lego me

[Hike] Galehead and the Twins, hut-style


There's a reason that I don't usually schedule my hikes more than two or three days ahead: hiking in the wrong weather can be a miserable experience. If you're going to reserve a spot in an AMC hut, though, you have to reserve early and hope for the best. This trip wasn't the worst, but it wasn't the best either.


We assembled a crew of five hikers for an overnight at the AMC's Galehead Hut. dr_sunflare and I have a history with this hut, as it's the place we mistakenly used as our viewing platform for the Leonids meteor shower on a failed-and-yet-memorable hike early in our peak bagging career. Hikers L and J have bagged 8 4k peaks and are excited at the possibility of two more. S is a multisport athlete ready for adventure. With varying levels of protective gear, we set out in a light sprinkle onto the Gale River Trail in search of a dry hut.


After a few hours of treacherous river crossings, treacherous slippery ascents, pouring rain, and postholing snow we reached the hut and immediately shed our soaked gear. We even started to feel human some time later after changing into dry clothes, playing banannagrams, and eating a fine steak dinner. Because of the shoulder-season timing, the poor weather, and the relative unpopularity of the Galehead hut we only had the 5 of us and one other hiker in a hut meant for 38 people - plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Wet hikes aren't great, but a hut at the end can go a long way toward making the experience surprisingly comfortable.


On day two, we woke to a foggy but not-rainy valley. After some yoga and breakfast, the summit of South Twin called to us. South Twin is one of my favorite peaks in the Whites, as it's the tallest in its local group and is in the middle of the Pemigewassett wilderness. Its views consist almost entirely of other high peaks and it's hard to see any human impact. The hike from Galehead Hut also climbs over 1000ft in 0.8 miles, and the steep grade is made even worse by intermittent ice and snow. We climbed in heavy fog, not knowing if all of the effort would yield any views. Fortunately, just as we reached the summit the fog cleared and we took in the amazing views of the Bonds, Franconia Notch, and the Sandwich Range. It was everything I had hoped for, and the difficulty of the access hike made it even sweeter.


After returning to the hut, I joined L and J on the easy jaunt up Galehead so that they could add it to their bagged-peaks list. An relatively easy and dry hike down to the cars put us off trail around 4 with plenty of time to get home.

I rarely get big groups like this together because my last-minute planning system generally means that my hiking people have planned their weekends by the time I decide to go. Having a group was fun, especially group-cooking in the cabin. This trip has shown me that maybe I need to plan more dates well into the future, then cancel them (or not) if the weather turns ugly.

IMG_0184 IMG_0185 IMG_0204 IMG_0207 IMG_0211 IMG_0216 IMG_0218 IMG_0227 IMG_0233 IMG_0237 IMG_0247 IMG_0251 IMG_0253 IMG_0254 IMG_0258 IMG_0261 IMG_0268 IMG_0270 IMG_0271 IMG_0280
lego me

[Hike] Moat Ridge

wolftone on North Moat, facing the Presidential range

When is a small mountain like a big mountain? Take a 3200' peak, a 2900' peak, start the trailhead at a mere 800', add in a ridge walk with ample bumpy PUD (pointless up & down), and voila you have more vertical than a lot of 4000 footers. This is what I have to do these days to get new challenges.

The Moats sit on the east edge of the Whites with fine views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the west, the Presidentials to the north, the Mahoosucs to the east, and a few lakes to the south. All 3 primary peaks on the ridge walk were clear of trees with unobstructed 360 degree views. On a day with only 3 (we counted them) clouds in the sky, it's hard to imagine a better way to check off this trail.

The problem with hiking at this time of year is usually the melting snow creating either snowy monorails or a muddy mess. We've had a dry spring, so the trail looked more fall-like with brown leaves and cracked ground. In the worst case mud season and blackfly season overlap; this year we got a break between the two and it's incredible.

Photographic note: I built two Android "photosphere" panoramas from the peaks. The pannable results are more immersive than the usual 2-d panorama, communicating a much better sense of place. I still need more practice to avoid holes and also make sure that moving objects like people don't turn into headless monsters. But the biggest problem is in sharing the images: I prefer to post my photos to Flickr, which doesn't support photospheres (yet). I wonder which will happen first - (1) everyone I know signing up for G+ or (2) Flickr supporting photosphere. I'm not holding my breath for either.

That's #34 and #35 of the 52 with a view list. Congratulations also to yuper and Sasha for conquering Adams on the same day, and thanks for the car spot to the north trailhead.

Start of the hike at Diana's Baths Steep slabs on the backside of North Moat North Moat USGS marker
Unstable cairn on South Moat Trail sign at the end.  10 miles!
lego me

[Hike] 4 Days Lost on Maine's A.T.

Sunrise from Saddleback Junior

This trip was a triumph of improvised backcountry wayfinding. Which is to say that I began and ended each day exactly where I intended to. Which is to say that I was lost a lot. I spent 4 days solo winter hiking the Appalachian Trail through the Carrabassett Valley in Maine and the adventure was more difficult than expected, rarely comfortable, and totally rewarding.

The A.T.

The biggest problem was finding and staying on the trail. With 10ft of snow, you certainly can't see the footpath. Heck, the snow usually covered the distinctive white stripe of the AT's blaze. Even when it wasn't buried, the blaze was nearly indistinguishable from snow splotches, peeled birch bark, or a particularly sneaky form of fungus/mold/lichen that looks an awful lot like an AT blaze. [Game: spot the blaze (easy)] Furthermore, even if you were on-trail, the snowpack was generally above the bottoms of the trees (typically trimmed to a height of 8ft) so the poor hiker still has to take snowy branches to the face. Oh, and I downloaded an obsolete map set to my GPS so I couldn't even use technology to find the trail in the 40-50% that had been rerouted in the 90s. Add all this to carrying the weight of a full winter pack and you're talking slow, hard work. I had planned on bagging 8x4000' peaks in 4 days, but the navigation troubles forced me to omit the 3 peaks that would have required distance-adding side trips.

Good weather makes for happy hikers

Still, 5x4k isn't bad. With a head-start of 1 peak a few years ago, I now have 6 of Maine's 14. Skies ranged from cloudy to completely clear, but each time I hit a prominence I was able to see the entire Carrabassett valley and was never socked in. There's a beauty in standing on a summit knowing you're the only person on the mountain that day, maybe that week or month. My most notable peak wasn't even a 4k - at 3600', Saddleback Junior sits smack in the middle of the range with excellent views of all 8 peaks. I broke camp at 4am and trekked by headlamp to reach it right at sunrise to beautiful effect. Worst peak: Saddleback proper. In clear weather, you can see Mount Washington, Kathadin, and the Atlantic. I was not there during clear weather. 60+mph wind gusts drove hail pellets into my face and generally encouraged a quick exit from the summit. I still managed to smile, though.

poplar ridge lean-to

When I was a Boy Scout, I was consistently miserable on every midwinter "Polar Bear" camping trip and vowed never to do it again. And then I would be out the next month, having forgotten the frozen fingers and remembered the fun of fresh snow crunching under my feet. When I was hiking on this trip, the exertion kept me warm. When sleeping, my winter sleeping bag was always toasty. Everything else was just as miserable as I always fail to remember. Setting camp requires a lot of fiddly manual dexterity, so you can't even wear thick gloves while you're setting the tent or cooking dinner. Fortunately, two of the three nights had lean-tos so I didn't have to erect the tent and cook on packed snow. My biggest problem was water: with subfreezing temperatures my water bottle would freeze up after a few hours, so I had to use my stove to melt snow pretty frequently. I had planned to read and watch videos on my phone in the comfort of my sleeping bag in the evenings, but my new solar array's paltry charging ability limited the phone's use strictly to halfhearted navigational assistance. My evening's entertainment was therefore limited to reading the stories of through-hikers scribbled in the hut logs and finishing the day with a 50mL nip of whisky. Which, come to think of it, is probably a more authentic wilderness experience than watching a movie about skiing zombie nazis on a solar-powered phone. You win, Thoreau.

The Terminal Trailsign

Total distance traveled: At least 32 hard miles (map), probably more given all the navigational fiascoes. Somehow, I emerged at the end with enough energy to drive all the way home without napping. First activities upon return to civilization: desperately-needed shower and a feast of chicken wings. I'd like to thank Big Agnes equipment for the incredible Q-core sleeping pad that kept me comfortable and warm at all times, the Boy Scouts of America for teaching me that snow is no reason to stay indoors, good fortune for not twisting my ankle while out of cell phone range, and the State of Maine for not towing my car from its highly dubious parking spot. Carrabassett Valley: you still hold 5 more 4k peaks that I need to bag. See you again during blackfly season.

lego me

A Two-Butt Kitchen

BEFORE Kitchen: Complete!
The Plan Demolition Complete
The Plan (first version) Day 6: Ripping up the floor

I love my house, but the kitchen made it tough to appreciate. Two people could cook in it at the cost of constantly pushing each other out of the way and waiting for the other to make some space. When entertaining guests, the chef would always be isolated behind the closet and ducking below the glassware to participate in conversation. It got the job done, if sub-optimally.

The new kitchen took about a month to build, 5 months to plan, and 6 or 7 trips to Ikea total. We cleverly sunk the landing at the top of the entrance stairs and cut the wall in half, which pushed the back wall of the peninsula out about a foot. Eliminate the closet, add a lazy susan in the corner that was previously dead space, move the half-height hanging cabinets to the east wall, add a fume hood and voila: tons more usable space. Enough to dance in.

It's a huge improvement that opens up the main floor of the house and makes cooking a much more pleasant experience. Major renovations to the house have now included the bathroom, studio, and now kitchen. I can't believe I'm already starting to think about the entryway...

lego me

[Hike] Mt. Paugus and the Unbroken Snowfield

breaking trail the whole way up is hard

52 with a view #32: Mt. Paugus (3198 ft), partners Yuper and Sasha R. Dog. It's down in the Sandwich range with a cluster of other small mountains, so the views are plenty rewarding despite it being a smaller hill. The trail ends at a set of sheer granite cliffs that open vistas down Squam Lake and the neighboring peaks of Passaconnaway, Whiteface, and Chocorua. The skies welcomed us with a high, dramatically grey clouds that looked great with the sun shining through. Add in a steep-sided river valley on approach and it made for a great winter hike.

looking south at squam lake from paugus

Despite a mere 2000' of vertical and maybe an 8 mile round trip, it was definitely a challenging hike. As we tromped up the valley in our snowshoes, we could detect every time one of our antecedents gave up and turned back as the broken path became less well-packed. By the time we reached the headwall at the end of the Kelley Trail, we were down to a solitary set of tracks (heading downhill - a promising sign that the tracks would not terminate at a hikercicle). After the 4-way junction onto the Lawrence Trail, we were crashing through virgin snow at great effort. It was especially bad on the frequent steep sections of trail. A half-inch freeze/thaw crust covered two feet of fine powder, so every step forward could result in 3/4 of a step backwards in sliding. I should have worn shin guards.

Carbohydrates are awesome. I am in week 6 of a fitness challenge at work that has seen me cut almost all carbohydrate out of my diet. I had hoped to complete this climb with a steady input of small amounts of meat, cheese, nuts, and seeds. A constant supply of protein and fat, I reasoned, would supply me the energy I needed when I needed it. How wrong I was. I was doing OK when the trail was flat and well-packed, but when it started getting steeper my body simply could not fuel itself fast enough off that slow-burning energy. I felt myself on the verge of bonking and valued practicality over dogmatism - I ate a oatmeal walnut clif bar. It was glorious. A mere 15 minutes later I felt so much better and had no real problems for the rest of the hike. Let this be a lesson to me: slow-releasing energy is great when my heart rate is in the 65% aerobic range, but for more intense stuff I need carbs. Tasty, tasty carbs.

This almost completes the list of easily-accessible 52s. Pretty soon, all my hikes are going to be long drives away.

the valley of the kelley trail yuper displays leadership yuper on paugus
passaconnaway from the steep slopes of paugus enjoying the last of the hot tea wolf and yuper on the paugus ledges

lego me

Where Math Meets Illegal Toys: Archimedan Solids with Magnetballs

All the fun toys get banned. Jarts? Awesome. Battlestar Galactica Missile Launcher (1979)? How else am I supposed to attack my brother? The latest nanny-state awesomeness casualty is magnetballs, which do bad things to your intestines if you swallow them. But if you have a functioning brainstem and don't eat the shiny neodymium magnets, you can build beautiful structures. I set myself the task of constructing all 13 of the Archimedan solids, which required a diverse variety of techniques to complete. Check it out:

01. Cuboctahedron02. Great Rhombicosidodecahedron03. Great Rhombicuboctahedron04. icosidodecahedron
05. Small Rhombicosidodecahedron06. Small Rhombicuboctahedron07. Snub Cube08. Snub Dodecahedron
09. Truncated Cube10. Truncated Dodecahedron11. Truncated Icosahedron12. Truncated Octahedron
13. Truncated Tetrahedron

Archimedan solids generally start as a convex regular polyhedron, then get truncated at each vertex. They are symmetric (the same in all orientations) but not regular (faces are not identical). Two are even chiral, with a left-handed and right-handed twisting version that are mirror images of each other. Line drawings shown here for comparison:

What should I do next?

lego me

Carrabassett Valley Hut-to-Hut XC-Ski Traverse

"Newton's Revenge"

Colorado and the Alps have legendary high-mountain hut-to-hut ski traverses. New England can't match them for rugged peaks, but the Maine Huts and Trails Association has set up a very well-run network of backcountry hostels with everything you need for comfortable adventure. If the idea of skiing for 10 miles to an off-grid cabin with hot tea waiting for you sounds appealing, consider a trip to the Carrabassett.

  • Day One: Drop car near Sugarloaf ski area, hour shuttle ride east to the trailhead. Easy 2 mile ski back to Flagstaff Hut. Beautiful sunset behind the Bigelow Range over the lake. Our hut crew were a couple who met on the AT with their totem rubber chicken and Wolverine. Our LEGO doppelgangers got along just fine with the other toys. Excellent roast chicken with balsamic maple glaze for dinner. Only 4 other guests at the hut, both older guys with their young sons. (I did OK in a dinosaur trivia contest with the 8 year old, but dinosaur knowledge has advanced a lot since the 70s.) I made a tactical mistake by finishing my book on the first night. ("Year Zero" by Rob Reid.)
  • Day Two: Heavy snow overnight continuing through the day. 12-mile ski to Poplar Hut with a lunch stop at Halfway Yurt, where we stupidly decide not to start a fire in the wood stove. No grooming, and it didn't take long for me to be breaking trail with my shins. Finally, a MHAT snowmobile catches up with us to pack down the snow for the last mile or two. Overnight at Poplar, the oldest and coziest hut. Hut crew Quinn and Kevin keep the atmosphere friendly and cook satisfying spare ribs. Also, they make the best pancakes of all 3 huts. 12 guests here, a family and a few couples.
  • Day Three: Mostly flat 8-mile cruise on high-quality groomers. The first few miles are a beautiful descent down the ridge with fine views of the Bigelows. Once we reach the Narrow Gauge Trail, it's a flat and sometimes boring old railbed with intermittent views of the river. The last two mile climb up to Stratton Brook is steep, but we manage to make it to the hut in time for lunch. As the newest hut, Stratton is still developing its character, as well as its library of books and games. Best architectural innovation: covered walkway between the bunkhouse and the main lodge. All 10 guests other than us are a big group of french-canadians.
  • Day Four: Technical and fun scream downhill to the trailhead. Dig out the car and head home.
Each night at the hut, we would enjoy a warm shower and hot tea while reading by the fire. Dinner at 6, then an "energy tour" of the hut's power and other infrastructure systems. A bit more reading and early bed: quite a restful way to end the day. Electronics are banned and charging is limited, so your time is spent on old-school pursuits.

Christmas Wreath Approach to Stratton Brook Toe Socks

If you're considering going:

  • For $20 per day, they will shuttle your bag to the next hut by snowmobile. Note that you'll still have to schlep your bag on the first and last day since they only shuttle hut-to-hut with no trailhead service. You can't pack too heavy, but it does make the main legs of the trip more enjoyable and faster. We still skied with light packs for food/water, survival gear, and extra layers.
  • The meals are excellent, and the hut crew seems able to accommodate just about any dietary restriction. They'll want to know well ahead of time if they need to plan around anything too unusual. Breakfasts are very carb-heavy with pancakes/oatmeal/muesli and stingy quantities of sausage.
  • Trails are well-marked and the map is good. A GPS is a fun toy or emergency backup at best. There are two competing and wildly inconsistent distance marking systems between Flagstaff and Poplar - ignore numbers posted on the diamond signs.
  • Trails are usually groomed, but not guaranteed. I wouldn't plan on skate-skiing.

Bigelow Range from Stratton Brook crazy hair Done!

Things I wished I had known or would have done differently:

  • Not only do you have to pack out public library books when done, you can't add them to the hut's library.
  • The bunkhouses are kept warm enough that a bag liner is sufficient when paired with the provided blankets. Sleeping bag unnecessary.
  • It was unnecessary to pack lightweight warm-weather xc-ski gear like tights or a cycling wind shell.
  • My Sirius gloves keep my hands warm, but not dry. When taking them off for lunch, you need to put the gloves inside your jacket to prevent them from freezing over.
  • VFFs make terrible hut shoes. Hut shoes should slip on and off easily, and be compatible with ski socks. Independent toes are bad for both.
  • The huts are close enough to trailheads that you don't need to buy a packed lunch on the last day. We exited trail at 10am.
I can do this much lighter next time.

Snowscape LEGO Wolf & Sunflare River view, day 3

The mark of a good adventure is that it should make you want more. After studying the trail maps, I now have at least 2 return trips to the Carrabassett Valley planned:

  • I had thought that the Maine 4000 footer peaks were inaccessible and deep in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Turns out that 10 of the 14 are right here and fairly easy to reach. I just created my ME4k google map: Abraham, Spaulding, Sugarloaf, Redington, and the Crockers are connected by a single trail and should get me 6 peaks in one weekend.
  • Flagstaff Lake was flooded in the 50s to make an electric dam. The town is still under water with churches, houses, and schoolhouses visible when the water is clear. I want to launch my kayak from the west end of Flagstaff, paddle the length of the lake, and stay at Flagstaff Hut. Day 2, head up the Dead River to the Great Falls Hut for lunch, then back to Flagstaff. The Bigelow Range defines the south edge of the lake, has two ME4k peaks, and there is a trail from the lake to the top. If I can add in a hike, all the better.
One of the missions of the Maine Huts organization is to encourage economic activity in western Maine and encourage access to the local wilderness. Well done, guys - you got me for more than just the one outing.

Downhill, Day 2 Sunflare Contigo flagstaff lake, maine
lego me

The Year in Music, 2012

Music of 2012

Last year I was unexcited about the state of new music, mostly commenting on how Spotify had started to change my listening patterns. This year was packed with new discoveries, solid releases by a few older artists, and the curious rise of k-pop. Again, fewer local new artists than I'd like now that my discovery vectors are entirely national. Still, a good year.

New discoveries:

  • Neneh Cherry - The Cherry Thing - a bit of a re-discovery. Forgot about her, and blown away by this album
  • Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams - rich and thoughtful
  • Exitmusic - Passage - two lovers holding hands as they walk into the apocalypse
  • Tame Impala - Lonerism - psychedelic, man

Random one-offs that represent the time:

  • PSY - Gangam Style - of course
  • Kishi Bashi - Bright Whites - this gets played everywhere, and it's a testament to its strength that I still don't hate it yet
  • Icona Pop - I Love It - tons of fun
  • Adele - Skyfall - exactly the sort of voice that a Bond song should have

Established favorites still producing good work:

  • Sigur Ros - Valtari - crystalline perfection
  • Mumford and Sons - Babel - sounds just like everything else they've made, and that's fine with me
  • Elbow - Dead in the Boot - contemplative
  • Fiona Apple - Idler Wheel…. - glad to see her back
  • Stripmall Architecture (formerly Halou) - The Exotic Sounds of Stripmall Architecture - more electro, less orchestral than before
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Allelujah!… - expansive wall of noise

Established favorites marking time with OK new stuff. You're on notice and might get dropped from the "always get new stuff" list.

  • Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats - one good song
  • Garbage - Not Your Kind of People - one good song
  • Amanda Palmer - Theater is Evil - three good songs
  • Air - Le Voyage Dans La Lune - nothing exceptional, but good enough
  • Andrew Bird - Hands of Glory - one good song
  • Sylvie Lewis - It's All True - one good song

lego me

Australia: A Black Hole in the Sky

I never had time to post on-the-road travel updates from Australia, and it's even harder to get a retrospective up now. In the meantime, it's worth mentioning the coolest thing I saw while I was down there and the motivator for the whole trip: a total solar eclipse.

Totality (wide)

A particular species of tourist lurks in the airports and stumbles around Palm Cove, Australia. They are 50-65, carry heavy populist-science books, and wear T-shirts from Rapa Nui 2010. These are the eclipse chasers, and this morning they are not happy. Sunrise on the Coral Sea always arrives with heavy clouds in the East, which dissipate around noon. When you have traveled around the world to watch a total solar eclipse at 6:38am, these clouds conspire to obviate your entire trip. We watch the sun ascend right into the cloud deck and wait nervously to see if a break will appear. Around 6am a window opens up and through our heavily-tinted glasses we see that first contact has already happened and the sun looks like a brilliant crescent moon. Then the show disappears and we prepare for disappointment. Then minutes before totality, the clouds part and we are treated to the full procession of sliver, then diamond ring, then full solar eclipse.

Day Turns Into Night

I have experienced partial solar eclipses before, and expected totality to be basically the same thing. I remember looking down at tree shadows and seeing a thousand pinhole cameras creating little arcs of light on the ground as the day grew just a bit dimmer. A full eclipse is not the same thing at all. During totality, you can safely look directly at the sun. The wispy, white corona is completely visible as the sun's globe is completely obscured by an ominous black hole. I'm not sure I have ever seen a brightness contrast that absolute or dramatic. Down on the beach, the light turns strangely high-contrast. The corona casts dim but hard shadows as the color temperature shades toward the blue. I start to understand just why these eclipse groupies travel the world for a mere two minutes of totality.

The View Through Eclipse Glasses

Idle words (as usual) states it best:

...a dark hole punched in the sky, surrounded by the corona ... I estimate the metalness of the eclipse at 2.4 megaslayers... we're all riveted by the sight of the ridiculous, over the top, airbrushed-on-the-side-of-a-van thing hanging in the sky where the sun used to be. I am thankful I have not taken any drugs.
(Had I known that I was only 30k away from idlewords, I would have gone and bought him a drink for helping me navigate Argentina in style.)

Until I saw this animation, I never fully appreciated the fact that an eclipse is the moon casting an oblong shadow over the earth:

Even better, a Romanian team launched a balloon to capture the eclipse and actually got video of the moon's shadow: worth the watch

The experience was more awesome (in the original, literal sense of the word) than I had imagined. Antarctica 2021, anyone?

lego me

Smarts Mountain

View from Smarts Mountain

Today, my brother ran a marathon and my friends hiked Mt Jackson (a proper 4000 footer). I summitted Smarts Mountain (a mere 3200') with R FRF, and grku. It's a cool mountain with a moderate approach, particularly the nearby ridge that affords nice views of the mountain before the summit ascent. There were no views, but the perfectly frosted November trees made up for it. I had planned to call this my last fall hike of the season, but given the hoar frost and snow I think it's the first winter hike. Climbing the rickety abandoned fire tower was fun in the high winds. #31/52!

For future reference, the trailhead is at "346 Dorchester Rd. Lyme, NH 03768

Stairs on the Smarts Mountain fire tower Trees on the way up the smarts mountain fire tower Smarts Mountain Fire Tower
Iron Rungs on Smarts Mountain Smarts Mountain from Lambert Ridge Smarts Mountain from Lambert Ridge
Yes, it's a winter hike Moustache Check Yes, it's a winter hike