“It’s not in any survival manual, but a group of lost hikers in the Adirondacks during a rainy overnight last week tried to fend off the cold by using the only warm water they had — their urine.”
That’s actually in the article. The best line: “The technique is not a standard survival technique and apparently provided limited relief.” Relief from….?
But, seriously, after you’ve read it, ask yourself just how an inebriated, drugged, or downright sociopathic a gene pool you’d have to dredge from in order to scrape up a crew that would engage in this outcome! I’ve seen some pretty out-on-the limb behaviors out in backpacking land but this is way over the edge..
Needless to say, there are no photos in the article. Please, no YouTube anything here, thanks.
I joined my friend and next door neighbor Andy Hazen this weekend, on one of his two-day-long training rides in his preparation for the 2,745 mile Tour Divide race starting June 8th, arguably the most challenging mountain bike time trial on the planet.
We were riding on the Downeast Sunrise Trail, an 87 mile section of old railroad bed that had been converted to a gravel rails-to-trails corridor. Andy completed it up-and-back twice in this past three weeks after Tour Divide guru Matthew Lee Matthew Lee (Cannondale Factory Racing) and director of the unsupported race, phoned him and encouraged Andy to train on as much gravel as possible. Two weeks ago Andy churned out 170 miles in 18 hours, riding a fully loaded camping/ parts/ tools rig.
Yesterday ( Saturday) I completed 50 miles on my Pugsley bike, outfitted with a rear rack, a pair of panniers and a frame bag.
Today we started humping back to Cherryfield at 6 AM, after walking up to 27 degrees inside the tents. Ice coated everything around us- the water in the ditches, swamps, and even the road under our tires. This was full-on winter riding conditions even though it is April 28. Moving at 10 miles an hour creates a windchill equivalent to 19 degrees, an that is real cold, hour after hour. The best decision I made before I left was to return home and grab my winter riding boots and insulated winter mittens. My hands and feet were not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. I had 4 layers on up top.
Yesterday’s ride headed east was mostly fun, with 15-30 MPH winds at our backs.
We saw no other bikers all weekend. There were no real hills, due to it being a railroad bed through mostly swamps and bogs.
There aren’t that many places to camp on the sunrise Trail, certainly no promoted sites. Not too far from Cherryfield was a large cemetery where you could stealth camp. Then, a place past a picnic table right beside the Machias River. After mile 70 there is another place for 2 tents near 2 picnic tables over by Cathance Stream. We were lucky to find an elevated head piece of land near a field by a place called Robinson’s Camps at milepost 80.
There is no need to carry much food. We bought lunch the first day at Helen’s restaurant in Machias. Mileposts occur every mile, with marked gravel crossroads alerting you to lodging, grocery, and cafe options.
We saw quite a bit of wildlife this weekend, including partridges, snowshoe hares, a nesting osprey, various song birds, and a close-up sighting of a moose. We also saw bear scat in the road, but no bears. We were up riding by 6 AM on Saturday, with no wind until we hit East Machias, where we made the bend around the river and turned due west toward Machias where the cold, strong headwind made pedaling more difficult.
After breakfast and warming up at Dunkin Donuts, we ground out more miles, trying to maintain a 10 mph pace, where you click off a mile every 6 minutes. We advanced against the cold wind and repeatedly moved to the side for more than 100 ATV’s that were out for a Sunday ride. I was plumb done after 53 miles to Cherryfield, where I had my car parked. Andy wanted more, so he continued alone the last 30 into Ellsworth, where I picked him up at the start of the Trail at the Washington Junction railway yard.
I really enjoyed this bike packing thing. It is challenging and interesting to make so many miles in one day, on your own power. Often you hear criticism about backpackers who like to walk quickly out on the trails- “Why walk so fast that you don’t have enough time to see anything?” Well, biking is MUCH faster and you still see plenty- actually more. On a backpacking trip I would have covered maybe 30 miles instead of over 100. It’s all good!
I would definitely do this again, but not during June- when the mosquitoes would be insane due to the constant flowage that surrounds the corridor. I want to end by going into Dennysville, and head down Route 1 and camp at Cobscook Bay State park, one of my favorite camping places in Maine.
Stack an injury that lasted two weeks on top of a vacation in Texas that featured multiple excursions to several barbeque pits and Mexican restaurants, and witness my slide down on the fitness profile. It’s been at least six years when I have not been able to work out my body by riding a bike, hiking, or lifting weights for this long. My mood, focus, and view of the word all suffered.
I stopped by Andy’s house and that afternoon we completed a 3 hour ride. Here is is, from Strava.
It was growing cooler as we rode through the afternoon, with the wind coming in from the Southwest, making a headwind for us most of the ride. The wind was fierce enough that we had to pedal to make it down a hill on Appleton Ridge. I should have packed more food. I had just 1 granola bar. On the climb to the top of Moody Mountain right at the end, the legs held together and I was spared cramping up. It felt really good to ride today, and what a beautiful place it is to ride. Hope to be ready for an overnight bike-packing camping trip this weekend.
Occupy Mountaintops- Take 2. Full moon this Friday night, April 6, Good Friday. Auntie Mame and I will spend the night on top of Bald Rock Mountain in Lincolnville. Room for more. Weather should be great- no bugs!
An Inuit Builder Crafts His Last Canoe by Emma Jacobs
Joe was the native guide on a 200 mile canoe trip I took on the Grand River in Labrador several years ago. He was the kindest, most humble, and most knowledgeable outdoors man I have ever met. Joe, and especially his brother Horace, are probably the last of the line to possess the encyclopedia of skills that encompass trapping, bush survival skills, hunting, and survival in the harshest environment I have ever traversed. For a glimpse of this life, read Rugge and Davidson’ Great Heart, now back in print. I consider Great Heart a treasure of a read, one that I have enjoyed several times. The book inspired my own motorcycle trip to Labrador in 1993, when my friend Alan MacKinnon and I were the among the first motorcyclists to traverse the newly constructed gravel-and-sand Trans Labrador Highway. The mosquitoes there were so bad that nothing I have encountered since seems too bad, including a month in Alaska and 6 months on the PCT.
A major announcement from my hiking pal, Guthook! The man himself has been working in stealth mode, for over a year, on a group of backpacking projects: Guthook’s Hiking Guides. I can attest to the precision, thoroughness, and ease-0f-use of the Camden Hills version of his Guide for the iPhone and iPod Touch, an app prototype that I have been field testing. The first product- Guthook’s Guide to the Pacific Crest Trail, Southern California section- is available as of this morning (March 1) on the App Store. I would have paid big$$ to put this app on my iPod Touch when I was wandering lost in the California wilds on my own PCT thru-hike in 2010.
Check out the full story, including order info below.
The guy who played accordion for my old polka band, Tom Jamrog, is also a long distance hiker and backpacker. He blogs about his trips, and has a vigorous writing style. He recently posed a question on his blog; “what have you learned from Hiking?” and I decided to answer.
Troop 4 Marlboro, Algonquin Council B.S.A., Camp Resolute
I have been a hiker and backpacker all my life, ever since Boy Scouts. Growing up, my mom generally refused to let us ever play inside the house, even in winter. “So what if it’s cold, put on some mittens and your winter boots and go outside and play!” and I vividly recall games the neighborhood boys would play in the woods around our house or on the nearby golf course. Usually some variation of Capture The Flag.
As a youthful prank, my friend Kenny Paul and I once threw some firecrackers at the house of a neighbor boy. (Yes, it was us – the Statute of Limitations has run out, and besides, I think I was eleven years old.) The boy’s mom called the police. Ken was the star of the crosscountry team, and when the cruiser pulled up with blue lights blinking, I was surprised that I could keep up with him. Two cruisers spent some time in our neighborhood while Kenny and I spent the next three hours eluding them in an apple orchard. hmmmmm……. Later this inspired me to join the cross country team. I ran the the half mile in spring track. (2:14 was my personal best, if you really must know).
Kenny recently retired from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and he still is a runner. My older brother finally rediscovered his whereabouts after thirty years. Ken was also an excellent baseball pitcher. Once while on a training run though the neighborhood, a dog came out to chase. Kenny picked up a rock and beaned the dog from fifty feet away, knocking it unconscious. What coordination. I laughed when he told me his USMC specialty was artillery. He spent his adult life throwing stuff at people…..
Misery in the Great Outdoors
Camping with the Boy Scouts included a lot of miserable experiences amidst the fun. I never cooked for myself at home before going camping and trying it there. Baking my first potato in a campfire was half-burnt/half-raw, for example, and one memorable hike during a winter weekend, our patrol ploughed our way through thighdeep snow for three miles on a hike to nowhere. Ultimately I got Eagle Scout. why? mainly because my older brother had done it, and I looked up to him ( still do!).
To answer the specific question, It’s hard for me to separate hiking from Boy Scouts, in terms of what I learned. Don’t disrespect the Boy Scouts – I have some philosophical differences with their current leadership, over the ir policy toward gay persons and atheists (each of which are just fine with me) but overall the Boy Scouts fill an important need. Paul Theroux summed it up for me when he described his experience with the Boy Scouts.
Taking a side trail
During the time I was in Maine I did all the outdoorsy stuff – cross country ski, canoe ( the Allagash and Upper West Branch of the Penobscot) , hike, telemark, etc. I climbed Mt Washington and Katahdin in wintertime more than once…. but by comparison, the last few years in Hawaii I went through a period of not doing nearly much adventure-type stuff in the outdoors. Oh well, yeah, I was spending every summer time in rural Nepal teaching with Christian Medical Missionaries and taking day hikes, doing the Asian Travel thing (no, I did not climb Everest at any time…….that’s the usual Nepal question I get from fellow backpackers…) and here in Hawaii I was going to the beach (Sandy’s) and day hiking… but .. it wasn’t the Real Thing. And the weather here is so nice that it’s missing an element …….
Passing it on
I always took my kids on outdoorsy adventures. Glad to have two daughters because then the pressure was off and I knew I would never have to be an adult scout leader. I was saved from having to spend any more weekends with bunches of eleven-year-old boys. (thank you God!) but taught both my girls all the skills anyway. Yes, both my kids learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, predict the weather by looking at the clouds, and read a topo map. When they were six and eight, we took them on a week long canoe camping trip, retracing Thoreau’s path on the Upper West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. When the younger one announced her intention to do a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2010, I was reminded of long-ago solemn promise made at a campfire, that I would join her on that quest, should the day ever come.
My 2010 hike
When the summons to hike long-distance came, I was old. And fat. But this served as a personal challenge to get into enough shape to be a respectable hiking buddy. And that’s where the learning began again. In order to keep up with Whoopie Pie, I decided I would do my own solo hike for a few hundred miles and get in shape before hand. And besides, she didn’t want to do the whole thing with me, she was going to hike her own hike. So in May I started off in the hundred or so miles that traverse Massachusetts, averaging eight miles a day through the Berkshires. A few days to recuperate and restarted in Vermont, about two hundred miles through the Green Mountains and into New Hampshire, by this time averaging eleven miles a day. Another hundred through Shenandoah National Park, and finally co-hiked with Whoopie Pie. By the end of the summer I was not so fat; and I learned that I was not so old, either. I hiked 475 miles in that summer.
I think most writers focus on the physical challenge of doing this, but most of the highlights for me were a bit of the meditative variety, and a good hike serves as a daydream for a long time afterwards. A variety of mountaintops in seven states. Hearing loons on a pond on Vermont, for the first time in five years. The night at the Tom Leonard Lean-to listening to nesting hoot owls. Cleaning the dead leaves from a mountain spring, and the wonderment of finding a fist-sized jellylike clump of frog’s eggs. The evening Julie and lay in our bunks in a cabin in Vermont listening to the soft conversations of other hikers during six days of cold rain in the Green Mountains. The “problem bear” at Shenandoah when I was the only person in the lean-to that night. Having heatstroke on two occasions. The bedazzlement of thousands of butterflies, a cloud of butterflies, in a dewy meadow of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park. Being sick with bronchitis and experiencing SVT overnight after taking cough medicine, wondering how I would get evacuated from such a remote place. Walking out on my own the next morning.
And of course – Smarts Mountain
The people who comprise the subculture of the Trail are always a highlight, and I learn a lot from them. One day’s hike sticks out. I got to the Fire Warden’s cabin at Smart’s Mountain New Hampshire at the end of a fourteen mile day, knowing for the last five miles that I needed to beat an oncoming thunderstorm. The approach from the south is very steep, with iron rungs forming a sort of ladder over the steepest sections. The rain pelted down, forming a waterfall on the trail as I ascended. At one point my heart sank when the clouds parted and I realized I was nowhere as close as I thought I was, darkness was approaching and I needed to skedaddle. Lightning was hitting less than a half mile away as I got above timberline, dashing the last half mile like a frenzied animal.
To get there I had elected to hop past the Trapper John leanto, but to my surprise I was passed from behind at the last minute by Roaring Lion and Snow White, two through-hikers who had hopped past two leantos, and come from six miles even further south than me that day. One other guy was already there. The cabin smelled of dead porcupine but the roof was intact. RL, SW, and I each got out of our clothes and did what all long distance hikers do – get into the dry sleeping bag, eat something, and regain some strength. As we lay there we agreed that the lightning was – exciting.
Everything I learned in Boy Scouts told me not to do what I just did.
Then we had dinner, and the usual bull session as we got to know each other. We shared that special comraderie of people who know that what they just did, (hiking uphill into a lightning storm,) was crazy; and yet, who know they are also in the company of others equally crazy.
Best summed in a saying
A friend is somebody who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is somebody who in handcuffed on the bench next to you saying “man, that was awesome”
Later that same summer, I did a 22 mile day in Shenandoah National Park. And a few other feats in which I picked them up and put them down. The highlight was to hold my own when I finally caught up with my old hiking buddy, Whoopie Pie.
From then on, for the rest of that summer, I knew: I can still push myself, further and harder than I thought.
And I have some best friends. On the Trail.
Frigid in the tent, below zero. BI’s cheap thermometer is broken, so no measure, but the frost covering the outside of my sleeping bag and the thickness of the ice over out water hole in the river this morning spelled COLD. The wind was loud enough to hear, and thankfully we were sheltered from the full force of it’s chill.
Unfortunately, Birdie is still not doing well. She shivers, even when bundled up in the down over quilt that is covering her. She’s still demonstrating some type of unfathomable pain, with intermittent sharp yelps that now happen when you don’t even touch her, when she’s walking outside. She runs outside into the cold and wanders back and forth, hunched up. BI is worried enough about her that he decides to get her to a vet, which means walking out today, in the cold, and right into this wind. We’re baling.
Not that we could have done much else but hang right here, and maintain the camp for another day and night. After cutting more wood, we would stoke the stove, read, sleep, drink coffee and tea, and eat the piles of food from our feed bags.
We tried going down river yesterday, but the over flow stopped us. I would explore the edges of the open leads around Attean Falls nearby, plus walk out to poke around on the lower reaches of Attean Pond.
There are ample opportunities to explore animals tracks on this snow. Yesterday, Birdie led us to an otter den that was clearly active, marked by characteristic snow troughs and cylinder shaped scat.
A great resource for learning about ice, snow, animal signs, and how to forecast and deal with winter weather is Exploring Nature in Winter: A Guide to Activities, Adventures, and Projects for the Winter Naturalist by Alan Cvancara.
So the tedious procedure of breaking camp was launched. Packing up on a cold morning in winter is one of my top least favorite activities, but it comes with the territory. My hands have the circulation of turtle feet, especially my left index finger, which was partially severed some 35 years ago when I slipped on ice while I was chopping wood. I use packets of chemical heat warmers out here. This morning I had brief periods of exposing my fingers while we released all the strings, bungees, and ropes that held the tent upright, and then we packed away the various bundles onto the two toboggans. I’d work fast for maybe three minutes, then my hands would become unbearably cold and I’d have to slip them into my chemically heated expedition mittens for three minutes and then repeat the cycle until done.
Eventually we hit the trail, and after struggling up the only bump in the route, around the Falls themselves, we came upon a newly created crater in the ice where it appeared a snowmobile had plunged.
There were numerous tracks all over the bend in the river that were not there when we came in a few days ago.
We were careful to keep our toboggans from plunging into the hole. We both worked each toboggan around the pit, where we took turns standing on ice pieces in the hole itself as we braced against the loads as each sled passed along the foot wide shelf.
We made quick work of reaching the mouth of the river. Looking out over the expanse of ice and swirling surface snow ahead of us, we both exchanged a glance where we recognized that we’d be heading into the vortex of cold.
The next couple of hours of travel were among the most difficult I can recall. The cold was unbelievable. To avoid frostbite, ever inch of your face had to be covered.
I remember being in this same situation walking across Moosehead Lake, where stopping was not a reasonable act. It was zero out, and the wind was strong, steady and powerful enough that it pushed our loaded toboggans over more than once. Mine was heavy enough that it took me considerable effort to haul it upright. BI and I slogged north over the frozen expanse, and survived by chunking down the work by aiming for the lee side of several small islands that were along the path ahead.
It was dramatic how calm, settled, and more tolerable the space was when we sat on the lee side of the islands. I treasured the hot, rich, black coffee that was in my thermos. I devoured roasted nuts, peanut butter crackers, and cookies as we brought our pulses down to reasonable levels. The cold soon had us up and moving; our rests never lasted reached 10 minutes.
Eventually the path veered toward the east, toward the parking lot. With the wind now from the rear, our lagging energy relished the good fortune. It was still cold and difficult for my hands. I stuffed all my gear haphazardly into my empty Voyager, and was done. I high-fived BI. We made it. Our homes would now be cradles of comfort and warmth. The wonder of the shower world, oh those hot showers.
Late yesterday afternoon BI’s leg busted through the thin ice near the water lead while he was chipping a hole through the ice for drinking and cooking. It submerged up past his knee, so his mukluk, felt liner, sock, long underwear, and pant leg were saturated with icy cold water. I had him kneel in some powder snow and we pressed it against his leg, wicking off as much of the moisture as we could.
This morning we fired up the stove around 7 AM and kept the heat going up but the wet footwear was still not dry. BI had left his rubber boots in the car, which would have been his walking option, so our plans changed a bit. He suggested that we use the day to head upriver to scout out a possible campsite for tomorrow night. With a lunch, axe, snowshoes, and a saw we could move much quicker than we would with loaded toboggans. We hoped to pack down a tent space and even prepare the firewood for an easy arrival afternoon tomorrow. I let BI use my rubber boots until I would need them, if ever.
So, after breakfast, we stayed here a bit, found another half dozen standing dead spruce, limbed off the branches and had a complete day’s firewood sawed up ready to go when we got back.
Unfortunately, I misjudged just how much the stove had cooled off, and the arm of my down jacket came into contact with the surface, quickly melting a series of holes in the sleeve that I patched with McNett clear non-stick tape, that held the down in until I could make a more permanent repair at home.
The air wasn’t too cold, and although there were snow showers coming on, the skies eventually broke from the west.
There were two snowmobile tracks still heading upriver and we stuck to them.
There were sections of the river where the machines had burned through deep slush that had refrozen. Mostly. We had been walking quickly for about 90 minutes when I stepped on the frozen track and my boot broke through the crust and went into slush.
It is the bane of any winter walker, as it not only soaks through the moose hide of the mukluks, but if and when you shift over to snowshoes, which you eventually need to float on this icy soup, they ice up in sub- freezing temperatures, gathering increasing thickness of ice, as the water cakes onto the snowshoes. It you are hauling toboggans it freezes to the bottom. Both situations require stopping and beating or scraping off the ice on the toboggans with the axe head in order to just keep going forward. It is not good.
For more on the topic of overflow, and skill-based winter camping knowledge, I refer you to Snow Walker’s Companion, by Garret and Alexandra Conover. I consider them my mentors on all aspects of winter walking. No better guide exists. They are also excellent writers.
Within the next steps, BI and I were both breaking through, in a section of river where the brush on the sides of the channel was so thick that it would have been close to impossible to move toboggans up and around the slush, which at this point appeared to be a hundreds yards or more long. Of course, there could have been even more, or no slush around the bend. When 50 pound Birdie was repeatedly breaking through until mid leg in whatever direction she bounded , we both realized how fortunate we were to have used the day as a reconnaissance mission.
There wasn’t much discussion. We turned around and headed back, in relief that we hadn’t disassembled our camp and brought it up here to an impasse. Both of us plugged into our respective iPods while we walked back, and I got in a little air guitar to the tune of Please Stand Up, by British Sea Power.
Volumes of prepared stove wood awaited us when he returned to camp about 2 PM. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking hot cocoa, and eating nuts, dried fruit, chips, and hummus.
We both drifted in and out of naps as we took turns stoking the stove. BI’s mukluks dried, ready for tomorrow’s adventures.