Hillary, Hunt, the Pope and I: How Our Writer’s Crucifix Summitted Everest

odog52:

A wonderful and untold anedcote from the first ascent of Mt. Everest!

Originally posted on readingthedigest:

Tomorrow it’ll be 60 years exactly since pioneering mountaineers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summitted Everest—an inspirational conquest that strikes a chord with the longtime values of Reader’s Digest.

And we were lucky enough, in 2008, to catch wind of a pretty spectacular story linked to the expedition. Father Martin Haigh, a Benedictine monk with no personal connections to the mountaineers, asked them a favour before they set out—and they obliged. Here’s the fascinating story, in his own words.

fullmontage imagesEarly in 1953, when the British Everest expedition left for India, I sent Colonel John Hunt, its leader, a crucifix and asked him whether he would leave it at the highest point reached. I had never met Colonel Hunt, but I felt he would agree, so I wrote:

“I would be deeply grateful if you would leave this little crucifix at the highest point your expedition reaches, if possible at the…

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Spoiled In Jamaica

Back in the dead of winter, we were treated to a long weekend in Jamaica by Lisa’s parents. Sweet, right? After such a generous gift, I don’t think I can make any type of “in laws” joke for about a decade.

Seriously though, they are awesome. And the trip was awesome. We had an amazing experience. All eight of us. Sitting by the pool for four days. Drinking Jamaican cocktails. Heavy on the rum.


We stayed at the Secrets Wild Orchid Resort in Montego Bay. It’s an excellent hotel and I would highly recommend it to others. The weather was decent, although windy the first few days. I would have liked to venture out on Caribbean for some sea kayaking and snorkeling, but the water sports were unavailable for the duration of our stay due to the high winds.


Laying around the resort for the weekend was a fine alterative to me. And Mother Nature made up for it by saving her best show for last, as we were treated to a brilliant sunset on the final night. Jamaica at its finest.

All By My Lonesome

Winter hiking 2013 did not go as planned. I had hoped to head north at least 3-4 times, but due to a busy work schedule, weddings, parties and other fun events, I was only able to hit the trail once – ONCE! Oh well, better than none.

It was President’s Day weekend. Having not been able to find anyone to subject themselves to some cold weather hiking, I awoke early at my parent’s house and started drive north on I-93 toward Franconia Notch State Park all by my lonesome. My plan was to attempt Mt. Liberty on the southern end of the Franconia Ridge. It’s a mountain that I’d hiked a few times before (in the summer), but because I was alone, I felt comfortable choosing a mountain that I was familiar with.

That plan was derailed after about 45 minutes while on the Liberty Springs Trail (below). The temperature hovered around zero degrees all morning, but more concerning was the wind. Not only did it sting my face, but massive oak, pine and birch trees swayed and creaked all around me. Honestly, it was spooky. I felt that at any minute one of these immense hardwoods was going to crash down on my head. I know that the chance of this actually happening was slim, but whatever. It was creepy. I decided to turn around and live another day. It wasn’t until later that night I heard that almost all of the ski resorts in the state shut down that day because of the wind. Wild.

Liberty Spring Trail

“I have to salvage this day”, I thought as I headed back to the car. But where could I go for a quick, yet picturesque, hike? It only took me a moment to think of nearby Lonesome Lake as an ideal substitute destination. Again, it was a hike that I’d done many times before but never in winter. So after woofing down a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, I drove to the other time of the notch and started up the 1.5-mile trail.

Lonesome Lake Winter Snowshoe

The hike to Lonesome Lake was fairly easy, but pleasant. I thought that once I reached the lake, the views back toward the Franconia Ridge would be great, as usual. But with snow-capped peaks, a frozen lake to stand on, and a bluebird sky as my backdrop, the views were simple spectacular. More than I ever expected.

Lonesome Lake Winter

If you looked closely, you can even see the moon resting over the col between Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln.

Lonesome Lake, NHI headed to the far end of the lake near AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut and sat in the fresh snow. Staring back at the iconic ridge, it was hard not to think of my ascent up Mt. Lafayette last winter – perhaps my favorite hiking trip ever. It was also hard to keep myself from taking more photos of my breathtaking surroundings.

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire

Snowshoeing Lonesome Lake in Winter

I wish that I had pictures of Mt. Liberty’s summit to share after this gorgerous day, but sometimes the back-up plan turns out pretty good too. And I have to say, my lonely day on Lonesome Lake was unexpectedly great. Cheers!

Blizzard ’13

The New England Blizzard of 2013 – nicknamed “Nemo” for some odd reason – has come and gone, and it was a doozie! We got about two feet of snow in Franklin and many of the surrounding communities were gifted with as much as 30-35 inches. I heard that one town in CT got 40″ – Crazy.

Massachusetts has a travel ban in place while they clean up the roads, so there’s not much to do besides relax and watching movies. And oh yah, shovel, which is as much fun as a root canal.

Here’s what two feet of snow looks like:

Blizzard Nemo

New England Blizzard

A little snow even managed to sneak inside the house over night.

Blizzard Nemo Massachusetts

The backyard just disappeared. You know. Pretty standard.

Nemo Blizzard Massachusetts

Nemo Blizzard February 2013

The back’s a little sore from digging out the car, but the Patagonia Pom Pomp hat did me well once again.

Patagonia pom pom hat

The best part of being snowed in? Snacking. And it’s even better when you have a wife that enjoys baking deliciousness. Today’s treat was chocolate peanut butter cookies. Very, very good.

chocolate peanut butter cookies

Stay warm!

One Today

I thought that yesterday’s Presidential Inauguration was incredibly inspiring. I always enjoy the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day and thought that the speakers and singers this year were especially great. It made me proud to be an American.

One such speaker was Richard Blanco – a little known poet who composed and recited a beautiful piece about the daily story of this great nation and the beliefs that bind us all. Equality. Unity. Hard work. Resilient optimism. Love of country.

I like it so much that I had to post the video and text on this site. Listen closely or read slowly. They are important words.

One Today

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

Eddie Bauer Jacket Review (And A Hike Up West Rattlesnake)

Best Christmas gift this year? An Eddie Bauer BC Microtherm 2.0 down jacket – part of their First Ascent line. It. Is. Awesome. I had been eyeing the Microtherm for a few months, and thankfully, good ole’ Saint Nick came through once again this year.

I narrowed my search down to this jacket after reading all of the positive reviews online. I loved what I heard about its warmth, breathability, weight (or lack thereof), and above all else, the fact that it was waterproof! Very usual for a down jacket. I purchased another down jacket from EMS a few years ago, and while it served me well, the jacket lost its ability to retain the maximum amount of heat after being exposed to rain and snow one too many times.

The Microtherm is just damn cool. It’s literally the lightest thing that I own (1 lb, 4 oz) and fits me great. And while I’ve only worn the jacket once while hiking, I was impressed. It kept me plenty warm on our short hike up West Rattlesnake Mountain in New Hampshire. Although it wasn’t raining, the waterproof shell acted as a great windbreaker on this breezy day – especially on the summit as we soaked in the frigid views of Squam Lake.

West Rattlesnake, NH

My only small gripe I have with the jacket is the pockets. I wish it had normal hand-pockets in the front. It only offers these higher, chest-level pockets in the middle of the jacket, which I guess is helpful for storing maps, gear, and other stuff, but I don’t see myself using them much. And when I’m not hiking, its awkward not having these lower pockets to rest my hands. I know it sounds trivial, but it’s a bit weird and noticeable.

However on this day, pockets were the least of my concerns. We had great views all day and good friends around to share them with.

West Rattlesnake Eddie Bauer Microtherm BC down jacket

I’m looking forward to more hikes in my Eddie Bauer BC Microtherm this winter in which I can really test its functionality and effectiveness. But so far, I really love this jacket. Mt. Chocorua, Mt. Liberty and Mt. Washington (yes, I said Mt. Washington) are all on my winter bucket list this year, and hopefully I’ll be able to head north and tackle a few of these soon. If so, I’ll definitely post trip reports and pictures on this blog.

If you’re interested in climbing West Rattlesnake, here is some information about possible trails and finding the parking lots. Happy hiking!

Memories of Grand Teton National Park

There’s nothing more American than a family vacation to a National Park. Maybe apple pie.

One of my favorite family vacations came three years ago when we traveled to Denver for my cousins wedding, and then stayed the following week to visit a slew of National Parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain. It was the last vacation that I took with my entire family…and it sure was a special one. Even the nine hour drive from Denver to Jackson Hole, Wyoming was a crazy-fun adventure, like the Griswold Family racing through the desert on their way to Wally World. Happy memories!

I stumbled across the photo album from that trip on my parents computer last week. While we took well over 500 pictures on that vacation, I decided to post just a few of the great ones here – all of which were taken at Grand Teton National Park.

We hiked for a few spectacular days in Grand Teton through its gorgeous canyons and along its pristine lakes. The first day we took a boat across the famed Jenny Lake and hiked into Cascade Canyon along the Cascade Canyon Trail. The entire trail is 13.2 miles through what is probably some of the most breathtaking scenery in our country. Unfortunately, we only had time to explore the first 2-3 miles before turning back, but we were able to see Inspiration Point (elevation 7,200 ft.) as well as some of the inner canyon.

Did I mention it was gorgeous? I wish we had the time to hike there the whole week.

On day two, we did a short, morning hike around Phelps Lake – a less crowded area on the southern end of the park, although not lacking in beauty! After about a mile on the Phelps Lake Trail, we got out first look at the lake.

Awesome.

The trail dipped quickly down to the lake shore. But before we reached the water, the trail cut through beautiful, flowery meadows surrounded by gigantic rock walls. It was unreal.

Like the Cascade Canyon Trail, the Phelps Lake Trail goes on for many miles around the lake and through the southern canyons. Once again, we didn’t have time to stay long, so we turned around as soon as we reached the shore, which was fine with us since we heard from some hikers that there were grizzly bears further down the trail. Avoiding dangerous, potentially hungry animals is always OK with me.

Revisiting those pictures reminded me what a great experience that trip really was. At the time, I assumed there would be many more family vacations to come…but as we’ve all gotten a little bit older, I’m not quite sure when the next family adventure will be. Thank God for the memories.

Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT)

What the heck is SNETT? And what in God’s name is a trunkline?

I’ve pondered these questions ever since I first heard about the 22 mile SNETT, or Southern New England Trunkline Trail, which runs from my current hometown of Franklin, MA and all the way to the Connecticut border. I love the idea of long trails for hiking and biking, always have. So as soon as I learned about SNETT’s existence, I knew that I had to check it out.

I had some free time last weekend, so I shot over to the trailhead on Grove Street for a late afternoon stroll. The trailhead was clearly marked and had a nice little parking lot across the street, which I greatly appreciated. Better than leaving your car sketchily on the side of the road.

The trail is an old railroad corridor. I guess that’s why they call it a trunkline?…I don’t know. Anyways, it’s very flat and plenty wide – great for hiking, biking and jogging. I even saw a couple of horseback riders on the path while I was meandering.

Still plenty of good color on the trees.

One of the things I like most about long, recreational trails is that they tend to wiggle through diverse landscapes. Forests, fields, rivers, towns, villages…you never really know what’s around the next corner. It’s what hikers love about the AT. It’s what Lisa and I used to love about the 14 mile East Bay Bike Path we frequented during our days in Rhode Island. Pure adventure.

After about a half-mile on the SNETT, I stumbled upon the first bit of diverse and interesting scenery – an old village that I later discovered was the town of Wadsworth. Today, it’s just a tiny little cluster of homes along the path, although it used to be a much larger settlement back in its heyday (more on Wadsworth’s history in a bit).

One of the beautiful things about Wadsworth - which I think is technically part of Franklin - is its picturesque farmlands visible from the trail. Gorgeous.

I continued on the SNETT a little while longer before turning onto a side trail leading to Franklin State Forest. I’ve hiked in the state park a few times before and decided to end my afternoon jaunt exploring some of its lesser used trails. In my opinion, Franklin State Forest is nice, but doesn’t offer much to look at. Not much elevation – just a lot of woods. Some neat old stone walls though.

After about an hour, I re-traced my stepped and headed back to the trunkline trail and eventually back to my car. Overall, SNETT has potential. I only experienced about a mile of what it has to offer, so I don’t have enough information to give it a formal review, but it seems like a clearly marked, convenient trail for those living in the Blackstone River watershed. Given that parts of the trail seem very straight and very long, I think I’d prefer to come back with a bicycle to cover more ground. Or maybe I can find a horse…

Fun Story: As I made my way back to the trailhead, I took a moment to check out the big wooden sign built by the DCR (the one in the first picture above). There were the usual postings – trail maps, rules of the trail, etc – but I also took a moment to read a small sheet of paper in the corner of the board titled “Welcome to the Village of Wadsworth”, which explained a bit of the history of the former settlement. According to this report, Wadsworth was settled in the early 1800s by the Wadsworth Family (go figure) of Milton. At its height, the village had a post office, railroad station, country store and even a jewelry store, and the majority of day-to-day life was spent farming. One of the natives, George Wadsworth, kept a daily diary and recorded everything from mundane chores to bizarre events, including a strange “murder-suicide which brought hordes of reporters from far away Boston”, according to the posting. (A Wadsworth homestead pictured below)

Fortunately for the weirdos (like me) who find this type of stuff fascinating, the paper stated that a Franklin resident stumbled across George’s diaries in a yard sale in 1991 and painstakingly transcribed each one. She donated her finished work to the Franklin Library and published them on the internet for everyone to read. Naturally, I raced home and googled away!

The diaries can be found online at www.wadsworthdiaries.com. I think the site is damn cool. While most of George’s entries “portray the grayness of rural Franklin, a small town devoid of excess or convenience”, the website’s introduction also points out that “these diaries do also tell a tale of insanity, murder, two suicides and a bizarre train wreck….aberrations that must have shocked the souls of the rock-ribbed South Franklinites”. Haha. Awesome. If that doesn’t entice you to check it out, I don’t know what will.

From what I experienced, I was impressed with the trunkline. I got a great workout, a small sense of adventure, and an unexpected history lesson to boot! Rock on.

A Second Shot At Doublehead

Sometimes a mountain “owes you one”. Mt. Doublehead in Jackson, NH is a mountain that owed us one. Lisa and I tried to climb the twin-peak back on New Years Day, but despite a mild winter there was an abundance of snow and ice on the trail. We didn’t have proper traction – no crampons, no showshoes – so we were forced to turn back about a mile from the summit. But we vowed to return!

Fast-forward ten months and we got chance at our redemption. Lisa and I were in North Conway celebrating our 2nd wedding anniversary and we decided to attempt the 3,000 mountain once again. It was a beautiful fall weekend in New England and the foliage was at its peak! We chose to tackle South Doublehead, as we heard from a few hikers that the views on South were much better than its northern counterpart.

Although Mt. Washington and the rest of the Presidentials were shrouded in clouds, the views of the multicolor trees and farmlands in the valley were spectacular.

It was nice to just relax and enjoy the sun. Obviously, I was in no rush to leave.

Gotta love wearing shades in late fall.

Overall, Mt. Doublehead (at least South Doublehead) offers a big mountain view for minimal efforts. Roundtrip was only 4 miles and took about three hours to complete, but it was a perfect half-day hike for us. I’m glad that we returned! And lets face it, time spent in the White Mountains is better than time spent almost anywhere else. And time spent with my sweetie is definitely better than time spent anywhere else!

Another great weekend in the 603!