Thursday 31 May 2007

Portland, Maine

Having come to the end of our stay in New Hampshire, we headed east this morning to the coast of Maine, just south of Portland. The weather having finally turned, we decided for dry and effortless sightseeing - a "Land and Sea" tour which comprised a trolley tour of Portland with a visit to Portland Head Light (Maine's first lighthouse) followed by a boat tour through the harbour and Casco Bay to see the various lighthouses from the water.

A bonus sighting were a large number of eider ducks and their ducklings. Sadly not too easy to photograph.

Wednesday 30 May 2007

The day after the mountain before

Woke up this morning with a severe case of "Mt Washington legs" - getting out of bed and down the spiral iron staircase of our cabin was a challenge indeed.

In the interests of limbering up a little, and making the most of our last day in New Hampshire we found a small hike up Mt Willard - a straight up and back to a cliff ledge overlooking the Crawford Notch valley.

The hike to the cliff edge was fairly unremarkable - a small river crossing at the start, and then a path up through the woods at an unchanging gradient. Unlike the solitude of our Mt Washington hike, there was quite a lot of traffic on the route, including a couple groups of teenagers.
Fortunately, when we reached the top, we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet for about 5 minutes before the ledge was overrun by the first group.

Sitting up on the ledge we had a fine view down into the valley, and also backward over to Mt Washington. As we sat, we could see the clouds coming in and shrouding the weather masts on the summit.

Once we returned to the cabin, we had a relaxing afternoon sitting in our "back garden" playing scrabble, writing postcards, reading and snoozing. In the evening we lit our second campfire - a challenge as it rained on and off the whole evening. Eventually we managed to get it burning and dinner was a success, albeit a little damp.

Trail Length: 2.9mi (4.7km)
Elevation Gain: 980ft (300m)

Google Earth file for our White Mountain Hikes

Tuesday 29 May 2007

What goes up Mt Washington, must come down

...but sadly, not on the Cog Railway, a curious-looking beast whose boiler is at a funny slant to enable it to get up the hill (the phrase "I think I can, I think I can..." springs to mind).

Having climbed Mt Washington, we had a discussion in the cafe about whether we should take the railway back down or hike. In the end, the issue was settled for us when we noticed the gift shop closing up and realised that in fact the last train service of the day had just left.

Resigned to our fate, we had a chat with the Park Ranger and found out the best route for our descent - the Jewell Trail.

Crossing over the train lines (reassuring to know that we could outrun this train easily!) we headed along the Gulfside Trail which took us along the edge of a beautiful cliffside until we met the Jewell Trail.

Very quickly it became clear that the way down was also not going to be easy going. Not only was the trail fairly steep, but we had to step from rock to rock like mountain goats. This seemed to suit Darby, whose Norwegian heritage surely showed through here, but I can't say that Fiona or I found it much fun and we took things at a rather more knee-friendly pace. Once we hit the tree line it looked as though we had a nice clear trail marked through the trees, but sad to relate, more rocks to climb over, spiced up with a return of the snow to slither down.

After a long set of switchbacks near the end of the trail we finally reached a small bridge which crossed over the river to the other side of the ravine. The familiar smell of steam engine began to reach us as we approached the base station of the cog railway and finally emerged from the trees. We watched the sun slowly set as we walked the final half mile back to the car park.

Trail length: 9.5mi (15.3km)
Elevation gain: 3937ft (1200m)

Google Earth file for our White Mountain Hikes.

In which we climb up Mt Washington

Happy Birthday Darby!

After celebrating Darby's birthday with the cupcakes we had brought with us, it was time to get down to the main business of the day - a hike up Mt Washington, the tallest mountain in the north eastern US, known less for its gorgeous views than the fact that is has what is considered to be the worst weather in the States. Although the mountain is equipped with its very own cog railway up to the summit, we were determined to earn our views the hard way.

Although we didn't know it at the time, the mountain was a very appropriate choice for Darby's birthday as it was first scaled in 1642 by someone named Darby Field, thought to be have been born in Boston, England.

There are a number of routes up the mountain, and we had initially planned to take the Tuckerman Ravine route, but after consultation with the owners of the campground changed our route to follow the Ammonoosuc Ravine. This turned out to be a better idea than we first realised as we heard once we reached the top that the Tuckerman Ravine route had been closed.

The first part of the trail up to the Gem Pool was hardly more than a gentle stroll, the only slight challenge being a couple river crossings and a few patches of snow along the way. Very excited by the snow, we stopped to photograph every patch, little knowing that further up the trail we would see far more snow than we could have ever bargained for.

Once we left crossed the Gem Pool, life got harder very quickly as we hit a stairway of rocks. Ready for a breather, we were pleased to see a couple heading downwards and stopped for a chat. Worryingly, they told us that they had planned to walk to the summt but had been stopped a little further up due to difficult river crossing. As they turned out to be regulars on the route, this was a little concerning, but we decided to carry on and see what we found. Worse yet, after continuing a little while we saw someone else coming down towards us - an extremely well-equipped looking guy who had passed us earlier. He also had turned back because he was concerned about getting through the snow just beyond the river crossing. Apparently not someone to take life easy, he was planning to go back down to the trailhead and find himself another mountain to climb! Despite being a little daunted by all the experienced looking hikers giving up we were determined not to quit so easily, and deciding we had both numbers and youth on our side, decided to continue.

The next section was pretty hard work, every time we thought we were clear we hit another patch of snow which, given the steep gradient, was tough to clamber up. Still, the occasional view we had, when the trees thinned a little, was superb. Finally the path evened out a little and we emerged from the obvious trail into a more open area, thinly scatter wereed with trees. Now a challenge - where on earth did the trail lead? Blue markers, which had been reassuring us so far, were woefully absent. We looked valiently for footprints through the snow, but it seemed that no-one else had got this far. Just as we were starting to think we might have no option other than turning back (really not a pleasant thought!), we heard voices. After waiting a couple minutes, a group of people slowly emerged from the trees, looking expectantly up at us, as if we had all the answers. Between us we managed to find a blue marker and carried on as a large group through the trees and finally, up to the Lake of the Clouds Hut, our first major landmark after the Gem Pool. Now the summit was finally in sight, although there still remained a good climb ahead of us.

The final part of our ascent had the great advantage of being above the treeline, so we could see our target as we slowly climbed. The downside to the open landscape, though, was a brutal wind which caused my eyes to stream constantly. We were very quickly glad of our fleeces, despite the sunny day. Not for nothing is New Hampshire called "The Granite State" - the last part of the hike up to the summit is nothing but rocks.

An hour or so after leaving the Lake of the Clouds, we reached the summit and, extremely windswept, clambered up the last pile of rocks to be photographed at the summit. Sadly my hat wasn't able to withstand the strong winds, and rescuing it a couple times, I finally lost it out of my pocket! Our hard work was rewarded - for once the summit wasn't eveloped in cloud, and we were able to enjoy the fantastic views. Flushed with our success, we smirked at the people climbing out of the steam train which had just reached the top and rushed to the cafe to beat the queue for a well-earned cup of tea.

Monday 28 May 2007

Camping USA

OK, so we weren't sleeping in tents, but we still considered that a campfire was a vital part of our camping experience. Despite some trouble with the wind, and the fact that none of us have a lot of experience building fires, we managed to get a good fire going so that we could try our hands at cooking some traditional campfire food.

First up were the hot dogs - a roaring success, even though we left the mustard at home. Then the s'mores - melted marshmallows, squashed with Hershey's chocolate between Graham crackers. - much amusement due to my inability to cook a marshmallow without setting it alight at least twice.

Crawford Notch - Arethusa Falls

After a couple days in Boston, it was time to hit the road and travel up to New Hampshire to do some hiking. We rented a cabin on a campsite in the White Mountains for 3 days, and were all set to tackle the local mountains. Before we could head off though, we had some serious cupcake baking to do in preparation for Darby's birthday.

Arriving mid-afternoon, our first target is the Arethusa Falls, along the Frankenstein Cliff Trail (no clue what the monster connection is). Despite the overgrown greenery, and the fairly steep incline we made reasonable progress to the first lookout point, where we had a fantastic view out into the valley.

Continuing on towards the falls we met a family with two young children (particularly impressed by the fact that the parent were hiking this trail with their children on their backs!) who warned us that they had heard a mountain lion roaring further along the trail. Despite their cautions, we were determined to carry on, but in the interests of keeping any cougars at bay we managed to sing continually for the remaining two hours of the trip. With a repertoire ranging from nursery rhymes to church music and musicals, we succeeded in scaring off any passing wildlife, and made it through to the falls unscathed.

Trail length: 5mi (8km)
Elevation Gain: 1395ft (425m)

Google Earth file for our White Mountain Hikes.

Sunday 27 May 2007


After a hard day (!) walking the Freedom Trail, it was time to visit another historic Boston landmark - the inspiration for the Cheers Bar.

You may doubt it, looking at my photo, but this really was my first beer of the evening!

Note the trendy Boston sweatshirts which became a necessity when the temperature plummeted in the afternoon.

Boston Freedom Trail

The Freedom Trail is one of the main tourist attractions of Boston - marked out through the city centre with red brick, starting at the Boston Common and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument. Following the trail gave us a good overview of the city, both old and new, as it passed along sites such as the Old State House and the King's Chapel.

This fellow is Colonel William Prescott, a hero in the Revolutionary War who commanded the rebels in the battle of Bunker Hill. He famously coined the phrase "Don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes".

Saturday 26 May 2007

The Humpbacks of Cape Ann

Today we travelled up to the town of Gloucester, on Cape Ann, to take a whale watching trip. My expectations for seeing, and particularly photographing, whales weren't particularly high, as my last whale watching experience in Vancouver a few years ago involved one rather distant whale sighting and a lot of photos of grey sea with a tiny fin in the middle.

We set off in the middle of the day, after taking a walk around the town. Given the heat of the day, it was very pleasant to feel the sea breeze, so the hour spent motoring out to the area where we hoped to find the whales was very relaxing. In what seemed like no time at all, we were slowing for our first sighting - a fin whale. These are the second largest whales and can grow up to 80ft long. Another, rather more elusive fin whale later, we were treated to a spectacular display by a pod of about 40-50 atlantic white sided dolphins. Travelling alongside the boat, some as close as a metre of two, the dolphins jumped together. Beautiful to watch, rather harder to photograph!

The grand finale of the trip were the humpback whales. All together we saw over 10 whales in a number of different areas. The whales were feeding using a technique called bubble feeding - the green patches of bubbles in the water were very easy to spot, and gave us a good idea where the whales would surface. As the whales stayed close to the ship, we really had incredible views.

Friday 25 May 2007

What you should eat whilst in Boston

Lobster, of course! A standard feature on pretty much every menu (apparently even McDonalds has lobster roll in New England), you can watch a pretty much constant stream of lobsters travelling past to other diners in the restaurant!

Boston by Amphibian

We took a tour this afternoon in a World War 2 DUKW, also known as a duck, an amphibious vehicle that can both drive and swim. The driver, or conDUCKtour as they are apparently known in the trade, was pretty manic, and bowled us over with a constant stream of fact and fiction about the history of Boston. After a tour through the streets of Boston, the highlight was when the duck took to water and we motored up the Charles River, and enjoyed some great views of the city.

Arrived in Boston

After an overnight flight, a stopover in Toronto Aiport and a painless encouter with US Immigration, I arrived in Boston yesterday lunchtime. Fiona was a little delayed and missed her connection in New York, but finally she, Darby and I are together again for the first time since last October! Of course, we had to celebrate in our traditional fashion, with some local Boston beer.

There's a heatwave here, with a predicted high today of 92F (33C), and though it isn't set to last, it looks like we should have good weather for most of our stay.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

The new game is...

... BookCrossing - a website where you can register books and then "release them into the wild" by leaving them in a public place such as a coffee shop or on a park bench for someone else to find.

Today I released my first book in New Westminster, at Hon's House of Noodles - track its progress here. Hopefully someone will find it and update its journal soon!

Alas, poor Pontiac

Janet's Pontiac, Muffin, our vehicle of choice while visiting Grandmere, is sadly sick. We tried to take her to the garage today, but she didn't make it, grinding to a halt in a cloud of sizzling and smoke...

After much confusion, and help from a local resident, we managed to call out a tow truck who not only towed her to the garage, but also dropped us off back in New Westminster.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

Planet Earth Poetry

For Jen, this trip is not only vacation, but also work. As well as giving a workshop to local writers whilst we were in Victoria, she was also one of the featured readers at the weekly Planet Earth Poetry at the Black Stilt Cafe.

This was only the third time I've been to one of her readings, and I enjoyed it immensely. Even the part where she decided that the two of us should get up and sing together. I have to say that we were a roaring success, but mainly because we succumbed to a fit of hysteria in verse 3 that did more to entertain the audience than our singing could ever have managed! Despite three attempts at a restart, we never did manage to finish. There's some rather embarrassing photographic evidence on the Planet Earth Poetry blog.

The best way to fly...

... is not in a KLM 747, but a Cessna 172. Not only is the service far more punctual (not to mention, flexible), but you have the added reassurance of loading your own baggage onto the aircraft! The best feature by far, though, is the in-flight entertainment - you can listen in to all the conversation with the air traffic control.

So, instead of travelling to Vancouver Island on the ferry with the rest of the holiday weekend traffic, Uncle John came and collected us at Boundary Bay airport and flew us over - a 20 minute hop with bird's eye views over the Gulf Islands. At 2500 ft you have a fine view of the islands, the boats and if you're lucky, even a few eagles.

Here's the GPS log for Google Earth.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

U Dig Fossils

Activity of the day was fossil hunting at the McAbee fossil beds, run by a fossil enthusiast who will be forever remembered by us as "U Dig Dave" (thanks to the proliferation of "U Dig Fossils" signs along the way).

The set-up is pretty casual - we met U Dig Dave halfway up the side of the hill where he has a small portacabin and then he drove us up to the fossil beds - a couple hundred metres which turned out to be pretty hair-raising as the brakes weren't up to much and neither was the acceleration power of the engine. Hurtling backwards down the track, after U Dig Dave's reassuring "don't worry, you might roll down a little way, but you won't go far" is not something I shall forget in a hurry. Apparently, most clients walk up, and I can certainly see why!

Our fears that we might dig for hours and not find any fossils were pretty groundless, as the area was littered with specimens. Most common were redwood leaves and pine needles, but there were also gingko leaves, and Jen found a spectacular fish. We came back home loaded with rocks, including some for Janet to practice on in the future. Given how much I have to fit in my suitcase, I guess I won't be bringing too many home with me.

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Horsewomen of the Apocalype - the GPS logs

I took the GPS along with me on all our trail rides, and generated some maps from the trails. Here are the files you can download into GoogleEarth: Trails, Canadian Topographic Overlay.

Using GPS Visualizer you can generate all sorts of funky graphs showing the elevation or speed profiles of a trip. Each ride is shown using a different colour.

Horsewomen of the Apocalypse

So here we are, decked out in our finest cowboy boots (yes, I really have my own cowboy boots to bring home with me!), saddled up and ready to gallop off into the distance.

After 3 days on the Sundance Guest Ranch in Ashcroft, we are walking like cowboys (ie. bow-legged) and wincing everytime we try to sit down, with seized muscles and saddle-sores.

The riding has been challenging - aside from not having ridden in a while, the trails we've followed have been up- and downhill, in places quite steep and rough. Still, we've had a great time, and by the end of the trip were able to canter fairly comfortably. More to the point, no-one fell off!

Saturday 12 May 2007

Finally arrived in Vancouver...

... this afternoon, and after a whistle-stop visit with relatives old and new I'm ready to crash out. We're heading up country at the crack of dawn, so not much time to catch up on sleep.

Friday 11 May 2007

Back at Schiphol, and ready to go...

Well, I hope so any way. After waiting for 7 hours yesterday, with an ever increasing delay, KLM decided to cancel the flight and put everyone up in a hotel for the night. So, for the second time in two weeks, I found myself without a suitcase, clutching a KLM overnight emergency bag. (contents: XXL t-shirt, mini toothbrush/paste, laundry soap, runny deodorant, razor, moisturizer.) Now I remember exactly why I prefer to travel with handluggage only.

What can I say? My travelling track record for the last two weeks now looks like the following:

  • arriving in Bergen to find that my suitcase didn't make it
  • trying to leave Bergen and finding out that I didn't actually have a plane ticket (no, I also don't know how KLM managed to send me out to Bergen without having issued my ticket in the first place)
  • arriving back in Amsterdam to find that I left my wallet in Bergen Airport
  • trying to fly to Vancouver, only to have the flight cancelled too late in the evening to find an alternate route
Fingers crossed that I manage to get through the rest of the trip without any further difficulties.

Thursday 10 May 2007

At Schiphol and ready to go...

I should be boarding my flight now to Vancouver, but we have a delay due to a technical reason. Won't make dad happy, since his flight is scheduled to arrive 2 hours earlier than mine, and he has to wait for me! This empty looking gate is where my plane should be.

Still, after a busy week, it's nice to just sit quietly in the KLM lounge (apart from the loud and impressive snoring of someone a few seats over) and relax.