cycling Vegas to Red Rock Canyon

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

My favourite destination in Vegas is Red Rock Canyon.

It was Alistair Humphreys who first got me thinking about microadventures.

… short, simple, local, cheap – yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding. …

Visiting friends in west Vegas it was only about 10 miles to the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center on excellent dedicated cycling lanes.

I cycled from their house short of the Conservation Area, turning one street early into the Calico Basin (no fees).

You can access similar gorgeous wilderness while avoiding crowds, parking hassles and entrance fee.

For the first time ever I cycled out onto the Kraft Mountain trails.

It was busy with locals climbing the Kraft Boulders.

Aside from April wildflowers, it was typical Nevada desert.

I did see one large desert tortoise, Nevada’s State Reptile.

At dusk I set up my tent in a quiet, hidden spot.

Next morning starting at 5am I began hearing voices.

As it turned out I’d accidentally set-up close to an unmarked but popular local trail.

Oops.

Hiking to Bob Hope’s estate, Palm Springs

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

Known as the Araby Trail, a short day hike takes you up to the Bob Hope estate, a saucer-shaped home once owned by Hope and also at different times by Steve McQueen and William Holden.

Not far from the airport, the trail starts above a trailer park — somehow symbolic of the divide between rich and poor.

It’s about a 1,000-foot ascent over 1.6 miles one way to get to the top.

hiking Coachella Valley Preserve, Palm Springs CA

AKA Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

I’d wild camped up high overlooking Palm Springs.

Next morning I headed for Coachella Valley Preserve before it got too hot.

Entrance by donation. Owned and well-managed by The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish & Game and California Department of Parks & Recreation

On the San Andreas fault-line, underground springs force water up to the surface.

Most visitors walk about 2 miles round-trip on the McCallum Trail to McCallum Grove.

It’s an interpretive walk with plant species identified.

I was told the Preserve was recently closed due to flooding — and wildlife quickly returned.

McCallum is closed, as well, during the heat of the summer (May 1 – Oct 1).

There are actually 28 miles of trails (easy to moderate) and I continued out into the desert out into Moon Country.

Almost immediately I ran into the first rattlesnake of my life.

There are plenty of lizards to keep them fed.

It was April — wildflower season — and I was lucky enough to see some.

I saw no other hikers climbing up into a dry wash. Most stick to the 2 mile loop.

If you get to Palm Springs, California, I highly recommend a visit.

Official site – CoachellaValleyPreserve.org

Palm Springs to Paradise Cafe – day 6

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Another fantastic campsite. Great weather again.

Here are views looking up from my tent.

Majestic.

I’d been steadily descending from the snowy heights. Vegetation now changing rapidly.

My only health worry was hot foot. Would I get blisters?

Just in case I took off the shoes every hour or two.

I’ve used the same pack for many a year – the super light frameless Granite Gear Virga 2.

The similar Granite Gear Crown2 is the 5th most popular on the PCT. My next pack will be a Hyperlite, the 3rd most popular. It’s heavier but near waterproof. And more durable, I reckon.

Cactus.

Here’s one of the main reason people buy the Guthook app — to find off-trail water in the desert.

Though I treated this pipe water, it did look and smell great in April.

Water is scarce. Researchers use watering holes to check on the health of mammals in the area.

Successful in the desert are birds, snakes and lizards.

Down, down.

Into the trees.

Here’s where PCT hikers often get their water. GIFTS from Trail Angels.

I finally reached the first road. Would the mini-resupply I’d hung in a tree still be there?

YES!

I had enough food for the final 40 miles to Warner Springs. Yet I diverted one mile down the highway to famed Paradise Cafe.

My camp fuel was running low. I didn’t think I could make it two more days.

Unfortunately Paradise does not sell camp fuel. I returned to the trail hoping my Jetboil Flash would run on fumes.

Back on the PCT, I made it another couple of miles.

It looked like wind and rain so I set up my broken tent high enough in the wash to avoid flash flood.

As I feared, my stove fuel ran out before I could boil water for dinner. 😞

___ day 7

Weather forecast for today was for rain and very big winds. Not good.

I started south. Stopped. Then turned around and headed back towards Paradise.

Skipping the next 40 miles meant missing most of the desert wildflower bloom. Too bad.

Three reasons for quitting on my intended route:

  • broken tent
  • no stove fuel
  • weather forecast

The restaurant was packed. As usual.

I ended up seated with a tourist couple from Philly. As they were headed for Palm Springs I offered to pay for breakfast in exchange for a lift to town.

My PCT week was over. After breakfast.

Despite glitches — I really enjoyed hiking southbound on the PCT during peak season. The highlight was seeing hundreds and speaking with dozens of normal people whom — for one reason or another — wanted to try to hike from Mexico to Canada.

They are inspiring.

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Palm Springs to Paradise Cafe – day 2

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The weather was lovely in the morning. As it so often is in California.

Unbelievably I’d forgotten to bring coffee! 😞 So it was Earl Grey tea for breakfast.

No worries. I was headed 2 miles back to the Mountain Station atop Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. They served coffee. Right? … It turned out to be the most expensive java I’d bought outside of Switzerland.

This morning the Ranger Station was open and I was happy to go register for my free trail permit.

I’d planned to take the most direct route to Idyllwild – Willow Creek trail. Unfortunately I learned it was still near impassible due to snow. My best bet was to return back the way I came and try to get through the snow to Saddle Junction.

Not having spikes or hiking poles I promised to return and take the Tramway down if the snow was too deep.

I was using the free Maps.me app for navigation at this point. It’s not all that accurate.

On the upside, this is the most popular trail to climb San Jacinto peak (10,834 ft). Crazies find a way to get up there in all seasons.

As it turned out the snow was still hard packed. It was fairly easy to quick step from one footprint to the next.

It got easier after Wellman’s Divide.

At Saddle Junction I ran into a PCT hiker in a hurry to get to Idyllwild. The Saddle is on the Pacific Crest Trail.

A teenager from Michigan, he had the smallest pack he’d seen so far over the first 10 days.

As we descended snow disappeared. The switchbacks very well graded.

PCT hikers were waiting at the parking lot hoping for a Trail Angel to arrive and deliver them a ride to town.

It wasn’t a local Trail Angel but tourists who drove up siteseeing. They happily agreed to make 3 trips delivering dirty hikers to the $5 PCT camp site in Idyllwild (pop. 3500).

I ordered a LARGE pizza and watched Game 1 of the Calgary Flames playoff series.

Day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 5

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Most guided hikers departed in the dark as — normally — the peak is clearest in the morning. I decided to wait until first light, instead.

In fact, before dawn there were lightning flashes in the direction of Toubkal. I rolled over thinking I’d not be doing the peak at all.

On waking I enjoyed 2 pots of coffee … and waited about an hour before packing up.

… but weather seemed to be clearing.

It was worth giving it a try. I could always turn back if lightning resumed.

The start of the Toubkal climb is the most challenging part. It’s a scramble.

While I was beginning dozens were descending, many wearing headlamps. That was a bit disconcerting. #late #late #late

Vertical gain is about 960m, but it seemed to go quickly and easily for me. I was well acclimatized for altitude.

There are several false summits. Here was my first glimpse of the top.

Myself and a couple from eastern Europe were the highest humans for at least 2000km. And the views were great. 🙂

I could look back to where I’d come from a couple of days ago.

If anything, weather was still improving.

We were the last people on the mountain … except for one Canadian coming up even later. And a Moroccan couple. They were very late because they’d walked up from Imlil. That’s over 2400m of gain in one day!

The couple had found my PHONE! I’d left it on a boulder on the way up. Whew!

I enthusiastically thanked them and urged them to continue as they’d be getting much better weather than the early morning mob.

… I was way wrong. ☹️

Thunder and lightning returned about an hour later. The Canadian turned back. Last he saw the Moroccan couple were still ascending into the lighting storm. Very dangerous.

Me? I hid in a cramped cave.

Once it finally quit I trudged tiredly down to Imlil.

It’s a pretty town, actually.

I was totally psyched to make it back to Marrakesh same day. I pushed.

But the road near the taxi stand was impassable due to flash flood.

I turned back and had dinner in a crossroads restaurant. A huge, steaming omelette.

A Brit I’d spoken with earlier on the street had recommended their hotel — Les Etoiles de Toubkal.

It was excellent. The best room I’d had in nearly 2 months. It cost me $30 including breakfast.

I took several hot, hot showers and went to sleep early.


Next morning I was up before daylight as almost every other guest was packing up and getting ready to hike up to the Refuge. It was fun having breakfast with an enthusiastic group from the U.K.

They left at 8am just as their mules were arriving. YES they did have mules, not horses.

Their U.K. guide confided to me that getting a large group like this started was like herding cats. But once on the trail, it was easy.

My hotel told me the road might open about noon. That prices for transportation would be higher than normal because of the backlog.

I walked down to check. Road still closed. Big machines still arriving.

But the Atlas Extreme shop was finally open. It is well stocked. Copies of all the english language trekking guidebooks including the one I had wanted – Moroccan Atlas by Alan Palmer. Every kind of camping fuel. Top line gear.

Eventually I noticed that the shop was not actually open. The workers there were doing some renovations.

I met the Canadian who got caught in the storm again.  He had an afternoon bus reservation. We decided to try to walk out past all the road blockages to get the first possible transport.

It was less than a km to reach waiting taxis. He and I outbid others wanting to climb into the first waiting vehicle. I paid 6 times what I’d paid on the way up.

It was worth it.

AND he made it to the bus station in Marrakesh on time. With 10 minutes to spare.

My adventure was a surprising success considering how little information I had on arrival in Imlil five days earlier.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 3

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

I had camped at a site called Azib Likemt with a guided German group.

They were up and gone long before I finished my coffee.

I followed the last of their horsemen up and over a low pass.

From the col you descend to the impressive Berber village of Amsouzert (1797m).

When water is available this mountain range is incredibly lush.

It’s a very interesting place. I could see staying overnight here.

Many homes had satellite dishes.

In fact, I later decided to recommend future hikers start at Amsouzert. It’s on the N10 highway connecting Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. A private taxi is the easiest way to get here.

Not stopping at the many shops and restaurants, I continued up up up to famous Lac d’Ifni back in the National Park.

It’s incredibly rugged with the trail forced high above.

Here I debated whether to stop at the lake. Or continue up towards the gorge climb for the next day.

Pushy shopkeepers decided it for me. I don’t like being harassed while hiking.

So it was out onto the massive spring flooding wash of stones.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any water until I reached camp.

Once again I camped near a guided group, this one from Iceland.

I chose my tent site as safest from rockfall.

It was still fairly early in the evening so I did some wandering, mostly laughing at the goats and sheep coming down from the gorge for nightfall.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 2

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

I woke at dawn. Shared a couple of cups of coffee with Aziz.

Then told him I might return if I couldn’t find the route.

I climbed back up to the paved road surprised to find this hotel.

If I was to do the circuit again I’d hire a cab in Imlil to deliver me here on the paved road. Begin the hike next morning.

I still had no idea where to start the climb up to Tizi Likemt (3550m), the first high pass.

Happily I saw a brightly coloured people walking down the highway in my direction. It was an Israeli couple who had just finished the circuit the opposite direction.

Waiting on them was the smartest thing I did all week. They told me the entire circuit is available on Maps.me. I had downloaded it in advance. My navigation problems were solved.

Maps.me saves the day again.

I’m sure they thought I looked too energetic. Over-confident.

I was raring to go.

On the other hand, this poor carnivore might have been a bad omen.

The climb was very long. And not all that thrilling.

Looking backward …

There’s a Japanese donated weather station at the pass, but you can’t see it from the side I climbed.

It was hot and sunny. No water.

My Darn Toughs did all 5 days of the hiking. I switched to camp socks / shoes each evening.

It was a long, hot descent as well.

In fact, a pass this high first day is stupid. That’s not smart acclimatization. On the way down I resolve to NOT recommend these first 2 days to future hikers.

Here’s the first water I’d seen in hours. All water sources should be treated in these mountains unless you see it coming out of the mountain with your own eyes.

I was happy to reach the river. A German group had already claimed the best spot.

Further along I enjoyed a couple of pots of coffee.

This is a summer grazing settlement. Animals and their keepers will head down soon when snow threatens.

The next section climbing through a gorge was very entertaining. One of my favourite bits.

I finally camped at an open area on another creek near yet another guided hiking group.

Dinner in the dark was coucous, soup, raisins and peanuts. For Morocco I switched from my usual instant mashed potatoes base to couscous.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video 

Morocco’s Toubkal Circuit – day 1

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video

Toubkal is by far the most popular and important trekking destination in Morocco for serious hikers.

It’s easily accessible from Marrakesh.

Lonely Planet

Unhappily I couldn’t find either camping fuel nor english language hiking guidebook for Toubkal in Marrakesh.

Lonely Planet said there were good gear shops in the trailhead town of Imlil (1740m).

My hostel in Marrakesh told me where to find the shared cabs to Imlil. But that turned out to be my greatest navigational challenge. Shared taxis sprawl across several streets. A tout finally took me to the right one.

In 2018 locals paid 35 Dirham to get the 64km to Imlil. Foreigners 50 Dirham. ($5.40) Cost seemed to be non-negotiable.

Vans don’t leave until full … plus 3-5 more people.

It’s less than 2 hours from the hot city to the much cooler High Atlas mountains.

Imlil is an impressive and popular tourist town.

Unfortunately the best gear shop in town — Atlas Extreme — was closed when I arrive. For an hour? A day? A Week? None of the neighbours seemed to know.

I’d wanted this guidebook for the trip. But Trailblazer doesn’t sell a digital version. I needed a paper copy.

IMG_1063

I managed to get some used stove fuel and the map of the region instead at a tiny stall. The map ($10 plus) was fairly useless. It doesn’t show the circuit route. I did have the 5 page Lonely Planet description on my phone. And I did have little maps like this.

Toubkal circuit

Not wanting to wait around, I got off on to the “trail” as quickly as possible.

departing Imlil

It was a hot, sunny day. I saw very few water sources.

Why was I walking on a paved road?

Only one stretch took me off-road and up through a village.

These mountains are massive.

I looked forwards to getting away from the heat.

On this excellent road I saw very few vehicles. A lot of sheep.

I walked up this valley past Berber villages Talate n’Chaoute, Tamguist and Ouaneskra.

Many locals ran out to greet me urging I stay in their homes or camp in their yards. I was unimpressed by most explaining that I planned to hike until 7pm.

Finally I passed a young man with a Canada cap. Stopping to chat with that group I met a guesthouse manager named Aziz. I liked him instantly. Everyone who passed by had a friendly word with him. Popular and charismatic.

I decided to “comp” at Gite Entre Les Vallees. Aziz was surprised I didn’t want instead to sleep in any of the 13 empty beds he had inside.

His location is ideal. A new bridge is being built across the river right next door. Soon he’ll have all the traffic.

Before dinner I went for a walk on the other side of the valley to try to see my route for the next day. It looked intimidating.

I still had no idea which of those passes was the one I’d need to cross.

I did meet some French hikers who’d come up with a rent-a-car to climb a peak on this side of the valley. Acclimatization. It was over 3000m.

The first time I went to take a photo of a Berber woman in the fields she called up to me NO PHOTOS. I respected that injunction for the rest of the trip.

day 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | info | video