Mt. Washington Traverse

My second week was a short one… only five days as that’s how the sub schedule worked out. It really was too short. It looks like my next stint will be upwards to 7 or 8 days on the mountain. Perfect.

I hiked back up with 40 pounds of gear under clear blue skies and a light rustling of leaves from the gentle breeze stirring the mountain air. In my pack was the rest of my personal equipment, mostly winter clothing as I prepare for the temperatures to drop. But about ten pounds of it was fresh vegetables and fruits to sustain me. I’ve never been a big fan of the freeze dried backpacking meals, and they’re crazy expensive. I think I fed myself for the week spending about Twenty Dollars.

Mountain Life

The tranquility of the mountains cannot be matched. After my first week of living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Gray Knob Cabin, I’ve totally fallen in love with the simple life away from the hustle and bustle of more populated areas of the world. To get off the power grid and only have to worry about how not to burn the bottoms of my blueberry muffins puts things all into perspective. On clear days I make my way up to the rocky peaks above me and on stormy days I bundle up in my rain gear and go for walks in the driving rain and under the flashes of lightning and the cracks of thunder that echo off the surrounding slopes.

Rafting the Grand

How ironic that the pinnacle of whitewater rafting experiences is found over a mile deep into the earth.

As the Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon, numerous side canyons and rock falls have deposited piles and piles of rocks and boulders to create some of the most notorious whitewater in the northern hemisphere. Because the constraining canyon walls rise thousands of feet above the river, it has no way to go around these impedances. It has no option but to go over these obstacles in a churning, violent, frothy flow. And once we’re in the canyon, we have no option but to navigate our way through these unyielding currents in our little rafts. As one of the earliest river runners of the Colorado in 1869 described it, the water snagged a boat and “whirled it around quick enough to take the kinks out of a ram’s horn.”

Plumbago Outback Expedition

It wasn’t as hot as we had hoped it would be. The temperature didn’t exceed 40°C which is strange for this part of the world this time of year. But that’s not all: it also rained. It rained on us while camping in the desert where the average rainfall is a scant 230mm a year. Go figure.

My friend Carl, who was heading the trip, invited me to join the five-day backpacking trip in the semi-arid Australian Outback as a wilderness guide. The trip is organized by a private school near Melbourne for their Year 11 (11th Grade) class. It is the last installment and the most rigorous of their Outdoor Education program. In previous years these students have visited mountain, marine and forest environments and now they must face the most famous, and harsh of Australian environments – the desert.

We drove over 1000 km north from Melbourne past the town of Broken Hill to cross the border into South Australia and onto Plumbago Station. From here the kids, nearly sixty of them, split into two groups to walk the loop trail in opposite directions.

I was assigned to the clockwise group and once we had picked our navigators for the half-day trek to our first camp we were off. The red dirt, of the Australian Outback, soon coated our boots and legs. (Over the week that red dirt would lodge itself in various unexpected places on our bodies and in our packs).

The Mighty Muddy Dusky

Ah, the Dusky.

That, with a wistful look off into the infinite, seems to be a common reaction among those who have experienced the Dusky Track buried deep in Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island.

The floatplane touched down with only a gentle whoosh on the glassy, silky smooth surface of Supper Cove. Steep, massive tree-covered slopes surrounding our little landing cove looked like they had been jettisoned from the seabed into the sky. The tide was out and the sandy estuary of the Seaforth River glowed golden touched with green where sea vegetation was starting to take hold. The gentle flow of the river braided across the sandy surface, finally ending its journey from the staggering peaks above.

Hills and Huts

The Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand is designated as one of the “Great Walks” in New Zealand. That means beautiful terrain, awe-inspiring views and luxury (by camping and trekking standards) style accommodation. It also means it’s guaranteed to be expensive and crowded. Ah well. It’s ultimately worthwhile sharing earth’s beauty. And it’s certainly tolerable the way the New Zealand Department of Conservation manages the number of people that come up.

The Buckly Transport shuttle picked Derek and me up right outside our hostel the same morning we called and took us from Queenstown directly to the trailhead. Not 20 meters in we crossed a span bridge over some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Further up the stream, pools of sunlit water glowed bright blue against the pure white of bubbly, churning water flowing into them. The stark dark shadows of trees spilled in creating a frame with the sparkling rocks around the whole scene. This was a good start.

Once in the woods the wide, well-established trail made for easy walking and allowed us to gawk at the surrounding beauty rather than where we placed our feet. An endless carpet of ferns and small lush shrubs covered the forest floor, split only by the meandering white rocky path. Criss-cross patterns of sunlight and shadows floated down from the canopy above.

Castle Rock

Stepping off of the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft at Williams Field on the Antarctic coast after the three hour flight from the Pole, the first thing I noticed was how the warmer snow felt under my feet. It was nearly 40 degrees below zero (conveniently that is where the Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales are equal) when I boarded the plane at the pole. I didn’t think much of how the snow felt under my feet, or what it sounded like. The squeaking crunching sound had been there all season. But when I set foot on the warmer costal snow, where it was right about freezing, the snow felt very different – soft and creamy.

Four of my polie co-workers and I, plus a dozen scientists from the pole were on our way back to the land of green. Our first stop was a night in McMurdo. Not long after us, people leaving the pole will be able to fly straight through without an overnight layover in McMurdo. Instead of getting a ride to the base like we did, they would simply get off of the smaller ski-equipped LC-130 and be shuttled from the softer snow ‘skiway’ to the harder ice runway where the huge wheeled C-17 Globemaster III will whisk them straight to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Atlas Trans-Sierra Snowshoe Trek

The Sierra has truly been blessed this year with record snow fall. So, although the weather this spring and early summer has been warm, there is still plenty of snow in the beautiful backcountry. With that in mind, some colleagues at Atlas Snow-Shoe Company came up with the wild idea to do a traditional skiing route across the Sierra-Nevada mountain range on snowshoes. While this was admittedly for our own personal fun, we could justify it as a work trip to test the snowshoes.

The result was a 45 mile trek across the breadth of the Sierra. We started just east of Independence, off Highway 395, and hiked up Symmes Creek. After 12,000 feet of vertical gain and traveling and camping for six days above 11,000 feet, we arrived at the Wolverton Ski Area in Sequoia National Park. The route is usually done on skis with a few mountaineering sections to get over the highest passes, including Milestone Col on the Great Western Divide at over 13,000 feet.