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.

How To Live In A Heated Tent

Three buddies are heading up with me to the Jackman, Maine wilds next week for a five day winter camping trip.

Photo by Paul KIrtley

Read another superb blog post from UK’s Paul Kirtley, blogger, wilderness bushcraft instructor, and general expert in outdoor skills.

Paul’s blog entry has loads of info about how we will survive, in style.

Click it!  – How To Live In A Heated Tent.

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.

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.



Moose River in Winter Day 3/3

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.

BIrdie tracks an ottter

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.

Avoiding the pit

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.

Uncle Tom covers up

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.

Extreme hiking

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.

Excessive Sierra Snow for 2011 Hiking Season ?

Here we go again. If I was heading out to the Pacific Crest Trail again, I’d bring along a cheap GPS this time, and get ready for slow going through the frozen stuff up there. Hope it’s not a repeat of last year’s conditions. I would consider MSR Lightning Axis snowshoes sent to Kennedy Meadows as well.

Snow Water Equivalent map

Check out the purple band running up through CA and WA, etc.
“The Sierra Nevada typically get a lot of snow, but what is most important this year is the amount of water locked up in that snow. The amount, over 40 inches in much of the region, is averaging 150% of normal.The storms that have come ashore have had a great deal of moisture with them, as evidenced by the rounds of flooding problems and mudslides experienced thus far.”
That’s 40 inches of water, not snow- there is excessive snow right now. My son was just visiting San Francisco this past week, and drove over the Sierras from Montana there and back. He got over I-80 through Donner pass with chains heading over, but on the way back the snows closed that route and he had to head all the way up to Oregon and drive along the Columbia River to reach Montana.
It’s gonna be slow going.

New Snowshoes + Fresh Powder

Been hitting alternate exercise modes in an attempt to “ spread the damage”  on impact on my body.  For this end, I have employed snowshoes, new ones, to move about the Maine countryside these past couple of weeks. I had trashed a pair of Tubbs style last year that I bought at L.L. Bean’s and wasn’t able to get a replacement pair, as they were sold out for the season.  So I took the $169 in cash and put that toward a pair of 30” MSR Lightning Axis which were about $100 more, a cost softened by purchase through an unmentioned PCT thru-hiking friend who bought them through his pro deal ( with my money).
They weigh 3 pounds, and the best feature is the one time ( for each pair of boots) toe strap adjustment that, with the two-second heel strap procedure has me into them in seconds.  I did not try the Ergo Televator Heel lifter which can be activated on steeper terrain.

After Ian and Mark found my 12:30 PM hiking invite on Facebook and we successfully completed a 7.5 mile slog up over the side of Cameron Mountain then down Zeke’s Trail in the Camden Hills State Park.

Follow the route

There was 1.1 miles of unbroken 2 foot powder on the steepest uphill section of Zeke’s, where we each took turns breaking trail. After we reached the Ski Lodge trail we went 0.4 miles south to get out of the cold at the new Lodge, which had a young couple in there next to a glowing wood stove.  What a break it was from the biting cold, which had to be in single numbers or close to it by the time we got back to our cars at 4:30 PM. As I type this tonight it is only 3 degrees out, accompanied by a steady wind.  The next two days are supposed to be the coldest temperatures of two years in these parts.