Monday, September 6, 2010

Ella Baker House

Well, I've failed at blogging.  Things have settled down a bit in terms of my schedule and we also got internet at home, so I think I will begin posting more regularly.  I think I will start with the basics and work my way out in terms of giving you all a good view of my life, first, the house I'm living in.

There are six of us total, half are from the Midwest, two are from the West Coast, and one is from the East Coast.  We're all living together in a house in Oakland.
Me, Lindsey, Grace, Victoria, Emily, and Molly
The house is called Ella Baker House, after the civil rights activist.  We are near Lake Merritt, and the neighborhood is great-- lots of shops and restaurants nearby.
Lake Merritt
The house is beautiful-- lots of communal space and rooms with big windows.  I am rooming with Emily (she went to Luther College...note the bedspread), and we get the room right off the kitchen, with windows on three walls.
My room!
I am a fan.
All that's missing are my discs on the wall
My side of the room, looking the other way
Here are some other pictures of the house:
Living room looking out into the dining room
The living room
The dining room
Victoria in the kitchen
Our fridge.  Ella Baker is on the top left.
Yeah, our house is sweet.  We also have great landladies who live beneath us and we get internet and laundry from them.  It's all very convenient.  Plus they have an adorable two-year old son.

Since we've been here for a little over two weeks, we've established a cooking and chore schedule, which begins in earnest this week.  So far I have learned to make tortillas...they're easy and delicious and serves as a base for most of the food I eat.
Tortilla-making machine
We've all also started working at our placements...there's so much more to cover, but I will get to it in upcoming entries.  Labor Day Weekend was a nice break to get caught up on things, including this blog.  More later, I promise!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Leaving for LVC

I'm back from Maine and will write a trip report about that at some point (in short: it was beautiful and lots of fun), but for now, I'm sitting in the Columbua airport and am about to leave for Lutheran Volunteer Corps orientation in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I won't have internet access for the next week, and I might not have internet at my new home in Oakland, California, where I will be flying in six days, but I will update the blog periodically from coffee shops or other places with wifi.  I also started a 365 Project, a website where you can create an account and try to upload a photo a day to your own album for a year.  We'll see how that goes...four days in, still going strong.

That's about it for now.  I'll write next from California!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Off to Maine!

My aunt and uncle from Berlin have been here in Ohio with us for a few days before we all leave tomorrow for a family vacation in Maine.  They brought a lot of chocolate with them...
This is after we've eaten some already.  My favorite is Milka Daim, milk chocolate with chunks of almond toffee.

This will be my fourth time going to New England this year.  No Paige this time, though.  I'll write about the trip when we come back in early August.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The White Mountains with Paige

A little over two weeks ago, I left for New Hampshire to visit Paige, who's working in a backcountry hut called Lakes of the Clouds operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) near the summit of Mt. Washington.  I drove to Vermont on Saturday and spent the night in Rutland, and then drove to the base of Mt. Washington to meet Paige just as she got off work that morning

Our reunion after seven weeks was wonderful, and we drove down in the valley to the Highland Center, a lodge operated by the AMC and our home for the next three nights.  The Highland Center is beautiful-- it's a green-certified building of some kind and is very modern as it was built in 2003, but it maintains a rustic feel, with big, open windows and timber walls and trim outside and inside.  There's a nice big lawn in front, with parts left minimally mowed, and the mountains rise all around it, with multiple trailheads close by.  We explored a little lake right across the road from the center, got a delicious lunch in the kitchen and some Ben and Jerry's at a gas station down the road, and then checked into our room.

After a barbecue dinner on the patio of the center, we went on a short hike up Mt. Willard, one of the smaller mountains in the area with an elevation of 2,850 feet.  We set off as the sun began to set, and I got my first taste of White Mountain hiking.  The trail rose uniformly the whole way, alongside a stream for the first part, then turning off as we got higher.  There were rocks along the whole trail, which is very typical of the White Mountains and I'd imagine New England hiking in general.  Paige told me at some point in the trip that current trail-building philosophy is never to remove any rocks, just to add them, and that was apparent on this short hike.  We made it to the top, which was a beautiful rocky cliff overlooking the valley along Route 302 to the south.  We sat there for a while, and I took in the mountains.  It reminded me a little bit of the Black Forest landscape near Freiburg, Germany, where I was last year, but the mountains around us were higher, and went on into the distance longer.

We got up early on Monday and enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the center-- a big benefit of staying at AMC lodges, as far as I experienced, were the great breakfasts and dinners included in the cost.  We set off on a hike for Ethan Pond, a place Paige had heard was beautiful, located over a couple mountains southeast of the center.  We thought we'd then hike all the way around to Zealand Falls, an AMC hut, get a late lunch, and then continue in a large loop back to the Highland Center.  We started off and I summited my first 4,000 footer, Mt. Tom.  4,000 footers are sort of a mountain benchmark in New Hampshire-- there are 48 of them, and some people make it a goal to climb them all, granting them membership into the Four Thousand Footer Club.
Summit of Mt. Tom
The climb was tough.  I mentioned the rocks already, which are everywhere, making the hike difficult (also beautiful), but trails in the White Mountains don't use switchbacks, either.  The path chooses a direct route up, and continues up until it can't go anymore.  The summit wasn't above the tree line, but there was a nice little view from the top regardless.
View from Mt. Tom
Up next was Mt. Willey, another 4,000 footer.  By this time I was getting tired and we were hiking more slowly than expected.  We got to the summit and started hiking down an incredibly steep trail-- I had to sit down to navigate parts of it.  I also started feeling very sick.  I had been stuffed up all day, and a pounding headache had been building since morning, and I ended up holding my head as we hiked down to stop it from jostling and aching with each step down.  When Paige looked back and saw me trying to hike down with one of my hands clutching my forehead, she made a good decision, and we to turned back before we got too far down the mountain.  I was upset initially, and disappointed that I couldn't go any faster, but a good lesson in hiking is never to be too set on the end destination that it ruins all the parts that come before it.  And the parts that came before Ethan Pond were gorgeous.  We passed
Beecher Cascade
over mountain streams cascading over boulders covered in moss and hiked up and down beautiful little valleys etched into the side of the mountain, affording nice glimmers of huge, pine-covered ridges.  The air was clear and the sun was shining, and it was a gorgeous hike.  On our way back, right before we got to the Highland Center, we turned off on a small loop that ran us right by some beautiful cascades.  We stopped and played in Beecher Cascade, a 35-foot high waterfall that carved its way into granite, and then continued back to the Highland Center for a family-style dinner in the huge dining room and an early night.

We elected to take it easy on Tuesday because I was still feeling sick and wanted to be ready for the climb up to Lakes of the Clouds the next day.  We took our time in the morning and went on a small hike to Ammonoosuc Lake and a small overlook with a perfect little view of Mt. Washington from afar.
Ammonoosuc Lake
 We got back in the early afternoon and drove south on 302 a bit to Trail's End, a local ice cream place, and had ice cream there that ended up serving as our lunch.  We spent the rest of the day and evening relaxing in the Highland Center, tossing a frisbee on the lawn until the weather turned cloudy and threatened rain.  The center has a little library on the second floor with hiking guides, maps, books, and also Appalachia, the AMC's biannual journal.  I took down a random journal and read some poetry and an essay by Mary Oliver and analysis of accidents and deaths in the White Mountains from that year, I think it was 2004.  I read a little bit about the accidents that had happened on Mt. Washington then, in preparation for our hike up the next day.  Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New England, and the observatory and various buildings at its summit give it a distinctive profile, so we had been seeing it every day in the valley, and reading about its rapidly changing weather and sometimes treacherous trails the night before hiking to it added some excitement.

We got up early on Wednesday and drove to a Forest Service parking lot at the base of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail-- Paige and her coworkers called it the Ami, so I'll call it that for the rest of this entry, too.  The Ami was built as an escape ravine from Mt. Washington, and as the weather was cloudy with rain threatening, so we opted to take it to Lakes of the Clouds instead of a longer trail that goes above treeline more in case the weather turned.  Paige warned me that the first two miles are fine, but once you pass a certain pool formed by a mountain stream, the last mile is the worst mile you will ever have hiked.  The trail basically goes straight up the side of the mountain, leaving the treeline for the last 200m or so before it meets the hut.  I felt much better than I had on Monday, though, so with our packs loaded with clothes for the next few days in the alpine zone, we began our hike.

The first two miles were in the woods with a gradually rising trail that passed through various brooks and eventually ended up next to a rushing mountain stream.  This was the site of an avalanche last fall, so there were lots of fallen trees lining the trail when we hiked up it.  We stopped at Gem Pool, a gorgeous deep pool at the foot of a cascade that marks the beginning of the steep last mile of the hike.  It was too cold to swim, but we had some snacks and got ready for the hard climb.

The first part of the climb was miserable.  Rocks were basically placed in a rough staircase that seemed to go on forever.  We took a short break to look at an overlook that looked out from a rocky point onto two beautiful waterfalls and another small pool.  This was one of the most beautiful spots I have ever been to, I think, on par with the gorgeous waterfalls I saw in Norway when I was there in 2003.
Such a Bro...
After that break, it was back to the staircase, which gave way to rock faces that often required a bit of scrambling.  At this point, I started really enjoying the hike.  We were getting close to the alpine zone, so the trees were getting smaller and scrubbier, and we were almost always next to running water, sometimes even climbing/hiking through it.  There were so many beautiful spots where the water trickled down cracks in the rock and little flowers grew.  We sat and stopped to look at many of them, but I didn't take any pictures from the trail, sadly.  We were also basically hiking in and among the clouds after a certain point, so we couldn't see any of the great views that the upper part of the Ami affords.  Still, the clouds and mist gave the whole hike a magical feel, and, luckily, as we were hiking up on a Wednesday, we didn't run into too many people, either, so it felt like we were completely alone in this beautiful place.

Finally, after passing a sign that said we were entering the alpine zone and pressing on for a while, following the cairns, Paige spotted an enclosure holding propane tanks, and, suddenly, Lakes of the Clouds hut appeared out of the clouds.  We said hi to the people in her croo (for AMC hut one knows why they spell it "croo," but they do) who were around and fixed ourselves a nice lunch.  The croo's job is to keep the hut, which serves up to 90 or so guests per night, clean, cook dinner and breakfast, answer questions, sell food and gear to hikers who come in during the middle of the day, and to pack in supplies from the summit twice a week on big packboards.  They are also some of the first people to respond to search and rescue calls, but thankfully none of those happened while I as there.  There are ten people on Paige's croo, with three people off at any given time

Anyways, we went on a short walk down the Crawford Path, one of the oldest hiking paths in the United States.  It runs right by Lakes of the Clouds and up to the summit of Mt. Washington (the hut is 1,500 feet or so below the summit).  Oh, and the Crawford Path also goes by another name...the Appalachian Trail (the Crawford Path is part of the AT).  I saw a lot of thru-hikers during my time in the hut.  They get to work for a place to sleep and free food, so a lot of them come through and utilize the hut system on their way north or south.  Because the path so old, the trail is really worn away, and as we were above tree line, we could see it snaking its way across the ridges into the distance.  We hiked to a little cave and back, and then at 5 it was "go time" for Paige-- the croo gathers together every evening and helps the person assigned to cooking duties for the day prepare dinner.  I ended up helping out in the kitchen, mainly scrubbing pans and serving food.  Everyone knows what they're doing and they are impressively fast at washing dishes.  Sometimes, I just stood back and watched, not sure where to fit in their hectic but organized kitchen routine.

The dinner process ends at around 8, then the thru-hikers are fed, and then, finally, the croo eats.  There's some free time after dinner while the daylight lasts.  We went swimming on the first night in one of the two small lakes near the was a refreshing dip, to be sure.  Everyone went to bed early in the hut, because days begin at 6 AM for croo members, and even earlier for those assigned to cook for the day.

After breakfast on Thursday, Paige and I hiked to the summit of Mt. Washington.  As I said before, at 6288 feet, Mt. Washington is the tallest summit in New England.  It is also one of the most dangerous due to its weather.  It claims to have "the worst weather in the world," which can be justified in part because the highest wind speed on earth was recorded there, but also because it is positioned at the conjunction of two major weather systems, and many others flow up from the west and south, meaning the weather changes very quickly. 
Weather Systems Map, source
Snowfall happens in every month of the year except July, generally, and caught unprepared, high winds and low visibility have pushed more than one hiker off trail and dropping temperatures have put them in dangerous and sometimes deadly situations.  With this in mind, we set out up the Crawford Path to the summit, about an hour-long hike.  The weather was decently clear down by Lakes, but the summit was cloudy, which is typical of Mt. Washington.  The hike was rocky and steep in parts, especially by the end, but it was short enough that I didn't think it was too bad.  This is the same hike Paige makes weekly to pack out trash and pack in supplies for the with a 50-75 pound pack board on, she had a different take on the rocky trail we were hiking up with relative ease.

The summit of Mt. Washington is, according to Paige, the ugliest in the Whites, and I'd have to agree.  Because it is the tallest summit, and because there is not only a railway but also a road leading to the top, there are a ton of people and a few buildings at the summit.  We stood in line to get our picture taken at the actual summit and then got some nachos in the visitor building, generally not your typical summit activity.
Summit of Mt. Washington
Paige took me to see the Mt. Washington Observatory.  I mentioned the unique weather already, and since the 1930s, the observatory has been there to study it.  As a croo member, Paige knows the people who work there, so we walked past the "do not enter" sign and took a look around.  There were a lot of fancy instruments, but, sadly, the observers on duty were sleeping, likely because they had to take hourly measurements throughout the night.  After visiting the observatory, we hiked down, took a quick swim in the lake, and finished up the night with the normal dinner preparation and clean up routine.

On Friday, my last full day in the White Mountains, Paige took me down the Crawford Path in the opposite direction of Mt. Washington to do some ridge hiking.  First we took a brief detour up the summit of Mt. Monroe, a small summit right next to Lakes and about a 20 minute climb up.  The views of the hut and of Mt. Washington were beautiful from the top.
Looking at Lakes of the Clouds and Mt. Washington from Mt. Monroe
We continued down from Monroe's rocky summit and met back up with the Crawford Path.  The views down from the ridge were gorgeous.  I'm not sure what mountains they looked out on, but looking southeast from the trail, we could see a huge, green valley and mountains rising beyond mountains as far as the eye could see.  We sat down on a little ridge just off the path and enjoyed the view and the sound of the wind in the trees in the valley below for a while.  Then we hiked back a little bit and, sitting in the shadow of Monroe, read aloud from Not Without Peril, a book detailing 150 years of hiker deaths on and around Mt. Washington.  We read about a man from the 1930s who died not far from where we were sitting.  It was a little eerie, but very interesting and fun in a strange kind of way, too.  Paige had read the entire book this summer, and it was nice to share it with her.
Paige near the Crawford Path
I haven't written too much about the landscape above the treeline itself.  First, it's rocky, with small rocks everywhere and larger boulders and outcrops dotting the land as well.  There are delicate alpine grasses, flowers, shrubs, mosses, and lichens everywhere, clinging on to life in the tough, windswept environment.  The dominant colors are light green from the plants and white and grey from the rocks.  It's beautiful and surreal.  The area next to the hut is particularly beautiful.  The twin alpine lakes are gorgeous, and an underground creek opens up right next to the hut, rushing down into the Ammonoosuc Ravine.  There are a few large boulders next to the door leading to the croo room that are great for watching sunsets on.  It was cloudy all the nights I was there, but on Friday night, the sky was more overcast than heavily clouded, and the sun shone through as a dark red ball behind the clouds, truly like a tiny ball of fire against a wall of grey, making for a dramatic view.

I left Lakes and Paige on Saturday morning, and hiked back down the Ami alone.  Unlike when we had hiked up on Wednesday, once I left the clouds around the hut, the sky cleared, and I got to see some gorgeous views of the mountains as I left.  I tried to hurry, as I had a long drive ahead of me, and I made it down in about 1.5 hours.  I passed by at least 50 people coming up the trail, maybe more.  Mt. Washington is popular, especially on weekends in July.

I got back to the car safely and drove all the way back to Ohio, getting in around 2:30 in the morning.  The White Mountains were incredible.  Seeing Paige was so great, too, and hopefully next time I see her will be in California sometime early next year.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brief Intro

Hi, all! I graduated from Grinnell this May, and have (for the most part) been home in Ohio since then. I’m leaving for Oakland, CA in August to work for a year with a disability rights non-profit, and because I’m going to be so far away from so many people, I thought a blog would be a decent way to keep you all updated with my life. Check back soon…I’m going to write a little entry about my recent trip to New Hampshire.