This is the panorama one should go to Breackneck Ridge for
As you might or might not know, I live in the state of New Jersey. Now the Garden State is not exactly known for any mountains. Living up to its name, you can find a lot of fields, woods and green grass around but mountains? – Uh Oh.
So it wouldn’t really come as a surprise if I declare that currently, my favorite place for hiking and training up for a mountain climb is located not in New Jersey, but in the state of New York, about 2 hours of driving distance away from Princeton. I found out about the Breackneck Ridge quite randomly – through a meetup group, which doesn’t even claim to be a hiking club or anything. But it so happened that the group has a couple of crazy hikers/ rock climbers as its organizers and they decided that it would be fun to go up and down the Breackneck Ridge on a wintry Saturday morning. True to my calling, I signed up for the outing without putting in a lot of thought.
Before February of this year, I didn’t even know that there existed a certain Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and that the mountain is infamous as the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” (although technically that claim is not true, the weather is bad enough! Imagine extremely fast wind speeds combined with low temperatures). Luckily, I have joined a couple of climbing related Meetup groups and I keep getting notifications of upcoming events from these meetups. Someone had posted an event for Mt. Washington winter hike and interested people were supposed to confirm their spot. I did a Google search on Mt. Washington for about 10 mins and signed up for this event by the end of the 15th! Turned out that there were quite a few who wanted to do this tough winter hike and in the end, a group of 6 of us from New York/ New Jersey and Connecticut areas booked a spot each on an IMCS (International Mountain Climbing School) guided climb up the peak.
I would never have thought of climbing a Himalayan peak, however small, in the coldest month of the Indian winter. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought it possible that I would be hiking around with some of my closest friends, all of together in a nice and small group. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought that I would stay away from these mountains for more than a year, and yet here I was, trying to climb Chandrashila peak(13,000 ft) with 4 other friends, in the middle of January, after a gap of about two and a half years!
It seems like I am destined to run a half marathon once every two years. So after running my very first one in Mumbai back in January 2010 and then finishing with a better time in Delhi in 2012, it was high time I ran one this year, if only to keep the arithmetic progression going. The fact that my finish time doesn’t seem to follow any patterns of improvement is a matter of shame but I take consolation in the fact that at least I kept running intermittently for the past 4-5 years. What began as a mere experiment has turned out into a routine work out activity and assumed an almost meditative character.
I finished Mumbai HM in 2 hours 31 mins. I bettered this time by almost 15 minutes in Delhi. So in the third running event, I wanted to at least maintain the last record if not better it. But alas, life had taken over, yada, yada, yada and I was to finish with a timing worse than the last time. My preparation was so abysmal that I had begun to question my judgement in wishing to run the third half marathon a week before the “M” day. Having finished the first two respectfully, pulling out of the third one was not an option and that’s how I found myself on the beach of Sandy Hook in New Jersey on that windy day of October 5, 2014.
Among the avian creatures, perching birds happen to be my favorites. They are tiny, cute, colorful and present almost everywhere. I get fascinated and amused looking at birds as they perch, ruffle their feathers, flip their wings, chirp or sing. Knowing their names is a pastime I indulge in every now and then and doing it takes me a little closer to their world.
It was no surprise then that I clicked loads of pictures of the winged beauties in my trip to Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2014. To be honest, this was a very rushed trip. Moreover, I spent most of the time in the car, looping around the park for two days. So I didn’t see as much bird life as one would have expected. Still, whatever little I saw, gave me a good enough glimpse and I can’t wait for another trip to the YNP.
The park, a heaven for the wild flora and fauna, was a treat to the eyes in many respects. Just before starting my exploration on the first day of the trip, our hotel was visited by a brewer’s blackbird and a black-billed magpie. That day, as I explored the area around Mammoth Springs, walking on the boardwalk connecting several hot springs in the area, I repeatedly passed by five birds: Mountain blue bird – male and female, chipping sparrow, yellow-rumped warbler, killdeer and violet green swallow. During the later part of the day when I was going around the upper and lower loop of the park, I saw many more birds but sadly, I couldn’t photograph them. So what follows ahead is a series of pictures that I was able to capture in my hurried trip in the park. Although this first trip was full of amazing sights, a more elaborate trip is very much in the bucket list.
Destination: High Rocks State Park ( Ralph Stover State Park)
Location: 150 Tory Rd, Bucks County Pennsylvinia
Time of the Year: Summer 2014
Summer was the perfect time to move from Indiana to New Jersey and immediately after I had settled down with the routine of my new 9-5 job, I began looking up online to find climbing meetup groups.
New Jersey is not that exciting when it comes to rock climbing; but it’s probably not that bad either. There are climbing areas to the north, at the Gunks and then to the south in Pennsylvania state. After browsing through quite a few meetups based out of New York and Pennsylvania, I ended up on a meetup named ‘Red Rock Climbers’. Founded and kept active by a very enthusiastic mountaineer and rock climber named Arnulf Krualla, this meetup climbs in High Rocks State Park in Pennsylvania every weekend. I had met up with one of the climbers in this group at one of my indoor climbing gym sessions around Princeton and after asking with her a few questions about the group and safety of climbing, I felt assured that it would be alright to go with this group, even though I would hardly know anyone.
“This(High Rocks State Park) area has a long history of climbing activity, its been the mainstay for many climbers for many years and is considered a traditional area since most routes are protected using traditional gear. Winter conditions can be very mild in this sheltered southeast facing valley. Summer can be very hot but there’s always the river for a dip to cool off.” (rockclimbing.com)
It had been two and a half days since landing in Colorado and we hadn’t really climbed up any hills or hillocks. But Ajinkya made sure that Chinu and I don’t go back home without stepping foot on the summit of a small mountain by deciding to take us on a hike to Mount Sanitas, a place where all Boulderites love to jog, hike or just walk their dog in the morning.
A group of us took the bus (public transport) from Ajinkya’s home to the point closest to the trailhead. Bus dropped us about 8 blocks away from the trailhead for Mount Sanitas. It was a bright sunny day and the weather was pleasant. Mount Sanitas got its name from Boulder Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital, built in the late 1800’s. According to the government website, “The sanitorium was one of a series of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan, Sanatoriums. Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the leaders of a growing movement in ‘health building and training’ called the Western Health Reform Institute. The institute promoted ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health.”
If you have read my previous post, you would know that the first couple of days in Boulder were just normal touristy sigh-seeing and I did not really step in to the hills. What’s the whole point of going to Colorado if one doesn’t get to do that? Luckily, Ajinkya had planned a visit to Chautauqua Park. As the name suggests, this park is at the location of Colorado Chautauqua (Chautauqua was a popular adult education movement in USA in late 19th and early 20th century) – one of the few continuously operating Chautauquas operating in USA and has been made a National Historic Landmark. The beautiful park is among the hills and is close to Chautauqua Dining Hall and Auditorium. Although the park is very close to Boulder and public bus rides are available, we did not have enough time to hike on the trails in the park; So we just wandered about the grassy terrain, soaking in the Sun and clicking pictures. Post afternoon, we wanted to be at a place called Netherland.
If you are in the Unites States of America and happen to be a nature and adventure sports lover, then a trip to Colorado will always be in your bucket list. A good friend of mine happened to be studying at University of Colorado, Boulder in the December of last year and although winter is not the season to be in Colorado except for skiing, I decided to go there towards the end of December as that was my only vacation time. Sure, the cold was biting with a lot of snow and skiing was sadly not in my itinerary, the trip let me see a small part of the land of my dreams for the first time and the first experience filled me with joy! Part I of this series of posts narrates the first two days of touristy wanderings in Boulder and Denver.
Ajinkya, at whose place Chinu and I were crashing, took us on a cold, windy bike ride the evening we landed in Denver and then reached Boulder ( about 1.5 hours of bus journey away). Biking in this small university town nestled among hills was fun but it made my ear lobes and hands pretty numb! The campus of the university is rustic and beautiful and from the terrace of one of the buildings, I got my first panoramic glimpse of hills surrounding the town. It was a cloudy day but on my last day of the trip, Boulder was blessed with sunshine and town looked prettier. From the streets, one could see Flatirons – the five large rock slabs near Boulder. These rock formations came in to existence as long ago as about 296 million years ago and true to the name, they look like an upended flatiron(Wikipedia). After a walk along Boulder Creek, the primary water flow in the town, we took a stroll along Pearl Street, home to a number of colorful shops and restaurants.
Boulder on a shiny day- Just entering the town
One of the buildings in the Universoty of Colorado, Boulder campus
Have you ever climbed rocks when flakes of snow are flying around you? Have you ever looked down upon a valley from the top of a cliff, after climbing 80 feet up on it? Have you ever slept inside a tent when it’s snowing all around you? Have you known the beauty of an orange sunset that showers the snow-capped peaks with its dying rays and mesmerizes you into staring at them till the darkness falls upon you, replacing the blankness of sky with star-studded awesomeness? Have you gone out with a group of strangers and yet, experienced a warm camaraderie developed quickly through rigors of climbing and living in harsh weather elements, with dirt in your hair & sweat on the clothes? My week-long rock climbing trip at Shelf Road, Colorado was nuanced with such beautiful moments and was one of my best climbing experiences in the outdoors.
Called a sport climber’s mecca, Shelf Road has about 1000 bolted routes on pocketed limestone, with difficulty rating varying from 5.5 to 5.13. In our 5 days long stay, we climbed in 3 of the 6-7 areas in which climbing at Shelf Road is divided. Everyone got a chance to push his/her limits by starting with routes they were comfortable with and slowly graduating to more difficult ones.
Enjoying the first views of the Cactus Cliff from the Bank