality seafood. If you’re into the diving scene, you could spend a couple days exploring life under the sea, but we were trying to make a 1:30pm ferry ride to Ilha Grande from Angra do Reis.

Ilha Grande is an amazing and beautiful place- but not for all kinds of tourists. If you are looking for neon lights and big fancy cars, please drive in the opposite direction. If fact, you can stop reading this post. If you are looking to get away from all the big city whatnots, read on…

Paraty – we were lucky to be there during the International Literary Festival

Ilha Grande is a protected “national reserve,” and the only way to get there is by boat. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island except for one 4×4 and a pick-up truck that belong to the police/emergency units on the island. Everything is done on foot or on man-powered trolleys. I’m not saying that you have to camp out and live completely rustically, but it’s a slow-paced life out there.

Vila do Abraão, view form our hike

We went to 2 major hikes in Ilha Grande. The first one was to Lopes Mendes beach. Of course there is a boat that goes around the island for a relatively inexpensive price, but because there was PLENTY of time to kill, we hiked the 6km over about 2 hours out to the beach. It was nice, calm, soft sand and almost deserted. The hike was great, but the most fun part was showing an European what Brazilian winter entails: beach.

Lopes Mendes Beach
Its not packed, but its the middle of winter!

Our second (more tiring and more exciting) hike was up to the famous Pico do Papagaio (Parrot Peak). If you look up on a clear day, towards the middle of the island from any beach, you can clearly see a mountain peak that looks like a parrot’s beak. It seems close to impossible to reach without wings, but as soon as you begin the hike up you can start to see how it’s possible to hike 1,200 meters up.

Our final stop, that tiny speck on top of the mountain to the right: Pico do Papagaio

It took an arduous 4.5 hours to climb up and down. I was too tired to even remember to take a picture of the amazing Moqueca I had for lunch to refuel, but that’ll be another story.

The view from the top is breathtaking.

The view from the top


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