Half Ass Expedition Guide
THE WAY TO ABRAHAM
Every year there is a gathering of the HAE hikers deep in the heart of Mass gomer land, and as Blanteev flew from SFO to Logan, arriving on December 23, his thinking was lost out a jet window. For Blanteev, doing the shuttle out of the big dig into the Framingham-Natick area was mixed thoughts. Looking forward to seeing family, friends, and as the beginning of this years adventures, but over the years Blanteev has seen the place turned into a totally mega-urban sprawl auto-dominanted culture, and with that massive infrastructure are problems.
In any metro area, Boston area included, the industrial revolution, explosive population growth and the internal combustion engine vehicle has destroyed the ecological balance of the planet. Nothing that 100 million years won't fix, but in the meantime it's pathetically obvious that the planet is getting poisoned while being picked clean of natural resources and biodiversity. The air is polluted with a complex suspension including local and distributed exhaust from tons of fossil fuel combustion. Of varying quality, auto, diesel, airplane fuels, incinerators and industrial sources, a tremendous rate of combustion due to human activity is highly suspected of contributing to increases in global temperature data. Heavy metals and radiation are being dispersed into the environment, ozone holes are increasing, and the water often has serious quality issues. Also, a scatter of e-coli bacteria found in some fast food restaurants can lead to gastrointestinal complications. On top of that, with the holiday partys in full dazed-over season, the local maladies, like varieties of a the rather contagious bottleinfluenza, starts making an appearance, along with all those other skanky airborne diseases that get spewed into the atmosphere by the hackougheeze crowd. Contracting any of these debilitating conditions is not good news for a hiker, that can seriously impact one's potential, so for those who drive to Maine to climb Bigelow, one of the first challenges is to leave town in good health.
Shortly after arriving in Natick, Blanteev met with Novak to arrange for the delivery of some beer he was supposedly providing, as best JB could figure from an earlier phone conversation, for the Half-Assed Expedition, but to Tim's chagrin he forgot that JB forgot that he was now in puritanical Massachusetts, so no beer was going to be delivered. It was Sunday and everybody in town knows one can't purchase booze in Massachusetts on Sunday! The only play would be to drive to NH and load it onto a truck, and from there go check out to see if that local cool rock-head shop over in Nashua was still around next to that fireworks place before jetting back to Mass with the bounty. But according to Tim "Taking a truck like that across the border and your likely to get halted [in Mass] by the Staties, and if you go claiming that you ain't got nothing to do with the cargo, because the items in the truck belong to somebody else, and didn't have the proper licensed vehicle papers, they're gonna take them items out of the vehicle....then leaving it all together, haul yah sorry-ass off to the can."
All Tim knew was that the booze for this expedition was likely found by parking just over a New Hampshire border crossing. He had been promised, he said, that this years trip would proceed any day, someday, but not on a known day. Undoubtably due to that exact type of scenario, HAE was counting on NH state packies to be open seven days a week. Blanteev was not sympathetic to Tim's problem. Beer was supposed to be something that could be picked up at the corner store! Logistical snafus that wouldn't go away. They would get worse.
Tim reassured Blanteev. He ordered a pizza and waited for delivery. In the worst case with language barriers requiring interpretation he pointed out that hikers carry whiskey and rum because beer was too heavy. He was willing to give him his own supply of hot toddy ingredients, but Blanteev wasn't buying it "It usually takes a while for every drop of beer to dissappear and the real booze pulled out. So starting with whiskey makes yah feel like yer already late to a party!"
On Dec 27th, Mark arrived in Natick to meet with Blanteev and Novak. Immediately he was hit with the beer news, but reassured by Tim's promise to make good and get some in short order. Then, Blanteev had to break some more bad news. The Big-Top tent the team has used for the past 8 years was still somewhere down in Novak's basement. It was supposed to have been found and inspected by Blanteev after flying in from SF, but after a delayed flight, Blanteev ignored the task. The Half-Assed expedition was supposed to start in only a couple days!
That night Tim invited me to dinner over his place, and we were joined by Markus. Between the two of us it going to be double duty when functioning as our own Base Camp gophers responsible for portering all kitchen supplies and coordinating all general operations. Niermeyer and Blanteev were going to be doing the high-attitude shleping as usual too, working and climbing with all the needed equipment at the same time we make our bid for the summit.
Blanteev was pleased that the Big-Top tent was not going on this years expedition. Leaving Big-Top out meant more of a return to streamlined HAE survival hiking styles of old, disguised with newer equipment. But he had to keep his sense of humor over the news that neither Tim or Fife were climbing this year, when the half-assed action that inevitably develop descended upon the expedition, the team would be woefully understaffed.
Over pizza and beers we discussed the outstanding problems of booze and the missing Big-Top tent and divided up responsibilities for making sure that all the necessary materials would make it to Base Camp. I needed to buy some extra polypropylene underwear. Markus was given the responsibility of the packie supplies and getting them in the Accura when were were scheduled to drive with backpacks to Kingfield(980 ft) were we would porter them and yak all the way while hiking to the Half-Assed Base Camp.
Quickly, I was able to do my jobs, an then I has some spare time before I was to depart. I spent most of my days with family and friends from Boston: a house guest with my Mom, and also went skateluging with Novak and Jack Barter, a skateluge pilot who looked like he was riding under contract with ASRA. I think this pastime, flying down on a skateluge, is as dangerous as being a high-altitude guide, and I have great admiration for it.
Blanteev's time with Boston friends was a way to stay in touch with home and the yankee twang. For at least three weeks, in town, at the Half-Assed Base Camp and going up and back from the mountain, he would live and hike almost exclusively in the company of yankees for whom English would be the linguah factah. He'd been out of practice with his yankee for the past few years had had come a long way from his east coast days on expeditions to New Hampshire and Vermont, when he relied mostly on hand signals and the fundamentals of fuck and shit. Still, subtleties of being joked at, gossip, and trash talking were often lost on him. But as he once told a friend, "I think it naht so necessahry that a hikah climbs good, but that he can pahty good!" As the expedition wore on, he would see that fundamental precept of HAE called into question.
The night before Markus and I were to leave Framingham for Abraham, I had pizza and beers with Tim again, and this time we were joined by Scott Terasi, who had been doing some skateluging over in Westborough, arriving just after the pizza dude drove away. He wanted to know why I hadn't shown up before, in the morning at our favorite secret Westbourgh speedway. Frankly I did remember saying something vague about luging later when out lugeing earlier a few days ago. I didn't want to not be offensive, so I pretended that I didn't remember. Scott, who was listening to all this, knew I wasn't telling the truth, he smiled broadly and said to me loudly, "Blahntoeni, you are definitely full ah' shit!" I think he thought it impossible that someone could possibly forget about going 'luging.
Excusing myself and leaving Tim and Scott to finish an esoteric discussion on technical aspects of 'luging, I headed back to Mom's to make ready for my departure for Abraham the next day, because Mark had wanted to get up there as soon as possible and get all the work done in preparing our Base Camp and to coordinate efforts for getting higher camps.
Just after 7am on December 29th, Blanteev and Mark, driving a Japanese Acurra expedition vehicle, took on Half-Assed backpacks and drove off. For the passengers: no coffee, no doughnuts, no brews, no emergency stash, just some modern rock on the radio to breakup dulling monotones of the snowbanked roadway. In less than an hour, after dodging gathering weather and hunting through increasing rush hour traffic, the team located fast food and put down a big meal of greasy sausage eggs with hash-browns and nasty coffee.
The drive had barely gotten underway again when they were stopped by a right rear flat tire. A huge suvie looking ride loaded with two-plankers had passed, the occupants waving and pointing at Mark's vehicle. Now paying attention, it was obvious the tire was tater-chiped, we descended into a roadside rest area. Here Blanteev helped remove gear and watched as Niermeyer swore up a storm and pulled from out of the trunk the most dinky looking spare tire one could imagine, and still be able to call it a wheel.
Niermeyer brought the trailer wheel. (photo © Vincetoli Blanteev)
There were still a lot of problems even further up the drive to Abraham Mountain. Snow was piled up everywhere from an earlier storm. Expedition and Yugo drivers alike were taking it easy until the lanes cleared up, slowing up the drive and catching the team in the far left lane as the exit for the first NH packie was blocked in the right lane by 40 MPH lightfoots.
The drive to Maine, weather permitting, I planned to make in five hours, a shorter time than would normally be required, because I rigorously drive at high speed. In California, I had been doing two 90 mile per hour speed commutes in a week; in the past year I had spent about five months in traffic and piloted three long trips, including driving back from a Mt. Shasta climb. Had I not spent so much time driving at high speed in the previous months, I would have allowed ten to twelve hours, the number of hours it has taken with Fife driving in blinding snow blizzard conditions.
Finally, around two in the afternoon, Blanteev was able to step out of the vehicle onto packed snowmobile trail. The team had made it to Kingfield, descending to a Kennebec River tributary just north of town and from there ascending toward the Mt. Abraham trail head. It was grueling workout for most travelers, and Blanteev arrived tired, but without feeling any lasting effects from the cramped automobile ride he'd made from Framingham.
Now standing on the trail, I was laughing with Markus about how we could have used Frodo with the IMAMAN crew to take the team photo's back at that scenic frozen water fountain in front of the NH packie store. But the only camera available was my compact Olympus camera. Set to auto-timer mode, gomers looking to buy booze were always in the middle of the panoramic view spoiling the shot right when the timer went off. That evening I had arrived at the Abraham (1023 ft) trailhead deep in the reaches of the forested zone, and at the house in front of the trail head was able to discuss parking and idle talking briefly with the locals who lived there.
On December 29, I started gaining altitude as we hiked the snowmobile trail. Occasionally we came across snowmobile packs that had boldly ventured into the sub-zero snow and ice. It was slow and dangerous going for these teams, because often a machine would break down or sink into deep snow, the riders freezing their butts off until the machines were pulled from snow and restarted.
Blanteev spent that night right off the trail where he and Markus had thrashed out a quick camp deep in snow and heavy brush. Without a fire, unheated, the climbers gas stove and survival camping systems provided the only shelter from unsettled sub-zero weather. Later Blanteev is shocked when he pulls out an extra battery for his failing Little A light and finds out that all his spare ones are Big A's. Them Big A's were part of last years Big A light system. Woah... What is this? A very unsurvival like faux paus of unprecedented proportion, the forgetting to check the spare batteries before start... committed, despite the endless use of technologies, the pages of lists, the exhaustive notes, by an experienced HAE climber exemplifies the notion that no preparation is sufficient when the alleged items are "not on the list."
I now knew it was obvious that this was not going to be a very electric expedition. But around a kettle of backwoods hot toddies I have good laugh listening to Mark, who was talking trash 'bout getting tweaked when lots of other cars manage to pass his tilted ride during the drive up. So after a few minutes of driving easy on that 55 MPH MAX labeled special, Markus racheted it up over 80 and rallied. Rocketing up the highway he say something about how we couldn't take the trailer, so we took the trailer wheel.
On December 30, about 8am, I awoke realizing that I had arrived at the slopes of Mt. Abes to camp. We had arrived at night under difficult survival conditions. Now looking around in the early morning gray, evidence of advanced technology well beyond our meager sven saws had long since arrived ahead of our expedition. Several trees had already been tagged to guide the way for the chainsaw gang, choosing nice second growth woods now large enough to attract commercial attention. Often along with the blazes there are also huge-wheeled logging machines that bounce over thrashed woodsides like enormous alien spiders. Usually the pitching of one's tent in the moonless black is sufficient to insure that one of these machines will be started at 6 am sharp, right nearby. At one particularly prime location, the locals had spray painted enormous letters CH(for cut here) to mark a large area they wanted to claim for their saws. I had heard of this situation before leaving Framingham, and there was more joking around about the reaction that a dedicated environmentalist would have when he saw such a mess. HAE has a good reputation for concerns and care about the mountains, and everyone on the team believed that it was being done by over-zealous profiteers. Who ever had done it, I thought, HAE was now going to have a big job ahead off them to clean it up, to give the woods a heathy trim, and fire thwam-thwacker powered blazes that rejuvenate the soil.
At the site of the next Half-Assed camp the crew, sweating like they were just named Bella-Yahoo Sherpa and Losblanj Markus Sherpa by an Everest crew chief, were laborously snowshoeing in with heavy backpacks full of equipment. It was time to get to work. Our small crew started constructing platforms for tents from snowpack so that our tents would be out of pools of ice water that would form if it started raining and melting, the day warming to 25 F giving rise to that possibility.
That day and the next I threw myself into physical labor as we hiked with heavy packs uphill again toward Camp II. The days of hiking toward a summit climb on a HAE trip always seem as endless as the trail ahead to me. Each morning I would arise around 8 a.m. when the sun was supposedly hitting my tent, have some granola bars and hot coca, and immediately go to work packing up. When the foam and equipment used for our kitchen quickly disappears, it's not long before the pack is shouldered up and snowshoes are taken up for the day. Around 12:00 P.M. we would break for lunch and have Bigelow Sandwiches, chocolate and power bars. Then in the evening a large meal: hamburger helper mix with pepper, onion, and garlic, and whatever type of hot toddy that is being brewed that night. For many yuppies I think it would be considered for trash, but I had become accustomed to it in my years as student, and I've always preferred it to overpriced designer backpack meals that many outdoor equipment retailers have on the shelf. Heavy in hamburger grease and always with a lot of hot toddies, it is perfectly suited diet for the physical demands of snowshoe backpacking in the great white north.