Friday, July 29, 2011

Climb the mountains.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds
will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
                                                                             — John Muir

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hiking in the Adirondacks

One of the many things I love about Ottawa is it's proximity to mountains. I don't mean Gatineau Park—not that it's not stunningly beautiful in it's own right—but I mean mountains. Real ones. From here it's just a quick 3-hour drive to the Adirondacks in New York, or about the same distance to the Laurentians in Quebec.

Algonquin Peak is the high peak just right of centre.

This past weekend Mark and I jumped on the fantastic forecast and headed south, across the border, to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks (ADKs). We had our sights set to hike to the top of Algonquin, the second-highest peak of the High Peaks, and were keeping open the possibility of also ascending Wright on the same hike. There are 46 peaks above 4,000 feet in the Adirondacks, and it's a matter of pride to climb all 46 to be able to call yourself a 46'er.

We only found out about the whole thing just a couple of years ago, from our great friends D&P (who, sadly moved out west before we had a chance to climb any together!). They set us up with their old map and all sorts of very helpful information we've been using to make our way around the area, from where to camp, where to eat (more on that later!), and helpful websites, such as this gem.

Last year we got two peaks under our belts: Cascade and Porter. They're popular hikes, well travelled, and though they're supposed to be "easy," I found them to be quite challenging! They're sort of a package-deal too, because the route to Porter branches off near the top of the route to Cascade, so it makes sense to do both in one shot. I was exhausted at the end of that day. But what I'm learning about the High Peak hikes is that they're very direct. No gently ascending switchbacks. Nope, just the most direct way to the peak, no matter how steep, how many boulders or steep rockfaces are in your way, just up, up, and ever more up. So if you want a workout that will challenge you physically and mentally, head to the High Peaks. 

We got to bed early on Friday night to get an early start the following morning. We were on the trail just after 8, which is—honestly—later than we had hoped, but earlier than we've ever managed before. It started off easy, over a wooden boardwalk that crossed a pond, then gently sloping through beautiful forest, still cool in the early(ish) morning, but the trail started climbing quickly after a short while, and never stopped. Up, up, up. It was tough work, but it felt good to be in these mountains again, in these trees. We took lots of breaks, and the view opened up occasionally allowing us to gauge our progress based on how high or low the other mountains were, and for the most part, it felt like we were making good time. But then, after what felt like hours, we rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of large mountain that could only be Algonquin. Still so very, cruelly, far away. But it's the journey, right, not the destination?! 

Getting above the treeline.

My favourite part of the ascent was after the turnoff for Wright, when the dirt/boulder trail turned into large, smooth, steep expanses of rock that you really had to pause and assess to find the best way to tackle. Sometimes the poles were helpful, but for the most part I would have traded them for some nice grippy gloves at times like these. By this point also, the view started opening up and you can see how high you are and the glorious mountains around you.

Happy to contribute some rocks to the conservation effort!

I also really enjoyed the sub-alpine portion near the top, where the trees are stunted, dense and scrubby, and there is the most delicate, tiny flowers, and incredible colours of moss and lichen. It's just a beauty unlike any other. It is to this area that we deposited the rocks that we had brought from the trailhead, that the Summit Stewards will use to delineate the path, to protect the fragile flora. It's like Mountain Jenga: you take a rock from the bottom and you put it on top... 

Arriving at the top of the mountain is a really, really great feeling. It feels like a huge achievement, and the reward is being there. My absolute favourite part is when the view reveals itself as you take those final steps and the landscape on the other side of the mountain comes fully into sight. You've been on the mountain, within the trees, and watching your step, that it's so incredible to be able to lift your head and look around. And this is the kind of beauty that will bring tears to your eyes. It's truly, undeniably breathtaking. 

This makes Peak #3! Only 43 to go!

It was a Ridiculously Awesome Day (RAD) with a beautiful wind and glorious sunshine. I had thought it would be scorching at the top, but it was very comfortable, so we didn't have to seek shade, which is good, because there's not a lot of shade to be had at the top of a bald, granite peak. So we lounged, and lunched on our tuna sandwiches, and chatted with the Summit Steward (who's job it is to hike a peak everyday and educate people about the delicate flora. I would love to do that!). 

Mount Colden (with all the slides), and Mount Marcy behind it, the highest peak in NY.

Heading back down Algonquin to Wright, the granite peak behind.

It takes so much work to get to the top that you just want to stay there, but you can't linger too long, because you don't want to get stuck on the trail too late, or run out of food/water. So, with sad hearts, we said goodbye to the view, and headed back down the mountain. But before going all the way back, we thought, you know what, since we're here, we might as well climb Wright too. Though people said the ascent was more challenging and steep than Algonquin, it really wasn't so bad (probably because we were expecting the worst). There were lots of bald-face scrambles, but the worst part were the multiple "false tops" that kept pretending to be the peak, but then you'd get to the "top" and see a different, higher "top" farther above that one!

Ascending Wright, and looking across at Algonquin and the trail cutting through the forest.
But we did finally reach the summit, and had a spectacular 360, including a commanding view of Algonquin. We rested here for a while, snacked on some GORP and tried to imprint the scene on our brains. It's always so bittersweet at the top. You know you can't stay, but it's so achingly beautiful, and you know that it's a tough road to get back. If only there was a giant slide...

Wright Peak! Our 4th! Now for the remaining 42...

Hiking up is good, heart-pumping, physical work. The descent, however is hard on the knees, and requires a lot of concentration, because just one mis-step and you risk twisting an ankle (or worse), and though we have emergency supplies, it's a long way to have to piggy-back someone. Basically, the descent is a World of Hurt all its own, and the quickest way to get to the end of your humour. By the end, both of our knees were aching, and after 9 hours on the trail, we were happy to get to the end, for a very refreshing swim in Heart Lake. 

Heart Lake, a lovely lake for swimming. Plus there's great views of the mountains we just climbed!

Mark cooked us up some delectable pork souvlaki over the fire, which we enjoyed with some tasty cold beer, aptly named "Long Trail" and crashed before dark. 

Algonquin Peak

Ranking of height: 2nd      Elevation: 5114'      Ascent of climb: 2992' 
Length of roundtrip: 7.4 miles (12 km)
Wright Peak

Ranking of height: 16th      Elevation: 4580'      Ascent of climb: 2400' 
Distance from trail junction to peak, roundtrip: 1.0 miles (1.6 km)

Sunday, because apparently we are gluttons for pain and slightly masochistic, we went on another hike! Just a short one this time, up Owl's Head, which the Summit Steward had recommended as a great one for kids, first-timers, or those with aching muscles. The drive to the trailhead took us past Upper and Lower Cascade Lake which were stunning, with their sparkly surfaces looking so inviting for a swim.

Cascade Lake looking very enticing for a paddle or a swim...

It was a well-travelled path, sadly very eroded in many places, but through beautiful forest (and tasty blueberries!). The path winds a little bit, then opens up at the granite top where you scramble out onto a windy peak with a great view of the Keene Valley and Porter and Cascade Range. It was another RAD. We lounged in the breeze for a while, trying to absorb the incredible beauty, then made our way back. Though my calves were unbelievably sore and screaming what-did-you-do-to-me!, it was very do-able. (Knees were ok after a good night's sleep.)

Heading up the Owl's Head trail.

Then it was back to Lake Placid for the Obligatory Sandwiches from the Big Mountain Creperie and Deli where they have sandwiches named after each of the High Peaks. We're trying to only eat sandwiches of the peaks we've climbed, so we had the #2 and the #16. Delicious. And now I understand why Cascade (though challenging), is PB&J, and Algonquin is Roasted Turkey.

Then a swim in Mirror Lake, before starting the drive home. Two RADs, two more peaks climbed, 300 photos, and countless aching muscles. A spectacular weekend getting better acquainted with a place that feels more and more like home every time I visit.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Withering Pines
Last Thursday, Mark and I went to Bluesfest to see The Tea Party (I know, right!) and Billy Talent. But before those headliners, we checked out a couple of performances in the Barney Danson Theatre inside the War Museum. We caught the last half of the Withering Pines set, and it was great! Folksy and lyrical; a really nice sound. Their last song was a fantastic acoustic number, complete with xylophone! When we were waiting outside in between shows, we were chatting with a family visiting from Egypt, and the dad said he really enjoyed it and that it felt like happiness and freedom. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Winter Gloves

Then, my favourite performance of the entire night: the awesome set by the Montreal band: Winter Gloves. Wow, oh wow. What an amazing sound. A wicked, pumped-up mix of electronic/synth/pop, with organs, guitars, and even some xylophone. So much fun. I haven't smiled so much at a concert before. I downloaded All Red and Heart Out as soon as I came home... Yup, I think I could easily become a groupie for this band. Seriously, check out their stuff on MySpace and YouTube. It's awesome!

The Tea Party - still as awesome as ever.
It was difficult having to choose between The Tea Party and Billy Talent, because I really wanted to see both. TTP because I loved them in highschool and university (they played at my frosh week at the U of Guelph in 1999!), so it really takes me back. I think Transmission was one of the first CDs I gave to Mark. And BT, because even though it feels like a guilty pleasure, I have to admit I love their songs; nothing gets you pumped more than BT. And they did not disappoint.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My rose garden

I could get lost in these petals...

And even when they're spent, they're still so beautiful.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bermuda book

I finally finished my photobook about my trip to Bermuda in March! It is always my end goal to capture each trip in a book (or, er, series of books...), but this process is very time consuming as I whittle down the ridiculous number of photos I take, colour correct the final selection, then organize them into book form.

See the full preview below, or search "Amberlea" here, to see this and my other public books. I have made many (too many?) books with Blurb, and have always been pleased with their quality, but now they have a new selection of higher-end papers, so I'm eager to see how this one turns out.

For those who don't yet know, I really, really like making photobooks (I think this makes book No. 34?), and if you want to open Pandora's box, just ask, and I will happily tell you (and you will get a pained look on your face, because I will not pause to take a breath, causing you to feel embarrassed for me that I haven't picked up on your social cues—as you edge toward the door—that you weren't that interested and were just being polite) about the many options available for self-publishing and their merits and faults.

I just received my book in the mail last night (a mere 8 days since ordering!) and I am beyond thrilled! I am so glad I opted for the Proline papers, because the quality is outstanding. Definitely worth the money. The matte paper is very unique; at first I wasn't sure if I liked it, but now I think I'm in love with it. No glare, and the images have great contrast, are crisp, bright, great saturation, the shadows aren't blocked up, and there's detail in the light areas. The pages are nice and thick (making the 160-page tome almost an inch thick! Yikes!) with no show-through. In short, it looks exactly how I wanted it to (and validates those many, many hours of colour-correcting I did!).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Mark's growing radishes this year, and right now they are just bursting from the soil, ready to be picked. Crisp, refreshing, with lots of zing! And very appropriate for Canada Day!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A change in plans...

Saturday did not go how I thought it would. It was not the Impressionist tableau of the day before... I had hoped to take my parents up to the Champlain lookout and for a nice hike in the woods, then to Wakefield for lunch, then another afternoon of reading and lounging under the trees in the backyard, then a delicious dinner of truffle oil risotto, lemon-baked fish, and salad with greens from our garden. But something about the best laid plans... We had just finished feasting on some delicious banana chocolate chip pancakes (and some "pancake hash" because I had used the wrong pan and everything stuck together. ugh...) and were about to set out for the day, when I happened to be in the basement just as someone upstairs flushed a toilet, and saw water come up around the floor drain, making a rather large puddle, which receded after a moment, but was a clear sign of trouble.

Trouble that quickly told us there would be no hike or lunch in Wakefield. After calling around for a plumber, we had someone show up, and they wanted 500 dollars to snake the drain! Yikes! So Mark rented a 50-ft auger from Home Depot for 35 bucks and decided to do it himself. Not exactly the activity I wanted my parents to have to deal with on their vacation weekend, but my dad was happy to help. So, for a few hours my mom and I avoided the stinky work and let them take care of it, and did they ever! Each snake hauled up a foul-smelling mass of fibrous roots, approximately 45 feet from the drain, clearly pinpointing the large maple at the end of our driveway. The drain was cleared two years ago in the same way, just before we moved into the house, so we will likely have to do this annually, but at 35 dollars a year, it's a worthwhile cost to keep things flowing. And we'll keep monitoring the drain to see if it will have to be dug up and replaced. 

I've always been conscious of the amount of water we use, but honestly I have completely taken for granted the lowly drain all these years, and how nice it is to be able to unplug the stopper and allow the water down rather than having to bail the water into buckets and take it to the backyard... 

But I couldn't help but wonder later that day, as I was bleaching the "spray zone" (major ewwww), what the Duchess was up to at that moment. Mopping up residual fecal matter, tree roots and other stanky drain matter? Unlikely.

After the auger was returned at 5pm, we began our regularly scheduled program and made our way up to the Champlain lookout as the late afternoon sun lent a dreamy haze to the vista, and made the green fields below look like velour. Then to Wakefield for dinner at Chez Eric's where we had a lovely meal in the garden under lights strung through the trees. I had the duck, which was served on a bed of beluga lentils, with roasted beets and goat cheese, and might honestly be the best thing I have ever eaten. Divine. So all's well that ends well?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 144th, Canada!

My parents joined us this weekend to celebrate Canada Day in the nation's capital, and we gathered on the Hill with the throngs of adoring fans to see if we too, could catch a glimpse of the Duke and Duchess. Before my mom suggested it, I hadn't been planning to attend the midday festivities, but I'm really glad we did. It was a lot of fun, and no one does pomp and ceremony like the Monarchy, or, well, Canada too, when the Monarchy comes to visit.

When the cavalcade finally arrived, everyone was audibly disappointed when Harper stepped out of the car, rather than Will & Kate. But then the landau appeared, at precisely noon, and there they were (on the large screens anyway, there were so many people, and I am short, so I didn't see anyone until they were up on stage and I stood on tip-toe).

It was an absolutely perfect day for sitting on the lawn of Parliament. Sun, blue sky, a few clouds. It was definitely hot (uncomfortably so at times), but it could have been worse, and there was the occasional nice breeze. We stood for a while, then lounged on blankets to enjoy the various performers.

Then we went back to the house and napped and read on blankets and pillows under the shady trees in the backyard. Like an impressionist tableau. Perfectly relaxing. Then Mark made us all some scrumptious Canada-Day-themed pizza: pepperoni, tomatoes, chicken, smoked gouda, white cheddar and grana padana (with a bit of green: spinach).

After a restful afternoon, it was back downtown for the fireworks. We found a nice spot between the bike path and the river, overlooking the show on Major's Hill with a view of the National Gallery and Notre-Dame. There were some new and fantastic pyrotechnic advancements this year—one that exploded, then briefly disappeared before reappearing again. Very impressive. And the bus back was not nearly as time-consuming as I thought it would be—I thought we would have to wait in a line for a bus, but we managed to squeeze onto the first one, and though there was some gridlock leaving downtown, taking the bus was a much better option than driving.

A great day, celebrating our awesome country!