Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Death Valley Hiking

Yes, you've read it correctly: Death Valley HIKING it is. Although most people I know do not usually associate Death Valley with hiking, this huge and quite remote desert area offers plenty of hiking and backpacking. In winter, though. Temperatures make actually very nice hiking weather in December, with days around 10 to 18 degrees and nights slightly above freezing. If the sun is out, it might get a little warmer, but the mercury never rose above 22 degrees when I was there. However, with the sun being quite intense, it can feel a lot hotter than this. I'm definitely not the one who would spend there a lot of time in summer!

The possibilities for explorations, hikes and backpacks in "the Valley" are endless and even after spending there a full week, I can think of plenty things that I still would like to do should I return. First of all: the Death Valley is not the boring, flat desert you might imagine. Well, the valley floor is indeed quite flat, but the landscape is still changing: there are sand dunes, and salt flats and strange yellowish hills and some almost surreal parts at the valley floor boarder next to Zabriski Point, with naked hills in all colors you can imagine: from green to white to deep purple, and all kinds of red and yellow and everything in between. The most accessible of this colored hill areas is called "Artist's Palette" - the name says it all. Then you have of course Bad Water Basin, the lowest point of continental North America, with an elevation of 86 meters below sea level. There's the famous Racetrack with its wandering rocks (whose mystery has just recently been linked to drifting thin ice sheets in winter), Ubehebe Crater, Scotty's Castle and the Harmony Borax Works just to name a few. And then the Panamint Range that, together with the icy peaks of the Sierra, provides a rain barrier for Death Valley in the west, as well as the Amargosa Range on the eastern side. With the highest Peak in the Valley, Telescope Peak, you can even do some proper mountain hiking in the desert - and in winter, although not being a technical climb, it would at least require crampons and maybe an ice tool to summit this peak with its 3366 meters - remember, you're looking down to minus 86 meters then... awesome, isn't it?

What I liked most it the ever-changing light. No hour is the same. And surprisingly, I even had a lot of rain in the valley, especially on my first day it really soaked me and my tent that I thought it will never dry again. Most roads were flooded, canyons impassable because of flash flood danger and even a lot of roads had to be closed.

But you're not here for reading, and I am not a writer but a photographer. So dive into the photographs, try to imagine the sweet Juniper scents of the desert and hear no sound at all. There's some wind in the canyons, but it may be absolutely quiet in the vastness of the desert floor...

Those Colors!

Moonrise over the Valley floor.

Sunset at Dante's View.

Ubehebe Crater.

The Badlands.

Watch out for sidewinders in the sand dunes.

There are also plenty of mining relicts and ghost towns...

...and canyons. Hundreds of smaller and larger canyons to explore. Just be aware of flash floods and again do not step on rattlesnakes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My first bow!

In an earlier post, I showed some pictures of me gaining first experience in archery. I was always somehow fascinated by this ancient tradition, but never tried it until getting tattooed forced me to try out outdoor activities that are not linked with hauling heavy loads onto mountain summits and what is more exciting than just running... ;)
Bernhard and I went shooting several times, but with borrowed equipment, it becomes a little bit frustrating with time: you certainly get better every time you shoot, but since the equipment changes on a daily basis, you can never really learn how to "be one" with it. And this is what bow shooting is all about. Being one with your bow, string and arrow. This is the very essence, the very Zen of archery.

Rental bows are usually real work-horses: quite forgiving and maybe even robust take-down recurve bows with a simple middle piece and two more technical fiber-glass limbs and an arrow rest, all designed to make shooting and aiming as easy as possible. In addition, I want to add that I'm a climber and motorcyclist who has unusual strength compared to non-trained women of my age. So the first rental bow I got was wayyyyy too light for me, causing me to drop the arrow quite often because I over-drew the bow most of the time. So it was time to start researching for a first bow, and while doing so, I came to shoot a longbow. What a difference this was!!! They are not only extremely elegant, shooting them is just so much more rewarding. They have hardly a handshock, are extremely silent and with only a slim and simple handpiece, they are next to the old traditional bows that have been shot for thousands of years before archery became an Olympic sport.

This is me on a winter-outing in Lower Muehlviertel, next to Linz.

See the concentration! Archery is all about your mental state. Seriously... it's all about focusing the mind on the target.

Watch Bernhard's expression.

Another shot of me.

My bow with the name "Raven".

Sometimes you miss the target ;)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blacksmiths in Ybbsitz

Ybbsitz and actually the whole region around my hometown has a long tradition of blacksmith craftsmanship. The interest in this old tradition has never been more than right now, and so a lot of the old blacksmith shops have been restored and interested guests can take a variety of courses in this old craft - from basic courses where you learn the essential techniques of iron work to more elaborate courses in making tools, knifes, blades or even damascene steel and blades.

Bernhard and I have done the basic and advanced courses over multiple weekends and actually we would love to forge our own damascene knife one day. For those who don't know, we even had our wedding reception in an old blacksmith shop.

So this is me in my all-white wedding dress working on a bird's feather with Sepp Eybl.

One of the highlights every year is the Christmas market in Ybbsitz, where blacksmiths from all over Europe come together to create one piece of art, with each blacksmith contributing to the final artwork. Although the Christmas market is of course a market where you can buy locally crafted presents for Christmas, it is also fun just to watch the blacksmiths.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Medieval Festival and Falconry at Rosenburg

Having a tattoo that still needs some time to get healed properly currently prevents us from mountaineering (and even climbing). No heavy backpacks allowed. However, as the last post showed, we discovered archery instead. And the last weekend, there was a medieval festival at the Rosenburg castle near the Wachau in Lower Austria, not far from Krems. We took the chance and went there watching well trained knights in full-contact fights, tournaments on horses and of course medieval falconry - the Rosenburg is well-known for its falconry.

You can click on any of the pictures to see the full gallery.

...ever caught a falcon in flight?

Archery - First Steps with the Bow

Although I was always interested in archery and, after crafting my first flatbow at the age of 14, I somehow always wanted to try it again, it never really happened. Until recently, when Bernhard and I went to Kirchschlag near Linz where you have three 3D courses and where they have rental equipment, introductory courses and so on. I have to say, it really got me. Archery is a very nice combination of being outdoors, enjoying nature, walking - not hiking that much - in moderate pace, interrupted by moments of full concentration and body awareness. Not surprising that the Japanese Kyudo bow tradition is a form of Zen meditation rather than a shooting experience. I really want to try this form of mediation one day, although I know it takes months before you even hit a target 2 meters in front of you. It takes a lot of mastery until one can shoot an arrow with a Japanese bow...

It does not take so long for a modern recurve bow, in fact, you pretty much achieve a satisfactory level of precision and feel for the bow within a few hours. Although I'm still very far away from being a good archer. ;) I have to add, I do not like the link of archery and hunting a lot, and this olympic archery is also not what I'm seeking. Therefore, I am fascinated by the most traditional form of archery which uses longbows made completely out of wood, or at least mostly out of wood with some fiber-glass compound material. Anyway, this is something for the future - for now, I'm happy not to loose my arrows and to hit the target.

...Did I mention I love my tattoo? ;)