Picking up winter guiding skills in Maine

Jeff Butler just told us that it was another bullshit myth that you are dehydrating yourself when you drink coffee. I’m in the right place.

Jeff is co-leader of the four-day Winter Skills Maine Guide course that I am attending at Mahoosuk Guide Service (MGS), here in northwestern Maine.  photo Jeff runs Northwoods Survival, a bushcraft/dog-sledding business over the border in New Brunswick, Canada.

I am very pumped to finally experience Master Maine Guide Kevin Slater in action. Kevin and his partner Polly Mahoney are MGS.

Original signage at MGS

Original signage at MGS

Kevin’s been a Maine Guide for forty years. In his early years as a climber, Kevin guided trips up Denali. MGS is now known throughout the world for guiding dog-sledding trips in Maine and in Northern Canada. Part of the mission is carrying on the bloodlines of the Athabascan sled dogs from the Yukon Territories.  There are 42 dogs here.

One of the dog yards

One of the dog yards

It got noisy, really fast, when I pulled up in the pitch black dark here last night.  The deep howls were truly wilding.

Tonight, Kevin kicked off the teaching with a slide show that conveyed winter knowledge, featuring Inuit and Innu Natives in scenes from northern Quebec, all the way up to Baffin Island, above the Arctic Circle. It was a show and tell that focused on acclimatizing to the cold.   We also went deep into dressing appropriately for winter conditions.

As in backpacking, the name of the game in surviving and even thriving in the deep cold is moisture management. I learned a lot tonight, and especially appreciated the winter footwear segment, where a half dozen different types of winter boots were laid out in front of the group (there are four “paid sports”, and three apprentices attending) and discussed in detail, pro and con.  I was impressed with the insulating layers exposed in a cross-section of a “ mouse boot”,  a thick, off-white, rubber survival boot that is generally available through army surplus outfits.  They have a few of them out here.

Scott Oeth, from Wisconsin, is attending. I enjoyed hanging out with Scott when I was presenting at the Winter Skills Symposium  in Wisconsin this past October.  Scott is also a Maine Guide, gets outdoors a lot and maintains Bull Moose Patrol, one of the better outdoor adventure blogs.

You’d think that the “wet-is-here” cut point would be 32 degrees. Winter moisture all about preserving body heat- via insulating and wicking off moisture, however, that critical decision point comes in around 25 degrees.  At that point there’s a clear line where things are going to get wet- where sweating from exertion and wicking from snow makes it’s presence. This is where we discussed whether wool/ down or synthetics like fleece and pile.

It’s a top notch facility here. We are spending night one on the third floor of The Lodge, a relatively new building in the MGS compound. We have got a big radiant Defiant wood stove, braided rugs, and exposed post and beam rafters all around us.

Common room upstairs at The Lodge

Common room upstairs at The Lodge

There are separate bunk rooms with showers for men and women and all our meals are cooked right here in the main room.

Here’s the view out the window looking north toward Grafton Notch.  That’s where we’re going to be heading for a couple of nights in the deep woods.

Yup, it's winter.

Yup, it’s winter.

 

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Six- Triumph

tjamrog:

photo by Carrot Quinn

photo by Carrot Quinn

Here you go. The last installment of Carrot Quinn’s 5 day hike from the depths of Death Valley to the summit of 14,000+ foot Mount Whitney. This is the real deal.

Originally posted on CARROT QUINN:

Morning light hitting the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains

Morning light on the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains.  Lone Pine is the patch of green in the valley.

(In the first week of October, 2014, I set out to hike the Lowest to Highest Route with NotaChance and Orbit. This is the final installment of my trip report. For technical information on this route, go here.)

—————-

Oct 7
22 miles

At six a.m. I wake after a single perfect, flawless nights’ sleep and begin to crow the lyrics to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” into the still darkness. This is our agreed-upon alarm clock- my singing voice is beyond awful, so it’s really, really funny. It’s a joke that started when I used the song to wake Jess and Lia for our four a.m. summit of Mt. Adams- another hit was me singing Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb

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Wet winter biking in Midcoast Maine

The fat tire bike movement is alive and well with the Bubbas in the Woods, with Nate showing up today with a sparkling new Trek Farley, and the price was right.

A proud owner about to defile his spanking new ride.

A proud owner about to defile his spanking new ride.

It was a group of seven today at Bubba church, six of us riding fat- when we finished, it was 20° out, with a steady wind chill.

Nelson had to hike-a-bike to his truck early on after his compression fork blew a seal and all the oil in his fork ran out. Before he left, his bike looked like cartoon vehicle, with a layer of crispy crown leaves encircling the perimeter of his wheels as the protruding sheet metal screw tips skewered those leaves against the rubber.

Check out that natural tread

Check out that natural tread

Buck’s 45North rear tire suffered a couple of tears, and his tubeless set up required a tube to keep him moving. A cold day to have a mess of white goop to deal with.

Buck deal with a flat

Buck deal with a flat

There was a great deal of water out on this segment of the Georges Highland Path today.

Like this:

 

The bridge engineers

The bridge engineers

Here’s Rigger and Nate fashioning a makeshift foot bridge to get us across a flowage that had no other way around.

I rode pretty well today.  I thought I might have neglected to bring enough food, but my friend Amy Barnett’s two home made cookies got me through 4 hours and 10 miles of hard going today.  I’ve been experimenting with the type and amount of food that I take along with me of my rides and hikes.  I find i really don’t need too much to keep going right now.

One thing that did not work out so well today was me staying dry.  I was alone, at one point, moving pretty well and following Andre, churning my way over the hummocks and splashing the flowages , and came to a large rock protruding over a small stream with a black hole of water between me and the other side.  I decide to push across, except the front wheel dropped into the water so deep that it jammed against the bottom and I went right over the handlebars into the black wet.  The bike ended up on top of me and my whole lower body was soaked, with the water making it’s way deep into my boots, and it completely filled my pogies ( cordura handlebar covers).  I took off my boots, dumped the water out of them,  wrung out my socks and soldiered on.

The combo of the constant water and deeply cold temp wreaked havoc on our drive trains.  Chains were seizing up, front derailers would not budge, and the water was refreezing so frequently on the pedals that clipping in was difficult, if not at times impossible.  Here is a shot of a rim encased in muddy ice.

A sorry mess

A sorry mess

Check out the mini glacier above the front derailer.

I am hoping to get another Bog ride in Tuesday night, but now it looks like there will be a storm again- more rain.

You gotta like slush and mud to be biking in Maine right now

It’ is not even winter yet, but it’s much more challenging to get outside and bike and hike in Maine right now.
First, we’ve already had two major snow storms that have resulted in serious downed limbs, branches, and even whole trees laying across our usual wooded trails.
One November storm was so brutal that we lost our electricity for five whole days. That’s what happens when you have gale force winds pushing against trees rooted atop soft ground that had not even shed their leaves. The weight of twenty inches of wet sticky snow accumulating on the branches makes the trees top heavy, resulting in uprooted messes toppling like pick-up-sticks across the countryside.
A week ago Andre, Buck, and I headed over to the Rockland Bog on snow shoes to clear out some of the usual riding loops that we have been favoring for the past twenty five years.
We all packed small saws that are surprisingly efficient at slicing through even larger trees that lay across the trails, but there were several behemoths that we left for the big boys on their snowmobiles to dispatch with their chain saws.
Here’s Andre using his snowshoes to stay on top of a particularly despicable half frozen mass of broken up ice partially frozen in nasty mudded-up water.

Andre atop ice

Andre atop ice

Sometimes there are no decent go-arounds, and you need to just work straight across, through the ruts and mud.

No place to tip over

No place to tip over

Thank God there are even a few bridges that we can cross. This is not a place to slip into the water, either on foot or a bike .

IMG_4053

Andre and Buck considering foot placement

Just before we got back to the cars in the lot along the Bog Road, we decided to just go around this particular nasty tangle of downed branches, and yes, normally we are in the habit of being able to ride right through this stream and along the path ahead.  Not going to happen.

Almost on the Bog Road

Almost on the Bog Road

Two days later, we three went back in, along with 5 other cultural iconoclasts. The Bubbas in the Woods have been stuck in a rut of sorts,  for a few decades now. We have these group rides on Sunday morning, and also Tuesday and Thursday nights, year after year- for decades. Incredible but true.  This past Tuesday night, it was pitch black at 5:15 PM, the temps were in the low 20’s, and much of what was soft and mucky was now frozen solid and slippery.

I had charged up my Turbocat handlebar and helmet-mounted lights for the event, my first night ride of the fall season. And yes, I realize my ancient Turbocat system is now old history, and after the ride I realized it would be way cheaper for me to upgrade to a Magicshine LED helmet light than to buy another replacement lead-acid battery that was acceptable way back when.

I also hope not to fall, so just in case, I wore my Fox padded shorts underneath my tights to prevent a broken hip or tailbone ( Right,  Lincoln Jamrog ?).  A recent Men’s health magazine article  about winter fat-tire biking, The Winter Sport That Burns 1,500 Calories an Hour, helped explain why I was a hurting unit just a half-hour into Tuesday night’s ride.

It was ridiculously tough going for me- churning through snow, mud, half-frozen water, and trying to see the path through partially fogged up /frozen safety glasses.  Here’s a map of the 7.5 miles that I somehow managed to finish on Tuesday night:

Bog Ride.  Green dot on Bog Road.

Bog Ride. Green dot on Bog Road.

Here’s a pic of the Hawk, taking a quick break in the middle of a particularly wet piece of the Bog ride.  The darkness at the bottom is black pools of water , interspersed between elevated hummocks of land and mounds of solid ground with trees somehow surviving in there.

The Hawk usually churns right through everything

The Hawk usually churns right through everything- not tonight, though.

It’s what we do, and I’m actually looking forward to my next ride in the dark with these guys.

I’m hoping that my new Magic Shine headlamp works it’s magic on my performance out there!

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route From Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Five

I’ve been reporting the latest episodes from Carrot Quinn’s most excellent hiking blog. Here’s the most latest from her insane hike from the lowest to the highest points of the USA- all in California. Check out life in the sun- the real hot sun:

NotaChance

NotaChance overlooking Saline valley- photo by Carrot Quinn

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route From Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Five- Inyo Mountains, Hikin Yo Trails | CARROT QUINN.

“How To”- Winter Camping in Heated Tents

My crew- out on Attean Pond around Jackman, ME-  Hauling a heated tent set up.

My crew- out on Attean Pond around Jackman, ME- Hauling a heated tent set up.

Just in time for holiday gifting. Consider an immediate purchase of the grandaddy/grandmummy reference of old-school traditional warm comfort in the winter camping.

This book has been out of print ( again ) for several years now, but is back and available untilo it sells out again. I recently re-read the book (I have a couple of my own treasured inscribed copies) and discovered additional material that I’ve somehow overlooked or breezed over on past readings.

You won’t find this Fourth edition on Amazon, but it’s now available from one of the authors:
Snow Walker’s Companion : Winter Camping Skills for the North, written by Garrett & Alexandra Conover
Paperback – 288 pages, 32 full-color pages, from Stone Ridge Press.

Snow Walker's Companion

Snow Walker’s Companion

From the North Woods Ways Web site:
“Snow Walker’s Companion is a guide to comfortable winter camping using tried and true traditional equipment and native skills. The Conovers show us how to sleep warm, travel safe and enjoy the white season. Guides in Maine and Labrador for over 30 years, Garrett and Alexandra have learned not only how to survive in the North in winter, but to thrive. They share their little known secrets in an easy–to–read conversational manner.

-Learn how to stay warm in extreme temperatures
-Tips on reading lake and river-ice conditions
-Practical advice on setting up tents & stoves
-Choosing the right footwear and clothing
-How to pick the best snowshoes for you
-Common sense psychology for the trail

BONUS! A 32–page color insert on Garrett & Alexandra’s epic 350 mile snowshoe trip across Ungava, Quebec. Excerpts from their journals are highlighted with photos from the expedition.

Prices: US: $25 + $10 (s&h), Canada: $25 + $14 (s&h), Europe: $25 + $20 (s&h)

If you would like it inscribed to someone, send the name(s) along. You can pay via PayPal. Remember to include your shipping address. Checks may be made out to:

North Woods Ways
2293 Elliottsville Road
Willimantic, ME 04443
USA “

In the meantime, if you can’t wait for your own copy and want to learn more about the specific techniques that are detailed by the Conovers, check out this recent blog post from Paul Kirtley, entitled How to Live in A Heated Tent . Paul runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions. Paul’s photos and text hits a lot of the highlights of just how heated tent winter camping works in the UK, which is strikingly familiar to how it works here in the USA and Canada.

If you decide to get your own copy of the Snow Walker’s Companion, tell Garrett that Uncle Tom sent you.

Two great presentations from the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous (Nov. 2014)

Two superb presentations took place in November at this year’s Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT.

If you would like an overview of the whole Nov. program, I recommend tuning into Alex Gusev’s six minute YouTube video. Alex is handy with the camera, and weaves several presentations into a compact package.

Now, on to the two highlights of the weekend:

The first was Scott Ellis’ multimedia presentation entitled “Finding Simplicity in Winter Camping”.  I appreciated Scott’s low-key approach to having adventures outdoors.  Scott’s got tons of experience, and puts together informative videos about taking minimal gear and having fun in all conditions.  For his presentation he loaded up some clips from his videos.  Here is the full length version of him taking a piece of plastic sheeting, building a makeshift teepee, and putting some heat and comfort in his shelter by setting up a wood stove stove in there.

The second top-shelf presentation was by Paul Sveum , ” 21 day Snowshoe Trip in the Boundary Waters”.  His talk  highlights a twenty one day winter trip that takes place in march of 2014 in Minnesota, from the end of the Gunflint Trail (Saganaga Lake) 75 miles into downtown Ely. It was a particularly cold trip, with night time temps getting to 55 below zero.  Paul is an instructor at the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School way up north in Marsadis, Maine. The video captures an adventure of a lifetime, with a cast of characters that you rarely get to watch in action.  

It’s these types of programs that keep me coming back to Vermont every November to catch the latest installments from the Masters of Winter Wilderness Travel. It’s all set to repeat in Nov. 13-15, 2015. The event cuts off reservations at 100 folks, and if you have never been there- consider going. Stay tuned to this bog, where I’ll post the registration link sometime next fall.