by John V. Bellantoni, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent
1987-1988 Mt. Cabot, New Hampshire
1987-1988 Mt. Cabot, New Hampshire
At 4080 ft., Mt. Cabot is the most northern big peak in New Hampshire and is part of the White Mountain National Forest. Tucked up in the northern half of the state, it's left flank drops down to the Connecticut River while it's eastern side is cut by the Upper Ammonoosuc River and even further east, the Androscoggin river valley that holds Rt. 16. The Presidental range rises to the south, and a great northern boreal forest checkered with water stretches seemingly without end in the northern horizon. A popular approach to the mountain is some dirt road outside of Blinkanmissitt, NH, on the western side, and JB and Fife are headed that way.
As usual the pre-trip planning session is peppered with heated arguments interjected with studies of maps, equipment preparations, and partying. Again this year JB an Fife will drive up before Tim and Mark. Once Cabot was decided upon, it is clear from the maps that two approaches are feasible. From the parking lot the direct route is straight up the western flank to the top. More lengthy is to start by turning to the right, hike around the mountain in flat forested terrain to the southern side, climb up and down a notch trail, to eventually arrive at a steep summit trail on the eastern side. The plan is for JB and Fife to go right, and open up as much trail as possible around the mountain, while waiting for Tim and Mark to show.
"OK Tim," JB said, thumping the map with his finger, "Go right. At the parking lot, go right. That's the York Pond Trail. Me and Fife will be waiting up in Willard Notch. Don't go straight up the mountain, turn right and go around." JB takes a pull of brew, "Now repeat the plan, what's the plan?" Tim echoes the idea, signalling a satisfactory conclusion to pre-trip arguments. "Ya ya, we'll go right and catch up with you guys," he said, "We won't go up the mountain, We'll go right, and meet up with you guys so we can climb the Kilkenny Trail from the eastern side. It'll be great, I've never done that climb."
Arriving at the trailhead, JB and Fife ditch the car in an unused corner of the lot. It's a cold, blustery, but bright New England winter day, and a number of vehicles with trailers are scattered about, indicating that this is a popular spot for snowmobilers. Turning right, the trudge along striated snowmobile tracks is long, long, long. Eventually the tracks fall away as they hike up into denser wood. By late afternoon, after some exciting snowshoe work, Jim and JB arrive at the notch to camp.
Camp there is the perfect ideal of all winter snow camping. Deep snow. Plenty of wood. Nice stream with delicious ice cold water that makes winter camping so memorable, and so worth it. "Now where on this fucking planet can you get water like this!' JB exclaims to Fife as the duo hang out by the watering hole, drinking and smoking. Temperatures are in the single digits, making the team constantly work hard for survival. In the mid-eighties HAE still lacked the modern style that they would achieve 10 years later. So with antiquated equipment and survival techniques left over from the 70's;
"they cut down trees,
"Where the fuck are those guys" Fife wondered out loud one day. They had been up in the notch camp for days now and still no signs of Tim and Mark. Fife and JB had undertaken several long and difficult day hikes to the east, the two had opened up a large sections of snowbound trail over to a fish hatchery on the Upper Ammonoosuc, and a little beyond toward the eastern summit trail. That had kept them busy. But now after three snowbound days, JB shook his head. "I don't know what happened to those guys, but this ain't right, they should of been here days ago." So the next day they packed up, which they had to anyway because they had burned all the good wood within a country mile, and headed back down early in the morning. They figured that something had happened, and Tim and Mark had to cancel.
New snow covered their entering tracks as they trudged back in the flats. Arriving down at the parking lot after lunch time they looked around to no avail. There were ski tracks, snowmobile tracks but no snowshoe tracks, and no messages on any vehicles. On the other hand, neither JB or Fife quite remembered what Mark's truck looked exactly like, or where he would park it, and the continuous snowfall over the past few days had long since hidden any older tracks. They retraced back along the flat section awhile looking for clues that might of been missed. Anything and everything was examined closely by JB. No luck.
By late afternoon the situation was getting hopeless. It was getting dark. They stood around in the middle of the woods getting snowed on and smoking a haebar. They were both totally beat from hiking out, and then hiking back and forth over the same stupid-ass mile long section of trail starting at the parking lot.
"What the fuck should we do Fife?" JB asks. After a pause Jim replies "Err...I don't know, what would Tim do?" JB puzzled over that for a minute, after four days in cold one does not think so fast, and in any case they weren't going anywhere. "Well," he said starting slowly and looking around, "If I were Tim I guess I would break into a cabin around here." Indeed there were probably a dozen or so different summer camps randomly scattered along that first mile or so of the snowmobile trail. Obviously the snowmobile trail was a dirt road of some sort during the summer months.
In fact at that moment, by sheer coincidence, they happened to be standing at the junction of a fire road. JB started to ponder. He had been up and down this section of snowmobile trail several times now and noticed that almost every one of the summer cabins could be seen from the trail. Yet the roadway in front of them, or what ever it was, went off into the wood with nothing in sight. "Humm," JB said. Looking around more closely in the twilight, things seemed just ever so slightly amiss. To JB's skilled eye it looked like the trail may have been booted earlier. "Humm," JB said again, "Check this out Fife, don't this look like someone walked here?" But Fife was spacing at that moment, "I don't see nothing" he said.
JB was unconvinced himself. Plenty of tracks off the trail are made as skiers and skimobilers go relieve themselves. "Well Fife," he said. "Lets give this a look. Then we'll just split if we don't find anything." The two started slowly walking up the snowbound trailway. It was long, and went up gradually before it leveling out. Dusk had arrived, so they walked fairly close to the cabin before they saw it. JB's jaw dropped in astonishment. Fife stared in absolute amazement.
There, standing on the porch, with the biggest ever shit-eating ear-to-ear grin on his face, was none other than Timothy A. Novak. The door was wide open and a fire was blazing in the hearth. "Greetings!" Tim boomed, he had seen them approaching since the crest in the driveway, and with a flair for drama, had waited until the right moment. Everyone started yelling and talking a mile a minute as Fife and JB stumbled inside, and all were totally amazed at the reunion.
"Unbelievable, this is absolutely un-fucking-un-believable!!" JB said as a full scale happy hour was now is swing. With camp equipment sprawled all over the cabin and killer hot toddies being poured, Tim told his amazing story.
"Mark and I where driving up in Mark's truck," Tim started in on his tale, "but somewhere around Manchester his truck throws a transaxle. Mark has to go with his truck when it got towed off the highway. Mark's girlfriend gave me the rest of the way up here."
JB looked incredulous.
"Un-fucking believable!!" This time it was Fife's turn to say that.
Tim continued, "Anyway so I finally get up here, and couldn't figure out where you guys were, so I started snow shoeing up the mountain. The snow is way deep you should of seen me 'chuffing it. I get maybe halfway up before dark and it's fucking way ass cold and snowing, so I soloed in my bivey sack on the side of the mountain for the night."
"You what? You went straight up the mountain?" JB asked.
"You what? You soloed on the side of Cabot?" Fife asked.
Novak was not to be interrupted. "Ya ya, there was like a foot of snow on me when I woke up. So I get up and go all the way to the top looking for you guys. Can't find ya but check this out...there's a cabin up at top! It's beat to shit and stuff but it's still standing so I stayed the night there. Fucking place is full of mice. Then this morning I snowshoe back down and looked around some more for you guys, but when I couldn't find ya I broke into this cabin. Nice place huh?"
"Now wait a second Tim," JB is perplexed. "I can't fucking believe you went up the fucking mountian when we agreed beforehand that we were going to go around and climb the eastern side. Why the fuck didn't you go right? Me and Fife been up in the fucking southern notch for days choking chicken wondering if you guys would ever show up." To JB, who's analytical nature thrives on accuracy and precision, it was incomprehensible that such a breach in understanding between them would occur.
Novak looked wide eyed. "I'm telling ya. I get to the parking lot and look around. The trail to the right is dead flat. I said to myself that there is no fucking way JB and Fife would go down that stupid-assed trail because it was way flat and fucking snowmobilers were on it. I figured that you would have taken one look at it and then decided to go straight up the mountain instead."
Ah yes, now there was as fine a piece of classic half-assed Novakian logic as JB has ever heard.
JB and Fife give Novak the requisite amount of shit for being such a scatterhead and not sticking to plan, and the cabin rocks on. The stove is glowing red, JB's hot toddies have quite a kick, the smoke is good, and there is still plenty of hiking and adventure ahead. Many a story and tale are told, and plans are made for the morrows climb. Everybody is busy drying stuff out and reorganizing equipment.
The next morning the trio hits the trail early. On the way up the snow quickly gets deeper. Snowshoeing off the trail packed by Novak's previous snowshoeing plunges the hiker in waist high. The trio stops were Novak soloed and are treated to an exhaustive detailing of the feat. After lunch the chuffing continues and despite the bitter cold the crew is sweating profusely from the grade. Finally annoyed that the slow going was creating a survival situation, Bellantoni hyper-chuff blasts open the last section of trail to the cabin located just below the summit. The cabin is of the classic abandoned NH mountain type, probably built decades ago by a paper company guy named Cabot, or maybe National Park Rangers on the lookout for forest fires. It commands an awesome view of northern New Hampshire into Canada. The door is flapping in the breeze, but it is secured as the three stooges pile in.
It's white trash night on the summit and the gang is fired up to party in grand style. Moonlight mountain topping while totally baked is the ultimate in winter mountaineering, but it is a rare thing in the snowbound, but equipment strapped eighties. That is, unless the weather is unusually good, or some type of shelter beyond backpack HAE survival systems is available. The cabin provides enough survival power that the guys can venture around at night, and it's not long before they are fired up to do so.
"Hey check this out, eh!," says Novak trying to sound like he is from Canada, like the great white north or something. "Huh?" said Fife. "Hey lets go steal a snowmobile and drag a dog behind it eh?," JB offers in his best Canadian imitation, but by then, as camp raged on, it was easier to be dropping things and thrashing the place with some classic half-assed slapstick. With a big stash of party materials at hand and camp sprawl everywhere it's not long before the crew is tripping all over stuff and zeening out. The most excellent happy hour has everyone stumbling around like a bunch of superfund toxic waste heads falling out of a trailer. After the electric dinner, hiking gear and whiskey bottles are strapped back on and the team heads for the summit.
The summit is eerie with stunted trees coated entirely with snow. Most intense. A three-dimensional phantasmal landscape of shifting beauty. The multi-color washed sunset is fading in the background, leaving moon streaked cloud cover. Woah nice streaks dude. Trees seem to waddle around like penguins as wind buffets the summit. It's way assed cold and blustery up there, but nobody is noticing. Everybody is too preoccupied checking out the views and undertaking a mythical journey to fire up a haebar on the top of storm raked Cabot. That attempt is thwarted by the winds, and to get a light they are forced to find deep shelter among trees on the leaward side of the peak.
It would be interesting to ask an HAE any member what he thought was the most ultimate dumb assed stupid and dangerous mountaineering feat, as though BIC lighter-powered high-impact camping "were engendering disrespect for the mountain." He would most likely point to MTZ (Mountain Top Zeening), while suffering from HICE (High Impact Camping Edema). All them fat old fart flatlanders may like to snoot at that, but in today's world, it's adventure that totally rules in the ratings department. Also more importantly, these types of adventures, experienced by radically styled groups, are typified by a technique-based approach in loosely knit organizational structures.
"You can kind of think of it as a perturbation of the linked entropy-enthalapy equations in a thermally cooled quasi-static system," the graduate student JB explains. "Expand discrete space around a variably-scaled canonical-coordiante system and wah-lah!: things on different scales are moving at different velocities!" JB was stumbo-shoeing around and howling with laughter over his technical cleverness. "That sign post is stuck there frozen in the ground but all it's molecules are blasting around in high speed quantum orbits!"
Fife was also talking science on the top of Cabot, alluding not only to the ice incrusted summit sign in front of the team, but also to the half-assed fractel based chaos within HAE's organizational structure. "Well...er... don't rightly know...errr..all sorts of stuff was happening, you know, gumbie faced laughing and stuff, and generally falling about the place you know. But ahh...no other than that no I can't say that anyone had even thought of designating any discussions related to the matter, and in any case everybody was way to busy with their own surviv-o-zeen odyssey. Who would wanna even consider spending time on all that tedious stupid assed boring shit?"
Yet the great white north is still the great white north, and the stooges do happen to be on top of Mt. Cabot. As soon as the high energy mountain top zooming wears down the thermal equation tips in favor of the elements. So directly Moe, Larry and Curly pile back into the cabin and camp out. They fired up the creaky ole' stove until the place almost burns down where the stove stands. Steam, smoke and old cabin dust fill the cabin to zero visibility. Lots of choking and hacking occur, complete with blood shot eyes, from acrid softwood smoke, and laughter continuously permeates the camp.
Later on after crashing it turns out that Tim's stories about severe mouse attacks are true. This time, as usual, Tim, and also JB, have their packs hanging up out of harms way. But Fife has huge camp sprawl, so the mice manage to avoid a Novak devised mouse trap by heading directly for the easy pickings.
The next day a high speed chuff decent brings them to the auto and rendezvous with NH fast food. So ends the Mt. Cabot odyssey, truly yet another great HAE survival classic. As they drive home there is even talk about where to go for next years trip, "It'll be hard to beat this, eh!" JB says emphatically and all nod thinking about opportunities that abound for next seasons trip. "We'll see!"