MAR. 31, 2015
After a long, cold winter, the trees and flowers are finally starting to bloom here in North Carolina – just in time for kids across the county to enjoy some time outdoors for their Spring Breaks. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been hearing stories and seeing social media posts from friends and family members who are taking advantage of the break from school. It’s fun to see pictures of smiling families skiing in sunny Colorado, or trying paddle boarding for the first time on the South Carolina coast. What makes me most excited is seeing that many of the activities people choose to participate in are OUTSIDE!
This year, my family is staying close to home for our Spring Break, and we’re planning to have some outdoor adventures of our own. Three of my favorite things to do outside are weed and plant flowers in my yard, mountain bike, and nap in the sunshine. Over the next few days I excited that I’ll be able to do all three. Since our schedule is free and clear of weekend soccer tournaments and school projects, we may also be able to take a little side trip to the mountains for a day of hiking and fly fishing in some of our favorite summer spots. I’m already relaxed knowing that I’ll have a little time to slow down, get my hands dirty, and reconnect with the beauty and simplicity of the natural world.
spring flowers from my garden
As you have breaks and vacations this year, I hope that you all also have a little time to enjoy nature and each other. Your backyard is waiting!
MAR. 13, 2015
I love an adventure in the great outdoors! I’m always excited when I have an opportunity to pull out my sleeping bag and head off for a magical experience under the sun, moon and stars. In my early years as a counselor at Eagle’s Nest I was fortunate to be able to be a part of many outdoor adventures as a Hante leader. Along with groups of about 10 teenagers and my co-leaders, I hiked over 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia during three successive summers. I also spent another three summers on my bike exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, Northern California, and parts of the Great Divide Trail in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Not only were these adventures exciting and fun, they helped me grow in confidence and cultivated my desire to continue to seek out adventures.
Paige on Hante California Bike Trek, circa 1993.
These days, even though I don’t lead Hantes, I spend a lot of time dreaming about them. I find myself thinking “Gosh. The Pacific Northwest seems so lush and beautiful. Wouldn’t it be cool to camp under the trees there and sea kayak around the San Juan Islands?” or “Man! All the stories I’ve read about Yosemite make it seem like such an incredible place and the photographs show out of this world landscapes. I bet the John Muir Trail would be an awesome place to hike and camp!” Even though I’m not able to take three weeks for these adventures myself, I can make these dreams come true for a group of teens.
Throughout the year Marlin Sill, our Wilderness Program Manger, has been busy planning logistics for all of the 2015 Hante Adventures. Now that many of those Hantes are planned, it’s time for us to start dreaming of our adventures for 2016. Where will Hante take us? Will we explore the woods and coast of Maine? Will we find ourselves hiking and camping in Northern Italy? Should we offer a Hante that gives our participants the chance to get certified as Lifeguards or take a Swift Water Rescue course? There are so many great opportunities, and we love to dream about the possibilities and the next adventure. I know how impactful Hantes are for teenagers (just as they were for me as an adult leader), and I’m hopeful that our campers will be as excited about the Hante offerings as I am.
What are your dreams from Hante? Let us know. Maybe your dream can become a reality in 2016.
Are you ready for an adventure THIS SUMMER? It’s also not too late to be take part in a Hante Adventure this summer. We still have spaces available on the Appalachian Trail Trek with Andrew Nelson and Julia Fuster as leaders, on Hante Portugal with Rodrigo Vargas as the lead instructor, and on Hante Rocks and Rivers. Check out their descriptions on the website or call us for more information.
Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director
FEB. 9, 2015
Look up, what do you see?
The vastness of the early morning sky streaked red and orange?
A silhouette of the Barred Owl perched still and quiet on an old oak?
Roosting crows eyeing your every step, curious what you might have for them?
A Beech Tree tightly grasping last season’s leaves waiting for new spring buds to push them along?
A silently gliding Cooper’s Hawk out for an early morning hunt?
Dried Tulip Poplar flowers stark and on barren branches?
Precariously perched squirrels’ nests swaying high in the lofts of the Maples?
A small gray bird flitting from branch to branch, unidentifiable in the early morning light?
A crown of White Pines dancing in the wind?
Get out and look up today – What do you see?
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director
NOV. 18, 2014
I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of dams is pretty limited. I know that thousands of them exist in the United States, that they generate hydropower, and that they have a negative effect on the surrounding population of native wildlife. Other than that, I have a lot to learn. So when a documentary film about American dams was released earlier this year, I was excited to check it out.
The film, DamNation, made its debut on Netflix (and in my living room) a couple weeks ago and opened my eyes to the extensive damage that dams have caused in our country over the past century. Potentially the most well-known negative effect of dams is the fact that they block the movement of fish. This has a significant impact on the reproduction of native species, as many fish migrate from oceans to rivers to spawn. Dams also transform free-flowing rivers into lake-like habitats, meaning the fish and other native wildlife that thrive in river habitats do not fare well. In addition to the degradation of native species, dams negatively affect water quality and impede river-based recreation.
So, why then, were so many dams constructed in the first place? The majority of dams in the United States were built in the early 20th century before we had a strong understanding of the ecology of rivers. They also predated the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws. While hydropower probably seemed like a great source of renewable energy at the time, recent studies have estimated that more than 20% of all man-made methane emissions come from hydropower reservoirs. Here’s an interesting way to wrap your head around that number – imagine 6,000 cows being flatulent for one year. That’s the amount of methane that was produced from a single dam-made hydropower reservoir in Ohio in 2012. Wow!
Awareness of the overwhelmingly negative impacts of dams has dramatically increased over the past couple decades, sparking dam removal projects across the United States and the world. The largest dam removal project to date was completed in August on the Elwha River in northwest Washington. The river now flows freely and the ecosystem is recovering more quickly than many imagined. Next summer, participants of Hante Pacific Northwest will witness the healing of the Elwha River firsthand as they visit the former site of the dam. They’ll have the opportunity to explore the once-altered landscape and develop their own opinions regarding dams and dam removal.
If you’d like more information about the Elwha Dam removal project, read this article in Newsweek. Want an interactive demonstration of the effects that dams have on rivers? Check out this fantastic website: http://www.dameffects.org/index.html.
OCT. 27, 2014
A few weeks ago I was invited with my friend Marlin to go to The Gorge for a zip line and rappelling adventure in the Green River Gorge of North Carolina. That morning we met at Biscuit Head for breakfast and as we sat down, it began pouring rain. Ever optimistic, I said “Maybe it will stop.” So we donned our rain coats and hit the road for Saluda. As the rain was coming down in sheets, we talked it over in the car. Both of us agreed that even if we got drenched, we were committed to going on the trip. When we arrived, we dashed through the parking lot into the breezeway where they suited us up in full body harnesses, helmets, and gloves. Just as we were stepping out for ground school the rain stopped.
The first zip is affectionately called The Fluffy Bunny. Stepping to the edge of the platform and peering into the rising mists I felt that excited nervous feeling that you get before doing something for the first time. I have worked on ropes courses with zip lines since I was 17 and often times I am quite comfortable getting up high on a course. What they don’t tell you about The Fluffy Bunny until after you have zipped is that it is one of the steepest and fastest zips on the tour. I landed on the first platform with my heart racing and a hyper alert tingling all over feeling. All of the participants were grinning at each other and talking excitedly about how thrilling that first zip was. Our guides did an excellent job of preparing us with the skills we needed to zip, stop, and reel ourselves in. Pretty soon, we were comfortable enough to start getting silly.
As the group became more comfortable, our guides were able to start bringing tree identification, ecology, and local history to their interpretation. This trip, though it only lasted a day, reminded me of how much you gain from getting outside and trying new challenges with friends. While on the course I couldn’t help but comparing my experience with our campers’ on a Hante Adventure. Eagle’s Nest Hante instructors build progression into our trips just like our guides at The Gorge did. Giving campers of any experience level the skills they need to get started feeling safe and supported, the confidence to take that first step off of the platform, and then building more learning into the trip as the group grows. Due to the rain, we did not end up with 100 mile views, but the mists rising up from the mountain side and my adventure that day made me appreciate what a magical place we were getting to experience.
Check out the video of our adventures
SEP. 11, 2014
“I don’t know if I’m the only one who thinks that when you set out looking for the big answers in life, you gotta be as uncomfortable as possible when you do it.”
Warm blood dripped from my knee to ankle, the product of an unseen thorn hiding in the seemingly unending thicket of Rhododendron standing between me and a night of exhausted sleep. My feet screamed as hot-spots-turned-blisters protested step after step in stiff boots. The cone of light from my headlamp illuminated fellow group members ahead and behind, a crew of teenagers trudging slowly through the dark night. Our two instructors were nowhere to be found, though undoubtedly watching us from a distance as we tackled the student-led portion of our expedition. It was late, I was hungry and tired, and we were lost. I wanted nothing more than to pull my sleeping bag from my backpack and curl up under the gnarled, low-hanging Rhodo branches. I really didn’t want to hike any further, but quitting wasn’t an option.
Flash forward 15 years to the summer of 2014. It’s been a long day of hiking with heavy backpacks, and morale is sinking with the sun. With stomachs adjusted to meal times back at camp, our X-Craft backpackers were ready for dinner two hours ago. I’m at the back of the line this time as an instructor, encouraging a new generation of young outdoorspeople to continue moving toward this evening’s destination – the Walnut Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail. The final mile to the shelter is a 700 foot ascent, a cruel reminder that this isn’t supposed to be easy. As we inch along up the hill, a camper tells me that she wants to stop; to pull out her sleeping bag and call it a day right here in the middle of the trail. “I’ve been there too,” I tell her, “and I believe in you.”
People spend time in the wilderness for a variety of different reasons. Some go for solitude, others to forge intimate connections with the land. While these things certainly play a role in my desire to spend days on end in the woods, my primary goal is to challenge myself; to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. My bed at home is squishy and wonderful, and I cook some pretty decent meals in my kitchen (and then throw my dishes in the dishwasher). Those things are great, but my best nights of sleep have been on the hard ground after long days on the trail. The most delicious meals I’ve tasted were made in a single pot on an ultra-light backpacking stove. Some of my most memorable sunsets were witnessed as I crouched near a river and scrubbed my dishes.
It’s not all pink skies and cool breezes, though. Sometimes we hike uphill for miles. Sometimes it rains for three days straight. And sometimes we spend nights shivering in a sleeping bag, counting the minutes until the sun crests the horizon. But that’s the thing – the sun always rises, and we always hike on. When things get uncomfortable, we get strong. And whether or not we realize it at the time, we all have the innate ability to persevere through tough situations.
When the X-Craft crew returned to campus after our 3-day on the Appalachian Trail we sat together and talked about our adventure. We’d all had a night of sleep off the ground, and remnants of the trail were washed away by hot showers. Our discussion found its way back to that first day and the seemingly never-ending trek to the Walnut Mountain Shelter. Several campers shared their doubts about making it to our campsite that night. They admitted that they wanted to quit. But they didn’t; they made it. And then they woke up, packed up their tarps, and hiked ten miles the next day. The campers beamed with pride as they re-lived the journey and their incredible accomplishments. They agreed that after this trek, anything was possible.
That’s it, you see. That’s the magic. When I was 16 and crawling through Rhododendron at 11pm with a heavy backpack and no idea when I’d get to eat or sleep, I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. After that experience I felt empowered, as though I could do anything. And now, a decade and a half later, I still feel that way. That situation gave me the faith in myself that I needed to push through tough days and face challenges with confidence, and it gave me the desire to help others learn in a similar way. The summer has ended and our long days on the trail have passed, but I believe there are a number of young people scattered across the country that will use their experiences at Eagle’s Nest as inspiration to make it through the uncomfortable and difficult situations they’ll encounter this year. My hope for them is that they will recall what it felt like to hike to the top of that mountain, to keep going when they didn’t think they could, and to remember that they are, in fact, capable of anything. Finally, I hope they’ll have the confidence to choose discomfort, as it always lends the greatest rewards (and the prettiest views).