Saturday, June 22, 2013

Classic Tourist: Masada and Ein Gedi

With all the traveling I've done I've finally come to the conclusion that I don't necessarily like all the super-touristy destinations, mainly because they are SO CROWDED. But whenever you end up going to Jerusalem-area, you hear about hiking Masada and Ein Gedi, because it's both beautiful and a classic. 

Located right next to the Dead Sea, Masada used to be (in the way olden days) a fortress of some kind. Now, overlooking the Dead Sea, it is considered a classic hike to do at sunrise. Ein Gedi, a nature preserve right near Masada and the Dead Sea, is also known for being pretty, green (a rarity in the desert), and filled with streams to cool off. 

Because our day off during MEET was on Saturdays, we decided that we'd get some rest on Friday night, wake up at 3am (Sally's idea, not mine), drive an hour-ish to Masada, hike up (budget about 1.5 hours), see sunrise, and continue on to Ein Gedi or some other hike for a morning / afternoon adventure before it gets too hot and be back in time for a nap before dinner. 

As it turns out, the sunrise is gorgeous and worth it. You can see the hills of Jordan on the other side of the Dead Sea, slowly becoming illuminated by the rising run. If we had left at 3am, we could have made it back to MEET before class started at 9am with time to spare. Instead, it was Saturday, so we sat at the top eating grapes and playing with the birds for a while after sunrise. 

If you want to see all the pretty (artsy) pictures from our Masada hike, see them on my Flickr

Afterwards, we tried to go find food, and ended up meeting a tour group of German-Russian elderly women who were visiting the area. They were eating at a relatively expensive restaurant in the middle of the desert, so we opted to eat cheap sandwiches at a nearby campground and take naps on their couches outside. 

Afterwards, we went to the Ein Gedi reserve, right next to Masada and the Dead Sea. The entrance fee is a bit steep (30 shekels or so), but it's worth it. Ein Gedi is an oasis in the middle of the desert, with nice walking / hiking trails leading through canyons and small streams. Unfortunately, I have no pictures from this part of our trip since I didn't carry my heavy camera with me, but the walk itself was absolutely gorgeous. The contrast between desert and oasis is rather striking, with you walking in the heat and sun along a canyon, when you turn a corner to see a lush green patch of vegetation about 10 square meters. If you get lucky, you see ibexes (like goats) running through the patches of oasis. 

We hiked to Wadi David ("David's Waterfall"), but decided that there were too many people and that we were fit enough to go even higher. We went all the way to the "higher trails" of Ein Gedi Spring and Dodim's Cave. The heat was incredible, and I was very tired so lagging a bit behind the group. Sally and Kyle went on ahead to Dodim's Cave and found a gorgeous spring we could sit in to cool off - the water was cool, and there was a small waterfall flowing onto us as we waded. We could see the valley below us if we got close enough to the edge of the spring - the perfect view to relax in. 

Sufficiently cooled off, Sally, Alex, and Kyle decided that they would try for the upper trail of Ein Gedi, while Jamie and I (too tired from the heat and lack of sleep to feel comfortable hiking in the raw sun of the afternoon) would walk back down and meet the others with the car on the other side of the park. Unfortunately for Team Hikers, the upper trail was closed and they had to take an alternate route, but Jamie and I took our time retracing our steps and meandering over to the car. 

When we got back to the hotel in Jerusalem, we were all a bit tan, a bit tired, and very happy with our collection of views from an adventure day well spent. Even though Masada / Ein Gedi is a tourist attraction, it's worth the visit. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

I'm graduating from MIT today

Hello, world! 

Today, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a minor in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That was the sentence in English. But the sentence in MIT-speak is: I'm graduating with a degree in 6-2 and a minor in 18 from MIT. In either case, I am entering "the world," in mind and hand (mens et manus), to contribute my share to the advancement of humanity. 

Graduating is another stage in the performance of life. Everyone else sees that you graduate, and then the real show begins. Your skills are put to the test in front of the world audience. 

To me, this is an exciting and invigorating prospect (project). I am ready to perform - I have spent the last four years preparing in mind and hand for what happens after graduation. But now that I'm here it seems more symbolic than anything else. Graduating is just a continuation of the growth I've already experienced. Nothing is changing in a drastic way internally; I am still the same person. I am ready to take on any challenges thrown at me, I am ready to make my own way in the world, I am ready to make my mark.

What does happen after graduation is that I am starting fresh. I can start with a clean slate again. This state happens so few times in a person's lifetime that each must be approached with care and awe. This time, when starting anew, I want to make the most of it. Despite having learned a lot from MIT, I have also messed up quite a bit. I want to make sure that I learn effectively from my mistakes and make the best of my time in life from now on. I am not saying that I will not make any more mistakes - I am just saying that I will at least learn from the mistakes I've already made.

I am starting fresh, I am keeping the good from the last four years in my life, I am repenting for my mistakes, I am keeping close to me the lessons of the last four years, I am becoming a responsible world citizen. The connections I have made while at MIT will last me for way more than a lifetime, and I will hold those close as well.

Get ready, world. Because I just compiled my code and am ready to execute. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Presidential Traverse: The White Mountains

For months now, Eben, Kayla, Maddie, and I have been trying to find the right weekend and weather window to do a Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains. Finally, between problem sets, graduating, finishing projects, and jobs, we found a day to do it: June 1st. 

What is it?

A Presidential Traverse is considered one of the most classic long traverses in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - you start at the Appalachia trailhead, cross over Mts. Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and optionally Jackson and Webster. The route we had our eyes on: 

View Presidential Range Traverse in a larger map

did not include Jackson, but would involve 22 miles of hiking with over 9000 feet of elevation gain. Canonically, the goal is to do this traverse in a day. 

The interesting thing about this hike is that you start and end in two different places, meaning you need to do a shuttle of cars for the end of the hike - you leave one car in Crawford Notch and take the other to the Appalachia trailhead (the start of the hike).

The hike is usually done north-to-south, so that most of the sustained uphill is done at the beginning of the hike when the group is less tired. Mt. Washington serves as a good half-way point, and the hike from that point forward is more mild in terms of elevation and trends downhill rather than up. 

The hike

We were lucky that Erika happened to be in town that week and came with us for the traverse. At 9pm on Friday May 31st, right after Eben landed back in Boston from a sailing tournament and we had dinner at pika, we set out for the mountains. Eben and Erika had a car rented from Budget and I had gotten a car from RelayRides.  Around midnight, we meet at Crawford Notch and leave our RelayRides car there, bringing with us only hiking essentials and sleeping gear. We get to the Appalachia trailhead at about 1:30 am, feeling too exhausted to pitch our tents, so we parked the car sideways and went to sleep in the parking lot. (Don't forget that we almost missed the parking lot if we hadn't seen Rick's car parked there - he was going to join us for the first leg of the hike to Madison Hut). 

Getting up at 5 am (at least 3 hours of sleep, of course), we dressed, ate breakfast, and set off at 5:45 am, a bit late for Presi Traverse standards. But the sunrise was gorgeous.

And we were all goofy and tired.
But we set out with high hopes. 

It started out warm - almost all of us were hiking in short-sleeve shirts and were soaked after an hour of sustained uphill. We were each carrying 2 liters of water, hoping to re-fill at Madison Springs Hut, Mt. Washington, and at Crawford Notch (5, 13, and 22 miles in, respectively). We hadn't accounted for the excessively hot day, but assumed we would be past the burning hot of the day by the time we got to the easier section of the hike. 

We got to the Madison Springs Hut at around 9am, popped up to the summit, refilled water, and sat around eating snacks and napping until heading back out at 10 am. We left Rick at Madison Springs and set out to continue.

Maddie even got to practice some crevasse rescue when her bandana flew away. 

The weather was great, just a tad hot. By the time we crossed a windy Adams and a super rocky Jefferson, we were already getting a bit tired of the heat and constant wear of the rocky paths on our feet. We were not wearing hiking boots, hoping to save on a bit of weight to get going a bit faster. We could see the auto road up Mt. Washington all through this leg, seeing just how far we had left to the half-way point. 

We were never lost, despite what this picture seems to suggest. 

Although we were a bit tired sometimes, so we rested around the good views as often as we needed.

After leaving Jefferson and heading to Washington, we all started to feel the heat. By the time we got to the summit of Mt. Washington, we all had mild headaches from the heat, we had run clear out of water, and we were all exhausted. It was 5pm and we were about halfway finished with our hike - we had to keep going. 

We sat in the Mt. Washington observatory starting at the ominous clouds in the distance (it had been forecast to rain that early afternoon) and chugging water. We downed about a liter of water each and as a result had to go pee a minute after we left the summit station. When we finally left at around 5:30pm, we had mostly recovered from the heat, eaten some food, drank water, and were ready to go. We walk outside into a mild rain spell, wearing our shells until the Lake of the Clouds hut 1.5 miles away from the summit of Mt. Washington. We had 9 miles to go, and it was 6:30pm. 

The hardest 9 miles I've hiked followed - we were tired, our feet were sore, and it was getting dark. We powered up Monroe, raced up Eisenhower, and got to the top of the Crawford Path trailhead going down the mountain right at nightfall. The view from Eisenhower showed us what we had just traversed - in the dark, we felt small compared to the power of the mountains surrounding us. 

Under the light of headlamp and nearly falling asleep as we were walking, we slowly made our way down to Crawford Notch. At 1 am, 19 hours after we had started hiking, we finally made it to the car waiting for us at Crawford Notch. We were tired, hungry, thirsty, but extremely satisfied with ourselves. We had just hiked 22 miles at a relatively relaxed pace across 6+ peaks in the Presidential Range. In one day.

Using the car at Crawford Notch to get back to Appalachia, we set up our tents (a bit off the road this time) and slept soundly until morning, looking back on our hike with the soreness that only comes along with a fantastic hike. 

The food lesson

As an experiment, I decided I would save a bit on weight and space to eat only Cliff bars and chocolate during the entire hike. I learned a few things from this experience, namely:
  • You can definitely eat only Cliff bars in terms of energy. I was not calorie-starved during the hike. 
  • The taste of Cliff bar gets old at about mile 10. 
  • Protein that tastes more distinctly like protein is nicer. 
  • If you're going to eat only Cliff bars, make your gorp a bit on the saltier side. 
All in all, I was satisfied with my food choices. 


I had a fantastic hike - good people, good views, good conversation, and most of all a good hike. Next up, Pemi loop?