Tag Archives: Hiking

New York Mountains

My family recently spent a week at a pond in an area of the Adirondack Mountains that doesn’t get cell phone service. We spent our days reading in the sunshine, paddling canoes and kayaks, and basking in the quiet and solitude.

We hiked through forests . . .

. . . climbed mountains . . .

. . . and waited by the fire for stars to appear.

The Adirondack Mountains are beautiful and also, in my biased opinion, a very special part of the state. The region includes an area called the High Peaks, forty-six mountains ranging from 3,820 feet (1,164 meters) to 5,344 feet (1,628 meters). Technically a High Peak is classified as anything over 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) but original list of 46 stems from the early twentieth century when surveys were less precise. Three of us were keen to climb Gothics, the tenth highest peak at 4,736 feet (1,443 meters), which we planned to reach via Pyramid Peak, a mountain tall enough to fit High Peaks criteria but unfortunately located too close to Gothics to be considered its own mountain.

The hike is approximately twelve miles (19 kilometers) of adventure through forest, across rivers and waterfalls, and over boulders. Having prepared coffee the night before, we left before dawn and only returned close to dark. I’m very comfortable rock climbing but free climbing on slabs was a new experience.

We had lunch on Pyramid Peak overlooking Gothics, marvelling at the trees and plants that are features of alpine terrain.

The hike is divided into three four-mile sections with the middle section containing the difficult climbing. It took us 11 hours and 38 minutes to complete, longer than the nine hours we’d read about and planned on. As we finished the last stretch of trail, we realized that many people likely walked the first and third sections along the road that we had decided to avoid. This was probably why the people we encountered in the woods commented that we were taking the scenic route to Gothics. It certainly was and I highly recommend it, but we were glad we started early and that we’d packed more food than we thought we needed.

After an hour in the car, we were glad to be back at the pond.

What I love about the Adirondacks is how far away it seems from the rest of the world. The air tastes cleaner, the sky is bigger and stars brighter, and the ecosystems around water and forest conjure a tranquility that seeps into my bones. There’s nothing to do but be out there, no time to keep, no opportunity for mindless distraction. Instead, the mind switches off while watching the fish jump early in the morning, and the senses sharpen as the arms, warmed by the sun, dip the kayak paddle into the water. The Adirondacks are a special place for me because they find all of me, scattered as I sometimes am, and bring me right there. Right there where there’s no place else to be.

The Forest

Can you smell the forest?

The question came after hours of walking, after hours of talking, laughing, catching up with some friends and getting to know others.

It came after the marvels and exclamations over rocks we don’t see closer to home, after jokes about how we could (or could not) climb these rocks.

We walked through sunshine, through narrow fissures between massive rock formations, up wire ladders.

We found ourselves up high, able to look down and out and far beyond.

We spent the weekend in Sächsische Schweiz, a national park jointly maintained by the German and Czech governments due to its location along country borders. It’s known for hiking and cycling, as well as for climbing on the beautiful, imposing sandstone that is so different from any rock I have climbed.

Sandstone is so special that different rules apply while climbing it and we spent a few moments watching skilled climbers, suitably impressed. For us, it was enough to play amongst the massive boulders.

As we walked, sand and pollen clung to our clothes. They’re further along in spring than we are.

We camped in an abandoned greenhouse, overgrown with trees and flowers, glass panels lost to time and, perhaps, visitors. We cooked with bottled water and gas that we brought with us, emptied the basin that served as a sink into the bushes, and discussed the merits of the extremely clean compost toilet.

The birds woke us before dawn after a late evening watching the fire turn to embers and then finally to ash, and the sun was slowly drying the dew off our tents when we convened for coffee much later on.

Watching the sky, we headed out again, first to the rapeseed fields that were everywhere and then back into the forest, learning the names of different trees along the way.

I’d never been in a forest with trees like this.

I’d never been in a forest with rock formations like this.

We shared snacks, experiences, stories, and felt the wind change. We found a cave where it was cold inside, and we would have lingered but the sky had changed, too, along with the scent, texture, and weight of the air.

Later that afternoon, the rain came fast. Nature speaks to those who listen.

Can you smell the forest?

Glow

The weather gave us a gift this weekend. We had sun, blue skies, and temperatures perfect for being outside. (Although nothing really seems to stop Germans from being outside, which I like very much.) I was out late Sunday morning revisiting a route I’d taken with a friend some weeks ago. We had looked in vain for sunshine that day and the walk was bound to feel different this time.

One thing I have always noticed about walking with my camera is that my senses are sharper, and not just my eyes. I see the world differently, but am also more aware of how it tastes, how it smells, how it feels, and where I stand within it.

In other words, the more present I am, the calmer and more peaceful I feel. The camera around my neck acts as a reminder. Likewise, the more experienced I become in meditation, the more easily awareness seeps into my everyday life. I pause more frequently, slow down, notice, breathe. This is what it means to be mindful.

Lately there have been several loving-kindness, or metta, meditations in my routine. The warmth that I experience through these practices is not unlike the warmth I experienced last weekend in the sun. The world opens wide and it calls.

What I like most about metta meditation is that it makes obvious our connection with one another. There is a physical sensation, a warm glow, that comes from that realization.

There is a warm glow that comes from wishing loving-kindness to others, similar to the sense of rejuvenation that comes from being in nature. I have learned that these are needs for me, needs rather than wants. I would like to think that I am a better person to those around me for having learned this and sought this out.

It is easy to form connections that are light and fun, to play outside on a sunny day. It is not always so easy to get out in the rain or cold, not always so easy to touch another person. But so often, it is the experience of doing exactly this, of embracing difficult conditions and searching for the light, that plants us firmly on the ground.

And this is when we can not only look, but see.