Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New to New England

Saddleback Mountain, Along the AT in Maine.
Earlier this month I visited the East Coast and New England for the first time.  I've always been spoiled by the mountains and scenery and remoteness of the mountains in most of the West.  I cherish the days when I can go for a hike and not see a single other person.  But straying on par with not being able to stay in one place for very long I headed to New England just days after I returned to Montana from Alaska.

Random logging road through the otherwise impenetrable forest of the East.
On of the many stumps in the middle of the Appalachian Trail.
 I flew into Burlington, Vermont and rented a car to head to Maine to find Lena somewhere along the Appalachian Trail.  We hiked for two days along the AT and then headed to Portland, Maine.  I'll leave it up to everyone else to debate which is the "real Portland."  I'll keep my opinion to myself on that.

I've never wanted to thru-hike the AT.  I've never had that desire to walk through the forest and rain for over 2,000 miles.  After two wonderful days of hiking along it I have even more respect for the folks who thru-hike it.  I'm fine with freezing my ass off on high altitude peaks for weeks at a time, but I don't think I'd be able to put a pack on and hike 20+ miles a day for months to complete that trail.

Portland, Maine greeted us with downpour after downpour
Portland Head Light, Maine

This turned out to be one of my favorite shots from the trip.  I  was taking photos of the lighthouse and then found Lena who said I had to come shoot at this spot.  Most of the time she has a better photographic eye than me.
We then circled back up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I will also finally admit that there are real mountains in the East.  We climbed the Huntington Ravine route (supposedly the steepest trail in New England) on Mt. Washington and didn't see anyone else on the trail for hours until we popped out on top to see thousands of people who had driven up or had ridden the train up.  Quite the shock!  The views were beautiful and it was actually a pretty fun climb.

Ellis River in the White Mountains
Ellis River Rocks
Beginning of the slab scrambling on the Huntington Ravine route 
Lena climbing Huntington Ravine
Lena on the slabs of Huntington Ravine
Toward the summit of Mount Washington 
The Presidential Range
This is how most of the people got to the top
Yes, this building is held down with chains. 
Lake of the Clouds Hut below Mt Washington.
With big plans to do another hike the next day we got pretty distracted making coffee all morning next to a river and then found a waterfall to relax by and take photos for the rest of the day, before driving back to Maine.
Frenchman's Hole on the Maine/New Hampshire border. 

I never thought I'd say this but there are too many trees out there.  The lack of views made me feel claustrophobic most of the time.  On the contrary it was amazing to see forest the went on forever.

Trees and lakes as far as you can see.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hooked on Southeast Alaska

Humpback Whale
Alaskans have about as much pride as Montanans do in thinking that their state is the best place to live. I fully agree as I'm torn between each of them in choosing a place to live.  For next year Alaska will win out though.

Ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier
I was just able to visit a new part of the state.  I've spent most of my Alaska time in Southcentral Alaska around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula and have ventured as far north as Fairbanks.  But last week was my first time to Southeast Alaska.  I had some time off between Denali trips and flew down to Juneau to see some friends.  I've always heard great things about Southeast Alaska and they were all right.

Hopefully I'll make it back there in July after my last Denali trip and I also just got hired as a Photography Guide in Juneau for next summer (after I finish Denali season).  This is probably the most my life has ever been planned out.  It also means that in 2015 I'm only going to have 8-9 weeks off work.  I don't know what I'm going to do with so little free time.
Mendenhall Glacier 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ben's Official Airline/Airport Survey Results

I'm completely skipping a blog post about Istanbul, Turkey.  I don't even have the photos uploaded from my camera yet--I simply don't have time.  I head to Alaska tomorrow to start packing for a Denali expedition that I'll be guiding for the rest of May.  

In the last three weeks I've been to four continents, wandered around six major cities, been the only white person standing in downtown Johannesburg, stood at a bus stop in Chicago trying to remember what city/state/country/continent I was in, blended in with 150 other nationalities in Dubai, shot photos of lions and leopards and elephants in South Africa, and wandered around, nearly lost, drinking freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in Istanbul.  It was an amazing trip, but I didn't get to spend enough time in any of the places I visited.

But I have conducted a very official survey of airports and airline service since, in those last three weeks, I've been on 11 flights, through 10 airports on 7 different airlines.  Here are the official results:

Best Food: Turkish Airlines
Worst Food: Air Canada or South African Airways

Best in Flight Service: Emirates
Worst in Flight Service: British Airways

Best Airport Service: Air Canada or Alaska Airlines
Worst Airport Service: Turkish Airlines (absolutely horrible)

Best Airport: Seattle, USA
Worst Airport: Heathrow, England (even worse than LAX)

Fastest Immigration: Heathrow, England
Slowest Immigration: Johannesburg, South Africa

Easiest Customs: UAE
Worst Customs: USA

Easiest Airport Check-in: Air Canada
Worst Airport CHeck-in: South African Airways

Easiest Security: Butte, MT
Worst Security: Chicago or Istanbul

Best Airport People Watching: Dubai (pissed off Arabs and Irish)
Most Boring Airport People Watching: Salt Lake City (no need to explain)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

World's Tallest Building in Dubai

Dubai Creek in an "older" section of Dubai
Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall
The last few days have been spent in Dubai.  Okay, the first day was mostly spent sleeping and hiding from the heat.  I didn’t get to my to my hotel until 3am after a 9-hour flight so I deserved some sleep.  I wandered a bit through an older part of town near my hotel and called it a day.  The next day I headed to the fantasy land of the Dubai Mall with the shark tank and fountains and giant waterfall—all at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

I won’t say I was disappointed by the view from the observation deck on the 124th floor, but Dubai is even more dusty and brown from above as it is from the street (once you look past the shiny buildings and fancy cars and all that other useless stuff that too much money can get you.)  There were also 80 floors above me that might have offered a better view, but I was still more than 10 times higher than the tallest building in Montana.

Shadow of the Burj Khalifa

Dubai was my first experience in the Arab world and it was certainly a unique blend of cultures.  There are people from over 150 different cultures living there in a relatively small area.  It is also like Las Vegas with more money.  I could have done without the stop there, but I’m glad I did. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Penguins in Cape Town

African Penguins
I’m writing this as I fly over natural gas fires in Saudi Arabia.  They are a bright contrast to the darkness and dimly lit cities below.  They also represent another foreign world to me. 

I should be in Istanbul right now, but thanks to the lovely Turkish Airlines I’m 13 hours later than planned.  Bummer because it took away half a day of my short time in Istanbul.  But much to my amusement the angry Arabs and Irish on the flight provided excellent people watching with their yelling and ranting.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Turkish Airlines did put us up in a fancy hotel for a few hours though.  But the time sitting around in the airport and transport to and from the hotel was more than double the time actually spent in the hotel.  I did get to see the bill (footed by Turkish Airlines) from my few hours in this hotel and it was a bit more than the cost of this flight.

Top of Table Mountain

I left Cape Town a few days ago with having completed my goal of playing tourist by hiking up Table Mountain and seeing the penguins.  With such a short time in some of these places on these trips I feel like the best way to see is unfortunately to be your typical tourist.  But Cape Town was great.  I would love to go back and send much more time there.  If you combined the skinny jeans and hipsters of Portland, OR and the money and beaches in San Diego and the breweries and good food and diversity of both you would get something akin to Cape Town, South Africa.

I'm finally posting this from Istanbul, where my luggage was finally delivered.  How do you delay a plane for 13 hours and not put a single piece of luggage on it?

Ostrich Foot