Alabama Hills

Hello again!

This blog post is about a region known as Eastern Sierra – the area just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

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Me on the Mobius Arch Hike

We spent a little less than a week in this area and saw some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip so far. This area is an incredible gem that I highly recommend to anyone looking for wonderful views, excellent hiking, and easy-to-find free camping. This blog post will focus on the Alabama Hills (not located in Alabama!) and my next post will be for Mammoth Lakes!

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To be honest, I had never heard of the Alabama Hills until a couple years ago when it started appearing on my Instagram feed. Once I knew about the Alabama Hills, it seemed like photos of it were popping up all the time. It looked like an amazing place that I needed to check out, but I was a little worried that it would be swarming with Instagrammers and photographers. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all! The Alabama Hills were incredibly beautiful and wonderfully peaceful. We had our pick from dozens of free dispersed campsites scattered all around the dusty hills with unbelievable views of the snow-capped Sierras looming to the west.

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Our campsite in the Alabama Hills

 

Lone Pine, CA

To get to the Alabama Hills, you start at the town of Lone Pine, CA on route 395. We had just come from the harsh desert climate of Death Valley and were thrilled to see snow covered mountains and a river! A man in town told us that due to the record breaking snowfall this year, the skiing was still great (we don’t ski) but that also the river is flowing harder than it has in years!

The town is pretty cute and not too touristy. We had excellent and cheap tacos from Castro’s Taco Truck and had a beer at a quaint western dive bar called Jake’s Saloon. We stocked up on groceries and fuel and checked out the visitor center before heading into the hills. 

There was an awesome outdoorsy vibe to this area and I also think a lot of people use this as the starting point to hike Mount Whitney, the highest point in California, which can be seen in the distance.

 

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Mount Whitney in the distance

The roads through the Alabama Hills are dirt roads, but they were pretty easy to navigate in our 2WD high clearance van. We saw only a handful of people during our time there. Despite many movies being filmed here over the years, this is still a pretty unknown spot to those not on Instagram!

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Mobius Arch

Our first stop in the Alabama Hills was Mobius Arch. It was a very easy and quick hike to get to this arch, with lots of wild flowers and beautiful mountain views along the way. The arch was a lot smaller than I had imagined, but it was really neat to see the mountains framed inside the arch.

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Lone Pine Peak through Mobius Arch

 

Camping and Exploring the Alabama Hills

We then drove around checking out the viewpoints before settling on a campsite for the night. We found a great spot with a stone fire ring and incredible views. We set up our pop-up shade tent to shield ourselves from the blazing hot sunshine and cooked a delicious dinner in one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I have ever been.

After a quiet and restful night of sleep, we woke up for sunrise. Watching the first sun rays of the morning light up the Sierras was one of the most surreal moments of my life. We made our way to a famous spot on top of a hill with the road leading down into the mountains for the rest of the morning. After taking photos, I sat sipping coffee and watched as the sunlight slowly spread across the scene in front of me. From the tip of Lone Pine Peak to the jagged summit of Mount Whitney, the whole mountain range looked stunning bathed in golden morning light. If you decide to check out the Alabama Hills, please don’t hesitate to reach out for more specific directions on how to find these spots!

 

Overall, Eastern Sierra was one of my favorite areas on this trip so far and one of the nicest places I have ever visited. It is very nomad-friendly, has incredible views, and an endless list of awesome and budget-friendly activities. We probably could have spent weeks there, but we have so much more to see! My next blog post will be about Mammoth Lakes, just north of the Alabama Hills. Stay tuned!

Until then, don’t forget to follow along on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors). I have had pretty good cell service in California and have been keeping up with “Instagram Stories” almost on a daily basis! Come say hello!

 

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Death Valley and Las Vegas

Hello again!

After my quick trip to New York, it was back to the desert! Steve and I drove from the Las Vegas airport to Death Valley National Park, back to Las Vegas, back to Death Valley, and then to the Alabama Hills. I’ll share details and photos below!

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From Las Vegas we drove to Death Valley to explore the park for a few days. Death Valley is known as one of the hottest places on earth (see the photos below, taken at the visitor center). Luckily it was not unbearably hot this early in the season and we only had temperatures in the upper 90s and low 100s.

 

Death Valley (Part 1)

On our first day in Death Valley we checked out Zabriskie Point, one of the most famous viewpoints in the park. I heard this spot is best seen at sunrise or sunset, but unfortunately the timing didn’t quite work out for us on this trip. However, the views from the lookout point were stunning and incredibly unique.

We then spent some time at the awesome and informative Furnace Creek Visitor Center. This was one of my favorite national park visitor centers, which is saying a lot since we have been to so many! We really enjoyed all of the informative exhibits and learned a ton about the geology and history of Death Valley.

We also learned how to check your urine for signs of dehydration!

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After refilling our water bottles after reading all of the heat and dehydration danger signs, we did the quick 3-mile round trip hike through Mosaic Canyon. While it didn’t offer any stunning views, the canyon was quite enjoyable with a few small but fun rock scrambles. The hike was very peaceful and we only passed a handful of people on the trail.

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Photo of me by @walasavagephoto

Since we had gone to the visitor center beforehand, we knew about the extraordinary geology of Mosaic Canyon. The canyon walls are made of two distinct sections of rock that over time had been pushed right up next to each other. One section of rock was formed as recently as 1000 years ago (called breccia) and the other section is from 700 million years ago (called dolomite). Plate tectonics caused the dolomite to be metamorphosed to smooth marble and thrust upward to be pressed right up next to the much younger breccia so you could see two moments in the earth’s history side by side. It was amazing to see this incredible geological history right before our eyes!

We planned to hang out in the van for a few hours in order to hike around the Mesquite Sand Dunes for golden hour and sunset. Unfortunately a huge dust storm appeared out of nowhere and lasted for many hours, including most of sunset. While we waited out the harsh sandy wind, we enjoyed a cold beer at the Badwater Saloon. Just as the sun was setting, we tried our best to check out the sand dunes, but the blowing sand made it hard to enjoy. Needless to say, we didn’t stay too long.

The next day my legs were feeling restless from lack of hiking so we decided to try one of the desert hikes in Death Valley. We chose the Badlands Loop starting from Zabriskie Point. This was a very dry and very hot hike, with heat radiating from the hills of sand around us. We probably should have started first thing in the morning, oops! The hike goes up and down the yellow hills as the trail winds through the badlands. There was almost no shade at all, and after an hour or so of hiking, the heat became quite uncomfortable. We took an extra detour to see the Red Cathedral which, in all honesty, wasn’t too impressive. The whole hike left much to be desired and I don’t know if I’d recommend this one, especially at mid day. If you want to do this hike, I would say it would be better to do at sunrise or sunset where you might find relief from the sun’s powerful rays and also enjoy the scenery better when it is bathed in golden sunlight.

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@walasavagephoto enjoying the only shade on the whole hike
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Near the Red Cathedral

 

Camping in Death Valley

We had three awesome nights of free camping at Death Valley! Two nights were at a spot called “The Pads” that we found online. It was a large desert clearing just outside of the park with a gravel road and 20 or so dispersed cement slabs. We parked our van on a slab away from others (there were only about 5 other vans and RVs there) and set up our table and stove for a nice mostly-private evening of cooking and relaxing in the great outdoors. We saw one of the most amazing sunsets of all time, shown below. It looked like someone had painted the sky!

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Sunset at “The Pads”

The third night we found a free first-come first-served campground inside Death Valley National Park called Emigrant Campground. It had picnic tables and bathrooms with running water! It was pretty awesome that we were able to snag one of the ten camping spots at this prime location, and I can’t believe it was free and didn’t require reservations! What a gem!

 

Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead

After three days in Death Valley we headed back to Las Vegas to meet up with our friends Jim and Mike, who were in town for a bowling tournament and desert travels! We had a great time walking along the Las Vegas Strip and seeing all of the glamorous and impressive hotels and casinos. We even made a stop in “Venice”!

The next day we all drove out to the Hoover Dam. We didn’t want to pay to take the “Dam Tour”, but we enjoyed walking around, looking at the intricate and historic power infrastructure and the brilliant blue waters below. We also made a lot of dam jokes! It’s a pretty neat spot and super close to Las Vegas.

We then checked out Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado River surrounded by desert mountains. We waded in the wonderfully cool water and my only complaint was the sharp rocks on the bottom. Be sure to wear water shoes if you ever plan to swim here! We grabbed some beers at the brewery in Boulder City and then made our way back to Las Vegas to relax for the evening.

 

Death Valley (Part 2)

After a nice restful weekend in Las Vegas we drove back through Death Valley to see some final spots before leaving the desert for good. We checked out Badwater Basin and got to stand at the lowest elevation in North America (278 feet below sea level)! It was a really cool spot where you get to walk out onto salt flats surrounded by mountains on all sides deep in the heart of Death Valley. If you look up at the closest rock wall, you can see the sign indicating sea level high above you. What a cool experience!

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“I’ve got friends in low places”

The last thing we did before leaving Death Valley was the Artist’s Drive. This is a winding, hilly, one-lane road that goes through some of the beautifully multi-colored rocks in the park! This is a neat experience if you want to see some cool geology without doing an actual hike.

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Finally out of the desert…

After leaving Death Valley we drove west out of the park and made our way to Lone Pine, CA to explore the Alabama Hills and then Mammoth Lakes.  These spots are so amazing that they deserve their own blog post, so more on that later!

We are so excited to be out of the desert and are ready to explore California, the PNW, and eventually the Canadian Rockies! As always, please let me know if you have any recommendations for any of these areas and follow along our adventures on Instagram! Me: @carrieoutdoors  Steve: @walasavagephoto  Vanlife: @venturethevan

 

Salton Sea and Joshua Tree

Hello again!

We had some wonderful experiences exploring the southern California Coast (In case you missed it, that blog post is here: Southern California Dreaming). Our next stop was the California desert that lies between San Diego and Las Vegas. We saw some pretty wild stuff on this leg of our journey! Keep reading to find out more!

 

The Salton Sea

After leaving the lovely beaches of SoCal, we made our way back into the desert and found some great free dispersed campsites just south of Joshua Tree. We decided to head toward East Jesus, CA to check out some spots we had found in our research: the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, Salvation Mountain, and Slab City. The drive out to this area was really interesting. There was the usual vast desert scenery but soon we started seeing palm tree forests. It looked like tree farms you might see up north, but with palm trees instead of pine trees.

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Our first stop was the Salton Sea. For those of you who don’t know about the Salton Sea, here is a quick history. Even if you don’t like history, you might find this pretty interesting! In 1905, water was being diverted from the Colorado River to irrigate the nearby lands in the California desert. One day a flood caused the diversion to fail and the water filled the valley creating the largest lake in California. So essentially, the lake was formed by accident! In the 1920s the lake became a tourist destination for boating and fishing. New hotels and restaurants were built and there was even a yacht club! However, over time the water became extremely salty (saltier than the Pacific Ocean!) due to lack of drainage and rain. The runoff from nearby farms polluted the lake with pesticides and the lake became extremely toxic. Much of the wildlife began to die and an algae bloom created a truly terrible smell. Eventually the tourists stopped coming to the lake and many of the attractions around the lake fell into disrepair. (Click here for more info: Salton Sea History)

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Bombay Beach

Our first stop at the Salton Sea was the Bombay Beach “ruins”. The beach itself was covered in the remains of old buildings that had collapsed and deteriorated. There were dead fish and broken glass everywhere and a very pungent fishy smell in the air. There was also a random abandoned boat propped up on the shores for no apparent reason. We didn’t stay here too long.

The town around Bombay Beach was a small grid of streets with houses and mobile homes, many of which looked abandoned, and old rusty cars and RVs. There was a lot of graffiti and what appeared to be art installations, like a wall covered with milk cartons with “missing persons” on them, shown in the photos below. This whole place had a very strange vibe to it. It felt eerily abandoned and a bit creepy to be honest, although we did see a handful of people still living there.

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Salvation Mountain

We continued on to Salvation Mountain, a huge piece of artwork and “tribute to God” created by a man name Leonard Knight. I had seen many photos of this place, but none of them really did it justice.

The main facade is a “mountain” of dirt and straw covered with a colorful painted mosaic of colors and patterns, sprinkled with messages about God and Love. There is a “yellow brick road” that you can climb up to the top.

Behind the painted mountain is a cave-like area full of strange doorways, hidden rooms, tiny glass windows, and colorfully painted wooden logs. There are also painted car doors and small framed photos strewn about. The whole scene was full of both vibrant and pastel colors and it felt like walking through a beautifully illustrated Dr. Seuss book. This was a very interesting spot and was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life.

 

Slab City

We then took a very quick drive through Slab City which is known as “the last free place in America”. You may remember this location from the movie Into the Wild about the adventures of Christopher McCandless (if you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it!).

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Photo of Christopher McCandless at Salvation Mountain
Here is another quick, but not boring, bit of history! Slab City used to be a Marine training base called Camp Dunlap, but the military pulled out after WWII and left only slabs of concrete behind (hence the name Slab City). It has turned into a place where people sleep, squat, and live freely without paying rent or taxes. Apparently there are year-round residents who live there as well as “snowbirds” who come during the winter months.

Steve and I had originally considered spending the night here (we love our free campsites!), but a quick google search revealed a Reddit post called “I was hunted at Slab City”. The validity of this story is up in the air, but it was enough to convince us not to spend the night and to only do a quick drive through in broad daylight. We saw signs for the Library, Skate Park, and “The Range” which is an open air movie theater. There are RVs everywhere and a lot of trash and abandoned vehicles. While being a very unique and fascinating place, I don’t recommend going to Slab City unless you were very curious to see it.

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Joshua Tree

Our last spot before the Las Vegas airport was Joshua Tree National Park. We drove north through the entire park. The southern half is a wide open, vast desert with beautiful mountains in the distance. This part of the park is less popular and we couldn’t believe how incredibly silent it was. It had a lovely, earthy smell and beautiful serene views in all directions. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus garden. There are thousands of cacti that look fuzzy (and actually have the nickname “teddy bear cholla”) but we were warned about their terribly sharp and painful spines so we walked carefully! This spot is an incredible sight to behold. We took the quick quarter mile walking path through the cactus garden and read from the informative pamphlet as we walked.

We then continued to the northern part of the park where Joshua Trees begin to appear. They are beautiful and interesting trees. Every tree has a completely unique and different shape from the tree next to it. The drive was lovely and we stopped a few times to walk around the paths and enjoy the scenery.

We stopped at skull rock as well, which was a slight letdown in my opinion. I bet this park would be amazing if you are a rock climber! However, since Steve and I don’t rock climb, two days in the park was plenty of time to get a good feel for the place.

We watched a lovely and serene sunset in Joshua Tree where we were completely alone aside from the rabbits, birds, and insects. This was one of those experiences that while not being particularly adventurous or exciting, will be likely turn out to be one of the wonderful memories from this trip that I will cherish for years to come.

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Next Steps

After my trip to New York, Steve and I will be continuing to explore California. I can’t wait to see more beautiful coastal views and to explore the mountains and redwood forests. I am beyond excited to see some places that have been on my bucket list for many years, including Yosemite, Death Valley, Big Sur, and Sequoia. We have a lot to see and do in California but feel free to pass along any “must see” locations, special spots, or hidden gems in case we are missing anything! Leave me a message or find me on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).

Southern California Dreaming

Hi again! 

After leaving the desert, Steve and I were excited to embark on our next leg of this adventure: California! We made our way toward San Diego and first headed to a town called Ocean Beach, where Steve lived for a year back in his twenties. He was so excited to show me all of his old favorite spots and reminisce about his epic year when he lived 30 steps away from the beach! We spent a few days in this area eating delicious fish tacos, watching incredible sunsets, walking the Ocean Beach pier, and tasting some awesome beers. It certainly wasn’t a very budget-friendly portion of the trip but we had just come from weeks of free camping and cooking to make this work.

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We did so many things in this area so I will just mention a few highlights.

  • La Jolla Cove was a really awesome spot. The beach and surrounding rocks were covered with harbor seals. They were all laying around and at first I thought they were dead! But if you keep watching, one would wiggle its flippers, flop around on the beach, or do some adorable snorting. I had so much fun watching the seals and could have spent hours there!
  • Torrey Pines was a fantastic spot for sunset! I loved being up on the cliffs and being able to see the ocean from high above (something that is not easy to find on the East Coast!) We were lucky to have a handful of incredible sunsets during our first few days on the coast.
  • We had a great time exploring Balboa Park in San Diego. We strolled through the beautiful Spreckels Organ Pavilion, looked at lovely flowers in the Botanical Building, and enjoyed the many beautiful walking paths throughout the park.

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  • We checked out Cabrillo National Monument, a beautiful park with incredible ocean views, an historic lighthouse, and tide pools that we unfortunately arrived too late to check out (they closed at 4:30).
  • Sunset Cliffs was a beautiful area! We walked along the shore and enjoyed the lovely views of the brilliant blue water and were mesmerized by the waves crashing on the shore. When we were there, the tide was too high to check out the sea cave, so we will have to return some day!
  • There are so many wonderful breweries in this area! We definitely broke our one-brewery-per-state rule. Oops. (A friend recommended that we should adopt an electoral college type system for number of breweries per state, I should look into that…) Some delicious breweries that we tried were Pizza Port, Karl Strauss, OB Brewery, Belching Beaver, and Kilowatt. I tasted some awesome West coast IPAs, refreshing sours, and rich dark porters.
  • After leaving Ocean Beach (“OB”) we stopped in Pacific Beach (“PB”) for a day. This town had a similar feel to Ocean Beach but with a bit more of a party vibe. We tried Poke for the first time, which was delicious, and Steve caught up with an old friend from his high school days.

 

After about a week in the San Diego vicinity, we headed inland to spend a few days with friends in Temecula. We really enjoyed having time to recharge in their lovely home and get our fill of delicious home cooked food, a comfortable bed, and many hot showers. They were incredibly kind and generous hosts and were happy to put up with us for a almost a week! The downtown section of Temecula has a fun old western vibe and a surprisingly delicious Cuban restaurant! We also visited a lovely winery and tasted delicious wines with an awesome view of the California countryside.

Steve and I made a day trip to Laguna Beach to check out some spots along the ocean that we had seen during our research. We first stopped at Victoria Beach to check out the famous castle turret and tide pools and to fly the drone. The tide wasn’t high enough for the tide pool to fill with water, but it was still a really neat place. Next we made our way over to Thousand Steps Beach. I’m not sure exactly how many steps it took to get to the beach, but it certainly felt like a thousand! We wanted to explore the sea cave and the tide pools but sadly the tide was too high at that point so we couldn’t go. I was pretty bummed as we were walking back toward the “thousand steps” back up to the street, when Steve suddenly noticed a whale out in the ocean! Apparently this area sees a good number of whales as they migrate through, and it was so wonderful to see a whale in the wild (and not on a whale watch boat ride)!

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Our next stop was Dana Point where we spent a long weekend with our Temecula friends. This is a very lovely, quiet, and low-key town compared to the busier nearby towns like Laguna Beach. The condo had an incredible view of the ocean in the distance and we had a blast exploring the area! Our friends took us to their favorite beaches, nature trails, and lookout points. 

We also made a side trip to Balboa Island to try the frozen bananas made famous in the TV show Arrested Development. “There’s always money in the banana stand!”

After a really lovely week with amazing friends, it was time to hit the road again. I scheduled a quick trip back to my hometown for Mother’s Day weekend from the Las Vegas airport so we took the few days before my flight to check out some spots we had missed in the desert. We made a very quick afternoon trip into LA to grab lunch with my cousin and his girlfriend who work as a screenwriters and movie producers in Hollywood, and then we made our way back to the desert. My next blog post will go through our adventures near the Salton Sea, so stay tuned!

New Hampshire 4000 Footers

Hello again!

So this blog post is going to be a little different in that it is not super current. I am still exploring SoCal and not quite ready to blog about this part of the trip yet, so in the meantime I wanted to take a moment to write about my recently-completed quest to summit all 48 of the 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire (aka the 4,000-Footers). Even though I am out exploring some unbelievably incredible areas of this country, the mountains of New England hold a special place in my heart and I often think back to many awesome moments in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The beginning of this post will be a general overview of my journey that everyone can enjoy, and the very last section will be specifically for anyone who is actually considering hiking these peaks!

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The Presidential Traverse!

 

The Beginning

I’ll start at the beginning. After a few months of dating my now-husband Steve, I decided to move from New York City to join him Boston, where I found an excellent teaching job. Right away, Steve introduced me to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and I quickly fell in love. As a kid growing up in upstate New York, I loved spending time in the Adirondacks hiking the trails, climbing the mountains, and swimming in the lakes. I grew up loving the outdoors and spending time in beautiful nature. During my time in NYC, I was very busy with work (I taught at a public high school in the South Bronx) and often felt trapped in the city without a car, and therefore I rarely saw the wilderness.

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Hiking on my mom’s back in the Adirondacks as a baby!

Once in Boston I quickly realized that I was only a 2-3 hour drive from the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire and was reminded of how much I love hiking and being in the mountains. Then Steve told me about the 4,000-Footers and how he had climbed 10 or so of them over the years with his friends. For those of you not familiar with the 4,000-Footers, this is a list of the mountain peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire (there are 48 of them in total). We decided to head up north and hike a few of them together and I was instantly hooked. As a lover of to-do lists, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a massive to-do list of 48 mountains, each containing incredible beauty, intense work outs, and unique experiences.

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Our 4,000-Footer pin map

Over the next four years, Steve and I drove up to lovely towns like Woodstock, Lincoln, Gorham, Jackson, and North Conway which would be the basecamps for our hikes. We hiked during spring rainstorms, on hot summer days, in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, and even on snow covered winter afternoons. Some hikes were quick and included one summit (for example Mount Hale which is a 4.4 mile hike and took only three and a half hours) whereas other hikes took multiple days and hit multiple summits (for example the Presidential Traverse which hit 7 summits and was 23 miles of hiking with 9,000 feet of elevation gain). Each hike was incredibly unique, considering they are all within a short distance from each other, with lovely wooded trails, occasional ponds and lakes, and many beautiful views from the summits. We hiked alone or with friends and met some incredible people along the way.

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Tecumseh in the snow with some great people!

Our final hike, number 48, was Mount Carrigain. This was a medium difficulty hike but was incredibly memorable. At the summit we ran into a family who was celebrating that the father was also completing his 48th mountain and they had a bottle of champagne which they joyfully shared with us on the fire tower! I have found that hikers in the White Mountains are incredibly kind and down to earth. We may not have the rocky peaks and epic alpine lakes like the Northwest, but the beauty of the New Hampshire mountains is very special. Whether they are shrouded in dense fog, basking in sunshine, covered with amazing fall foliage, or layered with snow, the White Mountains are a treat for those willing to leave the comforts of home and hike into their wilderness. Working through the 4,000-Footer list forced us to hike a wide variety of mountains, not just the popular and most scenic peaks, which ended up revealing a lot of unique beauty and solitude that we otherwise may have never experienced.

 

This was truly an amazing journey. I fell in love with peakbagging and found comfort and motivation in checking mountain after mountain off of our list and adding pin after pin to our map. Steve and I grew stronger both physically and mentally and the hikes brought us closer together as a couple. We even got engaged on our overnight hike of Lincoln and Lafayette!

 

If you live in the northeast I highly recommend hiking some of the 4,000 Footers. If you would like suggestions on which ones to hike, please reach out to me! If you live far away, but like the idea of hiking lists or peakbagging, take a look if there are any hiking lists in your area! Perhaps there is a mountain range nearby (Colorado 14ers, Adirondack 46ers, etc) or perhaps you could try something like the county high points in your state!

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Trying to represent #29 on my fingers!

 

 

 

 

Now if you’re nowhere near New Hampshire and have no desire to hike these mountains, you can stop reading here! However if you’re interested in doing the NH 4000 Footers, I have a few pieces of helpful information below!

  • Woodstock Brewery in Lincoln, NH is a great place to grab a bite to eat and some delicious beers after a hike! They even have a 4,000 Footer IPA! I recommend the Loon Dip and the Cogsman Ale!
  • My favorite hikes were Lincoln/Lafayette, Moosilauke, and the Presidential Traverse!
  • My least favorite hikes were Hale (no views) and the Wildcats.
  • Check out the AMC huts! They are beautiful inside and have awesome maps, pit toilets, and free water. If it’s in your budget, staying overnight at one of the huts is an amazing experience!
  • Whenever possible, I recommend trying to do multiple peaks in one hike. It’s a great experience and also cuts down the total number of hikes you will do to complete the list.
  • Try to catch some sunsets or sunrises in the mountains, they are unbelievable. If you can spend a night during a new moon, you might even be able to see the Milky Way over the mountain peaks (see photo below).
  • Always check the weather and trail conditions before hiking, especially on the Presidential Range or in winter and early spring.
  • As always, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. These are some of the most beautiful and well maintained trails I’ve ever hiked and I want them to stay that way! Stay on the trails, follow the rules about camping and fires, and be sure to pack out ALL of your trash, including apple cores, banana peels, sunflower seed shells, and orange peels!

 

 

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White Mountains Milky Way by @walasavagephoto

 

And lastly, here are some very important resources to help you get started!

 

 

  • First of all, this website (http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/) is the best resource for hiking the 4,000-Footers!  I have no idea how we would have completed this journey without this site. It has mileage, elevation gains, and book times for the different routes to the peaks as well as commentary about each hike. It talks about which peaks can be combined together in a single hike as well. This site is super helpful!
  • This website (http://trailsnh.com/lists/New-Hampshire-4000-Footers.php) has trip reports with updates on trail conditions and weather. This is a great resource to check before you hit the trails, especially if it is during or near the winter months.
  • There is a great Facebook group Hike the 4000 footers of NH! which is a wonderful community of other hikers of the 4,000-Footers. There is occasionally drama in the comments, but mostly it is full of kind and supportive hikers who offer advice, seek suggestions, or organize group hikes in the Whites.
  • If you plan to hike Mount Washington or any of the Presidentials, this website (Mount Washington Observatory) is critical for checking the weather before you go. Mount Washington has been said to have “the worst weather in the world” and can be extremely dangerous, so be sure to stay up to date on the weather and be prepared for cold and snow, even in the summer!

How Do You Live in the Moment?

How do you live in the moment?

People are always advising us to: “live in the moment”. This is a beautiful sentiment and sounds like something we should all strive to do when traveling or exploring the outdoors. But what I rarely see included with these statements is advice on how to actually do it! I guess people would say to put away your phones and the cameras, which I think can help you be more focused on your surroundings, but is that all that needs to be done to truly “live in the moment”?

Maybe for some of you, it is easy and obvious. But for me, it was never easy. I certainly have always loved to see something beautiful, to be present, to enjoy myself. But I won’t lie to you – my mind is usually wandering. What will we be eating for dinner, when are we climbing down this mountain, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook, what’s going on with that latest political scandal, do I have new Instagram followers, what are we doing tomorrow… Even if my phone and camera were hidden away, I still didn’t feel like I was truly living in the moment but instead was planning my next move, worrying about something, or just letting random thoughts into my head and thus mentally checking out from the experience.

 

So how do you truly “live in the moment”?

I’ve actually been working on answering this question over the last few months since being on the road. I have been working at making a conscious effort to live in the moment. I’d like to take a moment to explain some of the methods I have been trying, in case you’d like to try it yourself. Chances are, plenty of you already do these things either consciously or subconsciously, but perhaps some of you don’t and maybe this could help you!

So here is what I do. When I find myself with a moment to pause in a beautiful location like at a sunset or at the summit of a mountain, I make a pointed, conscious, and purposeful effort to think about what all of my senses are experiencing in that moment. I push away thoughts about dinner, social media, photography, politics, and plans for the future and focus on what is happening right here and right now. I usually do this for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the situation and I try to step away from other people briefly so that I can focus.

  • To begin with, I pause to look. I make note of not only what is right in front of me, but also ask myself what are all of the details of the scene, what is the source of light and how bright is it, and where are the shadows. I make the effort to look in every direction, taking in what is to my left, right, behind me, below me, and above me.
  • Then I pause to listen. What are the loud obvious sounds and what are the quiet subtle noises that you might not notice. This can be tricky when in a popular place surrounded by a lot of people. In these situations, I usually don’t focus much on listening and instead focus on the other senses.
  • Then I pause to feel. What is the temperature like? Is there a light breeze or strong wind or is it completely still? Am I on soft ground, jagged rocks, a flat surface? Is it humid or dry? Am I feeling sore, tired, or full of energy?
  • Then I pause to smell. Is it earthy, floral, or a salty sea smell? Are there subtle hidden smells, like maybe a hint of a campfire somewhere off in the distance? Is there a sulfur or mineral smell, such as at hot springs?
  • If applicable, I pause to taste. I may not have anything to taste, but occasionally if I am sipping coffee in the morning or a beer by the campfire, I make a mental note of those.

Now I know most of us do all of these things all of the time in all degrees of magnitude. But what I’ve been working on, which I guess you might think is pretty corny, is to narrate each of these senses in my head, as if I were narrating an overly descriptive book. And I have to tell you, it has actually been really wonderful. I find that I notice more of my surroundings and feel in tune with the moment and the experience. When I do this, the scene actually becomes more complex and more beautiful. I also find that I remember details of the event much better afterward than previously when I was just looking and taking photographs. This process, like meditation, helps to push away all other worries or thoughts that may be floating around in my head and truly allows me to be present and focused on the current moment.

Below I am going to give two examples of times I have done this and what I experienced. What you are reading is a close replica of what I was narrating in my head in those exact moments. As you can see, I remember a LOT of details about each scene, and I believe this is a direct result of doing this exercise.

Before you continue I just want to offer a disclaimer: I teach math and physics and am a very science-minded person, not a poetic author or writer, so please bear with me!

 

Moment #1: Sunset in San Elijo, California

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  • I pause to look. The colors are beautiful. I can see every shade of red, purple, pink, magenta, maroon, fuschia, orange, yellow. Just as I get a sense of the scene in front of me, I realize that the view is constantly changing as the sun slowly sinks and then drips below the horizon like a droplet of water falling out of a faucet. The clouds are moving and shifting in a smooth but very slow manner, continuously changing size and shape creating a new and unique scene every few seconds. The waves roll toward the shore in irregular intervals. Some are smooth rolling bumps, carrying energy from the depths of the ocean to the sandy beaches. Others build, fold over, and crash, creating a small explosion of ocean spray and mist. Looking left, right, and behind me I see puffy pink clouds like cotton candy floating on a darkening greyish-blue background. There are tall, thin palm trees swaying in the breeze. I see people gazing at the sunset, petting their dogs, holding hands with their children and loved ones. A group of pelicans flies across the kaleidoscope sky in formation and couple of lizards skitter among the rocks in a garden behind me.
  • I pause to listen. The most obvious sound is the waves crashing and the undertow noisily pulling water back out to sea. I hear the wind rustling leaves in the bushes nearby and the palm trees above. I hear a child giggle, footsteps of joggers on the sidewalk, murmurs of quiet conversation. I try to listen for the footsteps of the lizards of the flapping of birds’ wings, but the crashing waves are too loud and drown out these tiny noises.
  • I pause to feel. The warmth from the spring day lingers in the humid air but there is a cool breeze blowing from the ocean. My loose locks of hair are blowing in the wind and occasionally tickle my neck and face. The beach is soft under my feet and grains of sand feel rough on my sandal-covered toes.
  • I pause to smell. There is a salty, and mildly fishy smell in the air. It is a familiar smell that brings waves of nostalgia from past trips to the beach and childhood family vacations to the coast.
  • I pause to taste. There is nothing to taste at the moment, but there is the anticipation of the pizza we will eat once the sun has finally set and the skies turn dark and gray.

 

Moment #2: Campfire in Kaibab National Forest (photo by @walasavagephoto)

fire by steve

  • I pause to look. There is a brilliant fire before me. The embers are glowing and sparkling with a deep hue of orange. The flames are a dazzling yellow with a pale blue edges where the fire meets the charred logs. The fire is constantly moving, growing and shrinking, and changing directions as the wind shifts. I move my gaze upward to see the tall pines reaching up toward the night sky, which is speckled with millions of stars. I stop to remember that while the sky looks two dimensional, it is really three dimensional. Those stars are huge, burning, glowing objects nowhere near us and nowhere near each other. This begins to overwhelm my mind to think about so I look back down and around me. In all directions I see more and more trees of varying heights and widths spread throughout the forest around me. I peek at our van behind me, with the bouncing flames of the campfire reflecting off of its shiny silver paint.
  • I pause to listen. We are deep in the forest so silence around us is heavy. The fire crackles and occasionally sputters as it burns through log after log. Every so often there is a small crack of a twig somewhere off in the forest or a skittering sound of some small animal making moves in the night.
  • I pause to feel. The night has grown chilly and I am bundled up in my favorite fleece blanket. The fire is warm on my face and hot on my hands as I poke and prod the flames with a stick. When the wind changes directions, the smoke burns and stings my eyes a bit, as I wait for the breeze to blow the flames in another direction.
  • I pause to smell. The smell of campfires is one of my favorite scents. I don’t quite know how to describe it except that it is a deep, heavy, smokey smell. I am reminded how each place I visit has its own unique campfire smell due to the native trees. In this case, we are smelling the sweet scents of Juniper and Ponderosa Pine.
  • I pause to taste. I take a sip of hot cocoa and taste the delicious and rich chocolatey flavor as it warms my tongue, mouth, and throat.

 

Hopefully it is clear how doing this exercise helps me to feel, experience, and live in the moment. It is almost like a meditation. Each time I do this, I expose the complexity of beauty and wonder that exist in a single moment in space and time. I don’t do this exercise every day or every time there is a beautiful scene. But I will say that each time I have done this has enhanced the beauty of the experience and helped me remember it crisply and clearly in the days and weeks after. I look at the photo and and transported back to the moment, and can remember the experience vividly. I advise you to give this exercise a try next time you are somewhere incredible and you want to “live in the moment”. It’s not just about simply putting the electronics away, but is about experiencing something fully and purposefully.

 

So now I will ask you. How do you “live in the moment”? How do you fully immerse yourself in an experience? Are you someone who does all of the things I have written here automatically? Do you have other methods or strategies? I would love to hear them and try them out! Let me know by email (carrieoutdoors1@gmail.com) or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).