Timur was charged with the task of breaking in the “next generation” of HAE. As the original team ages, taking to the couch with an occasional hike to the fridge for a beer, Timur felt it was time to reach out and recruit the new team. After a quick shakedown trek in the Whites last year, Timur was ready to drag HAE 2.0 into Maine.
HAE Headquarters Report on the 2015 Winter Expedition To Maine.
by Timur Novasch, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent
The Grafton Loop Trail winds through Grafton Notch State Park at the north end of the Whites connecting Old Speck, the Appalachian Trail and some of the best backwoods hiking Maine has to offer. HAE has been on Speck and thrashed the AT but never have their boots been placed on this relatively new trail. This would be an extra special trek as the next generation of Half Ass Expeditions was on-board hoping to experience a white knuckle adventure that HAE is famous for. There was a bit of tension in the expedition vehicle during the drive up as the new recruits consider their fate in the hands of Timur and HAE.
Who are these new guys?
Doug Shackleton is a well known peak bagger in the Northeast. Having led many expeditions and conquering the highest mountains of New England, Doug’s experience speaks for itself. Shackleton was the founder of Red Eye Expeditions, the very same outfit that led the ill-fated Berkshire Range Trek where a full 18 ounce bottle of booze was spilled and Doug’s clients spent the entire trip sober. Bashed by the press and rejected by the climbing world, Shackleton knew he needed to reorganize and regroup. With his reputation tarnished, Shackleton faced the reality that his climbing career may be over. Then he met Timur Novasch. Timur had mentioned that HAE was recruiting a new team and would take just about anybody. A couple of 12 packs later and the two shook hands to seal the deal.
Dave Hillary was working as an independent expedition organizer when he met Doug Shackleton. Dave had arranged countless treks and worked the details of many backwoods expeditions but rarely took to the woods himself. Hillary and Shackleton first met when Dave prepped a Monadnock trek for Doug’s team. With a bit of coaxing and a lot of homebrew, Dave eventually agreed to join Doug’s team and even accompany him on some expeditions. After the events of the Bershire Trek, Dave Hillary was out of a job and his reputation was damaged enough for him to seek a new career as a watchmaker. When Doug Shackleton joined the HAE team, he demanded Dave be added to the crew to take advantage of his meticulous trek planning skills.
The rest of the HAE team: Blanteev, McAnus and Needlemeyer were on a worldwide tour promoting the latest HAE documentary leaving Novasch to shakedown the new crew and show them a genuine HAE experience. Blanteev reminded Novasch of the last time he invited a new member to the team. The events of that expedition remain a scar on an otherwise spotless record. (read : Into Big Maine) Timur was painfully aware that he, alone, was responsible for the safety and well being of these new members. More importantly, Shackleton and Hillary may represent the future of Half Ass Expeditions. Timur assured the rest of the HAE team that he and Maine wouldn’t let Doug and Dave down.
The trip started out flawlessly. The previous night, Timur, Dave and Doug prepped at a local hostel, quaffing homebrew and loudly sharing stories of wilderness conquests. The next morning gear was packed and the team was at the Grafton Loop trailhead by noon. This was to be a 21 mile trip over Puzzle Mountain and into the depths of Maine eventually joining the Appalachian Trail and the descent into Grafton Notch. The weather was cooperating and the team was on the Puzzle summit before the sun went down. After wandering endlessly on Puzzle Mountain’s peak, HAE determined what the real puzzle was: Where the hell is the Trail? After failing to find the Grafton Loop Trail, the team opts for climbing back down to the hardwood to set up camp.
The hasty descent proved too much for Shackleton. Clearly miffed at not finding the trail, Doug angrily muttered his discontent in the dark woods, not paying attention to the path. A stumble resulted in his snowshoe becoming clipped somehow to his pulk poles. Timur was merciless, ripping on Doug’s technique and snapping off photos faster than the paparazzi with an exposed boob on the red carpet. Shackleton was not pleased. Angry words were exchanged as Dave attempted to free Doug while Timur continued to photograph the scene.
The key component to this “throwback” expedition was the return of the Bigtop and it’s companion wood stove. A major purchase in the late 80s, the Mountainsmith pyramid style shelter has seen a lot of action in Maine. The folding woodstove seemed flimsy and inadequate when HAE set it up that first time. The origami inspired furnace was a bit much to assemble featuring a sectioned stovepipe and stove legs with wingnuts that took forever to spin tight. Great care must be taken to ensure the firebox fits together correctly so airflow within the stove can be controlled.
Of course, with a woodstove as the centerpiece for wilderness survival, the quest for fuel becomes paramount. True HAE tradition kicks in as the saws come out and the Maine woods receive a healthy trim. This expedition has the team field testing a brand new saw. Born as a Kickstarter project, the Boreal 21 bow saw has a unique folding action that eliminates that tiny wingnut the Sven Saw uses and opens in a snap.
The rain stopped in time for the team to break camp and slide back down to the road and into town for beer. The temperature dropped to the teens so the trail was icy. The pack sleds became bobsleds and a few exhilarating runs down the mountain were in order.
The Grafton Loop Trail conquest was a failure. The team’s inability to find the path was disappointing. At the tavern the beers flowed freely as the events were examined and the trip critiqued. Indeed, the goal was not achieved. But booze was drunk, the woods were trimmed, skills were learned, and the new guys got an authentic HAE experience. Everybody wins. Yepper buddy.