Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Down in... sandals?

I woke up a little nervous but okay, asked a groggy Annie if I could borrow her sandals to wear up to do our presentation (in order to try them out to see if they're mountain decent worthy). I open up the Gray Knob log and write an entry describing my time at the cabin and my experiences of climbing my first few mountains.

Before we leave to check out the plots, Laura offered me duct tape for my boots. I take them outside, sit on a rock, and attempt to repair, help or otherwise un-wreck my boots. Complete failure.

The duct tape won't stick to any surface of my gritty, wet boots. So, sandals, it seems are my only options. Thankfully I put on the one thick pair of hiking socks I had left and went up to do our plot. I wrapped my ankles and the bridges/arches of my feet in tight tape, put the socks on, and strapped on the sandals. I packed up my pack, which felt just as heavy as the ascent, and took Laura's poles to clime down with. The dead boots were strapped to the outside of the pack because they were wet and smelly, and so that I could switch to them if I absolutely had to.

I got strange looks form the class when I showed up in sandals, which quickly turned to silence when I showed them y dead boots and they reailzed I didn't have a choice. For the first part of the descent it was easy and I was in good spirits, singing optimistically. Ray said he liked the singingin because it got Paul Simon's "Slip Sliding Away" out of his head.

As it got steeper I began to really rely on the poles to be my additional balance, a great way not to kill myself by falling forward. My feet and knees hurt pretty badly and I was very slow which I am sure annoyed some people but it really was my maximum sandal speed. The trail was wet from rains, the rocks were steep and it took a bit of thinking each time I wanted to place my foot somewhere. It was at this point, too that I realized that my body doesn't trust my left ankle/foot at all and that the right one had to go first to stabilize anything. This meant that I was lopsided walking most of the time, but I had to do whatever I could to make it down.

Three hours later I got to the rock that we had stopped at on the way up, the point at which I wondered if I'd made it up at all. I passed the milestone with enthusiasm and a short while later the ground leveled out. We cut across a power cut and were were back at Lowe's store where we had started. I got high fives all around when we met back up at the end.

I'm not sure how long it will take my body to recover from this trip, but I do feel very encouraged about my physical abilities. I've lost even more weight since then, and I think that I'm in better shape than I have been in the past 10 years. I'm encouraged, exhausted, relieved, that I survived it, and with such a fun story to tell. I don't know if I'll do such a major backpacking type trip again very soon, but I'm no longer as afraid of it as I used to be.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Woke up this morning stiff and tired. Groggy tired. Coming down the stairs I knew my ankles were angry at me. I tried not to worry about it as we atalked about the details of today's hike. I popped some ibuprophen. After trying in vain to locate clean, dry socks (I am packing WAY more than I need next time, of course, I hope not to have a boot with a gaping crack in it next time either) I decided on the old plastic-bag-in-the-boot trick in a last-ditch attempt at waterproofing.

Ray decided to hang back for this one and I considered it too, but I idint' feel all that horrible, and I could at least take solace in the fact that this hike would be easier than yesterday's. We set out under "socked in" foggy skies, but it wasn't very cold, so we were in decent spirits. The trails were mostly less steep which my sore joints really appreciated.

The path was kept quite misty ahead of us and kept me from looking up and feeling overwhelmed. We found a lot more species to be in bloom, yellow mountain avens, 3-toothed cinqfoil, alpine azalea and mountain heath.

We stopped by a bog community wiht hopes of seeing a field of wildflowers, unfortunatly the snow had only recently receeded and the plants weren't quite in bloom. At this point, my boots, I'm sure, were wet, but my plastic baggie in the boot trick was helping.

We ascended from the spot up a quick, steep climb to see an unusual sight... SNOW!

The last bit of a snow bank remained and was melting. Around it were a bunch of flowers. Folds from the class slid down the snow patch in turns, I refrained because of my boot holes.

From there we decided to summit Jefferson - a "short climb" from where we were. About halfway through the climb it got steep and difficult, my heart began to beat hard and I was out of breath like on the first day's hike in. I went up slowly barely able to see the rest of the class in the mist but they kept encouraging me.

From the last tall cairn, it was only a quick scrabble to the top - and I got to the summit. As out of breath as I was, I kept thinking, DAMN, I CLIMBED TWO MOUNTAINS?!

The view, unfortuantly, never opened up for us. The way back was the way we came up but thankfully down this time.

My ankles started to twist and get unstable during the decent. Briefly the coulds opened and we could see the Great Gulf and castelated ridge.

Most of the trip back was uneventful until we heard thunder and had to hurry for cover. The wet rocks combined with fatigued ankles and rushing wasn't too safe and I tweaked both my knees and ankles even further than they already wor on my dead shoes. Fortunatly, I didn't take abig fall, and we soon made it back to camp without being electrocuted.

I took a nap then attempted to go out and do my plot readings. Just as I got there it started raining - hard. After that the thunder came, and I had to hunker down for a while until it passed. When I saw the rest of the group coming down the trail I joined them, sloshing back under thinkdering skies. I was also lucky here that the only thing I got from that trip home was ver wet.

The probelm at camp is now that 75% of what I brought is now wet. I'm writing this in the moxie shirt and black leggings. My other pants were completely soaked.

I'm optimistic that I'll at least have something to wear tomorrow, if not the best option possible. I am MUCH more concerned about my boots though, they're... dead. But then, what will I wear down the mountain tomorrow???!?!?!

Alright I'm off to bed, I need the warmth of my sleeping bag to dry me off a bit.

Monday, June 23, 2008


This morning we awoke at 6am to attempt to foil the weather for our long hike to Adams and the Madison Hut. What I had not realized previously is that Adams is actually among several peaks, the lowest is Adams 4, then Mt. Adams, John Quincy Adams, Samuel Adams, etc. We started our ascent up the normal paths towards our plots, took quick readings and kept going.

I was wearing my long black pants with a zippered poly pro shirt. In my pack I through my raincoat, rain pants and other necessary academic gear.

Up the path didn't go too horribly. I felt ok and was at least comfortable with the steepness. I brought hiking poles that I borrowed form Laura, but I found myself carrying them in hand and not using them for the ascent. I was occasionally breathless as we went up above the plots, but not as embarrassingly so. As we followed the cairns up the trail, all the trees dissappeared. Above me I saw nothing but lichen covered rocks and sky. I peered up at Adams 4, only barely higher than Gray Knob, and gulped.

The ascent, though "challenging" was manageable but as we ascended the views opened up, ad we were able to see additional peaks by the time we got to the summit of Adams 4. From there, we could see the real Adams, Jefferson and Madison. From Adams 4 we went down to Thunderstorm Junction and a tiny bit of rain came in for a few moments.

The downhill was steep only briefly, but then leveled out to a wind-blown grass. I was relieved and energized to put my feet on soil and soft ground if even for a moment. The trail snaked sideways then aimed directly up at Adams itself. The ascent to Adams was over huge rocks, and I was slow, but after stowing the poles I felt more at home on the rocks. The view up was again, nothing but rocks, the view behind was even more beautiful. White mists hid the valley completely, which made the peaks look as if they were islands floating in a white soft sea.

We got to the top of Mt. Adams and paused to take a photo. I felt proud and excited to have had the opportunity to do this (flora aside) to prove to myself that I'm capable of doing things that others can physically. I DID IT. I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN PEAK!!!

From there we descended a steep, sharp downhill and I could feel my hiking boots disintegrating as a whole and splits developed, I prayed that they'd last the trip.

Our steep ascent slowed to a gentle descent as we swung around the side of the mountain, then uphill towards star lake, which from the back of Adams, looked like a small muddy puddle.

As we got closer it got bigger and we began to see bog plants in bloom, so lovely! We could see the Madison hut and star lake opening up. We got to the lake and it was a bog surrounded by grasses whipping in the wind that was coming through the valley. Rain threatened but held off until we were inside the AMC hut Maidson, then downpoured once we were inside (luckily).

We rested and thankfully ate, and weighed the options ahead. Ascend Madison? Return to camp?

The weather's instability lead us to choose to return. We looked over a crazy ravine (The Great Gulf) on the way back, the views were awesome. We watched the clouds just pouring over the mountain tops. I can't even describe how small I felt.

We opted to skirt Adams 4 on our return, so no more uphill for the rest of the way (YAY). The spur trail was fairly hard, and I hurt my knee by twisting or hyper extending it on a rock. I'm not incapable of bending my right knee fully, the pain from behind my knee makes me spring back up in pain whenever I go to kneel or crouch.

We came back via Crag camp, bigger but more filled with people. We stood on the deck and watched butterflies ride the thermals coming off of the slopes. Eventually we headed back to Gray Knob.

I'm going to take some advil in hopes that my knee gets better by tomorrow, where we will be doing a longer, yet not as steep climb...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Misty mountain tops

I'm afraid of everything still. Last night I slept okay, but worried about hiking today. Worried about my stomach letting me down on the middle of a hike. Worried about what happens if I get sick or hurt on the trail. But I'm tring not to let it mess me up. I'm worried my rain gear is crap. We are doing plot work today, which is a huge help. I can turn around to camp if I need to. That makes me feel a lot better.

It's raining now and I'm going to try out my rain gear. I know the jacket's good. I am nust not psyched about getting wet feet.

Today we made the decision (based on the forecast) to do plot work only. We got to our site to find it was still there, with nice gusty winds, but it wasn't cold, just breezy. You could see the white clouds accumulating in the valley, a sight I always love to see, it reminds me of japanese paintings.

Our goal today was to map our plots and determine % cover. We went to work very dilligently and I quickly made a really strong and detailed map. Just as we were finishing our last quadrant, we saw our teacher jump over the rock. A few raindrops hit my hood and she said we should probably take a break because the storm coming in looked like a good one. We packed up quickly and snuck down to the trail, ducking into the cabin as the rain started to increase in intensity.

We ate lunch and then the thunder started. While most groups had nothing to work on, I re-wrote some notes more clearly on graph paper and began to replot my map, look up scientific names, etc.

As the storm waned, I got more tired. The storm broke and the groups hurried back to their plots to do work. I decided to retire to an hour long nap, which the returning rain helped with. I slept soundly and awoke feeling ready. Annie and I headed out to our plots in cool breezy conditions, took our measurements and returned home just as the rain started back up. My rain jacket got pretty damp - I apparently needed to waterproof it or something - so its now hanging and dripping to dry. When we came back we worked on our data for some more, then Annie and I made dinner (pasta with peppers and onions) which wasn't impressive but went over well. After dinner I really stopped doing work because I was tired but I did draw two landscapes with colored pencil, a media I'm only slightly familiar with (and not trained in at all). We listened as Laura read passages from letters written by a female hiker from the 1800s. How interesting and dignified/poetic her entries were.

I wanted to see the sunset but it wasn't visible through the rain clouds, so I turned back. I at least stayed dry this time.

Tomorrow's plan is to rise early and hike the peaks. We're going to try to get to the summit of Mt. Adams and perhaps Madison. We'll be out most of the morning, but extremely thankfully we'll only have day packs on. Phew. I am still a bit concerned about being so far away from a bathroom, but I haven't had any issues as of yet. Today was good and I felt comfortable, my muscles ached only mildly which let me feel more optimistic about moving around. A rainy day for rest was welcome.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hike to Gray Knob

We met in the parking lot, I saw Laura our professor when I rolled in, in shorts. I immediately looked down at my legs. Pants - under armor long underware. I looked at laura and saw she was wearing a tank top. I looked down at my chest. Bra, underlayer and long sleeves. I was wrong about everything. I got out and unpacked and repacked my pack about three times. Food in the bottom? Top? Where should I keep my rain gear? But I tried to smile, tried to look in "the know." We compared pack weights. I had about the same weight as all the guys. I have no idea what it weighed, but I put it on and hunkered forward. UGH. I could walk on flat ground fine. We crossed the street to the trail head.

I was happy with my balance at first. I was expecting to be unimaginably off balance. The "hikers" of the group immediately took the lead like gazelles and I was instantly out of breath. We entered the forest and I started drifting farther back, stifled by my long-sleeved shirt. I tweaked my pack straps at a stop for water and put the weight onto my hips. Ahh, temporary relief.

We walked under forest cover, through mud, over rocks and roots. The weather stayed breezy. About twenty five minutes in, I ditched the shirt. It felt awesome to get the sweat off my body. The hills we climbed were moderate and I was going slowly but doing okay. Then, about halfway up, the squishy mud path turned into the rocky steep path. I couldn't do anything but look at my feet, putting one foot down after another. We'd stop every twenty minutes or so for water, which I got conservative with once I felt it sloshing around in my belly. Don't get sick, I thought, just don't get sick. Every turn we came to got steeper. The trail is really that straight-up-damn-the-torpedos kind of shit. I looked up and saw rocks, rocks, rocks....

As we walked further up it began to sprinkle, which initially felt really good on my face and arms, and took the edge off my overheating a bit. It rained harder as we stopped to take our rain covers out of our packs. It rained very heavily for about 5-10 minutes - no thunder though. A passing hiker later told us that we missed the hail that was going on further up the mountain. Laura told a story about coming up with two people who were slow and couldn't get out of a thurnderstom. I really felt like she was directing it at me, I knew she wasn't, but I was lagging father and farther behind the group.

I really couldn't go much faster without getting helplessly out of breath. We eventually got to the part that was "stupidly steep" and I started to feel my left hip joint protesting. I didn't feel like I had the strength to push myself up each step, it was like climbing a never-ending sideways wet, rough, staircase. But I kept my complaints to a minimum and kept going, albiet slower and slower. It got really tough and I began to wonder what the hell I thought I was doing.

But then we reached the krumholtz where the trees start to get stunted and wind blown, and I could see a tiny glimpse of blue mountains ahead. A few minutes later, more steep. I counted my steps as I went, resetting once I got to 42. It gave me a small goal to reach. Suddenly I glanced up to see where i was and I was blown away. Infinity in each direction... MOUNTAINS... nothing but green, blue, clouds, haze...

I wish I could say I ran the last bit, that I triumphantly scampered to the cabin. But I pressed on at the same pace, really unable to go at any other speed or pace. I did manage to take some pictures and photos to prove that I had done it. It may have been one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I didn't bail, quit, cry, break a bone or have to turn back like I had feared for so many nights before.

After settling into the RMC hut (Grey Knob) which had Tibetan prayer flags hanging inside of it, we took a short hike to check out the areas where we'd do our plot work. I paired up with Annie probably because we seem to have similar paces and demeanor, and she was kind to me as I slowly grappled with the trail.

We grabbed our day packs and got our equipment, proceeded to go up the mountain further. How light, how easy this was compared to only hours before. This I could handle! My feet still bugged me a little but not to the magnitude that it mattered.

We hiked above the treeline and all I could do was grin. The view was fantastic, and the alpine flowers were easy to pick out, so tiny and so beautiful. We selected a plot that was closest to camp, and I was exceptionally thrilled by this (less hiking 2x per day to get plot measurements.). It was surveyed in 2000 by another group so we also got the historical context too.

After finishing our plot work, Annie and I took photos of each other on Grey Knob (the rock) itself. It felt SO good to be in the sun, in nature, in the mountains.

Dinner was awesome but now I am nervous that my dinner will suck in comparison. Tonight's was tortellini, spinach and red sauce. MMN! I ate heartily though I am still nervous about my stomach I am okay now. I'll try not to worry about that, which can help also.

After dinner we watched the sun set from a scenic vista. IT was unimaginably beautiful. I have never seen infinite mountains before. Peaks everywehre. So gorgeous, so pristene, so perfect. A perfect end to a triumphiant and important day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Prelude - Alpine Flora

People say that to truly live, you need to challenge yourself. When I first saw Alpine Flora on the course listings, I ruled it out as a physical impossibility for me to take.

I've never been athletic, coordinated, strong or graceful, and I've been self-conscious about it for years. That, combined with a sedentary job and weight gain, I would never have thought a year ago that I'd do something like this, something so unbelievably physical.

But I did. Perhaps it was the lack of other options, or the fact that the other classes were in areas that I already knew so much about.

So, I hesitatingly packed, overwhelmed with anxiety and questions I couldn't answer. I'm still convinced I underpacked or skipped something important.

So, last night I reached my apex of worry, then hit a zen-like calm. Things will happen as they will.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Teaching in the Outdoors (summary of learning)

I walked into this class with almost no experience teaching children or teaching in the outdoors, which also happened to be my motivators for taking the class. I was excited to be exposed to teaching in the outdoors because it boils down truly to what I'd like to do as a career. If I can inspire a love of nature and a true connection to it, I can really make some kind of difference in the next generations of children that are coming into the world.

I am extremely happy with the way the course went, and I think that have fulfilled my goals (to learn some of the logisitics with dealing with groups of people in the outdoors, and different ways to keep people focused and engaged in the out of doors). I think I gained a lot of insight from thinking about the roadblocks and talking to the class about their experiences in helping others overcome the roadblocks that we face when getting people to be involved in nature. I also feel that being asked to sit and journal, sit and take in what is going on around me really did help me to clarify my brain after a long day of learning as well. I didn't write as much in my journaling as I actually thought about (it's actually been a long time since I've done so much writing with a pen so I couldn't really keep up with my thoughts.) I think that by having us all share activities with each other I was able to see how they would be related to different ages and different learning styles, and it is fantastic to now have a set of activities which I can use in my practica if necessary.

Centering on the design motifs, I also think that there are some in that list I wouldn't normally have thought to use, such as fantasy and small worlds, but are just as helpful as the hunter-gatherer and adventure themes that I am used to. I really think that place-based education is the future of our education, and the map making along with all the other motifs could be used with any age level outside to help to bring the environment to them and get them reconnected with the world around them. I appreciated the discussion of the motifs and I was also delighted to see that the motifs were all touched on in our final activities. (Like the fantasy of finding "baby dragons" and making maps of an unfamiliar territory, hunting and seeking certain things in nature, the adventure of being blindfolded in the woods, pretending to be monkeys with great enthusiasm...) It is always easy for me to see the hunter/gatherer opportunity for learning but it is great to add the other motifs to my bag of tricks as well.

Additionally, the references that were available will be useful to me in my practica, and we have some of the same resources available at the Wells Reserve where I will be teaching. Overall I feel like the course has given me familiarity with what types of learning goes on in the outdoors and by doing so increased my confidence upon starting my practicum in July.

Teaching in the Outdoors - My Bag of Tricks

My Environmental Education Bag of Tricks Includes....
  • ambulators to make a long walk seem shorter or more fun
  • how to relate common games to environmental issues
  • the developmental appropriateness of certain games
  • knowing how to use all 5 senses
  • being able to encourage thoughtful reflection
  • nature journaling
  • colors of nature game
  • onion trail game
  • call and responses
  • animal allies role playing games
  • hunter gatherer searches, games, scavenger hunts
  • fantasy and map-making placed based education activities
  • allowing kids to make up names for the plants that they're seeing
  • comfort in leading a group of kids
  • when to do an active vs. a quieter program
  • how to be aware of potential safety issues
  • how to inject a sense of adventure into nature exploration
  • how to get parents and mixed age groups going
  • ways of getting the attention of a group that isn't listening
I think I've got a lot more that I haven't written down, and I think I'll continue to add to this list whenever I learn new things. I love the fact that a lot of my classmates shared their experiences, too, so I can also approach them for advice if I need it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Teaching in the outdoors (class journal 3)

One needs only to look at the dashboard of my car, the shelves in my apartment or inside the heavy boxes when I move to understand that I must be a hunter gatherer or collector. I have a feather that I've yet to identify on my dashboard, I have coral, rocks, shells, bone, animal track casts strewn about, and it's tough for me to resist the urge to pick wildflowers.

It may sound bad, but some environmentalists have told me that I'm stealing things from nature, but I know that by using my senses and it is always a thrill for me to seek new things in an environment. I think that we miss a lot surrounding us because we fail to really look at things, and by seeking certain colors, objects or textures we open ourselves up to observing a lot more in nature.

Also, by collecting different signs (as I did during my mammalogy class at the Harris Center last semester) you can really get to know an animal that you may never catch an actual glimpse of, like a bobcat, moose or fisher. I think some of the hunter gatherer motif actually involves a bit of adventure, too. It is an adventure to hunt for things, and it is a joy to discover something you've never seen. I felt at ease finding dragonfly enuvae once I found one, I saw them everywhere! I'd never seen something like that, evidence so fresh of emergence, and it was a thrill to me every time.

Teaching in the Outdoors (class journal 2)

Sitting in the marsh, if I were asked to write on this when I arrived here, I should describe only a few meager glimpses of life. A blue heron nest stands still and empty at the top of a dead tree, a few ripples of bugs on the surface of the water. But as I stared at the still water, I saw the first few glimpses of life. Newts swam underwater, a great match to go with the efts we were finding throughout the previous days. I caught a leech that was swimming (something I've never seen).

Apparently I have forgotten all of my freshwater biology, or I have never really been to a swamp, because everything we pulled out, every muck-filled bucket was full of life. Every bit of pond scum every bit of plant hid a living thing. There was life everywhere. And if only we could get people to go outside to see below the "mucky" water, see into the mud, see into the forest and open their eyes, their senses to that sense of adventure, we would feel so much more connected to the world.

I don't think I'll ever drive past a swam again and look at it in the same way...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Teaching in the Outdoors - Day 1

Today was he first day of class for my Teaching in the Outdoors class. We've had a full, long day and as I write this I'm sitting in Panera bread (free wireless wohoo) sipping a chai and trying to remember the entire day as well as I can.

We started with the typical introductions, then went outside. The first activity was a silent walk, we walked from the entrance of the Harris Center to a tree-shaded lawn. As I listened to the typical noises of morning birds waking up to song, we all heard one that we weren't expecting. It went hoo-ho-ho-HOO... hoo-ho-ho-HOO and come to find out it was a pair of Bard Owls. How neat is that?! It's so rare for them to sing during the day so they must be gathering food for new chicks. I could tell that this would be one of those special classes at that. We played a few great group games before going down to the lower part of the field to journal using all of our senses (see previous entry for an excerpt).

Another neat activity followed when our teacher brought out paint swatches (the kind you can pick up at the Hardware store) and asked us to find that color in the open field below us. I first got yellow and found a yellow leaf and a dandelion, then a purple card had me picking other purple wildflowers. Each person in the class took their find and laid it out on a white bandanna, and it really tuned us into the colors other than the dominating green in the grass. I love how with the conscious attention of the mind, our senses can be so much sharper, more discriminating. Throughout the rest of the day I felt my eyes picking out sudden flashes of color - the yellow butterfly's wing glinting, the bright green beetle on the rock, the wildflowers within the grass.

After that, we were allowed to take plants in the area and smudge them onto small pieces of paper to make a drawing. I took an Indian Paintbrush and created what turned out to be a very beautiful sunrise (or sunset, depending on who you ask) behind mountains made with clover leaf smudging. I'll try to scan it if I get a chance.

Teaching in the Outdoors (class journal)

Below me ferns spread rising and splayed to meet the sun, star shaped flowers and vines creep along under their cover. Lichen spreads lazily on the rock, the wind picks up and I hear bugs buzzing, trees rustling and it almost sounds like running water. A big black ant crawls across my smudge painting, a spider starts and stops hesitatingly on the rock face, in a hauntingly mechanical manner. A dragon fly sits for a moment on a leave then another, then rests beside me.

Beetles, bees, ants, moths and butterflies dance in and out of view, in and out of earshot. Above my head a dead pine reaches up into the cloudless sky like the bristles of an inverted broom, as poplars and aspen flutter in a high breeze. Dots of yellow buttercups on the ground in the grass are navigated by bees ad butterflies in a lazy but precise path. A green caterpillar inches up my leg, then arm to check me out.

I can feel the weather chance as a cold breeze seems across my exposed skin. I am in awe of how many bugs and plants and flowers I've never stopped to watch or hear. How many different buzzes, flicks, whines, flutters, rustles, chirps, peeps and whistles there are to hear, and how many more I do not yet hear, awaiting to be heard.