Monday, August 30, 2021

Grand Isle, Louisiana, before Hurricane Ida

Grand Isle, Louisiana (from Google maps)

We will temporarily interrupt the trek through the Kingdon of Lo (Mustang, Nepal) for a few photographs of Grand Isle, Louisiana, in a cheerful time before it was torn up and inundated by Hurricane Ida. According to the Weather Channel (Aug. 29, 2021), "Ida officially made landfall at 11:55 a.m. CDT near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, about 18 miles southwest of Grand Isle and about 60 miles south of New Orleans. Maximum sustained winds were 150 mph, making Ida a high-end Category 4." Any category 4 hurricane in the northern Gulf of Mexico is serious trouble because of the shallow continental shelf. This lets lets the winds push a surge of water ahead of the storm. Louisiana is so flat, the bayss and marshy islands are inundated. 

Grand Isle is the only inhabited barrier island along the southern Louisiana coast. The island is at the mouth of Barataria Bay, where it merges into the Gulf of Mexico. The island has been repeatedly hit by hurricanes during its era of recorded history, when storm surges rushed over the most of the island and destroyed building. I will not try to list the many storms here. 

Plantations existed on Grand Isle before the Civil War. The war effectively ended agricultural activity. Developers began to advertise the island as a resort in the 1870s, and steamship service soon brought vacationers from New Orleans. Meyer-Arendt (1985) in the Annals of Tourism Research (Vol. 12.pp.449-465) provides a readable and interesting summary of the island's development over the last two centuries. 

Grand Isle did have a short-lived gilded age. The New Orleans, Fort Jackson and Grand Isle Railroad carried sophisticated vacationers most of the way to the island. But the opulent Ocean Club hotel, built in 1891-1892, only survived one year before an immense hurricane with 175 mph winds overwashed the island and destroyed most of the buildings. The storm killed an estimated 1,600 along the Gulf Coast, and Grand Isle's gilded age came to an abrupt and terminal end. 

1953 aerial photograph of Grand Isle near Coulon Rigaud Lane (US Army Corps of Engineers Beach Erosion Board archives, Vicksburg, MS)

Grand Isle has been an erosion problem for the State of Louisiana and the US Army Corps of Engineers for decades. The Beach Erosion Board conducted one of its earliest studies of the island's erosion problem in 1937. The Corps also presented a Beach Erosion Control Study to Congress in 1955 (84/I H. Doc. 132-). The 1953 photograph above was one of the aerial photographs used for this study. Many other studies have followed. Mid-century, some agency built cross-shore groins to try to stabilize the ocean shore (see the 1953 photograph). These were rebuilt numerous times. Since then, the Corps of Engineers has built segmented detached (meaning offshore) breakwaters along the entire Gulf side of the island. They have added beach sand from offshore sand deposits numerous times. 

We do not yet know what Hurricane Ida has destroyed on Grand Isle. Late August 31, the Jefferson Parish president reported that 100 percent of the properties suffered damage. 

Long-term, the bigger issue might be relative sea level. The southern Louisiana coast suffers from the most extreme relative sea level rise in the United States (meaning the combination of water elevation rise and land sinking). Will Grand Isle be viable 10, 20, or 50 years from now?

By the way, there is a terrible 2019 movie titled Grand Isle, starring Nicholas Cage.

Morning at the Blue Dolphin Inn & Cottages is a sunny delight (in good weather).

Lunch or dinner at the Starfish Restaurant, with an old-fashioned ambience and friendly service. Chairs and tables from the 1960s? Very nice. But this building is at ground level and vulnerable. 

Cottage on Medical Lane, Grand Isle (Hasselblad 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens)
Cottage on Chighizola Avenue
Cottage on Nacari Lane

On any barrier island, look for the Oak forest and you know you are in the most stable part of the island, the part that has withstood erosion and serious overwashing for decades or centuries. Only a small section of Grand Isle shows this stability, and only a few of the early 20th century cottages remain. Most of the other houses are newer and raised on pilings. You also see mobile homes up on piles, many rather nasty. Even the Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church is a modern structure up on concrete piles. 

Over the next few weeks, surveys and news reports will reveal the extent of damage from Ida. Rural Louisiana will be forgotten as the news concentrates on New Orleans, but people live and suffer in rural areas, too.

Long-term readers may remember some of my photographs of Hurricane Katrina damage in New Orleans: 
Hurricane Katrina struck exactly 16 years ago. What an amazing coincidence. And recall, the botched federal response to Katrina's damage and flooding largely destroyed President Bush's presidency. War in Iraq was another factor.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Near the Top of Asia: the Kingdom of Lo (Part 4, Approach to Lo Manthang)

Walking to the horizon, view from Mui La (4170m or 13,700 ft)

The northern part of Mustang is bleak and dry - a high altitude desert. The winter cold must be brutal. 

We left the guesthouse in Ghami and headed north on the high trail (bypassing the town of Tsarang, where we would stop on our way south). We passed the longest Mani wall in Mustang. 

Dhakmar (3820 m elev.)
Dhakmar Khola
A river roars through Dhakmar. From there, it was up to the Mui La at 4170m, then on to Ghar Gompa.

Ghar Gompa (monastery)

Ghar Gompa is a famous monastery, part of which dates back to the 8th century. How did the monks survive here? How could they grow enough crops? The Little Ice Age from the 16th to the 19th centuries must have been very difficult.

Finally, Lo Manthang in the distance. This had been a long and tiring day, some 8 hours on the trail at 3800 - 4000+ m elevation. From our approach from the southwest, Lo Manthang appeared to be situated in a desolate dry terrain with no vegetation. But in reality, it is on a flat plain between two rivers, and the alluvial valley has been sufficient for agriculture for centuries.

Next: the "big city" of Lo Manthang.

These are digital files from a Panasonic µ4/3 digital camera. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Near the Top of Asia: the Kingdom of Lo (Part 3; Mustang Trek North)

For most of us westerners, the Kingdom of Lo, now known as Upper Mustang, is about as far off the tourist path as you can go (although this is changing rapidly with road construction). Mustang is a district in northern Nepal, bordering Tibet. As of 2011, you needed to secure special permits to enter the area. The government of Nepal was trying to prevent uncontrolled over-tourism, especially considering that the infrastructure was primitive for tourists and food supplies were already limited for the local Nepalis, let alone for tourists, who eat vastly more. 

This is Part 3 of a 6-part series covering of my 2011 trek into the heart of Mustang. I hiked with a group of Americans plus two Austrians. Vidya Hirachan of Mustang Trails, Trekking & Expeditions (in Kathmandu) organized the logistics and transportation for the group.

  1. A short 2011 article shows waypoints along the route.
  2. I wrote about the town of Kagbeni in 2017. Kagbeni is the gateway to Mustang, where foreigners need to show permits before they can continue north into Upper Mustang. 

In this article, I will show scenery and towns along the route north. You can follow the towns on an excellent map posted by MagicalNepal. Part 4 will cover the approach to Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang. Part 5 will cover Lo Manthang, where we had a short audience with the King (no, not Elvis).

Chele (3060 m)

Kali Gandaki (river) near Chele, Mustang, Nepal
From Jomson to Chele, the main trail follows the alluvial valley of the Kali Gandaki. The Himalaya are young mountains and still rising as a result of plate tectonics. Therefore, streams and rivers carry a tremendous sediment load of gravel, cobble, and sand. The trail usually follows the east bank of the river bed but drops down onto the gravel bed in some places. I am not sure how people traverse the route when the water is high.
Just below the town of Chele, the trail crossed the river on a modern steel bridge. In the past, a temporary bridge was probably washed out every spring. International aide organizations have been building bridges like this all through Nepal, and now villagers can cross dangerous rivers even in winter. These bridges are strong enough for motorbikes and yaks.
Chele is the third town north of Kagbeni. I do not remember the other two towns or if they offered tourist accommodations. 
The neat rows of dry sticks along the roof edges are a traditional demonstration of prosperity. I do not know if the wood is ever burned; I recall someone telling me it is left for display.
The local youngsters practice cricket. They run around with ease, unlike us tourists, who were puffing in the thin air.

We spent a comfortable night bundled up in our sleeping bags. We brought our own coffee, so we were fortified in the morning.

Samar (3660 m)

The trail ascended steeply out of Chele. The horses are amazingly sure-footed, more-so than us!
Samar from below town
Hotel Annapurna Restaurant & Bar - comfortable and clean

We spent a comfortable night in the Annapurna Restaurant & Bar. On this trip, we did not have our own cook staff or food supplies, so we ate what was available in the guest houses. On the first few days of the trip, the temperature was so high, Dr. Don (our cultural coordinator) reluctantly let us wear shorts. Times are changing, and none of the local folks seemed to care or be upset.

Bhena La (pass, 3835 m)

Carina protected from the sun and wind, Bhena La, 3835 m elevation.

From the town of Samar up to the Bhena La was a stiff uphill walk. Compared to the days along the the Kali Gandaki river bed, it was windy and cold here at 3800m. Every pass has prayer flags strung from the spires of the chörten or gompa.

Syangbochen (3800 m)

The porters and horse men spent long evenings gambling
Saddling and loading in the morning.
Syangbochen was another small town (5 houses?) and a teahouse, where we spent an overnight. It was cold at night but we had our down sleeping bags. Dinner was the typical and very good Dal Bhat (lentils, rice, and vegetables). The horse tenders were up early to prepare the loads. Two horses were on reserve with saddles in case someone in our group was tired and needed a ride. But only a couple of my fellow travelers ever needed the ride.

Chhunggar (3889 m)

All the main mountain passes are protected with a chörten. Chörten (Tibetan) or Stupa (Nepali) means heap, but in reality, they are carefully crafted stone towers made by skilled stone masons. The two circles are Buddha's eyes, and he faces all four directions. You are supposed to pass to the left side of the structure, meaning clockwise looking down. 

Jhaite (3817 m)

Jhaite (or Zhaite), 3817 m
Jhaite was a nice little town with some stands of trees and a well-decorated chorten at the town entrance. We had bypassed the town of Geling, which has a 15th century monastery.

Ghami (3520 m)

Village of Ghami
After a long day, we were very glad to see Ghami. 
The villagers were preparing for winter. The winter is cold and brutal here, and drinking water may be a problem. Some villagers stay all winter, but many walk south to take temporary jobs in the Kathmandu valley or in India. I do not know if the children go south to lower-elevation towns to attend school. 
Cattle or livestock feed for the winter
Chörten in Ghami
Ghami was quite a maze of passages, tunnels, and narrow alleys among ancient buildings. Like some of the other Mustang towns, Ghami had been an important stopover during the salt trade. The salt trade largely shut down during the middle of the 20th century when factories began to manufacture salt containing iodine. 
We stayed in another comfortable guesthouse, but I have forgotten the name. I remember the night was cold. 

This ends this phase of the trek northward into Mustang. To be continued.

These are all digital files from as Panasonic G-1 micro four thirds (µ4/3) camera. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

From the Archives: Small Towns in Mississippi, Fort Adams

Fort Adams is a former river town in Wilkinson County at the southwest corner of Mississippi, near the Louisiana border. I have only been there once and want to return. That might be an interesting day trip, but it is a haul from Vicksburg. These photographs are from a short stopover in 1986. I was on the way to New Orleans and had read about Fort Adams somewhere. Sure enough, it was at the end of the road, at the end of the world. 

Up until at least 1864, Fort Adams was a Mississippi River port, but the river channel shifted away, leaving the town far from the river. Today, the town serves hunters and fisherman from nearby hunting camps. The Gro in the photograph above was busy midday.
Notice how the two buildings above were mirror images of each other. But the white building had narrower clapboards that faced the porch. The white unit was once a gas station because the concrete footing for the pumps is still in front.
This little store is another matching wood frame building. 

These photographs are all 4×5" Agfapan 400 frames from my Tachihara wood field camera with a 180mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar II-N lens. Click any picture to see details at 1600 pixels on the long dimension.

Standby for more photographs from the archives as I sort through decades of negatives. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Eating My Way Through the Stubai Alps, Austria


If you like to hike, you can:

  • Backpack, carry 40+ pounds, eat freeze-dry food, sleep in the mud, not wash
  • Trek in Nepal, let porters or mules carry your pack, sleep in tea houses (inns)
  • Hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, stay in the Appalachian Mountain Club Huts, and eat hearty meals
  • Hike in the European Alps, eat delicious food every night, and even enjoy (often) hot showers 
I have done all of these, but in my dotage, I am not sure if my knees can handle a heavy pack and carrying all my supplies for traditional backpacking (option 1 above). Using the services of porters and/or horses is luxurious (Kilimanjaro 2015, Nepal 2007, 2011, and 2017). And in some countries, using porters is the common way to trek. But the last option looks better and better, especially if you want good food and easy access (and you like to wash). 
Stubai Alps (from Cicerone Press)

The Stubai Alps are an awesome complex of limestone peaks in western Austria, southwest of Innsbruck. They are easy to reach from almost any US gateway airport or European city.
One of the classic mountain tours is the Stubaier Höhenweg, or the Stubai rucksack route. It is an 8-day walk in the fantastic mountain terrain. It can be extended a couple of days with an alternate start route. Route Information: buy the Cicerone Press guidebook of the Stubai route. You can also plan your trip with the help of the Tirol web page's interactive map.
Changing trains in Munich
I flew into MUC (Flughafen München), took the train from the airport, and was in Innsbruck in about three hours (yes, the Europeans are civilized). Once I reached Innsbruck, I bought a few munchies and a SIM card for my mobile. Then I took the bus to the village of Mieders and the cable car up to Hoch Series, and was ready to start. 

Stubai Rucksac Route (from Cicerone Press)

Below, I will list each day's walk and and where I stayed (and ate; after all, I ate my way through the Stubai Alps). Please note: this is a long article with no urban decay.

 Day 1, Maria Waldrast Monastery (1638 m)

Maria Waldrast Monastery (1638 m)
Health food dinner at Maria Waldrast

I started my Stubai trek on an alternate start, which adds two days to the total. So for me, Day 1 was a short walk from the cable car at Hoch Series. I was exhausted from the long flight across the Atlantic and the train ride, so a healthy Tirolean dinner (see, I ate a salad) and it was bed for me. The monastery operates rooms like a hotel. They are immaculately clean, and hot shower is in a tiny lavatory.

Day 2, Padasterjoch Haus (2232 m)

Padasterjoch Haus (2232 m)
Typical room in a mountain hut
More health food, locally-clucked eggs
The good stuff

This was a short day distance-wise but required 1300+m elevation gain. I try to take it easy for the first few days of a hike because I am totally out of practice. Padasterjoch was a nice hut with superb cuisine. The serious apple torte was to share among several people at my dinner table.
Hiker note: This and most of the huts do not accept electronic payment, so take cash.

Days 3 and 4, Innsbrucker Hütte (2369 m)


Innsbrucker Hütte (2369 m)
More health food

This the first hut for the normal start of the Höhenweg. Hikers take a taxi up the up the Pinnistal valley and climb to Innsbrucker Hütte. Because I was already up on the ridge to the east, I had to plunge steeply down 1000m to the Pinnistal valley, rest (and eat a pastry), and then ascend 1400 m to the hut. Long day! The hut was welcoming and had showers. The hut was crowded and I had to stay in a lager (bunk room) rather than a room. I stayed two nights here because the next hut on the route, the Bremer, was full.

Day 5, Bremer Hütte (2413m) 


A welcome sight when tired, the Bremer Hütte (2413 m)
Frühstück at the Bremer
Room with a view - from the lager at Bremer Hütte

The Bremer Hütte is in an austere spot with a lake and snow patches. When the mist clears, the view is fantastic.

Day 6, Nürnberger Hütte (2280 m) 

Nürnberger Hütte (2280 m)
Afternoon in the sun at Nürnberger
Obligatory mid-afternoon nutrition snack. The glass contains Radler, light lager beer and half sparkling lemonade. The whip cream comes from real cows.

This was an easy day's walk to the Nürnberger Hütte, only 5 km, and I had plenty of time to sit in the sun and eat the obligatory pastry and Radler (to rebuild my strength, of course). This beautiful old hut dates to 1886 and functions more like a hotel than mountaineers' hut. The same family has operated this hut for over 100 years.

Day 7, Sulzenau Hütte (2191 m)

Sulzenau Hütte at a comfortable 2191 m.

Most of the alpine mountain huts gain much of their revenue from day-hikers, who stop for food and beer (or many beers). They head down late in the day, leaving the over-nighters to enjoy the views. 

Families welcome and locally-sourced food

Sulzenau Hütte is a gorgeous hut (hotel) with expansive views. This building was erected in 1976-1978 to replace an older hut that was destroyed by an avalanche. Like many of the other huts, the hot showers are coin-operated. You insert a token or 1 Euro coin and wash quickly before you quota of hot water runs out (often 1 or 2 minutes).

School group near the Grunau See (lake)

I saw school groups on mountain outings. These children were bright-eyed, intelligent, disciplined, well-spoken, and well-equipped. How refreshing to see good parenting and encouragement.

Day 8, Dresdner Hütte (2302 m)


Dresdner Hütte (2302 m)

Dresdner Hütte is very popular because it is next to a cable car station. Mid-day, hundreds of hikers and casual tourists come to eat and enjoy the view. It becomes quiet and lonely at night after the last cable car departs.

Fresh bread, beer, veggies - does it get better than this?

Danger, danger, health food overload. By now, I was running out of cash, so I took the cable car down to base station, went to an ATM, and headed back up by cable car.

Day 9, Neue Regensburger Hütte (2286 m)


Wild ferocious mountain animals en route
Neue Regensburger Hütte (2286 m)
Dehumidified (or air-conditioned) boot drying room

This is a beautiful hut in immaculate condition. The hut was built in 1931 and enlarged in 1967-1968. This had been a 7½ hour walk, and I was tired. When you enter a hut, you must place your boots in racks or shelves and wear slippers or flip-flops in the building. This helps keep dirt and mud out of the hut.

Danger, danger, health food alert


Day 10, Franz-Senn Hütte (2147 m)

Franz Senn Hütte (2147 m)

Instructions for the uninitiated?
Obligatory torte ünd espresso

Franz Senn Hütte is another beautiful accommodation with good food, hot showers, and internet. This hut began life in 1885 and has been added to and enlarged several times.

Day 11, Starkenburger Hütte (2237 m)

Starkenburger Hutte (2237 m)
Crush your mobile phone here
Tiroler gröstl (more health food for the rugged bergsteiger)

Starkenburger was the last hut on the Stubai Rucksack route. This had been an 8-hr day, covering 13 km on a spectacular trail that cut across scree fields and below towering limestone peaks.


Day 12, Off the Mountain to Fulpmes

Mountain marathon at KreuzjochPanoramarest

This was my last day on the trail. I walked a few miles below towering limestone spires to the Kreuzjochbahn Berstation (cable car). The crowds watching a marathon were a rude awakening to being back in normal civilization. I took the cable car down to Fulpmes, then caught a bus to the town of Neistift.

I felt like a fish in Neustift. No problem, from the hatchery at the nearby stream.


Dear readers, this has been longer than I originally intended, but the exercise of sorting my pictures reminded me of the fabulous 12 days in the high country of the Stubai Alps. Everyone I met was unfailingly courteous and friendly. It is hard to find more rewarding hiking than the European Alps, be it in France, Switzerland, Germany, or Austria. Of course, I do not need to tell you that Austria is a fantastic destination even if you are not a hiker. Once the pandemic restrictions have passed, just go. Enjoy the good life, experience good governance.

These were all digital files from a Moto G5 mobile phone.