HAE logo INTO BIG MAINE

-A Personal Account of the Half-Ass Bigelow Mountain Expedition
by John V. Bellantoni, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent

1988-1989 Mt. Bigelow, Maine

"...the classic of all classics"...JB, on the side of Mt. Carrigain
"...un *#$&ing;! believable!"....Mark
"Woah...utterly riveting...major survival!"...Novak
"It was an odyssey in the purest sense"...Fife, at Mt. Bigelow '93
"I saw god"...John Layne, IMAMAN photographer

TEMP: -40 BELOW
WIND: 40 MPH
SUPPLIES: EXHAUSTED
CONDITIONS: VIRTUAL WHITEOUT
OPTIONS: NONE

"...teeth grinding, heart thumping..superbly told"--Newsworthyday
"...an unforgettable story of the good ,the bad, and the white trash"--Chicago Tritebune
"...High impact survival has it all...very powerful"--Boston Glob
"...a riveting Web site"....Outhouse Magazine

Bigelow Range Tradition says to leave trash on the mountain, like a 57 Buick rusting out in front of the trailer. After the most difficult climbing that HAE has ever faced, there is a whole lot more trash, broken equipment and damage to the pristine wilderness than ever before, fatal reminders of the destruction that can be wrought when man fights the power of nature in a gripping battle of survival. The author survived to tell the tale, yet the Northern wilderness produces only icy questions: what really happened on Mt Bigelow, the fearsome Maine mountain, and how many more will learn the lessons taught from being pushed beyond the limits of human endurance and imagination?

"We all summited, and we're all fine", reported JB, telephoning from Norway, Norway Maine, that is. JB's mom was elated. It was the first time her son had actually bothered to call after standing on one of Northern New England's Summits in January, the first time that HAE had brought along a client to join in the deadly struggle of man pitted against the fearsome power of high altitude winter. Hurriedly she calls Fife's mom and also tells his sister that the crew had done the impossible.

At HAE headquarters, they broke out the party materials. Never mind that headquarters was actually Camp V, an ice wind shredded plateau called Bigelow Col, where Frodo the IMAMAN photographer, was still fighting for his life. Novak, the free spirited team leader thought he better water a plant, so he whipped out his pecker in the subzero arctic winds. FRAGILE ARCTIC TUNDRA-PLEASE STAY OFF the Forest Service sign read, way back down the mountain where gomers typically turn around in the summer. "Fragile Arctic Tundra? We'll fucking see jus' how fucking fragile this fucking fragile arctic tundra really fucking is," he swore under his breath as he soaked some nondescript looking fauna poking out of the ice with a powerful 151 rum and powdered apple cider mix urine jet.

It seems to be a twist of Yankee ingenuity that the highest place in Maine's vast southern wilderness, so easy to climb in the summer months, is just beyond the grasp of man during the howling winters that lock Northern New England within it's icy grasp. Had the peak, at over 4100 feet, been thrust up further north, had the fast food joints not been strategically been placed along the Maine turnpike, the mountain would be beyond the abilities of Boston based HAE. As it is, only a few could ever attempt it, fewer had succeeded, and fewer yet live to tell the tale. Here this year is the epic story of the 4 climbers from HAE: Bellantoni, Novak , Mark and Fife, as they battle to bring their only client, John Layne, a world renowned photographer, off the mountain that he had never been on in the middle of the winter.

The fact that a 3-seasoner like Layne should even get the chance to undertake such an arduous journey at all was the key issue in numerous over-heated pre-expedition discussions. Novak argued that Layne, known widely as Frodo, after the mythical Lord of the Rings character, had thru hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and could hold his own. Bellantoni blasted away to the contrary position, noting, among other things, that this new guy was from North Carolina where "cold" meant drinking beer while the AC was on. In the end Novak won and Frodo was picked up at Logan airport the day before the start. That evening they went out equipment buying and by 9 PM Frodo had done the best he could getting out of EMS and REI for less than 1000 bucks. "This is not good, not good," JB said, looking at all the shopping bags and new gear with price tags littering the floor at headquarters.

The next afternoon a rented van appears where the Appalachian Trail cuts across Rt. 27 south of Stratton, Maine. Local state troopers, who share an affinity for jelly doughnuts, eyed the van warily many days later as it sat covered with fresh snow. An EMS price tag fluttered in the icy wind, caught on an all too hastily closed door. It was a sign. "Wonder what we got here," one of the troopers remarked. "Don't rightly know," said the other, "but Joe down at Hacketts store said 5 fellas came through a whiles back saying they was a going camping, and he also said that they were a smokin' some funny smelling cigarettes too. Ayuh..." Just then the radios blared and the troopers left. Two for one at the local doughnut shop had just been reported by a local neighborhood crime fighting unit, and that was not to be missed.

On the mountain the situation was desperate. "I am fucking freezing my fucking ass off..." Frodo pleaded with guide Mark Niermeyer, but Niermeyer couldn't wait. If Frodo was going to make off the side of Bigelow, it was going to be up to Niermeyer to see to it. "If you can't fucking move," Niermeyer screamed over the 40 MPH ice wind that was making Novak's tarp roar, "then fucking get back in your bag!"

Frodo muffed and moaned but was unresponsive. Niermeyer was not standing around to watch. He had to move.

Through the swirling snow Niermeyer could make out the shapes of three other HAE climbers fighting for their own lives. They were there in their wool pants and LL Bean snow parkas, more than 3800 feet up in Bigelow Col. It was now getting on toward lunch hour and the group was way off schedule with severe survival situations occurring. Jim Fife, a Seattle based outdoor equipment designer, was barely ambulatory, having taking to sitting numbly on some camp sprawl. Part of the problem here lay in his selection of equipment. The leather boots he insisted on hiking with were now so rock solid frozen that it would of taken a plasma fusion reaction to heat them up. Niermeyer knew that directly below them was several days of dangerous decent before the expedition vehicle could be reached. But how could that path, a daunting task under even ordinary summer conditions, be navigated under the current dire circumstances?

MarkNiermeyer was not the only one who was trying to move. In a foul mood was Vincintoli Bellantoni, known as JB in the mountains. Founding member of HAE and renowned for athletic antics, he had taken to moving his legs in a most animated motion, a desperate attempt to keep the feet from freezing into numb blocks. What little of his screaming that could be heard over the storm indicated that he was obsessed with how they got themselves into this situation in the first place. Bone weary from the past days hiking, without sleep through the previous nights roaring storm, Bellantoni had been up for the past 30 hours and was starting to lose his cool as the enormity of the situation was making itself apparent. He tried to take a swig of booze and looked to bitch someone out.

He didn't have to go far. Also trapped in the multi-digit windchill and blasting ice storm was HAE co-founder, and expedition leader Tim Novak. A skillful backwoodsman and the most experienced of the four guides, Novak's easy going, rationalize his way through anything style was fending off Bellantoni's invective. "What the fuck JB take it easy I thought he was a good hiker," Tim yelled back. But JB continued without so much as skipping a word, "Novak you total fucking bonehead I told yah I saw tags hanging off equipment and the squeezing of margarine into Ramen noodles going on back down at Camp II and you still brought clients fucking up here!" The argument tailed off as Mark managed to stumble his way over to JB and Tim. Huddled against the wind break they discussed their final options.

In the winter of 1989, Mt. Bigelow may not of been the monumental challenge that was faced back in the 1880's, when Mr. Bigelow himself acquired the mountain range and proceeded to clear cut the entire place. Having "chopped the bastard off," Mr. Bigelow congratulated himself for the fine job he had done devastating vast tracts of virgin forest for profit. Decades later the area was transformed into National and State Forest areas. Since the mid-eighties, when Tim Novak and Mark Niermeyer thru hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in a six month odyssey, the physiological barrier had been down, and HAE was now hiking all the best parts of the AT in the middle of the winter. Today if you are fit enough and have the physiological make up to function under extreme physical duress-and enough booze, smoke and modern backpacking equipment, like folding saws, a Northern winter wilderness peak like Bigelow can be bagged, while clear cutting all standing dead wood, a.k.a Mr. Bigelow style, in the name of survival.

Summiting is still a punishing physical endeavor that takes days in an inhospitable climate. The air in makeshift shelters is often stagnant with b.o., fart gas and stove fuel. Intense partying at these extreme conditions brings on increased pulse, blue faces, hallucinatory thinking and crazed ravings like a homeless mental patient roaming the streets. Hacking, coughing, headaches, and depression from lack of party materials are common. Climbers become confused, light-headed, stoned, out of it enough to think that they are okay- a trap that is often sprung when fellow hikers laugh themselves silly and lambast you for the slightest sorry assed unsurvial like misfortune.

Acclimatization is critical. Year after year camping trips are made, at progressively more difficult locations well above gomer land, and periods of weeks are set aside in suburbia for the crew to recover and let the normal pulse of suburban life flow back into the brain. Often the rest of the year is considered a vacation, a time to prepare equipment for the next sojourn. After intense arguments over details, the team is finally ready, typically by December 28. A hasty rendezvous is made outside of Boston and after the obligatory fast-food and gas-up, and maybe a last minute equipment purchase, a long, slow, and dangerous drive is made north to bring the expedition vehicles within striking distance of the target.

Clients for these trips have often been solicited during various cocktail parties attended by HAE members, but no one was a taker until Frodo said that he would go. The Frodo connection arose from Tim and Mark's legendary 1987 Georga-to-Maine AT hike. They met this dude Frodo somewhere on the trail and hiked quite a ways with him. Tim was in touch with Frodo during the summer of '88, when plans were being laid for the longest, most difficult winter mountaineering trip ever undertaken by HAE, and Frodo must of been smoking some good stuff when he adamantly insisted on going along.

Frodo

Frodo was actually a photographer, Vincentoli Bellantoni concluded, by all the heavy camera stuff he lugged along, and was going to produce a documentary on the wonders of the Great White North. He was also from down south, so Vincentoli was against bringing him along, while Novak saw Frodo's photographic expertise as essential to providing HAE with some badly needed publicity. But publicity is only part of a complex equation, and for the struggling HAE group, who were later destined to be become the infamous lean, mean, HAE camping machine of the cybor-spaced '90s, the real key to success lay in the guides themselves. For here in the Northern Wilderness Mountains, conditions are so severe that a minimum of four guides to one client was mandatory. That's USDA certified. Four guides to one client minimum. And they really do mean 4 (four) guides for every client, anyway the math is done. "Ya ya that would be way too easy to do some wuss-ass place like Everest where they only need 4 guides for fifteen clients...fuck man ...ya...heck...that's too easy...I bet they only need 2 guides for every 15 clients!, " JB reasoned, and it made perfect sense.

"We got four HAE guides, and one camera carrying client...err...no I mean Frodo," JB worriedly pointed out to the others," and I just think that is too risky, you know, going with just the official minimum amount and all," he continued, and he was not about to let up. Both Fife first then followed by Novak tried to get a word in edgewise but JB was on a roll. "We fucking need..like.. more guides,..like 15 of them, fucking 15 to fucking 1 ratio!" he thundered, plus now he was starting to knock over of some camping stuff in very unsurvival like behavior. The rest of the crew, off bogarting a Mark spun creation, didn't seem to mind tearing JB a new one for his extremely loud and various minor infractions of obscure winter backpacking survival requirements and compliance related issues, plus all his stupid ass rhetorical bullshit.

But his logic in the matter was not without merit. Vincentoli Bellantoni's mom was a hardy New Englander who often saved newspaper articles covering bonehead hikers who die up in NH, and several of her clippings always seem to pile up on Vincentoli's desk while he was afield. In fact the hiking up in Northern NH and Maine is so dangerous during winter months that the locals will stare at you blankly, if you mention snowshoe backpacking up the side of the White Mountains. "Ya mean ya' all wanna go hiking with them three other guys in the paper who just died up in Tuckerman's Ravine?" they will ask you in reply.

From it's arrival on December 28 in the middle of Nowheresville, Maine, the half assed expedition (HAE) had reflected the free form style of it's co-founder and leader, Timothy A. Novak. Novak personified the more free wheeling philosophy of Half Ass Expo's. This was Novak's second decade of winter survival camping, having started in the early '70s, plus his first leading a commercially unexploited guided trip up there, he had summited once, in 1987, climbing in July without winter weather. At 28, Novak probably understood Bigelow as well as anybody and was on of these charmed, charismatic risk-takers who dodge trouble by staying completely loose in the face of it. "What is really great about Tim," Fife says, "was he would do something very unsurvival, like dropping his backpack into a raging river, and get away with it by saying something about how he didn't wanna carry around a heavy pack around anymore anyway. Then he would turn around and say, 'hey no pictures....get that camera outa' here....where's that smoke at?' It worked. It's a different style. But Tim Novak is a master at it."

Novak, offhandedly would announce to clients, "It's minus 20 below." Other days, "Man you look bad," recalled client Frodo, referring to Frodo's rapidly freezing face and, "shit but do I have B.O. too." He would go back into his survival sleeping system, survive yet one more hour of the impossible conditions, and then wake back up to see that nothing had changed. Frodo was still freezing his ass off. If Novak seemed to be taking Bigelow for granted, most of the guides and clients seemed to enjoy that approach, and, indeed, had opted to make the trip with him because of it. "We had a bunch of very, very, independent, strong-willed people," says Niermeyer, "We didn't want to take away from the adventure by taking them on a Disneyland ride or something totally wussy like a Sherpa fed Everest hike."

For Novak, this trip was more a word-of-mouth building adventure that any type of profit making scheme, and indeed all the guys had to cough up bucks for the rental van. So be it. The more publicity generated on the trail, the better HAE would be known. And what better way to build a reputation then through AT shelter log book entries and a celebrity client. The latter was John Layne, or Frodo as he was known among the Appalachian Trail Club members and thru hikers. Frodo was famous on the AT for hiking and photography, and Novak reasoned that good photos of winter survival would make HAE known throughout the mountaineering world. Frodo himself was adept at harsh three season conditions on the trail. But the challenge of winter had only been recently been planted in Frodo's brain by Novak's stories, and gradually Frodo felt in his soul that he would not be a complete AT hiker until experiencing the Maine AT in winter.

So this was Frodo's first shot at the business of winter mountaineering. In the mist of holiday vacation, he arrived at Logan airport two days before launch, with some stuff but mostly cash to buy new equipment. Accompanied by various HAE crew members, Frodo soon had spent big bucks at the Natick Outdoor Store, EMS, and REI in preparation for the trip, including a winter sleeping bag and other stuff. Cash raised for wheels wasn't enough so Fife's credit card took a hammering as a brand new expedition van was rented and HAE's equipment was upgraded and improved.

More money and contracts were promised over film and story rights, and hundreds of amateur radio operators on the east coast would follow the ascent and chat with crew member Vincintoli Bellantoni via his 20 meter QRP amateur radio. Besides all the expensive radio equipment, lots of brand name coffee and doughnuts would be consumed by ham radio operators as WB1ALZ battled pileups. HAE member James Fife, a mechanical engineer who made a living designing outdoor equipment for a leading gear manufacturer, often tested equipment prototypes during HAE winter survival trips, and several products were out or soon to be released at major retail outlets and wilderness outfitters throughout the US. So by the years end, if the Bigelow expedition wasn't an amusement park ride, it was really good for business. "Hey this is what I do best, spend money," Bellantoni said one day while buying all sorts of camping equipment at EMS and the Natick Outdoor Store, most of which he would later decide not to bring along.

HAE winter survival expeditions always occur on the first in the year and the last of the year, taking advantage of a two week window of opportunity that all New Englanders know falls between the start of winter holiday season and the eventual realization in early January that it's time to get back to work. Early phases of the expedition planning are the easiest as the crew members screw around with equipment and drink beer. Invariably a huge argument breaks out at pre-trip planning sessions, and the ascent is usually determined by the one who happens to have the biggest mouth at the moment. Sometimes the itinerary seems sealed months in advance before all the crew members have agreed to it, a condition summed up one year by Fife, "Novak has already decided where we are going, and Bellantoni is pissed off about that." The next morning the crew heads out, or half the crew, as Fife and JB, who lately have flown in from the west coast, often go up a day or two in advance to acclimate to the Northern New England winter, and wait for Tim and Mark to get out of work. The most popular approach is placing Camp 1 within a mile or so of the auto drop, an operation that typically passes without incident.

From there it's onto a Camp 2 placed within striking distance of the summit in contention. Then after a pause of a day or two to acclimatize and wait for a break in the weather the push is made for the summit. Either the peak is bagged carrying little more than a days worth of supplies, or a much more difficult ascent with backpacks over the summit and down the backside is attempted. Often members of the crew are up and down the mountain with equipment, water or firewood." JB often cuts up two or three times the amount of firewood as me, in half the time," says Fife, the newest member of the HAE team.

By the afternoon of December 29, HAE had reached Camp 2, a delightfully forested plateau complete with beaver pond, Maine Appalachian Trail style lean-to shelter, and latrine that was locked up for the winter. Breaking and entering is skill held in wide esteem by HAE members, particularly by Novak and JB. So it's not long before the crew gets the first chance in days to relieve themselves in the luxury of a genuine AT latrine. Fife is last to go and when he returns, "he didn't have the look of someone pleased with his work," according to camp fecesologist Novak. As Fife's tale unfolds during evening happy hour the guys are soon stumbling about the place laughing too hard. For some reason, possibly due to the difficult hike and the subsequent even more difficult hard partying, Fife must have had delusions of residing at a first class hotel, because he actually sat down on the latrine seat. "Probably to read the fucking Sunday paper," JB laughed out so hard that he spilled most of the hot toddy that he had just so painstakingly made. It all went well for the first minute or two, but the situation soon turned sour as Fife's butt eventually warmed up the seat and a growing mushy feeling told him that he was not just sitting on any old toilet seat. "I want to know which one of you fucking idiots shit right on top of the fucking toilet seat!," Fife demanded, but no answers could be found among a crew now completely besides themselves with hysteria. Eventually things calmed down a bit. "I always lift the seat and hover over the pit," Novak managed to blurt out about that age old backwoods custom before he broke off into yet another round of uncontrollable laughter. JB, Mark, and Frodo, all multi-decade veterans of the trail, nodded in affirmation.

As dusk descended wind and snow pasting the upper mountain but stuck away at this camp the crew was oblivious and was caught up in the minute to minute intricacies of winter survival. As camp started after the happy hour JB decided that slash and burn camping was still a necessity so off he went and finally spotted a some standing dead wood quite a ways from the lean-to. This was a standard wood importation technique since any dry wood for miles around any AT shelter has long since been burned, and it relies on the element of timing as the wood must be found before darkness to avoid stumbling around and poking one's eye out on tree branches like a drunken bonehead. With the fire roaring and camp made the crew ate hamburger helper and Lipton noodle stuff. Frodo had the squeeze margarine, literally still in the supermarket plastic bag, to spruce up some Ramen noodles. As temperatures dropped toward zero camp settled out and crashed.

Thousands of feet above the Horns camp lay the two summits of Bigelow, known to be part of a patchwork of Northern New England death zones because it is above 4000 feet that is so unforgiving in winter. Under these conditions a human, at least a sane one anyway, will feel instant panic and dread. It slowly creeps in as the trek above the timber line becomes more treacherous with weather that can deteriorate rapidly. Exhaustion after 10 to 15 hours of survival hiking starts to take away from your bodies ability to keep your clothing, soaked from perspiration and melted snow, from freezing solid. Ice starts forming across the back and neck areas of your snow parka. At winter survival camp, hiking boots don't respond like they should, they are getting colder, more solid, as if the very molecules within them were to stop moving.

"It's sorta' like the Nerst Theorem, that is, the third law of thermodynamics," JB said to Fife back in '84 when Fife caught a huge face full of acrid campfire smoke while turning his boots in front of it. "As the temperatures drop to absolute way fucking below zero them stupid ass leather boots freeze up so bad that no entropy is being created within the system," he finished and was about to continue laughing at Fife's happy half ass for getting all smoke burned while drying boots, but the wind shifted quick and a even nastier blast of acrid campfire smoke now pummeled JB. At a campfire they can both duck out of the way, racked by coughing, uncontrollable spasms and white mountain trash swearing, but out on the trail hypothermia sets in. Uncontrollable shivering first, but then as heat is drawn out of your core the panic subsides, never to be heard again.

The biggest worries are accidents from HICE (High Impact Camping Endma), anything that inhibits mobility, like frozen body parts or broken ankles, and running out of party supplies. Untreated, these three conditions can cause permanent damage or kill in a hurry. With frozen feet and a thick layer of sweat rapidly freezing the rest of you, one fights a slow, deadly battle, cruelly slow, as if the entire northern wood is slowly squeezing the life right out of you. "I really don't care what some rich assed dick says about climbing Everest," says Mark in hidden reference to the recent deluge of books on climbing Everest. "You take all them way fat asses, without all them big mouthed guides, and you slap them up here without Sherpas, without their stupid ass support structure, but with a backpack they packed themselves, and them soft bellied wusses will be dying up here faster than a gomer who drives up in a fucking minivan."

Running out of party supplies is a more insidious problem that randomly plagues the group to various degrees, from consuming the last pre-rolled smoke simultaneous with the booze being lost somewhere if Fife's pack, all while a raging blizzard is slamming down on the hikers, to a flat out skimpy white trash night that can hardly be differentiated from any other day on the trail. The importance of white trash night can not be understated, as it signified that indeed great deeds had been done, including climbing the designated mountain, plus great tales had been told, and thus in the telling of these tales the proper amount of shit had been requisitioned, appropriated and then summarily delivered to the designated recipients in uproarious fashion. As all this typically occurred on the last night of camp, the loud rancorous calls to "Bring out all ya party materials" meant that nobody's stash was safe. In fact, it was the entire crew's moral duty to consume everthing as they partied more.

"Hey...give a hoot...don't pollute," said JB after doing his share to consume various party materials that HAE guides suspected were classified by governmental agencies as Designated Super Fund Toxic Waste Materials (DSFTWM). These materials were absolutely not to come in contact with any National Fucking Pristine Wilderness Areas (NFPW) under exploration by HAE. "Look we don't care if the other 6 billion or so idiots on this planet are fucking the world up with their urine and overpopulation as long as these guys don't get a chance to trash the most delicate wilderness areas with their high impact, terra-forming camping!" said an exasperated park ranger, after being hassled by Bellantoni over the price of parking in some stupid ass lot off the Kangie. These parking areas are well known "gateway" spots where suburbanites with rug rats pretend that they like New Hampshire in the winter. This constant flatland traffic may on the surface seem to be first a threat to the sanctuary of the wilderness, but in reality you ain't seen rush hour till you have seen these yuppie assed gomers falling over each other trying to get back to the parking lot by sundown.

By the next day, a storm had settled in and a nondescript grey sky hung over. HAE's team awoke anxiously in their survival systems, and Novak ripped farts to cut the tension, he recalls. "They would have to bail out for a minute or two and then try to recover." Jim Fife felt woozy and slow-witted, still wearing his leather boots, a very unsurvival like thing to be doing in a fully, well...maybe only somewhat, functioning shelter. For those who could force it down it was hot toddies and fine herbage imported by Novak. "Man this fucking partying up on the side ole' Mr. Bigee ain't no good for them buttist happy assed spare-its," his trashed assed face roared as he stumbled over a bunch of stuff that went flying, including smoke Fife was trying to roll, into the surrounding northeastern blizzard. "Hey watch what the fuck ya doing you pasty white assed fuckin' mountain trash!" JB countered as he was overly concerned that preparations for tomorrows assault on the mountain were now in jeopardy due to the general half-assed unruliness of the crew party totally disrupting normal procedures.

By 11:30 am in the morning, the team had assembled in a haze of hangovers and sore muscles. As usual JB was first to have his pack ready, followed in quick succession by Novak and Mark. Frodo the client beat out Fife, the guide-to-be, and the four were soon standing around nervously yakking and smoking while Fife fucked with his stuff. Each hiker carried all of his own stuff, and JB's pack was extra heavy with the hand built 20 mtr. QRP amateur radio powered by a stupid assed heavy 1.5 amp hour battery that simulated a rock that Novak sneaked into his pack. Plus a solar panel right out of Edmund Scientific Catalog that JB brought along under the misconception that he would actually get a chance to charge that stupid assed heavy battery. Frodo was no better off, carrying a huge-assed camera that made Ansel Adams look like he used a disposable from K-Mart. And of course Fife was famous for carrying all sorts of stupid-assed stuff up a frozen mountian, like potatoes wrapped in tinfoil. Each hiker hooked up a bottle outside the pack, and carried other supplies on outside pockets, with the intention of hitting the secret stashes deep within the packs on the way back down at night. That was at least the plan, and the hope was that after leaving Camp II and possibly having to set up Camp III, enough was available to just pass over the summit and make it back down the other side into a pure wilderness land.

Bad weather slowed the pace as darkness closed in. Above, Novak noticed a powerful spot light bob around excitedly. Now carried by Mark, the spot was a huge Petzel head lamp that JB had disassembled, then rebuilt with a special 12V bulb and powered by a fat 1.5 amp-hour battery. Bright enough to signal extra terrestrials, the light was often hidden by one the crew. At an opportune moment, it was flashed on in a photon blast that would give the unfortunate recipient a face full of spotted hallucinations and a stumble around camp trying to shake 'em out. All while the peanut gallery roared in approval. This year the photon wars were clearly being won by science. The gang followed Mark and the massive beam lighting the trail. The team was excited; here was an awseome late night summit attempt under mind bending circumstances.

A second attempt was made the following day. Last night they had tried the summit and got to within a thousand feet of the top before bad weather forced them back. On December 29, JB radioed to some retired ham radio operator floating around in his boat in sunny Florida: "I've arrived here at Base Camp, stoned and drunk, Maybe we can finally get this done with." And indeed that was the plan, as the two summit attempts in as many days were thwarted by the weather. The team made preparations for a third attempt, the very last chance to summit.

Into Big Maine, continued...

Copyright 2002 John V. Bellantoni and HAE