Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous 2009, Part 2 of 3

Saturday’s morning program  provided us with three group presentations about Labrador, which is considered by many as the land of the premiere wilderness camping experience in eastern North America.
I came in a bit late for Bill Fitzhugh’s “ The Archeology of Forgotten Labrador”.   Bill has been conducting 16th Century archeology  in Labrador and Baffin Island for over 40 years.  He has researched the site of Martin Frobisher in Frobisher Bay ( 1576-1578)  and is currently working in Mongolia on Bronze Age ceremonial sites, searching for ties to Eskimo origins.  He shared some computer projected images of the excavation of a site around Blanc Sablon near the eastern edge of Quebec along the mouth of the St.Lawrence River. His research is verifying cooperative living arrangements between the Inuit and the Basques as they attempted to overwinter as they were establishing whaling sites in the New World. We viewed stunning photos of soapstone lamps, whale and codfish bones that were found under an overhanging cliff at the deep water’s edge.

Bill’s wife Lynn Fitzhugh was up next.  She is the author of The Labradorians, and shared background information about a historical novel that she is researching and writing about an 18th century Inuit woman names Mikak, who was born and lived in a sod house near Nain in the 1740’s.  Mikak traveled to London, where she was a celebrity, and returned to help found the settlement at Northwest River, Labrador.  Another sad tale of abuse, alcohol, guns, and cultural dismemberment.

Scott McCormack wrapped up the morning’s presentations with a slide show/ talk about his 21 day winter snowshoeing/toboggan haul through the Menehek Hills in Labrador.  Scott is a teacher, outdoor education instructor and guide from Canada, whose work explores issues of self , northern landscapes, and “ participatory modes of experience” .  The stunning photos he displayed were taken by Colin O’Conner,  a professional photographer who was with him for the trek. The photos are copyrighted, so I have not reproduced them here.  I’d encourage the reader to click on the above link and view the 12 shots in that album.  I particularly like the last one, an arresting shot of a illuminated wall tent against a starry sky streaked with northern lights.

You self-select your two afternoon workshops.
I made the right choice attending Mark Kutolowski’s demonstration : Making Pemmican-The Ultimate trail Food.  Mark is a Vermont guide and traditional wilderness skills teacher who is currently teaching a course at Dartmouth College that he Developed on Bushcraft , Survival, Foraging, and Natural History.  He also leads retreats focusing on the intersection between contemporary spirituality and wilderness living .  The story of pemmican, which dates to pre-European contact, is tied to cold northern climates, where large game prevailed, snow fell, and the drying and preserving process was essential for survival.  Pemmican has historically involved drying strips of meat that has all the fat cut off, to which is added rendered animal fat, berries, and sometimes maple sugar and salt. Done properly it is edible for years , if not decades, even when held at room temperature. The ability of man to live on meat alone, for periods of years has been  documented in  Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s “Fat of the Land” .  The product was so important to early settlers that in 1832 the Hudson’s Bay Company purchased from the natives 28 tons of pemmican, in 150 pound bales.  We sampled some pemmican that Mark had previously prepared and were taken though tpreparing it, which is partly documented in this “how to make pemmican” video. 

The second workshop I attended was Garrett Conover’s “Winter Navigation and map Strategy”.

Garrett mapping out "sneak routes"

It was an advanced session on use of compass, maps, symbols, and river flowage patterns that ranged from visible elements of winter travel like light, falling snow, blowing snow, encountering drifts, whiteouts, the necessity for using hand signals, the perils of party separations, and backtracking strategies.  The bottom line is that it is very difficult to tell what is going on in a complicated lake system when you are down walking on the ground.  Garrett pulled out some maps of the north country and had real life examples and stories to go along with physical details on the maps themselves. It was a real treat to gain such focused information from someone who may be one of the top experts in extended periods of winter travel in the North Woods.

Two presentations made up the after dinner programs.
Katherine Suboch’s “Cold Camping On Baffin Island” kicked off the program.

Katherine Suboch

Katherine joined a friend to take advantage of a free flight from her home in Ontario up to northern Quebec, where another 700 mile flight and a long snowmobile ride deposited them and their Hilleberg tent in a landscape where there were no trees, shelters, running water, and mostly ice.  One of the frozen rivers they walked on was the Weasel.  They depended on white gas to fuel their MSR stove.  They ate a lot of instant oatmeal, fruit leather, butter and cheese to stay warm.
The final presentation was by Dave Freeman, who is the executive director of The Wilderness Classroom , a multidimensional experience which introduces elementary and middle school students to wilderness exploration.  Mark made himself two plastic sleds, borrowed a huge malamute from a friend, then hooked up himself and the dog to the two sleds and proceeded to spend a couple of months walking along the US. Canada border in Northern Minnesota in the middle of the winter .  He showed us photos of where he fell through the ice on a river, and learned to negotiate around a great deal of open water.  He’s now gearing up for a multiyear adventure up the west coast of North American up to the Arctic Ocean the across the top of NA and down the eastern seaboard all the way to South America.

Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous, 2009 Part 1 of 3

Nov. 13-15  in Fairlee, Vermont on the grounds of the Hulbert Outdoor Center, a decades old historic camp on the shore of Lake Morey.  It sold out, as usual,  with 100 winter campers and a few snow walker wanna bees in attendance.
Last year at this time I made an entry about the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous,  where the big event was Alan Brown “torching some tents” , generating over a thousand of hits on my YouTube channel.  The Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous (SWR) is a November weekend focused on old-school human winter travel, be it assisted by snowshoes, cross country skis, dogsleds, or rubber boots.

We had a never ending ride over there from Lincolnville, ME taking a full 7 hours due to a wrong turn that put us in Portland, where we made the best of it by decimating the lunchtime Italian extravaganza at Ricetta’s which has a huge pizza/ salad/ smorgasboard of delights.

We got to Vermont in time to indulge in libations and snacks and then settled into supper and the evening program.

The folks who are regulars at this event continue to amaze me.  Marcia and I ate our dinners next to Joel and Bev Hollis from MA, a normal looking couple who have no problem taking off for a couple of months each summer and canoeing some arduous boreal rivers that have killed a number of lesser folk.

“Hey, Joel,  where did you go this summer, ”  I asked, not even considering the possibility that they do normal things, like remodel their kitchen?

“Northwest Territories,” he replied.

“And kayaked some river? ”

“Yep, the Yukon” , he replied.

“How much of it”,  I asked ?

“All of it.”  So that would be about 2,000 miles, which took them some 70 days.  Unsupported.  Yep. The Hollis’s are the real deal.

Then I turned to my friend Dick Hampton, and asked him what he was up to.  He talked about heading up to do a 35 mile loop off the St. John River this winter. We’ve done a couple of winter trips together, and when I asked him to give me a call if he wanted company,  he sheepishly replied, “Every once in a while I do crazy things, like walk over frozen rivers alone.  I am thinking I will do the trip solo.”

So a small sample of what this crowd is up to.

The program ran from 7:30- 9 PM.
The talks were started up by three readings from Willem Lange, who also opened up last year.  He even asked one of my friends what he had read last year, and then proceeded to read the same three stories.   Didn’t matter, I have one of his books, with those stories, and still enjoyed the surprise endings.
Next was Sayward Chartrand’s commuter assisted presentation about the past three years she had spent teaching in a tiny high school Kangiqsujuaq, Quebec.
Zabe McEachern wrapped up the evening with a photo presentation and stories of a recent winter skiing trip she made to Norway, with close commentary of the snowshoeing and skiing cultures.
The Saturday program looked to be one of the best I’ve experienced there. Insert a bunch of sleep relted-images here and then catch Saturday’s entry.

I’m Leavin’ On A Jet Plane

Just booked a plane flight from Maine to California for mid-April, 2010.  This sets in motion a cascade of events that will lead to my long distance backpack of the 2,656 mile Pacific Crest  Trail.  No sooner did I put the phone down that I felt dually stoked, first with the excitement of the Big Walk itself, and next as a sense that the next five months will be filled with purposeful activity as I march through trip preparation as well as slog through a raft of home maintenance tasks.
I just finished reading Lewis and Clark’s  journals, where I found this uniquely relevant quote, which will be one of my main mantras in the coming year:

“I have always held it a crime to anticipate evils.  I believe it a good comfortable road until I am compelled to believe differently… ”  Meriwether Lewis, May 26, 1805.

Sent from my iPod

America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail

The new full length  (50 minutes) documentary entitled America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail , on  National Geographic network TV,  premiered last night at 8 PM.   I  had to invite myself over to my friend Mike’s house to be able to see it, as I don’t subscribe to the station on this newfangled TV setup.

I have enjoyed many of the AT documentaries and this one really had my hopes up.   I have viewed other videos, and have sometimes been moved to tears watching them.

At least National Geographic had most of the requisite number of facts straight ( ” The AT is less than a 1 day drive from one-half the population of the USA”.).    I’m grading it a “C” , which was a real disappointment considering the resources that this organization has to draw on. When I heard the pilgrimage talk, against a sunset shot, with the deep strings in the background , I thought , too bad, you don’t need to do this, let the hikers themselves talk and walk.

The first section profile is through the eyes of Chad, a section hiker who does a 28 mile piece from the start at Springer Mountain  to Blood Mountain.  It was humbling to be reminded of the challenges of the formidable Georgia mountains.  The fact that that 500 people a year thru hike  isn’t correct. The numbers have varied between 300 and 400 a year for the past decade.  In the 1970’s some years saw less than 10 people a year walking the whole AT.

The best part of this video is what is impossible to appreciate as a hiker, the documentary’s aerial shots, which were truly amazing.

There was a wavering focus to this story.  The acid rain segment  about the Smokies was informative, but there were  three other “environmental messages” that seemed forced in. Why did the video take up  several valuable minutes showing a remote camera being set up to verify that there are many different animals present out in the woods?  Yep, there are bears, deer, and racoons out there.  Could that time been used to interview the fabled Bob Peoples, whose Kincora hiker hostel and whose decades long devotion to trail building demands coverage ?

It was also strange that you were whooshed from Harper’s Ferry  four hundred miles up to Bear Mountain Bridge in New York.  There was no mention at all of those middle Atlantic states. I guess the message is those places don’t merit a word or a video footage?  At the Maine section  there was this bizarre rapid motion segment of being whooshed down some greenery amidst quiet reflections of fall.  It was jarring, and sure didn’t fit.

This film didn’t touch my heart.   I won’t be adding this one to my AT documentary collection. If you really want to get a taste of what  hiking the AT  is all about I’d suggest you check out Michal Daniel’s  ( AKA Lion King) Walking With Freedom : A Hike Along the Appalachian Trail instead. But, check this one out for yourself.  The next EST National Geographic Channel airing is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 4 PM.  I’d appreciate comments from other viewers.

For extensive commentary on this topic, get over to the Whiteblaze forum concerning this show.

Dark Days Ahead

Now that it is dark by 5 PM, I have to make a shift in my exercise approach.  All those daylight hours made riding and hiking  easier in late afternoon and evening.  I’m now getting up as I usually do at 5-5:30 AM ( no alarm required)  and for three mornings this week went outside and walked High St.,  starting in the pitch black and coming into the hacienda at daybreak an hour and 15 minutes later, with just about 5 miles walked before breakfast.  It makes for a good day.

Me and my favorite" road" bike

Riding my bikes is harder now than in the summer. I rode 20 miles Friday, back and forth to a meeting in Camden.   It was my maiden voyage on the new single speed road bike I won in a raffle.  Yes, no shifting, but we have all these hills here and I was able to grunt up all of them except for a 20 foot steep section of Moody Mountain Road where I was just not able to turn the pedals.  My heart was pounding so that I felt like my chest was going to explode.  I had to walk the bike!  So, I may trade out the rear gear for a slightly larger one just to be able to most all the hills around here.  I live at about 420 feet elevation, and Camden is at sea level. Heading north, I have to get up and over Moody Mountain at over 900 feet.  I think the single speeds are more for flat roads, the bike it might be good for training.   Maybe the bike is made for Florida and it made a mistake coming to Lincolnville, Maine ?