Hiking hut to hut in Italy’s Dolomite mountains

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My first encounter with Italy’s famous “three peaks” — the Tre Cime di Lavaredo — was in a traffic circle. In the picturesque town of Dobbiaco/Toblach, three small painted sculptures in the center of the roundabout marked the gateway to one of the most iconic views in the Italian Alps. At a nearby cafe, my partner’s chocolate schnitzel came with a powdered sugar cutout of the peaks, akin to an Eiffel Tower-themed dessert near Paris. “It’s the Cime!” I exclaimed. We were on our way.

Above the village, in the jagged Dolomite mountains, rustic huts linked exclusively by footpaths offer food, drink and beds along countless miles of trails, with views of wonder at every turn. This is not what Americans generally imagine when they think of Italy. In contrast to the historic metropolises of Rome and Florence, the mountainous northern region of Trentino, South Tyrol feels like another planet. But for a few days of our European getaway last year, my partner and I wanted to get lost in natural vistas rather than touristy plazas.

Tour companies abound, but I love planning itineraries and allowing time for spontaneous excursions. So I did a lot of research to find hiking routes that promised spectacular views and included huts, but didn’t require a car to access an entry trail. And we had to time it right, because most huts open from part of June through September. We considered several options, but photos of the Tre Cime Natural Park made me stop and wonder: “Wait, how do mountains get to look like that?”

For a night’s rest before the journey, I booked Hotel Dolomiten in Dobbiaco, also known as Toblach, for mid-September. Dobbiaco is located on a rail line to Fortezza, which has train connections to major cities with airports. (We chose Munich.) For our hike, we’d catch a bus from Dobbiaco. I made two hut room reservations by email ahead of time, and left a third night open to the whims of the mountains.

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Bus 444 from Dobbiaco took us on a beautiful drive past sparkling Lake Dobbiaco and up to Rifugio Auronzo in less than an hour. Considering the view, it felt like cheating; we hadn’t even left the parking lot, and I wanted to take a thousand photos of the mountains and valley below. But we had miles of hiking ahead of us, and for the next few days, our feet would be our only form of transit.

From the bus stop, it was an easy 20-minute walk to Rifugio Lavaredo, where we would spend our first night. Impressively, when we checked in, the staff knew our dietary requirements — nut allergy for me, vegan for my partner — when they presented us with dinner options for later. We dropped our overnight packs in the private room and headed into the sunny afternoon.

The huts, the valleys, the towns, the mountains themselves — everything carries both German and Italian names, the result of a complicated and painful history. Before World War I, the South Tyrol region had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The glory of the mountains obscures the brutality of war — and winter conditions — that killed many soldiers by the same mountain passes hikers now traverse.

In 1920, Italy formally annexed South Tyrol, and over the next several years, waves of new regulations made the Italian language mandatory at the government level, then in schools. In 1939, thanks to a collaboration between Mussolini and Hitler, German speakers had to either assimilate as Italian or leave for Germany. After World War II, South Tyrol became a generally peaceful multilingual region, with an additional minority Romance language called Ladin. But there are a lot of remnants of war in this region, such as tunnels and trenches.

Our first hike was to the north faces of the Tre Cime. Closest to us was the smallest peak, Cima Piccola, which looks a bit like a fist with a thumb and half a forefinger sticking up. In the middle, the biggest one is — unsurprisingly — Cima Grande, rising more than 9,800 feet above sea level. And on the right was Cima Ovest, the western peak. We scrambled over rocks to the base of Cima Piccola for a breathtaking panoramic view. Each of the Dolomites’ natural skyscrapers was pointy or sloping in its own way. The Lavaredo hut we’d left looked like a toy house below us. In the distance, the red-roofed Rifugio A. Locatelli, called Dreizinnenhütte in German, seemed like a mirage among the gigantic peaks and striking slopes around it. “You know, the Cime aren’t even the most impressive mountains here! They’re just the most famous,” my partner said.

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It was an easy walk — maybe another half-hour — along the trail to Locatelli, which has two levels of porches overlooking the Tre Cime and other seemingly impossible rocky peaks and slopes. By now, the weather had changed, with a thick fog covering the Cime and delivering a drizzle as we enjoyed beers on the porch. Rain drenched us as we headed back, and the shortcut hill to Rifugio Lavaredo looked especially perilous. I nearly panicked and longed for the hiking sticks I had decided not to purchase, because airports don’t allow them in carry-on bags. Instead, as my partner and I carefully shuffled down the slippery slope, I improvised a silly jingle: “Hütte! Do the little hütte descent!” With patience and a sunny tune, we arrived safely.

That night at Lavaredo, we learned mountain hut customs: Shoes must be replaced with slippers, communal showers cost 5 euros, meals are taken at an assigned time, lights go out around 10 p.m., there’s no WiFi and no credit cards are accepted. And after 18 months of pandemic isolation in D.C., meeting fellow travelers felt both strange and refreshing; it had been so achingly long since I had struck up a conversation with a stranger or traded travel tips.

On Day 2, we layered up for a just-above-freezing September day, but with the bright sun and rigorous trail, we quickly stripped down to shirts. From above the clouds, we hiked Trail 104 into a valley where cowbells echoed in an incredible cowbell concert that seemed to crescendo each time one of the cows mooed. “More cowbell!” I yelled. A man in traditional lederhosen shorts and suspenders passed us and took a downward fork, perhaps for business with the cows below. My thighs were burning by the time we had completed all of the ups and downs of this path, but the cowbell chorus was worth the hours of effort.

After a final strenuous ascent and a last flat jaunt, we arrived at the bustling Rifugio Pian di Cengia/Büllelejochhütte patio, where two musicians performed American folk hits in slight German accents. My partner and I jubilantly sang along to “Blowin’ in the Wind” and chatted with a couple of locals who come to this restaurant once a week. Here I discovered my favorite mountain meal: kaiserschmarrn, a shredded pancake with caramelized sugar, powdered sugar and lingonberry preserves. We took the advice of the locals and hiked to a nearby dramatic overlook, which we had all to ourselves.

Finding Trail 101 toward our next hut, we came upon a sign informing us of a World War I “secured war trail.” Curious, we detoured to find a cave where soldiers might have lived — both a sobering monument and a fantastic photo opportunity for the jagged crest of Cima Undici. Outside the cave, the top of the rocky tower beckoned. We climbed precariously steep steps and held on to the attached steel cables to ascend. I found myself panting and shaken from how far we’d climbed in a matter of minutes, but the views calmed me. In the distance, snow-covered peaks were on the horizon, and toward the northeast was Rifugio Comici/Zsigmondyhütte, which would be our home for that night. Because we didn’t bring climbing gear for a more ambitious route, we returned to the hiking trail.

Comici offers a broad menu of local delicacies. I chose cheese dumplings with cabbage — plump like two giant matzoh balls infused with cheese, hearty and filling, like a food hug after a full day of hiking. My partner loved his vegan mushroom polenta, too. Unlike at Lavaredo, hikers seemed to keep to themselves, and the after-dinner vibe was “map time,” where guests took out their maps and planned their hikes for the next day. Our private room consisted of a bunk-bed set, but we found the mattress more comfortable than at Lavaredo, and we savored the romantic mountain view from the window.

Having now seen many highlights of the park, we decided to make the long trek back to Locatelli to see whether there were beds for our last mountain night. It was a risk; the website boasts “an estimated 10,000 email inquiries per year.” But if we got turned down, we’d return to our previous hotel in Dobbiaco, which we nicknamed “the Pizza Hütte” for its pizzeria, whose smell drifts through the hallways.

We found the Locatelli patio crowded, though fellow travelers said this was nothing compared with pre-pandemic times, when the area was “like Times Square.” I was glad to see the Tre Cime again, too. At 3 p.m., a young woman with a clipboard told me we could stay in a dormitory room that will have up to 10 people, but all 10 might not show up. Because of the coronavirus, I was reluctant, but she assured me that they spaced out the bunk beds, so only every other set was occupied. I left the final decision to my partner, who just said, “This seems like more fun than a hotel.”

I put aside my anxieties as we chatted with German travelers on a more elaborate two-week expedition. When we were mostly done with dinner, I noticed the bright yellow and orange colors of the sunset out the window, and I somewhat abruptly interrupted myself to go and look. Soon, everyone ran outside to ripples of gold, pink and purple in the sky, like a carpet extending toward a rocky peak formation that my partner dubbed “Red Panda Mountain” for its layers of reddish rock. (It’s called Croda Rossa.) “We live in a postcard!” I exclaimed.

When the electricity went off for the night, I whispered to my partner that we should check the rest of the floor for empty beds. Lo and behold, an entire section of the attic dormitory room — with a dozen beds — was vacant, allaying my covid concerns. Unfortunately, the mandatory “sleeping bag liners” we’d purchased for 8 euros (about $8.50) each were like glorified paper towels, and the blankets that apparently don’t get washed were very thin. I put on every piece of clothing I’d brought, and that still wasn’t enough warmth. We took spare blankets off other beds, but it was a difficult, frigid night.

Nonetheless, there is no better sunrise than at Rifugio Locatelli. The lack of sleep was worth the morning light coloring mountain tips a bright salmon pink. The Tre Cime doesn’t get the magical dawn sunbathing in late September, but we could see light creeping down Croda Rossa and other slopes from the dorm window.

After breakfast, we took a leisurely 2.5-hour hike to the bus stop, first descending below the Tre Cime, then upward and around the westernmost face, with plenty of pauses for photos. By now, the Tre Cime peaks had become old friends, though still otherworldly. In fact, I later learned that in the Star Wars movie “Solo,” the perilous train heist on planet Vandor got its backdrop from this area.

As much time as we spent admiring these striking landscapes, I felt as if I still hadn’t gotten enough. On the way down, at a bus stop in Misurina, a fellow hut traveler pointed to the Tre Cime in the distance when the bus doors opened. “Now you can say goodbye forever!” he said with a grin.

It made me sad. The mountains had more trails to travel, caves to explore, huts to sleep in. I didn’t even finish my song! Hopefully, it wasn’t really forever.

Landau is a writer based in D.C. Her website is lizlandau.com. Find her on Twitter: @lizlandau.

Via Alemagna 3, Dobbiaco, Bolzano

A three-star hotel with beautiful town views and excellent pizza restaurant. Convenient to train and bus stations. Rooms from about $95 per person, per night.

Auronzo di Cadore, Belluno


Mountain hut with restaurant near the Auronzo bus stop and a short hike from the Tre Cime di Lavaredo peaks. Open June 15 to Sept. 26. Cash only. Half board in shared room about $75 per person, per night; half board in private room about $80 per person, per night; children under 12 about $64 per person, per night.

Rifugio Comici (Zsigmondyhütte)

Mountain hut with restaurant accessible on foot from Sesto or from the Tre Cime de Lavaredo trails. Opens mid-June. Accepts credit cards. Half board in private room for two about $84 per person, per night; half board in shared room about $78 per person, per night.

Rifugio A. Locatelli (Dreizinnenhütte)

Mountain hut with restaurant and outdoor decks facing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo peaks. Cash only. Bring own linens or buy a “sleeping bag liner” for about $8.50. Beds in shared dormitory about $34 per person, per night; beds in smaller rooms about $50 per person, per night.

Rifugio Pian di Cengia (Büllelejochhütte)

Auronzo di Cadore, Belluno


Traditional foods from South Tyrol available to guests and a la carte. Cash only. Opens June 11.

Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.

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This Hiking Trail in Malibu Is Absolutely Bursting With Wildflowers Right Now

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Safe hiking tips for ledges at Summit Metro Parks, CVNP

The urge to hit the trails again and enjoy some of Northeast Ohio’s distinctive natural scenery greets the start of every spring, but hikers should take extra caution when visiting the area’s most rugged spots.

 A difficult reminder of that surfaced last week when a Medina teen suffered a serious fall at Whipp’s Ledges in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Hinckley Reservation. The teen remains hospitalized, according to social media updates from his family.  

Along with Whipp’s Ledges, where rock climbing is permitted, hikers can face similarly dangerous spots along ledges at Liberty and Gorge Metro Parks in Summit Metro Parks and Ritchie Ledges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Summit County.

The Beacon Journal has compiled some information about these ledges, as well as safety tips from Summit Metro Parks and CVNP:

  • Stay on designated hiking trails and walkways.
  • Stay back from the edge of ledges.
  • Be mindful of where you step, and use extra caution if it has rained or snowed recently.
  • Wear sturdy walking shoes or boots.

Liberty Park

Liberty Park includes the Twinsburg Ledges Area & Nature Center, 9999 Liberty Road.

The ledges are sandstone “covered in a living skin of moss, ferns and lichens,” according to the park district.

The park’s trails include the Black Bear Trail (2.1 miles, moderate difficulty) and the Ledges Trail (1.1 miles, moderate difficulty).

The east rim of the Black Bear Trail skirts the ledges, while along the trail’s west rim, several large uprooted trees have left large depressions in the ground, with huge root systems on display.

On the Ledges Trail, visitors pass by the ledges, into Glacier Cave and to a wetland before traveling back to the trailhead over a long boardwalk.

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Gorge Metro Park

Gorge Metro Park, 1160 Front St., Cuyahoga Falls, includes the Glens Trail (1.8 miles, moderate difficulty) and the Gorge Trail (1.8 miles, difficult).

Glens Trail offers views from the edge of the Cuyahoga River, with springs flowing from the ledges along the trail.

Gorge Trail provides access to Old Maid’s Kitchen (formerly known as Mary Campbell Cave), an easy half-mile walk from the parking lot, but the trail quickly becomes more rugged as it passes through rock-ledge formations. The upper section of the trail is considered primitive.

Summit Metro Parks Chief of Marketing & Communications Stephanie Walton said the park district’s most important safety reminder is to always stay on designated hiking trails when visiting Summit Metro Parks, “as they are carefully designed and maintained to keep visitors safe.” 

Specifically at Liberty Park, the park district said to remain on designated trails and walkways and not to climb on the ledges or boulders.

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Walton also recommends checking the park district’s website, summitmetroparks.org, before setting off for its parks, especially for those making their first visit.

“The website helps visitors plan a safe trip with information on any trail closures or detours, as well as maps and trail details such as length, difficulty level and surface type,” Walton said.

The park district said it’s also important to stay on the trail for the protection of natural resources.

Ritchie Ledges at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Ritchie Ledges, part of the Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District, includes a 1.8-mile trail around the ledges and connects to a larger network of trails in the Virginia Kendall area.

The Ledges Trailhead is at 405 Truxell Road, Peninsula. The Ledges Overlook, looking west over the Cuyahoga Valley, is a stop on the Ledges Trail.

The trail is not accessible to visitors with mobility impairments, as it’s rocky and unpaved, with at least 80 feet of elevation change over its length. The national park also said the trail system is complex, so watch the signs.

Pamela Barnes, community engagement supervisor for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said the national park’s safety recommendations include staying back from the edge, staying on the trail at the top of the ledges and well away from the edge of the Ledges Overlook, using extra caution if it has rained or snowed recently and not climbing on the rocks.

Barnes said the park also recommends considering limiting hikes to the trail at the bottom of the ledges when hiking with small children and wearing sturdy walking shoes or boots.

The national park also said it doesn’t allow any climbing on the rock formation to protect the fragile habitat.

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“Like a sponge, the rock absorbs rainfall between the grains of sand and pebbles. This water makes the Ledges cooler and moister than its surroundings,” the park district said. “Life on the Ledges is fragile. Mosses and ferns cling to sand and pebble crevices. Please help us protect this fragile life by enjoying the Ledges from the trail. A moment of rock climbing, which is not allowed, can erase years of growth.”

Whipp’s Ledges

Whipp’s Ledges is located in the Hinckley Reservation of Cleveland Metroparks in Hinckley Township.

Along with hiking and walking, recreational rock climbing is also permitted. Elevations at the sandstone ledges rise 350 feet above Hinckley Lake. There’s a loop trail at the site.

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at emills@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter @EmilyMills818.

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Learn These 10 Practical Machu Picchu Hiking Tips

One of the most popular historic sites in Peru is the Machu Picchu. Here are 10 tips to follow when hiking the Inca Trail to this unique site.

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular historic sites in Peru. It is an Inca citadel that dates back to the 15th century and it is from the southern region of Peru. The city is found high in the mountains at 7,970 feet. The civilization was abandoned back in 1572. As a result of its historic significance, the city receives many visitors each year.

However, reaching Machu Picchu is not an easy job, due to its location. Since it’s on the mountain ridge, people have to hike all the way to the top. The hike is not easy and one has to prepare very well. Here are practical tips to follow.

10 Get Used To Altitude Change

When hiking to Machu Picchu, there is a great change in altitude. Since the destination is found at 7,970 feet,the physical effects can be serious. One can suffer serious altitude sickness and can be a challenge for people who are not accostomed. It is worse for people arriving from locations where the altitude is otherwise considered low. Visiting Cusco and spending two nights is a good way to get used to the change before embarking Cusco is a good town with a great environment.

RELATED: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Machu Picchu

9 Get The Right Engaging Itinerary

Hiking to Machu Picchu should not all about the city. This is because the entering the city is just 2 hours for any visitors, as a result, without a good itinerary, one will find it difficult to enjoy the place. However, planning very well will give hikers more places to explore and enjoy the experience. There are several places to visit along the way. One of those places is Winyawayna where people can spend the night. Sun Gate is also a great place.

8 Physical Training Is A Must

Hiking Machu Picchu is not easy.. It is a hike that will end on an altitude of 7,970 feet. The journey is long and challenging, and one must be physically prepared. Many visitors may hear about the city but come unprepared for the challenge of climbing. Physical training involves getting the body strong, flexible, and fit for the climb. There are many ways to achieve this , which can involve going to the gym, running, swimming, hiking, walking, or cycling.

7 Hydration And Food Is Crucial

One cannot hike successfull without having proper energy. Machu Pichu is no different.. As one keeps walking, they sweat and expend a lot of energy. With altitude sickness kicking in, hydration and starvation are a serious concern. A traveler must make sure they are well-fed before starting the hike. One must also carry enough water, making sure to use reusable bottles, and also snacks. Since altitude slows down digestion, eating before starting the hike is a good way of maintaing enough energy.

RELATED: 20 Things Tourists Do At Machu Picchu (That Locals Can’t Stand)

6 Prepare For The Weather

Hiking to Machu Picchu will present hikers with weather challenges. This is because it can be hot or rainy and one may not be able to predict what will happen on the mountain. In some cases, one may start the hike when it is hot, and then find rain on the mountain. As a result, preparing for the weather is crucial. Using lightweight pants is ideal. This ensures there are no excess heat effects. Awaterproof jacket and good hiking shoes will also come in handy, so that in the case of rain, one will be okay. For those going to camp, some heavy clothes are good for the cooler evening temperatures.

5 Skin Protection

Since hiking to this historic site includes trails across the forest and into the mountains, one should make sure they are protecting their skin. There are many bugs that can pose a great threat to the skin. This is especially true for those going camping. Another challenge is heat. When hiking during hot weather, the chances of getting sunburn are very high. As a result, a visitor is advised to carry sunscreen and additional bug repellent.

4 Porters Are Important

Many hikers may assume that hiking to Machu Picchu is an easy feat they can accomplish on their own. This is not the case for most visitors. The trail up the mountain is difficult and full of many challenges. The chances of getting lost are quite high. As a result, new visitors should make sure they use the services of porters. Porters are very useful as they help in guiding through the route. They also understand where to rest, and how to handle various challenges along the route.

RELATED: The Exclusive And Expensive Hotels Adding Luxury To Machu Picchu

3 Spare Footweare For Camping

These are some of the small details that are often forgotten and result in suffering. When hiking and camping, rest is crucial. However, only having hiking shoes and nothing else to change into can pose great discomfort for the feet. After a day of hiking, one needs to change to light, open shoes for the night.

2 Hiking Stick Is Crucial

A hiking stick is a crucial tool to have for this kind of hiking. One may not think highly of it, but it comes in handy when it’s time to climb steep areas, as well as when going downhill. A hiking stick is easy to get. One can buy or talk to porters for help in acquiring one.

1 Join A Group

It is next to impossible to hike to Machu Picchu, especially for visitors unfamiliar to the area. As a result, the secret to getting motivation, help, and a vast understanding of the best route is by joining a group. There are many people willing to hike with friends and this can create an enjoyable experience.

NEXT: 20 Incredible Sights In Peru Everyone Needs To See (That Aren’t Machu Picchu)

Hiker on Appalachian Trail

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Top 5 Essential Hiking Tips For Beginners

Hiking is a low-impact activity that reaps many physical and mental benefits. In fact, the prospect of going on a long hike on a beautiful day can be really exciting. Especially if you are new to the activity.

But unlike walking on a straight and narrow path or a treadmill, hiking involves far more unpredictable variables. Despite this, the views you get when you are so high up are definitely worth the effort.

As a beginner, there are many things you can do to guarantee an enjoyable hiking experience. Here is a shortened list of the top 5 essential hiking tips.

  • Have The Correct Equipment

Having appropriate gear is an essential part of the hiking experience. It’s the first thing you will need to think about, and the last thing that you would really want to overlook.

Being well-equipped when out hiking is a crucial way of safeguarding your comfort, endurance, and your safety. But sometimes it can be a little frustrating trying to figure out exactly what you need to take with you.

You should make a list of all the things you plan on taking based on the type of trip you want to do. In that way, you’ll be able to decide what exactly to pack. This means you will only have to bring the necessities and can avoid packing items that you do not need.

Some of the basic things you’ll need to take with you include weather-appropriate clothing, a durable backpack, a hiking gps system, and lots of food and water.

You don’t need any special skills in order to be able to go hiking. All that is required is an ability to walk, and a knowledge of where you are. Therefore, being familiar with the area you’re hiking in is important.

You should take some time to get to grips with your plan of action for your hike. It’s also a great idea to carry out some research into the trail you’re planning to embark upon.

Try understanding some of the more technical parts of the terrain included in your hike including elevation and steepness. In that way, you’ll have an idea of what to expect and will be able to prepare for it.

You might also want to read real-life opinions and reviews of other people who have already been there.

If you want to feel more secure and ease your mind on your first few hikes, you might want to enlist one of your friends.

Ideally, they should have some hiking experience so that you aren’t going in completely blind. This will also enable you to limit the potential risks and difficulties of the hike that you could encounter along the way. However, this isn’t an official rule.

Relying on someone else during tough parts of the hike is something you’ll definitely come to appreciate when you are embarking on the trail.

Hiking can be fun – but don’t be fooled by the pretty views! It can undoubtedly be a challenging cardio activity at times, especially if you are a beginner to the activity.

As a result, you must make sure to drink enough water to keep your endurance levels up. It sounds like something that should be relatively easy to do, but you might be surprised to find out that not too many people know how to adequately hydrate themselves during a hike.

Here are some of the best tips:

  • Drink a few cups of water or have a sports drink directly before your hike.
  • Avoid caffeine as it can increase the loss of fluid.
  • If you’re hiking on a particularly hot day and are sweating a lot, aim to drink between 800 and 1000 ml of water each hour.

  • Keep Your Trip Short And Easy

For the sake of your own comfort and safety as a beginner, you should choose an easier trail that is highly suitable for a day hike. Eventually, with time and practice, you’ll be able to tackle more difficult routes. But because your body is likely not used to such a demanding physical activity, starting off with short and easy trips is the best way forward.

Select a hiking trail that is flat and somewhere between 5 and 7 miles (11.27 km) long. Also ensure that you stay far away from rocky, steep terrains because they are very difficult to walk on.

These are just some of the things you need to keep in mind when going on a hike. If you follow these tips, you’ll have an enjoyable and stress-free workout every time!

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They met on Valentine’s Day while hiking in the Himalayas

(CNN) — It was Valentine’s Day 1996 when Lee Green walked into a mountain lodge in Nepal, surrounded by the snowcapped Himalayas, and encountered Mandy Halse for the first time.

Green and Halse were thousands of miles from their respective homes in England and New Zealand. Both were backpackers in their twenties determined to see as much of the world as they could. They’d found themselves in Nepal by a series of coincidences.

When Green entered the Nepalese teahouse, the stage was set for a memorable meet-cute.

Except on February 14, there were no sparks between the two travelers.

Two weeks later it was a different story, one that’s still ongoing 26 years later.

A meeting in Ghorepani

Here's Mandy Halse in Nepal on the morning of  February 14, 1996.

Here’s Mandy Halse in Nepal on the morning of February 14, 1996.

Kirsty Bloom

For Halse, Nepal was a spontaneous layover en route from Auckland to the UK, where she was set to visit an old friend. She’d been exploring Thailand and Malaysia, and a travel agent had recommended breaking up the journey with a stint in Nepal.

After learning of Nepal’s trekking routes, she met a British woman, Kirsty, while in line for a permit to hike the Annapurna Circuit. The two decided to join forces to tackle the trail, which winds through Nepal’s central mountains, taking in picturesque villages and incredible views along the way.

Halse, who’d had no idea what to expect, was awestruck by the spectacular landscape, particularly when she and fellow hikers arrived in the village of Ghorepani, where they set up camp in a “teahouse” mountain lodge.

“It was the most beautiful setting,” Halse tells CNN Travel today.

She was sitting in the lodge’s common area with her new friend Kirsty and other backpackers when Lee Green walked in.

Green, a mailman from the English town of Coventry, was traveling Nepal on a career break with colleague and good friend Murray. The two men had originally intended to use their sabbatical to embark on a cycle ride from the UK to India, but had abandoned the plan after just 200 miles, realizing navigating northern Europe in winter on bike was going to take too long.

Instead, they’d ended up flying to India, trekking through the northern part of the country, before making their way to Nepal.

The two friends arrived at the city of Pokhara, and set off on the Annapurna trek. Like Halse, they’d befriended other travelers en route.

Green (second from left) and Halse (third from right) embarked on Nepal's Annapurna circuit with a group of other backpackers they'd met along the way.

Green (second from left) and Halse (third from right) embarked on Nepal’s Annapurna circuit with a group of other backpackers they’d met along the way.

Kirsty Bloom

“There’s one path that links village to village to village, so most people that go trekking tend to overlap each other, meet up with each other at the tea houses, along the path,” Green tells CNN Travel today.

When Green’s group entered the teahouse, they were warmly greeted by Halse and the other travelers. The backpackers ended up chatting through the night, playing cards by candlelight.

“It was really nice, it was really chilled,” says Halse. “The teahouse was gorgeous.”

The travelers spent a couple of days there, before continuing as a group onto the next leg of the trek.

Halse and Green were friendly to one another on their first few days hiking, but they didn’t have much opportunity to chat one on one.

“We didn’t talk much in the beginning as we were both very quiet, and we walked in different parts of the group: me in the middle with Murray, and Lee at the back with Kirsty,” says Halse.

A growing connection

The backpackers were trekking through spectacular landscapes. Here's the group near Muktinath Valley in February 1996.

The backpackers were trekking through spectacular landscapes. Here’s the group near Muktinath Valley in February 1996.

Kirsty Bloom

When the travelers reached the Annapurna circuit’s 5,400-meter-high Thorung La mountain pass, they found their way blocked by heavy snow, forcing them to turn back.

Some of the group decided to give up at that point, making their way back, via plane, to the trail’s gateway town of Pokhara. Halse and Green, along with their friends Murray and Kirsty, decided to make the full return trek by foot, just the four of them.

So began another two weeks of walking — and it was in this period that Halse and Green started to grow closer.

“We’d become quite good friends, and as we’re walking along I started feeling the vibe, the tingles,” says Halse.

When the group arrived in Tatopani, just up the trail from their original meeting place in Ghorepani, the town’s balmier climate and beautiful hot springs were a welcome change to the snows they’d just emerged from.

“There’s oranges and lemons growing everywhere, citrus fruits growing, it’s like a little Garden of Eden. It’s a great place to relax and chill after the hard trekking,” says Green.

Halse and Green grew closer as the trek continued.

Halse and Green grew closer as the trek continued.

Kirsty Bloom

Lounging at the hot springs over the next few days, Green and Halse grew closer still. They recall braiding one another’s long hair and talking about previous adventures, their lives back home and travel goals.

“We soon realized we were very similar,” says Halse.

“We both wanted to travel, we were prepared to work hard and save money, and to achieve our travel goals, which is what we both wanted to do,” adds Green. “We realized it would be quite nice to do it together.”

They shared their first kiss on February 29, 1996, a leap year. From that day onwards, they were inseparable.

But while they were swept up in their new romance, the two remained keenly aware that travel flings don’t always last, so Green and Halse focused on enjoying the moment. They decided, along with Kirsty and Murray, to extend their time in Nepal and embark on a trek to Everest.

The only issue was Halse had somehow lost her passport. Before continuing any further, she had to head to Kathmandu to get new papers.

So the pair said goodbye to one another, hoping it would just be a short separation, as Green and Murray went on ahead.

A couple of days in, it looked like Halse’s passport would be arriving sooner rather than later. With no internet or cellphones to convey the news, Halse scribbled a hand-written note updating Green, letting him know she’d be hot on his heels before long.

Note in hand, Halse hopped onto the bus that was heading to the Everest trail, and asked if anyone heading that way would look out for the two men and pass on the message. She included a description of Green and Murray on the back of the note.

Here's one of the notes Halse passed along the trail for Green.

Here’s one of the notes Halse passed along the trail for Green.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

She did the same thing the following day, and the day after that — and then before long, Halse had her new passport and she and Kirsty were en route to Namche Bazaar, the gateway to Everest, hoping to catch up with the two mailmen.

The notes successfully made their way up the trail to Green and Murray.

“As we got closer and closer to Namche Bazaar, all of a sudden people started walking up to us on the trail with these notes, and they were like, “Oh we’ve got a note for you guys,” — you know, in the middle of the mountains in Nepal,” recalls Green. “We open the note and it’s from Mandy.”

The two men couldn’t believe it.

“More and more people started giving us these notes,” says Green. “So we wrote some notes back.”

They passed these replies to trekkers walking the opposite way, describing Halse and Kirsty, and hoping the notes would make it to the two women successfully.

Here's Halse and Green on the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Here’s Halse and Green on the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

Meanwhile, Halse and Kirsty were walking as fast as they could to catch up — so much so, they ended up overtaking Green and Murray.

Eventually, the group were reunited in the small village of Jorsale, between the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park and Namche Bazaar.

From there, they headed to the 5,357-meter Gokyo Ri peak, because Kirsty had read that the view of Everest was more impressive and that the trail didn’t have as many trekkers. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip.

“We were walking on a frozen lake, which if I’d thought about it, I think I would have been scared, but the snow was up to our thighs,” says Green.

Six weeks in India

Halse and Green went on together from Nepal to India, here they are at the Taj Mahal.

Halse and Green went on together from Nepal to India, here they are at the Taj Mahal.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

By the time they returned to Kathmandu at the end of April, Halse and Green were certain their connection was more than a fleeting holiday romance.

“We realized that we wanted to be together,” says Green.

After Murray decided to fly back home to the UK and Kirsty went off on her next adventure, Green and Halse were suddenly alone for the first time.

They both had six weeks before they were due to fly on to the UK — Halse to visit her friend on a pre-arranged trip, and Green to return to work — so the two decided to fill the time with a trip around India.

They traveled largely by rail, whiling away the long journeys staring out the window and chatting to one another and fellow travelers.

They reunited with Kirsty in the southern India state of Kerala, and again at Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. The trio traveled together to New Delhi, before Kirsty parted ways again.

It was an amazing six weeks for Halse and Green, but they also navigated some trickier moments together — such as when, towards the end of their trip, they fell ill. But they supported one another through these ups and downs, and ended the journey stronger than they’d started.

“You can tell whether you’re compatible with someone if you have to go through tough times together, and we went through some challenging traveling experiences in India, and we came out of it really well,” says Green.

By coincidence, the friend Halse was set to visit in the UK lived in Birmingham, which was only 30 minutes away from where Green was based in Coventry.

“This was the amazing thing — two people from the other side of the world met halfway, and were going in the same direction and heading to the same place,” says Green.

When Green got home, he dumped his backpack, went to see his parents and told them he’d be heading to Birmingham the following day to see Halse.

“I met this Kiwi girl. I quite like her and she’s just down the road,” he recalls saying.

Green had sent his family postcards from his travels, but hadn’t mentioned that he’d met a girl. Halse, meanwhile, had written long letters home to her sister describing her chance meeting with Green.

“I told my sister everything,” Halse recalls.

Her sister still has the 11-page letter Halse wrote her from Nepal, describing in detail how she felt about Green.

“Lee and I slowly developed a wonderful relationship,” Halse wrote on March 16, 1996. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

Long-distance romance

Halse stayed in the UK for the next few months. Green went back to work, but they continued to see one another whenever they could.

It was Halse’s first time in the UK, and she wanted to see the sights. The two recall walking part of England’s South West Coast Path from Newquay to Penzance. They also visited cities including York, Oxford, Blackpool and London.

Then Halse had to return down under — her brother was getting married in Australia, and her grandparents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in New Zealand.

Halse arranged to meet up with Green again in New Zealand in six months time. Green had negotiated another sabbatical with his employers, so the couple planned a second stint traveling together.

Meantime, they navigated a long distance relationship.

“I think we racked up $1,000 worth of phone calls,” says Halse of this period. “We wrote to each other, we wrote aerograms.”

Back in Auckland, Halse busied herself working. She missed Green, but she worried that he was finding the separation even harder going.

“Lee was pining, he was working crazy hours at the Post Office,” says Halse. “He was sounding more and more depressed as the time went on.”

“I decided ‘screw it.’ We discussed things and I decided to fly back to the UK to spend the four months with Lee and then start traveling together from there.”

Halse arrived back in the UK on Christmas Day 1996. Green was waiting for her at the airport.

“I’d just come from New Zealand and everyone was tanned and because it was December, Lee was pale, and he looked very different,” says Halse.

“It was a bit of a shock at first. But then we got on the bus, went back, and we were together in Coventry for four months.”

It was an opportunity for Halse to get to know Green’s family, who welcomed her wholeheartedly. And when these four months came to an end, Halse and Green flew to New Zealand, before traveling together through Central and South America for the next six months.

A lifetime of travel

Green and Halse at Auckland Airport in 1997, about to embark on their travels.

Green and Halse at Auckland Airport in 1997, about to embark on their travels.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

From there, Halse and Green started a pattern that would continue for many years.

“Half of the time has been spent working in Australia, New Zealand and England, and the other half spent backpacking, just following our dream and seeing the world,” explains Green.

Halse and Green had been on the same page from the beginning — they didn’t want to settle down, they didn’t want children, and they weren’t interested in a wedding.

But as an international couple with a foot on both sides of the globe, after a few years together the two decided marriage would make living across two continents a bit easier.

Their nuptials took place in New Zealand in August 2001, and Green’s family flew over from the UK for the celebrations. The couple were married in Halse’s mother’s backyard.

“We set up food and drink in the double garage, then later on various family members played guitars, and we sat around singing until the early hours of the morning,” recalls Halse. “It was such a great day, and definitely not a conventional wedding.”

The couple in Thailand in 1999.

The couple in Thailand in 1999.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

The couple had also bonded early on over a commitment to living frugally, and prioritizing spending money on travel.

They say years avoiding splurging allowed them to retire in 2017, when they were in their late 40s.

“We worked out that if we live on a budget of between 20 and 25 US dollars a day, we can travel indefinitely,” says Halse.

Post-retirement, one of the first items on their travel agenda was a return trip to Nepal, just over 20 years since they’d first met there.

This time round, Halse and Green completed the Annapurna Circuit, and also trekked to Everest Base Camp, sans porters or guides.

The two say Nepal had changed in the intervening two decades, but it was incredible to be back. The couple returned to some of the teahouses they’d stayed in on that first trip, and even reencountered local people they’d met the first time round.

“It’s still my favorite country in the world, I think, of all the places I’ve been,” says Green. “I don’t know if it’s because I met Mandy there and that’s where my life changed.”

The couple returned to Nepal together in 2017, this time sucessfully passing through the Thorang La mountain pass.

The couple returned to Nepal together in 2017, this time sucessfully passing through the Thorang La mountain pass.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

“Our goal is to give valuable budget travel advice to help others achieve the travel goals we have accomplished and to show how easy it is to travel the world as we do,” says Green of the project.

The Covid-19 pandemic temporarily grounded Halse and Green — first in Poland, and now in Portugal. But they’ve enjoyed this extended time in Europe. When the two were younger, they’d set themselves ambitious travel goals, aspiring to visit as many countries as possible, but more recently, they’ve enjoyed savoring travel experiences.

“We’re quite happy to travel slowly and see places at a leisurely pace, rather than race to tick off countries,” says Green.

A Valentine’s Day romance

Green and Halse at Everest Base Camp in 2017.

Green and Halse at Everest Base Camp in 2017.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

Today, Halse and Green live the life they both dreamed of when they met as twentysomething backpackers.

“I think it’s really helped that we’ve been together because I think if I’d have been on my own, I might have just carried on working, maybe stayed in the UK and taken some holidays,” says Green.

“It’s just so nice to know that you’ve got someone with you — a bit like a best friend, but different than a best friend — a total soulmate,” says Halse.

They two consider February 29, the leap year, as the day they became a couple, so they enjoy celebrating that date when it rolls around every four years. During the intervening years, they celebrate on March 1, and always raise a glass on their August wedding anniversary too.

“It’s a great excuse to have multiple celebrations and we try to celebrate life every single day!” says Green. “We usually celebrate with a meal out or having a special experience together.”

Green and Halse have enjoyed over two decades over travel together, including to Tajikistan, pictured here.

Green and Halse have enjoyed over two decades over travel together, including to Tajikistan, pictured here.

Lee & Mandy/Frugal Travellers

As for Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday is another chance for Halse and Green to reflect on their life together.

“We always celebrate Valentine’s Day as the day we first met, because that is very special for us,” says Green.

Over two decades later, the two never cease to marvel when they reflect on the moment they crossed paths in the teahouse in Nepal.

“I honestly think it was fated, so it was meant to be,” says Halse.

“A million decisions were made for us to come together. It’s incredible. It blows my mind thinking about it,” says Green.

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The Best Small Towns in the Catskills for Hiking, Boutique Hotels, and Breweries

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Only two in five support raising taxes to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions, but most in favour of hiking cost of air travel – Sky News poll | Climate News

Only two in five people would support increasing taxes as part of efforts to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions – but a majority are in favour of hiking the cost of air travel and banning petrol and diesel cars from city centres, new polling suggests.

In a YouGov poll for Sky News, more than three-quarters of respondents (76%) said they believed the world’s climate was changing as a result of human activity.

This compared to one in 10 (11%) who agreed the world’s climate was changing but disagreed it was because of human activity, while only 2% said the world’s climate was not changing.

More than half (52%) thought the cost of and upheaval caused by climate change, if Britain does not reduce carbon emissions, would be worse than the cost and upheaval required to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. This compared to 23% who thought the opposite and 25% who weren’t sure.

YouGov/Sky News poll 9-10 November 2021
YouGov/Sky News poll, 9-10 November 2021

However, despite an overwhelming majority accepting man-made climate change, those who responded to the survey were split over how the issue should be tackled.

Two in five (40%) said they would support taxes being increased to help pay the costs of reducing Britain’s carbon emissions, with a greater proportion (44%) opposed.

There was majority support for increasing the cost of air travel (59% in support compared to 32% opposed), as well for banning petrol and diesel cars from city centres from 2030 (54% in support, 37% opposed).

But most respondents did not support increasing the cost of gas and electricity (78% opposed, 14% in support), increasing the cost of petrol or diesel (60% opposed, 32% in support), or increasing the cost of meat and dairy products (61% opposed, 31% in support).

One in five (22%) said they were most likely to purchase an electric car when they next buy a car, compared to 17% who said they would buy a petrol car and 7% who said they would buy a diesel car.

Two-thirds (66%) who said they would buy a petrol or diesel car said this was, among other reasons, because an electric car would be too expensive.

YouGov/Sky News poll 9-10 November 2021
YouGov/Sky News poll, 9-10 November 2021

When asked how energy efficient their current home is, 62% said it was efficient while 28% said it was not.

Of those who believed their current home was not very energy efficient, 38% said improving its energy efficiency would be too expensive, among other reasons.

The YouGov poll of 1,729 British adults was conducted on 9 and 10 November and prior to the conclusion of the COP26 international climate change conference in Glasgow.

More than three in five (62%) said they had not been paying much attention, or no attention at all, to the Glasgow summit, while nearly two in five (39%) said they had been taking notice.

YouGov/Sky News poll 9-10 November 2021
YouGov/Sky News poll, 9-10 November 2021

More than two-thirds (68%) were pessimistic that the world would make the necessary changes to limit the impact of climate change, with less than one-fifth (17%) optimistic.

Boris Johnson used the COP26 conference to urge world leaders to commit to action on reducing global warming.

But more than half (55%) of those surveyed believed the prime minister had done badly on providing global leadership on climate change, with less than a quarter (22%) thinking Mr Johnson had done well.

Prior to the conclusion of the Glasgow summit, less than one in 10 (9%) thought COP26 had been a success with more than one-fifth (42%) thinking it had not been one, although nearly half (49%) said they did not know.

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Commenting on the findings of the poll, YouGov’s director of political research Anthony Wells said: “All in all, people believe in climate change and say we should address it, but are far less willing to pay for it.”

The full results of the YouGov survey can be found here.

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14 heat safety tips for L.A. hiking during hot weather

When it’s hot out there — really hot — you need a sure-fire strategy for what to wear and what to bring before you go hiking. Sure, skip the down parka, but you’ll need to carry more water than you usually do. But that’s not all. I asked experts for their best advice on how to stay safe in the heat. Here’s what they told me.

Illustration of a woman applying sunscreen

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Before you go

1. Check the weather forecast. Southern California has myriad microclimates — urban, mountain, coastal, desert and more — so research how hot it will be where you plan to hike. “You want to do a little research on where you’re going, what are the peak temperatures and also humidity … that has an effect on how your body cools itself off too,” said Johnny Stevens, an REI outfitter. Don’t forget to check other conditions, such as air quality on the South Coast Air Quality Management District app and the Environmental Protection Agency’sUV Index app for sun exposure ratings. Both apps are free.

2. Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. This sounds simple, but it’s easy to get into trouble when you get a late start and want a hard workout. Go early (6 a.m.) or late (6 or 7 p.m.) to avoid high temperatures. In Death Valley, where extreme temperatures soar to 115-plus degrees in summer, officials warn hikers to stay away from Badwater and other low, exposed areas and suggest hitting the trails no later than 10 a.m. In most L.A. climes, the sun is strongest and UV exposure highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

3. Use sunscreen to avoid sunburn. The best time to apply sunblock is at least 15 minutes before you step out the door. “This allows the sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to have enough time to provide the maximum benefit,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website. By the way, SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how much “solar energy” or UV radiation it takes to burn unprotected skin, not — as some mistakenly believe — the amount of time it protects you. The FDA said it takes at least an ounce of sunscreen to cover the body from head to toe. Some lotions are for faces only; just make sure to coat your nose, ears and neck too. Sunscreens lose their effectiveness usually after three years, so make sure yours still works.

4. Acclimate, acclimate, acclimate. I acclimate when I hike to high elevations, but high temperatures and humidity also require getting used to. “Heat acclimation occurs over the course of four to five days,” said Dr. Daniel V. Vigil, who specializes in sports medicine at UCLA and oversees the university’s athletic teams. Head outside and do some mild workouts to give your body time to adjust to the heat. Also, make sure you’re fit enough to tackle whatever trail or peak you have planned. Heat can make you feel worse if you’re out of shape and struggling.

5. Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you’ll return. Hikers, especially those going it alone, shouldn’t skip this step when heading out. It’s always best to share your plan with a friend or loved one, but especially true when conditions are hot. Leave a copy of your itinerary in your vehicle too. It could be a life-saver; if you don’t return on time, rescue teams will know where to start looking.

graphic of a hiking book sweating a lot.

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

On the trail

6. Carry more water than usual — and drink up. I’ve been on hikes on hot days when people proudly return with a quart or more of water. That’s not the goal. Sip enough water to replenish what you are sweating. “The human body’s main mechanism for dissipating heat is evaporation,” Vigil said. “The only way to combat intense heat is to stay hydrated, so we can sweat and evaporate heat.” How much should we drink? There’s no right answer because some people sweat profusely while others just glisten. Think about using a water well/hydration system with a drinking tube that fits in most backpacks. This setup allows you to drink without taking a break. If you prefer to use water bottles, be prepared to stop frequently for a few slugs along the way.

7. Bring electrolytes and snacks. You need something to perk you up when you start to drag. Electrolytes — essential minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium — will help replenish what you’ve lost too. “What’s most important is that you are drinking and you are snacking,” said Gates Richards, education director for wilderness medicine at the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS. “If you are doing those things you’re probably going to be fine.” Electrolyte drinks and gels help too, especially if it means you’ll eat and drink more because you like the flavor. If you work out in the heat for an hour or less you probably don’t need electrolyte replacements, Vigil said. But those planning a longer day should bring them.

8. Choose loose-fitting clothes that breathe and allow airflow. Spandex is not your friend on hot days; save it for the air-conditioned gym. Loose clothing allows air to circulate and cool you. What color you wear matters too. Black clothes absorb more heat, so you don’t want anything dark or tight-fitting against your skin. Look for shirts with mesh vents under the arms and on the back that improve airflow.

9. Wear a hat. A hat will keep the sun from frying your brain — and your neck and face — if you wear one with a wide brim. Make sure it’s well ventilated on top so your head doesn’t overheat. Experts recommend a hat that covers your ears and back and sides of your neck; straw hats may be stylish but allow in rays, if you are concerned about sun exposure. “Most baseball caps don’t do a good job with ventilation,” Stevens said. “They do shade the eyes, but I like more of a sun hat.”

10. Cover up. It may sound counterintuitive, but long pants and long-sleeved shirts are a good idea on hot days. “If you plan to hike in exposed areas, better to be covered than to be short-sleeved with shorts,” REI’s Stevens said. Sun protection may also include sun sleeves (if you’re wearing a tank top or short-sleeved shirt), a lightweight neck gaiter and sun gloves, particularly for people who use trekking poles at high elevation. Also, look for sun-blocking clothing that can help protect your skin. UPF ratings on shirts, pants and hats measure how much ultraviolet radiation can penetrate the fabric. For example, clothing labeled UPF 50 lets in only 1/50th, or 2%, of UV rays.

11. Keep your feet cool too. Heavy leather boots may make your feet sweat more than is needed. Consider lighter boots with webbing (but still offer waterproof protection) that allow some breathability. Avoid cotton socks that absorb sweat and lead to blisters. Instead, use wool or synthetic-blend socks that will keep your feet dry.

12. If you are lucky enough to find water on the trail, get wet. Water is in short supply in Southern California, but even small creeks or mountainside seeps allow you to dunk your hat or a kerchief to wear around your neck. It’s a good cool-down trick, particularly if you stop and rest in the shade. (There are “neckties” and gaiters with insulation designed to keep you wet/cool). Just don’t drink the water unless you filter or treat it.

Graphic of a woman lying down on boulder

(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

What could go wrong

13. Stop if you or someone you are with start to feel sick. You want to push yourself on tough terrain, but heat cramps in your legs or abdomen may suddenly take hold in hot weather. Heat cramps are the result of two things: You’re low on glycogens and dehydrated, or you’ve overtaxed your muscles, Vigil said. Either way, it’s time to slow down, drink more fluids and try to stretch or massage your legs. If you’re dehydrated, you may not realize early signs, such as becoming sullen or agitated. “You have to trust the people you’re traveling with to say, ‘Yeah, you’re not as friendly as you usually are. Let’s all stop and have a drink right now,’ ” Richards said.

14. Understand the signs of more serious heat problems. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious and can be fatal. Understanding what’s happening when things go wrong is important. With exhaustion, you or your buddy may look pale, feel nauseous or vomit, and complain about a headache and cramps. Stop in the shade (if you can find some) for at least half an hour, drink water with electrolytes and eat some high-energy foods. The most important thing: Don’t continue to hike; hopefully you and/or your friend can slowly hike out safely or summon help.

Heat stroke, which Vigil refers to as “cooking from the inside out,” is far more serious and deadly. Symptoms include dry skin, weak and rapid pulse, high body temperature, confusion and poor judgment, and even seizures. “Check their mental status,” Vigil said. “Maybe their sense of humor is not there, they’re not as talkative, might be a little confused. You ask, ‘Are you all right’ and they don’t answer articulately. That’s a serious sign.” The key here is to cool their body immediately and get help. Check here for more information about heat exhaustion and heat stroke from the Red Cross.

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Hiking guide for California’s Trans-Catalina Trail

As I hiked up a steep pitch on the west end of Santa Catalina Island, the straps of my 30-pound pack dug into my shoulders, no matter how many times I cinched the waist belt to balance the load. There are no switchbacks on this part of the Trans-Catalina Trail, just a dirt path that points upward. I didn’t enjoy this but plodded on.

I have hiked on Catalina for decades but had never pieced together its routes until I hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail, or TCT, in mid-April. It’s a 38.5-mile route of extreme ups and downs that leads from the resort town of Avalon, on the east side of the island, to the less-visited northwestern beach of Parsons Landing, its farthest point, and the trail’s end at Two Harbors.

“You never walk on flat ground,” said Tony Budrovich, chief executive of the Catalina Island Conservancy, which manages the trail and open space that make up 88% of the island. “You’re either going uphill or downhill. That is highly challenging for a hiker, but the payoff views when you get to the top of the ridges and the beauty of going into the crevices and valleys make you feel like you’ve really gone somewhere exotic.”

Budrovich is right. The allure of the TCT makes you forget its grueling parts and leaves you awestruck at the sparkling ocean views and beach-side campgrounds, so unexpected and remote for a place an hour’s boat ride from L.A.

Since the trail opened six years ago, it has boosted tourism to the lesser-known west side of Catalina. The TCT also has become a dream destination for hikers and backpackers who can complete it in either direction. Each year about 8,000 trekkers hit the trail, making competition stiff for permits to reserve the four campgrounds along the way.

One mystery: How did the conservancy come up with a 38.5-mile trail on an island that’s only 22 miles long? From Avalon, the TCT crosses the interior of the island to Two Harbors, continues on the high inland route to Parsons Landing, then curves back along the lower coastal road, making a small loop in the final miles. The lone restaurant at Two Harbors hosts many impromptu TCT victory parties.

Hikers walk along the Trans-Catalina Trail

The Trans-Catalina Trail crosses the length and width of the island.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The campgrounds along the TCT are cushy by backpacking standards. Three are on or near beaches and all have drinking water (leave your filter at home) and toilets. Most people plan on three or four days to complete the trail. I chose four days; here’s what my trip was like.

Day 1
Avalon to Black Jack Campground
10.7 miles

My friends and I took the 8:45 a.m. boat from San Pedro to Avalon and found the conservancy’s new office (708 Crescent Ave.), the official start of the hike. “Trailhead: Adventure Starts Here” read the sign outside. From there, we walked through Avalon, then turned inland toward the trail at Catalina Avenue.

Shops selling beignets and bagels were tempting but didn’t open until later, so we pressed on, stopping at Chet’s Hardware (117 Catalina Ave.) to pick up fuel canisters for our backpacking stoves (you can’t bring them on the boat for safety reasons).

After a few miles, the trail led uphill, winding through the interior, sometimes along roads but often along single-track trails. Chaparral and island oaks lined the route until we reached Black Jack Campground.

On a midweek day in April, all 10 sites were bustling with campers hiking the TCT. This is the sole campground without ocean views, though you can find some by hiking nearby Mt. Orizaba, the island’s high point at 2,097 feet above sea level.

We woke to the sound of grunts and branches snapping. Two of the island’s famed bison had entered the campground to rub and scratch themselves on shrubs and trees. People took photos with their phones (at a distance; there are signs everywhere that warn you to stay at least 125 feet away). We waited for the bison to move on, ate breakfast and started to hike.

Day 2
Black Jack to Two Harbors
13.5 miles

Leaving Black Jack, the trail skirted the island’s tiny airport (which is open for breakfast and lunch) before dropping down to the west-facing side of the island. We meandered along hillsides before reaching Little Harbor, a sweet beach with campgrounds.

We lingered at site 11, nearest the beach, to have lunch. I was reluctant to leave and wished we had added an extra night so we could have stayed here. I looked up and spotted a wedding in progress high on the bluffs of the next cove.

If it’s hot, Little Harbor is a good place for a swim, but in April it was a little too cool for a plunge in the ocean. We turned our backs on the beach and headed for Two Harbors, which meant a steep climb up an ocean-facing canyon.

Tents set up in a campground

Camping at Two Harbors, the largest of the campgrounds along the Trans-Catalina Trail.

(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

Catalina showed off its rugged good looks as we climbed to reach a small hikers shelter at the top of the ridge. From here, we crossed the island’s width to Two Harbors, which was a metropolis compared with the quiet coves we had left behind.

Two Harbors has a restaurant and small grocery store as well as a small stretch of beach. I ditched my packed lunch in favor of chips, hummus and fresh coffee. The campground here is the largest on the TCT with 47 sites, some on the bluffs with great views, others closer to the beach.

Day 3
Two Harbors to Parsons Landing (spine route)
6.6 miles, plus 9 miles round trip to Starlight Beach

The trail from Two Harbors took us up the inland route, a.k.a. the spine, the steepest and hardest part of the TCT. It’s straight uphill, then straight downhill along Fence Line Road. My legs wobbled as I started down, and I relied on my quads to keep me upright until I reached the bottom. Every step felt as if it was a fight with gravity; I tried hard not to stare at the sheer drop. I kept my eyes on my feet.

The knee- and leg-pummeling descent took us to Parsons Landing, a quiet beach with six campsites, all on the sand. Upon arrival, I met Kendra, who was scouting the trail and making plans to return to do the entire route. “Oh! You have campsite 1,” she said. “It’s the best.” She wasn’t the first to tell us this.

Elevated view of brush and the ocean from the trail

A backpacker surveys the view from a high point between Two Harbors and Parsons Landing.

(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

It was easy to see what made the site so special: Bluff walls on either side made it completely private, with the ocean about 20 feet away.

We dumped our gear, set up tents and headed for Starlight Beach, on the west end of Catalina. The out-and-back to the beach, a destination that had been on my list for years, added nine miles round-trip. (It’s no longer part of the TCT.)

We followed old roads and single-track trails until we found the small, deserted, dark-sand beach. We saw no one, coming or going. It was late in the day and we couldn’t linger, but I vowed to return. The little crescent beach felt as if it was the most remote place on Earth. Returning to camp, we ate dinner and headed for our tents. The sound of the ocean pummeling the rocks lulled me to sleep.

Day 4
Parsons Landing to Two Harbors (coastal road)
7.7 miles

The return trip to Two Harbors followed the flatter coastal road along many developed camps and bays that open seasonally. The trail stayed high above the ocean, which meant we could look down on Emerald Bay, Howland’s Landing and Cherry Cove. Sometimes cars and four-wheel vehicles ferrying gear stirred up dust as they passed. When aptly named Ship Rock came into view, we knew we were close to the finish. The final steps were glorious.

At Two Harbors, we spent lazy hours sitting and congratulating ourselves for finishing. With the TCT behind us, I found myself forgetting the tough parts and recalling the spectacular beaches and views. I’ll be back.

If you go

The Trans-Catalina Trail is very exposed; it’s best to hike in spring and late fall when temperatures are cool. Hiking permits are free. You need to reserve campgrounds at least two months in advance; they fill quickly, especially at Parsons Landing. Reserve online at catalinaconservancy.org or by calling (310) 510-2595 (I found this easier to do by phone).

Be prepared with dates you want to reserve at all four campgrounds. Sites cost an average of $30 per person per night, depending on the time of year. A $30 membership, however, with the Catalina Island Conservancy discounts costs by 50%.
Boats to Catalina sail from San Pedro, Long Beach, Dana Point and Newport Beach. Rides cost $70 to $76 round trip.

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