Half Ass Expedition Guide
THE CLIENT (Known as the Hiker)
Trapped away from all time in the farthest reaches of the Maine Appalachian trail is the 100 mile wilderness. This vast expanse of water and swampy boreal forest is one of the last remaining unbroken sections of primitive land that once stretched throughout the continent. Headed that way, in the winter of 1994 , is none other than Appalachian Trail legend John Layne, known on the AT as Frodo.
Frodo received an initiation into the rights of winter mountain camping as few "Clients" who have been in similar circumstances have lived to tell the tale. INTO BIG MAINE chronicled that ordeal. For the first time in his life Frodo sought help from God, begging silently for his life to be spared with a promise of devotion if he were to survive. The rigors of the Bigelow trip may of had him seeking some spiritual salvation, but the pull of the great white north was too much for caution. Frodo was now a full card carrying member of HAE. It's now the early nineties. Frodo, increasingly searching for a way to return after his inaugural HAE trip, was going to take on more of the ultimate levels of adventure in AT hiking. He was going back to the Maine winter.
Late in December he ducked out from his woodworking business in Virginia and headed northward.
Details are sketchy as to exactly how Frodo solo survived his first solo February expedition in that heavily forested area. According to Tim, who had several phone conversations with Frodo, the trip was long and arduous. With his dog accompanying him, Frodo apparently got lost some where in the Cloud Pond area. "The trek there is quite long, 6 miles at least," Frodo e-mailed JB once, "I have tried it twice by myself and didn't make it, but with five guys breaking trail it could be done" He was forced to cache food and gear during one difficult hiking day, and was not able to backtrack later to retrieve it. So now lost he hiked and hiked, finally emerging from the sub-zero wilderness days later.
Truly already a feat rated at the "absolutely unbelievable!" level by the HAE board of directors. But there is more backing Frodo 's new status among the HAE web-surfers.
In February 1995, Frodo snowshoe backpacking solo with his dog along the Maine Appalachian Trail, turned around his summit bid on an unnamed peak hidden deep within the 100 mile wilderness. He had given up the effort for the most honorable of purposes, and attempt to save the life of his dog, both were struggling and disoriented during the bushwack thru the wilderness. At one point, completely lost during the decent in a driving snowstorm, Frodo was carrying his dog. He was suffering from severely frostbitten hands and toes by now, then suddenly he lost his balance and fell. Crashing down brush in a cannon ball roll, he abruptly arrested his fall without losing anything from his pack, to find he had landed right on the Appalachian Trail! It was a textbook save, one of the greatest half-assed mountain orienteering moves of all time, and Novak, who had personally felt the cruelty and danger of the 100 mile wilderness, had nothing but the highest respect for him. As Novak characterized him, Frodo was "an incredibly strong tenacious sub-zero hiker, skilled backpacker...so, I'm really confident in his ability to climb for HAE."
Indeed Blanteev, upon hearing the tale from Novak remarked "Woah!...we have unleashed a winter survival Maineeac!" With total amazement he listened as Tim recounted what hazy details he could remember from talking with Frodo earlier in the year. "Well a declaration immediately then!," JB boomed out, "With all the power invested in the HAE board of directors, as represented here by JB and Tim, we hereby proclaim Frodo a full member of HAE, with all the rights and privileges associated therein!" Frodo had climbed under exactly the impossible odds that is so anxiously sought out by the HAE team, and forthrightly had turned back, living to tell the tale. An epic of survival confirming him as one the preeminent AT four seasoners, Frodo is now also known here in THE CLAMB as "The Hiker".
If he was going to make to the top of a winter blasted northern Maine mountain, The Hiker wanted the best advice his money could buy. When he heard that Blanteev was one of the guides with whom Half Ass Expeditions was synonymous, he made the decision to join and negotiated a price of a six-pack for his slot. "I like the way Vini operates. He doesn't bother you....much. He tells you something, he tells it straight out...Hae, Vini is himself...he's not out there trying to smooze and booze everybody." The Hiker was not looking for one of those lame-assed sherpa-fed techno-vertical excursions to the top of a Kayahootoo Himalayan death zone. He was definitely looking for something more radical and totally killer, like the incredibly diverse conditions faced by the northern new england winter hiker. To be a more rounded multi-dimensional practicing survivalist, a way of recovery for climbers totally bored with the friendly-roped-beaner scene. He knew the dangers of northern New England winter mountaineering firsthand, and he trusted Blanteev's judgment and experience "that's what I bet on when I e-mailed hae. I knew my chances of summiting were infinitely greater with Vini on the team."
Some commercial expedition leaders, according to Jim Fife of Half-Assed Expeditions, are not above suspicion for taking on squeeze margarine types, drinking their beer and smoking their haebars while all the time strongly suspecting that they didn't have a chance in Maine of making it to the top. Considering that one of the biggest rivals for a mountain is the ordinary ski lift, he's said, "That's the standard excuse," then continuing "haven't been winter hiking for two years!"
But, on the subject of Novak's decision to accept Frodo's six-pack and invite him on the expedition, Tim has been generous. "Who knows who is going go along and who is going to whimp out. You can get the best hikers sandbagging, and you'll run across gomers who are very marginal who are just totally fired-up and will bag it for sure. I've seen this shit happen all the time. I've gone climbing with someone who I kind uh figured was a gomo ham-and-egger, and he's jams up. And someone I'd pick as a real hiker jones jus' totally barfs out. This has happened... sort of like a hike I was on with Vincentoli back in the 80's. Spent some time yakking with a couple of local types....they split for the truck to trade around some haebars and booze, and Fife, someone who I thought doesn't have the speed....he get's to the summit before Vincentoli." But Novak adds, "Making all them stupid-assed calls, those calls we make in the field, those calls will kill you, it will be a half past dark by the time you leave if you just don't hang it up. You can't be wasting time dialing stupid-assed numbers. You got to get it them right. You can't be getting 'em all half-assed up!"