Sunday, December 16, 2012


Birch in Winter

"Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed."
From Mary Oliver's poem, It was Early

Clearing the Way

This past Friday, Tristan, Odin and I set out into the woods with hammer and saw, headed to prep the route for the upcoming Camel's Hump Challenge, a fundraiser backcountry ski tour (just a tour with friends, not a race) to benefit the Vermont Alzheimer's Association.

Tristan and I share the Camel as our favorite Vermont peak - we find ourselves often dreaming of its pointy undeveloped summit, and scheming for our next chance to get there. There is a mystic for us in the Huntington approach, particularly the longer Forest City route, which brings the hiker up from beneath the sheer face of the couching lion (or Camel, as it were). This is a long route, prefaced with a long drive, but it is always worth the trip. Even the shorter Burrow's Trail approach from the western Huntington side is worth the drive. But on this day we approached from the eastern side via the Monroe Trail. And it was not the summit we were after this time: We were planning to take a left off the Monroe Trail somewhere past the junction with the Dean Trail, and head into the woods for terrain seen only by the skier of the Camel's Hump Challenge, or the volunteers who prep the trail for this fabulous once-a-year ski day. (Please note, we are very familiar with this area and the route we were taking, we planned our route ahead, and also carried a map and compass, which we know how to use. Additionally, we carried headlamps, matches, bright clothing, and emergency supplies. If you are inexperienced with hiking or are unfamiliar with the terrain, please leave this type of off-trail adventure for experienced hikers - there is plenty to see and do on the many beautiful marked routes up and around the mountains of the Northeast.)

The plan for the day was to clear the trail and mark it periodically with Forest Service-approved trail markers for the Camel's Hump Challenge. The plan was also to see some beautiful terrain reserved only for those roughing it on this 13-mile backcountry ski loop, which is open for skiing only on the day of the Camel's Hump Challenge (February 10, 2013). There are unusual vantage points of the summit, beaver ponds-aplenty, and fabulous birch glades that go on for as far as the eye can see.

There were several big blowdowns to clear along the way, and many, many downed branches and debris from recent storms.The scenery along our trip was outstanding. In particular, the backcountry ice was like art work.

The trail winds through mature hardwood stands, dark evergreen forests, birch glades, and meadows. Every now and then, we would pop out of the woods on to the edge of a high-country beaver pond. These were tricky to navigate in early-winter conditions, but the views these openings afforded were stunning and made the rough-going worth it.

Happily, our faithful and trusty trail companion accompanied us the whole way.

Our turn-around point was Wind Gap, from where we planned to loop back to the Monroe Trail via the Dean Trail. We popped out of the woods on the Dean Trail and took a break and drank warm tea as we listened to the wind howl through the Gap just above us. Wind Gap is one of our favorites, and is one of only a few named "Gaps" in the Greens - it always reminds me of the many southern "Gaps" on the Appalachian Trail: Woody Gap, Neals Gap, Stecoah Gap, Newfound Gap. They marked our progress for us on that 1,200-mile hike.

We crested the sag to Wind Gap, where we stood and took it in. The view to the west showed an almost-setting sun, painting  the sky with pastel colors through the naked tree stems. A raven soared on a wind current overhead. There was total silence, save for the rushing wind and the trademark caw-ing of an on-wind Corvid.

The Trail North beckoned, as it always does - but not this day. Today, we were headed back down the mountain for a friend's art show, and some warm supper. In the end, we cleared and marked the section of the Camel's Hump Challenge route from the Monroe Trail west towards Wind Gap. Tristan tells me I saw only about one-sixth of the trail, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of it on skis later this winter.

It is a good feeling to see the Vermont wilds, climb mountains, and give to a good cause.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Technology Has its Place

On the day before Thanksgiving, my iPhone died its final death. It died on the one-month anniversary of our forced disconnect from the world wide web. The onset of a mysterious computer/internet problem, in which the two wouldn't speak to each other, but would happily hook up with others, left us confused and frustrated, and ultimately swearing off the whole thing. We could get by! We have our iPhones. Er, had. As I watched it crash its last crash, the little white wheel of death spinning, spinning, spinning, then nothing, I felt calm and freaked out at once. Well, I'll fix it. They'll warrantee it. (It had been dying short-lived deaths for some time already...) Everything felt fine, that is, until as the day carried on, I couldn't check in on anything. My phone's calming effect on my anxiously needing to know what was going on in the world was not to be had. The computer couldn't bring me my fix, either. What if I had an email? Facebook update? News? What if someone needed me?! OH MY GOD, SOMEONE COULD NEED ME!

Well, the first thing I learned from this ordeal is that I'm not that important. No one died because they couldn't reach me. The second thing I learned: life is really nice up here, away from your screen. There are people to hug and talk to, walks to be enjoyed, puppies to be wrestled with, hats to be knitted, guitars that have been waiting patiently to be picked back up again. There is life up here away from the screen, ready to be touched, breathed, felt, seen, and shared, once you're ready to look away from the pixelated version.

Don't get me wrong. I restored my phone. There are too many benefits to having it to go without it: easy communication from anywhere, and a plethora of apps that I use for yoga, meditation, or managing my money. Never again will I be unable to find something - anything - because I can now google, call, and map it all from one place. Phones are super useful: You can call in breakfast from the top of your morning ski run so that its ready and waiting when you get to the bottom of the mountain. You can find your way out of the woods when you're sure you've passed that rock at least twice already, probably from a different direction each time. And you can text your honey just to say, Hey. What it can't do, though, is replace real live living. Human interaction, subtlety, nature, green space, fresh air, love.  You have to look up from the screen/put it down/ turn it off for that good stuff.

I have all of my technology back again. My computer has decided it will sometimes talk with the old internet, although it will always talk with the new internet. And my phone is behaving, for the most part. What's different is my relationship with the stuff. I've been reminded of one important thing: Technology is supposed to make my life better, but its not supposed to get in the way of living. Now I'm shutting this thing down and going for a sunset walk with the dog.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Blading wheels to life

Well phase two is figuring out how to blade the wheels for my wind towers. I figured the simplest and easiest way would be with aluminum tape. After constant thought and looking at the wind towers on Main St. it looked as if aluminum tape is my quickest and easiest option as of now.  Most folks use it for patching up their exhaust on their cars, but it just so happens it worked great for my first round of blading wheels. The blading on the first wheel, a 700 c that isn't pictured, wasn't pretty; but the second wheel, a 26", came out pretty darn nice. I'll be experimenting with different patterns and wheel sizes as I go along. Now to watch them spin!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ride like the wind.

Today starts the beginning of a new phase of a  project I've been working on for some time now, one that is finally taking shape. I have finally erected the first of three wind towers constructed completely out of old bike parts, or objects that would otherwise end up in a land fill (or Kip's garage) that I will be using to harness the power of the wind, hopefully by next year, to use on our property in some way, shape, or form.  I was inspired by the artists of Sculpt-cycle in Montpelier a few years ago who constructed wind mills at the rotary on Main St. that I drive by every day. Slowly but surely I will be building and writing about the process as it moves along.Wind power and the towers we see high on some of the ridgelines here in Vermont have been a very touchy subject the last few years.  Through this art/energy project I'm hoping to learn more about how we as a culture view renewable energy sources visually and economically in our state and in our backyard.

Well, here goes nothing!

Or something?!!

We'll see.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012


No matter how many times I climb to the high peaks of the Franconia ridge, I am always inspired.  This time I had the chance to share it with some old and new friends.  For one friend it was the week before the start of a new chapter in his life, making a commitment to the most important and loving person in his life. 
Here's to Mike and Sofia.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mt. Jackson and Mizpah Hut, White Mountains

Waiting for a hike.
Crawford Notch, from the Highland Center.
Tristan and I continue to explore the White Mountains. A quick 90-minute drive typically gets us over there; good car-camping abounds at many of the state campgrounds, such as Dry River, to provide "base-camp" access; and there is so much terrain to explore - just peruse any map of the presidential range and be dazzled by the sheer number of trails! Your options for hiking in the White Mountains are plentiful.This past week, we had the privilege of exploring not only some new hiking trails, but also the AMC's Highland Center in Bretton Woods, NH.

The Center is steeped in mountain culture, from the lodge-style accommodations, to the sweeping views of Crawford Notch, to the many framed photographs of White Mountain vistas, summits and trails. The lodge staff, like everyone you meet in the mountains, are knowledgeable and friendly. The Center itself can serve as basecamp for any number of White Mountain adventures, with a fully-stocked retail area, including all the hiking essentials, an LL Bean gear room for guests, family-style meals, comfortable sleeping rooms and many nooks to tuck away with a good book or trail map, as you plan your next adventure.There is also a very nice meeting and conference center, which I would recommend to anyone planning a multi-day meeting, special event, retreat, or similar.

A stream crossing on the Webster-Jackson Trail.
The Center served as home-base for this adventure, though we camped at Dry River Campground (the Center does not allow dogs, and Odin will not allow us to hike without him). I will tell you there was nothing dry about this campground, except for the inside of our tent, thankfully, as it absolutely poured and stormed the whole night. The plan was to summit Mt. Washington the next day; both thunder and worry about an exposed hike in stormy weather kept me awake most of the night. 

This loop over Mt. Washington would have been only our second time at the top of this beautiful and majestic beast. However, the continual roll of thunder from 9pm the night before well  into the morning, plus a forecast including significant threat of thunderstorms throughout the day, suggested to us we seek an alternate destination. I don't mess around with lightning and exposure - there just aren't many places to seek safe cover on the exposed ridgelines of the Presidentials. Always play it safe, and live to hike another day is my feeling!

Summit, looking north.
Summit of Mt. Jackson.
Plan B was a new-to-us loop starting from and ending at the Center. We headed out on the Webster-Jackson trail to the beautiful summit of Mt. Jackson. At just over 4,000 feet, this summit is exposed, but not in the same way that the extended ridgelines are, which are characteristic of the Presidential Range. This hike truthfully felt more like a walk in the Green Mountains, and the summit more like a Vermont peak, save for the granite everywhere. Another distinct difference is the duration of the climb. The White Mountains seem to me to be more steep and rugged than the Greens, even when the elevation gain is similar. Overall, this was a great hike though, with steep sections punctuated with rolling walks to rest the legs. I am sure that the summit views would have been spectacular, too! 

We then headed over to Mizpah Hut for lunch. The hike north from the summit included some scrambles down wet rock, but overall I found the granite to be easier to grip my shoes to. Once we had gained the summit of Jackson, and then descended just a few hundred feet, the trail rolled along the same contour, give or take a few hundred feet, for a few miles over to and past the hut.This section of the walk included many beautiful bog bridges.

Mizpah Hut in the fog.
Mizpah Hut was a short distance from our trajectory, so we headed 200 feet down to the Hut to sit and have some lunch. Tristan and I have not experienced many of the huts (this was my third and his second) and we continue to be impressed and surprised. Personally, we prefer a more rustic campsite, but these huts make for nice places to stop, relax and eat. And it is certainly impressive to see what the AMC accomplishes in terms of service and culture. 

Alpine nature, with the Hut in the background.
After lunch, we completed our loop with a walk down the Mizpah Cutoff and then the Crawford Path - the oldest continually-used hiking trail in the continental US! This descent is fairly mellow. While rocky, there are not scrambles like what we saw coming up the Webster-Jackson trail, and the grade was mild. This would be a good trail to gain elevation for hikers that wanted to avoid steep climbs and strenuous rock scrambles. It is also a good hike for wet weather, since there are not slabs or rock to climb up or down, but rather rock steps and sandy soil.

Overall, this was an excellent hike - one of my favorites, and a loop I will do again for sure, hopefully with better vistas next time! In total, the hike was about 8 miles and included a significant climb up to Jackson, but the descent down on the Crawford path was mellow, and probably the easiest and best option for my knees! We're looking forward to an opportunity (read: a few days off from work in a row, together) to link more of these summits and huts with some of those White Mountain ridgelines!

A sign at Crawford Path's intersection with US-302 explains the history of this old trail.

If you're in the Crawford Notch/Bretton Woods/White Mountains area, this is a great hike to check out. Happy Trails!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Long Trail's Lodge in the Sky

When Sarah and I daydream back in time to our 2001 Long Trail hike, many wonderful memories come to the surface.  The mountains, beautiful vistas, the valleys, trail magic, wild flowers and the freedom of the trail.  But one thing that can stick out when you think about all those nights on the trail, where everyday your home was somewhere new, are certain shelters along the trail. Skyline Lodge, in the Breadloaf Wilderness on the Long Trail, is one of those such places for us. We try to frequent Skyline as much as we can, both because its beautiful and because we have adopted the Green Mountain Club shelter and check in on it from time to time. The Lodge is a four-walled shelter with a big front door and two paneled windows overlooking a front porch and serene Skylight Pond; the backdrop is a long-range mountain view. Its such a special place. The Lodge can be accessed  either from the Long Trail, hiking North or South, depending on where you get on to the trail. Accessing the lodge from the south is the shorter of the two options and the better option for a day hike. A good access point is Route 125 (Middlebury Gap), where the trail crosses at the height of land. This hike is a beautiful 5-mile stretch of rolling terrain. Alternatively, there is a blue-blazed side trail, the Skylight Pond trail which can be accessed by turning off the Middlebury Gap Road onto a dirt road (clear instructions are given in the Long Trail Guidebook). This hike is one of our favorites: 2.5 miles of beautiful switchback climbs alternated with long slabs across the hillside make this a mellow approach through beautiful hard- and softwood forests. We highly recommend hiking to this Lodge, using either route. If you're short on time or are concerned about distance, take the Skylight Pond Trail - you won't regret it

Here are some pictures from our recent hike out there:

Have fun out there!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

VTMTB Fest Showcases the Best

When I think of Summer in Vermont, I can easily dream of the the Long Trail and the boundless hiking trails in the Green Mountains, or the swimming holes, the smell of green pastures and farms, and don't forget the cows. But last week, at the Vermont Mountain Bike Festival, it was all about mountain bikes and riding trails. We all came together in Waterbury for two spectacular days of riding, showcasing some of the best single track Vermont has to offer. More than a few folks showed up to try their hands at it.

Rider: Dwight Gies

It seems like yesterday that mountain bikers got their hands dirty, with the relatively recent onset of this mountain past-time. And look how far we have come in that short period of time! Blood, sweat, dirt, and thousands of hours of riders' own time have built some of the best trails in New England.  That's just what people from far and near got to experience at this year's fest. Every year it's clear: Things can and will only get better from here... Here are some pics of the fun times has at the 2012 VT Mountain Bike Festival:

World-class riding, right in Stowe, Vt.
A group tour in Stowe, Vt.
Chris Lee picks trail-side berries.
One of our newest trails to enjoy - its great!
A cold beer at the Trapps brewery.
Some bike derby to liven things up!
The end do great day at the VTMTB fest.