A glimpse of the past week and the few articles, podcasts, tools, videos and music that captivated my attention:
Convincing their parents last minute, Divyaa and Raaghuv drove up to Maryland with us. The kids had a ball of a time in the last row of the Sienna. We stopped over at Durham for the night and met Uncle Lou the next day for breakfast. Of course also visited Fuqua school of Business. Rajesh graduated from here and we so wished he was alive to show us around this campus. A gentle reminder to check-in with everyone near and dear every once in a while…
Meena and I took the kids Skiing at Liberty on Thursday night. This has become more of a tradition now at year-end(beginning). A first for Raaghuv and Divyaa though. Just before we left, the boys decided to take on the Lower blue streak, and I joined them. Absolutely reminded me of my first day at skiing! Need to work on that nuanced braking!
Oh and of course, Happy New Year! Last year I chose to be a bit more free, a privilege I am so glad I had and thankful for. Looking forward to what we chart in 2020.
Why more kids are learning — and enjoying — yoga: While yoga has become a fad now in the western world, I’d go further out to expand it to any activity that gets them out of a ‘controlled’ space. My dream classroom would be one out in the open with minimal teacher intervention.
Don’t just criticise the police. They’re constrained: As the world’s largest democracy comes to grips with the weight of the existence of more than a billion people, more so now as the youth are engaging and reacting to state and national politics, It’s key that funding and training is adequately increased to maintain law and order. And then there’s corruption to deal with…
A beautiful 6 mile hike/walk near Miss Bama’s home. Shasta slept through most of it in the carrier and Dhruv had a ball of a time! So glad we fit this in. Probably one of our longest walks in Florida. The march of dimes event happens here every year.
Shasta’s first visit to Patapsco state park. Sharath, Meena, Shasta and I planned to head out together initially. Was pretty breezy and cold. Shasta initially was showing signs of queasiness, so Meena suggested Sharath and I head out while she’d stroll closer to the car.
Started out on the downhill and entered the woods around the corner. Meena joined with Shasta as we were heading back covering about three miles. A wonderful, refreshing day out!
We head out to Hot Pot later that evening. Delicious food and some real good time with the whole family!
Had my eyes on this trial ever since I saw the ‘Gun powder falls state park’ sign on I95. Drove over for about 30mins with Sharath to get here this afternoon.
Pretty surprised not to find many folks on this trail. The weather was just right and this short 5 mile round trip hike was precisely what we needed to close out 2018. The short stream crossing at the end of the trail was an added bonus!
I’ve had my eyes on the Billy goat trail for a while now. With a beautiful foggy forecast, this Sunday was a great day to head to the woods. We reached the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historic park in about an hour’s time, only to realise that the Billy Goat section A and B trails were closed due to flooding!
Having come this far, we decided to explore rest of the park. The short hike to Great Falls via the locks was insanely beautiful! So glad we decided to head this way!
After that, we head all the way down the parking lot to hike the Ford mine trail. The trail runs parallel to the C&O canal for about a mile or so and loops back to the parking lot crossing several streams and small waterfalls. Though not quite comparable to the BG section A hike that I had visualized, this was a pretty decent hike.
A short morning hike to the Liberty Dam near home. Scouted a shorter trail but ended up hiking on a proper road up to the Dam. 3.6 miles round trip and a quick scrambling attempt on a rock face with N at the end.
Got back here via the trail the subsequent weekend. The trail was pretty picturesque. Winding by the North Patapsco river and eventually terminating at a beautiful vantage point right near the foot of the dam, this dirt trail made it totally worth coming back here again. A branch off this trail also seemed to lead back to the parking lot at the top. Will likely get back here while putting in some mileage for trail runs.
First backpacking trip in recent years. Had a 27 pound backpack on and felt every ounce of it on my spine as we hiked up Moosilauke on Day 1. With a thunder shower forecast for the weekend, we had one person drop out from the team just the night before the trip. After the initial meet at the Appalachian Trailhead on NH-25A, eight of us packed in two cars head towards the Beaver Brook Trailhead at Kinsman Notch on NH 112. Started the hike at around 09:30hrs up the Beaver Brook trail.
Wasn’t quite feeling too well as we made the initial push. With about 3000 ft of elevation gain in the first two miles, I already had some serious second thoughts on this trip. Decided to take it slow on the way up and take a call once I reach the summit. Plan B was to make my way back to Beaver Brook shelter and rest there while the rest of the team traverses the Appalachian trail and make their way down south towards the Gilmans corner AT trailhead on NH 25A.
Skirting around Mt. Blue we reached the Mt. Moosilauke summit at around 13:30hrs. Lucked out on the weather and had some beautiful 360 degree views. Some pretty good views of Franconia notch, Mt. Washington and several other peaks! Eventually decided to head below tree line and make our way down on the AT towards Jefferson Shelter. Incessant rain and the steep down gradient took a good toll on the knees. Reached the shelter at around 17:15 dripping wet. Setup the tent in the rain and was totally knocked out in a few minutes.
Met Chief and Doc – two septuagenarians, one with Parkinsons and the other a veteran who’ve been hiking the AT together every year for the last 40 years! Some great trail talk and we leave the next day morning south bound. My knees weren’t doing that great and I decided to bail out once we reach NH 25C, about 5 miles from the shelter. Urged the rest of the team to continue on the trail for the next five miles. After about a 3 mile downhill run on route 25C, an elderly gentleman stops by the side and agrees to shuttle me to the start point. Hitchhiked for the first time ever in the U.S and was an interesting car ride! A french teacher in a school in NYC who’s settled in Warren. His wife runs a shop up in Loon Mountain and someday when I get there, I’ll make sure to check and connect the dots. Quickly change in the car and rush back on the trail north bound to meet the rest of the team. They apparently met a trail angel who was serving hot omelettes and muffins!
A great weekend in the whites. I should get back to this sometime soon once I square out a few things.
First hike with the AMC. Four hours climb up to the summit with icy conditions in the last 1000ft. Microspikes saved the day! Under tree line pretty much all the way till the end. The peak does open up to a 360 degree view. Could spot quite a few other 4000 footers from the top. Franconia Ridge looked pretty tiny from here! A quick 2.5 hour hike got us back to the trailhead. Good pace, good work-out and first ‘technical’ winter/early spring hike!
Early on friday morning on the way to the T station, it suddenly struck us that we could actually hike overnight to catch sunrise on the ridge. With the full moon just starting to wane out, it was going to be a beautiful bright night. I was psyched, Miss Me was almost convinced, and now all that was left to alter the plan was to check with Keshav and Chaitra. A few hours later the weather report predicts thunderstorms and with that our overnight hike plans go kaput. We decide to stick with the original plan to head out of Boston at 0400 the next day morning. Chaitra decides to take a rain-check on the hike, so Miss Me and I head over to Keshav’s place late that night.
We hit the road by 04:15 next day morning. With dense fog, most likely because of last nights’ thunderstorm, the drive up to NH is starkly different from last time. Around 06:40 we start on the Falling waters trail. I anticipate reaching the first switch-back in around 45 minutes but I’m pleasantly surprised that we come across it in just about 20 minutes. As we slowly trudge up the falls and across the streams, Meena and I are reminded of the time we spent here in July; pitch darkness with just two headlamps trying to find the path back to the start point. It’s incredible how the mind’s able to connect situations so lucidly… We soon cross the horse’s tail waterfalls and from here, as expected, the trail gains elevation pretty quickly. At about 10:00 we reach little haystack.
The ridge looked so fierce, yet so welcoming. Dense fog considerably reduces the vision and we could barely see a few feet ahead. The intermittent heavy wind gusts made the ridge walk even more enticing. As we phase in and out of the clouds, an elderly couple tag along. Some fun exchanges and they recommend we hike Mt. Carrigain and the Owl’s head. Taking a mental note we head on towards Mt. Lincoln and then Mt. Lafayette.
This time around the climb up Mt. Lafayette felt much shorter. I don’t quite remember it being this easy while scaling down the peak last time we were here. Must be the weather! Just as we’re summiting the peak, a lady and her son mention that a group was hoisting the flag up on Lafayette. We’re just in time! Up on the peak we learn apparently it’s a tradition now and a flag is hoisted on all 48 4000 footers in New Hamsphire on the weekend close to September 11th. We’re lucky we got to be up here just around the right time!
Pretty soon we decide to head down the peak to the AMC Greenleaf hut. Devour some ridiculously tasty hot soup and make our way down the Old briddle path to the parking lot by 1530.
Having done this loop from both directions, I feel the OBT->FWT direction was definitely more challenging. Today’s hike however was a totally different experience when compared to the one we did in July. Was it the weather, Was it just our pace? Or was it just the whites? The lure of these mountains is just so irresistible!
Torn between the Baldface trail and the Ferry crossing beach State Park, we decided to head to the latter. Proximity to water made it an easy decision. A short 2 hour drive from home and we reached the state park around 09:00am.
The trails turned out to be much shorter than anticipated. Covered the whole state park in about an hour. Pretty well maintained. Humid conditions were a great recipe for the bugs though! Having covered the trails we head out to the beach. Pretty calm with just the morning walkers.
Spent a few minutes here and we decide to head back to the car. Since it was only around 10:30, the restless me offered to drive to the White Mountains to hike the Falling waters trail. Would have been a splendid choice but for the drive time. We had to head west for about two hours, and then another two hours south to head home. Decided against it and navigated to Green Elephant for lunch. Splendid food, as always!
As we decide to head home, David responds to a text I sent earlier in the day. Checks if we would be interested in a ‘breath session, followed by Sauna and Jacuzzi’ meet. Only he could come up with something like this! We instantaneously take up the offer and decide to meet at the Regency hotel in Portland. With about a couple of hours to kill we decide to head to the East End beach. As we’re walking by the East end promenade, we notice a bunch of kayakers heading to a fort. One look at Miss Me and she understands what’s reeling in my mind. We head to the boat rentals and check if we could rent a kayak. Figuring we didn’t have much time we book a sunset tour at 05:30pm instead. Spend the remaining hour just sitting by the water.
Zoom in and you’d notice this grand old man kayaking in an inflatable. Was a treat to see his wobbly body pivot into the boat, losing and eventually gaining balance. As he slowly head into the waters, the satisfaction of avoiding a flip brimming in his eyes, gets etched into my memory. Freedom.
It’s 14:00 hrs. We decide to head to the hotel to meet David. He’s right in time. Apparently this is his daily regimen. Works out in his Gym and fits this in before he heads back for another workout. We head straight to the Jacuzzi, then the Sauna followed by a cold shower and then repeat it thrice all over. The hot-cold shocks apparently flushes the body and the mind. I’m jealous he gets to do this EVERYDAY! It’s always so inspiring talking to David. Totally one of a kind! A quick stop at a gelato place and we head back to the East end promenade just in time for the Sunset tour.
We have a decently big group. Henry, our guide does a wonderful job showing us around. He’s moved all the way from Wyoming for his bachelors in economy and arts. Apparently got into Kayaking a few months back to make some income while he works on setting up an art studio with a few other friends.
Looped around these awesome Osprey nests and head back towards the start point for some sunset views.
Back on land, Henry suggests we visit Kettle Cove, Mackworth Island and Morse Mountain if we end up in this area some point in time. Given today’s experience, It’s highly likely we will get back here pretty soon. We head back to Portland downtown and decide to dine at Boda, Green Elephant’s sister restaurant. Oh so very Thai and delicious! Two hours down southish and we’re home.
It felt like we climbed up a beast deep in slumber and got down much before it even realized anything. All that I had visualized about this supposedly treacherous hike was flipped all over. Most likely due to the weather, which was was way too perfect! It actually made it feel much easier than the Franconia Ridge trail hike we did last weekend!
Reached the trailhead and started the hike promptly at 07:00am on Saturday. Hiked up the Ammonoosuc ravine trail that slowly winds up by the Ammonoosuc river.
Within about an hour we were at the Gem pool.
Pretty much beyond this point, the trail gains considerable elevation and finally lands you on the AMC lakes of the clouds hut.
Some points on this stretch were a bit tricky but nothing too demanding. Rain or fog would probably make this a bit challenging.
With the sun shining pretty bright and almost no winds all through, the climb was more of a mildly intense workout than anything else.
The summit is visible on the left as you climb up to the hut.
A quick stop at the hut for some tailwind shots and sandwich pops and we hit the 1.4 mile Crawford path to summit Mt. Washington.
A bold warning sign warns of the inclement weather up on the summit. However, today’s weather makes it a no-brainer to surge forward. The wobbly rocks make it a bit tricky. We reach the summit at around noon and spend about an hour up there.
With the weather being pretty good the Cog rail was flooding the peak with quite a few folks.We soon start making our descent.
The Gulfside trail which leads up to Mt. Jefferson (which we decide not to summit today) crosses the Cog rail line that goes all the way down to the Marshfield station.
As we descend we come across quite a few rail coaches that are sluggishly making their way up and down the line. Makes for a fun distraction as you try and find food placement on the stone riddled path.
Pretty soon we hit the Jewell trail which would eventually get us off the ‘ridge line’, back into the woods and finally down to the parking lot.
With infrequent stops we close out the loop at around 04:00pm. The Jewell trail ends across the parking lot, right off the Base Station road.
9.5 miles in 8+ hours with an elevation gain of about 3500 ft. Not too bad. Given the weather conditions and our pace, I believe we could have easily covered both Mt. Monroe and Mt. Jefferson. Totally calls for a revisit again later this year.
Sometime around midnight we reach a bridge with one side of its’ railing non-existent. I sprint ahead and heave a sigh of relief when I notice the ‘Old Bridle trail'[OBT] signboard high up on a tree. This confirms this is ‘the’ bridge that we’ve been looking out for, for the past few hours and that the trail head should be a few hundred feet away. Meena suggests Jyothsna and I shoot ahead while she and Sanjana would follow behind slowly. With just one headlamp we make our way as fast as possible to the Lafayette camping ground parking lot. As we turn round the corner, we hear a concerned and loud ‘PS, PS?’ cry. I’m relieved to hear Praveen’s voice and as soon he checks all four of us are safe he drops the bomb-shell. Having reached the trail head around 6pm and not hearing from us since then, he apparently had called in a search and rescue operation for us about 30 minutes back. My excitement on ‘finishing’ the hike is short lived as I think to myself – ‘This is not over yet…’. The last 20 hours have been draining, mentally more than physically. What should have been a decent eight hour hike has gone way beyond my initial estimation. Over the rest of Sunday, as we let everything sink in, Meena and I continue to hash out what possibly could have led up to this and what we should do to avoid this from recurring in future hikes.
The plan was to take a quick break at the AMC Greenleaf hut [4200′] that was 2.9 mi from the parking lot [1780′] and then summit Mt. Lafayette [5260′] that was 1.1mi from here. From there on we’d hit the Franconia ridge trail to reach Little Haystack[4760′] summit via Mt. Lincoln [5060′]. To close out the 9 mi loop we’d eventually take the ‘Falling waters trail'[FWT] from Little Haystack to the parking lot that’s about 3.2 mi mostly downhill. On average it should take about 7 hours to finish this 8.9 mile loop.
One of the prime reasons’ for us to leave Boston this early was to make sure we had ample time to cover the ridge and get back prior to night fall. As we trudged our way up the OBT, Praveen seemed to have significant difficulty keeping up. As we gained elevation and the vistas opened up, we stopped quite a few times on the way. Knowing we had time at our disposal, we decided to slow down the pace and finally reached the AMC Greenleaf hut around 12:45pm.
A longish break here and we hit the 1.1mi Greenleaf trail to summit Mt. Lafayette. The weather was just right and the wind and thin air seemed to lighten things a bit. Going with the flow, Meena and I had an amazing time running up the trail. Later after waiting for close to 20 minutes, I urged Meena to head up to the summit while I head back down to check on the other folks. I finally see them a few hundred feet below and ran down the trail to see if they needed any help. Praveen apparently did not want to proceed further and felt more comfortable heading back. I nudged him a bit to reconsider his choice and realised he’d already made up his mind. The question now was should I get the whole group down or just let him head back while we finished the loop.
Jyothsna was in two minds, while Sanjana seemed determined to complete the loop. I wasn’t quite concerned with Praveen getting back to the parking lot safely. He knew the trail now, had time at his disposal and could always pick up some replenishment’s from the hut. Also in the rare situation that he needed help, there were quite a few folks doing the reverse loop. The decision was made. I handed back his coat and gave him my headlamp and whistle just in case he doesn’t make it before nightfall. The three of us make our way up to the Mt. Lafayette summit and catch up with Meena who’s already been here for close to 30 minutes now.
We soon leave Mt Lafayette and hit the ridge trail to make our way down south to Little Haystack. The ridge between Mt Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln had some technical downhills. This stretch would probably be a bit tricky had the weather worsened but gives some astounding views of the White mountains and the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The elevation, views and weather conditions remind me of the western ghats back in India. It hits me real hard that this is the first significant (comparable in terms of elevation profile) hike I’ve done since leaving India four years ago and rekindles some good old memories!
Meena and I run down the ridge and wait for Jyothsna and Sanjana to catch-up. Sanjana seems to be having some issues with her toes and isn’t quite able to keep pace. We finally make it to Little Haystack around 05:30pm. Quite aware that we still had 3.2 mi to cover to make our way back to the parking lot, we quickly grab some sandwiches and hit the FWT.
We could see the parking lot from Haystack but going by the current pace looked like we’d make it there only around 10:00pm. Sanjana’s phone seemed to have some reception and we sent Praveen a quick voice and regular message mentioning our ETA. Sanjana’s toes’ weren’t getting any better and the steep downhill on the rocky trail made things worse. The likelihood of us getting to the falls before nightfall was pretty low but we really wanted to give that a good shot. With two headlamps and a decent supply of water we slowly made our way downhill. Things went down south once it got dark. Jyothsna started getting ancy about Praveen and with reduced light, our pace reduced drastically. With close to 12 hours on foot and the end never seeming near, morale was extremely low. The barely visible dark blue trail markers on the trees made things worse. At several locations, I had to go ahead to make sure we were on the right path and then head back to re-group and follow the trail.
After what seemed like eternity, we finally heard some water gurgling. Though this meant we were nearing the intersection where the OBT and the FWT merged, it added some more complexity. The FWT had quite a few switch-backs getting us to cross the river stream several times from bank to bank. Meena mentioned another hiker warned her of this while on the ridge. The rocks were slippery and the access points a bit tricky to maneuver in the dark. Had it not been for the thought that Praveen would be waiting for us (hopefully) at the parking lot, I would have voted camping at the river bed till dawn break.
At around 11:30pm we finally come across two other hikers coming from the opposite direction. They tell us the parking lot is about 45 minutes away. With some renewed energy (and no other option!) we finally make it to ‘the’ bridge and eventually to the parking lot.
Praveen gives us a low-down of his search and rescue alarm. Apparently he never received the message we sent him. As we try to call the police to try and get them to stall any initiated attempts, a NH Fish and game law enforcement vehicle drives in to the parking lot. The officer checks if everyone is safe and injury free and then radio’s in to the search party that we’re safe. After some formal procedures and protocols he mentions’ we’re good to head back home and will hear from them later if required. We head back towards Boston and finally reach home around 05:30am.
Meena and I keep discussing and reliving the last several hours over the rest of the day. We figured we had to come up with measures to avoid this from recurring in future group hikes.
Prior to the hike:
[x] Share emergency contacts and communication protocols.
[x] Apprise each team member of individual medical needs.
[x] Share hike details [Terrain, directions, landmarks, routes etc] with each team member.
[x] Check on each members prior experience with the difficulty and endurance level of the hike.
[x] Check on mandatory equipment – Headlamps, tents, Sleeping gear etc.
[x] Set time and distance checkpoints to determine turn-around points if necessary.
[x] Determine team break-out protocols.
When looking back at the hike this weekend, I could easily see the stark failure-points right from the start. I wasn’t aware of anyone’s general fitness levels. I did not collect and share emergency medical and contact information. We didn’t have a communication protocol. We should have taken a realty check at the Greenleaf hut for distance and pace. I should not have left Praveen head back alone. Most importantly, I didn’t have a plan B!
Ironically, I’ve been doing ALL of the above while organizing hikes for HydVentura. This hike would remain truly memorable not just for the splendid ridge-line views but for the gross failures at several levels in organizing it. Despite the shortcomings, I’m amazed at how each one handled the situation they were thrown in. Praveen was rational enough to turn around when he knew his body couldn’t handle the stress physically. After an initial breakdown, Jyothsna kept her calm as we maneuvered the trails and falls in the dark. Sanjana kept going despite being in deep pain and tried her best to keep up with us as we pushed ahead. Meena was impeccable in keeping the group morale high and playing lead-sweep seamlessly as and when needed. Things could have been way difficult had even one of us buckled down…
After a 5 year hiatus of organizing long distance hikes for big groups, it feels good to be back in this space. This hike would remain etched as a classic realty check. Looking forward to the Mt. Washington hike later this weekend. And now we know what not to do!