AUG. 22, 2016
Most people can agree that there is something magical about the mountains and the time we spend among them. But I often find it hard to explain why. Even now as I write this, I am not quite sure I will be able to express the thoughts or emotions that come from my experience, but here goes.
Upon arriving in Italy we hit the ground running. Okay, maybe it was more of a slow stroll, but nonetheless, despite the jetlag and 24 hours of traveling, our group set out among the busy and crowded streets of Rome to do the only thing we could. We spent hours wandering the streets and historic sites, taking in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus all while throngs of people chattered around us in an amazing array of languages. Traffic zoomed around and busses and Trolleys zipped along their lines and our group quickly got swept into the motions of this life. But among the motions, there were many moments of mimicry and confusion. Every one of us struggled at some point, whether it was with ordering a cup of water or figuring out how to flush the toilet. Even as an instructor, curve balls fly at you that you could have never predicted. Nothing dramatic or devastating, just interesting bumps along the path that are the nature of travel.
After an especially hot wait for a long lost Bus 81, and the ensuing cramped and sweaty ride through Rome, the group was more than pleased to find the trip North to Cinque Terre was along a quiet, un-crowded train. Strolling along the streets of Manarola just around 5PM proved to be a welcome departure from the bustle of Rome. But, not all was familiar once again. That evening was another flurry of activity to find dinner among the crowded streets as the entirety of the Cinque Terre Region flocked to the narrow alleys of Vernazza for the Festival of Santa Margarita. Again, just another challenge expertly navigated by the group, but one no one expected to find. After being rewarded with an amazing display of fireworks, the region continued to amaze with breathtaking scenery. The towns clutching to the steep hillsides, poised to fall into the ocean, while floods of people popped into the towns for “day-trips”. The trails connecting the town offered a welcome break while also packing in some breathtaking ascents of the terraced vineyards and farms (And when I say breathtaking, I mean physical demands of the hike as much as the beauty).
Despite its quaint seaside feel, even Cinque Terre proved to have its own quarks that never made it really feel like home. It wasn’t until arriving in Trento that I truly felt the change. Stepping out of the train station was a welcome surprise. There were mountains in every direction. For the first time I finally felt something familiar. And starting our Trek in the Dolomites only strengthened that feeling. From the first day in Pragser Wildsee, I could tell I felt “in my element”. The maps and terrain, though new in many ways, was also welcomingly familiar. The humility I felt among the stone giants, and the awe of seeing the sweeping landscapes were a language I was fluent in. Even arriving to the first Rifugio I felt this kindred connection with everyone we met. Here people were overjoyed with life, invigorated by the challenges of trekking everyday. I think it was when the group really started to connect on an unconscious level and when I believe we found our “flow”. Even when it rained for all of our 8 hour hike, and the wind blew, and everything felt wet and cold, it was still a welcomed experience – one I knew too well to truly distaste. It was just another side of the mountains that I had come to love. And through this familiarity and connection, every new experience felt like I was discovering new sides to an old friend. We watched clouds of rain engulf us. We ate lunch with all-too-friendly calf who would chew on any lose article of clothing or gear. We had joyfully fragmented conversations in half spoken-half signed languages. We ate our fill of dry cheese sandwiches and polenta many times over. We took wrong turns, and shortcuts that took longer, and spent hours laughing about the muddy slips and falls we all took.
These were not the mountains I called home, but they were filled with a spirit and energy I knew well. The experiences were both new and old, like de’ja vu. It was a place I was coming home too as much as I was visiting. And leaving was just as hard. Leaving the Dolomites was just as much a departure from “home” as it was the start of our trip’s departure. Even the group felt it. On our train ride home someone asked “Why can’t we just leave for home from Trek? Taking a train and going back to Rome feels like slowly pulling off the Band-Aid. It’s so hard to watch it all disappear in the distance after everything we’ve done up there”
Our last days in Rome we treasured our time together before finally splitting into our separate ways. But I could feel that just leaving the mountains, had already started our goodbye. Waking up each morning was just a bit harder and each step we took was another step away from the journey we shared; A language we spoke so fluently to ourselves and each other. A place I will call home even if I never return.
DEC. 14, 2015
Hante AT Trek 1976 – Sam’s Gap to Laurel Fork Gorge
15 Years Old
July 12, 1st Day:
Hiked 6 miles. Sunny at first but changed to thunder storm on Big Bald Mtn. Got 3 bee stings at first of hike. Scott P. got lost and twisted ankle. Had peanut stew for dinner.
July 13, 2nd Day: Hiked 10 mi. Beautiful weather, sunny and warm. It was hard hiking today but we made it in about 4:00 PM. I twisted my ankle but it seems to be okay. For dinner we had spaghetti.
July 14, 3rd Day: Hiked 15 mi. We had great weather today. We started about 9:00 and hiked to the Nolichucky River. There we went swimming and washed our hair. We left the river about 2:00 and hiked until 8:00 which was quite unexpected. We missed Laurel Springs and ended up camping at Beauty Spot 4 miles later. We had Almond Rice for supper then went to bed about 12:00.
July 15, 4th Day: Free day. Today we didn’t do much of anything. We read aloud out of Walk About and hiked up to the bald. A couple came by and talked to us about the A.T. and then gave us a watermelon. We had potato fritters and Elderberry fritters for dinner.
July 16th 5th Day: Hiked 10 mi. When we started out it was cloudy but it soon cleared up. First off we climbed Unaka Mt. Then we went on to Cherry Shelter where we had lunch. Soon after that a thunder storm rolled in which continued until we reached our campsite. We camped in an apple orchard and had Bulgar Curry for supper.
That was the last entry for Hante 1976 but we went the full amazing 10 days. Flash forward 1 year and I again was out on the trail. The summer is 1977 and this time around the experience is different but also wonderful. My journal entries are also much longer this year so you’ll just get one.
Hante Trek 1977: Mt. Rogers – Laurel Fork Gorge
16 Years Old
Friday, July 22: What a beautiful camping spot! We’re up near the top of Mt. Rogers in a big field. There are a few stands of Spruce trees, but other than that they’re only crops of rocks, ferns and grass. The clouds are blowing right on us and I can hear a bird singing in the distance. The space reminds me so much of Scotland and the Moors around in the Lake District.
Today I think our whole group grew, each beginning to know the others better. By the end of the 10 days we’re surely all going to know everyone else’s fault and hopefully our own.
We’re having cheese rice for dinner and then we’ll all get a good night’s sleep on the soft grass. Tomorrow it is over Mt. Rogers!
Oh! We ate lunch at Old Orchard Shelter – what a view (if you could see through the clouds)!
It is so fun to read back through these entries and relive this trek – the details from my 16 year old brain help to bring back those 10 days on the trail. As I flip through the few pages of my journal from the next year, 1978 (Fontana Dam to Dick’s Creek Gap, Georgia), I see that my head was not into journaling. That summer became more a leadership summer for me and I think my need for writing was not there on that trip. That year was a year of pictures of which you see a few here.
Life on the trail is a journey, no matter how long you are out or how old you are. It is a place unlike any other to have space for reflection, to challenge your endurance, to build friendships and life live fully immersed in the natural world. I encourage you to step out this summer and go on your own Hante – you will never regret it!
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director
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.