NECE 4, Day 2 – the Green Mountain Club HQ; Ben and Jerry’s factory; Stellafane Amateur Observatory

Waking up from the EVERFROST

The night was, to be honest, miserable – even with fleece blankets to line my sleeping bag, I was VERY cold. Cold to the level of going into the fetal position inside the sleeping bag, and arms in armpits to maximize heat recirculation for my body, and still shivering.  And I am a big guy, so I don’t really shiver.

I woke up/decided to get out of the tent and start moving around 6am, a process which went something like this:

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning. VERY. COLD.

It was very, very, very cold on Friday morning.
VERY.
COLD.

After checking extremities for frostbite (my left pinky and all my right toes felt VERY cold, in that “oh shit” kind of way), I got out of the tent and started moving as much as I could.  To say the least, I was not happy with the -20 degree rating on my sleeping bag… but as my brother has since explained to me, -20 rating means “you MIGHT not freeze to death in -20, and you’ll be really warm and comfortable at -5″… which is a bit different than how I understood it.  As they say, you (barely) live and learn.

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

The tent looked so nice as I departed, but was approximately 0 degrees Kelvin on the inside

I checked online, and the capitol of the state, 13 miles away, was -14 degrees F during the course of the night – and locals in Waterbury reported -18 on their thermostats. Chilly indeed, even if the above photo looks like a nice winter day.  But cold is nothing new, so I departed for… a McDonald’s in order to get out of the wind and thaw a bit.  I cannot overstate how thankful I am that the closest one, a 30 minute drive away, had a fireplace in their dining room… as I got to warm myself for the 2 hours unscheduled that morning!

A raccoon froze to death during the night!  Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

A raccoon froze to death during the night! Very good sign for the safety of my experience, I should think

Even with the FROST-PERIENCE and racoon-popsicle discoveries of my evening and morning, one cannot overstate the gorgeous views across the top of the Little River dam and reservoir:

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

Sunrise over the reservoir, just gorgeous

The Long Trail, starting at the Green Mountain Club Headquarters

As I have hiked on the Appalachian Trail before, my intention was to spend a good set of the 272 miles on VT’s famed Long Trail while in the state.  When I began to look into that, I found there is a non-profit organization in the state, which is responsible for maintaining those miles and miles: the Green Mountain Club!

Green Mountain Club HQ

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

The new GMC HQ building is 100% built from local sustainable materials, entirely self-sufficient for power, and is 100% gorgeous

From what I read online, their new headquarters building was built entirely with local sustainable lumber, and is powered fully by solar.  Once I got there, I found out fascinating additional details: they had to build the new building because the old one burned down; they have composting toilets so produce very little wastewater; they use a special sort of boiler for heat and water heating, which is crazy efficient; and the list of cool things went on and on.

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The interior of the GMC HQ was gorgeous, and adorned with all manner of historical gear and backpacks

The building was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the specifics of the building, the Long Trail, and just more of my immersion into the friendly and jovial culture of Vermonters.  Also, they happened to be well-situated in order to see Camel’s Hump Mountain, which is where I was planning on hiking:

The peak of Camel's Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The peak of Camel’s Hump as seen from the Green Mountain Club

The lunch of champions: stopping by the Ben & Jerry’s factory

On my way towards the GMC, I passed by a place I had visited in my childhood with my family, the Ben & Jerry’s factory.  I knew I needed lunch on my way south to Springfield VT, so I figured I had found my diner!

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central... INCEPTION

Snow sculpture of a guy churning snow into ice cream, in front of the ice cream central… INCEPTION

After ordering and enjoying a cookie-layered sundae with hazelnut ice cream (yes, I probably got diabetes from typing that, much less eating it), I snapped some photos and then got into the car for my trip down south.

In heaven

In heaven

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch... so good.

A wall of ice cream scoops with my hazelnut and cookie sunday lunch… so good.

Observing Stellafane Amateur Observatory

All signs point to astronomy

All signs point to astronomy

The highlight of the trip for me, in some ways, was a visit to get a private tour of the Stellafane Observatory.  I drove the 2 hours south to Springfield, to meet with Ken Slater, the vice president of their club, who was happy to give me a private tour of the grounds.

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The Stellafane lodge, atop the hill

The catch, of course, was that we had to snowshoe in over the unpaved hills and dales, which was (as snowshoeing is wont to be) tiring but worthwhile!

The unique1924  Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

The unique1924 Porter telescope, still standing and in use all these years later

Atop the hill sits the pink lodge building, with several telescopes in it, and then the famous Porter observatory off by itself.

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

The VP of the Stellafane Club, Ken, and I in front of the lodge

Ken told me all about the peculiarly important place of Stellafane in the history of astronomy – basically, it was a place which took the telescopes as curiousities of the rich in the 1900s and 1910s, and began to turn it into a club for enthusiasts… until the magazie Scientific American picked up on their existence and wrote an article.

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

Only a few of the compendiums of Scientific American articles on amateur telescope making, all because of Stellafane

An article which outperformed every single article they had ever written… and the editors caught on when they received boatloads of letters indicating their interest.  The voluminous article-writing after was big enough to necessitate the bound books (some of which can be seen above), and was really interesting to learn about!

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The handsome Stellafane logo, atop the lodge

The classy and dapper 1910s gentleman being the symbol of Stellafane (seen above, atop the front door to the lodge) ought not give the wrong impression – the interior of the lodge is split between cooking space for guests, and teaching space for learners:

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

A blackboard for teaching, and photos of nearly 100 years of telescoping

The astronomical curios in the room were 1) awesome and 2) tempting as all hell to stock up on as quickly as I can, in order to outfit nerd-rooms in my future house (note: all rooms in my home will be nerd rooms… so I will need a *lot* of curios):

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of many awesome things I hope to one day have in a room(s) in the house I hope to build.

One of my favorite pieces in the lodge was the series of glass plates with images taken decades ago by the amateur telescopes of the club:

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes.  Breathtaking.

Glass plate images from over 75 years ago, made using amateur made telescopes. Breathtaking.

Ken got a photo of me checking out the Porter observatory through my Pentax, with the not-so-clear-skies above:

Yours truly photo'ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

Yours truly photo’ing the Porter telescope (this shot taken by Ken, and posted here with his permission)

As has been alluded to above, Stellafane actually is home to multiple telescopes… and that number grows, as they offer once per month courses on how to grind your own mirrors, to make your own telescopes.  I REALLY want to make it up there to do this, not least of all because astrophotography CAN be done with DIY telescopes… which is REALLY awesome:

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

Another one of the observatories dotting the 70+ acres at Stellafane

As a matter of fact Stellafane almost has more telescopes than they know what to do with; Ken got a shot of me with one of the larger (gigantic and enormously heavy) telescopes in storage, awaiting refurbishment and installation somewhere:

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

That is a LARGE telescope, one of the donations given to Stellafane (I believe this one came from one of the old Harvard observatories and was considering too old to refurbish)

But refurbish they do, using some fascinating tools: a polishing tool made from common ceramic floor tiles to scrape the glass evenly:

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

Ken showing off a GIGANTIC mirror being polished with a homemade ceramic tile scraper

At the end of another long but excellent day in Vermont, I drove north and snapped a few photos along the way, as I continued to marvel at the scenery along the way.  VT is almost *too* visually appealing in the winter, so I assume in the summer it blooms with the force of a thousand Edens.  Though it bills itself as “Green Mountain State” on its license plates, I would offer: it ought to be re-motto’d as “Lands of Unending Subarus”, with their all wheel drive and ease of use for moving sporting equipment.

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 - just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

A shot taken one handed while driving to try and capture the beauty along I89 – just another excuse to fashion a camera mount to go on the headrest of the passenger seat, I guess!

I slept VERY soundly, once I got back to the tent, not least of all because it was a sweltering 12 degrees F outside.

One response to “NECE 4, Day 2 – the Green Mountain Club HQ; Ben and Jerry’s factory; Stellafane Amateur Observatory

  1. Pingback: Astrophotography, radio telescopes, and mountaineering in West Virginia | A Jaunt Around the World - Cleveland, OH

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