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

1994-1995 Baldpate Mountains, Maine

BaldpateRolling upward from Rt. 26 as it forms the backbone of the Maine Mahoosuc range, the Baldpates to the northeast and Old Speck Mountain to the southwest make a formidable pair. The mountains under contention this year are the East and West Peaks of the Baldpates, and although they only weigh in at around 3800' or so compared to Old Speck's more than 4000' plus, they are none the less just as intimidating from the parking lot. Not that the pre-camp jitters in the parking lot matter. Once again a major section of the AT is to be opened up in the middle of the fucking winter by the terra-forming white trash machine known as HAE.

The trip has yet to start but the guys are already on their asses roaring with laughter. JB has shown up, and he is not looking too pretty. Seems that on his way back from alumni smoozing at WPI, he stopped at a certain well known hole-in-the-wall strip joint on Rt. 20, just outside of Worchester. The joint ain't busy and absentmindedly JB places his beer down on the stage. Accosted by a bouncer for this breach of house rules, the beer is back on the proper side of the railing, where a glass-wide bar spans the circumference of the stage. Soon the next stripper is making her appearance. Since JB is sitting right at stage edge, it's not long before the lanky legged beauty is directly in front of him, way bent over backwards, in hopes of some gentlemanly generosity. But JB was probably fantasizing about doing the butterfly beat with her bongos, or some such thing, so he wasn't tipping right away. And unbeknownst to her, the stage floor is still slick with condensation from the beer bottle. At the apex of her bend, without warning, she violently "lost her purchase," as a mountaineering type would describe, and plummeted onto the stage like some big name mountian techno-gomer guide with no-name carabiners on some infamous Euro-death zone. Her left high heel, a long and slender type shaped into a point reminiscent of an ice tool, slams forward into JB's beanhead right between the eyes. It gouges a nasty vertical scar straight up his skull. JB is incensed and doesn't leave a tip despite her apologies, and the team can't get enough of the story for the rest of the trip.

This year the team is JB, Tim and Fife. Mark's absence is seemly attributable to work induced stress. Our memories, fresh from the previous years trip, brings us directly to the way cool Grafton Notch Parking Lot right where the AT cuts across.

The approach is to put all Bigtop stuff in an extra backpack, which is then lugged and dragged up by the crew, along with their regular packs. This works out fine, Bigtop is set up in an absolutely splendid site about a mile off the road. The next day sees a full pack assault on the Baldpates. Bigtop is left behind with a nice stash o' firewood and booze to fire up upon return from the mountain. That means Tim and Fife are using biveys and tarp while JB has the survival tent.

The double summit is harrowing and dangerous. With weather closing in Fife slips on the surreally carved ice coated alpine tundra. The West Peak featured a formable, wind blown, steeply-inclinated smooth rock face that tore up crampons bad. JB's cheap "Ice Walkers" jus' rolled over and quit right on the most treacherous part. It's surreal dangling out there realizing that the next gust of wind, the next misplaced step could send you flying off into an abyss. And at that moment Tim dropped his walking stick. It started sliding down toward JB. Lunging down after it, Novak once again looks like he is defying the laws of survival, but in actuality he is trashing his brand new pair of EMS ice crampons. Meanwhile it is obvious that the trailing Fife is way off course. Finally the trio makes it over the West Peak and down into the col formed by the dual summits.

After an easier East Peak, photos shoot the exhaustion of obtaining the West Peak, but the finish to the long and exhausting hike is down to a most excellent AT shelter site. Here JB gets a sub-zero job done on him by some as yet to be identified tabloid photographer. Day three sees a fully packed attempt to go back over the peaks fail due to unbelievably raging weather above the treeline. Back at the shelter Tim consuls JB's worrisome attitude with the suggestion that maybe one of the gomers who just showed up via a jeep trail could provide a ride out of here. That 3rd night it's Tim and Fife in the lean-to with the two gomers, and JB in the survival tent out front. Day 4 finds the trio undertaking a marathon hike down to Dunn Falls and then through C-Surplus toward Upton. That's like the 25 mile walk around versus the 5 mile back-up-and-over. On the dirt road toward Rt. 26 it's Jim and Tim pushing the pace with JB lagging bad due to a new boot breaking-in induced toe jam.

They are heading toward a country store on Rt. 26. This is the same country store that Tim and Mark had stopped off during the end of last years trip. Of course Tim remembered the store owner, and waved as he was just happening to be driving by in his pickup, and visa versa. He was kind enough to stop so we could jump on the back of his truck, and so soon enough we were all sittin' 'round eating chilli in the store and talking trash the mountain style 'bout the amount 'er snow and snowmobilers and such stuff.

Plus needless to say, he and his wife were yet again totally amazed at our hiking story. Last year Tim and Mark had piled into the store looking somewhat tweaked, and had related their tale of survival up on Old Speck. The store owner and his wife were flabbergasted at that tale. "I tell ya the locals up here give ya the biggest stares when it's January and you tell 'em you just been hiking Mahoosucs for a week," JB says "They think your out of your fucking mind!" They should know, they live there, and nobody in their right mind, as far as they are concerned, would ever even consider exposing themselves to those conditions, never mind surviving 10 minutes out in the woods after dark, in the middle of the fucking winter. So it's no surprise that the local store owners had passed off last years incident as a once in a blue moon fluke. Something that they had never seen before in all their years of being a local, i.e. like since birth, and therefore would never see again. "Well I'm driving down that dirt road back there, thinking how on earth could hikers possibly survive out in this kind of weather, ya know like the backpackers I saw last year and everything, because right out in front of me are you winter hikers, and you're the same guys as last year!" JB recalls the store owner saying in a conversation that started when JB thanked him for the lift.

The guys helped move out the boxes that they had sat on in the back of the truck. Fife's large bulky pack must of damaged some of the stuff sitting on it because he grabbed that box right out of the truck and stacked it in the store before he had a chance to look at it. Then the trio hang out across the street trying to thumb a ride back down to Grafton Notch.

Yah right...good luck. It's a sub-zero cold weekday afternoon in Nowhereville, Maine, and traffic is nonexistent. Finally right at sunset they manage to get a ride back down to the parking lot and tiredly camp up on a nearby stream site complete with that same ole' wuss Grafton Notch valley lean-to. For JB it's finally a chance to tend to his brutally painful foot. The pain had been building up along the nearly 12 mile hike and removing the boots that night revealed two rather large, down to the bone, nasty looking shredded blisters, and a gross purple toenail on the right foot. Obviously the brand new pair of Sorrels were not quite dialed-in yet. Camp closes up after the proper amount of trash partying materials are consumed in commeration of surviving the journey, and in preparation for the hike out two days from now. By the time the shelter mice start nibbling on Fife's food that he absentmindedly left around, its Tim, Mark and Fife in the Gomer Notch Lean-To and JB is out in the survival tent.

The next day it's back up to Bigtop, a welcome sight at the end of 4 continuously cold days. The previously cut firewood has aged well, leading to a most classic last night in the woods party that rocked out late. Once properly stoked, in the middle of the night, the group undertakes yet another hike up to some bluffs that overlook Rt. 26. This is an eerie hike. It is well below zero out, the guys know they have maybe an hour at the most to climb the bluff and return. Yet when they get out there and fire up a haebar, they realize that the word PIGUL, in huge letters is scrawled across the rock face on the opposite side of Grafton Notch. It takes them a while to figure out that it's natural, not man made, the letters seemly formed by ice flows cut into the smooth rock. Weird...very weird. They head back in the dark feeling spooky and JB bails to the survival tent once again in order to avoid Fife's incessant snoring.

The -20 below zero wake up call the next morning was quite brisk, so the gang was back in the autos by lunchtime.

Copyright 1999 Tim Novak and HAE