mountains

Posted by Ellen

It is obvious to some people that Nepal's Gorek Shep plateau--the world's highest sizeable plateau, abutting Everest Base Camp at 5,165 meters above sea level--is shaped exactly like London's famed international cricket ground, the Oval.

British mountaineer Richard Kirtley, for example, took one look at the Gorek Shep and concluded that it was so "perfectly cricket-field sized and shaped" that "the locals" must be using it as a pitch. He was wrong; nobody ever played cricket there, presumably because few people remember to bring their cricket gear along for nine extremely arduous days of trekking en route to Everest Base Camp.

 But some people really like cricket. Kirtley organized a 50-man expedition that trekked to Gorek Shep in April 2009, cleared the pitch of rocks ("sometimes with pickaxes"), and contested the world's highest game of cricket, the Nokia Maps Everest Test. Team Hillary beat team Tenzing by 36 runs, with 6 balls remaining.

I wouldn't know a cricket pitch if it jumped up and bit me, and I am way too old and timid and out of shape to imagine venturing to Everest Base Camp. Still and all, I'm leaving for Nepal in a couple of days, and I'll be away from the computer and off trekking till the middle of March. It was my sister's idea, and also her frequent flyer miles. Details and pictures to come.

Be sweet while I'm away.

Posted by Ellen

 

Members of Deering High School's Outdoors Club head back down the hill and into the weather after summiting mile-high Mt. Katahdin recently, the highest peak in Maine and northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

As they followed the trail on down into the clouds, they got rained on but good. Fortunately, their youthful high spirits proved to be waterproof.

Posted by Ellen

 

Something I learned today about the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's blown-out well got me thinking about all the oil that didn't get away, the oil that BP and the other companies have managed to pump and sell over the past century or so, without "wasting" much through spillage.

What I learned from TV news this evening was that one reason BP has sought to downplay the amount of the Deepwater spill is that the company will likely have to pay agreed-upon royalty fees to the government for every gallon sucked out of the earth, including all the gallons spilled into the Gulf. Of course, when BP signed that contract, it was planning to harvest all the oil, not let millions of gallons of it float away. 

And what about the oil that gets pumped up properly, refined, delivered to gas stations and power plants and heating oil companies, and eventually sold to us customers. What do we do with it? We burn it, of course (except for the portion we use to make plastic). Some small amount of residue from the burning gunks up our cars' engines and catalytic converters and slimes up the surface of our roads, but modern cars burn fuel pretty efficiently; the vast majority of what was gasoline when we paid for it goes out the tail pipe and into the air. You can see the oil in the air in this picture, which shows the view from the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, looking westward toward Salt Lake City. The exhaust from a few hundred thousand cars has become thick smog, completely hiding the city.

The twentieth century was the age of oil; Saudi Arabia's wealth was discovered in 1900. By approximately 2000, we'd burned up half of all the oil believed to exist, including almost all the oil in Texas and Oklahoma and most of the oil in Alaska. Much of that century's worth of oil smoke is still in the air, doing its greenhouse-gas thing, but much has fallen back to earth by now, often washed out by rain and snow. We say that a rain shower has "cleared the air," and it has. Back on the ground, the chemicals that perhaps recently floated in the air as smog and once upon a time rested deep underground as oil now leach down through the soil into our groundwater or wash directly into creeks and lakes and rivers and of course oceans. Either way, we drink that oil. And it's nasty--carcinogenic and flat-out poisonous.

All day every day, we drink oil and breathe it; after a century of oil-burning, we and all the other plants and animals on the planet probably have traces of oil in every cell in our bodies. A century is a very short time, evolution-wise; homo sapiens evolved in a world where almost all the oil was trapped deep underground, and hardly any of it was in the air and the water and the food chain. 

We've been able to eat and drink and breathe oil and still get by, so to speak, because most of the time the burnt-up oil is diluted before we ingest it. The life in the Gulf of Mexico won't be so lucky.

 

Posted by Ellen

You may recall that it was in the mountains here above the village of Maienfeld, Switzerland, that Heidi and Peter used to take the goats to pasture. The cows, which didn't really figure in the Johanna Spyri novel or in the Shirley Temple movie, presumably stayed down below in these pastures in the Rhine River Valley. Heidi and Peter climbed up the goat paths every morning, frolicked in the meadows, and lived happily ever after in the bright clean air, curing the invalid Clara, bringing the old hermit back to the church, and spreading joy and good cheer and etc.--even so, it was a nice book, a nice movie, and there's no denying it's a beautiful piece of the world.

 Today the people of Maienfeld mostly tend vineyards and host tourists looking for Heidi. An hour's walk up the valley is the spa town of Bad Ragasz, where tourists come looking for Roger Federer.

Posted by Ellen

A few months ago, the New Zealanders among us were out touring their island--New Zealand's North Island--when they stopped for the night at the Okopako Farm Lodge in Opononi, Northland, a backpackers' hostel at the end of a primitive gravel road--a road so narrow and winding and twisty, we're told, that it can't be driven after dark. The people who run the lodge, which is off the electrical grid, offer "fresh organic produce, homemade bread & farmhouse meals," and they also promise a nice view.

This is what dawn looks like from the deck of the lodge.

"I shot photo after photo," recalls A., "as the sun rose. Unfortunately, I was so engrossed in the scenery I left bread on a burner on one of those camp toasters until it thoroughly burned, and its blackened remains released a massive amount of smoke that set off the fire alarm. The fire alarm rang for about 20 minutes, which did not thrill the few other inhabitants of that place.

"The upside was that they were awakened in time to enjoy the sunrise, too."

Posted by Ellen

About twelve summers ago, we made it to Idaho Peak, above New Denver, British Columbia, in the Selkirk Mountains. That meadowful of flowers up there is as good as it gets for flowers.

The trail isn't as sketchy as it might look; it meanders gently around the bend up ahead toward a fire tower that overlooks Slocan Lake and the tiny lakeside towns of Silverton and New Denver. All the settlements in this neck of the woods were late-nineteenth-century mining towns; when the silver and gold gave out in the early to middle years of the twentieth century, the towns struggled, and some vanished. A revival began in the 1960s with U.S. draft dodgers and Canadian and U.S. back-to-the-landers, who were attracted by the scenery and the lack of twentieth-century sprawl.

Best thing about the flowers on Idaho Peak: it's always summer up there. The flowers are always in full bloom. I can't remember it any other way.

Posted by Ellen

In 2004, Iranian-Canadian photographer Sam Javanrouh went back to Tehran, his hometown, for a photo shoot. Here, he shows us Tehran's Eskan towers framing a glimpse of the Alborz Mountains. "Brings back so many memories," says Javanrouh.