Snow Walker’s Rendezvous – welcome to winter 2014

Last weekend, I attended the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Vermont .

Home made tent and stove

Learn by Doing

I experienced the weekend through a new lens-through the eye of a newly Registered Maine Guide.  Other Maine Guides were in attendance, including Master Maine Guide Tim Smith, and another new friend I made at the weekend, Portland-based Lou Falank.

I really enjoyed hanging out with Tim on Saturday night.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith has been finding his way into the conter of the bushcraft/backwoods survival skills spotlight for some time now. He developed and continues to run his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School,  the highly respected Maine-based ” University of Outdoor Skills” .  Tim’s long-term immersion programs are the longest and most comprehensive bushcraft, survival and guide training courses in North America.

What’s bushcraft?  The JMB website explains: ‘Bushcraft is the active component of our interaction with the natural world. Both art and science, bushcraft is doing, making, crafting, traveling, building and living in the natural world. It is an inclusive term for doing things outdoors and is composed of activities such as, but not limited to, primitive skills, modern survival, classic camping, expeditionary skills, prepping, hiking, paddling, crafting and outdoor living, as well as more specialized disciplines such as hunting, fishing and trapping. Bushcraft has no political agenda or worldview, isn’t about preparing for the end of the world, and isn’t an “ism”. It is made up of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who share a love for being active outdoors.’
Now Tim’s going to be on our living-room or palm-based screens in upcoming episodes of Dude, You’re Screwed on the Discovery Channel.  Tim’s episode should be entertaining us before 2015 rolls around, sometime in early December.  Stay tuned for more details.

The normally bushcraft-distant New York Times gave considerable column length to the show in their Dec. 20, 2013 review :  “Dude, You’re Screwed” centers on five men, most with advanced military training, who take turns running gauntlets designed for them by the others. Episodes open with essentially a staged rendition — the mark is kidnapped, hooded and bound at the wrists, then spirited off to who knows where. Unhooded, he’s left to fend for himself with just a handful of tools provided by the team. (As for suspension of disbelief, wouldn’t the participants know their destination when they’ve presumably gone through passport control?)
While the contestant in the game — all the men refer to it as “the game,” though there’s no prize — makes his way through various struggles, the other four men observe him remotely, and sometimes say grim things like “Moisture kills out here.”
But more often, their mood is light. Its like the home run contest before the All-Star Game, an essentially meaningless display of skills where titans watch one another show off. But the casual mood also serves to take the edge off the very real struggle of the man in the wild.
I want to see this show, but I don’t subscribe to the Discovery Channel.  If tell you when it’s on, can someone help me see it?  

I also had a great time talking with Lou Falnak.

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou runs his Mountain Bear Programs and Guide Service.
Lou has provided programs as a director, instructor, and co-facilitator at camps & schools across Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. He’s a Registered Maine Guide. His L.O.S.T.(Learning Outdoor Survival Techniques) Program specializes in bringing youth from a wide variety of backgrounds into the outdoors to learn skills and experience community. He’s making a difference in the lives of children in the Portland area, bringing after-school bush-crafting skills to the next generation.

Lou and I hit it off. We’ll get together in the near future, after Thanksgiving, to do something together in the outdoors.

I  was recruited to kick off the weekend at Friday night’s whole group meeting ( the event cuts off at 100 registrants) with a half hour reading from my blog. This was old school, no iPhoto or Powerpoint, just one guy trying to entertain the faithful by reading a half-hour story of an actual deep winter adventure in the Maine woods.

I  read about my one-week walk across the frozen Moosehead and Seboomook Lakes.    Here’s the link to the talk- this time there are photos and three video clips -The Great Slush Walk of 2009.

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

I plan to include at least one more entry about the weekend.

There was so much to be excited about !

Midwest Winter Camping Symposium- my take

The big event on the shore of Sturgeon Lake in Minnesota was a huge success. My travel from Maine was originally scheduled in order for me to work in the vendor area at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth.

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

I worked the Four Dog Stove booth in 2011 at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, where twenty thousand hikers converged at the Appalachian Trail’s biggest weekend event. It’s fun being front and center at a major event where there are so many people who are excited about getting out in the woods and trails and walking for day, weeks, and even months at a time.

The days were all sunny, the night cold but not frigid, and the sleeping was delicious, or was that deciduous?  Lots of trees nearby, just like back at home in Maine.

We are here at the Midwest Winter camping Skills Symposium.

Here is a video journal from Four Dog Stove that captures the energy and the experience of the weekend’s festivities.

Here’s a Facebook page for the Winter Camping Symposium.

And the link for the schedule–> See the wide variety of workshops  and seminars presented at this event.

I was Saturday’s Keynote Presenter

P1040551  Here’s my biography, with a pic of me walking white winter in Acadia National park: Thomas Jamrog has been backpacking, riding mountain bikes, and living in the outdoors for close to 50 years.  Tom maintains his popular blog: Living Large While Walking The Big Trail, and Tom’s Trailjournals have amassed close to one million web visits.   Tom is a member of the Iron Butt Association, a long-distance motorcycling community whose basic entry requirement is to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Tom rides mountain bikes year round in Maine. For one calendar year, Tom commuted 32 miles a day to work, on a bicycle, through the winter. Tom’s winter camping experiences have recently expanded to include winter fat-tire biking.From 2007 to 2013, Tom backpacked over 8,000 miles in the United States. On October 24, 2014 The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West awarded Tom the Triple Crown of Hiking, for having completed continuous through hikes of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails, joining a relatively small club of 200 people who have received the award to date.  
Tom has completed winter walking trips in Canada and conducts yearly trips in Maine, where he has lived with his wife, Marcia, for the past 40 years.Tom Jamrog

This was the topic for my presentation:

Winter Walking the West: Preparing and Adapting to Snow Travel in the High Sierras and Rocky Mountains–Tom Jamrog has recently completed 400 miles of walking on snow and ice over the High Sierra in California and several hundred miles above 10,000 feet in Colorado.  He will discuss his physical and mental preparation and how he adapted the skills learned from traditional “Winterwalking” in New England and Northern Canada to succeed in being awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking.

I also made some new friends.

I was camped right next door to Kevin and Beth Kinney, who are making a very respectable go at it sewing super well-designed winter outer ware from traditional textiles like cotton and fur. We’re talking Empire Canvas Works.

The big needle at Empire Canvas

The big needle at Empire Canvas

 

At the Four Dog Stove booth, we provided some table space for Ben’s Backwoods. I liked hanging with Ben Piersma and am reading through his authoritative blog right now.  His bio reads:  “Ben’s full time job is testing, researching, and selling tools and outdoor goods for life in the north woods. He uses hand tools like axes, hand-saws, and knives daily for fishing, hunting, foraging, self reliance, and primitive bushcraft. His goods can be found at Bensbackwoods.com

Did you know that that residents of other states can be licensed as Registered Maine Guides. I enjoyed talking trail and skills with Scott Oeth, from Minnesota, who had passed all the testing requirements for the Maine Guide license last year. Scott’s blog is tops, and full of interesting outdoor angles.

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

I was impressed with the camaraderie here.  For example, Don Kivelus invited Ben to set up a his Ben’s Backwoods goods table at Don’s Four Dog Stove booth, making for many grand choices on one long table full of shiny metal , or polished wooden stuff.  These two guys are in effect  direct competitors, supplying the bushcraft public with a number of the same items, but sometimes work together, like this. I also know that both Ben and Don live in the sticks, and at least Don has an actual farmstead, with animals running around a wide expanse of Minnesota.  Don prefers cutting and hauling his firewood with some of the five mules he tends on the back forty.  He sometimes posts pics of mules plowing up a field, not something you see everyday, even way out in rural areas where tractors rule.  Any product these two guys consider to sell is first used, abused, and sometimes refused before it goes up for sale. A true American business experience, a rare occurrence these days.

In the next few weeks, I plan to post a few Four Dog Stove Youtube videos related to this event and also highlight some of the products I am evaluating that I picked up out in Minnesota. Stay tuned.

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.