Big doings at the winter outdoor skills corral today.
There were some impressive whole group presentations today.
In the morning, Ed Belchner shared slides and stories from the early 1970’s in his program “40 Years into Nahmakanta by Snowshoe, Ski, and Dogsled”. Ed attempted a southbound AT hike in winter and struggled through the snow and ice until he decided to get off the trail at Nahmakanta Lake, where he straggled into an ancient camp and initiated a lifelong relationship with the camp and its owner. Very cool to see what the in and outside of the now extinct Nahmakanta Lake Camps and to view Antler’s Camps as well. Both are now just legends of the AT.
We also heard from Maddy McNair, who is recognized as the top woman polar guide in the world.
Maddy McNair is the real deal. From her website: “Matty has journeyed to both Poles setting several very impressive world records. She led the first women’s expedition to the North Pole in 1997. She also guided the Ultimate North Expedition; a dog sledding journey from Cape Columbia to the North Pole, arriving at the North Pole in just under Robert Peary’s 1909 record time of 37 days, thus proving that his disputed dash was in fact possible. Maddy has the distinction of being the first American to ski to both the North and South Poles. In 2004/2005 she completed an unsupported ski expedition to the South Pole, accompanied by her children Sarah and Eric, who became the youngest persons to ski to the South Pole. Adventure appears to run in the family. She presented photographs and tales from some of her expeditions.
In the afternoon I attended two small group workshops.
You can never be too careful with an axe and one person who knows about axes and their use is Maine’s Tim Smith. Tim runs Jack Mountain Bushcraft. In addition to more than a decade of 1-7 day bushcraft, survival, guide training and outdoor living courses, Tim has now taught 21 semester-length, college level, field-based bushcraft courses. Tim walked us into the woods, where he demonstrated proper felling, limbing, and sectioning techniques.
I learned a lot from Tim, and hope to take a course from him someday.
The second skills session that I attended was by Kevin Slater and Keiran Moore, entitled “Tips and Tricks of Winter Travel”.
Kevin runs Mahoosuc Guide Services. An active guide for 25 years, Kevin has traveled extensively in the north by canoe and dog team. He has done expeditions in Maine, Quebec, Labrador as well as a pioneer descent of the Grand Canyon.
Kieran Moore lived with the Dogrib Cree in the Northwest Territories between Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes from the early 1970’s until 2002 . Moore experienced communal subsistence hunts into the barren lands both by canoe and dog team, observing a vanishing way of life of a people at the farthest reaches of the tree-line and beyond. Moore is a fabled storyteller, and we have been held spellbound by some of his recollections of life with the Cree when he presented at a previous Snow Walkers Rendezvous.
Both men traded skills demonstrations:
Slater reasoned out out the contents of his day pack for an instructional session, as well throwing together a scaled model of a winter survival shelter, and a talk about how to build an emergency snow pit.
Moore demonstrated two Cree subsistence techniques: how to use three crafted sticks to set up a ice fishing gill net, and the use of cordage and an appropriately sized piece of fabric to pack up and transport a sectioned caribou.
The highlight of the large group session Saturday night was Ed Webster, an expert on the history of Mt. Everest.
“Ed wrote one of the best books ever written about Everest, Snow in the Kingdom , an account of the first ascent of Mount Everest’s Kangshung Face.
In 1988, American alpinist Ed Webster teamed up with Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, and Stephen Venables to climb a new route up Mount Everest’s massive 12,000-foot-high Kangshung or East Face. The four, in contrast to most expeditions, attempted it in the best possible style—on a new route; without supplemental bottled oxygen; without radios and satellite telephones; and without Sherpa assistance.
Below the South Summit, Ed saw prayer flags strung between rocks and purple-robed Buddhist monks chanting a blessing ceremony. Not thinking he was hallucinating, he simply watched them before passing out. When he awoke he realized the perilous place he was in and that if he continued on to the summit of Mount Everest that he would never return alive. “From out of my mental haze came the inescapable conviction that if I continued I would probably be killed.” At 28,700 feet and 3:30 in the afternoon, Webster turned around and started down. Life was more important than summit. Stephen Venables continued solo to the summit, becoming the sole expedition member to reach the top and the first British climber to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen.”
We only were treated to 10 minutes of slides and a phenomenal demonstration of what it was actually like to actually walk and breathe in the Death Zone. It’s one thing to experience, another to read about it, and to hear and watch Ed gulp air for 10 loud breaths and then walk two steps and do it again I’ll never forget.
Ed presented a gripping 30 minute history of North and South Pole discovery, using original photographs from the Nansen, Peary, and Cook expeditions, and he made sure we knew that Matthew Henson belonged in that pantheon as well.
I agreed with several of other people who attended that the quality of the presentations at this year’s Snow Walker’s Rendezvous was the best yet.
So it sold out again at 100 people and will be held next year in Vermont the weekend of November 8,9, and 10. For more information, past program lists, or to be included on the mailing list, please check out the website http://www.alohafoundation.org/hulbert-outdoor-center/community-programs/outdoor-conferences/snow-walker-s-rendezvous/. Sign up early if you are fortunate enough to get the chance. I’ll be there!