Hiking Close to Home

I spent the last three days hiking away from my house and camping with friends and family. When I mean hiking away from, I don’t mean driving someplace and hiking there. I mean walking out the door, and stepping away from the house and crunching over the thick mantle of snow through the fields and forest to be outside for a while.

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

I’m very fortunate. While it’s probably true that anyone can walk out their door with a backpack on and eventually embrace trails and walking paths, if I walk for five minutes in just about any direction from my house then I’m in the woods.
Yesterday, brother Roy, my hiking buddy Tenzing, and I walked 7.2 miles to get to this cabin. We used snowshoes to break out the first half mile of trail, then put them away for a 2 mile road segment.

On the way there, we had a couple burgers and a sub sandwich at Drake’s, the only liquor/ gasoline/convenience store in this part of town.  Later, I was walking up a steep segment of steep trail when I shouted out,” Hey, we all forgot to pay for our  food!”

“I paid,” said Roy.

“So did I,” said Tenzing.

I was only able to make it right, via my pleading  “$10-bill-down-to-the-store” phone call to ever-faithful Auntie Mame, who helped me out yet again, as she does each and every single day.

Roy and Tom fueling up

Roy and Tom fueling up

We made good use of a freshly tracked snowmobile trail that had us chugging up 600 vertical feet. We put the snow shoes on again for the last two miles of our walk. We met a porcupine who was overhead, chomping bark along a branch of oak .  Roy learned that in Maine, you always look up in the woods, to see if there is a porcupine above you.

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

At the camp, we welcomed Dave and Kristi, who arrived on the back seats of two snowmobiles, with their sled full of gear in tow.  They made a couple of new friends on the way up here.

Kristi snags trail magic

Kristi snags trail magic

Auntie Mame and my sister-in-law V8 showed up an hour later after I cranked the wood stove and had the building warmed up.  Plenty of dry ash for us to throw into the cavernous stove.
The Jamrog brothers cooked up a Polish feast for dinner: three kinds of pierogis, grilled kielbasa, horseradish, sour cream, and mustard.
It was warm enough in the cabin that we let the stove go out overnight.
Different day the next morning- warmer and raining. Roy, Tenzing, and I perked up a few cups of coffee and headed back up the ridge for a four mile loop back to the cabin.  It was raining, in the 40′s, and the footing was like walking on sand.  The ice was melting.

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

I was packing light: iPod Shuffle, earphones, Garmin eTrex30, and my iPhone ( for  photos). The trail had softened up enough to make snowshoes a must, even with 1/4 inch of ice coating the branches of trees up on the 1200 foot ridge.

Brothers on another Summit

Brothers on another Summit

When we got back, Tenzing cooked an over-the-top mess of bacon, sausage, eggs, and onion home fries on the wood stove. IMG_2767

Inside my down sleeping bag, settled atop my Neo  Air,  I read Outside magazine and Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods.  We gabbed, and I was back and forth between z-time and reading.

Later, they’ll be more from Mame’s bottomless pit of appetizers, along with Kristi’s chili, Dave’s corn bread, and Jan’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

It’s getting windier, and clearing. Winter left for just a bit.

A couple of hours later, found Tenzing, Roy, and I atop the summit of Bald Rock Mountain, on a full-moon 5-mile hike to a summit overlooking Penobscot Bay. The rest of our gang had walked a more sensible three miles and turned back when it started to snow a bit.

Full moon weirdness- by John Clark

Full Moon Man Greeting – by John Clark

Roy maintains, “Up here, you can hike 20 miles in the snow and rain, and still gain weight.”

“May be, Roy, may be”.

Snow Walking is Alive and Well…

..even if the book is still out of print.

This past week I have been re-reading Garret and Alexandra Conover’s definitive Snow Walker’s Companion: Winter Camping Skills for the Far North.

Snow Walker's Companion

Snow Walker’s Companion

Reading it again makes me wonder if I was paying attention the first few times I read the book, which is currently out of print. There is so much to be learned from the pages of this book. Coming off a 4 day winter trip of my own earlier this month on the Moose River near the Canada border, I appreciate filling in my knowledge gaps with the details that are laden onto each page. If you can find a copy at a used book store, snag it.

Over to Youtube.  I have been tagging potential videos for the past few months and took some time last night to view some of them on my TV set by the glow of the wood stove. 

I stumbled onto this gem, which is a MUST VIEW for all lovers of boreal trekking in the wintertime. It is stellar 50-minute piece of work entitled “Snowwalkers”.

This was a 10-day, 100km ( 62 miles) trip down the historic Missinaibi River in mid-winter. Released on Youtube on Feb 24, 2014, the video is to you by Laurentian University, the LU Alumni Association and Lure of the North. The video features Garrett Conover in action, portrayed here with justified reverence and capturing him in his usual, low key, hard-to-squeeze-anything-out-of-him style of leadership. I remember asking him numerous questions on the few trips that i had the fortune to take with him, and the answers were always preceded by, “Well, it depends….” I now realize how right he was.

See for yourself- invite some friends over, grab some popcorn and take notes until the book is republished.

Day 5 Moose River Winter Walk

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Finishing any multiple day walk ramps my excitement up a notch.  On last days, I have always acted like a horse getting closer to the barn, often speeding up and taking on longer mileage days as the idea of coming home catches fire inside of me.  I like being in the outdoors, and this trip has only confirmed my desire to get back somewhere in Maine for another longer winter walk in 2015.
Several things stand out about these past few days:
First, we had no set itinerary to stick to- something that is difficult for me.  I’m goal oriented, however a fresh goal is embracing improvisation. If you want to explore how improvisation can improve your outlook on the inevitable changes in life- here it is-Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.  Thanks to Brad Purdy for bringing me this information!
There was serious democracy in action out here. By the third day, no one had to talk about what to do – cutting firewood, splitting it, fetching water, cooking, washing up.  It just got done.  Fine men around me, all. The best example of this was our “rest day”  where each person was free to walk all day on a day hike, or to lay around inside the sleeping bags and read and sleep.
I learned that cold hands are inevitable when it gets below zero and there is close handwork to do, like packing toboggans, and cinching ropes.
Despite being one of the top snowmobiling capitals of Maine, Jackman is still far away from civilization.  We were surprised to see just a half dozen sleds on the Pond.  Consider midweek vacations if you want to avoid crowds.
 Old stuff works.  Old snowshoes, traditional cotton tents, mukluks, axes, saws.

Just yesterday I read a interesting story that came to me from my stove/fire guru and proprietor of Four Dog Stove,  Don Kivelus.  Fresh from Minnesota Public Radio, it’s about one man’s shift from cold to warm winter camping–>click on the hotlink below for a superb article about another guy doing just what we what we did.

Why would you camp in the winter?”

Here’s one reason why ( from the MPR article)!

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Day 3 Moose River Walk

Day 3 Moose River Walk
Early morning rising is easy when the lights are out at 7 PM.     Hard to believe but it was even colder last night.

Sunrise over the freeze

Sunrise over the freeze

Pat was up first – his coffee Jones propelling him to head down to the open lead and fetch water, and then kindle the wood stove and start the coffee percolating.
By 8:30 AM, the bacon was ready, and the rime frost that lined the acreage of the 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton tent had already thawed, so the thin fabric was dry again.  The double whammy of bacon and coffee fragrances makes the heart want to reach out again and embrace the frozen world around us.
Who knows what adventures the day may bring?   There are no set plans.  We have a big pile of firewood that we worked up yesterday so I might just hang out and stoke the fire and eat, read, and write. Or I could head back to Attean Pond and explore along the shore, or pack a track partway back to the car in order to make our exit easier.  Or we could move back up river over the superhighway that we laid down yesterday and set up there.

In the end, I spent a few hours stoking the stove while finishing up Journal of A Trapper: A Hunter’s Rambles Among the Wild Regions of the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843.

Diary of a Trapper

Diary of a Trapper

If you feel like it is a big deal to be out and live in the cold for a few days, read this.  Nine years of wandering around the Yellowstone region trapping beavers, eating basically nothing but meat, and befriending or, if that fails, getting Indian arrows stuck into you.  Unbelievable.  I was reading from this book and came up with a passage that had Osborne eating pemmican.  IMG_2574  I had some  with me made by my friend Craig and we snacked on that .

Pat and Matt went back up the river for a six mile walk.  Bad Influence and I walked across the frozen river to a small bog where we sawed down three dead, standing spruce, delimbed them with the axe, and then hauled them back to our firewood processing yard.

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

We worked quickly with two saws and then I split up the larger pieces while BI stacked them inside and more outside the tent.

We then did some architectural renovations to the heating system, adding extra crib work under the stove, shoveled more chunks of ice and snow into the pit that had melted under the stove, and secured some of the two foot sections of 4″ stove pipe that had come loose during the day’s wind and stove’s settling into the pit.

Pat was on for supper tonight, which we put off as long as possible yet commenced at 4:40 PM. Carr’s Crackers with cheddar cheese and pepper salami made up the appetizer, with chili and cornbread, and home made chocolate cookies for dessert.

The cold doesn’t seem so formidable to me tonight.  I must be getting used to it.

Gulf Hagas Winter Walk

Overlooking Pleasant River

Overlooking Pleasant River

I’ve visited Gulf Hagas a few times over the years, the last time in 2007, as I was finishing up my thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Back then, it was a warm day in September, and we took a whole day to detour off the AT to explore what many consider ” a wilderness setting unsurpassed in the 2,000 miles of the Appalchian”.  General Lee, Bird Dawg, Richard Wizard, Queso, Life Traveler,  and I showered under Screw Auger Falls at the beginning, and then soaked in a giant pool at the Head of the Gulf that day.   We were the only thru-hikers that month who took the day off to check out the gorge’s 100 foot high slate walls. Everyone’s rushing lately, even hikers taking five months off to walk in woods.

In January, it’s a completely different experience.  It was Bonelady’s day off from cooking meals at Little Lyford Camps and Lodge, so we were able to hike the 10.4 mile round trip together. We left at 9:30 am and were back by 2:30. Snowshoes were lashed to our day packs, but we never used them.  The rains and warm temps of the last week lowered the snow cover to about a foot.

Head of the Gulf

Head of the Gulf

The first two miles of trail were flat and hard-packed, due to the relatively easy access to the Head of the Gulf, where most of the LLC guests stop and return after viewing the winter watercourse of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Bonelady points out feature

Bonelady points out feature

The view today featured ice, and the roaring cascades of  unique, light brown-tinged water that is characteristic of the iron deposits within the bedrock here.  The canyon itself is three miles long, with a trail that ascends and descends a few hundred feet, mostly along the top of the cliff alongside the raging waters below. This is the third winter that Bonelady has worked at Little Lyford Camps and she said she’s never seen the water this high. This week, five inches of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have released unimaginable amounts of water from the melting snow cover.

Close-up of Billings Falls

Close-up of Billings Falls

Billings Falls was most spectacular.  Massive sculpted mantles formed a horseshoe of greenish ice that reached twenty feet from the top down to open pool of frothy churn below.  No summer rafting here- due to the numerous waterfalls over the 600 foot drop in elevation along the watercourse.  You can here it briefly here:

I’m not sure one could get through here today without traction devices.

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Long way down

Long way down

I wore a pair of Stabilicers and Bonelady was sporting her Kaltoonas. There were three steep, icy pitches on the walk where I was super careful not to fall. Thank God for vegetable handholds in the form of exposed roots and saplings.  On the way back, the firm cover had started to melt, welcoming us to post holing through to our shins, with no cuts or bruises.

By the time I made it back to LLC, I was seriously beat. This woman can move.  My right little toe was sore, but thankfully not blistered.  I am not used to walking this distance in LL Bean winter, rubber-soled boots.

I am staying in an empty bedroom in staff housing for the next two nights.  The building has been partly renovated this summer with a new wood stove and bathroom with flush toilet and hot water, heated by a Rinnai on-demand wall unit.

The rest of the day was laid back.  I took a hot shower, meditated for half an hour, and then hung out on the couch- reading, writing, and chatting with Bonelady.  After it got dark, we took a short walk onto the frozen surface to watch the full moon rise on one end of the pond, with Baker Mountain looming up on the other end. None better.

Then no rush getting over to supper of Alfredo pasta with chicken, broccoli, fresh bread sticks, and carrot cake for dessert.

The wood- fired sauna had been heating up all afternoon, so a couple of sweat sessions at 180 degrees made up the after dinner program.

I fought to stay awake unit 9 pm, when I trundled my way upstairs where I pulled back the curtains and threw open the window to let in the refreshingly cool night air.  A giant skylight hovered above me, flooding the full moon’s magic into the room.  Into the Silence I went.

Liking Little Lyford Cabins

I  left the house at 9 AM and rolled into Greenville down past the Indian Hill trading post exactly at 11. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the view of Moosehead Lake unfolding downhill stuns me.  Today, the surface of the lake is covered in standing water, with the temperatures above freezing after some 5 inches of rain and a unexpected thaw. It’s eerie.

I grabbed a quick lunch of corn chowder and a hot dog, then drove out of town past the airport along the Katahdin Iron Works ( or “KI road”) for ten miles or so toward increasing wilderness and the Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins winter parking lot at Hedgehog Gate.  It didn’t take long for me to become terrified. It was steadily raining now, and any sand that had been spread over the thick ice on the road had long been washed away.  The roadway is essentially a lubricated, smooth ice-rink. But ice rinks are flat, and this goes up and down and pitches from side to side.  The only reason I didn’t skid off was 4 newly studded winter snow tires on my 2000 Plymouth Voyager.  Even so, I was so anxious and hyped up that I settled myself by “pranayama-ing” along, with one hand up on my nose, alternating yogic nostril closures while the other hand gingerly worked the steering wheel at 20 miles an hour. I knew that one mistake would skid me into the deeper snow on the side of the road, and so far there was no one else dumb enough to be out here. There were also no ” rescue me” Verizon bars showing on my iPhone.  I was definitely on my own, creeping and sliding.

Toward the end of the road, I saw my first and only vehicle- a white 4 wheeled drive pickup traveling in the same direction way up ahead. I thought that if I could catch it, they would see me behind them, and rescue me if they watched my head lights flash sideways if and when I skidded off.

I knew I was in trouble as I advanced up the last long uphill.  I was coming up the hill faster than they were to the point where I had to start slowing dow or I would run into them- uphill!   Why were they going so slowly?  Momentum was the only way I could make it up.  If I had to stop on the hill, I would not be able to start uphill again, and would likely have to back all of the way down to a flat spot and try again. Miraculously, I crept to the top behind them, and there was the sanctuary of the parking lot.

The lot itself was so icy that I had to put on my traction devices just to unload my gear, including my Pugsley.  The three guys in the truck were also headed into Little Lyford. You unload your gear here into a little kiosk where a snowmobile trailers it into LL at 2 pm every day, allowing the unfettered guest to ski or snowshoe 6.2 miles into camp.

The driver of the truck was shocked to hear that my vehicle was not all wheel drive. They were experienced outdoorsmen, and worked in the military- aviation mechanics. I learned why they were moving so slowly. This was their second attempt at coming in this morning. The first time, they actually turned around and went back to Greenville where they bought  chains to attach to the wheels. The slow speed was necessary to prevent centrifugal force from stretching the newly-installed chains.  Slow and steady worked for them, as it did for me.

I am definitely an oddity with my bike here.  In fact, I had to get permission to ride to LL this winter season.  Yes, I’m the first fat-tired bike rider to cruise the winter road to LLC.  I gambled that the surface would hold me up and won. The other three Bangor guys walked in with the aid of traction devices, taking them two hours and 45 minutes, an average time for foot travel.  I, on the bike, clocked in at 1 hour and 3 minutes.  All my practice with recent ice riding trips in midcoast Maine for the past two weeks paid off.  Using my studded 45N tires made a fall-free entrance possible, running 3.5 psi front and rear.  I had a blast.

I’m here at the invitation of my new Triple Crown backpacking friend Bonelady, who is the head cook this winter, her third in a row. We had been Facebook CDT 2013 Group acquaintances until we met face to face on the Continental Divide Trail this season.  I have wanted to stay here for a few years now, but it has never materialized.  Turns out, the guest count is nonexistent at mid-week , and I promised to be no bother.

I’m staying in Little Lyford’s littlest cabin tonight.

My cabin

My cabin

I overheated it.  Bonelady warned me that it would probably be too warm, but even with a one stick stoke at 4 pm, by my bedtime after 9, it must have been over 80 degrees inside. The log walls and metal roof hold the heat.

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

One bed- propane lights illuminate ( and heat up)  the spaceOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a coupe of propane lights on the wall with an ancient outhouse out back.

My very own outhouse

My very own outhouse

Little Lyford camps have been in this exact location since it was started up as a lumbering camp in 1870. The Appalachian Mountain Club has owned it for the past 10 years. It is a thrill to experience this setting.

Main lodge- dining room and library

Main lodge- dining room and library

And yes, the food is superb, and plenty of it.

To read more about Little Lyford check out Village in the Woods from the January 2014 issue of Downeast Magazine.

Snowshoeing to Camden Hills

After several days of now-we-have-it-now-we-don’t electricity due to one ice, and two snow storms I’m here tonight in a stone-floored, enclosed shelter with no electricity or cell service, but…. there are three bunk beds, two chairs, a wood stove, an an outhouse.

I backpacked about 7.9 miles to get here- out the door of my house, on with the snow shoes, and down a snowmobile track on the abandoned Proctor Road.

Down the Proctor Road

Down the Proctor Road

Then off with the show shoes, for two miles of road walking through the center of Lincolnville, where I was made to wait by professional sign holder while two utility crews had a couple of guys way up over the road in a boom-bucket trimming ice coated branches over the power lines.

Snow shoes back on for the Thurlow Road where the abandoned upper half frustrated me with major blockage due to ice and snow-coated tree branches that often were right down to the ground, blocking the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  More aggravation!  Cascades of freezing snow fell down my neck as I pushed my way through the ice-prison bars.

After crossing Youngtown Road I connected with another snowmobile track heading up toward Cameron Mountain.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was inconceivable the going would be even more difficult, but it was at the start.  At one point the woods were so thick and the limbs so interlocked and frozen in ice that I had to get down on all fours, then get on my stomach and squirm like a worm over the snow and press myself under the tangled mess. I made it through where a snowmobile stopped and turned around.

Then it got better, but now was getting dark and I still had at least an hour to go.  When I reached the intersection of the Cameron Mountain Trail up to Zeke’s it was untraveled.   I was running out of steam, so I took a hard left, continuing on the Cameron Mountain Trail that ran on a snowmobile track for 1.4 miles where it reached the Ski Lodge (Multiuse) Trail.  This would add an extra 1.1 mile to reach the Ski Shelter, but I did not want to head up the 600 extra vertical feet to Zeke’s, in snowshoes, in the dark and increasing cold.

I made the right decision.  Traversing the much wider road, any downed trees were easily skirted.

My hands were painfully cold.   Once again, I could have taken mittens and even some chemical hand warmer’s but no, my thru-hiker mentality sometimes has me so vigilant about keeping it as simple as possible that I over scrimp.  I ended up shoving a hand down my crotch, easing the pain after fifteen minutes when my other hand cries out for a warmth.

I turned on my headlamp when it became unsafe for walking, within a half mile,  made it into the shelter.
Two dark departing figures beneath a couple of headlamps told me that the shelter was still warm, with coals in the firebox.
I stoked the wood stove, stripped off my set socks and shirt, and settled in- reading, listening to music on my iPhone, and watching the cowboy TV through the glass doors of the wood stove while I waited for my bunkhouse buddies to arrive.

Guthook and his posse made it in after 10:30 PM, where we all spent another hour or so chatting up and claiming spaces for our warm night in the Maine woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s the map that I recorded on the way back the next day:

Home to the Hills

Home to the Hills

 

Snowshoeing Start Up

We’ve had a rare two feet or powder snow drop here on the Maine coast this past pre-Christmas week. I am nursing my sore body after two short but steep snowshoe hikes in the past three days. I have to remember to bring a headlamp with me-  came back in the dark last night. I usually hike from here with nothing extra.

I am fortunate enough to be able to walk just a 1/4 mile up the street and then strap on my MSR Lightening Axis snowshoes and hit the trail, most of it on a neighbor’s land. David doesn’t mind me keeping up the trail.  Before the snow came, I gave back to him a huge wrench that I found in the grass that he had lost this logging season.    Here’s a picture of the elevation profile.

20131220-080940.jpg
On the walk I saw a spruce grouse explode from the snow into the sky and even better, watched a little white weasel streak across the trail ahead of me. It was only the second white weasel I’ve seen in my life.  Fresh paths made by deer, rabbits, and even a moose were all over the ridge.20131220-082242.jpg

Back home, the same deer have not feared to come right up against the foundation and eat the greenery of some yew shrubs. They do that every year now, when the food is scarce for them.   This patch of land we live on is known as having a previous history as a top notch bean field. Two cemeteries flanking the house have signs of “c. 1830″ on them. My wife suggests that the deer feeding here may have been passing on old wisdom for close to 200 years.

Unfortunately, this two feet of snow is not going to stay.   Here’s the weather report for the weekend.

Yikes!

Yikes!

My book review-Your Playlist Can Change Your Life

[Additional info added 3/13/13, after writing the review. The following sidebar info (by Meaghen Brown) was published in the April 2013 issue of Outside magazine, page 76 in an article by Brent Rose entitled Play It By Ear. It's noted on their current magazine web page, but with no hotlink ( you gotta buy the mag):
Fatigue- music reduces perception of fatigue by 8%.
Time Flies- perception of time speeds up to 12%.
Get the Rhythm- as a beat generator, tempos of 120 to 140 offer the greatest benefit.]

Your Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness, and MoreYour Playlist Can Change Your Life: 10 Proven Ways Your Favorite Music Can Revolutionize Your Health, Memory, Organization, Alertness, and More by Galina Mindlin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite useful, but repetitive, yet already dated (2012). Two medical doctors ( and a MBA) cite neuroscience backing up the practice of listening to music in order to moderate consciousness. The practice of ramping up and damping down via acoustic input has been a part of human existence for many thousands of years. Vibratory effects of sound have been well known, primarily in religious contexts. For example, Vedic tradition of mantra use for specific physiological effects.
Listening to my iPod while backpacking, bicycling, and walking has clearly resulted in elevated energy, increased happiness, surprising releases of emotion ( like crying), and help from boredom.
On my 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail, I used my iPod sparingly, due to battery life. It was engaged in late afternoons, when I was fatigued after 20+ miles, and had the effect of increasing my flagging pace. It is also effective on uphill climbs. In some instances the perceived effect was equivalent to the energy increase from eating a 200 calorie energy or candy bar.

View all my reviews