Monday, February 2, 2009

Yurtin' for Certain: Or, Jamming on the Yurt! (1/3 - 1/4/2009)

Yurtin group

The Nissan Maxima sputtered a bit climbing higher and higher up the Kancamagus Highway between Conway and Lincoln. Coming the other way, skiers in luxury SUVs and various other vehicles crawled down the icy road leaving Loon Mountain. Jim commented, “I’m definitely going to build my own yurt.”

“Well, you’ll need plenty of musk-ox hide,” is all I could think to comment.


“Yeah, I think the Mongol’s yurt walls were made of musk-ox hide.”

With a laugh Jim responded, “If I see a musk-ox, I definitely get its hide.”

You’re probably thinking one of two questions – if not both: “What the **** is a yurt?”; and/or “Why the hell were you guys talking about yurts?” To the first question, a yurt is the western name for the portable hut the Mongols and Turkics of Central Asia used. The walls are made of felt from sheep fleece that are stretched over a frame of willow. (Notice, it’s not musk-ox at all. As a matter of fact there are no must-ox in Asia; maybe I was thinking of yaks?) They have slightly pitched roofs with an opening in the center to allow the smoke from the hearth to escape. The Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi went North on a diplomatic mission and was deeply impressed by the relative luxury and the ability of the dwelling to withstand the varying weather of the Mongol Steppe.

Tanka of the Yurt
after Bai Juyi’s “Sky Blue Yurt

Thousand sheep of felt
Drawn taut as Agincourt’s bows
Over willow frame.
Boreas’ blows shake it not
And warm does my yurt remain.

Mongol Yurt
Today, many westerners use the yurt design as an outdoorsy structure. It is an excellent mix between tent and cabin. Jim and I had just stayed outside of Fryeburg, Maine in a yurt with Tnarg, Laura, Patrick, Michelle and Emily. Our yurt was not transportable. It was about 12-15 foot in diameter with walls of a lattice work of pine, maybe. The outer wall was not fleece (or musk-ox or yak for that matter). Instead it was a plasticized canvas. Except for a bathroom, the yurt had all the amenities of a cabin, including wood-stove, a propane cooking stove and beds that could sleep eight.

Upon arriving at Frost Mountain Yurts, we parked the cars and found the key to our yurt. The yurt is still about an eighth of a mile into the woods, so we loaded cargo sleds and pulled them into the Maine Woods. Once the gear was in the yurt, we decided to go on a snowshoe hike before the winter sun set.

Hike One: Frost Mtn. Summit
Date: January 3, 2009
Distance: about 2.5 miles
Height: 1,211 ft (369m) (about 700 ft elevation gain)
Location: Brownfield, ME
Type: hike (snowy)
Sights: White Mountains, sunsets that “look like Jupiter”, sledding
Difficulty: Easy

The snowshoe trails leave right from the yurts sites. After a quick walk back to the cars, we made our way up the old logging trail into the hardwoods. This part of Maine is on the tail end of the White Mountains region, the snow was densely packed where we used the snowshoes very little, but the crampons on the shoes considerably; Jim did not even use his snowshoes, only wearing his cramp-ons.
As far as mountain hikes go, this was a quite easy. There were two or three parts that I would call moderate, but they were few and far between. At the summit, we all gathered at Sunsets Rocks. Looking almost due west, there were spectacular views of the Presidentials as the ice and snow glistened in the low sun. While we had lost Jim originally, he caught up with us at the top. Apparently he returned to the yurt and grabbed two sleds for the return trip.
With the sun quickly dropping behind Mt. Washington, we decided to return the way we came, rather than finishing the loop. This put us on the northern slope. About a third of the way down there was a great view of the ponds and lakes in the Fryeburg/Brownfield region. The refraction of the setting sun produced purples and oranges reflecting off the glacial ponds. They were of almost unnatural color. Jim commented it looks like Jupiter.

Back on the old logging trail, Jim decided we should sled. He took the saucer and made a great run of about 100 feet down the mountain. I then took the full sled and leapt forward in a Cressida/skeleton run. I passed where Jim had sled to, made a jump and BAM I was going down the hill with my yurt hat flapping in the wind. In what seemed a five minute ride (and probably only like one), I thought I’d make all the way to our yurt. Off course once I said this to myself I was stopped in a snow bank and Jim-in-saucer was right behind.


Date: January 4, 2009
Distance: 4.8 miles
Altitude: 3800ft
Altitude gain: 1800ft
Location: Mt. Washington, NH
Type: hike (snowy)
Sights: White Mountains
Difficulty: Moderate

In the morning the seven of us left the yurts. The other five went back to Portland while Jim and I headed back to Boston. As we headed toward North Conway, I asked “Is there another hike we can do while we’re here?”
This set in motion a fantastic hike. Jim, the backwoods-rock-climbing man knew of several up in the White Mountains. But, based on time and effort, he picked out the perfect one.
We drove into the Presidential Range to Pinkham Notch at the base of Mt. Washington. Jim gave me some spikes and after attaching them to my Bean Boots and going through some complicated tying of nylon rope around them, we were off.
It’s only about 2.5 miles from the base at Pinkham Notch to Hermit Lake. But, it is pretty much straight up. Winter hiking is a new thing for me and I didn’t quite get how much the spikes were helping – that was until we passed a couple without them. They were slipping on the packed snow and ice while I was merely tiring from the uphill.

The hike brought us to the Hermit Lake shelters, which is the common place to end ones hike. It is also the jumping off point for skiers and ice climbers. We had chats with groups of each. It’s still another 1500 feet and 2 miles to the summit of Mt. Washington. This summer I definitely plan to do it.

Portrait of Patrick - or Oliver Cromwell; I get them confused all the time

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