Living Off Grid – Living at Higher Altitudes

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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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.

In 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.

Being 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  

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