Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Living Off Grid - Living at Higher Altitudes

spring is here

I spent the first 55 years of my life in the same town – Bellingham, WA. It is located at the northeast corner of Washington State on the I-5 corridor. Just 30 miles to the east you can see Mount Baker, elevation 10,781 feet, and to the west, the Puget Sound.
I grew up boating, fishing, and water skiing on the salt water. As a teenager we had a view of the San Juan Islands and had direct access to the beaches for gathering clams, oysters and crabs.

Now here we are in the Okanogan Highlands, 250 miles from the nearest saltwater and 4200’ above sea level. Instead of trees, blackberries, and brush we now enjoy trees, green grass, and sagebrush. What a change. It’s not better or worse, just different.

I know there are a lot of people that live even higher than we do but we are high enough to  experience the same differences from living in the lower elevations.

Snow StormIn April we have to fight our way through snow to go to town, only to see the beginnings of green lawns and gardens in the lower valleys. It can be a little irritating by then, waiting our turn for warmer temperatures and things that are green. We can be in shirtsleeves in town and wearing coats and gloves to go back home. The biggest downside to all of that is the shorter growing season.

When the mountain bluebirds show, it is time to trade in our long underwear for something lighter. We have a SpringTo Do List that starts near the beginning of summer. It is the busiest time of the year because you really want to get everything done before it gets too hot to do the heavy work. Starting the garden, gathering next winters wood, and dusting the cobwebs off all the outdoor equipment are a few of the things we do.

Appliances all need to be adjusted for the higher elevations. We’re still working on our oven after two years. Just can’t seem to get it right. Pressure canning takes longer for every thousand feet higher that you live. Gas engines lose 3% power for every thousand feet above sea level. It’s 4% for diesel. I imagine it is similar for all combustion engines.

Your ear pressure will adjust every time you go to town. It takes about two weeks for your body (lungs) to adjust from the lowlands if you are a first time visitor. A simple walk at lower elevations is not as easy higher up. You will feel the difference almost immediately.

You definitely consume more energy to heat your home. We burn about 5 cords of wood each winter. Back where I came from we would only burn 2-3 cords for the same house.

fog and snowBeing higher the temperatures are typically colder but that is not always the case. Inversions are common here. We can be enjoying a nice warm sunny day while down in the valleys it is foggy and cold. The stars are brighter here. Unless you live in Denver, CO, usually the higher you go the less population you will see. The views tend to be a little more panoramic from up high.

I can’t really say which is better. Living up high or down low. It’s just different and I can make a case for both. It’s best to accept what is, adjust to it the best you can, and enjoy the benefits of wherever you live. It’s beautiful here, the air is a little cleaner, and you can walk through the forest for miles without seeing another soul.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites  and  

ed essex
7/27/2012 3:18:35 AM

Bruce, Thank you for the kind words. I missed your comment because I have been tied up for 11 days on a job.I have also been reading your articles. I do not envy you the snow removal you have to go through every year. I have it too but not as bad. I do like your elk pictures and I am envious about those. I always write about things that are happening right now and I cannot believe how many times we have intersected on topic, sometimes in the same week! Our highest mountain is a mile away and is 9700'. And most people think we are a little oxygen starved for living where we do. lol......................

bruce mcelmurray
7/20/2012 11:14:14 AM

Good article Ed. When we go to town from 9,750', elevation in the spring we are in coats when those at lower elevations are in shorts and shirt sleeves. The back of our truck is filled with snow that melts in the Walmart parking lot and people wonder what we are carrying around snow for anyway. You have captured living at high elevations. Driving 40 miles to town is sometimes like driving into another world. Our spring to do list is just like yours. Visitors often have altitude sickness when they visit. Living at high elevation is certainly different which is why I have devoted so many articles to it myself. Good accurate article.