the Clamb, anus clenching adventure
continued...

Vincentoli Blanteev
Half Ass Expedition Guide

and G. Mount Da Gomerly


CHAPTER 13

THE LAST HOT TODDY


Our descent is easy, for first ten minutes. Then difficult switchback section is below us and our progress slows. We try and discern the trail. 'Is that it,' one of us would say, 'No, over here, wait what's that, over there?' A step at a time, forward, then back, maybe left, or right. The stretches into the wind are brutal. Finally the timberline is ahead, offset in darkness compared to blacked sky. As the trees suddenly surround us, I feel relieved like Luke Skywalker, in hail of fire, diving under closing blast door at very last second.

descent
Niermeyer looks for the trail. (photo © Vincetoli Blanteev)

That evening and into the night, the duo hiked and marched downward, hiking by braille, the snowshoe cut snow their only guide in the darkness. Neither said much, both suffering in their own way, getting the dam job done. Thinking only of the camp stove and firewood waiting for them at the end of this hike, sometimes slipping on a steep sections, grabbing brush, they descended in a hail of chuffed snow, staying at it regardless of the blistering feet and aching muscles. It wasn't much firewood, they both knew, thanks to summer hikers none was available by the camp, and they had been dragging it in from increasingly farther distances, only to have the hungry fire gobble it up. But it would have to do. Exhausted, they step out onto the plateau formed by the beaver pond, and stop to rest for a moment. A known landmark, they now knew exactly what is was going to take to complete the day. A soft smile tiredly forms across a wind-blasted face, for a moment, as they find and finish a piece of haebar that somehow had managed to survive the summit. Moving on, determined now, they finished the last hour in hypnotic pained sleepwalking fashion, walking into a pitch black camp.

The crew fall about the place in frenzied activity, the camp fire is started, finally yielding a brief respite from the sub-zero temperatures. They cook and eat as fast as they can, there is not going to be any happy hour tonight, and as the last wood is tossed on, both know the gig is up, because neither has any strength left to get more. Shattered and totally spent, they dive for their survival sleeping systems, and camp is closed, with nobody moving until late the next morning.

Blanteev awakes to quiet. The winds have subsided, and it's a crackling -20 below. He doesn't want out get out of his bag, which is barely keeping him alive. This is absolutely the worst, trying to get out of a sleeping bag under these conditions. You just lie there hoping you don't have to take a dump. But you do. You are shivering. Crack the bag open a hair and an ice-cold air draft shakes you down to your very core. You wonder how the hell you are ever going get out of this bag. There is no firewood out there. We have been out here since the beginning of the week and we still have how many more nights of this? No freaking way! Looking out beyond the bag, the tent seems illuminated. It's the sun! I'll wait a bit for it to warm up. Yah right, sure it will. Finally, you psych yourself out, it has to be done, puffing yourself up, moving like a prize fighter heading toward the ring, you emerge, pulling clothes on. "ARRRGGGARMPH! It is fuuuckiinn coold, holy mudder fucking shit!" you yell as you start stomping around. Camp is on for the day!

That day, around the campfire the crew talks about what they should do. There is no talk of a second attempt. Both are still tweaked from the previous days journey, and are constantly working hard for survival. The water hole is solid frozen up, and Blanteev had purposely forgotten his machete, thinking he could go without it. That would make short work of the ice. Instead they are still using the shovel they found of the side of shelter. It takes them significant effort, taking turns, to chop any ice with that tool. The water under tastes a bit like there is an outhouse above, which there is. There was no firewood within a country mile of the shelter, it takes endless effort to drag it in from afar. Way afar. There is no hiking on the agenda, so the crew is camping HAE style. The fire is still going, happy hour is on, and the guys are working it, enjoying as best they can during one hell of a cold day in Maine.

I am in Maine, surrounded by wood, but there is none to burn. So we go up the hill behind us looking for more. Increasingly, I am getting tired of dragging firewood from what feels like all the way from T2 R3 TWP down to our camp at T1 R3 TWP. Binginham may of purchased half of Maine once, but right now we couldn't buy a piece of Maine firewood if our life depended on it.

The sun was out for a bit during day, at lunchtime when I check thermometer on post, it reads a balmy +4 oF. But as afternoon turns to happy hour, it clouds up, gets dark fast. The wind starts, and mercury in thermometer starts shrinking faster than dick after ho gives knob job.


That night, after dinner, the team is practically sitting right on top of the fire, with a haebar, and although they don't know it yet, sipping on what turns out to be their last hot toddy. They have been in the winter wood for what seems to have been an eternity. The grueling Saddleback summit climb seems a long time ago now, as the crew clings to life on a frozen wind swept mountain side. It has been an endless spiral of cutting, burning, shivering and consuming to stay warm since they hiked off that mountain. How may nights have they managed to survive, how may more did they have to go, Blanteev's brain was too frozen cold to know. "I think it's gonna be a real cold one tonight," Mark says, his quiet demeanor perfect for an understatement. Blanteev nods, knowing full well they are in for one hell of a rough night.

As he hurriedly climbs into his survival tent and in a panic tries to get into his bag, Blanteev is beginning to realize how brutal this night is going to be. The fight for survival has been so difficult that critical tasks have gone undone. Either because he was too preoccupied with other matters, or he figured the weather would not have allowed it, his sleeping bag has gone without hanging up to dry during the day. Blanteev can't figure out why he missed that, he prides himself in making sure half-assed things like that don't happen, but it has and it is half-ass fucked up. Probably wouldn't have dried out in the conditions anyway he figures, becoming, for the moment, a rationalizationist in the truest Novakian sense. But he now is in his bag and shivering, in the process having lost nearly all the heat that he had fought so hard for all day around the fire to keep. The sleeping bag is wet from his body vapor, and it's older than a pair of criss-crossed wooden snowshoes hanging on a ski lodge wall. He first put it into service in the '70s, when he had saved up from lawn cutting jobs to buy it. But guess what, it's now 1998, and there are more down feathers in serving of Peking Duck from the take-out joint than what's left in that bag. His feet are numb, in his haste he had stuck his feet into his down boots with perspiration soaked wool socks, and now the constriction of those hiking socks was cutting of blood flow. But he dared not hand warm them because as anyone who has used a mummy bag knows, you have to crack it open quite a it before being able to reach your feet. And all of sudden he realized that his long underwear waistband was too tight. "Son of a bitch my fucking underwear is too tight!," he cries out, now completely obsessed. His entire lower extremities feels instantly colder. It is as if a large cable tie-wrap had been clinched around his waist, and powerful dog had the loose end in his jaws, feet planted, tugging at it like a rawhide toy from the Pet Superstore.

His lack of attention paid to his $65 dollar Eureka pup tent, from the same age as his bag, does not help the situation either. The wind is howling, and the tent is now a true nightmare. Every night moisture condenses on the side walls. It then precipitates, sending a shower of icy snow crystals down onto him as the wind hits it. For that reason, every day, Blanteev pulls the tent and laboriously knocks the frost off it, turning it inside out and back several times in the process. It's a huge, tiring amount of cold work, with frost coating him, so a fire or hiking is needed to warm back up. When the tent starts out a night frost free, a good sleep can be had. Works fine enough for a hike-camp-hike-camp scenario, but the guys have been camped in the same spot for days. Blanteev has neglected to perform the needed service. The ice has built up to the point that big chunks are loudly hitting him in the face and bag. It's snowing so much inside the tent that if a ski lift operator could figure out how to harness it, he could keep his slopes open until mid-July.

And he is just plain worn out from days of sub-zero survival.

That night Blanteev freezes his fucking ass off more than he ever has or ever will. Not since his night in a cotton bag on the side of Mt. Monadnock, back when he was a teenager, has he ever experienced anything like it. He wondered just what the fuck he was thinking, why he ever thought he could show up in the Maine with such crappy stuff. It was well above zero last year, so shouldn't his equipment be good enough for this year too. Buzzer. That's wrong. He had done plenty of sub-zero nights in the years before that, and this equipment worked, what's wrong with assuming that this year his stuff will work again? Buzzer, even louder. Wrong again, gomer.

As he lay there, shivering and shaking, Blanteev vows that if ever gets out of this mess, if he lives, he will change, he will be a better person. He promises himself never to despise and make fun of the 6 billion other idiots on the planet ever again, because he has got to be dumber than all of them combined to be in this situation. Blanteev vows to dedicate his life to helping other less fortunate than him, to know and understand the Almighty, vows to be reverent, never using his name in vain again. He vows that if can just survive this night, that he would be nice to everybody, no matter what, he vows to never to make fun of homeless people burning trash again, and always help them out whenever he can. Suddenly a pulsating white light fills his tent, his pathetic sleeping bag, blinding him even though his eyes are closed and covered. He feels levitated on a thick thermorest mattress, wrapped in a warm bag. I must be delirious, imagining things by now, he incoherently thinks to himself. Suddenly, "Blanteev!," a voice booms out, "if you do these things you vow, and study my book instead of Scientific American, then you will be spared!" Blanteev has his hands clasped together, wild with fear, speechless, begging, his head shaking in shivering affirmation. “Yes... yes...I ... am... freezing... my... ass... off!” He is now experiencing the true depth of Frodo's deathly ordeal that night on the top of Mt Bigelow. For Blanteev knows that for many years after that fateful trip, Frodo was born again, turning to a life of devotion. But Frodo must of had it easier though, Blanteev could still reason, for at least Frodo had been smart enough to purchase a new sleeping bag the day before that Bigelow expedition started. And more and more, he began to question his reasons, his very core motivations for hiking with HAE.

I say to myself; "I am successful gentleman of impeccable education, proven athletic talent and well-respected professional career. I could have anything. Anything. I could be sitting on a tropical beach right now, attended by a bikini clad-less beauty. At the museum in Versalies, studying World War II history, or in Cancun, living the good life. I could be writing a scientific article about my research in microwave engineering. Playing my grand piano for swooning women, dining at the Ritz. Why the dar-gone mother fucker do I chose this path? Why am I on the side of a Mountain? How come I am here? In Maine? In fucking January, freezing my fucking ass off? Why do I chose this life of hardship and suffering? Why JB, you dumb-assed frozen stiff gomer. Why...why...WHY?

It was if the very molecules in his body had become frozen in place, while snow and air restlessly spined all around in constant motion. Frozen to the core, by early morning before dawn, the very coldest part of the night, he is absolutely desperate. He closes off the sleeping bag vent completely and starts breathing into the bag. His mind spins endlessly in a closed loop: Is it light out yet, no, dam! Is it light out yet, no, shit! Is it light out yet..... His bodies muscles constantly flexing and shivering, desperately trying to generate some heat. Controlled when he first entered his tent, now he was shivering uncontrollably. Passing in and out of consciousness, endless time seems to crawl to an infinite stop.

What...it's only been ten minutes? Ten minutes since I last checked!?! Only ten friggin' minutes?...no...please...no....

Dawn arises, slow and bleak gray. Trees boom in the cold. Neither hiker wants anything to do with pulling themselves out of their survival systems. Somehow they do, it takes real Yankee grit. Blanteev has had the roughest night that he can recall in a long time, like since the night before, and every other night they have spent on this Saddleback expedition. Mark, emerging from his sleeping system, is looked rather tweaked too. Having a discussion as to what the plan is, they down some hot fluids and hurriedly start packing. They are scheduled to have one more night. They have enough food, fuel, party materials. It's not going to happen.

The decision is to bail. If they were going to stay, they would have to hike up to the plateau before the pitched climb. There is plenty of firewood there, on the only other piece of flat ground for miles, save the one they are on now. But certainly no flowing water. Neither hiker wants any part of that itinerary, however hanging out at this camp one more night is no option. Everything aches. Their feet are blistered, faces lashed for days with frozen moisture and cold wind. Arms and body hurting from endless lumbering, chopping. Blanteev is fatigued from head to toe, moving real slow, but now in better spirits after the team lights up the stove and makes some hot water. Packs done, they start moving, the haebar will have to wait until they get to the car. A noticeable sense of urgency is in their step. They pass the thermometer as they head out, it's somewhere below zero, but they are not stopping to check it's precise value.


As we finally walk tiredly out from the sub-zero winter wood, I stop. Mark does not notice, his path inextricably tied up with the road toward home, the warmth of an automobile heater, fast food. Turning around to face the mountain behind us, my pack falls with a soft thump into the wind blown snow pack. For a moment I stand, alone, meshed into a seemly endless expanse of ice cold wilderness. I am tired to the bone, humbled beyond imagination. All the great ones are dead I think to myself. Gone. Left on a mountain, somewhere. Antatoli Boukreev, one of the greatest climbers ever in my mind, buried in an avalanche of snow while guiding trekkers. Gomers I would guess, on the relatively easy, lower slopes of the Himalaya. Yet we are not so great here at HAE, are we, nor gomers either, and so once again, on middle ground, we walk out and live to tell a tale of winter survival. While the others rest. Forever.

I can only think of the enormity of Nature, it's power, and it's wrath. Nature cares not for my individuality, this epic trip to the Great White North has shown me. It cares only for it's own design, and in the fragility of individual life, it seems to be in such callous disregard. The numbers game is the only thing it plays with, using it to preserve itself in perpetuity, and the billions of human life forms wandering the planet in untold misery is testimony to that single-minded formulation. Nature pays scant attention to the individual, whether that be plant, insect, or mammal. It only cares about the immortality of it's gnome, while all others will be sacrificed. The winter wood has humbled me once again, shown me just how fragile, how tenuously, life clings to the surface of this planet, just how intent Nature is on perpetuating it's proteins by endlessly burning through untold numbers of life forms. Is that the only way it knows? I wonder. Tiredly I slowly shoulder my pack, and feebly attempt to trudge on after Markus, but I am frozen.

All that has been, and all that will be, suddenly seems to overload my thoughts. I am at once a piece of the oldest known material on earth, the Canadian Shield, billions of years old, and yet, simultaneously, a pi-meson, a fleeting particle with a lifetime measured in femto-seconds. Maybe one day, some day, the pigeons will come home to roost, I think. For the entropy that drives this universe, the life on this planet, the ever increasing number of known states, will some day over-power, and Nature too, like myself now, will be humbled. The universe is billions of years old, from the big bang, a relative youngster, the constant change of matter into energy fueling everything we see in front of us. The infinite snowflakes surrounding about me, the fire at base camp, that gallon of gas in the car. But the sun will be gone, dissipated by the relentless march of entropy, in a short 10^25 to 10^30 years. In 10^67 to 10^100 years, as entropy breaks down the nuclei of all atoms, all that is matter, into elemental particles, weak and strong nuclear forces disassociating into emptiness, the power in Nature will be silenced, reduced to little more than a faint cosmic background radiation. Nature as we know it today utterly destroyed, being pulled apart by the randomness of the age old universe.

Raising my arm feebly toward the mountain range rising behind me I point, unstably, toward the Northern Summit. "Checkmate, you fucker!" My horse voice is quietly lost in the frozen land. My arm drops, unable to sustain the angle.

I hear the sound of a snowshoe, Mark has back-tracked. "Come on JB we need to keep moving." I struggle forward, toward the AT parking lot. We must leave, but HAE will be back in the wilderness next year, and in the years after that, momentarily defying the forces of Nature, if maybe only temporarily, on our own terms.


On the road through a quaint Maine town there is small traffic jam caused by an old lady trying to start her car, stalled in the middle of the road. "Friggin Jeezus Cripes, move it yah stupid-assed one tooth wonder... get that stinking tin can out of my friggin' way yah bimbo! Blanteev is yelling out the window as he illegally crosses the yellow line and, flipping the bird, blasts around the stack up. Finally they get to the Burger King. Ignoring the desperate and ragged soul at the entrance begging for food money, Blanteev heads right to the counter, ordering a double whopper with cheese.



Chapter 14, The Rescue... CLICK


Copyright 2004 John Bellantoni