Tag: preparation

The Via De La Plata – Revisited


I was recently asked to present my 2016 Via de la Plata trek in Spain, and I thought I would share my speech and slides in this post. I was one of seven presenters speaking on routes other than the most commonly walked, Camino Francés. My friend Laurie Ferris over at thecaminoprovides.com was one of the organizers of the event and had this to say about the event when she posted the slideshows on her website:

“Our NorCal chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino had its annual Welcome Home celebration event on November 11th, 2017 in Oakland. This year we had presentations on Camino routes “beyond the Francés.” It was a fun way to learn about less popular routes that are off the beaten path. It also gave the opportunity for first-time pilgrims and veterans to share some highlights at a gathering. We did the presentations in 10×10 format, which is ten slides in ten minutes. We had seven routes represented, and I presented on the Camino Inglés. It was challenging for all of us to select photos to include, and to speak for only ten minutes, because we are all very passionate about our experiences!”

This was a very fun experience for me and it brought back many of my wonderful experiences while making that fabulous journey, last fall. Hope you enjoy!


My presentation:

Route Map

When asked if I would speak about this route, I was initially excited and honored. Then I began to revisit my many blog posts and hundreds of photos. Preparing to discuss a month-long journey of 625 miles on Camino in Spain in ten minutes has proven to be a difficult path.

I hope to pique your interest in this route, and I shall do my best to introduce you to the Via de la Plata, or the Silver Way. Also, I will encourage those pilgrims that should wish to take to this path that the fall season may be best for their Camino.

The Via de la Plata ambles north from Seville, in southern Spain, to Santiago, mostly paralleling the Portuguese border and at times ventures very close to Portugal. As with other Camino paths, there are variations. From near Zamora, the route continues northward to join the Camino Francés at Astorga or veers westward along the Camino Sanabrés variant, which is the route that I took.

Fast Facts

One year ago, I walked the Silver Way over thirty-three days, with one rest day in Salamanca. This was my second Camino de Santiago, having walked the Camino Francés with a close friend in the summer of 2015. Due to scheduling constraints, and because we liked a challenge and knew we could do it, we walked the Francés in twenty days; that’s about forty kilometers per day. I don’t recommend that to anybody.

For the Via de la Plata, I wanted to take a slower pace, to go it alone, and meet other people. Thirty-three days may not seem slow for 1,000 kilometers, I averaged just about thirty-one kilometers per day on this trip. What can I say? I like to walk.

Roman History

The Via de la Plata was used by the Roman Empire to transport silver out of Spain, hence its moniker, the Silver Way. There are many signs of this long Roman history.

It certainly seems that the pilgrim walking this Camino crosses dozens of these well-worn, two-thousand-year-old bridges.

Pilgrims walk past many of these Roman milestones, upper right, some etched with information such as the name of the emperor at that time, perhaps the year, and maybe distances. Between Cáceres and Salamana there is a well-preserved and marked stretch of these milestones on the Camino route. Along that particular stretch, pilgrims and visitors can read interpretive plaques and marvel at the history of the Silver Way. I tried to put myself there in that ancient time; it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around such a time frame—two thousand years ago, wow.

My favorite bit of Roman history on the Via de la Plata was this four-posted arch. The Camino passes right through that arch near the ruins of the large Roman outpost known as Caparra. Those ruins are being preserved by historians and visited by tourists and pilgrims of the Camino. There is a visitor’s center just to the east of the trail that is well worth a visit.

Beautiful Cities

And then, there are the cities.

The Via de la Plata connects Seville to Santiago by way of Mérida, shown here with its ancient Roman aqueducts; Cáceres, with its fabulous plaza (this picture does it no justice, it would need a lengthy video to capture the plaza’s true grandeur); and the large and beautiful city of Salamanca, with its old and new cathedrals just after crossing a roman bridge over the Rio Tormes. Also, Salamanca is home to the oldest university in Spain, the University of Salamanca, which was founded in 1218 (sorry, I just love saying the name, Salamanca). The last city shown here is the smaller but equally wonderful Zamora. Zamora has a population of about 60,000 people and sits on a promontory above the Douro River.

Ourense Baths

Next on my route was Ourense, with its ancient Roman hot spring baths beside the River Miño.

Although I didn’t take the waters, a Spanish friend from Ourense that I had met earlier on my trek led me and two other Camino friends on a wonderful tour of the area to see ancient monasteries, the magnificent canyon of the Rio Sil, and out on the town that evening for pinchos and godello, an excellent Galician white wine. Godello is similar to albariño, but better.

The Path

The path of the Via de la Plata is much like the Camino Francés, but then again much different. We tend to want to compare one to the other, but they really should be taken unto their own. There are mountain passes and long, flat, barren stretches. But these are not the Pyrenees, nor the Meseta. By my estimation, there is nothing as difficult as the Pyrenees, or as vast and magical as the Meseta, but the Via de la Plata has its own merits.

As you can see here, markings are similar and I would say they are just as prevalent as on the Francés, making pilgrims confident in their path.

Summers on the Silver Way are horrendous, and should be avoided. Please take heed to this warning. At times, there are very long stretches between villages and watering holes. The Camino Francés is hot, hot, hot in summer. I know because I walked that route in July. The Via de la Plata must be doubly so.

Many pilgrims of the Silver Way take to the path in spring after most of the winter rains have passed and before the summer heat sets in. There are plenty of amenities along this route, but they can be stretched to their limits during the peak spring season. In contrast, three or four times I was alone for the night in an albergue last fall. Other nights several pilgrims were present, but no more than one quarter to one third of capacity. We always had bottom bunks.

The Time of Year

It is for these reasons that I suggest walking the Via de la Plata during the fall season. I think—more as luck would have it than accurate planning—that my timing was perfect. When I left Seville on October 17th of last year, the daytime temps were still well into the 80s. Quite often in those early days we could sit out on the plaza—in whatever city or village—and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine well into the evening hours. But by mid-November, when I finished in Santiago, temps were very chilly, with trees changing their colors and snow falling in the mountains of Galicia.

That selfie is from one morning before Ourense, on November 7th. I experienced very little rain. I can only remember a few days when I donned raingear.

Route Choices

As I mentioned earlier, the Via de la Plata continues directly northward to join the Camino Francés at Astorga or veers westward towards Ourense.

This sign is at that very point where a pilgrim must finally decide which route he or she shall take. This decision point is in a small farming village north of Zamora.

Having completed the Camino Francés in 2015, I chose to take a left-hand turn here and venture through Ourense and the region of Spain known as Céa, where I was introduce to pan de Céa—hands down the best bread in all of Spain, and maybe the world. Whether it’s the water, or the yeast, or the air, there are huge differences in bread on this Camino. Pan de Céa is in a class of its own.

Galicia in fall

AAAAHHHHH Galicia. I love Spain, its people, its long Caminos, and I especially love Galicia. It is so beautiful, especially so in fall with the changing colors and storm clouds coming and going.

The two pilgrims in this photo are my Camino friends Fernando, from Asturias, Spain, and Hiromi, from Japan. I met Fernando on my first night out of Seville and Hiromi a couple of weeks later. GREAT people, now lifelong friends.

Churros and chocolate. What better way to start a day on Camino or to end a tale about the Via de la Plata.






I received many questions following the presentation, several regarding guidebooks and other route resources. Listed below are some of the limited bits I used:

Kelly, Gerald (second edition) Walking Guide to the Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabres Available in hardcopy and kindle formats. For updates and contact with Gerald, use the information provided in his book.

For pilgrims who read Spanish, the Eroski Consumer online guides are excellent and heavily used by Spanish pilgrims. Via de la Plata in twenty-six stages, from Seville to Astorga, and Camino Sanabres in thirteen stages, from Granja de Moreruela to Santiago.

And for the tech savvy, here’s a link to a GPX file you can load on your smartphone. I used the app MotionX-GPS.

For more details on my trek of the Via de la Plata, click here.

¡¡¡Buen Camino peregrinos!!!

Preparing to Hike the John Muir Trail

Continued from, A Brief History of John Muir and the John Muir Trail

I was originally inspired to hike the JMT thirty years ago when I first climbed Mount Whitney. On the mountain, I met a man who was just start ting his weeks-long trek of the JMT. I was hooked, but it took awhile for me to get back to that item on my ever-lengthy bucket list.

Preparation to hike the JMT starts months in advance. I found that obtaining a wilderness permit can be the most difficult and confusing part of the whole process. There are very strict quotas for entering the Sierra Nevada wilderness, and the entry points are controlled by lottery systems and somewhat complex bureaucratic paperwork.

Obtaining a Wilderness Permit

Backcountry wilderness permits are required for anyone staying overnight in the wilderness and entering the wilderness from a trailhead (originating in either a national park or national forest). Each national park or national forest has their own lottery system.

Here’s a list of national parks and forests the JMT passes through with links to their wilderness permit pages:

Yosemite National Park (Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows with access over Donohue Pass)

Sierra National Forest (West-side access near Florence Lake and Lake Edison)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Road’s End, Mineral King)

Sequoia National Forest (Kennedy Meadows, Golden Trout Wilderness)

Humboldt/Toiyabe National Forest (Twin Lakes, north of Mono Lake)

Inyo National Forest (Mount Whitney – Whitney Portal, Cottonwood via Horseshoe Meadow and others)
The Yosemite National Park lottery system (for Happy Isles trailhead in the valley) works by faxing an application (the PDF is available on their website) to the park service 168 days in advance of your chosen departure date. In this process, you are only making a reservation to get a permit, not actually securing a permit. Hence, if you do not show up to pick up the permit, it becomes available for others on a walk-in basis.

Walk-in permits: 60 percent of Yosemite National Park permits are available through the reservation process. The other 40 percent are available on a walk-in basis. For highly desired dates, you may need to get in line for a walk-in permit during the wee morning hours the day you want to hit the trail. Read up on this process on the Yosemite National Park website noted above and watch this YouTube video for more information.

The Inyo National Forest lottery (Mount Whitney and surrounding trailheads) occurs through the federal reservation system and begins on February 1each year. Identical to the process for Yosemite National Park, you are only making a reservation to pick up a permit, and failing to do so allows others to claim the permit on a walk-in basis.

Walk-in: Permits not claimed are then available on the day of trailhead entry on a walk-in basis. Use the link to Inyo above for more information.

Are You Northbound or Southbound?

Because of the difficulty in securing a permit, I ended up getting permits for my friend and me to enter the backcountry well south of Mount Whitney, at a place known as the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead in Horseshoe Meadow (click here for map). This southern entry point resulted in two additional days (thirty-to-forty extra miles) being added to my complete journey. My friend planned to return to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead after accompanying me for the first few days, rather than walk the 211 miles to Yosemite with me. I couldn’t really blame him!

The location of the entry point also determines the direction of the trek. In my case, this meant I would be traveling northbound (NOBO) on the JMT, which is opposite of what most people see as the proper direction, southbound (SOBO) from Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but either way the trail is amazing, covers the same distance, and requires the same amount of work.

Come Prepared! 

As I’ve addressed in previous posts, you must train to meet the goal. I routinely walk, run, cycle, or go to the gym six days a week. This twenty-year-old habit gives me the physical foundation to take on something like the JMT. I have this attitude about my training and my outdoor endeavors: “Do what you set out to do, and then some.” If I go out for a ten-mile run, I’ll take the long way home to make the mileage just a bit more. Having to walk an extra thirty-to-forty miles to even begin hiking on the John Muir Trail was not as big a deal as it could have been, thanks to adequate preparation! See my blog post, How To Train For The John Muir Trail, for more specific advice.

Finally, you’ll need proper gear and sufficient food. A gear list is a must for me, and I plan every detail. I believe that most things must have more than one purpose. Pack becomes pillow; pot becomes tea mug; trekking poles become lean-to poles, etc.

Don’t forget about the resupply logistics. A thru-hiker—someone walking a trail in total—cannot carry all the food from the beginning, it would simply weigh too much. Not only that, the bear-proof food container (required by federal regulations) cannot hold all that one needs for weeks on the trail.

The BearVault™ 500, fully loaded for my first nine days on the JMT. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

Resupply must be dealt with in some way. Before beginning my trek, I mailed a resupply bucket to Muir Trail Ranch, which is near the midpoint of the JMT. When I needed to resupply, I left the JMT for a couple of hours, reclaimed my bucket from the friendly folks at the ranch, repacked, left trash in their collection cans, purchased a new fuel canister, and returned to walking the trail that same day.

Resupply storage building at Muir Trail Ranch near the midpoint of the official JMT route. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

I started this process in January and hiked the JMT in August of the same year. The permit process may take months, and your training may last a long while to best prepare you for the trail. But once all the pieces are in place, “There’s nothing to it, but to do it,” as they say.

Coming up next in this series, A look at my typical day of hiking on the John Muir Trail

Hiking the John Muir Trail – Early Days

I was freezing! Pondering this notion over and over in my head as I lay in my sleeping bag, I decided: Indeed, I am freezing! And freezing every night for the next two weeks was not going to be much fun. Did I underestimate the cold? Did I not pack the right gear? It was far too late for these questions. (more…)

An Ambulatory Retreat: Hiking The John Muir Trail

My blog has been quiet these past couple of weeks, as I’ve been busy hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT). I’d like to spend a few posts sharing my latest adventure with you. These vignettes will, hopefully, inspire you to continue preparing for your own travel adventures.

During a recent hike with like-minded local chapter members of American Pilgrims on the Camino, I first overheard the term ambulatory retreat used to describe walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. An ambulatory retreat, in my mind, can be any trek out in nature. It is a restorative trek, a healing one. I don’t remember the woman’s name who used the term, or I’d give her credit, but perhaps she, too, had heard it elsewhere. Either way, I am quite fond of the term and its intended meaning.

Members of the local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

Members of the local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Brien Crothers


Packing List For The John Muir Trail

Don't let your gear weigh you down-Camino de Santiago Photo credit: Brien Crothers Don't let your gear weigh you down-Camino de Santiago Photo credit: Brien Crothers

When it comes to a gear or packing list, I’ve become a minimalist. Most of what I know I learned from a British friend of mine who has an extensive adventure travel résumé. I’ve also learned from other friends and through my own trial and error from many years of backpacking, mountain climbing, foot racing, mountain biking, and even horseback riding.

How to Train for the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, central California Photo credit: Miguel Vieira, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

The Allure of the Trail

Any serious thru-hiker will have the John Muir Trail on his or her bucket list. In a few short weeks I will begin hiking the 215-mile long trail for the first time. I am looking forward to my latest trip (of a lifetime) as I finish the last few weeks of my conditioning schedule. I want to share some thoughts on how to prepare for the John Muir Trail.

High Country Along the John Muir Trail Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

High Country Along the John Muir Trail
Photo credit: Ken Lund, Creative Commons CC By 2.0

Also known as the JMT, the John Muir Trail is considered to be a serious trekking endeavor. The trail’s website states that it “is the premier hiking trail in the United States. The trail starts in America’s treasure, Yosemite National Park, and continues 215 miles through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in continental United States, Mount Whitney at 14,496 ft.” Due to the length and terrain, this particular trail is not to be taken lightly. (more…)

How to Properly Train for Your World Travel Adventures

Some of the world’s great sights (such as the ancient Mayan city of Coba on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico) include a fair amount of walking

Last week, in my latest installment on preparing for world travel, I encouraged you to check with your physician or, at a minimum, do a very honest self-assessment before starting a conditioning schedule to meet your adventure dreams. This week, I’d like to discuss progressive training, a method of gradually conditioning your body, to meet the demands of your travel destination. I will also provide you with a generic training plan. In future posts, I will discuss specific goals like hiking the John Muir Trail in California and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Though specific, the training methods for these locations can be modified to meet your needs. (more…)

Awaken Your Travel Bug

Back in high school—oh, so many years ago—a friend of mine gave me a travel article his father had written about a trip to Hong Kong. Looking back, I realized that one article was the seed of my love of adventure and world travel, and it reinforced my own upbringing in which my father always wondered what was over the next rise.

A few of my earlier journals

A few of my earlier journals. Photo credit: Brien Crothers


Announcing SU CAMINO… in Hardcopy

The paper edition of Su Camino… is now available on Amazon.com.

Su Camino… 20 Days – 785 Kilometers – Camino de Santiago



There are several options to obtain Su Camino… at Amazon.com:

  • Kindle Edition, $3.49
  • FREE to subscribers of Kindle Unlimited
  • Paper Edition, $7.95, £5.95, or €6.95
  • (FREE Shipping with Prime subscription)

All feedback graciously encouraged and appreciated.

An introspective global journey to awareness and self-discovery catalyzed by 20 summer days walking the Camino de Santiago, Su Camino… is one American baby boomer’s travelogue come preparation handbook full of Camino anecdotes and advice for the contemporary walker of “The Way.”

Steeped in world travels to the far corners of the world over the last two decades, Su Camino… is a layered mélange of travelogue, full of anecdotes from the trail; musings on my own journey of the spirit, and preparation handbook with great resources for any pilgrim, thru-hiker, or adventurer.

Wherever we may roam, there is adventure, there is spirit, and there is discovery.

All feedback graciously encouraged and appreciated.

A Perfect Day (a prep series precursor)

It was a perfect day for a 50k. Up with the 5:00 a.m. alarm for a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal. Then a warm shower loosening muscles still wishing this was all a joke. (I’m never up at o’dark thirty anymore.) Kathey was up early to drive me to the race start then off to watch grandkids play lacrosse in the rain before returning in time to see me at the finish (ultra-running isn’t (more…)