the Clamb, anus clenching adventure
continued...

Vincentoli Blanteev
Half Ass Expedition Guide

and G. Mount Da Gomerly


CHAPTER 7

BASE CAMPS


The HAE team continues to hold base camps when first arriving in Maine. To that point the majority of the supplies necessary for HAE styled Base Camp had arrived on the backs of the hikers, their efforts are painstakingly optimized to keep Blanteev and the advance team supplied.
Progress of all the expeditions supply packs is often excruciatingly slow. On the day before arrival at a Base Camp, the hae team had departed after lunch and would quickly find themselves up to their neck in snow if a snowshoe binding failed, their fellow hikers laughing furiously at any hiker unfortunate enough to have the binding pop in front of the peanut gallery.
To kill time at hae base camps, the team has taken side trips to lesser peaks and views. From these subsidiary features from which the climbers have unobstructed and dramatic views, such as the icefalls in BIG MILES IN MAINE, or possibly first of a series of obstacles they would encounter in their effort to summit. On the sides of the snow locked mountains the climber embedded in the base camp experiences a transition from the "wonder where" to the "been there" and the simultaneous stinking and snoring that many climbers feel when they encounter the physical aspects of extended winter backpack camping trips. This is what the HAE team hikes through deep snow for.
Finally, after delays and a long drive, the HAE team makes their push toward the camp. A few hundred meters from the parking location, they picked up an easy trail that will eventually bring them to steep uphill trail. In about two hours, on a trail now being packed down by the snowmobiles, then climbing slowly away from the trail with snowshoes, the team reaches HAE Base Camp.
Working their way over the snowscape of strewn deadwood, erratics and buried waterways, stepping carefully from snowshoe to snowshoe to avoid breaking through, they find a site to camp. Pitching a tarp or tent that would be their home and finding water was a first priority. Clearing and leveling sites, establishing logging trails in what would be their home for the remainder of the expedition.

Stories of sherpas employed by Everest hikers always caught my imagination. In the morning they would be there at my tent and wake me with tea and coffee, and a cheerful "Good morning" In the tent there would always be thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, Power and Cliff Bars, chocolate chip cookies too. The fantasies were often rich, things like pizza and beer. But these musings never seemed to change reality, there are no sherpas here in Maine. There are no hot water showers, mail service nor a chair to sit down comfortably. Buried deep within your sleeping bag survival system you realize that there precious little one has beyond one's own life at the moment. It's still -20 below out and there is obviously no hot chocolate, coffees, or even a warm power bar instantly available. Services available amount to stepping outside to urinate, a maneuver that can be life threatening at sub-zero temperatures. HAE base camp is spartan affair, even a flea-bag flop house could seem luxurious in comparison.

With the total lack creature comforts, the edge is never taken off. Often times the HAE team members struggle with their adjustments to these conditions, and many of the climbers began to seriously obsess about every body function. One-base camper remarked, "People become totally self-absorbed, monitoring their snot levels, making patterns in the snow with their pee, or wondering how they will get by without draft beer all day, whether they have a big zit to pop or a hangover or not." Something as simple as gastrointestinal problems could lead to serious insanity if rancid fart gas is released within airtight sleeping bag systems.
An early concern in any HAE base camp is the possibility of developing the "Yahoo Cough,"* and according to HAE base camp regulars, "You'll be coughing your brains out. Coughing all night long so nobody's getting no peace or quiet. HAE doctors have tried treating this with anything., haebars to stop the inhalation, spiced hot rum to relax. Nothing seems to work." While other members of the team could develop some preliminary symptoms as a result of over-partying in the dismal weather, the unfortunate hiker who catches a face full of acrid campfire smoke knows the true source of the yahoo cough. Bleary eyed and wheezing, a hiker is driven insane as random shifts in the wind envelope smoke, from lousy burning backwood like smoldering hemlock, all around the hiker in an instant. Yet a couple steps back is bitter cold air. The stumbling coughing fits bounces the hiker back and forth between the two extreme environments, caught, with no rest until the fire is abandoned in favor of sleeping bag survival systems.
As there were hiker issues, there were always equipment issues, and one concern that always arises was that of the two-way radios, and the AM/FM radio. A critical item in the expedition inventory, two-way radios create a link between hikers, either on the trail, or during long drives with multiple vehicles. The broadcast radio provides a conduit of information on developing weather fronts and snow conditions. An experienced climber considers the state of his expeditions communications capabilities, as Blanteev did. A licensed extra class radio operator since his high school days, he selected high performance two-way VHF radios that weigh about 5 ozs. With a 5/8th wavelength whip antenna providing 3.25 dB gain over an isotropic radiator, the radios could reach up to a ten mile range on the highway, and several miles in rugged mountain terrain. However Fife was not so enthusiastic about the AM/FM radio selection. "These days you have these great portable radios that weigh next to nothing, they have a small speaker so that everybody can hear the weather report together. They are easy to use, a couple of buttons and a volume knob. But instead Tim pulls out a radio that the Sharper Image Catalog claims is the worlds smallest FM radio. It's about the size of a peanut, and uses one M&M; sized ear plug for the headphone. I said, 'that's the only FM radio we got?!' And he says to me, 'yepper buddie this is all I got...lookie here it even gets AM.' That radio, in my opinion, was a joke. It was a major half-assed screw-up to be going hiking with such novelty items."


One of the first priorities in Base Camp is to formalize an acclimatization plan. The demands of properly acclimatizing required that team members hang out in a base camp for at least a few days until they have adjusted to the continuous hard physical effort in severe cold weather or all the available fire wood had been stripped from the surrounding area. Then we would begin a series of climbs that would progressively push the base camp location higher and higher onto the mountain. The idea is that you gradually allow your body to adjust to the rigors of hiking straight up a mountain in deep snow with heavy backpacks, after the previous year of suburban life. On the day of the summit bid then you can make a dash right for the top without the heavy backpacks (editor note- yah right see Into Big Maine), and then retreat to a well established camp to recover from the summit bid.
The plan Tim and I have worked out called for four acclimatization "zones." Our first at the 2000 ft. level is passed upon our stumbling across some delicious tasting flowing mountain water. Nearby is where we would establish our Camp 1, but the future itinerary means we would no longer return to overnight there. On this excursion, as with every excursion, the HAE hikers carry all their personal belongings and equipment along with all the base camp equipment, in order to build strength.
On our second zone we planned to again reach the height of Camp I by undertaking a large camp construction, establishing and leveling platforms, constructing shelters and a firepit, and cutting up a big pile of firewood. Most important in this second zone is the happy hour festivities that are conducted in parallel with camp establishment work. That work if undertaken at around 2800 ft. altitude where "the last flowing water on the mountain" is usually found, our Advance Base Camp would be established.
Our hope was that after the Hot Toddies and a quick minutes rest from the work, the hikers would then be busy around the campfire in a third zone. Cooking meals, deploying sleeping bag systems and working hard to keep warm, mostly through camp crafts and techniques that keep a hiker from touching any snow give way to the hikers finally being able to kick it back around the campfire.
Before the fourth and final acclimatization zone we planned for a day of rest. The "day of rest" does means hiking, but without backpacks. For this hike we would attempt to go from the Base Camp straight up, to the summit if possible, but often to the timberline level instead. After spending the night and then somehow managing to climb out of warm bag into the bitter cold air, the hiker assess the delight in knowing that the heavy backpack, and it's associated time consuming packing and unpacking, can be forgotten for a days worth of climbing, peak bagging style. This excursion, we agreed would be mandatory for all members, because this would be the highest we would climb in our summit bid, and it was necessary that all our team members make their adjustments while traversing false peaks before subjecting themselves to the ultimate challenge.



Chapter 8, Kingfield to Camp III... CLICK


Copyright 2004 John Bellantoni