2016: A Year in Review

As another year comes to a close, I am in awe of how full and rewarding the past twelve months have been. Reflecting on 2015, I couldn’t believe how much adventure and activity was packed into the year. 2016 however, has surpassed all other benchmarks. More miles were logged, more sights were seen, and a greater appreciation for all that I am fortunate to have has been cultivated.

2016 was kicked off in the best way possible. No parties, no crowds, and the only bright lights were from the glow of head lamps. Jordan and I drove to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania to backpack fifty miles on the AT. Arriving at the Visitors Center after dark, by starlight we traversed one of the many expansive farm fields along this section of the trail to spend the night camped out in a shelter. We split a bottle of champagne and awoke around midnight to the sound of fireworks in the distance. This trip set the tone for the year.

The AT through Pennsyl-tucky

January was jam-packed with adventures and serious snow- even in Baltimore! Jordan and I backpacked the MacIntyre Range with Pat on a brisk winter day. We even had time enough to tag the summit of Marshall at sunset before hunkering down for the night. The next morning, on a whim, we decided to climb Colden on our trek out. The hikers on the summit confirmed what our bodies already knew. The overnight temps were frigid (-15°F in neighboring Lake Placid) and by our estimates, probably -20°F outside our sleeping bags.

Iroquois from Boundary Peak
Colden from Boundary Peak
Sunset from Mount Marshall
Pat ascending Colden

Jordan and I returned to my apartment on Calvert Street to nearly 3’ of fresh, powdery snow thanks to Winter Storm Jonas. Baltimore was paralyzed for a few days as snow removal crews brought in from as far as New York worked around the clock to clear primary and secondary roads. The back alley to my parking pad which services approximately 150 residents was never cleared. The vacant, snow-covered streets were almost post-apocalyptic.

Later in the month, Chelsea visited from Savannah and I joined in on my first ever Hall Family Christmas. In 2015, the Halls started a tradition of celebrating Christmas over a long weekend in January at a cabin. This year the cabin was A Bucks Peak in Luray, VA. The driveway was dangerously steep, but spending the weekend eating and laughing with Jordan’s family was wonderful. I also began progress on my MBA at Clarkson University.

Me, Rocky, and Jordan
Hall Boys and Mops
Sunset at A Bucks Peak

February was a quieter month, but Jordan and I ventured to the Adirondacks for my birthday. Despite overcast clouds and freezing rain, we hiked to the summit of Phelps before retreating back to the car at the Adirondack Loj.

Birthday on Phelps
Summit of Phelps

During February, we also ventured to the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia- specifically, Spruce Knob and Seneca Falls. Perhaps the funniest part of this trip was that Jordan wanted to bring trail runners because the weather had been so warm. He suggested we drop pack and trail run parts of the loop if there weren’t too many other people on the trail. Though this was a great idea, after struggling to drive up mountain terrain to the trail head in a foot of fresh snow and even helping a car full of University of Maryland kids dig their car out of the snow, it was obvious trail runners weren’t going to be an option. The change in elevation left us in snowshoes for the entire trip. We were both pleasantly surprised by the waterfalls, great campsites, and solitude of the loop.

Monongahela Mountains
Seneca Falls
Monongahela National Forest
Lenticular Clouds at Spruce Knob
Lenticular Clouds at Spruce Knob

In March, Jordan and I had the unique opportunity to “Cabbin-sit”. Mountain Home in Front Royal, Virginia, a historic property under renovations to be restored as a hiker hostel and bed and breakfast, invited us to host for the weekend while the owners were out of town. Having first visited the property a couple of years ago on an overnight stay with Jen, I was delighted to visit again as a host. Jordan and I stayed in the currently open portion of the property, the Cabbin (the former slave quarters of the Greek Revival main estate) and enjoyed an afternoon of trail running in shorts and tee-shirts on the nearby Appalachian Trail while we waited for guests. Unfortunately, bad weather left us with no guests and making snowmen on the front lawn the next day.

Mountain Home

Easter weekend we revisited the Northern Shenandoah region to backpack with Mac, Greg, Jeff, and Emmie. I met the crew at a shelter just north of the Cabbin and we backpacked into the park to Little Hogback. Again, the weather was wacky, allowing for tee-shirts one day and requiring coats the next.

Easter with the Homies
Sunset from Marshall Mountain

Before the month’s end, Jordan and I also visited the Cherry Blossom Festival. As of March 15, Jordan officially became my “roommate”, but we capitalized on his ongoing lease in Arlington, VA to Uber into the festival for a picnic dinner on the Potomac.

Picnic on the Potomac during the Cherry Blossom Festival

In April, I was forced to retire the Aveo. It was bittersweet having to pick up a car payment, but not worrying about reliable transportation outweighed all negatives. With new wheels, Jordan and I drove south one weekend without a definitive plan. We brought winter backpacking gear, but the cold, wet forecast at Grayson Highlands was off-putting. Driving down I-81 we debated detouring to Asheville, but opted to give Grayson Highlands a go despite the weather. Rather than starting the weekend with wet gear, we opted to stay at a B&B in Ash County, North Carolina. The B&B was an old summer destination resort known for its onsite healing springs. I was particularly enamored with the area because, as we found out, Ash County is the number one Christmas tree supplier in the country. The endless rolling fields of pine trees in neat, little rows were oddly appealing. From Healing Springs, we were forced to daytrip an out-and-back at Grayson Highlands as cold, whipping winds and closed roads rerouted our plans. Weather aside, the park exceeded my expectations. In addition to seeing the herds of wild miniature ponies that roam the highlands, we were wowed by the big mountain views of Appalachia.

Wild Miniature Ponies at Grayson Highlands
Jordan and the ponies
Me and the ponies

Later in the month, Jordan and I backpacked in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia and my Mom visited for Mother’s Day. We treated her to breakfast at Chick and Ruth’s Delly (where the staff and clientele say the pledge of allegiance every morning) and a harbor boat tour.

May was symbolically a big month for me. After two years, I left my first, full-time, professional job to begin working with AECOM’s transportation business line. The transition has definitely been a change, but I see a lot of opportunity at AECOM and hope to get involved in some of the transformational projects the company is designing around the world. The other exciting news of the month: I officially became a 46er! The Adirondack 46er club hosts bi-annual events to award 46er numbers to new club members at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Pat and I both received our numbers and the Editor of PEEKS Magazine specifically called me out at the event because of one of the photos I submitted to the magazine. The photo, a still from Lewis’ GoPro during a winter backpack of the Seward Range (below), shows me descending the icy col between Donaldson and Emmons. Apparently a very attentive reader sent a dispute to the editor claiming the col is between Seward and Donaldson and his evidence is a benchmark tree in the background of a similar photo. The crowd roared with laughter.

During May, Jordan and I adventured to Estes Park, Colorado for a long weekend to celebrate his birthday. We day hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park, but got turned from our initial plan by rain, thunder, and lightning storms. Alternatively, we hiked to Alberta Falls amid a flurry of wet snowflakes. While in Colorado, we also hiked to 12,000’, toured the haunted Stanley Hotel, and saw a lot of elk.

June was the start of a fun-filled summer. Jordan and I drove to meetup with Nor’easter (Johanna) on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. We never cease to forget just how big Virginia is from top to bottom. The drive was long, but it was great to meet up with her, provide a little trail support, and meet her trail family. Plus, this section of Virginia had a few pleasant water crossings and big mountain views (by east coast standards).

Mid-month we made a long weekend trip of supporting Mac at Ironman Syracuse 70.3. Before driving east to Syracuse, we visited Watkins Glen, the Finger Lakes, and Ithaca. Despite having grown up in New York, I had never seen the gorges in the region. The waterfalls and geology were captivating and the lakes were serene with sail boats lazing across their surface. In addition to camping in Watkins Glen and walking around the State Park, we camped on Otsego Lake, paddle boarded on Cayuga Lake, enjoyed lunch and a couple of flights at Ithaca Brewery, walked to Taughannock Falls, and swam at Buttermilk Falls. All before driving to Jamesville Reservoir to run with and cheer on Mac to a second place age group finish and her first World Championship qualification. Mac’s performance and the event reignited my fire to do a 70.3. 2017 is the year!

The end of June was the culmination of a couple of years of planning. Jordan and I flew to SeaTac to begin the first leg of a tour of west Washington. My dad joined us at Kalaloch Beach in coastal Olympic National Park and he rode his motorcycle along with us as we drove and hiked through the park. While in Olympic National Park, we visited Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rainforest. We swam in the Hoh River and Lake Crescent. We hiked Hurricane Ridge and Upper Royal Basin. And we camped on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Sequim. Words cannot express the beauty of Olympic National Park and its diverse ecosystems. Had our trip ended with the month, I would have been content, but the trip just got better.

June turned to July as we drove east across Whidbey Island. After taking a down day for a long run and a hot shower at the Captain Whideby Inn, we were back on the road. We visited Fort Casey and Fort Ebey and spent time at Deception Pass State Park before returning to Seattle. My dad reconnected with us for a night in Seattle

Time spent touring Seattle was limited and the vast diversity of the city demands a follow-up visit in the future. Jordan and I took my dad on Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour of Seattle as a belated father’s day gift and met up with Garrett at Pike Place Market for lunch. Then, we began the second leg of our trip: a summit attempt of Mount Rainier. Using the citywide rental bikes, my dad, Jordan, and I rode to gear check at Alpine Ascents International’s Headquarters. We met two of our guides and the rest of our summit team. Anticipation for the summit was higher than ever.

Our summit team and four guides spent two days, climbing from the Paradise Visitors Center to High Camp on the Ingraham Flats Glacier overlooking Little Tahoma. We bedded down after an early dinner of chicken soup around 5:30 PM. The sun wouldn’t set for another five hours.

A rattle on the four-season tent woke me at 11:30 PM on July 6. I must've dozed off for a couple of minutes. A combination of excitement and attempting to sleep so early in the evening left me with little more than two hours of sleep. By 12:30 AM on July 7, I was in a harness, helmet, and winter layers, ice axe in hand and roped in. From High Camp at 11,000' we crossed the Ingraham Flats Glacier and the scree along the Disappointment Cleaver. We traversed a ladder spanning a gaping crevasse and stepped over a couple more of the bottomless cracks. The rope team climbed through the early morning telling jokes and swapping stories, occasionally breaking, but mostly just gaining feet of elevation- moving closer and closer to the summit. The weather was comparatively warm with little wind. In the distance, deep crimson and fiery oranges began to tinge the horizon. The team lead received a radio call from the head Sherpa guide and yelled back, "We're pushing to the Crest!" Weather and timing worked out such that not only were we able to summit the rim of the crater of the mountain, we were headed across the crater to the highest point of elevation, Columbia Crest at 14,411'. As our rope team made a final push up to the crater, I was elated. We unhooked, traversed the crater and stood atop the highest point of elevation in Washington State as the sunrise broke the horizon.

Now, for anyone who has talked to me since Rainier, you know that this was literally and figuratively the high of the day. During the descent, I experienced altitude sickness and didn’t regain composure until we returned to the snowfield below Camp Muir. Socked in for much of the trek back to Paradise, my spirits couldn’t be dampened and glissading back to the return van was a great finish to a spectacular first mountaineering experience.

Returning to Seattle, Jordan and I again took a day to recover, dry our gear, and reorganize the car before beginning the third and last leg of our trip- a tour of North Cascades National Park. Though most of our time in the park was obscured by fog and clouds, the lush green scenery, waterfalls, and dramatic landscapes we experienced were demonstrative of an entirely different component of Washington State than Olympic National Park. We camped near Marblemount and drove the length of North Cascades Highway to Winthrop- a town on the frontier of the mountains and ranches. We visited Diablo Lake, Ross Lake, Newhalem Gorge, and Washington Pass. We hiked and ran to the Park Butte Lookout and to the Hidden Lake Lookout. I’m convinced, even with a lifetime to spend in these mountains, a person couldn’t see everything.

The trip concluded with a night in Seattle at a B&B in South Seattle. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we drove to Seward Park and sat on a park bench on Lake Washington looking at Mount Rainier looming in the distance.

The high-flying adventures of June and July couldn’t be topped, but August was busy! Jordan and I were again invited to Cabbin-sit while owners, Scott and Lisa, were out of town. We obliged and happily hosted a house full of guests for a few nights. We took advantage of the proximity to Shenandoah and ran and biked- despite the overwhelming heat and humidity. During the month I was also elated to join the Halls in celebrating the one year anniversary of Jordan’s dad’s kidney transplant. Jordan’s mom threw a blow-out pool party with the entire Hall and Carpenter families and friends. Later in the month, my dad visited Baltimore for his first time since moving me here after college graduation. We indulged in a feast at Capital Grille to celebrate his birthday and visited Millstone Cidery in Monkton.

In September, Jordan and I created a tradition. For Labor Day 2015 we backpacked the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Jeff. With a near perfect weather forecast, Jordan and I made the trip north to New Hampshire again to backpack the Pemi Loop. The loop (plus Owl’s Head) delivered with clear views of Franconia Ridge, Mount Washington, and the Bond Cliffs. Plus, the swimming holes and waterfalls along the route made this a tradition to not be broken.

Though I was disappointed to make the decision to not run my first 50 miler this year, Jordan and I secretly registered for and trained for a sprint triathlon. The weekend after visiting the Whites, we completed the Mount Airy Triathlon- earning Jordan a Clydesdale win and me a First Overall Female win. We can only hope for as much success in our first attempt at 70.3!

The month wrapped up with a quick beach “camping” trip at the Delaware Seashore with Mac and Greg. We logged a nice bike ride to Ocean City and back, saw dolphins, and relaxed in the sand.

During October, I visited Elisabeth (and Tony at the Goose) in Bethlehem, PA. My mom also came to visit Baltimore. Jordan and I brought her to Mountain Home to press cider and then to Shenandoah; she had never been. I also drove home one weekend to spend time with family and catch fall foliage during an epic 60-mile bike loop around Brant Lake and to Lake George.

November marked the end of the most recent election cycle. While I have not shared my personal opinions on the candidates or the issues in a public forum, I think we can all agree the campaign cycle was a colossal disaster. From candidates with faltering morals and ethics, to countless scandals and a degeneracy of traditional news media, a preemptively nostalgic part of me cannot help but to wonder how this will be taught in history classes forty years from now.

The tradition of annual Friendsgiving dinner continued. This year there were a few new faces at the table as Lauren and Scott, Heather, and Jonas joined the celebration. Mac and Greg again supplied the roasted veggies and Jeff and Emmie brought dessert and booze enough to stave off thoughts of New Year resolutions. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be lucky enough to get Emmie's secret recipe for Double Chocolate "What Are Calories?!" Pie. Though, I don't know if I have the will power to have a recipe like that in my arsenal.

Having spent a couple of quiet months without backpacking, Jordan and I opted to capitalize on a free weekend in November to visit the Three Ridges loop in Virginia. The weekend was topped off with a dinner celebration of our second rotation around the sun together. My mom's disbelief that Jordan has only been in our family's lives for a couple of years fuels my incredulity.

I wish I could report that this November Jordan and I happily spent our first Thanksgiving together, but that would not be true. We were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with his family (as we are going to be in New York for Christmas), but as we had both been battling late fall colds for much of the month, we opted instead for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner on Calvert Street- just the two of us, OTC cold medicine, and Puffs tissues.

Earlier this December, Jordan and I ventured up to New York. We did a quick (but impressively beautiful) hike on Black Mountain overlooking Lake George and celebrated my mom's birthday at a surprise family dinner. We also celebrated Christmas in advance of the holiday with a lunch at Jordan's parent's house. In October, I trained to be a volunteer at the Hippodrome Theater and that training scored us inexpensive tickets to see the Broadway musical, A Christmas Story, at the historic theater. That was a great way to get into the holiday spirit!

As I write this, the car is packed with presents, wine, whiskey, and winter backpacking gear. This afternoon we are off to New York to backpack in the High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondacks. Saturday and Sunday will be reserved for Christmas festivities and R&R- my parent's annual Christmas Eve party and dinner at my Grandma's house.

If you've made it reading this far (3,207 words and 103 photos), thank you. Every New Year for the past five years I have turned the page on the previous chapter with great intentions of committing myself more to writing. But, let's be honest, I can't even commit to regularly showering (Sorry, Jordan! Sorry, Mom!), so is it realistic to think I will ever be a prolific writer or daily blogger? I am not going to be the one to close that window of opportunity on myself.

As this year developed, I wrote on a weekly basis more consistently than I have since Mrs. Hughes' 8th grade English class. For that, I put a tick in the win column. In addition, while I have not evolved this blog (or any of my writing for that matter) into a viable income stream, I finally received payment for my writing- another tick for the win column! With the kindling of this year's progresses, I hope to ignite next year's successes.

Another week will put a wrap and neat little bow on top of 2016. Though adventures from coast to coast will be hard to top, big plans are in the works for 2017. I hope you'll follow along on my travel and training this year.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous, and happy New Year! Looking forward!

#2016 #Backpacking #Travel #Training #Reflections

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