Becca & Greg's Engagement

This weekend’s visit from my sister and her boyfriend turned out to be more exciting than anyone was anticipating. They made the long drive out to Vermont and spent two days skiing at Killington for their mini winter vacation. The weather wasn’t ideal, as there were warm temperatures and rain, high winds and fog. They were good sports about it and still hit the slopes and skied until they were too tired and sore to move. They caught some mountain views as the clouds broke up and cleared higher up, and after several years of dating, Greg proposed to Becca in the gondola!

Greg talked to our family about the upcoming proposal back around Christmas, and for the last two months, he’s had the ring in its box, zipped in the chest pocket of his jacket to ensure he wouldn’t lose it, and likely too, that she wouldn’t find it. When they newly engaged couple arrived at my house Friday night, they were extraordinarily happy. We adored the ring and talked about their thoughts on the wedding over dinner, and Ted and I treated them to skiing at Mount Sunapee on Saturday — their ski boots still weren’t dried out from the previous two days, but the blue sky above wasn’t keeping us indoors all day! Before they headed to New York on Sunday, we had a mini engagement shoot, so they had images for their official announcement. Like many couples we work with, they weren’t into posing, so we had fun with letting them be their natural, silly selves. Not only are they adorable, but I can’t get enough of how beautiful and sparkly that ring is! Check it out!

More Light Pillars!

Thirty-two years on this planet and I’ve only seen this phenomenon three times, and all three times were since moving to the Upper Valley. Light pillars are formed when city lights, or any bright lights I suppose, shine through tiny ice crystals called “diamond dust.” These ice crystals need very cold temperatures, below zero, and require still nights with calm or no wind so they remain suspended in the air. If there’s wind, the crystals get blown around, disrupting the light pillars. They also need enough moisture to form ice crystals, so there needs to be a sufficient source of humidity. All three times we’ve witnessed the light pillars, it has been on relatively early winter nights when the rivers running through town aren’t yet frozen over, so there’s steam rising up from the open, flowing water. We also live near a small ski hill, and it would appear that overnight snow-making contributes to the formation of light pillars nearby.

Usually if I’m awake before sunrise on a weekend, it’s because I’m traveling up to a trailhead somewhere for a day in the mountains. This morning, it was for a very cold (-18F) walk around Lebanon, New Hampshire. While looking at model data and forecast temperatures Friday evening, Ted mentioned it might be a “light pillar night.” We had friends coming to visit and plans to do the ice skating trail on Lake Morey in Vermont, which meant for once we weren’t going to be heading out early to hike, making this the perfect morning to set a 4am alarm and wander the streets until dawn.

Our alarm went off, current conditions indicated cold temperatures and calm wind, so we suited up and started the car. First we scouted lights along the Connecticut River, but didn’t have any luck. Part of the problem too is the lack of good open spaces for views, even in town, since buildings, hills, and trees become barriers to good compositions. Ted continued driving, while I watched out all windows for signs of those elusive beams of light. Finally, through the trees, I got a glimpse of one, so we headed in that direction, hoping for a more open view and to get closer to the action.

After a few shots along the Mascoma River, we decided to see if we could find a better vantage. We drove through some fog and took note of where it was congregating, and started heading out of town. Eventually, we ended up getting a few nice shots from the fields by the high school, just before they started fading out with the approaching sunrise. We stopped for coffee on the way home, and kept the momentum up by processing up these photos, getting laundry done, ice skating several miles and stopping by Storrs Hill for the evening, followed by a late night of catching up with our visiting friends. No wonder I’m so tired.

Our RMNP Wedding

For some, the perfect wedding is a big, formal event, with many guests, traditions, dinner, and dancing - and there's nothing wrong with that. Ted and I have attended plenty of gorgeous weddings with well-planned and fun parties that were perfect for the couples who planned them. But for us, none of them really resonated in a way that felt like the kind of celebration we’d want to throw ourselves.

Most wedding traditions never felt all that important to us, and since I dislike being the center of attention, being a bride was never all that appealing to me. An entire day in front of 100+ people, all eyes on me, smiling and posing for a thousand photos while guests snap countless, unflattering photos for Facebook, worrying about what I look like and whether everything would go as planned, watching the clock, wondering what people are thinking of our choices for colors, food, dresses, details… sounded like the most anxiety-inducing thing I could think of. I don't even like dancing. Maybe we should just elope.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

Then there was one wedding that changed everything. In 2014, a college friend asked me to help her plan their wedding, only a couple weeks before it would happen. They wanted a tiny wedding, on top of a mountain, filled with fall color and surrounded by nature, complete with an unforgettable hiking adventure for those who would attend. Not only was I to be the wedding planner, I'd also be her photographer. Planning that wedding felt like I was planning my own wedding. No need for decorations or table linens, no arguments over colors or centerpieces. With the brilliant fall foliage and a warm sunset, this intimate ceremony was the perfect compromise between having a wedding and eloping. They invited only their closest family and friends for the summit ceremony, and planned a larger gathering to celebrate with friends a few weeks later upon returning home.

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That day, Ted and I not only realized that we wanted THAT kind of wedding, we also wanted to help other couples ditch the traditional expectations and plan a unique wedding adventure that was perfect for them. We started photographing more adventurous couples and families and shifted to shooting only outdoor weddings and elopements. Each time a couple got married on the summit of Whiteface or on a family farm, alone or with only their closest family and friends, where they could be themselves, relaxed, speaking their vows freely and without judgment, I felt happy and vindicated. We weren't crazy for wanting something different, or for wanting to incorporate nature and adventure into it. After all, hiking was what brought us together in the first place, and we're not the only ones!

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So this year, we reserved the Park Entrance Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado, for four nights, secured a wedding permit for Rocky Mountain National Park, and put together brochure-style invitations to send the 13 guests, which recommended hiking trails and local attractions we thought they’d be interested in. I ordered a beautiful Morilee bridesmaid dress in ivory, which was perfect in every way. My jewelry was all handmade labradorite pieces, a stone that holds great meaning for us, as well as an amazing alexandrite ring my sister gave me as an early wedding gift. I wanted to do some kind of wedding favor, so I picked up maple candy to bring with us, as a way of incorporating a piece of our northeast home into it all.

We flew to Denver, met up with friends, climbed a few of our favorite mountains (we used to live in Fort Collins), and watched a moose fight while waiting for family to arrive. All 15 of us stayed together in the lodge, with outdoor-themed décor throughout, and cooked meals together. I made our cake topper, which has all sorts of stories embedded in it, and my mom made our wedding cake right there at the lodge. Ted stopped by the Red Rose Rock Shop for a birthday present for his mom, and after asking Ted what brought him to town, they gifted us a beautiful piece of rose quartz!

On our wedding day, Ted and I woke up at 4am to get ready, and my sister went with us into Rocky Mountain National Park for sunrise portraits. We chose not to hire a photographer as a way of keeping this event as intimate as possible, and I know a lot of photographers would be dismayed by that. (I definitely don’t recommend skipping hiring a professional. Sometimes family or friends offer to shoot for free as a gift, and I strongly encourage anyone with that offer to review their portfolio, camera gear, and processing skills and to make sure you truly love their style and work. This is your big day and you want to remember it through high-quality, well-composed photos. Also consider whether being your photographer will negatively impact a friend/family member’s experience and ability to enjoy your celebration). For me, what was important was including my sister, working as a team, and having complete creative control in processing, knowing that I have the skills and ability to ensure quality images as a professional photographer myself. I had a vision for what I wanted in our wedding photos, and we are grateful for my sister’s flexibility and willingness to help us get the shots we wanted.

When we finished up with our portraits, we dropped my sister off at the lodge to change, and picked up the best man, matron of honor, and our climbing partner officiant. We headed back into the park to scout out the ceremony spot, set up the tripod, and evaluate the light conditions (by now it was almost 10am). I took portraits of the guys and friends that came with us and we listened to an elk bugle while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. The ceremony itself was only 6 minutes long, and perhaps slightly disorganized due to a lack of real detail planning or rehearsing – though that was the level of awkwardness and humor we were going for. My sister took photos during the ceremony, and we took turns passing the camera for portraits with family, where I’d take the photos if I wasn’t in them, finally ending with a group shot from a tripod I set up and ran into.

After the ceremony, we went back to the lodge to relax a bit before going into town for an early celebratory dinner. Ted and I wandered into the Ore Cart Rock Shop after dinner and bought the biggest, coolest piece of labradorite we now own. Back at the lodge, we had toasts and cake and watched the sunset from the hot tub.

Just as with traditional weddings, elopements are also not for everyone. There’s something very special about a tiny, private ceremony with only your closest family/friends, and while we wanted something intimate, we still wanted to include our parents and my siblings. This trip was particularly special to us because it allowed us to share some of our favorite places and hikes in Colorado with friends and family, making our wedding adventure into a multi-day vacation for all of us. Colorado was the first place we lived together, making the location meaningful for us, and were able to include some of our friends who still live out there who wouldn’t have been able to make it if we had done a northeast wedding. After the trip, my parents hosted a very relaxed, not-so-formal backyard party complete with lawn games and cows, so we were still able to celebrate with our extended family and friends back in New York. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

My Favorite Place

If I had to pick a favorite place to hike, Colorado's Indian Peaks might be at the top. Our first 13er was Mount Audubon, a beautiful mountain with alpine flowers and pikas leading to a rocky summit with a 360-degree view. Another day trip led us out to Pawnee Peak, Mount Toll, where Ted tacked on Shoshoni on the way back. Thunderstorms chased us off Navajo Peak and down the airplane gully. While leading backpacks for Cheley Colorado Camps, I made several trips to Fourth of July Mine and climbed South Arapaho Peak and Santanta Peak. There's something about those jagged, rocky peaks and the dramatic landscape, especially when the sunrise lights up the golden tundra and everything seems to glow. 

So while in Colorado for our wedding this year, it's no surprise the Indian Peaks made our adventure itinerary - twice. Our first day in Colorado was spent stocking up on hiking snacks and then hiking Mount Evans. We knew sea level to 14k feet in a day wouldn't feel good, but we also knew we needed to acclimatize fast if we were going to do all the hikes we had planned in the few days we had out there. A couple hours of headaches and nausea would pay off big over the next few days. 

Seven years ago, 3 of us set out to do the loop from Blue Lake to Paiute Peak and over the ridge to Audubon, but had to bail along the ridge due to developing thunderstorms midway. That day, we opted to descend the scree alongside the ridge, and had to zigzag all over angling back to meet the route we'd taken up Paiute, avoiding going back over any summits. This time, we had planned to go back and finish that loop. Two weeks before our trip, I came down with bronchitis and then cold symptoms started on Mount Evans. The last thing I wanted to deal with at our wedding was being sick, but there wasn't anything I could do about it other than eat healthy and push through. Rather than heading to Blue Lake first like last time, we decided reverse it and go to Mount Audubon first. That way, if I didn't feel well, we were guaranteed to at least get one peak, and could make a decision at the summit.

As expected, the bronchitis took its toll and I had a mild asthma attack near the top. A few puffs of my inhaler, some rest, and some food in the windbreak, and it was decision-time. We'd traveled 2,000 miles, got up at 3am and climbed this mountain, and the sky couldn't be clearer or bluer. I got my breathing under control and said, "let's do it." There's nothing I love more than climbing and scrambling around on those rocks, surrounded by all those mountains. 

We stuck down to the left along the ridge to Paiute, which kept us out of the worst of the wind for most of it. We had both summits to ourselves, and a solo hiker who caught up on Pauite joined us for the descent since he wasn't familiar with that route and there's no trail. We were glad we'd done that part before because things certainly looked different coming from the other direction! Blue Lake was as beautiful and sparkling as ever, and we even saw a weasel on the descent. Back on an established trail and cruising back toward the trailhead, the coolest thing happened. Ted stopped dead in his tracks and struggled to get the words out fast enough.. “MOOSE…FIGHTING… MOOSE… CAMERA NOW.” Minimizing noise and movement, we got out the dSLR and I took a few photos while Ted took a video with my point and shoot. Two bull moose hit their heads together for a good ten minutes, just off the side of the trail, and we had front row seats. Proof that even though all the advice says to go to quiet places at dawn or dusk, you can still have a stellar moose encounter on a busy trail in the middle of the day!

So, 2 days of hiking down, why not add another? After finishing the loop, we met friends in Boulder who had flown out during our hike, and headed back to Brainard Lake. Day 3 included an easy hike to Lake Isabelle, watching the sunrise from just above it, and hiking up to Pawnee Peak. We took it slow as not everyone was adjusted to the altitude, enjoyed a good break at Pawnee Pass, and then headed off-trail toward the summit of Pawnee Peak. We had a blast catching up with friends and sharing this amazing place with them, but boyyy was I tired and sweaty. Perhaps too much exercise without enough sleep, hydration, and oxygen. Being sick really sucks. 

We knew we could check into the Park Entrance Lodge in Estes Park at 4pm, and we were back at the car an entire hour ahead of schedule. Figuring we'd just get coffee and kill time, I got the best text as we drove back into cell service. The owner sent me a message saying the house was ready and we could go anytime.. which meant showers and some downtime before the rest of our friends and family arrived that evening! This trip has been amazing so far, and we haven't even gotten married yet! 

Another Adirondack Adventure

When you love the mountains, repeating the same hikes never gets old. Each trip brings a new adventure with changing weather, varying trail conditions, and different combinations of people and personalities.

This was my 3rd year organizing the Young Members Weekend at Johns Brook Lodge for the Adirondack Mountain Club, and was once again a fun and rewarding experience. Hikers joined us from as far away as Buffalo, Boston, and Washington, D.C., and we spent Friday – Sunday together in the Adirondack High Peaks. A 3.5-mile backpack in the rain brought us to JBL, where we dried off and spent the rest of the day getting to know each other, planning routes for Saturday, and enjoying music from our “JBL jam band.” One participant even hiked in his violin!

After waking up to French toast and bacon, our group of 26 divided up and set out for our destinations, which included Bushnell Falls, Mount Marcy, Skylight, Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback. My favorite part about organizing this event is allowing for flexibility and individualization, so each person can hike their own hike, summit the mountains of their choice, and be as relaxed or challenged as they’d like – all while making new friends.  

Trail conditions were wetter than any past trip I’ve done along this route to Haystack, and water was just high enough to make brook crossings tricky, prompting many of us to take our boots right off to avoid accidental submersion off the slippery rocks. Wide puddles, deep standing water, sticky mud, and flowing water in the trail, especially up above Slant Rock, forced us to take our time and focus on each step. The last half mile before hitting Little Haystack was like climbing a waterfall, and it was near impossible to make it to Little Haystack without wet feet. We’d been hiking in light rain and mist all morning, so the rocks above treeline ranged from damp to dry, and it seemed like we wouldn’t have a view.

Similar to last weekend’s morning on Algonquin Peak, for a few brief moments while we were on top, the clouds broke up around us, allowing for a view of Skylight in one direction, and an undercast in the other. We snapped photos quickly, as the view disappeared as quickly as it appeared. While it would be amazing to have had another clear, sunny day up there, hiking up into the clouds and watching them swirl around you creates its own unique, dramatic experience, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Our group descended toward Basin to avoid going down the waterfall of a trail section, and split up at the junction below the summit of Basin. A couple chose to continue over Basin and Saddleback to complete a loop, and others descended back to Slant Rock and met up with one of the Marcy groups for the hike back to the lodge, where the smell of grilled chicken welcomed us. Another night of games, music, and attempts at stargazing as the clouds cleared, and we’re already talking about next year.

Wilmington Weekend

A wedding on Whiteface Mountain brought us to the Adirondack High Peaks region this weekend, and the weather was perfect for spending every minute outside. We drove over from Vermont Friday afternoon and set up camp at Wilmington Notch Campground. If you haven’t stayed there, make a reservation, and be sure to check out its gorgeous waterfall!

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Since we didn’t have to be anywhere until lunchtime, we got up early and caught the sunrise from Cobble Lookout before going into Lake Placid for breakfast. It’s a short, fairly easy hike with an up-close view of Whiteface Mountain, so it’s worth the effort and great for beginners and kids.

I’ll save our Whiteface adventure for a post of its own, but I’ll say it was so beautiful that we were in no rush to head right home after. We spent the evening debating what to do on Sunday, realizing the weather could range from perfect to socked-in summits. After scrolling Instagram and seeing a video of the insane number of cars parked along Adirondack Loj Road, we debated if it was even worth trying to head down that way. With the increasing number of hikers in the high peaks, we hate to contribute to the crowding, but I also realize it’s difficult to provide information and guidance as an Adirondack 46er correspondent if I don’t get out there and maintain some knowledge of the state of things. We haven’t visited the MacIntyre Range in a few years, so we decided to set out early and check out the alpine plants on Algonquin. We met a New Hampshire hiker along the trail and chatted our way up to the junction, where he and Ted started up Wright while I headed to Algonquin.  As views started opening up behind me, I stopped frequently and turned around to take it in, realizing how much I’ve missed hiking regularly in the Adirondacks. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Whites lately, but there’s really no place like home. I continued up slowly, trying to maximize the amount of time I had all to myself in the silence and stillness of the morning. I fully expected to find others on the summit, perhaps those seeking the sunrise, or at the very least, the summit steward.

I walked up to the summit marker and looked around, and to my surprise, I was completely alone. The summit of New York State’s second tallest peak, all to myself, with an undercast in one direction and thin clouds dancing around me, obscuring the view and opening up again. Mount Marcy rose up out of the clouds and made her appearance before the next wave of clouds blew in again. I sat beside a cluster of closed gentians and waited for Ted to join me on the summit. Behind Ted came the summit steward for the day and then Adam, the hiker he had gone to Wright with, and then a couple solo hikers who sat quietly, appreciating nature with the rest of us. In that moment, it seemed hard to believe there are so many overuse, littering, and crowding issues, because this felt just as it did a decade or more ago.

It gave me some hope, that even though social media sometimes makes it sound and look like conditions are pretty bad out there, perhaps things aren’t degrading as quickly as it seems, and there are plenty of hikers out there doing their part to leave no trace and preserve these special places.

Details, details.

One of the things I love about shooting weddings, whether it's a more formal event or a woodsy elopement, are the details. I love seeing the creativity, attention to detail, and thoughtfulness that goes into perfecting the aspects that are important to each couple. This weekend's wedding was a laid back party, complete with a live band and an assortment of lawn games. Their place cards were clementines, with guest names written on a paper leaf, and they were arranged in a beautiful spiral on a center table. I couldn't get enough of how much her rings sparkled, or how cool it was taking photos in the old, overgrown greenhouse structure at the Appel Inn. Here are a few details from this lovely day:)

Tuckerman Ravine Hike

Wow, it sure doesn't look or feel much like spring on Mount Washington right now! You'd think we were back in Colorado, but this is New Hampshire, I swear!

Ted & I hiked up to Tuckerman Ravine yesterday to check out the new snow that fell over the last few days, and to scout it out for a future ski date. The trail up to Hermit Lake is still completely snow-covered, but in good shape with all the heavy use (and since they essentially groom it). Tons of people were hanging out on the deck enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather and the dramatic view, but not as many were actually skiing due to moderate to considerable avalanche risk in the ravine. Several rangers and rescue personnel were on duty, interviewing skiers about their skiing plans, and ensuring only those with appropriate backcountry equipment and experience were heading up into the ravine.  Ted talked to one of them to find out how far it was safe for us to hike, but unfortunately the landmark they provided was buried, so it was way too easy to go too far. We soon found ourselves alongside the flattened trees from an earlier avalanche this winter, and backtracked to a safer spot to watch the brave souls skiing Left Gully. The temperature stayed in the 30s with a pretty steady wind, so it still felt a lot like winter up there. We passed a pit dug in the snow that proved there was at least a good 6 feet of snow on the ground. The wildest thing was after playing in all that deep snow, it was a sunny 60 degrees as we ate dinner outdoors beside the Mascoma River last night. Nothing like experiencing two seasons in the same day! 

Holly & Matthew

Holly & Matthew’s wedding involved a few firsts for us. It’s been 3.5 years since we shot our first wedding, and this was the first time we photographed a wedding with both an indoor ceremony and reception. As adventure photographers, the weddings Ted and I typically shoot have outdoor ceremonies, often in the mountains or other scenic places, occasionally with a small indoor or outdoor reception to follow. This was also the first wedding where we didn’t meet the bride or groom until the day of. Our practice is generally to try to have a meeting of some kind, from photographing an engagement session to chatting over the phone or Skype, to get to know each other and ensure our personalities are a good fit. Establishing a connection and getting comfortable with each other can help relieve some anxiety on the big day.

Holly and I exchanged several emails leading up to the wedding, but needless to say, I was still a bit nervous arriving on Saturday since we hadn’t actually met yet. The weather forecast had also been questionable, with possibilities ranging from just cloudy and windy to freezing rain and wintry mix, and I knew she was hoping to do outdoor portraits. Thankfully, I was at least familiar with the venue – Pat’s Barn!

I was greeted by the bride’s brother immediately upon entering, who was finishing up some decorating. The barn was set up for the ceremony in front of the big windows, elegantly lit, with gorgeous succulent plant centerpieces and favors. Even the cake was succulent-themed, and it was BEAUTIFUL! Pat’s Barn was the perfect sized venue for this intimate party, with an upper level that was not only used for cocktail hour, but was also perfect for catching a bird’s-eye view of the dance floor. The lawn, surrounding trees, and nearby brick buildings made perfect backdrops for photos too!  

I met Holly while she was getting her hair and makeup done, and I instantly felt more relaxed. The wedding day can be a stressful day for a bride, and if Holly was anxious or stressed out, she certainly didn’t show it. She was happy and easy-going, and willing to just go with the flow. I could say the same thing for Matthew (the groom), as well as their families, which really made my job easy. We lucked out with the weather too, which, while windy and on the chilly side, stayed dry. We even saw some sun and blue sky after the ceremony, which was perfectly timed for outdoor family portraits. Fernando from Conway Entertainment got the party started with handing out sunglasses and glow sticks, and this group wasn’t shy about dancing! The energy in the room was contagious, and there were so, so many smiling faces. Did I mention this bride has an incredible smile?! 

Holly and Matthew were an absolute pleasure to work with, and we couldn’t be more honored to have been part of their wedding day. CONGRATULATIONS and best wishes! 

P.S. While we don’t plan on adding indoor ceremonies to our "official" list of services anytime soon, we're always up for new experiences. Trying something new now and then can be a really good thing, a lot of fun, and a great adventure - even indoors!  

Volcan Iztaccihuatl

WE SUMMITED IZTACCIHUATL!!!! :)

I think when we booked our trip to climb Mount Rainier, some part of us thought it would likely be the first and only mountaineering trip of its kind. We knew we wanted to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and try something new, to take on a roped up, crevassed glacier adventure. With so many unknowns going into the trip, not knowing what to expect, I think we half expected to be terrified by the steep terrain and exposure, the deep crevasses with ladder crossings, and the elevated risks that come with such an endeavor. I remember trying not to look around too much in the dark on the way up, focusing on every step and breath, anxious about what the sunrise would reveal about my surroundings – but when the sun finally did come up, I was mesmerized and in complete awe of what I saw. The glacier was so beautiful and so grand, and I was so, so small. It was like being on another planet, and rather than feeling fear, I felt excited, amazed, and addicted. WE. MUST. DO. THIS. AGAIN.

So we booked another trip with RMI, this time to climb Orizaba and Iztaccihuatl, Mexico’s 1st and 3rd highest peaks, and spent the year in between training and learning Spanish. The inspiration for this trip came from the Banff Mountain Film Festival film, “55 Hours in Mexico,” which informed us of Orizaba’s existence, and depicted it as something we might be able to do. We read that the glacier was less crevassed and technical than Rainier, but with an altitude over 18k feet, we’d be climbing to new heights.

We flew into Mexico City from essentially sea level, and the next day, started our acclimatization on La Malinche. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy trip right from the start, as I found myself getting tired, lightheaded, and even heaving at times before we reached 13k feet. We slept at 10k feet that night, and the next day drove to Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park. We walked the dirt road to the Altzomoni Hut at 13k feet and prepped for the climb ahead. The mountains were in the clouds when we arrived, and while setting up for the night, checking our tents, and packing for high camp, the clouds cleared and we could finally see both Iztaccihuatl and Popcatepetl. That evening, Popocatepetl even let off some steam for us, and it was amazing to watch the sunset while that massive volcano puffed out smoke.

Morning always comes way too soon on mountaineering trips, but we woke up to a hot scrambled egg breakfast that was easier to eat at altitude than the usual oatmeal. We didn’t have a lot of elevation gain to do to get to high camp, but with carrying estimated 50+ pound packs, we knew we wouldn’t be fast. Thankfully, our porters shuttled a few jugs of water to high camp so we could save ourselves a few pounds. The trail was a mix of gradual and steeper terrain, and higher up was steep, loose dirt and rocky.

We reached high camp at 15k feet around mid-afternoon, set up our tents, and then spent a little time relaxing in them. Dinner consisted of Ramen, which I’d never eaten before, and thankfully I tried Ted’s before putting the spice packet in mine. Way too salty, I ended up just eating the plain noodles. We reviewed the gear list for summit day, topped off water and packed up, took some acetazolamide and went to bed before sunset. I woke up around 8:30pm, insanely frustrated that I had to pee and had to get out of my sleeping bag, but immediately forgot I had to go upon stepping out of the tent and seeing the view. A sky of stars, a few distant clouds with lightning flashes, and surrounded by the bright lights of the huge cities way down below, it was incredible. After staring in awe for way too long, I remembered I’d stepped out here for a reason, and needed to get back to sleep. Our wake-up call was at 1am, which consisted of layering up, forcing as much oatmeal and hot chocolate down as possible without throwing it up, and being ready to hit the trail by 2am. 

Izta is a very steep and rocky mountain, with everything from scrambling to steep, loose stuff, to sad glacier crossings. Apparently this year is very different than most years, as it’s been extremely dry and hasn’t snowed, so what is typically snow-covered was mostly just bare rock/dirt. This was not at all what I expected, as I do very well on the snow and glaciated terrain, and I’m not so fond of steep, loose rocks/dirt. There were only two relatively short sections where crampons were necessary, but otherwise it was bare ground the whole way.  We roped up for a good portion of it, not so much because we really need to, but more for the comfort of knowing we wouldn’t go far if we did fall. From 2am til sunrise, we hiked, often in silence outside structured breaks, focusing hard on each step and pressure breath. If I got out of rhythm, it was obvious, as I’d immediately get the lightheaded and nauseous feeling, heaving here and there, feeling like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen (because I wasn’t). Then I’d push out a few good pressure breaths and work back into a rhythm.

Izta isn’t your typical climb to the top and go back down kind of deal. She is a ridge with many summits, which was immensely taxing, both physically and in terms of morale. But then, the sun comes up, and it's all worth it. We were treated to a gorgeous sunrise, complete with an undercast, and Popocatepetl continuing to puff out smoke pretty consistently. It was PERFECT. 

After a good, long break in the sunshine, we started the descent. There seemed to be more breaks on the way down than on the way up, and it felt like it was taking forever going over all the bumps along the Ridge of the Sun. On Rainier, my emotional moment was upon seeing the sunrise and the top at the same time, knowing I was going to summit. This time, my emotional moment came when I finally crested a hill and could see high camp again, knowing I was going to make it out of there! As usual, Ted and I had our tent down and stuff packed in no time, and we hung out for quite a while waiting for everyone else to be packed up. My calf started to cramp a few times, so I used that time to stretch and hydrate. Our porters surprised us by meeting us at high camp and helping with not only taking down tents, but also by carrying the tents down for us. Ted was excited because everything finally fit in his 65L backpack (it was tight with half the tent in it on the way up). At this point, my feet were starting to hurt in my mountaineering boots, so my pace slowed a bit more, at least until there was lightning! Ted said when someone asked our local guide if lightning might be a problem, he said, “Only in July.” First there was graupel, then some snow, then bigger graupel, followed by a few loud clashes of thunder. I think that motivated everyone to not want to be 14k feet up anymore, so we didn’t take any breaks heading down from high camp. We were met at the trailhead by the local staff who provided sandwiches, beer, and sodas for us to enjoy while loading up the van. We now have a down day in the city to rest and explore Puebla, before heading to Tlachichuca and up to Orizaba high camp. 

Wednesday in the Whites

Ted's in Texas for the AMS conference and the weather in the northeast is finally above zero. With nothing else to do and blue sky all around, off to the mountains I went! 

I left before sunrise and drove two hours to Crawford Notch, and spent way too much time climbing up the taller-than-me snowbank looking for where the trail starts. After a series of postholes to the trail sign, I found myself enjoying a freshly packed snowshoe trench all the way up to Jackson. I'd hoped to loop over Webster too, but opted against it because it wasn't packed out, but also because I was solo and way too eager to get to a view. All through the woods, the fresh snow was piled on every tree, and every now and then I'd get a glimpse of the sun rising on the other side. I finally climbed the last pitch to the summit and an expansive winter wonderland of mountains unfolded before me. Mount Washington was as white as it could be, and with no wind, I considered extending my hike heading toward it, until I ran into someone who had turned around from the ridge and said breaking it out alone just wasn't worth it. I ended up having the summit to myself for almost two hours, with the exception of the shadows that came from behind me as soon as I settled in. THE GRAY JAYS! 

A pair of gray jays, clearly used to being fed by hikers, landed on a treetop behind me. The longer I sat there, the closer and closer they hopped, until they were sitting next to me, then on my backpack, looking for a peak treat. When they hear wrappers crinkle, they perk right up, and they sat still hoping for a handout, long enough for me to have a mini photo shoot with them. It was cool to sit quietly in nature and have these birds come hang out with me, but was sad to consider the real reason they were so friendly is because people had conditioned them to associate humans with food. It reminded me of a hike I did one winter, on a popular Rocky Mountain National Park trail, where a squirrel actually ran up my leg and down my arm trying to get what it thought was food in my hand. When animals are fed human food, it not only puts their health at risk since what we eat isn't always nutritious for them, it also puts us at risk. Wild animals stop being afraid of people, and we often think it's exciting to have an animal eat from our hands, but what about the risk of getting bitten, or the risk of them spreading disease to you? There's also the risk of having animals destroy your personal property, such as mice or martens ripping into your backpack for any snacks or even crumbs they smell in there when you leave your pack or campsite unattended. I know it's extremely exciting to have encounters with wildlife, but next time you have the choice, remember you can help keep birds and animals healthy (and yourself safe) by not feeding them. 

To learn more about how you can protect yourself, wildlife, and the landscape while exploring, visit LNT.org.

Light Pillars

You know it's cold outside when you see this amazing phenomenon. 

The morning of December 17, 2017, Ted and I loaded up the car for a day of ice climbing and hit the road well before daylight. As we drove around the green at the center of town, I noticed beams of light reaching toward the sky, rising from each of the streetlights. After pointing this out, we stared out the car windows in awe at this peculiar sight. They were EVERYWHERE, and SO BRIGHT! Ted snapped this low quality photo with his phone as we approached the interstate, and that was it. They were gone. We hoped to see them as we drove over the bridge in West Lebanon, since it overlooked more lights, but sadly, they seemed to only be in one small isolated area further east. 

The first half of our drive to the mountains involved me asking questions and trying to understand what we just saw. They were light pillars, which form on REALLY cold, calm nights, when there's enough humidity for the creation of "diamond dust," or tiny ice crystals suspended in the air. It's pretty cool, since it's like having precipitation that forms near the ground on a clear night, rather than falling from clouds. The light pillars are seen when light refracts off the tiny ice crystals, creating a beautiful display. Needless to say, I was pretty intrigued and welcomed the cold air heading our way. 

Usually I'm not happy about waking up in the middle of the night if it's not to go hiking, but yesterday morning around 3am, I woke up to see the elusive pillars yet again. Ted mentioned the night before that conditions were optimal for them, having fresh snow on the ground, light wind, and nighttime temperatures below zero. That knowledge is what prompted me to look out the window in the first place. I probably scared the crap out of Ted when I screamed "BEAMS!" out of excitement, and then dragged him out of bed and into the -14 degree night with my camera. At first it looked like they faded away, but we drove around a bit, keeping an eye out for pillars and an open enough view in their direction. We ended up at the Howard Logan Field in Lebanon, NH, and trudged through the new foot of snow for a less obstructed view. Ted set up the tripod while I worked on camera settings with my numb hands, and we were blown away by what we captured. Often, photos don't do things justice, but this time, I feel like it was just as pretty in real life as the photos depict. The pillars were more transient than we expected them to be. They were really good for only a short period of time, and seemed to fade in and out, but mostly out after the first few minutes in the baseball field. But just like undercasts and auroras, it was alluring enough to keep me up again last night, hoping for their return. 

A New Kind of Adventure

I've hiked to the summit of Cascade Mountain too many times to count, and started avoiding hiking it in recent years as hiker traffic there has increased so drastically. What do you do when the trails are too crowded? Find a less crowded route. 

In order to keep expanding your comfort zone, and perhaps to prevent boredom, you have to keep pushing your limits and challenging yourself. Keep trying new things, harder things. So this month, I somehow allowed Ted and Joe to talk me into my first multi-pitch climb, and an ice/mixed/slide climb at that! I haven't climbed ice in two years, and I'm kind of terrible at rock climbing. I haven't been on a rope since a harness fiasco at the rock gym a while back, and a winter day with a single-digit high was less than appealing. But! The weather was otherwise sunny, no snow moving in, the roads were clear, and the nighttime temperatures well below zero in the Adirondacks would keep other climbers from getting an early start, allowing us time to take our time. Ted once said I shouldn't be afraid of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden because he felt it was well within my comfort zone, and he turned out to be right that I'd find it "a delightful playground of rocks." So when he insisted I'd enjoy this climb, I decided to give it a shot. 

One thing you learn about ice climbing as a party of three is that it's not fast ascent. Not in the way hiking or trail running is. The concept is straightforward; lead the first pitch, build your anchor, belay everyone up, repeat.  The reality is not as clean. It takes a good chunk of time to get your gear sorted out and your equipment on.  Ropes drag, get stuck or frozen, anchor building can get interesting, communication isn't always easy, plus there's the fact that everything just seems to move more slowly in the winter. The result is that much of your time is spent waiting.  Unlike summer rock climbing, during the winter, you feel every minute when you're not moving if you're not properly dressed. Early on, I made the mistake of looking down at Ted at the base of the falls, and in that moment, I realized how high I'd climbed already. I decided then that if I was going to make it up, I'd need to focus on what was right in front of me, and avoid looking up or down. It's way too easy to psych yourself out when you're hanging from a rope on an ice cliff. With the encouragement of my fearless leaders and an unexpected friend, Andy, who climbed up behind me with another group, I muscled up the technical part of the climb. 

Above the waterfall, we stowed one of the ropes and roped together to simul-climb a couple shorter, easier ice obstacles interspersed with hiking.  Even this was slow-going, as the terrain was uneven, filled with buried rocks, ledges, downed trees, and often deep snow. 

As we reached the bottom of the slide, it was becoming clear that we weren’t hiking out in daylight, and that this would end up being one of the most physically challenging ascents of my life.  In the summer, the slide is a steep, gritty, and often wet, rock slab with numerous loose rocks.  In the winter, it is about 400-450 feet of glorious low-angle ice with a good rest ledge near the middle.  Despite the good shape it was in, it still took nearly the last bit of my strength to get up it, with my calves borderline cramping with every step, my arms exhausted from swinging those axes. 

There was no real time for celebration though, the sun was setting fast and we still had a solid bushwhack to reach the summit. Only one other group followed this route all the way to the summit, as most people just rappel after the technical ice. It appeared that their group must have split up at some point, as the tracks in the snow diverged. Joe took what ended up being the easier, faster route to the summit, and of course, Ted and I chose the more convoluted path. When we finally reached the top, it was just dark enough to dig out the headlamps, and the wind was picking up, giving me brain freeze as it hit the side of my head. We hurried down off the rocks and into the trees on the hard-packed, maintained trail for a quick snack before half jogging our way back to the trailhead. A two hour drive home, and our adventure was complete. 

We're Engaged!

“Let’s go somewhere,” Ted said as I sat at the table on a dreary Thursday, playing a game on my phone as the sun set. He’s not usually spontaneous so I was intrigued, “Where do you want to go?” Rather than driving me (almost) into a tornado (again).. Ted’s picked up geomagnetic storm chasing lately, and this week’s solar flare had him pretty excited for the aurora. I lacked optimism and felt depressed as I checked the forecast and looked at my radar app. Noting that it was cloudy with a definite chance of rain, I wondered what he could see that I couldn’t. I humored him, as I have many times before, and packed up my camera and a jacket. We live in the northeast, so it’s probably cloudy more often than not, and seeing the aurora isn’t something that happens all that often. The few times we’ve seen it in the past, the lights were so faint it was hard to tell if we were seeing anything at all without checking a long exposure. There were countless nights of driving around the middle of nowhere looking for north-facing views only to come home empty-handed because the storm didn’t stay strong enough or the clouds didn’t cooperate. I couldn’t see how tonight would be any different with the thick clouds outside our window, but since this was potentially the biggest solar flare in a decade, Ted insisted we at least try. So I manned the weather-related applications and refreshed the visible satellite one last time for cloud cover before it was too dark, as Ted drove across state lines into Vermont, heading northwest toward the small window of clear sky. In a car with dimming lights, a dying battery, and a host of other issues deeming it less than reliable, we somehow ended up miles down a dirt road, with no cell service and no way to monitor the geomagnetic activity. The tall grass was wet and we kept hearing spooky sounds in the woods, as the recent rain moistened the leaves enough to drip constantly, creating an eerie atmosphere. At one point, we heard a loud noise near the car, and Ted jumped, pressing the lock button on his remote to flash the lights and beep the car, hoping to scare away whatever was over there. 

Somehow, though, he had done it. He found the only 20-minute window of clear sky in the region, with the nearly full moon hidden behind a cloud, while the storm was still strong enough to see. The pillars danced across the sky as a green glow sat at the horizon, and I took photo after photo as the light kept changing. After 9 years of crazy adventures like this, Ted (finally) proposed under the northern lights, and I said yes.

Calendar Feature!

Lake George from Black Mountain.

Taking photos from mountain summits and backcountry locations is never easy. It often involves early mornings or late nights, heavy backpacks, steep terrain, multiple miles, lots of sweat, and of course, the ever-changing weather. There's the frustration from poor trail conditions, and Ted's "It's right around the corner, you're almost there!" encouragement on repeat when we're nowhere near the top.  Sometimes, we work hard to reach the viewpoint, and there is no view. That was almost the case on this winter ascent of Black Mountain, near Whitehall, NY. 

It was mid-December, right after a big snowfall, and apparently before anyone had really snowshoed or snowmobiled into the area that season. Four of us set out to do what we thought would be a quick, 5-mile half day hike, but we faced issues right from the gate. There was between 2 and 3 feet of freshly fallen snow blanketing everything, weighing the trees and branches down so much they leaned over the trail, making it difficult to find and follow. With every step, we were sinking to our knees or more -- with snowshoes on. I don't know why we kept going, if we thought maybe there'd be less snow later on or what, but it never got better. If "Tough Terrain Ted" weren't there breaking trail, the girls most certainly would have turned around and ventured off to find some hot cocoa instead. On we pressed, for hours, flattening the snow beneath us, creating a packed trail that would make the hike out less work later. At one point, I sunk waist deep and struggled to get out.

Eventually though, we made it! In the time we thought it'd take to do the round trip hike, we were just barely reaching the summit. A bit disheartening, a look around presented nothing but shades of white and gray, and clouds swirled around the summit. All that work, and no view?! It happens, more than you'd think, which makes the summits with views that much more appreciated. Exhausted and in no hurry to head back down, we hung out for a bit, and waited out the clouds. Sometimes, they never clear, and sometimes, they open up the perfect window that makes it all worth the effort, and hopefully the camera is ready. Slowly, the sun tried to shine down through the clouds. As the clouds lifted slowly and swirled around us, we got short glimpses of the big, blue lake below. Realizing this trend, I got the camera out and ready. 

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at  www.ADK.org .

Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)'s 2018 calendar is now available at www.ADK.org.

The above photo was featured in a hiking piece in Adirondac magazine last year, and I'm excited to announce that it's now the December image in the Adirondack Mountain Club's 2018 wall calendar! In addition, an image of three-toothed cinquefoil from the Cascade summit is also included in the calendar's sub-theme on alpine vegetation. Sales from these calendars help support ADK's mission and programs, which aim to protect and preserve wild lands and waters throughout New York State. ADK builds and maintains trails, educates the public, and works to keep views like this accessible to the public. Pick one up today at ADK.org!

20 Hours of Adventure

Most people I know usually spend their long weekends, vacations, and time off relaxing, catching up around the house, or lounging around a boat, beach or campsite. For us, our down time is the long car ride to whatever adventure we've planned, which often consists of cramming as many things into our time there as possible. For Memorial Day weekend, we decided to do some exploring in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and I got super lucky to find a campground with an available campsite at the last minute. I was hired as a Contributor on Assignment for Outdoor Project this summer as part of their effort to expand to the east coast, and several of the hikes they were interested in publishing happened to be both in the Lakes Region and already on our to-do list. 

Ted's been talking about wanting to climb Chocorua for a long time, and the Appalachian Mountain Club was leading a hike to it on Saturday, so we tried to sign up for that first. The trip filled up quickly so we were wait-listed, but decided to still do it anyway on our own. Saturday morning, we drove up early to ensure a parking space at the trailhead, and headed up the Liberty Trail. Mosquitos were an issue at the trailhead, but as we got moving they seemed to lessen. I was happy to have my gaiters as the lower section of the trail was pretty wet with lots of rock hopping. Higher up, the trail became steeper and ledgy, requiring us to use our hands a little bit here and there to maintain balance. The views got increasingly better, until we had an open 360-degree view from the open, rocky summit. Looking down from the summit, we could see hikers traversing a long section of open rock below, and we wanted to check it out. After consulting the map, we decided to descend that direction for more time above the trees, and then return via the "bad weather" route to make a small loop around the top. 

Ted got a new pair of binoculars as a PhD graduation gift recently, so he's been enjoying stopping at wildlife viewing areas to look for birds on our drives. While heading to Moultonborough, I commented about how the surrounding landscape looked like moose country just before we passed a brown binoculars sign. Ted hit the brakes, and pulled over at the Thompson Sanctuary, and we quietly made our way along the boardwalk to view the wetland. Expecting to see nothing more than the usual red-winged blackbird, to our surprise, there was a moose feeding in the water, and in the other direction, a bull watching from the tree line! 

At the campsite an hour later, we pitched the tent and wondered what to do now. It was too early for dinner, and we aren't good at sitting around when we're not completely exhausted or hanging out with friends. So, back to the map we went, and off to nearby Red Hill to check out the view from the fire tower! On the drive over, a large black bear darted across the road in front of us, which was a treat! We found an array of different wildflowers, including patches of red columbine along the trail. We saw lots of blue columbine living in Colorado, but this was the first time I'd seen any on the east coast. Red Hill doesn't have much of a view from its wooded summit, but head up a few flights of stairs, and the tower reveals endless beauty in every direction. Looking out around and beyond Squam Lake and Lake Winnipesaukee, we could see the familiar peaks of Mount Cardigan, Mount Major, Mount Moosilauke, and the Kinsmans. We could even see Mount Chocorua, where we stood a few hours earlier. 

Back at the campground, Ted jumped into the unheated pool to cool off before we took showers and made dinner. We watched as a thin crescent moon moved behind the trees and the sun set, finally feeling like we might be tired enough to lay down. Before heading into the tent, Ted took his phone off airplane mode just long enough to do his usual geomagnetic storm checks, and next thing I know he's driving into the darkness while I look for possible north-facing views on the map.

The northern lights aren't often noticed in the northeast, since they're typically so faint they're impossible to see with any light pollution. Photographers capture their color using long exposures and being in the right place at the right time. We've  caught the aurora in photos only 3 times before, and once was by accident while taking star shots in the Badlands. But this night was a rare treat, as the green glow was visible to the naked eye, with the curtains shining like beams of light moving across the sky. If the clouds didn't move in, we could have stayed there all night, but we'd been up for 20 hours and if we wanted to hike again tomorrow, we had to sleep sometime. 

Sunday morning, we returned to the Thompson Sanctuary again to see if any other wildlife might be out feeding in the early hours. Sure enough, a beaver was swimming back to its hut and a deer was barely visible over some tall grass. We sipped coffee in the fog, listening to frogs and woodpeckers, and a heron flew over our heads. Then we drove over to Squam Lake and wandered up to the viewpoint on West Rattlesnake Mountain, before facing the crowds on Mount Major. As if that wasn't enough, we hiked the waterfall loop to Falls of Song in the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area before returning to the campsite for the night. We didn't plan much for Monday other than driving back since the forecast called for rain, but since the rain held off until midday, we stopped to explore Sculptured Rocks on the way. Hot showers and a comfy couch were welcomed luxuries at this point, so the afternoon was spent relaxing and uploading photos. For anyone interested in checking out any of the places we visited, stay tuned for descriptions of each adventure on Outdoor Project in the near future! 

A Presidential President's Day (Ted's Account)

The forecast as we pulled into the trailhead.

Five friends set out to tackle the highest summit in the northeast, home of the “world’s worst weather” in the dead of winter. The forecast called for clearing skies; but upon departure, the winds at the summit were howling at hurricane force with temperatures in the lower single digits and zero visibility. A little while later, hunkered down just above the tree line, the frigid winds ripped in from the west and the blowing fog and snow made it difficult to distinguish up from down. Alone and fighting the cold, the group faced the decision of whether press on, or retreat back down the mountain to warmer climes.

Prologue:

A winter ascent of Mt. Washington has been on my radar for quite a while, but it’s a long drive, life gets busy, and my car is, well, not all that reliable. However, a recent move has substantially shortened the drive to the Whites. Things came together once I spotted a good weather forecast for the long weekend (good by Mt. Washington in February standards), and we called up some friends in NY who were eager to make the trip. Originally, we planned to climb via the classic Lions Head route, but while hiking the Osceolas on Saturday I chatted with another hiker who recommended going up from the west via the Ammonoosuc Ravine. After reading a bit more about Ammonoosuc, I settled on this. Game on.

The Approach:

We arrived at the cog base station trailhead around 7am under mostly cloudy skies and intermittent flurries. We suited up in the parking lot and talked briefly with a few other hikers and skiers heading up for the day. After a few minutes we started out in snowshoes, following a well-packed trench through the woods. The trail was probably hard packed enough to lose the snowshoes, but occasional knee (waist!?) deep post holes on the periphery seemed a good reminder to stick with the floatation. We came to a small pool labeled on the map as Gem Pool, the trail climbed steeply above this. In no time, we left the hardwoods below us and continued into a mix of firs and scrub. The higher we climbed, the deeper and more impressive the snow became. Near the tree line we ran into a solo hiker on his way down, having turned back due to poor visibility.  He joined us in hopes that he’d have better luck with a group, and shared stories of his climbs up Denali and Aconcagua. We continued up in snowshoes until just above tree line where a flow of thick glare ice warranted a switch to crampons. During this time we took stock of the weather. It was not good. The visibility was limited to maybe 100 feet, and without trees or rocks to stand out, the ground and sky merged into one. Another group coming up behind us reached tree line and abruptly made the decision to turn back, and the solo hiker who joined us earlier turned with them. Yelling back and forth to each other over the wind, we strongly considered following suit. I mean, the mountaineer who’s climbed Denali just turned around. Would we be stupid to try to continue?

Then, for a very brief moment, the fog thinned enough to see that ahead maybe 200 yards was the Lakes the Clouds Hut, covered with rime and tucked into the snow, offering us a break from the wind to collect our thoughts and weigh our options. Then, as soon as it appeared, the view was gone, but now we knew the direction, so we headed up. We got into the lee of the hut where it was calm and rested, sipping hot chocolate.

The Climb:

Hiking/climbing is a constant struggle to find the line between fear that’s just in your head, and legitimate danger. Today was one of those days where we had to bring all of our focus to ensure we stayed on the right side of that line. At the hut we tried to acclimate to let the initial fear of the poor conditions subside and consider the situation. The visibility was BAD. It wasn’t that the fog itself was terribly thick, it’s that the ground was completely white with snow and rime. This fact made the ground the same color as the sky, which reduced visibility from what may have been a couple hundred feet to less than fifty. Walk 100 feet away from the hut, and it would be invisible. With the signs and cairns all rimed over, they would provide little help. All that said, by objective metrics, the weather wasn’t THAT bad. It was cold, though not too cold (10 degrees), and while the wind was strong, it wasn’t knocking us off balance. I put it at a stout 35mph with occasional gusts to near 50mph. This was much better than this morning’s higher summits forecast suggested we might encounter. Add that to the fact that it was early and the weather was forecast to improve throughout the day, and I wasn’t quite ready to call it. After a few minutes and some coaxing, I convinced our group to head the 0.4 miles over to Monroe and see how that went. We developed a plan in which we would try to cairn hop up the slope using each other as visual markers to make sure we didn’t get lost along the way. I planted a snowshoe within visual range of the hut to make it easier to find our way back, and off we went. We started off towards Monroe, keenly aware of how easily we could get disoriented and wander off into the abyss. The cairn hopping kind of worked for a bit, but we pretty rapidly lost the cairns. No matter, as long as we were still going up, we were going the right way. But it wasn’t finding our way up I was concerned about, it was finding our way back down. Even with compass bearings and good route finding, it was pretty disorienting. It is abundantly clear how people routinely get lost up there in the fog. However, on the way up, I came up with a plan to chisel out rocks from the ice, providing a black marker to stick out against white backdrop. This actually worked pretty well, and I was confident we’d be able to use these breadcrumbs to help find our back to the hut.

After a little wandering around the summit ridge we did eventually find the true summit, then headed back down following our markers and compass bearing until we reached the base of the mountain where the trail splits off in multiple directions. Looking around, we noted that the only thing visible in the “distance” was a small red snow shoe sticking out of the snow, confirming the way to go. Soon we were back at the hut, only now there were a number of hikers there all taking shelter deciding whether to keep climbing or turn around. A few headed off toward Monroe, a few others remained at the hut, and others simply headed back down the mountain. From what we gathered from the folks at the hut, no one could remember seeing anyone head off toward Washington, perhaps one group of two? So here we were, and now we had to decide whether to forge on and give Washington a shot, or quit while we were ahead.

After about 15 minutes of contemplation and rest, we decided to go for Washington. At this point, the visibility had improved slightly (or maybe I was seeing things), and I was still holding out hope that it would clear up. We got a couple of skeptical looks from people at the hut … and at least one lecture, before heading off, but shortly after heading towards Washington we were joined first by a solo skier, and then another hiker, who didn’t want to make the trek alone. Shortly after leaving the hut we came across a sign encased in snow and ice. I used my ice axe to knock off the ice and snow, and the sign was the infamous “STOP: world’s worst weather…” sign… an ominous sign in the swirling fog and snow.

As we made our way up, following a compass bearing (and cairns when we could find them), we chiseled out rocks and cairns from the ice to help us find the way back if the visibility didn’t clear. But as we climbed, we first started to get short breaks in the clouds, then some patches of blue sky, and finally a little direct sun. As we climbed higher, the visibility continued to gradually improve, and soon we could see the broad slopes of the summit cone looming ahead. As we made the final approach to the summit, the skies cleared, and the few remaining clouds broke around and below us. We continued to chip the occasional cairn out of the ice just in case, but route finding was easy now. Then we were on top. We walked over and hid out in the lee of the wind with a couple of other groups who came up from Lions Head and dropped pack. We wandered around the summit for a little while taking pictures, eating, drinking, etc. The winds were quite strong and it was quite cold, but with the improved visibility and sun in and out, we didn’t care. We ran all over the summit, taking in the views, ducking in and out of the wind, and snapping photos.

Then it was time to pack up and head back down the mountain. With any remaining clouds above the summit and with gravity on our side, we made our way back to the Lakes of the Clouds hut pretty quickly. The ridge was amazingly white, nothing penetrated through the snow and rime, no rocks, no signs, only the trail of black dots that we chipped out of the ice to lead us back. We snacked at the hut and then proceeded back down the mountain, butt sliding and laughing all the way back to the car.

Epilogue:

Given its notoriety, I was happy to have to work for a winter ascent of this peak, and I feel as though it would have been a disappointment had it been a straightforward and mellow ascent. And I’m not exaggerating about the visibility, I’ve seen it bad on Marcy and Algonquin, but here I felt swallowed up like I never have before. At times I started to get paranoid and I would wonder if my compass was telling me the right direction, or if there was iron in the rocks messing with the needle. I’ve hiked the ridge between Washington and Monroe probably half a dozen or more, and in that fog I could barely tell up from down.  All in all, a great and challenging experience, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

Gem in the Adirondacks

Could this January be any more exciting?  My photos have appeared in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s 2017 wall calendar (on two months!), Adirondac Magazine, and the Plattsburgh area’s Strictly Business magazine, where my face is even on the cover! I was interviewed for the magazine’s Insight piece about my work with the Adirondack Mountain Club and outdoor recreation. I’ve never been interviewed like this for anything before, so I remember having an immense amount of anxiety during our call, knowing it was being recorded, and feeling like nothing I said was coming out right. I nervously waited to see how the finished article turned out, hoping I’d been articulate enough.

On January 7th, I drove up to Heart Lake to work at ADK’s Winterfest. I got there early so I could take a co-worker up Mount Jo before things started, and then split my day between helping at the membership table and taking photos of the various events. It seemed like a pretty normal day, until I walked into the Adirondak Loj to get a program schedule for a volunteer. There on the table at volunteer check-in, next to the maps and schedules, was a stack of Strictly Business magazines, with my face in a small box on the cover. I knew this moment would come, but I wasn’t expecting it today. It’s incredibly strange to see yourself on a magazine cover. Half in shock of seeing it, I took a copy and headed back to the membership table, anxious to see the article.   It was beautiful, the layout was perfect, and I couldn’t be more relieved and excited at how well the article was.  I laughed as I realized that once again, Ted had made his way into another magazine, being one of the hikers in my photo taken on top of Cascade.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, I got a call from Nathan Littauer Hospital on my way home from work one afternoon and I debated whether to pull over and answer it. I worked at NLH for six years while in college, helping with registration, medical records, and switchboard coverage, so I recognized the number, but couldn’t think of why they’d be calling now. Turns out, the photo contest my mom insisted I submit a few photos to a while back had finally concluded, and I won FIRST PLACE!  All 3 photos that I submitted would be printed on 30” x 50” metal! I was going to be elated just to get one photo in the top 12, so it would be hung on the wall of the new dialysis center, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found I’d have 3 hanging up there.

The Gem in the Adirondacks photo contest was conducted as a way of gathering Adirondack photography from local artists to decorate the new facility and aimed to create a serene and peaceful atmosphere for patients. I left Lake George early enough to drive to Mayfield to meet my family, who all insisted on going to the Gloversville Dialysis Center’s grand opening celebration on January 12th.  I got a glimpse of one of my photos through a window as we were parking, and couldn’t want to get inside to see it up close. As I walked in the door, I instantly felt like a celebrity, with hospital staff introducing me to doctors and hospital employees, chamber members, and Mr. Kelly, NLH’s CEO. I was interviewed by a local newspaper, and Senator Tedisco even asked for a photo with me. I was overwhelmed at how many times I was congratulated and told how incredible my photos were.  I see my work framed all the time, but there was something really special about seeing those three hanging side by side in a public place, knowing those landscapes will provide a beautiful distraction for dialysis patients for the foreseeable future.  I feel honored to be a part of this, and am so grateful for this opportunity to give back to the hospital that taught me so much early on in my career.

Could it get any better? Ted finally scheduled his PhD defense, got a job in New Hampshire, and we're moving next week! AHHH! 

Fall Art & Craft Shows

Saturday, September 24 - Eagle Mills Art & Craft Show       

  • Eagle Mills Cider Company, 383 County Hwy 138, Broadalbin, NY 12025

  • 9am – 5pm Saturday, 9am – 4pm Sunday

 

Saturday & Sunday, October 8-9 - Gore Mountain Harvest Fest

  • 793 Peaceful Valley Rd, North Creek, NY 12853

  • 10am – 4pm

 

Sunday, November 20 - Soroptimist International Craft Fair

  • Gloversville Middle School, 234 Lincoln St, Gloversville, NY 12078

  • 10am