Queer Youth Mountain top cabin to cabin Adventure with The Venture Out Project!

IMG_2590IMG_2591IMG_2592IMG_2593IMG_2594IMG_2596IMG_2597IMG_2598IMG_2599IMG_2600IMG_2601IMG_2602IMG_2604We awake at first light on the front porch of Mount Cardigan’s High Cabin.  We tiptoe inside and quietly make coffee, trying not to wake the exhausted youth asleep in their bunks.  We bring our coffee back to the porch and sit in our sleeping bags.  The youth start to stir.  I venture off the porch to study the spruces and firs with this new tree identification book I got.

The youth are pretty wrecked from yesterday’s climb and adjusting to the backpacking gear and the late night of chatter and giggling.  Movement is slow.  Bear Bait encourages their packing up process along by frying up pancakes.

We make our way down Mount Cardigan chatting about family, gender, oppression, identity and all the isms and social justice stuff that queers talk about.

It was hot, and when we get to the base there is a pond and some of us go swimming.  Swimming can be complicated for trans and gender nonconforming folks.  Fortunately we have the pond to ourselves, but even in a queer bubble, undressing and swimming can be loaded.  Having a body can just be an edgy thing.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

We dry off, eat snacks, refill water bottles, load up and drive north into the White Mountains.  Its a two hour ride to Jackson, NH, and we take the scenic Kancamagus Highway with its mountainous views and windy curves.  We find our next trail head and eat lunch on the side of a dirt road before heading up.

We start climbing Doublehead Mountain, and despite our best efforts to keep our youth hiking together as a group, they start to fall apart.  We sense the agitation and it becomes clear that our facilitation isn’t working.  We take a big pause and circle up on the trail.  Perry gracefully facilitates an honest check-in about feelings and it all comes out.  That beautiful moment has arrived whereas the adults (Perry, Bear Bait, and myself) must step back and pass the leadership baton to the youth who will then come up with their own plan for getting themselves up the mountain together as a group.

Perry, Bear Bait, and I linger behind giving them the time and space they need to figure it out.  We reunite with them at the Doublehead Cabin at the top and the morale is good.  There is a universal feeling of accomplishment and connectedness.  We enjoy a celebratory dinner of backcountry pita pizza.

The thing about queer youth is that they are so fricken compassionate, caring and patient with each other.  I’ve been hanging out in queer youth spaces for the past 8 years and its downright heart melting to watch how a group will open their hearts and circles to make room for that wild card who maybe was rejected everywhere else.  On this hike I watched folks slow down so that no one had to feel like they couldn’t keep up and I watched folks listen to stories that maybe weren’t welcome at school or at home.  When I say I feel inspired by queer youth and feel hopeful it’s cuz the youth are the future.  I feel pretty awesome about the future knowing some of the queer youth leaders I know will grow into adult leadership roles.  I was also inspired watching my fellow TVOP Instructors navigate that space between nurture, leadership, and letting go.

On our last afternoon I guided a Forest Bathing Walk on a flat stretch of trail between the summit of Black Mountain and the Black Mountain Cabin.  I invited all of us to take in the forest atmosphere just a little more deeply.  We moved very slowly thru an alpine conifer forest, circling up along the way, sharing our observations thru our opened senses and our tree companions.  We found metaphors in the forest reflecting our strengths and our deepening connections to each other and the more than human world.  We closed with a tea ceremony where I offered an infusion of Purslane Tea that I had brought from Jamaica Plain.  Purslane is a rugged and relentless plant that grows between sidewalk cracks and has the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids among all plants.  It’s also got iron and vitamin C.  We smelled and drank our tea, taking the forest into our bodies and then made our way back down to our cabin.

Its been a few days since we got off the trail.  I miss our incredible group and I wonder how their transitions home have been and if and when I may get to see them again.  Grateful.

 

 

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Franconia Ridge to Garfield Ridge to N. Twin

Stud and I park at the North Twin trailhead and get swooped up by Notch Taxi who arrives early and is super nice and drops us in Franconia Notch at the Whitehouse Trailhead where we walk north to pick up the Appalachian Trail.  Its 11am and our packs are loaded with everything we need (and more) for a potential 3 night/3.5 day trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  We start our ascent up the Liberty Spring Trail gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles until we reach the Liberty Spring Tentsite approximately 2 hours later.

We are relieved to get into this campsite early because there are just a few backcountry campsites that sit along the high peaks of Pemigewasset Wilderness where friendly AMC (Appalachian Mount Club) caretakers collect a small fee in exchange for a tent platform, a bear box to store food overnight, a composting outhouse, daily weather reports, and there is usually a water source to filter from.  On sunny summer weekends these campsites fill right up and caretakers will fit upwards of 40-60 hikers into these sites. This is impressive considering that these campsites sit on a very steep mountain side pitches and there are only like 5-8 tent platforms at each campsite.  These caretakers will find a spot for everyone and no hiker is ever turned away and even at capacity they don’t feel crowded.  Some of these sites are directly on the AT (Appalachian Trail) so many thru hikers rely on them because there are very limited stealth campsites spots in the alpine zones of the White Mountains.  Given the rugged terrain of these ridge lines, these campsites can be a fun place to connect with thru-hikers, weekend warriors, school groups and whoever else saw those same sweeping views and managed those same hard rock scrambles and long exposed ridge lines.  Many hikers who come thru these sites, whether it be to camp or just refill water, will arrive weary and worn down by the terrain and in need of a witness.  We witness each other, some more humbly than others.

The caretaker is this smiley tough woman and Stud and I connect with her immediately. She sets us up in what she calls “the penthouse” which is a tent platform high up and further off the trail and kind of hidden.  We set up our tents next to each other filling the small platform and later we are joined by 2 young French-speaking young women who squeeze their tent onto a tiny flat spot next to the platform.  We ask about eachothers days and Stud and I throw some water and snacks into a smaller day pack and head off to ascend Mt Liberty and Mt Flume.  Its late afternoon and it feels great to hike without our big packs.  The views are sweeping and the summits are rocky with many cliffs and many sunbathers.  We relax on top and I pull out my new tiny binoculars that I acquired last week on a job helping someone purge their apartment.  We admire the dozen or so mountains around us that we have summited over the last few years and study many dozen more that we have yet to attempt before returning back to camp and make dinner and then study our maps before crawling into our tents.We wake up early and are packed up and hiking north on Franconia Ridge in the cool morning processing about queer life, pronouns, gender, music, future goals, politics, the various organizations we associate with and all the things we like to process about in between eating candy and trail food.  We pass many hikers.  We stop to chat with some and not with others.  Some of the bro-dudes mistake us for other bro-dudes and so we just kinda grunt back to them in our lowest voice and move along.  But we welcome more conversation from the hikers who recognize us as the late-30 year old women that we are.  One of these hikers says to us “Thank Goddess for this wonderful day!” and we fall in love with her and talk about her for the rest of the trip.  We share this enthusiasm of being on such a beautiful ridge line and mostly avoid conversations about what lies ahead and whether its “good” or “bad”.  People tell us what to expect and how much water to carry even though we don’t ask for this kind of advice.  I don’t bother to mention that I’ve actually hiked this ridge before and I just respond to the various unsolicited advice with “cools thanks” and try to gracefully disengage.  I’ve hiked enough to know how much water I need but the bro-dude-splanations still get to me and I fight hard not to internalize any assumptions other hikers may make about me and I notice that I care less and less with every year older I get.  I decide I love being 39 years young.

 

Its a long gorgeous climb over Little Haystack, Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.  Its a mix of rock scrambles, long steep pitches, and short stretches of nice footpaths.  Once we are up above 5,000 feet the wind picks up and I can no longer wear my hat and sunglasses for fear that they will blow right off me.  The sun is bright and the wind is almost knocking us over.  It is so intense so we don’t linger long on any of the summits.  We take advantage of any wind breaks along the short slightly sheltered spots where we hunker down to drink water and eat snacks and relieve ourselves.  Weary, we are eventually make our way up and over Lafayette and turning northeast along the Garfield Ridge.  My eyes water and I blow record breaking 10 foot snot shots behind me into the wind.

As soon as we get back down below tree line we lay down on the trail on this boulder cliff and eat and drink and rest.  Its not a good spot for a break but we have been pushing hard and have to stop.  We push down the relentless descent and after hours and thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss we are back down in the pine forest.  We find a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.  We take off our socks and shoes lie on a bed of soft pine needles elevating our feet of a log while eating salty crunchy things and bathing in the mountain breeze laughing about how tired we are.  We see some hikers pass by who we camped with last night who we have been leap frogging with all day.  Its a young woman and her father and they are thru-hiking the NH section of the AT and I am inspired.

 

 

Rested and restored we start our final ascent of the day up Mt Garfield which takes everything we have and when we get to the top we have the summit all to ourselves.  We take our time up there soaking in the views of the long jagged ridge line we had just hiked.  I look at Lafayette thru my binocs and see dozens of tiny silhouetted people up there.  I could even see the Long Trail’s Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield.  I think I could also make out Whiteface and Madonna Peak if I was correct.  But Camel’s Hump is so distinctive and it was connecting to wave to some of my old mountain friends from over here.  Its fun to know the mountains and name them off and see them from various sides.Next stop, Garfield Ridge Campsite.  It feels late but we still get into camp early enough to get another awesome tent platform spot.  This site also has a large lean-to and it fills up with AT thru-hikers.  Our neighbors are the daughter/father hikers and we chat with them about their hike and its really fun to talk to them about the trail.  We eat and crawl into our tents and sleep better then the night before.In the morning we are packed up and back on the trail by 6:45.  We make our way down the almost comically steep cliff stretch of Garfield Ridge where I imagine the look on thru-hikers’ faces when they get to this spot…like how it this even a trail?  Welcome to the White Mountains.  We reach the intersection of Franconia Brooke Trail and make a decision about our next move.  We had been strongly considering hiking down into the Valley and setting up camp at 13 Falls and then attempting to summit Owl’s Head via the northern Lincoln Brook Trail the following day.  This is a remote stretch of trail that few people travel on and everything we’ve read about it says the trail is hard to follow and its easy to get lost.  There are lots of water crossings and its a big day.  While we have been enticed by it and read a lot about it, in the end we decided to stay on the ridge.  After all the elevation gain and loss that we’d already done, adding more felt exhausting and we were losing confidence about that northern stretch and our (lack of) compass reading skills so we listened to our intuition and decided to stay up top and head towards the Galehead Hut for a big late breakfast break and take advantage the huts views, shady benched front porch, running water and bathrooms.  After some coffee and oatmeal we stashed our packs inside the hut and took a spur trail out and back to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  Back at the hut we each chugged a liter of water and sat with an older AT thru-hiker while she ate every leftover the hut croo offered her.  One the hut croo cooks brought out a big leftover pot of soup with some bowls and we watched this hiker down like 5 bowls of soup and we felt genuinely relieved and happy for her.  Hiker hunger is impressive and kind of fascinating.  I was tempted by the soup but decided to leave it for the thru-hikers since our new plan would have us hiking out that afternoon which meant we’d get to eat whatever we wanted later.

 

We filled our waters and started up South Twin which is basically straight up and gains 1,200 feet of elevation in .8 of a mile.  Its like a rock staircase and eventually we popped out on top and the wind wasn’t too strong and we were able to really enjoy this summit.  I felt a little shaky and dug into my food bag no longer conserving for that extra day.  We had been on this summit 2 years ago but it was so windy that we basically half jogged right over it on our way to the Twinway towards Guyot.  But today, the day was young and we would be hiking out from here so we sat for a while and I pulled out the binoculars and we took in the 360° views all around.

We branched off the AT  following the North Twinway Spur over to North Twin Mountain.  This 1.3 ridge was simply a beautiful stretch of trail that went in and out of the trees passing thru fern fields and bright moss covered boulders and the blue sky and distant mountains were visible thru the scraggly mountain pines cooling us off with that mountain breeze coming in from all directions.We popped out on North Twin, our final summit of this trip, and went to a lookout to eat and drink.  It was hot.  The clouds started to gather and within minutes we watched the puffy benign poofs thicken into growing thunderheads.  It was amazing how fast it formed.  We couldn’t have been more grateful to be heading down and off the exposed ridges.  We descended down the North Twin Trail down a steep gravelly slidy rocky path careful to not lose our footing.  Our legs were tired and we slid down many big boulders on our butts until finally the trail mellowed out and we could actually hike and not just brace ourselves the entire way.  We were maybe 2 miles from the car when we started hearing thunder like I’ve never heard before.  It echoed down the mountains and we could feel it in the ground vibrating through us.  As the sky darkened over various peaks and the thunder grew louder and stronger, we thought about the hikers we met and hoped that everyone would be safe.  Then we had these huge river crossings.  The water wasn’t very high and we could totally rock hop across it but it was a long stretch of many rocks to hop with some big hops over rushing water and between the grumbling thunder and some distant flashing in my peripheral vision it took so much focus and concentration to stay balanced on these rocks and not freeze up half way across or fall in!  Finally we were done crossing the “Little River” for the last time and we cruised along very moderate (almost flat) stretch of trail until we reached the car.

We kicked off our shoes and just as we drove down Haystack road back to route 3, the skies opened and the rain started to fall.  What timing.  Things seemed to clear up as we rounded the bend into Franconia Notch so we jumped into Echo Lake at the base of Cannon and before changing into some dry cotton clothes we had stashed in the car.  We discussed our lingering Owls Head Plan B which would be driving down to the Lincoln Woods, camping nearby, and then hiking Owl’s Head as a day hike the next day.  From the Lincoln Woods, its an 18 mile round trip hike which is a LOT for us but the trail is easier to follow from that direction and its mostly flat until the final ascent and we wouldn’t be carrying full packs.  But 18 miles is a LONG day for us.  There is also a significant water crossing that can be sketchy especially with anymore rain coming overnight.  SO we decided to post-pone Owl’s Head for another time and drove home stopping for some real food on the way.  Owl’s Head, perhaps we’ll see in September.

 

Mount Hood

Drove up to Timberline Lodge and the sun was out and the sky was clear and the snow banks were 15-20 feet high on the side of the road.  Mount Hood loomed ahead.

We “split” our boards and put the skins on which are these long strips that stick on the bottom to give you traction so you can “skin” up the mountain.  We clipped in and headed up.  We started at 6000 feet and a mile and an hour later we were at 7000 feet.

We found a flattish spot and and sat and ate our pbjs and chugged water and chatted and tried to take in the endless views for about an hour unaware that our faces were burning.  The summit looked so close…but it was like an optical illusion cuz it’s over 11,000 feet and super steep and getting up it requires ropes, ice axes, crampons and technical mountaineering skills and I have zero of these things and zero interest in mountaineering.I did have an interest of continuing up the glacier but I felt weird from the altitude and Travis said even though it looked really gradual that it was actually very steep and this was my first time doing something like this so we decided to descend.  We peeled the skins off, clipped the board back together, moved the bindings and strapped in.  Oh the awkwardness of riding down on a rental.  I could hardly control the board and had trouble turning so I stayed close to the groomed Timberline area which is a ski resort  with lifts which we were basically next to.  Travis dropped into this gulley that looked really fun but I stayed up top since my board felt so weird.  I giggled all the way down stopping to do a face plant somersault which made me laugh so hard I wasn’t sure I’d be able get down.​We explored Timberline Lodge which is full of history describing how this massive place built in the 30’s on this giant active mountain volcano  where people ski all summer long.  We took advantage of the heated outdoor pool and jacuzzi.  We lounged by the gigantic fire places.  We smothered our sunburnt faces with fancy hotel lotion. We watched The Shining in our little bunk room where the windows were covered with snow.  We ate the infamous breakfast buffet.  We woke up to tons of snow and had to put chains on the tires – a new experience for me.  Of course the road was then clear so we pulled off to take them back off.  A fun adventure with chains. Once below the snow line we went for a little hike on the foothills of Mount Hood in the rainforest where there were old growth Douglas furs covered in electric green moss.  We hugged them.  Travis described them as Dr Seuss trees.  We walked long this raging river and it was intense how powerful that water felt.  Tomorrow we head to the coast!

Reuniting and a fun event!

Next week I am flying out to Portland, Oregon to reunite with Bear Bait who I have not scene since we finished the Long Trail in September!  Bear Bait has created an amazing itinerary of fun adventures to take me on when I get out there including:

This event cosponsored by Unlikely Hikers and  The Venture Out Project!

We are going to share some pictures and stories about our thru-hike of The Long Trail, the oldest long distance trail in the country.  We will also talk about how we planned for our thru-hike and answer any questions that anyone might have.  If you are near Portland, Oregon I hope you will join us!

Mount Waumbek

Mount Waumbek

  • Elevation: 4,006 Feet
  • Location: Lancaster, NH
  • Date Hiked: 3/12/2017
  • Companions: 5e & Brenda
  • Trails: Starr King Trail

Nothing like going up a four thousand footer on a 0º winters day with a -30º windchill.  No seriously…there is nothing like it and I mean this in the most neutral way possible.

As I obsessed over my layering system, waiting for 5e and Brenda to pick me up in Lincoln where I had been staying in a tiny cabin for the weekend,  I seriously questioned the decision-making spot on my frontal lobe.  5e had proposed this hike way back in January inspired by daylight savings.  I enthusiastically agreed to join her despite my lack of winter hiking experience and my snow-shoe resistance.  She brought her best pal Brenda who had never hiked a 4000 footer before (never mind in winter).  Fortunately we were all on the same page as far as not being overly attached to summiting and keeping the communication lines open in order to stay safe.

The hike was described as being one of the more moderate of the NH48 for winter hiking and thats why 5e picked it out.  The trail was a 7.2 miles round trip out and back with a steady grade and nothing too steep or exposed.  There was a smaller peak called Mount Starr King along the way followed by a mile of ridge but the ridge was in the trees so we were protected from the wind.  The trail was snow and ice covered and totally packed down so we were able to just wear micro spikes without needing snow shoes.

Twenty minutes into the hike and we were sweating bullets stopping to shed layers and trying to stay dry.  Our body temperatures dropped as we gained elevation.  We steadily climbed for hours and I became aware of the places where I was getting cold and I wondered if I would be okay, if we would be okay, if I would know if I wasn’t okay and where my edge was.   As we ascended,  we checked in a lot and helped each other with zippers and laces and buckles and clips.  Gloves and freezing temps make everything more challenging.  I take my gloves on and off dozens of times when exerting myself outside in winter.   My hands get sweaty and I don’t want my gloves to get too wet or I need to get into a zippered pocket and then unwrap a snack.  Then my hands are cold and I put my gloves back on and so on.  We checked each other out from time to time assessing each other’s okayness.  Now 5e and Brenda have been pals for 20 years and know each other pretty well.  But since they don’t know me nor do I know them as well, the gauge of “are you okay” was less precise and had a steeper learning curve but the trust was there.  The thing about hiking a 4000 footer with others is that it creates instant intimacy.   You go from, “hi my name is__” to detailed accounts of whats going on with your body as you burp and rip farts and help each other in and out of your clothes and boots.

The higher we got the more snow was on the trail and caked all over the trees. Any pain or discomfort or cold spots I had went to the back burner once we popped out onto the ridge.  The blue sky creeped through making way for a breathtaking wonderland up there.    Once on that first summit called Starr King we put on more clothes, ate some snacks and then quickly moved along.  Stopping for even two minutes was enough to start rapidly cooling down.  The ridge was gorgeous.  We were in the trees but there were some clearings with some intense views.  The first summit, Starr King actually had more views than Mount Waumbek.  We passed some remains from an old fire cabin…ironically all that was left was the fireplace and I wished it had a fire in it.

Before we knew it we had summitted Waumbek exactly 3.5 hours later.  We were elated.  5e made a snow angel, we snapped some pics, ate more snacks, and I discovered some ice chunks that had formed on my eye lashes that were just impressive!

We cruised down the mountain half trotting and I even butt slid a few of the steeper snowier sections saving my knees.  My feet started to throb once we got to a lower elevation I laid down on the trail and elevated my feet on a log reminding me of all those painful descents on the long trail last summer.  It was so beautiful looking up at the trees and the blue sky with the fast moving clouds and I tried to take in as much of it as I could.

Once back at the car we were stoked to have had a successful hike and it was a relief to take my boots off and change into dry cotton in the warm car.  It was a lovely drive home through Franconia Notch with Lafayette looming on the left and Cannon rising up on the right.  We texted and called our loved ones to let them know we were safe and off the mountain.  I got to know my new friends during the 3 hour drive home and we shared stories.  I was home in time for dinner and I was in bed by 8:30.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure how I feel about winter hiking.  I love the snow and I love the snow caked scraggly trees up there.  But zero degrees is kind of intense.  I’m hoping my next winter hike will be at least 20 degrees warmer.  I have yet to snowshoe up a mountain and to be perfectly honest, I am not that eager to.  I don’t mind the micro spikes…they feel like a super power.  I AM however VERY eager to hike up a mountain in sneakers and shorts and I can’t wait for that.  In the meantime I will continue to experiment with winter hiking.

Tomboyhood

Went for a lovely little loop on the skyline trail in the Blue Hills with a new hiker friend named 5e (pronounced five-eee).  We hiked leisurely chatting away about stuff that adult tomboys talk about.  There was a little ice on the trail which was totally avoidable but also kind of exciting.  There were some views and I felt relieved from constant a low level anxiety I’ve been feeling the minute I got in the woods.

I talked to Bear Bait on the phone and schemed about future adventures, processed past trials and tribulations, life angst and talked about deep stuff that tomboys talk about.  We reminisced about the Long Trail.


Seven helped me move a big pile of sticks.  We loaded up the little pick-up and then headed to the yard waste dump which is like a mountain range of mulch, leaves, wood chips and brush.  Some of the mulch mountains have “roads” up them meaning slopey ramp-like sections with tire tracks.  Otherwise the mulch mountains are tidy with steep walls.  We laid the sticks to rest among their great great great grandparent logs.


Then we went for an epic walk in the cemetery where we admired the holiday offerings on the grave stones.  We saw a hawk pretty close up.  It pooped and I inspected it but there was nothing much to see there.


Seven asked me if I would be willing to help her do something weird.  I obliged without knowing what it was.  Seven’s deceased neighbor had offered their Mary Statue before they died but it needed to be extricated from a stone base.

Mission Move Mary was in effect.

We attempted to chisel it off which was but slow going but somewhat productive.  Seven got out the big guns (a concrete drill hammer thing) and walla!  Mary was freed and will have a new home in Seven’s garden.


Seven and I visited Mildred (who hiked the Long Trail in 1943).  I got to show her pictures of my long trail hike of 2016.  She showed us the aftermath of how the sun hit her chrystal ball and set the corner of her crossword puzzle on fire. 


I had an incredibly insightful Astrology reading.  It was the first time I inquired about a professional reading of any kind.  My mind is full of marinating ideas and my planets are aligning in ways that support whatever it is that is brewing inside of me.  I am in an intense transition towards living my most authentic identity breaking free from the shadows of other people and things.  It turns out that I am resilient as fuck and I got mad skills that I have been previously viewing as weaknesses. 🌌

On a sad note, I read that an experienced and prepared 26 year old Massachusetts hiker died on Bondcliff on Xmas Eve most likely from hypothermia as they were found on the exposed ridge line with their jacket unzipped and on upside down.  My heart goes out to his friends and family.  I haven’t been able to shake this story.  I was just recently considering a solo winter hike.  But hypothermia is creepy and this tragedy gave me pause. I’d like to think that I’d catch the warning signs like if I started uncontrollably shivering but what happens when you stop thinking clearly and are no longer able to make sound decisions?  I don’t ever want to take for granted having hiking companions that I can trust to stop me if I start slurring my speech and force me out of my wet clothes and into dry clothes and force me to stop and drink and eat.  R.I.P. Jack Holden

 

 

Mount Hale

  • Elevation: 4,055 Feet
  • Location: Bethlehem, NH
  • Date Hiked: 10/23/2016
  • Companions: Stud, Zannah, Seven
  • Trails: Up Hale Brook Trail, Down Lend-A-Hand trail and Zealand Trail

From sunny glistening peaking foliage and crispy fall breezes to gale force freezing winds and snow.  Welcome to the White Mountains.

Some time ago Stud and I had blocked off a couple days to try and hit a few more peaks on our NH48 list before fall turned to winter.  We recruited our pals Zannah and Seven to join us on an epic 22 mile round trip traverse over the Willey Range to try and summit Mount Willey, Mount Field, Mount Tom and maybe Zealand Mountain as well.  We reserved 4 bunks at Zealand Falls Hut which is maintained and operated by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club).  Some of the AMC huts stay open during late fall, winter and early spring with self service rates.  During self-service season you bring a sleeping bag but they still give you a pillow and a bunk with a mattress.  Instead of the Croo (Croo=AMC staff of young energetic outdoorsy campers) cooking dinner and breakfast for the guests, you get to use the kitchen and cook for yourself.  But they still keep the water flowing if not thru the pumps and pipes they keep it gathered and keep it potable.  Guests can use all the pots and pans and cutlery in the kitchen.  And there are pit toilets.  It’s a pretty sweet deal and it’s about $100 cheaper then the full service rates.  It’s a good way to try  an overnight hike without having to carry a tent, sleep mat, stove, fuel, pot, bowls, mugs, sporks, etc…

The weather forecast called for snow, gale force winds, and freezing temps.  Like I said, I’m not trying to die on a mountain.  We decided to avoid any exposed alpine zones and cliffs given the forecast.  Instead we chose a much shorter route to the hut on a more protected trail that would still bring us over one of the NH48; Mount Hale.  All the while, never leaving the trees.

The drive up was ominous and the foliage changed the more north we got. Once the White Mountains were in view we could see them living up to their name as everything above 1500ish feet was dusted in snow and stormy clouds swirled over the higher summits. Driving into Franconia Notch always flips my stomach and even more so in winter.

The dirt road we would be taking to our trail head closes in winter but not until November.  It was all snowy on the road and there were lots of downed branches.  We heard later that a tree had fallen and was blocking the road and some hikers were waiting for Fish and Game to clear the road so they could drive home.

It was fully snowing and very cold as we started walking up the path. We warmed up quickly and started shedding layers before we got too sweaty.  It was too cold to take breaks so other then stopping to pee or to quickly eat something or chug water we had to keep moving to avoid cooling down to that dangerous speech slurring hypothermia.

The snow wasn’t deep but it left the trail slick and it was slow going as we deciphered what we were stepping on.  We felt the wind pick up as we popped out on the summit which was a big cairn of rocks in the trees and we took a quick pic and ran back into the trees following the Lend-A-Hand Trail towards the hut.  There were lots of little water crossings and we miraculously kept our feet dry.  We reached the hut around 1pm and all was quiet.  We discovered it was no warmer than the outside air. In fact I think it was colder inside the hut then it was standing on the icy front porch outside.   The sun shed some rays on some mountains in the distance and it was beautiful.  We sat drinking hot chocolate and soon the caretaker popped in and made a fire in the tiny wood stove.  Other weary hikers came in covered in snow describing tales of literally crawling on all fours in fierce winds over exposed alpine ridgelines and losing their rain covers.  Some hikers talked about continuing onto other exposed alpine ridges.

The caretaker (AMC Croo Member) shared the weather report of dropping temps and gale force winds.  130 mph winds and negative whatever wind-chills were being reported on Mount Washington.  We looked at each other wide eyed and relieved we made the decision not to traverse the Willey Range in these conditions while the caretaker strongly discouraged another party of hikers from continuing on up over the higher peaks as they planned.  He told tales of other hikers stumbling into the hut the night before at 2am all hypothermic and sleeping on the floor next to the wood stove.  Fortunately the group that wanted to keep hiking heeded the caretakers caution and settled in.  We all warmed our boots by the wood stove and cooked our dinner and played games and laughed and talked to other hikers.  It was cozy.

I was concerned I’d be cold in my light summer sleeping bag but with my liner and all of my layers on I was toasty even though I could practically blow “smoke” rings with my breath.  I found a copy of “Not Without Peril” in the huts’ library and I read aloud to my companions in our little 4 person bunk nook.  We had our lights off and were drifting by off by about 9PM.  I listened to the howling wind outside and hoped no hikers were stuck or lost out there.

In the morning we made our coffee and oatmeal and followed the Zealand Trail under a sunny sky.  The moss and smell of pine revealed itself as we descended thru the valley and we walked by beaver ponds and across streams.  The clouds moved quickly over the higher summits and we happily strolled thru the temperate valley.

Once back at the car we drove in and out of Crawford Notch and through Franconia Notch and left the stormy White Mountains in the rear view mirrors while the brilliant peaking foliage came into focus blowing our minds under the bluest skies with the puffiest Simpsons-like clouds.

It was rather invigorating to face some more intense elements in the White Mountains.  Zannah talked about the quality of aliveness that comes with harsher weather.  Stud shared excitement about our forced change of route and how we still managed to bag a NH48.  Instead of views and relaxing summits, we got muffled snow caked pines and frozen air delightfully snapping us into the present moment again and again.  Seven posed a question about hiking away from something vs towards something and then later concluded that it might be possible to be doing both at the same time!  I recently had the opportunity to notice that I am often living my life almost a week ahead of myself at a time.  When I finished the Long Trail I set an intention to scale back my involvements in ways that that would allow more simplicity and spontaneity and less rushing around from thing to thing.  Last Monday after hiking the Kinsmans with Stud I learned my dad had a heart attack.  A few days later he had a double bipass heart surgery.  All week I was forced back into the present moment with no other choice but to live in each day as every plan I attempted to make or unmake was not in my control.  Things happened really fast and really slow at the same time.  Yesterday my dad went home after a long week in the hospital and days in ICU.  I just got home myself after staying with him and helping him get settled in after returning from my hike that he insisted I not cancel.  He’s doing so great and I am so grateful for the reminder to slow down as every plan I made last week ended up not being what I expected.

Hiking continues to be this great metaphor for life in that I can set my intentions and make my plans but I can’t get too attached or I might miss out on what’s right in front of me or I might really suffer when things have to go differently.  Hiking simply supports my desire to be more conscious and suffer less.  Grateful for the babbling brooks that are like miracle grow for my amygdala and grateful for my companions who willingly walk into snowy cold mountains with big smiles, open minds, and great senses of humor.




Post hike

It’s been just about two weeks since I finished hiking the Long Trail. I reunited with my awesome and incredible partner who picked me up in Northampton at The Venture Out Project Headquarters where Bear Bait and I were hanging out after generously being picked up by Perry in North Adams.

Talk about a sight for sore eyes!  I’ve never been away from my partner for this long in the 8 years we’ve been together. In the 4 years we’ve lived together I’ve never been away from home for more than 10 days. Infact the last time I left Jamaica Plain for this long was 15 years ago when I spent a month at Haystack in Maine and then drove with my friend from Boston to Santa Cruz, CA via the Deep South following a map I saved from a skateboard magazine detailing every skatepark in the US and trying to skate as many as possible along the way. (This was before internet)  Before mountains inspired me to adventure, outdoor skateparks with concrete bowls led me to almost every state and up and down both coasts on many road trips.

Even after two weeks of being home I am still enamored by running water, flush toilets, the kitchen and the stove with its endless-seeming gas flow, chairs, vegetables with their water still in them. I enjoy the little things like the opportunity to wash my hands and I love making toast and real coffee.

I was extremely tired when I got home and was mostly grounded but there was definitely a crash.  I drove to Vermont with my pal Seven and picked up a Long Trail hiker on the side of the road in Johnson and drove them back to the trail which soothed some of my post trail grief.  We also drove thru smugglers notch and saw rocky craggy caves on this notch road. Then we went to the Green Mountain Club Welcome Center where I ritualistically handed in my journal and Long Trail End-To-Enders Certification Application which will formally put me in the archives with others who have hiked the trail and also award me a patch!  I also bought myself a hat.


After a week I feel like I finally recovered from a month of unrestful sleep and adjusted back to my urban environment. It’s very loud where I live. I’m on a Main Street directly on a major city bus route and a block from a fire station. Lots of sirens and squeaky breaks and engines of large vehicles. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

I finally went back to work this week as I have spent all my money. I am happily self employed. I was reminded of hiking down the forehead of Mansfield today at work as I have my ladder set up on top of some sketchy scaffolding of wood planks over a stairwell.  I actually think I was more comfortable and less afraid as a result of some of the sketchy steep spots I climbed in Vermont.  It feels good to work again but it’s emotionally challenging being out in the world surrounded by the chaotic energy of stressed out people rushing around chasing shiny things.  I’m booked solid for work for the next 3 weeks which feels both oppressive and relieving and I’m grateful for the work.

While I did wash my backpack and aired out some gear, my stuff is still exploded in my room. I think part of me is in denial that the hike is over and I don’t want to put anything away.  I’m looking forward to some fall hiking in the White Mountains in October after I catch back up on my finances this month.  I hope to hike more and do less and make my life simpler thus stay more connected and present to the stuff that matters most like the sky and love.

I do feel that I released something while walking  n the woods for a month. I had a self esteem boost that has enabled me to be more free. I’m just shocked sometimes when I realize I’ve been internalizing negative messages reflected back to me by a mainstream culture where bodies like mine aren’t enough. I am just that much more committed to this lifelong practice of self love and self acceptance as a hairy female bodied, pot bellied,  masculine mannered, male presenting (while not intending to pass and ridden with a lifetime of bathroom anxiety), sometimes slightly scruffy bearded, short, queer, butch, soft core, breastless 38 year old woman person human!

I met marathon runners who couldn’t handle the trail. I met conditioned athletes who have done all kinds of remarkable physical things but they could barely hike in the Northeast.  I saw people with fancy expensive ultralight gear and fit looking bodies who complained and wanted to quit. The Long Trail of Vermont is rugged.  The White Mountains of New Hamshire are rugged. I hike these ridge lines with great joy and sheer determination and I often give my mind all the credit.  But I must give my body some credit too.  I am strong. I may not look it but I am. And I am tough as nails.

Coming soon: A gear review and how my $35 New Balance trail runners faired the 272+ miles and how I missed my boots thus my overall footwear dilemma.

Manchester to Massachusetts! 68 miles

Total Long Trail Miles: ALL OF THEM!!!!!  272 miles!!!

Plus a few extra miles of the Appalachian Trail into Massachusetts and then some road walking into North Adams.

Hiking is weird.  It can be so meditative and relaxing and extremely uncomfortable at the same time.  We use landmarks like shelters, mountain tops and road crossings to break up the miles and to decipher where we will stop for breaks and estimate our timing so we have a sense on when we can expect to get places to make the mileage feel manageable. 

Sometimes I feel desperate for that next shelter or mountain top to appear the same way I have felt ready for a bell or gong to ring ending a formal sitting meditation.  If I happen to actually catch myself suffering I pretend there is no landmark and that time doesn’t exist and all I do is walk and that my only reality is hiking and in those moments I have been able to make great friends with this trail and take in more of my surroundings.  Other times I get stuck on particular discomforts and how I might make them go away.  I can get caught up with a strap adjustment on my pack or indecision over whether I need to stop and rest or push myself harder.  Ultimately, every opportunity I have had where I’ve been able to simply notice my discomfort out here and let go of trying to “fix it” has liberated me in profound ways.  As someone who prefers to stay home and feels safest when in control and distrusts very trustworthy things, this hike has given me some new freedoms and highlighted some of the places I get stuck.  

My hiking partner and oldest friend have gone thru a lot leading up to and during this hike.  I am deeply grateful to discover the ways we have matured in relationship to each other and am extremely proud of the grace we have been able to bring to inevitable tensions that arise when dehydration, hunger, exhaustion, and physical pain are a constant obstacle.  It’s been great to have a companion out here who makes me laugh and gets my humor and we can encourage each other and state our needs and look out for each other as well.  We have taken turns taking care of each other around things like water gathering and dinner prep finding a natural flow of shared labor with a lot of care and love.

Despite hiking an average of 13 miles up and down mountains everyday for the last 25 days, I still ache at the end of the day, my feet still blister and throb, and I continued to stagger into each shelter half delirious where I toss my pack off my sweaty back and plop down on the edge of the shelter and sit there for a good 10 minutes soaking in the sweet relief of resting my body and chugging water and eating my trailmix until I can muster the energy to take off my shoes and set up my tent. Travis works on finding a temporary home for hammy meaning he hangs his hammock near the shelter and does some afternoon reading and relaxing until it’s time to find a proper sleeping spot.

We started referring to the shelters themselves as the “community centers” since it’s where folks convene and socialize. So once we establish good camping  spots in the surrounding woods where tenty (my tents new name) and hammy  (Travis’s hammock) can camp nearby, we set up our homes and get situated before returning to the “community center”(the shelter).  Travis does some extensive tarp tying over his hammock while I get in my tent and sing about having a wilderness wipe-down which is a catchy little song I made up cause I got these wet wipes called “wilderness wipes” and travis sings along while I have my little bath. 

We get in our dry camp clothes which are the clothes we preserve for the end of the day and never hike in.  Then we grab our food, water bottles, stove and pot and head to the “community center” to cook dinner and socialize with other hikers.

The further south we get, the more hikers there are to talk with and its been fun to chat with folks who are just starting the trail as we got closer and closer to finishing.  People have been congratulating us and it feels great.  Especially when we get it from Appalachian Trail hikers who have walked all the way here from Georgia! For those folks to smile and give us props after all the miles and states they have hiked thru feels really awesome!

We left Manchester getting a ride to the trail from Jeff of The Green Mountain House hostel. Best hostel ever!!!  He drove us along with a NoBo LT hiker by the name Lost Sailer who we fist bumped and wished happy trails to before departing.

We huffed and puffed up Spruce Peak and cruised in to Stratton Pond where the sun was out and the water was beautiful. We soaked our feet and thought about swimming but the breeze was kind of chilly and there were so many folks hanging out and we got shy.  We met an AT (Appalachian Trail) thru hiker in her 70’s who was vegan and raising money to save the Elephants. We chatted with her about eating vegetarian on the trail and shared some tips.

Stratton Pond is a very popular camp site on the AT/LT and given that it was Friday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend, the place was filling up with weekenders so we decided to press on and hike up Stratton Mountain even though we were tired and it was after 2pm.  We got to the summit and it was beautiful and quiet and we took the .7 spur over to the ski resort where the views were epic and we found a great spot to stealth camp.  We cooked our dinner and watched the layers of mountains change colors against the setting sun until it was too cold to do anything but get in our sleeping bags. It got down into the 40s that night!

Woke up on Stratton freezing and covered in mountain dew but the sunrise was unreal!!!!  We found a heated bathroom by the chairlift and made our coffee and ate breakfast in there which sounds gross but It was pure luxury at the time.  We hung our rain flies till they were dry and then headed down the mountain and had almost reached the Stratton-Arlington Road when we had to stop and eat. We ate lunch at 10:30 and then walked out towards the road and discovered there was Trail Magic!!! We were full but we ate some cookies and filled our waters and I took a couple hard boiled eggs for the road.  We chatted with the guy who had set up the Trail Magic and thanked him and heard about his Appalachian Trail stories.  We pushed on and got very sleepy since we didn’t sleep so well on the cold mountain.  We got to Story Spring and rested. Travis took a nap in the shelter while I chatted with some hikers.  We pressed on and hiked to Kid Gore Shelter where we met Earth Dog & Snaker, two guys in their mid 60’s section hiking the AT.  They were funny and engaging to talk to.  We also met a NoBo LT hiker named Moose Meister who said her food bag got ripped down from a tree and torn into by an unidentifiable large rodent when she was just 15 miles into the trail.  She lost her first 4 days worth of food and had to go into town and resupply after one day on the trail.  

It was another cold night at the Kid Gore shelter.  Woke up to another epic sunrise and after a  leisurely breakfast we headed up Glastenbury Mountain whose summit was flat and cool and in the pines.  We climbed the fire tower at the top and got more epic 360 degree views. Chatted with some AT NoBos before hiking down to the Goddard Shelter to get water.  I was fading by mid day so Travis told me about the Lord Of The Rings in great detail and it got us up and over Maple Hill and into Melville Shelter.  Met a LT NoBo who got lost on his second day and ended up getting a boat ride across a lake back to the trail from a resident in the woods.  We also met a couple women who just graduated UVM.  We cooked dinner and realized we were out of fuel which meant no more hot coffee or hot meals.  But one of the hikers we met offered us some extra snacks since she was hiking out in the morning and heading back to work and it got us thru!

Had a rugged climb in and out of Route 9 (the road that goes into Bennington).  There was an endless rock staircase in and out of that road and it nearly killed me.  Intense morning!  We were really feeling the exhaustion from the trail and collapsed on Consultation Peak.  We were so tired and running low on food.  We added some electrolytes to our water and pushed on feeling the boost and making it to the Seth Warner shelter which is the last/first or shall I say the southern most shelter on the Long Trail.  Shortly after we arrived the place filled up with Northbound Long Trail Hikers     just starting the trail.  We felt like rock stars with all the congratulations they gave us and we wished them happy times as they head north. They had lots of questions and we happily answered all of them and offered tips and any useful information we could think of.  Then we did a little ritual with some flying magic papers that Travis’ partner Jesse sent us.  We lit up our hopes and dreams and watched the embers fly being extra careful not to burn down the forest.  We ended our last night on the trail with a game Yahtzee.

Woke up early and excited to hike to the end.  Got to the Massachuestts border at 8:30 this morning and cheered.  Our celebration was cut short by an obnoxious AT hiker who assumed we were like high school boys and didn’t believe we were 38 and 39 years old and all he had to say was that at least 25 year old women probably still throw themselves at us.  Eye roll.  Where to begin here. A. I am a woman and I am life partnered with someone much older then me. B. Travis is a flaming homo. C. Don’t talk about women throwing themselves on people. D. We just finished the Long Trail!  Either give us a cupcake or move along! 

We hiked it off ranting and raving a bit.  We’ve experienced a disappointing amount of offensive comments out here. Generally if someone thinks I’m a dude, I just go with it.  But when dudes start talkin the kind of exploitive objectifying bullshit that they don’t talk about in front of women, it’s uncomfortable.  My instinct is to hike away and then later I regret not having come out and saying something about how it’s not cool to talk about women like that.  Whatever.

We hiked the 3.8 miles to a road and then a postal carrier guided us towards a diner which was very hiker friendly.  We were exhausted and decided that hiking 3000 feet up Mount Greylock on the AT was not in the cards for us today.  We’ve done it before and we needed to celebrate our Long Trail victory so we walked into North Adams and checked into a Holiday Inn, showered and did laundry and will rest and enjoy ourselves until we head back east tomorrow.

It’s been epic!



Inn @ Long Trail to Manchester: 50 miles

Total Long Trail miles: 218

I’m sick of trailmix but I keep eating it anyway. I crave cheese. I now carry “seriously sharp” cheddar and happily slice it with my tiny knife.  

I mainly sleep in my tent. Travis sleeps in his hammock which he has named “hammy” and at the end of a long day we talk about finding a home for hammy.  Fortunately there are lots of trees. 

We camp near shelters or tent sites cuz they have privys and water sources (although the water has been dry lately).  I mostly avoid sleeping in the shelters cuz of the mice and needing my own private space at the end of the day.  But sometimes I don’t feel like setting up my tent or if it’s raining then I will sleep in the shelter.

We pass few Appalachian Trail NoBos and it seems the bubble has left Vermont. We’ve heard it described like a mullet hairstyle: “business in the front, party in the back.” Meaning, the latter part of the AT hikers are partying their way down the trail.  We are happy to have missed this party.  Most of the AT hikers we’ve met are really nice.

I drink leaf debris and floaties in my water and I don’t even care.  We treat it of course!  Although everybody reminds us just in case we forget.  Water has been dry for some stretches so we carry extra.

After a fun visit with Travis’ Mom & Aunt (Judy and Marje) we got back on the trail and climbed up part of Pico following the Sherburne Pass trail which took us over to Killington. We were blessed with another 70 degree sunny day and the climb was beautiful and full of disheveled pine trees with blue skies and misty mountains in beyond.  We made it up to Cooper Lodge and dropped our packs taking a spur trail .2 miles up to the summit. It was super steep and the wind was intense. It kept going up and up and I couldn’t stop myself from howling into the wind when I finally made it to the top where I was greeted by a boy who was shocked that we had climbed up instead of having taken the gondola up as he had with his family. We really blew his mind when we told I’m we had walked from Canada. The 360 views went on forever and the blue hues were almost impossible to take in.  We climbed over the summit towards the snack bar and enjoyed some mountain top snackbar treats along with running water and flush toilets! 

We headed back down to Cooper lodge, shouldered our packs and trucked on down the mountain on a lovely stretch of trail finding our way to Governor Clement shelter which was built in 1929 and it the second oldest shelter on the trail. There were a group of women also staying here and it was fun camping with them.  

The next morning we flew 7 miles to route 103 where we hiked west .5 mile to the Qu Whistle stop Restaurant where we ate lots of lunch and lounged in the sun. It was hard to hike back to the trail with full bellies but we pushed on and upward crossing an older suspension bridge.  We got to Minerva Shelter where we thought we might stay but it had bad energy and was kinda gross and the porcupines had chewed it to bits AND there was no water so we continued and ended up doing a 16 mile day with a very steep scent of a he last mile and I had to dig deep to get up that thing. Our packs were extra heavy cuz we were carrying extra water since the word on the trail was that things were dry ahead and there would be no water for miles. Stayed at Greenwall which had the best privy I’ve scene on the whole trail so far.  The thing had a front porch!  Met a couple NoBo AT hikers there as well as a NoBo LT hiker whose trail name was Atreyu!

The next morning I was thinking about my meditation group as we ascended White Rocks Mountain.  It was a Wednesday and my meditation group meets on Wednesdays.  We came upon these amazing rock gardens on the mountains and I felt so connected to my fellow yogis back home.  We hiked on passing some lakes and rivers and I had a mid day swim and while it was freezing, it was so refreshing to rinse off some salt. We ate lunch by the river and then climbed Baker Peak which was an existed rocky summit treat!!!  Also I hiked by a woman thru hiking in the buff. Such freedom out here.  14 miles later we had Griffith Lake to ourselves where I swam again and we cooked our dinner at like 4:45 and were in our respective hammock and tent by 6pm.  

This morning we woke to blue skies and climbed up Peru Peak and hiked another gorgeous ridge line over Styles Peak and up Bromley Mountain for more 360 views and mountains beyond mountains.  We descended into Manchester and hitched a ride to the post office to resupply and then walked into town for town for some pizza and groceries before getting picked up by Jeff of The Green Mountain House Hiker Hostel!  This place is great! Showers, laundry, loaner clothes, a free pint of Ben & Jerrys ice cream (which I’m too tired to eat) and a ride back to the trail in the morning!