As Blanteev and Marcus made the Half-Assed Camps of 1997-1998 ready, Timur , and his publicity websites, and Vincentoli’s Mom, waited in Framingham, for the arrival of the team. Checking in also was McAnus, an HAE climbing partner and close friend of Novasch’s, who was located at the Seattle office of HAE. He was planning to go hiking but he had to sandbag out at the last minute. And Novasch was tied down at home, so he was hiking in cybor-space this year. In the months before, Novasch had been aggressively pursuing public relations work on Fredulous Q. Mount Gomery’s behalf and had been successful in negotiating a top inventor position for HAE, a position that included doubling as HAE’s spin-doctored correspondent for the OutHouse page of www.haeadventure.com, a Boston based provider of on-line spoofs and feature packages directed toward computer operators looking for adventure stories. Not a division of www.skateluge.com any longer, and morphed into a large site at the www.haeadventure.com domain, it did reserve the rights to publish selected HAE logos and other selected content for network distribution.
For Novasch and Blanteev, who was eager to publish in the e-adventure industry, the emergence of www.haeadventure.com provided opportunity. There was no guarantee of how Blanteev would cover the expedition on the HAE Internet site to which he was reporting, no control over content, no determination as to deadline. Blanteev, loyally taken to hacking Novasch’s html, could be counted on to maintain the outrageously bloated story line. But there was only one slight problem. Without extensive electronic resources, which included a cellular telephone, Blanteev could hardly compete with other live on-line sites. Once they hopped onto the snowbound trail and left the technology of the modern world to somebody else, he was off the air, out of luck. So, prior to departing from Redwood City, he struck up the idea of what THE CLAMB should be instead; an epic multi-year tale of snowshoe survival adventure, thus sending all the day-to-day what’s-new hitters surfing elsewhere. “The agreement was to not to bother with any cellular phones, gps receivers and Vincentoli’s walkie-talkies because anybody who has ever carried useless crap up a mountain would veto a highly mobile two-man team carrying stupid gizmos… I had talked to Novasch, the webmaster, saying. ‘ I don’t need no steenkin phone! Is thairh a prahblem with that?'”
One of Blanteev’s first reports filed years ago for OutHouse from Framingham was an on-line interview with Novasch and the HAE crew in which he described his climbing buddies. In his responses to Blanteev’s questions Novasch later emphasized the “good mix” of this years choice of expeditionaries, saying that, in combination with abundant snow it was “very good for chuffing” Needlemeier, he said, was “hurried to step on the top of Maine in January” and that he [Novasch] would feel comfortable, if problems arose, to take the calls from the Staties on summit day, “to inquire if the Staties would go calm down the horrified locals, who saw the team enter the woods,” wondering about Marcus’ car still parked at the trailhead a week later in one of the most destructively brutal storm patterns ever to hit northern New England and Canada.
Blanteev, Novasch has introduced as the “head-climber guy” and extolled his achievements as a high-attitude climber who had summited several 4000 foot mountains in Maine without beer. He went on to say about Blanteev’s role on this expedition, “Vincentoli I know will not be using beer. Vincentoli is an animal, a conquest monster blaster, that’s great!” Novasch went on to explain that, as a safety precaution, an emergency reserve of beer would be provided on summit day in the event that Blanteev returned on Sunday and choose to draw upon it.
After the standard crew meetings and introductions were made, Blanteev, after leaving Redwood City, filed a number of e-mails detailing some challenges immediately in front of the HAE expedition, including the possibility of some of the deep winter snow conditions, the type of delays on the trekking trail that the HAE team had already encountered.
“From Kingfield we’ve learned that gomers just can’t get anywhere near a Half-Assed Mountain Camp. Anybody sensible adventurers planning an expedition to the region would delay departure until after bug and mud season, that’s in August. There must be like ten expeditions a day walking by here during the summer!”
“Because of this, the team would have to double it’s hiking, going from 3 to 6 hours per day for the trip. The hiking takes longer because of the much harder work in the deep snow and we needed to be carrying less equipment under these conditions.”
That problem, the booze delivery problems, the missing tent problem were standard half-assed action in the launching days of an expedition, and, according to Blanteev, Novasch was “ignoring the details” once again as soon as he logged on-line. “The moment Timur logged on-line his phone could not ring. The logistics of this years complex expedition effort boggle the mind!”
One of the details that Novasch had to handle tactfully was professionally personally troublesome. The West Coast Division of HAE had contacted him from Seattle. Bruce McAnus was telling him that Blanteev, according to the version McAnus was claiming about the Bigelow Classic, definitely owed him $20 for pizza and beer over a bet. The actual photo records, McAnus maintained, if hypothetically they could be found, would show that McAnus summitted in front of Blanteev. “I told McAnus the check was in the mail a while back when I was on the west coast,” I claim at that point. “But McAnus was insisting, ‘Either he coughs up the twenty bucks…that was the bet, or… don’t let him go, Timur , get my 20 bucks from that cheapskate! Don’t let that gomer out of Framingham without my 20 bucks!'”
The proven itinerary cooked up for this years Half-Assed Expedition called for flying into Logan, spend some time in Framingham, and then on Dec 28th or 29th, drive to Northern New England, stopping at several fast food joints. It was a proven and conservative itinerary, designed specifically to get the team to the hike while avoiding Acute Motoring Stupidity (AMS), more commonly described as Fast Food Barfness, which is brought on by driving north too fast, making large increases in the consumption of fast food before allowing the body to metabolize the earlier levels of intake that are still available while driving up the highway.
By planning on taking the Maine Turnpike, the team was holding to a commonly held axiom: start with Mac’s in town and then watch out for the King on 95. This routine is widely recommended by hae-climbing specialists and has been incorporated in every single popularly known Expedition into the northern Appalachians.
But Novasch, just before the expedition began, announced a way to change plans. Instead of that first highway King, he knew of an optional cut over to Wendy’s at the Kittery exit. He also announced that since he was not going on this years expedition that he didn’t care where Blanteev and Needlemeyer stopped, but if he was going, his vote would be to go with the option play.
Kittery was the same town to which Blanteev and the HAE crew had stopped on occasion during previous years expeditions. For them this years quick stop north of the border was not that all troublesome, but on expeditions past the team stop resulted in endless wasted time checking out the new outdoorsy looking trading post built there. “Almost everyone complained that we stayed there too long. We were totally zoned out just walking around looking at all that stuff.” It was only a matter of time before some retailer found this location. Why, for the past few decades, should tourists drive all the way to LL’s in Freeport, when all that type kind of stuff can be put in a store right here at the border? Additionally several of the crew members were stricken with upset stomachs and nasty-assed smelling farts after snarfing fast food, possibly a casualty from a Kittery stop.
From the Turnpike, as Blanteev and Needlemeyer had done before, the Half-Assed team drives over increasingly rolling snow covered surface-roads to Kingfield, where they spend the next few days recovering while taking difficult hiking along the trail, trying to vaporize from civilization. For some, AMS symptoms continue to linger, normal enough for first day or two, but persisting symptoms indicative that backpacking food is no better than fast food.
Many of the team members resort to taking Maalox tablets, a magnesium-drug derivative that helps them metabolize more fast food. Used by HAE climbers for over twenty years now, the drug has proven record, but most team members recommend that it be taken only to address symptoms of AMS and not for the more insidious bottleflu. It doesn’t prevent rude smelling farts, something the drug’s manufacturer fails to mention on the label. Gradual travel, with time to stop at a real place, is desirable to avoid Activating Muffled Stenches (AMS). If rapid travel is undertaken and Maalox is used; it should be noted that such use does not obviate the need for prompt chuffing to the nearest OutHouse if severe forms of gaseous states occur.
Internet trekkers, thanks to HAE´s low budget approach, were not about to find out any instant news on the Half-Assed web site as the team progressed toward the summit. Curiously, for those who had found the team’s site when it first went up in 1997, they wanted to know if the haeadventure.com website was going to be quiet about threading on top of skateluge.com. What they want to know about is what is happening on the mountain right now. “So we get lost up there looking for a good spot to base camp, somewhere on the way to the summit, and then later I´m kicking back bored around base camp, being very, very uptight with myself…and then I starting saying…. “You didn’t even bother to carry a cellular phone up here…hae…left it in the car because it cost too much money? Why didn´t we go find more competitive rates!”
Timur had sent word through the internet (by means of e-mail) that the expedition would be arriving in Maine, and I was eager to see what mountain chuffing would be going down. But at the moment I’m hopelessly lost, circumnavigating several frozen streams and snowmobile tracks, hiking endlessly in a pitched monotonic white and grey landscape. My thoughts drift off with the hypnotic crunching of ice coated snow.
Suddenly I was back to an early autumn, I had just finished a difficult road season. The searing sound of tearing metal and screaming lives cracking open in the endless, quiet hum of polished athletic competition had left me dazed and lost in a world that never will understand anything outside their own little universe. Quickly I was there…suddenly, where there is nothing between you and a one way ticket to oblivion except some smelly Lycra stamped with semi-obsolete sponsor’s logos. It’s not a big name ride today. But it will be fast. Deadly fast and my fellow racers are there to kick some butt, upholding long standing local rivalries. Looking around I realize that I’m in way over my neck on this one. Under the misconception that the internet directions way-layed me in a huge bridge toll traffic jam, thus missing an easy race at 8am, I somehow had the presumption to register for a race full of semi-pro looking riders, going off just before lunch. So early on in this earnest race a poor pack rat like me is looking for an easy way out of this howling raging mass of spandex coated mutant road attackers. After a few laps I’m seeing double with pain on the hill, loosing places on a nerve racking high speed corkscrew downhill, and look out if that ain’t Sunchase and them U.S. Postal Service Master riders mixing it up directly in front of me in a narrow high-speed haybaled corridor. The course is not wide enough at the corner before the finish, due to the negligent hay bale dudes, who have deemed it necessary to allow for a massive traffic jam just on the other side of this critical corner. Next lap I’m a only few wheels off the action up front when a mix up involving a USPS rider sends the Sunchase rider for a real hard slam. The resulting stack-up unleashes an ear-bending shock wave of metallic-acoustic crashing noise pressure, and completely blocks the narrow lane. I put down so much rubber that the rider behind me crashes hard off my rear wheel, it sounds like he is taking a few of his asphalt magnet friends along for some road rash too. Time to bail.
My high-speed sidewalk ride out of this mayhem is pure improvisation. I do a nasty curb hop right through some homeowner’s flower bed. Wham! Gardenias are shredded and I don’t have time to be delighted about not taco-ing my rear wheel before I’m on the lawn avoiding a collision with inattentive spectators. A bunch of other riders seem to have the same general idea. Around some more racing fans, the bike rocking hard under me, I bounce off a rider who heads right for a big tree. I am realizing that the world on the other side of the barricades has no idea of the daily difficulty and danger faced by the racers pouring around them. They seem not to be paying attention, going about their business much like in a baseball game. But rest assured someone is paying attention, at the worst possible moment, which is just as I am about to slam a sewer grating off a curb drop. I’m pretending to myself that I can’t get back on the course, but an astute corner marshal notices. He pulls the tape up and waves me right back on the course, right back into a high-speed chase group. Obviously he wasn’t going for my unconvincing sandbagging routine, and he was yelling ‘Go AV!’ at me. I realized during the ensuing acceleration to catch back on that the dude at the tape was an ex-teammate I trained with a few years ago. More intense suffering in a blur of high-speed pain and draining awareness until mercifully the announcer pulls us, several laps later with the race approaching our rear wheels. Delighted with the honorable discharge, relieved, I split from that weekends road racing scene. Another day in the saddle, another day riding the thin line between entertainment and chaos.
As my thoughts drift back to cold reality, endless frozen landscape in every direction, the only chance of staying alive strapped to my back, I focus on the feeling of relief from surviving that hellacious race. When I walked away, all bones still intact, to race again another day. I know it is the same feeling I will have if, and when, I can walk off this mountain. When backpacks are finally in the car, after an exhaustive, difficult and dangerous summit, once again I know that I have pushed the fragile envelope of life to the limit. But now a calm, wondering confidence, the fleeting smile of a tightrope walker after a flawless performance, has pervaded. I feel unsuited for the boring life of a urban dweller. I have committed myself to the winter summits I’d yet to climb, and I had to continue. And so I did, placing on foot tiredly and slowly in front of the other, my thoughts wandering with the snow blown continuum of cold, blustering wind. The endless trail and fractal expanded woods in all directions slowly pulling me forward, one foot, tiredly dragging the other one onward.
The HAE team continues to hold base camps when first arriving in Maine. To that point the majority of the supplies necessary for HAE styled Base Camp had arrived on the backs of the hikers, their efforts are painstakingly optimized to keep Blanteev and the advance team supplied.
Progress of all the expeditions supply packs is often excruciatingly slow. On the day before arrival at a Base Camp, the HAE team had departed after lunch and would quickly find themselves up to their neck in snow if a snowshoe binding failed, their fellow hikers laughing furiously at any hiker unfortunate enough to have the binding pop in front of the peanut gallery.
To kill time at hae base camps, the team has taken side trips to lesser peaks and views. From these subsidiary features from which the climbers have unobstructed and dramatic views, such as the icefalls in BIG MILES IN MAINE, or possibly first of a series of obstacles they would encounter in their effort to summit. On the sides of the snow locked mountains the climber embedded in the base camp experiences a transition from the “wonder where” to the “been there” and the simultaneous stinking and snoring that many climbers feel when they encounter the physical aspects of extended winter backpack camping trips. This is what the HAE team hikes through deep snow for.
Finally, after delays and a long drive, the HAE team makes their push toward the camp. A few hundred meters from the parking location, they picked up an easy trail that will eventually bring them to steep uphill trail. In about two hours, on a trail now being packed down by the snowmobiles, then climbing slowly away from the trail with snowshoes, the team reaches HAE Base Camp.
Working their way over the snowscape of strewn deadwood, erratics and buried waterways, stepping carefully from snowshoe to snowshoe to avoid breaking through, they find a site to camp. Pitching a tarp or tent that would be their home and finding water was a first priority. Clearing and leveling sites, establishing logging trails in what would be their home for the remainder of the expedition.
Stories of sherpas employed by Everest hikers always caught my imagination. In the morning they would be there at my tent and wake me with tea and coffee, and a cheerful “Good morning” In the tent there would always be thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, Power and Cliff Bars, chocolate chip cookies too. The fantasies were often rich, things like pizza and beer. But these musings never seemed to change reality, there are no sherpas here in Maine. There are no hot water showers, mail service nor a chair to sit down comfortably. Buried deep within your sleeping bag survival system you realize that there precious little one has beyond one’s own life at the moment. It’s still -20 below out and there is obviously no hot chocolate, coffees, or even a warm power bar instantly available. Services available amount to stepping outside to urinate, a maneuver that can be life threatening at sub-zero temperatures. HAE base camp is spartan affair, even a flea-bag flop house could seem luxurious in comparison.
With the total lack creature comforts, the edge is never taken off. Often times the HAE team members struggle with their adjustments to these conditions, and many of the climbers began to seriously obsess about every body function. One-base camper remarked, “People become totally self-absorbed, monitoring their snot levels, making patterns in the snow with their pee, or wondering how they will get by without draft beer all day, whether they have a big zit to pop or a hangover or not.” Something as simple as gastrointestinal problems could lead to serious insanity if rancid fart gas is released within airtight sleeping bag systems.
An early concern in any HAE base camp is the possibility of developing the “Yahoo Cough,”* and according to HAE base camp regulars, “You’ll be coughing your brains out. Coughing all night long so nobody’s getting no peace or quiet. HAE doctors have tried treating this with anything., haebars to stop the inhalation, spiced hot rum to relax. Nothing seems to work.” While other members of the team could develop some preliminary symptoms as a result of over-partying in the dismal weather, the unfortunate hiker who catches a face full of acrid campfire smoke knows the true source of the yahoo cough. Bleary eyed and wheezing, a hiker is driven insane as random shifts in the wind envelope smoke, from lousy burning backwood like smoldering hemlock, all around the hiker in an instant. Yet a couple steps back is bitter cold air. The stumbling coughing fits bounces the hiker back and forth between the two extreme environments, caught, with no rest until the fire is abandoned in favor of sleeping bag survival systems.
As there were hiker issues, there were always equipment issues, and one concern that always arises was that of the two-way radios, and the AM/FM radio. A critical item in the expedition inventory, two-way radios create a link between hikers, either on the trail, or during long drives with multiple vehicles. The broadcast radio provides a conduit of information on developing weather fronts and snow conditions. An experienced climber considers the state of his expeditions communications capabilities, as Blanteev did. A licensed extra class radio operator since his high school days, he selected high performance two-way VHF radios that weigh about 5 ozs. With a 5/8th wavelength whip antenna providing 3.25 dB gain over an isotropic radiator, the radios could reach up to a ten mile range on the highway, and several miles in rugged mountain terrain. However McAnus was not so enthusiastic about the AM/FM radio selection. “These days you have these great portable radios that weigh next to nothing, they have a small speaker so that everybody can hear the weather report together. They are easy to use, a couple of buttons and a volume knob. But instead Timur pulls out a radio that the Sharper Image Catalog claims is the worlds smallest FM radio. It’s about the size of a peanut, and uses one M&M sized ear plug for the headphone. I said, ‘that’s the only FM radio we got?!’ And he says to me, ‘yepper buddie this is all I got…lookie here it even gets AM.’ That radio, in my opinion, was a joke. It was a major half-assed screw-up to be going hiking with such novelty items.”
One of the first priorities in Base Camp is to formalize an acclimatization plan. The demands of properly acclimatizing required that team members hang out in a base camp for at least a few days until they have adjusted to the continuous hard physical effort in severe cold weather or all the available fire wood had been stripped from the surrounding area. Then we would begin a series of climbs that would progressively push the base camp location higher and higher onto the mountain. The idea is that you gradually allow your body to adjust to the rigors of hiking straight up a mountain in deep snow with heavy backpacks, after the previous year of suburban life. On the day of the summit bid then you can make a dash right for the top without the heavy backpacks (editor note- yah right see Into Big Maine), and then retreat to a well established camp to recover from the summit bid.
The plan Timur and I have worked out called for four acclimatization “zones.” Our first at the 2000 ft. level is passed upon our stumbling across some delicious tasting flowing mountain water. Nearby is where we would establish our Camp 1, but the future itinerary means we would no longer return to overnight there. On this excursion, as with every excursion, the HAE hikers carry all their personal belongings and equipment along with all the base camp equipment, in order to build strength.
On our second zone we planned to again reach the height of Camp I by undertaking a large camp construction, establishing and leveling platforms, constructing shelters and a firepit, and cutting up a big pile of firewood. Most important in this second zone is the happy hour festivities that are conducted in parallel with camp establishment work. That work if undertaken at around 2800 ft. altitude where “the last flowing water on the mountain” is usually found, our Advance Base Camp would be established.
Our hope was that after the Hot Toddies and a quick minutes rest from the work, the hikers would then be busy around the campfire in a third zone. Cooking meals, deploying sleeping bag systems and working hard to keep warm, mostly through camp crafts and techniques that keep a hiker from touching any snow give way to the hikers finally being able to kick it back around the campfire.
Before the fourth and final acclimatization zone we planned for a day of rest. The “day of rest” does means hiking, but without backpacks. For this hike we would attempt to go from the Base Camp straight up, to the summit if possible, but often to the timberline level instead. After spending the night and then somehow managing to climb out of warm bag into the bitter cold air, the hiker assess the delight in knowing that the heavy backpack, and it’s associated time consuming packing and unpacking, can be forgotten for a days worth of climbing, peak bagging style. This excursion, we agreed would be mandatory for all members, because this would be the highest we would climb in our summit bid, and it was necessary that all our team members make their adjustments while traversing false peaks before subjecting themselves to the ultimate challenge.
KINGFIELD TO CAMP III
After the first light on the morning of December 31st, the HAE team crawled from their tents and began preparation for their excursion Northwest onto the slopes of Mt Abraham. The day for the first real assault on the mountain, Blanteev recalled, was dismal and cold. During the night the members had listened an approaching storm front drop hail, ice and corned snow on the encampment, along with big drops of wet rain. It would not be an ideal day for a summit bid, because the weather had been quite unstable for several days and the winds continuous.
What the conditions would be on the mountain when the team arrived was anybody’s guess. Weather on a New England mountain, like the people with backpacks who climb them, cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. The AM/FM radio equipment was left behind at Kingfield, a neglecting that I regretted as much as the time I climbed all the way to the summit of Bigelow’s Avery Peak before I realized I had left my down booties on. Here on the trail to the base of the steep climb it was obvious by the sheet of ice frozen into the fabric of pitched tents that if there was one thing was on the mind of the hikers, it was distinct possibility for a very nasty ice storm.
Most of the Half-Assed expedition members had not reacted dramatically to the slight increase in temperature and precipitation they had experienced during the night. The resting respiratory rates had returned to a normal deep sleep rate resting after three long hard days of exertion caused by hiking with backpacks in deep snow. One of the members had said that it was sleeting outside, with a warming trend causing him to venture outside for a whiz, he stumbled back into the shelter faster than a hiker with a three Hot-Toddy fog. “It’s fucking hosing out there,” I recall him yelling.
A few of the team members were still struggling with smelly farts and hangovers, but none were complaining too loudly, wanting to put on the best face on their condition, not wanting to “talked about feeling like shit from that 151 rum in a fuel bottle and ahh shit we are about to be iced on real bad too,” as one camper would describe the situation.
For Needlemeier this would be his first trip into the Abraham wilderness. As casual and relaxed as everyone tried to appear, both Needlemeier and Blanteev knew the history of the obstacle ahead. Since their earliest days off keeping score via newspaper clippings, they have read countless reports of people who have died in Yankee ice storms.
A precipitative, blustery mass of multi-pressured air patterns, ice cold arctic Canadian air down low interacting with higher and warmer moisture laden air, the Icestorm transforms the countryside. It’s descending precipitation, pouring on the unfortunate soul in seemly perpetual motion, coats everything in it’s path with thick layers of tenaciously sticky ice. Blanteev recalls “I see ice on shelter tarp so I hit with big stick. Ice shatter like windshield of American car I drive too fast.”
To cross the ice coated landscape to establish a Camp II Advanced Base Camp at the base of the mountain the hikers still had several miles to go in deep snow. To assist the climbers in their negotiation of the route, the ice coated snow was “shredded” before each backpack climbing session by the team hikers.
The “Chuff Doctors” as the work detail is known among the crew, is the dangerous job of finding and breaking trail ahead, some of which provide means for the hikers to ascend through deep snow using a packed down snowshoe trail. Given the distances that have to be covered, sometimes three or four pieces of survival equipment is carried along. The challenge is to get as far as possible in daylight, and then follow the snowshoe track back as quickly as possible after dark. The “Chuffing” is mostly done with a pairs of Sherpa SnowClaw snowshoes with teeth integral to the binding that allows the hiker to walk on easy ice. Less often, and usually in wind blown vertical sections, climbers might switch to ice crampons.
Moving through the woods you hear creaks, cracking, and booming, because storm winds have the trees always on the move. Your hoping that none of the sounds happens to be the catastrophic event, one that could cause a large tree section to topple on the route, or a hiker to disappear in a river crossing.
By early in day three the folly of moving backpacks was obvious. When the team had arrived, temperatures had held below zero, but a rapid warming with the smell of rain quickly softened the deep snowmass. Novasch had told them that “You will chuff the mountain!” and that the only way to qualify was to get the requisite photo at the summit. The stakes were high, and Blanteev said, “The Hot Toddies are over, and we’re into the hamburger helper big time!”
For most of the first section the pace was steady, but soon both were bogged down. With only two hikers to traverse a knarly half forested hillside field, they were sweating profusely doing the twice as much work that would be normally required by a hiker in a four-man team. Late afternoon found the team up to their waists in cement snow in a rising forest section. Advancing, stepping out one snowshoe of snow, then another, their snowshoes clanking and occasionally snagging, the climbers often found themselves surrounded by snow or sliding a section, that in a misstep could send the hiker for a bone crunching fall. If they were found and reached after a fall, the could imagine a helicopter extraction with compound fractures and concussions.
According to Needlemeier, “there are large drainage cracks and fallen wood obstacles. There are no ladders available to span a gorge or hillside washout, so the only recourse is to find some away around it and back onto the trail. Eventually you are going to say to yourself, can this be jumped here or do I need to go further up. You need to be well-balanced and not easily intimidated.” Lighting fast reactions help, catching a snowshoe while sliding a steep descent is cause for a serious injury, a hiker has but a few hundredth of a second to extract the shoe before it’s launch time.
All of the chuffing had been done within four hours and I was generally pleased, but I was surprised that we did not have the self-reliance to move through it without being almost constantly checking the map. The distances we had to traverse seemed far greater than indicated. Somehow, I was afraid, the map was telling me that the situation was out of control. I began to wonder “What is going to happen when it is time to survive, HAE style?”
Blanteev had just begun to fathom the true Half-Assed Expeditions equation. It was an equation that didn’t add up. Somehow everything now was a factor, the HAE hikers on the trail, the team members at headquarters, and the New England residents impacted by the conditions. They stood there a metaphor, a way that those stuck without power could say “Hey we ain’t doing so bad, yah read ’bout them hikers in ‘da Mahoousucs?” If they went up healthy, were properly acclimatized and made all good decisions and their efforts were put good use they knew they could walk out alive. But on what extent could he actually count on half-assed survival , to take the edge off critical situations?
What Blanteev brought to the calculations was his extensive background of getting pummeled by New England weather, the attributes Timur Novasch had realized were valuable previously. “When I hiked with him ’87, it was less than perfect. I mean, he was absolutely stupid. He didn’t do anything that he was supposed to do. I knew who he was; I knew what he was capable of….If anything went wrong I wanted a big named pro right on that potential PR disaster. But instead he’s laughing his butt off and he’s got the peanut gallery going too.”
Our return to hiking the slush-coated snow was uneventful, and we wanted to set-up our Advanced Base Camp at the turned-the-wrong-way. Instead, with some more discussion, we continued on a grade to the unopened section and were more pleased with our success finding a well maintained trail that made hiking a routine process of chuffing snow. As expected we were looking forward to returning to camping and preparation for our next excursion, when we walked right into a clearing for a cabin.
During this rest day, Blanteev had begun to openly question the readiness of the team and the very motivation for trekking this far to a climb. Blanteev, while generally satisfied with team performance, had some concerns about the capacities for climbs ahead and for team members like Bruce McAnus to hike again, but Novasch, Blanteev remembered, reassured him, “McAnus will listen to me. He’s got the experience; I was talking to him on the phone and he said that he will go hiking on Mt. Rainier on New Years 2000, as part of a bet, and that you were going to fly to Seattle for that trip.” And about Marcus. “Marcus is an old friend; it’ll be easy for me to hike with him. For him it’s not that big of a deal. He’ll have some good food, drink da beers in Base Camp. No big deal.”
A half hour since we sighted and passed the cabin and still no sign of the upward trail. We were beginning to wonder if we were caught on some nameless spur trail, thus wasting and entire days worth of valuable energy. Part of our perplexity, we would discover later, was the fact that we had hiked right through the site and were still looking for a trail straight up the steep grade to our left. Back at the clearing for the cabin it is now close to dusk. Our resources to survive are way back down the trail. The dark wood shadows start to play tricks on the eyes, and a persistent feeling of panic that is always difficult to suppress can invade one’s thinking.
The backtrack goes without incident, and along the way, the dark outline of mountains on our left, the very same ones that were on the right during the hike up, confirm that the valley we were hiking in was a glacial feature, an undulating sweep of snow and ice about 30 kilometers long that tilts gradually upward and is enclosed on three sides by peaks and connecting ridges of the Mt Abraham, Saddleback, and Sugerloaf, the major peaks in this section of the Maine Appalachian Massif. On this day it offered from it’s vantage a clear view only when not obstructed by areas of dense forest. The complete lack of twinkling lights and automobile sound had confirmed that HAE had walked into yet another wilderness area untouched by paved roads and the resultant civilization clinging along the path of it.
As the sun settled behind Abraham and the temperatures dropped in the last hours of the day, the tired hikers pull out the extra clothing. Hours earlier it had been short sleeve under parka weather; now the half-ass crew were contorting themselves like yoga teachers, stuffing themselves into goose down jackets and warm hats, preparing for the evening, and for some good camping too.
From this point there would be no more overnights at the Advanced Base 1 camp. Most of the gear will be packed at the end of evening camp, though some equipment in survival kit bags, a depository that the hikers use to keep camp well supplied, remained in operation. By now only the emergency shelter systems would be occupied.
In the evening, as the hikers prepared a dinner of hamburger helper in the camp cook area, formed by hastily slamming three good sized logs in snow. Marcus and I gathered around the gas stove, hungry, and satisfied with the day’s exploration. Everyone had a “white trash” look going, dressed in wool with big sorrel boots. Marcus Needlemeier, with whom I felt comfortable to make bad jokes because we knew each other from earlier days, showed up at the stove area with absolutely not one piece of new equipment, and I greeted him with, “Hae, a Hot Toddie?” As my English ain’t so great after a few of these I just suddenly pour a fair sized portion of the 151 Rum bottle right into his hot apple cider drink when he not looking. I’m laughing my ass off.
Seeing how everyone is in a good mood and that were all feeling partied out, I turned to Marcus and asked, “What’s the plan for tomorrow?” He laughed as we all know that no shop talk would be allowed at this hour, so I said we should consider bailing if the corn snow currently bouncing off our shelters turned to rain. Needlemeier countered with a proposal to get up early and head for the cabin, using it to survive in case of rain.
Blanteev and Needlemeier discussed the ideas for some time longer, the plan was to get up early in the morning if it was raining so they could return to the cabin site in time for lunch rest, pack for a day excursion and then depart to cut open as much summit trail as possible.
With all our crew members we constantly discuss the necessity of proper acclimation, and we reminded to monitor carefully the state of all equipment deployed in the icestorm, being constantly aware that at high storm levels dripping water heard in an increasingly hypothermic state are all too familiar. We could do only our jobs as hikers, but then only we would know the real truth. An the real truth is that you always carry a rain parka and tarp when hiking in Maine.
The next morning we were totally unable to move. The storm had really rolled in and we were pinned down. It was obvious that the conversation did not have the jovial animation or jokey-assed stuff of the previous nights. The increase in the storm from the last 24 hours was having it’s impact, but seeing that nothing in their lethargy except the usual struggle to adjust to the constant degradation of physical terms, no other signs alerted the crew to any impending storm front. Neither Marcus or Blanteev was feeling up to this excursion, and upon thoughts of packing up camp neither were inclined to venture out for more than a scan of the elements, they now had taken upon waiting until a break allowed for a speedy upward advance. By late morning such a break was evident, and the team scrambled to catch some sketchy sun in the pack out. About two hours into this excursion, following the previous days exploratory trail, the section they were approaching seemed to be obliterated from the storm’s impact, on a markedly delineating upward section. Blanteev deviated right around the destroyed path, choosing a lower-angle slope over which they could traverse a few football fields length that remained between them and a softwood sheltered trail section they knew was discovered in the previous days hiking. That section of trail, they reasoned, would not have water pooled on ice and storm tossed tree limbs to impede their progress.
After maybe about 30 minutes on this new route I noticed something rather odd ahead, a dark mass contrasting itself from the surrounding white background. At first I thought it was a lumber machine that had been abandoned by one of them union truck driving dudes, but as I moved closer, I noticed a piece of destroyed sofa couch stuck in the rubble, and to there attached a big piece of mountain looking trash. Immediately there were some questions about this. What tragedy had befallen this trash? I could only guess about some local yahoos who had several years earlier been caught burning down the woods, who’s trash had reached it’s resting place, finally finding equilibrium.
Blanteev pulled off his pack and stood around, looking over the collapsed barn wreckage in front of him, unaware that other New Englanders, mostly antique dealers, would envy such a discovery.
I remembered from school stories about a custom of the locals. After a humongous party, sometime after they hit the dance floor with abandonment, the audio is rerouted to the organizer, and he reminded everyone that the beer has run out. In a sober moment they now understand the price of partying all night, and everybody immediately splits for nearby 24 hour diners.
Had either of these two HAE hikers honestly evaluated their preparation for the climbing opportunity before them? Just a few days before, thank to decades of backpacking experiences and finely tuned documentation, we had been enjoying a standard of living that a pan-handler would consider luxurious. By whatever means we had used to get to this point, we were a privileged lot, but feeling rather sketchy about our sketchy existence. In a few days, if all went well, we would be climbing steeply, on our way to the summit. Climbing above the winter timberline, where any half-assed screw-up is amplified in the storm raked tundra, where a gust of wind could be the difference between life and death, no amount expensive outdoor equipment is sufficient to guarantee success.
That is not to say that each of us had our own ambition to reach the summit, to negotiate obstacles and to do something many would considered to be radical. But maybe I thought, the price of winter backpacking had been compromised lately with a willingness to pay big bucks for fancy outdoor equipment, but the price for physical preparation is usually too high. As the years hiking in easy summer conditions develop the body and spirit of a seasoned trekker, that feeling of accomplishment I have found insufficient for winter conditions. If not has life on the planet, when discussing adventuring out in the woods, been forever changed by the use of booze, the internal combustion engine, and the proliferation of roadside services, then yet have these changes at least allowed the marginally challenged partier to climb higher and higher?
Blanteev had contemplated this impact theme in his own mind once, during the middle of a jet fuel powered transition day, looking out the window and everywhere assessing the scene. Below a metropolis of human activity that has taken it’s toll on an amazingly fragile infrastructure. One his internet links that show, with unequivocal proof, that the planet earth is really taking a beating. A tremendous second derivative in the species extinction rate. A obvious first derivative in the global recorded temperatures. An increase in the complete scouring of the planet for natural resources, the humanlike apes who inhabit such space acting, in most circumstances, acting like little more than a plague of locusts upon a Kansas corn field.
Specifically here locally, in suburban Anywheresville where ordinary boneheads like US live, the locals drive around in internal combustion engine powered vehicles. Big fat internal combustions vehicles, brought to you by big money and big special interests. A political analyst would mutter something about powerful well funded lobbyists shaping a consumptive, and thus profitable, policy within a weak political body, such as, say, all the US Congressional Houses held since the national highway defense act of 1934. Standing on the side of a road, splattered with mud from a passing high speed vehicle my thinking finally coalesces. The automobile has destroyed life on the planet as any one would have known it. Our capitalistic system of checks and balances has had a complete negative effect on the very thing that was completely unknown to the original writers. The transportation infrastructure. And the environment. It has decayed our urban inner cities, destroyed habitat by promoting urban sprawl generating zoning ordinances. Extinction of species. Uncontrolled population growth spewing out astronomical amounts of pollutants. Complete destruction of habitat that can be summed up in one unchallengeable concept: A 6 billion and growing population in the process of completely stripping the planet of all natural resources, fueling unsustainable growth. Realize as that, while standing lost in a frozen wasteland of the northern wilderness, feeling the elements bringing about a hasty conclusion, so does the earth know the strangle hold that has been wrapped around it’s girth.
I remembered a protest once, while trying to use my papers to cross several borders zones infested with internal conflicts. Some special interest hot air bags were protesting the use of emulsified fu-fu animal by-products, purchased and then worn by those insensitive airheads who would wear such a hide of previously touted, and also undoubtedly nearly extinct, if not tied down in hard, animal factory produced dead burnt animal pieces they were enjoying. Yet I open up their newspapers and read in a headlined story that their American automobile has now killed more than 5 million people worldwide since its inception, the early 20th century, at least 2 million of them within their own borders.
In little more than a few hundred yards after we encountered the ruins, we found ourselves at a long hill marking the start of the forest drip zone. Without crampons, snowshoes were used exclusively. The trail through the softwood was going to get increasingly nasty with tree rain and ice chunks pounding the team. It was none the less, still somewhat intact from our previous days snowshoe work. I said I would prefer to continue upon the trail and work at putting in some more of the route that was needed to get us out of the driving sleet storm.
It was on our second rest day, Dec 28th, 2001, when we got a radio report from Scott Terrasi, who called on the land-line and said it was raining in Framingham, and that they also said on the radio news that the delays of the millennium change were about to be history. Maybe so, but not in the case of HAE, the type of delays in this years trip are pretty much the same as the year Marcus and Vincentoli hiked Mt. Abraham, when the millennium was still on the horizon. Time to get ready for more delays that can be blamed on Y2K, the likes of which have been made abundantly clear by trashy disinformation spewed out from media outlets. For the crew, it’s more waiting around. It is time for some video. Gaming that is. Here on the flat-land’s jurisdiction the hours waiting for an expedition to launch is often spent video game playing and lately nothing has been getting the gamers more fired up than the latest DOOM release. On level 25 the game really opens up, and a bunch of secret bonus points can cleaned up too. Sweet.
During rest periods the crew were under evaluation, utilizing the pulsed oxide coating meters to determine how much time would really be lost to carrying of the maximum amount of blood alcohol level under the prevailing environmental conditions. As he always had, Blanteev tested in the ’90s, a result that at sea level would be considered normal, a result that made him and McAnus, who had also tested in this range, exceptional in the capacities to adjust to any attitudes. In contrast, the good doctor who had administered the test could only produce hits from the 70’s, and one of the other issues heard are clients in the low 60s. Blanteev, who had scientific training in college, has recalled the testing and said he was not concerned. “These readings mean little to anyone paying attention to the situation. You could get yourself a whole lot more information by observing the clients…attention to detail”, and right now, with out any other measures available to the crew, it was time to continue the logistics game.
Among those of us who already were in town, there was much discussion about our routine of waiting around while someone else flies into town. This was the holiday season and matters far more pressing than acclimatization routines were mandatory on the plan that had been devised for the acclimatization. I stressed the importance of spending this time at the home-town location, and suggested that after a few nights of holiday partying that they should show proper recovery by showing up with full packs loaded for a week jaunt in the January Maine wilderness. Based on that the recovery, the very success with such a routine would contribute significantly to the possibility of their success.
The goal, Blanteev kept reinforcing, was not only properly paying attention to family matters it was to conserve and reinforce energy reserves. Blanteev reminded the clients that while they were going through their routine they were always losing sleep, nourishment, and flossing time for the chomps. That even during rest periods they wouldn’t completely recover with a “full compensations that it does not happen even during a long wait for the rest of the crew to show up,” In Blanteev’s opinion, the message was not getting across, “Many clients were not attentive to their holiday resting and reincorporating equipment deficiencies.” Their focus and attention was displaced, and they only understood that the exception, Blanteev thought, would be the Seattle based Rexx Walters.
During one of our travel days, appropriately called a “rest day,” in order to enforce the cause, Rexx and I had a conversation, and in that he asked me if in my opinion did he have a chance to complete the expedition with success. Rexx told me, “Last time I went hiking with McAnus, up on the side of Mount Rainier, McAnus said that I would have no problems with the high attitude HAE camps, but after the night on the ridge and a ice coated decent into the base camp, all my party materials were gone. Even then I felt an emptiness to climb and strong desire to hit up the local burger joint.”
In little more than a New York minute, I told him “Excellent!…your job is to continue to absorb sufficient acclimatization with the HAE camping experience within a corresponding minimum amount of exposure to the realities of life….During the period of rest priors to our approach to a summitting climb, you need to cool heals major while remaining relaxed as recovery in the form of kicking back playing video games insues…. The recovery process happens more quickly and completely when there is a large amount of holiday parties in the area. Also, walking around shopping malls, down and back, promotes instant fatigue, and should be avoided.
Rexx Vaters recalled the advice and remembers thinking, “I really didn’t want to be doing that, because it was a lot of work to walk around outdoor equipment stores, party like that in the valley and then make a summit climb.”
If any doubt existed about the perils of remaining around in the valley with HAE, then Blanteev, in our book writing discussions we conducted many years later, pointed to a classic Half-Assed Moment, occurring during the 2001-2002 season, as an example that would certainly be plenty to eliminate any doubt. On that day a unfolding comedy piss-nailed the warning to the proverbial snow-wall, as yet another classic delay attributable to the millennium change unfolded. It’s Monday December 29th, 2001, and a forward expedition vehicle of HAE had arrived at the trailhead, little knowing that the first victim of the peanut gallery was about to be taken. The team of Timur and Rexx has hopped out of their ride, and were now proceeding to unload equipment and make preparations for the Auto-to-Camp 1 hike. The team began ferrying supplies in advance of the arrival of the second HAE group, who had stopped for a quick burger break, and were now trailing according to radio communications. The forward team suddenly was appearing to be somewhat confused, not totally in tune with the rigors of the trail ahead, as if the immediate commencement of partying upon arrival had anything to do with it. Novasch, who has a reputation on the mountain for his being a smart mouthed, with concern for the whole world, had noticed that Rexx was holding the largest flashlight he had seen in many a day. “Well I would have to go back 20 years to when Vincentoli carried a F&#$%$# humungous battery up Bigelow to think that we would ever see batteries that heavy carried up a mountain again!” Timur bellowed, beside himself with amusement over the predicament. Expected to have complied with earlier instructions from Vincentoli, who had been eager to explain the current technology carried by the teams, Rexx had not followed the instructions to the letter.. For whatever reason, personal pride, – a misunderstanding of the Don’t Carry a Heavy Light Order, or confusion brought on by the conditions- he had instead packed a 4 D Cell- “LAPD Treat-’em Like A King Signature Edition” -Sized MAGLIGHT, with several sets of spare D-sized batteries!
A radio transmission from the forward expedition to the now arriving team of Vincentoli and McAnus alerted the expedition members to the problem ahead. Like drunken trash headed for the packie, Vincentoli was navigating the ice coated roads at high speed. Talking above the ambient loud road noise to McAnus, who had the radio at the time, telling him to relay to the forward group the message that he was, “doing about 50 over ice, don’t bother me!” was now in fact disoreiented and coughing up huge hawkers in a froth of deeply lodged fast food sludge. Given the symptoms, the diagnosis was quick, High-Attitude Expuldema , or HAE. While the appropriate drug therapy is still being debated, it is generally agreed upon that an immediate replenishing of 610 – 1220 mL is a necessary party saving measure, but what with Camp 1 thousands of meters further into the hike the only way to get the symptoms to abate was to start toward that Camp as soon as possible.
Coordinating the effort in Vehicle 2 was Bruce McAnus, along with Vincentoli, they were both well along in their acclimatization. They fell out of the car in hysterical fits of laughter upon arrival because they had heard the news over the radio. And the peanut gallery shooting continued as they stood around eying both the big D flashlight, and a storm lurking in the wind-blown grey clouds. When consulted, Blanteev knew that the first course of action taken in this situation is often the most important one and advised, “Get him away from that flashlight as quickly as possible: give him a Solitaire light, the standard little A sized issue!” before himself being now so struck with the malady that he suddenly lost his purchase of the snow coated ground. With his gumbie-footed face-plant now competing with Rexx’s flashlight for top billing, the crisis seemed to adverted, and more than ever the HAE team were relieved to have survived the endless delays along the long slow trip to the trail.
My surprise at this situation was not so much that these guys were not already at Camp II yet, and didn’t even go forward immediately after hearing the lambasting that caused Rexx Vaters distress. I expected that because, like Timur Novasch, all of the team were from the Mass area, but as it turned out, they didn’t really get moving until later in the day. The exact reason for this I’m not sure, but it made me consider what we might expect from our Half-Ass Expedition members in an emergency. I hold the capacity of these guys to avoid doing work in high regard, but you wouldn’t want to automatically assume that in a critical situation that any one or more of the team members would actually get up off their lazy ass. It is not they are not capable, because their history of efforts and their ability to assist in giving good advise to the peanut gallery is well established. Instead, it is a matter of disinterested attitudes, asking them to do something, anything that falls outside their assigned happy hour duties or responsibilities that they couldn’t be paid to assume.
Because the crew were not responding to the standard treatment, a haebar, in the driving storm, Blanteev and Marcus rigged up a makeshift shelter to hunker down under. The sleet was incessant, and break was needed before attempting to move either further forward, or back down the mountainside. Blanteev recalls, that the weather would likely delay the departure until the next afternoon, or perhaps the morning, depending on how fast the recovery was from this days ordeal.
That morning, before breakfast, Novasch began to work in the area that held all the computer and communications gear. Novasch, in addition to maintaining a connection with the Half Assed Expeditions Seattle based office, being the honcho in absentia to the pinning down of Blanteev and Marcus by the sleet storm, was also doing regular computer feeds to Jack Barter, who had found a number of interesting stamp collecting URLS in some time killing web surfing. Despite the fact that he had not departed for the adventure and would not attempt the Abraham trail until several years later, was still acting as correspondent for Outhouse Online
Novasch, when he wasn’t giving McAnus the printable news, was giving the behind-the-secnes impressions, Maine stripped down, the stuff that the armchair climber in Topeka, tapped into the Internet between commercial breaks and domestic squabbles, was never going to see on his computer monitor. One of his recurring themes over the years was money, how it was evaporating at high altitude.
A hiking pal of Novasch’s said, “I think it was really a major stress Jones on him, and especially with the family issues….and he thought ‘Dude this is going to be a hospital thing for who knows how many years and who’s going to cover that?’ So….yepper buddie it’s that whole money issue… I think he tried to just keep it out of his mind, but it was a substantial issue that required focus for him…..He thought, ‘woah…dude I’m gonna climb this mountain, and I’m gonna get home to my family with a $10 fast food blast because McAnus had to split the $20 I collected by making Vincentoli fess up to his losing bet, and that made that a good call, isn’t HAE bureaucracy great!'”
Blanteev himself, according to the records received department, owed HAE more than $390.95 for booze that was to be credited to his account, the booze supply, given that Marcus Needlemeier and some of the clients were downing the stuff at $18.95 a bottle, was dwindling; Novasch was facing the possibility of having to send a sub-team expedition back into town to get booze (a formidable expense); he was physically tired beyond the normal condition; while his family doctor and Base Camp Manager were suffering from reoccurring un-obtainimum; Camp III had yet to be established; and nobody could even be distracted from happy hour to so much as produce a piece of rope to hang the candle lantern! He was behind schedule, thrashed by the highly athletic agenda, wondering how he was gonna pull it all off. He was hiking hard toward a Half-Assed Moment (HAM) as precarious as any non-Y2K compliant company, but, was constantly smiling and powerfully chuffing through it, all the while making the positive even more doubly so.
The next morning we were totally unable to move. The storm had really rolled in and we were pinned down. It was obvious that the conversation did not have the jovial animation or jokey-assed stuff of the previous nights. The increase in the storm from the last 24 hours was having it’s impact, but seeing that nothing in their lethargy except the usual struggle to adjust to the constant degradation of physical terms, no other signs alerted the crew to any impending storm front. Neither Marcus or Blanteev was feeling up to this excursion, and upon thoughts of packing up camp neither were inclined to venture out for more than a scan of the elements, they now had taken upon waiting until a break allowed for a speedy upward advance. By late morning such a break was evident, and the team scrambled to catch some sketchy sun in the pack out. About two hours into this excursion, following the previous days exploratory trail, the section they were approaching seemed to be obliterated from the storm’s impact, on a markedly declineating upward section. Blanteev deviated right around the destroyed path, choosing a lower-angle slope over which they could traverse a few football fields length that remained between them and a softwood sheltered trail section they knew was discovered in the previous days hiking. That section of trail, they reasoned, would not have water pooled on ice and storm tossed tree limbs to impede their progress.
During an HAE expedition, most of the clients do not get any help from the guides, who do not pay them any attention,leaving them to go about their daily schedule in whatever passes for the mid-day warmth of the sun. Which in this years climate would means that a thermometer, positioned in the un-findable noon day sun will read maybe +25oF max, for a moment anyway as the ice coating soon makes it unreadable. Prior to departure, Timur and I had agreed that, as we had since our first HAE days that, we had no intention of paying any attention. Our continuing practice of partying right through situations caught the attention of arm-chair crew chief crowd, who, through our bulletin board had definitely something to say about it. But on this point our adamant advocacy of the conflagration approach was unanimous. We looked upon with concern to closely regimented expeditions where the clients performed like soldier ants. Given my compulsion as a big-assed campfire generator and also hyper mountain-chuffer I felt it important to instigate Half-Assed action.
There are a variety of hiking styles in Half-Ased Expedition trip but the one that many thought was strange: it was also one of the guides, Blanteev. Up and around the mountain camp, during his firewood forays at work above base camp, he was often noticed wearing down boots with foam pieces lashed to the bottom, the self proclaimed, “Bigelow Boot.” This was considered “normal” for Blanteev when he operating on the mountain. Some of those who made matters of the peanut gallery their concern began to call him “…a total fucking geek!” behind his back, a moniker that he initially overheard as “we’ll go camping for a week!” Blanteev couldn’t discern the implied connection he had with this false assertation, he’d heard the messages that a significant portion of the crew was opting out of this one. Finally, when he made association, he was annoyed by the trivial petiteness of it all and thought, “You are gonna be carrying a bunch of unnecessary junk up the side of a mountain again ainch’t yah?” The energy bars I saved I will have above the timberline, and that will shut up the peanut gallery when they all mooch ’em off me!”
Blanteev, completely dedicated to his own integration, has the discipline of a bike racer and the intense aptitude of a scientist. He kept his attention on his complex integrated systems and paid attention to his own sense of backwoods panic. He stayed focused on what he considered important, how to stay calm and remain far below his maximum stress limit at all Half-Assed Timur es (HAT) in order to stay alive, but constantly pushing the maximum stress level envelope higher in more controlled situations. Seen by many as detached and aloof, yet others as patronizing, condescending and obnoxious when they get caught in one of his peanut gallery cross-fires. When he is in his Half-Assed Mode, he speaks rapidly conveying complex trains of thought in to an endless loudly modulated banter of polyphonic noise and audio sound effects, then later, silent, listening, pondering, relying in close conversation to eloquent, carefully crafted thoughts devoid of invective or colloquialisms. Often if a party is louder, trying to think up a pun or gag that could show up the one being told. It was an ok place to be according to a hiker who was helped by Blanteev on long summer Sierra trip once, “When he saved me endless days of hiking hassle by replacing my broken hip buckle strap with one from his repair kit I would of liked to have been on an expedition with only Vincentoli’s, but there is only one Vincentoli, and then there are the Scotts!”
That year, it was the 2001-2002 return to Mt. Abraham expedition I recall, I was approaching Camp II and saw a client and with guide Bruce McAnus resting in the camp, relaxing after refusing to undertake a second summit attempt by HAE, which was now a done deal. Given what happened with McAnus earlier in the day, when the climb was delayed trying to find a pair of ice crampons for him, to no avail, we were shorthanded on December 30th, and still all the supplies needed to be packed and moved from Camp II up to a Camp III located near the base of the climb, far enough away from the back of the cabin to avoid feces planted by summer hikers. There our supplies could be staged for a push to the Appalachian trail beyond the southern summit, leading to the larger summits of the Saddleback-Sugerloaf Massif in the north. Along the route I passed members of the crew carrying heavy loaded packs. Like me it was their plan to spend the night at Camp III, an then the next day, they would ferry the remaining supplies from Camp II to Camp III that required to establish it for the clients.
Climbing in the sleet streaked grey, Blanteev was not thankful for the warm temperature inversion. As they moved higher, the temperature was increasing, they would not have a chance to climb in anything but a full storm pounded mountian. The cold to turn this sleet to snow, the cold coming to freeze your soaked equipment and consolidate the soft snow may have been on the way, but with no way of knowing, they would wait, and continue to discuss their tenuous climb upward. Finally, they decided that the best course of action was to set up the portable shelters and camp. With happy hour going, Blanteev calculated, their spirts would be higher than just standing around getting stormed on. They backtracked a short distance, to the soft-wood border, and stomped about 100 feet off the trail into the hardwood forest. There, near a clear stream, they went to work building the shelters of Camp III.
Sharing the tent with Bruce McAnus was Rexx Vaters, who was growing increasingly dismayed at the way half-Assed Expeditions was being managed, where logging on was more important than logging firewood. He wanted to summit, and was never going to get there at the speed things were moving. He was particularly confused as to why the summit climb would take place before moving the supplies from Camp II to Camp III, that he was not going to be able to spend the night up at Camp III in order to maintain his critical HAE acclimatization routines.
Like me, Rexx kicked back for a few hours before dinner, and as it started to get dark, he changed over from his hiking to his “happy hour” setup, and I got out the down jacket. Around the campfire there was much discussion about the total lack of progress along this route. And because Camp III had yet to be established, we devised a compromise plan that would allow clients to return in a following years trip. That way we could advance toward the Saddleback Mountain chain by circumnavigating the Abraham climb, approaching from the north-westerly route where the Appalachian Trail crossed a major surface road.
That night the storm rolled on, bringing with a heavy cover of clouds spewing all forms of precipitation imaginable at 28 oF, and plenty of fierce wind gusts worse than suffered through a few nights earlier. In the morning at first light, the required supplies were loaded up, leaving most of the backpacking equipment, and the portable shelters at the stream side Camp III site. After breakfast, the duo decided that they could return for equipment, if a Camp IV needed to be established as soon as possible. However Novasch had told Blanteev that in this situation it was best to catch up with the work needed to move the camp, then, at their own speed hike up the trail and arrive at the base of the summit climb and possible Camp IV in time for lunch.
I started up slowly, carrying in my pack my hiking equipment and snowshoes. As I reached the base of the steep summit ascent and went to adjust my snow parka, the weather, which had been already been just awful, had now moved in so fiercely around us that we were unsure if we were actually continuing to move forward. As I advanced several steps and went to clip in my snowshoes, I realized I had made a mistake that morning by not changing out of my “Bigelow Boots,” and I was upset at having made such a half-assed blunder. I was not in a dangerous situation because of the previously packed trail, but in a not-so-good place. The traction I had with my foam soles on the soft snow was not good. I backtracked, unwillingly, as the climb had brought us within striking distance of the summit, deliberately placing my feet in the difficult downward retreat.
I was concerned with the teams abandonment of attacking the summit climb from Camp III, because we were already behind on the acclimatization routine and we’d yet to even have happy hour yet, but it was not within my power to order the team to attempt a second excursion that day. Only Novasch, who had by now already logged off, or Marcus could give that kind of order, and they instead had been the ones who insisted that the hike proceed immediately regardless of changing weather in the first place. Frustrated with this reversal, I continued back to camp, and as if endorsing the half-assed decision, the weather turned from awful to even more awful with a constantly howling wind driving small hailstones painfully into exposed flesh. Heading for my brown Eureka tent I threw in my pack in resignation, I had set it up right where we had left our backpacks yesterday, there at the terminus of our streamside trail. Shivering from the rapid drop in temperature and feeling like a gomer because of the mistake of my boots, I was disgusted at not even making it to the face of Abraham. In less that 3 hours from my turnaround, I was in my tent, where I was joined briefly by Marcus who had a thermos full of hot toddies and a Haebar. Afterwards, he too, had dinner, and then left for his survival system, due to the elements, to survive a night of the ice storm roaring all around us.
Meanwhile, more than a few readers were becoming increasingly restless, frustrated by the endless delays. Frustrated with delays the crew wrongfully blamed on Y2K. Frustrated with the delays that Blanteev and Marcus were now experiencing on the side of Abraham, the delays due to heavy traffic at the HAE website, and the seeming total lack of focus exhibited by an HAE crew. One of the readers, who used an anonymous handle in the chat room, said that on several occasions when following along with the adventures of HAE they would blog out loud about the situations. The e-mails “would raise comments about the fact that Timur , McAnus, Marcus, and Blanteev didn’t ever seem to be pay attention to details during an HAE expedition. Timur or Vincentoli would go zipping by everybody like they were racing each other between camps, or they would hang out at the watering hole shooting the breeze and firing up a haebar.” The so called, “Winter Wilderness Expedition Experts,” as one of the clients so emphatically recalled of the HAE glossy brochure, was definitely not making a good impression.
Stay tuned! More of The Clamb is on the way.