Text Trail. 2001 - 2002. ~mike gradziel.
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Saturday four of us from JPL drove to Jalama Beach, 2.5 hours north up the coast where the Coast Hwy cuts inland and the coastline makes a sharp bend northward. Our destination was the Point Conception Lighthouse. From the busy main beach we hiked south on the hard wet sand and after a couple miles we were traversing trackless beach. It was high tide near noon and we had to slip past old seawalls below the railroad and scramble over rocks to avoid getting wet. After two hours of walking we arrived at the end of the beach, where the surf crashed directly on the cliffs. We scrambled up a gully and came out onto beautiful rolling hills covered in springy, succulent red and green plants and fragrant grasses. Below us, the bright blue ocean had whitecaps far out to the horizon. Purple kelp beds swayed offshore in the surge. The sandy cliffs stretched off into distant haze. Offshore, the marine layer sent bursts of white mist racing overhead through the blue sky. We walked, unsteadily treading the dense springy vegetation with our flip-flop clad feet, to an old white house in a grove of pines in a hollow on the lee side of the rise. The tops of the pines were flat and the branches swept downwind, like an elegant coiffure of green on the golden hilltop. The house had long been vacant. In a sheltered cove far below, at the base of the cliffs, several dozen sea lions swam and ambled around on the sunny beach. We climbed steps to the top of the hill, where a Coast Guard radio antenna and radar installation stood. From there we looked down on the beautiful lighthouse, below on the point, white stucco with a red tile roof. We descended a long flight of wooden steps to the lighthouse and prowled about, admiring the beautiful views and listening to the intense, soft blasts from the fog horn on the rocks just below the light house. Point Conception is indeed very isolated and beautiful. The walk back out along the beach seemed longer, but it was easier with the lower tide. We dined in Santa Barbara and arrived home near midnight. I return to the East Coast in a week. Work is wrapping up. This week I'll be integrating instrumentation on the helicopter for tests next weekend over the Mojave Desert. But then I'll be on a flight to New York, off again to a new apartment and another semester of classes.
Like all our Sierra hiking trips, the weekend started with a drive up the 14 to Mojave, a bite to eat there, and a stop at sunset in Red Rock Canyon where the wind blasts pebbles across the sand and the red fluted sandstone columns cast beautiful shadows. We picked up our hiking permit in the night drop box at Lone Pine and then set out to find a place to sleep. After a few unproductive forays on side roads we took Steward Lane, just south of Big Pine, off to the East to where the dirt road ended at a creek. We parked the two cars there and camped in the sand beside a grove of trees and a barbed wire fence. Morning sunshine revealed a spectacular vista of the Sierra skyline and the sounds of birds singing and a tractor cutting alfalfa in a nearby field. We packed and drove past Bishop to the Pine Creek road. It climbed from the valley floor at 4000 feet to a gravel lot at 7400 feet, beside a retired tungsten mine and a corral where many horses and mules were kept. The trail led up above the mine through a narrow and rugged valley to a pass. Beyond the pass we entered a world of beautiful blue lakes, wildflowers, rushing streams, patches of snow, and jagged peaks of banded rock in many colors. We selected a small lake on the map and made our way to it, camping high above the water at the top of a rocky rise. There were cliffs to jump from into the cold water. The mountains rose high above us and were very close, making us feel very small in our tiny valley. Through a pass we could see the hazy hills of Owens Valley far to the East. We camped two nights there, hiking around the nearby ridges and valleys, swimming, relaxing in the sun, and reducing the huge quantity of food that had arrived with us. For two days I saw no one but my four companions. Nights were cool and dark and the stars of the galaxy looked like a handful of sparks flung across the sky. We watched for satellites and saw many brilliant meteors. Sunday, driving the long road home, we stopped to prowl the eerie roads of the Manzanar concentration camp. It's sad to think of the thousands of people whose lives were shattered but who still made the best they could of their years in captivity. Los Angeles, of course, was the same as we left it. The hazy sky and endless traffic are perpetual. Two weeks left here; then I'll be going back East. Two semesters remaining.
July 15, 2002
Yosemite in July is hot, hazy, and crowded but beautiful nonetheless. We 14 from JPL drove to the park mid-day Friday and settled into two rooms at our condo. A trip out to get gas turned into a 50 mile adventure through the Valley and out to Crane Flats that evening. Next morning, early, we started out from the Happy Isles trailhead,climbed above Nevada Falls, and ascended to the East shoulder of Half Dome. A fire on the West shoulder had kept trails closed in previous days but they were open Saturday morning. Most of the group scrambled up the cables to the spacious summit. The trail did not quite live up to the excited descriptions of most trail guides... steps are blasted out of perfectly passable granite slabs, concrete and asphalt are poured in places to smooth the surface and create a wide path, and the cables to the top are not nearly as formidable as one might suppose. Plastic flip flops and a pair of running shoes are well suited to the trail. The hundreds of tame squirrels and fearless deer attest to the heavy use of the area, but the park service has done an excellent job building sturdy, safe trails that keep the people and the land as safe as possible. At the top we looked out across hazy mountains and valleys and peered over the edge down the steeply slanted wall of Half Dome. The hike down the Mist Trail beside the waterfalls was much more exciting than climbing the rock. At the base of 600-foot Nevada falls I stood on a rock that looked like the prow of a ship and thoroughly enjoyed the surges of mist that came rushing across from the cascades of water. Farther down we encountered the inviting granite basin of Emerald Pool, atop the 330-foot Vernal Falls. There we spent much time swimming and sliding down the slick rocks into the water on our stomachs like otters. Afterward we found signs attesting to the danger of sliding and slipping and the federal offense of approaching the water. Just check for rocks first... seems like common sense to me! The falls were beautiful. So was the sunset. 17 miles and 12 hours later we returned to the car. Next morning we drove to Glacier Point, peered down the cliffs and looked down on our route through the rugged canyons and cliffs and up the edge of Half Dome. We walked a mile in to the top of Sentinel Dome, quite possible the most beautiful viewpoint in the park and certainly nicer than Half Dome. From the summit we could look in a full circle and see the Valley, El Capitan and Half Dome, distant craggy peaks, and rolling forested hills. On the way out of the park we stopped at the Mariposa Grove to look at the giant sequoias there. Next weekend: backpacking in the Sierras.
Vacation's over, time to work: I'm mired in phase II mechanical redesign of my components for the helicopter-based tests of the MER terminal descent velocity measurement system. As the backshell swings around in its parachute and the lander, surrounded by its inflated airbags, dangles below on a tether, a camera will be snapping frames of the terrain 1600 meters below. Software will use orientation data from an inertial measurement unit to compensate for the rocking motion, and then measure the frame shift rate. With altimeter data, this will yield a measurement of transverse velocity useful for timing the remaining events before landing. We've got a camera and an IMU in an enclosure bolted to a five-axis gyro-stabilized gimbal usually used to mount movie cameras on trucks and boats and planes and helicopters. It flies in the desert, so we've got thermoelectric cooling on the camera and a nitrogen gas purge to prevent condensation. It flies again soon, so everyone is rushing to finish. So... the week off was nice. Erin and I did the whole fireworks/surfing/beach sunsets/fine dining/hiking/driving US 1 up to San Luis/seeing the sights at Avalon on Catalina/dressing nice and dining out by day, camping in alfalfa fields by night/movies in Old Town/back to work&back to NY. Went hiking in the San Gabriels this past weekend. Going to Yosemite and back to the Sierra high country in upcoming weekends. Summer's happening!
The rocket tests were successful. The helicopter-mounted camera performed well. And Erin has arrived from New York! Fine dining in Old Town Pasadena, Flamenco dancers, Spanish guitar, and amazing food at El Cid Flamenco show restaurant on Sunset Blvd... a day on Catalina Island at Avalon with the bright white sailboats bobbing in the blue waves and the colorful buildings shining in the sun... sunset from the deck of the slow boat back to Long Beach. Mars rocks and baby deer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, with work as usual helping to offset the evaporating bank accounts :) Today, surfing or Kayaking at Malibu, dinner at the beach.. then rock climbing in the desert, driving Hwy. 1 north up the coast and camping on the beach and playing in the sand...
It's been a long week. I will break 80 paid hours for seven days! We are testing rockets in the desert, looking for the effects of coupling between the RAD and TIRS rockets on the MER backshell. These are the rockets that slow and control the descent of the twin Mars landers in the Martian atmosphere. I'm coordinating testing and assembly of the rigging - massive cables that restrain the backshell on a steel tower as the rocket motors fire and accelerometers and pressure sensors and an inertial measurement unit and thermocouples and high speed video cameras and strain gauges record the behavior of the backshell. Three pieces of equipment will descend into the atmosphere on Mars, all connected along one cable. At the top is the parachute cannister, which releases the parachute. In the middle is the backshell, which contains the rockets for braking. At the bottom is the lander, which cuts free, bounces to a stop on airbags, unfolds, and releases a six-wheeled rover. All these parts are so complicated that I have no idea how they actually work! I've got some parts on my desk that will probably land on Mars. I've got a truckload of ground support equipment for a high-profile rocket test. I've got another set of hardware flying on a helicpter late next week - a camera and an inertial measurement unit housed in a protective box and mounted on a 5-axis inertially stabilized gimbal normally used to mount movie cameras on helicopters. The Hollywood crowd is the usual clientele. We are taking pictures in the Mojave and checking out a software system that uses altimeter data, calculated frame shift rates, and attitude data from the IMU to compute horizontal velocity with respect to the surface of Mars during the terminal descent phase. This data is used to control spacecraft attitude. Also I've got a few other projects in the works.. JPL is keeping me busy these days!
June 3, 2002
Friday evening we drove the familiar route up the 210 freeway to the 14, across the desert to Mojave, north on the 395 at sunset to Lone Pine, and up the Horseshoe Meadows road to the trailhead 10,000 feet high. The night was cold and the stars bright. In the morning we hiked in to the Cottonwood lakes, beautiful blue pools in a granite basin surrounded by dramatic mountains still covered with patches of snow. There was ice on some of the lakes still. We napped in warm grassy meadows. I splashed around in the shallows of the cold clear water and tried to capture slippery golden trout from their hiding places under logs and rocks. We watched furry marmots scampering between boulders and fended off chunky gray birds that hopped around camp and later pillaged our food bags that we hung from trees to keep them safe from wildlife. I climbed some interesting granite crags and slid down steep snow slopes on the worn soles of my running shoes. Sean and I scrambled up a ridge to the crest of the mountain, where we paused to admire the vista of snowy peaks to the West and to watch two climbers walk and slide down a precipitous snow chute about a half mile away. In the calm air we could hear much of what they said. Finding the pass deeply snowed in, we carefully kicked steps down thirty feet of snow at a break in the cornice and then scrambled a thousand feet to the trail below. Afternoon thunderclouds brought rumbles and wisps of snow. Above in the sky we could see the feathers of falling snow evaporating as they fell towards the hot air rising from the desert. May is a nice time of year to be in the High Sierras.
I finished my last thermal-fluids&heat transfer exam Friday May 10, packed up the room and moved out, spent a day with the family, and then hopped on a plane to Los Angeles Sunday morning. One flight was canceled but at last I arrived on the West Coast at sunset. Sean picked me up and we drove back to Pasadena in his Jeep, the red sun sinking into the Pacific behind us and lighting the hills and palm trees in orange and gold. The Hollywood sign shimmered over the city on a hill to the north, the lights twinkled in neat rows that stretched off to the horizon, and traffic whirred past with the usual hurried determination. At JPL the next morning I immediately got to work on some components for the 2003 Mars mission. Not much had changed at the lab in the eight months I was gone. Week's end sent us north to the desert, where Sean turned off Hwy 14 at Jawbone Canyon and drove us over the top of the Sierras and down the other side to Lake Isabella and the Kern River. The 4WD track was well graded but the side trails were quite the opposite. The weather was beautiful, the mountains shimmering in bright sunlight. We drove back through the huge Central Valley and over the Grapevine, at last arriving back in Pasadena after eleven hours of exploring Southern California. Memorial Day weekend we'll be backpacking in the Sierra High Country.
April 29, 2002
The Lion King by Disney on broadway is a beautiful performance... brought back memories of the Serengeti in Africa. The actors and dancers are amazing, the stage sets unique, varied, and fascinating, the story light and fun. New York City was, like all cities, crowded and humming with the beat of people and cars and sirens. It became quite beautiful at night, rain pouring down with bolts of lightning flashing over the colorful lights of Times Square.
The birds have returned, the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, and the weather is beautiful. Classes end in two and a half weeks. Exams end on the 10th of May. Work in Pasadena begins on May 13th. In just one month I'll be back to Sundays at the beach, evenings running trails in the mountains, treading the streets of Old Town Pasadena where theaters and restaurants and musicians and stores will replace the bleak empty streets of Troy. Between now and then I've got some exams to prepare for, papers to write, reading to complete. Soon enough I'll be eyed as the new engineer in the group, returned to save the floundering final tasks of NASA's latest Mars mission, and loaded up with work. But at least they'll pay me for it! Saving up for the rapidly-approaching real world of apartments and cars and insurance bills and student loans... and perhaps a few weeks' wandering in the Southwest next winter.
Dined out Friday night with Erin at Chez Sophie in Malta NY. It is an amazing little diner that serves the best French cuisine I've ever encountered (though I have not been to France). The decor is 1950s stainless steel and soft white lighting with sparkling pink hues, fine linen table cloths and glittering glasses at the bar, quiet friendly staff, and a menu of the most delicious food. Snow was falling softly as we walked outside afterward. Saturday morning Mitch and Pat joined us hiking on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. There was fresh powder snow on the ground. The sun shone intermittently through breaks in the clouds and the temperature was alternately warm and chillingly cold. We traversed the north ridge up to the summit and followed the Hopper trail back down to altitudes free of snow where spring had arrived and small green plants were beginning to emerge from beneath the leaves. Watched a couple of evening movies Saturday and Sunday. Did a very little bit of studying and a bit of reading. Started to think about going back to Los Angeles the second week of May.
March 17, 2002
Found snow in Mexico! To Mexico city, bus to Puebla, wandered around the giant Puebla bus station and got on a bus to Tlachichuca packed so full there was no standing room. Spent the night there in the shadow of the volcano Citlaltepetl, wandered the dark streets with the stray dogs and dry leaves blowing about and found a room at the Hotel Gerar. Sunday morning the town square came alive with the markets - heaps of dry corn and rice and peppers and fish and shrimp, fruits and vegetables and textiles and meats and shoes and tools and drinks and delicious fresh tortillas. Tents crowded the square, music filled the air, and the church bells rang happily. We hiked out of town late morning, stopped under a tree in the heat to devour a watermelon, crossed huge dusty fields from which great clouds of fine volcanic dust rose in the wind, climbed higher and higher and watched a spectacular sunset, camped in a field above Hidalgo ten miles and eight hours later and 4000 feet higher. In the morning we watched the sun rise behind the tantalizingly close peak, then hiked on through beautiful open pine forest until we broke above treeline at 14,000 feet. We camped there, at the end of the 4WD track, and ascended to 15,200' the next day under cloudy skies that spat snow from time to time. Rose at 3:30am, scaled steep ice gullies in the dark, watched the sun rise from the glacier at 16,000 feet, climbed up the 45-degree snow slope for hours to the crater rim well above 18,000 feet. There was nothing but the crunch of crampons, the bright white of snow, the distant peaks of Popo and Izta to the West, the tiny figures climbing below us... The sun was hot, the temperature in the 20s F. The crater is very narrow and very deep - several hundred feet deep with vertical walls and shattered orange-brown rocky spires that lean precariously over the crater. The smell of sulfur wafted out of the flat bottom of the crater but the volcano is inactive. Jeremy traversed around to the highest spire, the true summit. I retreated to friendlier altitudes a thousand feet lower and napped on the steep ice slope. Erin, kept down by the altitude, explored the glacier and bouldered at 16,000 feet. We met in camp at noon, spent another night at that windy rocky perch with a spectacular view, then hiked down to Hidalgo and caught a wild ride down in the back of a Mexican wood-railed pickup truck. From Tlachichuca we took a bus to Puebla, got a room, and explored the city by night. Spent the next day eating, venturing through the markets and the beautiful parks, drinking fresh squeezed orange juice from the street vendors, practicing our Spanish language skills. Several taxi and bus rides later we were in Mexico City for an uneventful night looking for things to do in the city center. Then to the airport in the morning, and home. Enough tortillas and taxis, mountain sunsets, street markets, dusty fields and starry nights, long bus rides and warm afternoons napping in the grass. Back to the far too ordinary New York life.
It sure is beautiful weather here in New York. Feels like spring, which is logical except that we seem to have missed winter entirely with only one snowstorm that amounted to white powdery snow staying on the ground for a few weeks. Erin, Jeremy, and I have decided that we must go to Mexico to find snow, so tonight we will get ourselves to the airport in NJ and will fly to Mexico City early tomorrow morning on the cheapest flight we could find. We have few plans beyond our scheduled arrival other than finding snow on the volcano Citlaltepetl, Mexico's highest mountain and the third loftiest heap of rock and ice in North America.
If the weather holds we'll climb to the top; if we don't climb we'll find something else interesting to do in Mexico. Back Sunday March 17.
It's sixty degrees mid-day and almost March. The Air Force appears to be refueling some sort of aircraft mid-flight with a couple of big tanker jets in the skies above Troy. Makes interesting double jet contrails. Haven't seen that ever before, I wonder what they're up to. Going East. The sun is shining and it feels as if it is either May or we have moved to the latitude of Atlanta. I'm thoroughly confused with regard to the passage of time. Always on the move, and then this unusual weather. Must be time to go to Mexico.
Another day, another week. More to study, more to learn, more elusive answers. Nothing can be certain while I call no place home, live no two days alike, and travel from place to place with absolute conviction that there is something out there to be discovered.
I realized that I would rather stay home for a weekend than find myself far away, with a pack on my back, looking up at beautiful snowy mountains I indend to climb but cannot. It is as if I am confined by a great glass wall that is slowly receding from the wild icy heights and dragging me away with it. To be turned back only by time is the most pitiful excuse. What has become of free life? So we went to New Hampshire and the others climbed Washington. We drove there Friday night, stopped at a gas station to buy 29 cents of regular unleaded for stove fuel, rolled into Pinkham at 1am, slept in various places, hiked in, hiked out, hiked across, camped, watched the snowflakes fall, slept, built an igloo, gazed up at the stars and awoke to a crystal-clear blue sky, then left it all and drove back south and milled about beside a service station for a couple hours while a blown brake cylinder on the minivan was fixed and drove back roads through Vermont and found to our disappointment that no snow had fallen in Troy. Work as usual, perhaps more than usual...
Saturday I led a hiking trip to the Catskills. We drove through the quaint little town of Woodstock, which appears to have frozen in time back in the 60s, and continued through Phonecia to Mt. Tremper, passing the entrance to the Tibetan buddhist monastery that is the center of the North American faith. I'd like to go see the monastery sometime, or else just go to Tibet. We took a long no-outlet road into Woodland Valley and parked at a convenient trailhead; I had no trail information and only some 1980 topo maps with no marked trails. The weather was absolutely beautiful. We hiked in about 2.5 hours, first on bare ground and then on snow and ice above 3500 feet. We were surprised at the summit to come out onto a spectacular overlook to the East. The rocks were warm, the grassy clearing dry, and the sky clear blue. We took off our crampons and boots and spent an hour relaxing in the sun, the descended the icy trail and returned to Troy. I think I'll be going to the Catskills much more frequently - they are nearly devoid of people in comparison with the Adirondacks, closer, and absolutely quiet. And the geology is different - there are many more flat places we might camp.
Three weeks into the spring semester I am completely saturated with information. Most of it is non-academic. Combine culture shock, time change, weather change, lack of sunshine (gray wet days in Troy), new classes, much reading, much writing, processing 600 photos from Africa, catching up on business, planning spring break in Mexico, securing a job for the summer, finding a place to live for summer, then for next fall, deciding where to study next fall, or whether or not to study, leading trips for the ROC and tending to club issues, keeping up with homework, catching up with widely scattered friends, busy weekends, long nights... I am making progress and though no end is in sight it is tolerable at least. It is finally snowing! Does anybody want to go out and climb something?
January 15, 2002
I remember London as a blur of red buses, brick buildings, black taxis, gray skies, and hurried people. That day was one of the stretched, distorted, endless travel days. The first thing I noticed about Nairobi was the smell. The odors of auto exhaust, hot pavement, tropical plants, burning rubbish, and thousands of people all mixed together to form a distinctive Nairobi atmosphere. We spent just one night in the city before bouncing south on the road to Arusha, passing Maasai villages and roadside markets and herds of cattle and banana plantations. A day later we were hiking through thick jungle on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. Monkeys swung from the trees and the squirrels made hideous screeching noises all night. Higher on the slopes we walked through giant heather and open moorland. We celebrated the New Year at 12,000 feet with much festivity. Higher still we trekked across a huge alpine desert and climbed by the light of the stars to watch the sun rise over East Africa from a perch at 19,000 feet. At the summit, on the roof of Africa, we admired the great glaciers and looked across the huge expanse of the crater. Next we set out to explore the Serengeti, Manyara, and Ngorongoro. Sleeping in beautiful lodges or camping in tents in the bush, driving by day on rough dirt tracks through the forests and grasslands, we saw millions of animals. Most impressive was standing in the midst of hundreds of thousands of migrating wildebeeste and zebra. The animals stretched to the horizon. We watched hunting cheetahs, sleeping lions, leopards in the trees, gazelle and eland and waterbuck and buffalo and impala and reed buck, giraffe and hippopotamus and rhino and elephant and ostrich and python and mongoose and dik dik and hyena and tortise, and countless colorful birds. We heard lions in the night outside camp, watched spectacular sunrises and sunsets in the Serengeti, enjoyed starry nights and afternoon siestas, and shared Africa's best food and drink. I love to travel.
Gone globetrotting once again. The destination is equatorial East Africa, where I will spend almost three weeks frolicking in the Serengeti, cimbing Africa's highest mountain, exploring Lake Manyara, and the Norongoro Crater... so right now I could be hiking in Massachusetts, or wandering around the streets of London, or bartering for goods in Nairobi, or chasing big game with my camera. Happy Holidays all! Look for me back here in the middle of January.
Snow began to fall at dusk, big white flakes that swirled in the breeze and stuck to the trees in fluffy white clumps. In two hours several inches had fallen and campus had become a winter wonderland. It was all so quiet, every noise muffled by the snow which continued to fall heavily. The street lights and bright windows cast an orange glow on the snowy trees outside. Strings of Christmas lights sparkled on snowy evergreen branches. What a night to be out!
December 1st: 60 degrees and sunny. Beautiful weather. So we went down to the waterfalls, even considered swimming! Did some scrambling up the gorge since up is the only way out. The rock is flaky but the ledges are so much fun to climb. And there is no better place to lie out in the sunshine on the warm rocks looking back at a beautiful waterfall, sitting at the top of another... It is surprising how isolated one can feel right in the city of Troy. So where's the snow at? We need to be training on snow for CitlaltÚpetl in March. This summer weather is nice but I want to climb some ice! Maybe next weekend it will be snowing; I wouldn't be surprised.
Jeremy's Tercel handled the four of us and our four packs quite well on the way to and from the ADK Loj. We hiked in Saturday through Avalanche Pass to the summit of Colden, via Lake Colden. The weather was beautiful - sunny and cool - and the ground remained frozen through the day, keeping the mud on the ground where it belongs. The snow had all melted but we used crampons to climb the icy trail. Sheets of ice flowed down the trail and glittered in the light of the low sun. We watched the sun set over Algonquin Peak in a glow of red and gold, and then scrambled onto the sumit ridge as the sky behind us turned brilliant colors and the tiny sliver of moon overhead began to shine. Jeremy and Mike found a place for their tent near the summit and Erin and I made camp a short distance down the ridge, on a windy granite slab. My new tent happily sheltered us from the gusts while we cooked up a delicious meal of calzones. The stars were brilliant and clear when we fell asleep. I awoke at 2am and looked outside to watch for meteors but, seeing none and finding it very chilly, I went back to sleep and woke up just before daylight to see a few more falling stars and then a beautiful sunrise over Mt. Marcy. The tent became instantly warm in the sunshine, and we took our time cooking hot cocoa and oatmeal and enjoying the beautiful view outside the tent door.
There is just enough ice above 3500 feet in the Adirondacks that one could find a use for crampons, but not quite enough that they are needed. We will have to return next weekend to kick off the ice season. Saturday it was cloudy and snowing and the summit of Giant was covered in rime ice. There were about three inches of snow on the ground. About 30 other people also decided to make the hike so it was a bit lacking in solitude but nice nonetheless. We must wait until the weather scares them away and go back then.
October 28, 2001
Seeking snow once again in our impatience for winter, Erin and I found three inches of powder along with a half inch of rime ice covering every tree and rock on the upper slopes of Dix Mtn. Bursts of sunshine illuminated the frozen mountain with a sudden blinding glare from time to time but were swallowed up by clouds moments later. The summit was obscured when we arrived and the wind was quite strong so we quickly retreated to the shelter of the trees, descended 1500 feet to what appeared to be the only semi-flat tent-sized area on the upper slopes of the mountain, and set up camp. Inside the tent the climate was much warmer, especially once we got dinner cooking in the vestibule. Bedtime at 7:00 for 12 hours of sleep. Then a thousand feet of jump/slide/glissade back to the snow line, followed by an uneventful hike out under clear skies. What a weekend!
I wandered into Atlanta a couple weeks ago and found myself at a sorority house that, while rather empty on account of fall break, still was home to a great many attractive women. Yes, such are the benefits of being an "engineering consultant." ...or something like that. And the airport security didn't even bat an eye at my pack full of power supplies and wires and little boxes with switches and motors and miscellaneous sharp metal objects. As expected, Atlanta was awesome! Got some fried chicken and cornbread and contemplated what two years of grad school would be like at Georgia Tech. Then I flew home, worked day and night, slept a little, and went hiking in the Adirondacks Saturday. Twelve miles on fallen leaves and snow, sunny skies making for a beautiful day on the trail.
Saturday morning found me rolling northward with three other RPI backpackers headed for the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The night before a massive cold front had collided with unseasonably warm, humid air over the mountains and conditions were quite unstable. We parked at Pinkham Notch under partly sunny skies and watched the clouds come roaring over the ridge. Fall foliage was peak and very colorful; the drive up through Vermont and New Hampshire had been quite beautiful. Fallen leaves covered the trail. As darkness fell we made camp at a sheltered location above the Great Gulf. The wind roared overhead all night and rain and ice battered the tents but we remained warm and dry. Morning sunshine revealed snow covering the trees a thousand feet higher on the mountain. We continued up the trail and climbed on the East shoulder of Madison. Colorful forest gave way to dense spruce thickets that gradually thinned out until we were hiking on wind-swept alpine tundra. Rime ice and snow covered every rock and shrub. Spectacular views of the ridge and the valley appeared from the clouds from time to time and the sun shone intermittently. As we neared the summit of Madison the wind began to gust heavily and we hurried over the top to the shelter below on the saddle. There it began snowing heavily. After a short lunch break we dropped down into the Gulf via the Buttress trail, passing beautiful Star Lake and then scrambling over vast snow-covered boulder slopes. We camped in light snow at about 3000 feet and, after a quick meal, retreated to our tents as quickly as possible. The arrival of dawn came with much confusion as we pondered the unusual darkness of the tents until I shook off the four inches of snow that had fallen overnight. It was still snowing so we packed up and left without cooking. The snow thinned as we descended but persisted in sheltered locations in the valleys. Back in Troy, hours later under sunny skies with not a hint of snow, I covered my dorm room with wet gear and plotted upcoming weekends free for more hikes in the Whites.
Fall Lake George has been around for 60 or 70 or more years. RPI takes over an island and invites other IOCA schools. All of us - 200 strong - converge on the island, most under cover of darkness, in canoes and kayaks and powerboats and anything else that floats. We spend the weekend climbing and paddling and jumping from cliffs, hiking and diving and swimming and sleeping and eating and, Saturday night, dancing up a storm in the middle of the forest. The squaredance is the best! Of course, the entire weekend is awesome year after year. This year we did a great deal of paddling. I made my first solo crossing in two foot swells and learned how to surf with a 17 foot canoe. We found a rattlesnake on Tongue Mountain, rare in the Northeast. We slept out under the stars, spent evenings conversing in the light of spectacular sunsets, braved the nearly impassable juniper cliffs, and napped in the sunshine. Too soon it ended. So next weekend I'm intent in getting outside again. It will be quite the opposite experience - a White Mountain traverse with freezing rain and snow and wind. Sunshine and stars are nice but I go out simply to get to a place where life is not tangled up by the senseless blunderings of humanity. Ice and snow won't bother me a bit.
Work by weekday, go biking or climbing or hiking or paddling or sleep by weekends. It's been a chaotic routine of rise at 7am, run, hit the gym, eat, study, work, sleep, file documents, pay bills, and wait for the next chance to seek out the freedom of the hills. This weekend: Fall Lake George, 250 students take over Turtle Island. Check back next week to find out how that goes.
I'm at RPI again, studying engineering dynamics and statistics and thermal-fluids. Myriad options for my free afternoons crowd each other out but I'll still find time to climb, to paddle, to make ascents in the High Peaks, to frequent the climbing wall after class, to dive, to raft, and to otherwise get out of this town. Actually it doesn't seem so bad now - the Hudson Valley is beautiful in spite of the crumbling post-industrial ghost cities and the absence of a college town. I have to appreciate the history of this part of the country - especially after getting away from it and gaining a new perspective. We really do have it all.
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Also read from 2002-2003, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2010, 2011-2012, and 2013-2015.