Category Archives: americas

First solo winter hike in the Adirondacks: Cascade and Porter

There is a sign in the parking lot off of Route 9N indicating which marks the trailhead and provides basic information for visitors to Cascade and Porter Mountains. This is the starting point.
Mountains hiked: Cascade Mountain and Porter Mountain, New York, USA
Elevation: 1290m (4232 feet) and 1237m (4058 feet), respectively
Hiking time: 4 hours (round-trip)
Hiking distance: 5.6 miles or 9.0km (round-trip)

Greetings! I am sitting here with a hot tea thinking about how to begin describing my recent winter adventure hiking in the Adirondacks last weekend. The purpose of the trip was to make my first attempt at winter hiking with the objective of having fun :), being healthy, and building up my skills and knowledge for a much more difficult eventual winter-time summit of Mt Washington later this season. So let me give you my trip report: the background, my preparation, my experience, and some photos.  I hope this information can help someone else with their first winter hike! Continue reading First solo winter hike in the Adirondacks: Cascade and Porter

Great egret in South Carolina wetlands

20141025-huntington-egretA great egret (aka a great white heron) is perched atop a ‘rice trunk’ while taking in the sun as it sets over a marsh in the coastal wetlands of South Carolina. A rice trunk is a gravity-flow mechanism that uses tidal energy to transfer water from one place to another. It was used in the 17th century for rice farming; today they are typically used to create ideal habitats for birds that thrive in wetland ecosystems

Community-building in North Carolina

Please have a look at this photo for a moment…

This is an example of community-building happening in the town of Chapel Hill, in the US state of North Carolina. A local church and a community center organized a block party for neighborhood residents to get to know each other.


Chapel Hill is a rapidly growing college town and that brings with it a lot of benefits but also some disadvantages. Property prices have risen as developers gentrify the neighborhood to offer student housing. But this has caused problems for some longtime locals, whose property taxes have become unaffordable, since their household income has not changed.

The block party provided an opportunity to create ties. Kids are playing games, students are dancing, people are practicing handicrafts, and folks are eating, drinking and laughing. We are connecting with each other.

Hopefully in some small way this will help us to better understand each other’s perspective on what “prosperity” and “progress” really means for our community and how people are affected in different ways by development.

What’s your vision for the community where you live? Does it match what others see too?

I witnessed a moment of love at a public library in Arizona and was filled with happiness.

This morning I was waiting outside a public library as it got ready to open. Others were gathering around me too and an elderly couple ambled slowly along the path, holding hands. As they approached, they greeted another fellow standing across the sidewalk from me. This other fellow asked how they were doing. The elderly man replied: “So far, so good”. His partner chuckled and said to the fellow: “He always says the same thing – So far, so good.” The elderly man smiled to himself and my eyes drifted to his hands, which were lovingly caressing hers. I saw the wedding ring on her finger and saw her respond by tightening her hands around his. It gave me happiness and a comfortable and warm feeling inside just wondering about the path they took in life to arrive at this moment together. A nice way to start the day.

Observing environmental contrasts in Arizona

I decided to visit Arizona for the Easter long weekend. Good decision: as I write this, Chapel Hill is undergoing a deep freeze of 30-50° F (6° C) while I am thoroughly enjoying the warm and dry 94° F (34° C) weather.

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It was not a difficult decision to come here. Arizona offers intense hiking opportunities, awesome and raw natural beauty, and a major plus is that an equally keen adventurer friend of mine is based here. He and his wife recently had a baby boy who I was eager to meet. And so the plans were drawn.

It’s my first time here and I was surprised to discover that Phoenix has 4.2 million people in the metropolitan area. This makes it the sixth largest city by population in the country, according to Wikipedia. The metro area also includes the large and well-known towns of Scottsdale and Tempe, which is where I have spent my time so far.


The town of Tempe is home to the campus of Arizona State University and like most college towns in the US, it has a vibrant, hip and liberal feel to it. The streets are pedestrian-friendly, decorated with palm trees, and lined with trendy bars and restaurants, yoga studios, and smoke shops. You’ll see young professionals chatting it up over cocktails and beers and students sipping iced coffees and pounding away on keyboards trying to get their papers finished. Still, I was horrified to see one bar with its patio sliding doors thrown wide open and its air-conditioning system cooling the city air at full blast. And another restaurant across the street was spraying misted water on to its patrons to cool them down. (I found the temperature to be quite balmy.) I had gotten off the plane just 30 minutes earlier and so unfortunately these were among my first observations of my life in the Phoenix area …

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My friend Paul and I stopped at the Handlebar Tempe, a restaurant with an airy beer garden out back. We ordered sausages, burgers and sweet potato fries accompanied by cold local ale. That was enough for me to declare it a meal of champions!

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The roads around Scottsdale are lined with Saguaro cacti and palo verde trees which are among the dominant forms of fauna here. The entire area is situated within the Sonoran Desert, one of four desert ecosystems found in the United States. Despite the low amounts of precipitation in this climate there is apparently enough rain (or groundwater) to sustain some life. Certain types of plants have evolved to thrive here, but they tend to have a dusty or dull brownish and greenish colour to them and this is a dominant feature of the landscape.

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Scottsdale city authorities have undertaken efforts and put rules in place to protect the sensitive local environment. For starters, developers are apparently prohibited from removing the road-side brush. The result is that nearly every road is lined with the original desert vegetation and resident and commercial developments are a secondary feature, blending more readily into the landscape. I understand that homeowners may only plant species of vegetation which are native to the area and which are adapted to the low rainfall levels. Moreover, as a water conservation measure, properties have drip-irrigation systems built in at the time of construction which are designed to provide only a minimal amount of water to the plants growing around the home. And you’ll notice from the photo below that there is no grass – just light-coloured grey stones. Where grass exists, it’s usually Astroturf! These efforts are quite a contrast to the waste of water I witnessed in downtown Tempe.

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Another dominant characteristic of the landscape is its sharp mountainous relief. Everywhere you look you will see conical or triangular shaped mountains rising abruptly out of the desert. These are the McDowell Mountains. Some of them rise only a few hundred or a thousand feet, while others must be easily twice that height. It is funny because as we were driving along the way, I found it difficult to tell where the homes and businesses were, so well were they obscured by the same landscape that was occupying our attention.

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Early one morning, Paul and I decided to hike up into one such set of mountains, following the Pinnacle Peak Trail. The hike was about 2 miles long, with an elevation change (both up and down) of about 1,300 feet, and took us about 2 hours to complete. There were dozens of other hikers and joggers on the trail with us. I wondered at those who were running up and down the mountains. I thought to myself that they must be doing interval training (an exercise format that aims to improve strength and recovery time after highly intense periods of physical exertion).

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From the top of Pinnacle Peak, you can see a few golf courses built into the desert.

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And one home with an infinity pool, set into the mountain side.

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Hunting for the sunrise in the California desert

At the end of a hike for the sunrise in the Mojave Desert mountain ranges outside of Los Angeles, California. © Ryan Rowe /

After a night dancing under the full moon in the desert outside of Los Angeles, California, seeing the sun rise over the mountains seemed like the right thing to do at 5:00am. Seize the day, right? I headed in the direction of the brightening sky and climbed to the top of the nearest hill. At the top of it, I realized I was at the start of the mountain ranges of the Mojave Desert where the ridge of each mountain seemed to be higher than the last. I continued on, climbing up and down for what seemed like forever. Finally, at a certain point, the sun had risen high enough that it came over the top of the ‘last’ mountain and there I was.

Street vendor in Rio de Janeiro

Street vendor in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © Ryan Rowe /

A street vendor in the Rocinha favela of Rio de Janeiro selling grilled meats: chicken, sausage, and beef skewers. Small-scale entrepreneurs are common on the streets of Brazil where millions of these types of workers are part of the informal economy and pay no taxes but may also have no or limited access to social or financial services (though this is changing rapidly). He probably runs a good business and is likely eagerly awaiting the influx of millions of tourists for this year’s World Cup. Viva Brasil!