Crampons, Crevasses & Cogne - Full Send on a Weekend in the Alps

Mid December is one of my favorite times to take a trip to Chamonix. It’s right before the Christmas craziness, and the snow/ice is just starting to reach optimal conditions for all winter alpine activities. You get the mountains to yourselves and town is just re-opening for the season; it’s perfect. Chamonix at the holidays is also such a charming place to be, with all it’s festive cheer, unlimited gluhwein, and more fondue than you can possibly consume; all the makings of a perfect winter weekend.

We checked into our AirBnB, an adorable little cabin called Stephen’s Mazot, on Friday evening, hopped around town, sampling local beers, French wines, and tacos (my top recommendation: go to Monkey!) and were ready to get started on our adventure the next morning.

chamonix december
chamonix december
stephens mazot chamonix

I’ve been wanting to improve my alpine skills in prep for some big upcoming mountain goals, so I reached out to Adventure Base, an outfitter based in Chamonix, in hopes of squeezing in a solid weekend of climbing/learning before heading into the holidays, and before it got too cold to spend a full day down on the Mer de Glace.

AB has an excellent reputation for leading climbs around the world, as well as helping clients of all different levels get comfortable in and around the mountains. As to be expected of a reputable outfitter, all of their mountain guides are IFMGA/UIAGM certified, which means they’ve spent 5+ years of their lives (& then some) obtaining the certifications necessary to confidently lead clients on any alpine/rock/other type of outdoor adventure.

Ahead of the weekend, I was promised that we would be lined up with a “SUPER awesome” mountain guide, and they weren’t lyin’! I’ve had some GREAT mountain guides in the past (including another one with Adventure Base - hi Fabio!) so I knew this guide would have big shoes to fill. Needless to say, Pablo did not disappoint.

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mer+de+glace+adventure+base

Before launching into the ins and outs of our weekend, a quick homage to guides in general, because I think they are sorely under appreciated / under acknowledged for their efforts: I think there is a misconception, or perhaps just a lack of understanding, amongst the general public about what it takes to become a mountain guide in a place like Chamonix. Part of this is understandable, as in some places around the world, all it requires to say you’re a “guide” is some solid climbing experience, a website, and proof you’ve done the climb once or twice before the client.

However, that is far, far from the case with IFMGA guides. These guides truly have to “earn their wings” and have probably worked harder for their accreditation than any of us have ever worked in our office jobs. These guides spend 5 years of their lives learning not only alpine skills, but a variety of other things as well: CPR, avalanche safety, wilderness first responder, how to work with clients / handle medical needs / read the weather, etc. and then they spend their guiding “on season” getting up at the crack of down to meet clients, & often nights in huts, away from their homes/loved ones.

Professional leadership in the mountains is incredibly important and not a job these guides - or their certifiers - take lightly. And, you have to not only become the best, but stay the best, re-certifying once a year, and ensuring you are up on the latest technologies/information available.

Needless to say, guides are powerhouses, and sacrifice more than just their working hours. They learn the mountains so well that they become a part of them, and then they give away that part of themselves to their clients. Here’s to them.

Now to our weekend…

DAY ONE: MER DE GLACE & CRAMPON / ICE CLIMBING SKILLS

We got a “late start” in alpine terms, given that we needed to take the Montenvers train up to our starting point for the day & the first train was at 9am (you could technically walk, but it would take the better part of a day to get from Chamonix city center up to there, and would be very cold in mid-December, so the train is advisable).

adventure base guide pablo chamonix
montenvers train chamonix

From the Montenvers train, we climbed over the ropes and headed down towards the glacier.

To get down to the glacier, you have to climb down a long series of ladders, which in mid-December were partially covered in snow and ice, making it trickier than usual. I’m guessing that we were some of the last people to use these ladders before the winter sets in, as much later than mid-December, they likely would have been unusable. After about 30 minutes, we made it into the valley, taking in the views all around us, and started walking up the glacier. My favorite awe-worthy peak was the jagged, mighty Le Dru, and Pablo shared stories of his many climbs up it.

mer de glace
mer de glace

We spent the day out on the glacier, winding over it, enjoying the beautiful (but cold) day, and ultimately found a sunny patch (which quickly receded out of sight 5 minutes later) in which to practice our ice climbing skills. Pablo practiced dropping us (while secured by a rope, obvi!) down several big walls, as well as down a crevasse, and then having us climb out, using our ice axes.

For me, a big part of alpine skills refreshers is about getting comfortable: knowing exactly how and on what angle to use your crampons to hoist yourself up, getting a sense for how strong your ice axe (and you) are when it comes to pulling up a wall, knowing what angles help maximize your stability and minimize the effort needed to move quickly and efficiently. Our practice helped me feel stronger, safer, and more confident in all of my abilities.

mer de glace glacier crampons
mer de glace ice climbing

What felt like way too soon, it was time for us to head back off the glacier and back towards the ladders, where we would have to reverse our steps, and now climb back up to the train. A day well spent, and we were also quite exhausted from the frigid temps, and cold air blasting us all day in the open valley on the glacier. No complaints from us, but we had an early bedtime to follow! And good thing because…

DAY TWO: ICE CLIMBING IN COGNE

The first alarm went off at 3:45am on day two. The 3:45am alarm is always one that makes you ask yourself, “why the f&*! do I do this to myself on my ‘vacation’??” but after a coffee, we were chipper and ready to get going. The reason for the early wake up was because we would be hopping in Pablo’s car (remember how I said guides sacrifice all of their free time??) and driving to Italy, where we would be doing our best to beat the crowds in the very popular ice-climbing destination, Cogne.

We stopped in town for a pastry and a coffee (as you do in Italy) at a very quaint authentic Italian cafe, which was a highlight before the day even begun. Pulling into the parking lot, we were only the second ones there, so we were off to a good start. We gathered our gear from the car and headed out to Patri Acheronte, which was about an hour walk from the lot.

coffee cogne italy
cogne italy
cogne italy
gear cogne italy adventure base

Being up early has it’s perks: we watched the alpenglow slowly pour into the valley and illuminate everything around us, on our walk in to the waterfall. A beautiful morning. The rest of the day was spent climbing up the Patri Acheronte. A few other parties showed up, so we had to work around one another but generally stayed out of each others way (pro tip: the earlier you arrive here the better, as you get first dibs, and less of a chance of ice getting chipped down onto you!).

cogne italy patri acheronte
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We spent a few hours climbing, and it was awesome. We practiced keeping our heels low, and learning again how to minimize effort and maximize efficiency. Ice climbing does not require as much upper body strength as one may think, and in fact is largely powered by your legs, so we learned to utilize our energy accordingly.

cogne ice climbing adventure base
ice climbing cogne

We wrapped up in the afternoon and headed back to Chamonix with big smiles on our faces. I think I found my new favorite alpine activity!

It’s incredible to realize just how much you can do in 48 hours - and our couple of jam-packed days with Adventure Base was a great reminder.

We had just enough time in the evening to refuel with lots of nachos and fries at Cool Cats, and get a good night sleep at the cabin before heading back home to Amsterdam early the next morning.

What a weekend! We will be back for more!

chamonix
adventure base cogne climbing ice

Regional Spotlight: An Urban Denver Adventure & Jackson Hole Escape

The entire Colorado and Wyoming region has so much to offer – you could spend weeks just eating your way through Denver, or bounce to one of hundreds of mountain adventures within hours. If I do my job correctly, this guide will help you better understand what each has to offer and what spots to hit whether you have a few days or a few weeks in the Denver / Jackson Hole regions.

jackson hole

My initial draw to Denver for this trip was Outdoor Retailer, held at the city convention center. I make a point at least once every couple of years of getting out to Outdoor Retailer, especially now that it has moved from Salt Lake City to Denver, i.e. the mecca of weekend mountain adventures.  For this particular trip, I wanted to also use the opportunity to do some city hopping around Denver, checking out the hotel, art, and brewery scene, followed by a long weekend getaway in Jackson Hole, easily one of my favorite places in the world (having been to the Alps, Dolomites, Andes, etc, Jackson Hole still remains towards the top of the list!)

Importantly, this trip took place during winter Outdoor Retailer in early November, which to Denver urbanites and Jackson Hole skiiers is considered the “off-season,” i.e. the season of waiting patiently for that first big snowfall which officially signals winter sports season.  But to me, this shoulder season should very much be considered ‘on’ season for tourists for a number of reasons: 1) there are less crowds, 2) the weather hasn’t turned for the worse yet (& is actually quite nice given the region’s reputation for having way more sunny days than not!), 3) lower hotel prices given the lower volume of traffic, 4) the roads are not yet iced over, making road trips and outdoor adventures easy and safe.

DENVER:

PLACES TO STAY:

Hilton Denver City Center hosted me on this trip, and I would stay there again 10 times out of 10.  They were within walking distance of everything I wanted to see/do, super useful in terms of concierge/front desk services, had a kick-butt breakfast, and have an incredible and diverse dinner offering at Prospect’s Urban Kitchen & Bar located conveniently on the lower level of the hotel. Not to mention, the hotel itself is completely affordable for the average traveler! An ideal spot for really anyone: business travelers, individuals, or families.

Another often overlooked but important qualifier is that a hotel be a place where you feel comfortable leaving bags if needed, as I did.  I had no worries in my mind about leaving all of my luggage there for 3 days while on another leg of my trip, and that peace of mind was worth every penny of my stay!

denver hilton city center
denver city center hilton
denver hilton city center
hilton denver city center

Whatever you do, I would highly recommend finding a hotel in the city center or near union station.  You’ll find that a hotel in either location is reliable, convenient, and will have all of the amenities you could ever want.  Plus, being near highways (as the city center ones are) to get in and out on an adventure is another major perk. My friend who came from Golden to pick me up was able to get in and out of the city in a matter of minutes. Airport rides by Uber were also effortless. Win win.

AirBnB is also a good option in Denver, with many cute and well-located properties available. I would stay either near Union Station or in Capitol Hill.

denver union station
union station denver

FOOD:

DRINKS:

ACTIVITIES:

denver central market
denver

JACKSON HOLE:

PLACES TO STAY:

We stayed at two different hotels, which were completely different but each had their own unique assets, depending on what you are looking for. 

Let’s break them each down, shall we? 

HOTEL JACKSON

Always a sucker for a place with a bit of history, I fully appreciated that this hotel was started as a passion project of the Darwiche family, as Jim Darwiche and his wife Safaa spent many decades developing numerous businesses in Jackson and fell in love with the town and it’s heritage before deciding to start the new Hotel Jackson. I say “new” because the original Hotel Jackson was one of the first five buildings that made up the town of Jackson in the early 1900s, and this hotel being so aptly named is a nod to history.

hotel jackson
hotel jackson figs
hotel jackson
hotel jackson

As for hospitality, this absolutely gorgeous, rustic, high-end hotel leaves no detail overlooked. They’ve got luxury dialed in: the front desk runs like a well-oiled machine, and when there, you truly feel as though you have nothing left to do but sit back and R E L A X and let them do the rest.

We noticed lots of little details, from the attentiveness of the staff, to the warm cookies, coffee/tea & adventure books available in the lobby, to the soothing music and bottle of water made available as part of the turn down service at night. We felt very well looked after here.  Not to mention, the lodgy western flair makes you feel warm and cozy, without isolating you from the mountains right outside the front door. Hotel Jackson successfully brings the outside in.

A final perk: Hotel Jackson boasts one of the best restaurants in Jackson Hole, it’s very own on-site Lebanese and Mediterranean fusion restaurant called FIGS, which I’d certainly recommend you at least stop at for a dinner. But be careful setting up too close to the restaurant’s two story fireplace: you may never end up wanting to leave.

Importantly, Hotel Jackson is also the first LEED-certified hotel in Jackson Hole, so is ahead of the curve.

ANVIL HOTEL

Living in Europe has given me a real affinity for hotels that have that lodge meets ultra modern/hip feel.  The lobby of the 49-room Anvil Hotel feels almost as though you’ve been dropped into a Huckberry catalogue. Fancy coffees are available for purchase, and the common area fireplace invites you to waste your day away cozied up in front of it. I have to be honest: I could’ve sat in their lobby and ignored the mountains outside all day long. Yes, it is THAT cozy and inviting.

Another perk: they have lots of fun trendy gear (including sunglasses from my friends over at Sunski!) and the entire hotel’s aesthetic just screams PENDLETON!  Don’t forget to set aside some money to purchase a takeaway from their lobby store... if you're anything like me, you’ll want everything in there.

anvil
anvil
anvil jackson hole
anvil jackson hole

This hotel is a steal at a price point starting in the low 100’s, especially in shoulder season.  What we loved most about the rooms was that they felt upscale and hip, but also just cozy/small enough that you almost believed you were in a cabin in the woods. The room got cooler at night (by choice, we could’ve turned on the heater, but opted not to), and we loved bundling up under the winter-ready heavy wool blankets adorning each bed. It is safe to say that Anvil encouraged us to fully embrace the cabin feels.

Interestingly, Anvil also has a fun history. Bloomberg recently quite aptly called it “the Wild West’s Dude Ranch for Hipsters”. The hotel has been around a long time (since the 1950’s, when it was considered more of a ‘motel’) and first caught the attention of now-owner hotelier Erik Warner in the mid-90’s. Early in his hospitality career, Warner worked the front desk at the “old” Anvil Hotel, and knew then that it could become something special. But it wasn’t until years later, on a visit back to Jackson Hole in 2014, that he discovered it’s current owners were toying with the idea of selling it. Armed with a couple decades of experience in the hospitality industry, and many successful projects under his belt, the time was finally right. Warner made a successful sales pitch and the Anvil Hotel became his. The entire hotel was gutted to become what it has become today. I suppose the combination of city hotelier flare + traditional Jackson Hole rustic is what makes this place feel so special.

FOOD:

DRINKS:

SHOPS:

  • Stop into Spirit and Spice, try some of the many options on tap, and pick up some gifts for friends/family. They will ship!

jackson cowboy bar
jackson hole
jackson hole
bin22 jackson hole

ACTIVITIES:

FLY JACKSON HOLE AERIAL FLIGHT

My absolute biggest off-season activity recommendation for Jackson, if your wallet allows (and even if it doesn’t, because it’s absolutely worth the splurge), is to take in aerial views of the region with Fly Jackson Hole.  They’ve been around for about 4 years as of 2018, and their operation is based right at the airport, so you can easily get to them – no excuses.  What better way to see absolutely everything Jackson Hole has to offer than to see it all in one epic full swoop?

fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole
Image taken by @bryaneastmedia

Image taken by @bryaneastmedia

We spent a few hours with the pilots, Pete (owner) and Dave, and both are two of the nicest, most charismatic folks you could ever meet.  You get the sense that they really love what they do, love and take pride in Jackson, and simply feel it is their obligation/honor to show other people the place they love so much. 

Importantly, both absolutely know their stuff when it comes to flying, as they have over 50 years of charter flying experience between the two of them. This is an airplane ride you don’t feel even the slightest bit worried or on edge about, which allows you to focus all of your energy on the beauty all around you.

Fly Jackson Hole has 2 planes in their fleet: a Cessna 207 8-seater and a Cessna 172XP.  You can’t go wrong with either – it’s more a matter of how many people you’ve got with you.

fly jackson hole
fly jackson hole

We opted for their Alpenglow Tour, which meant we had 90 minutes in the skies before, during and after sunset.  The tour allowed us to see Jackson and surrounding areas by day, but then get over to the other side of the Tetons to capture photos of that coveted dewey pink just sneaking it’s way across the mountains before the day slipped into night. The best surprise for us was just how much our pilot Dave knew about the region – I’ve been coming to Jackson Hole for years, and felt like I learned more about the entire area in those 90 minutes than I had in a decade. The flight cost was worth the download on local history and knowledge in itself!

If you have any doubts about booking a trip, don’t. Just do it!

Now that we have covered that, here are other off-season activities (check on these before you go, as some are closed at certain points depending on exact timing):

DRIVING / HIKING AROUND THE PARK

jackson hole
jackson hole car
teton national park jackson hole avis
teton national park

I can’t stress enough: the best way to experience Jackson is to get a rental car (even better if it’s 4WD or a fun adventure vehicle) and GO!!! To optimize your time in the region and see everything the park has to offer, you’ll want to be able to get around on your own without relying on hotel shuttles which will only take you to the airport/ski slopes and back. Here are a few must-sees in the park:

moulton barn jackson hole
jackson hole

*BONUS:  Because I attended Outdoor Retailer in Winter 2018, I wanted to share some photos / takeaways from the event for anyone interested in attending a future show.

OUTDOOR RETAILER:

outdoor retailer denver
outdoor retailer denver
outdoor retailer denver

The general consensus especially now that they have split the winter show into two is that it is a much slower show, which actually was nice. It allows people to take a bit more time to chat and feel a little less crunched on time/appointments.  At the 2018 November Winter show, I had a few important takeaways worth sharing around the show and trends across the industry as a whole:

  1. I’ve been really excited to see how many panels/conversations are being had around innovation in an industry that has been slow to change. We are entering a new era.

  2. Sustainability, transparency and a re-examined supply chain continue to be current and relevant issues across many industries - & it definitely applies here. Consumers are getting smarter & want to know what’s in their products, who’s making them, and where they’re coming from. 

  3. Retail and E-commerce as we know it are changing forever, thanks to behemoths like Amazon. Best for retailers to work with it, not against it. 

  4. There is still so much opportunity in the adventure foods landscape - particularly for companies that do things to stand out in a crowded market (i.e. like RXBar). Clif Bar / Larabar, etc. remain dominant players but are ripe for disruption. Bonus pts for clean labels, & fresh/natural trumps long shelf life. A newly discovered favorite brand adhering to this ethos was Four Points Bar. Check them out!

  5. The US & Rest of World operate very independently. Regulations make it hard for brands to export to Europe. Lots of room to improve / work through the regulatory systems in order to take brands GLOBAL.

  6. There’s a real buzz in this industry about using their retail platforms for good to effect real change in the US. Brands are investing a lot of time/resources/marketing $ into causes around public lands & its important work - & is being heard.

 

DISCLOSURE: This trip was sponsored or partially sponsored by Hilton City Center Hotel, Hotel Jackson, Anvil Hotel and Fly Jackson Hole. I thank each for their warm hospitality and partnership. 

Llama Mia!: An Escape to the Mountains of Cordillera Huayhuash & Culinary Tour of Lima

I’ve been going to Patagonia for the past couple of years, as after my first visit a few years back, I thought I had found Heaven on earth and that it simply could not be matched in terms of food, culture, and trekking. But boy, did Peru and the Cordillera Huayhuash give it a run for its money - even with a few travel misfortunes along the way. There is no doubt about it: this part of the world is truly impeccable, still relatively untouched, and in my opinion is a much better alternative to the heavily trafficked Machu Picchu when it comes to Peru adventures (even locals couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going to Cusco and Salkantay).

KLM flies directly from Amsterdam to Lima, which made my trip from Holland *relatively* effortless compared to other South America trips of the past. For example, once you ‘arrive’ in Patagonia, you usually still have a secondary flight and a long drive ahead of you until you arrive at your destination. Lima was a quick 40 minute flight from Huaraz if you opted to take a plane (via LCPeru), or an 8-hour bus ride on a supposedly very nice luxury bus (with hot meals, TV’s, etc.). But be careful: the Lima/Huaraz flights only run once every 48 hours (very early in the morning), and are frequently canceled due to weather. So book at your own risk. (My return flight to Lima was canceled, which left me scrambling, so I speak from experience!)

14 hours of travel later, the journey begins…

HUARAZ

At a little over 10,000 feet, Huaraz is an excellent place to fortify yourself for a high altitude trek. It’s an unexpected town which sits right outside of Huascaran National Park and in the Cordillera Blanca region, and has been called by some as the Chamonix of the Andes (a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea…) It’s the main tourism hub in the Ancash region and it shows: there’s so much happening in this town… certainly enough to keep you intrigued while you wait out a few acclimization days before setting off into the mountains. There are unique and relatively authentic (read: non-touristy) markets, restaurants, shops, and an all around intriguing scene. And not to despair: there are quite a few cozy hang out spots where you genuinely won’t mind setting up with a good book / free Wifi for hours at a time as you acclimate.

*Fun etymology fact:

The name of the city ‘Huaraz’ comes from the Quechua word "Waraq", which translates to "sunrise". Prehispanic people who lived here prayed to a God called the "Waraq coyllur,” or “star of sunrise" or Venus planet, because it is the star that can be seen better from the city at sunrise.

Aerial shot of Huaraz market

Aerial shot of Huaraz market

Huaraz street scene

Huaraz street scene

Birds for sale in Huaraz

Birds for sale in Huaraz

Local bike carrier in Huaraz

Local bike carrier in Huaraz

WHERE TO STAY:

  • Churup Guest House: It’s an adorable hotel/hostel, with plenty of rooms (i.e. if you need a room on an unexpected day as I did, they are generally flexible). The guest house also offers a laundry service at a small additional extra charge - huge perk after you’ve been in the mountains for a couple weeks and are smelling less fresh than a daisy. Plus, they’re great about letting you leave spare bags/equipment while out trekking.

    Most rooms have their own shower (unless you opt for the dormitory-style room), and the common room has a fully-equipped kitchen, a lounge with a fireplace, a TV lounge with cable/a DVD player, and an on-site computer and book exchange. We made new friends here, enjoyed local fruits and cuisine at breakfast, and sat up on the rooftop patio looking directly out at Huascaran with freshly ground coffee every morning. What more can you ask for?

View from Churup Guest House

View from Churup Guest House

Churup 2nd floor lobby

Churup 2nd floor lobby

Churup guest room

Churup guest room

Churup buffet breakfast

Churup buffet breakfast

Breakfast/Coffee:

  • Campo Base: it’s a restaurant in the lobby of a hostel/bed and breakfast, but every time I walked past and saw the BREAKFAST BURRITOS sign, I knew it was a place I wanted to be.

  • Trivio: Solid breakfast spot (try the veggie omelette) with free Wifi. Bonus: they serve the Sierra Andina (local Huaraz brews), so it’s a good spot to try a few or purchase some to take back to your hotel (there’s a cooler with some for purchase by the exit)

Lunch/Dinner:

  • Cafe Andino: this place came highly recommended by a friend and did not disappoint; very cozy, super tourist-friendly. There are fireplaces to lounge by, an abundance of tables and a fun little add-on is a bookshelf with adventure books for trade/purchase; a Huaraz favorite spot

  • Chili Heaven: in my opinion, the best post-trek eats… burritos and beers the size of your head, free WiFi…need I say more?

  • 13 Buhos: an option that will make everybody happy… a wide variety of food, lots of local beer options…try the black ale; yum!

  • Mi Comedia: one word: PIZZA

Drinks:

  • Sierra Andina Brewery: it’s a good jaunt out of town but worth it; call ahead of time to check their hours as they aren’t open every day

Other Things to Note:

  • Montanas Magicas: well-stocked mountain equipment shop in town for anything you may have forgotten or realized you needed

  • Markets: one of the best parts was just wandering the local markets: fruit, chickens, & meat were aplenty!

Locals in Huaraz

Locals in Huaraz

Fruits for sale at Huaraz market

Fruits for sale at Huaraz market

CORDILLERA HUAYHUASH

We used Alpamayo Peru as our guide/porter service and I cannot say enough about the services they provided. Truly first class the whole way, with excellent meals, accommodations, and great communication leading up to the trek. Eleutorio and Nestor are brothers who run the service with their father as a family operation, and they make you feel like a part of their family while on your journey! They are top notch. At one camp site, Nestor even went fishing in the pouring rain, and caught us some Huayhuash trout, serving it for dinner a mere two hours later. Likely the freshest fish I have ever eaten; what a treat!

Here’s the trekking journey we followed (we ended up cutting our trip a bit short due to a number of reasons - illness in the group, weather, bad climbing conditions, so I don’t have photos of the end of the trip, but will include the full itinerary directly from Alpamayo Peru which we intended to follow for reference). A note: many people choose to simply trek, and don’t think about the possibility of climbing; if you have mountaineering experience, I would *highly recommend* including a Diablo Mudo climb at the tail end of the trek!

A note: June/July to October tends to be peak season. As a personal fan of (slightly) shoulder seasons to beat the crowds, I opted to start our trek on October 13th, knowing that it might mean some sketchy weather conditions. And they were indeed. Some days were beautiful, & every single day had it’s moments. But we also got rained/misted/snowed on quite a bit. If you aren’t up for that, I would not wait until October to trek. But if you are, it can be an incredible time as the fog and snow make for some amazing photography and you get to really see Cordillera Huayhuash in all of it’s greatness.

Interacting with locals with Siula Grande in distance

Interacting with locals with Siula Grande in distance

Unloading gear before setting off on Huayhuash

Unloading gear before setting off on Huayhuash

*This itinerary is as provided to us by Alpamayo Peru, so forgive the future tense

Day One: Huaraz _ Llamac _ Cuartelhuain at (4150m)

The first day of the expedition starts. Early in the morning we depart from Huaraz (3300m) and drive in prívate transport to the start of the trek in Llamac. This is where we will meet the rest of the expedition team, the donkey driver and his donkeys and horses who will carry our equipment for the next two weeks. We will have lunch while the donkeys are packed with our trekking bags. After lunch we will start the first amazing part of the Huayhuash circuit following the Quero River to Cuartelhuain (4150m) where we will stay camp the night. travel with car 4 to 5 hours

Day Two: Cuartelhuain _ Mitucocha at (4300mt)

Today we will hike the Cacananpunta Pass (4700m). This remarkable pass lies at the Andean Continental Divide that marks the watershed from the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon. Rivers on the west of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean whilst those to the east flow into the vast Amazon basin. We will have impressive views from the pass over mountains such as Ninashanca (5607m) and Rondoy (5870m). A steep descend brings us into the broad Quebrada Caliente which we follow to our campsite at the blue glacial lake Mitucoche (4300m). This is a spectacular campsite with an inspiring view on the snow-capped peak of Jirishanca (6094m). Walking time is 5-6 hours

Day Three: Mitucocha _ Carhuac Pass (4650mt) _ Laguna Carhuacocha at (4150mt)

Today we follow the Quebrada Caliente until we begin our climb up to the second pass, the Carhuac Pass (4650m). Our hard work is rewarded with fine views on the mountain peaks of Yerupaja (6634m) and Siula Grande (6344m). The Siula Grande is renowned for the mountaineering story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates told in the book and film ‘Touching the Void’. Descending the pass into a grassy valley allow for more views on high peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash, each more spectacular than the other. We make camp at the turquoisegreen coloured Lake Carhuacocha (4150m) with mountains Yerupaja and Jirishanca prominent at the background. This lake offers great photo opportunities when still conditions transform the lake into a mirrorsharply reflecting the snow-capped mountains. Walking time is 6-7 hours.

Looking out at Siula Grande

Looking out at Siula Grande

Interacting with locals

Interacting with locals

Day Four: Laguna Carhuacocha _ Pass Carnisero (4800m) _ Huayhuash at (4750mt)

We leave Lake Carhuacocha early in the morning to start a rough climb up to the poorly defined Carnicero Pass (4600m). The pass will reveal the beautiful lakes of Atocshaic and Carnicero in between the impressive mountains of Trapecio (5653m) and Carnicero (5960m). The Carnicero Mountain is called in English ‘the Butcher’ due to the many fatal attempts to climb the summit. An impressive landscape change occurs after the pass where green alpine pastures become a dry terrain of black rocks and grey lakes. We continue our walk to the small village of Huayhuash (4750m) home to herders of Alpaca and Vicunia and set up our camp for the night. Walking time is 6-7 hours

Day Five: Huayhuash _ Pass Portachuelo (4750mt) _ Laguna Viconga at (4395mt)

We leave the Huayhuash village in the early morning and hike over the Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass (4750m). This pass offers great views on the remote peaks such as Puscanturpa, Cuyoc and Millpo of the Cordillera Raura located to the southeast of the Cordillera Huayhuash. We will set up our camp and let our bodies soak in the well deserved natural hot pools at Lake Viconga (4395m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.

Huayhuash village

Huayhuash village

Fresh trout from Lake Carhuacocha

Fresh trout from Lake Carhuacocha

Day Six: Laguna Viconga _ Cuyoc Pass (5000m) _ Guanacpatay at (4300mt)

We leave Lake Viconga and ascent to the Cuyoc Pass (5000m). This is the highest point of the 13 day full circuit for those who opted out to climb the summit of Diablo Mudo. From the pass we will have a spectacular panorama view on the Huayhuash peaks in the north and the Raura peaks in the south. Further a stunning view of the glacier of Puscanturpa (5650m) completes this awe-aspiring experience. We continue our hike by descending from the pass towards Quebrada Huanactapay and set up camp in Rinconada (4300m). Walking time is 5-6 hours.

Day Seven: Guanacpatay _ Huatiac at (4350m)

Today will be easy hiking through the valley downwards until reaching the village of Huayllap (3700m). We continue the trek climbing gradually up a narrow valley to reach the pastures of Huatiac (4350m). We will set up camp here for the night. Walking time is 4-5 hours

Day Eight: Huatiac _Tapush Pass (4750mt) _ Gashgapampa at (4500mt)

We leave Huatiac in the morning and continue our hike crossing the Tapush Pass (4800m). We set up camp at Gashgapampa (4500m) from where we will start early in the morning our climb to the mountain summit of Diablo Mudo (5350m). Walking time is 4-5 hours.

Day Nine: Gashgapampa _ Climb Diablo Mudo (5350mt) _ Laguna Jahuacocha

Extra: We will have a nocturnal rise early in the morning and start our climb to the summit of Diablo Mudo. At this hour of the day the snow is frozen and will allow us climbing the mountain with better grip. We will have amazing views when the sun rises and enjoy awe-inspiring summit views on the entire region.

Day Ten: Laguna Jahuacocha _ Pass Pampa llamac (4300mt) _ Descent back to Llamac

Today is the last day of the trek hiking from Jahuacocha to the village of Llamac. One more time we can enjoy the awe inspiring mountain range of the Cordillera Huayhuash where we have walked through for the past two weeks and which has been become a part of us. Walking time is 5-6 hours

Huayhuash Trek

Huayhuash Trek

Siula Pass on Huayhuash

Siula Pass on Huayhuash

LIMA

Completely underrated culinary capital of the world. Definitely don’t sleep on the Peruvian flavors and their emergence as all signs are pointing towards a heavy Peruvian influence on future food/ag/culinary trends around the world.

Lima was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. I only spent time in the Miraflores / Barranco areas and was quite pleased to just stay in that area given my time constraints.

The thing that surprised me most was the street art scene! Having been to places like Valparaiso, Chile which is quite famous for its street art, I didn’t think it could be matched. But Lima was a pleasant surprise and I saw some really unique/intricate art around every corner in Miraflores.

Let’s start with the basics, then I’ll get into a few fun ideas for if you have some extra time.

Street art in Miraflores

Street art in Miraflores

Fish street art in Lima

Fish street art in Lima

Places to Stay:

  • Atemporal Hotel: one of the best hotel experiences I have ever had; an extremely boutique accommodation with individual attention. Breakfast is top-notch, local, and abundant. Save room for it. They also have bikes and a car available on site for rent if you want to go someplace that is not walkable. *Bonus perk: the hotel is right down the street from one of my favorite restaurants in Lima, the Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, which boasts one of the most incredible restaurant settings I’ve seen around the world, as each seat looks out over pre-Inca archaeological ruins - smack in the middle of a city! It simply can’t be beat.

Lounge at Atemporal

Lounge at Atemporal

Atemporal Lima buffet brunch

Atemporal Lima buffet brunch

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Zacateca Paletas

Zacateca Paletas

La Calaca Paletas

La Calaca Paletas

Tijuana Paletas

Tijuana Paletas

OK… now onto a few fun things, if your schedule allows (mind you, I did all of this in about 30 hours, which is what is so great about Lima - it’s easily accessible, walkable, and everything is pretty close if you’re willing/able to handle a high step count day or two!):

Those of you who have been following my blogs for awhile know how much I try to really indulge in the food scenes in each place I visit. As a former non-foodie, I think I’ve been converted. And I’m not talking “visit every 5 star restaurant the city has to offer”; I’m talking: try ALL of the local things, and really experience what it means to BE in a place.

I suppose the fact I was reading Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate all throughout this trip just further reinforced how important it is to partake in food culture and appreciate where the food is coming from. Like you would want to taste Iberico pork in Spain from the local dehesa, I wanted to experience what Peruvian food tasted like as well - at the source. In Barber’s words, “the greatest lesson came with the realization that good food cannot be reduced to single ingredients. It requires a web of relationships to support it. When you pursue great flavor, you also pursue great ecology.” And I’ve come to realize that one can best appreciate these interrelationships and the food that results from them in their place of origin.

I knew that Anthony Bourdain spoke highly of Lima as a favored culinary destination, so I used my Foursquare app (recommended, though be mindful it is sometimes terribly outdated) to map out a walking tour of the city with a few of his favorite places, and it was just a lovely way to walk in his shoes, and see exactly what he experienced. I watched his Parts Unknown: Peru show after the fact where he visited each of the places I did, which was a fun way to come full circle on the experience.

In the words of Bourdain, “We are, after all, citizens of the world - a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Senor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head. What's that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off? I want some.” 

Here are the places he/I went:

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

Amaz Lima

La Canta Rana

La Canta Rana

If you have the time, I would also suggest trying to hunt down as many of the backstreet cevicherias in Lima that locals wish were kept a secret as possible!

As a final way to throw myself into local culture, I challenged myself to try as many Peruvian fruits as possible of the 20 Peruvian Fruits You Need to Try. I think I got to 13 (some of which were consumed in paleta form, which is definitely not cheating). My hotel, Atemporal Lima was a huge help in this as they checked off 3-4 of the fruits just at the breakfast buffet, which was highly appreciated! I also visited Mercado San Isidro which was slightly off piste but well worth the visit, as it was a large produce market boasting every local fruit I could imagine (and it was clear I wasn’t the only one with this idea, as I saw a number of big tour busses there and tourists walking around in groups, being led by a guide.)

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Mercado San Isidro

Last but not least…

PACKING & PREPARATION TIPS!

We are all perfectly capable of Googling “how to prepare for a 10 day backpacking trip” and for those of us who have a few mountaineering expeditions under our belt, you generally know the drill.

So rather than list the obvious, I’m going to give you my NON-list PACKING/PREPARATION LIST, i.e. the things that I would not necessarily have thought about, but was glad I either had/did - or wish I had done, and hope to impart on you.

  • Money: get local currency (soles) from an ATM early and often on your trip; we found it challenging to get money from the ATM’s in Huaraz without paying exorbitant fees, and wished we had done some currency swapping earlier

  • Food/Gear: if you’re working with a guide/trekking org, check with them ahead of time to see what meals they will provide/what gear will be available for rent. I personally hauled way more trail snacks than I needed down to Peru, which added weight to my pack. I also could’ve used some of their equipment & saved myself the packing space (crampons, ice axe, helmet, etc.) Some people are partial to their own gear, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re short on space/weight.

  • Socks: you will never regret bringing a couple extras, especially for the wet days. Or a fun colorful pair - they make for excellent tent shot photos. Just do it!

  • Extras: the little things went such a long way on the trek… for me, it was my: Kindle, mini tent lamp (in addition to headlamp!), and solar charger which saved my butt on entertainment, lighting, and power for my camera/phone/electronics

  • Google Tools: download offline maps for Huaraz & Huayhuash, also download the offline version of Google Translate. You’ll thank me later. We would’ve run into a lot of trouble without offline translations on my phone, as in this part of the world, English-speaking folks are more of the exception than the rule.

Packing at home in Amsterdam

Packing at home in Amsterdam

Camp views at Mitucocha

Camp views at Mitucocha

72 Hours in Chamonix: Summer edition

Rather than bore you with our *exact* weekend itinerary - because let's be honest, you don't need to know what we did from morning til night (and believe me, you really don't want to know all the details), I thought it would make most sense to lay out the best of the best things to do while in Chamonix over a summer weekend. I've intentionally not gone too detailed here as I think the best spots are THE BEST SPOTS and you should take our word for it and focus on those (for example, we went back to Cool Cats 4x over the weekend, so yeah - you can say we're regulars). In my humble opinion, you truly cannot go wrong with any of the below. 

GETTING TO CHAMONIX

Land, and walk immediately to the Mountain Dropoffs desk. (Make a reservation ahead of time, and put in your itinerary on their website, and they will figure out all the details for you - you just need to show up). 

They're the best outfitter in town and their drivers are usually awesome and fun to talk to. I've met new adventure friends on the one hour shuttle every time I've ever taken it and subsequently planned trips around the world with them (hi Scott!) - you're always destined to have a good time with Mountain Dropoffs. 

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chamonix

WHERE TO STAY

I've stayed at a few hotels in Chamonix, all with good experiences/great amenities:

ACTIVITIES

  • Lac Blanc: Wake up early and either walk or shuttle to the Flegere lift. Take the cable car up and hike to Lac Blanc (half day activity)
  • Mer de Glace: Take the Aguille du Midi cable car halfway up to Plan d'Aguille, and hike over to Lac Bleu & Mer de Glace.  Stop at the hut for photos, a beer, some souvenirs & take the train back to Chamonix (half day activity)
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  • Arête des Cosmiques: Hire a guide for the day to take you out trekking from the top of l'Aguille du Midi. As for premium adventure companies, I cannot recommend Adventure Base enough.  We went on the day's adventure with Fabio from Adventure Base.  After spending time with him, he is in my humble opinion one of the best, most experienced guides in Chamonix & has become a personal friend.  Adventure Base as an organization is great, as you can contact them with your desired activity for the day like we did, and they will line you up with an available guide. We wanted to do a half day trip alpine ridge, and AB did not disappoint!
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aguille du midi
aguille du midi

POST HIKE EATS

  • Cool Cats Chamonix: something tells me you also want to look as cool as Chaniel and get this 'cool' picture for the gram. But besides the photo opp, their artisanal hot dogs, indulgent nachos and fries are the perfect post-hike refuel. You will not regret it. I think about their pulled pork nachos every day.
  • Chambre Neuf: after a few days of french fries, nachos and hot dogs, my body was screaming for some nutrition... get the salmon salad and a charcuterie plate and you won't be disappointed.
  • Elevation 1904: American food... beers, burgers, burritos. Cannot go wrong.
cool cats chamonix
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BEST WATERING HOLES

  • Micro Brasserie de Chamonix: good selection of locally brewed beers which are great, though I recommend against the food there, as it is rather uninspiring
  • Berlucoquet Wine Bar: amazing curated wines and the sweetest couple own the place (and have for over a decade), perfect place to spend a rainy evening
  • The Pub: the best place to catch a game, knock back a few Heinekens, and take in some live music

FANCY(ISH) EATS

We didn't do a lot of eating out at fancy restaurants but from prior experience, I can recommend:

  • Restaurant Cap Horn: truly a nice night out with white tablecloths and a dressier scene, though they have a sushi menu too for the more price conscious
  • Munchie: Sushi, Asian food, with a creative twist. Lots of options and a moderately priced menu. A nice scene.
  • Atmosphere: pricier, white table cloth, but worth every penny. A nice ambiance, with classic and well-prepared European cuisine.

SPECIAL MENTION

  • We went to Buck's every day for breakfast. Their smoked salmon bagel, quiche and coffees kept us going all week long, and it was right on the way to the Aiguille du Midi tram station. Easy for breakfast and for grabbing a sandwich to-go. A two-for-one stop. 
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Best of Amsterdam: Visit Like A Local

As an American living in Amsterdam, I am asked monthly, if not weekly, for Amsterdam recommendations... and I can't say I blame people for struggling with what to do here (I was in your shoes every time I visited before moving to the Netherlands). 

With that said, and admittedly biased as a now-resident, I think Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in Europe. Accordingly, I feel it is actually my duty to help people see the *real* Amsterdam - the one with which I have become enamored - and enjoy it in all of its glory, even if for just a weekend.

My goal in writing this list is to get people off the beaten path, not just walking around the riff-raffy Amsterdam you hear about in tales and guide books from decades ago. The city has become quite gentrified and is no longer the red light window-dominated scene that it used to be. It's interesting, modern, forward-thinking, and full of charm - if you know where to look.

Without further ado, these are my recommendations for this city I have grown to love so dearly. I think these locations give tourists at least a preliminary sense of Dutch culture, city life - but with a touch of hospitality since you are on vacation after all. Of course, these are just my recommendations, and I certainly have not tried everything - but I feel comfortable sending people to each and every one of these, and they have impressed me time and time again - enough that I just keep going back!

HOTELS:

  • The Hoxton - super mod, posh, and a lobby / lounge scene enjoyed by even locals. You can never go wrong staying at a Hoxton and the rooms are super quirky, Amsterdammy, and many offer canal views.

  • The Pulitzer - a unique hotel, as it is made up of an intricate maze of 25 connecting Golden Age canal houses. They also offer a really unique wooden boat tour (far less touristy than the stretch limo Lover's Canal Cruise boats) of Amsterdam (cost not included), which can be arranged at the front desk.

  • The Weavery - for a real, authentic canal house experience. The owners are just lovely (tell Bettina and Driss that I sent you!) and it's a B&B type experience (but don't worry, they are hands-off and won't be in your space if you so choose.

  • Mr. Jordaan - slightly off the beaten path, in a good way - a fun opportunity to stay in one of the hip Amsterdam neighborhoods, the Jordaan district. Near weekend markets, fun shops, etc.

RESTAURANTS:

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH:

  • Buffet van Odette - you actually can't go wrong with anything on their menu - believe me, I've tried it all

  • Winkel 43 - this place has been around for decades. You only need to know two words when you go there: Apple Pie. I've never had a better one.

  • Omelegg - if you are a fan of omelettes and eggs, then head here. There are two locations: the Red Light District (tourist central) and one in De Pijp. I'd recommend the latter.

CASUAL LUNCH/DINNER:

  • Cafe de Blaffende Vis - a rotating small menu of Dutch favorites and snacks - a great place to spend the night drinking Heineken after Heineken

  • La Perla - absolute best pizza in town - you can take away from across the street, if you prefer

  • Foodhallen - a large hall of food vendors, open 7 days a week - large variety of food/drinks to try and a fun scene!

  • Boca's - sharing platters of classic favorites with a local twist; get the fries sampler

  • Thrill Grill - great burger spot which has Beyond Meat on offer; lots of meatless options!

  • VEGAN OPTION: Meatless District - consistently voted one of the best vegan options in the Netherlands, but definitely not a sleeper option even for those who enjoy meat; every meal is divine.

TRADITIONAL DUTCH:

  • Cafe de Tuin - quite a fun local scene, get the bitterballen - it makes all of the lists for being the best in town

  • Moeders - the most Dutch that you can get; the walls are adorned with photos of actual moms and antiques. A quirky place that can't be missed

NICE EVENING OUT:

  • Choux Restaurant - a less traditional menu which you choose by selecting ingredients which appeal, and are presented with surprising, unexpected dishes. An amazing wine selection as well.

  • Restaurant Vlaming - classic, extremely well prepared dishes in a fun neighborhood with cozy scene. Even Bill Clinton recently went here!

  • Repeat from above: Buffet van Odette - they can do no wrong.

DRINKS:

FOODS TO TRY:

  • Bitterballen

  • Stroopwafels

  • Fries with various mayos/ketchups/sauces

  • Herring sandwich

  • Tony's Chocolonely (buy a bunch and bring em home - they make great gifts! The orange flavor, salty chocolate, is the most popular and for good reason!)

Gran Paradiso & Mont Blanc Expedition in Chamonix with Mont Blanc Guides

"We all have the same sickness," said our guide Fabio, in reference to himself and the three other mountain guides leading our trip. "All of us guides come from different places in the world, but all four of us are afflicted with the same disease: we just cannot get enough of the mountains, and the list of places to see never gets shorter." These type of sick people, I've come to realize, are my tribe - and his comments couldn't have made me feel more at home as I threw myself into another high altitude expedition and a week in Chamonix with Mont Blanc Guides.

Ever since moving to Europe a few years ago, I have had my sights set on Mont Blanc. In fact, a first-time trip to the Alps (more specifically, the almighty Matterhorn in neighbouring Zermatt, Switzerland) is what inspired me to move to Europe in the first place. It took only one time trekking the trails and traversing the mountains in Switzerland and I was hooked. I knew I needed to spend much more time in these precious places - and what better way to fulfill this dream than to summit the highest peak in the Alps. 

Mont Blanc Guides chalet in Chamonix

Mont Blanc Guides chalet in Chamonix

Three course meals at the chalet

Three course meals at the chalet

My experience has taught me that these types of mountain expeditions are best completed with 1) a knowledgeable and experienced guide, and 2) a group of similarly fit, like-minded individuals, with whom to share the experience. After all, the best things truly are most enjoyed with good company.  While I appreciate the people who boast about completing missions "un-guided," I've come to greatly appreciate the value in having a guide, as learning not only technical skills, but also about the local culture/history is equally as important to me as the mission itself. 

With this thought in mind, I set out to find a solid resource which would make this possible and within minutes, I landed on the website of Mont Blanc Guides. Needless to say, they know what they are doing and made it an incredibly easy decision for me to choose to work with them. Their website was in English (more rare than you might think), well laid out/organized, and even provided a "fitness test" to new mountaineers to help determine how close they were to the fitness level needed to succeed at summiting something like Mont Blanc.

The other important differentiator to me was the fact that Mont Blanc Guides would handle all logistics - from meals, to lodging, to guides, and hut reservations.  Anybody who has taken on big mountaineering adventures, knows these details are a substantial part of the trip and require someone who knows what they are doing and has it down to a science.

Other services/providers I looked at required you to find your own hotel room for the week (and who really wants to go back to a hotel across town every night only to meet up with your crew again the next morning?), or provide your own meals. MBG on the other hand, houses all participants in "The Castle" or the chalet, right in the middle of Chamonix. You get a bunk buddy for the week, as you are required to share a twin room with a fellow guest, and everyone enjoys a three course breakfast/dinner together on all nights spent at the Castle. Plus, because it is 'home' for the week, you have a place to leave your things even when you are up in the mountain huts - which was a game changer for someone like me, who absolutely hates dealing with the logistical nightmare of having to unpack and repack bags all week, only to put them into storage. In the end, it was an easy sell and I happily sent off my deposit to MBG.

Sunny Chamonix afternoon

Sunny Chamonix afternoon

Chamonix downtown

Chamonix downtown

I chose to start my 6-day course on a Saturday, so I would only need to take 5 days off of work. I flew from Amsterdam into Geneva, arranged a quick one hour shuttle with the most popular service in town (Mountain Dropoffs), and was at the chalet in no time. The group who had started their trek on Wednesday that week was there when I walked in the door and overlapped with us in the chalet on our first night, which gave us ample time to get a realtime download of what the week would hold -- from a client perspective, which tends to be the most honest. They gave us tips as to what gear we would need vs what we wouldn't, where to stock up on Snickers bars in town, and what advice to take/ignore, all of which was immensely helpful to make sure we had the important stuff. 

We also had plenty of time to wander around Chamonix - which in the summer season, is quite the attraction in itself. During the week we were there, a slew of ultramarathons and mountain races were taking place, and at any given time, one could catch a plethora of post-race runners stumbling around town on a quest to find a burger and a beer. It was an awesome time of year to just hang out, people watch, and shop to your heart's delight (I spent what felt like half of my month's pay check in Salomon, Millet, and Columbia - damn you, Chamonix).  

Twin room in Mont Blanc Guides chalet

Twin room in Mont Blanc Guides chalet

Gear laid out "military style" for inspections

Gear laid out "military style" for inspections

DAY ONE: TREK TO CHABOD HUT ON WAY TO GRAN PARADISO

After our first dinner getting to know our adventure-mates for the week, we all woke up ready and excited to start our quest.  The morning started with a quick debriefing and intro from John, the MBG founder, after which we were instructed to lay out our gear on our beds "military style," so our diligent guides could survey our gear.  They were quite strict with us as to what we should/could bring up the mountain, and rightfully so, as every extra item (literally, shampoo bottles were eliminated from the packing list) adds extra weight to your back during the climb.

The packing list on the MBG website was pretty straightforward and technical items (ice axe, crampons, harness) could be rented from MBG on site, which made things easy (I didn't want to be troubled with trying to get crampons through airport security!). Anything else you were missing could be bought or rented in town, which was a 5 min walk away - Chamonix is the mecca of mountaineering, after all, so you did not need to walk far to find the necessities. 

Around 11am, we were off over the border to Italy for a three day training climb of Gran Paradiso (4061m).  They took it easy on us for the first day: we only needed to get ourselves up 1000m to the Chabod hut, which took 2.5 hours in the afternoon.  At the hut, we settled into our bunks (all 10 of us, including guides, shared one bedroom, which was surprisingly comfy), and enjoyed some downtime. Showers were pay-per-shower (3 Euros each), and beers/snacks could be purchased at a reasonable price with cash. Most of us waited to shower until the next day, knowing it would be most appreciated post-summit.  After a hearty pasta dinner and dessert, we were off to bed, as the 4am wake up call would come quickly.

Group photo halfway up to Chabod hut

Group photo halfway up to Chabod hut

Settling into bunk beds at Chabod hut

Settling into bunk beds at Chabod hut

DAY TWO: CHABOD HUT TO GRAN PARADISO SUMMIT AND BACK

Mont Blanc Guides aptly calls this day the "dress rehearsal" for Mont Blanc.  And indeed it is.  You rise at 4am, do a last check of your bag, and prepare to head up the mountain. One of my teammates, Kevin, made the fatal mistake of turning on the light in the dorm room we all shared at 3:55am, only to be yelled at to turn it off, and give us our last 5 minutes of rest. (He didn't make that mistake again the rest of the trip.) Once we were all awake, all we had left to do was shove as many calories into our mouths as possible before setting out.

This morning served to be an excellent trial run indeed, as it made the gear prep and check for Mont Blanc only a couple of days later far easier, having already done it once.  From the Chabod hut up to the summit, we only had to climb 1400m, so not terrible, and was a good opportunity for us all to test out our crampon and ice axe skills. 

Approaching the summit of Gran Paradiso

Approaching the summit of Gran Paradiso

Gran Paradiso Summit

Gran Paradiso Summit

The ascent took around 4-5 hours, which was the requirement from Mont Blanc Guides for us to "prove" that we were worthy (and not a safety hazard) for the much bigger Mont Blanc trek later in the week. The entire team made it without too much trouble, and we waited our turn to summit at the somewhat congested Gran Paradiso summit ridge. This ridge was by far the scariest part of any climbing that week, as there is quite a substantial exposed section. I'm pretty sure I heard about 14 different languages being spoken amongst the 40-50 individuals scrambling around at the top, and it was quite entertaining despite all the chaos to hear the guides quibble with each other over whose group would go first.  Totally worth it for the #summitselfie.

The walk back down was easy and uneventful, and quite slushy given the sun had come up and already started to melt quite a bit of the snow which had been frozen solid on our way up. Conditions this time of year were perfect, with minimal sketchy crevasses, so we could glissade down the mountain without needing to exercise too much caution.

Descent to Chabod Hut from Gran Paradiso Summit

Descent to Chabod Hut from Gran Paradiso Summit

Beers were enjoyed upon our return to the chalet, knowing that all we had to do the next day was get back down to the car and rest.

DAY THREE: CHABOD HUT TO CHALET / CHAMONIX

We did an easy descent on Day 3 from the Chabod Hut through a scenic Gran Paradiso National Park. Given that Gran Paradiso and this portion of the week was in Italy, it was only fitting for us to stop for espressos and gelato before heading back into France. That pistachio and stracciatella gelato was well-earned, and I enjoyed it accordingly.

We were back in Chamonix by early afternoon, which gave us ample time to do some shopping, indulge in a much-needed shower, eat a hearty three course chalet dinner, and unpack/repack our bags for the big show, which would commence the next morning.

DAY FOUR: CHAMONIX TO TETE ROUSSE HUT

We started this morning by meeting the additional 2 guides who would be joining us on this trip: Ally and Tomas. We were only required to have one guide per 4 people for the Gran Paradiso outing, but for a Mont Blanc summit, it was necessary to have one guide for every 2 people. Both guides were awesome: Ally and I swapped stories about Yosemite and Bay Area adventures and travel mishaps (we had both spent a decent amount of time out there over the past couple of years), and Tomas relived stories of his very admirable Andean summits, whilst reminding me that fashion is "very important" in the mountains (as he adjusted his intentionally mismatched blue and yellow socks.) We were off to an excellent start with our late joiners.

There are many schools of thought as to the best way to climb Mont Blanc. Some people believe that the Gouter hut gives the best chance at summitting, as it is up higher on the mountain, and breaks up the ascent into two reasonable day climbs.  But reservations are harder to come by there, and the Tete Rousse (3167m up) has its benefits as well.  In our case, the Tete Rousse was a bit more accomodating for our needs, so we resolved to stay there both the night before and after our attempted summit. This decision also allowed us to again have a "home base" where we could leave our belongings on summit day (no need for toiletries, etc, to be going up the mountain with us), which made for lighter packs. 

Ascending to the Tete Rousse hut

Ascending to the Tete Rousse hut

Climbers gather before dinner at Tete Rousse hut

Climbers gather before dinner at Tete Rousse hut

We were in position for the next day's ascent with minimum energy expenditure, and at 3167m, our overnight at Tete Rousse allowed us to acclimatize gradually as we worked our way up the mountain. We enjoyed a dinner of lentil soup, bread/cheese, and beef stew to fuel us for the next day's adventure, and were in bed by 8:30pm, in anticipation of a 4am wakeup call for our summit. 

DAY FIVE: THE BIG SHOW: ASCENT OF MONT BLANC (4,808m)

I couldn't believe how quickly summit day was upon us, as it seemed like we had just arrived in Chamonix, yet here we had already climbed one mountain and spent nearly a week together.

We rolled out of bed at Tete Rousse at the very generous wakeup time of 4am (other teams had left at 1am, but we opted for a later start given the anticipated weather window) and started our journey up.  All week, our guides and John at MBG had given us advice which I found to really come in handy on summit day: 'take the summit in 2 hour intervals, and just keep moving - don't worry about the end.'  They were spot on with the advice. All in all, we targeted to have a 11-12 hour day from Tete Rousse to summit and back. 6 sets of 2 hour pushes - easy.

The route from Tete Rousse hut to summit - 12 hours round trip

The route from Tete Rousse hut to summit - 12 hours round trip

The ascent / summit portion of the day could best be thought of in three sections:

1) Tete Rousse Hut (3,167m) to Gouter Hut (3,815m): a steep rock climb/scramble.

The Tete Rousse to Gouter hut was the most demanding section of the entire summit bid for me. Not only are you doing this part in the dark, but there is quite a bit of scrambling which requires a lot of emotional energy/attention early on in the day. Fortunately, the sun did begin to come up pretty soon after we started, given the long days this time of the year, which made for a beautiful sunrise.

The Grand Couloir (location shown on map), only an hour into the ascent, has also earned itself quite a reputation and has itself inhibited many climbers from even getting up onto the mountain for an attempt at the summit. One only needs to YouTube "Grand Couloir Mont Blanc" to see why; this area is completely fine/safe when nothing is happening there, but on a bad day, rocks the size of basketballs come aggressively tumbling down the mountain and propel people down the couloir before you know what has hit you - and has led to many of the fatalities on the mountain in the past. It's absolutely necessary to approach this section with caution and the proper equipment - crampons, and proper ropes (thankfully, we did not find out until later that an unprepared climber had tumbled to their death off this section only 12 hours prior to us crossing). 

 After two hours of hard and cautious climbing paired with incredible sunrise views of the Alps, we found ourselves approaching the Gouter hut.

Sun rising as we made our way towards the Gouter hut

Sun rising as we made our way towards the Gouter hut

Approaching the Gouter hut after a two hour scramble

Approaching the Gouter hut after a two hour scramble

2) Gouter hut to the Vallot hut (4,362m): a very snowy uphill walk/climb.

We stopped in at the Gouter hut after the initial climb to leave behind some equipment (helmets were no longer necessary after the first scramble), warm up, and have a quick cup of coffee with a snack - which to be honest, felt a bit like cheating the summit, but was a welcome respite.

(*Fun fact: gouter, in French, actually means to have an afternoon snack, so it is aptly named as a designated place to sit, take some time, and eat to fuel up!)

The new Gouter hut was built in 2013

The new Gouter hut was built in 2013

Heading up the mountain post Gouter hut mid morning

Heading up the mountain post Gouter hut mid morning

Only 20 minutes later, we were bundled back up and ready to head to the Vallot hut. This 2-hour stretch was one of the most enjoyable, as the morning light was perfectly illuminating all of the surrounding alps, and the walking was relatively effortless so long as you were paying attention. We were extremely fortunate with weather conditions and enjoyed a perfect blue bird morning. No major effort needed here, other than to just keep walking and stay warm.

3) Vallot hut (4,362m) to Mont Blanc Summit (4,810m) : the final steep, sketchy/icy/windy 2.5 hour push. 

The Vallot hut was truly a sight to see, and was a good stop off point to check in with other climbers. While called a hut, it is really a glorified shoebox, as it's only a 35 m^2 shelter made of aluminum sheets placed on both sides of two thin layers of plywood. We popped in to do a quick clothing swap (here, we added every layer we had brought including wind proof pants and heavy jackets), and chat with a few other climbers who were either also headed for the summit or had just come down. What I didn't expect to see when we walked in was 7 or 8 climbers piled upon each other in a corner, in full gear (sunglasses, goggles and all!), sleeping in unison. Likely they had already summited that morning and were too wrecked to head back down without a bit of shuteye. Others stood around, waiting for the winds to die down for a second attempt to summit, as excessive winds earlier in the morning had thwarted their first attempts, but not enough for them to give up on the day. There was a real sense of simple and pure mountain camaraderie there which I will not soon forget.

Vallot Hut is an aluminum shed for climbers to rest

Vallot Hut is an aluminum shed for climbers to rest

After 10 minutes and a couple packs of energy chews later, we headed out for our final summit push! Those last two and a half hours were challenging and required you to be careful, so as not to make a misstep on some of the more narrow areas as you approached the summit. Fortunately, I have never had any issues with altitude sickness which meant I felt quite well as we approached the 4,810m summit, while some of the others on our trip fought a constant feeling of illness/headache and shortness of breath. Thankful to not be afflicted with any significant physical complaints, I truly and humbly had nothing to do but keep walking (there were quite a few false summits on your way up), and take in the absolutely incredible views of the Alps (when not getting pelted in the face with ice). With views like those, I could have kept walking for hours, but was happy when we finally reached the summit around 10:30am. WE DID IT!!

The way down was uneventful, but it has to be said that like on any mountain, it is especially wise not to be lazy on the descent, as this is where costly mistakes are often made. Especially on the initial two hour scramble, which would be the final 2 hours of our descent that day, we had to be especially cautious as many rocks were loose and falling. Not to mention, we still had to cross the Grand Couloir, which always requires special attention and respect. On our way down, we heard helicopters, which it turned out were there trying to locate the belongings of the person who had fallen to their death the day prior. Quite the ominous background sound, for tired climbers just wanting to get back to the hut - and a clear reminder of the dangers of the mountains.  Fortunately, we went through all of the above without incident, and were back down at the Tete Rousse by around 3:30pm. 

DAY SIX: TETE ROUSSE HUT BACK TO VALLEY / CHAMONIX

We all woke up super pleased with ourselves for our work the day prior, and scarfed down breakfast, anxious to get down off the mountain and shower since we had not been able to after the summit (no running water at the Tete Rousse hut!)

After 3 short hours of uneventful downhill hiking and a quick train ride the rest of the way, we were back in the village and made time to pose for one more group shot.

Team photo in village post-Mont Blanc summit

Team photo in village post-Mont Blanc summit

Veggie tacos and sweet potato fries from Monkey, the perfect post-adventure meal

Veggie tacos and sweet potato fries from Monkey, the perfect post-adventure meal

We went back to the chalet, where a plethora of homemade cakes and pastries were waiting for us with coffee and tea (and a couple well-earned Heinekens for good measure!) and we made one final toast to our guides before we would send them along their way.

As we sat around the table recounting stories and laughs from the past week, Tomas prompted us to go around the table and each give one word that would best describe our feelings about the week/adventure. "ICY, hard, fun..." answered my new friends around the table... then my word came to me quickly and easily: INSPIRING.

The people I had been around the entire week INSPIRED me to want to complete this task as a team. The guides we had the pleasure of climbing with motivated and INSPIRED me to want to keep pushing my limits, and more importantly: become a smarter mountaineer. The experience itself, too, further INSPIRED the "sickness" in me: to keep on chasing these summits, pushing beyond my comfort zones, and not let anything stand in the way.

So, I said it then and I stand by my (cheesy, but true) word choice today: climbing Mont Blanc INSPIRED me, and I suspect will continue to inspire me to chase my affliction for many years to come :)

Three final things:

1) I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing dinner we had as a team on our last night in Chamonix. We went to Monkey and it was incredible - great tacos, burgers, fries, beer selection and all of the other post-adventure food you could ever ask for.  It's a must.

2) We spoke in quite a lot of depth while trekking about Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, as well as his thoughts on living an unconventional life. Those discussions have stuck with me and rattled around in my head since. I would like to leave you with a few of my favorite quotes I've been reading, in reflection:

“There was no solution, save that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insolvable: One must live in the needs of the day--that is, forget oneself.” 

“Without knowledge of what I am and why I am here, it is impossible to live, and since I cannot know that, I cannot live either. In an infinity of time, in an infinity of matter, and an infinity of space a bubble-organism emerges while will exist for a little time and then burst, and that bubble am I.” 

“There are people who, on meeting a successful rival, no matter in what, are at once disposed to turn their backs on everything good in him, and to see only what is bad. There are people, on the other hand, who desire above all to find in that lucky rival the qualities by which he has outstripped them, and seek with a throbbing ache at heart only what is good.”

3) One final shoutout to our guides, all of whom I would highly recommend to ANYONE for any Chamonix outings, or other expeditions around the world... I would trust any of these guys with my life on a future mountain expedition, and am so excited to follow all of their future adventures:

 

Neil Mackay https://skiascent.com/

Fabio Levi https://www.facebook.com/fabio.levi 

Ally Swinton http://allyswinton.blogspot.com/

Tomas Franchini https://tomasfranchini.com/ 

The Ultimate Guide to Tel Aviv: Hotels, Food, & Paletas

It was recently pointed out to me that I probably know Tel Aviv better than I know my current home city – which made me think that a highlights post could be useful to others who are visiting this interesting and dynamic city for the first time or others just looking for a few new spots to try on an upcoming visit.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Tel Aviv. The beach, the people, the ever developing and changing food culture, Israeli wines, the Bauhaus architecture, the weather, and of course the history. 

But maybe not the politics. I will leave it with the fact that I believe that you have to visit the place to better understand. The lens through which the world sees Israel portrayed can only be interpreted and then commented on once you have seen it yourself.

So – what to do, where to sleep, eat and drink in Tel Aviv? 

Stay:

I like to stay within walking distance of the sea. The beachfront is impressive and offers miles/km of walking, running, biking, scooting, swimming, surfing, outdoor gym, volleyball, kadima, people watching, restaurant, bar options and of course sand (it’s good beach sand, not that rocky stuff you get elsewhere on the Mediterranean). The beach front promenade is being renovated (finishing later 2018) and is a great investment made by the city 

TLV beach

I tend to avoid the larger hotels... I know some that like the reliability of the Hilton, the David Intercontinental, the Sheraton, etc - but for me they feel like any other hotel in the world and my preference is always for the smaller, quirkier, unique hotels that better reflect where they are.

Mendeli Street Hotel –  boutique-y and the rooms are on the small side but super comfortable and they have possibly the best breakfast in Tel Aviv courtesy of Mashya  (see restaurants below)

Mendeli Street Hotel

Market House Hotel   – boutique hotel in Old Jaffa next to the market… flea market by day, hub for dining, drinking and socializing at night. Try to get one of the rooms with a balcony. Glass floor panels in the lobby show old Jaffa ruins discovered during renovation.

The Setai   – right on the ‘corner’ of the Old Port in Jaffa. Was under construction for years and is now open. It looks great from the outside and website and the location is excellent. Will try to stay there at some point.

Brown Hotels  – I have not stayed in them but walk past them, some are in good locations and look like solid options from the outside/lobby.

Tel Aviv beachfront

Tel Aviv beachfront

Eat:  

Mediterranean / Middle Eastern?:  it is a difficult and catch all category to assign… let’s just call it Israeli Cuisine:

Pua - a bit of a clunky website but don’t be put off by it and go. Ask for a table outside (one side of the street is smoking, the other is non but it does not really matter). The salads are good, and don’t be discouraged by the menu item called ‘Meat Sandwich’ – it is excellent; as are the dumplings and the fish kebab.

Pu'a Restaurant in Jaffa

Pu'a Restaurant in Jaffa

La Shuk - terrible website. Great food.  Dizengoff Square is under construction so sit inside/at the bar.

Mashya is one of Tel Aviv’s top rated restaurants and is busy almost every night of the week. It is innovative Israeli cuisine and uses local and seasonal ingredients. A bit spendy, but super tasty - it is in the Mendeli Street Hotel so can feel a bit redundant if you are staying there.

Container - in the Old Jaffa Port. Go here during the day, sit outside after you have been trekking around all over the city and have a refreshing beverage and snack. Excellent view of the water and equally excellent people watching.

Night Kitchen - reminds me a lot of La Shuk (above) but is perhaps a notch or two 'trendier' reflected in both its decor and the people that visit it. This could be because of the location as well... who knows - it is a good, fun restaurant - another 'multiple dishes to share' concept.

Night Kitchen - Lilenblum Street Tel Aviv near Rothchild Boulevard

Night Kitchen - Lilenblum Street Tel Aviv near Rothchild Boulevard

Barvazu Urban Sandwich - the Mac & Cheese 

Barvazu Urban Sandwich - the Mac & Cheese 

Dr Shakshuka - I like this place because of the logo, which is also a near life size stand up sign on the street and when I walked in – there he was in real life! Use google for other reviews in English / your language.

Hashomer 1 - this is kind of a street food stand off of the HaCarmel Market - but if I am going to recommend one street food stand - this is it. I get the chicken in a roll thing and I think you should too... maybe with a side of the eggplant and a local beer (Goldstar does not count as local by the way)

Hashomer1 Eggplant - my photo of the chicken sandwich thing is terrible...

Hashomer1 Eggplant - my photo of the chicken sandwich thing is terrible...

Barvazi Urban Sandwich - get the Mac & Cheese with meat (photo above). I would have gone back the next day for another one but schedule changes intervened!  Again – google it for directions and whatnot. Their insta is worth the link and definitely try some of the other sandwiches too...they are always inventing new ones.

Herzl 16 - come to see the shell of the first elevator that was ever installed in Tel Aviv (maybe Israel?) and stay for the coffee and egg sandwich (I have not eaten anything else there but apparently its good too)

Dallal:     it’s a little expensive but I keep going back here. It is in Neve Tsedek, and like visiting someone’s house for dinner (where everyone sits at separate tables and keeps to themselves). Decent local wine selection, terrible local beer selection.

Popina: also in Neve Tsedek (at the top end) the concept here is innovative sharing plates.  They are all good, go with their recommendations on the night.

North Abraxas – no plates!  Lot's of people at the front and you can't tell who works there! Different dishes all the time! Eyal Shani is maybe the most well known chef from Israel in recent years. Also the home of the roasted/blow torched cauliflower global trend (see Instagram and this article)

Port Said - another Eyal Shani restaurant tucked away off of Allenby Street. Good fresh food, good environment.

Port Said Tel Aviv

Fish Restaurants:   It’s not called seafood here… and of course, being on the Sea, you have to go to a fish restaurant…

Barbounia: You pick out the fish you want to eat from a line-up, then sit and eat all of the fun salads and dips and pickled stuff (they bring you something like 12 little dishes) while they cook it. 

Manta Ray:  An institution in Tel Aviv. Everyone goes to Manta Ray once. Usually on an expense account. The location is everything. It is literally on the beach. It’s expensive, but go at sunset on a nice day and you will not care. The food is very good too.

Shila:  A great fish restaurant. Not the greatest location (totally fine/safe/etc, just not atmospheric). Always seems to be a fun night out when going there. Also known for its Mahlabi

Hummus

I know – it took this long to post hummus spots in Tel Aviv!? My top 3 are as follows, and apparently great hummus does not equal great website:

Mashawsha –  my go to hummus place. Apparently it is a ‘lighter style’ of hummus from the north which is why it is ok to have it for dinner. (I have been told that hummus is too heavy and therefore is only a morning or afternoon meal. I also do not adhere to this advice). I get the hummus and a small Israeli salad which looks like:

apologies for photo quality... I do not have a better one and probably just always start eating right away!

apologies for photo quality... I do not have a better one and probably just always start eating right away!

Abu Hasan – the oldest, the most often top rated in Israel, and maybe the most authentic.  Get there early-ish as there can be lines, and they close up shop when they run out of hummus for the day (I know from a long, hungry walk back to my hotel that they are not open at night).

Magen David   - there is a lot of misinformation out there on this place – it was never a synagogue...it is just a design choice. It does have good hummus and is in the ha’Carmel market so a great option if you are in the area there. Again only open in the kind of 11am to 3pm-ish range.

 

Falafel

Hakosem  - There is really only one falafel (and shawarma) place for me (they have hummus too… and other stuff) I get the ½ falafel pita and a ½ shawarma pita ad then roll back to my hotel feeling proud of myself. It’s great. I go every time I am in TLV.

Hakosem Tel Aviv

Hakosem Tel Aviv

Other solid options are Falafel Gina: this is all in Hebrew so good luck, but they have three locations and then Shemesh Shawarma. Not in Tel Aviv (it is in Ramat Gan) and currently in the middle of some pretty terrible construction for the light rail outside… but if you are nearby – you owe it to yourself.  I cannot find a decent website for it at all so here are some images

 Burgers:

Yes, burgers. A huge (and competitive) burger scene popped up in TLV in recent years.  My best: Vitrina.    The burger is great and the way the fries are done is the differentiator (half regular, half sweet potato with lemon zest).  That link is also a good site, and has their top Tel Aviv burger ranking spot-on....

Vitrina best burger Tel Aviv

 

Markets: I’m picking two… one authentic and one kind of a concept like you find in Madrid (a renovated space that is all indoors and is a destination to eat, browse local foodie stuff and not haggle). 

Carmel or Ha’Carmel: full on market experience but now cleaned up and has trendy restaurants and a brewery on the small side streets that spur off. It is also next to Nahalat Binyamin crafts market on Tuesday and Friday

Sarona Market: the whole area used to be terrible and now Sarona Market is at the hub of a reinvented area that is totally worth a visit… it is just kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ha’Carmel! 

Nuts, Spices, Dates, Dried Fruit, Tahini and more in Sarona Market

Nuts, Spices, Dates, Dried Fruit, Tahini and more in Sarona Market

Gifts:

These days it is rare to find something that you can bring back that is not already sold by Amazon…  Go to one of Zielinski and Rozen shops (Jaffa Flea Market and Dizengoff Square are most convenient) and bring back body wash, room spray, scent (the perfume/cologne is unisex) and maybe a candle.

Zielinski and Rozen's unique scents

Zielinski and Rozen's unique scents

 

Museums / Clubs / Theatre

I have been to:

Tel Aviv Museum of Art: It was good. This is also a good reference for museums and galleries.  And Tel Aviv street art is fantastic…and ubiquitous, so just walk around the city more and enjoy.

Tel Aviv Street Art

Clara:- is / was a large club. It was fun. It is on the beach in between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. I have not been back. Also their facebook grammar is poor. And it might not even be open any more…

The nightlife scene in Tel Aviv changes often and while it is universally known for being great, it is fickle… so check the google or these links:

https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/israel/articles/the-best-nightclubs-in-tel-aviv/

https://www.secrettelaviv.com/magazine/blog/best-bars-and-clubs

Performing arts / theaterSuzanne Dallal Center in Neve Tsedek.

Snack: If you see Paletas on your travels - stop and try out some of the different unique flavors... I'm partial to the Matcha, Pistachio, and Mahlabi. They are not popsicles... much better.

Paletas

Paletas

and the juice bars...  choose a combo... pomegranate/carrot?  pineapple/banana...  etc. The juice stands seem to be on every other corner

Juice Bar / Stand Tel Aviv

Juice Bar / Stand Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv beachfront

If you are thinking of exploring further - here is a look at a trip to Jerusalem and the Negev desert area in the south - it was an amazing experience. Get out and see it for yourself.

By the way – the tap water is fine to drink. Enjoy!