Half Ass Expedition Guide
As the sun settled behind Abraham and the temperatures dropped in the last hours of the day, the tired hikers pull out the extra clothing. Hours earlier it had been short sleeve under parka weather; now the half-ass crew were contorting themselves like yoga teachers, stuffing themselves into goose down jackets and warm hats, preparing for the evening, and for some good camping too.
From this point there would be no more overnights at the Advanced Base 1 camp. Most of the gear will be packed at the end of evening camp, though some equipment in survival kit bags, a depository that the hikers use to keep camp well supplied, remained in operation. By now only the emergency shelter systems would be occupied.
In the evening, as the hikers prepared a dinner of hamburger helper in the camp cook area, formed by hastily slamming three good sized logs in snow. Mark and I gathered around the gas stove, hungry, and satisfied with the day's exploration. Everyone had a "white trash" look going, dressed in wool with big sorrel boots. Mark Neirmeyer, with whom I felt comfortable to make bad jokes because we knew each other from earlier days, showed up at the stove area with absolutely not one piece of new equipment, and I greeted him with, "Hae, a Hot Toddie?" As my English ain't so great after a few of these I just suddenly pour a fair sized portion of the 151 Rum bottle right into his hot apple cider drink when he not looking. I'm laughing my ass off.
Seeing how everyone is in a good mood and that were all feeling partied out, I turned to Mark and asked, "What's the plan for tomorrow?" He laughed as we all know that no shop talk would be allowed at this hour, so I said we should consider bailing if the corn snow currently bouncing off our shelters turned to rain. Niermeyer countered with a proposal to get up early and head for the cabin, using it to survive in case of rain.
Blanteev and Neirmeyer discussed the ideas for some time longer, the plan was to get up early in the morning if it was raining so they could return to the cabin site in time for lunch rest, pack for a day excursion and then depart to cut open as much summit trail as possible.
With all our crew members we constantly discuss the necessity of proper acclimation, and we reminded to monitor carefully the state of all equipment deployed in the icestorm, being constantly aware that at high storm levels dripping water heard in an increasingly hypothermic state are all too familiar. We could do only our jobs as hikers, but then only we would know the real truth. An the real truth is that you always carry a rain parka and tarp when hiking in Maine.
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.
After maybe about 30 minutes on this new route I noticed something rather odd ahead, a dark mass contrasting itself from the surrounding white background. At first I thought it was a lumber machine that had been abandoned by one of them union truck driving dudes, but as I moved closer, I noticed a piece of destroyed sofa couch stuck in the rubble, and to there attached a big piece of mountain looking trash. Immediately there were some questions about this. What tragedy had befallen this sticked trash? I could only guess about some local yahoos who had several years earlier been caught burning down the woods, who's trash had finally reached it's resting place, finally finding equilibrium.
Blanteev pulled off his pack and stood around, looking over the collapsed barn wreckage in front of him, unaware that other New Englanders, mostly antique dealers, would envy such a discovery.
I remembered from school stories about a custom of the locals. After a humungus party, sometime after they hit the dance floor with abandonment, the audio is rerouted to the organizer, and he reminded everyone that the beer has run out. In a sober moment they now understand the price of partying all night, and everybody immediately splits for nearby 24 hour dinners.
Had either of these two hae hikers honestly evaluated their preparation for the climbing opportunity before them? Just a few days before, thank to decades of backpacking experiences and finely tuned documentation, we had been enjoying a standard of living that a pan-handler would consider luxurious. By whatever means we had used to get to this point, we were a privileged lot, but feeling rather sketchy about our sketchy existance. In a few days, if all went well, we would be climbing steeply, on our way to the summit. Climbing above the winter timberline, where any half-assed screw-up is amplified in the storm raked tundra, where a gust of wind could be the difference between life and death, no amount expensive outdoor equipment is sufficient to guarantee success.
That is not to say that each of us had our own ambition to reach the summit, to negotiate obstacles and to do something many would considered to be radical. But maybe I thought, the price of winter backpacking had been compromised lately with a willingness to pay big bucks for fancy outdoor equipment, but the price for physical preparation is usually too high. As the years hiking in easy summer conditions develop the body and spirit of a seasoned trekker, that feeling of accomplishment I have found insufficinet for winter conditions. If not has life on the planet, when discussing adventuring out in the woods, been forever changed by the use of booze, the internal combustion engine, and the proliferation of roadside services, then yet have these changes at least allowed the marginally challenged partier to climb higher and higher?
Blanteev had contemplated this impact theme in his own mind once, during the middle of a jet fuel powered transition day, looking out the window and everywhere assessing the scene. Below a metropolis of human activity that has taken it's toll on an amazingly fragile infrastructure. One his internet links that show, with unequivocal proof, that the planet earth is really taking a beating. A tremendous second derivative in the species extinction rate. A obvious first derivative in the global recorded temperatures. An increase in the complete scouring of the planet for natural resources, the humanlike apes who inhabit such space acting, in most circumstances, acting like little more than a plague of locusts upon a Kansas corn field.
Specifically here locally, in suburban anywheresville where an ordinary boneheads like US live, the locals drive around in internal combustion engine powered vehicles. Big fat internal combustions vehicles, brought to you by big money and big special interests. A political analyst would mutter something about powerful well funded lobbyists shaping a consumptive, and thus profitable, policy within a weak political body, such as, say, all the US Congressional Houses held since the national highway defence act of 1934. Standing on the side of a road, splattered with mud from a passing high speed vehicle my thinking finally coalesces. The automobile has destroyed life on the planet as any one would have known it. Our capitalistic system of checks and balances has had a complete negative effect on the very thing that was completely unknown to the original writers. The transportation infrastructure. And the environment. It has decayed our urban inner cities, destroyed habitat by promoting urban sprawl generating zoning ordinances. Extinction of species. Uncontrolled population growth spewing out astronomical amounts of pollutants. Complete destruction of habitat that can be summed up in one unchallengeable concept: A 6 billion and growing population in the process of completely stripping the planet of all natural resources, fueling unsustainable growth. Realize as that, while standing lost in a frozen wasteland of the northern wilderness, feeling the elements bringing about a hasty conclusion, so does the earth know the strangle hold that has been wrapped around it's girth.
I remembered a protest once, while trying to use my papers to cross several borders zones infested with internal conflicts. Some special interest hot air bags were protesting the use of emulsified fu-fu animal by-products, purchased and then worn by those insensitive airheads who would wear such an hide of previously touted, and also undoubtedly nearly extinct, if not tied down in hard, animal factory produced dead burnt animal pieces they were enjoying. Yet I open up their newspapers and read in a headlined story that their American automobile has now killed more than 5 million people worldwide since its inception, the early 20th century, at least 2 million of them within their own borders.
In little more than a few hundred yards after we encountered the ruins, we found ourselves at a long hill marking the start of the forest drip zone. Without crampons, snowshoes were used exclusively. The trail through the softwood was going to get increasingly nasty with tree rain and ice chunks pounding the team. It was none the less, still somewhat intact from our previous days snoeshow work. I said I would prefer to continue upon the trail and work at putting in some more of the route that was needed to get us out of the driving sleet storm.