Friday, August 1, 2014

Mnt Isolation #48

The 4000 footer club has been around since 1957 and supports a membership who have all climbed the 48 4000 foot high peaks in the White Mountains.

The club also maintains lists of people who climb all the 4000 footers in New England (67 of them) and those who have done more constrained summits - for example doing them all in Winter.  There are other more stringent conditions that people impose on themselves (usually after completing their first 48) for example: doing them in a specific order (either by elevation or alphabetically); summiting on a moonlit night; climbing each summit four times starting from the East, West, North and then South; doing them all in one season; and summiting each in a different month of the year (17 climbers claimed this achievement in 2011).  We have heard about someone who was driven from hike to hike and ran them all consecutively.  It turns out that his record of 3 days, 17 hours and 21min set in August 2002 was beaten by another hiker (a photographer from Vermont) by almost 2 hours in 2003.  The link (to his spreadsheet of times and summits) has great descriptions of the hike in one of the columns.  Very impressive!

Isolation is the last of my 4000 foot hikes.  Although I did a few of them in 2008, my enthusiasm was only really piqued in 2011 after it became somewhat of a tradition to hike with my colleagues Bruce and John and take on some weighty work-related topics in what we started calling "summits" - many of which were short hikes up Monadnock in New Hampshire through 2010.

I did some of the summits twice over these years so in effect have hiked 54 4000 foot peaks since 2007 when my sons Matt and Nick did Kinsman with me.
Our work-related "summits" continued all the way through 2010 leading up to our small start-up company being acquired at the end of that year and continued into the subsequent years when I was encouraged to take on multi-summit hikes like the Pemi loop with John which we repeated in 2012 with Bruce.  The hardest of all the 4000 foot multi-summit hikes was the one-day Presidential Traverse in 2013 which is without doubt my most impressive hiking accomplishment to date.

Mnt Isolation (4,003ft) barely makes the grade but is one of the two hikes that are often done last (Owl's Head is the other) because they are both fairly inaccessible.  Isolation is a 12mi round trip which involves climbing over a mountain to get to it and Owl's Head is an 18mile round trip.  Thankfully we included Owl's Head in our second Pemi loop.

We had arranged to meet up for breakfast at a railway-themed restaurant called Glen Junction near North Conway.  Nick and Matt both wanted to join me (as did one of their friends) on my last 4000 foot hike but Nick is off on an adventure traveling around the US and their friend works during the week so it was Matt who joined me for the trip up to New Hampshire.  We had a room in the same hotel that we had stayed in on the night before our Presidential Traverse last year.

Our breakfast was hearty - the topic of sausage links usually comes up (I still can't get used to the idea that a sausage can be a patty after all these years) and after some good food we made it to the trail-head at 8:20.

As usual I hadn't paid too much attention to John's description of the trip which had us hike up to Glen Boulder and then on to Isolation.  John pointed out that the most direct trail to Isolation is less interesting than the one past Glen Boulder which promises great views.

Hiking up the Glen Boulder trail was strenuous but nothing like the Mnt Adams hike we did a couple of weeks before and we made good time up the long and fairly steep incline.  I suppose when we came into the area that warned of alpine shrubs it should have occurred to me that we were pretty high up but it was only when we were standing at the junction of the trail above the boulder ready for a descent that I asked John which of the mountains was Isolation.

He pointed down past a long line of cairns on a relatively even mountainside to one of the foothills far below.

We had, it turned out, hiked a path that led to 5100ft before descending down to the 4003ft summit we were after.

The trail after this was long but relatively easy going.  For such an isolated summit we saw quite a bit of traffic - at least 5 or 6 different parties including two separate hikers who were doing their 45th hike of the 48.

The path to the actual summit of Isolation is a junction off the trail and up some rather steep rocks and on to an open area with great views.

Sitting on the last summit on my list was a very satisfying experience.  I pointed out that all we had to do now was to make it out alive....

The trail back was a steady downward gradient for close to 7 miles, much of which was water-logged and muddy.  

Some of the trail passed close to a stream which had some pretty rapids.

The sustained downhill began to take its toll on our knees, legs and feet.  I became convinced that I had a pebble in my shoe but didn't find a good place to stop until we reached a river crossing at least 30 minutes later.

Small stones in your shoe are annoying.  Usually the best way to tell that it is a stone (and not a blister) is to stop and kick your toes into the ground to try to loosen the stone but after you have battered your feet for 10 miles you are not inclined to want to kick anything.

I stopped at a river crossing and took off my shoe only to find that it was indeed a blister hurting the ball of my foot and there was nothing for it but to walk on.  Sitting with my leg bent to tie my laces induced a painful cramp in one of the small muscles in my thigh which was only relieved by straightening my leg and, although it never turned into a crippling cramp, I felt the after-effects of it for some time down the trail after I had managed to tighten my laces standing up.

As usual, Bruce had far more energy than John or I had but he patiently hiked behind all of us (he claimed that I had instructed him to do that the day before).  Matt is in good shape and was frequently making his way up ahead of us and having to stop and wait for us.

I have had several photos taken of me on these hikes and I always joke that I should pull in my belly when the photograph is taken (which I always do).  Sadly it is evident now that this is pointless.  That belly will not be contained. 

Fairly close to the end of our hike we came across a message on one of the rocks.  A good directive for a healthy outdoors experience.

The sound of traffic on the road comes a few minutes before you reach the car-park and is always a good sound to hear, as is the comment by John that we "have cheated death once more...."

John had bought some 4000 footer IPA which I'd put into a cooler box full of ice the night before in my car trunk and it made a very refreshing way to celebrate this milestone.

We did talk about what's next.  This was before I saw the list of 4000 footers in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts which I suppose we need to consider.  For the immediate future though, there are some lesser, more leisurely peaks that we haven't done that would be a nice option for "summit" meetings.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mnt Adams - direct

Mount Adams is one of the 9 mountains that you will hike over if you ever do the Presidential Traverse.

John, Bruce and I did this long traverse almost exactly one year ago (7/13/2013) -  a grueling 15-hour hike over almost 18miles.  This week we decided to hike up Adams, the second mountain on the traverse, as a filler hike while I wait for a good window to do my last 4000 footer (Mnt Isolation) with my sons.

We met at Einstein Bros. for breakfast as usual and were at the trailhead by 9:20am for the start.  The hike John had chosen (the Airline trail) is 9 miles long and goes to a height of 5793 ft.

As we were making our way up, I was holding forth in a discussion about how SNMP lost favor in the world of device configuration when a couple emerged over a large rock on their way down.  The man had a big smile on his face and said, boldly in Afrikaans:  "Ek kan nie Afrikaans praat nie" (I can't speak Afrikaans) followed immediately by "Gaan kak in die mielies" (Go and shit in the corn).

We both laughed at this bizarre exchange - someone had clearly taught him a quaint insult in Afrikaans when he visited there some years back and he took great relish in telling me where to take my ablutions.

After the somewhat unrelenting ascent through the forest we arrived at the sign that warns of alpine conditions.  A friendly "STOP" greets you as you reach this height.

This area has the worst weather in America
Many have died here from exposure even in the 
Summer.  Turn back NOW if the weather is bad

Not long after this we reached the ridge that is an attraction of the Airline trail.  The trees become shorter and eventually you are hiking over a boulder strewn ridge with beautiful vistas in both directions.

Two French-speaking girls were ascending at around the same speed we were - and we were making fairly heavy going of it, though Bruce was characteristically blessed with a lot more energy and speed than either John or I could muster.

The Airline trail follows a ridge that offers some spectacular views...

including Madison and the Madison hut where we had had morning coffee when we did the traverse a year ago.

Once we reached the ridge the hiking was fairly even until a junction which leads up the boulder field that makes up Mnt Adams itself.

The going up this slope was really tough.  I commented that the boulder field on Adams and Madison looked like the tops of the mountains had been bombed - a variety of boulder sizes strewn all over the slopes with very little even ground to walk on.  The going was also steep and we needed to stop a few times for breathers before summiting at around 1pm - a good hour later than we had originally expected.

At the summit we met two other people who recognized my accent which has to be a record (I don't think this has happened 3 times in a day to me since I moved to America - let alone on any mountain).

A couple who had visited South Africa and had been able to hike the Otter Trail within a few weeks of arriving there (who gets on the Otter Trail without booking a year in advance?) and a young hiker who knew people from Port Elizabeth.

The day was beautiful and we had a clear view of Mnt Washington with the road that cars drive up on the far left of the picture.

We decided to visit the Madison hut on the way down - a 0.2mile extension to the hike - for some of their lemonade ...

and ended the hike fairly exhausted at 5pm - having taken 8 hours to do what the books suggests is a 6.5 hour hike.

My legs and feet were in fair agony as we approached the end and even though there were some enticing signs for short detours to see waterfalls I voted to keep on the trail instead so that we could enjoy the bliss of taking off our boots and sitting in the car for the ride home.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mnt Hancock (North and South)

Another early start to my second-last trip of the 48 4000 footers.  This time to do a "lollipop" loop that covers both of the Hancock mountains.

We met at Einstein Bros. in Concord - this time joined by a colleague who hadn't hiked a 4000 footer before.

I ordered the salmon and creme cheese bagel - like the last time I was in favor of avoiding a greasy breakfast - and ordered a chicken salad sandwich for lunch on the mountain.

Bruce did this hike alone when he did his 4000 footers and had recorded a (impressive, as it turned out) time of 4 hrs 15 min.

The trailhead is on one end of a hairpin bend on the Kancamagus Highway and involves crossing the highway in order to start.

The path up to the first junction in the trail is a very long even path which seems to go on forever (about 40 min) before turning off to the left onto the trail "proper".  The route that we took crossed a stream a few times with newer sections of the trail that skirt around the bends in the stream to reduce the number of crossings.  I suspect that these trails were cut during a period of high water and not knowing any better we took these side trails on the way up.

A steady ascent with a fairly even gradient brought us to the second junction in the trail which is where the loop around the two peaks begins.  We chose to go counter clockwise which meant going up South Peak first.

At this point the trail gets steeper - although still at a fairly even gradient that resembles more climbing steps than the high stepping and scrambling that is common to many of the 4000 footer trails.  Being his first 4000 foot hike, Jeff needed to experiment with his pace and reminded me of my earlier hikes with a few forced stops to catch his breath on the way up.

The trail up doesn't really offer many views but on each of the summits there is an outlook that offers great views to the South West and South.

The weather was perfect for hiking with temperatures in the high 60's in the valley and in the mid 40's on the peak.    South Hancock is 4,319 ft.

The ridge trail was a really easy walk and while the elevation gain between the two is enough to make them both qualify as 4000 footers, it was mostly a gentle hike up to some steep scrambling near the North summit (4,403 feet).

The overlook at the North Peak was pretty busy and fairly eventful.

While we were sitting there a hiker arrived with blood streaming down his leg.  We asked him if he'd met a rock on the way up and he held out his left hand which was pretty swollen with a somewhat twisted baby finger.  He said that he had been running up the trail and had fallen. After refusing pain killers he let us know that he was going to go on to South Hancock before heading back home.

After he left, one of the hikers offered food in her hand to the Grey Jays that were hanging about and one of them ate from her hand!

The walk down was uneventful aside from discovering that Jeff on his first 4000 footer had managed to drink three litres of water - emptying his supply.  I dubbed him the human sponge after looking at my water and seeing that I had drunk less than half a litre.

We realized that the trail down the North peak was pretty steep - covering some portion of a slide - and is probably the better way to ascend (we made a mental note of this for next time).

After the junction at the bottom of the summit loop I paused at some of the river crossings that we had missed on the way up and took photographs of the water.

Including the crew crossing....

and a few horizontal ledges.

We got back to the parking lot at 3:30 after 6 and a half hours of hiking - 15 min over book time.  This time it was me who pronounced that "we had cheated death once again".

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mnt Hale

Another 4000 foot mountain under the belt - this time including a lively discussion about capacity management and vertical scale of our software "stack".

We met as usual for breakfast at the Einstein Bros bagel shop in Concord.  I have learned form experience that the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts en route to Concord are all closed near 5am so I usually skip breakfast and coffee in anticipation of breakfast after the 90min drive.

Breakfast at a bagel shop is a little tricky because you can easily end up with something that is pretty greasy on the bagel.  At 7am there is some danger that a greasy meal may not agree with the rest of your day.  I was musing about whether I was up for this when I noticed a menu item for smoked Salmon and cream cheese.  With a little trimming I was able to order the simplest configuration ("yes, just the salmon and the cream cheese, that's all") and combine it with a dark roast coffee just before Bruce and John arrived.

Mt Hale is the 4th last hike in my list of 4000 footers.  It is, like Tecumseh, a hair over 4000ft (4055ft) with a relatively short hike to the summit of 2.2mi.  The trailhead is off Zealand Rd and the summit is north of the mountains that we climbed when we did the Pemi loop in 2012.

The weather forecast for the day was mild with a fairly high chance of rain after 2pm.  Given how short this hike is and with a start of 10:40am we expected to be done well before 2.

Early on in the hike we crossed a small stream with some short rapids that were flowing pretty well at this time of year.

The gradient is pretty constant and the hike is described as the easiest of all of the 4000 footers and notably doesn't have the chunky scramble over high rocks near the summit that is so typical of the 4000 footers.

At one point we were able to see somewhat of a view from the path but in general this is not a hike that offers much of a view.  Even at the summit, which has a fairly large cairn on it, the view was of the trees surrounding us.

We met a few other hikers - in particular a group who were going on to hike Zealand after Hale.  They had already resigned themselves to the weather and surprisingly reported that they had rarely hiked up in New Hampshire without getting wet....  John must lead a charmed life because the exact opposite has been true of all of our trips - he usually checks the weather beforehand!  We have narrowly escaped getting wet by arriving at the car just as the rain started on two occasions - this being the second of them.

I think that this was the first of our hikes that didn't end with John saying:  "Well we cheated death once again...."

We must be getting better at it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mnt Tecumseh

A feature of working for a start-up is that there is more than the usual freedom around work allocation.  A couple of my colleagues and I use this to combine our two favorite activities:  pontificating and hiking.  Often when there is a hard problem to solve in our software product we head for the hills for a morning (or sometimes a day) and hike.

The walk usually starts with a certain amount of grumbling about the problem at hand - followed by a gradual breakdown of the problem.  Of course our level of fitness and the level of complexity of the problem are variables that might result in less talking and more thinking or visa versa.  At the end of it though there is usually an array of ideas on what to do and sometimes even a fairly detailed plan of attack.

Our current topic of conversation revolves around modeling things in the virtual computer world and there have been numbers of hours spent both in the office and on the trail going over various aspects of this.

Today's design summit involved one of the easiest of the 4000 foot mountains (Tecumseh) which is a hair over the minimum height at 4003 ft.

The hike starts in the parking lot at the Waterville Valley ski resort and has a remarkably constant gradient for about 80% of the way.

There are not many views on the way up - the hike barrels through the trees until really close to the top where there are some gaps in the trees that offer views of the White Mountains.

The round trip "book time" is 3 hrs 30min and we were well within that at the summit after 90min of walking.  The steady gradient does give a feeling of never-ending walking after about 60% up the trail and given that this was the first hike of the year for me (my conditioning could be better - another feature of a start-up!) which did make the hike fairly strenuous for me - though nothing like some of the other hikes from last year!

So this is the first 4000ft of the year - with only four more to go to complete all of the 48 4000foot mountains in New Hampshire (two of which will be done in one trip)!

Total hiking time was 2hrs 45min.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Portrait of a ceremony

We have come a long way from our first confused and tentative steps in this new country.

Back in 2001 when we first came here our intention was to live here for at least the three years that my temporary employment visa would allow.  Now, just over 13 years later we have reached a point where we are able to really participate in our adopted country by becoming citizens.

Our ceremony was held on March 25th in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium where 798 new citizens were sworn in by a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge.

We had a long wait between arriving, being double-checked at the door and then taking the actual oath.  Plenty of time to take some video and still portraits of the ceremony.

We started our day at an American Diner in Lowell.

Nick and I settled into a booth near a window in the back and were fascinated by the light through the venetian blinds.

While we were eating breakfast, Charlie Baker, the Swampscott Republican candidate running for governor of Massachusetts, appeared at our table to introduce himself.  How ironic that on the the day that we became eligible to vote we would be canvassed by a political candidate.  No doubt there will be more of this to come.

After breakfast we had a really hard time getting to the auditorium.  We didn't know it then, but the size of the ceremony had more or less brought the center of Lowell to a standstill as people arrived and looked for parking.

The immigration staff were more cheerful than they had ever been in previous meetings but were still pretty forceful and aggressive as they sought to settle and organize the crowd of applicants into the hall.

In the lobby, a long line of us waited for our green cards to be taken and for the last round of questions: "Are you still willing to bear arms for America?",
"Have you committed any crime since your last interview?",
"Has your marital status changed?".

One poor guy who seemed Eastern European with a poor command of English was standing flustered as the immigration official tried to ascertain whether he had changed his marital status or not. Hopefully they sorted that out for him!

Once we were inside, sitting in these incredibly narrow seats, we had to wait for 2 hours until the judge arrived for the ceremony.

I suppose, considering how it might be a long process, they buffer in enough time to get everyone organized so that the judge is not kept waiting while they seat everyone.

All applicants were given these little flags and the paperwork with checkmarks on it that confirmed that we had answered the new round of questions correctly and were sent to sit in the bottom of the auditorium.  Their partners, family and friends were sent to the balcony as mere spectators of this event.

Luckily I had Nick with me and we were able to complain about getting bored together.

When the judge arrives, the auditorium is converted into a courthouse with the announcement by the clerk of the court that we are all invited to draw near "so that we might be heard", followed by very brief remarks by the person representing immigration services about the number of people who were changing their names and the number of people applying for citizenship and how very carefully they had all been investigated.

The judge is bound by law to talk to the new citizens about the responsibilities of living in a democracy and it was interesting, having been to Anne's ceremony a week before, to hear the two versions of the same speech encouraging participation in the democracy to ensure its continued health.  "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, but there are none better...."

And then amidst all the chaos of the certificates and of people straining to hear their names being called - a sense of relief and joy.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Experiments in movement

I last wrote about the trigger kit that I assembled with a friend over a couple of weekends.

This weekend I finished a second trigger sensor - the one that reacts to sound.  Of course once I had done this I spent Friday evening trying to capture a balloon bursting.

Even with the shortest delay, the force of a balloon bursting is so great that I was not able to capture the balloon with no motion.

I also completed the soldering of a flash trigger so that now the kit allows me to use remote shutter or a flash trigger.

I used the flash trigger for the balloon photographs thinking that I'd get better speed from the flash of light than from the shutter speed.  This meant working in a dark room with a few second's exposure and  letting the duration of the flash light take care of freezing the action.

I read somewhere that the regular speedlite flashes produce a burst of light that can go up to 1/50 000th of a second which is considerably more than the fastest shutter speed of the camera (1/4000th of a second) but I guess I should have done more research on this because even when I reduced the power of my flashes they were not able to stop the balloon in motion.

The few times the balloon was caught in frame did create interesting effects but I am really looking to freeze the motion completely.  The web site that I bought the trigger kit from has a manual that I am going to have to read to get more information on this.

After (running out) giving up on balloons I went back to experimenting with the sound trigger/remote shutter release combination with light bulbs.

I remembered once seeing a bare light bulb get shattered in a storm when water was blown onto it and I imagined that the popping sound of a bulb breaking like that could be a worth exploring with the kit.

During the week I had bought a few small appliance light bulbs and experimented with breaking them with drops of water.

The first try resulted in little more than a fizzle and the bulb filling up with smoke as the air came into the vacuum through a crack.

I realized that I needed more than a few drops and had some success dropping a large spoonful of water from a cup onto the hot bulb.  Of course there are all sorts dangers inherent in using water near electricity like this so I don't recommend that you try this at home!

As the glass breaks, the air coming into the light bulb usually causes the bulb to flare and does give a loud enough pop to trigger the sensor.

I got a few really satisfying images from this experiment before giving up for the night.  It turns out that for these photographs the sensor and trigger are more of a convenience than a necessity.  It allows you to work alone setting things up and taking the images.  I think that you could as easily capture these with a willing assistant.

One thing that is key with the light bulb is getting the exposure right so that the camera is not overwhelmed by the light.  This is fairly simple - you just expose on the lit bulb as if that is all you are photographing.  In my case I also had flashes that fired to light up the bottom of the bulb.  The photograph below was taken without flash.

I was also frustrated during the balloon experiments because the "instant" trigger switch wasn't working on the gizmo.  I was only able to use the trigger that has a delay between the sensor activation and the camera or flash trigger being fired.  I opened up the box to see if I could figure out what was wrong in there.  After examining the photographs on the web site with instructions, I discovered that I (oops) had not soldered the wire from that switch to the board - in fact it was tucked in and not connected to anything!  Another demonstration of how miraculous it is that it worked at all!  Imagine if the loose wire was critical to the central components!

After fixing that this morning I was back using the photo gate trigger.  I was curious about the distance that the trigger can tolerate between the sensors.  As they are wired, they end up being pretty closed together but by making them parallel I was able to point them at a mirror and get a much wider area through which I could drop larger objects than the ice cube in my original experiments.

So I pulled out a rather uninteresting casserole disk (I guess I am going to have to find something a little more elegant) and brought an apple and an orange to the party