Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Central Gully, Mount Washington

3/17/09 Climb up Central Gully in Huntington Ravine.

I'm SAD, I am suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder! The last few weeks I have been yearning for Spring, though you would not know it's finally now spring this morning. The last week or so we really had some nice weather and after a 60 mile week on the road bike, I rode over a hundred miles on the bike the very next week, a good first start to the cycling season, I even rode one day at Mt. A on the frozen trails. My mind works in odd ways, after two long rides on 14th and 15th, I looked at the extended forecast for early in the week. It looked really nice to hit up Huntington Ravine for some Alpine climbing. My good friend Al Hospers and I have been trying to climb together for a few years and it just has not happened. We committed earlier in the year to climb this ice season and we had been exchanging emails about the very day we were going to have, blue bird, stable snow, light winds and warm temperatures.

What does this have to do with being SAD? I had nearly written off winter this year when the we hit 55 degrees and the snow started disappearing on the seacoast. But, you just can't let go can you? After all, who would pass up a beautiful day climbing in such a spectacular location. I cleared the day off in short notice, it's nice to have pre authorized "blue bird" days. Al and I met for 7:00 AM, which for me means a 3:30 wake up call and on the road for 4:15. Believe it or not, that is the hardest part. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we were hiking past the Harvard Cabin. I have been reading the Avalanche reports faithfully every day all season and the snow pack stability had improved to perfect mountaineering conditions. Having arrived at the floor of the Ravine, we had been watching climbers assemble at the base of various gullies and our options for climbs were thinning out. Al said he would be happy climbing Central Gully and I agreed and mentioned we should solo it. We ditched his rope and hiking pole at the Albert Dow rescue cache since we had also decided to descend the Escape Hatch right back to the base of the Ravine.

South and Odell gully with a load of snow on the lower scrub and rock talus.

We started hiking up the fan and got about a third of the way up and stopped to put our crampons on and take out an ice axe. There were two very serious accidents just two days before our climb and one of the guys fell right from the ice bulge in Central Gully about 800 feet to the rocks below, suffering multiple facial injuries, a broken leg, and arm. I hope he is recovering with some relative comfort. This is the problem with such good climbing conditions, it is absolutely vital that you have solid mountaineering skills and your self arrest skills turn on in a flash. Now I am not saying this mountaineer had limited experience, I am saying I was on red alert, closely paying attention to how and where I planted my feet and axe as I climbed up a beautiful snow slope.

Looking down at Sparky (me) climbing the Fan.

If you are a savy "Adventures of Sparky" reader, you remember I had been up here last November, climbing after a fresh snowfall that was just enough to cover all the rocks with a slick snow surface. This was easy climbing by comparison, all those rocks were now feet below me buried in snow. As I was climbing up, I really started tuning in. Climbing without rope, on terrain that you feel very comfortable on is bliss. I really needed to get back to this level of mental stability with my "level" of acceptable risk. The healing continues....

A very FAT first pitch of Pinnacle.

Al and I were behind a three person team of ski/mountaineers who were also climbing Central Gully. We figured they intended to ski back down, so just before the ice bulge we hung out and chatted, admiring the view and watching the climbers file into the lower Ravine and scatter to wait for their choice climbing line. After a few minutes, we started seeing small chunks of snow come down from the turns above. Then the first skier arrived at the ice bulge.

Brian Post at the top of the Ice bulge in Central Gully.

A couple of side steps down to better position himself for the "crux" and one nice swoop turn and he blasted by us churning and turning, with a hoot and a holla, eventually stopping just before the exposed rocks from the fan. Skier number two up next, Actually, I took a cool video of this guy, Jesse Billingham.

video

The Third guy, I actually never got his name, with all due respect, looked the least comfortable up there and almost lost his edge as he faithfully took that swoop turn off the ice. He actually hung on tight and went into his turns down with great style and control, well done! That was really cool, I had never seen anyone ski Central. You wouldn't catch me up there skiing that's for sure! Sounds odd considering I was up there climbing, with out a rope. Funny how you get up on the ice bulge and remember just how long it is as you peer down through your crampons to the exposure below. It was a few good climbing moves to clear through the ice and onto the super stable snow slope above the ice.
Looking down from just above the Ice bulge in Central Gully.

Looking up at a rope less Al Hospers and the remainder of the climb.

Al and I made pretty quick work of the upper gully and before you knew it we were at the top with stunning views of the upper mountain and a windless Alpine Garden.

A successful climb with thumbs up approval!

It's days like this climbing on the mountain that take all that SADness, (Seasonal Affective Disorder) away. All the pains of the Winter 2008/2009 gone. A realization of soon to come days of paddling across an open lake in the Allagash, a long bike ride through killer single track or a hundred miles on the road through the notches of the north. This day, a great day with a great friend! The last couple of pictures are of our descent down the Escape Hatch, steep snow, but not terribly difficult.

Al Hospers makes his way down the Escape Hatch, look for the shovel handle three clicks south of the Pinnacle Buttress.

The red line shows our descent down the Escape Hatch

Thanks for reading!



Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saw-Whet Owl Update

I just spoke with Lorissa at the Center For Wildlife.
The Owl is doing GREAT! Fingers crossed, he will hopefully be able to be released in the very near future!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Apmoojenegamook- "lake that is crossed"

The Chamberlain 2009 Crew enjoying some late day fishing and a beautiful sunset on our first day on 3/1/09. Viewed left to right, John Chasse, Makwa (on the snow sleeping this shot out), Paul Roy, Jason Roy, Jim Roy and Don Chabot.

With the set list down, the cd made, gear lists checked off, hundreds of pounds of gear, food and beer packed, snowmobiles ready, trucks and trailers packed, at six AM, we hit the road! A rekindling of a tradition I've come to love and miss intensely. All the work, all the anticipation, all the organization, well worth the effort, for the rewards will live on in our minds forever. What adventure am I getting at now? Another journey into Maine
's Allagash Wilderness for some winter fun! About three weeks ago, I got a call from J-Roy. "Hey" he said, "We want to take a trip, book a cabin at Nugent's Camp" Within a couple of hours I had emailed John and Regina at Nugent's and we had a cabin reserved.

You don't have to tell me twice, I am on it like an owl on a field mouse. My first foray into the winter Allagash was back in 2003. It was the Roy Boys, Papa Roy, Dave Caron and myself on that trip. I was hooked immediately, their ultimate adventure was for the fishing and I quickly developed a relationship with the "expedition" factor. What, you mean I have to drive to Northern Maine, look at Katahdin and dream of the next visit to the summit, dr
ive further north and on dirt roads for forty miles, snowmobile in 6 miles with all your gear and spend several nights in a remote wilderness cabin...absolutely! We stayed at the old, now removed, Farm House camps area in the oldest rustic cabin that first trip. That experience was the beginning of what I have come to think of as a yearly tradition of exploration into this vast wilderness. We traveled from camp over a couple of full days time fishing the Mud Brook and Crows Nest areas of Chamberlain Lake. I think we counted 14 eagles out on the ice that year close by Upper Crows Nest.

In 2004 and 2005 we organized trips in again, both times we booke
d the Historic Farm House. It was 2004, when we had a visit from a lone Warden on snowmobile at Crows nest. He was out patrolling the lake and stopped to check us out. In conversation, he talked about a lot of the history of the lake and history of the area, history I had never known about. He mentioned a book I quickly purchased upon return that year and one I've started reading again to refresh my memory. It's called- The Wilderness from Chamberlain Farm. I highly recommend reading it if this area of Maine interests you. One of my fondest memories of 2004 was our snowmobile ride back from Crows Nest along the eastern shore of Chamberlain Lake, it is about seven miles and when the snow is right, it's a beautiful ride. We had an incredible sunset that day! Our 2005 trip was different, but very much the same, schlep the gear in, journey, fish, party etc...but the group dynamics were tougher to manage. Little arguments started, there was barking of orders, petty tension among some...I am glad I can tune out some of this and remain pretty even keeled, but I wore thin in spots also. That year the snow was very deep and a lot of work for all of us digging holes in the ice and the machines pulling heavy dog sleds, I think the extra effort attributed to the some what sour ending. On a positive note, one of my favorite memories of the 2005 trip was snowshoeing way out back of the farm house and looking for old buildings that remain from long ago as well as finding some really big pine trees out by the point.

A Norther Saw-Whet Owl Steph found injured on the side of the road 2/28/09. We brought him to the Center for Wildlife in York, ME and he is slowly being rehabilitated and we hope to be able to release him in the near future.

Fast forward to 2009, my trip started with a early morning phone call from Stephanie, she had just left home headed for work last Saturday February 28th. I answered the call and it was a familiar story, "I have an Owl in my lap and he's injured!" (keep
in mind she is driving, talking on the cell and holding the Owl!) Again, amazed by her never ending compassion for wildlife, I quickly agreed to bring him to the Center for Wildlife in York, ME on my way north to Lewiston. I warmed up some towels in the dryer, put him in a box, and kept him in a quiet room while I quickly finished packing my gear into the car. I dropped him at the CFW and initially, it did not look good for him, but they were going to let him rest and examine him later that day. As of writing this post, the Owl is recovering better than anyone expected and is now eating on his own. Hopefully, we may even be able to release him. Great News!


The crew admiring Mount Katahdin at Abol Bridge, the Golden Road on our way further North.

One dream I have, is to someday have a snowmobile or two of my own and spend some time camping and touring around the North woods of Maine, gliding along frozen lakes and down miles and miles of logging roads. I can't see myself ever really enjoying the ITS trails and the typical snowmobile scene, but journeys like this are the best. This year I took a big leap of faith and a big chunk of credit out of my credit card! I rented a snowmobile for our trip. As it turns out it was a good decision because one of Paul Roy's sleds broke down catastrophically a week before our trip, and even though it will take me a little bit to pay it off, it was a freakin blast! I rented a 2005 Skidoo 550 GTX double rider from New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket.

Driving north up the Telos road we crossed Chamberlain Bridge and continued to the parking lot for Nugent's Camps. Time to get to work! We decided to set the Fishermen up with their gear and as much camp gear as we could get on our first run in. Jimmy stayed back at the vehicles and got us sorted for the second run. We arrived and met up with Regina Webster and John Richardson, owners of Nugent's Camps, we got our camp sorted out and the Boys went fishing. John and Regina do a great job with these sporting camps. We were stunned and some what saddened to see John on crutches. Apparently, he had hip surgery a year or so ago and it never healed correctly, so now he has to have surgery again. I hope you get through this John...my best with your recovery. What a life to live there. I am sure it is a ton of work keeping things going on site, but what rewards they must have living so simply, in such an amazing environment. Dog sled unloaded, I traveled back to the trucks with an empty dog sled and the rental Skidoo. Snowmobiles are fun! Flying back up the trail to meet Jimmy, we loaded the dog sled with remaining gear and John arrived with Big Red (Paul Roy's sled). We loaded up his dog sled and headed down the trail to camp. It was perfect timing as the sun was starting to set.

Arriving at camp is always nice. The smell of the wood stove, the log cabin aesthetics, nature bounding. I took this picture of a Canadian Jay who greeted me with his voice and presence in a near by tree.

After unloading the two dog sleds, Jimmy, John and I headed out onto the lake to join the fisherman and enjoy the remainder of the day. What an incredible sunset and amazing view of the Katahdin range.

Sunset over a frozen Chamberlain Lake 3/1/09

Our view of the Katahdin Range.

Sky Fire!

The partying had long begun near the start of the Telos Road. Now with the sun down, we resigned to camp for the night. Drinks in hand we celebrated a safe journey in and discussed our options for the next couple of full days. Our plan, armed with knowledge of potential snow on Monday, was to wait and see, get up early, and make the decision to journey to Eagle Lake or a day around camp, fishing close by. The night went on with a great soup and bread meal and more drinks. Waking up Monday bright and early, it was snowing and visibility across the lake was non existent, except for maybe 200 yards out, then a full on white out. Camp day for sure! The guys who wanted to fish got coffee and headed out to find a spot up the eastern shoreline. I stayed back at camp with Jim and John and got breakfast made and called them in on the walkie talkies. We cleaned up camp after breakfast and then headed to the day camp the guys had set up. They had already caught a legal brookie, and a cusk. Time passed pretty quickly just hanging out and before you knew it it was time for lunch. Chili and bread on tap thanks to Don and Kim Chabot, which was mighty tasty I must add. Three at a time we headed back for lunch, it was just a quick snowmobile ride up the lake. After lunch it was ride time for me. I had seen Regina head up the trail that goes to the farm house from their main base and had seen her come back after cleaning up a departing party. I figured I would take a nice ride up to the farm, riding through the fresh fallen snow with not even a soul around...I had the trail to myself.

The Farm House on Chamberlain Lake, Allagash Wilderness Waterway.


I knew from previous visits I was getting close to the Farm House and the picture above is what you see just as you emerge from the tree covered trail. A stunning view on this day, capturing all my senses, love of nature, and historic imagination. Higher spirits greeted me as I reached for my camera and turned around to see a huge crow flying over the tall trees you see just left of the house. Always a good sign having nature greet you. At one point, I almost felt a little frightened, as the snow falling made my surroundings seem eerily silent, almost haunting. Considering the history of the land I stood on, I welcomed every sensation. I rode down the trail right by the house and considered going down the lake back to the crew. Being my first time on this snowmobile and with the whiteout conditions, I decided to head back on the trail. I was hoping I could find the other longer trail that goes directly from where you park the cars to the farm. I ended up riding for about an hour and a half and had a great time. Back at the days fishing spot, the crew was winding down for the day.

We picked up all the ice fishing traps and put our LNT (leave no trace) practices into effect. Back at camp, with more drinks, we celebrated being in nature and a great day on the ice. Hopeful the weather would clear, our plan for Tuesday was a trip to Eagle Lake. Below is a GPS track of our trip from our camp at Nugent's to Farm Island on Eagle Lake. It is about 12.5 miles by snowmobile, via the Trains trail.





Our trip up the lake was pretty quick and we were at the Historic Trains. I noticed Locke Dam on our way past, pretty easy to spot the old house that sits on site anyway. I have been studying the Allagash map for years and specifically the Lake waters sections. Leading our group, I knew right where to go and looking back at Johnny riding on the dog sled, he was on the same brain wave. We stopped just before the trail and both wondered if that was it, almost at the same time we spotted the old steam boilers that remain on the lake shore near train cove. With a quick walk in, John confirmed it was the trail. I remember from 2004 this trail was all bumpy, which is still the case. We took is slow so as not to abuse the machines, dog sleds or the guys riding on the back. Just before the Eagle Lake side lie the trains!


Part of Maine's logging history.

You may remember reading about the trains from last summer's Allagash Adventure continued, but once again, it was humbling to see these huge locomotives just sitting in the woods! A bit of tricky snowmobile trail up and over the old train tracks, and we are on Eagle Lake. We can see Farm Island, which looks like roughly a two mile crossing, so we head in that direction. We find the summer campsite and set up camp for the day. Like clock work ice augers are digging holes and traps are set for the big one! Impressively, the guys had all their traps in by 10:30 am. We hung out at Farm Island just enjoying the day. The weather was nice, a bit colder than we would have liked, but sunny and pleasant. I took a snowmobile ride around the island later in the day. The landscape is impressive, there is a nice fairly tall cliff at the northern side of the island where the land reaches it's highest point. After lunch I went for a snowshoe hike around the Northwest side of the island, I took some photos along the way.

Bear Mountain Trap.

Frozen landscape.

Big Sky Maine style!

John heading out on the snowshoe trail.

We all agreed to pack it up by 3:15 and be on the way back for 3:30, we wanted to enjoy the ride back, stop at McCarren camp site on Chamberlain, and the guys wanted to stop at the farm house also. It was bitter sweet stopping at McCarren and remembering our friend Dave Caron. We stopped just by the campsite sign and I hopped of the snowmobile to take a couple of pictures, I sunk in up to my waist in deep, powdery snow. Not good considering we were loaded up with two riders and a dog on the machine, and pulling a heavy dog sled. The snow had drifted very deep in this area. Jason, driving his Dad's machine had no issue and sped off. I almost got us stuck, but managed to get out of it with little issue. Our next stop was the Farm House, we hung out there for a few minutes, partied a bit and then decided to take the trail back to camp. I had just ridden it the day before, so I lead the group through. The sun was just setting and it started getting dark in the woods. We took the trail for a bit, which ends up traversing some logging roads, and at some point we missed one critical turn, but a groomed machine trail continued down logging roads. There were some amazing HUGE Grandfather trees that were left standing along the forested sections. Nice to see the selective cutting rule used. I really wanted to stop and check them out, but at this point it was getting cold, very dark, and I had missed the trail! I knew we would end up just near the cars since we were most likely on the new Farm House trail. Paul Roy's snow machine had blown the head light, so I offered up My Exposure Lights Joystick with head strap (work plug!). That was really cool actually, the guys on that machine said it worked killer and it was fun to look back at the light's beam from my vantage point. At one point, I was making a corner maybe just a bit too fast and looked back for the other group at the wrong time, I sent Jimmy and Makwa flying off the machine into three feet of powder...I was literally just crawling and they landed unharmed, but certainly surprised! What happened with the trail was, no one had been on the short section from Camp to the logging roads, but someone had groomed the Farm House trail from near the parking lot to the farm. Which was the opposite case the day before when I took my solo ride. Anyway, we made it back to camp safely and had an incredible ride back. This day was one we have been talking about for years, a trip to Eagle finally in the books. We all agreed that we would go back again next time we make the journey up to the Allagash. I also made a lot of mental notes for future paddling trips...My mind is always plotting another adventure!

This land will forever hold a special spot in my nature soul. I sign off with a couple of pictures, courtesy of Jason Roy. The first one is of Makwa wearing my prima loft vest to stay warm. Sad news upon our return, a tumor was discovered on his rear leg after it broke the skin, we are praying for you Mukky, you will be with us for a long time to come...I've seen this dog run nearly around the whole circumfrence of Chamberlain Lake, his love for this land is inspiring! The last picture is of one of Dave Caron's traps that we took with us in memory and honor of him. Frozen and snow covered, isolated among vast wilderness and expansive waters. Thanks for reading!


You are missed friend...