15-16 January 2017
Angela and Juan Sebastian are siblings who were only kids when Lenin last paraglided in Sopó, but now they are running one of the biggest paragliding schools around Bogotá. We stayed with them for two nights, and Churro quickly made friends with their dog, Apollo, a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback about three times his size.
We spent one full day in Sopó, hiking up to the paragliding school, waiting for wind that never came, and then hiking back down, accompanied by both dogs. On the way down, we opted to take a trail that was closed, but a policeman told us how to get there anyway. The trail was tough, and at one point became very steep and rocky. The dogs had trouble in a few spots, but we managed to coerce them down all of the tough areas until one part that involved a vertical drop of maybe six feet from a rock. I climbed down first, and Lenin was able to pass Churro to me, whom I safely transferred to the ground, but Apollo was too big to carry and wanted no part of it. He started running back up the mountain. Churro and I waited patiently for what seemed like over an hour while Lenin chased after Apollo. Apollo was very intent on not being forced down the trail, and he actually hid from Lenin in the bushes, holding his breath so that Lenin couldn’t find him. Lenin eventually succeeded in capturing Apollo, dragging him down towards me with his leash. Before he could make it to the difficult section, Apollo made another attempt to escape, this time breaking his leash, rendering it useless.
We had been hiking down for over an hour on this trail, having already traversed several tricky spots for the dogs, and to go back up to the road that we had walked up on would take a few more hours. We didn’t have enough daylight for that, and we were almost back down. We were starving, thirst, dizzy, and frustrated with the stubborn dog. It seemed ridiculous to climb back up the mountain only to go down again a different way, but both Lenin and I were considering that that might be our only option. Lenin went back up to look for Apollo, but he had no way of pulling him down so asked me to get Churro’s leash. Churro was napping with our backpack in a shady spot a bit further down the trail, so I went down to fetch his leash. On my way down, I heard some rustling in the bushes not far from the trail. There was an animal making its way through the vegetation towards me, but I couldn’t see what it was. Lenin was still high above us, trying to figure out where Apollo had gone, when suddenly out he came from the brush just below me and Churro on the trail! Lenin was moved by Apollo’s intelligence, remarking on how smart he was for the rest of our time in Sopó.
The next day we borrowed Juan Sebastian’s motorcycle to get to Guatavita, a small town just across the lake on the other side of the mountain. This was Churro’s first experience riding a motorcycle, and he seemed to enjoy the wind on his face as he scrambled to get a better position between me and Lenin, resting his head on Lenin’s shoulder. I enjoyed watching him, with his jowls flapping in the breeze, though his nose was running, and mucous was flying back onto my arm.
From Guatavita we went up another mountain to get to the Laguna de Guatavita, where the legend of El Dorado originated. In this laguna, the indigenous leaders would go with all their offerings to the gods, filling a boat with gold, paddling to the middle of the deep lake, and dropping all the gold into the water. We should have done more research before going though, because the laguna was closed when we arrived. It would have been about an hour’s hike to the lake each way, and we still had to bike to Bogotá that afternoon, so perhaps it’s better that we didn’t go. Instead, we went back to Guatavita for lunch and back to the house in Sopó to pack our bicycles and leave.
The weekend before we left Skagway, we hiked the historic Chilkoot Trail. This is a 33 mile long trail that was an established trading route for Tlingit natives, but was famously used by thousands of stampeders during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898-1900. We were lucky enough to get 3 days of dry weather for our hike – probably the only three days without rain for over a month. June and July had been unseasonably warm and dry for Southeast Alaska, but after the first week of August we had started experiencing the more typical mist, rain, fog and cool weather on a daily basis.
The most challenging section of the Chilkoot is a short stretch called the golden staircase, which rises more than 1000 feet in less than half a mile. I was in no way prepared for how rugged the climb would be, and for a few terrifying moments, I thought the weight of my backpack would throw me off balance to my demise. Once over the summit, the Canadian side was beautiful with incredible views of deep blue and turquoise lakes.
My favorite section was hiking along the gorge between Deep Lake and Lindeman City.
On the third day, we made it to Lake Bennett, where the train picks up hikers during the summer season. Since the last train came at the end of August, we had to hike 8 miles along the tracks back to the Klondike Highway, where we tried hitchhiking from Log Cabin. After 20 minutes of waiting at Log Cabin and growing colder in the increasing winds, we started walking towards Fraser, where the Canadian Customs Office is located. Only three cars passed within an hour of walking, including Officer Brown (the strictest of the US Customs officers). The third truck picked us up, but only took us the remaining mile or two to Fraser, where we were able to use a phone and call our friends to pick us up.