Can you name the single most impressive thing you have ever done? We can.
In July of 2014 Sylvia and I embarked on what was the greatest hiking adventure of our lives…The Santa Cruz Trek in the Andes Mountain of Peru. We had already completed a tough hike just a couple years earlier when we finished the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. The Santa Cruz Trek is equally challenging and passes through even more remote and isolated terrain.
Though the masses flock to Peru to see Macchu Picchu and the Inca Trail, we (and many other experienced trekkers) do no consider it to be the best that Peru offers. Simply put…the things we saw on this trail blow away everything we have seen before or since. It is the gold standard to which all our future adventures must now be measured.
In July of this year we hope to make the SCT the SECOND most impressive thing we have done, and by the end of the decade it may even be the second most impressive thing we done in Peru…but for now, it still ranks at the top.
Over the next week, we will post our full adventures on the Santa Cruz Trek.
Come with on this extraordinary hike through Peru’s Cordillera Blanca (White Mountain) Range, across 14,000 foot high passes and past massive glaciers, where you walk in the path of valleys gouged out by powerful avalanches only a few years before. See Peru’s highest peak…and its most popular trek, after the Inca Trail and Colca Canyon.
Consider if perhaps you too might have what it takes to hike the Santa Cruz Trek.
In other words, it’s a list of life’s grand ambitions.
I think most people do have a life’s grand ambitions. With some it might be comparatively simple and straightforward items…like falling in love or retiring from work or buying a house. With others, the list may be lengthy, far-flung and complex.
Bucket Lists are constrained by that holy trinity of life…Money, time, and imagination. Very few people have enough money to do EVERTHING they want to do. Perhaps even fewer have enough time to do everything they want (unless you are a trust fund baby or win the lottery, making all that money will likely use up a good thirty years of your life.) Imagination, on the other hand, is the product of a healthy and active mind, and the only upper limit on it is a person’s capacity to imagine. Therefore, the number of highly imaginative Bucket Lists that will never come to fruition greatly exceeds the number of simple ones that will. Human beings are, after all, ambitious and hopeful (as well as self-deluding) creatures.
I believe that the majority of people have a list of life’s grand ambitions…things they would like to do, if only but once in their life. We at BecauseItzThere certainly have ours.
Now, here’s my problem with it. It’s not the idea of the Bucket List I don’t like, I just disagree with the term, and moreover the origin of the term. To me a Bucket List is NOT something you should be hot to do before you die, because after you die, not a bit of this is going to matter.
Think about this for a moment. There are three conventional explanations of what happens when we die…
Spiritual/Religious Explanation: Ascent to heaven (or equivalent transcendent state) where one is rewarded for virtuous conduct during Life 1.0. Or, descent via trap door to a place run by This Guy where eternal punishment is meted out for various failures to uphold the terms of service for Life 1.0.
Quasi-Spiritual explanation: We are brought back thru a process of re-incarnation to live life out again in a different body. So, there is a life 1.1, 1.2, 1.2…in the software industry we call this ‘versioning.’ And as anyone who owns an Iphone or Android knows, new version are not necessarily improvements over the old ones. Being brought back as dung beetle, for example, would be a definite downgrade for most.
Empirical Explanation: There is no Life 2.0. Life ends with death, after which there is nothing. The most pessimistic and least pleasant, but also simplest, answer.
No matter which of these three answers you believe to be true, one thing is obvious…There is absolutely no chance you will care about what remains undone in your Bucket List beyond the wall of death. If you are flying around paradise playing a harp in a state of eternal bliss, being roast on a spit, crawling around as a dung beetle or simply have ceased to exist…in NONE of those scenarios will you be spending any time at all worrying what you missed our on life.
It is completely pointless to think of your list of life’s grand ambitions in terms of how you will remember it all AFTER death. Rather, the list should be thought of in terms of the things you want to accomplish WHILE YOU ARE ALIVE. Calling this a Bucket List is therefore simply erroneous. This list is not about what you have done…it’s about what you WILL do. The purpose of life is to live it to fullest extent right up until the end because beyond that…well, we don’t know, don’t we?
So why then do I still call it the Bucket List? Simple…it’s the term everyone uses for it. You can choose to call yourself a sanitary engineer if you want, but in the end, if your job involves mopping floor, emptying trash cans and hurling the occasional handful of sawdust onto pools of vomit, then what you really are is a janitor. I could call it a “Bliss List” or whatever highfalutin title I want, but what I’m really talking about is still a Bucket List. So rather than call it something else and be forced to explain myself every time, I might as well just call it what it is.
Plus, almost anything else I call it will sound equally silly, and probably involve more typing.
Before we think about what’s on our Bucket Lists, let’s talk about how you define one. Human ambitions are as myriad as stars in the sky…we obviously won’t all want the same things. Let us then try to find a consensus about the KIND of things that would be worthy of inclusion on our Bucket Lists.
Our definition of a “Bucket List” item is, an extraordinary thing that a person can aspire to in an ordinary human lifetime.
We completed this Bucket List hike in 2012, the year after we were married…
All the things in our Bucket List are hikes, but not all the hikes we take are worthy of the Bucket List. Some things are larger and grander in scope than others. There’s a reason why every canyon in the US deeper than ten feet is called the “Grand Canyon” of the something. It’s the frame of reference, the great thing every hole in the ground aspires to. But most canyons simply don’t measure up to the term. They may be grand canyons of the something, but they aren’t truly grand. But the Grand Canyon IS Grand.
You may have other things in your own list, and maybe some of them are hikes or maybe not. But the same rules apply. The things that belong in the Bucket List are the great things…things that transcend the ordinary, which we can reasonably aspire to experiencing.
A Bucket List item IS…
A majorly thing or experience
Involves some serious work or logistics to make happen
Beyond the merely ordinary
A transcendent or life changing experience
Something one can reasonably aspire to in an ordinary human lifetime
Is unlikely (or impossible) to be achieved more than once or twice in a lifetime
What a Bucket list item is NOT:
Routine, commonplace and inevitable events
Events that occur at random, or which one has no control over
Beyond the physical bounds of the universe
Things which are nearly impossible in an ordinary human lifetime
Things obtained with money alone
Many of the things that doubtless appear on other people’s Bucket Lists simply do not meet the our standards. For example, as a young man I wished desperately to witness the Red Sox win the World Series just once in my lifetime. And by the grace of God and Edgar Renteria, it has come to pass not once but TWICE already in my lifetime.
But that’s not really a Bucket List item by the way I measure such things now, because I didn’t DO anything. The Red Sox did all the work; all I did was watch them do it, and I suppose you could say that participation of a sort. But to me, it’s more of a random event that happened, which I had no control of. I was a part of it, in a way, but it wasn’t something personal to myself. It simply doesn’t meet our definition of a Bucket List item.
On the other hand, I once worked with a man whose singular ambition was to appear as a contestant on the Price is Right. After about twenty tries he finally got his wish. It might not seem like much, but this is a perfectly valid Bucket List item. It’s unique, outside the ordinary, personal, only comes about as the result of a sizeable investment of time and effort, and cannot easily be duplicated in a single lifetime. It may not be your Bucket List item or mine, but it qualifies.
Bucket List items should be confined to things which are achievable within an ordinary human lifetime. Otherwise, it ceases to be a concrete set of aspirations and dissolves into whim and fancy…in effect, a Pie in the Sky List. For example, wishing to fly like superman is impossible unless you were born far from a yellow sun, so that can’t be a Bucket List item. You might argue that standing on the surface of Mars is possible, and I would agree that it isn’t entirely impossible, but it is VERY unlikely to happen to you unless you are already a trained astronaut. Which I assume most of you aren’t. And if you are, get back in the simulator, Mars ain’t gonna bring itself here.
We believe strongly that Bucket List items be more than just things which can be purchased by money alone. If this were not the case, then everything would boil down to accumulating a pile of money, whereby everything there is to have in life is automatically achieved. I know a lot of people subscribe to this belief, but we most certainly do not. Being rich CAN allow you to do amazing things (example…Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Yvon Chounaird.) But only if you have the will and imagination to make it happen. Money, like time, is just an enabler. For every Elon Musk, there’s a hundred others with pockets equally deep who never amount to a thing in this life.
Sylvia and I currently have sixteen items on our hiking Bucket List. Some are readily achievable…others, maybe less so, but none are irrational. We do not realistically expect to attempt them all, much less complete them all. Though I think we will do most, and maybe even a few that aren’t on this list. After all, the list is only limited by the constraints of our will to make it so, and the ability of our body to prove equal to our will. My experience is that a strong will can move a weak body much further than the reverse.
The Bucket List is not etched upon a stone tablet…it’s ours to do with as we chose. It may be that as we go on, we will decide to add or subtract from it. After all, it’s not meant to be the final list. It’s meant to be the list we continue to operate from until the final act is written.
Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. That is the true message of the Bucket List. I for one do not believe it is really all that important that the list be completed; rather, it is important that the list simply exist, that we have goals and ambitions that exceed the ordinary. We are as individuals the sum of our experiences, and so we should set the bar in life as high as possible, and not worry over much about what comes after. What matters after the Bucket gets kicked is anyone’s guess.
(A special note of thanks to my wife who captured the actions shots of me kicking the object shown above. I asked her to make me look “Completely mentally unhinged, like an out of control maniac” and as is obvious the quality of her work is beyond question.)
*We traveled to South Mountains State Park in the Spring of 2015. This was a sad time for Sylvia and I as my mother had just recently passed away after a long and difficult battle with heart and lung problems. Among many other things, the outdoors is a place we go to heal.
**We have added South Mountain State Park to our list of the best places to hike in the Carolinas. Though the park’s potential is mostly untapped, it could one day be a premier hiking venue!
Located at the edges of what might properly be termed the Carolina Piedmont, not far from where it morphs into the foothills of the Appalachian Range, are the rugged, sprawling and mostly wild South Mountains. Here one will find South Mountains State Park, one of North Carolina’s largest state parks. It’s about an hour’s drive from Charlotte and about the same distance from Asheville, NC. But it FEELS like it’s way out there.
It’s not to be confused with the Civil War Battlefield of the same name located in Maryland. Nor should it be confused with the municipal park (the largest in the nation) in Phoenix, AZ. South Mountain State Park IS one of NC’s largest plots of state owned public land, being just over 18,000 acres in size, which is further surrounded by state game and forest lands amounting to more than double the acreage. It boasts 40 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and even horseback riders.
Being not as close to a major city as Crowders Mountain or Hanging Rock State Parks, it is not QUITE as crowded. But it can still get crowded, especially on summer, spring break and peak fall color weekends. The parks main attractions are its waterfalls, and waterfalls tend to bring in the crowds, and often the least engaged and most types of would-be hikers.
Brian, if you have not figured this out by now, dislikes crowds. ☹ He likes solitude. 🙂
There is a LOT to see in this big and rugged park and we did not by any means see it all. But here’s some of the things we DID see during this exploratory trip…
High Shoals Falls Loop
The most popular attracting of South Mountain State Park is High Shoals Falls. Only a mile from the parking lot, most visitors stop here, and in fact many never venture anywhere else (except maybe the bathroom.)
The loop trail is a 2.7 mile meander that wanders past the falls, crosses above them, then leads across a modest ridge (there are no views here) and back down to return to the cutoff for the falls and finally back to the visitor center. To the falls the grade is easy, though there are some potentially slippery rocks. Past the falls the trail is steeper, and there are a bunch of wooden steps.
The trail runs alongside the Jacob Fork River for a while, passing the trail you come back on if you do the loop, and then on down the brook that goes over the falls. The half mile or so to the falls is the best sections, as there are several pleasant cascades before the falls. Once you near the falls the trail proceeds along wooded boardwalks to avoid the mud and slippery rocks. There are some stairs here but nothing intense. I am of the opinion that wooden walkways in damp areas can sometimes be more slippery than mossy rocks, so beware.
The falls themselves are certainly very nice. The drop is 80 feet in total though it is not a straight plunge.
There are several viewing platforms for taking them in. If you manage to go off peak, you may even have these spots to yourself. On summer weekends, you will have to fight for a spot among the selfie-takers.
After the falls the trail climbs along some eroded sections before reaching a ridge line. There’s some backcountry campsites that way but really, nothing more to see. Many of the trails are actually bridal paths and thus have a road-like feel. On the other hand, there’s not too much traffic along this section. If you chose not to hike this section, you won’t miss much.
Chestnut Knob Overlook
Fewer people visit Chestnut Knob Overlook. Odd, because it may be the best viewpoint in the park, at least the best that is easily reachable by trail. In fact, when we hiked it, there was no one there but us.
It’s 2.1 miles one way and somewhat steep, at least along some sections. The trail diverges from the main trail behind the visitor center and heads somewhat steeply uphill along switchbacks, the first half mile or so being the toughest of it. Footing however is good and anyway, it’s not an Appalachian caliber uphill. At about a mile in, there is a marked junction…here a path leads off to the right, where a cleared patch affords one a glimpse of the falls down in the narrow valley below.
This view was only partially visible when we were there. (You could hear it well enough.) In summer you probably won’t see much but leaves, for it has become grown in. But in winter or early spring, this would probably be a great spot.
The trail keeps on for another mile at a more modest grade across a ridge line, soon arriving at a ridge top where it breaks left and soon brings the hiker to the Chestnut Knob overlook. The viewpoint comes up suddenly from the trees; it almost can’t be seen until you are just about on top of it.
You must scramble out on the rocks among the scrubby pine trees and bushes, but the reward is a great view. Try to do this when crowds are at a minimum because there is not much space on the rocks.
When done soaking in the views, you can either turn here for the slightly over two mile trip back to the parking log or return to the T junction and pick up the Sawtooth Trail, an equestrian path that eventually loops you back to the visitor center by way of the Little River Trail. There are no views along this section, though. Sylvia and I chose to retrace our steps.
South Mountains is an enjoyable park but we got the sense from this trip that we had not really seen all there is to see. The true potential of South Mountains seems as yet untapped, because the state simply has not gotten around to constructing access to all of its wild 18,000 acres. The oddest thing is that the West Side of the Park, which is almost completely undeveloped, also has the highest and maybe the best viewpoints. Buzzards Roost, at nearly 3000 feet, is the highest point in the park yet there is no official trail to it. Some however do reach it via bushwhack and report that the view is FAR better than that from Chestnut Knob…which again isn’t bad.
Here’s a trip report (without much photographic evidence.)
These people didn’t reach it, but they did find hunters, old ruins and some ugly clear cuts around the edges of the park.
Summitpost has another tantalizing picture and confirms that, yep, this is a bushwhack.
Apparently, there are a good dozen peaks in this range of comparable size to Buzzards Roost. I would LOVE for the state to start developing (in a reasonable and measured way) access to them. There is undoubtedly some great hiking here.
We very much enjoyed South Mountain State Park. The park has a LOT of untapped potential and years hence it could be the gem of the entire NC state park system. For all the poor press it has earned itself in recent years, the state of North Carolina has (under both Democratic and Republican leadership) embarked on an ambitious expansion of its state park system. Not only have they dramatically increased the size of South Mountains, but they have opened two REALLY fine brand new parks (Gorges and Elks Knob) in the western part of the state. We hope the state continues this investment in public lands, especially since our Federal Government seems to have developed a contempt for the very concept.
We feel that the developed eastern part of the park is somewhat lacking. While there are a lot of trails and trail miles, there are only a few views, and none that I would call truly epic. High Shoal Falls is very nice, but my opinion of waterfalls is somewhat jaded. Most waterfalls in greater Appalachia are better termed cascades, and this one is no exception. I have yet to see a waterfall that TRULY blows me away in the Eastern United States, New York State excepted. (Kings Canyon National Park has a good dozen that literally stun you. Even the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas have many more worthy ones.) Waterfalls with easy access trail tend to be magnets for crowds, and so with a few exceptions – Lambert Falls in GSMNP, for example – I am less than impressed by the waterworks and generally don’t expect to be impressed. I liked High Shoal Falls but…it’s no Niagra.
Admittedly, the falls is much better in high water, IE when it’s pouring rain. Here’s a video of said from Romanticashville.com that does show the falls at its best…with the faucet opened wide.
In our opinion, there are several state parks – Hanging Rock, Crowders Mountain, Stone Mountain – that at least for the time being are better, or at least have better accessible areas, than South Mountains. Again, in the future this could change. Intrepid souls who wish to make their own way to the tops of these peaks, without crowds at all, will find this a paradise. And maybe someday that is exactly what we will do! There’s unfinished business in the wild South Mountains.
In 2013 Sylvia and I vacationed in Paradise, or about as close as you can get to it on Earth. This is the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Note only is it a paradise, but it is one of the most remote places on Earth.
But it wasn’t all sitting around on the beach drinking Kahlua Mudslides…only maybe half of it was. The rest of it was spent seeking out some of the more off the beaten path adventures that the Island Paradise offers. While we were there we climbed down into the crater of a dormant volcano, visited many remote and nearly unspoiled beaches, and exploring the valley island’s fascinating geological history. And yeah, tiki’s and Luau’s and mudslides and such.
Being that Hawaii is the Rainbow State, one of the very first things we saw out of the airport, on our way to the beautiful and ultra-touristy Kāʻanapali area, was this rainbow.
We had plenty to do though, so we didn’t spend too much time gawking at this, which would be the first of about a half dozen. That day. And we had unseasonably dry weather.
Our itinerary was a full one, so we had little time to waste. We did a WHOLE lot on that trip but since this is largely an outdoor travel blog, I won’t tire you over much with the touristy part of it. I will devote time to the highlights of the trip, which may or may not be familiar to many of you have visited this wonderful equatorial gem.
The Haleakala Volcano (for me, the highlight of the trip)
The various hidden and secluded beaches we visited, on the island’s North and West sides
The Dragon’s Teeth and other interesting Lava formations
Don’t worry, for those of you who enjoy the more basic tropical pleasures…I’ll sneak in the odd Cheeseburger in Paradise/hula photo as well.
Big news from Patagonia (the place, not the brand…)
Tompkins Conservation…you might not know the name, but they are one of the most important forces in conservation today. It is brainchild of Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of the North Face and later, Esprit. Tompkins bought over 2 million acres of wild land in Patagonian Chile, with the idea of preserving it. His vision took another step forward recently with the creation of Patagonia and Pumalin National Parks.
It’s an important lesson in how conservation happens. What many people do not realize is that the US national park system was not built simply through government action. It was a combination of federal legislation, commercial interests (such as railroads in search of paying tourists) grass roots support of private citizens that brought the parks system into existence. We have a national parks system today because people at every level of american life, public and private, wanted it and willed it to be so; and the forces that opposed them (basically the same people doing so today) couldn’t stop the tidal wave. Tompkins put his own money and time where his mouth is; he didn’t just talk about preservation. He acted.
Tompkins died of hypothermia in 2015 while kayaking in Chile on the very lands he loved at the age of 72. His legacy remains alive through these amazing land grants, and through the work of his widow, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, who IS in fact the former CEO of Patagonia.
Part of Tompins vision, by the way, was to have top notch recreational infrastructure in his parks to maximize enjoyment and thus increase awareness of the need to preserve these remarkable lands…IE, a lot of hiking opportunities. We can’t wait to visit and experience it for ourselves!
Fine trip report of a hike — that’s right hike, not technical climb — of the Western Hemisphere’s highest point by Rick McCharles of Besthike.com. This is tempting…looks FAR better than the Misti hike in Peru. Alas, it might be more tempting fate, considering we didn’t make it to the top of that one…