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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
When we got back, Tenzing cooked an over-the-top mess of bacon, sausage, eggs, and onion home fries on the wood stove.
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.
Roy maintains, “Up here, you can hike 20 miles in the snow and rain, and still gain weight.”
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 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
John and I made the 1 mile haul into camp Friday afternoon.
I have extra hauling toboggans that John and Tug borrowed to get their gear into Dogtrot cabin. The cabin had not been heated for a while, so the single digit temperatures and wind Friday night required that the Tempwood wood stove be loaded 5 times in the night. I was sleeping as far away from the stove as possible in a lower bunk in my 20 degree Western Mountaineering down bag. I was hoping the air inside would cool down more than it did.
We share the cooking duties out here for two nights and days. I volunteered to do everything for Friday night supper except the cherry pie that Dave made himself. My meal was Chicken and Italian Sausage and garlic bread from the Slow Cooker Bible. I had Spicy Thai chips with hummus for an appetizer. I even hauled in the crock pot, which did double duty this weekend, lending a hand to Tug’s Saturday night Pot Roast. We eat really well here on this annual event. Pat provides the coffee, Ethiopian this year, and we have an assortment of percolators and espresso makers that work hard to keep up with our consumption. The standing joke, which is the truth, is that our first year here, some 15 years ago, we spent a whole weekend with candles and cooking on the wood stove before we realized there was electricity in the cabin. The only way we discovered electricity was seeing the second hands on the electric wall clock move after we’d already been there two days.
What do we do here besides eat and drink coffee?
We also hike around the countryside, and read a lot. On Saturday afternoon we took a hike on a frozen snowmobile trail out to Pitcher Pond. Here is a shot of a really old suspension bridge that snowmobile riders use to get across the Ducktrap River.
At night, it gets dark. You can get lost using the outhouse, so we generally take flashlights with us. There was even a time we had a grumpy porcupine living under the outhouse that we had to battle with.
All of us are rested tonight, at home, and ready for the next big adventure tomorrow- Valentine’s Day!
It was a chance to bask in the pleasure of walking in powder snow one more time, and was our best little hike so far this winter. Ryan and I decided to take advantage of the clear skies and head for the hills, the Camden Hills State Park, that is, where we ended up bagging two peaks and covering a 4.5 mile loop last Saturday.
We went in from the Route 1 side, where we met at 2PM in the parking lot at the base of Mount Battie ( 800’). There were dozens of cars in the lot, where Ryan spotted two others than mine that had AT thru-hiker stickers on them. I strapped on my Stablilicers and Ryan slid into his his Kahtoonas as we walked up the ice-covered apshalt road to the top, stopping to talk with several friends who were one their way down. We took photos near the tower overlooking Penobscot Bay.
Back down we went, backtracking another half-mile where we found the Tableland Trail on the left, minus the sign. Time for the snowshoes. The trail was now in the woods, where it dipped down some 200 feet, then went up, up, and up. Some of the ups were loose and steep, whih made it hard to ascend. Even the big aluminum claws on my shoes sometimes slid backwards, required repeated lunges to walk and eventually grip. It was work, for sure. Some 1,000 feet of climbing later, we got to the ridge leading past Ocean Lookout up to the top of Mount Megunticook ( 1385’) .
It was at this point that Ryan exercised leadership, by suggesting that we curtail our original plan to descend the 1.1 mile Slope Trail to the Ski Lodge, where we planned to have a boil up and snack. Yeah, we had to get down, but that would leave us close three more miles on the Multiuse Trail to reach the cars, and the sun was starting to set.
Ryan looked around for a ledge to set our stoves on, but the snow was too deep for that. Instead, we packed down sitting places with our snowshoes, and set right down and fired up the stoves for hot drinks. We both had extra jackets that we put on. Ryan struggled with generating a decent boil with his Caldera cone alcohol stove. I had my own challenges with keeping my Bushcooker LT1 upright as the fire melted the snow beneath, causing the stove to tip. Next time, I’m packing a 1 quart paint can lid, which fits the base of the Bushcooker perfectly and would enable me to keep it stable on packed snow. I think I remember that any alcohol stove requires some type of insulation from the snow to get it up to speed. I was able to hit a rolling boil after throwing in a Coghlan hexamine tablet that got the wood burning in the LT1, and warmed my hands near the flames, then cradled the cook pot of tea. I had some chocolate from Christmas that went down just fine.
The temperature was dropping rapidly and both Ryan and I decided to keep fully dressed as we slipped, skied, and slid our snowshoed way down the 1.5 mile Mt. Megunticook Trail.
Two days later, the Camden Hills was hit with 47 degree temperatures and three inches of rainfall, a combination that would dramatically reduce the snow cover, and make snowshoeing history. However, the deep freeze coming tomorrow ( single number temps) will coat the trails with ice, which may set things up the next sporting event- mountain biking with studded tires!
My own New Year’s hike up to Bald Rock Mountain was in the same category as Brad’s; bitter cold and unbelievable wind combining to create wind chills conditions that were at least 20 below zero.
But all of this whining about the cold conditions pales in comparison to the new blog entry on Tim Smith’s Jack Mountain Bushcraft Blog a Winter Survival Article By David Cronenwett. It is a sobering read about an event that occurred just one mile from the author’s car in typical intense winter conditions in Montana. I include it because it can happen to anyone, especially those of us who include travel over supposedly frozen waterways in our trips up here in the North.
I’ll sign off today evoking the immortal words of “Hill Street Blues” (1981) Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, ” Hey, let’s be careful out there”.
This past Nov. 7-9 I traveled to Fairlee, Vermont to attend one of my favorite events of the calendar year. The Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous (SWR) is a weekend focused on non motorized human winter travel, be it assisted by snowshoes, cross country skis, or dogsleds. This year, it sold out again, when it reached its limit of 100 people. I was fortunate to be in the company of my wife Marcia, and my Appalachian Trail friends Bad Influence ( Mark) and Birdlegs ( Michelle), who was able to find a bus from southwestern New Hampshire that brought her over to the Green Mountain State.
The setting for the weekend is a fine one, on the grounds of the Hulbert Outdoor Center , a decades old historic camp on the shore of Lake Morey.
A number of folks also camp out in the field behind the main meeting hall/dining room, and this year there was an impressive array of tents, most with little stove pipes jutting away, some occasionally puffing a tell tale cloud of white smoke that indicated that the occupants were toasting away inside. In the past we have stayed in one of the half dozen heated cabins, but this year we were the guests of BI and his wife Katie at their farm in Straffod, VT, a brief drive away.
After arriving and signing in, we made it in time for supper. Just as we came into the entrance, BI and Birdlegs were just about to walk across the driveway. The four of us were on the commuter package, which included three meals in addition to the modest registration fee. After a period of schmoozing at the tail end of the wine and cheese hour , I was able to reconnecting with various traveling friends. Next, we enjoyed our dinners and found our seats for the Friday evening program. Willem Lange kicked off the event with a reading from one of his books. Mr. Lange has published several audio recordings and five books and has received an Emmy nomination for one of his pieces on Vermont Public Television. In 1981 he began writing a weekly column, “A Yankee Notebook,” which appears in several New England newspapers. He’s a commentator or host for Vermont Public Radio and both Vermont and New Hampshire Public Television. He’s the real deal, and his presence and tales embodied the rugged and individualist lifestyle of the Yankee. Since coming home, I have purchased one of his books.
Willem was followed by Bill Pollack’s and his slide show/talk “ Skiing with the Cree”. Bill has a company, Tuckamor Trips, that leads people on low tech winter adventures in association with the Cree First Nation working out of Moose Factory, Ontario. Bill is a retired forest engineer, who has spent over 40 years traveling and working in the Eastern Canadian wilderness.
The last program of the evening was “A Tribute to Native Guides”, by Kevin Slater. Kevin is co-owner of Mahoosuc Guide Service. His literature indicates that, “Mahoosuc ( Guide Service) is unique in that we make much of the equipment we use on our guided trips, such as cedar canvas canoes, ash dog sleds and maple paddles. We have traveled extensively in the north with the Cree and Inuit and many of the techniques we use for north woods and tundra travel were developed by them. We employ local Native guides on all our Canadian trips. If you are interested in more than just a superficial look at Native culture, come with us. You will leave our trips with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Native culture by living and traveling with Native guides from the area who grew up in eeyoustis (the bush) or nuna (the tundra)”.
Kevin’s talk was a heartfelt ramble that featured slides and personal stories about several of the beacon light native guides that he holds in true respect. His presentation was bittersweet. Kevin is very concerned about the possibility that many native skills may be eventually lost, as majority of the adult children of several of these guides have not expressed any interest in carrying on the guiding lifestyles of their parents.
Saturday was a huge day of information, stories, and fodder for later grinding within the winter cud. There are so many excellent presenters at Snow Walkers’ that the one morning and two one-hour afternoon blocks each have multiple offerings that you are forced to chose between. After breakfast, I passed up “Snowpack Dynamics” and Craig McDonald’s “Trapping with the Diamond family at Opasatica”.
My first choice of the day was the computer-assisted presentation by Craig Lawrence, “Dogs and the Outward Bound Experience”. Craig is from Ontario and has for the last four years managed the dog sledding program for all of Outward Bound Canada. Since 1986, Craig’s paid career has been with raising, training, and running sled dogs. He has even prepared dog teams for the Iditarod. His is a year round life. Even in the dry land months, Craig trains dogs. The photos he showed us of dog teams dragging All Terrain Vehicles around the wilderness trails were most impressive. We were given fascinating details of even the special foods these dogs require while on the trail ( melted chicken fat).
Next came the morning break where I checked out the extensive array of items that were on sale from vendors. There were axes, tents, packs, snow shoes, woolen clothing, books, stoves, ice chisels, mittens, hand carved rings, staves and more, most of of a design and quality that are not generally available elsewhere.
I then had to plot my strategy to win a door prize. One of the more exciting practices that are a part of the weekend is the SWR door prize tradition. Each vendor, and a number of attendees, donate door prize items that have ranged in value from a quart of Vermont maple syrup to a new winter tent ( worth close to $1000). In fact, two years ago I was one of several people who had persuaded Roger Lee to first attend the event. Roger and I shared his tent in our 2006 February traverse of Moosehead Lake. He ended up winning the grand door prize, a 4 person Snowtrekker Empire Canvas tent complete with collapsible inner pole set up.
There are dozens of door prizes. They are placed on a long table on the side of the dining room with a plastic container in front of each door prize. Each registrant is allowed 5 small slips of paper that we put our names on. You then have the masochistic pleasure of deciding which prize, or prizes, you want to gamble on. You can put just one slip for each of five items, or can increase your odds by placing all 5 slips in one container. It is sort of a chess game strategy in trying to win. If you want a big item, such as a gift certificate for a $200 pair of Steger Mukluks, put all 5 of your slips in there. The downside is that these big items are the very things that most everybody else wants, so they put lots of there own slips in too. One year, Marcia won a brand new Ibex woolen jacket that listed for $230 in their catalog. I have ascended into the winners’ circle these last two years by throwing all my slips in front of less popular items. Last year, I won a hard bound copy of The Navigator of New York ( read my review ). This year I walked away with an antique, tiny, cast iron fry pan. I Googled it when I arrived home and learned that was made between the years 1935 to 1959, and is worth somewhere around $30. I have re -seasoned it and have already used it on the kitchen wood stove a couple of times to fry up some eggs. I wonder where it has spent it’s prior life? If it could talk, could it present at Snow Walkers’ next year?
Next came the Tour of the Tents, this year guided by Kevin Slater. It is an annual event, where people mosey around the field, and stop at representative styles of tents where the owner speaks to the group, relates the pros and cons of the tent , and takes questions. I have a video here where I take you around and look at a few of them:
Then came home made soup, sandwiches, and salads for lunch, more vendor visiting and door prize lust, and choosing from two more afternoon workshop blocks.
I attended Alexandra Conover’s “Winter Travel- Connecting more Deeply with the Natural World” presentation. Alexandra is a force. The main theme was that the heart can be viewed as an organ of perception, a finding that is tied to writings from plant spirit medicine. It was a challenging presentation for me. The best part of the presentation was focusing our attention on the dried fir cones that we each were given. The fragrance was intoxicating and did connect me with images of a world outside of the room.
No doubt, The most interesting event of the whole weekend was Allan Brown’s live action, firefest entitled, Torching the Tents”. I will link here to Tim Smith’s account of this event, taken from his own blog, The Moose Dung Gazette. I also have two videos of a tent burning. The first one introduces Allan Brown and his rationale for toasting a complete tent. Background. Just at the point where the fabric starts to flame, the batteries in my digital recorder failed. The second video captures the moment we all had been waiting for, and was taken on my backup digital camera.
After a brief break of more tea and snacks, I wrapped up the last offering of the afternoon by attending Tim Smith’s outdoor presentation on “Axmanship & Firebuilding- Core Skills of the North”. Tim is an experienced survival, bushcraft and outdoor living instructor.
A full-time guide and survival instructor since founding Jack Mountain Bushcraft in 1999, he splits his time between Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and Masardis, Maine. Tim is an excellent, humorous, engaging teacher and I encourage the reader to visit his website, which is unusually well done for this type of thing.
Tim took a large group up into the woods behind the outdoor center and taught us details of choosing standing dead trees that I have learned no where else. For example, he told us to be be sure choose an absolutely straight dead tree. Every degree of lean of the dead tree converts to additional moisture that migrates into the wood of the tree, reducing its effectiveness for fire building. Tim taught axe safety, specifics on felling technique, and finer points about to making whiffle sticks for kindling/fire starting. Taking Tim’s workshop made me realize that I want to learn more skills from Tim. I even sent Deb Williams and Tim requests for Tim to attend next year and for him to consider offering a longer workshop.
One presentation that I am sorry I didn’t attend was the screening of the new John Walker Canadian film “Passage”. This film brings to life the infamous story of the Franklin Expedition, focusing on John Rae. The landscape ranges from Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands to the landscapes of the Arctic. Looks really good. Credit Deb Williams again for her work, as she was able to have a copy of the DVD for multiple screenings this weekend. I passed on them, thinking I could buy the DVD when I got home. Wrong. The DVD is being produced by the national Film Board of Canada and will not be available for sale in the US until Spring 2009.
But how much info can a man take on in one day? Sheesh, was I beat by this point, I was relieved to just sit and take it easy and enjoy the evening’s dinner. The food here is excellent, wholesome, freshly prepared by experienced cooks.
Following supper we heard from Kieran Moore, who is an excellent storyteller. I have heard him present once before and am amazed at the wilderness experiences this man has endured. This time his slide show/talk took us back in time to the 1970’s in the Northwest Territories where he worked harvesting logs and fashioning them into municipal log buildings. The was the time that preceded ATV’s and much of his harvesting was with sled dogs, and his mode of travel from job to job was via mushing a sled dog team hundreds of miles through the frozen unpopulated wilderness.
I went over my list of participants from this year and was pleased to see that I know or have traveled with 30 of these folks. I have found it very difficult ( and some years impossible) to find people who will actually get outside on snowshoes and live in a tent for multiple days in the middle of the winter. Once, I had lined up three companions to do a trip with me only to receive at last minute cancellations from all of them when it was time for the frozen pedal to hit the icy metal.
This year, my association with Snow Walkers’ folks will likely allow me to take three trips during the span of February to early March. More about those itineraries later.
Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous allows anyone to hang out and learn from some of the most experienced winter survivalists and foot powered travelers in North America. For those of you who would like to gain more skills in this area, consider attending the upcoming Winter Skills Day– Saturday, January 10, 2009 for a day of pre-registered workshops. Next year’s Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous will be the weekend of November 13-15, 2009.
See you there?
Sitting here in Dogtrot cabin at Tanglewood 4-H camp in my home town of Lincolnville, ME. I am here with six men who have been rendezvousing here for a weekend each winter, as we have done for the past 15 years or so. I came in alone last night. I rigged up one of my plastic sleds and bungeed on my duffle bag and cardboard box full of food, topped off with cross country skis, poles, and
snow shoes. It is now Saturday , and we’ re settled snugly while another snowstorm
is raging outside. Should dump another eight to ten inches on top on the two feet that is still on the ground. We’re mostly laying around, drinking coffee and espressos, eating sausages and waffles, reading, and sharing tales and ruthlessly ribbing each other. It’s a guy thing.
Dave had to bail today. It is his wedding anniversary tomorrow, and his wife is going to be traveling on business for two weeks, so he had to leave. He left us with the bulk of two home made pies,one apple and the other cherry. Most of us accompanied him to the
parking lot, about a mile and a half away. I tried to use my fish- scale bottom skis, but the snow was so sticky that it was clumping up under the skis, so I abandoned them and and walked in my ski boots. There was about 8 inches of fresh snow and it was tough slogging.
It was just right for me to be out just walking through the woods. Last year at this time I was here, and sleeping in my hammock at 15 degrees, testing insulating pads. This year I am still closely connected to the AT, awaiting word about my wife’s first steps on her own six month odyssey.
I continue to be deeply satisfied at what being in the woods does for my outlook. It is settling to gather wood and build a fire. We sure need it here tonight. Running water will be a major miracle. So will folks like Gene, who is probably out today, faithfully plowing out my driveway, as he has done for the past 30 years.