A Look Back on 2016 and Ahead to 2017

2016-featureA Look Back on 2016

2016 has come and gone and now is the time to reflect on all that was accomplished or not. I think that many would agree that it was a rough year with all of the musician and celebrity deaths, Brexit, the US election, the war in Syria, the Keystone XL pipeline standoff, and the proposed motel near the summit of Mount Washington. But for me (outside of celebrities, politics and global disaster) it was a pretty good year. Here’s a rundown of my goals for the year and whether or not I attained them:

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Hike: Mount Moosilauke

TRIP REPORT

In 2011, when I rediscovered my love of hiking, I knew nothing of this New England 4000 Footer list. My older brother and I hiked Franconia Ridge in clouds, gale-force winds and horizontal rain. Since Mount Lincoln wasn’t marked aside from a large cairn (which were plentiful on the ridge), I wasn’t even sure when we’d hit it. It wasn’t until the following year that I discovered the list and decided it would be the fuel to burn my hiking desire.

I was thrilled when my brother said he’d be there to hike Mount Moosilauke, the final 4000, with me as well. He had had a couple of kids in the last few years, so it had been hard for him to keep up with his crazy younger brother who’d seemingly hit the mountains every weekend. My kids were older and either went with me or were able to fend for themselves for eight hours while I trekked to New Hampshire and the more distant reaches of Maine. We made plans to hike and camp out the night before the big hike.

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A Look Back on 2015 and Ahead to 2016

A Look Back on 2015

2015 has come and gone and now is the time to reflect on all that was accomplished or not. I mentioned in my very first post nearly two years ago that I had come to a turning point in my life and that my focus was turning from my career and security toward those things in life that make me happy.

On the responsibility-side of the coin my family has made a lot of progress fulfilling the American Dream:

  • Melissa spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica fulfilling a Science credit toward her Bachelor’s Degree (which she will complete in 2016) and guest wrote the most popular posts on Maine Wanderlust
  • Melissa also closed her from-home Daycare business (after 12 years) and started working at a Daycare in Freeport
  • We moved off Long Island and into our first house in Gorham
  • Our boys successfully integrated into their new schools and love them
Ranch house with huge lawn

Our first house!

On the flip side of the coin (the gypsy-wanderlust side) I’ve had a year of amazing adventures with family and friends. I didn’t accomplish everything I set out for at the beginning of the year. But the purpose of lofty goals is progress toward a better and happier being and to enjoy the trip along the way, not to blatantly check things off a list. Those which are not accomplished are as valuable as those which are.

  • I completed my first winter hike of a New England 4000 Footer on January 2nd when I climbed Cannon Mountain with my brother and friend John
  • I didn’t snowshoe to the top of Mount Washington, but I did hike it with John on a snowy and icy November day with hurricane-force winds. And it was clear on top!
  • I didn’t complete my New Hampshire and Vermont 4000 Footers, but I only have two left in New Hampshire, one left in Vermont and four left in Maine.
  • I did not attempt the Hut-to-Hut hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I am still not in the shape for it nor have the endurance to hike for 24 hours straight. Maybe this year?
  • I did not attempt a solo, 1-day hike of the Presidential Traverse, but I did do a Super-Moonlit hike of Mount Adams with John in August.
  • My hiking buddies and I didn’t get around to a multi-day hike in the Adirondacks this summer. But, Michael, Jeff and I spent three days camping on Flagstaff Lake in the end of August and climbed four Maine 4000 Footers.
  • I did not get to Mount Greylock, so the high point of Massachusetts is still on my to-do list.
  • Michael, John and I spent an amazing four days hiking in the Sierra Nevadas in the Emigrant Wilderness.
Valley of trees with bright blue sky

One of the amazing vista from the Emigrant Wilderness

On top of those goals from the beginning of 2015, I also:

  • Started cycling to work rather than commuting by car and have completed more than 3,000 miles on my Surly Long Haul Trucker
  • Hiked Knife Edge and two 4000 Footers in Baxter State Park with my older son
  • Went on my first bike & hike trip where I biked from Maine to the White Mountains and back, hiked and back-country camped solo and completed the four 4000 Footers in the Sandwich Range
  • Got up hours before dawn in order to hike Mount Jackson for sunrise because I can (now that we’ve moved off the island)
Bike next to national park sign

Entering White Mountain National Forest, on bike

A Look Ahead to 2016

Keeping with the themes from last year and in an attempt to complete some of those goals I missed, here are my goals for 2016:

  • Winter hike more of the New Hampshire 4000 Footers, including Mount Washington
  • Complete the New England 4000 Footer list and make good progress on the New England Hundred Highest
  • Again I want to attempt a solo, single-day hike of the Presidential Traverse, and if I’m able to do it, maybe I’ll add the Hut-to-Hut in 2017
  • Do that multi-day, late summer hike of the Adirondacks with friends
  • Do a couple state high points, Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and Mount Marcy in New York are likely candidates
  • With it being the National Parks Service’s Centennial, I’d really like to get out to Utah with the family and do the five 38° North National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion (A California CondoR Beds in Zion)
  • I’d really like to get out to British Columbia with some of my hiking buddies to see the Canadian Rockies, hopefully Banff or Jasper
Arch-shaped rock formation

Delicate Arch (photo credit: http://miscosaspepiss.blogspot.com/)

Luckily for me, my family supports my wandering feet and I’ve been able to find a healthy balance between responsibility and the quest for inner peace. I think I’ve become a happier person as a result.

Thanks to all of you who have checked in on my little adventures, liked and commented on my posts, or followed me anywhere in the social-media-websphere. They might seem like small acts, clicking a like or follow button, but they give me a burst of confidence to continue writing which in turn encourages me to get out there and experience more. I hope your 2015 was as great as mine. Where will your wanderlust take you in 2016?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
-Ernest Hemingway

References:
Banff National Park.” pc.gc.ca. Parks Canada. Web. 01 January 2016.
Jasper National Park.” pc.gc.ca. Parks Canada. Web. 01 January 2016.
National Park Service Centennial.” nationalparks.org. National Park Foundation. Web. 01 January 2016.
Utah National Parks.” utah.com. Utah Travel Industry. Web. 01 January 2016

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Hike: Emigrant Wilderness

Trail Report

Much like in 2014 when we hiked Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, my coworkers and good friends John and Michael made plans to explore the wilderness away from our normal haunts by tacking a vacation onto a work-related trip. This time we chose a lesser known wilderness area within the Stanislaus National Forest called the Emigrant Wilderness. The Emigrant Wilderness is noted for its granite and volcanic terrain and beautiful alpine lakes. It became our target because it was only a 3 hour drive from San Francisco, relatively low in the Sierra Nevadas (it was April after all), it was easy to obtain a backcountry camping permit, it was below the 9000′ restriction on campfires and bear cans were not required.

As the date of our trip approached the forecast made it clear that we would not be experiencing the typical Californian climate. Though the weeks before and after our trip were sunny and in the 70s, the forecast for our week was in the 40s with threatening thunderstorms. On the day that our conferences ended the forecast still wasn’t great but it looked like the precipitation was going to be low even if the thunderstorms did manage to roll in. At the worst, the highest elevation forecast that was available predicted less than an inch of snow with temperatures in the mid to high 30s.

As we drove to REI and Whole Foods in Berkeley to get supplies we were still discussing whether to ditch the mountain plans and spend four days exploring Point Reyes, on the Pacific coast where the forecast was favorable. In the end it came down to the fact that we had planned our trip for months and flown from Maine to California in order to experience the Sierra Nevadas. The worst possible forecast would be a mild New England spring storm. So we headed to the mountains.

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Cerro de la Muerte: The Mountain of Death

Part of the Talamanca Mountain range, Cerro de la Muerte is the highest point in Costa Rica and rises 11,000 feet above sea level. Stories were told by our guide of past journeys and unprepared travelers who succumbed to the cold and rainy weather of the mountain, giving the mountain its ominous name. It is our luck that a highway now runs to the mountain’s summit as it gave our group an opportunity to plan a full day hike from the summit.

Because a one-way 10-mile hike would take the entire day, our professors decided we would  start at the top and hike our way down. The bus took us up the winding mountain road and we stopped for a brief moment at an overlook. Supposedly, one could see something of great significance but the cloud cover was thick and we couldn’t see anything, much to the disappointment of Prof J who had looked forward to showing us the view.

Viewpoint

Piling quickly back onto the warm bus, we continued our ride up to a point just below the summit where the bus dropped us off and we huddled in packs to keep warm.

It started raining.

Actually, raining is not quite the right word. It started spitting a drizzle that was cold and infused with whipping wind.   Propelled by his desire to not push us through a rain-soaked hike, Prof J wanted to turn back. As an intense non-lover of rain-soaked hikes, I certainly appreciated the effort to avoid such an experience; however, Prof D convinced his fellow chaperon that we could, in fact, find it in our biology-loving hearts to make the trek down Cerro de la Muerte.

So we hiked.

PARAMO:

The first part of our hike began at the summit and followed a barren trail through the paramo habitat. Characterized by cold temperatures, harsh slopes, and short shrubs, I could hardly catch my breath. My inner voice rang constant reminders to stay calm and breathe, reminding myself that I was heading down the mountain to more oxygen. Picking my way carefully over wet rocks and around damp shrubs, I saw no sign of wildlife. This part of the hike was quick, cloudy, windy, and cold.

Cerro 1

As we began to move into the transitional forest, the cloud cover began to dissipate and we were afforded incredible views of the valley. I turned a corner to unexpectedly see a rainbow arching over the trees ahead and it was in this moment I thought of Ben.

Benjamin LaMontagne passed away February 22, 2014 and every day I wear the bracelet his mother (my friend) gave me in remembrance of him. The purple and gold bracelet with the words “Remember Ben” inscribed on the top is a daily reminder to not only remember that Ben lived but to also live every moment of our lives in honor of him. When I rounded the corner of the trail and saw the valley, felt the sunshine, glimpsed the rainbow, I thought of Ben and took a moment to reflect on his life well lived.

Cerro 2

TRANSITIONAL AND CLOUD FORESTS

“Wait until you see the golden moss,” Prof D said. “You will feel such euphoria.” Considering the lack of cloud cover and small amounts of sunshine, the golden moss was not quite as euphoric as one would have hoped; however, it was quite a sight to see.

Golden Moss

Our guide thought it would be amusing to wear the moss as cover and hide himself amongst the trees:

Golden Moss Luis

Other photos from the incredible hike down Cerro de la Muerte:

Roble Cerro 4Roble Oak

Cerro 5

Cerro 3

A Song to Costa Rica

There comes a point (at least for me) in a long hike when I am simply moving without thought, shuffling my feet forward and hypnotized by the rhythm of the walk. The tall oak trees rose above me and birds called (though I did not see them). This is the moment I remember when our guide started singing and his song carried us down the mountain. 

He sang:
“Que linda es mi Costa Rica
la virgen de los Angeles bajo
y como la vio tan bonito
as cielo jamas regreso…”

And I listened.
“What beautiful is my Costa Rica
The virgin of the angels came
and it see so beautiful it never came back
Because it is so beautiful
They call it the Central America Switzerland.”

It is indeed beautiful.

Next time we leave Savegre Valley and head south towards Drake Bay and Corcovado!

Pura Vida

Pura vida: the simple translation is “pure life”…And it is a philosophy of life for the people of Costa Rica.  Pronounced “Poo-rah Vee-dah”, it is an expression of optimism and takes on many meanings depending on its context.  It could mean take it easy, live in the moment, relax, enjoy life, it’s all good…It’s also a philosophy best understood through experience: walking slowly through the colorful roadside market in Manuel Antonio, hearing the quiet song of our guide paying homage to his country, embracing the welcoming smiles of Costa Rican people at every stop, or the first glimpses of a Pacific Ocean sunset.

My introduction to and subsequent acceptance of the pura vida philosophy was immediate upon my arrival to Costa Rica when I realized my luggage had not made the connecting flight from Miami.  Silently kicking myself for not adhering to my usual protocol of traveling with all carry-on luggage, I walked with one of my professors (who, in the spirit of respectful anonymity, I will call Prof J) to the help desk to report my missing luggage.

“Hola.  Puedo ayudarlo?”  asked the young man at the help desk.

Years of high school French came flooding into my brain and it wouldn’t be the first time during the trip when I would open my mouth to respond in Spanish but French would threaten to come out.  I’m sure I looked pained as I stood staring wide-eyed, searching my brain for the Spanish equivalent of what I needed to say.

“Ho-la,” I spit out ungracefully and turned chagrined to Prof J.  He knew our itinerary (as well as Spanish) and would certainly be more effective in coordinating the delivery of my luggage.  After a few moments of conversation and a small bit of paperwork, we discovered my luggage was still in Miami and the gentleman at the help desk efficiently worked with us to get it back to me.

As we stood waiting for the printer to s-l-o-w-l-y churn out the multiple page receipt for my luggage, Prof J turned to me and said, “Pura vida.”

“What does that mean?”

“It is what it is.”

My general annoyance to the situation started to dissipate.  He was right.  I could choose in that moment to spend the next 3 days upset and annoyed or I could relax.  I acknowledged the foresight I had in packing a change of clothes in my carry-on and reminded myself that I was in a warm, welcoming country and not in control of anything except my own response to the situation.

So I accepted it: Pura vida.

WHERE WE STAYED: City Express Hotel

It was a fine hotel for our short stay in San Jose.  An easy drive, 5 minutes from the airport.  The rooms were clean and comfortable.  According to their website (noted below), it costs $98 per night for a double room.  The free breakfast was good as well: toast, eggs, fresh fruit, juices, rice and beans.  The only downside to the hotel stay was the required use of our room key in order to operate the elevator…

Hotel Room

Hotel Room

City Express San José Costa Rica

While I didn’t get a photo of it, the view from my shared room was a side-street view of San Jose and, in the distance, tall spires of a wind farm lined the edges of a far-away hill.

WHERE WE ATE: McDonald’s

Yes.  McDonald’s.

We had arrived in San Jose late at night and, much to the apologetic dismay of our tour hosts, all restaurants had closed.  Except one: McDonalds.  Dropping our luggage at our hotel, we made our way to McDonalds where I ordered the “Tico” Mc-Something Sandwich and enjoyed my first (albeit unauthentic) Costa Rican dish.

Note on a Lesson Well Learned.  My luggage was returned to me 3 days later and I was relieved to have access to clean clothes and flip flops; however, my husband will be happy to hear I had found myself much happier with less.  How easy it was to move between places with only my camera and a backpack of supplies.

Next post: We head to Savegre Valley and go on our first hike!

2 Days of Trail Work with the AMC

In the middle of October three coworkers and I volunteered two days with the Appalachian Mountain Club to do some trail maintenance. We met Thursday night in North Conway, New Hampshire, at Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery for dinner and then drove to Barnes Field Group Campground for the night. We enjoyed age-old practices of beer by the fire and watching shooting stars.

Early the next morning our AMC representative showed up to lead us to the trailhead from which we’d set off to work. His name was Jack and we quickly started referring to him as AMC Jack. The trail we would be working on was the Carlo Col Trail near Berlin, New Hampshire. Carlo Col Trail is a yellow blazed trail connecting the longest and bumpiest dirt road I’ve ever been on to the Appalachian Trail right on the border of New Hampshire and Maine.

As we prepared to start hiking in and got briefed on safety the weather began to turn for the worse, rain was on the forecast for that day and evening. We hiked in a half a mile and dropped our tools at the first site marked for maintenance. It was a small section of trail where several inches of mud hid below a thin layer of leaves.

Trail Repair Gear

Trail Repair Gear: Pulaski, rock bars, mattocks, loppers, shovels, helmets and gloves

With the weather turning we decided to hike up to the Carlo Col Shelter and drop our packs and personal gear. The hike up was slow with all of the weight we were carrying and we got to the shelter late in the morning. We claimed our spots in the empty shelter and dug out the bear box which had been stowed for the season.

Carlo Col Shelter

Carlo Col Shelter

After a short snack break we headed back down to where we left our tools. The process for turning a muddy section of the trail into a passable section was simple yet required a lot of hard work and coordination. Simply put, we wanted to create a “corridor of sacrifice” through the protected land. We wanted that corridor to be as narrow as possible (to limit impact) and the best way to do so was to keep the trail dry. Even though people hike in bad weather and many wear proper foot protection, if they come upon a wet or muddy section they will walk through the forest and around the mud. This leads to a widening of the corridor of sacrifice and sometimes new trails. I know this to be true, because I have done so myself.

The primary way that we dried out the trail was to dig out the mud and replace it with very large boulders (we’re talking 200-500+ pounds) and to provide an easy route for water to drain off the trail with trenches and rock walls. We scoured the area around the wet trail for large rocks and then started to dig around the rock to get a feel for its size and shape. The rocks had to be large enough that they would not shift when stepped on or by frost in the winter. And, the rock should have a nice flat surface that would make a good foot tread.

Once a proper rock was discovered, two or three of us continued to dig up the rock and then leverage it out of its hole and to the trail using 18lb rock bars. This is where the coordination and teamwork came into play. The rocks were of such a massive weight that there was no way for one person to roll the rock to the trail. One or two people could lever the rock up partway and then the third would take a bite between the rock and the ground, wedging the rock in place. Then, the other two could reset their rock bars and continue to rotate the rock.

Slowly levering a large boulder into place with rock bars

Slowly levering a large boulder into place with rock bars

We also learned methods of turning rocks on a vertical axis by shoving the rock bar under one side of a rock and “rowing it,” moving the rock bar in a motion similar to one that is used to row a boat. Also, wedging the rock bar at the right angle at the right time could turn the rock’s course as it completed its roll.

While the rocks were being moved, someone else was digging up the soft, loamy soil (mud) and replacing it if possible with any soil that had a higher composition of clay or gravel. When the rock was ready to be placed in the trail, a conicle hole was formed in roughly the same shape as the rock. AMC Jack explained it like putting ice cream on top of a cone. The walls of the hole needed to be tapered so that the rock made contact with the walls at as many points as possible.

Once the rock was levered in place, it was rowed into the correct angle and then gravelly soil and small rocks were packed around the rock with the handle of a mattock or Pulaski. This was continued until the soggy section of trail was replaced with rocks spaced at a little less than an average person’s stride.

When we had the first section of trail completed we took a break for lunch. As we were eating a group of teenage girls headed up the trail toward Carlo Col Shelter. The shelter was to be their basecamp through the weekend for some hiking in the area. We informed them that our stuff was in the shelter and they were free move it aside to make room for themselves. Thinking like Web developers, we used this opportunity to test the usability of our newly repaired section of trail. All of the girls used our recently placed rocks to traverse the muddy area.

After lunch we started in on a larger section of mud a quarter of a mile further up the trail. The new section was much soggier and we had to source rocks from up a steep slope bordering the trail. As we started to work the rain began and it wasn’t long before we were up to our knees in muck and making more of a mess than improving the trail. At a point AMC Jack was up to his elbows in mud, using his arms as a shovel. He was very passionate about his work.

We decided that we should knock off early and made our way back up to Carlo Col Shelter. By the time we got there we were thoroughly soaked and the group of teenage girls has settled into the bottom half of the shelter and set up a kitchen on one of the nearby platforms under a tarp. A coworker and I had decided earlier that we would tent out on some of the platforms rather than crowd into the shelter with everyone else. We set to work pitching our tents in the downpour and howling wind.

Somehow I managed to get all of my gear and a change of clothes into my tent without everything getting soaked (it helped that my air pad covers the entire footprint of my tent). After making some dinner at the shelter I retired to my tent and changed my clothes in the tiny space between the fly and outer wall of the tent. I crawled into my sleeping bag to read, warm and dry despite the monster gusts of wind outside and the mid-shin depth of rain around the tent platform.

I woke in the morning and enjoyed a very satisfying breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. While I ate, I sat cross-legged on my sleeping bag reading and looking out into the wild while the previous evening’s storm shed the last drips from its swollen clouds. Once we had all eaten, packed up, and re-stowed the bear box, we hiked back down to our second maintenance site.

We spent the morning and into early afternoon wrapping up that section of the trail, which included moving the largest boulder we attempted (one that AMC Jack said was in the top 5 largest boulders he’d moved by means of rock bar).

Intense Selfie with Giant Boulder

Intense Selfie with Giant Boulder

Once we completed that section of trail it was early afternoon so we decided to clean up and head back to the trailhead. On hiking back out we discovered that the small brooks we had stepped over the day before had become mad rushing torrents. We had to carefully pick our routes across the brooks while carrying all of the heavy equipment.

Swollen brook after all the rain

Swollen brook after all the rain

Back at our vehicles we gave our thanks to AMC Jack who had been a very enthusiastic host and made our way back to Maine. My biggest take-away from the two days of volunteering with the AMC (aside from how slow and difficult it was) was an increased awareness of the amount of work and thought put into the trails. What I took for meandering trails with randomly scattered rocks and the occasional makeshift foot bridge and water runoff actually involved a lot of hard work and planning to keep the trail as dry as possible while limiting the impact to the wilderness around it. I swear from this point forward I will walk through mud and water in the trail, rather than leave the corridor of sacrifice.

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Appalachian Trail in miles: 2,189
AT in feet: 11,557,920
Total length of trail we work on in feet: ~65
Number of feet maintained per man-hour (our rate): 1
Number of AT volunteers in 2014: 5,617
Number of AT volunteer hours in 2014: 241,936
Percentage of AT maintained in 2014 at our rate: 0.05%

References:
About the Trail.” appalachiantrail.org. Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Web. 24 January 2015.
New Official Appalachian Trail Mileage Is 2,189.2 Miles.” chattanoogan.com. The Chattanoogan.com. Web. 24 January 2015.
Volunteers Donate over 200,000 Hours in Maintaining Appalachian Trail.” huntingtonnews.com. HuntingtonNews.com. Web. 24 January 2015.

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