by John V. Bellantoni, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent

1986-1987 North Pond, Vermont

North PondRemembering last years total rainout on the slopes of Bromley Mountain, JB does not favor of returning to Vermont during pre-trip arguments. But Novak insists. Back in October, Tim and Mark went to North Pond as the leaves were blasting and had a totally excellent trip. "We built a killer box of death up there, you could of seen it on satellite," Tim exhumes. With Mark and Fife in favor, and lots of snow reported by the local T.V. weatherman, JB acquiesces and the North Pond Adventure is on.

High up in the Green Mountains of Vermont, North Pond is a good sized beaver pond hidden off the Long Trail, a few miles north of where the Appalachian Trail swings east toward the New Hampshire border. JB and Fife drive up several days before Tim and Mark. They camp out at the base of the climb in a delightful Vermont hardwood grove. It is camping in classic Half-Assed high impact style. Both Jim and John have leather boots that require fire at the end of a days hike to dry out. The duo spend the two days stripping the location of all available burnable wood. Gathering wood for the always hungry fire is exhausting, sweaty work. Standing wood is pushed and pulled until it falls, then dragged to camp and snapped into fire sized pieces between the crotch of a double tree. Without saws, axes or stoves, cooking tin-foil wrapped food in an open pit fire, the duo are unaware that this is the last time that HAE will ever practice such primitive hand-to-hand survival techniques.

The winds of change are upon them as Tim and Mark show up to meet JB and Fife. This is the foursome's inaugural hiking trip, as before this occasion only JB and Tim, Mark and Tim, or JB and Fife duos had gone camping. "Woah check it out it's like the very first four-man trip!" JB says, and there after the four guys are a team. From these modest beginnings started the legend known as HAE, and unknown to them at the time, eventually HAE will to go down in cybor-space history as the pre-eminent adventurers of the great white cybor-spaced north.

After a difficult deep snow hike up to the pond, camp is pitched right on the eastern side of the frozen pond, maybe 20 feet from the shore. Here Tim and Mark don't want anything to do with the open fire camping that JB is loudly advocating. The two had been doing some serious hiking during the warmer months and were even planning a six month Georgia-to-Maine hike of the Appalachian Trail, so they were were preparing dinner on a backpacking stove like a well oiled machine. Jim Fife, equipment designer, now pulls out his stove, an experimental model that he designed under a secretive contract, JB is forced to place the fire away from camp by Tim, and with Fife now siding with Tim and Mark, he is outgunned. "I don't give a fuck what them stiffs wanna do, I'm gonna have a fire," JB says as he starts in on the familiar routine of stripping the area of dry wood. What the other guys want to do is build a snow fort.

JB laughs, "What a fucking total waste of time!" Tim, Mark and Fife start shoveling snow into a huge pile in order to dig out a four man shelter. JB doesn't want anything to do with it, an refuses to help out in the tiring work. Melting snow while digging gets the guys all wet, so instead his fire is used by the shelter builders to dry out clothing.

While the guys are taking a break from shoveling, JB shows Mark how to cook snow, in one of the most classic half-assed photo shots of all time, taken by Fife. However after being such a dickhead about it, JB does an about face and is more than happy to take up residence in the snow fort when it is completed late the next day.

The root cause of JB's hypocrisy lies in the weather, which has taken a turn toward major storming. It's snowing and blasting with sub-zero temperatures at night. Nasty stuff, but the guys are partying it up inside the snow shelter. Periodically tree branches are pushed out ventilation holes to keep them clear of rapidly accumulating snow.

A hole laboriously cut in the ice for water, freezes up solid, forcing regular treks to the beaver dam where water is still flowing under snow and ice. At that watering hole JB and Novak have some fun at Fife's expense. "Ahh..now that's some fine Giardia soup!" Tim exclaims drinking directly from the source, and JB tosses in his two cents while drinking too. "Yah, I especially like the way it's cascading through the ribcage of that rotting moose upstream!" Fife spews out the water he was drinking, getting some on himself, a very unsurvival like thing to do, and looks a little peaked over the entire affair, while Tim and JB are laughing up a storm with Mark.

Fife wants to test out his new stove under these harsh conditions. He is burning what looks like "Camel piss cut with formaldehyde," according to Novak, as the stove belchs gross black smoke everywhere. He wants to bring the stove into the shelter but the motion is emphatically voted down by the crew. Forced to switch back to plain old white gas, Fife cooks up some of the grossest shit ever packed into the woods. Inside the shelter, JB quitely borrows Fifes stove to cook. It is the first time since he started winter camping in '72 that he uses a gas stove, but once it's going he ain't so quiet about it. "If I fucking wanted to cook on a fucking stove I would have fucking stayed fucking home," he grumbles loudly. Maybe too loud. He soon catches all sorts of shit from the guys, who having spent the last few days listening to JB lambast them about their unsurvival like use of stoves, are now delighted at the opportunity to give it back while JB is in the act of using Fifes stove. JB can dish it out, but he takes his licks too.

After several days of storming the sky clears and it's a beautiful and cold New England day. Unfortunately Fife has to split in order to catch a plane back to Seattle. Mark, JB and Tim decide to stay, and the next day the trio climb the peak at the west side of the pond and catch some great views. Also toward the south, skiers at Killington Ski Area are visible on the slopes, and Chittenden Reservoir can be seen looking northward. The return descent is hairy, parts are so steep that the guys slide down on snowshoes, a technique that often leads to nasty spills if a snowshoe is caught on vegetation hidden under snow. Later Tim initiates a Box of Death fire, it's fun and alleviates boredom, but also shows JB that he has not forgotten the old ways.

The next day it's time to pack up, but Tim's red tarp is left behind. It was used as the door to the shelter, and most of it was not visible now, frozen under an unyielding layer of snow and ice. After trying to chop it out, they gave up and headed back. By arriving early with Fife, and leaving with Tim and Mark, JB has spent an unbelievable 7 days and 6 nights in the winter wood, a new survival record. A four-man team has been pulled from the ashes of ancient campfires, and will forever be known as HAE.

Copyright 1999 John Bellantoni and HAE