the Clamb, anus clenching adventure

Vincentoli Blanteev
Half Ass Expedition Guide

and G. Mount Da Gomerly



It was on our second rest day, Dec 28th, 2001, when we got a radio report from Scott Terasi, who called on the land-line and said it was raining in Framingham, and that they also said on the radio news that the delays of the millennium change were about to be history. Maybe so, but not in the case of HAE, the type of delays in this years trip are pretty much the same as the year Mark and JB hiked Mt. Abraham, when the millennium was still on the horizion. Time to get ready for more delays that can be blamed on Y2K, the likes of which have been made abundantly clear by trashy disinformation spewed out from media outlits. For the crew, it's more waiting around. It is time for some video. Gaming that is. Here on the flat-land's jurisdiction the hours waiting for an expedition to launch is often spent video game playing and lately nothing has been getting the gamers more fired up than the latest DOOM release. On level 25 the game really opens up, and a bunch of secret bonus points can cleaned up too. Sweet.
During rest periods the crew were under evaluation, utilizing the pulsed oxide coating meters to determine how much time would really be lost to carrying of the maximum amount of blood alcohol level under the prevailing environmental conditions. As he always had, Blanteev tested in the '90s, a result that at sea level would be considered normal, a result that made him and Fife, who had also tested in this range, exceptional in the capacities to adjust to any attitudes. In contrast, the good doctor who had administered the test could only produce hits from the 70's, and one of the other issues heard are clients in the low 60s. Blanteev, who had scientific training in college, has recalled the testing and said he was not concerned. "These readings mean little to anyone paying attention to the situation. You could get yourself a whole lot more information by observing the clients...attention to detail", and right now, with out any other measures available to the crew, it was time to continue the logistics game.
Among those of us who already were in town, there was much discussion about our routine of waiting around while someone else flies into town. This was the holiday season and matters far more pressing than acclimatization routines were mandatory on the plan that had been devised for the acclimatization. I stressed the importance of spending this time at the home-town location, and suggested that after a few nights of holiday partying that they should show proper recovery by showing up with full packs loaded for a week jaunt in the January Maine wilderness. Based on that the recovery, the very success with such a routine would contribute significantly to the possibility of their success.
The goal, Blanteev kept reinforcing, was not only properly paying attention to family matters it was to conserve and reinforce energy reserves. Blanteev reminded the clients that while they were going through their routine they were always losing sleep, nourishment, and flossing time for the chomps. That even during rest periods they wouldn't completely recover with a "full compensations that it does not happen even during a long wait for the rest of the crew to show up," In Blanteev's opinion, the message was not getting across, "Many clients were not attentive to their holiday resting and reincorporating equipment deficiencies." Their focus and attention was displaced, and they only understood that the exception, Blanteev thought, would be the Seattle based Rex Walters.

Rex Waters (photo © Vincetoli Blanteev)

During one of our travel days, appropriately called a "rest day," in order to enforce the cause, Rex and I had a conversation, and in that he asked me if in my opinion did he have a chance to complete the expedition with success. Rex told me, "Last time I went hiking with Fife, up on the side of Mount Rainier, Fife said that I would have no problems with the high attitude HAE camps, but after the night on the ridge and a ice coated decent into the base camp, all my party materials were gone. Even then I felt an emptiness to climb and strong desire to hit up the local burger joint."

In little more than a New York minute, I told him "Excellent!...your job is to continue to absorb sufficient acclimatization with the HAE camping experience within a corresponding minimum amount of exposure to the realities of life....During the period of rest priors to our approach to a summitting climb, you need to cool heals major while remaining relaxed as recovery in the form of kicking back playing video games insues.... The recovery process happens more quickly and completely when there is a large amount of holiday parties in the area. Also, walking around shopping malls, down and back, promotes instant fatigue, and should be avoided.

Rex Waters recalled the advice and remembers thinking, "I really didn't want to be doing that, because it was a lot of work to walk around outdoor equipment stores, party like that in the valley and then make a summit climb."
If any doubt existed about the perils of remaining around in the valley with HAE, then Blanteev, in our book writing discussions we conducted many years later, pointed to a classic Half-Assed Moment, occurring during the 2001-2002 season, as an example that would certainly be plenty to eliminate any doubt. On that day a unfolding comedy piss-nailed the warning to the proverbial snow-wall, as yet another classic delay attributable to the millennium change unfolded. It's Monday December 29th, 2001, and a forward expedition vehicle of HAE had arrived at the trailhead, little knowing that the first victim of the peanut gallery was about to be taken. The team of Tim and Rex has hopped out of their ride, and were now proceeding to unload equipment and make preparations for the Auto-to-Camp 1 hike. The team began ferrying supplies in advance of the arrival of the second HAE group, who had stopped for a quick burger break, and were now trailing according to radio communications. The forward team suddenly was appearing to be somewhat confused, not totally in tune with the rigors of the trail ahead, as if the immediate commencement of partying upon arrival had anything to do with it. Novak, who has a reputation on the mountain for his being a smart mouthed, with concern for the whole world, had noticed that Rex was holding the largest flashlight he had seen in many a day. "Well I would have to go back 20 years to when JB carried a F&#$%$# humungous battery up Bigelow to think that we would ever see batteries that heavy carried up a mountain again!" Tim bellowed, beside himself with amusement over the predicament. Expected to have complied with earlier instructions from JB, who had been eager to explain the current technology carried by the teams, Rex had not followed the instructions to the letter.. For whatever reason, personal pride, - a misunderstanding of the Don't Carry a Heavy Light Order, or confusion brought on by the conditions- he had instead packed a 4 D Cell- "LAPD Treat-'em Like A King Signature Edition" -Sized MAGLIGHT, with several sets of spare D-sized batteries!

big ass flashlight

A radio transmission from the forward expedition to the now arriving team of JB and Fife alerted the expedition members to the problem ahead. Like drunken trash headed for the packie, JB was navigating the ice coated roads at high speed. Talking above the ambient loud road noise to Jim, who had the radio at the time, telling him to relay to the forward group the message that he was, "doing about 50 over ice, don't bother me!" was now in fact disoreiented and coughing up huge hawkers in a froth of deeply lodged fast food sludge. Given the symptoms, the diagnosis was quick, High-Attitude Expuldema , or HAE. While the appropriate drug therapy is still being debated, it is generally agreed upon that an immediate replenishing of 610 - 1220 mL is a necessary party saving measure, but what with Camp 1 thousands of meters further into the hike the only way to get the symptoms to abate was to start toward that Camp as soon as possible.
Coordinating the effort in Vehicle 2 was Jim Fife, along with JB, they were both well along in their acclimatization. They fell out of the car in hysterical fits of laughter upon arrival because they had heard the news over the radio. And the peanut gallery shooting continued as they stood around eying both the big D flashlight, and a storm lurking in the wind-blown grey clouds. When consulted, Blanteev knew that the first course of action taken in this situation is often the most important one and advised, "Get him away from that flashlight as quickly as possible: give him a Solitaire light, the standard little A sized issue!" before himself being now so struck with the malady that he suddenly lost his purchase of the snow coated ground. With his gumbie-footed face-plant now competing with Rex's flashlight for top billing, the crisis seemed to adverted, and more than ever the HAE team were relieved to have survived the endless delays along the long slow trip to the trail.

My surprise at this situation was not so much that these guys were not already at Camp II yet, and didn't even go forward immediately after hearing the lambasting that caused Rex Waters distress. I expected that because, like Tim Novak, all of the team were from the Mass area, but as it turned out, they didn't really get moving until later in the day. The exact reason for this I'm not sure, but it made me consider what we might expect from our Half-Ass Expedition members in an emergency. I hold the capacity of these guys to avoid doing work in high regard, but you wouldn't want to automatically assume that in a critical situation that any one or more of the team members would actually get up off their lazy ass. It is not they are not capable, because their history of efforts and their ability to assist in giving good advise to the peanut gallery is well established. Instead, it is a matter of disinterested attitudes, asking them to do something, anything that falls outside their assigned happy hour duties or responsibilities that they couldn't be paid to assume.

Because the crew were not responding to the standard treatment, a haebar, in the driving storm, Blanteev and Markus rigged up a makeshift shelter to hunker down under. The sleet was incessant, and break was needed before attempting to move either further forward, or back down the mountainside. Blanteev recalls, that the weather would likely delay the departure until the next afternoon, or perhaps the morning, depending on how fast the recovery was from this days ordeal.
That morning, before breakfast, Novak began to work in the area that held all the computer and communications gear. Novak, in addition to maintaining a connection with the Half Assed Expeditions Seattle based office, being the honcho in absentia to the pinning down of Blanteev and Mark by the sleet storm, was also doing regular computer feeds to Jack Barter, who had found a number of interesting stamp collecting URLS in some time killing web surfing. Despite the fact that he had not departed for the adventure and would not attempt the Abraham trail until several years later, was still acting as correspondent for Outhouse Online
Novak, when he wasn't giving Fife the printable news, was giving the behind-the-secnes impressions, Maine stripped down, the stuff that the armchair climber in Topeka, tapped into the Internet between commercial breaks and domestic squabbles, was never going to see on his computer monitor. One of his recurring themes over the years was money, how it was evaporating at high altitude.
A hiking pal of Novak's said, "I think it was really a major stress Jones on him, and especially with the family issues....and he thought 'Dude this is going to be a hospital thing for who knows how many years and who's going to cover that?' So....yepper buddie it's that whole money issue... I think he tried to just keep it out of his mind, but it was a substantial issue that required focus for him.....He thought, 'woah...dude I'm gonna climb this mountain, and I'm gonna get home to my family with a $10 fast food blast because Fife had to split the $20 I collected by making JB fess up to his losing bet, and that made that a good call, isn't HAE bureaucracy great!'"
Blanteev himself, according to the records received department, owed HAE more than $390.95 for booze that was to be credited to his account, the booze supply, given that Mark Niermeyer and some of the clients were downing the stuff at $18.95 a bottle, was dwindling; Novak was facing the possibility of having to send a sub-team expedition back into town to get booze (a formidable expense); he was physically tired beyond the normal condition; while his family doctor and Base Camp Manager were suffering from reoccurring un-obtainimum; Camp III had yet to be established; and nobody could even be distracted from happy hour to so much as produce a piece of rope to hang the candle lantern! He was behind schedule, thrashed by the highly athletic agenda, wondering how he was gonna pull it all off. He was hiking hard toward a Half-Assed Moment (HAM) as precarious as any non-Y2K compliant company, but, was constantly smiling and powerfully chuffing through it, all the while making the positive even more doubly so.
The next morning we were totally unable to move. The storm had really rolled in and we were pinned down. It was obvious that the conversation did not have the jovial animation or jokey-assed stuff of the previous nights. The increase in the storm from the last 24 hours was having it's impact, but seeing that nothing in their lethargy except the usual struggle to adjust to the constant degradation of physical terms, no other signs alerted the crew to any impending storm front. Neither Markus or Blanteev was feeling up to this excursion, and upon thoughts of packing up camp neither were inclined to venture out for more than a scan of the elements, they now had taken upon waiting until a break allowed for a speedy upward advance. By late morning such a break was evident, and the team scrambled to catch some sketchy sun in the pack out. About two hours into this excursion, following the previous days exploratory trail, the section they were approaching seemed to be obliterated from the storm's impact, on a markedly declineating upward section. Blanteev deviated right around the destroyed path, choosing a lower-angle slope over which they could traverse a few football fields length that remained between them and a softwood sheltered trail section they knew was discovered in the previous days hiking. That section of trail, they reasoned, would not have water pooled on ice and storm tossed tree limbs to impede their progress.

During an HAE expedition, most of the clients do not get any help from the guides, who do not pay them any attention,leaving them to go about their daily schedule in whatever passes for the mid-day warmth of the sun. Which in this years climate would means that a thermometer, positioned in the un-findable noon day sun will read maybe +25oF max, for a moment anyway as the ice coating soon makes it unreadable. Prior to departure, Tim and I had agreed that, as we had since our first HAE days that, we had no intention of paying any attention. Our continuing practice of partying right through situations caught the attention of arm-chair crew chief crowd, who, through our bulletin board had definitely something to say about it. But on this point our adamant advocacy of the conflagration approach was unanimous. We looked upon with concern to closely regimented expeditions where the clients performed like soldier ants. Given my compulsion as a big-assed campfire generator and also hyper mountain-chuffer I felt it important to instigate Half-Assed action.

There are a variety of hiking styles in Half-Ased Expedition trip but the one that many thought was strange: it was also one of the guides, Blanteev. Up and around the mountain camp, during his firewood forays at work above base camp, he was often noticed wearing down boots with foam pieces lashed to the bottom, the self proclaimed, "Bigelow Boot." This was considered "normal" for Blanteev when he operating on the mountain. Some of those who made matters of the peanut gallery their concern began to call him "...a total fucking geek!" behind his back, a moniker that he initially overheard as "we'll go camping for a week!" Blanteev couldn't discern the implied connection he had with this false assertation, he'd heard the messages that a significant portion of the crew was opting out of this one. Finally, when he made association, he was annoyed by the trivial petiteness of it all and thought, "You are gonna be carrying a bunch of unnecessary junk up the side of a mountain again ainch't yah?" The energy bars I saved I will have above the timberline, and that will shut up the peanut gallery when they all mooch 'em off me!"
Blanteev, completely dedicated to his own integration, has the discipline of a bike racer and the intense aptitude of a scientist. He kept his attention on his complex integrated systems and paid attention to his own sense of backwoods panic. He stayed focused on what he considered important, how to stay calm and remain far below his maximum stress limit at all Half-Assed Times (HAT) in order to stay alive, but constantly pushing the maximum stress level envelope higher in more controlled situations. Seen by many as detached and aloof, yet others as patronizing, condescending and obnoxious when they get caught in one of his peanut gallery cross-fires. When he is in his Half-Assed Mode, he speaks rapidly conveying complex trains of thought in to an endless loudly modulated banter of polyphonic noise and audio sound effects, then later, silent, listening, pondering, relying in close conversation to eloquent, carefully crafted thoughts devoid of invective or colloquialisms. Often if a party is louder, trying to think up a pun or gag that could show up the one being told. It was an ok place to be according to a hiker who was helped by Blanteev on long summer Sierra trip once, "When he saved me endless days of hiking hassle by replacing my broken hip buckle strap with one from his repair kit I would of liked to have been on an expedition with only Vincentoli's, but there is only one Vincentoli, and then there are the Scotts!"

That year, it was the 2001-2002 return to Mt. Abraham expedition I recall, I was approaching Camp II and saw a client and with guide Jim Fife resting in the camp, relaxing after refusing to undertake a second summit attempt by HAE, which was now a done deal. Given what happened with Fife earlier in the day, when the climb was delayed trying to find a pair of ice crampons for him, to no avail, we were shorthanded on December 30th, and still all the supplies needed to be packed and moved from Camp II up to a Camp III located near the base of the climb, far enough away from the back of the cabin to avoid feces planted by summer hikers. There our supplies could be staged for a push to the Appalachian trail beyond the southern summit, leading to the larger summits of the Saddleback-Sugerloaf Massif in the north. Along the route I passed members of the crew carrying heavy loaded packs. Like me it was their plan to spend the night at Camp III, an then the next day, they would ferry the remaining supplies from Camp II to Camp III that required to establish it for the clients.

Climbing in the sleet streaked grey, Blanteev was not thankful for the warm temperature inversion. As they moved higher, the temperature was increasing, they would not have a chance to climb in anything but a full storm pounded mountian. The cold to turn this sleet to snow, the cold coming to freeze your soaked equipment and consolidate the soft snow may have been on the way, but with no way of knowing, they would wait, and continue to discuss their tenuous climb upward. Finally, they decided that the best course of action was to set up the portable shelters and camp. With happy hour going, Blanteev calculated, their spirts would be higher than just standing around getting stormed on. They backtracked a short distance, to the soft-wood border, and stomped about 100 feet off the trail into the hardwood forest. There, near a clear stream, they went to work building the shelters of Camp III.

Sharing the tent with Jim Fife was Rex Waters, who was growing increasingly dismayed at the way half-Assed Expeditions was being managed, where logging on was more important than logging firewood. He wanted to summit, and was never going to get there at the speed things were moving. He was particularly confused as to why the summit climb would take place before moving the supplies from Camp II to Camp III, that he was not going to be able to spend the night up at Camp III in order to maintain his critical HAE acclimatization routines.

Like me, Rex kicked back for a few hours before dinner, and as it started to get dark, he changed over from his hiking to his "happy hour" setup, and I got out the down jacket. Around the campfire there was much discussion about the total lack of progress along this route. And because Camp III had yet to be established, we devised a compromise plan that would allow clients to return in a following years trip. That way we could advance toward the Saddleback Mountain chain by circumnavigating the Abraham climb, approaching from the north-westerly route where the Appalachian Trail crossed a major surface road.

That night the storm rolled on, bringing with a heavy cover of clouds spewing all forms of precipitation imaginable at 28 oF, and plenty of fierce wind gusts worse than suffered through a few nights earlier. In the morning at first light, the required supplies were loaded up, leaving most of the backpacking equipment, and the portable shelters at the stream side Camp III site. After breakfast, the duo decided that they could return for equipment, if a Camp IV needed to be established as soon as possible. However Novak had told Blanteev that in this situation it was best to catch up with the work needed to move the camp, then, at their own speed hike up the trail and arrive at the base of the summit climb and possible Camp IV in time for lunch.

I started up slowly, carrying in my pack my hiking equipment and snowshoes. As I reached the base of the steep summit ascent and went to adjust my snow parka, the weather, which had been already been just awful, had now moved in so fiercely around us that we were unsure if we were actually continuing to move forward. As I advanced several steps and went to clip in my snowshoes, I realized I had made a mistake that morning by not changing out of my "Bigelow Boots," and I was upset at having made such a half-assed blunder. I was not in a dangerous situation because of the previously packed trail, but in a not-so-good place. The traction I had with my foam soles on the soft snow was not good. I backtracked, unwillingly, as the climb had brought us within striking distance of the summit, deliberately placing my feet in the difficult downward retreat.
I was concerned with the teams abandonment of attacking the summit climb from Camp III, because we were already behind on the acclimatization routine and we'd yet to even have happy hour yet, but it was not within my power to order the team to attempt a second excursion that day. Only Novak, who had by now already logged off, or Markus could give that kind of order, and they instead had been the ones who insisted that the hike proceed immediately regardless of changing weather in the first place. Frustrated with this reversal, I continued back to camp, and as if endorsing the half-assed decision, the weather turned from awful to even more awful with a constantly howling wind driving small hailstones painfully into exposed flesh. Heading for my brown Eureka tent I threw in my pack in resignation, I had set it up right where we had left our backpacks yesterday, there at the terminus of our streamside trail. Shivering from the rapid drop in temperature and feeling like a gomer because of the mistake of my boots, I was disgusted at not even making it to the face of Abraham. In less that 3 hours from my turnaround, I was in my tent, where I was joined briefly by Mark who had a thermos full of hot toddies and a Haebar. Afterwards, he too, had dinner, and then left for his survival system, due to the elements, to survive a night of the ice storm roaring all around us.

Meanwhile, more than a few readers were becoming increasingly restless, frustrated by the endless delays. Frustrated with delays the crew wrongfully blamed on Y2K. Frustrated with the delays that Blanteev and Markus were now experiencing on the side of Abraham, the delays due to heavy traffic at the HAE website, and the seeming total lack of focus exhibited by an HAE crew. One of the readers, who used an anonymous handle in the chat room, said that on several occasions when following along with the adventures of HAE they would blog out loud about the situations. The e-mails "would raise comments about the fact that Tim, Fife, Markus, and Blanteev didn't ever seem to be pay attention to details during an HAE expedition. Tim or JB would go zipping by everybody like they were racing each other between camps, or they would hang out at the watering hole shooting the breeze and firing up a haebar." The so called, "Winter Wilderness Expedition Experts," as one of the clients so emphatically recalled of the HAE glossy brochure, was definitely not making a good impression.

Chapter 11, Toward the Rush... CLICK

Copyright 2004 John Bellantoni