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

1996-1997 Mt. Carrigan, New Hampshire

Mt CarriganPerched high in the southern Pemigewasset Wilderness, the 4680 ft. summit of Mt. Carrigian looks out over a watershed of pristine flowing mountain rivers and streams. The area is popular with summer backpackers and day hikers, but in the winter it turns into a wilderness of vast and imposing proportions. Water is everywhere. Numerous crossings of various magnitude, from suspension bridges over roaring, ice coated river canyons to small tributary streams, add an element of beauty and hiking difficulty to an otherwise long and straight forward trek to the base of the mountain.

After the usual pretrip arguments over at Tim's place, JB and Fife rent-a-blast up to NH, spending the night at a local state park off the Kangamangus. They drink the brew in an overcast 5 oF rising to 25 oF by the next morning. Everything, including the Hale-Bopp comet, was lining up to mean rain, especially at their anticipated NH destination. "Why spend 6 hours driving to Maine to get rain when we can drive 3 hours to NH and get the same," was the half-assed logic. Plus the guys figured that the last three years had been so cold and awesome that there was no way that a fourth brutal year could be expected. JB repeats predictions of rain during the pre-trip arguments and discussion sessions. He also makes sure that Fife buys and carries a 5' X 10' rain tarp when they get off the highway at Lincoln.

Next day Mark and Tim show up, everything is coordinated via JB's new pair of Standard walkie-talkies. They work most excellent at the rendezvous point. These radios are cigarette pack sized two-meter amateur walkie-talkies that put out maybe 1/4 watt of power with new batteries. Using quarterwave whip antennas, WB1ALZ, that's JB, and Fife were sitting around in the rent-a-bomb at the Hancock Campground entrance when they picked up Tim and Mark driving in front of Cannon Mountain Ski Area, a distance of about two miles. On the highway during the return trip, the radios worked between two exits spaced about five miles apart. Not bad for 5 oz. radios that fit in a shirt pocket. JB is delighted that after years of looking around he finally found the ideal expedition radio.

The 4 man HAE team is back and featuring more new equipment than ever on JB's rig, while Fife still has the pants with leg zippers and Tim and Mark are carrying the same old stuff. After getting ripped off for parking by the State of NH, despite JB's haggling down the price with the Ranger, it starts pouring rain and pouring rain even harder as the odyssey gets underway. Crossing the first bridge and not more than an hour or so up the trail the four stop and put up Fife's new tarp to keep the rain off. That stops the rain so they are off again, only to get rained on a whole bunch more. Things are looking bleak until an old abandoned railroad trestle is found. Mountain trash camp is held under there that night while the weather changes from 35 oF rain to about 10 oF and wind buffeted clearing.

The rain puts quite a damper on happy hour so instead it's dinner time. Tim is preparing some chow. Tim likes to cook with a good sized stove pot, and a metal coffee pot that he often dips directly in a stream to fill with water. He strolls on down to the stream spanned by the railroad trestle and nonchalantly reaches for a pot full water. Trip..splash, Tim's most sentimentally valued coffee pot is in the water and clanking down the bubbling flow. It jams on some ice in the middle of the stream. Determined not to lose his pot, he hesitates a second but then steps right out into the stream and after walking down it a bit, is leaning way over trying to snag the pot with the handle of his walking stick .

Novak is totally defying the HAE laws of winter survival by actually walking in water. "I'm fucking walking in fucking water!" Novak yells. The guys are in transit to the scene, stumble-laughing down to the stream bank. "Yah....you ain't no fucking JC that's for sure!" JB yells back as his sides are ripping with laughter. He is trying to hold footing long enough on the ice coated rock to work the camera. The guys are totally amazed at Tim's survival feat, particularly to Tim's claims that his boot's don't have any water in them. His sojourn in the water, chasing after his coffee as Hale-Bopp comet illuminates the scene is an omen for higher levels of stream encounters in the future.

Next day it's the Wilderness Trail up to Camp Desolation. The team soon figures out it's named Desolation due to the complete scouring of all fire wood from the local area, lumber had to be imported from quite a ways. Mark, Tim and Fife camp in the lean-to while JB, the real dude, camps right out on the snow. With temperatures now dropping to near zero, it looks like NH is going to deliver some real winter weather after all.

Arising to a blustery cold day, it's time to summit. Temperatures are consistently below zero, and the multi-foot snowpack is so crunchy from the cold and previous rain that it can be booted on top without lots of nasty breakthrough. A difficult and relentlessly paced accent brings the gang out to the summit where the wind is ripping so bad that anything more than a minute directly out in it is life threatening. After the usual photo shoot at the top they head back down for an evening of drinking ' and smokin' round the fire.

Day 5 arrives and it's back down the Wilderness Trail.

On the trail JB is yakking with Fife about how the highest probability of success in using blowovers to cross a river is on the downstream side of that blowover. "It's physics I'm telling ya," JB was telling Fife, "Other river wood tends to jam and freeze up below the blowover, while the deep water created just in front won't freeze." The reason for this discussion, beyond JB's natural tendency to be annoying when he knows he's correct about something, was that the group was rapidly approaching a nasty river crossing. In fact on the way up JB had found a tricky, but usable passage, on the downstream side of a blowover, and remembered how it required careful exploration and study to find that tenuous crossing.

Tim arrives at the river crossing first, with JB just off the pace. Mark and Fife are further back on the trail. Ignoring JB's just previously harped upon adage of, "always cross on the downstream side of a blowover," Tim starts carefully walking out on the top of the blowover. JB starts yelling at Tim and pointing to the safer route on the ice coated debris choking the water below the blowover. His warning is lost in the roar of infinitely flowing water. More than halfway across, balanced like a tightrope walker, the stage is set for some half-assed action. Hale-Bopp comet is circling impatiently overhead.

The half-assed slapstick is soon on the way. Novak's next step is on thin ice. Time seems to stand still as his left foot breaks through and his arms wave around wildly. He plunges backwards, backpack first, into the raging mountain river.

No rescue attempt is initially made to save Tim from being swept down under the blowover. After all, the only one there was JB, and just like the kind of a guy who you would want to watch your back in a dangerous situation, JB is laughing his face off while desperately fumbling around trying to get his camera out quickly enough for a good shot. JB did have a brief pang of alarm but that was quickly ignored when he realized that Tim was actually floating on a big piece of snow covered icepack. His weight punched out the ice island on the way down, and so he seemed momentarily out of trouble to the now camera wielding JB.

However the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Ice surfing in a NH river in January is not exactly what one would call a stable occupation. Tim started moving around a bit in an attempt to avoid doing the backstroke with backpack on. He poked the ice with his hiking stick and it's ripped out of his hand by a big chunk of the unstable iceberg shredding off into the brisk current. Novak, on his back like a turtle, now has water lapping at his pack. JB drops the camera before getting a second shot and starts moving toward Tim. The lost hiking stick jams on the blowover. Unbelievably Tim rotates around on his back just enough to snag the stick away from disappearing under the blowover. JB is so amazed by Novak's survival feat that he stops trying to save Tim and goes for the camera again. But by now Mark had arrived, and quickly comprehending the situation, he jumps around JB and fishes Tim off the rapidly crumbling iceberg, much to the chagrin of JB, who wanted more photos.

Down near the third bridge, the gang avoids problems with a no camping sign by camping. As usual the guys are not worried about being caught compromising environmentally sensitive areas. It's January with snow and sub-zero temperatures, so that parking lot attendant...er...we mean Mr. Ranger who put up that sign, plus all them flatland gomers who would camp there, are miles back in the valley watching the boob tube.

White trash night is on the schedule and with a call for "all consumables to the front," the camp parties on. After getting wacked, Tim, Mark and Fife bushwack down to the 3rd bridge and back, while JB burns some standing dead wood that undoubtedly would of made a fine home for a rare Pileated Woodpecker. Camp that night is Mark, Tim, and Fife in the Bigtop, while JB solos in his tent.

The next morning sees a smooth, high powered survival machine team blast it's way back to the autos and destiny with the fast food services of NH. JB and Novak babbled back and forth over the walkie-talkies during the return trip, while Fife and Mark critiqued the trip:

This year had seen yet another example of a late nineties style of expedition. More miles, more difficult hiking, more brutal weather, yet less high impact camping. This trip provided continuing evidence of HAE survival style evolving away from the high impact camping toward a lean, crank it out, hiking machine. In recent years the team has handled anything New England can dish out. This year the weather twist was extreme. Soaking rain in 33 degree temperatures, followed by days of sub-zero mountain expedition and camping. Now that is nasty, nasty, naastiee stuff for regular mortal guys like you and me.

In earlier times that deadly weather pattern would have first been feared, and then handled by major high impact camping with terra-form blasting and huge fire construction. Now the guys kick back and laugh. JB, for example, actually had sported a lightweight rain parka. He had no water problems, although he was lamenting about not having a pack cover. "Pack Cover?" Tim said, "we don't need no stinking pack covers!" Indeed that was true because he kicked back with the rest of the crew under Fife's brand new tarp. Ahh...the wonders of nylon and plastic in the woods. Other long forgotten techniques rediscovered by the group upon their return to NH camping was the use of available shelters, usually a cabin to break into, but in this case an abandoned railroad trestle. Structures that would never be found during any of the previous years trips to Maine. Also this year Bigtop was brought along without the stove. That saved a lot of weight while retaining a large percentage of it's needed survival power.

"Woah that was one most excellent trip'" JB perked up after a long silence in the southbound car.

"Yeah buddie, we blasted !" was the peanut gallery's reply.

Copyright 1999 John Bellantoni and HAE