Welcome to 2016! Twenty fifteen just whizzed by so quickly, I’m struggling to keep up with the days. The last year was quite an exciting one for me, and I want to share all the best moments from the places I traveled to during the 365 days. I got the inspiration to do this entry from Terence Lee (you can check out his awesome post and amazing photos here). Here we go!
New Years Day 2015 – Bukhansan National Park, Seoul
Spending New Years alone in Seoul, I decided to take a trip out of the city to the nearest national park that is accessible by public transport. Turns out that I wasn’t the only one with this idea, as the bus fills up with locals wearing extremely fashionable hiking clothes (I wasn’t expecting to hike in Seoul, so I was wearing jeans and a pair of dangerous shoes). Afraid to miss the stop, I mustered all the little Korean I know and asked two middle-aged ladies sitting directly behind me in the bus if they were alighting at the Park too. The conversation in Korean didn’t last too long, though we all found out that we could meet in the middle with some level of Mandarin! In a change of plans, I ended up trekking with them to the peak of Bukhansan.
Little did I know that there was still snow left over from Winter, and I had trouble walking with my dangerous shoes. Fortunately, they were like angels sent from heaven, providing me with snow crampons on my shoes and sharing their hiking poles! The other hikers (who were all probably >50 years old) had a good laugh at my outfit, and I joined them because I really did look comical. When we reached the top, the two ladies insisted that I join them for a picnic lunch with the food they cooked and brought. It was just an amazing experience and a blessed first day of the year!
January – Yosemite National Park
Visited the popular National Park yet again with my roommate and a visiting friend from Singapore. I was hoping for snow but, alas, California is in some serious drought and there was very little water or snow visible. We did this trip in one single day, leaving at 5am from UCLA, arriving at 10am, hiked upper Yosemite Falls, and arrived back home near midnight – a pretty good run I must say! The Upper Yosemite Falls trail is strenuous, with a steep and long ascent, probably one of the more difficult one-day hikes in Yosemite. We approached the top near sunset (which is early in winter, before 5pm), and scrambled down trying to reach the entrance before it got dark. One of my best memories is actually that we failed to meet our goal, and at one point were holding each other’s backpacks in one line jumping off of rocks in the dark because only one person had a working flashlight…
February – Nicaragua
My favorite course in UCLA so far – the field biology quarter. We went to Bartola, Nicaragua to conduct two independent studies on Conservation and Animal Behavior. My partner Ben and I chose to census birds for the conservation project (in hindsight, not a great idea), and fluorescent harvestmen for our second project (they are wicked cool; check out Nicky Bay’s pictures of the Singaporean species). We were there for about 4 weeks, and it was near the end of the wet season but it poured buckets nearly every single day. My best memory from Nicaragua was seeing my favorite animal in the world at 6am in the middle of nowhere; yes, an ocelot walked right past us about 3 meters (9 feet) away. It was one of those times where it was just such an amazing experience you don’t want to even bother grabbing your camera. Of course, I also loved being woken up by howler monkeys fighting outside our hut every morning.
March – Los Angeles
First spring break spent in the city as the ‘home base’ for our Alternative Spring Breakers. Sarah and I went exploring the coasts of Los Angeles during Spring Break, to Palos Verdes and the beaches. It was very relaxing, and I love the beautiful sunsets we get here in LA near the beaches. Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes is definitely my favorite hang out spot near LA.
May – Zion National Park, Utah
Used the Memorial Day holiday to do a little hiking at Zion national park with a group of Singaporeans (plus Sarah). As fate would have it, there was a heavy downpour the day before we left, and we were dead set on hiking the Narrows. I ended up not bringing my camera to the hike, and a good thing too because the waters that are usually ankle-high were actually waist deep! The currents were so strong that we all had to form human chains to cross the ‘stream’ safely without being washed away. The next day, we decided that it was smarter to go upwards instead of in flood prone zones, so we hiked angel’s landing. A really exciting hike that I would recommend to people who aren’t afraid of heights!
June – Arizona and Utah
Since it was my last summer in the US, I decided to go pretty much all out and take a couple of road trips to various national parks. The first one in June was to Arizona and Utah. Took a one-day drive through Las Vegas and half of Utah to reach Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona. It was the most beautiful canyon I had ever laid eyes on. Photographs don’t really do much justice. I’m really glad we took the photographer’s tour, so we had 2 hours to take our time in the canyon, instead of the usual 45 min tour. Horseshoe bend is half an hour from Antelope Canyon, and takes a really easy half-hour trail to reach from the parking lot. In June, these two places were very crowded with tourists.
We then travelled back up north to Utah (we crossed the State borders between Utah and Arizona 10 times during that 10 days) and camped out in Canyonland and Arches National Park. Canyonland has two entrances in the North and South of the park, which do not connect with one another. We weren’t aware and went through the South entrance, which took a very long way into the actual park. If you want to see the popular Mesa arch, go to the North entrance instead. Arches National Park was very small – we nearly hit our target of seeing every accessible arch by trail in one day, less the twin arches. In the day it was 120 F, so sweltering hot we left our canned corn on the dashboard of the car to cook while we hiked. It was warm when we returned 🙂 Many people ask if the sky is really that starry in the parks: it is! But only if the conditions are right. We went on a new moon, which means there is no light at all surrounding the park from the sky besides the stars; only then will you be able to see them so clearly. That night we waited until 2 am for the Milky way to get into position and talked to some Mormon photographers who were also hanging out (literally) on the edge of the crater next to Delicate Arch.
June – Road trip up to San Francisco
Took a short weekend road trip up to SF, passing by Santa Barbara and Big Sur on the PCH 101. First time going to Muir Woods, which was beautiful, but short.
July – Alaska
Did a four week backpacking trip, of which two were in the South-eastern part of Alaska (not including Juneau). It’s unrealistically gorgeous, and an adventurer’s dream! We visited Denali National Park, which rained the whole time we were there. Harding Icefield in Seward is by far one of the best hikes I have ever done, the journey is really the destination.
From Harding Icefield, we went on a cruise to see the glaciers Kenai Fjords, and witnessed the feeding of 15 humpback whales. The whales feed by synchronizing with one another and creating ‘bubble nets’ to trap the fish. The seagulls are the excited freeloaders of the skillful hunters, but served as our beacon to spot the whales.
The next stop was Katmai National Park, where salmon rush up the rivers to their breeding spot every July. It was a childhood dream to watch bears fish for salmon during this season, and I was not disappointed. Being there made it even more magical than I imagined it to be!
Our last stop in Alaska was Wrangell St. Elias National Park. It was very void of people, making it my favorite camping place of the trip. For 5 days, we slept to the sounds of glaciers calving across our tent, and woke up to the view of snow-top mountains. Not the best for hiking on trails (all of which were originally for mining), but the backpacking opportunities are immense. There we had the most exhilarating activity of ice climbing out of a live glacial Moulin, which had 5 gushing waterfalls spewing down the sides calving the deep hole.
July and August – Glacier, Waterton Lakes, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National park
Following Alaska, Jeanne and I flew to Glacier National Park (they do have an airport next to it) and met up with Pearl. Fate would have it that there was a forest fire near the main highway in the Park that connected the East and West entrance, so we had to do some detouring and drive around the entire park. Nonetheless, we stopped by three of the main entrances over 3 days, and had a blast! Such a scenic and beautiful place. Very accessible and family friendly.
Glacier is connected to Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada. So we took 3 days and crossed the borders to explore that park. There was a whole town with restaurants, bars, wifi in this National Park – that blew all of us away. And did I mention hot showers too?
Last leg, we drove 7 hours down to Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming. It was just congested with tourists and there were no more campgrounds available by the afternoon. So we chose to do some backcountry camping for the 2 nights we were there, and I am so glad we did! The backcountry of Yellowstone is so different from the popular areas open to everyone. Shows that there’s a lot more to the Park than they advertise, and you should definitely explore them to get a good taste of the wilderness. In the backcountry, we had our first campfire and shared stories with Jeff Stilwell, who is now running for government in Seattle. We bumped into him on the last day of his 5 week march for humanity. From Yellowstone, we drove down again to Grand Teton National Park. Out of the 4 weeks we spent backpacking, we only slept on a bed for 3 nights and camped the rest.
August – Taiwan, Singapore
Following the long backpacking trip, I flew to Taipei to meet my mom and aunt. Of course, I would bring the rain with me wherever I go, but this time I arrived in Taipei 2 hours before Class 5 Typhoon Soudelor hit the city. We were stranded in Taipei for the whole week and our plans were crushed (of course we knew of it’s coming beforehand, but we just had our fingers crossed). We were in Taipei for a week, and then went home to Singapore where I spent another 6 weeks.
November – Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Park
Went on two last-minute trips to Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Park – perks of staying in LA! Went to Joshua Tree with my apartment mates, with Harmin and Allison having their first camping experience. The company made it such a great experience <3 Sequoia National Park was a overnight decision made one Thursday, after which I packed my bags and left on Friday. My first time camping on snow!
December – Peru
Last but not least, Peru. Spent 3 weeks there traveling to 5 different cities/towns, but mostly spent the time hanging outdoors. We hiked Colca Canyon for 2 days, the Salkantay trail in 5 days (arriving at Machu Picchu on christmas day), and the Huascaran trail for 5 days (ending at Laguna 69 on New Years day 2016). It was really such a crazy experience, that I won’t talk about it here, but will do so in a separate post just about Peru. Shout out to Anthea who planned the whole trip, and also took the amazing picture that is featured at the top of this post!